Saturday, February 09, 2008

The road to hell

Is paved with George W. Bush's intentions.

This vision of executive power is that the law not only emanates from the president but also ebbs and flows with his hunches, hopes, and speculations, on a moment-to-moment basis. What we are hearing now from senior Bush administration officials is that if the president thinks someone looks kinda like a terrorist and the information sought from him seems kinda worth getting, it will be legal to torture him. And it's legal no matter who justified it, regardless of the supporting legal doctrine, because, well, the president just had a feeling that the information would prove valuable.

That's not an imperial presidency. That's the kind of presidency Yahweh might establish. I'm sure there's some law professor out there who can make the legal argument that executive power in wartime encompasses even the reckless guesses and impressionistic whims of a single man, as they arise. At which point, that too will become an "open question" on which "reasonable people will differ." And the dance will begin again.
We have a sitting president hundred of times now defying laws duly passed by the representatives of this nation's citizens while citing a rationale that is grounded in a totalitarian logic that sounds like something out of Nazi Germany. And yet Congress does nothing. And the media does nothing.

It's nearly impossible to even keep up with the scandals and corruptions of this putrid administration. While our press works tirelessly to inform us if Britney will retain custody of her children or power of attorney over her estate, the Center for Public Integrity quitely revealed that the Bush adminsitration has blocked for the last seven months the release of a report finding that

more than nine million people who live in the more than two dozen “areas of concern”—including such major metropolitan areas as Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee—may face elevated health risks from being exposed to dioxin, PCBs, pesticides, lead, mercury, or six other hazardous pollutants.

In many of the geographic areas studied, researchers found low birth weights, elevated rates of infant mortality and premature births, and elevated death rates from breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer.
Congress passes a law regulating commerce with the genocidal government in Sudan and Bush signs it into law while magically overturning it at the same time with a signing statement. The Constitution obligates the president to veto legislation he finds unconstitutional, but it does not grant him the power to strike laws from existence by fiat. Yet, as Charlie Savage points out, "Bush has frequently used signing statements to advance aggressive theories about executive power. He has challenged more laws in the past seven years than all previous presidents combined."

This nation was founded by people who fought a revolution over exactly this sort of behavior. Anyone remember what the first grievance listed in the Declaration of Independence against King George III is?

"He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."

President Bush has "refused his Assent to Laws" nearly 1000 times now. But when our Congress finds out they either beg permission to be allowed to vote to legalize it or they do little more than nothing. We have a president with historically low approval ratings and whose party suffered an historic defeat in '06 elections and yet this adminsitration is able to continue foward ripping the Constitution to shreds.

Just last month Bush decided he could refuse his assent to four more laws passed by Congress.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is busy threatening to place a journalist who disclosed that President Bush had authorized the Pentagon to illegally spy on US citizens in prison while madmen cheer the move with a mantra that sounds like it was lifted from a book of totalitarian aphorisms: "Like the Constitution itself, the First Amendment's protections of freedom of the press are not a suicide pact."

Whenever I hear that noxious phrase I can't help but be reminded of the equally sickening you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, which was used by characters in Sinclair Lewis's It Can't Happen Here to justify an American fascist regime and in real life by Walter Duranty to excuse the murderous purges of Stalinist Russia.

If I ever hear that 'can't make an omelet' phrase again, I'll start doing a little murder myself! It's used to justify every atrocity under every despotism, Fascist or Nazi or Communist or American labor war. Omelet! Eggs! By God, sir, men's souls and blood are not eggshells for tyrants to break!
Was what the character Doremus Jessup answered in It Can't Happen Here (and he was speaking figuratively about the murder ... even after fascism took over the country his weapon of choice remained the pen.)

Likewise, who but a dog looking for a Master considers the Constitution and the civil liberties it guarantees to be a suicide pact? Our freedom was won with the battle cry Give me liberty or give me death, yet now are freedoms are to be a casualty to the fear of those who whimper Please keep me alive and you can have my liberty.

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?", asked Patrick Henry. The modern GOP answers yes: "you have no civil liberties if you are dead."

I'm not sure whether it is a comfort or not to realize that democracy has been faced with this human temptation for thousands of years. As Paul Woodruff explains in First Democracy

In our frustration with law, we forget too easily that law is all we have between us and tyranny. Aesop has a fable to illustrate the point. Long ago, the frogs lived without any form of government. Feeling the need for some sort of authority, they prayed to Zeus and asked for a king. He sent them a piece of wood. To understand the story, you need to know that ancient Greek laws were written on wooden tablets, set up for all to see. The frogs were illiterate, of course, and missed the point:

The frogs were unhappy with the anarchy in which they lived, so they sent representatives to Zeus asking him to provide them with a king. He saw how simple they were and set up a piece of wood in their pond. At first the frogs were frightened by the noise Zeus had made, and they hid themselves in the depths of the pond; but later, since the wood did not move, they came up and were so contemptous of it that they climbed up on it and sat there. Feeling that they did not deserve such a king, they went to Zeus a second time and insisted that he give them a different ruler, as the first one was too lazy. This made Zeus angry, and he sent them a water-snake who caught and ate them up.
And so it was - and still is - when people are frustrated with the law's stupidities or delays or inconveniences. If they wish for a ruler who will rise above the law, they are offering themselves to be devoured.

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