Thursday, June 15, 2006
NSA Surveillance: Rivkin versus Fein
Is America turning into a police state? No, said Rivkin. He said the debate over the NSA program was part of a larger debate about presidential power and over the discretionary authority of the executive, and he rejected the notion that any action taken at the discretion of the executive branch, particularly to safeguard national security, without judicial approval somehow constitutes a danger to liberty. The U.S. judiciary is not a privy council, meant to evaluate policy, but this seems to be the direction some want to go down. He also criticized Congress for giving the executive broad latitude to act but then, for purposes of political cover, wanting to distance itself from having granting that authority.
Rivkin also drew a distinction between a maximalist view of privacy (with almost no intrusions permitted by the government being viewed as the linchpin of democracy) with what he saw as the more logical view, especially given how much private entities can collect a good deal of private, personal information, of recognizing that in modern society the focus should be one reasonable expectations of privacy.
Fein focused his concern on the rule of law, that presidential claims of authority to bypass existing laws and regulations--noting Congress does have the power to regulate all agencies of the government, not just the legislative branch--combined with excessive claims of the need for secrecy--so that actions and policies need not be disclosed or justified--erode the rule of law and create a situation the founders wanted to avoid--where the president essentially asks the country to "trust him" without effective oversight or checks. If laws like FISA needed to be amended, then the president could and should have made the case to Congress for alterations, not argued that he had the right to bypass them altogether.
I walked away from the discussion with a further degree of anger at Congress. Rivkin and Fein, each in their own ways, pointed to a Congress that abdicated its responsibilities when it mattered and now plays political blame games. The checks and balances system can't work if one branch doesn't want to act as a check.
But with a Republican President, heck he could probably even get a BJ from an intern in the Oval Office and this Congress wouldn't lift a finger.
The question answers itself. For this crop of Republicans, checks, balances, and investigations are nothing more than weapons for destroying Democratic presidents. Hence, they will have no trouble at all going against the precedents they are now setting for W.
Their only principle is gaining and maintaining power. They won't even give it a second thought.
"Was interesting to watch all those democratic watergate babies defend clinton executive privilege"
That's because Watergate, and Bush II's shenanigans were actual abuses of power. Clinton was being witch-hunted. Add another Republican abuse of power.
"or ones that said bush couldn't go to war in iraq first or second time around said clinton could go to war against serbia. republicans do the same."
Clinton took care to garner major international support for his involvement in the Yugoslav wars, and his approach showed "...a decent respect for the opinions of mankind...", something our Founding Fathers thought important, but about which Bush II couldn't care less.