Saturday, May 27, 2006

OK, a foray into politics: the scandal involving a Louisiana Congressman and the investigations of him. Whenever I hear "accusations against William Jefferson", I expect it to be followed by "Clinton". I wonder if the FBI investigators are similarly confused, or motivated: they automatically go after anyone with that name, thinking they're still doing Ken Starr's work. Guilty as Jefferson seems (or am I just a mainstream media victim?) I wonder if someone high up and politically motivated suggested going after a Democrat to take the heat off the Republicans for their ethics problems, to provide "balance". Meanwhile, yesterday's search and evacuation of the Rayburn building - yes, the same building where Jefferson has his office -- would seem to be a great opportunity to rifle through more offices.

When I let my thoughts wander, I imagine the executive branch, scared that the Democrats might actually take over Congress this fall, are practicing to see if they can use the FBI to increase its leverage over the legislature. Isn't that how dictatorships always develop?

I guess just labeling enemies as "unpatriotic" or "America-hating" wasn't working well enough; they have to actually threaten prosecution. In another move towards dictatorship, Attorney General Gonzales is already talking about going after the press for unauthorized publication, even possession, of secret information. Though I'm not totally sure I believe in journalistic privilege, and that journalists should be protected by "shield laws". First of all, there is the question of who is a journalist - am I one, now? (Gee, my dad, a longtime writer for Time magazine, would be so proud.) But more important, what's the point of classifying information, if people are going to publish it with impunity? We can argue that the documents should not be secret in the first place, should not be withheld from the public. But then, are journalists really more qualified to make that judgment than government officials? Sure, officials may have something to hide, a power motive, but journalists have papers to sell, a profit motive. Maybe if journalists really feel strongly that they have a duty to the public to bring information to light, they should be ready to sacrifice for it, to go to jail. That I would really respect. It's like the way the non-violent resisters of the 50's and 60's were ready to go to jail for breaking the law, unjust as they believed it to be, even sustain physical harm. (Today, it seems as if demonstrators feel they have a right to disrupt for what they see as the right cause, and are suprised when they are treated as lawbreakers. How do they expect their cause to be taken seriously if they won't sacrifice for it? I have to try to find this great quote from a student arrested during the takeover of a building at UC Berkeley a few years ago, that really encapsulated this sense of "we're right, so how can they arrest us?")

One last, related point: I have often questioned the logical base of the exclusionary rule, by which evidence gained by a search or interrogation not performed in accordance with Constitutional rules, cannot be used in court (or juries are told to disregard it, which seems even more illogical. How can you make yourself forget something?) After all, if it's true information, it's true; the fact that it was seized illegally does not mean it was fabricated. No, we don't want the police searching whomever they want, but telling them that the evidence they have acquired cannot be used might make them frustrated, but doesn't seem like much of a punishment. Which is why I think that the evidence should be used (or at least, judged on its merits), but there should be strong penalties for police who conduct illegal searches. That would deter cops from shaking down whomever they want, but allow them, if they really felt they needed to take someone down, to sacrifice themselves for it. If the evidence did lead to a significant conviction of a dangerous person, the judge might go easier on the officer; if the case against the accused turned out to be meritless, and the officer just harassing an innocent person, he would get the book thrown at him. I just think that if something is true, it should be recognized as true; punishing abusive ways of finding it out is a separate issue.

So the fact remains that William Jefferson is probably pretty corrupt and maybe should go to jail, but Attorney General Gonzales should probably go with him....

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