conor-friedersdorf

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.

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
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.
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?
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.
[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.

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.

Imagine a very plausible 2016 presidential contest in which an anti-NSA candidate is threatening to win the nomination of one party or the other—say that Ron Wyden is challenging Hillary Clinton, or that Rand Paul might beat Chris Christie. Does anyone doubt where Keith Alexander or his successor as NSA director would stand in that race? Or in a general election where an anti-NSA candidate might win?

What would an Alexander type do if he thought the victory of one candidate would significantly rein in the NSA with catastrophic effects on national security? Would he really do nothing to prevent their victory?
I knew that if I hung around long enough, a day would come when an acquaintance who I genuinely liked as a person would sell out by writing a book that we both knew to be dishonest, or stay silent in the face of some indefensible bullshit to preserve the viability of his career, or otherwise become complicit in the most destructive habits of America’s professional political elites.
— 

“The Tyranny of Washington DC.” 

Relevant thoughts if you’re ever in one of “those” moods. 

theatlantic.com
The Surveillance Speech: A Low Point in Barack Obama's Presidency - Conor Friedersdorf - The Atlantic

Conor Friedersdorf fisks Obama’s surveillance speech, and highlights the untruths and slippery logic that animated it. 

excerpted from the article

On Friday, President Obama spoke to us about surveillance as though we were precocious children. He proceeded as if widespread objections to his policies can be dispatched like a parent answers an eight-year-old who has formally protested her bedtime. He is so proud that we’ve matured enough to take an interest in our civil liberties! Why, he used to think just like us when he was younger, and promises to consider our arguments. But some decisions just have to be made by the grownups. Do we know how much he loves us? Can we even imagine how awful he would feel if anything bad ever happened while it was still his job to ensure our safety? *

By observing Obama’s condescension, I don’t mean to suggest tone was the most objectionable part of the speech. The disinformation should bother the American people most. The weasel words. The impossible-to-believe protestations. The factually inaccurate assertions. 

They’re all there.

[…]

The surveillance debate is arguably the most important of our era.

Yet throughout the surveillance debate, the executive branch, including Obama, has lied, obfuscated, and misled the American people in a variety of ways. Before Edward Snowden’s leaks, they could at least tell themselves that the disinformation was serving the purpose of keeping al-Qaeda operates from learning the general contours of our surveillance capabilities. But today, when that excuse has long since expired, Obama is still lying, obfuscating, and misleading the American people. In doing so, he is preventing representative democracy from functioning as well as it might. With the stakes so high, and his performance so dubious in so many places, Friday’s speech has got to be one of the low points of his presidency. 

Go read the list. It’s awful in a truly enormous way.

Obama has hit a low point, and I don’t know that he can ever get back the trust that we had in the ‘man from hope’. I have long said that Obama is a moderate Republican disguised as a centrist Democrat, but now I wonder if he is a delusional autocrat, one who judges himself above the law.

theatlantic.com
How Ferguson Brutalized Its Way to a Civil-Rights Nightmare

When the mother asked if the officer had to detain the father in front of the children, the officer turned to the father and said, “you’re going to jail because your wife keeps running her mouth”. The mother then began recording the officer on her cell phone. The officer became irate, declaring, “you don’t videotape me!” As the officer drove away with the father in custody for “parental neglect”, the mother drove after them, continuing to record. The officer then pulled over and arrested her for traffic violations. When the father asked the officer to show mercy, he responded, “no more mercy, since she wanted to videotape”, and declared “nobody videotapes me”. The officer then took the phone, which the couple’s daughter was holding. After posting bond, the couple found that the video had been deleted.

An eight-year-old girl provided Amnesty International with the quote that leads its latest report on targeted killing in Pakistan’s tribal regions. A drone strike killed the girl’s 68-year-old grandmother as the old woman gathered vegetables last autumn. “I wasn’t scared of drones before,” the little girl said, “but now when they fly overhead I wonder, will I be next?” Her uncertainty is understandable. An elderly matriarch’s death is inevitably tragic for her grandchild. Her survivors are made to bear an even greater burden when the death is cloaked in mystery. Was the strike a murder? A terrible mistake? Did the grandmother inadvertently do something to make the drone pilot suspicious? How can other innocents avoid her fate? The U.S. doesn’t just refuse to explain its actions (or to compensate the families of innocent people it wrongfully kills). Our government cloaks the killings in extreme secrecy, refusing even to acknowledge its role. Of course little 8-year-old girls wonder if they’re next. What would you think if a Hellfire missile arbitrarily blew up your grandma? I wonder if an 8-year-old girl is next too. It would make no more or less sense.
—  Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic