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The Nation

The Madness of King George

Today, a bipartisan American Bar Association task force released its report challenging George Bush's flagrant misuse of signing statements to circumvent the constitutional separation of powers.

Bush has issued more than 800 challenges to provisions of passed laws (more than all previous presidents combined) and he has asserted "his right to ignore law." Among the areas of laws Bush has threatened through this "shortcut veto" are the ban on torture, affirmative action, whistleblower protection, and limits on use of "illegally collected intelligence."

The 10 member ABA panel includes three well-known conservatives, including Mickey Edwards – a former Republican Congressman who places protecting the Constitution above lock-step partisanship. Edwards, a former chair of the American Conservative Union and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation, is a true maverick whose recent article in The Nation signals his commitment to protecting our constitutional design. "The President. " Edwards wrote, [has] "chosen not to veto legislation with which he disagreed – thus giving Congress a chance to override his veto – but simply to assert his right to ignore the law, whether a domestic issue or a prohibition against torturing prisoners of war."

Task force member Bruce Fein, who served in the Reagan administration, concurs: "When the president signs a bill and says he is not going to enforce parts of a bill that he finds unconstitutional, it is in effect an absolute veto, because the Congress has no power to override him."

According to The Washington Post, panel members wrote: "The President's constitutional duty is to enforce laws he has signed into being unless and until they are held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court or a subordinate tribunal. The Constitution is not what the President says it is."

The panel is recommending legislation that would require a president to publicly disclose his intention to not enforce any law, including "the reasons and legal basis for the [signing] statement." A second piece of legislation would enable Congress or individuals to seek judicial review in the event that a president claims the authority to not enforce "a law that he has signed or interprets a law in conflict with the clear intent of Congress."

ABA President Michael Greco underscores the importance of these recommendations: "We will be close to a constitutional crisis if this issue…is left unchecked."

As Edwards writes, "… the real issue at stake is not one of presidential policy but of the continued viability of the separation of powers, the central tenet in America's system of constrained government."

This is a critical first step toward reining in presidential power run amok. Certainly more needs to be done, especially as a complicit GOP tries to make legal what should not be – such as the warrantless wiretapping legislation the White House is now seeking.... Which brings us to November.

While one might not agree with all that the Democrats are doing (and I don't), and might wish for more leadership on core issues like the Iraq War and sanity in the Middle East (leadership such as that demonstrated recently by two dozen congressional leaders calling for a cease-fire)…. We MUST restore the checks and balances to counter the one-party state we now live in, especially at this moment when the Republican Party is arguably the most extreme of any governing majority in the nation's history.

Get involved in your Congressional and Senate races. Help stop the madness of King George.

How to Help in Lebanon

Researchers for Human Rights Watch, the New York-based non-governmental organization, say they have compiled details on the deaths of more than a quarter of the roughly 400 Lebanese civilians killed to date by Israeli air strikes. "We've investigated the results of air campaigns in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and the pattern here is different. They're hitting civilians time and time again," Peter Bouckaert, a long-serving Human Rights Watch investigator, said. "Just because the Israelis are using smart weapons doesn't mean they're hitting military targets," he added.

By all accounts, Israel's disproportionate and seemingly indiscriminate attack has caused a mounting humanitarian crisis in Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and with most of the country's infrastructure destroyed by air strikes, medical technicians willing to brave the bombings are facing great difficulties traversing crater-filled roads and burning bridges to even reach the thousands of wounded civilians.

How to help?

Nation columnist Naomi Klein is urging support for the Sanayeh Relief Center, established by a group of non-sectarian Lebanese leftists. Sanayeh is providing relief at 27 schools in the city of Beirut, which are currently housing 9,117 displaced people--more than 1,000 under the age of five--from the southern regions of Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut. The relief activities being carried out include, "basic needs such as medication, materials for child care, and sanitary products for women, in addition to water, food, mattresses and blankets, all through local and international support campaigns." The number of volunteers, working in the operations organized by the relief center, has reached about 230 total. Click here for more details on the group and read Klein's appeal below to see why the Center is so deserving of support.

The new website Save Lebanon also highlights the work of other good relief groups operating with roots on the ground. It also offers a way to contact the members of the United Nations Security Council to urge them to make every effort to establish an international force to intervene in Lebanon and stop the Israeli offensive. Finally, closer to home, it can't hurt to contact your own elected rep and implore them to join Rep. Dennis Kucinich and twenty-three other members of the House in supporting House Resolution 450, which calls on the President to appeal for an immediate ceasefire.

Please use the comments section below to let me know what groups I should have included in this survey but didn't. I'll also continue to highlight good reporting from the region so please also keep writing with suggestions of websites, blogs, newspapers, etc that you find valuable.




An Open Letter From Naomi Klein
I urge all who are horrified by the Israeli government's inflicting of collective punishment on the people of Lebanon to join me in supporting the Sanayeh Relief Center. It is a remarkable coalition of grassroots activists in Beirut who have rapidly joined together to provide emergency relief to many victims of this human-created disaster. I have researched their work and feel confident that all support we send is going to the urgent task of distributing basic supplies such as food and medicine to people suffering under the Israeli bombing, including thousands of internally displaced refugees being housed in 32 displacement centers.

Virtually the only response from western governments to Israel's sickening decision to wage all out war on the people of Lebanon has been to send helicopters and boats to rescue their own citizens. Millions of people without such precious passports are left behind without aid, trapped by Israeli bombs that have systematically targeted roads, bridges and the airport.

There is no "international community" that is coming to save the day, only our own anti-war networks that we have built in our communities and online. So at the same time as we raise our voices to demand an immediate end to Israeli aggression, we must also offer our financial support to trustworthy, on-the-ground activists like those at the Sanayeh ReliefCenter. In a world increasingly governed by brute force and indifference, the Sanayeh Relief Center is a beacon of humanity and mutual aid, please do what you can to increase its strength. It is a concrete act of peace.

Naomi Klein
Wednesday, July 19th


Suggestions for Condi

In recent years, as too many elected representatives and so-called experts rushed to support the Bush Administration's foreign policy misadventures, former Carter Administration National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has emerged as perhaps the sharpest voice of dissent in Washington's foreign policy establishment.

Last Thursday, Brzezinski gave a fascinating talk sponsored by the New America Foundation, where he labeled Israel's ferocious military bombing of Lebanon "dogged, heavy-handed, politically unproductive and morally wrong."

"What Israel is doing today in Lebanon is in effect the killing of hostages," Brzezinski said. And the US government enabled the military campaign "by abandoning the tradition of being a negotiator to a promise of complete partiality."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should pull a Kissinger, Brzezinski said, and "stay in the region" until the fighting stops. To that end, Brzezinski offered five practical suggestions for how the Bush Administration might quell the violence.

1. Recreate viability for the Palestinians by working with Hamas.

2. Talk to the Syrians, with or through the French.

3. Talk to the Lebanese government, so they don't just appear as victims screaming for help.

4. Talk to Hezbollah through Syria.

5. Negotiate the sequential release of prisoners between Israel and Hezbollah.

Of course, the Administration refuses to negotiate with Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. But the US essentially has two options: engage or do nothing.

"Either she's doing what she should be doing," Brzezinski said of Condi, "or she's sitting in front of a mirror, talking to herself."

A New Openness

"It has to be said: there has been nothing in our time like the Bush Administration's obsession with secrecy….It's an old story: the greater the secrecy, the deeper the corruption." -- Bill Moyers, December, 2005

As the Bush Administration threatens and bullies the media, it is also engaging in an unprecedented rollback of public access to information that is an affront to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) signed into law forty years ago.

Gary Bass, Director of OMB Watch – a government accountability watchdog group – notes that unclassified information has been sub-categorized into oblivion by the Bush administration. The ambiguous, unclassified-but-inaccessible designations include: "sensitive but unclassified"; "sensitive homeland security information"; "critical infrastructure information"... and approximately 50 other invented obfuscations. Furthermore, Pentagon officials acknowledge that the GAO has rightly criticized the Defense Department for mistakenly marking unclassified matieral as "confidential or secret."

In a recent op-ed in The Washington Post, President Jimmy Carter warned that the impact of this culture of secrecy has "....put the United States behind much of the world in the right to information."

"We are sliding from a right-to-know society towards one based on need-to-know," Bass says. "It's a dramatic shift in our democratic principles."

One Congressional effort to fight the secrecy trend has produced some strange bedfellows – from Grover Norquist to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Sen. Tom Coburn and Sen. Barack Obama are co-sponsoring legislation that would create an online public database listing government contracts and grants. It is not so much a left-right alliance as a pro-democracy, pro-openness, and anti-special interest corruption movement.

Not surprisingly, the House version of the bill would reveal only grants on the database, not contracts. Why? Because contracts are awarded to businesses, while grants go primarily to non-profits. Republican Rep. Tom Davis, a sponsor of the House bill, danced around the issue in telling the New York Times: "Contracts are awarded in a much more competitive environment… That makes them more self-policing…. Grants are more susceptible to abuse."

Hmmm….That's one explanation for Davis' position. Another is offered by Bass: "[Davis'] district is among the top 10 receiving contracts--and at least $670 million was not competed. There are only 47 districts that receive less federal assistance awards – grants, loans, direct payments, etc…. In other words, his district gets relatively few grants and lots of contracts. The Times reporter couldn't get that information – it's not public."

The only reason Bass could access the information is because OMB Watch is preparing to release its own online database of federal grants and contracts on October 1. The group is purchasing some of the data from Eagle Eye – a for-profit operation that has provided clients with procurement information since the 1980's.

Transparency advocates are also promoting the idea of reversing the presumption of how information is made available to the public. Currently, the public must initiate a FOIA request and the government must respond as to whether it will make the information available. The idea is that instead the government should have an affirmative responsibility to make the information available – it should have to justify withholding it. This would flip government out of the passive role of simply responding to requests and require government agencies to actively provide information to the public.

"We really should develop a public access framework for the 21st Century," Bass explains. "We are using a 1960's model based on the Freedom of Information Act. The democratic principle for the new model is: government has a responsibility to disclose information to the public; agencies must justify when not to disclose." The FOIA would then become a vehicle of last resort – a part of a "safety net" for information access (along with whistleblower protection).

OMB Watch and other openness advocates are promoting a new informational architecture that would link key databases to build a product greater than the sum of its parts. For example, if government contracts and grants are available online, that information should also be linked to regulatory compliance and legal violations. Similarly, if the contractor database is linked to campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures, a pattern of government spending may emerge that shows influence peddling previously not previously seen.

Mark Tapscott, a conservative advocate for transparency, noted recently that when the FOIA was enacted in 1966, a co-sponsor was Rep. Don Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld commented at the time: "Disclosure of government information is particularly important today because government is becoming involved in more and more aspects of every citizen's personal and business life, and so access to information about how government is exercising its trust becomes increasingly important."

1966 Rumsfeld had no idea what 2006 Rumsfeld had in store for us. Forty years later, it's time to overhaul the system in order to reinvigorate our democracy. Otherwise, we will be forced to accept such arrogant and self-serving official explanations for lies, deceit, and corruption as, "Stuff happens."

Condoleezza "False Promise" Rice

As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice goes through the charade of meeting with international leaders to discuss the crisis in the Middle East – while showing her true sentiments with a firm rejection of the "false promise" of a ceasefire – observers of the carnage might reasonably ask: Is there anyone in Washington who wants the killing to stop?

In fact, there are a few dozen brave members of Congress who have leant their names to a call for halting the violence and allowing diplomacy to replace the bombs and bullets that are ripping apart whole regions of Lebanon, Israel and Palestine.

Twenty-four members of the House of Representatives have endorsed House Continuing Resolution 450: "Calling upon the President to appeal to all sides in the current crisis in the Middle East for an immediate cessation of violence and to commit United States diplomats to multi-party negotiations with no preconditions."

Submitted by Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, the measure resolves that Congress:

(1) calls upon the President to--

(A) appeal to all sides in the current crisis in the Middle East for an immediate cessation of violence;

(B) commit United States diplomats to multi-party negotiations with no preconditions; and

(C) send a high-level diplomatic mission to the region to facilitate such multi-party negotiations…

The resolution also "urges such multi-party negotiations to begin as soon as possible, including delegations from the governments of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt; and supports an international peacekeeping mission to southern Lebanon to prevent cross-border skirmishes during such multi-party negotiations."

The members of the House who have signed onto Kucinich's resolution include:

Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii

Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin

Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri

John Conyers Jr. of Michigan

Danny Davis of Illinois

Bob Filner of California

Raul Grijalva of Arizona

Maurice Hinchey of New York

Mike Honda of California

Marcy Kaptur of Ohio

Carolyn Kilpatrick of Michigan

Barbara Lee of California

Betty McCollum of Minnesota

Jim McDermott of Washington

Gregory Meeks of New York

James Moran of Virginia

Charles Rangel of New York

Bobby Rush of Illinois

Louise Slaughter of New York

Hilda Solis of California

Pete Stark of California

Maxine Waters of California

Lynn Woolsey of California.

"Everyday this Administration sits on the sidelines the chance for a peaceful resolution becomes less likely," says Kucinich. "Every day this Administration sits on the sidelines more innocent civilians on all sides are dying. Every day this Administration sits on the sidelines America's already poor reputation in the world community gets worse."

Kucinich is right. But is it not also true that every day members of Congress sit on the sidelines – refusing to pressure the Bush administration to get serious about a ceasefire -- they too make the chance for a peaceful resolution less likely.

Two dozen members of Congress are doing something. What about the other 411 representatives? What about the 100 senators?

Peace Action is urging Americans to contact their Congressional representatives to: Demand that they do everything in their power to effect an immediate ceasefire in the current hostilities in the Middle East. For more information, visit their website at www.peaceaction.org

Progressive Democrats of America has launched a campaign to get members of the House to cosponsor the Kucinich resolution. For more information, visit their website at: www.pdamerica.org

Says PDA Executive Director Tim Carpenter: "It is unacceptable to stand and watch as the violence escalates."

It's more than just unfortunate – it is tragedy writ large -- that Condoleezza Rice does not share this sentiment.

The Swift Boating of Sherrod Brown

Rove Rule #1: When in doubt, exploit 9-11 and swift boat the hell outof your opponent.

In his latest advertisement, a desperate Ohio Senator Mike Dewine has adopted this most base brand of Rovian politics by not only using images of the Twin Towers burning, but actually doctoring them as ifthe reality didn't suffice for needed shock value. The tasteless ad goes on to smearRep. Sherrod Brown in an effort to portray him as "weakening American security."

We're revisiting the dirty, divisive, shameful Bush-Cheney playbook of 2004 with its mushroom clouds, swift boat lies, and false patriotism.

Senator Dewine's ad ends with the assertion that Sherrod Brown is "out of touch with Ohio values." Maybe it's time to let Senator Dewine know that what is out of touch is his use of gutter politics.

Bush and the NAACP

President Bush finally got around to speaking to an annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Thursday, and he did a reasonably good job of making amends for failing to build a relationship with the nation's most influential civil rights organization during the first five years of his presidency.

To his credit Bush opened his remarks by acknowledging the inappropriateness of his refusals of past invitations from the group – a pattern that made him the first president since Warren G. Harding to so snub the NAACP.

Referring to his introduction by NAACP president Bruce Gordon, the president joked, "Bruce was a polite guy. I thought what he was going to say, 'It's about time you showed up.' And I'm glad I did."

Bush also acknowledged the extent to which his Republican Party has neglected and insulted the African-American community in recent years.

"I understand that racism still lingers in America -- it's a lot easier to change a law than to change a human heart. And I understand that many African-Americans distrust my political party," Bush admitted, adding that, "I consider it a tragedy that the party of Abraham Lincoln let go of its historical ties with the African-American community," Bush said. "For too long, my party wrote off the African-American vote, and many African-Americans wrote off the Republican Party."

Those were statements that had to be made if Bush was to be taken seriously at the podium. And the president and his aides deserve credit for recognizing and responding to that requirement.

The president also deserves credit for recognizing that apologies are not enough.

Bush needed to display an understanding that baseline commitments must be made by a political leader who seeks any kind of working relationship with the NAACP and with the tens of millions of Americans who share the group's belief that the struggle for social and economic justice is far from complete. On Thursday, he offered just such a commitment, and he did so with proper enthusiasm.

Speaking of legislation to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act – which some Congressional Republicans have openly opposed and others have sought to undermine with amendments – Bush told the crowd, "Soon the Senate will take up the legislation. I look forward to the Senate passing this bill promptly without amendment so I can sign it into law." (Within hours, the Senate passed the legislation unanimously.)

The president earned a round of loud and sincere applause for that statement.

That was as it should be. Though there is still too much distance between this president and the civil rights community, George Bush has finally taken a first small step to bridge the gap. Of course, he should have done so sooner. But his decision to do so at this point – and to offer both good words and good deeds – ought not be diminished.

There are plenty of reasons to criticize this president and his administration. But when George Bush does something right – even if it is late in the game, and even if his motivations may be tinged with politics – he deserves the measure of praise that might encourage him to continue trying to walk the higher ground.

Neonuts

For them, Afghanistan and Iraq will not suffice. They want to take out Syria and Iran, and speed full steam ahead towards World Wars III and IV. The Weekly Standard asks simply, "Why wait?"

According to Newt Gingrich, there is no need to wait at all. On Meet the Press this past Sunday he offered that the Israel-Hezbollah conflict "… is, in fact, World War III" and "the U.S. ought to be helping...."

And how might the US help fight Newt's World War? The Weekly Standard provides the answer: "It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions – and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement."

George Will – not exactly your run-of-the-mill, card-carrying liberal – describes the neocons as "so untethered from reality as to defy caricature."

But what has caused them to become so completely unhinged (even more so than before, if one can imagine that possibility)?

With the deteriorating occupation in Iraq and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan the neocons have been completely discredited. Meanwhile, the Bush administration is engaging in a "muddled multilateralism" – not quite pursuing diplomacy but not acting unilaterally at the whims of the Decider et al., either.

And this simply infuriates them. As Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) told The Washington Post, "I don't have a friend in… any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration."

Well, perhaps The Weekly Standard staffers, editors, and allies at the likes of AEI will harness some of their "fury", put on flak jackets and (poorly) funded armor (is there enough to go around after Iraq?), and go fight their own failed war in defense of their own failed ideology.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will remain here on this planet.

Lamont Over Lieberman

Joe is down. And for the first time in his eighteen year Senate career, he may be going down.

A new Quinnipiac University poll released today finds Ned Lamont holding a 51 to 47 percent lead over Lieberman among likely Democratic primary voters. Just six weeks ago, Lieberman was up by fifteen points. And a month before that, Lieberman's lead was three times that size.

Talk about a surge for Lamont. In a state where 83 percent of the population disapproves of the Iraq war and only 31 percent approve of President Bush, Lieberman's in big, big trouble with Democratic voters.

If he loses the primary, Lieberman plans to run as an Independent. The Quinnipiac shows him winning handily in that scenario; 51 percent, to 27 percent for Lamont and 9 percent for likely Republican candidate Alan Schlesinger.

The new party would be called "Connecticut for Lieberman." Funny how it's not "Lieberman for Connecticut." When it comes to his state and his party, it's all about Joe.