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Apparently, if you let one administration off the hook for war crimes and for violating our constitution and laws, the next guy to occupy the White House gets to thinking that it’s okay to issue an assassination order against an American citizen.
Hey, it’s not as bad as lying us into a war, right? Or torturing people to force false intel out of them to support a personal vendetta against Iraq. Or killing thousands of Iraqis or Afghanis or Pakistanis (and we’re not even at war with Pakistan!)…It’s just one guy. One American guy.
Apparently, Obama has gotten the impression that presidential performance is graded on a curve, and that as long as he does better than the previous guy, he’s cool.
Except that’s not the way it works. Or at least, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work…
For those who don’t obsessively follow the news but somehow do follow this blog (probably a null set, I will concede), the New York Times reported today:
The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday.
The article goes on to remind us that al-Awlaki has been linked to both Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the gunman in the Fort Hood shooting last year, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the famed “underwear bomber” from last Christmas. Clearly, from an American perspective this dude is not on the side of the angels (speaking metaphorically, because hey, buddhist here). He may even be guilty of treason.
Does that mean it’s okay for an American president to order his assassination?
Let me remind you, no matter what activities this guy is guilty of, he is an American citizen. Like all of us, he should be held accountable for his crimes. I am not arguing against accountability.
What I am doing is arguing in favor of the rule of law. Remember, that concept – that fundamental principle of our system of government – that Obama campaigned on returning us to?
In taking this action, the Obama administration has started us down a very dangerous slippery slope. If we’re allowed to assassinate Americans overseas for engaging in terrorist activities, why not assassinate them domestically, as well? So much neater than actually trying and convicting them, after all. No chance they will be released because the prosecution dropped the ball.
But then, why stop there? Why not go after anyone who encourages others to rebel against the government? Again, if someone is truly inciting others to violence, we can lock them up (something Glenn Beck would do well to remember, as some of his rhetoric seems to be skating closer to the Brandenburg standard by the day). But they might beat the charge. A bullet or two would solve that problem right quick.
Sure, we might fuck up occasionally, and kill someone who didn’t deserve it, but it’s all to keep the country safe, right? Just call the innocent victims collateral damage and move on.
What led the Obama administration to believe it could get away with deciding to act to deprive this al-Awlaki character of life without due process of law?
I would argue that it is Congress’s failure, during and since the Bush administration, to rein in the power of the executive branch of government and reassert itself as a check on the authority of the president.
If our national political system were working the way it ought to, Bush and/or Cheney would have had to face the consequences of their various illegal and unconstitutional acts. At a minimum, following the last election, Congress would have imposed new constraints on the executive, or at least increased its oversight activities.
It’s what happened after we got rid of Nixon. It’s what should have happened in 2008. Actually, it should have happened by sometime in 2002 or 2004, but no use crying over spilled milk…
But a curious thing happened in 2008: voters were so fed up with the Republicans after eight years of Bush malfeasance and misfeasance that they voted in powerful Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress as well as the White House.
As a result, Congress apparently perceived very little need to rein in the executive branch. They were all on the same side, after all…the side of the angels (there they are again)…right?
It is a simple fact of political power dynamics that almost no one in a position of power will voluntarily relinquish that power to another official or branch of government unless forced to do so. Why would they? Even if they don’t intend to use the power to do some specific act (say, torture detainees, or hold them without trial) right now, well, there’s no telling whether circumstances might arise in the future where they would want to be able to do so.
Which is why we haven’t seen some changes that we were promised when we voted for Obama.
Remember habeas corpus? Yeah, I don’t either. Seems like we should have gotten that back by now, though, doesn’t it?
How about basic privacy protections? Like being able to trade e-mails or IMs or texts without thinking about how some computer was storing the information just in case someone got it into his head to use that information to build a federal case against you. Or maybe sell it to the tabloids. Whatever.
Remember how President Obama talked about Due Process back when he was candidate Obama? I miss that.
I could go on. And on. About the powers that Bush 43 grabbed that Obama hasn’t relinquished. About how wrong it is for our government to be targeting American citizens for assassination, no matter what those individuals are accused of doing. About what a freaking disappointment Obama is for progressives (no matter how much the Republicans may scream “Socialist!” about the man).
I could. But as usual, Glenn Greenwald has done a much better job than I could of explaining just how fucked up the whole thing is. Spencer Ackerman has some good thoughts on the subject, too.
Seems like this would be a good time to flood the White House e-mail servers with messages expressing concern about this change in policy.
We need to remind the Obama administration that if Congress won’t hold him accountable, we will. That we voted for him based on certain claims about what he would do if and when he was elected, and we can vote him out if he doesn’t at least try to live up to the hype. That he works for us, and has a duty to uphold the laws and constitution. And not some convoluted John Yoo interpretation of same, but an interpretation that would likely persuade a few Supreme Court Justices if it ever came down to that.
Speak up. Speak out. Do something.
If you’re on Twitter (which I just joined a couple days ago in light of the Iran situation – @janedoe_tcm), I recommend following @persiankiwi for English-language “tweets” from someone on the ground in Tehran.
Intense and disturbing.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or with my family), you know that there is some serious badness happening in Iran at the moment, as the public reacts to highly questionable election results.
He’s posted a music video put together by one of his readers. The music is Rage Against the Machine, but the images are all recent photos and videos coming out of Iran:
I was going to write a blog post about how the Obama administration appears to be adopting the prior administration’s positions with respect to the illegal warrantless wiretapping conducted by the Bush White House, but Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com beat me to it, and as usual does a better and more thorough job of it than I would.
I suppose I shouldn’t be too shocked. Much to my disappointment, Obama did vote for the FISA “extension” last year that expanded the government’s wiretapping ability and exhonerated the telecommunications companies that violated existing law with respect to wiretapping following 9/11. So why should it surprise me that he wants to hang on to at least some of that power that Bush seized for the executive branch?
But it does upset me. I expect better from Obama than we got from Bush. Perhaps that’s naive. Differences (and there are many) aside, Obama is a politician, just like Bush. Why would he want to give up power?
The Al-Haramain case may well be, as Greenwald says, “the only remaining case against the Government with any real chance of resulting in a judicial ruling on the legality of Bush’s NSA warrantless eavesdropping program.” From the perspective of all who care about constitutional rights, that is reason enough to want it to move forward.
So why is the Obama administration trying to shut it down?
So apparently, the Justice Department has just released nine Bush 43 era White House legal memoranda detailing the rationale/justification for various violations of our civil rights. Yay for that transparency thing, guys! This is how our government is supposed to work.
The New York Times reports today on the verdict in a rather high-profile cyberbullying case in which an alleged adult (okay, she’s 49, but her behavior was unbelievably immature) was bullying a young teenage girl to such an extreme that she eventually killed herself.
The case is an interesting example of the old legal truism that bad facts can make for bad law.
There is no question that the woman’s behavior was appalling. She set up a MySpace page posing as a teenage boy and positively hounded the poor girl, saying all sorts of horrible things about her. Classic cyberbullying behavior unusual only in that it was an adult bullying a teenager, rather than the far more common peer-level bullying.
And there seems to be no doubt that there was a direct connection between this bullying behavior and the teenage girl’s suicide.
So it is by no means a stretch to think that there ought to be some sort of legal consequences for the girl’s adult tormenter.
What is unusual and somewhat disturbing (for yours truly who, let’s face it, is blogging under the most blatant pseudonym possible) is that apparently the guilty verdict in the court case turned on the fact that the adult violated MySpace terms of service by failing to provide accurate information about herself when establishing the profile. The defendant was not convicted for bullying, but for computer fraud. According to the New York Times:
Ms. Drew’s creation of a phony profile amounted to “unauthorized access” to the [MySpace] site, prosecutors said, a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, which until now has been used almost exclusively to prosecute hacker crimes.
Let me say that again: criminal liability not for the bullying behavior itself but for the provision of false biographical information on a MySpace page in violation NOT of the law itself but of MySpace terms of service.
For those who have never explored the links running down the left column of this blog, let me point one out to you: the link to my MySpace page.
Like my blog, it is under the name “jane doe” – and that is the name I gave to MySpace when I created the profile. I also used a fake birthdate – April 1, 1968. The April 1 was because April Fool’s Day seemed like an amusing birthday for a fake identity, and the 1968 was because that was a much more interesting year from a political and social perspective than 1966, which is the year I was actually born.
So fake name and fake birthdate. Oh, and at the time I created the profile, I was still living in Redstatesville, which is not in Colorado, so I gave fake geographic information as well.
Now, arguably one could say that since I blog under the jane doe pseudonym and may ultimately retain that pseudonym for non-blog related creative projects (art and writing) that I am presently working on, my use of that name for the MySpace profile has some legitimacy.
There is also the fact that I am not using my MySpace page to hound some poor teenager to suicide working in my favor. So one might think the greatest risk to me would be the deletion of the MySpace profile if the MySpace people ever get around to noticing it – though blogger Jon Swift faced a similar problem with Facebook and got the company to reinstate the pseudonynmous profile.
Here’s the thing that troubles me, though. As previoiusly noted, we are seeing legal liability – apparently misdemeanor-level criminal liability – that is hinging not on the law but on MySpace terms of service.
Which kind of has me wondering what would happen if one of the politicians I have criticized over the past two years were to take issue with my opinions? Could he or she make the case that I should face criminal charges for exercising my first amendment right to criticize government officials, simply because I used my pseudonym to create a MySpace profile which I link to from the blog that I also write under said pseudonym? Hell, for all I know, I’m in violation of WordPress’s terms of service, too – I honestly don’t even remember what information I had to give when I established the blog. I think I just had to provide an e-mail address. But of course, my e-mail address for both the blog and the MySpace page is also – you guessed it – under the name jane doe. So I may be in violation of Inbox.com’s and Gmail’s terms of service, too. I could be looking at a life sentence here.
Does this seem improbable? I hope so. Certainly it seems less likely to happen or be tolerated under an Obama presidency than under the current alleged president.
But as I said at the outset, bad facts make for bad law. Here, what the woman in the cyberbullying case did was so clearly inappropriate, and the outcome so drastic given the girl’s eventual suicide, that prosecutors and jurors alike would want to impose some sort of punishment. And they likely would not be considering the potential ramifications for the way they got that punishment imposed.
And now we all have to live with their decision.
According to the Times, the defendant will be appealing the lower court’s decision. But appellate judges, and Supreme Court judges, for that matter, are nearly as likely to fall victim to the “bad facts make bad law” truism as the lay people serving on a jury would be – and some would say they are even more likely to.
There are a lot of reasons why people create fake identities for online use. Some, like me, create a pseudonym in order to avoid problems at their place of employment. Some merely want to reduce the risk of identity theft. And sometimes, a fake identity can literally mean the difference between life and imprisonment or death – ask the bloggers in Burma who wrote about the protests by Buddhist monks and the government’s efforts to stifle same. Assuming you can find any of those bloggers, that is. Assuming the Burmese government didn’t get to them first.
Oh, but that can’t happen here, I hear you say.
And to that I say – consider how many different ways the Bush administration has violated the laws and constitution over the past eight years. Consider the various tactics they used against political opponents – we’re talking about an administration that outed one of its own covert CIA agents, endangering not only her but her entire intelligence network in foreign countries. Consider the fact that they ordered individuals tortured, and authorized the program of “extraordinary rendition” in which they essentially kidnapped individuals and sent them to other countries for “interrogation” – interrogation that included torture.
Can’t happen here? Hell, I’m kind of surprised it hasn’t already happened here.
At least as far as we know.
October 13, 2008 in 2008 elections, Authoritarianism, Barack Obama, Economic mess, Fear, Insanity, McCain, Political Weasels, Republicans, Scary Palin, Terror Management, War on terror | Leave a comment
The stock market may be tanking, but my paranoia levels are soaring to new record highs with each passing day. If there were a way to make money off paranoia, I would be richer than Warren Buffett right now.
Sadly, this is not the case.
You’d think I’d be feeling relatively good about how the presidential election is going about now, wouldn’t you?
I mean, let’s face it, it’s rare that one gets to see the complete collapse of a national political campaign with just a little over three weeks left to go in the race. And the McCain campaign’s collapse has been nothing short of spectacular. Between McCain’s ongoing weirdness about the economic catastrofuck and his poor performance in the debates, and Palin’s scandals in Alaska and her appalling performance in interviews, not to mention the almost daily changes in major campaign platform components, the smear tactics that seem to be hurting McCain more than Obama, and the increasingly scary crowds at McCain campaign events…well, it’s been like this:
Yet I find myself unable to sleep, worrying about everything that can still go wrong.
Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been harping on about terror management theory and its implications for our national politics for some time now. My first post on the subject – a rather lengthy primer on terror management theory and how it relates to the political world – was in June of 2007.*
At the time I wrote that post, I ventured into Paranoid Conspiracy Theory Land, where I speculated that persons with a vested interest in seeing that the Republicans retain control of the White House might use the principles of terror management theory to swing a presidential election where the Democratic candidate had a commanding lead in the polls in the weeks leading up to the election to something more to their liking.
The increasingly disturbing rhetoric we are seeing coming out of the McCain campaign, and particularly from Sarah Palin and other McCain surrogates. Attempts to paint Obama as somehow not really American, someone foreign, someone Muslim, someone who associates with terrorists – all of these are tactics one would expect coming from a group of people who are familiar with terror management theory. Ditto all the race-baiting tactics they’ve been using. They want to portray Obama as “other”, because “other” is scary and they want people good and scared.
The increasing ugliness that can be seen at McCain/Palin rallies in recent days – people calling Obama a terrorist or shouting “Kill him!” or “Off with his head!” are evidence that these tactics are succeeding at least with a small portion of their base. This is sad, but not terribly surprising. There has long been that ugly, racist side of America – the side a lot of whites at least like to think we’ve gotten past somehow (though most of my friends who are members of minority groups would tell them otherwise). To see it surfacing in such a blatant manner is very troubling, and points out again how easy it would be for our country to slide into outright fascism of the sort usually associated with Nazi Germany. (Assuming that we haven’t already crossed that line, anyway.)
Still, the poll numbers suggest that most voters are more focused on the economy – an area where McCain’s behavior has been truly erratic and unreassuring to most voters – and thus have not been swayed by the fear tactics employed by the McCain camp. Likely all that McCain has managed to do is stir up a bit of a hornets’s nest among those who already were likely to vote for McCain anyway, while scaring off independent voters and more moderate Republicans.
This still raises the scary specter of assassination – as Frank Rich pointed out so ably in his column in the New York Times this weekend. (edit: hat-tip to jc on the column, btw) But let’s be frank, that’s been a threat with the Obama campaign from the early days of this campaign, and the Secret Service is all over it. All we can do is hope that they continue to do the excellent job they’ve generally done in protecting presidents and other important officials since the days of the Kennedy assassinations.
It would take something much larger than innuendo and subtle race-baiting to swing the kind of voter shift that McCain needs at this point. This is, in fact, consistent with terror management research. The stronger the “death prime” that induces mortality salience – that is, the awareness of one’s own mortality – the larger the reaction you will get in a population, in terms of number of people who will change their positions or be swayed to take a position they wouldn’t ordinarily.
In other words, as long as the economy is what most voters are most concerned with, all McCain’s fear tactics are unlikely to sway enough voters to tilt the election his way. He either needs to convince the voters that he can handle the economic mess – something that will be difficult for him to do given his behavior over the past few weeks – or he needs a very big BOOM! somewhere in the world, preferably (from his standpoint) somewhere in the U.S.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not believe for one moment that McCain would take any steps to engineer a big BOOM! that would endanger the lives of Americans. Despite all his nasty rhetoric lately, I still believe that McCain is a man who loves this country and sincerely believes that he would be a better leader for it than Barack Obama. I don’t agree with him on the latter point, but I most definitely acknowledge the former.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t others out there – people with the money and connections and lack of moral conscience necessary to make these things happen – who wouldn’t do so on his behalf. There are probably a lot of people – people in or associated with the current administration, people in the business world – who have a very strong interest in making sure that Republicans retain control of the executive branch of government. And some of those people I wouldn’t trust further than I could comfortably throw them when it comes to a choice between the lives of innocent Americans and their own pocketbooks.
Which is why I’ve been feeling so paranoid lately.
I think that there is a very high probability of some sort of attack somewhere on American soil in the next two weeks – particularly the next week. And this worries me a great deal.
It could cost the lives of Americans.
It could change the outcome of the election.
It could get us involved in a war.
And it could all be instigated not by foreign terrorists – Bin Laden and his groupies – but by Americans hoping to secure a political and economic future to their liking.
And it could work.
* My other posts on the subject of terror management theory can be found here.
September 2, 2008 in 2008 elections, Authoritarianism, Big Brother, Civil rights, Declaration of Independence, Democratic convention, Fear, Insanity, Police state, Religion, Republican convention | 2 comments
I missed this from the Denver Post last week because I don’t subscribe to any Colorado newspapers (I have no bird cages and thus no use for the local news), but I saw a post about it in my new favorite blog, No Blood for Hubris (another Buddhist blogger – yay! plus, gotta love the title). It’s the account of a protester who was arrested last week by the Denver PD for exercising his first amendment rights. A quick exerpt:
“The first thing I really noticed was at Civic Center Park when I was in the ‘Food Not Bombs’ area. The police seemed to be ready for conflict. They walked through the ‘Food Not Bombs’ crowd, which was a peaceful group, holding their weapons out and looking at people, really intensely, trying to intimidate everyone. It made us all a little worried.
“I was planning to march with the group that night. We all had different reasons for being there. I was marching to make people aware that they should be worried about our civil rights being stripped systematically right now, and show people that habeas corpus is six feet under. I just think the time we live in has so many deep-rooted problems that I don’t understand how people can NOT protest. I’d never been arrested before, and I have no criminal record or significant run-ins with the law.
“Everything happened really fast. We knew there were police behind us, and that presence was growing larger, with more police, but then suddenly there were police in front of us at the other end of the block. Shortly after that, the police encircled us. A lot of people were able to escape before they closed the circle, but the rest of us were inside, along with a journalist from Brooklyn, and a woman who started writing on her laptop about what was happening, and some photographers. There were many people who weren’t protesters, just citizens, who were in the encircled group.
“We moved to the sidewalk – a few people stayed in the street – because we didn’t want a confrontation, but it didn’t matter.
“People started pleading: ‘Let me go,’ ‘I want to go home.’ The police started using the pepper spray. Some of the police on horses were whacking people with their batons. I was told later that the police were telling us to disperse, but I didn’t hear them say that. And where would we go? The police were all around us, not letting us leave.
So it’s not just the St. Paul police, though obviously the SPPD have been much more…what’s the word I’m looking for…brownshirt-ish?
It’s a curious thing, though.
In St. Paul, the police seem to be sweeping up everyone who looks at them cross-eyed, without regard for group affiliation, and it looks like the Denver PD had its moments with the lefty-leaning protesters, as well.
But both days that I was in downtown Denver during the convention, I saw groups protesting against gays (and the whole GLBT spectrum) and against abortion, right on the sidewalks where people were trying to walk. These protesters were a little intimidating and in-your-face (because, after all, they were telling everybody else on the street that they were going to burn in hell).
And all the Denver PD did was keep people out of the street. That’s it. No arrests. No intimidation tactics. No hassling the right-wing protesters.
Who do they go after?
Not the anti-abortion people, in spite of the violent tactics often associated with their movement. Not the people preaching hatred and intolerance.
They went after the peace activists. The journalists. The bloggers. The people calling for health care reform. The people calling for economic reform. The people who usually make a point of being non-violent in their protests. Sure, they’re uncooperative, but they are not violent or destructive.
And yet the police are treating them as if they were throwing bricks and molotov cocktails.
America is getting scary.
Make no mistake about it, my friends. We are now living in a police state.
And the worst of it is that the people who are running the show don’t seem to understand that they are creating the conditions that are more likely to lead to open revolt against the status quo.
If you allow people to protest, they tend to think, “Okay, things are fucked up, but at least we can still say that they’re fucked up, and protest, and march, because we have our constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. We can work with this.”
But when you stifle dissent…well…
In a way, society is like a pressure cooker. You need a way to vent pressure when it starts to build up to dangerous levels. Right now, certain factions within our society are trying to tighten the lid on the cooker, to prevent that venting from occurring. Protests are the steam valve that allows some of the pressure to bleed off.
Oppression breeds subversion. Rebellion.
Update: I edited this post to give the source for the quoted text (the Denver Post).
September 2, 2008 in 2008 elections, Authoritarianism, Big Brother, Civil rights, Duhbya, Ethics, Fear, Greed, Insanity, Mainstream media, McCain, Police state, Political Weasels, Republican convention, Republicans, Terror Management, War on terror, White House press | Leave a comment
Well, my friends, I was unable to get myself to St. Paul for the Republican National Convention this week. It just wasn’t in the cards, financially.
I don’t know whether to be bummed or relieved.
See, the blogger/activist side of me really wants to be there with cameras rolling, documenting what’s happening outside the convention. Because there is a lot of shit happening that really ought to be documented. More on that in a minute.
Then there is the self-preservation side of me, that wants to remain unbruised, unhandcuffed, unpeppersprayed, and un-arrested-on-ridiculous-trumped-up-charges.
Though you can’t tell it from the coverage in the mainstream media, the St. Paul police (and, according to at least some of the reports, the FBI) have been totally out of control for the past few days, trying to round up anyone who might have an opinion before the Republican convention gets started.
They’re not just arresting the activists. They’re also arresting journalists – they got Amy Goodman Monday afternoon, and also AP photographer Matt Rourke. And anyone who might be trying to document the police behavior. I read one report that said one or more of the lawyers who have shown up to represent activists have also been arrested.
Sorry, I can’t remember where I saw that one. I’ve been reading blog coverage – since the mainstream media has been totally fucking ignoring this – more or less continuously since I saw subMedia’s early Saturday morning report about the first police raid Friday evening. They’ve done two more since then, and both are must see. Lots of other people have been writing and posting videos about what’s going on in St. Paul. Here’s a few worth checking out.
Here’s the thing that’s got me nervous:
Regular readers of this blog may remember that back in early July, I had a pretty severe attack of paranoia. I was expecting some sort of faked terrorist attack (or a foiled fake terrorist attack) around the Fourth of July.
My understanding of terror management theory (see more that I’ve written on this subject here) and my beliefs about certain corporate and ultra-right-wing interests had me quite concerned about one or the other scenarios happening, because frankly, the Republicans actually need a terrorist attack at this point if they hope to win this thing using their fear tactic (since obviously Mr. Get-Off-My-Lawn-You-Damn-Kids’ charm isn’t doing the trick).
Well, my paranoia’s back, and lately it’s all centered around the city of St. Paul.
Let’s see what we have:
- A Republican convention that most of the Republican “all-stars” (Bush, Cheney, Schwarzenegger, etc.) have backed out of due, allegedly, to hurricane Gustav
- A Republican candidate with all the charm of Oscar the Grouch – one whose Senate colleagues think is too hot-tempered to be trusted in the Oval Office
- A Vice-Presidential candidate who is already under investigation and an embarrassment to her party due to her family, um, situation
Plus, a whole lot of liberal/left-wing activists who would serve very nicely as scapegoats if anything…unfortunate…were to happen during the convention.
Am I being overly cynical if I say that somewhere out there is someone with enough money (and no moral compass), someone whose interests would be adversely affected if the Democrats take control next year, or even maybe someone who just wants to help Jesus come back to earth now — and that that someone may try to take a bunch of lemons and make lemonade for himself?
Now, once again, I want to emphasize that I am not accusing Republican leadership of planning a terrorist attack on American soil. I really believe that most Republicans who hold public office honestly believe that what they are doing is best for the country, even though it is really only what is best for their country club buddies.
But their there (jeez, jane, proofread once in a while, will you?) are some sharks out there who lack all conscience, and have a kill or be killed mentality, who would think nothing of a little “collateral damage” if it served their bottom line.
I hope I’m wrong.
I’m probably wrong.
But I’m not going to stop worrying until the current bastards are literally out of the Oval Office and back on the ranch in Crawford.
Or better yet, cooling off in a nice federal penitentiary for their various high crimes and misdemeanors.
But that’s probably too much to hope for, isn’t it?
P.S. I still wish I had managed to find a way to get to St. Paul.
August 27, 2008 in 2008 elections, Authoritarianism, Big Brother, blah blah blah, California fires, Cheney, Civil rights, Democratic convention, Duhbya, Economic mess, Ethics, FISA, Greed, hypocrisy, Impeachment, Insanity, Iran, Iraq, Mainstream media, Police state, Political Weasels, Republicans, War on terror, White House press | Leave a comment
Mr. Emanuel –
Today, you posted an article at the Huffington Post lamenting the fact that the cable news networks are covering the Democratic National Convention as if it were a sporting event. “This is Real News,” moans your headline, “Don’t Cover it Like a Sport.”
I’m sorry, but where did you get the idea that either of the party conventions are real news?
Did anything unpredictable happen? Will the convention settle anything that wasn’t settled back when the Obama camp announced that it had enough votes to secure the nomination?
No, to both.
Frankly, watching the conventions is a bit like watching a televised awards show, but with longer speeches.
Meanwhile, the Denver police are pepper spraying and using their batons on peaceful protesters. Wars rage on in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush and Cheney want to start another war with Iran. The economy is in the toilet. Gas prices are so high they’ve finally done what all the screaming and yelling about global warming hasn’t been able to do so far – get Americans to drive less. High energy costs are driving up the cost of everything else, further harming the people at the bottom of the economic ladder. Political corruption is rampant. Companies like Blackwater and Halliburton are getting risk rich on our task dollars, at the cost of countless Iraqi lives, due to a war we never should have started in the first place. Our health care system is a mess. No Child Left Behind is wrecking our public schools. Our constitutional rights and any semblance of the personal privacy that was once considered our birthright as Americans are now in tatters. We seem on the verge of becoming that which we all profess to loathe – a fascist state. And nobody in the Bush administration has been impeached yet, despite numerous high crimes and misdemeanors.
To be perfectly honest, I think the cable news shows are giving the conventions about the level of respect they deserve. The only actual newsworthy event inside the Pepsi Center so far (that I’m aware of) has been Hillary’s speech, and that’s only because some of her fangirls just can’t let go and accept that she isn’t going to be the president come January 1, 2009.
Don’t get me wrong. I realize that the ultimate outcome of the elections come November is vitally important.
I’m just saying that most of what’s been happening inside the Pepsi Center for the past two days isn’t.
Yeah, yeah, I know. I haven’t posted anything in days in spite of having several posts at various stages of the drafting process. What can I say? I’m a horrible person.
I’ll blame part of it on the fact that I am gearing up for the Democratic convention in Denver next week. Denver is within fairly easy driving distance of where I am living at the moment, so I plan to go see what kind of trouble I can get into outside the Pepsi Center, where it’s being held.
I’ll be driving up there one day this week to scout the terrain and see what kind of WiFi I might be able to poach in the neighborhood, so I can decide if it is worth the trouble (and potential for damage) to bring my laptop for a little live blogging. I’ll be taking my camera, and am trying to arrange for a video camera so I can maybe interview a few people or document any police abuse of protesters.
Speaking of which, here’s a scary thing: apparently, the Denver police have set up some warehouse with chain-link fenced-in pens for holding protesters who are arrested. No restrooms, no chairs, no telephones, no meeting places to talk with lawyers. Just these cages that look eerily like what one sees livestock herded into on their way to the slaughterhouse. And here’s some fun: according to a local news report (be sure to watch the video), there are signs up in the facility warning that “electric stun devices” are in use there. These are intended as a “temporary holding facility” while people are being processed (which also sounds rather slaughterhouse-like, come to think of it). According to at least one account I read, they don’t anticipate anyone being held there for more than 2-3 hours.
Still, two or three hours is a long time if you really need to use the restroom.
Apparently, they’re already referring to it as Gitmo on the Platte.
Personally, I am hoping to avoid the place. I don’t want to spoil my perfect record of evading arrest for my political activities. I’ve come close a few times. There was this one time, back in my undergrad days, where I was driving one of the getaway cars after a bit of political vandalism…but I digress. Plus, I really can’t afford to hire a lawyer right now.
And frankly, until George W. Bush and his buddies actually turn over the keys to the next president, I’d rather not do anything that will make it more likely that they will send me off to the real Gitmo.
Things are getting scary here, people. Can we please impeach Bush and Cheney now?
I like to read foreign news coverage of domestic events. It provides a different perspective than what we typically get through our megacorporate mainstream media here.
Sometimes you find important stories that somehow never seem to make the nightly news here, because there just isn’t time to cover it, given the public’s apparent demand for minute-by-minute coverage about which tabloid magazine is going to publish the first pictures of Brad and Angelina’s twins (or whatever the celebrity crisis du jour is). The foreign press can also provide insight into how the rest of the world is perceiving and interpreting our various political leaders’ pontifications and bloviations.
Occasionally, getting a foreign take on something can be rather eye-opening.
Through some quirk of the internet, I ended up on a UK-based Amnesty International update list in addition to the material I receive from the US Amnesty International. Not news, precisely, but a newsletter of sorts, so close enough.
Today’s action item for Amnesty International was rather eye-opening:
Since Pakistan became a key ally in the US-led “war on terror” in late 2001 thousands of people, both Pakistani and foreign nationals, have been arbitrarily detained in Pakistan, denied access to lawyers, families and courts, and held in secret places of detention.
Placed outside all protection of law, they are victims of enforced disappearance. Several hundred of them have been unlawfully transferred into foreign, particularly US, custody and many of them have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated. (emphasis added)
That’s right, folks. We’re now officially the bad guys that Amnesty International is rallying its supporters against.
Can we just fast-forward to 1/20/09 before Dubya and his minions do any more damage to our reputation in the international community? Please?
About a week ago, I revisited an old friend of sorts. I re-read Antigone on a lazy Saturday afternoon, something I haven’t done in years. It was Paul Roche’s translation of Sophocles’ version of the tale, a battered copy, older than I am, picked up in some used book store years ago, with someone else’s notes in the margins and single words underlined here and there throughout, seemingly at random and not by me.
It’s a play I really wish someone would update and turn into a movie. I’ll spare you the plot synopsis, beyond noting that Antigone is both the daughter and half-sister of the Oedipus of Freudian fame, so her family dynamics could probably make the annual Thanksgiving dinner of the most dysfunctional family you’ve ever known seem Norman Rockwellian in comparison.
The central conflict in the play is the debate about whether it is better to obey the tyrant, who has the power to punish one in very unpleasant ways in the here and now, or to remain true to a higher law or moral principles. It’s about the choice between doing what is right and following orders.
When faced with someone in a position of authority giving orders, most people almost reflexively choose what is easy over what is right. It’s rather depressing really.
Certainly, this is the lesson history has taught us. German soldiers were only following orders when they killed millions of innocent people for the simple crime of being Jewish, or communist, or gay, or a member of some other group that a madman had designated a threat to the state. Yes, some of those orders had seemed, well, wrong, but orders were orders, so what else were they to do?
What else, indeed?
Starting around the time of the 1961 trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, a Yale social psychologist named Stanley Milgram performed a now-legendary series of experiments to assess the general willingness of members of the public to obey authority figures. The results were disturbing, to say the least.
Each volunteer who participated in the study was directed, by a man in a white lab coat with glasses and a clipboard (the scientist), to administer a series of increasingly strong shocks to another “volunteer” (the victim) every time the other person got a wrong answer on a memory task. Both the scientist and the victim were actually actors playing carefully scripted roles. The scientist remained in the room with the volunteer, while the victim went into a different room, where he could be heard but not seen by the volunteer. As the shocks increased in voltage, the volunteer heard sounds of distress from the victim, who also mentioned some sort of “heart condition.” If the volunteer continued to administer the shocks (increasing from a low of 15 volts to a high of 450 volts) long enough, the victim in the next room would eventually fall silent, not responding audibly to either questions or shocks. If the volunteer objected or tried to stop the experiment, he was told the following things, in this order:
- Please continue.
- The experiment requires that you continue.
- It is absolutely essential that you continue.
- You have no other choice, you must go on.
(Prompts courtesy of Wikipedia, which also has a more detailed description of the experiments.) The volunteer was only given permission to stop if he continued to object after the fourth prompt was given.
The idea was to identify the point at which people would say, “No, I won’t do this.”
Before conducting the experiment, Milgram surveyed both his students and his professional colleagues, asking them to predict the percentage of people who would continue all the way to the 450 volt level. Everyone thought that few if any would proceed all the way through the experiment as it was to be staged, with the average being 1.2 percent. (Again, details courtesy of the Wikipedia entry.)
As I noted before, the experiment was being conducted in 1961, near the time of Eichmann’s trial. The trial certainly would have received a fair amount of press coverage at the time, so theoretically, participants should have been somewhat sensitized to the problems that can arise from just following orders. One would think, or hope, that the colleagues and students were accurate in their predictions, that most of the participants would have at some point refused to continue to administer the shocks.
In the first run of experiments, sixty-five percent of the participants went all the way up to 450 volts.
Sixty-five percent. For the sake of an experiment.
The participants weren’t happy about doing it. They made their concern about the learner’s well-being clear, for the most part. But when prompted by the serious looking man with the clipboard, they kept right on going.
When the initial study was released, it got quite a lot of attention, as you might expect. And there were some at the time who thought students should be taught to question authority, and not just blindly follow orders that were clearly wrong.
Not much came of it, of course. Because the people who are running the country don’t want a bunch of citizens or soldiers or employees questioning their orders all the time. They want obedience from the masses. They want most people to do what they’re told, when they’re told to do it. And so you don’t hear a whole lot about questioning authority or thinking critically in your average high school classroom. Maybe in college. If you’re one of those liberal arts majors, or in political science, or psychology, or some other field that focuses on how people interact with each other. And even then, the focus is usually on skepticism and critical thinking, rather than outright defiance of authority.
I’ve been on a bit of a defying authority kick lately.
Actually, my mother would tell you that’s been a constant theme in my life since I was about five. Not always defying authority, but at least questioning it. The poor woman was mystified by my tendency to disagree with teachers, often rather loudly and at great length, with examples and the odd footnote thrown in. And that was just grade school. But I digress.
In addition to re-reading Antigone, I’ve also been making my way through Sebastian Haffner’s Defying Hitler, which chronicles the author’s experiences in Germany as the Nazis rose to power there. And last week I also pulled out my copy of Abbie Hoffman’s Revolution for the Hell of It, another used book store find, and have been going through that, as well.
Truth be told, my bookshelves are rather full of that sort of reading material, in one form or another. Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang. Lysistrata. Calvin & Hobbes. Dr. Seuss (that Cat in the Hat was a rebel, I tell you). Heck, even those books on Linux are related in a way, as they are part of my ongoing attempt to escape from the tyranny that is Microsoft and Apple.
But I always come back to Antigone.
She’s been my favorite ever since I read Jean Anouilh’s version of the play back in high school. His version was produced in Paris, in February of 1944, while Germany was occupying France and artists and playwrights there were forced to work under the suspicious eyes of Nazi censors. Anouilh’s version of the play was necessarily more nuanced, the ethical lines less clear than earlier versions of the story. The play never would have opened had it been otherwise, at least not before the Nazis were driven out of France. But it was clear enough to the audience what the story was about.
Antigone was the Resistance, Creon the Vichy government.
She’s a difficult character to warm up to. She’s a bit overbearing in her righteousness. And she’s also a bit defiant merely for the sake of being defiant: in the play, the second time she covers her brother’s body with dirt was unnecessary as far as the religious rites were concerned. His spirit would have already moved on. No, the second time, she buries him to make a point: that tyrants should not be obeyed when their edicts are unjust. And she is willing, even proud to sacrifice her life in order to make that point. You kind of have to think, is it really worth your life just to make a political point, when other lives aren’t hanging in the balance at that moment?
But when it comes down to standing up for one’s ideals, very few can hold a candle to her.
It’s just that I can’t help thinking how different the past few years might have been if various people in the upper echelons of our government had been a bit more in touch with their inner Antigone.
Like when Bush and Cheney were trying to start a “preemptive” war with Iraq based upon manipulated intelligence findings.
Or when someone suggested that torture should be made a part of official US policy.
Or when someone decided to run our Constitution through the shredder.
Or…well, you know, this could end up being an awful long list, now that I think about it.
On the other hand, would any one person have been able to make much of a difference at the time? It’s hard to say. Consider how more moderate voices in the executive branch were gradually forced out of their positions by the hard-liners. Or how the whole “Plame-gate” scandal got started because former Ambassador Joe Wilson spoke out publicly about his findings regarding administration claims that the Iraqis were attempting to acquire “yellowcake” uranium from sources in Africa. Or how U.S. Attorneys who refused to institute prosecutions against Democratic officials on flimsy pretenses were replaced by ones willing to take the case. Or…well, I guess this one could be a pretty long list, too.
So maybe there were plenty of people who were in touch with their inner Antigone, but they weren’t able to get the word out widely enough, or weren’t taken seriously by the media.
Our wonderful, consolidated, corporate-controlled, authoritarian-enabling mainstream media.
Where am I going with all this? I’m not really sure, to be honest.
Over the past few months or maybe years, my own inner Antigone has been reawakening. Stretching and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes after a long slumber. And I think that very soon, she’s going to be ready to take her act back out on the road.
I’m going to be making a few big changes in my life over the next few weeks, so my posting here will be a bit erratic for a while. I’ve decided to take fall semester off from my graduate studies, get out of Redstatesville for a while, and see what kind of trouble I can get myself into in the last few months before the November election.
It should be fun. Or at least interesting, which is often nearly as good as fun, and sometimes even better.
I’ll keep you posted, my dear non-existent readers (and also the one or two of you who have been leaving comments lately), when my plans are a bit clearer. For now, however, I have a six-year-old’s birthday party to attend one state over, so I need to be hitting the road.
And lest there be any doubt in the matter, I still think Bush and Cheney ought to be impeached.
* I used the masculine pronoun throughout my description of Milgram’s experiment instead of making it gender-neutral because back in the days when the study was being conducted, nearly all human psychological research used only white males as study participants.
For many years, the field of psychology, like the field of medicine, treated white males as the norm for the entire population, and everybody else who was not a white male was considered merely a deviation from the norm. The fact that most of the early psychological and medical research was also being conducted almost exclusively by white males is probably just a coincidence.
This lead to a lot of situations where the psychologists and doctors trying to apply the results of research to their patients found that the treatment or intervention (whether psychological or medical) did not work as advertised when dealing with patients who were not white males. This was particularly problematic on the medical side of things, as there were patients who actually died or suffered serious complications because their bodies did not respond the way a white male’s body would to the medications or dosages their doctors prescribed.
Often the most dangerous assumptions are the ones we don’t even realize we’re making.
What does this have to do with the rest of the post? Nothing, really. I just thought I’d mention it.