The musings of one Andrew Langer - defender of liberty, passionate protector of individual rights, foodie. (Note: Said Musings of Andrew Langer are his own, and the views represented herein are likewise his views, and not the views of any other people, entities, foodstuffs, etc [unless otherwise specifically and explicitly noted].)

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Good Luck and Godspeed....

Today I had the fortune of attending a going-away party for a good friend and colleague. Michael Barrera, who starting on Tuesday will be the President and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, has for the last four years served in one of the most important, and under-recognized positions in the United States government. Mike has been one of this nation's most steadfast defenders of small business, serving as the National Ombudsman for Small Business at the Small Business Administration.

What the heck is an ombudsman, you might ask? Well, so did Michael, after SBA Administrator Hector Barreto offered him the job. The Office of the National Ombudsman (or ONO) serves as a mediating and investigating agency for small businesses who believe themselves unfairly targeted or being abused be federal regulatory agencies. It is an office few people know about (but I've been publicizing time and again because it's a program that really works).

Mike has also served in other capacities while at the SBA, including a stint working to ensure that agency contractural obligations to small businesses are bieng met - but the ONO under his leadership has been exemplary. They have produced real results for the folks doing the real work of keeping this economy going, America's small business.

But what's always amazed me about Mike is that he's always brought to the job this well-grounded earnestness. As I was recounting to the Administrator today, my first interaction with Mike was when I had to call him as a follow up to some questions that were raised at an NFIB event. I dialed his office, expecting like so many other federal offices to either find myself in voicemail hell or pawned off to a listless assistant.

But Mike answered the phone. Let me repeat that: Michael Barrera, the National Ombudsman for Small Business answered his own phone!!!

In a city where it can take hours upon hours to find a live person answering a phone at a regulatory agency, this is truly a mark of distinction. It impressed the hell out of me - and I knew that this was someone I wanted to make sure I supported.

Mike's departure from the SBA is a big loss for small businesses generally (though Peter Sorum, who will be the Acting ONO, will do an excellent job in the interim), but the hispanic small business community is gaining a tremendous advocate.

Buena suerte, Miguel. I look forward to continuing our work together in your new job.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Oh, and something non-Eminent Domain-related...

It took forever to drive home tonight, and so rather than pick up veggies to make gazpacho as I'd planned, I wound up picking up Thai food from this place in Annapolis.

Carlson's Donuts and Authentic Thai (1022 West St.) is awesome. Not only was it authentic, the woman who handed me my food made sure that I understood that they'd left the spring roll box uncovered to ensure that the rolls remained crispy on the ride home.

The green chicken curry we had had just the right balance of heat and spice - a great deal of flavor without being overpowering. We had the beef with garlic and black pepper - truly excellent. And we loved the pad thai.

Highly recommend...

Now All The Youth of England Are On Fire...

...and silken dalliance in the wardrobe lies. (Henry V, Act 2, Scene 1)

While this post offers more on the Supreme Court's recent eminent domain decision, I want to make it clear that this blog won't always be talking about private property rights. But this is just too important to ignore right now...

Kelo, which I've heretofore said is amongst the dumbest decisions the High Court has ever rendered, may actually have a silver lining. No, not substantively. But the political and policy implications are astounding... this may be the straw which breaks the camel's back.

I've been following property rights issues for over a decade now, and the issue of abusive eminent domain has occupied a lot of my time and energy for the last several years. One of the big problems, in addition to figuring out just how best to deal with this problem (and at which level of government), is how to get more people in positions of power interested enough in this problem to actually do something.

Mssrs Stevens, Kennedy, Breyer, Souter and Mme Ginsburg may have handed us the perfect vehicle. DC is positively ablaze with people (again, across political boundaries) outraged about this - and while we should always be skeptical when members of Congress take up the mantle of a cause because of some watershed event, the situation has nevertheless created a number of new champions (with more to follow). As of today, Representatives Kennedy and Gingrey, and Senator John Cornyn of Texas have started floating legislative ideas designed to address some aspect of this problem. And I hear that the House is planning on dropping a resolution condemning the Supreme Court decision, in order to move this issue forward.

Meanwhile, the merry band of litigators at IJ are moving on the offensive once again. I received an e-mail from Elizabeth Moser, who does outreach for IJ (and someone I consider a friend), outlining some of their next initiatives. Their announcement follows my writing. Among the proposals is something that I've been saying in speeches on property right strategy for a number of years now: IJ is proposing an eminent domain pledge for government officials.

I had always been thinking of a much more general "property rights protection pledge", along the lines of Americans for Tax Reform's "taxpayer protection pledge", but IJ's is great for this issue. My pledge was along the lines of a "No Net Loss of Private Lands" pledge - general, simple, etc.

IJ is calling for a number of things to be done - among them is to take the 4th of July and use it to bring more attention to this issue. But you don't need my interpretation. I'll let Liz Moser speak for herself:

Dear Friends:
Today IJ and its Castle Coalition announced the launch of the “Hands Off My Home” campaign. We have pledged at least $3 million to the fight to end the use of eminent domain for private profit. This campaign will focus the universal wave of opposition to the Kelo ruling into the only venue left for home and small business owners in desperate need of protection: state courts, state legislatures, and the initiative process.

Over the next year, the Castle Coalition will educate, support and coordinate grassroots activism to end eminent domain abuse at the state and local level. At the same time, the Institute for Justice will go to the state courts and ask them to place limits on the abuse of eminent domain. Each state has its own constitutional prohibition on eminent domain for private use. Even if the U.S. Constitution provides no protection, state constitutions can still prevent state and local governments from taking homes and businesses for the benefit of private business. To read more, see IJ's release on the campaign at the end of this email.

As we move forward, we will announce a series of actions that ordinary citizens can take to end eminent domain abuse. Today we sent a letter to the Governors of each state to sign the Hands Off My Home Pledge that they will work to end the use of eminent domain for private development in their state. We ask you, in honor of Independence Day, to call or email your Governor and ask him or her to sign the Hands Off My Home Pledge. The Pledge and contact information for each Governor appears below. We will announce on the Castle Coalition website when each Governor signs it. In the coming weeks, we will extend the same pledge to state legislators and local government officials.

On July 5th at 6 pm, there will be a rally at the New London City Hall, 181 State Street, to ask the City Council to allow Susette Kelo and the other homeowners to stay in Fort Trumbull. If you live anywhere near New London (CT), come out and show your support!

*********************************** The Hands Off My Home Pledge:

I pledge to the citizens of this State that I will:

Oppose efforts by my state government or municipalities within my state to use the government power of eminent domain for private development.

Support legislation and other efforts to ensure that the citizens of this state are safe from eminent domain for private development.

More to follow.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Me Posted by Hello

Dumb Supreme Court Decisions I Have Known...

Nobody, and I mean nobody, I know, is happy about the Supreme Court's decision last Thursday in Kelo v. City of New London. Now, this blog isn't going to get into obscure legalese, but I will, occasionally, lapse into some more formalistic language (call it the fallen legal assistant and the unfulfilled litigator in me).

For the uninitiated, Kelo was a fairly simple case: The city of New London, Connecticut was trying to ensure the Pfizer was going to come to town to build a new plant on land that had been vacated by the Department of Defense - and as part of that deal, it was going to convert some non-DOD lands (ie, private lands) from private ownership through the power of eminent domain. As you can imagine, those people who were living on that land didn't want their houses turned into a pharmaceutical plant. So they challenged the city's power to do this.

The power of eminent domain is also rather simple to understand: we, as a people, cede some measure of our rights to the government in the form of powers (government doesn't have rights, government has powers. This is a basic principle that I will repeat over and over and over again on the liberty blog. Understand that principle, and a lot of other things fall into place. Government doesn't have rights). Among the powers that we cede to the government is the power to take private property for public use, provided that two things happen:

1) That due process is accorded to the private property owner; and
2) That "just compensation" is paid to the property owner. "Just compensation" is generally defined as "what a willing buyer would pay to a willing seller".

Kelo, however, hinged on the issue of "public use". As originally envisioned, "public use" meant things like roads and public buildings - things that the general public would use. Obviously, if we were going to have government, that government would need land for public buildings, and since the government had no land to begin with, it needed the power to acquire that land.

Somewhere between then and now, however, that definition changed. It started in the 19th Century, when private companies that provided utilities needed to acquire lots of land for things like railroad lines, gas lines, power lines, etc. Because there was a "public benefit", the power of condemnation was used by government to transfer these lands from private hands into the hands of these utilities.

Then in the early 20th Century, as the great progressive reformist movements coalesced into a tremendous force, "public benefit" was expanded to include the clearing of "blighted" lands (read "slums") to make way for more acceptable land uses - and thus the slope was made even more steep and slippery. The Supreme Court, asked to rule on this new and interesting interpretation of "public use," upheld it (as one can imagine, given the mischief the High Court was engaging in at the time).

And so it was that municipalities, eager to increase tax bases and revenues, began looking at their older and less prosperous neighborhoods as potential cash cows. After all, the standard now was "public benefit", and one measure of that public benefit was an increase in jobs and an increase in tax revenues for the municipality at issue.

The Institute for Justice (, a fantastic organization based here in DC and dedicated to the idea that government ought to get out of the business of interfering with legitimate and law-abiding entrepreneurs who simply want to eke out a living (you'll learn more about this "Merry Band of Litigators" in the coming months), decided to take on this issue. In addition to charting some 10,000 instances of such abusive behavior on the part of governments, IJ led the cause against the City of Lakewood, Ohio, which had decided to classify a neighborhood of quaint cottages as "blighted" in order to make way for a new development.

IJ fought, toughly. Even when it was pointed out to the mayor, who had been leading the charge to exchange Lakewood's established residents for some newer, flashier models (like one would trade in an old but reliable car), that her own home would fall under the city's definition of "blighted", she refused to relent. It was finally up to the residents of Lakewood themselves, who stood foursquare against this outrage and refused to allow their fellow citizens to be cast out of their homes.

IJ won there. They won with real people who understood just what was at stake. But with the five justices of the United States Supreme Court who stood in the majority in Kelo, people who apparently have no concept of what it's like to have ties to one's home, IJ couldn't prevail.

Everyone gets this. Republicans get that it's wrong for government to take private property willy nilly. Democrats get that people ought to be able to stay in their own homes. Small business owners get that big businesses shouldn't be able to use the blunt tool of government to their own ends. Environmentalists get that government shouldn't be trading established neighborhoods for more sprawl.

This is America for pete's sake! In America, we don't make an 87 year old woman move out of the home she was born in simply because Pfizer wants to put a plant on it. In fact, that smacks of the policies on a certain "evil empire" that the United States spent nearly three quarters of a century working diligently to see disappear from the face of the Earth.

People understand that you might have to give up your property for a new road or for a school. They might not be happy about it, but they understand it. But Americans do not and ought not to stand for the government taking someone's house in order to hand it over to someone else for their private benefit, regardless of the jobs or money it might bring to the community.

Kelo: An Addendum...

In addition to my lengthy blog on this case, I've written some things elsewhere - some rather harsh things (I dropped the "F Bomb" quite a bit, as I am wont to do). I've held some special invective for the majority in the Supreme Court, including fantasizing about how to condemn their lands (and what uses ought to be made of them).

It looks like others have had the same creative ideas (Much thanks to Patrick Brandt for this link):

Press Release

For Release Monday, June 27 to New Hampshire mediaFor Release Tuesday, June 28 to all other media

Weare, New Hampshire (PRWEB) Could a hotel be built on the land owned by Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter? A new ruling by the Supreme Court which was supported by Justice Souter himself itself might allow it. A private developer is seeking to use this very law to build a hotel on Souter's land.

Justice Souter's vote in the "Kelo vs. City of New London" decision allows city governments to take land from one private owner and give it to another if the government will generate greater tax revenue or other economic benefits when the land is developed by the new owner.

On Monday June 27, Logan Darrow Clements, faxed a request to Chip Meany the code enforcement officer of the Towne of Weare, New Hampshire seeking to start the application process to build a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road. This is the present location of Mr. Souter's home.

Clements, CEO of Freestar Media, LLC, points out that the City of Weare will certainly gain greater tax revenue and economic benefits with a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road than allowing Mr. Souter to own the land.

The proposed development, called "The Lost Liberty Hotel" will feature the "Just Desserts Café" and include a museum, open to the public, featuring a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America. Instead of a Gideon's Bible each guest will receive a free copy of Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged."

Clements indicated that the hotel must be built on this particular piece of land because it is a unique site being the home of someone largely responsible for destroying property rights for all Americans.

"This is not a prank" said Clements, "The Towne of Weare has five people on the Board of Selectmen. If three of them vote to use the power of eminent domain to take this land from Mr. Souter we can begin our hotel development."

Clements' plan is to raise investment capital from wealthy pro-liberty investors and draw up architectural plans. These plans would then be used to raise investment capital for the project. Clements hopes that regular customers of the hotel might include supporters of the Institute For Justice and participants in the Free State Project among others.

# # #

Logan Darrow Clements
Freestar Media, LLC

Monday, June 27, 2005

Day One: How To Cut Someone Off At A Toll

Okay - so I'm sitting in traffic on the way to the Bay Bridge. The Supreme Court has just issued what has to be it's dumbest ruling in a decade, I've just had another excellent lunch at Ben's Chili Bowl, and I'm once again considering that I need a new online outlet since I've stopped posting to Usenet when this jay-hole in a BMW SUV cuts me off in line.

Normally, I have my EZ-Pass, and I'm blithely slipping past cars in line for the manual lanes (TIP FOR READERS: when approaching the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza, the EZ-Pass lane on the Far RIGHT is your best bet - there's normally very little line, and on days when there's an additional Eastbound lane you're not locked into a solitary and much slower lane going against the Westbound traffic), but I'd traded cars with my wife in order to take my girls home early on Friday afternoon.

So I was stuck in the "Cash Only" lanes like every other amateur, and someone who didn't realize that that the big yellow sign above the empty lane said, "EZ-Pass Only" decided to cut me off. It was at that point that I realized that I ought to start putting down these tasty nuggets into a Blog - to catch that wave, albeit, what, two years too late?

But I get up to the toll plaza, and I notice that the driver of the SUV is gesturing towards me to the booth operator. I think, "he can't be!" But sure enough, he was.

Damn if the guy didn't pay my toll.

I caught up to him on the bridge, pulled up alongside, smiled and saluted.

And that leaves me with a tip for all you campers as the Summer season starts: if you find yourself in the unenviable position of having to cut someone off at a toll because you've made some dumb mistake, follow the example of my friend here. A little gesture like this goes a long way.

That's how we're going to begin things here on the Liberty Blog. It's going to be a smattering of what's on my mind (aren't all blogs like that?) at any given point in time: the little things that get me going during the day, big political issues that have transpired, reviews of restaurants that I've been to (I'm a bit of a "foodie"), perhaps a discussion of something that has caught my ire.

As I mention above, I used to write a great deal on Usenet - largely on the groups "sci.environment" and "" (no, I don't have implants. It's a long story.). Feel free to go and look at some of my posts: . I've sharply curtailed that writing, largely because I've become disheartened at the sharp decline in civil discourse. I've also grown tired of having to have the same discussions of the same issues with the same people, over and over and over again.

But I look forward to your readership - and to reading your comments.


Andrew Langer