Saturday, December 25, 2010

Licky Weeks

On the tenth of December, the planet Mercury appeared to begin moving backward as seen from the Earth. It does this three times a year in most years, each retrograde period being about three weeks long. During these periods, craziness declines. Obamas get elected. General McChrystals get demoted. Lame duck Congresses turn effective.

Several weeks before the retrograde, President Obama kludged together a bill that contained a couple of things that Republicans really wanted and a couple of things that Democrats really wanted and sent it to Congress for enactment. The Republicans would get tax cuts for the rich extended two years. The Dems would get another year of unemployment compensation for the poor. This bill set up election year 2012 as a time when serious concerns may come to the fore. If unemployment compensation runs out of funds at the end of 2011, then allowing the full expiration of the tax cuts at the end of 2012 will become a reasonable goal.

It was a middle ground, but like an island in an ocean. Neither party wanted to have anything to do with Obama's compromise. Then Mercury Retrograde struck.

On the day the period began, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders spent eight and a half hours filibustering against tax cuts for the rich. Senate business ground to a halt. Following that, the Senate re-grouped and passed bill after bill, including the tax cut bill, making this the most productive Congress since the '60s. The Republican consensus against voting for all good things Democratic was broken, with Senator after Republican Senator joining the Democrats in passing good new laws.

During the same weeks, a stunningly heroic script has been playing itself out over the incarceration of Julian Assange, a founder of WikiLeaks. According to Assange, through back-channels that flowed into back-channels, Wikileaks obtained a massive pile of State Department internal messages. After carefully vetting the find, they have been slowly releasing these messages to a press that waits like puppies for another biscuit. 

There is always more to be shown, much more, so if anything really bad were to happen to Assange or to others on his team, an avalanche of message releases is probable. But something bad has happened -a Swedish prosecutor filed an international arrest warrant, and Assange was arrested and jailed in Britain on charges of being over-assertive during sex in Sweden some time ago.  His arrest was immediately suspect.

Now released under house arrest, Assange is free to explain to the press his hobby, and the need for it to be the hobby of every citizen around the world. And Sweden is free to explain its sudden interest in protecting people from over-assertive sex, and whether it will now apply this new standard generally.

And the world learns...

Meanwhile, the probable leaker of the State Department documents, a file clerk named Bradley Manning, strangely sits in long-term solitary confinement in violation of international rules which call such use of extended solitary "torture", and in violation of U.S. laws that requires individuals to be held without punishment until a trial proves their guilt.

Meanwhile, attention is focusing more and more on Bradley Manning. May prayers be with him.

If he is the leaker, he joins a long list of heroes - Deep Throat, who fed the leaks to Woodward and Bernstein that brought down Nixon. Daniel Ellsburg, who published the Pentagon Papers that showed we had been losing, not winning, the war in Vietnam. It's an American tradition.

We tortured. We need to deal with it, and slow-torturing Bradley Manning is not the way.

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