Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, August 29, 2012 8:11 pm

John Cusack, Jonathan Turley and our ConLaw-Prof-in-Chief; or, “We used to have some lines we wouldn’t cross [but] whoever stops fighting first loses.”

Shannyn Moore was kind enough to post the transcript of a telephone conversation that actor John Cusack, who has a certain interest in politics, had with constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley. If you care at all about the Constitution, they raise some very troubling questions, particularly the very practical question of what someone who cares about the Constitution is supposed to do in November with his presidential ballot.

Put simply, in the real world, where torture and other war crimes appear to have strong bipartisan support, there are no good choices. A vote for Barack Obama is a vote for a man who has taken the executive branch’s extrajudicial fight against “terrorism” even farther than Bush did (and Bush took it far enough to merit a date with a Netherlands noose). A vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for a guy who almost certainly cares as little as Obama for constitutional rights and, more broadly, the accountability of power AND who is beyond likely to nominate more constitutional sociopaths to the Supreme Court. And with all due respect to my Libertarian friends, a vote for Gary Johnson is, effectively, a vote for Obama.

What’s a voter to do?

Turley: We appear to be in a sort of a free-fall. We have what used to be called an “imperial presidency.”

Cusack: Obama is far more of an imperial president than Bush in many ways, wouldn’t you say?

Turley: Oh, President Obama has created an imperial presidency that would have made Richard Nixon blush. It is unbelievable.

Cusack: And to say these things, most of the liberal community or the progressive community would say, “Turley and Cusack have lost their minds. What do they want? They want Mitt Romney to come in?”

Turley: The question is, “What has all of your relativistic voting and support done for you?” That is, certainly there are many people who believe –

Cusack: Well, some of the people will say the bread-and-butter issues, “I got healthcare coverage, I got expanded healthcare coverage.”

Turley: See, that’s what I find really interesting. When I talk to people who support the administration, they usually agree with me that torture is a war crime and that the administration has blocked the investigation of alleged war crimes.

Then I ask them, “Then, morally, are you comfortable with saying, ‘I know the administration is concealing war crimes, but they’re really good on healthcare?’” That is what it comes down to.
The question for people to struggle with is how we ever hope to regain our moral standing and our high ground unless citizens are prepared to say, “Enough.” And this is really the election where that might actually carry some weight — if people said, “Enough. We’re not going to blindly support the president and be played anymore according to this blue state/red state paradigm. We’re going to reconstruct instead of replicate.” It might not even be a reinvented Democratic Party in the end that is a viable option. Civil libertarians are going to stand apart so that people like Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama and others know that there are certain Rubicon issues that you cannot cross, and one of them happens to be civil liberty.

Cusack: Yeah, because most people reading this will sort of say, “Okay, this is all fine and good, but I’ve got to get to work and I’ve got to do this stuff, and I don’t know what these f—— guys are talking about. I don’t really care.”

Both Turley and Cusack seem to lean against voting for Obama’s re-election, on the grounds that they would be supporting a serial war criminal and violator of the Constitution, even though, by his own admission, Romney would embrace many of the same policies. But neither flatly says that’s what he intends to do. And that’s where we find ourselves: We have no good choices. And the reason we have good choices is that We, the People, brought this shit on ourselves by letting it go on before — now just with Bush 43, when we soiled our drawers on 9/11 and have spent the better part of the ensuing decade running around like decapitated chickens, but also with all sorts of crime dating at least as far back as our propping up banana republics in the 1930s for the greater good of Chiquita.

I’ve already called for Obama’s impeachment on just this issue and petitioned my federal elected officials accordingly. Obviously, that isn’t going to happen. I know that the long-term solution is to start electing officials at the local level who demonstrate a decent respect for the rule of law and holding the powerful accountable and hope that in 20 or 25 years, one of them can work his/her way to the White House. But that’s only a long-term solution (and I won’t even get into the obstacles). We need an answer to a short-term question: How does one cast a ballot for president in November in a way that honors and protects the Bill of Rights?

I got nothin’. You?

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011 8:31 pm

I told you years ago that this would happen …

Yes, I did.

… and now, as Matt Taibbi points out, it has:

Every time we looked the other way when the president asked for the right to detain people without trials, to commit searches without warrants, to eavesdrop on private citizens without even a judge knowing about it, we made it harder to answer the question: what is it we’re actually defending? …

We had all of these arguments in the Bush years and it’s nothing new to assert that much of our population made a huge mistake in giving up so many of our basic rights to due process. What’s new is that we’re now seeing the political consequences of those decisions.

Again, when we abandoned our principles in order to use force against terrorists and drug dealers, the answer to the question, Who and what are we defending? started to change.

The original answer, ostensibly, was, “We are defending the peaceful and law-abiding citizens of the United States, their principles, and everything America stands for.”

Then after a while it became, “We’re defending the current population of the country, but we can’t defend the principles so much anymore, because they weigh us down in the fight against a ruthless enemy who must be stopped at all costs.”

Then finally it became this: “We are defending ourselves, against the citizens who insist on keeping their rights and their principles.”

What happened at UC Davis was the inevitable result of our failure to make sure our government stayed in the business of defending our principles. When we stopped insisting on that relationship with our government, they became something separate from us.

And we are stuck now with this fundamental conflict, whereby most of us are insisting that the law should apply equally to everyone, while the people running this country for years now have been operating according to the completely opposite principle that different people have different rights, and who deserves what protections is a completely subjective matter, determined by those in power, on a case-by-case basis.

If you let them build a police state, they will use it. And eventually, they will use it on you.

Friday, November 18, 2011 8:03 pm

Contrary to popular belief, the Bill of Rights has not been repealed

Esquire’s Charles Pierce, bringing up our inconvenient Bill of Rights:

It would be helpful if the president would mention, in public, that people exercising their fundamental First Amendment rights of free speech and free assembly should not be made to bleed from the ears. When did we decide to look at our fellow citizens as enemies who deserve to be subject to military assault? When did we vote on that?

Thursday, June 30, 2011 8:10 pm

Because if you don’t stop it, the next time it will be even worse

During the Bush era, I raised hell here about violations of law and the Constitution by the administration, for which I had my intelligence, sanity, patriotism and sexual proclivities questioned. On the good days.

And I did it for a reason: History suggests that if violations of the law by government are not punished severely, those violations will not only continue but worsen. And American history suggests that party affiliation is no guarantor of government legality.

We’ve watched that pattern play out again during the Obama administration. Although Obama campaigned (to some extent) against the criminal violations of the Bush national-security state, he’s continuing some of those same practices now that he is the one with the power. I warned of this behavior early in his tenure, and I’ve long since reached my breaking point. But the pattern is worsening, as Fecund Stench notes in this brief but telling roundup:

From Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic:

In Barack Obama’s rise to national prominence, when he criticized the Bush Administration for its false claims about WMDs in Iraq, its torture of detainees, and its illegal program of spying on American citizens without warrants, he owed a particular debt of gratitude to a New York Times national security reporter. In a series of scoops as impressive as any amassed during the War on Terrorism, James Risen reported in 2004 that the CIA failed to tell President Bush about relatives of Iraqi scientists who swore that the country had abandoned its weapons program; the same year, he was first to reveal that the CIA was waterboarding detainees in Iraq; and in 2005, he broke the Pulitzer Prize winning story about the secret NSA spying program.

These scoops so embarrassed and angered the Bush Administration that some of its senior members wanted Risen to end up in jail. They never managed to make that happen. But President Obama might. He once found obvious value in Risen’s investigative journalism. Its work that would’ve been impossible to produce without confidential sources and an ability to credibly promise that he’d never reveal their identities. But no matter. The Obama Administration is now demanding that Risen reveal his source for a 2006 scoop about CIA missteps in Iran. If he refuses to cooperate, which is his plan, he faces the possibility of jail time.

From Glenn Greenwald at Salon, last week:

The subpoena to Risen was originally issued but then abandoned by the Bush administration, and then revitalized by Obama lawyers. It is part of the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent whom the DOJ accuses of leaking to Risen the story of a severely botched agency plot — from 11 years ago — to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program, a story Risen wrote about six years after the fact in his 2006 best-selling book, State of War. The DOJ wants to force Risen to testify under oath about whether Sterling was his source…

What’s particularly striking about this prosecution is that it involves digging deep into the ancient past (the Iran operation in question was begun under the Clinton administration): this from a President who insisted that Bush officials not be investigated for their crimes on the ground that we must “Look Forward, Not Backward.” But it’s not hard to see why Obama officials are so intent on doing so: few things are more effective in creating a Climate of Fear — one that deters investigation and disclosure and stifles the exercise of basic rights — than prosecuting prominent people for having challenged and undermined the government’s agenda. As Risen documents, that — plainly — is what this prosecution and the Obama administration’s broader anti-whistleblower war is about: chilling the exercise of basic rights and the ability to challenge government actions.

From David K. Shipler at the NYT, last week:

THIS spring was a rough season for the Fourth Amendment. The Obama administration petitioned the Supreme Court to allow GPS tracking of vehicles without judicial permission. The Supreme Court ruled that the police could break into a house without a search warrant if, after knocking and announcing themselves, they heard what sounded like evidence being destroyed. Then it refused to see a Fourth Amendment violation where a citizen was jailed for 16 days on the false pretext that he was being held as a material witness to a crime.

I’ll be honest: I’m scared. Once these freedoms go, they’ll be difficult, if not impossible, to get back. Once the precedents have been established that criminal violations of the law and violations of the Constitution by our government will go not just unpunished but, if possible, unrecorded, we have entered a long, dark tunnel at the end of which no light is visible.

If you’re content to live in Guatemala with a bigger economy, fine. I’ve always hoped for better.

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