This evening, the president gave a big speech about his plans to combat illegal immigration. I think that this speech was a blatant attempt to draw attention away from his massive domestic spying plan, so let’s avoid his trap and get back to talking about the surveillance.
I was a little hasty last week when I said that the NSA’s “keep phone records of all Americans” plan was illegal. I don’t know my data-mining law, so it might be kosher. Except that the USA Today article which broke the story, said that the NSA didn’t want to take details of their program to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court (FISA Court) because the court “might not agree” with the NSA’s interpretation of law. And since the FISA court actually decides if specific NSA spying efforts are legal, a disagreement essentially means “it’s illegal.” But hey, nice try on the part of the NSA. “Yeah, I got arrested for stabbing a guy in the face, but I didn’t bother showing up for the trial cuz I figured me and the judge were gonna disagree.”
And of course, we must also love the president’s response to having the light of day shine upon his dark, nefarious schemes. He held an emergency press conference to announce that the government was “not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.” Heavens no. Y’see, the president is just an avid collector. Some people collect stamps, others collect baseball cards, and the president happens to collect data about American’s phone conversations. Billions and billions of phone calls.
Yes, you are mining and trolling through our personal lives, you fucker. Find a better lie.
And we’ve seen at least one political use of these powers. Apparently the government is, at the very least, using the program to monitor the calls of news reporters from ABC, the NY Times, and the Wasington Post, to figure out who the reporters’ confidential sources are. While I’m sure you can argue that the White House is doing this to plug leaks that threaten national security, I’d laugh at you. These fuckers have shown little regard for national security, but oceans of paranoid concern about their own secrets and their own public image. The government is spying on reporters so that it can punish the anonymous sources who are making the government look bad.
Granted, we can’t say for sure that the program to monitor the reporters is necessarily the same one that’s spying on the rest of us; the articles above say that the agency spying on us is the NSA, while the agency spying on the journalists is the FBI. Maybe the NSA lets the FBI take their data out for joyrides on weekends, I dunno.
But let’s get deeper here. Recent articles show us the Bush feels that he can write the law. Over 750 times since he took office, Bush has approved Congressional bills, and then added “signing statements”, in which he says what he thinks the bill means and how it should be applied. For example, Bush signed the bill which would ban the US military from using torture on prisoners, but added a signing statement that says that since he’s the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, that Congress can’t tell him what to do regarding the military. When he signed a bill granting stronger protections for whistle-blowers at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Department of Energy, Bush’s signing statement said that the executive branch could ignore the new protections. And on and on it goes.
In addition, the Bush administration tries to avoid facing judicial review whenever possible (despite just appointing two uber-conservatives to the Supreme Court!). They bypassed the FISA court for their phone number database and secret wiretapping. When the Department of Justice tried to investigate the wiretapping, the NSA threw up so many roadblocks that DoJ gave up. When the Court decided that “enemy combatant” Yaser Hamdi deserved a trial, the government simply released him (after holding him for years). When enemy combatant Jose Padilla was about to have his legal status reviewed by a court, the government abruptly dropped those charges and attached criminal charges, sending him to a different series of courts. And I seem to remember a number of Guantanamo inmates being released lately, just before they too would have had a court make decisions about the legalities of their detention.
So you’ve got a government who’s flimsy sense of fairness backed up by the tug of war between three separate branches, except that without the other two’s notice, the Exeuctive has run off with the rope. And they think they’ve got a good excuse: “the president’s greatest duty is to protect the country. And we’re a country at war! His Constitutional duty to protect the nation outweighs his Constitutional duty to obey the law.”
Now, I don’t want to say that Bush is a dictator. That implies that he is alone, or that this is all his idea. No, Bush rules as part of a team, lead by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Karl Rove, with some help from Condoleezza Rice. Bush isn’t the emporer, he’s the spokesman for a cabal, a ruling clique, a mafia.
And it gets worse. More about that later.
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