Steyn: Is goverment too incompetent to threaten our liberties?

Another great column by Mark Steynin NRO, with typical humor mixed in with a deadly serious point:

I enjoy as much as the next chap all those Hollywood conspiracy thrillers about the all-powerful security state -- you know the kind of thing, where the guy's on the lam and he stops at a diner at a windswept one-stoplight hick burg in the middle of nowhere and decides to take the risk of making one 15-second call from the payphone, and as he dials the last digit there's a click in a basement in Langley, and even as he's saying hello the black helicopters are already descending on him. It's heartening to know that, if I ever get taken out at a payphone, it will be because some slapdash timeserving pen-pusher mistyped the code for Malaysia (60) as that of New Hampshire (603).

The Egypt/Washington industrial-scale wrong number is almost too perfectly poignant a vignette at the end of a week in which hundreds are dead on the streets of Cairo. On the global scene, America has imploded: Its leaders have no grasp of its national interests, never mind any sense of how to achieve them. The assumption that we are in the early stages of "the post-American world" is now shared by everyone from General Sisi to Vladimir Putin. General Sisi, I should add, is Egypt's new strongman, not Putin's characterization of Obama. Meanwhile, in contrast to its accelerating irrelevance overseas, at home Washington's big bloated blundering bureaucratic security state expands daily. It's easier to crack down on 47 Elm Street than Benghazi.

Perhaps this is unavoidable. A couple of months back, I quoted Tocqueville's prescient words from almost two centuries ago: Although absolute monarchy theoretically "clothed kings with a power almost without limits," in practice "the details of social life and of individual existence ordinarily escaped his control." In other words, the king couldn't do it even if he wanted to. What would happen, Tocqueville wondered, if administrative capability were to evolve to bring "the details of social life and of individual existence" within His Majesty's oversight? That world is now upon us. Today, the king concedes he most certainly can do it, but assures us not to worry, he doesn't really want to.

In essence, a blundering government is even more dangerous than an efficient one. As Steyn notes:

Privacy is dying in all technologically advanced nations, and it may simply be a glum fact of contemporary existence that the right to live an unmonitored life is now obsolete unless one wishes to relocate to upcountry villages in Somalia or Waziristan. Nevertheless, even by the standards of other Western nations, America's loss of privacy is deeply disturbing. Its bureaucracy is bigger and better funded, and its response to revelations of its abuse of power is to make it bigger and better funded and more bureaucratic still. For example, after multiple significant violations of the law in 2009, the NSA's "oversight staff" was quadrupled. Quadrupled! Just like that! And what was the result of putting four times as many salaried, benefited, pensionable, fully credentialed government-licensed "overseers" in place? The rate of NSA violations increased dramatically through 2011.

Read the whole thing.

Another great column by Mark Steynin NRO, with typical humor mixed in with a deadly serious point:

I enjoy as much as the next chap all those Hollywood conspiracy thrillers about the all-powerful security state -- you know the kind of thing, where the guy's on the lam and he stops at a diner at a windswept one-stoplight hick burg in the middle of nowhere and decides to take the risk of making one 15-second call from the payphone, and as he dials the last digit there's a click in a basement in Langley, and even as he's saying hello the black helicopters are already descending on him. It's heartening to know that, if I ever get taken out at a payphone, it will be because some slapdash timeserving pen-pusher mistyped the code for Malaysia (60) as that of New Hampshire (603).

The Egypt/Washington industrial-scale wrong number is almost too perfectly poignant a vignette at the end of a week in which hundreds are dead on the streets of Cairo. On the global scene, America has imploded: Its leaders have no grasp of its national interests, never mind any sense of how to achieve them. The assumption that we are in the early stages of "the post-American world" is now shared by everyone from General Sisi to Vladimir Putin. General Sisi, I should add, is Egypt's new strongman, not Putin's characterization of Obama. Meanwhile, in contrast to its accelerating irrelevance overseas, at home Washington's big bloated blundering bureaucratic security state expands daily. It's easier to crack down on 47 Elm Street than Benghazi.

Perhaps this is unavoidable. A couple of months back, I quoted Tocqueville's prescient words from almost two centuries ago: Although absolute monarchy theoretically "clothed kings with a power almost without limits," in practice "the details of social life and of individual existence ordinarily escaped his control." In other words, the king couldn't do it even if he wanted to. What would happen, Tocqueville wondered, if administrative capability were to evolve to bring "the details of social life and of individual existence" within His Majesty's oversight? That world is now upon us. Today, the king concedes he most certainly can do it, but assures us not to worry, he doesn't really want to.

In essence, a blundering government is even more dangerous than an efficient one. As Steyn notes:

Privacy is dying in all technologically advanced nations, and it may simply be a glum fact of contemporary existence that the right to live an unmonitored life is now obsolete unless one wishes to relocate to upcountry villages in Somalia or Waziristan. Nevertheless, even by the standards of other Western nations, America's loss of privacy is deeply disturbing. Its bureaucracy is bigger and better funded, and its response to revelations of its abuse of power is to make it bigger and better funded and more bureaucratic still. For example, after multiple significant violations of the law in 2009, the NSA's "oversight staff" was quadrupled. Quadrupled! Just like that! And what was the result of putting four times as many salaried, benefited, pensionable, fully credentialed government-licensed "overseers" in place? The rate of NSA violations increased dramatically through 2011.

Read the whole thing.

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