June 13, 2007

Rethinking Nader

Nader's justifications for acting as a spoiler in 2000 were twofold. First, he claimed that there was no essential difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, that both were simply corporate advocates who depended on lobby money for their continued sinecures in Washington, and that a new party (the Green Party, in his case) was essential to bring back actual representation of the American people. His second argument was that even if Bush were demonstrably worse than Gore, not actually an arguable proposition at this point, the resulting ossification and depreciation of the body politic brought on by having an idiot in charge of the government would bring on more rapid devolution and radical change. Nader, of course, has been vilified and attacked in every aspect of his persona; his liberal critics, if anything, have been more vicious and unforgiving than any negativity from the Paleo-Right, who seem to see him as an attractive nuisance. If you're a blog-type wonk, see, for extreme example, the unmodulated screeds of Eric Alterman about Nader. It is the sort of smear campaign which elevated Rove to national prominence.

It is a commonplace observation that prophets are never honored in their time. Most people concede that, whatever else you say about Nader, he made the American consumer safer. I imagine that without him the Ford Pinto or its successors would still be blowing sky high when lightly tapped from the rear, and legions of additional Chevy drivers would have been impaled on their steering posts. The idea, however, is that in challenging the Big Two Monopoly, he got above himself and tilted the balance of the American Uniparty to the Right. There is no doubt that he did. The remaining question is whether his justifications were correct.

With respect to the first point, the identity between Demublicans and Repugnocrats, one might consider this latest development from the fecund mind of the dynamic Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader:

"The first [plan], sponsored by Reid and Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, would set a goal of beginning the withdrawal of U.S. troops by April 2008, unless the Iraqi government demonstrated political and security progress. However, President Bush would have the power to waive that requirement." [CNN News, 6/12/07]

In what sense is this a "plan?" There is a "goal" to "begin" the withdrawal of U.S. troops about one year from now, unless there is progress in Iraq; however, Bush is empowered to vitiate even this vague "requirement." Deconstructing this "plan," it appears that the Senate majority is suggesting they would like to see Bush start drawing down the numbers of U.S. troops unless the Iraqis get it together over the next year, but it's up to Bush whether he wants to use Iraqi "progress" as a criterion. That's it. That's the bold initiative. Since any third grader knows that Bush can tolerate endless carnage and expense in Iraq, and does not care if his obstinance tilts the Uniparty farther to the Left, the Senate is proposing something they know for a fact to be utterly meaningless. They are hoping it fools the American electorate into believing something momentous is occurring.

The second specimen for dissection is the current "energy bill" meandering around the Senate. Among its exciting new initiatives is to raise American fuel standards to 35 mpg by 2020. In other words, to require American manufacturers to compete with Japanese hybrids, such as the Prius and Honda, by nailing an efficiency number that is only 70% of the mileage one can get right now by buying Japanese. And this bold action is taken after waiting about 20 or 30 years to do anything at all about CAFE standards. The other bold plan is to grow a lot of corn and make ethanol, which will make the agri-business lobby happy, but the Senate might want to consult with physicists familiar with the laws of thermodynamics on whether the rules of energy returned on energy invested can be suspended for the first time in the history of the Universe.

Which leads to Nader's Second Premise: the dismantling of the Uniparty in favor of some legislative body which might respond to actual needs of the American public. The most recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, for the period ending June 10, 2007, placed Congress's approval rating of 27%, and the disapproval rating at 62%. Bear in mind that these ratings occurred about 6 months after the ascension of the Demublicans to control. The numbers are considerably worse than the current ratings for one of the most unpopular Presidents in history. Nader, it might be noted, doesn't have much to do with that. I suspect the 27% making up the approving cohort are either lobbyists, homophobes or Creationists; like E. coli, such organisms are always with us.

I don't know where I come out on Nader. Was he an ego-mad interloper who would ruin America to satisfy his own vanity? Or did he know something -that America was already on the road to ruin, and it took an ego-mad interloper, one without much to lose, to point it out.

June 11, 2007

Becoming accustomed to tyranny

"A federal appeals court ruled that the president may not declare civilians in this country 'enemy combatants' and have the military hold them indefinitely." New York Times, June 11, 2007.

We've arrived at a strange pass in American history when a ruling such as that of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals is a "landmark" decision rebuking "Bush policy." You may not have been aware that George W. Bush was exercising the power described in the quoted holding from the 4th Circuit (generally, a conservative pro-Bush bastion). If you were not aware, you have not been following along as Jose Padilla, as one notable example, has made his way through a maze of military and civilian jurisdictions, all while Congressional representatives and senators, Republicans and Democrats alike, have sat passively and silently by while Bush & Co. have exercised police state power over ordinary citizens. It's a remarkable illustration of the principle that the only requirement for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.

Once upon a time in a magical land called America, there was a legal justice system. Without question, it was the finest in the world. Founded on the basic ideas of the English common law, it was as fair and effective a system as one would ever find anywhere, at any time in history. I think the legal system, in fact, was the pride and joy of the Founding Fathers. Many of them were talented lawyers, and the awesome edifice of Enlightenment protection embodied in the Bill of Rights stood the test of time. Despite external and internal threats during the first 225 years of American history, it was never necessary to abandon those principles, even if, in the case of Japanese internment and the disgraceful treatment of blacks, the rules were not applied with equal justice. But mostly, and even for the oppressed after the legal system corrected matters during the civil rights era, one could have confidence that, whatever your station in life and despite public outcries against you, you would get a fair shake. Your side of the matter would be heard. You would not be thrown in a dungeon, never heard from again, the doors to the court house locked.

Along came George W. Bush. To say he has been a bull in the china shop of American justice does not quite capture the wholesale wreckage he has inflicted on the system. We now know, from endless examples, that he doesn't know what he's doing. The damage, however, has come from his own personal confidence that he does. He has no comprehension how the whole legal system works, how interdependent the various statutes, rules of criminal and civil procedure, avenues of appeal, extraordinary writs, international law and treaties are. How they all interact in a time-tested, carefully considered system that produces the closest thing we can create to justice protecting society from the miscreant, and the individual from tyranny and mob rule. Bush has invented all kinds of new defendants, new categories, new courts, new jails. Enemy combatants, unlawful enemy combatants, al-Qaeda or Taliban-connected soldiers who become unlawful enemy combatants, American citizens labeled enemy combatants and disappeared into a brig (Padilla) or an actual 9-11 conspirator, a foreigner, tried openly in a civilian court (Moussaoui). Military commissions, offshore prisons outside the reach of habeas corpus (Guantanamo), review tribunals to determine whether an Arab is an unlawful enemy combatant where he is not allowed to challenge the evidence nor even to see most of it, nor to have his own lawyer present; restricted appeals to one designated federal court for an Arab unlawful enemy combatant convicted of a war crime on the basis of hearsay and purchased evidence, by a military tribunal created under the Military Commissions Act. Contravention of the simple and humane rules of the Geneva Conventions at every turn. A giant, stinking mess of contradiction, of open-ended incarceration for years and years without trial, without access to courts, without lawyers, without hope. All these Arabs prejudged as guilty, granted no rights, jailed for life without review by anyone.

That's the United States under Bush. It never would have happened that way before. The indifference of Congress ensures it will be that way from now on. Do you think there just might, someday, be some kind of blowback for this? Simply because Americans, with their famously fatuous proccupation with celebrity, with bulimic cases locked up for drunk driving, can't trouble themselves to worry about this, don't be lulled into thinking that more "primitive" societies, who pass on the message by word of mouth about what happened to their kinsmen, are not enraged. And God have mercy on any American soldier who falls into the hands of another "justice" system after all of this. We've sown the wind.

A china shop doesn't work. The bull, however, suggests shit. That might be the image. The American justice system, after Bush, will resemble a pair of old jockey briefs worn by a fat American pizza-eater. You find them, discarded, in the alley between houses. They are stiff with the skidmarks of shit. Flies buzz all around. The shorts don't look much like they did when they were taken out of the cellophane.