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Published: Wednesday, 7/9/2008

Government scares us, takes away our rights

THE latest outrage being prepared by the Department of Justice would authorize the FBI to investigate and open files on Americans even if there is no evidence whatsoever of either the commission of or the intent to commit a crime.

FBI action instead would be based on a profile of an American or foreign permanent resident that could include religion, race, or ethnic origin. An investigation also could be triggered if a person traveled to a region of the world known for terrorist activity.

Development of the new FBI guidelines was acknowledged by Attorney General Michael Mukasey last month. Investigations, including the FBI monitoring of phone calls, e-mails, bank statements, and other financial records, could be prompted by all of the following: You are African-American, Asian, or white. You are a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist, or a Christian. You are of Serbian, Irish, Lebanese, or whatever ethnic origin. You have traveled to Kenya, Indonesia, London, or Madrid, where there have been, in fact, terrorist attacks. What about a trip to New York City, including, perhaps worst of all, a stop at Ground Zero?

These people - our Department of Justice and FBI - are out of their minds. Someone needs to bring them under control. Make them read the Constitution.

Americans cannot expect President Bush to shut them down so it will have to be the members of Congress, champing at the bit to go home to their districts to ask constituents to send them back to Washington, where they are near at hand to the K Street lobbyists.

Since 9/11 we have turned into a nation of scaredy-cats, buffaloed by our government into accepting all manner of infringements on our personal and civil liberties.

It is all done in the name of making us safer from terrorist attacks.

Of course, one of the safer places in the world is inside a locked cell, although our prisons can be a nightmare too.

The FBI's latest plans are by no means new in intent or effect.

The Transportation Security Agency, imposed on us at our airports, has turned air travel into a running indignity. Take your shoes off. I'm confiscating your hand lotion. Step into this machine that can look through your clothes.

The TSA's activities also have been an important factor in killing some of our airlines.

We should think about other post-9/11 assaults on our freedom: Guantanamo, the labeling of American citizens as "enemy combatants," and the Abu Ghraib atrocities should be brought to mind. Psalm 80 speaks of "the derision of our neighbors."

People of other countries who have always envied us for our freedoms and our sangfroid in the face of adversity now "laugh us to scorn" and think we have lost our minds.

We have also gone crazy on locking people up. Sen. Jim Webb (D., Va.), in his new book A Time to Fight, speaks of the "illogical, chaotic state of America's criminal-justice system." America has the highest reported incarceration rate in the whole world. Not East Timor, Sudan, or China - the United States. And we spend about $50,000 a year per inmate to keep them locked up. Because we are afraid of them.

It's not hopeless. All of it is reversible. But it has to be done. And it is a job for government and for the media.

1) Lay off the exaggeration of the external threat to the United States. What is it exactly that Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Somalia, for example, are going to do to us?

2) Have the courage to scale back on TSA activities while we still have airlines.

3) Discard the bright - profitable - idea of surveillance cameras everywhere.

4) Stop building and packing prisons. Spend the money on rehabilitation and reentry into society.

5) Finally, tell the Justice Department and the FBI to forget about profiling and investigating us, unless there is clear evidence indicating commission of or intent to commit a crime.

The string has run out on what can be done to scare Americans and to chop away at our freedoms based on that fear. We need to lift our heads, now.



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