Earlier today Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about the NSA, Senator John McCain and Canadian dancing. Below is a lightly edited transcript.
Ramesh: President Barack Obama's surveillance policies -- which are also the previous president's -- are getting some pushback this week. Obama met with leaders of technology companies that are objecting to those policies, which among other things are bad for their reputations, especially overseas, and thus for their bottom lines. And a federal judge said that those policies violate the Fourth Amendment. I'm not a great fan of the policies, but if it's true -- as several accounts have suggested -- that the judge just ignored Supreme Court precedents because he disagreed with them, he's going to get slapped down and probably should. Which I hope doesn't end the debate.
Margaret: And he used exclamation points, as if Edward Snowden were his law clerk. The program definitely needs some pushback, although seeing those billionaires arrayed around the table in the Roosevelt Room is not the pushback I was thinking of. The tech moguls do whatever is in their own interest. Look at Mark Zuckerberg and the way Facebook handles privacy. We need the federal judge to give legitimacy to the other side, even if he does get overturned. One huge problem in this debate has been that there is no other side, no pushback, when the government goes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. It leaves us to think they only hear from one side and then the private court acts as defense attorney, judge, jury and often rubber stamp for whatever surveillance is being asked for.
Ramesh: And the other problem is that nobody who passed the Patriot Act thought they were authorizing this type of surveillance. But the president made his preferences clear when he mentioned "House of Cards" at the tech meeting. He said he wished D.C. worked with that kind of efficiency. Pennsylvania congressmen should watch out.
Margaret: He was referring to the education bill, I'm sure, not murder. Did you see the clip of the city council meeting in Toronto with the mayor dancing? I expect him to be doing something crazy, but so was everyone else! They aren't all doing cocaine. I didn't wonder who was governing Toronto as much as I wondered why we don't do more dancing in our own aisles.
Ramesh: All of my ideas about Canadian governance are being upended. If you're suggesting, though, that we need to see more politicians in the U.S. dancing, I'm going to have to strongly disagree. It's painful enough when they're just metaphorically dancing, around the issues.
Margaret: There might be less of the metaphorical kind if we could have some of the other. Get down with the people, Ramesh. Monday, we had a politician who only does the real thing come to Bloomberg for a journalists' roundtable. Senator John McCain was just back from a weekend trip to Ukraine. He was adamant about what a few encouraging words from the U.S. could do for the Ukrainian people -- although only metaphorically for now. Joining the European Union is a stand-in for ending the outright corruption (the president has a $100 million mansion, or is someone exaggerating?) and the oligarchs who control everything. Russia controls them and Putin is turning the screws on the 200,000 protesters in Kiev. McCain, who two weeks ago called Secretary of State John Kerry a human "wrecking ball" for conducting diplomatic "fire drills" around the world, went easier on Kerry because of the kind words he offered to the protesters. McCain couldn't resist bringing up the "unbelievably small" response Kerry was going to make to Syria. He also called Martin Dempsey the most political chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in history and credited Ambien (he pulled a vial out of his pocket) for him showing up looking like he'd had his beauty rest.
Ramesh: I thought McCain was terrific on Ukraine, but the West in general has not done enough to support the protesters. Partly that's because the EU finds it so hard to generate any kind of cohesion on foreign policy. Did McCain have anything to say about immigration? I've heard people say that the budget deal paves the way for an immigration bill, but I'm skeptical.
Margaret: McCain is such the optimist these days after going through at least seven stages of crankiness after losing the presidential race in 2008. He did say the budget deal makes immigration reform more likely. He suggested chopping it up in little pieces -- pass some version of the Dream Act and a little border security for starters -- and then put everything back together again in conference. Obama said he was willing to try the piecemeal strategy. But like Humpty Dumpty, the legislation might not be able to be glued back together after the House gets done with it. On the other hand, McCain brought up the worst cost overrun among all the overrun kings at the Pentagon -- spending $13 billion for the USS Gerald R. Ford. Applying salt to an open wound, the ship is headed straight to maintenance upon its completion: Its radar isn't working. The philosophy among defense contractors is just get the contract and you own the budget, the budget doesn't own you. On that sad note, I am off to a Christmas party, where I hope there's dancing.