A Fist Raised for Freedom

This picture pretty much captures everything about the Ron Paul Revolution. Incredible.

Smash the State!

A Fist Raised for Freedom

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An Unsuccessful Attack on the Meaning of the Constitution

Robert Parry recently wrote a piece entitled “The Right’s Inside-Out Constitution”. He tries to make the argument that the Constitution is not a document intended to limit the federal government. Instead he argues that it was an attempt by the founders to create a centralized national government. Of course he is correct, but only in a sense that he does not realize. It’s definitely true that during the drafting of and after the Constitution was ratified many of the founders, like the mercantilist Alexander Hamilton, wanted a system much more centralized and unlimited like Great Britain’s system. These people worked to undermine the spirit of the Constitution as a limiting document with ideas like “implied powers” – a concept that utterly destroys and contradicts Madison’s summation in the Federalist Papers #45 that:

“the powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite”

Parry attempts to diffuse this inconvenient truth by arguing that Madison was really just trying to dupe the public for their own good. Does he have any proof of Madison’s sinister motives? Of course not. Liberals interpreting the Constitution don’t want to rely on the idea that the words and arguments of the founders actually meant anything. Just like they believe in a “living constitution” where the government and politicians get to decide the extent of their own powers, he believes that he can rewrite history based on his own creative interpretation of Madison’s words.

His argument can best be summarized as saying that because a handful of the founders had some really bad ideas about the Constitution during the drafting process, that means the original intent of the Constitution was to have an all-powerful central government. It’s literally that ridiculous.

What’s funny is that he unintentionally proves that the prophetic warnings of the Anti-Federalists, however hyperbolic, turned out to be correct. Their insistence on a Bill of Rights was one of the most important contributions to protecting liberty, restraining power, and securing the ideas of liberty as found in the Declaration of Independence. The Anti-federalist’s understanding of the nature of the State to expand its powers and violate the liberties of the people informed their prophetic warnings about the problems with the new Constitution. All you need to do is read the Anti-federalist Papers to see that their concerns over eventual federal consolidation have been consistently vindicated.

A point that needs to be addressed when defending an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, a point that Parry slightly alludes to, is that the founders were not some monolithic group that agreed on the issues. There were all sorts of different ideas and competing factions within the founding generation. The goal should be to (1) show which arguments were most consistent with the interpretations of the ratifying conventions, (2) which arguments understand the nature of government tyranny, and (3) which ideas best promote liberty.

There is no rule of law without a comprehensive understanding of the meaning of the Supreme Law of the Land. Without the rule of law there cannot be the protection of liberty, and the ideas that inspired the Revolution are betrayed.

He unsurprisingly goes on to argue that anyone who believes in limited government are, by association, really just Southern apologists, neo-confederates, or racists. Typical. It’s a useful tactic when you don’t want to substantively address an argument in an honest fashion.


Washington’s War in Yemen Has Ignited Islamist Uprising

War in Yemen Backfires

Soldiers with the 25th Mechanized Brigade near the front lines in Zinjibar Yemen. Image credit: Richard Rowley, Big Noise Films

This last week the indispensable independent journalist Jeremy Scahill released a new piece in The Nation magazine titled Washington’s War in Yemen Backfires. Scahill’s investigative journalism is pretty incredible. He travels to some of the most dangerous parts of the world in order to get the story from the front lines, obtaining firsthand accounts and facts on the ground. Not only is his method courageous, but his writing ability is truly enviable.

The war going on in Yemen is one of the more important stories that is not being talked about, and that is because it is starting to look like US counterterrorism efforts in Yemen have actually strengthened the very threat we are supposedly fighting.

First, a little bit of the important historical background.

Yemen is a deeply tribal and ethnically divided country. In fact it used to be two separate countries, North and South Yemen. These two countries existed from the time of the break up of the Ottoman Empire until the dictator of North Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, united the two countries in 1990 after a long period of civil war. Saleh was able to unite the two countries by masterfully navigating the labyrinthian tribal network and creating a patronage system with tribal leaders. The central government, located out of the capital city Sana’a, has never really controlled a lot of the country because of the power and influence of regional tribal politics. The most powerful players in Yemen are not those in the Saleh regime but tribal leaders that control huge swaths of Yemen. There are hundreds of different tribes, large and small.

Ever since the Arab Spring began just over a year ago, protests have broken out calling for the removal of Saleh and his regime. Saleh’s regime, considered by the US to be an important ally in the “war on terror”, has been crumbling, with many members of his own regime and key allies defecting to the opposition. Sana’a is divided, Shi’a Houthi minority tribes are rebelling in the north, and there are growing secessionist calls in the South.

The main charge of Scahill’s report is that Saleh is a “master chess player” who has been able to essentially play the US like a fiddle by playing up the terrorist threat in Yemen in order to amass US counterterrorism assistance (weapons and funds). He has instead used those resources to defend his regime against his domestic political opponents.

Since last May, Islamist militants have overrun and taken control over Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan province, as well as Shebwa province in the south with almost no resistance from the Saleh’s security forces. Reports from Yemeni officials state that:

“Saleh himself actually handed over Zinjibar to these militants. He ordered his police force to evacuate the city and turn it over to the militants because he wanted to send a signal to the world that, without me, Yemen will fall into the hands of the terrorists.”

Scahill reports that the militants who overtook Zinjibar claimed to be a group called Ansar al Sharia. Senior Yemeni and US officials told him they were most likely a domestic front group for AQAP – al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. 

The Obama administration has been launching cruise missiles and drone strikes since the end of 2009 that sometimes hit their intended targets, but oftentimes do not. This has resulted in scores of injured and killed civilians. Popular rage against these airstrikes has exploded among the tribal leaders and among Yemeni civilians because of the large number of civilian casualties.

What Scahill found in his investigation on the ground was that tribes are allowing Ansar al-Sharia to operate in areas where the Saleh regime has intentionally left a void and a power vacuum. They have been able to win over the hearts and minds of the indigenous population because they are bringing some semblance of law and order (however gruesome and horrifying) in the midst of lawlessness. It has been an effective tactic of these Islamist groups throughout the Muslim world to provide civil services to a civilian population.

“Ansar al Sharia repaired roads, restored electricity, distributed food and began security patrols inside the city and its surroundings. It also established Sharia courts where disputes could be resolved. “Al Qaeda and Ansar al Sharia brought security to the people in areas that were famous for insecurity, famous for thefts, for roadblocks,” says Abdul Rezzaq al Jamal, an independent Yemeni journalist who regularly interviews Al Qaeda leaders and has spent extensive time in Zinjibar.”

The most important takeaway from the story is that the mounting rage against the US drone war and the years of support for the Saleh regime is beginning to create varying degrees of indigenous support for AQAP’s agenda. The US counterterrorism strategy is becoming dangerously unpopular and is sowing the seeds for massive blowback.

“President Obama’s first known authorization of a missile strike on Yemen, on December 17, 2009, killed more than forty Bedouins, many of them women and children, in the remote village of al Majala in Abyan. Another US strike, in May 2010, killed an important tribal leader and the deputy governor of Marib province, Jabir Shabwani, sparking mass anger at the United States and Saleh’s government. “I think these airstrikes were based on false intelligence from the regime, because that is the nature of the contractor,” Qahtan charges. “The contractor wants to create more work in return for earning more money.”

“I firmly believe that the [military] operations implemented by the US performed a great service for Al Qaeda, because those operations gave Al Qaeda unprecedented local sympathy,” says Jamal, the Yemeni journalist. The strikes “have recruited thousands.” Yemeni tribesmen, he says, share one common goal with Al Qaeda, “which is revenge against the Americans, because those who were killed are the sons of the tribesmen, and the tribesmen never, ever give up on revenge.”

The tribes, who once had a motivation for keeping al Qaeda in check, have lost that motivation because they do not seem to pose a threat compared to the drone war and the massive civilian casualties. They are not attacking or threatening the tribes. Instead they are able to focus a message that connects to the anger and desire for revenge against the US who is bombing their villages and killing large numbers of innocent Yemenis. Perhaps the most significant quote in the piece comes from a tribal sheik named Mullah Zadara, the most interesting character in the story. Zadara has been asked by the Yemeni government to mediate between the militants and the government.

Zabara is quick to clarify that he believes AQAP is a terrorist group bent on attacking the United States, but that is hardly his central concern. “The US sees Al Qaeda as terrorism, and we consider the drones terrorism,” he says. “The drones are flying day and night, frightening women and children, disturbing sleeping people. This is terrorism.” Zabara says several US strikes in his region have killed scores of civilians and that his community is littered with unexploded cluster bombs, which have detonated, killing children.

The situation in Yemen is quickly becoming more and more dangerous. US policy has made counterterrorism a source of profit for the Saleh regime. The greater the threat of terrorism against the US, the greater profit for Saleh and his regime. Saleh has played the US like a fiddle, being able to milk the threat and allow advances by AQAP in order to maintain his grip on power. These bombings, when we kill civilians, radically undermine our goals in the region. We are fomenting blowback. The very threat we are said to be fighting in the world is manageable right now, but if we keep fighting it the wrong way it might not be manageable for long.

Now that we are ten years into this war, we need to wake up to the reality that we could be fighting it the wrong way.


An Intellectual Revolution

Well, I have decided to start a blog…obviously.

I have always been one of the few people who actually pays attention to and cares about the political issues of the day. The irony is that in so many ways I despise politics. Leonard Read described politics as a “lagging indicator” of prevailing opinion. The existing system we live in was created from decades old ideas. I believe that we are ruled by a system that is intellectually bankrupt at its foundation. It is fundamentally flawed and corrupt at its core. The nobel laureate economist and intellectual F.A. Hayek called it a “fatal conceit” – the belief that a central authority, one man or a group of men, a cabinet of officials, or a planning committee could gather enough understanding or information in order to reshape the world around them according to their wishes – to reshape human nature.

I feel like our society is decaying into the mindset of looking to the State to try and solve every social problem that we have. We must reject this foundation of statism. An institution that has the monopoly on the use of force should not be the savior we look to in order to solve the problems in this world. The government is not the solution.

What we really need is a paradigmatic shift in political thought. That shift can only happen through an educational process of intellectual and philosophical development.

What has inspired my focus with this blog is what Hayek said about social change. Hayek explained that social change occurs when the intellectuals, or the “secondhand dealers in ideas” accept and spread a doctrine that is then filtered through public opinion. Only then are those beliefs projected into the political system. It will take a diligent educational effort to produce transformative social and political change, and there is a growing movement in this country that is committed to advancing the ideas of liberty. It is a movement that I consider myself and this blog a part of, and it is what Albert Jay Nock called “the Remnant”.

Nock, a great intellectual for the ideas of liberty, wrote an incredible essay called “Isaiah’s Job”. The essay focuses on the biblical story of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. Isaiah’s ministry began at the end of King Uzziah’s reign, which lasted almost a half century and was apparently prosperous. However, at the end of that reign there was a sudden and resounding crash. Can you sense a parallel?

A spiritual decay had infiltrated the hearts of the people. The Lord commissioned Isaiah to call for their repentance even though they will harden their hearts and refuse to listen to the prophecy of their coming self-inflicted destruction. This calling raised the very obvious question – if they are doomed from the start, what use is it to even try? (I guess if I had heard the voice of the Lord, seen Him on His throne of glory in a vision, and was called by Him to go, I would still do it anyways…)

Part of God’s call was that Isaiah was to be a prophet to the Remnant – a group of true believers that still existed. They needed to be encouraged and built up in their faith so that when everything went to hell in a hand-basket, they were the ones who were going to come back and rebuild society on a solid foundation.

I do not profess to be some sort of great intellectual. I do not pretend to have any special knowledge of anything in particular or even to be especially intelligent! I simply hope that I can be an effective intermediary for the ideas of liberty that can one day have a lasting effect on society.

I also am no prophet. It would be presumptive and arrogant to try and equate myself to that level of authority, but we have plenty of prophets in our midst that are urging us to change our ways before we ruin ourselves. This blog will be a resource to connect people to what some of these thinkers and intellectuals have to say. There is a wealth of knowledge, resources, and ideas out there. We just need to connect to them.

I will connect my readers with articles and resources on important issues and stories happening around the world on both foreign and domestic policy. One of my goals is to help provide historical and narrative context to what is going on throughout the world. One of my constant criticisms of the media is the complete disregard for the proper context of a story. Events do not happen in a vacuum, and an effective propaganda tool can be to avoid the important contextual aspects of developing events. I will develop archival references and articles for the issues I focus on in this blog. I will provide hyperlinks and connections to facts and sources in all of my commentaries wherever they apply. I ask that you please challenge me to do this if you feel that I am inadequately addressing this promise.

I will try to be an intermediary in spreading the ideas of liberty to help promote a new paradigm of thinking. From time to time I will write some original material whenever I feel inspired to put my developing ideas into words. I hope that this blog will help to challenge my thinking and understanding, and inspire me to honestly explore myself.

“There can only be one permanent revolution – a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man.”     – Leo Tolstoy

Most importantly I hope to challenge and dismantle the ideology of statism. If I can be effective in gaining an audience I hope to inspire others to understand and believe in a free society. The biggest threat to the prevailing system and the tyranny of the current political ideology is to challenge the fundamental ideas and premises of the system. The only power that the State has is what we give or what it takes from the rest of us. All of the State’s resources come from what it confiscates from the society that it rules over.  It’s only legitimacy comes from the degree to which we consent to live under it. Therefore ideas are the most dangerous threat to its existence. We do not need some sort of violent revolution to overthrow the existing order. In fact we should reject that notion. Violent aggression and force is the weapon of statism. We need an intellectual revolution. We need nothing more than the will to be free.

“…you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces…”     -Etienne de la Boetie