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Friday, December 31, 2010

Bread and Circuses

by digby

I was struggling with a worthwhile year-end post when my favorite correspondent Bill sent me this piece by Will Bunch from last May. I couldn't have said it better myself (and Lord knows, I've tried):

People forget that the whole justification for police to get Tasers in the first place was to subdue potentially violent suspects in cases in the past in which they might have been tempted to use lethal force. But the notion that the cops would have pulled a gun and shot 17-year-old field jumper Steve Consalvi is absurd, which means the rationale for tasing him is...what? There's something oddly funny about zapping a fellow human for some reason, but Tasers are no joke to the loved ones of the estimated 50 people who died because of their use.

Consalvi didn't have the risk factors of most of those killed or injured -- he is young, health, and wasn't drunk or on drugs. But he still -- while committing a misdemeanor, let's remember -- was subjected to the brief, intense pain of 50,000 volts of electricty. There was a simpler, quainter time when causing pain to another person was called...violence.

I guess that quaint time was America before 9/11 -- after which for some reason we lost all sense of proportionality on how to respond to various levels of wrongdoing. After my low-key blog suggestion that Tasering a mildly lawbreaking fan wasn't a great idea, I got an email from a reader. He said, in part: "Were you there last night? I was. Idiots like that are unpredictable at best! The days of “Morgana (sic) the kissing bandit” are gone. We live in a post 911 world." I don't mean to be harsh to the emailer -- he actually made some decent points about security entering Citizens Bank Park.

But I also had to wonder: Must we see every single act of wrongdoing, even minor ones, through the prism of 9/11? Is a fan running on a field in the same ballpark with killing nearly 3,000 people? What has happened to us in this country. Did anyone call for stun-gunning "Morganna the kissing bandit" in the 1970s because we lived in "a post-JFK assassination world" and that maybe she had a concealed weapon inside of those, um. concealed weapons. Of course not. Americans have changed..and not for the better.

Make no mistake -- the 9/11 attacks were the most cowardly acts of pure evil ever committed on U.S. soil -- but the American ideals of civil liberties should be so sacrosanct they should not have been unduly violated even for the people who planned and executed 9/11, but of course they were at Guantanamo and with the John Yoo-justified torture regime that was expanded to many people who had nothing to do with 9/11 and eventually to people who were innocent of any crime altogether.

But even more damaging is the way that attitude -- that any kind of lawbreaking or even potential lawbreaking requires the harshest possible response, with no regard to more than 200 years of momentum toward basic civil liberties and human rights -- is filtering down to other aspects of American life.

read on ...

Bunch hit on one of the main reasons why I find tasering to be such an important issue. It's not just the use of the device itself which is awful enough. It's what it symbolizes --- the unraveling of 200 years of accumulated progress toward civil liberties and human rights. This instrument of pain is being used on everything from kids to bed-ridden grandmothers without regard to guilt or innocence or danger to the populace and the police. And many of our fellow Americans see it as a form of entertainment.

There have always been pendulum swings, but this last ten years with the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the economic downturn seem to have precipitated a wilder swing than usual --- and a hardening of our culture in ways that I think may be going past the usual boundaries. The recent legalization of torture and indefinite detention normalizes behaviors that our leaders would have been much too afraid to admit to doing in the past. The president's startling assertion that he has a right to order the assassination of American citizens --- and the recent calls from public figures for the same against a variety of suspected miscreants isn't something I've seen before in my lifetime. While they insist that they must be allowed to hide all manner of secrets from the people, they seem to be willing to proclaim to the world that they have previously unenumerated powers to kill and imprison without due process.

And now we are seeing this ugly attitude spill over to the unemployed and the sick and the poor as they struggle to maintain some sort of footing in this rapidly shifting economy. The rich are complaining that they aren't properly worshiped, with demands that the rest of us contribute more to keep them in their splendor even as they blithely demand tax cuts and insist that their wealth alone proves their superiority to the rest of us.

Meanwhile, hate radio is calling for the death of liberalism, the tea partiers are screaming about death panels, and their standard bearer has a TV show in which she is seen giggling as she clubs a fish and shoots caribou on camera to prove her macho bonafides to people who are convinced that progressives and Islamic fundamentalists are allies in the War Against Everything They Care About. When you add it all up, the infliction of the terrible pain of the taser on a teen aged prankster to the great amusement of people in a stadium seems much closer to ancient Roman circuses than anything resembling justice. It would appear that the American Empire isn't so exceptional after all.