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November 25, 2007

Caught it Again!

I've now been to four weddings this year. Two for family, two for co-workers. And I'm beginning to suspect that the universe is trying to tell me something.

You're probably familiar with the wedding traditions of the bouquet and garter toss. All of the weddings I've attended this year have had a bouquet toss, but only two of them had a garter toss. To my great amusement, I caught the garter in both.

The first catch was a curse, happening on the very day my then-love-interest met someone new. If I were the superstitious sort, this second catch would make me start worrying about losing my current-love-interest. Or should the cupid-attracting power of two garters instead make me extra confident that I'll get married soon?

Alas, I am the realistic sort, and I'm left believing a garter is just an accessory with no influence on the elusiveness of my future wife. Would that it were otherwise…

UPDATE 2007-11-30 02:56:13 UTC: Yes, the second garter was also cursed. I am single again.

November 16, 2007

Liberty Dollar Seizure

On the morning of Nov. 14th, the head office of the Liberty Dollar was raided by the FBI. You can view the search and seizure warrants at the Liberty Dollar's raid page. The seizure is being made in alleged connection to money laundering and/or fraud:

American Liberty Dollar and/or Hawaii Dala currency and/or precious metals of gold, silver, copper, platinum or other substance and United States currency are forfeitable to the United States under 18 U.S.C. § 982 (a)(1) because it is property involved in, or traceable to, money laundering, in volation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956 and 1957, under 18 U.S.C. § 982 (a)(3) because it is, or is traceable to, gross receipts and proceeds obtained, directly or indirectly, as a result of mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341, and wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343. Authority for this warrant is provided by 18 U.S.C. § 981(b) and 21 U.S.C. § 853(f).

By seizing all of Liberty Dollar's assets, the government is preventing redemption of Liberty Dollar paper certificates, which are akin to warehouse receipts for precious metals. The electronic Liberty Dollar was also backed by assets now seized.

I have never been a Liberty Dollar booster because I've always thought their attempt to index the Liberty Dollar to the U.S. Dollar was unnecessary and confusing. (I am happy to endorse the Phoenix Dollar, which is denominated simply by weight.) Despite my policy disagreement, I own a few Liberty Dollar pieces that I've acquired as a collector. I have silver pieces, not certificates, so this seizure doesn't directly affect me.

But it almost did. The folks at Liberty Dollar are strong supporters of Ron Paul's presidential campaign and were in the process of making and distributing Liberty Dollar pieces bearing his likeness as a way to support him. I had the opportunity to be one of the buyers for a very limited minting of platinum Ron Paul Dollars. My current understanding is that distribution of Ron Paul Dollars — mostly in copper — had not yet begun and that a large quantity of them were seized. I ended up missing the deadline to order my platinum because they (bizarrely) wanted next-day payment, which was quite impossible because I was paying by mailed personal check.

I expect that if I had made the payment deadline, the FBI would now be in possession of my platinum. (Assuming that they had already been minted.) I would have had standing and motivation to join the class action lawsuit the Liberty Dollar is planning to file in response to this seizure.

The U.S. government is hostile to alternative payment systems, especially those backed by precious metals. They have been harassing e-gold and the Liberty Dollar for years, causing serious hardship for both the operators and the customers of these systems.

By the way, of course I believe the criminal allegations are false. I have personally ordered Liberty Dollar products from the office that was raided and thought it was a totally straightforward transaction in every way. The U.S. Mint has been waging a disinformation campaign alleging that the Liberty Dollar is illegal. But it isn't. The Liberty Dollar isn't legal tender (and no one involved with it claims otherwise), but there's a huge distinction between "legal tender" and "legal". The Liberty Dollar is legal because barter is legal. Period.

A quick primer on legal tender in the United States: The concept only applies in situations where credit is involved. No one is ever compelled to offer or to accept legal tender as payment. However, if a debt is dollar-denominated and the debtor offers legal tender as payment, the creditor may not take them to court for non-payment.

"That sounds dumb and useless," you're thinking. You're right — unless you understand its historical origin. The federal government ran out of precious metals during the Civil War and paid its bills by printing paper money and making it legal tender. The government's creditors were faced with the alternative of accepting the paper money or nothing at all, so they accepted the paper.

Legal tender is a vehicle for confiscation. Legal tender serves no purpose in voluntary trade. (Nevermind that Congress doesn't have the power to make anything legal tender in the first place — the Supreme Court has been ignoring the Constitution for much longer than I've been alive.)

November 12, 2007

The Driving Illegals

It looks like I'm going to start blogging about election issues. Yikes. I'll try to ease into things a little tangentially, by commenting on the brouhaha surrounding the decisions of a few (seven?) states to issue driver's licenses without regard to immigration status. This is hugely unpopular:

The numbers break down to 88 percent of Republicans, 75 percent of independents and even 68 percent of Democrats in opposition. [source]

I am, once again, in the extreme minority. I agree that there is a problem here, but it's not the one that most people would think of. The problem is that driver's licenses have accreted uses other than signaling that a person is able to safely operate a motor vehicle.

A driver's license (qua driver's license) should be issued to anyone able to safely operate a motor vehicle. Period. The reason a driver's license has become an all-purpose identity card is because law enforcement needed a way to verify whether a person they stop is licensed or not. Thus, licenses have a photograph and identifying information. In the modern world I dispute the necessity for people to carry driver's licenses at all — identification could be made by other means, and the individual's license status simply looked up in a database.

I would actually prefer an anonymous driver's license. Why should any of my personal information be on it? The purpose of a driver's license is to establish that the bearer passed a driving exam. No aspect of that purpose requires knowing or tracking the identity of the driver. Generate a key to represent the license, cryptographically combine it with biometric data from the person who passed the exam, and then police can use biometric data to verify that the license bearer is the same individual the license was issued to. (Yes, your biometric data is known, and it could be used to identify you. But it doesn't identify you directly — it doesn't provide information about you such as your name or address or anything else. By itself the biometric data can only say whether you're the same person who the license was issued to.)

I believe an extremely small number of those who oppose issuing driver's licenses to illegal aliens hold their belief because they don't want such people driving. Rather, people are opposed to it because they are afraid of the implications of driver's licenses as identity documents. But driver's licenses shouldn't be, and don't need to be, identity documents.

I am completely in favor of disrupting systems that use driver's licenses as identity documents. They shouldn't be doing that in the first place.

November 11, 2007

I Would Never Do This With Mere Paper Money

I gather this is a fairly old skit, but I haven't watched Saturday Night Live in years, and I just discovered it. I think it's hilarious.

November 07, 2007

Bank Teams

Current price of gold: $834.20 / toz.

Current average interest rate on a 30 year mortgage: 5.91%

Income generated from explaining to your friend why and how the housing bubble happened: $0.

Howls of laughter when you innocently ask whether they knew the banks were playing on teams: Priceless.

Sorry, that's an inside joke that only two people will get. But the joke was so good that I felt obligated to record its telling for posterity.

Tiny Island