Al Gore returned to Florida this weekend. And you know what that means. (Insert joke about butterfly ballots, hanging chads, Katherine Harris and Jews for Buchanan.)
He still uses the line about being a "recovering politician." It still draws laughter. But those of us who've followed Gore know he's emerged from the political wilderness as one of the most eloquent critics of the Bush Administration, a favorite among the Democratic base and even a dark horse for the '08 nomination. By all accounts, his foray into Florida, campaigning for state candidates, only boosted his political fortunes. From the Orlando Sun-Sentinel:
"Welcome back, Mr. President!" someone yelled from the crowd as Gore took the stage.
"This was the scene of a crime," said West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, whose son, Marine Capt. Benjamin Lubin, has served in Afghanistan.
"We're very proud of him," Frankel said of her son. "But I can tell you, if Al Gore had been president, my son would not have been at war."
"I want to give you a couple of reasons to redouble your efforts," Gore said.
"Voter fraud!" an audience member quickly offered up, to the delight of the crowd.
"I'll let others talk about that, but I like some of what I heard out here," he said.
Call it the looser, freer, funnier Al. Gore 2.0. Maybe if he returned to politics Gore would instantly tighten up and start babbling about lockboxes. But--risking the scorn of many--I think he could pull a Nixon or Reagan and win back the presidency.
IF he's willing to take on his former boss's wife.
U.S. Senator Russ Feingold on Monday asked the Senate to officially censure President Bush for breaking the law by authorizing an illegal wiretapping program, and for misleading Congress and the American people about the existence and legality of that program.
If the Wisconsin Democrat's move were to succeed, Bush would be the first president in 172 years to be so condemned by Congress.
Charging that the President's illegal wiretapping program is in direct violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – which makes it a crime to wiretap Americans in the United States without a warrant or a court order -- Feingold argues that Congress cannot avoid facing the fact that fundamental Constitutional issues are at stake.
"The President must be held accountable for authorizing a program that clearly violates the law and then misleading the country about its existence and its legality," says Feingold. "The President's actions, as well as his misleading statements to both Congress and the public about the program, demand a serious response. If Congress does not censure the President, we will be tacitly condoning his actions, and undermining both the separation of powers and the rule of law."
Feingold's motion faces an uphill fight in a Republican-controlled Senate that does not appear to be inclined to make Bush the first president since Andrew Jackson to be censured by Congress. But it does raise the stakes at a point when the Wisconsin senator and civil libertarians have grown frustrated with the failure of Congress to aggressively challenge the administration's penchant for warrantless wiretapping.
Republican senators have proposed rewriting laws to remove barriers to wiretapping, arguing that the president must have flexibility in order to pursue his war on terror.
But Feingold rejects the suggestion that changing the rules after the fact would absolve the president.
"This issue is not about whether the government should be wiretapping terrorists – of course it should, and it can under current law" Feingold said. "But this President and this administration decided to break the law and they have yet to give a convincing explanation of why their actions were necessary, appropriate, or legal. Passing more laws will not change the fact that the President broke the ones already in place and for that, Congress must hold him accountable." Though the censure procedure is not outlined in the Constitution – as is impeachment – it is well established in the history and traditions of the Congress.
Jackson was censured in 1834 for refusing to cooperate with a Congressional investigation, and there have been many moves over the years to use the procedure to hold president's to account.
In 1998, a then-new online activist group, MoveOn.org, proposed that as an alternative to impeaching Bill Clinton for lying to a grand jury and obstructing justice, the president could be censured. After rejecting impeachment in 1999, senators discussed censuring Clinton but failed to muster the votes to do so.
Last December, U.S. Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, introduced separate resolutions to censure President Bush and Vice President Cheney for refusing to cooperate with Congressional investigations into the manipulation and mismanagement of intelligence by the administration when it was lobbying the House and Senate to authorize and support the invasion of Iraq.
Conyers has also introduced a resolution calling for establishment of a select committee to review the actions of administration with regard to the use of pre-war intelligence and to make recommendations regarding impeachment.
While the impeachment process can lead to the removal of a president or vice president from office, a vote to censure Bush would merely condemn him.
Though Feingold says that the president's actions are "in the strike zone" of meeting the definition of an impeachable offense, the senator argues that censuring Bush is the proper and necessary step at this time. "The president has broken the law and, in some way, he must be held accountable," explained the third-term senator who is considering a run for the presidency in 2008.
"Congress has to reassert our system of government, and the cleanest and the most efficient way to do that is to censure the president," said Feingold, who added that he hoped a censure vote would lead Bush to "acknowledge that he did something wrong."
The White House did not respond to Feingold's announcement. But Republican senators rallied to the administration's defense. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, dismissed the censure move as "a crazy political move" that would weaken the president's hand in a time of war. U.S. Senator John Warner, R-Virginia, accused Feingold of "political grandstanding."
But Feingold's record of challenging the actions of Democrat and Republican administrations may make that charge a tough sell. The ranking Democrat on the Constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feingold has repeatedly clashed with the Bush administration, and before that with the Clinton administration, over separation of powers issues. Indeed, he was the only Democrat who broke party ranks in 1999 to oppose a proposal to dismiss charges against Clinton before the Senate trial on the impeachment charges against the Democratic president had been completed.
An outspoken civil libertarian, the Wisconsin Democrat has a long record of confronting abuses of Constitutional protections by the executive branch.
When it was revealed in December that, despite previous denials by the president and his aides, Bush had repeatedly authorized a secret program by the National Security Agency to listen in on Americans' phone calls, Feingold charged that the spying scheme was indicative of a "pattern of abuse" by a president who was "grabbing too much power."
"We have a system of law. (Bush) just can't make up the law," complained Feingold. "It would turn George Bush not into President George Bush, but King George Bush."
On Monday, March 6, when Anne Braden died, the South lost one of its most dedicated, courageous and feisty fighters for racial justice, civil liberties and economic rights.
I met Anne Braden in the early 1980s when I worked for ABC's "Closeup" unit, one of the last serious documentary divisions at a news network. Our crew spent a week in Louisville, Kentucky, interviewing Anne--and those who had supported, shunned and persecuted her in the 1950s--for The American Inquisition, an hour-long documentary about the impact of the McCarthy era on our nation's politics and society. (It aired in 1983.)
I remember trying to get Anne Braden to tell us about how she came to her radical politics. Some of it was her father, she said. He had been, in Anne's telling--a "committed racist" in a segregationist family. But much of it, as her unusually revealing memoirs The Wall Between explained, came from her work as a newspaper reporter, covering the Birmingham courthouse. That, she told us, "made a radical out of me." As her biographer, Catherine Fosl remembers, Anne explained that seeing "two different systems of justice," where violence against blacks was ignored and violence by blacks was harshly punished, moved her to live a life of radicalism and agitation.
Anne and Carl Braden gained national attention in 1954 when they bought a house for an African-American couple in an all-white neighborhood in Shively, a suburb of Lousiville. As the Lousiville Courier-Journal obituary reports, "In the resulting backlash, assailants shot out the windows, burned a cross in the yard and bombed the house, though no one was hurt. Anne and Carl Braden were charged with sedition and accused of planning the explosion to stir up trouble and to promote Communism--charges the Bradens denied. Carl Braden's eventual conviction was later overturned."
But for many years, as Fosl's invaluable biography Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and The Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South, reminds us, these charges left the Bradens pariahs, "branded as radicals and 'reds' in the Cold War South."
But the Bradens never slowed down. In fact, sedition charges were brought against them again in 1967, this time in Pike County, Kentucky, where they were accused of being communists trying to overthrow the county government. (They had been helping a couple protest strip mining.) "Before the Bradens could be tried," the Journal reported, "a federal appeals court declared Kentucky's sedition law unconstitutional."
For her courageous work, and early stands against segregation, Anne Braden was one of only five white southerners commended by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his historic 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail."
In the late 1950s, into the 1970s, Anne Braden traveled throughout the South, chronicling racial injustices and the struggles they provoked for the Southern Patriot monthly newspaper, which she edited from 1957-73. She and her husband Carl, who died in 1975, were also generous mentors to a generation of Southern activists.
When she was named, not long ago, to the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame, Anne Braden said: "The battle goes on as far as I'm concerned. You can't give up."
She lived what she preached. "As feisty and dedicated as ever," Fosl writes, "Braden joined other Lousiville activists last fall on buses bound for the anti-war demonstration in Washington, DC even though she was in a wheelchair."
Anne Braden's 1958 book, The Wall Between, was recently reisssued with a 40-page epilogue by the University of Tennessee.
For those who wish to continue Anne Braden's work, donations can be made to the Carl Braden Memorial Center, 3208 West Broadway, Louisville,Kentucky, 40211. Or, make gifts and contributions to the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.
And for a new generation of subversive Southerners--and Americans--I recommend that you buy a few copies of Catherine Fosl's biography of Anne Braden.(Share with your relatives, colleagues and anyone in need of some inspiration these days.)
President Bush, after watching his already low approval rating take a dive because of his mishandling of the issue, wants memories of the controversy about whether Dubai Ports World should run six east coast ports to fade away fast.
Republicans in Congress, well aware that severe damage has been done to the public impression that their party is serious about national security, want the controversy to go away.
Democrats in Congress, punch drunk from the experience of actually prevailing in a standoff with the White House, appear to be quite willing to pop the champagne corks and declare victory.
And a Washington press corps that loves neat little stories with beginnings and ends – even if the "end" in this case takes the form of a clear-as-mud announcement by the UAE firm that it would shift control of the ports of New York and other major cities to a "U.S. entity" -- is more than willing to bend once more to the will of official Washington.
But the one member of Congress who just can't quite go with the flow – perhaps because his past breaks with conventional wisdom have so frequently put him on the right side of history – is not letting go.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the Cleveland Democrat who knows a thing or two about ports from his days as mayor of a big city on Lake Erie in the days when Great Lakes ports were still going strong, is not willing to pretend that all the issues raised by the administration's attempt to sneak through approval of a move that would have shifted operational control of the six ports Dubai Ports World have been settled.
"The port deal is not dead," says Kucinich. "Much as they would like to, Congress must not allow this Administration to sweep this under the rug. Congress must fulfill its Constitutional duty and provide aggressive oversight of this ill-advised and misguided deal. Congress must continue to investigate this deal to ensure similar deals, which put the security of our nation at grave risk, can not happen again."
Kucinich, the ranking Democratic member of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, has invoked the House's little used "Resolution of Inquiry" procedure in an attempt to force the Bush administration to turn over documents relating to whatever security review was conducted with regard to the port deal.
Specifically, Kucinich is demanding that the White House and the Department of Homeland Security turn over to Congress:
1. All documents in their possession regarding the December 13, 2005, Coast Guard Intelligence Coordination Center document – materials which could show that the Bush administration had been informed of security concerns regarding the UAE firm.
2. All documents in their possession regarding discussions between the White House and Dubai Ports World relating to the Committee on Foreign Investment process for approving the acquisition – materials which could show that the administration worked with the UAE firm to help advance the deal.
3. All documents in their possession regarding discussions between the White House and the Carlyle Group between October 1, 2005, and March 2, 2006 – materials which could shed light on whether the president's enthusiasm for the port deal might have been stoked by contacts with international business interests with which his father remains closely associated.
How far will Kucinich get with his demand for documents from a White House that is never forthcoming when it comes to cooperating with Congress? That depends, in large part, on his fellow House Democrats, and on those scared House Republicans who were so busy claiming to the cameras that they wanted to "get to the bottom" of all the issues raised by the port deal.
Under House rules, when a member introduces a Resolution of Inquiry, it must be taken up by an appropriate committee – in this case the House Financial Services Committee -- within 14 legislative days. If the committee, which of course has a Republican majority, votes to votes to squelch the resolution, then the White House is off the hook. That's likely to happen unless House Democrats pick up Kucinich's call and make enough noise to keep this issue alive.
If Congress ran as it should, this would not be a partisan issue. In the past, members of the president's part often demanded accountability from the Executive Branch. But, in this almost fully dysfunctional Congress, only a united Democratic demand will give Kucinich's important initiative a chance. Unfortunately, House Democrats have tended to put the "d" in dysfunctional for some time now. So Kucinich could, again, be left in the unenviable position of having to wait for history to again prove him right.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
No matter how many polls show that the majorityof American citizens (and eventroops) want a speedy withdrawal from Iraq, the stay-the-course consensus continues to suffocate DC.
Yet, while politicians may be able to ignore polls, it's harder for them to ignore concerted, collective action in the form of official resolutions. On the eve of the third anniversary of the Iraq war, resolutions from America's largest cities, labor organizations, and religious groups are calling for our troops to come home.
The nationwide push for local resolutions is being led by Cities for Progress, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies, which also works towards passing local bills on extending health care benefits, establishing living wages and opposing the Patriot Act. Themovement has grown considerably since its inception last March, when dozens of towns and cities in Vermont first called for withdrawal.Currently, 76 municipalities including Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Sacramento, have joined in.
And some of the smaller towns that have passed resolutions are making a big impact as well. In December, the town of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania passed a resolution in support of Rep. Jack Murtha's plan for US troops to come home from Iraq in six months. That month, Wikinsburg's Rep. Mike Doyle announced that he was co-sponsoring Murtha's bill.
"These resolutions are an expression of the will of the people that is simply not being heard on Capitol Hill," said Karen Dolan, director of Cities for Progress. "This is direct democracy, and it gives average Americans a microphone to say 'I am frustrated, I want my tax dollars spent in my own town, I want our children back home.' It's a unique and exciting new avenue for regular people to make their voices heard."
This Spring, in Wisconsin, 31 different communities will have a referendum on the ballot. "Polls are a passive conduit, but when citizens are out going door-to-door, expressing serious commitment, getting thousands ofsignatures, and getting resolutions passed, it sends a direct message to members of Congress," said George Martin of Coalition for a Just Peace, which is behind the Wisconsin resolution push. Martin says the antiwarmovement is flourishing on the local level because residents are increasingly disturbed by the way the Iraq effort is depleting much-needed local resources. "It's very clearly illustrated by the Katrina tragedy.Local guard and reserves are supposed to serve their own communities and they weren't available because of Iraq. Equipment that could have been used to dig dirt for the levees was in Iraq," said Martin.
Organized labor and religious groups have joined in on the resolutions movement as well. Last July, the AFL-CIO called for "the rapid return of UStroops" and a rapidlygrowing list of local, state, and national labor organizations have passed similar resolutions.
Last October, the United Methodist Church passed a resolution calling for withdrawal. "It is my hope andprayer that our statement against the war in Iraq will be heard loud and clear by our fellow United Methodists, President Bush and Vice President Cheney," said Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the UMC's Board of Churchand Society. "Conservative and liberal board members worked together to craft a strong statement calling for the troops to come home and for those responsible for leading us into this disastrous war to be held accountable."
A month later, the Union of Reform Judaism--which, with 1.5 million members, represents the largest Jewish movement in the US--voted to bring the troops home.
Meanwhile, scores of prominent individuals within the religious community have publicly voiced opposition to the continuing occupation.
"The role the faith community has to play in social change is critical; we were major players in the movements for civil rights and workers rights," says Peter Lems of the American Friends Service Committee. "It can't really happen without us, and leaders are starting to speak out and encourage political action. We may not prevail on the day of the third anniversary, but we'll be several steps closer."
As resolutions from towns, cities, labor, and religious organizations continue to pile up, it is becoming abundantly clear that those who want to retain their seats in '06 will have no choice but to listen.
Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.
Rarely has the disconnect between the faith of the American people in the bedrock principle that it is possible to be safe and free and the failure of faith on the part of their elected leaders been more evident than in recent days.
There is no question that, outside of Washington, concern runs deep about the assaults on basic liberties contained in the Patriot Act. Eight state legislative chambers – in Alaska, California, Colorado Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana and Vermont -- and 397 local government bodies in communities large and small nationwide have passed resolutions urging Congress to fix the act so that Constitutional protections are not sacrificed in pursuit of the false promise of domestic security.
Americans understand and respect Benjamin Franklin's warning that: "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both."
They also understand and respect U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold's calculation that, with minor changes, the Patriot Act could have preserved "both the national security needs of this country and the rights and freedoms of its citizens."
As the Wisconsin Democrat battled to fix the Patriot Act by eliminating unconstitutional provisions, Feingold reminded the Congress that, "The negative reaction to the Patriot Act has been overwhelming. Over 400 state and local government bodies passed resolutions pleading with Congress to change the law. Citizens have signed petitions, library associations and campus groups have organized to petition the Congress to act, numerous editorials have been written urging Congress not to reauthorize the law without adequate protections for civil liberties. These things occurred because Americans across the country recognize that the Patriot Act includes provisions that pose a threat to their privacy and liberty -- values that are at the very core of what this country represents, of who we are as a people."
Yet, when the Senate and House had an opportunity to make necessary and possible reforms to the act – by protecting the rights of innocent Americans against abuses by government agencies using the act's provisions allowing for subpoena-like "national security letters" and the seizure of library, medical and business records – both chambers chose instead to acquiesce to the Bush administration's demand that the measure be reauthorized without meaningful changes in its content and character.
In the Senate last week, only nine senators -- eight Democrats and Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords -- joined Feingold in holding out for a Patriot Act that preserves basic freedoms and national security. Disappointingly, a number of usual stalwarts for civil liberties, such as Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, sided with the administration, as did Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and New York Democrat Hillary Clinton. (Feingold, who is getting more serious about seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, would have plenty to debate with Clinton, who is generally seen as the frontrunner for the party's nod.)
In the House, this week's final vote for reauthorization of the act in the form favored by the White House was 280-138. The 138 foes of reauthorization included 124 Democrats, 13 Republicans and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders -- the chamber's most ardent champion of fixing the Patriot Act.
Unfortunately, while veteran Republicans such as Ohio's Mike Oxley and Alaska's Don Young could bring themselves to vote against reauthorization, some of the key Democrats in the House could not. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, voted "no," but Assistant Minority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rahm Emanuel, D-Illinois, sided with the White House.
Feingold says the fight will continue, and he may have some new allies in the Senate after November. In addition to Sanders, who is running as an independent for Vermont's open Senate seat and leads in every poll, Representative Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who is challenging Republican Mike DeWine, voted against reauthorization. On the other hand, Representative Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, who is seeking an open Senate seat, voted with the administration. Cardin faces a number of primary challengers for the Maryland Democratic nomination, including former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who argues that, "Most of all, in our fight against the threat of terror, we must not surrender our essential liberties in the name of preserving liberty."
When five Vermont towns voted for resolutions urging Congress to impeach President Bush, there were many in the media who dismissed the move as purely symbolic. But the local daily newspaper in southeastern Vermont, the 130-year-old Brattleboro Reformer, takes a different view.
"In a place where elections can't be stolen and the spinmeisters have no effect, people in five Vermont towns stood up and said, "Enough!" the Reformer editorialized, adding that, "This nation can't take another three years of failed policies, reckless wars and a pervasive culture of corruption and cronyism. Vermont has led the way in the past. We can do it again. We hope Tuesday marks the beginning of a nationwide debate over the continued legitimacy of the Bush presidency."
Here's the entire editorial:
In Vermont, we take great pride in our tradition of direct democracy and how we can have a say not just in how things are run in our towns, but also on bigger issues like war and peace. Last year, more than 40 towns across Vermont approved a nonbinding referendum regarding the deployment of the Vermont National Guard in Iraq.
In doing so, Vermont became the first state to debate the deployment of the National Guard.
This year, five Vermont towns went beyond the Iraq war to take on the architect of it -- George W. Bush.
In Newfane, Marlboro, Putney and Dummerston, as well as the central Vermont town of Brookfield, town meeting voters approved a measure to demand that our Congressman, independent Bernard Sanders, file articles of impeachement to remove Bush from office.
That isn't surprising, considering the state's tradition of using Town Meeting Day to consider issues beyond road repair and school funding.
In 1974, several Vermont towns had town meeting votes calling for the impeachment of Richard Nixon. In the early 1980s, Vermont gave the nuclear freeze movement a kick-start with town meeting votes that eventually inspired other states to debate the need for more nuclear weapons. The vote on impeachment Tuesday follows this pattern of voting locally to act globally.
As Dan DeWalt, the Newfane Selectboard member who started this whole process by getting an impeachment article on Newfane's town meeting warrant, told reporters Tuesday, "In the U.S. presently, there are only a few places where citizens can act in this fashion and have a say in our nation."
In a place where elections can't be stolen and the spinmeisters have no effect, people in five Vermont towns stood up and said, "Enough!"
Sadly, Sanders won't be introducing articles of impeachment. He said Tuesday that Republican control of Congress makes it "impractical to talk about impeachment."
We disagree. More than two dozen House members have co-sponsored a resolution calling for the formation of a select committee that would make recommendations regarding impeachment. Sanders ought to join that group and forcefully push for impeachment proceedings to begin.
This nation can't take another three years of failed policies, reckless wars and a pervasive culture of corruption and cronyism. Vermont has led the way in the past. We can do it again. We hope Tuesday marks the beginning of a nationwide debate over the continued legitimacy of the Bush presidency.
Ann Tyson reports in the Washington Post yesterday that the Pentagon wants $500 million to convert 24 Trident missiles currently armed with nuclear warheads into rockets carrying conventional warheads.
But there is a serious problem with this plan. Defense officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, "acknowledge a major risk is that other nations could conceivably misinterpret a conventional missile attack as a nuclear strike."
Nuclear experts concur that "the possibility for confusion would be high because U.S. submarines capable of launching the missiles could be armed with conventional and nuclear varieties."
Further, a threatened nation would have to make such a determination under the most dire circumstances, with an average flight time of 12-24 minutes to hit targets 5,000-6,000 miles away.
Victoria Samson, Research Analyst at the Center for Defense Information commented, "Shifting these ICBM's into conventional weapons involves too much trust. How will unfriendly nations know these are conventional? Will they trust us enough to believe us? Would we trust them? With nuclear weapons, we can't afford any misconceptions."
And all of this is twenty years after Gorbachev and Reagan nearly worked out a deal at the Reykjavik Summit to abolish nuclear weapons. This is much more than a step backwards… it is a step towards unleashing an unintended nuclear war.
Testing has already begun, and one of the two warheads has been developed. We would be wise to contact our representatives immediately and let them know we want no part of this madness.
Jack Abramoff is singing to Vanity Fair and planning to "name names" when his trial begins in Florida later this month. Duke Cunningham will soon serve eight years in the slammer, the longest sentence ever given to a congressman for crimes in office. Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, Conrad Burns and others may share a similar fate.
But things are eerily business as usual on Capitol Hill, as the Senate takes up lobbying reform this week and the House plans a vote before Easter. Already the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee last week voted against one of the few good proposals--introduced by Senator Barack Obama--to create an independent ethics enforcement agency that would compliment and bolster the pathetically inactive ethics committee. The proposal went down 11-5, a telling precursor of things to come. Wrote Public Citizen's Craig Holman:
The committee hearing was extremely disheartening. Most members argued there simply is no Congressional ethics problem; that the public's perception of corruption on Capitol Hill is a myth. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) had to the gall to mock the public's concerns by offering several ridiculous amendments, including one that would prohibit government buildings from being named after living senators. Coburn said he was planning to introduce the amendments in "jest," as a way of snickering at our calls for reform.
Ha, ha, Coburn's quite the comedian. But he's not laughing alone. When the Senate Democrats offered their surprisingly strong "Honest Leadership Act" on the floor this week it too saw defeat, on a 55-44 party line vote. Instead the Senate unanimously passed a law forbidding lobbyists from buying lawmakers meals and drinks. The poor impoverished Senators, as Trent Lott sulked, will be forced to eat with their wives.
Other coming amendments, CQ reported, "are likely to be accepted without a roll call vote, thus avoiding a potentially harmful public record of positions taken on 'good government' legislation."
Silly me. I could've sworn I heard Senators boasting weeks ago that sunlight was supposed to be the best disinfectant.
Let's extend the discussion we're having here on immigration reform another round or so. Below this post you can read of my colleague Sam Graham-Felsen's hopes for the much-needed DREAM act to come to fruition.
Frankly,just as the Senate starts marking up its immigration reform bill before a March 27 deadline, the lights on the whole border enhcilada are alarmingly dimming out. Dreams are more likely to end as nightmares. Yes, the Republican restrictionists on Capitol Hill are doing a fine job of sandtrapping more moderate reformers.
But let's stop for a moment and ponder what a piss-poor job the Democrats are also doing.
First there's the case of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano picking Wednesday as the day to annouce she is ordering more National Guardsmen posted on the border. NO accident this comes on the very same day that the Senate debate begins. Even less doubt that this is the most numb-skulled sort of political demagogy. Napolitano knows very well that sending down a couple of hundred Guard members to simply ride along with Border Patrol agents and back them up on techincal and administrative affairs is gonna have a 0.0% effect on plugging up illegal immigration leaks. But the dispatch of the troops sure reads great in those headlines -- ain't that right Governor? On a day when when we need maximum clarity, we get cheap grandstanding and pandering to the other side.
More flummoxing are the political declarations today of Hillary Clinton. After a long studied silence on the immigration issue, Ms. Clinton finally spoke out today saying that some of the Republican border reform plans currently out there would set up a "police state." (My, my America is an accelerated decline -- moving from plantations to police states in barely a months time!)
The truly offensive part of Ms.Clinton's remarks derive not so much from her well-known cowardice on this issue, but more so from the ghastly border policies enacted by Mister Clinton last decade. In the mid-90's, President Clinton imposed draconian lockdowns on traditional urban crossing points from San Diego across to El Paso. The macabre result was to re-route the flow of the udocumented out into the most hostile and unpopulated deserts. The death toll of those trying to cross rose from 30-50 year in the first two years of Clinton to 300 and 400 where it remains today. Worse, in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton passed a set of immigration regs that immediately led to the summary deportations of tens of thousands of immigrants, some of them legal residents. So you know what? I really don't want to hear a word out of Hillary on this issue except, mayb,e "I'm sorry."
Finally, the wire reports inform us that on this, the first crucial day of Senate Judiciary Committee mark-up on the proposed reform, the Dems were basically AWOL. The San Jose Mercury News reports that:
No more than eight of the 18 members on the Senate panel were ever in the meeting room at one time Wednesday. Under the committee rules, it takes eight members to vote on amendments and 10 to actually vote on the total bill. And at least two members from each party have to be there.
For much of the time, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was the lone Democrat although Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., came and went as did a few others.
Specter, R-Pa., repeatedly asked the staff of the absent senators to summon them and said if this continues he will start asking those not showing up if they "really" want to be a member of the usually coveted panel.
A DREAM act? More like Deam On! The growing consensus of expert immigration watchers is that this whole process -- years in the making-- seems headed for a crash and burn over the next few weeks. There just aren't enough Republicans who will fend off the wackos from their right fringe. And the President, who once had honroable positions on this issue, has retreated back into his bubble. And there aren't enough Democrats out there ready to make common cause with the likes of McCain or even Bush to get something done that might be actually good for the country.
Here's the early line from the consulting oddsmakers I keep retained on my mammoth staff: They'll offer you today about 6 to 1 that there will be no comprehensive reform and that within a few months we will be back to where we were a year ago -- nowhere.Said one smarty pants immigration lawyer I know: The Republicans are on the verge of doing to immigration what Hillary Clinton did last decade to Health Care -- Set it back several decades!