The President and Vice-President of the United States go to the Supreme Court today to see if they can withhold information from the American people. At issue is whether oil companies can write the United States Energy Policy without fear that we, the people, will find out how the government and legal system are being used to generate gas prices which consistently run above $2.00 per gallon and are threatening to go higher over the next several months.
This really should be a non-issue.
After all, the American people have proven that what the current administration does is actually irrelevant. I’m not saying this (seriously) to be sarcastic, but I’m not sure if the reason for this is because we so like having a Republican in office or if we just hate having a Democrat in office or if we like sending our children to die like heros in the dessert or if it’s because Bush claims to be a Christian or what. There’s something going on in the minds of most Americans that is simply unexplainable.
Over the last four years, I’ve seen prices going up for gasoline as if we were dumping gold into our gas tanks. Housing prices have risen dramatically (although this isn’t always bad, if you’re a seller). Civil Rights have become almost non-existent. Our government — and no one else — is responsible for this.
We accept these things because we refuse to believe our government — particularly one with a President who so frequently invokes the name of G-d — would not have our best interests at heart. And as to the restrictions on our freedoms, well, after all, most of us “have nothing to hide.”
Yet Americans don’t seem to understand that governments aren’t always benevolent. For more than 200 years, ours has been held in check by the law. For that reason, we’ve gotten used to the idea that (at least our) governments can’t really oppress — well, they can’t visibly oppress most white people, anyway. Essentially, we’ve been able to live free. The thing is that we’ve been able to live that way because our nation’s Founders placed limitations upon our government. Without these limitations, they believed, governments naturally turn despotic.
Under Parliamentary government, there is little or no restraint that is exercised by a Constitution upon the passions of the moment that may seize a nation. In what is perceived as an emergency, individual rights can be overridden. The entire government, therefore, is less stable over time and subject to being changed by something that might in retrospect seem whimsical.
The saving grace for the United States was that the Founders first wrote a Constitution to keep the power of government in check and then deliberately made it difficult to revise that Constitution. So opposed were the Founders to the concentration of power that a federal government would bring that the United States almost was not created at all!
Joseph Ellis points out in Founding Brothers: ?no one had ever established a republican government on the scale of the United States, and the overwhelming judgment of most respected authorities was that it could not be done.? The revolution had ?stigmatized all concentrated political power . . . and any energetic expression of governmental authority as an alien force that a responsible citizens ought to repudiate.? After all, Americans had just fought a long and difficult war to rid themselves of a ?despotic? king and ?tyrannical? parliament so they could be free to pursue life, liberty and happiness, unfettered by trade restrictions, taxes, and other burdens.
And so, for the majority of our history, our government has been limited in its powers. The major limitations have included requirements that prevent the government from conducting its business in secrecy. In addition to the Constitution, the Freedom of Information Act is one such limitation.
Freedom of information is a phrase bandied about almost daily by press and public alike. And with the perennial stress on both constitutional and inherent rights of American citizens, with the added assertion of government subservience to the individual, it was necessary that government information would be available to the public. Issues of counter-rights, such as sensitivity of government information or private interests, clash. It was, therefore, attempted in 1966 to enact a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which would effectively deal with requests for government records consistent with the idea that the people have the ?right to know? about them. Also, close in hand, the Privacy Act (PA) of 1974 covered government documents charting individuals.
Today, the Bush Administration has been hammering away at all such restrictions. They want the ability to operate in secret and they want the ability to maintain records on the majority of citizens.
That’s right, the majority of citizens, not just those the average American might agree “should be” watched.
This blog entry is not intended to be an in-depth examination of these issues. For more information on Total Information Awareness, “the closest thing to a true ‘Big Brother’ program that has ever been seriously contemplated in the United States,” you can check this web page. Technically, the Total Information Awareness program was killed by Congress amid concerns it would be used to spy on Americans. But the government views your privacy as anathema — which it is — to their ability to control. And Total Information Awareness lives on — but now with new names that help disguise its breadth.
Again, it isn’t (well, it wasn’t) my intent to go into much depth on these issues. One other thing to note, though, is that even where the law still forbids government from collecting extensive databases on citizens, it does not forbid them from using databases created by non-government entities, such as Cendant Corporation, which is (legally!) compiling huge databases on citizens. So far, these databases are “only” being used by other companies to “weed out” customers they don’t want. Insurance companies, for example, look at the buying habits of Americans (remember those discount cards you get from Von’s, Ralph’s and other grocery markets that track your name and purchases?) to eliminate those with “unhealthy” habits like “buying alcohol, cigarettes and red meat.” (And when Robert Rivera slipped and fell in a California grocery store and fractured his kneecap, he sued the store to pay the medical bills. In turn, the store threatened to use Mr. Rivera’s shopping history against him, specifically, that he made frequent purchases of alcohol and that he “was a lush with poor memory and coordination,” the Seattle Weekly reported.) These same databases are being used by government agencies like the IRS to track people who underreport income — looking at your purchases allows them to make judgments about whether you are reporting less than you earn.
Meanwhile, as the government increases its surveillance of ordinary citizens, our Vice-President fights valiantly to protect his right to keep us from finding out how much participation oil and energy companies had in the writing of the United States policy regarding energy.
The Bush administration has lost two rounds in federal court. If the Supreme Court makes it three, Cheney could have to reveal potentially embarrassing records just in time for the presidential election.
Although he’s lost repeatedly in the lower courts, the chances are that his run at the Supreme Court will be like, well, shooting ducks. Purely coincidentally, “The Times notes that pair [sic] arrived Jan. 5 on Gulfstream jets and were guests of Wallace Carline, the owner of Diamond Services Corp., an oil services company in Amelia, La.” (See “Scalia-Cheney Trip Raises Eyebrows,” CBSNews.com, January 17, 2003, emphasis mine. In fairness, of course, Scalia notes that “I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned.” That’s his opinion, anyway; and any other opinion isn’t reasonable.)
The White House’s fear is that in the unlikely event Cheney loses in the Supreme Court, it could be embarrassed by the records which would end up being released just in time for the election. But the damage this administration is doing to our country and our willingness to sit still — like so many ducks — is what’s really embarrassing.