City Bridge Blue Skyline wallpaper, The Economy and Our Short Collective Memories

skyline bridge

City Bridge Blue Skyline wallpaper

George Santayana once said,” Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Terse, but Santayana implied there was hope if we did learn. George Bernard Shaw was even less hopeful claiming, “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.” One would think with TV, radio, and on-line editions of newspapers and magazines that we’d be proving that Shaw as an irredeemable cynic and that Santayana need not worry. On the contrary easy access to information, the constant churn of the news appears to be making some of us less informed and less patient, Constant Information – and Nothing Remembered

An August Gallup Poll showed that 65 percent of Americans oppose another economic stimulus even though the first one, which was inadequate by most economists’ calculations, saved or created roughly 650,000 jobs. A more recent Gallup survey had 45 percent of Americans believing that current government regulation of business and industry was too great – a 10-year high. Never mind that it was the lack of regulation that got us into our current economic predicament. Regulation is so last year. In the ingenious film “Memento,” the protagonist had lost his capacity to remember anything. It now seems as if we live in a memento nation – a place where we too instantly forget what’s happened to us.

What passes for news on the major networks is partly to blame ( where the majority of Americans still get their news). They spend a disproportionate amount of air time on health issues ( health issues are generally something everyone takes an interest in thus generate viewers and advertising revenue) and very little on asking about what failed, why and the best solutions when it comes to the economy. That leaves a huge gap in public knowledge and perception. Journalism is supposed to aspire to more then telling us X happened, it is supposed to attempt to tell us how and why.

[   ]….Whether this is a function of our own growing impatience or a cause of that impatience is difficult to say, but cable television and the Internet contribute to a national Attention Deficit Disorder. They disrupt continuity, break the chain of cause and effect, detach memory from action, and heighten the moment at the expense of history and the bigger picture that history provides.

We not only live in a society increasingly without memory; we live in a society in which the present is unmoored, making anything that happens right now far more important than anything that has happened before. Hence, if the economy hasn’t recovered, it must be President Obama’s fault since he is currently president. Or if Congress hasn’t enacted health reform yet, it must be the fault of the Democrats since they are the ones in majority, the history of health reform notwithstanding. Or if deficits are growing, it must mean we should stop stimulating the economy since deficits are the issue of the moment. The present moment is everything.

However much this obsession with the here and now destroys accountability, there is an additional danger to a society that lives in the moment. When our actions and opinions are no longer grounded in a larger context, we are also much more susceptible to slogans and clichés that take the place of experience and memory.

Besides a raft of lies ranging from birth certificates to “death panels” to projections of of their own ignorance and fears, the Beck-Palin-“common sense” conservatism movement  relies on its structural and thus ideological support from both a convenient short term memory, a heaping of denial  and the conservative disease known as aversion to accountability.

Not to pick a fight with Glenn Greenwald on the finer legal points – The administration guts its own argument for 9/11 trials, but his assertion contains an element of cynicism on Attorney General Holder and the Obama administration’s motives for separating terrorist trial for those held at Gitmo. The assertion is that the administration is dividing the trials among civil courts, military tribunals and the to be held without trial only to get the best result. An opinion that might be more cynical then merited, The Army Times, Terror trials vary in civilian, military courts

“I think the Obama administration is trying to straddle this debate between whether we should approach al-Qaida as a problem of massive-scale criminality or as a problem of war,” said Matthew Waxman, a former Bush administration State Department and Pentagon official now at Columbia University law school.

Indeed, on Capitol Hill last week, Attorney General Eric Holder testified, “The 9/11 attacks were both an act of war and a violation of our federal criminal law, and they could have been prosecuted in either federal courts or military commissions.”

The administration is sending professed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged henchmen to a civilian trial in New York, while a suspect in the USS Cole bombing in 2000 and four other terror suspects will be tried by military commissions.

The major differences between the systems are the federal judiciary’s independence, rooted in the Constitution and lifetime appointments of judges, and the relaxed rules for admitting evidence in military tribunals.

Federal courts bar evidence obtained by coercion. And the new law regarding military commissions that President Barack Obama signed last month forbids evidence derived from torture and other harsh interrogation techniques. But the commissions still have rules that allow greater use of hearsay testimony and, in some instances, could permit the introduction of coerced testimony.

Military judges ultimately will decide what evidence can be admitted, but the new law allows statements made by defendants to be used even if they are not given voluntarily in certain circumstances, including in combat situations. Written witness statements, rather than live testimony that is subject to cross-examination, also can be admitted by military judges.

The larger issue, for some civil libertarians, is what the American Civil Liberties Union’s Jonathan Hafetz called a “legitimacy deficit.”

The commissions set up under President George W. Bush to try terrorism detainees have been revised several times based on Supreme Court decisions and acts of Congress that moved their rules and procedures closer to federal courts.

“But they just don’t have the credibility and never will have the credibility that federal courts have,” Hafetz said.

Joanne Mariner, director of the terrorism and counterterrorism program at Human Rights Watch, said another indication of the reduced stature of the commissions is that, by law, they can never be used to try U.S. citizens.

“The federal courts are a co-equal branch of government and judges are constitutionally protected from interference. That is really important in politically charged and high-profile cases,” Mariner said. “Military commission judges and prosecutors have no such protection.”

On the other hand, supporters of the military tribunals say they provide sufficient protections for accused terrorists. Moreover, they say, the Sept. 11 attack is a classic war crime — the mass murder of civilians — for which military tribunals have traditionally been used.

“Other things being equal, you would think that targeting civilians makes the crime more grave,” said Gregory G. Katsas, a Bush Justice Department official. “If you don’t try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed by military commission, I don’t know who you try.”

A host of leading Republicans, including Bush’s last attorney general, Michael Mukasey, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have said the 9/11 defendants should be tried by military tribunal.

The administration appears to have made pragmatic and political choices after determining that it is likely to win convictions in a civilian trial of the alleged Sept. 11 plotters, but seems less sure of its prospects if suspects from other attacks were tried in federal court.

Holder hinted at this balancing act in his Senate Judiciary Committee testimony.

“I am a prosecutor, and as a prosecutor my top priority was simply to select the venue where the government will have the greatest opportunity to present the strongest case in the best forum,” he said, while rejecting senators’ assertions that convictions are easier in military commissions.

But he also said those who attacked a civilian target on U.S. soil were being sent to a civilian federal court and those who attacked or plotted against military targets abroad were going before tribunals.

Holder’s formulation puts the U.S. in the position of distinguishing between American interests based on which government agency was attacked. The attack on a Navy warship, the Cole, is to be handled by military commission, while the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 have been prosecuted by successive administrations in federal court.

Those 75 prisoners to be held without trial are still subject to legitimate concern, but much it continues to be speculation because of all the secrecy surrounding them. Military commissions do have rules to deal with classified information in trials. So just looking from the outside it would seem that military tribunals would be appropriate. If those to be held indefinitely without trial are that dangerous surely there must be some pretty damning evidence to base that on. The type of evidence that has been handled in civilian trials of terrorists. It does seem to establish some dangerous legal precedents to say that some people can be held incommunicado forever with no legal recourse what so ever. The Bush administration was just as, if not more inconsistent about who should be tried where and why as the SCOTUS itself declared.

Drama Queen Andrew Breitbart might want get some professional help with his over heated hyperbole problem, Breitbart, Big Government’s sensational claims about SEIU assault case fall flat