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America's Mayor?

It's GOP Debate night and I'm dreading the idea of having to watch the Seven Dwarves (plus three) duke it out at the Reagan Library. I'm heading uptown in a taxi to an "Obama for Women" event (more on that later) --and my taxi driver looks like he's straight out of a Scorsese film. He's railing against Giuliani. "You know what we New York City taxi drivers used to call Rudy--Adolph or Benito," he cackles. "I can't wait for the rest of the country to find out who this guy really is."

 

Habeas Corpus is Missing

For the past seven years, George Bush has repeatedly violated the Constitution. Even worse, Congress has knowingly let it happen.

There's been the legalization of torture, warrantless wiretaps and the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which gives the president absolute power to decide who is an enemy of the US, to imprison people indefinitely without charging them with a crime, and to define what is -- and what is not -- torture and abuse.

This act represented an unprecedented attack on the basic system of habeas corpus--a fundamental Constitutional right that protects against unlawful and indefinite imprisonment. Translated from Latin it means "show me the body." It has acted historically as an important instrument to safeguard individual freedom against arbitrary executive power.

The MCA, passed by the Republican Congress soon before the 2006 elections, was sparked by the Supreme Court's ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the original military commission system established by President Bush to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay was unfair and illegal.

This wide-ranging legislation eliminated a cornerstone of the Constitution by depriving habeas corpus rights from certain individuals and allowing the US government to continue to hold hundreds of prisoners indefinitely and without recourse.

In response, the Restoring the Constitution Act, introduced by Senator and Presidential candidate Christopher Dodd, Congressman Jerrold Nadler and Congresswoman Jane Harman restores habeas corpus and due process to detainees held at Guantanamo Bay and to other detainees held by the federal government.

Moreover, this bill would prevent the current and future presidents from making up their own rules on torture, and make clear that the federal government must comply with the Geneva Conventions. The bill asserts that the Constitution is the law of the land -- and that no president can make up his or her own rules regarding torture and abuse.

The ACLU has created a website to help promote grassroots support for restoring the US Constitution. Sign the petition which will be delivered to Congress on June 26 (the one-year anniversary of the MCA's ratification), learn more about the issue, encourage others to get involved and implore your legislators to support Dodd and Nadler's bill. This is one issue left, right and center should agree on.

What If My Carrier Bumps Into Your Country?

At a news conference on Monday involving the President and European leaders, this exchange took place:

 

"Q: …[Y]our Secretary of State is going to a conference [on] Iraq where the Foreign Minister from Iran is going to be present. Do you expect her to have conversations with the Foreign Minister of Iran? What will she talk about? And if she does have a conversation, is there going to be a change of U.S. foreign policy?

 

"PRESIDENT BUSH: Should the Foreign Minister of Iran bump into Condi Rice, Condi won't be rude. She's not a rude person. I'm sure she'll be polite.

"But she'll also be firm in reminding this representative of the Iranian government that there's a better way forward for the Iranian people than isolation... [I]f, in fact, there is a conversation, it will be one that says if the Iranian government wants to have a serious conversation with the United States and others, they ought to give up their enrichment program in a verifiable fashion. And we will sit down at the table with them, along with our European partners, and Russia, as well. That's what she'll tell them."

 

So that, as far as we know, is the full diplomatic component of the Bush administration's Iran policy. Every nuance of that policy is regularly covered in the press. Take, for instance, a recent New York Times piece by Kirk Semple and Christine Hauser ("Iran to Attend Regional Conference"). It focused on Secretary of State Rice's comments on her willingness to talk with the Iranians, should she happen to "bump into" them. ("I would not rule it out.") Included in the piece was a brief version of the American laundry list of complaints about Iranian interference in Iraq ("The American military has said that some elements in Shiite-dominated Iran have been giving Shiite militants in Iraq powerful Iranian-made roadside bombs, as well as training in their use…"). Also mentioned was a knotty issue between the two countries -- the American kidnapping of five Iranian officials in Kurdish Iraq. ("…Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Tehran's decision to attend the conference was not linked to any deal having to do with five Iranians who were detained in January by American troops in Irbil…").

But something was missing -- as it is regularly from American reporting on the U.S./Iranian face-off. The Bush administration is, at this very moment, sending a third aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, to the Persian Gulf. Although the three carriers and their strike forces will add up to a staggering display of American military power off the Iranian coast, American journalists aren't much impressed. Evidently, it's not considered off the diplomatic page or particularly provocative to mass your carrier battle groups this way, despite the implicit threat to pulverize Iranian nuclear and other facilities. Journalistically speaking, this is both blindingly strange and the norm on our one-way planet. If Iranians send the materials to make some roadside bombs into Iraq (as the Bush administration, at least, continually claims is the case), it's a huge deal, if not an act of war; but put the most powerful fleet in history off the Iranian coast. No sweat.

By the way, talk about a foreign policy based on standing on one massive foot (or rather one massive combat boot)!

Since our media seems to have more or less forgotten about the Nimitz and all those ships gathering in the Gulf, Tomdispatch.com asked Michael Klare to offer an update on the situation. He writes: "Rest assured, unlike us, the Iranians have noticed. After all, with the arrival of the Nimitz battle group, the Bush administration will be -- for an unknown period of time -- in an optimal position to strike Iran with a punishing array of bombs and missiles should the President decide to carry out his oft-repeated threat to eliminate Iran's nuclear program through military action. ‘All options,' as the administration loves to say, remain ominously ‘on the table.'"

Republican vs. Republican on Iraq

On Monday a Washington Post headline read: "GOP's Base Helps Keep Unity on Iraq." By Thursday, following President Bush's veto of a Democratic war funding bill, the long-suppressed GOP divide on the war was spilling out into the open.

Most Republicans still oppose setting a timetable for withdrawal and only four in the Congress voted for the Democratic proposal. But now they are split on the question of "benchmarks"--whether to require Iraqis to meet certain political goals in order to keep receiving US military support.

"Obviously, the president would prefer a straight funding bill with no benchmarks, no conditions, no reports," said Senator Susan Collins of Maine told the Los Angeles Times. "Many of us, on both sides of the aisle, don't see that as viable."

Still other Republican supporters of the surge, like Senator Lindsey Graham, are trying to have it both ways. According to the Washington Post, Graham "said he would support adding benchmarks, but with no repercussions should Iraqis fall short."

Doesn't that defeat the purpose of having benchmarks in the first place? Without consequences what's the incentive for the militia-plagued, secterian-driven Iraqi government to hammer out a compromise? And while we're at it, isn't it time for US politicians to stop blaming Iraqis for the mess in Iraq? After all, it was the Bush Administration's war of choice that made a bad situation even worse.

LAPD Gone Wild. Again.

All of a sudden it looked like the bad old days this week in Los Angeles. A peaceful pro-immigration rally in the downtown area Tuesday descended into chaotic violence as the LAPD charged in swinging with batons and firing more than 200 rounds of foam bullets.

The melee was sparked when a small group of protestors, their faces covered in bandanas, broke off from the rally, blocked traffic and starting peppering riot-ready police with epithets and filled water bottles.

These antics which marred the wonderfully peaceful tone of both this year and last's pro-immigrant demonstrations certainly merit excoriation. But not the heavy-handed over-reaction by LAPD.

Local news stations and Youtube brim with videos showing the cops swarming into the park where nothing was happening except thousands sitting on the grass listening to speakers. Several journalists and reporters were also manhandled and clubbed sparking a chorus of outrage from professional press organizations.

The violent police action comes just as Chief William Bratton is up for renewal of his tenure. Even his critics agree that Bratton has made noteable strides in reforming a once notorious department. A near unanimity of the 15 member city council had been leaning toward his re-appointment precisely because of his demonstrated support of authentic and deep police reform.

To his credit, Bratton came quickly to the scene of the confrontation. And his in his day-after press conference the Chief agreed that what he had seen had been both "disturbing" and "inappropriate." He announced two probes of the incident, but California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez has called on the L.A. County District Attorney to open his own independent investigation.

Here's the L.A. Times piece on what happened to the reporters who were attacked. Kudos to the Times who had the good sense to quote me on the topic :)

The Media, Impeachment & Kucinich

Richard Cohen has a must-read column in today's Washington Post. It's a terrific antidote to Dana Milbank's recent column in the same paper which ridiculed Presidential candidate and Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

It's fine to disagree with Kucinich on impeachment--and even to suggest that he is isolated within Congress. But the snarky tenor of Milbank's column suggested that to hold the President to account is bizarre behaviour--at a time when the Vermont Senate, state Democratic party groups, scores of communities, city council and labor unions have taken far blunter stances than has Kucinich. Milbank's column was a classic example of inside-the-beltway policing of the debate--and it used the old technique of making fun of a legitimate dissenter.

Cohen, on the other hand, treats Kucinich with the respect he deserves. He may disagree with the remedy of impeachment, considering it too "radical"--but he doesn't stoop to ridicule Kucinich for his stance. (And as would any semi-sentient person living in the US today, Cohen agrees that the congressman's case against Cheney--lying the American people into war--is "persuasive.")

Now I'll admit that I have as many questions as answers when it comes to the political value of pursuing impeachment--and The Nation has published strong views for and against. But that doesn't mean that Kucinich and other good citizens who support impeachment as a democratic tool to hold this administration accountable deserve ridicule.

And while it is true that Kucinich remains fairly isolated in Congress, in a small piece of breaking news two members--Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)--today joined as co-sponsors of Kucinich's H Res 333, the bill introducing articles of impeachment against Cheney. What's especially newsworthy is that Schakowsky is a member of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's inside circle.

The Whole Truth--and Nothing But

"It is time for the truth, the whole truth, versus misinformation and hype." Those were Jessica Lynch's words as she testified before Congress April 24-- along with the brother and mother of the late Army Ranger Specialist Pat Tillman--to set the record straight on her service in Iraq.

On April 2, 2003, Army Private Lynch was carried from an Iraqi hospital and whisked away on a Black Hawk helicopter. It was a great PR opportunity for the Bush administration, and with the help of too many in the mainstream media, they spun it for all that it was worth.

Lynch's testimony last week was timely, coming just one day before the premiere of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, a 90-minute report entitled Buying the War. "Four years after shock and awe," Moyers observed, "the press has yet to come to terms with its role in enabling the Bush administration to go to war on false pretenses."

"I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend...." Lynch said.

As Daphne Eviatar reported in The Nation in 2003, media outlets across the country ran with Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks' initial account of a daring rescue of Lynch by Special Ops forces, complete with firefights upon entering and exiting the "location of danger." The story snowballed into a "daring raid in hostile territory," and anonymous US officials told reporters of Lynch fighting "fiercely" and shooting "several enemy soldiers." She had been shot and stabbed, according to these accounts.

"The whole Rambo story, that I went down fighting. It just wasn't the truth. I didn't even get a shot off. My weapon had jammed. And I didn't even get to fire," Lynch told Newsweek.

Eviatar observed that the "Saving Private Lynch" story arrived at the perfect moment for an administration obsessed with controlling the press coverage. It had been less than two weeks since the invasion and correspondents were delivering a stream of grim news: then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was receiving harsh criticism for deploying too few ground troops to contain the violence; there was "unexpectedly fierce fighting in the south"; a van full of Iraqi women and children were mistakenly killed by US forces; and four Marines died in a helicopter crash. The Lynch story offered a tale of heroism to replace the horrors of this war on the front pages and the airwaves.

"The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes and they don't need to be told elaborate tales," Lynch said.

In his documentary, Moyers said of the lead up to the invasion, "This gets us right to the heart of the debate that's going on now in our craft. We lean heavily in reporting on what [government officials] say…. We really give heavy weight to what public officials say."

This reliance on government accounts continued as the war began and Jessica Lynch was injured. "As with many stories, we were left with our sourcing being other government agencies," Paul Slavin, senior vice president of ABC News, admitted to Eviatar.

"There was a real sense that you don't get that critical of a government that's leading us in war time," Walter Isaacson, former Chairman and CEO of CNN, told Moyers.

By mid-April, the government and media tale was debunked. Lynch hadn't fired her weapon, nor had she been shot or stabbed (an examination did reveal that she had been sexually assaulted, however). And, according to hospital staff, the Iraqi fighters had already abandoned the hospital before she was "rescued," casting doubt on any gunfights and characterizations of daring.

"The nurses at the hospital tried to soothe me and tried unsuccessfully at one point to return me to American troops," Lynch testified.

The lies about the service of Lynch and the death of Tillman demonstrate the lengths to which this administration will go to protect its interests--and the necessity that the media ask tough questions to preserve our democracy. As Naomi Wolf notes in Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps: "In a fascist system, it's not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can't tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit."

"They could have handled situations a lot better and made sure that the truth was more accurate," Lynch said.

They could have indeed.

DC Sex Scandal: Couldn't Happen to Nicer Bunch of Guys

I'm amused that none of my Notion colleagues have commented on the Washington, D.C. sex scandal. Time to break this high-minded code of delicacy. Alleged madam Deborah Jane Palfrey is about to release her client list, and ABC News plans to release her phone records on Friday. To those who think they are are above reveling in something so sordid: hold your high horses. I feel sorry for people whose names are dragged through the mud over personal behavior -- but not if they are right-wing hypocrites who have supported policies interfering with other people's private lives. A couple names have been leaked already, and we shouldn't feel bad for any of them.

Particularly deserving of his current humiliation is Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias, Bush's former AIDS czar, whose job was to promote abstinence and monogamy rather than condoms. In his current job, he was supposed to make sure that groups getting U.S. money to fight HIV and AIDS were opposed to prostitution. (Tobias, who claims he only got massages from these call girls -- bizarre, if true, but isn't that what they always say? -- -- had to resign last weekend over Palfrey's disclosure.) This is not just about hypocrisy: conservatives seem to be more often at the center of such scandals -- though of course we can all think of some liberals and moderates, including Barney Frank and of course Bill Clinton -- because they embrace a repressive morality that seems to drive people to act out, often in weird, alienated ways.

A group called the Sex Workers Project which provides legal services and advocacy to sex workers, pointed out, in a statement, the "irony... that Tobias was the chief enforcer and mouthpiece of the Anti-Prostitution Pledge" which cost Brazil $40 million in USAID money, and stripped funding from services like drop-in centers and English classes -- which could help people move on to other lines of work -- for sex workers in Cambodia and Bangladesh. Condemning -- and, especially, refusing to help -- sex workers is stupid policy: prostitutes who insist on protecting themselves through condom use can play a valuable role in halting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Tobias's connections to an escort agency, the Sex Workers Project notes, "provide an opportunity to reflect on the ineffective and morality-driven policies he enforced."

"The President Has Effectively Gone AWOL"

George Bush, the most ideologically-driven and politically calculating president in American history, wants Americans to believe that he has suddenly discovered a moral high ground from which to make grand declarations about who he must maintain the occupation of Iraq.

After vetoing legislation Tuesday that gave him the money to continue his war but required that he accept loose limits of its ultimate duration, the president told the nation, "I recognize that many Democrats saw this bill as an opportunity to make a political statement about their opposition to the war. They sent their message, and now it is time to put politics behind us and support our troops with the funds they need."

Bush has made his position clear: Democrats, many of whom rightly argued four years ago that going to war in Iraq would be the huge mistake it has turned out to be, and who have since been far ahead of the White House in identifying the nature of the crisis that has since developed, are now to be dismissed as the players of political games when they advocate for a strategy that would begin bringing US troops home from the conflict on a schedule beginning October 1.

That's a remarkable line of analysis from a president whose inability to recognize the flaws in his own neo-conservative vision has rendered his wrong at every turn, and whose determination to play politics with life-and-death decisions has defined not just his approach to the Iraq war but his tenure as president.

Yet Bush is not giving up on his faith that he can frame the argument about Iraq as a fight between Congressional Democrats who are out to score political points and a presidential administration that is motivated merely by a desire to respond appropriately to practical realities on the ground in Iraq.

"Twelve weeks ago, I asked the Congress to pass an emergency war spending bill that would provide our brave men and women in uniform with the funds and flexibility they need," said Bush in framing his veto message. "Instead, members of the House and the Senate passed a bill that substitutes the opinions of politicians for the judgment of our military commanders."

The problem with Bush's "I'm-so-above-politics" line is that he has been disregarding advice from military commanders since before the war began.

Consider the response to his veto from top military men who commanded troops in Iraq.

"The President vetoed our troops and the American people," says retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste. "His stubborn commitment to a failed strategy in Iraq is incomprehensible. He committed our great military to a failed strategy in violation of basic principles of war. His failure to mobilize the nation to defeat world wide Islamic extremism is tragic. We deserve more from our commander-in-chief and his administration."

Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton: "This administration and the previously Republican-controlled legislature have been the most caustic agents against America's Armed Forces in memory. Less than a year ago, the Republicans imposed great hardship on the Army and Marine Corps by their failure to pass a necessary funding language. This time, the President of the United States is holding our Soldiers hostage to his ego. More than ever [it is] apparent [that] only the Army and the Marine Corps are at war -- alone, without their President's support."

Retired military commanders associated with the Washington-based National Security Network have been blunt about their sense that Bush is not just wrong about Iraq but that he is failing the troops he purports to support.

Some make historical comparisons.

Says retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard: "With this veto, the president has doomed us to repeating a terrible history. President Bush's current position is hauntingly reminiscent of March 1968 in Vietnam. At that time, both the Secretary of Defense and the President had recognized that the war could not be won militarily--just as our military commanders in Iraq have acknowledged. But not wanting to be tainted with losing a war, President Johnson authorized a surge of 25,000 troops. At that point, there had been 24,000 U.S. troops killed in action. Five years later, when the withdrawal of US troops was complete, we had suffered 34,000 additional combat deaths.

Others offer a straightforward assessment of Bush's failure as the commander-in-chief. "By vetoing this bill and failing to initiate an immediate and phased withdrawal, the President has effectively gone AWOL, deserting his duty post, leaving American forces with an impossible mission, suffering wholly unnecessary casualties," argues retired Lt. Gen. William E. Odom.

Add the public statements of the retired generals together with the behind-the-scenes expressions of frustration from current commanders and they form the most powerful tool that Congressional Democrats have in what will ultimately be a negotiation not with Bush but with the American people--a negotiation that, the president well understands, is about the question of which side is playing politics and which side is listening to military commanders and supporting the troops.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should take the message of these retired generals--along with the anti-war statements of thousands of current and returned Iraq soldiers --into the fight with Bush. And, to borrow a slightly impolitic phrase from Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden, they should "shove it down his throat."

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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.'"