Another day at the monkey house…

In a breathtaking legislative move that surprised all of 0.03 people nationwide, the House of Representatives swept in the Protect America Act of 2007 by a vote of 227 to 183. (This is after the bill went through the Senate like shoe polish through a goose, and President Bush announced his intention to shotgun any legislation forwarded in lieu of S. 1927 which failed to provide the federal intelligence machine the tools it “needs to prevent an attack on the country”. (Quote courtesy of U. Pitt’s The Jurist.)

You know, there’s not even a compelling reason to analyze this all that deeply. Nominally, P.A.A. 2007 gives the President and the Attorney General (meaning, ultimately, the NSA) increased authority in authorizing  surveillance and data acquisition as concerns

persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States,

insofar as

the acquisition does not constitute electronic surveillance,

and

a significant purpose of the acquisition is to obtain foreign intelligence information.

There are some finer points–among them, the ‘sunset clause’, which means that the Act can be “reconsidered” in six months, but in practice likely means that the sun will set over the cold and congealing rivers of Hell before this power is handed back willingly–but that’s it in a nutshell. In plain English, the Executive Branch now possesses an even greater capacity to be violently xenophobic. How remarkable is this? After unabashedly trampling on the civil liberties of United States citizens for years now, seeking legislative authority to harass foreign nationals is, frankly, anticlimactic.

No, what bothers me about this Act is not the legislation itself, but the semantics and the delivery. They called the bloody thing The Protect America Act, but for all the subtlety involved, they might as well have called it the Don’t Smash Baby Kittens With a Hammer Act. I mean, it’s got the words ‘Protect America’ built right in; what kind of freedom-hating, peace-fearing, war-mongering, baby-decapitating Communist terrorist scumbag would vote against that?

The point is this: Yes, it’s a terrifying annexation of power. Yes, it’s a vague, intentionally poorly-worded affair through which all manner of lunatic abuses and infractions might potentially be driven. Yes, it will almost certainly be integrated, at some point, into a form wherein it directly threatens the rights and freedoms of people just like you and me. But what scares me even more is that when something like this comes along, the American public–with a few notable and appreciated exceptions–doesn’t protest. No, we reach for the Astroglide and bend over a little further.

Why?

Because it’s all for the Greater Good. Because it’s all about safety and security and keeping out the goddamned Terrorists, whoever the hell they are. Because we’ve been taught to fear, and taught that the only answer to that fear is an unblinking eye.  Because deep down we really believe that the U.S. government, given enough power and popular support, can really rid the world of everyone who doesn’t think and feel and believe and look–yes, that too–just like we do, and never-you-mind that we ourselves have no idea what we think and believe from one day to the next.

Because we actually believe that, when that fateful day comes, when everyone who’s left thinks alike and acts alike and nobody ever has to be afraid anymore, that the government will smile, thank us for our sacrifice, and hand back all those liberties, all those rights and freedoms.  All that power.

And that’s the kind of self-rationalizing, doublethink bullshit we’re getting better and better at buying into these days in America.

That is what frightens me.

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