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Deathbed Czars

As a group of self-posturing macho men not afraid of a little torture, the Republicans do seem to have a habit of trying to take advantage of people when they are literally on their sick beds. Newt Gingrich handed his first wife the divorce papers while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer. Tom Delay and Bill Frist sought, and fortunately failed, to score political points over Terri Schiavo. And now we've learned that Alberto Gonzales made a hospital call to get warrantless wiretaps OK'd.

In riveting Senate testimony worthy of a spy thriller, former Deputy Attorney General James Comey described how then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andy Card raced to a hospital in March 2004 to pressure ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to approve what he, Comey, and FBI Director Robert Miller considered to be an illegal, unconstitutional power grab by the Bush administration. In a rare profile in courage, all three threatened to resign, forcing President Bush to order changes in the program.

"I was very angry," Comey testified. "I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man."

So whom did the White House pick to replace Ashcroft after he had defied Bush? Why Alberto Gonzales, of course.

Big Brother is alive and well.

George Packer Replies

Earlier this month, I argued that pro-war journalists and pundits had escaped real accountability for their support of the disastrous war and occupation in Iraq. I opened by expressing surprise that George Packer in his elegant "Talk of the Town" piece on George Tenet's new memoirs could indict the Bush Administration for coming "close to perfecting the art of unaccountability" without including a critical inventory of his own and other pro-war journalists' accountability. Just the other day, I received an e-mail reply from Packer--someone who's written over the years for this magazine, though not on Iraq. I thought it worth sharing--and with George's permission, I post it here.

Dear Katrina--

I only just read your blog post on my comment about accountability.I appreciated your kind words about it, but I also wanted to answeryour point that I haven't held myself accountable on Iraq. This isuntrue. When I wrote "The Assassins' Gate," well after it was clearthat the Iraq war had gone badly wrong, I let readers know that Ihad supported the war despite many misgivings and much ambivalence--something they would not otherwise have known, since I never wrotea word in support before the war. I "outed" myself when it wasn'tnecessary or in my interest, because I thought I owed it to myreaders. This turned out to be a P.R. mistake, since I'm nowroutinely lumped with all the liberal hawk pundits who cheered onthe march to war. There's nothing I can do to correct thatmisimpression, but I can ask other writers of good will not torepeat it. Since the beginning of the war, I've gone to Iraq againand again to find out what is happening there, and I don't think anhonest reader could say that my reports have been easy on pro-warideas, including my own. What I've written has given war critics agreat deal of ammunition against war supporters, and they have usedit. I've written many times, including in "The Assassins' Gate,"that the war turned out to be a disaster and an epic mistake. Ifall of this isn't holding myself accountable, then your idea ofaccountability is narrower than mine.

Sincerely,George

Not a "Compromise," It's a Blank Check

The question is not whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid flinched in their negotiations with the Bush administration over the continuation of the Iraq occupation.

They did. Despite some happy talk about benchmarks that have been attached to the Iraq supplemental spending bill that is expected to be considered by Congress this week, the willingness of Pelosi and Reid to advance a measure that does not include a withdrawal timeline allows Bush to conduct the war as he chooses for much if not all of the remainder of his presidency. This failure to abide by the will of the people who elected Democrats to end the war will haunt Pelosi, Reid and their party -- not to mention the United States and the battered shell that is Iraq.

This "compromise" legislation is such an embarrassing example of what happens when raw politics overwhelms principle -- and political common sense -- that House Democrats have divided the $12O billion measure into two sections. That will allow Republicans and sold-out Democrats to vote for the president's Iraq funding, while anti-war Democrats and their handful of Republican allies can vote "no." Then both Democratic camps can vote separately for the second section -- including a federal minimum-wage increase and more than $8 billion in funding for domestic programs -- while Republicans oppose this section.

Presuming that both parts pass the House, they will then be sent to the Senate as a single bill for members of that chamber to accept or reject. The end result of this confusing set of legislative maneuvers will be twofold: Lots of House members will be able to avoid accountability for their votes, while Bush will get his blank check.Even Pelosi says she'll vote against the Iraq funding section of the House bill because it lacks "a goal or a timetable" for extracting U.S. troops from the conflict. But, no matter how she votes, Pelosi will have facilitated a process that gives the president more war funding than he had initially requested

But the real story now is not the refusal of the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate to hold steady in the face of the president's cynical claim that refusing him a blank check to maintain his war through the end of his presidency somehow threatens U.S. troops. That has happened and no matter what games are played with voting procedures, the reality is that the Democratic leadership has failed to lead at the most critical juncture.

The question that remains to be answered is a frustrating but significant one: How many Democrats and responsible Republicans will refuse to accept this ugly political calculus?

What we know is that there will be opposition. MoveOn.org, which provided critical cover for the Democratic leadership during earlier fights on the supplemental and related matters, is now urging all Democrats to vote "no" on the war funding -- and it is threatening in-district ad campaigns against Democrats and Republicans who back the measure.

The most genuinely anti-war members will not need any encouragement to reject the deal.

Senator Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who has led the fight to get Congress to use the power of the purse to bring the troops home, immediately announced that he would not follow Reid into the abyss of surrender to a White House that is getting everything that it wants.

"Under the president's Iraq policies, our military has been over-burdened, our national security has been jeopardized, and thousands of Americans have been killed or injured. Despite these realities, and the support of a majority of Americans for ending the President's open-ended mission in Iraq, congressional leaders now propose a supplemental appropriations bill that does nothing to end this disastrous war," says Feingold. "I cannot support a bill that contains nothing more than toothless benchmarks and that allows the President to continue what may be the greatest foreign policy blunder in our nation's history."

Anticipating the cynical gamesmanship of the debate that will play out this week, the Wisconsin Democrat says, "There has been a lot of tough talk from members of Congress about wanting to end this war, but it looks like the desire for political comfort won out over real action. Congress should have stood strong, acknowledged the will of the American people, and insisted on a bill requiring a real change of course in Iraq."

Feingold is, of course, right. But how many senators will join him in voting "no"? That question is especially significant for the four Senate Democrats who are seeking their party's presidential nomination: New York's Hillary Clinton, Illinois' Barack Obama, Delaware's Joe Biden and Connecticut's Chris Dodd. Dodd says he is "disappointed" by the abandonment of the timeline demand; if he presses the point as he did on another recent war-related vote, he could force the hands of the other candidates. If either Clinton or Obama do go ahead and vote for the legislation, and certainly if both of them do so, they will create a huge opening for former North Carolina John Edwards, who has staked out the clearest anti-war position of the front runners for the nomination. But this is about more than just Democratic presidential politics: A number of Senate Republicans who are up for reelection next year -- including Maine's Susan Collins, Minnesota's Norm Coleman and Oregon's Gordon Smith -- may well be casting the most important votes of their political careers.

Collins, Coleman and Smith have tried to straddle the war debate. If they vote to give George Bush another blank check, however, they will have removed any doubt regarding how serious they are about ending the war -- as will their colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

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

Stanford Students Expect "Moral Integrity" from Prez

This morning, eleven Stanford University students began occupying the lobby of their president's office demanding humane conditions for the workers who make clothes and hats bearing their school logo. Specifically, the student activists are asking President John Hennessy to take a constructive role in fighting sweatshops by joining the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) by the end of today (if you're reading this on the East Coast, note that he still has a few hours). The WRC was founded by students and labor rights seven years ago as an alternative to the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a far more industry-influenced monitoring group; the WRC, which has 169 collegiate members, has succeeded in improving conditions for some workers, and many observers agree that the competition has improved the FLA. "We know President Hennessy has the moral integrity to take this step," said Bethany Woolman, a sophomore who was occupying the presidential lobby. "But we know he needs the support of students to do it."

A rally of about 100 students assembled outside the building to support the sit-in, addressed by a woman who'd worked in a sweatshop in Saipan (a U.S. territory where garment industry abuses are egregious). The Stanford students also want their university to sign onto the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), a system devised by the WRC for better protecting garment workers' rights, and enforcing universities' existing codes of conduct. As wonky as it sounds, the DSP's practical approach has caught fire among students. Last week, the University of Washington avoided a sit-in by signing on to the DSP. I recently reported on sit-ins over this issue at University of Southern California and the University of Michigan.

This is the Stanford's second sit-in over labor rights this spring; in April, students went on a hunger strike demanding that Stanford's living wage policy cover more campus workers. The administration met most of their demands but has been remarkably unresponsive on the sweatshop issue. Might last year's $105 million donation to the Stanford Business School by Nike CEO Phil Knight be complicating Hennessy's decision just a wee bit? (Nike is a major manufacturer of collegiate apparel and Knight is a dogged opponent of anti-sweatshop reformers.) It wouldn't be the first time that Knight-ly generosity has informed university policy; seven years ago, the University of Oregon backed out of the WRC after threats from big donor Phil. Stanford's administration hasn't called me back yet, but when they do, I'll let you know what they have to say about this. Meanwhile, a few cops have joined the party and are expected to arrest the students in a couple hours.

MoveOn Surveys Members on Constitutional Rights

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

From Justice to Agriculture Department

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Call to Impeach Gonzales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save Internet Radio

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ivy Leaguers R White Like Us

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

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

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

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