Analysis and rationality in a nonrational world

May 10, 2006

Out of control at Congress

Filed under: Government — analysis @ 2:08 pm

One would have thought, to hear the rhetoric of the past fifty years, that state’s-rights advocates, libertarians, and conservatives would be rejoicing to have the Republican party in control of every branch of government, but it seems that personal freedoms are disappearing almost as quickly as honesty and truth in government.

First, we have the new theory on the “unitary executive,” which some would have us believe simply means that there is a single president. Hey, we don’t need a theory for that; it’s obvious and has been the case since the nation was founded. The unitary executive theory holds that the president has unlimited powers in times of crisis – such as, say, the Cold War, which started in 1917 or so (if you count from the earliest justification of suspending law and order because of the real threat of communist revolution in the United States – no, I can’t believe anyone ever believed that could happen, either!), or the threat of terrorism, which has justified all sorts of nasty things since 9/11, and will continue to be loads of fun for people who like to do dark, nasty, illegal things for years to come. In short, the unitary executive theory can be used to convert republic into empire, if the Congress and Supreme Court don’t object – and it doesn’t look as though they will. I’m not saying it will happen, but already G.W. Bush has been using a nonexistent authority to write little comments into the margins of laws he signs – things like “doesn’t apply to me.” The law should always apply to presidents…

Second, we have the suspension of civil liberties for many suspected terrorists. It’s been four or five years for hundreds or thousands of people held without any appeal or trial now. At some point, people have to be charged, slaughtered, or released. The laws of this country do not allow for unlimited jail without access to lawyers or trials. For some reason, Fox News, which gets all worked up over things that later turn out to be fictions or hoaxes, has never pursued this story.

Third, we have the G.W. Bush first saying that he would pursue the chain of torture in US facilities until he found the leader, no matter how far up that leader was. The people who wrote the infamous memo stating that the US is not subject to the Geneva Convention, at least insofar as terrorism is concerned – which covers the war in Iraq, though Iraq was completely uninvolved in 9/11, which was carried out mainly by Saudi Arabians – have been rewarded and promoted, not jailed.

There are dozens of other incidents of varying importance, but now I’d like to move on to states’ rights, a subject near and dear to Ronald Reagan’s speeches if not his actual deeds. On this Thursday, March 2, Congress will vote on a bill to gut food safety and labeling laws. H.R. 4167, the National Uniformity for Food Act, would eliminate current state or local laws and prevent the enactment of future laws that impose stricter requirements for food safety than current federal standards. In short, the states will have absolutely no control over the safety or labeling of the food eaten by their citizens. Congress does have the power to do this, as part of its power to regulate commerce; but it seems an odd thing to do, given that 30 states (a majority) have laws that empower citizens to find out what’s in their food—such as toxic chemicals, mercury, potential allergens, and genetically engineered ingredients.

Congress held no public hearings on this issue; it was like the energy bill, designed in consultation with big companies that paid for access.

For the moment, I’d like to ask people to contact your representatives and tell them to VOTE NO on H.R. 4167. Phone calls are remarkably quick and easy. In the long run, I’d like to ask you to seriously consider not what candidates and officials say, but what they do. Are you really for state’s rights if you wipe them out in so cavalier a fashion? Are you really for small government if you reserve the right to wiretap any citizen, without any court order, trial, or evidence at all? Are you really for small government if you keep on boosting the budget? And can anyone who is really conservative go from paying off the deficit to increasing it so that each and every person in the country owes well over $20,000, putting the nation’s promissory notes into the hands of Saudi Arabia, China, and other countries we’d probably be better off maintaining a more distant relationship with? Think about that when you vote – and ignore all the talk, the slander of opponents, the lies of unreliable news networks, and the inflammatory e-mails. Or check the facts and see if your news sources really are reliable when investigated with the BBC, CBC, and various trustworthy (read: not partisan think-tanks that have a web of cross-funding, and all come to the same conclusions 90% of the time) sources.

(Why do we need state and local food rules, liberterians and Republicans may ask? Because the Food and Drug Administration is understaffed, underfunded, and like many such agencies, led by people who don’t seem to support the core mission of protecting the public. Relevant state and local laws cover labelling of food additives, potential allergens, shellfish, and more. Some local laws are truly local in need, such as catfish labeling in Mississippi and Arkansas. This law would also strike down California’s Proposition 65, which requiring warning notices on products that contain ingredients known to cause cancer or birth defects.

At one time, before the FDA, food and drug claims and labels were not required. At that time, you could get cocaine and alcohol in heavy doses in kids’ medicines, poisons in regular foods, and any claim that someone wanted to make – cures cancer, prevents kidney damages – they could and did make. I believe the libertarian creed is that anyone should be able to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt others; the FDA and various state laws are often needed to make sure that the unprincipled truly do not hurt others. These are not generally laws of the insane-and-inane or do-we-need-it? variety – third brake lights and always-on headlights come to mind – these are often laws caused by deaths that were the result of long and bitter battles.)

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