Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 2001 – September 11, 2008

“Are you better off now?” The election battle cry of President Reagan in 1980, asking the American populace whether they were in a better position than when President Carter began his presidency. President Clinton revived the same idiom against President Bush (the first one.)

The question I ask, seven years later—“Are you better off?”

Obviously, the problem comes in what it means to be “better”? We often hear tales (and perhaps even lived them) where a newly married couple struggles financially to afford a tiny apartment, one barely-working car and a newborn on the way. Striving together, they struggle through and become financially independent. Yet what happens? They become worried and depressed over the rise and fall of their stock portfolio; over the new addition to the house; over who has to work how many hours to afford both Lexus automobiles. They see less of each other in their 4,500 square foot house than they did in their 900 square foot apartment.

Are they “better”? Financially—yes. Emotionally, mentally and as a family—no. Many would secretly sigh and look back with longing to the days they struggled financially, because the emotional teamwork was more satisfying than heated leather seats.

So now we are seven years later. Are you better off?

Certainly we have improvements in security. After the tragedy, we recognize the security holes in airports and have taken firm steps to patch those holes. It would be harder for a terrorist to replicate 9/11 today than it was seven years ago. This brought terrorism sharply into focus for Americans, making it a reality in our own country rather than something one read about in the papers happening to other people in other countries, speaking other languages.

But I also see our nation as having become a nation of fear. After a computer glitch caused delays in air travel, the first statement released was, “This is NOT a terrorist attack.” As if the first fear we had was “another 9/11.” We have an incomprehensible chart of colors; allegedly warning us to the level of possible terrorist activity (anyone know what color we currently are?) and the media immediately screams headlines when the color changes due to a “possible credible terrorist threat.”

We won’t publish books due to fear over terrorist response. We won’t publish cartoons because of fear over terrorist response. We slog our way through Afghanistan with no real purpose, no real objective—all on the fear that if we were not there Osama bin Laden would re-appear. We entered an unjustified war, based on faulty information. Why? Because we were afraid.

Our current presidential election process permeates with speeches and questions as to which candidate provides better national security. “Who do you want to answer the phone at 3 a.m.?” We fear what that phone call would be.

There are benefits to fear. Your body starts to produce adrenaline. Your senses become keenly aware. You become proactive as to looking for danger, rather than re-active. It is the difference between walking down a dark street in an unfamiliar neighborhood and walking to your car at your local grocery store at 2 in the afternoon.

After a while, though, we become numb to fear. The adrenaline stops. We are afraid, but we don’t know how to act, or how to respond. We become lethargically uneasy. Rather than being sharp and focused, we cower—from what or who we don’t even know.

Today, seven years later, it is time for the Phoenix to rise from the ashes. It is time to stand up and say, “Yes, I am justifiably afraid of terrorist attacks; but I am not going to let that cower me. I am not going to cringe in fear every time someone mentions 9/11. I am not going to allow my government, my legislators and my president trample my freedoms, lie to me, and ignore the Constitution of the United States.”

We have let the government decimate the rights we hold so dear, out of a groveling fear. Listen in to my telephone calls? Well…O.K. as long as it might catch terrorists. Lie about going to war? Well…O.K. as long as it kills terrorists. Let American soldiers die and die and die. Well…O.K. ‘cause we haven’t had any terrorist attacks since 9/11.

Enough! We must no longer allow our government to use the excuse of our fear of 9/11 to torture prisoners. To deny them habeas corpus. To stop reading them their rights.

We must channel our fear to react positively. Put in place safeguards to prevent terrorist attacks—yes. But not to the point of losing what freedoms we had prior to 9/11. Not to the point of becoming terrorists ourselves. Seven years later, the terrorists of 9/11 have gained a far greater outcome than they could ever imagine. They have brought the American Giant to its knees in fear, in concert with a government run amok.

Today we honor the victims of 9/11. We remember proudly the firefighters, police, dock workers and citizens who attempted to save as many lives as they could on that day. Some dying for their efforts so others could live. We recall our own horror and fear on that day—the surreal understanding terrorism had struck the homeland of America.

Rather than limply move along through another year with cringing fear, we must embrace our fear and say, “Never again.” We will oppose terrorism and protect our citizenry, but we will not forego our freedoms either. We will not succumb to the terrorist’s tools of fear and intimidation by allowing our own government to use those same tools to run rough-shod over our rights. We will demonstrate to the world that America can be a place of both freedom and security. That it is not an “either/or” proposition.

We will not allow our government to enact laws simply because the statute’s prologue claims it might stop another 9/11. We will not continue to live in fear of both our government and the terrorists. It is time they live in fear of us.


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  2. They have brought the American Giant to its knees in fear, in concert with a government run amok.

    Hmmm, Some powerful words, DagoodS, but are they a bit over the top? I, personally, don't know of any folks who spent much time "on their knees in fear". Maybe, immediately following the 9/11 attacks, there may have been some who found some comfort when they reached out to their chosen deity.
    Also, what's this about our government "run amok"? The USA is still, as far as I know, the preferred destination of the "teeming masses" looking to better their lives. We are, literally, building fences to keep them out.
    Our rights to privacy are still second to none. We have a vigilant citizenry that demands a free press which insures these rights. As a matter of fact, our free press is so free that it, at times, confounds the very agencies that we entrusted to protect our rights.
    Just the same way that we allowed ourselves to enter the Iraq war without asking the right questions, we are now allowing the utopia-seekers to return us to a state of pre-9/11 conditions. If this happens, the best we can hope for is that our homes, towns, cities are'nt the target of the next terror attack. The government's primary job and overiding responsibility is to protect us from harm. The "luck of the draw" to protect me and my family must never be the anti-terror policy of our government. The Patriot Act was appropriate and timely. When no more attacks occurred, the Fisa rules were re-instated without any controversy. It was only after it became a political football that the matter was blown out of proportion for cheap political gain.
    The torture thing? Another political football. A few mentally deficient guards at an Iraqi prison along with some waterboarding of terrorists which yielded positive and helpful information. Again, overblown for political expediency.
    I could go on but you get the gist of where I'm coming from.
    There has never been a more fair and progressive government as we are currently enjoying Let's not compare ourselves to some mystical Utopia but to the rest of the world as it is. Sweden and Denmark are, by far, the exceptions and not the rule.

  3. What fun is blogging if I don’t get to “go over the top” once in a while? *grin*

    I quite agree we should not return to pre-9/11 status. We have been awakened to problems—we need to address them. I am not saying we simply rely upon “luck of the draw” as protection.

    However, nor does this mean we need to start sacrificing our rights, either. Where is the outrage at the loss of Habeas? I know the Supreme court decision is a long opinion, but it is very informative. The right of habeas corpus was one of the few rights enumerated in the Constitution. Not the Bill of Rights, but the actual constitution. There was such concern over past abuses of throwing people in jail without ever giving them a right of hearing as to why they were in jail, that the founders of our country were specific as to this guarantee of a right.

    Our leaders have done everything they can to subvert and avoid that right. We are a Constitutional government, based upon following the precepts of a rather short writing. If they can’t even follow that, to me it is a government run amok.

    Or think of the concept of a ”National Security Letter.” A subpoena that, by its terms, bars the person providing the information from telling the target! Imagine that—they can subpoena YOUR internet records, ronan, and you could never know about the subpoena, nor could your internet provider tell you.

    Even with these, there might have been a paper trail. Once. The FBI doesn’t even bother doing that—they simply ask for the records, and if caught manufacture a subsequent subpoena.

    The Patriot Act? Created a secret court which reviews secret subpoenas, issuing secret warrants on matters of national security. If that isn’t scary enough (since there is NO checks-and-balance system there), the Bush Administration failed to go to that court on numerous occasions to get subpoenas!

    Do you know why we have such steps in place? To avoid abuses. Here it was as minimal as one could imagine, and they still didn’t want to go through the process. The defense of “we don’t have time to run to the court” was laughable in this age of technology. (I know courts and police work together whereby they can be faxed a warrant almost immediately. How much more does the federal government have available at its fingertips?)

    A “free press”? I think not. The “press” is a corporation with its eye on profits. It is not an institution. It does not have a duty to “protect us” from abuses. It has a duty to its stockholders to increase value. Yes, some scandal certainly sells papers—but the days of the Watergate reporting are long over. The reporters must rely upon the very people hiding the secrets for what scraps they get.

    Perhaps you are right. It may not be fear. (Albeit you discuss the government keeping us from harm, and your concern over safety being “luck of the draw.”) Worse—it may be complacency. It may be apathy. This would be far harder to motivate to understand why we must do something now!

    Have you heard the phrase, “What parents tolerate; children embrace”? What will the subsequent administrations do, in light of the abuses allowed in this one? Imagine this terrible scenario—the Evil Atheist Conspiracy actually manages its goal of taking over the United States. With the writ of habeas already eliminated, we could throw people in jail just for being Christians, and nothing could stop us!

    I am being a bit hyperbolic, but understand how dangerous it can be for the future if we allow these rights to slowly be chipped away.

    Probably the most common response I see in this regard is “If I am not doing anything wrong, what do I care if the police or FBI or CIA subpoena my records, or listen in my phone calls?” Already we have ex-spouses secretly subpoenaing their ex-wife’s new husband. Why? Because there are no checks in place to keep it from happening.

    To give you an idea of what I am talking about—the danger—I will close with an actual case. I have modified the facts slightly to protect my clients’ identity. This actually happened:

    Some time ago a city decided to clean up the drug crime. It decided to do a number of busts (20+) all at once. This required a number of personnel and therefore was a joint action amongst federal agencies (FBI and ATF) as well as state (Troopers), county (Deputies) and city (Officers).

    They had a warrant for one particular house, a brick one-story building, at 123 Brown Street. So we have a group of personnel traveling down Brown Street, looking for the house to bust in. They read off the house numbers, “89…91…93” and come to a brick one-story building. The FBI officer-in-charge says, “This is it—let’s go!”

    At which point a Michigan State Trooper told him, “No, it isn’t. We haven’t reached 123 yet—it has to be up the street.” The FBI officer refused to listen. Whether it was the fact she was female, or “only” a Trooper we will never know.

    The individuals did a “knock-and-announce” consisting of smashing the door with door-breaker and at the same time yelling, “Police!” My clients, watching TV were in shock. The parents were put in zip handcuffs, and all of them (including the 8 and 5-year-old) were made to lie face down on the floor. One officer placed his foot on the father’s hands.

    The officers were armed with machine guns. While this is going on, the FBI agent, the deputies and officers were yelling, “WHERE ARE THE DRUGS? WHERE ARE THE DRUGS?”

    The State Trooper pointed out to the officer-in-charge the house number on the outside of the (now smashed) front-door. Sure enough, house number 95—not 123. What do the officers do? They continue to ask, “Where are the drugs? We know you have drugs…where are they? See, if they DID find any drugs, despite it was the wrong house, and they had no warrant, they may have been able to manufacture a reason for why they busted in that house (“saw it through a window,” “reasonable suspicion of danger,” etc.) They could have justified the whole thing.

    After one hour on the scene, and the obviousness there were no drugs, the officers leave and go up the street to 123 Brown. (Ironically finding no one at home.) The police did not even offer to repair the door.

    We obtained an affidavit from the trooper outlining these facts. We start suit. We are thrown out of court. The officers have immunity.

    Yep—what they did was non-actionable in Michigan.

    My clients, too, once thought, “What do we care if police get secret warrants or secret subpoenas? We don’t do anything wrong.” Now they realize the immense dangers in it.

    This happened in a system in which subpoenas and warrants ARE (somewhat) open. Imagine how bad it would be if they were secret…

  4. Habeas corpus was suspended several times before during times of war. I believe President Lincoln during the Civil War and later again during WWII.
    In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the nation was thought to be under attack. Was Habeas suspended? No.
    It was a technical interpretation which involved only a couple of hundred enemies taken prisoner who wore no uniform. The liberal press and anti-administration forces have hyped this issue as if our very freedoms were in sudden danger. Again, overblown for partisan political gain. It's really a slippery slope argument except there is no slope.

  5. In the case of the home invasion, it is the state of Michigan who has failed to protect its constituants. It's an outragious affront to the civil liberties of that family. Can action be persued in Federal Court?
    At least they did'nt shoot and kill a family pet like in another similar case that was recently in the news.

  6. Ronan, I would agree in the case of war to suspend habeas. But indefinitely? How long is too long? Can we keep them locked up in Guantanamo for the next 50 years and that is acceptable?

    As to the Michigan situation—we were thrown out of Federal court.

  7. Thom Hartmann has a "national PTSD" theory for these kinds of events.

    He wrote extensively about the Kennedy assassination and pointed out that most people alive at the time have a "flashbulb" memory of exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard that JFK was shot. The Warren Commission infuriated everyone by not providing any real answers or real closure, fueling a conspiracy movement matched only by the 9/11 "Truthers". We still as a nation shudder at the mention of Presidents in Dallas, book depositories, etc.

    9/11 is similar. Horribly traumatic event for the entire nation, and instead of closure, we got the War on Terr. The way the color coded alert scale was ratcheted up and down during the 2004 campaign (Tom Ridge now admits he didn't know why he was asked to raise the alerts). We are constantly reminded of the events, particularly whenever we go to the airport. Until recently, airlines were REQUIRED by the DOT to quote the $2.50 ticket tax as "the September 11 Security Fee". Every time anything goes wrong with an airplane, the first words out of anyone's mouth are "was it terrorists?", even if the the problem was obviously unrelated.

    It wasn't until after 2001 that I really understood the line from FDR's first inaugural (75 years ago this past March): "let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."