Tuesday, February 10, 2009

State secrets privilege

This really pisses me off.

Barack Obama's administration is pulling the same kind of crap that Bush used to do. He's saying that a valid lawsuit must be dismissed from the outset, based upon the state secrets privilege.

Now, if Glenn Greenwald is not to your taste, I can understand that, so let me explain what's at stake here.

Sure, there are times when the government has a valid interest in demanding the protection of state secrets during civil and criminal cases. No one disputes that. If we didn't allow this, enemies would find ways to involve our covert agencies in lawsuits and force them to reveal, well, anything.

But the way the privilege is supposed to work is this: someone demands evidence from the government, or tries to compel a certain bit of testimony, and the government says "no, we can't do this," and explains why this would reveal state secrets to the judge. The judge may negotiate terms, to see if there's a way to allow the evidence in an altered form - with sections blacked out, or a summary given, or assertions of pertinent facts.

There are certainly situations in which state secrets might cover so much evidence that there's no longer a provable claim made by the plaintiff, and the case must be dismissed. In the referenced case, dealing with kidnapping, the government might well be willing to assert that the identities of the kidnappers is a state secret, and that there is no way to prove that they were agents of the US government, and thus, there's no valid case against the US government.

That is a nasty, but possibly necessary, use of the privilege.

But this is different. This is the Obama administration saying "you can't try this case at all; you can't request information, and have us refuse every request by claiming state secrets; merely trying the case would be an unacceptable danger to state secrets."

This kind of thing is the executive branch using secrecy to avoid paying any penalty for violations of the law. It's exactly what disgusted me so deeply about the Bush administration... they broke the law, and then hid behind secrecy at every turn.

I have one single hope that I'm holding out for this. I'm hoping that Obama is insisting on doing this because he feels the courts must rule that this is an invalid use of privilege. If Obama is daring the courts to say that this is invalid, so that future administrations will not be able to engage in this behavior, then I can forgive him.

But right now, I'm thoroughly disgusted by his actions.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Okay, lemme 'splain something. And I want to 'splain something to Republican obstructionists, so I'll use small words.

These obstructionists are complaining that the economic stimulus bill is this horrible, horrible "spending bill", not a stimulus bill.

Okay, now I know this is hard to understand, but the economy is made up of people making money by selling goods or making money providing services.

Right now, a lot of people and businesses aren't buying. So, the government is going to purchase goods and services, so people can make money providing those goods and services.

Now, I suppose there's a way to do this without a spending bill. You could just try to force people to produce goods and services without fair compensation, but that's somewhere between slavery and socialism. So actually spending money to acquire goods and services is considered a good thing.

Oh, but what about the magical magic of tax cuts, which are good when the economy is booming, and good when it's down, and good when there's a war on, and good when it's a time of peace?

Well, two problems here. First, by actually obtaining goods and services, you pay people money, and they then go out and purchase goods and services themselves, and then, the people who sell them goods and services take their money, and spend it themselves, etc.. Second, you reduce taxes, it might put more money in some people's pockets (remember, a lot of lower income people aren't paying taxes, and businesses get taxed only on profits) but that money might be saved, or used to pay down old bils, rather than directly purchase goods and services. You don't get as much stimulus, dollar for dollar, from tax cuts.

Okay, but, what about the "pork" in the bill? Well, first, "pork" has a specific definition. Pork barrel spending refers to earmarks. There's no pork in this bill. Period. The obstructionists complaining about pork are misusing the term because they don't like the particular spending in question.

Okay, then, what about the specific targeted spending, like the much mocked funds for family planning? Isn't that wasteful?

I'm sure there's some universe out there where family planning isn't important to women trying to manage a career or an education, or even stay at home and be a housewife or mom. But, since family planning helps women manage their jobs and their education, and since it prevents unwanted pregnancies which can lead to additional burdens on state resources, I don't see why anyone is complaining, unless they're just looking for something to complain about. What was the funding? A couple hundred million, in a bill spending four thousand times that much?

I'll grant, there's some spending in the bill that maybe isn't as likely to stimulate the economy as other stuff. Funding for Head Start, for example... that's only going to help young children with pre-school; they won't be earning money for over another dozen years. But it's money that will get paid to people for goods and services, and help working class parents provide for their children.

Sure, the Republicans don't like it. They want everyone to have to pay for everything on their own. They don't think we're a community that should be helping each other; they don't think that helping our most vulnerable accomplishes anything important.

But, let's face it. People chose to have the Democrats in power. They should get a chance to run things their way for a bit, so we can see how things go.

Frankly, I think the Republicans know all this. But I think they're afraid of this, just like they're afraid of health care reform. I think they're afraid it'll work too well, and show that their wailing and handwringing was wrong, and push them even further into the minority.

If so, that's a shame. Barack Obama is reaching out; he's more than willing to make sure there's plenty of glory for both parties. The Republicans can end up looking good, too... all they have to do is come up with some workable, positive ideas, and everyone will look better in the end.

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