Friday, February 24, 2006

The Roots Project

When I first heard about the warrantless wiretapping, I was sarcastic, furious, intemperate. I was quick to attack the President, rather than to explain why I saw a problem in a way that someone who disagreed would understand. Calling the President "The Peeping Tom in Chief" was funny, but I doubt it changed any minds.

Then I spent a while focussed on the legal details. Was it legal? Was it Constitutional? I pored over minutiae, trying to suss out the arguments, and my own thinking evolved, congealed and focused on a few key points. Here's a link to many of those posts, so you can see the evolution.

That's the power of blogs. My commenters and comments at other blogs helped me clarify my thinking on this issue. And I can only hope that my readers have come along for the ride.

And so I ask, now what? Part of the answer comes from a bunch of smart and talented writers, who got the idea of bringing the conversation we have on blogs into the real world of talk radio and newspaper opinion pages. The idea is to build a way to bring the national and global conversations we have in the blogosphere back to the local communities. And the testbed for this plan is Kansas.

The reason gets back to the warrantless wiretapping. One key realization I've had is that the problem, in the end, is not yet with the details of the warrantless wiretapping, it's that we don't know the details, and no one really does. All my rage about the legal justifications and the possibility that the NSA was listening to me whisper sweet nothings to Ms. TfK while she lives in Europe were not yet relevant because I hadn't yet asked the right question: Where was Congress?

There's a place for a discussion of what the law ought to be, and how surveillance of terrorism suspects should be conducted, and how innocent people should be kept out of that net. That place is Congress. Instead, the discussion happened in classified memos in the NSA and the White House.

Personally, I don't think that what we've heard about the warrantless wiretapping sounds like it strikes the right balance. Others do. And that's a debate that needs to happen. But first, the simple principle that the results of that debate should be binding has to be upheld. And that conversation will have to happen in the Senate Intelligence Committee, and that means my Senator, Pat Roberts, has to agree to hold hearings.

The recent Presidential threat of a veto if Congress acted to make it harder for foreign companies to control essential national infrastructure is another example of the need for oversight. A deal that is mundane and traditional has generated outrage not because it was illegal and circumvented the existing safeguards, but because it points out real problems in the law and the way Congress oversees the law's implementation.

I've contacted a bunch of like-minded Kansas bloggers from across the political spectrum, and we're going to try an experiment. We're encouraging our readers to write letters to the editor of a few papers in the area calling on Senators Roberts and Brownback to get together and work toward a better solution on the warrantless wiretapping. The two of them reflect the nation's situation. Roberts supports the program and wants no changes. Brownback appreciates the need for surveillance of terrorism suspects, but doesn't think warrantless surveillance is the right approach. That's basically the divide that exists in the nation and in Kansas.

All I'm asking is that these other bloggers, not all of whom agree with everything I've said about the program over these last months, help me bring out the voice of the concerned Kansans. We'll start with letters to the editor in a few high profile papers that I bet both Senators read. I don't mean to minimize smaller, local papers, and I encourage you to write to them as well.

In general, letters should not exceed 150 words, though some papers allow more. Always include your full name, where you're from, and a phone number. Be concise and to the point (not like this post).

Here are a few points I think are important, pick and choose as you will. Glenn Greenwald has some other suggestions:

  • Concerns about the program come from across party lines.
  • No one disputes the need to listen in on actual terrorists
  • No one knows how this program works
  • No one knows how actual terrorists are separated from regular people
  • Congress explicitly forbade warrantless wiretapping
  • The Founding Fathers didn't want an all-powerful president, even in military matters
  • Congressional hearings will reassure the public if there are appropriate safeguards
  • Congressional hearings will bring reform if there are not appropriate safeguards
  • This isn't the only case where the White House has rolled over Congressional objections
Personal stories written in your own words are best.

Here are some good papers to send letters to. Your letter is more likely to get published if you send it to a paper near you. Let me know if anything doesn't go through. These are in no particular order.

Kansas City Star
Wichita Eagle
Topeka Capital Journal
Johnson County Sun
Lawrence Journal-World
Dodge City Daily Globe
Hutchinson News
Garden City Telegram
Salina Journal
Pratt Tribune
Atchison Daily Globe
Arkansas City Traveler
SW Daily Times (Liberal, KS)
Manhattan Mercury
Winfield Courier
Hays Daily News
Pittsburg Morning Sun
Parsons Sun

If you've moved out of Kansas, but want to write to the local paper where you used to live, that's just fine. Mention where you used to be. If you aren't from Kansas and don't want to be left out, either write to your own local paper, or think creatively about a connection you have to Kansas.

And if you want to post a copy of your letters in the comments here after you send them to the paper of your choice, I might just elevate a few of them as examples of how it's done.

Update: Pratt Tribune link fixed.

Firedoglake has a more expansive list of media outlets.

I've gotten at least brief backtalk from j.d. and Peg from kansasprairie, hoping for more feedback by nightfall.

Update 2: Forgot the Parsons Sun! Parsons is where commenter Tracy lives.