Friday, December 23, 2005

Some "almost end-of-the-year" musings

So, I had to do a bit of traveling last night to take care of some business in central Oklahoma, and came back this afternoon. Since then, we've been getting things ready for the trip to my wife's folks - which will be about a two-day drive each way. Thankfully, we'll have Mother Nature on our side on the way there this year. We'll see what happens on the way back.

There was something from the liner notes of an Archie Shepp album (Live in San Francisco, which by the way is an excellent album) that caught my eye, where Archie says:

"Love is fundamental to art. I can't go to work with hate in my heart. I go to work with love in my heart. But love can express itself in bitterness and rage. That's only an aspect of love."

That I think sums up my own work, whether it's in the classroom, in poetry, my professional writing, or when it comes to blogging. Friends and acquaintances have referred to my poetry as dark - sometimes gloomy, sometimes angry. The same is said about my sense of humor, and again the same could be said about what I do here in my little corner of blogtopia. Know that the anger that can periodically jump out at you has its foundations in love: for my family, my country, my planet, my faith, etc. I sincerely doubt I could create - whether in an off-the-cuff blog remark or something more substantive such as a scientific paper - with hate in my heart. Hate destroys. There's no need to go there. And love in all its forms, is everywhere to be found.

As mentioned earlier, I will be blogging sporadically at best for the rest of the month. I suspect that between traveling, and catching up with friends and family, I will have plenty to see and do. What I may lack in riches is more than made up for by the love shared with the people who have been and who have become part of my life. Those human connections are what keep us going.

Peace and love y'all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Postscript to the Previous

Dave Johnson poses some questions about Bu$hCo's use of unauthorized spying:

1) Is the White House listening in on Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald's calls and e-mails as he investigates White House crimes?

2) Was the Bush campaign listening in on calls and e-mails from the people in charge of the Kerry campaign?

3) Is the Bush Administration using the NSA to determine whether applicants for jobs, travel, etc. are Bush supporters or not?

4) Did the NSA tip off the Bush Administration that the federal prosecutor in Guam was looking into Jack Abramoff?

5) Did Bush use this new spying capability to monitor "groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief"?

One F.B.I. document indicates that agents in Indianapolis planned to conduct surveillance as part of a "Vegan Community Project." Another document talks of the Catholic Workers group's "semi-communistic ideology." A third indicates the bureau's interest in determining the location of a protest over llama fur planned by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
6) When Bush says we are only spying on "the enemy" does he mean that same enemy that Senior White House Advisor and Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove means when he says,
liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers
Republicans say they are only monitoring the phone calls and e-mails of "the enemy." But they also say that we - you and I - are "the enemy."
Johnson follows that up with an email to a conservative blogger under the title, "Which 'Enemy' are they Spying On?"

"No, Abu Ghraib isn't Auschwitz, but you can see it from there."

Maryscott O'Connor's Slouching Toward Kristallnacht is absolutely must-read material, as it excerpts some disturbing passages from Milton Mayer's They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933 - 1945. The general thrust of Mayer's writing fits in with the context of some other items I've highlighted in the last few days. Whether we label the current Zeitgeist of our nation fascist, pseudo fascist, or right-wing authoritarian, there is little doubt that something is decidedly wrong.

One wonders where the mass protests are whenever the latest White House outrage occurs. One waits for these goons to step so far out of bounds that there will be a flood of people storming DC demanding regime change. And yet, as each scandal turns out to be worse than the previous, as more evidence comes to light as to the threat to the Constitution posed by the Men of Steal who run DC, one finds nary a peep. Perhaps the key comes from Mayer's writing and the comments to Ms. O'Connor's diary. To wit: the mass outrage is unlikely to happen. As Mayer points out, the transformation from republic to fascist dictatorship does not occur overnight, but very gradually - so gradually that few manage to notice, and those who do notice are branded as paranoid (or as "defeatists" or "traitors" among other pejoratives). As one of my occasional commenters has noted elsewhere, fascism becomes so deeply engrained into the cultural Zeitgeist that folks simply do not recognize it, even in their own actions.

Although I realize that many find the comparisons between Bush and Hitler to be mere hyperbole, there is something to be said for it. One might say, "Bush hasn't ordered the deaths of millions of human beings. Abu Ghraib and Gitmo are not Auschwitz." I would be inclined to agree as far as the point takes us. And yet, as the title of this particular entry spells out, you can definitely "see" Auschwitz from the vantage point of Abu Ghraib and Gitmo. One can definitely "see" Kristallnacht from the vantage point of the current Spygate scandal. Our Congress critters have consistently failed to reign in the increasingly outrageous behaviors of the present administration; hence, slowly but steadily, the administration has felt greater freedom in taking the next step down the road to fascism. In just a few short years since this century began, we've managed to reach a point where merely meekly asserting that the legislative and judicial branches of government are intended by the Constitution to be co-equal gets one labeled a "defeatist," a "traitor," or as someone who is "opposed to protecting our national security." That is what Bu$hCo and the various right-wing Congress critters and mass media pundits say consistently day in and day out. Having been able to get away with so much for so long, Bu$hCo can now openly dismiss and ignore the other branches of government, with the confidence that they'll get away with it once again.

Perhaps I'm jaded, but let's face it, the jackals are running DC and have been for several years, and they've made it clear: you either run with them or you run with the hunted. If you run with the hunted, it's a damned good idea to avoid complacency as the jackals will eventually come after you the next time they feel the primal urge to taste raw flesh and blood. A lot of my liberal friends fail to understand this basic lesson, and whether they wish to recognize it or not, they are running with the hunted. Whether they'll get it in time is an open question.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

As the Spygate Scandal Unfolds

There are days when one wonders just how more ridiculous a Bu$hCo scandal can become, and then it happens: one gets an answer. Among other things, we learn today that our Pentagon anti-terror investigators considered university gay student organizations a "credible threat." Apparently, disagreeing with the military's "don't ask/don't tell" policy is considered "terrorism." Give me an effin' break. Equally stupid is our goverment snoopsters treating such actions as fighting poverty as acts of terrorism. Gotta keep tabs on those Quakers and Catholic Workers groups, as they may spread peace and justice wherever they go. Oh the horror!

It appears that it isn't just the usual liberals and leftists (there is a distinction, fyi) who question the legality of Bu$hCo's anti-Constitutional approach to spying. There are also some notable conservatives who are, shall we say, not amused: Bruce Fein and George Will come to mind. In the court of public opinion, it appears that Bu$hCo's lame justifications for acting like a wannabe king just don't play in Peoria. Get outside the Beltway and the usual set of Bu$hCo cult members and let's say that there are plenty of good folks who know a scam when they see one.

Oh, and we also can note that the "Newspaper of Record" (Is that a record of misdemeanors or felonies? It's so hard to keep up these days), New Pravda sat on the surveillance story for over a year - in fact the NYT could have reported the story prior to November 2004's election. Would it have affected the outcome? Maybe. Yeah, Kerry was no prize. If nothing else, his administration would not be so inclined to wipe their patrician bottoms with the Constitution as is the case with the current gang of idiots in the White House.

Filibuster fever in the Senate? Maybe...

Sen. Cantwell threatens to lead a filibuster of Sen. Steven's latest scheme to allow drilling on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (i.e., he attached it to the DOD appropriations bill). That's in addition to Sen. Feingold's willingness to lead a filibuster of the House-Senate Patriot Act renewal legislature. Every once in a while some of our Congress critters show evidence of a spine.

Tuesday Thought Piece


by Jack M. Balkin

December 4, 2001

Jack M. Balkin is a professor of constitutional law and the First Amendment at Yale Law School.

Moments of crisis do not merely create emergencies. They also create temptations.

Many see the central issue before us as how to balance civil liberties and national interests. This is wrong. The danger we face today is not that government officials will make hasty decisions out of fear or that they will strike the wrong balance between liberty and security. It is that they will use a national crisis as an opportunity to make themselves more powerful and less accountable for what they do -- not because they are corrupt and venal but because they are so utterly convinced of their uprightness.

In times of fear, authoritarian impulses are less constrained and people feel less able to complain about them. After all, no one wants to be thought unpatriotic when the country is in such grave danger. And when there is no check on government officials certain of their own rectitude, the temptation for them to act unilaterally and arbitrarily becomes irresistible.

Such is the problem we face today, with a president and an attorney general who have dedicated themselves to stamping out all evildoers both outside the country and within it.

An increasingly authoritarian tone is pervading the Bush administration. We have seen it in the so-called USA Patriot legislation hastily pushed through Congress. We have seen it in the presidential order authorizing military tribunals without traditional due process protections and without a right of appeal to anyone but the president himself. We have seen it in new federal policies that permit eavesdropping of confidential communications between attorneys and their clients. And we have seen it in new regulations that allow the attorney general to imprison noncitizens indefinitely, even if an immigration judge has ruled that there is no evidence to justify holding them against their will.

Little by little, the basic elements of procedural fairness that keep democratic governments from acting arbitrarily are being chipped away. No apology is offered for these actions. Those who seize power always feel perfectly entitled to it. Instead, they blame their critics for failing to recognize the seriousness of the situation or for being soft on terrorism -- in the past other critics were blamed for being soft on communism.

The authoritarian impulse is justified, as it always is, through paranoia. The more fearful Americans are, the more they are willing to give their officials a free hand. It is no accident that the same attorney general who withheld information about who is being detained and why has also repeatedly warned in ominous tones that more terrorist attacks are just around the corner. Secrecy lends credibility to paranoia, which in turn justifies increased secrecy and increased power.

Officials who want greater authority always prefer to work in secret so that they cannot easily be called to account. And when complaints are raised, lack of available information makes it all the more difficult to prove that violations have occurred.

Thus, it is entirely predictable that the current administration has made a fetish of secrecy, for secrecy increases power, not only overseas but in our own country.

Authoritarianism never attacks the institutions of freedom at their strongest point; it always attacks them at their weakest. Even before Sept. 11, the country's immigration laws were often arbitrary and high-handed. Therefore it is no surprise that the administration's latest grabs for executive authority have targeted noncitizens, who have no right to representation and no natural constituency to defend them. The present conflict may not be a war on Islam. But it is increasingly turning out to be a war on noncitizens.

The members of this administration do not want to be dictators. They simply do not want anyone getting in their way. They do not want to be autocrats. They simply do not want to be second-guessed when they know that they are right. They do not want to be anti-democratic. They simply want to be able to act unilaterally in the interests of righteousness. If we would merely allow them to go about their business in secret, and with as much authority as they feel they need, they will take care of things for us.

In times like these, it is a tempting offer, but we should refuse it. For what profit has a country if it shall control the whole world and lose its democratic soul?

Nerdified Link.

Balkin's article was written just over four years ago, and is, to say the least, haunting. I think we should look at the recent anti-immigrant tone that GOP rhetoric has taken in light of Balkin's article. I found it via a diary titled The Audacity of Creeping Authoritarianism. One of that diary's commenters points the reader to a story about how former KGB and STASI bosses have been hired by the US to reinforce its "homeland security." Now there's a story that slipped beneath the radar. Although I'm not sure of the veridicality of that article's claims, I can't say I'd be all that surprised if it were true.

Looking for some reading for these dark times?

Check out Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, which apparently has been reprinted:
When Windrip is elected, all hell breaks loose. Dissent is crushed, the Bill of Rights is gutted, war is declared (on Mexico), and labor camps are established to help shore up Windrip's vaunted ''New Freedom,'' which is more like a freedom from freedom. All that's really left of the old America are the flags and patriotic ditties, which for many is more than enough. But to Lewis it's not entirely the fault of those who will gladly abide America's principles being gutted. The blame also falls on the ''it can't happen here'' crowd, those yet to realize that being American doesn't change your human nature; whatever it is that attracts people to tyranny is in Americans like it's in anyone else.

Hat tip to Science and Politics.

Quotable: "Advice For Living Under Dictatorship" Edition

Ductape Fatwa offers all sorts of sage advice in his latest missive, including how to properly understand the Constitution in the 21st century:
You've probably seen candies and fruit made of plastic or resin for sale in stores. These items come with a warning label: "For decoration only, do not eat." This is a good idea, because they look so realistic that children and nearsighted people may think they are real and put them in their mouths! If they are especially good quality, even adults with perfect vision may make this mistake.

That's the way it is with the Constitution. It reads so well that people, even smart people like you, may succumb to the temptation of thinking it can protect you from this or that, or have an effect on what your leaders do or don't do. But people in many countries around the world, and even your own countrymen, if they are poor, can offer some wise advice that can save you a great deal of emotional stress: "For decoration only, do not eat."

I feel better already. Read the rest, too, while you're at it.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Larry Johnson: No Need to Ignore Constitution to Capture Terrorists

As Johnson notes, rather than ignoring the law as Bu$hCo has chosen by authorizing warrantless spying against Americans, following existing law can and does lead to capturing terrorists. Johnson gives an example, in which a notorious Colombian terrorist was actually caught using the existing FISA process. Johnson's conclusion:
So, President Bush is wrong. You don't have to break a law to get quick action. Not only can you catch terrorists using FISA, we have caught terrorists. The real story behind the unauthorized wiretaps authorized by President Bush probably concerns the source of the info. It appears the most likely explanation is that the Bush Administration did not want to have to tell a Federal judge that they were using information obtained from interrogations that violated the spirit and the letter of the Geneva Conventions. Instead of protecting the nation the President may be covering his derrier.

David Sirota arrives at a similar conclusion to the above. Basically, at this point it is all about CYA for the White House. Needless to say, some Congress critters are not amused. No matter how much bloviating Junior Caligula, Abu Gonzales, or Darth Cheney spew over the airwaves, the basic bottom line is simple: warrantless spying on Americans on US soil does not pass Constitutional muster, and could well be an impeachable offense. Armando has some worthwhile reading material (I believe he's a lawyer by trade) on the most dangerous branch of the government. Susan Hu has a fairly thorough roundup of the current news on this White House Administration's latest breach.

Perhaps it is time to refresh our memories and remind ourselves of a quote attributed to Ben Franklin:
Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

Light Blogging After Wednesday

Will be heading out of town for the remainder of the year on Thursday, and internet access will be sporadic. Probably like last December I'll be able to check in every once in a while. Blogging activity until then will be normal (and of course will be back to normal around the beginning of January).

A Congressional Report Rebukes Bu$hCo's War

Click the pic for the Raw Story article.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Postscript to the Previous

Actually, I think Lilian hits the nail on the head:

But the left is--increasingly, and in very alarming ways--mimicking these behaviors. This concerns me much more than the fact that the reichwing is doing it--especially since I get the feeling that the left is unaware of the way fascist behaviors, fascist tactics, fascist language and fascist thought is infiltrating the ranks of the left. And the very fact that even suggesting that this is the case is so controversial is itself evidence of the fact that it's happening: one of the big problems with the reichwing is the fact that it is loathe to any form of criticism and is utterly incapable of any form of SELF-CRITIQUE.

Again, I go back to Pinter's Nobel Speech: the lack of self-criticism is a major, major problem in this country, and it is as much of a problem on the left as it is on the right. And yet, especially as fascism bears down on us like a mack truck, it is utterly crucial that we remain vigilant and engage in a sort of "self-policing" of our habits, our behaviors, etc. and recognize the way that this crap is "rubbing off" on us.

It is happening (but the left is engaging in the very thing Pinter also critiques, i.e. saying it isn't happening even as it is happening!)

Failure to acknowledge this reflects a complete and total misapprehension of the way fascist propaganda works to eventually consume the entire society--the left is now engaged in a process of helping things along; my thesis is that the left is UNAWARE of that, that is, that it is engaging in this sort of behavior unwittingly--but that doesn't mitigate the damage and the way it is helping to feed the flames of fascism.
The problem for us lefties is in getting liberals to even notice in the first place without so threatening their egos that they go into "strict father" mode, and punish us for speaking out. Such a project I suspect is likely doomed from the get-go.

Random Sunday Thoughts

I'm trying to get final exams graded. Getting some progress made, but am reaching a block of sorts.

I'm finding group blogs to be fascinating. Over the past few months I've noticed an interesting dynamic. On right-wing group blogs, efforts to crack down on unwanted commentary seem to go with the territory. That "strict father" frame (using George Lakoff's terminology) is after all the dominant cognitive structure for those who consider themselves "conservative." But on liberal blogs we would expect a lot more tolerance for different points of view, right? After all, the "nurturing parent" frame (again, Lakoff) is dominant, so a great variety of self-expression is to be expected. Not so fast. Any one who's spent time at the major group blogs, Daily Kos, Booman Tribune, Democratic Underground (well, they're not so much a "blog" per se, but close enough) has noticed something interesting in the behavior of the various blog administrators. With Markos we had the mass purge precipitated by conversation among a number of the participants regarding election fraud in Ohio (makes Kos queasy, so he pretty well shut off the conversation by 86ing a number of those who persisted in posting and recommending diaries on that topic). Some of those members were reinstated on the condition they "behave themselves." Pretty much there is a sort of conventionalism and conformity that is part and parcel to a partisan Democrat blog. Boo Trib's admins are a bit more subtle. Boo has one rule for the blog: "don't be a prick." Seems simple enough, but with the simplicity comes a great deal of ambiguity. Apparently, "prickishness" includes "Kos bashing" (pretty much anything perceived of as dissing a couple of Boo's pals over there, as well as questioning Markos' business practices - not kosher as I suppose some of the Trib revenue depends on a partially Markos owned biz), questioning double-standards in the enforcement of that rule by the Trib's admins, or calling out some of the front-pagers when they break that rule either in the stories they post or in responses to commentary. Challenge any of that (and with a dynamic and ill-defined rule it's easy to challenge it wittingly or unwittingly) and the wonderful liberal tolerance turns into stern authoritarianism at the click of a mouse. The nurturing parents turn into strict dads. Over at the Trib very recently, the admins got to the point where they were shutting off the ability of someone to post comments and to suggest to this person that she among other things contact a crisis hotline. Her offense? Challenging the double-standards that are part of the repertoire of the admins. Got her ticked off, and she expressed herself thusly; next thing you know there are threats of banning along with of course attempts to stifle the efforts of anyone else to intervene on this lady's behalf. Gotta discipline those unruly children, y'know.

Maybe it simply comes down to this: no matter how liberal one is, the "strict father" frame is still a latent frame that can and will be invoked whenever there is a perceived or real ego threat. Once the strict father has been invoked, the individual will use whatever coercive action they have at their disposal, whether it's to save face or to punish those who appear to be the threat. Under such circumstances, expect the admins to become more prone to encourage conformity from the rest of the community, lest they too become made examples for misbehavior. Fascinating.

Update: I have struck part of this entry because it is factually inaccurate, and I offer my sincere apologies to Booman for insinuating that his motivation behind banning some users was financial. I stand by the rest of my opinion otherwise.