December 17, 2011

Notes & Errata on the Indefinite Detention Bill

Perhaps I spoke a little too soon in condemning the Mainstream Media for its silence in the face of the repeal of the Bill of Rights through the "Indefinite Detention" provision that passed as part of the Defense Authorization Act in the Senate this past week. Since our touchstone here at the Pond is intellectual honesty, I hasten to point out that the august New York Times, usually an unflagging admirer of the "practical" and centrist policies of President Chance the Basketball Player, used markedly harsh language in condemning what it called Obama's latest "cave-in." To wit, in an Op-Ed entitled (tellingly) "Politics Over Principle":

The bill has so many other objectionable aspects that we can’t go into them all. Among the worst: It leaves open the possibility of subjecting American citizens to military detention and trial by a military court. It will make it impossible to shut the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. And it includes an unneeded expansion of the authorization for the use of military force in Afghanistan to include indefinite detention of anyone suspected of being a member of Al Qaeda or an amorphous group of “associated forces” that could cover just about anyone arrested anywhere in the world. (NYT Op-Ed.)
Not bad, as rousing defenses of the Bill of Rights go. One cavil is that the McCain-Levin amendment doesn't just "leave open the possibility of subjecting American citizens to military detention and trial by a military court." One can rest assured that with this thing on the books, the next time the feds pick up someone like Jose Padilla, there won't be an 11th hour diversion of the case to a civilian court. Still: Big Up to the Times, even if they are seen as part of the Liberal/Criminal-coddling/ACLU/Civil Liberties/mostly Jewish complex. Doing the right thing is doing the right thing.

The actual amendment is all theater, of course. There is no need for the McCain-Levin gizmo. Domestic law enforcement and the civilian courts can handle any American actually arrested (as opposed to blown to smithereens by a Predator in some distant, sand-filled land) and placed in jail, on the basis of actual probable cause. As I wrote some time back, all of these terrorist fantasies, and this need to revisit the ghost of 9-11 more than ten years later, when the actual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down, are simply intended to (a) keep the American populace in a perpetual state of fear, the better to (b) sit still for a tremendous diversion of very scarce budgetary resources to the Pentagon, even as the country slides into a Banana Republican state of poverty. A big Pentagon consolidates power at the federal level, and without this clothing, the Emperors in Washington stand out in their irrelevant nakedness. They have not quite enough money to do four things: (a) re-route money coming in from FICA to Social Security beneficiaries (about $800 billion per annum); (b) pay for Medicare/Medicaid ($900 billion); (c) service the interest on the national debt (~$400 billion); and (d) invade and blow up other countries (~$700 billion, officially). Those four outlay items add up to $2.8 trillion.

In its sunny way, the Treasury Statement forecasts over $2.6 trillion in revenue this year, which I believe would be an all-time record. Yet the first two months of the fiscal year are only about $20 billion ahead of last year's pace. That suggests (extrapolating forward) that this year might produce 6 x 20 = $120 billion more than last year's ~$2.2 trillion. With the economy again hitting stall speed, and with actual average income falling according to Treasury withholding reports, it does not compute. So it appears that we'll probably fall half a trillion dollars short of even covering the Big Four of the federal government's raison d'etre.

This is not something the power addicts like to talk about too much. Troublemakers like Ron & Rand Paul, of course, talk about it all the time, and so does Michele Bachmann. As you can see, it's not that hard to figure out that we're broke. Thus, it's much better to emphasize that even though we can't possibly afford about 42% of everything the federal government does, we've simply got to keep funneling dough into defense and security, or else we're doomed, doomed, I tell you! Carl Levin and McCain are big mucky-mucks in the Armed Services Committee, and zealously guard the Pentagon's gargantuan budget, the better to bask in the reflected glory of the military. They've done so for the 80 or 90 years or so that both have been in the Senate. So if we have doubts about the military's mission(s) overseas, well hell, here's another job they can do: capture, jail and court-martial regular ol' Americans right here at home! Pretty logical, huh?

Just out of curiosity, I looked up the Senate Democrats who voted for this legislative monstrosity, to see how the "liberal" stalwarts were protecting our civil rights to due process. Sheldon Whitehouse, I noticed, voted for it, while Rand Paul of Kentucky voted against it. A total of 60 Senators voted for passage, and since the Democrats arguably "control" the Senate, it took a lot of cross-overs to give the President the unconstitutional "tool" he wanted. Rest assured, however, that the actual vote tally was a mirage, an "arranged" lineup of yeas and nays to give cover to the fake liberals who could have stopped it before it ever came to a vote, but chose not to. And our ever-compliant President will sign the bill with no hesitation whatsoever.

December 15, 2011

Bill of Rights, December 15, 1791 to December 15, 2011: R.I.P.

There is a beautiful symmetry to this sad development: two hundred and twenty years to the day between the birth and death of the landmark charter of civil liberties conceived by some of the greatest minds of the Enlightenment in the early days of the Republic. And now thoughtlessly tossed aside by a decadent Congress and a craven President. Things change over time, I guess.

The Levin-McCain amendment to the Defense Authorization Act, which allows American citizens to be arrested within the United States by the military and confined indefinitely in prison without trial, if, in the opinion of the President, such American citizens have engaged in some kind of "terrorism" by offering "substantial support" to Al-Qaeda, or the Taliban, or to "associated forces" of Al Qaeda or the Taliban, is, in my view, the official death knell of the Bill of Rights. Once a people decides to give a president, or a king, or a dictator, the right to silence the opposition by applying a label to dissidents or others, and to thereafter send such dissidents to a concentration camp (Guantanamo or a military brig), with no time limit on detention and with no requirement of a trial, a power which Congress has now given to the President of the United States, then a Constitutional democracy no longer exists.

As always, there is virtually no reaction in the Mainstream Media. One would not expect any. Would you have expected Pravda to criticize Stalin for liquidating his political opponents or sending them to Siberia? The official position of the Serious People in the media or in politics is that this power will only be used against people who deserve it, and that we can trust President Obama not to abuse such a tyrannical power because, after all, he's a good guy. And the next President, now that this power has been codified by Congress? Well, they'll all be good guys, too, I'm sure. So we can safely dispense with Due Process, or the Fifth Amendment's right to a speedy trial, and the right to counsel, or anything else that gets in the way of the President's fast and efficient determination of guilt based on his opinion.

For example, in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen assassinated on the order of President Obama, I am sure you concluded, along with the President, that he was guilty, and that the accusation, sentencing and execution (all carried out at the same time) were fully justified. You concluded this on the basis of a detailed examination of the evidence against this American citizen, which you obtained from American media reports. While in many instances you are aware that the mainstream media often exaggerate or simply misrepresent the facts of public life (you'll recall how helpful certain reporters at the New York Times were in establishing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that we must invade), in this case, given that Awlaki was the worst of pariahs, a terrorist (as you were told), and given the consequence of being wrong about that (we killed the man, after all), you have very little doubt that Awlaki got the punishment he deserved and that would have been meted out to him after a trial. Of course, in that trial the defendant would have been allowed to present himself and other witnesses on his behalf, his lawyers would have been able to cross-examine the witnesses against him, the reports in the media would probably have been placed in a different context (as always happens when the fine-grain detail of a trial is presented), and a sentence other than death might have been rendered. What a lot of messy detail compared to just dispatching him with a Predator drone guided by a technician in an Air Force base in Nevada!

To say that it's surprising that this very bad development would have reached its culmination during the Presidency of Barack Obama, with his enthusiastic support, must go down as one of the great understatements of the new Millenium, although we're only a few years into it.