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Posts from July 2013

Shameless Self-promotion Sunday

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. Time to get Shameless, Shameless Shameless. So you know what to do. (Or, if you don't, it's not too hard to figure out . . .) So, how're things where you are? Got anything big coming up? Anything you've been working on lately? What have you been up to this week? Write anything? Leave a link and a short description for your post in the comments. Or fire away about anything else you might want to talk about.

Immigration freedom is personal liberty. Borders are statism.

When I read miserable, belligerently statist exercizes in punitive nationalism like this article (content warning: violent xenophobia, ill-informed conservative legalism, ethnic slurs all over comments threads)[1] at a conservatarian website that calls itself the Personal Liberty Digest, I have to wonder what the words personal liberty mean to them, and what it is about ever more statist policies spawned by globalists and liberals [sic] that they actually object to. Apparently not much, since whatever personal liberty might have meant goes right into the garbage as soon as some political official says there oughta be a law, or some border cop says Ihre Papiere, bitte. And whatever it is in statist policies that they object to, it doesn’t, apparently, include the creation and maintenance of a massive police state required to corral millions of people, denying them the most basic freedoms of individual movement, demanding papers and national identification as a permission slip for working, or just for existing within those borders, and then — if any of the people fenced out by political force should try to evade these purely political restrictions, and assert their ability to peacefully live, work, and move onto property whose owners have opened their doors and welcomed them to come onto — sending border cops to hunt them down, break into their homes and workplaces with guns drawn, disappear them into hellhole detention centers, put them through a special due-process free deportation system, and then force them out of their homes and jobs, all for the sake of nothing more than a government-demanded legal status. And when those who try to exercise their personal liberty to move, live and work are attacked and punished by the state, the overwhelming response is to spit in their face and sneer at them for breaking the law.

When I read page after page of conservative commenters, many of whom speak in praise of small government shouting Illegal is illegal! and comparing undocumented immigrants to trespassers[2] and toss out sarcastic quips about how we wouldn’t want them to feel bad about themselves for breaking the law, then I wouldn’t dare speculate about what we would or wouldn’t want, but — speaking only for myself — I can only say that of course I don’t want anybody to feel bad for breaking border laws. Nobody should feel bad about that because there is nothing wrong with immigrants, either documented or undocumented, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with breaking unjust or tyrannical laws. Such laws ought to be broken; they deserve no notice at all, except to ridicule them, and to trample them underfoot. Of course, perhaps you don’t agree that government border laws are unjust or tyrannical; but if not, you ought to give up pretending to care about personal liberty or statism at all, and just take some pride in the bullying, authoritarian big-government nationalism that you evidently enjoy so much.

When I read commenters angrily insisting that They invaded our country [sic] by the millions without a shot fired. . . then I have to wonder what invasion even means to these people. Without a shot fired! Of course, this just means, without force, and hence, without invading. The country is where you are from, homie; it’s not “your” country in the sense of being your personal or exclusive property. Personal liberty means that you get to decide who comes onto your personal property, not that you get to command other people about where else they can go or where else is off limits; immigrants move from one place to another, and in the homes or the apartments they move into, in the places where they work, in the businesses they buy from, the landlord or the boss or the owner has explicitly chosen to open their doors and welcome them onto their property.

When people move from one place to another without using violence, without trespassing on others’ land, and go to places where they’ve been invited to stay by mutual agreement with the property owner, that’s not an invasion in any meaningful sense of the word, any more than I invaded Michigan after I graduated from college, or any more than I invade the Waffle House when I go there to get some hash browns.

And when I read commenters trotting out the last-ditch talking point that undocumented immigrants ought to be punished and stigmatized because they ILLEGALLY entered as opposed to the thousands who are STILL waiting in line to do it LEGALLY!!!!!!!”, I don’t know what to make of the proposal that if thousands of people are jerked around over the course of more than a decade by cruel, capricious, obviously broken and massively unfair immigration requirements, then everybody else should be jerked around by the same cruel, capricious, obviously broken and massively unfair immigration quotas, no matter what, forever. You know, just to be fair. In reality, telling people to wait in the queue is, for the overwhelming majority of people in the world, telling them to wait forever, because it is literally impossible for most people in the world to successfully gain residency status in the USA.

Ben Bullard, the author of the original post, describes himself in his bio by saying that Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for him. Apparently the way that the two are reconciled is to toss out the concept of individual sovereignty in favor of a properly politic notion of national sovereignty, writing — as far as I can tell completely without irony — that Immigration — legal or not — is an enormously difficult phenomenon to attempt to control. But if there's national will to address it as a problem that threatens the foundations of a society, then a Nation has every right to do so. I don’t know what creeps me out more — the capitalization of a Nation and the frankly collectivist attempt to speak of a unified subject with rights to command and exclude others; or the unvarnished fascist appeal to solve a systemic political problem by the application of national will.

I do know that neither of these has anything at all to do with respecting the personal liberty of individuals.

You can believe in individual liberty, and freedom from arbitrary political restriction; or you can be a nationalist and a bordercrat. You cannot do both together. Choose.


  1. [1]It isn’t particularly relevant to what I actually aim to discuss today, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that the entire article by Ben Bullard, and the comments that reads have thrown up in response to it, are the worst sorts of belligerently ill-informed ignorance and Right-wing border-baiting. Based on a Telegraph reporter’s bellyaching about a leaflet distributed by a UN refugee commissioner in Malta, asking reporters to avoid the term illegal when describing the specific conditions and activities of north African asylum-seekers and victims of human trafficking in Malta. But Bullard would rather bait his border-policing readers’ sensitivities about being asked to use phrases like undocumented immigrants instead of dehumanizing and politically-charged words like illegals or aliens when they talk about immigration politics — especially the political targeting of working-class immigrants from Mexico and Central America — to the United States; and so he portrays this very specific and limited request from one office concerning reporting on the specific situation in Malta as some kind of diktat handed down by the U.N. telling us how we ought to talk about immigration, and immigrants, in general, and then easily segues into a really pretty appalling bit of commentary on the tide of humanity unleashed by the movements of desperate or displaced people. Of course, virtually every single commenter on the post has something to say about Mexican immigration to the U.S., and virtually none have anything to say about the humanitarian situation in north Africa or in Malta.
  2. [2]As if the entire territory of the U.S. were the property of the government that rules it; as if the homes, workplaces, and businesses that undocumented immigrants live in, work in, and patronize didn’t belong to the owners who specifically opened their doors and invited them to come in.

Ask an Anarchist! — How would anarchists prevent the rise of tyrants?

This is actually a re-post, from quite some time ago, from a long, sometimes productive, sometimes tiresome comment thread at Alas, A Blog back around 2006. A conversation about political libertarianism became — as I hope they always will — a conversation about anarchism, and a commenter named Charles (no relation) came around to asking:

I was once an anarchist, but I'm finding myself in complete agreement with nobody.really. Anarchist principles are good cautionary principles to use as limitations on statist power, and they are good guidelines for running small to middling groups, but there are too many questions concerning the structuring of larger groups that they can't meaningfully answer, or that they answer incorrectly.

Nobody.really pointed out that there are always people who behave badly in the absence of government force, some of whom form the worst sort of tyrannical mini-governments. This doesn't require any sort of innate predisposition to do so or anything along those lines, it merely requires a recognition that no community is ever successfully at completely inculcating all of its members with its beliefs and principles. People are capable of coming up with a very wide variety of ways of acting, and behaving horribly and seizing other people's stuff can be an effective method of surviving. People who come up with it are able to make a mess of the lives of everyone around them, and are often enough able to push the culture over into one in which their behavior is acceptable. So, what do you do to stop that?

. . . Creating a permanent structure for how to handle violence, who gets to handle the violence, etc, produces a more stable situation, where when my neighbor decides to take my stuff, I know who to turn to, and I know with reasonable certainty that the powers that be will side with the one who has the legitimate right to the stuff.

Obviously, the powers that be often end up being tyrants, but the question of how to prevent them from becoming tyrants (or how to stop them from being tyrants once they become them) is not really answered by saying let their never be powers that be in the first place.

How, under anarchist principles, do you prevent the rise of tyrants?

–Charles, in comments on Libertarian Follies
Alas, A Blog (March 22, 2006).

To which I replied . . .

Shoot them. Jesus.

If your objection to anarchism is that it does not provide magic wands for resisting evil, then anarchism stands guilty as charged. But so does statism: magic wands like that don't exist, and given the abattoir that was the 20th century, I hardly think that the State has a very good historical record of providing people with the means to stop relentless tyrants.

* * *

. . . As a further note on my brusque earlier reply.

Many of the common lines of criticism against anarchist theories succeed only by holding anarchy and anarchists to higher standards than the State or statists are held to. The line of how anarchists intend to stop tyrants (petty or grand) is one of them. Nobody in the world, anarchist or statist, has a perfect theory of how to resist oppression; democratic states, republican states, aristocratic states, constitutional monarchies, absolute monarchies, grand empires, humble city-states, stateless societies (medieval Iceland, medieval Ireland),[1] etc. have all, at some time or another, fallen into tyranny or into civil war; have been conquered in war; have systematized and ritualized forms of violent oppression by one class or caste or sex over another. Revolutions fail; societies decay; things fall apart. Judging from the results of the late unlamented century, most of the powers that be don't even have a good theory of how to stop that: hundreds of millions of people were murdered because major powers engaged in tyranny and imperial warfare, civil war, terror famines, and genocide, and because even when they were not actively doing these things themselves, they were either powerless or unwilling to do anything to stop the others. So while these are reasonable questions to ask of any theory of social life, a bit of recognition that the topic is hard and that it's unfair to hold any theory to the standard of needing a complete solution to the problem of evil, would go a long way.

That said, here are some things that anarchists typically stress.

(1) For just about any form of successful oppression, it's hard to see how introducing the State will dampen the problem rather than amplifying it. If there is a discernible ruling class then it's a matter of course that they'll have disproportionate power over the apparatus of the State; if you have a centralized Leviathan that is able to assert and enforce its claims to sole authority then that means a corresponding increase in the capacity of oppressors to violently enforce their will over the oppressed. Without a central state, there is no guarantee that the oppressed will be able to successfully resist the aggression of oppressors, but when a central state with unchallenged police power, military power, intelligence capabilities, etc. is systematically turned against them, the prospects are correspondingly much bleaker. You might say, "But look, what that means is that the oppressed should have access to state power so that they can defend themselves. Wouldn't that be great?" But then you need to (1) figure out how they are going to get it (magic won't do) and (2) how whatever means help them to get it (organizing, moral agitation, cultural change, nonviolent resistance, etc.) wouldn't work just as well, or better, if it were focused on direct action rather than on trying to influence or take control of government decision-making bodies.

(2) As a strategy for resisting potential new forms of oppression, a Leviathan state also seems like a risky strategy at the very best. Tyrants very often solidify their tyranny by taking over centralized structures of power that were already in place; it's much harder to build an effective tyranny from scratch than it is to consolidate power over existing police, intelligence, military, etc. forces and then to turn them to your ends. In anarchy, any projects or organizations for self-defense are voluntary, decentralized, and don't claim a monopoly on legitimate authority; that means that if a tyrant tries to subvert the existing structures there aren't institutional barriers to withdrawing from them and setting up new ones that aren't subject to her or his will. Under territorial states, no such option is available: there's only one target that needs to be seized, and once it's seized, the subjects of the state can't do much of anything about it. The "stability" of an organized power structure is only a virtue if that power structure is, on the whole, benevolent; if it's malevolent then the last thing you want is for its hegemony to be stable and unchallenged. The problem is how to protect yourself from the malefactors once you've already ceded your ability to resist back when times were allegedly good. Actually existing states don't have a very good record on this count.

(3) To be quite frank, nearly no State in all of recorded history (certainly not the United States, for one) could seriously be claimed to be a bunch of ordinary people banding together to protect themselves from marauders. The band of slavers and genocidaires who founded the U.S. government, to take one example, were pretty explicit that they aimed for the federal government to protect and systematize their own marauding against innocent Africans, African-Americans, and Indians not taxed. It's not much different elsewhere — the people who oversee the formation of states are typically powerful and concentrated interests who hope to, and do, turn the newly-formed State to the pursuit of their own interests at the expense of the less powerful. The popular liberal myth of government by compact wouldn't morally justify the State, even if it were true of actually existing governments; but it's not true. The only "compacts" made have been pirate's codes, and nothing more.

(4) The strategic question of how to create, sustain, and defend anarchy is an important one to ask, and a difficult one to answer. But it ought to be understood that it is not, actually, the primary issue involved in whether or not anarchism is true. The primary arguments for anarchism are not strategic arguments, but moral ones; it's not that anarchy is valued because it's useful to attaining some other goods, but rather because violent coercion is wrong, whatever its effects may be, and the princes, potentates, and presidents of the world make claims of authority over other people that can only be, and are, backed up by violent coercion. So demonstrating that there are tricky problems for anarchists to solve doesn't mean that anarchy isn't the right thing to aim for; it just means that what you ought to aim for might be tricky to hit. But nobody said that the right thing has to be easy, or that achieving it has to be effortless. The emancipation of women, civil rights, the abolition of slavery, religious toleration, democracy, etc. have all been difficult propositions, tricky to achieve and difficult to sustain in the face of coordinated and unrelenting resistance. That raises questions about strategy and tactics, but it doesn't provide any reason for thinking that the goal itself ought to be abandoned.


  1. [1][This is really an oversimplification. For example legal enforcement in medieval Iceland was provided by stateless and competitive exchange relationships, but medieval Iceland had a legislative and judicial branch of government, and it legally privileged some enforcers over others. See Long (1994). –C.J. 2013.]

Auburn police department contact sports

Officers will have 100 contacts per month, minimum … 40 of those may be warnings for traffic, the other 60 will be divided between: traffic citations, non-traffic citations, field interviews and custodial arrests …. Do not be the one that does not get 100.

–Sgt. Trey Neal, Auburn Police Division, Auburn Alabama.
Recorded by officer Justin Hanners, qtd. by Tracy Oppenheimer, Cop Fired for Speaking Out Against Ticket and Arrest Quotas
Reason TV (July 24, 2013).

Oh, hey, look, my hometown’s in the national news again. This time it’s for the contact quotas handed down from the police division’s chain of command. The requirements for ticketing and arrest quotas required more contacts[1] every year than there are people in the city of Auburn. The story has hit the news because Justin Hanners, a former police officer in Auburn, says that he was fired by the police department in retaliation against his objections to the quota policy, and to the over-use of police force and arrests that it was producing. After making some contact with local CopBlockers in Auburn, Hanners got his story to Reason TV.

From the story in the Opelika-Auburn News:

Back in 2010, when Chief Dawson came in, immediately afterward, they started telling us that we had to have two tickets a day and two warnings a day on average and if we didn't have it, we wouldn't get promoted, we would get bad evaluations and if we continued to not do it, we would get written up and ultimately fired, Hanners said in a phone interview with the Opelika-Auburn News.

Hanners said he initially wrote a complaint about what he thought of the alleged quotas, but was soon suspended for other reasons and put on bike duty.

They went back seven months on my computer where I told a joke to another officer and suspended me for four days and made me forfeit two days of annual leave, Hanners said, who added the other officer was not punished.

Hanners said while on bike duty, which he claimed involved patrolling the interior of Auburn University, he was still force[d] to comply with the alleged quotas.

By directives, I'm not even supposed to be writing tickets, but my supervisor told me in my bike duty that I had to have just as many tickets as officers in cars, Hanners said.

–Drew Taylor, Former officer claims Auburn police division quotas
Opelika-Auburn News (July 25, 2013)

Since the story came out in the press, spokes-flacks from the city government have issued rote denials and slimy Oh-we-can’t-comment-but… insinuations about Hanners’ personnel file from the City Manager’s office. Assistant City Manager James Buston admits that the sergeant said everything that was on that tape but that it wasn’t official policy. (But, you know, if it were official policy, it’d be O.K., because it’s kind of challenging them to do what they are supposed to do…). The Office of Charles Duggan, City Manager of Auburn, says The message that there is a quota was wrongfully conveyed through supervisory channels to at least one patrol shift — which of course is a long-assed way of saying that there was a quota while denying responsibility for setting it — but insists that there is an unfounded accusation being leveled by Mr. Hanners. Because, when ex-chief Dawson told the city government that this story was going to hit the press, the city government hired another government investigator to look over their records and tell them that all was O.K. Tracy Oppenheimer at Reason responds to the denials here. Public Safety Director Bill James, for example, put the following in writing:

To make 100 contacts, which include among others, traffic stops, issuing warrants, field interviews and arrests, requires about two contacts per shift hour. Making two contacts per hour is not unreasonable and still seems to leave a lot of time to perform other duties that are detailed in your job description. Your supervisors as well as I have an expectation that each employee needs to be productive during their time on shift.

–Auburn Public Safety Director Bill James, Re: Grievance
Correspondence with Officer Justin Hanners (November 20, 2012)
Quoted by Tracy Oppenheimer, Auburn Cop Fired for Resisting Quotas Gets Online Support; City Officials Deny Deny Deny

Buston also claims that Reason did not offer the city government an opportunity to respond before they put the video together. Oppenheimer’s story shows that this is false, and that Capt. Tom Stofer of the Auburn Police Division specifically said that the Division refused to comment. As for the insinuations about Hanners’ personnel file, besides the note about the retaliatory shift to bike duty, here’s some more elaboration on what happened to him.

“Well, the day my grievance was over, I get called into the Chief's office, and was told that some evidence I presented was from an internal affairs investigation and the gag order had been placed and I wasn't supposed to have it. So then the Chief, who is the suspect in my grievance, now starts an internal affairs investigation into me and my partner to see if we somehow compromised his own investigation into his own wrongdoing where he had found he had done nothing wrong. So in this investigation, they found that we had violated a gag order and that I had violated the city's reporting policy by reporting these people. And they ultimately fired me for it and suspended my partner who gave me a statement that said everything I was saying was true.”

–Justin Hanners, qtd. by Tracy Oppenheimer, Auburn Cop Fired for Resisting Quotas Gets Online Support; City Officials Deny Deny Deny

Here as elsewhere, cops protect their power. Support your neighborhood CopWatch.

  1. [1]When you hear about police departments setting requirements for making contact with individuals on Auburn streets and sidewalks just think of contact in the sense that ice hockey or American football are contact sports.

On Detroit, or: Cities don’t go bankrupt, city governments do.

If you have been reading news headlines over the past couple weeks, then I think it might be important to keep in mind that the city of Detroit has not been razed or destroyed in the past few days. The city of Detroit is not over; the city of Detroit has not failed; and the city of Detroit is not gone. It’s still right there, where it has been all these years; see, look, here it is:

View Larger Map

Here’s what has happened, over the past several days, and all that has happened: One institution, out of the millions of things going on in Detroit — specifically the single most confining and abusive and irresponsible institution within the city — the government which latched on to the city of Detroit and has tried to rule and exploit it for decades — has announced that it no longer intends to pay off the people and the institutions and the banks who paid it loans in advance of future tax revenues. That one institution, which claims, arrogantly and fraudulently, to speak for the whole city of Detroit, and which intends to force the whole city of Detroit to pay for its mistakes — the same city government which has bulldozed Detroit neighborhoods and tried to sell out the city to the auto cartel and to corporate developers at every opportunity — the same city government whose attitude towards the people of the city has over the years ranged from one of constant low-level antagonism and hectoring, to one of repression and open warfare against them — the same city government which is now run by an appointed Emergency Manager from the state government, installed in a last-ditch effort to loot the city without the normal political restraints, for the sake of institutional bondholders, before things came to this pass — that one institution within the city of Detroit has announced that it wants to default on debts that most of the city never were asked about and never agreed to take on. And this may mess up that institution’s budgeting process for some time to come. What’s happened is something notable, but it is also something far less important than it’s being treating as, and something with far more political fascination than human significance.

There is no threnody of grief to be had here, no punishment for hubris or failures or sins, no final unraveling to reveal, no long-coming tragedy of decline or death for the city, if the city is supposed to mean anything at all other than the government. That government has taken over and inserted itself into so many parts of the city of Detroit that this may make things rough. Perhaps it will even make things rougher than they already were — although the reasons that are usually given for thinking that always seem to me to depend on some assumptions about the role of government in Detroit which I think are probably false. (If it is hard for the city government to allocate more money to the Detroit police department, is that going to make life worse in the city? It probably depends on what end of the stick you find yourself on.)

But the important thing is this. Detroit is not the crisis of a handful of elected, appointed and installed government officials. Detroit is not its most abusive institutions; it’s not a political project; it’s not a single institution at all, no matter how dominating its intent or arrogant its claims. It’s something much bigger, much better, and much more important than that. Detroit is the Ujamaa Food Coop and the Masonic Temple, UAW Local 174 and the Reuther Library. Detroit is the Tigers, Friday fish-fries and Paczki Day, the Red Wings and the Pistons, the Movement Electronic Music Festival and John King Books, the giant tire on I-94, the Eastern Market and the Afro-American Music Festival. the People’s Pierogi Collective and Joe Louis’s arm.

Here is a photo of the cast bronze statue of Joe Louis's arm and fist
Jefferson & Woodward, downtown Detroit

Detroit is fresh kielbasa and original Coney Islands (whichever one you think deserves the title); barbecue pork, and felafel and fries with a fruit smoothie; blind pigs and warehouse raves, Arabic signs[1] and pointing to the knuckle of your thumb to show where you’re from. Detroit is 19 year olds making the pilgrimmage to Windsor for booze[2] and to Royal Oak for coffee. Detroit is the home of Rosa Parks and of Grace Lee Boggs. Detroit is the Michigan Citizen and the Metro Times. Detroit is the Rouge plant and Fifth Estate. And Detroit is the long history of displacement, homecoming, work, music, food, culture, strife, love and building that the city grows up out of. Detroit is bigger, stronger, more resilient and much more important than the government’s budget.

Detroit did not cause this crisis. The city government and the state government and the bankers they deal with, who dominate and exploit Detroit, did that. And though Detroit will be forced to pay much of the bill, Detroit is not threatened by this crisis and will not be ended or killed, because Detroit never depended on the city government or the state government or the institutions they deal with for what it is or what it has done. To grow, and to survive, and to thrive, Detroit depends on its people, on the collision and the seeping-together of its many cultures and subcultures and neighborhoods and scenes, on those people’s work and their industry and their craft and their experiments and their interconnection and solidarity and mutual aid. The city of Detroit is its people, not its politics, and it will live on in those people over, above, beyond, and in spite of, the ongoing efforts of local governments and state-appointed emergency governments and corporate-political managers to somehow bail out and save government’s place within Detroit. Everyone would be better off if the austerity government, along with all other local governments, just took this as an opportunity to pack it in and leave the city entirely alone — rather than attempt to somehow auction off, bail out, and save the essential command-posts for its political takeover of people’s space and public life. But even without that, the city continues, and lives, no matter how much the politics falls apart.


  1. [1]These are of course mostly in and around Dearborn. But Dearborn is of course part of Detroit. Detroit is its communities, not its municipal administrations or the lines that they draw on maps.
  2. [2]Yeah, that’s in Canada. It’s the part of Detroit that happens to be across the Canadian border. Detroit is all its communities, not its municipal governments. Or its national ones.
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