2005-12-30 / Editorial/Opinion

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

I am not one of those who refuses to have an E-Z Pass because I don’t want the government to be able to track when I drive across the Cross Bay Bridge.

I really don’t care if the city puts up cameras at every intersection in the city in order to track criminals or terrorists.

I don’t care if somebody can easily get hold of my financial records. Nobody is going to steal my identity because I don’t have any money to steal.

I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theorists that some small yet powerful group within the government is plotting to take over the world by finding out what I read and where I eat my lunch.

Having said that, some government functionary locked away in a small, computer-filled room at the NSA might just well be checking my e-bay purchase and the books I buy at the mall.

That evidence might well prove that I am a Fascist, conspiracy theorist who is obsessed with the Civil War and am also involved in right-wing groups.


Here are some of the books I have bought in the past several years to augment the antiquarian book fetish that I have acquired as a minor historian who writes Social Studies textbooks.

Let’s see what’s on the shelf.

There’s Hitler’s manifesto that he wrote while in prison as a result of the beer hall putsch, “Mein Kampf.” There’s the “John Birch Society Blue Book” a must for anti-communists and right wing lunatics.

There’s “Why Was Lincoln Murdered,” a tome that was penned in 1893 that “proves” the army’s involvement in the murder and a more recent book, The Death of A President,” by William Manchester (who I actually met a few times while he was drying out in Portland, Connecticut) about the JFK assassination.

There are a couple of government reports: “The Warren Commission Report” on the death of Kennedy, “The Tower Commission Report” on violence in America and the “Report of the 9/11 Commission.”

To round out the Kennedy era, there is “Oswald’s Tale” about Lee Harvey Oswald and a book with the transcripts of Lyndon Johnson’s taped conversations about the assassination just after JFK’s death.

There is “A Century of Dishonor,” by Helen Hunt Jackson, a book that details the terrible treatment of Native Americans at the hands of the U.S. Army and a 1893 edition of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the book about slavery that many see as bringing on the Civil War.

In any case, I would hate for somebody to decide on my interests and capabilities by using a list of books that I own and a list of restaurants I eat in or which bridges I cross.

Which brings me to the Patriot Act.

Like most Americans, I am ambivalent about that act.

I want America to be safe from terrorists, but I have studied the Constitution and its provisions for the safeguard of individual rights and I believe that those rights are fundamental to our freedom.

Given that, do I want the government to have wide rights to invade my privacy by reading my mail, checking my purchase and listening in on my conversations without the approval of some moderating force such as the courts? Of course not.

One major reason that I do not want the government trampling on my rights is that I don’t trust the government. The government, from local functionaries to the President of the United States has proven to be political and pragmatic rather than rational when it comes to human rights.

Abraham Lincoln removed the right of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, a beloved president by all accounts, put Japanese-Americans in concentration camps (he called them relocation camps) while allowing German-Americans and Italian Americans to walk free on evidence of potential harm that was as specious as Bush’s evidence of WMD in Iraq.

There are many who still believe that Roosevelt knew of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in advance and did nothing because he wanted America to enter the war. Look at the web and you will find that Roosevelt was actually Jewish and brought America into the war to further the Zionist desire for world domination as outlined in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

While those shibboleths are so obviously false, most valid historians no longer believe them; you will find many people, including some who serve the public in high places, who do believe that there really was a protocol and that the Holocaust never took place.

It was Nixon who really proved that the government couldn’t be trusted and anybody old enough to remember Watergate and the Vietnam War will know what I am talking about.

Nixon lied about the Watergate break-in, calling it a “third-rate burglary” as the same time that he knew it was done by his people and that he had to cover it up by advising the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that the case had “national security” implications and should be squashed. People were paid off, lies were told for a political purpose – to get Nixon reelected and then to keep him in office.

When Daniel Ellsberg brought the “Pentagon Papers,” a government study that showed the truth about our involvement in the Vietnam War, Nixon’s White House tried to keep the New York Times from publishing them on national security grounds. That did not fly.

Other presidents have lied to us – Ronald Regan lied on Iran-Contra, for example.

Why should we believe Bush when he says that the government needs to spy on Americans in the name of national defense and that anti-terrorist threats demand that we constantly eavesdrop on American citizens even if there is no probable cause that they are involved in any wrongdoing?

I don’t believe him. I just can’t believe that the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 created carte blanche for our government to read our mail and listen to our conversations, to track our likes and dislikes, where we go, what books we read, what we buy without the court giving them approval upon probable cause.

It seems to me that the Constitution does not allow for a such a wide net to be spread over those who have done nothing wrong.

Bush recently admitted that he authorized a secret program of eavesdropping on Americans who did business overseas. He said that he had the right to do it under the Patriot Act and that it is necessary as a “vital tool against terrorism.”

That is basically what Nixon said when he wiretapped reporters trying to find out who was leaking the information to Woodward and Bernstein of the Washington Post.

There was no national security involved. It was pure politics.

I believe that Bush is doing the same thing and that he’s wiretapping Americans who complain about his Iraqi incursion just as Nixon wiretapped journalists who wrote negative stories about him and his administration. His zeal in finding “Deep Throat” and others who in his administration who leaked information to reporters went so deep that we will never know all the names.

The president’s unconstitutional behavior went so deep that it became a badge of honor to be one of those who was on his “Enemies List.” That list was made up of journalists, those who spoke badly of his administration, university professors and anybody considered “counter-culture.”

Who has Bush wiretapped?

Are they journalists who wrote negative things about his administration? Are they terrorists? Are they simply citizens attempting to contact relatives and business contacts overseas who were caught in the NSA web? Are they political rivals? We’ll never know. After all, national security is involved so he can’t even tell us what he can’t tell us and why not.

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