The Nation

The President's Global War of Terror

On Tuesday, meeting with the press in the White House Rose Garden, the President responded to a question about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Syria this way: "[P]hoto opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when, in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror." There should, he added to the assembled reporters, be no meetings with state sponsors of terror.

That night, Brian Ross of ABC News reported that, since 2005, the U.S. has "encouraged and advised" Jundullah, a Pakistani tribal "militant group," led by a former Taliban fighter and "drug smuggler," which has been launching guerrilla raids into Baluchi areas of Iran. These incursions involve kidnappings and terror bombings, as well as the murder (recorded on video) of Iranian prisoners. According to Ross, "U.S. officials say the U.S. relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the U.S. provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or ‘finding' as well as congressional oversight." Given past history, it would be surprising if the group doing the encouraging and advising weren't the Central Intelligence Agency, which has a long, sordid record in the region. (New Yorker investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has been reporting since 2005 on a Bush administration campaign to destabilize the Iranian regime, heighten separatist sentiments in that country, and prepare for a possible full-scale air attack on Iranian nuclear and other facilities.)

The President also spoke of the Iranian capture of British sailors in disputed waters two weeks ago. He claimed that their "seizure… is indefensible by the Iranians." Oddly enough, perhaps as part of secret negotiations over the British sailors, who were dramatically freed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday, an Iranian diplomat in Iraq was also mysteriously freed. Eight weeks ago, he had been kidnapped off the streets of Baghdad by uniformed men of unknown provenance. Reporting on his sudden release, Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times offered this little explanation of the kidnapping: "Although [Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar] Zebari was uncertain who kidnapped the man, others familiar with the case said they believe those responsible work for the Iraqi Intelligence Service, which is affiliated with the Central Intelligence Agency." The CIA, of course, has a sordid history in Baghdad as well, including running car-bombing operations in the Iraqi capital back in Saddam Hussein's day.

And don't forget the botched Bush administration attempt to capture two high Iranian security officials and the actual kidnapping of five Iranian diplomats-cum-Revolutionary-Guards in Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan over two months ago--they disappeared into the black hole of an American prison system in Iraq that now holds perhaps 17,000 Iraqis (as well as those Iranians) and is still growing. As Juan Cole has pointed out, most such acts, and the rhetoric that goes with them, represent so many favors to "an unpopular and isolated Iranian government attempting to rally support and strengthen itself."

In addition, just this week, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and other ships in its battle group left San Diego for the Persian Gulf. Two carrier battle groups are already there, promising an almost unprecedented show of strength. As the ship left port, US military officials explained the mission of the carriers in the Gulf this way: They are intended to demonstrate US "resolve to build regional security and bring long-term stability to the region."

And stability in the region, it seems, means promoting instability in Iran by any means possible. So, the President's Global War on Terror also turns out to be the Global War of Terror. Noam Chomsky recently put the matter this way, when thinking of U.S. attitudes toward Iranian influence in Iraq.

"It is useful to ask how we would act if Iran had invaded and occupied Canada and Mexico and was arresting U.S. government representatives there on the grounds that they were resisting the Iranian occupation (called "liberation," of course). Imagine as well that Iran was deploying massive naval forces in the Caribbean and issuing credible threats to launch a wave of attacks against a vast range of sites -- nuclear and otherwise -- in the United States, if the U.S. government did not immediately terminate all its nuclear energy programs (and, naturally, dismantle all its nuclear weapons). Suppose that all of this happened after Iran had overthrown the government of the U.S. and installed a vicious tyrant (as the US did to Iran in 1953), then later supported a Russian invasion of the U.S. that killed millions of people (just as the U.S. supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980, killing hundreds of thousands of Iranians, a figure comparable to millions of Americans). Would we watch quietly?"

The rule is simple enough on this one-way planet of ours: If they do it, it's "terror," if we do it, it's foreign policy, its America's "strategic interest."

Conservatives for the Constitution

Just imagine if one of the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination endorsed this radical agenda:

• End the use of military commissions to prosecute crimes.

• Prohibit the use of secret evidence or evidence obtained by torture.

• Prohibit the detention of American citizens as enemy combatants without proof.

• Restore habeas corpus for alleged alien combatants.

• End National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping.

• Empower Congress to challenge presidential signing statements.

• Bar executive use of the state secret privilege to deny justice.

• Prohibit the President from collaborating with foreign governments to kidnap, detain of torture persons abroad.

• Amend the Espionage Act to permit journalists to report on classified national security matters without threat of persecution.

• Prohibit of the labeling of groups or individuals in the U.S. as global terrorists based on secret evidence.

Of course, it is difficult to conceive of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or even the somewhat more Constitutionally-courageous John Edwards going to such extremes.

They are, above all, cautious candidates. They don't want to be accused of getting too serious about maintaining the basic underpinnings of the Republic.

Only the nuttiest of radicals who ask that candidates for president would ask that candidates for nation's top job to start talking about the notion that the lawless presidency of George W. Bush has created a Constitutional crisis.

So what left-wing cabal is promoting the above assault on the executives excesses of the Bush administration?

The group that's advancing this so-called "American Freedom Agenda" is chaired by Bruce Fein, a former Nixon administration aide who served as deputy attorney general under President Reagan and who helped to formulate some of the serious -- pre-blue dress -- arguments for impeaching Bill Clinton. Fein is joined by former Georgia Republican Congressman Bob Barr, veteran conservative fund-raiser Richard Viguerie and David Keene, the former aide to Bob Dole who for many years has served as chairman of the American Conservative Union.

What gives? How come conservatives are taking the lead in the fight to restore basic Constitutional protections?

"The most conservative principles of the Constitution have been repeatedly violated in the last several years," says Fein. "[The] Founding Fathers engrafted a system of checks and review of one branch by another -- a system of due process safeguards against injustice that is likely to occur because of prejudice and fear. And those checks and balances have eroded enormously over the last several years, particularly since 9/11."

Viguerie is even blunter, suggesting that "a constitutional crisis... has developed to alarming proportion under President George W. Bush."

Rejecting the suggestion that conservatives must remain silent because Bush is supposedly one of their own, Viguerie says, "Conservatives must not fail to oppose the massive expansion of presidential powers out of fear they will be aid and comfort to the Left. Concern about one branch of government acquiring excessive power should not be the providence of liberals, moderates, or conservatives. It must be the concern of all Americans who value liberty…"

Barr echoes that view, arguing that, "[We]" cannot sit by and wait thirty years for court decisions. We cannot wait until another four-year election cycle is concluded to have the Bill of Rights restored and defended."

The American Freedom Agenda campaign is the vehicle that these conservatives have established, with a self-described twofold mission: "the enactment of a cluster of statutes that would restore the Constitution's checks and balances as enshrined by the Founding Fathers; and, making the subject a staple of political campaigns and of foremost concern to Members of Congress and to voters and educators. Especially since 9/11, the executive branch has chronically usurped legislative or judicial power, and has repeatedly claimed that the President is the law. The constitutional grievances against the White House are chilling, reminiscent of the kingly abuses that provoked the Declaration of Independence."

The agenda was launched two weeks ago. So far, one candidate has expressed support it: Texas Congressman Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican who explains that: "[They] say that the executive branch is always hungry. That's why it's up to the people, up to the congress to reign in the power of the executive branch."

Paul's right to sign on. The question now is whether any Democratic presidential contenders will join him in doing so.

The restoration of the Constitution's system of checks and balances ought not be a project of the left or right. It ought to be something that every presidential candidate can endorse. And, for Democrats, the American Freedom Agenda initiative creates a perfect opportunity to do the right thing with "political cover." After all, if Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards were to express support for the restoring the system of checks and balances and undoing the damage done to the Constitution during the Bush years, they tell the Democratic strategists who constantly counsel ideological caution: "Don't worry, I'm not taking any risks. I'm just making like the conservatives."


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.'"

Abstinence Takes a Blow

It's been a frigid winter for the abstinence-only crowd. Back in October the GAO slammed the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) for funding two abstinence-only programs without reviewing their "education materials for scientific accuracy" or even requiring grantees "to review their own materials for scientific accuracy." Then last week the Institute of Medicine (IOM) attacked abstinence-until-marriage earmarks in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) as ideologically driven barriers that jeopardize "the vitally important end of saving lives." The nation's editorial pages echoed IOM's findings. And this Monday, Wade Horn, director of ACF and architect of Bush's abstinence-only and marriage promotion policies, abruptly resigned -- much to the dismay of the family-values crowd.

Add to this mix the introduction of Gardasil, the HPV vaccine endorsed by the CDC and Republican governors alike but opposed by abstinence-only fanatics, and it's clear that support for abstinence-only education is more precarious now than at any other point in the Bush administration. With Democrats in control of Congress, there's hope that funding for comprehensive sex education (such as the REAL Act and the PATHWAY Act, both sponsored by Barbara Lee (D) and Chris Shays (R)) might get a fair shake.

But don't count your condoms just yet. As Scott Swenson reports over at RH Reality Check, federally-funded abstinence groups have pooled together their resources and created the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA). And they've hired Creative Response Concepts (CRC), the pitbulls behind the "Swift Boat Veterans" ads, as their PR flacks. NAEA promises "proactive 'rapid response'" to "negative attacks" on abstinence education, a campaign to "promote positive national media exposure" and the mobilization of "local abstinence organizations" in "key congressional districts."

What does this all mean? Well, if CRC's track record is any indication, expect vicious, targeted campaigns against vulnerable Democrats and moderate Republicans who vote to cap or eliminate funding for abstinence-only programs. Expect bogus op-eds questioning the integrity of groups like the Institute of Medicine and the American Medical Association, both of whom support comprehensive sex education. And expect media campaigns touting the values of abstinence-only education and offering up the abstinence lobby's manipulated data.

And yes, as Swenson points out, all of this will be paid for, at least in part, by your tax-payer dollars.

In Ron Ridenhour's Memory

In 1969, Ron Ridenhour – a Vietnam veteran – wrote a letter to Congress and the Pentagon which exposed the My Lai massacre to the American public and the world. He went on to become an award-winning investigative journalist but died suddenly at the age of 52. The annual Ridenhour Prizes – awarded by the Nation Institute and Fertel Foundationfor the past four years – memorialize the spirit of fearless truth-telling Ridenhour reflected throughout his extraordinary life and career. They honor people who articulate unpopular truths, who act bravely and put their reputations at risk in order to strengthen our democracy.

Yesterday, at a packed and spirited gathering at the National Press Club in DC, the Ridenhour Prizes for Truth-Telling, Outstanding Book, and Courage were presented to Donald Vance (an American contractor in Iraq turned whistle blower), Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, and President Jimmy Carter, respectively.

In introducing Chandrasekaran, Ted Koppel – whose news program America Held Hostage was created in 1979 to monitor the Iranian hostage crisis before eventually morphing into Nightline – said of Carter: "He was good enough to remind me of the role that he and his administration played in my professional good fortune and suggested that five percent of my income over the past 28 years contributed to the Carter Center might be an appropriate way of…" – he trailed off to laughter and applause.

Koppel then noted his own recent NPR commentarythat compared similar elements of Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City and the German film The Lives of Others. The film focuses on the impact of the Stasi – the East German secret police – on the lives of some theatre people and, ultimately, the impact those individuals have on a senior Stasi officer. Koppel said there was a clear message in the film that "when a regime places a higher value on ideological loyalty than it does on honesty or creativity or even efficiency, that regime has already sown the seeds of its own destruction. Which brings me to Imperial Life in the Emerald City. Hardly a replica of East Germany in the 1980's but replete with sufficient similarities to warn us of what can happen when political loyalty is allowed to substitute for competence…. Rajiv's portrayal… makes the tragedy of Iraq today all the greater. He makes you wonder again and again of what might have been – if only…."

If only, indeed. And if only some of our political leaders today possessed the courage and wisdom, the grace and humility, of President Jimmy Carter. Rabbi Leonard Beerman introduced Carter as the recipient of The Ridenhour Courage Prize. Beerman is the Founding Rabbi of the Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles and a past President of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and the Pacific Association of Reform Rabbis. He spoke eloquently, saying that Carter "has fashioned a career of extraordinary accomplishment…out of what I believe is most important – a persistent moral sensibility. Even about the most sensitive and contentious issues – such as the rights of the Palestinians, for example."

He spoke of Carter's conviction and guiding principal that "every human being is a disclosure of the divine," and also that "in the geography of [Carter's] conscience there are no borders." Beerman quoted Kafka in recognizing a universally important aspect Carter's work: "You can hold back from the suffering of the world, and you have free permission to do so. And it is in accordance with your nature. But perhaps this very holding back maybe the one suffering you could have avoided." He closed powerfully with a passage scrawled by Walt Whitman that he had found in the Library of Congress: "Uncage in my heart a thousand new strengths and unknown ardours and terrible extremes," and then he wished Carter "a thousand new strengths."

Carter began by speaking of The Prize for Truth-Telling recipient, Donald Vance, "who has demonstrated in his own experiences and his writings and his courage the ability to reveal some of the most despicable aspects of our own nation's policies." (Vance is a Navy veteran, voted twice for George Bush, was a supporter of the war in Iraq and a contractor there, but was tortured and detained for three months by US forces at a military prison camp. It is also notable that he was introduced by documentary filmmaker, Rory Kennedy, whose HBO film The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib examines the horror of the scandal and its impact on our nation's standing in the world) Carter continued, "We used to raise high the banner of human rights and now I think Donald has pointed out that this is not something we can do any more. And I hope that in the future that will be changed."

Carter offered that what he most wanted to say was that he was "humbled and grateful for this award. But the higher courage that I would like to honor is among the Israelis and the Palestinians who have constantly been frustrated year after year. But have persisted in their search for peace with justice…. A half century of suffering, of death, of persecution, and of fear, experienced by the people of Israel and Palestine…[Yet] consistently, for three decades, I've seen public opinion polls inside of Israel that show that more than 60 percent of the citizens approve of the exchange of Palestinian land for peace. And in January, a poll conducted by the Harry S. Truman Institute at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem revealed that 81 percent of all Palestinians share this same desire."

Carter said he wrote Palestine Peace not Apartheid to describe the plight of the Palestinians and the desperate need for debate in the United States in order to rejuvenate a Middle East peace process that has now been dormant for six years. He said history has shown that – with the exception of the Oslo Accords in 1993 – progress is only possible when the United States plays its historic role "as honest broker," with the trust and respect of both sides. He suggested that the Bush administration had abandoned this role that six previous presidents – three Republicans and three Democrats – had been faithful to. He closed with a prayer "for our own elected officials of both parties, and at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, that they would have the courage to face the facts and to do what is necessary to return America to its honored position as a peacemaker." Carter received a standing ovation. There was a sense of sanity and commitment inside the room even as leaflets were distributed outside describing him as anti-Israel.

After the ceremony, he held a well-attended press conference. There were many questions and the old Jimmy Carter came out – well versed as ever on such particular matters as cellulose and biofuel energy. He spoke in support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria ("I was glad that she went. When there is a crisis, the best way to help resolve the crisis is to deal with the people who are instrumental in the problem." He also noted that she was simply fulfilling the Iraq Study Group proposals). And he spoke of his potential support for a presidential candidate who would work evenhandedly to bring peace to the Middle East (but also noted how difficult it is to speak the truth and get elected). But Carter again made it clear why he was in DC yesterday: "The main reason I came is to express my hope that we'll see the peace process rejuvenated concerning Israel and the Palestinians. And that there would be an element of courage in this country to resort back to what was the policy of all the presidents, I would say, prior to this administration. Bill Clinton, and George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, me, all the way back to Harry Truman… to try to take a balanced position – enough to let both sides have trust in us, confidence in us."

The three men honored with Ridenhour Prizes yesterday all demonstrate how trust and confidence can be inspired with some fearless truth-telling and dedication to one's ideals.

Bush Gives Congress the Finger

It wasn't enough for George W. Bush to nominate a donor to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth as Ambassador to Belgium. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which John Kerry sits, was poised to reject Sam Fax's nomination, Bush gave him a recess appointment.

The President just told Congress what Dick Cheney memorably said to Senator Patrick Leahy: "Go [bleep] yourself."

Under the recess arrangement, Fox will bypass the Senate and serve in a voluntary capacity, receiving no salary. But since he's a multimillionaire donor to GOP causes, that hardly matters. Democrats are now questioning the legality of this arrangement. "Federal law prohibits 'voluntary service' in cases where the position in question has a fixed rate of pay, as an ambassadorship does," reports Mary Ann Akers of the Washington Post, citing the Government Accountability Office.

Bush vowed after the November elections that he would "work with the new Congress in a bipartisan way." It's now clear that he had no such thing in mind.

Media Nostalgic for Satanic Abuse Scandals?

Boy, does the media love a good daycare controversy. Since we haven't had a good Satanic abuse or child molestation daycare story in years, we have to make do with provocative statistics. It's not the same, but it allows us to air our gender anxieties and maternal issues, and we seem to have a collective need to do that at least once a year.

Last week's media frenzy focused on the latest National Institutes of Health day care study-- actually on one finding in particular: kids who spent three or four preschool years in daycare had marginally more behavior problems in school. Researchers themselves said kids were "in the normal range" and parents shouldn't freak out -- but such caveats were lost in the cacophony. This week, the reports are still making the roundsin the blogosphere, with many bloggers offering a salutary corrective to the way the story was initially reported. Many mainstream journalists, as usual, were eager to twist the results to confirm the most reactionary assumptions: mothers shouldn't work. The very best analysis anywhere was Emily Bazelon's terrific dissection on Slate.

The study suggests some interesting possibilities. The quality of the day care mattered a great deal (though the quality of the care children received at home, from their parents, mattered even more). Many day care centers are substandard, especially those available to poor people. Watching TV in the company of underqualified strangers can't be terribly helpful to a kid's development. Raising the pay of child care workers would certainly help improve the quality of care, and more oversight of the daycare industry would be helpful. There's a great daycare center in my neighborhood-- caring, intellectually and socially stimulating -- but since it costs more than three years of my college education, I have never even visited it. All kids deserve to attend places like that. But in addition to improving daycare, we need to get more companies to offer on-site babysitting so that parents and children can spend more time together. And of course, people should have more choices: it should be made much easier for parents to take longer parental leaves or work part time when their children are very young.

Another possibility is that some of these "behavior problems" are just no big deal. As American University/University of Maryland economics professor emerita Barbara Bergmann writes in a not-yet-published paper on these studies ("Long Leaves, Child Well-being and Gender Equality"), "It would be helpful in thinking about policy issues to have an idea of how bad the behavior of the children...actually is. Are they merely argumentative, or are they a bit nasty at times, or are they monsters? Unfortunately, it is impossible to get that kind of understanding from these reports." Like so many well-researched studies, this one inevitably leads us to the conclusion that...more research is needed.

Refunds for Good

Did you know that the most wide-reaching tax refund in IRS history is on tap for this year?

The Telephone Excise Tax Refund (TETR) is a one-time payment available on your 2006 federal income tax return. It's designed to refund previously collected long distance telephone taxes that have been ruled illegal by the courts. Any American who purchased long distance or wireless phone service between March 2003 and August 2006 is entitled to the refund. The trick is that you have to request it. (Click here for instructions.)

The Phone Excise Tax was enacted by Congress in 1898 to help fund the Spanish-American War. The government at the time was skittish about its ability to pay for its latest colonial venture so it enacted the tax over widespread public opposition. Shockingly, though it took US forces less than four months to conquer the island of Cuba, the tax to fund that operation has been on the phone bills of US consumers ever since.

In May 2006, following the losses of five federal court decisions, the IRS finally agreed to stop assessing the surcharge and to accept a court order to refund taxpayers. The American public is eligible to receive an estimated $20 billion through this refund, if taxpayers claim it; half going to businesses and non-profits, and half to individuals. Individuals are due to receive from $30 to $60 each based on their own deductions. But the IRS is counting on more than half of all people eligible to neglect to ask for the money.

To urge people to claim their refunds and then donate this found money to a good cause, two social entrepreneurs, Jonathan Gorham and Michael Swartz, have launchedrefundsforgood.org. The interactive site--which has drawn support from thirteen Nobel Peace Laureates--offers clear guidance on how to claim the refunds and highlights three US non-profits as potential recipients of this unexpected residual.

*PeaceJam Foundation works to nurture a new generation of young leaders committed to social change through peace-making service projects in local communities.

* Solar Electric Light Fund brings solar power and modern communications to rural villages in the developing world for enhancements in health, education, and economic well-being.

* Physicians for Social Responsibility organizes medical and public health support for policies to stop nuclear war and proliferation and to slow, stop and reverse global warming and toxic degradation of the environment.

Taxpayers can use the secure form at refundsforgood.org to make a tax deductible donation of any amount to one or more of the three non-profits. Kudos to Gorham and Swartz for this great idea. Let's take full advantage of it.

Bush v. Constitution... Again

George Bush's presidency has been distinguished by nothing so much as his consistent disregard for the Constitution. He wages war without required Congressional declarations. He orders spying that is in direct conflict with the 4th Amendment. He permits tortures and extraordinary renditions that violate the 8th Amendment,

Above all, the President disregards the basic requirement of shared governance. He shows little respect for the separation of powers, let alone for the system of checks and balances that requires Congress to participate in domestic and foreign-policy decision making.

Bush's anti-Constitutionalism was on full display today, as he echoed claims by his aides that it is somehow inappropriate for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to travel to Syria--a county the White House has tried, with almost no success, to isolate from the international community.

"Going to Syria sends mixed signals, signals in the region and, of course, mixed signals to President Assad," Bush said. "And by that I mean, you know, photo opportunities and/or meetings with President Assad lead the Assad government to believe they're part of the mainstream of the international community, when in fact, they're a state sponsor of terror."

The President is upset that Pelosi has chosen to take seriously the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which recommended multilateral diplomacy with Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, as a means of promoting stability in the the violence-torn nation and the region surrounding it. Despite the fact that the ISG was essentially led by his father's former Secretary of State, James Baker, Bush II had rejected the sort of bilateral diplomacy that allowed Bush I to work so well with Syria during the tense days before and after the first Gulf War.

"Sending delegations doesn't work. It's simply been counterproductive,'' claims the Bush of the moment, illustrating once again the ahistoric approach to global affairs that has defined his presidency.

Just as the present President chooses not to be informed by the record of his father's era, he also rejects the intent of the founding fathers.

The Constitution makes clear that the Congress has broad authority to actively participate in foreign and military affairs. After all, the founders created the legislative branch as the first defined branch of government and afforded to it the power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations," "to define and punish... offenses against the law of nations," "to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water," and "to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof."

House and Senate leaders have a long history of being regular travelers abroad, and they have sometimes overstepped their boundaries. Famously, according to documents obtained by the National Security Archives at George Washington University, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, secretly advised Colombian authorities to ignore the human rights requirements that had been attached to US military aid allocations made to Colombia during the Clinton years.

But, while there are always fine lines to be walked by traveling legislative leaders, there has never been any real question of the intent that they should travel, consult, gather information and otherwise prepare themselves to check and balance the executive branch's international initiatives.

Translation: Speaker Pelosi travels to Syria and other diplomatic hot spots with the encouragement of James Madison and George Mason, if not George Bush. No, it's not Pelosi's job to negotiate treaties or to engage in the fine-tuning of diplomatic relations. That is usually, and appropriately, the work of the State Department, where the secretary in charge serves, yes, at the pleasure of the president but, also, with the approval and the oversight of the Congress.

It is Nancy Pelosi's job to open and maintain the lines of international communication that allow her--and, by extension, the Congress--to be full and active participants in the forging of America's foreign policy priorities. She does so not as an interloper on executive authority but as the leader of a co-equal branch of the federal government of the United States.


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.'"

Supreme Court Stands Up for the Polar Bears

The Supremes have spoken. George, we put you in the White House back in 2000, but we can't go along with your "junk science" on global warming. We order you and your weak-spined EPA to obey the law. Do something real about the climate-change carbon emissions from automobiles that are killing the polar bears. Or, if you decide not to do so, then give us an explanation based on science, not on the latest press release from your pals at Exxon Mobil.

How radical is that? Of course, the four Corporate Justices – Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito--choked and sputtered and pounded the bench. In the majesty of the Constitution, they insisted, this issue should never have come before the court. Leave it to the Congress. In the wisdom of democratic process, the lawmakers can decide whether to side with Al Gore and a zillion anxious scientists or the good folks from autos, oil and electric utilities who pass out the checks to deserving legislators.

After the court delivered its 5-4 decision, a political hack who fronts for the car makers, solemnly announced they "look forward to working constructively with both Congress and the administration." That's a hoot. Detroit has resisted every small step forward for forty years, starting with Ralph Nader's observation that many fewer people would be killed if the companies designed more for safety, less for testosterone.

The political muscle of the Big Three (now two and a half) has fought every measure for better fuel usage and cleaner tailpipe emissions. And, sad to say, the United Auto Workers, once one of the most progressive unions, marched side by side with the companies' reactionary strategy. The US industry, one can say, planned its own demise--building bigger and bigger gas wagons because they deliver more profit per pound--while those crafty Japanese engineers at Toyota were designing better cars--better mileage, less damage to nature.

The Supreme Court's other environmental case--a slam-dunk 9-0 decision against Duke Energy--provides a cautionary tale about the prospects for achieving real progress on global warming. I don't doubt that Congress will act, at least once there is a new president. But reformers should be very wary about joining the corporates in a cooperative mode.

Some leading corporations are sincerely committed to solutions, but the trade groups and industry lobbyists really want a hand in drafting the legislation so they can build in loopholes and escape hatches--legal gimmicks they can exploit later to stall on compliance.

That's what the case against Duke Energy was about. In 1970, when the Clean Air Act was first enacted, the electric utilities industry screamed and begged for dispensation. Repairing older power plants to reduce emissions would be hugely expensive and a waste of capital. Give us a "grandfather clause" that allows us to keep operating those old plants until they become obsolete--then we will build new plants with the latest pollution-control technologies.

Congress gave them that deal, partly to round up votes from coal-producing states. The industry has proceeded to ignore the terms ever since. Over many years, EPA and the Justice Department tried to get compliance. They tightened law, they sued the companies. Duke Energy and others filed appeals, stalled and dissembled and managed political fixes at the White House or Congress.

So here we are 37 years later--still waiting for these companies to obey the law. Even the Corporate Justices have had enough. The 9-0 ruling essentially said, for god's sake, obey the damn law.

If Congress enacts carbon legislation with the same friendly approach to the well-being of the polluters, the polar bears are not saved. They will be long gone before the titans of industry have changed their behavior.