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Let the Sunshine In

Last week, a New York Times editorial was spot-on in calling for "a heavy dose of Internet transparency" to shed light on the relationships between our legislators and the special interests. The Times noted that "the technology is already there, along with the public's appetite for more disclosure about the byways of power in Congress." In suggesting "prompt, searchable postings of basic data--from lobbyists' itineraries and expenses to incumbents' donor ties and legislative labors," the Times is recognizing the value of the Internet as a technology that enables far greater sharing of information and shifts power into the hands of ordinary people.

It is far past time for Congress to enter the twenty-first century. Believe it or not, the Senate still files its campaign finance reports on paper (even though every Senator's campaign undoubtedly uses computers--well, we're not sure about Ted "the Internet is made of tubes" Stevens of Alaska). There's no technical reason why lobbyist reports couldn't be filed weekly, and online for immediate access.

There's no technical reason why committee hearings aren't all streaming on the web. Nor is there any technical reason that Members' personal financial disclosure reports aren't immediately posted on the web and updated whenever a Congressmen buys or sells property or stocks. If the SEC can require advance disclosure by directors of public companies before they buy or sell their company's stock, surely we should expect similar disclosure by the people who are buying and selling legislation.

One new organization taking the lead in pushing these ideas that the Times mentioned is The Sunlight Foundation--a nonpartisan watchdog organization devoted to using the Internet and information technology to increase transparency and accountability in Congress. The group is urging elected officials to sign onto its "," which calls for posting daily work schedules on the Internet, including meetings with lobbyists and all fundraising events. Rep.-elect Kirsten Gillibrand has agreed to it and Sen.-elect Jon Tester reportedly will as well.

Finally, the Times editorial cited the need for an "independent agency to prod Congress to fully investigate corruption allegations." Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has signaled an openness to such an agency. She announced a bipartisan task force to look into the matter and report back by late March. Of course, creating a task force to look into creating an agency is potentially an inside-the-Beltway prescription for doing nothing. Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, told the Washington Post that the task force "worries me enormously" and that "they ought to bite the bullet" and create an independent Office of Public Integrity immediately.

If the Democrats want to make good on their promise to cleanup Congress, they will do everything they can to let the sunshine in.

If Cheney's Talking, He Should Talk to Congress

Vice President Dick Cheney should get used to testifying under oath.

It is expeacted that he will start talking soon, as part of a self-serving effort to defend a former aide. But once the vice president's done giving that testimony, how hard would it be for him to head over to Capitol Hill and respond to all the questions that members of Congress have been preparing to ask?

It was revealed Tuesday that Cheney will be called to testify on behalf of his former chief of staff, I. Scooter Libby.

Libby stands accused of perjury and obstruction of justice in an upcoming trial involving issues that arose from alleged efforts by the Vice President's office to punish former Ambassador Joe Wilson and his wife, former CIA operative Valarie Plame, for revealing that the Bush-Cheney administration had manipulated intelligence to make the "case" for invading and occupying Iraq.

Cheney, who resisted testifying before the 9/11 Commission until the bitter end, is reportedly willing to take the stand in Libby's defense.

William Jeffress, one of Libby's attorneys, says of the vice president: "We don't expect him to resist."

Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for the vice president, seemed to confirm that sentiment when she told reporters that, "We've cooperated fully in this matter and will continue to do so in fairness to the parties involved."

Since schedules and notes -- some in the vice president's own handwriting -- confirm that Cheney was involved in conversations about using his office to discredit Wilson, his willingness to testify in the Libby case becomes particularly significant.

Of course, the vice president will make it his purpose to protect his former chief of staff, the loyal retainer who has been described as "Cheney's Cheney." But his openness to testifying under oath about this matter would seem to open the door for him to testify before Congress regarding the matter.

Gerald Ford, while serving as president, testified before a Congressional committee about his 1974 pardon of his scandal-plagued predecessor, Richard Nixon. So there is a clear precedent. And members of the House have already requested that Cheney come clean.

A little more than a year ago, three key members of the House -- Michigan Democrat John Conyers, the incoming chair of the Judiciary Committee; California Democrat Henry Waxman, the incoming chair of the Government Reform Committee; and New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey, one of the most outspoken critics of the administration's misuse of intelligence during the period before the Iraq War began -- sent a letter to the Vice President's office in which they asked the Cheney to "make yourself available to appear before Congress to explain the details and reasons for your office's involvement -- and your personal involvement -- in the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative."

At the time the letter was sent, Hinchey said, "We are going to do everything we can to force this administration and this Congress to face up to the truth and to face up to their responsibility under the Constitution."

The congressman explained that, "The people who wrote the Constitution that set this government up knew what they were doing. They knew what would happen if you let a regime go its own way without oversight. That's why they set up the system of checks and balances. This Congress has shunned its responsibility, tossed its obligations under the Constitution aside – allowing the administration to do whatever it chooses, even to the point of looking aside when the administration lies to Congress and violates federal laws. That's got to stop. We cannot have a monolithic government. We have to restore some balance, where the legislative branch is a part of this process. And we think that one way to do that is by asking the vice president, in light of the questions that have arisen with regards to his actions, to come to Congress and answer the questions that are on the minds of the American people and their representatives."

Cheney showed little regard for Congress when Republicans were in charge of the House and Senate. And no one expects him to display any more respect for the system of checks and balances now that Democrats are in control.

But if the vice president is willing to testify in Libby's trial, then surely Congress has not just the right but the Constitutional duty to suggest that Cheney must also take questions from the Congress.

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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

New Leadership on Ethics?

For most of the last Congress the House Ethics Committee was dormant or dysfunctional, for reasons I described in the article Ethics Go-Round.

Even when Howard Berman replaced Alan Mollohan as the ranking Democrat last April, the Committee still didn't do much. Its recent report on the Foley scandal, which laughably found that no lawmaker violated House rules, proved just how inconsequential the Committee has become.

Today Nancy Pelosi announced that Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a former prosecutor and well-respected progressive from Cleveland, will head the Ethics Committee in the 110th Congress. Maybe she can breathe some life into this slumbering institution. "I hope to be able to restore the public's confidence in the ethics committee and in Congress," Tubbs Jones told the LA Times.

Others are skeptical that new leadership at the top will be enough. "They didn't do their job last year, and I don't think they'll do their job next year," said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington. "The problem is inherent with the committee itself and not with the chairman."

If Congress won't enforce its own rules, then someone else should. What's needed is an independent oversight body with subpoena power, known as the Office of Public Integrity, that can put teeth into the ethics process.

Pelosi, in consultation with John Boehner, has appointed a bipartisan task force to study the issue and report back with recommendations by March. Why wait until then? When the House and Senate introduce their ethics and lobbying reform package in early January, the Office of Public Integrity should be a front and center priority.

Good Evening, Vietnam

Although Vietnam flooded instantly back into American consciousness as the invasion of Iraq was launched in March 2003--along with its ancient vocabulary from "hearts and minds" to "quagmire" (or the deeply referential "Q-word")--for the Bush administration the rhetorical reference point was World War II and its aftermath. From Churchillian phraseology to that famed "axis of evil", modeled on the Axis powers of that global war, to endless invocations of the successful occupations of Germany and Japan, World War II was its analogous war of choice.

Yet from the beginning, no American critic had the Vietnam War era more firmly lodged in the brain than the top officials of the Bush administration. It was as if their invasion was always aimed, as in a suicide mission, directly at America's well-guarded Green Zone of Vietnam memories. After all, much war planning was based on what they considered the "lessons" of defeat in Vietnam.

From the dead-of-night way they brought the dead and wounded back from Iraq to the Pentagon's decision to embed the dreaded media, long blamed for defeat in Vietnam, in military units, Iraq was to be the anti-Vietnam battlefield. If we had, as the right believed, never lost an actual battle in Vietnam, but lost every one on the home front, then the major campaigns of the Iraq War would first be launched and managed on that home front (and only secondarily in Iraq).

But even as the White House and Pentagon were attempting to erase all Vietnam-like thoughts from the reality they hoped to mold both in the Middle East and in the US, even as they were avoiding the "Q-word" or the infamous phrase "light at the end of the tunnel" (for which, in the years to come, they would substitute an endless string of Iraqi "milestones," "landmarks," "tipping points," and "corners" turned), they were themselves hopelessly haunted by Vietnam.

That events in Iraq bore remarkably little relation to those in Vietnam over three decades earlier--beyond the obvious unlearned lesson that smaller powers in our time will not let bigger ones occupy them--seemed to make no difference. Forget the fact that there was no other superpower backing the Iraqi resistance or that the insurgency was a minority Sunni one in a majority Shiite country; forget that Vietnam had next to nothing of resource value other than rice to offer, while Iraq lies at the heart of the oil heartlands of the planet. Just focus for a moment on the recent thoroughly depressing jigsaw puzzle of a map of Baghdad produced by the US military "to reflect… ethno-sectarian fault lines" and leaked to the Times of London. Its various complex patterns of Sunni and Shiite stripes and solids, of flashpoints and "Christian communities," representing the complex swirl of civil war, insurgency, and ethnic cleansing bear no relation to anything imaginable in the Vietnam era.

Vietnam was, after all, a nation that only wanted to exist and whose "insurgency" was led by a single revolutionary/nationalist party headquartered in a separate half-nation. Iraq--an insurgency inside a foreign occupation inside a civil war, all infiltrated by untold levels of corruption, criminality, and religious strife and further confused by a minority Kurdish drive for an independent state--seems to be a nation in desperate search of failed statehood (and the US in Iraq, as Nir Rosen has pointed out, is now but a larger version of all the militias fighting for turf). We are, in short, in new territory here.

And yet somehow, Vietnam only seems to draw closer to Washington's Iraq. Just before the US midterm elections we reached what even the President agreed was a "Tet moment" (though the chaos of those weeks in Iraq bore next to no relation to the South Vietnam-wide offensive launched on the Tet holiday in 1968). It seems that, like drunks at an open bar, the President and others in this administration--no, in the capital more generally--just can't help themselves when it comes to Vietnam.

Take one small example. Just before those midterm elections, George Bush admitted to a group of conservative journalists, as Byron York of the National Review reported, that he was frustrated by the pre-invasion decision not to do the sorts of "body counts" that in Vietnam, as the carnage continued without victory ever heaving into sight, came to seem ludicrous, horrific, and self-defeating. ("'We don't get to say,' said Bush, in what was evidently an outburst of irritation, ‘that--a thousand of the enemy killed, or whatever the number was. It's happening. You just don't know it.'")

The problem, the President admitted, was that, in administration war planning, "We have made a conscious effort not to be a body-count team." Without any other way to measure "success" in devolving Iraq, the President only wished he could reveal the count of kills the Pentagon had long been amassing behind the scenes. Now, as things go from bad to worse he has finally given in to that primal body-count urge. Last week at the Pentagon, for the first time in over three years of post-Mission Accomplished disaster, he offered up a body count, saying:

"Our commanders report that the enemy has also suffered. Offensive operations by Iraqi and coalition forces against terrorists and insurgents and death squad leaders have yielded positive results. In the months of October, November, and the first week of December, we have killed or captured nearly 5,900 of the enemy."

This wasn't just a presidential slip. Take two typical recent headlines--an AP report went: "2,000 killed in Afghanistan since Sept." ("Almost 2,100 militants have been killed in Afghanistan since Sept. 1 in operations involving coalition special forces soldiers, a U.S. Army spokesman said.") and a Pentagon news release for Iraq, "20 Terrorists Killed, Weapons Caches Destroyed" -- reveal that it is increasingly policy. It seems that we now have an official body-count team in Washington for both our failed wars.

And that's the least of the matter. As 2006 ends, Iraq has become Washington's Vietnam in every sense of the word. On the one hand, the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report, representing the world of the elder George Bush, has opted for a policy which combines the Vietnamization program ("Iraqification") of the Nixon years (reduce American ground troops, bulk up American advisors to local forces, increase American air power, and at the very least create a "decent interval" between the withdrawal of American combat forces and the moment when defeat becomes evident). In the meantime, the President's upcoming revamped approach looks to be a combination of a John F. Kennedy-era massive advisor build-up and a classic Lyndon-Johnson years "surge" of troops. In the Vietnam era, another word was used for "surge"-- "escalation." And, as it happens, the newly proposed surge into Baghdad and al-Anbar Province of perhaps 20,000 extra American soldiers (along with a tripling of American advisors/trainers) is exactly the kind of "incremental" escalation that American military men, looking back on the Vietnam disaster, swore would never happen again

Just to ensure that this is indeed Vietnam we're now enmeshed in, both sides in the present recommendation debate have been consulting a key architect of the final losing years of the Vietnam era -- Henry Kissinger.

The dangers of succumbing to the Vietnam urge are remarkably quick to show themselves. Already last week Helen Thomas exposed an instant "credibility gap," sending White House spokesman Tony Snow scrambling to explain how the President could cite a two-month body-count figure but the administration couldn't offer a Pentagon count for four years of war. Meanwhile, the latest polls show a yawning, Vietnam-style "credibility gap" between what anyone in Washington wants to do and the urge of increasingly large majorities of Americans to withdraw all American troops on a fixed timeline from Iraq.

Even more to the Vietnam point is the evidence of collective establishment cowardice in present Iraq planning -- the willingness simply to put off the loss of a war (and of a dream of global domination) into someone else's future. In the Vietnam years, President Nixon (advised by Kissinger) could undoubtedly have gotten us out of Vietnam, but squandered his "capital" instead on his historic China opening, trying in the process -- shades of Iran today -- to get a neighboring regional power to do for his war what he was incapable of doing for himself.

This kind of ongoing madness -- part of which, these days, passes for "realism" just as Kissinger's particular brand of Vietnam-era madness passed for "realpolitik" -- should be material for The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. Unfortunately, it will also be the basis for the deaths of tens or even hundreds of thousands more Iraqis as well as hundreds or thousands more Americans in the years to come. And undoubtedly, when we're done, the Iraqis will be forgotten and -- as in the Vietnam era -- this will be called an "American tragedy," to be followed by an "Iraq Syndrome," and so on into the Möbius strip of history, farce, and catastrophe.

"Surging" in the Wrong Direction

It should probably come as no surprise that President Bush is entertaining the idea that the way to solve the crisis he's created in Iraq is to send more troops to the Middle East, as part of a so-called "surge" strategy.

After all, the Bush Administration is the one that imagined the way to respond to deficits was to go on a spending spree and run up more deficits. So why wouldn't they think that the way to end a war is by dispatching more troops to the front?

The "surge" strategy is ridiculous on its face. And that is precisely why it should be feared; the Bush White House has a penchant for rejecting practical solutions in order to pursue patently absurd pipe dreams. The President is clearly intrigued. He told the Washington Post the idea was among several that he considered "viable." That comment came in the context of a broader discussion about expanding the size of the military in order to pursure the war on terror.

There's not much doubt at this point that the Administration is laying the groundwork for a "surge" strategy in Iraq. And that's scary.

It would be hard to find a more absurd proposal than this one--unless someone attempts to dust off the old "weapons of mass destruction" or "Saddam-Osama connection" bromides.

No one who knows anything about the quagmire in Iraq seriously entertains the notion that a "surge" in troop strength in Iraq--no matter how substantial--will stabilize the country.

At best, a significant increase in US troop numbers might create temporary stability in a few targeted regions of Iraq. But that will simply move the troubles elsewhere, as has happened in the past. Iraq is a big country, and the history of the past three and a half years is one of a highly mobile and flexible insurgency that, as insurgencies always have, flows in the direction of openings.

No matter how many US troops might be dispatched to Iraq, there will not be enough to close all of the openings for mischief and misdeeds--or even most of them.

Even the most optimistic observers understand that the United States does not have enough troops to stabilize the whole of Iraq. Assuming that the US had that capacity, however, the "surge" strategy still would not work, as it relies on the false premise that, once a measure of stability is imposed on the country by foreign troops, the Iraqis will step up to the task of maintaining that stability. Unfortunately, the circumstance of the Iraqi army is such that there would be no time in the foreseeable future when local forces could be expected to take charge of the country.

In other words, the "surge" strategy is a recipe for disaster. It won't cure what ails Iraq. It will only force more US troops into the role of an occupying force--guaranteeing the additional casualties that go with such a deployment.

The way to begin solving the problems in Iraq is to give responsibility for the country to Iraqis who, if they so choose, can seek assistance from their neighbors in the region--an enterprise that might merit US financial, but certainly not military, support.

As long as US troops continue to occupy Iraq, the current chaos will continue--and no "surge" in troop strength is going to alter that reality in a consequential or long-term way.

Only when US troops are withdrawn will Iraq move to the next stage in its development. That stage is unlikely to be pretty. It will involve jockeying for position by different religious and ethnic groupings, and the likelihood is that the violence that we now see will continue. Only one thing will change: The Iraqis will be in charge of their destiny. And that change is, of course, the essential one.

That's why the vast majority of Iraqis tell pollsters that the US occupying forces should leave.

It is time to put aside fantasies, and fantastical strategies, and recognize that the next chapter in Iraq's history will only begin when foreign military forces leave.

Strategists in Washington should be developing a plan for US troops to surge homeward, not pushing a scheme to send more young men and women into a hopeless--and deadly--quagmire.

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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

New Poll: Hillary Over McCain

A new poll from Newsweek has some interesting data on Hillary Clinton's electability. According to the poll, Hillary beats John McCain 50 to 43 percent, squeaks by Rudy Giuliani 48 to 47 percent and trounces Mitt Romney, 58 to 32 percent. Her presumptive rival, Barack Obama, narrowly loses to McCain and Giuliani but thumps Romney as well, 55 to 25 percent.

It's important to take this poll, and every other one you'll see until Labor Day, with a grain of salt. Remember when Joe Lieberman was atop the '04 field? Or Howard Dean was at 1 percent? The public knows very little about candidates like Obama and Romney. No one can predict exactly how a Hillary candidacy will play or whether Obama can live up to the hype.

That said, Hillary's lead over McCain is interesting because of what it says about him. In previous polls the Senator from Arizona has handily defeated his Democratic opponents. But in recent months his numbers have begun to fall. Among independent voters, he's slipped 15 points since March.

Even McCain admits that only 15 to 18 percent of Americans support his plan to escalate the war in Iraq by sending more troops. Once more Americans learn about his dogged support for the war--and busy courtship of the religious right--they may form a different opinion of the so-called maverick.

A Near-Miss Nuclear Explosion

In March 2005, a nuclear warhead almost exploded in Texas. The near miss accident occurred in Amarillo, when workers at the Pantex nuclear weapons plant bungled the dismantling of a W-56 warhead, a weapon 100 times stronger than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.

Details of the averted catastrophe have been kept under wraps until last month, when the Department of Energy (DOE) fined the company that operates the plant, BWX Technologies, $110,000 for safety violations.

In a letter obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), technicians at the plant blamed the accident on severe working conditions, including mandatory 72 to 84 hour work weeks. One nuclear scientist told POGO that he "would not work on his car engine if he were fatigued from a 72-hour work week, and sure as hell would not work on a nuclear weapon."

Besides hellish hours, workers described the "degrading" physical state of the plant in the letter to the BWX board. "Look around the plant. You will find leaking roofs, crumbling buildings, waist-high weed-infested landscapes, barricades and safety tape that makes this once-proud plant look like a crime scene."

In 2007, production goals at the plant will increase by 50 percent, which POGO calls a "recipe for disaster." Clearly it's time for the DOE to step in and show that the government is serious about nuclear security, both abroad and at home.

Fat Cats 2007

"There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."    --Warren Buffett

The divide between rich and poor in America has never been greater. And Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs just widened that divide. The firm is lavishing its bankers, traders and stockbrokers with more than $16.5 billion in end-of-year bonus loot--the most ever doled out by a Wall Street firm.

Most of the Wall Street trading houses had a profitable year , but Goldman's was spectacular--or, rather, obscenely spectacular: Its profits climbed 70 percent to $9.5 billion, up from $5.6 billion last year.

The fattest of Goldman Sachs's fat cats are reported to be hauling in a cool $25 million each. (And some reports say that at least 25 of its "hottest" managers will each take home $100 million bonuses.)

These are times when the combined wealth of the 400 richest Americans (see the 2006 Forbes 400 list)-- a record-breaking $1.25 trillion--is about the same cumulative wealth of half the US population, numbering 57 million households.

These are also times that cry out for smart, big and bold economic policies--ones that can save America's democracy before it tips, forever, into plutocracy. Right now, it teeters on the edge.

In 2007 The Nation will launch a series--laying out the "first principles" of a bold alternative economic policy. Our focus: building a full employment economy; debunking the obsession with deficit reduction-- in favor of a wise and massive public investment in our decaying public infrastructure; crafting an internationalist fair trade agenda for the 21st century, and much more.

But for now, and in the holiday spirit, let me propose that Goldman Sachs consider making the following holiday gift: Sponsor a "Wall Street Fairness Tax." Tell Robert Rubin about it. Convince him that in this populist moment, economic royalists--ones Franklin Roosevelt would have thrown out of DC--would be wise to remember what that great leader said in his second inaugural address: "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

The details of such a tax can be found at Jonathan Tasini's smart web column, "Working in America" on tompaine.com. Essentially it would be 0.25 percent of the value of a stock trade--or, and this is my suggestion, a similar percentage of one of Goldman Sachs's investment deals. This tax would generate significant revenues--revenues which could be used for either a tax cut for middle or lower-income people or for desperately needed domestic programs. (I welcome hearing from economists, citizens and activists who have innovative ideas about value-added elements of such a Wall Street Fairness Tax.)

For the fat cats of Goldman Sachs, this holiday, the question couldn't be clearer: Are you defenders of plutocracy--or democracy?

An Executive Branch Assault on the Constitution

The Bush Administration's Department of Defense is examining whether it has the power to break a strike at tire plants that supply the military.

The Constitution affords the executive branch no such authority. But, as should be obvious by now, the current Administration has little regard for the founding document.

"The US Army is considering measures to force striking workers back to their jobs at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber plant in Kansas in the face of a looming shortage of tires for Humvee trucks and other military equipment used in Iraq and Afghanistan," reported the Financial Times on December 15. "A strike involving 17,000 members of the United Steelworkers union has crippled 16 Goodyear plants in the US and Canada since October 5."

This is no small matter, as a similar dispute in the early 1950s provoked one of the most significant constitutional crises of modern times.

In April 1952, when a dispute between the nation's steel companies and the United Steel Workers of America union threatened to disrupt production at more than eighty steel mills, President Harry Truman issued an executive order that the plants be seized.

The President argued that he had the power to do so because the country was engaged in the Korean War, claiming that he acted "by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, and as President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the United States."

Truman had an expansive view of executive powers during wartime, as was evidenced during his April 17, 1952, press conference, where a reporter asked: "Mr. President, if you can seize the steel mills under your inherent powers, can you, in your opinion, also seize the newspapers and, or, the radio stations?"

"Under similar circumstances," claimed Truman, "the President of the United States has to act for whatever is for the best of the country. That's the answer to your question."

In fact, Truman was wrong on both political and constitutional grounds. As with the current Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the Korean fight had been entered into without a declaration of war by Congress--the bloody conflict was described vaguely as a "police action." Even if a declaration of war had been made, there was little reason to believe that Truman had the authority that he said was his. Without such a declaration, there was no question that he was claiming powers that were not his to exercise.

Republican members of Congress, led by Ohioan George Bender, moved to impeach Truman. Bender declared, "I do not believe that our people can tolerate the formation of a presidential precedent which would permit any occupant of the White House to exercise his untrammeled discretion to take over the industry, communications system or other forms of private enterprise in the name of 'emergency.'"

The articles of impeachment against Truman that were submitted by Bender drew national attention, and support from publications such as the Chicago Tribune. As the drive picked up steam--with Illinois Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen telling a national radio audience that Congress had a responsibility to act--the Supreme Court quickly announced that it would take up the matter.

A court consisting of Justices appointed by Truman and his Democratic predecessor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, forced Truman to back down. The ruling in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952) explicitly restricted the authority of the President to seize private property in the absence of either specifically enumerated powers under Article Two of the Constitution or statutory authority approved by the Congress.

"The Founders of this Nation entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress alone in both good and bad times," Justice Hugo Black wrote, on behalf of the court's majority. "It would do no good to recall the historical events, the fears of power and the hopes for freedom that lay behind their choice. Such a review would but confirm our holding that this seizure order cannot stand."

In his brilliant concurrence, Justice Felix Frankfurter wrote, "A constitutional democracy like ours is perhaps the most difficult of man's social arrangements to manage successfully. Our scheme of society is more dependent than any other form of government on knowledge and wisdom and self-discipline for the achievement of its aims. For our democracy implies the reign of reason on the most extensive scale. The Founders of this Nation were not imbued with the modern cynicism that the only thing that history teaches is that it teaches nothing. They acted on the conviction that the experience of man sheds a good deal of light on his nature. It sheds a good deal of light not merely on the need for effective power, if a society is to be at once cohesive and civilized, but also on the need for limitations on the power of governors over the governed. To that end they rested the structure of our central government on the system of checks and balances. For them the doctrine of separation of powers was not mere theory; it was a felt necessity."

Noting the recent struggle against German fascism, Frankfurter argued that the wisdom of the Founders had been confirmed. "Not so long ago it was fashionable to find our system of checks and balances obstructive to effective government. It was easy to ridicule that system as outmoded--too easy," the Justice explained. "The experience through which the world has passed in our own day has made vivid the realization that the Framers of our Constitution were not inexperienced doctrinaires. These long-headed statesmen had no illusion that our people enjoyed biological or psychological or sociological immunities from the hazards of concentrated power.... The accretion of dangerous power does not come in a day. It does come, however slowly, from the generative force of unchecked disregard of the restrictions that fence in even the most disinterested assertion of authority."

Frankfurter's words ring true across history to address the current circumstance, as do those of George Bender and the members of the House whose move to impeach Truman highlighted the need for judicial intervention: "our people [cannot] tolerate the formation of a presidential precedent which would permit any occupant of the White House to exercise his untrammeled discretion to take over the industry, communications system or other forms of private enterprise in the name of 'emergency.'"

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

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