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December 30, 2005

No Time For Partisanship

Here, in a nutshell, is what's so weird about the NSA scandal. This is Jonah Goldberg responding to my post on the Rasmussen Poll (Italics his):

Klein offers what he says is a better poll question: "Do you believe the NSA should be able to listen in on your phone calls and read your e-mails without oversight, probable cause, or a warrant?"

I can see his point. But surely there's plenty of bias built into this question, too. No one is talking about tapping run-of-the-mill phone conversations. Suggesting otherwise in a poll comes pretty close to push-polling.

Wouldn't a more fair question be: "Do you believe the NSA should be able to listen in on your phone calls and read your e-mails without oversight or a warrant if you are communicating with known al Qaeda associates in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Europe or the Middle East?"

Phrased that way, I'm with Goldberg. The only problem is that I have no reason to believe his question comports with reality. How do I know the NSA is only tapping conversations including al Qaeda associates? Because the president tells me it's so? There is, after all, absolutely no agency independent of the White House exerting even cursory oversight in this process. The FISA courts were abandoned because something Bush was doing prompted the legendarily lax agency to start rejecting and amending warrants. And yet, with absolutely no independent assurance, I'm supposed to simply trust that the net isn't being incompetently, mendaciously, or accidentally widened? Why?

Blindly trusting a politician's good intentions and a bureaucracy's sound judgment hasn't historically proven the best of ideas. And Goldberg knows that. He's a leading advocate of a political philosophy that takes, as one of its tenets, a reflexive mistrust of government. And yet here he'll throw it all the way because a second set of classified but independent eyes is too much red tape on the executive? The position isn't logical. Goldberg, I assume, is simply taking his own advice and playing the role of partisan. But while partisanship is good, blind partisanship when there's no empowered counterforce is dangerous. If partisans don't possess near equal power yet all remain in their roles as apparatchiks, the whole system breaks down. And that's what's happening here. Jonah and I agree that the NSA should wiretap anyone and everyone chatting with known al Qaeda associates. What I can't understand is why we don't agree that an independent watchdog agency should be deployed to ensure that the NSA is following and accomplishing that mission.

December 30, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

A reflexive mistrust of unchecked executive power as american as apple pie and this president has earned mistrust like few before him.

Posted by: BroD | Dec 30, 2005 7:31:28 PM

The poll question needs to be, "Do you think the President should be able to ignore the law?"

Because that's the issue. The hows and whys and whos of the wiretapping or data mining or whatever it is that's going on - those are interesting things, certainly. But they're beside the point. That's why the Right keeps bringing them up. They want this to be about, "Democrats don't want us to spy on bad guys."

What Bush did was illegal. You can make allowances for the immediate time after 9/11, but not for 5 years and still going strong. He can't just break the law because he thinks the law is inefficient. (Or whatever his real motives are.)

Posted by: tatere | Dec 30, 2005 8:05:39 PM

Our e-mails have been being watched for years, so've phone calls. This is nothing particularly new.

Posted by: shoelimpy™ | Dec 30, 2005 8:49:05 PM

No, I don't think they should be able to monitor phone calls of Americans to Afghanistan without a warrant. It's a nice distraction, but the issue if the president's law breaking, when it wasn't necessary. The FISA provision have a 72-hour retroactive provision. If that wasn't enough, Republicans have controlled Congress since 2002. Why couldn't he asked the law to be modified?

Posted by: Unstable Isotope | Dec 30, 2005 9:11:30 PM

"He's a leading advocate of a political philosophy that takes, as one of its tenets, a reflexive mistrust of government. [...] Jonah and I agree that the NSA should wiretap anyone and everyone chatting with known al Qaeda associates. What I can't understand is why we don't agree that an independent watchdog agency should be deployed to ensure that the NSA is following and daccomplishing that mission."

The explanation is simple: Jonah is lying. He doesn't have a "reflexive mistrust of government." That was always bullshit from stem to stern. Jonah will simply say anything, anything at all, that works toward his real goal of giving maximum power to right-wing executives. He no more has a "political philosophy" than a reptile does.

When we all finally figure this out, and stop arguing with these snakes as if they give a single microscopic crap for our ideals of rhetoric and argument, we'll get somewhere.

Jonah Goldberg doesn't want to argue with you. He wants a political order in which other people, people he's carefully riled up, take you out.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden | Dec 30, 2005 9:15:48 PM

Patrick is right, Ezra. If Goldberg was being honest, he wouldn't have pretended your question was push-polling and substituted a version that actually is push-polling. He knows perfectly well that the issue isn't spying on bad guys - Bush can already spy on bad guys without breaking the law.

Posted by: Avedon | Dec 30, 2005 9:24:29 PM

PNH:That's exactly right.

Remember this. The #1 objective of BOTH the war in Iraq, and the war on terror, is the destruction of liberalism.

In fact, the only objective of the conservative movement, is the destruction of liberalism.

Posted by: Karmakin | Dec 30, 2005 9:27:13 PM

The answer to Jonah's question is a simple, and unequivocal "no". And it rather shocks me, Ezra, that you would even think of saying anything else. If you are communicating with known al Queda associates anywhere in the world, there isn't a court in America (or most of the world) that wouldn't grant you a warrant.

Why is this so complicated?

Posted by: pfc | Dec 30, 2005 10:10:29 PM

Forgive me, bad pronoun misuse in that last post. It should read, "If someone is communicating....that wouldn't give the NSA a warrant."

Posted by: pfc | Dec 30, 2005 10:11:37 PM

Remember this. The #1 objective of BOTH the war in Iraq, and the war on terror, is the destruction of liberalism.

Exactly.

The GWOT is how you get the power.

It's not why you want the power.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina | Dec 30, 2005 10:54:28 PM

There was an article in today's paper about how many federal prosecutions are in jeopardy because of the warantless eavesdropping. Any evidence gathered this way is still not admissible in court here, whether you're a citizen or not. This is just another example of how things that Bush tells us he's doing to make us safe are actually making us less safe.

Posted by: Unstable Isotope | Dec 30, 2005 11:31:42 PM

I am always curious how people who support the patriot act and now this b.s. felt about Clinton's anti-terror measures. I remember being quite vocal with a lot of righties about the uncontionable invasion of our civil liberties. A rightie I know used the phrase I use a lot now, that this is pissing on the graves of the hundreds of thousands who gave us - us, their lives that we could have the freedoms that we seem almost eager to give away now. He actually agrees with me on this issue still but there has been a lot of blind partisanship throughout the bush regime's power - yet it still manages to shock me.

Posted by: DuWayne | Dec 31, 2005 12:58:18 AM

pfc already said it at 7:11. This is two days in a row you have said that warrantless wiretaps are fine under some conditions.

I am very disappointed and really don't how to communicate with someone who would abandon so much of the principle and then complains when he finds it has completely disappeared.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 31, 2005 1:23:16 AM

See, there's a lot of ambiguity in these questions. Do I support warrantless wiretaps of people talking to Al-Qaeda? Sure, if there's no other way to do it. But if you can, you should go ahead and get the warrant. And in the actual cases, the NSA could.

Then there's the issue of retroactive warrants. Is a wiretap warrantless if you have no warrant at the time? If so, I support warrantless wiretaps. But if you can get a warrant in 72 hours from the FISA court, you'd better do so.

When we have chips implanted in our brains so that we can just download entire news stories and bodies of federal regulation at once, all these confusions will cease. Until then, we're doomed to confusion.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Dec 31, 2005 12:02:56 PM

Never mind just the warrant, Goldberg says 'or oversight.' I don't care how pure their motives are, as we have learned time and time again, eliminating oversight leads to Bad Things (tm).

What faux conservatives like Goldberg seem to conveniently forget is that there is reason for 'separation of powers' and it is not to protect 'Al-Qaeda suspects' or antiwar activists. It's to protect us. That's why it doesn't matter if somebody is having a conference call with Zawahiri and bin Laden, they still should be required to get that warrant before tapping it.

And frankly, I'm not sure that the FISA court counts as 'oversight' rather than simply a rubber stamp. A court that has denied 4 in 23,000 requests doesn't seem like a very reliable agency.

Faith-based democracy is no democracy at all.

Posted by: Darius the Lesser | Dec 31, 2005 1:17:00 PM

I would not agree with goldberg. My problem is that if their isn't enough to get a court that damn near rubber stamps warrents to approve a warrent 72 hours after the fact - they do not need to be tapping the line. Besides what they have been doing is data mining and bush has stated clearly he will keep doing it. It is far from limited to calls made to terrorists - it even effects conversations with both ends right here in the U.S. Their is no excuse for stealing our civil liberties - how the hell does anyone expect we'll get them back once we accept their theft?

Posted by: DuWayne | Dec 31, 2005 1:30:39 PM

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