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Peter Daou Headshot

We Are Frogs in Slow-Boiling Water

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Here we go again: a story that could bring down any administration, especially considering the fabrications we've heard about the scope of the NSA's activities and the legalities thereof. But part of me suspects we'll be seeing the same old thing, a scattershot effort from Dem leaders, no genuine crisis coverage from the press, lockstep Republican apologists, and an eventual yawn as this fades into the Bush memory hole.

Remember: this is not about fighting terrorism, this is about honoring those things that make America the great nation it is. This is about honesty in government, about liberty, about our rights as Americans. This is about standing up to those who will run roughshod over the values our framers held dear, the values they enshrined in our binding document.

When the first NSA warrantless spying scandal broke, I wrote The Dynamic of a Bush Scandal: How the Spying Story Will Unfold (and Fade). To my dismay, the story played out as predicted, and like frogs in slow-boiling water, we're now facing a new and profoundly disturbing phase in the erosion of our civil liberties: "NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls." This is what we get when the vast majority of reporters and political leaders spend a half-decade rolling over for the White House.

Glenn Greenwald writes, "[T]he administration's principal political defense was to continuously assure Americans that they were eavesdropping only on international calls, not domestic calls. Many, many Americans do not ever make any international calls, and it was an implicit way of assuring the heartland that the vast bulk of the calls they make - to their Aunt Millie, to arrange Little League practice, to cite just a few of the administration's condescending examples - were not the type of calls being intercepted. The only ones with anything to worry about were the weird and suspect Americans who call overseas to weird and suspect countries. If you're not calling Pakistan or Iran, the Government has no interest in what you're doing.

"That has all changed. We now learn that when Americans call their Aunt Millie, or their girlfriend, or their psychiatrist, or their drug counselor, or their priest or rabbi, or their lawyer, or anyone and everyone else, the Government is very interested. In fact, they are so interested that they make note of it and keep it forever, so that at any time, anyone in the Government can look at a record of every single person whom every single American ever called or from whom they received a call. It doesn't take a professional privacy advocate to find that creepy, invasive, dangerous and un-American."

At Democratic Underground, one poster says "Al Qaeda has won.... I have but one question for the reader, what do you personally believe Al-Qaeda's goal was on 9/11? Plainly put, I believe Al-Qaeda wanted our nation to suffer. They wanted us to lose our comfortable lives and the government that made those lives possible. We have been their greatest ally in the achievement of that goal. Today our nation learned, that our government has been collecting the phone records of millions of Americans. While that isn't exactly wiretapping, it is a disgusting destruction of liberty.

"In the past few years, our people have lost sight of the truth. We have blinded by fear and hatred. Our President has taken advantage of this blindness, and used it for his own personal gain. Time and again he has asked for more authority, and time and again we gave it to him. Now we realize how foolish that was. We will be no safer with tyranny than with terrorism. We have replaced one problem with another. And now we pay the consequences for our collective lack of character.

"All Americans are now suspected terrorists. The only thing separating us from being considered a full "Al-Qaeda" operative, is a terrorist dialing the wrong phone number. Al-Qaeda has won. Somewhere in a cave, Osama Bin Laden must be jumping up and down in joy, for he has caused the downfall of the most admirable and powerful example of liberty in human history, America."

As I argued the other day, the last line of defense against the destruction of our Constitution has been the netroots. Digby phrased it perfectly: "Without us there would have been virtually no critical voices during the long period between 2001 and the presidential primary campaign during 2003. We were it. The media were overt, enthusiastic Bush boosters for well over two years and created an environment in which Democratic dissent (never welcome) was non-existent to the average American viewer. In fact, it took Bush's approval rating falling to below 40% before they would admit that he was in trouble.

"I believe that if it had not been for the constant underground drumbeat from the fever swamps over the past five years, when the incompetence, malfeasance and corruption finally hit critical mass last summer with the bad news from Iraq, oil prices and Katrina, Bush would not have sunk as precipitously as he did and stayed there. It literally took two catastrophes of epic proportions to break the media from its narrative of Bush's powerful leadership."

When will this administration's overreach attain crisis-level attention? Will it simply be another blogswarm and a few days of scattered coverage? Will OJ Simpson and Natalee Holloway and Michael Jackson and Bush's rehashed speeches be the only items that receive roadblock coverage on the cable nets? Will Dem leaders step up and say "enough!" Will so-called 'conservatives' draw a line in the sand?

Once again, I have my doubts.