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Jun 02 2011

Tyranny: American style

Emergency powers are a funny thing. Granting extraordinary leeway to a governmental authority is crucial when lines of communication have the potential to get crossed, and swift action is needed to address an urgent situation. However, the tricky part comes when it’s time for that governmental authority to give up those emergency powers. When the ‘emergency’ is vaguely defined, it becomes easy to justify extending the powers indefinitely. The ability to violate those pesky civil liberties becomes far too tempting, especially if there’s no organized opposition to point out how egregious your abuse of the law is.

Guess who’s finding this out?

US President Barack Obama has signed a four-year extension of the Patriot Act from Paris, extending post-September 11 powers allowing the government to secretly search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of alleged terrorists or their supporters. Hours after the US Senate and House of Representatives passed the law, through votes taken in rapid succession, and just minutes before the law was to expire at midnight in Washington DC, Obama sent in a digital signature, finalising the renewal on Thursday. During congressional debates, legislators rejected attempts to temper the law enforcement powers to ensure that individual liberties would not be abused [emphasis mine].

At the risk of sounding like a member of the tin foil hat brigade, people need to realize that without an effective opposition, the government is not working for your best interests. This is simply the nature of all government; once it begins considering itself the embodiment of the state – rather than the legislative interests of the people of the state – it will become self-serving at the expense of the rights of its citizens. Despite all the hopes pinned on this supposedly liberal president, he has shown – with one stroke of the autopen – to be no less autocratic than his predecessor.

I have supported Barack Obama from the beginning of his first campaign to the office of POTUSA. He spoke a language I agreed with – people becoming more involved with their government and increasing transparency. However, like all leaders, once he gained office he had to begin making compromises. I stuck through him with his ludicrous mishandling of the health care debate and various budgetary fights (his insistence of pretending that Republicans are reasonable people with principled objections rather than seeing them for the howling mob of reactionary plutocrats they are irked me to no end). I cheered when he overturned the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” regulations, and commiserated when he had to sign the renewal of the Bush tax cuts.

However, by signing the Patriot Act back into law rather than simply letting it expire, and by increasing America’s military presence abroad, he has shown himself to be just as unprincipled and prone to corruption as his opening act.

Most chilling about this story?

Congress bumped up against the deadline mainly because of the stubborn resistance from a single senator, Republican freshman Rand Paul, who saw the act’s terrorist-hunting powers as an abuse of privacy rights. Paul held up the final vote for several days while he demanded a chance to change the bill to diminish the government’s ability to monitor individual actions. The bill passed the Senate 72-23.

Any story where Rand Paul is the good guy is one that makes my head spin. The same Rand Paul that thinks that businesses should have the right to discriminate against people based on sex, gender, race… basically whatever they don’t like. This is the guy I have to cheer for standing up for his principles. It’s a sad day.

This is what happens when you don’t have a serious opposition – corruption takes root unabated. The Republicans are too busy trying to torpedo the entire United States economy, by demanding ridiculous service cuts by holding a metaphorical gun to the head of the country’s credit rating, to organize a legitimate force that can criticize acutal government overreach. Although, considering how they explode government interference (while all the while trumpeting for “small government”) when they have power, maybe it’s no surprise that they support unchecked wire taps and surveillance of people who are suspected of crimes in the absence of real evidence.

The lunatics are running the asylum, and the people who were hired as orderlies are too busy trying to steal meds from the supply closet to bother trying to restore order.

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4 comments

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  1. 1
    Daniel Schealler

    Something I read a while back (can’t remember where – might have been here for all I know) suggested that Obama was actually a center-right politician that only looks like a left-winger in comparison to the frothing-at-the-mouth American right-wingers.

    I generally keep my opinions to myself on politics because I rarely have enough information to hand to make a case, so I always get swayed to the opinion of the last person I heard that could muster a halfway persuasive argument.

    But one of the few things I can come down on like a ton of bricks is the Patriot act.

    That Obama signed it in is extremely disappointing.

  2. 2
    grassrute

    Don’t you think it’s worth the trade off? First, consider how many terrorist attacks have been thwarted –not necessarily as a result of the patriot act– by the FBI:
    http://inhofe.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=02dc5b99-20d6-4c5a-8859-ee5de4bf9c87
    You can also consider the number of terrorist attacks successfully carried out in America:
    http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Pages/AmericanAttacks.htm
    I, personally, would want to make it as easy as possible to catch terrorists before they carried out an attack. Those who don’t engage in suspicious activity have nothing to be concerned about. Even if, better to have your phone tapped than get shot on the golf course.

  3. 3
    Crommunist

    Violations of civil liberties always come under the guise of ‘safety’. You should take a look at all of the countries where there are uprisings currently going on – they ALL have government and police forces suspending people’s rights to protest and assemble in the name of “public safety”. The short answer to your question is ‘no’ – I don’t think that civil rights are privileges that can be suspended when they become inconvenient for the ruling class.

    When you say ‘as easy as possible’, you don’t actually mean that. You wouldn’t, for example, move your family into an underground prison camp to protect them with absolute certainty from a potential terrorist attack. You wouldn’t approve your neighbours being tortured systematically to see if any of them know about impending terrorist threats. You wouldn’t be okay with having police detectives randomly show up at your house unannounced and go through your things to make sure there’s nothing “suspicious” going on at your home. You’re willing to admit that there are lines of intrusion into your right to privacy that are unreasonable in preventing potential attacks, and my position is that the Orwellian “Patriot” Act crosses those lines.

  4. 4
    Crommunist

    Not only that, but the whole point of these terrorists attacks have been, and continue to be, to destabilize and bankrupt the United States and the Western world at large. The Patriot Act accomplishes that job for them.

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