The Rapid Unraveling of Norms


Basically the White House, because at this point, why the hell not?

Democracy is not a matter of faith, but of guarantees.” – Valce Havel, from “On the Theme of an Opposition”, 1968

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Michael Hayden Tells His Side

Penguin Press

In the August/September issue of Reason, Brett Max Kaufman of the ACLU (and of the most alternately triumphant and nervous fanbase in sports) reviews Playing to the Edge, Michael Hayden’s apologia for the post-9/11 security state, and why he would do everything he was able to do to protect us.

But it is not a good sign when your memoir’s central metaphor breaks down in the foreword. Hayden’s conceit is that those who run intelligence have a duty to “us[e] all the tools and all the authorities available, much like how a good athlete takes advantage of the entire playing field right up to the sideline markers and endlines”—the edge. As he’s said elsewhere (he’s been on this kick for nearly a decade), “Playing back from the line protected me but didn’t protect America. I made it clear I would always play in fair territory, but that there would be chalk dust on my cleats.”

The first problem is that if you get chalk on your cleats, it means you’re out of bounds. (Or at least you are in football, Hayden’s obvious inspiration.) That this has apparently gone unremarked to Hayden over the years—even by Dan Rooney, the owner of Hayden’s hometown Pittsburgh Steelers and Hayden’s high school football coach, with whom he watches too many Super Bowls in this book to count—is notable in itself. That it goes entirely unexamined in the book’s numerous invocations of the image is, alas, characteristic.

Worse still is that “taking advantage of the entire playing field” is a pretty odd way to describe the main thing that good athletes do. Of course, spraying one down the right-field line or throwing it deep and wide can sometimes help the team. But they are hardly required to win the game. Hayden never bothers to explain why pushing it to the edge is a main point of his duty as a public servant. Like so much in the book, it is simply assumed that people of good faith will agree.

That’s sort of the whole ballgame: we know what’s best, and you don’t. There is a “trust” factor in intelligence that assumes a one-way relationship. While no state wants entirely transparent intelligence, it is assumed that America should have the same level of secrecy, and the same dom-sub relationship with our intelligence forces, as the most fly-bitten police state in the world. It’s an argument that sounds persuasive on the surface, but can and should be taken easily apart.

Brett, who is one of the best at crafting an argument that is both forceful and legally exacting (sort of a hyperlogical polemicist, employing the best of both world), is the right man to tear it apart.

Don’t worry, Rand- the ACLU’s got this

Friend of the blog and my good buddy Brett Max Kaufman of the ACLU’s National Security Project has an excellent summation of what the ACLU is doing about the NSA, Prism, etc (they are also doing a lot of work on drones and extra-judicial killings).   The ACLU has a personal stake in this too, as Brett explains

The ACLU’s complaint filed today explains that the dragnet surveillance the government is carrying out under Section 215 infringes upon the ACLU’s First Amendment rights, including the twin liberties of free expression and free association. The nature of the ACLU’s work—in areas like access to reproductive services, racial discrimination, the rights of immigrants, national security, and more—means that many of the people who call the ACLU wish to keep their contact with the organization confidential. Yet if the government is collecting a vast trove of ACLU phone records—and it has reportedly been doing so for as long as seven years—many people may reasonably think twice before communicating with us.

One thing I really like is the right of free association.  Obviously- who doesn’t like that right?  But I think it is very clever of the ACLU to be using it.   We live in an age where so many meetings of any type are no longer done face-to-face.  Thinking that there could be a mole in every conversation dampens our ability to speak as political animals.  The argument that it doesn’t matter if you aren’t doing anything wrong doesn’t hold water.  For one thing, we don’t always know who decides what is right.  But on a more basic level, conversation shouldn’t be hampered by the fear of speaking correctly or the terror or being misinterpreted.

I also want to take a moment here to praise the ACLU.  For decades they’ve been a punching bag on the right, despite their firm commitment to Constitutional principles.  There are few bigger applause lines for a Republican politician than to sneer “ACLU” to a crowd.   So it must be somewhat gratifying for them to see that, suddenly, with Obama in charge, Republicans are concerned about the national security state.  The ACLU has been on this for a long time.  They filed lawsuits against George Bush, and were pilloried for it, held up (again) as traitors, commies, terrorist-lovers, un-American, etc.  Now the right has found some common cause, albeit in a cynical matter.  But I would ask them this: just remember you are late to the party.  You are welcome, but be decent enough to find a quiet corner and don’t pretend that you invited everyone, and for god’s sake, don’t insult your hosts.   They’ve been here the whole time.