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Land of the Free(ish)

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
– 5th Amendment: US Constitution

Today is the 4th of July, when Americans celebrate their independence and much talk of freedom and constitutions occurs. This day is in many ways an orgy of self-congratulation, much of which is entirely justified (I make no secret of my pro-Americanism Atlanticism).

But perhaps, just perhaps, the ‘shot heard around the country’ that was delivered by the Supreme Court of the United States with the Kelo verdict will snap a great number of Americans out of their understandable but entirely misplaced complacency regarding the benevolence of their own nation-state.

Not only does Eminent Domain now pose a threat to anyone whose property happens to catch the eye of a well connected property developer, the USA also has outrageous ‘asset forfeiture’ laws that allow suspects to have their property taken by the state, reversing the burden of proof and making the accused (but un-convicted and usually un-tried) person prove their property is not the proceeds of some crime in order to have the property returned (they cannot prevent it from being taken in the first place). So much for ‘due process’.

Americans would do well to remember that it was the use of British sedition laws to seize private property from political activists was a major cause of disaffection in the colonies in the lead up to the Revolution in 1776. Moreover those sedition laws were far less capricious and more respectful of due process than modern ‘asset forfeiture’ laws (colonial era sedition laws at least required you to actually be convicted).

The fight against Al Qaeda and any who ally with them must go on but the greatest threat to liberty (and in the long run that inevitably means life) facing the people in the United States comes not from without but from within. Until the entire scope of what government can do is radically cut back, Kelo is pointing the way to a grim future. I hope that the Supreme Court’s destruction of the 5th Amendment by allowing the state to take private property for the private use of property developers, will be reversed long before it requires the active use of the 2nd Amendment to make private property secure against those who would rather use political power rather than markets to enrich themselves.

Happy birthday America.

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12 comments to Land of the Free(ish)

  • Verity

    Perry, your points are well-made, but on this 4th July, I would like to join you in wishing America a happy birthday. Long may its torch of liberty shed a light on the dark corners of the world.

  • This is not America anymore, Perry. Who knows whether it ever will be again? Maybe, on some distant day. As it stands right now, however, I find this day to be the single most dis-heartening and appalling of the year.

    It’s that “powerful smell of mendacity… it smells like death”. I just can’t stand all these sanctimonious motherfuckers filling the air with ignorance and lies over something so important.

    I don’t believe that you can imagine what’s it’s really like, and I don’t think I can find a way to describe it, but it’s just about the most horrible thing that happens, annually, now. I see it coming every year, and it just hurts bone-deep, awfully.

  • Thank you for the good wishes, Verity and Perry, and all else who may leave them. However, I have to agree with Billy Beck. Things have gotten to an appalling state here, and I hardly know where to begin complaining. The privatization of prisons? Guess what happens when the sacred profit motive worms its way into the criminal system. Patriot Act? Bitch, please. Private property? Forget it. Privacy? What’s that? And I’m going to vomit if I hear Commander-in-Chief Chickenhawk making one more mawkish speech about our brave troops defending freedom. Christ.

  • Verity

    None and Billy Beck – It sounds a lot like what is happening in Britain. Ever more illiberal and authoritarian measures are the order of the day in Britain, including the nationalising of the family and a government that lies about absolutely everything and has corrupted the civil service into lying, too.

    I don’t want to believe America’s as far gone as Britain! You have better safeguards than we do. Also, let’s hope the Prez appoints someone along the lines of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court – someone who goes by the Constitution, not the liberal interpretations of others.

  • Verity wrote:

    … let’s hope the Prez appoints someone along the lines of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court – someone who goes by the Constitution, not the liberal interpretations of others.

    While anyone can appreciate the overall sentiment, I say: Fat chance. Why on earth would a big government type like Bush nominate someone with the slightest libertarian leanings?

  • A number of people have suggested dropping Roe as a litmus test, and substituting Kelo.

    Can someone point me in the direction of Bush quotes in which he expresses dismay and outrage at Kelo, and promises to redress that evil? Instead what we get is demagoguery about saving all the doe-eyed little moppets. (The cynical are free to read that last as “other people’s ill-gotten brats.”) One result can be viewed at (Link). Do leave your PC’s sound on if you visit.

  • James

    I’m enjoying a relaxing July 4th playing badminton in the back yard, but I can understand the disillusionment being felt.

    It appears that the recent (or not so recent) turns of events means that even stalwarts such as Kim Du Toit are feeling the strain.

    Please, everyone drop by and offer him some support in his comments section.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I want to wish the USA a happy Independence Day, but of course I have to agree with every word of Perry’s and those good folk in the comments. Alas, as Verity said, it is arguably even worse here in Britain.

    Which takes us to the ever-present question: how do we get back those freedoms in our lifetimes? Sometimes I feel rather useless just commenting away on the sidelines. Do the great mass of the apolitical folk in Britain and the USA have any regard to what we care about? I doubt it

    It’s going to get worse before it gets better, I am afraid.

  • John K

    Can someone point me in the direction of Bush quotes in which he expresses dismay and outrage at Kelo, and promises to redress that evil?

    I can’t see that happening. Was it not the case that W used eminent domain to enable his baseball team to build their stadium in Texas back in the 80’s? Sounds like he’s pretty much one of the people who did so well out of this monstrous perversion of the 5th Amendment. One thing W has never been is one of the little people.

  • Paul Marks

    The asset theft laws were justified by saying “R.I.C.O. will only be used against organised crime”.

    It will only be used against bad people, not good people like you.

    It is moving this way in Britain – old Enoch warned that if the assets of drug dealers were allowed to be taken (without proving they came from illegal activity) then this principle would be extended to other people – and it has been.

    On the Constitution in general, the 1942 judgement treating food a man grew for his own consumption as “interstate commerce” for the purposes of the power to “regulate interstate commerce” has been recently upheld (if had to be, in order to maintain the Federal “war on drugs”). So the folly of thinking “well it is for the war, we will reverse it in peacetime” has been shown yet again.

    As Thomas Molner (a Catholic priest who was in the resistance aganst the Nazis in Hungary, survived Dachau and later escaped from the Communists) put it (in opposition to Frank Meyer’s claim that as the Constitution was basically O.K. the United States was basically O.K.).

    “All Meyer does is to state that such restoration [of law and authority] is possible if the Constitution and the laws are enforced. But the whole debate hinges on the question of why are they not enforced?”

    Letter to “National Review” May 19, 1970.

    The Constitution is not perfect, and even the imperfect Constitution was never perfectly enforced. But there was a time when it was a real force.

    That died in the 1930’s when the so called “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (the Justices who resisted the unconstitutional “New Deal” programs and had some victories – such as the striking down of the National Recovery Act) were outflanked, by a swing Justice (the Chief Justice I believe) agreeing to go along with President Roosevelt, in return for F.D.R’s court packing plan being withdrawn.

    The Republic died then, but most Americans either do not know or do not care.

    If most people are ignorant or corrupt there is no hope for liberty.

    There have been great people since the 1930’s – even great politicians (I would point at John Bricker from the 1930’s to the 1958 election when he left the Senate, or Representative Ron Paul now), but while such people are a minority they can not win.

  • You guys make me sad, and I was so enjoying the fourth, too. I’m in China, so my appreciation of American liberties tends to come with the “compared to…” clause. But you’re right. The whole damn constitution was primarily about what the government is NOT allowed to do, at one time. For at least the last 70 years, we’ve been busily writing “exceptions” to those restrictions, and the more people who point that out, the better.

  • broken link above. Old sig. Sorry.