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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Various items

(updated below - including with a real poll, from Newsweek, on the NSA program)

A few items of note:

(1) The formal release date for How Would a Patriot Act? is this Monday, May 15. Amazon and the other online retailers should begin shipping the book to those who pre-ordered, and it should start appearing in stores this week. The promotional and marketing campaign for the book will start in earnest this week as well. The book is back in the Top 100 on Amazon and has been rising steadily on Barnes & Noble again.

Yesterday, The San Francisco Chronicle published a lengthy article on its front page which profiled the book, this blog and the rising influence of the blogosphere generally. This is obviously the perfect time for the book's release for many reasons. I genuinely believe that these issues of executive power and the administration's systematic lawbreaking and fear-mongering are ripe for real public discussion and understanding. I'm very excited about the opportunity to talk about these issues as far and wide as I possibly can.

(2) Following-up on the post from yesterday regarding that highly suspect insta-poll from The Washington Post which purported to show that most Americans favor the newly disclosed NSA program, Jane Hamsher details that much of the corruption of that poll is accounted for by the standard practices of the Post's pollster, Richard Morin, who has a history of producing skewed, pro-Republican polling data.

(3) One aspect of the new NSA story which merits significantly more attention is just how revealing and intrusive the information is which is being collected and stored. Knowing the identity of every single person whom you call and from whom you receive calls can be almost as illuminating and privacy-destroying as listening in on the calls themselves. And as Kevin Drum points out, this claim that the data provided by the phone companies does not reveal the identity of the participants on the call is simply frivolous. There are so many ways for the Government to discover the identity of the callers by knowing their telephone numbers that this defense is not even serious.

I'd be willing to bet that a very sizable portion of the American public speaks with people they don't want others knowing about. To put into the Government's hands the ability to know the identity of every person with whom we speak on the telephone is so dangerous and intrusive that it's hard to believe most Americans will glibly give up this level of privacy to the Government. We'll see.

(4) Apparently, the number 29% does wonders for enabling politicians to find some courage and resolve:

Senate Democrats intend to use next week's confirmation hearings for a new C.I.A. director to press the Bush administration on its broad surveillance programs, engaging Republicans on national security grounds that have proved politically treacherous for Democrats in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Gen. Michael V. Hayden, nominee to head C.I.A., reacted Friday after Senator Susan Collins said microphones were "eavesdropping" on them.

Lawmakers and senior Democratic officials say they believe a combination of Democratic gains on security issues and a loss of public confidence in President Bush gives them new strength to question the National Security Agency operations that the administration says are essential to preventing another domestic terror attack.

As a result, Democrats say they will not hesitate to aggressively question Mr. Bush's choice to head the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who is the former director of the N.S.A., at a hearing set for next Thursday.

"We have to raise the issues," said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, who met Friday with General Hayden. "The American people expect someone to do it. Certainly the administration is not doing it. We are all they've got."

Sen. Reid is typically less cautious and more combative than most of the caucus members he leads. Several months ago, I was on a conference call with him and ten or so bloggers. Reid's belief that the pro-Bush contingent in Washington is a criminal enterprise, corrupt to its core, struck me as very sincere. He also explained that he was going to have to leave the Senate some day one way or the other - because of retirement, electoral defeat, death -- and, as a result, he refused to back away from views he believed in due to some fear of losing an election. That, too, struck me as sincere.

I think that's what explains his willingness to be more combative. He isn't attached to his Senate seat, willing to do anything to cling to it, whereas most of his colleagues are. People who aren't attached to their little prizes are much more free to act on principle and conviction.

(5) When I read this article reporting on polling data that shows that Americans overwhelmingly believe that The Devil Bill Clinton did a better job than the Epic Savior Hero George Bush in every category of governance, I genuinely thought to myself that that article could really send many Bush followers into a state of serious mental depression, or worse.

It's one thing to have read almost every day that the vast majority of Americans dislike and disapprove of the Leader and that more and more Americans abandon him by the day. But to have to read that Americans overwhelmingly prefer Bill Clinton to George Bush in every area -- including foreign affairs (by an embarrassing margin of 56-32%), national security (46-42%), and on the question of "which man was more honest as president" (46-41%) -- must be truly difficult for those remaining Bush followers. And, indeed, it did lead one pro-Bush blogger, The Anchoress, to announce:

I’ve decided that if I’m going to keep blogging, I’m going to have to leave off writing or reading about politics for a little while, because it’s all making me sick. . . .

And so, for a while, I’m off the subject. We’ll talk sex, religion, baseball, opera and even - Lord help us - television. But to stay in the middle of the deleterious snakepit of politics…no…there be monsters.

I think for the summer, my little boat will sail in the other direction.

I actually think this is a serious danger for the Republicans this November. They have been so used to winning everything, being able to manipulate public opinion, using "the War" to generate support for everything they wanted. Now that none of it is working any longer, now that their standard tactics fail, their credibility is shattered, and their Grand Hero is exposed as a fraud -- as a weak, impotent, borderline-sad figure -- I think many of them will be so disillusioned and discouraged that they will simply want to tune politics out. For many people, it is simply (and understandably) depressing to have to read day after day that your views are being increasingly rejected by the country and your admired leader is disliked, distrusted and disapproved. One solution is to simply walk away from it altogether. That's what The Anchoress chose, and I think many Bush followers will choose the same.

UPDATE:

(6) Now that Americans have actually had time to hear about the newly disclosed NSA data-collecting program, a new poll from Newsweek shows that a majority is opposed:

Has the Bush administration gone too far in expanding the powers of the President to fight terrorism? Yes, say a majority of Americans, following this week’s revelation that the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone records of U.S. citizens since the September 11 terrorist attacks. According to the latest NEWSWEEK poll, 53 percent of Americans think the NSA’s surveillance program “goes too far in invading people’s privacy,” while 41 percent see it as a necessary tool to combat terrorism.

Even a quarter of Republicans are against it:

According to the Newsweek poll, 73 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of Republicans think the NSA’s program is overly intrusive.

Worse for the White House -- but great for the country -- a lopsided majority think that the administration is attempting to sieze excess power:

Nonetheless, Americans think the White House has overstepped its bounds: 57 percent said that in light of the NSA data-mining news and other executive actions, the Bush-Cheney Administration has “gone too far in expanding presidential power.” That compares to 38 percent who think the Administration’s actions are appropriate.

I don't even recall seeing that question asked before, but it is very encouraging to see a majority of Americans answer this way. The country does not trust George Bush and is therefore unwilling to vest expanded power in his hands.

(7) Consistent with its desperate desire to avoid any judicial adjudication of the legality of its conduct, the Bush administration has once again invoked the "state secrets" doctrine, this time to attempt to force dismissal of the lawsuit against AT&T brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. That lawsuit alleges that AT&T violated various provisions in the law by collaborating with the NSA to allow the agency access to the telephone conversations and releated calling data of Americans without the warrants required by law.

As always, what the Bush administration fears most are judicial rulings as to whether its extremist policies are legal, precisely because it knows they aren't. In this case, it's the warrantless surveillance program they are attempting to shield from judicial adjudication, but they have played the same game with a whole host of other lawbreaking measures. It is precisely because they have thwarted any investigation into their conduct and any judicial review of it that it is so imperative that there be some mechanism for subjecting their behavior to meaningful scrutiny. Having Democrats obtain subpoena power in November is one to achieve that (h/t EJ in comments for both new items).

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