Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Can We Talk?

Recent events have made me worry about the polarization in this country and the elevation of party loyalty over thought. Have people stopped thinking? Do we hear and see the same things?

I was honestly shocked by the number of Bush apologists who have leapt up with talking-point responses to the Domestic Spying Scandal. "Clinton did the same thing," they claimed, until it was demonstrated that he didn't. "It was authorized in the war resolution," they shouted, until someone read the war resolution and spoiled the fun. "He needs to be able to spy right away," they pointed out, until it was pointed out that the FISA allows for retroactive warrants. "Privacy rights don't matter if you're killed in a terrorist attack," they cried, and thinking people turned away in embarrassment for them.

My question is why. Why? Is it some kind of hyper-team-identity thing, where you actually care about the fortunes of your team more than you care about our Constitution? I'm talking about people who are not on the Republican payroll - ostensibly people who are free to look at what Bush has done and realize that this is a horrible thing.

Over the weekend, Dave Pelt over at Davenetics posted this troubling observation:
As of earlier this month, 88% of Dems disapproved of the job W was doing while a cool 8% approved.

88-8. Think that’s a little overboard? Michael Brown had better numbers among Katrina victims.

And what about the Republicans? Nearly 80% of them approve of the job the President is currently doing.

Folks, Jenna Jameson couldn’t hit an approval numbers like that at a bachelor party.

Step by step, we are gradually replacing thought with party in this country.
One of the most telling defenses of Bush came in the (false) argument that Clinton had ordered similar illegal surveillance. As if that would matter to me. The presenters of that argument are apparently thinking that those of us who oppose the president are absolutely honor-bound to approve of Clinton's every action. "Oh, well," they assume my interior monologue would run, "I can't criticize anything Clinton did, so I have to give Bush a free pass." Sorry, but, even if Clinton had done something similar, it wouldn't excuse Bush.

I don't mean to imply that this sickness infects only Republicans. I am reminded of my response to a right-wing blogger's insistence that Bush had volunteered to go to Vietnam. I was immediately certain that this is a falsehood, and I set out to find support for my position. Sure enough, I found it, supported by sufficient evidence to affirm my position. But the key is that I reached a conclusion and then sought evidence to support it. How intellectually honest would I be if I failed to recognize that fact?

Despite that admission, I sincerely don't think I wear the blinders demonstrated by the Bush apologists this week. I've voted for a Republican senator. The first piece of political analysis I can remember ever getting into print was a bitter denunciation of Carter's refusal to allow the United States to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics.

The eagerness of the right-wing bloggers to trot out weak arguments and outright factual lies in defense of their Leader this week has repulsed me. Perhaps, if President Kerry or President Gore had violated the Constitutional rights of Americans, I would be casting about wildly trying to find an excuse that would stick. But I doubt it.

I think I would want him impeached.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me again . . . just like old times. I must get a label other than anonymous . . .

Yes, Dan, you wear those blinders. In spades. They are, perhaps, just so familiar to you that you don't recognized them. Your plea that you've voted for a Republican senator sounds much like the closet racist who parades his black coworker to prove his tolerance or the bigot who touts his "gay" friends as proof of his openmindedness.

The real giveaway, my friend (if I can call you that) is your position that anyone who hasn't agreed with you, who argues that the President's acts in this can be supported by law and precedent (and such a case can be made - I'll refer you to a site which makes the argument better than I can - later) must be an idiot. Even this very post assumes that anyone who argues that the President's position can be defended must be "putting party loyalty over thought." Sorry, that is not necessarily the case, and gosh, amazingly, thinking people are permitted to disagree with you.

Once you assume that the opposition must be idiots, it becomes easy for you to demonize and marginalize the opposition. It is difficult to have a coherent debate if you assume from the start that those who disagree with you must be idiots (or worse - I could pick any of a half-dozen labels you've thrown about over the last 2-3 weeks). Thank I've overstated the case? How 'bout this one, from this very post: ". . . and thinking people turned away in embarrassment for them."

So yes, Dan, the blinders are there. "Thinking people" can, and do, at times, disagree with you and think for themselves. Shocking.

12/21/2005 11:33 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

I hear what you're saying, Anonymous. I thought about the fact that the beginning of my piece depends heavily on a rejection of the Bush defenses. But, the fact is, I haven't yet seen a reasonable defense - honestly. And, even if one develops, the ones trotted out thus far have been simply embarrassing.

People can and do disagree with me every day, and I don't accuse them of this sort of knee-jerk thinking. The second amendment discussion a few months ago was a decent example - some people made laughable arguments, but some people made some great points, and I appreciate that. And it affected my thinking on the issue.

I don't have any problem with thinking people disagreeing. I enjoy that, and want to hear more. This post is about unthinking people disagreeing, and how many there are. Perhaps the piece would have been stronger if I had used a less recent and controversial central issue, or if I had pointed out more liberal examples. I won't deny that there are liberals who would criticize Bush for adding to world population woes if he personally developed cures for AIDS and cancer - they are the counterparts of those who argued that Clinton did the same thing as Bush is doing.

12/22/2005 7:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi again . . . I promised a link to legal argument for the president's position. Here it is:

This post includes both the legal case for the president (and it's a good one), as well as criticism of that case (also good points).

The bottom line, it appears to me, is that the President's acts are not clearly illegal, and are arguably within the precedents established by previous presidents, bolstered by the post 9/11 use of force authorization language. I choose that language carefully - not clearly illegal.

The fact of the matter is that presidents, of either party, have vast powers in the national security arena, especially during wartime, but only in that arena. Information obtained in intercepts such as the ones at issue, for example, couldn't be used in a criminal court.

Gotta work; read and think, and we'll talk. And keep the powder dry.

12/22/2005 9:02 AM  
Anonymous Spalding Smails said...


Please understand that pointing out previous administrations use of FISA is not a rationalization, but merely a tool in which to expose you for your disingenuous outrage.

While I know that you now have your hands over your ears, in 1994 President Clinton expanded the use of warrantless searches to entirely domestic situations with no foreign intelligence value whatsoever. Clinton bragged about his new policy to conduct warrantless searches in highly violent public housing projects. Based on this information, I would encourage you to ask yourself two simple questions:

1. Is this use of FISA more or less of an infringement on our civil liberties than monitoring overseas calls to suspected terrorists that may wish to do our nation harm?

2. Did I have the same righteous indignation in 1994 when Clinton used FISA in this manner?

If you answer these questions with intellectual honesty, you have no legitimacy in which to lecture others about polarization and party loyalty.

The FISA court will rule on the Bush Administration's use of the act, but a 2002 opinion about this and the Patriot Act said,"We take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President's constitutional power."

The US Foreign Surveillance Court wrote in a declassified opinion that the court has long held "that the President did have inherent authority to conduct warantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information."

In closing, I would have you ask yourself another question: If another terrorist attack were to occur on our soil, would I sharply criticize President Bush for not doing enough to protect us? For some reason, I think you may be at the front the of the line with your criticism.

12/22/2005 10:01 AM  
Blogger Janet said...

In response to spalding smails, I would have to say that I don't believe the president has done enough of the correct things to help protect us. He's done plenty of the wrong things (or put the people making the choices into position), but that's just my opinion.

He could have very easily gotten warrents for any and all of the taps retro-actively, why didn't he? Could someone please tell me that?

Whether what he did was "clearly" illegal or not, he still lied about it. (wasn't Clinton impeached for lying?) At least 4 different times in 2004 and 2005 he told us that any wiretap used under the jurisdiction of the Patriot act required a court order. ( (April 19, 2004 in Hearshey, PA, April 20, 2004 in Buffalo, NY, July 14, 2004 in Fond Du Lac, WI, and Julyt 20, 2005 in Baltimore, MD.)

Vice President Dick Cheney offered similar reassurances at a Patriot Act event in June 2004, saying that "all of the investigative tools" under the law "require the approval of a judge before they can be carried out."

I do not like Bush because I don't believe he does anything directly for the good of our country, he does it for the good of himself and for his cronies and for big business. When some of the richest people in this country say that they don't need tax cuts, they pay less than some of their employees (percentage wise), why is this something the Bush admin has pushed thru congress, and then cut needed programs for the poor? Doesn't he care about people in need?

Personally, I think everyone in Washington needs to go, including the dems.

12/22/2005 11:27 AM  
Blogger Dan said...


I've read the site that you gave me, and I'll agree that it does the best job I've seen of excusing Bush's conduct. I'm unconvinced, though, and that's somewhat beside the point of this thread (and you are free to conclude that it is, instead, illustrative of the point). I'll at least grant that someone who reserved judgement until reading the University of Chicago piece or independently doing similar analysis, and who relies on that piece, could be called a thinking person. My concern is with the unthinking ones who were immediately yapping that Bush's spying on Americans was fine, regardless of the background.

12/22/2005 5:00 PM  
Anonymous dolphin said...

With regards to Spalding Smails's evocation of of FISA in defense of Bush's spying. I find any defense that relies on FISA to be weak at best. I'm not convinced that FISA is truly constitutional as it is, but that's a debate for another day. The fact remains that FISA is established law, and therefore if the comparison between Bush's spying and FISA is to be made, my question is why he didn't followed the established law of FISA instead of acting outside of the law? If FISA could not serve his purposes, why not establish new law that would, the way it was done with FISA? As I said recently on my own blog, it's worthwhile to debate what the law SHOULD or SHOULD NOT be, but acting without the force of law is NEVER appropriate. And I find defenses that rely on FISA to be more illustrative of the illegality of the Bush program than its legality.

12/22/2005 8:13 PM  
Blogger antimedia said...

Dan, unlike a lot of people, I thoroughly researched the issue before writing about it. I will tell you that I think the administration's defense of the practice has been ham-handed at best.

All court precedent makes it very clear that NSA can capture signal intelligence (SIGINT) without a warrant. Furthermore, USSID (US Signals Intelligence Directive) 18, which was approved in 1993 by then-President Clinton, clearly shows that NSA is not even required to notify or consult with the FISA court, much less obtain a warrant from them before capturing SIGINT.

The main problem here is that people are confusing law enforcement (LE) activities with military activities. The NSA is a military entity, not a LE entity, and the results of their work are not often used for LE activities.

I say "not often" because occasionlly, the NSA captures information which, by statute, they can provide a summary of (not the raw data) to LE. LE must then go to the FISA court with this summary, which provides them with probably cause (if the court so rules) to begin wiretapping a subject of investigation.

In fact, US citizens have been convicted of crimes in which the probable cause arose from an NSA activity and the investigation was picked up by LE based upon their summary.

Janet, dammit asks, "He could have very easily gotten warrents for any and all of the taps retro-actively, why didn't he? Could someone please tell me that?"

Warrants for NSA surveillance are not required at all, so there would be no reason to request them, even retroactively. The NY Times story was clear that every domestic INVESTIGATION has gone through the normal warrant procedure.

Finally, the media is guilty of using the word wiretap when the NSA does not do that. The FBI and LE agencies do. NSA uses passive methodologies to "spy" on communications.

There's a great deal of smoke on this issue and very little light, and the administration's "defense" of the practice has been weak to put it mildly.

Were I President, I would have simply stepped up to the microphone and stated to the press, "The NSA does not require a warrant to capture signals intelligence. It never has. Numerous courts have ruled about this, and every court has agreed that the President is making proper use of his Constitutional powers when authorizing such activities, even when they involve US citizens. Every President has used these powers since FISA was passed, and now court has ruled it illegal or unconstitutional."

12/23/2005 5:55 PM  
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