Below is a letter that I've drafted & intend to send unless I change my mind, and I invite you to tell me to change my mind if you think it justified. I will mail it on Monday. I'm I nuts? Overblown? I hope so, but I doubt it. Read & consider, and advise:
Stephen N. Greenleaf
345 Magowan Ave.
Iowa City, Iowa 52246
December 8, 2011
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, D.C. 20202
Senator Charles Grassley
135 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-1501
Senator Tom Harkin
731 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Rep. Dave Loebsak
1221 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Mr. President, Senators, and Congressman:
I watched the opening segment of The Daily Show (http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes/wed-december-7-2011-ralph-fiennes) on December 7 of this year. I am always cautious when I watch a "fake news show". I try to be very careful to distinguish the actual from the imagined. However, I believe this segment was real—almost surreal—and I am appalled by what I learned. I am referring to the defense appropriations bill (S. 1867), which provides for indefinite detainment of US citizens. Host Jon Stewart attempted to address this topic with his usual humor. However, his dismay was apparent, and I want to let you know that I share his dismay.
War and the threat of war acts as a corrosive acid that eats to the very heart of democracy and liberty. This issue goes to the essence of our jurisprudence and our constitutional system of government. To allow the indefinite detainment of suspects without trial or hearing would undo the trend of hundreds of years of Anglo-American law that has sought to limit the arbitrary powers of the state and to protect the rights of the individual. I agree with Mr. Stewart that this proposal contradicts the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which intends to protect the individual from unwarranted intrusions by the state.
I am a realist, not a Pollyanna. I understand the threats posed by Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Islamist organizations. I also understand the threat posed by homegrown terrorists, such as a Timothy McVeigh. In fact, over the course of our nation's history, we have faced all manner of threats to the security of our people and our government. Nevertheless, we have managed—sometimes despite ourselves—to preserve our liberties. Administrations of great American presidents, such those of Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, have been sullied by their actions that unduly and wrongly curtailed the rights of individuals. The Obama administration, along with this Congress, appears to be ready to take the same unwarranted and frightening steps.
In addition to threats posed by terrorists or foreign powers is threat that we face from the arbitrary use of government power against individuals. Over the course of hundreds of years, our legal system has carved out limitations on the sovereign that have become fundamental to our system of laws and government. By this measure you would further erode fundamental protections that our system provides to its citizens.
The erosion of constitutional protections of the individual against the arbitrary decisions of those in power has increased over the last ten years. I have too often remained silent. However, I can no longer remain silent in the face of this of assault on our liberties. I understand that Congress responds to public opinion and rarely leads it. I understand the presidency almost inevitably seeks to expand its powers. However, there are some occasions when new profiles in courage are required, and now is such a time. Please do not send me some pabulum in response to this letter. Please address directly whether you agree with this fundamental alteration in our legal system and its protections for the individual. Please justify why (if you do) believe that American citizens should be held without trial. Please tell me how you reconcile this provision with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Please do not attempt to tell me that the need for Pentagon appropriations requires your support for this action since a failure to fund the Pentagon is not a realistic possibility.
Please know that I will continue to speak out against this assault. I urge each of you to take immediate steps to prevent the adoption of this provision. I urge you to uphold your oath to protect and defend the Constitution, an oath that each of you and I have sworn to do.
Thank you very much for your attention this. I eagerly await your response.
Stephen N. Greenleaf
Saturday, December 10, 2011
This article by Ken Rogoff in a very short space addresses some of the pressing problems with contemporary capitalism. His first point, and one that bears remembering, is that we have no better alternative. To paraphrase Churchill, capitalism is the worst form of government except when compared to all of the others. Does Europe (certainly not!) or China (still young) have a better model of capitalism? No, not really; different, not without significant problems. Rogoff notes, in a very brief and succinct article, five areas where contemporary capitalism has problems: health care, finance, inequality, under valuation of common goods (air, water); under valuation of the future, and consumerism (we sell a lot of food ("good"), and we get fat. Very thoughtful. I think capitalism, with about every system, has a real agency problem, but I don't know the best cure.
Niall Ferguson sounds a lot like Paul Krugman in this piece: we need to expand the monetary supply and spur demand. Ferguson, of course, cites a couple of important works of history, but otherwise, I think that he's saying here what Krugman has been saying for some time. Yes, we do need to tame budget deficits, but in the immediate future, we need to take steps to get out from under this severe economic contraction. Interesting.