Friday, November 30, 2007

Whose side is Washington on? Not the public?s

U.S. law and the Constitution are beginning to look like Swiss cheese.

The freshest assault on citizens’ rights is the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to relax regulations requiring industries to report toxic chemicals they use, store and release. Challenged to explain this indifference to healthful air and water, an EPA spin doctor described more freedom of industry to pollute as “making a good program better.”

Good grief.

With this change, EPA allows some 5,300 facilities to avoid reporting toxic emissions of less than 5,000 pounds. The old regulation required reporting 500 pounds or more.

This turns back the clock to an era of smokestacks’ belching black, acrid plumes that led to respiratory disease epidemics in factory towns.

Twelve states have risen in outrage, sued the EPA, and asked courts to restore all requirements of the 1986 law that was enacted after thousands died in a ghastly chemical accident in Bhopal, India.

Also new in whittling way at the Constitution is Homeland Security’s program teaching big-city firefighters who enter homes to report, among other things, people expressing “discontent” with government. Democrats, newspaper columnists, anti-war activists, disloyal Republicans—beware.

This replicates Fidel Castro’s block-by-block snitch network that reports grumblers. Using firefighters as spies is anathema to their profession and an affront to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of search and seizure without a warrant.

Not to be left out of depriving people of the right of privacy, the U.S. Supreme Court just approved a San Diego County project allowing police to enter homes of welfare recipients without a warrant to inspect their belongings and foodstuffs, with or without evidence of fraud. If they refuse to allow cops to enter, beneficiaries can be denied welfare.

Using this ends-justify-the-means philosophy on welfare recipients could put the nation on a path to dispense with the niceties of law and allow police to enter any home or office on a fishing expedition for any evidence of any crime. Will Social Security recipients be next to be searched?

That isn’t rhetorical. President Bush is under way with warrantless wiretaps, kidnapping terrorism “suspects” without evidence and sending them to foreign prisons indefinitely for grilling, ordering telephone companies to turn over customers’ records without court permission and firing federal attorneys who won’t play along with politics in prosecutions.

All this is happening on the watch of a president who claims to believe in “strict constructionist” judges to protect the Constitution. Next year’s presidential election can’t arrive fast enough.

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