Friday, September 29, 2006

Where do we go from here?

Yesterday, Sept. 28th, Congress passed a bill which will give the President the right to determine what is and is not torture. The bill will eliminate habeas corpus protections for "unlawful combatants," and it seems that the executive will also have the power to determine who belongs in that category. The bill also provides retroactive legal cover immunizing interrogators — and Bush Administration officials — against prosecution for war crimes. It's not clear whether American citizens could be considered "enemy combatants" under this legislation, but there is a general consensus that this bill is poorly written and that all of its implications are not entirely apparent. It will almost certainly be challenged in court, and the Supreme Court at that, in spite of not-so-veiled threats by Republican legislators and Attorney General Abu Gonzales that judges should STFU and stay out of the President's business:
He said the Constitution makes the president commander in chief and the Supreme Court has long recognized the president's pre-eminent role in foreign affairs. "The Constitution, by contrast, provides the courts with relatively few tools to superintend military and foreign policy decisions, especially during wartime," the attorney general told a conference on the judiciary at Georgetown University Law Center.

"Judges must resist the temptation to supplement those tools based on their own personal views about the wisdom of the policies under review," Gonzales said.

And he said the independence of federal judges, who are appointed for life, "has never meant, and should never mean, that judges or their decisions should be immune" from public criticism...

...The attorney general did not refer to any specific case or decision but only to wartime, military and foreign affairs cases in general.
One of the truly depressing aspects of this situation — I mean, beyond the fact that our President has the power to torture with impunity and lock people away for life — is the unmitigated delight that many of his followers seem to take in this turn of events. At times I think I should just stay out of the comment section of many blogs, because it's enough to make one truly despair for humanity. Go on Digby or Glenn Greenwald, and you'll find posters who are happy that we get to torture people. Oh, they try to cover this up by going on about "the enemy" and how we need to defeat "the enemy who wants to hurt us," and cut off our heads and make us wear burkhas and convert the world to Sharia at swords' point — you know, whatever. But they're not even hiding it any more. They're not defending it by saying things like, "that's not torture, it's just harmless fraternity pranks" very much. They're glad we're doing it. They're thrilled these "detainees," many of whom it's been proven aren't terrorists in any way, shape or form, are going to be locked up indefinitely, without recourse.

What is one supposed to make of this?

There's always been a scary strain in American culture. It wasn't so long ago we had organized lynch mobs, institutionalized racism and systemic disenfranchisement of women and people of color. So I'm not going to say, oh, we've never seen anything like this before, it's unprecedented, we're utterly doomed.

But I guess I had the idea that we were making progress. And clearly, this authoritarian streak in American culture, John Dean's "Conservatives Without Conscience", has been in the ascendancy under George Bush.

It is an ugly, ugly thing, this group of leaders and followers who celebrate their ability to dominate others, to control, to hurt. Read this post by Glenn Greenwald for an example of how debased the discourse has become by this Administration's apologists and propagandists.

They are sadists and thugs.

I keep asking myself what the action is. In Blogworld, you've got people who are so disgusted with the lack of resistance put up by the Democratic Party and the out-and-out collaboration of some Democratic Congressmen and Senators with this Administration's authoritarian project that they're threatening not to vote, or threatening to vote for a third party. You've even got some people who are agitating for violent resistance of some sort — it's not clear what they're really proposing, what their goals are, and how, practically, their methods could ever achieve said amorphous goals. I'm guessing most of these folks are either naive, unbalanced or agent provocateurs. Because, you know, where's the logic in protesting a lawless, violent administration by advocating similar lawlessness and violence?

So what are we left with? Same old grind, I'm afraid. No matter what the Democrats have done, or more to the point, not done, regardless of the complicity of some and the corruption of the entire policial system, it's still a Republican war, it's the Republicans in the White House and in Congress who have legalized torture and spat on the Constitution, who are trying to dismantle social safety nets, environmental regulations and all notions of the government as a vehicle to promote the common good of all of us. They have to be stopped before anything positive or progressive on a larger scale can be accomplished.

First, we have to stop the bleeding.

So we vote. We donate some money or some time or both. We try and get a Democratic majority in either or both Houses of Congress. And we pressure them like hell to do the right thing.

We could be spitting in the wind, for all I know. I in no way think that having more Democrats in office is magically going to transform our increasingly militarized, increasingly hollow empire into a model of a sane, just, sustainable democracy. I don't know if this country can be fixed. But if this is a culture war we're in, then let's fight it. I truly believe we have the better weapons. We have tolerance, justice, inclusion. We have open minds, a belief that we can create a better way of living on this planet, with each other, even if we forget that sometimes, even if we're not sure what that is.

What do they have to offer? Fear. What is their vision? Lives that have to be lived behind walls. Protection from the Other. The evil-doers.

So, here's what I think. Maybe the action, part of it anyway, is just to live our lives in the open.

Speak out. Make your art, recycle your trash, ride a bike instead of drive when you can.

And look around you with clarity. See what it is we're up against. Look at its ugly, blood-soaked face and call it by its name.

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