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December 23, 2005, 9:00 A.M.

Marketing Fear: There is an interesting question posed by a reader over at Josh Marshall’s site. The reader asks:

“When was the last time there was a major terror alert? They were something like a regular occurrence for the eighteen months or so before the 2004 election. And through 2004 the administration pushed the line that al Qaeda was aiming to disrupt the elections themselves. But as near I can tell there hasn't been a single one since Election Day. Through 2004, of course, critics of the administration routinely questioned whether the frequency and timing of the various terror alerts were not all or in part for political effect. How do we explain what appears to be a night and day difference between the year prior to November 2004 and the year since in terms of terror alerts and scares?”

I have to confess that it is a great question and one that I should have been thinking about, given my concern over the number of terror alerts leading up to the 2004 elections. The question of whether or not the government was manipulating intelligence data and reporting it in order to gain a political advantage is a real and disturbing issue. We know that the current administration has manipulated intelligence data in the past (WMD for example) and that during the 2004 election cycle the major focus on the administrations re-election campaign was on safety and national security. This fit perfectly with the occasional terror alert timed at reminding citizens of just how unsafe and scary the world might be if that other guy got elected.

My point here is that I don’t know, nor do I claim, that the administration made up threats out of whole cloth. It is the decision to release some information and the timing of the release that I question. In other words, the threats may have been exaggerated or the timing of their release manipulated for political advantage.

December 22, 2005, 11:30 A.M.

The more I think about it, the more angry I get about President Bush’s statement that his actions in authorizing illegal wiretaps of American citizens are in keeping with what the American people asked him to do following 9/11. I didn’t ask President Bush to engage in domestic spying or to violate the civil liberties of American citizens in response to 9/11. What I asked my government to do was to examine the behavior which spawned the hatred for our country and our system of government that led to 9/11. I agreed that a response was necessary, that al Qaeda was a real, true threat to our national security, and that the displacement of the Taliban government in Afghanistan seemed a logical response to the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. At no time, and under no circumstances, did I or anyone else I know ask the President to trample on the Constitution, or to behave outside of the law.

9/11 isn’t cutting it as an excuse anymore and the mea culpas aren’t going to make it. It’s time for the checks and balances to kick in and I sincerely hope that the recent Congressional actions in denying the President additional powers under the Patriot Act and in curbing the administration’s desire to exempt the CIA from anti-torture provisions of American law are signs of a changing tide.

December 21, 2005, 9:00 P.M.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that we are faced with as great a threat to liberty and freedom as this country has ever faced. The President's revelation that he has been authorizing illegal domestic wiretaps is but another confirmation of that fact. Unfortunately that threat comes from within our government and not from the increasing number of “terrorists” lining up to take a shot at us.

Last week the President suffered several major legislative defeats, including the passage of the McCain amendment banning the use of torture and the defeat of a cloture vote that would have ended a filibuster and allowed passage of the renewed Patriot Act. Both of these pieces of legislation were directly and vocally supported by the White House, and these losses were significant in that many Republicans joined with Democrats in resisting direct pressure from both the President and the Vice President. I choose to take this as a sign that the shock of 9/11 is wearing off, and that hiding behind those attacks in order to continually violate the fundamental freedoms which this country stands for will no longer be tolerated. I hope that I am correct.

Following the 9/11 attacks, our world changed dramatically. Our government reacted to the attacks, and to the criticism of its citizens who felt that their government had not done enough to protect them, by developing and aggressive campaign to reform existing laws by allowing greater latitude in gathering information from citizens and non citizens alike. In a frenzy of fear, anger and remorse, laws were passed, such as the USA Patriot Act, which bent the longstanding rules on government intrusion into the private lives of ordinary citizens. The concept made some of us a little queasy, but only Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wi)voted against the measure and in support of the fundamental liberties guaranteed by our constitution. His actions have been somewhat vindicated by the recent actions of his colleagues, including John Sununu, who think the recent Patriot Act proposal goes too far.

The failure of the Patriot Act could not have come at a better time because, as I said about the McCain torture amendment, it all comes down to a matter of trust. President Bush’s action in authorizing illegal wiretaps by the NSA is but another example of the fact that we just can’t trust the people running the executive branch of our government right now. In this case, another mea culpa just won’t cut it. President Bush is not just some kid caught with his hand in a cookie jar -- again -- he has violated federal law and the fundamental constitutional principals he is sworn to uphold. The fact congress has apparently finally awakened to the reality of the depths of arrogance and lawlessness in the administration bodes well for the future. Considerable damage has been done, however, and trust in our government both here and abroad is the casualty.

The attacks on this country (here and overseas) leading up to and including the September 11 attacks were symptoms of the hatred of this country and its foreign policies. The actions of the Bush administration in invading Iraq, and in lying about the reasons fuel the anti-American passion and hatred. Throw in a little torture, illegal wiretapping, refusal to accept a global warming treaty, illegal detention of citizens and some Halliburton for good measure and the moral high ground, hard won in our 230 some years of existence, is lost by a boy in a bubble.

Trust for our government is lost right now and any law or action should be viewed with skepticism until that trust is regained. In the meantime, the President and his advisors need to be called to task for their illegal activities against citizens in this country. Insuring safety and domestic security necessarily involve some loss of personal liberty. The extent to which the President and his advisors have taken liberties with our fundamental rights far exceeds the limits of the social contract between the government and the governed. This fundamental dichotomy is as old as the country itself. The pendulum has now swung too far away from the protection of individual freedoms, and we need a course correction.

President Bush defended his actions in authorizing illegal wiretaps by saying that the government needed to be “light on its feet”, and by saying that he was “doing what we expected him to do after 9/11. That’s just pure bunk. There is a system in place under current law which allows the government to get permission from a special court for exactly the type of wiretaps that the President authorized illegally and in secret. There are even provisions in the existing law that allows the wiretaps without court approval in an emergency with the requirement that the wiretaps be reviewed by the court within 72 hours. In short, there is no justification for this activity and it is illegal, plain and simple.

This has gone too far. Even George W. Bush should be able to understand that he has broken the law, and we need to be talking about articles of impeachment.


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