Monthly Archives: May 2015

Guilt by Association

Jeremiah is fiscally conservative and socially liberal, so there! Regular readers know the centrist position to be more nuanced, but we wanted to cop to what Salon calls the most childish political position ever. The online debate is here, and the latest attack is Greta Christina’s article.

Christina starts plausibly enough, with the assertion that social issues are inseparable from fiscal issues. Unfortunately, her attribution of social problems to fiscal policy relies heavily on stereotyped “conservative” positions and simplistic policy analysis.

Even if you, personally, oppose racist policing, supporting fiscal conservatism makes you part of the problem.

She tells us, for example, that “fiscally conservative means slashing support systems that help the poor, lowering taxes for the rich, cutting corners for big business, and screwing labor.” Seriously, have you ever heard anyone claim those as policy objectives? Who’s being childish here?

Christina simply enumerates policies that are presumed to help the poor, and which fiscal conservatives resist – public education, unions, and the minimum wage, among others. She overlooks the first rule of policy analysis, which is that there are no unalloyed goods. Unions do not always help the poor. More often, unions keep the poor locked out of jobs. So does the minimum wage.

You may feel that the government should spend more on public assistance, and pay for it by raising taxes. Never mind about balancing the budget, or how narrow our tax base is. Do you really want the federal government to have all this power? Why not state governments? Does government have to administer, say, education – or can it simply send a check?

People can reasonably debate these issues, but Christina doesn’t. She has her official list of bad policy outcomes, and she proceeds to attribute all of them to the “fiscal conservative” straw man. This is precisely why good debate avoids the use of labels. You need to look at the actual policies, not the label. Ironically, the last time Jeremiah inveighed against a label, it was socialism.

If there is a general principle called “fiscal conservatism,” it is that big, government directed programs are to be avoided. This definition places many of Christina’s bad outcomes on the other side of the fence. We covered the prison situation here. It is the result of incompetent government and … an irresponsible trade union. The drugs war, likewise, is a big (expensive) government program.

Fundamentally, Christina is undone by her thesis. Fiscal conservatives are obviously different from social conservatives. The people are different, the objectives are different, and the policies are different. To show that the outcomes are somehow correlated would take a lot more evidence than the “all conservatives are alike” argument presented here.

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Security Blanket

Domestic surveillance is one of those issues that highlight the false dichotomy between Republicans and Democrats. Senior officials on both sides favor a surveillance regime which is illegal and unconstitutional. Opposing this bipartisan consensus are the usual suspects – Rand Paul, Ron Wyden, Justin Amash, and a surprisingly small cohort of American voters.

utah-data-center-entrance

The great state of Kentucky has two senators, both Republican. Of course, Senator Paul is a Republican in name only. He is the leader of that party’s emerging libertarian wing. The other is Mitch McConnell, the majority leader. McConnell supports a straight extension of the Patriot Act, including section 215 – mass collection of everyone’s phone records.

Siding with McConnell is the Obama administration, including newly appointed Attorney General Loretta Lynch – she of the civil asset forfeiture scandal – and Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush. At least Lynch is consistent. She has no regard for the Fourth Amendment at all. The quickest way to find out if your senator is among the “security hawks,” is to start reading Dan Froomkin at The Intercept.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Among TV pundits, Fox News is mostly in favor of domestic surveillance (as here) except for the occasional libertarian, and CNN – well, CNN is the administration’s lapdog. This chimes with the risible survey finding that Democrats and Republicans only resist surveillance when the other party is in charge.

Your government intends to spy on you, by which we mean Congress, various police agencies, and the Obama administration with its media lackeys. It is easier to count the people resisting, which still includes about half of the judges – until AG Lynch starts replacing them.

Using mass collection of phone records, the police agencies can put together a map of who talks to whom and, by doping out who your friends’ friends are, decide if they should obtain a secret warrant for your arrest, further investigation, put you on the no-fly list, have the IRS audit you, etc. This article from Ars Technica explains how the three hops rule makes everyone a suspect.

Why should you care? You are pretty sure you don’t know anyone who knows someone who knows someone else who might be on a secret list of suspected terrorists. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, right?

Wrong. In the real world, what happens when police agencies have vast power to investigate innocent people is that they end up abusing it. This goes all the way back to FBI harassment of Dr. King, and continues with the IRS selectively auditing political enemies.

… explicit allegations about King’s sex life … the letter offers a potent warning for readers today about the danger of domestic surveillance

Power corrupts. Surveillance power creates opportunities for blackmail and intimidation of political enemies – as well as vulnerable innocents. It is even conceivable that the NSA might someday blackmail its own masters in Congress. The FBI tried it once, under J. Edgar Hoover, and the CIA is not above hacking Congressional computers. This is a far bigger threat to America than the “war on terror” they claim to be fighting.

Domestic surveillance is a clear and present danger to our personal freedoms and the integrity of the republic. It is astonishing that young Americans – to paraphrase Paul Begala – don’t give a shit.

Activists in Europe hold their politicians to account. They march, they vote, and they ask tough questions. When was the last time you saw an American politician pinned down on this – or any – issue, and forced to give a serious answer?

Here, we are placated with an earnest speech or two – some waffle about “finding a balance,” and a committee to recommend someday making some changes. We’ll change the name of our writ from Patriot Act to Freedom Act, LOL.

Jeremiah blames public education. By negligence or design, we have raised up a generation that is self absorbed and easily led. One generation – that’s all it takes, and you will never get your freedom back.

See also: IRS Doesn’t Need a Warrant to Read Your Email

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