Tag Archives: U.S. Supreme Court

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Where’s the Legacy?

Political Malpractice and Missed Opportunities under Obama

I’m on book tour, promoting “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.”

In “The Book of Obama” I argue that Obama is America’s Mikhael Gorbachev. Like Gorby, The One (Oprah’s phrase) is the most progressive, decent and intelligent leader his system is willing and able to allow to rise to power; like the reformist of perestroika, Obama’s fundamental not-so-badness—coupled with his…ineffectiveness? cluelessness? conservatism? exposes the fact that the system is the problem. That voting for a better/less evil leader can’t bring about the changes we need, because what the 99% view as problems—unemployment, underemployment, the growing gap between rich and poor—are things that the system views as not merely desirable, but necessary. Its raison d’être.

Among progressives it’s a given that Obama has been a disappointment. At my signings people keep asking me: Why? Why hasn’t the president lived up to the hopes and dreams we invested in him? Sure, the Republicans have blocked him at every turn. But he doesn’t seem to try.

Why not? Is he a wimp? Or were liberals wrong about him—was Obama an establishment conservative from the start?

I don’t know what’s in Obama’s heart. Frankly, I don’t care. It’s all about policies: either you’re for good policies, or you’re not. If you are, you fight for them with everything you’ve got. If not…

Like most pundits, I tend to focus on the negative. So this week let’s look at Obama’s signature accomplishments, the things he actually did get done: healthcare reform, his statement support for gay marriage, and last week’s Dream Act Lite, his order that Department of Homeland Security stop pursuing the approximately 800,000 young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally.

It took three years for this President to do something that brought a smile to my face. So I owe him this: Nicely done, Mr. President. (Sure, it’s just a political ploy, a play for the Hispanic vote. But other things Obama should do, but won’t—unlimited unemployment benefits, assistance for foreclosure victims, a new WPA—would be popular too. Pandering to the people is called democracy.)

Millions of people—the lucky 800,000, their families and friends—finally have their foot in the door. Early signals from GOP bosses indicate reluctance, even if they win this fall, to revert to the bad old days of rounding up kids and deporting them to “homes” they don’t know, whose languages they don’t speak.

Yet, like so many of his more positive acts, it came later than it should. And it should have been built to last.

The Dream Act failed in December 2010, just after the Republican sweep in the Congressional midterms. It would have passed if not for the craven, bigoted “nay” votes of five Democratic senators spooked by the election results.

I keep thinking back to 2009. Democrats had both houses of Congress. A filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Obama enjoyed a worshipful media. Sky-high public opinion polls. Why didn’t the president propose the Dream Act then, when it would probably have passed, sparing 800,000 kids terrible uncertainty—not to mention those who got swept up during the last three years? (While we’re at it: what’s the point of letting kids stay in the U.S. and deporting their parents?

Back in 2009, was Team Obama guilty of political ineptitude? Obsessive focus on healthcare? We don’t know. The result of their neglect of young immigrants amounted to political malpractice at least, bigotry at worst. (There were, after all, more deportations of illegals under Obama than under Bush.)

Worse than too little and/or too late, Obama’s announcement in support of gay marriage came so late that it might as well not have happened at all; by the time he spoke out, gay marriage had become a historical inevitability. Talk about political malpractice! What is more ineffectual than irrelevance? Like the Homeland Security directive on illegals, it came as big, good news to millions of people. But it could have been handled earlier, proactively, and—not incidentally—paying bigger dividends to the president’s reelection effort.

Less clear but with broader implications was healthcare reform. “Have you had enough of Obamacare?” Tim Pawlenty asked a crowd at a pro-Mitt Romney rally. “Yes!” they shouted. But there is no Obamacare. Not yet. Even if the Supreme Court doesn’t overturn the Administration’s biggest achievement, it doesn’t go into effect until 2014. After, perhaps, President Romney takes office. What was Obama thinking? If nothing else, wasn’t he worried about his historical legacy?

My guess is that he cares less about his legacy, or changing things, than the political horse race. He likes winning as an individual more than he cares about changing the world.

Obama has a few chances left to prove me wrong. He could still close Gitmo by executive order. He could also propose a federal law legalizing abortion, forcing the GOP to counter the 77 percent of Americans who told the most recent Gallup poll that they’re pro-choice. It would be a bold move, one that would resolve the decades-long legal limbo that has left abortion rights in the hands of the Supreme Court. Is Obama incapable of bravery? Of vision? Or is he using the threat of a Romney SCOTUS to threaten women into voting for him?

No one knows.

All we can do is consider the president’s actions.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at MSNBC.com)

(C) 2012 TED RALL, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Which Comes First

Police in rural Georgia arrested and handcuffed a 6-year-old for throwing a temper tantrum in kindergarten. After last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, she could also have been subjected to strip-searching and a body cavity search. This is not unprecedented, by the way.

First They Came For My Junk

The U.S. Supreme Court rules that strip-searches and body cavity searches of everyone arrested in the United States for any reason, including for minor traffic offenses, are perfectly legal.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Every Policeman Is A Licensed Rapist

This week, you can read my column, or watch it!

Strip-Searching is Legal and Democracy is Dead

The text of Justice Kennedy’s majority is cold and bureaucratic. “Every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed,” he writes for the five right-wingers in the majority of the Supreme Court.

There’s no looking back now. The United States is officially a police state.

Here are the basics, as reported by The New York Times: “The case decided Monday, Florence v. County of Burlington, No. 10-945, arose from the arrest of Albert W. Florence in New Jersey in 2005. Mr. Florence was in the passenger seat of his BMW when a state trooper pulled his wife, April, over for speeding. A records search revealed an outstanding warrant for Mr. Florence’s arrest based on an unpaid fine. (The information was wrong; the fine had been paid.) Mr. Florence was held for a week in jails in Burlington and Essex Counties, and he was strip-searched in each. There is some dispute about the details, but general agreement that he was made to stand naked in front of a guard who required him to move intimate parts of his body. The guards did not touch him.”

“Turn around,” Florence later recalled his jailers ordering him. “Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.”

A court motivated by fairness would have declared this conduct unconstitutional. Fair-minded people would have ordered the New Jersey municipality to empty its bank accounts and turn them over to the man it humiliated. Everyone involved—the police, county officials—ought to have been fired and charged with torture.

Not this court, the U.S. Supreme Court led by John Roberts. Besotted by the sick logic of paranoia and preemption that has poisoned us since 9/11, it ruled that what happened to Albert Florence was perfectly OK. The cops’ conduct was legal.

Now “officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor.”

If you get arrested at an antiwar protest, the police can strip-search you. If you’re pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, as was the plaintiff in this case. For setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Humiliation is the law of the land.

The Court heard examples of people who were strip-searched “after being arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal and riding a bicycle without an audible bell.” They considered amicus briefs by nuns and other “women who were strip-searched during periods of lactation or menstruation.”

Body-cavity searches are now legal for anyone arrested for any crime, no matter how minor. As of April 2, 2012, finger-rape is the law of the land.

Think it won’t happen to you? 14 million Americans are arrested annually. One in three Americans under age 23 has been arrested. It happened to me a couple of years ago, for a suspended drivers license. Except that it wasn’t really suspended. I was lucky. My cops weren’t perverts. They didn’t want a lookie-loo at my private parts.

How did we get here? Preemptive logic.

Saddam Hussein is a bad man. He hates the United States. What if he has weapons of mass destruction? What if he used them against us, or gave them to terrorists who would? Can’t take that chance.

We don’t need evidence in order to justify bombing and invading Iraq. We have fear and the logic of preemption.

The logic of preemption flails, targeting anyone and everyone. A single plane passenger sets his shoes on fire. He never came close to causing real damage, but now everyone has to take off their shoes before boarding a plane. Infants. Old people. Veterans whose limbs got blown off in Iraq. Everyone.

Can’t take chances. What if your toddler is a member of Al Kidda?

The logic of preemption is indiscriminate. What if terrorists are stupid enough to use phones and emails to plot their dastardly schemes? We’d want to know, right? In the old days before 9/11, officials who suspected a person of criminal conduct went to a judge to obtain a wiretapping warrant.

Now we’re paranoid. And the government is power-hungry. So government officials and their media lapdogs are exploiting our fear and paranoia, openly admitting that they listen to everyone‘s phone calls and read everyone‘s emails. Can’t take chances. Gotta cover all the bases.

What about the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures? Quaint relics of a time before the police state. Like the Geneva Conventions.

Here comes Justice Kennedy, amping up the perverse logic of preemption. Responding to the nasty cases of the finger-raped nun and the humiliated women on their period, Kennedy pointed out that “people detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.” Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, was pulled over for driving without a license plate. “One of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks was stopped and ticketed for speeding just two days before hijacking Flight 93,” he wrote, continuing with the observation that San Francisco cops “have discovered contraband hidden in body cavities of people arrested for trespassing, public nuisance and shoplifting.”

No doubt about it: If you search every car and frisk every pedestrian and break down the door of every house and apartment in America, you will find lots of people up to no good. You will discover meth labs and bombs and maybe even terrorists plotting to blow up things. But who is the bigger danger: a drug dealer, a terrorist, or a terrorist government?

This summer will be ugly. Cops will arrest thousands of protesters who belong to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is fighting corruption and greed and trying to improve our lives. Now that police have the right to strip and molest demonstrators, you can count on horrible abuses. Cops always go too far.

Note to people about to be arrested: pop a laxative before they slip on the flexicuffs.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather live in a country that respects rights and freedoms more than the paranoid madness of preemption. In the old America where I grew up, we lived with the possibility that some individuals were evil. Now we face the absolute certainty that every policeman is a fully licensed finger-rapist.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)