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MoveOn Surveys Members on Constitutional Rights

MoveOn.org is surveying its members' enthusiasm for a campaign to restore constitutional rights in an online poll that may shape the group's "next steps." The initial poll began circulating among MoveOn's 3.3 million members last week, without referencing constitutional rights, but MoveOn has now added a choice for a "Campaign to restore Constitutional Rights and Liberties."

The change was first noticed by a Nation reader, "RLAWRENCE," who wrote a comment about it in response to a blog post on The Notion Monday afternoon. MoveOn Executive Director Eli Pariser confirmed the addition today. The constitutional rights item was inserted in place of a potential campaign to "Stop Republicans from pardoning the President for his illegal wiretapping program before Democrats take power."

The attention on habeas corpus is coming at a crucial time. Today the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on "Restoring Habeas Corpus," which former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith live-blogged here. Chairman Pat Leahy outlined the stakes in his prepared opening statement:

Habeas corpus was recklessly undermined in last year's legislation. Senator Specter and I urged caution before taking that dangerous step, but fell just a few votes shy on our amendment to restore these protections. It is now six months later with the election behind us. I hope that the new Senate will reconsider this historic error in judgment and set the matter right. It is urgent that we restore our legal traditions and reestablish this fundamental check on the ability of the Government to lock someone away without meaningful judicial review of its action. The time to act is now.

Leahy's bipartisan bill has 16 cosponsors, and there are probably enough votes for it to pass the Senate if it were brought to a vote today. But a stand-alone bill will face a certain veto from President Bush. The Democratic Congress must attach habeas restoration to essential legislation, such as defense spending bills, to force a confrontation with Bush.

 

The Democrats have tons of support here: 71 percent of Americans back habeas corpus for all, including detainees; a huge bipartisan group of legal experts support habeas; Democratic voters and the netroots care deeply about this issue; and MoveOn is ready to take up the fight. Matt Stoller, a nationally recognized leader in netroots organizing, wrote yesterday that from his frequent work with MoveOn, it's clear that habeas corpus is "an organizational priority" for the group and a "core issue to their members." (He also offered a thoughtful critique of my post about MoveOn.) So that should be motivating for Congressional Democrats: The netroots, grassroots and public opinion writ large support restoring the great writ. In a healthy democracy, this kind of public consensus would drive policy, be it restoring the Constitution or ending the Iraq occupation.

From Justice to Agriculture Department

Did you see the letter in the New York Times on Monday by a man who suggests that this White House's politicization crept down to the state level of the Agriculture Department? It should lead all enterprising journalists to investigate how this Administration not only hyper-politicized the Justice Department, the Coalition Provisional Authority (see Rajiv Chandrasekaran's revealing "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," the Interior Department and the FDA but also state level positions in various federal departments.

As Michael Scherger recounts, after "reading Thomas Friedman's column "Failing by Example" (May 16), I was reminded of a job interview I had in the late summer of 2002. I had applied for a position with the Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency, the state administrative officer position in Indiana, and had a phone interview scheduled. As the interview was winding up, I was feeling very good about it, when the question came up: "How do you feel about the Bush tax cuts and the rebates."

Scherger says that he "was floored." He'd been working "in the human resources field for years. and recognized right away that this question bordered on inappropriate." He "mustered the best response he could think of and the interview concluded." Like so many of us today, a man applying to be a state administrative officer in Indiana learned of the unprecedented attempt by the Bush Administration to exert direct political control deep into areas throughout the executive bureaucracy. As Dan Zegart reported in his prescient article for The Nation last year, "the executive branch is undergoing a brain transplant. An entire culture of civil service professionals loyal to their agency's mission is being systematically replaced with a conservative cadre accountable to the White House." And, yes, this isn't entirely a novel precept. Every President appoints his own "politicals" to run departments. But, as Zegart's reporting--based on more than fifty current and former government officials interviewed during an 8-month long investigation--revealed: "...the scale and coordination with which it is being done under this Administration seem unprecedented."

Partisan Loyalty has trumped judgment, competence, common good/common sense--and, above all, it has defined a relentless GOP attack on the very idea of professional government.

It turns out that the sickbed showdown between John Ashcroft and upstanding Department bureaucrat James Comey and the politicos Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card--which throws into dark and stark relief the corrupt politicizing of the Justice Department--is just one piece of a wider story. I'm going to try to reach Michael Scherger, who applied for that Farm Service Agency position, to try and find out more about this metastasizing politicization.

 

The Call to Impeach Gonzales

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has lied so many times and in so many circumstances that he now finds himself lying about the lies.

All of his deceptive statements have been uttered in an official capacity, many of them under oath.

But as lawless as his language has been, the actions of the attorney general may well be the more serious of his high crimes and misdemeanors. Indeed, the worst crime of Alberto Gonzales may be that -- with the revelations about his ghoulish visit to the sickbed of his Constitutionally-inclined predecessor -- this attorney general has actually forced millions of Americans to wrap their heads around the notion John Ashcroft may have been, at least by comparison, a good guy.

What this all adds up to is the most sordid circumstance of a sitting Cabinet member since Albert Bacon Fall, Warren's Harding's Secretary of the Interior, tried to talk his way out of the Teapot Dome scandal. Fall was notoriously "so crooked they had to screw him into the ground" when he died.

With Gonzales, it is hard to say whether he is crooked or delusional, or both.

But one thing is certain: The attorney general's determination to cling to his office at this point marks him as a man who poses a threat not merely to his own reputation but to the Department of Justice, which is degenerating into crisis as top administrators exit at an alarming rate, and to the rule of law in America.

George Bush, who has been linked to many if not all of the scandals that have so vexed Gonzales, is not about to ask his former White House counsel to vacate his current digs at Justice.

So it falls to Congress to act. And while a proposed Senate vote of "no confidence" might finally tip the balance against Gonzales, it is certainly appropriate to prepare for the next act of the sorry soap opera that the attorney general's tenure has become.

The founders established clear procedures for impeaching members of the Cabinet. "The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors," reads Article 2, Section 4, of the Constitution.

No serious scholar of the original intent of the authors of the essential document of the American experiment would question that the seemingly vague "high crimes and misdemeanors" section refers to precisely the sort of deceptive and destructive activities in which Gonzales has engaged. There is simply no question that lying to Congress is an impeachable offense, and there is every reason to believe that rendering the department you head fully dysfunctional should be.

The national activist group Democracy for America, working in conjunction with Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films operation, has launched a campaign to: "Impeach Gonzales and restore accountability and ethical leadership to the United States Justice Department." This is a classic "it's-about-time" development.

As Democracy for America chair Jim Dean says, "Americans around the country are standing up to voice opposition to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his politicization of the Department of Justice," Our message is clear: Impeach Gonzales."

Within a day of the launch of the campaign, more than 40,000 Americans had already signed the online petition to impeach Gonzales, which will eventually be forwarded to members of Congress. The number of signers will rise exponentially as Greenwald's devastating series of YouTube reviews of the attorney general's incredible explanations for his actions -- overlaid with the words "false" and "perjury" -- makes the rounds on the internet. The videos are debuting at the new www.impeachgonzales.org

As Democracy for America says: "Impeachment puts everything back on the table. Illegal domestic eavesdropping, illegally deleted government e-mails, voter suppression, signing statements, torture recommendations, you name it -- if Gonzales had his finger prints on it Congress will shine the spotlight at it."

The "on the table" reference is to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's declaration that impeachment is "off the table." Up to now, Pelosi's pronouncement has kept a lot of national groups from uttering the "I" word. But no more.

Democracy for America and Greenwald are not putting impeachment on the table; Alberto Gonzales did that when he lied to Congress and the American people. But Democracy for America and Greenwald are giving the American people an opportunity to demand that Congress get serious about holding an errant executive branch to account.

Greenwald recognizes the genius of impeachment when he says, "President Bush will not fire the Attorney General, but the American people can call for his Impeachment."

Impeachment was always intended to be an organic process of the American republic. The wisest of the founders, fresh from waging revolutionary war against a lawless King George, never imagined that the impeachment and trial of errant executives would be a dull bureaucratic procedure carried out in the cloistered halls of Congress. It was supposed to be an official response to a popular call for accountability.

The call is being issued. And the greater its volume, the greater will be the likelihood that this battered republic will be rescued not merely from the dark interregnum that is the Bush era but from the misguided notion that a president and his appointees can govern as regally as did the kings of old.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Save Internet Radio

The future of Internet radio is in doubt. Royalty rates for webcasters have been drastically increased by a recent ruling and are due to go into effect on July 15 (retroactive to Jan 1, 2006!). If the increased rates remain unchanged, the majority of webcasters will be bankrupt and immediately forced silent.

Last March's decision by the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) increased Internet radio's royalty burden between 300 and 1200 percent. The 2005 royalty rate was 7/100 of a penny per song streamed; the 2010 rate will be 19/100 of a penny per song streamed. It doesn't sound like much but it'll make it impossible for most webcasters to operate and will make the remaining outlets more reliant on sweetheart licenses that major record labels will be happy to offer as long as the webcaster permits the company to influence the programming and playlist.

As internet DJ Jonathan Tesser wrote in a Wall Street Journal online forum on internet radio, "I've been operating a free-form radio station (www.luckydogradio.com) with Live365 for more than six years, and it's clear that the future of Internet radio is in grave danger if this decision by the CRB is not modified in some way."

Internet radio is taking off. In just the last year Internet radio listening increased from 45 million to 72 million listeners each month. That's a lot of earlobes! Moreover, beyond the mass audience, the diversity of programming is breathtaking and provides significant promotional and royalty opportunities to independent labels and artists that are unavailable on broadcast radio.

But the CRB's decision would destroy this world. The only hope is that sufficient grassroots pressure can be applied in support of the Internet Radio Equality Act, which was recently introduced in both the House and Senate (by the unlikely duo of Senators Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Senator Sam Brownback, R-Kansas) to save Internet radio. The bill would put internet radio on par with satellite radio and undo a prohibitive $500 per channel minimum royalty fee as well as undoing other provisions of the CRB decision.

Please implore your senators and reps to co-sponsor and vote in favor of the Internet Radio Equality Act; add a Save Internet Radio banner on your website or blog and ask your friends to join the coalition to save internet radio.

Ivy Leaguers R White Like Us

Imagine looking out your cozy Harvard dorm room only to see a bunch of black folks whoopin' and hollerin' in the Quad. What's an Ivy Leaguer to do except call campus security. So the rent-a-cops arrive only to find -- oops! -- that troublemakers are members of the Black Men's Forum (BMF) and the Association of Black Harvard Women (ABHW), participating in an annual event that includes riotous -- or is it, riot-like -- activities like dodgeball.

Hmm, that would explain why all of them were wearing some form of Harvard paraphanelia.

Of course, all complainants deny even a slightest hint of racism, even of the unconscious, knee-jerk, didn't-really-think-about-it variety. Sure, these equal opportunity party-poopers would have sent "impassioned e-mails" questioning their presence on the public lawn--"and whether they were students at all"--even if hypothetical white hooligans were all wearing their Harvard sweat-shirts.

Bryan Barnhill, the head of BMF, plans to spearhead a campaign called "I am Harvard," to "show that subtle forms of racism exist, such as seeing a group of black people on Harvard property and assuming they don't belong there."

Taking on Dobbs

I had an interesting run in with Lou Dobbs on May 8th. The clip has just become available on my site. Dave Niewert at Orcinus transcribed the key part and kicked off an interesting conversation about Dobbs and macho bullying.

There was also some discussion of this Sunday at the Book SalonThe topic was Blue Grit, my new book, but scroll down and you'll see quite a bit about machismo and cable news. See what you think.

Here's an excerpt of the transcript:

LAURA FLANDERS, AIR AMERICA: I wanted to come back for a minute to the L.A. story, the last two stories. I think if Dr. King were alive today, he would be talking about what happened on L.A. on May 1st. When you talk about abuse, 240 rounds of rubber bullets and tear gas.

We've gone from legal punishment of illegal aliens to physical punishment, and it's not helped by language like yours, Lou, talking about these [marchers] as being illegal aliens…

DOBBS: Laura, Laura, Laura, that's ridiculous.

FLANDERS: They're not aliens, they're people. And the vast majority of people at these marches are utterly legal. They're not aliens, Lou. They're people, and you're dehumanizing them with that language.

Check it out.

Laura Flanders is the author of Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians just out from the Penguin Press.

Russian Journalists Fight for Independent Media

Nadya Azghikkina and I worked together for many years editing a Russian-language feminist newsletter called Vyi i Myi. (You and We was founded by Colette Shulman, who has worked tirelessly for decades on behalf of women and NGOs in Russia.) Today, Nadya is with the Russian Union of Journalists (RUJ), working to train journalists, especially women, in Russia's underserved provincial cities and regions. Her work also involves defending not only the free speech rights of journalists but what we might call bread and butter issues--ensuring, for example, that journalists get paid and receive the pensions owed them. (A few years ago, Nadya also worked on an issue close to my heart at the moment: organizing a petition to fight an increase in postal rates that would have bankrupted some publications.)

More recently, Nadia has been working at the Union's headquarters on Zubovsky Boulevard to organize the 26th World Congress of Journalists, an international gathering of media professionals, scheduled to open on May 28th in Moscow, (Nadia's office is tiny, crammed with regional newspapers and magazines, old clippings, suffused with cigarette smoke and used tea cups.) But now, on the eve of the World Congress the Federal Property Management Agency, or Rosimushchestvo, is trying to evict Russia's largest journalist association in favor of Russia Today, a state-run English-language satellite television channel created to boost the country's international image. While the dispute centers on the validity of a presidential decree issued in the 1990s that gave the RUJ use of the offices for "infinite and free of charge use," the action and its timing send a disturbing message.

The eviction notice comes on the heels of several other actions aimed at curbing media independence and the dissemination of alternative views.

In mid-April, the police raided the offices of Internews Russia (recently re-registered as the Educated Media Foundation.) EMF has been a Russian-run NGO since the mid-1990s, specializing in training broadcast journalists, technicians and managers. It's also helped local journalists launch television news programs and a documentary series focusing on their own cities and villages, as an alternative news source to the state and Moscow-based channels. The raid on the groups's Moscow offices, during which the police took away all the computers/servers, and boxes of financial documentation, forced them to suspend all training activities. Similarly, on May 11, police raided the offices of the Samara regional edition of Novaya Gazeta, one of the few national independent newspapers left, and confiscated three journalists' computers. (The police claimed they were in search of illegal software.)

In these bleak times for independent media in Russia, what is heartening are signs of solidarity among Russian journalists. A few weeks ago, for example, Tv2, located in the Siberian city of Tomsk, posted an open letter to President Putin in defense of independent media (and specifically in support of the Educated Media Foundation.) Within a few days more than 2000 journalists from almost all Russian regions had signed the petition.

And just a few days ago, all four of the radio correspondents for the Russian News Service, which provides news for three major radio stations serving about 8 million people, submitted letters of resignation. Artem Khan, a correspondent for the Service, said that he and all of his colleagues have walked out because of "censorship" and "pressure" to disseminate pro-Kremlin material from the company's news executives who took control in April.

It is Russian journalists who will wage the most effective protests against attacks on media freedom. It is, after all, their country and their citizens who are being deprived of the independent and free flow of information.

However, these are also times when the support and solidarity of Western colleagues--journalists and editors--is of value. (That path is certainly less intrusive and more welcome than a human rights-challenged US administration lecturing a human-rights challenged Russian government.)

For Western journalists and editors and publishers who wish to support their Russian colleagues, please email to russiapetition@gfmd.info.

Why Won't MoveOn Move on Habeas Corpus?

MoveOn.org is circulating a new survey asking its 3.3 million members to plan the group's "next steps," offering a dozen choices ranging from issues on the national agenda, like ending the Iraq War and climate change, to less mainstream items such as impeachment. But the survey does not even mention Bush's worst domestic transgression: the suspension of habeas corpus and other fundamental rights in last year's Military Commissions Act (MCA).

The omission is particularly glaring because habeas corpus and constitutional rights are one of the top priorities of the netroots activists who comprise the membership of MoveOn.org. In a Democrats.com survey of over 400 netroots activists after the November election, restoring habeas corpus ranked first for legislative priorities - above even Iraq withdrawal. MoveOn members have said "restoring the Constitution" should be one of the top priorities for the Democratic Congress, according to MoveOn spokesperson Jennifer Lindenauer, and several leading bloggers recently pressed Congressional Democrats to jam habeas restoration into a defense spending bill. Restoring habeas "is something that we elected them to get done," blogged MyDD's Matt Stoller. [Update: MoveOn sent out an action alert to members about the issue as well.]

But House Democrats failed to take action. Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton meekly argued Democrats could restore habeas in a "separate bill," a futile strategy since Bush can easily veto stand-alone human rights legislation.

While it may seem like MoveOn is planning its "next steps" with habeas off the radar, Executive Director Eli Pariser says the group simply does not survey all of its campaigns. "Surveying is just a way for us to get a sense of the relative priorities -- absent strategic opportunities that we're sure our members will want to seize," he told me via email. The group is looking to find out where it can "play a constructive role," but they haven not "seen that moment yet," he added.

But if MoveOn keeps holding its fire on habeas corpus, it may wind up looking like the diffident Democrats in Congress who refuse to lead on human rights. The battle lines are already drawn. Most Democrats voted to protect habeas corpus during the MCA fight last year, while Bush backed the bill and will surely veto any attempt to undo it. That is why Congress must attach a human rights provision to essential bills and force Bush's hand. Netroots leaders like MoveOn don't need to wait for the right "moment." They have the power to create the moment, (as I've argued before). An editorial in the St. Petersburg Times recently hammered this point: "If the Democrats were serious about returning the checks and balances to our legal system, they would add a habeas corpus amendment to every vital piece of relevant legislation until the president capitulates or there are enough votes for an override."

In addition to bloggers' activism on this front, there are important efforts by the Alliance for Justice, Amnesty International, Sen. Chris Dodd's Restore-habeas.org, and the ACLU, which launched a high-profile campaign including legislative meetings with bloggers, ads on the New York Times homepage and a MySpace profile for habeas corpus. But these initiatives do not have the financial or political clout of MoveOn, which spent more than every other liberal PAC in the last election cycle except for EMILY's List. But without more activism, especially within the netroots, it looks like habeas corpus may stay on the backburner for MoveOn and the Democratic Congress.

UPDATE (Monday morning): Eli Pariser adds that MoveOn sent out an action alert about restoring habeas corpus in the Defense Authorization bill, an example of how the group has been working with their members on this issue.

UPDATE 2 (Monday afternoon): Reader Leah Adler adds that Working Assets has launched Lawyers for Habeas, a petition drive to rally the legal community around restoring habeas corpus. "This petition was posted in collaboration with Alliance for Justice and Equal Justice Society and needs thousands of members from the legal community across the country to sign up," she explained.

 

Who's Afraid of Jimmy Carter? George Bush

How touchy is the Bush administration about criticism?

Very touchy, indeed, especially if the source of that criticism is a certain former president.

When Jimmy Carter, whose approval ratings dwarf those of George Bush these days, gets to talking about what's wrong with the current president the White House spin machine goes into overdrive.

And Carter has been talking.

He told the conservative Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper Saturday that, "I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history."

Suggesting that the president has presided over an "overt reversal of America's basic values," Carter drew a clear line of distinction between the current Bush policies and those of another Bush who has occupied the Oval Office, former President George Herbert Walker Bush.

With his misguided approach to the war in Iraq, Carter said, Bush made a "radical departure from all previous administration policies," including those of the president's father.

"We now have endorsed the concept of pre-emptive war where we go to war with another nation militarily, even though our own security is not directly threatened, if we want to change the regime there or if we fear that some time in the future our security might be endangered," explained Carter, who has long been a critic of the Bush administration but whose comments in recent days have been particularly pointed.

In another interview late last week, with the BBC, Carter effectively referred to outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair as Bush's poodle.

Carter criticized Blair's "blind" support of Bush's war in Iraq, suggesting that the British prime minister had been "subservient" to the American president. Noting that Blair's "almost undeviating" allegiance to Bush's Middle East dogmas had done much to legitimize them at precisely the time when they should have been challenged, Carter argued that the prime minister's promotion of "the ill-advised policies of President Bush in Iraq had been a major tragedy for the world."

Lest there be any doubt about his assessment of Blair's contribution to global stability, the Nobel Peace Prize winner termed the prime minister's failure to counter Bush's messianic march to war "abominable."

It is difficult to argue with Carter, not just on the basis of his stature but on the basis of his astute read of the current circumstance. And that's what scares the Bush White House. When a well regarded former president gets specific about the current president's dramatic failures -- and about the damage that is done when foreign leaders align with Bush -- this embattled White House gets tense.

So the president's aides are hitting back, with all the muscle they can muster, at Carter.

"I think it's sad that President Carter's reckless personal criticism is out there," griped White House spokesman Tony Fratto, as part of an unusually bitter and specific response issued Sunday from Bush's compound in Crawford, Texas.

In what the Associated Press correctly referred to as "a biting rebuke," Fratto said of Carter's observations: "I think it's unfortunate. And I think he is proving to be increasingly irrelevant with these kinds of comments."

The irony is that there is nothing unfortunate about Carter's remarks for the United States. By making it perfectly clear that Americans are unsettled by their president's reckless disregard for the rule of law and common sense at home and abroad, Carter helps to separate Bush from America in the eyes of the world, which is a very, very good thing for the American people.

Of course, then, the Bush White House is not attacking Carter's comments on their merit. Rather, the attack boils down to a suggestion that, even though they represent a rare example of a former president bluntly criticizing a sitting president, Carter's remarks of a little or no consequence.

What is fascinating is that the White House is claiming that Carter is "increasingly irrelevant" by going out of its way to attack him on one of the current president's many days of rest.

It seems that, if Carter really was as "irrelevant" as the Bush White House would have us believe, the president's aides would not be attacking the former president in such immediate and aggressive terms.

The truth is that Carter is relevant, perhaps more so now than ever. Even as Bush's fortunes decline, the need of dissenting voices is great. And Carter's dissents go to the very heart of the darkness that this administration has brought down upon the United States. For a body politic sorely in need of the tonic of truth, Jimmy Carter's comments are not just relevant, they are an essential to the renewal of a country and a planet badly battered by the madness of a 21st-century King George.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com