Tag Archives: political establishment

HAS OBAMA GIVEN THE GREEN LIGHT FOR ARMED REVOLUTION IN THE USA?

What are we waiting for?  There was a book I read in high school called “REICHTAG FIRE: ASHES OF DEMOCRACY” about Adolph Hitler’s staged communist attack on the German Parliament as grounds for shutting down the democratically elected Parliament which, ironically enough, had brought him to power.  Obama, the first “allegedly black”, President seems determined to do so much more damage to this Country’s constitutional heritage than even George W. Bush did—but Obama might get by with it because conservatives demand that the “allegedly most liberal”—President not go soft on the Al Qaida operatives, and Obama’s supports will see him as liberal (apparently) no matter how much like Joseph Stalin or Mao Tse Tung he becomes…  Here is Glenn Greenwald’s latest from Salon.com (Read it and Weep—especially all you IDIOTS who voted for OBAMA!):

Facts and myths about Obama’s preventive detention proposal

 

[Updated below – Update II (Interview with ACLU) – Update III – Update IV – Update V ]

In the wake of Obama’s speech yesterday, there are vast numbers of new converts who now support indefinite “preventive detention.”  It thus seems constructive to have as dispassionate and fact-based discussion as possible of the implications of “preventive detention” and Obama’s related detention proposals (military commissions).  I’ll have a podcast discussion on this topic a little bit later today with the ACLU’s Ben Wizner, which I’ll add below, but until then, here are some facts and other points worth noting:

 

(1) What does “preventive detention” allow?  

It’s important to be clear about what “preventive detention” authorizes.  It does not merely allow the U.S. Government to imprison people alleged to have committed Terrorist acts yet who are unable to be convicted in a civilian court proceeding.  That class is merely a subset, perhaps a small subset, of who the Government can detain.  Far more significant, “preventive detention” allows indefiniteimprisonment not based on proven crimes or past violations of law, but of those deemed generally “dangerous” by the Government for various reasons (such as, as Obama put it yesterday, they “expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden” or “otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans”).  That’s what “preventive” means:  imprisoning people because the Government claims they are likely to engage in violent acts in the future because they are alleged to be “combatants.”  

Once known, the details of the proposal could — and likely will — make this even more extreme by extending the “preventive detention” power beyond a handful of Guantanamo detainees to anyone, anywhere in the world, alleged to be a “combatant.”  After all, once you accept the rationale on which this proposal is based — namely, that the U.S. Government must, in order to keep us safe, preventively detain “dangerous” people even when they can’t prove they violated any laws — there’s no coherent reason whatsoever to limit that power to people already at Guantanamo, as opposed to indefinitely imprisoning with no trials all allegedly “dangerous” combatants, whether located in Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia, Western countries and even the U.S.


(2) 
 Are defenders of Obama’s proposals being consistent?

During the Bush years, it was common for Democrats to try to convince conservatives to oppose Bush’s executive power expansions by asking them:  “Do you really want these powers to be exercised by Hillary Clinton or some liberal President?”

Following that logic, for any Democrat/progressive/liberal/Obama supporter who wants to defend Obama’s proposal of “preventive detention,” shouldn’t you first ask yourself three simple questions:  

(a) what would I have said if George Bush and Dick Cheney advocated a law vesting them with the power to preventively imprison people indefinitely and with no charges?;

(b) when Bush and Cheney did preventively imprison large numbers of people, was I in favor of that or did I oppose it, and when right-wing groups such as Heritage Foundation were alone in urging a preventive detention law in 2004, did I support them?; and

(c) even if I’m comfortable with Obama having this new power because I trust him not to abuse it, am I comfortable with future Presidents — including Republicans — having the power of indefinite “preventive detention”?

 

(3)  Questions for defenders of Obama’s proposal:

There are many claims being made by defenders of Obama’s proposals which seem quite contradictory and/or without any apparent basis, and I’ve been searching for a defender of those proposals to address these questions:

Bush supporters have long claimed — and many Obama supporters are now insisting as well — that there are hard-core terrorists who cannot be convicted in our civilian courts.  For anyone making that claim, what is the basis for believing that?  In the Bush era, the Government has repeatedlybeen able to convict alleged Al Qaeda and Taliban members in civilian courts, including several (Ali al-Marri, Jose Padilla, John Walker Lindh) who were tortured and others (Zacharais Moussaoui, Padilla) where evidence against them was obtained by extreme coercion.  What convinced you to believe that genuine terrorists can’t be convicted in our justice system?

For those asserting that there are dangerous people who have not yet been given any trial and who Obama can’t possibly release, how do you know they are “dangerous” if they haven’t been tried?  Is the Government’s accusation enough for you to assume it’s true?

Above all:  for those justifying Obama’s use of military commissions by arguing that some terrorists can’t be convicted in civilian courts because the evidence against them is “tainted” because it was obtained by Bush’s torture, Obama himself claimed just yesterday that his military commissions also won’t allow such evidence (“We will no longer permit the use of evidence — as evidence statements that have been obtained using cruel, inhuman, or degrading interrogation methods”).  How does our civilian court’s refusal to consider evidence obtained by torture demonstrate the need for Obama’s military commissions if, as Obama himself claims, Obama’s military commissionsalso won’t consider evidence obtained by torture?

Finally, don’t virtually all progressives and Democrats argue that torture produces unreliable evidence?  If it’s really true (as Obama defenders claim) that the evidence we have against these detainees was obtained by torture and is therefore inadmissible in real courts, do you really think suchunreliable evidence — evidence we obtained by torture — should be the basis for concluding that someone is so “dangerous” that they belong in prison indefinitely with no trial?  If you don’t trust evidence obtained by torture, why do you trust it to justify holding someone forever, with no trial, as “dangerous”?

 

(4)  Do other countries have indefinite preventive detention?

Obama yesterday suggested that other countries have turned to “preventive detention” and that his proposal therefore isn’t radical (“other countries have grappled with this question; now, so must we”).  Is that true?

In June of last year, there was a tumultuous political debate in Britain that sheds ample light on this question.  In the era of IRA bombings, the British Parliament passed a law allowing the Government to preventively detain terrorist suspects for 14 days — and then either have to charge them or release them.  In 2006, Prime Minister Tony Blair — citing the London subway attacks and the need to “intervene early before a terrorist cell has the opportunity to achieve its goals” — wanted to increase the preventive detention period to 90 days, but MPs from his own party and across the political spectrum overwhelmingly opposed this, and ultimately increased it only to 28 days

In June of last year, Prime Minister Gordon Brown sought an expansion of this preventive detention authority to 42 days — a mere two weeks more.  Reacting to that extremely modest increase, amajor political rebellion erupted, with large numbers of Brown’s own Labour Party joining with Tories to vehemently oppose it as a major threat to liberty.  Ultimately, Brown’s 42-day scheme barely passed the House of Commons.  As former Prime Minister John Major put it in opposing the expansion to 42 days:

It is hard to justify: pre-charge detention in Canada is 24 hours; South Africa, Germany, New Zealand and America 48 hours; Russia 5 days; and Turkey 7½ days.

By rather stark and extreme contrast, Obama is seeking preventive detention powers that areindefinite – meaning without any end, potentially permanent.  There’s no time limit on the “preventive detention.”  Compare that power to the proposal that caused such a political storm in Britain and what these other governments are empowered to do.  The suggestion that indefinitepreventive detention without charges is some sort of common or traditional scheme is clearly false.

 

(5)   Is this comparable to traditional POW detentions?

When Bush supporters used to justify Bush/Cheney detention policies by arguing that it’s normal for “Prisoners of War” to be held without trials, that argument was deeply misleading.  And it’s no less misleading when made now by Obama supporters.  That comparison is patently inappropriate for two reasons:  (a) the circumstances of the apprehension, and (b) the fact that, by all accounts, this “war” will not be over for decades, if ever, which means — unlike for traditional POWs, who are released once the war is over — these prisoners are going to be in a cage not for a few years, but for decades, if not life.

Traditional “POWs” are ones picked up during an actual military battle, on a real battlefield, wearing a uniform, while engaged in fighting.  The potential for error and abuse in deciding who was a “combatant” was thus minimal.  By contrast, many of the people we accuse in the “war on terror” of being “combatants” aren’t anywhere near a “battlefield,” aren’t part of any army, aren’t wearing any uniforms, etc.  Instead, many of them are picked up from their homes, at work, off the streets.  In most cases, then, we thus have little more than the say-so of the U.S. Government that they are guilty, which is why actual judicial proceedings before imprisoning them is so much more vital than in the standard POW situation.  

Anyone who doubts that should just look at how many Guantanamo detainees were accused of being “the worst of the worst” yet ended up being released because they did absolutely nothing wrong.  Can anyone point to any traditional POW situation where so many people were falsely accused and where the risk of false accusations was so high?  For obvious reasons, this is not and has never been a traditional POW detention scheme.  

During the Bush era, that was a standard argument among Democrats, so why should that change now?  Here is what Anne-Marie Slaughter — now Obama’s Director of Policy Planning for the State Department — said about Bush’s “POW” comparison on Fox News in, November 21, 2001:

Military commissions have been around since the Revolutionary War. But they’ve always been used to try spies that we find behind enemy lines. It’s normally a situation, you’re on the battlefield, you find an enemy spy behind your lines. You can’t ship them to national court, so you provide a kind of rough battlefield justice in a commission. You give them the best process you can, and then you execute the sentence on the spot, which generally means executing the defendant.

That’s not this situation. It’s not remotely like it.

As for duration, the U.S. government has repeatedly said that this “war” is so different from standard wars because it will last for decades, if not generations. Obama himself yesterday said that “unlike the Civil War or World War II, we can’t count on a surrender ceremony to bring this journey to an end” and that we’ll still be fighting this “war” “a year from now, five years from now, and — in all probability — 10 years from now.”  No rational person can compare POW detentions of a finite and usually short (2-5 years) duration to decades or life in a cage.  That’s why, yesterday, Law Professor Diane Marie Amann, in The New York Timessaid this:

[Obama] signaled a plan by which [Guantanamo detainees] — and perhaps other detainees yet to be arrested? — could remain in custody forever without charge.There is no precedent in the American legal tradition for this kind of preventive detention. That is not quite right: precedents do exist, among them the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and the Japanese internment of the 1940s, but they are widely seen as low points in America’s history under the Constitution.

There are many things that can be said about indefinitely imprisoning people with no charges who were not captured on any battlefield, but the claim that this is some sort of standard or well-established practice in American history is patently false.

 

(6)  Is it “due process” when the Government can guarantee it always wins?

If you really think about the argument Obama made yesterday — when he described the five categories of detainees and the procedures to which each will be subjected — it becomes manifest just how profound a violation of Western conceptions of justice this is.  What Obama is saying is this:  we’ll give real trials only to those detainees we know in advance we will convict.  For those we don’t think we can convict in a real court, we’ll get convictions in the military commissions I’m creating.  For those we can’t convict even in my military commissions, we’ll just imprison them anyway with no charges (“preventively detain” them). 

Giving trials to people only when you know for sure, in advance, that you’ll get convictions is not due process.  Those are called “show trials.”  In a healthy system of justice, the Government giveseveryone it wants to imprison a trial and then imprisons only those whom it can convict.  The process is constant (trials), and the outcome varies (convictions or acquittals). 

Obama is saying the opposite:  in his scheme, it is the outcome that is constant (everyone ends up imprisoned), while the process varies and is determined by the Government (trials for some; military commissions for others; indefinite detention for the rest).  The Government picks and chooses which process you get in order to ensure that it always wins.  A more warped “system of justice” is hard to imagine.

 

(7)  Can we “be safe” by locking up all the Terrorists with no charges?

Obama stressed yesterday that the “preventive detention” system should be created only through an act of Congress with “a process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.” That’s certainly better than what Bush did:  namely, preventively detain people with no oversight and no Congressional authorization — in violation of the law.  But as we learned with the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and the Protect America Act of 2007, the mere fact that Congress approves of a radical policy may mean that it is no longer lawless but it doesn’t make it justified.  As Professor Amann put it:  “no amount of procedures can justify deprivations that, because of their very nature violate the Constitution’s core guarantee of liberty.”  Dan Froomkin saidthat no matter how many procedures are created, that’s “a dangerously extreme policy proposal.”

Regarding Obama’s “process” justification — and regarding Obama’s primary argument that we need to preventively detain allegedly dangerous people in order to keep us safe — Digby said it best:

We are still in a “war” against a method of violence, which means there is no possible end and which means that the government can capture and imprison anyone they determine to be “the enemy” forever.  The only thing that will change is where the prisoners are held and few little procedural tweaks to make it less capricious. (It’s nice that some sort of official committee will meet once in a while to decide if the war is over or if the prisoner is finally too old to still be a “danger to Americans.”)

There seems to be some misunderstanding about Guantanamo. Somehow people have gotten it into their heads is that it is nothing more than a symbol, which can be dealt with simply by closing the prison. That’s just not true. Guantanamo is a symbol, true, but it’s a symbol of a lawless, unconstitutional detention and interrogation system. Changing the venue doesn’t solve the problem.

I know it’s a mess, but the fact is that this isn’t really that difficult, except in the usual beltway kabuki political sense. There are literally tens of thousands of potential terrorists all over the world who could theoretically harm America. We cannot protect ourselves from that possibility by keeping the handful we have in custody locked up forever, whether in Guantanamo or some Super Max prison in the US. It’s patently absurd to obsess over these guys like it makes us even the slightest bit safer to have them under indefinite lock and key so they “can’t kill Americans.”

The mere fact that we are doing this makes us less safe because the complete lack of faith we show in our constitution and our justice systems is what fuels the idea that this country is weak and easily terrified. There is no such thing as a terrorist suspect who is too dangerous to be set free. They are a dime a dozen, they are all over the world and for every one we lock up there will be three to take his place. There is not some finite number of terrorists we can kill or capture and then the “war” will be over and the babies will always be safe. This whole concept is nonsensical.

As I said yesterday, there were some positive aspects to Obama’s speech.  His resolve to close Guantanamo in the face of all the fear-mongering, like his release of the OLC memos, is commendable.  But the fact that a Democratic President who ran on a platform of restoring America’s standing and returning to our core principles is now advocating the creation of a new system of indefinite preventive detention — something that is now sure to become a standard view of Democratic politicians and hordes of Obama supporters — is by far the most consequential event yet in the formation of Obama’s civil liberties policies.

 

UPDATE: Here’s what White House Counsel Greg Craig told The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer in February:

“It’s possible but hard to imagine Barack Obama as the first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law,” Craig said.  “Our presumption is that there is no need to create a whole new system. Our system is very capable.”

“The first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law” is how Obama’s own White House Counsel described him.  Technically speaking, that is a form of change, but probably not the type that many Obama voters expected.

 

UPDATE II: Ben Wizner of the ACLU’s National Security Project is the lead lawyer in the Jeppesencase, which resulted in the recent rejection by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals of the Bush/Obama state secrets argument, and also co-wrote (along with the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer) a superb article inSalon in December making the case against preventive detention.  I spoke with him this morning for roughly 20 minutes regarding the detention policies proposed by Obama in yesterday’s speech.  It can be heard by clicking PLAY on the recorder below.  A transcript will be posted shortly.

 

UPDATE III: Rachel Maddow was superb last night — truly superb — on the topic of Obama’s preventive detention proposal:

 

UPDATE IV:  The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson compares Obama’s detention proposal to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II (as did Professor Amann, quoted above).  Hilzoy, of The Washington Monthlywrites:  “If we don’t have enough evidence to charge someone with a crime, we don’t have enough evidence to hold them. Period” and “the power to detain people without filing criminal charges against them is a dictatorial power.”  Salon‘s Joan Walsh quotesthe Center for Constitutional Rights’ Vincent Warren as saying:  “They’re creating, essentially, an American Gulag.”  The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Will Bunch says of Obama’s proposal:  “What he’s proposing is against one of this country’s core principles” and “this is why people need to keep the pressure on Obama — even those inclined to view his presidency favorably.”

 

UPDATE V:  The Atlantic‘s Marc Ambinder — who is as close to the Obama White House as any journalist around — makes an important point about Obama that I really wish more of his supporters would appreciate:

[Obama] was blunt [in his meeting with civil libertiarians]; the [military commissions] are a fait accompli, so the civil libertarians can either help Congress and the White House figure out the best way to protect the rights of the accused within the framework of that decision, or they can remain on the outside, as agitators. That’s not meant to be pejorative; whereas the White House does not give a scintilla of attention to its right-wing critics, it does read, and will read, everythingGlenn Greenwald writesObama, according to an administration official, finds this outside pressure healthy and useful.

Ambinder doesn’t mean me personally or exclusively; he means people who are criticizing Obama not in order to harm him politically, but in order to pressure him to do better.  It’s not just the right, but the duty, of citizens to pressure and criticize political leaders when they adopt policies that one finds objectionable or destructive.  Criticism of this sort is a vital check on political leaders — a key way to impose accountability — and Obama himself has said as much many times before. 

It has nothing to do with personalities or allegiances.  It doesn’t matter if one “likes” or “trusts” Obama or thinks he’s a good or bad person.  That’s all irrelevant.  The only thing that matters is whether one thinks that the actions he’s undertaking are helpful or harmful.  If they’re harmful, one should criticize them.  Where, as here, they’re very harmful and dangerous, one should criticize them loudly.  Obama himself, according to Ambinder, “finds this outside pressure healthy and useful.”  And it is.  It’s not only healthy and useful but absolutely vital.

– Glenn Greenwald

REPUBLICAN CRIMES, REPUBLICAN CRIMINAL INTENT, AND THE POLITICAL AGENDA BEHIND IT ALL

Now, culminating the 8 year tragic-comedy, they “bail out” the totally fraudulent securitized mortgage industry, and how?  by spreading the funny money around a little farther….why?  Because this is George Bush’s last chance to avoid post-2nd term jailtime or oblivion by spreading around some money.  The mechanics of the bailout are quite uncertain—where is all this money going to go (all $850 billion?).  If it’s NOT going to homeowners threatened with foreclosure, where is it going?  Why is there a mortgage crisis at all?  If the system were working properly, “lenders” or “mortgage holders” could and would be relatively happy to end up with ownership of homes, right?  And if there were a gap of 3-6 months in re-renting a house or condominium, why should anyone care?  It is because the holders of the notes in securitized bundles are NOT able to foreclose, just as the mortgagees cannot negotiate with the real holders.  There is a gap, and this is the fraud: the gap is created by money-changing for no purpose.  There is no connection between buying a securitized mortgage and receiving money from the sale of property—the entire American economic system since George W. Bush’s daddy came to power has basically been one thing and one thing only: “printing money while on cocaine.”

One could almost believe, indeed, that the Republican party’s rock bottom rot over the past eight years was intended to make all kinds of perverse corruption more palatable, only because a large plurality, if not a majority of the American people believe that ANYTHING has to be better than what George W. Bush has given us.  There has never been a time since July 1, 1776, when it was harder to be “proud to be an American, [or to feel that] where at least I know I’m free.”  On the contrary, in the most punitively incarcerating nation in the world, we lock up 1% of our population in jail only to let the entire government be run by criminals.  And Obama is just another member of the super-elite criminal oligarchy—that’s why he’s got such a good chance of being President.  Ten years ago I would have said that McCain was NOT an insider, but he’s clearly sold out.  Ron Paul didn’t sell out and so they froze his votes at basically incredibly low, and incredibly consistently low, levels everywhere…. Oh, Cry, the Beloved Country!!!!  I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again. 


 

 How conservative greed and corruption destroyed American politics

 

 

Abramoff, DeLay, Norquist, oh my! The spectacular misrule of the GOP was not an accident.

By Thomas Frank

Aug. 07, 2008 | Washington is the city where the scandals happen. Every American knows this, but we also believe, if only vaguely, that the really monumental scandals are a thing of the past, that the golden age of misgovernment-for-profit ended with the cavalry charge and the robber barons, at about the same time presidents stopped wearing beards.
I moved to Washington in 2003, just in time for the comeback, for the hundred-year flood. At first it was only a trickle in the basement, a little stream released accidentally by the president’s friends at Enron. Before long, though, the levees were failing all over town, and the city was inundated with a muddy torrent of graft.
How are we to dissect a deluge like this one? We might begin by categorizing the earmarks handed out by Congress, sorting the foolish earmarks from the costly earmarks from the earmarks made strictly on a cash basis. We could try a similar approach to government contracting: the no-bid contracts, the no-oversight contracts, the no-experience contracts, the contracts handed out to friends of the vice president. We might consider the shoplifting career of one of the president’s former domestic policy advisors or the habitual plagiarism of the president’s liaison to the Christian right. And we would certainly have to find some way to parse the extraordinary incompetence of the executive branch, incompetence so fulsome and steady and reliable that at some point Americans stopped being surprised and began simply to count on it, to think of incompetence as the way government works.

But the onrushing flow swamps all taxonomies. Mass firing of federal prosecutors; bribing of newspaper columnists; pallets of shrink-wrapped cash “misplaced” in Iraq; inexperienced kids running the Baghdad stock exchange; the discovery that many of Alaska’s leading politicians are apparently on the take — our heads swim. We climb to the rooftop, but we cannot find the heights of irony from which we might laugh off the blend of thug and Pharisee that was Tom DeLay — or dispel the nauseating suspicion, quickly becoming a certainty, that the government of our nation deliberately fibbed us into a pointless, catastrophic war.

Bad apples all around

So let us begin on the solid ground of these simple facts: This spectacular episode of misrule has coincided with both the political triumph of conservatism and with the rise of the Washington area to the richest rank of American metropolises. In the period I am describing, gentlemen of the right rolled through the capital like lords of creation. Every spigot was open, and every indulgence slopped out for their gleeful wallowing. All the clichés roared at full, unembarrassed volume: the wines gurgled, the T-bones roasted, the golf courses beckoned, the Learjets zoomed, the contractors’ glass buildings sprouted from the earth, and the lobbyists’ mansions grew like brick-colonial mushrooms on the hills of northern Virginia.

Democrats, for their part, have tried to explain the flood of misgovernment as part of a “culture of corruption,” a phrase at once obviously true and yet so amorphous as to be quite worthless. Republicans have an even simpler answer: Government failed, they tell us, because it is the nature of government enterprises to fail. As for the great corruption cases of recent years, they cluck, each is merely a one-of-a-kind moral lapse unconnected to any particular ideology — an individual bad apple with no effect on the larger barrel.

Which leaves us to marvel helplessly at what appears to be a spectacular run of lousy luck. My, what a lot of bad apples they are growing these days!

Corruption is uniquely reprehensible in a democracy because it violates the system’s first principle, which we all learned back in the sunshiny days of elementary school: that the government exists to serve the public, not particular companies or individuals or even elected officials. We Are the Government, insisted the title of a civics primer published in the earnest year of 1945. “The White House belongs to you,” its dust jacket told us. “So do all the other splendid buildings in Washington, D.C. For you are a citizen of the United States.” For you, young citizen, does the Post Office carry letters to every hamlet in the nation. For you does the Department of Agriculture research better plowing methods and the Bureau of Labor Statistics add up long columns of numbers.

The government and its vast workforce serve the people: The idea is so deep in the American grain that we can’t bring ourselves to question it, even in this disillusioned age. Republicans and Democrats may fight over how big government should be and exactly what it should do, but almost everyone shares those baseline good intentions, we believe, that devotion to the public interest.

We continue to believe this in even the most improbable circumstances. Take the worst apple of them all, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose astonishing career as a corruptionist has been unreeling in newspaper and congressional investigations since I came to Washington. Abramoff started out as a great political success story, a protégé and then a confidant of the leaders of the conservative faction of the Republican Party. But his career disintegrated on news of the inventive ways he ripped off his clients and the luxury meals and lavish trips with which he bribed legislators.

Journalistic coverage of the Abramoff affair has stuck closely to the “bad apple” thesis, always taking pains to separate the conservative movement from its onetime superstar. What Abramoff represented was “greed gone wild,” asserts the most authoritative account on the subject. He “went native,” say others. Above all, he was “sui generis,” a one-of-a-kind con man, “engaged in bizarre antics that your average Zegna-clad Washington lobbyist would never have dreamed of.”

In which case, we can all relax: Jack Abramoff’s in jail. The system worked; the bad apple has been plucked; the wild greed and the undreamed-of antics have ceased.

Misgovernment by ideology

But the truth is almost exactly the opposite, whether we are discussing Abramoff or the wider tsunami of corruption. The truth is as obvious as a slab of sirloin and yet so obscured by decades of pettifoggery that we find it almost impossible to apprehend clearly. The truth slaps your face in every hotel lobby in town, but we still don’t get the message.

It is just this: Fantastic misgovernment of the kind we have seen is not an accident, nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society. This movement is friendly to industry not just by force of campaign contributions but by conviction; it believes in entrepreneurship not merely in commerce but in politics; and the inevitable results of its ascendance are, first, the capture of the state by business and, second, all that follows: incompetence, graft, and all the other wretched flotsam that we’ve come to expect from Washington.

The correct diagnosis is the “bad apple” thesis turned upside down. There are plenty of good conservative individuals, honorable folks who would never participate in the sort of corruption we have watched unfold over the last few years. Hang around with grassroots conservative voters in Kansas, and in the main you will find them to be honest, hardworking people. Even our story’s worst villains can be personally virtuous. Jack Abramoff, for example, is known to his friends as a pious, polite and generous fellow.

But put conservatism in charge of the state, and it behaves very differently. Now the “values” that rightist politicians eulogize on the stump disappear, and in their place we can discern an entirely different set of priorities — priorities that reveal more about the unchanging historical essence of American conservatism than do its fleeting campaigns against gay marriage or secular humanism. The conservatism that speaks to us through its actions in Washington is institutionally opposed to those baseline good intentions we learned about in elementary school.

Its leaders laugh off the idea of the public interest as airy-fairy nonsense; they caution against bringing top-notch talent into government service; they declare war on public workers. They have made a cult of outsourcing and privatizing, they have wrecked established federal operations because they disagree with them, and they have deliberately piled up an Everest of debt in order to force the government into crisis. The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job. Repairing it will require years of political action.

Conservatism-in-power is a very different beast from the conservatism we meet on the streets of Wichita or the conservatism we overhear talking to itself on the pages of Free Republic. For one thing, what conservatism has done in its decades at the seat of power is fundamentally unpopular, and a large percentage of its leaders have been men of eccentric ideas. While they believe things that would get them laughed out of the American Sociological Association, that only makes them more typical of the movement. And for all their peculiarity, these people — Grover Norquist, Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Newt Gingrich, and the whole troupe of activists, lobbyists, and corpora-trons who got their start back in the Reagan years — have for the last three decades been among the most powerful individuals in America. This wave of misgovernment has been brought to you by ideology, not incompetence.

Yes, today’s conservatives have disgraced themselves, but they have not strayed from the teaching of their forefathers or the great ideas of their movement. When conservatives appoint the opponents of government agencies to head those government agencies; when they auction their official services to the purveyor of the most lavish “golf weekend”; when they mulct millions from groups with business before Congress; when they dynamite the Treasury and sabotage the regulatory process and force government shutdowns — in short, when they treat government with contempt — they are running true to form. They have not done these awful things because they are bad conservatives; they have done them because they are good conservatives, because these unsavory deeds follow naturally from the core doctrines of the conservative tradition.

And, yes, there has been greed involved in the effort — a great deal of greed. Every tax cut, every cleverly engineered regulatory snafu saves industry millions and perhaps even billions of dollars, and so naturally securing those tax cuts and engineering those snafus has become a booming business here in Washington. Conservative rule has made the capital region rich, a showplace of the new plutocratic order. But this greed cannot be dismissed as some personal failing of lobbyist or congressman, some badness-of-apple that can be easily contained. Conservatism, as we know it, is a movement that is about greed, about the “virtue of selfishness” when it acts in the marketplace. In right-wing Washington, you can be a man of principle and a boodler at the same time.

The wrecking crew in full swing

One of the instructive stories We Are the Government brought before generations of schoolkids was the tale of a smiling dime whose wanderings were meant to introduce us to the government and all that it does for us: the miner who digs the ore for the dime has his “health and safety” supervised by one branch of the government; the bank in which the dime is stored enjoys the protection of a different branch, which “sees that [banks] are safe places for people to keep their money”; the dime gets paid in tax on a gasoline sale; it then lands in the pocket of a Coast Guard lieutenant, who takes it overseas and spends it on a parrot, which is “quarantined for 90 days” when the lieutenant brings it home. All of which is related with the blithest innocence, as though taxes on gasoline and quarantines on parrots were so obviously beneficial that they required little further explanation.

Clearly, a more up-to-date version is required. So let us follow the dime as it wends its way through our present-day capital. Its story, we will find, is the reverse of what it was in 1945. That old dime was all about service, about the things government could do for us. But the new dime is about profit — about the superiority of private enterprise, about the huge sums that can be squeezed out of federal operations. Instead of symbolizing good government, the dime now shows us the wrecking crew in full swing.

Our modern dime first comes to Washington as part of some good citizen’s taxes, and it leaves the U.S. Treasury in a payment to a company that has been hired to do work on the nation’s ports. Back in 1945, the government would have done the work itself, but now it uses contractors for such things. This particular contractor knows how to win a bid, but it doesn’t know how to do the work, so it subcontracts the job to another outfit. The dime follows, and it eventually makes up a worker’s salary, who incorporates it into his monthly car payment. From there it travels into the coffers of an auto industry trade association, which happens to be very upset about a rule proposed by a federal agency that would require cars to notify drivers when their tire pressure is low.

So the trade association gives the dime to a Washington consultant who specializes in fighting federal agencies, and this man launches challenge after challenge to the studies that the agency is using in the tire-pressure matter. It takes many years for the agency to make its way through the flak thrown up by this clever fellow. Meanwhile, with his well-earned dime, he buys himself a big house with nice white columns in front.

But this is only the beginning of the story. As we make our rounds of conservative Washington, we glimpse something much greater than single acts of incompetence or obstruction. We see a vast machinery built for our protection reengineered into a device for our exploitation. We behold the majestic workings of the free market itself, boring ever deeper into the tissues of the state. Ultimately, we gaze upon one of the true marvels of history: democracy buried beneath an avalanche of money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

– By Thomas Frank Copyright ©2008 Salon Media Group, Inc. Reproduction of material from any Salon pages without written permission is strictly prohibited. SALON® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as a trademark of Salon Media Group Inc.



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Mild Mainstream Media Musings on the Evils of Official Immunity (Glenn Greenwald from Salon.com)

Political harmony v. the rule of law: an easy choice for the political establishment

(updated below – Update II)

Former Congressman Harold Ford appeared at the Netroots Nation conference yesterday, argued that Bush officials shouldn’t be held accountable for crimes they committed while in office, and then insisted that Democrats shouldn’t be expected to defend civil liberties and Constitutional rights because — as one observer summarized Ford’s point — “the Constitution doesn’t poll very well.” In arguing against prosecutions for Bush lawbreaking, Ford said that Bush officials already have been subjected to accountability for their lawbreaking: “‘I think that accountability was brought in 2006 when [the GOP] lost in the House and the Senate,’ Ford said. ‘And we have only eight more months of George W. Bush . . .'”

Regarding Ford’s argument, casual_observer says in comments:

I think this is it, in crystallized form. “Accountability” equals loss of majority for one’s party. Majority — power — is all that matters. ‘Law’ comes in a distant second, if it is considered at all. 

Ford proudly terms himself a ‘centrist’ in the Democratic Party, but this position is radically un-democratic, and when viewed logically, is every bit as bad as the logic of Rove, Yoo, or Addington. It is anathema to a truly functioning democratic government.

That’s certainly true, but it’s hardly an uncommon view. Quite the contrary. I’d say that Ford’s view is as much a shared, Bipartisan Article of Faith among our political class as any other single idea. Here’s what The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer reported last week during her Washington Post chat:

Albany New York: I’ve already ordered your book from Amazon, but am very interested in your take on why there’s been no little effective political opposition to any of this Administration’s initiatives. Is it a question of limited public awareness or interest, or a more political calculation that one shouldn’t appear to be soft on terrorism? 

Jane Mayer: Since you’re in New York, let me tell you about a conversation I had with one of your senators, Chuck Schumer. When I asked him why, given his safe seat, and ostensible concern for civil liberties, he didn’t speak out more against the Bush Administration’s detention and interrogation programs, he said in essence that voters don’t care about these issues. So, he said, he wasn’t going to talk about them.

Writing from the Netroots Nation conference, The Nation‘s Ari Melber detailed what he calls “Bipartisan Attacks on the Rule of Law,” and specifically highlighted the fact that close Obama adviser, Professor Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago, “cautioned against prosecuting criminal conduct from the current Administration” during a Conference panel. As Melber wrote:

Prosecuting government officials risks a “cycle” of criminalizing public service, [Sunstein] argued, and Democrats should avoid replicating retributive efforts like the impeachment of President Clinton — or even the “slight appearance” of it.

As I documented last week, the idea that the Rule of Law is only for common people, but not for our political leaders and Washington elite, is pervasive among the political and pundit class, in both parties. While common Americans should be imprisoned in record numbers when they break the law, the worst that should happen to the political elite when they commit crimes is that they should be voted out of office. That’s the dominant mentality governing how our political system works. 

For all the talk about how radical and lawless the Bush administration has been, this widely-shared view that our political leaders should be immune from consequences for lawbreaking is the administration’s defining belief. After the 2004 election, President Bush held a news conference and was asked about the failures in Iraq, and this is what he said:

QUESTION: Why hasn’t anyone been held accountable, either through firings or demotions, for what some people see as mistakes or misjudgments? 

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 election.

On December 16, 2005 — the day after the NYT revealed that Bush was breaking the law in spying on Americans without warrants — Digby noted that exchange and wrote:

He, like Nixon, believes that the president has only one “accountability moment” while he is president. His re-election. Beyond that, he has been given a blank check. And that includes breaking the law since if the president does it, it’s not illegal, the president being the executive branch which is not subject to any other branch of government.

But it isn’t only the Bush administration that believes that. That was why Gerald Ford was widely praised for pardoning Nixon (Ford said “he acted to restore harmony and move on”). That’s the same argument used by Bush 41 to pardon Iran-contra lawbreakers, and it’s what the Washington Establishment said when — liberal and conservative pundits alike — they defended those pardons of Casper Weinberger and the other Iran-contra lawbreakers:

Another favored Republican was Reagan’s Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who like Shultz earned his insider spurs during the Nixon administration. Weinberger’s false Iran-contra testimony was even more blatant than Shultz’s, causing Walsh to indict Weinberger for perjury in 1992. 

The Washington elites rallied to Weinberger’s defense. In the salons of Georgetown, there was palpable relief in December 1992 when President Bush pardoned Weinberger and five other Iran-contra defendants, effectively ending the Iran-contra investigation.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen spoke for many insiders. In a column, Cohen described how impressed he was that Weinberger would push his own shopping cart at the Georgetown Safeway, often called the “social Safeway” because so many members of Washington’s Establishment shopped there.

“Based on my Safeway encounters, I came to think of Weinberger as a basic sort of guy, candid and no nonsense — which is the way much of official Washington saw him,” Cohen wrote in praise of the pardon. “Cap, my Safeway buddy, walks, and that’s all right with me.” [WP, Dec. 30, 1992.]

As Atrios pointed out and documented, “This was the basic view of much of the establishment ‘liberal’ commentariat.” 

And this is exactly what we are now hearing from the likes of Harold Ford, Chuck Schumer, Cass Sunstein, David Broder, Tim Rutten, and on and on and on — criminal prosecutions for government lawbreakers are far too disruptive and politically untenable and unfair. The only fair reaction is just to vote them out of office or wait until they leave on their own accord. All of the Beltway platitudes are trotted out — we can’t look backwards, or “criminalize policy disputes,” or get caught up in unpleasant battles over prosecutions when we have too many other important problems too solve — all in order to argue that, no matter what happens, our glorious political leaders should never be held accountable in a court of law, like everyone else is, when they break the law.

Why would we expect political officials to do anything other than break the law if we continuously tell them — as we’ve been doing — that they are exempt from consequences? And how can Bush — or Nixon — be criticized for conceiving of the Presidency as being above the law when that’s how our political establishment, including many Democrats, explicitly conceive of it as well?

In today’s The New York Times, Charlie Savage reports that right-wing activists have already begun agitating for full-scale pardons for all parties involved in Bush’s illegal surveillance and torture programs:

As the administration wrestles with the cascade of petitions, some lawyers and law professors are raising a related question: Will Mr. Bush grant pre-emptive pardons to officials involved in controversial counterterrorism programs? 

Such a pardon would reduce the risk that a future administration might undertake a criminal investigation of operatives or policy makers involved in programs that administration lawyers have said were legal but that critics say violated laws regarding torture and surveillance. Some legal analysts said Mr. Bush might be reluctant to issue such pardons because they could be construed as an implicit admission of guilt.

But several members of the conservative legal community in Washington said in interviews that they hoped Mr. Bush would issue such pardons — whether or not anyone made a specific request for one. They said people who carried out the president’s orders should not be exposed even to the risk of an investigation and expensive legal bills.

“The president should pre-empt any long-term investigations,” said Victoria Toensing, who was a Justice Department counterterrorism official in the Reagan administration. “If we don’t protect these people who are proceeding in good faith, no one will ever take chances.”

Emily Lawrimore, a White House spokeswoman, would not say whether the administration was considering pre-emptive pardons, nor whether it would rule them out.

Given the widespread consensus in our political class that criminal investigations and prosecutions for the crimes of political leaders are terribly uncouth and disruptive, it seems as though few things are more unnecessary than issuing pardons of this sort. But if Bush does end up issuing full-scale pardons for anyone involved in his illegal torture and surveillance programs, how can the Democratic leadership and pundit class object? They’re busy arguing now that the rule of law isn’t applicable to high government officials and that we should — once again — just overlook and forget about the rampant lawbreaking by our Government. 

Full-scale pardons are just the natural extension of this view — as is future presidential lawbreaking. We can pretend that Bush and Nixon had radical and fringe views of presidential lawbreaking but those views are far more accepted than such pretenses suggest.

UPDATE: About Harold Ford’s appearance at Netroots Nation, Ezra Klein says that because the netroots is so much more powerful and influential within the Democratic Party than the DLC is, it’s unnecessary for the netroots to battle against the likes of Harold Ford. It’s truly baffling how anyone could have watched the Bush-enabling Democrats over the last two years and claim that the DLC mentality is marginalized and the netroots mentality is predominant. If anything, the fading away of the DLC is a function of the fact that its worldview predominates in the Democratic Party and there’s thus no need for an organization like that to try to “reform” the Democrats by making them “centrist.” At Talk Left, Armando elaborates on that point.

UPDATE II: On a side (though not entirely unrelated) note, the aforementioned Obama friend, Cass Sunstein — protector of Bush lawbreakers, advocate of illegal Bush spying and radical presidential powers, and fierce critic of blogs as “anti-democratic” — earlier this month married beloved Obama foreign policy adviser Samantha Power. It’s amazing how these sorts of circles always end up being so cozily closed.

– Glenn Greenwald