Jan 162012

The analogies are endless –– the frog in boiling water, death by a thousand paper cuts, etc. But in case you, like the majority of Americans, are completely asleep at the wheel, you need to wake up to current events in a very rapid way.

Both chambers of Congress and the president are sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution. Very few members of either have performed adequately and two of the three branches of government have declared war on civil liberties and, in essence, buried the Bill of Rights.

After the attacks of 9/11, Congress and the White House pounded the Patriot Act down the throats of the American people with barely a whimper from the senate –– 98-1 with one abstention, and only mild objection to the speed of the act from the House, 357-66 with nine abstentions.

The intent of the Patriot Act? Those who supported it would say it was to give the necessary tools to law enforcement to combat the threat of terrorism in the U.S. The new law created the Department of Homeland Security, a bureaucratic whale designed to put several existing agencies and a few new ones under the umbrella of one organization. The TSA and Coast Guard, for instance, are both under DHS.

However, the 9/11 Commission Report revealed that both the FBI and CIA possessed enough critical information between the two flagships of government overreach to prevent the attacks. But arcane laws, incompetence and interagency rivalries prevented the agency tasked to domestic anti-terrorism, the FBI, from sharing information with the agency tasked with overseeing intelligence gathering and global anti-terrorism, the CIA.

In other words, a breakdown in communication allowed the attacks to take place. Congress responded to this information by creating a monument to government stupidity in the DHS that stands as the largest non-military department in the federal government.

When we needed a minimal solution in the form of a hacksaw, Congress gave us a hammer to the back of our skulls.

All the way down to its cumbersome full title, the Patriot Act has been a weapon of fear wielded over the heads of Americans, similar to the guillotine. They sold it to the public under the auspices of preventing another outside attack.

Bombers of both shoe and underwear have demonstrated the utter failure of the TSA to do anything substantive other than provide a level of competence typically reserved for a Three Stooges scene.
Fast forward a decade and events in Washington have gone positively Orwellian. Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 just before 2011 ended and sent it to the president to be signed into law.

The NDAA includes language codifying the indefinite detention of American citizens without trial, charge or counsel for suspected acts of terrorism or supporting terrorism. The president, who promised when he was still a senator not to extend the eavesdropping portions of the Patriot Act should he become president, extended those portions as president.

As the constitutional law professor, he claimed to understand and support civil liberties. As president, he authorized the assassination of American citizens without due process –– and that authorization was used to eliminate an American accused of supporting Al Qaeda, followed by the deceased man’s family.

The usurpation of civil liberties will not end with the NDAA. The Stop Online Piracy Act, SOPA as you may have heard and the Protect IP Act, PIPA, are presently being pushed through Congress, which would give the federal government the authority to shutdown websites.

The Patriot Act, NDAA, SOPA and PIPA are your final warnings before the constitutional protections established by the Bill of Rights are taken from you forever.

People on all sides of the political spectrum make the occasional absurd comment about the need to update the 221-year-old Constitution. The founders could not have envisioned the technology and societal changes of modern times. Oh really?

Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, advocated a humble, non-interventionist foreign policy: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” Our entangling alliances in the Middle East were cited by Bin Laden as part of the reason for the attacks.

James Madison said, “If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” Between the Patriot Act and the NDAA, tyranny and oppression have arrived quietly. It’s time to jump out of the boiling water Kermit.

Note: SOPA was stopped in the House yesterday, killing the bill.

S. Jacob Stern fears the federal government more than terrorist attacks. His column usually appears Mondays in the Collegian. He can be reached at letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 3:37 pm

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