United Liberty’s Top 10 Stories from 2011

We’re winding down on another year. Much like recent years, 2011 represented challenges for liberty and the Constitution. These hurdles came from all sides, including the Obama Administration and Republicans in Congress, and we are ending the year a little less free than in 2010.

Below is a recap of some of bigger stories of the year that were covered here at United Liberty (though a couple are thrown in for fun). Thanks for reading in what was a record breaking year for this blog. We appreciate the readership and hope you’ll keep coming back in 2012

Happy New Year!

— The Death of Osama bin Laden (Jason Pye): On Sunday, May 1st, word broke that the White House had called notified the press of a major announcement. You could tell that it was a significant event since the president was making such a statement late on a Sunday evening.As you probably remember, wild speculation started almost immediately as many people said that it could have only meant a couple of things, either we were going to war or Osama bin Laden had finally been captured.

Around 11pm, President Barack Obama told Americans that, after nearly 10 years after murdering nearly 3,000 innocent people, Osama bin Laden was dead. Bin Laden, leader of the terrorist group, al-Qaeda, was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan by a group of Navy SEALS at a compound that he had lived in for five years.

The announcement led to celebrations, mostly by students and young adults, in several cities across the United States and at Ground Zero in New York City. Fans at the Phillies/Mets games erupted in chants of “USA” upon learning of the news.

The following days led to discussions of whether or not we should have captured bin Laden or whether it was legal for us to kill, which was an interesting debate; though I’m personally glad we killed him (though my opinion is different on the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki). Others wondered if President Obama would benefit from the death of bin Laden happening on his watch. Yes, he received a slight bump, but not nearly as significant as many thought he would receive.

Many of us also wondered whether constitutionally-protected civil liberties that had been so easily cast aside would be restored. Sadly, we received our answer with the passage of NDAA, as Tom discusses below.

In the end though, Osama bin Laden has had profound effect on the psyche of Americans. We had traded away civil liberties for “security” and spent some $4 trillion and thousands of precious American lives fighting this “war on terrorism.” If the goal of terrorism is to change our behavior and force us to give up things we wouldn’t ordinarily be willing to part with, then bin Laden and al-Qaeda won.

 

The War in Iraq Finally Ends (Brian Lehman): After over eight years the final US troops exited Iraq on December 15th.   In the end, the war cost the lives of almost 4,500 US troops, hundreds of allied troops, and many thousands of Iraqis including over 100,000 documented civilian deaths.  The war also exacted a heavy financial burden, and even with these costs it still could degenerate into further chaos.

Surely, by any reasonable measure then, the war was a disaster.  Saddam Hussein was quickly taken out but without his control, the country descended into civil war.  What was promised to be a brief, low-cost effort to remove a potential threat to the United States turned out to be anything but.  We never did find the WMDs and the entire operation turned in a long, brutal occupation.

Sadly, it is far from clear that those in Washington learned anything from the Iraq War – or even if they consider it a mistake.  Most of the American people now do, including myself, who initially supported the invasion but over the years began to see the toll our arrogance had taken.  Those of us who now see it as a debacle can only hope that the next time our leaders start talking about invading and “liberating” a foreign nation, that there is a healthy amount of skepticism amongst the American people.

 

— The Libertarian Moment (Jeremy Kolassa): Some may say that 2012 will be the year of the libertarian presidential candidates—what with Ron Paul potentially taking Iowa and New Hampshire, and Gary Johnson entering the race for the Libertarian Party nomination, being their most high-profile candidate yet. However, if 2012 does become that year, it will be due to events in 2011 that laid the groundwork for it to happen.

Gary Johnson was the first of the two to announce his intentions to seek the GOP nomination for the presidency, doing so on my birthday, April 21st. (And yes, I considered it to be a wonderful birthday present.) Ron Paul then announced a presidential exploratory committee just five days later. This had the effect of soaking up nearly all of the libertarian support available in the GOP, which stalled Johnson’s campaign. Of course, there was also the little problem that pollsters didn’t include his name when they asked who voters supported…thus he didn’t get enough public support…thus he didn’t get into many debates…thus nobody knew about him, and his support stayed low. It also didn’t help that the Republican National Committee ignored his requests for help and, more or less, turned their backs on him. (Oh, and one of the few times he was included, Ron Paul fans thought it was a conspiracy to hurt Dr. Paul. Get a load of that.)

Guess they could only stomach one libertarian in a debate at a time.

This eventually led Johnson to seek the Libertarian Party nomination recently, which opens up another choice if/when Ron Paul fails to get the Republican nomination (there is absolutely no guarantee, and it probably won’t happen.) And, if some punditry can be believed, Johnson might siphon gay voters from Obama, weakening him in the general—opening up all sorts of interesting ideas for the future.

Just as we started to consider that Ron Paul might win the Iowa Caucus—a huge victory for libertarian Republicans—the ugly head of his newsletters reared up again. I wrote that Ron Paul must repudiate the actual author of the newsletters, Lew Rockwell, and stop trying to defend him by not naming him and claiming he “doesn’t know” who wrote them. So far, he hasn’t, which may prove very troublesome in 2012 and cost him dearly.

We wrote up an analysis of Gary Johnson vs. Ron Paul, and made note of how they are different. But considering how much traction Paul has received—against all odds—and what looks like the first seriously credible candidate for the Libertarian Party in decades, 2012 might be a very good year for libertarians, even if we don’t win.

(Doug Mataconis also wrote up a piece arguing for Jon Huntsman on libertarian grounds, if you’re wondering if there is anyone else.)

 

NDAA Deals Another Blow to the Constitution (Tom Knighton): If 2011 is known for anything years from now, it may well be the year that the idea of due process officially died with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The NDAA essentially turned the United States into a war zone for the purposes of detaining alleged al-Qaeda personnel and “associated forces”.  On the surface, it shouldn’t be such a big deal, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

The truth is that the NDAA permits the indefinite detention of American citizens on American soil for the mere hint that they may be involved in terrorism.  The ramifications of such authority should be as clear as anything else could be.

The Obama administration initially vowed to veto the NDAA; however, in a turnabout that may well be the least surprising thing in politics, he backed off on that vow as the NDAA wormed its way through the Republican-controlled House.  You see, destroying the Constitution is only wrong when it’s the other guy doing it.

So now, we face a future where the government has the ability to detain Americans without the constitutionally required protections. While those in power can promise the people of the United States that it will never abuse the law, but we have already seen what empty promises from the government are like.  After all, the PATRIOT Act was supposed to be only be used to combat terrorism, but has since been used to combat all manner of crimes.

Yes, it’s possible that the NDAA will only be used as it was intended, to combat true terrorism.  However, no authority should ever have the power to detain people without trial.  Ever.

 

How Did Anthony Weiner’s Junk Wind Up on My TV? (Jason Pye): In what was one of the more humorous stories of the year, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) made a big mistake by accidentially posting a photo of his, uh, “excited” crotch on Twitter. A screenshot of the photo was captured and wound up on Big Government, which is run by Andrew Breitbart.

Though the media didn’t pay much attention to the story at first, Weiner denied that the photo was of him — but he couldn’t say with “certitude.” Weiner claimed that his Facebook and Twitter accounts were hacked, which he thought would serve as an excuse. But after more photos surfaced, Weiner admitted that he had sent them.

Weiner eventually resigned over the matter. Though Weiner’s old district (NY-09) was thought to be safe for Democrats, Bob Turner, a Republican, won the special election to replace him.

 

Debt Ceiling Fight and Credit Downgrade (Nick Nottleman): If when walking down the street, you happen to notice someone being shot, and call 911, should you go to jail for murder? That’s what happened to the TEA party in 2011 when President Barack Obama asked for and received a debt ceiling increase. Speaker John Boehner and President Obama dueled it out through the media and the TEA party was relentless in calling for any sort of sanity to be included in the deal.

Eventually, an agreement was made that a Supercommittee would seek to cut 1.2 Trillion dollars in spending over 10 years. The spending cuts would be scored and approved by the CBO. And with this in place, Obama would receive the debt ceiling increase. Subsequently, the Supercommittee failed miserably even with the help of Simpson/Bowles. Automatic cuts were triggered when the Supercommittee failed. The impact of which is yet to be seen. Although honestly, is any cut in spending bad right now?

Lost in the historical shuffle was the first ever downgrading of the American credit rating from “AAA” to “AA+”. As a side note, did the genius that came up with Alert Level Color Codes come up with this rating system? At any rate, in what one can only consider one of the best political spins in history largely because of David Axelrod, the TEA party took the blame for the downgrade in the court of public appeal and in large part, has been silent since. Apparently, pointing out that our Federal Government is spending money like a drunken sailor in Bangkok made America less likely to pay their debt. Call me silly, but the fact that we don’t seem to be able to even come up with a plan that tells us what year we might actually pay some debt off makes a more sensible culprit, but the general public disagrees.

And as 2011 draws to a close, a year in which the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Amendments were essentially pried from our cold, dead, and shockingly oblivious hands, our President has requested yet again get a little extra scratch for the holidays. Obama wants to increase the debt ceiling another 1.2 Trillion, because you know, that money ain’t gonna print itself. Yes, that’s right, we’re looking to raise the roof yet again and see if we can pile up another massive amount of debt. My money (as well as yours), says we can!

 

It’s the End of the World as We Know It! (Jason Pye): No, I’m lamenting the break-up of REM, I’m referring to the predictions of the end times made by Harold Camping, a Christian radio host.

Camping predicted that the Rapture would happen on May 21, 2011. Obviously, he was wrong. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time that Camping made has made a fool out of himself by inaccurately predicting Jesus Christ’s return.

Surmising that he had made a miscalculation in his prediction and undeterred by his penchant for making bad predictions, Camping later revised the date to October 21, 2011. Again, he was wrong.

Back in May, one of his followers said, “I don’t know where we went wrong other than that we obviously don’t understand the Scriptures in the way that we should.” Uh, yeah. You should probably start with Matthew 24:36.

But don’t worry, guys, there’s always December 21, 2012!

 

Occupy Wall Street (Jeremy Kolassa): This was definitely the year of discontent. In the Middle East, protests began in Tunisia in January before quickly spreading to Egypt and Libya and Syria, which to led to the success (if only temporary) of a nonviolent movement in Tahrir Square, a bloody civil war that overthrew the dictatorship in Libya, and massacres of civilians in Damascus. In the UK, there were riots over increases in state college tuition, while the Greeks demonstrated against their government’s austerity measures and Germans voiced opposition to bailing out other nations. In the United States, we were touched with the same “unrest bug,” when Occupy Wall Street spontaneously erupted in Zuccotti Park, before spreading out to Oakland, to Denver, to DC, and even Utica, New York, about fifteen minutes away from my where I grew up. (As I said on Facebook when I found out: “What the hell are they occupying? The damn brewery?”)

The two main reasons people starting camping out in tents and using very dirty porta-potties (when not pooping on cars) was a lack of jobs and crushing student debt. Both of these, of course, are things to be rightly upset about, but unfortunately, the Occupiers—as they became known—had some very moronic ideas, mostly stemming from a misunderstanding of what was going on. They blamed most of their woes on the nebulous “1%,” mostly corporate executives and other “rich white guys,” while claiming that they themselves were the “99%”—even though, in global terms, they were really part of the 1% themselves.Jason went over some of their harebrained proposals and found them wanting. Many from all over the libertarian spectrum have noted they complained about capitalism, when the problem is really corporatism.

Though popular support was originally with the Occupiers, it began to fall in November, mostly because of their antics regarding blocking off intersections and disrupting commutes (which are considered holy, at least in the District of Columbia), and with their ideas about staging military coups and threatening to molotov cocktail retailers. Yeah, kinda hard to be sympathetic to a movement that screws up the holy commute and threatens to make a coup and firebomb stores where, you know, the 99% actually work.

Oh, and then there was Occupy Denver, that elected a dog as their leader. Jason even bought him a gift in the name of peace. Sadly, the Glorious Leader did not show at BlogCon 2011.

As the temperature dropped, the Occupy encampments increasingly became occupied by the homeless and the mentally ill. There were health concerns and questions about how justified it was to take away parks from the rest of the populace. In Portland, Oakland, and in New York City, cops and courts stepped in and shut down the camps. They tried to keep occupying in New York City, but I think they mostly failed in their goals (whatever they were): Americans are far more distrustful of big government than big business, which seemed to be the exact opposite of what OWS was all about.

Did Occupy Wall Street accomplish anything? I think it did, in some ways. It showed there is massive discontent with current government policies and the way things are being run today, in a visceral, in-your-face way that just isn’t covered by polls or surveys. Unfortunately, it fell apart on a multitude of aspects: their failure to recognize government collusion as being part of the problem made them look like fools; their antagonizing of the real 99% vaporized whatever popular support they had; their lack of any concrete objectives or policy demands made them look like a bunch of unconstructive whiners; and, as I noted earlier, they were actually pretty darn well off, what with all the Macs and Panasonic video cameras and iPods they had (some of which were stolen, incidentally, which is funny because of the left-wing nature of the Occupy movement.) Oh, and then there were the rapes. All these together combined to make the Occupy movement ineffective at best and downright moronic at worst.

If there was a silver lining in all of this, it’s that some “End the Fed” and “Crony Capitalism is Phony Capitalism” messages made their way in there. There may be hope for the American people yet.

 

The Arab Spring (Doug Mataconis): For the Arab world, 2011 was a year not unlike 1989 in Eastern Europe or 1848 in Central Europe. For the first time in recent memory, masses of people stood up against repressive regimes stretching from Morocco to Baharain and brought a wave of change to the region unseen since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. In some places like Syria and Yemen, the protests continue as governments try to hold out against a seemingly unstoppable popular force. In most of the nations where governments have fallen, we don’t yet know what the future brings and their remains the possibility that the new masters could be worse than the old. What you can’t deny, however, is that the past year saw something that nobody anticipated and opened the possibility of a brighter future for at least some parts of the Arab world.

It all started in Tunisia just a bit more than a year ago when a street vendor who had been harassed one time too many by the local constabulary in Tunis set himself on fire in a public square in an act of protest. That event set off waves of protests across Tunisia that led to the surprisingly fast downfall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power. From Tunisia, the protests spread like wildfire. First to Egypt, where text messaging and Facebook helped organize a series of protests that led to the end of Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years in power. Protests also popped up in Yemen, which also led to the downfall of that country’s leader, and to Baharain where a Shi’ite uprising against the monarchy led to intervention by military forces from the other Gulf States. In Libya, the protests led to a brutal crackdown by the Arab world’s longest ruling dictator that set off a civil war. That civil war led to NATO intervention which caused controversy here in the United States due to President Obama’s failure to seek Congressional approval for the use of American military forces. The war in Libya dragged on, but ultimately the rebels won and the dictator that had ruled there since 1969 ended up being killed by his own people. Finally, protests even popped up in Syria where they continue to this day despite the efforts of Bashar Assad’s regime to brutally repress the uprising. The future course all these uprisings will take is still not clear, but it surely cannot be contested that, in the course of just eleven short months, the face of the Arab world, and the world as a whole, has been changed significantly.

As with any revolutionary change, things haven’t always been pretty and the future course of events raises no small degree of concern. In Egypt, political parties tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups have scored major victories in the early rounds of Parliamentary elections. This has led the Egyptian military to slow the pace of reform in that country, which itself has led to another round of protests. In the U.S., there’s concern over who “lost Egypt,” but the real question seems to be how far the military will be willing to go to preserve its place in Egyptian society and prevent the rise of the Islamists. The future is similarly murky in Libya, where the downfall of the Gadhafi regime meant the effective end of any civil government and where various rebel factions seem to have different ideas about what the future should look like. Already, we’ve heard rumors of tens of thousands of surface-to-air missiles missing from Gadhafi’s arsenal, and there remains a distinct possibility that we could end up with a Somalia on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. There have been success stories, however. Notably, in Morocco and Jordan where governments responded to protests quite differently from leaders elsewhere in the Middle East. Long among the most stable nations in the Arab world, these two nations offer some hope that the legacy of 2011 will be more good than bad.

It has become fashionable among conservatives to denigrate the Arab Spring and what has come from it. Some have even suggested that we should have done more to protect “allies” like Hosni Mubarak despite the fact that his people clearly did not want him in office anymore. On some level, though, I think what we saw this year in from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic was an expression of the universal desire for human freedom. The fact that they haven’t gotten it quite right yet is mostly, I submit, a reflection of the fact that they have spent generations living under dictatorships, many of them protected by the United States. Hopefully, they’ll find their way eventually.

 

The Rise and Fall of Herman Cain (Jason Pye): Given that I’m from Georgia and have paid attention to politics here for the last several years (I’m also a contributor at Peach Pundit, the state’s most well-known blog), I devoted a lot of time to Herman Cain’s campaign for the Republican nomination for president.

I voted for Cain in 2004 when he ran for United States Senate and listened regularly to his radio show on WSB, but listening to him became a chore as callers often make him sound foolish. Cain frequently cut them off when he realized they had better arguments on whatever issue was being discussed. Of course, Cain’s support and intellectually poor defense of the TARP bailout in 2008 was the point when I turned him off.

When Cain announced the formation of his exploratory committee, I explained why I was less than enthusiatic about his campaign and I wrote it off as inconsistent and an opportunist. Of course, that post led to a lot of hate mail of the next several months. But a year later, I think the rational among us can understand why I wrote it.

Cain’s campaign was, well, painful. Cain managed to win some support after the first debate, especially among from Tea Party movement. But Cain got himself involved in controversy after being caught on camera telling a blogger that he would require Muslims that served in his administration to take a “loyalty oath,” a proposal that would be forbidden under the Religious Test Clause of the Constitution. Cain played the Muslim card again by suggesting that people have a have a right to deny a mosque from being built in their community, despite religious liberty protections provided in the Bill of Rights.

Cain also made a big gaffe regarding Palestinian “right of return,” which caused many Republican voters to question if he could get past his lack of understand on foreign policy issues.

Michele Bachmann quickly stole the show from Cain. Of course, Bachmann’s thunder was later stolen by Rick Perry. And as Perry fell back down to earth, conservatives flocked back to Cain, making him a serious contender for the nomination. Much of the attraction to Cain was due to his uncanny ability to deliver soundbytes and his “9-9-9” plan, which was panned by many conservatives and later became a punchline for comedians on television.

Cain was riding high until a series of past complaints against him during his time at the National Restaurant Association came to light. The foreign policy gaffes continued and a member of his campaign staff wound up in the spotlight, something that should never happen. After an allegation of an affair was made, Cain decided to suspend his campaign.

All Cain’s rise taught me is that there is a certain segment in the Republican electorate that will flock to a personality, making them the “Flavor of the Month,” despite their astounding lack of substance on very important issues facing the nation. The sad thing is, had Cain recovered, he very well could have been the nominee and we would have been stuck with four more years of Obama.

 
 


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