Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Revisiting the Declaration of Independence

It is July 4, 2007, 231 years since the original was declared.  In that time the U.S. was declaring independence from a tyrant, King George III of England.  I heard the declaration read by newscasters associated with National Public Radio .. and was moved to think of the tyrant President George W. Bush, and the parallels between the contents of the Declaration of Independence and todays situation.  The core of the Declaration is a listing of grievances, statements and assertions of crimes committed by King George III.  It is spooky the parallels between those crimes, and the crimes committed by George W. Bush.

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The Declaration of Independence, of course, stems from events of that time, and the grievances listed in that document come from those events.  If there were a similar document written today we would list a wholly different list of grievances.  Perhaps, though, when a tyrant is abusing their power and ignoring the needs of their people, that it doesn't matter who that tyrant is, the powers they're abusing lead them to the same sorts of actions.

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I think it is instructive to examine William Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, and do a direct comparison with todays events. The National Archive has the definitive page. Here goes:

declaration_stone_thumb_295_dark_gray_bg.jpgThe unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

That's a great start, and to be honest if I ever thought about this document it was these statements which stuck in my mind. The U.S. is founded on high principles as reflected by the Declaration of Independence.

The government derives their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Wow! And by gosh, just what Constitution did George W. Bush swear allegience to?  Okay, the country voted twice to approve his presidency, except it's actually rather questionable whether the votes were rigged or not.  But ignoring that, his presidency received approval by the people.

There is another form of declaration of consent.  It's from polling that results in "approval ratings" discussed widely in the press, and there are the results of other elections such as in 2006.  These show a weakening level of approval, with growing derision and rejection by the people.  One would think the President might look at that growing disapproval and tone down his actions.  But one would also think the slim margins under which this President was elected would would also cause him to tone down his actions.  Instead he has pushed forward with a bold and radical agenda, to lead the country towards theocracy, to lie, to cheat, etc.  Basically the behavior of the Bush Administration is that of a bully who is going to push and push to get his way.  From the very beginning bipartisanship was, for him, taken to mean "You vote for my proposals", not the normal meaning of "we work together to overcome our differences and come to a mutually agreeable proposal".

Whenever any form of government becomes destructive, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish that form of government, and to institute a new one.

Okay, I am on record since 2003 calling for: Proposal: Impeachment, G.W. Bush. In 2006 I did a lineup of other calls for impeachment. Today I think it would be disastrous to impeach Bush and leave Cheney in office to become the President.  It has to be a dual blow, to get them both out of office at the same time.

The wording of the Declaration suggests total revolution, to completely destroy the government and make a new one.  Perhaps that was needed in that time, but today I think we should use the government we have to achieve these ends.  The government we have is very good, we simply need to take up the powers vested in us the People of the United States of America.  The powers given us by the founders of our country is that our government derives its right to exist from us.  It is time for us to stand up and demand change, now.

All experience has shown that mankind are willing to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the system to which they are accustomed.

blog20220boiling_frog.jpgYup. There's that adage about boiling a frog.  If you place a frog in a pot of boiling water, it'll jump right out and save itself, but if you place a frog in cool water and slowly turn up the heat the frog won't notice until it's too late.

couch-potato-13.jpgIn todays age, it seems people are enthralled with the entertainment choices on TV. The news media is full of inconsequential stories, while the alarming news is either ignored or barely mentioned.  It's much easier to be consumed with the false drama on TV entertainment, than to pay attention to the real dangers posed by a government administration that's running roughshod over the constitution.

The history of the present President of the United States is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of theocracy over these States.

I reworded the original a little, but it's curious how the theocratic direction being taken by President George W. Bush.  This country was founded with a separation between church and state as a core principle, and to rely on the rule of law.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

While President Bush has signed lots and lots of laws, and has rejected only a few, what has been done is very subtle and most people are probably not aware of the consequences. The issue are the Signing Statement's, which are an additional document signed by the President at the same time as he approves the law. The Signing Statement describes how the President will interpret or apply the law.

Consider:

There's a law, and at the same time as signing the law President Bush signs this other declaration.  The other declaration discusses changes that will be made in interpreting the law being signed.  The changes are often radical, such as changing clear intent that Congress requires the President to do something or to make some kind of report to Congress, and that instead the President will take such requirements as advisory.

Clearly it's up to the Administration to interpret how to apply the law.  In the U.S. we have a separation of power, where the Congress only has duties and powers to pass laws and control the purse strings, where it's the Administration that executes those laws.  An executive who states, "well, that phrase is vague, this is the way I'll interpret it" but it's beyond the pale to completely change the intent of the law.  How can one say require is unclear, and instead to interpret it as advisory?

250px-JohnDean2.jpgJohn Dean (yes, that John Dean) has a very good article on this:  The Problem with Presidential Signing Statements: Their Use and Misuse by the Bush Administration. And the Wikipedia has an excellent article on Signing Statements.

Until the Bush Administration, Signing Statements were rarely used by Executives. Of such statements signed by U.S. Presidents, George Bush has signed the vast majority of them.  John Dean suggests they raise a conflict of interest problem in the Justice Department.  Laws are presumed Constitutional until they are proven otherwise, and therefore the Justice Department ought to enforce the laws.  Specifically: The Justice Department is responsible for defending the constitutionality of laws enacted by Congress.  But what happens when the Justice Department is defending the constitutionality of a provision which Bush has declared unconstitutional?

In particular the use of signing statements themselves are probably unconstitutional.  As John Dean discusses, the effect of these statements is that of a Line Item Veto.  Congress passed a law allowing for a Line Item Veto, but that law was later overturned by the Supreme Court saying that it's Unconstitutional.  The Presentment Clause declares that the President has two choices, to sign a bill or to reject it completely.  The President has no middle ground approach, the President does not have the right to reject part of a bill and sign the rest.

Yet, that's what the President has been doing during his whole Presidency.  That's what these signing statements do, is to reject parts of bills.

The phrase unitary executive branch is commonly used in these signing statements and this phrase, like many others, seems like so much lawyerese gobbledygook.  Thankfully legal scholars have already studied this issue, such as Jennifer Van Bergen:  The Unitary Executive: Is The Doctrine Behind the Bush Presidency Consistent with a Democratic State?

The unitary executive branch is a form of governing theory going back to the experience of Vietnam and Watergate.  Recall that many in the Bush Administration also served in the Nixon Administration, such as Vice President Dick Cheney.  Cheney in particular supposedly has an agenda to reestablish Presidential power which he believes was inappropriately undermined in the aftermath of Watergate and the Nixon Impeachment.  

According to Jennifer Van Bergen, this phrase is code for nearly unlimited executive power.  In particular the states that all three branches of U.S. Government have the right to interpret laws, therefore granting to the Administration the right and duty to do so.   But how much room does the Administration really have in interpreting laws?  It is long standing custom and legal precedent that the Supreme Court is the supreme arbiter of interpreting the law.  Is the Administration truly usurping the power of the Supreme Court, as Jennifer Van Bergen is asserting?

It's going to be difficult to properly address that question given the current membership of the Supreme Court.  According to the Wikipedia article on Signing Statements, the Reagen Administration began the Signing Statement practice (as an experiment) at the direction of one Samuel A Alito.  This is the same Samuel Alito who is today a member of the Supreme Court.  Clearly a challenge against the use of Signing Statements would be heard with forgiving ears by the current Supreme Court.

This all is especially curious given the current constitutional crisis facing the Administration.  In recent weeks Vice President made a strange claim that he is not part of the Executive Branch of Government and hence is not subject to an Executive Order requiring government-wide safeguarding of certain classified information.  Huh?  Not part of the Executive Branch?  The claim was quickly dropped and replaced with other weaselly ways to ignore the law.  And at the same time President Bush has invoked Executive Privilege to deny Congressional Subpoena of documents relating to the firing of U.S. Attorneys.

225px-46_Dick_Cheney_3x4.jpgFirst, let's look at Vice President Cheney.  All through both terms of office Cheney has rebuffed demands for records about secret meetings he has held.  The prime example is from early 2001 in which he met with an unknown set of people for advice on the Energy Policy proposals the Administration made that year.  Those Energy Policies were extremely friendly to Big Oil, and it's widely assumed those secret meetings were with Oil company executives.  At issue right now is EXECUTIVE ORDER 12958 CLASSIFIED NATIONAL SECURITY INFORMATION, a law requiring the keeping and safeguarding of classified information.  Yet it's widely reported that he is thumbing his nose at this requirement, that he is routinely destroying records, etc. Don't Misunderestimate Dick Cheney is a very good overview of Cheney's current situation, and his outrageous behavior as Vice President.

Now let's look at President Bush and the recent invocation of Executive Privilege.  At issue is a subpoena of records concerning what the Administration calls a resignation of U.S. Attorneys.  The press reporting of this issue has made it clear, the Administration was conducting a hunt for U.S. Attorney's who were not playing along with Administration agendas, perhaps acting counter to the political directives coming from the White House, and that they were fired for political reasons.  The statement on Executive Privilege linked above contains two letters sent to Congress, each stating that the Administration was willing to cooperate in some ways with Congress, but not in the way Congress had desired that cooperation to take place.  Instead the Administration is denying all cooperation, potentially turning this into a Constitutional crisis between the branches of government.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

I was having a hard time with finding an analogy to the actions of President Bush.  Say what you will about President Bush's behavior, he hasn't asked U.S. Citizens to give up rights of representation and hasn't required that Congress meet in inconvenient places.

As I just discussed, however, Vice President Cheney has repeatedly acted to keep various records secret, to destroy records, etc.  Further there have been a vast reclassification of previously declassified documents.

But what came most strongly to mind is actions taken by not just President Bush, but a whole gamut of world leaders.  For quite some time there have been a growing set of quasi-governmental bodies having international scope, and which are interfering with the ability of individual nations to govern themselves. Those quasi-governmental bodies offer no course of appeal, no democratically aligned method of deliberating agreements, or of proposing new agreements, or of representation.  And increasingly the meetings of these quasi-governmental bodies are being held in remote locations.

I'm talking about the regular "G8 Summit" (formerly G7), the WTO meetings, etc. Each are attended by government leaders from around the world, and I suppose they are forums for inter-governmental meetings and collaboration.

These meetings routinely draw a bevy of protesters.  In 1999 the meeting in Seattle turned into a battle of sorts between Police and Protesters, and ever since that meeting these "summit" meetings have been held in remote facilities. Also the security leading up to each of these meetings is tight.  The whole picture is clearly meant to prevent the protesters from disrupting the meeting, but I suppose an argument can be made that the measures are being undertaken for the safety of the leaders.  The effect however is to silence alternative points of view.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

I'm again having difficulty finding a direct analogy to the actions of President Bush. Say what you will about President Bush's behavior, he has not dissolved Congress. Yet.

There have been repeated issues of increased invasions of privacy against U.S. Citizens and others.  The so-called PATRIOT ACT passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attack undermined a lot of privacy safeguards.  But beyond that there is increased use of warrantless wiretapping etc, which flaunt the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requiring that the President get a warrant from a FISA court to receive approval for conducting a wiretap.

The warrant-less wiretap issue was discussed at length in articles linked above.  Essentially this assertion of the unitary executive means that the Administration claims various laws do not apply to them, such as FISA.

Another issue I think of with this grievance is the establishment of governments in Afghanistan and Iraq.  In both cases the U.S. is embarking on "Nation Building" exercises in both countries, having destroyed the existing government in both countries, and working with the local population in both to establish new governments.

The process of creating a new government in both these countries has been very tangled, and if I'm remembering right did involve sacking of government officials (at least in Iraq) chosen through elections because those officials were not acceptable to the U.S.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

It's interesting that immigration issues were an issue in the Declaration of Independence, just as it is today.  All through the Bush Presidency he has desired to enact Immigration Reform, including a big push this year.  Just recently Congress decided to abandon efforts to enact Immigration Reform, a slap in the face of the Bush Administration, etc.  The situation is that Bush has a certain agenda for Immigration Reform, one that's not widely shared by others.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

Well, just look at the discussion above about Signing Statements.  They are a challenge to the authority of the Supreme Court.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

This is not an action President Bush has taken against Judges.  However there have been widespread firings of U.S. Attorney's because they were not following the political dictates of the Administration.

As for Judges, the Supreme Court under President Bush has had enough members replaced to swing the court towards the Conservative creed favored by the Administration.  There's nothing nefarious in this, every President selects Supreme Court nominations that match the opinions of the Administration.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

The analogy here is the Department of Homeland Defense, the realignment of Federal security forces, the nationalizing of airport security under the Transportation Security Agency, the suspiciously conducted "no-fly lists" which ban people from flying on airplanes, and an overall increased level of scrutiny.  All this was in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Clearly transportation security is very important, as there are various ways to use the transportation system against the people.  I'm curious why there isn't similar increase of security in train travel, as there has been in airport travel?  And I wonder if commercial air traffic gets the same scrutiny that civilian air traffic?  And I wonder if there is the same level of scrutiny of cargo containers, as there are for travelers in airports?

I think the effect of this grievance is about the harassment of the population.  My questions are about whether there is actual increased security, or whether it's just about harassment?

For example we are now required to remove our shoes so our shoes can be screened.  In other countries air travelers are not required to remove their shoes, only in the U.S.  This requirement comes from an event where someone tried to use their shoes as a bomb, a plot which fizzled horribly.  It doesn't increase our security for our shoes to be inspected, and any potential airplane bomber knows today they won't use shoes to transport bomb material, but we're still required to remove our shoes.  And, we're also required to drastically limit the liquids we bring on-board, because of another questionable bombing plot.

I think its purpose is more to do with harassment, and little to do with actual increased security.

And when one rides on an Amtrak train, do they get the same level of scrutiny?  Okay, it's tough to get a train to fly into a building, but wouldn't one be able to spray poisons in a train?

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

Well, clearly the U.S. is in a time of war so these grievances do not have a direct analogy to current events.  And curiously today the U.S. has a longstanding principle of keeping a standing army, but it's no doubt with the consent of Congress.  Another thing which has not happened is military predominance, because the military is still subject to civilian authority.

We have seen a rerouting of the National Guard to participate in the Iraq war effort.  This is a military force meant to work at home in times of disaster or riots.  In the Katrina Hurricane disaster the police forces were unable to keep the peace, partly because of National Guard troops and equipment instead being in Iraq.  Also in Kansas there was a town destroyed recently by a Tornado, and the Kansas National Guard was hindered by their members and equipment being in Iraq instead of in Kansas.

We have seen extensions of tours of duty for soldiers. Again to get more troops for the fighting in Iraq.

We are also seeing a growing influence of the Military-Industrial-Complex which President Eisenhower warned us of.  This is a growing set of Military contractor companies, interlocking with Defense Department officials, Congressional officials, etc.

It is very likely that these companies are encouraging more war, more fighting, greatly heightened security measures, etc, because it's good for business. While it's unlikely that a military contracting company directly encouraged the original series of terrorist attacks, the military contracting companies are increasingly involved with the conduct of the war. A particularly worrisome issue is intelligence activities that are being staffed, not by U.S. Military personal, but by contractors. A contractor participating in intelligence gathering is able to help skew the intelligence such that it appears more troops, equipment, etc is required.

We have seen growing dissent against the war in Iraq, and a growing call to bring the troops home.  To a large degree the refusal of the Bush Administration to heed this dissent led to the huge loss of Republican party power in the elections last year.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

I've already talked of the quasi-governmental organizations. This is not an action new to President Bush, but has been an ongoing international process for decades.

A direct analogy here is the refusal by the Bush Administration to heed the International Court of Justice. Clearly the ICJ is another of these quasi-governmental bodies that attempts to interfere with the sovereignty of individual nations. In particular the Bush Administration claims that international justice systems, such as the ICJ, interfere with the ability of the U.S. Military to do their job, in a way which eerily echo's the grievance statement here.

We know that U.S. Military has been torturing prisoners etc, flouting laws, treaties and moral standards along the way.

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

There is no direct analogy here with Bush Administration actions.

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

Can you say Guantanamo Bay and Extraordinary Rendition and Outsourced Torture? And what about Habeas Corpus?

There is a whole system of non-justice which the Bush Administration has enacted regarding people whom have been captured during the conduct of this "War on Terror". To be honest this war is wholly different from previous wars, in that there aren't mass armies fighting each other in broad fronts.  Instead you have small teams acting in a guerrilla unit manner, working secretly to stage terrorifying events within the normal stage of daily life.  This includes train bombings, airplane bombings, suicide bombers, car bombs, etc. In many cases the people being fought are not members of a government-sponsored military, but are members of non-government forces.

But, when someone is held for years without rights of trial, without rights to challenge why they are being detained, well, this smacks the face of hundreds of years of laws and traditions.

The Guantanamo Bay facility is part of a military outpost held by U.S. forces on the Island of Cuba.  As a facility it is completely outside the jurisdiction of almost anybody but the U.S. Military.  Except the U.S. Military is, uhm, subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. civilian authority.

That is, unless the Military has been rendered independent of and superior to civil power.

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever. He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

President Bush has not done this inside the U.S. That is, except in the manner of the discussions above concerning the Signing Statements and other ways which the Administration has flaunted the law.

Where President Bush has done this is the destruction of the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq. Like them or not, they were sovereign governments, and the U.S. caused the governments of those lands to be destroyed and replaced. That's what Regime Change means. Further we know the neocon agenda is to take Regime Change all through the Mideast, and that Iran is the next on the list of countries who are to have their government destroyed and replaced.

The military contractors being used widely in Iraq are clearly the equivalent of mercenaries.

There are strong indications that in preparation for attacking Iran, that various efforts to to infiltrate domestic insurrection in Iran etc. Of course, Iran seems to be fomenting domestic insurrection in Iraq and similarly Turkey is considering invading Iraq so they can control insurgent activities by the Kurds.  

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

There are many, such as myself, in the U.S. who have protested the Bush Administration actions since the beginning.  We have not been silent, and yet our repeated petitions have only been answered by repeated injury. I say, too, that a President whose character is shown by the actions of President Bush is not fit to serve as the ruler of the United States of America.

It is up to the people of the United States of America to remember the principles for which we stand. It is up to the people of the United States to recognize when those principles are being violated, and to take action to correct this situation.