Leonard Pitts, Jr. – We’re Surrendering Our Civil Liberties

The always read worthy Leonard Pitts, Jr.:

It will not be with guns.

If ever tyranny overtakes this land of the sometimes free and home of the intermittently brave, it probably won’t, contrary to the fever dreams of gun rights extremists, involve jack-booted government thugs rappelling down from black helicopters. Rather, it will involve changes to words on paper many have forgotten or never knew, changes that chip away until they strip away precious American freedoms.

I feel that Mr. Pitts is like me in that the particulars of the NSA programs are troubling but maybe not run to the ramparts troubling. More troubling is that so many Americans are not troubled at all. It’s all okay, nothing to see here, don’t even have to think about this one. That includes the Republicans that were okay when Bush did it and the Democrats that are okay now with their guy in the big chair.

Having watched the HBO documentary on Pussy Riot, the Russian punk band/performance artist /provocateurs that were arrested on charges of “giving offense” and “hooliganism”, two of whom  languish in a Russian jail today, one gives thanks for our Bill of Rights, system of justice and tradition of civil liberties. The 1st and 4th amendments were revolutionary when they were written and adopted and above everything else in the new Constitution and the soon added Bill of Rights, instrumental in making America the land of the free.  It’s at least worth a little consideration, a little time away from the NBA Finals or the Voice to make sure we’re not eroding one of the very real bulwarks given us against real-ass tyranny (as opposed to fake-ass tea party tyranny that is as easy to summon as banning Big Gulps).

Maybe it’s because we’re so used to these freedoms that we take them for granted. Watching three young Russian women go to jail, for years, for performing a song in a church is a reminder of what the architects of the Constitution had seen as routine in the world in their time and wanted to change.  

Maybe we don’t even know what civil liberties are any more.  I realize now that the idiot reflexive Obama defenders on Twitter who keep calling Glenn Greenwald a “libertarian”, which he is certainly not, have mistaken that term for “civil libertarian”, which he and many of my heroes most certainly are!  Have we completely lost the idea of fighting to defend the Constitution against the erosions of “precious American freedoms” that will always be attempted by the powers that be?    

We should know this, yet we fall for the same seductive con every time: We are afraid, but the state says it can make us safe. And all it will take is the surrender of a few small freedoms.

It makes you want to holler in frustration, especially since the promise is so false. Yes, the state can interdict a given terrorist plot, but even if it took every last freedom we have, it could not guarantee complete security. That is a plain truth with which we must make peace.

We will never be “safe.” But we just might, if we have the courage, be free.

So yeah, sigh, what Ben Franklin said: Those who can give up Essential Liberty to obtain a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

NSA Domestic Spying/Homeland Protecting Flibbertygibbet – who the hell knows?

As I’ve said before once national security and anti-terrorism get inserted into a debate then everything gets weird and difficult, people get angry and strident and Ben Franklin quotes get mangled. With the issues raised by the Guardian, NYT and WaPo, chiefly  by constitutional gadfly Glenn Greenwald and his Deep Throat, and all the debate it has prompted, I am reminded of Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” where he keeps debating going back and forth on an issue and saying “on the other hand” until he finally says “I’m running out of hands!”

Assuming the program is everything the authorities claim (and that’s a tough phrase to be writing for someone who grew up in the Watergate/Vietnam era), and it really is just a data mining algorithm looking for certain connections and no actual spying on individuals, then I guess it’s okay. 

On the other hand, I am disturbed by the potential of the information to be misused. I’d like to hear that the gathered information is destroyed in a short time period. 

On the other hand, the FISA court approvals for this program, apparently renewed every 3 months or so, kind of like changing your computer password, are so general as to truly twist the definition of “probable cause” into a legal pretzel. I’m pretty sure the founders thought probable cause was defined by a pretty specific behavior exhibited by a specific individual or group. It’s now been redefined into a perpetual assumption that somebody somewhere is doing something nasty, so that’s probable cause to check out everybody.

On the other hand, if it works and saves lives and no individual American citizen innocently going about their day is having their e-mails read, phones tapped or internet monitored then… geez Tevye’s right, this is hard stuff! 

The debate that I think this brings us back to is the updating of the constitution. Not just the 2nd amendment, but also the 4th might need an update to be relevant for the 21st century.

Just a note, I’ve been most disturbed by the venom that some narrow minded Obama supporters have turned on Glenn Greenwald, as if he was attacking the President personally by revealing (but not really, because we knew about most of this) the details of the program. You can criticize Greenwald all you want, hate him even, but don’t lie about him and claim he’s some libertarian Obama hater who supported the Iraq war – those are nonsensical lies. I’ve been reading Greenwald since he started writing publicly in 2005 and he has always come at the constitutional questions he raises from a progressive platform.

Update: It helps when people I trust like Sen. Al Franken vouch for the program. Unless they sold out to the man!