conor-friedersdorf

The Amazon.com algorithm is very good at using what you’ve just bought to recommend things that you’ll want to buy, he observed, but it can be hard to tell why. Perhaps you’ll be attracted to the content of the recommendation–or perhaps it’s the fact that the cover is also green, or that the print is in Helvetica font. In contrast, a skilled librarian is usually going to recommend a book solely because of its intellectual value, without any lurking, contentless variables. The librarian is therefore likelier to send a person in a direction they wouldn’t otherwise have gone in a way that will advance their thinking, education, or aesthetic taste, because they’re not just meeting needs that have already been expressed.
Rand Paul Got the Better of Chris Christie on the 4th Amendment

Chris Christie tried to attack Rand Paul on the NSA and national security, but Rand Paul won the day by defending the Fourth Amendment & the Bill of Rights.

Written by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic:

One of the biggest clashes in the Republican debate Thursday night came after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was asked about his past attacks on Senator Rand Paul. The two men disagree about an NSA program that spied on tens of millions of innocent Americans by logging all phone calls they dialed and received. Paul, a leading critic of the phone dragnet, has argued that it flagrantly violates the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Christie has said that if America is hit by another terrorist attack, Paul should be called before Congress to answer for his efforts to constrain the NSA’s domestic spying.

“Do you really believe you can assign blame to Senator Paul just for opposing the bulk collection of people’s phone records in the event of a terrorist attack?” a moderator asked Thursday. The ensuing exchange highlighted stark differences in how the rival candidates would govern and their respective understandings of the Constitution.

Christie stood by his attack.

“Yes, I do,” he said. …

Paul responded to Thursday’s attack by expressing his preference for targeted surveillance rather than an expansive dragnet that sweeps up everyone’s metadata. “I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans,” he said. “The Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over! John Adams said it was the spark that led to our war for independence. I’m proud of standing for the Bill of Rights. I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.”

Christie was ready with a retort.

“You know, that’s a completely ridiculous answer: ‘I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from other people.’ How are you supposed to know?” Like Keith Alexander, Christie seemed to be arguing that the government needs to intrude on everyone’s private communications to identify terrorists. It’s the logic of general warrants. How can the police know who is keeping an illegal gun in their home without searching the contents of everyone’s home? Republicans uncomfortable with that logic should avoid voting for phone dragnet supporters.

“Get a warrant!” Paul said. “Get a judge to sign the warrant!” …

In fact, “get a judge to sign a warrant” is a rather succinct description of how “the system” is “supposed to work,” if we define “the system” as the Constitution rather than national-security officials following their gut instincts. It’s hardly “blowing hot air” for a senator to call on the executive branch to follow the law.

“Here’s the problem, governor,” Paul said.  “You fundamentally misunderstand the Bill of Rights. Every time you did a case, you got a warrant from a judge. I’m talking about searches without warrants, indiscriminately, of all Americans’ records, and that’s what I fought to end. I don’t trust President Obama with our records. I know you gave him a big hug, and if you want to give him a big hug again, go right ahead.”

Rather than articulate why he believes individualized warrants are neither lawfully required nor prudent, Christie chose to address the “hugging Obama” part of the argument. …

I cannot comment on the style preferences of a GOP voter base that presently prefers Donald Trump to all other candidates. But on substance, Paul easily bested Christie in this exchange. …

Christie seems oblivious to the basic logic of the Bill of Rights. The constraints it places on government are not suspended in the aftermath of a terrorist attack––they are, in fact, most important precisely when a polity is panicked and officials are unusually able to seize excessive power without criticism. His praise for leaders unapologetically jettisoning such constraints in the name of protecting us is more dangerous than any terrorist plot in U.S. history.

This isn’t a story about whether one agrees with Edward Snowden’s decision to leak classified National Security Agency documents, or what one thinks of Glenn Greenwald’s journalism. It is a story about whether sweeping powers passed with the understanding they’d be used against terrorists will henceforth be marshaled against anyone Western governments want to target, even if there is zero chance that they are associated with Al Qaeda or its affiliates. This is a story about whether national security journalism is already being treated as terrorism so that government officials can bring more powerful tools to bear against leaks of classified information. And it’s a story about the impropriety of targeting the loved ones of journalists in adversarial relationships with the government in order to intimidate them or others.
I don’t see how anyone who confronts Obama’s record with clear eyes can enthusiastically support him. … How can you vilify Romney as a heartless plutocrat unfit for the presidency, and then enthusiastically recommend a guy who held Bradley Manning in solitary and killed a 16-year-old American kid? If you’re a utilitarian who plans to vote for Obama, better to mournfully acknowledge that you regard him as the lesser of two evils, with all that phrase denotes. … Keen on Obama’s civil-libertarian message and reassertion of basic American values, I supported him in 2008. Today I would feel ashamed to associate myself with his first term or the likely course of his second. I refuse to vote for Barack Obama.
—  Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic.
Reuters interviewed 25 African American male officers on the NYPD, 15 of whom are retired and 10 of whom are still serving,” the news organization reported in a recent article. “All but one said that, when off duty and out of uniform, they had been victims of racial profiling, which refers to using race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed a crime,” the small survey found. “Officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping.” These weren’t one-off events. “The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them.
—   The NYPD Officers Who See Racial Bias in the NYPD - Conor Friedersdorf , The Atlantic.

The return of the torture debate is striking because its apologists no longer feel the need to advocate for a narrow exception to prevent an American city from being nuked or a busload of children from dying. In the jubilation over getting bin Laden, they’re instead employing this frightening standard: torture of multiple detainees is justified if it might produce a single useful nugget that, combined with lots of other intelligence, helps lead us to the secret location of the highest value terrorist leader many years later. It’s suddenly the new baseline in our renewed national argument.

That’s torture creep.

—  The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf on the renewed torture debate taking hold of American politics
We’re often told how precise drone strikes are. Obama Administration officials have called them surgical. If a surgery were happening in the building next door I wouldn’t be worried about getting nicked by the scalpel. Would you be worried for your safety if you were 100 yards away from drone strike? Say you’re laying in bed one night, and in the house next door, a terrorist is laying in his bed.

Would you want a drone strike to take him out?

If next door is too close for comfort, do you think the U.S. military or the CIA should be allowed to carry out drone strikes on terrorists with innocent people next door?
Right-leaning populists regard the nexus of big finance and big government as irredeemably corrupt; left-leaning populists agree! Alone, neither group can muster a sizable enough coalition to challenge the status quo. How convenient for the establishment that they’re so easily pitted against one another.
[L]ook for allies, not heretics. Someone who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is an ally, not an enemy to denounce for not being a true libertarian. Someone who agrees with you 1 percent of the time, on just a single issue, is someone you can work with in good faith on that issue. And if you do, odds are they’ll listen more closely to your other ideas.
— 

Conor Friedersdorf, “How to Safeguard Liberty through Discourse

This should be printed out in 70 pt. font and pasted on every libertarian’s bathroom mirror. No, make that everyone interested in politics at all. Seriously, this is so key.

What does “better than the Republicans” get you if it means that executive privilege keeps expanding, the drones keep killing innocents and inflaming radicals and destabilizing regions, the Pentagon budget keeps growing, civil liberties keep being eroded, wars are waged without Congressional permission, and every future president knows he or she can do the same because at this point it doesn’t even provoke a significant backlash from the left? Is the dysfunction of the Republican Party license to oppose those policies less vociferously than they were opposed during the Bush Administration?
theatlantic.com
Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama
Maybe he is the “lesser of the two evils,” as I don’t think Romney has any redeeming qualities, but as a matter of conscience, I can never endorse someone with this kind of record on human rights, civil liberties, or the economy.
  1. Obama terrorizes innocent Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. The drone war he is waging in North Waziristan isn’t “precise” or “surgical” as he would have Americans believe. It kills hundreds of innocents, including children. And for thousands of more innocents who live in the targeted communities, the drone war makes their lives into a nightmare worthy of dystopian novels. People are always afraid. Women cower in their homes. Children are kept out of school. The stress they endure gives them psychiatric disorders. Men are driven crazy by an inability to sleep as drones buzz overhead 24 hours a day, a deadly strike possible at any moment. At worst, this policy creates more terrorists than it kills; at best, America is ruining the lives of thousands of innocent people and killing hundreds of innocents for a small increase in safety from terrorists. It is a cowardly, immoral, and illegal policy, deliberately cloaked in opportunistic secrecy. And Democrats who believe that it is the most moral of all responsible policy alternatives are as misinformed and blinded by partisanship as any conservative ideologue. 
  2. Obama established one of the most reckless precedents imaginable: that any president can secretly order and oversee the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Obama’s kill list transgresses against the Constitution as egregiously as anything George W. Bush ever did. It is as radical an invocation of executive power as anything Dick Cheney championed. The fact that the Democrats rebelled against those men before enthusiastically supporting Obama is hackery every bit as blatant and shameful as anything any talk radio host has done.  
  3. Contrary to his own previously stated understanding of what the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution demand, President Obama committed U.S. forces to war in Libya without Congressional approval, despite the lack of anything like an imminent threat to national security.

Holed up in a redwood forest on the Northern California coast, the nearest McDonald’s two hours away, I clicked through to some photos of Occupy Wall Street protestors in New York City, and saw that one of their signs displayed in big block letters 46 words that I wrote! They’re being held aloft by an attractive 20-something blond woman I’ve never met before.


This is the story of how they got there – or at least the small part of it I know, which is all that’s required to see why it could only happen now, and how political engagement in America is changing.

It ought to be disputed rather than indulged for the sake of these students, who need someone to teach them how empowered they are by virtue of their mere enrollment; that no one is capable of invalidating their existence, full stop; that their worth is inherent, not contingent; that everyone is offended by things around them; that they are capable of tremendous resilience; and that most possess it now despite the disempowering ideology foisted on them by well-intentioned, wrongheaded ideologues encouraging them to imagine that they are not privileged.
 
Here’s one of the ways that white men at Yale are most privileged of all: When a white male student at an elite college says that he feels disempowered, the first impulse of the campus left is to show him the extent of his power and privilege. When any other students say they feel disempowered, the campus left’s impulse is to validate their statements. This does a huge disservice to everyone except white male students. It’s baffling that so few campus activists seem to realize this drawback of emphasizing victim status even if college administrators sometimes treat it as currency.

Winners and Losers of the GOP Showdown. Conor Friedersdorf breaks down last night’s discussion:

The winners in last night’s GOP debate?

The Fox News Channel was the biggest. The cable network’s moderators asked questions that were reasonably tough, well-researched, and less flawed than is typical. America could always do a lot better when it comes to what is asked of its presidential candidates. Relatively speaking, however, kudos are owed, even if former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson got a silly question about what reality TV show he would host if given the chance. (He flubbed it too – the answer is clearly “The Amazing Race.”)

Libertarians had a great night too: they accounted for two-fifths of the people on stage for the only time in memory, and were allowed to make their points without being attacked because none of the other candidates saw them as a threat.

Read the rest of the story and learn about the night’s losers at The Atlantic.

If U.S. drone strikes put American wedding parties similarly at risk would we tolerate our targeted-killing program for a single day more? Our policy persists because we put little value on the lives of foreign innocents. Even putting them through the most horrific scene imaginable on their wedding day is but a blip on our media radar, easily eclipsed by a new Beyonce album.

Another Silliman resident declared in a campus publication, “I have had to watch my friends defend their right to this institution. This email and the subsequent reaction to it have interrupted their lives. I have friends who are not going to class, who are not doing their homework, who are losing sleep, who are skipping meals, and who are having breakdowns.”
 
One feels for these students. But if an email about Halloween costumes has them skipping class and suffering breakdowns, either they need help from mental-health professionals or they’ve been grievously ill-served by debilitating ideological notions they’ve acquired about what ought to cause them pain.

The student next described what she thinks residential life at Yale should be. Her words: “I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.” In fact, students were perfectly free to talk about their pain. Some felt entitled to something more, and that is what prolonged the debate—not a faculty member who’d rather have been anywhere else.

As students saw it, their pain ought to have been the decisive factor in determining the acceptability of the Halloween email. They thought their request for an apology ought to have been sufficient to secure one. Who taught them that it is righteous to pillory faculty for failing to validate their feelings, as if disagreement is tantamount to disrespect? Their mindset is anti-diversity, anti-pluralism, and anti-tolerance, a seeming data-point in favor of April Kelly-Woessner’s provocative argument that “young people today are less politically tolerant than their parents’ generation.”

— 

Conor Friedersdorf, “The New Intolerance of Student Activism” (The Atlantic, 11/09/2015)

“I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.” Yikes. YIKES. (via @byjoveimbeinghumble)