The Libertarian Response? Happy You Asked!

John Cole asks what libertarians have to say about Benton Harbor, Michigan (Hint… he’s not “really curious.” He just says he is):

I’m really curious what the libertarian response is to the Governor of Michigan seizing a town, firing the elected officials, and then handing it over to private enterprise. I’d like to hear about how this adheres to the Randian vision of Atlas Shrugged. Bonus points if you can throw in some Burkean principles or a quote from the Road to Serfdom.

The reason I ask this, of course, is that the glibertarians who serve as mouthpieces for the corporatists who run this country are fond of talking about how corporate cronyism is as big a threat to FREEDOM as socialism, yet I’ve seen nothing about this from the usual libertarian suspects. Seems to me this is light years more egregious than Kelo v. the City of New London, which sparked much outrage.

Without hearing from even a single actual libertarian, the commenters pile on. Quelle surprise.

Sorry folks, but I don’t recall any libertarians ever having advocated this policy. I suppose it’s impossible to prove a negative (“No libertarians even once asked for anything like it!”), but I did help to edit the Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, and I think I’d remember if “taking away voting rights and the autonomy of towns” was a part of the libertarian creed. It’s not.

If you were to open that volume, you would find ideas like federalism, subsidiarity, devolution, and even polycentric legal order. With varying degrees of radicalism, and in different intellectual contexts, each of these is a way of saying that, other things being equal, local governments deserve much more authority than remote ones.

In other words, what happened in Benton Harbor stinks to high heaven.

Yes, there are problems with devolution, and sometimes local governments horribly betray the cause of individual liberty. The old South is the obvious example here, and it is so awful that even just talking about robust local government is often taken as a dog-whistle for racism. Sometimes there’s good reason for taking it that way. But sometimes there isn’t.

But hey — I’m glad we’ve all moved on. If you want to talk about localism, let’s talk. I’m all about localism. I never left it, in fact — not even when it meant that you and your ilk got to call me and my ilk racists. Welcome, friends. Welcome back to localism!

Yes, we can — and we should — argue about who gets what in the devolution process. Still, the principle is clear: In general, local governments will tend to be more responsive to local needs and concerns, at least if the citizens are more or less equal in civil rights and access to the political process.

It doesn’t appear that civil rights were being violated in Benton Harbor. (Not previously, anyway.) So why was state intervention justified? I wish I knew. I don’t. I find it profoundly puzzling that this, of all things, would be seized on as a “gotcha” moment.

Are libertarians insufficiently outraged about Benton Harbor? Perhaps — even if “insufficient outrage” is one of the more venal political sins around. And even if — as seems to be the case — this really is a new twist in our political life. As of this afternoon, I’m still very actively trying to educate myself about the issue. I hope that be forgiven. (Can it?)

What I’d like to hear most in the comments is not how I, personally, am to blame — via some absurd mishmash of things I don’t believe anyway, derived, you’ll swear, from books you haven’t read anyway.

What I’d like to hear are people making the case for and against what’s happened in Benton Harbor. Yes, I’d really like to hear both! Reference to actual events, and to anticipated outcomes, will do much more to help me form a considered opinion than will reference to ideological judgments of any type. Oh, and please cite your sources. I’ll want to check those as closely as I can.

In return, I will tell you what libertarians ought to think. Because I actually am one, and because you are not.

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144 thoughts on “The Libertarian Response? Happy You Asked!

  1. So a politician abuses his power and the automatic assumption is that libertarians would think that this is awesome?

    I think that the fundamental argument there is “well, *I* don’t agree with Libertarians and I don’t like this, therefore Libertarians would like this!”

    The faulty premise is the one where he assumes that he doesn’t agree with Libertarians. It leads to a faulty conclusion that Libertarians would like that.

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              • Instead of complaining about X, he’s wondering why Libertarians aren’t complaining about X.

                I note that you haven’t complained about it yet but have complained about my complaining about John Cole complaining about Libertarians not complaining.

                Why is that, Stillwater? What are your motives here?

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                  • It’s probably up there with why you haven’t complained about the destruction of Serrano’s “Piss Christ” yet. (Something about which John Cole’s silence also speaks volumes.)

                    I think you want to avoid an unpleasant discussion that you suspect you’ll lose but maybe it’s just because you sympathize with the people who enjoy destroying art.

                    Maybe we’ll never know.

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                    • You got me there. I do enjoy the destruction of art. Especially art viewed as sacred – either spiritually or economically. But let me say this: I denounce The Broccoli mandate, and Stalin as well.

                      But really, maybe your having difficulty understanding (believe me I sympathize) that Cole is doing the extraordinary by keeping two thoughts in his head at the same time. No one will hold it against you.

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                    • When insulting someone else’s intelligence, please use contractions correctly. With that behind us, But really, maybe your having difficulty understanding (believe me I sympathize) that Cole is doing the extraordinary by keeping two thoughts in his head at the same time.

                      Unlike “Libertarians”, of course.

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                    • I’m not objecting to be treated in any way. This is the internet, brother! (Plus, I have no idea what you were trying to convey with that sentence.) What I object to is the patently inaccurate summary/analysis of Cole’s point, which handwaves the substance of the post away. There is A) a real weird situation occurring in BH where the Governor’s office unilaterally disbanded the City government without any legislative oversight (maybe it’s justified, maybe it’s rife with shenanigans), and B) that people who advocate for smaller government and basic rights ought to be – but apparently aren’t – interested in this surprising occurrence.

                      I don’t know what fight you think your having here. But it isn’t about how I feel I’m being treated.

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                    • And now Cole is, seriously, asking why Libertarians haven’t denounced the authoritarian takeover of Benton Harbor.

                      Again: If you object to being treated the way you’re defending the way that others are being treated then THAT SHOULD TELL YOU SOMETHING.

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                    • Jeus Christo Jaybird! The point is this: one party/ideology chants incessantly about government and private sectors intrusion into peoples lives, about government overreach, about smaller limited government, about liberty as a core principle. Yet that party/ideology has nothing to say about about Benton Harbor, or lots of other very clear examples of governmental abuse and apparent violations of liberty, usually benefiting the private sector . Christ boy, I can’t make you understand the principles you’re ideological brethren claim to defend. But they’re clear to me.

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                    • So is it fair on my part to see your silence on the Piss Christ issue as confirmation for liberal cowardice when it comes to defending plurality in the face of religious violence?

                      If it’s not, why isn’t it?

                      Can we come to conclusions about other people based on their not having said anything yet?

                      Is “suspicious silence” grounds for an argument?

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                    • Good Lord Jaybird, you’re relentless. Given the choice between a) conceding Cole’s point, reflecting on it and addressing it in a rational manner and then concluding that the standard he’s holding libertarians too is unrealistically high and amounts to a strawman, or b) getting defensive and slinging accusations of hypocrisy and double-standards (I gotcha too!!), you chose b).

                      Personally, I woulda gone with a). But don’t take that as a form of advice. Watching you dance around the issue in a ridiculous attempt to score cheap points is always much more fun even if it’s completely counterproductive wrt the issue at hand.

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                    • It depends on the person one argues against, I’ve found.

                      When I argue against certain types of folks, I find that the “now, now, it is our job to be wise, and just, and kind, and a role model to others” is the best (and most fun!) tactic to take.

                      When I argue against others, I find that acting like a mirror to their own behaviors is the best (and most fun!) tactic to take.

                      When it comes to people who defend the use of the argument questioning the suspicious silence of others?

                      I find it more fun to ask them why they never show up in the gay marriage threads where I have defended gay marriage and written essays and debated against people who are trying to “defend” “traditional” “marriage” but only show up in the threads where libertarians are being attacked.

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                    • but only show up in the threads where libertarians are being attacked.

                      Who are you referring to here Jaybird? I didn’t see any new nyms in the bunch that commented on this post. Hmmm. I think I’ll let the point go, since it’s so vague and elusive that even you prolly don’t know precisely what you were getting at or you would have stated it clearly. Upfront and all. Surely that’s one of the argumentative tricks in your tool bag.

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                    • I’m obviously referring to you, Stillwater.

                      I can point you to any number of threads in which I have defended gay marriage and in which you have not deigned to show up and provide even a “me too” comment as support.

                      Why is that?

                      As a matter of fact, you show a great deal *MORE* interest in coming around and libertarian-bashing and jumping in *ONLY* if libertarians have already given their opinions so you can argue against libertarians as if that were a value in and of itself while keeping out of the weeds if the argument actually involves fighting *FOR* some ideal that one would think that you would hold if you were, in fact, a liberal instead of some hollow man who only fights *AGAINST* (and only against libertarians).

                      I’ve fought for it here and here and here and the *ONE* time that you deign to show up in a thread is here where, instead of actually fighting for gay marriage you’re arguing with Heidegger about alien lifeforms.

                      Now.

                      Exactly *WHAT* conclusions would you say it is acceptable for me to reach about your homophobia given your position on John Cole’s take on “Libertarians”?

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                    • H. had some crazy shit to say about alien forms, no doubt. Dunno what to say Jaybird. I came here during the labor roundtable, and pop in occasionally, more frequently lately. But look, I’ve gotten into lengthy discussions with Tim K about his views on the Lib/Con divide (is he a libertarian?), with Rufus on his views of conservatives in academia (is he a libertarian), with you about your continued failure to honor the many positive obligations you have to your fellow creatures on this planet (you a libertarian?), with EDK, Jason, James Hanley, all libertarian or with libertarian leanings. But – interestingly, and regarding you Big Gripe, most of the FP posters here are libertarian. So if you want me to show up for non-libertarian posts, give me the heads up. Oh wait! Freddie! he posts here too, right? I show up for him. And Kevin.

                      Plus, my good and very defensive antagonist, I’ve made my views about liberalism patently clear. I’ve made my views about conservatism patently clear. I haven’t provided any views as yet of libertarianism – except to say to TVD that it’s completely divorced from reality. But I could provide more views, if your inviting me.

                      Come to think of it, I’ll just let those views filter out as the others have done. If you find that offensive or problematic, I suggest you grow a pair and turn off the water jets.

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                    • “I’ve made my views about liberalism patently clear.”

                      So it’s your opinion that you think that you’ve demonstrated enough of your bona fides that the argument from “suspicious silence” on the part of your opponents is obvious bullshit?

                      Interesting.

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                    • Eh, It’s late in the day. On top of that, I don’t particulary enjoy defending the thesis that one might be justified in being attacked for something that one has not said, or at least, haven’t said in earshot of the person making the accusation. The amount of bad faith assumed on the part of one’s opponent to maintain the whole “suspicious silence” argument requires more energy than I have today.

                      (Hell, even John Cole resorted to the Sullivan-esque “I’m just asking questions!” when called on it.)

                      For the record, I’m sure that you’re totally a supporter of gay marriage and, if anyone thinks that I thought that you wouldn’t be, I would like to apologize to you for that and hope that this particular message clears up any misunderstandings that future readers of these comments may stumble across.

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                  • I’m pretty tired too, long day. And I’ve been fighting off a cold for a few days, so that’s made me grumpier than normal. Short fuse and all. And thanks for throwing me the bone about gays (don’t read anything into that).

                    And Cole did Moonwalk once Jason showed a sincere interest. Time for this really long skinny thread to rest in peace.

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  2. In other words, what happened in Benton Harbor stinks to high heaven.

    To me, the issue reduces to this: I’ve been decrying what’s going on in Benton Harbor for like three or four days now. If I’ve known about if for that long, why haven’t people who are paid to speak through megaphones about the exercise of just this type of governmental abuse of power speaking about it too?

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    • I don’t know. The fact that the issue was discovered by a particular ideological tribe (and they got there by a mere three days!) doesn’t seem to give much in the way of exclusive title to outrage.

      Seriously. Should I only care about the stuff I find first?

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        • Not to doubt this, but that doesn’t make it comparable to Kelo, which was around for the full cycle of making it to SCOTUS.

          Not that I’m a libertarian, mind you, but in the last month I’ve been busy with work, grad school, and the deluge of crisis literature that’s come out of the Middle East & Japan. I can see how you (for multiple classes of “you”) might not have known about this story.

          Shoot, I’m two weeks behind in watching The Daily Show, for cryin’ out loud…

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          • “that doesn’t make it comparable to Kelo”

            Oh, absolutely not. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise — just that while it’s not a national story, and I’d still say it’s overall a niche liberal one for the time being, it’s also not new.

            I don’t bother with TDS anymore, to be honest, but I am quite behind on my Parks & Rec., so I feel ya.

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      • Jason, you know exactly what my point was. If I knew about it – a mere liberal – how is it that others who are paid to supposedly report and comment on ideologically relevant policy issues failed to know? Christ, I didn’t even go looking for it. It’s just there.

        What kind on internet connection do you have? And do you have Google? I’d look into that to keep abreast of current events. Maybe the Koch’s’ll pop for service upgrades so you guys can access material to actually write about.

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        • Lately my priority topics have been:

          –U.S. federal budget, for obvious reasons;
          –Libya, ditto;
          –parking policy, for which see; and
          –some of the secondary literature on Rawls, for a future project.

          I hadn’t known much about Benton Harbor. But even so, why is my coming around to it a bad thing?

          I mean, when someone like Matt Yglesias finally latches onto occupational licensing, we libertarians don’t scorn him as insincere in his commitment to the poor. We don’t take it as revelatory of some inner weakness of the progressives. We don’t foam at the mouth about how he gets his salary from George Soros. No — we welcome him to the coalition, at least for that issue.

          Does it matter that Milton Friedman was writing about this stuff when Yglesias was negative twenty years old? Nope!

          Some reciprocity might be nice.

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          • Some reciprocity would be nice.

            Fair enough. It’s just that the lack of libertarian TT writing about policies that restrict or curtail the exercise of private power are really pretty rare (or in EDK’s recent post, that wonderful nexus between governmental power and private enterprise!). I hope that out of reciprocity you’ll agree.

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          • Something else that might interest you is state and local tax policy. Part of the reason Michigan is preparing to take over so many localities is the steep cuts in state revenue sharing. Local government can’t have the kind of authority you’d like without a solid tax base to finance it. As things stand, with the bulk of tax money going to Lansing first, the localities are dependent on the state’s willingness to send enough of it back, rather than financing its own pet projects (in Michigan’s case, large tax cuts,)

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      • It’s not just a matter of days. That’s merely when the power was exercised in the case of Benton Harbor. The law under which it was exercised was widely noted and protested by liberals when it passed a couple months ago. I don’t know if libertarians should be concerned about this situation, but if so they’ve had plenty of time to get up to speed on it.

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        • If you just track Balloon-Juice’s site, you get two mentions of the Michigan EMF by a masthead blogger (one which consists of a Maddow video link and both of which say that the poster hasn’t followed it that closely) around the time of passage a month ago. Then jack squat from the mast head bloggers until Benton Harbor becomes the first place that this is implemented.

          Seriously can you find any mention in a main post at Balloon Juice about this between this one: http://www.balloon-juice.com/2011/03/11/maddow-on-michigan/ and this one http://www.balloon-juice.com/2011/03/17/financial-martial-law/ and literally 3 days ago?

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              • First of all, I don’t really care to be completely aligned with JC on this one because I don’t really care one way or another what libertarians talk about while I’m not paying attention. Just to lay my cards on the table.

                But it seems to me like you made that post as a kind of “a-ha!” to hoist someone on his own petard, but Cole’s argument is that libertarians have been silent, so pointing to two examples within the past month doesn’t strike me as a crippling blow.

                If he was saying that one loses all integrity unless they’ve talked about this issue a minimum of three times in the past month, on the other hand, you’d have a point.

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        • “The law under which it was exercised was widely noted and protested by liberals when it passed a couple months ago.”

          I’m not a libertarian but a libertarian-inclined conservative, so maybe that’s good enough for government work.

          In any case, I think there’s more to be said for this Benton Harbor business than has been mentioned so far, at least in principle.

          Most of us live under a plethora of supposedly local jurisdictions, and not just states and municipalities: Water Reclamation District(s), Port Authority, Regional Transportation Authority, counties, etc. They tend to have taxing authority, and peace officer/arrest powers as well, and aside from machinations of the local political culture are some of the least accountable people on earth. I don’t know who we think is supposed to be supervising these people if not the states.

          And let’s also note this directly follows from the basic federalist design of America. The states are sovereign, the rest (except the federal government) are inferior jurisdictions, and are not.

          Again this is in general, I don’t know very much of the specifics of Benton Harbor.

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  3. The odd thing to me is that this story seems to point directly at: “government capture is a bad thing”. It’s kind of a poster child story for pro-libertarian arguments.

    Now, the original storyteller is telling this as a, “See, the Republicans won an election, and they used ‘winning this election’ to ram through a bunch of crap that is clearly horrible.” Which is okay in and of itself, but it’s really odd to complain that libertarians somehow bitch about Kelo more than this. Kelo was a long running story. There’s lots of context there, and lots of ways you can get introduced to that story. This is sorta new?

    And I imagine that most libertarians would say, “Hey, if we had the limited government that we’ve been asking for for years, then neither the Republicans nor the Democrats would be able to do this. If you want to get us on board with Democrats, why don’t you guys take this issue and champion it? Then we could get on board with you guys.”

    I think it’s unfair to tar the libertarian crowd with some sort of, “You guys fall for this Republican line of crap (they don’t really *want* limited government) and look what happens!” when you’re unabashedly more or less against what you’re saying the Republicans are also against. That boils down to, “See, abuse of government power when they do it is so horrible! Our abuse of government power is less horrible!”

    I think too many left-leaning people conflate “Libertarians” with “tea partier loons on the Right”. Where most libertarians *I* know actually distastefully vote for Democrats over distastefully voting for Republicans.

    Maybe I don’t know enough Libertarians.

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  4. I’m handicapped in my outrage by knowing a bit about this. An EFM emergency financial manger) was appointed for Benton Harbor under the same authority that one was appointed for Flint back in 2002, basically, the city government is broke and being put into receivership. The EFM has broad powers, just like a bankruptcy court does, to try to get the city back on its feet.

    I know about the Flint case second-hand from a relative who lives there. The city government had avoided bankruptcy for about three years by refusing to do the audits that would have revealed it. When the EFM came in, he cut the budget with a meat ax, but since the tax base had effectively gone away, there wasn’t much alternative. The guy was crusty and difficult and unpopular, but there was, as far as I know, no hint of corruption.

    Benton Harbor looks like more of the same. I have no idea whether their guy is corrupt, or whether he sensibly found a revenue source to help bail the city out. I suspect none of the rest of us do either. Some of the comments to the post Jason links to suggest that the public park was unusable because there was no money to keep it up. Given that the city was bankrupt, that’s very plausible.

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    • So what it amounts to is the state put Benton Harbor into its form of bankruptcy, because a city going into Federal Bankruptcy would likley result in other cities in the state having their credit destroyed. Since local government is a child of the state, its not surprising that the state does this. Note that besides Flint, Hamtramck also is in a supervised situation. So the question really is should a judge do it or the governor?

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      • To further note the State of New York did the same to New York city in the 1970s at the time Ford said to New York that it was not his problem if the city went belly up. Now it may be a question of the choice of administrators but thats a different matter than the basic principal. As noted the city had run itself down as has Harrisburg, which the state bailed out. (they bought a gold plated incnerator). Now the only difference is the PA situation requires the city council to approve the recommendations of the financial crisis, but given that there is a gun to their heads …
        Here is a link to a story on the PA situation:
        http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2011/01/whats_next_for_harrisburg_in_t.html

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      • This points to a very important principle of limited government: we can’t always achieve success in public policy, but we can remove funding from failure. In general, that is: I haven’t followed Benton Harbor too much or care a whole lot about it.

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        • I think the point that you, as a small-government type don’t care about this is sort of the point. This is actually a case of big government stepping in and taking power away from a locality with no recourse. Yet, you “don’t care.”

          On the other hand, if one person out of eighty refuses to be paid above market value for their home so a new light rail or highway can be built, it’s proof of government totalitarianism.

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          • No, you’re misreading. Benton Harbor is in principle a good thing. The localities are accountable to states, once in forever those ties of accountability ought to be enforced.

            As far as that other thing is concerned, I assume your talking about Kelo, in which case you’re barking up the wrong tree there too. A state needing to condemn a house to build a rail line or road is the legitimate use of eminent domain. IIRC, New London wanted this house to build a casino, and in fact didn’t even need it for that, except for the fact that it wouldn’t be good for the casino’s image to have somebody’s old house right next door.

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          • This is one govermnent entity saving another government entity from bankruptcy by leasing or selling public land to a developer, not even close to the same thing as seizing private property. The people complaining here have no actual ownership, which is why they are resorting to demagoguery and ad hominems against anyone who appears to disagree with them. If there is a rational case to be made here, it hasn’t been made at Angry Black Lady or Balloon Juice. Nor has an alternate solution been proposed, so I can only assume that the unstated solution is “tax the rich and give us more money.”

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  5. “Glibertarians who serve as mouthpieces for the corporatists?”

    The simple declarative sentence, R.I.P.

    Is this a “libertarian” question atall? From what I can gather from less-biased websites than the linked one, Benton Harbor is a disaster, “with crumbling streets and jobless, out-of-school youth hanging around aimlessly.”

    http://www.rooflines.org/913/golf_course_wars_in_benton_harbor/

    and the opposition is a cluster of the usual issues from environmentalism to “ethnic cleansing” of the 90% African American town.

    Oh, and masterfully, “environmental racism,” the Holy Grail of two-fers!

    http://voiceofdetroit.net/?p=170

    On the other hand, I have indeed seen localities “redeveloped” and gentrified, property values rising so much that the renting denizens can no longer afford to live there. [Burbank, CA and South Beach, Miami.] Good deal for the property owners, not so much for the inhabitants.

    Echoes of Kelo aside [which are not at play here], perhaps this is a libertarian issue afterall. But there are so many political footballs being juggled [I only touched on a few], clarity seems unlikely, if not impossible.

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  6. Okay, so some of the above is very useful to me.

    A lot of it is “what libertarians ought to believe, and when, and why, and how often.” That’s not what I’m after here. I’d like sources on this issue that are a bit more in-depth than Rachel Maddow and a bit more informative than the one order that stops all of the local government activity.

    Am I really correct in concluding that this is just like a particularly vicious city bankruptcy case, with lots of arbitrary thrown in? And civil rights violations?

    If so, what makes this bankruptcy somehow factually different from than all the rest, such that it would deserve this treatment? (Could a bankruptcy ever deserve this treatment?)

    Who gets to decide which bankruptcies go into which box? On what grounds? Reviewed how? Because if what conservatives on this thread are saying, it’s not really a defense. Even if they think it is.

    Replies to this comment should address these issues only, please. Psychoanalyze libertarians in the rest of the thread (and even there, citing sources would be nice!).

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            • I just like to imagine the opposite and the reaction.

              Imagine if say, Obama said Texas was in too much debt (in fact, it has more than Cali per capita) and thus, he’s going to replace the elected government of Texas with a non-elected group led by Paul Krugman, Elizabeth Warren, and George Soros.

              Imagine the reaction. Ron Paul’s head would literally explode.

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              • Okay, sure, the silence. If this post counts as silence, I guess.

                But make excuses? I’m not aware of anyone doing that.

                Seriously, these “gotcha” games are just pathetic. In the original post, I asked commenters to discuss the facts of the issue, and what they thought the various actors were trying to achieve. I said I didn’t know much yet, but the whole thing just really stunk.

                And what did I get? Not facts about the issue. Not analysis of the issue. (Except, I think, from conservatives.) Just more “you didn’t jump fast enough when I told you to.”

                It’s making me doubt, frankly, that liberals even give a shit about the residents of this town. They’re not interested in the town’s actual plight, only in finding a stick — any stick — with which to beat libertarians.

                I even started this sub-thread, hoping once again to stick to the issue itself. To no avail. I think that’s really sad.

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                • And what did I get? Not facts about the issue. Not analysis of the issue.

                  Good point. But if you wanted facts and analysis on the issue, you might have introduced the post with less defensive posturing and hippie kicking, and simply said: ‘Cole brings up a good point here about BH and the libertarian view of it, but I’m completely in the dark here. Help!’

                  Instead, the focus right off the bat was to sling hackneyed stereotypes at the ‘other side’ placing ‘ideological identity’ front and center of what is actually a policy issue. I’m glad you’re researching it. Maybe this is just SOP, maybe it’s rife with bullshit, maybe looking at through an ideological lens clarify what’s going on there.

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                • “Seriously, these “gotcha” games are just pathetic.”

                  No shit. Such things are unavoidable to some extent in a partisan environment and you just gotta deal. But it’s just so typical for Balloon Juice droolers and stillwater to try and call gotcha when they don’t got shit. It’s so fkkkin tedious.

                  Sorry for the profanities.

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    • I don’t get this. What I see here is John Cole over-snarking in a completely typical way for him, and you taking offense. Petty, quasi-personal, label-identity bullshit. Why does that result in you deciding you ought to take an even more pedantic and condescending tack than you usually do here, dude? What point above and beyond all that are you trying to make? If you feel you need to figure this issue out, or figure out whether you need to figure it out, why not just do the friggin’ research and not lecture and instruct the readership here on what kinds of comments they need to leave?

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        • The reason I’m asking is because I really, actually am still sort of in the dark about the issue.

          A bit of background: The very first political fight I ever took part in was when I was in high school. It related to my school, and I was on the losing side of it.

          One of the insights I got from that fight is to have very, very little trust in the media as they report local issues. They just don’t do a good job of it. They got facts wrong, they misquoted people, they edited selectively, they misstated school board decisions and erred all over the place about budget numbers. I knew, because for a period of several months I was at all the board meetings taking notes.

          As I’ve moved to national politics, I’ve found a lot of the same, with only one difference — national policy decisions are much more easily accessible as part of the public record. The media screw things up in all the same ways, but sometimes (I’m not entirely sure how often) they can and do get called on it. Partly this is the Internet, but not entirely.

          The ideal resources to find would be local supporters and opponents of the measure who could explain their side of things with reference to primary sources. Although I’m deeply suspicious of what’s going on here, I haven’t come to a final decision about what to think. I’m asking for help in that process. I don’t see that as a bad thing, and I certainly see it as more interesting than “your opinion lacks legitimacy because you weren’t talking about this (days, weeks, or a year) ago.”

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          • Hey Jason,
            I just posted a bunch of links, probably caught in the spam filter.
            Go ahead and make up your mind, if that is the way you want to be. But it is much more fun to watch cable and scream “Totalitarianism.”

            Speaking of totalitarianism, who the hell elected you the official mouthpiece of libertarians?

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            • Speaking of totalitarianism, who the hell elected you the official mouthpiece of libertarians?

              Fair enough. I was, though, basing my claims on a book written by several dozen leading libertarians. That’s more authority than just one person, even if it’s still not comprehensive.

              I’ll check out your links. Much appreciated.

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              • There are several dozen leading libertarians?
                When the hell did this happen.
                Can you send me this book?
                Actually you can’t send me anything. I am seasteading in an undisclosed location and the last time the postal service tried to deliver anything I fired my Fountainhead cannons over their bow and they haven’t been back since. What do you want? I thought they were the CIA. Just goes to show, you can not even trust your own mother. I never liked her Christmas fruitcake anyway. Though, it would be good to see her again after all these years. Maybe I can sneak her in through Singapore – but I have already said too much.

                Oh yeah, the book. Write down your PGP key and duct tape it to the bottom of the muffler on your car. Not duck tape, but the actual duct tape. The other crap just melts and falls off. I will then correspond with you and give you the location of my undisclosed bunker. Leave the book there. Don’t worry, I will find you.

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    • OK, after reading most, but not all, of the comments here, I have to ask, did nobody here ever take a state and local government class in college? I don’t mean that as a snarky remark, but a fairly sincere question, because I’m surprised that nobody has yet made the fundamental point that municipalities are subsidiaries of state governments. (If I missed it, forgive me. And in fact I never took a state and local government class, either, but I was forced to teach it a couple of times.)

      The relationship between a state and a municipality (or county, township, soil conservation district, etc.) is not like the relationship between the U.S. government and the states. There is no true federalism within state governments, they are in fact unitary governments that have local outposts and allow local control to the extent its more convenient to the state.

      This is known as “Dillon’s Rule,” which comes from an 1868 case in which Iowa Supreme Court justice John Forrest Dillon wrote, “Municipal corporations owe their origin to, and derive their powers and rights wholly from, the legislature. It breathes into them the breath of life, without which they cannot exist. As it creates, so may it destroy. If it may destroy, it may abridge and control.”

      So I don’t think that there’s anything of particularly great interest in the Benton Harbor case for citizens. The city has not, contra what some people on the interwebz have claimed, been turned over to private corporations; nor have the people’s voting rights been violated (even though city officials they voted for were dismissed from office). The only question that matters is whether the state’s decision to exercise the more direct control over a municipality that it is entitled to exercise is in fact a wise course of action in this case.

      Libertarians like Jason and me can certainly argue that in general we favor leaving more authority at the local level, but that’s a pragmatic argument, an argument about wisdom in courses of action. It’s not really about legitimate exercise of authority, because there’s really no question that this exercise of authority is legitimate.

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      • Municipal corporations owe their origin to, and derive their powers and rights wholly from, the legislature.

        Which has, in the updated law, delegated a fish of a lot of them to the executive with (AFAICT) no recourse in case of any abuse short of criminality. Is that wise?

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        • Mike,

          Whether it’s wise is a good question. But I’m going to avoid taking a stand on that because I think it’s a complex question and I haven’t thought about it enough. I can only say that in general I prefer local control (on the assumption that equal political participation rights for everyone in the locality are in place and effective), but that local communities are, on occasion, so corruptly or stupidly managed that a takeover could be appropriate (keep in mind that these takeovers are temporary, even if temporary may mean a number of years). And the legislature can act as a check on the executive, as can the courts, so it’s not a total blank check, or at least in most cases it isn’t (and obviously shouldn’t be).

          But whether this particular emergency manager legislation, or this particular takeover, is wise would require substantially more study on my part before I’d want to commit myself to a position. So for the moment I’m going to content myself with trying to clarify some of the factual matters of the issue that seem to have been overlooked, or in some cases misreported.

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  7. I spent quite a bit of time consulting at FSLIC as Receiver during the S&L debacle, mostly doing ad-hoc databases for the forensic accountants. Teams of professionals went through these dowdy little banks, charging a great deal of money. The big accounting firms were doing land office business, uncovering some of the weirdest and saddest scenarios imaginable.

    Back in those days, as you probably know, the S&L industry had been deregulated in the last days of Carter’s presidency and glaciers of capital were melting and oh the early years of Reagan were awash in the faux prosperity thus created. The well-meaning suckers who ran these little S&Ls were led down the primrose path into financing business real estate deals. Much of the paperwork they signed was based on fraudulent representations from the builders but the gullible S&Ls could only see dollar signs.

    Municipalities were and are no less gullible. They aren’t run by financial pros, especially in poor cities like Benton Harbor, always the ugly sister of the more-prosperous and much-whiter St. Joseph across the river. Benton Harbor is 90% black. St. Joseph is 90% white. It’s just over four square miles of unmitigated poverty. It should surprise nobody that this muni went under: it’s been mired in litigation for years over the trash contract.

    Well, lawyers aren’t cheap and neither are the hordes of consultants who will be making great money sorting through the financial paperwork of these miserable little burgs. As if we don’t have enough vultures circling the carcasses, the State of Michigan is now training more of ’em with the usual suspects, Grant Thornton LLP, Amherst Partners and other specialized scavengers of that sort.

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  8. So, lets put it out there….

    Everyone is reaching to say that something monstrous is going on, but seriously what is the big monstrousity?

    There are a number of candidates.

    1. The loss of democractic power by citizens

    This would be genuinely problematic if only some of the people had lost it. The fact that they all equally lost it is not ipso-facto an injustice.

    As they say, Democracy is two wolves and one sheep deciding what to have for dinner.

    2. Gentrification of neighbourhoods (in general).

    The lawful investment and redevelopment of properrty in poorer neigbourhoods (I’m assuming kelo – like issues do not happen) of course changes the orevious configuration of spaces. However, by attracting more affluent people in and creating over all a better class of neighbourhood, the existing residents can certainly share in the positive externalities created. Especially given the way local property taxes are used to fund schools in america, increasing the average affluence of the resident is going to both increase the quality of school, the quality of peers, the quality of aspirations as well as decrease the kind of push factors that encourage (rags to riches) success stories to leave instead of reinvesting in their own community.

    3. The specific instance of turning a region that was a granted as a public space in perpetuity into a private exclusive area.

    That a public space which was granted to the public in perpetuity was sold for private use by the government shares a number of similarities to kelo that this would be something that libertarians should get riled up about. This is more about legitimate expectations being abrogated by arbitrary power.

    4. The short term result of the poor having lost access to a public space.

    It is not yet clear how the previous users of the space will fare in the long term. The parallel hypothetical we should have in mind is how we would feel about the case if instead of this being done by some semi-dictatorship, we imagined that the old park was privately owned and the old owner just let people use it for free. Of course when he died, his descendants decide to do something with the park by turning it into a still private, but now exclusive golf course. The fact that most libertarians feel that while such a hypothetical would have been unfortunate, it does not comprise an injustice. Contrast with the land-locked tenant hypotheticals.

    The key point is that it is a particular instance of the gentrification process that was done unjustly (in that it violated the legitimate expectations of the original community) is the key thing we ought to be concerned about, not the fact that an EFO is running things and not elected officials nor that they are going about gentrifying the city.

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    • The loss of democractic power by citizens… would be genuinely problematic if only some of the people had lost it. The fact that they all equally lost it is not ipso-facto an injustice.

      I can’t say I’m with you on this one. An entire town council and mayor not being able to do anything at all?

      Is this how receivership usually works? I hadn’t believed it to be the case. It’s not, is it? So what is it about this particular case that legitimizes the further penalty? I’m trying, but I really can’t see it.

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      • So what is it about this particular case that legitimizes the further penalty?

        My views are pretty un-orthodox, but I just dont see it as a penalty. Granted that this town is being treated differently is problematic, but I was thinking more about how I would go about making economic reform (if I were the EFO) and suspending the local elected government seemed like a brilliant idea.

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      • Jason,

        I’m not such a fan of democracy that I can share your concern. That is, operating on the assumption that a) no subset of folks in the town is being discriminated against (Murali’s point), b) that there are problems of corruption or insolvency in the municpality that show no evidence of being solved via the democratic process (Blaise P’s point), and c) that it is distinctly a temporary takeover, lasting only so long as it takes to right the ship (my point), I just can’t get worked up over the temporary loss of purely local voting rights that are, as a matter of law, practice, and political theory, a privilege and not a right.

        I think it’s important to keep in mind that the city officials are not only accountable to their constituents but to the state. In Benton Harbor they allegedly breached their duty to the state (as well as to their constituents).

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  9. I’m happy that I stopped myself from taking Cole’s bait on this (and baiting is exactly what it was), but given what you do for a living, I can’t say as I blame you too much for taking it yourself. The notion that silence on an issue that didn’t start making its way into mainstream discourse until the last 3 days amounts to assent is absurd on its face. Yes, I now understand that the story’s been making the rounds in the partisan press for a month or so now, and it’s surely been a local issue of significance for longer than that (the minimal research I’ve done on this topic indicates that the specific issue of the park being privatized has actually been bouncing around for years).

    But I do want to address two things here:

    1. The notion that this is a bigger problem than Kelo, however unjust it may be, is absurd. Kelo was a SCOTUS case that thus inherently and directly affected the rights of millions. And not only did it affect the rights of millions, it had to do with the seizure of people’s homes for the benefit of corporate interests. Last I checked, the folks whose homes (and, as the case may be, small businesses) get targeted for eminent domain aren’t usually living in the ritzy part of town. I’m sorry, but I’m guessing for most people being forced to move and watch as decades of memories are destroyed to make room for a Big Box store is a few order of magnitude worse than losing control over one’s local government. That’s not to pooh-pooh what is going on here (which again appears to be bad in any number of ways), but let’s be honest: the roof over one’s head is a million times more relevant to someone than whether their local government is accountable.

    2. The notion that silence on this proves that libertarian interest in these sorts of issues goes only insofar as it serves big corporations is likewise absurd. I dare John Cole to take a look at, say, the list of property rights cases handled by Institute for Justice. I’ll make it easy: it’s here – http://www.ij.org/privateproperty

    Perhaps John Cole should then ask himself: what sorts of people are IJ’s clients? He should then ask himself: on whose behalf is the state or local government acting to undermine the property rights of those IJ clients?

    I’ll even answer those questions for him. The answer to the first question, in most cases is “working class individuals or linchpins of the local working class and lower class community.” The answer to the second question is: big-time developers, Donald Trump and the casino industry, a hardware store chain, and Nissan. And that’s just from looking at the most recently concluded handful of cases.

    But hey, libertarians and libertarian organizations are just corporate shills.

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    • See, he didn’t say that libertarians are just that. He said he was interested in the libertarian response, not foreclosing that there could good be, earnest genuine responses that good, earnest, genuine libertarians could give to this, and then speculated about what the responses would be from those libertarians or people who claim to be libertarians who would defend this kind of thing (as Jason found out exist) because they are shills etc. At least that’s how I read him. That might be a charitable reading, but, um, yeah, charitable reading. …It’s been invoked here recently by someone not uninvolved in this contretemps. I mean, is there any doubt that there are shills who usurp the name when it suits their purposes?

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      • …He has a response up in which he says he asked because he thought this would be “precisely the kind of thing libertarians would rightly be up in arms about.” So unless he thinks there exist no libertarians able to come up with the right answer on this, to me it seems clear what he is saying is that he wants to know how those who use the libertarian pose to shill for other ideological or more like parochial interests would try to square this thing with the rhetorical cant that is associated with libertarianism in popular discourse that they use to signal their supposed affiliation with the doctrine. Certainly there was a lot of impolite snark clouding that message up, but I’d like to suggest that that meaing is pretty clear in the initial post and that to arrive at the interpretation he did, Jason engaged in a reading that actually tipped the needle slightly to the uncharitable side of fair — in an instance where arguably he, a good, earnest libertarian who would eventually, if he hadn’t already, reached the conclusion Cole thought libertarians ought to about this, wasn’t even necessarily (if we accept my view of Cole’s meaning) implicated, since he isn’t a shill, except to the extent of being asked what his response to the matter might be.

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      • I mean, is there any doubt that there are shills who usurp the name when it suits their purposes?

        That is the kerfluffle in a nutshell: the distinction between nominal and real libertarians. That such a distinction exists is obvious to many/most. That a serious (not-nominal) libertarian would get defensive about this mystifies me.

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        • It’s similar to the “Stalin wasn’t a *REAL* Marxist” or “Torquemada wasn’t a *REAL* Catholic” debates that show up from time to time.

          “Sarah Palin isn’t a *REAL* feminist!” is another fun one.

          It seems to me that the membership process to these clubs is fairly decentralized, but what do I know?

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              • One thing you do have, however, is the ability to realize that the term ‘feminist’ cannot mean the same thing when used by Schlafly as it does when used by Amanda Marcotte. One is using the word in a conventionally understood way, the other not so much. So, going back to the earlier point, you may feel comfortable in your uncertainty that the Reason crowd is actually libertarian, but if so, it’s only because the word means different things to them than it does to you. But by your own lights there is a vaguely defined but still univocal meaning of that term. Otherwise you yourself don’t know what you’re saying when you call yourself a ‘libertarian’. Hence, on your own understanding of the word merely calling oneself a ‘libertarian’ does not make one so.

                Even champions of freedom aren’t free to make up meanings of words.

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                • Sure. There are people that I very much consider “statists” and “technocrats” call themselves “libertarian” but I don’t see membership to the “libertarian club” as something that I control.

                  I am a registered Democrat, for example (an artifact of my turning 18 and still believing in things).

                  I think that you’d find yourself thinking “Jaybird’s not a *REAL* Democrat” because there is some metaphysical Democratness that I just don’t have.

                  As far as the state of Colorado is concerned, however, I’m a Democrat. It’s measurable.

                  I don’t know that feminism, or libertarianism, or whateverism, is equally measurable. I don’t know that the people who hold up their personal favorite litmus test have the standing to be the judge of what is and what is not whateverist.

                  It’s like saying “Mormons aren’t *REALLY* Christians”.

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                  • Well, I agree that wholesale rejections based on some vague understanding of an ism can be sorta ridiculous. But what about specifics? Suppose that a group of self-described Christians didn’t accept Jesus as Lord and Personal Savior. Could we at that point say that those were not real (ie., they were nominal) Christians?

                    Or: Suppose an institution self-described as Libertarian advocated for repeal of the fifth Amendment protections of privacy. Could we at that point, based on their views wrt to that issue, call them nominal Civil Libertarians?

                    On specific issues that are constitutive of the ism, it seems to me, a categorical rejection of the self-identification clearly makes some sense, otherwise everything would/could fall under the ism.

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    • It also seems to me that when comparing liberty effects, if we are going to say that this can’t compare to Kelo because Kelo is a SCOTUS case and thus potentially affects vastly more people and can’t be redressed easily electorally (though the individual uses of it in communities potentially can), then obviously that forecloses all manner of other comparisons that seem to me could be productive if simple adjustments in the parameters of inquiry are made. It might be right to do that – in those ways these are apples and oranges. But it seems to me unlikely that Cole’s point was to say that this law and its use in Michigan is an event on the scale of Kelo, but rather that when comparing the individual injustices that result, he finds the former greater than the latter. And perhaps that actual injustice is something to be more concerned about than the potential injustice that occurs when rights are affected by a change in legal doctrine, which seems to me what you are saying give the Kelo decision its magnitude (though I’m sure that it has had great real consequnces for proterty owners).

      …That notwithstanding, owing to the contents of that last parenthesis, I do agree with you and dissent from the assessment that Cole makes as well, but at the same time I disagree with you that it is absurd. It seems well within the scope of individual assessment of liberty effects if we understand Cole’s assessment in the way I describe here. It’ is only absurd if we understand him to be comparing the scope of this Michigan story with the scope of of all of the theoretical, potential, and actual consequences of Kelo. Which, again, I guess we can hold ourselves strictly to doing, but I think that likely takes a whole species of comparison off the table that I don;t really think is necessary if we just make some simple adjustments to the parameters of comparison.

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  10. There was a whole lot of herp-derping and then Rufus stole my line.

    Off to research the facts. BTW, both the local town and the state can be wrong…with the people getting hosed…as always. Most likely that is what happened.

    My immediate issue with Cole’s question is “who me? I just asked a question?” while going all passive aggressive with assumptions not based on reality or honest debate…so screw him.

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  11. It’s making me doubt, frankly, that liberals even give a shit about the residents of this town. They’re not interested in the town’s actual plight, only in finding a stick — any stick — with which to beat libertarians.

    Or beat conservatives. And it works the same way all around. This might be the best summation of the worst politics has to offer: A bunch of folks only caring about an issue to highlight just how badly the other side(s) have either ignored it or fucked it up. Actual policy and outcomes be damned beyond the voting booth.

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    • Libertarians provide an entire line of sticks with which they might be beaten. All that’s required is to watch them beat on each other.

      This Liberal sees the failure of Benton Harbor as a necessary thing. At some point, regardless of anyone’s political stance, government becomes a matter of financial obligations. As with divorce, bankruptcy and restatements of income, dragging out the process benefits nobody except the lawyers.

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  12. I see both a train wreck & a not train wreck going on here.

    Balloon Juice regularly posts data from other sites to represent the other points of view out there. I surmise by the posts I see here in this thread, that most here are unaware that LOOG is usually given good to high respect levels wrt actual integrity. John was indeed pointing out the crickets in the media, not just at the LOOG. It’s an easy call too. For the bulk of the period leading up to the elections last fall, ‘the right’ frequently acted as if they were libertarians first (small government, individual responsibility & control of one’s self) and corporate republicans second (small government as most stuff is contracted out to private entities that can make money on the public coffers). Take the ‘Tea Party’ as prime examples. But no one really believes this about republicans in general or the Tea Party in particular, but that is the official MSM meme.

    So don’t worry…no one is expecting the LOOG to be the face of libertarianism, even though you do get the passing link and mention.

    Speaking as a liberal with libertarian notions, my problem with governor & people he has chosen to run this poor town is that they are going to take the most valuable commodity the town has, shoreline property and make it into a private gated golf course that no one in the town could ever expect to be able to use. I understand it may be one of the easiest sources of money the town desperately needs, but it’s just a tad to close to Robin Hood stealing from the poor to give to the rich for my decidedly liberal point of view.

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    • Which really makes little sense, speaking from someone in the golf business. This sounds a bit like a boondoggle. Golf courses have milked the real estate nipple for awhile now. Until housing collapsed. Now you’d have to be an idiot to buy or develop a golf course, especially one that relied on real estate as a catalyst. Unless this place is going to be like an Augusta National in the north, dependent on the very upper-crust, recession-immune folks, modestly private or even high-end daily fee courses are on life-support. Good luck with that.

      Having said that, if they are going to be the Augusta National of the north (with the associated budgets *PAYROLL*) and are looking for a PGA professional, somebody tell them I’m available.

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      • I can’t vouch for the truth of the issue, but this Kalamazoo op-ed writer has a very different take on the golf course issue.

        Despite [Rachel Maddow’s] implication that Benton Harbor city officials have been holding the fort against the park’s potential development, the exact opposite is true.

        In fact, the development already has happened — thanks to the Benton Harbor City Commission, which is leasing 22 acres of the 90-acre park for three holes of the 18-hole Golf Club at Harbor Shores, most of which is on an adjacent site. In fact, the city is a co-defendant in lawsuits filed by park advocates.

        That’s not as juicy as the power-grab story, but it sounds pretty doggone plausible. The federal court appeal (a href=”http://www.scribd.com/doc/33296596/FEDERAL-APPEAL-JEAN-KLOCK-PARK-OPENING-BRIEF-06-18-2010″>available here) does list the City of Benton Harbor as a defendant.

        Also, the website savejeanklockpark dot org has a letter written to Governor Granholm (the former governor, a Democrat, who appointed the emergency financial manager) asking her to oppose the golf course plan, while she (Granholm) did not appoint the manager until 2010. So clearly the park development issue predates the state takeover of the city, and those who are repeating the story that the emergency financial manager is behind it would appear, so far as I can tell from this brief research, would appear to be wrong (that includes Maddow).

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    • my problem with governor & people he has chosen to run this poor town is that they are going to take the most valuable commodity the town has, shoreline property and make it into a private gated golf course

      See my comment below. First, Governor Snyder did not appoint the emergency financial manager; his predecessor Granholm (a Democrat) did in 2010. Second, the development of the park appears to have been in process for years, with complaints going back at least as far as 2006, 4 years before the emergency financial manager was appointed. I don’t know where I stand on the substance of the issue, but it does appear the facts tell a different story than what’s being spread around.

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  13. Good point. But if you wanted facts and analysis on the issue, you might have introduced the post with less defensive posturing and hippie kicking, and simply said: ‘Cole brings up a good point here about BH and the libertarian view of it, but I’m completely in the dark here. Help!’

    This has got to be incredibly stupid. Libertarians haven’t made a response so that implies they support what is happening.

    So if somebody can’t show they didn’t murder someone they did? If stillwater hasn’t explicitly come out against raping babies he favors it?

    Cole is a paid hack. He isn’t stupid though so that makes his actions venal and craven.

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  14. It would be a hell of a lot easier to believe this was actually being done to help Benton Harbor if Harris hadn’t immediately got to work replacing people on the Planning Commission and the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. Link: http://www.eclectablog.com/2011/04/benton-harbor-emergency-financial-mgr.html.

    That smacks way to much of trying to get their hands on other shoreline property for development purposes, making the rich people richer and taking yet more Lake Michigan shoreline access away from the rest of us.

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