With all the giddy hoopla about the Democratic Congress’ “first
100 hours”—with all the posturing and grandstanding about
undoing the parade of horrors foisted upon us since 2000—
there’s been something conspicuously absent. There doesn’t
seem to be any great rush to restore the various civil rights
that were laid to waste over the past several years.
Sure, marquee issues like the minimum wage and stem-cell research
are all well and good, but a number of truly startling things
have happened to our most basic freedoms, and few Democrats
squawked while these things were going down. The fact may
well be that the Dems don’t really care that much. Maybe they’re
still afraid that Karl Rove’ll make ’em look “soft on terror”
if they stand up for basic, fundamental freedoms; maybe they
think we’re too stupid to notice what we’ve lost (or maybe
they realize that the lackey mainstream press hasn’t bothered
to tell us what we’ve lost); maybe, just maybe, in their little
black politician hearts, they like things just the way they
Where to start? How about federal ID cards? Heard about them?
It’s kind of sneaky. In 2005, Congress passed a law that requires
all states to conform their drivers’ licenses to strict uniform
standards. Fair enough, but wait, there’s more! The law then
says that in 2008 non-conforming drivers licenses will no
longer be accepted for federal “official purposes.” And what’s
an “official purpose”? Anything the Department of Homeland
Security wants it to be. Transactions at federally insured
banks? IDs at federally regulated airports? Yup! So, you see,
it’s not mandatory that you have one of these stealth
national ID cards. It’s only mandatory if you want to live
like a normal modern human being.
And what’s gonna be on your card? Your basic info, plus digitized
versions of your photograph and signature, and there could
easily be more things, like your fingerprints or retinal scans,
if that’s what Homeland Security wants. And all this information
has to be stored by the states in readily transferable and
searchable databases for at least 10 years, and states will
have to share all your info with other governmental entities,
no questions asked. And maybe your license will be loaded
with a tiny chip that can be read remotely by anybody with
the right equipment, without you even knowing it.
So, as they say in the old movies set in Nazi-controlled Europe:
“Zor paypahs? You haff zor paypahs?” And the really alarming
thing is that you don’t have to even show them your papers.
They’ll already have them.
Since the bill authorizing this was tacked onto a 2005 emergency
military-spending-authorization bill, it sailed through the
Senate (100-0) and the House (368-58). Just like that. And
I don’t see anybody rushing to undo it.
And how ’bout that habeas corpus? Latin for “you have the
body,” habeas corpus represents the right to challenge imprisonment
by the government. It’s one of the oldest tenets of Western
law and, traditionally, countries that didn’t have it were
considered barbaric and profound enemies of basic human rights.
China and any of those old dictatorships in South America
come to mind. You know, places where people disappear.
The United States joined the club last year when Congress
passed the Military Commission Act, which allows the government
to detain anyone “engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully
and materially supported hostilities against the United States”
as determined by “tribunals” appointed by the President. Basically,
the President can decide you’re a bad guy, and you can be
picked up and held without charge. Indefinitely. Add to that
the current regime’s enthusiastic support for torture—whether
done here, at Guantanamo, or outsourced to shady governments
in Eastern Europe—and you’ve got a policy paradigm that just
pisses all over the United States flag.
Twelve Democratic senators and 32 House members voted for
this. And despite a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth when
the bill originally got passed last year, I haven’t seen any
effort yet to reverse this shameful and dangerous law.
The Military Commission Act is, by any rational measure, unconstitutional
three or four different ways, most notably through Article
1, Section 9’s provision that “[t]he privilege of the Writ
of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases
of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”
You seen any invasions or rebellions around here lately? Anybody?
So the law should be vulnerable to a constitutional challenge,
except now that we’ve got a Supreme Court packed with Federalist
Society neo-con clones. The Court today is a worse and even
more disingenuous court that the one that “elected” our president
in 2000 (remember that one, where the five conservatives forgot
their long obsession with “states’ rights”?), so the likelihood
of a reasoned and just decision on something like habeas corpus
would appear to be somewhere between slim and none.
So write your representatives. Tell them you’d like our country