If Only

Better red than dead was a slogan used by peaceniks during the cold war. It was rightly derided by the brave souls on both sides of the aisle for suggesting that we give up our valued democratic ideals in return for safety. Today, we are being asked to accept the loss of our right to privacy, to forgo due process, to eliminate the concept of co-equal branches of government, and God knows what else, all in the name of War on Terror — the new words for safety. The sides have changed, but the philosophy remains.
 
Suppose for a minute that the passengers on the three commandeered 9/11 flights had realized, as did those on the fourth, that they were dead no matter what they did. Can you imagine any group, armed only with box cutters, holding that many hostage while their plane was flown into the Twin Towers or the Pentagon? I am reasonably sure that the passengers would have done what the fourth group did and taken back the planes, if only to have them crash in vacant fields. The changes in our lives would have been dramatic, and the political landscape would be totally different.
 
We would not be faced with an imperial Executive branch. In all likelihood, we would have a Democrat in office. We would still have the Twin Towers and the thousands of good people who worked there. We would not be subjected to the patriotic hype that has kept King George in power. We would not have Judge Alito on the verge of confirmation, ready to tilt the Supreme Court into a subservient branch of the Executive. We would not have John Roberts on the court, and certainly not as Chief Justice. We would not have the Patriot Act with its multiple intrusions into our private lives. We would not have the prison at Guantanamo Bay filled with people having no recourse to the courts. American citizens would not be classified as enemy combatants having the same rights, or lack thereof, as prisoners of war. We would not be faced with a president claiming powers usually reserved only for dictators. We would certainly not be mired in a multi-billion dollar war in Iraq, and in all likelihood at least 2,200 young Americans would still be alive, and thousands who have suffered life-changing injuries would still be whole. We would not have policies based solely on fear. And finally, if we had gone to war at all, it would have been limited to where the actual enemy was located — Afghanistan — and we would have shared the battlefield with our many allies.
 
Rather than one-party rule, we might still be facing stalemate in the legislature, but I think we might also have had a legislature that faced up to the fact that compromise and cooperation are required to get things done. The realities of the polling place have a way of motivating some of each, since do-nothing congressmen are much more likely to be voted out of office — the worst punishment possible for a politician.
 
The passengers on the three ill-fated airliners did not realize they were doomed. As a result, they did not act. They died in a fiery inferno, and many of our freedoms died with them. The move to make the Executive branch superior to the Legislative and Judicial branches is succeeding, because two of the branches of our government have done little or nothing to equalize the power structure. With the addition of Alito to the court, that fateful imbalance is almost a fait accompli.
 
The answer is obvious: We must restore balance to our national government. The election of a Democrat to the presidency would totally change the dynamic. So would the election of a Democratic majority in the Senate. It is more than the ability to say no to a headstrong president that is needed. It is the restoration of the setting that made government workable and representative in the first place. Our system, under most circumstances, is cumbersome, and not always responsive to the public, but it's worked pretty well for a couple of centuries. Most of that time we have enjoyed a balance of power between the Executive and the Legislative. We need that balance again.  

Did You Hear What He Said?

I just finished reading Double Tap, a murder mystery/courtroom drama by Steve Martini, published in 2005. It seems like he had a contact at the New York Times, because much of the plot is currently being played out on the national scene. The New York Times sat on the current story long enough for Dubya to be reelected, after which they sprang it on us — the domestic spying that is. Had the story broken when it should have, it might have blunted the trumped-up issue of gay marriage, and might well have made a difference in several key states.  It must have been those liberals at the Times, the ones out to get King George, who held it back.
 
Karl Rove & Co. have renamed domestic spying to make it sound like something it isn't. They've tried to make it sound more palatable. In fact, it is now being trumpeted as a major step forward in defeating terrorists. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Something similar could be said of dog doo, but you'd still rather not track it into the house.
 
What is impossible for me to understand is how a group, one that has complained for my entire life about government intrusion into their lives, can now make excuses for this kind of illegal eavesdropping by the federal government. As a rule, I don't listen to talk radio, but I can imagine the rationalizations being visited upon the ditto heads. I suppose this is reasonable, since they have a vested interest to protect, but most conservatives I know, and I happen to know many, are not employed by the government or by any of the politicians who make up the government. Why they would choose to defend this intrusive behavior is beyond me.
 
This administration is the most corrupt, un-American, power hungry group to hold sway in my lifetime. Then again, I only go back to Coolidge. Warren G. Harding might have given them a run for their money had he lived out his full term. Anything I am apt to say on the phone, or by e-mail, I have probably said publicly many times. It is not the fear of being overheard that bothers me, but the fact that King George thinks he has the right to do so. They are now saying that the eavesdropping was very limited, but the truth is more that they vacuumed up information from numerous sources, then picked and chose. What's so ridiculous is: they could have done all of it legally. The rubber stamp court they might have appealed to ahead of time, or three days afterwards for that matter, is not in the habit of saying no. There is an arrogance of power at play here, and no word game is going to change it. 
 
This  administration has played on our fears ever since 9/11. It is the cornerstone of their propaganda, and it is likely to be their theme during the next election season. Dubya has great difficulty saying three consecutive sentences without referring to the War on Terror. I assume he means the war on terrorists, but he never says so. It might be well to remember that each of us is going to die, but only a few get to live in a democracy as wonderful as ours. The rights that make our democracy so great involve some risk. They are worth the risk.

Just Ducky

Back in the early days of the cold war, and continuing throughout most of its existence, a favorite expression of Joseph McCarthy, and the McCarthy Lites who accompanied or succeeded him ran, "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck." I wonder how they would interpret the actions of an administration that places itself above the law? Would they recognize its actions as tyrannical and dictatorial, and as dangerous to our way of life as Communism? Would they excuse its intrusions upon hard-won rights and liberties, as they excused their own character assassinations of those who disagreed with them? Probably, but even hypocrites can recognize hypocrisy.

Many wars have been fought to gain or protect the civil liberties we have. Though the truth is, those wars have been taken for granted. No war that I can think of has ever been fought to save lives. The idea of going to war to save lives is something of an oxymoron — to save a way of life, perhaps, but not lives. The government-hyped state of fear we now live within has led us into war supposedly to protect us from those who wish us harm. In other words, we are fighting a war supposedly to save lives. So far, of course, it has had the opposite effect.

With your indulgence, I would like to go back to the duck analogy. When government leaders operate in secret, when they lie to the public, when they demand absolute loyalty, when they seek to destroy the reputations of those who disagree with them, when they use patriotism as a catch-all cover for their actions, when they accuse detractors of sabotaging the war effort, when they re-interpret the constitution and the laws of the legislature in self-serving ways, they are doing precisely what dictators do. Am I quacking yet?

Nations that have allowed such behavior only because it was seemingly directed at people unloved among them have lived to regret it. At present, the secret elements of our government have focused their efforts on members of the Islamic faith, it being a given that the majority of the recent terrorists have been of the Islamic faith, however misguided they have been in their interpretation of it. The resultant fear of Islam, however, plus efforts by the religious right to make Christianity a part of the government code, is setting us up for a religious war, and such wars have tended to go on for centuries.

Since our citizens have been willing to risk their lives to gain or protect the rights we have, it seems to me that we should be willing to risk living with them — our rights, that is. I can see why a man who has had four heart attacks and a bad foot would not be terribly interested in the long-term effects of his behavior, especially since the prospect of grandchildren is somewhat limited. The president, however, is a healthy man with two daughters and excellent prospects in that area, and while another generation of Bushes might be a frightening thought, it should also be a compelling reason for Mr. Bush to think beyond his more selfish interests.

Unless and until the Legislature and the Judiciary assert their independence, and accept their responsibilities, this administration will continue to do as it pleases. In five years time they have undone generations of work toward protecting the planet, almost completely by administrative fiat. If allowed to, they are likely to do exactly the same thing to the civil liberties we are guaranteed by law. Does this sound like a duck?

Much, if not most, of Dubya's actions have been to undo his father's accomplishments. His father's favorite word was prudent, and that was the operative word for most of his actions. Even the tax increase he backed and later disavowed was an important part of the boom of the nineties and the lowering of the deficit. He showed his courage in war by driving a lumbering torpedo bomber, the TBF, into a barrage of anti-aircraft fire from a Japanese warship. I think that Dubya has been trying to prove that he has bigger cojones than his Dad. It was hard to do while defending Texas from Oklahoma, while others of his generation were fighting in Vietnam. Now he has his own war, and he wants to call the shots, all of them.

The war in Iraq is being fought at great sacrifice by our young people. When it draws to an end, I hope that the Iraqis are better off. But, the real worry is here at home. The war at home is a war we must all fight. I am not a pacifist. I believe, however, that the war in Iraq was manufactured by those in power, and should not have happened. As a country, we will bear the individual sacrifices of our soldiers and their families, and should honor them appropriately. Though the domestic war will have few heroes, it is well worth the fight, and deserves our support. I hope we win.

I Know This Medicine Tastes Bad,
But It's Good For You

Big Brother is listening, so be careful what you say. Am I the only one who sees the irony in our government's pursuit of someone suspected of reporting a crime? Irony may well be the wrong word. Hypocrisy seems like a better fit. According to today's newspaper, Alberto and Andrew visited John Ashcroft in intensive care in an attempt to have him sign off on the NSA's intrusion into our private lives.  Shades of Newt Gingrich.  Now that Alberto has replaced John, we may see more naked statues, but we will also have less privacy.  It should not be difficult to discern Alberto's stance on our privacy rights.
 
What seems obvious to me is that a Democracy is a very dangerous place to live. When people have rights and want to keep them, we have to accept the dangers inherent in an open society. Until now, most of us have accepted the trade-off as worth the risk. A dictatorship is probably a much safer place to live, so far as the criminal element is concerned. The government is the only thing to be truly feared. Iraq was probably safer for most people before we liberated it, Saddam being their only worry.
 
The pitchmen for the administration, including some Senators, are saying that this loss of freedom is necessary to protect our freedom. The whistle-blower has endangered us, they say, by alerting our enemies that the government has been breaking the law. It reminds me of the rationale for burning heretics at the stake. It was supposed to save their souls by punishing their physical bodies. I wonder if those human torches appreciated the gesture.