On August 9, 1983, three people dressed as U.S. soldiers saluted their way onto a US military base and climbed a pine tree. The base contained a school training elite Salvadoran and other foreign troops to serve dictatorships back home, with a record of nightmarish brutality following graduation. That night, once the base’s lights went out, the students of this school heard, coming down from on high, the voice of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

 “I want to make a special appeal to soldiers, national guardsmen, and policemen: each of you is one of us. The peasants you kill are your own brothers and sisters. When you hear a man telling you to kill, remember God’s words, ‘thou shalt not kill.’ No soldier is obliged to obey a law contrary to the law of God. In the name of God, in the name of our tormented people, I beseech you, I implore you; in the name of God I command you to stop the repression.”

The three in the tree with the loudspeaker weren’t soldiers – two of them were priests. The recording they played was of Archbishop Romero’s final homily, delivered a day before his assassination, just three years previous, at the hands of paramilitary soldiers, two of whom had been trained at this school.

Fr. Larry Rosebaugh, (who was killed in Guatemala on May 18, 2009), Linda Ventimiglia, and Fr. Roy Bourgeois, (a former missioner expelled from Bolivia who was later excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church because of his support for women’s ordination) were sentenced to 15-18 months in prison for the stirring drama they created on the base that night. Romero’s words were heard loud and clear, and even after military police arrived at the base of the tree and stopped the broadcast, Roy Bourgeois, who would later found a movement to close the school, continued shouting Romero’s appeal as loudly as he could until he was shoved to the ground, stripped, and arrested.

As we approach the nightmare of renewed, expanded US war in Iraq, I think of Archbishop Romero’s words and example. Romero aligned himself, steadily, with the most impoverished people in El Salvador, learning about their plight by listening to them every weekend in the program he hosted on Salvadoran radio. With ringing clarity, he spoke out on their behalf, and he jeopardized his life challenging the elites, the military and the paramilitaries in El Salvador.

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I lost one of my favorite teachers this week, as did so many other libertarians, not to mention the freedom movement as a whole. Leonard P. Liggio, 81, died after a period of declining health. Leonard was a major influence on my worldview during the nearly 40 years I knew him. While I had not seen him much in recent years, I have a hard time picturing the world – and the noble struggle for liberty – without him. He was one of my constants.

Leonard was not my teacher in the formal sense. I never got to take any of his classes. But like many libertarians of my generation and beyond, I learned so much from him through occasional lectures and especially conversations.

Since the early 1950s, before he had reached the age of 20, Leonard was a scholar and activist for individual liberty, the free-market order, and the voluntary network of social cooperation we call civil society. (He was in Youth for Taft in 1952, when the noninterventionist Sen. Robert Taft unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination. See Leonard’s autobiographical essay in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians, edited by Walter Block.)

In his long career, Leonard was associated with the Volker Fund (a pioneering classical-liberal organization), the Institute for Humane Studies, Liberty Fund, the Cato Institute, and finally, the Atlas Network. He was also on the faculty of several universities, including George Mason Law School, after doing graduate work in law and history at various institutions.

Leonard studied with Ludwig von Mises and a long list of eminent historians. He knew the founders of the modern libertarian movement: F.A. Harper, Leonard Read, Pierre Goodrich, Ayn Rand, and more. He was an early member of the Mont Pelerin Society, founded by F.A. Hayek, and eventually president of the organization. As a young man he became close friends with Murray Rothbard, Ralph Raico, George Reisman, Ronald Hamowy, Robert Hessen, and others who comprised their Circle Bastiat. He literally was present at the creation of the movement and helped to make it what it would become.

I believe I originally met Leonard in 1978, at the first Cato Institute summer seminar at Wake Forest University. (I was a newspaper reporter in those days.) However, I may have been introduced to him the year before in San Francisco. That was the year Cato was founded. Leonard was an original staff member and editor of its unfortunately short-lived journal, Literature of Liberty.

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The tiny village of Oakley, Michigan looks fairly unremarkable as you drive through it. Located along the M-52 highway, it consists of little more than a single traffic light, with a bar on one side and a gas station on the other. It’s a village of secrets, however, or so it would seem.

Oakley has 290 residents. They also have over 100 police, for some reason. Those police are also, more or less entirely anonymous.

Who those police are or what they are doing is a mystery, even to the village trustees, who say they don’t even have a proper list of their own of who all these people are, though they have been assured by the police chief that many of them have never even been to Oakley, and likely never will.

So what’s the game underpinning all this? There’ve been a series of lawsuits in recent years aiming to find out exactly that, leading the village to shut the police force down last month.

Here’s where it gets crazy. The village council shut the police down for not having any insurance, because they’re constantly getting sued. Days later, the police showed up again, announcing they’d bought their own insurance and didn’t need the village’s permission to continue to operate. They fund themselves through secret donations from secret benefactors. Weird, right?

Last week, after village council members filed a lawsuit, a judge finally ordered the police to shut down again. Days later, the council voted to finally respond to years of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and release the names of all those secret police. The list has yet to be released, and the council itself is waiting on the police chief to do that, since they don’t have any complete lists.

Today, letters showed up at the doors of the council members’ houses
, on the letterhead of a high profile Detroit lawyer. The letters demanded that they recind the decision and stop the release of the FOIA documents, insisting that the police had been promised anonymity, and claiming that ISIS, yes that ISIS, was a potential threat to the police if their names were made public.

The letter went on to warn that because everyone knows ISIS is a thing, and knows ISIS would want to get ahold of Oakley police, releasing their names would be a malicious act, one for which punitive damages could be awards.

Three years ago, during the height of the Occupy movement, I was ejected from a Congressional hearing for allegedly “assaulting” Leon Panetta, then Secretary of Defense and former Director of the CIA. He was testifying to the House Armed Services Committee about “lessons learned by the Department of Defense over the preceding decade.” I jumped out of my audience seat to tell him that young people were paying the price of those “lessons,” and we were sick of the government funding war instead of education. The baseless assault charges against me were ultimately dropped.

A few years and trillions of dollars later, I found myself sitting in front of Leon Panetta once again, this time for his book talk at George Washington University, where he was gunning for more war. Just when we thought the US was finally leaving Iraq alone, the world was hit with a paranoid media frenzy: showcasing ISIS beheadings ad infinitum, hysterical Congresspeople claiming that they were “coming for us all,” paving the way to more war, war, war – no questions from the public, no Congressional debate. Bombs started falling on Iraq and Syria, innocents are dying, ISIL is gaining traction, yet the White House is declaring the whole operation so far “successful.”

Don’t be fooled: this operation has indeed been a success for some. The weapons-making company Raytheon just signed a $251 million Pentagon contract to produce the Tomahawk missiles the US is dropping on Iraq and Syria. Some media pundits speculate US involvement for a few months, some a few years, but Panetta said we better count on closer to 30 years.

Despite Panetta’s reputation for being a relatively “liberal” Democrat, his legacy is now associated with the expansion of President Obama’s killer drone program – covertly bombing countries that the US wasn’t, and still isn’t, at war with, killing countless civilians with total impunity.

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There is a simple rule that is followed scrupulously by most U.S. commentators of every stripe on world affairs and war.

This rule allows strong criticism of the US But major official adversaries of the US, Iran, Russia and China, must never, ever be presented as better than the US in any significant way. The US may be depicted as equally bad (or better) than these enemies, but never worse.

The Rule.

  • Major Adversaries: Never better than the US
  • US (and the rest of West): Never worse than the Major Adversaries

Of course this is a recipe for demonization and war. In essence the US must be presented at worst as the lesser evil.

That is the Rule for Respectable Commentary.

Who or what is the enforcer? I have written to other writers who admit that they avoid speaking well of Major Adversaries even when it is warranted. They know that they will come under attack and their credibility will be questioned. They know that editors, ever conscious of their credibility (as they should be) and of their donors (as they should not be) will turn down the writing of one who violates The Rule for Respectable Commentary, hereafter known as The Rule.

So it is censorship that enforces The Rule, but largely self-censorship of the very kind which runs rampant in the Main Stream Media and which is so often bemoaned in the alternative press. "We have met the enemy and they are us."

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In recent media appearances, ex-chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Michael Scheuer, came out strongly against the latest American military campaign in Iraq. Echoing past criticisms, thoroughly voiced in his books Through Our Enemies Eyes, Marching Toward Hell, and Imperial Hubris, Scheuer offers a case against the new Iraq intervention based on his 20+ years of experience as a US intelligence officer, as well as an intimate and detailed knowledge of Islamic extremism.

In Scheuer’s view, another US military intervention in the Middle East against groups such as the Islamic State (IS) will not meet its stated objectives, and will fall into the same errors made in past operations of a similar character. Continuing this policy, he says, will only help to motivate and radicalize Muslims the world over, and will provide exactly the impetus IS needs to step up their drive to establish a long-sought Islamic caliphate in the Levant region.

From a 23 September article published to Scheuer’s home on the web, Non-Intervention.com:

And why should we have refused to re-intervene in Iraq?

Because IS is cutting the heads off Westerners to lure America into re-intervening. Why? Because U.S. military intervention in any Muslim country means more donations, recruits, and popular support for IS, al-Qaeda, and other like-minded organizations. US intervention in the Iraq-Syria theater will, over time, make everything it is designed to stop much worse.

For those familiar with Scheuer’s point of view, these comments aren’t out of the ordinary, yet they nonetheless provide a distinct contrast to the general view adopted today by the American public at large. In a recent poll, Americans in substantial majorities are shown to see Sunni insurgents like the Islamic State as an imminent threat to the US national interest, and are increasingly supportive of military action against them.

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