Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Austin Petersen on Balancing Force and Freedom

I thoroughly enjoyed the conversational style and the deep content of Austin Petersen's live stream last night, so I am going to share it here. Austin Petersen is a Minarchist, not an Anarchist. He admits that he identified much more with Darryl Perry than with Gary Johnson at the Libertarian Convention this year. But... he can't quite bring himself to subscribe to the NAP. Because, what if grandma catches a burglar on her own? Should she have to keep him imprisoned in her basement forever without anyone else's assistance?

This is a discussion not about what we are going to do in 2016. Right now Gary Johnson is the Libertarian Party Presidential candidate, and we are all supporting him. There is no one better on the ballot. But in four years' time, the issue will come up again.

Gary Johnson is a Pragmatist, not an ideologue. John McAfee got the celebritarian vote. Adam Kokesh is a sincere Anarchist. Petersen would prefer not to run against Kokesh in 2020, because he does not want to tear the Libertarian Party apart.

Petersen would accept an Anarcho-Capitalist over a Statist "any day", he said.

Kokesh and Petersen have debated before. You can see the full debate in the video above. The point at which they seemed to disagree was when Petersen suggested that even a voluntary collective that makes rules such as "don't hurt anyone or take their stuff" would eventually be a government. Petersen believes that you can never entirely eliminate coercion, but he would like to minimize it. It's the enforcement mechanism to voluntary agreements that is the sticking point.

Petersen defined government as a collection of people who create a monopoly on the use of force. He seems to think that such a monopoly is necessary to some extent. He believes in freedom for everyone, he realizes that we can only enforce it at home. Abroad, he favors non-intervention.

Not everyone can consent to be governed, Children, the disabled and some Democrats are examples of such people. To which Kokesh replies:
So if you can't consent, someone else is going to govern you... So if you don't meet Austin's standard of intelligence, whether its because you're a Liberal or a Statist or a child or a disabled person then you are not entitled to those rights. If you cannot consent to be governed, we're going to govern you, anyway.
Kokesh's point  was that rights should apply equally to all people, even the mentally disabled, In this respect, Kokesh seems more of a purist and Petersen a pragmatist. However, compared to someone like Gary Johnson, Petersen is numbered among the ideologues, and Johnson is the Pragmatist.

What if Petersen and Kokesh run in 2020 for the Libertarian presidential nomination and cancel each other out -- leaving an establishment candidate like Johnson to win? Petersen is not sure that running against Kokesh is the right thing to do.

This all comes down to the NAP -- the Non-Aggression Principle. Petersen is afraid that the moment we contract out our rights to a defense agency, then that agency will be a de facto government, no matter what we choose to call it. This is true if that agency acquires an exclusive monopoly on law enforcement and judicial practices. But what if we didn't grant anyone a monopoly on justice?

The local, neighborhood policeman is our friend, as long as he has no special rights to enforce laws that the rest of us do not have. It's when police officers can carry guns and we cannot, can wear body armor and we cannot, can arrest us, but we cannot arrest them, that the police officer becomes the enemy.

I think that Austin Petersen should run on a platform of the right of all citizens to use force to uphold the law. If someone is violating our rights, we get to use deadly force to defend ourselves. We can also ask our neighborhood policeman to help us, if we can't manage the task all on our own and pay him for his help, but the policeman will not have more rights than we do. It will be just as it is today with our volunteer firefighters. It is okay to call the fire fighters for extra help in a pinch. But there is no law that says we are not allowed to put out the fire on our own, too.  Then Adam Kokesh will not be able to object that this privileges some people over others. And Petersen will still be better at representing the Libertarian position, because he understands how to talk to ordinary people and not just ideologues.

Does grandma have to imprison the burglar she caught in the basement forever? Certainly not. She can hire a warden if she wants to and pay him. The neighbors can all pitch in, too, if they feel it's a good idea. But nobody will be held at gunpoint to pay for the local prison.

Anarchists and Minarchists should all agree on this. And then Petersen will explain it to the general public without using scary words like Anarchy. It's all common sense, really.

Problem solved!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Competing Title Agencies

Darryl Perry had an unpleasant encounter with someone over personal sovereignty and title agencies. The argument was simplistic. Perry maintained that we should each be sovereign over ourselves and our property. and he was challenged to explain how he had title to his property in the first place, if not by virtue of the government now in place. You can watch the conversation in the video embedded below.

Perry  spoke about having private, competing agencies that would issue deeds. He was asked what happens when the competing agencies disagreed about arcane issues of chain of title or property boundaries. Perry, who adheres to the NAP (Non-aggression Principle), did not have a good answer, so he hung up, leaving the interviewer to feel that he had won the debate.

As funny as that clip may seem, I'm actually more on Perry's side than not. There are now  and always have been  and always will be competing title agencies -- they are called sovereign nations -- and when they cannot resolve title disputes through diplomacy, they go to war.

The following is the text of the video embedded above. If you have trouble hearing me talk in the video, you can follow along below:

The eastern boundary of my land runs through these woods. And it's not a deed, or an abstract of title, that keeps other people from invading my property. Land title has always been subject to competing title agencies. The agencies have had such names as Britain, France and Spain. Also Cherokee Nation or the United States. So, in terms of how we get our title, it's always purchased directly through blood spilt in battle or indirectly through diplomacy. Land in Missouri was acquired through the Louisiana Purchase, but let's face it, how did France get it? 
This is my abstract of title that I have. I am not going to tell you the legal description of my land, but I'm going to go far, far back in time -- back to the beginning. Back to ... It says here  in the first patent of the United States of America to this larger plot of land from which my land derives: "In testimony thereof, I, James Buchanan, President of the United States of America, have caused these letters to be made patent, and the seal of the General Land Office to be hereunto affixed, given under my hand at the City of Washington, the Friday of March [sic: should be first day of March] ,,,I don't know what date... 1859 and of the Independence of the United States the 83rd. By the President, James Buchanan, by T. J. Albright, Secretary, and recorded by J.N. Granger, Recorder of the General Land Office."
Now, I built this fence. But it's not the fence that keeps other people out.
 I'm going to tell you a story about something that happened on this land a long time ago. And it's something that didn't happen to me. And it didn't happen to Bow. But it did happen to our predecessors in title. That means the people who owned the land before we did. One day, even though they had this wonderful abstract of title that guaranteed that they owned the property, a bad man came from the other side of the woods -- and there wasn't even a fence at the time --  and he entered the house. The woman was alone. He threatened her. He notified her husband that he was going to kill her if a ransom was not paid. Well, the husband went to the bank, got a banker with him, came to the house, was shot in the head, but survived, and the woman had already been shot about twelve times and was killed. 
So what's the point of this story? The point is that it's not because we have title to the land that people don't trespass. It's not an abstract of title that guarantees us our property. It's the fact that we have good neighbors.
Now some people might object that title companies are the ones who maintain the chain of title and courts of law determine the outcome to boundary disputes, but these things are actually a very minor factor in the lives of most people. Adverse possession takes care of most inaccuracies in boundary mapping. Even if you have had your fence on the neighbors' property by mistake or they on yours,  after a certain number of years of everybody believing that the fence marks that boundary, the fence actually becomes the legal boundary. That's because title like many other social concepts is really all in the minds of people. If the neighbors all agree that you have title, then you have title. And nobody walks down the street coveting somebody else's house, thinking to himself: I wonder if they really have title. We know that the neighbor's property isn't ours, and we don't go around laying claims to it. That is how title is maintained.

Except for one thing: The local county government demands a ransom from us at the end of the year in the form of a property tax. If we don't pay it, then they will eventually come and by force of arms take our property away from us. Then they will change the deed records in their favor. Darryl Perry does not like that the government does this, and I must say that I sympathize with him.

Naturally the government tells us that if we did not pay this fee, one of our neighbors would try to steal our land, and no one would defend us. But I think that it's actually the neighbors who would come and stand up for our rights and fight right alongside us to defend our land, in the same way that we would do to defend theirs. And I think that's what Darryl Perry should have said in the interview.

Governments get their legitimacy from the consent of the governed. They are here to serve us. We are not here to serve them. That's what people sometimes forget, because after a while, the size of the government comes to eclipse any legitimizing force that each individual's consent originally granted it.  If somebody comes to claim our land, ultimately we will have to fight for it. This is true whether it's a foreign invader or a bad neighbor. And we need the help of our good neighbors to keep the bad ones at bay. That's all you really need to know about title to land.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Politics: A Game of Prisoner's Dilemma

In the classic scenario of Prisoner's Dilemma, two prisoners who are co-conspirators are kept in separate cells. Each of them is promised leniency if he agrees to testify against the other. If the other testifies against the one who stays silent, then the prisoner loyal to his friend will get the harsher sentence.  If both of them refuse to testify, both will be set free. So it is a matter of trust -- can I trust you? Will you betray me? In this way, the authorities pit people against one another. Those who trust unwisely will get a harsh sentence. Those who trust and can be trusted will be set free. But those who betray trust will do better than those who are too trusting. So the lowest common denominator prevails. If one person breaks, all is lost.

Photo Credit: Anna Shoemaker of
Austin Petersen, Lauren Turner, Resa Willis, Aya Katz
In a democracy, the same game of prisoner's dilemma is played out over and over again. People are told not to vote their conscience, not to consider what would happen if the candidate of their choice won -- but to avoid the result of having the worst possible candidate come to rule over them. They are told to betray their principles in order to avoid a harsher punishment. And so over and over again the electorate betrays itself as the voters attempt to outsmart each other.

When we go to the polls to vote, most of the important decisions have already been made for us. It's too late to make any difference. The choices on the ballot were selected for us by people behind closed doors. Or rather, they were chosen for us by the political parties, at their conventions. So if we want to have a voice in the choice that everyone else gets, the place to be is at the national convention of the party of our choice. That's why I went to Orlando for the Libertarian National Convention at the end of May.

A Scene from John McAfee's party
Inside the Rosen Centre Hotel, a group of diverse libertarian delegates met to choose a presidential and vice presidential nominee, as well as to fill national party offices, such as chairman, vice chair and secretary.

Some of the presidential candidates at the Libertarian National Convention were running to win, Others were running in order to get across some kind of veiled message. Judd Weiss, John McAfee's running mate, told us these images were his "artistic vision", after he conceded and announced he was not running for VP after all.

Do people behave better when they are trying to form a coalition with somebody else? Or does coalition formation always result in something much worse than what each faction wants?

Sometimes the idiosyncrasies of various participants can come out in the wash of a general coalition. But at other times the idiosyncrasies are magnified. Take John McAfee, for example. He threw the festive pre-debate party depicted in the video below, which featured strobe lights, psychedelic music and women on stilts.

These same women on stilts were present at the convention floor while McAfee gave his nomination speech. What did these women symbolize? And why, after we all lost, did McAfee scold the delegates for being all white males, when this was patently untrue?

Running to win or running to make a point, each candidate had a motive. This interview contrasts John McAfee with Austin Petersen.

In the interview above, McAfee says right from the start that he has no intention of winning the presidential race. Austin Petersen, when he gets a chance to speak, talks about polling and about support from outside the Libertarian party. Petersen, if granted the Libertarian Party nomination, would have run a campaign intent on winning the White House. But in order to win, he needed the nomination of his party. When CNN interviewed Austin Petersen, we his loyal supporters, were right there in the room while he explained his plan to form a cross-party coalition.

"I think I am the only candidate who can bring together a coalition of not just Libertarians, but of the NeverTrump conservatives and the NeverHillary social Democrats."
Meanwhile, Governor Gary Johnson was the favorite of the party establishment and of moderates who did not really espouse libertarian ideals, but were firm on a couple of popular issues: legalizing marijuana and establishing gay marriage on the Federal level through protected class membership.

I have already written about all my experiences at the convention here:

I don't want to dwell on why it was that so many Gary Johnson votes appeared at the last moment, clinching his nomination. But in this blog post, I want to examine what it means to us as libertarians -- or simply as voters -- that coalitions seem always to go to the less principled member of the party. Rather than examining the motives of Gary Johnson and his followers, I want to dwell on what happened with our would-be allies who shared more of our core beliefs. Together, all those who did not vote for Johnson on the first ballot had a majority of the vote. All of us preferred someone else to Gary Johnson. Why could we not band together behind a candidate who shared our core values? Why did John McAfee not bow out when he saw that he could not win? Is it because he never intended any of us to win?

In the game of prisoner's dilemma that we call democracy, the failure to support a fellow prisoner is the cause of continued imprisonment for all. How can we ever break out of this game, unless we violate the NAP? Didn't the Founding Fathers do that?

There is one other way besides perfect faith among inmates to get out of prison. We don't have to play by the rules of the Prisoner's Dilemma scenario. We can just break out!  But that is hard to do without killing the guards. Must it come to that? What was McAfee hoping for when he broke faith with our cause?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion was something the Founding Fathers understood, but which was lost on second generation populists like Andrew Jackson. Jackson was a teenager during the revolution and even saw some action in the revolutionary war, but he did not have a good classical education like most of the founders, and so he was weak in his understanding of first amendment rights. Many Americans today also lack a classical education, and like Jackson, they think the government should push religion or require religious leaders to follow the government's agenda.

Andrew Jackson during the Revolutionary War
Brave Enough to Stand Up to the British,but Not Sure What He  Was Fighting For
Credit: Wikipedia

During the Martial Law imposed by General Jackson prior to the Battle of New Orleans, Jackson violated many of the provisions of the Bill of Rights, including freedom of religion. According to the Journal of Jean Laffite, Jackson ordered an unwilling priest, Antonio de Sedella, to instruct his congregation to pray for an American victory. I retell this story in Theodosia and the Pirates.

Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates

Jackson's heart was in the right place, but his mind did not grasp how violating the first amendment would destroy the freedom that he had sworn to fight for. Jean Laffite, on the other hand, understood all too well. His grandparents had suffered at the hands of the Inquisition in Spain. His grandfather was killed under torture. His grandmother survived to tell the tale.

A dedication by Jean Laffite to his grandmother
"I owe all my ingenuity to the great intuition of my Spanish Jewish grandmother, who was a witness in the time of the Inquisition"

Jean Laffite knew that de Sedella was a Spanish spy who had once been appointed as Grand Inquisitor for New Orleans when Spain still ruled over Louisiana. But Laffite understood that in order for America to come out of the war unscathed with its constitution intact, it was important to allow de Sedella and his parishioners the freedom to pray whichever way they wanted. The United States did not need forced prayers in order to win the Battle of New Orleans. It needed gunpowder and trained artillerymen, which Laffite freely supplied on his own initiative and at his own expense. He supported the United States, because he wanted to live in a country free from religious oppression. A country that would not oppress people like his grandmother.

Today, possibly because of our current public education system, very few people understand that the first amendment guarantees of religious freedom mean that we can't tell other people what to believe, what to pray for. or what ceremonies their clergy must perform. Hillary Clinton does not support freedom of religion and Donald Trump will not defend it. Among the Libertarian presidential candidates, Gary Johnson, whose heart might be in the right place, seems very confused about the first amendment right to freedom of religion.

Of all the candidates, only Austin Petersen has demonstrated the intellectual ability to articulate and stand up for the freedom of religion guaranteed in the first amendment. And that's one of the many reasons that I support his candidacy for President of the United States.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

When Not Voting is More Important than Voting: Election of 1800

In most elections, it is more important to vote for the candidate you want than against the one you do not want. But there was one point in American history, when abstaining from voting for your choice of Vice President was the only way to elect a President of the United States that you wanted. That was the election of 1800, when Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson were tied for President -- and all because the party leaders forgot to tell one of the electors not to vote for Vice President.

The way the constitution was originally set up, the person getting the most votes for president in the electoral college was to be the president, and the one with the second highest number of votes  -- like the first runner up in a beauty pageant -- was to be the Vice President. This made sense to a group of founding fathers who were hoping there would be no political parties, and people would just vote for the man they liked best. Under such a system, for instance, John Adams, if he were not re-elected as president, might still end up being the Vice President of the United States, if he won the second highest number of electoral votes for president.

However, the Federalist Adams was very unpopular in 1800, and both the candidates from the opposing Democratic-Republican Party beat him handily --  and that's how Aaron Burr and Thomas Jefferson ended up tied for President of the United States.

People who dislike Aaron Burr, including Jefferson and his historical apologists, have accused Burr of campaigning against Jefferson, but in fact, that's not how it happened. It happened because somebody at Party Headquarters forgot to instruct one of the electors to abstain from voting for Burr, the party's choice for Vice President.

In order for Burr to get the VP job, he had to beat Adams, but not have an equal or greater number of votes than Jefferson. Those were the constitutionally ordained facts that held at that time. Though this was set up for individuals voting their conscience, the well accepted way for groups to get around this system was by knowing in advance which of their numbers was to cast one vote less for the VP. And if the Democratic-Republican Party acting in concert wanted to achieve this goal, they had to keep from having every elector who supported the party vote for both men on their ticket.

This is the nature of collective action: as each man voted for the candidates of his choice, each believed he was being loyal to his party. Each one may have thought someone else would abstain from voting for Burr. And then all hell broke loose, because guess what? The Federalists decided they liked the second choice of the Democratic-Republicans better than their first choice. So when the tie breaking votes had to be cast, they set about trying to sway the electors to vote for Burr!

Because of what happened during that election, the constitution was changed, and the vice president, instead of being the second runner-up -- is just a stooge for the president. The amendment in question was a capitulation to the political reality of a two party system.

 Can we break through this year and elect a third party candidate? I support Austin Petersen and hope he will be elected President. But I am not sure, if that happens, whether we may not just end up changing the two major parties to be the Democrats and Libertarians, rather than the Republicans and the Democrats.  Is there any way we can also opt out of having only two parties? Or even having any parties? Could we ever get to the point where each of us just votes for the best person for the job?

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Austin Petersen, the Death Penalty and Me

One of the amazing things about Austin Petersen as a presidential candidate is that he reaches out to the people who support him, not just with personal appearances, but through livestreams that even reach out to people who are shut in at home or in enclosures with chimpanzees. So it happened that yesterday, while sitting here with Bow, I was able to catch one of Austin Petersen's livestreams while it was ongoing -- and he even said hi to me, personally!
 Being acknowledged by name made me very happy. However, I didn't necessarily agree with everything he said, and yet I'm still a supporter!

So let me explain what the problem is and how as a rational supporter of a limited government I resolved it without dropping my support for Austin Petersen. He is Pro-Life. I am not. Up till now, that was something that came up when abortion was discussed. But now it appears that his principled stance on this issue extends to the death penalty. You've got to give him this: he is consistent. However, I, too, have a consistent set of beliefs that go the other way.

If you have read my novels, you will know that Jean Laffite was in favor of the death penalty, so much so that he executed people himself, at his own expense, after trying them in his private courts. His friend and lawyer, Ed Livingston began speaking out against the death penalty after he saw innocent men executed for standing up to corrupt customs inspectors. He ended up drafting a model penal code that removed the death penalty from the list of possible punishments. He wanted his penal code to be adopted by Louisiana, but instead people in France embraced it. It's more of a European idea, I think.

An excerpt on the Death Penalty and Unjust Conviction by a Corrupt Government
from Theodosia and the Pirates The War Against Spain
One of the less principled arguments against the death penalty is that many an innocent man has been executed, due to the inherent fallibility of our system of justice. But Jean Laffite rightly understood that life imprisonment is an even more cruel punishment, when it is unwarranted. And for those people who have the mistaken idea that life imprisonment can be more easily reversed than an execution: even if released after a lifetime of unjust imprisonment, the accused will never be the same and his life will still have been stolen from him. Better to have just laws and a system that really believes we are not guilty until proven to be so beyond any reasonable doubt. I support a strong burden of proof.

Some people argue that life incarceration is fiscally responsible, because it costs less than an execution. But that is only true under a government that mismanages things. Executing someone is possible on a shoestring budget and depends entirely on the method used. Here below is a discussion of the various ways used by different cultures throughout the ages to execute people, taken from Our Lady of Kaifeng.

Excerpt from Our Lady of Kaifeng, Volume 1

Austin Petersen's argument against the death penalty is much simpler than fiscal issues or inadequate proof of guilt: he does not believe the government has the right to take a citizen's life even if guilty of murder. But while I disagree, this does not bother me, because Petersen is a constitutionalist, and a strict constructionist, and he knows that murder is not a Federal crime. It is up to the states. This is why I can wholeheartedly endorse Austin Petersen as a presidential candidate. I might not vote for him as governor of Missouri, but he has my complete support as President of the United States! And besides that, I like him. He does not hide his positions, even when they might turn away many potential supporters. I like a presidential candidate who does not pander!

Living in a Federal system, we can agree to disagree on important issues, while supporting the constitution which allows for this disagreement. To me, that's the most important thing.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

International Exchanges and Reviews

Yesterday I received a book from China. It was 崔书田 Cui Shutien's Chinese language translation of Chinese Escapade, a book originally written in English by Laurance Tipton. Laurance Tipton is a character in Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way. But he was also a real person, who lived through those difficult times, escaped from the camp, and joined the Nationalist resistance.

《中国逃亡记》 is a handsomely typeset book with an elegant, understated cover design. Published for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp near Weihsien, it seems to have the local government's seal of approval.

an illustration appearing on the cover of  《中国逃亡记》

The illustration on the cover of the internees standing in line with buckets in their hands is very detailed, but in miniature, as if to emphasize the importance of words and to minimize the impact of images. I am enchanted by this style of cover.

The author/translator even autographed this copy for me. I am very touched and will treasure this book. I have also sent Cui Shutian autographed copies of both volumes of Our Lady of Kaifeng.

In the meanwhile, here are some of the recent reviews I have had for Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way.

Pam Keyes' Review

J. Hanna's Review

Sheila Tombe's Review

My book was also featured here:

Order it on Amazon