Treason of the Clerk

As soon as I saw David Weigel's article "Treason of the Clerk" (July), I knew I was in for more thinly supported charges that free speech is endangered because of the "political climate" produced by hysterical right-wingers.

So let me get this straight: A scrappy V.A. nurse wasn't fired for writing a letter to a newspaper calling for people to "forcefully remove" the Bush administration for its acts of "criminal negligence"; her idiotic supervisor was forced to make a personal apology (and apparently disciplined) for harassing her; therefore, 1984 is nigh.

Would this even be a story if the supervisor hadn't reached for his thesaurus and found sedition? I just can't get excited about chubby computer techs led by a cranky middle manager "seizing" the government's own computer.

Weigel's attempt to present the U.C.-Santa Cruz incident as a further example of this hostile political climate is simply perverse. When an angry mob prevents fellow students from freely speaking and associating with military recruiters, the mob is the threat to free speech—not conservatives who vigorously protest this lawlessness.

I do think the right-wing frustration with anti-war criticism that Weigel's article recognizes is real. But it is part of a growing sense that irrational media coverage—including articles trumpeting overblown fears of a clampdown on civil liberties—has crippled our ability to effectively use the military and police.

That subject deserves an honest examination—especially now, as we observe sophisticated Hezbollah media operations that are deliberate attempts to use our free press to manipulate our policies. Such "information warfare" appears to be a leading asymmetric threat to Western-style democracies. The return of sedition laws surely isn't the answer to this problem, but a more conscientious attempt by journalists to put civil liberties and national security stories in context couldn't hurt.

Michael Hoes
Overland Park, KS

Searching for Alex Kozinski

It's depressing enough to hear city planners routinely dismiss the concerns of property owners faced with eminent domain. But Judge Alex Kozinski's comments about the Kelo case are chilling if he's supposed to be the most libertarian judge in America ("Searching for Alex Kozinski," July). Judge Kozinski claims that he can't understand why Americans are so upset about government efforts to take homes for a Costco, or to take small businesses for artificial "lifestyle centers." He should ask just about anyone on the street whether these types of takings should happen in America. He will find almost universal outrage at the prospect of the government taking their homes simply to give them to another private (and wealthier) person or business favored by the government.

Perhaps they understand something the judge doesn't, but that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor did in her dissent in Kelo: that the burden of eminent domain will inevitably fall on those least able to protect themselves in the process that he thinks is sufficient. Judge Kozinksi asserts that average Americans shouldn't care about eminent domain abuse because they receive compensation for their property. Leave aside the fact that property owners in eminent domain situations often receive grossly unfair "just" compensation. If the government came into the judge's home and took a precious family heirloom or a prized collection to give to someone it thinks is more deserving of such items, but leaves behind the approximate market value of these items on the dresser, would he feel any less robbed or violated?

Incredibly for someone influenced by Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand, and who claims to understand and respect property rights and the free market, Judge Kozinski says that "if the city thinks there should be a private business instead of a private house, it has to make that decision," stating that he doesn't "see who else would make those decisions." How about private parties in an open market negotiating freely without government force? That's the way economic development was done throughout most of our nation's history and, even with the rampant abuse of eminent domain today, that's still the way most development occurs in a nation that values private property rights. The Founders carved out a narrow exception to the sanctity of property ownership for truly necessary public use projects, not for Costco.

Judge Kozinski says anyone who has the temerity to think the Constitution prevents government from transferring property from one private owner to another "can go live in a forest." With four Supreme Court justices and millions of other Americans, that would be a pretty crowded forest.

Chip Mellor
President & General Counsel
Scott Bullock
Senior Attorney
Institute for Justice
Washington, D.C.

Reason should be lauded for its recent interview with Judge Alex Kozinski. But I wonder how many other readers were left scratching their heads about this enigmatic judge who is the "closest" thing we have to a libertarian on the federal bench.

Kelo v. New London was the biggest assault on property rights by the U.S. Supreme Court in the last 50 years. Judge Kozinski's dismissive attitude toward the victims—"They were paid for [their property]. They were not dispossessed"—should raise eyebrows.

Kozinski also questions whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is a "rubber stamp" court. According to the The Washington Post, the court approved 18,748 wiretap warrant applications and rejected only five between 1979 and 2004.

I know a lot of people who are holding their breath waiting for the first true libertarian to get on the Supreme Court bench. Judge Kozinski gives me enough pause to want to keep holding my breath.

Jay Fisher
Atlanta, GA

Kozinski declares: "You are objecting to Kelo because property was taken for privately owned businesses. But the businesses provided services to lots of people. So if the city thinks there should be a private business instead of a private house, it has to make that decision. If you want to decide on your own, you can go live in a forest."

Private property rights are the objective means of identifying and adjudicating disputes among members of society; they are the protectors of individual rights, which would not be possible without them. To believe that such rights should be legally and ethically subjected to the whims of a public auction block is such a gross and disastrous abrogation of intellectual consistency and integrity as to be positively unbelievable. To hear it coming from the "most libertarian" judge in the country makes it positively scary.

Bradley T. Harrington
Milwaukie, OR

Are Failed States a Threat to America?

Justin Logan and Christopher Preble make it sound as if national sovereignty is not the backbone of the anarchic international system that recognizes all nation-states as equals, regardless of wealth ("Are Failed States a Threat to America?" July 2006). The same way the young United States was recognized by other nations after we rebelled in the Revolutionary War, we too have the obligation to recognize the sovereignty of nation-states, whether we like it or not.

The United States should worry less about military involvement where none is needed and focus more on bringing sustainable prosperity to "failed states." When there is no economic opportunity, people respond with violence. Of the states on the failed list, how many have local, sustainable economies that employ the nation's people?

Anneliese Essig
via the Internet