From the time I started writing this blog, my intent has been to make an apolitical blog. Truth be told, I’m not a very political person, and I don’t like politics. There comes a point, though, when I feel I have to take a stand, and my one vote back home isn’t enough. Just continuing to write letters to my representatives isn’t enough. About hundred and fifty people read this blog each day, and from what I can tell from sitemeter, about 40 or 50 are Americans. If I don’t speak up now, it may be hard to forgive myself in the future.
What’s been happening back home has gone too far. It may even have passed the point of no return. I’m a patriot. That’s right, a patriot. I have the deepest respect for the people and ideas that created the US. I’ve found Jefferson’s, Franklin’s and Madison’s own writings not only educational, but even inspirational. Sadly, it appears that few of the current generation of political leaders feel the same.
If only copyright and patent law still operated as Jefferson originally laid out, we wouldn’t be seeing record companies sue tens of thousands of people, some innocent, and then bully them into settling for thousands of dollars each. Thanks to the DMCA, signed by former President Clinton, we now have less freedom about how we use our own purchased media than ever before. Right now, the number of people made criminals by current IP laws is more than the number who voted for our current president (assuming no election fraud). Think about that.
Franklin would have been aghast as I was to learn that what was labelled a “Patriot Act”, involved giving up our essential liberties in exchange for the promise of security throughout our “War on Terror”. It actually extended the deplorable Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of the previous administration. Among other things, the Patriot Act gave the government the authority to conduct roving warrantless wiretaps on its citizens and to demand information on their reading habits from libraries and bookstores. Several months before the passage of the Patriot act, police officers went to my favorite bookstore, The Tattered Cover and demanded a patron’s records. The owner, whom I had met before during my many visits to the store, refused.
Police are demanding that the Tattered Cover bookstore turn over the name and address of the purchaser so that they can link that person to the alleged illegal lab. The case is currently in court after Joyce Meskis, the owner of the Tattered Cover refused the cops’ demand on the grounds that turning over customer information violates the customer’s privacy as well as the First Amendment.
Meskis has a good point. While once upon a time the War on Drugs many have been a war on pills, powders, and “evil” plants, today it is far more than that. It is now, more than ever, a battle over the mind – a war over what sort of consciousness is approved and what sort is considered criminal. Going after books takes things to yet another surreal level, evoking images out of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, where firemen raced around the city burning offensive books.
Are we really ready to make reading certain books evidence of crime?
Richard Glen Boire, JD: When Reading Becomes A Crime: The War on Drugs Goes After Books
Joyce Meskis pushed on. She argued that very purpose of the First Amendment was to protect unpopular speech and expression, and that by turning over customers’ reading records, this protection would be side-stepped. In 2002, the Colorado Supreme court agreed with her and I breathed a sigh of relief. Little did I know, that soon afterwards, the Patriot Act would make the ruling moot, and that she would still be required to turn over customers’ records to law enforcement officers.
Even more than than Franklin’s or Jefferson’s libertarian ideals, it’s Madison’s vigilant prevention of the concentration of powers that we need most. As bad as the Patriot Act was, and still is, it pales compared to the Military Commissions Act (nytimes), popularly known as the “Torture Bill”. With the passage of this act, President Bush now has the powers to:
- detain people at his discretion
- ignore the Geneva Conventions
- torture detainees
- avoid Judicial Review
- … and admit secret evidence to military tribunals
The act effectively nullifies Habeas Corpus, a cornerstone of legal justice systems ever since the time of the Magna Carta. Basically, that means that people detained in the president’s new court system won’t have any right to claim that they are innocent and demand to either be charged or released. Instead, they can be held indefinitely without being charged for any particular crime.
This bill is not a national security issue—this is about torturing helpless human beings without any proof they are our enemies. Perhaps this could be considered if we knew the administration would use the power with enormous care and thoughtfulness. But of the over 700 prisoners sent to Gitmo, only 10 have ever been formally charged with anything. Among other things, this bill is a CYA for torture of the innocent that has already taken place.
The bill simply removes a suspect’s right to challenge his detention in court. This is a rule of law that goes back to the Magna Carta in 1215. That pretty much leaves the barn door open.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has already warned federal judges not to “substitute their personal views for the president’s judgments in wartime”. This is how a police state is made.
Don’t give up. Make your voices heard now, before it’s too late. If you have a non-political blog with a greater reach than this one, I implore you to speak out on this topic.