Saturday, February 11, 2006

NYT: "Republicans on Hill Add Voice To Dissent Over Eavesdropping" (Sheryl Gay Stolberg)

"That is the abyss from which there is no return," Frank Church once warned of the technological developments that, if unchecked and unsupervised, could "make tyranny total in America." It's a concept a few members of Congress may be waking up to.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg offers "Republicans on Hill Add Voice To Dissent Over Eavesdropping" in this morning's New York Times (front page). From the article:

In interviews over several days, Congressional Republicans have expressed growing doubts about the National Security Agency program to intercept international communications inside the United States without court warrants. A growing number of Republicans say the program appears to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that created a court to oversee such surveillance, and are calling for revamping the FISA law.

The article paints a picture (intended by Stolberg or not) that's not pretty. I'm not referring to the Republicans here. Nor a need to "fact check" the article.

Rahm Emmanuel is noted for feeling that "Ms. [Heather] Wilson was most likely distancing herself from the White House to curry favor back home." (That's Stolberg's summary, not a direct quote from Emmanuel.)

Maybe you missed the one day of public hearings *last Monday*? (You can listen to them via Pacifica where they're archived on the main page.) If so, consider yourself lucky. Strategy trumped principles. Democrats (such as the disgusting Dianne Feinstein) worried so much about 'positioning the party' that they couldn't fight for the country.

With few exceptions the no-opposition-at-all party fell right in line with the Bully Boy spin. The 'strategy' (such as it was) found them thinking they could prove their own 'national security cred' by repeating over and over (and boy did they ever) that they were for spying on Al Qaeda.
Posturing and puffing out their chests, they were certainly focused on the next election cycle -- they just weren't focused on the country.

For all the people swearing by the latest campaign hula-hoop of "framing," the 'great minds' didn't grasp that their endless pontificating was giving Bully Boy just what he wanted, taking the issue of warrantless spying on Americans and turning it into a 'national security' battle. The 'national security' at stake was what the country is going to become and where it's headed.

But craven and cowardly, Democrats stepped forward (with few exceptions) to attest just how much they supported spying on Al Qaeda, over and over. As if that was the issue. It wasn't. But it's an election year and everyone's reading from the same page (of a campaign book as opposed to anything written about the Constitution).

It's the sort of posturing that led to McCarthyism. It's the sort of "me too!"ism that leads to every shameful event in our nation. Though Bully Boy wanted to make it into a 9-11 issue, Democrats didn't have to help him out. But they did.

"Framing" is one of those useless things that someone thinks up every decade. The actual thing being promoted has been around for years but the infantile minds jumping on the bandwagon are never aware of that fact. They think they've discovered the "cure" and they all jump on that decade's bandwagon. They rally 'round the "cause."

And the "cause" isn't about anything but winning the next election cycle. History books aren't focused on who used what fad to win an election cycle. History books focus on a struggle (and really bad ones on "officials"). Few Democrats made a case for history in the hearings. They also failed to make a case for the Constitution.

Posturing, which is all framing is, goes back in the United States before the nation-state was even formed, it's been known under many names and it didn't surface in this decade. But when children are excited over new toys, you try to let them have their fun . . . to a point. For instance, in the nineties when the adult-children were so convinced that Home Alone was some huge breakthrough in film comedy, it seemed a bit cruel to point out that there was nothing "new" or "breakthrough" about a film that recycled gags their grandparents and great-grandparents grew up on. Let them giggle and enjoy themselves, where's the harm?

The delight over "framing" has now entered the harm stage. Posturing, in the forties, led to the McCarthy era. Instead of calling it out for what it was (truly unAmerican), Truman and assorted others jumped on the bandwagon (steered by Nixon long before he ever got into the oval office). "Communists are bad!" was the talking point. And the framing of that time led not to the questioning of powers created and methods used but instead to the "Well I think it's bad too!" cries as people attempted to frame/posture in such a way that they couldn't be called "weak" or worse.

"Framing" was going to save us. It never has before but don't spoil the children's excitement. Let them have Christmas morning to be boisterous and excited. "Framing" (in its latest form) was going to provide the Democrats with the ability to win on "issues." It never has before, but let them have their excitement.

What we saw as senators framed/postured before Gonzales proved that "framing" will play out in this decade just like it has in every other. Going into that hearing, it was no secret that Bully Boy's "Why We Spy" spin (Amy Goodman coined the "Why We Spy" phrase). If our new toy was of any use at all, we'd see it in that hearing as it was used to take the issue off his favored terrain and placed, instead, into its proper context.

That didn't happen. For all the talk of it as a cure all (in its latest incarnation) it played out the way it always does: cover for people to hide behind. Instead of straight talk, Dems (with few exceptions) used "framing" for their own selfish means (the next election cycle) and the very serious issue was reduced to nothing more than a chance for politicians to do what they've always done best, grand stand with loud cries of "Me too!"

The "frame" going in and flaunted throughout the day was "I'm tough on Al Qaeda too!" Al Qaeda wasn't the issue. Al Qaeda was never the issue. Americans weren't enraged about Al Qaeda being spied upon. They were enraged about the calls and e-mails of Americans being under government watch. But that issue got lost as one after another, with few exceptions, the "opposition" had to rush in to say that they too were opposed to Communists, er terrorists.

Now petulant ones, who can't realize how they watered down the debate themsevles (their own party), rush forward to criticize others with cries of "___'s just worried because of her/his district!" I suppose that's a "frame" as well because it's about as useful and truthful as any other "frame." (What politician isn't worried about their own electorate? Including the pouty ones pointing fingers now?)

If we're done with the toys, and can face the fact that Christmas was sometime ago, maybe we can all be adult enough (or at least some of us?) to face the fact that "success" will be judged on something more than 2006 election turnouts? That what our country's facing requires more than framing/posturing to address?

Tools aren't answers and tools badly used (as they so frequently are) lead not to brave stands but to "me too!" moments that result in the shames of our nation. The Democrats could have staked their ground in opposition to warrantless spying. They didn't. With few exceptions, they all had their little prefaces, their opening remarks, that "strategy" told them was the way to reposition themselves and frequently they returned to those remarks. (Like Sandra Bulluck in Miss Congeniality tossing out "world peace" to get some easy applause in the question and answer segment.) But it's a way to "success" we're assured because "success" isn't measured by whether or not a principle or any ground was staked out, only on how it might play for the 2006 elections.

Suprisingly, some of the same people hailing the craven behavior as "successful" want to then criticize the media for its own craven behavior. (That's not a defense of the media, just pointing out that posturing by the politicians is being greeted in many circles as "success" while similar posturing by the media is being seen as "craven." Both are craven. And juvenile.)

Though the hearing was short on straight talk or truth telling, some of the same ones applauding the "reposition" by the Dems want to whine about the press coverage of the issue. Cowards follow. We don't have a brave press (with few exceptions) and we don't have brave politicians (ditto). The Democrats (as a group) rolled over in the hearing. The press did as well. Now that some Republicans are speaking out, for principle or due to electorate pressures (or a combination), little whiners want to come forward and saying, "They're only doing it because they're facing a tough election." (Jane Harman, to her credit, points out that Wilson had expressed concerns about the spying for some time.) Which is a bit like someone caught cheating on a test whining that someone else "only studied because she was worried about her grade!"

This time round, posturing came with psycho-babble and more recent pop-cultural refernces (Bill Cosby's Cliff Huxtable as the 'good, nuturing father' and other such nonsense). And those excited by the latest gadget and/or ignorant of their own nation's history, were gleeful.

Inside the paper (A11), Scott Shane offers "Attention in N.S.A. Debate Turns to Telecom Industry." From the article:

Some companies are said by current and former government officials to have provided the eavesdropping agency access to streams of telephone and Internet traffic entering and leaving the United States. The N.S.A. has used its powerful computers to search the masses of data for clues to terrorist plots and, without court warrants, zeroed in on some Americans for eavesdropping, those officials say.
Now the companies are in an awkward position, with members of Congress questioning them about their role in the eeavesdropping. On Thursday two Democratic senators, Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, wrote to the chief executives of AT&T, Sprint Nextel and Verizon, asking them to confirm or deny a report in USA Today on Monday that said telecommunications executives had identified AT&T, Sprint and MCI (now part of Verizon) as partners of the agency.

Look for the telecom industry to say (frame?) that they, too, don't like terrorists. As if that's the issue but Dems certainly acted in the hearing as though it was so expect others to line up behind them. And look for Al Gore to continue to get the Henry Wallace treatment (by the press and by the Democratic Party). The reasons for both go to "framing." Little Petey Beinart (small teeth, smaller ideas) will probably write one of his Milkquetoast babbles defending it all. He'll be "framing" too.

The e-mail address for this site is

[C.I. note: Post corrected thanks to Jim who called to say "That was this past Monday." It seems so much longer that we were in DC. But Jim's correct and I'm wrong. Thanks for catching that.]