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Den of BadDudes

All round gentleman-about-town, raconteur, degenerate smoker of communist cigars and worthy blogger Brian Linse also moonlights as a film producer when he is not doing his proper job of blogging.

The production of his very interesting looking film called Den of Lions is well underway, shooting on location in Budapest, Hungary.

Progress reports and numerous pictures can be found at the film’s own blog site! Check it out.

Taxation is theft or switch to Visa….for now!

American Express Co. agreed on Monday to turn over to U.S. tax authorities information on offshore accounts held by Americans suspected of evading taxes, the second major card company to do so after MasterCard International Inc. A settlement agreement between the government and American Express, filed in federal court in Miami, allows the tax agency to collect identifying information, such as passport and driver’s license numbers, of customers with accounts in Antigua, Barbuda, Bahamas and the Cayman Islands. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is looking for records showing charges greater than $2,500 for purchases of cars, boats, hotels or travel services in the U.S. In trying to detect unreported income and prosecute people who are failing to file tax returns, the IRS is pursuing a form of tax evasion that uses credit cards issued by offshore banks.

I find it hard to comment on such news as there is nothing I could add to fire up the appropriate sentiments concerning this topic among us, libertarian bloggers. The warning is contained within the words of Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rossotti:

“Simply put, the guarantee of secrecy associated with offshore banking is evaporating…”

although I am sure he was swelled with pride as he said them and not fear for liberty and property rights….

When the state watches you,
dare to stare back

Citizenship: the state’s way of saying it owns you

Joshua Marshall has been discussing why he does not approve of dual-citizenship in several interesting posts. Not surprisingly I see it in very different terms to him. It is not one of those things that I feel I must ‘take him to task’ over because I do understand his view and realise that the root of our disagreement lies much further up the causal chain than the issue of ‘citizenship’. I see our difference of opinion as springing not so much from error but rather from radically different views of the world itself. He wrote:

To my mind, this isn’t a conservative view. It’s a liberal one. One of the things that makes us all equal as citizens is the fundamental reality that makes us citizens: membership and allegiance to this political community, this country. That’s what allows an immigrant citizen to be just as much an American as the guy whose ancestors came on the Mayflower.

He is quite right that the way he reasonably describes ‘citizenship’ is indeed ‘liberal’ (in the American sense of the word: i.e. what Europeans call ‘democratic socialist’). The ‘political community’ Josh describes is not civil society at all. Civil society is something to which people like me have no problem belonging and which does not require the permission (citizenship) of the state thus to do. No, what Josh is talking about is ‘The State’ because state and society are not the same thing. That is because civil society is not a ‘political’ community at all (i.e. a community in which politics, which is entirely about the use of force, governs the interactions), but rather a community which works by affinity and economic interaction rather than legislation.

In a sense I suppose it’s not a very big deal. But doesn’t this trivialize what it should mean to be a citizen of one of those countries? It’s sounds less like a civic, national identity than a sort of heritage knickknack or heirloom. Citizenship isn’t just about having a standing right of residency or something you have because you have some attachment or family connection to a particular country. I think it’s something more than that — particularly in the context of American citizenship.

Josh is also quite right that dual-citizenship trivialises what it does mean to be a citizen of one of those countries. His objections mirror those of Marxists with their disdain for ‘rootless cosmopolitans’. When a person sees political rather than social interaction as the core of society, then a person who stands outside, indeed above, the political structure in question is surely a threat to the authority of the political order. Yet globalization, technology and trade are indeed inexorably producing a larger and more culturally influential cosmopolitan class, not just a ‘Jet Set’ of people who work in banking and broking, but also a more broadly based group who have ’emigrated’ yet retain close and active ties across the oceans in ways that were previously either too expensive or technologically impossible to maintain. In past times, a family moving from India or Jamaica or China to a new life in Britain or North America or Australia, would have only the slow and remote link of written mail sent by ship to stay in contact. → Continue reading: Citizenship: the state’s way of saying it owns you

Bloody peasants!

I was quite overjoyed to see the BBC news report that two thirds of the entire population of Gibraltar turned out in a demonstration, led by the mayor (or whatever the head of government there is called) in defense of their right to decide their own fate.

That the United Kingdom could even consider negotiating with Spain over the transfer of Gibraltar to them is appalling. Not because of anything they are doing in the negotiation specifically, but because of the entire concept that underlies their talks.

It is like Feudalism.

In Feudalism, the peasants and their land are traded about between rulers like poker chips in Las Vegas. The thought people who live in a place might actually prefer one situation over another is foreign, or at least not as important as Raison’s d’Etat to the Feudal Lord.

This is not a UK party issue. The Conservaties sold the Hong Kong peasants to China; now Labour wishes to sell the Gibraltar peasants to Spain. At least in Northern Ireland we’ll get to vote about it. Repeatedly if we want.

I would imagine the Falklands peasantry will be the next to be sold off. After all, it’s bloody expensive defending them. Then perhaps we can sell the Channel Islands slave… er peasants… er subjects… to France! Yeah, that’s the ticket!

I would suggest to Gibraltarians they begin to arm and prepare defensive positions. The government of the United Kingdom wants to sell them, so perhaps a slave revolt is in order.

At the very least they could make it very messy for Spain. I’ll bet there are loads and loads of hardened tunnels and caves in those rocks.

We will never forget

I have kept a copy of this program on my disk from the time I first ran across it back in October or thereabouts. I play it every once in awhile. Not too often as I’m not one to wallow in emotions, but now and then. It has been my way to clear the media muddied waters of my memory, a way to bring back the clarity of purpose that 9/11 gave to all of us.

I also read this recent article by Jonah Goldberg. He castigated the US TV networks for rarely playing the images of the murderous events of 9/11 after the first few weeks. His article struck a particular chord with me because I had only recently played my own reminder, my secret weapon for staying, as Perry de Havilland put it, “sound of mind and sharp of sabre”.

It is difficult to describe the powerful and varied emotions it brings forth. Possible… if one were a Shakespeare perhaps. For the likes of me it is far easier to say “Just go watch it.”

I wanted to put up a link for it myself, but although I have a copy sitting here, I did not remember where I had gotten it… other than it was done by someone from New York. Fortunately for the world, PejmanPundit included it in a recent posting.

To the author of that multimedia program I say: Thank You.

And to those who died in New York… We will never forget.

Samizdata slogan of the day

If you would not be forgotten,
as soon as you are dead and rotten,
either write things worth reading,
or do things worth the writing.
– Benjamin Franklin

Blog linkage

Although we have reduced the amount of blogs to which we link on the Samizdata main page, we have added a separate links and photographs page. We will occasionally add new photographs there every now and then if we can catch a member of the Samizdata Team in a compromising situation.

We added the links page as the sidebar was becoming unmanagable and the links list was in danger of melting down… a sort of blogger China Syndrome.

Update, July 2002: since our transmogification to Samizdata.net, this has all changed

Samizdata blog e-mail fixed!

The regular Samizdata e-mail address is back up and running after our domain host finally clubbed the misbehaving server into submission like a baby seal.

Feedback should go to: [address removed]

If you have them, the various other samizdata.net e-mail addresses are now functional again.

A speculation about the unity of the United States – provoked by the Oscars

The blogging phenomenon is such that I am making new American friends by the hour, friends I’ve never met but who are getting to know me fast. It’s the same for David, Tom, Adriana and the rest of us. And maybe some of these new American friends can confirm or deny a feeling I’ve had ever since September 11th of last year. I get the feeling that black America has finally united with white America. The Oscars awarded last night for Best Actor to Denzel Washington, for Best Actress to Halle Berry, and for being Sidney Poitier to Sidney Poitier, nudged me into writing this, but the thought has been with me for some time.

There’s nothing like a common enemy and a common ordeal to bring people together. September 11 supplied this. The differences and gaps between black and white Americans are still big, still a problem. But these differences and gaps shrivel down into very little indeed when set beside those between both and their common Islamic fundamentalist enemy.

Not so long ago, black Americans were queuing up to change their names to something Islamic, to piss off whitey presumably. I’m guessing that there’s a lot less of this going on now, and that maybe some of these name-changes are even being reversed.

This is short posting because it’s a simple question about something rather than a complicated answer to something. Simply: Is all or any of this true? Or am I indulging in speculative sentimentality, or more plainly, in wishful thinking?

Why don’t you …?

The thing about the International Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL) is that it has just kept on keeping on.

I remember how, during the eighties, Chris Tame and I used to hammer away at ISIL conferences and gatherings about the overwhelming importance of publications, publications, publications. Typical ISIL types, especially the Europeans, preferred their endless schemes to “popularise” libertarianism by, basically, just talking about it to this or that “interest group”, which would then topple or else totally libertarianise this or that government, but which somehow never quite did. They said: why don’t you do that? To hell with that, we said, we’re already doing what we’re doing. And I remember being badgered by Americans about the “internet”, which, they said, would “cut out the middle man” and make the Libertarian Alliance publications-based strategy obsolete. You can just talk to people! Millions of people! Why don’t you do that? To hell with that also, we said. But what good, they said, are two hundred mere publications compared to immediate libertarian political triumphs and millions of new computer connected recruits? Because we actually have the two hundred publications, we said. You can buy them in the foyer. If you’re so keen on this other stuff, why don’t you …?

None of us were all wrong. None of us had it quite right. And now it’s all coming together. ISIL has an excellent new website, which contains, among other things, a small (by Libertarian Alliance standards) but growing list of, yes, publications. Two individuals, according to the latest ISIL communication that I received on Sunday, deserve special credit (two middle men, you might say): Chris Whitten, who designed the ISIL site, and Alberto Mansueti, who is translating ISIL stuff into Spanish. And I’d also like to mention Jim Elwood, for (see above) just hanging on and keeping going, like a dog who won’t let go of a bone. He was isiling away back in the early eighties, and he’s been isiling ever since.

We of the Libertarian Alliance have yet to get ourselves a website designer as good as Chris Whitten, but all the bits of an LA website as good as www.isil.org promises to be are slowly being assembled. We too have just kept on keeping on. The most interesting recent change to the LA website is the hit counter, which had been underestimating the number of hits, and has now done a guess-jump from 13,000 to 20,000 which I also reckon is about right. There’ll be more publications Real Soon Now. And we’ll also start having most of them instead of only a few of them available in html, also Real Soon Now.

And, of course, we London libbos do have ourselves a nice little blogging operation, where we, you know, kind of talk about libertarianism. Does ISIL have one of those? Jim, you’re not doing anything. Why don’t you..?

Since we are handing out awards…

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Academy of Drivelling Idiots is proud to announce its award for Best Writer in a Terrorist-Supporting Role. And the nominations are:

Ted Rall for How We Lost Afghanistan

“The principal goal of this adventure in imperialistic vengeance, it seems obvious, should be to install a friendly government in Kabul. But we’re winning neither hearts nor minds among either the commoners or the leadership of the current regime apparent”

Robert Fisk for The Awesome Cruelty of a Doomed People

“And then how easy was our failure to recognize the new weapon of the Middle East which neither Americans or any other Westerners could equal: the despair-driven, desperate suicide bomber.”

John Pilger for Inevitable Ring To the Unimaginable

“Far from being the terrorists of the world, the Islamic peoples have been its victims – principally the victims of US fundamentalism, whose power, in all its forms, military, strategic and economic, is the greatest source of terrorism on earth”

Susan Sontag for The Disconnect

“The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.”

And the winner is…..(rustle, rustle, rustle)…..ROBERT FISK

(Whoops, cheers, wild applause)

FISK: Thank you. Thank you. I am not worthy of this award. I am not worthy of being so honoured. For I, too, am guilty. I, too, am an opressor (wipes way tear). Save your awards and your honours for all the hapless victims of global capitalism and American imperialism. They are the real heroes and I accept this award on their behalf. I thank you

(More whoops, cheers, wild applause, standing ovation)

International League of Scrubbers

Anyone opened a bank account of late? Transferred an account? Dealt in cash? Sent money abroad? Have you been sent half-insane by the form-filling and ID checking it involved?

If so, then please point an accusatory finger at people like Jonathan M. Winer a former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State International Law Enforcement who has written a rather plaintiff article in the Financial Times exhorting the entire world to join him in his campaign against what he calls ‘dirty money’.

The anti-money laundering regime, in which doubtless Mr. Winer was instrumental, sought to scupper international terrorists and drug-dealers by imposing a regulatory regime on all financial institutions requiring them to act as investigators and policemen on the state’s behalf. I have witnessed the absurd results of this first-hand as lowly pensioners from Essex are told to hand over their passport when signing a loan agreement just in case they are really Osama Bin Laden in deep cover.

Added to the humiliation of treating people like criminals, the cost-burden on financial institutions are awesome and let us not forget the many small countries which have been bullied into surrendering their banking secrecy and legal safeguards of anonymity which are the only comparative advantages they possess.

After all that, it is more than a little galling to hear Mr. Winer say:

“Long before September 11, many other victims of wrongdoing have found that global evil-doers are better at taking advantage of the financial infrastructure of globalisation than the world’s police and regulators are at catching them”

Is it just me, or does that sound suspiciously like an admission of failure? I cannot say that I am surprised. I (along with many others) predicted long ago that these regulations would do nothing to stop or even slow down determined terrorists or drug-runners. People who are ruthless enough to fly aeroplanes into buildings are hardly going to be phased by having to practice some sleight-of-hand with a bank teller or two.

Mr. Winer goes on to remind us of just how evil money-laundering can be but, rather hilariously, cites economic woes in countries such as Argentina, Mexico and Albania as proof, while forgetting to mention that these countries were hardly paragons of financial virtue to begin with. But, this aside, there is some refreshing frankness in the article. Mr. Winer admits:

“In practice, even the most sophisticated and best-regulated financial centres have proved incapable of adequately overseeing the global enterprises they license”

You’d think that Mr. Winer might have considered this beforehand because it is screamingly obvious. Asking bankers to become policemen is not only a good way to ensure that policemen get lazy but it is also an attempt to get banks engaged in an activity that is diametrically in conflict with their primary function, like asking a cat to bark.

Mr. Winer goes on to suggest a better method for bringing these terrible terrorists and drug-runners to their knees:

“But imagine instead a white list, to make compliance a profit centre, rather than a burden on a bank. A white list – and a reward for being on it.”

This ‘white list’ is something which banks all over the world could apply to join once they have satisfied all the states criteria of compliance to the very highest degree. Then they could proudly advertise themselves as ‘the best of the best’ and all their competitiors would rush to join for the kudos it would give them. Mr.Winer expects this to be a ‘race to the top’.

This is an idea born of hope rather than judgement and is likely to be as successful as his last good idea i.e. a total dud. Complying with the standards required to get on this ‘white list’ would cripple any bank with unendurable profit-eating costs and any that were stupid enough to try would slide dolefully into liquidation while their competitors died laughing.

I am quite pleased that the likes of Mr. Winer are pinning their hopes on this because it is further confirmation that they have lost. That’s what the whole article smacks of really; an almost pathetic, desperate attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. This may be futile but it is, from Mr. Winer’s point of view, understandable because the ‘anti-money laundering regime’ is not really about drugs or terrorists at all, it is a sordid attempt at self-preservation. The global movement of capital represents a grievous threat to national tax bases, particularly those that demand up to one-half of their citizens earnings. But that little game is up if the citizens in question can move their money beyond their local tax inspectors reach.

All this chaffe about drugs and terrorists is really a vehicle by which the public sector can try to defend itself against the vigour (or what they see as ‘virulence’) of the free market and, in doing so, they are quite happy, indeed almost compelled, into press-ganging every bank clerk and accountant into their fight. But no laws that Mr. Winer can pen will upend the immutable laws of physics and, sooner or later, the international money-laundering regime will be buried in the Graveyard of Grand Schemes.

Mr. Winer’s article is not so much a helpful analysis or even a plea for help so much as notice of his intention to go down fighting.