Thursday, January 28, 2010

Couple of Quick Notes

- Lest you think Mike Bloomberg is a pioneer in banning incredibly stupid things, New York - as well as much of the country - once banned pinball. Yes, pinball. In fact, pinball was illegal in much of the country through the '70s, and it was (technically) illegal for kids in Nashville, TN to play pinball until 2004. Kinda makes you look at Tommy a hell of a lot differently, huh?

- Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig, whose First Amendment credentials are generally beyond reproach, criticizes the Citizens United decision. His argument is that the case compares to Rust v. Sullivan, the 1991 case that allowed the government to restrict doctors who receive government funds from discussing abortion. Corporations receive a government benefit in reduced legal liability for shareholders - therefore they are subject to government regulations on speech. And remember my post on the comparison between Morse and Citizens United? Lessig also points out the hypocrisy between the decisions in Rust and Citizens United, noting that Court conservatives were okay with restricting speech they didn't like and allowing speech they considered benign.

That might be worth noting for conservatives - if you support Citizens United, it's awful tough to continue to support either Rust or Morse without trying to claim that corporations actually have more free speech rights than individuals...

- I'm in the process of re-uploading the images for the last two posts. Stay tuned. Anyone know how to save an Excel chart as a JPG?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

At Dave's Request

In the comments of the last post, Dave wanted me to crunch some numbers on a proxy for social conservatism. I chose two measures - percentage of a state's residents that attend church, and percentage of a state's vote for McCain in 2008. Neither have much of an effect:

Both correlations are positive, but both trendlines are almost horizontal and both correlation factors are extremely low, especially the McCain one. So I doubt that a state's social conservatism/liberalism has much of an effect on teen pregnancy.

Teen Pregnancy Rate Kerfuffle

Seems the latest Guttmacher Institute report on teen pregnancy has gotten the pundit world in a bit of a tizzy. Teen pregnancies showed an increase in 2006 after a solid decade and a half decline, and the finger pointing is beginning. As this article points out, much of the battle rages over abstinence-only education, and whether federal funding for it is a good idea. Opponents say that abstinence-only education leaves teenagers unprepared for sex, which leads to pregnancies when it inevitably happens. Supporters say that the data support an increase in abstinence-only education to get teenagers to stop having sex (and thus stop getting pregnant).

What I didn't see was anyone who actually looked at the data to see if there was any correlation. So I did. I compared Guttmacher's numbers for pregnancy among 15-19-year-olds to SIECUS' numbers for abstinence-only education funding, divided by the number of pupils in each state's public school system. I threw out DC's outlier numbers. The results (standard correlation-causation caveats apply):

The data show a slight - very slight - positive correlation between abstinence-only funding per pupil and teen pregnancy rate. That would seem to support the case of abstinence-only opponents. It's hard to read much out of such a low correlation number, but let's compare a state's teen pregnancy rate to its median income level - poverty is often cited as a cause of teen pregnancy - and see what we get:

That's the negative correlation we would expect, but it's an even worse correlation.

So what can we conclude? First, we can discard the idea of poverty leading to teen pregnancy, at least as a primary factor. Abstinence-only education is more of a factor, though the low correlation number would suggest that there are either a) other things that are more of a factor or b) a whole host of things that affect teen-pregnancy rates that I didn't graph.

Here's a few more fun tidbits of data:

- The national average for abstinence-only education funding per pupil is $3.73. Only two states in the bottom 15 of teen pregnancy rates - Nebraska (9th lowest) and South Dakota (11th lowest) - spend more than this on abstinence-only education.

- The five states with the lowest rates - New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Minnesota, and North Dakota - all spend less than a dollar per pupil on abstinence-only.

- Seven states - Vermont, Minnesota, Idaho (!), Montana, Rhode Island, Wyoming, and Delaware - spend no money on abstinence-only education. The first four states on that list are all in the bottom 15. Delaware has the 6th highest rate - Rhode Island and Wyoming are firmly middle-of-the-pack.

- The state that spends the most on abstinence-only, South Dakota, has the 11th lowest teen pregnancy rate. The state that spends the second-most, Mississippi, has the 5th highest.

What's truly weird is that culture doesn't appear to play any role in teen pregnancy either. Generally socially conservative states appear on both sides of the teen pregnancy spectrum, as do generally socially liberal states. (Southern states do appear to concentrate near the top though - Virginia has the lowest rate among Southern states, and it's 20th lowest.)

If there's a conclusion to be drawn here, it's that abstinence-only education has been a factor - but hardly the only factor, or even the most important one - in increasing teen pregnancy rates. Comprehensive sex education can decrease teen pregnancy rates somewhat, but it isn't the cure-all for pregnancy rates that supporters often portray it as. But most importantly, teen pregnancy is a phenomenon whose many causes are not well understood - well, except for the direct cause, of course.

The other option, of course, is that the two are so lightly correlated that there can be no causative link, and that the two are independent phenomena. From looking at these data, there's a good argument to be made that the level of sex education doesn't really affect whether or not teens get pregnant. Either way, though, abstinence-only advocates like to push their programs as a cure for teen pregnancy. We can conclude that that's clearly not the case - as our data show, there's no possibility that abstinence-only education funding could decrease teen pregnancy rates.

A Bad Excuse for Murder

Ben, didn't you write a paper about this back in law school?
Barack Obama, like George Bush before him, has claimed the authority to order American citizens murdered based solely on the unverified, uncharged, unchecked claim that they are associated with Terrorism and pose "a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests." They're entitled to no charges, no trial, no ability to contest the accusations. Amazingly, the Bush administration's policy of merely imprisoning foreign nationals (along with a couple of American citizens) without charges -- based solely on the President's claim that they were Terrorists -- produced intense controversy for years. That, one will recall, was a grave assault on the Constitution. Shouldn't Obama's policy of ordering American citizens assassinated without any due process or checks of any kind -- not imprisoned, but killed -- produce at least as much controversy?

The danger here, as I see it, is that we're not dealing with an actual defined "enemy" here. We're dealing with people who could just as easily be tried in the U.S. for actual crimes. We're too busy thinking about al-Qaeda nutbags as "soldiers" when in reality they're just standard-issue thugs that we ought to treat as such. I've argued before that the difference between al-Qaeda and the Mafia is merely one of degree (though the Mafia tends to be far more well-organized). I don't get why we need to create a whole new legal framework that involves presidentially-ordered killings and indefinite detention when the trial-by-jury one we already have works just fine.

And in fact, creating this new legal framework has only served to confuse the issue of terrorism and the issue of POWs from Afghanistan and Iraq (people who were caught while engaging in hostilities against American troops). A legal framework already exists to deal with both situations - the criminal justice system for terrorists and the Geneva Conventions for POWs. I can think of no person detained by the U.S. that could not be placed in either. Why did we need to create a new one and lump terrorists and POWs all together?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tweedledee and Tweedledum Meet the Constitution

The Supreme Court was recently asked to decide a free speech case. The speech in question was corrupting and often misleading. If it overturned the government's law and allowed the speech, many people could be led astray by similar speech. It would have a corrupting effect on our culture and our government.

I'm referring to the Citizens United v. FEC case that recently overturned the McCain-Feingold restrictions on corporate and union political contributions, of course. But I could just as easily have been referring to Morse v. Frederick, the 2006 case where the Court allowed an Alaska school to suspend a student for unfurling a "Bong Hits for Jesus" banner at a non-school-related event.

As someone who believes in the First Amendment, I support the former decision and oppose the latter. I do not believe the "compelling state interest" doctrine has any place in determining whether the government should respect enumerated rights. (There is a place for "compelling state interest" in unenumerated rights, but even there it should be restricted heavily. And don't get me started on the intellectually bankrupt "rational basis" test.) The "compelling state interest" argument essentially gives the right to restrict speech, imprison people without cause, and otherwise violate Constitutional rights to any government official with a slick lawyer capable of convincing five justices that their "interest" is "compelling." It's what leads to the Fourth Amendment being eroded in the age of terrorism. It's why Morse v. Frederick exists in the "war on drugs" era.

In his defense of Citizens United, Greenwald (not exactly a corporatist conservative) writes:
The "rule of law," however, means that if the Constitution or other laws bar X, then X is not allowed regardless of how many good outcomes can be achieved by X. That was true for the "crisis" of Terrorism, and it's just as true for the crisis of corporate influence over our political process. Whatever solutions are to be found for either problem, they cannot be ones that the Constitution explicitly prohibits. That's what "the rule of law" means.
The famous quotes from Voltaire ("I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it") and Mencken (the whole "defense of scoundrels" thing) also apply. But what's clear to me is that most people - both liberal and conservative - will gladly abandon constitutionalism when they're scared of something. Conservatives are afraid of terrorism, so they'll support lawless detention policies that are clearly unconstitutional. Conservatives and some liberals are afraid of drugs, so we get Morse. Liberals and moderates are afraid of corporate influence in elections, so we got, for a time, McCain-Feingold (though liberals are also free-speech fans, so as it turns out the Citizens United decision has the support of 62% of Democrats - it's independents that are lukewarm about the decision).

The idea that a desired legislative outcome is constitutional (and an undesirable one is unconstitutional) is situational constitutionalism, and while common citizens only passingly versed in constitutional law would be expected to confuse the two, one would expect experienced jurists like the Supreme Court justices to resist that temptation. But as it turns out, that's not the case. Of the eight justices who ruled in both Morse and Citizens United, seven switched sides - this, despite the fact that the two cases ruled on essentially the same constitutional question*. The eighth, Stephen Breyer, was with the bad guys on both cases (though his concurrence in Morse was partial). The conservatives hate drugs and like corporations, and voted like it. The liberals are okay with drugs and hate corporations, and voted like it. It's pretty clear to me that the constitutional justification for their rulings came after their minds had been made up.

Also worth a read: Brayton discusses why Citizens United doesn't really change anything.

*Scalia, Kennedy, and Stevens also ruled in 1989's Texas v. Johnson, which overturned a Texas law against flag-burning and is thus addressing this same question. The former two sided with free speech, while the latter opposed it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Banditos Theorem Proven Yet Again

From Balko's Twitter feed comes this fun little item, where Oregon Democrats attempted to sneak this little gem into a tax law that was likely going to be defeated by the voters:
A measure referred to the people by referendum petition may not be adopted unless it receives an affirmative majority of the total votes cast on the measure rejecting the measure. For purposes of this subsection, a measure is considered adopted if it is rejected by the people.

The perfect confluence of cynicism and stupidity. Although really, I just wanted an excuse to post this song, linked because I can't embed.

Never Been One to Take My Chances

Of all the varying analyses of the Massachusetts special election that ended in victory for Republican Scott Brown, Conor Friersdorf's is by far the best:
It is particularly amusing to see folks call the outcome stunning in one breath and aver in the next that they can explain why it happened mere hours after the fact, without any new data save the result. This is especially grating when it’s so obvious that the election turned on all the issues that were most important to me, that the outcome so clearly vindicates my world view, and that the wisest course in light of the results is for both parties to do exactly what I’ve been advocating for all along.

Only a partisan hack could deny that all aspects of this election bolstering my analysis happened to be most significant, whereas factors that cut against my thesis were ultimately irrelevant to the outcome. Let this be a lesson to my political and ideological opponents in future contested elections — insofar as it is advantages my policy preferences, what happened in Massachusetts is a harbinger of things to come in the 2010 midterms, and even in 2012. Meanwhile all precedents seemingly at odds with my national political proclivities were unique, and should be ignored.

Commenter ken b. responded:
What an ignorant post. It’s obvious to anyone with half a brain that my views were vindicated, while yours were completely demolished.

Funny, but there's a point here. Elections are capricious things that turn on any number of issues, big and small, local and national. Governing majorities aren't going to last forever, especially not with an electorate as split down the middle as ours. Treating a majority as if it had any permanence is stupid - remember that "permanent Republican majority" of DeLay's? - and that makes selling yourself out to hold on to power absolutely foolish, because your time out of power will come whether you want it to or not, and whatever machinations you might see fit to pull will eventually be for naught. Furthermore, once you're on top there's only one place to go. Procrastinating on your legislative agenda in order to gain political advantage just doesn't work.

One party in Washington understands this. The Republicans have been admirable in sticking to their guns even when it cost them elections. The Democrats have been selling themselves out in a futile attempt to hold on to power, and the liberal wing of the party has basically let itself be swamped. We haven't seen accountability and the rule of law restored to our terrorism policy, the health care bill basically turned into corporate welfare once the public option was dropped, and there has been no movement on civil rights for LGBT folks at all. Instead, the Democrats have lived in fear of Republican attacks that they think might take away their power.

And you know what? They're right. Those Republican attacks might well succeed. But guess what? That's politics for you. On top one year, on the bottom the next. If you can't stand up to attacks from the other side and do what you want to do, why the hell are you in this business? If there's one thing to be learned from the Massachusetts special election, it's that there's no reward in changing who you are. You'll win some, you'll lose some, so if you're going to go down anyway you might as well go down swinging.

One final thing. A lot of conservadems and Republicans are saying that "the Left" is somehow responsible for this election defeat. Riiiight. I can think of no occasion during this presidency when "the Left" has gotten something significant that it wanted. Obama has ignored or antagonized "the Left" on terrorism policy, the war in Afghanistan, economic policy, gay rights, and health care. Sullivan writes:
But if one had traveled to Mars and back this past year and read this statement, what would you assume had happened? I would assume that the banks had been nationalized, the stimulus was twice as large, that single-payer healthcare had been pushed through on narrow majority votes, that card-check had passed, that an immigration amnesty had been legislated, that prosecutions of Bush and Cheney for war crimes would be underway, that withdrawal from Afghanistan would be commencing, that no troops would be left in Iraq, that Larry Tribe was on the Supreme Court, that DADT and DOMA would be repealed, and so on.

Grouse about "the Left" all you want, but not only can I not think of a significant leftist victory under Obama, I can't think a significant leftist victory during my lifetime (I was born in 1981). If you think "the Left" has any power in Washington, you're plain nuts.

Anyway, the tenor of this post reminded me of this song. There are literally no good videos for it (odd considering it's not all that obscure), so here it is set to some random trippy movie scenes:

Posts on Citizens United and the Gitmo murders to come. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Earthquake Donations

For those of you who want to help Haitians deal with the horrifying earthquake that happened there yesterday, and whose death toll is estimated by some to be in the hundreds of thousands, here's a few links:


Doctors Without Borders

Red Cross - though apparently you can donate via text message by texting HAITI to 90999.

That'll get a list started. Comment if you know of any other reputable organizations helping the relief efforts down there.

Update: Partners in Health's relief efforts.

Also try Hope for Haiti

Update II Beth points out that Raleighites can drop items at Beleza in Cameron Village - they'll channel their aid through the United Methodist Church, which apparently has a pretty good operation going.

Also, the Union for Reform Judaism has a donation site here. It claims to be overhead-free, which is a plus, though I don't think URJ has much of an established operation there right now.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bad Law! Bad!

There are some stupid laws out there. Most of them are of the "it's illegal to carry an open umbrella in Hot Springs" or "it's illegal to have sex with your socks on in Virginia" variety - ridiculous, but generally harmless. After all, who's going to enforce those laws?

Then there are laws like this. Apparently in DC, New York, and San Francisco, if you're a woman and you're carrying three or more condoms, you'll be thrown in jail for prostitution.

Now forget whether or not you think prostitution should be illegal. Most people do, and that's fine. Even so, the stupidity involved here is all but impossible to fathom. Do they think that only prostitutes go out thinking they might get laid that night? Three condoms is a pretty good number to have on you, and while one would expect most men to have condoms on them when they go out, it's generally foolish to rely on others for that sort of thing. Most women who carry condoms on them when they go out aren't prostitutes - they're responsible adults.

So what are the effects of this law? One is to hassle sexually active young women and reinforce goofy gender norms - one can't help but note that men can presumably carry an entire case of condoms around and not be arrested for solicitation. The second is to encourage unwanted pregnancies and the spread of STDs - after all, you're not going to stop people from having sex (paid or unpaid) just by outlawing excessive condom carrying. Third is that the burden of the DC law at least is going to fall mostly on poor women. The DC law can only be enforced within "Prostitution Free Zones," which are delineated by the DC police. The last one was in Near Northeast, which, while gentrifying, is mostly a working-class neighborhood. Any chance one of these gets declared in Georgetown or Cleveland Park? No. So while middle-class and wealthy women can go out responsibly in Georgetown with no fear of police harassment, working-class women in an arbitrarily defined "Prostitution-Free Zone" in a poor neighborhood cannot.

Anyway, it's stupid, and proof that people who make laws often do so out of panic. There's no way this policy was well-thought-out before it was passed.

Update: Apparently New York City, despite their anti-condom law, passes out free official condoms. The foolishness of lawmakers never ceases to amaze.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Nostalgia and Munroe's Law

The Daily Show's incomparable John Oliver explores some of the nostalgia coming from conservatives:
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Nostalgia is a powerful drug. Even I find myself nostalgic for the '90s sometimes (which I associate with my youth more than the '80s, despite having been born in 1981). In the back of my mind I realize that tolerance for gay people has increased since then, violent crime was much higher then, and barriers for women and minorities that existed then are being steadily eroded, not to mention the fact that the Internet has opened up countless entertainment and communication possibilities and has made being an informed citizen easier than ever before... but dude, Nirvana is way better than this Nickelback shit.

I'm not gonna go around like Candide and say that we live in the best of all possible worlds here, of course. I liked politics without all the senseless fearmongering over terrorism. I liked the fact that we weren't involved in two major wars. I liked the balanced budget.

Nostalgia, like all drugs, isn't necessarily bad if used properly. Returning to happy childhood memories can have a great calming effect. But in the end, as I mentioned a few posts ago, when we force government to indulge our childish fantasies we're bound to have a problem. In a way, the Beck clip Oliver shows at the beginning of his segment has a point: when we ask government to return us to some nebulous state that may have existed only in our own imaginations, we're causing more problems than we solve. Sadly, Beck pays no mind to his own warning - by agitating for a larger role for the executive in terrorism issues and government control over private decisions, he's consistently doing exactly what he warns against.

Munroe's Law, based on this comic, states that "more harm has been done by people panicked over societal decline than societal decline ever did." This is because the idea of societal decline is tied in heavily with nostalgia. If we have some sugar-coated view of the era of our childhood, of course any change from that era is going to look like decline whether or not it's actually bad... so we often oppose beneficial change because, under the influence of nostalgia, we view it as decline. And we often support harmful or interventionist reactionary policies because we view them as reversing decline.

The lesson here, I guess, is to grapple with change on its own terms, and to do that requires us to stop idealizing our childhood eras and applying this idealization to politics. When we accept that some things about the era we grew up in weren't so great, we can start to look at the actual effects of changes and embrace or fight them based on that.

Anyway, I guess this is a long, drawn-out way of saying that I'm nostalgic for the 2006 college football championship game. Why, when I was that age, Mack Brown didn't call a timeout so he could call an ill-conceived shovel pass before halftime...

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Does Brit Hume Deserve a Rummy?

I don't know if I've mentioned it on the blog before, but occasionally I give out Rummy Awards to people who say something perfectly reasonable that sounds kind of odd and then get unfairly lampooned for it in the media. Its original inspiration was Donald Rumsfeld's "unknown unknown" speech, which was made fun of by seemingly everyone despite conveying the sensible notion that unforseen circumstances and problems will exist. Other past winners include John Kerry (for "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it," referring to the difference between substantive procedural votes and protest votes) and Janet Napolitano ("The system worked," which referred to what happened after Captain Underpants got on the plane). Anyway, I'm mulling over giving a Rummy to Brit Hume.

Brit Hume, as you probably know by now, is the Fox News anchor who said that Tiger Woods should ditch Buddhism for Christianity so he can gain forgiveness for his adulterous behavior. The chorus of voices ripping Hume has grown since then.

Now I don't think much of Hume as a newsman, but in this case I fail to see the problem with Hume's statement. Hume is, presumably, a Christian, and Christianity states that forgiveness for sins is only possible through belief in Jesus as the Savior. To Christians, then, Buddhism doesn't offer forgiveness in the same way as Christianity because it doesn't involve Christ. So to Hume, Tiger is not just a sinner - we're all sinners, after all - but he's not forgiven for his sins because he doesn't believe in Jesus. So of course Hume would say that Buddhism doesn't offer forgiveness for Tiger's sins while Christianity does, because that's a basic tenet of Christianity.

What I think is at work here is that this particular Christian belief is an uncomfortable one for those who want to put a happy-face on all religion and pretend that it's all about everyone getting along all the time. I'll admit, too, that those people aren't all barking up the wrong tree in their desire to make religion about that. It's a noble goal. But Christianity isn't just about "be nice to one another" - it's also about salvation and the afterlife and God and Jesus and all that other stuff I just mentioned. So when someone wants to give voice to those other aspects of Christianity, it doesn't really fit into the "be nice to each other" narrative, and so those who subscribe to that narrative react viscerally and want to shut down the expression of that part of the faith.

I should know about such reactions - as Ben can attest, I've been down that road. But I don't think it's appropriate to ask a Christian like Hume to hold back on his religious views just because some people might find those views disagreeable or laughable. He has the right to voice his opinions, we non-Christians have a right to disagree, but his opinions are hardly ridiculous - rather, they're consistent with mainstream Christian belief. This doesn't mean Hume's beliefs are above criticism, just that Hume's statement is hardly the out-there crazy missive it seems to be portrayed as in the media.

Hume's Rummy for flagrant and inconvenient Christianity wouldn't be unprecedented - Rev. Jerry Falwell, for whom long-time readers know I had absolutely no love, got a belated Rummy for his statement about the anti-Christ being Jewish*. Of course, I'm not a Christian, so I might have this all wrong. That's why I'm not pulling the trigger on the Rummy yet. If any of you Christian readers care to weigh in and tell me if I've got this fouled up, let me know.

* An injudicious statement, perhaps, but one which is backed up by sound millenarian Christian theology and thus isn't really anti-Semitic at all. John from Truth Before Dishonor has a summary of the theology here.

Update: Michael Gerson has taken up residence in my head. Spend too long up there, Gerson, and you'll become a moonbat like me...

One note: Gerson attributes the criticism of Hume to intolerance of strong belief. I don't necessarily buy that - I don't think most of the people reacting negatively to Hume are intolerant of strong belief; rather, they're merely naive. That is, they simply don't understand what strong religious belief entails. I can see where Gerson would get this idea, and calling it intolerance tells part of the story, but it doesn't tell the whole story in my opinion.

Monday, January 04, 2010

You Have The Right To Remain Geeky

All I can say after reading this: there must not be any real crime in Howard County, because damn, the police there are bored.

Cancel That Trip to Dublin

Speaking of nanny states: since it's very rare for me to go a full day without saying something blasphemous, I guess I should avoid Ireland from now on. They've just passed a law making blasphemy illegal. In response, some hilarious Irish atheists published a list of quotes that would be considered blasphemous under the new law. They include pearls of wisdom from Jesus, Muhammad, and the minister who proposed the law in the first place.

Bonus - the political party currently in charge in Ireland is called "Fianna Fail." I'm not making that up.

Mother, Mother

The idea of the "nanny state" is a frequent focus of libertarian attacks. By "nanny state," libertarians generally mean rules and regulations passed by the government that seek to control personal behavior - bans on smoking and drug usage are a good example. If you want a sample of libertarian anti-nanny state activism, Jacob at Eternal Recurrence Liquidity Preference does a good job of attacking nanny state laws against smoking, drinking, and various forms of food, and Nobody's Business has some good posts decrying random regulatory madness.

I generally find myself in agreement with the anti-nanny state people, but I think there's a little bit more to this nanny state idea than batty regulations and restrictions on personal freedom. So I was interested when the blind mouse that is David Brooks found the cheese with this column about the Underpants Bomber:
Now we seem to expect perfection from government and then throw temper tantrums when it is not achieved. We seem to be in the position of young adolescents — who believe mommy and daddy can take care of everything, and then grow angry and cynical when it becomes clear they can’t.


In a mature nation, President Obama could go on TV and say, “Listen, we’re doing the best we can, but some terrorists are bound to get through.” But this is apparently a country that must be spoken to in childish ways. The original line out of the White House was that the system worked. Don’t worry, little Johnny.

When that didn’t work the official line went to the other extreme. “I consider that totally unacceptable,” Obama said. I’m really mad, Johnny. But don’t worry, I’ll make it all better.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration has to be seen doing something, so it added another layer to its stage play, “Security Theater” — more baggage regulations, more in-flight restrictions.

Is the nanny state mentality leaking into the so-called "War on Terror"? Greenwald has more:
This is what inevitably happens to a citizenry that is fed a steady diet of fear and terror for years. It regresses into pure childhood. The 5-year-old laying awake in bed, frightened by monsters in the closet, who then crawls into his parents' bed to feel Protected and Safe, is the same as a citizenry planted in front of the television, petrified by endless imagery of scary Muslim monsters, who then collectively crawl to Government and demand that they take more power and control in order to keep them Protected and Safe. A citizenry drowning in fear and fixated on Safety to the exclusion of other competing values can only be degraded and depraved.

And so we get security theater from the TSA, which can easily be seen as nanny state. But when we're running to the government saying "mommy, mommy, protect me from the scary terrorists," we also get warrantless wiretapping, abuses of the state secrets privilege, extralegal detention programs, "enemy combatants," and - well - basically every excess of the Bush and Obama administrations' anti-terrorism policy.

It's all nanny state. It's all predicated in the foolish belief that our government should be able to keep the rest of the world at bay. Like children, we run to government offering to give up everything in order to protect us - from ourselves, from the terrorists, from whoever. Our principles of personal liberty and the rule of law suddenly become malleable when faced with the big scary monster in the closet. We need government to Do Something. We need the president to reassure us that everything is okay and we freak the fuck out when he doesn't. (Seriously, the Republican attacks on Obama in the wake of the Underpants Bomber Fail remind me of nothing more than the way my 22-month-old daughter reacts if she's watching the Backyardigans episode with the giant scary-looking robot and I'm not holding her at the time the robot shows up.)

I don't know about you, but I don't need a president to kiss me on the head and tuck me in at night. I'm an adult, for heaven's sake, with principles and morals and a perspective on the actual danger posed by terror attacks. I don't need reassurance, I need competence, and I'm not selling myself out for the illusion of safety. There are rational, positive steps we can take to fight terror, but we don't need to lose our heads, go overboard, and sacrifice our principles. Let's take an honest assessment of the threat and react accordingly. We can and should work to patch the holes in the intelligence gathering system, but we don't need a whole new legal framework to deal with terror crimes, we don't need to torture or maim anyone or imprison anyone without cause, and we don't need to fight long, protracted wars over it. Terrorism isn't even close to being an existential threat to America. We shouldn't lose our heads and treat it as such.

And another thing. Parents know that when their kid is scared and freaking out, the absolute last thing that they should do is show panic and overreact. Kids will overreact, but when the kid sees her parent calm and collected, they calm down and start to feel better. However, if the kid sees the parent scared or panicking, they'll just get even more agitated and hysterical. But the hallmark of the nanny state is to panic and overreact to some perceived threat with ridiculous, pointlessly intrusive government action. So in a fit of immaturity we run to the nanny state - but it turns out that the nanny state is just as immature as us. Perhaps if we're all going to act like children about the threat du jour - and according to Greenwald, some 58% of our childish nation wants to waterboard the Underpants Bomber, for reasons that remain unclear - we should at least elect adults to run the place.

This song seemed appropriate:

Update:"This one retarded Nigerian crispy penis airplane man who may or may not have been involved with a sub-division of Al Qaeda has officially freaked out an entire nation and rewritten the Obama Adminstration’s agenda, forever. It’s a good thing Terrorists never expect a whiny titty baby nation to comically overreact to every attempted plot they pretend to undertake, right?" Awesome, Wonkette.