Tuesday, June 29

Supreme Court Trifecta
by Stephen J. Ryan

I am not as relieved as most people about the three recent Supreme Court ("SC") decisions involving the rights of those held without charge (and without access to counsel) in the war on terror. These decisions ultimately rebuked the Bush Administration's position on abandoning Habeas Corpus (i.e., the government's obligation to charge a crime and the detainee's right to answer the charge) and restores basic due process rights for detainees. Since two of the three cases involved the rights of American citizens, SC's decisions on those cases directly impact each and every one of us and our own right to Habeas Corpus. As I type this, the Bush Administration is hastily convening war tribunals for secret trials, again circumventing American laws and institutions.

Jose Padilla, the alleged "dirty bomber" from Chicago, was arrested here in America and was declared an enemy combatant which means he has not been charged nor has he received access to counsel. Padilla spent two years in a Navy isolation brig in South Carolina without benefit of an attorney until very recently when he then sued Rumsfeld. SC refused to rule, saying that Padilla should have sued the brig commandant. The Supreme Court ignored the obvious chain of command that puts the brig commandant under Rumsfeld's authority. Result? Padilla will keep his enemy-combatant status, remain in the brig, and will have to re-file against the commandant. This is a ridiculous requirement given the SC's blindness to genuine technical flaws in the government's case last week when it barred the release of information emanating from Cheney's 2001 energy task force meetings. At the soonest, SC will hear Padilla's case during the Court's next decision cycle, and it will hear the same arguments it heard this time around, but it will be after the election.

At least in the case of Yasser Hamdi, an American citizen arrested on foreign soil and dispatched to multiple brigs over two years, SC, after much anguish, decided he and the Gitmo detainees had a right to be charged and to answer those charges. However, the Court, in rejecting the Bush Administration's argument for total denial of review, failed in its most basic function: setting forth the required procedures and failed to send the cases down to the Circuit Court of Appeals to make that determination. Thus, there's need for subsequent legal action to establish procedural due process involving those designated as enemy combatants thanks to Congress’s rubber stamp of the Bush’s policy after 9/11. Again, all of this will be decided after the election. How did we get to this point? Georgetown Law Professor Jonathan Turley, considered by most as a judicial moderate, blames Bush for not upholding his sworn oath to uphold the Constitution, blames Congress for abandoning its duty to provide a check to the Executive Branch, and blames the SC for its disfunctionality and its clear political bent. As to the latter, let us remember the amazing speed with which the SC responded to the Florida recount in 2000 in order to limit the collateral damage to its chosen candidate and let us consider the full two years that the SC allowed two American citizens to languish in their Kafkaesque hell.

Turley left off others from his list of blame. Of course there's the 9/11 perpetrators who set the wheels in motion for us to turn to the abhorrent and they provided the justification for things like declaring somebody an enemy combatant. Their actions provided the cover for those waiting for the opportunity to consolidate power which necessitates reducing the Constitution to a vestigial remnant of earlier times. Of course, there's Big Media, fresh from its eight-year assault on everything Clinton and ready to be Ron Popeil to Bush's KTEL.

Ultimately, though, the Numero Uno has to be the populace. First we were bored by the Florida recount fiasco ("let's move on") , then stunned by 9/11, then vengeful ("whatever it takes"), then blissfully ignorant ("we've never been in this position before"), then hopeful ("we'll pull through all this and straighten out the mess later"), and then blissfully ignorant ("we've got all this other stuff going on and I've never been arrested anyway"). Meanwhile, the "great uncharged" continue to waste away in Gitmo and countless brigs while our noble war on terror adds to their rolls. If Bush is re elected, what then?

My question: what do we tell our children?

Monday, June 28

Put Them Side by Side...

This is today's lead article in Townhall.com, a highly regarded politically conservative newsite: "Abstinence In Uganda Credited For Dramatic Decrease In AIDS" Ugandan first lady honored for support of 'True Love Waits' program. Link.

This is today's lead article in Center for American Progress, a highly regarded progressive or liberal news site: "Special Report: Iraq After June 30-A Strategy for Progress." Link

I ask myself, "What issues of the day are most important to me?"

Shall I focus on the success of abstaining from sex in Uganda in the fight against aids? Or, shall I focus on what America can do to clean up its mess in Iraq and get the hell out?

Hmmmm, even that pause is too long. Today the US handed over control of a country to its people. This is a momentous event no matter which way you lean. Aids in Uganda is important but to put abstinence ahead of the bloody birth of a new Iraq is like looking up to the sky when crossing a busy intersection: Something of immediate and vital concern, like a semi truck, might come along and flatten your ass!

A side by side comparison of the pros and cons makes me glad to be a progressive. I couldn't stand being mired in bad sex, bad religion and bad commentary day in and day out. Where's the focus for the cons? Does every tough problem, every hardship, every disaster, every inexplicable event need a veneer of sex, religion and slander in order to get near it? The question has already been answered by the mother of all neo cons, Barbara Bush...

"Why should we hear about body bags and deaths and how many, what day it's gonna happen? It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"

*I shake my head*


Monday, June 14

Homeless By Choice

"What we have found in this country, and maybe we're more aware of it now, is one problem that we've had, even in the best of times, and that is the people who are sleeping on the grates, the homeless who are homeless, you might say, by choice." – President Ronald Reagan

The concept of helping the poor and unfortunate is embedded into the center of my moral bedrock. For most of my life, I couldn’t conceive of any other way to live. Like most kids my age, I gave pennies to the world hunger league to help the starving children in China, India, South America, on Indian reservations or disaster areas. There always seemed to be a Red Cross fund raising event or church volunteer opportunity and lots of begging for money and guilt if I was too busy to help out. The phrase “spread the wealth,” was an unconscious and natural process within my family and extended family. If I was playing with a friend and she had money but I didn’t, she’d pay for me. I’d do the same for her and we all realized that being with a fun person was worth the money. Besides, it always “evened out.” No one ever got cheated, except stingy people and everyone tried to avoid being with them. The operative word was “fortunate.”

According to today’s standards, my family was not well off but we always knew we were fortunate. In my grade school days our family barely made ends meet between paychecks. Even then, we always gave either time or money to those who couldn’t make ends meet. The idea was to help an unlucky person who needed a temporary boost or give aid to the helpless, usually children. No one resented or even tried to understand why an unlucky person was unlucky. Our family went through unlucky times and we appreciated the help of family and neighbors but rarely asked for it. Assistance was never taken for granted, nor expected, but we all realized that sometimes terrible things happen and if we needed to ask for help, we had already put some good will aside for a rainy day.

My father could never forget the Great Depression. During those dark days, there were no safety nets for people in trouble and he remembered seeing a man shot dead for stealing a loaf of bread. He also remembered entire families in Buffalo, New York, being evicted from their homes in the middle of winter. The neighborhood families that could help out took people in, but by the middle of the Depression, every spare crust of bread was used up. People were starving to death on street corners and there were breadline riots on a regular basis. Global economic collapse had caused the majority of people to become severely impoverished and many of them learned to sleep on grates while wandering the streets through no choice of their own. The rioting and desperation was worse in Europe, especially in the areas that were destroyed during World War I. Misery and hopelessness were rampant and anyone who worked or could afford to live normally felt fortunate. Staying alive was considered doing well.

Both my mother and father lived through those dark days as young children and often thanked Franklin Delano Roosevelt for using America’s wealth to start the Conservation Corps, which employed my grandfather and many men like him. It built roads, damns, power plants, gave back dignity to the hopeless, and averted anarchy and collapse. It was a smart, people-oriented program that continues to reap benefits. Safety nets were constructed by the Roosevelt administration that endure today. The programs recognized that the American workers and citizens contribute to their own support and can put some “good will” or savings aside for disaster and hard times. Survivors of the Great Depression recognized the value of programs that might have saved their mother, aunt, child, father or brother from dying of starvation or from dying of exposure because there were no more warm grates to sleep on during a Buffalo winter. They were willing to fight to preserve their freedom and protect their country. They were willing to sacrifice for the future.

This is the set of family values I grew up with and it didn’t include blaming the poor for their poverty or gobbling up good will instead of saving it for the future.

Things changed when Reagan was elected to govern America. Times were tough. Iran was a huge problem and was holding Americans hostage. Gasoline prices were too high and strangling any growth in the American economy. Nuclear power was becoming a problem with the Three Mile Island near meltdown, and the mood of the country was anxious. Carter’s solution for the oil crisis was to “bite the bullet” and convert American industry and transportation to alternate fuels. Carter was truthful and pragmatic in warning that our generation might suffer over the short term, but he was convinced that future generations of Americans would benefit from our sacrifice. I recognized the wisdom of this idea. To suffer or sacrifice now to gain a greater good for all in the future conformed to the notions of good citizenship I had learned from Mom and Dad, from my religious upbringing and from personal experience.

Reagan put an end to the “sacrifice for the future” rhetoric. He also shoved a spear through the heart of the phrase, “I am my brother’s keeper.” He made it clear that the “welfare state” was just a step away from communism and the poor who benefited from these programs were ignorant and lazy. In his warped and selfish world these people enjoyed their carefree, homeless life and loved sleeping on grates in the gutters of cities in America. According to Reagan, the homeless that lived in their cars or on the streets during his presidency, just liked that lifestyle and why should good, godly, hard working Americans pay for any part of this madness. He made it seem stupid to help out the unfortunate. He made people wonder if giving a quarter to a homeless man was a rip off. He gave the poor and unfortunate a bad name. He created thousands of these poor unfortunates by breaking the Air Traffic Controllers Union, by supporting General Motors against it’s union workers, by creating a tax-cut, deficit spend, trickle-down economy that made the rich richer and demonized the poor. He clarified who was worthy in America and it wasn’t the Michigan autoworkers and their families living in their cars. His “shining city” rhetoric and economic policies were for the wealthy and maybe for anyone who could mail a $99 check to the Republican re-election campaign. Instead of taking a critical and much needed look at America’s safety nets for the unfortunate, he dismissed them. Instead of encouraging citizens to sacrifice and support alternative fuel innovations, he dismissed the issue and blew the opportunity to be free of big oil. Reagan’s political and economic policies were consistent in their promotion of the rich and dismissal of the poor or needy. His vision of a shining city on the hill did not include anyone who couldn’t help himself.

One thing is true about the Reagan myth. I think he was sincere in his cowboy dreams. He does epitomize the strong, silent, loner cowboy driving his herd of cows to the slaughterhouse for Boss Hogg. Charming imagery, but government is not about herding cows. Or, is it?