January 4, 2008: 6:35 pm: Politics

I’m a little behind on this one, but at the end of 2007 President Bush signed into law the Open Government Act of 2007.

According to the EFF this law will make it easier to access government information in ways like:

* Ensuring that freelance and alternative journalists are considered representatives of the media, making it less expensive for them to get information from the government.
* Providing for attorney fees when a requester’s lawsuit prompts an agency to change its position on a request, even if a court doesn’t order it.

* Creating a tracking system to help make sure that FOIA requests don’t become hopelessly tangled in red tape.
* Establishing the Office of Government Information Services, which will be tasked with helping to resolve conflicts between agencies and requesters.
* Penalizing agencies that don’t process FOIA requests on time.
* Making it clear that requesters can get government records maintained by private contractors, not just the agencies themselves.
* Imposing greater reporting requirements to let Congress and the public know more about how agencies handle requests.

Read the full release from the EFF here and the text of the legislation is available here.

October 14, 2007: 8:43 am: Politics, Uncategorized

The American Freedom Agenda caught my eye today. They are fighting for legislation returning the rights and freedoms that the current President has either eroded or removed. These include issues like habeus corpus, the right of journalists to report, a ban on torture, an end to the practice of signing statements to exempt yourself from the law, and more. This is essential to whatever candidate next holds the Presidency. If we are to avoid a dictatorship, the erosion of liberties must stop.

October 18, 2006: 10:29 am: Politics

The President of the United States today signed into law the Military Commissions Act  which changes the way “enemy combatants” are tried for crimes. It narrows the interpretation of the Geneva convention, but more importantly allows someone deemed an enemy combatant by a military committee, to be tried without habeus corpus and without letting the defendant know exactly what the charges are.

I’ll grant you that justice is tricky in war, but that is never an excuse for curbing liberty.  This is not the one law the eliminates our freedom as some on the left would like you to belive.  Nor is it a deep necessity to winning the war as the right would have it.  It’s not that simple. However, it is a step in the wrong direction. Let’s not worry so much about present actors on the stage.  This law allows someone in the future to define what he or she thinks is an enemy combatant, arrest and hold a trial without presenting the evidence to the accused, and convict without a jury. This is how freedom dies. We rationalize ‘necessary evils’ oin the face of fears and we slowly erode our own liberties.

The conspiracy theorists do us a disservice.  This isn’t a grand plan of the right wing to put forth a dictatorship. Saying so only overheats the debate. We are doing it to ourselves. we would like to blame the government, or the terrorists, or someone else, but we are responsible here.  It takes great courage to hold your values in the face of danger.  The United States is at the risk of faltering at this very moment.  And it makes me sad.

April 27, 2006: 11:53 am: Politics

This country was founded partially on the idea that criminals and other undesirables should be shoved off overseas.  Hence my family’s arrival in Connecticut in 1660. Damn free-thinking Liberal deists. Well history doth tend to repeat itself, hence a South Carolina congressmen’s brilliant idea to send folks convicted of drug offences off to other countries (via Boing Boing).  Be careful sir, they might just start a new country and end up shoving yours into the pages of history.  It’s happened before.


January 1, 2006: 4:03 pm: Politics

The revelation that the executive branch of the US government has conducted surveillance of its citizens and others without a court order is not being taken seriously enough. This is not a political football. This is not a partisan issue. It is a direct violation of the principles of the United States.

This country was allegedly founded on the principles of freedom. Admittedly, in the beginning, that freedom only extended to white landed males. But that’s the essential lesson of the US. The country has gotten stronger when it has extended freedom not limited it. The US freed its slaves, it granted the vote to those who don’t own land, it granted direct elections of Senators (though it has yet to do so for its President), it enfranchised women, and insured the franchise of minorities. In every case the country got stronger. Men and women, some who don’t own property, and many minorities, fight in the country’s armed services. Every extension of freedoms has benefited the country.

But the action of spying on citizens without the check and balance of even a secret court is a crime. It is a crime whether or not the President of the United States is evil or is the best thing that ever happened to the US. The matter should not be argued on the merits of the President as a whole but on this action particularly. Despite what many Democrats would have you believe, it is quite possible to consider this action of unwarranted surveillance a crime, and still respect and support the President in other matters. It is quite possible in his zeal to protect the country he made a mistake. But whether his impulse was beneficient or not is not at issue. Enlightened despotism was still despotism. A crime committed for good reasons is still a crime.

During the Nixon administration, while fighting the Soviet bloc, the executive branch also went too far. The President tried to defend unwarranted surveillance on the grounds that it was protecting the country. At that time the enemy was real, it was unpredictable and a war was being fought. Same as now. But that didn’t change the fact that the country did not want to give unchecked powers to the executive branch. Subsequently, more stringent laws were passed in order to protect against the abuses of that time.

Now we have a clear breach of those laws. The president admits the orders were given. He claims they were legal. Perhaps a court would find them legal but I and many others find that unlikely. The President defends the actions, saying he was protecting the public. That rationale, whether meant well or not, doesn’t justify breaking laws. That is not the kind of society the United States has desired to create. There are risks to protecting liberty. The government does not have a free hand to do everything it wants. But those risks bring enormous benefits, the benefits of freedom that have made the US a rather good place to live, all things considered. Undermining the checks and balances, and laws, of the US threatens the underlying principles that make the US good.

The United States is far from perfect. But so far it has started well and showed steady improvement over its first two centuries. This is a crossroads. At the US birth, the older governments of the world, scoffed and said the experiemnt in liberty and freedom couldn’t last. They implied the experiment was naive. Those governments eventually fell, or transformed into societies of freedom and liberty. But the American experiment can yet fail. This test won’t be the end of the experiment one way or another, but it will mark a turning in the direction towards freedom, or towards control. Whether or not the executive branch means well, we should not allow them to turn us away from freedom.

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