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The secret to America’s problem

Alan Braunholtz
Vail CO, Colorado

July is a big month for fine words about our country’s values. Maybe if we keep telling the world how great we are they’ll start to understand us. Unfortunately, much of the world doesn’t listen to our rhetoric, but they understand us just fine by our actions. Here, we’re coming across more selfish than collaborative.

Do we consider their interests or just ours? We reject any action on global warming, break the anti-ballistic missile treaty, ignore the Geneva Conventions and take away the basic principle of habeas corpus ” a 1,000-year-old legal right that the English barons forced on the king. Basically the king has to bring a person in body before a judge and give a reason for their imprisonment. No secret indefinite detentions are allowed. Our ignorance of this right while fighting radical Islamic terrorists is a problem with our allies who see it as one of the basic building blocks of a civilized society.

Diplomacy and democracy are collaborative processes. We’re trying to replace both with public relations spin, which doesn’t work.

Actions speak louder than words and our policies, despite what we say, contradict some of our values. Most of us value the environment, an independent and fair justice system, and an open government so we know and can judge what’s being done in our name.

All of these values are being undermined. The people put in charge of departments responsible for protecting the environment have financial incentives to rape it. Like Stephen Griles, they’ve lied to Congress, broken the law, etc. to do so.

A justice system that is impartial sounds like a good idea but it gets in the way of handing out partisan favors. Federal attorneys have been fired for apparently refusing to use their positions to go after the other side. Amazingly no one, from the attorney general on down, seems to know who ordered these firings. We do know that some of their replacements quickly embraced politically motivated prosecutions to help their party in the 2004 elections.

Their selection by staffers from law schools with a mission “to bring upon the legal profession the will of almighty God, our creator” should worry those who believe in separation of church and state or don’t have the same direct line to God as these people think they do.

The political head of the General Services Administration, which is responsible for contracting government services, sent an e-mail to “help our candidates.” This breaks a law that prevents using federal funds for partisan gain. In fact the whole no-bid contract process looks like a dodgy, inefficient and a corrupt way of rewarding friends.

Then there’s the addiction to secrecy that prevents Congress, the courts and definitely the public from knowing what’s going on. That culture of secrecy is revealed by the White House’s deliberate use of outside e-mail accounts (they use the Republican National Committee’s) so they can say and do things they knew they shouldn’t. This violates the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which says all of a president’s and his close aides’ records are the property of the U.S. Likewise, Vice President Cheney’s office claims it’s not required to release information to the National Archives.

Congress’ attempts at oversight are blocked and dismissed as merely political. Perhaps they are, but they open up the political record for history. That’s how the world works. If you do something not so bright other people get to see why and how and then decide if they still want to work with you. If it’s all hidden to avoid any accountability, then no one can learn from the past. We enter a world of strange conspiracy theories and there are few consequences to force change.

That may be the point though; they don’t want to change no matter how much their policies confront the country’s values. Instead of putting our country first they’re more focused on the interests of their party and their policies are spun to hide that.

This president likes to say he prefers to be judged by history, not opinion polls, which is a fine sentiment, but then why all the attempts to prevent history from knowing the facts? History is a good teacher and future governments can learn from the past. One large lesson is that secret governments do dumb things, because there’s no one outside the inner circle to challenge their ideological biases and point out foolish ideas.

Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a biweekly column for the Daily. Send comments or questions to editor@vaildaily.com.


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