Friday, August 18, 2006

Keeping Our Priorities Straight: NSA Domestic Spying Is Illegal

President Bush's NSA domestic spying programs are illegal on multiple grounds (please note the plural). Yesterday, a federal judge ruled against George W. Bush and his radical right wing interpretation of the US Constitution:
A federal district judge yesterday ruled that President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program is illegal and ordered the National Security Agency to shut it down, issuing a sweeping rebuke of the once-secret domestic-surveillance effort the White House authorized following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Bush's political philosophy, foreign policy, domestic policy, budget deficits, and his fundamental refusal to recognize the mess he has created in Iraq are the biggest domestic challenge to our democracy in ages.

In my view, civility in politics is preferable to shrillness and diatribe. Given the current situation in Washinton, however, there's no question in my mind that I would rather see people demanding accountability and being active in politics, however they talk, rather than sitting on the sidelines as long as they are exercising their proper first amendment rights. So I'm puzzled like many others on the progressive blogs when the conventional wisdom in Washington totally loses sight of where our country is. Too many in Washington never served in war. Too many have no memory and insufficient knowledge about World War Two (as just one example, if people were doing their homework, they wouldn't be making stupid comments that the Cold War was itself a world war). Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory, in a post that responds to some larger issues in all of this, had this to say:
In the scheme of the profound issues our country faces, obsessing about the inartfulness of this judicial opinion is not unlike those who use a laughably grave tone to write articles about fights between Daily Kos diarists or the latest blogger "scandal" while ignoring our national media's grotesque failure to scrutinize meaningfully our government's conduct and claims -- particularly on matters of war and peace or threats to constitutional liberties.

There is nothing commendable or impressive about always being restrained and muddled and ambivalent in one's tone and views. It is not a sign of intellectual prowess to be open-minded to frivolous claims or corrupt and dangerous behavior. And when the claims are particularly frivolous, and when the corruption and dangers reach a certain level of severity, self-important ambivalence -- hospitality to extremist ideas and systematic government law-breaking -- is actually irresponsible, reckless, and morally and intellectually bankrupt.

UPDATE: Thank you to Jon Henke for leaving this comment, which I know will be the reaction of those who fail to see the point (how can you complain that "the Washington Post insist(s) on a substantive and comprehensive legal analysis and conclusion about this vitally important legal issue"?). This was my reply:
It's an issue of priorities, Jon. If you sit on the street corner and watch 3 criminals assault a pedestrian with a gun, and the pedestrian begins screaming in a really shrill and unpleasant voice, and all you do is complain that the victim's voice is unpleasant, you will be engaged in behavior worthy of condemnation, even though what you are saying might actually be true.

In politics, I still prefer civility to shrillness because civility, when it isn't hypocritical and manipulative, is still an effective way of getting things done. But I have no problem with people who are angry at injustice and who simply tell it like it is. That is still far superior to acts of violence or war or people who advocate unnecessary wars of choice. We currently have two wars and right wing Republicans, talk openly of dragging the United States into more conflicts. Sometimes I'm almost physically nauseated as I listen to very polite and very civil neocons speaking on TV in a soft voice about their belief that we 'need' to accept a third world war. They understand that civility in politics reaches more people than shrillness but what a truly uncivil monstrosity they advocate!


Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

I recall a spring day, during a different war, when a bunch of students took over a couple of buildings at Columbia University. They spent an entire day screaming obscenities from the rooftops and upper floors. They were expressing their outrage at the Vietnam War, the draft, the military-industrial complex that kept it going, for considerable profit, and at people's complacency.

I shuddered, wondering how many decent families across the country saw that spectacle and decided that however wrongheaded the Johnson administration was, however much of a loser the war was, they wanted no part of any antiwar movement that included people who would do such a thing.

There was plenty of reason for the students' rage. Americans like instant everything, after all, and the administration seemed impervious to public opinion that by then was lopsidedly against the war.

"Stay the course" hadn't gained currency. Instead, we were told of light being seen at the end of the tunnel.

Civility does matter, whether the impassioned and outraged choose to recognize that fact or not.

There were a couple of days of marches back in that period. They took place all over the country, including in small cities and towns across what now are known as red states. Most were quiet, even silent. Many were led by clerics and the families of dead soldiers. Banners called for an end to the war and heralded the death toll.

And Life magazine produced an issue that simply showed hundreds of fallen soldiers.

My impression is that those marches and that Life issue did more to change minds, including Lyndon Johnson's about his re-election prospects, than the Columbia spectacle or rioting in San Francisco ever did.

2:42 PM  

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