Shadow government

The New York Times: 60 Feet Under. Maureen Dowd makes some good points here and gets some great zingers:

“Mr. Cheney is Lord of the Rings, ruling over his very own Moria, an underground kingdom of bureaucratic hobbits and orcs….

Without Democrats or journalists, the underground executive branch can operate the way the real executive branch would like to, and frequently does — without a lot of second-guessing, Freedom of Information Act requests, complaints from civil libertarians and attention to the rights of Marin County hot-tubbers.

Nothing will be transcribed. So there will be no reason to clean up the language in President Bush’s transcripts, as the White House has done routinely since 9/11.”

Interesting question. We’ve always assumed that we get full access to the running of our government, with the exception of stuff that we really don’t want to know about (national security). There’s the rub–this administration thinks everything it does is “national security.” And it doesn’t want to share anything with the people’s representatives in the Congress, either.

Maybe Tom Daschle should talk to Bill Clinton, who came back from being made almost irrelevant by Newt Gingrich. He might have some advice on how to restore checks and balances on a political power hellbent on eliminating them.

GAO vs. White House over Enron: Bets, folks?

My wife: “This should be very interesting. Someone’s career is probably over.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, was named Walker v. Cheney. Walker is David M. Walker, the U.S. Comptroller General and head of the General Accounting Office of Congress. Cheney is Richard B. Cheney, the vice president and head of the administration’s energy task force, the focus of the litigation.


A fuller context for that quotation

A more complete version and a citation for the quotation I just posted, courtesy the Bully Pulpit:

” The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. 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. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.”
“Lincoln and Free Speech” in The Great Adventure – vol. 19 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt New York: Scribner’s, 1926 Chapter 7, p.289


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.”


“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.”


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.”

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.


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