Goodbye Constitution, Hello Waterboard

Last week Congress passed legislation as sweeping in its scope as it is dangerous in its intent. Throwing out the long-held legal principle of habeas corpus is patently unconstitutional — but it may take years, if ever, for a case to go before the Supreme Court. Also, in a blatant attempt at retroactively legalizing criminal behavior his administration has engaged in, Dubya was given authority to determine what constitutes torture. Both of these measures were responses to Supreme Court decisions that slapped down the administration’s bizarre legal interpretations.

An excerpt from an article by William Rivers Pitt:

So much of this legislation is wretched on the surface. Habeas corpus has been suspended for detainees suspected of terrorism or of aiding terrorism, so the Magna Carta-era rule that a person can face his accusers is now gone. Once a suspect has been thrown into prison, he does not have the right to a trial by his peers. Suspects cannot even stand in representation of themselves, another ancient protection, but must accept a military lawyer as their defender.

Illegally-obtained evidence can be used against suspects, whether that illegal evidence was gathered abroad or right here at home. To my way of thinking, this pretty much eradicates our security in persons, houses, papers, and effects, as stated in the Fourth Amendment, against illegal searches and seizures.

Speaking of collecting evidence, the torture of suspects and detainees has been broadly protected by this new legislation. While it tries to delineate what is and is not acceptable treatment of detainees, in the end, it gives George W. Bush the final word on what constitutes torture. US officials who use cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment to extract information from detainees are now shielded from prosecution.

Read the full article here:

That’s a bitter pill. How ’bout a spoonful of satirical sugar?
Stick a magnetic ribbon on your SUV

GOP: Party of Family Values
And now this from the GOP, party of family values. Republican Rep. Mark Foley got caught sending porno messages to a 16 year-old boy who had been a Congressional page. The article linked below has the actual
transcripts — be warned — you might find them revolting. Attempting to put a positive spin on it, conservative bloggers are lauding Foley for “doing the right thing” by resigning. Excuse me! It is also reported that other GOP lawmakers knew about Foley’s problem months ago and didn’t do anything. There ought to be a law against… oh yeah, Foley co-chaired the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, and had sponsored numerous bills aimed at protecting children from predators.

National Intelligence Estimate
If I were a conspiracy theorist, of course, I would speculate that the Foley affair was just a desperate attempt by the Republicans to distract voters’ attention from something much, much worse — the National Intelligence Estimate. Trying to get ahead of the controversy caused by leaked excerpts, Dubya declassified the document. The gist of the report, compiled by 16 US intelligence agencies, is that US efforts are making the problem of terrorism *worse* not better. Looking at the report you have to wonder why it was classified in the first place. It’s dire conclusions are what many of us predicted before the Bush administration (with ample help from the Democratic Party) started the war, and what should be apparent to anyone paying attention. Don’t take my word for it. Don’t believe the pundit spin. Read it yourself.

So there you have it. Going into the crucial midterm elections November 7, one almost feels sorry for the Republicans. The occupation of Iraq is a disaster of the first magnitude, according to their own intelligence agencies. Dubya is having to go further afield for advice that doesn’t sound like defeat, reportedly consulting Henry Kissinger. (Does being responsible for a previous foreign policy debacle qualify him to screw this one up, too?) In order to paint the Democrats as soft on terrorism they have had to rip up the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions. And to top it all off, they’ve been protecting a pedophile, making a mockery of their claim to represent “family values.” It’s a shame hypocrisy isn’t a fatal disease.

Hugo Chávez Prods the Devil

You will no doubt have heard of Hugo Chávez’s speech last week before the United Nations. Much hyper-ventilating from right-wing media, and even the Democrats were quick to condemn his rhetorical flourish that W. was “the devil.” The reaction from the punditocracy seems hysterical. If you bother watching the speech

(Real Player: rtsp://

a couple things are evident. First of all, the comments about W. being the devil were just a small part of a much longer speech. Chávez went on to say a lot of things that were really much more damning. To focus on the “diablo” reference seems a bit disingenuous. In any case, it’s also worth noting that the speech was *very* will received by the UN members present. The problem isn’t one little word in one Presidential speech, it’s the fact that much of the world — including many in the US — agrees with Chávez, irrespective of what they think of how he expresses himself.
Is name-calling effective? Depends on what you’re trying to achieve. It certainly got him lots of ink! Given the obstinate refusal of the press to discuss the substantive issues regarding US foreign and economic policy, perhaps you take what you can get. Bill Clinton commented on Fox News that Chávez’s tactics could backfire: “It makes him look small and undermines his effectiveness.” I tend to agree, although, while that may be true in the US, Chávez is playing to a global audience that may look beyond the epithets.
Gov. Pataki made this bizarre comment: “This person has no right coming to our country to criticize our president,” Pataki said in a phone interview on FOX News.

“He can take his cheap oil and do something for the poor people of Venezuela.”

Um… Governor, that *is* what he’s doing, and that’s the “problem.” Rather than talking about whether someone has “the right” to criticize Bush, how about talking about the substance of the underlying criticism?
And these repeated assertions that Chávez is a dictator…? He’s repeatedly won overwhelming victories in democratic elections! You can’t say the same on either count for W. “Dictator” isn’t an accurate description, it’s just more name-calling.
It’s hardly news that Chávez has a low opinion of Bush. Back in March, responding to White House comments characterizing him as a demagogue, Chávez gave Bush a piece of his mind, calling Bush a coward, psychopath, assassin, ignoramus, a donkey, a liar, an alcoholic. “Eres un burro, Mr. Danger.” Those comments are now being rehashed by the media. Eh. So El Presidente has a florid vocabulary. Big deal.
The worst thing about the name calling is that it encourages Bush’s defenders to respond in kind. In doing so, the substantive criticisms that Chávez is making get conveniently swept under the rug.
What would the US media be discussing if they wanted to look at substance rather than style? Perhaps the role that petroleum plays in the conflict. Reporter Greg Palast asks Chávez some hard questions in this interview:
The Bush administration backed a coup in Venezuela, and understandably, Chávez is a bit testy about that! Consider, for a moment, what the US reaction would be if a foreign government funnelled millions of dollars into violent anti-Bush groups, formed an alliance with dissident members of the US Army who surrounded the White House with tanks and kidnapped the President, and then tried to legitimize the coup by recognizing its perpetrators. (Maybe that’s a bad example! I’m sure there are some of us who’d love to see Bush “rendered” to some nation we’ve designated as prone to human rights “abuses.”)
To get an incredible inside look at the coup as it actually unfolded, check out “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” This film is a little over an hour long, and very gripping. It gives a favorable view on Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution. Highly recommended.
It turns out that Chávez has been reading Noam Chomsky, and during the UN speech held aloft his 2003 book “Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Domination.” I haven’t read the book, but I’m familiar with Chomky’s work. The proposition that US policy is dictated by corporate economic interests seeking a dominant global position seems so obvious as to not be worth arguing, but I’m sure Chomsky provides copious references and footnotes to support it. After the Chávez speech, the book shot to number one on the bestseller list. (Next up on my political reading list: “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins.)
What makes Chávez the Bush Administration’s bête noire is that he is attempting to implement a fundamentally different sort of economic structure, one that is directly antagonistic to the model of economic domination and exploitation (globalization and neo-liberalism) favored by the Bushies. That, plus the fact that oil gives him the economic muscle to actually have an impact.
I am sure that the Bolivarian Revolution is not perfect. I would be surprised if there have not been excesses and mistakes. Indeed, Human Rights Watch, which supported Chávez at the time of the attempted coup, has been critical of him since then. (See:

Of course, Human Rights Watch is also highly critical of the US, so I’m not sure we’re in much of a position to hurl brickbats at Venezuela, either.


Villainy or Virtue?

Villainy or virtue? Context is everything. V for Vendetta, the recent release from the Wachowski brothers, provides a prism of meanings, where any particular meaning depends on the individual viewer’s reflection. Moral absolutists will find the ambiguity vexing. Tough. Here’s my take.

The film begins in 1605 with the story of Guy Fawkes’ attempt to blow up Parliament and assassinate the King. Quickly, though, it pole-vaults the present to land us in a dystopic London 20 years in the future. A totalitarian government keeps the population in place with intimidation, propaganda and omnipresent surveillance.

Sandwiched between 17th Century religious oppression and a familiar vision of a fascist future (Orwell’s 1984 and Nazi Germany are strongly evoked), the casual references to present-day events have the viewer shifting contexts. Seeing the ubiquitous surveillance cameras it’s easy to be reminded that London is the current leader in deployment of such devices with an estimated 400,000. Are the film’s futuristic audio surveillance vans all that far behind? The vitriolic TV pundit “The Voice of London” spews his jingoistic, homophobic tirades, and how can we not be reminded of a certain cable network bully? Allusions to the war “the United States started” can’t help but resonate with the current catastrophe in Iraq. These sparing references prevent us from slipping too complacently into what might otherwise be an entertaining futuristic fantasy, events happening in a galaxy comfortably “far, far away.”

V for Vendetta is a film about revolution. Certainly, the revolution of bombs and assassination, but also the personal revolution that is at the heart of all great revolutions and revolutionaries. Che Guevara said “The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” And so it is with “V”, our hero, or anti-hero, if you prefer. Revolution is a matter of the heart, a passionate battle for truth, and fearsome defense of liberty, of love, of human dignity. In the nobility of that cause, what means do we allow ourselves? How far do we go before we sacrifice what we would succor? V is as merciless in his vendetta against the guilty as he is in the liberation of his young protégé, Evey, whose own internal revolution of love and freedom he induces. As Guevara also said, “the oppressor must be killed mercilessly…the revolutionary must become an efficient and selective killing machine.” V is exactly that — efficient and selective, a lover and a killer. What revolution of the soul must one suffer to become that?

The idea doesn’t sit well with my pacifist friends, steeped in Satyagraha. I wonder if the conditions that made nonviolent change possible in India, or in the Deep South, apply today. Is nonviolence universally applicable as a tool for change, or only effective at certain points in history? Does nonviolence not depend on the ability of the oppressor to feel shame? It finally worked with the British, but would it have worked with Pol Pot? Gandhi said “Love does not burn others, it burns itself. Therefore, a satyagrahi, i.e., a civil resister, will joyfully suffer even unto death.” Considered in that light, I wonder whether my friends will suffer even unto their deaths, or are effectively choosing hopeful complacency in the face of the long train of abuses and usurpations perpetrated by our nascent suzerain.

V for Vendetta throws a lighted match in our pool of political gasoline by asking how brutally people will allow themselves to be abused, for how long, and what means might they ethically use to put an end to their oppression. Any means necessary?

John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable.” A corollary might be that violence is also inevitable if good men simply do nothing. As we witness the steady erosion of our civil liberties, at what point do we actually do something, as opposed to merely nodding our heads politely at cocktail parties and murmuring that it’s indeed a deplorable situation? A revolution comes not from agreement but from action. It comes when enough people align their actions to that end, perhaps even seemingly insignificant actions. Why, one could even be part of a revolution inadvertently, by forwarding an email. In a networked age, receiving an email may be all it takes to be labelled a revolutionary — or a terrorist; and never truer the words of Benjamin Franklin on signing the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Hijacking a television broadcast, V sends the following message to the people of London:

There are of course those who do not want us to speak. I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way. Why? Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the annunciation of truth. And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there? Cruelty and injustice, intolerance, and depression. And where once you had the freedom to object, think, and speak as you saw fit, you now have sensors and systems of surveillence coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. We, ourselves, are responsible for the fact that something is terribly wrong with this country.

No truth could be more refreshingly inflammatory in our present political predicament, and no message more timely, because accepting responsibility for what is terribly wrong with this country is the necessary preliminary to setting things right. When sufficient numbers of Americans turn words into action no government can stand in their way. “People should not be afraid of their government,” V says, paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson, “Governments should be afraid of their people.”

There is still a window of opportunity wherein Americans can act to effect peaceful change. It is by no means assured, of course, but at least our Constitution provides for that possibility. If Congress can impeach a president for a fib about fellatio, it can certainly impeach him for fabricating a pretext for war, “extraordinary” renditions, and for violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Failure to take action now may lead to a future not unlike what is depicted in V for Vendetta where the stark choice will be submission or violent revolt. Let’s not go there.