The remarkable thing about the revelation of the identity of the Watergate-era tipster known as "Deep Throat" is that nothing about the news seems particularly remarkable.
In hindsight, we should have known that Washington Post writer Bob Woodward's source for the investigative reports he and Carl Bernstein wrote about Nixon-era illegality would not be an idealist who sought to expose a corrupt presidency -- nor even a Nixon aide experiencing a rare bout of conscience. Rather, like so many of Woodward's sources over the years, W. Mark Felt was a consummate Washingtion insider playing the sort of games that consumate Washington insiders play.
Far from being someone who feared for the Republic, Felt was a zealous protégé of a man who menaced the Republic for decades, longtime Federal Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover.
It is difficult to buy the line that Felt was all that worried about Nixonian skulduggery, as the tipster himself would eventually be convicted of authorizing federal agents to illegally break into the homes of suspected anti–Vietnam War radicals.
Indeed, it appears that "Deep Throat" was less concerned about defending democracy than about getting back at then–President Richard Nixon for refusing him the directorship after Hoover's death in May 1972.
So Watergate ends up as another story of powerful men undercutting one another in a squabble over turf and bruised egos.
But, of course, there is more to the Watergate story than that. Despite the fact that Felt comes off as something less than a hero, he was a necessary player in a national drama that had a happy ending: A dishonest and dishonorable president was exposed and forced from office.
Perhaps this is why there is so much fascination with Watergate. It reminds us that the American experiment really can yield positive results, especially when the Fourth Estate prods Congress to police an out-of-control Executive Branch.
Considering the current circumstances of the nation, when Woodward and so many other members of the Washington press corps act as little more than stenographers to power, this week's renewed attention to the Watergate story ought to inspire an aching nostalgia in Americans who still take their citizenship seriously. It is inspiring to think that the system did once work; but it is painful to recognize the reality that Richard Nixon would never have been forced from office by today's major media organizations or today's Congress. And it is agonizing to think of how the far more serious crimes of presidents who succeeded Nixon -- especially, though certainly not exclusively, those of the current occupant of the White House -- go essentially unchallenged, even as more credible and patriotic Deep Throats than Mr. Felt have emerged. (The failure of most news outlets to examine what has come to be referred to as the Downing Street memo, official British documents that confirm George Bush's machinations to start a war-of-whim with Iraq, provides ample evidence that presidents no longer have much to fear from major media.)
Ultimately, now that Deep Throat has been revealed as just another cynical Washington insider working the system for all it was worth, one Watergate mystery remains. And it turns out to be a far more perplexing and troublesome one than that of some back-alley tipster's identity.
What remains is the mystery of how America, a country that proved her ability to depose a petty crook from power in the 1970s, has drifted so far from her ethical moorings. At the most fundamental level, it is not so difficult to unravel this mystery. A simple calculation of the roles of big media and big money campaign contributions provides most if not all of the explanation that is needed. But that calculus points to the lingering quandry of our time: Will we ever muster enough outrage at a stenographic media and a compliant Congress to steer America back to that place where lawless presidents are held accountable for their lies and the deadly consequences of their misdeeds?
Will Ron Howard's new film Cinderella Man help deliver a KO to Bush's Social Security privatization scam? It's easy to read too much into Hollywood's influence on our politics, but this movie comes out just as it's becoming clear that, as a recent memo by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg put it, "Social Security is a disaster for the President."
In Cinderella Man, which opens June 3, Russell Crowe plays James Braddock Jr., the contender from North Bergen, New Jersey, who breaks his hand and slides into boxing oblivion--and onto the welfare rolls--only to make the unlikeliest of comebacks at the height of the Great Depression, culminating in a June 1935 fight with Max Baer for the heavyweight championship of the world.
How does all of this affect the current debate about the future of Social Security? By depicting the beneficial effects of welfare during the Depression, the film subtly underscores the importance of preserving what was a cornerstone of the New Deal.
"I've always been fascinated by the Depression," Howard said in a recent interview with the New York Times. (While in high school, Howard made a documentary about the Depression, interviewing his father and others and using old photographs.)
In Cinderella Man, Howard says, "I wanted to remind people that the working poor existed then, and we have it today. While the economy is mostly up and then sometimes down--the Internet bubble bursting felt a bit like '29, where people had overextended and fallen into that trap again--we're anxious. Our population is anxious. We're not in a depression, thank God, but I think it's crossing our minds that something could happen, things could change and not for the better, for the worse."
Will Russell Crowe KO Bush's shameless scam to shred America's most successful antipoverty program? Here's hoping that his blows, added to the thousands inflicted by tireless organizers and ordinary citizens, successfully expose this rip-off.
I posted this on my personal blog while traveling in a Red state:
George W. Bush doesn't disappoint. That is, if you expect him to dodge tough questions and misrepresent facts.
At his press conference today, Bush hailed "Operation Lightning," the current military offensive to secure Baghdad as a sign of progress, noting that 40,000 Iraqi troops were patrolling the streets of the capital. Bush should check in with his own military. For days, military sources have been telling reporters that the actual number of Iraqi troops deployed for this action is much less, probably about one-third to one-half of the 40,000 figure cited by Bush. And the performance of these security forces has come under question. (Do Bush and Dick Cheney live in a fantasy land? Though US military commanders have been saying the insurgency could last years, Cheney yesterday claimed it is "in the last throes.")
At least twice during the press conference, Bush was asked a question that challenged a basic policy and he ducked. Noting that Bush has called for democracy and human rights for all citizens of the world, a reporter asked why Bush had not spoken out against the May 13 massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters in Uzbekistan. This slaughter was mounted by the repressive and corrupt regime of Islam Karimov, an ally of Bush in the war on terrorism who allows the United States to maintain a major airbase in his country. (For more information on this, click here.) In response, Bush insisted that he had called for the International Red Cross to investigate what happened. He added, "We expect all our friends...to honor human rights." This was a rather lukewarm statement. The basic facts have been confirmed: government troops slaughtered about 700 to 1000 people who were calling for political and religious freedom. The British government has expressed outrage and called for democratic reforms in Uzbekistan (where the government in recent years has locked up thousands of political prisoners). Bush's call for more information is a weasel-ish cop-out. He is unwilling to criticize this murderous authoritarian regime because he has cut a deal with Karimov. So much for his high-flying rhetoric about democracy and freedom. It does not apply to the dead of Uzbekistan.
Bush also declined to confront a serious matter related to his moralistic rhetoric about stem cells research. He has claimed that stem cells research that uses leftover blastocysts (early embryos of 100 or so cells) found in fertility clinics is unethical because it involves the destruction of these blastocysts. But there are 400,000 or so of these frozen blastocysts stored in fertility clinics across the country. What should be done with them? a reporter asked Bush. This question does get to the core of the issue. If you believe these embryos cannot be destroyed for scientific research that might lead to cures and treatments for terrible diseases, you certainly cannot be in favor of tossing them into the garbage. And then what are your choices? Keep them frozen forever? Give them names? It's a question for which the foes of stem cell research generally have no answer. You can ban in vitro fertilization, but you still would have the 400,000 leftovers now in stock.
How did Bush handle this tricky--and fundamental--issue? He took a powder. "The stem cell issue is really one of federal funding," he said. He did note that he had held an event at the White House with "little babies" who had grown from adopted embryos. Indeed, a few dozen leftover blastocysts have been adopted. But are there 400,000 people lining up for the rest of these Petri dishes? The question remains: what should be done with these deep-frozen fertilized eggs? Bush offered no guidance.
It's no surprise that Bush bobs, weaves and misleads. The real disappointment is that the hound dogs of the press corps do not challenge him when he does so. They sit there well-behaved, wait to be called upon, and rarely think of tossing aside their prepared questions and asking, "With all due respect, Mr. President, you didn't answer the question on the leftover embryos. Can you please tell us specifically what should be done with them. Or do you have no idea?" Bush can tap-dance his way through a press conference because his not-so-grand inquisitors do nothing to change the tune.
Since the close of the Cold War, apologists for corporate arrogance and irresponsibility have argued that the world has reached an "end of history" moment when there can no longer be any debate about the superiority of cut-throat competition and business-defined "free markets." The rigid orthodoxy of the corporatists has played out in the form of free trade agreements such as NAFTA, which are crafted to allow corporations to easily relocate production facilities in order to avoid laws, rules and regulations that protect workers, consumers and the environment, and in the strengthening of "global governance" groups such as the World Trade Organization, which were created to take away the ability of communities, regions and nation states to hold corporations accountable.
The initiative has been advanced by conservative and centrist politicians such as George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, and by most of the global media conglomerates, which stand to benefit from the deconstruction of laws that require broadcasters and publishers to display at least a small measure of concern for the civic and democratic health of the nations where they operate.
But, despite the pressure from the politicians and the constant spin campaign from the media, the people have begun to notice that the free-market emperor has no clothes. Street protests in Seattle in 1999 prevented the WTO from advancing the free-trade agenda into new sectors of the economy, saving millions of farmers around the world from being overrun by the agribusiness conglomerates and slowing the rush to privatize education, transportation and communications services.
After Seattle, the question was whether the great mass of people who believe that this is not the end of history, and that another better world is possible, would eventually flex their muscles at the ballot box. The late US Senator Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota, tried unsuccessfully to get the Democratic Party in the US to take up the issues raised by the labor, farm and environmental groups that had banded together to oppose corporate globalization. Unfortunately for the Democrats, they failed to take Wellstone's advice and ended up campaigning in successive national election campaigns on the issues that the Bush Administration and its corporate allies chose to discuss.
There have been better results outside the US. Last year, in India, a militantly corporatist government that united religious extremists and business interests was swept out of power when the poorest voters in the world's largest democracy revolted against the false claim that the free-market policies that benefitted the richest Indians were good for the vast majority of citizens. After the election, one of the leaders of the ousted government, Deputy Premier LK Advani, admitted, "In retrospect, it seems that the fruits of development did not equitably reach all sections of our society."
Now comes an even clearer, and blunter, challenge to the free-market mantra of the "end of history" crowd.
France's overwhelming rejection of the new European Union Constitution, which would have locked in free-market policies that coddle corporations while creating pressure to cut pay, benefits and social-welfare protections for workers in western Europe, sent a powerful signal that citizens are waking up to the threats posed by an unbridled free market to their livelihoods, their communities and their democracies.
While most of the French political and media establishment urged a "yes" vote on the Constitution -- which must be approved by the EU's 25 member states before it is implemented -- opponents such as former Socialist Party head Henri Emmanuelli built a grassroots campaign that warned the Constitution would pit workers from different countries against one another in a "race to the bottom" that would benefit only powerful corporations. "I'm not fighting against Europe," said Emmanuelli, as he explained that a "no" vote should not be seen as a rejection of cooperation between European states. "But Europe was not created so that we could set the poor against the poor. That's economic warfare."
Veterans of the Seattle protests of 1999, such as peasant leader Jose Bove, were key players in the campaign for a "no" vote, arguing that the Constitution would impose an economic model based on the demands of big business, rather than the needs of workers and farmers.
They were joined by the group Attac, one of the most effective of the growing number of anti-corporate globalization groups that are forming an international infrastructure of opposition to the push for corporate-defined markets and privatization. Attac's campaign urged a "no" vote, but it was not negative. Rather, it suggested that the constitution be rewritten to support development of "a Europe that is truly European, democratic, social, environmental."Attac's posters promised, "Another Europe is Possible!"
But why stop at Europe? Why not counter the big lie of the "end of history" fanatics with the big truth: Another World is Possible?
Recently, some pharmacists across the country have refused to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception and other birth control pills. Why? They argue that the pills are in conflict with their moral beliefs. And in the current political climate, instead of writing legislation requiring these rogue pharmacists to comply with the law and fill prescriptions without discrimination, many state governments, encouraged by the Bush Administration, are giving these vigilante pharmacists cover. Four states already have laws on the books that permit pharmacist refusals and 12 more are considering similar legislation.
As Rachel Laser of the National Women's Law Center, told the Washington Post: "This is another indication of the current political atmosphere and climate. It's outrageous. It's sex discrimination. It prevents access to a basic form of health care for women. We're going back in time."
No one seems to know exactly how often pharmaceutical refusals are occuring, but cases have been reported in California, Washington, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Texas, New Hampshire, Ohio and North Carolina. Advocates on both sides say the refusals appear to be spreading, often surfacing only in the rare instances when women file complaints.
Planned Parenthood is organizing nationally against this regressive trend with a new website, petition drives, letter-writing campaigns, public education initiatives and the formation of nationwide "response teams" designed to gracefully apply counter-pressure to pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for birth-control and EC. Click here to see the many ways you can help and click here to become a member of Planned Parenthood to support more work like this.
Still Time to Capsize Bolton
Last Thursday, in another setback for President Bush, the Democrats forced a delay in the confirmation vote of John Bolton to become the next US ambassador to the United Nations.
By a margin of 42 to 56, Senate Democrats managed to muster sufficient support for a procedural maneuver to prolong the debate on Bolton's nomination, with the Republicans coming just four votes short of the 60 necessary to bring the nomination to a final vote. The Republicans reacted bitterly as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he was "very very disappointed," while the Democrats insisted, fairly, that they want access to all relevant papers on Bolton--which the White House is refusing--before the vote.
Let's try to disappoint Frist even more by clicking here here to implore your Senators to oppose the nominee. (And for details on why Bolton is a terrible choice, read and circulate Nation pieces by The Nation's UN correspondent Ian Willams and the magazine's Washington editor David Corn.)
Did you know that on the eve of the Iranian presidential election, that country--with 70 percent of its population under 30--has 75,000 bloggers? I find that pretty stunning--and I'm usually skeptical of blog-hype.
Blogging has gone international in a big way. And in Iran, blogging means that news, ideas and rumors are bypassing traditional censors. As one of Iran's leading bloggers recently pointed out at opendemocracy.net, Iran's blogs are generating "an unprecedented amount of information [and] pre-election news has...been much more transparent." In fact, Hossein Derakhshan argued, " it will probably be one of the most open and transparent elections Iran has ever seen."
The internet is playing a major role. This is the first time, for example, that most of the major candidates (except the oldest ones) have their own websites. And with an estimated three or four million internet users in Iran, blogs are opening up Iranian society and culture--despite the enduring threat of government censorship and imprisonment of journalists and activists.
As New America Foundation fellow Afshin Molavi observes, "Most Iranian blogs offer a space to tell jokes, share music files and photos, satirically lampoon Iranian rulers with clever photo-shop doctoring, and generally share personal experiences. The political blogs have a power beyond their small readership because of the reverberation effect: when they break a story or simply spread a juicy rumor, it is immediately emailed to hundreds of thousands of wired Iranians and filtered to the non-wired Iranians through word-of-mouth." (Even a former Vice-President, Mohammad Abtahi, angered many officials for spilling too many secrets in his blog.)
So, for those of you who want to diversify your daily news-feed, here's my list of ten blogs that offer an unprecedented window on Iran's political culture, while helping to open up and make that society more accountable.
1) Hoder.com: Molavi says Hoder is "the godfather of blogging in Iran"; he has a wide following, and numerous Iranian bloggers link to Hoder's blogspot. Hoder's real name is Hossein Derakhshan; his blog, which he calls "Editor: Myself," comes via Toronto, where the Tehran-born Derakhshan now makes his home. He offers observations on the June election and said in a recent email interview that blogs have "given much more transparency to how campaigns operate." And blogs also, says Hoder, have "enabled the campaigns to reach out to a network of educated and influential young students who make up the majority of the blogging community."
2) Massih Alinejad was a reporter for Iranian reformist newspapers, but when she exposed financial corruption in Iran's Parliament, higher-ups banned her from entering the building and she could no longer do her job. She was, the government said, acting "rude and intrusive." So, she started a blog.
3) Mr. Behi, a 27-year-old Tehran-based political blogger, captures the reservations many Iranians have about the political process. Behi's blog recently told us that he "enthusiastically voted for [reformist candidate] Khatami" in the 1997 elections because he and other Iranians believed "Khatami's great promises for a better society." But these promises never panned out. He now says, "casting my vote will not change anything." But his pessimism is tempered by hope, as when he explains that during a recent bloggers' forum with reformer and presidential hopeful Mostafa Moin, the bloggers asked so many pointed questions "that I thought maybe I am not in the Islamic Republic!"
4) Indeed, Moin, whose blog is in Persian, is a leading reformer who has supported the student movement. He's not the only candidate to understand the power of going on-line--though he may be the only one who personally updates his blog every day. (The Guardian Council, which clears candidates to run for office, recently barred Moin from appearing on the ballot.)
5) Brooding Persian provides background and history on Iranian politics. In one recent entry, Brooding Persian writes that the June election has "1,010 potential candidates, 921 men and 89 women." Brooding Persian offer many articles about the election and breakdowns of voting patterns in recent years, mixing well-written prose with sharp, ironic observations. An example: "Here in this heartland of evil at the tender age of 15 you can just walk into any station and vote as you please."
6) Written by journalist Omid Memarian, The Iranian Prospect examines democracy, civil society and social issues including the ways in which Iran's regime represses the media. The government, the site informs us, has recently "arrested and tortured more than 21 journalists, bloggers and IT technicians" and it has closed down more than 80 magazines and newspapers.
7) Shahram Kholdi's blog paints an Iranian Constitutional referendum as "a debate over the constitutional legitimacy of the Islamic Republic itself." Kholdi says that former President Rafsanjani will likely prevail in the June election, but also points out that Iranians are so disillusioned that many will stay away from the polls, especially those living in the nation's largest cities.
8) Iran Votes 2005, written by Windsteed, 29, describes the Guardian Council as a kind of "filter" that must first approve a candidate before he or she can become an official candidate for president. We also learn on this site that a former soccer star and coach, Nasser Hejazi, is trying to seek the presidency. Windsteed, like a lot of the bloggers, echoes the point that a "calm mood" in the country indicates a "lack of trust or interest in the candidates" and in the prospects for democratic change in Iran anytime soon.
9) Iranian.com. Among other cultural and political items, you'll find a good interview with the presidential candidate Hooshang Amirahmadi who also directs the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University. Amirahmadi predicts that if the elections "do not generate enthusiasm or produce an acceptable president, Washington most likely will adopt a policy of explicit regime change. If this happens, the 'Iraqicization' of Iran will begin."
10) IranianTruth.com, edited by Nema Milaninia, the executive director of the International Students Journal, discusses, among many topics, the relationship between the United States and Iran. Milaninia calls attention to efforts in the US House to tighten sanctions against Iran, predicting that such legislative efforts will ultimately backfire. She reflects a widespread view that ordinary Iranians will feel alienated and says the moves will fail to "back the Iranian regime against the wall."
Finally, at Iran Scan 1384, a new kind of meta-blog set up by opendemocracy.net, you'll also find Hoder and Milaninia and other leading students of Iranian politics discussing the June presidential election.
As Iran Scan and all of the other individual blogs remind us, while Iran remains a closed society, a fierce debate about the country's future is underway in the blogosphere. The coming election might not bring about much, if any, change in Iranians' lives, but the blogs could help open up that society, permitting the free flow of information and ideas like never before.
Let's consider a Tale of Two Pentagon Press Briefings.
Last week, amidst the fury over Newsweek's Koran-in-a-john item, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita told the Pentagon press corps that the Defense Department had received no credible allegations of Koran desecration at Guantanamo. Roll the tape:
Q: Larry, just to be clear, there have been numerous allegations by detainees who have been released --
MR. DI RITA: Mm-hmm.
Q : -- by attorneys who have talked to detainees, alleging mistreatment of the Koran, including instances where it was supposedly thrown into a toilet. Are you saying that none of those allegations were credible, and that none of them have -- have any of them been investigated, and were any substantiated?
MR. DI RITA: We've found nothing that would substantiate precisely -- anything that you just said about the treatment of a Koran. We have -- other than what we've seen, that it's possible detainees themselves have done with pages of the Koran -- and I don't want to overstate that either because it's based on log entries that have to be corroborated.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Senator Dick Durbin's defense of the no-nuke deal and how Corn was spoofed on Saturday Night Live.
That was a pretty clear, categorical statement. Credible allegations of Koranic abuse? Nada, said Di Rita. The next day--as I noted here and elsewhere--the International Committee of the Red Cross blew apart Di Rita's spin when its officials told reporters that in 2002 and 2003 they had reported to the Pentagon that Gitmo detainees were saying that US officials there had dissed the Koran and that the Red Cross considered these accusations credible. Then yesterday, the ACLU released FBI records it had obtained noting that Guantanamo prisoners had complained of disrespectful handling of the Koran. So none of this was credible? Let's be generous to Di Rita and stipulate that. How then does Di Rita explain what was said in the Pentagon press room today when Brigadier General Jay Hood, commander of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay, briefed the journalistic troops. Roll the next tape:
First off, I'd like you to know that we have found no credible evidence that a member of the Joint Task Force at Guantanamo Bay ever flushed a Koran down a toilet. We did identify 13 incidents of alleged mishandling of the Koran by Joint Task Force personnel. Ten ot those were by a guard and three by interrogators.
We found that in only five of those 13 incidents, four by guards and one by an interrogator, there was what could be broadly defined as mishandling of a Koran. None of these five incidents was a result of a failure to follow standard operating procedures in place at the time the incident occurred.
We have determined that in six additional incidents involving guards that the guard either accidentally touched the Koran, touched it within the scope of his duties, or did not actually touch the Koran at all. We consider each of these incidents resolved.
Waitaminute. Last week Di Rita said there were no credible allegations and, thus, nothing to investigate. Yet today Hood disclosed there were 13 "incidents of alleged mishandling of the Koran," and five were confirmed. It turns out that not only were there credible allegations, there were actual "incidents." Would Di Rita care to explain this? Would he care to retract his briefing, apologize, and promise to do better? Anyone in the WHite House care to express outrage over Di Rita's untruthful assertion?
Speaking of outrage. The White House goes bat-shit over the Newsweek item. But it has little to say when a repressive regime slaughters about 1000 unarmed civilians who were calling for democracy and religious freedom. Why such hypocrisy? Click here to find out.
IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."
For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.
Electoral reform is on the march. Burlington, Vermont, the state's biggest city, recently adopted instant runoff voting for its 2006 mayoral elections. On May 18th, Portland, Oregon became the first city in the country to approve full public financing of elections. And last week in Canada, a majority of voters opted for proportional voting in an important symbolic victory that could eventually lead to more voices and more choices in future elections.
In a referendum coinciding with British Columbia's parliamentary elections, 57.4 percent of a record turnout of 1.6 million chose to replace Canada's US-style, winner-take-all voting system with a method of proportional voting known as the "single transferable vote" (STV). Under this plan, voters rank multiple candidates in order of preference, empowering minorities and breaking up the monopoly of entrenched political parties. "This was not generally a vote of ideology," says Rob Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy. "This was a vote for a better, fairer democracy that people in all parties could rally around."
Although the STV drive fell short of the 60 percent needed for passage, the measure won a majority of votes in 97 percent of the province's districts. In the wake of these results, Premier Gordon Campbell immediately declared that reforming the electoral system should be a top priority for the newly elected Parliament. "The citizens have been very clear," said Campbell. "There's a pretty strong mandate for electoral reform to take place…a hunger to see improvement."
The STV system is one of many ways we could make the US electoral process fairer. If you're concerned about the state of our electoral system, check out the Center for Voting and Democracy to see how you can help defeat the moneyed duopoly impeding our democracy.
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing email@example.com.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
Thanks to the compromise agreement made possible by seven Democrats who collaborated with Republicans to end the Senate impasse over judicial nominations, Priscilla Owen will now join the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Four years of successful efforts by civil rights, women's rights, religious and consumer groups to prevent confirmation of the right-wing extremist were undone Wednesday, as the Senate voted 56-43 to confirm a nominee whose judicial activism on the Texas Supreme Court was so wreckless that another member of that court, Alberto Gonzalez, who now serves as the nation's attorney general, referred to her actions as "unconscionable."
The final vote broke along partisan lines. Fifty-three Republicans and two Democrat, Louisiana's Mary Landrieu and West Virginia's Robert Byrd, voted to confirm Owen. Forty-one Democrats, one Republican, Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, and one Independent, Vermont's Jim Jeffords, voted against confirmation.
Those numbers are significant because they show that Democrats had the 40 votes that were needed to sustain a filibuster against Owen.
That means that, had Democrats held firm and forced moderate Republicans to reject the unpopular "nuclear option" that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, was attempting to impose on the Senate, Owen might very well have been kept off the court. National polls showed that an overwhelming majority of Americans opposed the "nuclear option," which Frist hoped to use to bar filibusters of even the most objectionable of the Bush administration's nominees. A number of moderate Republicans had indicated that they were uncomfortable with the majority leader's scheme to rewrite Senate rules, and there was at least a reasonable chance that a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans could have preserved the ability of the minority party to block extremist nominees. Unfortunately, in return for the agreement to put the "nuclear option" on hold, seven moderate Democrats agreed to allow confirmation votes on at least three blocked appeals court nominees.
Owen's confirmation on Wednesday represents the first of what are likely to be many confirmations of extreme, unqualified and ethically-dubious nominees for seats on appeals court benches that have traditionally been the last hope of low-income Americans, people of color and women for justice. Equal justice concerns are of particular significance in the case of the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi and is home to the highest percentage of minority residents of any circuit in the country. Yet, with the compromise agreement on the "nuclear option," most Senate Democrats abandoned the filibuster and cleared the way for Owen -- whose nomination was opposed by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches -- to take her place on that bench.
As disappointing as the collapse of conscience on the part of most Democrats has been, however, it is important to remember that 18 members of the opposition caucus held firm against the compromise of principles. Those senators -- Democrats Joe Biden of Delaware, Barbara Boxer of California, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Carl Levin of Michigan, Blanche Lambert Lincoln of Arkansas, Patty Murray of Washington, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Jeffords -- refused to vote for the cloture motion that shut down the filibuster option and cleared the way for Owen's confirmation.
Feingold was blunt in his dismissal of claims that the deal that has put Owen on the appeals court represented a legitimate compromise. "There was no effort to reach a real compromise that would take into account the concerns of all parties. A compromise at the point of a gun is not a compromise. That, I'm afraid, is what we had," explained the Judiciary Committee member.
"I strongly opposed the threat of the nuclear option," he said. "I believe this was an illegitimate tactic, a partisan abuse of power that was a threat to the Senate as an institution and to the country. Attempting to blackmail the minority into giving up the rights that have been part of the Senate's traditions and practices for centuries was a new low for a majority that has repeatedly been willing to put party over principle. Unfortunately, the blackmail was partially successful. The end result is that (Owen and other) nominees who don't deserve lifetime appointments to the judiciary will now be confirmed."
When the Republicans thought they were going to win the filibuster fight, they tried to change the term of art from "nuclear option" to "constitutional option." The GOP's lexicographer-in-chief, Frank Luntz, argued that "the implication of 'nuclear option' is way too hot and extreme." Even Trent Lott, showing a surprising lack of authorial pride, took up the new phrase, despite the fact that he personally had coined the old one.
But the far rights' reaction to the compromise between fourteen moderate Senators demonstrates how much they view the struggle over the judiciary in violent terms. Out went the soothing references to founding principles; in came the militaristic metaphors. Pat Buchanan referred to the agreement as "the Munich of the Republican Party," conflating the importance of a handful of conservative judges with that of Czechoslovakia.
Senator George Allen went even farther on Imus. The "constitutional option" was needed, in his words, "to set the rules of engagement." He said that it was "kind of like everyone was lined up for a duel, and they determined three of these hostages can go loose, and we'll discharge our pistols on two of these judicial nominees." According to him, Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid wanted some "scalps" and gave the Republicans the choice of which one of their"troops" they were going to "take down."
Let's see: duels, hostages, scalps, troops, Munich, rules of engagement--no, it's obvious that "nuclear option" captures the far right's intentions. They clearly have learned to love the bomb.