“Wirklich” is one of my favorite German words, I can’t explain why, I just like it. It means “Really” and can be used in any of the ways the English equivalent can be used. In this context I mean, with the title and premise of the article, “I’m not kidding”. This weekend, I watched the acclaimed movie “The Lives of Others” (German name “Das Leben der Anderen”) and like various people, I thought it was one of the best movies I have ever seen. Many critics have commented on the wonderful subtlety the movie displayed with how it handled many of its important concepts. Yet the movie was incredibly powerful at the same time. If a director and movie can simultaneously achieve power and subtlety, a movie is going to be a hit. This one won the academy award for best foreign film of 2007. What really sent a chill running up and down my spine was the subtle warning this movie had for those of us in the US today and now.1980 Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands + STASI = 200X Republican Party + FBI/CIA/NSA?
The movie is in large part about a government that has run amok with spying on its citizens. When speaking of crimes and our legal system, many of us have lamented at some time that a criminal has “gotten off on a technicality”. Often, those “technicalities” involve the fourth amendment that says:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Current Republican Party policy and belief is that warrant-less wiretapping is necessary to combat terrorism and other illegal activities. It is a short and slippery slope from there to where a government or party starts spying on anyone it considers “subversive”. From there, the slope leads to spying on regular and constitutionally obeying political opponents. Finally, as in “The Lives of Others” it leads to high level government officials using the security apparatus of the government to spy on and destroy romantic or financial rivals or other people that they don’t like, no matter the reason. Lord Acton would note this as plainly demonstrating the second clause of his famous quote that absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is amazing that William F. Buckley and John Podhoretz, both of whom mentioned the movie in articles in National Review, didn’t make the connection between the on screen STASI activities and where warrant-less wiretapping could lead. Perhaps they so blindly believe in the Republican Party, Conservatism, and the nebulous, never-ending, not-well-explained-who-our-enemy-is war on terror that they can’t see it.Mann muss eine Gute Amerikanische Mensch sein.
I am not a huge fan of FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that establishes secret courts where warrants can be obtained, nor should anyone who is at all concerned with the upholding of the protections in the fourth amendment, but at least with FISA courts, there is a paper trail. I can live with FISA. Prosecutors and politicians have reason to fear obtaining a FISA warrant for frivolous or abusive reasons. Who is going to investigate the reasons for obtaining a warrant-less wiretap? How would they investigate a warrant-less wiretap? How would anyone know where or how many warrant-less wiretaps exist? What about the fourth amendment? Is the official position of the Bush administration, the Republican Party and Republican Pundits that the fourth amendment is a cute idea not to be taken seriously? The FBI, CIA and NSA need to push back on any requests for such wiretaps and demand the requestors go to a FISA court. I have a lot of respect for those organizations and the people in them, and I know they do not want to become the STASI. Those of us who are Guten Amerikanische Menschen should work to ensure it never becomes so.