|May 30, 2013||The Agitator #74 - The Constitution||22 comments|
|May 23, 2013||The Agitator #73 - The faux media scandal||1 comments|
|May 15, 2013||The Agitator #72 - The IRS||2 comments|
|May 06, 2013||The Agitator #71 - Guantanamo||1 comments|
|April 26, 2013||The Agitator #70||2 comments|
|April 19, 2013||The Agitator #69||2 comments|
|April 11, 2013||The Agitator #68||1 comments|
|April 05, 2013||The Agitator #67||2 comments|
|March 27, 2013||The Agitator #66||no comments|
|March 21, 2013||The Agitator #65||no comments|
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting incident last December created a plethora of opinions concerning gun rights and the Second Amendment and all sorts of proposed legislation, such as lifting some of the exceptions to background checks. I don’t recall in my lifetime the volume of commentary, media stories, and coffee group discussions about this subject. The special interest groups were out in full force, especially the NRA, as they poured money into political campaign funds to ensure that their interpretation of the Second Amendment carried the day.
Since the most recent debates on the Second Amendment, there have been other constitutional questions to arise, and it has been especially interesting to observe how conservatives don’t seem to view other amendments with the same reverence. Several examples come to mind. One concerns the First Amendment and the Establishment Clause. When Ed Buckner, a strong and vocal advocate of religious freedom protested the placing of Bibles in state operated lodging facilities, he was condemned for bashing Christians. Yet the neutral role of the state concerning religious matters protects all beliefs, and one can only wonder if the same Christians who denounced Buckner would have a problem if the state placed a Koran in every state-run hotel room, even at no cost to the state. It’s also interesting to note how conservatives fall back on the understanding of the Founding Fathers, as though they spoke with one voice, yet they don’t recognize Thomas Jefferson as a Founding Father when it comes to his 1802 letter to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptists in which he described the “Wall of Separation” between church and state.
Then there is Lois Lerner, the IRS official who was subpoenaed to testify by a congressional committee. The Attorney General had already announced that the Justice Department was conducting a criminal investigation into the IRS for targeting conservative groups for special scrutiny when Lerner had the audacity, on advice of counsel to take the Fifth Amendment and not testify. From the denunciations on reactionary talk radio you would have thought that Lerner was a communist for daring to exercise a right under the same Bill of Rights that the Second Amendment can be found. One congressman said that he would consider holding Lerner in contempt, never mind that he would not offer Lerner immunity for her testimony, which is standard procedure for compelling a witness to testify.
Locally was the recent indictment of state representative Tyrone Brooks. Brooks, another audacious American, dared to invoke his right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment. And even worse, Brooks had the temerity to retain former Governor Roy Barnes to defend him. It doesn’t get more un-American than that to some people’s warped vision of the Constitution. One anonymous blogger underneath the MDJ story described Barnes as a “lawyer scumbag who protects other scumbags.” Another anonymous blogger wrote that Barnes “was just as crooked as (Brooks) was.” Again, the presumption of innocence, the right to counsel, and requiring the state to meet its burden of proof means nothing to many who call themselves “constitutionalists.”
Surprisingly, or maybe not, a local group that proclaims itself as defender of the Constitution and the rights it affords, didn’t utter a single word in the three instances I cited. Perhaps the group’s political agenda doesn’t fit with unpopular people who exercise their rights. My educated guess is that those who denounce others for exercising their constitutional rights, often the same denouncers who think there is only one amendment, are usually the quickest to discover and claim their other rights when it involves them personally. And that’s the way it should be--despite the utter hypocrisy. All of our rights are sacred even if one’s cause just happens to be unpopular, and all those rights should be defended and protected.
It has been a surprise and revelation how much love the media has suddenly acquired, especially from the reactionaries. Up until now the only comments that come to mind from them have related to how they carry the water for Obama (Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and countless other liberals), that they don’t report real news, that unlike Fox, which is “fair and balanced”, the liberal media outlets have any number of agendas, and on and on and on.
It wasn’t that long ago that the New York Times was reviled for publishing stories that some considered breaches of national security. Does the name Julian Assange, the self-proclaimed journalist come to mind and the classified information that was reported by the NYT and other media outlets? The usual cries of treason were shouted out, some demanding criminal prosecutions of reporters and publishers. The outrage is usually very selective, though. Consider too the leaks surrounding the disclosure of Valerie Plame identifying her as a CIA officer. Since she was married to Joe Wilson, an enemy of the Bush administration, there was no outcry demanding that the leak be found and prosecuted Judith Miller of the NYT went to jail for contempt when she refused to reveal her source that identified Plame as a CIA officer. I don’t remember that the new defender of the press, Rush Limbaugh, ever offered to bail Miller out of jail. What I do recall is how he minimized any potential harm to the sources she cultivated in dangerous places.
What is amazing is the lack of understanding of what freedom of the press means. It illustrates another example of how the words of the Constitution most often do not reveal the intent of the Founding Fathers to cover every situation. What does the First Amendment mean when it says that congress shall make no law abridging freedom of the press? Nowhere does the First Amendment mention the “public’s right to know.” Is that not just an interpretation, something implied? Is a reporter exempt from prosecution for conspiring with a government official to reveal classified information because of the public’s interest in a given story? Who gets to decide what is in the public’s interest? Why would a reporter be given immunity but not any other American who has an interest in learning government secrets? With today’s internet should not every American be able to claim some journalistic license? Since when is it not a crime to conspire with someone else to commit a crime, in this instance a reporter conspiring with a government source to provide classified information to an unauthorized person?
The Constitution certainly doesn’t provide for such immunity, but to listen to the new defenders of the First Amendment you would think that they either have it or should have it. I personally support a shield law that would protect the media from disclosing its sources except in specifically defined situations. But that is not the law, and the congress has repeatedly voted down any shield law legislation. Some have argued that the Justice Department violated its own rules by not first giving the AP an opportunity to review the subpoena. But there is no law that requires such notice, and the Supreme Court ruled in a 1970s case involving the IRS that an individual has no legal claim against a government agency violating its own in-house rules. In that case an IRS agent failed to provide Miranda warnings under IRS guidelines that were not required by law because there was no custodial situation. The taxpayer made statements that were used against him, and after conviction he tried to fall back on the IRS guidelines to no avail.
We are a nation of laws, and I believe not only in the rule of law, but that if we selectively apply laws because we don’t like one or another of them, we are heading towards anarchy. I have my own favorite laws that I think are outrageous and absurd, but as long as they were duly passed and not overturned by a court, I readily submit to them. Working for change is how to oppose bad legislation. I hate the tax code, and aside from the IRS penalties for failure to conform, these detestable laws and regulations happen to be lawfully in place. For that reason I pay what the government says I owe. The exaggerated fears that the Obama administration is going for you or your neighbor next is grossly overstated. The system is working as it should with congressional hearings (despite all the posturing for the cameras) that may result in needed legislation.
Partisan politics is keeping the Benghazi controversy on the front page, but in time with all the investigations and committee hearings the American people should know, as much as it’s possible to know, what happened, what went wrong, what could or could not have been prevented, and other related issues. And while Fox News can be counted on to carry this story until at least 2014, if not 2016, in my opinion the much bigger event is how the IRS targeted conservative groups, such as different tea parties that sought a lawful tax exempt status.
What makes this latest IRS scandal so egregious is that it is hardly the first time that politicians or bureaucrats have singled out their enemies, dissidents, or disfavored groups for “special” tax treatment. Recall that Nixon’s enemies list included journalists, political opponents and almost anyone of prominence that disagreed with one or another of the president’s policies. It seems that every few years history repeats itself, and the weapon of choice to destroy your opponent is the heavy hand of the IRS. And it is as effective as it is scary. At least in this instance there isn’t a scintilla of evidence that the president knew anything about what some renegade IRS officials apparently decided to do on their own.
Anyone who has been on the IRS merry-go-round knows how time consuming, costly and difficult it is to get off it. I’m sure that we can all count on the usual platitudes coming from our elected officials about the abuse of power, how they are going to introduce legislation to prevent future occurrences, and on and on with the same blather. And this blather is a first cousin of the never ending promises of tax reform. One of the reasons for the latest scandal is the complexity of the tax code. The endless paperwork and labyrinthine regulations make it easy for a power hungry bureaucrat to frustrate an applicant for some kind of tax break. For the ordinary working stiffs that have every good intention of paying what they owe, how often do they get caught up in some official’s scrutiny for reasons that will probably never be known? The oppressive paperwork of compliance with the tax code is by itself reason enough to get rid of it. Simplicity alone would go a long way toward many more people paying their taxes, but each year the IRS regulations grow by hundreds of additional pages providing a full employment bill for tax accountants and lawyers.
I wish I had an answer for how to get our elected officials to begin a serious discussion about creating a whole new tax code that is simple for everyone. But as long as special interests are willing to fund political campaigns to preserve their tax breaks, what you will get from your elected official is the usual rhetoric of how it’s time to throw out the current tax code coupled with all sorts of talk about a fair tax, flat tax, consumption tax, and other ideas. Crowds get worked up, scream “right on”, leave filled with some hope, and end up with nothing. As long as these same political folks can keep the people’s attention diverted over Benghazi and other such controversies, the shell game will continue as the ball of tax reform remains out of sight.
The president has stated again that he wants to close the Guantanamo prison, that it is costly, and makes the U.S. look bad in the eyes of the rest of world. He campaigned on this promise in 2008 but could not get enough votes to see it through. Here’s hoping that this time he has better success.
I’ve not seen the figures associated with operating the prison facility, but I have read that it is expensive because of its remote location, the need to fly everyone in and out that has a reason to be there, supplying the logistics to operate the facility, and more. In these times of budget constraints we should consider these costs and ask ourselves if they can be justified. For all the talk about money being cut from the Pentagon and national defense, this is a savings that makes sense. I would much prefer to see the savings diverted to the Pentagon’s more immediate needs.
The argument I hear most for keeping Guantanamo open is that the prisoners are too dangerous to keep locked up on the mainland. There isn’t a scintilla of evidence to support it. These prisoners could be very safely lodged in any one of the maximum security facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. I am unaware of a single escape from a federal maximum security prison over the past fifty years or more. Another argument is that somehow these inmates, who have been convicted of nothing, are more dangerous than our own homegrown variety. It’s not worth responding to such nonsense. I can only say that a handful of Islamic adherents, some of whom might very well be dangerous, would be no match for most of the hardcore residents of these institutions. In fact, their lives would be exponentially worse than Guantanamo because they would no longer be surrounded by their fellow countrymen. They would also discover that U.S. prison conditions are much harsher than at Guantanamo.
Any number of the Guantanamo detainees have been held for years without the benefit of basic due process. I wonder how many are there because a neighbor, ex-spouse, personal enemy, et al, took advantage of an opportunity to fabricate phony allegations. I saw this after 9/11 right here in the USA. The FBI call center received countless calls from people out to settle personal scores. At least the people being accused went through different levels of filtering to ensure that the criminal justice system wasn’t used for someone’s idea of getting revenge. I wonder if any doubters would feel differently if they or one of their family members visiting or working in a foreign country was arrested and detained indefinitely based on false allegations, and to compound it, could not get any kind of due process hearing. Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that every major convicted terrorist in this country has pled guilty or been convicted after a trial in federal court---and received a very long sentence. There hasn’t been a single incident of attempted escape or some kind of terrorist action to impede the process. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen, but I think over the years our law enforcement agencies have learned a lot about security. Our courts are a model of fairness to the world. We have always kept them open to the public so that those interested can not only follow the proceedings, but serve as guarantors through the media and First Amendment that the system works as it should.
Secret trials and proceedings out of view of the public have no place under our Constitution and open government. One of the reasons so many people have immigrated to the United States is because of our openness, our lack of fear to show our strengths and weaknesses to the whole world. Keeping Guantanamo open works against everything that we as Americans believe in. This should not be a political issue; it is one of the things that defines us as Americans, who we are, and what our values are.
I never ceased to be amazed at how a crisis produces the best and the worst in humans. As I wrote last week, all the regional rivalries and politics were put aside to come together as one America. The guardians of respective law enforcement turfs joined forces and brought the Boston bombing case to a quick and successful resolution. For a brief period in time things couldn’t get any better.
As the case drew to a close, at least in identifying and apprehending the one remaining subject, things returned to normal. I got a kick out of one conservative radio talk show host with his usual union bashing. What he probably didn’t realize is that the Boston Police Department, like most police departments in the northeast, is unionized. The union bashers usually hurl insults at the unionized workers with pejoratives of how lazy they are, that they are underworked and overpaid, can’t be fired, etc. (To be clear I am well aware of union abuses, most now in the past and which needed to be corrected. The pendulum of power had drifted too far at one point to the unions advantage, but that same pendulum has swung in the other direction in our history too, and is in that direction now---a subject for another blog.) Can anyone say that the police officers in Boston acted with anything less than full professionalism despite being unionized?
Then there was the conservative talk show host with absolutely no background in law enforcement, the study of law, or experience with the criminal justice system, who condemned the “liberals”, “lefties”, ACLU and anyone else who had a problem with not giving the surviving terrorist Miranda warnings. Most criminals in the custody of law enforcement waive their rights. Surprisingly, even thugs experienced with the system will very commonly waive their rights. As I write this I understand that the Boston terrorist asked for a lawyer after he was giving Miranda warnings. What I am unclear about is whether those warnings were given to him by the magistrate judge at the hospital at the terrorist’s initial appearance. While we don’t really know how much the terrorist has revealed, we do know that a very strong prosecutable case can be made without a peep from him. We also know from a very thorough investigation by the FBI, CIA, and other law enforcement agencies if these two terrorists had any sponsorship from foreign countries or al –Qaida.
The same “expert” on Miranda and the Obama administration’s failure to understand the law in this area, also argued that the terrorist should be water-boarded and tried by a military tribunal. What he doesn’t know is that the federal courts have dished out justice far harsher than the tribunals have to date, and that the trials have occurred much more swiftly. As for his advocacy of water-boarding I have to wonder how he considers himself such a great American with his disregard for using torture as a legitimate technique to get information. I know many out there don’t consider it torture, but I do and have seen it done when I went through survival school. A local journalist once wrote that he did not consider water-boarding torture. I found a half dozen people who offered to pony up $10 each, after the first two seconds, for each second he could hold out undergoing the treatment. I even suggested that we make it a big news event so that he could prove that it wasn’t torture. He declined.
We need perspective on what happened in Boston. I am all in favor of executing anyone who plants bombs or engages in mass murders of any kind. But I also believe that if we are to call ourselves a nation of laws, a nation that has been the envy of the world because we do follow the rule of law, then we must never stoop to the tactics of the evildoers and ignore one of the things that has made our country so great. I might add that the Waco, TX ammonia plant explosion that occurred the same day as the Boston bombings killed far more people and did exponentially more property damage. I heard not one peep from the same radio pundits about how safety regulations were seemingly not observed, and that no inspections had occurred for years. I guess it’s because safety regulations kill jobs, not people.
The Boston Marathon bombing showed the worst that could happen in a free society, and it highlighted the best in Americans---the first responders, all those who immediately jumped in to help the injured at the risk to their own lives because of the possibility of other bombs, the doctors and medical staffs, and so much more. Watching all the law enforcement resources and expertise come together to find the perpetrator(s) was truly amazing. And from coast to coast, border to border, Americans were all Bostonians. I’m not sure that any other country with the geographical differences and political rivalries like the United States has a record of uniting during a time of crisis. The Kaiser, Hitler, Tojo, and many others found out when they tested the resolve of Americans.
Regardless of who or what group committed this bombing, we will soon be faced with another issue because of similar terrorist acts over the decades. That issue is the loss of freedoms that we still enjoy that could be sacrificed on the altar of safety and security. I recall a former congressman giving a speech about this conflict, and a person in the audience challenged the speaker saying that he would rather give up his freedoms to live without fear of some random attack. I wonder how many Americans feel that way. I certainly don’t. Over a lifetime we have been like the frog that is slowly boiled to death without realizing it. I recall the days when people actually used cash for most things. In any number of establishments today you are looked at like you have three heads if you offer to pay cash. And depending on the circumstances, paying cash might generate an IRS or law enforcement inquiry. Suspicious Transaction Reports that banks and other institutions file with the government can have an individual playing defense if an inquiry is begun. Every phone call, text, and email can be retrieved. GPS systems can reveal a lot of personal information. Credit card payments leave a detailed history of purchases. And on and on and on.
So what does all this mean? My guess is that there will be some legislators who will try to get laws passed that will further restrict our freedom. I can see the day when all backpacks will have to be transparent. Many venues don’t allow backpacks inside. But what about the rotundas of airports where everyone has a suitcase or backpack---all unexamined before going through security. If a bomb is detonated by a cell phone, will some law or regulation mandate that no cell phones be permitted inside any sporting event, concert, arena, or other place with a large gathering? Where will each terrorist incident take us in limiting the freedoms we still take for granted? Will the day come when no matter where you go, including stores, that you will go through an airport type search? I hope not. We as Americans have to be willing to accept some of the risks of enjoying our way of life without sacrificing our way of life to be safe, something that can never be one hundred percent. If that happens the terrorists of all stripes will have won, and Americans will come to study the Constitution and our history as better times, as a memory gone with the wind.
The Republican Party is trying to find its moorings and figure out how to take back the White House and Senate. Statistically, the Republicans are in shape to win the Senate in 2014. There are more Democrats retiring from that chamber, and the six year mark for an incumbent president usually results in the voters looking for a change. My guess is that 2016 will be the year that will determine whether the Republicans have any meaningful expectation to regain its power and influence. Between now and then they will have to come together and choose who their leaders and spokespersons will be. Then the chosen will set the course for the party on social issues, taxes, spending priorities, healthcare, immigration, guns, and other areas of interest to the American people.
In my lifetime I don’t recall the Republican Party being so divided. Anyone in the party that dares to stray from its “core” values is labeled a RINO. But who gets to decide who is a RINO? What makes one person’s views more adherent to the party than another’s? Without question Eisenhower would be considered a RINO by most of today’s Republicans. (Back then Republicans like Joe McCarthy and his acolytes even accused Eisenhower of being a communist sympathizer.) Those who look at Reagan’s record carefully and airbrush out the mythologies that have been built around him would consider him a RINO too. Yet in my opinion both were good presidents that confronted the issues of their times. No politician will ever make everyone happy all the time, no more than in a marriage do the respective partners agree on everything.
Illustrative of the internecine feuding within the Republican Party are some of the upcoming primaries in Georgia and elsewhere. The 2012 presidential primary was as nasty and divisive as it could get as most of the candidates tried to outdo each other in demonstrating who was more extreme on any given issue. Also illustrative is a local writer who summed up well, from his point of view, why the Republicans are becoming more divided. The writer says that there can be no compromise on homosexual marriages. His basis is a belief that some truths are absolute, and that absolute truths can never evolve. Since he is a self-professed Christian, I wonder what he thinks about the evolving truths of the Bible. Polygamy and slavery were accepted in the Old Testament (and slavery in the New Testament as well), violations of the Sabbath and children disrespecting parents were punishable by death, and other examples. If truths were so absolute with people of faith there wouldn’t be so many denominations that disagree over abortion, embryonic stem cell research, the death penalty, and other social issues.
If one issue Republicans think it’s worth fighting to protect that issue above all else, so be it. I don’t think I am outside mainstream America in being concerned about our economy, jobs, and other issues that affect all of our day to day lives. I too worry about the continuing breakdown of the American family but attribute causes other than homosexual marriages. I am amazed that a larger priority doesn’t focus on spousal abuse, child cruelty, and the causes of poverty. There was a time that southern Democrats were determined to maintain Jim Crow laws because they protected traditional southern values. Those Democrats became the Dixicrats of the Democratic Party. In the 1960s they began the trend of morphing into Republicans. The rest of the country moved in a different direction. If the Republicans choose to make social issues their number one priority, particularly southern Republicans, they could end up being marginalized like the Dixicrats. Time will tell if they represent the majority of thinking in the U.S., and if their world view will attract industry and jobs from other parts of the country and world.
North Korea has been in the news recently with its threats to fire up their plutonium making facility, and to once again annihilate South Korea and the United States. If I took seriously some of the reactionaries on talk radio, these self-professed military know-it-alls (none come to mind that served in the armed forces) would have me building a nuclear bomb shelter like the 1950s. Make no mistake---I don’t doubt for a millisecond that North Korea could inflict some very deadly damage on its southern neighbor. Considering the number and proximity of the North’s missiles to Seoul, Seoul would probably be obliterated if those missiles were unleashed.
In my blog last week I asked the question of the Iraq war defenders why Iraq needed to be conquered but not North Korea? Using the same criteria that was applied to the Iraq invasion, North Korea had all of them plus one: they actually had the atomic bomb. I’m not suggesting that Bush should have preemptively attacked North Korea, only that he used specious reasons to go into Iraq that he didn’t apply to North Korea. I don’t recall the reactionaries ever challenging Bush for these different standards to similar situations. But Obama is the one at the helm now, and as usual, because it’s Obama the reactionaries will go after him, even if he declared that he loved his mother. One self-proclaimed reactionary pundit said on the radio today that North Korea’s threats amount to an act of war, and that Obama should have responded accordingly. It’s not enough for these tough talkers that Obama flew stealth bombers to South Korea to drop dummy bombs on an unoccupied island off its shore. It’s not enough that Obama has implemented the Pentagon’s recommendations to position the navy’s anti-missile warships to defend the South, and to place anti-missile batteries on Guam. One radio expert didn’t think much of the dummy bombing run. I wonder if the Chinese Air Force was to simulate an attack on some Central American island, whether that same expert would be concerned. Only a full blown preemptive strike would satisfy these big talking strategists who make more money by far with their brilliant insight than any admiral or general that just might know a little more than these guys.
I have no way of knowing what secret weapons the United States has. I suspect that we have some very powerful conventional weapons that might obviate the need for nukes in a lot of situations. I don’t know, but suspect that we have monitoring technology that is keeping up in real time how serious the threats from the North really are. I also suspect that we have some military satellites that can do things that are out of science fiction stories. What I do know is that these war mongering talking heads don’t know any more than I do. And if they do, they and whoever leaked to them should be prosecuted. My opinions about the possibility of secret capabilities is based on having been part of things at other times in other places with the service and government. Some of the things our country could do was dazzling, and it is understandable that those not in the know would be concerned that we might not be taking the appropriate action in a given situation. But that is not the same as some of the treasonous calumnies that have been said about Obama.
By far and away Obama has shown strength as commander-in-chief in ways that we never got from Republican administrations. Reagan never retaliated for the deaths of the 240 marines killed in the Lebanon barracks attack. Bush could have used the torpedoing of the USS COLE as grounds to go after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Yemen. He didn’t. Obama has repeatedly violated the sovereignty of Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia---and who knows where else---to pursue terrorists. And while I agree that it is a fair debate on whether the president is doing this without certain due process protections, I find it remarkable that the reactionaries are suddenly concerned about the constitutional rights of terrorists. Considering our economic situation right now, if there weren’t other reasons not to preemptively go to war with North Korea (and likely bring in China), the reactionaries who are always concerned about spending might want to consider how much it could cost them in taxes if this got out of control. And when it comes to taxes, reactionaries listen.