Lifting the Scales Off Their Eyes

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Writing from foreign policy's Lethal Center about the Bush Administration's Constitution-dodging surveillance programs, the Washington Post's world-weary David Ignatius drops as fact a formulation I find fiction:

The challenge in the coming debate will be to find the right balance between national security and civil liberties. The loudest arguments will come from those who see the issue in black and white—who want to tilt in one direction, toward security or liberty. But those won't be the wisest arguments.

Why do these smarter-than-me people so frequently assume there's some kind of perfectly balanced scale of a country's foreign affairs, with one tray marked "liberty" and the other "security"? The idea is bogus on its face.

If you could truly achieve one goal by removing emphasis from the other, then the least free states would be the most secure, and the most free would be on the brink of collapse, right?

Let's take nine of the countries that recently received the highest score (1) from Freedom House's annual survey of global civil liberties: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Mauritius, Taiwan, the United States, Uruguay.

Now let's take the nine countries that received the lowest score of 7: Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan. I dunno, which group looks more "secure" to you?

Speaking less analogically, the United States military over the last three decades has ended mandatory conscription, radically decentralized decision-making authority to individuals on the ground, opened up multiple lines of communication across every level, and embraced (at least to some extent) a new movement toward what's being called "open source" defense. Every one of these reforms has increased "liberty"—of communication, of decision-making, of the rights of civilians not to shoot strangers—and yet somehow our fighting forces are more effective and powerful than ever. Go figure.

As a fan of the color gray myself, I won't go so far as exchanging one bogus binary scale for another. But I would suggest that a fella can believe with perfect sincerity—even without succumbing to libertarian panic—that liberty and security are complementary, not mutually exclusive. The proverbial "challenge in the coming debate," or at least one of them, is to re-insert that idea back on the table when the Wise Men decide which Founding Principle to ignore next.

NEXT: Academia's Unconstitutional Restraining Order

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  1. the United States military over the last three decades has ended mandatory conscription, radically decentralized decision-making authority to individuals on the ground, opened up multiple lines of communication across every level, and embraced (at least to some extent) a new movement toward what’s being called “open source” defense. Every one of these reforms has increased “liberty”

    Are you not comparing apples and oranges here? Our military is perhaps more free than it was back in the 1970s (except that sailors can no longer grow beards on long sea voyages, a minor matter), but our country as a whole is not.

    I agree with your central thesis that increased civil liberties probably increase a country’s security, mind you; I’m just wondering what the US military example has to do with the freedom of our country as a whole. I think our liberties have declined, over the course of my life.

  2. Why do … people so frequently assume there’s some kind of perfectly balanced scale of a country’s foreign affairs, with one tray marked “liberty” and the other “security”? The idea is bogus on its face.

    Amen. Sing it loud brother.

  3. Our military is perhaps more free than it was back in the 1970s (except that sailors can no longer grow beards on long sea voyages, a minor matter), but our country as a whole is not.

    Is it not? Perhaps, but I think our ‘security’ has suffered greatly under Bush and Co. I’m suggesting that we were more secure in 00 than in 70.

    I think the reforms Matt lists strengthened our military. However, no amount of good management can overcome misuse. There is no question in my mind that ending the draft greatly increased the quality of personnel in uniform. But that was when the likelihood of combat was small and no one had heard the phrase ‘stop loss’.

    Much more needs to be said about the counterproductive nature of security. Airports and borders spring to mind.

  4. Is it not? Perhaps, but I think our ‘security’ has suffered greatly under Bush and Co.

    I agree; that’s the point I was trying to make. We are less free than we used to be, and probably a lot less secure, despite the fact that an average member of the modern American military may be more free than his comradde from thirty years previous.

  5. Is it not? Perhaps, but I think our ‘security’ has suffered greatly under Bush and Co. I’m suggesting that we were more secure in 00 than in 70.

    I think that part of the problem is that the so-called security measures are largely window dressing that serve only to inconvenience the public.

    I’m inclined to agree with Jennifer that legally, we’re less free now than in 1970. We didn’t have the drug war nonsense back then, we didn’t have SWAT teams serving warrants, nor DWI/seatbelt checkpoints. We didn’t have “public health” used as an excuse to legislate against cigarettes alcohol, and fat.

    The areas where we are more free, such as communication, travel, creativity are largely the product of technology and ideas being ahead of the people who’d outlaw them.

  6. False binaries are another artifact of a two coalition political system. When parties seek to motivate their bases, they emphasize points of opposition with the other guy rather than points of agreement. There is a lot of pressure on Republicans to demonstrate that they are not only strong on national security, but are strong in a way Democrats aren’t. This becomes the Security meme that is owned by the Republicans, and opposition to their platform is spun as being soft.

    The Democrats, on the other hand, have to demonstrate that they are strong on civil liberties in a way that the Republicans aren’t. This becomes the civil liberties meme, and opposition to the Democrat platform is spun as being tyrannical.

    Looking at both positions from the outside, it is not at all clear that PATRIOT as a whole is a flaming hunk of tyrannical poop, nor is it obvious to me that domestic surveillance needed to be made much easier than it already was. We have the illusion of mutual exclusivity of civil liberties and security measures because we have coalitions that stake out exclusive positions.

  7. Canada? Sure, it’s not North Korea, but obviously whoever came up with that list doesn’t LIVE here. Maybe the rosey nimbus around the whole ‘gay marriage’ thing is blinding their eyes to the wiretaps, internet snooping, universal disarmament, legacy of botched imprisonment, etc, etc ,etc …

    Our government is getting more repressive by the day (almost lockstep with the US inspite of all the ‘we aren’t them’ blather).

    Jake
    (who would rather live here than North Korea, but usn’t handing out any prizes either)

  8. We are less free than we used to be,…

    By what measure? There are many issues (gay rights, abortion, equal rights for women and blacks*) where we are far more free than 1970. I think you may be confused by the fact that there are noisy assholes out there trying to reverse the trends of the last 30 or 40 years, but in fact what they want is for us to return to 1970.

    Only on issues like gun control and property rights might we be less free than 1970, and as David points out the Drug War has expanded to astronomical levels. However to think we are less free than some era in the past is to ignore the widespread police abuse that has occurred historically and the fact that many of the civil liberties we take for granted are fairly recent developments.

    * Of course there is a flip side to this. Because of Civil Rights legislation many of us are less free in our personal and business transactions. But this is an matter of evolving policy and tradeoffs.

  9. Only on issues like gun control and property rights might we be less free than 1970, and as David points out the Drug War has expanded to astronomical levels.

    Since approximately 2002 I have not gone more than two months, maybe two and a half, without being subject to a warrantless and baseless search–drunk checkpoints, seatbelt checkpoints, bag searches and the like. (And I am not even counting airport experiences in that mix.) Cops stopping me on the road at a checkpoint and asking “Where are you coming from? Where are you going? What are you planning to do tonight?” That is not freedom.

    In the 1970s, who would have seriously thought that the government would use its power to make certain people urinate on demand if they want a job? Who would have thought that, upon discovering that the government has been tapping American’s phones without a warrant, that the President would be able to say “Screw you, we’ll keep doing it” and not face immediate impeachment? Think of public school students who are required to carry photo ID on them at all times–they’re required by law to go to school, and once there required to carry ID, thus making the first non-criminal American civilians required to carry and show photo ID on demand.

    And if I didn’t have to do actual work right now I could list a hundred more examples.

  10. Since approximately 2002 I have not gone more than two months, maybe two and a half, without being subject to a warrantless and baseless search–drunk checkpoints, seatbelt checkpoints, bag searches and the like. . . . Cops stopping me on the road at a checkpoint and asking “Where are you coming from? Where are you going? What are you planning to do tonight?” That is not freedom.

    I don’t recall ever being subjected to any of those things, ever. I’ve definitely never had to go through a seatbelt or drunk driving checkpoint. So, on average, we’re perfectly free.

  11. Looking at both positions from the outside, it is not at all clear that PATRIOT as a whole is a flaming hunk of tyrannical poop…

    Jason,
    Is this what you meant to say? Because from the rest of your comment I think you might have meant “… it is quite clear that PATRIOT…”

  12. Isaac, of the issues you list as “more free now”, only abortion can be truly traced to action of the government, as opposed to the general trend of social acceptance. Racism and sexism, as well as homophobism, while still alive (as they always will be), are relegated to the fringe not because the government has jumped in full force, but because they have become socially unacceptable attitudes – and that has more to do with evolving culture than with affirmative action or any other government program.

    I think Jennifer is pretty much spot on that our government is far less free today than it was in 1970. And it appears to be trending in the wrong direction at the moment.

  13. False binaries are another artifact of a two coalition political system.

    Very good point, Jason.

  14. Cops stopping me on the road at a checkpoint and asking “Where are you coming from? Where are you going? What are you planning to do tonight?”

    Holy shit. Where do you live? I have to say, I find this difficult to believe. Not that I have any doubt at all over the propensity of police to recognize no limits on how abominably they should treat non-police persons. It just seems so expensive and inconvenient for them. That kind of wide-net abuse of power is something I would expect as a one time “because we can” publicity stunt, and not something the average commuter could expect ever other month.

    Then again I still have a hard time believing that average commuters subjected to such abuses, gets more of a ‘sense of comfort’ than ‘pissed off’.

  15. In the 1970s, who would have seriously thought that the government would use its power to make certain people urinate on demand if they want a job?

    For government jobs, yes. But what about Taco Bell making its employees pee into a cup? Does the gov’t pressure them into doing that? (Serious question)

  16. Cops stopping me on the road at a checkpoint and asking “Where are you coming from? Where are you going? What are you planning to do tonight?”

    Maybe they just want to join you, wherever you’re going. Did they preface this with “Hey, babe…”?

    Seriously, I’ve only been stopped at one drunk check (which incidentally had been publicly announced in advance), and I was comfortable saying ‘Sorry, but I don’t think that’s any of your business’ to most of what was asked. It was just an excuse to sniff test anyway, the questions weren’t the point.

    I hate that they do it, but if it saves one child…

  17. Jennifer and quasibill,

    I agree that there are plenty of reasons to be afraid for our liberties. There are noisy and influential voices calling for all kinds of restrictions, but for the most part I will maintain that what they are calling for is a return to some idyllic past*.

    Before 1970 or so homosexuality was illegal and the police actively baited and arrested gay men in public places. The fact that they were subject to this treatment was largely due to the clandestine practises made necessary because of repression. This was done routinely in the USA, Canada, Britain and Australia. While it is true that social acceptance has led the law it was the change in the law the law has none the less changed. and it is the change in the law that has eliminated for all practical purpose the government repression of gays.

    *Both the left and right engage in this. But I’m afraid that anyone who thinks that there are practises today that are unique to this era lacks historical perspective.

    But due to another thread here I now know that Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty. Their innocence was possibly the only thing I believed the lefties about.

  18. Where do you live? I have to say, I find this difficult to believe

    Connecticut. The worst and most common checkpoints, in my experience, seem to be in Newtown, in the western part of the state. Newtown is one of those wealthy places with little real crime, so the cops have to make shit up to keep themselves busy.

    I’ve only been stopped at one drunk check (which incidentally had been publicly announced in advance), and I was comfortable saying ‘Sorry, but I don’t think that’s any of your business’ to most of what was asked

    Unfortunately, the cops always seem to pick out the worst possible times for me. For example, the most egregious drunk checkpoint I ever went through, when it was spectacularly obvious that I was cold-sober but the cop kept asking me bullshit questions anyway, was at dusk on a Friday night, and that following Monday I was scheduled to leave on my first business trip for my brand-new job. So there was more at stake than a simple weekend in jail, for me.

    But what about Taco Bell making its employees pee into a cup? Does the gov’t pressure them into doing that?

    Ever hear of peer pressure? Taco Bell wants to be viewed as a Good Corporate Citizen.

  19. Warren:

    The key condition on that statement was ‘as a whole’. There are elements of it that are illiberal and elements of it that seem like reasonable extensions of existing warranted search procedures. My point is that it is very hard for a coalition politician to adopt a position outside of the false binary of Patriot = safe vs. Patriot = tyranny.

  20. Is Matt Welch still sticking to his story about how Americans behaved so admirably during Katrina and only damn foreigners and racists claim there was widespread violence?

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10590305/

  21. Well, not that I was planning to move to Connecticut, but, er, I’m doubly not going to.

  22. *does some quick confirmation*

    See, this is where I think your point is overstated, Jason. Connecticut is a solidly Democratic state, and yet I’d feel much safer from cops while driving around in Republican-run Texas. Party identification certainly plays a part in rhetoric, but on matters like civil liberties, I don’t see that it affects policy remotely as much.

  23. Is Matt Welch still sticking to his story about how Americans behaved so admirably during Katrina and only damn foreigners and racists claim there was widespread violence?

    Matt Welch never told that story to begin with, so your answer is “no.” Thanks for the link, though.

  24. Ever hear of peer pressure? Taco Bell wants to be viewed as a Good Corporate Citizen.

    Yup. I was just wondering if the gov’t provides any, er, “incentives”, to get corporations to do this.

    I remember back in my poor college student days seeing all the “drug-free workplace!!!” signs and thinking what a shithole those places must be to work, and being glad that I worked at rathole hotels and grocery stores that didn’t test.

  25. “and yet I’d feel much safer from cops while driving around in Republican-run Texas. ”

    Not that I totally disagree with your point (Democrats, when in power, are just as willing, if not more so, to violate certain liberties as are Republicans) but, Texas? Do you follow what happens in that “justice” system? That is the one state in the nation that you couldn’t pay me enough to get me to move there. Undercover agent who arrest many people and gets them convicted on only his say so (he later turned out to be lying), a defendant who everyone admits was sentenced under 3 strikes who only had 2 strikes, but everyone says “oh, well, it’s his problem his PD was incompetent”, where having your PD sleep through your trial is considered effective, where police chiefs have admitted that they considered physical coercion a legitimate tool in gaining a confession from a suspect (and that they used it in many cases where it is now widely accepted that the suspect was innocent?)

    There’s got to be a better example than Texas. That’s one state where I would live in fear of what the police, and through them, the judiciary could do to me…

  26. I think Matt Welch is my favorite Reason writer.

  27. Matt,

    There’s an interpretation of the paragraph you quoted that makes it directly incompatible with your “…the most free would be on the brink…” sentence. Specifically “balance” may imply a sweet spot is in the middle. Consider arguments for a minimum wage. Personally I believe that a minimum wage is bad for many reasons, but advocates of the minimum wage clearly believe that there is a sweet spot where it is overall good. i.e. An advocate of the minimum wage is not in favor of it being one penny an hour or one thousand dollars an hour.

    DI could be right if you were to line the countries up on a civil liberty index and then find that the most secure were all grouped together anywhere on that line. So, your syllogism may not be fair, because you’re not looking for the sweet spot, you’re only looking at the end of the ostensible continuum. I didn’t find anything in the article to explicitly confirm this interpretation, but it’s certainly possible to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    DI mentioned balance, and you brought up scales. Although a set of scales is one example of balance, someone riding a unicycle is another. The former is static, the latter dynamic. DI’s last paragraph contains

    “But even more, it needs a clear legal framework for this effort.”

    To me a framework suggests a more dynamic solution than a particular law or particular power being granted-a dynamic solution with more constraints than “the current lawless approach.”

    BTW like you, I disagree with the article, however, you did ask

    “Why do these smarter-than-me people so frequently assume there’s some kind of perfectly balanced scale of a country’s foreign affairs, with one tray marked “liberty” and the other “security”? The idea is bogus on its face.”

    and my guess is that you’ve read more into “the right balance between national security and civil liberties” than DI wrote or meant.

    Isaac,

    Thank you. I cringed when I saw the comparison to 1970, since Stonewall was June 27th 1969 and that was just the beginning.

  28. Eric:

    I was attempting to explain one reason that we always wind up being offered false binaries. I agree that this phenomenon is rhetorical, but I wonder if there isn’t an element of a self fulfilling platform here. The national Repubs do defend PATRIOT in its entirety and the national Dems do bash the whole thing on civil liberties grounds.

    Maybe another way to look at what I’m suggesting is that the minority party in a two coalition system is not primarily motivated by advancing civil liberties, it is primarily motivated by making the majority coalition look bad.

    As for the cops, I’d say that beat cops are not primarily political creatures, though their bosses are. The motivation for all political cops in high crime areas is to demonstrate that something they did reduced crime of some sort. The motivation for cops in low crime areas might be a bit different. Ergo, I’d guess that you’d be more afraid of cops in high crime areas than low crime areas irrespective of party control of the region because high crime cops and their bosses will tend to try too hard.

  29. anon2 — I think that’s a great point; it’s just that I *never* see a “sweet spot” argument actually made during one of these types of columns. Meanhile, the “balance” analogy more often than not (though not in this case) comes with the word “tradeoff,” which supports the scale analysis.

    I basically agree with the point Ignatius is making with the column — it’s important to keep the exercise of Executive Power within *some* legal/constitutional framework. But I’m allergic to the tradeoff argument, and perhaps too hastily assume that that’s the one being made when someone talks about the “balance between liberty and security.”

  30. Texas? Do you follow what happens in that “justice” system?

    Quasibill, the problem (and it’s a huge one) is that you can go to most any state and see the same thing happening. I wasn’t suggesting that Texas is some utopia, but pointing out that people there aren’t besieged by the police in the matter Jennifer describes.

  31. I agree that this phenomenon is rhetorical, but I wonder if there isn’t an element of a self fulfilling platform here. The national Repubs do defend PATRIOT in its entirety and the national Dems do bash the whole thing on civil liberties grounds.

    I think it’s far more likely that the Democrats oppose PATRIOT because it symbolizes a Republican’s presidency – and conversely, why so many Republicans stick up for it. If Gore had signed that law, I would expect roughly the opposite stances.

  32. I wasn’t suggesting that Texas is some utopia, but pointing out that middle- or upper-class white people there aren’t besieged by the police in the matter Jennifer describes.

    The copy editor in me could not resist the urge to correct your sentence for you.

  33. Yup. I was just wondering if the gov’t provides any, er, “incentives”, to get corporations to do this.

    Indeed they do. Remember, many, if not most, large corporations rely on government contracts for at least a portion of their revenue. While there’s no law requiring a private employer to drug test employees (although there are exceptions), they can require it as a condition for bidding on a contract. I’d be willing to bet a company like Taco Bell agreed to the practice in return for consideration when a government facility is accepting proposals from food vendors. Almost every large corporation does business with the government in some capacity, making it almost impossible to avoid complying with their requirements.

  34. There may also be liability concerns. A drug user is a Legally Certified Dangerous Person. A worker who’s merely irresponsible isn’t. If that Legally Certified Dangerous Person should ever hurt (directly or indirectly) a co-worker or customer, even if he wasn’t high while doing so, it might look really bad in court.

  35. Why do … people so frequently assume there’s some kind of perfectly balanced scale of a country’s foreign affairs, with one tray marked “liberty” and the other “security”?

    It isn’t about “balance.”

    A lot of people, and particularly those who go into government, simply see most folks as incompetent at managing their own lives and feel that government would do a better job at it. This philosophy is completely non-partisan between Ds and Rs, depending on what rights are being discussed.

    In a world where we had all the security we wanted, these folks would argue we no longer needed liberty.

  36. Before 1970 or so homosexuality was illegal and the police actively baited and arrested gay men in public places. The fact that they were subject to this treatment was largely due to the clandestine practises made necessary because of repression. This was done routinely in the USA, Canada, Britain and Australia. While it is true that social acceptance has led the law it was the change in the law the law has none the less changed. and it is the change in the law that has eliminated for all practical purpose the government repression of gays.

    Yes, there are behaviors that are legal now that weren’t in 1970. My problem with using those as an index of freedom is that they aren’t usually activities an average citizen would engage in on a typical day.

    Is an average citizen more likely to go to a gay bar, or drive a car? Have an abortion, or work for an employer? My point here is that while certain minorities may have obtained advantages, on the average the typical citizen has less freedoms than he did.

    Consider that as recently as the 1960’s, the majority of adults were smokers, and the presumption was that you could smoke pretty well anywhere. Now, imagine the government declared a War on Coffee – you could only drink coffee outside the building, not at your desk, you couldn’t drink it at a restaurant, you had to pay an outrageous tax on every cup of coffee. You’d probably consider that an outrageous infringement on typical adult behavior. Well, if you grew up in the 1960’s, when almost everyone smoked cigarettes, you’d recognize the War on Smoking as just that kind of infringement. At that time, smoking was as typical as drinking coffee is now.

  37. Concerning drug testing: after grad school I worked for a temp agency for awhile. They didn’t do preliminary drug testing (too expensive), but among the huge pile of papers I had to sign when they first hired me was one saying that if an employer ever had reason to suspect I was on drugs, I’d be tested.

    I was pretty desperate for a job so I almost signed the paper–until I noticed that it ALSO said the drug-testing company would be held “blameless and harmless” in the event of a false positive. And according to a lawyer friend of mine, that was some baaaaad shit: ‘blameless’ means you cannot be held criminally responsible, whereas ‘harmless’ means you can’t even be liable for civil damages. (Or perhaps the other way around.)

    So, in theory, I could have taken a drug test and on the basis of a false positive lost my job or even been imprisoned, and I would have no legal recourse whatsoever. Therefore, when I returned my huge pile of signed documents to the job-bank I kept the unsigned drug-test document in my purse. I was actually hoping they’d notice and call me out on it, so I could call the ACLU (“Hey, I’ll take a drug test, I just want them to be held responsible if they screw it up”); unfortunately they hired me anyway.

    That was the last time I even came close to a drug test. But I understand that the “blameless and harmless” bit is pretty standard in such instances.

    So this is what the Land of the Free has come to–even if you are FALSELY accused of a crime that shouldn’t be a crime, your life can be destroyed anyway, and you have no recourse.

  38. “Every one of these reforms has increased “liberty” — of communication, of decision-making, of the rights of civilians not to shoot strangers…”

    I don’t understand the italicized portion.

  39. I wasn’t suggesting that Texas is some utopia, but pointing out that middle- or upper-class white people there aren’t besieged by the police in the matter Jennifer describes.

    And, Jennifer, do you have any reality-based reason to believe that anyone else in Texas is treated the way you are in Connecticut?

    Believe me, I have seen Dallas police cruisers drive right past cars full of Hispanics that they could easily pull over for the proverbial busted tail-light. Ditto for a car driven by a black man that actually ran a red light.

    Given engraved invitations to harass, the Dallas police seem curiously indifferent.

  40. “I wasn’t suggesting that Texas is some utopia, but pointing out that middle- or upper-class white people there aren’t besieged by the police in the matter Jennifer describes.

    The copy editor in me could not resist the urge to correct your sentence for you.

    Well, if we’re to continue that line of logic (white person in Connecticut treated much worse than white person in Texas, non-white people in Texas treated worse than whites), then I shudder at the idea of what Gestapo tactics Connecticut police use against minorities.

    Or is this just a gratuitious “racism only exists/is only worth speaking about south of my state” thing?

  41. I don’t understand the italicized portion.

    Neither did Jesse. I basically mean the right of civilians to not be conscripted in the military. Where, among other things they might not enjoy doing, they might be asked to shoot strangers.

  42. if we’re to continue that line of logic (white person in Connecticut treated much worse than white person in Texas, non-white people in Texas treated worse than whites), then I shudder at the idea of what Gestapo tactics Connecticut police use against minorities. Or is this just a gratuitious “racism only exists/is only worth speaking about south of my state” thing?

    Nope, just pointing out that Texas isn’t better than Connecticut; it just has a different flavor of badness. The Tulia drug sting alone (which another poster referred to higher up) should disabuse anyone of the notion that Texas is some bastion of liberty. One-third of a town’s black population imprisoned on NO physical evidence, but just the say-so of a single cop with a reputation for lying?

    And, Jennifer, do you have any reality-based reason to believe that anyone else in Texas is treated the way you are in Connecticut?

    The folks in Tulia were treated far worse than ever a cop has treated me. Spending five minutes answering illegal questions at a checkpoint is infuriating, but a damned sight better than spending a few years in jail on false charges.

  43. We have the illusion of mutual exclusivity of civil liberties and security measures because we have coalitions that stake out exclusive positions.

    Jason makes a bunch of sense–again.

    I’ve been wondering about that lately. …Even if the Constitution as Death Pact meme had substance, why are its champions so quick to level the charge of cowardice?

    …Why does raising Constitutional concerns about whatever they want to do seem cowardly to them? Why does selling our Constitution out for the pretense of security seem so heroic to them? …those are the kinds of things I’ve been wondering about.

    When parties seek to motivate their bases, they emphasize points of opposition with the other guy rather than points of agreement.

    I’m giving more credence these days to the idea that the parties, subconsciously or otherwise, strive to become the caricatures their opponents claim them to be.

  44. The folks in Tulia were treated far worse than ever a cop has treated me.

    Texas has its cop problems, for damn sure. I would never claim it doesn’t. Abusive cops exist everywhere – LA, NY, I’m sure Connecticut as well. The crookedest cops I ever met were in Boston.

    I was asking whether you had any support for your insinuation that Texas cops were harassing minorities in the way you are harassed in Connecticut? Or are you just indulging in groundless stereotyping?

  45. Nope, just pointing out that Texas isn’t better than Connecticut; it just has a different flavor of badness.

    At some point, I just don’t know where you’re going with this, Jennifer.

    You start out adamant that we’re all living in a police state and trot out your frequent experiences in Connecticut as evidence. People recoil in horror, and I point out (along with others) that such things never happen to me in my state. I further point out that Connecticut is a Democratic-dominated state, while Texas a Republican one, and that this (further) illustrates that the civil liberties/Law Und Order dichotomy between D’s and R’s is just rhetoric.

    You jump out with Yeah, well, but your cops are racist!, so I wax sarcastic at the implied suggestion that Connecticut cops aren’t. Then you start arguing that, despite the fact that the very things you complained about as evidence of our police state are at least somewhat peculiar to Connecticut (compared to other commentors’ states), we’re all really equally oppressed, just in different ways. (Oh, and for good measure, that apparently Connecticut cops are never corrupt and no innocent people are in prison in Connecticut.) And that’s just vacuous.

    Hell, I don’t even know where you’re coming from.

  46. Neither did Jesse. I basically mean the right of civilians to not be conscripted in the military. Where, among other things they might not enjoy doing, they might be asked to shoot strangers.

    The problem is, there’s no such right. While the government hasn’t felt the need to do it since Vietnam, mandatory Selective Service registration is still in effect, and Congress can still implement a draft any time it suits them. There’s absolutely no law on the books prohibiting involuntary conscription.

  47. Put another way, Jennifer, you may go on at length about how horrible America has become, but you’ll apparently be damned before admitting that Connecticut might be inferior to (shudder) Texas in some way. What’s up with that?

  48. There’s absolutely no law on the books prohibiting involuntary conscription.

    This is true.

  49. Yes, there are behaviors that are legal now that weren’t in 1970. My problem with using those as an index of freedom is that they aren’t usually activities an average citizen would engage in on a typical day.

    I see your point.

    It is true that the Nanny State has reached new heights. It is also interesting that the main proponents of the Nanny State are at the forefront of protests against the Security State and the Law and Order State and even the Fundamentalist Xian State.

    I think one of the fallacies revealed here is that the is some divide between those “For Freedom” and those “Against Freedom”. Except for the kind of nutcases that post at place like H&R there really is not much of a constituency for “Freedom”.

    The vote-winningest pols are the ones that promise the “right”* restrictions; just so long as they promise enough give-aways and the most “security”.

    *”right” for the constituency they are seeking votes from. The most skilful go from constituency to constituency promising utterly condradictory proposals and get away with it. 🙂

  50. You start out adamant that we’re all living in a police state and trot out your frequent experiences in Connecticut as evidence. People recoil in horror, and I point out (along with others) that such things never happen to me in my state.

    And I’ve never been arrested and held incommunicado without a trial, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to others. Surely you don’t believe “It doesn’t happen to me; therefore it doesn’t happen to anybody”?

    but you’ll apparently be damned before admitting that Connecticut might be inferior to (shudder) Texas in some way.

    BOTH states suck; they just do so in different ways.

    I was asking whether you had any support for your insinuation that Texas cops were harassing minorities in the way you are harassed in Connecticut?

    If it makes you feel better, RC, I think ALL states’ cops harass minorities. That’s why the phrase “Driving While Black” entered our lexicon.

    Then you start arguing that, despite the fact that the very things you complained about as evidence of our police state are at least somewhat peculiar to Connecticut (compared to other commentors’ states), we’re all really equally oppressed, just in different ways.

    I’ll admit–I don’t think any state is much freer than any other these days; there are only differences in HOW the lack of freedom is felt.

    (Oh, and for good measure, that apparently Connecticut cops are never corrupt and no innocent people are in prison in Connecticut.)

    Where the fuck did I say that? Insult Connecticut all you want; I’ll gladly join you. The only reason I’m even still here is because of my boyfriend; otherwise I’d’ve gotten the hell out of Dodge years ago.

  51. Except for the kind of nutcases that post at place like H&R there really is not much of a constituency for “Freedom”.

    Utterly agreed. You get some places and times where people bristle more at certain intrusions, but at a party level, the people who care are as fringe as us at a practical level.

  52. Eric, I agree, the problem is everywhere, but only in Texas is there such a cluster of really bad conduct. For example, in PA, an illegal sentence is ALWAYS challengeable, it can never be waived, like they claim it was in TX. In PA, sleeping through any part of a trial is ineffective assistance of counsel, unlike TX. Do I mean that PA is some bastion of freedom? No way – we have our own problems. But at the same time, I have followed what goes on in TX and it is somewhat unique in this regard.

    Another great example was the study that showed that over 80% of the Houston police admitted to having an untraceable gun with them at all times so they could drop it on a victim that they had shot (the report was in the ’80s). Now I know for a fact that many police in PA did the same thing, but the number never reached 50%, let alone 80. To have such widespread corruption requires a bigger problem than just the usual “couple of bad apples”.

  53. And I’ve never been arrested and held incommunicado without a trial, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to others. Surely you don’t believe “It doesn’t happen to me; therefore it doesn’t happen to anybody”?

    Fair enough. I’ll assume that I’m the sole Texan who isn’t repeatedly stopped harassed by police. Might explain the traffic on my commute.

    “(Oh, and for good measure, that apparently Connecticut cops are never corrupt and no innocent people are in prison in Connecticut.)”

    Where the fuck did I say that?

    You were harping on Texas’ police corruption as some sort of contrast to Connecticut’s. If you don’t think it’s a contrast, what’s the point of bringing it up?

    I’ll admit–I don’t think any state is much freer than any other these days; there are only differences in HOW the lack of freedom is felt.

    I can’t really argue with I think it’s really all the same, despite any differences, so I won’t.

  54. You were harping on Texas’ police corruption as some sort of contrast to Connecticut’s. If you don’t think it’s a contrast, what’s the point of bringing it up?

    I was corecting your comment that drivers in Texas don’t get harassed by the cops as I was here.

    I can’t really argue with I think it’s really all the same, despite any differences, so I won’t.

    Since that is not what I said, it’s just as well you’re not arguing the point. What is so difficult about comprehending a statement like “Different states trample their citizens’ freedom in different ways?”

  55. Quasibill,

    I’m not familiar with the study you refer to (nor am I especially convinced by your intuition that only half of PA cops would do something like that). If you wish to substantiate that and your other points, then we would be capable of arguing a difference betwen PA and TX, to the apparent horror of some here.

  56. then we would be capable of arguing a difference betwen PA and TX, to the apparent horror of some here.

    Yes, yes, I get it, Eric. It was Wrong with a capital W for me to say something like “Different states suck in different ways”; apparently a state is either free or it isn’t, and the idea that different states can have different problems is just fucking impossible, isn’t it?

  57. I was corecting your comment that drivers in Texas don’t get harassed by the cops as I was here.

    Jennifer, you can’t “correct” me on this. I actually live in Texas and know something about it.

    Since that is not what I said, it’s just as well you’re not arguing the point. What is so difficult about comprehending a statement like “Different states trample their citizens’ freedom in different ways?”

    Jennifer, I really don’t know what you’re saying, so I’m giving up. One minute you’re arguing that it’s really all the same in different ways, the next you’re telling me I’m missing all the invisible police checkpoints in Texas. I don’t think there is any point behind what you’re saying, just a desire to wallow and irritation at anyone who suggests that some corner of the sky isn’t falling at a fast enough pace.

  58. “I’m not familiar with the study you refer to ”

    Sorry, my mistake. It was a case that I had read, not a study:

    Webster v. City of Houston, 689 F.2d 1220, 1227 (5th Cir. 1982).

    “nor am I especially convinced by your intuition that only half of PA cops would do something like that”

    Well, it’s more than intuition, it’s experience, and having read the statistics (I actually attended a conference presented by the AG addressing this issue, where he presented data) – many police shootings in PA occurred where a gun was never found on the victim, even in the 70s & 80s. It would have been unlikely if the cops were so willing to use ‘throwdowns’.

    Again, I’m not defending PA police. I’m just noting that I’ve said, for a long time, that TX is the one state you couldn’t pay me to move to. And that’s too bad, because they do have the best member of the federal government in Dr. Paul, so at least somewhere in there there must be a group of people who have the same ideals that I do…

  59. Ken:

    “I’m giving more credence these days to the idea that the parties, subconsciously or otherwise, strive to become the caricatures their opponents claim them to be.”

    That is exactly my view. It is most important to be ‘not them’.

  60. Fine, Eric, if it makes you happy: “It was Wrong for me to suggest that there are cops in Texas who abuse their authority, or the citizens of the state. Furthermore, by suggesting otherwise I was actually saying ‘Connecticut is better than any state in the South.’ And since Eric doesn’t have problems with Texas cops, it follows that others don’t either, and Tulia was an aberration.”

    Or maybe what I actually meant to say was “Only traffic checkpoints endanger Freedom. Since Texas apparently has less checkpoints than Connecticut, then Texas is in all ways more free than Connecticut, and it is Wrong for me to suggest otherwise.”

  61. Anecdotally, a friend of mine who wears the blue here in KY has always said that New Orleans and Baltimore had famously institutionalized sketchy behavior into their departments.

    Without any evidence at all, I would guess that corruption is worst where incentives are highest. Locales with high violent crime rates tend to implement policies to get ‘the scum’ off the streets. Locales known as high drug traffic zones tend to implement policies that will allow a lot of drugs to be seized on camera. On that theory, you would expect places like Nebraska or maybe Tennessee to have relatively low corruption on the part of law enforcement.

  62. Good God, Jennifer. It really would kill you to listen to people who disagreed with you, wouldn’t it?

  63. It really would kill you to listen to people who disagreed with you, wouldn’t it?

    Disagree with ME all you want, but why do you call me to task for things I never said? Texas blows and Connecticut sucks, or maybe it’s the other way around.

    And the other forty-eight states aren’t too nice these days, either.

  64. Don’t mess with Texas.

  65. Disagree with ME all you want, but why do you call me to task for things I never said?

    I didn’t imagine “I was corecting your comment that drivers in Texas don’t get harassed by the cops as I was here”. Unless your point is that if anyone in Texas is ever harassed by a cop, it’s equivalent to commonplace police harassment in Connecticut. If so, I hear the police harass people in China, to.

    Really, give me a break, Jennifer. I said Texas doesn’t suck in that particular way, and you fall all over yourself telling me that it sucks just as badly in different ways – and that, anyway, I’m just wrong that it doesn’t suck that way. And if I am committing the sin of being right on that point, then gee, I’m an idiot who thinks that’s the only thing that matters.

  66. All I ask at this point is that you don’t call me a Randroid.

  67. Jennifer your experience sounds truly horrific and I have to wonder if there isn’t something more going on. A brown skinned man could roll down Rodeo (Dr) with a shotgun on a quiet peaceful day, and get questioned less often than you. Do any of your friends comment that you are getting pulled over more than them?

  68. I propose an experiment. We’ll have Mo, if he’s still about, drive around in Texas and Connecticut and note how many times his rights are violated. The rest of us pitch in for bail, and we should have a good data set. Right?

  69. “But I would suggest that a fella can believe with perfect sincerity — even without succumbing to libertarian panic — that liberty and security are complementary, not mutually exclusive.”

    This seems to me to be the crux of Matt’s article. I have argued successfully with my right-winger friends that maximal liberty produces maximal security; conversely all of the bullshit going on now only serves to decrease our security.

    A couple of countries Matt didn’t mention are the former U.S.S.R. and the former G.D.R. (East Germany). The amount of domestic spying in both locations would give GW wet dreams. By the administration’s reckoning, these should be the most secure and safest places to live on the planet with the possible exception of (the former) Khmer Rouge – controlled Kampuchia. The only problem, of course, is that these safe havens no longer exist.

    There is no substitute for good old-fashioned police work. Had the agencies so intent on spying on all of us now not ignored that memo from the FBI’s Phoenix field office, there would have been no 9-11. That kind of police work was done without the massive surveillance powers the government now claims to possess.

    During the cold war, the FBI knew without a doubt that thousands of KGB agents were gathering intelligence and gearing up to sabotage important facilities if ordered. Very modest concessions were made by Congress to enable G-men to monitor and apprehend Soviet spies and special courts were authorized and created to allow for trying accused spies fairly while keeping defense secrets secret.

    For the most part, the U.S. stayed wide open and free while paranoid Communist leaders clamped down ever harder using the same rhetoric and methods that the administration now employs. History shows without a doubt which way of organizing a society creates the greatest security.

    Of course, the goal of the Communist leaders was to subjugate their people. At first, I thought the administration was merely misguided, but I am, perhaps cynically, coming to believe that our government shares that goal along with the ways of achieving that goal.

    So far, every setback to a would-be terrorist has been achieved by normal people taking matters into their own hands while the government confiscates fingernail clippers and murders mental patients. That this rankles the administration to no end was exemplified best when the FBI lamely (and briefly) tried to claim that the passengers aboard Flight 93 had not really done anything to foil the attempted hijacking.

    It’s pretty clear, or should be, that any attempt to “balance” liberty and security ends up undermining both.

  70. Johnl–

    This wasn’t a pull-over; it was a drunk-driving checkpoint. And as much as I loathe the whole idea of DD checkpoints, what really frosted me was that, as I mentioned higher on this thread, I was OBVIOUSLY sober (driving home from a late night at work, in fact), yet instead of waving me on he asked questions. “Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Have you taken any alcohol or drugs? Do you plan to take alcohol or drugs later?” (Like anybody would say ‘Yup, soon as I get home I’m snorting the big-ass pile of cocaine I have in my purse!’ Furthermore, if I had planned to get drunk later it would have been legal anyway, since i’m well over 21.)

    And judging from how long it took the cars ahead of me to get through the point, I’m guessing they had to answer the same questions. Ordinarily I would have very coldly and politely told the cop that this was none of his concern, but as I mentioned before, I was due to leave for my first business trip in a couple of days and didn’t want to risk missing it.

  71. if the Constitution as Death Pact meme

    Ken: I’m curious what you’re referring to here. Could you explain further?

  72. Thanks, Eric – you pretty much said it for me.

    Is it impossible to believe that cops in CT are more likely to engage in low-grade, routine harassment of the citizenry than cops in Texas?

  73. Is it impossible to believe that cops in CT are more likely to engage in low-grade, routine harassment of the citizenry than cops in Texas?

    Certainly not. But is it impossible for YOU to believe that Texas citizens have to deal with harassment, too? Maybe not the exact same form of harassment, but harassment all the same?

  74. Jennifer, the thing about the check point being there just when you can’t afford it is Murphy’s law. What’s remarkable is that you have been through a couple dozen non-airport searches in the last three years. Could there be a notorious criminal in your nighborhood driving the same model car? Do you have Bob Marley bumper stickers?

    I drove through an interior border checkpoint a hundred times last year and was not stopped once in my Camry. You might think about getting a Camry or Volvo with no stickers.

  75. Lets put the ‘freedoms’ back in the U.S. No more baggage searches, no more traffic stops to test for DUI (sorry MADD). Demand proof of involvement and intent before granting any warrant. Get a President that will get permission from a Judge before he takes any action to protect us inside our country (most likely a Democrat). Publish all our weaknesses, and national security programs in the newpaper. Feeling Safer now?

  76. RC, as a favor to me, please don’t contradict my adamant statements about Texas police never, ever, ever harassing anyone.

  77. Yes, Jim, I’d feel a lot safer from the cops who for a lot of Americans are a whole lot more of a threat than any ay-rab terrorists.

  78. I might ad that however atypical I think Jennifer’s experience is it still represents a major imposition and inconvenience for her (and her co-residents). And it might be coming to your neighborhood next.

    Am I paranoid if they are out to get me? 🙂

  79. And it might be coming to your neighborhood next.

    Or my neighborhood, and that’d really piss me off.

  80. Jennifer, the thing about the check point being there just when you can’t afford it is Murphy’s law. What’s remarkable is that you have been through a couple dozen non-airport searches in the last three years. Could there be a notorious criminal in your nighborhood driving the same model car? Do you have Bob Marley bumper stickers?

    Nope, I drive a stickerless late-model Neon. Furthermore, despite my personality I look (and generally dress) like the type of woman who follows all the laws and likes cops and thinks the government is hunky-dory. My main problem, I fear, is that the city of Newtown, Connecticut, is run by little asshole tin-pot dictators, and for the past couple of years I have either worked in Newtown or had to drive through it to get to my job.

    But let me clarify: those searches include drunk-driving checkpoints, seatbelt checkpoints, taking the train to New York, taking public transport in New York, and so forth.

    Not once was I singled out for a bullshit pull-over while driving. Well, okay, it DID happen to me once, but that was in North Carolina back in the early nineties, and that had nothing to do with the war on terror; it was the standard small-town Southern sheriff seeing a car with out-of-state plates (Virginia).

  81. Linguist,

    Matt Welch had a superb post a while back, How Ever Do the Handcuffed Suicide Pactists Manage? He wrote:

    “File these under the same category as ticking-time-bomb scenarios, zero-sum liberty-for-security trades, and the Constitution-as-death-pact.”

    I picked up on it as “Constitution as death pact meme”, and I’ve been running with it ever since. It seemed to crystallize what I’ve been trying to say to so many people. …came in handy over the holidays talkin’ to the family too.

    My thoughts on it are in the thread I linked.

  82. But what about Taco Bell making its employees pee into a cup? Does the gov’t pressure them into doing that?

    Ever hear of peer pressure?

    Found pun alert!

  83. “I’m giving more credence these days to the idea that the parties, subconsciously or otherwise, strive to become the caricatures their opponents claim them to be.” – Ken Schultz

    Completely agree with only one minor quibble… I guess I’m just wondering why you think they have any striving left to do – seems they’ve arrived at full caricature-hood to me. I may be an optimist, since I honestly think that it’d pretty effortless at this point for them to continue to be the caricature, but it just doesn’t seem that more striving is required, y’know?

  84. But is it impossible for YOU to believe that Texas citizens have to deal with harassment, too?

    Sure, its possible for me to believe that. But you haven’t given me any reason to, other than your apparent belief that, brutish Texans being what they are, everything must be worse there.

  85. I mean, really, Jennifer, I heard a whole lot more about checkpoints and all that when I lived in Madison than I do around Dallas. I honestly believe that Dallas cops at least don’t indulge in that kind of low-level harassment.

    For they most part, they are too busy framing people for cocaine distribution and shaking down business owners for bogus after-hours “security” jobs.

  86. your apparent belief that, brutish Texans being what they are, everything must be worse there. . . . . For they most part, [the cops where I am]are too busy framing people for cocaine distribution and shaking down business owners for bogus after-hours “security” jobs.

    I said nothing about brutish Texans or any such thing, RC, and you need to stop getting so defensive about living in Texas. Yes: I think your state sucks. I also think mine sucks. In some ways, my state (especially the city of Newtown) is worse than yours. In other ways, your state is worse than mine.

  87. Jesus Christ, I’m turning into Cathy Young.

    Fuck balanced statements. Texas SUCKS!

  88. Texas SUCKS!

    Look, I know sometimes I say some controversial stuff, and, unless I’m mistaken, I was one of the first on the “Texas Sucks” bandwagon. In fact, I think I might have been the one who put the gas in, started up and drove the “Texas Sucks” bandwagon.

    I’ve been talkin’ down on Texas since I don’t know when. When and where I grew up, we were taught that Texas was on the wrong side of everything. …and I understand Jennifer grew up not far from where I did.

    I don’t know about Jennifer, but I grew up listenin’ to sermons with the Dallas Cowboys compared to the devil and all that… …I was taught that Texas dropped out of the big one after about ten minutes and all that too. …but right here on this very board, I’ve come across a couple of Texans that don’t seem to be anywhere near as bad as I’ve been told they all are.

    Eric the 5b, as I recall, is from Texas, and I’m here to tell you, I’ve given it a good think over and I don’t think he’s all bad. I’ve tried to account for RC Dean too, and, I’m convinced, he isn’t all bad either. Go figure! …anyway, I’m startin’ to think that maybe Texas isn’t emblematic of everything that’s wrong with America.

    …In spite of the Kennedy Assassination, Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War, the Great Society, the Patriot Act, the Iraq War and the so called “music” of Willie Nelson.

    …but even for being around–but not part of–the South, Texas isn’t exactly well known for having the most unbiased, straight forward, straight shootin’ law men. I’m sorry, they’re just not. Maybe that reputation’s undeserved–maybe they’re like freakin’ King Solomon down there and we just don’t know it! …but if that’s the case, please give me a while to adjust my thinkin’.

    Even if Texas really isn’t as bad as all that, that doesn’t mean that Texas doesn’t suck.

    P.S. It’s impossible to prove a negative with a positive.

  89. After 50-plus comments, H&R threads get treacherous. That being obvious, has anyone ever thought this?:
    If terror is so terrorizing that the US had to declare a war on it, then the terrrorists have won since 9-11, and I’m a poet who knows it.
    For sure.

    “Won since 9-11”

  90. I’ll jump in late to say I think we’re freer than we were in the 1970s. First, we probably have the same amount of freedom from gov’t snooping, a la Dubya — Nixon was pretty good at that stuff too. Second, we’re freer in many ways economically — marginal tax rates are much lower, and in the 70s we had wage and price controls, for chrissake. We have much more freedom to fuck who we please and enjoy the porn we want. In states like California, we’re free to posses small amounts of most illegal drugs without going to prison. We’re free to not be drafted, as Matt said, which is no small thing. There are ways in which we are less free, but I think that on the whole we’re at least as free, perhaps freer.

  91. Jennifer;

    “Since approximately 2002 I have not gone more than two months, maybe two and a half, without being subject to a warrantless and baseless search–drunk checkpoints, seatbelt checkpoints, bag searches and the like. (And I am not even counting airport experiences in that mix.) Cops stopping me on the road at a checkpoint and asking “Where are you coming from? Where are you going? What are you planning to do tonight?” That is not freedom.”

    You are exactly right. I ran for office as a Libertarian (Colorado State House District 53) and one plank of my platform was the elimination of roadside sobriety checkpoints. Of course I was characterized by my opponenets as in favor of drunk driving, how predictable.

    I think our police could find drunks better by OBSERVING DRIVING BEHAVIOR and acting accordingly. If someone is distracted and swerves into another lane, can’t maintain a constant speed within 5 mph, weaves, drives angry, etc., then they are demonstrating dangerous driving and should be pulled over. If someone just left a bar or restaraunt after a couple of drinks but is driving OK that should not be a problem, and they should be left alone.

    In another vein, I think that the WOsD is expanding to legal substances. I just heard a commercial talking about the dangers of driving under the influence of any subtance, legal or illegal, prescription, over the counter, etc. I find this truly disconcerting and wrong.

  92. Texas isn’t exactly well known for having the most unbiased, straight forward, straight shootin’ law men

    I’m sorry, I’ve been terribly unreasonable in this thread.

    *gets off the horse and puts his ten-gallon hat in his hands*

    I apologize for claiming that Texas was well known for having the most unbiased, straightforward, “straight-shootin'” law men in the country.

    I apologize for claiming that cops in Texas never, ever harass drivers.

    I apologize for presenting the state of Texas as a libertarian utopia.

    *sighs with the air of deep humility only a cowboy can muster*

    Furthermore, I beg everyone’s pardon for claiming that any aspect of Texas law enforcement might be less intrusive than that aspect of law enforcement anywhere else in the country. I also beg pardon for not noticing invisible police roadblocks and checkpoints blanketing its streets and highways.

    Most of all, I beg pardon for not accepting the wisdom of those who’ve never set foot in this state on the subject of how Texas police and citizens interact.

    Thank you for your time.

    *puts the hat back on, climbs back on the horse, and rides off into the sunset to the tune of “Happy Trails”*

  93. Aw shucks, Eric the .5b, I was just kiddin’!

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