Here’s 3 things you need to know about young people and liberty in America today
Posted on August 7, 2014 at 1.17 pm
This week’s column is inspired by the past weekend’s Young Americans for Liberty Convention.
I spent this past weekend with more than 300 college students from more than 200 universities spread across all 50 states. They’d sacrificed five days of summer break to travel to Washington, DC on their own dime to sit in a classroom for nearly 12 hours a day, taking endless notes.
Why? Because they’re really into liberty.
The event was the sixth annual Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) National Convention. As a YAL employee, I’ve attended each and every convention we’ve held since the first one in 2009, and it’s given me a unique and inspiring inside look at the youth movement for liberty.
From that experience—plus years of broader involvement in college activism and polling data which supports the following observations—here are 3 things you need to know about young people and liberty in America today.
As the poll showed, two-thirds of young Americans (ages 18 to 29) think the government is wasteful and inefficient. Nearly as many (63%) understand that government regulations favor special interests, not the general public. Strong majorities favor cutting government spending, regulations, taxes, and overall size.
Millennials are also uniquely pro-liberty on social issues like marriage and the drug war, with a majority agreeing that the government shouldn’t dictate what we eat, smoke, or drink. They are also very suspicious of both major parties, with more than half identifying as political independents.
All of this is fantastic news—and it’s not just this one poll which shows the promise of the Millennial generation. Another recent survey from Pew Forum received a lot of attention because it categorized Americans into eight cross-partisan political typologies.
None of them are explicitly called “libertarian,” but the two that have the strongest representation of young people? Well, they sound pretty libertarian to me (or at least close enough to be persuaded in that direction): The “Young Outsiders” and “Next Generation Left” both want government to get out of our personal lives, and while the first group is definitely fiscally conservative, even the latter category understands far more than many older left-wingers that DC can’t keep spending like we have unlimited free money.
The biggest threat to private property you’ve never even heard of
Posted on July 28, 2014 at 2.48 pm
This week’s column is about civil asset forfeiture, which is a fancy term for legalized theft:
Suppose you decide to buy a used car from a guy on Craigslist. You’ve found the car you want, and you’re going to buy it outright. It’s only $4,000, and you decide to pay cash because it will be more convenient for both of you. So, on the day of the sale, you get the money and go to purchase the car.
On the way there, you roll through a stop sign. Bad luck—a cop saw you. He pulls you over, and while he’s writing up a ticket, catches a glimpse of your bank envelope in the passenger seat. Suddenly, he asks to search your car. You don’t have anything to hide, so what’s the harm, right?
The next thing you know, the officer is thumbing through your twenties. He grills you on why you’re carrying this much cash. It’s suspicious, he says. A check would have been easier if you’re really just buying a car.
“I’m going to have to confiscate this,” he finally concludes. You immediately protest: “On what charge? Am I being arrested? Can I call my lawyer?”
Nope. You’re not being arrested, and you can’t call your lawyer. In fact, you’re not being charged with any criminal activity.
This is called civil asset forfeiture—and you’re never going to see a dime of that money again.
“Civil asset forfeiture” sounds like some obscure legal thing. It’s not. In fact, it’s probably the biggest threat to private property you’ve never even heard of.
Here’s how it works: Civil asset forfeiture is basically a law which allows a police officer who finds you “suspicious” to just take your stuff.
Once your property has been confiscated, the burden of proof is on you, not the police, to show that you didn’t get it from any criminal activity. Even if you personally are cleared of all charges, that may not matter. As the Philadelphia City Paper reports, “Technically, it’s the property—not its owner—that’s being accused of criminality, which means the property can be subject to forfeiture whether or not its owner is ever convicted of a crime.”
In other words, they don’t have to charge you. They don’t have to present any evidence of illegal activity. In fact, you have no right to a lawyer and won’t get a day in court. In some jurisdictions, you actually have to pay thousands of dollars just to be able to contest the seizure.
And guess what? The police conveniently happen to consider large amounts of cash very suspicious indeed—but not too suspicious to dump it right into their own department coffers.
Fear and Loathing in Guantanamo Bay
Posted on July 23, 2014 at 12.21 pm
The Guantanamo Bay detention center briefly reasserted its presence in the public consciousness this month with the news that a single Navy nurse refused to participate in the force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike. Quietly feted by civil liberties advocates, the story quickly slipped off the radar. The Pentagon confirmedthat the nurse “has been temporarily assigned to alternate duties with no impact to medical support operations”—in other words, the torturous force feedings, instituted in 2006, will continue unabated.
Gitmo currently houses 149 inmates. Fewer than 20 detainees have been charged, and 78 are cleared for release—a status some have held for more than half a decade. About 45 prisoners are scheduled for indefinite detention, never to see a day in court.
The tepid response to the nurse’s moral stand is not surprising. Despite the fervor of outspoken antiwar protesters during the Bush years, the broader public has never cared much about the welfare of those imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, innocent or no. Support for closing the facility peaked at 51 percent in early 2009. That high corresponded with the first inauguration of President Barack Obama, who took office trumpeting his intentions to put an end to Bush-era abuses like Guantanamo, which he labeled a betrayal of American ideals.
A year after the inauguration, the Obama administration’s now-extensive history of Gitmo excuse-making was well underway. “Political opposition” caused the President to break his promise. Temper your expectations, an anonymous White House official suggested, “The president can’t just wave a magic wand and say that Gitmo will be closed.” But of course—of course!—it’s still going to happen.
Come 2011, we found the President admitting that the facility won’t be closed in the near future. “[W]ithout Congress’s cooperation, we can’t do it,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I stop making the case.” And that narrative—the “I really want to close Guantanamo, but Congress just won’t let me!” line—has persisted ever since, typically with a heavy dose of partisan undertones. As Obama moved an issue he once called vital to the restoration of the United States’ moral authority to the backburner, public opinion followed his cue. By 2010, only 39 percent supported closing the prison. Today, just 27 percent are on board.
What’s fascinating about this unwillingness to close Guantanamo Bay as observed in government and citizens alike is the way it encapsulates the charade of modern American politics: a GOP that abandons its support for limited government out of fear, and a Democratic Party whose civil libertarianism is built more on partisan rancor than ethics.
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