July 25, 2009

Back--with some thoughts on race and Cheney's perverse view of the Constitution

We just had a great week with SOF's sister and family as the first guests to try out our new guest room and extra bathroom. The bathroom still lacks a mirror and some cabinetry, but other than that received rave reviews. Same for the new room, even though at the end of the A/C run and lacking any external shade, was cool enough for our guests. Thankfully, they were here during the cool week of July, and not the 105 week!

But we had a great time. Played a little guitar, ate some great food, and enjoyed some lively conversation.


But I am back and resting up--and reading through the news. Couple of items caught my eye, and they deserve some attention. First was the arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, and the subsequent furor from Obama's characterization of the arrest as the Cambridge cops acting "stupidly." Obama then acted presidential (imo) and admitted to using language that didn't help the situation and even calling the arresting officer. It really does sound like Gates over-reacted--though it is perhaps understandable after returning from overseas to be accused of breaking into your own house. It also sounds like the cop over-reacted and placed a man in cuffs who uses a cane. I am with Tapped's Adam Serwer on this, however, in arguing that white America is still not ready to talk about race.

All of this, mind you, during a week when a Florida neurosurgeon and healthcare reform opponent sent around an email depicting Obama as a Witch Doctor with a bone through his nose. To which, the Tea Bagger movement offered their unflinching support, and refuses to see the racism in their opposition to Obama. Or when MSNBC continues to put on Pat Buchanan after he argues that this country was built by white people, and that blacks were only discriminated against. What is more, he is sure that only whites died on D-Day or at Vicksburg. Or just a week past Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn saying "you would have some splaining to do" to our Puerto-Rican born Supreme Court nominee. And let's not forget, btw, the raging racism of the "birther" movement that claims that Obama is not American and therefore not their legitimate President--something aided and abetted by Liz Cheney and Lou Dobbs, and echoed by Republican House members.

This goes back to another point, the one where most Americans (white) seem to think that racism is dead, or only relegated to the extreme Klan members. I have seen this in discussions myself, where racism is defined very narrowly and very extremely, and individuals who still use racial stereotypes and admit they wouldn't be happy if their child dated someone of color--at the same time asserting that they are not racist or that there is nothing wrong with what they said. When racism is limited to those who burn crosses and shout the n-word, a lot of us (me included) get let off the hook for our own racism. I am a fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates and find him thoughtful on race issues. Like here:
"Again, I think this makes sense, if you believe racism to be the province of societal pariahs, not people who hawk their wares on MSNBC. But if you believe that we live with it every day, that the worst part of racism is how it hides in the hearts of otherwise decent people, than this is rather puzzling. If you've had friends who've looked you in the eye, and said something racist, you may feel differently."

We have made a lot of progress in this country on race issues. But when every other week a Republican sends out a racist picture of Obama and still thinks it isn't racist--I wonder.


Point two, and also very critical was the recent NY Times report on discussions inside the Bush administration about using the military against even American citizens. Greenwald weighs in and links to the original memo. Scary stuff. Yoo recommends, and evidently Cheney and Addington completely agreed, that during a time of war, the President had the discretion to use the military inside the country even to round up people who might be American citizens. His reasoning, and also his justification for getting around the Posse Commitatus Act of 1878, was that this would be using the military for military purposes rather than law enforcement. Further, Yoo said that both the First and Fourth amendments could be set aside during such situations.

As I read the memo, the constant refrain of the President's discretion jumped out, and that discretion was not bound by congress or the courts. It is, as I read it, a recipe for tyranny, and truly unbelievable. Credit, I must say, goes to Condi Rice and others who spoke out against this, and ultimately to George Bush for not allowing Cheney to further shred the constitution. Shame on him for allowing the conversation to even occur.

And can we finally dispense with the nonsense that Dick Cheney and David Addington are just good Americans doing what they thought was right for America?


steves said...

Maybe Gates did react poorly, though I can understand him feeling that way, given the circumstances. I do believe the police acted wrong. I can understand that Gates was behaving poorly, but you can't arrest someone for having a crappy attitude, which is essentially what he was arrested for. I feel bad that police have to put up with some real stressful situations, but it is part of their job.

Sully guest blogger Conor Friedersdorf made some good points about how this gets all sorts of attention and most police abuse is ignored, such as this case, where an Oklahoma trooper stops and assaults a paramedic transporting a person in ambulance. He got a slap on the wrist, where he should have been fired.

Yoo has always scared me and I seriously hope that his point of view is on the way out. Calling military intervention on US soil law enforcement doesn't make it ok under the PC Act, and I would guess that the Supreme Ct would agree. Otherwise, it make that law completely useless. The whole purpose of that law was to prevent this type of thing from happening, as I am sure you are well aware of what troops were being used to do post-Civil War.

I'll have to dig around, but there was an editorial in SWAT magazine warning about this same thing and referenced several other articles where several Army units were training for domestic work. I can't understand why this doesn't make more people uncomfortable, but I am sure they can be sold on it if they believe it will make us safe from "terrorists."

And can we finally dispense with the nonsense that Dick Cheney and David Addington are just good Americans doing what they thought was right for America?

A long time ago.

Streak said...

I agree, Steve, on both counts. As to Yoo, here is more from Balkinization:

"The central problem with the Cheney/Yoo/Addington theory was that it allowed the President to declare anyone in the United States an enemy combatant. Then, once the President made this declaration, the person would lose all their civil rights. The military could arrest and imprison the person without charges or any of the procedural protections of the Bill of Rights; it could torture them for information (under the theory that these techniques did not shock the conscience under the Eighth Amendment), and it could hold them indefinitely in a military prison. The problem with the Cheney/Yoo/Addington theory, in short, was that it embraced elements of military dictatorship within the United States."

Monk-in-Training said...


If I get this wrong, can you let me know.

Prof Gates was at his own home, on his own property.

The policeman had no warrant to be there once it was established that Prof Gates was the owner.

no matter what the Prof's attitude, I can't see a reason for the policeman to be there. In spite of Cheney, we do have a right to be unmolested in our own homes.

Or so I understand.

steves said...

M-i-t, I think your assessment is correct. While people should be respectful towards police (and everyone, for that matter), it is not a crime to be rude to them, nor are we obligated in any way to be helpful and nice. As far as I can tell, the cop was just irked and wanted to throw his weight around.

Balkinization is a good site and that assessment is correct.

leighton said...

This may be off topic a bit, but after reading Legacy of Ashes, I think there is a case to be made that Cheney thought the actions he took while in office were indeed best for America. In which case (and I tend to think this anyway) we need to discard forever the idea of sincerity as a political virtue. Better a gamesman who does right by the Republic out of selfishness and ambition than someone who shreds the Constitution because he honestly believes it's a good idea.

steves said...

Good point, Leighton. It really doesn't matter how right you feel when you are wrong. The end result matters.

Anonymous said...

Streak, Good to see you back. As you can imagine, I have followed the Gates story as well. After reading the police report, I was more aghast at Gates' neighbors than the police. After all, it was a woman in what I imagine to be a upscale neighborhood in Cambridge who called the police and said that two black men were breaking into a house. This just struck me as woman and neighbor responding to a tired stereotype.

Second, I read some of the comments from an online story. One the comments suggested that since the United States elected an African American man as president, then racism is dead in the United States. I find it interesting that many feel that once a singular event occurs, then the problem of racism in the United States is stalled. For instance, it is as if the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of the 1960s meant there was no need for people to fight for civil rights in the late 1960s and into the 1970s.

Good to have you back.
-- CIL (although I need a new handle, what about WIV)