Thursday, October 25, 2007

Among the Ruins

Historians everywhere will one day try to pinpoint the exact moment the United States passed over the frontier separating Constitutional democracy from military dictatorship. It won't be easy. It's fashionable today to blame George W. Bush, and it's true that his wars, tortures, and domestic spying, all of them illegal because they're imperial, are an executive coup of sorts.

But accretion of power to the executive at Congress's expense has been going on since Roosevelt's depression-era "alphabet" economic initiatiatives were cooked up in the White House and hastily approved by a subservient legislature. Truman oversaw the beginnings of the enormous expansion of the military, or rather its refusal to ever completely demobilize at the end of World War II, as well as approving the creation of the CIA, a private army beholden only to the executive. By the time Eisenhower warned us of the growth of "the military-industrial complex," the war machine in all its illegitimacy and illegality was already the leading branch of government.

Obviously, neither the republic nor democracy are going to be restored. It's too late for that. But there remains a question of whether Congress must accept its current state of enfeeblement and total impotence, or whether its members might be able to exert themselves sufficiently to regain enough influence to at least partially check the dictatorship.

A test of this question is at hand, as the dictatorship is attempting to force Congress to endorse the administration's desire for retroactive immunity from prosecution for the telecommunications companies it forced to engage in domestic spying. Domestic spying is, of course strictly illegal, and if Congress caves in on this issue, it's as good as approving the idea that the rule of law is an antiquated concept, and that the president of these United States is now a monarch who is a law unto himself.

One U.S. Senator, Chris Dodd of Connecticut (also a presidential candidate, but an irrelevant one), is determined to stop this push for retroactive immunity for telecoms who have violated the law. He would ideally like to see this proposal never get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Currently, one committee member favors granting immunity, two are opposed, and 16 are sitting on the fence. To find out who's who, and to see how you can influence the resolution of this extremely important constitutional issue, visit

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