Monday, July 29, 2013

Why the Surveillance State Must End



In this era of tone-deaf leadership, it seems the National Security Agency is the only government outfit that actually listens.

Congress certainly pays no mind, either to its constituents or to the words of the nation’s Founders. In narrowly defeating a House amendment introduced by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), members of both parties evinced they do not comprehend individual freedom as codified in the Constitution, or as demanded by a growing number of modern Americans.

The Amash-Conyers amendment would have reined in the NSA’s indiscriminate collection of Americans’ phone records. Specifically, it would have limited such surveillance to people subject to investigation, per Section 15 of the Patriot Act.

The amendment was championed by liberty-minded legislators like Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), yet both Republican and Democrat leadership made it their business to see it defeated, which it was, by a vote of 217 to 205.

(Pause for a moment and consider: The Patriot Act, which for a dozen years has served as shorthand for all that offends liberal politicians, suddenly does not go far enough for Nancy Pelosi.)

And so, for now, the federal government will continue to track the phone calls of all Americans – in the form of so-called “metadata” – without probable cause and, thereby, without regard for the Fourth Amendment.

Some, including my Daily Caller colleague Julie Borowski, have averred that the relative closeness of the vote represents a partial victory for civil liberties, auguring complete success in future efforts. Here’s hoping they’re right.

A recent Pew poll found that 50% of Americans approve of the government collecting phone and Internet data for anti-terrorism purposes, while 44% disapprove. In that same poll, however, 56% of respondents say courts do not provide adequate limits on what is collected, 63% believe it is the content of calls and emails being harvested (rather than just “metadata”), and a whopping 70% believe the government is using this information for purposes other than combatting terror.

Time and again, when questioned about “anti-terrorism” government programs, people approve in the abstract, but their enthusiasm wanes when they are confronted with their practical applications.

Proper leaders do not govern by polls, but one expects them to apply common sense. And that is what is so dispiriting about this action in particular, and the national security state in general. One wishes politicians would take a step back, assess that a country constantly banging on about how free it is collects the phone records and emails of all its citizens, searches them like super-max inmates when they seek to travel, demands taxes and financial records even if they live overseas, and ask themselves one, simple question: “Are you KIDDING me?”

In defending NSA practices, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) insisted, “Somebody leading up to the September 11 attacks who was a terrorist overseas, called a terrorist living amongst us in the United States, and we missed it because we didn't have this capability.”

What crippling nonsense this is. Besides that the US government had already “missed” repeated opportunities to nab Osama bin Laden during the 1990s, are we to believe we can only stop terrorists by monitoring absolutely everyone? And incidentally, when was this fateful phone call we missed, and how would we have found it among every other call across, into and out of the country? The Congressman does not say.

A notable defender of the NSA regime is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is often mentioned as a front-runner for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. Christie called the bipartisan strain of libertarianism that objects to such programs a “dangerous thought” and challenged those opposed to make their case to families of those killed on 9/11. Quoth Christie: “I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation.”

What’s “dangerous” is another potential president who sees nothing wrong with expanding the surveillance state, and whose ready argument in its defense is a shameful appeal to victimhood.

Christie’s argument is a non sequitur, much like the policy he purports to defend. What, exactly, does he dare us to say to these widows and orphans? “Sorry for your loss but, not to worry, we will collect the phone records of every single American to honor your loved ones”?

There will always be people, from somewhere, who wish to harm us. This is an historical maxim. Another is that you cannot prevent bad things from happening. One takes precautions, certainly, but evil does not rest, screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place. The issue becomes one of degree: How much security will we tolerate in order to mitigate risk?

Security expert Bruce Schneier has observed that terrorism itself cannot end our way of life – only our reaction to it can.

If it helps, think of the War on Terror as a bad cold – the worst one you ever had, lasting 12 years with no end in sight. The most unpleasant symptoms – stuffy nose, chest congestion, etc. – are not caused by the virus, but by your own immune system going Balzac trying to protect you.

This column does not dispute that al-Qaeda and other Islamist terror groups wish to do us harm, and they have succeeded on occasion. But a greater danger is posed by the world’s most powerful government, with unlimited resources, including an unsurpassed arsenal and the literal ability to print its own money, making vassals of its citizens in the name of security.

The question we must ask ourselves is: How do we wish to live, day to day? Will we accept that not every aspect of life can or should be controlled, and still go confidently in the direction of our dreams? Or will we yield our liberties, incrementally and indefinitely, to a centralized power that offers vainglorious promises of safety?

If we choose the latter, by what right do we call ourselves Americans?

And this is why these surveillance state silly-bears must end: Because so long as they persist, this is not America – at least, not in the freedom-minded sense it has always been perceived. It will remain a grand expanse, with a rich history, but with none of its founding ideals of liberty, and lacking any aspiration to them. To avoid this fate, we must tolerate less from our government, and expect more of ourselves.

Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at at theo@theocaldwell.com

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Securing the Canadian Border



America’s recent obsession with border security provides politicians with plenty of opportunity to engage in populist rhubarb. Most often, Republican lawmakers clamor for robust policing of the US-Mexico demarcation, as they have done throughout the current immigration debate in Congress.

Sometimes, however, a legislator opts to be contrarian, for political or pecuniary reasons. Such a one is Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who recently enthused to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about the prospect of deploying “low-level radar” and in-ground security defenses to secure America’s northern border.

Alas, the proposition that America’s borders with Canada and Mexico are equally problematic is dunderheaded political correctness, often deployed by the willfully benighted. We were inured to this sort of thing by the outgoing Secretary of Homeland Security, the breathtakingly ignorant Janet Napolitano, who entered that disgraceful office claiming the 9/11 hijackers came through Canada.

This is how the Left gets tough – rather than confront actual problems or genuine malefactors, they hyperventilate about invented ones, at the expense of innocent people.

As to Tester, he presents an object lesson for red state voters: When you elect a down-home, g-droppin’, deer-skinnin’, ramblin’ man like Jon Tester, you’re still getting a Democrat. That means, for example, when it’s time to cast the deciding vote in favor of Obamacare, Tester will be there. His Grizzly Adams fa├žade is just that; silly-bears leftism is his guiding principle.

Perhaps, in this case, the goal is simply to bring federal dollars to Montana. This is equally disquieting.

The more one scrutinizes Congress, the more dispiritingly clear it becomes that decisions are almost never made for the good of the American people. Instead, it is usually nonsense like this, pertinent to local favors or fundraising, with little defensible value to the country. This is a bipartisan condition, often noted, and overdue for correction. To wit, it’s almost never about you, it’s about them.

To those of us from the northern side of the border, this talk of beefing up security seems a tad ungracious. Canada and the United States enjoy the largest bilateral trading relationship in the history of the planet and, notwithstanding some unpleasantness about 200 years ago, the dynamic has been largely cordial. We gave you the telephone, Velcro and Bryan Adams (you’re welcome).

Entering the United States from Canada by land, sea or air is already one of the most miserable border crossings in the civilized world.

One need not plumb the documented horror stories of US Customs officers’ rough treatment of foreigners, including journalists, or their institutional obsession with confiscating Kinder Eggs, to outline this point. Even Americans returning home are struck, with rare exceptions, by the imperious and dyspeptic default of their own border agents. It bears questioning where such people come from, and if they are aware that other First World nations do not treat travelers in this way.

Someone told these Eugene Tackleberrys at their sleep-away camp training weekend that they are the last line of defense, or the first, or some nonsense that makes them behave as though they’re guarding the Gates of Vienna against Ottoman hordes.

We Canadians are not a violent race. Our civil war took place in a Tim Horton’s and was over in about 20 minutes. No one was injured, and afterward we all went curling.

Absent any physical danger from septuagenarian snowbirds or day-shopping hosers, how to explain the excesses of America’s over-caffeinated sentries? Do they suppose they’re halting illegal immigration?

What Canadian would be sneaking into the US today? And for what, exactly? Higher unemployment? Steeper taxes? Violent crime? Obamacare?

Having gone through every stage of the US immigration system, from visitor to citizen, I contend that America needs to get over itself. The presumption that everyone, from anywhere, would crawl over broken glass to partake of the American Dream is decades out of date.

This anachronistic stance is reminiscent of leftists and academics who used to insist the Berlin Wall was erected to keep those in the West from breaking into the East and availing themselves of the many free services in the socialist paradise.

Sometimes it takes someone from overseas – or at least, from across Lake Ontario – to provide perspective. And this comes not a moment too soon, before some Northeastern member of Congress gets it in his head to appropriate DHS funds for sharks with laser-beams attached to their heads to secure the Great Lakes.

For a self-styled Land of the Free, America seems awfully intent on erecting barricades. Tester says enhanced Canadian border security, “could prevent drug smuggling and terrorism.” Ah, of course: The nebulous “War on Terror” and “War on Drugs” are used to justify most every tin-pot crackdown on daily life.

Even on the southern border, the proposed fence is unbecoming a nominally free nation. It would be a hideous scar across the landscape; a grotesque contradiction, visible from space.

America has problems, but a lack of security is not among them. As some free advice from an immigrant: The last thing the US needs is more walls.

Also, you can keep Jim Carrey, no charge.


Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at at theo@theocaldwell.com

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Non-Compliance Revolution



“This is America – everything’s illegal.” – New York City attorney

With Independence Day come and gone, and in light of populist uprisings elsewhere in the world, some have asked if America might undergo its own revolutionary upheaval. Specifically, with the exponential growth of government, including the regulating or outlawing of ever-more areas of daily life, liberty-minded Americans wonder when and if their countrymen will say, “enough is enough.”

But armed insurrection is so 18th Century. It went out of style with muskets and pantaloons. It is possible, however, that America’s rebirth of freedom could take a more benign form – that of citizens simply refusing to obey the encroaching demands of their government. There is a surprising amount of power to be found in two little letters: “no.”

Alas, “no” is hard to come by. When security check-points appear at subway stations during morning rush hour, or federal workers indecently paw at passengers boarding a plane, or natural resources officers demand licenses before you can drop a line in your favorite fishing spot, almost no one resists.

When free-born citizens capitulate in this way, one expects they do so out of surprise at the officious overkill, or they make the quick calculation that compliance will minimize immediate hassle and allow them to go about their day.

But ever-expanding government makes it more and more difficult to comply, even if citizens want to. This applies to all manner of bureaucracy, seen and unseen. For just one example: You, gentle reader, cannot know if you filed your federal taxes correctly.

You cannot know this because the tax code is simply too complex and arbitrary. Within such a system, there can be no objective verification. Therefore, if it comes up for review, the accuracy of your return will be determined on a subjective basis by a bureaucrat who will not deign to divulge their first name.

When compliance becomes impossible, well-meaning citizens may just stop trying. Precedent can be found in the government’s own behavior. When IRS agents refuse to answer questions about their conduct, even as they spend taxpayer money on “business expenses” that would not survive one of their own audits, citizens rightly wonder why they should bother keeping their own books in order.

Or when the Obama administration decides to suspend problematic portions of its own health care law – as though legislation were a buffet, from which the Executive can take or leave what it likes – citizens may decide it’s too onerous to fill out that 20-page form, or apply for that required license, and they would have a valid point.

At times, non-compliance can carry a heavy price, exacted by authorities whose dearest hope is that you will not comply: namely, over-eager officers of the law.

As a law-abiding citizen, and a law-and order conservative, I have a hard time trusting the police. This applies particularly to today’s ubiquitous, militarized variety, outfitted in “the full Robocop,” as Mark Steyn puts it.

My mistrust has been a long time coming. Bit by bit, seeing abuses of petty authority and the relentless transformation of police departments into paramilitary units, I have ceased to see them as keepers of the peace. Instead of disrupting crime, it seems they prioritize controlling and harassing innocent people.

Specifically, as noted in Radley Balko’s new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop, militarized police increasingly see civilians as the enemy, rather than the employers they are paid to protect. SWAT teams are dispatched to serve warrants on non-violent suspects, or to perform routine safety inspections.

My jaundiced eye is also directed at the quasi-constabulary brigades assembled by every federal, state and local agency, patrolling all aspects of American life from the airport to the fishing pond.

These are government apparatchiks who, by their wardrobe and mien, falsely claim the authority of law enforcement. Perhaps the most obvious example are the blue-shirted Paul Blarts of the TSA, who prowl America’s airports dressed as though they’re about to invade Poland, complete with tin badges blaring “Officer,” strongly implying they are police when, in fact, they are nothing of the kind. And always, always, we are told their excesses are about keeping us “safe.”

As a handy reminder, be suspicious whenever someone says they’re doing something “for your safety.” Doubtless, there are situations in which the statement is sincere. But in today’s nanny-cop America, “safety” is the elastic subterfuge employed to confiscate freedom.

More directly, whenever someone claiming to be a policeman, or some other kind of enforcement “officer” comes hulking up to you in the full get-up – knee-pads, Kevlar, Velcro and so on – you, as a free citizen and inheritor of God-given, enumerated liberties dating back at least to the English Bill of Rights of 1689, if not the Magna Carta of 1215, have an obligation to laugh in that person’s face. If the best you can do is laugh into their Bane-mask, so be it.

Don’t get angry, or go for one of their many guns. That could get ugly and, in many cases, they hope it does (as Leonardo DiCaprio cynically exclaimed of cops in The Departed, “They signed UP to use their guns!”). Someone who feels the need to weaponize themselves in order to interact with the general public may be monumentally insecure, but they can also cause tremendous damage. Think of Barney Fife in an Iron Man suit. Or, for younger television viewers, imagine Dwight Schrute’s later iterations of Recyclops, only with live ammunition.

Compliance is demanded daily of Americans, accompanied by the implicit or overt threat of force. One should neither expect nor desire violent insurrection in response. But, as a people to whom freedom was bequeathed by generations who pledged their lives to win it, today’s citizens need only learn to say no.

Does the spirit of 1776 abide within modern Americans? Or will they continue to cede their liberties, preferring simply to get through their days – that is, until they awake to find their days are no longer their own?


Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at at theo@theocaldwell.com

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Rubio Disappointment



As a matter of political philosophy, conservatives avoid granting messianic status to politicians – notwithstanding Republicans’ recent penchant for re-naming every rest stop, park bench and sinkhole after Ronald Reagan.

Ideology that embraces citizen government should eschew the deification of political leaders. Human beings are fallible, politicians perhaps most of all, and Republicans ought to know this.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was, for a time, an exception to the rule. From his shocking upset of then-Gov. Charlie Crist in the 2010 senate primary, to his election that November, to the fluid way he served up Tea Party tenets, he caused conservatives to swoon. Throw in the fact that he speaks Spanish and still has most of his hair, and that was it. Rubio was the Next One, the Republican Obama.

For conservatives, this was intellectually inconsistent. Lately, it seems they know it.

Disenchantment began gradually. There were picayune rumblings over whether Rubio had embellished his parents’ history as Cuban exiles, he was passed over for the vice presidential spot on the 2012 Republican ticket, and he mangled a key passage in his address to the GOP Convention, calling for more “government over more freedom.”

Serious image trouble started with his response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address in February of 2013. He looked awful – not Bobby Jindal-awful, but awful nonetheless.

For a GOP presidential aspirant, this simply isn’t good enough. Democrats have the luxury of being able to look bad, get things wrong, and still win elections with the help of a cordial press. Republican candidates, meanwhile, as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell was once advised, “need to be doing it better and cleaner than the other guy.”

These are largely optics, which are important in politics. But the real Rubio letdown has come from his befuddled and baffling support of the 1,200-page immigration bill working its way through Congress. To his erstwhile supporters, the fact that Rubio would champion this legislation shows how quickly he has become a creature of Washington, DC.

Politicians and journalists care deeply about “immigration reform.” Regular Americans, by and large, do not. Polls consistently show Americans are more concerned about the economy, deficits, health care, the growth of the federal government, and a host of other issues than they are about immigration.

Rubio’s disaffected fans sent him to the Senate to champion their beliefs, not to focus on what the New York Times thinks is important. And if he were to stray, they wish he would be right, or effective. This effort seems like amnesty, decorated with promises of “border enforcement” that will go unfulfilled.

History does not support the oft-repeated nostrum that Republicans must embrace this sort of thing to woo Hispanic voters. Hispanics account for about 8.4% of the electorate. Had the GOP captured 70% of their votes in the 2012 presidential race, Obama would still have won. Further, the last time outright amnesty was enacted, in 1986, Republicans’ share of the Hispanic vote declined in the next federal election.

If Rubio ever did aspire to win the White House, these leftward moves have been unwise, no matter what Lindsey Graham might be cooing in his ear. There is an appetite in the land for what Rubio was meant to embody – a rebirth of individual liberty.

Democrats overjoyed at their ascendancy may cluck that America has rejected conservative politics. The reality is that, on the national level, true conservatism has not been offered for some time.

The last two cycles at least, Republicans have had to settle for presidential candidates that provoked something less than unbridled enthusiasm. Indeed, in 2008 and 2012, Republican enthusiasm was very, very bridled. This was a function of a weak field in 2012, and a misbegotten nomination process in 2008.

Mitt Romney might have been a competent manager, but nothing in his record or rhetoric suggested he would undertake real reform, such as many Republicans crave.

As for Sen. John McCain, from authoring legislation that contravenes the First Amendment, to obsessing over fashionable silly-bears like “climate change,” he represents Washington Republicanism at its worst. Even if he had somehow been elected, one suspects his act would have worn thin after one term. (Question: If McCain had won in 2008, would Hillary Clinton be president today? Discuss.)

Rubio emulates McCain, if not in cantankerousness, in senatorial detachment from the actual concerns of Americans. Witness the appalling contrast between Rubio’s 2010 self and the more recent, Schumer-snuggling version, flailing to defend what he himself calls a “laundry list” of immigration expenditures.

As syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer says of the proposed legislation, “it’s all inputs.” Rubio trumpets the 20,000 new border patrol agents, the 700-mile wall, the drones, and, most of all, the money being spent. After barely three years in the Senate, he imagines this is a strong argument.

In this way, Rubio demonstrates why America has only elected three of its presidents directly from the self-described “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.”

Marco Rubio was never the answer to America’s problems, and conservatives should not expect any politician to be.


Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at at theo@theocaldwell.com

Monday, July 1, 2013

Canada: Land of the Free



“It’s so clean and bland – I’m home!” –Marge Simpson, on arriving in Canada

With its mild manners and measured expectations, Canada has long served as North America’s straight man. From Michael Moore’s Canadian Bacon to The Simpsons to South Park, American comedy has tapped this area like the oil sands.

On one of their several sojourns to the Great White North, the Simpson clan pass by the set of a film called Canadian Graffiti, in which a street punk spray-paints three words on a wall: “Obey the rules.”

And this is largely the rap on Canadians: Even when they try to be edgy, their deference and decency win out, such that their rebellious affectations have all the authenticity of a hard-core Christian rock band.

But Canada is far from American stereotypes of socialism, centralization and obeisance, at least in relative terms. By almost any measure, Canada is a freer country than the USA.

Economically, the contrast is stark, for those who care to see. While folks reflexively state that Canadian taxes are higher than those of the United States, corporate and personal rates are lower up north, as is effective treatment of investment income. Moreover, Canadians and their families who reside abroad are not subject to the worldwide taxation and reporting requirements imposed on Americans by the IRS.

When Canada was spared the worst of the 2008 economic collapse, American liberals spoke wistfully of comprehensive Canadian financial regulations, as though this were what preserved Canucks’ multi-colored money. In reality, Canada’s good luck was a function of culture, not laws. Canadian banks had limited their exposure to misguided mortgage-backed securities, consistent with the country’s generally cautious investment philosophy.

Meanwhile, America responded to the crash by providing its oppressive Sarbanes-Oxley financial legislation with an equally Byzantine follow-up, Dodd-Frank.

For decades, Americans have debated the merits of Canada’s “socialized” health care, yet much of what Americans think they know about the Canadian system is wrong. Yes, Canada nominally maintains a single-payer plan, with taxpayers footing the tab for universal coverage, and there are prohibitions against the private purchase of services. In reality, about one-third of medical procedures are purchased privately and Canadians with the means often go to the United States for treatment (which has lately begged the question, if Obamacare is implemented, where will Canadians go for their health care?).

Ironically, in this era of mass communication, freedom of speech is hard to come by, and Canada is no exception. Even so, with the abolition of the Canadian Criminal Code’s Section 13, which punished so-called “hate speech,” Canada leads the Western world in reclaiming the right of individual free expression from the ravenous maw of political correctness.

Such legislation was nowhere near unique to Canada, as charges of “hate speech” are a ubiquitous tool of the worldwide Left, intended to silence opposition while elevating their approved opinions to the level of law. But the fact that Canada has abolished this shameful codification of censorship reveals a tendency toward renewal of liberty that the United States, and other nations, would do well to emulate.

As to day-to-day freedoms, and the likelihood of encounters with armed agents of the government, Canada is not immune to excesses by its authorities. Two quick examples: In 2010, during the G20 conference in Toronto, police brutalized civilians and conducted mass incarcerations of innocent bystanders; and, subsequent to the recent floods in Calgary, police were observed entering private homes and confiscating legally owned firearms.

But these are, thankfully, notable exceptions. Canada lacks the institutional and cultural predilection for ubiquitous policing and routine incarceration, such as exists in the United States.

As the greatest columnist in the world, Mark Steyn (also a Canadian, not coincidentally), has repeatedly observed of the US, “every tinpot makework paper-shuffling bureaucracy now runs around pretending to be Seal Team Six.”

The Department of Education dispatches SWAT police to enforce student-loan compliance, the IRS sends militarized thugs to make collections, and that’s before even contemplating the enormity of the Department of Homeland Security, the NSA, and so on.

While representing five percent of global population, the United States holds twenty-five percent of all the prisoners in the world, and incarcerates people at a rate 13 times greater than the nation’s population growth. Canada, meanwhile, reserves harsh criminal penalties for crimes like murder and holding up the Tim Horton’s drive-thru lane.

The relationship between Canada and the United States, while imperfect, represents one of the great successes of international affairs. Even so, relatively speaking, the true Land of the Free is the Great White North.


Theo Caldwell, host of TV’s Global Command Centre, has been a member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange, and the Kansas City Board of Trade. He can be reached at at theo@theocaldwell.com