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Censure and Impeachment

There is every reason to be enthusiastic about U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold's decision to ask the Senate to consider a pair of censure resolutions condemning the President, Vice President and other administration officials for misconduct relating to the war in Iraq and for their repeated assaults on the rule of law.

Indeed, as the movement to impeach Bush and Cheney attracts more support with each passing day, Feingold's resolutions should be seen as evidence that the essential American principle of presidential accountability is finally being put back on the table by responsible members of Congress.

Feingold is renewing and extending a call for censure that that the Wisconsin Democrat initially made in March, 2006. The senator now proposes one resolution censuring the president, the vice president and their aides for overstating the case that Saddam Hussein had WMDs, particularly nuclear weapons, and falsely implying a relationship with al Qaeda and links to 9/11; for failing to plan for the civil conflict and humanitarian problems that the intelligence community predicted; for over-stretching the Army, Marine Corps and Guard with prolonged deployments and for justifying U.S. military involvement in Iraq by repeatedly distorting the situation on the ground there. A second resolution would censure the administration for approving the illegal NSA warrantless wiretapping program, for promoting extreme policies on torture, the Geneva Conventions, and detainees at Guantanamo; and for refusing to recognize legitimate congressional oversight into the improper firings of U.S. Attorneys.

Feingold, a Constitutional scholar, is well aware that these misdeeds of the George Bush, Dick Cheney and their minions fall, as the senator has suggested, "right in the strike zone of the concept of high crimes and misdemeanors." He has frequently suggested that he "would not rule out any form of accountability," including an impeachment inquiry beginning with proper investigation and hearings.

But, as a senator, Feingold cannot initiate an impeachment.

The founders, wisely, rested that power with members of the U.S. House.

The drafters of the Constitution feared that the Senate -- which was initially conceived of as an appointed chamber, more akin to the British House of Lords than the elected body it has become -- would be too formal and cautious about holding presidents and vice presidents to account.

So they gave the authority to impeach members of the executive branch to the House, which was elected from districts and, as a result, more closely in tune with the ebbs and flows of popular sentiment. James Madison, George Mason and the other essential authors of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights wanted impeachment to be a popular process. And the House was the more populist chamber.

That said, they did not intend for senators to sit idly by while high crimes and misdemeanors were committed.

Feingold is right to describe his censure motions as "a relatively modest response." But they are precisely the response that a senator can and should propose.

"Censure is about holding the administration accountable," says Feingold. "Congress needs to formally condemn the President and members of the administration for misconduct before and during the Iraq war, and for undermining the rule of law at home. Censure is not a cure for the devastating toll this administration's actions have taken on this country. But when future generations look back at the terrible misconduct of this administration, they need to see that a co-equal branch of government stood up and held to account those who violated the principles on which this nation was founded."

Censure is not the cure. Impeachment is. But censuring Bush and Cheney ought not be seen as a compromise, or an insufficient response to the crisis. It is a senatorial compliment to the burgeoning movement for impeachment -- a movement that today delivered petitions with more than 1,000,000 signatures to Congressman John Conyers appealing to him to begin impeachment proceedings. Conyers, it should be noted, indicated at a recent meeting in California with members of Progressive Democrats of America that he would be receptive to appeals from other members of the House to develop a game-plan for considering serious impeachment proposals.

Supporting Feingold's censure resolutions should not distract from nor negate the push for impeachment. Rather, moves to get the Senate to censure Bush and Cheney ought to be seen as vital pieces of the broader struggle to hold this administration to account.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Legislation Watch: Ballot Integrity Act of 2007

The Bush administration, its political appointees and their cronies have fomented dramatic fears in order to justify laws, policies and prosecutions that suppress the vote of minority and lower-income communities. It turns out that this is nothing more than fear mongering at its worse. Voter fraud has been disproved and occurs "statistically…about as often as death by lightning strike."

What is true, however, is that voter registration drives are incredibly successful (hence the backlash). The 2004 Census reported that such drives registered 12 million Americans to vote, largely from minority and low-income communities. In Florida alone, activists registered 524,000 new voters, mostly from African-American and Latino communities – almost 20 percent of all registrations processed by the state that year.

A Project Vote reportnotes that just as the Democratic Party felt threatened by an influx of new African-American voters in the late 19th century and responded by erecting stricter registration rules to "protect our democracy," so too are Republicans now resurrecting baseless fraud allegations to erect new barriers to voting and to thwart voter registration drives:

• In Florida, prior to the 2006 election, the state legislature passed a bill establishing a punitive set of fines – even for accidental mishandling of voter registration forms – that forced the League of Women Voters to halt a major registration drive for the FIRST time in its history. The law was later overturned as unconstitutional but not before real damage was done.

• Less than two months before the 2004 election, Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell ordered counties to discard any registration forms not printed on thick, 80 lb. paper. The rule was partially reversed three weeks later due to pressure from voter registration groups and local election officials. (It's worth mentioning that the Ballot Integrity Act would also prohibit any chief state election official – such as Kenneth Blackwell and Katherine Harris – from serving on any political campaign committee of a candidate for Federal office.) In 2006 in Ohio, a law was passed requiring any individual collecting voter registration applications to personally return them to the Board of Elections within 10 days. Also, individuals compensated for collecting registrations needed to register with the state, complete a training program, and include their name and employer on each voter registration form. In Project Vote vs. Blackwell, a District Court ruled these requirements unconstitutional, noting that the direct return provision "severely chills the voter registration process."

• In New Mexico, the Secretary of State issued rules limiting the number of voter registration forms to 50 per individual or organization. The state also now requires activists to turn in forms within 48 hours, making it more difficult for organizations to thoroughly check every application for accuracy and thoroughness, and also causing them to spend more time transporting forms and less time collecting them from voters.

• Arizona now requires people registering to vote to provide the local board with proof of citizenship – a copy of a driver's license, US passport, birth certificate, Bureau of Indian Affairs card, or naturalization papers. Most people, of course, don't carry copies of these documents and so they often don't have them when offered assistance by voter registration programs.

Now, a bill co-sponsored by Senators Christopher Dodd and Dianne Feinstein – the Ballot Integrity Act of 2007 – would prohibit states from passing any law that hinders voter registration drives and address other needed election administration reforms as well. There are some divisions within the pro-democracy/voter reform community about some aspects of the bill, but there can be no mistaking the importance of protecting efforts to expand voting participation. As Maude Hurde, President of ACORN told me, "If legislators in Ohio and Florida had their way, ACORN would never have been able to run the kind of successful voter registration drives that helped 1.6 million Americans join the voting rolls in the past four years. Fortunately, Senator Feinstein's Ballot Integrity Act won't be leaving the decision up to them, and that is good news for America's democracy."

Burying pro-democracy activists in paperwork or forcing them to comply with burdensome and unjustifiable regulations are less violent than the tactics used against civil rights activists 40 years ago. But the impact is similar: minority and lower-income citizens are stopped from exercising their right to vote. Tell your Senator to support the Ballot Integrity Act of 2007 and protect organized voter registration drives today.

Censure for Bush & Cheney?

On Meet the Press Sunday, Senator Russ Feingold announced that he will be introducing two censure resolutions in the next few days, aimed at holding President Bush, Vice-President Cheney and other administration officials responsible for the damage done to our country--weakening our security by misleading us into the disastrous war in Iraq and shredding our Constitution.

When Meet the Press host Tim Russert asked, "Isn't this futile?" (sounding every bit like the arbiter of inside-the-beltway realism that he is), Feingold spoke eloquently of the need to set the historical record straight. What message does it send, he asked, if elected representatives do not hold accountable a President and Vice-President who have used mistruths, spin, manipulated intelligence reports and fear to drag this country into a war that is the most colossal foreign policy mistake in our history? What message does it send if we do not hold them accountable for weakening our security through relentless assaults on the rule of law on which our country was founded?

History must therefore record, Feingold argued, that when faced with an administration which doesn't recognize or respect the separation of powers, which perpetually acts as if the executive branch is above the laws of our nation, the people and their elected officials stood up and demanded accountability.

While Feingold believes that Bush and Cheney have committed what our Founding Fathers would have thought of as "high crimes and misdemeanors," at this time he does not believe it is in the nation's best interest to put important issues confronting our country on the back burner to go through months of a divisive impeachment process. That is a view shared my many progressives.

At the same time, however, a growing majority of the country disagrees--in fact, a majority believe Cheney should be impeached. And many progressives as well as conservatives --including Bruce Fein, former Reagan Justice Department official--make a coherent and impassioned case for the value of pursuing the impeachment process. The case for impeachment was given the airtime it richly deserves in an extraordinary July 13 Bill Moyer's Journal, program featuring The Nation's John Nichols in conversation with Fein.

Feingold needs citizens' help to develop and push these resolutions forward. E-mail your representatives, bombard them with your appeals and demands that they stop this White House from shredding the Constitution and, as Feingold puts it, "thumbing their noses at the American people."

We deserve better.

President Cheney -- Officially

Presuming that he could be distracted by a colonoscopy, George Bush on Saturday arranged to briefly transfer the authority of the presidency to Dick Cheney.

Surely, Cheney, who has not exactly been without presidential authority for the past six-and-a-half years enjoyed the irony.

But not everyone was thrilled by the prospect.

Air America's Rachel Maddow called me, in my capacity as Cheney's exceptionally unofficial biographer, to speculate on what draconian consequences might await America.

Noting the Vice President's enthusiasm for starting unnecessary wars in the Persian Gulf region, I suggested that, "The Iranians are, I am certain, feeling every bit as uncomfortable about the prospect of what will be happening Saturday as President Bush."

But a rudimentary knowledge of Cheney's modus operandi forced me to dismiss the war talk -- at least for the day.

"Cheney doesn't actually like to take official responsibility for the wars he starts," I explained. "He prefers the Geppetto role to Bush's Pinocchio."

So what, Rachel pressed, will the President in everything but name do on the day when he is President in name?

We settled on the notion that Cheney might pardon himself for his role in, well, you name it -- repeatedly and unapologetically lying to Congress and the American people about WMDs and bin Laden-Saddam connections, promoting torture, plotting to use the powers of the executive branch to punish political critics like former Ambassador Joe Wilson.

But presidents can't pardon themselves. Even Cheney's former bosses, Dick Nixon and Gerald Ford, had to shuffle their positions before Nixon enjoyed his absolution.

No problem. Cheney, who it should be remembered imagines himself as neither a member of the executive or legislative branches of a federal government that inconveniently for him lacks an formally designated monarch branch, would not be pardoning himself as president. He would, as President for a day, pardon the Vice President.

Diabolical? Yes. But not beyond the scheming of a man who in order to avoid scrutiny by the National Archives determined that the founders failed to create enough branches of government. And certainly not beyond the anti-Constitutional recklessness of an administration that determined this week that the system of checks and balances no longer applies to it -- via an announcement that the "Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege."

President Cheney? Scary, to be sure. But, for those of us who have been paying attention, not much scarier than the interregnum that began in 2001 and, failing the increasingly appealing prospect of impeachment, will continue for another 18 months of days when, depending on the condition of Bush's colon, Dick Cheney will run the country as formally or informally as circumstances demand.

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John Nichols's book The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney." The London Review of Books says The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney "makes a persuasive case…that the vice-presidency is the real locus of power in the current administration: Cheney runs the show."

Coming up on Meet the Press

Friday night, one of my colleagues alerted me to the fact that I had confused McConnells. It's not the Bush "enabler" Senator (Mitch of Kentucky) who's going to be on NBC's Meet the Press this Sunday --but rather the McConnell who's the Director of National Intelligence. If there's any justice left on Sundays on our media, this McConnell will talk about how the recent National Intelligence Estimate indicates that Bush's war has generated new and deadly threats against the US.

So, this Sunday on Meet the Press, at a moment when the overwhelming majority of the country has turned against this bloody quagmire, has turned against a President who even many Bush loyalists fear is detached from reality (see the editorial in Richard Mellon Scaife's newspaper questioning Bush's "mental stability" ), Tim Russert chooses to give a platform to TWO not three, as I wrote earlier, of "the President's enablers" (to borrow Paul Krugman's term) - Stephen Hayes and David Brooks.

"...Mr. Bush keeps doing damage because many people who understand how his folly is endangering the nation's security still refuse, out of political caution and careerism, to do anything about it" Krugman writes in today's New York Times. That's a good description of what Russert is enabling with this Sunday's program.

NBC Meet The Press

MEET THE PRESS WITH TIM RUSSERT WEEKEND LISTINGS 07/22/07

MIKE MCCONNELL Director of National Intelligence

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D-WI) Foreign Relations Committee Intelligence Committee

DAVID BROOKS New York Times Columnist

STEPHEN HAYES Senior Writer, The Weekly Standard Author, "Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President"

BOB WOODWARD Assistant Managing Editor, Washington Post Author, "State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III"

Exclusive! In his first television interview as Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell joins us live and in studio to discuss terrorism & the National Intelligence Estimate. What is the state of our intelligence gathering? Now that nearly six years have passed since the 9/11 attacks, how safe are we? Are we any closer to capturing Osama Bin Laden?

The debate over the Iraq war reached a fever pitch on Capitol Hill with an all-night session and a Democratic proposal to withdraw U.S. troops. This Sunday we will be joined in studio by the first Senator to propose a specific withdrawal date, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI).

Then, our Meet the Press roundtable shares insights and analysis on the Bush-Cheney administration and the Iraq war: David Brooks of the New York Times, Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, and the Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, who has just written a new book, "Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President."

Hillary Clinton Wears V-Neck Top! Details at 11.

Of all the silly, breathless, overthinky pieces about Hillary Clinton's appearance, I mean campaign, this labored bit of style-section psychobabble by Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan has to be the most inane. It seems that on Wednesday Senator Clinton was shown on C-Span giving a speech on the Senate floor about oh, whatever, and under her rose-colored jacket she wore a black top that's a millimeter lower than the ones she usually wears. OMIGOD! The Senator has breasts! Two of them! "The cleavage registered after only a quick glance," Givhan, um, reports. "No scrunch-faced scrutiny was necessary. There wasn't an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable."

Cue mini-essay about the semiotic significance of various ballgowns worn by the Senator as First Lady, her subsequent move as Senator into a "desexualized uniform" of black pantsuits, and more gasping OMIGOD! about Wednesday's venture into something a bit less staid. "It's tempting to say that the cleavage stirs the same kind of discomfort that might be churned up after spotting Rudy Giuliani with his shirt unbuttoned just a smidge too far. No one wants to see that. But really, it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away!" Tops like the one Clinton wore offer a "teasing display," they're "unnerving," a "provocation." Why? "To show cleavage requires that a woman be utterly at ease in her skin, coolly confident about her appearance, unflinching about her sense of style. Any hint of ambivalence makes everyone uncomfortable. And in matters of style, Clinton is as noncommittal as ever."

The Senator's blouse is like an unzipped fly? That's the sort of brutal vulgarity I'd expect from Don Imus and other misogynistic Hillary-haters. I don't have Givhan's mind-reading abilities, so I can't say whether Clinton felt ambivalent or noncomittal about her neckline or how that would reveal itself ("Um, Dianne, Barbara, do you think this blouse is too, um, you know?"). But I spent some moments in "scrunch-faced scrutiny" of the C-Span video (thoughtfully provided by the Post) and I just don't get what Givhan is so worked up about. Granted I'm using dialup and the picture is kind of blurry, but I don't even see anything I would call cleavage.

I see a good-looking energetic middle-aged woman in a stylish summery outfit such that thousands of professional women would be thrilled to wear to an important meeting -- say, an edit meeting at the Washington Post to discuss further ways of trivializing women in politics. Like, maybe the Post can follow up with an article about Senator Clinton's choice of bathing suits (OMIGOD ! Is that a bellybutton? Gross! ). Or perhaps a two-page pictorial spread: Hillary's fashion do's and don'ts. Only, make that don'ts and don'ts. As in, Don't wear pantsuits -- too desexualizing! Don't wear a rose-colored jacket and a v-neck top -- too sexy!

Message to women: You can't win. You can't win. You can't win.

DeLay's Not Dead

Tom DeLay is not dead. In Max Blumenthal's new video he appears at the College Republicans annual convention, offering an unconventional solution to America's illegal immigration problem: ban abortion.

"If you don't believe abortion doesn't affect you," DeLay told the youngsters, "I contend it affects you in immigration. If we had those 40 million children who were killed over the last 30 years, we wouldn't need the illegal immigrants to fill the jobs that they are doing today." He pauses awkwardly, before offering this gem: "Think about it."

Our own David Corn also ran into DeLay this week. Corn asked DeLay what he was up to. Trying to be the "Democrats worst nightmare," he answered. Didn't DeLay already have that gig?

He also said he wanted his old nemesis Newt Gingrich to run for president. That's just the boost Newt needs.

Sweet Ideas

Behind each sweet victory, there is usually a sweet idea.

So it is heartening to see that The Roosevelt Institution, the nation's first student think tank, has been channeling its focus on just that: crafting ideas to improve the world.

"One year ago, representatives of progressive college students across America came together at the Roosevelt Policy Expo in DC and at the FDR Home in Hyde Park, NY, to discuss the most pressing issues facing our generation," says the description on the organizations web site. "After setting ourselves three challenges, we returned back to our college and university campuses and performed a year's worth of public policy research … As the year came to a close, we selected the best 25 ideas that we wanted to bring to the public policy discussion."

Last Friday, at the Institution's Policy Expo, the fruits of these efforts were presented in the form of published reports, which include 25 ideas each on three pressing issues: access to higher education, working families in America, and the energy crises.

"The idea was to try and connect students to the policy making process," said Nathaniel Loewentheil the incoming executive director of the Roosevelt Institute. "According to Loewentheil, the idea behind the Policy Expo was to have the students serve as the panelists, while it was the lawmakers who made up much of the audience. "Rather than have students listen to adults on panels, we wanted it the other way around. It was a big success," he said. The Roosevelt Institution plans to do the same project each year, with different issues.

The ideas vary in size and scope. Some entail modest and simple reforms such as Jay Cole's idea that literature about the college application process be given to anyone who applies for a driver's license. Others are quite bold such as Stephen Durham's proposal for free, universal higher education to all Americans using the 1944 GI Bill as a model.

But most importantly, they all have the potential to spark much-needed discussions over these important policy matters, and the project succeeds in giving young people -- and their fresh ideas -- a chance to be heard.


This post was co-written by Michael Corcoran, a former Nation intern and freelance journalist residing in Boston. His work has appeared in The Nation, the Boston Globe and Campus Progress. he can be reached at www.michaelcorcoran.blogspot.com. Please send us your own ideas for "sweet victories" by emailing to nationvictories@gmail.com.

Powell: Engage Hamas

The Bush Administration, in advance of a much-hyped Middle East conference in September, continues to push a "West Bank first" strategy in the occupied territories that confines Gaza to a Hamas-led wasteland.

That plan now has at least one high-profile American critic: Colin Powell.

"I don't think you can just cast them into outer darkness and try to find a solution to the problems of the region without taking to account the standing that Hamas has in the Palestinian community," Powell said today.

That point, so often missed by American and Israeli policymakers, should be self-evident. But Powell went further, describing how US policy actually empowered Hamas. "They won an election that we insisted upon having," Powell said. "And so, as unpleasant a group they may be and as distasteful as I find some of their positions, I think through some means, the Middle East Quartet… or through some means Hamas has to be engaged."

This is what democracy looks like...