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I Admit I Am Stumped. By Me.

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February 18, 2011 – Comments (24) | RELATED TICKERS: GLD , AMZN , MEA

Yesterday I posed a question to myself that I can't answer. This is dangerous territory. So I'm looking for thoughts from the Fool community before I go all unabomber.

But before I get to that, I haven't talked investing or econ lately, so let's do a little.

Rule Number One 

My RL portfolio hasn't been very active lately. My 5 largest positions have remained unchanged since June: GLD (slight winner), MEA (winner), AMZN (winner), KWK (flat), and SD (flat). I'm just glad I don't have any losers in there. I had some big losers on a couple in 2009, so 2010 was a good year. 

I don't remember who recommended MEA to me. I think it was TMFSinch, but it might have been one of his educated followers. Whoever it was, thank you. I purchased it in June at $4.17, promply watched it fall 25% or so, but it's now up over $6.

That's rule number one. Whatever stock I purchase in RL will immediately drop 20-25% in the first week. I suppose I should listen to the TA guys a little more. Instead, why don't we do this: when I make my next big purchase, you short it for a week, we'll split the profits, and then lather, rise, and repeat.

Why am I holding GLD? Well, I keep adding to it actually. I bought 150 shares over the last two weeks. I'm in flux right now. I wanted a bigger rainy day fund (more like a flood-of-biblical-proportions fund at this point), but I don't want cash and I don't feel like opening another account at say, goldmoney.com or something. I've heard good things about them, but now's not the time. I know all of the arguments for and against GLD, and I'm comfortable with my decision.

Outliers

I really enjoyed TMFJake's interview with zzlangerhans. I'm reminded of a book called Outliers. The premise here is that to truly excel at a skill, to be among the best, a person has to dedicate 10,000 hours to the craft. This is why there are so few Leonardo Da Vinci's. Just mastering one skill takes tremendous dedication. With the amount of distractions available to modern man, it's a testament to human curiousity that we still find outliers in all walks of life. I don't know how many hours Zzlangerhans has spent studying biotech, but it appears to be a tremendous level of dedication.

Now try to imagine mastering several skills in a lifetime. You need both time and desire, even after reaching amazing heights already. It's no wonder so few people reach the same success in their second career as they did in their first. It's hard to find the desire when you've already had success. Certain people are special. They should be celebrated.

The Big Question

Ok, so we're shifting gears big time. And to a touchy subject that nobody wants to talk about. Sorry, but that's the way it goes.

I got into a lengthy discussion with awallejr the other day. It wasn't my usual "When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong" debate, where it just devolves into a G.L.O.W. slap fight.  Instead, we actually tried to thoughtfully probe each other's (insert dirty joke here) viewpoints.

I brought up the illegality of the Iraq War. Awallejr responded that the Iraq War was not illegal by Constitutional standards. I don't know that this is correct, but that's not my question.

My question is this, if the Iraq War is not illegal, whatever that term means in the Constitutional/Nation-State/Social Contract/We All Have to Live Together sense of the word, what exactly could the United States government do that is illegal?  

Honestly, I can't answer this question. Since the legality will ultimately be arbitrated by the United States government, should it decide that whatever it is doing is legal, it appears that nothing would ever be illegal.

But even if we agree that the ultimate judge of legality on Earth is the citizenry, is there anything the United States government could do that they would consider illegal? (Assuming they feel Iraq wasn't illegal.)

In other words, I'm looking for a specific example, preferably involving aggressive foreign action, that you would definitely say that action was illegal.  I could not come up with anything.  Even using WMD or chemical weapons, which America has done before and I didn't hear of anyone going to jail.

Any thoughts here? 

David in Qatar 

24 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On February 18, 2011 at 11:01 AM, ChrisGraley (30.25) wrote:

The the US still holds the most power, no one can police them. When they lose that power the world will take vengence.

As far as our government policing themselves, good luck with that one.

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#2) On February 18, 2011 at 11:03 AM, arborgator (< 20) wrote:

Another great reason we never lose that power!!!!!

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#3) On February 18, 2011 at 11:10 AM, familyfund2 (22.80) wrote:

I see you've been paying attention so far. (heh)

See "watergate" for historical examples of this line of thought. Also try searching "Nixon"

Wish i had time to really get to know you. 

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#4) On February 18, 2011 at 11:15 AM, whereaminow (42.76) wrote:

Thanks familyfund2

Watergate is a good example, except that Nixon didn't go to jail (was he prosecuted or given a criminal record?)  So he just got fired, for all practical purposes, right?

I admit to being no expert on Nixon. 

Daivd in Qatar 

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#5) On February 18, 2011 at 12:08 PM, whereaminow (42.76) wrote:

On second thought, although Nixon is an interesting case, it's not what I'm looking for. My objection is that he committed his crime against the US government (or more specifically, other individuals in the US government.)  I'm looking for something along the lines of an act against foreign person(s).

David in Qatar 

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#6) On February 18, 2011 at 12:26 PM, Slider08 (27.21) wrote:

Legality, by its very definition, is determined by the state, and to the state, legality is morality. This is partially why the Just War Theory is a steaming pile of crap. Wars are not legal or illegal. They are moral or immoral, and what is moral differs between people.

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#7) On February 18, 2011 at 12:30 PM, ETFsRule (99.94) wrote:

Charles Graner, Lynndie England and Ivan Frederick went to prison for the Abu-Graib abuses

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#8) On February 18, 2011 at 12:33 PM, Turfscape (40.96) wrote:

David wrote:
"So he just got fired, for all practical purposes, right?"

Well, he quit so that he wouldn't be convicted by Congress. Once he left office he was given a pre-emptory pardon by Ford in order to "heal the nation" and move past the whole nasty mess.

Ultimately, I don't think that the United States can realistically ever be found to have been engaged in "illegal" behavior on an international scale. There is a very clearly defined double-standard in place, in that the U.S. demands that the world submit to the conventions of the United Nations...but does not hold itself accountable to the U.N.

Sovereignty is a one-way street for U.S. "patriots". Freedom and democracy are just marketing terms for that same group (used for their benefit in rousing speeches but utterly meaningless to them). Sadly, that group makes up a HUGE portion of the electorate, and others are easily swayed into supporting that narrow-minded voice, even though it stands in complete opposition to the ideals upon which the foundation of this country was built.

I think in the next 10 to 15 years some international body will declare actions of the U.S. to be illegal (whether is Gitmo, Iraq or something else). And when that happens, the cry will go up loud and clear that "we" do not recognize the authority of that body to impede on the sovereignty of the United States of America.

It's like playing kickball at a friend's house, except your friend keeps changing the rules during the game to insure that he wins..."no, that's not a run cause the porch railing is out-of-bounds and that makes it an automatic out. My house, my rules"

-Turf

P.S. Do kids play kickball anymore, or is only for 30-something hipsters in bar leagues?

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#9) On February 18, 2011 at 12:35 PM, whereaminow (42.76) wrote:

Slider08,

This is me nodding.

ETFsRule,

Good point. Is there a situation where the decision makers for the initiation of aggression could be found to have acted illegally?

David in Qatar 

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#10) On February 18, 2011 at 12:40 PM, whereaminow (42.76) wrote:

Turf,

That's very close to what I am trying to understand. Thank you for that.

I am looking at many policies that are carried out (rendition, for example) and though we may have people convicted of illegal behavior, I don't see how we will ever see any type of justice for the individuals that decided these policies were a great idea.

David in Qatar 

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#11) On February 18, 2011 at 1:00 PM, Valyooo (99.63) wrote:

The better question is, why would you ask a question that you DID understand?  If you knew the answer you wouldn't ask the question.

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#12) On February 18, 2011 at 1:01 PM, Valyooo (99.63) wrote:

Also, on a somewhat related note of confusing questions, can somebody do something that they consider wrong?  If they thought it was wrong, they wouldn't do it.  Same goes for something somebody does not want to do.  If they didn't want to do it, why would they be doing it?

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#13) On February 18, 2011 at 1:07 PM, ETFsRule (99.94) wrote:

"He concluded that Agent Orange was not considered a poison under international law at the time of its use by the U.S.; that the U.S. was not prohibited from using it as a herbicide; and that the companies which produced the substance were not liable for the method of its use by the government. The U.S. government was not a party in the lawsuit, due to sovereign immunity, and the court ruled that the chemical companies, as contractors of the US government, shared the same immunity. The case was appealed and heard by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on June 18, 2007. The Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of the case stating that the herbicides used during the war were not intended to be used to poison humans and therefore did not violate international law.[65] The US Supreme Court declined to consider the case."

...

"Sovereign immunity, or crown immunity, is a type of immunity that in common law jurisdictions traces its origins from early English law. Generally speaking it is the doctrine that the sovereign or state cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution"

But it's not that simple... more details including some exceptions are here.

Also, there is interesting stuff here.

But for the most part, you can't sue the gov't or a gov't decision-maker unless they waive their sovereign immunity.

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#14) On February 18, 2011 at 1:17 PM, whereaminow (42.76) wrote:

Valyooo,

The better question is, why would you ask a question that you DID understand?  If you knew the answer you wouldn't ask the question. 

I always talk to myself. I get the best answer that way =D

Also, on a somewhat related note of confusing questions, can somebody do something that they consider wrong?  If they thought it was wrong, they wouldn't do it.  Same goes for something somebody does not want to do.  If they didn't want to do it, why would they be doing it? 

I'm not sure if this was your intent, but you just verified Mises' Human Action axiom that all action is purposeful.

ETFsRule,

Thanks for that addition. It just gives me more to think about!

David in Qatar 

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#15) On February 18, 2011 at 1:34 PM, Valyooo (99.63) wrote:

It was not my intent...I never even heard of that...I will look into it, thanks!

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#16) On February 18, 2011 at 4:06 PM, rfaramir (29.57) wrote:

There are many purposes to asking questions.

An interrogator asks questions he knows the answer to in order to gauge the state of mind of the questioned one. When he slips in the occasional question he doesn't know the answer to, it is to gain knowledge without the victim knowing that he doesn't know. It is rare and risky.

Similarly, a lawyer stays on lines where he knows the answers in order to force into the record facts he is already certain of. When he goes all Perry Mason and really is searching for the truth, he has lost already (no script-writer on his side).

Socrates asks questions for another purpose: to teach the student to think, to reason out loud, and to examine his own mind and motives and presuppositions. Unlike a lawyer, he may not know the answers already, but he knows they are the way to the answers.

But a truth-seeker is another story. He honestly doesn't know but wants to know the answer. He is vulnerable, admitting a weakness, but therefore trustworthy. When he asks publicly, and is answered, we all win by learning the truth.

I like hearing whereaminow's questions. I tend to learn a lot. I'll pitch in when I can, too. 

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#17) On February 18, 2011 at 7:16 PM, brokhernowhysher (72.64) wrote:

I'm going to go the long way around the barn on this answer.

 Consider the owning of real estate.  You have a title.  You can buy, sell, or use your title for collateral.  How did the original owner take title though?  Originally people were more or less nomadic.  Some decided to put down roots and stayed until someone bigger moved them by force.  The best land went to the strongest.  Gradually it evolved, a group of people got together (government) and decided who could own land and what they could do with it (farming, ranching, timber, mining, businesses, etc.).  There are limits to what you can do, and in most cases you pay (real estate taxes) for the rights.  People found out that over all they could live better if they had rules and cooperated.  Even countries cooperate with treaties.  If a group does not wish to cooperate with your group, they start a war and give your land to their people if they win (native Americans vs. settlers).  Animals (polar bears, buffalo, rats, mice, crickets, ants) refuse to cooperate and you need to defend your property against their encroachment.  

What is legal is decided by a consensus of those cooperating based upon their own life experiences(Profitability - morals = virtue).  If the price of bringing a country into line is too high a despot can do anything he pleases.  When the people decide they have had enough, no power on earth will save him.  It has been said that "History is written by the victors" (Sorry, I don't remember who said it).  If Hitler had developed the A bomb first we'd all be speaking German.  

The United States can only do something illegal when another country or group of countries is strong enough militarily to bring us and whatever allies we have at the time down.  We may throw a president or congressperson to the wolves if our own citizens feel they have overstepped.  The world is still ruled by force and a willingness to use it, just on a larger scale.       

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#18) On February 18, 2011 at 10:37 PM, dragonLZ (99.69) wrote:

I like KWK too. I think next quarter KWK is going to kick some serious butt...

Did this answer your question?  :)

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#19) On February 18, 2011 at 10:37 PM, dragonLZ (99.69) wrote:

I like KWK too. I think next quarter KWK is going to kick some serious butt...

Did this answer your question?  :)

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#20) On February 19, 2011 at 1:14 AM, awallejr (82.72) wrote:

 whereaminow

My question is this,  . . . what exactly could the United States government do that is illegal?  

Good question, with a complicated answer heheh.

There are two areas involved when answering this, one is domestic and one is international.

From a domestic point of view the US government can never engage in an illegal act, only individuals within the government can (i.e. Nixon and "watergate" being a classic example).  At most the "government" can engage in an Unconstitutional act, where all 3 branches basically violate their power under the Constitution.  I can't think of any real example, only hypothetical ones (i.e., the President decides to become dictator for life, Congress and the Judiciary say fine).  Unconstitutional Acts and illegal acts are technicaly different things.  One violates the Constitution, the other violates domestic laws.

Now from an international point of view, the US could engage in an illegel act if it is shown that it violated a treaty it entered into.  A declaration of war, however, in and of itself is not an illegal act provided it was declared within Constitutional guidlines.  Now the victor could hold individuals of the loser in violation of crimes against mankind, such as the Nuremburg Trials, but that really is the "spoils" of war in the end.

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#21) On February 19, 2011 at 9:48 AM, whereaminow (42.76) wrote:

Thanks for the discussion everyone. You have given me alot to think about. I reallly appreciate the many thoughtful responses here from different viewpoints. I guess I'll hold off on building my log cabin in Montana for a while.

DragonLZ, I hope you're right about KWK =D

David in Qatar

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#22) On February 19, 2011 at 10:07 AM, whereaminow (42.76) wrote:

Harry Browne gets the last word:

You're a libertarian because you abhor violence . . .

When a neighbor isn't willing to contribute as much to a social project as you are, you'd never think of:

Using a gun to force him to contribute;
Hiring an armed gang to threaten to kidnap him or confiscate his money if he didn't contribute;
Using the government in place of the armed gang if he didn't contribute – because every government program, in the final analysis, involves violence against those who don't comply.

If two people have agreed to engage in voluntary behavior between them, with no violence involved, you'd never think of:

Using a gun to stop them;
Hiring an armed gang to threaten to kidnap them if they didn't stop;
Using the government in place of the armed gang to stop them.

If a company and an individual have agreed to engage in voluntary behavior between them, with no violence involved, you'd never think of:

Using a gun to stop them;
Hiring an armed gang to threaten to kidnap them if they didn't stop;
Using the government in place of the armed gang to stop them.

If a foreign government is not attacking America, you'd never support the idea of initiating violence against the foreign country.

As one who abhors violence, you're willing to tolerate anything that's peaceful, and you practice the principle of live and let live – opposing the initiation of force (violence) against anyone for any purpose.

That's why you're a libertarian.

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#23) On February 20, 2011 at 12:03 AM, leftfield4sure (< 20) wrote:

from a domestic point of view.... if that act caused a revolution

internationaly hmmm you lose the war?

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#24) On February 25, 2011 at 12:54 PM, caterpillar10 wrote:

My on the ground (at the time) assessment was the KENT STATE SHOOTINGS was a huge turning point...where the highest court in the land (public opinion) basically said: OK, a-holes, ENUF!, it's over. That was the Ruby Ridge of our time.

But for the legalities like Watergate, and the realities like the death of JE Hoover, the fall of the US war machine as we knew it, until Bush the younger, started there. True, no one did time but that is not necessarily how the lines get drawn in real historical/cultural terms which is where real lasting change can occur.

I see the Iraq war as a similar turning point but these things take time to kick-in. I think Obama is right to take his time and build a true internat'l consensus/response to Libiya - he'll get yelled at alot but time will reward a measured, broadbased response.

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