Sunday, December 18, 2005

Behind The New Iron Curtain

by Tom Bozzo

Ten and a half years ago, I enjoyed an expenses-paid trip to Berlin to give a job talk, and in some of my down-time, I took the bus from the might-have-been office to the Alexanderplatz for a quick Fassbinder tour. The first thing I noticed upon arrival was that the Alexanderplatz had already been colonized by TGI Friday's. I thought, the Cold War is over, and corporate America won.

It's ironic that at this point, we seem to be turning into the old East Germany, but with better cars, as old Dubya flexes his authoritarian muscles in response to the domestic spying bombshell. I'll be blunt: If our public laws and freedoms are only window dressing for a secret set of laws delineating our real freedoms, then our putatively free society is a sham.

It's bad enough when the secret law is an ostensibly trivial regulation, like the rule requiring passengers to present photo ID at airport security checkpoints, that's kept secret seemingly out of sheer bloody-mindedness. Once it's accept that executive authority alone is sufficient to turn the intelligence agencies into the Stasi Lite (with 1/3 less torture!), rule of law is out the window. That's why the story matters.

Of course, the whole affair is not appropriately considered the tip of the iceberg, so much as maybe the 10% below the 10% just under the metaphorical water, following as it does the administration's efforts to assert unlimited power in its torture (link via The Sideshow), rendition, and 'enemy combatant' detention outrages.

Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach Richard Cheney. Impeach them now.
The furor over the "domestic spying" revelation has provoked only a "I'm the president, and I can do stuff like this." To paraphrase a friend, "It sounds like something Hitler might say.". Too extreme? How many things were done in the name of "national security" in the Nazi state? Hitler was able to put through his legislation by pushing an us vs. them paranoia. King George may think his cronies can and will always support him on this, but I can hope that this is the start (or contination) of the erosion of the Republican stranglehold on Washington.
It is scary that there is such a reservoir of support where the only principle seems to be that if George Bush does it, it's right by definition. Within this mindset, I don't think it's hard to come to the conlusion that authoritarianism isn't so bad, if it's your guy who's the strongman. The general level of malignancy does make me think more of the late DDR's Honecker, though.
I am amazed at that reservoir of support too. OTOH, I am hopeful that this is just the right kind of difficulty for the GOP--there are still some Republicans who are in the party because they don't want government sticking its nose in their lives (my FIL is one of them) and they are not going to be happy about this story at all. I'm thinking this story might have some lasting consequences as Dubya tries to hold together his coalition of Republicans down the stretch.
Scrivener: They've certainly built up quite the set of imbalances within the Republican coalition. I don't like to invoke explanations that suggest lack of principle, but it does seem like there are relatively few Professor Bainbridge-types willing to call bullshit on the assault on conservative principles; the rest seem willing to run along the Mobius strip connecting the inputs and outputs of the star-on and star-off machines so long as the basic god/guns/gays/appearance-of-low-taxes formula isn't violated too much.

Perhaps a better bet is that holding the Republican coalition together will lose the independents. Bush's poll "bounce" isn't broad-based at this point, and I suppose it will be a long winter once Iraqi reality returns to the fore and heating bills start to arrive in earnest.
Hey Tom,

Just curious how you fit in Bush's (ab)use of power to allow intercepts of international calls to people with links to Al Qaida with Clinton's similar use of executive power, or even your hero FDR's wartime acts of imprisoning Japanese people?

Maybe you could also comment on the relative horribleness of our current torture problems versus the intentional firebombing of innocent Japanese civilians followed by Truman's use of a nuclear weapon to kill innocent civilians.

My point is that despite your hysterics, our country has been through much worse. Bush's transgression, if any, on the domestic spying front is miniscule in comparison to FDR's wartime acts. Might I mention that FDR also tried to pack the Supreme Court. Bush just wants to confirm conservative judges. The horror.
Bryan, why do you hate freedom?

I can only assume that the internal spying involved people whose claimed links to Al Qaida were so tenuous that even the low standards seemingly applied by the FISA court couldn't have been met. Otherwise, why not just go through FISA???

The Clinton thing is bullshit. York misleadingly excerpted Gorelick's testimony (here). At the time, FISA didn't explicitly cover physical searches, and so the Clinton administration claimed authority to conduct them ON THE SUSPECTED AGENTS OF FOREIGN POWERS. Gorelick didn't oppose in principle the extension of FISA to such cases, and that subsequently happened in '95. (The original executive order in this area was signed by Reagan, BTW.) There's a like post at Drudge, I understand, that's bullshit, too.

Bottom line is that it's completely different for an executive order to address an area in which the law is mute, versus the executive claiming the authority to supersede law when the law is clear. Get it?

As for the internment of Japanese-Americans, being unable to admit that it was an outrage is Michelle Malkin's problem, not mine. I do not consider Clinton, or FDR, or any other Democratic luminary for that matter, to require the sort of absurd hagiography that is spun around Bush.

Likewise, the view of war has changed in 60 years such that avoiding civilian casualities (or at least making a pretense of doing so) is much more important now. Firebombing civilian targets in WWII was probably not very effective strategically, so I don't suppose there were even ends to justify the means. As for the use of the atomic bombs, I'm not a scholar of the WWII endgame, but I understand the next best alternative was (or at least was widely and not irrationally perceived to be) an invasion of the Japanese mainland that would have been unspeakably brutal.

Need I mention that there's a difference between a declared global war against fascist superpowers in which tens of millions of people were killed and tens of millions more maimed, and an open-ended effort to suppress shadowy non-state terrorist groups operating in small groups on shoestring budgets, however malign? (BTW, if you haven't done so, read Philip K. Dick's The Man In The High Castle, one of the last century's pre-eminent works of alternate-history SF.) All the same, as a liberal I can comfortably say that just because the country survived some (temporary) excesses in the process of fighting a global war sixty years ago doesn't mean that I am obliged to tolerate the country being turned into a police state now -- for far lesser cause.
Tht's wht fgrd. FDR's mprsnmnt f nncnt cvlns dsn't sm t mttr t y vry mch vrss th vsdrppng n ntrntnl clls t r frm ppl wth lnks t l Qd. Bsh's "nprcdntd wr n frdm" s y mntn n pst bv s *nthng* cmprd t wht FDR dd n th nm f wr. Yt, y cll t nprcdntd, n xggrtn tht fts n wll wth th pst's thm. Tht ws jst 60 yrs g. Hw qckly w frgt. s fr yr mrl rltvsm twrds wr crms n WWII, I gss w'v gt t lt Bs gt wy wth th trtr prblms, scrt prsns, tc., bcs ths wn't rlly b cnsdrd wrng by th ntr pblc fr nthr 60 yrs.

mgn t wll nly b mttr f tm bfr th spyng bmbshll gs wy jst lk Plmgt r ny f th thr rdcls sht tht th lft hs trd t brng dwn th Prsdnt wth. My dvc wld b t ctlly strt wnnng lctns n sy, 2006, nd 2008, bt tht dsn't sm t b f t mch ntrst n th Dmcrtc prty, nr s ds t sms lkly.

[Disemvowelled by a blog administrator.]
Why do you hate my freedoms?
What freedoms?

Consider the disemvowelling a reminder that this is my sandbox, and that while you are free to air substantive disagreement, I consider posting sweeping and poorly-founded rants about my tolerance or lack thereof for WWII atrocities to be a trollish abuse of commenting privileges.
My post should have been entirely within bounds, and it was not poorly founded, since you and others appear to think that nsa spying on people making or taking international calls from people linked with Al Qaida is somehow a huge intrusion into our civil liberties, when history shows that it is minor, almost impossibly minor, by comparison with acts like the actual imprisonment of over 100,000 innocent Japanese-Americans. You act like the US is taking away our freedoms, but in fact we have much more freedom today than we had 60 years ago.

I totally agree that you can do what you wish with your blog, though. I think that's the first time I've been in effect deleted here, and I think it was for a relatively minor infraction. Just wait until I actually cross the line.

Please also note that a President has the authority, er... the obligation, to protect the nation.

My advice continues to be that your party should win elections in 2006 and 2008 instead of continuing to fling shit everywhere. I imagine though, that 2006 will be another big disappointment for Dems, and with no prospect of impeachment with a GOP majority, your best hope is 2008.
Appeal denied. I would suggest that you not go out of your way to cross the line.

If you can't see the differences between the circumstances of WWII and the present, that's your problem. If it doesn't bother you that the executive is asserting that it's above the law, that's your problem, too.
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