Quantcast

The Nation

Former Senator Larry Craig, R-Bathroom

After forcing Idaho Senator Larry Craig to resign for the twin "crimes" of being a fool and appearing to be gay, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, tried as hard as he could to seem sorry for the man whose trip to the wrong bathroom on the wrong day cost him a Senate seat.

"It is my hope he will be remembered not for this, but for his three decades of dedicated public service," chirped McConnell, who just days before was denouncing Craig's "unforgivable" desires, sicking the ethics committee on the misdemeanor senator and stripping him of his committee assignments.

Republicans leaders, who took no action against let-the-good-times-roll Senator David Vitter after the Louisiana Republican's penchant for prostitutes was revealed, couldn't get Craig out of their caucus quick enough.

It wasn't a fear of any "gay germs" that might be spread by Craig--the minority leader is well aware of the fact that Craig was hardly the only closeted Republican on Capitol Hill. It was that Craig was the most expendable man in the Senate. No one noticed he was there. No one will miss him.

McConnell and his lieutenants wanted Craig out fast because he was only doing more harm to the party's seriously soiled reputation and because any Republican who replaces him now will be likely to hold the seat for the embattled Republican caucus in next year's election.

That's what makes McConnell's goodbye to Craig the most hypocritical statement heard during the whole of the Senate GOP's recent bathroom break.

The minority leader knows full well that the only thing that will be remembered about Larry Craig's 33 years in the political arena – as a state legislator, congressman and, since 1990, member of the most exclusive club in America – is that the senator failed to flush when following a cop out of the stall where he had been caught cruising.

Craig was such a senatorial no-account that, even though he arrived in the chamber well before the Republican revolution of 1994 and thus should have been a powerhouse by now, one of his primary claims to "fame" was as a key player in the Congressional Potato Caucus.

If Craig was known for anything, aside from his extracurricular activities, it was for his bizarre lambasting of then-President Bill Clinton for fooling around with a White House intern. The senator told Tim Russert on NBC's Meet The Press that, "The American people already know that Bill Clinton is a bad boy--a naughty boy. I'm going to speak out for the citizens of my state, who in the majority think that Bill Clinton is probably even a nasty, bad, naughty boy."

At least Craig slurping references to naughtiness made him sound flamboyant.

That's more than can be said for the rest of his tenure in Washington, where he arrived with Ronald Reagan in 1981 and voted the party line about as consistently as could be expected for a man whose primary claim on a Senate seat was his party affiliation. Craig liked to play cowboy and pretend to be an independent-thinking westerner. But if a Republican president said "Jump," Craig asked "How high?" And if a Republican Senate leader said "crawl," he asked, "How low?" As a member of successive Congresses, he was for undeclared wars, curtailing civil liberties, tipping the economic scales to favor the wealthy, despoiling the environment and delivering on a regular basis for Wall Street's free-trade agenda as the proud co-chair of the "World Trade Organization Caucus for Farmers and Ranchers." And Craig was against same-sex marriage, extending the federal definition of hate crimes to cover sexual orientation and protecting the employment rights of gays and lesbians.

The senator's interest groups ratings were as predictable as his hypocrisy. He had a 100 percent rating from the Christian Coalition, and a 0 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign. He was the best of the bunch as far as the Business-Industry Political Action Committee was concerned, and pretty close to the worst in the eyes of Public Citizen.

There are those who might suggest that Craig at least served as a consistent conservative. But even that is untrue. When hardcore conservatives broke with the Bush Administration on spending and immigration issues, Craig refused to deviate from the White House line.

Craig was not even in tune enough with his home state to stand with fellow Idaho Republicans like former Congressman Clement Leroy "Butch" Otter--who, as Idaho's governor will appoint the senator's replacement--in defense of privacy rights As Craig's congressional colleague, Otter was a remarkably determined defender of Constitutional rights, who voted with Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, against the Patriot Act in the fall of 2001 and who emerged as one of the sharpest Republican critics of the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping schemes and related assaults on basic liberties.

Had Larry Craig sided with Butch Otter in those fights, had he ever once done anything honorable or even interesting, his exit might merit some reflection on "his three decades of dedicated public service." As it is, Craig will be remembered accurately--as an otherwise forgettable hack who cruised out of the Senate without ever contributing a thing to the chamber or the country.

Mitch McConnell got the equation precisely wrong. Nothing about Larry Craig's sojourn in that Minnesota bathroom will ever be so "unforgivable" as the fact that he was offered three decades in which to shape the fate of his nation for the better- or at least for what he thought was better--and came away with nothing to show for it.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Admitting No Wrongdoing, Craig Resigns

UPDATE, September 1: Bowing to intense pressure from fellow Republicans, Idaho Senator Larry Craig resigned today. In a brief public statement in Boise, Craig issued a general apology, but admitted no wrongdoing.

**********

August 31--One way or another, Larry Craig is a goner. Facing intense pressure from Republican party chiefs and the embarrassment of having audio of his arrest broadcast on national TV, Craig is expected to resign shortly. If he doesn't, the RNC is prepared to call for his head and launch an ethics investigation.

Personally, I'm hoping Craig digs in and forces the issue. I'd love to see Mitt Romney elaborate on what he finds so "disgusting" about "I'm not gay" Craig, or Mitch McConnell explain why admitted john David Vitter is still in the Senate or why crook Ted Stevens hasn't been stripped of his committee assignments. The mutually assured destruction of the party of piety and hypocrisy is the best-case scenario one could hope for here.

Not that it doesn't come with a certain amount of collateral damage. Since Roll Call broke the Craig story, mainstream media--from Slate's Explainer to the Washington Post--have seemingly "discovered" the strange mating rituals of male public sex. A Sacramento CBS news duo even took it upon themselves to reenact the scene, complete with toe-tapping and prop bathroom stall divider. "Sexperts" have been called upon to parse the difference between a tap-tap-tap that signals sexual interest and a tap-tap-tap that indicates a difficult bowel movement. Websites like cruisingforsex.com, which lists places where men meet for the former kind of toe-tapping, have had the most unlikely visitors from Newsweek.

Welcome America! Welcome to the world--not just of underground gay sex--but of law enforcement. The Minneapolis airport police have been slouching here for quite some time. Apparently, since May of this year, they've made 41 arrests like Craig's in an elaborate sting operation. Not to be outdone, the head of the Atlanta International Airport police boasted that they've arrested 45 men (take that Minneapolis!), including "a couple college professors" and "the CEO of a bank" (but alas, no Senators) in a similar sweep. As Doug Ireland reports over at Gay City News, Michigan police have them all beat; the Triangle Foundation reports "a caseload of 770 arrests in four months."

I didn't stress this in my last post on Craig--because I didn't think I'd have to--but such dragnets are not only motivated by homophobia, but are practically, if not technically, police entrapment. They're a legacy of a pre-Lawrence legal order that criminalized sodomy, and they endure to this day because gay sex, even and perhaps especially the suggestion of its solicitation, is still seen as violation of the norms of public life.

Heterosexuals routinely use public space and the internet to solicit sex from each other; sometimes this sex is among perfect strangers or in public (or quasi-public) itself. Unless they involve minors, none of these practices are the subject of undercover busts. Instead they're romanticized (teenage makeout sites), tolerated as nuisances (bad pickup lines, whistles, Lindsay Lohan) or generally treated as vital, sexy aspects of modern social life and economy.

Just once I'd like to see the script flipped. Why don't the Minneapolis police post undercover female cops at airport bars who gesture provocatively towards the bathroom and then arrest any man who follows? Using newfound, post-9/11 surveillance powers, law enforcement should determine the identities of everyone who posts details of their sexcapades on www.milehighclub.com. These are dangerous, lewd heterosexuals who have admitted to having had actual sex--not in the airport--but on the airplane! Baby-faced, 21 Jump Street-type cops should be assigned to every high school to offer blowjobs to jocks underneath the bleachers. Anyone who shows up at the designated coordinates should be arrested. Depending on the jurisdiction, some arrestees may even get their names permanently listed on sex offender registries! The entire city of Myrtle Beach should be staked out for the month of March. And don't even get me started on the subject of Craigslist.

These scenarios may seem outlandish and as long as we live in a straight world, they will never come to pass. But all the tools for their enforcement are already upon us. As Jack Dwyer points out in his excellent anatomy of police surveillance in a post-9/11 New York, the NYPD routinely uses undercover operatives to monitor gatherings as benign as bicycle rides and memorials. These techniques are rightly decried as infringements on the rights of citizens to use the public sphere to express themselves. When that expression is explicitly political, the left reflexively leaps to the fray. But when it comes in the form of someone like Larry Craig, we seem somewhat adrift (see the Slate editors). But nothing Craig did--he solicited, but did not have, sex in public--should be illegal. In fact, absent his hypocrisy, nothing he did should be objectionable either.

Cindy Sheehan, Re-revisited

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post saying Cindy Sheehan would probably not do very well against Nancy Pelosi, and therefore I was sorry she had decided to run. I said she was more valuable to the antiwar movement as an activist. I said leftists waste a lot of time on futile electoral contests, and cited examples of such contests. These remarks, which were couched in terms of deepest respect for Cindy Sheehan, have evoked much bile and wrath in this blog's comment section and elsewhere in the blogosphere. So much fun are commenters having discussing what a traitor and reactionary I am, few seem to have noticed that, in a followup, I wrote that my comments were actually as much about electoral protest politics in general as about this particular race and "if Cindy Sheehan wants to make an anti-war gesture, running against Nancy Pelosi is one way to do it, so good luck to her."

She's going to need it. Her outraged and self-righteous response to my mild and polite posts make me wonder how she will withstand the rigors of political campaigning. Because I express doubt that she will make much impression on the ballot box, and think that likelihood and its implications are worth discussing frankly, Sheehan accuses me of "stridently" (nice --does anyone EVER use that word for a man?) defending the Democratic Party's "complicity" in the war and of not caring about the sufferings of Iraqis the way she does.

I'm sorry, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Even if I was the reprehensible character she claims -- yellowdog Dem indifferent to the horrors of war, willing to say anything to keep Nancy Pelosi in power -- I could still be right about Sheehan's own electoral prospects and about whether such runs are the best use of the antiwar/progressive movements energies. Shouldn't a serious candidate be trying to show the hundreds of thousands of people who visit this website that I am wrong? Sheehan doesn't address any of the points I raise, or that Gary Younge raises in his excellent column on the same issues. All she does is malign my motives and my personality, attack The Nation for supposedly exploiting her fame, and accuse anyone who questions her judgment of supporting the war.

If a lot of people who cheered you last year think you're making a mistake this year, there may be something to it. I'm just saying.

Secret Report: Corruption is "Norm" Within Iraqi Government

As Congress prepares to receive reports on Iraq from General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and readies for a debate on George W. Bush's latest funding request of $50 billion for the Iraq war, the performance of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has become a central and contentious issue. But according to the working draft of a secret document prepared by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, the Maliki government has failed in one significant area: corruption. Maliki's government is "not capable of even rudimentary enforcement of anticorruption laws," the report says, and, perhaps worse, the report notes that Maliki's office has impeded investigations of fraud and crime within the government.

The draft--over 70 pages long--was obtained by The Nation, and it reviews the work (or attempted work) of the Commission on Public Integrity (CPI), an independent Iraqi institution, and other anticorruption agencies within the Iraqi government. Labeled "SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED/Not for distribution to personnel outside of the US Embassy in Baghdad," the study details a situation in which there is little, if any, prosecution of government theft and sleaze. Moreover, it concludes that corruption is "the norm in many ministries."

The report depicts the Iraqi government as riddled with corruption and criminals--and beyond the reach of anticorruption investigators. It also maintains that the extensive corruption within the Iraqi government has strategic consequences by decreasing public support for the U.S.-backed government and by providing a source of funding for Iraqi insurgents and militias.

The report, which was drafted by a team of U.S. embassy officials, surveys the various Iraqi ministries. "The Ministry of Interior is seen by Iraqis as untouchable by the anticorruption enforcement infrastructure of Iraq," it says. "Corruption investigations in Ministry of Defense are judged to be ineffectual." The study reports that the Ministry of Trade is "widely recognized as a troubled ministry" and that of 196 corruption complaints involving this ministry merely eight have made it to court, with only one person convicted.

The Ministry of Health, according to the report, "is a sore point; corruption is actually affecting its ability to deliver services and threatens the support of the government." Investigations involving the Ministry of Oil have been manipulated, the study says, and the "CPI and the [Inspector General of the ministry] are completely ill-equipped to handle oil theft cases." There is no accurate accounting of oil production and transportation within the ministry, the report explains, because organized crime groups are stealing oil "for the benefit of militias/insurgents, corrupt public officials and foreign buyers."

The list goes on: "Anticorruption cases concerning the Ministry of Education have been particularly ineffective….[T]he Ministry of Water Resources…is effectively out of the anticorruption fight with little to no apparent effort in trying to combat fraud….[T]he Ministry of Labor & Social Affairs is hostile to the prosecution of corruption cases. Militia support from [Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr] has effectively made corruption in the Ministry of Transportation wholesale according to investigators and immune from prosecution." Several ministries, according to the study, are "so controlled by criminal gangs or militias" that it is impossible for corruption investigators "to operate within [them] absent a tactical [security] force protecting the investigator."

The Ministry of the Interior, which has been a stronghold of Shia militias, stands out in the report. The study's authors say that "groups within MOI function similarly to a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) in the classic sense. MOI is a 'legal enterprise' which has been co-opted by organized criminals who act through the 'legal enterprise' to commit crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, bribery, etc." This is like saying the mob is running the police department. The report notes, "currently 426 investigations are hung up awaiting responses for documents belonging to MOI which routinely are ignored." It cites an episode during which a CPI officer discovered two eyewitnesses to the October 2006 murder of Amer al-Hashima, the brother of the vice president, but the CPI investigator would not identify the eyewitnesses to the Minister of the Interior out of fear he and they would be assassinated. (It seemed that the killers were linked to the Interior Ministry.) The report adds, "CPI investigators assigned to MOI investigations have unanimously expressed their fear of being assassinated should they aggressively pursue their duties at MOI. Thus when the head of MOI intelligence recently personally visited the Commissioner of CPI…to end investigations of [an] MOI contract, there was a clear sense of concern within the agency."

Over at the Defense Ministry, the report notes, there has been a "shocking lack of concern" about the apparent theft of $850 million from the Iraqi military's procurement budget. "In some cases," the report says, "American advisors working for US [Department of Defense] have interceded to remove [Iraqi] suspects from investigations or custody." Of 455 corruption investigations at the Defense Ministry, only 15 have reached the trial stage. A mere four investigators are assigned to investigating corruption in the department. And at the Ministry of Trade, "criminal gangs" divide the spoils, with one handling grain theft, another stealing transportation assets.

Part of the problem, according to the report, is Maliki's office: "The Prime Minister's Office has demonstrated an open hostility" to independent corruption investigations. His government has withheld resources from the CPI, the report says, and "there have been a number of identified cases where government and political pressure has been applied to change the outcome of investigations and prosecutions in favor of members of the Shia Alliance"--which includes Maliki's Dawa party.

The report's authors note that the man Maliki appointed as his anticorruption adviser--Adel Muhsien Abdulla al-Quza'alee--has said that independent agencies, like the CPI, should be under the control of Maliki. According to the report, "Adel has in the presence of American advisors pressed the Commissioner of CPI to withdraw cases referred to court." These cases involved defendants who were members of the Shia Alliance. (Adel has also, according to the report, "steadfastly refused to submit his financial disclosure form.") And Maliki's office, the report says, has tried to "force out the entire leadership of CPI to replace them with political appointees"--which would be tantamount to a death sentence for the CPI officials. They now live in the Green Zone. Were they to lose their CPI jobs, they would have to move out of the protected zone and would be at the mercy of the insurgents, militias, and crime gangs "who are [the] subjects of their investigations."

Maliki has also protected corrupt officials by reinstating a law that prevents the prosecution of a government official without the permission of the minister of the relevant agency. According to a memo drafted in March by the U.S. embassy's anticorruption working group--a memo first disclosed by The Washington Post--between September 2006 and February 2007, ministers used this law to block the prosecutions of 48 corruption cases involving a total of $35 million. Many other cases at this time were in the process of being stalled in the same manner. The stonewalled probes included one case in which Oil Ministry employees rigged bids for $2.5 million in equipment and another in which ministry personnel stole 33 trucks of petroleum.

And in another memo obtained by The Nation--marked "Secret and Confidential"--Maliki's office earlier this year ordered the Commission on Public Integrity not to forward any case to the courts involving the president of Iraq, the prime minister of Iraq, or any current or past ministers without first obtaining Maliki's consent. According to the U.S. embassy report on the anticorruption efforts, the government's hostility to the CPI has gone so far that for a time the CPI link on the official Iraqi government web site directed visitors to a pornographic site.

In assessing the Commission on Public Integrity, the embassy report notes that the CPI lacks sufficient staff and funding to be effective. The watchdog outfit has only 120 investigators to cover 34 ministries and agencies. And these investigators, the report notes, "are closer to clerks processing paperwork rather than investigators solving crimes." The CPI, according to the report, "is currently more of a passive rather than a true investigatory agency. Though legally empowered to conduct investigations, the combined security situation and the violent character of the criminal elements within the ministries make investigation of corruption too hazardous."

CPI staffers have been "accosted by armed gangs within ministry headquarters and denied access to officials and records." They and their families are routinely threatened. Some sleep in their office in the Green Zone. In December 2006, a sniper positioned on top of an Iraqi government building in the Green Zone fired three shots at CPI headquarters. Twelve CPI personnel have been murdered in the line of duty. The CPI, according to the report, "has resorted to arming people hired for janitorial and maintenance duty."

Radhi al-Radhi, a former judge who was tortured and imprisoned during Saddam Hussein's regime and who heads the CPI, has been forced to live in a safe house with one of his chief investigators, according to an associate of Radhi who asked not to be identified. Radhi has worked with Stuart Bowen Jr., the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, who investigates fraud and waste involving U.S. officials and contractors. His targets have included former Defense Minister Hazem Shalaan and former Electricity Minister Aiham Alsammarae. And Radhi himself has become a target of accusations. A year ago, Maliki's office sent a letter to Radhi suggesting that the CPI could not account for hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses and that Radhi might be corrupt. But, according to the US embassy report, a subsequent audit of the CPI was "glowing." In July, the Iraqi parliament considered a motion of no confidence in Radhi-a move widely interpreted as retaliation for his pursuit of corrupt officials. But the legislators put off a vote on the resolution. In late August, Radhi came to the United States. He is considering remaining here, according to an associate.

Corruption, the report says, is "one of the major hurdles the Iraqi government must overcome if it is to survive as a stable and independent entity." Without a vigorous anticorruption effort, the report's authors assert, the current Iraqi government "is likely to loose [sic] the support of its people." And, they write, continuing corruption "will likely fund the violent groups that our troops are likely to face." Yet, according to the report, the U.S. embassy is providing "uncertain" resources for anticorruption programs. "It's a farce," says a U.S. embassy employee. "There is a budget of zero [within the embassy] to fight corruption. No one ever asked for this report to be written. And it was shit-canned. Who the hell would want to release it? It should infuriate the families of the soldiers and those who are fighting in Iraq supposedly to give Maliki's government a chance."

Beating back corruption is not one of the 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for Iraq and the Maliki government. But this hard-hitting report--you can practically see the authors pulling out their hair--makes a powerful though implicit case that it ought to be. The study is a damning indictment: widespread corruption within the Iraqi government undermines and discredits the U.S. mission in Iraq. And the Bush administration is doing little to stop it.

******

OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Evolution in Texas -- On the Death Penalty

There are many Americans who do not believe in evolution. And it is probably fair to say that a disproportionate number of them reside in Texas.

But it is from Texas that we gain confirmation of the absolute certainty that human evolution is a reality.

When George Bush was governor of Texas in the 1990s, he approved executions with impunity, sending to death those who might have been innocent and those who might have been guilty, those who had repented and those who had not, those who had adequate representation and those whose lawyers slept through the trials, those who had the mental capacity to understand their crimes, those whose mental state would have barred even a trial in more civilized jurisdictions.

In all, Bush signed more 150 execution orders as governor, a record for the state and nation. The world press recognized him as the "Texecutioner" or, in the slightly less volatile phrasing of London's Independent newspaper: "a death penalty enthusiast."

As president, Bush has continued his energetic advocacy for state-sponsored slaying. Only this month, it was reported that Bush and his soon-to-be-former Attorney General had developed a plan to speed up the executions of Americans lingering on the nation's death rows. The plan, which will be one of the last initiatives of Alberto Gonzales, is to make it easier for executions to be "fast-tracked" by states that want to avoid long appeals processes in the federal courts.

The Bush-Gonzales plan is to borrow a page from recent anti-terrorism legislation -- which strip away habeas corpus protections and other legal guarantees -- in order to allow states to rely on the Justice Department, rather than the federal courts, to decide whether death-row inmates received adequate representation at trial.

That would eliminate one of the primary avenues of appeal from convictions in states such as Texas, which have a history of providing inadequate representation for poor and minority defendants.

Bush and Gonzales, who have worked together since the president's days in Texas to make the killing machines of the states run more smoothly, also want to reduce the amount of time that death-row inmates have to file federal appeals and to pursue them.

So what's this about evolution? Clearly, Bush has not grown as a human being or as a public official with the power to decide who lives and dies.

But Bush is no longer the governor of Texas. Conservative Republican Rick Perry has the job. And on Wednesday, Perry commuted the sentence of Texas death row inmate Kenneth Foster's sentence to life. The decision came just hours before an innocent man was to be killed by the state -- a prospect that would not, in all likelihood, have concerned George Bush or Alberto Gonzales but that did concern Rick Perry.

Foster and his lawyers had long contended that, while he was in a car that was involved in a 1996 armed robbery spree that ended in the murder of a 25-year-old San Antonio man, he killed no one and had no knowledge or intention that a murder should occur. Indeed, Foster was at least eighty feet from where the killing took place.

All of this should have been sorted out at his trial. But Foster's trial was a travesty at which his attorney was not given a chance to cross-examine the defendants partners, who both received life sentences. Even if Foster's trial had been by a legitimate one, however, he might not have escaped the draconian implications of a Texas law that permits the casual execution of any and all participants in crime sprees that turn deadly.

The murderous mess that is Texas jurisprudence was dramatically illustrated by the Foster case. Thanks to the tremendous work of the Save Kenneth Foster Campaign, the world was made aware of the fact that Texas was preparing to perpetrate one of the most wrongful executions in the state's long history of wrongful executions. Even death-penalty proponents began to object.

Last Sunday, the conservative Dallas Morning News editorialized last:

Kenneth Foster was a robber. He was a drug user. He was a teenager making very bad decisions.

He is not an innocent man.

But Mr. Foster is not a killer.

Still, the State of Texas plans to put him to death Thursday.

Joining calls religious and political leaders around the world for a commutation of Foster's sentence, the Morning News ended its editorial by declaring, "Mr. Foster is a criminal. But he should not be put to death for a murder committed by someone else."

"Governor Perry once said that there was no hue and cry against the death penalty in Texas," said Lily Hughes of the national Campaign to End the Death Penalty. "Well, here was your hue and cry."

On the eve of the scheduled execution, Perry announced that, "After carefully considering the facts of this case, along with the recommendations from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, I believe the right and just decision is to commute Foster's sentence from the death penalty to life imprisonment. I am concerned about Texas law that allows capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously, and it is an issue I think the legislature should examine."

That is not a message that would have been issued by Governor George Bush -- particularly the part proposing legislative intervention to correct an injustice.

This small measure of evolution, occurring in the unlikely state of Texas, has saved the life of a man who should never have been charged with a capital crime.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Bloomberg's Poverty Party

Written and reported by Matthew Blake:

One might expect that a briefing on the latest federal poverty data by an ostensibly liberal Washington, DC think tank would explore some of the root causes of poverty in the country---broken social services, AIDS and other diseases not being treated, record-high incarceration rates. It would also seem timely to mention the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and what it revealed about poverty in America.

But the Brookings Institution's "Poverty and Income in 2006" event in Washington today--coinciding with the release of the US Census Bureau's annual data on poverty--mentioned none of those things. Instead, bizarrely enough, it became a celebration of all things Michael Bloomberg, even edging into an impromptu event to draft the New York City Mayor to run as a third party candidate for President.

Brookings Senior Fellow and moderator Ron Haskins set the tone by stating, "A lot of people in Washington talk about poverty, but only mayors and governors do." Therefore, Sawhill concluded, Bloomberg "is the perfect public official" to be the first keynote speaker in the event's seven year history.

Bloomberg began by praising Brookings for being an institute above partisan politics, made a joke about how he was not running a stealth campaign for Attorney General and then launched into a 15-minute speech---about New York City education policy.

He finally got around to directly addressing poverty, rhetorically asking the crowd "How do you do it?" Bloomberg has presented himself as an alternative to the Republican right, but the former Democrat-turned Republican-turned Independent was quick to show that he's no liberal, either. "You can't fightpoverty without fighting the principle causes, which are poor education and dependence on government," he said. In respect to the latter, Bloomberg alleged that the 1996 federal Welfare Reform Act is the prime example of government effectively establishing the proper incentives in helping its most vulnerable citizens.

"It's about breaking taboos like requiring mothers to work," Bloomberg said in reference to both the Welfare Reform Act and his own city policy to give the newly employed $150 a month in cash if they stay on the job. "You have to stick your neck out and try policies even if its results are unknown."

Bloomberg's poverty policy in question includes expanding the earned income tax credit in ways he hopes will end the "marriage penalty" and giving the aforementioned "conditional cash payments" to adults who obtain and keep new jobs. It garnered the adulation from Sawhill and the other assembled Brookings fellows who spoke when Bloomberg---and about 300 of the assembled crowd of 400---left.

"About Michael Bloomberg's proposals--I would just say amen," said Rebecca Blank, an economist and visiting fellow at Brookings. "I agree with it completely."

Senior Fellow Gary Burtless echoed Blank's words: "I think Michael Bloomberg is absolutely right in his proposal."

In the spirit of intellectual diversity, Brookings invited conservative commentator Robert George, whose New York Post columns have been caustically critical of the Mayor's conditional cash payment proposal. But even George had kind words for the Mayor, light-heatedly asking whether Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel or former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn would be his Presidential running mate.

Leaving the national press club, this reporter was swarmed by advocates with "Draft Bloomberg" posters and business cards. No word yet on whether they also received fellowships at Brookings.

Confronting the CEO Pay Gap

The staggering gap between CEOs and workers is, at long last, getting some attention in Campaign '08. But there's still more to be done to tackle the gap. If candidates really want to turn up the heat with some well-documented, explosive facts, I'd advise them to check out the invaluable report released today by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy.

I'd like to hear Senator Hillary Clinton make a stink about how the top 20 private equity and hedge fund managers pocketed an average of $657.5 million--22,225 times the pay of an average worker. I'd like to see candidates tackle the gross inequities in an economy in which the 20 highest paid figures in the private equity and hedge fund industry collected 3,315 times more in average annual compensation in 2006 than the top 20 officials of the federal government's executive branch--and that includes Bush and Cheney (when he'll cop to being part of that branch).

And while they deploy these heart-wrenching stats, I'd like to hear all of the candidates blast Senator Chuck Schumer for betraying the best traditions of the Democratic party by refusing to increase taxes on those fabulously rich hedgers and equity guys.)

There's much more in this terrific report. For example, overall, the 20 highest-paid executives of publicly traded corporations made, on average, 38 times more than the country's 20 highest-paid nonprofit leaders last year. The pay gap stretches even wider between the corporate and public sector. In 2006, the top 20 highest-earning CEOs made 204 times more than our 20 highest-paid military generals, and 212 times as much as the top 20 ranking members of Congress.

The report highlights six practical proposals for change--initiatives that include eliminating perverse tax incentives for excessive pay and using government contracting dollars to encourage more reasonable compensation. Tackling the gap is going to take concerted citizen action, smart research and bold policy changes. But the times are ripe. As the report's co-author Chuck Collins puts it, " Meaningful change could be on the horizon, as many political leaders are finally catching up to the public outcry to rein in excessive compensation."

For the complete report, "Executive Excess 2007" check out www.faireconomy.org/executiveexcess.

Attorney General Bruce Fein

It is likely -- though not entirely certain in these tumultuous times for the dangerously adrift Bush-Cheney administration -- that the next Attorney General of the United States will be a conservative.

The question is whether he or she will be a conservative who disregards the Constitution -- as did the disgraced and disgraceful Alberto Gonzales -- or a conservative who respects the document.

Richard A. Viguerie, the political direct-mail pioneer who has been referred to as "the funding father of the conservative movement," ought to understand the distinction better than just about anyone.

Viguerie has been at odds with the Bush-Cheney administration for the past several years -- arguing, appropriately, that the current president and vice president have abandoned conservative principles in order to expand the power and authority of the federal government.

Last year, Viguerie authored a smart book on the subject, Conservatives Betrayed -- How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause (Bonus Books). This year, he signed on with an even smarter initiative, the American Freedom Agenda, an effort by conservative leaders to reassert basic Constitutional principles by prohibiting warrantless spying, restoring habeas corpus, banning extraordinary rendition and torture, barring presidential signing statements and renewing open government protections.

The American Freedom Agenda, led by Viguerie, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, American Conservative Union chair David Keene, Reagan administration lawyer Bruce Fein and Viguerie has bluntly assessed the failings of the Bush-Cheney administration when it comes to defending the Constitution and the Republic it serves. "Especially since 9/11, the executive branch has chronically usurped legislative or judicial power, and has repeatedly claimed that the President is the law," it declared. "The constitutional grievances against the White House are chilling, reminiscent of the kingly abuses that provoked the Declaration of Independence."

In April, Viguerie, Keene, Barr, Fein and their allies signed a letter to President Bush calling for the firing of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. "Mr. Gonzales has presided over an unprecedented crippling of the Constitution's time-honored checks and balances. He has brought rule of law into disrepute, and debased honesty as the coin of the realm," they declared. "He has engendered the suspicion that partisan politics trumps evenhanded law enforcement in the Department of Justice."

Now that Bush has fired Gonzales -- and, make no mistake, the timing of the Attorney General's exit on the eve of what will likely be Bush's roughest month as president, confirms that this is not a willing exit -- Viguerie is proposing a list of candidates to fill the nation's top law-enforcement job.

Disappointingly, most of the names of Viguerie's list are individuals who have sided with the Bush-Cheney administration in assaulting the Constitution. For instance, Viguerie suggests Chris Cox, the current chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. But in October, 2001, when he was serving in the House, Cox voted for the USA Patriot Act. House Republicans such as Texan Ron Paul and Idaho's Butch Otter opposed the act because they recognized that it attacked basic Constitutional protections. By any reasonable measure, Cox failed the most critical Constitutional test of his congressional tenure.

The same goes for former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a Patriot Act supporter in 2001 and defender in the years that followed. In 2006, Santorum also voted for the Military Commissions Act, which the American Freedom Agenda campaign has made a prime target of its criticism. From a Constitutional perspective, Santorum would be an atrocious choice to follow Gonzales.

Ted Olson, the Bush-Cheney administration's Solicitor General from 2001 to 2004, failed at every critical turn to defend individual liberties, as did former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, who chaired a congressional commission on terrorism that did a miserable job when it came to balancing security concerns and the duty to defend basic freedoms.

If Viguerie and other conservatives are serious about undoing the damage Bush, Cheney and Gonzales have caused to the Constitution, they need to come up with better choices than these.

Where to begin? Why not with Bruce Fein, the chairman of the American Freedom Agenda?

Fein is qualified. A much-published Harvard Law School graduate who served as an associate deputy attorney general from 1981 to 1982 and as general counsel to the Federal Communications Commission, he has frequently been called on by Republicans and Democrats to help them sort through prickly Constitutional issues.

Fein is a true conservative, and he would serve as a very conservative Attorney General. But he would take his oath of office seriously, particularly the section requiring him to defend the Constitution rather than the political whims of the president and vice president.

So why did Viguerie refrain from proposing the name of Fein, a candidate who would do everything that Viguerie and other true conservatives know must be done to remake and renew the Department of Justice as an agenda that respects the Constitution?

Unfortunately for his own ambitions, Fein is an sincere conservative. As such, the man Ronald Reagan trusted to enforce the laws of the land has called, most recently in an appearance we did together on "Bill Moyers' Journal," for the opening of impeachment hearings targeting President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Additionally, he was working with a Democratic congressman on articles of impeachment against Gonzales at the time of the Attorney General's resignation.

Fein's willingness to put principle above politics undoubtedly disqualifies him from consideration by Bush as a successor for Gonzales. But Viguerie and other Constitutional conservatives owe their compatriot -- and their country -- better. Anyone who is serious about cleaning up the mess at the Department of Justice knows that the job will not be done by lawyers who have, by their actions, shown that they do not understand the basic intentions or values of the nation's founding document.

Bruce Fein's name belongs on the list of conservatives who would make appropriate replacements for Alberto Gonzales. Indeed, Fein's name should be at its top.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Brokeback GOP

What's up with Republican politicos getting arrested by undercover cops for soliciting sex in public restrooms? First, Florida state representative Bob Allen, formerly John McCain's state campaign co-chair, was arrested in July after he offered a police officer $20 for the privilege of performing oral sex. And today, news broke that back in June, Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), long the subject of gay rumors, was arrested in a Minnesota airport by a plainclothes cop investigating lewd conduct in the men's bathroom. Both men are married--to women. (See Max Blumenthal at Campaign Matters for more details.)

The moment is so thick with irony, I scarcely know where to begin. But let's start with their incredibly lame attempts at damage control. Upon arrest, both Allen and Craig attempted to use their positions of power to escape charges (Craig handed over his US Senate business card to the officer and asked, "What do you think about that?).

Post-arrest, Allen, appealing at once to homophobia and racism, mounted a "black (gay) panic" defense. You see he wasn't really interested in giving head, he was just trying to save his neck. Apparently, the cop was "a pretty stocky black guy" and "there were nothing but other black guys around in the park." Fearing he was "about to become a statistic," Allen did what any other, rational, straight (straight!), white man would do if he just so happened to find himself cruising a public restroom full of black men: fork over a Jackson and drop to your knees.

Less hysterical, but equally flimsy, is Craig's story. Through his spokesman, Craig said that the whole incident was just a "he said/he said misunderstanding." Last year, when gay blogger Mike Rogers alleged that Craig had engaged in same-sex relations, Craig called the story "absolutely ridiculous, almost laughable." I wonder if Craig was laughing on August 8--when he plead guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges in a Minnesota County Court.

Of course, both Republicans have a long history of support for anti-gay legislation--in Craig's case votes for the Federal Marriage Amendment and in Allen's a court brief against gay adoption and authorship of a failed bill to ratchet up penalties for "unnatural and lascivious acts."

I'm sure as the press digests the Craig scandal, you'll hear a lot about "hypocrisy," "repressed homosexuality" and "internalized homophobia." Good enough, I suppose, for making a somewhat cheap political point and sweeping these undeniably creepy, tragic guys back into the Brokeback Mountain days from whence they apparently came. But I wonder if the GOP's burgeoning "bathroom problem" isn't reflective of something larger than just a bunch of conservative dudes who couldn't come out of the closet. There's something palpably sad to me about what happened to Allen and Craig too, something oddly touching about their misplaced faith in the fading world of secret, anonymous gay sex. That world--once found in bathrooms, parks, piers and adult bookstores; the furtive refuges of adventuresome queers, married men, the curious--has been swept away by so many police raids, privatization schemes, quality of life campaigns and internet dating services. But mostly, it's fallen away as gays have become increasingly integrated into the mainstream, and also, paradoxically, more marked than ever. "You're either gay or you're not" seems to be the equation.

Until someone like Craig, Allen, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard or Jim McGreevey shows up to ripple momentarily the waters of public discourse on sex. These guys have problems, no doubt. But we might also pause to wonder if there's some cultural knot that gay liberation--despite its original and best intentions--has left in place. At the very least the link between public power and domestic heterosexuality--with all the fetishistic displays of family life that entails--has yet to be completely severed. Just ask Rudy Guiliani, or Hillary Clinton! Moreover, that knot, perhaps best described as sexual propriety, is what fuels the moral campaigns against homosexuality that have become one of the Republican Party's identifying causes--loyally supported by the likes of Craig, Haggard, Foley, et. al. It's also what leads Bob Allen to the stunning and revealing calculation that it would be better to be seen in the public eye as an avowed racist than as someone who likes to have sex with men sometimes.