Our shrinking freedoms -- Gazette.Net







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I’m not a conspiracy guy. I need proof, not speculation, if you want me to believe in UFOs, that Lyndon Johnson killed JFK or that a secret cabal of Freemasons runs the world.

But I’m not blind, either. A growing body of proof indicates, to me, that our own government threatens our basic freedoms. Too strong a statement? Well, here’s what we know.

We know that our presidents lie to us. LBJ lied about the Vietnam War. Nixon lied about Watergate. Clinton lied about Monica Lewinsky. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction, and Obama lied about Benghazi.

We know that, after Pearl Harbor, our government locked up 100,000 U.S. citizens solely due to their Japanese ancestry. We know that the FBI wiretapped Martin Luther King due to his politics. And we know that the government even improperly tried and convicted Ted Stevens, a U.S. Senator!

We know that our government props up foreign governments who play ball with U.S. interests (Iran, South Vietnam) and assassinates foreign leaders who don’t (Congo President Patrice Lumumba in 1961, South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963, Cuban President Fidel Castro, attempted).

We know that the government exterminates unpopular American citizens (the Weaver family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, The Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, in 1993, the Black Panthers in Chicago in 1969). And now we are told that our government has the right to kill U.S. citizens with unmanned drones.

We know that here in Maryland the state police infiltrated and surveilled harmless peace groups and anti-death penalty organizations, and we know that during last year’s gay marriage ballot battle, the IRS leaked the opponent organization’s donors list to the gay lobby, an action the IRS termed “inadvertent.”

We know that almost every movement we make is recorded on cameras (in traffic, at the mall, at the ATM, on the street and from satellites). We know that going to a stadium, a government building or a school involves metal detectors and ID’s. We know that boarding a plane has become remarkably similar to entering prison. And we know that partisan IRS officials suppressed political expression by conservative nonprofits, and the government searched the conversations of suspect news reporters.

We know the federal government is taking over K-12 education and national health care, including Obamacare’s “religious mandate,” a direct assault on religious freedom. And we know that the Second Amendment is under government attack in states such as Maryland where lawful gun ownership is treated as a criminal activity.

We know that our privacy is under constant attack by Internet hackers, robo callers, advertisers, pollsters, identity thieves and the raw sewage that Hollywood and television pump into our homes daily. And now the Supreme Court has ruled that, upon arrest (not conviction) the government can extract our DNA and use it for incrimination.

And we know that the National Security Agency is tracking, gathering and storing every American citizen’s phone calls. Thanks to whistleblower Edward Snowden, that surveillance extends to Internet communications. The government promises that it’s simply looking at the flow of our communications, not the contents. But, of course, this is the same government that, until Snowden blew the whistle, denied it was gathering our communications in the first place.

Snowden says he came forward because “I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded.” The U.S. government “collects more digital communications from America than we do from Russia,” Snowden said. Another former NSA official estimates that the agency has data on 20 trillion phone calls and emails by U.S. citizens.

I get it that in a democracy we trade some of our freedoms for order. We all agree to stop at red lights to avoid massive collisions.

And I get it that we live in a dangerous world where our best chance for peace is a strong national defense and intelligence community.

But at what point does trading our freedoms for security stop making sense? Isn’t it a contradiction to revoke our freedoms in order to preserve them, like the infamous Vietnam War rationale that “we had to burn down the village in order to save it”?

It’s alarming that the government no longer needs a judicial warrant based on “probable cause” (evidence of a crime) to search us. Instead, a secret court simply “approves,” without real probable cause, massive data dragnets. Reportedly, this secret court approved 1,789 eavesdropping requests last year, modified 40 and rejected only one.

But even more alarming is the America public’s apparent acquiescence. Widespread, warrantless searches are OK because “we have nothing to hide.” Under that flawed logic we don’t need trial by jury, protection from self-incrimination or due process, either. Our nation’s founders, who wrote the Bill of Rights, didn’t have anything to hide, as well, but they understood the coercive danger of governmental power from which they demanded protection.

Have we grown so accustomed to our freedoms, two centuries later, that we no longer understand or value them?

Blair Lee is chairman of the board of Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in the Business Gazette. His past columns are available at www.gazette.net/blairlee. His email address is blair@leedg.com.