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Friday, March 17, 2006

Give Me Liberty -- A Patriot's Case Against Appeasement

From the NYTimes: The Newspaper of Appeasement:
We understand the frustration that led Senator Russell Feingold to introduce a measure that would censure President Bush for authorizing warrantless spying on Americans. It's galling to watch from the outside as the Republicans and most Democrats refuse time and again to hold Mr. Bush accountable for the lawlessness and incompetence of his administration. Actually sitting among that cowardly crew must be maddening.

Still, the censure proposal is a bad idea. Members of Congress don't need to take extraordinary measures like that now. They need to fulfill their sworn duty to investigate the executive branch's misdeeds and failings. Talk about censure will only distract the public from the failure of their elected representatives to earn their paychecks.

We'd be applauding Mr. Feingold if he'd proposed creating a bipartisan panel to determine whether the domestic spying operation that Mr. Bush has acknowledged violates the 1978 surveillance law, as it certainly seems to do. The Senate should also force the disclosure of any other spying Mr. Bush is conducting outside the law. (Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has strongly hinted that is happening.)

The Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees should do this, but we can't expect a real effort from Senator Pat Roberts, the Intelligence Committee chairman, or Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. They're too busy trying to give legal cover to the president's trampling on the law and the Constitution.
Wow, what a stellar idea. The NYTimes editorial board would like Harry Reid to shut down the Senate again and demand a blue ribbon bi-partisan commission to investigate what it already reported was going on -- using the NSA (and other agencies) for illegal domestic spying without a warrant in violation of the FISA laws and the 4th Amendment. (Remember James Risen? Remember your big news back in December? Hello?!?)

And the shut down of the Senate? Sure, it was a brilliant tactical maneuver at the time -- but one that surely works well as a surprise, and when used rarely. Not gonna be much of a surprise at the point, now is it?

And it got us...erm...another blue ribbon panel, this time of Senators, who haven't been able to move Phase II forward in the Intelligence Committee because the Republicans on the panel aren't interested in doing any real oversight and the Democrats aren't the sort who will go public with their concerns. So what did we get? Stalemate.

Just what the nation needs.

You know what I think this nation hungers for -- what we are all feeling in the back of our minds and in the deepest parts of our hearts?

That the misuse of government for political payback, rampant cronyism, corrupt influence peddling and bribery, and the overstepping of national security and legal boundaries to spy on Americans whose only crime is to disagree with the President is flat out wrong. And there are a whole lot of us -- liberals, ultra-liberals, moderates, libertarians, fiscal conservatives (everyone but the "maintaining party power is my whole world" crowd) -- who think that our nation and our Constitution ought to come first.

How about some accountability? Some oversight? Some real work on the part of Congress?

Don't make me laugh. Republicans control Congress right now. The people who have been placed in the party hierarchy in Congress and in the Committee Chairperson seats are either party loyalists or members who are willing to suppress their own personal ethics in order to hold their power chair.

Remember the last time Arlen Specter forgot his place and got all uppity about honoring the Constitution -- and he got a visit telling him he'd be removed from his seat at the head of the Judiciary table? How quickly can a grown man back down from his principles, I ask you? Apparently, pretty damn quick.

This Congress is not going to step up and provide any oversight so long as Republicans control both houses. The party leadership has decided that political power interests trump any allegiance to the Constitution or to our long-term national interests with regard to liberty or laws, and the hell with that pesky oath to the Constitution they all take when they enter their public office. It's a sad fact, but it is true nonetheless.

There are two options for dealing with the illegal NSA domestic spying on the table at the moment that hold some promise for accountability: censure or the appointment of an independent counsel. Everything else is simply window dressing and appeasement.

And for all those wingnuts who are now hopping up and down and saying I'm soft on terrorists and unpatriotic and I don't want to give the President the tools he needs to protect America and fight terrorists, I have this to say: BULLSHIT.

No one in their right mind is saying that surveillance under the law is not an appropriate means of combatting terrorism. No Democrats are saying this that I've heard, and I spend a whole lot of time listening about this issue. Hell, I've helped write up enough wiretapping warrants in my day for undercover investigations to know how useful they are as a tool -- they are essential. But they also must be tempered with the review of a third party with no personal interest in the investigation, to be certain that this awesome power is not being misused.

And that is the point: every police officer and federal agent in this country knows that they have to do the proper paperwork and present it to a judge for their third party, objective review, before proceeding with the substantial power that the government has of investigation.

There are emergency provisions already written into these laws which allow for surveillance to begin -- and for the government to be able to wait up to 72 hours before obtaining the warrant, after they have already been doing the surveillance. The FISA laws already cover this contingency.

There are very good reasons for third party oversight by the judiciary -- the power that the government has to do surveillance is enormous. And it has the potential for misuse, because that temptation is great.

The fundamental question that every citzen in this nation ought to be asking themselves is this: do I trust the government to make appropriate choices each and every time they decide to surveil someone, and to not misuse this power to spy on their political enemies or on people who criticize them or for some other wholly inappropriate purpose?

And then ask yourself this question: would I trust the government not to misuse its power if it were being run by the person on the opposite side of the political chasm that I distrust most? Just think about that for a second, and see if you don't get a huge flinch in your gut at all the possibilities.

Our Founding Fathers had a substantial mistrust of unfettered power, which is why our system was set up as one of checks and balances. It was that whole getting out from beneath the boot of the King for them -- and the fact that they had to fight for every inch of liberty that we now blithely toss aside in the name of partisanship.

I remember the days when the Republican Party gave lip service to the notion that individual rights were most important and that government ought not tread on our freedoms or our liberties. Those days are over under the current party leadership -- and all those civil libertarians and anti-government folks out there had better get used to it, or rise up and start taking their party back. Today it's domestic spying without a warrant and to hell with the 4th Amendment. You think if the crony money isn't in it for them they won't start chipping away at the 2nd Amendment, too?

The 1st Amendment has already taken a hit -- can't have people disagreeing with George Bush where he might actually see or hear him, so we already scuttle those horrible, nasty people who want to hold their government accountable by having the Secret Service drag them out of any public appearance the President might make. (The fact that these appearances are paid for with public funding be damned.) You think the whole of the Bill of Rights isn't up for sale right now? Jane was absolutely right that the Dubai deal was the prime example of national security and public interest taking a back seat to the crony with the largest, bulging wallet.

This is not a partisan issue. That it may have use for partisan implications is plain, but fundamentally for me, this is an issue that is wrong at its Constitutional core. Our government is failing all of us, because they are no longer interested in governing. It's about maintaining power -- and the status quo -- and every citizen in this nation ought to be sick at how things are currently being run in Washington.

I do not trust the Bush Administration to do anything that is not in their own personal or crony interests, and the nation be damned. And a whole hell of a lot of Americans out there are feeling the same way -- I get e-mails about this daily, and not just from our usual progressive readers, it's been libertarians and fiscal conservatives as well.

The system of checks and balances is currently skewed, because Republicans control both Congress and the White House -- and the Republicans in Congress have abdicated their oversight and balancing responsibilities in favor of being a rubber stamp for the Bush Administration.

The New York Times is high on something if they think that simply setting up a "bi-partisan commission" to study the potential problems with the current system is going to do any good. What part of the President admitting publicly on multiple occasions that he was breaking the FISA laws -- and that he would continue to do so -- are they not understanding?

What part of this country being a nation of laws that the President -- who is after all only a man elected to office for a short period of time -- has to follow just like every other citizen in this nation do they not understand?

It's the accountability, stupid. For me it comes down to this: are you an accountability patriot -- or are you just another appeasement rubber stamp?

Give me liberty. Give me accountability. Give me my Constitution back.

NOTE: Sorry this is so late in going up. Blogspot was having issues -- this is the same post that has been up at the new website. Just FYI.