Beware the Beagle Boys
"Every law and rightful claim must have (the) capacity of publicity....
...For a maxim which I cannot permit to become known without at the same time
~ Immanuel Kant (From Eternal Peace, the last
So the New York Times has finally disgorged into the daylight what the conspiracy theorists and carping paranoids among us already knew, that minions of shadowy spies from NSA (estimated 21-38,000 employees) have been authorized by the President for over three years to monitor our mail and phone conversations, in violation of Constitutional protections and unambiguous contravention of explicit statutory limitations of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which prohibits spying on American citizens without a legal warrant. This follows on the heels of illegal FBI and Pentagon spying on anti-war groups and Quaker quilting bees. Such revelations have become monotonous in these times, when the nightmares appropriate to each of us seem as near as the nibbling of bedbugs, but yesterday the mask of the beast slipped just a bit more from somebody's ugly face than we have seen heretofore. The President, unable finally to duck the floodlight which unexpectedly fell upon his clandestine surveillance caper, took the offensive like a cornered wolverine. Yes, I did it, he affirmed. I authorized it 30 times, and I'm going to keep on doing it and you can't stop me.
From the weakness of the challenges so far to this blatantly Napoleonic self-anointing I'd say that the President has successfully positioned himself above the law of this and any other land. We are hearing talk of tossing out the Patriot Act, since the deeds of our self-proclaimed "wartime" president are now legal by dint of nary a squeak of protest. We are not hearing talk of bringing his presumptuous ass down. And if we do not do this, if we do not do this immediately, the country that was once the hope of the world will be confirmed as the plaything of demented and avaricious men. What lies beyond the condition of servitude that will surely ensue from this is beyond my prescience or desire to imagine. Despotisms are the default political reality of the world past and present, and there hasn't been a pretty one yet.
The need for public officials to act publicly is rationally defended in the Kant essay quoted above. Some might hold that our times and the nature of our "enemy" are unprecedented and therefore require measures previously regarded as monstrous and morally repugnant (preemptive aggression, military blitzkrieg, secret prisons, torture, domestic surveillance) but a reading of Kant's thoughts on the matter would convince any intelligent bloke that today's guerre du jour is no different than any other in mankind's sordid history (except, of course, for not being a real war). The folly of hubris is eternal and universal and easily recognized.
Especially pertinent to the "spy scandal" that today commands the passing interest of our bovine citizenry are the philosopher's words about public versus secretive actions at the very end of his essay. I put the whole thing into plain English a couple of years ago, and posted it to this site (knowing perfectly well that nobody would read it , being longer and more tedious than is tolerable for most of us). It is a quaint and dated and utopian document, and a statement of Republican values that no modern Republican would recognize. Every American should be required to pass a quiz on it before we let them vote. Because it warns us about these things that we come across in our newspapers, and gives us eyes to see what is going on from outside our skewed popular perspective. An excerpt from the Moore Translation:
Just to save the Pentagon time trying to discover whether these remarks constitute suspicious or covertly seditious material, let me put my position into plain view. I am one of many millions of people who are philosophically and morally opposed to the so-called Bush Administration, including all its noxious roots and piratical tendrils, and especially including our soporific pseudo-guardians in the Congress and the Press who have allowed this jaw gompering tragedy to occur. We work daily for the removal of these people from public life and actively advocate their subsequent indictment and the revelation of their covert purposes. We are not enemies of the State, but we are unquestionably enemies of the weasels who today call themselves the State. The alarm of the anti-war, anti-Bush citizenry appears on visible signage, on the back of our cars, on our lapel buttons and on the world wide web. We are not ashamed of ourselves. We don't go sneaking around in the dark. And when we find people in the crawl spaces under our houses, sharing the darkness with the rats and raccoons, their ears pressed against our sink drains, scribbling names and scraps of conversation onto their damp, filthy clipboards, we, like Kant, tend to jump to the conclusion that they are up to no good.