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Cole writes: "There is a problem with our declining democracy in the United States: classified documents are inherently undemocratic and should be rare."

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) speaks with reporters outside the West Wing of the White House following a meeting with President Trump on March 22. (photo: Jabin Botsford/WP)
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) speaks with reporters outside the West Wing of the White House following a meeting with President Trump on March 22. (photo: Jabin Botsford/WP)


A Crisis of Democracy: Trump's Block of Dem Response to Nunes

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment

12 February 18

 

rump’s refusal to release the response of the Democratic minority on the House Intelligence Committee to the declassified Nunes memo cherry-picking intelligence reports has been decried as a politicization of intelligence. It has been pointed out by legal scholar Laurence Tribe that Congress could in any case override Trump and declassify the Democratic response itself, if the GOP representatives wanted to. So this controversy isn’t about Trump or Nunes. It is about a Republican Party determined not to play fair.

While these analyses is certainly correct, they miss a crucial problem with our declining democracy in the United States: classified documents are inherently undemocratic and should be rare.

Some 2,000 unelected bureaucrats in the Federal government decide on which documents are classified. They have been ratcheting up the number into the millions during the past three decades. In 2014, the 2,000 bureaucrats classified 77 million government pieces of paper. Impartial outside studies conclude that 50-80% of classified documents could safely be released to the public.

Government officials have many advantages over the public they govern. They have inside knowledge and they often have longevity. Some percentage of them are corrupt. The Federal government routinely is captured by narrow corporate interests and used to advance private profit-making. The Bush Iraq War was certainly wrought up with the interests of US Big Oil. The conflicts of interest in Trump’s cabinet of billionaires would make a person’s head spin. Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency (RIP) is single-handedly poisoning America’s children on behalf of his corporate cronies and will certainly be hugely rewarded.

Democracy in the face of this iron law of bureaucracy is very difficult. One of the few offsets that keeps it viable is constant demand for transparency from the other two branches of government. But most congressmen don’t have a security clearance and neither do most judges, and almost no social activists do.

Government officials often pull the wool over the public’s eyes by appeal to special sources of information. When Dick Cheney went around saying that Iraq was 2 years from having a nuclear weapon (it did not even have an enrichment program at that time), and he was asked if he knew something the rest of us did not, he said “probably so.” But he had pressured the intelligence community to give him the intelligence he wanted and then he used the whole secret process to bamboozle the rest of us.

The block on the Democratic memo by the Republican Congress and by the GOP president manipulates this fetish of classification to deny essential knowledge to the voting public. False news (which ironically is mainly spread around by Trumpies) is only half the problem. Lack of key pieces of information is just as big a distortion of reality. Trump is the ultimate purveyor of fake news, both because he thinks up 25 falsehoods each day before breakfast and because he is gaming the bloated classification system for partisan advantage.

The exponential growth in such hidden pieces of knowledge, generated by the government we elect and we pay for, is unacceptable. That the system should be used to shape the 2018 midterm elections is the most striking evidence that it needs a massive overhaul.


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+13 # CDMR 2018-02-12 20:13
If the schiff memo is just a response to nunes, why not just publish it. How did it get classified anyway? Schiff has been responding in news interviews. Feinstein released all of the Simpson/Fusion interrogation. What id stopplin Schiff?

Nunes is moving pretty fast. Schiff does not have much time. Why should wait fof Trump.
 
 
+3 # lfeuille 2018-02-13 20:02
The Nunes memo was classified. Trump unclassified it, but he won't do the same for the Dems. Why was it classified? I don't know. It makes no sense, but once it is classified it is a crime to release it whether or not it should have been classified. The stuff Feinstein released was not classified, but the Repubs. carried on as if it were.

I hope some staff person will leak the damn thing asap.
 
 
+10 # California Neal 2018-02-13 02:18
Perhaps someone with access to the Dem response should mail a fingerprint-fre e copy to a reporter? It's an outrage--a political scandal, a denial of fundamental fairness--that a Trump tool in Congress (Nunes) can release a totally biased report & Trump can refuse to release the Dem response.
 
 
-4 # Depressionborn 2018-02-13 18:36
the schiff memo contains secret stuff. Leaking it could be long time prison. Schiff did it on purpose to box in Trump. You should do some more homework, California N
 
 
+7 # economagic 2018-02-13 06:16
Modern democracy was a product of the so-called "Enlightenment" of the 18th century, building upon ideas that had been developing for a couple of hundred years prior. It is entirely dependent on the prevalence if not the dominance of character traits that are now seen as quaint, such as integrity and trust, and on the ability and willingness of people to reason together and compromise to reach common goals.
 
 
+2 # dbrize 2018-02-13 15:13
Quoting economagic:
Modern democracy was a product of the so-called "Enlightenment" of the 18th century, building upon ideas that had been developing for a couple of hundred years prior. It is entirely dependent on the prevalence if not the dominance of character traits that are now seen as quaint, such as integrity and trust, and on the ability and willingness of people to reason together and compromise to reach common goals.


A mild deferral.

The FF's actually were well aware of human "character traits" and concluded that the Seven Deadly Sins were and would remain alive and well for believers and non believers alike. It was precisely their concern over character traits that led them to attempt to devise a system that would by its existence discourage the accumulation of power. As written it was imperfect but also reasonably effective.

Unsurprisingly, humans being as they are, attempts to game the system began almost the day the Constitution was ratified. If one wishes a quick political history of this nation they need only study the 200 plus years of end runs around the Consttition and come quickly to the conclusion that human traits have changed little and fealty to the system a lot.

All in the name of progress of course.
 
 
0 # PABLO DIABLO 2018-02-13 11:14
Corruption in "our" government? I'm shocked, shocked, I tell you. I thought we were the good guys.
 

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