Sunday, July 18, 2010

Speedy Trials and the Gruel of Law

What would the Constitutional Fundamentalists at the Tea Party think?

On July 12, 2010, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Southern District of New York United States District Court in Manhattan ruled that suspects can be held over six years and still get a speedy trial.

You may remember the U.S. Constitution has a Sixth (VI) Amendment stating: "In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial."

Apparently Judge Kaplan can't read at grade level, or thinks he is not obligated by the U.S. Constitution, or is just plain corrupt. Or maybe he believes in "judge made law." He appears to have set a new standard for speedy trial. "Speedy" does not mean in a short period of time. It is all about the alleged criminal's ability to defend himself. If that does not decrease in the pre-trial period of time, then the trial is speedy. Even if it takes six years to get around to it. Or, as Kaplan wrote in his opinion "There is no persuasive evidence that the delay in this prosecution has impaired Ghailani’s ability to defend himself in any respect or significantly prejudiced him in any other way pertinent to the speedy trial analysis."

Get prepared, America. Forget the assumption you are not guilty until proven to be. You can be held in jail for six years. And apparently interogated (aka tortured) by the CIA. Then, you get a trial.

The suspect, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, is accused of having some role in bombing American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Maybe he deserved a long prison sentence. On the other hand, the case is one of many that brings to the forefront the United States government's extending of its legal arm to foreign soils. Should not Mr. Ghailani be tried in Kenya and Tanzania? Or perhaps President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton should be tried in Afghanistan for all the Afghans they have killed?

This is how liberty is engineered into oblivion. The government picks a case where the alleged criminal will have no public sympathy. It uses collaborating judges like Kaplan, and often arranges for a weak defense attorney for the victim. Maybe the ruling is appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where if upheld it sets a precedent for the entire nation.

Once the precedent is set, the old interpretation of the word "speedy" is erased from the U.S. Constitution. It is replaced by the right of the government to delay trial as long as a judge can be persuaded that the defendant has not had his defense capability impaired. In the case of the majority of poor people, they have little ability to defend themselves as it is, so there can't be much erosion.

Or, again quoting Kaplan: "The Sixth Amendment guarantees "a speedy ... trial," but it nowhere defines speedy."

I did not know the U.S. Constitution included a dictionary. Most of the words in the Constitution are not defined in the Constitution. So words means whatever judges say they mean?

Today a guy who is labeled an Islamic terrorist. Tomorrow, a Tea Party or militia guy, or perhaps a Socialist or environmentalist trouble maker. Maybe just a whistleblower. Once a precedent is set, whoever controls the apparatus of state and judicial power has a mighty weapon against their enemies.

Again, we have a good illustration that we are subject to the Gruel of Law. Rich people will doubtless continue to get speedy trials, and acquittals if there is any doubt as to their guilt. The poor, and especially those who oppose the U.S. government's attempt to boss everyone in the world around, will get whatever swill American judges dish out.

See also United States of America vs. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hong Kong Thoughts: FDR, Chiang Kai-shek, and the Mont Tremblant Conference

I can assume you've heard of Hong Kong, and most of you know FDR stands for United States President-for-Life Franklin Delano Roosevelt. You should know that Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), the Generalissimo, was the generally acknowledged leader of the Chinese government (such as it was) during the era of Roosevelt and Hitler. Chiang even went on to a ghostly existence as the leader of the rebel island province of Taiwan once he lost mainland China to the Chinese Communist government.

I'm pretty sure you don't know about the Mont Tremblant Conference, because I only learned of it a few days ago while reading A History of Hong Kong
by Frank Welsh. Nothing like reading a Brit book to learn some things about American history that are ... not in American books.

Before we get into Mont Tremblant, let me mention that on page 424 I learned a new fact about the D. in FDR. During World War II, President Roosevelt's "visitors were reminded that his maternal grandfather, Warren Delano, had been a partner in Russel's [Hong Kong establishment] and that his mother had spent part of her childhood in Hong Kong. The fact that Russel's had been active in the opium trade ... did not seem to cross the President's mind." But I'm sure all you FDR fans already knew that. I just missed it somehow.

Today the Mont Tremblant conference is a mystery, it does not even have its own Wikipedia page [another item for my To Do list]. According to Welsh, scattered about pages 423-427, the conference took place between December 4 and 14th, 1942 at Mont Tremblant near Quebec, Canada. I learned elsewhere it was sponsored by a non-governmental organization, the IPR (Institute of Pacific Relations). The Chinese nationalists were doing little in the way of fighting the Japanese at that time, but Roosevelt was giving them a lot of money and arms that the British thought could be better used to fight for British dominance of Europe and North Africa.

Some American leaders were playing the anti-colonialism card, notably Vice-President Wallace. But Roosevelt stated he was willing to give the French colony of Indochina as well as Hong Kong to Chiang Kai-shek. The Brits present had no problem trading rhetoric. When FDR referred to the Brits grabbing Hong Kong, Oliver (Lord) Stanley retorted "Mr. President, that was about the time of the Mexican War, wasn't it?" The British, less blinded to certain realities than the anti-communists in Roosevelt's regime, in 1942 already suspected that Chiang Kai-shek would not be able to hold onto power if the Japanese left China. Recall that the number 2 man in the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) had been set up as the head of China by the Japanese, a pretty cozy relationship that no one any longer seems to want to talk about.

David MacDougall, formerly a member of the Hong Kong government, attended Mont Tremblant and reported that there was a division in the British delegation between those who were willing to pacify the U.S. by giving up Hong Kong, and those who believed that after the war a general settlement on colonialism in the Pacific would be necessary. In such a conference the British might give up Hong Kong if the Dutch and French gave up their colonies. And it the U.S. gave up the Philippines and Hawaii. Welsh does not mention it, but the U.S. had grabbed quite a few smaller Pacific islands during its colonial expansion. [FDR repeatedly turned down the requests of the Philippines for independence during his regime. The Japanese granted the Philippines formal independence.]

Now, as part of my research into the U.S. War Against Asia, I feel I need to read in more detail about this Mont Tremblant conference. No treaties were signed, but that should not relegate the conference to the dustbin of history. Are there minutes of the meetings somewhere? All this sort of stuff should be on the Internet now, where scholars and the merely curious can access it easily.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Tea Party's Fundamentalist Constitution, Taxes, and Federalist No. 62

I get a fair amount of Tea Party people sending me email disagreeing with my essays on republics and democracies. Until recently Tea Party people were characterized in the "liberal" media (yes, I read the New York Times) as a hodgepodge of angry, mostly white, right-wing anti-tax, anti-immigrant, anti-Obama types. Now a new consensus is emerging, both in the Tea Party and for its observers: the main theme is going back to "the original United States Constitution."

Before I lose you, copy this to your clipboard, and then put it somewhere in your handy intellectual ammunition belt: But it is superfluous to try, by the standard of theory, a part of the Constitution which is allowed on all hands to be the result, not of theory, but "of a spirit of amity, and that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable." That is in The Federalist Papers No. 62, attributed to John Hamilton or James Madison. While it specifically refers to the decision that each state should have two senators in the Federal Senate, it also admits that a bunch of politicians got together and hammered out a Constitution based on mutual backscratching. If God entered the writing process, it was in mysterious ways.

Even though I disagree with many Tea Party positions, I love the idea that people are getting together and talking to each other about fundamental political ideas, unmediated by the corrupt major political parties.

My favorite email from a Tea Party guy so far said, "Bill, u r so wrong about democracy vs. a Republic lets see, I pledge aleigance to the flag , and the democracy for which it stands, no i dont think that is how it goes. And there was no such thing called u.s.citizenship until 1868, and it was created for the slaves. I dont have civil rights, I have unaleinable rights. But I can promise u this, the people of' this country are starting 2 wake up. The republic that was stolen from the people by that traitor, FDR is on its way back. Aint there is nothing u new world order people can do 2 stop it." [don't judge by the spelling, this was email, after all]

Since Tea Party people are reading the Constitution, maybe that will put an end to the tax-scam idea that the Federal Income Tax is illegal because we are all citizens of the States, not of the Federal Government. On the first page of my handy U.S. Consitituion it says "No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have ... been seven Years a Citizen of the United States." That seems pretty clear. Federal citizenship began when the first Federal government convended. Find a better excuse to not pay your income taxes. [I suggest becoming an oil company]

And since they are reading the Constitution, maybe they will read about the events leading up to the Constitution. It may shock the Tea Party faithful to know that one of the main reasons for doing away with the Articles of Confederation was an armed tax revolt in Massachusetts, Shay's rebellion. And one of the first acts of the new Federal Government was the armed suppression of the Whiskey rebellion, which was also an anti-tax rebellion.

So if you are really anti-tax, and want a fundamentalist document to hang your hat on, you would want to go back to the Articles of Confederation. Which is all right by me. As far as I can tell, the declaration that the Constitution had superceded the Articles was a power play. When most people voted against the new Constitution, the elites had to use highly questionable methods to get it in place.

One thing I do agree with the Tea Party on is the misuse of the Commerce Clause. It was gradually made into a "Congress and Presidents and bureaucracies can do anything they want" clause. If Congress wants to regulate business in general, instead of leaving that power to the states, there should be an Amendment to the Constitution giving Congress that power, and clearly defining the extent of the power. [Best Commerce Clause book: Gaveling Down The Rabble]

Reading the Constitution with a fundamentalist mindset is not a bad thing, if you have not read the Constitution before or thought about it. On the other hand, thinking the Constitution was written by God is just idiotic. It was written by just a another bunch of corrupt politicians who mostly whoreshipped at the altar of Wealth. The Constitution has needed amending and interpreting. In fact, I can think of a bunch of amendments I would like to add, like one giving Congress the explicit power to protect the environment.

But if you really want to see a bunch of idiots interpreting the Constitution, look at almost any Supreme Court decision of the last 20 years. Where do they find those guys?