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.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A first step

Jane Hamsher just posted some initial thoughts which she and I have discussed concerning how the energy, vibrancy and desire for action which pervades the blogosphere can be translated and channeled into greater influence on actual events, beginning with the NSA scandal. We don't have some grandiose plan to unveil, but instead are attempting to find constructive methods for preliminarily coordinating some concerted action in order to explore what might be worthwhile.

I'll have a lot more to say about this tomorrow, and if you have thoughts or ideas after reading Jane's post, I strongly encourage you to write them here, over at Jane's blog, or by e-mailing them to me. We want to begin -- as a laboratory and to keep things manageable -- by focusing on six states that have particular significance in the NSA universe, primarily because they have important Republican Senators (importance either in terms of their ability to influence the Judiciary and/or Intelligence Committee investigations, the fact that they are wavering or otherwise worthy of being targeted, or because they are susceptible to re-election-based pressure). These are the six states with which we want to begin:

(1) Pennsylvania (Specter & Santorum)
(2) Kansas (Roberts & Brownback)
(3) Maine (Snowe & Collins)
(4) Nebraska (Hagel)
(5) South Carolina (Graham)
(6) Ohio (DeWine)

Recognizing the incomparable importance of events like today's impassioned editorial from the Wichita Eagle, we want to have whatever we do have some local nexus. National mass e-mailing campaigns and the like can have some effect, but far more effective, we think, is some genuine expression of belief from the citizens whom Senators actually represent, particularly in small states. We want whatever we do to have both a national and local component (Senators from large states with a national profile, such as Specter, can be the target of a more nationalized effort), but we'd like to have the effort be strongly localized.

So, if you are in any of those states or otherwise have helpful connections to it (even if it's just knowledge of things such as radio talk shows or newspaper editors or anything else that is helpful), or just if you're interested in participating in some way, please email Jane (

I've left this whole discussion deliberately vague because we want to figure out exactly what we want to do and we would like input in figuring it out. At the same time, we want to take our first step or two quickly, because the events over the past few days demonstrate that this scandal is at a crossroad and we want to do what we can to ensure, as a first step, that there are meaningful investigations and hearings.

As I said, I will post a lot more specific substance over the next day or so, but in the meantime, please read Jane's post. And, I just want to add a couple of thoughts to what Jane just said.

I've become a vigorous believer in the notion that the blogosphere is a uniquely potent vehicle for large numbers of people to act in concert in a meaningful way. National political advocacy organizations and party-based entities are, by and large, useless. They have become stagnant, entrenched, obsolete old relics of the political wars of the 1980s and 1990s. Many people who stay in Washington too long lose their ear for anything outside of Washington, and many of them become satisfied with status quo perpetuation, because they are so comfortable with their little niche, even if it's a losing one. The blogosphere has really become the venue for vibrant, novel and impassioned action. I hope to find a way to spend as much time working on these matters as I can because I believe the effect they can have is limitless.

And none of this is predicated on the idea that Senators or other politicians only respond to re-election pressure. Several, if not most, of the above-listed Senators don't have strong re-election worries. But all individuals, including Senators, respond to a whole range of stimuli and are influenced by all sorts of different factors. Pat Roberts may not have re-election concerns, but nobody wants to be depicted as some mindless, malleable stooge who exists as an instrument to help others conceal their wrongdoing or who abdicates their duties in our government. People can be motivated by all sorts of influences ranging from shame and substantive persuasion to institutional power and appeals to what is necessary or healthy for our country.

I believe that, on some level, most people who have thought about these issues are disturbed by the radical theories of power which this Administration is attempting to install and that is why you see so many people, including many Republicans and conservatives, expressing serious opposition to what the Administration has done here even though they have nothing to gain politically or personally from doing so, and may even have much to lose.

Anyone who frequents the blogosphere knows that there is a good deal of agitation to do something to ensure that what we do here transcends the confines of mere interesting chatter and that we all find ways to have it have some effect on what actually happens. Most people agree on that. The challenge is to develop the approach that can achieve that. By starting to try different things, the idea is to start developing, through trial and error, an idea of how that can best be done.

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