P.L.A. - A Journal of Politics, Law and Autism
PLA is a fair and balanced Journal published by Dwight Meredith with a Focus on Politics, Law and Autism
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Thursday, December 12, 2002
Announcing The Koufax Awards
Devra at BlueStreak has been making Blog of the Week Awards. We think that a yearly award process is also needed.
We have, therefore, decided to make Koufax Awards for the best of left of center blogs. For the non-sports fans, Sandy Koufax was, in our estimation, the greatest left-handed baseball pitcher of all time.
We will accept votes by comment or email. A Blue Ribbon panel consisting of Arthur Anderson, Katherine Harris and Ken Lay will tabulate the results. Ari Fleischer will announce the winners shortly after the turn of the year. If we can locate one, each winner will receive a free link to Sally Fields’ Oscar acceptance speech (“you like me, you really like me…”).
If you have any categories you think should be included, please send them along with your votes by email or comment.
The Koufax Award categories are:
1) Best Blog
2) Best Writing
3) Best Post
4) Best Single Issue Blog
5) Best Comedy Blog
6) Best Comedy Post
7) Best Series (three or more entries)
8) Best Commentor
9) Best New Blog (First Post after September 30, 2002)
10) Best Special Effects (any non-written material such as Pictures, Flash Movies, Cartoons, sounds etc.).
Please send or leave votes in any or all categories.
Wednesday, December 11, 2002
In They Have a Secret, we posted a partial list of ways in which the Bush administration restricts the flow of information to Congress and the American people. In that post we noted that our compilation “is in no way exhaustive. Our capacity for research failed long before the administration’s capacity for secrecy.”
A story in the Washington Post by Dana Milbank points out a couple of examples of restrictions on the free flow of information that we had missed:
The administration has been making other decisions that limit the release of information. Late last month, the American Educational Research Association and a dozen other groups complained that the Bush Education Department called for removal from its Web site of information that "does not reflect the priorities, philosophies, or goals of the present administration."
The article is also noteworthy for the juxtaposition of the three quotes at the beginning of the article.
A Public Service
Eriposte has done an enormous amount of work to post a compilation, in chart form, of the "myths, lie, deceit, bias, denial or just plain B.S." the media feeds the public about Democratic leaders including Al Gore, John Kerry and Bill Clinton. For each such instance, Eriposte identified the charge, the perpetrator, the victim and the debunker with links to the facts.
The chart is an invaluable resource for anyone writing about media coverage of Democrats. The chart will undoubtedly grow over time. Send your examples to Eriposte.
A lot of work went into building the chart. Putting it together was a public service. Please go see for yourself.
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
May We Expect An Apology?
When one posts as often as Glenn Reynolds, it is easy to make a mistake. When one makes a mistake, the best course is to admit the error, retract the statement and apologize.
Today Professor Reynolds wrote something both stupid and offensive. He should apologize.
Glenn links to this story for the proposition that Saddam is playing for time and hoping that any additional time that he buys will strengthen his position as a result of pressure put on Washington and London by people opposed to the war. Fair enough, we suppose. Glenn, however, goes on to argue that people who oppose the war are “objectively” pro-Saddam:
I think that this "pressure of public opinion" language is a recognition by Saddam that the "anti-war" movement is objectively on his side, and not neutral. Of course, the old CIA would have just dusted Hans Blix's room with a few anthrax spores. But we don't do things like that now.
The remark that people who oppose the war are “objectively” pro-Saddam is stupid and offensive.
As Jim Henley points out, Reynolds’ alleged logic presumes that it is in the interests of the United States to go to war with Iraq:
Instead let's just ask, What's wrong with this statement? Answer: The usual. It assumes what Reynolds wants to prove, that conquering Iraq is good for the US and not conquering it is bad. If you don't believe, and many smart people don't, that conquering Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein by force offers a net security gain for the US, then Saddam's rhetoric is incidental. The real issue is the good of our country, not his, and certainly not the good of Saddam himself. Most of us who oppose this war are not only not on Saddam's side, we're not "neutral" either. We're on our side, properly conceived.
We believe that it is vital to America’s interests to destroy any weapons of mass destruction that Iraq may have and to destroy Iraq’s capability to produce any additional weapons of mass destruction.
While the prospect of accomplishing that disarmament through inspections exists, we believe, for a number of reasons, that it would harm America's vital interests to go to war with Iraq.
Our judgment is that a war with Iraq, while the possibility of disarmament without war remains, is simply not in the best interests of the United States. Our judgment may be right and it may be wrong but it is our best judgment of the best course for America. Our position is pro-American. We advocate the position we think is best for the United States. Reynolds is welcome to argue that our judgment is wrong but to suggest that we are “objectively” pro-Saddam is scurrilous.
Al Qaeda may believe that an attack on Iraq will draw recruits to its cause. Does that make support for the attack "objectively" pro- Al Qaeda?
Saddam may believe that President Bush's decision to seek a U.N. resolution lessened the chance for war. Does that make George Bush "objectively" pro-Saddam?
North Korea has a nuclear weapons program. North Korea may hope that America’s preoccupation with Iraq will buy it time to complete the development of its program. Does that mean that supporters of a war with Iraq are “objectively” pro-Pyongyang?
We do not think so.
Unless your ego is larger than a western state, it really is not that hard to simply say that you were wrong and to apologize.
Update: Tom Spencer of Thinking it Through is writing about this issue here
Hesiod is writing about it here.
Edited to add examples and to clean up prose.
Autism and Vaccines in the News
Representative Dan Burton reopened hearings today into the increase in the incidence of autism. His opening statement at the hearing is here.
Rep. Burton, who has an autistic grandson, also appeared on CNN. He was paired in a debate with a pediatrician who is the parent of a nine-year old autistic child and who does not believe that vaccines and/or thimerosal is linked to autism. The transcript of that debate is here.
CNN also ran a story on the issue here.
We are happy that the issue is entering into the public dialogue. The increased awareness of autism may result in increased research funding. We fear, however, that the “debate” is creating more heat than light.
The people who believe that autism is related to vaccines and/or thimerosal need to take care not to allow their rhetoric run ahead of the science and thereby unduly alarm parents. If thimerosal is related to autism, the solution is to remove the thimerosal from vaccinations not scare parents into refusing to have their children vaccinated.
If the MMR vaccine poses a risk of autism, the solution is to identify the population at risk and not vaccinate those few children, not to stop vaccinations for all children.
Similarly, the people who do not believe a link is present should refrain from overstating the science. The people arguing against a vaccine/autism link seem so concerned with assuring parents of the safety of the vaccines that they are willing to ignore the risk that such a link exists.
Neither the presence nor the absence of a link between vaccines and autism has been established. The admirable goal of encouraging vaccinations is no excuse to mislead parents about the risks. Parents are capable of making informed, rational decisions if given accurate information.
We are interested in discovering the causes and possible cures for autism. Overstating the science on either side will delay that search. Both sides of the debate need to allow the science to catch up to the rhetoric. The way to speed the science is to increase research funding.
Shocked and Depressed
Ampersand, the proprietor of Alas a Blog writes more knowledgeably and persuasively on feminist issues than almost any other blogger with whom we are familiar.
In a recent post, Ampersand reports on a survey concerning the prevalence of rapists in our society:
A much-discussed study of rape prevalence, conducted by Mary Koss, also surveyed thousands of college men, asking them about if they had ever forced a woman to have sex against her will. About 4.5% reported that they had.
We were shocked and aghast at that statistic. Surely, we thought, that cannot be right. Almost one-in-twenty males has committed a rape? We would have thought that the number would be less than one percent.
Ampersand goes on to put that shocking statistic into perspective:
I mean, 4.5% of the men in the United States is an incredibly high number - that translates into over six million men.
We were again shocked at the idea that Ampersand thought it necessary to argue that 4.5% is a large number of rapists. It is a very sad state of affairs if anyone needs convincing that having 1/20 of the male population commit a rape is a massive problem. That number speaks for itself, and, if accurate, bespeaks of a depraved and dysfunctional society.
We were not yet convinced that the 4.5% figure was correct. The study from which it was taken is, apparently, not available on-line.
In the comment section, Ampersand explained, in brief, the methodology of the study:
The not-as-short-but-still-short answer is, 6,159 students were surveyed (2972 of those were male). Koss used government statistics to divide all US colleges into groups; "each small group consisted of schools with similar locations, minority percentage, type of control, level of study, and size." Schools from each small group were selected proportionately to be nationally representative; within each catagory, which schools were asked to participate in the study was determined randomly. If a school refused participation, then another school was chosen randomly from the same small group.
The description of the methodology only deepened our outrage.
First, the statistic includes only respondents who admitted to having engaged in sex against the will of another. It seems highly likely that some respondents would deny such conduct even if they had in fact committed a rape. Very few respondents are likely to report having committed a rape if they had not done so.
Secondly, the population of males who committed their first rape when older than college age seems unlikely to be zero. The number of rapists is a cumulative statistic. To determine the total number of males who have committed a rape we would have to add the number who committed their first rape when older than college age to the reported number.
One commentor to Ampersand’s post suggests that the number of self-reports may be high because the respondents may have reported that they “forced a woman to have sex against her will” by conduct that may not be considered “rape.” We have a hard time conceiving of what conduct would constitute “forcing a woman to have sex against her will” that would not be rape. We think that is the definition of rape.
The analysis of the methodology of the study cited by Ampersand leads us to the depressing conclusion that the 4.5% of males being rapists is lower than the truth, not higher.
Regardless of the exact number of males who have committed rapes, if the study is even remotely correct, there is a pervasive sickness in our culture and society that needs to be addressed.
Thanks Barry for the great post, but it was the most depressing thing we have read in quite a while that did not concern either autism or Trent Lott.
Monday, December 09, 2002
Count Your Fingers
In our non-blog life, we have occasion to deal with many attorneys. Working on opposite sides of some attorneys is a pleasure. They fight hard for their clients but they are honorable. If we reach a verbal agreement on the due date for a pleading or the date of a deposition, you know that the agreement will be honored. There is not need to confirm every minor agreement with a letter. Working with the honorable lawyer becomes a win-win situation. Litigation costs involving trivial matters are kept to a minimum. Cases are generally decided on the merits. With an element of trust present, fair settlements can be reached.
Other attorneys have proven be less trustworthy. If a minor agreement is not in writing, they will deny having ever made the promise. They will try to use any ambiguity for tactical advantage. Their word is not their bond. Working with those attorneys is never a pleasure.
Untrustworthy lawyers may gain a one-time tactical advantage but the costs of such behavior are high. Clients have to pay for each and every trivial matter to be fully documented. Offers to settle are not considered unless reduced to writing with every minor term spelled out in excruciating detail. It is hard to reach fair settlements without a level of trust.
Lawyers in small towns tend to be of the first type. In small towns, every lawyer knows every other lawyer. The case on which you are working is not likely to be either the first or the last that you have against that lawyer. Reputation becomes part of your stock and trade.
Politics in Washington is like a small town. In order to have issues decided on the merits, a level of trust is needed. Promises must be kept. It is difficult to enact legislation if a handshake is not as good as a contract. In Washington, it may be acceptable to take tactical advantage of the opposing political party, but it is essential to have trust within your own party. That trust is especially important if your party has the responsibility to govern.
Three recent incidents have shed light on the type of people now in charge of our government. If you have to deal with the Republican leadership, you better get it in writing with every detail specified. The current Republican leadership has recently demonstrated that they are not as good as their word. The current leadership even breaks promises made to fellow Republicans.
Campaign Finance Reform
Republican Senator John McCain cares deeply about campaign finance reform. After passage of the McCain Feingold bill, he was concerned that the Federal Election Commission would gut the law by crafting of regulations with large loopholes. McCain pressured the administration to put ethics attorney Ellen Weintraub in the FEC to protect against such loopholes.
McCain applied pressure in favor of Weintraub by holding up judicial appointments and nominations to executive positions proposed by the administration.
Last summer, McCain and the administration cut a deal. McCain even got the deal in writing. The Washington Post described the deal as follows:
Terms of the July deal regarding Weintraub were spelled out in a White House e-mail, which McCain divulged and Bush aides confirmed. The e-mail said that if no disqualifying issues turned up during Weintraub's background check, Bush would seat her using his recess appointment power.
McCain kept his end of the bargain. He allowed the appointments and nominations to go forward. The administration looked for, found and used a loophole in the agreement with McCain. The White House delayed appointing Weintraub while it performed its “due diligence” in looking into her background. While the White House delayed the Weintraub appointment, the FEC met and adpoted the regulations that significantly weakened the law. The administration violated the intent, if not the letter, of the agreement with McCain.
As the Post wrote:
Even as the senator was voicing his anger, the FEC yesterday adopted a disputed regulation that McCain and his allies say epitomizes the kind of loophole that Weintraub might have prevented. McCain and groups such as Common Cause and the Center for Responsive Politics say the new regulation will let federal candidates control the spending of unlimited amounts of corporate, union and special interest "soft money" in the early stages of federal campaigns. A key goal of the McCain-Feingold law is to bar the national parties and federal candidates from raising and spending soft money.
Once that regulation was passed, the White House appointed Ms. Weintraub to the FEC. The White House contends that it kept its end of the bargain by appointing Ms. Weintraub after the dirty work was done. That may be technically true.
We once knew a lawyer who, having agreed to pay a certain number of dollars in settlement, tried to pay in Canadian dollars on the grounds that the agreement did not specify U.S. dollars. The White House showed the same level of integrity in the FEC incident.
Senator McCain appears to have learned from the experience. The Port reports that:
McCain (R-Ariz.) said he will "assume all future assurances and promises by this administration to be quite possibly insincere…”
Homeland Security Provisions
We expect that Republican Senators Lincoln Chaffee, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe understand how Senator McCain feels.
A number of egregious provisions were added to the Homeland Security Bill in the Congress. Those provisions included limiting the liability of Eli Lilly for putting mercury into infant’s vaccines, a load of pork for outgoing Senator Phil Gramm in the form of a new research center for Texas A&M University and a provision allowing offshore companies to enter into contracts with the new department.
The Republican leadership ensured passage of the bill by cutting a deal with Senators Chafee, Snowe and Collings. As the UPI reported:
Moderate Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both from Maine, said they voted against the amendment after being given an "iron-clad" assurance from the Republican leadership that the most controversial measures would be stripped from the bill before money for the new department would be approved.
As soon as the Homeland Security bill passed, however, the Republican leadership sang a different tune. As the Washington Post reported:
At least four senators, including three Republicans, agreed on Tuesday to vote against a Democratic proposal to strike down the provision after Lott assured them that their concerns would be addressed early next year. But aides to House Republican leaders, including incoming majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), said today that their bosses had made no commitments…
When dealing with the Republican leadership, there is no such thing as an “iron clad” guarantee once the vote they want is cast.
The 9/11 Commission
The administration long opposed an independent commission to investigate intelligence and other failures leading up the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. After substantial lobbying by the families of the 9/11 victims, the Bush administration finally agreed to such a commission.
The Commission consists of a Chairman, a Vice-chairman and ten commissioners. The administration had power to choose the Chairman and Bush selected Dr. Henry Kissinger. The Democrats were allowed to choose the Vice-Chairman and they picked former Senator George Mitchell. Trent Lott selects five of the commissioners and the Democrats pick the remaining five.
The key issue in the appointment of the commission is the power to issue subpoenas. In the absence of subpoena power to compel testimony and documents, the commission would be a charade.
Subpoenas will issue only if the Chairman and Vice-Chairman agree or if six of the ten members agree. The families of the victims were concerned that the Republican appointees would simply refuse to issue subpoenas concerning matters that might be embarrassing to the administration. Without the vote of at least one Republican appointee, no subpoena could be issued.
To win the support of the families, a deal was reached. The proposal would be accepted but the families would have veto power over one of the Republican appointees to the Commission. The families would exercise that power through the two Senators they trusted, Republicans John McCain and Richard Shelby.
That deal gave the families the assurance that the five Democratic appointees and the one Republican appointee they controlled could issue subpoenas even if the investigation began to be uncomfortable for the White House.
The families selected former Senator Warren Rudman. From the perspective of the families, he is a great choice. He knows the ways of Washington, is fiercely independent, will not be cowed and has expertise on the issue.
From the White House perspective, Senator Rudman is perhaps a little too formidable and independent. As the Times reported:
Mr. Push (spokesman for the families) said the families had put Mr. Rudman's name forward to Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, who will be majority leader in the new Congress, through Mr. McCain. But he said Mr. Lott had so far refused to agree to their request.
The families thought they had cut a deal with a group of trustworthy small town lawyers. Instead they were dealing with the big city firm of Bush & Lott.
It is one thing for politicians to take advantage of members of the opposing party. The current Republican leadership, however, has seen fit to take advantage of Republican Senators McCain, Snowe, Chaffee, Collins, and Shelby.
The lack of integrity shown by the Republican leadership in the three incidents described above would ruin the reputation of a small town law firm. After you shake hands on a deal with the firm of Bush, Delay & Lott, you better count your fingers.
Sunday, December 08, 2002
They Have A Secret
Judge Louis D. Brandeis once wrote that sunlight is the best of disinfectants. That lesson is lost on President Bush. The current administration has a demonstrable penchant for secrecy that may permit the spread of the infection of corruption and abuse.
Mr. Bush revealed his view of the relationship between himself and the American people in the following remark made to Bob Woodward:
I do not need to explain why I say things. — That's the interesting thing about being the President. — Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation.
The president is wrong. He owes an explanation to the American people. His administration, however, seems more bent on keeping information away from the American people than providing information to us.
Conservative legal scholar Bruce Fein remarked that the Bush administration has “fetish for secrecy.” Republican Dan Burton felt compelled to declare that “this is not a monarchy” when faced with the administration’s refusal to provide information to a Congressional committee.
Whether the information is important or trivial, classified or unclassified, a matter of national security or personal peccadillo, this administration chooses to not to shine the sunlight of disclosure on the workings of the government.
We set out to document instances in which the administration chose secrecy over disclosure. The depth and breadth of the Bush administration’s allergy to disclosure suggests that it is deeply committed to restricting the right of the people to know what the government does and how it does it. Consider the following:
Upon leaving office as Governor of Texas, George W. Bush could have left his official documents with the Texas archives. If placed in the Texas archives, the documents would be subject to the Texas Open Records Act. George W. Bush chose to place the documents, which were generated at public expense, in his father’s Presidential Library. The Texas Open records Act does not reach documents kept at the Presidential library.
The Presidential Records Act, in combination with an Executive Order signed by Ronald Reagan provides that, except for National Security material, Presidential papers would routinely become available to historians and the public 12 years after a president’s term expired. The Reagan material would have become available in the first year of the George W. Bush administration. The current administration delayed the release of those records on a number of occasions and on November 1, 2001, President Bush issued Executive Order 13233. That Executive Order prevents the release of a previous administration’s papers (even if the former president desires disclosure) without the consent of the current administration. Vanderbilt University historian Hugh Graham characterized the order as "draconian...merely the latest effort by the Bush White House to clamp down on the flow of information to the public...clearly it will make it harder for the public to gain access to historically valuable presidential materials.”
Public Domain Energy Report
The Energy Department’s Energy Information Office developed an Oil Market contingency planning book. That book was an effort to determine the impact on world oil production if a war in Iraq led to a cut in Iraqi oil production. The book was prepared entirely from public data. The Bush administration moved to prevent either the public or members of Congress from seeing the information. (Link courtesy of The Agonist.)
Thimerosal Litigation Records
The Bush administration’s Justice Department sought an order sealing the records of hundreds of thimerosal/autism cases in Federal court.
The Cheney Energy Task Force
The administration recently succeeded in once again delaying the release of documents relating to the Cheney Energy Task Force. The Sierra Club, Judicial Watch and the GAO seek documents detailing the persons, companies and interests having input into the development of the administration’s energy policy.
Although, As Frank Rich of the New York Times pointed out, the administration is happy to leak the details of more than 50 National Security Counsel meetings to Bob Woodward when it fits their agenda, they do not believe that the American people should know which energy company officials and lobbyists wrote our nation's proposed energy policy.
While the administration seeks to weaken privacy for the public’s medical records, Vice President Cheney refused to make public his own medical records.
The 9/11 Commission
The administration long opposed the formation of an independent commission to investigate intelligence and other failures leading up the 9/11 tragedy. When political pressure, particularly from the families of the victims, became too great, the administration relented. Bush appointed that well known opponent of government secrecy, Dr. Henry Kissinger, to chair the commission with Former Senator George Mitchell as Vice Chair.
The ground rules prevented the commission from issuing any subpoena without the approval of Dr. Kissinger or at least one of the five Republican commissioners. A deal was struck with the families of the victims under which their advocates, Senators Shelby and McCain, had veto power over one Republican appointee.
The families want former Senator Warren Rudman on the commission. The Republican leadership is balking at his selection. The families of the victims’ position is reported to be as follows:
''At issue is whether this commission is going to have any teeth,'' he said. ''Having one independent Republican will make all the difference.'' Push said the families believe that Rudman's selection is being blocked because of opposition from the White House. ''For some reason, the administration has been fighting this... from day one,'' he said. ''I assume they're worried about criticism they didn't heed those earlier warnings [of an attack].''
SEC Bush/Harken File
Bush has often said that the SEC fully investigated the claims of impropriety with regard to his role as a director at Harken Energy. The details are all in the SEC file says Mr. Bush. When former SEC director Harvey Pitt offered to release the file upon the request of the President, Mr. Bush declined to make the file public. Even the Washington Times thinks that Mr. Bush has a credibility problem on that issue.
Removal Of Information on Government Web Sites
White House Chief of Staff Andy Card sent a memorandum to various agencies instructing them to restrict access to “sensitive but unclassified” information. The memo prompted the Pentagon recently to delete about 6,000 documents from its Web site.
According to OMB Watch:
In October 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft released a guidance memo to agencies on implementing the Freedom of Information Act. The memo instructed agencies, in essence, to withhold information whenever possible. This is a fundamental reversal of past policy, which stressed disclosure where possible.
OMB Watch also reports that:
At the end of September 2002, the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, announced that the number of freedom of information requests within the executive branch agencies have either held even or declined, but the backlog has increased. In its review of implementation of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996, GAO found that “agency backlogs of pending requests are substantial and growing government-wide,” and that some agencies are not properly making information available through their web sites or are making it difficult to find the information.
According to Wired, when senior investigators at Los Alamos discovered and reported widespread corruption, they were summarily fired.
Senator James Jeffords contends that provisions put into the Homeland Security bill will prevent the public from having access to important environmental information. CNN reports as follows:
Jeffords cited a secrecy provision in the law creating a Homeland Security Department that he said would "make it more difficult for the public to get information about dangerous chemicals that may exist near their homes." Bush signed legislation creating that department Monday. "The administration has curtailed public access to that information which has been available to us for years," Jeffords said.
The Homeland Security bill also contained broad exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act and whistle blowers statutes regardless of whether or not the information is related to national security.
California Energy Crisis
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had evidence that energy companies manipulated the market as part of the widespread energy crisis in California two years ago. FERC failed to disclose that information until ordered to do so by a court ruling. The administration’s Justice Department argued for a ruling that would permit FERC not to disclose such evidence the public.
USAToday reports as follows:
House Government Reform Chairman Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican, angrily complained recently, "This is not a monarchy." He was upset that Bush blocked the committee's probe of alleged FBI abuses in Boston. Burton warned of a potential "war" with the White House unless attitudes change.
The same USA Today article also reports:
Mike Parker, a former Republican congressman from Mississippi, lost his job as head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week. His offense? Being too candid before the Senate Budget Committee, administration officials say.
The Bush administration contends that it may hold secret trials regarding detention and deportation of non-citizens who may, or may not, have some relationship to terrorism. The administration also claims the power to indefinitely detain any American citizen it designates as an enemy combatant without having to disclose the detention, without having to file charges, without granting the right to a lawyer or a hearing, without the right to present evidence and without any court being able to review the designation as an enemy combatant. One Federal Judge called the secret arrests "a concept odious to a democratic society."
The list above is in no way exhaustive. Our capacity for research failed long before the administration’s capacity for secrecy. Some of the items on the list may be justified. All are not.
Controlling the sources of information will centralize power in the executive. Preventing scrutiny will, at some point, result in corruption and abuse. In the long run, that is not good for our liberty, our democracy or our constitution. But don’t tell anyone.