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The Dark Night Descends

Ernest Partridge, The Crisis Papers

October 3, 2006





As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.

William O. Douglas

Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, 'regretted,' that unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these 'little measures'. . . must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. . . . Each act. . . 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 you in resisting somehow.

Milton Mayer
They Thought They Were Free.
The Germans: 1938-1945.

Ordinary citizens see only the surface of the political landscape – if that. Those who are astute enough to distrust the mainstream media (MSM) and seek out news from foreign and “off-beat” sources have a better view of that surface than those who get their “news” from the MSM. Worst of all, many “news consumers” only get a view of fantasyland. For example, researchers at the University of Maryland have discovered that the more one watches FOX news, the less informed one is.

But even the most circumspect and persistent citizen sees first the puppets on the stage, and only with a good memory and keen critical skills can one begin to suspect who is pulling the strings and arranging the sets on-stage.

Under such conditions, imagination runs freely and conspiracy theories abound. While one should be skeptical of conspiracy theories, one should never forget that conspiracies play an important part in human history. The American Revolution was conceived in conspiracies, and Julius Caesar and Abraham Lincoln, and countless leaders in between, were all done in by conspiracies.

Is our republic succumbing to a grand conspiracy at the highest levels of government? Rather than address that question directly at the outset, I will set down immediately below, a few simple and undisputed facts. Note the sequence and proximity of the dates. Then ask yourself if you see a pattern here.

And so, as the Bard enjoins, “on your imaginary forces, work!”

First some hard facts:

May 24, 2001: Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont, announces that he is leaving the Republican Party. The Democrats take control of the Senate.

September 11, 2001: We all know what happened then.

September 18, 2001: “The Anthrax attack” claims its first victims.

October 8, 2001: Anthrax contaminated letters arrive at the offices of Democratic Senators Daschle (the majority leader) and Leahy (Chair of the Judiciary Committee). The Senate Office buildings are closed for several weeks, with the files of all Senators open and unguarded. Soon after the letters are received by the Senators, more letters arrive at the offices of the major television networks: ABC, CBS and NBC. (No one has been arrested to date for the crime).

October 11, 2002: The Senate approves the Iraq War Resolution. 21 Democrats oppose, but not Senator Daschle.

October 25, 2002: Senator Paul Wellstone (Democrat, Minnesota), is killed in a small plane crash, eleven days before his expected re-election to the Senate. The winner of that election is Republican Norm Coleman.

October 26, 2002: The USA PATRIOT Act is signed by George Bush.  This massive legislation was rushed through Congress with little debate and before any members had an opportunity to read it.  One Democratic Senator, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, opposed.

November 4, 2002: Republican Saxby Chamblis defeats Democrat Max Cleland in the Georgia Senatorial race, overcoming a two to five point lead by Cleland and posting a final seven percent margin of victory. The probability of a nine to twelve point polling error is less than 2%.  Due to the use of Diebold paperless electronic voting machines, Chamblis’ victory can not be validated.  (Two former Diebold technicians have recently revealed that top Diebold officials ordered the installation of unauthorized secret files into the voting machines shortly before the election).

February 25, 2003: Liberal Talk Show Host, Phil Donahue, is fired by MSNBC despite having the highest ratings on that cable TV station. (CNN reports that he was fired because of “poor ratings.” An internal NBC study concluded that Donahue presented "a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war . . .  He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives."

March 20, 2003: The Iraq War begins.

November 2, 2004: Overcoming a six point exit-poll advantage by Senator John Kerry, George Bush is re-elected President.  Several statisticians have calculated the probability of this anomaly as one in a million -- in effect, impossible.

September 16, 2006: Republican Senators John McCain, John Warner and Lindsay Graham unite in opposition to Bush’s toleration of torture (i.e., “aggressive interrogation”). Robert Kuttner writes in The Boston Globe: “Finally, on multiple fronts, after nearly six years of blind loyalty, Republican moderates in Congress are beginning to rebel against the sheer recklessness of their president -- excuse me, of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who are the architects of these policies. A higher loyalty is at last trumping partisan fealty to a dangerously radical administration.”

September 22, 2006: Republican Senators John McCain, John Warner and Lindsay Graham agree to a “compromise” on permissible “interrogation techniques.”   About this “compromise” Brent Budowsdy writes: “The misnomered 'compromise' on torture, which is a 90% ratification of the Bush and Cheney torture policy, and a 100% abdication of the responsibility of Congress, is barely worth an itemized breakdown of deficiencies. It is not a compromise. It is a ratification.”  What happened to those three “dissident” GOP senators during that week? As I said at the outset, I choose not to speculate here. These are the facts. I report, you decide.

September 28, 2006: Congress passes the “Military Commissions Act of 2006.” Of this legislation, the New York Times
writes in an editorial:

It would give Mr. Bush the power to jail pretty much anyone he wants for as long as he wants without charging them, to unilaterally reinterpret the Geneva Conventions, to authorize what normal people consider torture, and to deny justice to hundreds of men captured in error... A dangerously broad definition of “illegal enemy combatant” in the bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted... All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial."

Following these facts, some questions and some reflections:

Now to the compelling questions: What strings are attached to the actors on the public stage? What accounts for the passivity of the Democrats?  The abrupt turnabouts and capitulations by Bush’s presumed “opponents.”  Some horses’ heads in the bed?  Some “offers that they could not refuse?”

We don’t know.  We can’t know.  But, in view of the above sequences, we might be justified if we wonder a bit.

Don’t know about you, but I detect a whiff of blackmail, extortion and intimidation in the air.  Impossible? They wouldn’t dare, you say?  Get real!  These villains willingly go to war on a lie, they sacrifice the lives of thousands of our soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis, they incarcerate without charge, they condone torture, and finally they violate their oaths of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  If they believed that they could get away with it, do you really doubt that they would resort to blackmail, extortion and intimidation?

But if they have, the list of coerced victims is long and is growing: wealthy political contributors, journalists, the military, retired ambassadors, covert CIA operatives and other civil servants, politicians both in office and defeated. Individuals of substance.

In The Prince (Chapter 17), Machiavelli wrote that “it is safer [for the ruler] to be feared than loved.”  While this may have been true in sixteenth century Florence, I doubt that it is true in twenty-first century America. When blackmail and intimidation are the instruments of power, the victims have basically two choices before them: first, continue to yield to the demands of those who threaten; but second, when the burden of fear becomes unbearable, to remove the source of the threats – namely, to overthrow the oppressors.

There are no guarantees. But when the oppressor weakens, and is seen to be weakening, the victims may turn on him.  It has happened time and again in history.

And suddenly, this past month, the beast has been wounded: a sex scandal in the GOP Congress, revelations of more White House dealings with the convicted criminal Jack Abramoff, the National Intelligence Estimate report that the Iraq war has increased the danger of terrorism, outrage over the Military Commissions Act (license to torture, abolition of habeas corpus, retroactive amnesty for the Busheviks), and rumors of an impending attack on Iran. All this is more than the compliant mainstream media can hide.

Is this the tipping point at last? We cannot know, but we can hope.

The Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Many commentators, primarily in the “free” progressive blogs, of course, have remarked that September 28, 2006 and the passage of the “Military Commissions Act” (MCA) might mark the effective end of American Democracy and the beginning of a new American dictatorship.

I have tried desperately to find good reason not to believe this, but without success. The best scrap of hope that I have encountered comes from Tom Oliphant in his conversation with Al Franken on Air America Radio. The twelve Democrats in the Senate who voted for this act, said Oliphant, did so to “kick the can down the road,” confident that the Supreme Court would overturn it.

Even though the MCA directly violates four of the ten articles of the Bill of Rights and the right of habeas corpus (explicitly established in the Constitution) I can not share Oliphant’s confidence that the Supremes will find the act unconstitutional. This is, after all, the Supreme Court (with two new Bush appointees) that gave us George Bush in 2000, despite the will of the American people.

Since December 12, 2000 (Bush v. Gore) I have been outraged, and concerned.  Now I will admit that I am genuinely frightened.  All that protects me now from the newly enacted power of the dictator is my insignificance and obscurity.  I have no delusions of self-importance.  I am merely a retired philosophy professor whose opinions are published in scholarly journals and on the web and read by a few thousand.  However, the law and the courts no longer protect me, for as of September 28, they have been rendered irrelevant.  But were I a conspicuous and outspoken dissenter of some significance, such as Keith Olbermann, Jon Stewart, Randi Rhodes, Frank Rich, Seymour Hersh, and now, believe it or not, Bob Woodward, I would be properly worried about my own personal safety, and the safety of my immediate family.

Dan Rather and Phil Donahue expressed their dissent on the public airwaves and lost their jobs. Today, if George Bush so chose, they could be designated “supporters of terrorism,” seized, and incarcerated without charge, without counsel, without trial, without appeal, without end.

Impossible, you say?  Yale Law Professor Bruce Ackerman writes that the legislation: “authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States.  And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights.”

And it’s already happened.  Ask Jose Padilla, not to mention hundreds of innocents in Gitmo.  But Rather? Donahue? Olbermann?  Bush wouldn’t dare!

Today, he wouldn’t.  But for how long?  And what is to stop him? Public opinion?  Perhaps, but as we have learned, public opinion can be putty in the hands of a skillful and monolithic media.  But most significantly, as of last Thursday, the law can no longer restrain Bush’s brutal retaliation against his critics.

All that stands between the dissenting citizen and arbitrary and indefinite detention is George Bush’s discretion, good judgment,  and sense of fair play.  And as we all know, none of these virtues are, to say the least, conspicuous in Bush’s behavior.

Are we now to believe that the Busheviks will go this far, and no further, and that this is, at last, the end of the slippery slope – that, to paraphrase Neville Chamberlain's assessment of Hitler after Munich, 1938, these are the last of their demands?

We believe so at our extreme peril, and in the face of compelling evidence that this “Military Commissions Act” is just one further step, a huge step, on the road to despotism.

Copyright 2006 by Ernest Partridge


Ernest Partridge's Internet Publications

Conscience of a Progressive:  A book in progress. 

Partridge's Scholarly Publications. (The Online Gadfly)

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers".   His e-mail is: gadfly@igc.org .

Crisis Papers editors, Partridge & Weiner, are available for public speaking appearances