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June 15-29, 2005

Issue #77

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Free to Agree
Sensenbrenner's Sensibilities

by Allan Uthman

 
Gettin' Rucky in Pyongyang
Kim Jong Il gets his fleak on
by Matt Taibbi
 
Dean Was Right
Hey Howard, Keep Up the Good Jerk
by William Pitt
 

Throat Job
Newsweek Still Gagging on Unnamed Sources

by Matt Taibbi

 
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8-Step Summer Makeover
by Dan Devine

 

Goth Kid's Summer Survival Guide
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What makes Buffalo summers so darn special?
 

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Last Issue: (76)

Free to Agree

James Sensenbrenner Wants You
...
to Shut the Hell Up

By Allan Uthman

You may have missed it last Friday when a brusque House Judicial Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) abruptly gaveled a hearing to a close and walked out. I caught it on C-SPAN, and it was pretty horrific.

Some background: After majority-controlled hearings on extending the Patriot Act’s sunset provisions proved predictably biased, the Democrats invoked their seldom-used right as the minority party to call for another hearing where they picked the witnesses. So Sensenbrenner scheduled it for Friday, when the House was out of session. He was absurdly insistent on time limitations, going so far as to give witnesses 19 seconds to answer one member’s question, because that was all that was left of her 5 minutes. He would interrupt witnesses mid-sentence when time ran out. He often refused to yield the floor or recognize points of order, and basically obstructed the proceeding as much as he could. Then he ended the hearing after only one full round of questioning—five minutes for each committee member.

He didn’t end it the way one is supposed to adjourn a congressional hearing, on motion or without objection; he just scolded the participants for talking about Guantanamo Bay and other controversial subjects which Sensenbrenner has blocked hearings on, banged his big hammer, and walked out while at least two voices clamored for recognition. Then when it became clear that the hearing was going to go on without him, Sensenbrenner had the mikes turned off.

The appalling display was documented by C-SPAN cameras, who pulled out their boom mikes and kept rolling as the Democratic reps and their witnesses lamented what had just happened for a few more minutes.

This course of action, though unusual and illegal, is actually quite consistent for Sensenbrenner. The Representative from Wisconsin has a real problem with free speech. He’s for the criminal prosecution of broadcast indecency offenders—in other words, he wants to put Howard Stern in jail. Surely, if Sensenbrenner ever read The Beast, he would want us in jail too.

And, according to the Hill, Sensenbrenner also doesn’t like people talking when he isn’t around, either:

In December, ranking Democrat John Conyers (Mich.) began holding “forums” — gatherings with all the trappings of official hearings — after Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) refused to hold hearings on topics Conyers requested. The forums have been held in smaller committee rooms, often with C-SPAN coverage and formal witness lists.

In a sign of how far relationships on the committee have soured, majority staff recently announced a new policy to deny any request from a committee Democrat for the use of a committee hearing room.

[…]

Sean McLaughlin, deputy chief of staff for Sensenbrenner, recently wrote to a minority staffer in more pointed language.
“I’m sitting here watching your ‘forum’ on C-SPAN,” McLaughlin wrote. “Just to let you know, it was your last. Don’t bother asking [for a room] again.”

Sensenbrenner has also sponsored a constitutional amendment, repealing the 22nd amendment and freeing George Bush to run for a third term. And a fourth, and so on.

Watching this thing unfold, I felt something I haven’t for a while: surprised. It felt like I was watching America’s vestigial traces of democracy crumble before my eyes. My hand was over my mouth.

Of the reaction to the story, which didn’t play big on TV at all, particularly disappointing is the reaction from the conservative rank and file. I thought that even a Republican would see how wrong it was to simply walk out of a hearing because you don’t agree with the witnesses. Of course, I was wrong. Essentially, Republicans are more than happy to have been shielded from information, which runs contrary to their juvenile fantasies of America as an unquestionably noble, righteous force for freedom.

It’s a mentality similar to the self-brainwashed group of Michael Jackson fans cheering him on during his recent trial—a story that has easily gotten a million times more coverage. Those crazy Jacko fans, they know he’s a molester, though they’d never admit it—because admitting it would mean admitting to themselves that they really think it’s okay for Jackson to fool around with kids.

I mean, let’s face it: even assuming that Jackson’s story is 100% true, when has it ever been okay for a 45-year-old man to spend enormous sums of money on your kid, and sleep in bed with him at night, hanky panky or not? Think about it: if it was your own brother, you’d have his testicles in a jar on the mantle by now. It’s not okay, not okay at all. So Jackson’s remaining fans—whatever their motivation may be—must be careful to never really consider the evidence—they must keep the truth away. The reality mustn’t surface in their conscious minds, so they can go on worshipping their singing, dancing, circus geek.

And so it goes with the GOP faithful: they know the Patriot act goes way too far, enabling rubber-stamp warrants, secret trials, and sneak-and-peek searches on American citizens. They know we are abusing prisoners at Gitmo. But they don’t want to face any evidence of this, because it would force them to admit that they just don’t care; that, indeed, they crave iron-fisted totalitarian rule; that they can’t fucking wait until all the people like James Zogby, all the people at Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International—hell, throw in Mark Felt and Bob Woodward and even myself—are shipped off to Guantanamo themselves for “interrogation.”

Nothing would please a loyalist Bush booster like seeing Michael Moore in a hood with electrodes stuck to his privates, Lynndie England pointing and smiling, puffing on a Merit 100. I really can’t imagine a single Republican raising any objection to that if it happened tomorrow. Moreover, Democrats—at least the few who objected—would be attacked as disloyal, or anti-American, for suggesting that perhaps we had gone too far. “That’s the kind of rhetoric that puts our soldiers in danger overseas,” they would say, “are you taking the side of the Islamofascists?”

Republicans don’t want a debate; practically everything they say is an attempt to squash debate. There is no point in discussing an issue when your position is a matter of faith rather than a response to reality. It’s not that Democrats are wonderful or anything; they are corrupt pretenders all. But the GOP is shaping up to become one of the vilest political organizations in our history, a much bigger enemy to American freedom than a few thousand ragged suicidal fanatics.

If the Democrats want to win, they need to do something that their current leaders in congress are incapable of: they need to cut the bullshit. They need to distance themselves from the Republicans, and the best way to do that is tell the truth. Democrats have been trying to have it all ways with all people for so long, they seem completely unaware of how asinine they sound. They are so desperately ingratiating that many instinctively recoil, while Republicans, crazy as hell, have simple messages that rarely change. And they have huge balls.

The only prominent Democrat with any balls right now is Howard Dean—and the rest are doing their best to castrate him. If that’s what we’ve got—a party that apologizes for saying the indisputable truth—That the GOP is "pretty much a white, Christian party," or that they are “corrupt”—then there really is no hope. The truth is on Dean’s side, and it would be on the Democrats’ side if they chose to speak it. The bizarre media overreaction to such simple statements indicates just how unaccustomed we all are to hearing it.

Democrats shouldn’t shy away from the truth; the Republicans have that covered. Just look at Sensenbrenner. When confronted with the truth, he walked out. He turned off the microphones. He didn’t want to hear it. More to the point, he didn’t want you to hear it. And his followers applaud him, because they don’t want to hear it either. All their lives, they’ve had to hear all that negative, disloyal information from the left, and finally those days are ending, and they’re happy as hell about it. They finally shut those smartasses up.

Sensenbrenner and his supporters don’t know a damn thing about freedom or democracy; they may not even understand that they are clearly against these concepts. They are terrible, mindless, trained by decades of churchgoing into an unquestioning loyalty and a bitter resentment of dissent. They are good Republicans.

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