“Big Government” Vs Snowden

Since President Obama took office, conservatives have railed almost continuously against “big government” and “government spending.” They have latched onto these memes as tightly (and with about as much intelligence) as a starfish trying to pull open a clam—though I must say I don’t recall hearing a peep about these concerns during Bush’s 2 terms.

So by all rights and logic, Edward Snowden should be a hero of the conservatives, shouldn’t he? After all, the NSA surveillance program he revealed was large and expensive. And even more anti-conservative, its whole purpose was to gather and store massive amounts of data on everybody in America. That’s something they used to do in East Germany, not the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Heck, during the time of the founding fathers, many argued against having a CENSUS because that would be a major infringement on freedom. “You want to know how many people live in my house? Bugger off!” So you can just imagine what they would’ve thought about the government compiling a list of everyone you ever wrote or spoke to.

That must mean conservatives want to give Snowden the Medal of Freedom and a lifetime fellowship at the Heritage Foundation, right? Nah, they want to kill him. Their only debate is whether to just kill him or to give him a fair trial and then kill him.

What’s with this? Well, it’s because conservatives really don’t believe in their own memes. They’re not against big government. They’re against big government that protects its people from dying of hunger and treatable medical conditions. But they’re totally FOR big government that protects its people from dying of being blown up by Muslims. They’re not really against government spending. They’re just against government spending that helps ordinary people get an education or keep their homes. They’re totally in favor of government spending (or providing tax breaks—same thing) to help big companies keep their businesses.  

Why this logical inconsistency? Well, I think deep down, conservatives (at least a few) actually do understand that just as it doesn’t matter how many brushes or how much paint Rembrandt used, it’s not the SIZE of government and number of dollars spent that’s important, it’s WHAT that government does with its size and spending that really matters. Thing is, when you get down to it, what they want the government to do are things that benefit only THEM. Keep me safe from terrorists (who could strike ANYWHERE!)? Fine. Keep other people (particularly those with less income and darker skin color) safe from illness? What a waste. They probably brought it on themselves anyway.

Now this is actually quite rational. Unfortunately, it’s rational because conservatives realize that the memes “I’m against big government” and “I’m against taxes” sound a whole lot better than their real meme, which is “To heck with you, what about me?” And portraying the progressives’ meme as “Tax and spend” riles up the conservative base a lot more than would the actual progressive meme “We’re all in this together, so let’s see what we can do to make life better for everyone.”

So how about Snowden? Well, is the NSA surveillance program making life better for us all? Does it even help anyone? Doesn’t appear to be much evidence of that—no senator has come forth to say “I saw completely convincing evidence that it foiled a major terrorist attack. Although I can’t tell you the specifics, I have no doubt it worked.” No, the NSA seems to have created a program both sides can hate. It is an expensive overreach that has taken away significant privacy rights with little demonstrable benefit and is now defending itself by playing on overblown fears of personal danger. Snowden didn’t give away the store, he lifted up the flat rock showing the creepy-crawlies hiding beneath.

Special Needs Court

You’d think I was referring to cognitively impaired benchwarmers like Clarence Thomas, who struggles to follow the complex logical argument implied by the series 1, 2, 3, 4…? (until Antonin Scalia explains it to him). But I just learned that “special needs” is a term for a “special” doctrine the FISA court has been using (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/us/in-secret-court-vastly-broadens-powers-of-nsa.html?hp).

The special needs doctrine allows courts to make exceptions to the 4th amendment’s requirements for search warrants. The camel first stuck his nose under the tent in 1989 when drug testing of railway workers was allowed, and then later expanded to permit drunk-driving checkpoints and airport screenings. Now, the doctrine has become the workhorse of the FISA court to allow whatever government intrusion they want (such as that of the current brouhaha about storing data on all of everyone’s emails and phone calls) as long as they can convince themselves that the haystack they’re searching theoretically just might perhaps contain a needle “relevant to a terrorism investigation or other intelligence activities.” “Other intelligence activities” is pretty broad, don’t you think? So what else are they snooping in? Well, it’s secret (I mean, that’s the whole point of having a secret court. It wouldn’t be secret if everyone knew what you’re doing.) But if you think that all they’re doing is storing metadata, let’s you try a little experiment. Call up one of your friends (not me!!) every couple days and talk about how to make a dirty bomb. See what happens. Think you’ll find a lot of friends willing to help in this experiment? Does the idea of doing this make you just a teeny bit nervous? No? Bet your house and your job? Thought so. Even those of you who really trust the current administration now have a little twinge in the back of your mind about what you say.

“Special needs.” Right. “We ‘specially need to ignore the 4th Amendment because it’s kinda inconvenient to keepin’ tabs on all you numbnuts out there.” If we really think it’s a good idea to amend (or repeal) the 4th amendment, well then shouldn’t we just man up, debate the issue publicly, decide what the exceptions to needing search warrants are, and then hold a state-by-state vote, just like the Constitution requires? But then the exceptions wouldn’t be secret! The evildoers will know what we’re doing!

A word about secrecy. Some of you may be old enough (or well-read enough) to remember the “secret” bombing of Cambodia in 1970 during the Vietnam war (triggered the deadly Kent State protests). Do you think that the thousands of tons of bombs falling on their heads was “secret” from the North Vietnamese sneaking through Cambodia? From the Cambodians whose country was being carpet bombed? No, they all thought it was pretty damn obvious! It was actually only “secret” from us, from we-the-people in whose name it was being done. Same with the snooping and spying. Every evildoer who didn’t just walk down from the goat pasture knows that he’s likely to be: followed, bugged, wiretapped, watched by satellite, listened to by directional mikes, have every electronic communication monitored in real-time, and probably tracked by genetically-engineered mind-reading wolves that understand Arabic. They assume all that! It’s we who must be kept in the dark.

These “special needs” programs to circumvent the Constitution are bullshit. I don’t know if this is how the terrorists win, but I sure know it’s how Americans lose.