Thursday, May 22, 2008

Of Mice and Straw Men

Now that we've figured out, six years into it, that the war in Iraq wasn't about fighting Al Qaeda, but straw men, it's time to turn our attention to the Senate who singlehandedly showed their horsepower this week by adding protections for veterans, and the jobless, onto the the Iraq war funding bill. Notably, the bill passed the Senate by a wide, bipartisan margin.

Despite stubborn efforts by the mainstream media to ignore it, there is a strong likelihood that the next president may be facing a majority of Democrats in both the House and the Senate which could make it problematic to slip an activist conservative Supreme Court justice, should the White House next be occupied by a wannabe conservative Republican.

Who knows---despite the flagrant absence of a fight for nomination, the Republican presumptive nominee's fight for election could get interesting, especially in light of Mr. Bush's new role as fundraiser-in-chief, and lobbyist, for John McCain. Reportedly, the president. whose approval rating is below 30%, will be working to raise cash for the Arizona senator next week at private fundraisers in Arizona and Utah as the dynamic duo makes their way on the campaign trail like that famous pair of migrant workers in Steinbeck's novel.

While it's not out of the ordinary for fundraising events that take place in private homes to be closed to the public, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino says that it is customary for McCain to shut out the media at all events in which money changes hands. Wonder why that could be? Could it be that the Senator doesn't want the public to see the maverick image he worked so hard to construct is nothing more than a straw man?

Now that we know what McCain thinks about pastor Hagee; now that we know what he thinks of two Bush appointments to the Supreme Court, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, as well as the Bush tax cuts, both of which he heartily endorses, one would be remiss not to ask how the wannabe commander-in-chief feels about current recruiting, by the FBI, of college kids to serve as plants, and informants, at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Republican National Convention in early September?

One might expect him to say something like "been there, done that" as, after all, planting people to attend conventions, and political events, then report back to intelligence is nothing new, and hearkens back at least to the Nixon era. But, what does the good senator from Arizona think of the USA Patriot Act which all but dissolves Fourth Amendment rights to due process? What does he think of banning books, or requiring booksellers and libraries to honor National Security Letters?

Does he think it okay to infiltrate peace and environmental groups, and any others who exercise their First Amendment right to freedom of assembly in an effort to extract information that may later be used to bring "homegrown terrorist" charges?

Indeed, what does Senator McCain think constitutes domestic terrorism? What does he think of electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency? What does he think of granting retroactive immunity to telecoms, and other corporate giants, who compromised consumer privacy, so they could cooperate with a covert, and maybe illegal investigation? Does he think there is a constitutional entitlement to privacy? Or, will he need to get an advisor for that question just as he insists he will before he can answer the question as to whether there should be an abstinence-only requirement for global, and domestic, HIV/AIDS funding? Remember, too, that this is the same candidate who said he will seek guidance on economic policy, too. Are voters okay with the concept of outsourcing decision-making, or leadership by proxy?

Now, in the midst of a Memorial Day weekend, with the President's request that we pause to honor those who have served this country, there can be no better way to serve them than by telling the truth. Truth is, while he served his country honorably, something that cannot be said of our current commander-in-chief, John McCain has shown, by his actions, what he thinks of our veterans- he voted against the GI Bill that was just passed by a majority of the Senate, a measure which will expand funding for college to those whose numerous tours of duty have taken them to Iraq, and Afghanistan.

But, we must also ask--what is McCain's thinking about the staggering figure of 1,000 veterans committing suicide per month, and more suicides than combat fatalities as a result of this war, and of the plans, by some Veterans Administration psychologists, to broaden the definition of PTSD such that benefits to some returning soldiers will be cut exponentially, just as the definition of torture was expanded such that "unlawful enemy combatants" would lose protection otherwise afforded by Geneva and international law. How does this jive with his idea that America is a "Christian nation?"

What about those other straw men, the "unlawful enemy combatants," created by Donald Rumsfeld to circumvent human rights obligations under Geneva? Candidate McCain must answer what he thinks of the designation "unlawful enemy combatant," and if due process can ever be rightfully denied to anyone we detain. While he agrees that waterboarding is torture, candidate McCain has yet to express his point of view on legislation to proscribe torture, and to prohibit any practice that involves "cruel and unusual punishment."

May we expect a McCain Pentagon to be embedded in the mainstream media, too, and for retired military members to make scripted appearances converting broadcast news into a propaganda delivery vehicle? Does McCain see his role as that of a unitary president, and one that can invoke executive privilege, signing statements, and the almighty veto whenever it is politically, and ideologically, expedient, as well as neutralize the federal courts, and fire those U.S. attorneys who refuse to play ball on voter fraud cases?

More importantly, should he become president, will John McCain acknowledge that the "war on terror" is itself the most insidious straw man---the pretext of invading Iraq based on an argument intended to be knocked down by something more substantive, and yet more military exploits to fill an already bloated war chest.

It has become a virtual cliche to acknowledge that there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq before we got there, just as it is now common knowledge that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with blowing up the Twin Towers nearly seven years ago.

But, as the Republican National Convention approaches, in the Twin Cities, the signs of hubris, and abuse of power, are fast becoming evident as even the press retreats from asking whether McCain will try to strongarm, and neutralize, news coverage, as well as micromanage media coverage of the war in Iraq, and the build-up to Iran, the way George W. Bush has.

That Bush and McCain are aligned like two peas in a pod is no secret now nor is anyone hiding Bush's new role in funneling cash into McCain's campaign. As reported, the pair have been "coordinating their messages behind the scenes." But, no one is asking which messages are being coordinated, specifically, and who will most feel the impact. One message, to the conservative wing of the Republican party, is not to worry, regardless of how he may appear to shift, or differ, from the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, McCain will stay true to course by stacking the highest court in the land, and federal courts, with those who are anti-choice, pro-gun, and opposed to affirmative action, or any attempt at economic equity.

It is the role of Congress to start coordinating their messages, too, a task which, happily, the Senate has already begun by ensuring President Bush's war funding bill includes protection for countless Americans who have been most impacted by his policies---the poor, and those most deeply scarred by combat in Iraq, and Afghanistan. Hopefully, those who erected that straw man in Baghdad, and brought about the anguish, and unspeakable pain of hundreds of thousands of returning soldiers, will get to visit with the despair that they have inflicted on so many.

A Congress that is autonomous, and independent from a bully executive, or a bully pulpit, is what the framers had in mind, and not a straw man, or dummy purchaser. By adding billions of dollars in enhanced programs for veterans, and extending unemployment benefits by thirteen weeks, the Senate is showing that it is capable of being president-proof, something that may prove to be immensely important, after November.

That is, of course, unless George W. Bush finds his way to his favorite V-chip -- the veto. With any luck, he'll stumble upon his refill of Viagra first.