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Great Britain headed for 'Velvet divorce'?

On May 3, the voters of Scotland are headed to the polls to vote for the third Scottish Parliament since that body was created in 1999. There is apparently a pretty strong chance of a Scottish Nationalist Party victory there. The SNP's manifesto calls-- in reasonably argued terms-- for Scotland's independence from the Union it has maintained with England for exactly 300 years now.

The newly emerged "Scottish question" is impacting London politics in some very significant ways. Only one of these is the newly emerging possibility that the Holyrood (Scottish) Parliament might move towards secession. Another is the fact that the Labour Party's anointed successor to Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, who has loyally stood in line for years to wait for his turn as party and national leader, is now seen by many English people as far "too Scottish".

Until very recently being seen as Scottish would have been viewed by most English people either as a plus or as something fairly netural. But now, suddenly, a surge in anti-Scottishness among many English people suddenly has Brown's chances of winning the intra-party succession vote thrown into a serious degree of doubt.

Plus, Scotland has been a strong Labor stronghold since the birth of the Labour party. So an SNP victory there would signal a broad repudiation among many traditionally pro-Labour Scots of the Labour Party as Tony Blair has (re-)fashioned it... And then, an SNP-led secession from the Union would give the Tory Party a much stronger chance to recapture Westminster at the next election. (Indeed, it might hasten that election considerably.)

So the "Scottish Question" is big. The respected Scottish commentator Iain MacWhirter has argued for some months now that it may be time for a 'Velvet Divorce', similar to the one that in 1993 allowed the Czech Republic and Slovakia each to go very peaceably along its respective way.

The SNP's manifesto is worth reading in some detail. Here what it says on p.7:

    Scotland can be more successful. Looking around at home and at our near neighbours abroad, more and more Scots believe this too. Independence is the natural state for nations like our own.

Scotland has the people, the talent and potential to become one of the big success stories of the 21st century. We can match the success of independent Norway – according to the UN the best place in the world to live. We can do as well as independent Ireland, now the fourth most prosperous nation on the planet.

With independence Scotland will be free to flourish and grow. We can give our nation a competitive edge.

... Together we can build a more prosperous nation, a Scotland that is a force for good, a voice for peace in our world.

Free to bring Scottish troops home from Iraq.

Free to remove nuclear weapons from Scotland's shores.

Free to invest our oil wealth in a fund for future generations...

Note that reference to "our oil wealth"... With the vast majority of the North Sea oil that is currently controlled by London lying in what-- under any divorce-- would be Scotland's economic exploitation zone, that line in the manifesto is presumably sending shivers down the spine of economic planners in London. (Note, too, those to "bring[ing] Scottish troops home from Iraq" and "remov[ing] nuclear weapons from Scotland's shores." Those ideas also seem to be very popular in Scotland these days.)

How ironic would that be-- if, while government ministers in Washington and London argue about what final shape Iraq's governance structure should take, one significant fallout from Blair's decision to join W's war-venture in Iraq should turn out to be the dissolution of Britain's own 300-year-old Act of Union?

There are other reasons for many English people to worry about Scottish secession, too. One is that, without a concept of a shared "Britishness" to rely on, the question as to what it is that actually constitutes "Englishness" seems fairly hard to fathom.

I write this as someone who grow up in southern England, with Scottish, English, and Welsh forebears all proudly acknowledged as such within the family. And a high proportion of my "English" friends have similarly mixed ancestries.

But here's another thing on this vexed question of Englishness. I also grew up Anglican-- which, in terms of religious affiliation was in the England of the 1950s and 1960s a sort of an unthinking default option. Back then, if you were a Catholic, or a Jew, or a non-conformist (i.e., a member of a non-Anglican Protestant denomination), then you knew who you were and what you were supposed to believe.

If you were Anglican, you never even really questioned who you were; and you certainly were never required to believe anything in particular.

In this regard, the idea of "Englishness" feels to me like a sort of ethnic-affiliation 'default option.' It's what you are if you're British but you're are also not Scottish or Welsh or Irish.

I note that George Orwell, back in the day, had a similar problem figuring out what it was that constituted 'Englishness' for him. In one of his writings, it really came down to knowing how to make a proper, English-style pot of tea. And yes, that was an important task we had to master to get our Brownie Girl Guide badges back in the England of the 1950s...

MacWhiter has done some great writing many aspects of the Scottishness question. In this recent article, he wrote, fairly mildly:

    Most Scots seem to favour, not separation, but extending the powers of the Scottish parliament. They want a parliament that looks and behaves less like a Labour local council and more like national champion.

Inexplicably, Labour have decided to reject any significant alteration or enhancement of Holyrood's powers...

And here, he wrote about the anti-Scottishism expressed by many English writers:

    When commentators talk of the Scottish "raj", "whingeing Jocks", etc, they can indulge in identity politics without fear of being accused of supporting the BNP [the fascistic British National Party]. During last summer's footie wars, The Observer ran the front-page headline: "Brown under fresh pressure over Scottish roots". If Brown had been black the story would never have been printed.

This ethnic hostility is rife on the internet. It is an opportunity for English people to get it off their chests, to rant at the non-English, and to celebrate their own values. For one problem about criticising multiculturalism, and calling for a return to British values, is deciding what those values are. George Orwell's warm beer, cricket and spinsters on bicycles usually figure on the inventory of Britishness. But these are essentially English, rather than Scottish, values. It is not easy to have a Scottish "cricket test".

Now, I'm not for a second denying that Scots aren't guilty of this kind of communal hostility themselves. There is far too much anti-English feeling in Scotland which is excused as banter, but is - in its own way - racist. That's not the point.

This identity crisis may be one factor behind the withdrawal of English support for the union, and it is having a blow-back in Scotland. It may be that English nationalism is becoming a more important dynamic of constitutional change than Scottish nationalism. That like the Czech Republic before the velvet divorce from Slovakia, the momentum for dissolution is coming from the senior partner in the union...

So anyway, the May 3 Scottish election: Definitely one to watch.

(Cross-posted on Just World News.)

The Kids are Alright (Part 2)

Who says students are apathetic and narcissistic?

At Stanford University, twelve student members of the Stanford Labor Action Coalition have been staging a hunger strike for the last five days to protest the lack of a living wage for the school's contract employees. About a dozen people have been on a hunger strike, first camping out in White Plaza and then outside of Hennessy's office. The student group is "challenging Stanford to be the model employer that (it is) claiming to be," group spokesperson Shamala Gallagher told the Stanford Daily.

The Student/Farmworker Alliance celebrated a major victory last week when McDonald's announced a landmark agreement to work together with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to improve the wages and working conditions of Florida farmworkers. After two years of escalating pressure by the Alliance, McDonald's has agreed to pay one penny more per pound to workers harvesting tomatoes for McDonald's; to a stronger code of conduct based on the principle of worker participation, and to a collaborative effort to develop a third-party mechanism for monitoring conditions in the fields and investigating workers' complaints of abuse.

At Rutgers University, on April 23th, the Fifth Annual Tent State University will kick off with a ribbon cutting ceremony and a panel discussion on the new economics of higher education. TSU is an international student movement that originated at Rutgers in 2003 as a response to budget cuts. For the past two years, the overarching message of TSU, has been, "Education not War." This year, the Rutgers TSU is calling for the implementation of a voting position on the Board of Governors representing students, the creation of a dedicated tax on legal and accounting fees that would help fund higher education, the full-funding of higher education, and the passage of the Dream Act nationally, which would allow for young undocumented immigrants that were raised and educated in the United States to qualify for the same in-state tuition that is available to their peers.

At the University of Iowa, IowaPIRG students hosted a global warming panel with State Senator Joe Bolckom last week. Over 70 students attended the event and engaged Senator Bolckom on his plans to fight global warming in the state.

This is a miniscule sampling of the great political work many students are doing today. Watch this space for more examples in the coming days and use the comments field below to update us on other instances of student activism.

Gonzales Recognizes The Issue: Political Prosecutions

Give Attorney General Alberto Gonzales credit. To a far greater extent than many in Washington have even now come to recognize, he acknowledged in an opening statement prepared for his appearance today before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the scandal swirling around him involves a lot more than the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys.

Of course, the acknowledgment came in the form of another self-serving denial of any wrongdoing by the embattled Attorney General. "I know that I did not, and would not, ask for a resignation of any individual in order to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain," Gonzales claimed. "I also have no basis to believe that anyone involved in this process sought the removal of a U.S. attorney for an improper reason."

But that reference to concerns about whether decisions were being made at the Department of Justice for "partisan political gain" goes to the very heart of what the U.S. Attorneys scandal is all about. And there can be little question that, while it surely was not his intent, Gonzales in the course of his torturously vague testimony confirmed the worst fears about the politicization of decisions made by his department regarding who should serve as federal prosecutors and what they should be prosecuting.

The Attorney General prepared for weeks in hopes that his appearance before the Judiciary Committee would restore at least a measure of confidence in his management of the Department of Justice. But he did not succeed. Little in his testimony appeared to inspire confidence among Democratic or Republican senators -- even a Gonzales ally, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn today told the Attorney General that his handling of issues raised by the current controversy was "deplorable" -- and it should not inspire confidence among Americans who have good reason to suspect that the Bush administration used federal prosecutors to advance electoral and policy agendas.

While Gonzales told the Senate he had "never sought to mislead" the Congress and the American people, he essentially admitted that he had failed to provide full or accurate information to the Congress and the American people. "To be sure," he said, "I should have been more precise in discussing this matter."

The ranking Republican on the committee, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, compared the "never sought to mislead" and "should have been more precise" lines and then suggested that the Attorney General was continuing a pattern of "not being candid."

Specter hit the nail on the head. After all those weeks of preparation, Gonzales came before the Senate with a repertoire of vague and self-serving statements in which the touchstones were "I have no recollection...," "I have no memory..," "I don't recall...," "I can't say..." and "I'll have to get back to you..."

It was a pathetic performance, especially when Gonzales struggled to respond to the detailing by New York Democrat Chuck Schumer of instances where his testimony today conflicted both with statements by his top aides and with the record of the Attorney General's own actions.

And, yet, today's testimony was revealing -- at times, devastatingly so.

While Gonzales attempted in his initial statement before the committee to distance himself from the politicized process that led to the firing of the eight U.S. Attorneys, Specter quickly established that the Attorney General's description of his "limited" role in the firing process was "significantly if not totally at variance with the facts."

Under questioning from Specter, Gonzales admitted: "I had knowledge that there was a process going on."

Specter asked: "Were you involved in it?"

Gonzales finally admitted, "I was involved in it."

What was this process in which Gonzales involved himself? By all appearances, an effort to pressure U.S. Attorneys to do respond to the election-season demands of the Bush White House and Republican politicos.

Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, asked about why New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was targeted for removal from office. "I heard concerns raised by Mr. [Karl] Rove," acknowledged the Attorney General, referring to the White House political czar who was monitoring with increasing concern the progress of Republican campaigns in the fall of 2006 in New Mexico and elsewhere.

Who else? "Senator Domenici," replied Gonzales, referring to the New Mexico Republican senator who has been accused of pressuring Iglesias to bring prosecutions against Democrats in that state prior to the 2006 election.

And who else? "The president."

Gonzales confirmed that he had discussed pressuring U.S. Attorneys to bring so-called "voter fraud" cases -- despite the fact that there was little evidence of a problem -- with President Bush on October 11, 2006, barely three weeks before voters would go to the polls to decide congressional and state elections.

If one statement is remembered from the hearing today, it ought to be Gonzales' response to an inquiry about whether he felt pressure to politicize decisions about U.S. Attorneys and their prosecutions: "I now understand that there was a conversation between myself and the president."

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

The Big Con

It's really pretty amazing to see the way that a consensus is forming, one that crosses the political spectrum, that the Bush administration has been an historic disaster. I was at a lunch this past weekend with a very, very conservative young law student, and even she could only muster a half-hearted defense of the administration and seemed to almost apologize for her support of it.

That's all well and good, but the next battle will be over how to understand the Bush failure. You're already seeing conservatives rushing to distance themselves from the administration and chalk up its manifest failtures to mere incompetence. But while that's part of the story, it's not most of it.

Enter Rick Perlstein and The Big Con to fill in the story. Rick's written two books (the latter of which is forthcoming) documenting the rise of the modern conservative movement, from Goldwater through Nixon. He's now writing a blog over at Campaign for America Future, in which he documents the ways in which the failures of the Bush administration are the failures of conservatism as an ideology and governing approach. Check out this opening post on E Coli Conservatives.

A Travesty of a Decision

In reading Gloria Feldt's commentary on the Supreme Court's heartbreaking and groundbreaking decision to deny women the right to choose, I'm reminded of what the former President of Planned Parenthood Feldt calls "the travesty of language" around this issue.

In late 2005, I published a book titled "Dictionary of Republicanisms." One of the many reasons for doing the book was my belief that before we can win the great battle of ideas, we must first debunk the Right's political discourse--a veritable Orwellian code of encrypted language that twists common usage to deceive the public for the Republicans' own purposes. "The key to their linguistic strategy," I argue in the book's introduction, "is to use words that sound moderate to us but mean something completely different to them."

I think of what Feldt calls "the travesty of language" and the Right's longterm, well-funded battle to hijack our language as I read the Court's decision--one that in plain language eviscerates a woman's right to control her own body. I also thought--Shame on major news outlets--like the Washington Post's editorial this morning--for simply lifting and using the Right's language of "partial birth" abortion. (The procedure--as the New York Times pointed out, is known medically as "intact dilation and extraction.")

For those who want simpler definitions of "partial birth operation," I offer two from "Dictionary of Republicanisms":

1/ Convenient wedge issue used to separate working-class social conservatives from the Democratic Party.

2/ Banning of which is the first step in reversal of Roe v. Wade

Constitutional Crisis (continued)

On the eve of Alberto Gonzales' testimony before Congress about his deep involvement in US Attorneygate, the Bush Administration has the gall to propose a bill which would greatly expand its ability to intercept telephone calls and e-mail correspondence as well as provide immunity to participating telecom companies. The bill would do far more damage to our right to privacy than many in the mainstream media are reporting.

According to the New York Times, Democratic leaders "reacted cautiously" to the White House proposal. (Even though "they have become increasingly concerned by disclosures of abuses in other data collection programs.") But is this a time for caution in dealing with this White House and its cronies? It's a time for spine, mettle, and moxie. The question that all small-d democrats need to ask themselves is this: are you a defender or a subverter of our Constitution?

The telecom immunity (with impunity!) provision of this should-be-dead-on-arrival proposal is easy to address. In opposing the measure, even Republican Senator Arlen Specter told The Times, "That provision is a pig in the poke. There has never been a statement from the Administration as to what these companies have done. That's been an intolerable situation."

As for White House claims that it is simply trying to "modernize" the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – there is a clear record of FISA providing both the oversight needed to guard against executive abuse and meeting our nation's national security needs.

As Elizabeth Holtzman noted in a Nation cover story, "Since 1978, when the law was enacted, more than 10,000 national security warrants have been approved by the FISA court; only four have been turned down."

And Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, and Legislative Counsel Timothy Sparapani, wrote in a letter to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: "… the Administration has not publicly provided Congress with a single example of how current standards in FISA have either prevented the intelligence community from using new technologies or proven unworkable for the personnel tasked with following them." Frederickson concluded in a statement, "FISA has been constantly violated since President Bush authorized warrantless wiretapping and data mining of Americans by the National Security Agency in 2001. Congress shouldn't reward a president who continuously disregards the rule of law. FISA has already been amended numerous times. It doesn't need to be 'modernized,' it needs to be followed." Mike German, Policy Counsel, adds, "This proposal doesn't 'modernize' FISA. It guts it."

What is most frightening about the Bush proposal is that although the Administration claims – and many in the mainstream media are reporting – that the plans are an effort at modernization and increasing the monitoring of targeted foreign persons (which is troubling enough), it's really about increasing surveillance of Americans too, according to Mike German.

By changing the definition of "electronic surveillance", the Administration would be able to exempt all international phone calls from the warrant requirement. The same holds true for e-mails. The government wouldn't have to go to the FISA Court long unless it knew that "the sender and all intended recipients are located within" the US. Any e-mail routed through a foreign country could be fair game. So, for example, if AOL routes an email originating in Washington, DC to a recipient in San Francisco – via Canada – the government could mine the content of that email. (Of course, cooperating telecom companies would be protected with immunity.) And let's say the government just happened to grab some of this information in violation of the law…. currently it is required to destroy it. The new proposal allows the government to "keep material that they improperly took by accident," German says.

Just as Gonzales was a key player in creating and defending warrantless wiretaps to spy on Americans; stripping habeas corpus rights and weakening our commitment to the Geneva Convention; politicizing the civil rights division at his Department of (In)Justice… no doubt he will offer his unabashed support for the Administration's latest proposal to expand domestic spying, weaken oversight, and rollback the checks and balances of our system to create an unfettered Executive. The contempt for our Constitution is clear, and the pattern of abuse is consistent with what former Nightline anchor Ted Koppel recently warned happens "when a regime places a higher value on ideological loyalty than it does on honesty or creativity or even efficiency."

FISA needs to be strengthened, not weakened. Gonzales needs to resign – he has no credibility as our top law enforcement official. And investigations need to be held to determine the telecom role during five years of illegal domestic spying.

There is only one bright side to this latest chapter of madness in the long insanity of the Bush Administration. It raises another opportunity for sane political leaders and pro-democracy patriots to push back and answer this fundamental question: are we a nation of laws or do we bend to the partisan rule of a few men?

Ten Questions for Alberto Gonzales

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales goes in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee today as the most embattled high-ranking member of a presidential administration to appear before an oversight panel in decades. That Gonzales has clung to his position in the face of an overwhelming tide of revelations about his own misdeeds and the "take-the-fifth" actions of his lieutenants is a testament not to tenacity but to the closeness of his relationship with his enabling protector, President Bush, and the refusal of the current administration to entertain even baseline standards of accountability.

By any reasonable measure of propriety and practical politics, Gonzales looks to be on the way out. A ranking Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, Utah's Orrin Hatch, is already angling for the attorney general's job and it is difficult to imagine that Hatch will not have it in due course.

That said, the Gonzales testimony is important. Even in full spin mode -- and, make no mistake, the attorney general will appear with more lines memorized that a Shakespearean actor -- what transpires on Capitol Hill today could go a long way toward defining the future not just of the inquiry into the firings of U.S. Attorneys but of the Bush administration.

To that end, here are ten sets of questions that ought to be asked and answered by Gonzales:

1. Is it true that you have spent most of the past month preparing to give this testimony? Is it true that you have participated in hundreds of hours of practice sessions and reviews of information related to concerns about the politicization of the hiring and firing of U.S. Attorneys and allegations that sitting and former prosecutors were pressured to use their positions to advance the electoral and policy goals of the Bush White House and the Republican Party? If so, can we assume that you are prepared to provide thorough, detailed and straight-forward testimony without resorting to claims that you do not recall, recognize or understand matters that might reasonably have been expected to arise today?

2. When you took office two years ago, you swore an oath to the obey the Constitution. Is it your understanding that this oath requires you to place the good of the country and the rule of law ahead of the personal and political whims of the president? In other words, do you you consider yourself to serve the president or the republic?

3. If the president or members of his administration proposed using U.S. Attorneys to advance political and policy agendas -- by using so-called "voter fraud" investigations to encourage support for legislation tightening Voter ID and registration rules, or by advancing speculative prosecutions of key Democrats or those around them at election time -- would that be wrong? In such a circumstance, would you see it as your duty to tell him that such initiatives represent inappropriate and potentially illegal abuses of prosecutorial powers?

4. Did you and the president discuss so-called "voter fraud" investigations and prosecutions in the month before the 2OO6 congressional and state elections? Did the president tell you to ramp up those initiatives? As the head of a department that had access to the most detailed information regarding voting issues nationwide and knowing -- as has now been confirmed by investigative reports appearing in the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times and other publications -- that there was no real problem with voter fraud, did you explain to the president that pursuing the sorts of investigations and prosecutions he was proposing was wrongheaded? Did you ask the president why he was proposing such initiatives? Did you seek to ascertain whether there was a political motive? Did you take actions in response to his demands?

5. It has been said by the defenders of the firings of U.S. Attorneys by the Bush administration that President Clinton removed all of the U.S. Attorneys in the country when he took office. Isn't it true that it is standard practice for new presidents to replace U.S. Attorneys when they take office? Didn't George Bush do this? And is it not true that Clinton retained Republican-appointed U.S. Attorneys and acting U.S. Attorneys, including current Department of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff who was then a U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, in their positions until they had completed sensitive inquiries? Why did you not correct this deliberate misconception when it was being spread by members of the Bush administration and its supporters?

6. Were you ever involved in conversations, verbal or digital, in which White House political czar Karl Rove outlined a desire to politicize prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys around the country? Were you ever involved in conversations with state or national Republican party leaders in this regard? Did you ever read memos from state party officials outlining prosecutions they would like to see brought? What actions, if any, did you take to prevent politicized prosecutions? Did concerns about how U.S. Attorneys handled so-called "voter fraud" cases and other political matters weigh in deliberations by you and your aides about whether to retain federal prosecutors?

7. Why is it that so many of the U.S. Attorneys who were fired appear to have been those who faced criticism from state and local Republican officials for failing to advance political prosecutions of Democrats in an election year? What do you know about the statements of New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, who says that before he was removed from his position he resisted pressure from Congresswoman Heather Wilson, R-New Mexico, and Senator Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico, to mount prosecutions of Democrats prior to the November, 2OO6, election in which Wilson was locked in a tight contest with the state's Democratic Attorney General? Were the alleged contacts by Wilson and Domenici inappropriate? Were you aware of them? Did you seek to investigate them? Why was Iglesias removed? Knowing that several of the other fired U.S. Attorneys can point to similar pressures, is it not reasonable for the Senate to conclude that Iglesias and the rest were removed for political rather than legal or administrative reasons? If not, what can you tell us that would counter concerns raised by fired U.S. Attorneys who had previously been praised by your office?

8. Were any of the 85 U.S. Attorneys who were not fired subjected to political pressures. How many of them announced investigations of so-called "voter fraud" cases on a time line that paralleled efforts by Republicans to advance legislation to establish new voter registration and Voter ID laws? How many of them launched prosecutions of top Democrats and people around them on time lines that paralleled election cycles? Were you ever involved in discussions of any kind regarding the political value of advancing such investigations and prosecutions? Did you ever remove a U.S. Attorney after being pressured by Republican officials or lobbyists? Why was the acting U.S. Attorney on Guam, Fred Black, who had launched an investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff's activities in the Pacific Island region, removed from his position after Abramoff circulated a complaint that, "I don't care if they appoint bozo the clown, we need to get rid of Fred Black?" If pressure from Abramoff was not a factor, why was Black, a respected prosecutor who had served under three presidents, removed?

9. Were you aware that the Republican Party of Wisconsin prepared packages of documents, including a lengthy memo outlining proposals for mounting "voter fraud" cases in Milwaukee that were forwarded to Rove's office in 2OO5 and that Steven Biskupic, the U.S. Attorney for Eastern Wisconsin who remains on the job, announced in 2OO5 the creation of a high-profile "voter fraud" task force and mounted more than ten percent of all voter fraud cases in the nation -- despite the fact that his jurisdiction represents barely one percent of the population and despite the fact that even Biskupic would eventually acknowledge there was no serious "voter fraud" problem there? ,Are you aware that, on a time line paralleling the 2OO6 gubernatorial campaign in Wisconsin, Biskupic prosecuted of a state employee on charges that she directed a state contract to a donor to the campaign of Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, that Republicans and their backers mounted an expensive television ad campaign attempting to link Doyle to the woman, and that after the election was done a federal appeals court described the evidence Biskupic used in the case as "beyond thin"?

1O. Were you aware that, on a time line paralleling the 2OO6 U.S. Senate campaign in New Jersey, a U.S. Attorney in that state, Chris Christie, began issuing subpoenas aimed at raising questions about the ethics of Bob Menendez, the incumbent senator who was seeking reelection that fall? Are you aware that Christie, a Bush "pioneer" fund raiser and former Republican elected official who has been talked about as a likely Republican statewide candidate, took the rare step of commenting about those subpoenas at the same time that Republicans were mounting an expensive television advertising campaign designed to attack Menendez's ethics and highlight the issues raised by Christie? Are you aware the inquiry has gone nowhere since Menendez was reelected? Why, Mr. Attorney General, do you think the urgency ended with the end of the election cycle?

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

Trouble in the Magic Kingdom

Many families head for Walt Disney World over April vacation. It's a fun place to take kids of many ages, and even the most cynical and grouchy grown-ups are likely to end up enjoying themselves. Encouraging this cheery mood has always been part of the job of Disney World workers, and it's a job they do well. But this April, these workers are not feeling so cheerful, and the Magic Kingdom, for all its splendid illusions, looking an awful lot like the real world of low-wage service work in America.

Disney World pays entry-level workers only 33 cents above Florida's minimum wage of $6.67, and about 41% of its employees make less than $8.50. Disney workers must also pay thousands of dollars a year for their health insurance. Like many service workers, Disney workers are expected to make themselves available to work at almost any time of the day or night, but are only guaranteed 32 hours a week, and are often not told when they will be working until the last minute; this policy wreaks havoc on family life. Disney has also been "outsourcing" --using outside contractors instead of hiring its own workers -- a practice that lowers labor standards significantly for all its employees (Walt Disney himself renounced this practice as he found it resulted in lower standards of hospitality and service). You can learn all this and more from We Are Disney.Info, a website set up by the Service Trades Council Union, a coalition of union locals representing Disney World workers. The site has personal testimonials from Disney workers, people like Judy Claypool, who has been with the company 17 years and feels personally insulted by its conduct. "When Walt Disney World outsources our jobs," she says, "they disrespect our hard work and years of service." Others describe the material hardship of low pay and unaffordable health insurance. The Disney workers will be re-negotiating a contract beginning April 28, and they're hoping to improve their lot.

If you're planning a trip to Disney World, don't cancel your plans just yet. The workers are not encouraging the public to boycott. But do keep in mind that underneath that Mickey Mouse or Goofy costume may be a disgruntled worker struggling to pay his own family's rent, and let Disney know you support him.

Debunking the Gun Lobby

Back in the late 1990s, the Harvard School of Public Health undertook an exhaustive study of Americans' attitudes toward guns. Given our reputation as a trigger-hungry nation, the findings were surprising--and worth revisiting in light of the horrific tragedy at Virginia Tech.

"Americans feel less safe rather than more safe as more people in their community begin to carry guns," the paper, published in 2001, stated. "By margins of at least nine to one, Americans do not believe that 'regular' citizens should be allowed to bring their guns into restaurants, college campuses, sports stadiums, bars, hospitals, or government buildings." [Via Down With Tyranny.]

The study shows a striking disconnect between the policies promoted by the NRA (and passed by politicians) and the views of the public. After Columbine, for example, "bills were introduced to bolster background checks, force the inclusion of trigger locks with gun sales, and close legal loopholes that allowed firearms to be bought from gun shows without full background checks," according to the Washington Post. "But the NRA helped scuttle those measures."

As the Harvard study notes, the US has the highest rates of gun ownership in the developed world and the highest rates of gun homicide. Compare that to the much-vilified French. Guns are nearly impossible to procure in France and, according to David Rieff's recent article in the New York Times Magazine "homicide rates are far, far lower than in American cities."

The state of Virginia, by contrast, allows its residents to buy a gun a month, with a background check that take minutes. Maybe it's time to say that laws like these are crazy.