Curtain Raiser

Passport to Unsteady Times, Colltalers

While Egypt’s political turmoil, and the incredibly disturbing sight of a uniformed strongman announcing the suspension of the constitution, have transfixed the world the past week, on home ground Americans have began to wise up to yet another scary reality: the existence of a parallel court system.
Excuse us if that sounds like a Web conspiracy theory, for it’s not and we’d rather let those dogs lie. We refer, instead, to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which coming in the trail of the NSA revelations, is to secrecy what those Russian dolls are to each other: a secret inside a secret.
Now, thanks to those revelations, we may be learning more about it. Its judges were named by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, and its decisions are beyond appeal. Oh, and yes, that’s the judicial body that endorsed the wholesale surveillance of Americans and foreign nationals in the past 10 years.
Created under the assumption that the U.S. is under a hypothetical permanent attack from its enemies, its existence may last just as long. Only in 2012, its 11 judges have rubber stamped, er, approved all the almost 1,800 NSA spying requests. We’ll get back to it but first, a quick trek back in time.
During the 1960s and 70s, a wave of military dictatorships turned most Latin American countries into places where democracy and the rule of law had all but died. Political assassinations, torture and ‘disappearance’ of opposition activists, human rights violations, vote rigging, were all too tragically common.
At the same time, the U.S., and Europe for that matter, were enjoying both economic growth and ideological freedom. Mass movements for civil rights and the end of the war in Vietnam, for instance, wound up breeding a new citizenry, aware enough to oust a sitting U.S. president, for lying to Americans.
So it’s nothing less than ironic to see that the new Millennium has brought an inversion of sorts. While economic stability has helped democratic institutions and the press to grow stronger south of the Equator, the U.S. has seen a steady questioning of democratic values dear to its history and traditions.
It’s not that America has become a totalitarian state, not yet anyway, but there’s now more than ever clear class distinctions, for example, fueled by gaping social disparities, that all but compromise the constitutional notion of ‘all men are created equal.’ And a less than independent media, to boot too.
Worse, there’s a sinking feeling that our electoral system is in shambles, and, for those born on the wrong side of the tracks, prosperity is no longer guaranteed solely on the fruits of labor. Plus, since Sept. 11, these have been tough times for libertarians and freedom of expression constitutionalists.
Thus, while the Obama administration has issued a worldwide manhunt against Edward Snowden, the American accused of exposing secrets of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, four Latin American nations have offered him asylum, a judicial notion as ancient as the Greek democracy itself.
That Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador, not too long ago, the paradigm of violent political instability and corruption, are now taking a stand towards the rule of law, and the necessary assumption for any righteous state, that one is innocent until proved guilty, is nothing less than startling.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has revoked Snowden’s passport, putting him in the terrible company of traffickers, pedophiles, terrorists, mass murders, nazis, and small-time tax cheaters, in the present day, and at least one outstanding American in the past, the singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson.
That’s as far as we’ll go in our attempt to contextualize the politics of South, Central and North America, from the second half of the 20th century on. But we’re still in shock by what we’ve been witnessing, and about the fact that those leaked secrets are yet to be proven that they compromise our security.
Which may mean, as they say, that the beatings (of individual rights to dissent and protest increased government monitoring of all citizens, with no court order or burden of proof to produce) will continue, until moral (that is, until there’s peace on Earth apparently) improves.
Even if this past Fourth of July had not been marked by rallies in support of the Fourth Amendment, the one against surveillance without court order, there’s still reason to meditate on the wisdom of the Constitution that instituted three separate powers, to serve as check and balances to each other.
It did not include, however, the existence of a shadowy group of judges, forming legal precedence on the go for government acts at least questionable in nature. That’d be as if we’d have to do away with freedom of expression, civil rights, and democracy, in order to ward off threats to them.
In other, considerably less relevant, news, Colltales may undergo its own instability time, and we may not be posting articles as frequently as we’d wish. No one should lose any sleep over it, though, and we still appreciate you taking the time to support us. Have a great week, month, and years ahead. WC

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