Sunday, March 8, 2009

Yoo Wish

Preserving what little sanity I have left, and able to generate diminishing amounts of calm, I tend to avoid reading right-wing blogs and their other sources of what passes for thought. But I do have enough of a sense of it to be amazed (after all this time, after eight years of rationalizing everything Bush did, yes, they can still amaze me) at the reaction to the release of White House memos on presidential power in wartime. ("Wartime," naturally, to be defined by the President.)

In short, these memos baldly argue for a dictatorship, unfettered in any way. Literally. Including, but not limited to, suspension of the First Amendment.

From the NYT:

The opinions reflected a broad interpretation of presidential authority, asserting as well that the president could unilaterally abrogate foreign treaties, ignore any guidance from Congress in dealing with detainees suspected of terrorism, and conduct a program of domestic eavesdropping without warrants.

Some of the positions had previously become known from statements of Bush administration officials in response to court challenges and Congressional inquiries. But taken together, the opinions disclosed Monday were the clearest illustration to date of the broad definition of presidential power approved by government lawyers in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks.


The opinion authorizing the military to operate domestically was dated Oct. 23, 2001, and written by John C. Yoo, at the time a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, and Robert J. Delahunty, a special counsel in the office. It was directed to Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, who had asked whether Mr. Bush could use the military to combat terrorist activities inside the United States.

The use of the military envisioned in the Yoo-Delahunty reply appears to transcend by far the stationing of troops to keep watch at streets and airports, a familiar sight in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The memorandum discussed the use of military forces to carry out “raids on terrorist cells” and even seize property.


The Oct. 23 memorandum also said that “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” It added that “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.”

The reaction from the right: anger that they were released!!! Not that the memos were unAmerican or dangerous or downright scary to everyone, especially, one would think, conservatives who, in theory, are wary of the power of the federal government (except, of course, when they control it.) Nope. Anger that they were released.

The concept that a president can declare some sort of war and then claim the right to do anything he or she wants, at home and abroad -- searching, seizing, arresting, silencing -- with no regard for prior laws or Congress ought to frighten us all, regardless of political party. That a recent president was advised to do just that, by people he hired to give him legal opinions, and came close to carrying it out while Congressional leaders in his party looked the other way is something that ought to repel us all.

Can anyone doubt -- is there the merest molecule of doubt?? -- that if this had occurred during the years of Bill Clinton, Republicans would have been, and would be still, calling for his head? Investigating up one side and down the other? Demanding prosecution? Is silence from Rush and Sean and Bill and Ann and Laura and Mitch and John and John and Michael even imaginable?


The Sinclair Lewis quote has become a cliché; no one really gives it a second thought: "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." How close we've come. And yet, not only has there been no resistence from the right; it's been cheerled and justified.

There's a reason we have a constitution, and that it -- quite brilliantly -- established separation of powers and checks and balances: to keep exactly this from happening. But in a country wherein less than a third of people can name the three branches of government, it's hardly inexplicable why so few seem to care. And when, in states that elected the guys who nearly pulled it off, school boards are spending more time trying to remove science from schools than they are insisting on civics education, it all begins to make sense. Deliberately lousy education leading to inability to reason; faith-based faith that everything is okay; consolidated media with flame-throwing screamers perverting the idea of discourse and discussion; politics of division aimed at keeping people focused on the other side of the mirror. It's working.

They came damn close to pulling it off. Confident they've got nearly half the country in their thrall, they're still trying.

"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." For that is exactly the way to get the public neither to object, nor even to notice. In nearly half the population, it's working.



  1. It's shocking to read Lincoln's prosecution of the Civil War. He suspended habeas corpus (although the Constitution itself contemplates this), arrested the Maryland legislature to keep them from voting for secession (or at least considered this--I'd have to check), ignored the direct ruling of the Chief Justice. Even freeing the slaves was in a way a taking of property. Lincoln worked long and hard over that to find a legal fig leaf.

    Not a defense of anything...I'm just saying. It does make sense in a war to invest a lot of power in the one guy, and hope he uses it well. If it comes to that, I'd invest it in Obama and hope he uses it well.

  2. BB: I agree with you for the most part. The big difference, I think, is that "The War on Terror" was largely smoke screen, a term so vague as to be never-ending, and not even necessarily a war, in the commonly understood sense. But in declaring it such, Bush was able to invoke war powers that, if they ever have justification, ought to be reserved for something as dire as the Civil War.

    Since there will be terrorism until the world ends, what Bush did (or tried to do) is very different from what Lincoln did: entirely open-ended, potentially permanent. And I agree that what Abe did is pretty shocking. Right or wrong, can't say.

  3. whether lincoln was right or not is irrelevant to the current situation. it is the height of irony that the GOP, a party that never met a government solution they liked, is the party that has defended the ridiculous and concerning actions of the bush presidency.

    had his ideas somehow miraculously made the world free of terrorism, they would still be an unjustifiable trampling of the constitution. as reality stands, that annoying real-world to which the republicans are allergic, the infringement of civil rights has ensured the safety of no one, and has left a rather large stain on on Lady Liberty's robe.

    obama has a lot of laundry to clean thanks to bush and cheney.

  4. Not getting sucked into the Bush thing...assume a great and obvious attack from without--an invasion, if you want. That seems to be justification for great war powers, right? In the Civil War, there was no attack from without. Had the Union divided, the only real loss would have been the Union. Southern life would have continued as it was: Northern life, too. I still puzzle over whether prosecuting the war was the right thing to do at all.

  5. BB: two interesting points. I won't hazard a speculation on the Civil War, other than to say us liberals would be much better off if the red states were indeed their own country.

    As to war powers: sure, a president needs powers as commander in chief, and, I'd say, has them already, without the need to abrogate the Constitution. He already can do a hell of a lot. The question is, if allowed to suspend civil rights, constitutional rights (as FDR did in WW II, to his shame), by what power do they end? In a "real" war (for lack of a better term), I suppose it ends with official armistice, or surrender. In an amorphous endless war, like a "war on terror," what end is there? What is there keeping the president from becoming a dictator? Can't he be commander in chief without suspending the constitution?

    Fair questions. Don't know the answer.

  6. " liberals would be much better off if the red states were indeed their own country"

    and then the liberals could run every place like was Washington DC? ;-)

  7. No, I was thinking more like this. And yeah, go ahead and comment on Spitzer. I didn't write it, and I think I could do a lot better. But you get the general idea.

  8. Let's see..I think you'll be taking with you most of the welfare, gangs and AIDS cases. A good number of emergency rooms closed there--maybe you can open some of those and try your hand there. Have fun living on pineapples--we'll have the corn, wheat, potatoes, beef and pork.

    Since you don't want the military, we'll take 'em with us. That's a good chunk of San Diego and a lot of the Seattle area. We also take their weapons. If you get into trouble, send a postcard and we'll see what we can do.

    Hmmm...we'll have the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Sun Valley, the Mississippi, and most of the Rockies. A fair trade for the over-populated Yosemite. We'll take Baylor and Emory.

    Your entrepreneurs will flee, and your coal will be taxed out of existence soon. You can keep Hollywood; just send us Eastwood.

    Your blue people believe 9/11 was an inside job, the oil companies won't let Ford produce their car that runs on water, and that Ted Kennedy really went for help.

    As a suggestion, you might want to take the political ethics of Chicago, the crime-fighting capabilities of DC, the job creation powers of Detroit, the compassion of New York, and the logic of San Francisco and make those universal in your new country.

    Please have your passports ready when you attempt to travel from your one coast to your other coast. It's a long way. But it's pretty to fly over.

    Maybe we'll divide by counties instead. That would give you about 100 square miles total, I think.

  9. BB: well done. I guess I should have written my own.

  10. P.S: I talked to Eastwood. He's staying.

  11. Re: Eastwood.

    Doubt it.

  12. He's open-minded. Did you see Gran Torino? Practically a damn liberal.

  13. "I think you'll be taking with you most of the welfare, gangs and AIDS cases."

    Well, no. And we won't be taking the majority of divorces, the teen mothers, the STDs, the shootings, the obesity, or the drunk drivers, either.

    On the other hand, we will take the best-educated, the highest per-capita income, and most of the tax revenue.

    I say WE because there's no doubt Austin and Travis County will continue to be a blue dot in a red state. So we'll keep the University of Texas; you guys can have Baylor.

    And by the way, we're keeping New Orleans and Tulane, too. You can have Shreveport.

    Oh, and take Colorado Springs while you're at it. Colorado was blue in 2008, you know, but we don't want all those religious nutjobs.

    But there's a problem with your plan. Younger people are overwhelmingly Democrats. Whatcha gonna do when all those kids leave your Red ass and move to the Blue states?

    Read 'em and weep . . .


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