Back to Metroland's Home Page!
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 Columns & Opinions
   The Simple Life
   Looking Up
   Myth America
   Rapp On This
 News & Features
   What a Week
   Loose Ends
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
   Tech Life
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   The Movie Schedule
   Listen Here
   Art Murmur
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad

Undoing the Damage


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 are now.

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 back, please.

—Paul C. Rapp

Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home
Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 419 Madison Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.