Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Controlling Government

Old Business: Phone Database

News reports today have Verizon and South Bell denying that they provided customer data to the NSA. This suggests that the original USA Today story was false.

Fortunately, this blog does not depend on the reports actually being true. When the news broke, there were those who defended the action as if it were true. The arguments against their position remain just as valid in the same way that arguments against the legitimacy of rape would remain valid even if nobody was raped.

The Bush Administration is itself continuing to used flawed reasoning in defense of its spying operation. They continue to say, "We have done nothing illegal." Of course, if one works for an administration that believes that it has the legal right to do whatever it pleases, the claim, "our actions are not illegal" are meaningless.

Another argument that I read today said that, "We are not eavesdropping on the personal calls of ordinary Americans."

Question: Please define, "ordinary American." If this means, "Any American who we are not eavesdropping on," then this statement is also quite meaningless. Of course the Administration is not eavesdropping on the calls of those they are not eavesdropping on. The question is, "What does it take to change from being an "ordinary American" to a "person of interest?"

How does a person preserve his status of 'ordinary American' so that he does not end up being spied upon? The answer to this question may well be, "Do nothing to upset the Administration or call attention to yourself." Those who meekly obey the Masters will be left alone. Those who upset the Masters can expect to be whipped.

New Business: Reporters

Today's news suggests that those who have lost their status as "ordinary Americans" are reporters for the New York Times, Washington Post, and ABC News. The government is allegedly using its stockpile of intelligence information to find out who has been leaking information to the press about secret gulag-style prisons, kidnapping and rendition, false claims about Saddam Hussein's pursuit of nuclear weapons technology, and warrantless wiretaps.

In short, the villains in this case are those who are fighting to preserve and defend the principles embodied in the Constitution of the United States from its worst and most powerful enemies - the Bush Administration.

I suspect that the Bush Administration would argue that these are legitimate steps to take against any who are revealing classified information about actions taken in the war on terror. They would like to equate the actions of those giving this information to, for example, somebody who leaked the information that the Allies were going to launch an attack on Nomandy on June 6, 1944; or the allies had broken the German or Japanese military codes.

However, the equation does not hold.

First question

Is the government truly interested in finding people who reveal important information about our capabilities with respect to the war on terror? Or is this Administration actually interested in seeking revenge against those who tarnish its image?

Recall that three years ago the Bush Administration itself decided to leak the identity of a CIA covert operative who was monitoring Iran's attempt to develop a nuclear weapon in order to seek revenge against Joe Wilson, who wrote an editorial that tarnished the Administration's image.

Prior history gives us a glimpse into the moral character of those who are making these types of decisions. We may assume that those people whose moral character put revenge against those who tarnished its image above national security in the past will continue to put revenge above national security at present. This further implies (admittedly, it does not prove, it merely suggests) that the Administration's use of war powers involves treating critics as enemies of the state.

Second question

What else has the Bush Administration authorized that we do not yet know about?

People in the Bush Administration have to be aware of the fact that these 'leaks' have not focused on information that would be useful to the enemy. These leakers, instead, have focused on what reasonable people may consider violations of the principles embodied in the Constitution of the United States.

From this, the Bush Administration ought to be able to predict the types of information that will be leaked to the press in the future. That information as well will focus more on apparent Constitutional violations than information of use to the enemy.

So, if the Administration is as frantic to prevent future revelations as it appears to be, then this suggests (though it does not prove) that there are apparent Constitutional violations that will get them into even more hot water with the average voter.

Speculation

I will readily admit that these items are matters of speculation. However, this speculation brings up a valid moral point.

What are the moral obligations of an individual working for the government where the President has asked him to take actions that he has good reason to believe are unconstitutional at best, and unconscionable at worst?

Let us assume that this President has rendered the Legislative and Judicial branches of government impotent through executive orders and "signing statements" giving him sole authority to make the laws (or to rewrite any laws that the legislature makes) and to adjudicate those laws.

How does one oppose a man who fancies himself an omnipotent ruler who gets his authority directly from God and who answers to nobody but himself?

Ultimately, during the Age of Reason, philosophers recognized that no government can stand without the consent of the people. The people themselves ultimately determine the type of state they live under. Even Hitler needed an SS and a Gestapo to enforce his will -- he could not have done it alone.

The use of that power and authority depends on our getting accurate information about the type of government they are living under. We need to know about the abuses and usurpations that have become a part of any Presidential regime. We need to protect and preserve our access to information about the moral and Constitutional transgressions of our leaders. Otherwise, we are made impotent to resist any migration into tyranny.

So, the ultimate appeal -- the ultimate check and balance against excessive government abuse rests with the people. Ultimately, we need to decide if these people served us well or served us poorly. If they served us well, and we allow harm to come to them (by those who threatened our liberty), then this is a black mark on us.

We have good reason to believe that the Bush Administration -- in spite of all of its pro-Democracy rhetoric -- does not want us to have the information we need to make informed decisions about the type of government we live under. The Bush Administration wants to control the information we have, which means controlling the press and those who talk to the press.

Its decision to monitor who reporters talk to is clearly a decision that aims at improving its ability to control and manipulate the people -- you and me -- by controlling and manipulating the information we get.

Finally, I can say that I do not know if these reports are true. They might not be. However, for the points that I am making here, it does not matter. A robber does not need a loaded gun in order to coerce the store clerk into obeying and serving him, he only needs the store clerk to accept the possibility that the gun might be loaded. The Bush Administration does not need to be able to use its spying powers to actually find informants. It only needs to threaten informants with the possibility of being discovered and the fact that the people do not care enough to see to their protection.

The effect, in terms of lost liberty, will be the same either way. There can be no government of the people, by the people, and for the people if the people are robbed of their ability to make decisions or if they care too little to protect those who act in their interest.

1 comment:

Austin said...

"But an presidential memorandum signed by the President on May 5 allows the Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, to authorize a company to conceal activities related to national security. (See 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(3)(A))"

http://thinkprogress.org/2006/05/17/new-executive-order/

"Why are Verizon and Bellsouth only denying these allegations after the story broke? The USA Today reporters who did the initial story contacted the companies before publishing it. We know this because it contains statements from both companies, each of which declined to comment."

http://www.prospect.org/weblog/2006/05/post_393.html#002393

Yes, I know that the truth of the stories don't matter to your underlying arguments - but whether they are true or not does matter on an important, practical level. So, I though you might want to see these links.