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Garrison Keillor "Congerss' Shameful Retreat from [ex-] American Values

Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor

Congress' shameful retreat from American values

Published October 4, 2006

I would not send my college kid off for a semester abroad if I were you. Last week, we suspended human rights in America, and what goes around comes around. Ixnay habeas corpus.

The U.S. Senate, in all its splendor and majesty, decided that an "enemy combatant" is any non-citizen whom the president says is an enemy combatant, including your Korean greengrocer or your Swedish grandmother or your Czech au pair, and can be arrested and held for as long as authorities wish without any right of appeal to a court of law to examine the matter. If your college kid were to be arrested in Bangkok or Cairo, suspected of "crimes against the state" and held in prison, you'd assume that an American foreign service officer would be able to speak to your kid and arrange for a lawyer, but this may not be true anymore. Be forewarned.

The Senate also decided it's up to the president to decide whether it's OK to make these enemies stand naked in cold rooms for a couple of days in blinding light and be beaten by interrogators. This is now purely a bureaucratic matter: The plenipotentiary stamps the file "enemy combatants" and throws the poor schnooks into prison and at his leisure he tries them by any sort of kangaroo court he wishes to assemble and they have no right to see the evidence against them, and there is no appeal. This was passed by 65 senators and will now be signed by President Bush, put into effect, and in due course be thrown out by the courts.

It's good that Barry Goldwater is dead because this would have killed him. Go back to the Senate of 1964--Goldwater, Dirksen, Russell, McCarthy, Javits, Morse, Fulbright--and you won't find more than 10 votes for it.

None of the men and women who voted for this bill has any right to speak in public about the rule of law anymore, or to take a high moral view of the Third Reich, or to wax poetic about the American Ideal. Mark their names. Any institution of higher learning that grants honorary degrees to these people forfeits its honor. Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Burr, Carper, Chambliss, Coburn, Cochran, Coleman, Collins, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, DeMint, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Ensign, Enzi, Frist, Graham, Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Hutchison, Inhofe, Isakson, Johnson, Kyl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Lieberman, Lott, Lugar, Martinez, McCain, McConnell, Menendez, Murkowski, Nelson of Florida, Nelson of Nebraska, Pryor, Roberts, Rockefeller, Salazar, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith, Specter, Stabenow, Stevens, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, Thune, Vitter, Voinovich, Warner.

To paraphrase Sir Walter Scott: Mark their names and mark them well. For them, no minstrel raptures swell. High though their titles, proud their name, boundless their wealth as wish can claim, these wretched figures shall go down to the vile dust from whence they sprung, unwept, unhonored and unsung.

Three Republican senators made a show of opposing the bill and after they'd collected all the praise they could get, they quickly folded. Why be a hero when you can be fairly sure that the court will dispose of this piece of garbage.

If, however, the court does not, then our country has taken a step toward totalitarianism. If the government can round up someone and never be required to explain why, then it's no longer the United States as you and I always understood it. Our enemies have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They have made us become like them.

I got some insight last week into who supports torture when I went down to Dallas to speak at Highland Park Methodist Church. It was spooky. I walked in, was met by two burly security men with walkie-talkies, and within 10 minutes was told by three people that this was the Bushes' church and that it would be better if I didn't talk about politics. I was there on a book tour for "Homegrown Democrat," but they thought it better if I didn't mention it. So I tried to make light of it: I told the audience, "I don't need to talk politics. I have no need even to be interested in politics--I'm a citizen, I have plenty of money and my grandsons are at least 12 years away from being eligible for military service." And the audience applauded! Those were their sentiments exactly. We've got ours, and who cares?

The Methodists of Dallas can be fairly sure that none of them will be snatched off the streets, flown to Guantanamo Bay, stripped naked, forced to stand for 48 hours in a freezing room with deafening noise. So why should they worry? It's only the Jews who are in danger, and the homosexuals and gypsies. The Christians are doing fine. If you can't trust a Methodist with absolute power to arrest people and not have to say why, then whom can you trust?


Garrison Keillor is a syndicated columnist and host of "A Prairie Home Companion."


Our Coma -the Most Expensive Addictions

But it's not just Musharraf; Max Boot's got other dysfunctional brown folks to blame:

The fault isn't all Musharraf's. Afghan President Hamid Karzai deserves some blame for not doing more to spread good governance to the southern and eastern provinces, where many people are so fed up with corrupt, incompetent administrators that they are not doing much to resist Taliban incursions.

That's right -- Karzai, with too little funding, little legitimacy among the masses and a shaky military with often [splintered] divided loyalties -- should just "spread" some good governance on the South and East of the country.

Or, as Scott at World-o-Crap put it: "I sympathize with Max, because I suffered an identical disappointment in the early 1990s with Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley's feeble efforts to stop the Shining Path guerrillas in Peru."

What should the U.S. do?

Ah, the $64,000 question.

Sending more troops isn't in the cards. The coalition troop presence in Afghanistan -- 20,000 U.S. troops and 20,000 NATO soldiers -- is already at an all-time high, and no one has soldiers to spare.

I wonder why we're so short of troops?

Instead of sending more GIs, we should send more greenbacks. U.S. financial assistance to Afghanistan has never been adequate. We've spent more than twice as much per capita in Iraq. U.S. aid briefly soared to $4.3 billion in fiscal year 2005, then dropped to $3 billion in fiscal year 2006. The fiscal year 2007 request is for just $1.1 billion, although there will undoubtedly be a supplemental appropriation. Our allies also haven't coughed up all the aid they've promised.

How crazy has the world gotten when Max Boot is arguing for more foreign aid and I respond that it would be throwing good money after bad?

It's not that I think the commitment made to Afghanistan has been adequate or that we couldn't do better; I quite agree with Boot's premise. But he's deeply deluded to suggest that at this point in time throwing more cash into the soup would have any positive impact.

That delusion stems from simple [hoax OF ] American exceptionalism: Boot thinks that more money and attention will achieve what we have shown again and again to be far outside our area of expertise: sustainable development and legitimate state-building.

Let me say this again, slowly: if you want to blow some shit up, call an American. If you want to rebuild a war-torn country, get yourself someone with a clue -- I recommend a Norwegian or a Canadian.

We've proven our inability to get it right, but it never sinks in. The reasons we suck at "winning the peace" -- as it's so often put -- are many, but they all come down to ideology and an inflated sense of American capabilities.

We do post-conflict reconstruction and democratization poorly because our foreign policy elites don't hold such activities in high esteem (or didn't before 9/11 supposedly "changed everything") and because we distrust the institutions that have the expertise -- the UN and others -- and are unwilling to cede them the authority to do the job right. We suck at nation-building because we privilege our neoliberal economics over the best development practices, because we favor big, grandiose and expensive projects over smaller, local development and use well-connected multinationals ahead of local firms, because we put reconstruction activities under the management of Republican political hacks without an ounce of experience and, most of all, because we tend to tell the locals what they need, not listen to what they say they need. There is virtually no local ownership of U.S. projects in post-war Iraq and Afghanistan, so they are destined to fail to one degree or another sooner or later. It's really that simple.

But there's always a neocon like Boot around who'll pull post-war Japan out of his ass and hold it up as proof that we have some competency in creating new democratic states.

Boot wraps it up with this laugher:

To help ensure that its assistance is used wisely, Washington needs more active representation in Kabul. When native son Zalmay Khalilzad was U.S. ambassador from 2003 to 2005, he pushed Karzai to curb the power of the warlords and to make other difficult reforms. The current ambassador, Ronald E. Neumann, is a capable diplomat, but he doesn't exercise as much influence in either Washington or Kabul as Khalilzad did. We need an ambassador who will be a more hands-on nation builder.

Yes, because when an active, hands-on American is in the mix, managing the whole shebang, that "ensures" Washington that funds are "used wisely."

Or not.

We're already losing one war, in Iraq. If we don't step up our game, we could lose Afghanistan too.

Too little, too late -- we might have been able to step up our "game" three years ago, but the window of opportunity is long closed. While Iraq will be the viewed as the greatest foreign policy disaster since Vietnam -- probably greater -- Afghanistan will go down as the more tragic front in this mad war because of the lost opportunity it represented.

While most Americans supported the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan at the time -- I myself argued that it was at least legal, if not correct -- I think it's time to judge Afghanistan as an immoral war, in retrospect, for the simple reason that it wasn't strictly a war of necessity and our lack of focus in the aftermath assured that the long-suffering Afghans will continue to eke out the shittiest of existences.

Twenty years after abandoning the country after the Soviets split, we're preparing to do so again. Let's not let folks like Max Boot cover their asses for that failure so easily this time around.

Update: Rumsfeld, typically, thinks everything's just Hunky-dory in Afghanistan.

Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer.

But the methodology, which is simply to multiply average employee wages by an estimated number of minutes per day online, essentially treats [models them ] people as robots who would normally spend every moment in full concentration mode. That's never been the case. Why not look into how much productivity is supposedly lost by bathroom/coffee breaks or endless meetings?

The biggest problem, from an economic perspective, is that despite all these ills attacking the labor force, government stats show the average worker is twice as productive today as he or she was 40 years ago, thanks to technology, [excuse me- horrendously unlikely because of the extreme overhead & costs of Wincrap support; meanwhile its worthless as a modern yardstick because FOREIGN workers have had at least the same boost, inducing an actual USian GAP in productivity leadership, doh /js] meaning that an occasionally distracted employee is a small price for a business to pay for so much more output.

Meanwhile, "studies" compiled by various government "health" agencies show that the five most-chronicled "hard" addictions--alcohol, drugs, tobacco, gambling and eating disorders--are what society truly pays for. Those maladies cost taxpayers and businesses $590 billion annually, primarily in lost productivity and government-assisted medical treatment. That's about 5% of the national debt. And it doesn't count [this aspersion is asinine and unlikely excluded by gurus like 'economists'] the sometimes bankrupting amounts of money those people personally spend on drugs, liquor, cigarettes or at the craps tables.

.../...   Physical addictions aren't the only serious problems. Compulsive gambling, defined by the American Psychological Association as a mental health disorder of impulse control, accounts for $40 billion in annual losses from counseling, productivity declines and social services, [absurd, is the entire country made of 'Heckuva job Brownies'?  Jackass2 the moovie INDEED befits the immediate fate of the millions-severd megachurch McFaith-hoaxed lemmings eagerly poised for Pres. Gilligan's Apocalyptic  death wish.  WHEE!  I've been waiting all my life for Armageddon! /js ] according to an estimate by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, a body created by Congress to study the problem.

Cutting down on shopping or television may make sense for plenty of people, but it's probably not a life-or-death decision. And neither your boss nor your fellow taxpayers are likely to care--at least not until there's research out there that shows they should.

In Pictures: The Five Most Expensive Addictions In The U.S.  //end//

DRUGE:  Estimated annual cost: $110 billion    Like alcohol, illicit drug use is more prevalent among the unemployed. Most addicts are also heavy drinkers, though only a small minority of alcoholics are drug abusers. Crystal meth has followed marijuana, cocaine and heroin as the drug of choice among the young set. [excuse me, WTF % and AGE is this druggie demographic? and are you not glorifying it herein? /js]]

   ... Dunn @HP:

On point one, I agree that ignorance of the law is no defense--when the law that someone is accused of breaking is clearly defined and when the accused knows it is being violated. In this case, although there should have been a law against pretexting, many legal experts think that there wasn't. More importantly, Dunn claims that she didn't know that the investigators were engaging in pretexting, so even if it was against the law, she says she was unaware of it.

In other words, there is an important difference between ignorance of the law and ignorance that the law was being broken. The latter isn't a defense, either, if the person should have known. But if the person takes reasonable steps to assure themselves that a law is not being broken, I think this should be a viable defense. If it isn't, then every person who manages employees who commit crimes will be liable for those crimes--a situation that would deter most sane people from ever becoming managers.  [overstated polemistry, although the cute concept is derailed by 'WSR = Written Supervisory Rules' as required by all NASD firms doing brokerage work for the public good /js] 

Henry Blodget is a frequent contributor to Slate , Newsweek International and other publications, and edits a blog called Internet Outsider . He cautions that nothing he says is or should be construed as investment advice.

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