Friday, March 9, 2007

The State of Things

I read a New York times editorial a couple days ago which listed the major things that need to happen to halt the train wreck of the Bush administration and to begin some kind of terrestrial healing process. The list is an embarrassment, a collection of policies and actions that make me hang my head in shame. This is my country. That our free press seems to be about the only thing keeping us from plunging fully into a new dark age (and there have been plenty of assaults on the press by the administration as well) is depressing and frightening.

Without their elaborations, here is the list, which they caution would constitute just a beginning of a turn-around:

  1. Restore habeas corpus.
  2. Stop illegal spying.
  3. Ban torture, really.
  4. Close the C.I.A. prisons.
  5. Account for "ghost prisoners."
  6. Ban extraordinary rendition.
  7. Tighten the definition of combatant.
  8. Screen prisoners fairly and effectively.
  9. Ban tainted evidence.
  10. Ban secret evidence.
  11. Better define "classified" evidence
  12. Respect the right to counsel.
  13. Halt the federal government's race to classify documents to avoid public scrutiny (15.6 million this year)
  14. Restore and respect the Freedom of Information Act / stop encouraging government to withhold information whenever possible.
  15. Curtail F.B.I. spying on nonviolent antiwar groups and revisit the parts of the "Patriot Act" that allow this practice.
  16. Close Gitmo, which they call "a despicable symbol of of the abuses committed by this administration (with Congress’s complicity) in the name of fighting terrorism."

Jesus, what a list. What a come-down from the greatness we once were, the promise of goodness and idealism which we represented to (at least much of) the world. And these things are not mistakes or oversights, but have been forcefully and craftily pursued by this administration. No amount of outrage seems to affect these men; public disapproval be damned, there is a persistence in the administration's approach which seems almost a form of insanity.

For the twelfth time, I reject the idea that legal, civilized means cannot triumph over lawless terrorists. We may need adjustments and new tactics, sure; but I reject fundamentally that we must abandon our openness and respect for the rule of law.

I thought when I wrote this last night that I'd just blab about this editorial and be done with it. Unfortunately, today's paper reminds me that the malaise is ongoing. Buried on the back pages:

Agency issues gag order to scientists. U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials in Alaska have issued an order barring government scientists from speaking about global warming, melting sea ice or polar bears, according to an agency memo.

Or how about this?

Report shows F.B.I. downplays use of Patriot Act. A Justice Department report accuses the FBI of underreporting its use of the Patriot Act to force businesses to turn over customer information in terrorism cases. Overall, the FBI underreported the number of national security letters it issued by about 20% between 2003 and 2005.

Yeah, this latter could be legitimate. But we'll never know, at least not until this administration is in the dustbin of history (and that's assuming--foolishly--that the pertinent information is not classified). In the context of all this, every stone overturned seems to reveal the cancer feeding on our innocence and good intentions.

This administration is a dark and sad chapter for this country.


Joshua said...

It seems to me that the expose era of media, coupled with the want of most cizilized people to at least appear to be politically savvy, multiplied by the lack of confidentiality amonst the (historically as evil but far more tight lipped) government officials is leading the populous away from the "bigger" more "humanitarian" issues in favor of these.

How's THAT for heavy handed. I am not trying to go so far as to say these are not important issues, or that we cannot talk about them unless we are mindless drones. Instead, I think continually talking about these issues, ad nauseum it would seem, is actually helping this, and former administrations, dodge some far weightier issues.

We still have homeless, jobless, hungry amaricans who would kill for a roof over their heads and a phone being tapped. Foreigners who would, quite literally, lay their lives on the line to become legal citizens of our country, and farmers who are begging for a little self-reliance in our nation.

I don't want to belittle or make light that list. Some of those things are very important. I just think we tend to focus on those things, perhaps because we still think we CAN fix them, rather than tackle those issues we feel we have already lost.

truist said...

joshua - I completely disagree. Each and every one of the 16 items in that list is tied directly to Americans' right to freedom, and the government's ongoing attempts to control that freedom, which is a far more serious issue than homelessness, immigration, or farming. This country is based on the idea that we have a free population; Bush is severely eroding that freedom, and that's eroding the core idea about who we are. A country that doesn't allow dissent is a much bigger problem than a country that has homeless people.

Joshua said...

I wonder, and I simply don't know, how many of those items ( I can think of 8) lend themselves daily to our freedom.

Are they misused? You bet your ass they are. But to think they are not also used to provide us with the illusion of the freedom we think we have now, that might just be buying into that selfsame illusion.

Which, originally, was the purpose of my comment. The difference, I think, between today and fifty years ago is not the ability of the government to misuse its power, it is the ability of the media to find out about it, and the inability of the public to distill the fact from the reality.

Before I get flamed to hard, here, I would like to include myself in that last bit. I honestly don't know which was is up anymore.

Jeffy said...

I think that Joshua is right that there are other big issues that this government is doing a bad job of addressing, and that they might seem more mundane and get less press than these scandalous sorts of things.

I do think, though, that those 'mundane' things deserve less press. While they are big problems, there are the same big problems that we've had for a long time, and so they are not really news.

What is news is when we have a government that abuses its power and behaves in ways that are far from our country's ideals.

We, as a country, can no longer lay any claim to a moral high ground, when we have sunk to the same sorts of activities that we've tried to stand up against for so long. We would not tolerate any of these actions if it were another country doing them, yet somehow our government thinks that they are justified in doing them. And this list is just part of the overall list.

wunelle said...

I think the distinction here is between large scale societal problems which are not caused by, or not DIRECTLY caused by, government (homelessness, immigration, unemployment), and the problems foisted upon us by the functioning of the government itself.

We can all agree that George W. Bush did not create homelessness or immigration, even if we believe that his policies exacerbate these problems. These are difficulties facing every industrialized nation. But this list represents, in large part, a series of difficulties and degradations which were constructed out of whole cloth by this administration. We did not invent terrorism, but I think an argument can be made that our actions have brought it to our doorstep; our "cure" may well be worse than the disease itself. Certainly in the last half decade we have seen an increase in animosity towards our country, and our friends are now at arm's length. We have done this ourselves.

If, as Joshua contends, the items on this list are not the biggest problems facing our society, then we should be the more outraged a) that they're distracting our attention from the larger issues, and b) that the strengths and freedoms which have made us prosperous are being degraded, and thus diminishing our ability to do good by our own and in the world.

I think the state of the world vis-a-vis terrorism and religious fundamentalism must be addressed and engaged actively. But I believe we would do best by everyone by letting freedom and lawfulness (in theory AND practice), via its more difficult course, win the day.

The society envisioned by the perpetrators of the sins on this list is not the society I wish my tax dollars to help construct. This is not the America I love.

Joshua said...

"If, as Joshua contends, the items on this list are not the biggest problems facing our society, then we should be the more outraged a) that they're distracting our attention from the larger issues, and b) that the strengths and freedoms which have made us prosperous are being degraded, and thus diminishing our ability to do good by our own and in the world."

Man, I agree with that 100% I honeslty dont mean to diminish the items on the list. Rather, I think the media (whenever I say that in my head it sounds like a swear word) and probably the government as well, is using those issues as a red herring of sorts. I think these are, most likely, issues that have been troubling us for the past 100 years, or at least since the advent of the FBI (to sound like a conspiracy nut). I think the biggest difference now is not the incompetant leadership we certainly have, but the seemingly endless stream of information we get in that regard.

Now, this is not to say that ignorance is bliss. Quite possibly, this information will lead to the changes that will make this country great once again. Rather, it is just to say that we have TOO much to deal with, and I think the larger, more abstrat ideas are falling to the wayside.

"And this list is just part of the overall list. "

That, Jeffy, might be the biggest, saddest news of the day.

Anonymous said...

The Secret Service is very interested in your list and your comments.

Just a warning.

wunelle said...