Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Why Limit the Power of Government?

Today, Bush was promoting the Patriot Act as a means of giving law enforcement the "tools" to defend our freedoms. Why is it a big deal and why do we need to be cautious about expanding the power of government? For the same reason that we have a written constitution - to protect us from our government! Our constitution was put down in writing to define and limit the power of the government. That is why there are the famous checks and balances in the government. It's why our government has three branches, each limiting the power of the other. It's why the president doesn't have absolute dictatorial power. It's why there is always an investigation when a police officer shoots someone. It's all about keeping the government under control because power corrupts and politicians are in the job of politics because they like power, making them dangerous and forcing us to be vigilante to keep them under control.

The Patriot Act broke down the wall between foreign intelligence and domestic intelligence. Why was there a wall? Because the government doesn't have to follow such strict rules with foreign intelligence as they do with domestic intelligence. They can get wire taps easier and conduct searches in secret and so on. Without the wall between foreign and domestic intelligence, the government can very easily abuse its power over the citizens of America. The Romans had a similar wall for the same reason. The Roman army was not allowed to set foot in Rome because there was too much potential for the government to abuse the power of the army.

I'm not saying we should keep the wall between foreign and domestic intelligence and I'm not saying the Patriot Act is all bad. I'm just saying we need to understand why it's important to limit the power of government and we need to be cautious.

In promoting the Patriot Act, Bush pointed out that law enforcement was able to break up several potential terrorist plots. No doubt. But just because it helps the government to fight terrorism doesn't make it okay. A dictatorship with absolute power in the hands of the president would really help a lot too but no one wants to make George W. Bush absolute dictator. Giving police the right to execute criminals on the spot would dramatically cut down on crime but no one wants that. That's the type of government the Taliban possessed and, in fact, they had a very peaceful and orderly society. North Korea is another absolute dictatorship with very little terrorism trouble.

Our police have to follow strict rules and everytime they shoot someone it will be investigated by the police internal affairs bureau. Why do police get investigated when they shoot someone even if it was clearly a justified shooting? Because we MUST make sure the police are not getting out of control. Because the police would become out-of-control thugs worse than the criminals in a heartbeat if left unchecked. Even with internal affairs watching over the police, there are still plenty of crooked cops. If police could get out of control so quickly, are we naive enough to think the leaders of the entire country could be trusted with unbridled power on a worldwide scale?

The government has been holding "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay Cuba for over a year without formal charges, without access to a lawyer, and without a trial. Breaking down the walls between foreign and domestic intelligence is just one step on the path to breaking down all the walls between how foreigners and American citizens can be treated by law enforcement. At the rate Bush is going, it won't be long before a person who simply operates a porn website will be quietly labelled a terrorist and carted off to prison to sit for years without charges, access to a lawyer, or a trial.

Of course, we all "know" the prisoners held in Guantanamo are terrorists and we don't really care about protecting any of their rights. We also "know" our government would never treat you and me that way. But the day one of us goes to jail in the middle of the night for writing a "terrorist blog" like this one is the day it's too late to slow down the expanding power of the government. I hope that day never comes because I love America and I would hate to see Bush destroy the first truly free country in the world.

So, why do we have to be cautious about giving too much power to the government? Because the government has the power and the legal right to put you in jail, take your property, and kill you.

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