Friday, September 22, 2006

National Pastime

I'm sitting on the couch, listening to the San Diego Padres play the Pittsburgh Pirates. I love baseball — football too, I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit. I have a few friends who wonder why I like sports, why I participate in the American sports culture, with its overpaid, entitled athletes and crass commercialism, when there are so many other ways to use one's time, so many better causes for which the resources sucked up by professional sports could conceivably be used.

I could talk about what a beautiful game baseball is, the strategy and athleticism of it. I could talk about how going to a ballpark makes me happy, the green grass, the atmosphere, how almost everyone in the crowd seems happy too. There were the games I used to go to when I was a kid, my mom, my sister and I, when baseball was cheap entertainment, something a divorced mother could afford. I remember my mom and me, lying on her bed, listening to the Padres on scratchy AM radio, with announcer Jerry Coleman (who still calls about half the games) and his malapropisms, his humor and signature shout of "Oh, doctor!" when the team did something good.

On a night like tonight, I think I love baseball for its escapism as much as anything else.

The so-called "dissident" G.O.P. senators made their deal on the "terrorism detention bill" with Bush. As predicted by Digby, who called the negotiations "an elaborate Kabuki," the whole exercise seemed suspiciously choreographed, with Bush getting to look all tough on the terr-ists and that maverick McCain appearing like he has some actual principles, thus reassuring some portion of wavering Republican supporters that things haven't gone too far, that the grownups are in charge, that America the Beautiful still maintains some shred of dignity, of honor, of worthiness.

As for the Democrats, their strategy was to sit the debate out, betting that the GOP "rebels" actually were putting up a real fight, that they would either force the White House to back down or be unable to craft an agreement. Speaking out on torture, the Democratic leadership calculated, was a losing hand, giving the Republican strategists yet another opportunity to paint Democrats as being "weak on terror," untrustworthy with national security. Because of course, we aren't actually talking about torture here, right? Just "alternative techniques." "The program." The one that "keeps America safe from evil-doers."

Though details of the compromise are not fully available, and I'm not the person to provide a comprehensive legal analysis in any case (check out Glenn Greenwald for that kind of heavy-lifting), the consensus at this moment is that the White House got what it wanted — namely, that "the Program" will continue, only now with the legal blessing of federal legislation. Maybe not every aspect of "the Program" — no one is saying yet what "enhanced techniques" will be permitted — but essentially it still seems to be an argument about what kind of torture is okay, and what kind is just a tad too harsh. I'm assuming that the "compromise" also provides the retroactive legal cover desired by the Adminstration — you know, so Bush, Cheney, Rummy and Abu Gonzales don't end up in the dock for war crimes.

It's important to note that this is not a done deal. I heard Congresswoman Jane Harman interviewed on my way into work this AM. Harman is a conservative Democrat, one with whom I frequently disagree. She's also the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. The gist of her comments was, no Democrat has seen the bill, this thing isn't passing without extensive clarification, including, just what "techniques" are we talking about and why are such "techniques" even necessary (she was very insistent on these points). And also that the bill requires Congressional oversight, that this president in particular(due to his track record) will not be able to just redefine Article 3 by his own interpretation. But she put a particular emphasis on "why do we even need to do these things?" and also, that she did not see it as a blank check to cover all past behavior. She stated that this bill would require extensive discussion before a vote (the implication being that it might not get voted upon until after the recess). She said that it was this Administration's own fault that they and their operatives had put themselves in a position of legal ambiguity by not asking for Congressional oversight/clarification in the first place.

I felt a little better after hearing this. I called my Senators to express my opposition to any legislation that would legalize torture. I said stuff like, "we should just change our name to the Soviet States of America if this thing passes." I was perhaps a little shrill.

(Amnesty International has a campaign in which you can participate. Go here for details)

Who knows if it does any good? I'm really not sure. The mood in Left Blogostan is pretty bleak. There's a lot of excoriating the Democrats for not speaking up, and all the wayyy Lefties are in full-cry, you know, the kind for whom any mainstream political activism is useless appeasement, whose comments are generally about the dark, blood-drenched heart of the American genocidal beast. I got slammed for saying I was still supporting Democrats because this whole attitude that there's no difference between the parties is a big reason Bush is in the White House, and you can't tell me we'd be in Iraq and arguing about whether it's okay to torture prisoners if Al Gore were President.

For this I was told I was "unable to think through the fog," "unserious," and "a namby-pamby Democratic party apologist." Which considering the kinds of flack I've gotten from right-wingers when I've posted on Peking Duck, you know, being a wild-eyed, stupid, naive psuedo-intellectual who doesn't take the grave threat of Islamo-fascist-nazis seriously — well, maybe there is some consensus there. Because I find it hard to take extremists on either side seriously.

Not because I think they're funny. Well, not most of the time. Sometimes the overwrought melodrama of their rhetoric gives me a bit of a giggle, I'll admit (and I'll cop to not being entirely blameless in prompting their scorn of me — sometimes I have to poke 'em a little).

It's the essential unseriousness of extremist philosophies as engines of progress that gets to me. Not that extremists can't accomplish big things, they can and they do, but their programs are almost exclusively destructive, even when their stated aims are for advancing social justice. It's very difficult to get people to willingly go along with extreme change, because face it, most people aren't extreme, and a lot of them won't agree with what's being proposed. You don't typically have a revolution because a bunch of idealists have gotten together with this great utopian program that the masses enthusiastically adopt. Big changes tend to happen quickly when there's some negative cause — chaos, war, economic and social collapse.

I don't know about you, but I'm not real anxious to see that happen here, unlike those who cheer destruction and pray for revolution. Generally the people who end up getting hurt aren't the ones who deserve it the most.

But it's not clear that the political system can be fixed, at this point. Beyond Democratic co-option and weakness, the corruption of corporate money, comes the simple, appalling fact that the Republican Party has so rigged the electoral process that even an extremely unpopular President may not be enough to tip the balance in either House of Congress. Even if the Democrats do take the House or Senate, it's not clear that they will have enough power to turn the tide or stay in control long enough to make a real difference.

Or whether the vision and political will exist for the fight.

But what will it take to change this country for the better? What kind of movement might arise that can help shift us away from this path we're on, this war without end, on other countries, on the planet, on ourselves? Is it even possible, or is it too late?

I'm not an extremist. But my question is not so much, when do you have to make a stand? I'd say the time is now, or very soon.

My question is, what does that stand consist of? What is the action?

What does one do?

I'd really like to know.

Well, the Padres won the game tonight. Chris Young took a no-hitter into the 9th. It would have been the first no-hitter in franchise history, but after one out, Joe Randa hit Young's pitch over the center field wall for a home run. There went the no-hitter. The shut-out too. But the Padres are still in first place in the National League West. The race continues.

Baseball, I'm willing to state, is good.

I'm not so sure about America.

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