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What Have You Done This Week Regarding Warrantless Surveillance?

Pardon me for getting “meta,” but the developments of the last week have me so flummoxed I just feel the need to share.

I’ll share a little something with you: last week I participated in a conference call with representatives of some major civil liberties organizations. These representatives promised to do what they could to get the Senate Judiciary Committee to pass the JUSTICE Act’s warrantless surveillance reforms, but they also made a prediction. They said that Democratic and left-of-center Americans were probably not going to get active on the subject. They said that with Barack Obama in office as President, Democrats and left-of-center Americans didn’t seem to care about government surveillance as they used to. They said Democrats and left-of-center Americans were so preoccupied these days with health care reform and the economy that efforts by the U.S. Government to spy on them without warrants probably wouldn’t register like they once did.

I’ll share little something else with you: I was taken aback by these statements, and was frankly a bit miffed by them. But over the past week, the articles and transcripts we’ve offered regarding the JUSTICE Act and warrantless surveillance have been among the least popular we’ve written in months, at least in terms of the number of readers. Maybe those folks were on to something.

Now, it’s not as though we’d change what we write here at Irregular Times according to its popularity; if we were the only people left on Earth who thought it a problem for governments to spy on their people without constitutional process, we’d still be raising the issue. Still, it’s disconcerting to see the umbrage of progressives at Big Brother tactics during the Bush administration sink into no more than an “ahem” when the name at the top is Obama.

There’s something else that gives me pause, really in the other direction. It’s something I remember from my days as a student: those teachers who would drone on and on about the importance of attendance to those students who were, um, already attending class. If I complain about the lack of activism on warrantless surveillance, it’s possible I’m complaining to the very people who are actually quite engaged and active on the issue. Maybe you’re actually doing quite a lot, even though there aren’t that many people out there who seem to be.

What it all boils down to is this crazy feeling I’ve got bordering the personal and the political. I remember this set of people who called themselves liberals or progressives or Democrats, and I remembered how upset they were from 2001-2008 about government intrusion into personal affairs through warrantless surveillance and the ballooning of Big Brother under Total Information Awareness and the Patriot Act and the Protect America Act and the FISA Amendments Act, not to mention countless other programs that had no name or legal authority. Now we’re in 2009 and so many of the problems are still with us, but talking about it now is like shouting in the wind. So few people seem to care about it nowadays. Or maybe people care, maybe they’ve been doing a whole lot, but they’re quiet, so quiet that it looks like there’s nothing going on. I have no idea what’s going on. All I know is that it’s a fog to me. I can’t see clearly what you’re doing and why.

So I guess what I want to know is where you are as a person on this. Have you been active on the issue of the round of warrantless surveillance reform bubbling up in the Senate? If so, what have you been up to?

Tell me why you’ve been doing what you have, and why you haven’t been doing what you haven’t. Explain to me your feelings about this. I’ll shut up and listen as best I’m able.

4 thoughts on “What Have You Done This Week Regarding Warrantless Surveillance?”

  1. Bob S-K says:

    I get depressed, because I’ve learned that we really are freaks to care about this sort of thing.

    I have a general process for political involvement that goes something like this. I’m subscribed to several e-mail lists that send around usually-sensational-sounding alerts that ask me to sign their petitions (moveon, credo action, etc.–you get the idea). I then go to the Thomas site to look over the legislation they’re talking about, and then I e-mail my legislators directly and ask the staffer to put a check in whatever column is appropriate for that bill. I have the same process for articles I read at sites like yours and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

    In the case of S.1686, I contacted my senators (Burr and Hagan) and asked them to throw their support behind it if it ever gets to a vote.

    But I gave up long ago trying to do more, especially talking to friends. I learned (especially through the FISA issue over the years) that even my super-smart and super-educated and super-compassionate friends really don’t have a clue, and even when I explain the FISA issue and the history of its changing over the years etc. etc. (so that at the end of my mini lecture they are no longer clueless), it’s clear that they don’t believe it’s a problem. Maybe they heard the same information from my mini lecture on the mainstream news over and over and from other friends over and over, they might start to think it’s important, but I’ve been completely unable to make anyone else see things my way.

    We can be as active as we can (and we should continue), but until paying attention to this kind of issue moves from the freak-fringe into the mainstream of citizen consciousness, we’re fucked in the ass with a big burning log. The Tao Te Ching comes to mind: “Do your work, then step back.”


    1. Jim says:

      Bob, thanks for doing what you do. It’s nice to feel like a freak at times, but I’d rather feel like a freak for growing my hair out to odd lengths, or playing an inappropriate musical instrument, or taking my corduroys to the dance floor, or something along those lines.

      We’ll just have to continue, hope that other people decide to chime in at some point, but not be too surprised when they don’t.

  2. Bob S-K says:

    Like back when Obama was saying he supported the most recent incarnation of the FISA amendments act, and he said something like “it’s okay because warrants are reviewed by a panel of judges, so there’s a check there,” and I would say to my friends, “But that panel has no power at all! Their power has been watered down over the years! Obama is saying that to appease progressives who don’t look deeply and don’t know how the process works!” But it’s pointless, because even smart people just stare at me and blink slowly and don’t get it.

    Me: “Read it, you fucker! Read what’s actually in there. This is important! Did you know this involves physical searches as well as wiretapping!?!? Did you know that!?”

    Them: –blink– –blink–


    Okay, fuck it. Let’s go to the mall.

  3. Tom says:

    Ditto all the above but with the environment too. i try to talk to students about this (in passing), but most of my few friends are on-board and do similar things to get some progressive legislation passed. We all thought with the election of Obama that we finally had a progressive president who would call the shots and make things happen.

    If our legislators actually thought for themselves, like the statesmen of old, rather than being influenced by campaign concerns and beholden to corporate interests, they’d do the right thing by the citizenry and the environment. The way it is now we have no shot at progressive reform with respect to helping the masses on health care, reforming the financial industry (and Wall Street) or doing what’s right in time to actually ease the environmental concerns.

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