Monthly Archives: June 2013

Who’s the Fiscal Conservative Now?

Dollars and Cents

Dollars and Cents (Photo credit: kahunapulej)

The Senate is about to pass a bill that the CBO estimates will cut the deficit by $197 billion over the 10-year 2014–2023 period, but there are those from a certain party who won’t vote for the bill unless additional spending of $30 billion is added to the bill. That party is the Republican Party.

Based on the way the Republican Party likes to brand itself as the party of fiscal conservatism and the way they like to brand their opponents as “tax and spend” liberals, it is a little odd that it is members of the Republican Party who are the ones who are insisting on adding $30 billion of government spending.

It is a little odd but not a lot odd. This is the pattern of the Republican Party: they like to talk big about being conservative spenders and deficit hawks, but history shows that they are quite fond of adding to government spending so long as it is for stuff they want the government to spend its money on.

They like government to spend money on “security.” Heck they created a whole new branch of government: Homeland Security. Recent estimates are that this new department has cost us $791 billion since it began ten years ago. Even adjusting for inflation that is more money than we spent on the New Deal.

Republicans also like to spend money that end up in the coffers of corporations rather than in the pockets of individuals. When individuals benefit, their stock portfolios don’t perform nearly as well as when they use tax dollars to churn up business for publicly owned companies.

The stock market has swooned over the past few days at the thought that the Federal Reserve might soon end its stimulus package for banks and corporations. The American people only got an anemic stimulus package 5 years ago, and Republicans are blocking any consideration of doing more. One of the reasons, among many, is, I believe, that the Federal Reserve  ties its stimulus for banks and corporations to the unemployment rate. The party for Wall Street ends when people go back to work, so why would Republicans want people to go back to work?

Back In Time To Solve A Crime

National Security Agency seal

National Security Agency seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2006, Denzel Washington starred in thriller titled “Déjà Vu.” I really love this movie. It had a clever premise: scientists had stumbled across a way to perform surveillance in the past. They could literally see and hear what was going on in a particular place a certain number of hours earlier.  It was fun to imagine how one might go about solving a crime by using a window into the past.

It didn’t occur to me at the time, but in a sense, we already had the technology to do something similar. In the digital age, so many records are kept by businesses that if only we could somehow preserve them all, then we would have a way of stepping back in time to see what happened. We could simply look up the records. The problem is that by the time you know who your suspect is, most of that past data is long gone.

An elegant but troubling solution is to gather information on everyone and store it in a lock-box somewhere so that it is available if and only if we later can show probably cause for needing the information.

This is exactly what our National Security Agency has been doing for years with phone records. The public reaction has been typical of the way we tend to react to things that involve new technology. We freak out a little bit in ways that are likely to seem funny to future generations.

I think we should be delighted at the clever idea of allowing law enforcement access to the past in this way. I think we should also be concerned about the potential for abuse of this lock-box of information. Our energies should get past the shock, and we should embrace this inevitable advance in law enforcement (storing surveillance videos is just one of many possible extensions of this idea that are sure to come). At the same time we should roll up our sleeves to develop an equally elegant solution to ensure that this data remains inaccessible without a warrant.