A View From The Handbasket

Tuesday, March 14, 2006
A freedom sampler
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:34 PM
I've been thinking about Dob's challenge (see below). The problem with freedom is much like what a fictional character in a movie I've never seen said about a box of chocolates -- you never know what you're going to get.

In that spirit, let's open up the box, reach inside, and see what pops out.

Freedom on the march

On the heels of his worst-ever showing in the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, the President is again touring his long-running performance art spectacle Why I Went To War. Amongst the venerable set pieces (9/11 was mentioned four times, we were again reminded that "as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down," and the word "freedom" was used nine times, not counting the title given to the speech on the White House web site), Bush attempted to spin the latest developments:

Immediately after the attack, I said that Iraq faced a moment of choosing -- and in the days that followed, the Iraqi people made their choice. They looked into the abyss and did not like what they saw. After the bombing, most Iraqis saw what the perpetuators [sic] of this attack were trying to do: The enemy had failed to stop the January 2005 elections, they failed to stop the constitutional referendum, they failed to stop the December elections, and now they're trying to stop the formation of a unity government. By their response over the past two weeks, Iraqis have shown the world they want a future of freedom and peace -- and they will oppose a violent minority that seeks to take that future away from them by tearing their country apart.

But while the President tried to convince us (and himself) that he was chewing on a yummy caramel confection, reports on the ground had the distinct flavor of chocolate-covered bugs:

Authorities said at least 86 bodies were found in the Iraqi capital during a 30-hour period ending midday Tuesday, sparking fears that sectarian reprisal killings are continuing at a grisly pace.


"The indications are, police won't say this, but the indications are that these are sectarian killings," CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson said. "... You talk to some people here in Baghdad and they talk in their neighborhoods, mixed neighborhoods, of tit-for-tat killings. Sunni one day, Shia the next day...

"That's the perception in the city at the moment."

Indications are that for the foreseeable future, Iraqis will enjoy their freedom, 3 years after the invasion, while negotiating checkpoints, obeying strict curfews, and dodging bullets.

Freedom in retreat

Sandra Day O'Connor has decided that someone peed in her box of chocolates:

In a strongly worded speech at Georgetown University, reported by National Public Radio and the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Ms O'Connor took aim at Republican leaders whose repeated denunciations of the courts for alleged liberal bias could, she said, be contributing to a climate of violence against judges.

Ms O'Connor, nominated by Ronald Reagan as the first woman supreme court justice, declared: "We must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary."

She pointed to autocracies in the developing world and former Communist countries as lessons on where interference with the judiciary might lead. "It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."

While I appreciate her voice, I'd rather she'd stayed on the court where she could do something about this problem, rather than clearing the way for Sam Alito.

Freedom deferred

A man I'm admiring more and more, Sen. Russ Feingold introduced a motion to censure the President for his flagrant violation of FISA. Not surprisingly, few dared to bite into that particular coconut surprise and agree that Bush should face even a slap on the wrist for breaking the law. Even those like Arlen Specter who seemed genuinely angry at Bush's hubris are now falling meekly into line:

But a leading Republican skeptic of the NSA program, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, said Feingold's censure resolution was "vastly excessive."

If administration officials like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales are correct, Specter said, "then there is no violation of law by the president."

There you have it -- if the administration says they didn't break the law, then they didn't break the law. End of story.

Even nominal Democrats like Harry Reid and the odious Joe Lieberman hung Feingold out to dry, making sympathetic noises but failing to support the motion.

And, naturally, those eager to use the threat of terror to beat the Constitution into submission happily conflated opposition to warrantless domestic wiretaps with support of terrorists, throwing the sweet, sweet candy of fear at the public from their podiums:

Frist, a Tennessee Republican, called the measure "a political stunt that is addressed at attacking the president of the United States of America when we're at war."

He criticized Feingold for introducing the censure resolution "at the same time we have terrorists right now intending to attack Western civilization and the people of our homeland."


Meanwhile, at a Republican campaign event in Feingold's home state, Vice President Dick Cheney challenged Democrats to take a stand on the Feingold resolution.

He called the resolution an "outrageous proposition" and said it "poses a key test for our Democratic leaders: Do they support the extreme and counterproductive antics of a few, or do they support a lawful program vital to the security of this nation?"

The vice president asserted that Americans "agree with the president, and our administration's position is clear -- If there are individuals inside our country talking with al Qaeda overseas, we want to know about it."

And, as always, the question of exactly how the FISA court is not sufficient to warrant wiretaps is left unanswered.

Freedom abridged retroactively

While Feingold waged a lonely battle to hold the President accountable, others in Congress decided the best way to handle the situation was to change the law to make what the President did legal:

Support was building Tuesday for a proposal from some moderate Senate Republicans that would give President Bush's surveillance program the force of law, more than four years after he secretly initiated the program.

One could easily imagine entire Congressional committees being set up to handle changing the law to match the administration's behavior.

Freedom enjoyed again and again

In case I haven't abused this poor metaphor enough, there are some people who lack the self-control and maturity to take just one chocolate from the box and insist on gorging themselves simply because they can.

While visiting a so-called "friend" recently, he forced me to watch some of a Learning Channel show devoted to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, a happy God-fearing couple from Arkansas who took the whole "be fruitful and multiply" thing to a gut-wrenching extreme:

They have 16 children, all their own. They drive around in a church bus. The Learning Channel show was about their adventures building a barn-like house for themselves. Jim Bob ran for the Senate in 2002. (The campaign poster, in the link, is a must-see. Note that apparently all the children's names begin with J.)

That's all I know, because I managed to beat my "friend" senseless with the remote and escape before seeing any more. I'm sure the Duggars would agree with many that not having children is "selfish."

Free speech

Finally, my response to Dob. I am far more inclined to err on the side of too much freedom of speech than not enough. The story he cites makes me wonder more about the motivation of the mother than the rights of the child. I think the school has the responsibility to prevent the homework assignments of a kindergarten class from becoming a contest to see who loves God more, and the principal was exactly right in rejecting the first poster. (What happened with the second seems a little fuzzier, though.) Students shouldn't be forbidden to express religious beliefs in the context of their schoolwork, but they shouldn't be allowed to use religion as a replacement for their schoolwork. Likewise, the (public) school itself should not express a religious viewpoint, since would necessarily imply an "official" religion.

The notion of "hate speech" I find incredibly suspect. There are laws on the books for harrassment, slander and threatening, and those are fine -- nothing further is needed. Trying to control speech some find "offensive" is sure to lead to a situation where practically anything is offensive. It's a bit of a cliche, but the answer to bad speech is good speech, not banning bad speech. Dragging bigotry and hate out into the light will do more good in the end than trying to legislate it away.

After all, chocolate's pretty bad for you, but they can pry it out of my cold dead fingers.

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