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Liberty and Power

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  • Smedley Butler and the Racket That Is War

    by Sheldon Richman

    From 1898 to 1931, Smedley Darlington Butler was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. By the time he retired he had achieved what was then the corps’s highest rank, major general, and by the time he died in 1940, at 58, he had more decorations, including two medals of honor, than any other Marine.  He published a short book with the now-famous title War Is a Racket, for which he is best known today. Butler opened the book with these words:

    War is a racket. It always has been.

  • Lawrence Veiller: Progressive Tenement Reformer and Eugenicist

    by David T. Beito

    As part of my research on another topic, I happened across some rather provocative correspondence from Lawrence Veiller. After the turn of the century,Veiller was the most significant national leader in the progressive tenement reform. New York’s Tenement Law of 1901 was largely his brainchild and became a model of similar legislation nationwide. He often worked closely with such luminaries as Jane Addams, Jacob Riis, and Theodore Roosevelt. Through groups such as the National Housing Association (which he headed) and the National Conference on Planning (in which he served as an officer), Veiller was relentless in pushing for tougher building courts, limits on density, zoning, and other housing regulation.

    As the correspondence shows, he was also a zealous advocate of sterilization laws. Veiller felt emboldened to act in his own state after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Buck v. Bell (1927 upholding the constitutionality of sterilization laws In 1929, he persuaded the Committee on Criminal Courts of the Charity Organization Society of New York to endorse state legislation “providing for the sexual sterilization of insane, idiotic imbecilic, epileptic and feeble-minded inmates of certain state institutions.” As part of this effort he called for a “united front” of social workers to assemble in Albany to press for enactment. Apparently, however, Veiller was never able to persuade the Charity Organize Society as a whole to back a law and it was never enacted. One obstacle was Lawrence Purdy, a fellow official in the COS, who expressed his reluctance to Veiller: “Even if the law were so stringent that it would result in operations on a considerable number of people, the number would still be very small and I should myself have grave doubts concerning a law that was strong enough to be at all effective.”

  • Surowiecki on Intellectual Piracy 

    by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

    James Surowiecki had an excellent article in the June 9 issue of the New Yorker about countries committing intellectual piracy. It includes a nice summary of how "stealing" patented ideas played a major role in the early economic development of the United States. In the process, it surveys some of the considerable historical evidence debunking the widespread myth that intellectual property is necessary for, or even makes a contribution to, economic growth.

  • My REASON review on the Panic of 1837

    by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

    My review of Jessica Lepler'sThe Many Panics of 1837: People, Politics, and the Creation of a Transatlantic Financial Crisis appears in the July issue of Reason. It has now been posted online.

  • Confessions of a reformed activist

    by Phillip Magness

    When advising politically-inclined students – and working at a DC based academic research institute and Public Policy department ensures I have many of these – I often counsel them to eschew electoral politics entirely, to  approach policy careers with managed and severely constrained expectations about the results they can expect to achieve, and to generally shed the instinctual habits of activism. To the politically enthused and – more so – the idealist who seeks to better the world in which he or she lives, this message is both exceedingly difficult to receive and counter-intuitive to almost everything they've been brought up to believe about democracy, participatory government, and attaining social change.

  • Immigration and Mindless Partisanship

    by Anthony Gregory

    About two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Obama’s immigration policies. The polling reveals extreme partisanship: 60% of Democrats and 8% of Republicans approve of the president’s approach.

  • The Middle East Harvests Bitter Imperialist Fruit

    by Sheldon Richman

    The wall-to-wall coverage of the disintegration of Iraq ought to carry this credit: This bloodshed was made possible by the generosity of British and French imperialists.

  • Abraham Lincoln and the Corwin Amendment

    by Phillip Magness

    Most serious historical overviews of the Civil War contain at least a brief mention of the Corwin Amendment, the last-ditch compromise effort to protect slavery where it existed by enshrining it in the Constitution. They also do so tepidly and seldom acknowledge it as anything more than a historical footnote.

  • Thaddeus Stevens and Colonization

    by Phillip Magness

    Did Rep. Thaddeus Stevens pledge to support the revival of the colonization office during Lincoln’s second term? That is the direct insinuation of an unsent letter from 1865 bearing the Radical Republican leader’s endorsement.

  • Stop the Surveillance State

    by Anthony Gregory

    After 9/11, the Bush administration unveiled plans to create an integrated, comprehensive surveillance state unprecedented in human history. The public rebelled against “total information awareness,” but the NSA and other government agencies continued constructing a spying infrastructure of previously unimaginable proportions. Despite the administration’s promise that all war on terror surveillance satisfied traditional warrant requirements, the NSA circumvented even FISA’s loose restrictions to spy on American telecommunications.

  • Enemies of Enemies

    by Anthony Gregory

    The Obama administration is considering working with the Iranian government to deal with the full-blown horrors currently plaguing Iraq. As a non-interventionist, I’m committed to opposing such an approach. If I were a pragmatic realist or a utilitarian I’d be tempted to agree that such an alliance would be the lesser of evils, although as clear as that might seem today, I’d still have my reservations.

  • The Noninterventionists Told You So

    by Sheldon Richman

    Contrary to popular belief, there is no satisfaction in being able to say, “I told you so.” This is especially so with Iraq, where recent events are enough to sicken one’s stomach. Yet it still must be said: those who opposed the George W. Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in March 2003 — not to mention his father’s war on Iraq in 1991 and the sanctions enforced through the administration of Bill Clinton — were right.

  • Do You Really Want to Be Correct?

    by Wendy McElroy

    Evidence that something is wrong with a theory is rarely as obvious as a trout in the milk. This is particularly true when a belief is deeply-held or invested with emotion.

  • Is the NDAA Notification Requirement Unconstitutional?

    by Anthony Gregory

    If Obama is right about the NDAA, he should start releasing far more prisoners from Guantánamo. A firestorm has erupted over the Obama administration’s release of five Guantánamo captives in exchange for the Taliban’s release of American soldier Bowe Bergdahl. Putting aside all the rest of the strategic, moral, and practical arguments, I want to focus on the legal side. Many of Obama’s critics say that his move violated the NDAA notification requirement, signed by Obama (who issued a signing statement suggesting he thought it was unconstitutional). The requirement mandates that the president inform Congress of Guantánamo releases.

  • Are Some Groups More Equal Than Others?

    by Jonathan J. Bean

    In the recent Schuette v. BAMN decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of voters to amend the Michigan Constitution by guaranteeing Equal Protection to individuals in state university admission. The Court’s 6-2 majority split in its reasoning, with several justices citing recent decisions upholding “permissible” racial discrimination when the Court deems it acceptable. There is, however, no such “permissibility” language in the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

  • Press TV Interview

    by Sheldon Richman

    Press TV interviewed me about U.S. policy toward Ukraine. You can listen here

  • The Disaster That Is U.S. Foreign Policy

    by Sheldon Richman

    We live in angry times. For evidence, turn on any news program. An awful lot of people, led by right-wing politicians and radio and TV entertainers, are angry at Barack Obama for trading five Taliban officials, who have been held for years without charge in the Guantánamo prison, for an American soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who apparently walked away from his outpost after having a change of heart about the Afghan war. The Right is apoplectic.

  • A Soviet Devil in the Capitalist Details

    by Phillip Magness

    The other day I began scrutinizing Thomas Piketty’s data on capital to national income ratios and particularly the twice-published Figure 5.8/12.4. This graph provides an important piece of evidence for Piketty’s theoretical argument in Capital in the 21st Century, and particularly his contention that “a country that saves a lot and grows slowly will over the long run accumulate an enormous stock of capital (relative to its income), which can in turn have a significant effect on the social structure and distribution of wealth.” This “law” of capital accumulation, along with Piketty’s much quoted formula r>g, is supposed to demonstrate the central argument of his book wherein returns on capital outpace income, leading to sustained wealth disparity.

  • Politics, Not Economics, Driving Minimum Wage

    by Wendy McElroy

    On April 30, the Senate voted 54-42 to end debate on the Minimum Wage Fairness Act and effectively shelved it for the foreseeable future. The act would have raised the minimum wage of federal workers to $10.10 by 2016 and indexed it to inflation thereafter. Championed by Democrats and opposed by Republicans, minimum wage will be a flash point in the November elections. But does minimum wage genuinely help the workers that Democrats claim it benefits: the young, the poor, immigrants and women?
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