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When Senator Russ Feingold opposed the original version of the Patriot Act in 2001, the Wisconsin Democrat was alone in his defense of the Constitution.
This year, as Feingold led the frustrating fight to block reauthorization of the Patriot Act in a form that continues to threaten basic liberties, he left no doubt that he was entirely willing to stand alone once more. To colleagues who suggested that it was appropriate to trade a little liberty for the White House's promise of more security in the war on terror, the senator declared: "Without freedom, we are not America. If we don't preserve our liberties, we cannot win this war, no matter how many terrorists we capture or kill."
When the key vote came Thursday, Feingold found he was not entirely alone. Along with Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords, eight Democrats joined Feingold in voting "no" to reauthorization. The eight were:
Hawaii's Daniel Akaka
New Mexico's Jeff Bingaman
West Virginia's Robert Byrd
Iowa's Tom Harkin
Vermont's Patrick Leahy
Michigan's Carl Levin
Washington's Patty Murray
Oregon's Ron Wyden.
While Feingold was not on his own this time, the vote was still lopsided -- 89-10 to renew and extend expiring portions of the Patriot Act, with Hawaii Democrat Dan Inouye not voting. Despite earlier talk by many members of both parties about the need to stand firm in defense of basic Constitutional protections, all Republicans and the vast majority of Senate Democrats sided with the Bush White House in favor of legislation that still, among other things, permits an administration with a penchant for warrantless wireatpping to obtain secret orders allowing it to search private records held by libraries, medical clinics, businesses and financial institutions.
The Patriot Act reauthorization also allows government agencies to issue national-security letters, which are for all practical purposes subpoenas, without the approval of the courts.
The increasingly lamentable Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, chirped that, "Our support for the Patriot Act does not mean a blank check for the president."
Reid was, of course, wrong.
One senator who got it right was the dean of the chamber, West Virginia's Byrd, who not only voted against resuthorization but also apologized for failing to join Feingold in 2001 to oppose the Patriot Act in its original form
"There is no doubt that constitutional freedoms will never be abolished in one fell swoop, for the American people cherish their freedoms, and would not tolerate such a loss if they could perceive it," explained Byrd. "But the erosion of freedom rarely comes as an all-out frontal assault but rather as a gradual, noxious creeping, cloaked in secrecy, and glossed over by reassurances of greater security."
As the U.S. Senate moved Thursday to reauthorize the Patriot Act in a form that fails to address essential concerns about the protection of civil liberties, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, the chamber's most ardent critic of reauthorization along the lines demanded by the Bush administration, admitted temporary defeat. But, in final remarks to his colleagues on the eve of the vote, Feingold declared, "This fight is not over Mr. President. The vote today will not assuage the deep and legitimate concerns that the public has about the Patriot Act. I am convinced that in the end, the government will respond to the people, as it should. We will defeat the terrorists, and we will preserve the freedom and liberty that make this the greatest country on the face of the earth."
Here is the text of the speech Feingold -- the only senator to oppose the initial version of the Patriot Act in 2001 and one of the few to consistently oppose it throughout the reauthorization process -- prepared for delivery to the Senate:
Mr. President, in a few minutes, the Senate will conclude a process that began over a year ago by reauthorizing the Patriot Act. I will have a few closing remarks but first I want to take this opportunity to thank the extraordinary staff who have worked on this bill for so long. These men and women, on both sides of the aisle, have worked extremely hard and they deserve to be recognized. I ask unanimous consent that a list of their names be printed in the Record after my remarks.
Mr. President, beginning in November when we first saw a draft of the conference report, I have spoken at length about the substance of this bill. I hoped that when we started the task of reauthorizing the Patriot Act at the beginning of last year, the end product would be something that the whole Senate could support. We had a real chance to pass a bill that would both reauthorize the tools to prevent terrorism and fix the provisions that threaten the rights and freedoms of innocent Americans. This conference report, even as amended by the bill incorporating the White House deal that we passed yesterday, falls well short of that goal. I will vote no.
Protecting the country from terrorism while also protecting our rights is a challenge for every one of us, particularly in the current political climate, and it is a challenge we all take seriously. I know that many Senators who will vote for this reauthorization bill in a few minutes would have preferred to enact the bill we passed without a single objection in July of last year. I appreciate that so many of my colleagues came to recognize the need to take the opportunity presented by the sunset provisions included in the original Patriot Act to make changes that would better protect civil liberties than did the law we enacted in haste in October 2001.
Nevertheless, I am deeply disappointed that we have largely wasted this opportunity to fix the obvious problems with the Patriot Act.
The reason I spent so much time in the past few days talking about how the public views the Patriot Act was to make it clear that this fight was not about one Senator arguing the details of the law. This fight was about trying to restore the public's trust in our government. That trust has been severely shaken as the public learned more about the Patriot Act, which was passed with so little debate in 2001, and as the administration resisted congressional oversight efforts and repeatedly politicized the reauthorization process. The revelations about secret warrantless surveillance late last year only confirmed the suspicions of many in our country that the government is willing to trample the rule of law and constitutional guarantees in the fight against terrorism.
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.
In 2001, we were viciously attacked by terrorists who care nothing for American freedoms and American values. And we as a people came together to fight back, and we are prepared to make great sacrifices to defeat those who would destroy us. But what we will not do, what we cannot do, is destroy our own freedoms in the process.
Without freedom, we are not America. If we don't preserve our liberties, we cannot win this war, no matter how many terrorists we capture or kill.
That is why the several Senators who have said at one time or another during this debate things like, "Civil liberties do not mean much when you are dead" are wrong about America at the most basic level. They do not understand what this country is all about. Theirs is a vision that the founders of this nation, who risked everything for freedom, would categorically reject. And so do the American people.
Americans want to defeat terrorism, and they want the basic character of this country to survive and prosper. They want to empower the government to protect the nation from terrorists, and they want protections against government overreaching and overreacting. They know it might not be easy, but they expect the Congress to figure out how to do it. They don't want defeatism on either score. They want both security and liberty, and unless we give them both – and we can, if we try – we have failed.
This fight is not over Mr. President. The vote today will not assuage the deep and legitimate concerns that the public has about the Patriot Act. I am convinced that in the end, the government will respond to the people, as it should. We will defeat the terrorists, and we will preserve the freedom and liberty that make this the greatest country on the face of the earth.
I yield the floor.
San Francisco's Board of Supervisors is not the first local government body to pass a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, nor will it be the last.
But because San Francisco is one of America's best-known and best-loved cities --unless you're Fox News bloviator Bill O'Reilly, who last fall went on air to suggest landmarks there that terrorists might want to strike -- the news has drawn wider attention to the burgeoning movement for impeachment. It has also exposed another embarrassing rift between top Democrats and grassroots party activists and elected officials around the country.
Tuesday's 7-3 vote by San Francisco's Board of Supervisors for Democratic Supervisor Chris Daly's resolution urging California's Congressional representatives to pursue impeachment pushed no new limits. The bill of particulars discussed by Daly and other supervisors echoed concerns raised by U.S. Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and the 26 House members currently cosponsoring Conyers' call for creation of a select committee to investigate administration preparations for war with Iraq before obtaining congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouragement and countenancing of torture, and retaliation against critics. That committee would be charged with, among other things, making recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.
While a number of Bay Area representatives are among the cosponsors of the Conyers resolution -- including Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey -- the most powerful member of the House from region, and the primary representative of the city of San Francisco, is not on board. Indeed, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi seems to be almost as frightened by the word "impeachment" as the right-wing talk radio hosts who doth protest too much whenever it is mentioned.
Pelosi was confronted at a January town hall meeting in San Francisco by constituents who detailed administration misdeeds and chanted: "Impeach! Impeach!" Her response, according to a San Francisco Bay Guardian report, was initially a political one: "For those of you concerned about these issues, I urge you to channel your energies into the 2006 elections," she told the crowd.
Pressed on whether she would join senior Democrats in the California delegation -- such as Pete Stark and Maxine Waters -- in backing the House resolution to investigate matters related to impeachment, Pelosi answered that, "I do not intend to support Mr. Conyers's resolution."
Seeking to quiet the ensuing chorus of boos, Pelosi said, "We have a responsibility to try to bring this country together." According to Guardian report, one of the San Franciscans in the audience shouted back, "You have a responsibility to uphold the Constitution!"
That response is no longer just a shout from the crowd. It has been endorsed by the board of supervisors of the city Pelosi supposedly represents.
According to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, a new poll shows that 72 percent of U.S. troops serving in Iraq favor complete withdrawal from that country within a year.
Despite the claims of the armchair strategists in the White House and its amen corner in the media, who suggest that calls for withdrawal represent a failure to "support the troops," the troops themselves are ready to come home.
Only 23 percent of the soldiers surveyed in January and February for the Zogby International/Le Moyne College poll echoed the administration line that the U.S. presence in Iraq should be maintained for "as long as needed."
According to the pollster's analysis, there is remarkably broad support among the troops for immediate withdrawal.
"Of the 72 percent (who support withdrawal), 22 percent said troops should leave within the next six months, and 29 percent said they should withdraw 'immediately.' Twenty-one percent said the US military presence should end within a year," according to Zogby's review of the results of the survey, which was conducted before the recent explosive of sectarian violence in Iraq.
Around the country this spring, opponents of the war are promoting local resolutions and referendums -- particularly in Wisconsin, where more than two dozen measures will be on April 4 local election ballots in cities, villages and towns around the state -- that are intended to give citizens an opportunity to call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Critics of these initiatives suggest that it is unpatriotic and anti-military to talk about bringing the troops home. They don't like the idea of letting citizens play a role in establishing foreign policy priorities.
There are plenty of appropriate responses to this anti-democratic tendency on the part of those who are more loyal to George Bush and Dick Cheney than they are to their country's Constitution and its best political traditions -- beginning with: "When we fought that revolution back in 1776, your position lost."
But the best response of all might well be to say: If you really want to support the troops -- as opposed to the Bush-Cheney administration's warped policies -- why not listen to the troops? Indeed, why not let them vote in an advisory referendum of their own on whether they think the occupation of Iraq should continue?
Of course, the administration's apologists -- along with many more pragmatic players -- would respond to such a proposal with all the reasons why it is dangerous and unwise to treat the military as a democracy.
But if citizens are not supposed to advocate for withdrawal because doing so represents a failure to "support the troops," and if the troops who want to withdraw are not allowed to weigh in for all the practical reasons that might be cited, then what are we left with? No debate. No democracy. And no chance to set right what this administration and its neoconservative gurus have put wrong.
Ultimately, that's a fine scenario for George Bush and Dick Cheney, but its the wrong one for citizens at home and troops abroad. The right one is to recognize that, when citizens advocate, petition and vote for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq they are supporting the troops.
Ruling on an issue that had divided progressive groups for the better part of two decades, the Supreme Court on Tuesday issued an 8-0 decision that federal extortion and racketeering laws cannot be used to ban demonstrations outside abortion clinics.
The decision is being portrayed as a victory for anti-choice groups such as Operation Rescue and the Pro-Life Action Network. That is surely the case, as the court has conclusively rejected arguments for an on-and-off nationwide injunction that had been used to prevent anti-abortion groups from protesting outside clinics in a manner that, by all reasonable evidence, was intended to prevent the clinics from operating.
Effectively, the high court has rejected arguments, formulated by lawyers for the National Organization for Women in the 1980s, that civil provisions of the 1970 Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was adopted as a tool to combat organized crime, and the Hobbs Act, an older anti-extortion measure, could be used to bar protests by groups that clearly intend to prevent clinics from operating.
But from the beginning of the long fight over clinic protests, some progressive groups have argued that, even if the anti-choice organizations involved were noxious players, broader issues of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly were also in play.
It is for that reason that the AFL-CIO, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the position of the anti-choice groups, will see itself as having secured a sort of victory with this particular court ruling. While they disagree officially, and often passionately, with the anti-choice groups on fights over court nominations and other issues, labor organizations weighed in on the side of the clinic protesters because of honest fears that lawsuits and injunctions based on a broad interpretation of racketeering and extortion laws could be used to undermine strikes, anti-sweatshop protests and similar agitations on behalf of social and economic justice that target businesses.
Bob Blakey, a former Congressional aide who drafted the RICO Act has argued that its use in litigation against anti-choice groups "will unconstitutionally chill social protest." Many anti-choice activists have cynically echoed Blakey's line, while conveniently failing to stand up for the rights of labor, environmental and anti-war groups to engage in protests of the sort they defend.
NOW President Kim Gandy countered Blakey's argument by writing that, "As a national officer of NOW, I know that the National Organization for Women has a strong interest in preserving free expression. As former counsel in this case, I know that we have been scrupulous in addressing issues of violence, not speech or peaceful demonstrations.
"NOW's marches, informational pickets and sidewalk demonstrations are effective and legal. Anti-abortion activists have the same right to distribute pamphlets and display signs and make their voices heard. But no group has a right to use violence or threats of violence to force others to give up their constitutional rights.
"Racketeering is not free speech. Marching in front of a clinic, carrying signs and distributing literature is free speech. When that picket becomes a brutal blockade . . . when those signs are used as weapons . . . when prayers change to overt threats . . . then the "protest" has crossed the line into violence and lawlessness, and has left the First Amendment behind."
But that line of reasoning did not convince the AFL-CIO, which historically has eschewed taking an official stand on abortion rights but has worked closely with pro-choice organizations such as Emily's List in recent years, and AFL affiliate unions and groups -- some of which, such as the Coalition or Labor Union Women, are ardently pro-choice. The AFL's lawyers argued against the broad interpretation of racketeering and extortion laws, on the grounds that unions could be targeted by similar civil suits in efforts by corporations to restrict pickets by labor unions.
Justice Stephen Breyer picked up on the AFL's arguments. Noting that there is a specific federal law that bars the use of force, threats or blockades to interfere with access to reproductive health care -- the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act -- the justice suggested at one point during the long deliberations on these issues that allowing the use of racketeering and extortion laws to restrict protests would "transform virtually every threat of violence anywhere in the United States into a serious federal crime."
To Breyer's view, that would "make a major change in (how) threats of violence (are handled) on the picket line."
The Supreme Court's ruling will not eliminate differences of opinion on where exactly protests enter into the space where they have "left the First Amendment behind." But the unanimous ruling would appear to put an end to the practical legal debate, as the broad interpretation of these laws has been broadly rejected.
In matters of this kind, it is usually best to err on the side of dissent and dissenters. NOW made a credible argument for an exception, but the AFL and other groups made what many considered toi be an equally credible argument that a good exception could become a bad rule. The legal fight, for all intents and purposes, is now done. Unfortunately, with the recent appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the high court and with the move by South Dakota legislators to effectively ban abortion in that state, the national political fight over reproductive rights is heating up. And it is certainly reasonable to suggest that labor organizations, which split with pro-choice groups in the battle over clinic access, citing concerns about protecting the right to protest, have a greater responsibility than ever to work with those pro-choice groups to defend another endangered right -- that of women to make the most fundamental of all choices.
Today's question: What's more dangerous -- hunting with Dick Cheney or bike riding with George Bush?
For background, we offer this report from Murdo MacLeod, the able political correspondent for Edinburgh's Scotland on Sunday newspaper:
US LEADER CRASHED BY TRYING TO 'PEDAL, WAVE AND SPEAK AT THE SAME TIME'
He may be the most powerful man in the world, but proof has emerged that President George Bush cannot ride a bike, wave and speak at the same time.
Scotland on Sunday has obtained remarkable details of one of the most memorably bizarre episodes of the Bush presidency: the day he crashed into a Scottish police constable while cycling in the grounds of Gleneagles Hotel.
The incident, which will do little to improve Bush's accident-prone reputation, began when he took to two wheels for a spot of early-evening exercise during last year's G8 summit at the Perthshire resort.
After a hard day's discussion with fellow world leaders, the president was looking for some relaxation. Instead, he ended up the subject of a police report in which the leader of the free world was described, in classic police language, as a "moving/falling object".
It was "about 1800 hours on Wednesday, 6 July, 2005" that a detachment of Strathclyde police constables, in "Level 2 public order dress [anti-riot gear]," formed a protective line at the gate at the hotel's rear entrance, in case demonstrators penetrated the biggest-ever security operation on Scottish soil.
The official police incident report states: "[The unit] was requested to cover the road junction on the Auchterarder to Braco Road as the President of the USA, George Bush, was cycling through." The report goes on: "[At] about 1800 hours the President approached the junction at speed on the bicycle. The road was damp at the time. As the President passed the junction at speed he raised his left arm from the handlebars to wave to the police officers present while shouting 'thanks, you guys, for coming'.
"As he did this he lost control of the cycle, falling to the ground, causing both himself and his bicycle to strike [the officer] on the lower legs. [The officer] fell to the ground, striking his head. The President continued along the ground for approximately five metres, causing himself a number of abrasions. The officers... then assisted both injured parties."
The injured officer, who was not named, was whisked to Perth Royal Infirmary. The report adds: "While en-route President Bush phoned [the officer], enquiring after his wellbeing and apologising for the accident."
At hospital, a doctor examined the constable and diagnosed damage to his ankle ligaments and issued him with crutches. The cause was officially recorded as: "Hit by moving/falling object."
No details of damage to the President are recorded from his close encounter with the policeman and the road, although later reports said he had been "bandaged" by a White House physician after suffering scrapes on his hands and arms.
At the time Bush laughed off the incident, saying he should start "acting his age".
Details of precisely how the crash unfolded have until now been kept under wraps for fear of embarrassing both Bush and the injured constable. But the new disclosures are certain to raise eyebrows on Washington's Capitol Hill.
Jim McDermott, a Democrat Congressman, last night quipped: "Not only does he break the law over here on eavesdropping and spying on our own citizens, but it seems he can't even keep to your law when it comes to riding a bike. It's another example of how he can't keep his mind on the things he should be thinking about."
Bush often takes to two wheels for exercise, after pain in his knees forced him to give up running. He regularly rides at secret service training facilities near Washington, and the G8 accident is just one in a long list of mishaps. In May 2004, he fell off his mountain bike, grazing his chin, upper lip, nose, both knees, and his right hand, while riding on his ranch in Texas. In June 2003, he fell off his hi-tech Segway scooter.
In Scotland, an accident such as the one at Gleneagles could have led to police action. Earlier this year, Strathclyde Police issued three fixed penalty notices to errant cyclists as part of a crack-down on rogue riders. Legal experts also suggested lesser mortals could have ended up with a fixed penalty fine, prosecution, or at least a good ticking-off from officers.
John Scott, a human rights lawyer, said: "There's certainly enough in this account for a charge of careless driving. Anyone else would have been warned for dangerous driving.
"I have had clients who have been charged with assaulting a police officer for less than this. The issue of how long the police officer was out of action for is also important. He was away from work for 14 weeks, and that would normally be very significant in a case like this."
No-one was available for comment from the White House.
Mr. MacLeod's only error was to contact the White House. For an official response to an incident of this sort, he should have called the woman who owns the Armstrong Ranch in Texas. Notably, she got the story out within 24 hours. This tale of executive excess did not come to light for six months. Still, considering recent developments, the timing could not be better to set Bush and Cheney up for the great bikes vs. bullets debate.
The decision of the Democratic Party in rural Walworth County to call for the impeachment of President Bush, which Katrina vanden Heuvel recounts on this blog, is an encouraging one, indeed. If there is talk of impeachment in Walworth County, a bastion of Badger State conservatism where the president personally campaigned last fall and won almost 60 percent of the vote, then this movement is spreading much further than most national Democratic leaders have dared imagine.
Indeed, in Wisconsin, it has spread far beyond Walworth County. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin overwhelmingly endorsed impeachment of Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at its state convention last June.
Wisconsin Democrats aren't alone on this front. Last month, after the warrantless wiretapping scandal blew up, the executive committee of the North Carolina Democratic Party backed a resolution urging the state's representatives in Washington to support efforts to impeach Bush, Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
The Wisconsin Democratic Party resolution of last June was primarily focused on concerns about the actions taken by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld to promote the invasion and occupation of Iraq. It was advanced by rural and smalltown activists with groups such as the Stoughton Area Democrats -- Stoughton, population 12,354, has been a hotbed of anti-war sentiment going back to World War I, when voters there were big backers of U.S. Senator Robert M. La Follette.
Here's the text of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) resolution
CALLING ON THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS TO INITIATE IMPEACHMENT PROCEEDINGS AGAINST PRESIDENT BUSH, VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY AND DEFENSE SECRETARY RUMSFELD FOR HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS
WHEREAS, the Downing Street Memo shows that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld began planning and executing the war on Iraq before seeking Congressional and UN approval;
WHEREAS, UN weapons inspectors showed prior to the invasion that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; and
WHEREAS, there is further mounting evidence that the Administration lied or misled about "mushroom clouds," "connections to 9/11," and "war as a last resort" as they sought UN, Congressional, and public approvals;
THEREFORE, RESOLVED, the DPW asks Congress to immediately begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.
How serious are Republican -- and some Democratic -- politicians who go on and on about the need to restrict embryonic stem-cell research?
Stem cell research, which scientists believe holds the promise of cures or treatments for everything from diabetes to Alzheimer's disease, is popular with the American people. But it is unpopular with the faction of the anti-choice movement that tends to be most active in Republican primaries. So a lot of prominent Republican politicians tip their hat to the "pro-life" crowd by backing so-called "anti-cloning" bills that purport to restrict mad science but that are really written to prevent promising research projects from going forward.
The cloning critics seek to energize the faithful by backing these silly bills, while at the same time hoping that no one in the broader electorate will notice.
When the issue does become the fodder for a general election campaign, however, all best are off as, suddenly, stem-cell research critics become stem-cell research advocates.
That's what has happened in Missouri, where Republican U.S. Senator Jim Talent has a long and ugly record as an outspoken advocate for the sort of restrictions on stem-cell research that are favored by the anti-choice movement.
Talent, who has never been a particularly popular senator, faces a tough challenge this year from Democrat Claire McCaskill, the very popular state auditor. McCaskill has actually been running ahead of Talent in some polls. She's a supporter of stem-cell research, who is highlighting that stance in her campaign. "We should be promoting hope for people suffering with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, ALS, spinal cord injuries, and other debilitating diseases," said McCaskill, when she announced her support for a Missouri ballot initiative that seeks to guarantee that research into lifesaving cures can be done in the state.
"Stem cell research holds the promise of saving lives and alleviating the pain and suffering endured by so many of our people," added McCaskill. "This initiative enables Missouri doctors and researches to be at the forefront of lifesaving research and it has my support."
In a state where polls show voters favor embryonic stem-cell research by a 2-1 margin. Talent felt the heat. So, last week, he withdrew as a co-sponsor of a federal anti-cloning bill that that seeks to outlaw what many scientists see as one of the most promising forms of embryonic stem-cell research. Talent's tortured speech announcing his new stance, in which he announced that he had come across "an ethically untroubling way" for obtaining embryonic stem cells that can be used in research, was an attempt to blunt McCaskill's appeal. But, as McCaskill noted, Talent still supports many restrictions on stem-cell research.
"Unfortunately," McCaskill says of Talent, "like too many politicians, he's trying to hide his opposition by dancing around science for politics. In a 30-minute long speech chock full of scientific jargon, he attempted to obfuscate his position and distract Missourians from the real issue: why does he think we should criminalize research instead of providing hope and cures for our people?"
McCaskill adds, with the directness that voters should expect of candidates on these issues: "I don't need 30 minutes or even 30 seconds to tell you where I stand. I support hope, I support science, and I support lifesaving cures. Because desperately ill Missourians deserve hope, not political cover -- and scientists deserve support, not handcuffs."
Bob Hagan has for decades been one of Ohio's most progressive-minded and intellectually adventurous legislators. So it comes as no surprise that the Democratic state senator from Youngstown would blaze a new policy-making trail with a plan to reform adoption laws.
Hagan's proposal: Ban Republicans from adopting children.
In an email dispatched to fellow legislators last week, the senator announced his plan to "introduce legislation in the near future that would ban households with one or more Republican voters from adopting children or acting as foster parents."
Explaining that "policymakers in (Ohio) have ignored this growing threat to our communities for far too long," Hagan wrote that: "Credible research exists that strongly suggests that adopted children raised in Republican households, though significantly wealthier than their Democrat-raised counterparts, are more at risk for developing emotional problems, social stigmas, inflated egos, an alarming lack of tolerance for others they deem different than themselves, and an air of overconfidence to mask their insecurities."
"In addition," the Democrat noted, "I have spoken to many adopted children raised in Republican households who have admitted that 'Well, it's just plain boring most of the time.'"
Hagan acknowledges that the "credible research" to which he refers cannot he quantified. But that should not be a problem, he explains, as a bill proposed by Republican state Rep. Ron Hood, R-Ashville, which would prohibit adoptions of children by gay and lesbian couples, suffers from a similar deficiency.
Since Hood's homophobic legislation is not backed by evidence that gay and lesbian parents are in any way detrimental to children, Hagan argues, why should his Republicanphobic legislation have to be grounded in anything more than emotions or ideology. (Hood's proposal, one of many similar measures being pushed around the country in a move by Republicans to stir up their voter base in advance of the 2006 and 2008 elections, would bar children from being placed for adoption or foster care in homes where the prospective parent or anyone else living in the house is gay, lesbian bisexual or transgendered.)
Hagan has no cosponsors for his bill at this point, a circumstance that may have something to do with the fact that the legislation has been proposed, as he says, with "tongue was planted firmly in cheek."
But Hagan does have a point for legislators in Ohio and other states who are wrestling with questions of whether to discriminate against upstanding and responsible citizens whose sexuality does not meet with the approval of the homophobic wing of the Republican party.
"We need to see what we are doing," explained Hagan, who notes that, while Republicans seek to score cheep political points, there are close to 3,000 Ohio children awaiting adoption and close to 20,000 in foster care.
The conservative Cincinnati Enquirer agreed.
Noting that "(Republican Representative) Hood's offensive and discriminatory bill would hurt, not help, children," the usually pro-Republican newspaper observed in an editorial that, "perhaps Hagan's modest proposal gave some folks a taste, however fleeting, of what it would be like to be labeled as a class somehow incapable, unworthy or unacceptable."
But Hagan has the best counter of all to the repeated attempts by Republican legislators to fake up issues involving gays and lesbians -- from amendments to ban same-sex marriage or their new nationwide push on the adoption front. Speaking of Hood's proposal, Hagan says, "It flies in the face of reason when we need to reform our education system, address health care and environmental issues that we put energy and wasted time (into) legislation like this."
Bill Moyers is hitting the road in California for an eight-city speaking tour to raise issues of money and politics. And, as usual, he's got a lot to say about the withering state of our democracy.
But how could anyone think that the Texas-born observer of the American Zeitgeist would avoid comment on the vice presidential "peppering" spree that recently took place in Moyers' home state.
Moyers promises to leave "the rich threads of humor to pluck from the hunting incident in Texas" to The Daily Show's Jon Stewart. But the man who once served as press secretary for former President Lyndon Johnson is intrigued by the backstory of Dick Cheney's trevails that is rich with insight and righteous indignation about what has become of our politics and our public life.
"I can accept Dick Cheney's word that the accident was one of the worst moments of his life. What intrigues me as a journalist now is the rare glimpse we have serendipitously been offered into the tightly knit world of the elites who govern today," says Moyers, who did such a good job of shining the light of public scrutiny on those elites when he hosted PBS's NOW program that Bush administration allies set up a covert campaign to get him off the air.
"The Vice President was hunting on a 50-thousand acre ranch owned by a lobbyist friend who is the heiress to a family fortune of land, cattle, banking and oil (ah, yes, the quickest and surest way to the American dream remains to choose your parents well)," adds Moyers in remarks prepared for his California speaking tour.
"The circumstances of the hunt and the identity of the hunters provoked a lament from The Economist. The most influential pro-business magazine in the world is concerned that hunting in America is becoming a matter of class: the rich are doing more, the working stiffs, less. The annual loss of 1.5 million acres of wildlife habitat and 1 million acres of farm and ranchland to development and sprawl has come "at the expense of ‘The Deer Hunter' crowd in the small towns of the north-east, the rednecks of the south and the cowboys of the west." Their places, says The Economist, are being taken by the affluent who pay plenty for such conveniences as being driven to where the covey cooperatively awaits. The magazine (hardly a Marxist rag, remember) describes Mr. Cheney's own expedition as "a lot closer to ‘Gosford Park' than ‘The Deer Hunter' – a group of fat old toffs waiting for wildlife to be flushed towards them at huge expense.
"At the heart of this story is a metaphor of power. The Vice President turned his host, the lobbyist who is also the ranch owner, into his de facto news manager. She would disclose the shooting only when Cheney was ready and only on his terms. Sure enough, nothing was made public for almost 20 hours until she finally leaked the authorized version to the local newspaper. Ms. Armstrong suggested the blame lay with the victim, who, she indicated, had failed to inform the Vice President of his whereabouts and walked into a hail of friendly fire. Three days later Cheney revised the story and apologized. Don't you wonder what went back and forth with the White House that long night of trying to agree on the official line?
"We do know someone from the hunting party was in touch with Karl Rove at the White House. For certain Rove's the kind of fellow you want on the other end of the line when great concoctions are being hatched, especially if you wish the victim to hang for the crime committed against him."
Describing the whole affair "a study of the inner circle at the top of American politics," Moyers reflects on a recent article by Sidney Blumenthal that notes how incestuous that inner circle has become.
"Armstrong's father invested in Rove's political consulting firm that managed George W. Bush's election as governor of Texas and as president. Her mother, Anne Armstrong, is a longtime Republican activist and donor. Ronald Reagan appointed her to the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board after her tenure as Ambassador to the United Kingdom under President Ford, whose chief of staff was a young Dick Cheney," explains Moyers. "Anne Armstrong served on the board of directors of Halliburton that hired Cheney to run the company. Her daughter, Katherine Armstrong, host of the hunting party, was once a lobbyist for the powerful Houston law firm founded by the family of James A. Baker III, who was chief of staff to Reagan, Secretary of State under the first George Bush, and the man designated by the Bush family to make sure the younger Bush was named President in 2000 despite having lost the popular vote. According to Blumenthal, one of her more recent lobbying jobs was with a large construction firm with contracts in Iraq."
Moyers sums things up with an observation of our times that is as telling as it is chilling: "It is a Dick Cheney world out there –- a world where politicians and lobbyists hunt together, dine together, drink together, play together, pray together and prey together, all the while carving up the world according to their own interests."
John Nichols's book The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."