Privacy and Politics: The Hypocrisy of the Surveillance Statists

September 28, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The New York Times reports that at least six members of the Trump administration used personal email accounts to discuss White House matters.

Given president Donald Trump’s campaign and post-campaign harping (as the Times puts it) on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s illegal use of a private server and mishandling of classified information, it’s unsurprising to hear charges of hypocrisy from Democratic quarters. But the hypocrisy here is a matter of political class elitism, not partisan politics.

Those in power, regardless of party, want to know what you’re doing, but think what they’re doing is none of your business (except when they send you the bill for all of it).

The US government and its state and local subsidiaries operate the largest and most far-reaching surveillance apparatus in the history of humankind. Their intelligence and police agencies intercept, analyze and catalog our phone calls and emails, create and install malware on our computers to keep track of what we do online, and watch us via satellite and over vast networks of  cameras in public areas.

They track our activities using our Social Security numbers, drivers’ licenses, car VINs and license plates, banking and employment information, and electronic device IP address and MAC IDs. Modern America puts the Third Reich’s death camp tattoo system and the Soviet Union’s internal passport scheme to shame in this respect.

Whenever we mere mortals notice and complain about any aspect of this surveillance state, the response consists of operatic appeals to “national security,” “fighting crime,” and other variations on the theme of “we’re just trying to protect you.”

But whenever an Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning or Julian Assange pulls back the curtain, revealing  crimes committed by the political class, all hell breaks loose. How DARE these pesky whistle-blowers show the serfs that  their emperor isn’t just naked, but also killing and stealing on a scale that would make Ted Bundy and Bernie Madoff blush? And how dare the serfs notice?

Excuse me for a moment while I break out the world’s smallest violin and compose “Dirge for the Lost Privacy of Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, Jared Kushner, Stephen Bannon, Reince Priebus, Gary Cohn, Ivanka Trump and Stephen Miller.”

So long as American politicians and bureaucrats continue to put the rest of us under a magnifying glass, they deserve no sympathy when they  get caught trying to hide their own actions from public view.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

Is the Party Over for Republicans?

July 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The last time a major American political party fell completely apart, it did so over the expansion of slavery. The split between the Whig Party’s northern and southern factions resulted in the party’s dissolution, the ascendance of the Republican Party (the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, was a former Whig), and the Civil War. Between 1854 and 1856 the Whigs faded from the second largest party in Congress to non-existence.
The last time a major American party came anywhere close to falling completely apart, the divisive issue was racial segregation. Several southern state Democratic Parties split off to form the States’ Rights Democratic Party (the “Dixiecrats”), running Strom Thurmond instead of Harry Truman in the 1948 presidential election, carrying four states and racking up 39 electoral votes. Truman won anyway.

The Dixiecrats were more or less an historical footnote by 1952, although a “National States’ Rights Party” persisted for awhile. Alabama governor George Wallace appealed to the same constituency in his independent presidential campaigns, and 2008 Libertarian Party presidential nominee Bob Barr tried to dog-whistle up a Dixiecrat resurgence.
Next week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland may be ground zero for America’s next great partisan implosion. The issues involved are both more numerous and more nebulous — foreign policy, immigration policy, trade policy, gun policy, tax policy, what have you — than in similar previous episodes.

In the past a few of those internal policy disputes could be kicked down the road every four years for the sake of party unity and political victory. This year something’s changed. The rise of Donald Trump has brought all of them to a single head in one moment. In addition, the man himself scares the bejabbers out of the party establishment with his garish, faux-populist, medicine show style.

For that establishment, the closest thing possible to victory is for Trump to lose, either to revolting delegates in Cleveland or to Hillary Clinton in November. The party can’t win the White House with Trump, then go back to being the party of George W. Bush, let alone Ronald Reagan. If Trump wins, the establishment loses and the GOP becomes, more overtly than ever and probably irreversibly, the party of banana republic nationalism.
For Trump’s supporters, victory looks like … well, like winning with Trump and making the GOP, more overtly than ever and probably irreversibly, the party of banana republic nationalism.
That signpost reads “all downhill from here.”

In this election, the functional equivalent of the 1948 Dixiecrat ticket are the Libertarian Party’s nominees, two “moderate Republicans” who will be on the ballot in at least 40-odd states rather than four. But where the Dixiecrats were a menace to the Democratic establishment, Gary Johnson and William Weld may be the Republican establishment’s only hope.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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