Freedom Stands on the Foundation of an Independent Judiciary

The key to establishing an authoritarian regime is executive control over the judiciary.

Power corrupts. No office or institution or individual can totally and forever be trusted with unlimited power, and to impose the burden of such mindless trust upon any human or institution would constitute an unfair temptation. It follows that freedom is a plant that will wither in the political desert lacking transparency. Transparency is the bright sunlight that allows the political garden of freedom to grow. But transparency–officials acting openly so citizens can monitor their behavior–is not enough to cultivate freedom any more than plants can grow, even in sunlight, without roots to transfer nutrients, and the taproot of freedom is the independence of the judiciary.

Power is radioactive. Just as uranium is a bountiful source of electricity, so is political power a bountiful dynamo for generating social development. But just as uranium can either slowly pollute or devastating explode and destroy the physical environment, so can political power slowly pollute or suddenly devastate the social environment and the system of government.

To minimize the threat of political power turning malignant, modern societies employ both illumination from outside the government and portioning out of power within the government. The former facilitates public monitoring of the public’s chosen representatives; the latter balances different groups of power-holders off against each other. Awarding some powers to states, some to the center, those unspecified to the people; awarding some powers to the executive branch, some to the legislative; and–most importantly, ensuring that no one and no institution is above the law by protecting the independence of the judiciary from the rest of the executive branch are the control rods that enable the radioactive fuel of social development to be consumed without a political explosion.

If control over the judiciary is the key to dictatorship, then the independence of the judiciary is the key to liberty. Liberty requires much more: an informed and committed populace, a marketplace of ideas in which media and individuals may safely criticize leaders, elections not for sale and open to reform movements…but the internal ability of the government to discipline itself by protecting the judicial professionals from corruption by officials is the most crucial weapon for the defense of the people’s liberty.

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Senator Jeff Flake:

A lot of people are concerned about where we’re going … the vitriol that we now see daily, the kind of behavior that the President has exhibited, saying over the weekend, or on Friday, saying the FBI should go after the President’s political adversaries….To have a President say that, that is not normal and we shouldn’t accept it as normal.

Senator Lindsay Graham:

The president of the United States is in charge of the executive branch, it’s not his job to be telling the attorney general to be prosecuting a particular individual or group. It is the attorney general’s job to do that….We have a rule of law that is independent of political influence, and when you call on your attorney general to prosecute your former opponent, that is crossing the line

Senator John McCain:

We are asleep in our echo chambers, where our views are always affirmed and information that contradicts them is always fake. We are asleep in our polarized politics, which exaggerates our differences, looks for scapegoats instead of answers, and insists we get all our way all the time from a system of government based on compromise, principled cooperation and restraint.
All the while the associations, rules, values and aspirations that comprise the international order we have superintended for three-quarters of a century are under gathering attack from regimes that desire a world less just and less free and more corrupt. And they are under attack from forces within liberal democracies themselves, parties that preach resentful nationalism rather than enlightened self-interest, nativism rather than equal justice.

Senator Elizabeth Warren:

Slurs, lies & trash talk won’t stop the FBI from doing its job. This isn’t a dictatorship. It’s our democracy. And it’s stronger than you.

Senator Bob Corker:

President Trump’s pressuring of the Justice Department and FBI to pursue cases against his adversaries and calling for punishment before trials take place are totally inappropriate and not only undermine our justice system but erode the American people’s confidence in our institutions.

Former Attorney General Sally Yates:

DOJ not a tool for POTUS to use to go after his enemies and protect his friends. Respect rule of law and DOJ professionals. This must stop.

 

 

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Presidential Mental Decline

Given the extraordinary range of power that has accrued with the rise of the Imperial Presidency in recent decades to the individual who happens to be President, national security rests on the mental capacities of that one person. The implications of gradual cognitive decline are ominous.

The 25th Amendment responded to the long overdue realization among the ruling elite that the U.S. needed a more thoughtful means of dealing with a Presidential incapacity to govern. We the People may breathe a tiny sigh of relief that this amendment is in place, but the relief it provides is more theoretical than real since the Cabinet members thereby empowered to remove a disabled President were after all selected by the President and approved rather casually by Congress.

Mental incapacity could be the instantaneous result of a stroke but is more likely to emerge gradually as brain functioning declines, with the President (like any individual) struggling both to conceal and overcome whatever decline in mental faculties he or she happens to notice. As such a decline becomes apparent to associates, their natural inclination will be to assist the President in covering up initial and perhaps arguably minor limitations. (“Do I really need even to discuss this with my doctor? I feel fine; it will go away; I can deal with it.”) And as the medical situation worsens, supporters in the know will get desperate (“The nation needs you! Don’t give up! We’ll help you!”)

It is becoming clearer every day that Congress should have considered far more carefully than it ever does whether or not the President’s top appointees have the backbone and maturity to make the decision to remove the person who personally handed them their crowning career success…simply because of mentally disturbed behavior. Traditionally, Cabinet secretarial appointments tended to be offered to people of national stature who might be expected to have the professionalism and independence to enable them to stand up to a President demonstrating mental incompetence but refusing to resign. Today, how secure would America be putting national security in the hands of the Cabinet and Vice President?

Having some understanding of the levers that a president can exercise, I worry about, frankly, you know, the access to the nuclear codes. In a fit of pique, he decides to do something about Kim Jong-un, there’s actually very little to stop him. The whole system’s built to insure rapid response if necessary. So, there’s very little in the way of controls over, you know, exercising a nuclear option, which is pretty damn scary. [James Clapper, Former Director of National Intelligence, as quoted by PBS.]

It is also becoming increasingly clear that considering the integrity of Cabinet nominees is far from sufficient: legal changes to make fundamental Presidential powers more collective are urgently needed. Presidential freedom to govern by executive order is far too open to abuse, despite a landmark effort by the Supreme Court to restrict Presidential freedom to rule by decree. Even more urgent is putting Presidential authority not just to make war (unconstitutional but now regularly used via all manner of fraudulent mechanisms giving the President personal control over a wide range of military options) but specifically to launch nuclear war. For the U.S. to be secure, the decision to launch nuclear or any other type of attack with weapons of mass destruction urgently needs to be removed from the control of a single human, since we are all inevitably susceptible to mental or physical breakdown.

In sum, we face the urgent need for implementing an imposing set of reforms:

  1. specifying some process for insuring the highest possible standards for Cabinet appointments;

  2. specifying legal restrictions on/reviews of Presidential executive orders;

  3. specifying legal measures to restrict the ability of the President unilaterally (without the consent of Congress) to engage the U.S. in military action abroad;

  4. specifying legal measures to make collective the decision to employ nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction.

The Burden of Being in Command

You little people just don’t understand how tough it is being in command, leading a war to clean out a swamp. Obama never had so many hurricanes one after another. (“Did the Democrats do this on purpose? They couldn’t, could they?”)

When the boss has to make every decision by himself, when he cannot rely on any of his subor…(sorry) colleagues in the legislature to carry out his orders, when his employ…(sorry) Civil Servants insist upon maintaining government services that he is trying to destroy and protect liberties that his subj…(sorry) fellow citizens use to obstruct him, then that boss will be busy. He cannot do everything immediately all by himself! So have a little courtesy while the man drives his bulldozer through the Swamp.

If a hurricane imperils the lives of 3.5 million of the common people while the CE…(sorry) Great Leader is commanding a war against the NFL, well then, that is surely a shame, but a leader has to make priorities. It is totally unfair, unjust, and rude to suggest that such prioritization constitutes evidence that the man can’t manage. After all, what is more central to management than setting priorities?

And what priority could be higher than communicating, perhaps with a quick tweet readily accessible to all the commoners and carefully composed to make a point quickly and in a form sufficiently simple for all you commoners to comprehend, about the meaning of patriotism? When someone, be it a foreign thug throwing rockets around or a provincial mayor or a back-talking football player, fails to show the proper respect for the man whose very being embodies patriotism, that individual must be put in his (or her, especially her) place. Such people must not be permitted to persist.

Cut the boss some slack, already!

Hillary and a Great America

A “great” America would not be one that practiced war, racism, sexism, or elite financial crime. Hillary has been “playing it safe” the whole election and is consequently in real danger of losing, but she could, with one week to go, articulate an image of a truly “great” America. If she cannot herself see this possible future, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Russell Feingold could team up to write it for her. But Hillary needs to take ownership in public.

With one week to go before election, if Hillary wants to win, she should demonstrate that she deserves to win, and here is the speech I would like her to make:

The next President will face three critical and immediate challenges.

  1. Financial Crime. Elite financial crime has undermined the integrity of the American since the man-made 2007 recession. Senators Warren, Senator Sanders, and I have agreed on a plan that, if elected, I will promote immediately to minimize the danger of a new financial collapse by bringing the guilty to trial and eliminating “too big to fail” financial corporations that can blackmail society for their private gain.
  2. Syrian Civil War. I hereby state publicly that the concept of a no-fly zone over Syria, albeit perhaps a good idea when I first proposed it, now faces a new reality on the ground in Syria and is no longer a safe, logical option as a unilateral U.S. plan. Syria’s crisis must not be allowed to inflame a new major power war. i I will promote coordinated U.S.-Russian negotiations to consider a joint no-fly zone as well as other ideas for minimizing violence while simultaneously focusing U.S. policy on aiding Syrian society to recover, both by helping refugees and by providing aid to such non-sectarian and defense-oriented social groups as may be identified.
  3. Police Brutality Against Democracy Activists. A shameful violation of American values is currently playing out in North Dakota. The prima facie case of police and corporate collusion against popular rights demands the immediate and forceful attention of the White House and the FBI. Rather than speak further, I am today boarding a plane for a personal inspection of the confrontation between Americans defending their rights and the power of Big Oil.

I, Hillary Clinton, will–if elected–take action on these three issues my first day in office.

 

Quagmire

Obama did not exactly say, “Putin, trust me, we Americans know what it means to get stuck in a quagmire, so take this warning to heart.” Nor, of course, did Putin take it that way. Pity.

President Obama noted publicly that “An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire, and it won’t work.” Obama will quite probably be proven correct, but to understand the outrageous hypocrisy of the remark, simply remove the names by abstracting as follows:

An attempt by [a global power and a regional client] to prop up a [vicious regional dictator] and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire, and it won’t work.

There was, for you young readers who haven’t studied your history, once a guy named Leonid who discovered this for himself in Afghanistan. Too bad Leonid was too old to write a history, for we are all still suffering from the consequences two generations later, and it would have been considerate of him to have warned us against repeating his mistake. Now, to be fair, I suspect Obama has in fact read some history, judging from his path-breaking (we hoped) Cairo speech way back at the now long forgotten beginning of his White House years, but in the rush of trying to run the world, one overlooks even the most obvious of lessons, which leads to having to rush all the more to learn them all over again…which brings us to the hypocrisy of Obama’s pot calling Putin’s kettle “black.”

This very week, as Putin solidifies his military position in Syria and flattens Aleppo (wasn’t that once a city that supported Assad?), Obama, who has been vigorously arming Riyadh with the bombs it has been using the past couple years to flatten Yemen, actually opened fire against one side in the very long Yemeni civil war. Did any Houthi imagine that Obama would respond to a Houthi rocket attack on a highly threatening U.S. destroyer sneaking around off the Yemeni coast by apologizing for the havoc wrought across the world’s most abused society by U.S. bombs over the past two years? [Note: it remains unclear whether it actually was Houthis rather than some false flag element hoping to provoke a thoughtlessly violent American response.] Bad judgment by the Houthis it may have been, and yet, fighting for your political rights against the combined might of Western bombs and Western-supplied Saudi jets for two years and then watching a U.S. destroyer, armed to the teeth, sticking its nose where it did not belong (was it…no surely not…inside Yemeni waters???) must get frustrating. More to the point, to quote a certain U.S. politician, all this is going to get the short-tempered superpower that just moved from the background of the Western campaign to manipulate the Yemeni civil war into the limelight “stuck in a quagmire.”

Follow-Up:

Dear Donald, Dear Hillary, “If elected, will you continue the Obama policy of supporting the Saudi aerial war against one side in the Yemeni civil war?”

An Elite Culture of Hostility

 

An elite culture of hostility toward the people is rising in the U.S. This elite is not just a plutocracy but, increasingly, an insecure and vengeful plutocracy that views popular participation in the democratic process, at home or abroad, as the primary enemy. This paranoid elite mindset is laying the foundations for dictatorship.

From the Patriot Act, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo pre-trial torture, wars for profit, destroying the careers of honest Federal officials who oppose contract fraud, and drone attacks on unidentified civilians to bailouts of billionaires and “stay out of jail” cards for Wall St. CEOs despite prima facie evidence of fraudulent behavior to the vicious pre-trial torture of individual Americans guilty of embarrassing top officials, we are witnessing the rise of an elite culture based on self-defense against the people. The members of the elite who buy into this culture all agree that it is in their common private interest to treat the people as the enemy. Whether the president or Wall St. banker or arms corporation CEO happens to label himself Republican. Democrat, or apolitical businessman is becoming increasingly irrelevant: the elite is adopting a garrison state perspective that labels all debate, all independent thought as proof of treachery.

This culture of dictatorship rests on a foundation of private wealth used for public power: a few CEOs from the arenas of finance, energy, and war profiteering who specialize in transferring social wealth into their own hands for subsequent transfer to their political lackeys. Once bought and paid, the political lackeys pass the laws required for the protection of the CEOs’ wealth transfer scam. Do independent commissions write the implementing rules governing how Wall St. is regulated? No, bureaucrats supported by representatives from Wall St. write those critical implementing rules. Do independent commissions decide if NSA should be permitted to engage in domestic spying? No, a highly secretive internal government body does. Class war by the rich, immunity from prosecution for the powerful, and secrecy are the legs on which dictatorship stands.

We may differ on which politician is most guilty, we may differ on whether or not any specific official personally desires to institute a dictatorship. Regardless of the answer, the rise of this defensive, anti-popular elite culture is promoting the consolidation of a single elite committed to its own perpetuation and determined to fight to the death against popular participation in the democratic process. Just as dictatorship has a critical core, so does democracy. The legs of democracy are transparency and public accountability. Transparency does not mean the transparency of what you do in your bedroom or write in your emails but what officials do in their offices. Unlike officials who seem suddenly, in our post-9/11 world, to have become addicted to pre-trial torture, for citizens in a democracy, “public accountability” means bringing the powerful to court to defend themselves. [Why do I feel it necessary to spell out something so obvious?!? Did we not all learn this in high school?]

The dynamic powering the transfer from democracy to dictatorship is, in a word, that “power corrupts.” The more power is acquired via ill-gotten and hidden pathways, the harder those abusing power will try to cover up, until they reach the point where they can only protect their personal careers by outright dictatorship…by which point they may well have the power to do so. Whatever lies in the hearts of our current officials, sooner or later this mindset of hostility toward the public (first, the public in a few Muslim states and now only a few years later also the American public) will be exploited by a leader to build what we will all recognize as a dictatorship…unless we change the elite culture of hostility.

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On the other hand…

Bipartisan senatorial critique of NSA domestic spying by Leahy, Udall, Frankin, Grassley supports transparency in government.

Senator Leahy statement on NSA domestic spying:

Today, the Judiciary Committee will scrutinize government surveillance programs conducted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.  In the years since September 11th, Congress has repeatedly expanded the scope of FISA, and given the Government sweeping new powers to collect information on law-abiding Americans – and we must carefully consider now whether those laws have gone too far.

Last month, many Americans learned for the first time that one of these authorities – Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act – has for years been secretly interpreted to authorize the collection of Americans’ phone records on an unprecedented scale….

In the wake of these leaks, the President said that this is an opportunity to have an open and thoughtful debate about these issues.  I welcome that statement, because this is a debate that several of us on this Committee have been trying to have for years.  And if we are going to have the debate that the President called for, the executive branch must be a full partner.  We need straightforward answers and I am concerned that we are not getting them….

Just recently, the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged that he provided false testimony about the NSA surveillance programs during a Senate hearing in March….

The patience and trust of the American people is starting to wear thin….

The Government is already collecting data on millions of innocent Americans on a daily basis, based on a secret legal interpretation of a statute that does not on its face appear to authorize this type of bulk collection.  What will be next?  And when is enough, enough?

Congress must carefully consider the powerful surveillance tools that we grant to the Government, and ensure that there is stringent oversight, accountability, and transparency.

Congressional coalition opposes domestic spying –

A stunning bipartisan group of 205 Congressmen voted to slap down the Administration and the Republican House leadership over NSA domestic spying. Advocates of continued nearly unrestrained domestic spying against citizens not accused of any crimes won a narrow victory that cannot but awaken them to the on-going national outrage over the domestic spying scandal by Intel agencies that have traditionally been barred from domestic activities. The Amash-Conyers bill represents a significant response to the post-9/11 trend, symbolized by the grossly mis-named “Patriot Act” toward abuses of power by an Imperial Presidency that shows little concern for Constitutional guarantees of civil liberties. We should all be grateful to Manning for sacrificing his life in the name of real patriotism.

Too Big to Survive

It was not just Wall Street that became too big for its own good. The failure of the financial system to perform for the good of the nation was equally the failure of the political system. But that’s not all: the whole American population all too readily went along for the ride. Has America become too big to survive? Continue reading

Tools of the Rich

The citizens of the U.S. are shortchanging themselves by allowing the super-rich to define taboos in order to prevent society from considering fundamental reforms that might preserve our democracy, enhance our security, and improve our lives…at the expense of constraining the ability of the super-rich to amass more wealth. Continue reading