Check out what the loopy Ayn Randroids are up to now. In long-suffering Detroit, a libertarian real estate developer wants to buy a civic crown jewel, Belle Isle, the 982-acre park designed by Frederick Law Olmstead—think the Motor City’s Central Park—and turn it into an independent nation, selling citizenships at $300,000 per. Not, mind you, out of any mercenary motives, says would-be founder Rodney Lockwood—but just “to provide an economic and social laboratory for a society which effectively addresses some of the most important problems of American, and the western world.” (Sic.)
Address how? Well, let’s say I’ve never seen a document that better reveals the extent to which, for libertarians, “liberty” means the opposite of liberty—at least since Rick Santorum held up the company town in which his grandpa was entombed as a beacon of freedom.
An aspiring Ayn Rand himself, Lockwood has set out his vision in a “novel,” poetically titled Belle Isle: Detroit’s Game Changer. Although he’s actually done the master one better, by imagining he can get his utopia built. Last week he presented the plan, alongside a retired Chrysler executive, a charter school entrepreneur (who apparently enjoys a cameo in the novel running one of the island’s two K-12 schools) and a senior economist at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, to what The Detroit News called “a select group of movers and shakers at the tony Detroit Athletic Club,” who included the president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Never let it be said Rod Lockwood (perfect pornstar name? You be the judge) hasn’t thought this thing through. The plan is foolproof: “Belle Isle is sold by the City of Detroit to a group of investors for $1 billion. The island is then developed into a city-state of 35,000 people, with its own laws, customs and currency, under United States supervision as a Commonwealth.” Relations with neighboring, impoverished Detroit will be naught but copacetic, and not exploitative at all: “Plants will be built across the Detroit River…. with the engineering and management functions on Belle Isle. Companies from all over the world will locate on Belle Isle, bringing in massive amounts of capital and GDP.” (Because, you know, tax-dodging international financiers of the sort a scheme like this attracts are just desperate to open and operate factories.) Government will be limited to ten percent or less of GDP, “by constitutional dictate. The social safety net is operated charities, which are highly encouraged and supported by the government.”
Although, on Belle Isle, “the word ‘Government’ is discouraged and replaced with the word ‘Service’ in the name of buildings.” Note the verb-tense slippage between present and future throughout. Lockwood is a realist.
He says what he imagines is a “Midwest Tiger”—helpfully explaining that his self-bestowed nickname is “a play on the label given Singapore as the ‘Asian Tiger.’ Singapore, in recent decades, has transformed itself into the most dynamic economy in the world, through low regulation, low taxes and business-friendly practices.”
Singapore. You know: that libertarian paradise where chewing gum is banned; thousands of people each year are sentenced to whippings with rattan canes for such offenses as overstaying visas and spray-painting buildings; the punishment for littering can be $1,000, a term of forced labor and being required to wear a sign reading “I am a litter lout”; and where pornography, criticizing religion, connecting to an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot and (yes!) over-exuberant hugging are all banned. Freedom!
What are the Commonwealth’s other inspirations, you ask? “The country of Liechtenstein, which, although a monarchy, has a very effective government.”
And indeed, just like little Liechtenstein, Belle Islanders will enjoy protection from America’s security umbrella: “As a Commonwealth of the United States…Belle Isle pays its share of the U.S. defense budget, based on its population. It amounts to about $2,000 per person per year.” In fact Belle Islanders can expect nothing but fiscal gratitude from citizens of the United States. Yes, “a citizen who lives on Belle Isle who operates an investment fund with world-wide customers will pay no income taxes” to the United States. “Won’t the US lose a lot of tax revenue?” Oh, ye of little libertarian faith. “It will probably gain revenue…. Entrepreneurs from around the world will locate on Belle Isle and headquarter there, but often have their plant operations in the US because the island is so small. Businesses producing products in the U.S. will still be taxed at US corporate rates…. the influx of capital and jobs will be staggering…. Detroiters will see this vision as the answer to their prayers, and how could the federal government deny Detroit a chance to turn itself around, accelerate its re-birth, all at no cost to the taxpayer? How could they deny this long standing population of over 700,000 their first real shot at the American dream.” (Sic.)
Want in? Three requirements. First, of course, you need to come up with $300,000. “Will the citizenship fee pay for the purchase of any land for homes or businesses on Belle Isle?” “No—that will be an additional cost.” But look what that $300,000 buys you: “One of the core values” of the new nation, Lockwood writes, “is respect for all its citizens, no matter their station in life.”
Second: approval by the “citizenship board.” (Freedom!) Third step: “a command of English.” Because nothing says “respect for all its citizens” like “funny-talkers need not apply.”
And yes, it’s true, Lockwood proposes the “Rand” as the name of Belle Isle’s currency. But I’m sure he means Rand as in “Ayn Rand,” not, you know, Rand as in “South Africa,” the former home of a social system that functioned by surrounding minority enclaves of affluent whites with a reserve army of impoverished and disenfranchised blacks. Not like that at all.
What could go wrong? What’s the downside? After all, writes Lockwood in the section of his FAQ asking, ‘What is Bell Isle used for currently?”, “It is uninhabited and functions as a public park.” Just like that dead zone between 59th and 110th Streets in Manhattan.
You can sign up for updates on the project here. Although, take note, in order do so you have to give the organizers your phone number. Because, you know… freedom.
By: Rick Perlstein, The Nation, January 28, 2013
As Jaime and I noted yesterday, many Democratic politicians feel the need to preface any discussion of guns with an assurance that they, too, own guns and love to shoot, as though that were the price of admission to a debate on the topic. But what you seldom hear is anyone, politician or otherwise, say, “I don’t own a gun and I don’t ever intend to” as a statement of identity, defining a perspective that carries moral weight equal to that of gun owners. So it was good to see Josh Marshall, in a thoughtful post, say, “Well, I want to be part of this debate too. I’m not a gun owner and, as I think as is the case for the more than half the people in the country who also aren’t gun owners, that means that for me guns are alien. And I have my own set of rights not to have gun culture run roughshod over me.” Let me tell you my perspective on this, and offer some thoughts on the question of what sort of a society we want to have when it comes to the question of guns. Because there are two radically different visions that are clashing here.
For the record, I, too, am not a gun owner (you’re shocked to learn this, I know). I took riflery at camp as a kid, shooting a .22 at paper targets (and when you achieved each new level of marksmanship, you got a certificate from the NRA!), and I’ve held unloaded guns a few times. I understand the attraction of guns. They give you a feeling of power and potency, and they’re fun to shoot, which is why every little boy loves playing with toy guns. But in the town where I grew up, you never saw a gun that wasn’t in a cop’s holster. If any of my classmates’ parents had them (and I’m sure some did), they never mentioned it, and my own parents would sooner have adopted a pack of hyenas than brought a gun into our home. As far as that community was concerned, the relative absence of guns was one of the things that made it a nice place to live. It wasn’t because everyone got together and took a vote on it, but that absence was nevertheless an expression of the community’s collective will.
I’m sure that many gun advocates would hear that and say, “Don’t you realize how vulnerable you all were? You should have been armed!” But the truth is we weren’t vulnerable (crime was low; I have a vague memory of one murder that happened during my entire childhood but I could be imagining it), and although as kids we always complained that the town was boring, everyone seemed pretty happy with the security situation. And if one day, a few of the town’s citizens started letting everyone know that they were now carrying firearms when they were down at the drugstore or the bank, it wouldn’t have made anyone feel safer. Just the opposite, in fact. It would have changed everything for the worse.
What I’m getting at is that one of the things that makes a society work is that people have rights that are protected in the law, but they also exercise those rights with consideration for the society’s other members. For instance, we have a strong commitment to freedom of expression, such that many things that would be deemed obscene and get you tossed in jail in other countries are tolerated here. So if I want do a performance art piece that involves lots of cursing and tossing about bodily fluids, I can do it. But I’m not going to do it on the sidewalk in front of your house during dinner time, not because I don’t have the right, but because that would make me an asshole. In the exercising of my rights, I’d be changing the conditions of your existence, even for a brief time, in a way that you’d find unpleasant. So because I value having a society where we all live together, I’ll choose to find a theater to put on my performance, and you can choose to come see it or not. In the same way, if you choose to have a gun in your home because you think it protects you, that’s your right. I’m going to choose not to let my kid come play with your kid at your house, and we can all get along.
According to the Constitution, you have a right to own a gun. I’ll be honest and say that I wish it weren’t so; the fantasies the most extreme gun advocates notwithstanding, our liberty is protected by our laws and institutions, not by our ability to wage war on our government. Canadians and Britons and French people aren’t any less free than we are because they are less able to start killing cops and soldiers when they decide the time for insurrection has come. Nevertheless, that basic right exists and it isn’t going to be taken away. But the rest of us should also be able to say that there are limits to how far your exercising that right should be allowed to change the rest of our lives, and if necessary the law should enforce those limits.
As I’ve written before, the goal of many gun advocates, particularly those who promote concealed carry, is that we make it so as many people as possible take as many guns as possible into as many places as possible. That’s been the focus of their legislative efforts in recent years, not only passing concealed carry laws nearly everywhere, but also passing laws to make you able to take guns into bars, schools, government buildings, houses of worship, and so on, and also advocating for laws that would let you take your guns to communities where it would be otherwise illegal to carry them. Which would mean that your right to carry your gun trumps the right of everyone else to say, this is a place where we’ve decided we don’t want people bringing guns.
Is it possible that on my next visit to the local coffee place, a madman might come and shoot the place up? Yes, it’s possible. And is it possible that if half the patrons were armed, one of them might be able to take him down and limit the number of people he killed? Yes, it’s possible. It’s also possible that I’ll win the next Powerball. But if holding out that infinitesimal possibility means that every time I go down for a coffee, I’m entering a place full of guns, it’s not a price I’m willing to pay. That’s the decision I’ve made, and it’s the decision that the other people in my community have made as well.
But gun advocates want to create a society governed by fear, or at the very least, make sure that everyone feels the same fear they feel. “An armed society is a polite society,” they like to say, and it’s polite because we’re all terrified of each other. They genuinely believe that that the price of safety is that there should be no place where guns, and the fear and violence they embody, are not present. Not your home, not your kids’ school, not your supermarket, not your church, no place. But for many of us—probably for most of us—that vision of society is nothing short of horrifying.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 18, 2013
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
Those are the opening words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and they seem eerily prescient today because once again this country finds itself increasingly divided and pondering the future of this great union and the very ideas of liberty and equality for all.
The gap is growing between liberals and conservatives, the rich and the not rich, intergenerational privilege and new-immigrant power, patriarchy and gender equality, the expanders of liberty and the withholders of it. And that gap, which has geographic contours — the densely populated coastal states versus the less densely populated states of the Rocky Mountains, Mississippi Delta and Great Plains — threatens the very concept of a United States and is pushing conservatives, left quaking after this month’s election, to extremes.
Some have even moved to make our divisions absolute. The Daily Caller reported last week “more than 675,000 digital signatures appeared on 69 separate secession petitions covering all 50 states,” according to its analysis of requests made through the White House’s “We the People” online petition system.
According to The Daily Caller, “Petitions from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas residents have accrued at least 25,000 signatures, the number the Obama administration says it will reward with a staff review of online proposals.” President Obama lost all those states, except Florida, in November.
The former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul took to his Congressional Web site to laud the petitions of those bent on leaving the union, writing that “secession is a deeply American principle.” He continued: “If the possibility of secession is completely off the table there is nothing to stop the federal government from continuing to encroach on our liberties and no recourse for those who are sick and tired of it.”
The Internet has been lit up with the incongruity of Lincoln’s party becoming the party of secessionists.
But even putting secession aside, it is ever more clear that red states are becoming more ideologically strident and creating a regional quasi country within the greater one. They are rushing to enact restrictive laws on everything from voting to women’s health issues.
As Monica Davey reported in The New York Times on Friday, starting in January, “one party will hold the governor’s office and majorities in both legislative chambers in at least 37 states, the largest number in 60 years and a significant jump from even two years ago.”
As the National Conference of State Legislatures put it, “thanks to an apparent historic victory in Arkansas, Republicans gained control of the old South, turning the once solidly Democratic 11 states of the Confederacy upside down.” Arkansas will be the only one of these states with a Democratic governor.
As Davey’s article pointed out, single-party control raises “the prospect that bold partisan agendas — on both ends of the political spectrum — will flourish over the next couple of years.” But it seems that “both ends of the political spectrum” should not be misconstrued as being equal. Democrats may want to expand personal liberties, but Republicans have spent the last few years working feverishly to restrict them.
According to a January report from the Guttmacher Institute: “By almost any measure, issues related to reproductive health and rights at the state level received unprecedented attention in 2011. In the 50 states combined, legislators introduced more than 1,100 reproductive health and rights-related provisions, a sharp increase from the 950 introduced in 2010. By year’s end, 135 of these provisions had been enacted in 36 states, an increase from the 89 enacted in 2010 and the 77 enacted in 2009.” Almost all the 2011 provisions were enacted in states with Republican-controlled legislatures.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, at least 180 restrictive voting bills were introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states. Most of the states that passed restrictive voting laws have Republican-controlled legislatures.
An N.C.S.L. report last year found “the 50 states and Puerto Rico have introduced a record 1,538 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees in the first quarter of 2011. This number surpasses the first quarter of 2010 by 358.” That trend slowed in 2012 in large part because of legal challenges. Many of the states that had enacted anti-immigrant laws or adopted similar resolutions by March of last year, again, had Republican-controlled legislatures.
We are moving toward two Americas with two contrasting — and increasingly codified — concepts of liberty. Can such a nation long endure?
By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 23, 2012