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Government grades itself
Via mindthesciencegap.org

We have a long way to go before we get to Libertopia, much less Anarchocapitalistan. Even some kind of “good conservative” (if they still have those) nation where the federal fat is mightily trimmed seems impossibly distant on most days. But there has got to be somewhere we can start in building accountability, accessibility — something besides the same people becoming elected year after year and doing whatever they want with everyone else’s life, time, and money.

In the spirit of pessimism, here are two suggestions for the lowest possible standards in government that would be terrific if actually applied. Please offer your own suggestions in the comments for similar can’t we at least do that while we oppress everyone? (And no, we can’t.)

Speaking of Obamacare — as we have been these last few weeks of government shutdown — remember way back in 2009-2010 when the bill’s circa 2400-page length was one of the Republicans’ many sticking points? Well, that was a pretty fair point, regardless of shady motivations or GOP hypocrisy. Think carefully about the privileges granted to elected officials in Congress — they are permitted to vote on a document nearly two times as long as the entire Lord of the Ring without reading it. And that bill is supposed to become a law that affects potentially everyone in the country — or people in other countries, depending. Is it so much to ask that it be read by everyone who will vote on it? (Yes, yes it is too much.)

The PATRIOT Act was rammed through a cowed and anthrax-fearing Congress in October of 2001. It was a relatively slim 242 pages in length. Yet it was so colossally serious a subject that it warranted more debate than the everyday farm subsidy bullshit, not less. Certainly more than 72 hours of it. Certainly politicians should have been given any and all opportunity to at least not bother to read PATRIOT.

The average bill length is a measly 15 pages, but spending bills and others run much longer. Too bad. Too bad if you want to attach a million riders. You have to read the entire thing — and you have to be given time to do so.  Everyone had a good laugh over Herman Cain’s attempt at the 2012 Republican nomination, but his vow to veto any bill over three pages was brilliant. 

Even better, my boyfriend offered the suggestion that the Congressional researchers could make a quiz about the bill’s contents — if your legislative official scores a B or higher, they may vote. And if that worries you idealists, take comfort in the barely-over-a-page 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. After all, it’s not the size of the bill that matters, it’s the amount of power carelessly granted within.

On to number two on the bare minimum standards for officials. Not to sound like a certain breed of tiresome paleolibertarian who swears that every single libertarian employed inside the DC city limits is constantly hobnobbing at cocktail parties with elected officials, but really, the least we can ask of politicians is that once they are out of office we stop respecting them so much. Not saying we need to prosecute them for war crimes, or economic ruin, or 2 million people in jail. How about we just start with maybe stop giving them respect for the rest of their lives once they end their own particular brand of horror.

Henry Kissinger, LBJ, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, anybody in charge of a big war, or a disastrous domestic policy, or any fuck-up that took lives, fortunes, and freedoms gets to finish their term. And then they they get to fuck right off. No more pension, no more Secret Service protection, no more respectful titles, and yes, no more God-damned swanky parties for you. And no more turning to you for seasoned advice for the next big, bad idea.

We don’t do prosecution; we don’t do historical black marks even if you nuked two cities, locked up 100,000 citizens without charge, or militarized the war on drugs. Can we at least socially shun the people who use the suit-and-tie-sociopath’s excuse of “policy” as their reason for treating human beings like puppets? Can we not offer the slightest bit of disincentive for theft, murder, imprisonment ,and massive social engineering? Do we need to keep calling them “public servants,” too?

DEA_badge_CSo, the government is shut down…and by shut down, they mean to hell with national parks, WWII memorials and the veterans who want to visit them, and kids with cancer, but dammit, 87 percent of the Drug Enforcement Administration counts as essential!

Turns out there’s a name for this blatantly political effort to make government feel essential — it’s called “Washington Monument Syndrome.” Makes sense. This game is not new. And liberals are the ones who always fall for it the hardest. They tend to respond to libertarian suggestions of even light trimming with “BUT THE PARKS AND THE ROADS AND THE DEPARTMENT OF HUGS FOR POOR CHILDREN WILL GO FIRST.”  No matter how radical you are, even a full-on anarchist knows we’re not going from choking on the corpulence of this government to frolicking in the rainbow and puppydog-topia of pure voluntaryism in one day. And before we get to those cancer kids, there’s a whole lot of stuff to get rid of.

With that in mind, please enjoy my latest VICE piece and just revel in the wretchedness of my number one pick for non-essential, fired forever, burn down their building and laugh at them agency. (They’re allowed to leave the building first, however. Because I’m nicer than they are.)

If last month’s revelation that the the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been keeping a database of phone logs since 1986 wasn’t bad enough, here’s further proof of the intrusiveness of the agency’s tactics: a lawsuit being fought between the DEA, Oregon, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) hinges on the fact that the drug warriors believe they should have easy access to the Oregon Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) database and have been acting on that belief, even though it contradicts state law. In plain English, the DEA says that if your medical records are shared with a pharmacy—something that happens routinely thanks to the PDMP—you lose the right to assume that that information is private, even if lawmakers in your state disagree with law enforcement.

The basis for the DEA’s legal argument is the third-party doctrine, the precedent the government leans on if it wants to look into your credit card charges, your utilities bills, your emails, or anything else that you have shared with someone else. The Fourth Amendment protects you against “unreasonable search and seizure,” but increasingly, in an era where the vast majority of our private communications go through a third party, law enforcement is expanding the definition of what a “reasonable” search is.

The rest over here.

 

1000992_10100888966231447_827789867_n1) Every knee-jerk patriot who so loves his loyalty to flag and country is celebrating treason right now. Yes, treason.

2) The Declaration of Independence is a dynamite piece of work, it really is.

3) Bill Pullman’s presidential speech before the final battle in Independence Day. Tell me he doesn’t give his all.

4) The X version of “Fourth of July”, which I played on my radio show yesterday afternoon. It’s such a gut-wrencher in many different ways. What a ridiculously great song. In order of quality of versions it goes 1) X 2) Drunk Matt Welch 3) Dave Alvin, for what that’s worth.

5) Maybe the bad-ass words of the Founders have melted into offensive hypocrisy, perhaps they did right away (or by the time John Adams rolled into office with his Sedition Act shenanigans), but again, that Deceleration is a kick-ass “fuck you” to people getting involved your business of living.

Hell, the World War I Christmas Truce failed, but I still think about and toast it every December 24. Maybe I could celebrate, if nothing else, the sheer audacity of people throwing off their King and saying, nah, we can do better. Henry David Thoreau wasn’t the perfect American woodsman, but his Civil Disobedience does the poetry of liberty better than anything. There’s a place for the pretty words of even the Founders. They knew. They knew so well the dangers of government tyranny and they still were all awful presidents — thereby proving their warnings that it’s the power that’s the problem.

6) Yes, six. I think under my libertarian anarchism there is some stupid, poetic core that wants America to be what its reputation says it is. You know, that wacky, anti-collectivist nation. The world’s cool Bohemian cousin who is kind of scary, but captivating. The life of the party. Can you imagine if we really were the bad-ass, individualist, cranky, cool nation of only Lysander Spooners and Rose Wilder Lanes? Who kept to ourselves, but always left the front door open to immigrants?

That’d be nice.

The fact that I have a lingering disappointment in America always surprises me. We’ve got such great geography, history, folklore, culture. We could have been a contender…We could have been the America that conservatives tell themselves that we always were and are and forever will be. (But better, cause we’d also have Mexicans and gay people.)

And now my patriotism for the year is done. Because again I’m wondering and worrying over where America’s trimmings of liberty are what keeps people from realizing how bad it is, and how much worse it can get. We have the amendments, we have that wonderful document of (mostly) negative liberties (God, what an awesome idea), and then we have a million tiny chips in each one. The Fourth is in particularly bad shape, but since it’s still there in law, are we going to notice if it becomes utterly meaningless, like my friend Bob’s sandals that were eventually held together only with duct tape?

Is it ever going to feel like a people in the street, this time it’s serious, this time we make a stand moment in a nation devoted to pretty words about being the freest place in the world? Are we just lulling ourselves to sleep by repeating what we were supposed to be as a country? What kind of shield is a piece of paper, anyway?

  • eagle_circle_bigThe Washington Post‘s exclusive story on PRISM, the NSA/FBI program that allows those agencies to tap into the servers of nine of the biggest internet companies in the U.S., including Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. (Not Twitter, it seems!) The awkward NSA powerpoint leaked to WaPost can be found here.
  • Gleen Greenwald’s Guardian exclusive on how Verizon is forced to hand over its customers metadata — meaning which numbers call which numbers, for how long, and the location of the nearest cell tower. Here’s the official leaked document.
  • It’s not just Verizon, it’s also AT&T and Sprint.
  • Greenwald going on MSNBC, being a sexy patriot and telling the government to come at him, bro.
  • The New York Times had an amazing, withering editorial that used to say that the Obama “administration has lost all credibility.”
  • And then they wussed out, notes Gawker.
  • Amazing detail from the previously more-awesome editorial: Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, the author of the PATRIOT Act, is worried about the NSA. His laughable and infuriating statement can be found here.
  • Radley Balko is even a better poet than I am!
  • Ann Coulter has no principles.
  • Reminder that Thomas Drake was another (former) NSA employee who leaked information. Even the people in the scariest agencies sometimes realize that something is awry. This is a strange concept for a libertarian to comprehend.
  • In other weirdly positive government news, Sens. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden tried to tell us something was amiss. I suppose they’re inherently sell-outs for taking that job, but at least they’re pushing back.
  • On the other hand, Udall still can’t confirm anything that was leaked in the last few days.
  • Jerry Tuccille muses on the madness of internal immigration checkpoints. I still don’t understand why they’ve been upheld by the Supreme Court.
  • Man Tazered by police while he struggled to save his son from a burning house. The baby died.
  • Michael Tracey on Alex Jones, Bilderberg, and the GOP welcoming the crazies.