Friday, April 06, 2007

Iraq is Lost; Bush War Crimes Continue

I never liked the term "war of choice". The better term, the legal term, is "war crime". War crimes resulting in death are capital crimes under US criminal codes. Check out Section 2441. Also check out the Nuremberg Principles. That Bush committed capital offenses by treasonously committing his nation to a war of naked aggression in Iraq is old news.

In his rush to unleash the dogs of war, George W. Bush knowingly lied about the situation in Iraq, discounting out of hand information countering his various pretexts for war. Indeed, Valerie Plame would not be a household name if the lies Bush told about Iraq had not been deliberate. Indeed, there would have been no reason to retaliate against Ambassador Joe Wilson for daring to tell the truth, for daring to expose the Bush administration's treasonous fraud.

Confident that he had hoodwinked a gullible nation, Bush said:
In any conflict, your fate will depend on your action. Do not destroy oil wells, a source of wealth that belongs to the Iraqi people. Do not obey any command to use weapons of mass destruction against anyone, including the Iraqi people. War crimes will be prosecuted. War criminals will be punished. And it will be no defense to say, "I was just following orders."

-George W. Bush, March 2003

If war criminals are to be held to account, then the prosecution must begin with the Bush administration. I would hope that someone, presumably at the Hague, is drafting indictments against George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, and Alberto Gonzales. If the concept of International Law is to have any validity, all war criminals must be held to account.

That Bush has lost the very war he started is a fact often lost on the mass media, Fox kiss ups, and the terminally stupid. Bush has, in fact, lost all the wars he started. His administration has not merely failed, it has done so catastrophically. At least three of the criminals -Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld -should one day stand trial for high treason and capital crimes, having committed this nation to a catastrophic war upon a pack of deliberate, malicious lies. There are some 650,000 counts of murder to be included in the indictment.
The survey was done by Iraqi physicians and overseen by epidemiologists at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health. The findings are being published online today by the British medical journal the Lancet.

The same group in 2004 published an estimate of roughly 100,000 deaths in the first 18 months after the invasion. That figure was much higher than expected, and was controversial. The new study estimates that about 500,000 more Iraqis, both civilian and military, have died since then -- a finding likely to be equally controversial.

-Washington Post, Study Claims Iraq's 'Excess' Death Toll Has Reached 655,000

Bush partisans have tried to downplay Iraqi civilian deaths while debunking more credible estimates. An early example was the number of Iraqis killed in the Shock and Awe campaign. "Official" numbers were in the range of 2,000 to 3,000, as I recall. But it was Jude Wanniski, a supply side economist with the Wall Street Journal, who reported the more credible number: 40,000. Wanniski's report was conducted by Iraqis in Baghdad and consisted of actual, verifiable body counts in the various neighborhoods. Each city, town and region was broken out and tabulated. It was the best available information until Lancet.

Bushy numbers -at the time -were mere estimates, wishful thinking, propaganda. The US, we were told, didn't do body counts. By the time the administration warmed up to the 40,000 figure, credible estimates had risen. To some 650,000, as we have seen. For Bushies, a mere 40,000 dead civilians sounded good by comparison. It is not surprising that Fox news -in reality a right wing lie machine -tried to debunk credible claims that Iraqi civilian deaths exceeded 650,000. Fox was and is dead wrong. And perhaps deliberately so.

In the end, however, it is Fox that looks stupid and utterly lacking credibility. The Lancet study is sound.

A monstrous war crime

With more than 650,000 civilians dead in Iraq, our government must take responsibility for its lies

Richard Horton
Wednesday March 28, 2007
The Guardian

Our collective failure has been to take our political leaders at their word. This week the BBC reported that the government's own scientists advised ministers that the Johns Hopkins study on Iraq civilian mortality was accurate and reliable, following a freedom of information request by the reporter Owen Bennett-Jones. This paper was published in the Lancet last October. It estimated that 650,000 Iraqi civilians had died since the American and British led invasion in March 2003.

Consider Iraq. Several years ago, I asked my Congressman a pointed question: which side would Bush take when the Iraqi Civil War breaks out? Instead of an answer, I was lectured to about patriotism, about how Bush was the commander-in-chief, about how much better it was to fight terrorism "there" than "here", about how the US is exempt from international laws having to do with war crimes. It was all nonsense and bullshit and I told them that. I also told my congressman that the GOP was not a political party. It is a crime syndicate, I said. And still say.

In the meantime, the civil war has broken out between Sunnis and Shias and Bush has taken sides. He has bet the farm on the Shi'ite regime of Nouri Kamel Mohammed Hassan al-Maliki. By taking sides, Bush loses the role of "honest broker", our only hope for peace. By taking sides, Bush embroils the US in a sectarian struggle all but impossible to confine inside the borders of Iraq. Neighboring states are not only worried, they have already absorbed at least 2 million Iraqi refugees at great cost to local economies. The Iraqi civil war threatens to destabilize the Middle East.

But Lancet is not the only under-reported study. Some six months ago, Foreign Policy asked more than 100 US foreign policy experts if Bush was, in fact, winning the so-called "war on terrorism". FP reports that the answer was a resounding --NO! Since that time, FP surveyed them again. The news is still not good. The chaotic civil war in Iraq continues to deteriorate, the death count continues to rise, and, on several fronts FP reports, the Bush strategy has failed utterly. The report directly refutes and contradicts Bush's various claims. In fact, the US occupation of Iraq has made us less safe; another attack may be imminent; and that "...the United States may be distracted from the threats that matter most."

Bush has lost his war against Iraq because he lost the battle for Iraqi "hearts and minds". He lost that battle because no one in administration bothered to inform themselves. It was deliberate. There are, obviously, informed people in the apparatus of US government. Valerie Plame was just such a person, an operative with the CIA. For her trouble and because her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson dared to tell the truth, she was "outed". Those in the Bush administration who ordered her cover blown are guilty of treason.

"Insurgent attacks", likewise, grow stronger and more deadly despite or because of the "surge". I don't like the term "insurgent". It implies an illegitimate opposition to a legitimate authority. But, in Iraq, it is the US occupation that is illegitimate, in fact, illegal. Iraqis claim the right to defend themselves, to oppose an illegitimate occupation by arms, if necessary. They are absolutely correct. This should not come as news to the dead heads in Bush's irresponsible and incompetent administration. Perhaps they never bothered to attend a high school history class. It was William Pitt who, in 1778, told Parliament:
"My lords, if I were an American as I am an Englishman, while a foreign troop was landed in my country I would never lay down my arms- never, never, never".
Pitt was approaching 70 at the time he made those remarks and, as the story goes, he collapsed before ending his speech denouncing British policies in America. He died a month later, a statesman -not a politician.

Bush insists on victory but he cannot define it. He is stuck on flypaper, repeating the same tired slogans, the same bullshit about fighting "terrorists" there instead of here. In the meantime, US casualties, already far higher than anyone imagined, continue to climb. Deaths of Iraqi civilians, likewise, exceed all early estimates.

In retrospect, Bush was altogether too eager for dictatorship. He gave himself away. He said "This would be a whole lot easier if this was a dictatorship...heh heh heh ...just as long as I'm the dictator." But in his analysis of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, W. H. Auden cautions would be dictators that they must not appear too eager for power and glory. Even Caesar, Auden points out, denied the crown not once...but three times.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Beans, Biscuits, and Blues

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

Since posting my modest tribute to E. L. Doctorow's novel, Ragtime, and his take on the US Constitution, I have been thinking more about Ragtime as a musical idiom. In fact, I have been thinking about music, in general --how it makes lasting impressions, how it shapes our early lives, how political it can be, how interwoven it is with with all levels of culture. Music is essential to the art of being human. I can't promise to deal adequately with any or all of those still half-formed ideas. But I will share with you some music that I like and would not like to be without.

Anything written about Ragtime must begin, of course, with Scott Joplin. The son of a former slave, Scott Joplin was born around 1868 in the little town of Linden, TX. The precise date is in dispute. It fair to say, however, that by the time he sold Maple Leaf Rag to John Stark and Son music publishers of Sedalia, MO, he had already absorbed a classical music education from a German classical musician --Julius Weiss --and a study of theory, harmony, and composition at George R. Smith College in Sedalia. By that time, he had heard the John Philip Sousa band. It would have made an impression.

Joplin had ambitions for his new syncopated music that he and perhaps one or two other "professors" invented. Professor, of course, was the term used to designate parlor piano players in houses of ill repute.

Like rock, disco, and rap, Ragtime swept the nation but not without opposition from "high brows" who never lacked a derogatory or racist epithet to describe it. Nevertheless, Joplin crafted a new, energetic music that typified even more than Sousa the nervous energy that was America at that time.

Joplin himself took his music seriously. As if to declare his belief to the world, he wrote a Ragtime opera: Treemonisha. Sadly, it was not performed in his lifetime cut short by his death from syphilis. It was left to the Houston Grand Opera to become the first opera company in America to present Scott Joplin's Treemonisha. Building upon its success, HGO would become the first major opera company to produce the most faithful version of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. HGO boasts that it is the only opera company in the world to win a Tony, two Grammy and two Emmy Awards. The New York Times calls the Houston Grand Opera "the jewel in the cultural crown." The Tony, as I recall was for Treemonisha.

There is a dearth of real Ragtime music to be found on the internet. Ragtime is not a music to be tossed off as an afterthought. Too many would-be players of Ragtime fail to play the music; they punish the music and the poor piano they bang it out on. Serious, talented musicians often completely miss the point by playing rags too fast, too loud, or jazzed up. I wish the would just show a little respect.

A great rag doesn't need jazzing up. It doesn't need to be made sophisticated. It doesn't need to be played too loud or too fast. As Mozart said of his own music, there are just as many notes in a Joplin rag as the rag requires. A great Joplin rag, like the Maple Leaf Rag, can carry the player, if only he/she will but surrender to it.

If you overlook the sound quality, the following is one of the best that I've found on the net.

Ragtime was played in what are euphemistically called "Houses of Ill Repute". The pianists were called "professors" and competitions between them were called "cutting contests".

Growing up in Odessa, TX, I was, naturally, exposed to Honky Tonk music. At that place and time, there was, in fact, no hope of escaping it. This was a time when C&W stars like Hank Williams began incorporating some swing and blues into what had been a strictly "bluegrass" genre. However, if you listen closely to Bill Monroe, you will hear notes as blue as any played by Louis Armstrong. As a tribute to the many "Honky Tonk" musicians whose juke box lullabies on Second St lulled me to sleep each night, here are Hank Williams and Patsy Cline:

Barely a teenager in Odessa, I met, at a block party, a musician who was destined to make rock history. You may have heard of him. The musician who would one day be a legend was Roy Orbison. The video that follows was recorded in Los Angeles for HBO in September 1988. Sadly, Roy passed away on December 6, 1988. Orbison is a rock legend admired by the Beatles who held him in awe. Watch this clip from Black and White Night. Count the number of superstars --Springsteen, Jennifer Warnes, Elvis Costello, K.D.Lang et al. They were not merely content but honored to have been playing on the same stage with this ol' country boy from Wink, TX.

In those days, Orbison's band was called the Teen Kings. They could be seen and heard every Saturday afternoon on the local TV station - KOSA-TV. Here is a link to one of the better histories that I have been able to find about Roy Orbison, especially his days in Odessa, TX.

Much later, Roy comes back in what seems in retrospect to have been if not another life, at least, a rebirth. He is seen here teamed up with K.D. Lang to perform one of his legendary hits: Cryin'

It was only fitting that I conclude this loosely connected collection of American music with a Patsy Cline standard. The following clip is from the movie "Sweet Dreams" with Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline. Lange admitted that she couldn't sing. She most certainly lip-synced Cline's unmistakable voice.

Patsy Cline died in a plane crash in 1963. She was only 30 at the height of her fame and career. Nevertheless, she is remembered and recognized to have been one of the most influential female vocalists of her era.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

E.L.Doctorow's Ragtime America

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

This article is not a review of the fourteen essays on literary, political, and historical topics that make up E.L. Doctorow's Jack London, Hemingway, and the Constitution: Selected Essays, 1977-1992. It is my take on Doctorow's best known novel --Ragtime. I mention the essays because they are better appreciated after one reads Ragtime.

Doctorow's essay on the Constitution is the counterpoint to this author's steeped obsession with American culture and politics. The Constitution of his description is a lost Arcadia, our innocence, our ephemeral flirtation with legitimate government and Democracy.

It is unfortunate, however, that this extraordinary collection of essays is not as well known as are Doctorow's novels -Ragtime (my favorite), Billy Bathgate, Welcome to Hard Times (his first novel) or World's Fair, winner of the 1986 National Book Award. In fact, it is not even mentioned in Wikipedia though his other collection of essays, Creationists: Selected Essays 1993-2006, is.

Good essays challenge the intellect at a time when it is easier to watch a music video designed to challenge the senses. It is uncomfortable to be challenged. It is easier to click a remote control in search of eye candy. It is easier to surf the web than deep dive for pearls.

Selected Essays, like Doctorow's Ragtime, is a curious mix of the best and the worst of American culture. For me, much of the appeal of Ragtime was the unlikely collection of real characters: Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Houdini, J.P Morgan, Evelyn Nesbitt, Emma Goldman, Stanford White, Harry K. Thaw, with fictional characters such as Father, Mother, and Mother's Younger Brother.

Most reviews of Ragtime miss the point. For example:
"In 10th grade, a teacher suggested that I read this book and do a report on it. I found one sex scene so shocking that I returned the book to her and suggested she was irresponsible for recommending it to a 14 year old."
The scene in question was most certainly the explicit "threesome scene" involving Mother's Younger Brother, Evelyn Nesbitt, the infamous "Gibson Girl", and Emma Goldman, the notorious socialist/anarchist.

Other fictional characters include Coalhouse Walker, a character that may have been inspired by Scott Joplin, and Sarah, the mother of his newborn boy. Sarah lives in New Rochelle with Mother, Father, and, until he leaves the nest, Mother's Younger Brother. A series of tragic events triggered by Coalhouse Walker propelled the 70's movie version of Ragtime though at least three main threads are woven artfully throughout the novel.

Of the three, none are more poignant than the story of Tateh and his little daughter. Tateh is a recent immigrant whose only skill is cutting out silhouettes. The pair face certain starvation in New York's lower east side until Tateh discovers that his "flip books" of sihoutetted ice skaters were marketable. By the end of the novel, Tateh is a successful film maker. It is the American dream from which we have all but recently awakened.

On the whole, however, Ragtime, though dreamily surreal, is true. Evelyn Nesbit was, in fact, an historical character but Mother's Younger Brother exists only in the person of many another real Nesbit admirer. And there were many.

This unlikely mix, this potpourri lunch, this surreal pastiche IS our history. This volatile concoction of characters wrapped up one century and helped shape another. From our vantage point in the early 21st Century, this era is too easily seen in sepia accompanied by ragtime. And, indeed, it was so until World War I awakened us to real nightmare.

At least one critic called Doctorow's collection of essays "unstartling":
This exiguous assembly of prefaces and assignments is unstartling: Jack London was "a workaday literary genius/ hack"; Hemingway was tormented; Orwelrs 1984 is concerned with "the political manipulation of reality through the control of history and language." In this salad bar of limp banalities, there is not a fresh thought, a crisp phrase, or a morsel of original research
Had Doctorow intended to "startle"? If I had not disagreed with the reviewer, I would not be writing about this little known book now. The above review is hash by a hack. In fact, other more intelligent reviewers were more receptive.
The essay that I find most interesting is entitled "Commencement," and is,in fact, the Commencement Address that Doctorow delivered to the Brandeis University graduating class of 1989. A theme in the address is taken from Sherwood Anderson and Doctorow refers to it as "the theory of grotesques." It goes something like this: The world is filled with many truths to live by, and they are all beautiful. Two that he first mentions are the truth of thrift and the truth of self reliance. There is a problem, however, when one of these truths is grabbed up and made into a cause to the exclusion of all other truths.
My favorite essay, naturally, is Doctorow's analysis of the Constitution. Doctorow seems to have made the argument that the Constitution is most notable for what it is not, for what it does not do, for what it does not say, for language it does not use.

The Constitution is a secular document. The word God is not used even once. The authority of the Constitution is not theological though it has, Doctorow claims, the voice of "Sacred Text". It uses the word "shall" though it makes no theological appeal. Significantly, the preamble cites the origin of Constitutional authority: "We the people....". It is a document of the people, by the people, for the people. It was the people --not God --who wrote the Constitution.

Often thought to be a document that guarantees that we be free, the Constitution does not use the word slave . Yet, it was Thomas Jefferson (not a delegate to the Constitutional covention) who had written "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights". If in context the Constitution ensures our "freedom", it does not, therefore, do so upon a theocratic principle. It is not God who endows us with "unalienable rights". It is ourselves.

The Constitution, therefore, is an existentialist document entirely compatible with Sartre's assertion:
"Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself."
Indeed, a people are nothing but what they make of themselves. In the Constitution, we make of ourselves a free people. We are free because we have chosen to take responsibility for what we have made of ourselves.

If our brief flirtation with freedom is but a sepia toned dream of Doctorowesque fantasy, then, with Bush we awakened to nightmare. Still, our future as a nation lies not in God nor any person appointed by deities. Our fate is nothing more nor less than the choices we make. We may choose to end the nightmare. We may choose to end the Bush administration and, by reasserting our freedom, we define ourselves as a "free people".

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Why the Bush regime is illegitimate

Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.
-John Stuart Mill
In his classic essay "On Liberty", John Stuart Mill deals with the issue of "civil liberties" -not the metaphysical issue of "free will". Mill deals with threats to liberty from within the institutions of democracy itself. This issue is especially relevant today, a time when widespread domestic wiretapping and surveillance violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a measure intended to prevent the abuse of liberty by government, a measure intended to preserve the very ownership of government by people.
A time, however, came in the progress of human affairs, when men ceased to think it a necessity of nature that their governors should be an independent power, opposed in interest to themselves.

- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

With those words, Mill is off and running.
The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature in the portions of history with which we are earliest familiar, particularly in that of Greece, Rome, and England. But in old times this contest was between subjects, or some classes of subjects, and the government.

That (it might seem) was a resource against rulers whose interests were habitually opposed to those of the people. What was now wanted was, that the rulers should be identified with the people; that their interest and will should be the interest and will of the nation.

-- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
...creating the desire, the need, for a government "...of the people" themselves.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Preamble, U.S. Constitution

The preamble to the US Constitution is, arguably, the most important clause in the entire document. Historically, it must rank with the Magna Carta, establishing up front the source of US sovereignty: the people themselves. It asserts its own legitimacy and the philosophical basis for the legitimacy of government itself. It defines a revolution based upon the ideas of Montesquieu, John Locke, Rousseau and, of course, Voltaire.

As important as the preamble to the US Constitution, is the still revolutionary principle articulated by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence:
That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Government is no longer "legitimate" by default or by raw power. Legitimacy and sovereignty reside with the people themselves. The apparatus of government is owned by the people and those governments violating those principles may be overthrown -by revolution, if necessary.

A special note about Voltaire is appropriate. Voltaire's life illustrates those principles that many of us growing up in a free society take for granted. Voltaire lived most of his life in or near Geneva or nearby Ferney in France. He lived always in fear of being arrested by the French regime where all power resided in the King and Church. The King's will was law made "legitimate" by "The Church" which recognized a "divine right of kings". Voltaire's France was a society in which the King supported the authority of the Catholic Church in France and vice versa. The people were controlled, however, only so long as the masses believed in both the divinity of the Church and in the "the divine right of kings". "Heretical writing" as well as his "upstart" attitude had often landed Voltaire in jail. From Ferney, he could always beat a hasty retreat into Switzerland just down the road.

The repression of dissent, of minorities, of "subversives" is nothing new. Mill reminds us of the plight of Socrates, arguably the father of Western Philosophy itself:
Mankind can hardly be too often reminded, that there was once a man named Socrates, between whom and the legal authorities and public opinion of his time, there took place a memorable collision. Born in an age and country abounding in individual greatness, this man has been handed down to us by those who best knew both him and the age, as the most virtuous man in it; while we know him as the head and prototype of all subsequent teachers of virtue, the source equally of the lofty inspiration of Plato and the judicious utilitarianism of Aristotle, "i maestri di color che sanno," the two headsprings of ethical as of all other philosophy. This acknowledged master of all the eminent thinkers who have since lived -- whose fame, still growing after more than two thousand years, all but outweighs the whole remainder of the names which make his native city illustrious -- was put to death by his countrymen, after a judicial conviction, for impiety and immorality. Impiety, in denying the gods recognized by the State; indeed his accuser asserted (see the "Apologia") that he believed in no gods at all. Immorality, in being, by his doctrines and instructions, a "corrupter of youth." Of these charges the tribunal, there is every ground for believing, honestly found him guilty, and condemned the man who probably of all then born had deserved best of mankind, to be put to death as a criminal.

- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
In a post-911 world, we simply must remember the philosophical source of our own founding. It does not serve our purpose here to pinpoint a specific time when people began to think differently about how and by whom they should be governed. However, two significant events come to mind: the signing of the Magna Carta and the English Civil War, to cite just two examples. Indeed, in 1649, in an historic assertion of the rights of Parliament, King Charles I of England was executed. According to Mill, government itself ceased to be the seat of sovereign power. More accurately, I would say that it never had been. But it required a realization by people that they had always been the sovereign. Upon this realization, "governors" ceased to be independent powers; magistrates of the State became delegates of the sovereign i.e. the people themselves. Their power was revocable, or as Simon Schama said in his "History of Britain", even a King could be "brought to book."

The American Declaration of Independence put that principle in writing.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

-Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

The aim of early libertarians was to limit the power of the ruler over those governed. Mill understood that even governments of freely elected executives and legislators often become unaccountable and, as we have seen recently, autocratic. He understood the need to limit the power of elected governments. Because even majorities can be tyrannical, Mill understood the necessity of limiting the powers that even freely elected, democratic governments, may exercise over minorities and individuals. His work is more relevant now than ever.

If minorities have rights today, due credit must be given to J.S. Mill. No society is expected to tolerate genuinely criminal behavior. But, for Mill, a free people, in a free society, may not tolerate a majority rule which seeks to interfere with or suppress minorities or non-conforming behaviors indiscriminately simply because a "majority" may be prejudiced, mis-informed, or simply tyrannical and arbitrary.

Mill understood that the democratic ideal -a government of the people - is often not the case in fact. Those exerting the power of the government -elected officials, bureaucrats, the judiciary - develop their own interests, influenced by special interests and their constituencies in ways that are at odds with the interests and liberties of individuals, minorities, or, indeed, the greater good of the society as a whole. Indeed, a majority may become tyrannical when its interests are at odds with the legitimate interests of a minority or an individual. Mill sees no difference between a tyranny of one and a tyranny of many. A majority running roughshod over the rights of individuals and minorities is no less a tyrant because it is a majority, because it is elected, or because it is elected by a majority.

What then are the powers that society may legitimately exercise over the individual?

Mill answers:
The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.

-J.S. Mill, On Liberty
James Madison -called the "Father of the Constitution" -anticipated Mill's ideas in his draft of the Bill of Rights -the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Implicit in the Bill of Rights is the recognition that the power of the state is a blunt instrument. Abused, it can oppress and repress individuals and minorities alike. The Bill of Rights addresses this issue by guaranteeing "due process of law", limiting state power over individuals and groups, guaranteeing that groups and individuals may speak and worship freely.

The Fourth Amendment specifically is a promise that our government made to us in its very founding:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

-Fourth Amendment, Bill of Rights, U.S. Constitution
The Bush administration has waged a war of assaults upon the Fourth Amendment. The "Sneak and Peak" provisions of the Patriot Act, for example, allowed agents of the federal government to come into your home, to search your residence, and leave without even telling you about it. Initially, it was unclear whether Bush administration intended to prosecute the War on Terrorism as justification for his subversive campaign against the Bill of Rights --or was he willing to abrogate our most precious freedoms in pursuit of a phantom menace --terrorism? Bush has not waged war in defense of freedom but against it.

Nat Hentoff would later write that by "...a stunning 309-118 vote, the House of Representatives on July 22, reflecting a growing apprehension about the USA Patriot act around the country, voted to deny funding for a key section of that act. Before that move, at least 142 cities and towns and three state legislatures, have passed strongresolutions against the Patriot Act." Hentoff also reminded that the issue of warrantless "search and seizure" was among many British abuses listed by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. It was, he wrote, "... a precipitating cause of the American Revolution."

Many politicians, eager to consolidate the powers of government, seem eager to invent powers that have simply never existed in American tradition. Executive privilege is just one of many powers that simply do not exist, were never articulated by the founders, or, in a worst case, blatant inventions. Let's make it also clear that there are no "inherent powers" or "implicit" authorizations" that would, in any way, overturn, limit, or repeal the Fourth Amendment or any other portion of the US Constitution or the Bill of Rights. A President may not cite "inherent powers" that will, in any way, expand his/her own powers beyond those enumerated in the Constitution. A President may not create various and asundry powers under the cover of "executive privilege", a notion so imprecise as to be utterly meaningless.

It is not only an executive who is constrained. Congress may not, cannot overrule the Fourth Amendment with statutory law. Constitutional Law is supreme and provisions in the Bill of Rights are valid until amended as set out in the Constitution itself. Widespread domestic surveillance is illegal whatever is done by Congress ex post facto -and until the Constitution is amended, it will remain illegal. At last, ex post facto laws, themselves, are expressly forbidden by the Constitution.

Mill is all the more remarkable for his insight into issues that remain contemporary. In every literate criticism of "special interest groups", PAC's, the gun lobby, the tobacco lobby, the Military/Industrial Complex, one sees the lasting influence of John Mill.

The regime of George W. Bush has not only corrupted the American government, it has assaulted the very principles upon which the United States was founded. Right wing, "neo-conservative" ideas are a throwback to Medieval Europe, in this case espousing the autocratic rule of one man, a man who could not and has not won a majority of the popular vote.

Since 911, however, the administration of George W. Bush has taken abuses of the US Constitution to new levels. These are "...broad based assaults on basic Constitutional rights". Checks and balances are not working even as the Bush administration attacks the very concept of an independent judiciary.

The American GOP has indulged a level of corruption and state-sponsored crime completely unprecedented in American history. Bush, his base, and the GOP learned all the wrong lessons from Watergate. They learned how not to get caught. The Republican party and the regime of George W. Bush continue to advocate powers for the office of "President" never envisioned by the founders, powers that never existed.

The regime of George W. Bush continues to conspire with corporate sponsors to subvert the authority of the "people", who, alone under our Constitution, are sovereign. Bush and his monied sponsors assumed arbitrary powers and authorities that simply do not and have never existed. This is most notable with regard to the round up and detention of "terrorist suspects" over which Bush assumes dictatorial and arbitrary powers of life and death. Bush has no such authority and must never have it. Bush, has in fact, reserved for himself the power to order the arbitrary executions, murders of American citizens. If you should think such arbitrary powers are reserved for for use against on those persons who are easily identified as "Middle Eastern" or "Muslim", then I pity you. The Bush doctrine, therefore, is a poke in the eye to American values, the Constitution, indeed, the very concept of the Rule of Law. There is a word for such rule: tyranny.

On Liberty is essential reading for anyone interested in law, the principles of government, political science, political philosophy, indeed, freedom itself. It is also essential reading for anyone interested in learning about the intellectual underpinnings of Anglo-American civil liberties. It is, likewise, essential reading for anyone wishing to restore to America the blessings of a free society.

Some additional resources:

Why Conservatives Hate America

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