Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Put Your Civil Liberties Down and Back Away Slowly

I have just finished reading Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy by Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage, and can sum it up this way:

The phrase "we are so completely fucked" is the understatement of the century.

Over the past two years, as one outrage after another by the Smirky-Darth administration has come to light, the cumulative impact has been numbing: Abu Graib, torture, rape and murder of innocent civilians, American citizens secretly and indefinitely detained, warrantless wiretapping of anyone and everyone, hundreds of billions of dollars stolen from taxpayers to enrich bush/cheney cronies, laws ignored, laws broken, the Constitution shredded.

Even the death of our last hope - the self-strangling of the "Democratic" Congress - is just one more hardly-felt blow to a body politic already at death's door.

The great revelation of Savage's meticulously documented book is just how thoroughly, successfully and permanently this maladminstration has stripped power from citizens, from Congress, from the bureaucracy and from the courts, until there is legally and literally nothing anyone can do to stop this or any other president from exercising the absolute power he has finally acquired.

Right now, this minute, if Smirky took it into his head to declare martial law, dispatch Blackwater to round up everyone who objects and throw them into Guantanamo forever or just summarily execute them, there is nothing - nothing - to stop him.

(More after the jump.)

Martial law? Specifically authorized by Congress in the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Secret and indefinite detention of citizens? Once it was stopped only by the prospect of a Supreme Court decision on Jose Padilla, but Congress specifically stripped the courts of jurisdiction in such cases in - you guessed it - the MCA.

"The Republican-led Congress used the Military Commissions Act to virtually eliminate the possibiity that the Supreme Court could ever again act as a check on a president's power in the war on terrorism. The bill aslo granted a congressional blessing, in statute, for many of the hugely expanded executive pwoers that the Bush-Cheney administration had previously seized onb its own, ensuring that they would be even more difficult to roll back."

The "Commander in Chief" of America now has powers over his own citizenry that dictators like Pinochet, Somoza, and Mugabe, who slaughtered thousands of their countrymen, could only dream of.

Because the powers of the "Commander in Chief" of America were handed to him on a silver platter by a Congress democratically elected by the people.

We asked for it, we deserve it, we got it.

Forgive us, Ben: you gave us a Republic, but we couldn't keep it.

If you're thinking about next year's elections, don't bother. Seriously, if you'd spent seven years accumulating unprecedented power, the kind of power that allows you to straddle the world as a colossus and do exactly as you damn well please, would you just give it up and walk away? Especially if it meant handing all that hard-won power to someone who stands for everything you hate, despise and loathe?

And if you were that someone, suddenly handed, by virtue of having won a democratic election, power on the level of that wielded by medieval kings, would you demand that Congress take it away from you? Especially when you need all the power you can get to undo the damage done to your beloved country and the world over the previous eight years?

The kind of power that we, the people, have handed to the Commander in Chief of America is the kind of power I wouldn't trust in the hands of anyone. Not Obama, not Edwards, and certainly not Hillary.

Hell, that kind of power would turn even gentle, Department-of-Peace-creating Dennis Kucinich into a monster.

We are lip-deep in the quicksand, people, and sinking fast. This one is not going to be fixable in a year, or a decade, or a generation.

No, I don't have the answer. I don't think a real, bullets-flying revolution is practical, much less winnable. Nor do I think continuing to elect "Democrats" who perpetuate the status quo is going to cut it.

But because so many of these dictatorial powers are tied to Smirky's claims of inherent and exclusive executive powers in prosecuting the "war on terror," the key may be taking that excuse away.

I've argued for a long time that the Iraq occupation and the temporarily derailed attack on Iran have nothing to do with terror, oil or even enriching cronies. They are all about creating and perpetuating permanent war. And permanent war is the one irreplaceable ingredient in establishing and maintaining a dictatorship.

Leaders at peace are leaders with minimal power. Leaders at war have carte blanche.

So the first step in restoring the Constitution is to not just end the Iraq occupation, but change the "war on terror" into what it should have been from the beginning: a criminal investigation, with law enforcement making arrests and civilian courts trying suspects before civilian juries.

It's going to be a long, hard slog through the enemy jungle, dodging snipers, drinking fever-water, eating our boots.

But it's one we've faced before, and one that the smartest sumbitches who ever lived (thank you Molly) knew we'd face again. One of them spoke the words that gave them strength then, and give me strength now:

Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death."

Happy New Year.

Cross-posted at BlueGrassRoots.