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The Abyss

Frank Church wasn't to blame for 9-11, and was prescient about Bush's actions

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 01, 2006.

I don’t recall Senator Frank Church all that well, and what I do is pretty mixed. Church was an independent SOB, from Idaho, and as much as anyone took on Nixon and the Presidential war powers act, and was very concerned about the powers accruing to the executive at the expense of the Senate and House. And Church was prescient.

Thirty years ago, Senator Church already knew that, even with the decidedly inferior technology of the 1970’s, we had, through the National Security Agency, the capacity and in some quarters the will – and I quote – “…to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we can never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.” End quote.

Senator Frank Church of Idaho, a Democrat, is rarely quoted at all these days. Perhaps, as with Scoop Jackson of Washington, they embarrass us because they so dwarf our current likely Presidential candidates for 2008. They themselves were rejected by their own party for that elevation. Frank Church and his committees, which investigated the various violations of common sense and law by the CIA and FBI, has been blamed after the 9-11 attacks for having hamstrung those agencies from getting actual intelligence because of all the supposed restrictions upon them. May be, but as more and more official paperwork is released from the past, a strong case can be made that the CIA and the FBI were always incompetent as huge bureaucracies often are, and that all Church did was remove their ability to fabricate and brag without benefit of evidence. Bush referenced this last night, suggesting that phone taps might have saved us 9-11.

More likely, phone taps would have provided us with so much material that, like Pearl Harbor, we’d never have processed it all in time anyway. Better? Pay and motivate the guy with the wand at the Logan airport airline gate, the one who waved the terrorists aboard without checking them.

Still, as we stand with our toes curling over the edge of that great abyss against which our beloved President has placed us, we might spare a few moments to recall Frank Church, and to understand what he feared.

We are paying, perhaps, for decades of rhetorical exaggeration, of calling each other fascists and commies over the most insignificant of conflicts. Here, with Bush’s claim he has the right for warrant-less wiretaps and, probably, worse, we are exactly faced with fascism incarnate: an actual police state where the whim of authority can spy, arrest, incarcerate, and – likely – kill you without penalty or family notification. Good bye, habeas corpus, those messy jury trials, innocent till proven guilty.

For too long, as a nation and as individuals, we neither recognized the precipice nor feared it and significant portions of the nation have been willing to trust a man whose lies and scurrilous incompetencies are threatening the basis of our constitution: that cold, objective law and its precedents trump family, cash, and supposed personal honor, by which is meant mafia like respect for The Man, who now demands we acknowledge his claimed right to read and record our lives on whim. This is not like fascism or kinda reminiscent of some Orwellian nightmare. This is it. This is the real thing.

When I worked in Franco’s Spain of 1966, I got superficially bayoneted by the Guardia Civil because I was sleeping at night on the beach, and therefore in their eyes a drug runner or worse. I was taken into custody and only when they found out who I worked for was I released, with profuse apologies. That was my experience with actual fascists, the bullies and cringing lapdogs to money and power. Bush is no longer asking for those powers, he’s simply declaring and utilizing them. That, and the ability to install feudal lapdogs whose allegiance is to him and the party, not to the nation and law.

Due to other idiocies we have just seated on the Supreme Court a man who’d publicly lick the shoes of Tony Scalia daily if his wife would let him, Samuel Alito, a social climber of the first rank, ever ready to pretend to membership in organizations when he needs that social boost but not when he doesn’t. A true creep of the first water. If Bush’s legal fabrications are ever brought to trial along with the converging prosecutions of Lay, Cunningham, Abramoff, and Libbie, we know which way, regardless of evidence, Alito will pander. He can’t help himself. It’s what he does and what he’ll do.

This is our fault, our laziness that we’re about to lose Roe, about to lose the rule of law and have feudal vanities reinstalled to replace it.

In any case, once it is deemed okay for a government - without record of, or court permission - to legally peer into the private communications of citizens, it will be bureaucratically impossible to break that habit and inclination, if for no other reason than to retract that permission retroactively convicts those involved when it was legal, and nobody will want them to tell their stories about what motivated their actions.

Quote: “That is the abyss from which there is no return.” End quote. And amen.