Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Obama's "Change" Offers No Hope for Civil Liberty

His new position on FISA, in effect: as long as we are safe, we don’t need to be free.

      Yesterday, June 28, Barack Obama spoke before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Referring to the immigration issue, Obama made the point that McCain “deserves credit” for the work he did alongside Obama on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform. There was a problem, however, according to the Democratic candidate: “When he [McCain] was running for his party’s nomination, he walked away from that commitment. He said he wouldn’t even support his own legislation, if it came up for a vote. Now, if we’re going to solve the challenges we face, we can’t vacillate; we can’t shift, depending on our politics. You need a president who will pursue genuine solutions, day in and day out, in a consistent way. And that’s my commitment to you.”

      Beautiful. Apparently unhampered by self-examination, he stood there, making a promise not to vacillate, not to shift, but instead to be consistent with his commitments—this, while my built-in crap detector clanged over the contrast between what he had just said and the fact of his newly adjusted position on telecom immunity.
      I guess we were supposed to forget his previous position on telecom immunity, his earlier stated commitment to the rule of law, as well as the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. To wit:

Then:—Barack Obama, February 26, 2008: “The American people must be able to trust that their president values principle over politics, and justice over unchecked power. I’ve been proud to stand with Senator Dodd in his fight against retroactive immunity for the telecommunications industry. Secrecy and special interests must not trump accountability. We must show our citizens – and set an example to the world – that laws cannot be ignored when it is inconvenient. Because in America – no one is above the law.”

Now: Barack Obama, June 26, 2008: “...the issue of the phone companies, per se, is not one that overrides the security interests of the American people.”

      That was in answer to the question as to why he was going to support the FISA bill that will be voted on in the Senate after the July 4th holiday, the bill that grants retroactive immunity to the telecoms.
      So, sometimes it is okay to vacillate? Sometimes it’s okay to shift your commitment?
      Certainly, when it comes to one challenge, the one where he expressed, in January and February, a strong commitment to the ability of the American people to “trust their president to value principle over politics” and justice over “unchecked power,” then it’s perfectly okay to turn tail and make a beeline for political expediency.
      The challenge of the rule of law, and the basic civil liberties of the American people, is not important; it does not override security. Hello? As long as we are “safe,” we don’t need to be free?
      So what else is new? Did you expect a politician to stick to his stated principles?

      It is interesting to watch the struggles with cognitive dissonance now being experienced by the Obama faithful—poor Keith Olbermann, for one. He thinks everything’s going to be okay, since John Dean said the bill didn’t preclude prosecution of telecom companies by the Justice Department, after Bush leaves office. Obama has a secret plan...
      Oh brother.
      Plus, Olbermann thinks Obama did himself proud by not “cowering to” the Left, a retreat from Olbermann’s own powerful statements against granting telecom immunity. As if the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the rule of law were left-wing issues and not values all Americans should hold dear. No. What we’re seeing is how people go into denial to be able to accept the shameful behavior of someone they wish desperately to admire.
      C’mon, Obama has not done himself proud, and neither has Olbermann, for that matter; after all, to betray one’s own principles is about as shameful thing a person can do.

      Whatever protections for our civil liberties are granted in the FISA bill, they become meaningless, as long as telecom immunity is granted as well. After all, the original FISA legislation had those protections, but the Bush Administration ignored them, with the help of the telecom companies. The bottom line is that the telecom companies broke the law; to grant them immunity from civil suits now is an invitation to this lawless administration, and the next, to ignore the law again. WHAT CONSEQUENCES FOR LAW-BREAKING DOES AN ADMINISTRATION FACE, IF CONGRESS GRANTS IMMUNITY TO LAWBREAKERS? The message becomes this: as long as the government gives a company a piece of paper, with instructions to break the law, warrantless spying on Americans can go on as before. Congress will always grant immunity.
      Wishing and waiting for prosecutions by the Justice Department is naive, a self-delusion. It won’t happen. It’s a “war on terror” without end; we can kiss our civil liberty good-bye, without hope for its return, ever.
      To vote for this FISA bill, with immunity granted, is a betrayal of the American people. And I am far more threatened by lawless executive and legislative branches of our government than by al queda, by far.
      I doubt Obama would abandon his corporate friends or the ruling class once in the White House. It would not fit his pattern: when courting the Democratic electorate for his Party’s nomination, he spoke like a civil libertarian; once secure as the nominee, he abandoned the civil liberty stance and caved to the fear factor. This is not behavior that deserves an optimistic, hopeful, trusting response from us. It is "change," alright, but not change I can believe in.


UPDATE: My comment to Keith Olbermann's Special Comment of June 30th: Sorry, there's a problem with Keith's logic: Obama's voting against the FISA bill would not preclude his also prosecuting the criminals, once he gets into office. We should have both—civil AND criminal litigation.

There's NO excuse whatsoever for Obama to vote for the bill, and no solace whatsoever in the distant and doubtful promise of Obama-presidency prosecutions. And who is to say Obama is going to win the presidency, anyway? Think about the fix we'll be in then, when McCain is in office, and we don't even have the option of civil litigations!

Tonight's Special Comment failed—too much bending over backward to make an Obama betrayal of the Constitution and the rule of law okay. It's not okay. Civil litigations are how ordinary people hold corporations and the government accountable. For the Federal government to remove them as an option is a hideous act of betrayal against one democratic means of redress.

Shame on Obama, if he doesn't vote against the bill; shame on Keith Olbermann for making excuses for him.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Human Bond of Duh

And how I miss George Carlin

      Arrogance is the first form of stupidity. I love to say that.
      But, hold on. I also have a distaste for hierarchy—so, can we say one form of stupidity should out rank any other? Aren’t all of us equally stupid, in our own, special way? After all, whether you like it or not, everybody, each frail and faulty human, has moments of duh, where the duh factor engages despite all our pathetic efforts to the contrary. But I promise you, your moments of duh are no worse than mine, and vice versa. This is the human bond of duh.
      I won’t mention my most egregious acts of duh, the disastrous ones. Those, I call deep duh. The relatively harmless ones have to do with math and technical stuff. I mean, forget it. I’m never there, when I’m there. Those fall into the category of congenitally ill-equipped duh—it can’t be helped. And then there’s the inevitable daily duh, like walking down the street to pick up my mail, then remembering it’s Sunday.
      George Carlin would have appreciated this. In one of his stand-up routines he said, “You ever notice how all day Wednesday, you keep thinking it’s Thursday?” He had led up to this comment with an introduction that began, “I’d like to talk about some things that bring us together, things that point out our similarities, instead of our differences...but I also like to know I can come back to these little things we have in common, little universal moments that we share separately, but things that make us the same. They’re so small we hardly ever talk about them.
      Do you ever look at your watch, and then you don’t know what time it is? And then you have to look again, and you still don’t know the time. So you look a third time, and somebody says, 'What time is it,' and you say, 'I don’t know?'"
      Our human bond of duh—right, George? Are you with me here?

      The big problem is that as a species our collective duh is coming close to ending us. Our world is in such a fearsome condition we’re finding our very futures in jeopardy; more and more, each day that the powerful among us ignore the signs—after all, those guys deny the duh that compels them— things fail to work on our behalf, and on behalf of the planet.

      It’s like this:
      What values best support us?
      Duh...those of laissez-faire capitalism?
      Duh...masculinist values?
      Duh...authoritarian values?

      What is our hierarchy of values?
      Duh...profit first, before anything else?
      Duh...whatever my authority says? first?

      How do we fix what is broken?
      Duh...privatize everything?
      Duh...drill, blast, bomb, torture, deny?

What a loss George Carlin isn’t here to make us laugh about it all, to get things straight and clear, to distill sanity from the fruity din—if you will pardon my duh.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

If Obama Votes Yes on FISA Bill

Tell me why I should vote for him and not Ralph Nader?

      The Blue Dog Democrats have done their hangdog business in the House again this week, cowering on the floor to hand over yet another wet-dream of a bill into Republican hands. ( Greenwald )
      To sum it up, my understanding is that if the Senate passes the bill, the telecom companies will receive immunity for their law-breaking, which essentially means the rule of law in America is meaningless. The excuse the hangdog Dems are giving, such as Diane Feinstein, is that in the hysteria of 9-11, it was understandable for the telecom companies to want to help the government. Isn't that so generous to the telecoms! What these Democrats are ignoring is that the spying went on for years; the companies have massive legal budgets and plenty of lawyers who could have explained the law; and at least one company, Quest, managed to reject the Administration's attempts to seduce them into breaking the law—they said NO!
      The Republicans refer to the law-breaking companies as "patriotic." Somehow they've forgotten what it is to be patriotic—that is, to protect and defend the constitution of the United States, as they pledged to do.
      All this is happening against a background, where the government can name any citizen whatsoever as an “enemy combatant,” detain any citizen whatsoever, and render —disappear— any citizen whatsoever to Syria to be tortured.
      To give the telecom's immunity, is to give it to the Administration as well, as far as future prosecutions against the Administration are concerned. And, how the Administration will be cautioned against breaking this new FISA law, to again conduct warrantless spying, is beyond me. Where's the downside for them?
      Amazingly enough, Barack Obama might vote for this FISA bill. So much for his background in Constitutional law.
      Thus, I see no reason whatsoever, if Obama goes ahead and votes for this bill, or doesn’t try to stop it, why I should not go ahead and vote for Ralph Nader, who is closest to my heart, anyway.


UPDATE: June 29 post

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Conventional Wisdom, Common Sense, Uncommon Patriotism

In gratitude for Dennis Kucinich and Robert Wexler’s defense of democracy

      The Florida Sun-Sentinel recently posted an editorial criticizing Representatives Dennis Kucinich and Robert Wexler for their calls to impeach G.W. Bush. The editorial began with an enumeration of our current national ills —wars, unemployment, Americans going without health insurance, gas prices— and then somehow failed to connect any dots whatsoever as to who is responsible for our sorry situation and how crimes were committed to get us here.
      The editorial would be laughable, if so many innocent lives and national treasure had not been criminally wasted by the very hand of the person the editorial board defends in its opinion.
      This is the Pelosi-inspired, denial-based, conventional wisdom now: calls for accountability for the most egregious, obvious and blatant crimes by officials of the government in American history are to be treated as if they are tantamount to the hysterical and whiney demands of toddlers. “You don’t like Mommy and Daddy’s rules? You want to make noise? You are grounded for wasting our time.” Or, more to the point, it is as if Daddy has been sneaking into bedrooms at night to molest his children, Mommy knows it, but stopping him is off the table—Sh-h-h-h-h!.
      We are supposed to think that it’s only common sense to dismiss impeachment as an option— “it’s too late; it’s a distraction from important issues; we don’t have enough votes, etc.” But it isn’t common sense; it is common campaign strategy. Underneath the excuses is this truth: the Democratic leadership thinks impeachment hearings will alienate the electorate —they are wrong!— and so they want to play a waiting game. And conservatives love it. Their guy is getting away with it.
       I am thinking of another kind of common sense, the kind of common sense that built this nation, the common sense of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, the common sense that created a great Constitution, where the exact remedy for the sort of crimes George W. Bush has committed was put there, so that America could breathe free of would-be tyrants and empire-builders like George W. Bush. I have to wonder what happened to this kind of patriotism. Is it tucked away inside the namby-pamby back pockets of editors and journalists, pundits and politicos across the nation, where it is sat upon and smothered to death beneath their lackadaisical butts?
      Reps. Wexler and Kucinich have accomplished an uncommon thing: they have managed to retain their patriotic common sense. It is the shame and tragedy of this nation that such patriotism is so rare, now that we need it so badly. We are in jeopardy of enabling a tyrannical epoch in American history, but we are surrounded by fools and cowards.
      Albert Einstein's familiar quote, "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds," comes to mind here. Wexler and Kucinich are great spirits, and they will be remembered in history as such; as for the editorial board of the Florida Sun-Sentinel—their opposition to such greatness is apparently all they can manage, given who they are.

      Personally, I think impeachment is not nearly enough; the thugs should be prosecuted for murder. Apparently, I am not the only one who thinks this.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Torture by Photo Op

Say No to Four More Years of It

      Among the worst lies George W. Bush has told is the one where he insists, “we do not torture.” That was a doozy.
      I don’t know where he gets that. I mean, he tortures me every time his goofy self appears on television. All it takes is the sight of his bow-legged cock-strut across the White House lawn, and my face goes twitchy, just like Clouseau’s torture victim, Chief Inspector Dreyfus. Then, as soon as he opens his mouth, and his words wrangle their way toward my ears, hinting of a sloppy, sottish past (is it past?) —”Thish is an impresshhive crowd -- the havezsh and the have morezsh. Shome people call ya th’ elite -- Ah call you mah bayshe.”— well, I’m in agony. It is so-o-o painful.
      I don’t know if I can make it to January 20, 2009, without some kind of intervention. Like impeachment.

      Help. Please, all you voters out there, bring us a President who at least honors the office of the Presidency —for a change— with eloquence, a resonant voice, and, even if he isn’t going to bring us Medicare for all, even if he supports “clean” coal and “free” trade, at least he has the ability to think on his feet and speak coherently.
      I think you know who that is. It is NOT John McCain.
      McCain. Think about that. It’s bad enough that he is painfully uncomfortable in his own skin, that is, physically and metaphorically, meaning his ethics, values and opinions, but the spector of McCain in the Presidency is nearly as horrifying as that which resides there now; we’re talking asymmetrical, puddin’ face, stiff-joints, a nasal tonality and an inspirational deficiency that simply will not improve with time. It’s only gonna get worse, Folks. You vote for McCain, and it will be nothing but four more years of Bush crimes against our aesthetic sensibilities. Don’t do it.

      What it boils down to is this: do you want four years of goose bumps, or facial tics? The choice is clear.