Friday, May 12, 2006

Presidential Power Redux

OK, so apparently the president of the US does not read my posts and clearly did not benefit from my constitutional history lesson a few weeks ago. That really is a shame because he clearly could use the lesson.

Here is the 4th amendment to the constitution again:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

That seems pretty clear to me that a warrant and probable cause are required before the government can invade our privacy.

Our founders were no dummies and neither were they wimps nor victims. They knew what tyrrany was, having just fought for their own liberation from Britain's monarchial rule. In England, the King was the law and the King could make or break those laws to suit his own purposes. Our founders did not want that sort of rule here, in our new democratic republic. They wrote the constituion to preclude the possibility of kingly rule. They made the president subject to the rule of law, not the citizens subject to the rule of the president. In the United States, the president is not the law. The law is the law and even the president is bound by that covenant.

Now, I know you're saying, 'Yeah, but in the age of terror, we have to have the tools to track terrorists, and maybe forgoing a few civil liberties is necessary. I don't mind if the government listen's to my calls. I have nothing to hide."

But that's not really the point is it? Do you really want to live in a society where the government monitors the moves and lives of its citizens to make sure that they continue to have nothing to hide?

Ben Franklin is attributed with saying "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

It doesn't matter that you or I have nothing to hide. The point is it is illegal and unconstitutional. Even the telecom companies recognized this before they violated the law:

The concern for the customer was also based on law: Under Section 222 of the Communications Act, first passed in 1934, telephone companies are prohibited from giving out information regarding their customers' calling habits: whom a person calls, how often and what routes those calls take to reach their final destination. Inbound calls, as well as wireless calls, also are covered.

The president has the authority to go through the FISA court with probable cause to get a warrant. And since the passage of the Patriot Act, he now has 72 hours to do what he wants before he even advises the court of his activities. And out of the thousands of requests that the FISA court has received since the late 70s, they have only refused a small number of requests.

Yesterday on Hardball, Chris Matthews postulated that the government could have stopped the 9/11 attacks if they had this program in effect before 9/11.

MATTHEWS: Well, here‘s where the tire hits the read, Senator. Suppose our authorities had broken up 9/11 the day before because they noticed telephone traffic which suggested 19 people were about to grab four planes and take them in to buildings. Would that have justified the program if that had happened?

Really? The government was already aware of several of the hijackers and some of their activities, where they were, who sent them here and the fact that several of them had taken flight lessons. They were already on the government's radar and the government could have gone to FISA and gotten the OK to surveille their calls. Not to mention, a yet to be translated communique was sitting on Hayden's desk on September 10th that said something like 'tomorrow is zero hour'. Let's not forget the ever famous PDB with the title "Bin Laden determined to strke US." And that Moussaui character who just received life in prison and his infamous laptop. Yet they had not been unable to uncover the 9/11 plot with all of that information. But if only they had the ability to illegally and unconstitutionally surveille the calls of 200 million Americans, that would have done the trick. Um, right.

That's right. Two Hundred MILLLLLLIOOOOON people.

Now, back when they were supposedly monitoring only international calls that were coming in and out of the US---because as Bush said, 'if you're talkin' to a terrorist, we want to know about it---Bush claimed that the government was only monitoring people with suspected ties to terrorists. Here is what ABC News reported yesterday:

Bush said any intelligence activities specifically target terrorists. "Our intelligence activities strictly target al Qaeda and their known affiliates," Bush said. "We are not mining or trolling through the personal lives of innocent Americans."


About 200 million people have had their call records monitored, Cauley said. This means the NSA keeps track of the outgoing and incoming calls, but not the callers' Social Security numbers or addresses.

Specifically targetting terrorists? Do you really expect us to believe that there are 200 million potention terrorists in the US?

According to the US Census Bureau, there are 298,722,674 residents in the US. So, that means the government is surveilling better than 2/3 of the American population as potential terrorists. This is not a limited program as the president has previously explained. This is a bold invasive program aimed at tracking average American citizens' calling patterns.

USAToday reported yesterday that this is the largest database ever created in the world and its purpose is 'to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders,'.

When the government goes about collecting and storing data on nearly every citizen, we have to be concerned. Our founders limited the power, the scope and the reach of presidential authority because the potential for abuse of power is too great. This is a presidential power grab that cannot be tolerated. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

This issue is neither Democrat nor republican, left nor right. This is the basis upon which our country was founded and we should stand united together against acts like this. Here is what some of our congressional members on either side of the aisle have been saying:

Though he did not acknowledge particulars, the president complained that any leak about "sensitive intelligence" methods "hurts our ability to defeat this enemy." Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who said he has been briefed on "all aspects of the NSA's activities," likewise said he is "increasingly frustrated with the release of sensitive data regarding our nation's best


"The big deal is that now we know that the administration -- I'll say "apparently," although if the report were untrue I think the president would have denied it -- is keeping track of the phone calls of millions of citizens who have nothing at all to do with terrorism. Bush has tried to convince us that the overwhelming majority of Americans are not affected by domestic
surveillance, but now we know that the opposite is true: The overwhelming majority of us are ."

"Shame on us, in being so far behind and so willing to rubber-stamp anything this administration does,' said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). He was referring to the Senate, but he could have been speaking for the entire nation."


Are you telling me tens of millions of Americans are involved with al-Qaeda?" Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, railed at a morning hearing. "These are tens of millions of Americans who are not suspected of anything."

All Americans agree that we need to be able to use all of the legal tools necessary to track and stop terrorist attacks. Americans are united on that front. Bill Clinton did it. At least twice that I remember. He stopped the bombing of the Los Angeles airport and he stopped New Year's Eve terrorist attacks here in the US. And he did it without creating a massive database to track US citizens. We cannot allow our Democracy to be lost because we have allowed our leaders to erode our liberties through fear-mongering. If freedom is worth the cost of the war in Iraq ---and make no mistake, I am no fan of this war---as the president continually proclaims, then it is worth protecting at home.

One of my heroines, Arundhati Roy, once said in a speech that 'once we surrender our freedoms, to win them back will take a revolution.'

Shame on us if it ever comes to that here.


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