In the House, Everything New is Old Again

Maiasaura in Smithsonian Dinosaur Hall
Blake Patterson from Alexandria, VA, USA [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In late November, Democratic members of the US House of Representatives met to begin choosing their leadership for the 116th Congress, which convenes on January 3.

The party’s endorsed candidate — although not a shoo-in — for Speaker of the House is former House Speaker (until her party lost the chamber in 2010) and current Minority Leader (since then), 78-year-old Nancy Pelosi of California, in Congress since 1987.

The incoming Majority Leader is  former Majority Leader (until his party lost the chamber in 2010) and current Minority Whip (since then), Maryland’s 79-year-old Steny Hoyer, in Congress since 1981.

The incoming Minority Whip is former Minority Whip (until his party lost the chamber in 2010) and current Assistant Minority Leader (since then), 78-year-old South Carolinian Jim Clyburn, in Congress since 1993.

Notice a trend? House Democrats are raiding the Smithsonian’s dinosaur exhibits to fill their leadership positions. They’re tapping some younger faces for a few less powerful leadership positions, but the old guard — the politicians who lost Congress in 2010 — are simply stepping back into power as if the last eight years never happened.

But those eight years DID happen, and to the extent that Democratic gains in the House can be ascribed to a “blue wave” in last month’s midterms, said “wave” was as much a response to the abject failure of the Democratic Party’s leadership during those eight years as a reaction to Republican misrule and the ascent of Donald Trump.

These are the same party leaders who relentlessly pushed Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign on a party rank and file who had begun taking a serious look to the left, arguably handing the White House to Trump two years ago.

These are the same party leaders who supported “middle of the road” establishment candidates in midterm primaries across the country versus a new crop of “democratic socialist,” or at least “progressive,” insurgents who did surprisingly well given that they had to fight their way past their own party’s establishment before confronting their  Republican opponents.

As a partisan Libertarian, I’m not one to give ideological or policy advice to Democrats of either party faction. They believe what they believe, however wrong-headed those beliefs may be.

As an interested onlooker, however, I have to offer a strategic “is the party establishment nuts?” to this.

Given an opportunity — even arguably a mandate from their voters — to change things up, the party establishment is doing the same old thing again while apparently anticipating different results.

That approach doesn’t bode well for Democrats’ 2020 prospects in Congress or for the White House. It might, however, bode well for change and for freedom.

America’s two largest political parties are tearing themselves apart in different ways — the Republicans by abandoning any pretense of actually believing their own “smaller government” guff, the Democrats by refusing to drag themselves forward in time out of the Reagan era.

Perhaps voters will look to the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, or the Reform Party for the changes the dinosaur parties keep promising to give them and then failing to deliver.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Doing Justice to Trump’s “Invasion” Claim

On October 29, US president Donald Trump took to Twitter, warning that a migrant “caravan” approaching the US-Mexico border was “an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!” On November 18, as the caravan reached Tijuana — and the border — he reiterated the “invasion” claim: “[T]he U.S. is ill-prepared for this invasion, and will not stand for it.”

As a popular conservative radio host frequently reminds us, “words mean things.”

It’s perverse to characterize a migrant “caravan” — a group of civilian non-combatants, many of them women and children, moving from one place to another in search of safety, freedom and livelihood — as an “invasion.” Is the morning commute of millions of workers into every major American city an “invasion?” More than 1 in 10 Americans move each year —  often across city, county, even state “borders.” Are they “invaders?”

An invasion is a violent military operation. Moving from Tegucigalpa to Topeka to find a job and rent an apartment isn’t anything like that.

But Trump used the word, and even promised a military response. So, for the sake of argument, let’s take him seriously. There’s a war on at the border, at least in his fevered imagination.

The United States is signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, under which “[e]ach State Party undertakes not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare.”

If the confrontation at the San Ysidro border crossing is indeed combat to defeat “invaders,” then the use of “tear gas” (CS — a chemical weapon banned under the Convention) on the “caravan” members on November 26 was a war crime.

The victims were on the Mexican side of the border. Mexico is a party to the Rome Statute, which means that crimes committed on its soil — regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators — come under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

It’s unlikely that the Court can bring the perpetrators (which would include the entire chain of command which authorized the use of CS, up to and including President Trump) to trial and impose due punishment, as the US declines to recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction.

What the Court CAN do is investigate the incident and, if it determines that a war crime was committed in a territory under its jurisdiction, issue Interpol “Red Notices” requiring states which DO recognize its jurisdiction to apprehend the perpetrators and hand them over for trial if the opportunity to do so presents itself.

The practical effect of such an action would be that neither President Trump nor any of the other responsible individuals would be able to travel outside the US without fear of arrest. Ever.

This should be a “teachable moment.” Words do indeed mean things, and a when a president uses a word mendaciously and for political advantage, the obligations and consequences attached to that usage should follow.

I’m emailing this column to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court — [email protected]. I hope others will similarly act to call the crime in question to the Court’s attention.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


“Red Flag Laws”: Rights Can’t be “Suspended,” Only Violated

Gun photo from RGBStock

Hanna Scott of Seattle’s KIRO radio reports that prosecutors in Washington are wrestling with the question of whether or not the state’s “Red Flag law” applies to minors, and trying to stretch it to do so. Under the “law,” Scott writes, a judge can issue an “Extreme Risk Protection Order” to “temporarily suspend a person’s gun rights, even if they haven’t committed a crime.”

Scott gets that part wrong. Judges who issue ERPOs aren’t “suspending” their victims’ gun  rights and constitutionally mandated due process and property protections. They’re ordering police to violate those rights and ignore those protections. There’s a difference.

Rights are inherent characteristics possessed by all human beings, not privileges  to be granted or withheld at the whim of a bureaucrat in a black dress. And the point of the 5th Amendment’s due process clause is precisely to protect the life, liberty, and property of Americans against arbitrary judicial edicts. Under the US Constitution, “laws” which violate those protections are null and void.

Several state governments have passed, or begun more active implementation of, these “Red Flag laws” since a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida in February.

Maryland’s version of “Red Flag” went into effect on October 1. As of November 20, at least 172 complaints had been filed under the “law,” which allows courts and police to steal a victim’s guns and keep them until a judge decides whether or not that victim is “at risk of violent behavior or suicide.”

In one case, Maryland’s “law” has already put the victim at more than “risk” of violent behavior. Police officers in Ferndale, Maryland murdered 61-year-old Gary Willis when they showed up to steal his guns and he declined to cooperate.

Neither the cops who killed Willis, nor the judge who sent them to do so, will likely be held accountable for the killing of a man accused of no crime and minding his own business on his own property. That’s the very definition of lawlessness.

Why did a judge order police to steal Willis’s guns?  We’re not allowed to know. The contents of such orders are considered state secrets.

What might we call a system under which anonymous judges can secretly order anonymous police officers to expropriate property from citizens who have neither been accused of nor convicted of crimes, on pain of death for resistance?

The only term that seems to fit is “police state.”

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.