Friday, December 07, 2007

The Devil is in the Language


More Than "Just Words"

...words that could be used to take rights from American citizens.

"Thought Crime" bill S1959 Could Steal Citizens Rights

I wrote my Congressman, David Dreier, in the House of Representatives expressing my distress that he had voted for this bill that has the potential for violating individual citizen's rights (mine and yours) at the whim of our government and asked him why he did so. This was the crux of his reply:

"As you know, H.R. 1955 amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to add provisions concerning the prevention of homegrown terrorism. This legislation directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish a grant program to prevent radicalization and homegrown terrorism in the United States. H.R. 1955 also directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish or designate a university-based Center of Excellence for the Study of Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in the United States. On October 23, H.R. 1955 passed the House by a vote of 404 to 6, and now awaits its consideration in the Senate."

I already knew what the bill does when I wrote him. Does he know what all it does? How do I interpret his reply? He read the bill, and didn't mind there was wording that could take away my rights? Or, maybe he just skimmed the bill, got the gist of it, and didn't bother reading a lot of those pesky incidental little words? Or, perhaps he didn't even read the bill, so didn't really know what it said other than those four sentences he wrote that I quoted above.

Well, words matter! Some of the words in the "Thought Crime Bill" were recently the center of focus in comment dialogues at the "Time Goes By" blog. You can access these various references listed in Ronni Bennett's post there titled "Thought Crime Bill Index" HERE.

One reader, Brian, commented, citing the following as being a safeguard written in the bill to protect our rights:

"Any measure taken to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence and homegrown terrorism in the United States should not violate the constitutional rights, civil rights, or civil liberties of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents." (From HR1955/S1959)

Another reader, Pamela, responded:

"Note use of the word "should" instead of "shall". I worked for years in a highly regulated industry, and the difference between these two words is significant, in the world of regulatory verbiage. I'm sure the words were carefully chosen. SHOULD means preferable but not mandatory. SHALL is the word used when nothing less is ever acceptable."

So, reads to me like our rights are protected if our government wants to, but they don't have to do so. That's not good enough for me.

Then, Brian's comment later was:

"this act _creates a commission_. Admittedly, I'd be more comfortable if the clause I cited use the word "shall" instead of "should," (as Pamela notes) but I see nothing so worrying here."

Commission? Commission?? Does anyone remember the instances of "Commissions" of this proposed type and the damage they can do? What immediately comes to my mind are memories of The McCarthy Era and the witch hunts that ruined so many lives. Read one such story HERE.

The "Thought Crime Bill Index" lists "Thought Crime Bill Video." I quote Ronni Bennett from her post there:

"This is the first terrorism-related legislation that specifically targets U.S. citizens and the vagueness of the wording is a dangerous threat to the First Amendment and to each of us in ways that have not been attempted before in the United States. The definitions in the bill hold the frightening keys to the undermining of our most basic liberty - to speak freely [bolding is mine]:

“VIOLENT RADICALIZATION - The term ‘violent radicalization' means process of adopting or promoting an extremist belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change."

"The difficulties here are that “extremist belief system” means anything the government wants it to mean as does the word “facilitating.”

“HOMEGROWN TERRORISM - The term 'homegrown terrorism' means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

"Again, this refers not just to violence, but to thought and speech for any undefined “political or social objectives”. In other words, it could mean universal healthcare, equal rights, abortion or anything at all about which you or I might want to make our views known that the government objects to. And, it establishes U.S. citizens as the targets of this legislation.

“IDEOLOGICALLY BASED VIOLENCE- The term ‘ideologically based violence' means the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual's political, religious, or social beliefs.

"This repeats legislative intolerance of speech and thought.(bolding is mine)

"The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism and Prevention Act does not establish penalties for these thought crimes; it “only” establishes a commission to study them. But it tells us where the thinking in Washington is heading.

"The Commission is required to send a report about its findings to the Congress and president every six months for a year and a half. As disturbing as the bill itself is, so is the additional requirement that there be a “a public version” of the reports – that is, something different from what Congress sees." She adds, "Even with only a commission at this point, there is no way to understand the bill except as a warning of what is to come..."

"Please read the entire bill. It is not lengthy and there is more in it to be concerned about.." as Ronni urges.

What mainstream media sources have you seen mention this bill? Shouldn't they be bringing this to the attention of the American people? Isn't that the job of the press to help protect our rights, or at least acquaint us to the possibility these rights could be under assault? I sent a letter to the Editor of the Los Angeles Times because I haven't seen mention of the bill in their paper and they haven't printed my letter, either. Someone please write and tell me there was an article in the Times and I just overlooked it.

My Senator Barbara Boxer responded to a letter I sent her, but didn't indicate how she would vote. I have yet to hear anything from my Senator Diane Feinstein. My Representative, David Dreier, has already voted against my interests and yours. How are your Senators going to vote? Have you told them how you want them to vote on your behalf?

The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, S1959, awaits a vote in the U.S. Senate very soon this month. Passage means the next step is for the President's signature. There is no reason to believe he won't sign the amendment.

Again, I urge everyone to read this bill HERE.

The devil is in the wording and we should be very concerned about the rights that all those Senators who vote for this bill could be taking from each American citizen. All but six of our House Representatives have already betrayed us.


  1. Did you happen to see Keith Olbermann yesterday--Thursday, that is? He had a FANTASIC Special Comment, which he does occassional, and he really gave it to Bush, but good! If this Bill passes, dear wonderful Keith Olbermann could be arrested and jailed for what he said yesterday and what he sys on many many days! Scary Scary times---Like Germany in the 30's!

  2. joanne, it's impressive that you received responses about the bill. i still have not quite recovered from the fact that charles rangel, my congressman who looks out for people of color--not only in harlem where i live--could vote fot this.

    all of us who are "other" need to see it as a personal threat. how far would we go to protect free speech? that is the question i ask myself often.

    this week i'll ask that in a meeting of my local democratic club. perhaps they will have ideas on how to get answers my senators, clinton and schumer. do not expect anything from the former.

  3. Bravo, Joann! For keeping this alive. I have, in fact, also received replies from my Rep and one Senator. I'll be blogging on this for Monday. It's SO scary to think how few people know about this and further scary to see our political leaders don't even know what it's ALL about!

  4. These are indeed "scary times" to quote "Oldoldlady." Slowly our freedoms are slipping away from us and we are losing our democracy.

  5. oldoldladyofthehills:
    No, I didn't happen to see Keith Olbermann, but he's just one example of someone who could find himself whisked away for expressing his views.

    Too many people are unaware of how our rights are gradually taken from us, bit by bit eroding the guarantees of our First Amendment.

    Naomi: Glad you're going to check out a more sure way to reach our Senators. We should be able to do so, and have assurance they know what we've said.

    Terri: Will be interested in your Mon. blog on this topic. Am curious to read what sort of reply you received from your Congresspersons.

    Pam: Yes, "scary times," indeed. At least our First Amendment rights were intact after WWII vets died to protect them. I can hear their voices and all of those lost in the Holocaust crying out their warnings this "Thought Crime" Senate Bill S1959 must be defeated.

  6. Joarad....

    Here is the link to Keith Olbermann's Thursday Comment.
    It is FANTASTIC!