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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

When Secret Courts Are Not Enough!

Category: US Politics
Posted: 12/18/05 12:32

by Dave Mindeman

Not since the days of J. Edgar Hoover have our civil liberties been in such danger. It is stunning to listen to this President arrogantly admit that he has authorized surveillance of American citizens with no oversight. The checks and balances needed for a healthy democracy have become irrelevant.

When the abuses of the Hoover FBI came to light, we thought we had devised a compromise with the FISA courts. Even though these courts were secret, they provided some method of "watching the watchers".

But that is all meaningless now. Under the guise of "national security" we have a President who feels empowered to bypass all that on his own authority! We are at risk.

Coleen Rowley, former FBI agent and 2nd Congressional District DFL candidate, has been there and watched both the good and the bad of the FBI's journey. She has a must read blog entry on the subject. There are very few people with as much expertise in this area as Coleen -- here is an excerpt:

Gathering intelligence is crucial to our national security. Tracking phone calls and monitoring e-mails when properly applied can literally prevent attacks from occurring on American soil. However, ordinary, law-abiding Americans should not be subject to such intrusive surveillance. We have a constitutional right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures. To ensure that our rights are respected, we need a check on those who gather intelligence, we need watchers who watch the watchers.

The absence of oversight opens the door to abuse. In a perfect world, our agencies would investigate only those persons who threaten our security. Unfortunately, history proves that government agencies can and do abuse the powers we give them, making diligent oversight an absolute necessity to intelligence operations.

Please check out the full entry here.

The next election escalates in importance with each new revelation about this administration. Be informed and watch what you say!
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Defining Victory via "Waterboarding"

Category: US Politics
Posted: 12/17/05 12:03

by Dave Mindeman

I sometimes listen to the Fox News shows (don't throw things please..) to see what kind of rationale they have for the bumbling things our current President does. Recently, Special Report with Britt Hume had an arcane discussion about waterboarding. You have to wonder how low the debate has gone when we discuss the legality of torture procedures.

The Fox line during these discussions always hinges on the "movie" scenario. You know, we know there is a bomb out there somewhere and we have captured a terrorist who is sure to know. We have to get information and it must be immediate. Torture is necessary.

That's nuts! Even if you get something you think is useful in that manner, all it would take is a bit of fake information to keep everybody running in circles long enough to make sure the bomb goes off.

But even having these discussions is disturbing. We just went through an election where the winners are telling us that they won because of "moral values". Well the "moral value" of waterboarding is hard to fathom; here is a Wikipedia discussion of it:

The current practice of waterboarding was known previously as "the water cure." It involves tying the victim to a board with the head lower than the feet so that he or she is unable to move. A piece of cloth is held tightly over the face, and water is poured onto the cloth. Breathing is extremely difficult and the victim will be in fear of imminent death by asphyxiation. However, it is relatively difficult to aspirate a large amount of water since the lungs are higher than the mouth, and the victim is unlikely actually to die if this is done by skilled practitioners. Waterboarding may be used by captors who wish to impose anguish without leaving marks on their victims as evidence.
This is a technique demonstrated on U.S. military personnel by other U.S. military personnel when they are being taught to resist enemy interrogations in the event of capture.
On Nov. 18, 2005, Brian Ross and Richard Esposito described the CIA's "waterboarding" technique as follows in an article posted on the ABC News web site: "The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt. According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

We used to be able to discuss human rights with other nations-- carrying our record of standing up for human dignity and worth. That used to be the essence of our moral authority. In reality, that is what we are fighting this war on terror for. It is a war to determine where real justice for everyone lies.

If our country has to think in terms of torture to fight a war on anything, then we lose.
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Rep. Kline -- Heed the Vigil!

Category: Minnesota Politics
Posted: 12/15/05 12:08

by Dave Mindeman

About 35 people braved the elements yesterday to hold a vigil outside of Rep. John Kline's office. The vigil was about morality.... morality toward the poor, the homeless, the sick.

I am sure Congressman Kline won't acknowledge what was said there or what they represented. After all, his values are in order. He works to strengthen policies of war and corporate profits. He has a deaf ear when it comes to the message of that vigil as he votes on budgetary matters.

But this vigil was about real morality. Morality about the allocation of this country's wealth. If the Hurricane Katrina aftermath did not move you to understand the unfairness of our current budget priorities, then maybe you still aren't ready to take a hard look at poverty in this country. To explain it away as somehow the fault of the ones impoverished is an act of immorality itself.

We are well into the Christmas season... there needs to be a Christian discussion about this. What I was taught in my Sunday School classes is not reflected in the things we do as a nation -- this leader of the free world and bastion of morality. Other nations cannot understand our value system...and I am not talking about Islamic states or dictatorial regimes. I am talking about our Western allies. The Europeans work on a true sense of community. All of their citizens matter. Everyone is entitled to fair treatment. But the pictures our own country is sending to the world are of Abu Ghraib, flooded New Orleans, and war.

Is that who we are? Did I not understand the words of Jesus when He talked about the moneychangers, the peacemakers, and the Golden Rule?

Matthew 25:40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Int.Version)

We need to open up the discussion on poverty... all the charitable giving in the world won't make a dent in the problem if government policy is going to keep pushing more people onto the poverty roles. And besides, we owe every citizen the dignity to be able to take care of their own. There are just too many hard working people who do their jobs every day, only to fall farther and farther behind. It is not right...it is not moral.

Congressman Kline has important family matters of his own to consider as Christmas approaches. After all, he has a son in harms way in Iraq. But there are thousands of other families dealing with that very same issue and millions of others dealing with the effects of this administration's budgetary policies.

Where our budget priorities end up mattered to those 35 people who trudged out in the snow to tell Congressman Kline the poor still need help. More people need to join them. It IS a moral issue.
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