Airlines

Letters

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Suspected Terrorist

In Brian Doherty's excellent article, "Suspected Terrorist" (August/September), he touches on one of the critical reasons why we should be concerned about privacy and data collection in the name of security: We cannot know the future uses for these systems, nor can we know the motives of the future users.

Our history of ignoring the rights of those on the fringe (Native Americans, blacks, and immigrants in the past or drug users today) shows that, as a society, the vast majority are at ease with minor oppression, as long as it does not affect them personally. So it is no surprise that the average person's reaction to increased identification requirements and database collection is indifferent at best. The average person truly believes that this information will not be used against him now or in the foreseeable future.

Nevertheless, the infrastructure established by these measures could be used to suppress and punish dissent, or to terrorize some political minority at some future time. Today's mandatory employment data collection identifying employees by ethnic origin would take on a new and far more sinister character in the hands of a racist regime. If such a political system arose in this country, it would not need to take the radical step of collecting such information -- it's already there, ready for application. And by that time, it would be too late to do anything about it.

Michael Curry
Jackson, CA

Congratulations to Brian Doherty on his extremely well-balanced piece about the growing concerns over lack of privacy in this country. Whatever the emotional arguments, it is very hard for libertarians to argue that information they have voluntarily provided to another is not the property of that other person or entity absent a contractual agreement to the contrary. The free market will then determine how many choices (if any) you have among such contracts. In any case, you can still live your life without providing such information to anyone -- in fact, your ancestors did. You will simply have chosen to live a 19th-century lifestyle.

Doherty is correct in pointing out the real fear from such databases is from a malevolent government. That fear is best addressed by controls on the government's legitimate span of control. Such databases do have legitimate uses, though: As a police officer, I can assure you that many genuine crimes cannot be effectively solved or prosecuted without them.

Ralph Mroz
Greenfield, MA

John Gilmore's quixotic battle with the airlines may be seen by many as a bit silly, but I'm pleased that someone has the balls to question authority. I offer this little tidbit for Gilmore's use -- Title 18, U.S. Code 241, Conspiracy Against Rights: "If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten or intimidate any person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised same, they shall be fined under this Title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both."

If the government, as more than likely is the case, is acting in concert with the airlines, then the "two or more persons" threshold has been met. Additionally, the Fourth Amendment comes into play when a someone's "person, papers, and effects" are made insecure by means of an unreasonable search and seizure in order for him to travel or move about in a lawful and peaceful manner. After Gilmore loses his case, which he surely will, I suggest that the next time he flies he should duly present his driver's license when requested but wear a face mask while doing so.

K. Eugene Smith
Wellington, NV

Forcing Freedom

Ronald Bailey's "Forcing Freedom" (August/September) and the ensuing debate from Christopher Hitchens, Christopher Preble, and Ivan Eland would deserve to be presented with reason's Most Important Article of the Year Award, if there were one. This is a major contribution to the idea of promoting international freedom while securing a more relaxed domestic policy for ourselves. I find it truly amazing that there is no such policy in effect at this time and wonder if politics had a hand in failing to continue the Reagan Doctrine mentioned by Bailey.

Roberto Sanabria
Knoxville, TN

While I won't take issue with many of the good points raised in Christopher Preble's contribution to the debate on the relative merits of nation building, I will never quite grasp the mind-set of those who argue, as he appears to, that we should be circumspect in our attempts to "force democracy down the throats of the approximately 3 billion people who currently live under some other system of government."

Is it not true in literally every such case that whatever system they may live under was, in fact, forced down their throats? Do the Chinese or North Korean Communists or the cronies of dozens of tin-pot dictators from Africa to Burma derive their just powers from the consent of the governed?

Nor is it at all clear to me how freedom can be "forced" on anyone. Don't most people want simply to live? Is this not true whether they're Christian or Muslim, Arab or Anglo? How can a system which allows this to happen to the greatest extent possible be any sort of "imposition" on any group of people?

If we're all largely the same when the window dressing of language, culture, and religion is removed, then I wonder why it is often argued that democracy won't work if a nation and its people lack democratic "traditions." Until 1945, Japan was first a feudalistic, then a rigidly militaristic society where questioning authority was unforgivable and the ruling class entertained itself testing sword blades by beheading peasants. But people are people, and look at the intrepid Japanese now! Freedom can envelop the world! It can be done, and it should, even with great sacrifice, if we are to say we love humanity.

Sean Smith
Roseburg, OR

Ronald Bailey's principal error in his advocacy of a coercive, democratizing foreign policy is to believe the myth that "the spread of liberal, free market democracy in the 20th century has been accomplished largely by force of arms -- largely, in fact, by force of American arms." This is astonishingly incorrect, and from this bad assumption flows Bailey's unfortunate prescription for interventionism.

In Europe, even during the 19th century, the liberal order was established through internal reform. Violence motivated by democratic zealotry only encouraged the suppression of liberalism and the delayed creation of liberal societies. In the 20th century, one of the greatest liberations in human history -- the freeing of Eastern Europe and Russia from communism -- was accomplished without violence. Liberal society in India was achieved without recourse to a violent liberation, and those societies in the developing world that succumbed to the rhetoric of violent revolution have almost universally fallen under some form of despotism or dictatorship. No government has ever competently designed a blueprint for a free society, because such societies cannot be created by fiat.

Warmongering liberals have effectively been as great a bane to human liberty at home and abroad as any foreign dictator, and a considerable number of modern despotisms have emerged from the wreckage of misguided liberal zeal. Indeed, even the liberations of World War II and the Cold War were damage control of the mess made by the folly of Woodrow Wilson and Lloyd George. It would be inexcusable to repeat those errors today with the false conviction that liberty will thereby triumph. No matter which side wins such battles, liberty will consistently be the loser.

Daniel Larison
Albuquerque, NM

I found Ronald Bailey's recent prescription for a libertarian foreign policy personally inspiring. In order to make sure that my neighbor never came over to rape my wife and burn down my house, I shot him. Then I figured that I could freely negotiate a contract with his son to mow my lawn. His son did seem a little upset, however, babbling on about eternal revenge and blood feud. No matter.

Bailey's call for the re-emergence of the Reagan Doctrine was particularly brilliant. If that ain't libertarianism, then I don't know what is. Pour an endless stream of taxpayers' dollars and debt into an endless stream of insurgencies, counter-insurgencies, and counter-counter-insurgencies. Most of the carcasses or mutilated survivors will be only Third World peasants. Their lives are of no consequence, compared to the free markets which would spring forth, along with regulation, taxation, subsidization, and other free institutions like we have here. And if some of those foreigners and Third World victims get mad and want to hurt us back, well, we may have to hold on to that intrusive national security apparatus, just for a little while.

John Spain
Richmond, VA

Ronald Bailey replies: I find Mr. Larison's account of liberalism's progress a bit odd. The ideology of liberalism spread through Europe in the 19th century in the wake of Napoleon's armies. After Napoleon, the ancien régimes of France, Prussia, and Austro-Hungary did reluctantly liberalize under the pressure of a growing middle class. Mr. Larison confuses the last stage of a process with the whole process.

The notion that Russia and Eastern Europe were freed without violence is myopic. The Cold War was in fact fought with a succession of small hot wars in Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Afghanistan, Angola, and Nicaragua, among other places. And let's not forget the sustained buildup of nuclear and nonnuclear forces throughout Europe. The collapse of the Soviet Union occurred when the Communist elite, under relentless military and economic pressure from the West, no longer believed their system could win.

A liberal India was possible only because it was conquered by the British, who imposed liberal institutions on the subcontinent. The claim that World War I was fought over liberalism is simply wrong; it was a balance-of-power war.

As for Wilson and Lloyd George, they believed in the self-determination of states, but true liberalism believes in and promotes the self-determination of individuals. That's the policy I called for in my article. As for Mr. Spain, he should ponder deeply the excellent points made by Sean Smith above.

Account Balance

I enjoyed Tim Cavanaugh's article ("Account Balance," August/Septem-ber) but believe it only touched the tip of the iceberg. In contrast to the public mess of Worldcom, Enron, Tyco, etc., U.S. citizens have no clue of the rampant fiscal abuse that takes place every day within our government.

I offer you the Bureau of Prisons, where we blindly entrust a government agency with no direct oversight to spend our tax dollars without being required to provide audited financials to justify expenditures.

In the month of August at one federal prison camp, thousands of dollars worth of goods and equipment were destroyed. Some of these items were used military surplus, but more than half were brand-new items, some of which were still in original containers. According to a former guard who contacted my organization, there is no requirement to inventory such goods. We indict and jail corporate officers for not complying with similar requirements.

Ellen M. Salisbury
Federal Prison Policy Project
Reynoldsburg, OH

Why Buffy Kicked Ass

Virginia Postrel's piece on Buffy the Vampire Slayer ("Why Buffy Kicked Ass," August/September) is a welcome meditation on the libertarian aspects of that series, although Buffy is not always consciously or consistently an advocate of free markets or individual liberty. (Creator Joss Whedon actually explored those themes more with his short-lived TV space opera Firefly.)

One of the ongoing subplots of the series is Buffy's struggle to take back control of her life from the amoral Watchers Council, which for centuries has not only trained but dominated each generation's Slayer. Gradually, Buffy realizes that she does not need the council and that its directors have tried to control her in no small part because they fear her. (A chief mystery of the series is why there is only one Slayer when there are so many vampires; it turns out that those who created the first Slayer made only one precisely because they feared having more.) At the end of the series's third season, the following exchange occurs between Buffy and Wesley, the new and incompetent watcher the council has just assigned to her:

Wesley: The council's orders are to concentrate on…
Buffy: Orders? I don't think I'm going to be taking any more orders. Not from you. Not from them.
Wesley: You can't turn your back on the council.
Buffy: They're in England. I don't think they can tell which way my back is facing.

Whatever Buffy lacks here in strict logic, she more than makes up for in autonomous spunk, showing us the true spirit of a hero.

By the way, although the series was in production and ready to air in 1996, it did not begin broadcast that year, as Postrel suggests, but had to wait until the spring of 1997. It was actually on the air for six and a half years rather than the commonly cited seven.

Miles Fowler
Charlottesville, VA