Category Archives: The Surveillance State

How Rand Paul’s Campaign Is Already Succeeding

Rand_Paul_(9907100826)

Even if Rand Paul is not elected president, he has already performed the country a great service. No, I’m not talking about the pending expiration of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. It will likely be a temporary victory at best. What Rand Paul is accomplishing is that he’s exposing some of the contradictions of the Republican Party’s establishment wing.

Establishment Republicans are the ones who like to talk about reaching out to new voters. They point out, correctly, that Republicans cannot win if they stay the party of old, white guys.

What Paul is doing is exposing the same GOP establishsment types who support every shift to the left and support every big government program in the name of “moving to the center” as frauds and liars. All Paul is simply doing is letting them go hysterical.

Take for example former New Hampshire Governor and Chief of Staff to George H.W. Bush John Sununu comments:

Once the primary is over, Sununu said it’s “stupid” for Republican voters to not back whomever wins the primary, with one exception, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

 

 

Sununu said while he is tired of “stupid conservatives giving Democrats the election,” After Paul’s comments blaming Republican hawks for creating ISIS this week he now believes Paul’s national security positions are too extreme “isolationist,” and “to the left of Barack Obama.”

He added, “Frankly, I can not imagine Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) as commander in chief.”

Here’s Fox News’s Brit Hume:

Bill Kristol also joined the parade last week calling Rand Paul a “liberal Democrat.” Kristol actually knows a thing or two about siding with liberal Democrats.

If Rand Paul accomplishes nothing else this campaign cycle, he exposed the self-described “big tent” Republicans as nothing more than a bunch of hypocrites. Most of these same guys are the ones who criticize conservatives who support primaring more moderate Republicans.

But when a Republican pushes back against issues the “big tent” crowd are passionate about, they must be driven out of the party. This is despite the fact that the American people want reforms to the Patriot Act to protect privacy and oppose giving arms to “moderate Syrian rebels.” If you’re going to take a stand and die on a hill, take a stand on issues that have popular support.

Rand Paul’s presidential campaign may yet crash and burn, but he has destroyed the credibility of “big tent” establishment Republicans.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Misunderstanding Law, Government, and Society

GovernmentIsForceMost people… At least most people in modern western democracies… Seem to have a fundamental and unconscious assumption about the nature of law and government, that goes something like this:

 

 

 

Law and government, are or should be, the expression of the will of the majority, for the purpose of making collective decisions, taking collective actions, fixing problems and righting wrongs.

If I gave that definition to most people as what government “should” be, or even what it is, I’d guess they would agree.

But that’s not what law and government are at all. In fact, that notion of the nature of law and government, is not only wrong, it is extremely harmful.

What are law and government?

Government, is the instrument of collective delegation of the legitimate initiation and use of force against others.

Law, is the body of rules by which that force is administered and applied.

The only legitimate purpose for which, is to secure and protect the rights of individuals governed by them.

So, what’s the other thing, and why is this a problem?

The other definition, is more properly that of society (as distinct from culture).

Government is NOT Society, and Society, is NOT Government

This conflation of government, and society, is a very serious social and political problem because those who hold it… and I firmly believe it’s a large majority… believe that law and government, should be used for “doing what’s good, and stopping what’s bad”.

They naturally wish to see government do what they think is right, or best, and stop that which they think is wrong, harmful, or wasteful… And not just in areas where force should be applied.

They conflate “legal” with “good” and “illegal” with “bad”, and try to make laws against things which they think are bad, or mandating things which they think are good.

They often even conflate “legal” or “attempting to make legal” with “approving and supporting”, and “dissapproving and opposing” with “illegal” or “attempting to make illegal”.

This is incredibly harmful

We have allowed… even encouraged people… to deeply hold the fundamental notion, that they get to vote on other peoples opinions, choices, and behavior; and if their “side” wins the vote, that it is legitimate to make those things legal or illegal.

It also means that these people automatically and reflexively try to solve personal, moral, social, or societal problems, with government and law, when it is entirely inappropriate, even harmful, to attempt to do so. Most of those problems cannot be solved by the use of force;, or at best can only be solved inefficiently, ineffectively, and while violating the rights of others.

In encouraging this misapprehension, we have in fact made the personal, the political, and the political, the personal.

How do we stop the harm?

We must correct this critical error in peoples fundamental apprehension of law and government.

People need to understand, at the most fundamental level, that government is force, and that law is how that force is directed and administered. No more, no less.

If we don’t correct this misapprehension, then we will continue to simply seesaw back and forth between majoritarian tyrannies, as social changes dictate.

Rights will continue to be violated and abrogated as the opinions of society fluctuate.

The favored, will continue to be privileged over the disfavored at the expense of the disfavored’s rights, until the pendulum swings again and the roles are reversed.

Yes, I realize, that is largely how it has always been… But never has law and government had such a depth and breath, had so great a reach into our personal lives, as it does today, and this unfortunately shows no sign of receding.

The absurdity of this reach… and overreach… is finally becoming apparent to many people, on all ideological “sides”; be it the “war on drugs”, the “war on terror”, privacy and surveillance, or gay marriage and wedding cakes.

So, we have to take action, now

Use this growing awareness of the overreach, to help people understand.

We have to show people these aren’t just outlying excesses. That they result from the way we think of, look at, and attempt to use, government.

We have to get people to understand, that if they can say “there ought to be a law”, and then get a law made banning something that they don’t like; then their worst enemy, can get a law made banning something they love.

We have to return to the notion that fundamental rights matter, and that the only legitimate purpose of law, and government, is to protect those fundamental rights.

Everything else?

That’s up to individuals, and to society as a whole, NOT GOVERNMENT.

Voluntary collective action. If it’s really what people want, then they’ll work for it, without the threat of force. If it’s not really what they want, then we shouldn’t be forcing people to do it.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Stop Calling Government Regulation of the Internet “Net Neutrality”

fcc-net-neutrality-voteImage from the FCC by way of Ars Technica

Stop using “net neutrality” to refer to government regulation of the internet.

That’s not what net neutrality is, and it’s certainly not what the government regulations promulgated by the FCC today are, in this case “Common Carrier” Rules.

People who don’t know any better are celebrating todays faux “net neutrality” FCC action as a victory for freedom and free speech on the internet, when in fact, it’s exactly the opposite.

I’ve written extensively about net neutrality and this is very much NOT it.

All the FCC has done today, is impose common carrier regulation on every ISP (oh and by the way, lots of other organizations as well who “provide internet access”. No-one has any idea how the regulations are going to be finalized, what the language will mean, who will be impacted and how… except everyone knows it’s going to cost a lot), instead of just the telephone companies it was already imposed on. Verizon for example, who was already one of the worst violators of net neutrality, even with common carrier regulation already in place for them.

Thus it makes competition and breaking of existing monopolies even harder, while not actually doing a damn thing to secure or improve neutrality… oh and it gives the FCC more control over the internet.

Absolutely none of those are good things.

Common carrier regulation is a big part of what made the current near monopolies on Internet access happen in the first place, because small independent companies, and even large regionals, couldn’t compete with the giant telcom conglomerates under those regulations. So, they all got swallowed up.

I’ve been working with telecommunications companies, and common carrier regulations, for more than 20 years. I’m an expert in governance and regulatory compliance, and I can tell you right now, NOBODY understands these regulations, because they are not capable of being understood.

These regulations and the rulings and case law associated with them go back to 1930s… and in some particulars all the way back to the 1870s. And of course, rather than replace them with something clear when they wanted to make new regulations, congress and the FCC just amended and added on and countermanded and…

I’ve flowcharted them before to try to see what applied how and where and when… the only thing I could come up with was “nobody knows for sure, it all depends what a regulator or judge says at the time”.

This wasn’t a blow for freedom and free speech… This was a giveaway to big corporate donors in the telecommunications industry.

The big telcos have been trying to get their primary competition, non-telco ISPs, burdened with the same regulatory load they labor under, for DECADES. Now, in one stroke, the FCC at the personal direction of the president, has given it to them.

Oh and guess what else common carrier regulation includes… SURVEILLANCE.

All common carriers are required to provide the government and law enforcement “reasonable access” for surveillance, as well as to give up records, usage details, and other subscriber and user data, WITHOUT A WARRANT.

What does “reasonable access” mean? Whatever the government says it means… and if you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. I’ve dealt with the FBI on this issue, and that’s a direct quote.

Yes, this is not only a massive corporate crony handout, it’s also a huge gimme to the FBI and the NSA, who have wanted all ISPs stuck under common carrier for years as well.

Stop calling government regulation of the internet “net neutrality”. Letting the liars control the language helps them lie to you.

Net neutrality is not government regulation, and these regulations are certainly not net neutrality, nor anything like it. Don’t be taken in by fraud, cronyism, and statism, masquerading as freedom.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Sympathy for Paranoia

cat in the tin foil hat

The moon landing was faked by the U.S. government for propaganda purposes to win the Cold War. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 was actually an inside job as a pretext to go to war. Space aliens landed in Roswell, NM but the government has been covering it up. The Sandy Hook massacre was faked to increase support for new gun control laws; the “victims” were actually actors who are all alive and well today. The Illuminati is the secret entity which actually governs the whole world…

The natural response to these statements is to say “these people are mad barking moonbats” and to keep ourselves as distant as possible from the people making them. Those of us in the liberty movement who want to be taken seriously are very quick to renounce anyone who is within six degrees of Alex Jones or anyone else who states any of the above. It’s difficult enough to be taken seriously about legalizing drugs, the non-aggression principle, free markets, and freedom of association; the last thing we need is to be lumped in with “those people.”

While it is very important to defend the “brand” of the liberty movement, it’s also important to recognize the reasons why people believe some rather nutty things.

[W]hen I say virtually everyone is capable of paranoid thinking, I really do mean virtually everyone, including you, me, and the founding fathers. As the sixties scare about the radical Right demonstrates, it is even possible to be paranoid about paranoids. – Jesse Walker, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, (p. 24) (Read my book review here)

Once one learns about some of the activities governments been proven to have been involved in, some conspiracy theories no longer seem as outlandish. I used to refer to conspiracy theories and wacky beliefs as “black helicopter” stories and I’m fairly certain that others used the same terminology. Once I learned that black unmarked helicopters were used in the assault by the FBI on the Branch Davidians in Waco, TX,(Napolitano, p.110) I stopped calling such ideas “black helicopter.”

Not everything that sounds crazy is.
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A Christmas Without Spying

Sheriff Elf“When parents and teachers bring The Elf on the Shelf into homes and classrooms, are they preparing a generation of children to accept, not question, increasingly intrusive (albeit whimsically packaged) modes of surveillance?” ask Laura Elizabeth Pinto and Selena Nemorin in an essay for the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives this December.

Dr. Pinto is a digital technology professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Dr. Nemorin is a post-doctoral fellow at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. In their column, the two observe that interactive, imaginary play is how children learn to “make sense of their world, their place in society, … their identity, and what is right and wrong.”

But Elf on the Shelf is not interactive. Rather, it is a one-sided, authoritarian intrusion of imaginative “play” (if you can call it that) into the child’s real life:

[I]n other games, the child role-plays a character, or the child imagines herself within a play-world of the game, but the role play does not enter the child’s real world as part of the game. As well, in most games, the time of play is delineated (while the game goes on), and the play to which the rules apply typically does not overlap with the child’s real world.

 

Elf on the Shelf presents a unique (and prescriptive) form of play that blurs the distinction between play time and real life. Children who participate in play with The Elf on the Shelf doll have to contend with rules at all times during the day: they may not touch the doll, and they must accept that the doll watches them at all times with the purpose of reporting to Santa Claus. This is different from more conventional play with dolls, where children create play-worlds born of their imagination, moving dolls and determining interactions with other people and other dolls. Rather, the hands-off “play” demanded by the elf is limited to finding (but not touching!) The Elf on the Shelf every morning, and acquiescing to surveillance during waking hours under the elf’s watchful eye. The Elf on the Shelf controls all parameters of play, who can do and touch what, and ultimately attempts to dictate the child’s behavior outside of time used for play.

The gaze of the elf on the child’s real world (as opposed to play world) resonates with the purpose of the panopticon, based on Jeremy Bentham’s 18th century design for a model prison (a central tower in a circular structure, surrounded by cells).

Anthony L. Fisher writing at Reason connects the point Pinto and Nemorin are making about the Elf of the Shelf—the “creepy side-eyed gnome [who] has spied and informed on millions of kids to an unaccountable power broker at the North Pole—to the “Stasi-meets-stalker lyrics” of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.

It is the sort of thing that makes people roll their eyes at libertarians. But consider my own experience.

“Mom, why does Santa Claus think it’s bad when kids cry?” my daughter asked a couple of weeks ago.

“Hmmm… Well…. Sometimes it can be annoying when kids are crying or being whiny and no one else can talk because the kid is taking all the attention.”

Not my proudest moment as a parent, I confess. We were in the car, the roads were slick, and I was distracted.

I was fixated on my “Santa Dilemma.” I have truthfully answered every hard question my kid has asked: how babies are made; why her parents do not live together; about religion and death.

The last one was the hardest.

But I have told vast lies about Santa, manufactured complex, extensive secondary lies in support of the claim that such a being exists. Now she is old enough to recognize that Santa’s existence is inconsistent with everything else she knows of the world; to analyze the available “evidence” for Santa, for flying reindeer, elves, a village located at the North Pole, and for Mrs. Claus.

If she asked me flat out, I would confess everything. But all she does is probe around the edges, and I cannot bring myself to utter the words.

I made it all up.

The gnawing guilt over whether I am making the right choice between destroying the magic or allowing the magnitude of betrayal to grow with each passing year got in the way of my hearing the question behind the question.

Why does Santa Claus think it’s bad to cry?

Two days later, I got it.

“Mom, if you get on the bad list, do you stay on it forever, or is it just for that year?”

My daughter’s voice was tremulous and thick with emotion. We were in the car again, on the same slick roads. But all at once, it hit me.

When she cries, it is usually over something real, something that merits tears. Someone stopped being her friend at school. Or she misses someone in her family.

Why indeed would Santa think that’s “bad?” Who is Santa to decide?

This is not a concept I have taught her. We have no “naughty and nice” lists. Our Elf gets played with like a doll. He never spies or tattles. Yet somehow my daughter has picked up on the concept.

I shut it down.

“I know some of the songs talk about that. Or maybe your friends at school talk about it. But Santa Claus does not do that in our family. We don’t have naughty and nice lists. All the kids in our family are on the nice list because all the grownups love them no matter what. Those songs are just silly things people say. It does not work that way in our family.”

As Pinto and Nemorin observe:

Under normal circumstances, children’s behaviour (i.e., what is “naughty” and what is “nice”) is situated in social contexts and mediated by human beings (peers, parents, and teachers) where the child conceptualizes actions and emotions in relation to other people and how they feel.

 

Through play, children become aware about others’ perspectives: in other words, they cultivate understandings about social relationships. The Elf on the Shelf essentially teaches the child to accept an external form of non-familial surveillance in the home when the elf becomes the source of power and judgment, based on a set of rules attributable to Santa Claus.

… Broadly speaking, The Elf on the Shelf serves functions that are aligned to the official functions of the panopticon. In doing so, it contributes to the shaping of children as governable subjects.

Christmas listBefore a certain age, children’s behavior is either genetic or it is learned from their environment. Manipulating them with an omniscient, omnipotent “daddy” overseer—a god-power with a jolly laugh and a bag full of rewards for conformance—is just passing the buck.

I prefer to let my daughter learn right and wrong by interacting with real people, not under threats from imaginary spies. I prefer to let her enjoy the magic of the season.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.
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