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James Bovard

Iraq War Anniversary: Ron Paul’s Opposition Scored the Szasz Award for Civil Liberties

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This week marked the 16th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Plenty of Bush apologists have been rewriting history on Twitter. But Ron Paul was one member of Congress who had nothing to apologize in the run-up to the war. He was outspoken throughout 2002 and beyond, exposing the folly of starting a major war in the Middle East and trouncing the shabby evidence the Bush administration offered.

His valiant fight against the war resulted in his receiving the Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to Civil Liberties in November 2002. He was the only politician to ever win the award named after the legendary psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, one of the great heroes of modern liberty. In the spiel below, I praised Ron Paul as someone who “speaks truth to power;” for the record, that was long before the same accolade was used to burnish our current CIA director. Here are the comments I made at the award ceremony in November 2002 in Washington...
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John McCain’s Disastrous Militaristic Legacy

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When Sen. John McCain passed away last August, he was lauded far and wide for his long career of public service. Rep. John Lewis, the famous civil-rights activist, hailed McCain as a “warrior for peace.” In reality, McCain embodied a toxic mix of moralism and militarism that worked out disastrously for America and the world.

In his funeral eulogies, McCain was portrayed as a hero and a visionary. But early in his congressional career, he barely avoided indictment as part of the Keating Five Savings and Loan bribery scandal that cost taxpayers billions of dollars. McCain repaired his image by becoming a champion of campaign-finance reform and new restrictions on political contributions. In 2002, Congress enacted the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which proved more effective at suppressing criticism than at reforming political life. The McCain-Feingold Act authorized harsh penalties for private citizens who accused their rulers of abusing their power. It prohibited most issue ads by private groups on television or radio in the months before a presidential or congressional election.

In 2003, the Supreme Court (by a 5-4 margin) upheld the new law in response to activities with “a significant risk of actual and apparent corruption.” Justice Antonin Scalia noted in a dissent to the decision upholding the law, that the McCain-Feingold act “cuts to the heart of what the First Amendment is meant to protect: the right to criticize the government.” But that was fine with McCain, since he declared that if he had the power, he would outlaw all negative political ads. He declared, “I detest the negative advertising. I think it is one of the worst things that has ever happened in American politics.” Banning negative ads but not political lies was McCain’s notion of a level playing field.
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Ethiopia Crash of Boeing 737 Max Might be Latest Example of Backfiring Safety Efforts

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Another Boeing 737 crashed Sunday in Ethiopia, killing all 157 aboard. This is the second crash of the new Boeing model Max 8 since October. Investigators have only begun sorting out this tragedy but some experts suggest that the plane’s automated safety software may have prevented the pilot from preventing the fatal plunge.

If software and sensors designed to prevent crashes actually increased the risk of catastrophe, then the Boeing accidents are another reminder that safety policies can have unintended fatal consequences.

Unfortunately, policymakers routinely ignore the unforeseen costs of well-intended safety efforts. For instance, the Transportation Security Administration, seeking to make air travel perfectly safe from terrorists in the months after 9/11, spawned airport checkpoint regimes that are so intrusive that many Americans choose to drive instead. A Cornell University study estimated that TSA’s heavy-handed policies helped boost traffic fatalities by at least 1,200 additional deaths.
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Trump's Absurd Claim that Americans Are Free from Government Coercion

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In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Trump received rapturous applause from Republicans for his declaration: “America was founded on liberty and independence — not government coercion, domination, and control. We are born free, and we will stay free.” But this uplifting sentiment cannot survive even a brief glance at the federal statute book or the heavy-handed enforcement tactics by federal, state, and local bureaucracies across the nation.

In reality, the threat of government punishment permeates Americans’ daily lives more than ever before:

The number of federal crimes has increased from 3 in 1789 to more than 4000 today. Congress has criminalized “transporting alligator grass across a state line; unauthorized use of the slogan 'Give a hoot, don't pollute'; and pretending to be a 4-H club member with intent to defraud," as the Buffalo Criminal Law Review noted.

Law enforcement agencies arrested over 10 million people in 2017— roughly three percent of the population. Trump momentarily noticed the existence of government coercion last month when he complained about the FBI using “29 people” and “armored vehicles” for the arrest of Roger Stone. But SWAT teams conduct up to 80,000 raids a year, according to the ACLU, mostly for drug arrests or search warrants. Many innocent people have been killed in such raids.
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