Sunday, May 14, 2006

Can you hear me now?

Is it just me or does it seem as though every day there is a new story breaking in the media regarding governmental abuse of power? A few days ago we heard about the NSA illegally obtaining domestic phone records and of electronic spying on US citizens. Then it was announced that the Pentagon has been asked to develop a domestic military deployment plan in order to use American troops to patrol our borders. Oh, and by the way, did you know that we are going to put an Air Force General in charge of the CIA?

Let’s talk a little bit about the issue regarding the NSA. According to reports published in the USA Today, the NSA has developed and maintains a database of over two trillion domestic phone calls, using information obtained from Bell South, AT&T and Verizon. Can you hear me now? The NSA can, according to published reports. Over two trillion calls…think about that! The fact that this information was collected and that it exists, not to mention the manner in which it was obtained, is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. For those who are not familiar with the Fourth Amendment, it goes like this:

“The right of the people to be secure in their own persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue without probable cause, support by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons”

Soon after the tragic events of 9-11, President Bush issued a secret executive order authorizing the NSA to conduct electronic surveillance of international communications without the need of a warrant. President Bush defended these actions by stating that surveillance was conducted only on international calls or on calls from anyone suspected of having links to al-Qaeda or its affiliates. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg, as full and complete details of this order are currently classified and not known. In fact the order is so closely guarded that only a few select members of the Joint House/Senate Intelligence Committee and the Congressional leadership are fully aware of the complete details. The very existence of this executive order remained hidden from the public until December 2005, when the New York Times broke the story.

Here is where the rubber meets the road. The NSA debacle is an excellent example of how the President is deftly using the concepts of executive order to circumvent the Constitution and executive privilege to withhold “sensitive” information from the other branches of government. This is a very, very slippery slope. A President who shows such contempt for the law of the land is a threat to the very structure of our government. The Founding Fathers were adamant that they established a government of law…not of men. The system of checks and balances was designed with the purpose of ensuring that the country would be governed through the rule of law. A President, who assumes to himself the power to ignore the legislative directives of congress or to operate outside the checks of the judiciary, becomes exactly the type of threat to democracy that the Founding Fathers sought to protect our country from.

Whatever the current administration has not been able to accomplish through the use executive order or executive privilege it has accomplished through the use of the Patriot Act. Have you ever read the Patriot Act or is what you “know” about it been obtained through media sound bites or politician double speak? Be honest with yourself. If you are not familiar with the Patriot Act, then I advise you to become familiar with it quickly. You should be familiar with the Act that allows the government to monitor your activities without the need of judicial review or the issuance of warrants. You should know that the Patriot Act allows the government to secretly obtain your credit and library records without prior judicial review or approval. You should know all about the Patriot Act provisions granting the government powers to arrest and detain suspects without warrant, probable cause or criminal charges. You should know every intimate detail of the legislation that is keeping the basic workings of our judicial branch of government hidden under a veil of secrecy and violates the essential principals of our American democracy.

Do you know anything about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA)? It specifically prohibits the surveillance of people within the United States without individual approval by the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Now here is a great question; how do you go about collecting two trillion domestic phone calls with individual court approval? The answer is you don’t get court approval. Thanks to the Patriot Act, the protections provided by the fourth amendment and FISA have been altered or eliminated. They can arrest you, detain you, deny you your rights as an American citizen and refuse to admit that you even exist. They can listen to your calls, read your communications, check your credit, review your bank records and enter your home without warrant or probable cause. They can restrict or eliminate your right to effectively protest, all the while curtailing the rights of a free press so essential in holding our public servants accountable. Remember, the Constitution clearly states that the people are the ultimate source of our government’s power. So for the people to make informed decisions about the direction and position that our Government takes, the press must have unfettered access to the workings of government. Unfettered access to government, combined with information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, should in theory help keep honest people honest within our government. When access is limited and critical information is withheld, altered or edited, decisions are made without fear or consequence.

I hope this entry will stimulate your thoughts. I hope that you begin to question. Unlike our President, I do not ask that you accept anything I am saying at face value. I only wish to encourage people to gain knowledge, eliminate ignorance and search for the truth. I also want to make a confession, for I fear that these entries may be viewed by many as the ranting of an anti-Bush left winger. The truth is that I am a lifelong moderate Republican and I voted for President Bush both times. In my opinion, President Bush and his administration have severely damaged the honor and dignity of our country, escalated the level of tension and hostility worldwide. Yes I voted twice for “W” and I apologize. I hope that through the written word this Blog will serve as my penance.

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