It's an election year, so, quick, let's amend the Constitution.
Absurd as it sounds, that is the thinking of the Senate Republican leadership, which is rushing to draft, debate and endorse a whole new section of the Constitution by the week of June 5.
Why the hurry to tinker with the 219-year-old document?
Poll numbers for Congressional Republicans are in a bad place, so bad that there is serious talk about the prospect that the party could lose the House or Senate, or perhaps both chambers, in November. And the approval ratings for President Bush, the party's campaigner-in-chief, are trolling in Nixon-during-Watergate depths that suggest he may not be able to rally the conservative base as he did so effectively in 2002 and 2004.
Hence the hurry to dig up the next big-bang issue for the GOP.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, thinks he has struck political paydirt. He wants to amend the Constitution to declare that, along with freedom of speech, assembly and worship, Americans also have the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Frist wants the Constitution to declare not just that "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman" but that "Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."
So much for state's rights. And you can forget about that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness business.
The Grand Old Party's in trouble, so someone is going to have to pay, and in this case it's same-sex couples who dare to fall in love and then seek the same basic protections for their relationships that everyone else expects.
The rush to amend the Constitution in time to bring the marriage debate front and center for the fall campaign – now that the immigration issue has blown up on the party – had Senate Republicans so preoccupied Thursday that they bent the rules to the breaking point.
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, scheduled the session where the committee voted 10-8 to approve the amendment in a room where access by the press and the general public was restricted. When Senator Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who ardently opposes the amendment, suggested that perhaps the work of amending the Constitution ought to be conducted in a more open manner, Specter growled, I don't need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I."
For good measure, the chairman added, "If you want to leave, good riddance."
Feingold thanked the senior Republican for the lecture and departed, explaining that, "Today's markup of the constitutional amendment concerning marriage, in a small room off the Senate floor with only a handful of people other than Senators and their staffs present, was an affront to the Constitution. I objected to its consideration in such an inappropriate setting and refused to help make a quorum. I am deeply disappointed that the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee went forward with the markup over my objection. Unfortunately, the Majority Leader has set a politically motivated schedule for floor consideration of this measure that the Chairman felt compelled to follow, even though he says he opposes the amendment."
Feingold added, "Constitutional amendments deserve the most careful and deliberate consideration of any matter that comes before the Senate. In addition to hearings and a subcommittee markup, such a measure should be considered by the Judiciary Committee in the light of day, open to the press and the public, with cameras present so that the whole country can see what is done. Open and deliberate debate on such an important matter cannot take place in a setting such as the one chosen by the Chairman of the Committee today.
"The Constitution of the United States is an historic guarantee of individual freedom. It has served as a beacon of hope, an example to people around the world who yearn to be free and to live their lives without government interference in their most basic human decisions. I took an oath when I joined this body to support and defend the Constitution. I will continue to fight this mean-spirited, divisive, poorly drafted, and misguided amendment when it comes to the Senate floor."
Last month I wrote about Haditha, Iraq and allegations that innocent Iraqi civilians had been shot and killed by a unit of U.S. Marines. Today, Rep. John Murtha stated that a military investigation will confirm that over a dozen civilians were indeed murdered.
"There was no firefight. There was no IED (improvised explosive device) that killed those innocent people," Murtha said. "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them. And they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. That is what the report is going to tell."
Murtha noted the "undue pressure" on the troops because of the "poor planning and allocation of resources by the Bush administration."
Murtha described the killings as a response to what Nation Institute Fellow Chris Hedges would call an "atrocity-producing situation."
"One [Marine] was killed with an IED," Murtha said. "And after that, they actually went into the houses and killed women and children."
Murtha was tipped to the report's findings by military commanders. His candor in shedding light on this horrible event is especially needed and courageous given the zeal with which the Bush administration hides the truth, and the smears they direct towards all political opponents.
John McCain's commencement address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University attracted a great deal of media scrutiny. Will Rudy Giuliani's big money fundraiser with Ralph Reed today in Atlanta draw headlines as well?
"We're here to get you elected," Giuliani said at the luncheon fundraiser. With the race a statistical dead heat, Rudy's visit couldn't have come at a better time.
Reed's once-promising run for Lt Governor of Georgia has been bludgeoned by his connections to Jack Abramoff. (For the juicy details, read Bob Moser's terrific Reed expose, "The Devil Inside.") Yesterday the Public Campaign Action fund hit the airwaves with the first radio ad of the campaign, assailing Reed's backdoor lobbying for Abramoff's illegal Indian casino schemes.
"What would you think about someone who said gambling was a 'cancer, it is stealing foods out of the mouths of children?'" asks the ad's narrator, "And then turned around and took a $4 million job from casinos. That's what Ralph Reed did."
If you're Giuliani, eager to make nice with Christian conservative primary voters, you reach out to the man once nicknamed "The Right Hand of God" and pay Reed's misdeeds no mind.
In appearances Monday on both Hardball and ScarboroughCountry, Pat Buchanan invoked the same militaristic malevolencethat characterized his infamous 1992speech to the Republican National Convention in which heproclaimed, "There is a religious war going on in our country for thesoul of America."
Some choice comments from Buchanan this week: Hedepicted immigration on Scarborough's show as "an invasion" by "the whole world. He opined on The McLaughlin Group, " This is not Ellis Island! Thisis an invasion of this country."
Buchanan joins the likes of Rep. Tom Tancredo, the Minutemen, and thenativist right in venomous immigrant-bashing that in all likelihoodwill provoke backlash at the polls--just as Governor Pete Wilson's Prop 187 sparked a backlash inCalifornia that threw Republicans out of statewide office for a decade.
Already, the draconian House bill has mobilized a nascent politicalmovement. Republican Sen. Mel Martinez noted, "This is the first issuethat, in my mind, has absolutely galvanized the Latino community inAmerica like no other."
And whether the impact is felt at the polls in 2006 or years from now,militaristic language and actions that inflame anti-immigrantsentiments will result in Republican losses. According to the New York Times, Hispanics now represent one out of every eightUS residents and about half of the nation's recent population growth. And younger Latinos--whose political allegiance is up for grabs--willsoon be registering and voting in much greater numbers.
Robert Suro, director of the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center, pointsout, "There is a big demographic wave of Hispanic kids who are nativeborn who will be turning 18 in even greater numbers over the nextthree, four and five election cycles."
So, if Pat Buchanan wishes to help the Democrats then he shouldkeep right on trying to recapture the glory days of his three ill-fatedpresidential bids. But, if he wishes to actually contribute to acomplex and emotional debate, then he should find a new way to remainrelevant.
The Nation website has been running an ad recently urging readers to "say no to government regulation of the internet." Please don't click on it. It's a deceptive campaign created by high-priced consultants and paid for by the cable and phone industries to build opposition to the net neutrality bill. Companies like AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth and their trade associations are spending millions every week to mislead and misinform the American public through tricky ad campaigns such as these.
As the invaluable group Free Press reports, their latest attempt to hoodwink Internet users is a cutesy cartoon at www.dontregulate.org -- a clever piece of industry propaganda that is riddled with half-truths and conveys a fake populist message that sounds plausible, while undermining the work of genuine public and consumer advocates.
Why, you may ask, is The Nation running the ad? The short answer is that we take ads because we're a business that runs, in part, on advertising revenue, not because we agree with the advertiser. It's the same answer we gave to outraged readers when we took full-page magazine ads from Fox News. (Click here to read The Nation's advertising policy.) My goal here isn't to defend the policy--though I do find it legitimate and unobjectionable--but rather to try to highlight this particular ad's devious and misleading opposition to "net neutrality"--something that The Nation magazine fully supports. (Network neutrality is simply the principle that Internet users should be able to access any web content they choose, without restrictions or limitations imposed by their Internet service provider.)
The ad, with faux populist oratory, asks readers whether they want the government regulating the internet. The answer: Of course! Without government intervention, the corporate sector will slice and dice the internet based on nothing other than maximixing profits. In practice, this would mean that a service provider could make it faster and easier to reach some websites over others, or even refuse to connect to some websites altogether. (Check out video and text dissections of the ad campaign.)
As digital democracy expert Jeff Chester wrote on The Nation's site, "The nation's largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online."
The Net Neutrality bill, introduced by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and supported by many leading Democrats as well as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other Internet giants, will help prevent that from happening. Click here to ask your reps to support the bill and check out a wide range of related resources from Save the Internet.com, where you can sign a petition (now with over 600,000 names), write to Congress, learn more about the issues at stake, and forward messages to help thwart the big Telecoms from turning the Internet into little more than a big profit center.
Since my last post bashed Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, let me indulge in a little Hillary-bashing today. If you're angry at Hillary and all she represents -- i.e., the total non-opposition of the supposed opposition party -- help discredit her with the party's liberal base so that she won't become the Democratic nominee in 2008. I suggest getting involved with Jonathan Tasini's upstart campaign. Tasini -- a longtime labor activist and writer -- is challenging Hillary for the Senate. (Full disclosure: Jonathan and I were debate partners in a smackdown sponsored by The Nation and The Economist magazines, on the question "Is Wal-Mart Good for America?") Jonathan is, by his own admission, unlikely to unseat Hillary. But this is not really about the Senate; it's public education for 2008. Jonathan is calling attention to Hillary's dismal pro-war record, and her failure to stand up for working people (not only has she served on the board of Wal-Mart, she voted for the bankruptcy "reform" bill, paid for -- and authored -- by the credit card industry).
Speaking of trying to stop bad people from becoming president -- an admittedly quixotic endeavor -- I just saw an excellent documentary called "Giuliani Time." Like most political documentaries it drags on a bit, but the film is illuminating and even shocking, even for someone like me who lived in New York City during that horrible era.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, inspired a lot of enthusiasm among progressives when she moved into a leadership position among Congressional Democrats three years ago. She was a solid liberal who had voted against authorizing President Bush to attack Iraq in 2002 and seemed to get the point that Democrats needed to become an opposition party. As minority leader, however, she's stumbled repeatedly on the issues and generally failed to function as a leader.
Pelosi is personally progressive on many issues. But she has not done much to develop a progressive image -- or message -- for Congressional Democrats. Rather, she has embraced the same caution that has undermined the party's appeal in the past two election cycles.
Pelosi was all over the place with regard to Representative John Murtha's call the development of an Iraq exit strategy. Even now, she's sort of for the Pennsylvania Democrat's proposal, but she's not moving the caucus in a coherent direction with regard to the war in particular or foreign policy in general.
And just watch Pelosi scramble away from discussions about presidential accountability because of her misread of public sentiment regarding censure and impeachment initiatives and you can tell that she is still buying into the discredited theory that Democrats will achieve meaningful power without standing for much of anything.
Sure, Bush's poll numbers are poor, and more than a few House Republicans are being fitted for prison uniforms. But if Pelosi thinks that the GOP grip on the House is going to be released without a fight, she is headed for a November result that parallels those of 2002 and 2004.
While many national Democrats continue to see something of value in Pelosi's leadership, her hometown paper, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, has lost faith.
The Guardian, one of the most progressive of the country's alternative weekly newspapers, issued it influential endorsements for California's June 6 primaries this week.
The widely-circulated paper gave warm endorsements to a number of House Democrats seeking reelection in Bay Area districts -- including Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey and Pete Stark, all outspoken foes of the war and cosponsors of John Conyers' bill seeking to establish a select committee to make recommendations regarding impeachment. [Nine members of the California delegation are cosponsors of the Conyers resolution, but Pelosi has gone out of her way to distance herself from the proposal.]
The minority leader did not get any support, however.
Even though Pelosi does not face a primary challenge, the Bay Guardian's editors pointedly refused to endorse the minority leader.
Here's what they wrote:
Congress, District 8
If the Democrats retake the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi will almost certainly become the first female Speaker, and that's something noteworthy. (And she'd be a far better Speaker than the incumbent.) Pelosi, however, has tried so hard to promote her own career that she's ignored her constituents and become too much of a moderate Democrat, late in opposing the war, weak on same-sex marriage, and obsessed with raising money. She's also responsible for privatizing the Presidio. Whatever happens this year, she needs a challenger next time around.
Yesterday I spoke to a brilliant group of kids studying AP government at Washington's Eleanor Roosevelt High School. One student asked me, "Are politicians in Congress supporting, opposing or ignoring the Iraq war?"
Good question. "Mostly ignoring," I answered.
Listening to Congress, you'd barely know there's a war on, let alone one that's already passed the three year mark. Most Republicans won't dare go after the President on his signature issue. Many Democrats aren't willing to undermine their timid leadership. Thus serious discussion of the war rarely occurs inside the corridors of power.
The American people, on the other hand, remain acutely aware of the unfolding disaster on the ground. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll further illustrates how Iraq is driving Bush's approval rating downward. The Post writes:
Public dissatisfaction with Bush has grown in lock step with opposition to the conflict in Iraq. Not quite a third -- 32 percent -- said they approve of the way Bush is handling Iraq, down five points in the past month and a new low in Post-ABC polling. Fewer than four in 10 -- 37 percent -- say Iraq has been worth the cost, the lowest level of support recorded in Post-ABC polls. Nearly two in three Americans believe the war has not been worth it -- a view shared by eight in 10 Democrats, seven in 10 independents and a third of all Republicans.
The clearest sign of how Iraq dominates the public mood came in answer to another question, which asked those who disapprove of Bush's performance to cite a reason. Nearly half, 46 percent, said Iraq -- easily the most frequently mentioned reason. In equal proportions, Republicans as well as Democrats who disapprove of Bush cite his performance in Iraq as the principal reason.
The findings buttress comments Monday by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who said Iraq "looms over everything."
Not everyone, to be sure, has remained passive. Today marks the six-month anniversary of Rep. Jack Murtha's courageous call for a swift end to the war. The public is with him, even though the policy is not.
I confess. I watch American Idol. At the end of a long Tuesday or Wednesday at The Nation, I don't reach for Le Monde Diplomatique or New Left Review. I reach for my remote. And I enjoy the critical powers of American Idol Judge Simon Cowell.
(In the latest issue of The New Republic, newly anointed editor Franklin Foer has a terrific and snarkily insightful analysis of Simon's judicial "pistol-whippings"--replete with comparisons to the power of other arbiters of American critical taste such as Edmund Wilson, Lionel Trilling, and Clement Greenberg.)
Since early Spring, I've had a running bet with one of America's leading religious thinkers as to who will be America's next Idol. In late March, she bet on Elliott Yamin. But after last night's performances--and I've been trying to reach her this evening without success--I'll bet she's changed her bet. It's now a showdown between the two other finalists--Alabama's Taylor Hicks and Los Angeles' Katharine McPhee. Yes, Alabama vs. Los Angeles. (The show's red-blue dynamic was brought alive tonight with highlights of Alabama's Bob Riley celebrating Hicks and LA's (Mayor) Antonio Villaraigosa welcoming McPhee.)
Taylor is your sort of blowsy, don't worry/be happy, cut-above-the-average wedding singer. He reminds me of an apolitical, young Clinton. (I keep waiting for him to bite his lip in that semi-rueful way.) No question that Taylor did well in tonight's make-it-or-break-it round--singing Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" and Joe Cocker... and closing out with the inimitable Otis Reding's "Try a Little Tenderness." But McPhee, who's been ragged on for her lack of soul by that arbiter of soul, taste and culture, The New York Post, blew people away with her rendition of "Over the Rainbow." (Even Snarky Simon, who selected the song for her, said it was the performance of the entire program.)
So where's this leave us Idol addicts? Well, first, wishing Idol wasn't heading into its final rounds. But, putting that aside, I really want to see Simon's smirky certainties tested. After all, as TNR's Foer points out, "for the past three seasons, [Simon] has championed the contest's eventual winner..." And he's sealed quite a few fates by proving how right he was.
Monday night, Simon told Jay Leno that Taylor was "the favorite" to be the next Idol. But after last night's round, the delightfully mean-spirited Simon has to recognize he made a mistake. It's time he understand that even his conventional wisdom is almost always wrong, and that these are times which cry out for a woman Idol. After all, with a latter day Wizard of Oz running this country, we need a savvy, sharp LA woman belting out "Over the Rainbow" at every possible opportunity.
The good news out of Detroit is that the largest version of the Hummer – the 10,000 pound, less than 10 mpg, $150,000 Hummer H1 – is being scrapped by General Motors due to lagging sales.
But, on the flip side, sales for the entire Hummer fleet – including the H2 and H3 models which boast whopping 13 mpg and 16 mpg fuel efficiencies, respectively – TRIPLED nationally between March 2005 and March 2006. According to The Wall Street Journal "people are buying Hummers precisely because of high gas prices – buyers want the world to know they can afford the gas." (If you were wondering who the 29 percent of Americans are who still support George Bush, look no further!).
And, despite recent election year grandstanding, the Bush administration is doing nothing of significance to push for improvements in the fuel efficiency of the gas-guzzling, light trucks category (SUV's, minivans, and pick-ups).
Last week, Bush – who recently "pleaded" with Congress for the "authority" to strengthen fuel efficiency standards (authority which he has had from "the day he stepped into office," according to Daniel Lashoff, Science Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate Center) – submitted legislation that would set fuel standards based on a new "marginal cost/marginal benefit analysis," instead of the current "best technology" approach.
The "cost/benefit" analysis – the method of choice employed by corporations protecting their bottom lines – invariably overstates the costs of implementing new technologies while understating the difficult to quantify benefits of things like independence from foreign oil, reduced global warming and cleaner air. Furthermore, the Bush proposal would allow manufacturers to accumulate credits for surpassing automobile mileage standards, which they could then use if they fail to meet mileage standards set for light trucks.
According to Lashoff, "The Administration's proposal is a Trojan Horse that they are trying to sell to consumers but really is a gift to GM."
Any more tricks like these and Bush might soon see gas prices exceed his approval rating. In the meantime, an angry electorate should let its representatives know that this Bush proposal isn't worth the paper it's printed on – literally, when one considers the energy cost to manufacture and recycle the paper.