Friday, September 29, 2006

The Torture Act of 2006

Today is a sad day for the republic. President Bush continues to push the country toward tyranny and the rubber-stamp Republican Congress complied, passing the "Detainee Treatment Act." While not as expansive as he had originally hoped for, it gives the President broad leeway to strip the rights guaranteed by the Constitution of anyone he deems to be an enemy. It institutionalizes torture, and flatly denies the judiciary the power of review that it has had since John Marshall. We will be the first civilized country that executes people without showing them the evidence against them and using evidence obtained through torture.

Bush claims he needs this power to fight this unprecedented war against any enemy who threatens us like never before. Forget the fact that the nation does not face an existential threat as it has in the past. Forget the fact that torture does not produce actionable intelligence but only what the torturer wants to hear. If there ever were a ticking time-bomb, "Jack Bauer" scenario that called for extreme measures, the president always had the power to pardon someone who chose to break the law to save innocent lives. Instead, this president wants to institutionalize torture and the revocation of rights. The right to commit cruel and inhumane treatment at the president's discretion will now be codified in law. We should all be ashamed.

At this point, the rule of law in the United States is a joke. Instead, this president has nothing but contempt for any rule other than his "gut". He is backed up by authoritarian Republicans who have learned nothing from our nations struggles with with fascism and communism, other than than a sick admiration for their tactics and policies. They have sold their souls to the devil and are taking the rest of us along with them. Unless a Democratic Congress is elected this fall, our only hope is in the Supreme Court. Let's pray that there are still a few judges who believe in the Constitution.

In particular, John McCain sold out in a grand way on this issue. His initial tough stand was admirable, but apparently he chose to sacrifice his principles in order to maintain peace with the party powers who could give him the nomination in 2008. I liked McCain and thought he had what it takes to bring the GOP back from the abyss of authoritarianism. But they may be too far gone, and the only way to get elected with that party seems to be to pander to religious fanatics, corrupt swindlers, and those who think 1984 is a good example of how government should work. I used to think I could vote for McCain, but now I am not so sure. I wonder if the GOP is so rotten to the core that it cannot be saved.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

President Clinton on Fox News

Last night I watched the now-infamous interview with President Clinton on Fox New Sunday with Chris Wallace. Watching him smack Wallace and the right-wing media around was such a relief. It's about time a Democrat took conservatives to task for attempting to re-write history. The problem is that the only person so far to do this effectively can't be elected again. But perhaps Mr. Clinton's opening salvo will prompt other, more timid Democrats to finally pick up the fight.

Watching the interview reconfirmed my belief that Bill Clinton was one of the best presidents we've had since FDR. He led the country brilliantly, bringing a pragmatic, problem-solving style to governing. He believed that when done right, government could be a powerful force for good, but that it also had its limits. He appointed talented people to office. He balanced the budget. He believed in helping the poor. He believed in rule of law. When he traveled the world, he was greeted by cheering crowds. He was one of the smartest presidents we have ever had.

He presided over a prosperous time and, for better or worse, fate handed him no major national crises to respond to. Instead, he was hounded from the day he took office by those whose rabid, irrational hatred of him persists to this day. He had his flaws, but deserved nothing close to the national farce that was his impeachment. Yet despite all of that, he left the nation better than when found it. We can only hope that, after this disastrous administration, our country can again elect people of the caliber of Bill Clinton.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

John Yoo's Vision of the U.S. Under the Unitary Executive

Scanning the newspaper before hitting the sack, I'm absolutely flabbergasted by John Yoo's op-ed in the New York Times this morning. I cannot believe that someone who has read the same Constitution as I have, can come to the the conculsions that he makes. Bush's critics "seem to believe that the Constitution created a system of judicial or congressional supremacy"? The Constitution is quite specific about the powers granted to the Congress, including the legislative, budget-making, and war-making powers that he specifically claims as presidential.

His interpretation of history is also astounding. He writes that the limits placed on executive power in the 1970's "occurred largely because we had no serious national security threats to United States soil, but plenty of paranoia in the wake of Richard Nixon's use of national security agencies to spy on political opponents." The Soviet Union, their tens of thousands of nuclear missles capable of flatting the nation a hundred times over, did not consitute a "serious national security threat"? But, by contrast, al Qaeda is? As for Nixon, the paranoia existed precisely because of his illegal conduct. Professor Yoo seems to believe, like many of the unitary executives, that Nixon did not actually do anything wrong. How someone can hold that view is beyond me.

In a way, though, his writing is refreshingly clear. Most Bush Administration propaganda is so filled with doublespeak, hollow language, and marketing hype that it is never clear what the true intetions are. Here, Yoo distinctly lists the controversial and illegal actions the president has taken; re-classifying declassified material, detaining prisoners without charge, "sidestepping laws that invade his executive authority", and preparing to execute prisoners without thier being told why.

Of all of the ideologies coming out of the Republican party, this Unitary Executive theory is by far the most poisonous to our Republic. And those who espouse it show every intention of claiming as much power as possible, to the point that representative democracy devloves into a dictatorship of the one person "elected by and accountable to the nation as a whole." Despite low poll numbers, many Republicans are still drinking th Bush koolaid, but clearly there are a few who balk at unrestrained executive power, such as Sens. McCain, Graham, and Warner. If the Democrats cannot run on this issue, then they have no hope. And if no one, from either party, can or will resist this, then our way of government and our heritage is in serious jeopardy.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Push-back Against Bush's Tribunal Plan

It was quite a change of course, yesterday, when President Bush suddenly announced that the prisoners held in the secret prisons, whose existence he has to date been denied, now need to be tried in military tribunals as soon as possible. To do so, the president proposes a new set of tribunals, much like the ones struck down by the Supreme Court in the Hamdan decision. With just two months before an election where Republicans risk losing one or both houses of Congress, it was a pretty brazen attempt to deflect attention from all the incompetencies of the Administration and to paint anyone who supports any kind of rule of law as a coward. David Sanger of the New York Times wrote a great piece analyzing the political strategy of the move, which seems as much a power play by the executive against the legislature as it does a play by the GOP against the Democrats.

I was concerned initially that it might work. Yesterday, on the BBC World Service, someone I had never heard of from "Democrats Abroad" gave a wishy-washy response to Bush's play, saying that Democrats weren't against the legislation, but they were. Can't anyone take a stand here on fundamental rule of law?!! Fortunately, someone is, or rather at least three Republican senators are; John McCain, John Warner, and Lindsey Graham. Thus it was a pleasant surprise this morning to open up to see three prominent headlines reading:

Perhaps this time the gambitto marginalize the Democrats won't work because there are still enough good Americans in the GOP and in the military who do not want to marginalize the Constitution. The most succinct rebuttal to Bush's plan, which disallows the accused from seeing classified evidence used to convict and possibly execute them, came from Senator Lindsey Graham, quoted in the article.
"“It would be unacceptable, legally, in my opinion, to give someone the death penalty in a trial where they never heard the evidence against them," said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has played a key role in the drafting of alternative legislation as a member of the Armed Services Committee and a military judge. "“ '‘Trust us, you'’re guilty, we're going to execute you, but we can'’t tell you why'? That'’s not going to pass muster; that'’s not necessary."
Brig, Gen. James C. Walker, the top uniformed lawyer for the Marines, said that no civilized country should deny a defendant the right to see the evidence against him and that the United States "“should not be the first."