Tuesday, September 27, 2005

More FBI Agents to Monitor Pron

The latest fun target for the liberal blogsphere has been the FBI’s announcement that they plan to focus on obscenity laws more. Not child-pornography, which is already heavily attacked, but pornography that apparently is disqualified because of its obscene content, and yet generally flies under the radar without trouble. This is the stuff that falls under Justice Potter-Stewart’s famous “I’ll know it when I see it.”

And there are many quotes by clever writers and FBI agents who think it’s silly to enforce this while taking resources away from terrorism. To some degree of course I agree; I don’t believe fighting obscene pornography helps our country, and I think we need more agents doing the unglamorous work of “swatting at flies” and defending against terrorists and other immediate problems. I don’t think you’d consider me a fan of any obscenity law.

But that’s the difference there. It is one thing to say there shouldn’t be a law against obscenity, but it’s another thing to not enforce it. If we don’t think its worth wasting manpower and money to enforce a law, then I don’t think we should make the damn law.

In fact, far too much damage is being done to this country because the public is able to convince Congress to make strict laws and agencies against important crimes, but when it comes time to enforce the crimes those agencies routinely find their budgets slashed, and the best and brightest workforces shunted in other directions. Just ask the EPA, the FAA, or the SEC. The ability of the executive to discourage and underfund the enforcement of laws it finds inconvenient is a serious breach of democracy. It’s a security hole that allows those who pay a lot of attention to very few things (ie, the demonized special interests) to circumvent the will of the public that can only pay a little attention to many things.

It’s a problem that I don’t know entirely how to solve, but that’s not the point today. The point is that the American electorate wants obscenity laws and I presume they want them enforced. As a democrat (“small d” hat) I have to support that. If creating and enforcing obscenity laws isn’t worth the resources it pulls from other areas, then please bring that up when drafting legislation and running for office. We can’t ask that this type of cynical avoidance of enforcing the public will be used in the laws we disdain, but fume when the agencies that are meant to monitor the business world get sent to the back of the room.

PS: And do not get me started on the societal costs of a law unenforced. It encourages people to disdain the government, and it allows for blackmail, either by private interests or prosecutors.


At 2:45 PM, Blogger Dennis said...

Mmmm, as a large-D Democrat, a few words:

-*My* party sure as hell didn't underfund the FBI in this budget so that they can't do both things. Loyal opposition, so criticise away, yes?

-Yes, we should damn well fund all agencies enough to enforce all laws (provided the budget allows, but that's another thing), but that they are underfunded is not an excuse for them to wildly misprioritize.

-It's not entirely clear that the American public wants obscenity laws -- it's just that they used to want them and tough to admit that they don't still.

In short, I tend to find this point moot, though I agree wholeheartedly.

At 7:37 AM, Blogger Rousseau said...

1) Let's not act like our congressmen don't affect the budget. The philosophy and partisan-desire of the Democratic party may not, but the degree to which DC is still a strongly connected city united in its lavishing of pork (and desire to do good, too) incumbents still help incumbents. A good example of this would be the article about Abramoff I referenced earlier this year where it's pointed out that Sen. Dodd first exposed his corrupt earmarks.

2) "Wildly misprioritize" is a flexible term. Does that mean we should fund anti-terrorism until it is fully funded and then fund other activities, or does that mean we should be proportional with cuts? Until now obscenity laws had no enforcement, and now they'll ahve like 8 guys who surf the net for egregious offenders. Sounds pretty proportionate to me. Also, if it isn't legislatively mandated, who should be doing the allocation?

3) Not sure of the difference or if this is even true, if you can't pass a bill that removes that law.

4) Yeah, it's probably moot and I'm cynical enough to realize Gonzales is probably just reaching out to the right-wing before the upcoming SCOTUS nomination. I still feel the need to tell Democrats when their short-term mockings are conflicting with their principles.

At 8:18 AM, Blogger Rousseau said...

Oh, and one source of mockery has been quoting FBI agents who say they wouldn't possibly do it because it's so much less sexy than counter-terrorism.

I do not want my military and police units deciding what jobs to do based on how "sexy" they are, how dramatic or how likely to land them on the front of time. There is important dull and grey technocratic work to be done in protecting our nation, and a tendency to ignore those in favor of something more exciting is something that liberal bloggers usually denounce.

At 4:16 PM, Anonymous little_e- said...

It seems to me that even as a small-d democrat, there is a line which has to be drawn when it comes to expressed public desires. The majority of the public may support (and I'm quite sure that if you put it to a vote, they would) anti-porn or anti-obscenity laws.

However, such laws are in violation of the small-l liberal notion of freedom of speach. Should the constitution trump popular will? Obviously that's a tricky slope, and neither of us are particularly fond of the constitution. But neither am I so fond of popular will as to say that anything the people would vote for ought to be our policies and standards.

Yes, I know I'm an elitist bitch when I say that, but I do expect our FBI to *prioritize* and focus on things which are actually detrimental to the american public, not to go on wild goose chases simply because somoene on the command chain thinks porn is icky.

Even if the FBI had all of the money and manpower in the world and all of the terrorists were in jail for life, they *still* wouldn't be able to shut down the porn industry. Just because the public wants a particular or particular kind of enforcement doens't mean it is at all possible. You can shut down American producers, yes, and hurt Americans in the process, but worst case scenario, the porn industry just moves to Mexico.

If the public passes a law which is a violation of personal liberty and is completely unenforceable in any practicle, large-scale way, to what extent is a democrat obliged to respect it?


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