Topic: Couldn't be so...
Perspective: Perhaps When You Are In The United States It Is Difficult To Have A Notion Of What Really Is Going On There
Tuesday, January 17, 2006, was Benjamin Franklin's birthday, and the item on that, Things Have Changed, was an extended discussion of the issue of the day, the contention by the White House that the constitution implicitly gives the president the "plenary power" to disregard any law that interferes with his duties as commander-in-chief. Those laws not only include the FISA law that requires court approval - an easily obtained warrant based on probable cause - to scan the email and telephone conversations of American citizens, but treaties that have the force of law, and most recently the McCain Amendment which the president signed into law with his own "signing statement" that he would indeed be glad to follow the law here, except when it limited his "plenary powers," and then he wouldn't. It is most curious.
Now the courts may one day laugh at these "signing statements" saying it's not his job to say what the law means - the congress enacts the laws and the executive branch implements and enforces them. The congress already said what the law means - that's in the statute - and if there's an issue, some ambiguity, the courts will decide "congressional intent." That's not his business and these "signing statements" could be ruled to be piffle (not a legal term, but close enough). But as many have pointed out (as here), Judge Samuel Alito, who will take his seat on the Supreme Court in February, since the early eighties has argued these "signing statements" trump what congress believes it enacted and whatever ambiguities the court untangles - the idea being such assertions of "plenary power" make the executive the cannot-be-challenged co-equal of the other branches of government. This is a novel view of the constitution, but now at least one on the Supreme Court will have argued that view openly for more than twenty years. The others on the court simply stopped the Florida vote count nearly six years ago and put the man in office.
These are interesting times, and as far as the "spying scandal" goes, all this is raising some concern. The man the court told to shut up and go home way back when, Al Gore, gave his Martin Luther King Day speech, riffing on how King was "bugged" and harassed and now something bigger and even more dangerous is afoot (transcript here). But no one pays attention to him. And as mentioned, there were the lawsuits - "Federal lawsuits were filed Tuesday seeking to halt President Bush's domestic eavesdropping program, calling it an 'illegal and unconstitutional program' of electronic eavesdropping on American citizens."
But even if civil libertarians and conservative no-preface libertarians have a problem with this NSA program - outside the law - the president says he will continue and no one can stop him from continuing, as he's just doing his job. And here you see middle-of-the-road political shows where big-time hosts say that if the president broke any laws, that's fine - "Yeah. Well, maybe that's part of the job."
There's a lot of that going around - people want a strong daddy who will protect them, and maybe do nasty things to the bad guys, things they don't want to know about, and they don't want a mommy scold - and folks just don't like details. The world's is a very scary place now, so they've been told, so all this is fine. Fear works.
Well, sometimes you need to step back and see all this from the outside. The day after Franklin's birthday, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, sent along an email to the Just Above Sunset discussion group. Understand Ric was born in Canada, worked for many years as a journalist in Germany, and has been in Paris for a long time, and for years has kept his ear to the ground on things there. (And Franklin himself spent many years in Paris - coffee at the Procope and all that.)
From Paris to the Hollywood desk, Ric says he has a problem with this whole idea that all this is okay, as the president is "just doing his job" -
Is that what this looks like from the outside looking in?
Our friend the high-powered Wall Street attorney, from his office high above the hole where the World Trade Center stood (he lost friends there and has no love for the bad guys), adds this - "I have now read your email several times looking for some point you might have missed. You hit them all."
Dick in Rochester recommends everyone read again It Can't Happen Here and A Nation of Sheep. (That second book was written by William J. Lederer in 1961, and he co-authored The Ugly American in 1958 with Eugene Burdick, curiously enough.)
But there was more from Ric in Paris, late Wednesday, January 18th -
So the rest of the world is hoping beyond hope the someone here will stand up, and then another will, and then another, and stop this nonsense?
It would seem the American Dream, as diffuse as that is, and as betrayed as it so often is, is still important, even in France.
Ah heck, they helped us with our first revolution - there are hundreds of American town named Lafayette - and maybe they, and many others, don't want to see us throw this all away.
Let's see. How does it go?
Ah, that's it. But that's so... French.
But sometimes you have allies you just didn't imagine you'd have, as in this press release, Wednesday, January 18th - Leading Conservatives Call for Extensive Hearings on NSA Surveillance; Checks on Invasive Federal Powers Essential.
It opens with this -
Oh my! Grover Norquist is as right-wing as they come, and a buddy of Abramoff from college days, and Paul Weyrich is the founding president of the Heritage Foundation.
Well, the piling on has begun. They're traitors and not real conservatives. One of the milder comments here - "... every single one of the conservatives mentioned has been against the Patriot Act and related executive-branch efforts against terrorism from the word go. ... Their arguments for their civil libertarian positions strike me as almost all weak (or, in the case of Grover Norquist, who speaks only in generalities on these issues, non-existent)."
Nothing to see here folks. Move on. These aren't "real" conservatives. We misinformed you before. They don't matter now.
Then again, as Tip from Boston once said, all politics is local. And what Ric from Paris was talking about above comes home here, to Los Angeles, specifically to UCLA, a few miles west on Sunset.
Wednesday, January 18th brought us this in the Los Angeles Times -
Sell your teacher. It's an easy hundred bucks.
What they're looking for is any criticism of the president, overt or subtle. You are welcome, one presumes, to report any science professor who teaches evolution as fact, or asserts that global warming is actually occurring (that's all a left-wing hoax). American history courses better reveal all the bad stuff about FDR turning America into a nation of victims who expect the hard-working to support their laziness. And on and on...
The thought police are out there now. And gee, if this is a success, we could see a program where you get a hundred bucks for turning in your parents.
Well, this is not a government program. It's just folks defending the president from... from the educated and skeptical. That sort of thing is discouraged. It's not illegal. Yet.
Maybe Ric in Paris sees things as they are, from that distance.