Thursday, May 29, 2008

Scott Free: McClellan vs. the Army on the Potomac

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has written a book and the level of vilification from the Bush White House, neo-cons and other ultra-right wing loyalists has been swift and deafening. The gist of all the criticism from the neo-fascist propaganda mill from Ari Fleischer to the noisemakers at Fox and other ultra-right wing media is, "How dare he!" The amazing thing to me is that the response has been so swift and so rancorous the McClellan must, at long last, be telling the truth.

The criticism I've heard most frequently goes something like if Scott thought that something was wrong, why didn't he step up and say something at the time?

That question is what's known as a "gimme". McClellan saw what happened to Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame when Wilson reported honestly that there was nothing to one of the neo-fascists' rationales for the Iraq invasion. Looking at that and knowing how the Bush loyalists fetishized loyalty he had only two choices. He could resign in protest and probably be relegated to the same outer darkness that the neo-fascists are hustling him toward now or stay on and try to make money and connections that would support him should he eventually find himself in that outer darkness.

In some sense the choice he made is a quintessentially Republican one. He chose to stay on because he, even today, excuses Dubya and because staying was in his self-interest. Self-interest ahead of nation, community and law is the ultimate Republican characteristic. Thus, asking why McClellan stayed is both foolish and self-evident. For hitman, Karl Rove, to pose that question is deliciously ironic and reveals two more essential characteristics of Dubya’s neo-fascist crew and Republicans in general: they know neither shame or irony.

One of the other questions frequently asked is, “Why now?” Why did McClellan put his account of Administration machinations and perfidy out now? That too is obvious. It’s an election year. This year his book is likely to sell better than in any other year. Again, self-interest trumps everything. Still, being a little less cynical, I think that Scott McClellan, like several former denizens of this Administration like Colin Powell and George Tenet before him, knows that this crew of war criminals and civil rights violators is going to be called to account as soon as they are out of the White House and regardless of the raft of pardons that Dubya, like Poppy before him, is going to issue on his way out the door. McClellan is jockeying for position. He’s a relatively little fish. If he suddenly develops or counterfeits a moral compass the coming storm is likely to break lightly on his head.

In 1980 Cyrus Vance who’d differed with Jimmy Carter over the disastrous Iranian hostage rescue mission allowed the mission to fail and then had the decency to resign once his reservations had proved all too prescient. But Vance was a Democrat a bit less steeped in total self-interest than Republicans. McClellan, like his Republican cronies, talks a good game when it comes to morality, personal responsibility and shared values but doesn’t stand up until it’s too late for the nation and profitable for himself.

To be a true Republican of this time it seems to me that one must have steeped one’s self in Ayn Rand’s pernicious screeds Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. The wildly misnamed Objectivism contends that nothing matters but the individual and what that individual deigns to grant to others and society as a whole. Indeed life is characterized by the struggle of the individual against society. In truth it is extreme subjectivism and a close, even incestuous, cousin of fascism. Scott McClellan hasn’t had a change of heart; rather he’s decided that his bread is buttered on a different side. Still, that he’s being more truthful today than he was while he was one of Republican minions is to be celebrated but much in the way that one thanks a match seller for turning in an arsonist he before sets another fire. While we congratulate him for his current honesty we should remember that had he found a spine in 2004 we would have been spared some of the depredations of the last three and a half years of neo-fascist rule.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rights at the Wrong Time: Bad timing from the California Supreme Court

First, though it's going to seem a bit hollow, I have long supported gay rights. I've had gay and lesbian friends since I was in high school more than 40 years ago. All the hoopla over rights for blacks, women, gays, etc. in fact is something of a continuing shock to me because it seems to me obvious that we all should have those "unalienable rights" of which Thomas Jefferson wrote. We are all human beings (though I have doubts about Dick and Lynn Cheney, Pat and Bay Buchanan and am quite sure that Ann Coulter is not) and by virtue of that fact we all inherently have those rights regardless of our color, ethnicity or whom we love. That said, I am more than a little ambivalent about the decision of the California Supreme Court today (May 15, 2008) declaring California laws banning same-sex marriages illegal.

I would, however, have no ambivalence whatever had this same decision come down on, say, November 10, 2008. The Supreme Court's decision is obviously and unquestionably correct. But this decision in our largest and most populous state is only going to electrify the bigots and loonies during an election campaign. The effect is likely to be that we will spend more time talking about same-sex marriage than we will about the criminally prosecuted war in Iraq or the decimation of the American economy by the neo-fascist ideologues of the Republican Party.

This past Tuesday we were treated to interviews with older white voters in West Virginia making clear that their bigotries had survived unchanged since the 1950s. They offered a raft of false excuses and outright racist statements for rejecting Barack Obama's candidacy. Their bigotries reveal the dark, noisome depths of American ignorance, fear and hatred that the Republican Party has mined so effectively for the last 60 plus years. The Republican prescription for winning elections has been to fragment and intimidate the electorate. They exploit the fears of black and white, young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight bringing those ephemeral and foolish issues to the fore so that we never have to consider why the United States alone amongst the industrial nations of the world deny our citizens health care, adequate housing and decent pensions.

Ultimately the California Supreme Court's decision was long overdue. It was correct. The dissent that would have it that the decision violates the separation of powers is, prima facie, absurd and an abdication of judicial responsibility. If it is not for the Supreme Court to rule on the Constitutionality of a law, what is the Supreme Court for? I am glad that my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters now can legally marry in California as well as Massachusetts. Still, had I had my druthers I would have allowed the injustice to continue for another 6 months so that we could have a presidential election without scum from Focus on the Family and other bigots energized by this decision. I'm not proud of that position but I must own it mine.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Part and Parsing: Why Antonin Scalia must be impeached.

In neo-fascist circles, Antonin Scalia is what passes for a major intellectual. I refuse to call him "Justice" Scalia because justice and Antonin Scalia don't belong in the same sentence. Like most ultra-right wing pseudo-intellectuals Scalia is well read but nothing that he's read penetrates the denser-than-a-black-hole certainty of his ideology. Mr. Scalia in interviews with Lesley Stahl and with the BBC has insisted that torture is not "cruel and unusual punishment". That terminology comes from, among other places, the 8th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution which reads in its entirety, "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

Mr. Scalia, being a "strict constructionist" and all, he obviously knows the language of the 8th Amendment. Since Mr. Scalia claims to be a legal scholar he obviously also knows the history that culminates in the 8th Amendment. He knows that it derives from the English Bill of Rights of 1689. He knows that the English Bill of Rights stems from nearly 400 years of almost constant civil war in England going back to the reign of Edward II. In those wars winners used such punishments as impaling their live opponents on stakes or drawing and quartering. Burning and beheading were also favorite forms of punishment. Of course, often as preparation for trial, what modern attorneys call the "discovery process", came torture, usually in forms that make water boarding look positively benign. Mr. Scalia's scholarship certainly includes reading in the history that led to the language of the 8th Amendment. Which is, of course, exactly the point. Mr. Scalia can read the history, read the records of the public debate leading to the 8th Amendment, read the entire history of the law's interpretation by our courts and have none of it penetrate his impenetrably black ideological certainty.

I do think that I understand Mr. Scalia's specious logic. I think he must be relying on a definition of punishment that beggars Bill Clinton's parsing of the word is. I believe that Mr. Scalia has convinced himself that punishment is something that follows adjudication. Since the people that we are and have been torturing over these last 7 years have not had an adjudication of their guilt or innocence, the torture is not, in Mr. Scalia's view, punishment per se. It may be cruel. It may be unusual, but absent an adjudication it cannot be punishment in the ideologocally benighted mind of Antonin Scalia.

In typical neo-fascist fashion, Mr. Scalia insists that what is sauce for the liberal goose can't even come close to the ultra-rightist gander. The Constitution which, as a "strict constructionist", Mr. Scalia believes does not enshrine a right to privacy does clearly enshrine a right to torture. He maintains this ideologically insane position despite the reading that clearly informs him that the right to privacy was of paramount concern to the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights while torture was anathema to them.

Mr. Scalia lacks what is losely referred to as a "judicial temperament". His refusal to recuse himself from the deliberations in Cheney v. USDC for the District of Columbia shows that his ideology and friendships override his legal judgment when it suits him just as did his vote in Bush v. Gore. But now he has gone beyond the pale. He has shown himself willing to embrace the kind of "judicial activism" (albeit from the far right) and "moral relativism" so decried by his fellow neo-fascists. Once more we see that the people most apt to wrap themselves in the flag are those with the least respect for the Constitution that flag represents.

I would hope that my fellow Democrats and anyone with even modest respect for our Constitution, for civil and human rights would stop the nonsensical pursuit of a bill of impeachment against Dubya and Cheney and put that energy into a bill of impeachment against Antonin Scalia who is a clear and present danger to the U. S. Constitution.