Archives: 06/2010

Libertarians in Kyrgyzstan Spearhead Peace Campaign, Help Victims of Violence: You Can Help, Too

CAFMI Director Mirsulzhan Namazaliev at 2009 Cato University

Kyrgyz libertarians are leading a series of coordinated voluntary efforts to provide emergency aid to the victims of the vicious attacks of the last few days in their country and to promote peace throughout the nation and the region.  I’ve been in regular touch with our friends there, and on Tuesday evening I talked to Central Asian Free Market Institute (CAFMI) Director Mirsulzhan Namazaliev by Skype, as he was interrupted by a stream of volunteers working late into the night in the CAFMI offices.  He made their resolution clear:

“We are helping those who are suffering, but we are doing more.  For me personally this is not only a fight for life.  It is a fight for freedom.  We don’t want to be ruled by any authoritarian Central Asian or Russian regimes that would exploit this awful violence.  The violence we are suffering is a provocation designed to generate chaos and to overturn the chance for a constitutional regime.  We will not stand for it.  We want peace, we want freedom, and we want a lawful government.”

I was in Kyrgyzstan just last month to work with CAFMI and with the new acting minister of economic development, my friend Emil Umetaliev, a founding member of CAFMI’s board of directors.  (CAFMI was founded by two Cato graduates, former Cato intern Seyitbek Usmanov and Cato University graduate Mirsulzhan Namazaliev.)  There was guarded optimism about the country’s future, after the corrupt and increasingly authoritarian regime of Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in an uprising after he tried to suppress demonstrations with deadly force.  But there was also fear of Bakiyev’s machinations, especially after the revelation of a recorded cell phone conversation between his son, Maksim, and his brother Janybek (who had given the orders to shoot protesters in April), in which they clearly plot violence to derail a new constitutional process and regain power, even proposing how many “fighters” to hire, arming them with iron bars and other implements, and how much to pay them to launch attacks.  The recording was chilling.  And with the money they looted from the country, they found the thugs to launch attacks on both Uzbek and Kyrgyz villages, in order to spark revenge attacks.  Their plans bore fruit this month, as hundreds were murdered, homes and businesses were burned, and between 80,000 and 100,000 people were made refugees.

As Namazaliev put it to me, “We will not stand for it.”

Volunteers Load Supplies to Deliver to Refugees

CAFMI’s staff and volunteers are almost all under 25.  Few have backgrounds in defense or security.  But they immediately put the talents they do have to work.  CAFMI volunteers worked with others to solicit, gather, and deliver humanitarian assistance for the thousands of people – mainly mothers and children – who had been driven from their homes, and to create a message of communal peace – of Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Russians, Uighurs, Tajiks and others who were standing together for peace and against murder and hatred.  They called together teams of computer experts, technological wizards, social networkers, and activists to build an umbrella coalition: “I Want Peace in Kyrgyzstan”  –“Мен Қирғизистонда тинчлик бўлишини истайман!” in Uzbek, “Мен Кыргызстанга тынчтыкты каалайм!” in Kyrgyz, and “Я хочу мира в Кыргызстане!” in Russian.

I Want Peace in Kyrgyzstan – in Three Languages
Some Peace Graffiti (this one in English)

The “I want Peace in Kyrgyzstan” campaign has five coordinated elements:

  1. Use cell phones, databases, and the internet to organize volunteers effectively and to create and disseminate maps (using Google Maps and other techniques) to guide deliveries of aid to victims and to help people to avoid areas in turmoil, burning buildings, and road blocks and ambushes set up by thugs.
  2. Create a modern campaign for peace in three languages (Kyrygz, Uzbek, and Russian) – with a brand, a logo, street graffiti, slogans, t-shirts, stickers, leaflets, hand-written letters from children, radio interviews and public announcements, text messages, and other means to calm tensions and promote peace.  Representatives of the various ethnic groups appear together to pledge peace and to build the rule of law and freedom together.
  3. Combat disinformation and misinformation that might fuel ethnic hatred and violence, and respond rapidly to malicious rumors and hate campaigns before they bear their evil fruit.
  4. Contain the spread of reprisals and hatred throughout Central Asia, by providing reliable information to media, helping to combat ethnic smears and suppress revenge attacks against minorities in other countries, and quickly rebutting calls in nearby countries for military intervention into Kyrgyzstan, which carries the very real danger of regional war.
  5. Create a “Peace Room” (not a “War Room”) in CAFMI’s Bishkek offices to be open 24 hours a day to coordinate the collection and dissemination of information.  Volunteers in the Peace Room utilize cell phones, social networking sites, twitter, text messages, phone trees, and more and monitor mass media constantly.  The CAFMI office is now fully staffed with volunteers and working around the clock.

The young volunteers and staff of CAFMI are donating their time, risking their lives, and contributing their scarce resources, in a country with a per-capita income of about $2,100. If you’d like to stand with a group of very brave, very determined, and very committed libertarians to stop the violence in their country, provide emergency aid to the victims, avoid regional war, and lead the region to peace and freedom, you can send a tax-deductible donation to the Central Asian Free Market Institute (CAFMI) through the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, which has provided support to CAFMI. Please write to Erin [dot] Grant [at] AtlasNetwork [dot] org and 100% of your donation will be dedicated to CAFMI’s work in Central Asia.  Even small donations will help.  It would be a decision you would not regret.  (You can follow CAFMI’s work on their Facebook page and Namazaliev writes in Russian and in English on NewEurasia.net, Twitter, and other media.  He covered the April uprising against Bakiyev’s authoritarian regime in The Independent and was quoted frequently by CNN and many other news organizations.)

Volunteers Working after Midnight for the “I Want Peace in Kyrgyzstan” Campaign at the CAFMI offices
Volunteers Collecting Donated Supplies in Bishkek Neighborhoods
CAFMI Volunteers After Days of Loading Donated Supplies at Manas Airport to Send to Victims of Violence in Osh and Jalalabad

Stossel v. Hannity on Drugs

Thursday night at 8 and midnight, John Stossel debates the war on drugs with Sean Hannity. Check it out on the Fox Business Network.

John’s other guests will include Jeffrey Miron of Harvard and Cato and Mary Anastasia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal.

And for more Stossel, don’t miss last week’s classic episode on Milton Friedman and Free to Choose with Tom Palmer, Johan Norberg … and me.

“Privacy” v. Justice: Wiretapping Case Update

Anthony Graber, the Maryland motorcyclist being prosecuted on state felony wiretapping charges for recording his traffic stop and posting the video on YouTube, is the subject of an article in today’s Washington Post. I have said (again and again) that this is a misreading of the Maryland wiretapping statute, which is not supposed provide grounds for prosecution where there is no “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Graber was on the side of the highway, and the police officer asserting this expansive reading of the wiretap statute while making an arrest at the Preakness was in the middle of a large crowd. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in either of those places. The Post article provides the other side of the argument:

The attention the Graber case is receiving has surprised Harford prosecutor Joseph I. Cassilly, who said his office has prosecuted similar cases before, including one within the past year against the passenger of a car that was stopped during a drug investigation who started taping officers with a cellphone camera. Cassilly said he didn’t know the status of the case because the prosecutor handling it has been out sick.

“The question is: Is a police officer permitted to have a private conversation as part of their duty in responding to calls, or is everything a police officer does subject to being audio recorded?” Cassilly said.

Cassilly thinks officers should be able to consider their on-duty conversations to be private.

I disagree. The injustice of the Maryland wiretap law was demonstrated earlier this week when Rep. Bob Etheridge assaulted a student who asked him a question while recording the encounter. The students were lucky that they were in the District of Columbia.

If the scuffle had been in Maryland, Etheridge could have been prosecuted for misdemeanor assault (this remains true for D.C., but I am not aware of any charges that have been made). In contrast, the students would have been on the hook for a felony violation of the wiretap law for recording the event, another violation for posting the event on the internet, and an additional charge for possession of the device used to intercept the conversation. I’m not agreeing with that reading of the law, but that’s the interpretation being used to prosecute Anthony Graber.

Whatever your views on privacy are, that’s not justice.

The Moocher Index

The Center for Immigration Studies recently put out a study arguing that immigration has had negative effects on California. One of their measures was a comparison of how many people in the state were receiving some form of welfare compared to other states. I found that data (see Table 3 of the report) very interesting, but not because of the immigration debate (I’ll leave others to debate that topic). Instead, I wanted to get a better understanding of the variations in government dependency. Is there a greater willingness to sign up for income redistribution programs, all other things being equal, from one state to another? The “all other things being equal” caveat is very important, of course, since the comparison produced by CIS may simply be an indirect measure of the factors that determine welfare eligibility. One obvious (albeit crude) way of addressing this problem is to subtract each state’s poverty rate to get a measure of how many non-poor people are signed up for income-redistribution programs. Let’s call this the Moocher Index.

A few quick observations. Why is Vermont (by far) the state with the largest proportion of non-poor people signed up for welfare programs? I have no idea, but maybe this explains why they elect people like Bernie Sanders. But it’s not just Vermont. Four of the top five states on the Moocher Index are from the Northeast, as are six of the top nine. Mississippi also scores poorly, coming in second, but many other southern states do well. Indeed, if we reversed the ranking and did a Self-Reliance Index, Virginia, Florida, and Georgia would score in the top 10. Nevada, arguably the nation’s most libertarian state, is the state with the lowest number of non-poor people signed up for welfare.

Let’s now emphasize several caveats. I’m not an expert on the mechanics of social welfare programs, but even I know that eligibility is not governed solely by the poverty rate. Indeed, some welfare programs are open to people with much higher levels of income. This means that a more thorough analysis at the very least would have to include some measure of income distribution by state. Moreover, states use different formulas for Medicaid eligibility, so this index ideally also would be adjusted for state-specific policies that make it easier or harder for people to become dependent. There also are some states (and even colleges) that actually try to lure people into signing up for welfare, which also might affect the results. And I’m sure there are many other factors that are important, including perhaps immigration. If anybody knows of substantive research in this area, please don’t hesitate to share material.

No Rest for the Weary in Afghanistan

During a Senate hearing yesterday (the one in which U.S. CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus passed out from dehydration), it became clear that “success” will take far longer than July 2011, the date U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to begin the drawdown of U.S. troops.

As I write in today’s Daily Caller, recent developments do not bode well either for the July 2011 timetable, or for the coalition’s overall strategy.

In this respect, the Obama administration’s overly ambitious policies do more than needlessly inflate Afghan expectations; they severely erode America’s reputation globally. Promising to ‘end the tragic conflict in Afghanistan and promote national reconciliation, lasting peace, stability and respect for human rights in the country’ is absurd. Promising to do so according to an 18-month timetable is laughable. Afghanistan has been in continuous war since the 1970s. Americans should recognize that the Obama-McChrystal-Petraeus strategy grossly overestimates America’s power to spread wealth and stability, and demand a new set of goals that will allow the United States to bring this long war to a swift end.

You can read the rest here at Daily Caller.

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New York State Should Cut Property Taxes

The New York Times editorialists are at it again.  June 12th’s lead editorial, “The Latest Work Dodge: A Shutdown,” frets over the specter of the New York state government being shut down because Albany’s legislators can’t agree on a budget.  Well, the Times must have breathed a collective sigh of relief late Monday (June 14th).  That’s when the State Senate passed Governor Paterson’s 11th temporary budget extender, which allowed state offices to hang out “open for business” signs on Tuesday.

But, the Times wants a final state budget and claims that more taxing and borrowing and maybe some cuts in school aid will do the trick.  One item that the Times wants off the table in Albany is property taxes.  According to the Times, Democratic state senators outside New York City should stop pushing for restrictions on the rate of growth of property taxes.  I agree.  Instead, the legislators should start pushing for sharp cuts in New York’s oppressive property taxes.  When every U.S. county is ranked according to its average property-tax bill, as a percent of home values, 14 of the highest 15 are in New York state.

As Prof. Steve Walters and I concluded in “A Property Tax Cut Could Help Save Buffalo” (Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2008),  New York should follow California and Massachusetts and cut property taxes.  Voters capped property taxes in California at 1% of market value with Proposition 13 in 1978. That forced San Francisco to cut its rate by 57% overnight and brought forth a tidal wave of investment, even amidst a recession. By 1982, inflation-adjusted city revenues were two-thirds higher than they had been before Prop. 13. Massachusetts voters passed Prop 2 ½ in 1980, forcing Boston’s property tax rate down by an estimated 75% within two years. Massive reinvestment, repopulation and urban renewal followed.