Archive for June, 2009

Bronze Reagan

Posted by Matt on Thursday, June 4th, 2009

 

Nancy (Cancer), Jim Baker (Taurus), Reagan (Aquarius) Statue

Nancy (Cancer), Jim Baker (Taurus), Reagan (Aquarius) Statue

A beautiful day in Washington and a crowd packed with Reagan era-policymakers looked on as a Bronze Reagan was unveiled in the Capitol Rotunda. For video of John Boehner crying, click here.  I’m not kidding.    He is the Orange Crocodile. 

In other non-related Reagan news, I came across a fascinating article regarding the Reagans and Astrology.  Veracity aside, it would explain a lot.

On one level, maybe it’s not such a big deal that Ronnie and Nancy went to weekly astrology classes and ‘zodiac parties’ in the fifties and sixties. Or that Reagan signed legislation as governor declassifying ‘licensed’ astrologers as fortune-tellers, thus allowing them to receive compensation for their, uh, ‘craft’. But sweat beads start to form when you read former advisor Donald Regan reveal that Reagan’s entire schedule was based around White House astrologer Joan Quigley’s advice about planetary alignment. This caused embarrassment for the staff more than once, when they would have to explain arbitrary changes in the itinerary without giving away the game. And there’s evidence we can thank astrology for the picking of George H.W. Bush as VP as well. Joyce Jillson says she was paid $1200 to pick the vice president from a list of seven names. The elder Bush’s response to this:

“I don’t know about that,” he said. “But I will tell you one thing: There are two edges to this sword. There are a helluva lot of people across this country that read these columns. Otherwise they would not be in the papers.”

Not sure what makes that a double-edged sword, but I’m glad he wasn’t overly bothered by the fact that he was picked for the position of second-most powerful person on the planet essentially at random. Putting aside the unnerving knowledge that the president who relied on such gobbledygook was the same man with his finger on the button, there is the high comedy of the Christian Right embracing an avid astrology buff. The same folks that love to reinvent Barack Obama as a radical Muslim utterly ignored Reagan’s enthusiastic adoption of a practice they consider demonic idolatry. Ah, well.

And in death, let us celebrate Reagan’s life in a way he would appreciate – with his horoscope via this week’s The Onion:

Aquarius Jan 20 – Feb 18

It’s okay to feel a little nervous and unsure of yourself during your first day at work. After all, it’s not as if you were even hired there.

 

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Obama and Secrecy: Bush Redux (Now With Less Democracy!)

Posted by Matt on Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

The Obama administration is supporting Sens. Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman’s  Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009.  

As Greenwald states, (this bill)

literally has no purpose other than to allow the government to suppress any “photograph taken between September 11, 2001 and January 22, 2009 relating to the treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained after September 11, 2001, by the Armed Forces of the United States in operations outside of the United States.”  As long as the Defense Secretary certifies — with no review possible — that disclosure would “endanger” American citizens or our troops, then the photographs can be suppressed even if FOIA requires disclosure.  The certification lasts 3 years and can be renewed indefinitely.  The Senate passed the bill as an amendment last week.

What kind of a country passes a law that has no purpose other than to empower its leader to suppress evidence of the torture it inflicted on people?  Read the language of the bill; it doesn’t even hide the fact that its only objective is to empower the President to conceal evidence of war crimes.

That this exact scenario is now happening in the U.S. is all the more remarkable given that the President who is demanding these new suppression powers is the same one who repeatedly vowed ”to make his administration the most open and transparent in history.”  After noting the tentative steps Obama has taken to increase transparency, the generally pro-Obama Washington Post Editorial Page today observed: “what makes the administration’s support for the photographic records act so regrettable” is that “Mr. Obama runs the risk of taking two steps back in his quest for more open government.”

While I understand that Obama entered the Oval Office following an administration that greatly expanded executive power and was criminal in its considerable violations of the Constitution and rule of law, the increased use of  ”state secrets” justification is complete bullshit.  Merely saving the government from embarrassment or preserving political capital are not appropriate reasons to sacrifice transparency and disclosure.  Greenwald continued…

What makes all of this even worse is that it is part of a broader trend whereby the Government simply retroactively changes the law whenever it decides it does not want to abide by it.  For decades, we had laws in place authorizing citizens to sue their telecommunication carriers if the telecoms allowed government spying on their communications in violation of the law, but when it was revealed that the telecoms did exactly this, the Congress simply changed the law retroactively so that it no longer applied.  For decades, we had laws imposing civil and criminal liability on government officials who engaged in or authorized torture, but when it was revealed that our government did that, the Congress just retroactively changed the law to protect the torturers.  And now that courts have ruled that our decades-old transparency law compels disclosure of this torture evidence, the Congress is just going to retroactively change the law — again — this time to empower the President to suppress that evidence anyway.

The debate over whether there is value in disclosing these specific photographs is entirely misplaced.  That isn’t how open government works.  The burden isn’t on citizens to prove that there is value in disclosure.  Everything that government does is supposed to be transparent to the public unless there is a compelling reason for secrecy — and the whole point of FOIA always has been that mere embarrassment, the mere fact that information reflects poorly on our government, isn’t a legitimate ground for concealment.  That’s a critical principle for open government.  This new law explicitly guts that principle.  It institutionalizes the pernicious notion that secrecy is justified where disclosure would reflect badly on the Government and thus “endanger” American citizens and/or our troops.

Combine all of this with the increasingly disturbing spectacle taking place in a California federal court in the Al-Haramain case — where the Obama DOJ is on the verge of being sanctioned by a federal judge for defying the court’s order to make available documents relating to Bush’s illegal eavesdropping activities — and the infatuation with excessive presidential secrecy, the linchpin of government abuse, appears alive and well in the new administration.  Is there really anyone who wants to argue that defiance of a federal court’s order and enacting a new law authorizing suppression of torture evidence — the disclosure of which is compelled both by courts and FOIA — are remotely consistent with anything Obama said he would do, or remotely consistent with what a healthy democratic government would do?

As I said, Obama came into office after 8 years of utter incompetence, indifference and mismanagement. I wouldn’t be surprised if he found elephant dung under some shredded documents when he opened the top drawer of his desk in the Oval Office.  Though it’s obviously way too early to judge the administration, I think he is generally moving this country in the right direction.  He has been proactive in areas from health care (SCHIP) to civil rights {of some} (Lilly Ledbetter Act) and has appropriately engaged the foreign community.  However, for someone who has a background teaching Constitutional Law, I am incredibly discouraged by his administration’s continuation and (in some cases) expansion of Bush-era policies in the areas discussed above.  

Unlike some liberals, I was under no illusion that Obama would be the leftist-ideologue, elected to swing the pendulum 180 degrees.  He never presented himself as that guy during the campaign.  But as a self-proclaimed pragmatist (and student of history), he should realize that sweeping the past 8 years under the carpet only ensures that these transgressions will occur again, giving this nation the proverbial “black eye,” and ultimately eroding the fundamentals of our democracy and making this country less safe.

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