September 11, 2013
What We Should Remember On 9/11

On the anniversary of 9/11, we should recommit ourselves to ensuring that we don’t allow fear to determine our public policy choices.  We should learn the unmistakable lesson of the past 12 years: that trading liberty for more security is a false choice that leads us down a dark path.  As Justice Brennan said in 1988:

For as adamant as my country has been about civil liberties during peacetime, it has a long history of failing to preserve civil liberties when it perceived its national security threatened. This series of failures is particularly frustrating in that it appears to result not from informed and rational decisions that protecting civil liberties would expose the United States to unacceptable security risks, but rather from the episodic nature of our security crises. After each perceived security crises ended, the United States has remorsefully realized that the abrogation of civil liberties was unnecessary. but it has proven unable to prevent itself from repeating the error when the next crisis came along.

Let us recommit ourselves to not making this error again.  Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

July 8, 2013
"We don’t live in Jefferson’s world. We live in a world where, even if the NSA was abolished, Americans would be far more secure from attacks foreign and domestic than in Jefferson’s day, when multiple foreign powers could’ve credibly invaded and conquered us, and Americans on the frontier were engaged in ongoing skirmishes with understandably hostile Native Americans."

Conor Friedersdorf, ably responding to the objection that we can’t have a civil libertarian government like Jefferson wanted because of the world in which we live. (via hipsterlibertarian)

LTMC: Indeed.  America currently has no less than 16 Intelligence Agencies,  There are three civilian intelligence agencies that share responsibilities with the NSA in particular (CIA, FBI, DHS I&A ).  Washington Post noted in 2010 that the U.S. intelligence community includes 1,231 government organizations and 1,971 private contracting companies, and that “[m]any security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste.”  For example, “51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.”

The idea that if the U.S. downsized the National Security State the Government would suddenly be unable to protect us is absurd.  But even if we assume arguendo that downsizing the National Security State would leave us more vulnerable to outside threats, is this risk really that bad when compared to the risk of the government sending you or one of your loved ones to prison for something so trivial as insulting someone in a video game?  Particularly when it’s not an isolated occurrence?

We are now living in an era where the President thinks he can kill American citizens without trial or judicial review.  The Government is getting warrants approved where the “particular things to be seized” include all data about every phone call received by every customer of a major U.S. carrier.  The Post Office photographs every piece of mail it receives.  The NSA has access to virtually everyone’s data.  The TSA has yet to apprehend a single terrorist, but it has managed to humiliate, degrade, and sexually assault millions of people, while making travel more expensive, commerce more difficult.  In addition, the criminal code of both the federal and state governments have become so broad that virtually anyone can be convicted of a criminal offense for behavior that most people would consider mundane.

Would I trade all of this away in exchange for a slightly higher risk that I might die in a terrorist attack?  Yes.  Yes I would.  And while most of us in the “civil libertarian” camp would argue that the things named above make us less safe in one way or another, I would make this trade even if I believed these things actually did make us more safe.  There comes a point where the additional protections offered by increased security measures are not worth the liberty one must sacrifice to obtain them.  We may not be able to return to the “Jeffersonian ideal,” but surely we’ve gone too far in the other direction.

June 7, 2013
"Hey, check this out: There’s good phone sex or there’s some pillow talk, pull up this call, it’s really funny, go check it out."

NSA staffer on what he and his colleagues would say to each other as they secretly tapped into calls overseas to soldiers, journalists, and aid workers in Iraq. (via bostonreview)

June 7, 2013
"I’m a Verizon customer. I don’t mind Verizon turning over records to the government if the government is going to make sure that they try to match up a known terrorist phone with somebody in the United States."

Senator Lindsey Graham, who appears to be quoting a chapter from his upcoming novella, “Missing the Point Entirely: The Lindsey Graham Story.

June 6, 2013
Rand Paul to Introduce Fourth Amendment Restoration Act of 2013

Senator Paul’s comments, from the article:

The revelation that the NSA has secretly seized the call records of millions of Americans, without probable cause, represents an outrageous abuse of power and a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. I have long argued that Congress must do more to restrict the Executive’s expansive law enforcement powers to seize private records of law-abiding Americans that are held by a third-party,” Sen. Paul said. “When the Senate rushed through a last-minute extension of the FISA Amendments Act late last year, I insisted on a vote on my amendment (SA 3436) to require stronger protections on business records and prohibiting the kind of data-mining this case has revealed. Just last month, I introduced S.1037, the Fourth Amendment Preservation and Protection Act, which would provide exactly the kind of protections that, if enacted, could have prevented these abuses and stopped these increasingly frequent violations of every American’s constitutional rights. 

“The bill restores our Constitutional rights and declares that the Fourth Amendment shall not be construed to allow any agency of the United States government to search the phone records of Americans without a warrant based on probable cause.”

June 6, 2013
"[W]e now know the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency used the Patriot Act to obtain a secret warrant to compel Verizon’s business services division to turn over data on every single call that went through its system. We know that this particular order was a routine extension of surveillance that has been going on for years, and it seems very likely that it extends beyond Verizon’s business division. There is every reason to believe the federal government has been collecting every bit of information about every American’s phone calls except the words actually exchanged in those calls."

NYT Editorial Board.  This is one of the most important articles you will read all year.  Read it.

June 6, 2013
Iowa City to ban red-light cameras, drones, and license plate readers, too,



LTMC: This is a good “micro” example of the progressive federalism thesis I mentioned a little while ago.  The federal government is not the robust defender of civil liberties that it used to be in times past, and much of the federal Constitution’s protections against unreasonable government intrusion, vis-a-vis the Fourth Amendment, have been whittled away by court cases.  People who wish to seek refuge from a creeping surveillance and/or police state need to start using state legislatures and municipal law-making bodies to protect themselves.  The federal civil liberties dog simply won’t hunt these days.

April 18, 2013
On the Boston Bombings: "I’m safe. You are safe. 99.999999% of the country is safe. But there never is a completely safe, and there never will be. I refuse to give up another right to prevent another 'Boston.' The bomber isn't the only one who wants you to be afraid. Remember that."

(Source: liberalsarecool, via progressivefriends)

April 15, 2013
Fear Of A Muslim Bomber

When I first heard about the bombings in Boston earlier this afternoon, my reaction was sterotypical: I was shocked and saddened.  My heart went out to the victims and their families.  An event that is literally world-famous, which draws tens of thousands of competitors annually, and which is a boon to the Boston business community, and is often associated with charitable causes, has been scarred by a particularly horrifying form of violence.  It is a tragedy at the cultural level, and also at the personal level for all those involved.

Details are still trickling in, but there is no question that this appears to be a particularly gruesome attack.  Many people lost limbs.  As of this writing, the Boston Globe (who has dropped their paywall in light of the attacks), is reporting 3 killed and 125 140 injured.  I am sure those numbers will rise as hospitals get their numbers in order.  They are rightly focused on helping the victims, rather than getting the numbers straight.

Very shortly after the attacks, officials began reporting that undetonated explosive devices were being discovered elsewhere in the city.  At that point, it became clear that this was an intentional attack.

And my heart sank.

Whenever there is a terrorist attack on American soil—apparent, actual, or threatened—two phenomenon generally accompany it.  First, there is a general desire to discover “what went wrong” in the aftermath.  We look at the Government entities who were supposed to prevent these tragedies from occurring, search for flaws, and try to fix them.  This is understandable—everybody wants to figure out how to prevent future tragedies from occurring.

Unfortunately, the “fixes” that get proposed almost always involve significant deprivations of the civil liberties of innocent and law-abiding people who had nothing to do with the attack.  In the aftermath of 9/11, Congress passed the infamous PATRIOT Act, in all of its glory.  Inside the PATRIOT Act is a particularly insidious provision which provided for “Delayed-Notice Search Warrants.”  These new warrants, which allow police to enter and search a home without notifying the owner until months after the search was conducted, were supposed to help federal officials catch terrorists more easily.  Instead, more than 9 out of every 10 applications for delayed-notice search warrants were used for narcotics enforcement.  A device that was supposed to help us fight terrorists is being used instead to fight the notoriously failed War on Drugs—a realization that has left many to realize that the expansion of police power authorized by the PATRIOT Act was, for the most part, unnecessary and ineffective in helping the country to counter terrorist threats.  

And that’s the problem with the first post-terrorism phenomenon: people immediately become willing to sacrifice their civil rights, despite the fact that those sacrifices, almost without fail, are later revealed to be ineffective and unnecessary in the long run.  As Justice Brennan said in 1987:

For as adamant as my country has been about civil liberties during peacetime, it has a long history of failing to preserve civil liberties when it perceived its national security threatened.  This series of failures is particularly frustrating in that it appears to result not from informed and rational decisions that protecting civil liberties would expose the United States to unacceptable security risks, but rather from the episodic nature of our security crises.  After each perceived security crises ended, the United States has remorsefully realized that the abrogation of civil liberties was unnecessary.  but it has proven unable to prevent itself from repeating the error when the next crisis came along.

Despite this well-recognized pattern of history, I have no doubt that when the dust settles on this latest tragedy, we will see pundits and officials scrambling to figure out what went wrong in Boston.  They will ask how we could’ve missed the explosive devices before they were detonated.  And they will seek to discover what part of our law enforcement institutions and national security apparatus must be “strengthened” in order to prevent another tragedy like this from happening in the future.  It is unfortunate that “strengthening” those institutions often comes at the cost of marginalizing various groups within American society.  

This brings me to the second phenomenon that occurs in the wake of national tragedies in America: the rousing of dormant Islamophobia and animosity towards Arabs.  While things are not as bad as they were in the wake of 9/11 when hate crimes towards Arab and Muslim Americans skyrocketed, one can already see the tendrils of hatred towards Muslim and Arab citizens creeping into the public sphere.

This is particularly frustrating.  As I was browsing the twittersphere for news about the Boston Marathon bombing, I made a point to sample some of the reactions from Muslim tweeters.  Muslims of diverse backgrounds were as horrified by the violence as anyone else.  Here is a small sampling of some of the reactions:










And yet, despite the outrage and empathy, there is also fear.  It is a fear that every Muslim person has when a large tragedy of any sort occurs in America.  It is a fear that leads Muslim citizens to mutter phrases such as "Please don’t be a Muslim" in the wake of an attack:

 [A] Libyan Twitter user named Hend Amry wrote, “Please don’t be a ‘Muslim.’” Her message was retweeted by more than 100 other users, including well-known journalists and writers from the Muslim world.

Jenan Moussa, a journalist for Dubai-based Al-Aan TV, retweeted the message “Please don’t be a ‘Muslim’” and added that the plea was “The thought of every Muslim right now.” Moussa’s message was forwarded more than 200 times.

Every time a large tragedy occurs in America, Muslims pray for the safety of their families.  They are forced to hang their heads low and dutifully remind everyone that they hate being bombed too, as insultingly obvious as that should be.  They are forced to do this despite being the vast majority of victims of terrorist violence, and despite the fact that on the same day as the Boston Marathon bombing, 231 Iraqi citizens were killed or injured in bombings in three cities in Iraq, and America did not even bat a lash.  Dead innocent Muslim bodies in foreign countries are ignored, while living innocent Muslim bodies in America are forced to vicariously answer for the depraved actions of mad men, latter of whose colleagues may have killed the former’s loved ones in a previous attack.

And thus, we see reactions of this sort:


And yet there is some hope.  The initial backlash against Muslim citizens seems to be less intense than it has been in the past.  Nonetheless, it remains.  In light of this, it is helpful to remember the words of Max Fisher, who offered the following extraordinarily insightful remarks at the Washington Post:

There will be displays of true sympathy from the Muslim world regardless of the religion of those responsible for the fatal blasts in Boston — as there were after both Sept. 11, 2001, and the deadly December school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Should the incident turn out to have even the slightest connection to a professed observer of Islam – a possibility that, according to Moussa and others, some Muslims are dreading – those gestures of support may look something like the handmade posters in Benghazi last September, a declaration of solidarity and a gentle reminder that Muslims despise terrorism just as much as anyone else.

February 12, 2013
"Can any of us imagine a time when we are not firing weapons into foreign countries; when we are not stripping down to our socks for travel; when we are not sending agents into mosques to foment plots; when we are not spying on Muslim students? What reason is there to view this moment when we do not torture as anything more than a brief interlude? Is this just who we are, now? Or is it, in fact, who we have always been? Can any of us actually imagine the end?"

Ta-Nehisi Coates on The Art of Infinite War (via theatlantic)

(via prettayprettaygood)

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