Frogs in a Pickle

Bush recently issued an executive order, Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq, which has raised some alarms in the blogosphere.

Sara Robinson at Orcinus explains why this is alarming:

It’s that B clause that concerns me — and should concern all of us who blog, comment, organize, write letters, and otherwise exercise our rights to agitate against this unholy war. "Undermining the efforts" is a term that can be defined very, very broadly. And since those of us opposing this war have been told repeatedly, from the beginning, that our efforts to change our fellow citizens’ minds were in fact treasonous acts that undermined the war effort, emboldened America’s enemies, and harmed our troops, it’s not unreasonable to believe that those warnings are now being backed up by official action. "At risk of committing significant acts of violence" is more overbroad weasel-speak: How many of us have said things that could be construed (at least by the certifiable paranoids in the White House) as a threat of violence against the Bush Administration?

This government has now asserted — without so much as a by-your-leave from Congress — its right to take away our houses, cars, savings accounts, the stuff of our lives, on the say-so of the President and his Treasury Secretary. They are not kidding. What we do here, what I am doing right now (unless I choose my words very carefully) is being done in defiance of the Law According to George Bush.

When the President can take away your life’s savings without due process, under authority of a law no people’s legislature ever approved, for simply disagreeing with his policies and publicly stating your intentions to do something about them, we are treading so close to that line [between proto-fascism and the real thing] that it’s hard to tell whether we’re actually over it.

And, worse, we’ve reached the point where these outrages seem to occur weekly — bigger and more blatant every time, but by now we’ve seen so many so often that we’re inured. We don’t even know where to start fighting. In any other administration we’ve ever had, this one act on its own would be an impeachable offense. In this one, it’s just another drop in an overflowing bucket.

Commenters to Sara’s article have been taking issue with whether this order really is as bad as she thinks, and there certainly is room for disagreement. I want to put this type of debate into context, by highlighting an excerpt Sara also posted in the same article, from Milton Mayer’s They Thought They Were Free. Mayer was an American Jew who traveled to Germany after World War 2, to document the mindset of ordinary Germans, who revealed how their country slid into fascism:

"Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow. You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ Why not?—Well, you are not in the habit of doing it. And it is not just fear, fear of standing alone, that restrains you; it is also genuine uncertainty."

"Uncertainty is a very important factor, and, instead of decreasing as time goes on, it grows. Outside, in the streets, in the general community, ‘everyone’ is happy. One hears no protest, and certainly sees none. You know, in France or Italy there would be slogans against the government painted on walls and fences; in Germany, outside the great cities, perhaps, there is not even this. In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’

"And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic. You are left with your close friends, who are, naturally, people who have always thought as you have….

"But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

"And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way."

The debate about whether this executive order is serious or not, is part of the uncertainty Mayer talks about. The cabal commits some outrage, which knocks some of us off balance, creating rage and uncertainty, we try to sort it out, and then we adjust and life goes on. We regain our balance. The net effect, to use a parable, is the familiar story of the frogs who were slowly boiled to death by ever so slowly increasing the temperature.

The ease at which this happens is captured in the title of a DailyKos diary on the same topic, Bush Declares Martial Law. Country Yawns, Changes Channel. This diary refers to yet another diary that talks about why the founders of this country really revolted against England. It’s not what you think:

Contrary to the beliefs of many, American colonists did not go to war against the British because of taxes.  Colonists went to war against the King because the British government had become so corrupt, so despicable that the colonists feared if they didn’t take drastic action, this corruption would flow across the pond to America.  Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1775 (quoted from The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn):

. . . when I consider the extreme corruption prevalent among all orders of men in this old rotten state, and the glorious public virtue so predominant in our rising country  . . . I fear they will drag us after them in their plundering wars which their desperate circumstances, injustice, and rapacity [greed] may prompt them to undertake; and their wide wasting prodigality [living the high life] and profusion is a gulf that will swallow up every aid we may distress ourselves to afford them.  Here [Franklin was writing from England] enormous salaries, pensions, perquisites, bribes, groundless quarrels, foolish expeditions, false accounts or no accounts, contracts and jobs, devour all revenue [which will serve] to corrupt and poison us.

Why is this important now?  Because when you read Bailyn, you will clearly see that we are facing a crisis equal to that faced by the colonists.  Corruption, waste, war, and greed is swallowing up the America that other countries admired before and rallied around after 9/11.  We are facing the same constitutional crisis the colonists faced in the late 1700s.  They had been governed by the British constitution, which the colonists felt the King and his "minions" were plotting to weaken and dissolve.  Here is another passage from Bailyn:

For their power and interest is so great that they can and do procure whatever laws they please, having (by power, interest, and the application of the people’s money to placement and pensioners) the whole legislative authority at their command.  So that it is plain . . . that the rights of the people are ruined and destroyed by ministerial tyrannical authority and thereby  . . . become a kind of slaves to the ministers of the state.

Sound familiar?  Pass whatever laws they please, apply the people’s money however they choose and for whatever purpose they deem fit, whole legislative authority at their command.  This could have been written in the early 21st century and rather than saying it of King George III in 1775, it fits perfectly with King George II of America.

I can add nothing to this, other than to urge you to read the whole illuminating piece. I’ll close with Sara’s conclusion:

The America that would accept this kind of edict in silence is not the America that we grew up in. Something has changed. We are poised to accept this like we’ve accepted every other insult. It’s hard to imagine that, even when bloggers and other dissenters start losing their property, that there will be tens of thousands in the streets to protect us. As long as the forms are still there, and the system continues to do what it must to sustain itself, we will simply be collateral damage.

If we accept the forcible removal of our property without due process, forcible removal of our lives will not be far behind. And there are people eager to accomplish this: according to Barna Research, there are about 50 million hardcore fundamentalists who have been eagerly awaiting the day, training and planning and praying for the chance to do just that — to take out their frustrations on the liberal traitors whom they have been taught to believe are responsible for everything that’s wrong with their lives. They believe, in their bones, we have stabbed God’s America in the back; and they are out for vengeance. This is the edict that will provide "legal" support and justification for their first tentative steps toward mob rule.

22 thoughts on “Frogs in a Pickle

  1. Thanks, Maha. This issue can’t get too much attention. However, I’m really feeling discouraged recently. Senator Feingold posted a diary on dKos the other day explaining why he was opposed to impeachment and was succinctly blasted to bits by all but 3 of the 1400 commentors. His response: Thanks for the comments. On the Thom Hartmann show the other day, Bruce Fein, a Reagan Republican appointee, who has been arguing for impeachment of Bush and Cheney to preserve the Constitution from further current, and potential future, abuse, surmised that our present Congress truly doesn’t understand the history and meaning of the Constitution and, therefore, doesn’t understand the real danger of losing our democracy entirely unless the country makes a complete 180 degree turn, and very soon. Unfortunately, we know how long it’s taken for our representatives to listen to us just on Iraq, much less all the other issues.

  2. I fear that we will all soon know how Cicero felt as the Roman Republic (worthwhile even with all of its freely acknowledged flaws) slipped away. All of his storied oratorical prowess, exercised in an effort to try to persuade his fellow Senators of the deadly danger that the Republic faced from the rise of their day’s form of the Unitary Executive (the Imperium), availed not at all against the blandishments of the temporarily easier pathway of accomodation. These are not happy times in the life of our country. I still hope; but my hope is tempered.

  3. Absolutely right on pertinent. I especially appreciate the link to Milton Mayer. Everyone in the USA should read that.

  4. I am continually discuss the self-bestowed potential of Bush (in the form of various orders and signing statements) with friends from across the political spectrum and inevitably hear something like “…but he wouldn’t do that” from those who, for some reason, still want to trust.

    Early in Bush’s first term I was one of those people until he proved me wrong about 5-6 times in rapid succession. Among the betrayals was the infamous “yellowcake and aluminum rods” scam. The administration follow-on rationale after being exposed in this fabrication was the “1% doctrine” so eloquently described by Ron Suskind. He describes this as follows:

    “Even if there’s just a 1 percent chance of the unimaginable coming due, act as if it is a certainty. It’s not about ‘our analysis,’ as Cheney said. It’s about ‘our response.’ … Justified or not, fact-based or not, ‘our response’ is what matters. As to ‘evidence,’ the bar was set so low that the word itself almost didn’t apply.”

    I’ve adopted my own version of the “one percent doctrine” if there is even a 1% chance that Bush might use or abuse the absolute powers he has claimed then none of us are safe.

  5. A chilling post.

    I’ve been wondering for some time how it could be that we should be wandering down a path so like that Germany followed. ‘Those who don’t remember the past’ I get, but there are still people around who lived through that time! The dark side of American exceptionalism rears its head: “it can’t happen here.”

    I notice my own reaction: Surely a judge would prevent the seizure of a blogger’s assets for merely posting a critique of the war? But then I remember that habeas corpus is gone, and one might never get the chance to see a judge, or might be spirited away for merely suggesting the idea. The First Amendment does a fat lot of good in a Gitmo cell.

    I must admit, as Bush’s instability seems to be increasing daily, I begin to worry if he will leave come January, 2009. Whacko ideas like a ‘state of emergency’ seem closer with each new whacko idea they adopt. If habeas corpus is disposable, and Geneva “quaint”, I’m sure they have some lawyers who could gin up a ‘reason’ why the President can suspend the electoral process.

  6. I agree with Biggerbox in comment 7. One would expect that the party was fun while Republicans had Congress and the White House, but the party is over and Bush is in the lame duck phase. So you would epect him to pull in his horns – a little – and try to restore his ‘legacy’. But Cheney has declared himself a 4th branch; the AG is still buffering for the WH. Abuse and extra-legal extensions of power are going at an accelerated pace. So yes, I wonder, as Biggerbox did, is this man planning on leaving office?

  7. Well the way I see it is that Bush isn’t grabbing any more power than he already possesses. According to the wording of his latest proclamation ,in theory he can silence dissension on his Iraqi debacle, but the voice of dissension is greater than him and all his vested power. I don’t know what his game is with his latest dabblings in power, but I don’t feel threatened.

    I’ll tell him to his face what a fucking loser he is..not only that, but I’ll tell him that our ass is kicked in Iraq because he’s such a moron. I’m sure he’ll keep us in Iraq until he’s left the stage, but eventually America will come home defeated just like we did in Vietnam, and like the Soviets with their experience in Afghanistan. That’s not Swami’s take..that’s history’s lesson that Bush wasn’t keen enough to discern when his head was awash in testosterone.

    Mr. Bring it on.. Nation Bulider -in -Chief..Ha ha ha.. I mean, if you’re gonna build a nation..why not build it in the cradle of civilization.

  8. Terrorist attack. Bomb Iran. Martial law. No elections. That’s what scares me. Sara Robinson knows from where she speaks.

  9. Pat in comment 6 wrote:

    I continually discuss the self-bestowed potential of Bush (in the form of various orders and signing statements) with friends from across the political spectrum and inevitably hear something like “…but he wouldn’t do that” from those who, for some reason, still want to trust.

    I’ve adopted my own version of the “one percent doctrine” if there is even a 1% chance that Bush might use or abuse the absolute powers he has claimed then none of us are safe.

    You’ve touched on something that people generally don’t go into, to much depth. I’m kind of an engineer by training (not a lawyer) and so when I design stuff, I deliberately look for places where a system can fail, and do my best to ensure it doesn’t. My motto parallels your 1% rule: If it can fail, it will.

    Applied to laws, if there is a loophole left open for tyranny, somebody will exploit it, and at some point we will have tyranny. I think the founders of this country understood this principle quite well in their design of checks and balances, but I believe even they were aware (as was Plato) that Republics usually, eventually fail.

  10. Great post and comment’s!
    They thought America was going to be the new Rome. Pax Americana.
    The biggest resemblence we have to Rome is our coming fall. It will have been brought on my hubris, arrogance, stupidity, and ignorance. We don’t need barbarian’s at our gate’s; we have neo-con’s in charge.
    The political fall is happening as we speak. We frog’s are feeling a little warmer…
    The economic fall is coming. I have a few questions:
    What happens if OPEC decides to deal in Euro’s instead of dollar’s? What happen’s if, after that, China and Saudi Arabia call in our debt’s?
    The result could be a severe depression.
    What is Saudi Arabia using as leverage to keep Bush and Cheney in Iraq? They don’t want their brother Sunni’s to be slaughtered, so they want the US to keep the troops in as a buffer to blood-madness. Could the Saudi leverage be the threat of changing oil transactions over to Euro’s?
    In the Great Depression, people rich and poor lost their savings. Millionaire’s became pauper’s overnight. Is this what Bush and Cheney fear? The loss of great fortune’s on their watch? Their own, as well as others.
    I’d appreciate if any of you could help me with these questions.
    Maybe we still have time to save our Republic. The clock is ticking…
    I hope I’m wrong.

  11. What the collective ‘we’ do others, ‘we’ will do to ourselves. It just works that way, whether what is done to others is kindness, helpfulness, or torture and oppression.

    But, also…..there is something about the human collective psyche that, once that psyche gets ‘boxed in’ by certainty of definition, the seeds of whatever willtranscend that definition begin to sprout.

  12. I can understand if the American public didn’t believe that Bushco would consider something like this with an executive order. But Congress and the media are on the ‘front lines’ so to speak. They can’t be that blind.

  13. Just for some other historical context, the Founders were also rebelling against the Enlightenment concept of the monarchy and the evils therein. There’s a reason that the president was essentially a figurehead in the Articles of Confederation.

    As it happens, I was reading about Shay’s Rebellion this morning, which was a post-Revolution revolt in Massachusetts wherein some soldiers protested the seizure of land to pay for the state’s debts from the war. Thomas Jefferson, sitting in France at the time, wrote home that (I’m paraphrasing) this was a positive development because a little rebellion was good for democracy, to reboot it, as it were.

    I wonder, then, if BushCo would call Jefferson a traitor?

  14. cebm, comment 10: Very definitely, if we bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb-Iran 🙂 , All Bets Are Off. Ditto for another terrorist attack on US soil.

    c u, comment 12: my two cents on your questions:

    The notion of the various oil exporters moving to transact their deals in Euros, has been at least a persistent rumor. Jerome a Paris is an energy expert, who often posts at DailyKos and writes for the European Tribune. His work has appeared in the Financial Times. He debunks this Euro rumor (somewhat) here. I hope to expose more of his writings on this site, because he works for a living in this area, has a lot to say, and is well respected in the world of energy. If you read DailyKos, and enjoy energy and finance, you might consider subscribing to his diaries.

    While oil may someday be transacted in Euros, in my mind, the larger issue is the insolvency of our country, the deliberate financial mismanagement by the far right whose stated goal is to cripple our government (to drown it in a bathtub). At the same time, our country’s currency, the dollar underpins most of the world’s currencies. Nearly anywhere you go in the world, US dollars are accepted to transact business. And yet the IMF would’ve declared us insolvent long ago. In a sense we’re too big to be allowed to fail. This leads to a pathological situation described as "the death bet" where no single country wants to be the one to unload their dollars, because it will bring down the whole house of cards. And yet, each of them asks themselves, how long are we going to hang onto the paper of a country that is so financially out of control?

    We’re seeing countries beginning to diversify out of dollars, and if/when this happens in a big way, you’ll see the dollar sink even further against other world currencies. This isn’t entirely bad – our exports become cheap (in the same way that China’s exports are now cheap, because their currency is artificially cheap relative to ours). It might even revive US manufacturing. It’s my opinion, however, and that of others, that the day is coming when China won’t need us, and at that point they will no long buy our Treasury bills. The current situation with China is simply not sustainable indefinitely. When that day comes, we will be shocked to discover to what degree they control our destiny. As President Nixon famously put it many years ago, China may grow to be so powerful that it could withhold most-favored-nation-status from America.

    I envision not a depression, but inflation, even hyper inflation in the years ahead, as our money will not buy what it used to. Setting aside the intentional mismanagement of this country by the far right, when oil hits $100 a barrel or beyond, due to peak oil, or due to a major war in the Middle East we are going to see how oil undergirds the very fabric of our civilization, how absolutely everything we touch involves black gold. Because of this, it will take more dollars to buy anything, since everything in some fashion touches oil.

    Inflation is already here but people don’t recognize it as such: housing is ridiculous as is health care. It wasn’t that long ago when a new car was a four digit proposition, not five. And then there’s all the ways the inflation statistics are jiggered by the government to snow the public.

    As for the Saudis, that’s a complex issue that I won’t even try to go into.

  15. As to Swami’s remarks on nation building in #9, I agree. The possibility of success in Iraq was dependent upon the dubious proposition of “flowers and sweets” and how widespread our popularity would be once we took care of Sadaam. More intelligent assessments were ignored.

    The difference between a role with popular support and a role with widespread opposition is as “night and day.” The “switch and bait” of utopian, pro-war hawks in the administration is a national disgrace. In my mind this is pivotal and as long as significant portions of America neglect to consider it, we remain in this pickle.

    We are dealing with people who can never admit being wrong about anything….it is staggering how fast we’ve gone from “sweets and flowers” to the “50-year occupation” mentioned by our politickin’ general Patraeus. My head is still spinning.

    So are we to believe that they knew this all along and sugar-coated (aka lied) or they had no clue and are making it up as they go along (or saying whatever they hope to pass muster)?

    As to Moonbat’s #16, I’ve often thought the same thing as the remarks about revival of manufacturing as dollar sinks and how this is good and bad. I’m also convinced as he seems to be that this must be ameliorated by some manifestation of social consciousness…dare I say protectionism.

    However, a lot of seemingly protectionist acts are just practical. For example, many Scandinavian countries thoroughly examine employment of foreigners and prohibit immigration of those who might take jobs for which there are willing citizens. I have spoken at lengths with a co-worker who taught computer programming in a Swedish university.

    I really have my doubts that government resources are significantly devoted to those sorts of checks. I don’t entirely buy the line about “jobs Americans won’t do…” and always complete that talking point with “…for the level to which salaries will drop once Americans are squeezed out by a steady stream of immigrants.” At one rate of immigration this can be assimilated but at others there is social upheaval…almost sleeping in the streets.

    I sure hope that common sense can prevail and don’t believe it has recently.

  16. Biggerbox, #7: “Surely a judge would prevent the seizure of a blogger’s assets for merely posting a critique of the war?”

    The machinery for seizure of someone’s assets with no due process whatsoever already exists. It’s called civic forfeiture and is routinely used in the “war on drugs”. By claiming that they suspect you of being a drug dealer, the police can invade your home and seize it, or any of your possessions. Then the onus is on you to claim your property back. In many states the police actually get a cut of the property they seize, an obvious inducement to corruption. No-one is safe! There was a case several years ago where a joint force of LAPD, LA sherriff’s deputies and armed National Forest Service rangers raided the home of a millionaire named Donald Scott, shot him dead and seized his ranch. They claimed to have received an anonymous tip that he was a drug dealer but later admitted that they wanted to take his land and add it to a local national forest! If a millionaire has no protection from corrupt law enforcement officials, what hope does a lowly blogger have? Sorry to give you nightmares but we have to face reality. The land of the brave is now the home of the enslaved.

  17. moonbat,
    Thanks, point’s well taken. I appreciate the feedback.
    I should have pointed out that hyper-inflation and depression can sometimes be handmaid’s that link arm’s.
    And, BEST OF LUCK! You’ve been great so far, so I have full confidence in you:-)
    I look forward to your future post’s.

  18. Sara Robinson is an interesting writer, but I will have more respect for her when she returns from hiding out in Canada. Until then, I’d rather read others.

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