Thursday, May 11, 2006

A lesson: It's always as bad as you suspect

As the blogswarm over what has become the latest and greatest outrage over the domestic spying scandal begins to die down, I think that it behooves us--the liberal blogging community--to learn an unforgettable lesson from this incident. A lesson that needs to impact how we look at every issue currently on the radar from the imminent attack on Iran to the imminent attempts to outlaw birth control.

It's a lesson that we can only learn by remembering the totality of the NSA scandal--as it has unfolded from beginning to end (and that's not always easy, as obsessed as we have become, and rightly so, with the never-ending 24-hour news cycle.)

Remember, folks, that this scandal started even long before James Risen's book, and the leak to the NY Times. Those who have watched the documentary Unconstitutional, released on DVD in October 2004, know that there used to be considerable concern in the liberal community that the FISA court was simply a rubber-stamp court--and that the small number of warrant rejections by the court was troubling enough. The idea that the administration might be bypassing even this rubberstamp court was seen as almost tinfoil-hattish. After all, why would they take the risk?

Then came the leak, and James Risen's book. All of a sudden, the right wing was claiming, amazingly, that the FISA court was either inefficient or a left-wing liberal court devoutly to be ignored. But, it was insisted, the spying without a warrant was only being done on a select few domestic-to-international calls to and from suspected terrorists.

Bad enough, we said. Bad enough that this administration scuttled the rule of law in order to "combat terrorism." But only some of us supposed that the spying was being done on massive scales. Too risky, many said. Why would they need to? Why would they take the risk?

And then it came out. The spying was being done on massive scales. Wow, we said. This is really bad.

But some of reasoned that they figured that they needed a wide net of calls from which to mine and filter terrorist communication data. Besides, it was only domestic-international calls, which by some arguments could be considered a legal gray area. Surely they would never dare, as some of us tin-foil hatters suggested, to spy on domestic-domestic communications!

Well, sure enough, somebody in the press corps asked the question of Gonzales. And the response? "I cannot rule that out."

And now--on the frontpage of USA Today--we see that the spying is on unprecedented, massive, domestic scales.

And now we only dare to whisper: are they even using the data they are getting for terrorism at all? Or are they really just spying on ALL of their political enemies, foreign and domestic?


The lesson to learn is this: every time we think it just couldn't get worse, it DOES. Every time we think an idea would be too out of bounds for these criminals, it isn't. Almost every time we pooh-pooh a tin-foil hat idea on the grounds of impracticality, it turns out to be true in one way or another.

It's time from now on to ASSUME THE WORST. It's time to respect the tin-foil--because those brainwaves are turning out to be real every single time.

And it's time to ask the most provocative questions possible (e.g., "well, if no WOMEN were being used for prostitution purposes at the Watergate, what about MEN?").

Because every time we've tried to plumb the depths of the criminality of this administration, we find that we simply haven't dug deep enough. So keep digging, and keep asking the scary questions--even if the answers seem outlandish, improbably, or even impossible. Because it's probably true.


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