The madness of kinging George

· Civil Liberties, Edgewise, Paleoblogs

The capacity for Bush defenders (I can’t call them conservatives — not even sure they’re really Republicans anymore) to argue that up is down and black is white and violating the law is not violating the law has reached a crescendo. Glenn Greenwald explains cogently just how far out of line the defenses of warrantless wiretaps have drifted (Unclaimed Territory: The Bush justifications for law-breaking).
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. David Brooks argues it’s smart politics to violate separation of powers and Charles Krauthammer argues it’s not against the law for the president to break the law (just poor politics). Is this how It Can’t Happen Here finally happens here?
Maybe I’ll just retreat into cognitive absurdity with the rest of the nation. Maybe Fafblog has the right idea.

Osama’s satellite phone

· Civil Liberties, Edgewise, Paleoblogs

With so many lies flying around about Bush’s warrantless wiretaps — even the lies have lies — one caught my ear the other day during Bush’s press conference and repeated by 9/11 commissioner Lee Hamilton in an article in today’s Times.
The anecdote (much like Reagan’s false – but – still – believed – to – this – day tales of welfare queens and other colorful folk) asserts that “in the late ’90s” we were tracking Osama bin Laden by his satellite phone but that reports “in the media” or “in the Washington Times” tipped him off and he stopped using it.
Strangely, though, I have a clear memory of being in an airport a year or so into the Afghan war and watching CNN in the lounge when a Republican legislator (a senator, as I recall) bragged that we were tracking bin Laden through the use of his satellite phone. I remember thinking that it was ridiculous to mention this to the media for the exact reason that it would tip off al Qaeda. “Great,” I thought to myself, “now that won’t work anymore.”
So when Bush claims a similar incident happened in “the ’90s” (meaning, I suppose, “not under my watch”), it struck me as strange. If we tipped off bin Laden about tracking his satellite phone back before 9/11, then how was it that we were still tracking him that way in 2003?
Did I remember it all wrong? To be sure I did a little Googling and turned up, among other things, this story from CBS News: Osama’s Satellite Phone Switcheroo | January 21, 2003.
So, we were still tracking bin Laden by his satellite phone as late as 2003. In fact, if anything, we were overrelying on that method, if the CBS story is correct.
OK, that’s one little lie among many big ones but I thought it was worth noting, as a small gesture against the overwhelming wave of outrage fatigue I’ve been feeling lately.
*UPDATE:* Looks like I was right — the story is an urban myth.

Weighing Justices

· Civil Liberties

Justice may be blind and that’s for the good but what about those scales? When it comes to weighing one side against another I’m worried about size and heft overpowering brevity and thrift. Another way of imagining this concern is to place a bible on one side of the scale and the U.S. Constitution on the other. Both speak to the law but in entirely different ways.
I have nothing against Christians, per se. I happen to be one– by baptism (not my choice) and by an adolescent era decision to become one (via the United Methodist church). However, I haven’t set foot in a church for the purpose of worshiping since I was eighteen. That said, I have no particular beef with the church I joined as a youth (against my father’s adamant objection) nor with those who choose to worship in whatever manner or in whatever religion they choose.
But I do object, and in this way I think I am a strict constructionist here, to the injection of specific religious doctrine (belief, covenant, more, scripture–whatever you prefer to call it) into the procedures of civil law. I so fervently came to this view of things over several decades of intellectual and not-so-intellectual engagement with the burning topics of American society from the Movements (civil rights, peace, women’s lib, gay rights, yadda yadda) to the Issues (abortion rights, health care, living wage, drugs, Darwin, blah blah blah) to the Wars (remember Granada? etc, etc, etc). So fervent, in fact, that I had to give up playing the game Civilization when I discovered that all my civilizations crashed after Phase I because I refused to let them invent religion.
Why am I going on about this anyway? How can I hold a certain fondness in my heart for “That Old Rugged Cross” sung by a bunch of off-key warblers in an old smelly movie theater (new church under construction) and yet get red-eye and ear steam over School Prayer? I am reminded of another story….When My High School Science Teacher Was Asked About God. Now I adored this guy. He was soft spoken and patient, never making me or anyone else feel stupid for asking a stupid question. His classroom was decorated with innumerable jars of pickled wonders and he got me through my first dissection (med school was definitely not for me) with humor. And when asked if he believed in God he replied in the most comforting way possible that he did but that God had nothing to do with Science. So, he became sort of my Minister of Science.
Separating Religion and Science, the Bible and the Constitution, Faith and Reason, and all those complicated dualities of daily life is one of the basic tenets of American life. It’s why we have and discuss and fight over our Constitution. It’s the basis of our civil life and the reason we have any religious liberty at all, including the liberty to not have a religion.
So, getting back to the Scales of Justice, the question in my mind today is what book of laws tips the scale in the heart and mind of the current Christian president’s Christian Supreme Court nominee? Can one wear an American flag lapel and a Christian cross on the same suit and be trusted to be a supreme judge of American constitutional and civil law? The answer may be yes. But you will have to prove it to me.

Chilling times

· Civil Liberties

According to an article on, 44% of Americans “believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans.” Further:

The survey showed that 27 percent of respondents supported requiring all Muslim-Americans to register where they lived with the federal government. Twenty-two percent favored racial profiling to identify potential terrorist threats. And 29 percent thought undercover agents should infiltrate Muslim civic and volunteer organizations to keep tabs on their activities and fund-raising.

It’s hard to dismiss these numbers. Tens of millions of Americans support requiring a particular religious group to register where they live.
These are chilling times.