Thursday, December 22, 2005

Starting off with a grumpy bang

Ol’ Scratch (aka Dick Cheney) the other day predicted that critics of the administrations secret surveillance scheme would face "enormous public backlash" for their criticism. Where is this guy spending his spare time? On one of the moons of Saturn? Here on Earth there is growing, genuine discontent with the administration’s escalating assault on our civil liberties in the name of ‘security’.

The security song can only be played so many times before it starts to wear out its welcome, sort of like one of those hit pop tunes that gets played way too many times on the radio. Absent a rock ‘em, sock ‘em ‘terrorist attack’ somewhere that knocks down another big building, it gets old even faster because nothing happens to scare the sheep back into line.

No doubt many of these liberty-consuming policies make us ‘safer’. But so would posting a machine-gun toting government goon squad on every street corner, issuing Internal Security Documents to everybody and conducting cavity searches with roving security patrols. But then that wouldn’t exactly be an America worth defending any more, would it?

I find especially lame the administration’s contention that using the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court just isn’t fast enough. First, how is obtaining a warrant up to three days AFTER surveillance has started (which is allowed under FISA) not fast enough? Second, how many local prosecutors, sheriffs and chiefs of police would love to able to say “it takes too long to get a search warrant, so we’re just going to start knocking down doors whenever we feel like it”?

To the apologists who would argue the two examples aren’t the same thing, I’ll say this: Bullshit. You didn’t pay attention in civics class. Half the laws on the books (and a sizeable chunk of the US Constitution) are intended to protect us FROM government abuses. Our country was founded to protect us FROM the abuses of a remote government. When government – any level of government – starts to discard those protections, all of our liberties are in greater peril. That the protections in this case were discarded by a secret executive fiat only serves to magnify the problem.

Totalitarian societies can generally be very ‘secure’ – at least for those who toe the political line. Part of the price of political liberty is a lower degree of internal security. That’s just the way it works. A higher rate of gun crime, for example, is the price we pay for our constitutional right to keep and bear arms.

In the last 5 years, terror attacks on the US have killed, what? 3,000 people? In that same span, how many people have died in fire-arm related violence? I don’t know. But in 2001 – the year those 3,000 died on 9/11 – over 29,000 American civilians died of wounds from firearms. So what’s really the bigger threat to our ‘security’? Yet how many people who sing along with the administration’s security song also fight tooth and toenail against gun registration and licensing schemes, background checks and ‘assault weapon’ bans? That’s a rather odd dialectic, isn’t it?

Freedom isn’t free, as they say, and it isn’t always just our military who get to pay the price. We don’t have goon platoons on every street corner conducting security searches on every passerby – so occasionally some gomer with a gun, bomb or knife does some harm. Welcome to America.

Me? Call me a whacko. I like my guns (the government doesn’t need to know how many I’ve got, and neither do you). I don’t want the government listening in on my cellphone or checking up on my reading list at the library without a damned good reason and a court order.

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