April 18, 2024

Thanks, W…

…for doing your best to make sure that it’s a quarter-century before we have another Republican president.

Illegally tapping phone calls of suspected terrorists wasn’t enough for you?  You had to compile a database of calls made by everyday, ordinary citizens, too?  That’s just what this country needed, I think, John Ashcroft with an Oracle database listing every call we’ve made in the last 5+ years.  Yeah.  More info here.

At least one phone company had the balls to refuse – too bad Qwest doesn’t offer service in Texas.

For the right-wingers in the audience, this isn’t a question of necessity.  It’s easy to see how useful this information would be (assuming we ever caught one of those little buggers in the first place).  But where’s the asking of permission?  Where is the oversight by elected, (semi)accountable officials?

Trust you, W?  That’ll be the day.  I voted for you, twice, but I’m beginning to think I was mistaken.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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5 thoughts on “Thanks, W…

  1. See, I disagree with you on this one. Here is why. First off, I distinctly remember the people raising all kinds of hulabaloo over the inability of the gov’t to “connect the dots” when they had reports of people wanting to learn to fly jumbo jets but not land them etc. The agencies didn’t have a central clearing house for this type of data and the end result was 9/11.

    Now we fast forward almost 5 years and when we see the gov’t actually being pro-active about being able to connect those dots and prevent another 9/11 some scream and holler about their privacy. We can’t have it both ways. Either the gov’t is going to act to ensure our security or it isn’t. If it is…then what price are we willing to pay? Its not any different then having a toll tag. You can chose not to have one, but if you do, then not only do you get the quick pass through the toll booths, and the discount, but you also get tracked by Transdot to track how fast traffic is moving on the expressways. Heck, we all have license plates on our vehicles that can be tracked by stationary cameras nowadays.

    As for your initial contention about the legality of the NSA intercept program I think you are wrong by saying that it is illegal. There is a wealth of court cases that affirm that the President has a great deal of power in the case of foreign intelligence gathering under Article II. Heck, President Clinton affirmed that he had the right as President to execute physical searches of citizens homes if they were thought to be involved in foreign espionage.

  2. Hhhmmm…As I recall things, the government was supposed to get search warrants to invade peoples’ private lives. It’s reasonable to think that a telephone conversation entails an expectation of privacy, just as a sealed letter or a conversation in ones’ home would.

    A casual search of case law would undoubtedly prove me wrong on this point of law, but it’s important to remember that the law itself is only a means, not an end. The end is justice, which is quite different than law, being as it is more concerned with right and wrong than compliance.

    Whether Bush’s use of the NSA to obtain wiretaps without warrants is ultimately judged to be illegal is beside the point. It was an action that is very nearly indisputably wrong and therefore unjust. Would obtaining a proper warrent in the usual way have compromised their cases in some way? I don’t think so.

    As far as maintaining a database of phone calls made by ordinary citizens, doing so without congressional or judicial oversight is well over the fuzzy gray line between right and wrong. It’s not so much the action as it is the method that’s at issue and I, for one, don’t think its defensible to invoke “War Powers” or some such rubbish.

  3. The gov’t is requried to get a warrant to prevent against unreasonable searches and seizures. I can point you to some interesting articles of what we don’t consider unreasonable (mostly involving public safety like searches of cars or person when travelling).

    But two things to note here. One is that in cases of national security, then President invokes Article II powers and has extreme powers to do many things. The key here (looking at the case law) is that the President must be dealing with foreign threats (not domestic). Thus Truman was nota ble to sieze steel mills in the 50s because it was a domestic issue, and Nixon got dinged for wiretapping anti-war groups domestically (but the Supreme court specifically mentioned that they did not find that the President had such limitations in foreign cases). This was then reaffirmed in Truong and Re: Sealed Case.

    As to if the NSA program is wrong, I would also disagree. It is not wrong to take actions that defend the country against those that are trying to kill us. What was wrong was that more then 3000 people died on September 11th 2001 because the Justice Dept under Janet Reno was more worried about protecting the rights of foreign agents then saving lives. After the 9/11 commision report came out it was full of people upset that we did not connect the dots and deter the attack on 9/11. Yet now we find the gov’t working hard to connect the dots and instead of praising the President some would cruficy him. I disagree that obtaining a warrant was needed both from a legal standpoint and also from a process standpoint. Look at the leaks that ahve come from the CIA in the past few years and I think were I in his shoes I would want to keep the circle of knowledge as tight as possible.

    Lastly, you do realize that private companies sell your phone records to anyone who has your cell number? I know that you and I have talked about club cards, toll tags, and similar information that is kept about each of us. I am not convinced that we have an expectation of privacy in this modern world.

  4. I concede the point as far as legal precedent goes. But a judicial decision has no holy power behind it; it is the finding of a man or group of men and many are flawed, just as many laws are flawed, and should be re-evaluated for correctness periodically rather than being carved into the stone of legal dogma for eternity.
    I was once in a methodology/team building exercise when I worked for Akili and our management consultant guru asked a series of true/false questions of us. One of them was, “Should you trust the system?” “No,” I said, “you should always question your assumptions.” Sadly, I was wrong. Or so he said.
    Speaking now as one who read the 9/11 report from cover to cover, it’s my opinion that the failures weren’t so much a result of information gathering as they were of the lack of imagination and an absence of courage on the part of the leadership of the CIA. Specifically in regard to Osama bin Laden, multiple opportunities to eliminate a key threat were lost due to lack of leadership.

    There have been leaks in the CIA, just as there have been leaks in W’s cabinet. But doing an end-run around the legal process is hardly the way to address the problem.

    This is a great issue to have come into debate. As you point out, our personal data is cast about like dust in the breeze. Almost anyone with a will can collect it, with the resulting problems of identity theft, etc. This needs to change and eventually will. But without a critical examination of the implementation we’re liable to end up with something much worse: a government that knows and sees everything.

  5. Stare Decisis is an interesting paradox…on the one hand the underlying tenent of the English Common Law system that we use is that prior precedent means something. The more often that a law is upheld under judicial review the more powerful that law then appears. At the same time, Stare Decisis has given us Dredd Scott, Plessy v Ferguson, and the Japanese Internment decisions. Obviously decisions change over time…but I wonder if this one should. Are we better off removing from the gov’t the ability to actively work to protect us from harm? It is a fine line that we walk. On the one hand we want to have personal freedoms, but at the same time at what point do our freedoms take a back seat to the public good? WE recognize that many individual rights are trumped by the common good (to whit yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Is this a similar case? I do find it interesting that polling shows that most people support the gov’t using traffic analysis to see patterns that might catch terrorists. I tend to agree with them. Of course I tend to ascribe a lot of leniency to the office of The President (even when it was Bll Clinton) because I tend to beleive that they are acting the best interest of the country. That isn’t always the case, but in this case I still think that the alternative is much worse then allowing them to track phone calls.

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