Tuesday, October 31, 2006

pants on fire? stop, drop + roll

On October 11, I said I wished I had the opportunity to tell the President I believe he is a liar.

The context was that day's Rose Garden press conference in which Mr Bush repeatedly mischaracterized those who oppose his mad adventures in government and military conquest.

I think it's unpresidential to lie about the loyal opposition and I think the Current Occupant has a long history of behaving unpresidentially – both directly and by proxy. I believe a Leader of Substance could and would have put a stop to that behavior long ago. Failing that, I believe Mr Bush can and should put a stop to it now.

Last weekend Mr Bush said (I saw it on television):

"The Democrats in Washington follow a simple philosophy: Just say no.

When it comes to listening in on the terrorists, what's the Democratic answer? Just say no.

When it comes to detaining terrorists, what's the Democrat answer?"

And crowd chimed in: "Just say no!"

"So when the Democrats ask for your vote on Nov. 7, what are you going to say?"

"Just say no!" the audience replied less forcefully, thrown off by the President's syntax.

Beyond the misdemeanor of blowing the punch line, what the President said was simply, plainly false - what the adult supervision likes to characterize as a series of carefully considered lies.

Mr Bush's pants are on fire. If he won't stop, drop + roll, we will have to throw a blanket over him and smother the flames.

We can't fix everything he's broken in a single move but, remarkably I think, we can restore the balance of powers in US government by the single act of voting-in a Congress that will dedicate itself to holding the Executive accountable for his behavior in office while behaving in a superlative manner themselves.

The people who oppose this President's aberrant behavior want him to straighten up and fly right. I hope the number of voters who insist that he do so reaches the critical mass of 51% in every state on November 7.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

send a Democrat to Washington Nov 7

Please help send a Democrat to Washington next week.

If you don't like how it turns out you can bring him or her home next time.

This time we need Members of Congress who understand their mandate includes government oversight – just like in the Constitution!

Monday, October 23, 2006

turnabout and the new Congress

"We haven't had any oversight hearings in six years, except for cheerleading sessions," said Rep. Pete Stark of California, who is in line to chair the House health subcommittee should Democrats become a majority.

"Over the years," writes Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman, "majority Republicans have developed an all-purpose reply to Democrats' gripes: When they gain control, they can run Congress as they please."

Two things worth noting from where I sit West of the 101 in California:

1. There has to be a Demcratic majority before anything changes substantively. Which means getting out the vote come hell or high water to put people in the House and Senate who will initiate oversite hearings in earnest. I can imagine the Current Occupant standing before a stacked house on November 8 saying something like, "The American people have retained a Republican majority in the Congress; I have some political capital now and I intend to spend it." In which case, God help us all -- and I really mean that.

So, vote first and no champagne until the ballots are certified.

2. Turnabout is not fair play. This Congress and those immediately preceding it have been models of what not to wear in the halls of government. Should we in fact deliver a Democratic majority to Capitol Hill only to have them behave as poorly as the Republicans have behaved we will sooner than later face a different version of the same awful mess we're in.

This is not about that. This is about fixing what's broken, not leaving it broken in a different way.

This may be an opportune time to read or review Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them wherein he reminds us of the liberal conscience that has over the years attracted skeptical folk like me. Mr Franken doesn't have to run for the Senate if he keeps delivering funny, reasonable on our political lives.

Just a thought on the way to the polls two weeks from now . . .

Friday, October 20, 2006

David Kuo blows the whistle on the White House

In his compelling Time Magazine piece, Why a Christian in the White House Felt Betrayed, former Deputy Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, David Kuo writes:
Then the questions began. "Since the President brought up money, where, exactly is that money?" asked one pastor. "We've talked to the Cabinet Secretaries, and they say there isn't any new money." They peppered him with questions for several minutes. Finally he smiled at them and said, "Tell you what, I'm going to get those guys in a room and bash some heads together and get to the bottom of this. I'll be back in touch with you." He left confidently.

At the meeting's end, several of the pastors said they wanted to pray for my healing. They placed their hands on my shoulder and called on God to hear their prayers on my behalf. I listened and loved it and said a prayer of my own: that I would have the courage to tell them what was really going on at the White House.

That was more than three years ago. Their prayers have worked on my body. I am still here and very much alive. Now I am finding the courage to speak out about God and politics and their dangerous dance. George W. Bush, the man, is a person of profound faith and deep compassion for those who suffer. But President George W. Bush is a politician and is ultimately no different from any other politician, content to use religion for electoral gain more than for good works. Millions of Evangelicals may share Bush's faith, but they would protect themselves--and their interests--better if they looked at him through the same coldly political lens with which he views them.

MSNBC's Countdown got a prerelease copy of Kuo's book by walking into a bookstore and asking to buy one . . . Who knew? On October 13 Countdown producer Jonathan Larsen wrote:
. . . the Bush administration often promoted the faith-based agenda by claiming that existing government regulations were too restrictive on religious organizations seeking to serve the public.

Substantiating that claim proved difficult, Kuo says. “Finding these examples became a huge priority.… If President Bush was making the world a better place for faith-based groups, we had to show it was really a bad place to begin with. But, in fact, it wasn’t that bad at all.”
In fact, when Bush asks Kuo how much money was being spent on “compassion” social programs, Kuo claims he discovered the amount was $20 million a year less than during the Clinton Administration.

How rich.

God knows these people are not the first to have hocked their souls for the promise of political power. But they're the ones we're talking about now – and they are certainly no better – or even all that different – from progressives, liberals, moderates and conservatives who walked this path before.

Saying this particular set come across as more sanctimonious than others like them may only be saying they come across as more sanctimonious to me. No news there. We are what we are. But if we're even a little bit right about the goodness of God, it's barely begun to dawn on anyone what we will be when we come face to face with our maker.

That's then. Now we have an ugly mess to clean up. We might begin with Andrew Sullivan's advice:
Memo to faithful [insert any theological persuasion you like]: you get entangled with Caesar and you'll regret it. Conflate politics with religion and you do mortal damage to both.

The operative word is entangledthat's what got evangelicals in trouble with this Administration. Engagement on the other hand means everything in politics (and, come to think of it, even more in the life of faith).

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Military Commissions Act of 2006 | Two Centuries of American Democracy Undone with the Stroke of a Pen

Tonight it's official: Mr Bush signed into law the Military Commissions Act of 2006 passed by the 109th Congress — and with the stroke a his pen gave the terrorists a significant victory. The effect of this law increases presidential power to operate in secret and without checks and balances by the Congress or the courts in ways that have been steadfastly rejected by Americans through 217 years, 108 Congresses and 42 presidents. A few notes on the text, and a word after . . .

The President now has the authority personally and through tribunals appointed by him or the Secretary of Defense to hold and try unlawful enemy combatants.
(1) UNLAWFUL ENEMY COMBATANT- (A) The term `unlawful enemy combatant' means--
`(i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces); or
`(ii) a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense.
– ec. 948a. Definitions

Though elsewhere designated as individuals who are not US citizens, this definition is broad enough to include anyone on the planet.

`(d) Inapplicability of Certain Provisions- (1) The following provisions of this title shall not apply to trial by military commission under this chapter:
`(A) Section 810 (article 10 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice), relating to speedy trial, including any rule of courts-martial relating to speedy trial.
`(B) Sections 831(a), (b), and (d) (articles 31(a), (b), and (d) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice), relating to compulsory self-incrimination.
`(g) Geneva Conventions Not Establishing Source of Rights- No alien unlawful enemy combatant subject to trial by military commission under this chapter may invoke the Geneva Conventions as a source of rights.
–`Sec. 948b. Military commissions generally

This law explicitly takes exception to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the international conventions signed by the US at Geneva on August 12, 1949. In particular, this law suspends the legal requirement for a speedy trial and the rules regarding torture as a means of obtaining self-incriminating statements. The military is hereby permitted to hold people indefinitely and use nonlethal force to extract confessions.
(c) Determination of Unlawful Enemy Combatant Status Dispositive- A finding, whether before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense that a person is an unlawful enemy combatant is dispositive for purposes of jurisdiction for trial by military commission under this chapter.
`(d) Punishments- A military commission under this chapter may, under such limitations as the Secretary of Defense may prescribe, adjudge any punishment not forbidden by this chapter, including the penalty of death when authorized under this chapter or the law of war.
– `Sec. 948d. Jurisdiction of military commissions

Under this law, if a tribunal rules that someone is an unlawful enemy combatant, that's that. No challenge. No review. No oversight. No repercussions.
`Military commissions under this chapter may be convened by the Secretary of Defense or by any officer or official of the United States designated by the Secretary for that purpose.
–`Sec. 948h. Who may convene military commissions
`(a) In General- Any commissioned officer of the armed forces on active duty is eligible to serve on a military commission under this chapter.
`(b) Detail of Members- When convening a military commission under this chapter, the convening authority shall detail as members of the commission such members of the armed forces eligible under subsection (a), as in the opinion of the convening authority, are best qualified for the duty by reason of age, education, training, experience, length of service, and judicial temperament. No member of an armed force is eligible to serve as a member of a military commission when such member is the accuser or a witness for the prosecution or has acted as an investigator or counsel in the same case.
`(c) Excuse of Members- Before a military commission under this chapter is assembled for the trial of a case, the convening authority may excuse a member from participating in the case.
– `Sec. 948i. Who may serve on military commissions

The Secretary of Defense can under this law designate anyone in the government to convene a military commission. The one who convenes a military commission may under this law excuse any member of the commission for any reason from participating in a case. Another word for excuse might be exclude.
`(c) Statements Obtained Before Enactment of Detainee Treatment Act of 2005- A statement obtained before December 30, 2005 (the date of the enactment of the Defense Treatment Act of 2005) in which the degree of coercion is disputed may be admitted only if the military judge finds that--
`(1) the totality of the circumstances renders the statement reliable and possessing sufficient probative value; and
`(2) the interests of justice would best be served by admission of the statement into evidence.
`(d) Statements Obtained After Enactment of Detainee Treatment Act of 2005- A statement obtained on or after December 30, 2005 (the date of the enactment of the Defense Treatment Act of 2005) in which the degree of coercion is disputed may be admitted only if the military judge finds that--
`(1) the totality of the circumstances renders the statement reliable and possessing sufficient probative value;
`(2) the interests of justice would best be served by admission of the statement into evidence; and
`(3) the interrogation methods used to obtain the statement do not amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment prohibited by section 1003 of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.
– `Sec. 948r. Compulsory self-incrimination prohibited; treatment of statements obtained by torture and other statements

In general, the introduction into evidence of self-incriminating statements obtained by torture is discouraged — however such evidence is not prohibited.
`(E)(i) Except as provided in clause (ii), hearsay evidence not otherwise admissible under the rules of evidence applicable in trial by general courts-martial may be admitted in a trial by military commission if the proponent of the evidence makes known to the adverse party, sufficiently in advance to provide the adverse party with a fair opportunity to meet the evidence, the intention of the proponent to offer the evidence, and the particulars of the evidence (including information on the general circumstances under which the evidence was obtained). The disclosure of evidence under the preceding sentence is subject to the requirements and limitations applicable to the disclosure of classified information in section 949j(c) of this title.
– `Sec. 949a. Rules

Hearsay evidence that would ordinarily be excluded under the law is, under this law, permitted.
`(2) The military judge may close to the public all or a portion of the proceedings under paragraph (1) only upon making a specific finding that such closure is necessary to--
`(A) protect information the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the national security, including intelligence or law enforcement sources, methods, or activities; or
`(B) ensure the physical safety of individuals.
– `Sec. 949d. Sessions

The military judge may at his or her discretion make secret the proceedings of a military commission.
`(1) NATIONAL SECURITY PRIVILEGE- (A) Classified information shall be protected and is privileged from disclosure if disclosure would be detrimental to the national security. The rule in the preceding sentence applies to all stages of the proceedings of military commissions under this chapter.
`(B) The privilege referred to in subparagraph (A) may be claimed by the head of the executive or military department or government agency concerned based on a finding by the head of that department or agency that--
`(i) the information is properly classified; and
`(ii) disclosure of the information would be detrimental to the national security.
`(C) A person who may claim the privilege referred to in subparagraph (A) may authorize a representative, witness, or trial counsel to claim the privilege and make the finding described in subparagraph (B) on behalf of such person. The authority of the representative, witness, or trial counsel to do so is presumed in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
– (f) Protection of Classified Information
`(B) PROTECTION OF SOURCES, METHODS, OR ACTIVITIES- The military judge, upon motion of trial counsel, shall permit trial counsel to introduce otherwise admissible evidence before the military commission, while protecting from disclosure the sources, methods, or activities by which the United States acquired the evidence if the military judge finds that (i) the sources, methods, or activities by which the United States acquired the evidence are classified, and (ii) the evidence is reliable. The military judge may require trial counsel to present to the military commission and the defense, to the extent practicable and consistent with national security, an unclassified summary of the sources, methods, or activities by which the United States acquired the evidence.
`(C) ASSERTION OF NATIONAL SECURITY PRIVILEGE AT TRIAL- During the examination of any witness, trial counsel may object to any question, line of inquiry, or motion to admit evidence that would require the disclosure of classified information. Following such an objection, the military judge shall take suitable action to safeguard such classified information. Such action may include the review of trial counsel's claim of privilege by the military judge in camera and on an ex parte basis, and the delay of proceedings to permit trial counsel to consult with the department or agency concerned as to whether the national security privilege should be asserted.
`(3) CONSIDERATION OF PRIVILEGE AND RELATED MATERIALS- A claim of privilege under this subsection, and any materials submitted in support thereof, shall, upon request of the Government, be considered by the military judge in camera and shall not be disclosed to the accused.
`(4) ADDITIONAL REGULATIONS- The Secretary of Defense may prescribe additional regulations, consistent with this subsection, for the use and protection of classified information during proceedings of military commissions under this chapter. A report on any regulations so prescribed, or modified, shall be submitted to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives not later than 60 days before the date on which such regulations or modifications, as the case may be, go into effect.

The source, method of acquisition and substance of evidence against the accused may be declared privileged as a matter of national security in which case the accused may be prohibited from responding to evidence presented as fact in the case. This might be called the "If we told you, we'd have to kill you" clause.

On 60 days notice, the Secretary of Defense may change the rules regarding privileged national security information by notifying the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in writing.
`The punishment which a military commission under this chapter may direct for an offense may not exceed such limits as the President or Secretary of Defense may prescribe for that offense.
– `Sec. 949t. Maximum limits

The President or Secretary of Defense establish the limits of punishment for offenses under this law.
(a) In General- Under such regulations as the Secretary of Defense may prescribe, a sentence of confinement adjudged by a military commission under this chapter may be carried into execution by confinement--
`(1) in any place of confinement under the control of any of the armed forces; or
`(2) in any penal or correctional institution under the control of the United States or its allies, or which the United States may be allowed to use.
– `Sec. 949u. Execution of confinement

`(c) Action by Convening Authority- (1) The authority under this subsection to modify the findings and sentence of a military commission under this chapter is a matter of the sole discretion and prerogative of the convening authority.
– `Sec. 950b. Review by the convening authority

The convening authority – the President, Secretary of Defense or a designee – is empowered under this law to override the findings and outcomes of military commissions at his or her sole discretion. This gives the convening authority the leverage to cut deals with those convicted by military commissions.
`(a) Finality- The appellate review of records of trial provided by this chapter, and the proceedings, findings, and sentences of military commissions as approved, reviewed, or affirmed as required by this chapter, are final and conclusive. Orders publishing the proceedings of military commissions under this chapter are binding upon all departments, courts, agencies, and officers of the United States, except as otherwise provided by the President.
`(b) Provisions of Chapter Sole Basis for Review of Military Commission Procedures and Actions- Except as otherwise provided in this chapter and notwithstanding any other provision of law (including section 2241 of title 28 or any other habeas corpus provision), no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any claim or cause of action whatsoever, including any action pending on or filed after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, relating to the prosecution, trial, or judgment of a military commission under this chapter, including challenges to the lawfulness of procedures of military commissions under this chapter.
– `Sec. 950j. Finality or proceedings, findings, and sentences

The President is in this regard more or less declared King just 217 years after the US Constitution launched the grand experiment we still – albeit somewhat cynically – call American Democracy. Not that his power is absolute but that it is unchallenged and unchecked when it comes to the dispensation of justice in anything he can construe as the war on terror. In that singular change we have become what we declared unlawful and unacceptable in 1776, fought against until 1783 and carefully designed our Constitution to prevent in 1789. Our oppressors and enemies in that conflict followed us into the spirit of that new social covenant. The US Constititution changed the game.

Now this President and Congress have changed it back and 74 million Baby Boomers failed to stop them. This is what The Big Chill looks like.

I suspect our passivity about this when it was right in front of us may prove to be my generation's most enduring public failure (I certainly hope it doesn't get worse than this but more on that later). I fear this failure will take a very long time to correct. I recommend we get started November 7, 2006 by sending a cohort to the 110th Congress who will begin the process of restoring the Constitutional separation of powers and mending the breach between the US and our allies – indeed to mend the breach between what we dreamed and what we are becoming.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

pants on fire

i'm listening to the president's press conference going on as I write.

I wish I had the opportunity to say to his face, "Mr Bush, I believe you are a liar. Prove me wrong."

I've read the Bible; I know what it says about liars . . .

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

we can do better

Heidi wrote:
I had a hmmmmmm this morning. Like many I have been bothered by the lack of democratic muster. I thought maybe it was because they are afraid that if they win the house and the senate this year, that in two years they might have to share some of the blame for how screwed up the country will be before presidential elections?? But if they are a no show at this election the GOP will have to shoulder all of that on their own?

I've found myself staring at the other side of that coin. Was the flurry of congressional insanity a couple of weeks ago a cynical acknowledgement that:

1) substantial portions of the new laws will be rejected by the judicial branch anyway but that in turn

2) positions the old guard to brand Democrats as soft on terrorism in the roll up to 2008 (assuming a significant redistribution of House and Senate seats in the new year).

Is this paranoid?

I find appealing Thomas Friedman's wish that both the House and Senate might go to the Democrats by a one-vote margin so as to ensure everyone has to put in an honest day's work at governance.

We don't need a coup; we need a restoration. We have done better than what we've done the last dozen years and we can do better again.

Monday, October 09, 2006

i can't believe . . .

From J.P.

Homebound today from the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention in Austin Texas. More on that later . . .

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

the old and the angry

My old friend Sid asked what happened to the good-humored guy (meaning me) he enjoyed hanging out with in the 90s.

My answer is, that guy is searching for something to be good-humored about.

I'm not totally lacking in joy but it is measured against the pain of watching somewhat helplessly as my country reboots - forgetting many, perhaps most, of the core values that made it more than a continental placeholder.

The beauty of the internet in general and the blog in particular is nobody (even well-meaning friends who wish I would make them laugh like I used to) can shut me up. They can tune me out, of course, but here I am, writing as if someone were reading.

I'll take a swing at making my friends laugh again but right now I'm angry about the hijacking of America and there's just not anything funny about that.

I've been watching somewhat helplessly, but not completely. With any luck my grumbling will drive someone to the polls for the first time. I'll be there; casting my useless vote against someone I regard as a party hack in an overwhelmingly Republican congressional district (against him as much as for the earnest, inexperienced Democrat on the other side of the ticket). Because, who knows? Maybe my vote will align with a bunch of the neighbors who feel like I do about the need for at least one chamber of Congress to resist and reverse this Administration's insatiable lust to appear right when they are so clearly wrong about so much.

I believe I'll be back. Maybe soon. Anger and the vote are a potent medicinal cocktail.

The power of righteous vexation is what keeps so many old Democrats hanging on in nursing homes long past the time they should have kicked off. Ancient crones from FDR's time are still walking the halls, kept alive by anger at what has been done to our country. Old conservationists, feminists, grizzled veterans of the civil rights era fight off melanoma, emphysema, Montezuma, thanks to the miracle drug of anger. Slackers and cynics abound, not to mention nihilists in golf pants and utter idiots. Time to clean some clocks. As Frost might have written, "The woods are lovely, dark and thick. But I have many butts to kick and some to poke and just one stick."
— Garrison Keillor, Miracle Drug of Anger, Salon.com, 10.04.06

There's still time to register . . .

Sunday, October 01, 2006

America reboots: three in a series . . .

Reboot (continuity)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Reboot, in series fiction, means to discard all previous continuity in the series and start anew. Effectively, all previously-known history is declared by the writer to be null and void and the series starts over from the beginning. It is analogous to the process of rebooting a computer, clearing out all working memory and reloading the operating system from scratch; neglecting offline storage, none of the previous session's activities have any bearing on the product of the current session, except in the memory of the operator (writer).