Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Monday, August 19, 2013

Heathrow And Stop And Frisk

Here is what we know.

First, we have David Miranda being stopped at Heathrow for nine hours and having all of his electronic devices confiscated presumably so they can find out what Snowden and Greenwald are about to leak next.

As I think Soonergrunt noted over at Balloon Juice, it's always helpful to wait 24 hours to comment on something Greenwald alleges.  Here is Booman's take:

Andrew Sullivan hyperventilates that this makes Britain just as unfriendly to journalists as Russia.  Which is so self-evidently stupid as to boggle the mind.

Since the fall of communism, over 400 journalists have been killed in Russia, most by outright murder.  Let's assume only a quarter of those were carried out by the state.  In other words, let's give Putin every possible benefit of the doubt.  So Putin has killed about 100 journalists.  And the British cloned Miranda's electronic devices and inconvenienced his travel plans.

That sounds exactly the same!

Snowden broke the law.  Maybe he broke the law in a Thoreau/King/Ellsbury sense, but he broke the law.  The police are going to come after him.  And they are going to come after him hard.  Miranda is technically not a journalist but a courier suspected of carrying classified information.

This has generated a level of outrage on the Internet, freedom of the press and so forth.

Meanwhile, stop-and-frisk and its various iterations across the country, the routine hassling of people in all walks of life, coercive police practices that make up the bulk of our "war on drugs" will continue unabated.  Maybe stop-and-frisk will change to lessen the presence of racial profiling, but the police will still harass and intimidate poor people over drugs.

But the police can point to a result and say, "We pulled a murder weapon of this guy."  The NSA can't as easily point to a success (maybe the absence of a negative, no terrorist attacks).  Nor, frankly, have we seen a demonstrable case of this rampant listening-in leading to someone being arrested for non-terrorist reasons.

There is an important debate we need to have (and need to have constantly in the life of the republic) over the proper trade-offs between safety and liberty.  That is the necessary realm of the state, and it has been ever since Hobbes put pen to parchment.

But we can't have that debate if we are constantly hyperventilating over every little damned thing.

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