The Lives of Others

We watched a great film tonight — The Lives of Others. It’s a film about life in East Germany before the wall fell, focusing on the secret police and their surveillance of the artists community.

For starters, the film is so well done. The main actor, Ulrich Mühe, does a phenomenal job as the Stasi (secret police) agent.

What stands out for me, and prompted this post, is the concern I have about our country. We don’t really know the extent to which our government is watching us. It certainly doesn’t intrude on our lives to the extent that it did in East Germany. But the consistent push by government to monitor our lives more and more is so disturbing.

It is most extreme in the drug war, and in the prison-police-industrial complex. Most of us don’t see it. There are, on the streets of our country – and yes in Albany – drug task force police who are watching houses with cameras. I’m sure the watch for terrorists involves more of this. Then there’s the crackdown on immigrants. Inevitably, innocent people get ripped apart by these efforts.

People should think about all of this more. I talk to my clients and their families about it: “When you hear a politician saying we have to be tough on crime, just remember they’re talking about [you, your son, your daughter].”

We’ve always been tough on murderers, rapists and thieves. That’s not what the politicians are talking about. They’re really talking about protecting cops who abuse people and about allowing further invasions of our privacy. As a criminal defense lawyer, I get to see inside the system more than most. The idea that they are making us safe is laughable. Government cannot make us safe and secure.

The sky is falling. Most of the time it falls slowly. It might take centuries, or maybe just decades, but we are descending. It’s fallen quite a bit, economically, in the past few weeks.

Even when I talk to the strongest supporters of freedom in the major parties (libertarians are an exception), they are afraid to reduce the size of government. A Republican gets into power and they are scared about what would happen if they eliminated jobs that are truly unnecessary. Look at Bush – he nearly doubled federal spending in 8 years. Is that what Republicans are about? How can Republicans push for a takeover of the banking industry? What happened to capitalism? Democrats voted or the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act; further back they enacted the crack/powder disparity. Were they ever really liberal?

One of my favorite Republicans, a local guy in the outer Capital Region, describes the growth of government as a ratchet. It can grow, but it never gets smaller. Once the government gets its hands on something, you never get it out of that. The perception is that if you cut something, you’re taking away someone’s job. No one seems to see that all these jobs that have been created are destroying the private sector, and that’s where all the money comes from. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were created by the government and they are at the heart of the current economic problems.

The solution is not more government. It’s less. We aren’t going to make things better by having government spend more of our money. We have to stop wasting money. The McCain-Obama debates are pathetic. Neither of these sclerotic partisans is going to do what needs to be done. Obama is not “change” and McCain is not a maverick. They are both more of the same.

How are we going to get out of this vicious cycle? I’d like to see John Stossel run for President in 2012 as a Republican, following up on Ron Paul’s effort. It’d probably only be a blip, but it might be start.

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