Dowd and Friedman

MoDo has joined the cadre of people who conflate TV with reality.  She’s created a thing called “Spying Run Amok” in which she considers from “Homeland” to the N.S.A. protecting the homeland: the dark art of creating monsters that can’t be controlled.  I still get a queasy feeling whenever anyone calls the United States the “Homeland.”  Smacks of creepiness and totalitarianism…  The Moustache of Wisdom considers “Secretary Kerry’s Derring-Do” and says there is a lot on the line with his relentless campaign in the Middle East.  Here’s MoDo:

I miss Brody.

So why did he have to go?

The poor guy was put at the end of a rope because the writers of “Homeland” were at the end of their rope.

They had conjured a hypnotic character who was both hero and villain, patriot and traitor. Brody was still on the run, but his creators had run out of ways to reconcile their curdled Marine’s poles without making the plots too implausible.

In the finale, during a scene set at a C.I.A. safe house in Iran, Brody fretted to Carrie that maybe he was, as a doctor in Caracas had said, “a cockroach. Unkillable, bringing misery wherever I go.”

The talented Damian Lewis told The Times’s Dave Itzkoff, “They ended up creating such a compelling, unpredictable, sad and ambiguous character who was capable of so much damage — he was able to affect story on such a grand scale. They created a monster that they couldn’t quite control.” He added, “The thought of having to continue to write him was too hard, perhaps,” noting: “Brody’s a very unbalancing force.”

It’s so easy to wipe the slate clean on TV. In real life, Americans must keep struggling to fathom the compelling, unpredictable, sad, ambiguous, unbalancing force, the young man on the run who sought to cause damage on a grand scale, and who has sparked a national debate about whether he’s hero or villain, patriot or traitor.

After a federal judge here said in a ruling on Monday that the N.S.A.’s collection of phone data on all Americans was “almost Orwellian,” an assault on privacy that would leave James Madison “aghast,” a civil liberties group that had plastered a D.C. bus with the words “Thank you, Edward Snowden!” said it saw a “significant increase” in donations to expand the campaign.

Whatever we think of Snowden — self-aggrandizing creep or self-sacrificing crusader against creepy government spying or sociopath with stolen documents, as The Wall Street Journal put it, or someone who should “swing from a tall oak tree,” as John Bolton told Fox News — it is absolutely clear that the N.S.A. went wild with technology that allowed it to go wild. These technological toys turn everyone into thieves.

It is clear that the balance of national security versus civil liberties is way off kilter. President Obama said he welcomed a debate on the morality of his Big Brother eavesdropping program, but he never really wanted it. He irritated some of the tech C.E.O.’s who came for a meeting at the White House Tuesday by yanking the conversation from the overzealous N.S.A. surveillance that creates suspicion of their complicity to the underwhelming rollout of Obamacare.

Bloomberg News reported that Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer cautioned the president that backlash over U.S. spying could Balkanize the Internet, as countries put in place different standards to stymie surveillance. It took a passionate 64-year-old judge who likes exclamation points to finally holler “Hold it!”

“It’s a wake-up call,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a leading critic of the N.S.A.’s indiscriminate scooping up of data. “Piece after piece, the government’s case has fallen apart.” (The old joke of No Such Agency might become No Stopping That Agency.)

As The Times’s Chief Washington Correspondent Carl Hulse tweeted, Judge Richard J. Leon was nominated to the bench by President George W. Bush on the “notable date” of Sept. 10, 2001 — the eve of the day that reshaped the American psyche, sometimes in unsettling ways that erred on the side of security rather than the values that make America.

After W. and Dick Cheney ignored warnings of an Al Qaeda strike, they proliferated a mind-set that there was no step too far to protect us from that happening again, be it attacking a country that hadn’t attacked us, torturing, warrantless wiretapping, spying Stasi-style on our allies or denying prisoners due process. Judge Leon wrestled with the legality of holding detainees at Guantánamo Bay and now he suggests that the N.S.A. snooping may be unconstitutional.

The government’s legal precedent, he wrote in a ruling that will reverberate in Congress and at the Supreme Court, has been eclipsed by “a cellphone-centric lifestyle heretofore inconceivable.”

“It’s one thing to say that people expect phone companies to occasionally provide information to law enforcement,” he wrote, “it is quite another to suggest that our citizens expect all phone companies to operate what is effectively a joint intelligence-gathering operation with the government.”

Though the Justice Department tried to justify the mammoth hoovering by insisting on the need for speed, the judge pointed out that the N.S.A. couldn’t cite a single instance in which its haystack of data had produced the needle to puncture an imminent attack.

It’s always the case that technology is invented and used before its consequences are known. And it is also true that terrorists want to hurt us.

But Judge Leon struck a blow for the proposition that our moral and legal values regarding privacy are not obsolete just because some government employees out in suburban Maryland in a secretive agency with its own exit off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway got carried away with their cool new toys.

History may well say that Bin Laden won — consider the economy and the fact that NSA now stands for No Secrets Anymore.  Pretty much destroyed what America used to stand for.  Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:

I don’t know whether Secretary of State John Kerry will succeed in his two big chosen priorities: trying to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace and a détente with Iran that deprives it of a nuclear weapon. But I admire his relentlessness. I admire the way he dares to fail — the only way to become a consequential secretary of state. And I admire his strategy: trying to construct a diplomacy that makes it impossible for Israel, the Palestinians and Iran to continue avoiding their big existential choices.

Strip away the details of the Iran deal and, at its core, Kerry is offering Tehran this choice: Do you want to be a big North Korea or a Persian China? If you want your power and influence to be defined by how many nuclear weapons you can make, you can do that, but you will be a big failed state, largely isolated from the rest of the world, with your people never able to realize their full potential. If you want your greatness to be defined by the talent and energy of your people — which will be fully unleashed once sanctions are removed and they can reintegrate with the world after 34 years of semi-isolation — you’ll have to abandon all nuclear enrichment except for limited research and electrical needs. You choose. A better deal is not coming.

To Palestinians, Kerry is saying: You want to maintain the unity of the Palestinian people; you want an independent state in 100 percent of the West Bank with a capital in East Jerusalem; you want the total removal as soon as possible of all Israeli troops and settlements; and you want to be able to maintain some hostility to Israel in your textbooks and diplomacy. I can probably get you 95 percent of the West Bank with swaps from Israel to compensate for the rest and a toehold in East Jerusalem, but you’ll have to give up the hostility and probably your unity — because there will be virtually no return of refugees to pre-1967 Israel, and Israeli troops will have to be permitted to maintain defensive positions in the Jordan Valley for at least a decade. I know, it is half a loaf, but it is real bread. You can always wait another 100 years.

To Israelis, Kerry is saying: You want a Jewish state, a state in all of the Land of Israel and a democratic state. You can have two out of three. You can be Jewish and in all of the Land of Israel, but you will not be democratic, because the Arabs in the West Bank and Israel will constitute too big a voting bloc for you to tolerate democratically. You can be Jewish and democratic, but then you can’t hold onto the West Bank. You can be democratic and in all of the Land of Israel, but then you can’t be a Jewish state (see point No. 1). You choose. A better deal is not coming.

This is not a simple choice for Israel, given the Arab turmoil around it. Kerry’s strategy has been to get the Pentagon to design a security scheme for the West Bank and Jordan Valley that would rely on satellites and other high-tech infrastructure to take the security question off the table as much as possible, so the choice for Israel is ideology versus a workable peace. Israeli officials, though, argue that the U.S. plan is insufficient.

The truth is, no security arrangement is foolproof. The only thing that might be foolproof is, along with the best security tools, giving Palestinians a state worth their defending and preserving by surprising them with a little trust — exactly the way Nelson Mandela surprised South African whites. What Palestinians do and say matters. But what Israelis do and say also conditions what Palestinians do and say — and vice versa. Up to now, neither this Palestinian leadership nor this Israeli leadership has shown an ounce of “Mandela-ism.” Everything they do to and for each other is grudging and fraught with suspicion, so there is never any sense of surprise. Without some trust breakthrough, I don’t see how a big deal gets done.

But the status quo is not benign. Israeli-Palestinian clashes in the West Bank are mounting. With no deal, it could easily explode. Also, Israel’s steady expansion of settlements in the West Bank is giving its enemies more fodder to delegitimize the Jewish state. I am no fan of settlements, but I am also no fan of bigoted, one-sided boycotts of Israeli academic institutions like the one announced Monday by the American Studies Association, or A.S.A. (China threatens to throw out the U.S. press. Russia tries to rip Ukraine away from the European Union. But the A.S.A. singles out Israel for condemnation?) Does the A.S.A. even believe that Jews have a right to their own state anywhere in Palestine? After all, the A.S.A. statement says it opposes “the Israeli occupation of Palestine,” not specifying the West Bank. But I fear for Israel. If Israel doesn’t stop the settlement madness, denying the Palestinians a West Bank state, it will fit the caricature of its worst enemies.

No question — for America, Israel and the Palestinians, no deal is still better than a bad deal that blows up the morning after. What Kerry is trying to put together are decent, hardheaded deals, in which opportunities can legitimately outweigh the risks for all sides. His chance of succeeding on the Iran or Israel-Palestine fronts is very low, but I greatly respect his daring to fail.


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