If you've been paying attention -- or just passing through airports, or entering the New York City subway, or maybe even taking books from the library -- you know that since 9/11 the government has decided we need to be watched, recorded and prodded to ensure our "security." Herman calls this the "Just Trust Us" society, since they dispensed with our Constitutional protections against searches and unwarranted surveillance -- and consistently refused to give courts or anyone else enough information to determine whether all this snooping is providing any safety or just covering the asses of an ever-enlarging bureaucracy.
Herman is also clear on a significant reason that both Bush II and Obama have been able to get away with running roughshod over fundamental freedoms:
We stand indicted as a people that cling to a "childish" expectation that presidents can guarantee our safety. Since this is delusional, we have submitted to delusional measures -- and thereby voluntarily given up much of our inheritance of liberty.
Herman, the national president of the American Civil Liberties Union, does a good job of cataloging the court proceedings that have followed on current government encroachments on freedoms. Her book is certainly worth reading. So is David K. Shipler's more journalistic survey of much of the same terrain, The Rights of the People.
While writing about the erosion of democracy and liberty in the United States, I also need to pass on that the ruling African National Congress in South Africa has passed a press law that newspapers fear will mark the death of open speech and free inquiry in that emerging democracy. Such luminaries of the anti-apartheid struggle as Bishop Desmond Tutu and former South African president Nelson Mandela urged the party not to press ahead, but their legislative members have done so. Editors of newspapers across the country joined in an impassioned statement denouncing the new law. Some bits:
The newspapers will go to court, appealing to the higher authority of the country's post apartheid democratic constitution against the legislative attempt to criminalize speech. The country has a long and noble history of struggle for the rule of law; before he was the apartheid regime's most famous political prisoner, founding President Nelson Mandela was a lawyer. The nation's highest court has shown great bravery in defense of liberty, for example by affirming gay marriage rights in 2006. But free speech and civil liberties in South Africa are clearly under threat, just as they are in the United States. Can written constitutional guarantees save them?