Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The End of Law and Democracy?

Last week, Congress yet again green-lighted the erasure of law and democracy in America. Thanks be to those gutless losers.

Now that the Bush Administration's most recent, just as flagrantly unconstitutional anti-terrorism bill is solidified as law, the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is finally torn asunder. The NSA can now monitor any electronic communications between foreigners and Americans without warrants and without challenges from the FISA court.

"Every day that Congress puts off these reforms increases the danger to our nation," Bush would have said in a July 28 radio address, had Senator John D. Rockefeller IV not requested that the statement be removed. Now that Bush got his way, spies are probably already poring over millions of Skype calls between Arab college kids and their parents back home. They'll be plenty busy for the next six months, I'm sure: Al-Qaeda means "The Base" in Arabic, a prosaic set of words that, in all likelihood, find their way into conversations at least a million times a week among the world's Arabs and Arabic-speakers.

No doubt, this passage happened so fast that most Americans hardly had time to consider it. They were busy reading Harry Potter, saving each other from a collapsed bridge or just working to make end's meet. I, for one, spent the overwhelming majority of my time last week at work, calling countless businesses a day and hawking catalogs. Fortunately, my parents pay my rent and I can read the paper at night. But I never called my Senator and I lucked out: Hillary Clinton didn't vote for this bill.

I'm thinking that if I was a single mother, worked at a supermarket or mall over 30 miles from home, rose early every day and returned by nightfall to pull in hardly enough money to feed two kids, I'd have a lot less time and energy to read the paper every day, let alone make sure my Senator didn't screw democracy for good in a bit of surprise legislation.

This happened fast, that's for sure--just like the passing of the Military Commissions Act last year, which bans the writ of habeas corpus for "illegal enemy combatants," legalizes "enhanced interrogation" techniques and essentially lets the Administration detain anyone they want for as long as they want without trying them in a court of law first.

I've come to believe that we are mired in a hellish "Groundhog Day" scenario. In the middle of an election campaign, most of our Congressmen clearly don't need much prodding to buy the argument that legal restrictions enable violent terrorist cells and hamper the work of intelligence agencies. Of course, this rhetoric takes for granted a professional, nonpartisan air among Bush cronies. This in turn completely ignores the reality that the Administration has done almost everything in its power to make the war on terrorism an abject failure.

Limiting our constitutional freedoms won't magically lead us to victory against terrorist cells that lurk among us, but it will strengthen a totalitarian system of panoptic controls. At any rate, reality doesn't appear to matter to most of our lawmakers. What matters is winning brownie points for adhering to the false sense of reality that the Bush Administration and its supporters have deftly advanced for so long.

Law and democracy in America has not finally been obliterated, I believe. In six months the bill is set to be deliberated over again. Our two main contenders for the presidency, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, didn't vote for the bill. So I have some hope for seeing progressive change in the future.

Nevertheless, Bush still has more than a year to go and, judging by his track record, I expect to see at least one more unconstitutional bill reach the floor of Congress before he is out. So if we ever expect democracy to survive this horrid chapter in our history, our Democrat-controlled Congress needs to grow a spine.

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