The State of Our Union is Dire

Tonight President Obama will deliver his third State of the Union address, but something that happened yesterday illustrates the true state of our union far better than anything you’ll hear tonight. As we reported yesterday, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was detained by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials at the Nashville International Airport. Paul was detained by TSA officials after refusing an invasive full body pat-down following some kind of anomaly in the body scanner’s reading. Some might argue that there’s nothing to get worked up about here. After all, shouldn’t we expect senators to be treated like everyone else? But it is precisely because everyday citizens are subjected to these invasive procedures on a daily basis that Sen. Paul’s detention is so alarming. His high-profile detention by the TSA serves as a reminder that Americans are having their privacy violated every day on their way through the nation’s airports.

You probably won’t hear about Sen. Paul’s detention by the TSA in President Obama’s address tonight. You’re not likely to hear anything about it in the GOP response delivered by Governor Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.), nor even in the Tea Party response offered by businessman and former presidential candidate Herman Cain (R-Ga.). You probably won’t hear about the National Defense Authorization Act, the Stop Online Piracy Act, or any of the other manifold ways that Washington has undermined the Bill of Rights. But whether our politicians want to raise these issues or not, these are the issues that define the state of our union in the 21st century. And the state of our union is dire.

Late last year, under the cover of the holiday season, Congress finalized and President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Section 1021 of that legislation empowers the president to indefinitely detain American citizens, violating their habeas corpus and due process rights. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and over a dozen other senators — most of whom voted for the NDAA, including Feinstein — have proposed a “fix” that would restore due process rights for those detained inside the United States. I’ve argued that this legislation is a half-measure that only pretends to do something about the NDAA. A solution that would still empower the president to indefinitely detain, for example, American relief workers and exchange students is no solution at all.

Congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has proposed a better solution, which is full repeal of the NDAA’s Section 1021. If that doesn’t work, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges has filed suit against the Obama administration to have Section 1021 overturned. Should they both prove unsuccessful, though, habeas corpus and due process will belong in the pages of history books. That’s the state of our union in 2012.

Meanwhile, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate version, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), seem to be going nowhere fast after last week’s massive protest. But anyone who believes that the people have won this one is deluding himself. As the MegaUpload bust reveals, the Obama administration plans to roll full steam ahead on internet censorship with or without SOPA/PIPA. And while many anti-SOPA/PIPA activists are resting on their laurels content that they’ve done something, our government has already signed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) — an agreement that the U.S. Trade Representative’s office calls “the highest-standard plurilateral agreement ever achieved concerning the enforcement of intellectual property rights.” What will ACTA do? According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it will do much the same thing that SOPA/PIPA would have done. Those in our government intent on erasing our civil liberties never really give up, folks. They just regroup.

Tonight President Obama will tell us that despite our obstacles, the state of our union is strong. Don’t believe him for a minute. There is a cancer at the very core of our union and that cancer is our government, or at least those vested with its power. That’s not a message that the American people are likely to hear tonight from President Obama, Gov. Daniels, or Mr. Cain, but it’s a message that they desperately need to hear. And here’s another: Thomas Jefferson wrote in our Declaration of Independence that whenever government becomes destructive of our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” What the state of our union tells us today is that it’s time to get serious about altering those aspects of our government that can be salvaged and abolishing those that cannot and should not, before our government becomes so big and so powerful that alteration or abolition is beyond the people’s power.

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