Should Auld Civil Liberties Be Forgot?

Of course, while everyone in Washington, and the courtier press that serves them, were endlessly droning on and on about the Gentle Fiscal Incline, the Bill Of Rights closed out 2012 by having one of the worst weeks it's had in the two centuries of its existence. But the courtier press paid that little mind, possibly because selling out the Bill Of Rights was done on a "bipartisan" basis, and the denizens of the various Green Rooms would endorse cannibal murder if both parties agreed to subsidize it.

First came the revolting vote on the reauthorization of FISA. Time was, and not that long ago, that the whole idea of a secret court issuing secret warrants was enough to raise hackles all on its own. (There even was an episode of Law And Order from 2004 that centered on the execution of a FISA warrant that sent liberal defense attorney Danielle Melnick, and assistant DA Serena Southerland, up the wall.) Now the old FISA regulations seem like they were drafted by George Mason, compared to what keeps getting reauthorized in the Senate.

This latest thing was to reauthorize the truly spooky FISA Amendments that were passed in 2008 when the president, in one of the actions he's taken that really was a naked sellout of his previously enunciated principles, joined with a Senate majority to immunize the telecommunications companies that had participated in the Bush Administration's lawlessness regarding wiretapping, as well as to authorize sweeping new wiretapping powers far beyond those against which the companies were being immunized. What the president did is not excused by the fact that he was running for president at the time. This wasn't a flip-flop he took because he wanted to be elected. This was a flip-flop he took because he wanted to do some things once he was elected.

This year, as those amendments came up for reauthorization, what we had was a genuine horror show, and it was made worse by the awful debate that preceded the vote. There was enough boogedy-boogedy coming from the Democratic side to embarrass John Bolton. Glenn Greenwald already has written at length on this, but one comment from the now-inexcusable Dianne Feinstein is worthy of further comment.

"This is an effort to make that material public, and I think it's a mistake at this particular time because it will chill the program, it will make us less secure, not more secure...I know where this goes, it goes to destroy the program. I don't want to see it destroyed."

In other, wait, there are no other words. This is the argument of a totalitarian. You can't know what we're doing to protect you, even if we're doing it to you, because then we can't protect you and you will be killed by bad people and it will be your own fault. Somewhere in East Germany, an elderly ex-bureaucrat is getting a thrill up his leg and doesn't know why.

Later, came the release of some FBI documents in which it seemed to indicate at least an unacceptable level of involvement by federal law enforcement in the crackdowns by local authorities on the various outposts of the Occupy movement. The hooley on the Left, which is going on vigorously over in the LG&M saloon, seems to center on whether or not federal authorities directed the activities of the local cops, or whether they simply provided logistical and intelligence support. (There's also a great deal of swatting at Naomi Wolf, on which I will pass, thanks a lot.) To me, this is a distinction without a difference. You don't have to go back too far -- COINTELPRO, which began in 1956, and the CISPES busts in the 1980's -- to see how local and federal law enforcement can work together, at arms-length or closer, if necessary, to crack down on inconvenient political movements. The FBI opened a file on Fred Hampton in 1967. Through COINTELPRO, it sowed disinformation in Chicago, and it placed a mole named William O'Neal in the Black Panther Party hierarchy. (O'Neal eventually became Hampton's bodyguard and, it is claimed, dosed Hampton with a barbituate on the night of his death.) On December 4, 1969, Hampton was murdered in his bed by officers of the Chicago Police Department. Eventually, his family sued, and won a settlement, from both the local and federal governments.

Did it ultimately matter whether or not the FBI was "directing" operations here, or whether it was merely part of an overall program?

Not to Fred Hampton.

Moreover, the documents also seem to indicate that the FBI was coordinating with the banks and the financial institutions as regards to the burgeoning Occupy movement. This, also, would not be unprecedented. The FBI always has been willing to do private favors for the powerful, and it rarely works out well. If I can dip into my other life for purposes of historical comparison, at the behest of Francis Cardinal Spellman, FBI agents working the point-shaving scandals in New York college basketball in the 1950's deliberately declined to investigate players at Catholic universities. And, in 1987, at the request of the management of the Boston Red Sox, Margo Adams, the inamorata of third-baseman Wade Boggs, was invited to what was described as an "informal" chat with the FBI because the affair was causing dissension in the clubhouse.

Rule Number One For Daily Living: There is no such thing as an "informal" chat with the FBI.

There is no question that the coordination between federal and local law-enforcement has grown tighter over the past 11 years. Anyone who's been to a political convention since 2004 knows that. There are federal programs by which hayshaker police chiefs can get their hands on a ludicrous level of weaponry, and the federal government in general has played a significant role in the militarization of local police departments. It is hardly a conspiracy theory at this point to say that, if the local gentry wanted the local police to clear out the drum circles, then the feds would be more than happy to help out. The difference between local and federal law enforcement is passing thin right now.

And the most important point is that, say, the Oakland police work for the people of the city of Oakland. The feds work for me, and for every other citizen in the country. If the Oakland PD goes out and busts heads on its own, then that's a matter for the citizens of Oakland. If, however, the FBI helps them do it, and helps them in any way, they're doing it on my nickel, and I get to tell them they should knock it off. Suppose some of the Occupy people who got their heads busted want to take the local police who did it into federal court. Wouldn't the involvement, at whatever level, of the FBI compromise the administration of justice in that case? (That's a real question. I don't know nearly enough law to answer it.) There's enough in those documents to warrant a serious congressional investigation. There's enough still left in the Bill Of Rights to demand one.

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