Democrats Should Extend At Least The Same Courtesies To Trump That Mitch McConnell Gave Obama

And I am trying to remember just what Senator McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said about President-elect Barack Obama in January 2009. Some words about making sure he would be a “one-term president,” among other words, if I recollect.

So the Senate Democrats should be at least as courteous to President Trump. Concerned that Senate Republicans will abolish the filibuster altogether? If McConnell turns the Senate into the House, and no cooling of the saucer remains, that will be on him. Trump and McConnell and Ryan own the economy along with all three branches of government. Constructive cooperation where it benefits the whole country is one thing; acquiescence, however, is not the answer, especially with the Supreme Court. Trump said women in some states will just have to drive to another state if they want an abortion.

Some have asserted that Trump in his campaign avoided insulting American citizens unless they stepped into the arena and opposed him. That’s very dubious, but be that as it may, now Trump has announced, on 60 Minutes, that he is right and millions of women are wrong–that is, women who decide to seek an abortion, depending on where they live, must go in many cases hundreds of miles out of their way. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of those women were definitely not in the arena and many of them voted for Donald Trump. It could be that some will say “Father Trump knows best” and vote for him again anyway in 2020. But if Democrats won’t filibuster Trump’s Supreme Court pick (or try to, and let McConnell be the one to go nuclear if he wants) what would they resist?

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How’s That Swampy Drainy Thing Workin’ Out For Ya, Trump?

It is early days in Donald J. Trump’s new swamp-draining reality adventure. Let’s chill just a little bit and give him enough running room–I mean rope–and see what happens. I think the best protesting is likely to happen if and when Trump starts pissing people off. And in fairness to Trump or any president (missing you already, Obama, despite your mandarin tendencies) there are not too many easy win-win decisions that a president gets to make. If Trump increases the swamp gas fumes by hiring the oiliest of the lobbyist crowd, and shafts the “forgotten men and women,” the disgruntled “Carrier voters” of the rust belt who put him over the top, then the opportunity for successful protest will ripen. If Trump follows Paul Ryan’s lead and proposes privatizing Medicare and cutting off Trumpcare health exchange subsidies, solidarity against Republicans will be a much easier lift than if people disrupt highway traffic now and piss off ordinary people. Trump and the Republicans are about to take control of all three branches, and they will own the economy. They will either own the Affordable Care Act, or try to displace and dismember it. The hard choices are theirs, let them stew over it.

Plenty Of The Truly “Forgotten Men And Women” Hope Trump Just Leaves Them Alone

If Donald Trump acts like a president of all the people, more power to him. If he acts like a vindictive tyrant, I only hope Americans cross divides, put country first, and resist.  His first public words as President-elect seemed nonthreatening and positive. I think he showed some self-awareness of his past by suggesting a while back that becoming president and succeeding was the only way he could make it into heaven. But he has also said, “I’m all about the hunt and the chase…then I lose interest.” If he is able to concentrate on American “forgotten men and women” in a much more inclusive sense (think FDR rather than William G. Sumner) than I expect, maybe he will make it to heaven. As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama said today, gotta give him his chance. That’s in spite of James Comey, Wikileaks, Russian interference, and Hillary’s lead in the national popular vote, bitter pills all.

P.S. Hat tip to Beverly Gage’s piece in the NYT, “Just Who Is the ‘Forgotten Man,'” in which she contrasts William Graham Sumner’s 1880s essay, “What the Social Classes Owe Each Other” (not much of anything) with FDR’s 1932 evocation of the “forgotten man” as “a reason to rebuild the economy from the bottom up.” Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Moore, and others have already put Trump on notice that their cooperation can be his if he truly wants to rebuild the U.S. economy on a more equitable basis than neoliberal technocrats and the big banks are expecting.

Political Herd Immunity For Millennials

Yet another worry lately for folks sickened by Trump and either pro-Hillary or hold-nose-and-vote Hillary is the possibility that millennials will insult the legacy of Barack Obama and vote for Johnson or Stein. The upside of this is asserting one’s moral purity. The downside is President Trump. Rallying behind the Libertarians or the Greens gives the feeling of political herd immunity–but not the reality. The real vaccine is to take your castor oil and vote for the least destructive option. Too young to vote for the lesser evil, you say? You need to be inspired, you say? Breaking news courtesy of President Obama: don’t boo, vote! Hillary, trust me, will subsidize your adult coloring books next year.

Will Our Next President Be Capable Of “Masterly Inactivity”?

Even the birthers are likely to miss Barack Obama by this time next year, in part because we are unlikely to have a president capable of masterly inactivity. Obama’s motto, “don’t do stupid s–t” is a vulgar way of expressing the modus operandi. Masterly inactivity can certainly be overrated and fetishized (as J. Peter Scoblic points out in a recent Washington Post opinion piece on Trump’s incapacity for inaction).  Examples of this include Obama’s Syria flipflops, and perhaps Abraham Lincoln’s almost complete silence for months in 1860 and early 1861, wishing to keep his options open and not to inflame tensions–see Harold Holzer’s “The Sound of Lincoln’s Silence,” NYT Disunion blog, 11/23/2010, and his 2010 book Lincoln: President-Elect, which explores in depth the pros and cons of Lincoln’s refusal to “open his mouth, save only to eat,”  as one of his political allies put it.  But there is some real danger, I believe, that a President Hillary Clinton will feel compelled to prove her toughness in ways that won’t serve the nation well. The much greater danger is that we could easily, out of a misplaced faith in his “law and order” rhetoric, elect Trump, who seems utterly incapable of inaction, even when it’s most called for. “Watchful waiting” is a critically important capability of 21st-century presidents, and it is about the last thing that I associate with “Trump.”  Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy in the mid-20th century were capable of watchful waiting.  I hope our next president will study their example.

“We Have Never Been Held Together By Blood Or Background”

So said former President George W. Bush at the memorial service in Dallas, Texas today for the five police officers killed last week. George W. Bush should be–though he is sometimes not–credited with scrupulous avoidance of anti-Muslim rhetoric after September 11, 2001. President Obama also addressed the memorial in a realistic and uplifting spirit.

We are burdened as a country this year with a presidential candidate who has, through insinuations and barely coded messages of exclusion if not through outright bigotry, has almost succeeded in normalizing white nationalist rhetoric. He, Donald Trump, has been abetted by our mainstream media’s addiction to false equivalence, as if politics was purely tactical and completely separated from morality and ethics.

George W. Bush’s words today did not, of course, mention his party’s nominee, but his comments stand as an implicit rebuke to the fantasy of restoring our lost greatness by building a giant wall to keep out otherness. We have had just one non-churched president, Abraham Lincoln. Trump would be our first openly, frankly heathen president.

Does Robert Gates Speak For The Deep State?

In the old days, the deep state remained silent.  The deep state did not stoop to “me generation” blabbering.  But a former head of the NSA, Michael Hayden, was recently caught chit-chatting on his cell phone on an Amtrak train with a friendly reporter about NSA policies. And now Robert Gates has written another memoir (From the Shadows was published in 1996; this week we have Duty).  Gates, who has worked for the national security apparatus since the Nixon administration, has every right to feel the way he apparently does about Joe Biden or Rahm Emanuel.  But would discretion not have been the more valorous route?  Gates protested the other day that he was not trash-talking President Obama himself–sorry, but that is what you did.  Would Yoda (if that’s what they called you around the cabinet table) have stooped to rat out other people?  If you were really shocked, shocked, at the politicized motives of Obama operatives, and offended that they made you feel invisible while they, you felt, naively criticized what they saw as the foolishness of the W. Bush years–begging your pardon, but what the heck were you really expecting when you signed up for another tour, this time with Barack Obama?  C’mon, Gates, get a grip on yourself.  If you really speak for the deep state, the deep state has become pretty petulant, and that worries me almost as much as some of the NSA revelations.

Will “Iterative” (In A Good Way) Become The Watchword In 2014?

Prominent persons of the year just past may have seemed revolutionary, but Edward Snowden and Pope Francis, as well as the late Nelson Mandela, and Edith Windsor, and even Miley Cyrus, might well be seen as iterators, in a good way.  Snowden claimed in an interview with Barton Gellman published a week ago in the Washington Post that “even if your analysis (meaning his analysis of “to leak or not to leak”) proves to be wrong, the marketplace of ideas will bear that out.  If you look at it from an engineering perspective, an iterative perspective, it’s clear that you have to try something rather than do nothing.”  For his part, Pope Francis has emphasized that he is a son of the Roman Catholic Church, and is not proposing radical changes to doctrine, rather a new tone (or better, an approach so old it seems new) that invites–and his worldwide questionnaire on family issues seems to promise an iterative reform of current practices.  Nelson Mandela, the last of the great 20th-century liberators, as President Obama noted, was an iterative radical par excellence.  And we all have Edith Windsor’s persistence to thank–welcome aboard Utahans!  Finally, Miley Cyrus’s performance was just a refinement (or perhaps a devolution, i.e. iterative in a bad way) of a twenty-year-old New Orleans thing, so I hear.

Happy iterating in the new year! And merry recursion too, why not?

Ex-NSA Chief Calls For Obama To Show Courage By Rejecting Oversight Panel’s Recommendations–Not The Onion!

On the heels of the 60 Minutes pro-NSA lovefest with current chief Keith Alexander, former (1999-2005) NSA head Michael Hayden, the same Hayden caught on video blabbing while riding Amtrak recently, is saying today that President Obama should be a man and blow off most of the oversight panel’s recommendations.  Hayden is right that if and when there is another major terrorist attack, all kinds of governmental intrusions will get poll numbers much higher than today.  But he is on much shakier ground when he asserts that “there have been no abuses and almost all the court decisions on this program have held that it’s constitutional.”  Not to mention the chutzpah from a guy who, if memory serves, failed to find Osama Bin Laden.

This year, it has been said, proved the paranoid right.  Glenn Greenwald has acknowledged that he ignored Edward Snowden at first because he saw no point in going along with Snowden’s requisite precautions, such as a public encryption key.  Give the fellow credit for admitting he was nowhere near suspicious enough!  While Greenwald has left The Guardian for a new project, excellent blogging continues there on surveillance-related issues, for example by Marcy Wheeler and Jeff Jarvis.

Jarvis makes a pertinent point, I believe, in a Guardian commentary today: “The primary NSA issue isn’t privacy, it’s authority.”  Jarvis applauds Judge Richard Leon‘s recent opinion that bulk collection of metadata is “almost Orwellian,” and boos Judge William Pauley‘s opinion that NSA data collection is “legally perfectly peachy,” but he worries that both judges, and Snowden himself, “may be debating on the wrong plane.”  His point is that the issue is primarily about authority: “not so much what government (or anyone else) is allowed to know but what government, holding unique powers, is allowed to do with what it knows.”  The bruised Fourth Amendment, as Jarvis points out, along with the First and Fifth Amendments, has to do not so much with a right “for something–privacy–as against something–government abuse.”  The basic issue, Jarvis concludes, is “government overreach and the absence of oversight.  I am less concerned with what government knows about me than what we don’t know about government.”  

What Michael Hayden is most upset about, it seems, is that Edward Snowden “stirred up the crowd.”  So much for the consent of the governed!  I am hopeful that what we the people know now that we didn’t know last New Year’s about the surveillance conducted in our name will not weaken our national capacity to prevent terrorism.  I am not sure that there is no tradeoff between liberty and security, notwithstanding Ben Franklin’s sharp comment that those who would give up liberty for security deserve neither.  I believe Jeff Jarvis is onto something by focusing the issue on government authority and its proper limits.  Another way of putting the issue of authority would be, what proportion of your income would you consent to pay in taxes?  And what proportion of those taxes should go to government surveillance operations, vs. Medicare, road maintenance, basic scientific research, and so on?  In other words, we cannot spend all of our national wealth on surveilance, can we?  So how much should we spend?

“Pretty Definitive”? Should We Be More Like The English About That?

The Guns of August opens with the parade of European royal pageanty at the1910 funeral of King Edward VII of England.  “In the nine short years of his reign,” according to author Barbara Tuchman, “England‘s splendid isolation had given way, under pressure, to a series of ‘understandings’ or attachments, but not quite alliances–for England dislikes the definitive.”

England may dislike the definitive, but do we Americans?  Our President, Barack Obama, said in his pre-holiday news conference that he would “assess” the state of the surveillance state over the next few weeks, and then make “a pretty definitive statement in January about all of this.”

I doubt that anyone is waiting up for such a statement.  And I doubt that a “pretty definitive statement” to reform the surveillance state will be forthcoming in January.  Surprise me!  But has President Obama not had several months, if not years, to ponder the serious issues involved here?  The giveaway that no big non-cosmetic changes are likely was the President’s repetition of the word “confidence,” as in “give the public more confidence’–that “as technologies change and people [people at the NSA or its designees] can start running algorithms and programs [formerly known as “modest encroachments”] that map out all the information that we’re downloading on a daily basis,” we can all stop worrying and be happy.  What could go wrong?  We can have total information awareness and still give people confidence that we are “taking seriously rule of law and our concerns about privacy and civil liberties.”  What we take “seriously,” by the way, is optional, whereas the expansion–beg pardon, “refinement”– of the national surveillance state does not currently seem optional.

Could I correct my above remarks?  The most definitive statement President Obama is likely to make has very likely already been made.  We, the executive branch, will “refine” our surveillance and big data mining to give you, people, more “confidence,” so that your animal spirits (hat tip to John Maynard Keynes) will not be crushed and you can still shop happily.  But courts and legislatures and the tech companies and other countries will have their say too, in less predictable ways, one can hope.

P.S.  As 2014 approaches, Barbara Tuchman’s book about August 1914 is perennially relevant as a cautionary tale about how a series of blunders and miscalculations can lead to war.

Lying People Of The Year, 2013

Pope Francis Person of the Year?  And Edward Snowden Runner-Up?  No quarrel from me.  They shared a knack for inviting everyone to think again about how we frame big issues like faith and freedom, and for prodding us to consider anew our obsessions and biases, our risk aversions and mental shortcuts.

Let us thus turn our attention to lying liars, a target-rich environment every year I suppose, but 2013 had at least its fair share.  Politifact’s Lie of the Year has been health law-related four out of five years  since 2009: first “death panels”; then “government takeover of health care”; then in 2011 a Democratic Campaign Committee claim that “Republicans voted to end Medicare” (I think Paul Ryan’s plan would in fact have sabotaged it, but on we go); to 2012 with a non-health Mitt Romney interlude–so many options here!; and to President Obama this year: “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”

That was true for about 98% of Americans with health insurance, so I read, but 2% is still a lot of Americans to mislead, especially on such a serious and nerve-racking issue.  Even so, I would say Obama’s blithe assurance back in June that NSA surveillance amounted to “modest encroachments” might have been an even bigger whopper.  It has not reassured me about whatever else he says.

General Keith Alexander, soon-to-retire head of the NSA, lived in the shadows for almost all of his career, but found himself obliged to prevaricate, mislead, evade, and misinform in public this year.  I am not sure how many lives he may have saved.  Nor do I have a clear sense of how many outright lies he uttered–perhaps fewer than the unpersuasive James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence–but Alexander’s public Congressional testimonials qualified him in my book for scary-good virtuoso performance artist of the year.

Am I unfairly neglecting Vladimir Putin?  He capped off the year with an attack on “genderless and fruitless so-called tolerance.”  Pooty Poot (President W. Bush’s nickname for him) apparently noticed that the new Pope seems incapable of rendering proper judgments, and is stepping into the breach, taking up the white man’s burden and defending conservative values lest civilization fall into what he called “chaotic darkness.”  With which he is well acquainted.

P.S.  On Thursday John Boehner, who seemed to some to embody the conservative white man’s burden as he bowed low to the right-wing astroturf groups, seems to have snapped, going off in a big way on those very pressure groups as treacherous liars.  Such a topsy-turvy year! And so sad that, I fear, neither Boehner nor Putin, let alone General Alexander, can bring back the happy conservative values days when Dick and Jane and Spot were just Dick and Jane and Spot, and their problems were real and serious.

Update later Friday 12/13/13: The Guardian reports that the White House-sponsored review of government surveillance will recommend minimal changes, and will not recommend stopping bulk collection of Americans’ phone data.

Clueless NY Times Misinterprets Harold And The Purple Crayon

“Certainly children’s tales like ‘Harold and the Purple Crayon’ offer few lessons for dealing with Tea Party congressmen,” according to an NYT story today by Peter Baker, “In Obama’s Book List, Glimpses of His Journey.”  Since I have not seen an official Times correction yet, allow me to suggest one: “The Times regrets that a recent article misstated the facts.  Due to an editing error, the “White House Memo” of 12/5/13 failed to note that when Harold drew a frightening dragon under the tree to guard the apples, and then was himself frightened by the dragon he had drawn, and almost drowned in the ocean drawn by his shaking right hand, but then saved himself by drawing a boat, the obvious parallels with how President Obama might best deal with Tea Party congressmen via unilateral executive orders were ignorantly and triflingly marginalized.  The Times is deeply mortified.”

The Times, of course, has still failed to note the eerie parallel between the nine pies served at the White House Thanksgiving dinner and Harold’s “simple picnic lunch” consisting of his nine most favorite pies, and nothing but.

Is President Obama Mature Enough For Harold And The Purple Crayon?

The Obamas got out to a fine bookstore on upper Connecticut Avenue today, Politics and Prose. He bought 21 books on Small Business Saturday, for “every age from 5 to 52,” he said. In his sixth year as President, George W. Bush, against type, said he was reading Albert Camus‘ The Stranger. Could Barack Obama, at 52 and at almost the same stage of presidenthood, be capable of drawing inspiration from Harold And The Purple Crayon? This could be a good omen for the healthcare website, as Harold models a fruitful integration of imaginative and managerial capabilities.

Defiant Healthcare.gov Still Refusing To Leak Black Friday Deals

What, they expect us to pay retail? Everybody has “leaked” their Black Friday doorbuster deals. Everybody but Healthcare.gov. Tons of stores are gonna open on Thanksgiving night this year, and give deals right then and there. Of course if I get trampled before I buy my health care plan by some people who want that iPad mini Retina even more than me, I could find myself out of health insurance and also have to admit that I am unworthy of the extra pixel density of the new model.

Could Bill Clinton and Joe Manchin Worry About A Health Plan For Mayor Rob Ford And Leave Obama Be For Just Another Month Or So?

Takes a lot of guts to point out the obvious about the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, doesn’t it, Mr. Clinton?  And you too, Manchin.  But watch out you’re not being too cute by half, Mr. Bill.  Why not take a page from your successor (or Winston Churchill)  and take up painting, and maintain a little political silence (though W., I am sorry to say, is speaking this week at a fundraiser for Messianic Jews in Texas–oops).  Your failure and Hillary’s failure to pass universal health care isn’t held against you by anyone with sense–nobody else had complete success either (though LBJ gets way too little honor on this, because of Vietnam) and the current law is nowhere near universal.  But it sure will be held against you if you succeed in provoking mass Democratic panic, so soon after the Republicans made such fools of themselves while Harry Reid held his caucus together.  Maybe Obamacare will be so unworkable that it will implode, but may it not be on your head.

Merkel Invites Snowden To Speak At Brandenburg Gate; Obama Counters With Broadway Ticker -Tape Parade Offer

It hasn’t quite come to that yet. But would Edward Snowden–who is a civilian, not subject as far as I know to a military trial, really be convicted by an American jury today? I am not advising him to come back to the United States, but I suspect that few politicians or prosecutors, from President Obama on down, would feel confident attacking Snowden right now. Not so much because sympathy for what he did is necessarily so strong, but unease if not anger about what the NSA has done to privacy, twelve years after 2001, has become so widespread that jury nullification would be a very live possibility. I have little doubt that Snowden broke laws. I do not think he stood on solid ground when he asserted in his October 31 letter to Hans-Christian Stroebele, a German lawmaker, that “my government continues to treat dissent as defection, and seeks to criminalize political speech with felony charges.” That strikes me as a bit much–or, in another sense, as too little, in that the stakes should probably be even higher than Snowden claimed. The NSA may well continue to evade oversight, but the agency has shown it has little sense of prudent self-restraint with the latest revelations this week. It sends exactly the wrong signal to an out-of-control child, or intellence agency as the case may be, to not put in the hard work and diligence needed to set limits in a firm, fair way. Are we the people and our representatives up to setting limits on our overfed, idiot savant, gargantuan yet immature national surveillance state?

Senator Dianne Feinstein Finally Finds Some Surveillance She Dislikes

Congratulations, Senator! So many billions of pieces of metadata you thought were “lawful” and “effective” and “conducted under careful oversight”–could the NSA have forgotten to tell you about Angela Merkel’s unencrypted Nokia? And you want everyone to know you do not like being left out of the loop? The leader of a new Church committee you will probably not be, but if the NSA’s spell on you is broken a little, that could be a good thing for the country.

Obama Fecklessly Denies Conducting Surveillance On Newly-Discovered Vegetarian Piranha

In a desperate effort to change the narrative and thus win the day, President Obama is reported to have denied today that the NSA is surveilling or will ever be surveilling the Amazonian vegetarian piranha.

Angela Merkel is said to be developing a state-of-the-art liverwurst to tempt the piranhas. Francois Hollande remarked ironically that if Americans possessed more acute theoretical faculties we would perceive that Obama had said nothing, nothing to exclude U.S. surveillance of vegan piranhas. Hollande denied rumors of a French plot even more insidious than Chancellor Merkel’s: to introduce the vegan/vegetarian piranhas to appellation controlled Roquefort.

Key Conservative Can’t Fathom Why Absolute Fruitcakes Are Still Called “Conservatives” By Media–But He Isn’t

A leading inside-the-Beltway conservative wondered this morning why no one was willing to call him a conservative. “They refer to me with all sorts of labels, but never as what I really am,” he thought aloud, not cognizant his words were being recorded by multiple forms of surveillance. “While all these nut job anarchist flamethrowers get called ‘conservative.’ I just don’t get it.”

I refer, of course, to Barack Obama.

If My New Favorite Craft Beers Can’t Get Label Approval, How Can I Get Properly Tanked Up To Join Palin And Cruz At The World War Two Memorial And Cut Down Barricades?

Who knew that Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin had WWII combat medals? Otherwise what would they be doing busting through barricades at the Veterans Memorial in Washington today? Actual veterans did show up in numbers the other day, but reports from today’s event described it as a few hundred Tea Partiers carrying barricades around town, finally dumping them in front of the White House (to be retrieved by currently unpaid park rangers). Senator Cruz accused the President of using veterans as political pawns. Really? Could he have even less shame than his spiritual mentor Joseph McCarthy?

Obama Defies Boehner To Defy The Defiant Yoho

President Obama spoke at length at a press conference today–just over one hour. He called on John Boehner to stop the excuses and let the House vote on the debt ceiling as well as allow a vote on a spending resolution that Reid and Boehner had already negotiated weeks ago.  Speaker Boehner spoke for three minutes, and sounded reasonable, especially if your memory and attention span are so far gone that you have no idea what he was saying a week or two ago.

Republicans Abandon “Certainty” For Their New Special Friend: Conglomerate Beast

I have a vague memory that two years ago (and for many years before that) Republicans harped quite a bit on the horrors of “uncertainty.” Republicans claimed that “job creators” needed more certainty to put Americans back to work. As Sheri and Allan Rivlin wrote in October 2011, “if you don’t think about it very hard, there is real brilliance to this “ubiquitous Republican talking point“: “each time it is delivered, and it is delivered a lot, it connects three ideas: 1) the economic uncertainty that is dominating the public’s landscape 2) the assertion that it is the policies of President Barack Obama…causing the uncertainty, and 3) the promise that if the uncertainty could be removed business leaders would create more jobs.”

The uncertainty refrain has “powerful emotional appeal,” as the Rivlins noted. I think that is a big part of why observant and clever reactionaries are so upset with current events in Washington. Their party, which had a patent on “certainty,” is well on the way to taking ownership of uncertainty. And even the finest Republican gerrymandering will struggle to find enough voters who are truly pining for the end times.

Extremism In The Defense Of False Equivalence Watch

Representatives of Washington conventional media wisdom are declaring today that maintaining false equivalence far outweighs any damage to actual ordinary people that a government shutdown or, for that matter, government default might cause. See, among many examples, columns by David Gergen and Todd Purdum.

As Senator Rand Paul explained to Mitch McConnell on a hot mic today, ” I just did CNN and I just go over and over again, ‘we’re willing to compromise, we’re willing to negotiate.'”

And who in the media could ask for any better lead-in to a superficially balanced assessment of political dysfunction than Senator Paul’s cynical and hypocritical tribute to virtuousness?

P.S. Senator Paul also noted (largely accurately, sorry to say–Paul Begala among others tried to warn Obama off this) the tactically dubious framing by President Obama: “I don’t think they poll-tested ‘we won’t negotiate.’ I think that’s awful for them to say that over and over again.” McConnell’s reply has not yet been properly translated from the original Turtle-speak.

Pope Francis Still Not Allowing Gay Weddings in St. Peter’s Square

What is the hold up? Let’s get on with the gay wedding right in St Peter’s Square already! Francis, you have been Head Man in Rome for at least six months now. You said, Who am I to judge, didn’t you? And did you not say your favorite painting in Rome is Caravaggio’sCalling of St. Matthew“? How much gayer (and Baroquely so) than Caravaggio can you get? “St. Matthew” in the painting isn’t even dead, he is alive and living in Provincetown right now–unless he’s gone back to Chelsea for the winter already.

We don’t need to hear any more noise about “discernment,” by the way. Discernment takes time, you say. Uh-huh. The wedding planners have discerned plenty already. The gowns, dresses, tuxes, trains–they are ready and waiting, my man!

You hesitate. I understand. You are not a right-winger, but you don’t want to be doing stuff “willy-nilly,” as our President Obama says. No problem. We got a guy we are gonna send over to tell your people what he has no problem with, so as to nudge you along the path of righteousness. Name of Biden. There are no limits to God’s mercy, as you say. And you will be judged with mercy after you do the right thing.

Still Not Very Advanced

President Obama, speaking at a memorial for the Navy Yard shooting victims, said “no other advanced nation endures this kind of violence. None.” Of course other countries, such as England and Japan, have endured terroristic attacks. But he was right, I think, in that no other “First World” country sees mass killing after mass killing without doing what it takes to drastically reduce their future likelihood. Wayne LaPierre of the NRA said today that “all the outrage…ought to be placed on an unprotected naval base.” If Wayne LaPierre has enough influence that a more rigorous system of background checks still cannot pass Congress, just as it couldn’t after the Newtown, Connecticut slaughter, I have to wonder about part of what President Obama said. How advanced a nation are we?

Heaven Forbid The American People Should Get Any Rising Expectations

How much chance is there that the federal government will shut down in October? The threat of intraparty challenges to Republicans who do not show bona fides of intransigence tilts the odds toward shutdown, though it’ll become a right-wing dead end real quick unless they can frame interruption of Social Security checks as the fault of the illegitimate usurper Obama. Which they will try to do. This may even be absurd enough to challenge the convention of equivalence in blaming Democrats and Republicans–or not, given how entrenched false equivalence is and how well Republican politicians and special interest lobbyists have exploited the unwillingness of mainstream news to take note of obvious asymmetries in extremism.

Shutdown is likely because no shutdown would mean climbdown and capitulation to an illegitimate President, an unconstitutional health care law, and an unacceptable status quo, according to Tea Party thinking. It is up to the Democrats, starting at the top, not to sigh, not to become visibly agitated or annoyed, but to explain again why standing firm on implementation of the Affordable Care Act is in the best interests of the country. There is no reason to give Republicans an easy target by pretending extending health coverage is in all ways a free lunch, but there is good reason to explain the great benefit in moving toward a universal risk pool. And there is every reason to remind the public in a cheerful, upbeat way of the gains in security and quality of life that the Affordable Care Act will promote. It would be great if Democrats and perhaps even some Republicans would point out, again, the benefit of things like health care portability and ensuring coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Countering right-wing scare tactics will work best, though, only after the law’s provisions start to spread by word of mouth.

That is what really scares right-wing elites: that the tens of millions of people who have suffered becoming more and more insecure and economically marginal in the last few decades will discover that the Affordable Care Act makes a positive difference to them. Heaven forbid we should allow, or worse encourage, rising expectations among the 21st-century proletariat and lumpenproletariat.

Putin The Trickster Rabbit Throws Self Into Moral High Ground Of Briar Patch

Vladimir V. Putin, current President of Russia and future Visiting Professor of Philosophy of International Law, appears to have seized, at least for today, the white man’s burden of duty and rectitude from President Barack Obama. Is he going to be accepting complimentary lifetime memberships from Amnesty International and the ACLU next? Can we handle the truth that “exceptionalism” is largely a dangerous fantasy, coming from such an imperfect messenger as him?

I do not agree with the reaction of some that the op-ed should not have been printed. Putin’s name appears as the author, and he thus assumes responsibility for the contents. Who cares if Russian speechwriters or the Ketchum P.R. firm wrote or edited some or all of it? Barack Obama and (one hopes) John Kerry are perfectly capable of presenting evidence to counter Mr. Putin’s assertion, for example, that the poison gas didn’t come from the Syrian Army. They can also supply relevant context that Putin conveniently omitted. If Mr. Putin is taking advantage of worldwide suspicion of American veracity and arrogance, and who do we blame for that?–he is setting himself up to be judged by higher standards when Olympic time rolls around. Hendrik Hertzberg in The New Yorker notes, by the way, that “American exceptionalism” was coined as a negative reference point by Stalin-era Russian propagandists!

It is at least possible that the sometimes Mr. Magooish spectacle, as some have noted, of the last few days’ diplomacy may yield some good results

Rhetoricians Of Reaction Make An Exception To The Exception

The “rhetoric of reaction,” as described by Albert O. Hirschman in 1991, expresses suspicion of government via three theses: perversity, futility, and jeopardy. “According to the perversity thesis, any purposive action to improve some feature of the political, social, or economic order only serves to exacerbate the condition one wishes to remedy. The futility thesis holds that attempts at social transformation will be unavailing, that they will simply fail to ‘make a dent.’ Finally, the jeopardy thesis argues that the cost of the proposed change or reform is too high as it endangers some previous, precious accomplishments” (Rhetoric of Reaction, p. 7). Hirschman notes that these three theses may be used by progressives when conservatives are in power, but that perversity, futility, and jeopardy are arguments used primarily by counter-modern reactionaries.

Republicans in Congress have taken this rhetoric of reaction to new lows in their refusal, for example, to make any constructive tweaks to the Affordable Care Act. For decades, Republicans have, however, made an exception to their suspicion of government when it came to supporting the military, and the President as their Commander-in-Chief. Now, for President Obama, most seem to be making an exception to the exception. This is not to say President Obama has a foolproof plan, but Congress has not usually required that of Presidents before giving them latitude to strike or threaten credibly to do so. The divided Democratic caucus is a story for another day–as is the intentionality, or not, of John Kerry‘s utterances.

Care For Jam With Your Freedom Muffin?

The NY Post cover yesterday showed a funhouse image of President Obama in the Oval Office with the headlines “The Buck Does Not Stop Here!” and “Obama punts on Syria.” The other leading right-wing media organ, that is the WSJ, took a slightly higher road: “Obama recklessly gambles with American credibility.”

Many In Congress–Democrats as well as Republicans–might have preferred to not take a vote, so as to have the luxury of critique without fingerprints. President Obama deprived them of that easy path. Even though he did signal that he might go ahead with some kind of military action without Congressional authorization, I think that is quite unlikely. The political right is outraged whether Obama shows scrupulous respect for Congress’ Article One prerogatives or not. Their squeals are especially loud now that Obama has forced them out of their comfy Obamacare repeal fantasy zone and into the political open. Which is not to say Mr. Obama has a clear plan.

P.S. Are we likely to see the Murdoch-owned press show Cameron as a cheddar-cheese eating surrender monkey and Francois Hollande as a heroic Gallic Asterix? Will we (as has been tweeted already) have to call our breakfast food freedom muffins?

It Should Not Be Just Your Military And You Are Not My Commander-In-Chief

To President Obama: Sir, you are the duly elected President of the USA, and as Baracka Flacka Flames has said, you are the head of the state. However, if you can say that the armed forces are “my military,” as you did today, either you or the Congress or both have lost your way. They, the Congress, may have wanted to abdicate their explicit Constitutional powers. But we the voters have chosen them as well as you to represent us.

And by the way, unless I belong to the military, you are not my commander-in-chief. Nothing personal. Neither was Bush, Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon…you get the picture, I hope. I have heard enough media insinuation, spoon-fed by minions of our surveillance state, that the President is Commander-in-Chief of the American people.

Update Saturday August 31: President Obama has paused to wait for a Congressional vote to authorize military action in Syria, surprising his staffers, according to a New York Times story. This is one issue where the Republican House can hardly refuse to vote–and the Senate will be obliged to take a vote as well. A piece of political prudence that may also be a step back from the imperial presidency. I do not follow, however, the connection he made from we are a country where right makes might rather than might makes right straight to “I have therefore made a second decision” to ask Congress for a vote. Congressional approval is a process issue that matters but does it confer just war status on whatever a president does?

The Slippery Slope of Renunciation

I thought Mayor Bob Filner had made such great therapeutic progress that he was going to go back to his mayor job, but no, he is apparently taking the easy way out and slinking away from public life. He is surely doing San Diegans a favor.

But what the heck are you doing, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, renouncing your homeland of Canada? Bad decision, I think. There are so few civilized countries on the planet, why mess with one of them? After Hillary Clinton succeeds Obama, the plagues and maybe the apocalypse are sure gonna get us, and maybe even global warming will be part of the divine plan to punish America. Canada might have half a mind to not let you unrenounce four years from now and become Canadian again. I know you still have time to turn away from your rash promise to renounce and turn back into the dual citizen you were naturally born to be. Can I tell Donald Trump or do you want to let him know first?

The Summer Hit Of 2013: Magna Carta Holy Grail? Unh-unh, It Was “Magna Quaestio Est De Mendacio”

Without a doubt, it was Edward Snowden who really got lucky this summer (nice try, Daft Punk) with his monster hit “Magna Quaestio Est De Mendacio.” Jay-Z or no Jay Z, the great tune of summer 2013 was all about the great problem of lying, which has long transcended musical genres.

Augustine wrote two treatises on the topic of lies, De Mendacio and Contra Mendacio. He preferred the later treatise Against Lying, but decided to let On Lying remain “in print” as well, though in the Retractations Augustine wrote late in life he found De Mendacio “obscure, and intricate, and altogether troublesome.” In the first paragraph of the treatise itself he warns the reader that the way will be “very full of dark corners… (with) many cavern-like windings” as Augustine takes up the cases for as well as against lying, which he defines as “speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” I am not ready today to follow Augustine down that rabbit hole. I am only ready to say that I believe it is bad for the future of a democratic republic with representative government and consent of the governed to focus too much on suppressing whistleblowing (or, if you prefer, leaking for ostensibly altruistic reasons) while at the same time conniving to make informed debate about surveillance and privacy rights too difficult.

It is vexing and troubling to judge, regarding government surveillance, how security and liberty ought to be balanced–or whether that is a false and foolish either/or, as Franklin warned. It is also hard to say to what extent we are well served to keep applying Churchill’s dictum that “in wartime truth is so precious that she should be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” It is easy to imagine the “interests” (regardless of what President Obama said August 9) that the millions employed by or profiting from the national security state have in stopping terror attacks and also in releasing or even, heaven forbid, leaking information selectively to make sure their gravy train is perpetual.

I am skeptical that the latest story about the NSA overstepping its bounds thousands of times is, in itself, as big a deal as some in Congress and the media say. But I take Senators Wyden and Udall seriously when they say the latest revelations are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, on the NSA acting out of legal and constitutional bounds (which two things are not identical).

What tune will be top of the chart this fall?

Defiant Obama Refuses To Confirm Or Deny UFOs In Area 51

House Speaker Boehner said he would repeal Obamacare again if the President refused to say when he first became aware of UFOs in Area 51. Senator McConnell said he would refuse to allow a vote on any appropriations for infrastructure improvements at the long-rumored alien landing strip. General Keith Alexander of the NSA said the disclosure was a cynical ploy by the CIA to curry favor with voters and divert scarce surveillance state resources from the NSA budget. And Obama, arrogant as ever and playing cooler-than-thou as per usual, defiantly refused to say whether he was in fact born to space aliens in Area 51.

A “Handful of Things” Are “Probably OK”

That is what Senator Mitch McConnell said about the Affordable Care Act in an interview with Corbin, Kentucky TV station WYMT. Talking Points Memo points out that in a normal political environment this would not qualify as news. But we are in times that philosopher Blaise Pascal nailed over three hundred years ago: “Two extravagances: to exclude Reason, to admit only Reason.” We have the crazies, still crazy after…well, it just seems like a lot of years. And we have President Obama, who does often make a truth-telling prophet out of another Frenchman, Michel Foucault, who (as Jonathan Israel has paraphrased him) saw the Enlightenment insistence on the primacy of reason as another mask for the exercise of power. Yesterday’s blog post, for example, was about Obama’s denial last Friday of any ulterior motive or interest in either himself or the NSA vis-a-vis surveillance of American citizens’ emails. C’mon, you’re not anonymous, we can see through.

Senator McConnell’s reelection campaign manager, on loan from Rand Paul, thought he was speaking privately when he was caught on tape saying he would be holding his nose the next couple of years working for the non-crazy, non-true-believer, pre-embalmed old turtle McConnell. But what he said is no surprise: it is obvious where the Republican passion is these days. It says something that he has not yet lost his job.

Hillary Clinton is likely to have a wholly different challenge in ’16 vs ’08: not laughing out loud at the nutty things that Republicans will say about how the world ought to be. If she just counts to three and then says how she sees things, she should be in.

I Have No Patience For Presidents Who Deny That They Have Any Interest In Anything Other Than Protecting Us

President Obama, you said last week that you have “no patience” for countries that make life hard for gays and lesbians. Great. I am glad Joe Biden had even less patience than you did during your reelection campaign. He got over his skis, it was all a little willy-nilly, but you were fairly good-humored in public about the disorderliness of Biden–maybe because what choice did you have? And real change is sometimes a little disorderly, you know that.

I must say, though, you lost me when you also said that “the main thing I want to emphasize is, I don’t have an interest and the people of the NSA don’t have an interest in doing anything other than making sure that…we can prevent a terrorist attack…that we’re able to carry out that critical task. We do not have an interest in doing anything other than that.” I have no patience for ridiculousness like that. How did that kind of banal self-serving propaganda get into your head? From your mother? Maybe she was idealistic and naive in some ways, according to your own memoir, but that naive? It is hardly believable. From your grandparents? Not likely. From your professors or colleagues? Maybe. Not from Reverend Wright or any preacher with any sense. And you are not running for reelection, as you have pointed out more than once, so maybe you actually are so deep “inside the government,” as you say, that Keith Alexander has hypnotized you. I am not quite sure how you got to the point where you could say the silly things you did. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic debunks your “no interest” claim: “(President Obama) has all sorts of interests besides preventing terrorist attacks–political interests, ideological interests, legacy interests, ego interests. The folks at the NSA want to stop terrorist attacks. But they have other interests too….they want to perpetuate and expand their agency…and some, like Snowden, have totally unexpected interests, like transparency. It caused him to flee with all sorts of sensitive information. Am I to believe that no employee or contractor would possibly abscond for less noble reasons?”

I am not expecting or asking you to become a radical leftist or even reliably progressive, or to let go of your petulance over Snowden’s role. But could we just get real about how government works and could you get enough outsider perspective to imagine that people who are angry and upset are not necessarily infantile, naive, or misguided. That too much to ask? One press conference that was the intellectual version of Mission Accomplished was enough, can we agree? You might take a look, or another look, at the works of the late great interdisclipinary social scientist Albert O. Hirschman–recently eulogized in the New York Review of Books by Cass Sunstein, your former Head Man in Charge of the Hermeneutics of Regulation (and that’s a good thing to have). Hirschman’s The Passions And The Interests is a study of 18th-century ideas and a plea for a richer conception of “interests” than we now possess; and his The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy is a wonderfully acidic takedown of a mindset you have had to confront again and again to the point of understandable exasperation.

Happy Vacation Week, Mr. President. Smoke?

Dear President Obama, Hope you have a refreshing week on Martha’s Vineyard!  Seems like you could use it, because you came this close to telling us more of the truth than we could handle in your press conference the other day. We knew that you were absolutely going to proceed in a lawful, orderly way to just about the same place we are at right now with respect to the surveillance state. We had guessed that Vladimir Putin was a slouching bad boy. We already figured that just saying the words “Edward Snowden” out loud would provoke you to make laughable claims about your own respect for our constitution.

But thank goodness you did not tell us that you were going to set up a Massachusetts version of the “fierce Andean rite” described in this morning’s NYT. Your very own Chilmark basketball court will be just as festive as Coyllurqui, Peru this week as you choose your next Fed chairperson by lashing together Larry Summers (as the bull) and Paul Krugman (as the apu, or condor, tied atop Summers, trying to scratch his eyes out). Janet Yellen, Paul Volcker, and other current and past Fed governors will be the bullfighters. An announcement of who survived is expected in the fall.

Sour fermented corn liquor will be served courtside, of course, but, Mr. President, do the American people a favor and have a smoke on us. You seem to have noticed that you, like the pope, never have to run for office again. That has to be a freeing thought. But you have at least a year or two left of making big decisions. Think of us, not your wife or daughters. They will be fine. Would you believe, by the way, that my mother-in-law turns 99 today? Been smoking since Calvin Coolidge was president. And still totally motivated to walk down the hall to the smoking room four or more times a day. Got her a fresh carton just the other day. Believe it, or not. Go for the gusto, Mr. President. It’ll make the rest of your presidency so much more relaxing for all of us citizens–excepting perhaps the losing Fed candidate, as you stub out your butt next to her or him.

Gridlock? How About A Sitdown Strike?

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Ezra Klein called “gridlock” a “metaphor that leads us awry,” because if Congress cannot get anything done, we get governing by waiver. He cites the waiving of rules set by No Child Left Behind, which expired in 2007, has not been updated, but continues as a kind of zombie baseline through proficiency goals and appropriations for states and districts that meet the goals, though targets are routinely waived. Likewise with the DREAM Act: it did not pass but the Obama administration no longer prosecutes “immigrants who fit DREAMER characteristics. They basically implemented the law by fiat.” Klein observes that Congress cannot agree either on what to do or on what they should prohibit the executive branch from doing. Republicans may see “lawlessness” in the actions of President Obama’s executive branch agencies, but to Democrats the utterly intransigent Republicans leave them no real choice. So “congressional gridlock is not like traffic gridlock” (Klein recalls for us the 60-plus mile backup that lasted ten days in China three years ago). “Things move…just (not) through the part of government they’re supposed to.”

The National Journal this morning has a story about Jeff Bezos with a different but complementary take on Washington dysfunction. Ronald Brownstein hypothesizes that the greater rigidity and ideological purism of Republicans is due to their more homogeneous electoral coalition. “The escalating blockade of Republican resistance to Obama’s initiatives–symbolized by mounting conservative demands to shut down the government to defund his health care law–increasingly resembles a kind of sit-down strike by nonurban white America against the racially diverse, urbanized electoral majority that twice elected the president.”

That sounds accurate to me, though the very local problems of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as he seeks reelection in Kentucky could have a wild-card effect on the Senate’s capacity to cut deals. Down on Fancy Farm in far western Kentucky, McConnell’s challengers on his right and left had the best lines the other day. McConnell has used the Fancy Farm event as a springboard for many years, but Democrat Alison Grimes got the better of him so far by saying that if McConnell’s “doctor told him he had a kidney stone he’d refuse to pass it.” And do you think President Obama might give him a waiver to pass the stone? “Please proceed, Senator”? No, a waiver for turtles would be too lawless even for Obama.

Our Opaque President’s Virtuoso Performance

President Obama’s dramatic monologue on the Trayvon Martin case in the context of the experiences of black people under suspicion and surveillance, including himself, reminded me of some words written decades ago–before Barack Obama lived in Hyde Park–by Charles H. Long while he was a professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago. Long wrote in his book of articles and essays, Significations, of the need of oppressed peoples to come to terms with their opacity in a world where the deity is white and transparent and darkness is an index of sinfulness. Commenting on both Hegel‘s master-slave dialectic and DuBois’ double-consciousness, Long points out that “the slaves had to come to terms with the opaqueness of their condition and at the same time oppose it. They had to experience the truth of their negativity and at the same time transform and create an-other reality. Given the limitations imposed upon them, they created on the level of the religious consciousness.” Long goes on to evaluate the “theologies opaque” of black American and native American writers as part and parcel of the “new liberation theologies…that carry a familiar Enlightenment ring.”

Barack Obama has (setting aside for the moment the startling unfolding saga of actual public debate over the surveillance state) presented himself consistently in nonracial or transracial terms, as a man who transcends any supposed antithesis between Enlightenment and faith, in short as a normally transparent person, at least compared to his mad dog opposition. But in order to respond authentically to the verdict of not guilty in Trayvon Martin’s killing, Obama did something we had not seen before: present himself not as a President who happens to be African-American but as a black man in America who happens to President, with the opacity–to white Americans–that comes with such a self-presentation. I hope I can say without being picayune that as important as it may be for white Americans to try to “wring bias” out of ourselves, it could be at least as important to just let the strange feeling of opacity come over us simply by imagining Barack Obama as a 35- or 40-year old being followed while shopping at Marshall Field’s in the Loop.

Desperately Seeking Rents

What, you may ask, is so awful about seeking rents? Paul Krugman‘s NYT column Friday on “Profits Without Production” looked at the problem of “monopoly rents” in the 21st-century American economy. He defines the term as “profits that don’t represent returns on investment, but instead reflect the value of market dominance,” and cites Apple as a prime example. He seems to be just warming up to his topic, promising future columns on what the “widening disconnect between profits and production” means for policy.

I was thinking about rent seeking in a distinct but related sense earlier this week as I read about the defeat of the farm bill in the House of Representatives as well as the market drop following the Fed plan to taper off its “QE3” bond-buying program.  What these two stories had in common was rent seeking and the pain of anticipated withdrawal therefrom. The phrase “rent seeking” was coined by economist Anne Krueger in a 1974 journal article focused largely on the heavily regulated economies of India and Turkey. She acknowledged that rent-seeking behaviors include bribery and corruption, but emphasized the “cleaner” types of rent seeking, such as competing for import licenses, which nevertheless result in deadweight losses to the economy as a whole. Gordon Tullock had the notion of rent seeking a few years earlier without the phrase itself, but he, James Buchanan and other economists, primarily on the libertarian side, have run with both the concept and the phrase for forty years now.

“Economic rent” has a different meaning than ordinary monthly rent on a home. It refers to any kind of unearned income, in the sense of excess returns above what would occur in a competitive market. Rent-seeking behavior, in short, is lobbying for a bigger slice of pie without doing anything to enlarge the pie. A modern economics term for an ancient set of practices. This sounds like something the right wing has accused liberals and bureaucrats of doing–and it is–but I would say the phenomenon of rent seeking crosses all ideological and economic class lines.

Last year’s election turned in large part, I think, on accusations involving rent seeking. Barack Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment was doubtless distorted and edited somewhat by Republicans, but in full context it was still at best unwise and at worst offensive. Sensible business owners are not unaware that they count on government to maintain roads and highways, maintain public order, and so on–but it may well have seemed to people who knew they had worked hard over years or decades that Obama was gratuitously accusing them of rent-seeking behavior. Mitt Romney certainly suffered from the leak of his comment at a fundraiser that “there are 47 percent of the people who are with (President Obama), who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims…These are people who pay no income tax… (My) job is not to worry about those people.”

As citizens our job is no longer to worry about Mitt Romney, or assess his own rent-seeking offenses. But to worry or be indignant about rent seeking does appear to be our frequent occupation. Once you start to look for it, rent seeking is all over the place (often with its evil cousins regulatory capture and moral hazard). Vilfredo Pareto (as in “Pareto optimality“) wrote in 1905 that human efforts “are utilized in two different ways: they are directed to the production or transformation of economic goods, or else to the appropriation of goods produced by others.” And in the mid-19th century John Stuart Mill wrote that it “is lamentable to think how a great proportion of all efforts and talents in the world are employed in merely neutralizing one another” (hat tip to Samuel Bowles, Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions, and Evolution, ch. 5). And speaking of surveillance, at least the second most offensive thing about the stream of news about it, to me, is the suspicion that the private contractors and the government agencies such as NSA are feathering their nests as much as or more than focusing on probable threats–that “privatization” of the security apparatus is a rentier’s dream and our troublesome task to disentangle.

We Don’t Need No Stinking Reliance Interests

In the stinking Fourth Amendment, that is

Which is of course not absolute–like the Fifth, and the Tenth, even the First–because making any one absolute would amount to making the Constitution a suicide pact.

But apologias for the surveillance regime status quo, and in particular the don’t worry be happy assertion that “if you aren’t doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about,” just do not get the point of the Bill of Rights.

Dick Cheney exuded an attitude of “you don’t need no stinking reliance interest in privacy or due process.” Barack Obama took a different, smoother path–perhaps designed to make it harder to pursue a reliance damage claim on lost privileges and immunities of citizenship.

First Responders to Dystopia

When the newspaper that first broke the NSA stories, the Guardian, has Rand Paul write a comment piece in the Guardian attacking President Obama for abandoning the civil libertarian faith he once had as a Senator, that is cruel but maybe fair. But to read James Sensenbrenner (author of the Patriot Act) op-ed, “This abuse of the Patriot Act must end,” in same Guardian right next to Edward Snowden interview, today–is something wicked this way coming?

Expect Apple to announce tomorrow that their new line of “29th Anniversary of Our 1984 Super Bowl Ad” Macbooks will have flatter, simplified choice architecture to let you opt in or out of your Fourth Amendment rights on all platforms, including OS X LOL Cat

A Modest Encroachment by Boundless Informant

A modest proposal to President Obama (and also all employees of the national security apparatus): Glad to hear you welcome debate, and of course you don’t like leaks.  And we the people, many of us, sometimes pretend to ourselves we can have security and privacy all at a low, low rate. But since, as you have said more than once, you are not running for anything again, and might just go Bulworth any minute–don’t let me stop you–how about an aboveboard debate on whether Ben Franklin’s famous thoughts on the false tradeoff between liberty and safety still apply at all. Isaiah Berlin wrote of the need for both negative liberty and positive liberty, cautioned against perversions of both, and anticipated without distress endless “haggling” over where to draw the frontier between private life and public authority: he could be a helpful voice as we sort through complicated issues.  There are a host of problems and issues worth talking about. But if you believe that we are only dealing with “modest encroachments” here, well, I have some metadata I’d like to sell you. How fruitful will a debate be if we cannot acknowledge that, unpleasant as it may be, neither our memories nor our judgments are entirely reliable. Why not give us your unadorned views as if you and your national security professionals were fallible and as if we were grownups.  Your oath to faithfully execute the office of President is explicitly to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. You know your job should not mean giving in to anyone, including Supreme Court justices, who see some amendments as absolute and others as flotsam. And we know the Constitution is not a suicide pact. But if your leadership of the national security state amounts to a continuation and intensification of the bad faith effort to make the President Commander-in-Chief of all Americans, our problems are really boundless.