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A Fire Bell in Broad Daylight

December 18, 2011

The title, a play on Thomas Jefferson’s famous statement concerning the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the war clouds he saw gathering, even then, over the Republic he’d helped to found, refer to the recent passage by Congress of a defense authorization bill containing language placed in it by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI) that would allow the President to declare the territorial United States to be a ‘combat zone’ in the ‘Global War on Terror,’ and as such, all Americans living here would be subject to arrest, without charges being filed, without a warrant being issued, without ‘probable cause’ of their having committed any crime, to be held indefinitely without trial or access to legal counsel, by the military.  This is nothing less than an authorization for martial law and dictatorship.

Hitler did not scare us into doing this, nor did Jefferson Davis, even when the Confederacy had armies on our soil, on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, opposing Federal power.  Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, the arrest and silencing of ‘Copperhead’ Democratic Congressman Clement Vallandigham and other measures, some taken at or near the scene of actual hostilities, et cetera, did not approach this kind of blanket dictatorial power, and the Supreme Court, in Ex Parte Milligan, declared such acts to be un-Constitutional, as the Constitution remains in force at all times, in all places, during all eventualities and for as long as the courts continued in operation.  In other words, only actual insurrection or invasion, having closed the courts thereby, could justify the suspension of the Constitution.  Since we are not now in such a condition, and were not in such a condition, even at Ground Zero on the morning of September 11, 2011 there can be no Constitutional ground for making such a grant of omnipotent power to the President now.

This was not done in the middle of the night.  It was done in our midst, in broad daylight, with ample coverage in the press – both of the traditional variety and the ‘new media’ of blogs, tweets and the like.  The lack of hue and cry about this is astounding.  There should be agitation from Bangor to Berkley and from Fairbanks to Ft. Lauderdale.  We now stand a declaration away from being under military rule; granted, a crisis would likely have to be the justification for doing so, but, no matter how well we plan for the future, one will come.  This was also not a work done in isolation; the so-called ‘USA Patriot Act‘ contains provisions for un-Constitutional ‘roving wiretaps and other forms of domestic surveillance; the ‘internet kill switch’ legislation before Congress earlier this year is part and parcel of this, too, as is the militarization of civilian police departments, contrary to our Anglo-American tradition.  Our government seeks to control us, ostensibly for our ‘protection,’ but without any protection for us from them.

Power will be abused; this is one of the absolute rules of history.  Great rulers about whom history had anything to say, and of whom nothing bad was said, are so few in number that they can be named – Antoninus Pius, Anastasius, John Commenus, and a handful of others – are those who, alone among those who had power and used it justly, without exception.  To offer our rulers, who should be, by law, our servants, such power, is to take a chance which history shows us is accompanied by the most daunting odds, and which is attended with the most awful risks.  If this act (for I cannot call such a power-grab a ‘law’) is allowed to stand, then we have crossed, perhaps forever, the line separating a free from a subject people.  May it not be said that we did so without exhausting all lawful means of resistance and opposition, or may we no longer be deemed worthy of the freedoms we claim as our birthright.

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