So it looks like New York won't go the way of Massachusetts. Despite ideological similarities with Massachusetts's Supreme Judicial Court -- what NYU law professor Stephen Gillers called a similar "center of gravity" -- New York's Court of Appeals reached a very different conclusion in their ruling on gay marriage (Hernandez v. Robles).
The court worked hard to avoid sounding homophobic in its decision, acknowledging that "there has been serious injustice in the treatment of homosexuals also, a wrong that has been widely recognized only in the relatively recent past..." But the court swiftly dodged the equality arguments presented by plaintiffs and instead -- in what can only be called an act of judicial passivism -- kicked the issue to the state legislature. In his plurality opinion Judge Robert Smith concluded, "We hold that the New York Constitution does not compel recognition of marriages between members of the same sex. Whether such marriages should be recognized is a question to be addressed by the Legislature." A concurring opinion even gingerly suggested that "it may well be that the time has come for the Legislature to address the needs of same-sex couples and their families, and to consider granting these individuals additional benefits through marriage, or whatever status the Legislature deems appropriate."
Deference to state legislators, however, did not stop the court from speculating on what could be a rational basis for legislation excluding homosexuals from marriage (and by the way the legislation in question is the Domestic Relations Law of 1909). Indeed, such speculation necessarily formed the crux of the court's ruling. And here's where the court's ruling gets really gnarly:
"First, the Legislature could rationally decide that, for the welfare of children, it is more important to promote stability, and to avoid instability, in opposite-sex than in same-sex relationships. Heterosexual intercourse has a natural tendency to lead to the birth of children; homosexual intercourse does not...The Legislature could also find that such [heterosexual] relationships are all too often casual or temporary. It could find that an important function of marriage is to create more stability and permanence in the relationships that cause children to be born. It thus could choose to offer an inducement -- in the form of marriage and its attendant benefits -- to opposite-sex couples who make a solemn, long-term commitment to each other. The Legislature could find that this rationale for marriage does not apply with comparable force to same-sex couples. These couples can become parents by adoption, or by artificial insemination or other technological marvels, but they do not become parents as a result of accident or impulse. The Legislature could find that unstable relationships between people of the opposite sex present a greater danger that children will be born into or grow up in unstable homes than is the case with same-sex couples, and thus that promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships will help children more."
Need a translation? Heterosexual New Yorkers are reckless, irresponsible sluts who breed without regard. Gays, however, must dutifully and deliberately pursue adoption, artificial insemination or "other technological marvels" and are thus more likely to raise kids in stable families. Consequently, gays don't need the "inducement" of marriage. Voila! And in just a few keystrokes, the stereotype of homosexual promiscuity is reversed -- though with familiar anti-gay results.
Judge Judith Kaye eviscerated this perverse rationalization in her dissent when she wrote, "Of course, there are many ways in which the government could rationally promote procreation--for example, by giving tax breaks to couples who have children, subsidizing child care for those couples, or mandating generous family leave for parents. Any of these benefits--and many more--might convince people who would not otherwise have children to do so. But no one rationally decides to have children because gays and lesbians are excluded from marriage."
In the '80s and '90s, fears of gay promiscuity produced the now almost quaint "gay panic defense" through which gay bashers were let off the hook because they went "temporarily insane" in the face of perceived homosexual advances. That the New York Court of Appeals now invokes a kind of heterosexual panic argument in the face of stable, monogamous, marriage-minded gay couples is rich indeed. But it isn't surprising given how, as Lisa Duggan and I have argued, debates about gay marriage have become less about gay civil rights and more about the future of marriage as an institution. If marriage is the symbolic and legal foundation for household security (for childcare, healthcare, retirement, home ownership, etc.), and marriage is increasingly unpopular and unstable -- then what? Like family-values conservatives, the Court of Appeals stoked and manipulated these anxieties to produce an immediately anti-gay opinion. But the deeper and more occluded marital disorder at the heart of the issue can't be resolved by banning gay marriage. As Judge Kaye's dissent suggests, perhaps it's time for both heterosexuals and gays to debate and enact genuinely pro-family (or pro-household) policies head-on, and recognize the gay marriage question for what it is -- a rather simple matter of equality under law.
One of the most promising mini-trends is the growing popularity of Fair Trade coffee (now you can even buy it at Wal-Mart!). That label means that the coffee was grown under fair labor conditions, and that the small Third World growers received a decent price for it. I just ordered some through Global Exchange, from the Cloudforest cooperative, which sounds like something dreamed up by a satirical novelist: grown by autonomous cooperatives of Mayan Indians in Chiapas, in the shade (better for the forests and soil), it is organic and bird-friendly. Yes, bird-friendly. (A friend moved away from Berkeley after someone tried to assure her that no birds had been harmed in the production of her coffee. That's understandable; Berkeley in all its aromatherapized, self-realized, self-righteousness could drive a gal crazy, but...I really like birds.) The Cloudforest coffee sounded just about perfect.
Unfortunately, it sucks.
For coffee lovers, Fair Trade can pose a dilemma, because, sadly, much of it doesn't taste very good. As someone who falls asleep looking forward to the fresh smell and taste of my morning coffee, I take this problem seriously.The Cloudforest coffee is about as flavorless as any coffee you'll find; even many gas stations, diners and offices aspire to a higher quality these days. So I'm continuing my search. I'm confident that there are Fair Trade blends out there that could inspire me to get out of bed in the morning. To that end, I'll be organizing a tasting panel of coffee enthusiasts and will keep you posted on their findings.
I can just hear the objections. "Isn't this rather trivial? After all, Fair Trade coffee is a human rights issue." But that's, of course, exactly why it's so important that it succeed in the marketplace. To do that, it has to taste good, and appeal to socially conscious bourgeois hedonists like myself. Delicious coffee has become mainstream over the past decade. That's a positive legacy of companies like Starbucks, and you can't beat them by selling crap. A politics that overlooks pleasure has no future, and that's why I will never again -- sorry, Chiapas farmers -- buy the Cloudforest coffee, a bland blend only the most devotedly burlap-clad politico could love.
"The assault on a free press ...should be recognized for what it is," wrote New York Times columnist Frank Rich last Sunday. "Another desperate ploy by officials trying to hide their own lethal mistakes in the shadows."
While the Bush Administration's war on a free, independent and aggressive media is unparalleled, US government attempts to suppress information are not new. More than forty years ago, for example, the New York Times acceded to the Kennedy Administration's request that it play down its advance knowledge of the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion. (In a recent editorial, the Times wrote that "it seems in hindsight that the editors were over-cautious" by not printing what they knew about the invasion.)
In his open letter explaining the decision to publish the banking records story, Executive Editor Bill Keller referred to the Times' handling of the Bay of Pigs story. "Our biggest failures," Keller wrote, "have generally been when we failed to dig deep enough or to report fully enough. After the Times played down its advance knowledge of the Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy reportedly said he wished we had published what we knew and perhaps prevented a fiasco."
What is little known is the role The Nation played in this story. In November 1960, The Nation published the first article on preparations being made for what would become the Bay of Pigs invasion. According to Carey McWilliams, The Nation's editor at the time, "Ronald Hilton, director of Stanford University's Institute of Hispanic-American Studies had just returned from Guatemala with reports that it was common knowledge --indeed, it had been reported in La Hora, a leading newspaper, on October 30--that the CIA was training a guerrilla force at a secret base for an early invasion of Cuba." McWilliams promptly got in touch with Hilton, who confirmed details, and agreed that he could be quoted. McWilliams wrote an article setting forth the facts Hilton had given him, including the location of the base near the mountain town of Retalhulea. If the reports were true, McWilliams wrote, "then public pressure should be brought to bear upon the administration to abandon this dangerous and hare-brained project." in the meantime, he added, the facts should be checked out immediately "by all US news media with correspondents in Guatemala." Although a special press release was prepared-- to which copies of the article were attached-- the wire services ignored the story and only one or two papers mentioned it.
However, The Nation's article was then called to the attention of a New York Times editor who assigned Times' reporter Paul Kennedy to do a story. Kennedy filed an article in January 1961 covering similar ground to the Nation's. But it was the Tad Szulc article in the Times-- that ran only a week before the invasion in April 1961 --that Kennedy called the Times's publisher about. The New York Times yielded to the President's demand that the story be reduced in prominence and detail.
According to McWilliams's memoirs (and the Columbia University "Forum" on "The Press and the Bay of Pigs" of Fall 1967), a week or so after the Bay of Pigs fiasco a group of press executives met with President Kennedy at the White House. "At this session," McWilliams recounts, "the President complained of premature disclosure of security information in the press and cited Paul Kennedy's story in the New York Times as a case in point. The New York Times' Turner Catledge then reminded Kennedy that reports about the base had previously appeared in the Guatemalan newspaper La Hora and The Nation."
The President reportedly turned to Catledge and said, "if you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake." More than a year later, Kennedy told the New York Times' Orvil Dryfoos, "I wish you had run everything on Cuba...I am just sorry you didn't tell it at the time."
To his credit, top Kennedy aide and historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. also later said that he wished the Times had run its stories so that the whole catastrophe would have been avoided.
As McWilliams notes, "Kennedy was correct: timely disclosure of the facts might have prevented what was truly a 'colossal mistake;' but the press elected not to pursue the lead The Nation had provided."
Never has the need for a free and independent press been greater. Never has the need for news outlets to inform the public about government abuse and wrongdoing been greater.
The Bush Administration is dedicated to sabotaging the workings of a free press--a cornerstone of a true democracy. The vituperative attacks on the New York Times--a newspaper that, as The Nation's Washington Editor David Corn points out, "consistently published stories that hyped the WMD threat" and whose reporters "--Judith Miller and others--churned out breathless exposes based on Administration leaks and handouts from Iraqi exile groups angling to start a war"--have little to do with the paper's recent publication of the banking records story. It is part of the White House's larger and long-term game plan to delegitimize the press's role as a watchdog of government abuse, an effective counter to virtually unchecked executive power.
The other day Vice-President Cheney attacked the New York Times' disclosure about illegal wiretapping of US citizens. "I think that is a disgrace," Cheney said, referring to the Times winning a Pulitzer Prize for the story.
What is disgraceful is the conduct of an Administration that engages in press-bashing to score political points at the expense of constitutional principles.
Connecticut Senator Joe "I am a loyal Democrat" Lieberman's announcement that he will run for reelection as an "unaffiliated" independent if primary voters reject him August 8 has forced his fellow Democratic senators to decide whether they are more loyal to Lieberman or their party.
New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, have sent strong pro-Lieberman signals. They're definitely backing him in the August 8 primary against anti-war challenger Ned Lamont, and Schumer has hinted that he might back Lieberman as an independent if Lamont is the Democratic nominee.
On the other end of the spectrum is Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, who has shied away from endorsing Lieberman and recently said on the NBC News show "Meet the Press" that he would "support the Democratic nominee, whoever that is."
Somewhat surprisingly, the Democratic senator who has come closest to echoing Feingold's stand is New York Hillary Clinton. Though Clinton is backing Lieberman in the primary, she won't back him if he runs as an independent.
"I've known Joe Lieberman for more than 30 years. I have been pleased to support him in his campaign for reelection, and hope that he is our party's nominee," declared Clinton in a statement issued after Lieberman indicated that he will not honor the sentiments of Connecticut Democrats if they reject him.
"But," she added, "I want to be clear that I will support the nominee chosen by Connecticut Democrats in their primary," Clinton added. "I believe in the Democratic Party, and I believe we must honor the decisions made by Democratic primary voters."
Clinton is actually closer to Lieberman on the question of when U.S. forces should withdraw from Iraq -- the issue that led to the Lamont challenge after Lieberman emerged as the loudest Democratic support of the occupation in particular and Bush administration foreign policies in general.
But Clinton's politically smart. As a potential 2008 presidential candidate, she recognizes that needs to keep on good terms with the party's base. That base is overwhelmingly anti-war, a fact confirmed by the unexpected strength of the Lamont challenge to Lieberman.
So Clinton's banging the party-loyalty drum -- loudly -- saying that even if it means letting Lieberman loose, "The challenges before us in 2006 call for a strong, united party, in which we all support and work for the candidates who are selected in the Democratic process."
That does not mean, however, that Clinton is will get a pass for her position on the war. She is expected to face an anti-war challenge in the September New York state Democratic primary, from labor activist Jonathan Tasini. Tasini's campaign is completing the process of gathering signatures to qualify for the primary ballot.
With her statement on the Lieberman contest, Clinton sends signals as regards the New York contest and the 2008 presidential race.
Clinton is trying hard to maintain a position that is at least close to the middle of the Democratic Party.
That's the ground Lieberman abandoned altogether when he strongly endorsed the continued occupation of Iraq and refused to join most other Democrats -- including Clinton -- in supporting a vaguely-worded proposal by Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed and Michigan Democrat Carl Levin that urged the Bush administration to start thinking about an exit strategy.
What was the "soundbite line" from the press conference where Senator Joe Lieberman announced that he may cut and run to an "unaffiliated" ballot line if Connecticut Democrats don't renominate him in August? That's easy:
"I have loyalties that are greater than those to my party."
That is an honorable-sounding line.
But to whom are the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee's loyalties directed?
That, of course, is the senator's problem.
Were Lieberman merely a predictable centrist Democrat, willing to mumble mild criticisms of the Bush administration's foreign policies but unwilling to make a serious break with the administration, he would not be worrying about the increasingly-viable Democratic primary challenge he faces from anti-war progressive Ned Lamont.
But Lieberman is not a predictable centrist. He is an in-the-pocket Bush man -- at least as far as the war in Iraq goes.
Lieberman called for war with Iraq before Bush did -- in a 2001 letter to the president that was also signed by Arizona Senator John McCain -- and he has been such an enthusiastic booster of the occupation that Bush actually kissed the Connecticut senator at the 2005 State of the Union.
Nothing, not realities on the ground in Iraq, nor realities on the ground in Connecticut, has caused Lieberman's loyalties to waver.
But it is possible to be principled and wrong. And, in the case of both Lieberman and Bush, it is certainly possible to mistake principle for a stubborn refusal to admit fundamental errors.
Whatever the explanation for the Connecticut senator's "my-president-right-or-wrong" positioning, one thing remains certain: Lieberman's principles are, indeed, Bush's.
Last month, Lieberman cast an expected vote against the proposal by Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold and Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry to get U.S. troops out of Iraq by next year. But he also went a long step further, refusing to support a vaguely-worded proposal by Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed and Michigan Democrat Carl Levin that urged the Bush administration to start thinking about an exit strategy.
That stance isolated Lieberman in a group of Democratic senators, mostly from Republican-leaning states, who refuse to put an inch of distance between themselves and George Bush's warmaking. (Even Hillary Clinton -- no war critic she -- voted for the Levin-Reed resolution, as did plenty of other centrist Dems.)
But Lieberman's not from a Republican-leaning state. In fact, a June Survey USA poll found that Connecticut was the sixth most anti-Bush state in the nation -- after Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey.
Only 30 percent of Connecticut voters surveyed last month approved of the president's performance.
Few states register higher anti-war sentiment than does Connecticut, and the distaste for the occupation extends far beyond the Democratic base to include independents and quite a few Republicans.
Some pundits still suggest that, running as an independent in November, Lieberman might prevail against Democratic-nominee Lamont and Republican Alan Schlesinger. They believe, as Lieberman has suggested, that the senator's problem is merely with the Democratic partisans who will turn out for the August 8 primary.
But if Lamont, who has turned out to be a much more attractive and effective candidate than even his proponents in the blogosphere initially expected, beats Lieberman in August he might well beat him again in November.
Indeed, if Ned Lamont runs against Bush and Lieberman, he will be a lot closer to the Connecticut mainstream than the incumbent.
Here's something that Hillary Clinton should care about: Senator Joe Lieberman announced July 3 that if he is defeated in the August 8 Democratic Party primary he will run as an independent to seek his Senate seat.
Why should HRC care? Lieberman is being challenged in Connecticut by Ned Lamont, an antiwar multimillionaire Democrat whose campaign is based almost entirely on his complaint that Lieberman has been a cheerleader for George W. Bush's war in Iraq. While Lieberman is ahead in the polls, Lamont has narrowed the gap to the point that it is conceivable that Lamont could topple the incumbent. But, as Lieberman said on Monday, that will not keep him out of the race, for he will start to collect the 7500 signatures he needs to run as an independent. Lieberman had to make that decision now; the filing deadline for independent candidates is the day after the Democratic primary. Lieberman could not wait to see what happened in the primary before preparing to run as an independent.
Is this a sign that Lieberman fears he will lose? Maybe not. But it is a sign that Lieberman is not willing to risk losing. And he will have to bear a political cost for crafting this two-track strategy. Lieberman's announcement will probably not help him among Democratic primary voters. He is essentially saying that if the party choses someone else to be its senatorial nominee, he will work to defeat that candidate. That's not showing much party loyalty--and it's possible some Democrats in the Nutmeg State will take exception to his threat.
But back to Hillary. This primary race is--or should be--important to her and other Democrats because it shows how the war can split the party. And that could become the dominant theme of the 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination. If the war in Iraq remains a mess a year-and-a-half from now, the Democratic presidential primary will be all about what to do in Iraq. Many Democratic primary voters will be looking for an antiwar, pro-withdrawal candidate (Senator Russ Feingold?) and reluctant to vote for any candidate who has supported the war and stood by it (as has Hillary Clinton). Clinton will certainly have the deepest pockets of any of the candidates--and money usually beats all else (though that didn't work for Howard Dean in 2004). But if Hillary Clinton is on the wrong side of the war (as far as most Democratic primary voters are concerned), the race will be a bitter and divisive one.
Clinton has not cozied up to Bush the way Lieberman has on the war. She has tried to have it both ways by criticizing the execution of the war but not the mission. Such nuance--or hedging--may get her through the nomination process. But, then again, it might not--if there are enough Democrats PO'ed about the war and her support for it. So the junior senator from New York will be paying close attention to what happens next door in Connecticut. The outcome of this contest may be as important for the future of the Democratic Party as any race in November.
July 4 is typically a day for patriotic speeches about America's greatness. But, as Eric Foner pointed out in The Nation two years ago, it's also been a day for "eloquent indictments of a country whose actual practices all too frequently contradict its professed ideals." One of the greatest of those speeches was delivered on July 4, 1852, when the former slave Frederick Douglass spoke to the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society. While Douglass spoke of the contradiction between slavery and American ideals, his denunciation of "crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages" is strikingly relevant today to American practices of war and torture.
"What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy--a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.
"There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
". . . . No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. . . . A change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe.... Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are distinctly heard on the other. . . .
"No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light."
The text, with commentary by Eric Foner, appeared in the July 19, 2004 issue of The Nation: Read it here.
It is clear that the American Constitution is in grave danger. It is time to make the defense of the Constitution a national theme for all candidates in this year's electoral contests.
The threat to the Constitution from President Bush, his administration, and an accomplice Republican Congress is all too obvious. In clear violation of established law and centuries-old political precedent, they have wiretapped American citizens; imprisoned citizens without warrants, charges, or means of redress; sanctioned and abetted the torture of foreign nationals; ignored clear Congressional legislative intent with the likes of 750 signing statements; disabled Congressional oversight of their actions; undertaken an assault on the press' right to publish the truth; and suppressed dissent and public-minded information disclosure within the Executive branch itself.
This abuse and overreach of Presidential power directly challenges the "checks and balances" at the core of our constitutional design. It proposes a government fundamentally different from that declared by the Founding Fathers.
The administration aggressively defends its actions on the grounds of national security and "unitary" executive power. It argues that we are in a state of war, of indefinite duration, which gives the Commander in Chief extraordinary autonomous powers. It argues, too, that the President has final control over all employees of the Executive branch – including those with no military function – and extending to the control of information they are permitted to provide to the public. As the Decider, President Bush decides what the public can or cannot know.
Simply put, to accept these arguments would be to accept the end of our democracy.
Central to the defense of this nation is defense of its constitutional values as well as its physical security. To sacrifice the Constitution in the name of "national defense" would be a grave mistake, for it destroys the very nation worthy of defense in the first place. This country has faced perils no less than today's – including those vanquished in a Civil War and World War II – without abandoning that conviction. To abandon it now would disgrace us before those who fought and sacrificed and gave us the gift of this nation.
Nor does prudence recommend this course. As we have relearned in recent years -- in instances as diverse as the Iraq War, the response to Hurricane Katrina, and Medicare reform -- a President who can suppress "unwanted" information breeds dangerous incompetence, and a government that acts on bad information becomes a bad government.
The actions of the Executive branch have a real and powerful impact on our lives. We simply cannot afford a "unitary executive" who silences independent voices, lets politics determine science, threatens our first amendment rights, withholds critical information from even enforcement personnel, and elevates personal loyalty to him above the duty to inform the public.
The American people's most powerful weapon in defending the Constitution is their vote in Presidential elections. But we cannot afford to wait until 2008. The danger to our Constitution is clear and present. Hence our call to all patriots to put the issue before the public in this November's elections and ask of all candidates, "Do you accept or condemn the President's assault on our Constitution?"
Some will object that using an election to defend the Constitution threatens to debase it to an instrument of partisan politics. The objection is misplaced. In fact, an electoral contest over Constitutional first principles will not debase those principles, but elevate the discourse, meaning, and substance of the contests themselves. There is no better use of parties, elections, and our votes.
Some will shrink from defending the Constitution out of fear that the public is not interested in such a discussion or lacks a real commitment to constitutional government--that it's a losing issue. They should have more faith in the American people. Given a clear choice, Americans will choose defenders of the Constitution over those who would destroy it. But the choice must be put clearly before them.
Declare our current crisis, and invite those who would serve as our elected representatives to defend the Constitution against our current President and an accomplice Republican Party.
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the approval and signing of theDeclaration of Independence, the document's author was an 83-year-old formergovernor, vice president and president. Yet, what Thomas Jefferson was mostknown for in 1826 was his role in crafting the founding vision of the UnitedStates.
This was the recognition that Jefferson welcomed. Indeed, when he diedon that 50th anniversary, he was buried on the grounds of his Monticelloestate beneath a stone that made no mention of the political offices he hadheld. Rather, it read:
HERE WAS BURIED THOMAS JEFFERSON
AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
OF THE STATUTE OF VIRGINIA FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
AND FATHER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
Jefferson has little faith in presidents and their Cabinets. He was no greatfan of the Congress.
What he believed in were the ideals of the America experiment. He was proudto have shaped the documents that defined those ideals. And he wanted hislegacy to be that not of a holder of office, but of a champion of therevolutionary promise of liberation from the tyranny of warrior kings andtheir oppressions.
Today, there are those who attempt to remake Jefferson and the otherfounders as religious zealots, as essentially conservative men who happenedto have a slight squabble with King George III, or, worst of all, asimperialists who would want the United States to dominate the affairs ofother lands.
The founders were imperfect men, to be sure. Few were so radical, or sofar ahead of their times, as Tom Paine, the wisest of their number. But theywere, proudly and unquestionably, revolutionaries against the old order ofinherited monarchy, state churches, empires and the authority of the fewover the fate of the many.
We know this to be true of Jefferson because, as July 4, 1826, approached,he was invited to appear in Washington for a celebration of the Declarationof Independence. Age and infirmity prevented Jefferson from attending theevent, but he sent a message – his last political statement – which read:
May (July 4) be to the world, what I believe it will be -- to some partssooner, to others later, but finally to all -- the signal of arousing men toburst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition hadpersuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and securityof self-government. That form (of government) which we have substituted,restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom ofopinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The generalspread of the light of science has already laid open to every view thepalpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles ontheir backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride themlegitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. Forourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh ourrecollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.
On this Fourth of July, we Americans would do well to embrace Jefferson's last words and the Americanideals that, though battered by the current tyranny, will outlast the KingGeorge of the moment.
Forty years ago this week, on July 4, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act.
The choice of July 4 for the signing ceremony was no coincidence.
The signing of the Freedom of Information Act represented the realization of the promise of self governance that may have been born on July 4, 1776, butthat was never fully realized until 190 years later.
Why is the Freedom of Information Act such a big deal?
Because, as James Madison, the father of the Constitution, explained, ""Apopular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it,is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge willforever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors,must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives."
Until the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, Americans were deniedaccess to information that should rightfully have been available to them,and without which they could not be their own governors. As John Moss, thecrusading California congressman who secured its passage, frequently noted,the Freedom of Information Act was the first law in the long history of theRepublic that gave Americans the right to access the records of federalagencies that are funded with their tax dollars and that are, supposedly, attheir service.
That is a right that, Moss argued, was every bit as essential to realizingthe full potential of America democracy as the protections contained in theBill of Rights. And, of course, he was correct. What good is freedom ofspeech if that speech is not informed by knowledge of what the government isdoing in our name but without our informed consent? What good is freedom ofthe press if reporters are unable to find out what government agencies areup to?
The American people well recognize the value of the Freedom of InformationAct. Millions of citizens have made FOIA requests over the past fourdecades.
Unfortunately, the hyper-sensitive and hyper-secretive Bush administrationis now at war with the Freedom of Information Act -- just as the New York Times-bashing president and his allies are battling Freedom of the Press.
In the first year of hispresidency, Bush's then attorney general, John Ashcroft, dispatched a memoto federal agencies that told their administrators to use delaying tacticsto thwart the intent of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Ashcroft'sorder directed federal agencies to stall the release of requestedinformation until the completion of a painstakingly slow "full anddeliberate consideration" of the implications of releasing any particulardocument.The response by federal agencies to FOIA requests slowed to a crawl,creating an outcry that finally led Bush to issue an order last year thatappeared to endorse the values contained in the Freedom of Information Act.In fact, that was not the case.
While Bush's language seemed to support openness – "Agencies shall processrequests under the FOIA in an efficient and appropriate manner and achievetangible, measurable improvements in FOIA processing" – his order wasactually a vague statement that was issued not to get agencies jumping onFOIA requests but to head off Congressional action on the bipartisan OpenGovernment Act.
Written to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act, the Open GovernmentAct seeks to end stonewalling by establishing a deadline – 20 days after thefiling of an FOIA request -- by which agencies must respond.
It's a timely and necessary reform.
Yet, at this point, both the House and Senate versions of the OpenGovernment Act are languishing in the Judiciary Committees of the respectivechambers.
If Americans want on this 4th of July Holiday to honor the democratic values that arethis country's greatest strength, perhaps of the best way to do so is bymaking a resolution to contact our representatives in the House and Senateand tell them to support the Open Government Act. This enactment of thissimple reform will renew the promise not just of the Freedom of InformationAct but of the Declaration of Independence and the American experiment.