Author Archives: Sarah Baker

United Nations Scolds Detroit for Human Rights Violations in Cutting Off Service to Those Who Have Not Paid Their Water Bills

If health care is a “right,” what about water?

The city of Detroit, Michigan, is the largest city in the U.S. to declare bankruptcy. As part of its efforts to become fiscally sound, when its customers were $115 million behind in delinquent payments for water and sewer, Detroit began turning off water service to the tens of thousands of residents who were 60 days or more than $150 behind. Activists in Detroit reported that decision to the United Nations, which sent two human rights lawyers, called U.N. special rapporteurs, to investigate.

The U.N. representatives, Leilani Farha and Catarina de Albuquerque, have now determined that Detroit is in violation of international human rights obligations that are binding on the U.S. As Fox News reports, one of the representatives, Catarina de Albuquerque, explained that:

It is contrary to human rights to disconnect water from people who simply do not have the means to pay their bills.

If health care and water are inalienable rights, what about food, clothing and shelter?

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Operation Inherent Resolve Inherently Hard to Nail Down

Operation Inherent Resolve is the new name for the 2014 U.S.-led intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. From military aid, advisors and humanitarian efforts, the operation has evolved into airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. also has troops on the ground, to serve as “military advisers,” to protect key infrastructure and U.S. installations, and to coordinate humanitarian interventions.

Though the “resolve” is allegedly “inherent,” President Obama maintains these troops will not engage in combat. What is not inherently apparent is whether the operation is constitutional, how its goals will be achieved, or how things are going thus far.

CONSTITUTIONALITY

Congress has not declared war. Air strikes commenced on August 8, 2014. The Commander-in-Chief’s sixty-day grace period under the War Powers Resolution—itself of questionable constitutionality—thus expired in early October.

Or maybe Congress has authorized the operation.

The White House claims that the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force and/or the 2002 AUMF provide sufficient Congressional approval. The former authorized the use of force against anyone who aided in the September 11, 2001, attacks (whoever or wherever they might be). The latter authorized force against “Iraq” (whatever that is).

One can have some fun—and score some purely political points—arguing that, if the same authorization applies, then those “wars” were not successfully completed. Or if they were successfully completed, and this is a new and different conflict, then POTUS needs to go back to Congress.

THE STRATEGY

In late August, Obama stated “we don’t have a strategy yet” and that his administration was working to “cobble together” a coalition to come up with one. That same month, the Pentagon suggested that airstrikes alone “are unlikely to affect ISIL’s overall capabilities,” have “a very temporary effect” and have neither “effectively contained” nor “br[oken] the momentum of the threat.”

It is now mid-October. Has the strategy been any more clearly defined?

While the U.S.’s involvement “is going to be a long term project,” the President nevertheless concedes that “[t]here is no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.” Instead, the U.S. encourages the formation of an inclusive Iraqi government, which would in turn make Iraqi forces stronger and more cohesive in their efforts to defend themselves.

Wait.

We already did that once, didn’t we?

This effort will be complicated by the fact that, as the Times reported back in July, classified assessments of the Iraqi military find it to be “compromised” by extremists, making it too dangerous for US troops to work with them against ISIL.

That complication illustrates one of the overarching problems with the “war” on “terror” from the outset: We cannot tell who the enemy is and we cannot know when it has surrendered. How do we tell which people in Iraq and Syria are ISIL and which are ISIL’s victims? What would the “defeat” of ISIS look like? How do we know when it has happened? Does everyone who supports ISIL have to be dead? Do its leaders sign surrender documents?

Until we define the answers to these questions, our actions against ISIL will either be ineffective or never-ending—or both.

HOW IT’S GOING SO FAR

If it remains unclear exactly how the US will know when it has defeated ISIL or how long that might take, it is even murkier how it is going so far.

With $2 billion in assets and substantial support from Sunni Muslims around the world, ISIL’s ranks are swelling and it is drawing recruits from foreign countries everywhere. As ISIL continues to behead captives in retaliation for western interference in its endeavors, the fault lines of shifting alliances are as treacherous as ever.

In Syria, ISIL is fighting President Bashar al-Asad, who the U.S. agrees “must go.” The U.S. is trying to help Syrian “moderates” fight against both Present Bashar al-Assad and ISIL and other “non-moderate” rebels.

After Susan Rice claimed Turkey had agreed to let coalition forces use Turkish bases to assist the moderate Syrians rebels, Turkey repudiated any such agreement. Instead of helping in the fight against ISIL, Turkey has bombed a faction of Kurds called the PKK. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by both Turkey and the U.S. But the PKK—along with other Kurds—is currently trying to defeat ISIL militants near Kobani, which the U.S. (and presumably Turkey) also wants to do.

U.S. ally Saudi Arabia officially condemns and opposes ISIL. It is one of the coalition members. But Saudi Arabia supports Sunni Salafism, which is the philosophy also followed by ISIL.

The U.S. and Iran do not get along, because the U.S. considers Iran a terrorist state and opposes its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. But Iran is helping support the Iraqi government against ISIL. In exchange, it wants concessions on its nuclear aspirations and a reprieve of sanctions. Fighting ISIL would help the U.S. and moderate Iraqis. It would also help Iran’s friend, Bashar al-Assad, who the U.S. says “must go.” At the same time in Yemen, Iran is supporting the Houthis, who are moderate Shiites and thus enemies of ISIL. This will anger U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, who is helping in the fight against ISIL in Iraq but who also supports Sunni Salifism, which is the philosophy of ISIL.

Clear as mud?

If not, you may have some sympathy for Rear Admiral James Kirby as he tries to answer a question about how things are going in Operation Inherent Resolve. “Military action is not going to be decisive in and of itself,” Rear Admiral Kirby explains. There are “areas where we are having success,” but it is a “mixed picture.” It is “gonna take a long time” and the U.S. will be “in this … for a matter of years.”

Whatever else may be said about the author of this meme that has been making the rounds on social media, the situation can aptly be summed up as follows:

So some of our friends support our enemies and some of our enemies are our friends, and some of our enemies are fighting against our other enemies, whom we want to lose, but we don’t want our enemies who are fighting our enemies to win.

[And i]f the people we want to defeat are defeated, they might be replaced by people we like even less.

 

Miss me yet?

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Why Libertarians Should Vote Libertarian This November (and Always)

As usual at this stage in the election cycle, my social media newsfeeds are filled with indignant Republicans lecturing libertarians about “spoiling” elections in favor of Democrats. I will do as always, listen to the howls as they cast themselves impotently upon the shoals of my principles—and continue to fill in ovals only for those candidates with an established commitment to limited government, enumerated powers and fiscal restraint.

I urge my fellow libertarians to do the same.

Never mind Libertarian candidates pull votes from Democrats as well as Republicans. Never mind Libertarians sometimes spoil elections in favor of the Republican. What I find even more interesting this election cycle is how much more sympathetic the howlers are to third parties and spoilers now that it is the social conservatives feeling betrayed by the GOP.

Tax-Hike Mike Huckabee is threatening to leave the party and take “a whole bunch of still God-fearing, Bible-believing people” with him if the party “abdicates” on gay marriage. Chairman of the (misnamed) Liberty Council Matthew Staver is now openly calling for the creation of a third party if Republican “cowards” cannot hold the line against gay marriage. The (misnamed) National Organization for Marriage is actively campaigning against Republican candidates Carl DeMaio and Richard Tisei for their breach of party orthodoxy:

We refuse to follow the leaders in Washington as if we were sheep expected to dutifully support candidates whose positions are an insult to conservatives and will severely damage the nation. We are going to do our best to defeat these candidates because they are wholly unworthy of holding high office.

Remember all the times libertarians have said the same thing, not in connection to gay marriage, but as to a plethora of other issues? I know my social media will soon light up with outrage  at these social conservatives actively spoiling elections against Republic candidates.

…Any time now…

It is ironic, really, because however faithless the GOP has been with the theocratic wing of its base, its breach of faith with the small government contingent has been near absolute. The GOP has given us the Patriot Act, warrantless wire-tapping, protectionist tariffs, expensive subsidies for agribusiness, a crony capitalist energy bill, and Sarbanes-Oxley.

It has bequeathed us a $1.9 trillion war waged on credit to topple a secular dictator whose position is now being filled by the group known as ISIS. Its War on Drugs is a spectacular failure, whose face looks like this, and which is now opposed by the majority of Americans—along with five Nobel prize economists.

The GOP “abdicated” long ago on local control of schools, federalizing education to an unprecedented extent with No Child Left Behind. In an irony observed by Edward H. Crane of the Cato Institute back in 2002:

Mr. Bush campaigned for the greatest federal role in education that any president, Republican or Democrat, had in US history. Never mind that 20 years before, Mr. Reagan had won a landslide victory on a platform that called for the abolition of the Department of Education.

The GOP oversaw an incredible expansion in the federal budget, even for non-defense discretionary spending, and a new entitlement program in the form Medicare Part D, with net expenditures of $727.3 billion through 2018. Its candidates now openly campaign against cuts to Medicare and Social Security and the party leadership takes the position that it cannot risk unpopular cuts when winning re-election is so crucial.

…So they can cut spending?

There will always be another election looming. This is not the logic of a party sincere in its intent to rein in the size and scope of government. It is the logic of a party whose purpose in winning elections is to hold onto power for its own sake.

Even if the GOP had given libertarians a reason for support this November, it is increasingly unclear it can deliver in national elections. Only 25% of Americans identify as Republican, the party having lost fully 12% of its base to Independents, who now make up 42% of the electorate (31% are Democrats).

Is there a target electorate for a party of politicians who are entitlement-state liberals on economic issues, hawks on foreign policy, surveillance state security-fetishists, and who believe in using the power of the government to promote conservative values on social issues? How big can that voting block be? According to Dave Nalle writing for American Broadside, Huckabee’s following consists of about 6-8% of Republican voters nationwide.

In contrast, as many as 59 % of voters self-identify as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” the exact opposite of the “socially conservative, fiscally liberal” brand of conservatism the GOP has served up in the last fifteen years. Against Huckabee’s 6-8% following, 61% of young Republicans and 64% of millennial evangelicals support treating same-sex marriages equally under the law.

Even the Catholic Church sees the writing on the wall.

Contrary to Huckabee’s handwringing, the GOP can maintain its position on abortion and remain a viable party. Forty-six percent of American adults, 45% of independents and 28% of Democrats are pro-life. Even outspoken Democrat women like Kirsten Powers would put a limits on abortion well before the end of the second trimester. There is common ground to be had there.

But the GOP cannot remain a viable party without the libertarian swing vote. Even under conservative estimates, 15% of voters can be treated as consistently “libertarian” in their positions, representing a voting block as big as the religious right—and one that is far more willing to stray from the GOP.

It is clear the GOP needs libertarians this November—hence the shrill refrain from the peanut gallery of social media. But it is not clear what the GOP has to offer. Its tent is big enough to cover both libertarians and social conservatives. But there is no such thing as a tent big enough to cover both libertarians and social conservatives who want to use the power of the government to promote their social preferences.

Those two are mutually exclusive. They are matter and anti-matter. They cannot exist in the same time in the same place.

Until the GOP chooses, it will remain a splintered force in politics. And unless it chooses the side of small government, it offers little incentive for libertarians to look for shelter in its tent.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Sarah Baker: Excited to Be Here

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I am a mother, a libertarian, a lawyer and a writer.

I grew up in one of those families where everyone shouts at each about politics and then gets confused when other people think we’re “fighting.” This is just how we talk! I was in fifth grade the first time one of my teachers called me stubborn and opinionated. Even then, I took that as a compliment.

I am the person everyone else complains about for polluting the social media newsfeeds with political screeds. I put up with the inspirational greeting cards, the workout reports, and the photos of their latest paleo masterpiece. So I figure we’re even.

I have never been anything but a libertarian. I came out of the womb this way. Through my high school and college years, I did not know other libertarians outside my own family. When I was in college and finally read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, I thought to myself, “Whew, what a relief. There’re others out there and one of them even wrote a book!”

I know Rand did not call herself a libertarian, but I use the word to mean, very simply, an advocate of liberty.

I graduated from college with a degree so worthless I will not record it here. The best I can say is that, recognizing its limitations, I immediately set about getting into law school. I obtained my J.D. in 2000 and passed the California Bar Exam later that same year.

That was about when the Internet came into my life, putting a world of other libertarians at my fingertips for the first time. I was fully looking forward to my future as the next Alan Isaacman, arguing persuasively before the U.S. Supreme Court on matters of Great Import.

Alas, I instead spent many hours at a desk writing (concededly brilliant) briefs for insurance companies. In 2002, I ran for office as a Libertarian. In the race for California State Assembly, District 76, I received 3.51% of the vote.

In 2004, I left California and returned to my native Montana, where I spent even more years writing (equally brilliant) briefs for the people who sue insurance companies. I became involved in local government by serving on the County Planning Board and County Board of Adjustment, the latter of which I remain a member. While it is a struggle at times to remain true to my principles in these capacities, I think it is important for libertarians to make the effort. Otherwise, local governments will always be comprised of statists. I took an oath to uphold the law, which I do. Most days, I leave our meetings believing that I have done some small part to ensure that government—assuming we have to have it (this is not an assumption I actually make)—works the way it is supposed to work.

Recently, I quit my day job to Be A Writer. In the time since, I have been working on a libertarian-themed fantasy novel, which I hope to finish sometime before the end of times. I have also tried to start a website called Liberty Ground Zero. Between not really being qualified for such things and embroiled in other endeavors, the website has been “under construction” for some time now. It will likely be completed in about the same time frame as the novel, which is to say sometime before the Rapture. In this context, imagine my pleasure and overwhelming giddiness at being accepted as a contributor to the Liberty Papers. I look forward to working hard to deserve this opportunity.

I live in Montana with my six-year-old daughter and a house full of pets. I can be found on Twitter and Facebook. If you follow, rest assured I will pollute your newsfeed with stubborn, opinionated political screeds on a near daily basis until you yearn for the respite of another paleo recipe.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

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