Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Class warfare writ large

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Juan Cole points out how Dianne Feinstein was perfectly okay with NSA spying on millions—hundreds of millions—of Americans (or Germans, for that matter), but when they tapped the phone of Angela Merkel, that was a step too far. Angela Merkel is a member of the ruling class, and they are different and must not be subject to the same treatment as ordinary citizens.

We have seen this movie before:

Harman defended the Bush administration‘s use of international (cross-border) warrantless wiretapping through the National Security Agency, saying: “I believe the program is essential to U.S. national security and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities”.[22]Harman suggested that both the original “despicable”[23] whistleblowers and the New York Times, which broke the story, should be investigated, and in the case of The Times, “limits on press immunity” should be looked into.[24] Harman repeatedly pressured the Times not to publish the warrantless wiretap story. In late 2004, Harman called Phillip Taubman, the Washington bureau chief of the Times, to discourage him from running the story. In December 2005, Harman was among a group of lawmakers who visited Taubman in an attempt to convince him not to run the story.[25] Following reports in April 2009 of her conversations being recorded without her knowledge, she appeared to take a different stance regarding wholly domestic wiretaps. In an interview with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC:

That’s what I’ve asked Attorney General Holder to do—to release any tapes, I don’t know whether they were legally made or not, of my conservations about this matter… and to hope that he will investigate whether other members of Congress or other innocent Americans might have been subject to this same kind of treatment. I call it an abuse of power in the letter I wrote him this morning…I’m just very disappointed that my country—I’m an American citizen just like you are—could have permitted what I think is a gross abuse of power in recent years. I’m one member of Congress who may be caught up in it, but I have a bully pulpit and I can fight back. I’m thinking about others who have no bully pulpit, and may not be aware, as I was not, that right now, somewhere, someone is listening in on their conversations, and they’re innocent Americans.
=—Jane Harman, [26]

The concept of fairness seems be close to one of the animal imperatives I mentioned: even primates respond angrily to unfair treatment—e.g., one getting much more or better food than another. Fairness is basic—indeed, John Rawls put it as the foundation of law—and the best test of fairness is to see whether satisfaction is equal when positions are reversed. Rawls suggested a veil of ignorance: e.g., suppose an estate is to be divided among 3 beneficiaries. A fair procedure would be for the three to agree on a specific division of the estate into three parts BEFORE it’s decided who gets which part  (and perhaps using a random assignment). A simple example in dividing a piece of cake between two people: one cuts the piece in two, the other gets first choice: a fair settlement.

Jane Harman shows that the warrantless wiretapping fails the test of fairness: she was highly supportive of the program so long as she believed that the wiretaps were of other people, but once she learned that she also was subject to the wiretapping, her opinion reversed. This suggests that her earlier opinion was wrong.

The same with Dianne Feinstein: tapping the phones of hoi polloi is fine, but tapping the the phone of a member of the elite is infra dig.

I recommend this post by Juan Cole, where he discusses the current version of this “It’s okay to do it to others, but don’t you dare do it to me” drama.

UPDATE: And this Jon Stewart segment is pretty good.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2013 at 8:29 am

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