Sunday, July 28, 2013

What is the Value of a Free Press?

This is a question I am asking in my new post up at Speak Liberty NOW.  I had been doing a little historical research about how our founding generation viewed the need and importance of a free press.  In doing so I stumbled upon an amazing quote, seemingly lost to history by French political philosopher Volney that really nails the importance of a truly free press for a free society.  Check it out here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

More Stuff Posted

I have another piece up over at Speak Liberty Now.  This one deals with the constant refrain we are hearing from government apologists about the "legality" of the NSA data mining program.  One of the things I have to say about that:
And just like the NSA data mining, we had to actually KNOW it was happening to raise that outcry.  If when the people hear of these things, and they scream out that it is wrong and it shouldn't be happening, then legal and right (or acceptable if you wish) have veered away from each other, and simply defending the legality (especially if you are being nothing but a hypocritical, tribal, partisan shill) means you are missing the point.  All of those things listed above were considered legal at some point, but that did not make them right.
Check out the rest here .

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

New Stuff Up at Speak Liberty NOW

I am very happy to announce that I am a now a contributor to Speak Liberty NOW, a great site full of diverse opinions and writings dealing with the liberty movement.  My first work deals with the ridiculous and scandalous degree to which we have allowed our free speech rights to be degraded.  Hope you enjoy.
Story here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Use It Before You Lose It

I ran across this quote while doing some research.  It comes from CATO'S LETTERS OR Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, and Other Important Subjects By John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon 1720-23.  This link is the relevant one and the overall site has a few other transcripts on there, definitely worth a read if you have the time.

If you are looking for a chuckle and a way to throw some sand in the gears check out this gem about NSA surveillance from the people at Funny or Die:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Tragically Funny

I saw this on a twitter feed, and it was so tragically and unfortunately funny I had to share:

And this is just as funny courtesy of the folks over at Slate:

Why Worry If You Have Nothing To Hide?

“Nothing to worry about”
“I’m sure we should be doing this”
“Not talking to terrorist either”

These are direct quotes of someone talking about the recent news that the NSA has been using the PATRIOT Act to simply scoop up all of the calling records of Verizon customers.  To repeat the NSA ordered Verizon to turn over the calling records of every customer, and told them they had to keep it a secret.  Now this story is starting to gain real traction, because it is an incredibly terrifying notion.  This information was leaked to the press, confirming a general suspicion that most people have, that the intelligence services of this country are continuing to increase the size, scope and drag of their information gathering on ordinary citizens, and we truly have no idea how much our government is doing in this regard.  Why?  Because it is a secret.  We are simply expected to trust that our government is doing the right thing.  Trust in the national security state.  The PATRIOT Act is all good, all the time, and only the bad guys are ever targeted.  You have nothing to fear, nothing at all.  Some legislators have warned us that we have no idea what our government thinks it can do with its surveillance powers, and that everyday Americans would be shocked if we ever learned the truth. 

On the other end of the spectrum are the quotes listed above.  These are not the words of some nitwit, man-on-the-street grade school dropout.  This comes from a sitting U.S. Senator, Mr. Neo-Con to the Extreme, Lindsay Graham.  This is an individual who swore to uphold the constitution, a document that was supposed to LIMIT the power of the government, to protect the citizens of this country from what can be the awesome and intrusive power of the Feds.  We have continued on this path for more than a decade now, that we need to cower in fear from the ever present terrorist threat, that they are everywhere plotting to get us, and that the government needs to be into everything, at all times in an effort to keep us safe.  We need to just trust in them that they have targeted the right individuals, that the info they want is relevant to actual investigations, and it all falls under the ever present and truly odious and ignorant rallying cry that “if we have nothing to hide, we have nothing to worry about.”  Free people don’t have to justify themselves, their actions or their right to be secure in their person and possessions, the government needs to make the compelling case that someone has done something wrong to justify the intrusion of the government into their lives.  Why even bother having amendments 4, 5, 6 and 8 if we can simply trust that the government is doing the right thing?  Just because the esteemed idiot from South Carolina is “sure we should be doing this” does this mean the rest of us should just sit back and enjoy the ride?  How long will this war be going on by the way?  What exactly is the metric for winning again?  If this war and the erosion of our rights will continue so long as there are small, highly motivated groups willing to attack America and kill Americans, which very well could be an indefinite proposition, does this mean that the PATRIOT Act and the surveillance state it has created will also continue indefinitely?  According to people like Graham it should and we should just stop grousing about it.  This of course means if we want to see any actual change then we need to start sending a better class of people to Washington, ones who actually understand and appreciate the idea that the government needs to be limited and restrained if we are to be a free society, and that in that free society the people don’t ever need to answer a stupid question like “why are you worried if you have nothing to hide?”

Watch Mr. Graham earn the title of Asshat below:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Drones, Rand and Your Liberty

This is a commentary I wrote at the height of the Rand Paul filibuster fallout.  I really felt it was a good piece and could add to the debate, so I submitted it for publication to my favorite outlet.  They unfortunately took so long to reject it that it became somewhat irrelevant.  I decided to put it up here finally because I am really kind of proud of the piece, and I hope you enjoy.

There has been some criticism of Senator Rand Paul in the past, some of it deserved, but his recent filibuster over the question of the use of drones by the administration has earned him a great deal of praise.  Conversely, we have also seen an incredibly disturbing pushback against the whole episode, which has created some very strange bedfellows.  From John McCain, lambasting the idea of stirring up the kiddies to Lawrence O’Donnell, spewing invectives like “psychopath” on a supposed news show, we saw people become very critical of the idea of demanding this government answer a simple question: Do you believe you have the authority to kill an American citizen on American soil without the due process protections guaranteed by the Constitution  you swore to uphold?  A very simple question, one the administration would not answer clearly until after the filibuster.  Their initial response was filled with rather asinine non sequiturs like Pearl Harbor or 9/11, as if someone would not notice the difference between an active and on-going commission of violence versus what Paul was asking after. The critics of Senator Paul have come from all sides and all angles, some painting the episode as tin foil hat conspiracy to un-American naiveté about how the grown-ups need the latitude to keep us ‘safe’ from all the scary things out there.  Neither of these is true, and trying to stifle debate over an incredibly important constitutional issue because you don’t want to be a hypocritical War Hawk by not supporting Obama’s version of the drone program or are aiming to be an immensely hypocritical Democrat defending ‘your guy’ while they are in office is ridiculous.

One of the problems in this episode was Paul’s terrible hypothetical that he brought up, the one that is constantly repeated about someone’s “café-experience” over political dissent.  This unfortunate, sound-bite worthy bit, gives the critics the ability to minimize the argument by easily lampooning the hypothetical.  Paul needed a much better example of what he was talking about.  Many people, even among the critics, agree that the drone program needs more oversight.  There is a great deal of talk about the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), and what that allows the president to do, and so many people seem to be in the very unfortunate company of Bush torture memo author, John Yoo, that when we used the word “War”, we essentially made the president into an all powerful emperor who can do literally anything anywhere in the world, like targeting an American citizen for death without due process.  If we want to delve deeper into the question of drones, both domestically and on foreign soil, to see if our Constitution  actually provides us with any protection of our lives and liberty, we need to frame the questions better.  Here is a domestic hypothetical that Paul could have framed and demanded an answer to:
We have Natural Born American Citizen “X”.  Mr. X is abroad and has been identified by our Executive Branch officials as a member of al Qaeda.  We do not know why or how he was identified as such, for that is secret.  This individual has been classified as worthy of targeted killing by drone because he poses an “imminent threat” to American National Security.  We do not know who or by what metric, using what evidence, this determination has been made, for that too is secret.  No evidence has been submitted to any court, not even a secret FISA court, and no indictment has been handed down by a Grand Jury.  This man’s life is forfeit because the Executive Branch has convinced itself that he is guilty of a crime.  Now, intelligence has been gathered that Mr. X is back in the U.S. for some unknown reason. An alert comes through that Mr. X has been spotted in the Arizona desert 10 miles from the Mexican border, traveling south about to leave the country.  There is no one who could be mobilized to capture him before he gets to the border.  There are no Mexican authorities who could intercede on their side of the border.  So, the question is this - does the President’s supposed  authority to kill this man abroad now translate to this scenario?  Mr. X is labeled a imminent threat, he is in the open with minimal collateral damage, there is no real opportunity to capture him, and it is unknown if another opportunity such as this will ever exist again.  Can he shoot?  If the answer to that question is yes, then what is Administration’s definition of due process as guaranteed by the 5th Amendment?  If the answer is no, does the Administration believe it can kill this man in two hours when he crosses over into Mexico?  If we change the conditions of the hypothetical to having Mr. X in the Idaho wilderness about to cross into Canada does anything change?  If in this scenario either Mexico or Canada informed the President that they did not have the ability to capture this individual, but demanded that no drone or missile cross their airspace, what then?  Does the President have the authority to cause an international incident in the pursuit of killing Mr. X?

That is a better scenario than a café, and once again, the question is not “Would you Mr. Obama?” but “Can you Mr. President of the United States?”  No one drawing breath right now would assume John Yoo would not happily endorse killing Mr. X wherever he may be, but what about John McCain?  Given the scenario of some nefarious individual being blasted in his home state, what he would say?  How about Lawrence O’Donnell at that point?  If we framed the issue a little better, would it be psychotic to ask if this Mr. X, condemned by some Star Chamber using secret evidence that can’t be discussed or disseminated, can be summarily executed by the President of the United States?  When and under what conditions may we start asking those questions before we become crackpots?

We also need start discussing this drone program in its international context.  This ridiculous notion that the AUMF allows the President to kill anyone anywhere also needs to be reexamined.  Try it with this other hypothetical when it comes to international drone use:

French national of Algerian descent, Mr. Y, is employed in an aid agency and is working in Yemen.  American Intelligence determines that Mr. Y is actually an al Qaeda operative and the aid agency is a deep cover.  He becomes listed for targeted killing, he is located and a drone is dispatched to eliminate him.  The drone strike misses, and Mr. Y flees back to France, vociferously claiming his innocence and demanding that his government protect him from an undeserved American death sentence.  There is popular outcry, a media firestorm, and immense pressure is placed on the French government until the point they grant Mr. Y asylum; he will not be extradited to the United States unless and until all their evidence against him is made public.  Given his cause célèbre, Mr. Y isn’t even detained.  Now, Mr. President, do you have the authority to violate NATO ally France’s sovereignty and launch a drone strike against Mr. Y if a situation presents itself in which there is minimal collateral damage?  Does the AUMF provide you with the ability to engage in overt acts of war against other nations because they might exercise the sovereign right to protect their citizens from execution and their territory from incursion?

Where would McCain and Senator Lindsay Graham stand on this hypothetical?  Does new CIA Director John Brennan believe that we could kill this individual under these circumstances?  Once again this is not a question of “Would you?” but “Could you?”  Killing scary Muslim folk in far off, underdeveloped countries doesn't seem to phase the American people, but what about the rest of the world?  We do not discuss the collateral damage or whether killing innocent civilians, including children, is making more enemies (and far more dedicated enemies at that) than we are killing in these strikes.  What Senator Paul was asking is what do we conceive as the limits on our government’s ability to kill its own citizens and, by extension, to have a conversation about our government’s continued policy of killing quite a few people all over the world with absolutely no oversight, all in furtherance of the ubiquitous “War on Terror” which makes every square inch of the planet a war zone.  Not trusting in your government’s ability to brand someone an enemy of the state and kill them without trial or publicly presenting the evidence does not make you a paranoid freak-show getting your bunker ready for Mad Max-esque end times.  Members of the media who mocked or belittled the idea of questioning the administration’s seeming contempt for due process (not only the corner stone of our legal system, but the oldest concept of the common law) show themselves to either be willfully ignorant or incestuously entwined with the administration and their talking points.  Those on the right, especially sitting legislators, upset over their cherished War Hawk notion of ‘kill them all anywhere, anytime’ policy being questioned need to go back and read the Constitution  and its very real and necessary limits on the power of the government.  Those on the left who do not criticize the policy because “their guy” is in power need to take a real long look in the mirror.  They decry the hyper-partisanship of our government and the inability to get anything done, yet criticize Senator Paul because he is from the other side, doing what these clowns should have been doing all along, speaking truth to power.  If you stand against the idea of the death penalty in all criminal cases because the State might execute an innocent man, and you don’t stand up and question the use of drones, either foreign or domestic, to kill someone by executive fiat, because you happen to trust the guy holding the office today, then your entire world view is a logical disconnect, an ideological inconsistency that is really indefensible.  To shout down those, who, poorly worded or not, would question the scope, depth and breadth of the President of the United States’ power to kill his own citizens, does a disservice to the Constitution  and all those who in the past have fought for our rights.  Not questioning the powers-that-be about the limits of their power led to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques”, something most people would have thought impossible prior to 9/11.  In light of that do we really see the questioning of a President’s (regardless of political party) idea of when, where, why and how he can kill another citizen as being unreasonable?  Questioning authority is not, and should not, be a partisan issue and not exercising that right today only makes it harder to push back against over reach tomorrow.  Those legislators, pundits and journalists who would blithely or sarcastically minimize or trivialize the idea that we as citizens should never defer or trust in government’s ability to simply always make the right call in these situations, need to ask the few remaining Japanese internment camp victims how much trust we as a people should place in our government to protect our lives and liberty in a time of war.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Glenn the 'Libertarian'

Returning to the fray after somewhat of a long hiatus I think it is only proper to take up Glenn Beck and his recent ‘conversion’ to being somewhat of a libertarian, in his own words.  Mr. Beck seems to be very upset that there are people out there who might be just slightly hesitant to embrace him at this early stage of his conversion.  He was particularly upset with people such as Alexander McCobin of the Students for Liberty who said, and restated wonderfully here, that this is not a question of an ideological purity test, that some ‘small tent’ libertarians want to exclude him because of issue X or Y.  The issue here is that Beck must be the one, for more than a week or so, to show that he has actually changed through his rhetoric and actions.  It is fine to stand up and say “hey guys I was wrong, I’m part of the team now” and IF he starts backing words with action then people will start to judge and accept him on that basis, but he can’t jump up and expect, after a decade of very public resistance to most of the efforts of the liberty movement, to be crowned the titular head or spokesman of the movement coming right out of the gates (which quite honestly seems to be what he is so upset about).  Beck needs to start somewhat at the back of the line and do a little put up or shut up.  Now, he start of by having a discussion with some libertarians on his show, and right off the bat he shows the problem that many people have with this conversion.

In this video they start off with the topic of drugs, and the idea of legalizing drugs.  Beck instantly shows, and admits to, his ‘conservative’ bias in that he can’t wrap his mind around this idea of legal heroin, and the lost generation of people who would clog up the welfare state with their addiction.  Now the response dealing with the simultaneous dismantling of the welfare state is fine, but really the whole issue of the Drug War shows the gulf between libertarians and conservatives.  The issue, at least for me, is not about the drugs and the affect they might have, it is about government policy, and this is why Beck is not going to be openly embraced by many libertarians, until such time as HE starts to change.  When it comes to discussing legalizing drugs I always start with Prohibition.  Almost everyone can understand that Prohibition was a terrible policy that had terrible consequences.  Almost everyone knows who Al Capone was, and they understand that the only reason they know who this penny-ante thug was is because Prohibition made him a multi-millionaire and a cultural folk hero.  Almost everyone knows or has seen someone who is wasting their life away with alcohol, but even ardent teetotalers would be hard pressed to say “we need a law…” because everyone comprehends and understands the disaster that was Prohibition, but if you ask them to apply that same logical conclusion to the Drug War you all of the sudden have this massive cognitive dissonance occur.  It almost automatically comes down to drugs are bad and government needs to outlaw them.   No recognition that they have been fed decades of scary propaganda that lumps all drugs and drug users as equally evil and immoral.  They don’t see the interconnected nature of it all, the building blocks of the system.  Once upon a time it was considered necessary to pass a constitutional amendment to provide our limited government with the power to outlaw something like alcohol.  Not so now, it is all wonderfully Progressive ‘commerce clause’ and ‘necessary and proper’ actions that lock up millions of people and directly cause the deaths of thousand of others.  They don’t see the Black Market nature of the drug business being the impetus behind the entire cycle of gun violence, the erosion of constitutional protections, border and immigration issues, the lack of economic opportunity and mobility in the inner cities and a host of other problems.  They simply see drugs as being bad and why can’t some politician just do something to protect the poor little children from the scourge of drugs.

Libertarians loath the idea of the state interfering in your personal autonomy, of giving power to government to intercede on your behalf, to save you from yourself as it were.  Many conservatives can find all manner of reasons to use the power of the state to MAKE you behave in a way they believe to be proper.  Santorum, Bachmann and a whole host of conservatives, many of whom Beck has openly supported in the past, would gladly use the Federal government to force individuals to behave in a manner they believed proper.  This is the battle cry of the Progressive, that government can and should be a direct vehicle for changing people’s practices, actions and attitudes that are considered to be unhealthy or improper for the collective of the State.  Beck has railed against these ideas when they are coming out of the Left, but what about the Right?  You can say that forcing someone to buy health insurance they don’t want is an improper extension of power by the Federal government over individual autonomy, and I would agree.  You can say that regulating what, where, when and how much anyone eats is beyond the scope and power of our limited constitutional government and I would agree.  You can declare that the overreach of government into every sector of life and the economy is an abomination never intended by our Founders, and I would and do support you.  You can not however turn around, point at some wastoid in the corner who wants to sit around hastening himself to an early grave by mainlining crank and say “the Federal government needs to find the authority to outlaw that activity and ensure it can’t happen by investing billions of dollars on interdiction, eradication, imprisonment every year until the problem is eliminated!”  It is a logical disconnect, and while I am a big tent type who does not advocate ideological purity, I will certainly point out ideological inconsistency and ask questions.

So let’s start in that vein, which I believe to be Mr. McCobin’s point about Beck being the one who needs to move and not vice versa.  Can Beck explain how the Drug War or drug prohibition fits into his idea of how, where, when and in what fashion the (limited) Federal government should be acting?  Can he defend it without there being a glaring ideological inconsistency in that response, say when compared to something like a ‘Junk Food Tax’ which he has lambasted in the past?  Some Liberal Progressive busy body can make just as compelling case about a man’s ‘sugar induced diabetes imposing societal costs that need to be curtailed’ as a moralizing Conservative’s claim that individual consumption of Black Tar Heroin should be demonized and outlawed by the Feds, much in the same way as a whole host of people a century gone insisted I shouldn’t be enjoying as much Single Malt Whisky as I do.  All are positions that are interrelated mainly in the fact that none of them are ‘libertarian.’  We don’t have union cards, and you can call yourself the Emperor of Siam for all I care, but if you want to embrace, advocate and expand the liberty movement then please do so through your actions.  Show yourself to be the changed man, open to dialogue, more inclusive and receptive to ideas outside of the generally conservative, and then we will see what develops.