The Nation

ABA: Bush Unconstitutional

August 8 was a good day for America. It went under the radar, but the American Bar Association's 550-member House of Delegates – the policy-making body that represents 400,000 ABA members (and includes true conservatives) – voted that it "opposes, as contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers, the misuse of presidential signing statements by claiming the authority… to disregard or decline to enforce all or part of a law the president has signed, or to interpret such a law in a manner inconsistent with the clear intent of Congress."

The delegates endorsed the unanimous findings of a bipartisan task force which had decried George Bush's use of signing statements "as an unconstitutional power grab." Bush has issued more than 800 challenges (more than all previous presidents combined) to provisions of passed laws, including whistleblower protection, protection of federally funded research from political interference, and the ban on torture.

This is an important step forward by a bipartisan, establishment institution. It signals widespread support for reining in an Executive branch run amok that imperils our Republic. This administration has demeaned our democracy. It's high time to follow the lead of the ABA. Demand that every candidate for office this November commit to repairing the damage done to our system of checks and balances by the Bush administration.

Who's Going to Halt Global Warming?

Forest fires, droughts and floods are all likely to become more severe and more common if global warming continues to heat the planet at the rate most scientists predict, reports an article in today's Independent by science editor Steve Connor.

The article, detailing a new climate change study that was just published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, stressed the point that extreme weather is likely to become more frequent and more severe. Marko Scholze, a climate scientist at Bristol University, said the research showed that if the global average temperature rose by more than 3 degrees centigrade over the next 200 years, as widely predicted, there is a high risk of extreme instances of forest fires or floods. "We looked at these extreme events and what we found was that a once-in-a-hundred-year event can become a once-in-a-ten-year event by the end of the century," he said.

Combating global warming may require nothing less than a complete transformation of our economy and society. Fortunately, the next generation seems to be starting to recognize that halting global warming is imperative. Taking the lead are the young visionaries behind the Campus Climate Challenge. A project of more than thirty environmental and social justice groups in the US and Canada, the CCC runs clean energy drives on campuses nationwide as well as taking part in municipal and state-level advocacy and public education campaigns.

The Challenge has already signed up 284 colleges and universities around the idea of using renewal energy and innovative alternative technology on campus. Check out a nifty map that shows which schools are participating, and click here if you're a student and you want to start your own campaign. Everyone can join the Stop Global Warming Virtual March. Finally, if you want to know what's on the minds of young people who care about the environment, check out these dispatches from the global youth climate movement. They offer a terrific rebuke to anyone who decries the students of today as apathetic.

Making a Difference in Connecticut

Primary elections are not usually very exciting. A few political insiders pay close attention, a few party activists go to the polls and the news media give them a day's worth of coverage before moving on to bigger and better stories. But Connecticut's Democratic Party Senate primary was very different. Senator Joe Lieberman's defeat was a national event, with pundits, candidates and voters across the country speculating for weeks on what it means for November and beyond.

Was this election a referendum on the war in Iraq? Is this a shot across the bow of other incumbents who have put insufficient distance between themselves and the Bush administration? Yes, but maybe it was something more than that. By defeating Lieberman, Ned Lamont became just one of a handful of challengers to beat an incumbent in recent US history. That made this primary an unusual opportunity for voters to affect the outcome of both the election and, presumably, the resulting policies.

In our grossly uncompetitive election system in which nearly 60 percent of Senate seats and over 80 percent of House seats are won by landslide margins of 20 percentage points or more, it's not surprising that voters jumped at the chance to make a difference. (And they did: Lieberman was only the fourth incumbent senator since 1980 to lose a party primary.) And when the average margins of victory are 21 percentage points in Senate races and a whopping 40 points in House races, is it not surprising that Connecticut was where media from other states turned their attention.

After all, as New York Times columnist Peter Applebome put it, this is a nation in which "rigged redistricting has made genuinely competitive Congressional elections as rare as blowouts by the Knicks." Consider that in the House, more than 98 percent of incumbents have been reelected in each election since 1998. In the Senate, the average incumbent reelection rate for those four elections is 89 percent. Indeed, 2004 may have been the least competitive year ever, with only five incumbent loses in the House and one in the Senate. (And, needless to say, this isn't because the electorate is so pleased with the job its legislators are doing!)

For sure, Lamont's win is a real victory for progressives. But it's also a victory for democracy. That's why I keep thinking that the fact that a single incumbent being ousted is cause for this level of attention and excitement reflects the sad reality that most Americans accept and expect entrenched incumbency from elected officials.

It's not that Americans don't enjoy cheering for the underdog. They do. More relevant, perhaps, Americans quickly lose interest in a blowout--leading to apathy and declining voter engagement. But last week, something all too rare and exciting happened. As the Times' Applebome observed, democracy broke out in the State of Connecticut. Here's hoping this is just the beginning.

As Conn. Goes in '06, So Goes The Nation in '08?

At the beginning of what is shaping up as America's summer of discontent, U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" for a discussion about his opposition to the war in Iraq and the prospect that he might seek the presidency in 2008 as the candidate of Democrats who want their party to propose a dramatic departure from Bush administration foreign and domestic policies.

The program's host, Tim Russert, asked Feingold: "When will you decide whether you're running?"

"I'm going to look at this, Tim, after the elections in 2006," replied the maverick senator from Wisconsin. "I need to look at what happens in the congressional races -- how are the ideas I've been presenting resonating with the American people -- and decide whether this is something that makes sense or whether it's better for me to remain in the United States Senate."

On August 8, months before the point in November when all the 2006 results will be known, Feingold has gotten a strong and positive signal about how the ideas he's been presenting are resonating.

Anti-war challenger Ned Lamont's Connecticut Democratic primary win over pro-war incumbent U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman Tuesday was a clear victory for the activist wing of the Democratic Party that -- if liberal Internet blogs are to be believed -- sees Feingold as perhaps its most attractive contender for the party's presidential nomination in 2008.

On the morning after the Connecticut results came in, Feingold notes, a former staffer told him, "Hey, if you were looking for an excuse to not run for president, Russ, you didn't get it last night."

Feingold, whose Progressive Patriots Fund political action committee dispatched a check for $5000 to the Lamont campaign on Wednesday, describes the primary win by the anti-war challenger as "an affirmation of something much larger than Joe Lieberman or Ned Lamont."

The message to Democratic leaders who are still uncertain about whether to aggressively oppose the war, said Feingold, was beyond debate: "You are simply not listening if you don't know that the American people have had it with this mistake and want it to end."

Feingold's not just jumping on the Lamont bandwagon.

The Wisconsin Democrat was the first member of the party's Senate caucus to speak favorably about the primary challenge by anti-war businessman Lamont to Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat who has been the party's most high-profile supporter of the war in Iraq and the Bush administration foreign policies that Feingold has so vehemently opposed.

Back in June, when he spoke to Russert, Feingold pointedly refused to endorse Lieberman for re-election, splitting with most other Senate Democrats and most of the party's Washington establishment. While he did not endorse officially endorse the challenger, the Wisconsin senator said, "I think Ned Lamont's positions on the issues are much closer to mine on the critical issues."

Now that Lamont has defeated Lieberman, Feingold has an indication that his ideas are resonating with Democratic voters -- and candidates.

In fact, Lamont cites Feingold as an inspiration and says he would side with the senator on many matters, including a controversial move to censure President Bush for authorizing the controversial warrantless wiretapping program from which most Democratic senators have distanced themselves.

For his part, Feingold says that Lieberman's "extreme support of this ... obviously mistaken (Iraq war) policy that has hurt so many Americans has put him in political jeopardy."

The Wisconsinite also argues that the Lamont victory sends a signal that Democrats can oppose the war and still be seen as friends and supporters of the troops, a theme Lamont echoed in his victory speech Tuesday night when he said: "We have 132,000 of our bravest troops stuck in a bloody civil war in Iraq and I say its time to bring them home to a hero's welcome."

It is not difficult to imagine Feingold borrowing that line from Lamont as he heads out on the presidential campaign trail, just as the Connecticut candidate borrowed themes from the Wisconsin senator. The Connecticut results are only a piece of the puzzle for Feingold, who has taken steps to build the organization needed to mount a presidential run and has traveled frequently to Iowa, New Hampshire and other early caucus and primary states in recent months.

But it's a significant piece. Lamont's win appears to indicate that the Wisconsin senator's unapologetic progressive positions -- a "Bring the Troops Home" stance on the war, strong support for civil liberties at home, opposition to Bush administration trade and economic policies -- have far more appeal among grass-roots Democrats than they do with the party's Washington elites.

Feingold has long complained that congressional Democrats who fail to support calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq are out of touch not just with their own party but with the country.

"Those who vote against bringing the troops home don't get it. They're not out there enough. They're not listening to the people. Frankly, they're not even looking at the polls," says the senator.

"I have been all over Wisconsin, all 72 counties, to 12 different states. I can tell you, the one thing I'm sure of [is that] the American people have had it with this intervention. They do want a timetable for bringing home the troops."

That message would likely be at the heart of a Feingold presidential campaign, along with the senator's suggestion that Democrats need to be bolder in their opposition to Republican policies.

"We lost in 2000, we lost in 2002, we lost in 2004," says Feingold. "Why don't we try something different, like listening to the American people?"

Connecticut voters echoed that theme on Tuesday. But in so doing, they may have complicated things for Feingold. The one thing that could trip up the Wisconsin senator's leap onto the national stage could be the fact that a number of other Democratic presidential prospects also seem to be getting the message from Connecticut.

Massachusetts U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who frustrated many Democrats with his tepid stance on the war as the party's 2004 presidential nominee, this year co-sponsored Feingold's call for a withdrawal timeline. Though Kerry and Feingold are working together on the Senate floor, there is a strong sense among political observers that the Massachusetts senator is trying to occupy the political high ground that Feingold previously had pretty much had to himself.

Former North Carolina U.S. Sen. John Edwards, the party's 2004 vice presidential nominee and an all-but-announced 2008 contender, has publicly apologized for voting in 2002 to authorize Bush to attack Iraq. Edwards as well, has been taking Feingold-like stands on a host of issues. This coming week, he will campaign in Connecticut with Lamont.

Even New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the presumed Democratic front-runner in 2008, has begun to back off her pro-war position, which until recently was only slightly less strident than Lieberman's.

Clinton did not vote for the June Senate resolution that Feingold and Kerry proposed to establish a withdrawal timeline, but she did back a milder resolution sponsored by Michigan Democrat Carl Levin and Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed that prodded the Bush administration to begin taking steps to draw down the troop presence in Iraq.

Last week, as the Connecticut primary approached, Clinton engaged in uncharacteristically aggressive questioning of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during a Senate hearing.

Though she and most other top Democrats backed Lieberman in the primary, Clinton distanced herself from the incumbent in July after he announced that if he lost the Democratic nomination he would campaign in November as an independent.

Clinton said she would back the winner of the primary, in a move that effectively shut down talk that Washington Democrats might stick with Lieberman even if he was rejected by the Democratic voters of Connecticut. On the Wednesday after the primary, she made good on her pledge by warmly endorsing Lamont, as did most other Democratic party leaders.

Like many of her other recent moves, Clinton's declaration of party loyalty was an indication that she and other Washington Democrats are increasingly aware -- and perhaps even respectful -- of the anti-war ferment at the party's grassroots. With an anti-war Democratic primary challenger of her own, labor activist Jonathan Tasini, Clinton does not want to end up in Lieberman's position. Nor does she want to cede too much political ground to Feingold.

After all, while Clinton is the clear leader in most early polls, a New Republic cover of some months ago pictured the New York senator as a sword-swinging Goliath. Feingold was also pictured ... as slingshot-wielding David.

Now that Connecticut Democrats have rejected a Democratic senator who backed the war in much the same language that Clinton has, the anti-war David of the Democratic Party is surely standing a little taller -- and feeling a little more confident as he considers a presidential run.

Fear and Smear

An evil symbiosis does exist between Muslim terrorists and Americanpoliticians, but it is not the one Republicans describe. The jihadistsneed George W. Bush to sustain their cause. His bloody crusade in theMiddle East bolsters their accusation that America is out to destroyIslam. The president has unwittingly made himself the lead recruiter ofwilling young martyrs.

More to the point, it is equally true that Bush desperately needs theterrorists. They are his last frail hope for political survival. Theydivert public attention, at least momentarily, from his disastrous warin Iraq and his shameful abuses of the Constitution. The "news" ofterror--whether real or fantasized--reduces American politics to itsmost primitive impulses, the realm of fear-and-smear where George Bushis at his best.

So, once again in the run-up to a national election, we are visitedwith alarming news. A monstrous plot, red alert, high drama playing onall channels and extreme measures taken to tighten security.

The White House men wear grave faces, but they cannot hide theirdelight. It's another chance for Bush to protect us from those alienswith funny names, another opportunity to accuse Democrats of aiding andabetting the enemy.

This has worked twice before. It could work again this fall unlessgullible Americans snap out of it. Wake up, folks, and recognize howstupid and wimpish you look. I wrote the following two years ago duringa similar episode of red alerts: "Bush's ‘war on terrorism' is apolitical slogan--not a coherent strategy for national defense--andit succeeds brillantly only as politics. For everything else, it isquite illogical."

Where is the famous American skepticism? The loose-jointed ability tolaugh at ourselves in anxious moments? Can't people see the campy jokein this docudrama called "Terror in the Sky"? The joke is on them. I have asuspicion that a lot of Americans actually enjoy the occasional frightsince they know the alarm bell does actually not toll for them. It's agood, scary movie, but it's a slapstick war.

The other day at the airport in Burlington, Vermont, security guardsconfiscated liquid containers from two adolescent sisters returninghome from vacation. The substance was labeled "Pure Maple Syrup." I am reminded of the Amish pretzel factory that was put onPennsylvania's list of targets. Mothers with babes in arms are now toldthey must take a swiq of their baby formula before they can board theplane. I already feel safer.

The latest plot uncovered by British authorities may be real. Or maybenot. We do not yet know enough to be certain. The early reporting doesnot reassure or settle anything (though the Brits do sound moreconvincing than former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who gave "terror alerts" such a badreputation). Tony Blair is no more trustworthy on these matters thanBush and Cheney. British investigators are as anxious as their Americancounterparts to prove their vigilance (and support their leaders). Theclose collaboration with Pakistani authorities doesn't exactly addcredibility.

One question to ask is: Why now? The police have had a "mole" insidethis operation since late 2005, but have yet to explain why they feltthe need to swoop down and arest alleged plotters at this moment (twodays after the Connecticut primary produced a triumph for anti-warpolitics).

The early claim that a massive takedown of a dozen airliners was setfor August 16 is "rubbish," according to London authorities. So whodecided this case was ripe for its public rollout? Blair consultedCheney: What did they decide? American economist Jamie Galbraith wason a ten-hour flight from Manchester, England, to Boston on the day thestory broke, and has wittily reflected on other weak points in theofficial story line.

The point is, Americans are not entirely defenseless pawns. They cankeep their wits and reserve judgment. They can voice loudly theskepticism that Bush and company have earned by politicizing of theso-called "war" from the very start. Leading Democrats are tougheningup. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid uses plain English to explain what theRepublicans up to--using genuine concerns of national security "as apolitical wedge issue. It is disgusting, but not surprising."

Instead of cowering in silence, the opposition party should startexplaining this sick joke. Political confusion starts with theill-conceived definition of a "war" that's best fought by police work,not heavy brigades on a battlefield. Forget the hype, call forcommon sense and stout hearts.

All we know, for sure, is that Bush and his handlers are not going toback off the fear-and-smear strategy until it loses an election forthem. Maybe this will be the year.

Lieberman Channels Cheney

Joe Lieberman is showing his true colors. Speaking at a campaign event in Waterbury, Connecticut on Thursday, Lieberman sounded like Edgar Bergen's Charlie, the ventriloquist dummy, sitting on Cheney's lap. Echoing the ugly baiting and defeatist claims that Cheney, Mehlman and the Republican hate machine are making not just about Lamont, but about Democrats in general, Lieberman said,"If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them, and they will strike again."

Once more, as the President's men turn war into poisonous partisan politics Joe Lieberman provides their echo and cover, not their challenge. So much for his supposed independence. He is once more an enabler, now of the ugliest form of politics. (And watch for Karl Rove and the RNC to pump money and campaign assistance into Lieberman's campaign--since they have no use for the Republican running against Lamont.)

Ronald Reagan: Cut-and-Runner?

In a recent speech, Vice President Dick Cheney trotted out the Republicans' ugly, low-road campaign tactic of positioning themselves as strong and the Democrats as weak on national security. Nothing new there.

But what was really worth noting is that Cheney essentially called Ronald Reagan a cut-and-runner, who had emboldened the extremists with his withdrawal from Beirut in 1983. Hardball's Chris Mathews kept re-running this quote two evenings ago, and did not even understand the political significance that Cheney was calling the hero of the conservative movement an appeaser of Islamic fascism.

Beyond Tuesday

Champagne is still bubbling over Ned Lamont's primary victory over war apologist and Bush-snogger Joe Lieberman, and I'm as happy about it as anyone. Lamont's win is a triumph for (small d)democratic participation (since too few incumbents are challenged). It also represents a (rare) show of power for grass-roots organizing, sends a clear message to the Democratic Party about Iraq and -- most importantly, and unusually -- punishes a politician for being wrong. Deeply, fatally, immorally wrong.

But allow me for a moment to rain on this victory parade. Most major labor unions supported Lieberman, and the AFL-CIO is even planning to sit out the general election rather than support Lamont, rendering the group even more pathetic than Hillary Clinton, who this time -- to her credit -- not only said she would respect the decision of the voters, but wrote Lamont a $5,000 check. The unions' stance is partly understandable. Lieberman's voting record on labor issues is not bad, and Lamont was an unknown quantity (as well as a boss whose own workforce is not unionized, and a member of the super-rich community). But Lieberman's support of the bankruptcy "reform" bill, which was written by the credit card industry and will cause immense financial hardship for working Americans, should have given the unions pause. And even more importantly, unions should be thinking about how to connect with the organized grassroots liberalism -- given voice by the blogosphere, the former Deaniacs, MoveOn.com -- that Lamont represents, or they are doomed to ever more irrelevance. And let's not let those grassroots liberals off the hook either; next time they line up behind an unknown wealthy candidate like Lamont, they should pressure that person to be much smarter on issues that directly affect working America. A gang of pissed-off yuppies isn't -- by itself -- going to make serious social change. As powerful -- and perhaps, headed for victory -- as the Lamont campaign is, it would be so much stronger if labor and the anti-war netroots could work together. That would not only guarantee a win in November: it would be a coalition with a real future.

Time to Rumble

According to the Washington Post, British Petroleum was told by employees that the company was not sufficiently monitoring and repairing its Alaskan Prudhoe Bay pipeline in February, 2004.

"If we find [a] pipe that we know is rotten, they have to replace it," said an unidentified employee in a BP report. "My concern, however, is that they are not taking a look at every piece of pipe that they need to be."

The report goes on to say, "Contractors, suppliers and the conservation community were concerned about BP's purported drive to support the highest standards, yet push for reduced costs in its operations."

And, according to environmental lawyer, Peter van Tuyn of Anchorage, "[BP has] known about these problems for a long time and promised for many years to fix them, and they haven't done so."

How many times do we need to learn the same old lesson? For Big Oil, it's about Big Bucks and nothing more. And despite record profits, these companies fail to take adequate safeguards. Consequently, Americans are being asked to foot the bill for – at best, corporate irresponsibility – at worst, corporate crime.

Representative Sherrod Brown – running for Senate against Oil-subsidy-buddy, Mike DeWine – notes that oil companies are currently earning $1,300 per second while consumers suffer at the pump and Republicans continue to vote for billions in oil subsidies.

Representative Edward Markey told the New York Times, "With oil above $70 per barrel and BP making record profits, it can afford to properly clean and maintain its pipelines. This sudden loss of production will dramatically increase oil prices and the American people will be footing the bill for this combined failure of D.O.T.'s regulatory oversight and BP's corporate responsibility."

This most recent example of Big Oil screw-ups in Alaska should finally put to rest the ludicrous notion that oil companies can be trusted to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (along with the fact that the US Geological Service estimates that ANWR drilling wouldn't supply even one year of US domestic consumption nor would it hit the market for 10 years!). Sure, there will be some head-in-the-sand types such as Senate Energy Committee chairman, Pete Domenici, who will twist this nightmare into a call for more drilling at home. But for the rest of us who live on this planet the important question is this: What now?

Consider what longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader proposes: a profit-based "extraction tax" to be levied on oil companies to be used for development of alternative fuels and vehicle efficiency; a tough price-gouging law; and campaign finance reform that limits the ability of Big Oil to influence lawmakers through extravagant campaign contributions.

But, above all, during this time of greed and unprecedented environmental degradation – isn't it time to rally around a new Apollo Project to develop a sane energy policy that also addresses our climate crisis? (On the same day that the BP story broke, the New York Times reported that the last seven months were the warmest on record – "almost certainly related in part to the continuing buildup of heat-trapping smokestack and tailpipe gases linked to global warming," said Jay Lawrimore of the National Climatic Data Center).

Senate Democrats have signaled a substantive step in the right direction with the Clean EDGE Act, which Senator Harry Reid says "…will expand the use of renewable and alternative fuels, provide relief from high prices and put America firmly on the path towards energy independence." Henry Waxman and Nancy Pelosi have also co-sponsored the related Safe Climate Act.

And the Large Cities Climate Leadership Group – led by the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone – has formed a consortium of 22 of the world's biggest cities to purchase energy-saving products and reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases.

It's not only the right thing to do, it makes business sense too. Environment California Research & Policy Center tells of 12 pioneering businesses and institutions in California that have reduced their global warming impact by more than 100 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year, while saving more than $13 million annually.

Nader writes, "With all the websites and blogs, why can't a million energy consumers band together to start one big energy reform rumble that will be heard by both Washington and the oil giants?"

We can. It begins this November. Make sure your representatives make substantive commitments to energy independence and greenhouse gas reductions.

It's time to rumble.