Monday, April 12, 2010

Keeping on when the star goes astray

Glenn Greenwald, who is the voice speaking for civil liberties who I trust most in the blogosphere, often asks something like: where did all those people who raved about Bush regime outrages go once Obama came into office?

President Obama's record of executive branch atrocities against the Constitution -- the founding notion that we are governed by a system of law, not by men -- is pretty much unbroken. Like his unlamented predecessor, he's given us:
  • permanent detention of persons on Presidential say-so without their ever being subjected any legal process, whether at Guantanamo or elsewhere;
  • assertion of Presidential authority to order the killing anyone in the world he wants, including American citizens, without any legal process;
  • more mickey-mouse military tribunals that can't even figure out how to run themselves, much less provide a hearing defined by a due process to accused persons;
  • a Presidential right to stop any judicial process he wishes by asserting that telling the judge what the government is doing might endanger "state secrets";
  • using drones in countries where we are not at war to kill presumed "enemies" and whoever else happens to be in the way on Presidential say-so; (when do we just start with the jets and helicopters and call the attacks "peacetime"?);
  • and most recently, letting his own nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice of Dawn Johnsen -- a legal scholar who had opposed all these abuses -- be killed by Republican delays and his cooperation with those delays.
On matters involving civil liberties and the rule of law, Barack Obama is no better than Dick Cheney and the idiot younger Bush.

The drum beat goes on and on, day after day. And Greenwald is right. I don't write about it, day after day.

I need to feel that exposing Administration lawlessness contributes to a strategy for stopping it.

Under Bush, it was possible to believe that increasing awareness of abuses might eventually contribute to replacing the offenders with a Democrat who might be better. We did that. And all we got was a Democratic regime that understands that repudiating the most obvious torture practices gives it a superficial legitimacy, while otherwise thumbing its nose at legal limits as enthusiastically as Bush-Cheney.

So -- I stopped writing much about this stuff, not feeling that I had anything to add. We are well and truly screwed at present. And there seems to be very little popular constituency to be built up for restoring the rule of law. I work in an organizing mode, a building up mode, so I don't know what I should be doing in this situation.

Are we well and truly screwed forever? The situation seems to me analogous to dangers we face from human-caused climate change. It is possible our society (or the planet) will pass (has passed?) some tipping point. After that tipping point, inertial forces set in motion work so strongly that we stop having choices.

Constitutional government could be becoming an empty shell, flushed down the historical toilet concurrently with pretensions to worldwide superpower hegemony. Or not. As with climate change mitigation measures, the fact that we seem to be failing doesn't mean we can stop trying. Sometimes keeping on is all there is to do, even if the way forward remains obscure and doubtful.

And do sign up with the ACLU. Won't hurt, might help.


Christopher said...

I was pondering this very thing last night.

Nell said...

We probably passed the tipping point some time ago. Jeff Kaye made a long and deep comment at Emptywheel that is the result of his thinking over the last year about this same question -- worthy of more attention than buried in a transient thread.

I want to see a lot more acknowledgment by liberals who huffed and puffed about the Bush-Cheney rampage that the policies they objected to are being continued and entrenched. Instead of putting their fingers in their ears, or worse -- being enlisted to shush up and marginalize "complainers", I want to see them join the public discussion to influence Obama's choice of a Supreme Court nominee.

But I guess they think these totalitarian policies won't ever hurt them or people like them.

"Pre-emptive prosecution", "preventive detention", and torture are coming home to the metropole. Banks and the security state apparatus run the executive branch, the Congress is 90% owned by corporate lobbies, and playing the game of Democratic electoral politics as it's currently rigged is doing nothing to change that.

The building-up is going to have to be around issues where it's just as clear that Obama's a smooth fraud: jobs, health care, climate/energy. And the people telling the truth about what has to be done and who's standing in the way are going to have to maneuver in the permanent state of exception that's been created, steadily, since the late 1940s. Risky business...

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