Wednesday, December 28, 2005

how democracies fail

It turns out the story about the student at UMass being visited by federal agents because he requested Mao’s Little Red Book via interlibrary loan is a hoax.I am no sure what is worse: idiot kid couldn’t come up with a better “my dog ate my homework” excuse or that we all believed it.

The saddest part of the latter is that the story itself so believable. The anachronism of the supposed threat from Mao touched absurdity and coming as it did at a time when illegal and criminal wiretapping by the Bush administration was made public as were better sussed stories about the FBI monitoring Quaker meetings, NYC cops becoming near agent provocateurs at bicycle rallies and the probably Rove ordered leak that mosques have been surreptitiously monitored for radiation, there was a certain peculiar likeliness that the story of federal agents armed as they are with the ability to monitor libraries via the PATRIOT act were doing just that.

I fell for it. And that makes me sad. Sad, but I do not feel gullible. The sad part is that is what happens when governments abuse the trust that we have delegated to them. I am not so na├»ve as to doubt that the government at many times has abused the trust. God knows Bush/Cheney has made a fetish of abusing the people’s trust. Abuse of trust led to the right-wing ascendancy in the this country.

When the Reaganauts made hay with the punch line “I am from the government and I am here to help,” they laid the ground work. Rather than make government work they decided that government cannot work so therefore there was no reason to make it accountable. Accountability, note, is different from blame. Blame is closing the barn door after the horses ran away. Accountability makes sure that when the hired help says the barn door is closed, you know that damned door is closed.

Accountability is hard work. The No Child Left Behind Act shows how hard it is. It doesn’t help of course that it is really blame clothed as accountability. But for NLCB to be effective it would need appropriate funding, appropriate standards, appropriate goals. The NCLB is a cynical ploy for the public school system to fail. It was devised after all by the same people who came up with the “I’m here to help” punch line. NCLB is designed to fail thereby opening up the need for public funding of private schools.

Accountability is also hard because you need a systemic desire for accountability. With the corrupt National Republican party in control of both houses of Congress , the executive and the courts, it is a pretty sure bet that accountability is not high on their list of priorities. That would cut them off from the federal teat. It would call their actions over the last decade into account. It would end up with the impeachment of the Bush/Cheney maladminstration.

So we will see stories like the dope at UMass who came up with his hoax and we will find ourselves believing them and we will find ourselves missing (or worse accepting) the true misdeeds that are destroying the fabric of our democracy.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The balance

Rumsfeld announced troop reductions in Iraq. It was bogus of course. The Pentagon had ramped the count up for the election and now they are bringing the force back to pre-election status. But that doesn’t deny that a change in strategy is happening. As Iraqi forces stand up US forces will stand down. King George has said so himself. And how will that be possible? Air power. More sortees will replace American troops. They will be called in by Iraqi forces of by at best indeterminate allegiance. Meaning payback bigtime. But before they get into gear we get this: U.S. Airstrikes Take Toll on Civilians . Regardless of who will call them in, the air strikes in residential and urban areas will more and more kill and injure civilians.

Many commentators have drawn the analogy between Iraq and Viet Nam. But there is this difference: where Viet Nam was largely fought in the hamlets, Iraq will be (and is being) fought in urban areas. Calling air strikes in urban populated areas in past times (when the US was not involved) has been called a war crime. We won’t see that here because of course, the US is involved. But that won’t leave any fewer dead and maimed. That won’t leave any fewer suffering after the infrastructure which is already destroyed gets further pulverized in an environment where it cannot even begin to be reconstructed.

May God have mercy on our souls.

Call-Out For Freedom

Maybe it's time for an International Call-Out for Freedom. During Bush's State of the Union Speech might be a good time for it.

Citizens could place international calls from the United States and read the United States Consitution and the Bill of Rights.

Those receiving the call could recite it back in their own language.

Of course it wouldn't techically challege the capacity of the government's spying on its own citizens operation but that isn't the point.

George Bush himself has called for an "ownership society" and what could be more appropriate than for the owners of this nation (us) to remind its hired help who are snooping on us what the corporate policies are?

Can't hurt.

This week in Repression

Tom Tomorrow has a post up about the latest reports of the erosion of civil liberties right here in the US. (Our story so far) He notes the reports about the NSA eavesdropping and the video of the NYPD doing everything short of being agent provocateurs at legal but non-approved protests. And of course there is the ubiquitous video camera.

I envision one day a protest rally where everyone will have a camera. The police of course both undercover and street cops will be taping the rally (That’s how we “take names” these days – check out the stories about the planned expansive use of cameras to videotape every vehicle on the road in the UK). On the other side all the attendees of the rally will have video cameras. Everyone will be video taping everyone else. It reminds me of a Monty Python skit. It was set on a dessert island inhabited only by TV news reporters (all named Bruce). The reporters all walked around interviewing each other. Not a perfect analogy, but apt I think. Ah but I am drifting.

Tom’s point in his post is the readiness with which the apologists and right wing toadies all twist themselves to make excuses for those that are abusing their positions of power. It is really stunning to read law-and-order types just accept the breaking of laws that affect national security (e.g. the Plame outing) and rights to privacy (e.g. the NSA eavesdropping). And it is done with such touching innocence.

These apologists believe that those in power are going after the bad guys and by definition because they support those in power, the apologists can’t possibly be bad guys.

Pretty sloppy thinking when you think how repression has worked throughout history. There is of course the French Revolution where the right thinkers heads literally rolled. And there is the Soviet Union which went from Bolshevik Revolution to Stalinist repression in less that a decade – taking with it many of the “fathers” of the Soviet Union.

But there they are apologizing away despite five years of evidence that the churlish bunch of thugs in power will think nothing of snuffing out anyone that isn’t loyal enough. Think: Secretary of Treasury Snow, Pre-911 Security Czar Richard Clark. And of course there is the previously noted Plame affair. Imagine what they would do with Rush if he ever went off the reservation.

As eventually he will. It is too bad that those on the right have made a fetish of disbelieving evolution. That leaves them with nothing but a theory of stasis. Things won’t change. A permanent right wing majority in this country will always look just like it does in 2005. But things change. And usually when left to their own devices things do not change for the better. Repression begets more repression. Why?

We see it in the genius of George Bush. He has waged a war of attrition against his political foes. The battle is won by whoever is standing last. We see it in the near yawns that the punditiocy has greeted the news of the “extra-legal” (so much nicer than the nasty sounding “illegal”, no?) NSA eavesdropping. We see it in former star-reporter-cum-just-plain-star Bob Woodward dismissing the Plame investigation.

In a real Constitutional democracy built on checks and balances either of these would be enough to get the president and maybe even his vice-president hauled before the Senate for trial after impeachment by the House. But Bush has reasoned (and when I say “Bush” I mean the collective Bush – that makes using “Bush” and “Reasoned” in the same sentence not so odd a construct) that by putting out enough chaff he can defeat the Constitutions defenses.

And so far he is right.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Are there still Conservatives in America?

Are there any more conservatives out there? Isn’t it ironic that our current generation of rightwingers claim heritage from Barry Goldwater? He was after all the man that declaimed in his address to the 1964 Republican National Convention

"Extremism in the Defense of Liberty Is No Vice."

Not since Bryant’s “Cross of Gold” speech to the Democratic convention for the 1896 election has there been a more seminal political statement. But now we see that for those scions of the Goldwater revolution, Senator Goldwater’s beliefs were just words. Like any other platitude it might be pulled from its drawer, buffed up a bit and shown off to guests but it no longer has quotidian use.

We see this no better than in the gyrations that the Bush willing executioners are spinning in to defend his extra-legal use of eavesdropping in defiance of FISA and the Constitution. Whether it is to claim as Richard Posner has that these are merely filling in the gaps in the law or like Senator Cornyn who said, "None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead" the wingers seem deliberately intent on giving the late Senator Goldwater the spins not only in his grave but in his very afterlife.

So where are they? Where are the conservatives? Where are those ladies and gentlemen of the right that see George Bush for what he is – the spoiled megalomaniacal son of wealth. Where are those conservatives that believe that the Constitution and nation for which it stands is more important than the bragging rights that come with having your party’s guy in the White House?

Anybody out there?

I've become the crank

George Bush did it too me. I am an independent of the left persuasion. As the first term of the Bush administration wore on (and on and on), I went from concerned to angry. I could no longer take the liberty with which the president was taking our liberty and abusing this nation.

Finally it was Abu Graib that got to me. I wrote my first letter to the editor–ever, in my life. Since then there has been a presidential campaign, more abuses of our civil liberties, more machinations of a corrupt congress, more depredations of a brilliantly corrupt rightwing movement in this country. And more letters to the editor.

I often feel like a lonely voice - well, not that melodramatic. Actually I feel like a scold. I don’t imagine that my letters or this blog will make a difference to those who make the decisions on the issues I write about. But since it seems that journalism has forgotten its once proud “creed of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” it is up to the rest of us to take up the slack.

One thing I have noticed since becoming an occasional presence on the editorial page: people notice and people care. My local paper is a medium-sized-town paper. As a platform for effecting change it is limited at best. But when people tell me that they saw a letter and thank me for expressing what they are thinking but cannot for some reason say I am still surprised.

It doesn’t surprise me that they feel they are not eloquent enough, that is common. What surprises me is the idea that writing letters that criticize the state of the nation is an act of courage. Put another way: there is the idea that by exercising my right to free speech I am showing courage.

Being neither courageous nor militant that notion floors me every time I hear it. It says more about the state of things, the state of our discourse, our politics, even our democracy that the very idea of using my guaranteed right to speak out is thought of as an act of bravery.

But of course that is what the last decade has been all about. It has been about making entertainment out of quashing dissent. Rightwing radio has hammered the point home with blowhard talk show hosts that love the sound of their own screaming voices so much that they silence their so-called guests.

Our own president’s view that any disagreement with his way is near to treason adds to the climate of fear that has been seeping into the main stream of American discourse. And his willing executioners–the vice president and other national party leaders all stand solidly behind him– smearing, sliming and shouting down any who would dare to disagree.

Still I do not call this an act of courage. I call it an act of exasperation, of anger. And it is time to make a contagion of it.