Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, August 8, 2013
They Said It:
But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.
James Madison, Federalist #51, February 6, 1788.
THE NSA AND THE INSTITUTIONS OF THE RULING CLASS.
Way back in the good old days, late in 1998 and very early in 1999, a handful of Democrats on Capitol Hill started to act as if they would, at long last, take our then five-year-old advice and grab their pitchforks, light their torches, and march on over to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW to demand that President Clinton resign from office immediately, before he completely destroyed their party.
Some of the Democratic Party’s biggest players at the time – Pelosi, Byrd, Feinstein, to name just a few – called Bill’s behavior reprehensible and disgusting. Senator Patrick Moynihan, the last public intellectual in the Democratic Party, even went so far as to support impeachment proceedings, telling ABC News: “What we have before us, and we ought to get on with it, is an impeachment procedure . . . . We have a crisis of the regime. You cannot have this kind of conduct as normal and acceptable and easily dismissed, unless there is a great effort to do so. And if, in addition to what we know, there are things we don’t know, that would make it worse.”
Of course, all of that took place while the cameras were rolling and the constituents were watching. When left alone with their consciences, the Democrats decided that Bill’s sins were not really all that bad. After all, the little tramp had obviously been around the block before, and if she didn’t have that darned blue dress, no one would care about her anyway. Besides, perjuring oneself to protect one’s family from shame (and to protect the country from Algore) was actually a selfless and noble act. And the cost to the country of losing this otherwise great leader would be staggering.
So every single Democrat who smiled nicely on Sunday morning and told the American people that Bill was despicable, outrageous, contemptible, appalling, odious, deplorable, detestable, invidious and vile nevertheless went to work on Monday and insisted otherwise. As we said at the time, they bent their knee like the Vichy to the Germans and derisorily asked only if they could please “move on” to subjects less upsetting.
The Democrats got their wish, of course. Collectively, they washed their hands of the impeachment matter – and of Bill’s other personal and legal infringements – and moved on to remaking the country in their own image. And just days after they did so by voting to acquit “the Big He,” we warned that the end result of the Democrats’ fecklessness would be far-reaching, if also somewhat far removed from the moment. The ultimate effect of the Democrats’ decision to speak in public about the need for integrity in government while succumbing in private to a lust for power, would, we argued, be the inexorable corruption of the political institutions that had made this country, in Lincoln’s words, the “last best hope of Earth.” To that end, we quoted Yeats as a prophet of inevitable American Doom:
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Now, we were reminded of all of this over the past few days, as the NSA-spying scandal once again took on new life. For those of you who don’t know already, the Washington Post revealed late last week that NSA’s careful and painstaking procedures to ensure that no American citizens are spied upon are, in truth, as cockeyed as ol’ Bill’s moral compass. As it turns out, the NSA’s program for monitoring all of us is rife with “errors,” or, more accurately, violations of the law, Barack Obama’s repeated avowals to the contrary notwithstanding. The Post reported the story as follows:
The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.
Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.
The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
In one instance, the NSA decided that it need not report the unintended surveillance of Americans. A notable example in 2008 was the interception of a “large number” of calls placed from Washington when a programming error confused the U.S. area code 202 for 20, the international dialing code for Egypt, according to a “quality assurance” review that was not distributed to the NSA’s oversight staff.
In another case, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has authority over some NSA operations, did not learn about a new collection method until it had been in operation for many months. The court ruled it unconstitutional.
What was it that Yeats said about things falling apart?
And what does any of this have to do with Bill Clinton and the Democrats who talked the talk on integrity government but couldn’t quite bring themselves to walk the walk?
Funny you should ask.
According to various sources, the Democrats on Capitol Hill are, once again, starting to lose their patience with one of their own. They railed against all of this when George Bush was president, and they have always fancied themselves as defenders of civil liberties. Heck, the American Civil Liberties Union is about as hard-Left an organization as there is in this country. In short, the Democrats in Washington are growing tired of the excuses from the White House. Or at least that is what we are being told by the likes of Fox News:
The Obama administration faced a backlash from congressional Democrats on Friday following revelations that the National Security Agency broke privacy rules and overstepped its authority thousands of times since 2008 . . .
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called the latest reports “extremely disturbing.” Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said: “Reports that the NSA repeatedly overstepped its legal boundaries, broke privacy regulations and attempted to shield required disclosure of violations are outrageous, inappropriate and must be addressed.”
Senior lawmakers said they had been unaware of the audit until they read the news on Friday. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he planned to hold another hearing in the wake of the report.
“The American people rely on the intelligence community to provide forthright and complete information so that Congress and the courts can properly conduct oversight. I remain concerned that we are still not getting straightforward answers from the NSA,” Leahy said in a statement. “I plan to hold another hearing on these matters in the Judiciary Committee and will continue to demand honest and forthright answers from the intelligence community.”
Oh no! Whatever will poor Barack Obama do? Pat Leahy’s on his trail! And everyone knows that Pat Leahy never gives up! Or at least he never gives up until the Vice President suggests that he go and perform anatomically impossible acts.
The fact of the matter is that these Democrats are, as they were in Bill’s day, playing what they think is a clever game. They figure if they feign a little outrage for the cameras and the reporters, then their constituents will be mollified. And once that’s done, they can get back to supporting the President’s NSA program, warts and all.
As always, then, they’re all talk; no walk. Their promises, like Obama’s, come with an expiration date, one that usually falls just about the time the cameras and the microphones are shut down. You want to know the Democratic Party’s fundamental position on Barack Obama’s massive surveillance state? Then ignore the perpetually bloviating usual suspects, who purposefully seek out the cameras to express their “outrage,” and pay closer attention to those who have actual responsibility in the matter, the elected representatives of the legislative branch who, allegedly, have direct oversight of the agency’s involved. Listen, for example, to Diane Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Over the weekend, the McClatchy newswire did just that:
On Friday Feinstein faced news reports that a National Security Agency audit had found thousands of violations of privacy rules or legal guidelines designed to protect communications by Americans and others that originated in the United States. “The committee has been notified, and has held briefings and hearings, in cases where there have been significant . . . compliance issues,” Feinstein said in a statement Friday. “In all such cases, the incidents have been addressed by ending or adapting the activity.”
Ensconced in Lake Tahoe in preparation for a high-level Tahoe environmental meeting Monday, Feinstein hadn’t necessarily planned on dealing with intelligence-related queries this week. That changed when The Washington Post disclosed the previously secret NSA audit, which found more than 2,700 violations over the course of a year.
The Post and Feinstein offered different characterizations of the audit, dated May 2012, leading to markedly different conclusions about congressional oversight of surveillance programs. The Post’s article, by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Barton Gellman, said Feinstein “did not receive a copy of the 2012 audit until the newspaper asked her staff about it.” The paper’s phrasing created a picture of intelligence agency recalcitrance combined with Senate committee cluelessness, and it drove harsh reactions . . .
Feinstein insisted Friday that she and her Intelligence panel members had, in fact, previously received the relevant information the Post disclosed. The difference, she said, was that the information came “in a more official format rather than as an internal NSA statistical report,” which the Post had obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“As I have said previously, the committee has never identified an instance in which the NSA has intentionally abused its authority to conduct surveillance for inappropriate purposes,” Feinstein said.
Allow us to translate that last bit on the good Senator’s behalf: “Shut up. Then move along. Nothing to see here.”
Unfortunately for the good citizens of America, and unlike the case of Bill Clinton’s impeachment, Dianne Feinstein and her party are not the only folks in Washington who are kicking sand over this dung heap. In the same McClatchy story, the official view from the GOP side was also clearly expressed:
Feinstein’s counterpart, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., likewise stressed the sufficiency of current oversight, declaring that his committee “has been apprised of previous incidents, takes seriously each one, and uses the oversight and compliance regime to provide us insight into these operations and whether further adjustments must be made.”
All of which is to say: “Shut up. Move along.” And so forth.
Likewise, the establishment media is pushing back, even against itself. Over at Amazon.Post (or whatever the heck they’re calling Jeff Bezos’ latest acquisition these days), the folks at one end of the newsroom are reporting on the NSA leaks, while opinion writers at the other end are busy explaining them away. In this case, in-house conservative Jennifer Rubin has spent the past couple of days mocking the idea that nearly 3,000 security breaches a year is a “big deal.” And she has done so by citing, you guessed it, the other newspaper of record for the ruling class, the New York Times. To hear Rubin tell the story, the NSA breaches weren’t really even breaches at all, but simply proof of the domestic spying program’s total awesomeness. To wit:
This is extraordinary. If there are 20 million inquiries each month over a year span that works out to 240,000,000. That equates to an error rate of .00001156666. If the NSA figures are accurate this is the most airtight surveillance program in history. The error rate isn’t simply “extremely low”; it is virtually nonexistent . . .
So about 800 Americans were the subject of some sort of error. Over a full year. Involving 240,000,000 inquiries.
I am having trouble mounting outrage over this . . .
Of course she’s having trouble mounting outrage. She wasn’t one of the 800. Additionally, when the NSA picked up the calls to and from DC, thinking they were getting Cairo, Ms. Rubin was still working on the left coast for the Los Angeles Times. She’s in the clear. So . . . why, on God’s green earth, should she – or anyone else, for that matter – care about this?
You see, in Rubin’s estimation, the NSA is actually violating the civil rights of only a small, almost imperceptible group of people. And that’s actually pretty nifty. What’s a little spying here and there if it only affects 800 American citizens? Jeeze, people, calm down a little bit. And if you don’t, Ms. Rubin will accuse you of fostering what she calls “a hysterical scandal.” And we don’t think that by applying that label she means to imply that she thinks it’s really funny. Rather, she means to imply that those who are worried about it should, well, shut up, move on, etc.
What we have here, then, is another case of official Washington – as represented by the President, his NSA, the big shots in both houses of Congress and on both sides of the partisan divide, and the mainstream press – deciding that people should just quit meddling in things about which they’re too stupid to know anything relevant. What we have, in other words, is another instance of the ruling class cavalierly dismissing the concerns of the country class and corrupting the institutions of a once-free republic.
This is not, we should note, a blanket dismissal of all of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs on our part. As we have said before in these pages, we concede that NSA has a significant responsibility for protecting Americans from terrorists. Moreover, a great many people of whom we think a great deal – former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, to name just one – believe that these programs are critical and that any curtailment of them would threaten Americans’ “domestic tranquility.”
At the same time, what we see here, in practical terms, is the further erosion of Americans’ trust in their government. Moreover, this growing distrust is, under the circumstances, entirely justified. The problem isn’t that the government is surveilling the homeland, looking for terrorists. The problem is that it is doing so surreptitiously, dishonestly, without democratic recourse, and with complete contempt for those whose rights it was set up to protect, i.e. those poor ignorant bastards who pay their salaries.
And this is a terrible travesty. If “the people” lose confidence in their government; if they begin view their government as the enemy; if they lose all respect for their political leaders, the end will be, to coin a phrase, Yeatsian, as in “The center cannot hold,” “mere anarchy” will be loosed upon the political system.
Every couple of months for the last five years or so, someone, somewhere in the mainstream press has decided that he or she has some new reason to believe that the Tea Party is collapsing. Of course, like Mark Twain’s death, reports of the Tea Party’s demise are premature.
Recall that the organization’s birth was in response to the perceived loss of freedom created by the overweening state in the form of Barack’s stimulus and health care plans. Now, we could be wrong, but we believe that the ongoing perceived erosion of freedom, in the form of the IRS scandal and the slowly unraveling surveillance state, will continue to keep the Tea Party energized. Indeed, we’d be surprised if that weren’t the case.
Not everyone agrees, of course. Columnist Ana Marie Cox, for example, asserts that the dearth of “days of rage” town hall meetings this summer proves that the elected GOP officials have figured out that carrying the Tea Party banner is worse than useless; that it brings no benefits and carries significant risks, particularly on the national stage.
Color us skeptical. Rather, we think that members of the Republican establishment are, at long last, figuring out that they too are the targets of the Tea Party’s populist angst. You and we have known this for a long time, of course. But the Republican faction of the ruling class is only beginning to figure it out.
Why, pray tell, have Republicans not held as many town hall meetings this summer as they did four years ago? Largely, we suspect it’s because they know that Tea Party activists would likely dominate the forum, making them look as foolish, feckless, and as weak as their Democratic counterparts were with respect to Obamacare and the nation’s fiscal mess.
Indeed, a close look at the political currents moving the debate these days reveals that they are pushing hard against the mainstream Republicans and aiding the libertarian-populist-Tea Party sorts. Chris Christie may have energized Charles Krauthammer and the rest of the GOP establishment by denouncing Rand Paul and the “libertarian strain” of Republicanism. But he also severely alienated the country class from the mainstream of the Party and, in doing so, probably helped Paul far more than he hurt him.
Right now, the Republicans who have the greatest following in Iowa, New Hampshire, and among the activists who will try their damnedest to take over the presidential nominating process in 2015 and 2016 are people like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, all of whom represent a firm break from the GOP establishment. Most, if not all of this enthusiasm is driven by the fact that these few politicians appear willing to stand up not only to Barack Obama, but to the men and women in their own party who are acting in concert with “the One” to expand the surveillance state and to dismiss as stupid and contemptible any questions about trade-offs between liberty and security.
Over the weekend, Julian Assange, the founder and editor-in-chief of the infamous Wikileaks, was back in the news, but for an unexpected reason. The Daily Caller explained:
Wikileaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange gave high praise to Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul and the American libertarian political movement during an online Q&A session early Friday morning.
Responding to questions during a Google Hangout session, Assange praised the college-aged supported libertarian faction of the Republican Party as the “only hope” for U.S. electoral politics. “The libertarian aspect of the Republican Party is presently the only useful political voice really in the U.S. Congress,” said Assange.
Assange also praised Paul and former Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul for their principled positions on the libertarianism, non-violence, drone warfare, extrajudicial killings and abortion.
Now, we have no brief for Assange. We think he is quite probably every bit as reprehensible and shifty as he seems and as various governments throughout the world have tried to make him appear. Still, it is worth noting that both Assange and his accomplice, wikileaker Private Bradley Manning, have long been heroes among the Lefties. For Assange to praise Rand Paul so vociferously is significant in that it demonstrates that the anti-establishment Left is also fed up with Washington’s politics-as-usual and also tired of the fact that the ruling class – Left, Right, and in between – appear interested first and foremost, solely even, in their own rights and privileges.
As we have written before, we have our doubts about Rand Paul. But we’re not sure that our doubts matter all that much. The “libertarian moment” has been one of most elusive phenomena in American politics, imminent and inevitable for the last five-plus decades at least, but somehow managing to never really materialize.
This is probably due to the fact that there has been little or no need for it, given the overwhelming ability of the nation’s ruling institutions to abrogate any threat to themselves or to the system in which they operate. But things are different today. For the last two decades or more, these institutions have been weakened by an increasingly corrupt and parasitic ruling class that is bent on killing the host on which they suckle.
Time will tell if the “libertarian moment” will ever arrive. We are somewhat dubious. At the same time, we are reasonably confident that some sort of liberty-stimulating moment is nigh. The corruption of the ruling class is too manifest, too widespread, too damaging, and too bipartisan to be ignored any longer. The Rand Paul boom-lette serves as proof of this, even if his actual candidacy eventually fizzles. Likewise, the Ron Paul-boomlette in 2008 and 2012 served as early evidence of this shift within the electorate. The fact that Paul the Elder was too wacky even for libertarian-leaning Republicans should not be taken as evidence that his candidacy was an exercise in personal vanity and nothing more. It was, rather, a portent of a sort.
As the NSA scandals unfurl over the next several months, and as more and more documents are leaked to various news outlets, watch as the ruling class politicians fall into the same old political traps. Barack Obama, Dianne Feinstein, and the “circumspect” Republicans may, in fact, be right about the need for some sort of NSA surveillance program, but they will, we believe, be proven dead wrong for thinking that the American people will thank them for their efforts. As always in American politics, it’s not the crime that matters so much here; it’s the cover-up. And this cover-up has the potential to alter entirely the way in which most Americans view their government.
END NOTE: Egypt’s Descent into Chaos.
We had intended to write a longer piece about Egypt this week, until we realized a couple of things. First, the NSA piece ran too long to give us the space we need to write a longer piece on any subject, much less Egypt. And second, there’s really nothing new to say anyway.
If you’ve been following our commentary on Egypt over the last couple of years, or if you’ve been following the commentary of a handful of others who are far smarter and more eloquent than we, none of what is happening in that country right now will surprise you. The descent of Egypt into chaos and violence was about as easy a prediction as we’ve ever made. You take a corrupt ruling class, add some frustrated yet incipient Islamist sectarians, and then sprinkle in a bit of starvation here and massive and debilitating poverty there, and you’re bound to end up with a serious mess. Who didn’t know?
The real question now is how will this end? And the answer is, “badly. Very, very badly.”
Just over two years ago, in our first piece after Osama bin Laden was killed, we warned that the Obama administration’s victory lap was woefully premature. Al Qaeda, we argued, was the most famous and the bloodiest Islamist terrorist organization, but it was just one of many and the death of its leader would push violent Islamist movement in dangerous ways. Specifically, we wrote:
[Osama] bin Laden was not an originator of anything. He was, more or less, one of countless followers of the paradigm essentially developed by Sayyid Qutb. Or as Reuel Marc Gerecht put it, “compared with Qutb, bin Laden is a gadﬂy.” Bin Laden was a nice charismatic leader. He fabricated a great myth about himself. He raised money quite effectively. And, of course, he succeeded magniﬁcently, if fortuitously. Al Qaeda was and may still be a fearsome organization. But it was never the driving force behind Islamism or even global terrorism….
[W]ith bin Laden now out of the picture, it would appear that the inﬂuence of the paradigm’s originator will actually grow, rather than diminish. It is worth remembering, we think, that bin Laden’s second-in-command and the new presumptive leader of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is not only Egyptian but is a devotee of Qutb’s and is presumed by many to be his intellectual heir. So while the charismatic novus dux may be gone, al Qaeda itself may now return to its Egyptian roots and may indeed ﬁnd its way out of the Central Asian fortress bin Laden fabricated from the remnants of the mujahedeen-Soviet clash and back to the Arab peoples among whom Sunni Islamism began….
Perhaps [more] importantly, as luck would have it, just as bin Laden turns up mysteriously on the CIA’s radar and then turns up dead, his organization ends up in the capable hands of an Egyptian man who is a devotee of one of the big shot forefathers of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Egypt itself is in a life-or-death struggle for its future with one of the leading contenders for control of that future being none other than the Muslim Brotherhood. Whouda thunk it?
And so, here we are. At any moment now, the overt violence in Egypt will subside. The Egyptian government, desperate for money, will turn the Gulf Sheiks, especially the House of Saud. The Saudis will, of course, give the Egyptian junta as much money as they can spare, hoping to crush the Brotherhood once and for all.
It won’t work. The Brothers will go underground, only this time they won’t sit on their hands waiting for their eventual shot at power. They will, rather, learn from their brethren – namely, al Qaeda. And they will carry out a full-scale terrorist war from Egypt, targeting the Egyptian regime, Israel, Europe, the Gulf state, and, of course, American “interests.” And they will do so with the full support of the terrorist regime in Gaza.
To put it another way: Get ready, gentle readers. With respect to Egypt, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.