The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
~ The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America
In the most recent episodes of Star Wars, George Lucas takes his audience on a journey through the process of political decay. He illustrates the ironies and absurdities inherent in the collapse of a limited, republican form of government. He portrays the defenders of the republic as confused and impotent while he exposes the vile and conspiratorial nature of their imperial adversaries.
In what surely must be one of the fascinating examples of life imitating art, the typical observer of American politics ought to be awestruck by the events unfolding around him on a routine basis.
Hardly a day passes now without some new outrage being perpetrated on our republic by those in the halls of power. It is happening with such regularity that one could almost excuse the concerned citizen for simply throwing in the towel and tuning out.
But occasionally something so egregious occurs that even the most jaded and cynical among us have to stand up and take notice.
Just such an event unfolded in the halls of the United States Senate this week in the form of a hearing concerning the FBI’s quest for new investigative powers included in the latest Patriot Act.
Alan Eisner at Reuters reports:
The FBI on Tuesday asked the U.S. Congress for sweeping new powers to seize business or private records, ranging from medical information to book purchases, to investigate terrorism without first securing approval from a judge.
Valerie Caproni, FBI general counsel, told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee her agency needed the power to issue what are known as administrative subpoenas to get information quickly about terrorist plots and the activities of foreign agents.
In essence, the FBI wants the power to issue "administrative subpoenas" to execute searches without the annoyance of having to show probable cause in a court. (Since the agency carrying out the search is going to be the one issuing the subpoena, one wonders why they even bother with a subpoena at all. Why not just ransack wherever they please and dispense with the fiction altogether? Can anyone envision a circumstance where the FBI would refuse to issue a search warrant to itself?)
The Republicans, who have discarded their previous concerns for the Bill of Rights like a snake shedding its skin, are the primary supporters of this scheme.
Committee chairman, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, noted that other government agencies already had subpoena power to investigate matters such as child pornography, drug investigations and medical malpractice. He said it made little sense to deny those same powers to the FBI to investigate terrorism or keep track of foreign intelligence agents.
One has to admit certain logic in his argument. After all, if other government agencies are already disregarding the constitution, then why can’t the FBI?
But the really fascinating parts of the testimony came later. The first example was when the FBI counsel claimed that these powers were needed to prevent terrorist attacks such as car bombs. When challenged on that point, she responded:
Caproni said she could not cite a case where a bomb had exploded because the FBI lacked this power, but that did not mean one could not explode tomorrow.
Whether she appreciated it or not, this is the pure, undiluted logic of a Sith Lord. In essence, she contends that we should discard our constitutional protections here and now in the theoretical hope that we can avoid a terrorist attack at some undefined point in the future.
We are, in short, to abandon our freedom for the mirage of security.
While the advocates for the empire are obnoxious and tragically predictable, their odiousness is petty compared to the nature of the bill’s opponents. If anyone dares look down upon the defenders of Lucas’ Republic as being ineffectual and spineless, I give you the junior Senator from West Virginia:
“I am not aware of any time in which Congress has given directly to the FBI subpoena authority. That doesn’t make it right or wrong. It just needs to be thought about,” said West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller.
An agent of the executive branch paraded into the Senate Chamber with a proposal that directly trashes one of the most important protections in our Bill of Rights, and the esteemed legislator’s only reply was that he cannot say if it is "right or wrong".
With friends like these, liberty hardly needs enemies.
Patrick Henry, he is not.
In better times, any government official openly agitating for the evisceration of our constitution would be immediately relieved of his job. After all, are not members of our security forces sworn to protect and defend our freedoms? And how has our system degenerated so badly that those advocating authoritarian policies are outspoken and arrogant while those supporting our freedom are wishy-washy and pathetic?
Truly, we are seeing the visions of Yeats come to life before our very eyes.
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
A glance at the structure of our government in this late era of republican governance demonstrates a variety of oddities and ironies. The most interesting is the observation that each branch of our government is now ignoring those areas where its actual responsibilities lie while simultaneously intruding into areas where it was once explicitly forbidden.
Thus, we have a judiciary that is meekly turning over its responsibility to scrutinize warrants to various elements of the executive branch. Meanwhile, these same judges have abandoned the constitution’s moorings and are dictating social policy to the nation far in excess of any powers envisioned by our Founders.
The congress, in a cowardly and cynical attempt to avoid responsibility, has abrogated its constitutional mandate to make declarations of war to the executive branch. Thus, presidents now take America into conflicts without the necessary debate and scrutiny that the Founders intended. Meanwhile, these same legislators have constructed a myriad of bloated and corrupt programs that are found nowhere in their powers enumerated by the constitution (i.e. retirement Ponzi schemes, prescription drug programs, Byzantine agricultural subsidies, etc. etc.).
The executive branch now reigns supreme over foreign policy with almost no checks or balances whatsoever. The result has been the repeated abuse of the military in a variety of undeclared wars that have almost no relationship to the well-being of the people of this country. This same executive branch, meanwhile, refuses to enforce federal laws that it finds objectionable, such as defending our own borders from the hordes of illegals crossing on a daily basis.
Thus, we have a judiciary that wants to be a legislature, a legislature that wants to be a sugar daddy, and a president who wants to be an emperor.
It is a sorry sight to behold, and one that will probably make for a great tragic adventure series someday.
Unfortunately, we are all cast in the role of the "innocent bystanders."
And everyone knows what usually happens to them.
Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.