IN recent weeks, President Bush and his administration have mounted a spirited defense of his Iraq policy, the Patriot Act and, especially, a program to wiretap civilians, often reaching back into American history for precedents to justify these actions. It is clear that the president believes that he is acting to protect the security of the American people. It is equally clear that both his belief and the executive authority he claims to justify its use derive from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
A myriad of contested questions are obviously at issue here — foreign policy questions about the danger posed by Iraq, constitutional questions about the proper limits on executive authority, even political questions about the president’s motives in attacking Iraq. But all of those debates are playing out under the shadow of Sept. 11 and the tremendous changes that it prompted in both foreign and domestic policy.
Whether or not we can regard Sept. 11 as history, I would like to raise two historical questions about the terrorist attacks of that horrific day. My goal is not to offer definitive answers but rather to invite a serious debate about whether Sept. 11 deserves the historical significance it has achieved.
My first question: where does Sept. 11 rank in the grand sweep of American history as a threat to national security? By my calculations it does not make the top tier of the list, which requires the threat to pose a serious challenge to the survival of the American republic.
Here is my version of the top tier: the War for Independence, where defeat meant no United States of America; the War of 1812, when the national capital was burned to the ground; the Civil War, which threatened the survival of the Union; World War II, which represented a totalitarian threat to democracy and capitalism; the cold war, most specifically the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which made nuclear annihilation a distinct possibility.
Sept. 11 does not rise to that level of threat because, while it places lives and lifestyles at risk, it does not threaten the survival of the American republic, even though the terrorists would like us to believe so.
Its not just the terrorists would like us to believe this is the case, but the far right thinks its to their advantage for the majority of the public to live in fear. Bush was doing a pretty horrendous job before 9-11 with his poll numbers only raising after 9-11 solely on the strength of the public’s noble desire to show unity in the face of a terrible tragedy. The only thing related to 9-11 that could merit the importance of the American Revolution, the War of !812, or WWII is the idea that 9-11 planted in the national psychi is the possibility that if a band of extremists could pull off 9-11they could committ some kind of nuclear attack that could effect the survival of the nation. Its ironic that with the possible exception of going after Bin laden in Afghanistan, the Bush administration’s focus has been on the least of the possible threats to the nation, the war in Iraq. Even the administration has pretty much settled on a shoe horned humanitarian rationale for invading Iraq even though they still occasionally refer to it as the front in the war on terror – Orwell speak at best. Iraq was not a major player in the world of terrorism export the way Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt were and still are. This is not to say in the least that the lose of life on 9-11 should be discounted. Remember that the Oklahoma City bombing was a horrific act committed by Americans against their fellow citizens. Risks are an inherent part of an open democratic society. Even closed societies that prize order and secuirty above freedom suffer acts of sabotage as any reading of the history of the Third Reich or the Soviet Union will attest, something to think about as Bush makes an inexcusable power grab over Congress and the rule of law, using fear and the illusion of security as his tools of political gamesmanship.
Believing there should be constraints on unchecked executive power is not the same as being weak-kneed about the war against terrorism. Critics are suggesting that President Bush should have gone through normal procedures for conducting such surveillance or asked Congress to provide clear legal authority for the National Security Agency activity. They are not contending that such surveillance shouldn’t be conducted at all. No leading Democrat has argued for barring this kind of potentially useful technique.
On some level we’ve all encountered people, teachers, parents, bosses, co-workers, etc. that given a little power become little soup nazi-like characters. That in mind, given even more power, a little less restraint equals a little more absurdity……ACLU Releases Government Photos
For example, more than two dozen government surveillance photographs show 22-year-old Caitlin Childs of Atlanta, a strict vegetarian, and other vegans picketing against meat eating, in December 2003. They staged their protest outside a HoneyBaked Ham store on Buford Highway in DeKalb County.
An undercover DeKalb County Homeland Security detective was assigned to conduct surveillance of the protest and the protestors, and take the photographs. The detective arrested Childs and another protester after he saw Childs approach him and write down, on a piece of paper, the license plate number of his unmarked government car.
and this from last year, FBI Pushing Patriot Act Powers
Under the Patriot Act, the FBI issues more than 30,000 national security letters allowing the investigations each year, a hundredfold increase over historic norms, The Washington Post reported Sunday, quoting unnamed government sources.
The security letters, which were first used in the 1970s, allow access to people’s phone and e-mail records, as well as financial data and the internet sites they surf. The 2001 Patriot Act removed the requirement that the records sought be those of someone under suspicion.
As a result, FBI agents can review the digital records of a citizen as long as the bureau can certify that the person’s records are “relevant” to a terrorist investigation.
Its a dirty business, but someone has to do it, so I read a few posts from the far right zealot’s blogs yesterday and many are repeating the meme that Democrats are attacking Bush because they don’t want him to spy on terrorists. Issues of honor and integrity have thus been jettisoned by the right-wing blogoviks concerning the debate over Bush versus the Constitution and FISA. Not one Democratic Senator or Congressman has said that they object to spying on suspected terrorists, not one. That could be the reason that I could not find any evidence on their sites that there is a Democrat that holds that position. When I was in 7th grade, if I had handed in a paper to my history or literature teacher that made such an assertion and did not present a supporting citation, such as a quote with a name and date, I’d get an “F”. So I would like to bestow a symbolic “F” on the right-wing blogs in presenting a fair and accurate portrait of the debate over the NSA scandal and warrantless domestic spying.
LearnOutLoud.com describes their site as “your one-stop destination for audio and video learning. Browse over 10,000 educational audio books, MP3 downloads, podcasts, and DVD videos.” Your first or second thought is how much. Well most of it costs, but there are a remarkable number of free lectures and videos. Some of the free ones are downloadable. I snapped this one up to listen to in the car ( local radio is a joke) Our Bodies, Our Technologies by Ray Kurzweil
How close are we to a world in which the abilities of machines are indistinguishable from those of the species that invented them?
and this The Door in the Wall by H.G. Wells, MP3 format
tells the tale of a man who encounters a mysterious green door that seems to appear at various times in his life in different places about London.
Well, I don’t resort to that explanation now. I have got over my intervening doubts. I believe now, as I believed at the moment of telling, that Wallace did to the very best of his ability strip the truth of his secret for me. But whether he himself saw, or only thought he saw, whether he himself was the possessor of an inestimable privilege, or the victim of a fantastic dream, I cannot pretend to guess. Even the facts of his death, which ended my doubts forever, throw no light on that. That much the reader must judge for himself.
from Transcript of The Door in the Wall transcription by Sean Puckett