Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Slow Death Of Civil Liberties.

A crime was committed this week. It was murder most foul. Some might call it a mercy killing, the victim was barely alive after all, but this ignores how the victim was starved, beaten, and abused over the course of a decade.

The murder was quite nefarious and performed by a cabal of bad actors. The conspirators had a long history of malice towards the victim and had laid their plans long before the actual act.

At first the attack was focused on the Forth Amendment. The cabal used all matter of devious, incremental means to chip away at the protections of the Forth. Most useful in that chipping away was the “War On Drugs.”

Little by little, with the connivance of a Supreme Court packed by Pro Government, “Law and Order” types, the protections of the Forth where sliced away by salami tactics. More and more carve out were provided so police could more easily ensnare the dirty, no good, rotten drug dealers.

But a funny thing happened, even with broader police powers, even with few obstructions placed in law enforcements way, the drug scourge did not diminish. If anything the cartels and the situation got worse. It was not long before overzealous police armed with “no knock” warrants, or no warrants at all, where establishing a reign of terror in many neighborhoods. Occasionally innocent people got shot and killed when the police blundered in unannounced into the wrong location.

Still, it took a grumpy Saudi and his unhappy campers holding out in the Afghan mountains to have the floodgates really open up. The shock of the 9/11 assault allowed unscrupulous politicians to push through a range of Constitution-busting proposals that they had on the back burners for decades. The nation took a sharp lurch toward authoritarianism with the ironically named PATRIOT ACT.

Not only did the PATRIOT ACT codify much of dirty deeds law enforcement were doing in the shadows, it went farther by adding a slew of repressive tools for the police to indulge themselves in.

The worst of the lot was the security theater put on by the newly formed TSA. The Transportation Security Agency began life as a oxymoron and quickly degenerated into farce. It managed to combine massive and utterly pointless privacy violations with utter incompetence in a way never seen before. Despite wielding various and sundry intrusive devices from hand-held metal detectors, to privacy- obliterating X-ray machines that rendered their victims essentially nude to ogling eyes, inspectors routinely smuggled in various knives, box cutters, and fake bombs with nary a blip. It was if the only real role of the TSA was to reduce the already submissive public into servile sheep, totally unaware of their inalienable rights, totally unaware of how utterly wrong the whole infernal machine was.

For seven long, depressing years the nation went further down the rabbit hole. Cowboy George and his posse shot up the landscape with nary a discouraging word from anyone not directly connected with the ACLU. The posse rode hard and long on the notion of the “Unitary Executive.” In the weird optics that were the “War On Terror,” plus a long history of dirty deeds done in the shadow wars of intelligence, up became down. The Bushites cried “Havoc” and let loose the dogs unlimited war.  What mangy beast those dogs turned out to be.

Disposing of over two hundred years of history, plus over fifty years of the Nuremberg Laws, Incurious George Bush and Dead Eye Dick Cheney kidnapped, illegally detained, and tortured thousands of “suspected terrorists.” Each extraordinary rendition, each disappearance, each black site prison, each waterboarding, each savage beating, was a knife cut on the body politic. It was the death of thousand cuts for our notions of liberty.

When the facts became apparent, when Abu Ghraib became a household word, the dark lord of the Sith, Darth Cheney, defended the indefensible. Torture became “aggressive interrogation.” Procedures that had once been clearly defined as torture were rehabilitated by Vice Presidential fiat. The very definition of torture was warped, twisted, and distorted into a fun house reflection of itself. All of this was done to fight a rag-tag bunch of malcontents hiding like rats in a warren of caves.

By 2007 a bright and promising politician offered a way out of this fever dream. He promised to return the nation to its founding principles. The claim had some merit because the candidate had been a Constitutional Law Professor and State Representative before becoming a US Senator. While in Primary Campaign mode, the man spoke eloquently on the subject of returning to the status quo ante bellum. There was only one small problem. The candidate bailed out on the promise as soon as the nomination was nailed down. He voted for the get-out-of-jail bill that was FISA; granting cover for a massive violation of privacy rights by the NSA and the Bush Administration.

Real civil libertarians, the very few, but still proud, took one look at this climb down by candidate Barack Hussein Obama and started to become very concerned. No soothing words by the happy clappy Obama partisans could calm the civil libertarians nerves or make them trust Obama. Barry had crossed the line on FISA reform, and the civil liberties crowd were now on their guard and on alert.

In three short years Obama earned every bit of civil libertarian distrust, and more. Wise heads knew that no executive every gives up new found power, or any other kind of power, unless the masses put a rhetorical  gun to their heads. But fan politics, the cult of personality, and the toxic partisanship of the late 20th and early 21st century had trumped principle. The left was impotent, furiously spinning how the betrayal of Candidate Obama was not really betrayal at all; but “three dimensional chess.”

With no real opposition, Obama kept on expanding the unitary power of the President. Osama Bin Laden was whacked by the Obama Administration with a ruthless efficiency that would make a Mafia Don’s blood run cold. Anwar al-Awlaki, a natural born  US citizen, was vaporized by a drone strike in Yemen with same vicious disregard for due process. But the very acme of this process was reached just this week with the passage of National Defense Authorization Act. By signing this bit of toxic sludge, our great Constitutional Scholar took on the powers of a divine monarch.

With the new law the President can detain people indefinitely, as long as he says the magical word “terrorist.” No Jury of peers need be consulted. No Judge need give his consent. No need to say “mother may I” to the Congress. The President has total, unchecked power to arrest and detain anyone, citizen or no, domestic or foreign, any time any where. The vote for this in the Senate was not even close; only seventeen Senators said no. It is an election year, and both Congresscritters and Senators were tripping over themselves to prove how “tough” they were on terrorism.

In the rush to prove their bona fides to the unwashed masses, the legislators of the Congress just gave a seal of approval to over eleven years of Bush-Cheney-Obama lawlessness. Congress gave into the notion that the US government that was able to respond to the threat of a nuclear armed Soviet Union without these extraordinary powers now needed them to handle the threat of a thoroughly broken Al Qaeda. Our freedoms had to be thrown away to protect us against the threat posed by incompetent shoe and underwear bombers.

I doubt our great legislators felt the slightest bit of shame when they pandered to the lowest common denominator of their electorate. The vote was, unfortunately, drop dead simple for the lot of corrupt cowards that now infest Congress.  In proving that they were not “surrender monkeys” against the nefarious legions of the evil mooslim terrorists, the Congress surrendered one of the foundational liberties of the Republic.

It is now up to the courts to check this hideous error, if they are up to it. As constructed, I do not see the Supremes rushing in to check this power grab by the Executive branch. The trend of the highest court has been to find any excuse to either dodge these questions, or to find a way to grant the Executive ever more powers. All sorts of Constitutionally suspect procedures have gotten the green light from an ever more reactionary court. The hard won protections of 60’s and 70’s have been chipped away, eventually gutting the 4th , 5th, and other amendments.

In that war and the new war against terrorism the collateral damage has been massive. The supposed inalienable right to be secure in home and hearth, to be be secure in person and papers, to be left alone by an ever more intrusive government, has been trampled. Boastful cops have laughed at the protestations of put-upon citizens, brazenly letting those people exactly how powerless they are to the police power. But since this happens to the poor and the politically dispossessed, “Real Americans” could care less.

I have no idea when or even if the general public will respond to this ever increasing power grab by the Executive. I have no idea when or even if the general public will demand an end to this ever more destructive “War on Terror.” The general public is either somnolent or scared witless, or both. Only the happy few, the warriors of OWS, seem to be alive to the threat to the Republic. Only a few voices are calling out about the danger. Only a few note that a Democratic Republic can be neither in a prolonged war.

And what of Obama? It has been a long, strange, trip for the former Law Professor. It has been a long slide from fierce defender of the Constitution against the depredations of George W Bush, to the man who not only institutionalized the Bushite shredding of civil rights and civil liberties, but enlarged upon the Cheneyite doctrine of the Unitary Executive.

Still, any student of History would have told you to be very dubious of Obama’s promises made in the heat of the Campaign. The person who occupies the executive office never gives up the power granted to him. Once in power, Obama followed that hard and fast rule. He did not surrender power, he consolidated power. He was gracious enough to ask the Congress to provide the legal covering for the illicit power grab, but that was about it. Even the veto threat he issued on the bill was all about protecting his prerogatives, and his ability to act  flexibly. It was about gaining the maximum of power with the minimum of accountability or oversight.

Congress was more than willing to give the Executive that flexibility. It was more than willing to surrender responsibility to the president. As Dan Carlin points out, Congress is more than willing to surrender real power for the illusion of power; as long as it can keep its prestige and keep the corruption going. The powers invested to the President by the Defense Authorization bill in no way affected the real game of the D.C. bubble : Pay To Play. Less oversight by Congress was a net gain for that institution, it gave the Congresscritters more time to dial for dollars, to hit up their contributors.

But the most depressing aspect of the whole affair is how alleged “Progressives” will defend Barack Obama’s utter betrayal of his campaign promise and his sacred oath. They would have done no such thing if John McCain were the incumbent. Obama can treat the provisions of the Constitution as negotiable because his clueless, sycophantic supporters would rather defend his every move than our foundational document. Instead of opposing this move with everything at their disposal, instead of shouting to rooftops the bare fact of Obama’s perfidy, they glance at their shoes and offer up a few vacuous mumbles. Their objections barely raise above a half-hearted “tut-tut.” And in that anemic response, the Constitution dies, in a barely audible whimper.
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