1984 is us

First post. Had a long layover in the Milwaukee airport before migrating to the Pacific NW, and I got to poke around Renaissance Books, a huge bookstore of used books, actually in the MKE terminal. I wandered through stacks of literally, thousands of books, until I ran into Hunter Thompson’s Kingdom of Fear, a collection of the Life & Times of the mythical wonderful gonzo madman journalist, published in 2003, just before his suicide in 2005. Incidentally, in Kingdom of Fear, he may have written his obituary:

“My life has been the polar opposite of safe, but I am proud of it and so is my son, and that is good enough for me. I would do it all over again without changing the beat, although I have never recommended it to others. That would be cruel and irresponsible and wrong, I think, and I am none of those things.”

Ernest Hemingway, whom Thompson admired, also took his life with a gun. His was a double-barreled shotgun; Thompson’s was a .45 handgun.

But I want to present an interesting letter posted in Kingdom of Fear that closely captures the broad themes explored in Glass House 51, the tragic loss of individual rights of privacy, freedom, and civil liberties in America in the legislative insanity following the 9/11 attack on NYC.

The letter is from attorney Gerry Goldstein to Hunter Thompson in Woody Creek, Colorado, dated June 15, 2002. Here is an excerpt:

. . . Your reputation may be that of the poet laureate of our generation, but you teach us by more than just word. Your example of political and social activism speaks volumes about good citizenship. As you reminded me recently:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing.”

A lot of water has passed under the bridge in the intervening decade since we stood on the steps of the Pitkin County Courthouse, basking in the celebrative sunshine of that victorious moment, and most of it has seen the erosion of Constitutional guarantees set in place by our Founding Fathers as a bulwark to protect the governed from their government. For example, the United States Supreme Court has since ruled that the police can:

• Search your home based upon the consent of someone who has absolutely no authority to give same,

• Stop your car based upon an “anonymous tip” completely lacking any indicia of reliability,

• Subject a motorist to mandatory sobriety tests without any indication they have been drinking or that their driving is impaired,

• Hold innocent citizens for up to two days without giving reason or recourse.

The tragic events of September 11,2001, changed more than Manhattan’s skyline; it profoundly altered our political and legal landscape as well. Anyone who witnessed the desecration of those buildings and the heart-wrenching loss of life, who didn’t want to run out and rip someone a new asshole, doesn’t deserve the freedoms we still enjoy.

However, anybody who thinks for one moment that giving up our freedoms is any way to preserve or protect those freedoms, is even more foolhardy.

Yet barely one month later, on October 26, 2001, Congress overwhelmingly passed the USA Patriot Act. It rolled through the Senate on a vote of 99 to 1, and the lone holdout, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, said he didn’t really know whether he was opposed to the bill or not, he just wanted to read it before voting.

There were only two copies of the 346-page document extant at the time, and the Senate had been run out of their building by the anthrax scare.

That single Congressional enactment authorizes the detention of non-citizens suspected of terrorist acts without filing of charges or resort to judicial authority, permits roving wiretaps, and extends to American citizens the secret proceedings, surveillance, and wiretaps of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which sits in a vault atop the Department of Justice Building, and allows only Deputy Attorneys General of the United States to appear.

Imagine an adversary process that allows only one side’s advocate to appear. No wonder that in its 24-year history not a single request for surveillance was turned down.

Not until last month, when the secret judge refused to apply these secret proceedings to citizens, cataloging 75 instances where the FBI had lied to them. The Just Us Department has appealed that secret decision to a secret appeals court, presumably at some other secret location.

[Discussing HST’s cause to condemn illegal search and seizures] . . . In 1990 you founded the Fourth Amendment Foundation, a collection of legal titans willing to take a stand against our government’s increasingly pervasive intrusions into its citizen’s privacy.

While our forefathers were concerned that King George’s Red Coats were breaking down their doors and rummaging through their underwear drawers, today we are faced with more sophisticated means of invading our privacy.

The new technology is not physical. You cannot see it. You cannot feel it. But in a way, it is more sinister and dangerous because of that.

Stealthlike, it ‘steals your thoughts. It steals your conversations. It invades the crossroads between the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and the First Amendment rights to free speech and association.

It cuts to the quick the citizenry’s’ right to protest and complain about their government. The Fourth Amendment protection of a citizen’s privacy against his or her government’s intrusion is the linchpin upon which all other civil liberties rest.

Freedom of speech and association, so essential to a free society, would mean little if the citizens’ activities and communications were not protected from government interference and interception.

George Orwell created his sterile environment and maintained control over the citizenry, not by imprisoning their bodies, but by exposing their thoughts and communications to government scrutiny.

With recent advances in electronic technology allowing Big Brother to spy upon the most intimate and confidential parts of our lives and communications, the citizen today is in need of greater, not lesser protection.

Yet in the face of the dreaded drug scare and threat of international terrorism, courts continue to erode the citizens’ zone of privacy by paternalistically balancing these perceived dangers against the public’s willingness to acquiesce.

While the majority does “rule” in our republican form of democracy, our Constitution was designed to protect certain rights and liberties from that majority, as well as for them.

Recognizing that “[a]mong deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart … [as] uncontrolled search and seizure,” your Fourth Amendment Foundation vigilantly stands guard against further encroachments upon the citizens’ diminishing expectation of privacy. . . .