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A War on Us

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Libertarians come to the libertarian movement for a variety of reasons. Some people get involved because of a single issue such as the drug war, or assaults on the Second Amendment, or the confiscatory tax code and intrusion of the IRS (likely the most feared agency in the country’s arsenal of control over its citizens).

Some of us have a broader or more general base of interest, such as the Bill of Rights taken as a whole.

I fall into the Bill of Rights category, and I have said for years that the only difference between the United States and every other country has been adherence to those first ten amendments to the Constitution. They are the guarantee, the promise that the government will honor the rights of man, which exist even without government.

One of my libertarian fantasies has been to get the long-haired, weed-smoking pothead and the right-wing Republican gun nut to realize that they actually have the same concerns, that their disagreements with the government are actually the same thing — that the government is violating their constitutionally guaranteed rights, specifically embodied in the Second, Fourth and Ninth Amendments.

So it was with great interest that I read “We Have One Last Chance To Restore The Bill Of Rights” by Charles Hugh Smith in Business Insider.

Smith quotes Daniel Ellsberg:

Everything that Richard Nixon did to me, for which he faced impeachment and prosecution, which led to his resignation, is now legal under the Patriot Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the National Defense Authorization Act.

Warrantless wiretaps, federal agents writing their own warrants to follow anyone, indefinite detention, and the president having the legal ability to kill American citizens anywhere in the world without charges or trial? Indeed, what happened to Ellsberg is minimal compared to what can happen now.

Add in the recent Supreme Court decision allowing for strip searching people who haven’t paid traffic violations, and it’s obvious that today’s political society is beyond absurd.

And too few speak out against governmental abuse. Some even defend these assaults on liberty and dignity. Attorney General Eric Holder made no apology for the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki (ordered by President Obama) when he spoke to students at Northwestern University Law School last month.

Smith’s column focuses on the National Defense Authorization Act as the single piece of legislation that does the most to shred the Bill of Rights. He quotes the ACLU:

President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law. It contains a sweeping worldwide indefinite detention provision. The dangerous new law can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield. He signed it. Now, we have to fight it wherever we can and for as long as it takes.

Unlimited detention without charges is a direct assault on the very heart of the Bill of Rights, the clause in the Fifth Amendment that says no person shall be denied life, liberty or property without due process. Smith urges the passage of the Due Process Guarantee Act that — if enacted — would ban indefinite detention. He urges people to contact their representatives and senators calling for their support of the measure.

A few well-written letters to the editor wouldn’t hurt either.

But unlimited detention, warrantless wiretaps, and the presidential power to kill U.S. citizens anywhere in the world are really symptoms of a decaying political mindset. The American mindset was once based on respect for the individual, but it is now focused on the power of government.

The United States was never a perfect place. There was slavery, systemic racism with its horrible treatment of the Indians, and the denial of rights to women. Many immigrant groups faced their own brand of discrimination, but America was the place people wanted to be. Many gambled their lives on steerage passage across the oceans to come here. They came with the hope of building a life where they would be free of government repression, and where their natural rights would be honored more than the physical power of government. There was the chance of being a free person instead of merely a subject.

Our rights had been ignored and overshadowed by government long before 9/11, but it’s been worse since. As I wrote in a recent editorial,

There are bad people in the world, people who wish to harm the United States. But we as people must ask ourselves why. The Osama bin Ladens and the Anwar al-Awlakis don’t hate us because of our freedoms. They hate the United States because our foreign policy is intrusive and meddlesome, because it doesn’t respect the rights of others, as our domestic policy no longer seems to respect

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    Rich Schwartzman is managing editor at Chadds Ford Live in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.