Morning Report 1/22/06 Paying Attention


Time to start doing some spying of our own

That’s the problem: Listen to Bush tell us he’s listening.

As details unfold about the Bush regime’s spy plot against its citizens, one thing is becoming clear: The government and its operatives are listening much more closely to us than we are to them.

The NSA, the most powerful domestic intelligence agency in the world, is trained on our behavior — on our non-criminal, constitutionally protected behavior.

We need to start spying on our government — no, not the kind of spying that Larry Franklin just got sent to prison for.

The closest thing we’ve had to a congressional hearing on the Bush regime’s illegal spying on Americans is the January 20 rump session by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee: “Constitution in Crisis: Domestic Surveillance and Executive Power.”

Spend a couple of hours listening to the hearing, or read the transcripts, and you’ll learn that our government considers a Quaker meeting a “threat.”

One of the people who testified before John Conyers and the other Democrats — for all the good it did — was D.C. law prof Jonathan Turley, now a celebrity on the talk-show circuit but someone I remember from my days in Denver as a key figure in unmasking government chicanery involving the nation’s biggest storehouse of plutonium, the Rocky Flats plant.

In the current (even more explosive) crisis, Turley has pinned the tail on the elephant, accusing George W. Bush of criminal behavior. Turley is correct; check it out for yourself. But he went beyond that to put Bush’s actions in context with two former lying presidents:

In some ways, it was inevitable that we would find ourselves at this historic confrontation. Bush has long viewed the law as some malleable means to achieve particular ends, rather than the ends itself. In this sense, there is an eerie similarity between the views of Bush and two of his predecessors: Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Beyond the fact that these two presidents share the ignominy of being accused of high crimes and misdemeanors, they shared a deep inherent flaw as individuals: They were relativists who treated morals or the law as fluid concepts that could be bent. A relativist believes that there are no absolute truths, but rather that morals or laws differ according to the context and people involved.

If that sounds like a sermon, well, this is Sunday. But Turley’s point is something that even Godless atheists need to hear:

George Bush is a study in relativism. He has long claimed unchecked authority after he declared a “war on terror.” He became a maximum leader subject to few, if any, legal limitations. Repeatedly, the White House has engaged in a type of reverse engineering. Rather than explain the scope of lawful conduct and develop operations within those lines, the president routinely creates operations and then asks lawyers to conform the law to them.

In his recent speech defending his eavesdropping policy, Bush explained that “right after September 11, I knew we were fighting a different kind of war,” and so he solicited different ways to gather information. Once he decided on the operation, his legal staff proceeded in justifying the operation as a legal matter. The problem is that the operation called for officials to commit a clear crime under federal law: intercepting telephone calls in the USA without a court order.

Then Turley connects Bush to Nixon to Clinton:

Bush’s claim of inherent authority to circumvent federal laws is virtually identical to the argument made by Nixon in his model of the “Imperial Presidency.” Over time, Bush has combined a relativistic view of the law with an imperial model of the presidency. Also as Nixon did, Bush surrounded himself with lawyers — such as former attorney general John Ashcroft and current Attorney General Alberto Gonzales — who told him what he wanted to hear: that once he declared a “war” on terror, he vested himself with maximum powers and was free to use virtually any means to achieve his chosen ends.

Ironically, though Republicans will shudder at the comparison, Bush shares this flaw with Clinton, who was a moral relativist. Despite his convenient moments of religiosity, Clinton defined morals solely by their consequences. He did not appear to hesitate to lie under oath or to the American people when confronted with his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Only after a certain blue dress proved that he lied did Clinton embrace contrition and seek forgiveness.

Bush is no moral relativist. He is a legal relativist. While he views morals in absolute terms, he sees the law as fluid and fungible. Just as any moral excuse will satisfy a moral relativist, any legal argument satisfies a legal relativist.

If you missed the C-SPAN broadcast of Turley, James Bamford, former Reagan era Justice official Bruce Fein, and other witnesses, I’m sure you’re not alone, because, as I said, Americans aren’t listening.

That’s not meant to be wordplay. It’s a warning of a full-blown assault on the Constitution.

The Bush regime’s spying on Americans puts Nixon’s “enemies list” to shame.

So we now are learning just how closely the government is listening. Meanwhile, are we hearing what’s going on in the halls of government?

You know you have a constitutional crisis when a number of major scandals start colliding with one another and reveal interconnections.

In this case, we know that the government has been listening to innocent dissenters, to people protesting the war in Iraq. That connects the spy scandal to a host of other dangerous behavior by our government. In just a brief attempt to cut through the maze, follow the dots:

  • The most powerful member of the U.S. House, Tom DeLay, is under investigation for ramming through a key gerrymandering of Texas congressional districts that cemented GOP control of Congress. DeLay is also facing monumental influence-peddling and campaign-finance charges, some of them related to Wampumgate.
  • The most powerful D.C. lobbyist, Jack Abramoff — the locus of the Wampumgate scandal — has already pled guilty to being the most prominent D.C. gangster in generations.
  • The most powerful operative of the Christian right’s ascendancy to power late last century, Ralph Reed, is a key figure in the Wampumgate scandal.
  • The most powerful White House aide in recent memory, Karl Rove, is not only an old pal of Abramoff’s but is also entangled in the Plamegate scandal’s coverup of our pre-war plot to unjustifiably invade Iraq.
  • The most powerful aide to the most powerful vice president in U.S. history, Scooter Libby, has already been charged in the Plamegate scandal, and Rove could wind up indicted as well.
  • The most powerful U.S. lobby for right-wing Israelis, AIPAC, is up to its pupik in a spy scandal. On Friday, Larry Franklin, who worked for putz Doug Feith in Don Rumsfeld‘s Pentagon, was sentenced to more than a dozen years in prison for spying on the U.S. government on behalf of right-wing Israelis and their U.S. sympathizers.
  • Doug Feith helped maneuver lucrative war contracts to Dick Cheney‘s Halliburton.

Who says our government doesn’t work well?

But is anybody besides our government listening?