Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Phill Kline, George W. Bush & friends: What are you doing to my country?

I’ve been sitting here mulling over the best way to write this post, hesitant perhaps, because a friend recently told me she liked the well-mannered tone of my blog. Actually, I get a fair number of comments like that, and I’m generally pleased with everyone who tells me that I bring a measured thoughtfulness to public debate. I don’t want to be just another nasty blogger looking for a reason to get angry.

But there are times when I wonder if only a shout is sufficient, or perhaps a scream of pain or fear.

As I watch what our political leadership is doing on the state and federal level, I realize that this may well be one of those times. All I want to do is shriek in despair and scream my question in the faces of Republican leaders: What are you doing to my country?

It seems that the rule of law is now out of fashion. So 20th Century, I suppose. Under the “leadership” of the neocons and the religious right, the United States is now suffering under the rule of men (and generally it is “men”).

We are subject to their whims and their agendas. The checks and balances put into place by the founders of this country have been tossed aside. This has been done by people who claim to be conservative, yet refuse to conserve the U.S. Constitution.

In Kansas, the ultra-conservative darling of the religious right, Attorney General Phill Kline, went on a fishing expedition in 2003 immediately being elected to office. He subpoenaed the medical records of 90 women and girls from clinics that performed abortions. Kline’s scatter-gun approach of rifling through medical records on the off-hand chance that they might show a crime even outraged some abortion opponents.

The Kansas Supreme Court was not pleased. On Friday the state’s highest court issued a unanimous opinion telling the person who is supposed to be Kansas’ top law enforcement official to go back and follow the law.

One aspect of the case dealt with Kline’s refusal to obey lower court orders. The state Supreme Court was not amused and noted:
“Kline has told this court that he did what he did simply because he believed that he knew best how he should behave, regardless of what this court had ordered, and that his priorities should trump whatever priorities this court set.”

What the Kansas Supreme Court said about Kline could be said about a president who appears to want to crown himself king. George W. wants the right to ignore the Constitution and a little law called FISA to spy on U.S. citizens.

The Washington Post reported more details this weekend on how the spying works. Contrary to what the president has led people to believe, the program doesn’t zero in on people who are known to be talking to terrorists. Instead, machines sweep in a vast number of communications. Think of the program as a kind of clean-sweep fishing net gouging across the ocean floor, catching everything in it’s path.

Computer-controlled systems collect and sift basic information about hundreds of thousands of faxes, e-mails and telephone calls into and out of the United States.

If certain keywords pop up, then humans intervene. The Post reports:

The scale of warrantless surveillance, and the high proportion of bystanders swept in, sheds new light on Bush's circumvention of the courts. National security lawyers, in and out of government, said the washout rate raised fresh doubts about the program's lawfulness under the Fourth Amendment, because a search cannot be judged "reasonable" if it is based on evidence that experience shows to be unreliable.

Part of what’s sad and frightening is that the bad guys aren’t being caught in the program, at the same time that the FBI is being buried under false leads. In other words, instead of focusing on suspected terrorists, the people who are supposed to protect us may well be chasing down people like me. I talk via email to friends overseas all the time about the issue of terrorism. How am I to know that I’m not one of the many who has been snagged in this net?

What’s even more frightening, though, is that this is just one instance of our leaderships’ insistence on ignoring this nation’s long tradition of honoring the rule of law. (Torture anyone?)

As I said before, the Kansas Supreme Court’s anger at our state’s attorney general could apply equally to the actions of the imperial presidency. It’s worth repeating the court’s words with a few changes:

The President said he did what he did simply because he believed that he knew best how he should behave, regardless of what a court has ordered, or what the Constitution says. This Administration believes that their priorities should trump every tradition and every law.

I scream again:

What are you doing to my country?

What are we going to do to get it back?

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