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Tuesday, December 20, 2005


the experiment

jacob sullum at reason examines the shocking, stunning efforts of the bush administration to defend the lawless wiretapping and other excesses of their burgeoning fear state.

The Bush administration, for its part, does not seem to be arguing that the eavesdropping was authorized by FISA itself. Instead it says Congress authorized the wiretaps when it gave the president permission to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against the nations, groups, and individuals responsible for the September 11 attacks. It's doubtful that's what members of Congress thought they were doing. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who voted for the resolution, says "nobody, nobody, thought when we passed a resolution to invade Afghanistan and to fight the war on terror...that this was an authorization to allow a wiretapping against the law of the United States."

But according to the Bush administration, it does not really matter what Congress intended, because the president's inherent powers as commander in chief of the armed forces include the authority to override FISA and any other statute that purports to prevent the NSA from doing what it did (and continues to do). This is the argument that seems most consistent with Bush's M.O. In areas such as military tribunals, detention of "enemy combatants," and national security letters, he has sought to cut out the legislative and judicial branches from prosecution of a never-ending war with targets he himself defines and tactics he alone approves.
this page sees no difference between this method of government and tyranny. the administration has finally come forward, in what less insightful media are calling a spirited defense of the war on terror, and admitted in so many words that their plan is to abandon the separation of powers and usurp the authority of the legislative and judicial branches, ostensibly for the safety of the american people. and they do so openly -- that which nixon, knowing the lawlessness of its ways, tried so hard to hide this administration claims as a badge of its honor.

perhaps that should be no surprise. no serious observer could have missed the fact that the driving force behind this administration is not, for the most part, the president but his vice, dick cheney. it is cheney's feral loyalty to rumsfeld that has kept rumsfeld in office despite fatal incompetence, for rumsfeld first hired cheney in washington under the auspices of the nixon administration. historian and author james mann has spoken in depth about rumsfeld, cheney and those formative years of the 1970s under nixon and ford, as has bruce shapiro at salon.

it should be said that these two ancient allies are not neoconservatives, per se. men like paul wolfowitz and michael ledeen, academic trotskyites descended of leo strauss, are where the core of neoconservatism lies. cheney and rumsfeld -- and, therefore, the trusting unintellectual bush -- may have allied themselves deeply with neoconservatism in the aftermath of september 11 (so transformatively as to lead brent scowcroft to say that he doesn't know cheney anymore) but are, at core, less naive ideological plebiscitarian revolutionaries than men deeply frightened with social deterioration and decadence in western civility. rumsfeld's time at nato in the early seventies was the cauldron in which his anti-european mindset was born; he and his aide-de-camp cheney ever after have revulsed at the notion of a europeanized america, which they must see as broken and weak following decades of 20th c warfare, fully fleeing this country's history and heritage.

where men like wolfowitz, as ardent rousseauians, believe that political nirvana lies in an fictional, invented populist vision of global democratic revolution which means a perpetual war with the world, men like cheney and rumsfeld seek something less -- authority, of a truly hadrianic scale, with which to mandate the resuscitation of the west which neoconservatism naively believes, as an article of faith, would be the spontaneous issue of global democracy.

one of the seminal experiences of these young men in washington was the freedom of information act, passed by congress over president ford's veto and their efforts, which they saw as an incomprehensible weakening of executive authority -- just at the time when the united states, indeed the globe needed (in their view from the white house) a powerful knight errant in america's highest office. this perception still colors their mindset, both in their constant crusading against any limitation on executive prerogative and a contempt for the authority of legislation in the face of nothung -- of need.

these two, like others before them in recent western history, have concluded that western deterioration can only be repudiated by authority -- a powerful counterpoint to enforce order where there is chaos, to bring safety where there is danger, to rebuild where there has been loss, to reconquer where there has been retreat.

even as political winds have changed and neoconservatism has retreated in the aftermath of the disaster in iraq -- the resultant chaos which has served merely to empower that which the administration sees as a yet more serious threat which merits truly mindless paranoia as a challenge to meticulous american stage management of global events -- the mindset of a dangerous, unpredictable, declining world which can only be saved by powerful heroic action in defiance has merely been reinforced for these conservative managerial imperialists.

now, it seems, with a more idealistic vision being cast aside, a new realism has set in with the administration's highest circle -- one which views american dissent, jurisprudence and legislation itself as contemptible, even threatening inconveniences.

it may take some time for the mass of the press or the citizenry to come around to recognizing the reality of what has happened in the bush white house and the profound implications for american, indeed western society. but there can be little doubt now. the united states is governed by a despotic hierarchy, a dictator.

By the article establishing the executive department it is made the duty of the President "to recommend to your consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." The circumstances under which I now meet you will acquit me from entering into that subject further than to refer to the great constitutional charter under which you are assembled, and which, in defining your powers, designates the objects to which your attention is to be given. It will be more consistent with those circumstances, and far more congenial with the feelings which actuate me, to substitute, in place of a recommendation of particular measures, the tribute that is due to the talents, the rectitude, and the patriotism which adorn the characters selected to devise and adopt them. In these honorable qualifications I behold the surest pledges that as on one side no local prejudices or attachments, no separate views nor party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye which ought to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interests, so, on another, that the foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality, and the preeminence of free government be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its citizens and command the respect of the world. I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my country can inspire, since there is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained; and since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.
the experiment that began with these words is over.

That is really depressing.

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the bush administration's quiet campaign to broaden the power of the executive branch is the great (or not so great) untold story of the last five years. to me, that's what the supreme court nominations were about -- roberts was a tit-for-tat selection that bush knew he could count on when the big cases come down the pike (see hamdan), and miers was the one person bush knew would have his back, no matter what, if any, original thoughts she contained in her head. this is why i am only half-joking when i talk to friends about the 2008 bird-flu-epidemic-martial-law-declaration-non-election we have.

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I'd say that the bird flu pandemic is currently much ado about nothing 70 deaths since 2003. Although, Vietnam seems to be suffering more deaths. I think there was one case in Thailand the month I was there. I hope that the NSA enjoys my phone calls to Thailand.

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