Thanksgiving is relative. It almost always depends on your viewpoint. Americans can be thankful that the terror of 9/11 was a decidedly rare event for our nation when compared to the daily terror that plagues Middle Easterners. We can give thanks for our model of government, which, traditionally, has provided for the personal freedoms we enjoy. And we should be thankful for the right to participate in the democratic process that defines our republic, most especially if our personal freedoms are threatened in any way.

Ironically, it appears that mostly Democrats are taking the lead in scrutinizing the new Homeland Security Bill, which potentially undermines the Privacy Act of 1974 (designed to limit what government could do with personal information), for infringements on America's civil liberties, privacy rights, and constitutional freedoms. These liberals are morphing into the new conservatives, resembling the old Republican guard, which defined itself by its reluctance to engage in foreign wars, demanding fiscal responsibility, but most importantly, rabidly advocating Americans' constitutional freedoms.

Those days are seriously over. The series of unprecedented actions taken by Congress after the 9/11 attacks reveals a pattern of increasing sanctioned infractions of those freedoms. First, the USA PATRIOT Act which gives the executive branch almost exclusive power to act without judicial review. Second, the expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act established a court that approves electronic surveillance of citizens and alien residents allegedly serving a foreign power, with easier and greater access to information and personal records. Third, the secret domestic detention of approximately 1,200 non-citizens without evidence linking them to al-Qaida. The Justice Department refused to answer any questions about the detentions, without consequence. Fourth, secret Immigration & Naturalization Service trials resulted in hundreds of deportations without juries or access to legal counsel for defendants. Fifth, Attorney General John Ashcroft declared monitoring attorney-client communications without a court order a legitimate act. Sixth, Terrorism Information & Prevention System (TIPS) was implemented, creating approximately 11 million informants, such as mail carriers, utility employees, and others with unique access to homes, authorized to help create a database of people, most of whom have never been charged with any wrongdoing.

At a minimum, authorities must at least show compelling evidence for any kind of action that intrudes, invades, or infringes on American liberties. This is the criterion that is glaringly absent from the above trajectory of new powers. Furthermore, there is too much concentrated power in one branch of government, specifically the executive branch, breaching constitutional policy and compromising the doctrine of separation of powers, which is the cornerstone of our Constitution.

Now our Republican Administration, with the endorsement of the majority of Congress (on both sides of the aisle), is implementing a surveillance system that far exceeds all historical parameters that necessarily included protections against abuse. A giant computer system, dubbed Total Information Awareness (TIA), located at the Pentagon and using military intelligence and resources, has the unprecedented capacity, and authority, to spy on Americans. TIA will provide numerous intelligence agencies, under the auspice of the new Homeland Security Department (HSD), the largest federal bureaucracy in American history, with instant access to information from e-mail, telephone records, banking and credit-card transactions, and travel records without a search warrant. Americans should consider this new authority for what it is: a grave departure from the 200-year-old American mindset that held civil liberties and constitutional freedoms as the foundational imperative of our country.

The new imperative is national security, even if it costs Americans our personal security and freedom. The public must question whether we agree with this dramatic shift in national priorities. The Homeland Security Bill has some disturbing clauses that undermine the bill's intent, such as providing special protection from lawsuits for pharmaceutical companies, the establishment of a new research center for domestic security issues conveniently located at Texas A&M University, and a provision that allows governmental contracts to be awarded to US corporations that locate their headquarters abroad to avoid taxes. What business do these kind of special interest provisions have in our homeland security laws?

Another looming concern is that because the HSD's employees are conveniently not unionized, the administration is proposing to privatize several federal operations. While select private corporations will likely benefit from lucrative contracts, it is estimated that costs will rise significantly for the same production, ultimately burdening taxpayers for as long as this windfall lasts.

In the final analysis, the new HSD, the largest federal bureaucracy to ever be created (on a Republican watch no less), is charged mostly with the surveillance of Americans. The list of unconstitutional powers granted to the HSD is sobering, including warrantless searches, forced vaccinations of entire communities, neighborhood snitch programs, and limitless federal information databases, to name a few of the more alarming powers. It is difficult, if not impossible, to be thankful for this arguably un-American legislation, and the potential degradation of the American way of life as we currently cherish it, which essentially means a political and cultural abandonment of the inherent value we place on individual life and liberty.

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