From a couple of notes I received about the "NSA" piece below it appears that there is some misunderstanding abut my constitutional views. I would have thought that unimportant to anyone but me, but I see there is some concern about it, for which I thank those involved.
I describe myself as a libertarian conservative. I think the Constitution of the United States works just fine and that it created a systen of government designed to limit power, not to expand it. The separation of power among the three branches of the federal government and then between the federal government and the states should be seen, I think, as retaining the balance of governmental power in the hands of the states. We should always remember that the Constitution is the "creature" of the states, not the other way around. Lastly, I would agree with Jefferson and Madison in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions that creeping expansionism of power on the part of the Federal government should be viewed with suspicion. Lastly, as Mr. Jefferson rightly asserted, the "people" are sovereign, not the president of the United States. He is not a king, not an emperor not anything more really than the person who runs the Executive Branch.
War time assertions of greatly expanded presidential power are nothing new. The sainted 16th president of the US; suspended "habeas corpus," imprisoned thousands without trial, tried civilians before "military commissions" later found by the Supreme court to have been unconstitutional (ex parte Milligan), dissolved legislatures to keep them from voting, created a new state without much authority in law, jailed newspaper editors whose writings he disliked, etc. Lincoln believed that he was justified in doing these things because the country faced an "existential" threat. That was the basis of his assumption of unusual and in many cases dubious powers.
Much the same claim is maintained now. The Bush Administration claims that its actions are justified because the country faces an "existential" threat. It maintains that the international Jihadi phenomenon threatens the very existence of the United States and on that basis it insists that it has the right to do "whatever it takes" to keep the United States from being destroyed in the coming years. It maintains that a situation of "total war" prevails and that any amount of suspension of citizen’s rights is justified in the national defense. It also tells us that this situation may last indefinitely in a kind of "state of siege" condition.
A couple of problems with that view:
1. It is open ended. On exactly the same basis, the often tyrannical governments of the Arab World have justified since 1947 the need to suspend "due process" and citizen’s rights because "the nation" must be protected from the Zionist threat. I thought we were against this kind of thing.
2. The Jihadis are not an "existential threat" to the United States. A great many Americans were overcome by fear after 9/11. People in my profession(s) had assumed that everyone in America knew that the world was not a safe place and that America was not an exception to that really basic fact. It is clear now that we were wrong in thinking that. The events in New York City and the capital were catastrophic and tragic in the extreme, but they did not constitute an "existential threat" to the United States and the Jihadis still do not pose such a threat to the existence of the United States of America. What are they? They are a few thousand religious fanatics, backed by the money of a handful of really crazy rich people. They have been driven from their bases by our armed forces, harried across the world and continuously pursued by the security services of a great many countries. Our own security services have dealt severely with anyone within the USA who looked liked they were actually thinking of doing something violent. Presumably these fanatics have not abandoned their hope of inflicting grievous harm on the USA if they could manage it. It is worthwhile to consider the limits of their capabilities in the absolute worst cases. They could destroy a city. This is unlikely, but worth taking seriously because the consequences would be so grave. They could kill everyone on a train. They could attack everyone at a major event. These are the kinds of things they could do. None of those kinds of things constitute an "existential threat" to the United States. There would be a lot of dead people as a result of such attacks, but the country would survive. It would go on and on as a beacon of hope in the world, perhaps man’s last, best hope.
"Do you want to be safe, or do you want to be free?" This question is increasingly asked with some seriousness. The Jihadis are posited to us as an "existential threat" on an open ended basis. They are not, except as a justificatin for re-structuring American into a "security state." There are other "security states." None of them are really secure but they are very good at controlling their citizens. It is up to the courts, the Congress and the Sovereign People to decide if they are to be the descendants of those who stood against the King or just more "sheeple" to be herded about.
Are we really going to accept that the instruments of government with which we fought the Nazis and Communists are going to be used to pick apart our lives? Are we really going to become someone’s "subjects?"