Alternet carries a story about Obama’s Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder, being preoccupied – as was Bush – with furthering the ‘war on terror’. Oy. Alas and oy.
We are living in dangerous times, he thinks. Perhaps he doesn’t recall the days of the Cold War when you were never sure whether the sandwich in your Roy Rogers lunchbox was going to be your last, and the box itself the last bit of ‘America’ you would see, huddled under your desk, as the Big White Flash turned you to a cinder-pile in the flash of eye.
He should at least recall New Orleans, when a hurricane and the US government joined forces to reduce a marvelous American city of long-lineage into a deathy shit-pond. Such a memory would be inconvenient to his purposes, I think, requiring the Federal gummint to do some serious work rather than simply grab massive new ‘powers’ to add to a large and long list of the ones it has demonstrably failed to exercise effectively for quite some time.
It would appear that the victory of the long-marching ‘minorities’ is going to yield, after the party proper is over this week, more of the same-old same-old. The only thing We will have to console Us is some reely nice ‘symbolism’.
We are descending to the status – not of failed nation, but of ‘symbolic’ nation. Plus ca change, and all that.
We are at war, he says. We have been, although We did not know it, since the attacks on embassies abroad and the incident of the USS Cole, he says. So you can be ‘at war’ and not know it, now. In a world where reality has become this spongy, the entire premise of civilization as it has evolved in the West and in all the great cultures of human history is slipping away like sand out from under the foundations of a massive building. In such a situation, admiring the wall-paper and the marble staircases isn’t the first priority. It’s a matter, as it were, of infra-infra-structure. And it’s getting serious.
In consequence, the government is responsible for ‘keeping Us safe’. The Nanny State’s government-as-parent merges seamlessly into the Security State’s government-as-cop and drill-sergeant. This is not progress. And whoever supports it is not ‘progressive’. They are regressive. And that’s never good.
The parents’ task now is to keep their kids ‘proper’ and ‘appropriate’; the government will keep them ‘safe’. Although perhaps without a job or even a roof over their heads. All the laptops will require some sort of roof-like attachment to shield the electronics from the elements; otherwise they won’t be able to platform ‘Grand Theft Auto’. O brave new world order!
He will do it all “within the letter and the spirit of the Constitution”, quotha. Bravely said. But the Constitution never envisioned a government that would ensure ‘safety’, certainly not in the all-encompassing manner envisioned by the Nanny State, and certainly not in a situation where the Gongress has abdicated all but symbolic duties to the Executive and where elections are themselves increasingly ‘symbolic’ and, equally ominously, of dubious legitimacy.
And where government agents and elected officials who fail to perform their duties, who do not ensure that the laws be faithfully executed, who consider themselves above the law either by the very nature of things or by the sure and certain knowledge that their co-conspirators in the other Branches will grant them immunity by law or the refusal to investigate and prosecute breaches … will consider themselves free to do ‘whatever it takes’ to do whatever they see fit. The Founding generation’s descriptor for this type of situation was ‘monarchy’ or, worse, ‘tyranny’. They were agin’ it. And pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to ensure that their countrymen and their descendants would never again be so enchained.
But times change, do they not? Which is why Franklin acutely observed that We would have a democracy only for as long as We could keep it. ‘Keeping’ it meant keeping the marvelous contraption of the Federal government’s Branches secure on the leash held by The People. To do otherwise would be the equivalent of Plato’s charioteer letting the horses decide where to go – you’re not going to get much useful travelling down that way. Horses prefer the barn where they can settle down to eat, poop, and snooze. Otherwise known as The Beltway, which – O ancient Greeks, We hardly knew ye! – has now assumed the moral and political proportions of an Augean stable.
Holder’s job, as the article’s author Liliana Segura rightly notes, is not to keep Us ‘safe’ but to ensure that the laws are enforced. Alas, Holder seems to think that it’s too much of an ‘emergency’ to waste time on that; that ‘enforcing laws’ in such a dangerous time would be akin to a neglect of his responsibilities. This philosophy of law enforcement was embraced most famously by the successor government to Weimar, as We may recall.
I will point out again and again and again that it has been a consequence of the ‘feminist’ and ‘victimist’ mentality that ‘liberals’ – who once were ‘of the Left’ – supported increasingly intrusive government police power.
Which played directly into the hands of the National Security State and the rightist, jingoist militarism embraced by the most recent version of the Republican Party.
‘Fear’, ‘danger’ and the consequent ‘emergency’ need for ‘being safe’, ‘being kept safe’, or even simply ‘feeling safe’ … it describes as well women fearful of sexual misadventures and mothers who imagine they or somebody can keep their kids ‘totally safe’ as it describes neocons who imagine that the military can provide the country with ‘total security’.
Back in the time of the Roy Rogers lunch-box and the atom bomb no serious adult imagined that there was any such thing as ‘total safety’. You couldn’t avoid sin or death (or taxes) and you couldn’t expect that you would be able to live the life that you saw portrayed in an MGM musical or a Disney cartoon epic like ‘Pinocchio’ or ‘Snow White’ or ‘Cinderella’ or ‘Fantasia’ with all the cute dancing hippos in tutus.
Of course, you were sustained by the sure and certain belief that God was keeping an eye and that somehow it would all work out, in the next life if not in this one. Any politician who promised you ‘total safety’ you would laugh off the stage; you had seen Depression, World War, and the Commies get the A-bomb … no gasbag in a suit on Capitol Hill was going to hoodwink you into believing he could control things like that. You were no dummy – you knew the nature of the life into which you, like all other human beings, had been born. They didn’t call it a Vale of Tears for nothing. Larry McMurtry wasn’t big back then, but you would understand his sentiment that “life’s a boneyard, mostly, but pretty in the sun”. No vote-hungry pol was going to tell you that he could provide a danger-less life anymore than he could tell you that he could command the tides. You’d figure he was a used-car salesman or a nut.
But as the awareness of the Beyond faded, it seems that folks have become far more frenzied in their desire and need to make ‘heaven’ – safe and comfy – out of this life; this being the only ‘dimension’ that was provably ‘real’, then the human need for ‘heaven’ would have to be forced onto it.
A task which the Security State types saw would create a groundswell for an obscene expansion of government authority, which – for the Security State types – would be the very thing. They’d get to it by seeming to ‘listen to’ the ‘empowered’ voices of the heretofore unheard, but for the price of keeping a straight face and a sensitive smile of sympathy they’d get what they were looking for: a governing elite, securely ensconced, that would be built on that ancient foe of democracy: the assumption that ‘people’ could never rise to the task of being The People, and needed to be tended to, herded, and handled like a flock of sheep or cows.
(Yes, I know I used the Ben Cartwright and Ponderosa images a couple of days ago in a Post. Ben is an exemplar of a human being; I would not at all extend his metaphor to suggest that the citizens are the ‘cows’ in Ben’s vast herds. In fact, with other human beings, other citizens, Ben was scrupulously upright, at great cost to himself sometimes. He would, as the used to say in frontier times, no more abuse a person than he would a good cow or a prize stallion – which in the context was high praise indeed.)
So in this matter of ‘preventive detention’, Holder opined that even if you can’t prove they’ve broken the law, they’re still dangerous and so “we’re going to have to figure out what we do with them”. Well, now, as I said in my immediately previous Post, this is sort of a classic example of a bad idea spreading itself around, being used as a template for a plan of proceeding in far different contexts. The modern ‘preventive detention’ issue originally comes to Us from the realm of sex-offense laws: what do you do when you’ve imprisoned somebody for a full stretch, he finished up, but you still don’t want him around?
The solution – of grossly questionable legality, as even the courts are starting to figure out – is to call him ‘crazy’ and confine him civilly until he ‘gets better’; since professional psychiatry doesn’t even have a diagnosis that fits, then there isn’t much of a therapy, and with no way of knowing when he’s ‘cured’ since you don’t even have a clear picture of how he’s ‘sick’, then you can politely keep him locked up until he dies or the world ends, even holding a yearly hearing with a straight face ‘to see if he’s gotten cured yet’; and if he hasn’t, it’s his own fault for not trying’. It’s marvelous in its dark way. It’s something Stalin or Mao would have come up with – and in fact they did. But they were Commies and were doing it because they were ‘evil’; it’s done here because folks need to ‘feel safe’ – so it’s OK.
Now all of this ‘civil commitment’ stuff started up in the mid-90s or so. Here We are, only a little more than a decade later, and figuring to try it on foreigners who make Us feel ‘unsafe’.
I think it’s a baaaad idea. It’s got huge conceptual and practical problems; see my immediately previous Post.
Additionally, in the first place, if We start ‘preventively detaining’ foreigners, then their own governments aren’t going to like it, or their citizens won’t and they’ll have to protest; ‘sex offenders’ over here in domestic policy have been so thoroughly ‘defined’ as ‘baaaad’ that it’s easy for folks to shrug off what’s done ‘legally’ to them.
In the second place, other nations may not buy the standard boiler-plate used over here against sex-offenders as adequate justification for what’s about to be done to their own nationals as ‘terrorists’. And even if it doesn’t lead to an actual breaking of diplomatic relations, the increasing number of incidents (and if the government is given the ‘authority’ then the number of incidents is certainly going to increase exponentially) with various governments’ nationals is going to start corroding Our diplomatic alliances. And building up more ill will against Us.
Thirdly, grabbing other nations’ citizens, especially on their own turf, for ‘preventive purposes’, can without too much difficulty be construed as an ‘act of war’, and We really don’t need to be starting any more of those. The Israeli’s scooped Adolf Eichmann out of Argentina back in ’60, and they got away with it – but they never tried it again. We are planning to make this a regular feature of Our international operations.
Nor will the fact that ‘Congress’ has made it ‘legal’ do much for foreign governments. Congress has been able to pass all the sex-offender stuff because it’s domestic US affairs and other nations aren’t affected. But if We presume that since ‘Congress’ has OK’d it, then everybody in the world has to obey – well that’s not an example of the type of careful accurate assessment that gets you to prime-time in the world nowadays.
It’s the type of thinking adopted by the Identities and Advocacies here during Our ongoing revolutions and culture-wars: if we can get Congress and the Supreme Court to OK this for our group, then everybody will have to give us what we want. But that only works in domestic US affairs. Congress has not become the world’s government. (Curious that the same neoconservatives who didn’t want to see a One-World government, were madly in favor of One Hyper-power; also funny that a Left that would not want an invasion for ‘imperialist’ purposes, wouldn’t mind seeing an invasion for the purpose of ‘reforming’ a culture. Funny, in a deadly sort of way.)
It’s never a good thing when somebody with pretensions to integrity and competence finds himself in agreement with Lindsay Graham, the Senator who is also a functionary in the military-justice world. Apparently, sensing that there might be a way to get his beloved military-justice racket safely out of the blast zone of the torture-processes with which it was deeply enmeshed, Graham now claims that those who would be put into “preventative detention” were not “warriors” but “criminals” – do your peace of mind a favor and don’t look up any of his statements made prior to last week – and thus implying that they are not the military’s problem.
Of course, since these ‘criminals’ are going to wind up in the same Catch-22 as ‘sex offenders’, then he can bleat as piously as he likes about putting them into such detention, and even reviewing the cases annually in a ‘hearing’. Since there is no way of judging what it is that makes them objects of suspicion, and utterly no way of knowing when ‘hostilities’ will end – unless the US itself declares the ‘war’ on terrorism to be over and won (whatever the frak that may mean) – then anyone so ‘detained’ has been given for all practical purposes a life-sentence.
And every other country in the world, and its citizens, will realize that.
This will not end well. And it will get a lot worse before it wreaks its final consequences for Us.
So, a hugely dubious domestic development, embraced by that alliance of Left and Right that has crystallized around the ‘enemy’ and the ‘danger’ embraced by both feminists and victimists – the sex offense – has now migrated to foreign affairs, where it is serving once again as a template for all manner of posturing and skullduggery.
But domestic affairs and foreign affairs and not simply two different ‘locations’. Each is a milieu that has its own operative factors and variables. Taking a procedure that is only with increasing difficulty maintaining its legitimacy in domestic affairs and figuring to transfer it without serious thought to foreign affairs, thus to deploy it not against assorted unfortunates here, but against foreign nations, is not going to end well. We can beat up on Our own unfortunates for now, but beating up on another country’s is going to create problems that We will not be able to ignore or control.
And the ‘government’ We’ve been getting from the Beltway for the past 10 years gives no indication of being able to achieve the success it so mindlessly presumes it will achieve.
It is up to Us, I think, to provide some adult supervision here. Ben Franklin & Co., and maybe God, will be watching to see not how ‘the Beltway’ performs, but how We do.
History, miraculously back from the dead, will be taking careful notes.
And there will be a test.