Home // 2010 // September

Sorry — I dozed through the Fourth Amendment lecture

Says the Associated Press:

A Justice Department investigation has found that FBI agents, including several supervisors, cheated on an important test covering the bureau’s policies for conducting surveillance on Americans.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine said Monday that his limited review of allegations that agents improperly took the open-book test together or had access to an answer sheet has turned up “significant abuses and cheating.”

Hmmm … Is anybody actually surprised that FBI officials considered even their own bureau’s rules regarding surveillance to be unworthy of a little study?

Just how hermetically sealed is New York’s insular political culture?

In the September 20 issue of New York magazine, there’s a brief piece by Dan Amira called “Tea House 2011.” Touted in the table of contents as a look at “lesser-known lunatics of the tea party,” the article is supposed to be a peek at the beyond-the-pale madmen who “are operating out of the national spotlight this campaign season.” These aspiring members of Congress get a tiny photo, a brief bio, and a few words on the unquestionable insanity they espouse, to which we’ll all supposedly be subject should the Tea Party get its way come November. Their craziness is taken as so obvious that no analysis is required once their opinions are stated.

And sure enough, of the exactly six would-be congresscritters profiled in this article, there’s an honest-to-God … well … apparent birther in the mix. He’s running for Colorado’s Fourth District. Cory Gardner is also the least outsidery of the bunch, considering that he’s already a state legislator.

But two of the “lesser-known lunatics” are on the list because they (drumroll please) question Social Security and Medicare. Todd Young, running for Indiana’s Ninth District, “[r]eferred to Social Security as a ‘Ponzi scheme.'” And Jesse Kelly, running in Arizona’s Eighth District, “said he ‘would love to eliminate’ Social Security and eventually end Medicare.” He’s also opposed to the minimum wage.

Uh huh. So of the six crazier-than-crazy Tea Party candidates profiled by New York for their “lunacy,” two of them are in there for positions that are widely held by professional economists. Wikipedia’s entry on the minimum wage summarizes surveys finding that as many as “90 percent of the economists surveyed agreed that the minimum wage increases unemployment among low-skilled workers” and “46.8% wanted it completely eliminated.” Similar surveys of economists find that they consider Social security a mess — 85.3 percent agree that “the gap between Social Security funds and expenditures will become unsustainably large within the next fifty years if current policies remain unchanged.” And Hell, even Michael Kinsley agrees it’s a Ponzi scheme (although he thinks that’s OK). And it’s hard to defend Medicare when the program is widely used as an example of a government scheme run amok.

But, in polite New York circles, criticizing Social Security, Medicare and minimum wage laws is just not done — to the point that anybody who ventures in that direction is considered laughable

From time to time, I miss the sophistication of my old digs. But whenever I get to hankering for exotic restaurants, creative theater and innovative arts in my home town, all I need for a cure is a reminder of the … well … lunatics who run the show there.

Christine O’Donnell may well represent America

Granted that newly minted Republican candidate for one of Delaware’s U.S. Senate seats, Christine O’Donnell, dwells at the intersection of crazy and stupid, but you have to wonder whether it was such a good tactic for GOP hierarchy to essentially forbid voters to support her in a decade in which they’ve pissed away their credibility, and whether it’s wise for her opponents to continue to emphasize her mortgage default and her creative accounting during an era when Americans have demonstrated themselves to possess the financial acumen of your average crack whore with a stolen credit card.

Crazy, stupid, financially irresponsible and despised by the establishment? Americans may decide to send somebody just like themselves to the Senate.

And no, I’m not suggesting that a smarmy control freak like Chris Coons is better. I’m just intrigued by how closely we’re approaching menckenesque perfection.

I’m sitting out the congressional election

Here in Arizona’s first congressional district — a monstrosity of 58,608 miles into which you could drop New York State with room to rattle around — the incumbent Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick appears likely to join the tide of congressional Democrats polishing up their resumes after November. Should that happen, her successor will be Paul Gosar, a Flagstaff dentist who won the favor of both Sarah Palin and Joe Arpaio — the Arizona equivalent of having an image of the madonna appear in the steam on your bathroom window.

Kirkpatrick clearly anticipated a few speed bumps on the way to reelection — she spent the better part of the last year wandering the district and collaring people to assure them that she had no intention of kicking in their doors and grabbing their gun collections. Nobody ever really suspected otherwise, of course. This is the southwest; if anybody had ever suspected her of gun-controller-ish leanings, her political career would have required a change not just of area codes, but of driver’s licenses. That put her repeated pro-gun reassurances in the same camp as the cheating ex-girlfriend who tries to smooth things over by saying, “well, at least I never slept with your brother.”

Well, yeah, babe, you answer — but my brother is gay!

Who she did tryst with was Obamacare, and that’s not going down too well in CD-1 — especially with a medical type gunning for her under the Republican banner.

Frankly, though, I’m sitting this one out. In years past, I’ve dragged myself, unenthusiastically, to the polls to register my opposition to the candidates who most disgusted me. That usually involved voting for a few Libertarians, and whoever sucked less on the Republican and Democrat lines and then going home to lick my wounds. But this year there’s no Libertarian running for Congress in the district. And the Democrats up and down the ticket are competing with Republicans primarily by arguing that they hate Mexicans every bit as much as their opponents.

Yes, Ann Kirkpatrick also promises us that it makes her so mad when the feds throw taxpayer money around — except for the porculus bill, of course, which throws a deep, dark shadow over all other federal check-writing efforts.

But lest we think that fiscal sanity may dwell elsewhere, Paul Gosar chimes in to assure us that he wants to keep Social Security as bloated, ill-conceived and disastrously unsustainable as Kirkpatrick (all we have to to to save it is let Republicans spend money instead of Democrats).

And Gosar likes throwing young American bodies into overseas adventures just as much as does the current congresscritter.

Oh yeah. And Kirkpatrick wants to outlaw burning the American flag as a form of political protest.


These aren’t stupid people, but they are craven, nasty thugs who show no obvious interest in reining-in government, promoting peace or expanding freedom. They spin their presentations slightly so that one candidate is a bit more in line with one party and the other candidate favors the line for the opposition, but it’s a race to the bottom to see who can wave the flag in the most disgusting way. I can’t see much there to motivate me to get out of bed on election day.

So I won’t.

Police state by default

I’ll say right out that Paul Karl Lukacs has bigger stones than me. When I’m going through Customs — or airport security in general — I may venture into testiness on my own behalf or run interference if my young son is getting the third degree (yes, it’s happened), but I’m generally focused on getting past the Gestapo, not on asserting my rights. So I applaud Lukacs for answering “none of your business” to a nosy Customs official when questioned about his overseas trip. His experience went like this:

“Why were you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.

“None of your business,” I said.

Her eyes widened in disbelief.

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“I’m not going to be interrogated as a pre-condition of re-entering my own country,” I said.

This did not go over well. She asked a series of questions, such as how long I had been in China, whether I was there on personal business or commercial business, etc. I stood silently. She said that her questions were mandated by Congress and that I should complain to Congress instead of refusing to cooperate with her.

She asked me to take one of my small bags off her counter. I complied.

She picked up the phone and told someone I “was refusing to cooperate at all.” This was incorrect. I had presented her with proof of citizenship (a U.S. passport) and had moved the bag when she asked. What I was refusing to do was answer her questions.

Ultimately, Lukacs was allowed to go on his way because Americans really don’t have to do anything but show a customs declaration and proof of citizenship in order to re-enter the country. Of course he had to cool his heels first because … well, just because. He hadn’t respected their authoritah, after all.

It makes you think …

There are a lot of protections against official nosiness and pushiness on the books or in our legal traditions that go relatively unused. They go unused, of course, because officialdom makes it increasingly unpleasant to assert those rights. If the cost of telling a police officer to mind his manners is a strip search and a night in the lock-up, followed only months later by a lukewarm apology and an off-hand acknowledgment that you were in the right, many people simply stop telling cops where to get off. Even the occasional cash settlement isn’t going to be worth it for the average person. As time goes on, we forget what our rights are, and officials are trained in procedures rather than the legal scope of their authority. Eventually, the rights in question may still exist on the books, but largely as quaint museum-quality exhibits.

And then you run across the occasional Paul Karl Lukacs, willing to take a figurative bullet in the hopes that one of the gray-haired supervisors remembers a few vestigial legalisms.

So the question is … Is it a tactic on the part of officialdom to expand their power? Or is it more of a case of institutional mission-creep, fueled by our own timidity and laziness?

Either way, our rights become meaningless if we abandon them because it becomes a hassle to assert them.

And note that not a single statute is altered along the way to changing the balance of power between the folks wielding the power of the state and the rest of us.