Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Black Jack

I remember seeing Lewis Black awhile ago when he made an appearance at a local Catholic college. He railed on the ID nonsense trial in Pennsylvania and hammered on creationism and conservatism. It was a performance that was clearly designed to stirr up the pudding that may have coalesced inside the heads of students who were receiving a stern and conservative education.

Though I don't think a strictly "conservative" education implies the teaching of creationism as science -- in fact, strict conservatism ought to brand ID as the obvious mythology that it is. Conservatism and religious fundamentalism have, unfortunately, become intertwined in today's political climate. But, for more on that I suggest Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas.

In any event, Black had said that, as he made his rounds on the college circuit, he had been rather amazed to learn how conservative many college students were these days. He found it alarming, really, and he said so. He posed the rhetorical question, "if you're conservative now, what's next for you? Nazism?" I sensed more discomfort than amusment in the crowd at that extreme rhetorical flourish, as though Black might have spoken some heretofore unacknowledged or as yet unrealised truth.

But Black's question is not one that would likely have troubled John Yoo. Yoo describes himself as a "lifelong conservative" and much as Black posited, he seems very much inclined toward the above described political path. In fact, Yoo's ascendency to the position of leading legal scholar in the black arts appears headed very much in that direction. Having been the lead counsel for the Bush administration in drafting legal positions that, to say the least, are rather unlimited in their prescription that executive power is essentially unchecked in a "wartime emergency," Yoo has been taking some heat lately and rightly so. Americans are not generally taken with behind-the-scenes advisors who tell the president that he is not a president but a king.

Indeed, Yoo's counsel is seen as chiefly responsible for the White House legal positions that the Geneva conventions are entirely ignorable, that torture is not torture until organ failure and/or death occurs, and that the latest revelation -- the President has executive power to conduct unlimited surveillance on Americans on American soil -- is not only just but good. Nothing about these opinions would lead anyone to believe that Yoo is anything but a freaking fascist. Or a totalitarian. It is so hard to tell the difference when opinionating gets this far out of whack.

The provenance of Yoo's legal reasoning is rather hard to understand given his strong opposition to communist rule and his belief that conservatism is grounded in "reason and reasonableness." Such perhaps was the case before Yoo worked his way onto the scene, but I can't help but wonder how he comes to view unchecked executive power as in any way reasonable or conservative. It certainly has no basis in reason and the Enlightenment-influenced founders were well aware of the history of people occupying positions of absolute authority. It is this ungratifying history that is the primary reason why the Constitution has a Bill of Rights.

If Yoo's reasoning does prevail and Congress makes no move against it, then this country is headed down a very black path. Such reasoning is easily extensible. For what then constitutes "unreasonable searches and seizures"? There is nothing inherent in email and telephony monitoring that would restrict government surveillance to these technologies since the Bush administration claims to be simply searching for "keywords" that might expose "plots" and "terrorist activity." Searching for such things in street corner conversations is an obvious next step; many cities already have security cameras festooned all over downtown buildings in a non-stop search for bad things. And, of course, should such "keywords" be noted, under Yoo's odious legal reasoning, extra-judicial rendition would be the order of the day and any citizen could be hauled off and "interrogated" to the rather extensive limits provided for by John Yoo's opinion.

If Yoo's reasoning does not prevail, and I hope for everyone's sake -- including those gibbering idiots who think directionless bulk surveillance of American citizens is a fine idea -- then Bush, who ultimately has the responsibility for heeding or not the advice he has been given, ought to be rightly smacked down and hard. And John Yoo should be right next to him for providing such loathesome, totalitarian advice.


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