THOLOS OF ATHENA

Sunday, February 05, 2006

THE MEDUSA EFFECT

"For great wrongs great also are the penalties which come from the gods." --Herodotus
An honest or honorable assessment of the past year would be an inventory of damages. President Bush's State of the Union speech urged another view on the nation: that we must go past the unmentionable failures and remember that "hindsight is not wisdom".

But Julian Borger's recent report in the Guardian doesn't rely on hindsight. US appropriations for war in Iraq are shown to be massive. Factoring for the latest spending supplement of $120 billion, the combined cost for Afghanistan and Iraq has reached $440 billion.
"The spending on the Iraq conflict alone is now approaching the cost of the Korean war"..."Meanwhile the cost of the overall "war on terror"--[relabeled] the Long War in the Pentagon--is already close to half a trillion dollars, and will soon equal that of the 13-year Vietnam war."
And we are more often aware of the cost in blood, suffering, and disability.

Critics of Bush's war heard the President tell them that their attitude is completely defeatist, that they emphasize only the downside, and that the important thing is to defeat evil.

In his first inaugural address, in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt said:
"Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live."
On the other hand, to turn from greatness to such a president as ours, who lives in a fantasy world, and who craves an ever more grandiose status; being president does not seem good enough for him.

Considering the dark hour into which the country is passing, the members of Congress seemed to be having too good a time; it was an unreal spectacle. Ordinarily, the State of the Union is that rare occasion when Americans can examine the competing factions of the ruling class; but after excluding all the elements of presidential make believe, they were confronted after all, with brazen, unchecked power. The whole spirit of fun, the genial handshakes, the bobbleheads, were for the most part, a circus in the midst of impending tragedy.

The domestic spying, which earned President Nixon an article of impeachment during the Watergate scandal, is the unmistakable career path which President Bush seems to follow. And Bush announced these intentions clearly, during his State of the Union. Not that he expects to be impeached.

Bush's unconstitutional, warrantless eavesdropping and wholesale collection of Americans' personal information will continue, just as the unpopular war in Iraq will continue. Congress has said all it has to say in the original war resolution, according to him. In so many words, the President said he didn't really need the assembled legislators, those sitting right in front of him. The law against domestic spying need not be tailored to accommodate him; lawyers at the Justice Department have advised him that he already has Commander-in-Chief authority, and that's all he needs.

And the President's dishonest comments in his first term, regarding intelligence gathering were intentional deceptions. He has been breaking the law since 2002, and perhaps earlier than that. James Risen, the Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, writes in his latest book, State of War
"It is now clear that the White House went through the motions of the public debate over the Patriot Act, all the while knowing that the intelligence community was secretly conducting a far more aggressive domestic surveillance program."
Bush's comments, past and present, about being mindful of civil liberties are worthless.

When the State of the Union was over, the Democrats gave their official response.

Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia was less than useful in presenting any real rebuttal to the odious President. Governor Kaine, while a nice enough man, came across as comfortably pious, as he mentioned again and again how incompetent the republicans are. Democrats needed to muster the necessary outrage for the administration's crimes, its insult to the rule of law, and the hidden and not-so-hidden agendas that violate human rights. For instance, the string of secret prisons overseas, lacking oversight, and the administration's permissiveness for torture. And for another example, John Yoo, Justice Department legal advisor, who said regarding our captives at Guantanamo, "it doesn't matter if they are innocent or guilty"

It happens that where a US detainee is demonstrably innocent, or has even been declared innocent, he is still held in captivity, so long as he remains in military custody, which has judged that he is a terrorist or might be a terrorist. And there the captive sits, with decreasing likelihood that he will ever obtain a writ of habeas corpus.

In Greek myth, there lived the most fearsome of the gorgons, Medusa. Any person who so much as looked her in the face, was turned to stone. Gazing only at her reflection, using a polished shield, was the one way to approach and give combat, which Perseus managed, with the help of a goddess. Athena secured from the hero the last two drops of blood from Medusa's severed head. These the goddess presented, in separate vials, to the healer Asklepius. In the two vials, each drop appeared identical to the eye, Asklepius learned that one was a deadly poison, while the last was capable of healing and redemptive power.

If we Americans vanquish our Medusa, that head full of vipers, it may continue to bleed out its poison on the land. But when the last two drops remain, we must hope to understand the Medusa Effect. One drop, we understand, is a deadly poison, and the other, the beginning of wisdom.

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