Saturday, February 20, 2010

‘If only I’d authorized torture instead of jaywalking’

In the world of politics, accepting responsibility for something means little more than actually saying the words: “I accept full responsibility.” Perhaps the Senate Ethics Committee will hold a few hearings, ask some stern questions and issue a report expressing “disappointment” in a politician’s judgment, but unless one’s caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy, chances are a scandal that might sink your or I will result in little more than an awkward press conference for the cronies on top calling the shots. So it is also with the lesser hacks and scribes in the U.S. justice system, where prosecutors are legally permitted to frame citizens and folks like John Yoo and Jay Bybee -- who undisputedly provided contrived legal justifications for the three strikes of torture, indefinite detention, and preemptive war -- get off with a disapproving look from reliable whitewasher David Margolis and teaching gig. A third strike in the service of expanding state power, you see, is different than a third strike for stealing a “24 pack of beer, candy bars, and a package of ground beef”, which is liable to get a mere civilian 25 years in prison. The state needs its army of sub-par legal scholars and second-rate thinkers to justify its acts to its allies and citizens, and will move to protect its assets accordingly, ensuring the next John Yoos can justify killing suspected terrorists' innocent children without fear of prosecution.

Beyond traditional economic classes, the U.S. like most states has a clearly discernible division between the haves and the have nots: the "have" being power, with those in charge of bailing out banks and bombing nations abiding by an entirely different set of rules than those they govern, which is to be expected in a system that invests in a group of mere humans susceptible to the temptations of power a monopoly on the legal use of force and the right to detain and eliminate enemies without even so much as a show trial. And although the treats its own with a spirit of mercy and forgiveness, not wanting to alienate others within its bureaucracies, those that defy it are treated with vengeance and an unflinching commitment to the harshest letter of the law. Indeed, next time you cross the street remember: unless that blinking white dude is telling you to walk, you risk worse punishment than if you’d written in your capacity as an employee of the U.S. government of the president’s inherent authority to torture and kill anyone in the world.

Here are some other things that will get poor schmucks who don’t have shiny badges, fancy uniforms or Ivy League law degrees more punishment than sanctioning war crimes:

*In Washington, DC, “attempting to engage passers-by in conversation for the purpose of prostitution” in the views of a police officer can get someone -- not a politician, mind you -- a $300 fine and up to six months in prison.

*A first time conviction for engaging in a conspiracy to deal crack cocaine can get someone 27 years in prison. Conspiring to sell cocaine on the streets of U.S. cities to finance a Central American insurgency, on the other hand, will get someone a medal and a pretty sweet pension,

*In Georgia, carrying more than an ounce of marijuana can get you 10 years in prison. Teenagers receiving oral sex without first receiving a signed permission slip from Jesus and at least one of the apostles likewise risk spending a decade behind bars.

*And of course, living in a poor area while being black is still punishable by arbitrary arrest and extrajudicial murder in most jurisdictions.


  1. No real point to my comment. I'm just unloading and wondering through some of my confusions about the West. One of which is the new championing of torture which truly has taken my breath away.

    It is hilarious, isn't it, when you consider the current state of affairs with war criminals championed and the poor & likely the really true entrepreneurs - low level drug dealers & hand-to-mouth individuals who actually survive and really do contribute i.e. check out any weeks fare at the cinema, HBO or crap normal MS TV - in society sent off to jail. I'm not one who sees the demise of the USA empire just on the horizon - which likely is a good thing. Empires implode because of both inside & outside pressures. Your fuses has been lit but sometime yet before the next dark-age but that's an analogue to the fall of Rome which lasted as an empire for 11 centuries (?) modern versions of empire have shorter shelve live, eh, so matter much less in our human history.

  2. Literally the only "crimes" that can bring down public figures in this country are marital affairs and steroids.