Politics: January 2006 Archives

House arrest

If she just had the common decency to wear Old Navy or GAP, it would only have been American business as usual and there wouldn't have been any fuss.

Even MSNBC can't make Cindy Sheehan look like a miscreant.

Capitol Police Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said Sheehan had worn a T-shirt with an antiwar slogan to the speech and covered it up until she took her seat. Police warned her that such displays were not allowed, but she did not respond, the spokeswoman said.

The T-shirt bore the words “2,245 Dead — How Many More??” in reference to the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq, protesters told NBC News.

Police handcuffed Sheehan and removed her from the gallery before Bush arrived.

[image by Jason Reed from REUTERS]

see, if you're a Democrat they can make your oh-so-patriotic scads of flags quite invisible

Al Gore has disappointed me over and over again in the past, but what is that saying about a drowning man grasping at straws? Unfortunately in this case the threatened demise is that of an entire polity and its people aren't even going to be in a position to see the straws before they go under.

I've just watched the entire video of the former Vice President's very impressive speech delivered inside Washington's DAR Constitution Hall yesterday. You can catch it here on C-SPAN [see "recent programs" under "video/audio"]. The written text is available here, corrected for the words actually delivered.

This major address, although brilliantly assembled and delivered, seems to have been largely ignored by the media - or, for that matter, anyone else who could profit from its warnings and its call to action. The NYTimes for one gave it only a passing mention in two and a half small paragraphs at the end of a page 14 story about lawsuits being filed against the Bush administration's domestic spying program. What on earth is the matter with those people? I think they've totally lost it.

In any nation with a responsible government and press this speech would have been front page news. This was a major political statement (actually it was more in the way of a dramatic cry of alarm and outrage) presented on a monumental day and in an historic hall by a famously temperate politician who is arguably the leading spokesperson for the leading opposition party of a government and a nation which is in serious trouble. The content of this address even if it hadn't included an accusation of executive tyranny and an implied call for the impeachment of a sitting president should be all the buzz in the halls of government and everywhere on the streets of the nation today and for some time to come.

But we have no real opposition party in America today, and people have to know about something before they can buzz. In the third century of his beloved United States we bear no resemblance to Jefferson's ideal of an informed citizenry. I'm afraid our republic really is now beyond resuscitation. This puts me somewhat at odds with Gore's optimistic conclusion, although I understand his is ultimately still a political speech.

Is this man running for president? But I thought we went through that already and it turned out he didn't really want it after we gave it to him.

Anyway, I'm definitely not a politician; when I hear the thoughts I have already lived with for years echoed by the vice-president's lines recorded just yesterday, I feel not hope but only despair:

Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is "yes" then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the President has the inherent authority to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison American citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?

The Dean of Yale Law School, Harold Koh, said after analyzing the Executive Branch's extravagant claims of these previously unrecognized powers: "If the President has commander-in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution."

The fact that our normal American safeguards have thus far failed to contain this unprecedented expansion of executive power is, itself, deeply troubling.

Gore thinks we'll wake up, come to our senses and restore the Constitution. But I'm thinking, the "safeguards" he speaks of were built into that document and they amounted to much of its substance but they didn't work. I believe that no constitution can be reconstituted once it has been so easily trashed, We've certainly trashed ours, and for no real cause but an irrational fear, hardly a suitable building material for a free people.

If I have any other quarrel with Gore's rhetoric or delivery on this occasion it is that even when he is describing the most egregious assaults on our historic liberties and fundamental law he still only begins to approach the fire his message demands.

And oh yes, not to be too picky about visual design, but did they really have to plant nine (9) American flags directly behind him for 65 minutes? I know, I know, we aren't supposed to let the radical Right take possession of every one of our dear old war banners, but don't we know yet that the Republicans will always win that particular numbers game? [see photo above]

[image by Susan Walsh from AP via Washington Post]

Jane and Louise Wilson Stasi City 1997 video [still from installation]

All this blithering about to execute or not to execute, for the death penalty or against - all rot, comrades. Execute! And, when necessary, without a court judgment." - Erich Mielke, GDR Minister for State Security, in a 1982 address to high-ranking Stasi officers [from "Stasiland"]

While still trying to fathom my fellow Americans' seeming indifference to extraordinary reports about our National Security Agency's domestic spying operations I've found myself reading Anna Funder's "Stasiland".

It's a terrifying story and it's incredibly depressing, even if it ultimately ends somewhat happily in 1989 - happily for those who survived. Oddly, and unfortunately, it's also a story which many Germans seem to want very much to forget.

I have to confess that even I wasn't very interested in the particulars of Stasi history until recently, in spite of having regularly and almost literally bumped into the physical relics of its power in the eastern neighborhoods of Berlin last fall. It was actually Barry's idea to order "Stasiland" from the library when we returned from Germany, having heard about its existence while we were there.

Since he was too busy with projects to begin reading it when it arrived, I took up the book myself, at first almost casually, although a somewhat dutifully, and certainly thinking it would be a bit of a drudge. Only then, when I became totally absorbed in this world I wish had only existed in the imagination of George Orwell, did I realize how relevant this brilliant account from both its victims and its perpetrators was to what was going on around me today.

Today's Germans may entertain the luxury of this selective amnesia about the very recent past, but the course of our own recent political history has made it more and more clear that we, as citizens of the nation which was so important as both model and midwife in the birth of their post-war democracy, must not.

"Stasi" was the common name for the East German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry of State Security). I think it's interesting that the increasingly-threatening contemporary U.S. equivalent should go by a name virtually identical to that given to the hated DDR secret police. Ministry of State Security or National Security Agency. There is only the slightest semantic difference between the two, little more than a question of style.

The German victims of an experiment gone very wrong are quite free today, but here in the land of the free and the home of the brave we seem anxious to build our own police state, or we're at least remarkably indifferent to the construction going on all around us.

If we want to get the attention of a sleeping citizenry, maybe we'll have to come up with an appropriate nickname for our own National Security Agency, a tab which could hold its own when set next to the one which described the East Germans' nightmare. My own first thought? "NASY" (with the second letter pronounced "ah" of course)

"Well, when the president decides that he can do whatever he wants in violation of the law, including detaining citizens without charges and spying on citizens without warrants, that pretty much is the definition of a police state. It's the claimed authority that matters, not the extent to which it's used." Atrios

[image from Bayerisches Rundfunk]

This page is an archive of entries in the Politics category from January 2006.

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