now with more cowbell
Judge, jury, and puppets
Posted: 2007-10-18 11:17
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Author: Phil Gengler
Section: Politics

It's been a while since I've written anything about politics, largely because everything is fucked up and after a while it just gets hard to write about while watching it all get worse. But something just happened that I simply can't let go.

The NY Times has reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee has given the green light to a new wiretapping bill that also retroactively gives telecoms immunity for illegally giving the government access to its systems, and the phones calls and data on millions of Americans.

This is hardly unexpected, but it doesn't make it right, especially given the rationale cited for this. Senators "came away from that early review convinced that the companies had 'acted in good faith' in cooperating with what they believed was a legal and presidentially authorized program and that they should not be punished through civil litigation for their roles," according to the Times story.

This is bullshit, and the Senate should have no place deciding whether a case is or is not suitable for consideration by the courts. For one thing, merely getting the issue to trial is by no means a guarantee of the outcome; if the pending cases do get to trial, it's quite possible that the telecoms could come away clean. (I don't think they should, but one's opinion of that issue should have no bearing on whether or not the case can actually be tried.)

The Constitution is pretty clear on who gets to hold trials: "The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority;" (US Constitution, Article III, Section 2). Note the phrase "judicial power", not "legislative power" or "executive power". The courts have the power to try cases, where they can be decided impartially, not in secret by the legislative body, where impartiality is a sadly lacking ideal. (Check out the largest contributors to Senator Jay Rockefeller, who just happens to be the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

What has become pretty clear lately (by which I mean recent decades, not just recent years, but it seems that it's become much more overt of late) is that the US government is quickly ceasing to become a government "of the people, by the people, for the people", as President Abraham Lincoln described in in the Gettysburg Address, and one sold to the highest bidder, the people and the Constitution be damned.

The Declaration of Independence, a document which, while it has no legal weight, is nonetheless a document of importance on a level approaching the Constitution, says this: "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security." I think it's fair to say that the American people have been subject to "a long train of abuses and usurpations", both by the executive and legislative branches of government, and I think you can certainly make the case that these abuses and usurpations are invariably for such an object: the economic and social status of the ruling few at the expense of the very people and rights they are ostensibly sworn to protect.

We must, as a people, stand up for our rights, and stand up to our elected representatives to force them to uphold their sworn responsibilities to the Constitution. If we fail to do this, then we have abandoned the ideals of freedom that our forefathers fought to establish and protect.


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