Are Angels Watching, or Is the NSA?

By , November 6, 2013 11:51 am

Madison said it best,

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Alex Tabarrok rifs on that theme at Marginal Revolution when he asks Did Obama Spy on Romney? He answers his own question:

No. Some people claim that President Obama didn’t even know about the full extent of NSA spying. Indeed, I imagine that President Obama was almost as surprised as the rest of us when he first discovered that we live in a mass surveillance state in which billions of emails, phone calls, facebook metadata and other data are being collected.

Who knows? As Tabrrok reminds us, the NSA listened in on Angela Merkel’s phone calls. What if Romney called her during his 2012 campaign? In any case, he’s certainly right when he says that “Men are not angels.” Nevertheless, Tabarrok doesn’t think the NSA forwarded any tapes on to the Obama campaign. Still, “Men are not angels,” right?

Did the NSA use the information they gathered on Mitt Romney and other political candidates for political purposes? Probably not. Will the next president or the one after that be so virtuous so as to not use this kind of power? I have grave doubts. Men are not angels.

The Nixon administration plumbers broke into the offices of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in order to gather information to discredit him. They busted into a single file cabinet (pictured). What a bunch of amateurs.
The NSA has broken into millions of file cabinets around the world.

Nixon resigned in disgrace. Who will pay for the NSA break-ins? (Emphasis added)

Well, This was Inevitable

By , November 1, 2013 4:01 pm

The New Yorker has its say on the Affordable Care rollout.

Obama Cover_TNY_11_11_13_580

And Now for Something Completely Different

By , November 1, 2013 10:37 am

If you’ve ever wondered what happens in the Supreme Court, you’re living at the right time. The Internet generally and particularly open the door to the court so that as early as the day of an oral argument, you can actually listen to the argument as you read the transcript of the argument. Obviously, if you can do that, you can also listen to older oral arguments, even arguments as old as Roe v. Wade, the abortion decision, or New York Times v. Sullivan, the decision that established the actual malice standard in defamation cases, or New York Times v. Nixon, the so-called Pentagon Papers case. It’s fascinating–at least to me.

Sometimes the arguments can be dry, but often some humor sneaks in and other times, you might hear a justice ask a question or an attorney tell a story that suddenly casts a decision into an entirely new light. That happened to me with the Boumediene v. Bush case, a case involving a detainee in Guantanamo and the Military Commissions Act. At the close of his rebuttal argument, Boumediene’s attorney, Seth Waxman, relates what he calls a “truly kafka-esque” story of a Mr. Bilgen, who had also been a detainee, accused of being a terrorist. The story is too long and complicated to repeat here, but you can listen to it here–beginning at the 80:11 mark of the argument. (Before you listen, you should know the meaning of the acronym CSRT.)

The technology the Court uses has improved over the years, so the recordings of oral arguments today are much better than they were, say, in the time of Roe v. Wade. In any case, take a look at (and even a tour) and take time to listen to some of these arguments.

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