Wisdom from the judicial branch

Boyd v. U.S., 116 U.S. 616, 635 (1886):

Illegitimate and unconstitutional practices get their first footing . . . by silent approaches and slight deviations from legal modes of procedure. This can only be obviated by adhering to the rule that constitutional provisions for the security of person and property should be liberally construed. A close and literal construction deprives them of half their efficacy, and leads to gradual depreciation of the right, as if it consisted more in sound than in substance. It is the duty of courts to be watchful for the constitutional rights of the citizen, and against any stealthy encroachments thereon. Their motto should be obsta principiis. We have no doubt that the legislative body is actuated by the same motives; but the vast accumulation of public business brought before it sometimes prevents it, on a first presentation, from noticing objections which become developed by time and the practical application of the objectionable law.

I stumbled upon this while reading Courtroom 302 by Steve Bogira. I found it sort of reassuring in light of recent news. Sort of.

Horrifically stupefied…

Yesterday the U.S. Senate gave the President the power to torture, the power to detain anyone, any time, for no reason, forever. Those detained will not be able to challenge their imprisonment; no one may ever know they’re even in prison. Glenn Greenwald has the blow-by-blow on yesterday’s “debate” and vote [via TDQ]. As soon as Bush signs this into law, anyone, anytime, could just disappear forever into U.S. military custody. The world has seen these kinds of tactics before. I note in this connection that the recently declassified snippet from the National Intelligence Estimate reports that “leftist” groups are terror threats. Only the President (and any lackey’s to whom he designates the power) can say who is an “enemy combatant.” I’m sure you can do the math from there…. [tags]terrorism, torture, bush administration, fear, congress, conlaw[/tags]

Republicans compromise on torture!

I know this isn’t news, but since I heard these headlines last Friday or so I’ve just been shocked that I haven’t heard a deafening chorus of this from Democrats. Apparently the Dems are worried about looking “soft” on “terrorism” if they stand up and say “we oppose all torture.” I don’t know which is more horrifying—the fact that Republicans have agreed to allow torture (and, as I understand it, give the Executive the power to detain just about anyone it wants forever and without any possibility of judicial review), or the fact that Democrats are not taking a united and unflinching stand against it. This should be the number one campaign slogan nationwide:

Republicans compromise on torture. Democrats don’t.

It’s simple and ought to be true. Perhaps Democrats aren’t running on this slogan because it isn’t true? Or is it because they really are as spineless as Republicans say they are?

Oh, and one more thing: Has anyone else noticed how convenient it is for Republicans that gas prices are falling now, just a little more than a month before elections? (I guess other people have noticed.) It’s enough to give a conspiracy theorist fits…

Republicans compromise on torture!

I know this isn’t news, but since I heard these headlines last Friday or so I’ve just been shocked that I haven’t heard a deafening chorus of this from Democrats. Apparently the Dems are worried about looking “soft” on “terrorism” if they stand up and say “we oppose all torture.” I don’t know which is more horrifying—the fact that Republicans have agreed to allow torture (and, as I understand it, give the Executive the power to detain just about anyone it wants forever and without any possibility of judicial review), or the fact that Democrats are not taking a united and unflinching stand against it. This should be the number one campaign slogan nationwide:

Republicans compromise on torture. Democrats don’t.

It’s simple and ought to be true. Perhaps Democrats aren’t running on this slogan because it isn’t true? Or is it because they really are as spineless as Republicans say they are?

Oh, and one more thing: Has anyone else noticed how convenient it is for Republicans that gas prices are falling now, just a little more than a month before elections? (I guess other people have noticed.) It’s enough to give a conspiracy theorist fits…

Yesterday five years ago

I had every intention of writing something significant about the five-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Instead, I highly recommend this piece by Richard Powers about that day. It captures our difficulty grasping what happened, which may explain why we’ve had such difficulty responding to it w/anything approaching a satisfactory or helpful response.

I think of 9/11 and I think: Failure of imagination. We failed to imagine how much people could be driven to attack the U.S. and international capitalism, and we failed to imagine a response that might reduce some of that drive by making the world a more open, safe, and fair place. Today we are failing to imagine how our world could be different, better, so that we might truly start working toward that world.

Yesterday five years ago I was a graduate student working toward a PhD in English at the University of Illinois. I read critical theory, philosophy, and fiction, and thought very hard about how stories have changed and might in the future change the world. At the time, no amount of money could have made me consider going to law school and becoming a lawyer. I believe I am where I am today because of 9/11, or rather, because of the terrible and ongoing response to it. The events of that day did not make me feel helpless and frustrated and afraid for the future. Instead, the aftermath, the weeks and months and now years of ongoing and growing bloodshed, oppression, inequality and injustice—all supposedly being perpetrated for my sake, in my name as an American citizen—that did make me feel helpless, frustrated, afraid, and angry, too. Grad school, “the ivory tower,” no longer seemed so important. I thought law school would put in me in a better position to do something more concrete to address the problems I saw in the world.

Now, five years on, it’s hard to say whether I made the right choice. The world is still apparently going to hell in a handbasket, and it’s hard to argue that I’m really doing much about that. I miss the life I left, but I find great value in the life I’m living now, too. And who knows where this current path may lead? Thinking of how much my life and the world have changed in just five years gives me a sort of perverse hope. Change is a constant. Five years from now everything could be completely different. Better.

What story would you like to be telling five years from now? Don’t allow your imagination to fail.

The biggest thing we have to fear is still fear itself

After the last “big scare” that got the western world all riled up about terrorism, Ze Frank pointed out that you can’t have terrorism w/out terror. Last week, network security pro Bruce Schneier said the same thing:

Imagine for a moment what would have happened if they had blown up 10 planes. There would be canceled flights, chaos at airports, bans on carry-on luggage, world leaders talking tough new security measures, political posturing and all sorts of false alarms as jittery people panicked. To a lesser degree, that’s basically what’s happening right now.

Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories about the plot and the threat. And if we’re terrified, and we share that fear, we help. All of these actions intensify and repeat the terrorists’ actions, and increase the effects of their terror.

. . .

Another thought experiment: Imagine for a moment that the British government arrested the 23 suspects without fanfare. Imagine that the TSA and its European counterparts didn’t engage in pointless airline-security measures like banning liquids. And imagine that the press didn’t write about it endlessly, and that the politicians didn’t use the event to remind us all how scared we should be. If we’d reacted that way, then the terrorists would have truly failed.

So simple, so true.

And while we’re going thought experiments: Imagine what a different world we might be living in today if Bush had not been president on 9/11/01—if we’d taken time to think and act deliberately and w/a real plan other than, “we were attacked, a bunch of people are going to have to die.” Imagine we’d reacted with even a small fraction less hysteria and hyperbole. Imagine…

And finally, imagine what the history books are going to say about this time in 20-30 years. I really have no idea, but I suspect that the story history tells will be almost as unkind to us as it is to the terrorists.

Finally finally: Do you think that if the Democrats take a majority in Congress in November that things will change much in terms of this whole “war against terror” which just creates and perpetuates terror thing? [tags]terrorism, bush administration, fear, war[/tags]

You can’t have terrorism without terror.

I’m sure you’ve heard the news yesterday and today. With the wall-to-wall coverage on every news outlet, how could you not? ((The news even reached me in my cave of work/sleep where I only get about 10 minutes of news a day, so I know you heard about it.))

So: Are you scared yet?

What to do about this terrorism problem? Ze Frank has the best answer I’ve heard in a long time:

Now, the way I see it, you can’t have terrorism without terror. The strategy of terrorism is to use isolated acts of violence to instill fear and confusion into the population at large. A small number of people can incapacitate a society by leveraging our inability to understand risk.

. . .

As long as a small group of people can inflict mass panic across a large population, the tactic itself will remain viable. One way to deal a blow to the effectiveness of terrorism is to deal with the terror itself.

The full transcript is here, but do yourself a little favor and just watch the whole show. It will take three minutes of your life and it will be worth it.

The Democrats have been looking for a unified message on national security. This should be it. [tags]terrorism, war, democrats, ideas[/tags]

NSAT&TBC

Nsattbc-2There was a great bit on Bill Maher’s “Get Real” this week—a mock commercial for our new communications/surveillance industry. In the ad the voiceover explains everything:

AT&T and SBC have merged . . . with the NSA! To form the new NSAT&TBC! Making your calls crystal clear. We have to—we’re recording them. The new NSAT&TBC: Never further away than the van outside your house.

Dark humor lives! ((This was apparently the opening sketch from 03/24/06, so you can go watch it if you’d like.))

In a similar vein, here’s another reminder that the truth is stranger (and scarier) than fiction: President Bush to Replace the Verizon Guy.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President George W. Bush and Verizon Wireless are expected to announce at a joint news conference today that the president will take the place of Paul Marcarelli, the long-time advertising face of Verizon, in a new series of commercials.

The company is also expected to announce that it is changing its much-parodied slogan from “Can you hear me now?” to “We Can Hear You Now.”

Wouldn’t that be funny if it weren’t so true?

With these latest revelations of the extent of domestic spying I’m starting to wonder if we’ve just barely scratched the surface. How many other ways is the government monitoring us? ((Legally or otherwise…)) A “flash” poll shows that 66% of those polled would not be bothered at all if they “found out that the NSA had a record of phone numbers that [they themselves] have called.” ((This poll has been widely criticized as poorly worded and skewed toward encouraging people to support the spying.)) If that poll holds up, the Bush administration will have almost certainly won this battle. The big question then becomes: Is there any line we not allow this administration to cross? Their highly successful strategy thus far seems to be:

We do whatever we want, say it’s for the safety of the American people, and dare anyone to say we shouldn’t be doing everything we can to protect U.S. citizens from terrorists. Then we tell The American People&8482; that they know that if what we’ve done was illegal, the law should be changed. This way we get to do what we want, the law be damned. It’s working great!

Remember: They can hear you now. ((See also: The Show w/Ze Frank from 05-12-06 for some excellent (and funny!) commentary on the whole NSA domestic spying imbroglio.)) [tags]NSA, terrorism, domestic spying, humor, telecommunications, BA[/tags]