Wednesday, July 10, 2002

War On What?

First we had the war on poverty. Then we had the war on drugs. Now we have the war on terror. We can expect similar results with the new war as we have seen with the previous "wars".

The simple fact is that our government works primarily through a system known as "single interest politics". This is a system where, in order to advance their "single interest" legislators (and lobbyists) recruit support from others who have a different single interest, and assemble a coalition to pass the target legislation. The one single interest that almost all legislators share is their own reelection, with the additional need, common to all bureaucrats, to increase their power and therefore their budget.

For example, take the drug war. There are a few puritans who can't stand the idea that someone, somewhere is having a good time.(sorry Puritans. I believe that there are religious people who call themselves Puritans who are wonderful people, but the name of their movement has come to mean, well, people who can't stand the idea that someone, somewhere is having a good time.) There is another group who honestly feel that drugs are harmful, and we need to be protected from exposing ourselves to drugs by the threat of imprisonment. These forces alone, however, do not constitute a majority of legislators. Why would African Americans agree to continue such a powerful tool of oppression against their community? Rep. Charlie Rangel is on record as saying that drugs constitute "genocide" against his people. He can't possibly believe this, however. Most studies show that under legal "harm reduction" schemes the deleterious effects of drug abuse can be mitigated far beyond the wonderful sequelae of incarceration of massive numbers of his constituents. He is against repeal of anything that would reduce the profit margins of the drug trade(this point is not debatable, but his reasons for doing so might be), which is the largest income generator in his district. So he is squarely on the side of the puritans. Similarly, other groups with a single interest in maintaining prohibition are police, prosecutors, prison guards, and communities surrounding prisons, all of whom profit from current law, and would lose substantially under repeal. So they side with the puritans as well.

For another example, take the war on poverty. Nobody wants anyone to live in poverty. Lyndon Johnson passed the raft of legislation that is now called "the war on poverty" through blackmail (now referred to as "arm twisting"), as the recently released tapes show. No congressman could reasonably expect to be reelected if he is shown to be against poor people having enough to eat. Those who would have taken a principled stand in favor of teaching the poor to fish were stampeded into supporting the world's largest fish give away. Yet poverty continues, even if the bureaucracy needs to periodically move the bar by increasing the amount an American family can earn while still being declared poor.

For another example, take the "violence against women act". Please. Who can fail to take a stand against violence against women. Even though everyone knows that violence against women is already illegal. Assault and murder have been against every legal code since before Hammaurabi. (the ten commandments came along much later). Yet those who would make more laws, thereby increasing the power of the government into the area of thought crimes (usually called hate crimes) make common cause with women's groups without any showing that such law would make the safety of women any more secure. Their safety isn't even a significant part of the debate. There is no rational reason why a man who harms a woman because she cheated on him should get more jail time than a man who harmed her during a robbery, so such legislation gets enacted for irrational, i.e. emotional, reasons.

And now here comes the war on terror. Who is not against terror? Who can stand in the way of the juggernaut? But does terror require the suspense on the constitution? The rights of the accused are there for a very good reason. The more power the police get, the more they abuse that power. Yet the plan currently on the table even includes the suspension of the freedom of information act, as well as the protections afforded to whistleblowers. How do these suspensions enhance our security? And what use is a "Homeland Security" agency that does not include the FBI or the CIA.

The constitution grants to Congress the right to declare war. They have refused to do so in the present circumstance. When the executive declares war without the authority such a declaration, and the Congress goes along implicitly, history shows that, while the bureaucracy grows, and the authority of the executive is increased, the safety of the citizens is not enhanced. One definition of insanity has been defined as the predilection to repeat behavior already known to have no good or positive results. It is also a definition of addiction. If we are, as a nation, addicted to pursuing undeclared wars rather than seeking specific means to combat certain threats, we need treatment. But, I'm afraid that this nation will seek treatment only after getting just one more shot. Let's just hope that this shot of "homeland security" does not hurt us too badly.