Too late to cry

Orwell Called It

By TED S. McGREGOR JR.

The revelation that the National Security Agency is collecting phone records in the name of keeping us safe isn’t much of a revelation, really. Sure, the details from the whistleblower Edward Snowden published in The Guardian were new, but in 2008 Congress passed laws that indemnified the likes of Verizon and Google from breach-of-privacy lawsuits. Pretty obvious, what they were up to.

The silence from our lawmakers has been deafening. There is, however, this nugget: “We must see to it that… all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

No, that’s not Rand Paul, one of the few critics of the data mining; it was Frank Church of Idaho in 1975. After the nation had been lied to about Vietnam, and after President Nixon was caught breaking the law, Congress got a fire in its belly for reform. Sen. Church took on the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA, which had been, collectively, reading our mail, disrupting American peace activists and assassinating world leaders in the name of keeping us safe.

The result of Church’s hearings was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which put oversight into a system gone rogue. The key word is “foreign,” as the law stipulated that only foreign subjects could be targeted without a special warrant. Now we know that George W. Bush broke that law after 9/11, and Congress undid Church’s work with its FISA rewrite in 2008. Now your government is watching you to a degree Church could never have dreamed of. This brings to mind two questions: is this practice American? And is it effective at preventing terrorism?

Like the Alien and Sedition Acts, we have passed un-American, unconstitutional legislation before. As citizens, we are guaranteed to be presumed innocent and we have a right to privacy. If Congress won’t do anything, we’ll need an opinion from the Supreme Court to settle this.

And while we are told the NSA is squashing terror plots, the Boston bombers slipped by despite warnings from Russia and our own agencies.

Where’s Frank Church when we need him? He never doubted the need to gather intelligence; he just demanded oversight and constitutional boundaries. President Obama says Congress is supervising the spying; members of Congress say they are not. The blame game and finger-pointing is pathetic and an insult to all we stand for.

Here’s a final thought: If a dictator ever did get his grip on America, Church worried the NSA “could enable [him] to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back. … There would be no place to hide.”

A lot of people have loved to quote old Ben Franklin, among the people who could be considered one of this nation’s founding fathers: People who give up essential liberties in the name of safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. However, I find that they will quote Franklin more often when a Democrat is in charge as opposed to a Republican. I also find that Republicans only oppose a “run amok” government supposedly not acting within specific constitutional constraints, when it is a Democrat in charge instead of a Republican. Even if Ted McGregor—who’s latest Inlander editorial is transcribed in full— might be regarded as a “left winger,” he presents a more solid case for the limits of government than anyone associated with the GOP, “TEA Party,” or religious activists ever will.

I do believe that there is now another level to all that President Obama found himself up against in the years since he claimed the office of the Presidency. It isn’t just the bigotry, now. It isn’t just because he is a Democrat. It isn’t only because the GOP were greatly disappointed that their presidential wannabes didn’t make it, twice. What the late Frank Church said back in the late 1970s that resonates so well today; perhaps the GOP in general, and GW in particular, wouldn’t have minded the total dictatorship. But in this democracy, and the Constitution that clearly limits the President’s terms in office, the tools set in place for a potential dictatorship, will factually be passed to the successor to the office. Given the levels of extremism that makes terrorism a factual threat, the temptation to use those tools is too high to resist. In the name of combating terrorism, GW did create the conditions for a run amok government. A government that no longer needs to accept or adhere to any constitutional obligations. So, when did the “TEA Party” show up to protest government? Only when it looked like a Democrat would win. Only when a Democrat assumed office. Finally, Rand Paul is one of the faces of the GOP. His criticism of PRISM is far too late now, given the fact that the Congress he represents speedily acted to protect commercial interests from lawsuits. Commercial interests that openly and actively collaborated with government against the interests of their own citizens. On the other side of the coin? George Nethercutt mixes in bashing the President with telling Congress and other public officials to just get in touch with the voters. The only problems that Congress can be expected to solve, must come from viable feed back from the constituency. I read his latest Fantasy Island piece and compared it to what McGregor had to report. Congress actually listening to its constituency and looking for advice on how to solve problems? 2008 and at the behest of GW Bush, Congress showed exactly where its bread is truly buttered. In who’s interests and only in who’s interests they were prepared to act. As a consequence, Congress set down the conditions for a very real total dictatorship. The news media gave it a pass, the voters gave it a shrug and a yawn, and we went on trucking. We now see and feel the repercussions years later. The mess that Congress made when identification with party mattered more than doing the work of the people. It is now, too late to cry.

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