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Boiling Point (Eroding Freedom: From John Adams to George W. Bush)

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Put a frog into a pot of boiling water, the well-known parable begins, and out that frog will jump to escape the obvious danger. Put that same frog into cool water and heat the pot slowly, and it will not react until it's too late. The survival instincts of a frog, we're told, are better designed to discern abrupt changes. Gradual transformation-like the measured raising of water temperature-can sneak up on the little croaker.

I was reminded of the proverbial frog as I considered how the recently passed Military Commissions Act (MSA) managed to get lost in a shuffle of naughty e-mails and bipartisan accusations. This isn't meant to downplay the MSA. As Michael C. Dorf, a professor of Law at Columbia University, explains: "It immunizes government officials for past war crimes; it cuts the United States off from its obligations under the Geneva Conventions; and it all but eliminates access to civilian courts for non-citizens--including permanent residents whose children are citizens--that the government, in its nearly unreviewable discretion, determines to be unlawful enemy combatants." Nasty stuff, indeed...but since fiddling with human rights has long been a hobby for America's power elite, it'd be misguided to assign all the blame to the current administration. The erosion of freedom has been a slow steady process-not unlike boiling a pot of water.

President John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Act in 1798. Under this ugly bit of legislation, I might've receive a fine "not exceeding two thousand dollars" and/or "imprisonment not exceeding two years" simply for writing an article such as this.

Woodrow Wilson got his own Espionage and Sedition Act in June 1917. Here's a sample of that law: "Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in the military or naval forces of the United States, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment of not more than 20 years, or both."

Alleged liberal Bill Clinton signed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act into law on April 24, 1996. This USA PATRIOT Act prequel contained provisions that Clinton himself admitted "makes a number of ill-advised changes in our immigration laws, having nothing to do with fighting terrorism." This unconstitutional salvo did little to address so-called terrorism but plenty to limit the civil liberties of anyone-immigrant or resident-who disagrees with U.S. policies, foreign or domestic.

Of course, there was Abe Lincoln suspending habeas corpus during the Civil War. The FBI's notorious Counterintelligence Program, COINTELPRO (1956-1971), was in place through four presidential administrations-two from each party. Also, Japanese-Americans in the 1940s just might have something to say about Franklin Delano Roosevelt's concept of freedom and human rights. FDR signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, thus interning over 100,000 without due process. In the name of taking on the architects of German prison camps, he became the architect of American prison camps.

Coming on the heels of other recent legal machinations, the MSA might best be viewed as adding a few degrees on that little thermometer stuck, well, you know where. Is it me, or is it getting awfully warm in here?
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Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.
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