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Civil Society

All articles with the "Civil Society" tag.

Published: Mon, 23 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2018 08:03:24 -0400


Anarchy, State, and Zombie Dystopia in The Walking Dead: New at Reason

Fri, 01 Apr 2016 07:08:00 -0400

(image) The Walking Dead's most distinctive characteristic, writes Timothy Sanfefur in the upcoming edition of Reason magazine (why not subscribe today for all your zombie needs!) is its basic belief that civilization and its virtues are not merely doomed, but fundamentally misguided. Where most post-apocalyptic stories portray civilized virtues in nostalgic terms—to show the value of cooperation, gentleness, progress, and law by imagining their absence—The Walking Dead is skeptical, if not downright cynical, about political society and the good life it makes possible.

Anarchy, State, and Zombie Dystopia

Fri, 01 Apr 2016 07:00:00 -0400

Now closing its sixth season, AMC's The Walking Dead has received the highest ratings of any cable drama ever, and its writing and acting have been showered with awards. That's impressive, given that the series is also a deadly serious examination of the nature of political society and the virtues necessary to sustain it. The series begins, appropriately enough, with what Albert Camus called the only genuine philosophical problem: Why not commit suicide immediately? In one early episode, the survivors of the zombie apocalypse are trapped in a lab that's set to self-destruct by a scientist who, unable to pursue his research further, prefers death to a world without hope of cure or rescue. "Wouldn't it be kinder? More compassionate, to just hold your loved ones and wait for the clock to run down?" he asks. The show's central character, Rick Grimes, refuses. "All we want," he says, is "a choice. A chance." Another character, Andrea, prefers to remain and die, but is forced against her will to escape. For the rest of her life, she resents her rescuer. "I chose to stay," she tells him. "If I decided that I have nothing left to live for, who the hell are you to tell me otherwise? I wanted to die my way, not torn apart by drooling freaks. That was my choice. You took that away from me." In a later episode, Andrea falls in with a larger community led by a psychotic despot called The Governor. When Rick's followers discover that The Governor plans to attack them, they implore Andrea to assassinate him, but when the moment comes, she holds back and is captured. She dies, as she feared, at the hands of a monster. Her fate might seem conventional for post-apocalyptic literature: a tragic instance of harsh life after society's collapse. But it is actually just one manifestation of The Walking Dead's most distinctive characteristic: its basic belief that civilization and its virtues are not merely doomed, but fundamentally misguided. Where most post-apocalyptic stories portray civilized virtues in nostalgic terms—to show the value of cooperation, gentleness, progress, and law by imagining their absence—The Walking Dead is skeptical, if not downright cynical, about political society and the good life it makes possible. From The Governor's tyranny to a hospital controlled by cops who have turned pirate, to Terminus—a society of cannibals whose motto is "You're either the butcher or the cattle"—every community Rick's group of nomads encounters turns out to be corrupt, compromised, or contemptible, and the foundations of city life—from religion to agriculture to the pursuit of happiness—are treated as delusions. Andrea's weakness, for instance, is not that she's a coward—she's not—but that she values the the pursuit of happiness more than mere survival. "Every one of us has suffered," she tells The Governor's followers at one point. "So what do we do? We dig deep, and we find the strength to carry on. We work together, and we rebuild. Not just the fences, the gates, the community, but ourselves, our hearts, our minds." That idealism proves her fatal flaw. To the degree that The Walking Dead does respect the city, its ideal is Sparta, not Athens. The creativity, innovation, democracy, and joy that the Greeks saw as proof of Athena's favor are treated here as petty distractions from the bloody trials of "real" life. The series prefers the aristocratic values of warlord societies: violence, hierarchy, cleverness, honor, and physical labor. The characters never create, they rarely sing, and the only books they read are Tom Sawyer and the Bible. Their highest virtue is loyalty. Their worst sin is being slow on the trigger. The Walking Dead's Nietzschean indictment of bourgeois decadence begins with its scorn for religion. Its subtle jabs at a faith whose God rose from the dead provide a clever indictment of the longing for immortality that often inspires humanity's worst. This is particularly effective in the episode "The Grove," which ingeniously satirizes the suicidal nihilism of holy warriors by p[...]

Fighting Hunger: Mutual Aid in Tucson

Wed, 11 Jun 2014 10:40:00 -0400

Molly Thrasher of Try Freedom Stories has put together a video profile of One Can a Week, a small-scale, neighborhood-based anti-hunger program in Tucson, Arizona:

src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

For those of you who'd rather read than watch, Thrasher wrote this description of the effort in a guest post for Bleeding Heart Libertarians:

(image) "One Can A Week" is a neighborhood food collection program started in 2009. Peter saw families in Tucson struggling with poverty and hunger. The local food bank was not able to meet the demand. Peter asked his neighbors in his working class neighborhood, if they would donate just one can of food a week to help the needy. It worked. In the five years, his neighbors have collected 65,000 pounds of food and donated over $13,000 to the community food bank.

"One Can a Week" is the very definition of small-scale problem solving. Elinor Ostrom argued that many small-scale problems could be solved by relying on the local knowledge of those in the community. Peter saw a problem and knew that he could do something simply by working with his neighbors. This small project has had a huge impact but the significance of it is much larger. With similar small efforts in neighborhoods all over America, we could end the huge problem of hunger in our country.

Read the rest here. And check out Thrasher's IndieGoGo page, where she's raising funds for films about three more grassroots efforts against hunger.

A Serious Anti-Poverty Agenda Has to Include Criminal Justice Reform

Tue, 27 May 2014 11:47:00 -0400

For the last year or so, Rep. Paul Ryan has been on a "listening tour" of the country's low-income neighborhoods. Ryan's legion of liberal critics has accused the Wisconsin Republican of disingenuousness, claiming that there's no way he can square his stated interest in improving the lives of the poor with his commitment to cutting federal spending. But there is one rather obvious set of reforms that would let him do both, reforms that liberals in theory should support. In an interview with The Daily Beast last week, Ryan brought them up: I asked the representative from Janesville, Wisconsin, if he could reflect on a previously held ideological view that had changed over the course of his learning tour. Without hesitation, Ryan delved into the need to reform federal sentencing guidelines...."I think we had a trend in America for a long time on mandatory minimums where we took away discretion from judges. I think there's an appreciation that that approach has some collateral damage—that that approach is missing in many ways...I think there is a new appreciation that we need to give judges more discretion in these areas." Specifically, Ryan hailed the bipartisan work of Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) to dramatically overhaul the federal sentencing guideline structure now in place. Dubbed the "Smarter Sentencing Act," the legislation, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this year, would cut mandatory minimum sentences in half for certain drug offenses. It also would reduce crack cocaine penalties retroactive to 2010 and expand the discretion of federal judges to sentence defendants in certain cases to less time in jail than mandatory minimum guidelines permit. Those only scratch the surface of the necessary changes, but they're steps in the right direction, and it's good to see them get an endorsement from Ryan (whose record on civil liberties hasn't been very good in the past). If, as he says, Ryan's alternative to the traditional welfare state is to strengthen civil society, then he should be trying to root out the institutions that tear civil society apart. And the most corrosive of those are surely the prison-first crime policies that have given the U.S. the world's highest incarceration rates, ripping young people out of their families and communities and exiling them to an archipelago of cages. (See also: policies that confuse school discipline with crime control, policies that confuse cops with late-night social workers, etc.)  Speaking of civil society and the law: Ryan's tour seems mostly to have taken him to civil society's more presentable faces—violence-free zones, church-based drug rehab programs, and so on. All well and good, but it's important to realize that a great deal of the community-based problem-solving and local mutual aid that's out there isn't likely to attract a high-profile visitor, because it operates in a legal grey zone—or, in some cases, outright breaks the law. Whether it's self-organized day care that violates licensing or zoning rules, organizations that ignore ordinances against feeding the homeless, or urban homesteaders with less-than-certain title to the abandoned buildings they're transforming into homes or the abandoned lots they're transforming into gardens, these efforts could stand a little legal relief. The laws that need to be cleared away for such projects to flourish aren't always imposed on the federal level, so a congressman's ability to help them may be limited. But if you want your poverty-fighting agenda to include all the valuable institutions of civil society, as opposed to the most camera-ready, these have to be part of the picture.[...]

You Could Make a Radical Push for Grassroots Empowerment, Or You Could Just Cut a Country-Pop Record

Mon, 13 Jan 2014 11:47:00 -0500

John McClaughry, a contributing editor here at Reason and a longtime stalwart of the GOP's small libertarian/decentralist wing, has been serializing his memoirs at the Front Porch Republic site. In his latest (and final) installment, he covers President George H.W. Bush's rhetoric about volunteerism and "a thousand points of light." McClaughry met with C. Gregg Petersmeyer, who as director of the White House's Office of National Service was in charge of the points-of-light program, and he concluded that Petersmeyer's "concept of that role was to organize the power and majesty of the White House to bestow tributes upon the (politically acceptable) volunteers and organizations working for good causes." This prompted McClaughry to write a memo to the director, drawing on his experience in past "civil society" efforts: "Voluntary Action/Private Sector Initiatives" (or whatever it is labeled) means different things to different people. To oversimplify: a) Well-meaning Republicans favor a typically upper middle class view: those who have should take up a collection for those who don't. The collection finances Christmas turkeys and other benefits. This is the "Lady Bountiful" approach: the gift can be given and the recipients forgotten. Republican voluntary action efforts have been plagued with this myopic perspective. Republicans typically do not understand what life is like in a lower-income or minority community, and are uncomfortable with spontaneous grassroots efforts which seem to them to be potentially subversive of the existing order, of which they general approve. b) Liberals tend to think of using tax dollars to finance institutions to assist the poor, thereby making themselves feel good while sending the bill to an otherwise uncaring "society" through taxes. This attitude gives rise to the "welfare-industrial complex", with the government financing an elaborate institutional structure which employs liberals to take care of the poor. The idea that their tax-financed institutions as often as not defeat the self-help efforts of the poor rarely if ever occurs to liberals. c) People at the grassroots, faced with collective problems, usually want the tools, resources and opportunities to solve their problem themselves. They almost invariably view government and other institutions as part of the problem (usually true) and hate paying taxes to finance their oppressors and pay for programs which don't really do them any good. They lean Democratic because of income and class characteristics, but will vote Republican when the right candidate comes along who speaks their language. McClaughry's memo went on to identify an alternative approach to fostering volunteerism, which would focus on identifiying and removing "specific barriers to organized grassroots self help." It also warned that "Almost every 'barrier' was put there for a reason," that "Some interest or institution will oppose almost every proposal of any merit," and that fighting those battles "without the President's clear understanding and blessing is for you to call down much grief upon yourself with little chance of a payoff." And there the memorandum ended. "Not surprisingly," McClaughry tells us, "I never heard from him again." So the Bush administration ignored McClaughry's advice. What did it do instead? So glad you asked: src="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> The song reached #3 on the Billboard country chart. (1991 was not Nashville's finest hour.) According to The New York Times, the songwriters and a Bush flunky "smoothed out the lyrics in a meeting." Elsewhere in the White House, a "Point of Light coordinator" helped "the President pick his 'daily point of light,' a group or individual chosen every day but Sunday for outstanding volunteer service." Bonus links: Past posts about McClaughry's series can be found here, here, and here.[...]

Crime and Punishment in a Free Society

Sun, 08 Dec 2013 08:00:00 -0500

Would a free society be a crime-free society? We have good reason to anticipate it. Don’t accuse me of utopianism. I don’t foresee a future of new human beings who consistently respect the rights of others. Rather, I’m drawing attention to the distinction between crime and tort — between offenses against the state (or society) and offenses against individual persons or their justly held property. We’re so used to this distinction, and the priority of the criminal law over tort law, that most of us don’t realize that things used to be different. At one time, an “offense” that was not an act of force against an individual was not an offense at all. What happened? In England, the early kings recognized that the administration of justice could be a cash cow. So they grabbed on and never let go. As a result, the emphasis shifted to punishment (fines and imprisonment) and away from restitution (making victims or their heirs as whole as possible). Liberty-minded people should regret this change. Yet again, the ruling elite exploited the people. It needed wealth to buy war materiel and allegiance, so it took it by force from the laboring masses, and corrupted the justice system in the process. In The Enterprise of Law, Bruce Benson explains that before the royal preemption, customary law prevailed in England. One feature of this spontaneous order was that offenses are treated as torts (private wrongs and injuries) rather than crimes (offenses against the state or the “society”). A potential action by one person has to affect someone else before any question of legality can arise; any action that does not, such as what a person does alone or in voluntary cooperation with someone else but in a manner that clearly harms no one, is not likely to become the subject of a rule of conduct under customary law. Benson also notes that prosecutorial duties fall to the victim and his reciprocal protection association. Thus, the law provides for restitution to victims arrived at through clearly designed participatory adjudication procedures, in order to both provide incentives to pursue prosecution and to quell victims’ desires for revenge. In such a system of law, one was not likely to see “offenses” without true victims. Since cooperation through reciprocity is key to the success of customary law, the system is likely to be kept within narrow libertarian-ish limits. (Also relevant is John Hasnas’s paper “Toward a Theory of Empirical Natural Rights” [PDF].) This arrangement worked out fairly well — until would-be rulers, who needed money to finance wars of conquest and buy loyalty by dispensing tax-funded jobs, discovered that there was gold to be had in the administration of justice. Anglo-Saxon kings saw the justice process as a source of revenue, and violations of certain laws began to be referred to as violations of the “king’s peace.” Well before the Norman conquest [1066], outlawry began to involve not only liability to be killed with impunity but [quoting historians Frederick Pollack and Frederick Maitland] “forfeiture of goods to the king.” The idea of the “king’s peace” started small but eventually expanded to all of society. The incentive was obvious. “Violations of the king’s peace required payment to the king,” Benson writes. As customary law was co-opted by the crown, the concept felony, arbitrariness in punishment, and imprisonment came to the administration of “justice.” The people were not pleased with the shifting focus from victims to king and his cronies, so they had to be compelled to cooperate. For example, royal law imposed coercive rules declaring that the victim was a criminal if he obtained restitution before he brought the offender before a king’s justice where the king could get his profits. This was not a strong enough inducement, so royal law created the crimes of “thef[...]

Healthy Defiance Protects Us From the Control Freak Majority

Mon, 07 Oct 2013 07:00:00 -0400

An old joke has a policeman parking his car outside a bar shortly before closing time. He's certain he'll bag a tipsy driver or two toward his arrest quota. Immediately, an obvious drunk stumbles from the bar. The drunk drops and retrieves his car keys repeatedly as people leave the bar, enter their vehicles and head home. Convinced that he's found an easy target, the officer ignores the departing crowd. Finally, the drunk reaches the last remaining car, enters and starts the engine. The officer flips on his lights, pulls his cruiser next to the drunk's car—and receives a shock. Grinning and stone-cold sober, the man says, "How's it going officer? I'm tonight's designated decoy." You don't have to approve of drunk driving to enjoy the joke's rebellious spirit. The idea of people working together to defeat enforcement of a law they dislike draws from a deep-rooted tradition of healthy disrespect for authority in a country founded in revolution. Of course, some folks take exception to such a spirit of rebellion. They insist that in a democracy like ours, laws are expressions, through our representatives, of the will of the people, and should be obeyed. That will has expressed itself recently through regulations that make pat-down searches a matter of course in airports, demands that property owners get government permission before building on their own land, and bans on smoking in privately owned businesses or drinking large soft drinks. "The people" have apparently become a bunch of busybodies. Troubling though that is, it's not unexpected. In the 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville, the French political and cultural journalist, observed, "The French under the old monarchy held it for a maxim that the king could do no wrong. The Americans entertain the same opinion with respect to the majority." De Tocqueville went on to warn, "If ever the free institutions of America are destroyed, that event may be attributed to the omnipotence of the majority." America is an enthusiastically democratic country, if the taste for referenda and recall elections is any indicator. But Americans increasingly demand that majority preferences be enforced in areas of life that were previously left to individual choice. Directly or through elected representatives, voters call on government to abridge civil liberties to combat terrorism, restrict the use of private property so non-owners can enjoy pretty views, order Americans to buckle their seatbelts, and saddle even the smallest businesses with crippling regulations intended to make people healthier, happier, or less inconvenienced. The story of modern American democracy isn't just a litany of rights violations. Voters also go to the polls to legalize the medical and recreational use of marijuana, reform asset-forfeiture laws, legalize same-sex marriage, and unseat gun-restricting politicians. But the fact that people who want to be left alone have to win their victories at the ballot box demonstrates that individual rights—on which even a democratic government can't legitimately trample—have taken a back seat to the "will of the people." Democracy and liberty are barely on speaking terms in modern America. In his 2003 book, The Future of Freedom, Fareed Zakaria warned that democracy is spreading to countries with no tradition of limited government, personal freedom, or the rule of law. Contrary to classroom fairytales about democracy going hand-in-hand with freedom, the result has been a plague of "illiberal democracies" in which elections lead to intrusive laws and repressive regimes. Zakaria echoed the historian J.L. Talmon who cautioned decades earlier that "totalitarian democracy" stood in stark contrast to the individualistic liberal variety, and used elections to enforce "a sole and exclusive truth in politics." America, with its growing web of laws, regulations, licenses and inspectors imposed by elected officials or [...]

Gallup: 67% of Americans Against Race-Based College Admissions

Thu, 25 Jul 2013 10:54:00 -0400

(image) Via Inside Higher Ed comes news of latest Gallup poll showing stark differences among blacks, whites, and Hispanics on many topics.

Two-thirds of Americans believe college applicants should be admitted solely based on merit, even if that results in few minorities being admitted, while 28% believe an applicant's racial and ethnic background should be taken into account to promote diversity on college campuses. Three-quarters of whites and 59% of Hispanics believe applicants should be judged only on merit, while blacks are divided in their views.

(image) Other recent results from Gallup show even bigger differences among black, white, and Hispanic attitudes. Asked "do you think the American justice system is biased against black people?," 68 percent of non-Hispanic blacks agreed while only 25 percent of non-Hispanic whites said yes. Compared to 20 years ago, many fewer blacks ascribe lower-than-average income and employment to racism, but a majority still is "unhappy with how blacks are treated in U.S. society."

And while majorities of all broadly defined racial and ethnic groups believe that relations among them are "very/somewhat good," it's clear that whites think things are smoother between them and blacks than do blacks or Hispanics. And blacks think things are better between them and Hispanics than either Hispanics or whites do (see table).

I'm not sure that it's worth reading too much into attitudes about things such as racial preferences based on the sorts of information gleaned form such surveys. But more frank and open conversation rather than less about race, opportunity, and pluralism might help to close what gaps there are. Of course, however difficult talk is, it's still pretty cheap compared to action. As Jacob Sullum has pointed out in his column about President Obama's high regard for racially charged stop-and-frisk guru Ray Kelly of the NYPD, support for policies that corrode ethnic amity is not always obvious.

David Brooks' Analysis of Edward Snowden Tells Us a Lot...About David Brooks

Tue, 11 Jun 2013 09:57:00 -0400

(image) In The New York Times this morning, David Brooks does the old Take A Few Facts About Somebody, Extrapolate An Entire Psychological Profile, Then Plug It Into One Of My Standard Columns trick. The small handful of facts involve NSA leaker Edward Snowden; the psychological profile claims that Snowden was a loner cut off from social bonds; the standard column claims that this is a sign of "the atomization of society," that this alleged dissolution of civil society fuels the "distinct strands of libertarianism" which may have inspired Snowden, and, of course, that

Big Brother is not the only danger facing the country. Another is the rising tide of distrust, the corrosive spread of cynicism, the fraying of the social fabric and the rise of people who are so individualistic in their outlook that they have no real understanding of how to knit others together and look after the common good.

Just to be clear: He's talking about Snowden here. Brooks doesn't discuss whether the surveillance state is built on distrust, whether deceiving Americans about its activities spreads cynicism, whether its intrusions into civil society fray the social fabric, and whether the officials who run it are really working toward the common good. As usual, virtually all of Brooks' criticisms are directed at people who challenge authority, not people in authority.

But this time the columnist takes that habit to absurd new heights. Snowden, he writes,

betrayed the Constitution. The founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed. Snowden self-indulgently short-circuited the democratic structures of accountability, putting his own preferences above everything else.

That's the special genius of David Brooks. While other pundits argue about whether the PRISM program violates the Fourth Amendment, Brooks sees the real part of the Constitution that's being battered here: the little-known anti-whistleblowing clause. And then he tut-tuts at the supposed self-indulgence of a man who just put everything he has at risk for the sake of his country.

Pictures of Afghanistan in the Fifties and Sixties Are Totally Depressing

Thu, 04 Oct 2012 14:45:00 -0400

(image) "Given the images people see on TV, many conclude Afghanistan never made it out of the Middle Ages," writes Mohammad Qayoumi at Retronaut. "But that is not the Afghanistan I remember. I grew up in Kabul in the 1950s and ’60s. Stirred by the fact that news portrayals of the country’s history didn’t mesh with my own memories, I wanted to discover the truth."

Qayoumi's gallery of what the Graveyard of Empires looked like before it was brought into contemporary civilization by the Hippie Trail, Soviet modernization, Taliban discipline and American nation-building is at once endearing, heartbreaking and disturbing. Because it turns out pre-modern Afghanistan looked pretty, well, modern. 

There are Afghans of the Mad Men era going to the movies: 


...taking kids to the playground:

(image) for decadent clothing: 


...getting around town using state-of-the-art transit systems:


...and even attending college classes in sensible skirts: 



The degrading of fashion is bad, but it's not the worst thing. (Even in America, where mayors can't even be bothered to wear neckties when greeting schoolchildren, people think nothing of dressing like slobs for every occasion.) What's disturbing is that actual civilzational retrograde is so rare in the modern world that you can almost believe it never happens. Even a few years after World War II, most Western Europeans had a higher standard of living than they had had before the war. Yet here you have a country that was apparently not in the dark ages, but got there as fast as it could. 

Police Kill 30+ Strikers at South Africa Mine

Fri, 17 Aug 2012 06:44:00 -0400

(image) Following days of unrest at Lonmin's Marikana platinum plant in South Africa, police have confirmed that they killed more than 30 miners. This is some of the worst violence since the end of apartheid. 

From AP

[The killings] "awaken us to the reality of the time bomb that has stopped ticking — it has exploded," The Sowetan newspaper said in an editorial. "Africans are pitted against each other ... fighting for a bigger slice of the mineral wealth of the country. In the end the war claims the very poor African -- again."

Police ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi told The Associated Press on Friday that more than 30 people were killed on Thursday in the police volleys of gunfire during the strike, now a week old. The Star, a Johannesburg newspaper, said another 86 people were wounded. People were gathering at hospitals in the area, hoping to find missing family members among the wounded.

(image)  From Reuters:

After over 12 hours of official silence, police minister Nathi Mthethwa confirmed at least 30 men had died when police tried to move 3,000 striking drill operators armed with machetes and sticks from a rocky outcrop at the mine, 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Johannesburg.

"A lot of people were injured and the number keeps on going up," he said in an interview on Talk Radio 702.

One radio station caller likened the incident, at Lonmin's Marikana platinum plant, to the 1960 Sharpeville township massacre near Johannesburg, when apartheid police opened fire on a crowd of black protesters, killing more than 50.

Shares of Lonmin, the company that owns the mine, are collapsing, down "8 percent to 595 pence," according to AP. 

South Africa is a former Afrikaner settlement/British possession that instituted a policy of apartheid or racial separation when it gained independence in 1948. South Africa dismantled the apartheid system, without large-scale violence, in 1990. 

How much mineral wealth is at stake in South Africa? It looks like the entire lode wouldn't pay a fifth part of the U.S. federal debt

Sharon Presley on Libertarian Feminism

Sat, 26 May 2012 00:00:00 -0400

"Many libertarian men are fairly ignorant about women's issues. Some of them are outright hostile to feminism because they've never bothered to find out what it is," says Sharon Presley, Ph.D.

Presley is a founding figure in the libertarian movement and author of the book, Standing Up to Experts and Authorities. She sat down with's managing editor, Tim Cavanaugh to discuss libertarian feminism and what libertarianism looks like in 2012.

Shot by Tracy Oppenheimer and Paul Detrick. Edited by Detrick.

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More Grim News from the Egyptian Winter

Mon, 23 Jan 2012 18:07:00 -0500

From Salon, some grim stories of a post-Mubarak Egypt that's still far from free:

 like hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, [Amr] El-Beheiry found himself swept up in the momentum of history and he took to the streets to join the protests that began January 25, 2011 and 18 days later resulted in the downfall of Mubarak. El-Beheiry continued to challenge authority — newly empowered, his family says, by the idea of a better future. On Feb. 25, he was arrested along with dozens of other protesters in front of the building where Egyptian cabinet meets.

El-Beheiry has the unfortunate distinction of being among the very first civilians arrested under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the governing body made up of generals that was given executive authority in Egypt during the transition to a newly elected government.

As a result, he was among the first of some 12,000 civilians to be brought before a military tribunal under the country’s so-called “Emergency Laws.” This process routinely suspends a civilian’s right to a fair trial and human rights activists fear it is an old ploy of the Mubarak regime which is once again being used to crush dissent. 

El-Beheiry has been badly beaten in prison, held incommunicado and sentenced to five years on what his family and lawyers say are trumped-up charges of breaking curfew and assaulting a soldier.

He was sentenced at a court hearing that was never announced to the family and which not even his lawyers were permitted to attend.

Mubarak used the “Emergency Laws” for decades to circumvent the civilian justice system and was criticized by international human rights groups for years for doing so. But in three decades of Mubarak’s autocratic rule, there were only 2,000 cases of civilians being tried by military courts. In just ten months of SCAF taking control of the country, there have been six times that many.

Human Rights Watch released a report this week to mark the anniversary of the “January 25 Revolution” in Egypt that highlighted SCAF’s use of these “Emergency Laws” and to call for the newly elected parliament to make it a legislative priority do away with this web of laws that curb free expression, limit the right to assembly and restrict just about any form of opposition to the ruling government. Egypt’s newly elected lower house of parliament, known as the People’s Assembly, will sit for the first time Monday.

In the 46-page report titled “The Road Ahead: A Human Rights Agenda for Egypt’s New Parliament,” Human Rights Watch sets out nine areas of Egyptian law that most need reform if the law is “to become an instrument that protects Egyptians’ rights rather than represses them.”

Amid the call for a change in Egypt’s laws to end the practice of military trials, El Beheiry’s case has become a cause célèbre, launching a popular, national movement known as “No Military Trials.” Bumper stickers and street graffiti supporting the movement can be seen everywhere.

Reason on Egypt.

Occupy Movement Attempting Oakland Port Shutdown

Mon, 12 Dec 2011 10:18:00 -0500

From the San Francisco Chronicle, reporting only 200 active protesters marching on the Port of Oakland:

Organizers have pledged to march to the port and shutdown the terminal, one of the busiest on the West Coast. Some unions, including the one representing Oakland teachers, are supporting the day-long strike while others, like the longshoremen's union, say shutting down the port will harm hard-working stevedores and truck drivers.

Carrying signs saying "Shutdown Wall St. on the Waterfront" about 200 protesters marched the three blocks from the West Oakland BART Stationto the port entrances before sunrise today.

Protesters stopped when a line of Alameda County sheriff's deputies moved in front of entrance to the Hanjin cargo terminal on Middle Harbor Road. Officers stared stoically as demonstrators marched in a circle in front of the police line....

Demonstrators are trying to close ports up and down the West Coast.

You can watch the goings-on live on Ustream.

Some past Reason writings on Occupy matters.

Stephen Cox on Libertarian Literature and Prisons as Failed Planned Societies

Mon, 20 Jun 2011 09:00:00 -0400

Stephen Cox sat down with to talk about libertarian literature and why prisons are the best example of a failure in planning societies.

Cox is a professor of literature at the University of California, San Diego, as well as the editor-in-chief of Liberty magazine, which can be read at . He is also the author of The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America and The Big House: Image and Reality of the American Prison.

Topics include: Isabel Paterson; American Prisons; Liberty magazine in detail; and promoting individual freedom.

Shot by Zach Weissmuller and Paul Feine; Edited by Paul Detrick.

Approximately 9:30 minutes.

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