III. On Civil and Political Rights
The freedom and rights of individual citizens are being increasingly marginalized in the United States.
The House of Representatives and the Senate of the US Congress passed the Protect America Act of 2007 on August 3, and August 4, 2007, respectively. The act enables the US administration to eavesdrop terrorist suspects in the United States without court approval. It also permits intelligence services to conduct electronic surveillance on digital communications between terrorist suspects outside the United States if the communications are routed through the country (The so-called Protect America Act, http://public.findlaw.com, August 10, 2007). According to a report by the Washington Post on March 10, 2007, the FBI improperly obtained personal information on more than 52,000 people without court oversight through the use of national security letters (NSLs) from 2003 to 2005. Verizon Communications, the second largest telecom company in the United States, disclosed that the FBI sought information identifying not just a person making a call, but all the people that customer called, as well as the people those people called. From January 2005 to September 2007, Verizon provided data to federal authorities "on an emergency basis" 720 times. The records included Internet protocol addresses as well as phone data. In that period, Verizon turned over information a total of 94,000 times to federal authorities armed with a subpoena or court order. The information was mainly used for a range of criminal investigations including counter-terrorism investigations (The Washington Post, October 16, 2007). In August 2007, the United States' National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell revealed that fewer than 100 people inside the United States are monitored under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants. However, he said, thousands of people overseas are monitored (The Associated Press, August 23, 2007). The FBI is embarking on a 1 billion US dollars effort to build the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics, called Next Generation Identification, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad. The increasing use of biometrics for identification is raising questions about the ability of Americans to avoid unwanted scrutiny (FBI Prepares Vast Database Of Biometrics, The Washington Post, December 22, 2007). Statistics show that the government's illegal dragnet electronic surveillance has put sensitive personal information from millions of people at risk. 477 breaches into government databases were found in 2006 alone. More than 162 million records were reported lost or stolen in 2007, triple the 49.7 million that went missing in 2006 (USA Today website, December 10, 2007). In July 2007, the Homeland Security Department granted more than 4 million US dollars to install 175 video cameras on the streets of cities including St. Paul, Madison (Wisconsin State) and Pittsburgh. The Boston Globe estimated that up to hundreds of millions of dollars were being spent by the department to install new surveillance systems around the country, accelerating the rise of a "surveillance society" (The Boston Globe, August 12, 2007).
Workers' right to unionize has been restricted in the United States. It was reported that union membership fell by 326,000 in 2006, bringing the percentage of employees in unions to 12 percent, down from 20 percent in 1983. Employer resistance stopped 53 percent of nonunion workers from joining a union (Sharp Decline in Union Members in '06, The New York Times, January 26, 2007). According to a report by the Human Rights Watch, when Wal-Mart stores faced unionization drives, the company often broke the law by, for example, eavesdropping on workers, training surveillance cameras on them and firing those who favored unions (Report Assails Wal-Mart Over Unions, The New York Times, May 1, 2007).
In the United States, money is "mother's milk" for politics while elections are "games" for the wealthy, highlighting the hypocrisy of the US democracy, which has been fully borne out by the 2008 presidential election. The "financial threshold" for participating in the US presidential election is becoming higher and higher. At least 10 of the 20-strong major party candidates who are seeking the US presidency in general elections in 2008 are millionaires, according to a report by Spanish news agency EFE on May 18, 2007. The French news agency AFP reported on January 15,2007 that the 2008 presidential election will be the most expensive race in history. The cost of the last presidential campaign in 2004, considered a peak for its time, was 693 million US dollars. Common estimates of this year's total outlay have tended to come in at around 1 billion U.S dollars, and Fortune magazine recently upped its overall cost projection to 3 billion US dollars. An important presidential candidate of the Democratic Party raised a total of 115 million US dollars in 2007, and another important candidate of the Party raised 103 million US dollars. A Republican candidate said his campaign has 12.7 million US dollars, and another Republican White House hopeful, a wealthy businessman, has already dished out 17 million US dollars of his own. The New York Times said on November 26, 2007 that confronting an enormous fund-raising gap with Democrats, Republican Party officials were aggressively recruiting wealthy candidates who could spend large sums of their own money to finance their campaigns. Some wealthy Republicans had each already invested 100,000 to 1 million US dollars of their own money to finance their campaigns. In New York's 20th Congressional District, it was estimated that each candidate would spend at least 3 million US dollars.
The "cash race" has permeated various kinds of elections in the United States. According to figures from relevant institutions, from 2005 to 2006, candidates for state high courts collected more than 34 million US dollars in campaign donations. In a contest in Pennsylvania to elect two new members of the state Supreme Court, judicial candidates have broken state fundraising records, pulling down 6.8 million US dollars (USA Today, November 5, 2007). Having been elected, some Congress members sought to secure interests for their campaign donors. According to a report by the Washington Post on December 10, 2007, the amount of 10 biggest earmarks that House Majority Leader sponsored in 2008 congressional spending bills, either solo or in conjunction with other legislators, worth of 96 million US dollars. One earmark alone cost 9.8 million U.S dollars. The earmarks included many that would benefit his campaign donors. When the 471 billion US dollar Pentagon spending bill passed in November 2007, a legislator from Pennsylvania State said in a news release that he helped secure 8 million U.S dollars in funding for seven companies in his Pittsburgh-area district, including companies that contributed to his campaign. In addition, 20 freshman members of Congress secured earmarks for special-interest groups. The funding ranges from 8 million US dollars to more than 18 million US dollars ("Earmarks" Analysis Shows Money Follows Power, USA Today, December 12, 2007).
To seek more interests, some companies have paid for trips for some important political figures and other government employees. Records show lawmakers accepted free trips worth nearly 1.9 million US dollars during the first eight months of 2007, more than in all of 2006 (Limits Don't Slow Trip Perks for US Lawmakers, USA Today, October 24, 2007). According to a report by the USA Today on August 23, 2007, an examination of more than 600 travel reports on executive-branch officials over a 12-month period has found that more than 200 trips were funded by relevant companies or trade groups. The chief of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and her predecessor have taken nearly 30 trips since 2002 that were paid for in full or in part by trade associations or manufacturers of products. The expenses totaled nearly 60,000 US dollars.
The US administration manipulated the press. On October 23, 2007, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) staged a news conference on California wildfires. A half-dozen questions were asked within 15 minutes at the event by FEMA staff members posing as reporters. The news was aired by U.S-based television stations. After the Washington Post disclosed the farce, FEMA tried to defend itself for staging the fake briefing (FEMA Official Apologizes for Staged Briefing With Fake Reporters, The Washington Post, October 27, 2007). When Private Jessica Lynch and brother of late Army Ranger Pat Tillman were testifying to Congress on April 24, they decried the Pentagon's "deceit" in turning her and Tillman's disastrous experiences into false tales of heroism and lambasted the US Administration for lying about the incident (The Times, April 25, 2007).