Monday, May 15, 2006

its the leadership

Near the top of my daily reading list is Back on May 11, a post about the legality and the origins of the NSA-run tap of all US phone call records began a comment thread that eventually provided an encyclopedic collection of facts and informed comment on the matter. Vladimir made some useful contributions to the discussion but when he opined:
I think people who live in fear, in gated communities, with security systems on their homes, won't really care if so-called liberals are saying "it's illegal", as long as the bush crowd can convince them that it will make the "safer"--trust us, we'll protect you and those liberals are soft. It's dishonest, but it has been quite effective. So I think that the best argument is that these are a bunch of incompetent frat boys who are over-riding the real professionals.

It made me wonder if the "bush crowd" and the "people who live in fear" are not in many ways the same kind of people except for how much power and information they possess. The root of this spying is not the incompetance and in fact, its not even that fascism-ready personalities abound even in normal times and democratic countries. I was at work when I read that comment. I no longer feel at liberty to post, and strictly speaking, it is prohibited to make public poltical statements using my employer's computers so I kept from keyboarding the following notion until I got back home from my travels.

There have been fascism-friendly functionaries in every era, in most administrations. We had J. Edgar Hoover long before we had Nixon but we didn't feel a need to spell out, in FISA, to the executive that warrantless or otherwise unchecked spying on our own citizens is wrong until Nixon gave his henchmen free rein. There is a little sign that could be on Bush's desk, if you will pardon my french: "the f_ck starts here". People who react to unknown and potential danger by trying to be even more dangerous than what they percieve rather than investigating their perceptions are not what is new: how many of them now run our country is what is new.

The little people in the military and civilian spy agencies may or may not possess any conscience about the meaning of the Bill of Rights or the legal precedents our courts have woven from the BoR. After all, these people are born worriers and have a career stake in mistrusting all humanity. They will do more than the spirit of the law allows if not held in check. This president is an even littler person than his voters, dwarfed by his insecurities, and welcoming state inspection of every iota of communication if his minions tell him it makes us safer.

Why the hell isn't he spying on the message traffic in and out of Pakistan where our most thoroughly documented enemy hides out? Al-Jazeera can get video tapes from people the US military can't even lock up when they are in our allies' hands. Why on earth would we want such ineptness loosed on our own citizens?

In the end, I think about the issue in my favorite how vs why framework. In a search for understanding of the natural world "why" is useless and leads to religious short-cut thinking. But in the world of the actions, collective and individual, of people, "why" is more important than how. Had he a different staff, or a different set of friends, the Bush league would still be a coterie of people taken in by their own fears. How they go about acting on their fears would be different in the details from our present carving of the flesh of liberty away from the words of the constitution but the why is the same...its the "leadership".

You can't change people, you can change leaders.

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