Thursday, July 6, 2006

The Fifth of July

How was yours? The Fourth, that is. Mine was pretty good – sleeping late, a walk with the dog, some TV time with a shuttle launch and the World Cup, some gardening, and, of course, the obligatory barbecue and a backdoor seat at Vallejo’s fireworks show at the end of the day.

And – through it all – my flag flapped proudly out front… as usual and unfortunately, one of the few in my neighborhood. But, as the Chronicle’s editorial on the Fourth (“Patriots, awaken”) put it, “The health of American democracy…is not measured by how much red, white, and blue is displayed on any given day. It is the sum of all who stand up to be counted when the defining freedoms of this republic are under assault.”

And, since they are, I’m back – after eight months of weary silence – to stand up and speak out for those freedoms and for all that is good and just and under assault in this dear country. As Alfred Camus once said about his country in a time of trial, “I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice.” For my part, I refuse to let anyone force me to choose between the two.

I fear, however, that the “liberty and justice for all” that we proclaim in the Pledge of Allegiance – too often unthinkingly and in smug self-satisfaction – is being eroded daily. As we profess to fight for freedom abroad, the ground, it seems, is being cut out from under it here at home. You know what I mean. It’s hard not to feel uneasy in the face of a now seemingly endless string of what the Chronicle correctly calls “intrusions on civil liberties and usurpations of power by the White House;” to wit:

* Launching an aggressive war without just cause;

* Lying to the Congress and the public to build support for that war;

* Conducting warrantless domestic wiretaps and searches on unsuspecting Americans;

* Compiling a vast data bank of our phone, e-mail, and financial records and sifting through it in an apparently resurrected version of John Poindexter’s illegal “Total Information Awareness” program;

* “Disappearing” suspected “terrorists” into an American-run gulag stretching from Bhagram to Guantanamo;

* Disregarding, in the case of American citizen suspects, the requirements of habeas corpus, the right to speedy trial, and the right to face one’s accusers;

* “Rendering” others to unknown locations in Eastern Europe and to countries known to torture prisoners as a matter of course;

* Exempting ourselves from the requirements of the Geneva Conventions, international treaties ratified by Congress and, therefore, having the power and weight of law in the United States;

* Engaging in the torture of captives in our hands;

* Evading the President’s constitutional obligation to “faithfully execute the laws of the United States” through the vehicle of more than 700 “signing statements” in which the President arrogates to himself the “right” to decide what portions of the laws Congress has passed and he has signed he will actually execute;

* Propagandizing the American people by paying “independent columnists” to parrot the administration line, peddling faux news stories, and seeding faux reporters in the White House press pool;

* Leaking classified information about critics within the government;

* Undercutting the First Amendment, most notably, freedom of the press by attacking and intimidating journalists who would seek to investigate or simply question such erosions of our freedoms; and

* Spreading debilitating fear throughout the land for narrow political gain, trivializing and postponing the addressing of the profound issues facing this nation, and labeling “unpatriotic” those who disagree.

Where is the outrage? Where are the real patriots this first day after our 230th Fourth of July? Where are the true conservatives who would defend the Constitution and that Declaration of Independence, the signing of which we just celebrated, against the radicals in the White House who would so cavalierly ignore or trash them? Let me repeat what that Chronicle editorial had to say by way of closing:

The men who signed the Declaration of Independence were not doing so to commission an annual party. They were making a covenant with history that requires day-to-day- vigilance to defend the liberties it asserted. Honor them by speaking out.

I undertake to do just that. I have been silent for too long. I can no longer do so, lest - again to paraphrase the words of the Chronicle - the absence of outrage on my part be taken as a nod of assent.

I hope, as we proceed in the months ahead, you will share my outrage and speak out yourself on the local, national, and international issues that will be addressed on these pages. You might begin by sharing your comments below.

I hope, too, you will share my abiding and profound love for our country and for justice. They are indivisible and worth fighting for.