Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


William Rivers Pitt: Going Too Far

Going Too Far


By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
From: http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/122905A.shtml

Thursday 29 December 2005

The bouncer at my bar is named Ty. A native of New Orleans, he speaks with the slow drawl unique to the region, and he is huge. Not outlandishly huge, not freakishly huge, but definitely one of the larger specimens of human one is likely to meet. He works the door at my joint, as well as at another bar down the street a ways. Ty is smart, funny as all get-out and a marvelous spinner of tales.

Each night Ty works he regales my friends and me with stories of mayhem and bouncer-justice, of the drunken boobs stupid enough to think they can push him around at the other establishment. My bar, one gets the sense, is too peaceful for his tastes; he has never been forced to exercise his talents while working at my joint.

Ty and I have assiduously observed the tenets of that invisible sign which hangs over the door of every drinking establishment in America: "Thou Shalt Not Discuss Religion Or Politics In This Place." The two reasons for this are straightforward: I don't particularly relish the idea of discussing work when I am in my cups; also, Ty is an ardent Bush supporter, so the first reason becomes doubly significant. If I want to get frustrated and annoyed, I can just turn on CNN and listen to the Know-Nothings ply their wares.

A funny thing happened the other night, however - something that changed the whole dynamic of our relationship. I was passing by Ty, and he grabbed me by the arm to pull me aside. He knows what I do for a living, and wanted to discuss politics in defiance of the invisible sign. "What do you think of the Patriot Act?" he asked me.

"I think it's a damned troubling thing," I said after a moment. "There are aspects of it that have been on the books for years because of the War on Drugs. There are aspects of it that are brand new to American law. Overall, I think it is tremendously invasive and not in line with how we have done things in this country. As a Republican," I said with a bit of the needle in my voice, "the issues of personal freedom and governmental interference should bother you."

"I ain't no Republican," he said. "I'm an Independent. I think they're all crooks."

"Fair enough," I said, "but you are a Bush supporter."

"Yep," he drawled. "So what parts of the Patriot Act don't you like?"

"Well," I said, "one scary part of it is Section 215, the thing people call the 'Sneak-and-Peek' provision. Section 215 says law enforcement can enter your house, search your stuff, bug your phone, bug your computer - and they never have to tell you they were there. The FBI could have 215'd their way into my house and I'd never know it. Hell, they could be there right now. All they need to do it is a warrant signed by a judge somewhere."

"That ain't right," he said after a moment's consideration. "But at least they have to talk to a judge."

"Well," I said, "have you heard about all this stuff with the National Security Agency spying on people here in America?"

"Little bit, yeah," he said.

"You know that the NSA can spy on pretty much anyone, tap their phones, do total surveillance?" I asked, and he nodded. "Well, back in 2002, Bush told the NSA to start spying on Americans. Lots of them. But he did this without going through the FISA court."

"FISA court?" he asked.

"FISA stands for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was passed in 1978," I said. "After Watergate and all that craziness, they wanted to make sure our intelligence services weren't being used by people in power to spy on Americans. If you want to get the NSA to spy on Americans, you have to get a warrant from what's called the FISA court. They're a few judges who hear arguments for special FISA warrants."

"OK."

"Now here's one of the crazy parts with this Bush-NSA thing," I said. "To get a warrant from this FISA court, you don't need to have probable cause. You don't need to have evidence. The FISA court has handed out more than 19,000 warrants since it was set up, and has only denied four. And they do it quickly, because obviously if you go before the FISA court for a warrant, you're probably pressed for time. It's the easiest court in America to get a warrant from. Bush totally blew past them, said he didn't need warrants from the FISA court, and just had the NSA start spying away on Americans."

Ty's response to this was too profane to be printed here.

"Why the hell'd he do that?" he finally asked.

"Good question," I said. "There are two probable reasons, neither of which are very comfortable. The first reason is that he and Cheney want to expand the power of the Executive Branch. Cheney, specifically, has always felt that the Executive let go of too much power after Watergate and Vietnam, gave too much power to Congress and the press, and these guys have been trying to get it back. So they decided that since we are 'at war,' they were going to do whatever they damned well pleased."

"Seems smart," he said.

"Maybe," I said, "but that's a different debate. Ask yourself this, though. Imagine a Democrat wins the White House in 2008. These Bush guys will have left this Democrat with outrageously broad powers. His people can spy on whom they like, because Bush did it. They don't have to get warrants, because Bush did it. They can lie to the press, because Bush did it. They can bulldoze Congress, because Bush did it. That make you comfortable?"

"Hell no," he said.

"Right," I said. "Too much power is too much power, no matter who is in power. The separation of powers is there for a reason."

"So what's the other reason you think he didn't get the FISA warrants?" he asked.

"That," I said, "is actually the scarier part. Like I said, FISA has given out those 19,000 warrants and has only denied four. It's incredibly easy to get a warrant from them. The only reason they're there at all is to safeguard your privacy and mine, to make sure some crazy maniac in the White House doesn't start spying on Americans, on personal enemies, on you and me. The NSA can do that, so the FISA court is there as a firewall."

"OK," he said.

"So maybe," I said, "Bush didn't go to the FISA court because he knew they wouldn't give him the warrants. Maybe he didn't go to the FISA court because he wanted to spy on enemies like Patrick Fitzgerald, like Joe Wilson, like Cindy Sheehan, like Tom Daschle or Harry Reid, or anyone else who was messing with him. Maybe he didn't go to the FISA court because he knew the surveillance he wanted was illegal, but he was damned well going to do it anyway."

"That ain't right," said Ty, his face reddening.

"Now take this all one step further," I said, "since you asked about the Patriot Act. Think about that Section 215 and the sneak-and-peek stuff. I told you they need to see a judge first to come into your home, to search and bug your stuff. But this whole NSA deal shows that Bush and these guys don't give a hoot in hell for judges, warrants or the process of law. They're going to do what they want to do, warrant or not. We've got a situation now where Bush and his people could not only be ordering the surveillance of Americans, but could also be authorizing home invasions, and all without any kind of warrants and oversight. What does that sound like to you?"

"Fascism," he said without hesitating.

"This is the reason," I said with a smile, "why I don't talk politics at the bar. I have a way of going on and on until the paint peels. But let me ask you one last question."

"Shoot," he said.

"As a Bush supporter," I said, "how far are you willing to go to support the guy? How much individual liberty, how many laws, are you willing to give up to Bush before we lose the country? How far is too far?"

Ty didn't have anything to say at first. "This," he finally muttered, "is too damned far."

At that moment, a crowd of people came into the bar, and Ty had to check their IDs. I went back to my beer.

Drip, drip, drip.

*************

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>

ALSO:

Buildup:

Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>

ALSO:

Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>

ALSO:


Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news