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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 15 May 2006
Pleasing Everyone, Pleasing No One
Topic: For policy wonks...

Pleasing Everyone, Pleasing No One

The week opened with some reframing - Monday, May 15, a speech by Karl Rove at the American Enterprise Institute where he explained the polling showing the president's approval rating at an all time low, and the overall disapproval rating (and the subsets by issue) sky high, was misleading. Why was that? That was because "people like him, they respect him, he's somebody they feel a connection with, but they're just sour right now on the war." The full quote is here, with the key polling data. The general idea was that this was sad, but such things happen - war is always hard and too many people are eventually wimps, and stupid too, as they allow their despair with the war to blind them what a wonderful job the wonderful man they like and respect is doing otherwise. That's one way of looking at it. Laura Bush the day before had said she just didn't believe the poll numbers (discussed here) - she's been on the road, at all the public events, and that disapproval is not what she saw. She was there. No one was so graceless as to mention each and every audience had been vetted, every time, and no one with a grudge or gripe got within ten miles of her, or her husband. She got a pass on her comments, including the one where she declared herself a feminist. It's not as if she's an elected official or policy maker or anything.

But the real reframing of issues was the president's Monday evening television address to the nation, in prime time during sweeps week (driving the major broadcast networks up the wall), where President Bush announced the solution to the immigration crisis, the crisis that comes up when major elections loom.

The context was important. The Republican-controlled House had passed a version of their solution - make being here without proper papers an aggravated felony, make any kind of aid to anyone you knew or should have known was an illegal immigrant a serious crime, even if you're a church offering no-questions-asked hot meals to the poor, and build a giant wall from the Gulf Coast of Texas down by Brownsville all the way west to the Pacific just south of San Diego. Send them all home. Seal the border. Punish them. The Republican-controlled Senate had almost worked out something quite different - send the most recently arrived home and let the others pay a fine and stay as guest workers, and let the long-timers with family, careers, who had been paying taxes and all the rest, become citizens after jumping through some specific hoops. The first version of that fell apart, but a new version will be discussed in the Senate soon. To become a law, the House and Senate must hammer out their differences and send the compromise legislation off to the president for his signature. That seems unlikely.

The president leans toward the way the Senate sees things, and looking at it generously he likes that approach on humanitarian and practical grounds. Looking at it cynically, he knows the corporations, including agribusiness, that bankroll the Republican Party, and are integrated into the Bush family, need cheap no-questions-asked labor, and you don't tick them off by sending it home. And looking at it politically, no one will be happy when lettuce costs three hundred dollars a head and you have to bus your own table at Spago or Denny's - and too you might need at least some of the Hispanic votes to hold onto the House and Senate, where, if you lose one or the other or both, the investigations begin and roll on for your final two years. You don't want to make "them" the bad guys.

The problem was obvious - the speech had to present something for everyone, while at the same time not really offending one side or the other. It was a classic exercise in offending the most people the least.

So just how do you do that? He'd be bold, and so he was, sort of. Too bold - getting in a helicopter in that cool jump suit, leaning out the side and machine gunning women and children in the Arizona desert for the ultimate photo-op - would be a bit over the top. He'd lose the moderates. The business folks would see their potential base of useful cheap labor rotting in the sun and the vultures getting the only advantage. Too cowardly - give those here amnesty and eventual citizenship and say to everyone that we need these folks and they'll be fine citizens so just chill - would drive the conservative "cultural values" core of the Republican Party to their gun cabinets for the revolution to overthrown their king. And there was Lou Dobbs on CNN with his nationally televised jihad to rid us of this plague - he'd buy the guillotine for the festivities.

So the obvious solution was to be moderately bold - throw each side a bone or two and hope for the best. Be very cautiously audacious.

So the major speech was quite odd. You can read a transcript here, or just look at the bullet points here (Associated Press) or here (CNN).

The first cautiously audacious step? Make an admission that no one expects. Say things are actually going badly, all the more effective because people know you just never do that. So say, flat out, that the United States "does not have complete control of its borders and millions of people who have sneaked across the border have stayed in this country, living in the shadows of society." If the president is somehow charged with protecting the border (it's part of his job as commander-in-chief), that's saying that over the last six years you screwed up. Ah ha! - the conservative "cultural values" core of the Republican Party will say, "finally, we're getting somewhere." So they feel a bit better.

The second cautiously audacious step? Say you're sending in the troops to fix it - the federal government will pay for up to six thousand National Guard troops to be deployed to the southern border (the Canadians are no problem). But you're only funding them. They'll be under the command of the state governors, not Bush or Rumsfeld. And by the way, these National Guard units will not be directly involved in "law enforcement activities" (avoiding any pesky posse comitatus issues) - the border patrol will do that stuff. And the National Guard units won't even be armed - they'll be gathering intelligence and building fences and patrolling roads, not involved in "the apprehension and detention of illegal immigrants." We're talking logistics and administration. So you send in the troops, sort of. And they will serve in two-week rotations - each year that means 156,000 troops could be sent down south. And you hope no one asks where they come from, since forty percent of our guys in Iraq and Afghanistan are Guard or Reserves, and there's a hurricane season coming, and floods in New England, and the Guard gets a whole lot of assignments. But you sent the troops to the rescue, sort of.

The third cautiously audacious step? For the other side, particularly the business who love that cheap labor, you suggest a temporary worker program - foreign workers could enter the United States for jobs for a limited period of time. But they're required to return to their home countries when their time is up, or the job is over. And actually, this is pretty clever. They don't really stay here, and the party that depots them is actually not the government - it's the employer. The company says the job is done and they are the ones deporting the used-up worker. So business gets tossed a bone, and it sounds somewhat humane (these people need work), but it's not like they stay, so the red-meat Republicans get something too.

The fourth cautiously audacious step? Dazzle everyone's eyes with something bright and shiny - high technology. Say employers must "be held to account for their employees." Yeah, you're cracking down on businesses that hire people without really caring if they're here illegally. So the proposal is a tamper-proof identification card for every legal foreign worker. This helps the law enforcement folks and leaves the nasty employers with no excuse at all for violating the law. Biometric information and digital fingerprints. That's the ticket. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge - the cards won't be ready for a few years, if ever, so if your carpet factory in North Carolina is full of these illegal folks working hard, you can rest easy. And as for building that big wall, say you're going to build a "virtual wall" with video cameras and unmanned drones watching everything from the sky, and motion detection gizmos in the cactus. The red-meat Republicans may buy into that. It does sound pretty neat. And it buys time - these things take years to work out and the "we're working on it, almost ready" line works wonders. People love technology.

The fifth cautiously audacious step? Redefine amnesty - "I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, to pay their taxes, to learn English and to work in a job for a number of years. People who meet these conditions should be able to apply for citizenship but approval would not be automatic, and they will have to wait in line behind those who played by the rules and followed the law. What I have just described is not amnesty; it is a way for those who have broken the law to pay their debt to society and demonstrate the character that makes a good citizen." Well, if it were pure amnesty there wouldn't be a penalty. Right. That one may not fool anyone.

The sixth cautiously audacious step? Play the cultural purity card - the "social values" crowd loves that. Say Americans "are bound together by our shared ideals, an appreciation of our history, respect for the flag we fly and an ability to speak and write the English language. English is also the key to unlocking the opportunity of America." No homemade tacos and burritos. These people have to go to Taco Bell like normal Americans, and order in English. They have to act like good white folks. We all forgot our cultural roots. They should too.

So did the president hit the sweet spot? He specifically called on Congress to pass a "comprehensive" immigration reform bill, one "that addresses all elements of the immigration problem in order to achieve a solution."

He punted. This is going nowhere.

The Democrats trotted out Senator Durbin to reply. No problem with the troop idea, but he didn't see where we'd find the Guard troops given how stretched thin things are these days. And he suggested this array of dreams wasn't exactly leadership. But then why should he say anything that harsh? The whole thing was directed to the warring factions in the Republican Party (and Lou Dobbs). Why get involved? Let them have at each other.

Here is a good summary from Kevin Drum -
The immigration speech seemed like it was mostly just the same 'ol same 'ol. Nickel version: Beef up the borders with troops and high tech wizardry but insist that it's not "militarization"; start up a guest worker program that's not called a guest worker program; introduce an amnesty program but insist that it's not an amnesty program (it's not, it's not, it's not!); and crack down on employers who employ illegal immigrants while pretending that they're actually victims of highly sophisticated fraud rather than willing coconspirators aided and abetted by the business wing of the Republican Party.

Actually, I don't really have anything against most of this stuff. Bush's position on immigration seems surprisingly reasonable to me. But it's still kind of fun watching him bob and weave and choose his words with such delicate care in order to avoid the first fully televised political suicide in history, courtesy of the wingnut base he's spent his life pandering to.
Pithy, no?

As for all this as seen from Mexico, the issue may be William Howard Taft.

What? See this -
Mexicans chafed Monday at the notion that President Bush wants to send National Guard troops to help enforce the U.S.-Mexico border, even as President Vicente Fox tried to downplay the seriousness of the move.

Many said the Guard troops could do little to stop determined migrants from finding unguarded places to cross the 2,000-mile border. Neither would the Guard do anything to solve the deeper issues behind the migration, they said.

Some were offended at a "militarization" they thought more appropriate for the border between openly hostile countries and feared that troops could become a permanent presence redefining the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

"It's worrying," said Arturo Solis, an immigrant rights activist in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas. "The bad thing is that the American government is insisting on confusing immigration with a criminal problem."

The move reminded some historians of 1913, when President William Taft sent troops to the Texas border. Mexico was in the midst of a chaotic revolution, and Taft was warning Mexican generals and rebels not to harm U.S. interests south of the border.

At the time, there was no real threat to American soil, but the U.S. public was clamoring for action, said Lorenzo Meyer, a prominent historian at the Colegio de Mexico.

"It sounds very familiar," Meyer said. "Taft said, 'No, no, no, this is not an unfriendly move. We just want to make sure that nothing happens at the border.' But it sent a signal that a peaceful border was being regarded as dangerous."
Yeah, and the New Mexico National Guard helped track down Pancho Villa in 1916.

A brief comment at Martini Republic sums it up - "Putting troops on the border will alienate one of our few remaining friends in the world. By treating terrorism as a state v. state military problem, when nearly all other nations treat it as a cultural problem, we've blown just about every friend we ever had."

And the Guardian (UK) noticed something else - "In addition to the national guard, which will play a supporting role to the border patrol forces, the plan unveiled by Mr Bush last night calls for an increase in detention centres for illegal immigrants."

More jails. Oh yeah, that.

Well, the hard-line side of the Republican Party is on a rampage, and part of the deport-them-all community says deporting these twelve million or so men women and children is still the best idea -
Not only will it work, but one can easily estimate how long it would take. If it took the Germans less than four years to rid themselves of 6 million Jews, many of whom spoke German and were fully integrated into German society, it couldn't possibly take more than eight years to deport 12 million illegal aliens, many of whom don't speak English and are not integrated into American society.

See Digby here on this Karl Rove strategy, as the speech may have been his calculation to get the party back together and keep control of congress in November -
Immigration may get his base out in the fall, and the issue may make this a closer election than we'd like. But history shows these immigration fevers come and go. Losing any hope of the Hispanic vote with a bunch of Nazi talk about "ridding the country of its problems" is the end of the whole enchilada. The Republicans cannot be a majority if they lose the Hispanics. Rove knows this better than anyone - and it's got him dancing on the head of a pin unable to please anyone.

That is one atomic wedgie he's feeling right now. But hey, when he and his pals decided to exploit racial fears way back when, they consolidated a bunch of people under their tent who have a proclivity for unpleasant behavior toward those of other cultures and races. They are demanding that their party kick some dark hued ass, preferably close enough to home where they can really enjoy it.
Live by the sword, die by the sword. The Republican Southern Strategy of long ago - assimilate all the racists you can find and get them to abandon the party of LBJ and the Civil Rights Act for your side - seems to have drawn in folks who wax nostalgic about boxcars, stuffed full of men, woman and children, heading for the border.

And they're angry. You will find here a discussion of all the conservative voices saying Bush should be impeached for his failure to stop the "Mexican invasion" and protect our nation's borders.

Given the dynamics here, this speech was about the best that could be done. Things are not going well for the White House.


Footnote: What You Missed While We Worried About the Huddled Masses Streaming North

There was that whole thing late last week when we found the government had amassed a huge database of pretty nearly all telephone calls made in America since late 2001 - who called whom and for how long, but not what was said. That was discussed here. The idea is some fancy pattern recognition software will reveal plots by those who want to kill us all. As a few have said, this is like looking for a needle in a haystack, by building the world's largest haystack. It's very odd. And many, like Tim Grieve here, pointed out we have no way of knowing what the government is doing with the information once it has it.

Monday, May 15, we got a hint here - ABC News reporters Brian Ross and Richard Esposito say they've been told by a senior federal law enforcement official that the government is tracking their telephone calls in order to identify their confidential sources. The official told them: "It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick."

Ross and Esposito say they don't know whether the government got information about their calls through the ginat NSA database program or some other way, but they say that the Bush administration has a motive for learning about the people with whom they've talked - "Our reports on the CIA's secret prisons in Romania and Poland were known to have upset CIA officials."

Yep. And this -"People questioned by the FBI about leaks of intelligence information say the CIA was also disturbed by ABC News reports that revealed the use of CIA predator missiles inside Pakistan."

Ross and Esposito say they don't think the content of their calls is being monitored, but "a pattern of phone calls from a reporter" could reveal the identity of confidential sources.

That'll shut down the press.

Late in the day, the FBI confirmed, but said it wasn't the NSA database they used. The Patriot Act did just fine -
The FBI acknowledged late Monday that it is increasingly seeking reporters' phone records in leak investigations.

"It used to be very hard and complicated to do this, but it no longer is in the Bush administration," said a senior federal official.

... Officials say the FBI makes extensive use of a new provision of the Patriot Act which allows agents to seek information with what are called National Security Letters (NSL).

The NSLs are a version of an administrative subpoena and are not signed by a judge. Under the law, a phone company receiving a NSL for phone records must provide them and may not divulge to the customer that the records have been given to the government.
No warrant, no oversight, so here what was supposed to be used to shortcut everything and get the terrorists is being used to get those who report what's politically embarrassing, and just lies, and illegal. Criticism is terrorism.

The pattern, according to Josh Marshall, here -
I think part of the issue for many people on the administration's various forms of surveillance is not just that some of activities seem to be illegal or unconstitutional on their face. I think many people are probably willing to be open-minded, for better or worse, on pushing the constitutional envelope. But given the people in charge of the executive branch today, you just can't have any confidence that these tools will be restricted to targeting terrorists. Start grabbing up phone records to data-mine for terrorists and then the tools are just too tempting for your leak investigations. Once you do that, why not just keep an eye on your critics too? After all, they're the ones most likely to get the leaks, right? So, same difference. The folks around the president don't recognize any real distinctions among those they consider enemies. So we'd be foolish to think they wouldn't bring these tools to bear on all of them. Once you set aside the law as your guide for action and view the president's will as a source of legitimacy in itself, then everything becomes possible and justifiable.
And see Digby here -
The key here, I think, is to recognize that they will say that monitoring the communications of the press or political opponents is for the sake of national security. This is what comes of seeing your fellow Americans and political opponents as "enemies" to be eliminated. There is no logical or emotional leap to make between spying on terrorists in Dubai and spying on war protesters in Dubuque and spying on reporters in DC. It's the natural result of this Manichean mindset that openly touts a "with us or against us" philosophy and sees political dissent as acts of treason.

Conservatives have been selling the idea of "the enemy within" for many decades. It's what they do. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger ... rationalized their spying on the press and dissenters as necessary to plug national security leaks. Likewise, the Bush administration will have no problem doing it either.

I personally wouldn't support giving Gandhi and Jesus Christ the unfettered power to spy on Americans. But allowing these people to do it is unfathomable.
And a conservative voice here -
I am - and continue to be - a strong supporter of the President and his administration, but the crusade against reporters who publish stories based on leaks has got to stop. If they want to find the leakers and punish them, so be it. People who violate their oaths and the laws about government secrecy ought to be in jail. But not the reporters. They're simply doing what they're supposed to do - keeping us all informed. That's their job. And it's an important one because only an informed population can prevent a government from drifting inexorably towards tyranny.

... But there is no question the aggressive pursuit of information from and about reporters can do irreparable harm. Enough is enough. Really. It's time for these stutteringly stupid tactics to stop and those conducting these investigations to behave like responsible adults, not five year olds with a playground grudge.

... We can debate the merits of the news that's being broken - and we should. But we can't debate the necessity of having a press that's free to break the stories. And having reporters believe the government is cataloguing their calls or that they are facing jail anytime they write something that might be secret is the opposite of the kind of freedom that we need.
This is interesting. Reporting without telephones? Face to face, or email or instant messaging, until that's monitoring. Then?

Note to self: Chat with the older expatriate Russians in the apartment building here in Hollywood and ask them about how one found out what was really happing back in the Stalin days. The techniques may soon be useful again.

Posted by Alan at 23:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006 07:04 PDT home

Sunday, 14 May 2006
Hot of the Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot of the Virtual Press

Click here to go there...
No blogging Sunday. All that is elsewhere. The new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 20 for the week of May 14, 2006.

A whole lot has been happening, and the week that just passed deserves some comment, so there you will find six extended commentaries. The first is what to make of the man form the NSA who has been nominated to head the CIA - the acronyms fly and his position on many matters is examined, with reference to famous cartoon characters. There's an item on trends, and as the woman said it the movie, "fasten your seat belt, it's going to be a bumpy ride." And do we have a new royal family now that George has said his brother Jeb would make a fine president? There historical precedents are examined. Of course all the voices on the newly revealed giant government database of every phone call made since late 2001 are noted, and the issues detangled. And there's a collection of odd political facts and figures, showing one can have fun with numbers. Finally, for policy wonks and those who think big, there's an item on ways of looking at the social contract - how we behave and how we expect others to behave, and what we expect of the government we fund.

There are three Hollywood items - a movie premier, an odd history of the corner down the hill (and all the celebrities and the riot there), and a bit of France on Sunset Boulevard.

The "pure photography" pages cover the oddest of LA signs down on Melrose Avenue, and some very odd walls there, and there are three pages of intense botanical shots this week.

Of course our friend from Texas provides the weekly array of the weird. And the quotes this week? The Wisest Fool of the Past Fifty Years. It was his birthday.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

The CIA Gamble: The No-Nonsense, Blue-Collar General from Pittsburgh
Storm Warnings
Tautology and Royalty
Telephone Records: Surprise! Making a List, and Checking it Twice
Facts and Figures: Fun with Numbers
The Social Contract: Will the Leviathan Survive All This?

Hollywood Matters ______________________

On the Scene: Another Day in Hollywood
The Eye: Looking Down on Ghosts
Cultural Dislocations

Southern California Photography ______________________

Ominous Signs
A Collection of Walls
Les Fleurs du Mal
Harsh Botanicals
Easy on the Eyes

Quotes for the week of May 14, 2006 - The Wisest Fool of the Past Fifty Years

Posted by Alan at 20:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 13 May 2006
The Social Contract: Will The Leviathan Survive All This?
Topic: Making Use of History

The Social Contract: Will The Leviathan Survive All This?

Elsewhere, in Tautology and Royalty, in comparing this administration's view of the powers of the executive branch, particularly the view that the president has certain plenary powers that permit him to disregard laws the legislative branch enacts and rulings on those laws from the judiciary at any level, a lot of British history was condensed into a paragraph or two on all that really didn't work out very well for the folks across the pond. Charles I actually lost his head over those kind of claims. And mixed up in that all was a brief mention of Thomas Hobbes and his startling book "The Leviathan" - people are nasty and the world awful and we really need a strong government as life is "nasty, mean, brutish and short."

As political theory goes, that's one end of the spectrum, superceding the ideas floating around before the glum Hobbes penned his famous treatise - all the stuff about how without government we'd all be fine, as people are naturally good (see "Candide" and the like). The middle ground may be what John Locke was pushing in 1798 or so, that we're neither naturally good nor naturally bad, just "blank slates" - the tabula rasa business.

Which of these basic views you take really does, of course, determine what you think the "social contract" should be. That's not just late night dorm room bull session stuff. Which you think is true has to do with everyday life, with what you expect from your government, from the local cop with his radar gun catching speeders all the way up to the federal government, with FEMA and the people at the airport telling you to take off your shoes and empty your pockets, to the folks who run up massive debt and start wars and say we should trust them. You may not actually vote, few do, but you live in the contract you imagine, paying your taxes and perhaps sending someone in the family off to Iraq or Afghanistan for a few tours, hoping he or she makes it back alive and whole.

The recent business with domestic spying may make you think about such things. First there was the executive order from the president, renewed again and again, ordering the NSA to monitor the communications of particular American citizens, in America, and to disregard the law requiring a warrant to do such thing, and the special FISA court set up to issue such warrants. The president and his attorneys argue that this is legal, as everyone had previously misunderstood the constitution and the roles of the three branches, and assume that the public will be fine with it, as life is "nasty, mean, brutish and short" - and there are lots of bad guys out to kill us. People buy the Hobbes view, or so they assume, or hope. Then USA Today reveals how the targets for that secret warrantless spying were selected - a previously secret NSA database of the call records of every telephone call in America placed since late 2001, except for the calls made by the customers of Quest, the telecommunications company that refused to participate. And to be clear, the records were sold to the NSA, for profit, and not provided as a public service or any such thing. Add that both programs were run for six years by General Michael Hayden, at the top of the NSA. The head of the CIA was abruptly shown the door and the president nominated Hayden to move over there and continue.

What do you make of this?

Some are more than wary. Others, maybe most Americans , as Bill Montgomery points out here, in a long discussion of Thomas Hobbes and "Leviathan," are fine with this, as we seem to have an accepted social contract "that owes a lot to Thomas Hobbes" -
In exchange for the economic security that corporations provide - a degree of shelter from an anarchic global market - we willingly, if grudgingly (at least in my case) give up a hefty share of our freedom and an even bigger chunk of our privacy. Having made that bargain, we're not really in a good position to object if the company proves more intrusive than we expected, for as Hobbes says, "he that complaineth of injury by his sovereign complaineth of that which he is the author and therefore ought not to accuse any man but himself."

This also seems to be the intuitive position of many Americans when it comes to the new cyber-surveillance state. By giving up their privacy and - potentially - their civil liberties in exchange for a degree of protection (real or imaginary) from terrorism, they've sacrificed items that apparently are of only marginal value to them for something more important - their belief that the organization is looking out for them.

We can argue all we want that the deal is a sham, that any sense of security is an illusion, and that having gobbled up their privacy and some of their liberty, Leviathan will only come looking for more, because that's all it knows how to do. But an awfully large number of our fellow citizens have already decided, or have been conditioned to believe, that it's better to be subjects and let others make the hard decisions for them. After all, the organization must have its reasons.

Of course, this potentially sets the scene for the next loop in the downward spiral towards a full-fledged police state. If and when the next terrorist attack comes, the natural response of the national security bureaucracy (and its legal camp followers) will be to insist the tragedy never would have happened if it had been given access to all the data it wanted, all the money it needed, and all the investigative powers it demanded. It'll be the fighting-with-one-hand-tied-behind-our-back argument, re-imported from Iraq. And who's going to say no when another major American landmark is a smoldering ruin?

Leviathan, in other words, is almost free of any restraint, save the arbitrary limits - such as they may be - set by the Cheney administration or, perhaps more importantly, by custom and habit.
The creature doesn't know all the things it can do, but only because it hasn't tried to do them yet. But it's starting to figure this out, and it's going to take more than an election and a few corruption probes to make it back down. Having entrusted their security and their liberties to the beast, Leviathan's subjects will be lucky not to wind up like Jonah, lodged in its belly.
Montgomery fears the whale, which is more than the administration and any one or two corporations - it's a self-actualizing interrelated system of that and more. And most people are "instinctively" fine with it.

The first polling after the USA Today story seemed to bear that out. Thursday night the Washington Post conducted a flash poll (small sample and wide margin of error) and came up with this - "63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism."

But Frank Luntz, the man who polls everything political, and was let go by NBC after it became more than obvious that he stacked things toward the administration's view, and the was shown to make most of his money by being paid by the Republican Party, was saying things like this - "There is a very fine line between national security and personal oppression. The public is prepared to accept a degree of intelligence intervention but this may have crossed the line. I think a majority of Americans will be opposed to this."

We're not all Hobbes fans?

Then Newsweek did a careful poll - that had a meaningful sample size with a more acceptable margin of error. The results shifted -
A majority of Americans polled, 53 percent, believe that reports that the NSA has been secretly collecting the phone records of U.S. citizens since the 9/11 terrorist attacks to create a database of calls goes too far in invading people's privacy, according to the new Newsweek Poll, while 41 percent feel it is a necessary tool to combat terrorism. In light of this news and other actions by the Bush-Cheney administration, 57 percent of Americans say they have gone too far in expanding presidential power, while only 38 percent say they have not.

Only 35 percent of Americans approve of the way the president is handling his job-down one percentage point since the last Newsweek Poll. Seventy-one percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time, an all time high in the Newsweek Poll, while only 23 percent are satisfied. When asked how history will view George W. Bush, an overwhelming 50 percent of Americans polled said he will be viewed as a below average president. Since his re-election in 2004, 47 percent feel his performance has stayed the same, while 48 percent feel it has gotten worse.
What a difference a day makes, as does doubling the sample size to the statistical minimum for reasonable accuracy (1007 respondents this time) - and fifty-three percent think this "invades privacy" way too much, and fifty-seven percent think the White House has gone too far in expanding presidential power.

Montgomery needn't worry. We're not all Hobbes fans. Locke is cool. Voltaire and Rousseau will do.

As a subset of this, Jane Hamsher here details the views of Richard Morin, the guy who set up the Post flash poll. He doesn't ask questions that "make him mad" and may be a pro-Republican shill, or his last name should be spelled correctly.

But Montgomery, in another item, suggests he's not concerned with the polls, as he says this -
The whole point of having civil liberties is that they are not supposed to be subject to a majority veto. Hobbes may not have believed in natural rights, but our founders did. And their opponents, the anti-Federalists, were even more zealous about restraining the powers of the federal superstate, which is why they forced the Federalists to write the Bill of Rights directly into the Constitution.

It defeats the purpose of having a 4th Amendment if its validity is entirely dependent on breaking 50% in the latest poll. It would be nice to have "the people" on our side in this debate, and obviously a lot of them are, even if Doherty's plurality still prefers Leviathan's crushing embrace. But some things are wrong just because they're wrong - not because a temporary majority (or even a permanent one) thinks they're wrong.

... We can't do anything about how a corrupt, oligarchic system works (or rather, doesn't work) but we can at least stop accepting the other side's terms for the debate. What the government is doing is illegal and un-American, and that would still be true if the polls showed 99% support - in fact, it would be even more true.
Still, it is nice to know that what people see as the "social contract" - how they behave and how they expect others to behave, and what they expect of the government they fund - is not all that Hobbes-like, or not entirely so.

What will people make of things like this coming out after the news cycle closed down for the weekend -
In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney and his top legal adviser argued that the National Security Agency should intercept purely domestic telephone calls and e-mail messages without warrants in the hunt for terrorists, according to two senior intelligence officials.

But N.S.A. lawyers, trained in the agency's strict rules against domestic spying and reluctant to approve any eavesdropping without warrants, insisted that it should be limited to communications into and out of the country, said the officials, who were granted anonymity to discuss the debate inside the Bush administration late in 2001.
And there's this little bit, referencing Richard Addington, now Cheney's chief-of-staff as his former chief-of-staff is under felony indictment and had to resign. One of the anonymous sources explains the talk going on at the time -
If people suspected of links to Al Qaeda made calls inside the United States, the vice president and Mr. Addington thought eavesdropping without warrants "could be done and should be done," one of them said. He added: "That's not what the N.S.A. lawyers think."
Hobbes lives, but others know the law and suggest it matters. They lost, but at least someone spoke up.

And as for speaking up, see this - New Jersey lawyers Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer filed suit Friday in Manhattan federal court against Verizon for contracting with the Government to provide it with customer phone records. They are "contemplating additional suits" against AT&T and Bell South. And it's nasty -
Orin Kerr, a former federal prosecutor and assistant professor at George Washington University, said his reading of the relevant statutes put the phone companies at risk for at least $1,000 per person whose records they disclosed without a court order.

"This is not a happy day for the general counsels" of the phone companies, he said. "If you have a class action involving 10 million Americans, that's 10 million times $1,000 - that's 10 billion."
Ouch. For the legal details, see this discussion of the relevant statutes and how this could be real trouble. But that's for lawyers. Short version? The leviathan has been harpooned. Shift from Hobbes to Melville - will the New Jersey "Ahabs" be pulled under by the Great White Whale that just cannot be conquered? (No, don't think of Cheney in a Speedo.)

But the other Great White Whale may have been harpooned and actually go under.

Friday this - "Within the last week, Karl Rove told President Bush and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, as well as a few other high level administration officials, that he will be indicted in the CIA leak case and will immediately resign his White House job."

That's from a real journalist, Jason Leopold, who has actual sources inside the White House. There are lots of details. The planning for a post-Rove administration is underway, as is a spin strategy to assert that the removal of Bush's Brain really makes no difference at all.

Saturday the same reporter has this, Patrick Fitzgerald met with Karl Rove's lawyers Friday -
During the course of that meeting, Fitzgerald served attorneys for former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove with an indictment charging the embattled White House official with perjury and lying to investigators related to his role in the CIA leak case, and instructed one of the attorneys to tell Rove that he has 24 hours to get his affairs in order, high level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting said Saturday morning.

... It was still unknown Saturday whether Fitzgerald charged Rove with a more serious obstruction of justice charge. Sources close to the case said Friday that it appeared very likely that an obstruction charge against Rove would be included with charges of perjury and lying to investigators.

An announcement by Fitzgerald is expected to come this week, sources close to the case said. However, the day and time is unknown.
There's a discussion of this by a prominent defense attorney here - given that the meeting lasted fifteen hours it must have been complex plea bargaining that probably failed. He will go under, or so it seems. (No, don't think of Karl Rove in a Speedo.)

As for Vice President Cheney, late Friday Fitzgerald filed a new pleading in the case. That's here with an analyses here, and this exhibit, and that's a copy of Joseph Wilson's now famous July 6, 2003 New York Times op-ed item with Cheney's handwritten scribbled notes in the column.

This is trouble, as Michael Isikoff explains in the upcoming Newsweek here -
It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for Cheney's own notes to be made public. The notes -apparently obtained as a result of a grand jury subpoena - would appear to make Cheney an even more central witness than had been previously thought in the criminal probe.

... Fitzgerald first alleged that Cheney had questioned whether Wilson's trip was a "junket" in a court filing last month. In that filing, Fitzgerald also asserted that the vice president, acting with the approval of President Bush, had authorized Libby to disclose portions of the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to rebut some of Wilson's claims.

... Fitzgerald in his court filing indicated he plans to introduce a copy of Cheney's annotated version of the Wilson column to show the vice president's interest in the circumstances surrounding Wilson's trip was an important matter to Libby that week and explains many of his actions.
The prime mover, the real Great White, may be the central planner in punishing the man who embarrassed him, and maybe inadvertently, or purposefully, blowing the guy's wife's CIA cover, which outraged the CIA and blinded us about what Iran was up to with their nuclear program. That's interesting.

Will the leviathan survive all this?

Posted by Alan at 19:07 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006 08:17 PDT home

Friday, 12 May 2006
Facts and Figures: Fun with Numbers
Topic: Backgrounder

Facts and Figures: Fun with Numbers

In the political world, on Friday, May 12, 2006, was all numbers. And the first had to do with the big story that broke the previous day. This big story was, of course, the news that the National Security Agency (NSA) has compiled a database of domestic phone-call records from data provided by the three biggest telecommunications corporations - AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth. This would be a record of pretty much every telephone call made in America since sometime around a month or two after the events of September 11, 2001, involving around two hundred million people, and more than a billion calls. The National Security Agency has the number called, the number placing the call, and the duration of each call, stored in what seems to be the largest database in the world - but they don't have any idea of what was said in any given call. That's not the idea. The idea is to run all sorts of data-mining algorithms against the data and look for patterns, but how that would work, and what patterns would show what, is hazy. All this was done with no approval, other than the president authorizing the NSA to go for it - no court order or warrants - and no oversight - it was secret. Congress, save for a few who were told not to talk, knew nothing of this - and it may be massively illegal. The source item is here.


There was a ton of comment about this, or several tons, from the left and right, from those who don't think much of the president and his administration, and from those who think the man and his crew are brilliant and brave. Much of that was covered here.

Some comment was surprising. The politicians spoke - and even Newt Gingrich, right there on Fox News, said "I'm not going defend the indefensible." Really. You can watch the video here.

But expect for Arlen Specter and a few other Republicans, things lined up as they should. The Democrats said the usual about what they saw as the two core issues - first, civil liberties, specifically Fourth Amendment stuff having to do with everyone's right to left alone (no "unreasonable search and seizure") except if there's "probable cause" that they may have done or be doing something really wrong and there's a court-issued warrant allowing the intrusion, and second, the administration claim, once again, that everyone in well over two hundred years had really misunderstood the constitution and the president really does not have to follow any law or court order that messes up his plans, and the choice is his and his alone to decide which laws he should follow. The Democrats didn't like that at all. The Republicans argued this was no big deal, just collected business records and hardly wiretapping (not "unreasonable search and seizure"), and even if it somehow was, it was justified as the country is in the gravest peril ever - what we now face is far worse than the Soviet Union with ten thousand nuclear warheads aimed at our cities for decades, all those missiles on a hair trigger ready to launch, as this was a shadowy group of a few thousand people who didn't play by the rules and could grab airliners and fly them into buildings, or something like that. So in this special case the president really didn't have to follow the fancy pants rules - in fact, he shouldn't, as that would be dangerous, and he bravely recognizes that.

What did the public think? Thursday night the Washington Post conducted a flash poll (small sample and wide margin of error) and came up with this - "63 percent of Americans said they found the NSA program to be an acceptable way to investigate terrorism."

So that's that - until the next poll.

There's a long discussion of the poll here from Glenn Greenwald -
The reaction is painfully predictable. Bush followers are celebrating with glee, as though the issue is resolved in their favor and they won, while some Democrats are quivering with caution, urging that this issue be kept at arm's length lest they take a position that isn't instantaneously and overwhelmingly popular.
Maybe it was nothing and the left is just being hysterical (some call them "drama queens"). We'll see how it all plays out. Is it a slippery slope thing, or the other metaphor, boiled frog, as in the story of the frog that doesn't realize, as the pleasant warm water get a little more warm, then warmer, then warmer, that he's being cooked dead? Who knows? Being safe is an immediate concern. The concept of what happens, down the road, as you incrementally give up a few basic rights and some privacy, now, for quite practical reasons, is massively abstract. Americans are a practical people. Considering that abstract stuff is for skinny French guys smoking odd cigarettes and sipping bad coffee at some café off rue Bonaparte on the Left Bank some rainy Paris evening, if they still do that.

But it will get more interesting, as we see here - that Tice fellow who blew the cover on the original story of NSA warrantless spying on America citizens (scandal one), will testify next week on the "all phone records everywhere database" story (scandal two), as congress considerers confirming General Hayden, who ran both operations, to head the CIA. Tice says those first two were minor. Hayden's NSA was doing lots more. This would be scandals three and forward.

And Matthew Yglesias has an interesting comment here -
Perhaps this is obvious, but the thing about the big NSA phone records dragnet is that this gives us the previously missing explanation as to why the administration thought it was so important to illegally wiretap people without warrants. That used to be a bit mysterious - if the idea was to spy on people with al-Qaeda connections, getting a warrant should have been easy. The problem is that the evidentiary basis for believing the people in question had al-Qaeda connections now turns out to have been illegally obtained evidence from the broader NSA program. And then the problem reiterates itself - if the listening-in stage of the program reveals anything interesting, you can't use that in a court either. You can't use it to get further warrants, you can't use it as the basis of a prosecution, basically you can't use it at all. So if you want to act, you're going to need to do one of these detention-without-trials deals or maybe a "rendition" or a military tribunal or what have you. And then, once the guy's in custody, if he tells you anything you can't use that either. So the whole process starts again and soon enough there's an entire parallel justice system operating entirely in secret without any oversight or real rules.

And that's the optimistic scenario in which all of the relevant people are maximally honest, honorable, and competent. Leaving aside the reality that nobody with a single shred of honesty or basic human dignity would be working for George W. Bush at this point, that's simply not a realistic picture of any large-scale enterprise. Things are bound to go wrong - badly wrong - when you have all these people operating outside the law without any checks or scrutiny.
An entire parallel justice system operating entirely in secret without any oversight or real rules? Would sixty-three percent of Americans find this an acceptable way to deal with terrorism? Probably.


The big news Friday was this - federal agents searched the house of the resigned CIA agent Kyle "Dusty" Foggo in the morning -
Federal agents Friday morning raided the home of Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, who stepped down this week from the No. 3 post at the CIA amid accusations of improper ties to a defense contractor named as a co-conspirator in the bribery case of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

... Foggo resigned his post at the CIA on Monday, after the FBI began investigating whether he improperly steered contracts to Brent Wilkes, a Poway defense contractor and longtime friend of Foggo's. The CIA's inspector general has been investigating Foggo for at least three months.
The home, a rental, was in DC, not Poway (inland San Diego county and a nice little place where one of the nephews lives). But it was all over the news, and there was more - the FBI raided his office too, at CIA headquarters in Langley, which is really strange. He has a few more days there, but they escorted him out of the building and took away his security badge. And they didn't give a heads-up to his boss, Porter Goss, still there until General Hayden is confirmed and moves in.

The Justice Department and FBI bust the CIA, with guys from the CIA's Inspector General's office and the IRS tagging along? There's something you don't see every day.

The Cheney administration does, of course, hate the CIA. The CIA kept saying all that stuff about Saddam Hussein and his weapons programs didn't quite add up, no matter what Ahmed Chalabi said was so, and no matter what Rumsfeld's newly formed alternative mini-CIA had been saying.

They paid the price. The message? They were always all crooks.

Comparing Numbers

CNN decided to tick off the remaining twenty-nine percent of Americans who approve of the president with this, bringing up the Great Satan himself -
In a new poll comparing President Bush's job performance with that of his predecessor, a strong majority of respondents said President Clinton outperformed Bush on a host of issues.

... Respondents favored Clinton by greater than 2-to-1 margins when asked who did a better job at handling the economy (63 percent Clinton, 26 percent Bush) and solving the problems of ordinary Americans (62 percent Clinton, 25 percent Bush).

On foreign affairs, the margin was 56 percent to 32 percent in Clinton's favor; on taxes, it was 51 percent to 35 percent for Clinton; and on handling natural disasters, it was 51 percent to 30 percent, also favoring Clinton.

Moreover, 59 percent said Bush has done more to divide the country, while only 27 percent said Clinton had.
That wasn't nice. What about the pure, innocent, underage Saint Monica sweetie that Clinton defiled? And he lied about it, didn't he?

It seems that doesn't count anymore, or it seems minor compared to what now matters to most people. Times have indeed changed.

But that's just CNN. In the extended family out here, quite conservative (not only Poway but Carlsbad), no television is ever tuned to CNN. If it's the news, it's Fox. (But with the grandkids it's usually cartoons, so it doesn't really matter much.)

But this is interesting - "In the first poll of its kind, (using the first choice of TV news network as a demographic variable), in the second OpEdNews- Zogby People's poll has learned that except for viewers of right wing news show, Fox News, poll respondents believe that the 2004 presidential election was stolen."

What? But the New York Times had been saying that only a few fringe extremists and some unhinged bloggers were jabbering on about the theft of the election.

But "of the people who watch Fox news as their primary source of TV news, one half of one percent believe it was stolen and 99% believe it was legitimate. Among people who watched ANY other news source but FOX, more felt the election was stolen than legitimate."

This is very curious, as in -
ABC - Stolen 56% Legitimate - 32%
CBS - Stolen 64% Legitimate - 31%
CNN - Stolen 70% Legitimate - 24%
FOX - Stolen 0.5% Legitimate - 99%
MSNBC - Stolen 65% Legitimate - 24%
NBC - Stolen 49% Legitimate - 43%
Other - Stolen 56% Legitimate - 28%
How odd, but then, among those responding, there was this -
... 37% watched Fox news, more than any other single network. CNN came in second with 21% with MSNBC third, with 13%. It makes sense for these three 24/7 news networks to be the top in this category, since the others air news for limited parts of the day.
Volume, or market share, matters.

Here's another way of looking at it -
These numbers are astounding, because they indicate that at least half of Americans believe that the last presidential election was stolen - unless they watch Fox News. And it isn't that the networks have been beating the Great Drum of Diebold, either. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find ANY coverage of the problems with DRE voting machines in the mainstream media at all. And yet, those who watch even the kind of Bush-coddling news that's been served up by the networks, MSNBC, and CNN for the last five years, believe the election was stolen.

Now I'd like to see a poll about what percentage of Americans believe that the Bush Administration allowed the 9/11 attacks to play out so they could have their war in Iraq.
Well, that's unlikely.

But where's it all lead?

Note this at the journal of the neoconservative crowd, the Weekly Standard -
D. Quinn Mills is worried. The respected Albert J. Weatherhead, Jr. Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School fears that America may be headed toward calamity.

Convinced that two straight elections which he characterizes as "tied and disputed" have gone to the Republicans and that good-faithed, but fatigued, Democrats have "exhausted all other legal options," Mills cautions that a third straight cliffhanger marred by Republican skullduggery could well result in a civil war. By which he means a real, honest-to-goodness Civil War, except this time around it won't be the Blue and the Gray but the Blue and the Red. To warn America about this gathering storm, Mills has written a novel titled Blue! Red! (available online here) and is conducting a sparsely attended online seminar on the subject for the Harvard community...
The rest of the item ridicules Mills - one more effete liberal crybaby, from Harvard of course, where no one know anything about the real world, and the man is clearly a fool, or so they imply.

They didn't read the Zogby poll. It could happen. Or not.

Economic Data Reframed

Thursday there was this - "The Senate gave final approval Thursday to a $70 billion election-year package of tax cuts that will extend lower rates for investors and also save billions for families with above-average incomes."

The president's tax cuts get extended for a few more years, but the seventy billion pretty much goes only to those who earn more than a half-million a year. Those who earn less would have been considered, but there were a lot of arguments and no one could decide what to do about them, so that's for later, if they get to it. Nothing's perfect.

Friday there was a lot of bragging on the Republican side on how this was going to turn things around - now voters would stop this flirtation with the idea of changing congress, and make sure those who delivered on cutting taxes would remain in power. Everyone loves it when taxes are cut.

That'll work, excepting people tend to reframe big numbers, like seventy billion dollars, so they understand the numbers on a somewhat more personal level, as in this -
Here's how the just-passed tax cut "benefits" you:

If you earn $50,000 or less per year you will save $2 - $46

If you earn $50,000 - $100,000 per year you will save $110 - $403

If you earn $100,000 - $1 million per year you will save $1388 - $5562

If you earn $1 million or more you will save $41,977 (average)

Here's what was deleted in the new package:

Deductions for state and local taxes
Deductions for college tuition fees
Deductions for school supplies for teachers who pay for them out of their pockets
Deductions for businesses hiring welfare to work (bringing people out of welfare)

It's pretty clear who wins in this one. Just the concept of tax cuts when we're at war, facing a $10 trillion deficit with notes worth hundreds of billions of dollars held by China and Japan should tell you just how much these guys love America and care about its people.
But they say they care, and expect the votes of the grateful. And this will keep the economy booming.

But people do persist in looking at the details, and not at the big picture. It's a day-to-day pay-the-bills thing. Bummer.

A Careful Examination of Demographic Data Indicates Hot and Heavy Sex is Necessary, Now

Now this is interesting -
On the May 11 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson advised viewers during the "My Word" segment of his program to "[d]o your duty. Make more babies." He then cited a May 10 article, which reported that nearly half of all children under the age of five in the United States are minorities. Gibson added: "By far, the greatest number [of children under five] are Hispanic. You know what that means? Twenty-five years and the majority of the population is Hispanic." Gibson later claimed: "To put it bluntly, we need more babies." Then, referring to Russia's projected decline in population, Gibson claimed: "So far, we are doing our part here in America but Hispanics can't carry the whole load. The rest of you, get busy. Make babies, or put another way - a slogan for our times: 'procreation not recreation'."
At the link you can find the video clip, and the base data the got Gibson started, but the implication is clear - it's a racial thing. White women get naked and open wide. It's the only hope for the white race, whatever that is.

Most curious. Fox News is mighty odd. The "master race" could lose this one? One thinks of Germany in the late thirties.

Beyond the Numbers Previews of Coming Attractions

Note this - "Within the last week, Karl Rove told President Bush and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, as well as a few other high level administration officials, that he will be indicted in the CIA leak case and will immediately resign his White House job."

That's from a real journalist, Jason Leopold, who has actual sources inside the White House. There are lots of details. The planning for a post-Rove administration is underway, as is a spin strategy to assert that the removal of Bush's Brain really makes no difference at all. Of course not. The irony is too delicious. The late-night comics will be all over that.

But it's only a rumor, and the trading in news futures shows only a thirty percent consensus in the market that Rove will be indicted, with a fifty-six percent consensus he'll resign. Go stake out a position and see how you do.

The numbers are always shifting. Check daily.

Posted by Alan at 22:53 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 12 May 2006 23:01 PDT home

Thursday, 11 May 2006
Surprise! Making a List, and Checking it Twice
Topic: Couldn't be so...

Surprise! Making a List, and Checking it Twice

Some days there are all sorts of news items that get buried by the big story of the day, but worth a comment. Thursday, May 11, was on of those days, with lots of interesting things happening, but getting short shrift as the attention of the nation was diverted by the one story that that pulled everything together - all the hidden worries about "what it all means" and where we are heading as a nation.

The big story was, of course, the news that the National Security Agency (NSA) has compiled a database of domestic phone-call records from data provided by the three biggest telecommunications corporations - AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth. This would be a record of pretty much every telephone call made in America since sometime around a month or two after the events of September 11, 2001. We're talking around two hundred million people, and more than a billion calls. The NSA folks have the number called, the number placing the call, and the duration of each call, stored in what seems to be the largest database in the world - but they don't have any idea of what was said in any given call. That's not the idea. The idea is to run all sorts of data-mining algorithms against the data and look for patterns, but how that would work, and what patterns would show what, is hazy.

The probable is that this was done with no approval, other than the president authorizing the NSA to go for it. No court order or warrants - and no oversight - it was secret and congress, save for a few who were told not to talk, knew nothing of this - and it may be massively illegal.

The odd thing is the story broke in USA Today (the item is here), the paper known for its proud superficiality. The paper has been laughed at for three decades as the home of "MacNews" - the two paragraph item that covers the basics and then stops cold. Travel on business and it's the paper you find outside your hotel room door each morning, as it offends no one and the full-color weather page - with its cool four-color national map with all sorts of symbols and graphics, and with fancy text tables below - is impressive. Of course USA Today, as our only real national newspaper, not tethered to any one city or region, has its limitations - the biggest drawback that it has no attitude, no depth - no soul if you will. And they don't take positions, or even try. It's a paper for everyone and for no one in particular.

And they run this story? You'd think they were trying to be a real newspaper or something, with a big scoop and actual detail (lots of it). What's up with that?

And they hit the sweet spot with this story. The polls show the president's approval rating at near Richard-Nixon-resigns lows - those to the left of him outraged that he has basically claimed that no laws he finds inconvenient apply to him, no matter what the congress passes or has passed in the past, and no matter what the courts at any level have ruled, while his "core supporters" now have started to hate the guy, some on the immigration issue (no wall at the border and maybe the illegal folk could become citizens), and with the "economic conservatives" livid about the massive and record national debt, the record trade deficit, and all the federal spending well beyond anything the most liberal Democrat ever even proposed. The whole country sees the war as a mistake, or two-thirds of us now do, and know it was sold to us on either lies or incompetence or some weird idealistic self-delusion, and it's not only costing a ton of borrowed money, we're nearing twenty-five hundred of our troops killed and ten thousand maimed for life, and the world at best distrusts us and at worst hates us and we have no reputation or credibility or leverage left anywhere, and there's one scandal after another where big money moves around and this Republican or that gets rich and then gets caught, and there's the CIA leak thing where the president's main man, Karl Rove, may be indicted for perjury or obstruction of justice or both, just like the vice president's main man, Scooter Libby, was. The aborted Dubai ports deal, the petulant Harriet Miers nomination that blew up in his face. In the "pick a word" part of the polls people think about the president and come up with "stupid" and "incompetent." Things aren't going that well for him. And he's ticked off. It wasn't supposed to be this way.

This USA Today story just caps it all off. Do secret taps on the phones of foreigners, intercept all their email and check it out, and maybe you get a mulligan if you bypass all the specific laws that apply, as folks have quite nicely been made to be superbly frightened in the last four years. The FISA scandal, with those warrantless wiretaps, seemed okay to about half of the public. But keep a record of each and every phone call any of us has made in the last three or four years, and crunch the data this way and that, to see who's naught and who's nice? We're all suspects? The Thursday scoop in USA Today ticks off everyone, left and right. That newspaper did hit the sweet spot, or caught the wave, or gave expression to the zeitgeist, or whatever. Good timing.

And the USA Today made the other new stories of the day just subsets of the big picture. There was this - "The Senate gave final approval Thursday to a $70 billion election-year package of tax cuts that will extend lower rates for investors and also save billions for families with above-average incomes." Yep, the president's tax cuts get extended for a few more years. But the seventy billion pretty much goes only to those who earn more than a half-million a year. Those who earn less would have been considered, but there were a lot of arguments and no one could decide what to do about them, so that's for later, if they get to it. Nothing's perfect. Half-a-loaf is better than none? Those who didn't get their half-loaf outnumber those who did, by more than nine to one, and they vote. The USA Today item made the tax cut story just a subset of the big picture - the ordinary little guy doesn't matter, just trace his phone calls, and he gets no tax relief, as he's just a bother, and he won't mind either.

Other items fit the pattern, like this, no funding for the stressed-out vets coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What do they matter? Or this this - Iran thinks talk about the nuclear weapons thing a "possible." Ah, he doesn't matter either.

There's a pattern here. It's the "you don't matter" thing. Tell that to enough people often enough, and even to congress and the courts, and it gets on their nerves, not that it matters.

But it might matter a little, as the head of the NSA, the man who oversaw the development of and ran the "phone-call database," General Michael Hayden, has been nominated to head the CIA, and now there might be problems with that. Can the president just up and say the fellow is, as of say June 1, now head of the CIA - and the whole confirmation thing is unconstitutional anyway, as it places restrictions on his plenary power as commander-in-chief in wartime, or metaphoric wartime? What would congress do if he says it's just so, cry?

As for the NSA program as described in USA Today, they have all your phone records, but they won't confirm if your records are among those examined. And what will they do with them? No one knows, but the item says it's clear they probably they end up at the Pentagon.

It should be noted there was some pushback -
Qwest's refusal to participate has left the NSA with a hole in its database. Based in Denver, Qwest provides local phone service to 14 million customers in 14 states in the West and Northwest. But AT&T and Verizon also provide some services - primarily long-distance and wireless - to people who live in Qwest's region. Therefore, they can provide the NSA with at least some access in that area.

... The NSA, which needed Qwest's participation to completely cover the country, pushed back hard.

Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.

In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events.
They didn't want their own Justice Department to know what they were doing because they were afraid that the lawyers there would will tell them that this is against the law. They didn't seek warrants from the FISA court for the same reason? It's the "you don't matter" thing, or, in this case, the law doesn't matter.

Curious here is something from James Harper, Cato Institute's director of information policy studies and a member of the Department of Homeland Security Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee, on this "phone-call database" -
It flies in the face of Fourth Amendment principles that call for reasonableness or probable cause. It is not reasonable to monitor every American's phone calling in a search for terrorists.

The program was not authorized by Congress and it flies in the face of Congress' intent when it de-funded the Total Information Awareness program because of concerns about the privacy consequences of 'data mining.'

'Data mining' for terrorism - the idea that searching through masses of data can find terrorist patterns or suspicious anomalies - is provably flawed. Probability theory shows that searching for extremely rare events or conditions using even slightly flawed formulae will return mostly false positives. In other words, investigators searching through data about millions of Americans for the very few terrorists will send themselves on wild goose chases after innocent law-abiding citizens, with only the slimmest chance of stumbling onto terrorists or terrorism planning.

It is no defense of the program to say that it only includes information about calls, and not the content of calls themselves. Traffic information is very revealing - it includes the times and frequency of Americans' calls to their doctors, psychologists, paramours, and priests. And there is no way to know whether this surveillance is limited only to telephone traffic information.

It is unlikely that authorities could restrict their use of a database of all Americans' phone calls. If it hasn't been put to new purposes yet, before long this database will be used for general investigative purposes. As we've seen in the past, surveillance powers given to government officials are ultimately used even for political purposes.

For these reasons, oversight is essential. But the secrecy that surrounds the NSA's domestic surveillance programs prevents Congress from debating the issues, prevents researchers and critics from testing the techniques, and prevents testing in the courts to determine whether the programs are lawful...
Other than that it's just fine.

A wrinkle is that this has come up before, as here you'll find a discussion of a whistle blower at AT&T who in early April alleged that AT&T was breaking the law, as he saw them set up special facilities for this illegal program. The idea was the courts should issue an injunction prohibiting AT&T from continuing this alleged wiretapping, and he filed a number of documents under seal, including three AT&T documents explaining how the wiretapping system worked. The administration invoke the rare "state secrets privilege" and stopped that nonsense. No evidence, no case.

Other curiosities?

There's this, two congressman saying "when the Attorney General was forced to testify before the House Judiciary Committee a few weeks ago, he misled the Committee about the existence of the program." Some might say he lied.

As for whether it's legal, this item covers just about every statute and code that applies. It doesn't appear to be legal.

But then the president says we shouldn't worry, and just trust him -
President Bush today denied that the government is "mining or trolling through the personal lives of innocent Americans," as Democrats expressed outrage over a news report describing a National Security Agency program that has collected vast amounts of telephone records.

... Making a hastily scheduled appearance in the White House, Mr. Bush did not directly address the collection of phone records, except to say that "new claims" had been raised about surveillance. He said all intelligence work was conducted "within the law" and that domestic conversations were not listened to without a court warrant.

"The privacy of all Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities," he said. "Our efforts are focused on Al Qaeda and their known associates."
Right. And the New York Times item says that trust thing was not going so well -
Senator Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would call executives of AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon "to see if we can learn some of the underlying facts."

He said he would question them about "what we can't find out from the Department of Justice or other administration officials."

... "Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with Al Qaeda?" Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the committee's ranking minority member, asked angrily.

... "It's our government, our government!" he said, turning red in the face and waving a copy of USA Today. "It's not one party's government, it's America's government!"

... Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is a member of the Intelligence Committee as well as the Judiciary Committee, appeared to confirm at least the gist of the article, while stressing that what was under discussion was not wiretapping. "It's fair to say that what is in the news this morning is not content collection," she said.

Even so, she warned, "I happen to believe that we are on our way to a major Constitutional confrontation on the Fourth Amendment guarantees over unreasonable search and seizure."

... The anger among committee members carried over to a number of other related developments. Senator Specter said he was sending a letter to the Justice Department in response to a news report that an investigation by the Justice Department's ethics office into the lawyers who gave approval to the domestic surveillance program was abandoned because the investigators were refused the necessary security clearances.

"It's sort of incomprehensible that that was done," Senator Specter said, adding that he was asking that the clearances be granted so the review could continue.
So much for trust. It's the "you don't matter" thing. Tell that to enough people often enough, and even to congress and the courts, and it gets on their nerves.

On the other hand, this pro-Bush media review site offers this perspective -
Seismic! Shocking! Startling! A bombshell! That's how the ABC, CBS and NBC morning shows described a front-page story in today's (Thursday's) USA Today that breathlessly touted how "NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls." Like the TV coverage, USA Today's story insinuated that the existence of the database was a major violation of Americans' privacy rights and evidence that the President was lying last December when he described the NSA's eavesdropping on suspected terrorist communications as limited and targeted.

Today's article does not allege that any calls are listened in on. Indeed, as USA Today describes it, the program seems like a thoroughly innocuous database of the same information that appears on your phone bill, but with your name, address and other personal information removed. Given that another government agency - the IRS - maintains information on American citizens' employment, banking, investments, mortgages, charitable contributions and even any declared medical expenses, this hardly seems like a major assault on personal liberty.

ABC's Good Morning America's was the most over-the-top, as co-host Diane Sawyer breathlessly began the program: "New this morning: NSA bombshell. A new report that the government is secretly tracking your phone calls, seeking information on every call made in the U.S. The war on terror versus your privacy."
Then there's a discussion of the Diane Sawyer interview with the USA Today reporter, Leslie Cauley.

So maybe it's nothing.

Or you could, like Tim Grieve, look at it this way -
Over the years, members of Congress have adopted, presidents have signed and courts have adjudicated all sorts of laws that are supposed to apply when the government wants to know about calls coming into and going out from a particular telephone number. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1984 lays down some of the rules for obtaining that kind of information. Congress amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1998 to set forth rules when the government wants the information in the context of foreign intelligence operations. And in 2001, the Bush administration proposed - and Congress approved - changes in the rules in the course of adopting the Patriot Act.

So what do we learn today? The Bush administration - without an act of Congress, without a ruling from the judiciary, without even the usual F-you of a signing statement - has written its own set of rules for gathering telephone records. Forget words like "subpoena" and "warrant" and "probable cause." Forget fine legislative calibration. Forget all that stuff about amendments and floor debate and compromise in conference committees. None of that matters now. Under the Bush administration's rules, the NSA gets access to every single phone record it can persuade anybody to give it.

What is the government doing with the phone records? Well, we don't know, and we don't really have any way of finding out for sure. The president said today that his administration isn't "mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans." OK, but isn't it "mining or trolling" through the data? And if it isn't, why has it gone to the trouble and expense of collecting that data at all?

How is the government safeguarding the information? Well, we don't know that, either. Imagine for a moment that an FBI agent investigating a kidnapping wants to see who has been calling you.
The Electronic Communications Privacy Act sets forth the safeguards to be observed before the agent can get the records from a phone company. But now that the NSA has all the records, can the agent simply search through them to find what he needs without getting anyone's approval first? Now imagine that the would-be searcher isn't an FBI agent investigating a crime but a Bush administration official doing some research on a political opponent. Can he run a search through the records, too?

Maybe it's safe to assume that the answer in both cases is no. But the thing is, we shouldn't have to assume. And if we still had a government that operated in the way the Framers imagined, we wouldn't have to. The checks and balances would guarantee it. We'd know that the executive branch was obeying the laws that Congress adopted because it wouldn't have its hands on phone records until a court approved a request and a telephone company complied with it.

It's not like that now. Unless you're lucky enough to live in an area served by Qwest, the NSA apparently already has computer files showing every telephone call you've made or received over the last few years. Maybe the NSA won't look at your calls. Maybe it won't let anyone else do so, either. But you don't know that right now, do you? Sen. Arlen Specter says he's going to hold hearings, and maybe Alberto Gonzales or Michael Hayden or someone from the NSA will appear and say - once again - that innocent Americans have nothing to worry about here. Maybe you'll trust them. Maybe you won't. But at the end of the hearing, those will pretty much be the extent of your options.
Or like Glenn Greenwald, you could look at it this way -
[T]he administration's principal political defense was to continuously assure Americans that they were eavesdropping only on international calls, not domestic calls. Many, many Americans do not ever make any international calls, and it was an implicit way of assuring the heartland that the vast bulk of the calls they make - to their Aunt Millie, to arrange Little League practice, to cite just a few of the administration's condescending examples - were not the type of calls being intercepted. The only ones with anything to worry about were the weird and suspect Americans who call overseas to weird and suspect countries. If you're not calling Pakistan or Iran, the Government has no interest in what you're doing.

That has all changed. We now learn that when Americans call their Aunt Millie, or their girlfriend, or their psychiatrist, or their drug counselor, or their priest or rabbi, or their lawyer, or anyone and everyone else, the Government is very interested. In fact, they are so interested that they make note of it and keep it forever, so that at any time, anyone in the Government can look at a record of every single person whom every single American ever called or from whom they received a call. It doesn't take a professional privacy advocate to find that creepy, invasive, dangerous and un-American.
One the other hand, see Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona here - "This is nuts. We are in a war and we've got to collect intelligence on the enemy, and you can't tell the enemy in advance how you are going to do it. And discussing all of this in public leads to that."

Folks should shut up? Perhaps.

Jack Cafferty on CNN didn't shut up (video here) -
We all hope nothing happens to Arlen Specter, the Republican head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, cause he might be all that stands between us and a full blown dictatorship in this country. He's vowed to question these phone company executives about volunteering to provide the government with my telephone records, and yours, and tens of millions of other Americans.

Shortly after 9/11, AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth began providing the super-secret NSA with information on phone calls of millions of our citizens, all part of the War on Terror, President Bush says. Why don't you go find Osama bin Laden, and seal the country's borders, and start inspecting the containers that come into our ports?

The President rushed out this morning in the wake of this front page story in USA Today and declared the government is doing nothing wrong, and all this is just fine. Is it? Is it legal? Then why did the Justice Department suddenly drop its investigation of the warrantless spying on citizens because the NSA said Justice Department lawyers didn't have the necessary security clearance to do the investigation. Read that sentence again. A secret government agency has told our Justice Department that it's not allowed to investigate it. And the Justice Department just says ok and drops the whole thing. We're in some serious trouble, boys and girls.
Maybe so, but "the decider" has his own troubles, as his saying "you don't matter" and "trust me" isn't working that well. At the end of the president's long day, new poll numbers, showing approval of him had dropped under the imagined floor, to twenty-nine percent -
President Bush's job-approval rating has fallen to its lowest mark of his presidency, according to a new Harris Interactive poll. Of 1,003 U.S. adults surveyed in a telephone poll, 29% think Mr. Bush is doing an "excellent or pretty good" job as president, down from 35% in April and significantly lower than 43% in January.

Roughly one-quarter of U.S. adults say "things in the country are going in the right direction," while 69% say "things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track." This trend has declined every month since January, when 33% said the nation was heading in the right direction. Iraq remains a key concern for the general public, as 28% of Americans said they consider Iraq to be one of the top two most important issues the government should address, up from 23% in April. The immigration debate also prompted 16% of Americans to consider it a top issue, down from 19% last month, but still sharply higher from 4% in March.
The data were collected before the USA Today item had been published.

We live in interesting times. The man cannot be happy. Who knows what he'll do now?

Posted by Alan at 23:50 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 12 May 2006 08:22 PDT home

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