On the NSA's Monitoring of Personal Data

I continue to believe that the important result of the current NSA data monitoring revelation is the need to make better decisions about the use of our personal information. Over the weekend, there were a few people who commented on various facets of the problem and cover the ground I've been thinking about fairly well.

To wit:

"When the government grabs every single fucking telephone call made from the United States over a period of months and years, it is not a prelude to monitoring anything in particular. [...] When they ask for everything, it is not for specific snooping or violations of civil rights, but rather a data base that is being maintained as an investigative tool."

"For us, now — years into this war-footing and this legal dynamic — to loudly proclaim our indignation at the maintenance of an essential and comprehensive investigative database while at the same time insisting on a proactive response to the inevitable attempts at terrorism is as childish as it is obtuse."


"[B]ecause what I cherish most about America is our open society, and I believe that if there is one more 9/11 — or worse, an attack involving nuclear material — it could lead to the end of the open society as we know it."

"Imagine how many real restrictions to our beautiful open society we would tolerate if there were another attack on the scale of 9/11."


"The danger, it seems to me, is not surveillance per se. We have already decided, most of us, that life on the grid entails a certain amount of intrusion. Nor is the danger secrecy [...] The danger is the absence of rigorous, independent regulation and vigilant oversight to keep potential abuses of power from becoming a real menace to our freedom."



This isn't Jackboots, People! (Yet)

I find myself embattled with my usual crowd of political friends as I have taken the unpopular view that I think that Barack can be trusted to administer the NSA wiretapping and data collection programs properly.

There is one thing that I have read repeatedly, both in personal conversations and in the media, that I need to dismiss. That canard goes something like, "Sure, if we do these programs, we will eventually collar some bad guys. It would be even better if we allowed the police to search everyone's home."

This is a classic case of false equivalence. In fact, the entire Fourth Amendment, "unreasonable search" argument is slightly off, in my opinion. (Not, mind you, that I am entirely comfortable with government monitoring.)

There are two points I want to make. First, these programs are not actually interfering with your life in any way, as would a periodic search of your house. The phrase "unreasonable search" also includes "and seizure". While I am as enthusiastic as anyone about interpreting the Constitution in a modern context, looking at information that one leaves sitting around other people's computers is not comparable to jackboots stomping all over your carpets.

The other point is that, given my intent to charitable interpret the situation, I can easily see this more as 'community policing' than searching everyone's homes.

In the community policing model, cops are sent to basically  spend their lives in a neighborhood. The goal is that they can unobtrusively become aware of the nature of the community and its inhabitants so that they can, without having to hassle everyone, know who is causing problems and head off crimes before damage is done.

The knowledge in that neighborhood cops head is an uncontrolled, detailed set of information that could be used for good or evil. The NSA database could be characterized as analogous to that cop's awareness. Given proper controls, it could be seen as a way for defenders to see know what is going on in a way that allows an overview.

It could be providing a capability where, as the cop notices that a handful of young men are suddenly flashing rolls of cash with no apparent explanation, the NSA guy could see that there is phone traffic focusing on some location that procured unusual amounts of potentially explosive fertilizer recently.

For me, the whole thing is presently acceptable because I believe that the President has the good intentions, moral fortitude and discipline to administer the program fairly. That is, I am confident that this particular database is run according to a set of rules defined by a guy I trust.

For it to be acceptable in the long run, it has to be protected against the next George Bush. That is, legal rules must be created to turn abuse into a crime and establish permanent norms that prevent this tool from turning into a monster. That also means that the corporate databases from which the NSA derives it's database must be controlled as well, including responsibility for the uses to which their data is put by others, including the NSA.

This program is not going  away and I'm not sure that I want it to. I am sure that we do not have sufficient protections concerning the use of our personal data in any context, governmental or corporate. That should change.

Without NSA Monitoring

An undercover guy was in a bar and had a conversation where a guy he knows to be a really bad person tells him to stay out of the subway for the foreseeable future. He leers and says that he's heard something really big is going down. He doesn't know much but what he does know sends a serious chill down the back of the good guy. The undercover guy tries to get more information but can only learn that the guy found out about this while overhearing a cell phone conversation in a bar last Thursday.

He contacts his bosses with the information. The undercover guy is hopeful that the problem can be tracked down because the bar where the cellphone conversation happened  probably only had twenty people pass through it on a quiet Thursday night. There would only be a handful of cell calls from the place. That list should be available at the click of a mouse. Finding the cellphone on the other end should be another click. A quick check of the location data for those phones reveals that they have been talking to a phone that came up in another investigation.

Wait! They can't do that. We decided that, instead of "a click of the mouse", they had to fill out a form, get a warrant and wait for those things to be approved. Oh, and they had to know the name and phone number of the guy in the bar before they could get the warrant. Since they don't know that, they don't even apply.

The government defenders are saying that a plot to blow up bombs in the New York subway was foiled a while ago. Imagine how frustrated that undercover guy and his support team would feel as they thought about that overheard conversation. Imagine how annoyed you'd be at your mother's funeral.

IRS Political Targeting: Simply Looking at the Obvious

I tried to figure out why on earth these IRS people would target political groups based on ideology. My experiences with the IRS have made me believe that it's a remarkably professional organization. I can't imagine what would cause them to care about the political orientation of their victims.

Duh! I slap my forehead. As reported, there was a huge increase in non-profit companies leading up the the last election. The names and keywords they looked at clearly indicate the likelihood of illegal political activism. How else would you do the first selection on targets for investigation.

"Tea Party" and "Patriot" are usually included in the names of political action groups. It's as if these people are being criticized for looking at non-profits with names including "Republican Action Network".

Global Warming

If you look at the surface of a pot full of water at room temperature, the surface will be smooth. If you heat it, you will see little waves and undulations on the surface. Those will become more frantic as the temperature rises. When it breaks into a boil, it will change to have bubbles and splashes and roiling waves.

When you co2 collects heat in the atmosphere, it changes. As a gas, it changes the way it absorbs and releases moisture, mostly in the direction of absorbing more. However, the more that it absorbs, the more the water wants to fall out as rain. When the air cools, because of nightfall, seasons, geographic features, some falls out.

Places where the air was being extra absorbent will have extra drought. Places where the air cools, will have extra rain. Places in-between will have in-between weather but, since the world is heating up, there will be fewer of them.

You can't predict the exact pattern of splashes and bubbles on the surface of the pot of water when it crosses the threshold into boiling. You only know it's going to be intensely agitated. As our atmosphere crosses the threshold of absorption, we don't get to know exactly what will happen, only that it's going to be a lot different and more intense.

Good writing. Interesting story. Witty not Glib

I read a lot and I'm pretty open-minded about what I read. That means that I often read things that are flawed. There are two flaws that are almost universal. One is that I can perceive the author's overall outline for the book. I can imagine that the current passage was responding to "Build suspense by having hero get trapped." I prefer that the story follow its own logic. The other flaw is verbosity. Whether it's extraneous action or endless site descriptions or deep diving into the character's internal dialog, I'll be reading (or driving along listening) and think, "Good god! Get on with it!"

I explain these ideas to make clear exactly what is NOT wrong with John Scalzi in general and this book, Agent to the Stars, especially. The guy has an exquisitely organic sense of story telling. I've read several of his books (I'm inclined toward science fiction) and I can't really ever think of an occasion where something happened merely to serve the writing. Even better, when he says stuff, it counts. In this book, when I gave a thought to the writing, per se, it was to remark to myself that this prose was wonderfully bright and lucid.

I love absurdity and comedy. I love references that are 'au courant' for the culture. Sadly, authors that have the kind of awareness to write that sort of thing are very, very often glib. The references are gratuitous and superficial. I feel like they are showing off.

Again, Scalzi does NOT have this problem either. This book is written for the moment. It revels in the modern entertainment culture. But, the things that are said, as with the jokes, absurdities and goofy plot twists seem natural and they serve the story. Instead of seeming like decorations added to beef up appeal, with Scalzi these things create a sense of place and make sense in context. If you removed them, the story would fall apart.

Agent to the Stars is also poignant. I was delighted as I realized that, along with really pleasant entertainment, that Scalzi was actually saying something. I'm no english major but, I am confident that this would stand up to a bunch of solid book club discussion of its themes and values. It was interesting and, as it came to a conclusion, I was charmed by the way he brought his idea to fruition.

On the Idea that Reproductive Freedom Should be Decided by Voters

The idea that we should leave the idea that women should be enslaved to a fetus in the hands of voters is insane. Freedom should not be subject to a vote. Especially in a world where those voters are foolishly swayed by emotion, propaganda and passion. Women are free creatures. Their bodies are their own. Anything else is slavery.

Oh, you think the rights of the fetal 'person' should trump her foolish freedom.

Imagine, a woman is put into a dungeon by a person. He or she only allows this person to serve as a slave to his or her needs. The woman is trapped for years and, one day finds a knife, stabs that person to death and escapes.

You're not saying, She's a murderer. You are saying that her freedom was deeply infringed and she took the only action possible to regain it.

You say that you can't condone murder. Well, if you are a sane person, you just did. No woman should have her life ruined in service to another person.

The anti-choice argument gets even more specious when we are reminded that the fetus is a pulsating lump of meat. If the woman wants to abort, it doesn't have a family, any way to care for itself, or any other role in society except as a parasite.

The idea that a woman should be forced to nurture this parasite because *you* think it's a good idea is immoral.

Considering 'Public Safety Exception'

The courts originally articulated the 'Public Safety Exception' in the case of a cop who, roughly speaking, asked a bad guy about more bad guys out of sight in a violent situation. When the cop testified about that conversation in the trial, it was thrown out since it was not done in the context of a Miranda warning. A (conservative) Supreme Court in the eighties said that was silly. The cops could not be expected to follow procedures when lives were at imminent risk.

During the modern era of international, violent conspiracy, the government has found itself with a nasty problem. After Miranda, a (supposed) bad guy can get a lawyer. During interrogation, the lawyer is there to prevent the interrogator from getting too much information from the bad guy.

This is the normal, American process intended to prevent the cops from coercing people into incriminating themselves and makes a lot of sense. However, it is really frustrating when you think that the guy might know the location of a factory making bombs or biological weapons.

It turns out that there are interrogation techniques that are pretty effective in extracting information from people who don't really want to talk. This is the category of things that are being referred to when people say that "torture is not the most effective way to get information.

However, these techniques require (I surmise) a prolonged game where the interrogator is able to establish a complicated rapport with the person. That rapport is not really possible when you have a third party, the lawyer, interrupting and saying, "Don't answer that," and "That's not necessarily true," and "He's trying to trick you here." That is, the presence of a lawyer is an active impediment to finding out the location of the bomb factory.

Tough luck!, some might say. Our system is based on the premise that it's better to allow a hundred guilty people go free than to put a single innocent person in jail. This premise responds the the very real, very important danger of government overreach. Government through history have used the legal system to illegitimately imprison enemies.

The challenge is the modern age where there are technologies available that allow killing on a scale never considered by the 'let a hundred guilty go free' idea. Yesterday, that one bad guy could, at worst, run around shooting people. Today, there are bombs, dirty bombs and biological weapons that can kill or injure thousands. Letting one bad guy go free who can kill thousands of people changes the calculation if all of a hundred times the number innocents that were protected are killed.

It turns logic on its head to say that, if a person is so bad that they are trying to kill thousands, we have to choose between preventing the killing and putting the bad guy in jail. But it also violates our sense of decency to allow authorities to have a team of highly sophisticated interrogators work over a person and make him or her face it alone. The rules that insist that a person must have a lawyer is very important.

But so is closing the bomb factory.

A decent government is based on the idea of balancing help and harms and this is a balancing act for which we are painfully unprepared. Liberals knee-jerk against the use of state power to manipulate individuals. Conservatives knee-jerk in favor of maximum use of state power to protect society. Over the last several years, the balancing point has moved strongly toward protectiveness.

The Bush administration took a pretty simple view of the matter: protecting society is always more important than civil rights. Obama has been more nuanced. He accepts rules but has transformed them in ways that codify a diminished view of civil rights. In particular, he has claimed that the 'Public Safety Exception' applies to more than the instant safety of the police and public. He says it applies to the finding of the bomb factory, too.

In the original use of the exception, it was very easy to know if it was properly applied. Not so in the modern use. If the CIA has been tracking a guy and claims he knows the location of the bomb factory, there is a long leap of faith to believe that he should be denied normal legal protections, especially since much of the information can't be revealed without compromising the information sources that make you know about the bomb factory in the first place.

The country needs a process to deal with these things that protects our basic constitutional civil rights. If all leaders were as sophisticated as Barack Obama, it would be acceptable to leave the decision to the good judgement of the government. The problem is that we could elect another George Bush any time and be faced with a leader whose disdain for civil rights resulted in many people being imprisoned without any trial at all after having information extracted from them in a way that, was it used in a trial, would make a mockery of our judicial system.

In this case, the use of the 'Public Safety Exception' distorts the idea of imminent threat beyond recognition because it is dealing with a real issue that is important but has not been accommodated by the law in any way. We need to find a way to deal with the need to extract information from people who know information that is important to the safety, perhaps the survival of our society. It's not that the person is a terrorist, or an enemy, or even a criminal.

  • We need to figure out a way to decide that a person knows something essential to the survival of society and can be compelled to reveal it. There are some challenges in this:

  • If the person is not otherwise subject to the justice system, what happens? (Imagine a person who inadvertently found the location of the nuke but, for some reason is unwilling to tell. Can he be interrogated, even though he's not even vaguely suspected of committing a crime?)

  • How can this process be constructed so that information gained doesn't ruin our ability to have a fair trial for the person? (Imagine that innocent guy above actually is guilty of, say, parking illegally and that information is revealed during said interrogation. What happens to his parking trial considering that he is 100% innocent of involvement in the nuke problem?)

  • How do we adjudicate the boundary between 'risk to society' and 'very bad behavior'? If we allow the use of sophisticated interrogation, do we want it used to, say, cause a gang member to reveal all of the details of his gang because they are bad guys and going to do bad things in the future? What about a guy who knows about irregularities at Goldman Sax? It would be very useful to know if he knows things that might let us prevent another Great Recession.

  • It is legitimately important that our society has the ability to extract existentially important information from people who do not want to give it. The use of the idea 'Public Safety Exception' is dangerously inappropriate. It is not sufficiently accountable. It also does not provide adequate latitude. Some accountable process is needed that protects us from government overreach yet also supports just outcomes for bad guys is needed.

    I'm really getting pissed about liberal treatment of Barack Obama

    When a battle commander sends soldiers off to neutralize a machine gun nest, there is going to be a cost in lives. He or she does it because dealing with the enemy is so important that the tradeoff is justified and essential.

    We are in a fucking battle. Barack Obama and us are confronted with a vicious set of opponents. They have stymied our progress in many brutal, unfair and dishonorable ways. Our President is trying to find a way to get things done. When he tries to pass an obvious and moderate jobs act, he finds that path blocked by a machine gun. When he tries to make an easy-going and conciliatory budget plan, we all get screwed.

    Unlike you and me, he's determined not to just flap his gums but to fucking get something done. Sacrifices have to be made. Nobody likes it and, if you think that Barack Obama has an affirmative desire to cut Social Security benefits, you're deeply misguided.

    Just as we have been screaming about the need to get additional revenue for years, the other side has been screaming about entitlement cuts. It is very, very difficult, perhaps literally impossible, for him to say anything that can get a reaction. He is fighting a war on our behalf and I am truly pissed about the negative attitude that is being expressed about Barack Obama's administration.

    Here's what I think is going on and that, if you were thinking right, you would  say: Barack Obama is trapped in a battle with negative forces. Those people have cornered us on the battlefield. They are forcing Barack Obama to talk about changing Social Security. We have to fight those bastards so our guy doesn't have to sacrifice this point. They suck.

    Because, that's closer to correct. Barack Obama is a good guy. Sure, he's more calculating now than before. Sure, he's been beaten down by years of partisan conflict but, there is nothing I can see in his face when he is interacting with that kid who was 'Kid President' on Monday. This guy hasn't changed his values any more than Eisenhower wanted more dead soldiers in World War II ...

    (and before you start accusing me of being extreme, I stand by the judgement that we are engaged in a battle for our future of equal proportions to that of WWI and yes, I know the difference between 'total world war' and what is happening here; today is very, very destructive and much longer)


    NOT, "Barack is so bad. The best way to make him do better for us is to hassle him bitterly over everything he does that doesn't suit us. Let's undermine him."

    I really think it is time for us to fall in line. Make the argument against the policy but undertand two things, Barack Obama has fundamental values that are largely consistent with our most liberal ideals. The bad compromises that he is making are a consequence of having to do business with very bad people, the Republicans.

    Sorry, Kids, I'm OK with Obama's Drones


    The first thing I have to note is that I do not believe there is anything "emerging" about a president's power to kill someone in a way that is nearly arbitrary. As a consequence of his role as Commander in Chief, all presidents have had the ability to order someone killed. The only thing that's emerging, imho, is that we know about it. I am 100% certain that the cold war saw many murders, for example. In theory, I think that's a good thing.

    I read some article about the structure of government. It talked about the reason we have a president at all. Basically, the founders realized that we need the specific, directed 'agency' of an individual to help move the country forward. Imagine a battlefield where the final decision has to be signed by three guys. One would expect that the time needed to bring everyone to agreement would be very dangerous to the troops. It seems clear that it would not work at all unless a single, undivided mind were able to digest the information and decide, for better or worse, on a course of action.

    Imagine, then, a situation where we have changed the Commander in Chief so that he does not have the ability to make a unilateral decision to stop an attack. He has to get two other people to sign off on a drone strike– and then, one of them refuses to sign off. This kind of happened when Bill Clinton had Osama bin Laden in the crosshairs of a drone (or something) in the fall of 2000. Bill was weakened politically and had been savaged earlier for having bombed something so he didn't take him out. Oops.

    Which is to say, he allowed himself to be conscripted into a political committee that prevented him from taking action. A year later, 3000 Americans dead and ten years later another 3500 soldiers and more than half a million Iraqis dead. Not a good bargain.

    So, that makes two points: first, the president has always had this power and second, in some circumstances, it can be an unambiguously good thing. The difference between it being a good thing and a bad thing? The nature of the president.


    It's my opinion that George Bush was stupid and mean. He invaded Iraq when anyone who wasn't completely taken over with emotion knew it was a completely stupid idea. Given this argument, I'm less condemning of those who supported him but still think they and he were fools. It was obvious on the face that he was acting in bad faith. I will never understand how anyone could fail to see it.

    Obama, not so bad. I combine the reality that, he has the ability to order any soldier to, "Go shoot that person," and he has the responsibility to prevent America from coming to harm with my observation of his decency. I see nothing "on the face" of things that suggests that Obama is stupid, mean or unwise. I see the opposite.

    In the grand discussion about this, people make the point to me that I might be right about Obama but, shouldn't the next Bush be constrained? Others have said that it might be legal and inevitable but isn't it immoral? To the first, I reply that I fear the bad president so, work hard to avoid that. Only vote for good people. To the second, I wonder what moral even means in this world.

    I note as preface that, Obama and I were pretty much on the same page about the war on terror before he got elected. He was very skeptical about much of the hard-hearted international action, down on the war in Iraq, Guantanamo, indefinite detention, etc. Almost immediately, his viewpoints changed dramatically, He used to oppose warrantless wiretaps. Now he supports them. (Though Richard Clarke tells me that they are conducted very properly under Obama.) His foreign policy became very much like George Bush's. What happened to change his mind?

    If you told me that George Bush had changed and was now intellectually curious, generous and thoughtful, I would not believe it. I am certain that it is almost impossible for a person to undergo such fundamental change. I believe that's the case in the other direction, too. Which is to say, I don't think that Obama went from being a brilliant person with a long career of working for the betterment of people and an inquiring, philosophical bent, to being a hard-hearted dick who thinks it's fun to order drones to blow people to bits.

    I believe that the fundamental person doesn't change. What does? The stuff he knows.

    It my guess that Barack got into office and got his ultra cool security clearance and then he got briefed. The evidence of his changed attitude suggests that he went, "Holy fuck! I would never have believed it."

    For most of the post-911 era, I have said something to the effect that it must be a lot harder to put together a terror team than it seems. Otherwise, where are the acts of terror? It's not as if we don't have a huge country with lots of guns, fertilizer for big bombs, dynamite for smaller ones. It's not like we couldn't be thrown into an incredibly destructive spiral by four or five explosions in crowded malls. I thought that there must be something a lot harder about it than I could imagine.

    I now guess that it's that the big problem it's getting past our warrantless wiretaps and whatever other machiaveliian crap the national security apparatus is doing to protect us. I now suspect that Barack Obama got a look at the number of plots, the number of near misses, the destructive potential of those intended attacks and said, I repeat, "Holy fuck!" I don't know of any other way to explain his change of heart on these matters.

    Well, except one. My nephew suggests that Obama got into the government and they brainwashed and fooled him. Of course, that's possible but, I think, extremely unlikely. He is a brilliant guy and, except for this national security stuff, he hasn't shown much change in his values. If there were government organizations able to cause a president to fundamentally turn around on issues, I'm guessing there would be more examples for Obama.

    Which then brings us back to wondering if the drone strikes are a bad thing. Even if, the president has the ability and we need him to have the ability and we know that there are bad guys out there, is this a wise thing to do? My answer is, I have no idea. I accepted a doctor's analysis of my brother's kidney disease last year, even though the stakes were as high as possible, because I know that, even if he's not perfect, the doctor knows a lot more than I do. I feel the same way about Obama.

    I do worry that he's miscalculating the nasty effect on our international reputation. I also worry that his acts might embolden a future George Bush to act on his daddy issues in the international arena. I am not happy about the fear and damage to innocents in target areas.

    But I also figure that Barack is likely to be worried about these same things and, given his infinitely better access to information, I guess that he's more likely to make a good decision about it than either myself or Ed Schulz (and all the other whiney liberals) could do.


    One of the great innovations of the Obama era was to remind us that due process does not only refer to the courts. For example, the Supreme Court considered the Florida recount in 2000 to be invalid because it would have been a failure of due process. The counts, being conducted differently in different places would result in each citizen having a different process that, in their opinion, was not sufficiently 'due'.

    I use this example for two reason. If anyone knows the definition of due process, it's the justices on the Supreme Court. They realize, as Obama's people have now reminded us, that due process exists in a million forms. What's required is that the process is 'due', ie, "of proper quality or extent". The other reason I use this is to remind us that judicial proceedings, even when 'due', can be completely, politically, mindlessly wrong.

    So, what's the due process that people are worried about with drones? Mainly two things. There is no trial for the condemned and that there is no trial for the killer, in this case, the president. (I say trial, you say review or transparency, in any case, no airing of the facts for judgement). Both are good principles but being thought about simplistically.

    Obama has made clear that there is a process and that, in his opinion as the leader of the country, it is 'due'. It does not involve the courts. It involves some other process that he feels is sufficiently thoughtful that he can go to sleep at night after having ordered some guy to be killed. Were it George Bush who told me this, I would say, "Fuck you. You'd order a killing of someone because he insulted your daddy." Not so with Obama.

    The media and congress are all enraged that they don't get to know enough to decide whether he is right. I sympathize, for sure, but what on earth makes them think they could make a better decision? Certainly they cannot possibly have access to all the secret stuff. That's obviously a disastrous course. Without that, how could anyone believe that they are doing any more than second guessing?

    The Obama administration is releasing papers explaining its legal justification. What has happened so far and will happen as more comes out, is that people will nitpick. They will say, "not even directly engaged in an attack? That's simply immoral. If he's not attacking then go arrest him," and so on. A complicated topic like this necessarily has many components that you can argue with. Even more because we can never know half of the story.

    Sure, the guy was not actually engaged in an attack but, he was incredibly charismatic and gaining a following at a terrifying pace. He hadn't ever actually suggested violence himself but has a patron who has already bankrolled several terrorist attacks that have killed many people. His politics are viciously anti-American and we know that a dozen of the nastiest terrorist guys are part of his gang.

    Given that story, you could treat him like we treat criminals in America. Wait until he commits a crime and then arrest him. Or, until he has put the plan into place.

    But what if Barack can easily see where this is going? What if he knows that this guy is putting people in the mood for sacrifice and violence very effectively and, the longer he is allowed to do so, the greater the potential for violence will be? What if he has seen this before a dozen times and, when he didn't send in the drones soon enough, there were another dozen vicious people that our security people had to deal with.

    Do we really want Barack to be looking over his shoulder? To be making the calculation in ihis head, "even though I know that this is going to end badly, I will lose so much support in Congress that I won't be able to pass the extension for unemployment benefits that millions depend on?" Or some other nasty tradeoff.

    I don't actually think Barack is saintly. I just think he is as good as me and I know that I would not kill some bad guy who was only mildly bad. (Unlike Bush, who I think would make bad judgements.) The only serious leap I make in my analysis is where I infer that the terrorist threat caused Barack his "Holy fuck!" moment.

    ANOTHER CHAPTER: American Citizen

    I've never thought this was an important point. It's my opinion that the Constitution applies to the government, not the people, and that everyone the government touches is protected by the Constitution. I am furious (and here Obama gets my full opprobrium) about the indefinite detention of immigration violators. The idea that they do not get trials, a lawyer, etc, merely because they are not citizens seems completely immoral to me.

    So, Anwar al Awlaki deserves the same treatment, to my mind, as does Osama bin Laden. Whatever process is 'due', should be the same. I consider the notion that he deserves more consideration because he is an American to be flawed on its face.

    But then, one worries, does that mean that Barack can send a drone into your neighborhood to kill your American ass? What's to stop him from sliding down some slippery slope and declaring martial law, killing everyone, sending us all to Guantanamo? If he can kill al Awlaki, why not you and me? Of course, that's just silly: you are not a terrorist, neither am I.

    The old 'nuclear bomb in downtown LA' scenario is so overused that it's become a canard but, that doesn't mean it's entirely useless. It is possible and, so are lots of other things that are equally bad. Would you really prevent Obama from torturing someone to find out where the bio-terror vial is? Would you really prevent him from sending soldiers to capture the terrorist cell while they are putting on their armor in a suburban house before they drove the the Mall of America? Would you really prevent Obama from using a drone to blow up a truck full of fertilizer bomb while it's on the outskirts of Denver? Just because it's in America or it might be an American citizen?


    I think the principle applies everywhere. If it is important to prevent mass murder then the citizenship of the bad guy is not important. Nor is the nature of the process. Nor is the means. The only questions I want answered are: Will the prevention happen in time? Is it going to be effective? And (and I agree that this is very important) will the right people, and only the right people, be killed?

    For me, the conclusion is pretty clear. First, if I were president and was presented with a law that said, "You can't do this!", I reply, "Sorry, but you can't take away my role as Commander in Chief nor my obligation to protect our citizens, so forget about it." That is, it is an intrinsic power of the Presidency. Second, I accept as real the threat that is being addressed in this way. And, third, with some reservations, I think that the person who is making the judgment is more likely than most to be doing it correctly. While I am ok with people chewing this over in the public dialog, I conclude that the situation is as it should be.