Friday, January 3, 2014

Congressman Mike Rogers: 1st Recipient of the Curmie II Award

[Curmie’s Law, Article 173: it’s OK to talk about last year’s events until the college football season is over.]

If the Curmie Awards didn’t exist, this page’s end-of-the-year/beginning-of-the-year tradition might be a contest for the stupidest utterance by a politician. The contest would not be about politics per se, as intelligent people can disagree about whether Obamacare is a net plus or a net minus, whether drone strikes serve the national interest, or whether private ownership of assault weapons is protected by the 2nd amendment. (Curmie’s answers: the former [barely], no, and no. Your mileage may vary.)

Nor would it be about actual lies—death panels, “you can keep it,” Muslim outreach programs, etc. Even reckless allegations with no supporting evidence—the stuff folks like Louie Gohmert and Steve King are famous for—would be beyond the scope of this award.

Congressman Mike Rogers,
Winner of the Inaugural Curmie II Award
No, this award (call it Curmie II) would be for statements so absurd on their face that we wonder how the speaker is capable of dressing himself, let alone holding public office. This year’s (i.e., for calendar year 2013) recipient would have to be (please, God, let there be no serious competition!) Representative Mike Rogers for his immortal line, “You can’t have your privacy violated if you don't know your privacy is violated.”

Yes, really, he said that, and unironically, too. Check it out here: it’s at about the 2:30 mark in the embedded video if you want to actually hear him. Or read the transcript, below.

Rogers chairs the House Intelligence Committee, an ironic appellation if ever there was one, given the transcendent idiocy of its leader. The committee was holding a propaganda exercise hearing to justify examine the NSA’s wildly unconstitutional domestic spying surveillance metadata gathering program. Everything was going swimmingly but then somehow someone who actually disagreed with the program was allowed to testify. Shocking, I know.

That someone was Stephen Vladeck of the American University Washington College of Law. Vladeck is a summa cum laude alumnus of Amherst, and he has a J.D. from Yale. Still in his early thirties, he’s already a professor and associate dean. No dummie, this. Indeed, not since Georgia Tech vs. Cumberland has there been a competition as lopsided as a battle of wits between Vladeck and Rogers.

Vladeck makes the seemingly incontrovertible point that in the case of NSA’s data collection:
It’s impossible to separate the substantive validity of the program from the process concerns that have been raised by plenty of members of Congress and members of the public. And so I think that until we have some better sense and some better grasp of those process concerns, I think it’s a bit unfair to have to answer the substantive question in the abstract.
And then, a moment later, we get this:
Rogers: I would argue the fact that we haven't had any complaints come forward with any specificity arguing that their privacy has been violated, clearly indicates, in ten years, clearly indicates that something must be doing right. Somebody must be doing something exactly right. 
Vladeck: But who would be complaining? 
Rogers: Somebody whose privacy was violated. You can’t have your privacy violated if you don't know your privacy is violated. 
Vladeck: I disagree with that. If a tree falls in the forest, it makes a noise whether you’re there to see it or not. 
Rogers (astounded): Well that’s a new interesting standard in the law.
The logical extensions of this line of reasoning are as terrifying as they are remarkable. The peeping Tom at your window isn’t committing a crime unless you catch him. If you steal a priceless painting from a millionaire’s vault, it’s not illegal unless he notices. If you cheat on your taxes, you’ve done nothing wrong unless the IRS audits you. The list is endless.

One of Curmie’s favorite bloggers, Ken at Popehat, normally known for snark but not for satire, opts for the latter by positing a scenario by which Rogers installed hidden surveillance cameras in the women’s bathroom at his office in the Capitol: “I would argue the fact that we haven't had any women come forward with any specificity arguing that their privacy has been violated….”

Ken also applies the same riff to a Rogers-ism of a couple days earlier. Then, Chairman Rogers, responding to a claim that the NSA had recorded some 70 million phone calls in France, proclaimed:
If the French citizens knew exactly what that was about, they would be applauding and popping champagne corks. It’s a good thing. It keeps the French safe. It keeps the US safe. It keeps our European allies safe. This whole notion that we’re going to go after each other on what is really legitimate protection of nation-state interest, I think is disingenuous.
Yes, being spied on by a foreign country can only be good for you. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

But this kind of statement is just mundane political nonsense. Yes, it suggests that the “nanny state” allegation generally—and with plenty of justification—applied to liberals works just as well for conservative Republicans: politicians (those in power, especially), like school administrators and other mental deficients, really do believe that they and their minions can do whatever they want, as long it’s for… you know… a good cause. And there is no ideological litmus test at work here—the difference between “big government liberals” and the average conservative pol has nothing to do with the size of government, but rather with the ends to which that governmental power is applied.

Still, there’s a rationale at work in the assertion that the French citizenry would celebrate the invasion of their privacy if only they could comprehend the benevolence underlying those profoundly illegal acts, even if it’s one that Curmie finds as alarming as it is silly. The idea that victims of a secret program aren’t really victims if they don’t know a). about the existence of said secret program and b). that they are in fact specific targets of that (illegal and secret) surveillance… to argue that requires a Special Kind of Stupid.

Congratulations, Congressman Rogers. You’ve won the Curmie II. (Well, maybe you won’t have until someone tells you…)

[NOTE: By the way, if you haven't already done so, please vote for the “real” Curmie Award by 7:00 pm CST on Wednesday, January 8. Nominees are here; the “ballot” is in the upper right-hand corner of this page.]

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