One nation, under guard

Lynne Kiesling

This TechDirt article pulls together a lot of the various strands that are worrying about the growth of the U.S. police state — extralegal detention, the militarization of local police at the hands of the DHS, surveillance, increased imprisonment despite an all-time low crime rate, punitive immigration policy, the war on x where x is a member of the set {drugs, terror, …}. The only dots they don’t connect here are the invasive, expensive, ineffective policies and practices of the TSA and the indiscriminate use of drone strikes. But even without connecting those dots in, their assessment is

Bad news about the impending police state here in America: it’s already here. From the indefinite detention (without trial) of terrorism suspects both foreign and American to the escalating militarization of our nation’s police forces, there’s little to indicate that any level of government is willing to “walk back” the overreach of law enforcement, much of which stems from the Patriot Act’s anti-terrorism aims.

The persistence of these policies defies both logic and common sense. For how long are we going to put up with these rights-eviscerating, socially corrosive uses of our tax money? After following the Patriot Act, DHS, TSA, digital surveillance, the NDAA, and so on over the past decade, I fail to see either the moral or economic justification for these policies that fall under the Patriot Act umbrella, particularly since the terrorist threat has ebbed. And what’s more disturbing is that support for such authoritarian policy is high and crosses the tribal Team Red-Team Blue political boundaries.

It’s enough to make a dispassionate economist weep for her country’s lost principles.

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5 thoughts on “One nation, under guard

  1. Lynne-

    The article, taken as a whole, does not seem to support itself with facts, but rather seems to be somewhat hysterical, and conclusory. Note that it advocates one position only. Note that it does not consider other factors which may be driving the numbers. Note that the statistics given are not supported by any cited studies.

    For example, “A majority of black males who did not graduate high school will go to prison? I bet that the statistic is fairly high for non-high school graduates of any race. I bet if the males stayed in school, they would have a better shot in society. Maybe it’s not the justice system at fault. Maybe it’s the education system. But this theory is never discussed.

    Have you been to a middle-class high school lately? They have metal detectors. Just like TSA.

    Perhaps a less sensationalist, more reasoned discussion is in order. I need more evidence that the sky is falling…..

  2. Jeff,

    I’ll grant you that I am filling in some holes based on my following all of the TSA/DHS-digital surveillance and privacy-police militarization-war on drugs events of the past several years. Based on what I’ve seen it’s not clear to me that this author’s argument is as sensationalist as you find it. That said, I am not as persuaded by the “privatized prisons => more incarceration” argument as some others are.

    However, I do believe that the simultaneous acceleration of these trends is far from a coincidence. Do you think that’s sensationalist? I don’t, and I think that the more skeptical and cautious we are in the face of the potential extension and consolidation of the authoritarian exercise of power, the more likely we are going to be to deter the sky falling. But I’m not very optimistic about that, which is why I despair.

  3. Do not despair. Even those of us who work for the military industrial complex are concerned. Perhaps the best thing we can do is to work towards getting meaningful controls on government spending, which would drive the reduction of authority for lack of funding. This would likely take a consitutional amendment, and probably deprive congress of some authority. In short, take away their money, and you take away the ability to enforce their authority.

    It would appear to be a worthy goal that we can all agree upon. Thoughts?

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