Tuesday, January 31, 2006
By CALVIN WOODWARD, Associated Press WriterMon Jan 30, 11:28 PM ET
A former defense secretary for Ronald Reagan says he implored the president to put Marines serving in Beirut in a safer position before terrorists attacked them in 1983, killing 241 servicemen.
"I was not persuasive enough to persuade the president that the Marines were there on an impossible mission," Caspar Weinberger says in an oral history project capturing the views of former Reagan administration officials.
Recollections of an initial 25 Reagan aides were released this week by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. Altogether, scholars interviewed 45 Cabinet members, White House staffers and campaign advisers in a project begun in 2001, when Reagan was secluded with advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease. Reagan died in June 2004 at the age of 93.
Transcripts offer largely admiring portraits by Reagan's chief loyalists and Weinberger is no exception, crediting the president with restoring U.S. power and outfoxing the Soviet Union.
But he said one of his greatest regrets was in failing to overcome the arguments that "'Marines don't cut and run,' and 'We can't leave because we're there'" before the devastating suicide attack on the lightly armed force.
"They had no mission but to sit at the airport, which is just like sitting in a bull's-eye," Weinberger said. "I begged the president at least to pull them back and put them back on their transports as a more defensible position."
On another dark corner of Reagan's presidency, the Iran-Contra affair, former Secretary of State George Shultz said Reagan was so moved by meeting the families of U.S. hostages that officials feared the encounters would cloud his judgment, and began keeping the families at bay.
"The president, it just drove him crazy that there were these hostages in Lebanon," Shultz said in his December 2002 interview. Consequently, the "cockeyed dream" took hold of secretly selling arms to Iranians in return for their leverage in freeing the captives.
Weinberger, who often clashed with Shultz on foreign policy, agreed that Reagan's "idea of trying to get the hostages back overweighed almost everything" and arose from meeting the families. "Those meetings destroyed him, absolutely," he said.
Weinberger said Reagan discovered that his description of the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" twice got lopped out of drafts of his soon-to-be famous 1983 speech. "The third time he didn't put it in the draft, but he gave the speech with that phrase," Weinberger said.
"And you could hear this gasp from the conventional-wisdom people virtually all over the world."
James Kuhn, Reagan's second-term executive assistant, credited Nancy Reagan with much of her husband's success but said she was hard to please. He described her as a first lady who "could ask questions that there were no answers to."
For example, she would demand details of the weather in whatever place the Reagans were going. "And she'd say: 'Rain. Why is it raining? Why is it raining in Cleveland?'" Kuhn related.
"I'd say, 'Well, I guess there's a low pressure system that came in.'
"I'd think, 'Oh God, I'm getting in deeper here."
Mon Jan 30, 2006 at 10:08:51 PM PDT
So we only got 25 Senators to vote for a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee who, if defeated, would be replaced by someone just as bad by a president in the pocket of his radical right wing. Well.
Do you know how many votes the Republicans managed to get when uber wingnut Antonin Scalia was confirmed? 98. And Democrats had a majority. We didn't have to even think about a filibuster. We couldn't defeat Clarence Thomas and we had a majority, a huge push from women's groups and a very dramatic set of hearings that went into the wee hours of the morning. It is very, very tough to do.
When it became clear that the vote was going against the filibuster, Diane Feinstein, a puddle of lukewarm water if there ever was one, decided to backtrack and play to the base instead of the right wing. That's new folks. Given an opportunity to make an easy vote, until now she and others like her (who are legion) would always default to the right to prove their "centrist" bonafides. That's the DLC model. When you have a free vote always use it to show that you aren't liberal. That's why she was against it originally --- a reflexive nod to being "reasonable."
Obama had to choke out his support for a filibuster, but he did it. A calculation was made that he needed to play to the base instead of the punditocrisy who believe that being "bold" is voting with the Republicans. Don't underestimate how much pressure there is to do that, especially for a guy like Obama who is running for King of the Purple. The whole presidential club, including Biden joined the chorus.
The last time we had a serious outpouring from the grassroots was the Iraq War resolution. My Senator DiFi commented at thetime that she had never seen anything like the depth of passion coming from her constituents. But she voted for the war anyway. So did Bayh, Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Kerry and Reid. The entire leadership of the party. Every one of them went the other way this time. I know that some of you are cynical about these people (and ,well, they are politicans, so don't get all Claud Rains about it) but that means something. Every one of those people were running in one way or another in 2002 and they went the other way. The tide is shifting. There is something to be gained by doing the right thing.
This is a dramatic moment for the netroots. Get ready for marginalization, evocations of 1968 and 1972, calls for purging us from the party, the whole thing. That's what happens when the citizens rise up. Don't let it shake your will. We are the heart of the Democratic party and we can make a difference.
Monday, January 30, 2006
By Steven T. Jones
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, held a Jan. 14 town hall meeting back home in San Francisco. It's the sort of thing congressional representatives do routinely, and in safe districts it's often more of a pep rally and love fest than anything else.
But on this day Pelosi was quickly confronted by a new political reality.
Antiwar protesters have already been dogging Pelosi for some time now over her failure to push Democrats to support withdrawal from Iraq. About 30 activists wielding antiwar signs filed into the Marina Middle School auditorium shortly after Pelosi's presentation began, first lining the walls, then moving up to stand right in front of the stage.
But the real eruption came when a questioner listed several war-related Bush misdeeds and asked, "Are these not high crimes and misdemeanors?"
Both of the city's dominant political factions – the radical lefties and the loyal Democrats – went nuts, the room filling with sustained applause and chants of "Impeach! Impeach!"
Pelosi resisted this call for radical change. "For those of you concerned about these issues," she told the crowd after the roar had died down, "I urge you to channel your energies into the 2006 elections."
But outside the beltway, in congressional districts all over America, the "I" word is moving out of the margins. In the wake of the revelation that federal officials have been illegally eavesdropping on American citizens without required warrants – which President George W. Bush not only admitted approving, but promised to continue under his expansive view of executive power – has propelled talk of impeachment into the political mainstream.
Although political leaders and major media outlets have been slow to pick up on the trend, national polls now show a majority of Americans support an impeachment inquiry.
And the sentiment is growing – and getting increasingly vocal. At one point in the meeting, Pelosi was asked whether she will support a resolution by Rep. John Conyers to create a committee with subpoena power to investigate whether members of the Bush administration may have committed impeachable offenses. "I do not intend to support Mr. Conyers's resolution," Pelosi replied.
The eight-term incumbent in one of the most Democratic districts in America was loudly booed.
"Listen to your constituents," someone yelled at Pelosi, who waxed philosophical about how she takes her oath of office seriously and how political change is best left to election time.
"We have a responsibility to try to bring this country together," Pelosi said, to which an angry member of the audience jeered, "You have a responsibility to uphold the Constitution!"
The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Section 4, Article II, US Constitution
Impeachment is perhaps the most potent and least used power of Congress. Just 16 officials – mostly federal judges – have been impeached, and half of those were acquitted at trial by the Senate (or in one case, the charges were dropped). It's only happened to two presidents, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, and neither was ousted from office.
Richard Nixon escaped a likely impeachment only by resigning after a long investigation into abuses of power that are remarkably similar to those facing President Bush: illegal wiretaps, war crimes and deceptions, crimes in retaliation against perceived enemies, obstruction of justice, and other actions flowing from extraconstitutional claims of executive authority.
After Bush last month confirmed he authorized intercepting perhaps thousands of communications without required Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants – which have proven easy to obtain and can even be issued after the fact – Nixon's White House counsel John Dean concluded Bush was "the first American president to admit to an impeachable offense."
That charge prompted Sen. Barbara Boxer to seek the assessment of four of the country's leading constitutional experts, scholars respected by both major parties, writing in her letter to them, "This startling assertion by Mr. Dean is especially poignant because he experienced first hand the executive abuse of power and a presidential scandal arising from the surveillance of American citizens."
To get a perspective on whether this and other actions by Bush administration officials could be considered impeachable, the Guardian interviewed three of those four scholars: Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago Law School, Susan Low Bloch of Georgetown Law, and Michael J. Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina School of Law.
To say these three take impeachment seriously is a huge understatement. All three agree the Clinton impeachment was a gross misuse of the process, which they see as something the founders intended to be used only in extreme cases. They are skeptical of whether any of Bush's misdeeds – at least what we know about them right now – rise to the level of impeachment.
"The impeachment provision is for truly egregious wrongdoing, and we shouldn't repeat the unconstitutional impeachment of President Clinton," Sunstein said.
"I think impeachment is the nuclear option and should be talked about only rarely," Bloch said. "It's a weapon for when you have to get someone out of office because he's dangerous."
Even in the case of Bush's admission of warrantless spying, which Dean and other lawyers have argued could present a prima facie case for impeachment, these experts say it's far from the slam dunk case that it seems to some, mostly because of the Bush administration argument that the post-9/11 congressional authorization to go after al-Qaeda granted the president broad new powers.
"On the facts thus far, the president has a decent argument that he acted lawfully. There's also a decent argument that he didn't. But if the president has a decent argument, he can't be impeached for getting it wrong," Sunstein said.
Impeachment, the scholars all said, wasn't intended to undo elections, settle ideological disputes, or even to restore the proper balance of power. And it shouldn't be used as an opening threat or to settle the score over the wrongful Clinton impeachment. For those reasons, Bloch told us, "I think the talk of impeachment is premature and counterproductive."
Is that the end of this story? Well, no, for two main reasons.
The first is that impeachment is more of a process than a decision. Opening up an impeachment inquiry doesn't mean the president is about to be evicted from the White House – it just means a congressional committee with the power to demand documents and compel witnesses has taken up the case.
Gerhardt noted that Nixon's impeachment inquiry lasted two years – and that the most incriminating evidence emerged along the way. "There is every reason to say that it should be investigated even if we don't know whether that leads to impeachment," Gerhardt said.
Most of the scandals critics say could lead to impeachment – such as how far up the military chain of command the torture authorization went and whether Bush administration officials intentionally misled Congress and the public about the case for war in Iraq – have yet to be fully investigated by Congress.
But the only investigation into Bush administration misconduct by a prosecutor with subpoena power – Patrick Fitzgerald's probe into who leaked a CIA agent's identity – has already yielded an obstruction of justice indictment against Scooter Libby, who was Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and could bring down others before it's done.
"That's why I think all this stuff is worth investigating," Bloch said. "I think the warrantless wiretapping is a very serious issue, and I question the legality of what I've heard about it."
The other reason not to let the constitutional experts dismiss talk of impeachment is that all three scholars confirmed that, in the end, impeachment is more of a political question than a legal one. What's impeachable is ultimately whatever Congress says is impeachable, a decision most scholars believe cannot be reviewed by the courts.
Clinton was impeached when all the legal experts say he shouldn't have been. So Bush could clearly be held to account for crimes that are more serious than lying about an extramarital blow job. What is being alleged against the Bush administration are misdeeds that have resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, the torture of people in US custody, blatant and unapologetic violations of the Fourth Amendment, and the shredding of American credibility around the world – all of which are ongoing, claiming new victims everyday.
That's why the advocates of impeachment say we can't afford to wait two years for another election. Besides, they say, stopping the imperial ambitions of a president is precisely why the founders created the tool of impeachment.
"If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land," warned James Madison, "it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy."
THE POLITICS OF IMPEACHMENT
There's been scattered talk of impeaching Bush since even before he took the oath of office in 2001, but most of it was from partisans angry that Bush seemed to steal the tied election then claim a mandate.
"I've been agitating for impeachment ever since the Supreme Court appointed him," said Bob Fertik, a veteran Democratic political consultant who started Democrats.org in 2000 and later ImpeachPAC, a political action committee and Web site dedicated to "electing a Congress to impeach Bush and Cheney."
But the list of constitutionally troubling offenses by both Bush and Cheney started right away: Cheney's defiance of congressional inquiries into his secret Energy Task Force meetings, the appointment industry insiders to regulatory agencies, the refusal to release public documents like Ronald Reagan's presidential papers, the ignoring of warnings about the coming 9/11 attacks and then obstructing investigations into it, the use of the attacks to create an imperial presidency that defied congressional oversight and spied on Americans.
Yet the Bush administration was given wide latitude to respond to 9/11, both legally and politically. Congress granted the president the right to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against "nations, organizations, or persons" associated with the attacks, a resolution that the Bush administration has interpreted as a blank check to launch wars, indefinitely detain anyone it deems an enemy, torture detainees, assassinate alleged terrorists, and spy on foreigners and Americans with almost no outside oversight.
Then came its decision to invade Iraq, which led to most of the offenses that became the focus of impeachment advocates. Critics say there is ample evidence that Bush administration officials knowingly lied about the justifications for the war and then violated US law and binding international treaties like the Geneva Conventions in how it was conducted – all of which could be considered impeachable offenses.
"Our primary issue is lying about the Iraq war. We can show that he knowingly lied about the reasons for that war," Fertik said. "The voters need to understand that the Democrats are willing to hold them accountable and pursue this."
Constitutional scholars say the fact that Bush was reelected last year hurts the case for impeachment. "You can't discount the significance of the election and the fact that a lot of these issues were raised before that," Gerhardt said. Yet critics counter that the real smoking guns didn't emerge until after the election, most notably the so-called Downing Street Memo, a leaked British government document outlining Bush administration intentions to manipulate intelligence data to sell the war.
That was certainly the case with Nixon, who won a landslide victory before all the facts of the Watergate scandal came to light.
David Swanson, a blogger and Democratic Party activist who started the Web site AfterDowningStreet.org, said the high-level memo confirmed that the administration was acting illegally. That galvanized the impeachment movement.
"It is the central reason impeachment is in the Constitution, the abuse of power," Swanson said. "I've never seen the kind of public passions that there is on this, and that's been true for months."
Both the House and Senate Committees on Intelligence investigated prewar claims about Iraq, and the bipartisan report found fundamental flaws and repeated misstatements by the Bush administration, but Republicans in Congress have blocked efforts to determine whether the intelligence was intentionally misrepresented.
Constitutional scholars agree that deceiving Congress about the reasons for war – or obstructing an investigation into whether the executive branch did so – would be impeachable. "A deliberate attempt to obstruct a congressional investigation would qualify as a classically impeachable offense," Gerhardt said.
Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, commissioned his own report on Bush administration actions surrounding the Iraq war and found impeachable crimes relating to manipulation of intelligence, lying to Congress and the public, condoning torture, and civil liberties violations.
"There is a prima facie case that these actions by the President, Vice-President and other members of the Bush Administration violated a number of federal laws," read the report, titled "The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War."
But it was the Dec. 16 revelation of the warrantless wiretapping that propelled talk of impeachment into the mainstream. Even the staid Editor and Publisher magazine noted in a Dec. 22 article that "suddenly this week, scattered outposts in the media have started mentioning the 'I' word, or at least the 'IO' phrase: impeach or impeachable offense."
"The wiretapping really changed things," Fertik said. "I think we're one moderate-level scandal away from a large outcry for impeachment."
AfterDowningStreet.org had commissioned a Zogby poll on the war manipulations in June that found 42 percent of Americans favored impeachment proceedings. They followed up this month with an impeachment poll based on the spying and found support had jumped to 52 percent.
"The spying issue has made impeachment respectable to talk about in the mainstream media, and that opens up the other areas of impeachable offenses," Swanson said, adding that he still believes "the strongest case for impeachment is around the war."
At the very least, if the Democrats retake either house of Congress, there's enough evidence to support formal inquiries into conduct that could be considered impeachable.
Let's remember: Nixon and Clinton both got into their deepest trouble not for specific official acts, but for obstruction of justice – that is, for lying and cover-ups.
And Bush administration officials are facing many minefields that could trigger the same sort of charges – criminal probes into the CIA agent outing and the bribery scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff, next month's domestic spying hearings, myriad inquires into cases of torture, a possible congressional inquiry into prewar intelligence manipulation.
Yet the question remains whether Democrats – as well as maverick Republicans willing to challenge Bush administration excesses, as Sen. John McCain did on torture and Sen. Arlen Specter appears willing to do on the warrantless spying – are willing to aggressively push for this profound level of accountability.
Pelosi has so far taken a wait-and-see approach, although she is pushing for hearings on the warrantless spying. She acknowledged that "our founders did not want a king. They wanted a president with a system of checks and balances."
But she stopped short of supporting an impeachment inquiry. "Before we know how to hold the president accountable, we have to know what he did, and I don't think we know right now," she said in response to a question about domestic spying at the Jan. 14 forum.
Pelosi's cautious approach is infuriating to those who feel like both the facts – on matters ranging from war to abuse of power – and the public sentiment are way ahead of the political leadership.
"The Democratic leadership is afraid of all the popular positions of the Democratic base," Swanson said.
While questions of impeachment have been discussed little in the halls of power – political or media – they have spread across grassroots America like a wildfire over the last year. ImpeachPAC hopes to fuel that flame and make impeachment an issue in the midterm elections, hoping to trigger the impeachment of Bush and Cheney and elevate the new speaker of the house into the presidency.
"We want to encourage candidates to raise the issue, as Tony Trupiano is doing," Fertik said, referring to the Michigan congressional candidate who won ImpeachPAC's first endorsement late last year.
Trupiano hosted a popular, left-leaning radio show for 11 years before deciding to run for Congress because of his concern for the "politics of fear and paranoia and what's happened to this country over the last five years, where good and decent people no longer question their government."
After he was endorsed by ImpeachPAC, Trupiano endured a firestorm of criticism from both the mainstream media and Democratic Party leaders. "I took a lot of crap from the establishment because I used the 'I' word," he told the Guardian. But he endured it, received support from across the country, and now appears to be the frontrunner in his race for Congress.
"We need to decide whether government runs who we are or whether we rule our government. We need to take our country back," Trupiano said. "We need to demand accountability."
At the very least, Trupiano said, Congress needs to aggressively push for answers to troubling questions about why the administration invaded Iraq and what the president's team is doing under the guise of keeping the nation safe from terrorists. Call that oversight, accountability, or impeachment, but Trupiano said it's a job Congress has failed to do.
"Impeachment is a process, it's not an indictment," he said. "We need to lay out the case, then we ask the American people to sign on. We just want the truth. Is there anything more nonpartisan than the truth?"
Here in San Francisco, the Democratic County Central Committee was scheduled to consider approval of a resolution calling for impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney on the same day this issue hit the streets, Jan. 25.
Robert Haaland, who introduced the measure, said Democrats have to start fighting back against the Bush administration's extremist claims to absolute power, whether or not impeachment proves to be a realistic option.
"Cowardice is not a winning strategy for the Democrats, and we've learned that again and again," Haaland said, noting that the warrantless spying has finally made impeachment a real option. "If handled correctly, it resonates across the political spectrum. It's not just about national security, but privacy rights."
Haaland said he understands why Pelosi and other party leaders have been reluctant to use the word impeachment, fearing the backlash it might provoke, but said it's important they aggressively push for accountability to Congress, the Constitution, and the people.
"I really care about the Constitution and believe it's getting to be like Germany in the 1930s here," Haaland said. "If we turn a blind eye to such blatant violations of the Constitution, I'm really scared where our country will be in five years."
Even Leslie Katz, a Pelosi ally who chairs the DCCC, said she will support Haaland's resolution. "This regime has to be stopped, and the people have to realize they've been duped," she said. "They've committed crimes against the American people."
Said Katz, "Local parties should be calling for it. The American people should be rising up and calling for this. And the media should be picking up on it and articulating it so the people begin to understand."
BALANCE OF POWER
The closest Congress has ever come to removing a president was in 1868, when the House of Representatives impeached Andrew Johnson and the Senate fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to remove him from office.
Gerhardt said the current debate about whether to impeach Bush "does have echoes of Johnson." In that case, Johnson claimed the right to ignore congressional oversight and certain laws, such as the Tenure in Office Act, and held an expansive view of executive power.
If just one more senator had voted to impeach Johnson, Gerhardt said he and other constitutional scholars might hold a different view of the impeachment precedent. As it is, Gerhardt said, "the notion of impeachment that corrects an imbalance [of power between branches of government] makes me nervous." Yet he said that in some ways Bush has pushed the envelope on executive power further than Johnson did.
During the Senate confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, listeners got a lesson in an obscure political philosophy that a small group of conservatives – most notably, Cheney and his followers and Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia – have been developing since the mid-1980s. It's called unitary executive theory, and it essentially holds that the presidency is the dominant branch of government, rather than one of three coequal branches.
It is from that belief – which has been largely untested in the courts – that the Bush administration claims the authority to defy laws requiring warrants for searches, habeas corpus rights for enemy combatants, prohibitions on torture, and the congressional oversight that has been accepted by most previous presidents.
"I think their claims of executive authority are overblown and wrong," said Bloch, the constitutional scholar from Georgetown. "And there is an argument that what he's doing is impeachable."
Another little-noticed Bush power grab is his use of presidential signing statements attached to bills he approves. Although he has never vetoed a bill, Bush has issued more than 500 signing statements challenging the constitutionality of provisions of the bills, more than every previous president combined.
Gerhardt called the signing statements "a very troubling development in constitutional law." The signing statements often direct executive agencies to essentially ignore some laws, possibly amounting to an illegal line item veto or assumption of powers beyond those granted by the Constitution, Gerhardt said. "They might, to an illegitimate extent, increase the president's power to make laws."
The most notable recent example is when Bush signed a bill that contained an outright ban on torture that McCain had pushed through with overwhelming congressional approval over the objections of Bush and Cheney. Bush's signing statement said he would interpret the torture ban "in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power."
In other words, as several scholars and some media reports have concluded, Bush announced he was retaining the right to torture in defiance of Congress.
"If a president were to license torture, in disregard of applicable laws, what are the avenues for keeping him in check?" Gerhardt questioned, answering that impeachment may be the only option for dealing with a president who refuses to abide by US and international laws against torture, although he said that hasn't yet been proved with Bush and Cheney.
The debate over the president's current powers places Congress and the president on a collision course. In analyzing the president's use of warrantless wiretaps, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service issued a report earlier this month arguing it was illegal and unconstitutional, while the Justice Department responded with a report last week claiming the post-9/11 congressional authorization of the use of force "places the president at the zenith of his powers in authorizing the N.S.A. activities."
Official congressional hearings into the matter are expected to begin Feb. 6, with Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez expected to testify for the administration.
The administration now seems to be directly attacking the system of checks and balances, with the Justice Department report arguing that many presidential powers – from the right to indefinitely detain those it deems "enemy combatants," to spying on American citizens – are "beyond Congress's ability to regulate."
As long as the Republican-controlled Congress is willing to play a subservient role to the president, this might not be a problem. But if the public demands accountability and Bush and Cheney refuse to give up their imperial stands, impeachment might not just become an option. It may become the only option.
Sunday, January 29, 2006
When the editor of BuzzFlash was a young man on a car vacation with his family, he stopped at a site of historical interest. It was a marker that was in the middle of a cornfield in Illinois. At that time, the modest cement obelisk allegedly was the point that signified the population center of the United States.
That meant that to the East and West, North and South, the population of America was supposed to start at the marker and spread out from that spot.
The odd thing about the experience of visiting the site was that no one lived around it, not a soul. It was a population center without any people.
That seems to us an apt metaphor for the Republican, media, and entrenched Washington Democrat myth that there is an elusive center to American political thinking that somehow the Democrats are too radical for. The Washington Post, once again, repeated this myth (which is the raison d'etre of the DLC) in an article on January 28th: "The blogs-vs.-establishment fight represents the latest version of a familiar Democratic dispute. It boils down to how much national candidates should compromise on what are considered core Democratic values -- such as abortion rights, gun control and opposition to conservative judges -- to win national elections."
The assumption behind this WP analysis is that most Americans support "conservative" judges. First of all, we have not seen any polling that indicates the majority of Americans support "conservative" judges. Second of all, we don't even know what a conservative judge is anymore. Alito is more of a partisan, extremist judge than a traditional conservative judge. Third of all, the recent poll that showed a majority of Americans supported Alito was not based on a knowledge of his positions; it was based on a perception of the scripted performance during the hearings, including the infamous on-cue tearful exit of Mrs. Alito (which was recycled from the Clarence Thomas hearings.)
Many Americans do like the "image" of Sam Alito. Yes, that's true. He looks amiable and harmless enough. (See the BuzzFlash analysis: Governing by "Soap Opera": The GOP Fine Art of Demagoguery vs. the Dazed and Confused Democratic Leadership Appeal to Reason) But they would, by a large majority, disagree with his radical judicial perspectives and rulings.
So let's do our own set of poll questions here and speculate how, if the American public had the actual information in their brains about Alito's positions, they might respond:
1) Do you believe that a President of the United States should be allowed to break the law?
2) Do you believe that the balance of powers enshrined in our Constitution should be changed to make the President much more powerful, giving him the right to interpret the law as he sees fit?
3) Do you believe in altering our Constitutional system of checks and balances?
4) Do you believe that the federal government should be prohibited from regulating the individual possession of machine guns?
5) Do you believe that the Federal Bench should inhibit voting rights?
6) Do you believe that the police can strip-search a ten-year old girl even though there is no warrant to perform such an action and the girl is not implicated in any legal activity?
7) Do you believe that the Federal and local governments have a right to violate your privacy?
8) Do you believe that the Federal government should be prohibited from enforcing laws that clean up our environment?
9) Do you believe that the Federal government should be prohibited from protecting the health, safety and welfare of its citizens?
10) Do you believe that a Supreme Court nominee who lies to or misleads Congress during his hearings should be confirmed?
Now, we suspect that if you asked the above 10 questions, more than 75% of Americans would answer "No," meaning that they would oppose Alito. That's because Alito would answer "Yes" to all these questions, if he were to answer them truthfully in a confession booth. (See http://www.savethecourt.org/site/c.mwK0JbNTJrF/b.1359291/k.8C02/Alitos_Record.htm)
75% of the American public. It's pure speculation based on common sense, but that's a landslide against the judicial policies of Alito.
The problem with polling that the media, Republicans and entrenched Democrats use to justify the "myth of the Center" is that they are polls based on misinformation. In most of the polls, when people are informed of actual positions or facts that they are unaware of, their responses shift dramatically away from the "perceived center" all the way over toward many of the positions advocated by the so-called "fiery liberals."
Even on the question of choice and Roe v. Wade, 2/3's of respondents shifted against Alito when informed of his anti-choice judicial convictions in a recent poll.
So, just what is the "center" that the Reid/Biden/Salazar (etc.) Democrats fear? The "center," if we mean a landslide majority of Americans, would be opposed to Alito if they ever got to know his actual rulings and positions on issues.
It's an information gap, not a political reality. In fact, the political reality is that the Democrats could come out as champions of the vast majority of Americans if they stopped getting scared off by the bogeyman of the mythical, non-existent "conservative" center.
In short, properly informed, the American "center" would overwhelmingly reject the reality of Alito's judicial and anti-Constitutional stances. In fact, they would probably be appalled. Substance and the truth would triumph over fraudulent Republican image marketing.
But the DLC Dems continue to do battle with a myth, instead of trying to downstream reality to the American public and change the polling results, which inevitably happens when Americans are informed of the truth.
Like that marker in a cornfield in Illinois (and it has moved much further west now), the center of America may not be populated at all.
America is always a country that has prided itself on evolving, growing, changing. How could there be a permanent center anyway?
That's the purpose of democracy. Through great public debate we develop governmental policy for the common good of the nation -- and it morphs over time.
To abandon that principle to a myth is a cowardly thing to do.
There is no "center" support for Alito's actual positions. There is no "center" support for "neo-conservative" activist judges.
There's just support for an image the Republicans created for a "show hearing" of a harmless guy with a wife driven to tears.
Think what America could be if its red-staters were simply told the truth.
New York Times Editorial
Spies, Lies and Wiretaps
A bit over a week ago, President Bush and his men promised to provide the legal, constitutional and moral justifications for the sort of warrantless spying on Americans that has been illegal for nearly 30 years. Instead, we got the familiar mix of political spin, clumsy historical misinformation, contemptuous dismissals of civil liberties concerns, cynical attempts to paint dissents as anti-American and pro-terrorist, and a couple of big, dangerous lies.
The first was that the domestic spying program is carefully aimed only at people who are actively working with Al Qaeda, when actually it has violated the rights of countless innocent Americans. And the second was that the Bush team could have prevented the 9/11 attacks if only they had thought of eavesdropping without a warrant.•
Sept. 11 could have been prevented.
This is breathtakingly cynical. The nation's guardians did not miss the 9/11 plot because it takes a few hours to get a warrant to eavesdrop on phone calls and e-mail messages. They missed the plot because they were not looking. The same officials who now say 9/11 could have been prevented said at the time that no one could possibly have foreseen the attacks. We keep hoping that Mr. Bush will finally lay down the bloody banner of 9/11, but Karl Rove, who emerged from hiding recently to talk about domestic spying, made it clear that will not happen — because the White House thinks it can make Democrats look as though they do not want to defend America. "President Bush believes if Al Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why," he told Republican officials. "Some important Democrats clearly disagree."
Mr. Rove knows perfectly well that no Democrat has ever said any such thing — and that nothing prevented American intelligence from listening to a call from Al Qaeda to the United States, or a call from the United States to Al Qaeda, before Sept. 11, 2001, or since. The 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act simply required the government to obey the Constitution in doing so. And FISA was amended after 9/11 to make the job much easier.
Only bad guys are spied on.
Bush officials have said the surveillance is tightly focused only on contacts between people in this country and Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Vice President Dick Cheney claimed it saved thousands of lives by preventing attacks. But reporting in this paper has shown that the National Security Agency swept up vast quantities of e-mail messages and telephone calls and used computer searches to generate thousands of leads. F.B.I. officials said virtually all of these led to dead ends or to innocent Americans. The biggest fish the administration has claimed so far has been a crackpot who wanted to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch — a case that F.B.I. officials said was not connected to the spying operation anyway.
The spying is legal.
The secret program violates the law as currently written. It's that simple. In fact, FISA was enacted in 1978 to avoid just this sort of abuse. It said that the government could not spy on Americans by reading their mail (or now their e-mail) or listening to their telephone conversations without obtaining a warrant from a special court created for this purpose. The court has approved tens of thousands of warrants over the years and rejected a handful.
As amended after 9/11, the law says the government needs probable cause, the constitutional gold standard, to believe the subject of the surveillance works for a foreign power or a terrorist group, or is a lone-wolf terrorist. The attorney general can authorize electronic snooping on his own for 72 hours and seek a warrant later. But that was not good enough for Mr. Bush, who lowered the standard for spying on Americans from "probable cause" to "reasonable belief" and then cast aside the bedrock democratic principle of judicial review.
Just trust us.
Mr. Bush made himself the judge of the proper balance between national security and Americans' rights, between the law and presidential power. He wants Americans to accept, on faith, that he is doing it right. But even if the United States had a government based on the good character of elected officials rather than law, Mr. Bush would not have earned that kind of trust. The domestic spying program is part of a well-established pattern: when Mr. Bush doesn't like the rules, he just changes them, as he has done for the detention and treatment of prisoners and has threatened to do in other areas, like the confirmation of his judicial nominees. He has consistently shown a lack of regard for privacy, civil liberties and judicial due process in claiming his sweeping powers. The founders of our country created the system of checks and balances to avert just this sort of imperial arrogance.
The rules needed to be changed.
In 2002, a Republican senator — Mike DeWine of Ohio — introduced a bill that would have done just that, by lowering the standard for issuing a warrant from probable cause to "reasonable suspicion" for a "non-United States person." But the Justice Department opposed it, saying the change raised "both significant legal and practical issues" and may have been unconstitutional. Now, the president and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales are telling Americans that reasonable suspicion is a perfectly fine standard for spying on Americans as well as non-Americans — and they are the sole judges of what is reasonable.
So why oppose the DeWine bill? Perhaps because Mr. Bush had already secretly lowered the standard of proof — and dispensed with judges and warrants — for Americans and non-Americans alike, and did not want anyone to know.
War changes everything.
Mr. Bush says Congress gave him the authority to do anything he wanted when it authorized the invasion of Afghanistan. There is simply nothing in the record to support this ridiculous argument.
The administration also says that the vote was the start of a war against terrorism and that the spying operation is what Mr. Cheney calls a "wartime measure." That just doesn't hold up. The Constitution does suggest expanded presidential powers in a time of war. But the men who wrote it had in mind wars with a beginning and an end. The war Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney keep trying to sell to Americans goes on forever and excuses everything.
Other presidents did it.
Mr. Gonzales, who had the incredible bad taste to begin his defense of the spying operation by talking of those who plunged to their deaths from the flaming twin towers, claimed historic precedent for a president to authorize warrantless surveillance. He mentioned George Washington, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. These precedents have no bearing on the current situation, and Mr. Gonzales's timeline conveniently ended with F.D.R., rather than including Richard Nixon, whose surveillance of antiwar groups and other political opponents inspired FISA in the first place. Like Mr. Nixon, Mr. Bush is waging an unpopular war, and his administration has abused its powers against antiwar groups and even those that are just anti-Republican.•
The Senate Judiciary Committee is about to start hearings on the domestic spying. Congress has failed, tragically, on several occasions in the last five years to rein in Mr. Bush and restore the checks and balances that are the genius of American constitutional democracy. It is critical that it not betray the public once again on this score.
Saturday, January 28, 2006
January 29, 2006
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
LITTLE ROCK, Ark.
In 2003, Mike Huckabee, the governor of Arkansas, learned he had type 2 diabetes.
His doctor told him he would probably be dead in 10 years — and that terrified him enough to start exercising, eschew sugar and lose about 110 pounds (at 5 feet 11 inches, he's now 180 pounds). His first attempts at jogging left him dizzy after a few hundred yards, but now he is running marathons.
That would be a nice, inspiring tale if it ended there, but instead it has been the starting point. Mr. Huckabee has become a health care policy wonk, and with the help of national experts he has begun a series of clever initiatives to fight obesity. They are among the most creative steps under way in America at any level of the political process.
Arkansas has become a national laboratory for using policy levers to try to encourage healthier lifestyles. Other states and the federal government should adopt the same steps — like curbing soft drinks in schools, informing all parents of their children's body mass index as a step to encouraging fitness, giving exercise breaks as well as smoking breaks, paying for preventive health checks like mammograms and prostate examinations, subsidizing efforts to quit smoking and seeking to give food stamps more purchasing power when they are used to buy fruits or vegetables.
I know all this sounds banal. Perhaps I should be using this journalistic real estate to thunder about grand issues like the Iraq war or Middle East peace or corruption in Congress. But remember that fat kills far more Americans than terrorists. Indeed, The New England Journal of Medicine reported last year that because of rising obesity, life expectancy in the U.S. might soon stop rising and could drop.
So if our government wants to keep our children safe, it doesn't just have to go after terrorists in Afghanistan. It also has to go after Twinkies at home.
Mr. Huckabee, the current chairman of the National Governors Association, is a conservative Republican (and a potential candidate for president in 2008), with whom I disagree on just about everything. But he's doing more to safeguard the lives of his constituents than just about any politician in the country. And it makes financial sense.
"I don't want to be the sugar sheriff," Mr. Huckabee explained in an interview in his office. "I don't want to be the grease police. That's not my job. But when I look at our state budget, and I see that every year our Medicaid budget is increasing by 9 to 10 percent, and I look at state employees' health plans and I see that those costs are escalating at double digits and twice the rate of inflation — as a fiscal manager, I have not only the right but frankly also the responsibility to see what can we do to improve this bottom-line cost."
Repeatedly, Mr. Huckabee came back to the same argument: Obesity is reducing not only the quality of life of Americans, but also the fiscal soundness of our government and the competitiveness of our businesses.
"This year, G.M. will spend more on health care for employees and pensioners than on steel," Mr. Huckabee noted. "Starbucks will spend more on health care than on coffee beans."
Obesity is linked to 112,000 deaths a year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and leads to an extra $75 billion in direct medical costs. Mr. Huckabee argues that it would be worth paying small sums — for a session with a fitness trainer or a diet counselor — to avoid paying the far greater costs of heart disease and diabetes later.
Consider type 2 diabetes — the ailment that afflicted Mr. Huckabee (but which has now gone away, thanks to his regimen of salads and exercise). It has increased tenfold among children in just the last 20 years.
As a series in this newspaper about diabetes recently noted, one-third of today's 5-year-olds in America are projected to get diabetes at some point in their lives. It's already the leading cause of blindness, and a 10-year-old who has diabetes loses 19 years of life expectancy.
Imagine if Al Qaeda had resolved to attack us not with conventional chemical weapons but by slipping large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup into our food supply. That would finally rouse us to action — but in fact it's pretty much what we're doing to ourselves.
So what practical steps do we take? That's on the menu for a forthcoming column.
* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company
On Tuesday night President Bush will stand before the Congress and the nation to deliver his annual State of the Union address. We are sure to hear a rosy tale of an economy on the rebound, a blossoming democracy in Iraq, a terror network on the run, and a Gulf Coast region rebuilding better and stronger than ever before.
As is most often the case with this Administration, the rhetoric does not match reality.
The facts are clear. Our economy is struggling and leaving tens of millions of Americans behind. According to the non-partisan National Journal, since President Bush first stood before Congress and the nation in 2001, the median income in this country has decreased, the jobless rate has jumped from 3.9% to 4.9% and the number of families living in poverty has increased from 8.7% to 10.2%. Our trade deficit has doubled. Inflation has gone up. Personal bankruptcies have gone up. Consumer debt has gone up. College tuition has gone up. And, the price of gas has gone up. All the while, this Administration has turned a $128 billion federal budget surplus into a $319 billion deficit.
Today, almost 6 million more Americans do not have any health insurance than when President Bush took office. In total, over 45.5 million Americans, or over 15% of our total population, have no health care coverage at all.
During his 2003 address, President Bush told the nation that Saddam Hussein "had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax", "materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin", "as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent" and "upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents".
Today, almost three years after the start of the President's war of choice, we know Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, had no connection to al-Qaeda and posed no threat to our nation. Yet, our armed forces are bogged down in the middle of civil war that our own generals say cannot be won by military force. Our presence in Iraq is counterproductive and has cost the lives of over 2,200 US troops and $250 billion.
President Bush has delivered four State of the Union addresses since the attacks on our nation on 9/11. In four speeches, the President has never once mentioned Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the terror attacks on this nation. The status of the FBI's most wanted man apparently is not important to the state of our union. Yet, in the same four speeches, President Bush has mentioned Saddam Hussein 24 times, and Iraq 78 times.
President Bush used the opening of his 2003 State of the Union to praise the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. This year our nation, and the world, saw the result of the failure of this massive reorganization of our government. As Katrina rolled ashore, destroying large cities and small towns in four states, it was FEMA, once an independent cabinet level agency--but now rolled into Department of Homeland Security--that failed to react. The searing image of thousands of Americans stranded without food and water dying on American streets will be the lasting legacy of the Department of Homeland Security, not a reorganized government "mobilizing against the threats of a new era" as the President described in his speech.
In his 2004 and 2005 addresses, the President spent a considerable amount of time advocating policies that would roll back much of the social progress made since the New Deal. In 2004, the President touted a Medicare prescription drug bill that will fatten the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry, endangering the future finances of the entire Medicare program, while leaving seniors confused and empty handed as they try to fill their prescriptions under the new plan. In 2005, the President used his address to promote his plan strip seniors of the guaranteed promise of Social Security, and replace it with a risky scheme to gamble their future in the stock market.
What the President has in store for his message this year is not known yet. But, we do know the President Bush will speak in glowing terms about the state of our union. The truth is the state of our union is in great peril. This Administration is conducting a war with no end in Iraq, illegally spying on Americans at home, overseeing an economy that is increasingly leaving more and more Americans behind and abandoning Gulf in their hour of great need.
If recent history is any precedent, then next week we should see more of the same old dance around reality that has been the hallmark of President Bush's annual address.
IF A TYPICAL picture is worth a thousand words, a picture of President Bush with Jack Abramoff, we suppose, might be worth about 10,000. And so we understand the desire of our more visually inclined colleagues to obtain photos of the president and the criminal. But the focus on the photos distracts from a more important question that the president managed to duck in his news conference Thursday: Who in the White House and administration met with Mr. Abramoff, and what were those meetings about?
It is no answer to this question to say, as Mr. Bush did, that "there is a serious investigation going on by federal prosecutors" and "if they believe something was done inappropriately in the White House, they'll come and look, and they're welcome to do so." It is no answer to dismiss questions about Mr. Abramoff and the White House, as press secretary Scott McClellan has, by calling them a "fishing expedition." If there is one thing that is now clear, anything involving Mr. Abramoff is, by definition, fishy.
There are any number of matters of legitimate inquiry and public concern involving Mr. Abramoff and his White House dealings that might not rise to the level of a criminal prosecution. Mr. Abramoff has admitted bribing public officials. He collected at least $100,000 for Mr. Bush's reelection. He took David H. Safavian, then the chief of staff at the General Services Administration and later the administration's top procurement official, on a luxury golfing trip to Scotland; it was, as Mr. Abramoff said in an e-mail, a "total business angle."
The president himself attended a White House meeting with some of Mr. Abramoff's clients. How did that get set up? The White House acknowledges that Mr. Abramoff had some "staff-level meetings" there. With whom, and about what?
Republicans didn't tolerate this kind of behavior from the Clinton White House in the midst of its fundraising scandal. "At every turn, they are stonewalling, covering up and hiding," Haley Barbour, then the head of the Republican National Committee, said as the Clinton administration tried to brush off questions about its fundraising before the 1996 election. Mr. Barbour complained of the administration's "utter contempt . . . for the public's right to know."
Such obstructionism is no more acceptable now. The public understands this: Three-fourths of those surveyed in a new Washington Post/ABC poll said the White House should disclose the contacts. "This needs to be cleared up so the people have confidence in the system," Mr. Bush said. Our point exactly.
John Kerry can claim at least one small victory in his filibuster fight.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who said earlier this month that Samuel Alito wasn't guilty of the sort of "gross moral turpitude" that would warrant a filibuster, now says that she'll vote in favor of a filibuster after all. In a statement just released from her office, Feinstein says: "Based on a very long and thoughtful analysis of the record and transcript, which I tried to indicate in my floor statement yesterday, I’ve decided that I will vote no on cloture."
Perhaps that's another way of saying that Feinstein has heard from a lot of pro-choice Californians who put her in office because they thought she'd stand up for abortion rights. Or maybe it's a way of saying that Feinstein really does have a spine, but just a rubbery one. It's hard to know how this plays out for her politically: Does she get credit for standing up or scorn for flipping and flopping?
What is clear is that Feinstein's switch doesn't alter the overall math much. Just before Feinstein made her announcement, one more undecided Republican said he'll be voting for Alito on Tuesday morning. Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens says he decided to support Alito after coming to the conclusion that the nominee will uphold his "commitment" to "respect" prior court rulings that protect a woman's right to an abortion.
Friday, January 27, 2006
----- Original Message -----
From: "Joe Volk" <email@example.com>
To: "Miriam Vieni" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Friday, January 27, 2006 3:09 PM
Subject: Driven by Fear or Governed by Law?- FCNL
Subject: Driven by Fear or Governed by Law?-- FCNL
In his "global war on terror," President Bush has a strategy
for U.S. security which can be summed up in one word: "Boo!"
Once upon a time, in the era of the New Deal, a president led by
reminding citizens that their only fear should be fear itself. The
public responded with courage and resolve. Today, George W. Bush offers
different advice and a different deal. He scares the bejeezes out of
the public with made-up stories of false threats based on
dis-information. He says, be afraid. And then he pitches his deal: give
up your liberty and I'll make you safe. What will our response be to
this fear-deal? To save our liberty, we must respond with courage and
resolve. What was true in the 20th century remains true today in the
21st century: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
George W. Bush launched a public campaign this week to defend the
administration's warrant-less domestic spying program and paint
congressional critics of the program from both parties as unwilling to
make the tough choices needed to protect the United States from attack.
We can't let this White House public relations campaign go unanswered.
We must support the Senate investigation of the legal foundation for
this program. Follow this link to write a letter to your senators:
Is the President Above the Law?
Our country faces real threats. Presidents do have a responsibility to
protect the United States. But in our society the president is not
above the law. We believe the National Security Agency (NSA) domestic
spying program violates a specific provision of one law. Five senators
from the president's own party, John McCain, Arlen Specter, Chuck
Hagel, Lindsey Graham, and Sam Brownback, have also expressed doubts
about the legal basis for this program to spy on U.S. citizens. The
Senate has scheduled hearings for February 6 to examine this issue, but
the White House campaign could lead some senators to back away from a
full investigation on the rule of law and the responses to the
The NSA spying program is but one example of a broader White House
effort expanding presidential powers and usurping laws passed by
Congress in a manner that threatens our constitutional democracy. The
president states flatly that the NSA spying program is legal. When
asked during a press conference on Thursday by a reporter about
assertions that his actions circumvent the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), a law that establishes procedures for
domestic wiretapping by the NSA, the president said:
"The FISA law was written in 1978. We're having this discussion in
2006. It's a different world. FISA is still an important tool. And we
still use that tool. But I said, look, is it possible to conduct this
program under the old law? And people said, it doesn't work in order to
be able to do the job we expect us to do. And so that's why I made the
decision I made. And you know, 'circumventing' is a loaded word, and I
refuse to accept it, because I believe what I'm doing is legally
That is a breathtaking admission.
The president admitted that he didn't like the law so he just made up
his own rules. So where does the presidential authority come from to
authorize this program? The answer from the administration is that the
congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force to
respond to the attacks of September 11, 2001 grants the president power
to do what he needs to do. "Most presidents believe that during a
time of war that we can use our authorities under the Constitution to
make decisions necessary to protect us," the president said
Thursday. He believes that 2001 law, in effect, told the
administration: "Go ahead and conduct the war. We're not going to
tell you how to do it."
Different times, difficult issues, and new challenges do require
reconsideration. Some members of Congress from both parties have
suggested that Congress should consider amending the FISA law to grant
the president the authority he needs to engage in wiretapping without
approval even by the secret FISA court to track violent extremists
communicating with people in the United States. But the president
suggested this week that he will resist attempts to rewrite the laws
because even a public debate on his actions might endanger national
This administration's response to legitimate questioning about the
expansion of presidential powers that could infringe on individual
rights is to charge that the people formulating the questions are
weakening the United States, exposing the country to the possibility of
further violent attacks, and imposing unreasonable restraints on the
president during wartime.
That argument cannot -- must not -- go unchallenged. The country can --
and we must -- promote conditions for our public to be safe and our
country secure by preserving individual liberties. This country had a
revolution when another George tried to be the law over here, and the
public kicked him out of the country in the name of freedom and
From the beginning of our country, freedom and security have lived
hand-in-hand as partners under the Constitution, not antagonists. The
Senate hearings that begin on February 6 offer an opportunity to open
up a public debate on these issues. But the debate must be rooted in a
reaffirmation that Congress under the Constitution is charged as a
coequal branch of government with the responsibility to govern this
country. No president is above the law, especially not in wartime.
Presidents must respect Congress as a coequal partner and must abide by
the laws of this country. And Congress must not subordinate itself to
the president, not even in hard times.
TAKE ACTION NOW
Write your senators today. We must persuade Congress to investigate
carefully the NSA spying program and other attempts to usurp the
constitutionally protected powers of the Congress. Follow this link to
write a letter to your Senators:
Speak out, talk to friends, neighbors, colleagues, and others in your
community. Urge them to speak out as well.
In the next week, FCNL will be posting on our web site documents,
papers, and other resources that offer a more detailed analysis of this
debate on the fate of freedom and responses to the president's
arguments. We encourage you to check back often.
Read the President's statements about wiretapping:
Read the questions that Senator Specter is asking Attorney General
Gonzalez about the program:
Find out why six senators are demanding an investigation of this
Read the text from the Authorization for the Use of Force from the
The Next Step for Iraq: Join FCNL's Iraq Campaign, http://www.fcnl.org/iraq/
Contact Congress and the Administration:
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We seek a world free of war and the threat of war
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We seek an earth restored.
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You may not have heard it, but Samuel A. Alito Jr. said all those things – and others equally disturbing – during his confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate. You did not hear it because it was well-camouflaged under conservative rhetoric intended to sound patriotic and grounded in American values. Alito’s meaning, however, is anything but American. It is the polar opposite.
Alito violated the tenets of Americanism when he said, “In interpreting the Constitution, I think we should look to the text of the Constitution, and we should look to the meaning that someone would have taken from the text of the Constitution at the time of its adoption.”
For all but the wealthiest, whitest, and male among us, those are frightening words. They are fraught with the potential to un-do many of the aspects of American society we take for granted. A full understanding of the words, however, relies on a historical context missing in the debate over Alito.
The meaning of the Constitution has been constantly changing since its adoption, expanding from a document that originally applied only to white males to one that now covers women as well as men, and peoples of all races and religions. American history can be read as a gradual extension of the meaning of “American” to cover people regardless of race, religion, or gender as interpretations of the Constitution shifted to match contemporary standards of fairness and decency. Originalists like Alito reject the Constitution as a living, breathing document that permitted this expansion. They prefer to allow the dead hand of the 18th century to keep a strangle-hold on the meaning of the Constitution.
The suggestion that “we should look to the meaning that someone would have taken from the text of the Constitution at the time of its adoption” is deceptively simple. It implies universal agreement on what the Constitution meant when it was drafted in 1787 and ratified in 1788. It limits the “someone” who can interpret the Constitution to a privileged minority of Americans. It implies that “the time of its adoption” should have precedence over all succeeding generations.
Alito’s statement offends common sense by suggesting that it is even possible to discern the intent of people acting more than 200 years ago. No verbatim transcript of the proceedings exist, nor any C-Span recordings. Deliberations were secret, so there are not even any arms-length press accounts (to the extent a press as we know it existed then). Other sources abound, of course, including accounts by participants and the Federalist Papers written afterwards to promote its ratification, but slaveholders in the South had far different intentions in adopting the Constitution than did Boston artisans. In the event that their writings disagree on the meaning of “cruel and unusual punishment,” for example, which “someone” will the originalist Alito rely on for his favored interpretation – the slaveholder who did not think it was cruel to steal children from their families in Africa and sell them into slavery among strangers half a world away?
At the time of its adoption, the only “someone” who counted in politics was a white male. And not just any white male – specifically, those men who owned property. Under republican political theories of the day, only men who owned property were deemed “independent” enough to cast a vote or serve in office without being unduly influenced by others and to place the common good above their own individual interests.
While property ownership was more widespread in the colonies than it had been in Great Britain, it was far from universal. Many of the leaders of the revolution, for example, were artisans like Paul Revere rather than land owners. In the early days of the Republic, artisans and wage-earners fought political battles to win the right to vote. Interpreting the meaning of the Constitution based on 1787 would exclude non-property owning white men from its coverage. If soldiers who fought in the American Revolution and owned no property could be excluded from the voting rolls in 1787, how would the originalist Alito justify the right to vote for a 20-year-old soldier fighting in Iraq who lived with his parents before enlisting?
Women would be in even worse shape in a world governed by originalists like Alito. At the time of the Constitution’s adoption, women had no legal standing. Their legal status was said to be “covered” by that of their husbands. Married women could not own property in their own names. They did not have a right to their earnings, and, in the rare event of a divorce, they did not have a right to the children to whom they had given birth. They left a marriage with the clothes on their backs.
When Abigail Adams asked her husband, John, to “remember the ladies” in writing the Constitution, he mocked her by saying men would not submit to the “despotism of the petticoat.” Does returning to the meaning of the Constitution at the time of its adoption mean treating women’s rights as a joke? The right to vote is protected by the 19th amendment, but other rights that women taken for granted exist in law only. In the absence of an equal rights amendment, those laws might easily be deemed unconstitutional by originalist Alito because they are not within the meaning of the Constitution held by “someone” at the time of its adoption. Would the originalist Alito look to an interpretation of the Constitution held by Abigail Adams, or would he mock the idea as did John Adams?
For people of color, the meaning of the Constitution at the time of its adoption is most threatening. African Americans who were not slaves rarely could vote even in the North, where slavery was less widespread than in the South. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments ended slavery, made African Americans citizens entitled to due process of law, and granted African American men the right to vote. But in interpreting those amendments, would Alito revert to the meaning of the framers of the Constitution – say to Thomas Jefferson, who believed that African Americans could mate with orangutans?
And what of Native Americans? At the time of the Constitution’s adoption, Native Americans could not own land, could not sue or testify in court, and could not vote. Their right to vote rests on a statute adopted by Congress in 1924. Can that right be challenged on the grounds that the framers of the 15th amendment were thinking only of former slaves and not Indians when they wrote that provision? And what of the rights of Chinese, Japanese, and Latino Americans? Did framers of the 14th and 15th amendments intend to cover them or were they thinking only of African Americans? Those amendments did little to protect Chinese immigrants until 1898, when the U.S. Supreme Court relied on the “plain meaning” of the amendments to strike down many provisions of an 1882 law banning most Chinese immigration. Would Alito the originalist agree with the “plain meaning” of the amendments or insist on basing the interpretation of the amendments on what their anti-slavery framers were thinking in the wake of the Civil War? The rights of women and minorities are far from the only aspects of modern society jeopardized by relying on an 18th century understanding of the world. Paper money, a minimum wage, social security – what would Jefferson do about them?
Originalists like Alito see no problem with striking down anything that the founders did not intend. Their answer is that the Constitution can always be amended to suit the times. Women who are still waiting for ratification of the equal rights amendment know what a false promise that can be. Alito may not be personally anxious to see the rights of women and minorities rolled back more than 200 years, but by adopting the stance of an originalist, Alito is saying that fidelity to the standards of the 18th century is more important than anything else.
That is a world in which few 21st century Americans would be comfortable. Senate Democrats must do everything in their power to rescue us from this anachronistic Supreme Court nominee.
Murtha, a decorated Vietnam veteran from Johnstown, created a firestorm in November when he called for troops to be pulled out of Iraq. On Thursday, he told editors and reporters from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the war in Iraq is a civil war and the U.S. should disengage.
"Our troops are the target," Murtha told the newspaper. "We're not fighting terrorism in Iraq. We're fighting a civil war in Iraq. We've got to give them an incentive. We fought our Civil War. Let them fight their civil war."
Murtha, the senior Democrat on the House appropriations defense panel, said many Iraqis think "it's all right to kill Americans" and that most Iraqis want U.S. troops out of the country.
"There is no reason in the world we couldn't do what we're doing (in Iraq) from the periphery," Murtha said. "I've just come to the conclusion it's going to happen and it's just a matter of time."
Murtha, who voted in 2002 to give President Bush the authority to go to war, said he believes Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, had no ties to al-Qaida and wasn't a threat to the United States.
He wants U.S. troops to be redeployed to Kuwait and areas around Iraq. He predicted there will be fewer than 100,000 troops by midsummer and that the pullout by the end of the year.
"We're not cutting and running. We're giving the Iraqis incentive to take over," he said.
Murtha also weighed in on other topics during the meeting, saying the United States should use diplomacy in combating the threats Iran poses to Mideast stability. He also said Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., could win the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, but that she would lose in the general election.
This is really important!
----- Original Message -----
From: "John Kerry" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Friday, January 27, 2006 2:53 AM
Yesterday, Senator Ted Kennedy and I told our colleagues that we supported a
filibuster of Judge Alito's nomination for the Supreme Court. And we weren't
alone. But the bottom line is that it takes more than two or three people to
filibuster successfully. It's not "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." If you
want to stop Judge Alito from becoming Justice Alito, use your own email
list and organize. We can't just preach to our own choir. We need to prove
to everyone - from our friends and neighbors to our fellow Senators - that
the American people know Judge Alito will take our country in the wrong
direction, and they expect something to be done about it.
So I'm asking you to join Senator Kennedy, me, and concerned citizens across
America who are signing this petition to support a filibuster. If there was
ever a time to forward an email on to friends and family, this is it. One
way or another, we're going to find out in the next few days if Judge Alito
is going to become Justice Alito. You know where I stand. The time to make
your voice heard is now. So please sign this filibuster petition and get as
many friends as you can to do the same.
Sign the filibuster petition:
If Judge Alito gets on the Supreme Court, it will be an incredible mistake
for America. And remember, this is one mistake that we can never take back.
I voted against Justice Roberts, but I feel even more strongly about Judge
Alito. Why? Rather than live up to the promise of "equal justice under the
law," he has consistently made it harder for the most disadvantaged
Americans to have their day in court. He routinely defers to excessive
government power no matter how much government abuses that power. And, to
this date, his only statement on record regarding a woman's right to privacy
is that she doesn't have one.
There isn't a shred of doubt in my opposition to Judge Alito's nomination. I
spent a lot of time over the last few years thinking about what kind of
person deserves to sit on the highest court in the land, so I don't hesitate
a minute in saying that Judge Alito is not that person. His entire legal
career shows that, if confirmed, he will take America backward. People can
say all they want that "elections have consequences." Trust me, I
understand. But that doesn't mean we have to stay silent about Judge Alito's
Sign the filibuster petition:
President Bush had the opportunity to nominate someone who would unite the
country in a time of extreme division. He chose not to do this, and that is
his right. But we have every right -- in fact, we have a responsibility --
to fight against a radical ideological shift on the Supreme Court. This
nomination was a sellout to the demands of the extreme right wing of the
Republican Party. The president gave no thought to what the American people
really wanted - or needed. So now that the president and Judge Alito have
proven they won't stand up for the majority of Americans, we have to stand
up. We have to speak out. That's the true meaning of "advice and consent."
Make a contribution:
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Judge Samuel Alito Jr., whose entire history suggests that he holds extreme views about the expansive powers of the presidency and the limited role of Congress, will almost certainly be a Supreme Court justice soon. His elevation will come courtesy of a president whose grandiose vision of his own powers threatens to undermine the nation's basic philosophy of government — and a Senate that seems eager to cooperate by rolling over and playing dead.
It is hard to imagine a moment when it would be more appropriate for senators to fight for a principle. Even a losing battle would draw the public's attention to the import of this nomination.
At the Judiciary Committee hearings, the judge followed the well-worn path to confirmation, which has the nominee offer up only the most boring statements and unarguable truisms: the president is not above the law; diversity in college student bodies is a good thing. But in what he has said in the past, and what he refused to say in the hearings, Judge Alito raised warning flags that, in the current political context, cannot simply be shrugged away with a promise to fight again another day.
The Alito nomination has been discussed largely in the context of his opposition to abortion rights, and if the hearings provided any serious insight at all into the nominee's intentions, it was that he has never changed his early convictions on that point. The judge — who long maintained that Roe v. Wade should be overturned — ignored all the efforts by the Judiciary Committee's chairman, Arlen Specter, to get him to provide some cover for pro-choice senators who wanted to support the nomination. As it stands, it is indefensible for Mr. Specter or any other senator who has promised constituents to protect a woman's right to an abortion to turn around and hand Judge Alito a potent vote to undermine or even end it.
But portraying the Alito nomination as just another volley in the culture wars vastly underestimates its significance. The judge's record strongly suggests that he is an eager lieutenant in the ranks of the conservative theorists who ignore our system of checks and balances, elevating the presidency over everything else. He has expressed little enthusiasm for restrictions on presidential power and has espoused the peculiar argument that a president's intent in signing a bill is just as important as the intent of Congress in writing it. This would be worrisome at any time, but it takes on far more significance now, when the Bush administration seems determined to use the cover of the "war on terror" and presidential privilege to ignore every restraint, from the Constitution to Congressional demands for information.
There was nothing that Judge Alito said in his hearings that gave any comfort to those of us who wonder whether the new Roberts court will follow precedent and continue to affirm, for instance, that a man the president labels an "unlawful enemy combatant" has the basic right to challenge the government's ability to hold him in detention forever without explanation. His much-quoted statement that the president is not above the law is meaningless unless he also believes that the law requires the chief executive to defer to Congress and the courts.
Judge Alito's refusal to even pretend to sound like a moderate was telling because it would have cost him so little. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who was far more skillful at appearing mainstream at the hearings, has already given indications that whatever he said about the limits of executive power when he was questioned by the Senate has little practical impact on how he will rule now that he has a lifetime appointment.
Senate Democrats, who presented a united front against the nomination of Judge Alito in the Judiciary Committee, seem unwilling to risk the public criticism that might come with a filibuster — particularly since there is very little chance it would work. Judge Alito's supporters would almost certainly be able to muster the 60 senators necessary to put the nomination to a final vote.
A filibuster is a radical tool. It's easy to see why Democrats are frightened of it. But from our perspective, there are some things far more frightening. One of them is Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.
CNN is now confirming what Bob Fertik at Democrats.com reported earlier today: John Kerry is calling on his Democratic colleagues to filibuster the nomination of Samuel Alito. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has just responded by moving for a cloture vote on Monday afternoon.
Kerry is in Davos to attend the World Economic Forum there, but he has apparently been working the phones, trying to persuade other Democrats to join him. CNN says Ted Kennedy is on board.
It's not clear how many other Democrats will get behind Kerry, but it's pretty clear that there aren't enough to defeat a Republican cloture motion. There are only 44 Democrats in the Senate -- 45 if you count independent Jim Jeffords, who says he'll vote no on the nomination -- and it takes 40 votes to keep a filibuster going. Democrats Robert Byrd, Tim Johnson and Ben Nelson have already said they'll vote for Alito, which would certainly suggest that they won't vote for a filibuster. Several other Democrats -- including California Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar -- have said that their "no" votes on the nomination shouldn't be construed as "yes" votes for a filibuster. And Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid just said on the Senate floor that Frist has given all senators plenty of time to debate the Alito nomination.
By Juan Cole
Jan. 27, 2006 The stunning victory of the militant Muslim fundamentalist Hamas Party in the Palestinian elections underlines the central contradictions in the Bush administration's policies toward the Middle East. Bush pushes for elections, confusing them with democracy, but seems blind to the dangers of right-wing populism. At the same time, he continually undermines the moderate and secular forces in the region by acting high-handedly or allowing his clients to do so. As a result, Sunni fundamentalist parties, some with ties to violent cells, have emerged as key players in Iraq, Egypt and Palestine.
Democracy depends not just on elections but on a rule of law, on stable institutions, on basic economic security for the population, and on checks and balances that forestall a tyranny of the majority. Elections in the absence of this key societal context can produce authoritarian regimes and abuses as easily as they can produce genuine people power. Bush is on the whole unwilling to invest sufficiently in these key institutions and practices abroad. And by either creating or failing to deal with hated foreign occupations, he has sown the seeds for militant Islamist movements that gain popularity because of their nationalist credentials.
In Iraq, which is among the least secure and most economically fraught countries in the world, the Dec. 15 elections brought into Parliament a set of powerful Shiite fundamentalist parties and a new force, the Muslim fundamentalist Iraqi Accord Front, which gained most of the votes of formerly secular-minded Iraqi Sunni Arabs. Some IAF politicians are suspected of strong ties to Iraq's Sunni insurgency. In Egypt, last fall's election increased representation for the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood from 17 to more than 70 seats in Parliament, making that group a key political player for the first time in Egyptian history. Decades ago, the party once assassinated a prime minister and attempted to assassinate President Gamal Abdul Nasser, but now maintains it has turned to moderation. It aims at the imposition of a rigid interpretation of Islamic law on Egyptians, including Egyptian women.
Now Hamas, or the Islamic Resistance Movement, a branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, has come to power in Palestine. In his press conference on Thursday, Bush portrayed the Palestinian elections in the same way he depicts Republican Party victories over Democrats in the United States: "The people are demanding honest government. The people want services. They want to be able to raise their children in an environment in which they can get a decent education and they can find healthcare." He sounds like a spokesman for Hamas, underlining the irony that Bush and his party have given Americans the least honest government in a generation, have drastically cut services, and have actively opposed extension of healthcare to the uninsured in the United States.
But the president's attempt to dismiss the old ruling Fatah Party as corrupt and inefficient, however true, is also a way of taking the spotlight off his own responsibility for the stagnation in Palestine. Bush allowed then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to sideline the ruling Fatah Party of Yasser Arafat, to fire missiles at its police stations, and to reduce its leader to a besieged nonentity. Sharon arrogantly ordered the murder of civilian Hamas leaders in Gaza, making them martyrs. Meanwhile, Israeli settlements continued to grow, the fatally flawed Oslo agreements delivered nothing to the Palestinians, and Bush and Sharon ignored new peace plans -- whether the so-called Geneva accord put forward by Palestinian and Israeli moderates or the Saudi peace plan -- that could have resolved the underlying issues. The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, which should have been a big step forward for peace, was marred by the refusal of the Israelis to cooperate with the Palestinians in ensuring that it did not produce a power vacuum and further insecurity.
Frustrated, the Palestinian public predictably swung to the far right. Their embrace of Hamas does not indicate that most Palestinians are dedicated to destroying Israel; polls show that most support a two-state solution and are weary of the endless violence. Rather, they are sick of the Palestinian Authority and believe that Hamas will be more effective negotiating partners with the Israelis. As a Saudi political talk show host told the Associated Press, "They [Hamas] will be the Arab Sharon. They will be tough, but only a tough group can snatch concessions from Israel."
In a mystifying self-contradiction, Bush trumpeted that "the Palestinians had an election yesterday, the results of which remind me about the power of democracy." If elections were really the same as democracy, and if Bush was so happy about the process, then we might expect him to pledge to work with the results, which by his lights would be intrinsically good. But then he suddenly swerved away from this line of thought, reverting to boilerplate and saying, "On the other hand, I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform. And I know you can't be a partner in peace if you have a -- if your party has got an armed wing."
So Bush is saying that even though elections are democracy and democracy is good and powerful, it has produced unacceptable results in this case, and so the resulting Hamas government will lack the legitimacy necessary to allow the United States to deal with it or go forward in any peace process. Bush's double standard is clear in his diction, since he was perfectly happy to deal with Israel's Likud Party, which is dedicated to the destruction of the budding Palestinian state, and which used the Israeli military and security services for its party platform in destroying the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority throughout the early years of this century. As Orwell reminded us in "Animal Farm," some are more equal than others.
President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah had earlier been elected in a separate process and could continue in office if he chooses to work with a Hamas-dominated cabinet. He had earlier hinted that he would resign if his party lost. Asked about a possible resignation, Bush said in his typically tongue-tied way, "We'd like him to stay in power. I mean, we'd like to stay in office. He is in power; we'd like him to stay in office." Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader who is in exile in Syria, said that his party would be willing to work with Abbas as president, according to a party spokesman.
But then when Bush was asked if the United States would end aid to the Palestinian Authority if a Hamas government was formed, he implied that it would, unless Hamas changed its platform, which opposes the existence of the state of Israel on the grounds that the territory belongs to the Palestinians. He said, "Well, I made it very clear that the United States does not support political parties that want to destroy our ally Israel, and that people must renounce that part of their platform."
Bush implied that Hamas is dedicated to unremitting violence against Israel. And since 1994 its military wing has launched many suicide attacks against Israelis, killing hundreds of people, most of them civilians. But in fact it has observed a more or less effective truce for about a year -- indeed, as an important study carried out by the respected International Crisis Group pointed out, it has observed the truce far more reliably than Fatah. And Hamas' leaders have affirmed that they are willing to continue the truce if Israel refrains from aggressive violence toward them.
Despite Hamas' founding position that the Israeli state is illegitimate, violence is not foreordained. A Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, told the Associated Press that his party would continue what he called its year-old "truce" if Israel did the same. "If not," he added, "then I think we will have no option but to protect our people and our land." More fundamentally, even Hamas' charter could change. As the ICG points out, Hamas "has accepted the principle that there is no religious prohibition against negotiating or co-existing with Israel and that the provisions in its charter providing for Israel's destruction are not indelible." Even President Bush, in his measured response to the elections, seemed to hold out hope that Hamas would adopt a more pragmatic stance.
To be sure, many Israelis believe that Hamas is only using the truce to rearm, that it will never change its opposition to the very existence of Israel, and that any negotiations with the Islamist group will only weaken the Jewish state. And Hamas' failure to speak clearly about its intentions does nothing to allay such fears.
But no one has ever put Hamas to the test. Neither Bush nor Israel have ever made good-faith efforts to resolve the underlying issues, preferring to issue moralistic denunciations that ignore the reality on the ground. The bitter fruits of that shortsighted policy are now evident. In Iraq, Bush has been forced -- albeit too late -- to act pragmatically, negotiating with the leaders of Sunni insurgents whom his administration earlier denounced as "terrorists." He and Israeli leaders should follow the same course in Palestine and try to engage Hamas in a realistic, good-faith political effort to resolve the conflict.
There is no evidence that either party will do so. Bush announced early in his administration his unwillingness to do anything that would challenge Sharon. For his part, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is following in Sharon's footsteps. He said that he would refuse to deal with the Palestinian Authority if it was led by Hamas or included Hamas as a partner, and that he would continue to take the high-handed unilateral actions planned by Sharon, including holding on to the large Israeli settlements in the West Bank and refusing to negotiate the status of Jerusalem.
Bush has boxed himself into an impossible situation. He promoted elections that have produced results opposite of the ones he wanted. For all his constant rhetoric about his determination to hunt down and kill terrorists, in Palestine he has in effect helped install into power a group he calls "terrorists." His confusion over whether this is democracy, which should be legitimate, or is an unacceptable outcome -- and his unwillingness to address the underlying issues behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- suggest that a fatal paralysis will continue to afflict the region.
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