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Democrats Must Not, Can Not, Cave In! April 7, 2011

Posted by Afflatus in Politics.
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A friend of mine suggested today that she thinks the Democrats should cave in to Republican budget demands because of all the devastating consequences to people and to the economy of a government shutdown. While these consequences are disastrous, I totally disagree. Caving would be have horrible policy consequences, could save Boehner from political defeat, and prove that Democrats are in fact spineless.

The Democrats should not cave first and foremost on principle. Boehner’s demands in closed-door sessions are apparently about cuts to environmental programs and women’s health programs (presumably EPA and Planned Parenthood). These programs do a great deal of good for our country, agreeing to cuts to them would be wrong. If the democrats won’t stand for the environment and a women’s right to choose, what will they stand for?

Secondly, Speaker Boehner is in a horribly precarious political corner  right now. He basically has two options: 1) he compromises with Democrats or 2) he plays hardball, continues to demand more and more cuts.  These two options reflect the deep divisions within the GOP’s ranks. He has ruled out option 1 because at this point a compromise would likely cost him the Speakership. Tea-party minded Representatives would revolt, and it’s quite feasible that Eric Cantor could become Speaker. There is a well-known rivalry between these two, and their positions regarding the FY11 budget have distanced as the budget talks deepened. Boehner obviously wants to retain the Speakership, so the compromise option is out. He chose option 2 – playing hardball. After the three week CR in which Democrats caved and agreed to GOP demands of cuts of $30 billion over three weeks, Boehner now demands more. Today, Democrats proposed a 1 week extension at the current levels (which are already $30 billion lower than 3 weeks ago) in order to provide more space and time for a compromise, and the Republicans refused to bring it to a vote. It appears as if option 2 for Boehner will lead to a government shutdown in which he is blamed. This is also a very bad option for Boehner. This is the horribly precarious situation in which Boehner now resides.

When your negotiating opponent is in such a weak position, and when you have already acceded to his/her prior demands and they only moved the goalposts, caving in is not an option. Due to the policy demands which caving in would require agreeing to, caving becomes even more odious. Democrats should stand up for the issues they care about and should proclaim loud and clear that this is the Republicans fault. Boehner will get blamed and will likely compromise within a week. After getting blamed for the shutdown, Boehner will not wish to prolong a shutdown which would only bring more criticism of his leadership from the public.

The government shutdown will have disastrous effects on the American people. Unfortunately, House Republicans don’t care. This is the fault of the Republican leadership and Democrats must make that clear. If the Democrats can’t communicate this effectively, they simply can’t communicate period.

Ellsberg and Secrecy Oaths July 5, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in History, Politics.
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Daniel Ellsberg is a former US military analyst employed by the Rand Corporation who precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times and other newspapers.

He wrote an very interesting article for the Harvard International Review in 2002. It’s interesting from a historical perspective, governance perspective and more, and he proposes a solution that’s hard to disagree with.

Secrecy oaths: A License To Lie?

Harvard International Review – June 22, 2004

Daniel Ellsberg

Between 1968 and 1971, I repeatedly broke a solemn, formal promise that I had made in good faith: not to reveal to any “unauthorized persons” information that I received through certain channels and under certain safeguards, collectively known as the “classification” system.

I have never doubted that, under the circumstances facing me, I did the right thing when I revealed the contents of the top-secret Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War to the US Senate and the press. Although it involved breaking the promises I had made to various government agencies and the Rand Corporation, it was the only way to inform the US Congress and the US public of information that was being wrongfully withheld from them; I had considered many other options and tried most of them. The information was vital to Constitutional processes of decision-making on an ongoing war in which tens of thousands of US citizens and many more Vietnamese had been–in effect–lied to death.

Moreover, this had occurred with the complicity of a generation of officials–myself among them–who had placed loyalty to their oaths of secrecy (and to their bosses and careers) above their loyalty to the US Constitution and to their opportunity to avert or end an unnecessary, wrongful, hopeless, and vastly destructive war. By 1971, it was clear to me that it was my earlier complicity with the secrecy system that was mistaken and censurable, not my later choice to tell the truth.

I signed many secrecy “oaths,” or contractual agreements, over the years: as a US Marine officer, as an employee of the Rand Corporation, as a consultant to the offices of the US Secretary of Defense, the US Department of State, and the White House, and later as an employee of the US Department of Defense and the US Department of State. All of them were blanket promises that I would never give any information that was identified as safeguarded, “secret,” or “classified,” to a person who had not been otherwise authorized to receive it by the person or agency that gave me the information.

Implicit in my promises not to reveal such information to “unauthorized” persons was that I would follow them no matter what this information might be: whether it revealed evidence of official lies, crimes, planning for wars in violation of ratified treaties or the US Constitution, violations or planned violations of laws made by the US Congress; whether the unauthorized persons or agencies were officials of the legislative and judicial branch who vitally needed the information to carry out their constitutional functions and had a legitimate right to learn the truth; whether an election, congressional investigation, or vote that decided issues of war and peace were affected by the silence and obedient lies about the government’s plans and actions; and whether countless people had died and were continuing to die because the information was being wrongfully withheld by my own colleagues and superiors under a policy of secrecy and deception.