Monday, April 12, 2010

Racism, political violence and false equivalencies (6)

This is the last in a series of posts that I started a couple of weeks ago. Democrats are rightly starting to focus on the growing problem of far-right violence. Some of the analyses from our star pundits are done with the low level of thought and attention to fact and history that we've come to expect of them. But the problem is real, and is being fed by the Republican Party, both officially and unofficially. Rush Limbaugh has long been the Party's chief theoretician. And he, together with the de facto Party channel FOX News and prominent elected officials, are hyping real fanaticism with their accusations that Obama is setting up a Communist dictatorship by giving most people access to buy private health insurance.

John Amato at Crooks and Liars shares the video of Michele "Nostradamus" Bachmann with Chris Wallace: Crazier than ever, she still calls President Obama "anti-American" 04/11/10. Bachmann shays that "today the federal government effectively owns or controls 51% of the private economy", including health care which she counts as 18% of the 51%.

And that kind of Republican promotion of hysteria is unlikely to slack off any time soon. Bob McElvaine in Misdirected cause Jackson Clarion-Ledger 04/11/10 gives his perspective on the fear-mongering. Robert Perry provides an important analysis of the Republicans' political long game in A Method to Republican 'Madness' Consortium News 03/31/10.

But just because the Republicans and the far right are saying based on falsehoods that the country is going to hell in a wheelbarrow (my new favorite figure of speech!), that doesn't mean that there aren't deeply serious Constitutional problems that American citizens should be concerned about. Because there are.

Al Gore gave a remarkable speech to the Liberty Coalition on 01/16/10: Former Vice President Gore's Speech on Constitutional Issues Washington Post. After discussing admitted violations of law by the Cheney-Bush administration in their surveillance programs, he continues:

And the disrespect embodied in these apparent mass violations of the law is part of a larger pattern of seeming indifference to the Constitution that is deeply troubling to millions of Americans in both political parties.

For example, as you know, the president has also declared that he has a heretofore unrecognized inherent power to seize and imprison any American citizen that he alone determines to be a threat to our nation, and that notwithstanding his American citizenship that person in prison has no right to talk with a lawyer, even if he wants to argue that the president or his appointees have made a mistake and imprisoned the wrong person.

The president claims that he can imprison that American citizen -- any American citizen he chooses -- indefinitely, for the rest of his life, without even an arrest warrant, without notifying them of what charges have been filed against them, without even informing their families that they have been imprisoned.

No such right exists in the America that you and I know and love. It is foreign to our Constitution.

It must be rejected.

At the same time, the executive branch has also claimed a previously unrecognized authority to mistreat prisoners in its custody in ways that plainly constitute torture and have plainly constituted torture -- in a widespread pattern that has been extensively documented in U.S. facilities located in several countries around the world.

Over 100 of these captives have reportedly died while being tortured by executive branch interrogators. Many more have been broken and humiliated. And, in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, investigators who documented the pattern of torture estimated that more than 90 percent of the victims were completely innocent of any criminal charges whatsoever.

This is a shameful exercise of power that overturns a set of principles that you're nation has observed since General George Washington first enunciated them during our Revolutionary War.

They have been observed by every president since then until now.

They violate the Geneva Conventions, the International Convention Against Torture and our own laws against torture.

The president has also claimed that he has the authority to kidnap individuals on the streets of foreign cities and deliver them for imprisonment and interrogation on our behalf by autocratic regimes and nations that are infamous for the cruelty of their techniques for torture.
While the Obama administration has officially discontinued torture, and I assume that they have, they have not prosecuted the torture perpetrators from the previous administration. Nor are they prosecuting them for open violations of the law on the surveillance programs or malicious prosecutions or other crimes.

And the current administration has not only preserved many of the claims of Executive power such as indefinite detention with no legal charges that the Cheney-Bush administration used in committing those crimes. In significant ways, they have asserted expanded powers of government secrecy and counterterrorism actions.

Glenn Greenwald, Scott Horton and Marcy Wheeler are among the prominent bloggers who have been following these issues on a continuing basis.

As Glenn Greenwald points out in The criminal NSA eavesdropping program Salon 04/01/10, three federal judges have now held that the Cheney-Bush administration broke laws that represent multiple felonies in their massive NSA eavesdropping project. While these don't constitute final judgments of the matters of law or individual culpability, it's a reminder that those who call the officials responsible for that program criminals aren't just indulging in hyperbole. There were laws prohibiting what they did, and those laws should be enforced.

You can claim this is on the level of believing that President Obama isn't an American citizen or that he's planning to send around federal agents to confiscating everyone hunting rifles or IRS storm troopers to force you to sign up for health insurance. But that's pure fantasy. The violation of laws in the domestic spying program is not.

And apart from specific laws violated, this massive domestic surveillance program invites - in fact, almost guarantees - serious abuse of government power.

Greenwald describes the judicial findings that laws were violated as follows:

Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker yesterday became the third federal judge -- out of three who have considered the question -- to find that Bush's warrantless eavesdropping program was illegal (the other two are District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor and 6th Circuit Appellate Judge Ronald Gilman who, on appeal from Judge Taylor's decision, in dissent reached the merits of that question [unlike the two judges in the majority who reversed the decision on technical "standing" grounds] and adopted Taylor's conclusion that the NSA program was illegal).

That means that all 3 federal judges to consider the question have concluded that Bush's NSA program violated the criminal law (FISA). That law provides that anyone who violates it has committed a felony and shall be subject to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each offense. The law really does say that. Just click on that link and you'll see. It's been obvious for more than four years that Bush, Cheney, NSA Director (and former CIA Director) Michael Hayden and many other Bush officials broke the law -- committed felonies -- in spying on Americans without warrants. Yet another federal judge has now found their conduct illegal. If we were a country that actually lived under The Rule of Law, this would be a huge story, one that would produce the same consequences for the lawbreakers as a bank robbery, embezzlement or major drug dealing. But since we're not such a country, it isn't and it doesn't.
These crimes are real. And when government officials can get away with breaking the law the way the perpetrators in this case have so far, it encourages - again, virtually guarantees - that other officials will judge that they can get away with breaking these laws, or other laws they find inconvenient, or to use the same excuses to break laws in this case (national security, the very scary Terrorists, etc.).

And while the connection may be more complicated, government officials clearly getting away with violating the law in this way does erode respect for law because it erodes the rule of law itself. Along with other instances like Rove's program of partisan prosecutions carried out by the Bush Justice Department, this does encourage ordinary citizens to think, "Only dumb people get caught, and I'm smart enough not to." The connection is more complicated and harder to measure. But it's real, and it would be foolish for anyone committed to the rule of law to ignore it.

Bill Fisher gives a vivid example of the abuses of power to which such claims inevitably lead in Feel Safer Now? by Bill Fisher LobeLog Foreign Policy 04/06/10.

The Tea Partiers may be making scary claims that are unhinged from reality. And people need to call them out on it when they do.

But we also have some deep-seated problems in Constitutional governance that are continuing under the Obama administration that need to be addressed.

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