Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Public Subsidies Tarnish the Arts

Public Subsidies Tarnish the Arts

While visiting Wichita in October, I learned that city government subsidies for the arts is a contentious issue. I’d like to offer a perspective: Don’t do it. Art is too important to be dependent on politicians, and injecting politics into anything inevitably tarnishes it.

Those “studies” that purport to show X return on Y amount of government arts spending are a laughingstock among economists. The numbers are cooked and almost never compared to alternative uses of tax money. Even less frequently do subsidy advocates consider what people might choose to do if their earnings weren’t taxed away in the first place.

What if “public investment” simply displaces a certain amount of private investment? Arts subsidy advocates never raise this issue, but I know that I personally am far less likely to make a charitable donation to something I know is on the dole than to something that depends on the good hearts of willing givers.

And money that comes voluntarily from the heart is more meaningful than money that comes at gunpoint (taxes). For that reason I don’t believe in either arts welfare or shotgun marriages.

Law Enforcement’s Secret “Super Search Engine” Amasses Trillions of Phone Records for Decades

Law Enforcement’s Secret “Super Search Engine” Amasses Trillions of Phone Records for Decades

Although the government still hides too much information about a secret telephone records surveillance program known as Hemisphere, we have learned through EFF’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits that police tout the massive database of private calls as “Google on Steroids" [pdf].

Hemisphere, which AT&T operates on behalf of federal, state, and local law enforcement, contains trillions of domestic and international phone call records dating back to 1987. AT&T adds roughly four billion phone records to Hemisphere each day [.pptx], including calls from non-AT&T customers that pass through the company’s switches.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and other federal, state and local police use Hemisphere to not only track when and who someone is calling, but to perform complicated traffic analysis that can dynamically map people’s social networks and physical locations. This even includes knowing when someone changes their phone number.

And federal officials often do it without first getting permission from a judge.

Indeed, Hemisphere was designed to be extremely secret, with police instructed to do everything possible to make sure the program never appeared in the public record. After using Hemisphere to obtain private information about someone, police usually cover up their use of Hemisphere by later obtaining targeted data about suspects from phone providers through traditional subpoenas, a process the police call “parallel construction” and that EFF calls “evidence laundering.”

Government Treats Same Information Differently in FOIA Cases

Government secrecy about Hemisphere has extended to refusing to disclose basic records about the program, and EFF has had to sue federal and California law enforcement to win access to this critical information. EFF filed another round of briefing in federal court in November calling on the government to provide records as soon as possible, given that we made our FOIA request almost two years ago. The delayed resolution in federal court has stalled a related lawsuit EFF brought against California law enforcement agencies for access to their records about Hemisphere.

We aren’t the only ones suing: the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed similar litigation, which has allowed us to learn even more about Hemisphere, including how the federal government has used inconsistent arguments to avoid public scrutiny of the program.

In EFF’s case earlier this month, the government filed a list of Hemisphere records that the government is withholding from both EFF and EPIC. This list shows the government treated the two requesters differently.  Specifically, the chart shows that out of the 161 pages common to both lawsuits, the government claimed more than twice as many legal reasons to withhold the majority of pages from EFF. The government withheld 151 pages from EFF (but not EPIC) on the grounds that disclosure could interfere with an ongoing law enforcement investigation. And it withheld 107 pages from EFF (but not EPIC) because disclosure would supposedly out confidential informants.

The government has yet to explain why it treated the exact same information so differently in EFF’s and EPIC’s respective FOIA requests. Absent any explanation, the disparate treatment appears highly arbitrary. Moreover, it highlights the large power imbalance between the government and FOIA requesters seeking records.

Agencies know exactly what the documents contain and are in the best position to use or abuse FOIA’s exemptions to withhold them. This asymmetry is often to the government’s advantage. The government’s inconsistent treatment of EFF’s and EPIC’s FOIA requests show why FOIA should better limit officials’ discretion to treat requesters so differently, and better ensure judicial oversight over the entire FOIA process.

Disclosed Docs Show Police View Hemisphere as a “Super Search Engine”

Before the Hemisphere Program came to light in 2013, when a presentation was inadvertently released to a privacy activist, the public knew nothing about the massive phone records dragnet.

Through the program, AT&T assists federal and local law enforcement—often by stationing company staff in police “Fusion Centers”—in accessing and analyzing AT&T’s massive database of call detail records (CDRs). This information includes phone numbers dialed and calls received, as well as the time, date, and length of the call, and sometimes location information.  This information isn’t limited to AT&T customers either.

From the records that have been disclosed in EFF’s lawsuits, we’ve learned that police view the astonishing size and scope of the database as an asset, referring to it as the “Super Search Engine” and “Google on Steroids.” Such descriptions confirm EFF’s worst fears that Hemisphere is a mass surveillance program that threatens core civil liberties.

The program poses severe Fourth Amendment concerns because police are obtaining detailed private information from the call records and learning even more about people’s social connections and physical movements based on pattern analysis. Federal officials do all of this without a warrant or any judicial oversight.

But beyond the Fourth Amendment problems, Hemisphere also poses acute risks to the First Amendment rights of callers caught in the program’s dragnet. Specifically, Hemisphere allows police to see a person’s associations, shedding light on their personal connections and political and social networks. It’s not hard to see such a tool being trained on activists and others critical of law enforcement, or being used by the government to identify entire organizations. We know that law enforcement officials have subjected Black Lives Matter activists to automated social media monitoring, and subjected attendees at gun shows to surveillance by automated license plate readers. Government officials can easily use Hemisphere in similar ways.

The Hemisphere program could not operate without AT&T’s full cooperation. It’s time for AT&T to reconsider its responsibility not only to its customers, but to all Americans who pick up the phone.

Source: Law Enforcement’s Secret “Super Search Engine” Amasses Trillions of Phone Records for Decades | Electronic Frontier Foundation

X-Files Season 11 May Be In Jeopardy

X-Files Season 11 May Be In Jeopardy

The truth about the status of The X-Files season 11 is out there, but fans may want to believe it’s merely fiction. In an interview with Reuters, Gillian Anderson told the wire service that another season is probably won’t happen, saying: “I think it is finished.”

Anderson recently finished shooting two films and has a regular role in Starz’ upcoming American Gods TV series.

More evidence of a rocky negotiation comes from Anne Simon, a reliable source close to Chris Carter and a science adviser for the series.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016



Monday, November 28, 2016

Tax Avoidance Is an American Tradition

Tax Avoidance Is an American Tradition – Megalextoria

Tax Avoidance Is an American Tradition

Thanksgiving approaches, and our colleagues on the left (and some on the right), continue their prolonged apoplectic seizure over Donald Trump’s non-taxpaying ways. The record cries out to be set straight. Tax avoidance is as great an American tradition as eating turkey and pumpkin pie on a particular Thursday in November. Actually, it goes back a little bit farther than our culinary peculiarities.

Today…our rebelliousness is surprisingly, and relative to our ancestors’, embarrassingly mild.

When then-presidential candidate Trump rebutted the attacks on his tax status during the presidential debates by merely saying, “that makes me smart,” every American citizen, despite their views on his perhaps questionable economic policies, should have met him with applause. One wonders how the schoolbook mentions of “taxation without representation,” are so easily forgotten, or why they are never applied to the IRS, a vehicle that makes regulations governing taxation without the representation of the people. Then one realizes that tax-financed schools are unlikely to criticize taxes. Dear reader, you are entitled to some plain speech.

Tax Rebellions in General

Throughout western civilization following the collapse of Rome, mankind recognized quite clearly the evils of taxation. When a government went outside the limits that the requirements of the rights of men imposed upon it, there was powerful public uproar. As noted by Charles Adams in his history of taxes, “Today…our rebelliousness is surprisingly, and relative to our ancestors’, embarrassingly mild. We have great fear of the taxman – our ancestors had malice aforethought.”

Among the non-English speaking states, there were several nations practically forged out of disdain for taxes. The German peasant’s war (the linked account is one of the few times Engels got anything right, and then he proceeds to draw fallacious conclusions) that practically depopulated the Holy Roman Empire was a scream against an economically oppressive, politically entrenched ruling class. The Dutch Republic came out of a rebellion against aggressive excise taxation, and went on to establish a great commercial power based off smuggling to avoid protectionist policies.

Englishmen themselves had a long tradition of resistance to government requisitions. As far back as 1215, King John found himself forced by the nobility of England to sign the Magna Carta; recognizing the principle that English wealth should not, and would not be used to finance wars on foreign soil.

The unhappy subjects picked up a trick from the Dutch – smuggling.

Later in history, King Charles I quite literally lost his head because of his repeated attempts to extort taxes out of the English Parliament. Parliaments of that time remembered that they were founded to check the judicial power of the monarchy. They held the keys to the purse of the nation, and therefore they upheld just rule against the whims of a single man.

The American War for Independence

As people long accustomed to holding such power are want to do, this shortly changed. Because of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Parliament asserted its supremacy over the monarchy once and for all, but its thirst could hardly be slaked by that enormous conquest.

They supported the involvement of the British crown in the Seven Years War, and to pay for it, they asserted unfounded authority over the crown colonies in North America, a jurisdiction accustomed to local self government, and therefore unaccustomed to taxation for the benefit of speculative interests maintained by an aristocracy separated from the tax payer by an entire ocean.

Finally, the freedom-loving Englishmen inhabiting these crown colonies saw fit, after appeal to every other recourse the law gave them, to separate themselves from such tyrannical rule and establish a country devoted to the idea that free men ought to be able to enter into commerce freely. As they said:
“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world … He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation … For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.”
Other grievances on the list read:

“He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures …

One can only hope that more tax avoiders find their way to public office, and replace those that have lived of the public dole ever since graduating high school.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people …

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance …

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures …”

High taxes require massive measures for their enforcement. In the case of King George III, he felt his hand forced by parliament to strip the colonies of their civil liberties and establish martial law over his North American subjects.

John Hancock

The unhappy subjects picked up a trick from the Dutch – smuggling. Modern authors are quick to condemn figures like John Hancock for his “illegal activities,” such as shipping Dutch tea to the colonies without paying duties on it. They forget that the War for Independence was based on the fact that the British government was itself breaking the “laws of nature, and nature’s God.” In this case, the government outlawed the shipping of certain goods, which abrogated the inalienable rights to migration and trade so well defended by an able political theorist of the time, Hugo Grotius. Furthermore, the limited supply of goods now had a tax imposed on it, meaning that the right to property was abridged through licensed theft. All these to pay for a war on foreign soil when the American people paid for their own defense with their own sweat and blood. Hancock was merely exercised his inalienable rights, against which there can be no law.

Later as governor of Massachusetts, he became extraordinarily popular due to his downright refusal to collect confiscatory taxes from the farmers inhabiting the western part of his state. Due to gout, he decided not to stand for office in the period of 1785-87. The newcomer to the position was James Bowdoin, who ought to have been considered unfit to serve because he held an interest in thousands of depreciated Continental notes. Meaning, of course, that he had an acute interest in insuring that his depreciated currency was backed by government credit. Which is difficult to achieve when a bunch of pesky citizens are refusing to pay their taxes. Thus, the impetus for Shay’s rebellion was born.

If we are measuring American patriotism by the standard of freedom so clearly practiced by the founding generation, then one can only hope that more tax avoiders find their way to public office, and replace those that have lived of the public dole ever since graduating high school. Trump merely used legal loopholes to avoid the burden of licensed theft, and the same benefit of the law ought to extend to every person contracting business in the United States.

William Seabolt
William Seabolt is a classical liberal (but his friends think he might just be a contrarian). He has been published in American Thinker.

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Unreliable Informants: IP Addresses, Digital Tips and Police Raids

Unreliable Informants: IP Addresses, Digital Tips and Police Raids

The digital revolution has given law enforcement more tools to help track and identify us than ever before. Yet as law enforcement increasingly relies on electronic evidence to investigate crimes, one of the most readily available tools, Internet Protocol addresses (IP addresses), have become increasingly misused and misunderstood by law enforcement and judges alike.  Law enforcement too often overstates the reliability of IP address information in seeking warrants and other process (such as subpoenas), using metaphors that create a sense of certainty where it does not always exist. Additionally, courts often don’t know what questions to ask about IP address information or how to evaluate its reliability.

The Pretense of Omniscience

The Pretense of Omniscience

The Pretense of Omniscience

The quotation of the day is from page 18 of Ronald Coase‘s and Ning Wang’s superb 2012 book, How China Became Capitalist (footnote deleted):
The tragedy of the Great Leap Forward illustrates that the differences between a command and a market economy reflect a deep difference in mentality and attitude. A market economy can only be tolerated when no one is confident enough to claim omniscience. A point stressed by Hayek, the far-reaching implications of which have yet to be fully recognized, is that the most critical advantage of a market lies less in its allocative efficiency, and more in its free flow of information….  A market economy assumes two deep epistemic commitments: acknowledgement of ignorance and tolerance of uncertainty.
DBx: Yes. Of course, few politicians, professors, or pundits claim to possess actual omniscience. No matter. Many do claim to possess – or to possess an always-mysterious means of divining –  knowledge that is more full and superior to that of individuals on the ground.

FDA officials claim to know better than you and me and our neighbor Smith what level of risks you and me and our neighbor Smith each should be permitted to incur in our medical treatments.

Antitrust officials claim to be able to outguess the competitive market on which particular industrial structures are acceptable and which are harmful.

Bureaucrats and law professors claim to know better than you and me and our neighbor Smith how our eating habits and our retirement plans should be arranged.

Uniformed bureaucrats in the Department of Defense and business-suit-wearing bureaucrats in the Department of State claim to have special knowledge of how to ‘build nations’ abroad.

Experts in econometrics claim to possess expertise in knowing whether or not individual employees ought to be permitted to agree to work at wages below some government-enforced minimum.

Bureaucrats who spend only other people’s money through that great geyser of cronyism, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, claim to know better than any of tens of thousands of investors worldwide – all of whom spend only their own money or money voluntarily entrusted to them – which particular businesses outside of the United States should, and which should not, receive loans in order to efficiently survive in competitive markets.

Politicians and bureaucrats almost everywhere pose as possessors of some special knowledge of optimal land-use patterns.

The list of such arrogance is long and depressing.

Donald J. Boudreaux

Donald Boudreaux is a senior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University, and a former FEE president.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

Revisiting the Creepy and Brilliant “Brady Bunch” Episode of “The X-Files”

Revisiting the Creepy and Brilliant “Brady Bunch” Episode of “The X-Files” 

Nostalgia can be a real killer.

The sad passing of legendary actress Florence Henderson has surely compelled many fans of her work to spend today revisiting episodes of “The Brady Bunch.” Henderson of course played the always cheerful Carol Brady in the series, then and forever dubbed “America’s mom” due to the fact that, well, pretty much everyone wanted Carol Brady to be their mom. The moniker was a testament to Henderson’s likability and talents as an actress, to say the very least.

Thinking back on “The Brady Bunch” today, I was reminded of one of my absolute favorite episodes of “The X-Files” – though Florence Henderson did not appear in it, the episode was a love letter to the show that made her a household name. That episode, titled “Sunshine Days,” was the penultimate one in the final season of the original “X-Files” series – the show of course returned for a limited revival earlier this year – and it seemed only fitting to revisit today.

“Sunshine Days” kicks off with two young friends sneaking into a house that they believe to be the fictional Brady house – Blake insists it’s where the television series was filmed, but Mike (“Married With Children” star David Faustino) isn’t convinced. The two friends enter the house and not only is it laid out exactly like the Brady home, but the Brady family seems to be living in it. In a creepy moment inspired by The Shining, Blake encounters Bobby and Cindy in the upstairs hallway, and it’s not long before he’s hurled through the roof by a supernatural force.

In the wake of Blake’s bizarre murder, FBI agents Doggett, Reyes, and Scully are called onto the scene, and they find that the alleged Brady house doesn’t actually look like the Brady house at all. It’s a normal home that bears no resemblance to the one from the show, despite Mike’s insistence that he’s sure of what he saw. In the episode’s most chilling sequence, Mike returns to the house on his own and finds that he didn’t hallucinate the previous night’s events: peering through the windows, Mike sees the entire Brady family eating dinner in the kitchen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Antic – April 1983

Antic – April 1983

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Irony Everyone’s Missing in the Hamilton-Pence Controversy

The Irony Everyone’s Missing in the Hamilton-Pence Controversy

The Irony Everyone’s Missing in the Hamilton-Pence Controversy

Four days after Mike Pence was lectured by the cast of the hit musical Hamilton and booed by its audience, the controversy rages on. President-elect Trump sent out the expected angry tweet demanding an apology. The left melodramatically gasped, “freedom of speech,” even though no one has suggested government action against the actors. And, suddenly, the right is more offended than an SJW at an Ann Coulter lecture. Even Trump whined about the theater being a “safe space.”

The only person who doesn’t have a strong opinion on this is Mike Pence. He handled the situation with uncommon grace, shrugging off the boos from the crowd with a line for the ages: “That is what freedom sounds like.”

All of this pales in comparison to the supreme irony everyone is missing in this whole overblown controversy. Here we have the cast of a musical that holds Alexander Hamilton in an admiring light expressing deep anxiety about a president who just won a stunning upset victory after running his campaign largely based on the political ideas of – wait for it – Alexander Hamilton.

Is Trump "Literally" Hitler?

The left likes to characterize Trump as the new Hitler. And while references to the dictator are never absent from political hyperbole, one can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a bit more legitimacy to them when it comes to The Donald. Even the creator of Godwin’s law won’t dismiss the comparison out of hand.

American conservatism was always about creating an American version of the mercantilist British Empire and it really never changed.

Superficially, there is something there. Trump appeals to the same kind of nationalist worldview that inspired Hitler’s supporters. Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” isn’t substantively different from Hitler’s. Neither are his arguments for what has caused the decline: corrupt politicians who have sold out the nation, the presence of subversive or merely unwanted elements (Jews and communists for Hitler; illegal immigrants and Muslim refugees for Trump), and inept economic policy, meaning not enough, or the wrong kind, of state intervention.

Like Hitler, Trump touts himself as the only hope to save his country, a strongman-type leader who will run a command economy, rid the country of subversive elements, and restore lost international respect. His disdain for civil liberties like free speech and open support of torture are an even more chilling similarity. For Trump, government isn’t the problem, it’s the solution, as long as the right leader is running it.

But for all the similarities, there are important differences. Despite the implication of Hamilton star Brandon Victor Dixon’s comments, Trump certainly can’t be accused of sharing Hitler’s racial beliefs. Trump’s wall to keep out illegal immigrants from Mexico will have a yuuuuge door in the middle to admit legal immigrants of the same ethnicity. He has repeatedly voiced his admiration and respect for the Chinese, because “you can still respect someone who’s knocking the hell out of you.”

Most striking is Trump’s foreign policy differences with the F├╝hrer. While Trump does advocate some sort of military action against ISIS, he’s strikingly noninterventionist in general. His willingness to admit the Iraq War was a mistake and his general view that America should start questioning its ongoing military posture everywhere, including NATO, are the opposite of the military aggressiveness integral to Hitler’s plan from the beginning.

Trump's High Federalism

So what do you call Trump’s brand of nationalism, if not outright fascism? If you take away the boorishness of Trump’s personality and insert more thoughtful, elegant rhetoric, you’d call it traditional American conservatism, before it was infiltrated by more libertarian ideas. American conservatism was always about creating an American version of the mercantilist British Empire and it really never changed. Its founding champion was Alexander Hamilton, who told his fellow delegates at the Constitutional Convention America should imitate Great Britain as closely as possible.

Trump’s plan has all the hallmarks of the infrastructure boondoggles that lost election after election for the Federalists and Whigs in the 19th century.

From the moment he became the first Secretary of the Treasury, Hamilton argued for a strong central government that subsidized domestic corporations to build roads and infrastructure, levied high protectionist tariffs, and ran a central bank. This was the Federalist platform for the party’s entire existence. Once the Federalist Party died, Henry Clay and the Whigs adopted it. From the ashes of the Whigs emerged Lincoln and the Republicans, who were finally able to install Clay’s “American System” after decades of electoral failure.

The Republican Party has remained startlingly consistent in its economic principles, despite incorporating free market rhetoric in the 20th century. Republicans from Lincoln to McKinley to Coolidge to George W. Bush have been protectionists. Hoover reacted to the Depression by signing the Smoot-Hawley tariff, for all the same reasons Trump threatens tariffs now. And what was the first thing Republicans did in the 1950s, after two decades electoral exile? A huge government roads project that had Hamilton smiling in his grave.

Trump promises more of the same, justifying his stance against international nation-building by saying, “I just think we have to rebuild our country.” And despite a white paper arguing for a partially-privatized road system, Trump’s plan will require $167 billion in government funds and has all the hallmarks of the infrastructure boondoggles that lost election after election for the Federalists and Whigs in the 19th century.

Charles C.W. Cooke pointed out additional ironies when he tweeted, “For the record, Alexander Hamilton was an immigration hawk who endorsed the Alien and Sedition Acts and wanted to deport troublemakers.” That makes the hand-wringing of the cast and fans of Hamliton over Trump’s threats against immigration, and against the freedom to speak truth to power, extra rich.

Even Trump’s campaign slogan was Hamiltonian. Hamilton’s stated political goal was “national greatness.” I kid you not.

Trump isn’t Hitler. He’s Hamilton, advocating the kind of centralist government Hamilton spoke about in secret at the Constitutional Convention and attempted to achieve surreptitiously throughout the rest of his political life by eroding the same limits on federal government power he had trumpeted to sell the Constitution in the Federalist Papers. Trump wants to be Hamilton’s elected king, running a crony-capitalist, mercantilist economy just as Hamilton envisioned.

Even Trump’s campaign slogan was Hamiltonian. Hamilton’s stated political goal was “national greatness.” I kid you not.

And while Hamilton was certainly a more eloquent and well-mannered spokesman for conservatism, Trump is superior to him in at least one way: Hamilton was a military interventionist, whose ambition to conquer the colonial possessions of Spain was much more like Hitler’s desire to seize the Ukraine for Germany than anything Trump wants to do internationally.

One has to wonder: is that the real reason neoconservatives like Bill Kristol, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham are so anti-Trump?

Tom Mullen
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. For more information and more of Tom's writing, visit

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

My Freedom Trumps Your Fake Mandate

My Freedom Trumps Your Fake Mandate

The election of Donald Trump proved to be a major upset of a political and media establishment blinded by hubris. The establishment took their superiority—technological, cultural, economic, moral, etc—for granted and paid the price. They believed they had a mandate to rule and influence the people by virtue of this supposed superiority, but were proven otherwise.

In particular, the fact that Donald Trump’s demotic speech and use of social media bodes well for the future of political debate, left and right alike. What many considered to be Trump’s inarticulate babble ultimately supplanted the refined propaganda techniques of the elite. Donald Trump is certainly an excellent self-promoter, but at least he didn’t sell himself to the masses like soap or the latest pop music phenom in crisp packaging and poll-tested slogans. Trump’s victory was, in a way, a vindication of the everyman’s manner of speaking and his place in the political sphere, and I say this despite my reservations with Trump’s agenda.

“Power gives us a guarantee,” the people will chant, “and set us free from the risks of liberty!”

But, what if the establishment isn’t the only group taking their moral superiority and mandate to rule for granted? What if, in the heat of passion and resentment, the American people are taking their own ideals for granted?

How long can America remain a free society if all we do is pay lip-service to the cornerstone of the American republic—the presumption of individual liberty—without truly defining or defending liberty in the first place? How long can America remain exceptional if we only presume ourselves free and morally superior while demanding the government to act in any way “the people” please, contra the nation’s founding ideals?

If the establishment could be so blind to their impending folly, could the same thing happen to the United States in terms of its standing as a free society? How can any president or Congress have a mandate to rule when they fail to respect the basic point and purpose of American government—to protect individual rights?

How a Free People Can Come to Love Their Serfdom

Say, you thought the human race could not be trusted with their freedom. How would you go about subjugating a people proud of their liberty?

If you tried to do so by sheer force, you would most likely be unsuccessful. Once a people have tasted liberty, they tend to be willing to die to keep it—that is, if they do not kill you first. Resistance to your overt suppressions would be spontaneous and fluid. You would be trying to stop a river with your bare hands. Every single stamp of your boot would create multitudes of martyrs and scores of new enemies devoted to ending your tyrannical aspirations.

Even if you somehow found victory through brute force, your legitimacy would hang by a thread. “Might makes right” is not only a dead letter among thinking men but an invidious invitation to imposters and imitators ready to supplant your rule. Not even tyrants wish to sleep with one eye open night after night. Even they wish to dream in peace once in awhile.

But, what if, instead of this conspicuously violent approach, you were able to put the people themselves to sleep, to hypnotize them? What if you were able to trick a free people into deceiving themselves? What if, in the name of freedom, you could convince a people to forsake their freedom? What if you could nudge them into a suicide pact in the hope of avoiding national suicide?

All concerns are now seen as worthy altars upon which to sacrifice human liberty–as long as they are popular enough.

To do so, you would need to confuse people into thinking their liberty was merely a matter of sharing in the promises of power—say, convince them their right to vote and dictate the lives of others was more important than their individual right to think, speak, and act freely—and then watch their lust for this power make them regard liberty with jealousy and fear.

You would also need to suggest liberty is just another good in the marketplace of ideas rather than the cornerstone of a just society. You could claim liberty should be “balanced” or even sacrificed for the sake of security, wealth, health, equality, or the nation’s greatness. You could do this until the people themselves start singing the same chorus that all the solutions to all the world’s ills have a price tag marked with “our freedom.”

“Power gives us a guarantee,” the people will chant, “and set us free from the risks of liberty!”

Has “What if?” Become Reality?

What if this scenario isn’t merely a hypothetical, but a creeping reality?

Unfortunately, I fear much of the American electorate has reached this point—fearful and jealous of liberty yet hopeful in the promise of power to save them from the ills of the world—and thus, the people are willing to trade their liberties and trample on the liberties of others for the sake of security or even simply keeping the opposition party out of power. In contravention of their constitutional traditions and founding based upon the presumption of liberty, the American people have come to accept a system of government that defines authority not by virtue of individual rights, not by individual moral standards regarding political force, but by the idea that the might and desires of the collective supersedes all other considerations.

Liberals Don’t Really F**king Love Science

Liberals Don’t Really F**king Love Science

Democrats tend to fondly think of themselves as being members of “the party of science.” As evidence that the Republicans are “anti-science” they point to Republican skepticism about man-made climate change and the efforts by some local bible-believing conservatives to have creationism taught in public school biology classes. But as I have reported, there is plenty of anti-science to go around, especially if science is seen as telling partisans something that they don’t want to believe. Unfortunately when science intersects with public policy, it is all too often confirmation bias all the way down.

Over at the City Journal, John Tierney, a contributing science columnist for the New York Times, has written a terrific article, “The Real War on Science,” which he makes the case that “the Left has done far more than the Right to set back progress.” Tierney correctly observes lots of leftwing partisans forget that science is applied skepticism and instead treat “science” as a collection of dogmas. What dogmas? “The Left’s zeal to find new reasons to regulate has led to pseudoscientific scaremongering about “Frankenfoods,” transfats, BPA in plastic, mobile phones, electronic cigarettes, power lines, fracking, and nuclear energy,” summarizes Tierney. And let’s not forget Rachel Carson’s thoroughly debunked claim that exposure to trace amounts of synthetic chemicals is a major cause of cancer or the assertion the current average consumption of salt is a major cause of cardiovascular disease. Tierney is correct when he writes:

[T]he fundamental problem with the Left is what Friedrich Hayek called the fatal conceit: the delusion that experts are wise enough to redesign society. Conservatives distrust central planners, preferring to rely on traditional institutions that protect individuals’ “natural rights” against the power of the state. Leftists have much more confidence in experts and the state. Engels argued for “scientific socialism,” a redesign of society supposedly based on the scientific method. Communist intellectuals planned to mold the New Soviet Man. Progressives yearned for a society guided by impartial agencies unconstrained by old-fashioned politics and religion. Herbert Croly, founder of the New Republicand a leading light of progressivism, predicted that a “better future would derive from the beneficent activities of expert social engineers who would bring to the service of social ideals all the technical resources which research could discover.”

This was all very flattering to scientists, one reason that so many of them leaned left. The Right cited scientific work when useful, but it didn’t enlist science to remake society—it still preferred guidance from traditional moralists and clerics. The Left saw scientists as the new high priests, offering them prestige, money, and power. The power too often corrupted. Over and over, scientists yielded to the temptation to exaggerate their expertise and moral authority, sometimes for horrendous purposes.

Among the horrendous purposes cited by Tierney was the widespread support by leftists of eugenics in the first half of the 20th century. Tierney also describes how the social sciences have evolved into a Leftwing intellectual monoculture that deleteriously and comprehensively distorts the findings of social psychology, political science, anthropology, and sociology.

Don’t Blame Free Trade. We Don’t Have It.

Don’t Blame Free Trade. We Don’t Have It.

Don't Blame Free Trade. We Don't Have It.

“Trump has heaped scorn upon those Republicans who have worshiped at the alter of unfettered free trade.”  - Joe Scarborough, May 22, 2016

“I wouldn’t say that you know this free trade obsession is something that can’t get looked at in regard to making things more fair.” – Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, November 14, 2016
When you add up all forms of trade barriers imposed between 1990 and 2013, the biggest protectionist in the world isn’t China or Mexico, but the United States.

One of the most pervasive themes of the last year is the notion that America’s populist uprising, and the success of President-elect Donald Trump, has in large part been a direct response to the United States’ – and in particular the Republican Party’s – libertarian obsession with “unfettered” free trade.  MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Scarborough, quoted above, has been a big cheerleader of this argument, which has been treated on his show and elsewhere in the media as obvious truth.  And now we see one of the few official members of the future Trump administration, Reince Priebus, repeating the notion, signaling to the country that America’s great free trade moment might be ending.  Clearly, the idea is prevalent and persuasive.

But it is also dead wrong.

First, although the United States maintains a relatively low average import tariff of around 3 percent, it also applies high tariffs on a wide array of “politically-sensitive” (read: highly lobbied) products: 131.8% on peanuts; 35% on tuna; 20% on various dairy products; 25% on light trucks; 16% on wool sweaters, just to name a few.  (Agriculture is particularly bad in this regard.)  We also maintain a long list of restrictive quotas on products like sugar, cheese, canned tuna, brooms, cotton, and baby formula.  And although the U.S. has 14 free trade agreements (FTAs) with 20 different countries and is a longstanding member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), many of these same “sensitive” products have been exempted from the agreements’ trade liberalization commitments.  Free trade for thee, but not for me.

Second, while America’s tariffs and other “formal” trade barriers have indeed been declining for decades, they are only a small part of the overall story.  U.S. non-tariff barriers – export subsidies, discriminatory regulations, “buy local” rules, “fair trade” duties, etc. – have exploded in recent years.  In fact, according to a recent analysis by Credit Suisse, when you add up all forms of trade barriers imposed between 1990 and 2013, the biggest protectionist in the world isn’t China or Mexico but none other than… the United States:

A look at U.S. “trade defense” measures (what we call “trade remedies” – anti-dumping, countervailing duty and safeguards measures) is revealing in this regard.  According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, the United States as of October 31 imposes 373 special protective duties on a wide range of products, more than 90 of which came in the last three years alone (i.e., since chart above on U.S. protectionism was produced):

Chinese imports face 140 of these special duties, which can often be as high as 100%, and one sector in particular has benefited from the import protection: iron & steel.  Incredibly, the U.S. industry that benefits from over half of all anti-dumping and countervailing duty (AD/CVD) orders on imports is also the same sector that has been constantly cited by President-elect Trump and his political and media cheerleaders as the biggest victim of America’s supposed religious devotion to “unfettered” free trade:

Other sectors supposedly crushed by the scourge of libertarian trade policy, such as chemicals and agricultural products, also disproportionately benefit from trade remedies protection.

These facts demonstrate quite clearly that American manufacturing and agribusiness, as well their workers, are, in fact, a far cry from being the “unprotected” victims of “unfettered” free trade.  They also should indicate that the commercial failures of U.S. steel or textiles or other sectors, as well the suffering of America’s working class, have not resulted from a lack of trade protectionism.  There is plenty of protection available, and many U.S. industries take full advantage.

If this is “free trade,” then I shudder to think of what’s coming next.

For the steel industry, at least, things are looking up: they have a true champion, former Nucor CEO Dan DiMicco, in charge of picking the next U.S. Trade Representative – a move that, you’ll be shocked to learn, has been cheered by Leo Gerard, the president of the U.S. steelworkers union.  Finally, these poor, unprotected saps will get the fair shake in the global economy that they, and President-elect Trump, think they deserve.

Unfortunately, American consumers, including the millions of workers employed in steel-consuming industries, will be stuck with the bill.

Republished from The Cato Institute.

Scott Lincicome
Scott Lincicome is an international trade attorney with extensive experience in trade litigation before the United States Department of Commerce, the US International Trade Commission (ITC), the US Court of International Trade, the European Commission and the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.

BLiP – July 1983

BLiP – July 1983

Monday, November 21, 2016

‘Extreme surveillance’ becomes UK law with barely a whimper

‘Extreme surveillance’ becomes UK law with barely a whimper

A bill giving the UK intelligence agencies and police the most sweeping surveillance powers in the western world has passed into law with barely a whimper, meeting only token resistance over the past 12 months from inside parliament and barely any from outside.

The Investigatory Powers Act, passed on Thursday, legalises a whole range of tools for snooping and hacking by the security services unmatched by any other country in western Europe or even the US.

The security agencies and police began the year braced for at least some opposition, rehearsing arguments for the debate. In the end, faced with public apathy and an opposition in disarray, the government did not have to make a single substantial concession to the privacy lobby.

US whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted: “The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”

Snowden in 2013 revealed the scale of mass surveillance – or bulk data collection as the security agencies prefer to describe it – by the US National Security Agency and the UK’s GCHQ, which work in tandem.

But, against a backdrop of fears of Islamist attacks, the privacy lobby has failed to make much headway. Even in Germany, with East Germany’s history of mass surveillance by the Stasi and where Snowden’s revelations produced the most outcry, the Bundestag recently passed legislation giving the intelligence agencies more surveillance powers.

The US passed a modest bill last year curtailing bulk phone data collection but the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election is potentially a major reverse for privacy advocates. On the campaign trail, Trump made comments that implied he would like to use the powers of the surveillance agencies against political opponents.

The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Strasburger, one of the leading voices against the investigatory powers bill, said: “We do have to worry about a UK Donald Trump. If we do end up with one, and that is not impossible, we have created the tools for repression. If Labour had backed us up, we could have made the bill better. We have ended up with a bad bill because they were all over the place.

“The real Donald Trump has access to all the data that the British spooks are gathering and we should be worried about that.”

The Investigatory Powers Act legalises powers that the security agencies and police had been using for years without making this clear to either the public or parliament. In October, the investigatory powers tribunal, the only court that hears complaints against MI6, MI5 and GCHQ, ruled that they had been unlawfully collecting massive volumes of confidential personal data without proper oversight for 17 years.

The “Hamilton” cast’s condescending attitude toward Mike Pence is why Donald Trump won in the first place

The “Hamilton” cast’s condescending attitude toward Mike Pence is why Donald Trump won in the first place

Imagine a president of the United States who rounded up and deported more immigrants than any other in history; put an entire generation of black men in jail with their draconian anti-drug policies; ran a horrid racist campaignagainst America’s first black president; attacked victims of sexual assault; or had policies that were responsible for the deaths of countless innocent civilians?

Would the cast of “Hamilton” give a special wag-of-the-finger message to such leaders during their performance?

Of course they wouldn’t—they absolutely love and adore Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton.
 When Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a “Hamilton” performance Friday night, the cast made a spectacle of his presence. “We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights,” said actor Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr in the hit Broadway musical.
“We truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”

I don’t disagree at all with this sentiment. I have had similar concerns when it comes to Donald Trump’s administration and have been an outspoken against the bigotry, racism, misogyny and other troubling aspects of what his campaign represented.

But what do you think the millions of Americans who voted for Trump perceive when they see cast members of the most popular musical ever appearing to lecture the next vice president—who was merely attending a Broadway show?

It’s patronizing. It’s insulting.

It’s yet another example of the pomposity of entertainers and celebrities who fancy themselves as guardians of acceptable thought and speech, and so many Americans are just plain tired of it.

This condescending attitude of the cultural elite is also part of why Trump won in the first place.

The “Hamilton” cast’s behavior is a prime example of the “smug style in American liberalism” described at length by Vox’s Emmett Rensin:
There is a smug style in American liberalism. It has been growing these past decades. It is a way of conducting politics, predicated on the belief that American life is not divided by moral difference or policy divergence — not really —but by the failure of half the country to know what’s good for them.

In 2016, the smug style has found expression in media and in policy, in the attitudes of liberals both visible and private, providing a foundational set of assumptions above which a great number of liberals comport their understanding of the world.
British actor and comedian Tom Walker—a progressive vehemently opposed to Trump—made a similar point about the left’s attitude toward those outside their political and cultural bubble in an angry but poignant video rant after the election.

“Not everyone that voted for Trump is a sexist or a racist,’ Walker yells.

Source: The “Hamilton” cast’s condescending attitude toward Mike Pence is why Donald Trump won in the first place

Friday, November 18, 2016

Versa Computing, Inc.

Versa Computing, Inc.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Digital Security Tips for Protesters

Digital Security Tips for Protesters

After the election, individuals took to the streets across the country to express their outrage and disappointment at the result of the U.S. presidential election. Many protesters may not be aware of the unfortunate fact that exercising their First Amendment rights may open themselves up to certain risks. Those engaging in peaceful protest may be subject to search or arrest, have their movements and associations mapped, or otherwise become targets of surveillance and repression. It is important that in a democracy citizens exercise their right to peaceably assemble, and demonstrators should be aware of a few precautions they can take to keep themselves and their data safe. Here we present 10 security tips for protesting in the digital age.
  1. Enable full-disk encryption on your device
Full-disk encryption ensures that the files across your entire device are encrypted. This is a form of encryption that protects data at rest, as compared to in-transit encryption, which protects data that is transferred over the Internet. Full-disk encryption protects everything from your local database of text messages to the passwords you have stored in your browser. This is useful in case your device is confiscated by police, but also protects you in situations where the device is lost or stolen. Protest situations are often unpredictable, so losing your phone is distinct possibility.

Recent versions of Android and iOS require full-disk encryption capabilities to be built into devices. These should be protected by a strong password, 8-12 random characters that are nonetheless easy to remember and type in when you unlock your device. If devices are not protected by a strong password, the encryption may be easier to break using a brute force attack.Recent editions of the iPhone have employed specialized hardware to protect against this type of attack, but a complex password is still advisable.
  1. Remove fingerprint unlock
In the past, iOS and Android used the same password to both boot your phone and to unlock it. Recently, both iOS and Android introduced a mechanism to allow you to unlock your device with your fingerprint. This is a convenient way to ensure that you enjoy the benefits of full-disk encryption without sacrificing convenience. However, in protest situations we suggest you turn this functionality off. A police officer can physically force you to unlock your device with your fingerprint. And as a legal matter, while the state of the law is in flux, there is currently less protection against compelled fingerprint unlocking than compelled password disclosure. You can always add your fingerprint back to the device after you’ve left the protest.

In iOS, you can disable this by going into Settings -> Touch ID & Passcode and removing each of the fingerprints in this menu.

In Android, disabling this feature may depend on your device manufacturer. For Nexus devices, go into Settings -> Security -> Nexus Imprint and delete the fingerprints from this menu.
  1. Take photos and videos without unlocking your device
Catching that perfect shot is something you want to be ready for, and powerful images can help bolster the cause. If you've chosen a strong password, entering it into the device takes precious time, and you risk the moment passing before you're able to take the shot. Luckily, newer versions of iOS and Android allow you to take photos and videos without unlocking your device, giving you the time to capture the moment.

With Android Nexus devices, double-press the power button.

At the iOS lock screen, you can swipe to the right.
  1. Install Signal
Signal is an app available on both iOS and Android that offers strong encryption to protect both text messages and voice calls. This type of protection is called end-to-end encryption, which secures your communications in transit (as discussed in tip #1). Other apps, such as WhatsApp, have implemented underlying cryptography. But we believe Signal is the better option because it implements best practices for secure messaging.

In addition to encrypting one-to-one communication, Signal enables encrypted group chats. The app also recently added the functionality of having messages disappear ranging anywhere from 10 seconds to a week after they are first read. In contrast to some other services like SnapChat, these ephemeral messages will never be stored on any server, and are removed from your device after disappearing.

Recently, a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia issued a subpoena to Open Whisper Systems, the maintainers of Signal. Because of the architecture of Signal, which limits the user metadata stored on the company’s servers, the only data they were able to provide was "the date and time a user registered with Signal and the last date of a user's connectivity to the Signal service."
  1. Read our Surveillance Self Defense (SSD) guide for street-level protests
Know your rights when attending protests with our SSD module on the topic:
  1. Use a prepaid, disposable phone
If you're really concerned with the data stored on your device, don't bring it at all and pick up a prepaid mobile phone. These lower-end devices can be purchased along with a SIM card at most large retail stores, and current federal regulation does not require you to show your ID (but your state may). Let your friends know your temporary number, and use this to coordinate activities. Remember that the location of mobile devices can be determined by the cell towers they connect to, so if you don't want your identity known, turn off your prepaid device before going home or anywhere that might lead to your identity. Using GPS should be safe, since GPS is a receiver and does not transmit any information, but your device may store your coordinates. For this reason, we suggest you turn off location services. When you're done with the phone, it can be safely recycled or discarded from a location that is not linked to you. Keep in mind that if you carry both your regular device and a prepaid one with you, the location of these devices can be correlated as a way to compromise your anonymity.
  1. Back up your data
Take precautions to limit the possible costs that can be incurred by the loss of a device. Backing up your data regularly and storing that backup in a safe place can save you a headache later on.
  1. Consider biking or walking to the protest
Automated License Plate Reader Systems (ALPRs) automatically record the license plates of cars driving through an area, along with the exact time, date, and location they were encountered. This technology is often used by law enforcement, or employed by private companies such as Vigilant and MVTrac who then share license plate data with law enforcement and other entities. Amassed in huge databases, this data is retained for an unknown period of time. These companies have lobbied and litigated vigorously against statutes that would ban the private collection of license plate data or otherwise regulate ALPRs. Effectively, your location can be tracked over time by your driving habits, with very few legal limits in place as to how this data can be collected and accessed.

Consider using alternative means of transportation if you would prefer that your movements and associations remain private.

Read more in our Street Level Surveillance guide on ALPRs.
  1. Enable airplane mode
Airplane mode ensures that your device will not be transmitting for the duration of your time at the protest, and prevents your location from being tracked. Clearly, this also means that you won't be able to message or call your friends, so plan accordingly. You may want to select a nearby meet up spot where you and your friends can rendezvous if you get separated. You may also want to turn off location services (as discussed in tip #6).
  1. Organizers: consider alternatives to Facebook and Twitter
Facebook and Twitter provide a large user base for you to promote your cause, but these popular social media platforms also carry risks. Viewing an event page, commenting on the event, and stating your intention to attend are all actions viewable by law enforcement if the pages and posts are public, and sometimes even if the pages aren't (subject to a court order). For actions that require a more cautious approach, consider forming a group chat via Signal as described above.

Source: Digital Security Tips for Protesters | Electronic Frontier Foundation

The Electoral College is Vital to Freedom and Peace

The Electoral College is Vital to Freedom and Peace

Michael Moore recently called the system antiquated and only created to protect the dubious “rights” of slave states. Not so. In fact, it was created to protect smaller states from domination by the largest, including slave state Virginia. Let’s remember, the people of the original thirteen states did not have to accept the Constitution. Rhode Island, which passed laws to gradually emancipate its slaves in 1784-87, didn’t ratify it until 1790.

It’s primary reason for holding out was the addition of a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, measures which clarified the restrictions on the power of the federal government, but did not protect slavery. What it did ensure was that larger states like Virginia and Pennsylvania were not able to dictate how Rhode Island governed its internal affairs. The very first clause of the First Amendment, properly understood, prohibited the federal government from establishing a national religion, like the Church of England. Rhode Island, founded in the name of freedom of religion by a man kicked out of Massachusetts because of his religious beliefs, was especially concerned about this.

While some of the particulars are different, the underlying principle remains the same. The United States is a diverse federation of drastically different cultures. Anyone who believes New York City, Atlanta, GA, Boise, ID and Los Angeles, CA aren’t different cultures just aren’t being honest with themselves. As President Obama is so fond of saying, E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one).

There are some laws the federal government enforces within the states, based on its power to regulate interstate commerce. But the executive who enforces those laws must represent the people of every state, especially given how culturally diverse they are. That’s why we have an electoral college. That is why the people of Idaho, many of whom may find the societal values in places like New York or California abhorrent, agree to abide a chief executive who most likely comes from a place like that – because they and their culture have an equal say in electing him, even if they’re outnumbered.

If the shoe were on the other foot and Midwestern evangelical states had a population advantage, you can bet New Yorkers and Californians would be defending the electoral college to the death.

The beauty of our system is that it allows people with vastly different beliefs and values to live together in one federal republic dedicated to protecting their freedom to hold those beliefs, right or wrong, so long as they do not infringe the rights of others.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Heather Morris from Silent Hill (PS2)

Heather Morris from Silent Hill (PS2)

Now Might Be a Great Time to Work on Reining in the Executive

Now Might Be a Great Time to Work on Reining in the Executive

Now Might Be a Great Time to Work on Reining in the Executive

According to the polls, the overarching driving force behind Trump's win was anger toward "elites." Donald Trump’s election is a tremendous challenge for freedom. But like most challenges, it’s also an opportunity. We may have never had this much bipartisan, cross-ideological, popular support for wresting power away from government.

As Jeffrey Tucker put it, “Everyone underestimated the vulnerability of the status quo.” The existing power structures are weak. It’s time to hit them with everything we’ve got.

In case you need a refresher on how powerful our government has become, Donald Trump now commands:

  • A nuclear arsenal capable of destroying planet Earth
  • Human history’s most expensive military
  • An unlimited number of simultaneous secret wars
  • The power to imprison without due process
  • Unilateral assassination power over US citizens
  • Legalized torture
  • Police departments armed with combat weaponry who are unaccountable to the courts
  • The largest prison population in the developed world
  • A vast and unaccountable domestic surveillance apparatus

Somehow the American people allowed the President of the United States to accrue the power to unilaterally assassinate American citizens abroad and then elected Donald Trump to that role. Perhaps now is as good a time as any to re-evaluate the powers accrued to the executive branch.

What We’ve Lost

In his second term, when President Obama boasted: “I’ve got a pen and a phone,” his progressive supporters cheered his get-things-done attitude. Voters of both major parties tend to like Presidents who promise to take command.

Our nation's Framers assumed the three branches of government would remain co-equal.The Framers understood this strongman-loving, authoritarian impulse. Which is why they entrusted the legislative branch with the majority of decision-making power, including the responsibility to elect the President.

Over the last 30 years, we’ve watched Congress cede this responsibility to the executive. Republican and Democrat Presidents have expanded the role of government even during divided governments.

“The United States – particularly over the past decade – has witnessed a legislature unable to muster the political will necessary to adequately oversee, let alone check, the executive branch's growing power,” according to Glenn Sulmasy from a 2008 University of Pennsylvania law review article. 

Bruce Fein, former Associate Deputy Attorney General under President Reagan and former adviser to Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign, marks World War II as the beginning of the end of Congressional power relative to the Executive.

“Our nation’s Framers got a lot right,” wrote Dana Nelson, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt chair of English and American studies at Vanderbilt University. “But they got something major wrong: they assumed that the three branches of our government would remain co-equal, maintaining the Constitution’s delicate balance. Over time, the executive has become the dominant branch. Presidential government replaced congressional government over the course of the 20th century.”

Fein lists examples of executive overreach including:

  • President Truman’s undeclared war against North Korea
  • President Eisenhower’s executive agreements to defend Spain
  • President Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin Resolution regarding Vietnam

Glenn Greenwald writes that the executive has steadily expanded government powers for the last 60 years. The endless war on terror has added fuel to that fire for 15 years. “Both political parties have joined to construct a frightening and unprecedentedly invasive and destructive system of authoritarian power, accompanied by the unbridled authority vested in the executive branch to use it.”

Why Congress Cannot Be Trusted

The problem is that Congress doesn’t actually want to check executive power. There’s nothing for them to gain and everything to lose.

The three major barriers to getting Congress to do their jobs are rational ignorance, the revolving door, and popular support.

Popular support is key here because it’s the only tool we have. Inaction is rational when the stakes and the likelihood of change are low. That’s not the world we’re living in right now.

Congress has no incentive to reign in the executive if they feel that people will see it as them being "soft on terror" or "weak on defense." That’s part of why Congress passed the USA Patriot Act nearly unanimously, and why Congress supported the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ("FISA") and Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

Congress doesn't actually want to check executive power. There's nothing for them to gain and everything to lose.Marco Rubio remarked in late December 2015 of the USA Freedom Act, which reformed the government’s bulk collection of telecom data: “If ISIS had lobbyists in Washington, they would have spent millions to support the anti-intelligence law.”

Sulmasy himself articulates the logic behind this thinking. He derisively describes legislative oversight as too slow “when fighting a shadowy enemy like al Qaeda.” Threats from non-state actors require, in his mind, “dispatch and rapid response.”

In theory, that makes sense. But in reality, fighting myriad shadowy non-state forces have mostly served to make unilateral executive military action abroad itself pretty shadowy. It’s not just that Congress is too slow, but also that the “slow and deliberative institution of Congress” is “prone to informational leaks.”

There’s little evidence that delegating power to the executive has made the US any safer. Domestic terror attacks continue to happen despite mass surveillance and secret watch lists. But it’s extremely clear that delegating decisions to the executive during a period of constant undeclared war has made US military action far less transparent and accountable.

For example, we know President Obama has unilaterally authorized the assassination of American citizens abroad. We do know that he lied about doing it. We do not know how many or why. President Obama has unilaterally denied the writ of habeas corpus to detainees not accused of a crime. He has unilaterally commenced war.

There will always be a reason to excuse endless runs around the Constitution, whether it’s Obama’s unilateral action in the DACA and DAPA immigration cases or deciding whether the Senate was in session in order to push his NLRB and CFPB nominees in against Congress’ wishes.

Tomorrow I’ll present how we can fight back.

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is a D.C.-based writer. She is Editor-in-Chief of Sex and the State and her writing has appeared in The Week, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, The Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications.

This article was originally published on Read the original article.