Tag Archives: libertarians

Great news! I was honored by Young Americans for Liberty as their Best Blogger of the Year (2011-2012)!

Great news! I was honored by Young Americans for Liberty as their Best Blogger of the Year (2011-2012)!

If you are a liberty-loving student, please read our posts and find out more about our mission at www.yaliberty.org.

About Young Americans for Liberty

Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) is the largest, most active, and fastest-growing pro-liberty organization on America’s college campuses. With more than 300 chapters and 26,000 student activists nationwide, YAL seeks to recruit, train, educate, and mobilize students on the ideals of liberty and the Constitution.

This is not a new beginning but a continuation of a youth movement already brewing in this country. Our objective is to facilitate its success.

What we mean when we call our neighbors “terrorists”

A chart from ThinkProgress is currently making the rounds on Tumblr, especially among self-described liberal blogs, depicting what it claims to be the rise of right-wing “terrorism.” Ken Sofer writes:

Fifty-six percent of domestic terrorist attacks and plots in the U.S. since 1995 have been perpetrated by right-wing extremists, as compared to 30 percent by ecoterrorists and 12 percent by Islamic extremists. Right-wing extremism has been responsible for the greatest number of terrorist incidents in the U.S. in 13 of the 17 years since the Oklahoma City bombing.

Predictably, Sofer demands more resources to be poured into the laughably ineffective Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the express purpose of tracking and monitoring what the government defines as domestic threats.

In order to protect American citizens, we need to match our resources to the reality of our threats, not just the politically expedient narratives we have formed.

Now, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with devoting an appropriate amount of resources to combat national threats. Ideally, Sofer would have said to shutter the DHS entirely, but instead gripes about the fact that only a single DHS agent is tasked to monitor his fellow citizens. Sofer also does not take the time to ask, “by what measure or standard does the DHS define terroristic acts?” and “what does the DHS mean by terrorism?”

It has been evident in the past decade—beginning with the Bush administration and continuing under the Obama administration—that the word “terrorism” and what constitutes a “terrorist” is indeed, as Sofer rightfully points out, based on “politically expedient narratives.” The definition at this point is so meaningless that it no longer denotes the act of terror itself but, according to Glenn Greenwald, a politically manipulated epithet to identify those who oppose the interests of the United States and its allies. Simply put, a terrorist is someone who the United States is currently killing and terrorism an act that it is counter to its interests.

That is why, for example, legitimate resistance to American occupation in Iraq is libeled as “terrorism” whereas Sgt. Robert Bales’ midnight excursion that resulted in the deaths of 17 innocent Afghan civilians is merely a product of a troubled mind. And why Howard Dean and Rudy Giuliani’s material support of the Iranian terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) is not prosecuted despite very public evidence, while an innocent 16-year old American teen gets blown to bits for no apparent reason. Additionally, the government’s counter-terrorism efforts are increasingly being turned against domestic political organizations that seem threaten the political establishment. Missouri, for example, famously labeled Ron Paul supporters as domestic terrorists and there is mounting evidence that Occupy Wall Street has been deemed a domestic terror threat by various government agencies. The chilling effect of this has on legitimate dissent and political speech cannot be overstated.

Given what we know about what the American government does to people it considers terrorists, I do not understand Sofer’s casual and flippant branding of people he politically disagrees with as “terrorists.” Whether we agree with it or not, there is a separate set of rules that dictates what the government does to people it considers terrorists. The reality is that the government indefinitely detains, tortures, and extra-judicially kills terrorists, a reality that will not suddenly change because the accused is an American (for evidence, see Abdulrahaman al-Awlaki or Yonas Fikre cases). While we can disagree whether the terms “terrorism” and “terrorist” are utterly meaningless, but there is no question that being labeled by the government as a terrorist is a grave matter.

When we libel our neighbors, our fellow Americans, as “terrorists,” we are implicitly giving permission to the State to perpetrate the same heinous acts it commits against foreign enemies against our own countrymen. Any reasonable person would be horrified at the thought.

In America, the Law is Not King

(Originally published at Young Americans for Liberty’s Young American Revolution.)

Book Review:  With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful

Glenn Greenwald, 304 pages, Metropolitan Books, 2011

By Jayel Aheram

Just a week before the year ended, 26-year old single mother Patricia Spottedcrow spent the holidays in prison. It was her first Christmas away from her children — now ages 2, 4, 5, and 10 — after receiving a 12-year sentence for the first-time offense of attempting to sell $31 worth of marijuana to undercover police officers.

If Spottedcrow had been a former president, an influential administration official, a Hollywood celebrity, or a hedge fund manager for wealthy investors, the single mother might have experienced leniency and compassion from the criminal justice system. In fact, she might not have even seen the inside of a courthouse for worse crimes. Instead, like most powerless victims of this country, the rule of law will be stringently enforced with all the impartiality and dispassion the criminal justice system could muster.

While the heavy hand of the law is used to incarcerate an increasing number of the poor and sentenced for increasingly long periods for even the most petty of crimes, this same rule of law is repeatedly abrogated in the name of protecting the very powerful of this country: the political and financial elites. That this two-tiered justice system exists — one tier to protect powerful from any culpability in high crimes committed and the other to severely punish the powerless for the most minor of offenses — represents the deposition of law as king in America, according to Glenn Greenwald in his latest book With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful.

Greenwald convincingly illustrates the existence of a two-tiered justice system in America and recounts the systematic efforts to dismantle the rule of law as it applies to powerful beginning with Gerald Ford’s presidential pardon of Richard Nixon to the current Obama administration’s self-serving refusal and aggressive prevention of all efforts to investigate the Bush torture regime.

In his introduction, Greenwald lists the crimes he lays upon the elites: the “global torture regime” of the Bush administration, the “plundering by Wall Street” that led to the still-ongoing economic recession, the “obstruction of justice” by administration officials, and the widespread fraud that characterized the home foreclosures by the largest banks. In every instance, Greenwald claimed that “the perpetrators were shielded from any legal consequence.” This is in contrast to the aforementioned Spottedcrow or other non-violent offenders like her, whose negligible “crimes” are so inconsequential compared to the criminal destruction by the financial elites of the wealth of this nation’s middle class and the prolonged suffering they continue to endure.

According to Greenwald, this decades-long undermining of the rule of law not only denies justice for those most aggrieved — in this case, the American people who have been spied on, plundered, tortured, and under the current Obama administration even assassinated — but also perpetuates the chronic lawlessness from the very institutions Americans have entrusted to protect them and provide ever more incentives for the elites to commit even greater injustice against the American people.

Greenwald rose to national prominence as a blogger in 2005 when the first controversies regarding the National Security Agency’s illegal domestic wiretapping were disclosed by the New York Times. Unsurprisingly, the most compelling chapter of his book is devoted to this saga of flagrant violations of the law by the Bush administration and the ensuing scramble by officials to secure immunity for the telecoms who cooperated with the administration in law-breaking and shield them from any legal consequence.

That the telecoms were acting under the orders of the president is irrelevant according to Greenwald, when the law explicitly forbids telecoms from “intentionally engaging in electronic surveillance unless authorized by a court.” Greenwald argues very forcefully that the administration’s demand for retroactive immunity for the telecoms “makes complete mockery of the rule of law,” contending:

[T]he United States is not supposed to be a country where private actors are permitted to commit crimes and violate laws whenever the president tells them that they should. The president has no greater power to authorize others to break the law than he does to break the law himself.

Greenwald also argues that the president — far from the idea of an imperial presidency with unchecked powers to bend or break laws as he sees fit, as advocated by many prominent members of the Bush administration — is bound by Article II of the Constitution to faithfully execute laws. Greenwald puts it succinctly, “lawbreaking is still illegal even if the president says it should be done.”

Indeed, the warrantless spying case perfectly illustrates how completely entrenched the idea among the powerful elites that certain members of this exclusive group, such as the president and members of his administration, are completely unbound by the rule of law and immune from the requisite justice that would be reasonably applied if the laws were properly executed. This is then extended to the private companies who cooperated in the law-breaking. In return for their silent complicity, the telecoms breaking the law were amply rewarded with multi-million dollar contracts generating huge revenues, and then afterwards were granted complete immunity from prosecution that their law-breaking would normally demand. This mentality is not the domain of one political party, but has become a bipartisan consensus as evidenced by the Democrat-controlled Congress’ eventual passage of the law that granted retroactive immunity to these law-breaking telecoms.

This idea is also shared by many outside the Capitol, with many of the more vocal calls for full-scale immunity originating from influential voices in the corporate media. Greenwald condemns the immunity law as “one of the most striking pieces of evidence that the royal Beltway court and its corporate partners placed themselves above and beyond the reach of the law even for the most blatant transgressions.”

It turns out that this bipartisan repudiation of the rule of law continues from one administration to the next regardless of party affiliation. In the chapter “Too Big to Jail,” Greenwald details the Obama’s administration’s sidestepping of the rule of law to shield the very financial elites responsible for the economic crisis. According to Greenwald, President Barack Obama went as far as elevating these same elites from Wall Street to positions of power that will enable them further control over the economy’s machinations. He argues that the appointment of Timothy Geithner as his Treasury secretary was precisely because of Geithner’s close ties with Wall Street. Because Obama “had been a major beneficiary of Wall Street’s largess,” there is an expectation that this friendliness will be return in kind.

Greenwald strongly condemns the Obama administration’s collusion with the very financial elites responsible for the wholesale destruction of this country’s economy, calling it a “rancid state of affairs” and “the hallmark of lawlessness and tyranny.” The resulting collaboration between the financial elites guilty of plundering the country and political elites we entrusted to protect us further entrenches the idea that the powerful — whether they belong in the private or public sectors — are above the law.

Yet Greenwald reserves his strongest polemics in the chapter devoted to the Obama’s administration refusal to prosecute the criminals responsible for the Bush torture regime. In that chapter, Greenwald details the aggressive prevention by the Obama administration of all efforts to investigate the war crimes committed by the previous administration. Obama went as far as pressuring the Department of Justice to not initiate criminal proceedings, which Greenwald contends amounts to transforming the Justice Department from an “independent law enforcement agency into a political arm of the White House.”

Citing the need to “look forward not backwards,” Obama echoed the very same spurious reasoning that Ford used to justify the pardoning of Nixon. This hostile unwillingness to enforce the law and prosecute crimes of the previous administration is self-serving; after all, the Obama administration’s refusal to prosecute the Bush torture regime is in itself a crime. Greenwald laments that the Obama administration’s resistance to any sort of accountability and lack of desire to prosecute wrongdoings ensure that the bipartisan “culture of impunity” will continue from one administration to the next.

“In the long run,” he says “immunity from legal accountability ensures criminality and corruption will continue.”

Wholly depressing in its inarguable citation of facts and recent history, Greenwald’s book is a breathless and damning indictment of the bipartisan effort to abrogate of the rule of law and eviscerate the very American principle of equality under the law. Greenwald convinces that the neutering of law to shield the elites from justice leads to the creation of a two-tiered justice system that protects the favored and punishes the oppressed.

Just as Thomas Paine once did, Greenwald rightly worries that a society that forsakes the rule of law will inexorably lead to tyranny. His argument for the rule of law and for it to be applied equally is an acknowledgement of the harsh reality we live in: that given the opportunities that immense power provides — from the unchecked accumulation of ill-gotten wealth to the complete abrogation of justice — only the objective, impartial, and equal enforcement of the supreme laws of this land will serve as effective chains against the natural tendency of men to tyranny.

Otherwise it would be that in America, law is not king.

The end of the Afghanistan War?

Reuters has an exclusive about the Obama administration’s efforts in Afghanistan:

After 10 months of secret dialogue with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents, senior U.S. officials say the talks have reached a critical juncture and they will soon know whether a breakthrough is possible, leading to peace talks whose ultimate goal is to end the Afghan war.

[…]

It has asked representatives of the Taliban to match that confidence-building measure with some of their own. Those could include a denunciation of international terrorism and a public willingness to enter formal political talks with the government headed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

If these diplomatic efforts prove to be fruitful, it would go a long way in ushering the end of the United States’ longest war. In the meantime, the plan is for the military to stay indefinitely according to this report from USA Today:

Marine Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the Taliban and other forces in the region need to know the U.S. military will make sure the Afghans can handle the job.

“If you been waiting for us to go, we’re not leaving,” he said.

NATO forces agreed last year to set a deadline of the end of 2014 for turning over security to Afghan forces and ending combat operations.

The troubling thing about this approach is that it ignores the peril of our continued involvement there. The United States’ quest for stability in Afghanistan would require re-empowering the Taliban, the very organization it just spent 10 years attempting to dismantle. Any agreement with the Taliban, or its elusive leader Mullah Omar, would potentially enable that organization access to the billions of dollars of foreign aid that President Hamid Karzai’s notoriously corrupt government would be receiving as well open doors for possible power-sharing arrangement with the Afghan central government. Access to these funds (along with the millions of bribes they are already receiving, according to the Daily Mail) would potentially bring about the re-emergence of a politically and structurally significant Taliban. The political implication of this diplomatic effort notwithstanding (just imagine the outrage from neo-conservatives and families of dead soldiers this “capitulation” will generate), is it realistic to expect the various tribal groups already hostile to the central government to accept this new agreement?

It is well-known that Karzai lacks credibility as he seen as “weak” and “corrupt” by his own people; a charge that is not necessarily untrue according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. It remains to be seen if Karzai can amass the clout necessary to unite the country without the stabilizing influence of a foreign military occupation. Any reconciliation effort might require Karzai to step away from the top position, but his intention to cling to power after a U.S. withdrawal would likely hinder talks. Who is to say that the United States and NATO’s plan to train nearly 400,000 police and soldiers under the command of Karzai’s government, or the billions of dollars of aid Afghanistan will be receiving, or a potentially more powerful central government would not serve as incentives for him to stay?

But the real barrier to peace in Afghanistan is not Karzai, or the Taliban, or even key regional player Pakistan, but the United States government itself. No amount of self-governance will legitimize the Afghan government in the eyes of its people if the United States continues to spend money propping up Karzai’s corrupt regime. Furthermore, it is a given that the Obama administration will force Afghanistan to adopt a government that will be acceptable to the United States and its allies; an action that would, rightly or wrongly, give credence to the charge that the United States intends a puppet government in Afghanistan.

Regardless what happens to the peace talks, there is that unavoidable reality that innocent Afghan civilians will continue to suffer death and destruction under American bombs as the United States unceasingly wages its futile war on terror in the Middle East.

This article appears in Young Americans for Liberty.

The Occupy Movement: A dissent from violence

On Nov. 17, protesters of the global “Occupy” movement marked the two-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protests with marches, rallies, and various mass actions. They were protesting many things: corporate greed and its influence in our political discourse, a two-tiered justice system that favors the very rich and the very powerful, the massive bank bailouts funded by hard-working Americans, and the burdensome debt and chronic joblessness afflicting many Americans – the so-called “99 percent.” Yet in cities all across the United States, these expressions of the very American right to free speech and peaceful assembly were greeted with violence at the hands of local governments.

When one reads or watches news reports about these protests, one might think that these protests regularly devolve into a violent free-for-all that justifies or even necessitates the brutal police actions inevitable follow. “Objective” and “neutral” journalists of the corporate media too often describe these confrontations between police and protesters as “clashes,” as if the protesters are the aggressors. In truth, the violence in these so-called “clashes” are initiated by just one side: the police. In the confrontation between unarmed protesters and heavily armed and armored police, it is the police that are the aggressors and the peaceful protesters the victims. There is not an asymmetry in violence, but just violence inflicted by the State and its police.

It is understandable then why politicians and their police would react this way. The movement is a rejection of, and thus threat to, their model of society and governance. It is a dissent against the inherently violent and coercive State.

Consensus, not mandates

Despite the crackdowns, the arrests, the brutality, the Occupy movement has, for the most part, adhered to their oft-stated principle of non-violence. In their rhetoric and actions, the overwhelming majority of the protesters have been peaceful and non-violent. In their general assemblies, occupiers have adopted a decision-making process based on consensus, striving to reach near, if not outright unanimity in their decisions. The movement is leaderless, rejecting representatives to speak on their behalf. The occupiers choosing instead to represent themselves as individuals and choosing to add their many voices in this growing movement. What the occupations lack in hierarchy, they make up for in direct democracy.

Conservatives and libertarians with a desire for limited government will find their perfect government in the occupiers’ system of governance: the General Asssembly. The General Assembly, or the GA, is an open, participatory, and horizontally organized (as opposed to the traditionally vertical, or top-down, form of organization) in which every participating member has an equal voice and opportunity to affect the decision of the group. Participation in the decision-making process and direct actions are encouraged, rather than coerced. The GA is not compulsory and its directives are backed not by laws or the threat of punishment, but by voluntary association and individual action. Problems are identified by consensus and solved by the voluntary actions of its members. The GA and its direct actions are funded by charity and not by taxes, and while some in the movement profess dislike for free market principles, they are already participating in it.

It might be a surprise to the most hardcore and militant Socialists and Communists in the movement that they are participating in a grand libertarian experiment. At its core, the Occupy movement is an experiment in a voluntaryist model of society devoid of state violence and coercion. This is not mere political disobedience, but a dissension from the violent and coercive State. Whether it stays that is another matter entirely.

What have the occupiers wrought? A voluntaryist society, if they can keep it.

This editorial appears in the Nov. 21 issue of the student-run newspaper The Chaparral.