George W. Bush

#IAmUnitedLiberty: How college helped Jeff Scully light the torch for liberty

Jeff Scully

Note: This is one in a series of profiles of UL contributors and friends and how they became involved in the “liberty movement.” Share your story on Twitter using the hashtag #IAmUnitedLiberty.

In the fall of 2007 I stepped onto the campus of Rutgers-Camden for the first time. I didn’t have the slightest idea which career field I wanted to enter, which major I would choose – heck, I hardly knew where my classes were.

What I did know was what my major shouldn’t be; everybody told me to stay away from a Bachelor of Art’s degree because they “don’t mean anything.” I struggled for a long time deciding what career field I wanted to enter. Eventually, I went with my heart and made the best decision of my life which would eventually result in moving to and working in Washington, D.C.

I took courses from several different majors, trying to get a feel for what I wanted to do. During my first semester at Rutgers-Camden, I took an intro to political science class. I hardly had an interest in politics as I thought that those who were interested in politics either wanted a cushy job in government, or even worse, become a politician for a living.

Did Obama know Syria rebels also may have chemical weapon capability?

photo by Steve Rhodes

The Obama administration based much of their hurried march to war in Syria on the conclusion that the Assad regime was responsible for the attack, and indeed was the only faction with the capability to carry it out. However, a new report based on classified defense intelligence documents directly contradicts those conclusions, in turn questioning the entire rationale for the forestalled military intervention:

The Hersh article is based in part on a four-page secret cable given to a top official at the Defense Intelligence Agency on June 20, one of a group of intelligence community documents allegedly stating that jihadi rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra has the ability to make sarin gas. Sarin is the chemical believed to have been used in the Aug 21 chemical attack in Ghouta that crossed Obama’s “red line” and prompted the administration to push for a strike on Assad’s regime. The story is sourced mainly to intelligence and military officers and consultants.

“When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad,” Hersh writes.

Congress’ 10 Worst Infringements on Personal Liberty

The focus in on the NSA controversy and ObamaCare got us thinking — what are the worst laws passed by Congress? So we did some thinking and came up with some of the most egregious laws to be passed by Congress. The list was so large that we had to cut it into two posts one on personal liberty and the other dealing with economic liberty, which will be posted next week.

The following list isn’t in any particular order, so don’t take one bad law being ahead of another as anything significant.

Espionage Act (1917)

The Espionage Act, passed nearly two months after the United States entered World War I, has had startling ramifications for free speech in the United States. Shortly after becoming law, Eugene Debs, a socialist and labor leader, was arrested and convicted for giving a speech that “interfered” with the recruitment of soldiers for the war effort. The law primarily used for prosecution of alleged spies and whistleblowers working in the government. For example, the government tried to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame under the act, but the jury declared a mistrial. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has also been charged under the Espionage Act. Both Ellsberg and Snownden’s disclosures were embarrassments for the government.

Indian Removal Act (1830)

Floundering Old Guard Republicans re-launch attacks on Rand Paul

Back in March, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) propelled himself to the forefront of Republican politics when he led an inspiring 13-hour filibuster against the confirmation of CIA nominee John Brennan.

For the entirety of his procedural protest, Paul and several of his colleagues, most notably Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), highlighted the constitutional problems with President Barack Obama’s drones policy, which is largely consistent with the views of his hawkish predecessor and many of today’s conservatives. Paul would go onto win the CPAC straw poll the following week and has been a frequent voice of opposition to the Washington political establishment on foreign policy.

The reaction from the Old Guard Republicans was expected. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) both sided with President Obama on drones and foreign policy and admonished Paul from the Senate floor with the latter referring to his colleague from Kentucky a “wacko bird.” Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, called Paul’s foreign policy views “dangerous” and tried to label him as an “neo-isolationist.” Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s token Republican, has also taken shots at Paul on foreign policy, though with little effect.

NSA Scandal Not about Republican vs. Democrat — It’s about Liberty vs. the State

Liberty and the NSA

It’s been a week since Glenn Greenwald broke the story on the National Security Agency’s broad surveillance of calls made on the Verizon network. There have been a lot of arguments made for and against this program over the last week, and the battlelines have been clearly drawn.

First, let’s recap. This sort of surveillance has been around for at least seven years, perhaps even longer. The difference between what was going on with the NSA under the Bush Administration and what is currently going in the Obama Administration is that the former didn’t bother with court orders or warrants to conduct this sort of blanket surveillance.

So when the apologists for the program say it’s “legal,” like Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) did yesterday, they’re referring to the the statutory authority granted via Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, a controversial provision of the law that allows intelligence agencies to obtain a court order to collect this information from businesses. More on this in a moment.

Using this section of the law, the NSA obtained authority from a secret court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), to force Verizon to turn over the phone records of millions of customers, even if they are not suspected of terrorist activity.

Senator Obama vs. President Obama on Government Surveillance

President Barack Obama and his apologists in Congress have launched a full-scale defense of his administration broad use the PATRIOT Act, through which the NSA is surveilling millions of Americans who have done absolutely nothing wrong. The reversal on the part of Obama is astonishing.

As the NSA scandal — and yes, it is a scandal — was breaking on Wednesday and into Thursday, news outlets began uncovering some of the past positions Obama took when he was a Senator and a presidential candidate. While his presidency has been more like George W. Bush’s third and fourth term, Obama once took a strong stand on civil liberties — believe it or not.

The Hill noted last week that then-Sen. Obama co-sponsored legislation in 2005 that would have banned the mass collection of phone records, like the NSA has done with Verizon. And during the summer of 2007, when he was campaigning for the Democratic Party’s nomination, Obama knocked the policies of the the Bush Administration and pledge that he would take a direction that respected civil liberties.

Why Should We Care? We Have Nothing to Hide…

The consistently principled Glenn Greenwald recently broke the story that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been secretly collecting phone records of millions of U.S. Verizon customers daily. Unsurprisingly, the usual Big Brother apologists chimed in with the rebuttal, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.”

Ah, yes. Civil libertarians are used to hearing the nothing-to-hide argument from people who are willing to trade privacy for security, or a false sense of it, anyway. When American citizens strongly opposed the Patriot Act that allows the government to wiretap phone lines without a warrant, we were told: “No secrets? No worries.” When we criticized the warrantless house-to-house raids in Boston following the Marathon bombing, we were told: “If you’re not housing the terrorists, what’s the big deal?”

Here’s the big deal: privacy isn’t simply the option to hide bad things. Privacy enables us to freely pursue the things that we enjoy, on our own terms. Maybe the Kardashian family enjoys putting their entire life out there for the world to see and harshly judge, but most of us like to keep some things to ourselves— and rightfully so!

Privacy is your right to control the flow of information about yourself. You choose what details to share, when, where, and with whom. There are likely parties from college that you do not want your employer to know about. You may not want your mother to know all the juicy details about your love life, or your friends to know the humiliating health questions you’ve searched on WebMD. When the government is snooping without your consent, they have taken away your right to a very important personal choice.

The Iraq War, 10 Years Later and How I Was Wrong

Iraq War

Today is the 10 year anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. It is a good time reflect on what, if anything, was gained. It is also a time for those of us to learn about what, if anything, can we learn from the mistakes of the war.

I supported the Iraq War when it began. I looked at the evidence leading up to the war and I came to the conclusion, as most Americans did, that the regime of Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction and that the status quo that was in place after the end of the Gulf War was simply unsustainable. Also, I was also intrigued by the possibility of bringing democracy to the Middle East to combat the appeal and vision of radical Islam. Furthermore, I do believe the Bush Administration sincerely believed that Iraq possessed WMDs. I do not think this was an attempt to steal Iraqi oil or other conspiracy theorist nonsense.

However, I was wrong. I’m enough of a man to look at the evidence that has emerged in 10 years and more importantly the results of the war and acknowledge that I was wrong to support the Iraq War. I do not believe the war has served the interests of the United States. I also believe that the high losses, in both blood and treasure do not justify the results achieved.

Standing on the Sidelines is Not an Option for the Freedom Movement

Below is the speech I gave last night at the FreedomWorks’ Spring Break College Summit at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Washington, DC.

Before I get down to the crux of my talk this evening, I’ve gotta say, watching Senator Rand Paul’s epic 13-hour filibuster on Wednesday was nothing short of inspirational. For more than half a day, Senator Paul — aided at times by some of his colleagues, including Mike Lee and Ted Cruz — gave a brilliant defense of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and challenged the notion of perpetual war.

While Democrats in Congress have claimed to be champions of civil liberties, it was the Tea Party, led by Senator Paul, defending due process. It was the Tea Party making the case against a government that could arbitrarily kill its own citizens on American soil. And it was the Tea Party who was fighting against an extraordinary expansion of executive power.

The message got out there. Senator Paul gained some 40,000 new followers on Twitter and the social media service reported that over 1-million tweets were sent about the filibuster. Ironically, it was Politico that recently suggested that hashtags were no longer relevant. The hashtag, #StandWithRand, pretty much killed that notion.

C-SPAN confirmed that they had received viewership that was on par with events like the presidential inauguration. The filibuster also had the profound effect of gaining support from individuals and groups who aren’t typically fans of Republicans, including John Cusack, Van Jones, and Code Pink.

And not only was this a courageous stand against a President who has abused his authority, but it was also a rejection of the GOP’s past, and they’re losing their minds because of it. We saw that the next morning when John McCain and Lindsey Graham had a complete meltdown on the Senate floor.

Lindsey Graham is Ignoring the Constitution in Favor of Party Lines

Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham has declared war on the Constitution (on the same day Kim Jong Un declared war on his enemies… hmm…). What’s especially funny is that he couldn’t have chosen a less popular time to do so, as the Constitution — courtesy of #StandwithRand — is trending. With overwhelming support for Rand Paul’s filibuster coming from conservatives, libertarians, and even many Democrats; Graham, joined by John McCain, has decided that the possibility of the government killing Americans on American soil without due process is a non-issue.

Graham told POLITICO:

“I do mind our party taking a position completely different than we had with President Bush. I didn’t hear any of these people say anything during the Bush administration. Where were they? I just think it’s politics. I think it’s creating a straw man, creating a situation that doesn’t exist.”

First of all, let’s look at the issue of droning under President Bush. Not once did Senator Paul praise President Bush during his filibuster. Unlike his colleague, Senator Graham, Paul is able to look at an issue based on constitutionality instead of on which political party is at stake. If Senator Graham cared to remember those “good old days”, he might remember the huge anti-war movement that arose during Bush’s War on Terror. Much of that movement was directed at tactics such as waterboarding and use of drones, but the movement was against a Republican president. As a party-line opportunist, I guess it’s not all that surprising that there’s a bit of a memory gap for the senator.

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