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Principled, and Un-

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Can one “rise above principle”?

Aren’t most (all?) who think they “rise above principle” actually sinking below it?

Economist David Henderson called our attention to this notion in reference to legal theorist Richard Epstein’s call for a war against ISIS. On, he challenged Epstein’s support for the president’s war on ISIS on constitutional grounds, and wondered why constitutional scholar Epstein hadn’t addressed this concern.

Then Epstein addressed it — using that curious phrase “rise above principle.”

Henderson’s response? Characteristically astute:

In which times of crisis do you need to “rise above principle?” What are the criteria for doing so? If you don’t specify criteria, then I think you’re saying that anything goes. If you do specify criteria, don’t those criteria amount to a principle? In that latter case, are you really rising above principle?

It’s not just a matter of constitutionality, though. Just war requires coherent goals. And a debate and vote in Congress over going to war against ISIS could help establish those goals.

Clearly, the continuing interventions in the Islamic East have suffered from massive confusion. A year ago, President Obama called for regime change in Syria and wanted to bomb government forces; today, we are bombing ISIS, the main opposition to that same government.

Sinking below principle on matters of warfare is the least excusable abandonment of law. It’s the suppression of hasty warfare — individual, group, or national — upon which the rule of law rests. Upon which civilization rests.

There’s no “rising above.” There’s no acceptable abandonment. There is only sticking to principle upon the issues that matter most.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

How to Occupy Hong Kong

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

The fight for freedom doesn’t stop at the border.

Hong Kongers, we are with you.

Your protest against continued tyranny by mainland China is a just cause. The Communist Party of China may no longer be in Marx’s pocket, but its members remain greedy and dictatorial and oppressive.

Leung, the governor of Hong Kong, refuses to step down. Tyrants do cling to power. (No term limits for them!) But the people have every right to demand his ouster under a principle established in our own revolution: Government must rest upon the consent of the governed.

I have no idea how this will all turn out. Ever since the Tiananmen protests, a generation ago, I’ve harbored hope: a freer future for the Chinese. But I know they are up against a juggernaut, an extremely entrenched exploiter class. The Tiananmen protests were violently put down, suppressed. Will Hong Kong’s be?

I think the people of Hong Kong know what they’re up against. All Chinese people know how corrupt and dangerous their government is. But the details, the exact history of the crimes? Not so much. Kept under wraps. Still, the people of Hong Kong developed a taste for freedom under the Brits. If not a taste for democratic elections. Now they are demanding both electoral democracy and democratic freedoms.

The protesters “occupying” Hong Kong have American analogues. But are they “Occupier” or “Tea Party”?

They aren’t demanding socialistic levels of more government. And they aren’t trespassing, or committing crimes. And they pick up after themselves.

That’s the way to “occupy” a city: For freedom, responsibly.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Truly “Green” Energy

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

“The remarkable thing about fossil fuels,” says science writer Matt Ridley, “is that when we use them, no other animal is deprived of its livelihood.”

In a fascinating talk, Ridley, the author of The Rational Optimist and other brilliant, eye-opening books, calls our attention to what really should be an obvious fact: “No other animal [than us Homo sapiens sapiens] wants to eat coal, or oil, or gas.” But, he insists, when we fell a tree for our fuel, “we deprive a woodpecker of its life.”

This helps explain why, in so much of the world, animal species are coming back, their populations growing. They are renewing because of our use of non-renewable energy. (Renewable energy, he says, is quite bad for the ecosystem.)

But that’s just one reason burning fossil fuels is a good thing. Another is increased carbon dioxide (CO2).

“What?!?!” — I can hear the enviro-shrieks from here in my bunker. This weekend there were protests around the world about climate change.

But climate change may be a good thing.

Well, at least, the planet is getting greener. The Sahara’s getting greener. Much of the world’s landmasses are re-foresting — that’s even happening in Bangladesh.

I read about widespread reforestation in The Atlantic years ago. I’ve written about this and other greening before. But the reason isn’t simply because our fossil fuel reliance has made agriculture more efficient, thus requiring less land — that disused land can then grow wild, or cultivate non-agribiz plantlife. It’s also because CO2 feeds plants.

The Amazon, Ridley says, is greener than it was mere years ago.

Could later industrial civilization be saving the planet from the depredations of earlier industrial civilization?


This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Police Officer Un-indicted

Friday, September 19th, 2014

We’re naturally worried about the potential for police abuse of power — cops who roust people for no good reason, then claim that the other party was “resisting arrest” or some such thing.

But sometimes it’s the person on the other side of the badge who reconstructs history.

Several days ago, a story broke about Django Unchained actress Danièle Watts, who is African-American, being accosted along with her white boyfriend by a police officer who wanted to see their IDs. Both later suggested that they were targeted by police for racial reasons. On her Facebook page, Watts reported that she “was handcuffed and detained by two police officers . . . after refusing to agree that I had done something wrong by showing affection, fully clothed, in a public place.”

But audio of the encounter that has come to light shows an officer politely asking for ID, and explaining that he was responding to a call. (The caller had claimed the couple were having sex in public.) The officer is calm; Watts is persistently histrionic. She brings up race; he says race wasn’t the issue, sexual activity in public was.

We can argue about whether the officer should have handcuffed the actress in response to her recalcitrance. (Apparently, an accusation is all that is required to trigger police power, a demand to “see our papers.” It’s hard not to be on Ms. Watts’s pro-freedom side on that.) But now that this recording is out there, her original version of the encounter just won’t stand.

Enough reason to put video-recording devices onto every police lapel . . . in L.A., in Ferguson, everywhere.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Uber Rebellion

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

Customers in Germany and elsewhere have flouted irrational attacks on the popular ride-sharing service Uber.

As I have explained before, Uber’s software lets passengers and drivers connect in a way that bypasses regularly regulated taxicabs. Cabbies don’t necessarily oppose the innovation. Many see Uber’s app as a nifty way to get customers. And, of course, many riders see it as a nifty way to get rides.

But taxi dispatchers? Well, that’s another story.

At least it is in Germany, where an organization for dispatchers called Taxi Deutschland has kvetched that the San Francisco company lacks the Necessary Permits to do electronic dispatching in Deutschland. Thanks to TD’s loud complaints, a German court issued a temporary injunction against Uber, prohibiting it from conjoining ride-seekers and ride-givers in happy synchrony.

Uber decided to keep operating in the country anyway, despite the threat of huge fines.

They’ve gotten lots of moral support. In response to the injunction, customers quietly but firmly told regulators “Laissez nous faire!” — a.k.a. “You’re not the boss of me!” — by doubling, tripling and even quintupling demand for Uber’s app. Matthew Feeney of Cato Institute points to jumps in signups in the days following the court’s order: in Frankfurt a 228 percent jump, Munich 329 percent, Hamburg 590 percent.

Last July, in the U.K., Brits surged their signups eight times over after protests against the company.

Keep up the good work, rebels.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Registering Dissent in Russia

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Russian politics — does it consist in anything but the progressive unraveling of what modest liberalization of civic life the Russians benefited after the crackup of the Soviet Union?

The latest assault on liberty? The government targeting of Russian bloggers. The most popular ones — those with 3,000 or more daily readers — must now register with the government or risk being shut down. As Bloomberg’s Ilya Khrennikov puts it, “Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking names. Potentially thousands.”

The registrants must supply real names, real addresses.

Mother Russia says it’s doing this to combat inaccurate or defamatory information — i.e., opinions it dislikes; i.e., any too critical of the government. Putin already has authority to shut down “extremist” web pages sans judicial oversight. The new law tightens the noose.

It seems there’s little we can do about this in the West except express our sympathy for Russians fighting the commissars.

Well, one other thing, at least; and not so little. Western tech firms can refrain from abetting such repression the way Yahoo did when, several years ago, it turned over user info on Chinese dissidents Wang Xiaoning and Shi Tao to the Chinese government and thus enabled their imprisonment. Facebook, Google+ and other hosts of Russian-language blogs can flatly reject demands to censor or delete these blogs — or to supply the Russian government with identifying info on the authors.

Obviously, predictions of the end of history have indeed proven premature. We’re not all liberal democrats now.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

You Own You, I Own Me

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

There’s been a lot of talk about Robert Draper’s New York Times article on a possible “libertarian moment.” On Townhall, “last weekend,” I focused on the partisan political aspect of the movement. There was a lot of curious stuff in the article, and I haven’t seen anyone comment on one of its stranger passages.

Call it a moment of culture shock.

The article briefly profiled a “Washington-based journalist” who sported “a tattoo under her right biceps that reads, ‘I Own Me.’” This is a provocation, of course, sure to annoy authoritarians and collectivists and . . . David Frum:

“What does that mean, ‘I own myself?’ ” David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and Republican commentator, sputtered in exasperation when we spoke later. “Can I sell myself? If I can’t, I don’t own myself.”

Taken at face value, one could simply answer Frum by mentioning that in olden times people could sell themselves — into slavery.

Or one could make an extended political point. “Haven’t we all sold ourselves long ago?” That might be unnerving.

But the informed answer is this: “We can’t sell ourselves because our ‘self-propriety’ (as Richard Overton put it long ago) differs from other kinds of ownership. Our self-ownership is inalienable. That’s why it’s so important.”

It’s like this: You own you, I own me — we are free.

It turns out, Mr. Frum, that this “inalienability” idea was central to much discussion of rights at the founding of our country. Funny you don’t seem to know anything about that.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.