That damned inconvenient history

Beautiful quotation from Theodore Roosevelt in today’s Doonesbury. It is perhaps noteworthy that Roosevelt said this in 1918, when he was an ordinary citizen. Are you listening, Mr. Ashcroft?:

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

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“Aid and comfort” rears its ugly head

Free speech must be getting Ashcroft down:

“To those who pit Americans against immigrants, citizens against non-citizens, to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve… They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil.”

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And no, I don’t mean blank checks

Ashcroft finds himself on the stand today before Congress. This is an interesting example of checks & balances in action. Good old Patrick Leahy: even after being an anthrax letter recipient, he can still say things like “I want to make sure after we’re all gone that the Constitution is still here…It’s not always popular upholding the Constitution, but it’s always the right thing to do.”
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Threat or Dissent?

It’s good to know that the war against terrorism is protecting us from protected speech:

“Do you have a warrant?” Brown asked. They did not. “Then you’re not coming in my apartment,” she said. And indeed, they stayed outside her doorway. But they stayed a while–40 minutes, Brown estimates–and gave her a taste of how dissenters can come under scrutiny in wartime.

And all because of a poster on her wall.

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Chilling net access to fight terrorism?

Ok, so it’s unlikely that this is a purposeful move to disenfranchise Somalis who want to communicate their plight with the rest of the world. But this is still one of the scarier headlines I’ve seen lately: US shuts down Somalia internet, says the BBC: “Somalia’s only internet company and a key telecoms business have been forced to close because the United States suspects them of terrorist links.”

The morning civil liberties roundup

Good morning! I have to get some work done this week, so I’m making a pact with you, my reader. I will only write about hideous abuses of power and civil liberties once a day, so I can do it once and then ignore it, and I’ll start tagging those hideous abuses with a special icon, so you can ignore them if you want to. How’s that?

Speaking of civil liberties, my lawyer friend Greg is somewhat fixated on that side of the problem right now. He’s a born blogger, but has never set up one of these sites for himself–that could have something to do with the fact that he’s actually employed ;). He writes,

At The Nation , you can read about a detainee — since that’s what we’re calling them — who died while being held. Well, so much for our first plaintiff …

There’s a great description of the synergies between the new detention, eavesdropping and tribunal rules at Slate, courtesy of Slate magazine’s very own lawyer babe [and wickedly funny writer] Dahlia Lithwick.

Finally, at Findlaw, a link to the most inspiring legal opinion I read during law school — and it just happens to be about a man detained on Ellis Island until he could return home, oh, and don’t mind that he had no country to return to. Read the dissent by Justices Jackson and Frankfurter; search for the clause “Frankfurter joins, dissenting” to find the starting point. The parallels with current times should roll out with the very first sentence.

Even though the detainee lost, it’s cases like that one that remind me of the worth of studying law.

Answering questions about unanswered questions

Good Morning! After yesterday’s chilly 39° to 45° (F) weather, today is a relatively balmy 54° in Boston. A good blogging day; unfortunately I need to study.

I got a couple of good questions about some of the things I’ve written that I wanted to respond to. Michael Terry asks, “What new categories of information or action is the administration keeping secret?” I should have done a bit more link research before posting the pointer in question, covering John Dean’s editorial. Dean was concerned in general about Bush’s “mania for secrecy,” including building an Office of Homeland Security with the authority to classify anything it deems appropriate as top secret.

But in particular he was concerned about Executive Order 13233, Bush’s gutting of the 1978 Presidential Records act (44 U.S.C. 2201-2207) and of Reagan’s 1989 Executive Order 12669 that implemented it. The original act was intended to ensure that presidential records were made public. The new act ostensibly defines a procedure to make the records public. But the devil is in the details. The President or former President may indefinitely review the documents to be made public; during this period the public has no access to the documents. It explicitly gives a sitting President the right to block release of the records of a former President. It extends the protection to the records of the Vice President. It’s interesting that this order was issued now, when there are a lot of people in power who were in office during the Reagan administration.

There was a second question that I will address later. Got to run now.

More voices of dissent

Another commentary on the current administration’s mania for keeping things hidden, this one, ironically, by John Dean III of Watergate fame:

While some secrecy is necessary to fight a war, it is not necessary to run the country. The terrorists will win if they force us to trample our own Constitution.

The Bush administration would do well to remember the admonition of former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his report on government secrecy: ìBehind closed doors, there is no guarantee that the most basic of individual freedoms will be preserved. And as we enter the 21st century, the great fear we have for our democracy is the enveloping culture of government secrecy and the corresponding distrust of government that follows.î

Throwing out the rulebook

Another New York Times editorial, this one from the paper itself, about the erosion of civil liberties and due process being perpetrated in the name of security:

“With the flick of a pen, in this case, Mr. Bush has essentially discarded the rulebook of American justice painstakingly assembled over the course of more than two centuries. In the place of fair trials and due process he has substituted a crude and unaccountable system that any dictator would admire…[At Nuremburg] Robert Jackson, the chief American prosecutor, warned of the danger of tainted justice. ‘To pass those defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our lips as well,’ he said.”

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Seizing the rhetorical high ground

OK, so I feel less bad for having referred to Bush’s speeches about going to war in Afghanistan as ‘The Rhetoric of Failure‘ now that I’ve read Safire’s editorial in the Times today. I’ve talked with a lot of people about the PATRIOT act that got ramrodded through Congress and about the suspension of due process, and I thought I was the only one that was concerned. It’s a bit weird for me to find Safire, a staunch conservative, agreeing with me on this one:

“Misadvised by a frustrated and panic-stricken attorney general, a president of the United States has just assumed what amounts to dictatorial power to jail or execute aliens. Intimidated by terrorists and inflamed by a passion for rough justice, we are letting George W. Bush get away with the replacement of the American rule of law with military kangaroo courts…. No longer does the judicial branch and an independent jury stand between the government and the accused. In lieu of those checks and balances central to our legal system, non-citizens face an executive that is now investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury and jailer or executioner. In an Orwellian twist, Bush’s order calls this Soviet-style abomination “a full and fair trial.”

Call your congressman. It’s time to put the brakes on before this creeping abuse of power gets any worse.
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Post Election News–and Blues

From time to time, even though I call the Commonwealth of Massachusetts my home (for a while longer), I still have to check back in on my one-time home state, Virginia. What I found this morning surprised me.

The Democrats won the governorship in Virginia, but their slim grasp on minority was further eroded in the House of Delegates. Gilmore’s showdown with the GOP-controlled legislature over the budget probably helped Mark Warner win more than anything he did. The irony is, I’m betting Warner can do a better job of working with the Republican legislature than the GOP candidate would.

Actually, Warner’s victory was pretty remarkable. For a guy who’s never been elected to public office, he showed remarkable sensitivity to the views of the electorate. Correctly sensing that Northern Virginia voters would accept a tax increase to fix congested roads is only counterintuitive to someone who’s never lived there. At the same time, he apparently made a pretty successful appeal to the southwest of the state by calling it an “untapped resource” and playing up hunting, bluegrass, and NASCAR.

In other election news, Greg’s candidate is now in a runoff, ensuring his continuing lack of sleep for a little while longer. And I did not vote for the first time since 1990. Not for lack of good intentions, mind you. It’s just that we moved in the spring, I was gone all summer, and I’ve been running since I got back. I never got my voter registration updated to my new address. It’s no excuse: I feel worse about not exercising my right to vote than about anything I’ve done in about ten years. It’s a good lesson to learn, though–you have to make time for what’s important.

Quick updates

Too long a day yesterday to do any blogging. I’m catching up a bit now.

Sitting in Sea-Tac, using a paid wireless connection. It’s amazing how quickly that comes to seem acceptable. I used one in Starbucks earlier.

Word of advice–if you are in Seattle, on the way to the airport, and have a choice between paying for access at Starbucks or at the airport, use the airport access instead. It’s 6.95 for a full day, as compared to $2.95 plus 20 cents a minute…

Not a lot going on. Just getting some work done. Trying not to think about the little insanity that happened in the air over Chicago a few days ago. Or about congressmen finding out that security rules apply to them too.

Or people pulling the comic strip Boondocks because the cartoonist is calling the Reagan-Bush Republicans for supporting Bin Laden during the Afganistan conflict with the Soviet Union in the 80s, and then claiming it’s because “it’s more appropriately discussed in news and opinion pages” than in comic strips.