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Evolution in Texas -- On the Death Penalty

There are many Americans who do not believe in evolution. And it is probably fair to say that a disproportionate number of them reside in Texas.

But it is from Texas that we gain confirmation of the absolute certainty that human evolution is a reality.

When George Bush was governor of Texas in the 1990s, he approved executions with impunity, sending to death those who might have been innocent and those who might have been guilty, those who had repented and those who had not, those who had adequate representation and those whose lawyers slept through the trials, those who had the mental capacity to understand their crimes, those whose mental state would have barred even a trial in more civilized jurisdictions.

In all, Bush signed more 150 execution orders as governor, a record for the state and nation. The world press recognized him as the "Texecutioner" or, in the slightly less volatile phrasing of London's Independent newspaper: "a death penalty enthusiast."

As president, Bush has continued his energetic advocacy for state-sponsored slaying. Only this month, it was reported that Bush and his soon-to-be-former Attorney General had developed a plan to speed up the executions of Americans lingering on the nation's death rows. The plan, which will be one of the last initiatives of Alberto Gonzales, is to make it easier for executions to be "fast-tracked" by states that want to avoid long appeals processes in the federal courts.

The Bush-Gonzales plan is to borrow a page from recent anti-terrorism legislation -- which strip away habeas corpus protections and other legal guarantees -- in order to allow states to rely on the Justice Department, rather than the federal courts, to decide whether death-row inmates received adequate representation at trial.

That would eliminate one of the primary avenues of appeal from convictions in states such as Texas, which have a history of providing inadequate representation for poor and minority defendants.

Bush and Gonzales, who have worked together since the president's days in Texas to make the killing machines of the states run more smoothly, also want to reduce the amount of time that death-row inmates have to file federal appeals and to pursue them.

So what's this about evolution? Clearly, Bush has not grown as a human being or as a public official with the power to decide who lives and dies.

But Bush is no longer the governor of Texas. Conservative Republican Rick Perry has the job. And on Wednesday, Perry commuted the sentence of Texas death row inmate Kenneth Foster's sentence to life. The decision came just hours before an innocent man was to be killed by the state -- a prospect that would not, in all likelihood, have concerned George Bush or Alberto Gonzales but that did concern Rick Perry.

Foster and his lawyers had long contended that, while he was in a car that was involved in a 1996 armed robbery spree that ended in the murder of a 25-year-old San Antonio man, he killed no one and had no knowledge or intention that a murder should occur. Indeed, Foster was at least eighty feet from where the killing took place.

All of this should have been sorted out at his trial. But Foster's trial was a travesty at which his attorney was not given a chance to cross-examine the defendants partners, who both received life sentences. Even if Foster's trial had been by a legitimate one, however, he might not have escaped the draconian implications of a Texas law that permits the casual execution of any and all participants in crime sprees that turn deadly.

The murderous mess that is Texas jurisprudence was dramatically illustrated by the Foster case. Thanks to the tremendous work of the Save Kenneth Foster Campaign, the world was made aware of the fact that Texas was preparing to perpetrate one of the most wrongful executions in the state's long history of wrongful executions. Even death-penalty proponents began to object.

Last Sunday, the conservative Dallas Morning News editorialized last:

Kenneth Foster was a robber. He was a drug user. He was a teenager making very bad decisions.

He is not an innocent man.

But Mr. Foster is not a killer.

Still, the State of Texas plans to put him to death Thursday.

Joining calls religious and political leaders around the world for a commutation of Foster's sentence, the Morning News ended its editorial by declaring, "Mr. Foster is a criminal. But he should not be put to death for a murder committed by someone else."

"Governor Perry once said that there was no hue and cry against the death penalty in Texas," said Lily Hughes of the national Campaign to End the Death Penalty. "Well, here was your hue and cry."

On the eve of the scheduled execution, Perry announced that, "After carefully considering the facts of this case, along with the recommendations from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster's sentence from the death penalty to life imprisonment. I am concerned about Texas law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously, and it is an issue I think the legislature should examine."

That is not a message that would have been issued by Governor George Bush -- particularly the part proposing legislative intervention to correct an injustice.

This small measure of evolution, occurring in the unlikely state of Texas, has saved the life of a man who should never have been charged with a capital crime.

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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.'"

Bloomberg's Poverty Party

Written and reported by Matthew Blake:

One might expect that a briefing on the latest federal poverty data by an ostensibly liberal Washington, DC think tank would explore some of the root causes of poverty in the country---broken social services, AIDS and other diseases not being treated, record-high incarceration rates. It would also seem timely to mention the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and what it revealed about poverty in America.

But the Brookings Institution's "Poverty and Income in 2006" event in Washington today--coinciding with the release of the US Census Bureau's annual data on poverty--mentioned none of those things. Instead, bizarrely enough, it became a celebration of all things Michael Bloomberg, even edging into an impromptu event to draft the New York City Mayor to run as a third party candidate for President.

Brookings Senior Fellow and moderator Ron Haskins set the tone by stating, "A lot of people in Washington talk about poverty, but only mayors and governors do." Therefore, Sawhill concluded, Bloomberg "is the perfect public official" to be the first keynote speaker in the event's seven year history.

Bloomberg began by praising Brookings for being an institute above partisan politics, made a joke about how he was not running a stealth campaign for Attorney General and then launched into a 15-minute speech---about New York City education policy.

He finally got around to directly addressing poverty, rhetorically asking the crowd "How do you do it?" Bloomberg has presented himself as an alternative to the Republican right, but the former Democrat-turned Republican-turned Independent was quick to show that he's no liberal, either. "You can't fightpoverty without fighting the principle causes, which are poor education and dependence on government," he said. In respect to the latter, Bloomberg alleged that the 1996 federal Welfare Reform Act is the prime example of government effectively establishing the proper incentives in helping its most vulnerable citizens.

"It's about breaking taboos like requiring mothers to work," Bloomberg said in reference to both the Welfare Reform Act and his own city policy to give the newly employed $150 a month in cash if they stay on the job. "You have to stick your neck out and try policies even if its results are unknown."

Bloomberg's poverty policy in question includes expanding the earned income tax credit in ways he hopes will end the "marriage penalty" and giving the aforementioned "conditional cash payments" to adults who obtain and keep new jobs. It garnered the adulation from Sawhill and the other assembled Brookings fellows who spoke when Bloomberg---and about 300 of the assembled crowd of 400---left.

"About Michael Bloomberg's proposals--I would just say amen," said Rebecca Blank, an economist and visiting fellow at Brookings. "I agree with it completely."

Senior Fellow Gary Burtless echoed Blank's words: "I think Michael Bloomberg is absolutely right in his proposal."

In the spirit of intellectual diversity, Brookings invited conservative commentator Robert George, whose New York Post columns have been caustically critical of the Mayor's conditional cash payment proposal. But even George had kind words for the Mayor, light-heatedly asking whether Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel or former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn would be his Presidential running mate.

Leaving the national press club, this reporter was swarmed by advocates with "Draft Bloomberg" posters and business cards. No word yet on whether they also received fellowships at Brookings.

Confronting the CEO Pay Gap

The staggering gap between CEOs and workers is, at long last, getting some attention in Campaign '08. But there's still more to be done to tackle the gap. If candidates really want to turn up the heat with some well-documented, explosive facts, I'd advise them to check out the invaluable report released today by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy.

I'd like to hear Senator Hillary Clinton make a stink about how the top 20 private equity and hedge fund managers pocketed an average of $657.5 million--22,225 times the pay of an average worker. I'd like to see candidates tackle the gross inequities in an economy in which the 20 highest paid figures in the private equity and hedge fund industry collected 3,315 times more in average annual compensation in 2006 than the top 20 officials of the federal government's executive branch--and that includes Bush and Cheney (when he'll cop to being part of that branch).

And while they deploy these heart-wrenching stats, I'd like to hear all of the candidates blast Senator Chuck Schumer for betraying the best traditions of the Democratic party by refusing to increase taxes on those fabulously rich hedgers and equity guys.)

There's much more in this terrific report. For example, overall, the 20 highest-paid executives of publicly traded corporations made, on average, 38 times more than the country's 20 highest-paid nonprofit leaders last year. The pay gap stretches even wider between the corporate and public sector. In 2006, the top 20 highest-earning CEOs made 204 times more than our 20 highest-paid military generals, and 212 times as much as the top 20 ranking members of Congress.

The report highlights six practical proposals for change--initiatives that include eliminating perverse tax incentives for excessive pay and using government contracting dollars to encourage more reasonable compensation. Tackling the gap is going to take concerted citizen action, smart research and bold policy changes. But the times are ripe. As the report's co-author Chuck Collins puts it, " Meaningful change could be on the horizon, as many political leaders are finally catching up to the public outcry to rein in excessive compensation."

For the complete report, "Executive Excess 2007" check out www.faireconomy.org/executiveexcess.

Attorney General Bruce Fein

It is likely -- though not entirely certain in these tumultuous times for the dangerously adrift Bush-Cheney administration -- that the next Attorney General of the United States will be a conservative.

The question is whether he or she will be a conservative who disregards the Constitution -- as did the disgraced and disgraceful Alberto Gonzales -- or a conservative who respects the document.

Richard A. Viguerie, the political direct-mail pioneer who has been referred to as "the funding father of the conservative movement," ought to understand the distinction better than just about anyone.

Viguerie has been at odds with the Bush-Cheney administration for the past several years -- arguing, appropriately, that the current president and vice president have abandoned conservative principles in order to expand the power and authority of the federal government.

Last year, Viguerie authored a smart book on the subject, Conservatives Betrayed -- How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause (Bonus Books). This year, he signed on with an even smarter initiative, the American Freedom Agenda, an effort by conservative leaders to reassert basic Constitutional principles by prohibiting warrantless spying, restoring habeas corpus, banning extraordinary rendition and torture, barring presidential signing statements and renewing open government protections.

The American Freedom Agenda, led by Viguerie, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, American Conservative Union chair David Keene, Reagan administration lawyer Bruce Fein and Viguerie has bluntly assessed the failings of the Bush-Cheney administration when it comes to defending the Constitution and the Republic it serves. "Especially since 9/11, the executive branch has chronically usurped legislative or judicial power, and has repeatedly claimed that the President is the law," it declared. "The constitutional grievances against the White House are chilling, reminiscent of the kingly abuses that provoked the Declaration of Independence."

In April, Viguerie, Keene, Barr, Fein and their allies signed a letter to President Bush calling for the firing of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. "Mr. Gonzales has presided over an unprecedented crippling of the Constitution's time-honored checks and balances. He has brought rule of law into disrepute, and debased honesty as the coin of the realm," they declared. "He has engendered the suspicion that partisan politics trumps evenhanded law enforcement in the Department of Justice."

Now that Bush has fired Gonzales -- and, make no mistake, the timing of the Attorney General's exit on the eve of what will likely be Bush's roughest month as president, confirms that this is not a willing exit -- Viguerie is proposing a list of candidates to fill the nation's top law-enforcement job.

Disappointingly, most of the names of Viguerie's list are individuals who have sided with the Bush-Cheney administration in assaulting the Constitution. For instance, Viguerie suggests Chris Cox, the current chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. But in October, 2001, when he was serving in the House, Cox voted for the USA Patriot Act. House Republicans such as Texan Ron Paul and Idaho's Butch Otter opposed the act because they recognized that it attacked basic Constitutional protections. By any reasonable measure, Cox failed the most critical Constitutional test of his congressional tenure.

The same goes for former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a Patriot Act supporter in 2001 and defender in the years that followed. In 2006, Santorum also voted for the Military Commissions Act, which the American Freedom Agenda campaign has made a prime target of its criticism. From a Constitutional perspective, Santorum would be an atrocious choice to follow Gonzales.

Ted Olson, the Bush-Cheney administration's Solicitor General from 2001 to 2004, failed at every critical turn to defend individual liberties, as did former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, who chaired a congressional commission on terrorism that did a miserable job when it came to balancing security concerns and the duty to defend basic freedoms.

If Viguerie and other conservatives are serious about undoing the damage Bush, Cheney and Gonzales have caused to the Constitution, they need to come up with better choices than these.

Where to begin? Why not with Bruce Fein, the chairman of the American Freedom Agenda?

Fein is qualified. A much-published Harvard Law School graduate who served as an associate deputy attorney general from 1981 to 1982 and as general counsel to the Federal Communications Commission, he has frequently been called on by Republicans and Democrats to help them sort through prickly Constitutional issues.

Fein is a true conservative, and he would serve as a very conservative Attorney General. But he would take his oath of office seriously, particularly the section requiring him to defend the Constitution rather than the political whims of the president and vice president.

So why did Viguerie refrain from proposing the name of Fein, a candidate who would do everything that Viguerie and other true conservatives know must be done to remake and renew the Department of Justice as an agenda that respects the Constitution?

Unfortunately for his own ambitions, Fein is an sincere conservative. As such, the man Ronald Reagan trusted to enforce the laws of the land has called, most recently in an appearance we did together on "Bill Moyers' Journal," for the opening of impeachment hearings targeting President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Additionally, he was working with a Democratic congressman on articles of impeachment against Gonzales at the time of the Attorney General's resignation.

Fein's willingness to put principle above politics undoubtedly disqualifies him from consideration by Bush as a successor for Gonzales. But Viguerie and other Constitutional conservatives owe their compatriot -- and their country -- better. Anyone who is serious about cleaning up the mess at the Department of Justice knows that the job will not be done by lawyers who have, by their actions, shown that they do not understand the basic intentions or values of the nation's founding document.

Bruce Fein's name belongs on the list of conservatives who would make appropriate replacements for Alberto Gonzales. Indeed, Fein's name should be at its top.

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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.'"

Brokeback GOP

What's up with Republican politicos getting arrested by undercover cops for soliciting sex in public restrooms? First, Florida state representative Bob Allen, formerly John McCain's state campaign co-chair, was arrested in July after he offered a police officer $20 for the privilege of performing oral sex. And today, news broke that back in June, Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), long the subject of gay rumors, was arrested in a Minnesota airport by a plainclothes cop investigating lewd conduct in the men's bathroom. Both men are married--to women. (See Max Blumenthal at Campaign Matters for more details.)

The moment is so thick with irony, I scarcely know where to begin. But let's start with their incredibly lame attempts at damage control. Upon arrest, both Allen and Craig attempted to use their positions of power to escape charges (Craig handed over his US Senate business card to the officer and asked, "What do you think about that?).

Post-arrest, Allen, appealing at once to homophobia and racism, mounted a "black (gay) panic" defense. You see he wasn't really interested in giving head, he was just trying to save his neck. Apparently, the cop was "a pretty stocky black guy" and "there were nothing but other black guys around in the park." Fearing he was "about to become a statistic," Allen did what any other, rational, straight (straight!), white man would do if he just so happened to find himself cruising a public restroom full of black men: fork over a Jackson and drop to your knees.

Less hysterical, but equally flimsy, is Craig's story. Through his spokesman, Craig said that the whole incident was just a "he said/he said misunderstanding." Last year, when gay blogger Mike Rogers alleged that Craig had engaged in same-sex relations, Craig called the story "absolutely ridiculous, almost laughable." I wonder if Craig was laughing on August 8--when he plead guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges in a Minnesota County Court.

Of course, both Republicans have a long history of support for anti-gay legislation--in Craig's case votes for the Federal Marriage Amendment and in Allen's a court brief against gay adoption and authorship of a failed bill to ratchet up penalties for "unnatural and lascivious acts."

I'm sure as the press digests the Craig scandal, you'll hear a lot about "hypocrisy," "repressed homosexuality" and "internalized homophobia." Good enough, I suppose, for making a somewhat cheap political point and sweeping these undeniably creepy, tragic guys back into the Brokeback Mountain days from whence they apparently came. But I wonder if the GOP's burgeoning "bathroom problem" isn't reflective of something larger than just a bunch of conservative dudes who couldn't come out of the closet. There's something palpably sad to me about what happened to Allen and Craig too, something oddly touching about their misplaced faith in the fading world of secret, anonymous gay sex. That world--once found in bathrooms, parks, piers and adult bookstores; the furtive refuges of adventuresome queers, married men, the curious--has been swept away by so many police raids, privatization schemes, quality of life campaigns and internet dating services. But mostly, it's fallen away as gays have become increasingly integrated into the mainstream, and also, paradoxically, more marked than ever. "You're either gay or you're not" seems to be the equation.

Until someone like Craig, Allen, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard or Jim McGreevey shows up to ripple momentarily the waters of public discourse on sex. These guys have problems, no doubt. But we might also pause to wonder if there's some cultural knot that gay liberation--despite its original and best intentions--has left in place. At the very least the link between public power and domestic heterosexuality--with all the fetishistic displays of family life that entails--has yet to be completely severed. Just ask Rudy Guiliani, or Hillary Clinton! Moreover, that knot, perhaps best described as sexual propriety, is what fuels the moral campaigns against homosexuality that have become one of the Republican Party's identifying causes--loyally supported by the likes of Craig, Haggard, Foley, et. al. It's also what leads Bob Allen to the stunning and revealing calculation that it would be better to be seen in the public eye as an avowed racist than as someone who likes to have sex with men sometimes.

Gonzales: Not a Man of His Word?

Is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who today announced his resignation, a man of his word? Consider his comments of recent months.

March 13, 2007:
I've overcome a lot of obstacles in my life to become attorney general. I am here not because I give up. I am here because I've learned from my mistakes, because I accept responsibility, and because I am committed to doing my job. And that is what I intend to do here on behalf of the American people.

March 14, 2007:
I work for the American people and I serve at the pleasure of the president of the United States. That's adecision for the president to make [whether I remain attorney general]. Obviously I am focused on looking to see what happened here in this particular case with respect to these U.S. attorneys and making sure that it doesn't happen again, making sure that Congress understands what happened....But I'm also focused on the other issues that the American people care about, like child predators and gangs and drug dealers, things of that nature. So I've got a lot of responsibilities as attorney general, and I'm focused on those responsibilities.

March 22, 2007:
I'm not going to resign. I'm going to stay focused on protecting our kids. There's a lot of work that needs to be done around the country. The department is responsible for protecting our kids, for making our neighborhoods safe, for protecting our country against attacks of terrorism, to going after gangs, going after drug dealers. I'm staying focused on that.

April 19, 2007:
I believe I can continue to be effective as the attorney general of the United States.

April 21, 2007:
[I will remain attorney general] as long as I can continue to serve effectively....There are a series of priorities, a series of objectives, that I want to see accomplished, and we are working as hard as we can to achieve those objectives.

June 1, 2007:
I know that I only have 18 months left in my term as attorney general, and that really does not feel like a lot of time to accomplish all of the goals that are important to me. So often Washington seems to run at a marathon pace, but I intend to spend the next year and a half in a sprint to the finish line.

June 11, 2007:
I'm focused on protecting our kids....I am focused on the next 18 months. I don't expect the department to crawl or walk slowly toward the finish line.

July 24, 2007:
From my perspective, there are two options available in light of these allegations [regarding the firings of the U.S. attorneys]. I could walk away or I could devote my time, effort and energy to fix the problems. Since I have never been one to quit, I decided that the best course of action was to remain here and fix the problems. That is exactly what I am doing.

While fending off attacks, Gonzales declared (1) he was not a quitter; (2) it was up to George W. Bush whether he stayed on as A.G. or left; and (3) he was committed to working hard as attorney general to protect the American people, particularly safeguarding the nation's children from Internet predators.

Well, he is quitting. And in a brief public statement today--no questions, please!--Bush said he was "reluctantly" accepting Gonzales' resignation, suggesting that Gonzales had decided to skedaddle on his own. Though Gonzales in a brief statement gave no reason for his resignation--as if one was needed--Bush explained his consigliere's departure by saying "his good name was dragged through the mud for political reason." Bush did not explain what partisan motives have spurred Republican Senators Tom Coburn, John Sununu, Chuck Hagel, John McCain, Jeff Sessions, Norm Coleman, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Gordon Smith, George Voinovich, Charles Grassley, Lamar Alexander, Arlen Specter, and Lindsey Graham to question Gonzales' credibility and performance, with several of them calling for his resignation. And, finally, what about the children Gonzales was so committed to protecting? Sadly, they will have to get on without him.

With research assistance from Matthew Blake.

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OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Gonzales Goes But Investigation Must Continue

Facing the prospect of increasingly aggressive congressional inquiries into his politicization of the Department of Justice, as well as an energetic House push for his impeachment, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has announced that he will resign effective September 17.

Gonzales, the former White House counsel who made clear during his two-and-a-half-year tenure as the nation's top cop that he served President Bush rather than the Constitution, announced his exit strategy just days before the Congress returns from a summer break during which senators and representatives had gotten an earful about the need to get rid of Gonzales.

A proposal by Washington Democrat Jay Inslee, a respected former prosecutor, to have the House Judiciary Committee investigate whether Gonzales should be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, attracted 27 cosponsors during the current recess and would have drawn many more with the return of the House in early September.

The Attorney General was ripe for impeachment -- or, at the very least, the censure proposed by U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin -- because of a rapidly broadening recognition that Gonzales had displayed a blatant disregard for the law since his arrival in Washington in 2001 at the side of his longtime friend and political benefactor George Bush.

"Alberto Gonzales was the 'Enabler General' for the imperial Bush presidency," said People For the American Way President emeritus Ralph G. Neas upon learning of the Attorney General's decision. "He undermined the Constitution, made a mockery of the rule of law, and turned the Justice Department into an arm of the Bush Administration's political operation.

Gonzales, whose signature line was a declaration that he served "at the pleasure of the president," made it his business as White House Counsel and Attorney General to do just that.

As Feingold said this morning, "Attorney General Gonzales' tenure was marked by unprecedented politicization of the Department of Justice, deception of Congress and the American people, and disrespect for the rule of law. He should never have been confirmed and should have resigned long ago. The first loyalty of the next attorney general must be to the law, not the president."

Gonzales reversed the "first loyalty" equation enunciated by Feingold.

As Counsel from 2001 to 2005, Gonzales blocked requests from the General Accounting Office for information about Enron officials meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force. He refused requests from congressional committees for information that the House and Senate had a right -- and a need. He made the legal case for torture, despite the fact that the Constitution bars cruel and unusual punishment. He outlined schemes for subverting the judicial system and its rules by making terror suspects eligible for military tribunals. He helped convince Bush to refuse to afford prisoners held at Guantanamo the basic protections afforded prisoner-of-war under treaties the United States had accepted as the law of the land.

As the nation's 80th Attorney General -- a position he took in February, 2005, after the Senate voted 60-36 to confirm his nomination -- Gonzales extended his representation of Bush into should be an independent federal agency. He defended the president's authorization of an illegal warrantless wiretapping program. He accepted the "extraordinary rendition" of suspects from U.S. custody to that of torture regimes. And he turned the Department of Justice into an extension of Karl Rove's White House political shop.

Revelations about the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys who were seen by the administration as insufficiently political in their investigations and prosecutions opened up an investigation that has begun to confirm a broad scheme to politicize the Justice Department's work in the area of voting rights -- a scheme apparently designed by Rove to suppress turnout by minorities and others who might vote Democratic.

The investigation into those machinations has hit the administration hard -- so hard that the president is now jettisoning his oldest and closest aides in order to prevent the inquiry from evolving into a serious examination of his own lawlessness.

Today's exit announcement by Gonzales comes just days after Rove signaled his plan to go.

The important thing now is to make sure that the administration does not succeed in using high-profile departures to shut down -- or, at the very least, to diminish the seriousness and the extent of -- those inquiries.

When Rove announced the he was leaving, Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, made it clear that the political aide remained a target of broad inquiries by the judiciary committees of the House and Senate.

"Mr. Rove acted as if he was above the law. That is wrong, Leahy said at the time. "Now that he is leaving the White House while under subpoena, I continue to ask what Mr. Rove and others at the White House are so desperate to hide. Mr. Rove's apparent attempts to manipulate elections and push out prosecutors citing bogus claims of voter fraud shows corruption of federal law enforcement for partisan political purposes, and the Senate Judiciary Committee will continue its investigation into this serious issue."

Referencing the growing sense that the inquiry into wrongdoing in and around the Justice Department could yet be the undoing of the Bush-Cheney administration, Leahy added, "The list of senior White House and Justice Department officials who have resigned during the course of these congressional investigations continues to grow, and today, Mr. Rove added his name to that list. There is a cloud over this White House, and a gathering storm. A similar cloud envelopes Mr. Rove, even as he leaves the White House."

The "list" referenced by Leahy gets longer with the news that Gonzales is going.

But the essential question with regard to Gonzales remains the same as the question that Leahy laid down when Rove said he would go: What are these people so desperate to hide?

The answer is that, just as Gonzales and Rove served Bush rather than the Constitution, they now seek with their resignations to protect Bush -- and Vice President Cheney -- from investigations that are necessary to any serious effort to restore the primacy of the founding document in the affairs of the nation.

Only a continued inquiry into the lawlessness of the soon-to-be-former Attorney General will achieve what is the essential purpose of this Congress: the restoring of the rule of law to a country deeply damaged by petty little men who chose personal loyalties and political expediency over their duty to the Republic.

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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.'"

Grace Paley, 1922-2007

I am so sad that Grace Paley has died. She was a great writer --every word as pungent as pumpernickel-- with a great subject, the daily lives of women in jewish-immigrant-bohemian-left New York. In her short stories yiddishkeit meets radicalism meets Greenwich Village meets Malamud/Roth/ Leonard Michaels/ maybe even the Isaac Bashevis Singer of "A Friend of Kafka" --except that none of those writers, Singer every once in a while excepted, was particularly interested in what was going on with women.

I knew Grace a bit and surely there was never a kinder, more self-effacing writer of her stature in the history of the world. Sometimes she reminded me of James Merrill's remark that Elizabeth Bishop engaged in an "instinctive, modest, life-long impersonation of an ordinary woman." In the early l990s Grace put me up in her house in Vermont when I was snowed in after giving a talk at Dartmouth. We sat at her dining table and talked about children -- my daughter, her grandson, the inner-city kids who'd spent summers at the house decades before. We also talked, rather improbably, about agriculture -- her husband, Bob Nichols, had taken up the cause of local dairy farmers who were being squeezed by big producers. For all her warmth and unpretension, Grace had her share of reserve, or perhaps I was too shy. And so I did not ask any of the questions that flitted through my mind-- about writing, politics, the left, feminism, her life, life. I spent my one evening in her house talking about children and cows.

Grace was a tireless activist. Sometimes, I thought, too tireless. I used to see her at small demonstrations around town in the l980s, and wish someone would chain her to her desk -- lots of people can march, I would think to myself ( not that lots of people were doing so) but only Grace can write like Grace. She would have been horrified by such an elitist thought, I know--to her, the movement was life. She often said she liked to be out in the streets. And maybe her writing was as original, compressed, fresh and energetic as it was because it had to fight for attention with stopping the war(s), liberating women, bringing creative writing into the public schools, working for that elusive future where it's the defense department, and not the daycare center, that has to hold a bake sale.

How far away that world seems now -- her Greenwich Village, a warren of walkups inhabited by troublemakers, poets and single mothers (sometimes all three in one person) has become a millionaire's paradise cum NYU dorm. The aunts and uncles who quarreled over Stalin and Trotsky are dead. As for politics, Nation asssociate editor Richard Kim reminded me that Grace signed a group letter attacking an article I wrote for the magazine way back in 1993, in which I challenged her friend Sara Ruddick's influential book, "Maternal Thinking," which argued that bringing up children , by its very nature, connected mothers with peace and progressive politics. I guess I won that argument. But if I'd lost it, we'd be living in a better world. My books are all boxed up at the moment, so I can't quote from her wonderful stories. But here's a poem I've had up for years on my bulletin board:

The Poet's Occasional Alternative

I was going to write a poem 

I made a pie instead     it took

about the same amount of time 

of course the pie was a final

draft     a poem would have had some

distance to go     days and weeks and

much crumpled paper

the pie already had a talking

tumbling audience among small

trucks and a fire engine on 

the kitchen floor 

everybody will like this pie

it will have apples and cranberries

dried apricots in it     many friends

will say     why in the world did you 

make only one

this does not happen with poems

because of unreportable

sadness I decided to

settle this morning for a re-

sponsive eatership     I do not

want to wait a week     a year     a

generation for the right

consumer to come along

***

Under the wit and humor and brio, the "unreportable sadness." Isn't that always the way?

Iraq: "Worst Day Since Vietnam" for Hawaii

The death of 14 army soldiers in a helicopter crash in northern Iraq on August 23 included ten stationed in Hawaii, making that Hawaii's "worst day . . . since the Vietnam War" – that's what the Honolulu Advertiser declared in a page one banner headline and story.

Like much of America, I'm on vacation in late August. For me, it's Hanalei on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where my plan was to snorkel a different North Shore beach every day, stop for a shave ice afterwards, eat local fish, and stay far away from the news. But the Iraq war is inescapable, even in this idyllic escape. At the Big Save in Hanalei, past the taro fields, there's a big display of Spam and another of cheap flip-flops, but the newspaper headline about the "Worst Day" was hard to miss.

The Vietnam-Iraq parallel is a familiar one in debates among pundits and politicians over the war's rationale and future, but the explicit comparison of daily battlefield deaths in Iraq and Vietnam in a local newspaper appears to be something new.

The ten killed near Kirkuk had been part of a 7,000 soldier unit from the army's Schofield Barracks, north of Pearl Harbor, deployed in Tikrit and Mosul. Their mission, originally scheduled for one year, has been extended to 15 months. The Thursday deaths bring the total to 39 soldiers from the Hawaiian unit killed on this deployment, plus an additional 13 killed on a 2004 deployment.

Despite the millions of tourists who come to Hawaii annually, the islands in many ways are a like a series of small towns, and the death of fourteen soldiers on one day left the state "stunned," according to the Advertiser. The paper devoted two full inside pages to the news, in addition to most of the front page and editorial page.

The obvious question is: why? What purpose did these deaths serve? The Advertiser's editorial didn't raise that question – instead it urged that readers "comprehend the number of lives lost." But the editorial cartoon, drawn by Dick Adair of the Advertiser, couldn't have been clearer: George Bush says "Remember what happened when we pulled out of Vietnam. . . " and next to him a combat soldier drawn in Bill Mauldin style says "Then why did we go into Iraq?"

The second day came the news that the soldiers killed in the Blackhawk helicopter crash died not as a result of enemy fire rather because of a "tail rotor malfunction."

The Advertiser also reported that "promotions were handed out posthumously for several of the 14 soldiers who died."

The stories of the dead men filled a page in the Advertiser headlined "Grief and Questions." Captain Nathan C. Hubbard, 21, died in the Blackhawk crash three years after a roadside bomb killed his older brother Jared, 22, near Falujah. The family has one other son, Jason, 33, who is also deployed in Iraq. He told his wife he will be flying back home for good, with his brother's body, under army rules that prevent parents from losing all their children in war.

Spc. Michael A. Hook, originally from Altoona Pa. would have turned 26 on the day his body was scheduled to arrive at Dover Air Force base in Delaware. "He'll be home on his birthday," his stepmother told reporters.

Captain Joshua S. Harmon, 20, grewup in Mentor, Ohio. A family friend told reporters "Josh joined the service with the intent to be a career soldier," but "after one deployment in Iraq, he realized the limitations that gave him. He told us he was frustrated. He became a medic to take care of people, but he would see injured non-soldiers as they made their way down alleys in a hot zone and they couldn't stop. That was very frustrating for him. That's when he decided to go to medical school and become a doctor. . . . The military is shrouded in macho this and macho that, but Josh cared about people – whether they were Iraqis or Americans. The whole mess frustrated him."