By traditional measurement, the United States is 230 years old today. Also today, the Freedom of Information Act turns 40, a fact President Carter discusses in his op-ed in yesterday's Washington Post:
[T]his anniversary will not be a day of celebration for the right to information in our country. Our government leaders have become increasingly obsessed with secrecy. Obstructionist policies and deficient practices have ensured that many important public documents and official actions remain hidden from our view.
Let's review: throughout history, government transparency has always correlated with freedom. People keep secrets out of fear that harm will come to them otherwise. More secrets means more fear. So to figure out why people keep secrets it helps to figure out what they're afraid of.
The people who run our government are afraid, rightfully so, that if their actions were generally known they would lose power. So they keep more and more secrets, protecting their incompetence, mendacity, theft, and corruption. But secrets begat more secrets, until it takes significant resources just to keep the secrets. And it permeates the culture.
Stalin didn't fear the Germans. He feared his own people. Same with Mao, the junta in Myannmar, Pinochet, Franco, Nixon, and all the other oppressive governments throughout history. Because when the people find out their governments are lying to them and stealing from them, when they really understand this, they get angry.
Fewer than 931 days and 4 hours remain in the Bush administration.
On this day in 1941, the universe changed: NBC broadcast the world's first television commercial, heralding the end of the existing civilization.
Sometimes it's sad reading the morning papers.
The President is reacting to public disclosure of illegal surveillance programs disgracefully:
President Bush offered an impassioned defense of his secret international banking surveillance program yesterday, calling it a legal and effective tool for hunting down terrorists and denouncing the media's disclosure of it as a "disgraceful" act that does "great harm" to the nation.
See, it's the surveillance, wiretapping, eavesdropping, and leafing through bank records that is disgraceful and harmful, but the Administration can admit no wrong.
This comes on the heels of a Republican congressman disgracefully saying troop witdrawals are good politics (as opposed to good policy):
The withdrawal of 20,000-40,000 U.S. troops from Iraq this fall would greatly help Republican chances in the November election, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) said at a fundraiser Thursday at the National Rifle Association.
Souder acknowledged in his remarks that the war in Iraq has dampened support for Republican candidates but added that withdrawing 30,000 troops could have a big impact, said Martin Green, Souder's spokesman.
The congressman said it would amount to an "October Surprise" in its effect, although he dismissed the idea that a U.S. troop withdrawal would begin for domestic political reasons.
Also yesterday, disgraced Republican talk-show host Rush Limbaugh got caught at Palm Beach International Airport with possibly illegal drugs:
Limbaugh was returning on a flight from the Dominican Republic when customs officials found a Viagra prescription that did not bear his name. Instead, the bottle of pills had the names of two doctors on it according to the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office.
In other news, a German hunter (who is probably not a Republican) administered a coup de disgrace to the only wild bear in Germany yesterday:
Bruno, a bear who had romped across southern Germany since migrating over the Alps from Italy six weeks ago, was shot by a Bavarian hunter at sunrise. Government officials had authorized the use of deadly force after they failed to take him alive with an assortment of tricks, including a pack of Finnish tracking dogs, tranquilizer darts and nonlethal traps imported from the United States.
In this month's Washington Monthly:
About the only failure more pronounced than the president's has been the graft-filled plunder of GOP lawmakers—at least according to opinion polls, which in May gave the GOP-controlled Congress favorability ratings in the low 20s, about 10 points lower than the president's. This does not necessarily translate into electoral Armageddon; redistricting and other incumbency-protection devices help protect against that. But even if many commentators think that Republicans may retain control over Congress, very few think they should.
If government is necessary, bad government, at least for conservatives, is inevitable, and conservatives have been exceptionally good at showing just how bad it can be. Hence the truth revealed by the Bush years: Bad government—indeed, bloated, inefficient, corrupt, and unfair government—is the only kind of conservative government there is. Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.
Ma Bell, risen from near death like the hydra, now says they own your phone records and will disclose them however they see fit:
The new policy says that AT&T—not customers—owns customers' confidential info and can use it "to protect its legitimate business interests, safeguard others, or respond to legal process."
The policy also indicates that AT&T will track the viewing habits of customers of its new video service—something that cable and satellite providers are prohibited from doing.
I will now begin the process of switching our home-phone service...
Scientists find more evidence that the planet is, on average, its warmest in 400 years:
A panel of top climate scientists told lawmakers that the Earth is heating up and that "human activities are responsible for much of the recent warming." Their 155-page report said average global surface temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere rose about 1 degree during the 20th century.
Overall, the panel agreed that the warming in the last few decades of the 20th century was unprecedented over the last 1,000 years, though relatively warm conditions persisted around the year 1000, followed by a "Little Ice Age" from about 1500 to 1850.
The President still doesn't believe there's a connection between human activities and global warming in much the same way that South African president Thabo Mbecki doesn't see the connection between HIV and AIDS.
942 days, 20 hours left.
New Scientist is reporting this hour that a man died in Beijing of H5N1 bird flu fully two years before China admitted any human cases:
The case suggests that, as has long been suspected, many more people have caught H5N1 flu in China than have been reported, and for a longer time. The more human cases there are, the more chances the virus has to evolve into a human pandemic strain of flu.
"It's a very important issue that needs to be clarified urgently," Roy Wadia, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said on Thursday in Beijing. "It raises questions as to how many other cases may not have been found at the time or may have been found retrospectively in testing."
Remember what I wrote about an hour ago that governments suppressing the press is bad for democracy? Well, I forgot to mention that it's bad for our health as well.
More on this later, but just keep in mind that oppressive regimes always attack the press before attacking the people. Keeping a free and open press is an absolute requirement of democracy.
On that theme, three stories:
As I describe these things, I can't help but to compare what the Republican officials are doing in this country to what another party's officials have done throughout the last century in places like China and the U.S.S.R. I can't understand why this doesn't bother them more. After all, our party has the reputation for collectivism; they've always argued for "small government." Paraphrasing Ralph Kiner: "If Eisenhower were alive today, he'd be spinning in his grave."
I refer here to President Roosevelt's approval rating after the Battle of the Bulge. Josh Marshall's people found a beautiful document prepared in the 1940s; Marshall himself explains why this is not simply a poke-in-the-eye for Fox News—er, Press Secretary Tony Snow:
There's a serious underlying point here about the administration's basic frivolousness in its conduct of the war.
No one thinks you can fight a war or conduct any project of great consequence by following minor oscillations in polls. But long term and imbedded trends in public opinion mean something. In this case, the public can see President Bush doesn't know what he's doing.
Having his flacks go out and compare him to great wartime leaders of the past and insult the American people in the process doesn't change that.
Jack Abramoff's right-hand man, David Safavian, was convicted today of lying and obstructing justice:
Safavian was charged with lying about his relationship with Abramoff and his knowledge of the lobbyist's interest in acquiring properties from [General Services Administration], the property managing agency for the federal government. He was also charged with obstructing investigators looking into a golf trip he took with Abramoff in 2002.
TPM Muckraker has a thorough dossier on this clown.