Jefferson's democracy

Franklin Jefferson's thoughts on the world

Monday, November 13, 2006

Transparency in government... not

Here's a great one, from USA Today.

The Republican Congress passed a new rule in 2006 that would identify which congressman added each "pork" spending earmark to a budget bill.

... the rule exempts the 2007 spending bill (the bill being worked on when the rule was passed)

...and the rule expires at the end of the year!

So the Republicans made a rule that is in effect only for the 2007 budget, which exempts the 2007 budget from the bill... they made a rule that did NOTHING WHATSOEVER!!

Isn't that the epitome of politics? They wrote a bill that would allow them to crow about how it increased transparency of government, which actually doesn't do anything at all. You gotta admire that.

Friday, November 10, 2006

In our name

A couple of days ago I posted a note here expressing my distaste for a government that argued that a political prisoner shouldn't be able to talk to a lawyer because he might tell the lawyer what techniques were used to question him.

Much to my amazement, I've heard from some people who seem to think that this is ok. We shouldn't worry if the government says that some people who have been picked up by the CIA and questioned for three years in secret should be prevented from ever talking to a lawyer, since they might "disclose the techniques used to question them."

(the previous post had links to the original story, among them this one:

The prisoner under discussion, Khan, was picked up in Pakistan along with his brother, wife, and one-year-old son. The others were released without being charged, and for the last three years, they have been told that he would be released "soon" as long as they didn't complain:

"Periodically, he [the brother] said, people who identified themselves as Pakistani officials contacted Mohammad Khan and assured him that his brother would soon be released and that they should not contact a lawyer or speak to the media. "We had no way of knowing who had him or where he was," his brother said from his home outside Baltimore, Maryland. He said they complied with the requests because they believed anything else could delay his brother's release."

Right here I'm already not happy. So the CIA claimed to be Pakistani officials, and told this guy that his brother might be killed if he contacted a lawyer or contacted the media. I don't like intimidation and extortion anyway, and a "free press" isn't quite exactly free if people are threatened by the CIA if they talk to the press.

Once the government has affirmed the right to take prisoners secretly, keep them for years without charges, and deny them the right to talk to a lawyer, or anybody else (they don't even get the traditional one phone call), why do you think that this power will be used only on guilty people, exactly, and never used, say, to cover up the fact that they abducted and tortured the wrong guy?

I don't trust the government to take people to secret jails and question them for three years. I don't want to give the government secret powers with no accountability.

We should live by the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, free speech, and the rule of law; we should serve as an example to the world, and I mean a good example here, not an example of the things we tell the rest of the world they shouldn't do. We believe in fair trials, not in putting people in prison for years with no trial and no charges. We should not let our fears scare us into giving away our liberties. We should not be sure that that if we give secret branches of the government unrestricted power, that this power will never be used on political opposition or innocent civilians.

I don't agree that a prisoner should be held incommunicado, with no right to ever talk to a lawyer, simply because he might disclose the methods used to question him. Actually, I think we ought to know the methods used to question prisoners. These methods are being used in our name, and I want to know what is being done in my name.

This is really an absolute; you can't be a libertarian of any kind ("neo" or other) and still accept secret prisons, people being taken away and held without being charged, and "questioning" of prisoners by techniques that cannot be disclosed and with no accountability. Libertarians use words like "Soviet" and "Fascist" to describe these kinds of actions, and the words are not less appropriate when the secret police are using Fascist techniques "for our own protection." Actually, that's just what the Fascists said.

I subscribe to the principles of the United States of America, that means freedom, decency, and we don't torture people and we don't have secret police or secret prisons or political prisoners who are held without trial. I do not want people violating every single one of my principles and then tell me that they're doing it for my own good because "they're useful to us as prisoners."

I don't want secret prisons, secret police, or suspension of civil liberty as the price of "using oil."

The word "liberty" is at the root of the word "libertarian"

For the argument "Jihadis don't have civil liberties, and don't want civil liberties."

We're not them; we don't want to be them; we don't want to be like them; and most particularly, we don't want to become like them, in the name of defeating them.

We're Americans. We believe in liberty and justice. This is what America is about.

Monday, November 06, 2006

What is it that they don't want us to find out?

Houston Chronicle: "U.S. Fights Detainee Access to Attorney"

(also Forbes,

I have to say that this one gives me a very sick feeling.

They haven't charged this guy with a crime... now they're saying he
can't even talk to an attorney, because he might tell the attorney the
techniques to questioned him.

It's not merely that I am rather queasy at the fact that they are
trying to keep us from finding out what they did (although I am). What
I find even worse is the fact that, before any kind of trial, they are
saying that they intend to never let him free, since they claim that
they can't allow him to talk to anybody ever.

What are they trying to hide? What is it that they are afraid we might
find out about about how he was questioned for the last three years?
How did it happen that United States government has secret prisons and
a secret police, and the USA turned into a country that says people
don't have a right to an attorney, or a trial, or even a right to be
charged with a crime before being imprisoned?

Is this what we wanted, when we call America the land of the free?

WASHINGTON Nov 4, 2006 (AP)- A suspected terrorist who spent years in
a secret CIA prison should not be allowed to speak to a civilian
attorney, the Bush administration argues, because he could reveal the
agency's closely guarded interrogation techniques.

Human rights groups have questioned the CIA's methods for questioning
suspects, especially following the passage of a bill last month that
authorized the use of harsh but undefined interrogation tactics.

In recently filed court documents, the Justice Department said those
methods, along with the locations of the CIA's network of prisons, are
among the nation's most sensitive secrets. Prisoners who spent time in
those prisons should not be allowed to disclose that information, even
to a lawyer, the government said.

"Improper disclosure of other operational details, such as
interrogation methods, could also enable terrorist organizations and
operatives to adapt their training to counter such methods, thereby
obstructing the CIA's ability to obtain vital intelligence that could
disrupt future planned terrorist attacks," the Justice Department

The documents, which were first reported by The Washington Post, were
filed in opposition to a request that terror suspect Majid Khan should
be given access to an attorney. Khan, 26, immigrated from Pakistan and
graduated high school in Maryland.

According to documents filed on his behalf by the Center for
Constitutional Rights, Khan was arrested in Pakistan in 2003. During
more than three years in CIA custody, Khan was subjected to
interrogation techniques that defense attorneys suggest amounted to

President Bush acknowledged the existence of the CIA system in
September and transferred Khan and 13 other prisoners designated as
"terrorist leaders" to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Under a law passed last month, they are to be tried before special
military commissions and may not have access to civilian courts.

(also reported at ABC News,
and Voice of America:

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Words from the American Conservative magazine

GOP Must Go

Next week Americans will vote for candidates who have spent much of their campaigns addressing state and local issues. But no future historian will linger over the ideas put forth for improving schools or directing funds to highway projects.

The meaning of this election will be interpreted in one of two ways: the American people endorsed the Bush presidency or they did what they could to repudiate it. Such an interpretation will be simplistic, even unfairly so. Nevertheless, the fact that will matter is the raw number of Republicans and Democrats elected to the House and Senate.

It should surprise few readers that we think a vote that is seen—in America and the world at large—as a decisive “No” vote on the Bush presidency is the best outcome. We need not dwell on George W. Bush’s failed effort to jam a poorly disguised amnesty for illegal aliens through Congress or the assaults on the Constitution carried out under the pretext of fighting terrorism or his administration’s endorsement of torture. Faced on Sept. 11, 2001 with a great challenge, President Bush made little effort to understand who had attacked us and why—thus ignoring the prerequisite for crafting an effective response. He seemingly did not want to find out, and he had staffed his national-security team with people who either did not want to know or were committed to a prefabricated answer.

As a consequence, he rushed America into a war against Iraq, a war we are now losing and cannot win, one that has done far more to strengthen Islamist terrorists than anything they could possibly have done for themselves. Bush’s decision to seize Iraq will almost surely leave behind a broken state divided into warring ethnic enclaves, with hundreds of thousands killed and maimed and thousands more thirsting for revenge against the country that crossed the ocean to attack them. The invasion failed at every level: if securing Israel was part of the administration’s calculation—as the record suggests it was for several of his top aides—the result is also clear: the strengthening of Iran’s hand in the Persian Gulf, with a reach up to Israel’s northern border, and the elimination of the most powerful Arab state that might stem Iranian regional hegemony.

The war will continue as long as Bush is in office, for no other reason than the feckless president can’t face the embarrassment of admitting defeat. The chain of events is not complete: Bush, having learned little from his mistakes, may yet seek to embroil America in new wars against Iran and Syria.

Meanwhile, America’s image in the world, its capacity to persuade others that its interests are common interests, is lower than it has been in memory. All over the world people look at Bush and yearn for this country—which once symbolized hope and justice—to be humbled. The professionals in the Bush administration (and there are some) realize the damage his presidency has done to American prestige and diplomacy. But there is not much they can do.

There may be little Americans can do to atone for this presidency, which will stain our country’s reputation for a long time. But the process of recovering our good name must begin somewhere, and the logical place is in the voting booth this Nov. 7. If we are fortunate, we can produce a result that is seen—in Washington, in Peoria, and in world capitals from Prague to Kuala Lumpur—as a repudiation of George W. Bush and the war of aggression he launched against Iraq.

We have no illusions that a Democratic majority would be able to reverse Bush’s policies, even if they had a plan to. We are aware that on a host of issues the Democrats are further from TAC’s positions than the Republicans are. The House members who blocked the Bush amnesty initiative are overwhelmingly Republican. But immigration has not played out in an entirely partisan manner this electoral season: in many races the Democrat has been more conservative than the open-borders, Big Business Republican. A Democratic House and Senate is, in our view, a risk immigration reformers should be willing to take. We can’t conceive of a newly elected Democrat in a swing district who would immediately alienate his constituency by voting for amnesty. We simply don’t believe a Democratic majority would give the Republicans such an easy route to return to power. Indeed, we anticipate that Democratic office holders will follow the polls on immigration just as Republicans have, and all the popular momentum is towards greater border enforcement.

On Nov. 7, the world will be watching as we go to the polls, seeking to ascertain whether the American people have the wisdom to try to correct a disastrous course. Posterity will note too if their collective decision is one that captured the attention of historians—that of a people voting, again and again, to endorse a leader taking a country in a catastrophic direction. The choice is in our hands.

November 20, 2006 Issue

Where the GOP right went wrong

From the Houston Chronicle, Dick Armey (who was the Republican leader, back in in the "Republican Revolution" days) asks "How did GOP right get it so wrong?":

His answer, in essence, is that when the Republican politicians got in power, they stopped being conservative, and became the party of big-spending, big government, and debt to special interest groups.

He says:

Now spending is out of control. Rather than rolling back government, we have a new $1.2 trillion Medicare prescription drug benefit, and non-defense discretionary spending is growing twice as fast as it had in the Clinton administration. Meanwhile, Social Security is collapsing while rogue nations are going nuclear and the Middle East is more combustible than ever. Yet Republican lawmakers have taken up such issues as flag burning, Terri Schiavo and same-sex marriage.

They're fooling only themselves.

Getting power changes people, and not for the better. The best thing that could happen for conservatism would be for the current batch of politicians to leave office, so candidates who actually have a clue about what "conservative" means might be able to run in 2008.