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Making Assumptions
In this case, the assumption that members of Congress, Senators, and those in The White House can read, or will read more than polls proclaiming their own greatness:

George Orwell was right after all.

In 1949, Orwell penned "1984," a dark, futuristic satire in which the totalitarian government used indoctrination, propaganda and fear to enforce order and conformity. His "Big Brother" — the face of this all-knowing regime — was never wrong, and to make sure of it, history was constantly being rewritten.

Orwell wrote his book as a cautionary tale to underscore the insidious danger of slowly eroded individual liberties. His Thought Police may not yet be on the march, but it's not hyperbole to point out the eerie parallels with today's America.

In America today, Big Brother is watching.

He's watching because President Bush told him to. Shortly after 9/11, Bush secretly authorized warrantless wiretaps on U.S. citizens making or receiving international calls and e-mails.

When it comes to fighting terror, Bush is totalitarian — remember, you're either with us or against us. Trust me to get it right, he says. Debate on the law is not only not needed, it's evil.

"An open debate about the law would say to the enemy, 'Here's what we're going to do.'" Bush said recently. "The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."

Then there's the Patriot Act, also created in the days immediately after Sept. 11, 2001. The Senate and House of Representatives voted Thursday to extend the law by a month. President Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales insist it's an indispensable tool in the war on terror and want it extended permanently.

"I'm as concerned about the privacy of American citizens as anyone, but we cannot allow libraries and use of libraries to become safe havens for terrorists," Gonzales said in July, defending one of the act's most controversial provisions.

Remember, too, that we invaded Iraq primarily because we were told Saddam Hussein was an immediate threat with his weapons of mass destruction. Now the Bush administration acknowledges that wasn't so, but insists there were (are?) other reasons to invade. History is malleable.

Orwell wrote of war without end; we're told the war on terror will last decades at least. Orwell wrote of a dumbed-down "Newspeak," and who could argue that our national discourse hasn't slumped? Orwell's "Ministry of Love" tortured dissidents real or imagined; our government decries Iraq's secret torture prisons while arguing over whether to ban torture. Meanwhile, we maintain our own secret CIA prisons.

Bush is unapologetic. The president believes he has the legal authority to spy on American citizens without a warrant, and he plans to continue to reauthorize the program "for so long as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens." But when the enemy is poorly defined, who determines when the threat is over? In this case, the same government that secretly taps our phones.

Turns out the truth is no stranger than fiction.

We think it's time for Congress to heed the warning of George Orwell.

To that end, we're asking for your help: Mail us or drop off your tattered copies of "1984." When we get 537 of them, we'll send them to every member of the House of Representatives and Senate and to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Feel free to inscribe the book with a note, reminding these fine people that we Americans take the threat to our liberties seriously. Remind Congress that it makes no sense to fight a war for democracy in a foreign land while allowing our democratic principles to erode at home.

Remind President Bush that ours is a country of checks and balances, not unbridled power.

Perhaps our nation's leaders can find some truth in this fiction and more carefully ponder the road we're traveling.

via Romenesko

Posted by aalkon at December 24, 2005 9:59 AM

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It's not a wiretap in the sense that they place a bug on your phone line. They scan the thousands of international phone calls going out over satellites. Computers look for codewords like "Jihad," "Al Qaeda," etc. They don't care about your phone calls to Paris. What's that famous Jack Nicholson line, "You can't handle the truth!"

Posted by: nash at December 24, 2005 8:18 AM

What does Jack Nicholson's line from "A Few Good Men" (which also included pompous mega-ass Tom Cruise) have to do with anything?

And for that matter, how do you KNOW that this is specifically what they're doing? Because they TOLD you? I hope not.

And for that matter, it doesn't matter how they're going about it, or how innocuous you think it is. Bottom line: wiretaps without a warrant is a violation of the law. Period. There is no provision for a specific type of wiretap without a warrant. No law says, "oh, it's okay, as long as you're just doing a word search and not specifically listening on calls." Therefore, it is not to be done, for any reason at all, and those that do so should be prosecuted.

Posted by: Patrick at December 24, 2005 6:35 PM

It isn't us who can't handle the truth, it's the government. It doesn't matter which party, or affiliation, or viewpoint; every single corrupt (yes, that's redundant) member of government is too enamored with the elixir of power to give it up, or to be concerned with the rights of the common man.

There's nothing in the Patriot act that wasn't already on the wish list of the control freaks in the nanny state even before 9-11. While terrorism is a real threat, there was nothing in the previous set of laws that prevented the government from doing their job (apart from the innate stupidity of the beaurocrat), and there is nothing in the Patriot act that is actually needed to address the issue.

The government already had sufficient powers under the FISA to deal with suspected terrorist communications, there's no legitimate reason for going to double secret probation mode apart from setting a precedent for the unfettered power of the executive office.

Don't let yourselves be fooled by the substantial unlikeablity of the current administration. Party affiliation has no bearing on the desire for power among the members of the federal government. They all play in the same pool, and any public differences are merely for show, with the express purpose of trying to convince us that we have some kind of choice.

Posted by: Dale at December 24, 2005 11:34 PM

Dale is right. The wise realize they're almost all sleazebags, except, perhaps, for a few who got elected by accident (without planned political careers). And most of them turn fast enough, I'd imagine.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 24, 2005 11:47 PM

> the substantial unlikeablity of
> the current administration

Never in these comments has it been phrased so gently.

Posted by: Crid at December 25, 2005 1:26 AM

"There is no privacy", proclaimed Larry Ellison of Oracle fame. Perhaps, he is right?

Posted by: Mad Hungarian at December 25, 2005 5:53 AM

"It isn't us who can't handle the truth, it's the government. It doesn't matter which party, or affiliation, or viewpoint; every single corrupt (yes, that's redundant) member of government is too enamored with the elixir of power to give it up, or to be concerned with the rights of the common man."

I couldn't agree with you more, but how often would a politician get elected on a "reduce the size of government" platform? The Libertarian Party has been trying it for years, and nobody's interested. The truth is, Americans like their government big, which is why it got that way in the first place. Some people like the government in your wallet, others like it in your bedroom. A lot of people see the government as the solution to most problems.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at December 25, 2005 9:20 AM

> how often would a politician get
> elected on a "reduce the size of
> government" platform?

Worked for Reagan! ...As a platform, not a policy.

> A lot of people see the government
> as the solution to most problems.

Ain't it heartbreaking? People make fun of religion, but secular thinking isn't much better. People think their lives (and livelihoods) are given to them by the government.

Posted by: Crid at December 25, 2005 11:07 AM

Pirate Jo,

Boy, I wish I could disagree with your conclusion, but, unfortunately, I can't.

It's the bread and circuses syndrome, not only do many see the government as the solution to most problems, but far too often, they see it also as a source of largesse, and FSM forfend that they're going to pass on their chance to suck at the teat of the wolf.


I agree that there is little or no difference in the religious or secular modes of thinking in this kind of context. Regardless of label, it all distills down to it's essence of the 'All for me, and aught for thee' mindset that pervades those who volunteer away their autonomy for what amounts to no real gain at all. They're willing to give away the freedoms of others and failing to notice that, in the process, they're giving away their own as well.

Posted by: Dale at December 25, 2005 4:05 PM

Dale, I read this article in Liberty magazine a while back that you might like. He sheds some light into why people of both conservative and liberal stripes are so inclined to want to regulate others through government. Amy, given your field of study, you might like this one, too.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at December 27, 2005 4:15 PM

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