Archive for the ‘U.S. Constitution’ Category

I realize this is old news, the “defection” of right-wing blogger John Cole, who finally cracked and disowned the GOP. But I hadn’t read his post or Kos’ response, as busy as I was with GOTV work, “activist” blogging, being a daddy, and working. But the posts are important — stirring, even — a reminder at what we’re fighting for here in Montana and everywhere across the United States.

It started with Cole’s admitting he’d had it with supporting the Republican Party. The Shiavo debacle cracked him.

In short, it really sucks looking around at the wreckage that is my party and realizing that the only decent thing to do is to pull the plug on them (or help). I am not really having any fun attacking my old friends- but I don’t know how else to respond when people call decent men like Jim Webb a pervert for no other reason than to win an election. I don’t know how to deal with people who think savaging a man with Parkinson’s for electoral gain is appropriate election-year discourse. I don’t know how to react to people who think that calling anyone who disagrees with them on Iraq a “terrorist-enabler” than to swing back. I don’t know how to react to people who think that media reports of party hacks in the administration overruling scientists on issues like global warming, endangered species, intelligent design, prescription drugs, etc., are signs of… liberal media bias.

And it makes me mad. I still think of myself as a Republican- but I think the whole party has been hijacked by frauds and religionists and crooks and liars and corporate shills, and it frustrates me to no end to see my former friends enabling them, and I wonder ‘Why can’t they see what I see?” I don’t think I am crazy, I don’t think my beliefs have changed radically, and I don’t think I have been (as suggested by others) brainwashed by my commentariat.

I hate getting up in the morning, surfing the news, and finding more and more evidence that my party is nothing but a bunch of frauds. I feel like I am betraying my friends in the party and the blogosphere when I attack them, even though I believe it is they who have betrayed what ‘we’ allegedly believe in. Bush has been a terrible President. The past Congresses have been horrible- spending excessively, engaging in widespread corruption, butting in to things they should have no say in (like end of life decisions), refusing to hold this administration accountable for ANYTHING, and using wedge issues to keep themselves in power at the expense of gays, etc. And I don’t know why my friends on the right still keep fighting for these guys to stay in power. Why do they keep attacking decent people like Jim Webb- to keep this corrupt lot of fools in office? Why can’t they just admit they were sold a bill of goods and start over? Why do they want to remain in power, but without any principles? Are tax cuts that important? What is gained by keeping troops in harms way with no clear plan for victory? With no desire to change course? With our guys dying every day in what looks to be for no real good reason? Why?

I couldn’t have written a better diatribe against the GOP myself. And every single word of this impassioned post applies doubly to Conrad Burns. This is the struggle that Montana Republicans are having as they look at themselves in the mirror in the morning. They’ve got their cr*p Party and they’re terrified of voting for a Democrat.

Kos — who you might expect to whoop with glee at a conservative defection — actually sympathizes with Cole. You see, the great Wizard of Kos was once…*gasp*…a Republican!

Lest I come off as condescending or patronizing, please understand that I left the Republican Party in 1992 for pretty much the same reasons, if in a different era. It was at the height of the Christian Coalition’s rise to power. The deficit was a mess. The politics of Lee Atwater were dragging politics into the gutter — a foreshadowing of the Reign of Rove. And really, as socially liberal as I am, I am still and always will be a strong supporter of fiscal responsibility and a healthy, robust entrepreneurial business climate. I was a Libertarian Republican in a party already moving toward its present authoritarian foundation.

I was a precinct captain for the Republican Party at the age of 16. I campaigned for Bush Sr. I door knocked, phone banked, stuffed envelopes — whatever. I have a picture somewhere of me and Papa Bush, taken during one of his campaign swings through Illinois in 1988. I dug up an old comic book I had drawn together. In the dedication page, I dedicated it to the “Republican Party”.

And despite all that work, all the emotional investment, all the fights I had gotten into because of my trust in the GOP, I had to come to a realization that it was all for naught. That what I thought and hoped the Republican Party was about really, at the end of the day, was nowhere near the reality. Coming just two years after I tore myself away from the Catholic Church, I felt like everything I had believed in for so long was a cruel lie.
I could be flip and say, “come on in, the water’s fine on our side!” But first of all, it’s not like our party doesn’t have its own problems. And more importantly, partisan fealty (especially for us political junkies), like religion, goes much deeper than the intellect. It cuts to the very core of who we are, of how we define ourselves. That’s why for many of the disillusioned, it’s simply easier to tune out or become “independent” than it is to jump in bed with the other party.

Here’s the thing. We’re a country in crisis right now. We’re embroiled in a terrible war that’s draining our financial resources and slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocents and destabilizing the most dangerous region in the world.

We’re in a constitutional crisis: our executive has attacked the very foundations of our legal tradition in habeas corpus. Forget all the other stuff, the torture bill allows the President to jail whomever he wants and ensures they’ll never see a trial or light of day. Even if they’re innocent. Or a political prisoner, not a criminal.

We’re in a financial crisis. Our budget deficit is alarming and growing rapidly. Spending is out of control. Tax cuts targeting the wealthiest in our country are irresponsible when the middle class is burdened by out-of-control housing and health-care costs, never mind working class families.

Our Congress is corrupt, our President incompetent. Conrad Burns and Dennis Rehberg are the worst of the worst. They’ve rubber-stamped every Bush foreign policy plan. They stood by and even supported the administration as it bungled the Iraqi occupation. They lard federal budgets with pork while cutting taxes and giving subsidies to multinational corporations. They take from creeps like Abramoff — Burns changed his vote for Abramoff, Rehberg made constituents use Abramoff clients to represent them in Congress.

You conservatives may not like everything the Democratic Party stands for, but right now we can’t afford six more years of Burns and two of Rehberg. We need to right the ship, address the crucial issues affecting the country. Once things are back on track we can resume our old squabbling, the little nitpicky issues we each obsess over. But right now it’s time to save this country.

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Love the (unintentional?) comedy found in Ron Crocker’s recent letter to the Billings Gazette supporting Conrad Burns: “Burns is a true patriot, great defender of the U.S.” Check it out:

To quote Clarence Darrow, “True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.”

That’s Sen. Conrad Burns! He is a patriot, a Marine Corps veteran and defender of our nation! He supports our president, and the Patriot Act. He wants to rid us of those who ploy terrorism as a means to destroy the United States and its way of life.

I believe Jon Tester is a patriot in his own way, but a true patriot will do everything they can to defend and protect their country. What does Tester want to do? He wants to repeal the Patriot Act!

The Patriot Act has proven successful and has aided in preventing any repeat of 9/11. Why Tester and so many liberals want the Patriot Act repealed literally worries me. Tester says, “The Patriot Act will take away our freedoms.” The only people who have cause to worry about their loss of freedoms are those who deserve to have their freedoms lost. The Patriot Act is aimed at individuals who have caused the United States great concern, not the everyday citizens of our great nation!

I served 36 years in the service of the United States Navy, doing my part to support and defend the people of the United States and in keeping our borders free from enemy attack. And I pray there will be no more 9/11s. That’s why I support and urge you to support Burns for U.S. Senate. He is a patriot!

Hilarious. I don’t know if Crocker just Googled quotes to use to defend Burns’ position, or he’s fully aware of who Clarence Darrow is, but using Darrow’s quote to defend the Patriot Act is like, well, using a John Brown quote to defend slavery…or a MLK quote to defend segregation…or…well you get the idea.

Clarence Darrow was an activist and progressive lawyer and prominent member of the early 20th-centure ACLU, a staunch defender of labor unions, and most famous for defending the teaching of evolution in the “Scopes Monkey Trial.” (Basically everything that is an anathema to Conrad Burns.) Darrow’s idea of “injustice” is exactly the kind that the Patriot perpetuates, not shadowy and nonexistent domestic terror cells. That’s why Darrow’s organization, the ACLU (along with the NRA) is one of the most outspoken opponents of the Patriot Act.

That Crocker can claim “The only people who have cause to worry about their loss of freedoms are those who deserve to have their freedoms lost,” is the height of folly. Just ask the railroaded suspects in the Lodi case, or the Canadian man kidnapped by the CIA and sent to Syria to be tortured – and who happened to be innocent. The disturbing element of these two cases is that federal agents appear to have been politically motivated and resorted to extreme measures because they didn’t have enough evidence for a solid case.

That is, the more shaky the suspicion against you, the more severe the police tactics are that will be used against you. Or, the less likely you are a terrorist, the more likely you’ll be tortured.

Let’s hope Crocker doesn’t go buying a disposable cell phone anytime soon.

Finally, the “United States and its way of life” is inherently tied to the rule of law, our basic liberties, and the Constitution of the United States. Amending, curtailing, or simply eliminating any or all of these rights does not aid in preserving our country – it will destroy it.

Honestly, I’d oppose the Patriot Act and the torture bill and like-minded policies from the Bush administration even if they were effective. But they’re not.

Had enough?

Bruce Ackerman has a fantastic summary of some of the disturbing components to the torture legislation the spineless GOP Senators – including Conrad Burns – will soon pass:

The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House, authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights.

This dangerous compromise not only authorizes the president to seize and hold terrorists who have fought against our troops “during an armed conflict,” it also allows him to seize anybody who has “purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.” This grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison.

Like the language in the Patriot Act, the language in this bill is disturbingly vague. What does “hostilities against the United States” mean? Could a US citizen be labeled an “enemy combatant” for, say, clashing with police during a protest against federal policy? For simply being arrested at a protest? And could anyone who donates money to organizations that actively and openly protest federal policy be “material” supporters of said “enemy combatants”?

As Dave Neiwert noted, the decision on how this law will be used comes down to one man: George W Bush. Ackerman:

But the bill also reinforces the presidential claims, made in the Padilla case, that the commander in chief has the right to designate a U.S. citizen on American soil as an enemy combatant and subject him to military justice. Congress is poised to authorized this presidential overreaching. Under existing constitutional doctrine, this show of explicit congressional support would be a key factor that the Supreme Court would consider in assessing the limits of presidential authority.

Got that? If Congress rubberstamps Bush’s authority over all U.S. citizens, then the Supreme Court will likely go along, assuming that the will of the electorate is being aptly represented by its representatives.

Ackerman concludes:

This is no time to play politics with our fundamental freedoms. Even without this massive congressional expansion of the class of enemy combatants, it is by no means clear that the present Supreme Court will protect the Bill of Rights. The Korematsu case — upholding the military detention of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II — has never been explicitly overruled. It will be tough for the high court to condemn this notorious decision, especially if passions are inflamed by another terrorist incident. But congressional support of presidential power will make it much easier to extend the Korematsu decision to future mass seizures.

Though it may not feel that way, we are living at a moment of relative calm. It would be tragic if the Republican leadership rammed through an election-year measure that would haunt all of us on the morning after the next terrorist attack.

Few, if any, would argue that the Bush administration is currently using its wide scope of power to crack down on domestic dissent. But that’s not the problem. This Congress is about to hand the U.S. presidency the tools for establishing a dictatorship.

Am I saying Bush will start a dictatorship the day after this bill passes? Unlikely. Am I saying Bush wants to establish a dictatorship? Or does the President really believe this legislation will be an effective tool against terrorism, period? It’s impossible to say. What isn’t debatable is that our nation was founded on the principle that our leaders aren’t to be trusted. That’s why our constitutional architects built into our government a system of checks and balances, so that even in time of crisis, our democracy would remain intact.

It would be shameful to dishonor the men who fell in war to protect the liberties and freedoms that will be threatened by this piece of legislation the Republican-controlled Senate is prepared to pass.

Again, this is fine time to quote Lincoln, who seemed to understand better than any current member of government what is at stake this week:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Don’t let party loyalty triumph. Do the right thing.

The other day in my daily Links post, I brought attention to a Harper’s blog interview with Professor Kate Brown of Maryland University about her comparison of Guantanamo and the Soviet Gulags alongside the comment “You proud to be an American? For how much longer?” Like most Links comments, it was an off-the-cuff remark, a snark, a quick jab, but carrying with it enormous baggage.

Namely, patriotism.

One of the favorite conservative attacking points is that liberals don’t love their country. Certainly it’s true that the left tends to be less absolutist about…well…everything, including country. (I’ve written about this topic before when it comes to foreign policy, noting that a non-absolutist or liberal policy actually works compared to a simplistic, absolutist conservative one.) I do, for example, often decry events from our past policies that were wrong. Slavery and segregation. Support for Pinochet and the Shah of Iran. The invasion of Iraq. The designated hitter.

And it’s the people, friends, and places in the country I love, not the symbols and trappings. I love jazz, folk, and rock, but could care less for the colors blue, white, and red: I prefer orange and green. I love climbing Mount Greylock in Massachusetts, the Cascades in Washington, and the Bitterroots in Montana. I don’t own a single American eagle belt buckle although I nearly got clocked by a real eagle near Washington’s Mount Baker. I’ve lived in other countries – and to be honest, people are pretty much the same wherever you go: generous, greedy, caring, fearful, prejudiced, irrational, and affectionate. There are unique characteristics to Americans that I prefer: I love our informality and spontaneity, resourcefulness and optimism. But…is that because I’m American, and those are the traits I value? I prefer German produce and beer. I like Krakow, Poland, better than Springfield, Massachusetts, or Hartford, Connecticut. I prefer Montana to them all.

It all boils down to one question: what is a country, exactly?

But there’s one thing that’s clear, there’s one aspect of my country that I can point to and say without a doubt, there’s one unequivocally good thing about this country I love, and that’s its political structure: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the everyday democratic possibilities that come with it. To me that’s what America is about, that’s what makes me proud to be an American.

I think that’s what hit me about Dave Neiwert’s post on torture. It’s this sense that the Bush administration – and the GOP by standing by – is actively hacking away at the one, clear attribute of the United States that is demonstrably, absolutely positive.

Forget the stolen 2000 election or the Diebold vote-tampering. Think about Bush’s attacks on the fabric of our Constitution, the changes he’s making to centuries of democratic legal traditions. The signing statements, the Patriot Act, the undeclared war in Iraq, warrantless wiretapping, domestic spying, “enemy combatant” status, rendition, secret prisons, and torture.

Neiwert:

The baseline problem with torture, after all, is that it is prima facie immoral, a violation not just of the Golden Rule and basic Christian precepts, but of nearly any system of ethics. Even the most hard-nosed rationalist will come to this conclusion (see, e.g., Kant’s Categorical Imperative). It’s an obvious one if you’re a Christian.All you have to present to any Christian, when it comes to torture, is their own favorite moral-guidepost aphorism: What Would Jesus Do?

To anyone familiar not just with Jesus’ teachings but the story of his martyrdom — including his torture at the hands of authorities — the answer is crystal clear.

[snip]

Republicans, of course, want it to be a question of toughness: Are we willing to do “what it takes” to defeat terrorists?

But torture is not “toughness.” It is in fact a sign of weakness — particularly the moral kind.

It is, in the end, a moral issue, and one drawn in stark black and white. As the late Joan Fitzpatrick put it: The torturer is the enemy of mankind.

Unlike, say, patriotism or foreign policy, there is nothing equivocal about torture. It violates the principles at the heart of our legal system. It doesn’t work. It is bad. In any form, whether you’re ripping out fingernails or water boarding.

As Neiwert points out, morality has long been the main tool in the conservative toolbox to manipulate votes. So there’s a little uneasiness among progressives to make torture a moral issue. But it is a moral issue – a clear moral issue.

So, yes, Bush’s policies are making me ashamed of being an American and destroying the one thing I love without reserve about the country. With the whittling away of Constitutional rights and by his placing the state above the individual, the President is destroying our political system.

I could rail against the administration and Congress, but really it’s you and me who are responsible for who’s in office and why these people aren’t being held accountable. And by “you,” I do also mean journalists and campaign staff and DC insiders and activists. Have you put your political party above your ethics? Have you put re-election over principle? Are you putting journalistic ethics and profit ahead of morality? There comes a time when you have to make a stand.

Now is the time. If you love your country. Speak your mind.

Love the Internet. The other day when I posted about John Yoo, the administration’s legal hack who justified its most heinous acts, not only did I get some helpful copy editing (I had written John “Woo” instead of “Yoo”), but I got a fantastic link to a November 2005 article by David Cole that…well…destroys all of Yoo’s legal claims that form the basis for his rhetoric on an expansive executive.

According to the piece, Yoo is an “originalist,” one of those paleo-conservative legal minds who believes that the Constitution is not a “living” document – i.e., subject to changing interpretation based on changing values, like the idea that African Americans are the physical, mental, and political equals of whites – but that interpretation should be limited to framers’ intent and the actual text found in the document. (Justice Scalia is perhaps the most widely known originalist.)

Of course, like most conservative intellectuals, Yoo (and Scalia) really don’t adhere to their own ideology, in this case, the Constitution framers’ intent or the actual text of the document. Instead their rhetoric masks an antipathy towards a secular-based government touting individual liberties and a weak executive. Cole:

It is ironic that a president who proclaims his faith in “strict construction” of the Constitution would have found Yoo’s interpretations so persuasive, for Yoo is anything but a strict constructionist. One of the arguments most often made in defense of “originalism” is that interpretations emphasizing a “living” or evolving Constitution are too open-ended, and accordingly they permit judges to stray too far from the text. Yoo unwittingly demonstrates that his brand of originalism is just as vulnerable to that criticism as other approaches, if not more so. He not only departs from the text, but contradicts the principles that underlie it.

On Yoo’s preference for cutting Congress out of the act of declaring war:

As the war in Iraq has painfully underscored, the decision to go to war, especially a war initiated by the president without broad international support, can have disastrous consequences; and extricating the country from such a war can be extremely difficult. Were Congress to be eliminated from the initial decision-making process, as Yoo would prefer, the result would almost certainly be even more wars, and more quagmires such as the one in Iraq. On this issue, the framers were persuasive, and it is Yoo who has failed to understand both the checks on executive power they imposed and the reasons they did so.

On Yoo’s insistence that treaties belong in the President’s sphere and shouldn’t be considered rule of law:

Yoo…maintains that because foreign policy is an executive prerogative, the executive must be able to reinterpret and terminate treaties unilaterally. But while the Constitution plainly envisioned the president as the principal negotiator of treaties, it also gave clear responsibilities for treaties to the other branches; all treaties must be approved by two thirds of the Senate, and once ratified, treaties become “law” enforceable by the courts. The president must certainly be able to interpret treaties in order to “execute” the laws, just as he must be able to interpret statutes for that purpose.

Basically, for all this blather about “originalism,” what Yoo really wants is a powerful executive free from any legal checks:

…[A]ll of Yoo’s departures from the text of the Constitution point in one direction—toward eliminating legal checks on presidential power over foreign affairs. He is candid about this, and defends his theory on the ground that it preserves “flexibility” for the executive in foreign affairs. But the specific “flexibility” he seeks to preserve is the flexibility to involve the nation in war without congressional approval, and to ignore and violate international commitments with impunity. As Carlos Vazquez, a professor of law at Georgetown, has argued in response to Yoo, “flexibility has its benefits, but so does precommitment.” The Constitution committed the nation to a legal regime that would make it difficult to go to war and that would provide reliable enforcement of international obligations. Yoo would dispense with both in the name of letting the president have his way.

What does this inflexibility entail?

In short, the flexibility Yoo advocates allows the administration to lock up human beings indefinitely without charges or hearings, to subject them to brutally coercive interrogation tactics, to send them to other countries with a record of doing worse, to assassinate persons it describes as the enemy without trial, and to keep the courts from interfering with all such actions.

Perhaps not that surprising from the original author of the infamous torture memo (pdf). You know the one – the memo says it ain’t torture unless there’s “major organ failure.” (Obviously this guy never had an older sister.)

Yoo implies that such a…unique…interpretation of the Constitution is necessary in a “post-9/11 world,” where terrorist lurk on every street corner and flexibility is necessary to stop them. But has this flexibility aided the US fight against terror?

In all likelihood, the policies and attitudes Yoo has advanced have made the country less secure. The abuses at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib have become international embarrassments for the United States, and by many accounts have helped to recruit young people to join al-Qaeda. The US has squandered the sympathy it had on Sep- tember 12, 2001, and we now find ourselves in a world perhaps more hostile than ever before.

Worse still, from a legal standpoint, the method by which the US has detained suspected terrorists has actually worsened our ability to try and convict them for crimes.

…[O]n the one hand, it has become increasingly unacceptable for the US to hold hundreds of prisoners indefinitely without trying them; on the other hand our coercive and inhumane interrogation tactics have effectively granted many of the prisoners immunity from trial. Because the evidence we might use against them is tainted by their mistreatment, trials would likely turn into occasions for exposing the United States’ brutal interrogation tactics….Had we given alleged al-Qaeda detainees the fair hearings required by the Geneva Conventions at the outset, and had we conducted humane interrogations…few would have objected to the US holding some detainees for the duration of the military conflict, and we could have tried those responsible for war crimes. What has been so objectionable to many in the US and abroad is the government’s refusal to accept even the limited constraints of the laws of war.

And now that these errors have been exposed, executive power shown to be a destabilizing and self-defeating force, the government has changed its course. Right?

The consequences of Yoo’s vaunted “flexibility” have been self-destructive for the US—we have turned a world in which international law was on our side into one in which we see it as our enemy. The Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy, issued in March 2005, states,

Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak, using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism.

The proposition that judicial processes —the very essence of the rule of law —are to be dismissed as a strategy of the weak, akin to terrorism, suggests the continuing strength of Yoo’s influence. When the rule of law is seen simply as a device used by terrorists, something has gone perilously wrong. Michael Ignatieff has written that “it is the very nature of a democracy that it not only does, but should, fight with one hand tied behind its back. It is also in the nature of democracy that it prevails against its enemies precisely because it does.” Yoo persuaded the Bush administration to untie its hand and abandon the constraints of the rule of law. Perhaps that is why we are not prevailing.

It’s the same sort of legalese that supports warrantless wiretapping, domestic spying, and the “enemy combatant” status. In other words, legalese that is paranoid, delusional, and without basis in law.

Some folks defend Bush’s recent legal power grabs – the signing statements, the use of “enemy combatant” status, illegal wiretapping, and so forth – by saying there’s some legal arguments that support his moves.

Um, yes. There are probably legal arguments for every hare-brained scheme imaginable. Kind of like claiming the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment (“Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation”) supports regulatory takings bills (like, say, CI-154).

Recently, Presidential legal contortionist – er, legal advisor, John YWoo, wrote a guest editorial in the LA Times decrying the Supreme Court’s smackdown of the administration in the recent Hamdan decision. You can see from reading this tripe – er, opinion – that this guy is a piece of work and is living in fantasyland – er, Berkeley. I’m no legal scholar, but…

First, YWoo compares Bush to…heh heh…Lincoln and…no, I’m serious!…FDR during their wartime activities. Woo claims that, like those previous Presidents, Bush needs to act decisively and quickly to war situations:

Long-standing U.S. practice recognizes that the president, as commander in chief, plays the leading role in wartime. Presidents have started wars without congressional authorization, and they have exercised complete control over military strategy and tactics. They can act with a speed, unity and secrecy that the other branches of government cannot match.

Of course, FDR was working within an actual war, as declared by Congress, not a battle against an emotion, as declared by, well, Bush. It is true that both Lincoln and FDR pursued Constitutionally questionable policies – Lincoln’s suspension of habeus corpus for suspected Confederate spies, FDR’s Japanese internment camps – but in those cases the actions were approved of by Congress and later stopped because of their questionable legality. (In the case of the internment camps, the government was later forced to compensate the internees for the illegal seizing of property and their forced displacement.)

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation is trickier and deserves its own post, but let’s just say it was pretty much just for show. And it was a Constitutional Amendment that outlawed slavery, not the EP. (Does Woo really want to compare the Bush administration’s policies of torture and illegal detainment to freeing slaves?)

The Sept. 11 attacks succeeded in part because our government was mired in a terrorism-as-crime approach that worried less about preventing attacks than about hypothetical threats to civil liberties — hence the “wall” preventing our law enforcement and intelligence agencies from sharing information. Our laws considered war as conflict only between nations and failed to anticipate the rise of non-state terrorist organizations that could kill 3,000 Americans, destroy the World Trade Center and damage the Pentagon in a single day.Bush invoked his constitutional authority to fight this shadowy enemy that does not wear uniforms, targets civilians and violates every rule of civilized warfare.

This is where Bush administration fantasy really kicks in. The best way to fight terrorism is, of course, using terror-as-crime techniques. Israel has demonstrated this for decades. Whenever it uses conventional armies to weed out terrorists groups – like, say, in Lebanon – it seems like the actions only exacerbate tension and create more terror. We see this in Iraq – a previously secular dictatorship that now spawns over 100 terror victims every day.

No, the best way to defeat terror is to cut off terrorist funding, use intelligence-gathering and police techniques to find and identify terrorists, then use special forces to go in and arrest or kill the b*stards. These actions should accompany efforts to eradicate the roots of terror with vigorous economic packages and investment in areas that breed terrorism. It may not be foolproof, but it’d be about a million times more successful — and cheaper –than, say, invading Iraq.

The point is that the administration is creating from terrorist groups a mysterious and powerful boogeyman to scare us into giving up power to the executive. Terrorist groups are neither. With a little more effort, the Bush administration could probably have thwarted 9/11. A competent federal crime agency can fight terror while obeying the rule of law. (Key word: “competent.”)

YWoo concludes with an attack on the Supreme Court for “interfering” in the Hamdan case:

What makes this war different is not that the president acted while Congress watched but that the Supreme Court interfered while fighting was ongoing. Given its seizure of control over some of society’s most contentious issues, such as abortion, affirmative action and religion, maybe the court’s intervention should come as no surprise.

Uh…? Did he read Hamdan? The SCOTUS basically said that courts should decide legal cases of detainees, not the military. That is, the courts should rule on the law. That’s…well…what courts do. But YWoo knows the law better than the SCOTUS! Courts are for keeping their mouths shut while Presidents do! (Seems to me this is a good way to p*ss off the judiciary…)

Now another area of the administration’s power grab is under attack. The American Bar issued a one-of-kind direct challenge to the President challenging his use of signing statements, which finally goads Arlen Specter into action.

I’m sure YWoo thinks the ABA doesn’t know what it’s talking about, either.

It’s time to face facts: Woo and Gonzalez and the rest of the administration’s legal staff are hired, not to advise the President on the rule of law, but to distort and twist the interpretation of law so that lil’ Dinky can do whatever the h*ll he wants.

Update: Oops! I wrote “Woo” instead of “Yoo” yesterday. John Woo is, of course, the action filmmaker. My apologies to Woo.

Someone sent me the .pdf of a nasty little letter a bunch of Congressmen penned to Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert. Dated June 27, 2006, it reads:

Dear Mr. Speaker:

We are writing to ask you to use your authority to rescind the congressional press credentials of the New York Times. This request does not come lightly, but in response to the Times’ decision to repeatedly publish information detrimental to our national security.

Most recently the Times revealed the existence of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program [“Bank Data Is Sifted by U.S. in Secret to Block Terror.” 06.23.06], an aggressive and classified effort to track terrorist networks through the use of international financial records. The Times published critical information regarding this program, instituted following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, despite numerous requests from the Bush Administration and Members of Congress not to go forward.

Each of us swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, which includes the power of a free press. We also believe that this power comes with great responsibility, especially in wartime when the lives of millions of Americans are at stake. We believe that this power was abused by the New York Times for the most cynical of reasons: to end American involvement in Iraq no matter the long term cost in lives and national security.

Times Editor Bill Keller called the decision to reveal the existence of the terrorist tracking program a “hard call,” but went ahead and made it anyway. We disagree. It was not a “hard call” – it was the wrong call the and Times should be penalized for it.

The letter is signed by a few dozen House Representatives, including Montana’s very own Denny Rehberg.

Where do I start with this vile scrap? Shall I remind you that the story apparently did not hurt national security, because the transaction monitoring was revealed as long ago as 2001, and by government agencies? Shall I remind you the story was printed because of the program’s disturbing lack of oversight?

The program, however, is a significant departure from typical practice in how the government acquires Americans’ financial records. Treasury officials did not seek individual court-approved warrants or subpoenas to examine specific transactions, instead relying on broad administrative subpoenas for millions of records from the cooperative, known as Swift.

That access to large amounts of confidential data was highly unusual, several officials said, and stirred concerns inside the administration about legal and privacy issues.

And how odd is it that the Congressional representatives remind us of their oath to defend the Constitution in the same breath that they advocate curtailing the press’ freedom as protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment? A free press is not a privilege — as these guttersnipes seem to think – it is a fundamental right. Again, if the Times broke the law, prosecute.

Do I need to remind Denny Rehberg what the duty of the press is? Or should I have the Gazette do it for me?

American journalists also have a duty to hold government accountable — not because government wants to share information, but because democracy demands an informed electorate.

Shall we never write, read or speak about what the government wants kept secret? Shall we trust the federal government to know what’s best? Sure, the press can make mistakes. Government can make mistakes. But democracy can’t survive in an information vacuum.

Government reporting isn’t a crime, it’s a patriotic duty.

I’m sure the Gazette will be interested to learn that Denny Rehberg wants to intimidate the press into silence. Is this a subtle message to Montana newspapers to stay the h*ll out of INSA? To his connections with Abramoff? If I were the editor of a Montana paper, I’d be p*ssed as h*ll that my Representative was playing politics with my bread-and-butter. This guy is an enemy of the media.

Coobs over at “What’s Right…” (find your link) ran a comparison of how Tester and Burns stands on the “issues.” (Please interpret the quotes to indicate how laughable I find the topics Coobs feels worthy of fighting over.) One of these “issues” Coobs highlights is flag burning.

Senator Burns – supports constitutional amendment banning desecrating the US flag

Jon Tester – would not support amendment, considers flag burning free speech.

Shocking, Tester’s stance on flag burning.

Anyway, a high-profile celebrity was recently caught on film desecrating the flag. If Coobs – and Burns – believe the flag to be a sacred symbol of the country and are willing to change the Constitution to protect it, they should be up in arms about the President autographing flags. It’s illegal. How does it rate against perjury, I wonder? If Coobs/Burns think the desecration of the flag is so important, shouldn’t they advocate for the impeachment of Bush for sullying the symbol of the land he’s “serving”?

Desecrating the flag is either worthy of criminalizing, or it’s not.

Of course everyone knows the flag-burning amendment is a senseless wedge issue intended to turn the dim-witted patriots against those that don’t support it. But let’s face it, not even those who favor it really believe in it. Otherwise Senator Conrad Burns would be up in arms against the President.

Here’s the deal. You either favor expression of speech and think Bush was doing a nice thing by signing autographs for his fans, or you favor protecting the flag at the cost of speech and prosecuting Bush for desecrating the flag.

USA Today is as mad as h*ll and isn’t going to take it anymore!

Well…maybe they’re just mildly irritated. But they’ve come out swinging against Congress in the wake of the standoff against the FBI’s search of Rep. William Jefferson’s office.

Now we know what it takes to make Congress mad enough to stand up for constitutional rights.

When the government snoops on your phone calls and records without warrants, lawmakers barely kick up a fuss. But when the target is a fellow congressman — one under investigation for taking a bribe, no less — they're ready to rumble.

[snip]

If only those leaders were as profoundly disturbed about executive branch incursions on the rights of average citizens. You certainly have to wonder where they've been for the past several years while the Bush administration ran roughshod over the legislative branch and launched anti-terror programs of questionable legality.

Indeed.

The good news is that, if this grantor of graphs, purveyor of pap, and messenger of the masses is speaking harshly about Congress, then public opinion is pretty much in lock-step.

That can only be a good thing. The media has sometimes been called the “fourth branch” of US government for its duty to challenge, question, and prod lawmakers into telling the truth, and to expose their lies and misdeeds. The media failed us after 9/11 abdicating its duties to the administration, and even now traditional media sources are slow to call attention to the failure of the President and Congress.

I like my civil liberties. How about you? (Still no word from “What’s Right…”)

Some weird things (reg. req'd) going on in Washington DC. In yesterday’s post I jokingly said that Congressional Republicans are finally standing up to the Bush administration – not over important Constitutional matters like domestic spying, torture, or the war – but on an FBI search of corrupt Representative William Jefferson.

But it does look like Congress won a victory in the dispute over the administration and were the brunt of typical administration strong-arm tactics.

Bush agreed to seal the documents seized in the FBI raid on Jefferson’s office for 45 days. I don’t know why this delay period matter, to be honest, but House majority leader Hastert seems to think it’s a victory of sort.

Hastert said the order would "give us some time to step back and try to negotiate with the Department of Justice."

Maybe some “classified” information could “slip” into Jefferson’s papers, eh? That’d get the Department of Justice off their backs! (Not that I want to give any bright ideas to Senator Burns.)

Furthermore Hastert is accusing Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez of trying to push him around using leaks to implicate Hastert in ongoing Congressional corruption investigations. Hm. Who should we believe? Part of the pork-guzzling cabal associated with Jack Abramoff, or the man who condoned torture?

Just a hunch, but I believe Hastert really is a target of malicious leaking by the administration. Hastert isn’t the kind of courageous guy to pick a fight with the administration over a fallacious claim – I mean, this is a guy who rolls over on the Constitution – so it seems there really would have to be something made up against him to get him to act.

What amuses me is that he seems so outraged! Come on, Hastert! These thugs have been strong-arming their opponents for years! Just ask Joe Wilson! Now you choose to be angry?

Maybe there’s hope in this ridiculous incident. Maybe now Congress realizes there are real-world consequences to advocating their power to Dinky & co. Maybe they’ll fight, if not for our civil liberties or for good governance, then to protect their precious pork-and-lobbyist fiefdoms.

Maybe.

I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to go numb with the revelations coming in about the Bush administration’s spying schemes. Who are they spying on? Everybody. How are they doing it? You name it.

Tom Tomorrow nailed it in a May 16 strip.

First it was the revelation of the unauthorized overseas phone calls. But only for suspected terrorists, of course! And then it was data mining of all domestic phone calls. Billions of ‘em. But no one’s actually listening to the calls!

Hersch (who’s always right):

Instead [of getting approval from FISA], the N.S.A. began, in some cases, to eavesdrop on callers (often using computers to listen for key words) or to investigate them using traditional police methods. A government consultant told me that tens of thousands of Americans had had their calls monitored in one way or the other. “In the old days, you needed probable cause to listen in,” the consultant explained. “But you could not listen in to generate probable cause. What they’re doing is a violation of the spirit of the law.” One C.I.A. officer told me that the Administration, by not approaching the FISA court early on, had made it much harder to go to the court later.

No response to this revelation, no “mainstream” organization broke the story. (See, this will break after the midterms and it’ll “surprise” everyone.)

Of course the Internet is being monitored, as is all your commercial records. They do have all your tax returns, your SSN, and your birth records. What’s next, medical records?

Does anyone reading this believe the Bush administration is spying only on perceived terrorists? Or do you think they’re spying on…well…whoever they want? Democrats, anti-war activists, and reporters?

In an earlier post, I noted that the only people who can put an end to Bush’s aggressive seize of power are GOP Congressmen. Did I think the Republic had much chance?

That’s right. The only thing standing between us and the endangered republic is a pack of spineless, corrupt weasels who have done nothing to protect their own body’s power, their own electorate, their own country from George W. Bush.

Well…it turns out that these spineless miscreants did recently exhibit some spine against unwanted intrusions! No, no, not in denying Hayden confirmation as new head of the CIA – which they did, quite meekly — no, our gallant Congressmen have taken arms against the FBI search of the office of Representative William Jefferson (a Democrat, nonetheless) — a crook and a scumbag.

These are the interests of the legislative branch they want to protect?

Bush nullifies 750 laws they've passed, and [House majority leader, Republican Richard] Boehner wants to protect them from FBI corruption investigations?

Indeed. It’s almost as if the Congressional Republicans have willfully turned over their power to the administration in exchange for their perks, and now that their goodies are threatened….outrage! Imagine, too, if the FBI ran amok among Congressional offices! Think of the things they’d find!

Poor Boss Hogg Burns might have to turn over his Ronco Showtime Professional Rotisserie & BBQ Oven Jack got him as a farewell gift.

I’m just glad they’re in Washington watching out for the rule of law!

One of the predictable reactions to the news that the NSA is data mining tens of millions of domestic telephone users that it may actually be legal. Or not as illegal as one might think.

(See legal discussions here, here, and here.)

Bottom line, there may be actual legal wiggle room for both the Bush administration and the telecomm companies that forked over your account information:

One government lawyer who has participated in negotiations with telecommunications providers said the Bush administration has argued that a company can turn over its entire database of customer records — and even the stored content of calls and e-mails — because customers "have consented to that" when they establish accounts. The fine print of many telephone and Internet service contracts includes catchall provisions, the lawyer said, authorizing the company to disclose such records to protect public safety or national security, or in compliance with a lawful government request.

Get it? It’s in the fine print! It’s your own fault!

Even more predictably, some right-wing bloggers are falling over themselves in decrying the “liberal” reaction to the news. Take John McIntyre of Real Clear Politics who says,

Show me the real alive Jane and Joe Americans who have had their liberties violated in some grotesque manner by the Patriot Act.

So? What’s all the fuss about?

Honestly, I don’t care if the program is technically legal. It’s wrong.

First the program was created without any oversight. Congress had no say, the judiciary has no right of review. That means the program could be used wrongly. While the program may indeed be used solely to catch terrorists, it creates an apparatus to monitor every citizens for any type of behavior the government may someday dislike. Like dissent, for example.

Next, the program was created without any debate. Shouldn’t we as a nation decide the limits of government intrusion? Certainly the program should have been debated in open sessions of Congress. That the administration proceeded in secret, without a mandate, and based on the mysterious rights of an all-powerful “wartime” executive should give one pause. It makes me think that the President and his henchmen knew the American people wouldn’t want to pursue such a project.

Also, while righty McIntyre demands to know who’s been affected by the program and in what way, we simply don’t know. Might the program already “marked” a number of people? Might those people have lost out on government jobs, say, or grants they might have otherwise gotten? Does the program isolate otherwise unsuspected Americans for closer surveillance by federal agencies? Every thing is secret, so we don’t know. I’d also suggest to McIntyre that, by the time that everyday Americans do feel the pinch of the program, it’ll be too late.

Bottom line: I don’t care if the program was legal in a technical sense. It’s inefficient, it’s expensive, and it’s morally repugnant.

Update: As soon as posted this, a report came over the line from USA Today on the legality of the data-mining project:

The U.S. government's secret collection of Americans' phone records may not breach the Fourth Amendment's privacy guarantee, legal analysts said Thursday, but it could violate federal surveillance and telecommunication laws.

Seems like it's the old FISA court thing we saw in the wiretapping scandal. Gee, I wonder how Bush will handle this one? And I wonder if Congress will roll over for him again?

Warning: This is a late-night ramble.

Matt Singer noticed that Jack Cafferty is pretty dog-gone angry about the latest wiretapping. He’s warning about imminent dictatorship.

It’s funny how long these ideas take to percolate to the mainstream, isn’t it? The question of executive “over reach” was brought up when the Patriot Act was passed. Some said it placed more power in the hands of the President than the “Reichstag Fire Decree,” but that only brought up the specter of the Nazis, which gets a little tiring after awhile, even if it’s accurate.

Back in November, I posted on Catch.com (now dead, sadly) that the detention of suspected terrorist Jose Padilla represented the administration’s dictatorial ambitions. For my post, a commenter accused me of falling “completely out of touch with reality.”

Do I think Bush is Hitler? No. Do I think Bush is going to round up millions, stick them in concentration camps, and gas them? No. But what’s going on here? C&L is right, there are a dozen better ways to increase security than data mining: more border patrols, more inbound cargo screening, getting rid of the politicians in the CIA, Justice Department, and FBI, and go after Osama bin Laden.

Instead the Bush administration declared war on valuable government agencies and littered them with political operatives. Instead the Bush administration invaded Iraq, which had no ties to Islamic fundamentalist terror groups. Instead the Bush administration rounded up hundreds of foreign nationals with little or no evidence and detained them in Guantamano without any basic legal rights. Instead the Bush administration built secret prisons in Europe and kidnapped foreign nationals and detained them there. Instead the Bush administration tortured. Instead the Bush administration spied on domestic anti-war groups. Instead the Bush administration monitored the phone calls of tens of millions of everyday Americans.

Every move this administration has made has solidified the power of the executive at the cost of our secuirty.

Now nations all over the world distrust us, some hate us. Now young Arabs inflamed by the Iraq War are volunteering to blow themselves up to kill American soldiers. Now average US citizens are being scrutinized by secret government agencies operating without oversight.

In his post Matt Singer compared the current political climate with the first 100 days of FDR’s presidency, in which the nation was reeling from a sudden economic depression and some political allies were urging the newly elected President to seize authoritarian powers. Only FDR valued Democracy more.

In earlier links and posts, I’ve seen Bush compared to Lincoln, who navigated a Civil War with only a few Constitutional violations — suspending habeous corpus for several suspected Confederate spies — but with the approval of Congress and to a lesser extent than Bush’s current Constitutional degradations.

These comparisons of the current President to past great Presidents are all fine. By comparison we see Bush is really quite a poor executive. But the comparisons are starting to frustrate me a little. There’s really no point. It’s not like the President is going to roll out of bed realizing he’s no Lincoln or Roosevelt and resolve to do better. He’s a vain little man who refuses to compromise his “vision,” no matter how poorly his ideas are when executed in reality.

Really the only thing standing between the President and…dictatorship?…disaster?…further encroachment on our civil liberties?…using nukes in Iran?…all of the above?…is Congress. And not all of Congress, or a strong Democratic reaction, but the Republican Party.

That’s right. The only thing standing between us and the endangered republic is a pack of spineless, corrupt weasels who have done nothing to protect their own body’s power, their own electorate, their own country from George W. Bush.

We’ll see. Will Arlen Specter step up during the Hayden confirmations? Will John McCain actualize his outsider image and publicly call out Bush, even if it might endanger his 2008 bid for the GOP’s presidential nomination?

Don’t hold your breath folks. It looks like the only way this President will be held accountable is if we put a Democratic majority in Congress. That starts right here in Montana with a corrupt Senator who has thoughtlessly supported the President at every turn.

Yet another reason to vote for Tester.

In a recent conversation on the upcoming midterms over at conservative site, mtpolitics, Gman left a comment trashing Matt Singer’s liberal worldview by calling it “immoral.” Now I agree with Matt on most issues. So I took…well, not offense…but I disagreed with the premise. I don’t think my views are “immoral.” I also don’t think I’m a political naïf who just fell off the bread truck.So I wrote up a lengthy rebuttal.

Here’s the original comment:

Matt, what amazes me about your comment that you want honest government is that the government you want cannot be honest. (Read Frederic Bastiat’s The Law.) The government you want is grounded in an immoral premise — take from one individual to give to another — i.e. legal plunder. It’s really no different than the Marxist dictum “From each according to ability, to each according to need.” How can a system that is corrupt on its face be honest? “Honest government” is just a platitude anyway. What does it mean, really?

How about instead of pining for “honest government” we all strive for “limited government” or “constitutional government.” But, our culture has no clue what honesty is anymore, how can we expect it from our government? In fact, I might as well throw out any hope for constitutional, limited government if the people cannot be moral. It is the foundation of our system. As John Adams said:

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.”

Add to Adams’s astute observation what Edmund Burke said about the French Revolution:

“It is written in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate mind can never be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

There are so many wrong premises and contradictions in this worldview found in this comment, I don’t know where to begin.

Let’s start with the basis of American government. American Democracy is found on the idea that government is derived from the consent of the governed. The Declaration of Independence:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness:

That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The government, then, is an agreement between governed and governors. In essence, the government is supposed to work for the people, and the people for the government. In this model – the American model – we are a community working towards communal goals.

The “unalienable rights” Jefferson named – “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” – represent the inherent rights that citizens have in equality of opportunity. That is, a government is not legitimate if it blocks its citizens’ “pursuit” of labor, sustenance, and political freedom.

And how is “pursuit of happiness” defined? By law, written in stone? Jefferson:

On similar ground it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please.

(“usufruct” = The right to use and enjoy the profits and advantages of something belonging to another as long as the property is not damaged or altered in any way.)

Government of the people, by the people, and for the people cannot be immoral according to these premises, as gman claims. If the people of the United States through a peaceful and legitimate democratic process wish to institute some “socialist” reforms into their culture – such as a single-payer health care system – that is not immoral, but perfectly in accord with American democracy.

(Incidentally, Fredric Bastiat’s “The Law,” quoted by gman as defining what’s moral and immoral in government, ironically seems to support liberal efforts to change the current form of government. Bastiat’s work was apparently written with the sole purpose of slighting socialism by saying that any government that “plunders” – takes income from one citizen and gives it to another – is “immoral.” Of course what Bastiat tacitly acknowledges is that a government in thrall with “free market” forces is abetting “lawful plunder” of the labor of working- and middle- class citizens’ property by a few wealthy individuals.)

Government already does many communal projects that we all take for granted. Our government paves our streets, ensures water, telephone access, and electricity to our homes. It provides fire and police departments, public transportation, libraries, schools, and universities. It provides the very structure all our commerce and daily traffic use to pursue our unalienable rights. Our government also ensures that those in the minority – whether they are minority by race, politics, or economic class – be protected in their rights, as well.

Government, in its ideal, is citizens meeting to take on communal projects that better the community.

Why shouldn’t we pool our resources and ensure affordable health care to all?

And on the subject of “morals.” First, I strongly and vehemently disagree with Gman that our community is not “moral.” This is patently absurd. U.S. society is remarkably diverse: hundreds of ethnic and religions groups live alongside another in relative peace. Tolerance, charity, and industry reign — despite deliberately hateful and divisive efforts by some to chain the country to a single extremist faction of Christianity, and others to devote all the government’s resources to a handful of corporate interests.

That Montanans might knowingly re-elect a crook to the US Senate does not indicate a newly sprung tolerance for dishonesty – dishonest populist politicians are an American staple and always have been. That some of us want to institute “honest” government may be naive, but it’s also another long-standing American tradition originating in the afore-quoted Declaration of Independence. In fact, I’d argue that our Constitution was created with the structure to allow ordinary folks to struggle against corrupt government.

Quoting John Adams on constitutional government is like quoting hammers on the subject of nails. Adams was a prig with authoritarian tendencies.

Still, and again, I’m with Jefferson, who believed that an innate sense of morality exists within the people.It’s quite simple, really. Most people want peace, and they want to prosper.

All we ask, as liberals, is let us.

Two letters appearing recently in the Missoulian touted the work of Clemens Work, who is busy clearing the names of many who were criminalized under Montana’s infamous WWI Sedition Act, and decrying a recent paranoid attack on Work’s work by Missoula man, Harvey Weinstein. (A recent 4&20 “creep.”)

First a nice letter from Richard Barrett of Missoula calling Weinstein “outrageous”:

Attack on professor an example of hysteria

Martin Weinstein apparently believes that he is defending academic freedom and integrity, the Constitution of the United States, and the country itself in his outrageous attack on professor Clemens Work in the April 16 Missoulian. He accuses Work of indoctrinating students, grading by political correctness rather than quality, destroying the Constitution, trying to lead us to a neo-Marxist utopia, sowing the seeds of defeat in Iraq and being the unholy ally of Islamic terrorists.

Even casual readers of the Missoulian will realize that the story about Work (“Righting a Wrong,” Missoulian, April 9) contained absolutely no information that could possibly lead Weinstein to these bizarre conclusions and vicious accusations. Weinstein bases all of his tirade, apparently, on Work's concern regarding the impact of the Patriot Act on First Amendment rights. Weinstein should realize that this concern is hardly radical. It is even shared by some Republican members of Congress. And the tone Weinstein sets in his letter bears more than a “stark resemblance” to the hysteria that prevailed in Montana when the Sedition Act was in force.

Fabricating accusations out of whole cloth and attacking Work personally and falsely, rather than dealing with his ideas, are the hallmarks of a demagogue. They are unworthy of the scholar and defender of academic freedom Weinstein claims to be.

True that Weinsteain’s hysteria is shared by some Republican Congressmen. Whether they truly believe their paranoia, like Weinstein obviously does, or whether they use it as part of the GOP’s standard fear-mongering, is another debate. But we see similar hysteria in Burn’s rhetoric concerning the takeover of the country by liberal “elites” like Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy. (In reality, probably not much would be different here in Montana. In fantasy-land, however…)

Letter two, from M. Chessin of Missoula, gives a shout out to those involved in the amnesty project:

Kudos to students, teachers on project On Jan. 26, 1991, professor Harry Fritz, then serving in the Montana Senate, offered a motion of exoneration to clear the name of Judge Charles L. Crum of Forsyth, who had been impeached by that body during the wartime hysteria of 1917. His crime? That he had offered advice to some who were facing trial for “seditious” speech.

Fritz's motion was approved unanimously by his colleagues, who gave a standing ovation to the judge's grandchildren then present in the gallery.

So, kudos are in order for the journalism and law students at the University of Montana and their teachers Clem Work and Jeff Renz, who have recently undertaken to initiate pardons for the many others who were victims like Crum of the super-patriots of those days. Those events are chronicled in Work's book “Darkest Before Dawn,” which was superbly researched.

And brickbats to Martin Weinstein who outrageously compared their efforts to those typical of Hitler and Stalin! (Missoulian letters, April 16).

He would be better off to concern himself with the crimes of the G.W. Bush regime, which include, among others, the shredding of our Constitution and misleading us into endless pre-emptive war.

Amen, brother! …or sister!

This should be a bi-partisan project, one that everyone should support. That right-wing extremists such as Weinstein see it as part of a radical Stalinist plot to subvert the United States should warn us to the attempt from many on the right to criminalize or, at least, marginalize dissent. And “dissent,” according to these nutjobs, is anything negative said about the Bush administration or its policies.

Like it or not, the US provides its citizens with certain inalienable rights. One of them is to speak out against the government. After all, as according to an Edward Abbey quote read on Sarpy Sam’s blog, “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

Seriously, which poses more real danger to us? Freedom of speech, or criminalizing speech?

If you haven't listened to the show, "Habeus Schmabeus," run — don't walk — over to This American Life and give it a listen. Ira Glass and the gang do their usual outstanding job of putting human faces to big stories. And this story is big.

The program is about the detention of terrorist "suspects" at Guantamano Bay. What's apparent, as the show unfolds with interviews with detainees' lawyers and former detainees, is that the Bush administration has made a terrible mistake: many — maybe most — detained at Guantamano are not terrorists.

Because the administration has suspended or ignores the right of "habeus corpus" — the right for the accused to confront the accuser before an impartial judge — these men have no legal recourse to plead their case. And the administration is breaking the law by denying them this basic right, this foundation of Western law.

Give it a listen.

Recently, The New Yorker ran a story about a group that is trying to do away with the Electoral College. The group, Campaign for a National Popular Vote, isn’t trying to change the Constitution (which would be extremely difficult and politically infeasible), but is trying to use the constitutional power of states to appoint electors in the manner they wish.

Here’s how the plan would work. One by one, legislature by legislature, state law by state law, individual states would pledge themselves to an interstate compact under which they would agree to award their electoral votes to the nationwide winner of the popular vote. The compact would take effect only when enough states had joined it to elect a President—that is, enough to cast a majority of the five hundred and thirty-eight electoral votes. (Theoretically, as few as eleven states could do the trick.) And then, presto! All of a sudden, the people of all fifty states plus the District of Columbia are empowered to elect their President the same way they elect their governors, mayors, senators, and congressmen.

I’ve always waffled about the Electoral College and its role in selecting the U.S. President. I do understand the reasoning behind it – it ensures that smaller aren’t ignored during the campaigns. If the Electoral College were abandoned, goes my reasoning, then big states like California and Texas will decide the elections.

But then Hertzberg points out that if a state is solidly red or blue, it’s ignored, whether it’s small or large. Thus the battle for the presidency takes place in the battleground “purple” states where neither candidate is highly favored. Because of the winner-take-all nature of the Electoral College, if you happen to live in one of other, non-battleground states, your vote doesn’t really matter:

The worst of [the Electoral College process] is the death of participatory politics in two-thirds of the country. If you live in a spectator state, it might be fun to persuade your neighbors to vote your way, or ring their doorbells, or hand them leaflets. But it can’t make a difference. And it doesn’t matter which side you’re on or which color your state is. Widening your ticket’s margin of victory or narrowing its margin of defeat is equally pointless. In this sense, our Presidential campaigns are not only not national; in most of the country they’re not local, either. They’re just not.

This makes sense. And this argument has entirely convinced me that it's time to do away with the Electoral College.

And I think this article doesn’t go far enough describing the problem the Electoral College creates: not only do some states (like Ohio or Florida) decide the presidential elections, certain counties within those states do. And these counties are usually middle-right of the political spectrum. Do you wonder why the American left has steadily gravitated rightwards over the past decade? It’s because presidential candidates are trying to win the votes from a few, select conservative-leaning counties in Ohio and Florida.

Imagine, then, presidential campaigns liberated from their subservience to a handful of Midwest suburbs. The Democrats could work to regain and electrify their base. We could finally tackle issues that are popular with the majority of Americans – national health care, election reform, gay rights, choice – most of whom sadly live in “spectator” states.

And getting rid of the Electoral College would prevent illegal voting tactics that would ensure a candidate’s election – like, say, putting easily hacked electronic voting machines in key counties, or adding Miami’s inner-city African American voters to felon lists on the eve of elections.

And, of course, that’s probably why the Campaign for a National Popular Vote will meet with stiff opposition.

But still, the movement has a chance.

For fifty years, polls have consistently shown that seventy per cent of the public favors direct election. Nevertheless, the National Popular Vote plan will meet with a lot of resistance, some of it from battleground-state politicians. But in all those spectator states there are scores of millions of voters, and thousands of politicians, who would like to get in on the game. They might prefer to see our Presidents elected not by red states and blue states and purple states, and not by big states or small states, but by the United States.

Perhaps Montana should be in the vanguard of this movement.

A viewing of a film created by the ACLU called “Beyond the Patriot Act,” originally slated to be aired in Helena’s Montana State Library, was called off:

The State Library called off its viewing of the film after people complained about the ACLU being involved.

State Library spokeswoman Sara J. Groves said Tuesday complaints came from residents and state employees who didn’t like the idea of the ACLU getting a forum. The library considered finding someone to counter the ACLU’s position on the Patriot Act but couldn’t on short notice, she said.

So…a group espousing civil liberty for American citizens, especially freedom of speech issues, was banned from speaking. It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.

And why couldn’t the library find anyone to counter the ACLU’s position? Were the Helena neo-Nazis busy? I mean, really, who would oppose our right to free speech?

Update: Hullabaloo’s Tristero brought up the ACLU and freedom of speech today:

…the principle of free speech and civil liberties simply must be respected regardless of my personal beliefs and feelings – it is essential to the operation of a modern democracy to support an organization like ACLU.

Strangely, many on the right and some others don’t quite get ACLU’s beat. Defending Oliver North or the Ku Klux Klan in no way implies endorsement of North’s loopy Cro-Magnon militarism or the Klan’s racism. The problem is this. Once you start infringing on Ollie’s constitutional right to be a flaming asshole,fundamentalist churches any NAMBLA are next. No great loss, you say? You’re right, I agree. But the problem with infringing those civil rights is that rapidly you reach the point where just about any kind of speech can be banned for any reason. And therein lies the problem.

First and foremost, the banning of speech and the curtailment of civil rights, is a political act, exercised by the powerful upon the weak. It is an immensely slippery and dangerous slope. Speech suddenly gets criminalized at the whim of the government or corporations in cahoots with the government. That is why those of us who don’t have any interest in speaking up in defense of major league jerks nevertheless refuse to give up our ACLU cards when they offer their services to defend someone we utterly detest. We know that, if they get away with shutting up Ollie or a Nazi, we’re next. Just as we don’t like Iran/Contra criminals, we don’t like NAMBLA either. But they all got rights. Or none of us really do.

[snip]

…one of the best ways to uphold the principle without being exploited by cynical manipulators is to support an institution whose sole mission is to defend specific liberties like free speech without endorsing any specific ideology. Free speech – real free speech – is a complex issue, and an emotional one. Rightly so. There are ways to be pro-free speech without holding hands with the American counterparts of sleazy gits like David Irving or Flemming Rose. ACLU is one way.

Amen, brother.

So when I see a group of people hound the ACLU out of their library, effectively closing off the flow of ideas, it’s obvious that they don’t understand the meaning of the liberties granted to us by the U.S. Constitution. The purpose of the amendments is to protect the rights of minorities, whether of race, origin, or of opinion, from the tyranny of the majority. Freedom of speech, then, is designed to protect the opinions of those you don’t agree with.

The Montana State Librarians and those that engineered the banning of the ACLU from its doors should be ashamed for violating the basic prinicples of our freedom.

The fantastic and truly independent Seattle weekly, ”The Stranger,” printed the controversial Danish cartoons that has caused the freedom of speech ruckus across the globe, largely at the behest of editor, Dan Savage.

Savage sees the controversy solely as a freedom of speech issue. He was outraged that the nation’s mainstream papers decided as a body not to print the cartoons, and ran the caricatures in defiance of self-censorship.

The decision has sparked quite a lot of controversy, none of which involves Muslims. (See Slog posts here, here, here, here, and here. And, yes, you do know commentor “Touchstone.”)

Dan Savage is my hero. But I don’t know if I agree with him on this one.

Check out this cool post over at Power of Narrative: The Freedom to Foster Hatred. Excerpt from a Salon article:

"Make no mistake about it: The recent West versus the Muslim World contention over 12 ignorant and offensive cartoons is not about freedom of expression and its limitations. It is first and foremost about the bleak reality of a great many powerful forces — on both sides of the Atlantic, north and south of the Mediterranean and all the way to the Indian Ocean — having a decided stake in perpetuating and escalating the so-called clash of civilizations, even if for a whole range of very different reasons. This is no conspiracy but, rather, an ugly convergence of equally repugnant interests.

[snip]

"Triggered by cartoons, the latest episode of the clash of civilizations is the caricature of a caricature, one in which our fundamental humanity is diminished, the almost limitless richness and diversity of that vast world of the intellect and the imagination that we call culture is flattened and shadowed over, the profound commonality of our human condition rubbed out, until finally all that remains is the horrible and the grotesque: the "liberal" West represented by a T-shirted female American soldier holding a prone and naked Arab on a leash, and the 'devout' Arab/Muslim world represented by a masked and hooded terrorist holding a knife to a hostage's neck under a banner of 'God is great.'"

From the blogger:

"To be absolutely clear: you unquestionably have 'the freedom to foster hatred,' if that is what you choose to do. But if that is indeed your choice, don't dress it up as a noble and valiant fight for freedom of speech and for 'Western values' — unless, of course, you think that accurately represents 'Western values.'"

It is true The Stranger ran the cartoons in response to the mainstream media's self-censorship, and for that, I give this paper the benefit of the doubt.

To me what's more disturbing is the effort of some Western governments to curtail freedom of speech in the "civilized" portion of the globe, from Britain's banning of the "glorification of terrorism" (does that mean no more gloating about the Sons of Liberty?) to the prosecution of Holocaust-denier, David Irving, in Austria.

Will we see a serious journalistic attempt from the Stranger to deny the Holocaust, because no other reputable US paper will?

So it looks like the Dems are going to back down on Bush's illegal wiretapping. According to Walter Shapiro on Salon, the Dems don't want to look "weak on security."

Digby, as always, nails it:

Every time the Democrats first speak out strongly and then fall in behind Republicans on national security like this, selling out their principles and the deep concerns of their constituents, they reinforce the image that there is nothing the Democrats are willing to fight for and the national security vote goes to the Republicans who have shown they are willing to fight for everything.

And guess what? Americans want somebody to stand up for their rights.

The polls today show that more than half of the country believes the president broke the law with this program and that it was wrong for him to have done it.

Here, in his conclusion, Digby says it better than I ever could:

If the Democrats in congress simply stood together on principle instead of listening to overfed, out of touch strategists who have misdiagnosed the problem for years, they would begin to crawl out of this hole on national security. In order for the nation to trust them to defend the country the first thing they must do is stop believing that going along with the Republican Eunuch Caucus will ever improve their lot. People trust leaders who lead not followers who fall in line.

You decide!

In a recent editorial against wire-tapping critics, Kristol writes,

No reasonable American, no decent human being, wants to send up a white flag in the war on terror. But leading spokesmen for American liberalism – hostile beyond reason to the Bush administration, and ready to believe the worst about American public servants – seem to have concluded that the terror threat is mostly imaginary. It is the threat to civil liberties from George W. Bush that is the real danger.

Yikes! Kristol implies that concern for civil liberties must imply a disregard for terrorism. Um…can’t we both protect our civil liberties and fight terror? Kristol:

These liberals recoil unthinkingly from the obvious fact that our national security requires policies that are a step (but only a careful step) removed from ACLU dogma.

Of course, this fact is so obvious, it doesn't need explaining. (And you won’t find an explanation for it in this editorial.)

Still, if you strip away the rhetoric and false reasoning, Kristol's point is that it's necessary to suspend some civil rights to catch terrorists. An interesting (if not overused) argument that naturally begs some proof. Don't hold your breath. The closest Kristol gets to provide proof is this quote from General Hayden, deputy director of national intelligence:

"This program has been successful in detecting and preventing attacks inside the United States."

How obtaining warrants from FISA, which only requires that an application occur within 72 hours after the wiretap has started, and which generally rubberstamps all requests, would impede the program is not explained.

That the details of the program are top secret does, unfortunately, prevent an average citizen (i.e., you or me) from corroborating the facts, but Hayden’s rank should cow us into submission. He is, after all, a general, and you’re not.

This should be enough evidence for any reasonable person, implies Kristol, but still – and reluctantly stooping to address liberal arguments – he plows right into the issue that the FISA court provided all the necessary structures to obtain warrants for the wiretaps conducted by the NSA.

Was the president to ignore the evident fact that FISA's procedures and strictures were simply incompatible with dealing with the al Qaeda threat in an expeditious manner? Was the president to ignore the obvious incapacity of any court, operating under any intelligible legal standard, to judge surveillance decisions involving the sweeping of massive numbers of cell phones and emails by high–speed computers in order even to know where to focus resources? Was the president, in the wake of 9/11, and with the threat of imminent new attacks, really supposed to sit on his hands and gamble that Congress might figure out a way to fix FISA, if it could even be fixed? The questions answer themselves.

First, Kristol offers not a single piece of evidence to back his claims, but obliquely refers to another article instead. He then goes on to further his argument with a set of rhetorical questions whose very premises are corrupt.

If you’re not retching over your keyboard, you, like me, may be wondering how this crap reaches national prominence. Written with less expository skill than found in your typical college composition essay – using rhetorical questions to make points, offering no evidence to back up his assertions, relying on bias and prejudice in his readership, using slander instead of argument to discredit opposing ideas – this is pure garbage. But remember, this guy has his own magazine! He appears regularly on national news programs! He’s considered an architect of conservative thought!

But wait! It gets better.

Back in the 1980s, when I was living in Johannesburg and reporting on apartheid South Africa, a white neighbor proffered a tasteless confession. She was "quite relieved," she told me, that new media restrictions prohibited our reporting on government repression. No matter that Pretoria was detaining tens of thousands of people without real evidence of wrongdoing. No matter that many of them, including children, were being tortured-sometimes to death. No matter that government hit squads were killing political opponents. No matter that police were shooting into crowds of black civilians protesting against their disenfranchisement. "It's so nice," confided my neighbor, "not to open the papers and read all that bad news."

What th – ?? In an attempt to mock liberal "hysteria," which forces us to compare the Bush administration to repressive regimes like South Africa, he seems to argue for the leftists.

Why…yes! Now that you mention it, there are remarkable similarities between apartheid South Africa and the Bush administration! Let's see…"detaining tens of thousands of people"…the legal and immigrant aliens of Middle East descent here in the US, and an untold number of Iraqis in Iraq…check. "…Without real evidence of wrongdoing…": double check. "No matter that many of them, including children, were being tortured – sometimes to death": check (detainees under 18 exist at Guantamano). "No matter that government hit squads were killing political opponents…": contractors are notorious in Iraq for this stuff, check. "No matter that police were shooting into crowds of…civilians protesting against their disenfranchisement…": how many did US troops kill firing into protests during the early part of the occupation? Check.

And Kristol's neighbor, the white woman who was glad new media restrictions were placed on newspapers so that no bad news would appear, who is she supposed to be? The liberals? Or the right-wing Bush supporters who organize fabricated question-and-answer sessions with the Great Leader?

So, is Kristol an idiot, "A foolish or stupid person," or a charlatan, "A person who makes elaborate, fraudulent, and often voluble claims to skill or knowledge; a quack or fraud"?

I wish we could have honest, open debate about these issues. A fella can dream, can't he?

In a WaPo Op-Ed piece, “Vital Presidential Power” (reg req'd), neo-dolts Bill Kristol and Gary Schmitt create an example of when a president might need to circumnavigate judicial oversight. There’s a terrorist with a cell phone containing U.S. numbers, but there’s no evidence to support a warrant to wiretap those numbers. After all, the administration would need to provide …"probable cause to believe" that the target is an agent of a foreign power or a terrorist.

Yet where is the evidence to support such a finding? Who knows why the person seized in Pakistan was calling these people? Even terrorists make innocent calls and have relationships with folks who are not themselves terrorists.

Indeed.

In this world view – at distinct odds with the Constitution – it’s better to violate the rights of the innocent than to let the guilty go unwatched. Of course, according to Kirstol/Schmitt, we’re at war, so anything goes. But are we at war? Declaring war is a prerogative reserved for Congress, not Bill Kristol and Gary Schmitt.

Ultimately, the real question is passed over by these idiots. We all agree that, if used wisely and in the interests of the country and its people, unchecked power would be helpful to combat terror. But should we trust this president – or any president – not to abuse such sweeping powers?

I’m with the architects of the Constitution: no.




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