Friday, May 19, 2006


"THEY that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin

"WHEN liberty is taken away by force it can be restored by force. When it is relinquished voluntarily by default it can never be recovered." -- Dorothy Thompson

"THE ONLY sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

"I BELIEVE that any man who takes the liberty of another into his keeping is bound to become a tyrant, and that any man who yields up his liberty, in however slight the measure, is bound to become a slave." -- H.L. Mencken

"THERE is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty." -- John Adams

"AS NIGHTFALL does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness." -- William O. Douglas

And then there's this

By Jay Bookman
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
May 12, 2006

THIS IS supposed to be America, the land of the free and the home of the brave.

But I'm beginning to have my doubts, about the free part and the brave part, too.

This America, this increasingly strange America, is looking more and more like the land of the cowed and the home of the silent.

In this America, we have a military agency, the National Security Agency, secretly tracking and analyzing every phone call or e-mail that is sent or received by hundreds of millions of American citizens, with records of all of those calls retained forever.

And in this America, millions and millions of people profess to be quite comfortable living under a government that wants to know who every one of us is talking to, and has the technology to realize that ambition.

It will keep us safe, some Americans have responded. Only those with something to hide should be worried, others have said.

All Have Something to Hide

But then again, we all have something to hide, don't we? My something may be different than your something, but we all have something we would rather keep to ourselves — the things we read or watch, the things we do or think or buy, the people we talk with or the Web sites we visit. . . .

Admittedly, there is a reason for that willingness to let government vastly expand its oversight of our lives, and that reason is fear of terrorism.

But there is always a reason, isn't there? There is always some threat to security that is said to justify the surrender of liberty to government. In every nation that has ever lost freedom to government, there has always been a reason.

There was a reason that the soldiers of King George III burst into the homes of colonial Americans without warrants or reasonable cause. And back then, there were also those who saw nothing wrong with that practice, who believed that only those who had done something wrong had anything to fear.

Fortunately, our Founding Fathers thought otherwise, enshrining that belief in the Bill of Rights to guarantee that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated."

In Josef Stalin's Soviet Union, they had a reason for government monitoring — fear of capitalist imperialists. In today's China and North Korea, they have a reason as well. In George Orwell's 1984, the reason was the threat from Eastasia or Eurasia.

"There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment," Orwell wrote. "How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time."

The Price of Liberty

But a strong people, a free people intent on remaining free, does not accept those reasons as sufficient. They are willing to accept the danger as the price of their liberty.

Our fathers and mothers and their fathers and mothers were such people. We tell ourselves that we today are still that people. We still celebrate ourselves as willing to fight and die for freedom, but the evidence accumulates that we are not.

The infinitesimal danger that any one of us might be killed in a terror attack — a danger much smaller than that of getting killed by crossing the street — is enough to send too many of us scurrying to toss liberty onto the bonfire in the vain hope that the sacrifice might make us safe.

But this is about more than civil liberties, as precious as they might be. These violations of constitutional rights are made possible because of a still more fundamental problem: The system isn't working; the checks and balances built into government by our Founding Fathers have been dismantled.

Congress has passed laws to ensure that any spying on the American people is conducted appropriately and within the Constitution; the executive branch simply proclaims it will not be bound by those laws.

Lawsuits have been filed alleging that the spying is illegal and unconstitutional; the executive branch refuses to allow those suits to be heard by the judicial branch, on grounds that the programs are national secrets and not to be questioned.

At every turn, it seems, every mechanism to rein in the executive or make it accountable to the people has been frustrated.

Down the Road to Unaccountability

Two events of last week demonstrate just how far down this road we have traveled.

First, the U.S. Justice Department announced it had been forced to drop its own internal investigation into the legality of warrantless wiretapping. The federal government had refused to give its own lawyers the security clearances needed to conduct such an internal analysis, so the effort had to be abandoned.

Then Gen. Michael Hayden, the president's nominee as CIA director, told members of the Senate that he might be open to allowing debate on legalizing warrantless wiretapping, an ongoing practice that violates federal law.

"I'm willing to consider trying to bring the NSA wiretap program, as it exists now, under federal law," Hayden was paraphased as saying by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois who cited the statement as an encouraging sign of compromise.

Think about that. A government official says he might be open to allowing Congress to debate such things. More chilling still, the much-abused Congress is pleased by that new "flexibility."

And the compromise in question? Congress would be allowed to legalize what the executive branch has already decided to do anyway.

Political Brouhaha Is Needed

We need to have a fight about all this. It won't be pleasant, it won't be fun, but we need to hash it all out in a down and dirty political brouhaha. As the party in opposition, the Democrats need to lead that fight using every tool at their disposal.

It may be that today's Democrats lack the guts for such a battle. If so, then they also lack the guts to lead this country, and I fear to think where that would leave us, forced to choose between one party with no courage and another with no brains or perspective.

But if we have that fight, and if at the end our craving for security proves stronger than our love of liberty, I guess I would want to know that, bitter as that knowledge would be. At least then it would be clear where this nation stands, or more accurately, where it cowers.

Jay Bookman is the deputy editorial page editor.

© 2006 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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