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Americans have good reason to be afraid of their leaders

by C/O Diogenes Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 3:48 PM

But now here's an irony that no one expected. Back in America, complaining about America is the one thing that's pretty much disappeared, lost under the weight of a collective patriotism and increasing constitutional limitations.

Americans have good reason to be afraid of their leaders

Barbara Sumner Burstyn

04/28/2003: (New Zealand Herald) Freed from the oppression of their dictator, Iraqis are now free to complain. From tens of thousands of marchers chanting "down, down USA - don't stay, go away" to individuals spitting at soldiers, Iraqis are flexing a muscle that, paradoxically, had atrophied under Saddam Hussein.

But now here's an irony that no one expected. Back in America, complaining about America is the one thing that's pretty much disappeared, lost under the weight of a collective patriotism and increasing constitutional limitations.

Voicing any sort of anti-war opinion is just not done any more and a number of organisations have sprung up with the express purpose of blacklisting celebrities who speak out.

Susan Sarandon is obviously on the list. She's quoted as saying she doesn't remember ever being in a climate where people were too afraid to even have a conversation about an issue, let alone a debate.

But then in America, uttering any threatening remark about the President is illegal and likely to land you in jail. Writer Jonathan Freedland, looking at America's history of tolerance and diversity, said in the Guardian that the country was turning into a very un-American America, "where the limits of acceptable discussion have narrowed sharply and anyone commenting negatively on the war or the President is denounced as unpatriotic".

It shouldn't come as a surprise. A quick reading of the 2001 Patriot Act, formed in the dark hours after 9/11, clearly shows it's all part of a bigger plan. Under the guise of security, the act allowed all kinds of incursions into private life.

Some - like the right to track organisations suspected of funding terrorists - made sense in light of the attacks. Others - like the right to seize library lending records or the recruitment of posties, pizza delivery guys, and local shopkeepers into a national network of informers - did seem draconian.

But it turns out it was not enough. Sweeping new amendments to the bill have been drawn up. The Patriot Act II or as the brave would have it, the Liberty for Security Act, was leaked to the press in February and in its present form makes for scary reading. It allows things like random arrests, secret military tribunals for presidentially designated terrorists, and concealment of presidential records.

It even proposes reversing a federal court decision authorising the release of the names of the hundreds of people still detained, without representation, in the dragnet following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Perhaps you believe that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear? The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, in New York, warns that for the first time in United States history, the act will explicitly authorise secret arrests, not to mention sneak-and-peek searches.

That cute term means federal agents can enter your home, download your computer and internet viewing history, take your private business records and any other material, including confidential library and bookstore records - without telling you, without proof of probable cause, or without getting a court order.

And the best part? The legislation does not restrict searches to people suspected of being involved in terrorism.

It gets worse. The act not only increases Government power while decreasing checks on its invasive power. If passed (and that looks likely), the Government will be able to sample and catalogue genetic information, without a court order or your consent. The act also broadens the term "terrorist" to include anyone with views that differ from the Government.

And forget being a whistle-blower. That's set to become illegal, even if your motive is to protect the public from corporate wrongdoing or Government neglect.

But then to whistle-blow you need access to information. Under Patriot Act II information such as the environmental safety of local factories will be off-limits. And you won't be able to contribute to meaningful dialogue on the future of such resources as forests (that constitutes belonging to a "special interest group").

In addition if you don't like a secret decision made by a Government organisation - say, clear-felling ancient sequoia trees - you'll have no right to appeal. And even the press will be barred from publishing contentious information.

Feeling a tingle up your spine yet? Richard Woods, the head of our own spy service, the SIS, wouldn't comment. Even his receptionist Mary "I don't give my second name" would not comment on questions about New Zealand's response to the Patriot Act II.

But in comparison to the US draft, the proposed amendments to our own 2002 Terrorism Suppression Act are puny procedures - like we require a court warrant to use electronic tracking devices.

So for now - while Americans are waking up to a world where, if you're not for your Government, you're a traitor - New Zealanders are safe from the tyranny of an apparently unfettered Government.

America is changing. And it's changing fast and that raises an apposite question. Are we, tucked away in our comfortable corner of the world, up with their play and, if so, how do we intend to respond to it?

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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 21 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
Defend your Liberties... Diogenes Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 3:51 PM
And with a compliant... Diogenes Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 3:59 PM
how do we intend to respond to it? Barney Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 4:29 PM
how do I intend to respond to Barney? GOD Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 4:34 PM
Barney The Bird Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 4:34 PM
The Chinese chairman m. Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 5:18 PM
To "chaiman m." General Colon Bowel Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 5:32 PM
I got his point Eric Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 6:02 PM
For Eric the dolt The Truth Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 6:21 PM
Americans have good reason to be afraid of their leaders al Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 6:27 PM
You ignoramus Eric is a dolt Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 6:30 PM
It's life Jim, but not as we know it... star trekkin' across the universe Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 6:35 PM
To the above poster Eric Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 6:40 PM
huff my shorts Captain Obe Wan Kenobe Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 6:43 PM
Obe Wan Kenobe Eric Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 6:45 PM
AMALABABALAZEEBAHLABOOBELAH! Jar Jar Binks Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 6:47 PM
Hey Jar Jar honey Eric Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 6:49 PM
It's good to see things around here haven't changed. Eric Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 6:54 PM
Bogus post Eric Wednesday, Apr. 30, 2003 at 7:03 PM

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