22 August 2006

Against Unswerving Loyalty

In the daily televised catechism courses provided by the corporate media outlets, we're told by the rightwing that they are the ones standing up for our rights and freedoms. Why is it then that conservatives are all so willing to abandon these same rights?

I recently came across a post on Glen Dean's site commenting on a Neal Boortz article. The Boortz article uses the popular tactic of constructing an imaginary scenario, with the effete, defenseless, and unswervingly moral U.S. government on one side struggling against the omniscient and omnipotent forces of evil:

Here's something I want you to think about though. Let's consider a scenario. U.S. Intelligence forces are eavesdropping on the cell phone conversations of an Islamic terrorist in Pakistan. It is starting to become clear that this Islamic terrorist is in the final steps of implementing a terror attack on a U.S. target ... let's say a large shopping mall. Our intelligence agents are on pins and needles because it looks like this man is preparing to call the Islamic goons who will carry out the attack and give them the go-ahead. As our intelligence people watch their monitors it suddenly becomes clear that the terrorist is making a phone call to the United States. This could be it! He may be calling his contact to discuss the final details and timing of the attack! Under Judge Taylor's ruling will our intelligence folks have the authority to listen to the conversation, or will they have to hang up? If they can listen, fine. If they have to get a warrant a few days later from that super-secret court, fine. If they have to hang up .. not fine.

Let's ignore for the moment the fact that the post is wildly inaccurate. We all know that retroactive warrants are already provided by FISA. So this isn't an issue (perhaps it should be!) Even with this red-herring aside, there are two fundamental problems with the Boortz article.

First, we're left with the impression that innocence and guilt are to be decided by some non-judicial authority. The intelligence people will figure out who the terrorists really are, we're told. Yeah, right. And if they think it's the next Martin Luther King Junior, our tax dollars will be spent paying for a small army of highly-paid agents to tail and harass the next non-violent preacher who appears on the American scene. It gets worse, this authority isn't a policeman but is instead a covert agent. Talk about lack of accountability. For those who slept through Civics 101, the courts are there precisely to sort things out methodically and bring some accountability into the process. Even with courts, there are tremendous injustices--it's odd to think we'll have a more justice system by jettisoning them.

Second, there's an underlying assumption that our government could never be the enemy. If this is the case, why have rights, laws, or constitutions? We should simply trust daddy to take care of us. But let's really look at this. Beyond all the hype, the U.S. military and government are extremely powerful. The U.S. military could probably fight a war with the rest of the world combined, and we'd knock out every capital on the planet (giving the cockroaches a chance to rule the Earth). U.S. intelligence is a gargantuan bureaucracy. Instead of the Boortz thought experiment, let's try one that is much more likely to occur (and probably does occur dozens of times a day):

Joe Shmoe, all-American secret agent, listens in on a Union organizer in Brazil talking to his American girlfriend. Joe, being the all-American conservative that he is, hates people who support workers and attack big-business, so he figures this guy must be up to something. So he decides that this Brazilian fellow fits "the terrorist profile". He listens in to the phone call and eventually finds information about where the girlfriend is having a political rally. Joe writes a note to himself: (Better go check out that rally. It has connections, after all, to a foreign "terrorist.")

And we all know how this ends (or rather, doesn't end).

The picture comes from the CafePress collection.


glendean said...

"Second, there's an underlying assumption that our government could never be the enemy."

Karlo, I certainly don't assume that and I am pretty sure Boortz doesn't either.

I don't want to give up rights either. I just don't see what right I am giving up. This is a terrorist surveillance program. I know I might sound naive, but I just don't think the NSA, which made up of apolitical buracrats, have the time to use this program for something else.

Karlo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Karlo said...

If you looked, I think you'd find that people in the NSA and the rest of the intel community tend to be a very rightwing slice of the population. And I'm sure that many have an axe to grind. The point is that we don't burn down the house to get at a few ants. Likewise, there's no need to hand over basic rights in order to deal with a few bad apples. The notion that the people being watched are "only terrorists, after all" seems to be very optimistic. We've seen secretive powers abused in every state where they've existed and numerous times in the U.S. (The East German files that came out after the fall of Germany are a great example.) Are we to assume that our rights won't be abused under the reign of "anything goes" King George? Are things fundamentally different now than they were in the past (besides the fact that the intel agencies are now swimming in money and have received a blank check from the president to do as they see fit)?