Days later, I'm still not over the shock of Congress passing legislation expanding the National Security Agency's authority to spy on Americans without warrants. By capitulating to George Bush's demands for broad new surveillance powers, Congress has not only trampled on our Constitutional rights but failed its own Constitutional duties!
The law permits warrantless surveillance of "persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States" - even when they are U.S. citizens or are communicating with U.S. citizens - with no prior court approval and only minimal court oversight. Rather than setting meaningful boundaries on the Executive Office, Congress essentially handed the president a blank check to invade Americans' privacy.
Congressional members following along like sheep is disgraceful, especially considering that the Bush administration has consistently concealed the truth about its illegal spying programs. The president admitted to the so-called "Terrorist Surveillance Program" only when press reports forced his hand in December 2005. After the administration deliberately evaded numerous Congressional inquiries, it took the threat of perjury charges for the Attorney General to concede last week that the program was more widespread than first acknowledged. In its haste to pass legislation, Congress simply caved in to the administration's fear-mongering.
Op-ed pages and blogs around the world are filled with outrage, as the country wakes up to repercussions of Congress radically expanding surveillance powers. Most are asking the same question: faced with this atrocious legislation, how could its many opponents shrink from the moment and let it pass? Dianne Feinstein, are you listening? Hello! Furious California voter here!
Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post has an excellent round-up of editorials and news reporting since the weekend.
The NY Times editorial page: "[T]he problem with Congress last week was that Democrats were afraid to explain to Americans why the White House bill was so bad and so unnecessary — despite what the White House was claiming.... While serving little purpose, the new law has real dangers. It would allow the government to intercept, without a warrant, every communication into or out of any country, including the United States. Instead of explaining all this to American voters — the minimal benefits and the enormous risks — the Democrats have allowed Mr. Bush and his fear-mongering to dominate all discussions on terrorism and national security."
The Washington Post editorial page: "To call this legislation ill-considered is to give it too much credit: It was scarcely considered at all. Instead, it was strong-armed through both chambers by an administration that seized the opportunity to write its warrantless wiretapping program into law -- or, more precisely, to write it out from under any real legal restrictions."
The LA Times editorial page:"That this flawed legislation was approved by a Democratic Congress is a reminder that many in the party are still fearful that they will be labeled 'soft on terror' if they don't give this administration what it wants when it wants it. But the party may be equally injured by the perception that it won't stand up for what it believes."
Professor Jack Balkin:" Do not be mistaken: We are not hurtling toward the Gulag or anything that we have seen before. It will be nothing so dramatic as that. Rather, we are slowly inching, through each act of fear mongering and fecklessness, pandering and political compromise, toward a world in which Americans have increasingly little say over how they are actually governed, and increasingly little control over how the government collects information on them to regulate and control them. Slowly, secretly and imperceptibly, the mechanisms of government surveillance are being freed from methods of political control and accountability; and the liberties of ordinary citizens are being surgically removed under a potent anesthesia concocted from propaganda, fear, ignorance and apathy."
Salon's Glenn Greenwald: "Those who fail to defend [the Constitutional] framework, or worse, those who are passively or actively complicit in its further erosion, are all equally culpable. With each day that passes, the radicalism and extremism originally spawned in secret by the Bush presidency becomes less and less his fault and more and more the fault of those who - having discovered what they have been doing and having been given the power to stop it - instead acquiesce to it and, worse, enable and endorse it."
Meteor Blades at DailyKos, speaking directly to Democratic leadership: "Weak is bad enough. Must you be simpletons as well? How many times has he [the president] marketed this crap? How many times have you bought it? Do you also fall for those late-night $19.95 television deals for a double-set of knives that never need sharpening?"
It is up to us to hold our representatives accountable for either allowing this change or supporting it outright. Send them a letter, phone to voice your opposition and visit their home offices in your district during the August recess. Spread the word to your friends and family about what Congress has done and urge them to take action too. Fortunately, the law has a six-month expiration date and some Congressional leaders have said they want to revise the law before then. Restoring protections for our fundamental rights - as provided in the Constitution - should be a top priority.
For Poetry Thursday:
Spread democracy around the globe?
That's rich, coming from you
who delights in trampling on freedoms
and removing legal protections
for our environment.
Your fear-mongering a tired strategy:
I thought no one was listening anymore
but even some Democrats kow-towed
to your latest effort to stifle rights
guaranteed in the Constitution.
Apparently they're more afraid
of the tall tales of aspersion you cast
than the wrath of voters
who have had more than enough
of being ignored
while civil liberties eroded,
tax dollars poured into a travesty of war,
a generation of young men dying
for your false claims,
while bin Laden remains free.
Who could have imagined
the terrible havoc and destruction
one man and his cronies could reap
under the guise of freedom
while inflaming hatred around the world?