Ch ch ch chaaanges

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”

Benjamin Franklin

by Christopher Bailey

    A little while back, just after Obama was elected, I made a “let’s see” post on an old blog that I had been keeping. It pertained to the new Obama administration and its stance regarding ‘change’ and what that will look like.  I initially thought that there will be a lot less lives lost -say that three times fast -now that was occupying  the office of the presidency but, as I look back on past liberals who have been in office, I have also noticed a pattern:  While the GOP legislators and ‘executors’ often market their solutions to problems regarding national security (eg. warehousing terror suspects and the like) overtly thereby allowing the public a full frontal of what ‘safety and security looks like’, the Dems, on the other hand, have, in the past, chosen to make these kinds of solutions a more secretive endeavor or, if they are in fact made public, they paint a big yellow happy face on it. I refer here to our inroads,  under Democrat leadership, into the ‘southern cone’ of South America and the Carter administration’s silent complicity in the maintenance of the ‘School of Americas’ ( famous now, in Mexico at the very least, for being a training ground for the first Zetas of cartel fame).  Like all good political parties, and in the best tradition of the Dems, it seems that the Obama administration is following suit.  While they tarred and feathered the Bush administration in the press whilst closing Guantanamo -an act that “deeply worries’ our resident Sith-Lord Darth Cheney – it is now becoming apparent that the Obama administration was really waging a PR campaign.

    Let me un pack this line of thought a bit: you see, Guantanamo was a publicity ‘roadside bomb’ for the GOP amongst many Americans. It embodied the shared characteristics of the immanent death, fear, torture, arbitrariness, the loss of liberty, the loss of human rights, for many of those concerned Americans (and I was indeed one of those) and if it was left unattended it was going to blow.  “Fair enough” Obama said “let’s close it”.’Well fine Mr President’, the camp is closing (because it really hasn’t closed just yet) and many Americans are still rejoicing at the redress of this horrid “mistake” in policy. You have satisfied a boodle (yes, I used ‘boodle’) of  naive Americans who think that we have never been capable of ‘that kind of thing’ [meaning torture].  Now, we have our happy faces painted on because this is all the press has given us, but I have a few questions that might wipe the self-satisfied smile off of some of our happy little faces.

What about that horrible practice that we used to hear about from the press and then they stopped talking about it? What about the real threat to, not just the ‘detainees’ liberty, but ours as well? What about ‘extraordinary rendition’?  What about the degradation of our democracy that was due to the emergence of the so-called “Unitary Presidency”? Many of us said “Please say that you are going to change that, Mr. President!”

    Well we are well into the Obama presidency. The economy is tanking, we have a do nothing Congress that seems to like playing gridlock more than tete-a-tete and some real legislation – after all we have yet to see a spending/budget bill come through congress and we are on the verge of the midterm elections. But what really irks me my little change monkeys? What really gets my goat? Is that there has been virtually no coverage of the continuation of the systematic erosion of our civil liberties by the Federal Government, no judicial protections for citizens suspected of links to terrorists, nor do they have to be anywhere near a combat area. Indeed the last question, posed above, is more relevant than ever!

    And what is this change? It has been the change from empty campaign promises to the proliferation of civil rights-eroding legislation and policy. This is what should be, and has been asked – though not covered by the press – of the Obama administration. And how did they respond my dear change-junkies? This is how they responded.

 In a press release from the ACLU, dated 2/9/2009, Eric Holder’s justice department was quoted as having reiterated Bush administration appeals to “state secrets” in a lawsuit against a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen DataPlan, for its complicity and collusion in the Extraordinary rendition program.  The initial suit, titled Mohamed et al V. Jeppesen, was “brought on behalf of five men who were kidnapped and secretly transferred to U.S. run prisons or intelligence agencies [emphasis added] where they were interrogated under torture [emphasis added].” During the suit the Bush administration intervened citing, inappropriately, an appeal to “State Secrets” privilege by which they claimed that the case would “undermine national security”.  On the date of the press release the ACLU presented oral arguments that appealed the Bush “State Secret” dismissal, Eric Holder’s Department of Justice and the Obama administration responded by opting not to change the government position in the case. Indeed! They actually had the gall to maintain that the “entire subject matter of the case is a state secret“! [emphasis added]

    The ACLU’s  Executive director, Anthony D. Romero, said that the Obama administration and the “Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it  would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama’s Justice Department has  disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a  harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again Obama Justice Department Stands Behind Bush Secrecy In Extraordinary Rendition Case.”

    So this is what ‘change’ looks like my dears. The “change you can believe in” is really change that is not directly perceived, but is treated as such in spite of an obvious lack of supporting empirical evidence. It is the public “closure” of Gitmo, but the maintenance of prisons that are far worse in secret. It is the “end of combat operations in Iraq”, removing uniformed men and women from the theater all the while maintaining a very sizable and healthy mercenary force….more faux happy faces for the American people. However, the subterfuge doesn’t stop there.

    Remember all those attacks Obama made on the Bush administration for the aggregation and the exceeding of executive power, what is now called a “Unitary Presidency”? Remember how Obama lambasted the Republicans and the Bush administration for this? You just have to search Google to find piles of quotes and videos of all the racket coming out of the Obama camp with regard to this. Well, the “change”, in this regard, wasn’t much of a change. Shocked? Change junkies should be.

    I’m writing this for everyone really, but mainly for Republicans and Obama loving Dems and indys (Obama-girl I’m looking at you!)  If you’re a Republican who loved the Bush Unitary presidency, you are going to LOVE Obama. If you are an Obama loving Dem, you might come out of this ready to vomit all over yourself. A recent, late July, ACLU report ( found here: http://www.aclu.org/national-security/establishing-new-normal) set about documenting the permanent “enshrinement” of the Bush/Cheney definition of the Unitary Executive by the Obama administration. Indeed, the Congress (both houses) quietly and complicity accepted that the balance of power continues to tilt heavily toward the Executive branch of the government. The link, given in parenthesis above, details and assess the first eighteen months of the Obama presidency. And by “details and assesses” I mean “eviscerates all the empty campaign promises” Obama made prior to the election and I promise you, you won’t regret reading it for yourselves. But for those short on time I will give you a run down on just a few of these gems..

    Remember that whole history lesson above about happy faces? Remember all Obama’s promises about Transparency?

Obama’s TRANSPARENCY:

“…the administration has fought to keep secret hundreds of records relating to the Bush administration’s rendition, detention, and interrogation policies. To take just a few of many possible examples, it has fought to keep secret a directive in which President Bush authorized the CIA to establish secret prisons overseas; the Combatant Status Review Transcripts in which former CIA prisoners describe the abuse they suffered in the CIA’s secret prisons […] the administration has also fought to withhold information about prisoners held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Indeed, the Obama administration has released less information about prisoners held at Bagram Air Base than the Bush administration released about prisoners held at Guantánamo.”  [emphasis added]

    How about all that caterwhaling on torture during the election?

Obama and TORTURE AND ACCOUNTABILITY

“The truth is that the Obama administration has gradually become an obstacle to accountability for torture. It is not simply that, as discussed above, the administration has fought to keep secret some of the documents that would allow the public to better understand how the torture program was conceived, developed, and implemented. It has also sought to extinguish lawsuits brought by torture survivors [many of whom, incidentally, have been found innocent “after the fact”—denying them recognition as victims, compensation for their injuries, and even the opportunity to present their cases.”

    Flash back to the comments I made above about detention and rendition.

Obama on DETENTION

“Of far greater significance than the administration’s failure to meet its own one-year deadline is its embrace [sic] of the theory underlying the Guantánamo detention regime: that the Executive Branch can detain militarily—without charge or trial—terrorism suspects captured far from a conventional battlefield… we fear that if a precedent is established that terrorism suspects can be held without trial within the United States, this administration and future administrations will be tempted to bypass routinely the constitutional restraints of the criminal justice system in favor of indefinite military detention. [This is actually a potential consequence in the USAPATRIOT ACT II] This is a danger that far exceeds the disappointment of seeing the Guantánamo prison stay open past the one-year deadline. To be sure, Guantánamo should be closed, but not at the cost of enshrining the principle of indefinite detention in a global war without end.”

    Numerous presidents have been quoted as saying “we don’t assassinate”, which is a total lie, but what about targeted killing? The only reason I bring this up is that Obama was quite vocal about the subject during the election whilst trying to energize his “base”.

Obama on TARGETED KILLING

“President Obama has authorized a program that contemplates the killing of suspected terrorists—including U.S. citizens —located far away from zones of actual armed conflict. If accurately described, this program violates international law and, at least insofar as it affects U.S. citizens, it is also unconstitutional… the government has failed to prove the lawfulness of imprisoning individual Guantánamo detainees in some three quarters of the cases cases that have been reviewed by the federal courts thus far, even though the government had years to gather and analyze evidence for those cases and had itself determined that those prisoners were detainable. This experience should lead the administration—and all Americans—to reject out of hand a program that would invest the CIA or the U.S. military with the unchecked authority to impose an extrajudicial death sentence on U.S. citizens and others found far from any actual battlefield.”

    This one is in regard to Military commissions used to try prisoners, foreign and potentially civilian. My question to you all and Obama is: Our legal system is designed to handle every possible case, in theory. If it can’t handle the worst of us why should we trust it to handle the rest of us?!

Obama on MILITARY COMMISSIONS

“The administration’s embrace of military commission trials at Guantánamo, albeit with procedural improvements, has been a major disappointment. Instead of calling a permanent halt to the failed effort to create an entirely new court system for Guantánamo detainees, President Obama encouraged an effort to redraft the legislation creating the commissions and signed that bill into law… the existence of a second-class system of justice with a poor track record and no international legitimacy undermines the entire enterprise of prosecuting terrorism suspects. So long as the federal government can choose between two systems of justice, one of which (the federal criminal courts) is fair and legitimate, while the other (the military commissions) tips the scales in favor of the prosecution, both systems will be tainted…”

    This little jewel is, in my opinion, one of the most egregious trouncings of the constitution. It is in regard to Spying on Civilians and is obviously not beyond the pale, despite Obama’s happy face commitment to the preservation of the constitution and his empty shirt rhetoric lambasting of Bush and his cronies for the very thing he now defends. And Republicans, those vaunted champions of the constitution? They have been suspiciously evasive about dealing with this issue honestly as well.

Obama on SPEECH AND SURVEILLANCE

“…over the last eighteen months, President Obama’s administration has defended the FISA Amendments Act in the same way that the last administration did so: by insisting that the statute is effectively immune from judicial review. Individuals can challenge the statute’s statute’s constitutionality, the administration has proposed, only if they can prove that their own communications were monitored under the statute; since the administration refuses to disclose whose communications have been monitored, the statute cannot be challenged at all. In some ways, the administration’s defense of the statute is as troubling as the statute itself. The Obama administration has been reluctant to yield any of the expansive surveillance powers claimed by the last administration. It has pushed for the re-authorization of some of the Patriot Act’s most problematic surveillance provisions.”

    Many of us have seen the news stories about six-year-old kids and elderly folk, not to mention upstanding 20-50 somethings, being stopped at the airport and being told that the can’t fly. Why? Because their name is on a watch list. We’ve also heard or seen the stories about how next-to-impossible it is to get your name off of this list.

Obama on WATCH LISTS

“…rather than reform the watch lists the Obama administration has expanded their use and resisted the introduction of minimal due process safeguards to prevent abuse and protect civil liberties. The Obama administration has added thousands of names to the No Fly List, sweeping up many innocent individuals. As a result, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents have been stranded abroad, unable to return to the United States. Others are unable to visit family on the opposite end of the country or abroad. Individuals on the list are not told why they are on the list and thus have no meaningful opportunity to object or to rebut the government’s allegations. The result is an unconstitutional scheme under which an individual’s right to travel and, in some cases, a citizen’s ability to return to the United States, is under the complete control of entirely unaccountable bureaucrats relying on secret evidence and using secret standards.”

    The ACLU brief brings it all home with this short and not so sweet conclusion:

“…if the Obama administration does not effect a fundamental break with the Bush administration’s policies on detention, accountability, and other issues, but instead creates a lasting legal architecture in support of those policies, then it will have ratified, rather than rejected, the dangerous notion that America is in a permanent state of emergency and that core liberties must be surrendered forever.”

Indeed, the Obama administration, while it tries to hide the ugly truth with happy faces, is facing a mid-term election that will more than likely see a coup d’etat in the congress. And this might be a good thing, but really, what differentiates Republicans and Democrats isn’t their position on taxation, it isn’t their positions on “big government” or fiscal responsibility or security or anything else for that matter (immigration, abortion, and where they spend tax dollars are, perhaps, one exception to this rule). The thing that differentiates them is the happy face that Dems like to paint on everything. In asking these questions of you, my dears, I ask not for you to merely ponder and think but to ask these questions yourselves and others no matter what side of the political fence you come down on. For as the famous monkey wrencher Ed Abbey said, “Society is like a stew. If you don’t keep it stirred up, you get a lot of scum on top”, and when that scum rises to the top our rights, our liberties, our way of life is choked nearly to its death. So stir the pot, dears, stir the pot and for God’s remember: when you paint a happy face on a turd, it’s still a turd…and it still smells!

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A place for information and editorials for people in the Borderplex region.
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