Trust and the Rule of Law

In some ways, the tension that Schneier talks about is one of the fundamental problems of civilization: how can we protect ourselves from people we don’t know?

The idea of the rule of law is one invention, one technology, we developed to mitigate exactly the kinds of risks he talks about: risks from other people.

The surveillance state he describes is a different way to cope with the problem of trusting strangers. By constantly watching everyone, we don’t have to worry about trusting other people anymore: we’ll know if they’re lying to us, or mean us harm, because we’ll know exactly what they’ve been doing, always.

As an approach to society, it’s completely opposed to the idea of the rule of law. Law provides a framework for dispute resolution in the absence of certainty. But if everything is certain, what do we need the law for? Turned on its head, if the law doesn’t give us the sense that we can trust other people, the only way we can function is to watch everyone, always.

For me, the surveillance state is a consequence of a greater loss of faith in the rule of law in American society.

Every time we see a corporate leader get away with embezzling money, or an entire company settle out of court for a pittance, we lose faith in the law.

When it takes more than a year to recover the $1500 we spent on a new roof that’s leaky because the roofer was negligent, we lose faith in the law.

And when we see our friends threatened with jail just for sharing music with one another, we lose faith in the law.

One of the aims of democracy is to produce better laws, laws that everyone will follow.

But if you gerrymander your Congressional districts, you’ll get lawmakers that don’t have to respond to the needs of anyone save a tiny minority.

If lawmakers don’t have to respond to the majority, you’ll get patchwork laws that give something away to everyone and end up helping no one.

When that happens, the law stops working for the majority of people.

And when that happens, the people turn against the law.


The Republican Party is a party of quitters.

They keep telling us that government isn’t working. Their solution? Get rid of the government.

Where I come from, if something’s broken, you have to fix it, because you can’t afford to replace it.

Maybe the leaders of the Republican Party have gotten too wealthy to remember that. Maybe to them, getting rid of government services like Food Stamps, the Department of Education, and the Environmental Protection Agency isn’t a problem, because they can just buy something to replace it.

But we can’t. We can’t afford to have a broken government, and we can’t afford to quit either. 

We need to help each other when we go through hard times, like welfare does for poor families. 

We need to make sure our children drink clean water and breathe clean air, like the EPA does. 

We need a little help getting our kids into college, like the Department of Education does.

We can’t be quitters.

We can’t be Republicans.


When Democrats pander to their base, we get more money for schools.

When Republicans pander to their base, we get slashed budgets for everything from roads and bridges to military benefits.

When Democrats pander to their base, we hear about how great this country can be if we all work together.

When Republicans pander to their base, we hear about how terrible this country is because of poor people and immigrants.

When Democrats pander to their base, we extend the benefits of American citizenship to new groups.

When Republicans pander to their base, we get restricted rights for women and minorities.

See the difference?

No Case for Guns

Arguments about gun control in the US usually turn on the justification for restricting gun ownership.

But let’s turn the argument on its head for a minute. Why should citizens have access to automatic and semi-automatic weapons?

I’ve heard five separate arguments for loose gun control laws in the U.S. None of them hold up. Here’s why:

We should allow guns because of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

No dice. Same document enshrines slavery in law. Can’t use it to justify slavery. Can’t use it to justify gun ownership. Times have changed. When a part of the Constitution doesn’t work anymore, we change it.

Guns make us safer.

Wrong again. Having a gun during a crime increases your own chances of injury and death. More guns means more murders in the developed world. They don’t make you safer.

They keep us free.

Nope. Rule of law and a democratic constitution keep us free. Liberal democratic regimes govern most of the developed world, with stricter gun control laws than the US. India’s democracy - the world’s largest - came about because of the most famous nonviolent movement in history. Guns do not guarantee freedom.

We need them for hunting.

No one wants to take away your hunting rifles. Semi-automatics are only good for hunting people.

Shooting them is fun!

Correct. So is car racing. But we know car racing is dangerous, so we keep it confined to trained drivers on closed courses. Automatic and semi-automatic weapons should be treated the same way.

And that’s why pro-gun pundits amd lobbyists try to keep gun control advocates on the defensive. Because they don’t have a case, and don’t want to be forced to make one.

Sexism: WTF?

I find sexism puzzling.

Blame the movies of the 80s: I grew up watching women govern corporations (often better than men), lead their babysitting charges safely through the wilds of Chicago, and become entrepreneurs while enjoying their children.

You can also blame my mom, who took up all the slack caused by my dad’s illness and then some. She went back to school, secured a job as an English public school teacher, and made sure my sister and I had a roof over our heads, clothes on our growing bodies, and plenty of food. My dad spent my formative years sinking into depression and drug addiction. My mom spent them kicking ass.

So when I encounter someone that thinks women aren’t just as good as men at something, I’m dumbfounded. It’s like hearing an adult claim the moon is made of blue cheese. WTF?

And it pops up everywhere.

The contractors we had help us build a deck at our house in Arkansas wouldn’t listen to my wife. If she made a suggestion, or asked them to fix something that was structurally unsound, they’d ignore her. But if the same words came out of my mouth? Instant action.

I wanted to shake those guys and say, “Don’t you realize that the only reason you’re here, getting paid, is because of her? That if it were up to me, the entire yard would be a jungle inhabited by feral cats?” Their behavior wasn’t just bizarre to me, or unfair, it was downright self-defeating.

It’s not just Southern good-old-boys, either. Doctors and nurses will ignore my wife’s description of her symptoms, but listen with rapt attention when I repeat them. Car salesmen will talk to just me about a new car, even when we’re buying the car for my wife.

It’s like they have a special form of brain damage, that only allows them to understand something if it’s said by a man.

I’m sick of it, but I’m still not exactly sure how to counteract it. For salesmen and contractors, we just take our business elsewhere. But what should we do about the ear nose and throat specialist that might be a great surgeon even if he’s a sexist asshole? Would calling him out help?

I suppose I should speak up more when it happens, but it’s still so shocking for me to encounter that I’m often speechless in the moment. Which is doubly tragic if I’m the only gender they’ll listen to.

Grandpa’s Metallica

Has there ever been a type of music that wasn’t terrifying when it first came out?

I mean, when jazz became popular the parents of white america shit their hearts out. Their kids grew up and had fits about elvis presley’s hips. Those rock n roll kids thought the world ended when NWA released their first album. And so on.

And each time, the new music went from shocking to lame in just one generation. It became music for your grandparents, reminding us all of simpler times, when men were men and so were women.

This means that someday, when I’m too old for my kids to put up with me, I’m going to attend a dance at the nursing home and slow-dance to rage against the machine. It’ll be beautiful.

Balancing Act

Balancing the federal budget by cutting both taxes and spending is like saying I’ll pay off the credit card by quitting my job and living off Ramen noodles.

Romney and the 47%

That 47% of all Americans don’t pay federal income taxes is an old Republican line.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Romney said it. He’s already proved he’ll say anything to get elected. Ragging on the 47% is par for the Republican course.

But let’s unpack why this was not a gaffe for Romney. Sure, liberals heard him picking on the poor, but he wasn’t talking to liberals.

He was talking to people that work hard, and feel like they still can’t make ends meet. He’s also talking to people that run their own businesses, and feel they’ve had to fight for everything they own.

To those people, hearing that 47% of Americans don’t pay income taxes doesn’t make you wonder who could be so poor that they’re exempt. It doesn’t make you question the wisdom of the Reagan and Bush tax cuts that caused the number of the exempt to swell.

It makes you angry. And angry people don’t check facts. They vote their anger.

Even getting burned in the press for saying this is good for Mitt Romney. After all, what he said is true; attacking him for saying it only further alienates the people he’s talking to.

So don’t think this was anything other than a carefully constructed Republican sound bite. Cause Romney isn’t sorry he said it. He’s sorry he didn’t say it sooner.

Republican Budget Cuts

Romney and the Republicans think the government spends too much money. They want to slash federal and state budgets across the board.

At a time when millons of Americans are looking for work, they want to cut unemployment benefits.

At a time when many Americans need help buying food for their children, they want to cut food stamps.

At a time when more Americans than ever before want to go to college, they want to cut federal school grants and loans.

They insist that the one thing we can’t do is raise taxes on the rich. Raising taxes would allow us to keep federal programs that provide help to millions of Americans, but the Republicans say it’s not worth it.

They’d rather make sure Wall Street bankers can buy their third house than help you keep yours.

They’d rather Mitt Romney’s friends put a little extra into their kids’ trust funds than help young mothers feed their children.

They’d rather the CEO of Goldman Sachs take home an extra million dollars than help a million Americans pay for college.

That’s a trade we can’t afford to make.

A Romney Administration: We Can’t Afford It.

Republican Conception of Freedom

Mitt Romney and the Republicans have a very narrow conception of freedom.

For them, freedom is letting you go without health insurance.

For them, freedom is telling a pregnant rape victim she has to carry that child to term.

For them, freedom is denying women access to birth control.

That’s not my kind of freedom.

Freedom means letting women choose when to have kids.

Freedom means choosing and being able to afford your doctor.

Romney and the Republicans want companies to be free, but not people. They’ve forgotten that this is a country of, by, and for the people.

They’ve forgotten what it means to be free.