Freedom Watch

Two good articles on libertarian politics this week.

First, the Economist covers Freedom House's "How Free?" report on the US:

But the verdict on the Bush years is nevertheless sharp. "How Free?" not only details and condemns the administration's familiar sins, from Guantanamo to extraordinary rendition to warrantless wiretapping. It reminds readers of its aversion to open government. The number of documents classified as secret has jumped from 8.7m in 2001 to 14.2m in 2005 -- a 60% increase over three years. Decade-old information has been reclassified. Researchers report that it is much more difficult and time-consuming to obtain information under the Freedom of Information Act.

Government whistleblowers have repeatedly been punished or fired -- even when they have been trying to expose threats to national security that their bosses preferred to overlook. Richard Levernier had his security clearance revoked for revealing that some of the country's nuclear facilities were not properly secured. Border security agents have been punished for pointing out that the border is inadequately monitored, and airport baggage-handlers and security people for pointing to weaknesses in the security system. The Office of Special Counsel, which was established to enforce laws designed to protect the rights of such people, is widely regarded as "inept and even hostile to whistleblowers".

"How Free?" also has some hard things to say about America's criminal-justice system. The incarceration rate exploded from 1.39 per 1,000 in 1980 to 7.5 in 2006, driven, among other things, by the war on drugs. America now has one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the world: 5.6m Americans, or one in every 37 adults, has spent time behind bars. Even though prison-building is one of the country's great growth industries, overcrowding is endemic, with federal prisons operating at 131% of capacity. America is also one of the few countries to ban felons and, in some states, ex-felons from voting. At any one time 4m Americans--one in every 50 adults -- is disenfranchised because of past criminal convictions. This includes 1.4m blacks, or 14% of the black male population.

Also, Gene Healy writes in Reason about our expanding notions of Presidential power:

In the revival tent atmosphere of Barack Obama's campaign, the preferred hosanna of hope is "Yes we can!" We can, the Democratic front-runner promises, not only create "a new kind of politics" but "transform this country," "change the world," and even "create a Kingdom right here on earth." With the presidency, all things are possible.

Even though Republican nominee John McCain tends to eschew rainbows and uplift in favor of the grim satisfaction that comes from serving a "cause greater than self-interest," he too sees the presidency as a font of miracles and the wellspring of national redemption. A president who wants to achieve greatness, McCain suggests, should emulate Teddy Roosevelt, who "liberally interpreted the constitutional authority of the office" and "nourished the soul of a great nation." President George W. Bush, when passing the GOP torch to his former rival in March, declared that the Arizona senator "will bring determination to defeat an enemy and a heart big enough to love those who hurt." Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, suggests she is "ready on Day 1 to be commander in chief of our economy."

The chief executive of the United States is no longer a mere constitutional officer charged with faithful execution of the laws. He is a soul nourisher, a hope giver, a living American talisman against hurricanes, terrorism, economic downturns, and spiritual malaise. He -- or she -- is the one who answers the phone at 3 a.m. to keep our children safe from harm. The modern president is America's shrink, a social worker, our very own national talk show host. He's also the Supreme Warlord of the Earth.

Disconcerting stuff.

Read the whole thing.

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"The chief executive of the United States is no longer a mere constitutional officer charged with faithful execution of the laws."

Oh, please. Was the President never considered a leader? Sometimes it takes a leader to get things done, things that should be done but things that might not get done because people freely choose things that are bad for them. Things like fuel economy standards, clean air and water, industrial safety, wage and hour regulations ... the list goes on and on. These things would not have been done by simply faithfully executing the law. These things would not have been done if we had relied on some pie-in-the-sky libertarian dream of a free-market-driven society where every ideal is realized because it makes someone money.


echoing mark p, i must object to this denigration of our Great Leader; ultimately, how else would we compel by force people to do the Right Thing? i would also submit that it was foolhardy for democrats to preserve the power of the fillibuster for this very reason; anything which obstructs the power of the majority puts a block upon Progress.

your comrade,
c.v. snicker