Wednesday, February 16, 2005

About Last Night

So last night I tuned into Law and Order: Criminal Intent, for no particular reason; not anything else on worth watching. Turns out it's an episode about "secret prisoners" being housed in a NY prison, all part and parcel of the war on terra. In the course of pursuing your regular seemingly run of the mill murder, the LAO investigators turn up evidence of mysterious goings on in one of the nearby prisons. The show shines the spotlight on terrorism suspects being held secretly, indefinitely, and brutally. Surprisingly, the episode was pretty good, hard hitting. To tell you the truth, I had almost forgotten about all of this.

Which reminded me of a post from Alt Hippo the other day, lamenting the "issue of the day" approach employed by most bloggers. Something exciting happens. We write about it. Then we forget it and go on to the Next Big Thing. There are some exceptions to this: Josh Marshall's unrelenting focus on Social Security Privatization; The Demagogue's attention to the crisis in Sudan. But for the most part, we're a flighty, short attention span bunch, usually content to respond to issues as they emerge. Now of course, most of us are doing this on the side to our regular employment so we aren't putting the time or effort into researching or journalisming any one issue as some of our blogging colleagues get to do. Still fewer of us have any expectation of changing the world. But there's something to be said for FOCUS and PERSISTENCY. We, and our elected representatives, shouldn't let up on the efforts of this administration to detain people unlawfully for the obstensible purpose of fighting a so-called war on terrorism (and I'm not particularly interested in the distinction between citizens and non-citizens of the U.S. being rounded up: while the thought that citizens are being deprived of their constitutional rights should be and is chilling, it wouldn't offer much more consolation to me to know that the "only" people having their natural rights abused were "other people"). It's not a large leap to get from persecuting non citizens to persecuting citizens, as it seems abundantly clear is happening anyway.

Ironically, while I was watching LAO:CI, I also happened to be reading Amartya Sen's book, Development as Freedom, for a class on the political economy of development I'm taking at the UMD-College Park. And I was further ironically in the part of the book that highlights the benefits of democracy as preventing official corruption and stemming the effects of natural disasters and famines, due to the accountability supplied on governing officials by a free press and oppositional parties. Hmmmm, I wondered. (If we only had a free press and oppositional parties).

But isn't it interesting that the issue of the administration's detainment policies has kinda slipped off the front page and television leads? What is being done to follow up on past reports and to ensure that detainees are given proper access to their lawyers and families, as well as being treated humainly?

So thanks to Hollywood and the producers and cast of LAO:CI for drawing our attention back to this problem and to the actions of the current regime that we still need to change even as the electoral mechanism was turned aside last November. We still have a job to do in our democracy of holding our representatives to account.

Special Feature: When one of the CI cast makes a reference in the course of the episode to the Patriot Act, the Chris Noth character replies that he read the Patriot Act in its original version--(the book) 1984. Priceless.

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