Comics aficionados may remember Bizarro World (or something like that), an ugly, angular, twisted parallel universe in which Superman had a craggy face and was almost as evil as Glenn Beck.
In contrast to the dark side, there is also a fifth dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the sign post up ahead. Your next stop—Perfect World! A world in which congressmen and women are the opposite of what we experience in the here and now. Where Sarah Palin tells the truth and has an IQ of over 80. Where Dick Cheney shuts the hell up and peppers his own face with birdshot.
A Demockracy.com reporter inadvertently penetrated the inter dimensional portal into Perfect World after tripping over a mayonnaise jar on Funk & Wagnall’s porch. The White House press corps reporters all looked like Brad Pitt, Mandy Moore, Matt Damon and Julia Stiles and everyone spoke in very counterintuitive ways. The calendar on the wall said February 2013.
“President Palin,” someone said, “After 9/11, don’t you feel we must sometimes ignore the ambiguous, the gray, and focus on good and bad, right and wrong, in the Middle East?”
“All sciences are now under the obligation to prepare the ground for the future task of the philosopher, which is to solve the problem of value, to determine the true hierarchy of values. All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth. I reject power for its own sake and embrace the search for truth, always. Y’all don’t mind if quote Nietzsche now, do ya? Hee hee hee.”
Madam President, would not the U.S. be justified in invading Iran based on that country’s lies and deceptions?”
“No, for as I said, I embrace the search for truth, not power for its own sake, and certainly not for some barbaric notion of preemptive strikes or regime change. Arrogance on the part of the meritorious is even more offensive to me than the arrogance of those without merit: for merit itself is offensive.”
“Madam President, should the Republican Party take its rightful place among the creationist evangelicals in order to secure a landslide victory in the midterm elections?”
“The Republican Party will as always stand for intellectuality and the search for truth and not pander to religious lunacy. Nietzsche said, “In Christianity neither morality nor religion come into contact with reality at any point. How’s that for some philosophy for ya!”
“But what about the right to life issue, Madam President?”
“Judgments, value judgments concerning life, for or against, can in the last resort never be true: they possess value only as symptoms, they come into consideration only as symptoms—in themselves such judgments are stupidities.”
Later, in the Oval Office with Vice President Alberto Gonzales…
“Al, although I appreciate personal loyalty, you must know that loyalty to your country and nation of laws is paramount, ya follow? Ask not what you can do for me; ask what you can do for your country.”
“Indeed, Madam President. And I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
“Well said, Al, and with feeling. Tuggin’ at my heart strings, aren’tcha!”
“And I remembered all the words, Madam President.”
“Yes, ya certainly did, Al. What a wonderful photographic memory you have. You shoulda been a lawyer.”
“I am a lawyer, Madam Palin. That’s why our Constitution stands firm and strong.”
“You’re a unique man of integrity, Al. I’d embrace ya but I don’t wanna distract ya. Ya know how hot I am.”
“Once a beauty queen, always a beauty queen, Madam President. In fact I am finding it exceedingly difficult to focus on my work with that blouse you’re wearing.”
“Yah! D’ja like it? Anyways, at bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once upon this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time.”
“Thank you, Madam. Well, the integrity of this administration is the envy of the free world. And now if you’ll excuse me, Madam President, it’s time for me to go out and rescue stray kittens.”
“Very good, Al. I’ll be in the philosophy section of the Library of Congress if you need me.”
Where has tricky Dick been lately? I know, I know, Nixon done died. I mean Dick Cheney. Where is that bigmouth. Where are the pearls of wisdom reminding us he was always right and Obama is wrong about everything? Can anybody help me find him? Like Dave Letterman, I want to know who the hell I’m supposed to make fun of after this old trooper fades away. Certainly not Michael Jackson; forget about that.
Oh—just got a news flash.
From: admin @ missmatch.com
Sent: Friday, June 23, 2009
To: Dick Cheney (dickhead @ hottiemail.com)
Your photos and profile for Missmatch.com have been approved! You now have your NEW PASSPORT to a new love, a new life, a new adventure! Given your record as former Vice President, however, we would like to emphasize that “a new adventure” at Missmatch.com refers to new adventures in love and life, not invading countries all over the Middle East. Now it’s up to you to find Miss Right Wing!
But here at Missmatch.com we don’t just take a shotgun approach. We genuinely want to help you find the right-wing girl. Our state-of-the-art, highly personalized database has already prepared a starter kit of sexy female neocons to write to. Click on the following profiles, submitted for your approval:
- Ann Coulter (Look for her profile name DCDOMME!)—describes herself as tall, blonde, lanky as Twiggy, with a caustic wit that can drive you to distraction. She enjoys a good argument, long walks on your chest, crushing hands, and romantic candlelit dinners that involve dripping the hot melting wax on your nipples.
- Harriet Miers (Look for her profile name MATUREBABE!)—says she’s a “mature babe.” We know you’ll overlook the wrinkles on this hottie because you’ll love her for her mind. And for an evangelical Christian whom George Dubya nominated for the Supreme Court, she’s pretty darned nonjudgmental. She’s described Dubya as the most brilliant man she’s ever met, so she’s right (no pun intended) up your alley!
- Condi Rice (Look for her profile nickname, NICERICE!)—your compatibility score with this sexy Ph.D. goes right through the roof when you consider she talks just like you! For example, she once said, “This is the democratic process at work….what you’re seeing with this process is the Iraqi people embracing American-style democracy.” What a dreamer! Just like you, Dick—and she plays piano, too. A true Renaissance babe, brown sugar for your coffee.
The rest is up to you, Dick. Go get ‘em! Shoot ‘em if you have to.
P.S. We are sorry but not surprised you were rejected by eHarmony.com. Our competitors at eHarmony accept only beaming goody-two-shoes types, which you clearly are not.
From: texasfewextrapoundschick @ match.com
Sent: January 31, 2009
To: dickhead @ hottiemail.com
You do have a way with words that make me hot. I love the decisive way you keep repeating “in fact,” tempered occasionally by “if you will.” You said you are “in fact in the final throes, if you will,” of any attachments to your former wife. But since everybody knows you are divorced from all reality in the first place, how the hell do I know you’re really divorced from your wife? And why am I having trouble believing you after you posted pics of Brad Pitt to represent you in your profile? I was mesmerized at first, but really you’re an old fat guy with a pacemaker. And by the way, who hacked my computer and deleted all your emails to me?! What other lies are you telling me…and living with?
Sent: January 31, 2009
To: texasfewextrapoundschick @match.com
I think you are on the last throes, if you will, of your sanity. Those photos are in fact ME, and they are RECENT. Less important than physical accuracy in imagery, I think, is that the American people want me to look like Brad Pitt. As for my health, except for the occasional heart attack, I’ve never felt better. OK, as I admitted before, I am mentally not quite as sharp as I was when I was Vice President. Tell you the truth, hon, I had a bad day yesterday when I mixed up my Viagra pills with my Valium. I had a stressful job interview with Halliburton so I had intended to take a Valium, only I took a Viagra by mistake and when the woman HR officer shook my hand I had an orgasm. This was most unfortunate, and I in fact did not get the job, and furthermore it made my pacemaker run amok. Later, that night, I had a date with Condi Rice. (She had me at “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” you know.) Well my pills were still mixed up and I took the Valium that night instead of the Viagra and fell asleep just as I started to kiss her. She’d put me to sleep before, playing Mozart on the damned piano, but this was ridiculous.
Let’s face it, girl, you and I need each other. Just because I peppered your husband’s face with birdshot and I mix up my Valium with my Viagra doesn’t mean you should shut me out. I believe in fact you will greet me at your door as your liberator. I am prepared to face my responsibilities and am willing to use force if necessary.
Dick, sad, confused but decisive
As I watched Newt Gingrich on Meet the Press recently, I began to think about the current state of the Republican Party. Now, a Republican I am not. However, I do believe in a healthy multiparty system, and with the current death spiral of the Republican Party, we are drifting more and more away from that.
Of course, all parties often find themselves in the political wilderness from time to time. In many parliamentary systems, such as the UK, virtually all power shifts from one party to another every 5-15 years. In the US, with multiple branches of government and rules such as the filibuster, which theoretically are designed to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority, such wilderness periods are usually not as absolute. The closest thing the US has seen in the past century was perhaps the period from 1933 to 1939, when the Democrats controlled the Presidency and supermajorities of both Houses. But even then, the Supreme Court was not fully in line, hence FDR’s disastrous attempt to expand the size of the court. Other time periods in the “liberal consensus” period of 1933-1969 saw much division within the majority party (largely along North-South lines), which gave a great deal of power to the minority party on many issues, such as civil rights.
Therefore, the current Republican wilderness period isn’t as common as we might think. However, at the same time, it is a great time for the party to define itself going forward without the pressure of actually governing. Going forward, there are several different paths the Republican Party could take. Let’s take a look at some of them:
1. The Establishment Direction
Current Leaders: Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and Dick Cheney
Potential 2012 Candidates: Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Jeb Bush
This option generally embraces the past and takes the position that what worked in the 1990s will work now, full stop. It simply plugs in tired arguments of the past into the present and expects that they will produce the exact same results, no matter how different circumstances may be today. This option embraces the fact that Republican values are important, and that the party cannot compromise on its core values. This “love us, or leave us” strategy places a renewed emphasis on national security, fear, and wedge issues. However, unlike some of the options outlined below, this option is very inside baseball. It’s Washington insiders, roaring 1990s, all over again. According to the latest CNN Research poll, each of the leaders of this strategy have approval ratings in the 30s according recent opinion polls, but yet enjoy the support of a large majority of members of the shrinking Republican party. As more and more Republicans leave the party, the greater percentage of those left that will be in support of this strategy.
2. Establishment with a Twist
Current Leaders: Mitt Romney and Eric Cantor
Potential 2012 Candidates: Mitt Romney, Lindsay Graham, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, and Tim Pawlenty
This faction of the Republican party is in some ways perceived as “moderate,” but yet in other ways very conformist and in sync with the establishment listed above. However, unlike members of the establishment, people like Mitt Romney and Lindsay Graham are actually somewhat likable individuals that don’t seem like retreads from a past era. However, when you look beyond a few policy exceptions, most in this group fall in line with the group above. However, this path realizes the importance of aesthetics and is willing to compromise on a few tangential issues in order to actually win. While there is nothing necessarily fundamentally different about this group that could necessarily shift the dynamics away from the Republican Party becoming limited to a regional force in the long run, right now this option may be the best bet for the short term survival of the party that doesn’t compromise some on some of its core ideals of the past several decades.
3. Movement Conservatives
Current Leaders: Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh
Potential 2012 Candidates: Sarah Palin and Tom Tancredo
This path is top-down populism if there ever was such a thing. Four plus decades after the Southern strategy began its outreach to social conservatives throughout the country, the “movement” they created has come close to completely taking over the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln. What started with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan’s pawns, first achieved electoral victory within its new home in 1988 when Pat Robertson finished a strong second in the Iowa caucuses, solidly ahead of sitting Vice President George H. W. Bush. Twenty years later, for the first time, the movement had one of its own nominated to be Vice President of the United States. Don’t expect the movement to stop there. The movement has all the momentum within the party and will not be satisfied until one of its own is the Presidential nominee, no matter what that might mean for the overall party’s general election chances. Although his name may never appear on a ballot, Rush Limbaugh is without a doubt the current leader of this faction of the Republican Party.
4. A New Populism
Current Leader: Mike Huckabee
Potential 2012 Candidate: Mike Huckabee
This option is intriguing because it has the potential to contract and/or expand the reach of the Republican Party in the long run. Like the movement, it is populist in nature. However, unlike the movement, it seems to have the potential for real bottom-up populism. With an emphasis on social values, religion, and cultural issues, this option in many ways continues the trend of making the GOP a regional party of the South. However, at the same time, this option is also anti-establishment in a way that the movement is not. Also, this path is not necessarily in line step by step on foreign policy and economic issues with the three factions outlined above. Mike Huckabee flirted with economic equity arguments in 2008, but never went quite far enough to establish a real break here. In the long run, a real break with Republican core stances on certain issues, such as tax policy or immigration, with a reemphasis on cultural issues, could be an intriguing strategy for the GOP. This strategy could finally open the GOP tent to many African American and Latino voters, who tend to be more socially conservative. While this may sound drastic, such a realignment would not necessarily be anything new in American politics. American history suggests that fundamental political realignments may occur every three to four decades. If you consider 2006-2010 a realignment period (some scholars argue that a realignment normally includes three consecutive elections with the same dynamic trend, although there is generally a critical election) that has finally ended the political equilibrium that has existed since 1968 or 1980 or 1994 (depending on when you define end of the Fifth Party System), then it is still unclear exactly what equilibrium may exist by the middle part of next decade. In fact, some scholars argue that we are currently in the middle of a disalignment, and the exact composition of the Sixth Party System is yet to be set in stone. (Admittedly, with Republican actions in recent years and the rise of Obama, this sort of realignment is probably not realistic for at least a decade or more.)
5. Rockefeller Revisited
Current Leaders: Colin Powell, Jim Huntsman, Charlie Crist, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Tom Ridge
Potential 2012 Candidate: Tom Ridge
This is the old, moderate, and even sometimes liberal Republican party. And it also could be the new Republican Party that emerges out a possible realignment period. At least in the short term (2012), this looks like the only faction that could actually stand a chance at winning a general election at the presidential level. However, although more popular overall, this faction no longer has many votes within the Republican Party itself. As moderate Republicans have become independents or Democrats in recent years, the Party has essentially purged itself of many of these sane voices. For example, while Republican Colin Powell has a 70% approval rating in the latest CNN poll of all voters, only 64% of Republicans approve of him. When a greater combined percentage of Democrats and independents approve of a Republican than Republicans, chances for a like-minded moderate winning a Republican primary are slim to none. Smartly, Obama and many Democrats know that this is the only faction of Republicans that could beat them in the short term and have strategically moved to the center on several key peripheral (in their mind) issues to ensure that most of those who switched party affiliation in the past 4 to 8 years will remain Democrats or independents throughout the Obama years. This virtually eliminates the GOP’s best hope for 2012, nominating a moderate voice. Further, the best and brightest potential presidential candidate for the GOP out of this moderate wing, Utah governor Jim Huntsman, was recently appointed by Obama to be Ambassador to China. With Hillary and Huntsman on board, Obama has continued to marginalize those who he sees as political threats. It’s no coincidence that David Plouffe, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager and presumed reelection captain, said publicly 10 days before the appointment that Huntsman was his greatest worry for 2012.
Who Will Win Out?
As the Republicans continue their internal fight out of the wilderness, everyone will speculate about who will emerge out of this power vacuum. While a month, let alone a year, is an eternity in politics, if I were to guess right now, I would predict the following:
The Three Headed Monster of Gingrich-Cheney-Limbaugh will continue to dominate the conversation through the 2010 elections. At that time, as the Republicans gear up for 2012, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee will all emerge as serious presidential contenders. Notice how I did not mention any of the moderate Rockefeller Republicans in that list. Right now, I simply don’t see anyone emerging. Possibly Tom Ridge, but I wouldn’t bet on it. While I think Romney would be the most competitive general election candidate out of the four names listed above, I still think all four would lose pretty handily. Huckabee may be the best hope for some sort of outside-the-box, realignment election. Gingrich is the worst for the short term and the long term, but next to Romney, may have the best shot at the nomination. However, by 2014 or 2016, I believe that either the movement or Huckabee wing will emerge. In many aspects, both of these options represent a complete destruction of the Republican status quo and establishment. The movement was meant to elect Republicans, not to actually run the party from within. The Southern strategy will have finally come full circle.
So what happens if and when the movement does finally completely take over the party? The movement could then continue down the death spiral to irrelevance, leading to a possible reemergence of a moderate wing of the GOP or a formidable new second party to fill that vacuum (assuming the Dems don’t totally co-opt the center, which may lead to a leftist party). Finally, although unlikely, a unification of populist elements under the guise of cultural conservatism, racial tolerance, economic equity, and/or freer migration of people is another intriguing possibility for a potential new period in American political history.
And you wonder why they call it the wilderness….
One of the larger problems in my life is that, whenever I want to write about a civil liberties issue, Glenn Greenwald has already beaten me to it. And written it better than I could have. Greenwald is a former civil liberties attorney and number one defender of The Constitution. He is not a Democratic apologist. He heavily criticized President Bush. And he is now heavily criticizing President Obama. In Greenwald’s opinion, suggesting that enforcing our laws is “radical” or “extreme” or “left-wing” is disgusting. When did enforcing the law become a partisan issue? He also writes about the media and how he believes that the media are beholden to the political class in a horrible, symbiotic relationship that ensures that the Fourth Estate will never actually hold our leaders accountable for anything.
And I agree with him on all of it. Absolutely all of it. Darn him! Darn him to heck!
For example, Glenn and I were furious this last week when Sen. Harry Reid kept using a verb that could just as easily have been crafted by Karl Rove. The verb was “release,” as in, “Terrorists from Guantanamo Bay will be released into the U.S.” Many pundits, and even Obama himself, used the verb “release” to describe what the government will do to detainees in Guantanamo Bay now that the administration has re-iterated its desire to close the prison there. “Release” evokes images of terrorists approaching the shore on boats and then merrily skipping off, free of shackles and permitted to wander throughout the country, blowing up whatever they please.
Let it be known: terrorists will not be released into anything. They will be shackled, they will be monitored, they will be in our custody and under guard as they are transported from Cuba to the mainland. And once on the mainland, they will continue to be monitored and under guard as they are moved to whatever prison they will occupy next. Those who believe that terrorists will be “released” in the United States are either negligently ignorant, willfully stupid, or maliciously misrepresentative. One guess as to which one describes Harry Reid.
Prior to September 11, 2001, we believed in something called “due process.” It’s a Fifth Amendment guarantee:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. [Emphasis mine.]
The Supreme Court has ruled before that, since the Constitution uses the word “person” and not “citizen”; and since it would have been very easy to use the word citizen, but person was used instead; and since the author of the Bill of Rights, James Madison, was a lawyer by trade and a very smart man and probably not prone to misusing words; that it therefore follows that the Bill of Rights was intended to apply not only to U.S. citizens, but anyone in the United States. This is affirmed in the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits a state to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Again, note the use of the word person where citizen could have been used, but wasn’t.
In 1993, the World Trade Center was bombed by a group of terrorists led by Omar Abdel-Rahman, better known as The Blind Sheik. The bomb damaged a parking garage and did kill some people, but it didn’t come close to bringing the building down. Abdel-Rahman and three other accomplices were indicted by civilian prosecutors, accused of breaking publicly-accessible laws, tried in open court inside the United States, under the guidelines of the Constitution and the rules of U.S. civil procedure, and sentenced to U.S. civilian prisons. After 1993, the nation was not less safe because Abdel-Rahman and his accomplices were being imprisoned inside the United States. Abdel-Rahman is housed at the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.
In 1995, Timothy McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols parked a rental truck containing a homemade fertilizer bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The bomb exploded, killing 168 people, injuring 800 others, and destroying the building. Nichols and McVeigh were indicted, again by civilian prosecutors, accused of breaking publicly-accessible (that is, not secret) laws, tried in open court, and sentenced to U.S. civilian prisons. McVeigh was given the death penalty. The nation is not less safe because Terry Nichols is housed inside the United States.
I think you get the point. Eric Rudolph, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bomber; Wadih el-Hage, accused of involvement in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings; Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber; Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber”; Jose Padilla, the “dirty bomber.” All of these people are being held inside the United States right now, and no one — no one! — is arguing that the United States is less safe because of it. To suggest that allowing Dangerous Criminals inside our borders is silly; there are already more dangerous criminals here!
It’s also worth noting that, with the exception of Reid and Padilla, all of the above criminals were convicted using the 200-year-old, civilian due process proscribed by the Constitution. Reid and Padilla were held incommunicado in U.S. navy brigs. The government eventually dropped its terrorism charge against Padilla, who was alleged to be making a “dirty bomb” (a traditional bomb filled with radioactive material; it would not cause a nuclear explosion, but it would spread radiation). Since the government didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute the terrorism charge, the charge was dropped. Padilla, nevertheless, was sentenced because even though terrorism is a crime, all the things that terrorists do are already illegal, anyway! Blowing up a building is no more illegal because it was done with a political agenda in mind.
The assertion that Terrorists need to be tried in a special, extra-Constitutional way, held without charge, subjected to torture, and perhaps never afforded a trial is ludicrous. In the paragraphs above, we have ample evidence proving that trying terrorists in civilian courts, using civilian rules, does work. The United States is not less safe. And furthermore, housing convicted terrorists in civilian prisons does work. And furthermore, charging them and trying them does work. For people like Vice President Cheney to suggest that using due process makes us less safe just goes to show us how out of his mind the man is. He would probably be happier living in Iran, where the executive has unlimited power to imprison people for made-up reasons, or no reason at all. Here in the United States, we do not convict people merely on the confidential say-so of the executive branch; that’s the way dictatorships (you know, those countries that we purport to be fighting against — unless your name is “Saudi Arabia”) behave. Here in the United States, it is up to the executive to prove that the accused is guilty. Guilt is never assumed — unless, apparently, you committed a terrorism-related crime after September 11, 2001. Or you were linked to terrorism, no matter how specious the link or how questionable the evidence. Or you associated with terrorists, even if you didn’t know they were terrorists. Or you were planning on committing a terrorism-related crime, even if “terror” wasn’t your goal. Or, as Obama articulated yesterday, the government is afraid you might commit terrorist crimes in the future. Yes, the possibility of future law-breaking is now grounds not only for detaining someone, but for never giving them a trial or even a preliminary hearing to prove that they did what they were accused of doing. As long as the government says “Terrorist,” an individual’s guilt is implicit and that person will never, ever be released. (More likely, as Greenwald observed, you will be imprisoned indefinitely if the government can’t guarantee that it will win a trial. Do show trials sound like the hallmark of a vibrant democracy or a repressive despotism?)
Obama’s plan is definitely a step in the right direction, but it’s not nearly enough. In order to restore the rule of law to this out-of-control country, he must admit that there is no situation in which a person should be held indefinitely; habeas corpus is a right guaranteed to anyone in U.S. custody, and the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed as much. Obama apologists have used exactly the same rhetoric President Bush used to support Obama’s case; namely, “we are at war.” And these prisoners are prisoners of war; therefore, they do not have the right to contest their detention, and they may be detained until the end of the conflict. Seeing as how we’re waging a war on an abstract idea, it’s hard to see exactly when (or if) this war will be over.
Are we now in the business of imprisoning people indefinitely? What does that say about us as a nation? What will historians say fifty years from now? Today, we regard the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as deplorable and appalling, but at the time, it made sense to our political leaders. We have the ability to stop lawlessness right now instead of musing, decades later, about the mistakes we made, and saying, “We’re so sorry. We’ll do better next time.” Unfortunately, every time “next time” comes up, we fail again (we began failing as early as the John Adams administration, with the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts). Obama offers the promise of actually living up to our ideals as a country. Rather than fumble to attempt to explain and excuse his actions, we must ask, “Is what he is doing right? Is it legal?” And, as Glenn Greenwald wonders, “What would I have said if George Bush and Dick Cheney advocated a law vesting them with the power to preventively imprison people indefinitely and with no charges?”
Please do read Glenn’s article. It is a thorough, lucid, and amazing analysis of Obama’s position on these detainees, with some very tough questions and conclusions that must necessarily follow from that position. I do not believe they are questions that Obama and his supporters want to ask, because they lead to the very same places formerly occupied by previous administrations. At the end of the day, Obama & Co. are saying, “Yes, it is okay to detain some people indefinitely, without the government ever having to prove that they committed a crime.” Not only is that assertion illegal, it’s un-American, and if we continue down that road, it makes this country not only less safe, but less worth defending.
I had the most amazing dream last night. Thankfully, Jimmy Kimmel in a diaper wasn’t in this one. Instead, I saw Barack Obama giving a speech about government openness and accountability. He talked about the closure of the U.S. terrorist prison in Guantanamo Bay; he talked about ending extraordinary rendition of U.S. terrorism suspects to other countries where they would be tortured; he talked about ending the use of extra-legal means to spy on Americans under color of law, and he talked about an absolute ban on the use of torture.
Recent events have confirmed that this is only a dream. The candidate of alleged change has instead agreed with George W. Bush on almost every torture and secrecy issue. He ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay. But, in a brilliant feat of misdirection, none of us ever saw that his Justice Department was working tirelessly to ensure that the same civil liberties that were held to apply to Guantanamo detainees would never apply to detainees held at, for example, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
A Lawless Prison By Any Other Name
Sure, Boumediene v. Bush clearly established that, at a minimum, prisoners in the United States’ Guantanamo Bay facility are entitled to habeas corpus, the 793-year-old doctrine that if a person is to be held in jail, he must be charged with a crime. The Bush administration thought that it had sent 600-some detainees of the War on Terr’ into a “legal black hole” (the Justice Department’s words) where US law did not apply, and therefore, people could be kept there indefinitely without being charged with a crime, without the right to challenge their detention, and without the government having to prove that they were terrorists.
Then the Bush administration relented, wrote the Military Commissions Act, and decided that was good enough. The Act explicitly stripped detainees of their habeas rights and said that the government would create military commissions to evaluate whether or not each detainee should continue to be held. The Supreme Court didn’t like that, either, saying that the MCA process was fundamentally flawed, and furthermore, it was not within Congress’ power to take habeas rights away from anyone.
As soon as he came into office, Obama put a halt to the Military Commissions Act tribunals, recognizing that they were fundamentally flawed. He also said he would close the prison in Guantanamo Bay. While those are both laudable, his next action is, once again, right out of How to Suspend the Constitution Without Really Trying, David Addington’s best-selling Richard P. Cheney thriller. Detainees of the War on Terr’ would instead be moved to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The argument is that, since Afghanistan is still an active war zone, it would be ludicrous to give prisoners there any habeas rights, since they would be prisoners of war. Then again, that was the rationale used to scoop up hundreds of people on the “battlefield” in Afghanistan in 2001 and send them to Cuba.
Wiretapping? What Wiretapping?
A few weeks ago, the Obama Justice Department moved to dismiss a case in federal court involving illegal wiretapping. In spite of his January memoranda committing the Executive Branch to transparency and accountability, Obama’s reasoning vis-a-vis wiretapping remains unchanged from the Bush years; that is, opacity in the extreme, no accountability (i.e., you can knowingly and maliciously break the law, but you won’t be prosecuted for it), and a firm commitment to using the state secrets privilege to cover up illegal government activity.
Earlier this month, the Obama administration filed a petition to have the entire warrantless wiretapping case dismissed under a never-before-seen doctrine of “sovereign immunity” that comes from the USA PATRIOT Act. It’s not the sovereign immunity itself that is at issue (sovereign immunity is a very old legal doctrine which holds that the sovereign — in this case, the government — is immune from criminal prosecution in some instances). It’s that sovereign immunity has never before been used a a defense in these wiretapping cases. To the Obama administration’s credit, it has interpreted into being a sovereign immunity claim based on the fact that Congress had not explicitly waived sovereign immunity when it came to these cases. Therefore, argues the Justice Department, the courts must err on the side of the sovereign. This is, of course, in addition to the standard-issue “state secrets” defense, which consists of, “In order for you to have a case, you need to prove you’ve been harmed. In order for you to prove you’ve been harmed, you need access to classified information. Because giving you that information would compromise national security, we’re not going to give it to you. Since you don’t have that evidence to prove your case, you have no case. So let’s dismiss the case.”
Let’s Talk Torture
Yesterday, after years of legal battles led by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Obama administration released four memoranda from the Bush years in which the Office of Legal Counsel — the legal-advice arm of the White House — declared that, yes, “enhanced interrogation techniques” like water-boarding were perfectly legal. In making these documents public, however, Obama added the caveat that CIA employees who engaged in these techniques, which are correctly and properly called torture, will not be prosecuted.
I am of two minds on this particular issue. On the one hand, we have the Nuremberg Defense, used by various strata of Nazi soldiers in the post-World War II Nuremberg trials. The defense amounted to, “I was just following orders,” the implication being that very low-level soldiers who did the actual dirty work of killing 6 million Jews (and millions of others of various non-Nazi-approved races, nationalities, ethnicities, and sexual orientations) were faced with the choice of either doing what they were told, despite their orders being obviously morally and legally wrong, or standing up to their superiors and facing court marshall or death themselves. The outcome of the trials was Nuremberg Principle IV, which states, “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.” This principle was incorporated into the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and now U.S. military personnel may refuse to follow an order that they believe violates the law, with the law including the U.S. Constitution and any treaties to which the U.S. may be a party (including the Geneva Conventions, which explicitly forbid the use of torture).
Then again, these CIA operatives were assured that what they were ordered to do was legal. They were assured by the president — who is their boss — that it was okay to do what they were doing. It’s not an issue of questionable legality; they were told — by lawyers, who are alleged to be experts in the field of law — that it was okay to water-board suspects, deprive them of sleep, and occasionally hit them. Must they then be faulted for their lack of follow-up? Are they expected to then second-guess White House lawyers? The issue is murky. Definitely the people at the top who were responsible for crafting these policies — Bush himself, Vice President Cheney, David Addington, John Yoo, and Alberto Gonzales — must be prosecuted. But what about the people in the field? As Glenn Greenwald observes, the law compels the Justice Department to prosecute everyone who took part in torture. There was a moral choice: CIA operatives could have made the choice not to engage in torture. And if it risked their careers, so be it. They were not themselves ever threatened with death or torture; the loss of one’s job is not morally equivalent to torturing another human being.
It’s certainly true that President Obama has done a number of laudable things in his four months in office. But he can still do better, and all of us need to push him away from the trope of “centrism” (which, in U.S. political discourse in 2009, means “being conservative”). And if he does have a legitimate national security concern, he should let us know. He doesn’t have to go into the gory details, but it would be nice to know why he’s suddenly changed his mind. After eight years of “Trust me, I know what I’m doing,” I voted for a government that doesn’t demand faith from its people.
Recently I wrote here at Demockracy.com that former Vice President Dick Cheney was interviewed for the deanship of Liberty University but that that institution was arguably too backward even for him.
I have “reported” elsewhere that Cheney screwed up a Halliburton job-interview debacle because he took a Viagra by mistake instead of a Valium and had an orgasm when the woman HR officer shook his hand.
“This was most unfortunate,” the former Vice President told me in an exclusive interview on Funk & Wagnell’s porch, “and I in fact did not get the job, and furthermore it made my pacemaker run amok.”
Later, Cheney attempted to job network with Condi Rice in what essentially turned into a sizzling date. (“You had me at ‘Good evening ladies and gentlemen,’” he told her.) His pills were still mixed up, however, causing him to take Valium that night instead of the Viagra and fall asleep just as he attempted to kiss her.
“She’d put me to sleep before, playing Mozart on the damned piano, but this was ridiculous,” Cheney said.
It is not well known, but he was next turned down by the KAWG radio station (AWM stands for Angry White Guy) because he never shuts up even for the commercials and besides, the airwaves already have a big fat jerk who wants our President to fail.
In the latest turn of events, he appears to favor Monster.com as both rich in listings and apropos in name. Friends of Cheney, who spoke on condition of anonymity, identified a shortlist of job openings on the web site for which he expects to apply:
- FINANCIAL EXPEDITOR. U.S. arms manufacturer operating in Burma, the Congo, Zimbabwe, the Middle East, and East Los Angeles seeks disreputable mediator and agent provocateur with extensive expertise in how to lie, cheat, grease palms, blackmail, waterboard, terminate with extreme prejudice, and otherwise coerce friendly despots into lucrative weapons and construction contracts. Ideal position for cons, ex-cons, neocons, Def-Con 3 personalities, action-hero icons, and Connie Francis. Drop résumé behind loose brick at Soldier of Fortune office building and chalk-mark with an X.
- FOREST FIRE LOOKOUT. Private security company seeks Senior Forest Ranger with the kind of high-level clout that can marshal the massive resources required to divert forest fires and wildfires from expensive homes to middle and lower-income neighborhoods. Minimal weapons skills required include the ability to shoot trespassers in the face with a shotgun. Experience in culling wildlife a definite plus. Shoot your CV to our Monster.com inbox.
- FANTASTIC OPPORTUNITY FOR EX-VEEPS! What kind of watch did Mickey Mouse wear? A Spiro Agnew watch! Are you a self-starter and a sleazy, lying former Number Two? Do you hate nattering nabobs of negativism as much as we do? Despise pusillanimous pussyfoots? If so, you’ve got what it takes! The sky’s the limit in this North American sales management position in charge of revitalizing the Dirty Time Company, former manufacturer of Spiro Agnew watches. We have now reinvented ourselves, and it goes without saying that we have outsourced our wristwatch factory to China—where virtual slave labor combined with cheap lead-based coating guarantee LIMITLESS $$$$ COMMISSIONS for our chief sales executive. If you are executive sales material, soon even Batman will be wearing a Spiro Agnew watch. Next…all of America…then France…who knows? IT’S UP TO YOU!! If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the watch.
- THE SULTAN OF BRUNEI requires a Court Buffoon for His amusement. White House experience preferred. Free housing and harem of abducted Caucasian women provided. Two-month probation period to demonstrate you can make His Highness laugh—or else. Apply to His Fragrant Worshipfulness, P.O. Box 1, Brunei Darussalam.
In my last column I divulged the kinds of jobs the American people think Alberto Gonzales should hold. Now I know what you’re thinking: What about Dick Cheney? Where’s he going to work? Well, cronies of mine with their ears to the train tracks inform me that our (thankfully) former VP has been offered the top position at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. A source has provided Demockracy with a secret taping of Mr. Cheney’s meeting with the university’s Dean of Academic Affairs in the latter’s office. A transcript follows:
Dean: I’m so delighted you’ve come to share some of your valuable time with us, Mr. Cheney. It’s a great pleasure. Scones? A donut perhaps?
Cheney: Uhm—thank you, no. My heart gets clogged up with anything fattier than celery sticks and a rice cracker.
Dean: Ah, yes, a pity sir, a pity. Well let me get right to the point.With the death of our beloved spiritual leader and founder, Jerry Falwell, we seek inspired leadership to carry on our mission teaching of alleged intolerance and creationism. We feel that you are the right man to take us on the course forward to renewed heights. As you may know, sir, our squeaky-clean campus boasts a pre-eminent natural history museum that is the only one in the world that labels dinosaur fossils as “5,000 years old.”
Cheney: I have heard of that, although it’s a radical-conservative bit of revisionist science even for me. But then again, I am a Christian….
Dean: Exactly, Mr. Vice President. As our dear departed Reverend Falwell said so eloquently, “If you’re not a born-again Christian, you’re a failure as a human being.”
Cheney: Amen to that.
Dean: And that’s why I’m calling on you today, sir, to help me follow Gawd’s mission to save our country and educate our flock in America’s holier-than-thou and debatably most intolerant institution of higher education, Liberty University. You’re especially a good fit with us since you’ve been awarded an honorary doctorate by Brigham Young University. While we abhor that particular denomination, at least they have the reactionary credentials that make your résumé stand out from the crowd.
Cheney: That’s very flattering, Dean, and I thank you. Nonetheless, even a reactionary such as myself has a hard time reconciling the basic and multiple scientific methods of dating our earth with the notion that dinosaurs lived 5,000 years ago and sailed on Noah’s Ark. Wouldn’t the T-Rex have eaten all the other animals along with Noah himself? Won’t society at large, even conservatives, question all this, not to mention my association with such educational assumptions as you put forth at Liberty?
Dean: Well, sir, praise Gawd, Reverend Falwell had the wisdom to teach us that “Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions.”
Cheney: Now that I can relate to. If we could convert the media to Christianity, we’d have something here.
Dean: Besides, it is a documented fact that you, yourself, Alberto Gonzales and Karl Rove were fossils revived from the same excavation.
Cheney: Well, you’ve got me there. I’m not a spring chicken.
Dean: Indeed, sir. Praise Gawd, Reverend Falwell brought you all to life with healing power of prayer!
Cheney: Uhm…Amen. And your curriculum? To what extent would I be able to put forward a—
Dean: [thumps a nearby bible] The Bible, sir, the Bible! Reverend Falwell said, and I quote, ‘Textbooks are Soviet propaganda.”
Cheney: Well, Dean, this has been most illuminating, and it has given me food for thought. Let me mull this over at least for a day or two or until the new Ice Age, whichever comes first.
On January 3, 2009, just one week ago, the 111th U.S. Congress was sworn into session. So now that all the dust has settled, where do things stand? The dust has settled, right?
Well, things are pretty straightforward in the House where the exact number of the Democratic majority matters little at this point. With a comfortable majority, even when subtracting conservative blue-dog Dems, most legislation will be a foregone conclusion. Of course, the Senate with its arcane rules and blue-blood past has always been the voice of idiocy and reason at the same time. This is not a new phenomenon. President Garfield is famous for allegedly responding to his wife’s call that robbers were in their house, with a quip of “No, my dear, not in the House, but there are plenty in the Senate.”
Nothing controversial gets done in the Senate, of course, unless you can somehow muster 60 odd votes for your particular bill. With that said, I began to ask myself what exactly is the makeup of the Senate as of today, the 11th of January. The number of Republicans looks fairly certain. With Norm Coleman losing the recount in Minnesota and with Illinois refusing to hold a special election, there will be almost certainly 41 Republicans in the upcoming session. However, after that it gets a little tricky. Right now, there are 53 Democratic Senators, not including Joe Biden, who is still a Senator and who will also become vice president in a week. Biden stayed on, unlike Obama, because he got a photoop with Dick Cheney while being sworn in for his seventh six-year term. (Perhaps he and Cheney can talk about whether Biden will actually be switching branches of the government next week.)
So that leaves us with 94 total Senators. Who else is left? Well, there is also one Benedict Liebercrat and one Ben-and -Jerry socialist (Bernie Sanders, Vermont), making 96. But this is not a Lost episode, and I am not having a flashback to before Hawaii became our forty-ninth state in the year my mother was born. Instead, what we have here is four Democratic Senators in limbo, with only one assured of actually becoming a Senator.
Well, let’s take a brief look at all four of these individuals who could potentially fill out the remaining four spots. Or at least at three of them. Or maybe at two.
1. Well, we know who one will be for sure anyhow, Ted Kaufman of Delaware. Mr. Kaufman, a long-time aide to Joe Biden, will be a two-year seat warmer for Joe’s son Beau to continue the nepotism tradition of the Senate. I think we can agree that Mr. Kaufman’s isn’t all that interesting, so let’s move on.
2. Next in the order of likelihood is either Al Franken or Roland Burris. Now these two, unlike Mr. Kaufman, are very interesting stories. Mark Wilson gave a good background about the legalities surrounding the Burris appointment. In short, Burris is the legitimate appointment of illegitimate and recently impeached Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. First, Harry Reid appeared to be playing hard ball, and the Senate Sergeant at Arms (no, this is not Britain) even went as far as denying Mr. Burris’ credentials this past week. However, as the days go on, it looks likely that Burris will probably become the junior senator from Illinois. Well, unless Blago is actually convicted by the Illinois Senate before the U.S. Senate finally caves. The fact that some, including Chicago Congressman Bobby Rush, are comparing the treatment of Burris to a lynching, makes it likely that Mr. Reid will capitulate.
3. The other interesting individual here is a comedian who is ahead by only 225 votes after a two-month recount. Famous for his Saturday Night Live role as Stuart Smalley, Franken looks to be good enough and smart enough to actually become Minnesota’s Senator. However, unlike in Illinois, where the law is probably on Burris’ side, Franken still legally is not allowed to be sworn in as Senator, and it’s not exactly clear when that might change. Incumbent Senator Norm Coleman, who had a few hundred-vote lead before the recount of all the lizard people votes, has filed a lawsuit, and Minnesota law states that the results cannot be certified until this is settled. Yes, Franken will most likely pull this out at the end of the day (or month or winter), but it’s not completely over yet.
4. Finally, we get to the seat that, although everyone this side of Cher is lobbying for it, hasn’t actually had anyone appointed to it yet. New York Governor David Paterson, who is apparently too scared to tick off either the Kennedy or Cuomo family, has waited nearly two months and still has not selected anyone to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. We know it will likely be a political scion–we just don’t know which one yet.
You’ve probably noticed that I’ve linked to a few other previous articles that I have written in the past. This isn’t because I’m feeling cocky or self-important tonight. Rather, it’s to demonstrate a point. We have been in purgatory season for U.S. national politics for the past two months, with only Senate seat payoffs, tainted ballots, and dinosaur bailouts to keep our domestic palate wet. Thankfully, this long national political nightmare is about to come to an end. No, I’m not talking about the Bush presidency (although that will be nice as well). Rather, the dead zone between the election and inauguration is finally almost over, and we will at last have some fresh new policy to talk about in the coming months. Now we can start debating important things, like how long until the new Congress actually passes meaningful legislation. Nancy Pelosi has promised to keep the House in business through its President’s day vacation if the Stimulus package is not passed yet. Harry Reid has made no such promises. The word on the street is that the House might even reintroduce the State Children’s Healthcare Insurance Program (SCHIP) expansion bill again as soon as this coming week.
I’m starting to feel excited about U.S. national politics again. Kind of like a kid who might be lucky enough to find health insurance under the Christmas tree (and maybe a tax cut after that). How in God’s name did people wait until March for this dead season to end back in the days when there were actually supposed to be 96 Senators?
So who started all of this? To watch CNN, ABC News, or NBC News, you might say to yourself, “Well, there go those Palestinians again, always blowing stuff up!” Many in the so-called mainstream media talk about how Hamas broke the cease-fire with Israel by launching rocket attacks. The area had been relatively quiet for six months. Then what happened?
In the theatre, they talk about an actor’s “motivation.” You see, theatre is an attempt to emulate reality, with the paradox that, while reality is spontaneous, everything that happens in the theatre is meticulously planned. And so, when an actor needs to walk to the door in order to open it and see another character on the other side, that actor needs a reason to go over there. That reason needs to be more compelling than “The other character needs to be introduced” or “The actor needs to be over on that side of the stage in order for the blocking to work.” Sure, that’s fine, but within the world of the play, the character needs a reason to be over there, or perform that action. This is what is meant by motivation: Why is that character doing that thing? Oh, the doorbell rang; I’d better go answer it. Door opened. Character introduced. “Hi, how are you?” Now the blocking works. Bingo!
And yet many TV anchors and print journalists assume that, when it comes to terrorism, actions always happen spontaneously, with no provocation. Why is Hamas firing rockets into Israel? Oh, you know those terrorists: they just love to destroy things! That’s just the way they are!
Thankfully, there is a rational explanation one step beyond “just because” for most any behavior. Since humans — unless they’re mentally impaired in some way — do things for reasons, the logical question should be, “Why is Hamas firing rockets into Israel?” (So maybe I’m being facetious — just a little — but seriously, no one in the U.S. press is asking why the cease-fire broke down after six months. Hardly anyone in the U.S. press is asking why Hamas started launching rockets.) An investigation that delves just a few inches below the surface of this issue would yield a veritable gold mine of understanding. Too bad many in the media want, instead, to stick to simple, Manichaean narratives involving Israel struggling to defend itself against evil Palestinians stopping at nothing to destroy Israel, simply because it is in their nature to destroy things.
Some investigation reveals a lot. Hamas, for example, did not begin lobbing rockets into Israel without at least some provocation. For one, Israel has spent the last year laying siege to the Gaza Strip, a narrow territory carved out of the southwest corner of Israel, bordering the Mediterranean Sea on the west and Egypt on the south. (I use “siege” in the traditional sense.)
For over a year, Israel has been allowing access for Gaza to “only the minimum amount of goods required to avert a hunger or health crisis among its 1.5 million people, and prohibiting most exports,” according to The New York Times. When the blockade began last year, the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned Israel’s actions, the fifteenth time in two years it had done so, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Israel is often accused of having a “disproportionate” response to Palestinian attacks. Total number of people killed by Hamas rockets prior to Israel’s assault: “about two dozen over the past four years” (emphasis mine), according to The Australian. Total number of Gazans killed by Israelis: 550 in the past week. Yes, that is the definition of “disproportionate.” What percentage of those killed are civilians? It seems that Israel is possibly doing more than is necessary to defend itself. For example, Israel is refusing to let foreign journalists enter Gaza despite an Israeli Supreme Court order to do so!
And lest you may think that Israel is undertaking their military action purely for wholesome and upstanding reasons, keep in mind that the Likud party sees the Gaza conflict as a fantastic electoral opportunity:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will not be a candidate in the elections and may be indicted on corruption charges. But the Gaza offensive could be his last chance to rehabilitate a legacy badly tarnished by Israel’s failure to achieve a clear-cut victory against the Lebanese Hezbollah movement in 2006.
For the moment, however, the offensive in Gaza is proving popular with Israelis, and [Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni and [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak are reaping the benefits. Recent polls show them closing the gap with Likud party leader [Benjamin] Netanyahu, who had opened up a wide lead based on his promise to take a hard line against Israel’s main adversaries — Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.
One mainstream news outlet is even suggesting that Hamas was completely in the wrong because Fatah, a faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, said it was. Such a conclusion based on that premise seems strikingly superficial and easily explainable: of course Fatah would have nothing but nasty things to say about Hamas; Hamas beat Fatah in Palestinian elections in 2006! They’re competitors for power in Palestine! Just because Pepsi says that their product is better than Coke’s, it doesn’t follow that we should necessarily believe them or take them as a credible source.
Let me be clear that none of this discussion should be read as a justification for launching rocket attacks into Israel. That certainly isn’t justified. In my opinion, nothing would ever justify such abhorrent terrorist actions. However, neither is it justified to obliterate towns (with bombs largely provided by the United States). Neither side is in the right. But in much the same way that Ron Paul tried to explain “blowback” to Rudy Giuliani, the U.S. media are loathe to talk about the current situation as a result of the choices made by both Hamas and the Israeli government. They would, instead, prefer to talk only about Israel defending itself, as though Israel can do no wrong. Never is the question asked, “Should Israel be doing this? Isn’t this a little excessive? And why is the United States supporting this without question?” But why the United States considers Israel’s foreign policy goals to be 100% congruent with its own is another article for another day.
Glenn Greenwald has written extensively on the issue of the unilateral opinion of Israel within the U.S. government. Is there any issue that both Democrats and Republican politicians seem to agree on, 100% of the time? And, as Greenwald notes, polls suggest that 70% of American people do not want the United States to take sides, and yet 100% of our leaders — President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barack Obama — they all give the impression that they think that not only should the United States be involved, but it should support whatever Israel does, no questions asked.
The justification given for the United States’ unprecedented support for Israel (our “special relationship” with Israel seems to be much more dear to our hearts than our “special relationship” with even the United Kingdom for instance) is that Israel is the only democracy in the region, and to let it fall would be disastrous. Not only is this not true factually (Turkey, Egypt — and now Iraq! — technically “Middle East,” are also technically democracies), but even that argument doesn’t fully account for our government’s almost complete, unyielding support for anything Israel does. And to even dare to suggest that Israel may not be completely in the right is to be subjected to, at the least, howls by many of “anti-semitism” and the debate shuts down.
The international community routinely tries to sanction Israel for such disproportionate responses, but U.N. Security Council resolutions always get vetoed by — guess who?! It was only recently that Israel relaxed its blockade to allow medical supplies into Gaza. Is preventing medical supplies from entering the area for a week really necessary to stopping Hamas? Especially with 500 deaths and thousands of casualties? Furthermore, the platforms from which the rockets into Israel were launched are mobile.
The Middle East problem — which is to say, the problem with Israel and all its neighbors alike — is far more complicated than it is being portrayed. Just once, I would like to see something other than complete condemnation of Hamas and complete veneration of Israel. Is anyone in the mainstream media capable of talking thoughtfully about the subject and its many nuances? Hamas is a terrorist group, to be sure, but the question is: why is it resorting to terrorism? It’s not just anti-semitism; there are plenty of anti-semitic people in the world who don’t launch rockets into synagogues. With terrorism, religious explanations often mask political ones. Maybe we should be investigating that, instead. I bet if we examined the long-term causes, implications, and solutions in the Middle East, there’s the possibility of lasting peace. Begetting violence with violence is no solution. It only ensures that we will most likely re-visit this problem again.
One of the more controversial components of 2001’s USA PATRIOT Act is the expanded use of national security letters (NSLs). These are letters given by the FBI to people who have information the FBI wants. The letters, which do not require approval by a judge, amount to a combination search warrant/gag order. The letter requires the recipient to produce information about a third party, whom the FBI is investigating. The recipient is forbidden from discussing, with anyone, the nature of the information requested — but it doesn’t stop there! NSLs also forbid the recipients from even disclosing the fact that they received such an inquiry.
In 2006, an internal audit found that the FBI’s use of national security letters had increased dramatically from 2003 to 2005, and many of those letters were authorized by people who were not in a position to authorize them. In 2008, another audit revealed that the FBI was still improperly issuing NSLs, and what’s more, 60% of the letters targeted American citizens.
Well, in 2007, the ACLU decided it had had enough. It filed suit against the government on behalf of several John Does named in NSLs, alleging that the letters violated the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution, since the letters’ gag orders improperly curtailed freedom of speech without “due process of law” (that’s a Fifth Amendment guarantee that means a person cannot be deprived of “life, liberty, or property” without a trial), and the letters themselves were not issued with proper judicial authority. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York agreed, rendering unconstitutional the NSL provision of the USA PATRIOT Act.
The government appealed. On Monday, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s decision in part. It agreed that the gag order provision violates the First Amendment because it is not “narrowly tailored” as is required by the strict scrutiny standard. It also agreed that the government, not the recipient of a NSL, has the burden of defending the validity of a gag order (under the statute, it was the recipient who had the burden of proving the gag order was not valid). The USA PATRIOT Act assumed that the government’s arguments in favor of a gag order were always correct.
With regard to the First Amendment, the Circuit Court found that the statute was overbroad specifically because the gag order does not have a temporal limitation. The government analogized the NSLs’ secrecy requirement to a jury’s secrecy requirement; however, the court disagreed, since a jury may talk about the case once it’s over, but the recipient of a NSL could conceivably be silenced forever, even long after the FBI’s investigation is over.
The court was troubled by the degree of deference to the Justice Department the USA PATRIOT Act requested of judges. I’ll let the Circuit Court speak for itself:
Assessing the Government’s showing of a good reason to believe that an enumerated harm may result will present a district court with a delicate task. While the court will normally defer to the Government’s considered assessment of why disclosure in a particular case may result in an enumerated harm related to such grave matters as international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, it cannot, consistent with strict scrutiny standards, uphold a nondisclosure requirement on a conclusory assurance that such a likelihood exists. In this case, the director of the FBI certified that “the disclosure of the NSL itself or its contents may endanger the national security of the United States.” To accept that conclusion without requiring some elaboration would “cast Article III judges in the role of petty functionaries, persons required to enter as a court judgment an executive officer’s decision, but stripped of capacity to evaluate independently whether the executive’s decision is correct.” Gutierrez de Martinez v. Lamagno, 515 U.S. 417, 426 (1995).
Of course, that was the whole point of the USA PATRIOT Act: to strip from the law the requirement that a judge authorize a warrant. NSLs are designed to permit the executive, with the barest minimum of oversight (if any at all), to gather any amount of information, at any time, from any person, without the authorization of an independent third party. The Bush administration has shown that it would love nothing more than to turn judges into “petty functionaries” who are, at once, required to sign off on a warrant, giving it the appearance of third-party review (and thus legitimacy), while at the same time preventing those judges from conducting any actual, meaningful review. Bush’s Justice Department has argued that the September 11, 2001 attacks were so horrifying that the shock waves rippled through the Constitution itself, ostensibly amending it to create a parallel Constitution for “a post-9/11 world” in which the executive must have unquestionable power to arrest, detain, try, convict, and torture anyone it feels may possibly present a threat to national security. To follow the rule of law that has operated the United States for 219 years would only aid terrorists and put everyone at risk of another attack. These arguments have been refuted time and time again by courts, which — despite attempts at legislation to the contrary — still retain the authority “to say what the law is.” As it turns out, even an event as traumatic as the September 11 attacks cannot spawn into being a parallel, Bizzaro constitution that contains nearly-unlimited executive powers. There is no constitutional equivalent of a virgin birth.
Still at issue is whether or not the government is acting in good faith. Why is this secrecy necessary? Does it stem from an actual belief that disclosure of NSLs will endanger the country? Is it paranoia? Or is it something more sinister, a primitive desire for power and control? Vice President Cheney articulated “the one percent doctrine,” the idea that a 1% chance of a terrorist attack should be treated as a 100% chance of a terrorist attack. On its face, this belief is ludicrous: to be implemented properly, this policy would require a police state of the type seen only in China or the old Soviet Union. Cheney is no dummy, and must therefore understand that The One Percent Doctrine, from both a statistical, policy, and security standpoint, is foolish. Is it, then, a facile attempt to increase surveillance power?
These questions may end up never being answered; Cheney will take them with him to the grave. President Bush has no mind for complexity and thus cannot answer these questions, either. Bush is concerned about his legacy, not unlike Richard Nixon. But Bush’s mind is Cheney’s mind, and while Cheney may be as smart as Nixon was, Cheney does not have the same hang-ups about his reputation. Our only insight into the nation’s operation for eight years will be investigations upon investigations into what our government has been doing and why our government has been doing it.