I have been on the road with business, and working on a fairly big announcement for next week, so I have been slow in keeping up with the emerging NSA scandal. I want to give a few brief thoughts on Obama's defense of extensive NSA data gathering. Obama said:
That’s not to suggest that, you know, you just say, trust me, we’re doing the right thing, we know who the bad guys are. And the reason that’s not how it works is because we’ve got congressional oversight and judicial oversight. And if people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.
- I don't trust any of the three branches of government. You know what, neither did many of the folks who wrote the Constitution
- The involvement of the three branches of government in this issue boil down to less than two dozen people: the President, a subset of the 15 members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and a subset of the 11 judges (3?) on the FISA court, which has demonstrated pretty conclusively that they will approve any warrant no matter how absurdly broad
- Non-specific warrants that basically cover open-ended data gathering on every single person in the country, with no particular suspect or target named, are clearly un-Constitutional. "and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." I would love to know what probable cause the NSA cited to seized Warren Meyer's Verizon call records. 20 Washington insiders cannot change the Constitution -- that requires a vote of 3/4 of the states.
- Obama has stopped even pretending to care about the Constitution, an amazing fact given that he is nominally a Constitutional professor
- Partisan hypocrisy has never been clearer, as traditional defenders of civil liberties and opponents of the Patriot Act like Al Franken rush to defend the NSA spying (thank God for Linsey Graham, who can be counted on to be a consistent authoritarian). Democrats and Republicans have basically switched sides on the issue.
When assessing any new government power, imagine your worst political enemy wielding the power and make your judgement of the powers' appropriateness based on that worst-case scenario. Clearly, though, no one can see past the occupant of the White House. with Coke party members backing powers for Coke Presidents but opposing them for Pepsi Presidents and vice-versa.
In a Senate budget hearing with the Department of Energy, one would have expected a lot of questions about the loan program to avoid future Solyndras. But Al Franken uses his time to pester the DOE to give taxpayer money to a corporation in his state.
This is the answer as to why so many bone-headed loans were made despite evidence of likely disaster. You can bet that Boxer and Feinstein were all over the DOE several years ago pushing for the Solyndra loan. Franken doesn't give a rip whether the loan is smart or not, or whether the taxpayers' money is safe or not. He wants a multi-million dollar press release to get himself in the Minnesota news for a newscycle or two helping out the home state. After that, the money's purpose has been achieved and I can't imagine him caring what happens to it. Certainly that is the fate of most of these jobs-related government investments - big splashes up front with promises of hundreds of new jobs, but absolutely no scrutiny in the back end when, likely as not, these jobs don't actually materialize.
Kevin Drum points to a poll showing that 2/3 of Americans, and a majority of liberal Democrats, support drone strikes, even if the targets are Americans. Like me, he finds these numbers disturbing, though in a later post he hypothesizes that people may mean they like drones in comparison to using and risking live troops, rather than simply supporting willy nilly drone strikes per se.
It is odd that the children of the sixties -- who grew up protesting push button war and American pilots who bombed Cambodians with impunity and were home for dinner -- now seem to be OK with drone attacks, even on Americans. (I am reminded of the Al Franken skit on SNL where he editorializes that now that he has assets to protect and is older, he has changed his mind and supports the draft). While I am happy with the idea of technologies that keep American soldiers safer, I am not happy with something that makes it easier for the President to, without accountability and often in secret, use force against, well, whatever target catches his whim.
Consider drones from the receiving end. For a Pakistani, American drones resemble nothing so much as alien invaders from a Niven/Pournelle novel dropping meteors on cities. The Americans might as well be Zeus on Mt Olympus hurling thunderbolts at them for all that they can fight back or retaliate. It's a lot of responsibility to play God -- and there has been no one in either party over the last several decades I would trust to do it.
It used to be said that it was the young who distrusted police and authority, while as people aged they became more conservative and comfortable with authority and the police, ostensibly because they had more wealth and position to protect. Al Franken had a sketch on SNL where he explicitly poked fun at this, saying something like "when I was young, I opposed the draft, but now that I am over draft age, I support the draft to protect me, Al Franken... etc. etc."
Oddly enough, I have had exactly the opposite progression. In high school I was a police-loving, authority trusting, border-closing little conservative, cheering on Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson in 1970's movies where loan heroes fight against the degradation of police departments by civil libertarian pinko bleeding hearts.
The older I get, and the more experience I gain, the less I trust any authority and in particular the less I trust police officers who are given the power to use force and the authority to cover up its misuse. Yet another good example. So Dirty Harry and Death Wish have been replaced in my favorites list by the Wire.