Kiss Your Rights Goodbye

From John Ashcroft's lips to God's ear

A Parliament that undertakes to legalize a coup d'État is merely signing its own death warrant. —Curzio Malaparte, Coup d'État: The Technique of Revolution

And in the end the age was handed/The sort of shit that it demanded. —Ernest Hemingway, "The Age Demanded"

The attorney general runs the Department of Justice like a Pentecostal revival meeting.
The attorney general runs the Department of Justice like a Pentecostal revival meeting.

It will never be said of George W. Bush that he left office with any less intelligence, grace, and dignity than he came in with. Intimidation of black voters in Florida has already begun, with surprise visits to the newly registered by Jeb Bush's state police, "investigating voter fraud"—an ingeniously ironic whopper, of the stripe that's endeared the Bush family to generations of Saudi princes, defense contractors, and homicidal dictators.

Iraq is a catastrophe, bloodier by the hour. Our Afghan proxy controls a full 10 yards of sovereign territory around his office in Kabul. The only successful war Bush has waged from the comfort of his ranch thus far has been an unremitting attack on the U.S. Constitution. The First, Fourth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments in the Bill of Rights have already sustained serious injury.

The usual method of redressing constitutional grievances is through the court system. But well in advance of the fait accompli, Bush's fans in Congress derailed most of President Clinton's judicial nominations, a practice the media overlooked in its frenzy to document a cum stain artfully preserved by Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp. No member of the Senate was more fanatical in excluding qualified people from the federal bench than our current attorney general, John Ashcroft. The vacancies imposed by Ashcroft and other Senate evangelicals have now been filled by right-wing ideologues, who dominate seven of 13 federal appellate districts.

It's a small, telling measure of G.W. Bush's contempt for the electorate that after Missouri voters chose to elect a deceased candidate rather than give Ashcroft another term, Bush promptly installed him as the country's chief law enforcement officer. When sworn in, Ashcroft was, appropriately, anointed with oil by Justice Clarence Thomas.

Ashcroft is, not to mince words, a lunatic. This would have been universally recognized at almost any other moment in American history. In the looking-glass world of "the war on terror," however, Ashcroft's religious manias haven't excited even mild censure from anyone in government. By all reports, Ashcroft runs the Department of Justice like a Pentecostal revival meeting, enjoining his staff to raise their voices in righteous hymns of his own composition.

After 9-11 and the anthrax scare, Ashcroft's Patriot Act, and the subsequent Homeland Security Act sailed through a terrified Congress like shit through a canebrake. Although Ashcroft has disavowed a leaked draft of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, which bears a twinship to the Nazi Party's 1933 platform, Patriot Act II, as it's affectionately known, is definitely on the menu for a second Bush administration, should Diebold Corporation and Brother Jeb come through for our current appointee.

A curious feature of the Patriot Act is that it authorizes virtually nothing that would effectively prevent terrorists from hitting American targets. Like other "emergency" measures since 9-11, it attacks Americans. Racial profiling, arbitrary searches and seizures, roving wiretaps and judge-less warrants, harassment of nonviolent activists, indefinite detention without probable or even improbable cause, and guilt by association are only a few of the "appropriate tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism." Not all of them are stipulated in the Patriot Act, but such has been its use-value.

Naturally, putting these and similar "tools" in the hands of intelligence agencies and police officers guarantees their rampant misuse, just as deregulating industry has freed corporations to break every labor and environmental law they haven't managed to rescind.

Unfortunately, a large terrorist event in New York City is just as likely to happen with or without the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security, no matter how many random Muslims and political dissidents the FBI harasses or locks up.

Inflating ordinary misdemeanor crimes into "terrorist acts" does nothing to enhance security; it's a standard practice of police states, and will only benefit the corporatized prison racket. Since operations like 9-11 and the earlier embassy bombings in Africa took at least five years to plan, the fact that nothing's happened here since 9-11 has nothing to do with Ashcroft's theatrics or Bush's "toughness."

When it comes to cases, every legal tool law enforcement needed to hunt terrorists was already on the books before the Patriot Act. If "the war on terror" were serious and not a bait-and-switch operation to squash dissent and push an agenda long preceding 9-11, legions of "intelligence" personnel and presidential advisers would have been out of work on 9-12.

Nobody in this administration has lost a job for failing to uphold the Constitution, ignoring the public interest, or exhibiting limitless incompetence. No honor among thieves, as the saying goes. Even the pornographic horror of Abu Ghraib wasn't enough to make Donald Rumsfeld resign. As Dick Cheney asserted in a different context, everyone in the Bush administration has "other priorities," all of them antithetical to the public interest. What is the public, compared to Jesus Christ and Halliburton?

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