Democrats are out for the kill. Republicans are on the defensive. Right?
Not exactly. When it comes to national security, many Democrats are still pulling their punches, even with Bush's approval rating at an all-time low. Just take the issue of warrantless wiretapping. When the nomination of the man who masterminded the arguably illegal program, Michael Hayden, for CIA director comes before the Senate next week, Intelligence Committee Democrats plan to promptly change the subject.
According to Bloomberg News, "Democrats say they will focus their fire on Michael Hayden's military background and suitability to head the Central Intelligence Agency...and won't emphasize the nominee's role in running a much-criticized eavesdropping program."
Isn't his role as chief wiretapper central to his suitability? Do we want a CIA chief who believes he's above the rule of law? Is it politically advantageous for Democrats to let Republicans continue to dictate the terms of national security debates?
To reinforce the putrid status quo, Bloomberg quotes a former CIA hand-turned-professor saying: "The public seems to have concluded that the idea of listening in on people who want to blow up things in this country is a pretty good idea."
Of course, if that's how you phrase it. In fact, the public is split on the program. Americans disapprove of the way Bush is fighting the war on terror. And no one knows exactly who the Administration is listening on. They won't tell us. And Congress won't ask.
Hayden's nomination would be the perfect occasion for Democrats to demand answers to some of these questions.
President Bush's nomination of Air Force General Michael V. Hayden to direct the Central Intelligence Agency has opened a debate over whether the most fundamental principles of the American Republic remain will remain in place.
The founders who proposed to "chain the dogs of war" established civilian control over the military as an essential underpinning of the American experiment. Along with their determination to put in place a system of checks and balances, which they constructed to prevent presidents from leading the country into war without properly consulting Congress, Jefferson, Madison and their compatriots believed that giving civilians the means to manage the military was necessary if the nation they imagined was to be free.
Agonizingly aware of the abuses that had been imposed upon the former colonies by a British military accountable only to a distant and dictatorial king, the founders worried about the degeneration of the American experiment into a state of affairs similar to that of the Empire against which they had rebelled.
Sam Adams warned that, "Even when there is a necessity of military power, within the land... a wise and prudent people will always have a watchful & jealous eye over it." Elbridge Gerry, a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention and the fifth vice president of the United States, argued that, "Standing armies in time of peace are inconsistent with the principles of republican Governments, dangerous to the liberties of a free people, and generally converted into destructive engines for establishing despotism."
Gerry was no radical. He expressed a common concern about the scope and power of the new nation's military, according to the essential review of thinking of the founders with regard to civilian control of the military compiled by Dr. Michael F. Cairo, a specialist in American foreign policy and the foreign policy process.
"At the beginnings of the Republic," recalls Dr. Cairo, in an explanation of the principle distributed by no less an authority than the U.S. State Department, "four basic premises conditioned how most Americans saw civilian control of the military. First, large military forces were viewed as a threat to liberty, a legacy of British history and the army's occupation in the colonial period. Second, large military forces threatened American democracy. This notion was linked to the ideal of the citizen-soldier and fears of establishing an aristocratic or autocratic military class. Third, large military forces threatened economic prosperity. Maintaining large standing armies represented an enormous burden on the fledgling economy of a new nation. Finally, large military forces threatened peace. The founders accepted the liberal proposition that arms races led to war. Thus, civilian control of the military arose from a set of historical circumstances and became embedded over time in American political thought through tradition, custom, and belief."
To cement those principles in place, the founders assured that a civilian, the president, would serve as commander-in-chief of the military. They also established the principle and the precedent that, as Alexander Hamilton noted in a discussion of the management of the military in the Federalist Papers, "the whole power of the proposed government is to be in the hands of the representatives of the people." To Hamilton's view, "This is the essential, and, after all, the only efficacious security for the rights and privileges of the people which is attainable in civil society."
In order to maintain meaningful civilian control of the military, however, one commodity has always been essential: honest intelligence about global threats and opportunities gathered and assessed by an independent agency that recognizes its responsibility to inform and empower civilian authorities -- as opposed to merely echoing the official line of the Pentagon.
This is a wall of separation every bit as important as the one the founders proposed to divide church and state. And the motivation was the same: a sense, born of painful experience, that only by maintaining a strict separation of powers and influences could the new Republic function across the long term as an entity distinct from the monarchical dictatorships of old Europe.
President Bush says his nominee to succeed scandal-hobbled Central Intelligence Agency director Porter Goss is "the right man to lead the CIA at this critical moment in our nation's history." But even if it was true that Hayden's background made him "the right man" for the job -- as assumption shot down by the fact of Hayden's involvement with the president's illegal program of eavesdropping on the phone conversations of Americans -- the appointment of a military commander to head the nation's premier civilian intelligence gathering and analysis agency would still by the wrong move at this or any other point in American history.
Any effort to collapse the wall of separation between an agency charged with gathering the intelligence needed to enable civilians to guide and manage the military -- as the Hayden appointment would surely do -- has to be seen as a radical assault on the founding principles of the Republic.
To his credit, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the Illinois Republican who rarely differs with the White House, does see it that way.
"The Speaker does not believe that a military person should be leading the CIA, a civilian agency," explains Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean.
Hastert argues that putting a general in charge of the "CIA would give too much influence over the U.S. intelligence community to the Pentagon."
The Speaker is right, and his position parallels that of House Intelligence Committee chair Peter Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who has led the charge against Hayden's nomination. "I do believe he's the wrong person, the wrong place, at the wrong time," Hoekstra says of Hayden. "We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time."
The only problem in Hoekstra's otherwise strong statement is his "at this time" qualification.
There is never a right time to undermine the fundamental American principle that civilians should control the military -- and that those civilians should have access to the independent intelligence that alone makes real the promise of such control.
Earlier this week I wrote about the constitutional crisis we currently face as a result of George Bush's abuse, overreach and lawlessness. (A recent article in the Boston Globe documents how Bush has claimed the right to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office.) Accomplices in this assault on our democracy include the religious right which would intrude into our personal lives to determine our rights and freedoms.
Fortunately, there's an important new online grassroots group fighting these extremists: The Campaign to Defend The Constitution (DefCon). Director Jessica Smith describes the group's mission as this, "DefCon has assumed a leading role in the ever intensifying battle between those who believe in the separation of church and state and those who seek, through political influence, to undo this fundamental American principle." DefCon has a dynamic and committed Board of Directors composed of leading legal scholars, scientists and civil liberty activists, including: Kate Michelman (former head of NARAL), Harold Varmus (former head of NIH), Ira Glasser (former head of ACLU) and Bruce Alberts (former President of the National Academy of Sciences).
The group works with activists from diverse backgrounds, including many people of faith who are tired of seeing their beliefs and values hijacked by right-wing extremists. DefCon focuses on strengthening the separation of church and state; an independent judiciary that safeguards rather than rolls back our rights; science and technology that is not hindered by religious ideology; and the right to privacy--whether protecting choice or combating anti-gay legislation.
Since its inception last fall, 55,000 people have joined DefCon and are already making a real impact. In Ohio, DefCon members helped reverse a Board of Education decision that had allowed pro-intelligent design language into the state's science standards. In Utah, 455,000 emails – no, that is not a typo – 455,000 emails helped thwart a well-organized intelligent design movement in the Utah State Legislature.
DefCon has also exposed the maddening hypocrisy of the religious right in its TV and newspaper advertising campaign on the "unholy alliance" between Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, Rev. Louis Sheldon, and James Dobson.
In the fight to defend our Constitution, DefCon offers democracy advocates invaluable tools for these times. Check it out today.
Early last month, I highlighted an appeal to support progressive South Dakota State Senate candidate Charon Asetoyer. The Executive Director of the Native Women's Health Education Resource Center on the Yankton Reservation, Asetoyer is challenging an opponent--Cooper Garnos--who compiled a zero voting rank on women's health and safety issues during his previous legislative term.
In the wake of the South Dakota legislature's nearly complete ban on abortion last February, more women than ever before are running for office in the state--frequently on women's rights platforms. Asetoyer, a Comanche, decided to run (after an appearance on RadioNation with Laura Flanders) to combat bills detrimental to women's rights and the rights of families that were passed by the last two legislatures. "I feel we are going into a frightening time. Legislators are going down a dangerous path and it is very scary," she told Indian Country Today recently. ''They are trying to get the public to buy into the idea that contraceptives abort a pregnancy, that's wrong. They are trying to go after our contraceptives.''
Fortunately, thanks to the generosity of people like you, Asetoyer's campaign has gained ground. As she heads into the critical last four weeks of campaigning before the June 6 primary, she's up to speed with her buttons, bumperstickers, lawn signs and creative radio ads that started airing on two stations this week. She's also part of a wave in the state comprising three other Native American women candidates vying for Democratic primary nominations in order to take on some of the most reactionary members of any state Republican Party anywhere. These candidates--Faith Spotted Eagle, Paula Long Fox and Theresa Spry, along with Asetoyer, could actually win. But they really need more help.
Political races in South Dakota don't take nearly as much money to run as big state, big city races, but that doesn't mean they can run on nothing and so far it seems pretty unlikely that the SD Democratic Party is going to pitch in for them before the primaries.
So, our job is to help them win their primaries in a big way so that they become seen as "viable" by the party elite who control the pursestrings. A few dollars to each of these campaigns can help create change in South Dakota that we'll all feel wherever we live. The individual limit for donations to candidates in SD is $250, so consider maxing out, if you can. But $100, $50, or $25 can do a lot -- from helping to pay for candidate forums to ads in hometown papers and radio spots.
Here's where you can send your checks:
Charon Asetoyer (Dist. 21 Senate)
Campaign for Change
P.O. Box 472
Lake Andes, SD 57356
Faith Spotted Eagle (Dist. 21 House)
Faith Spotted Eagle for Change
P.O. Box 762
Lake Andes, SD 57356
Paula Long Fox (Dist. 33 House)
10520 Canyon Place
Rapid City, SD 57707
Theresa Spry (Dist. 35 Senate)
821 Halley Ave.
Rapid City, SD 57701
As a small group of women working to highlight these candidacies write in a recent appeal (from which I drew most of the info in this post), "We're not just building grassroots political action, we're building grassfires of progressive activism that can spread across South Dakota and our whole country."
General Michael Hayden is getting a warm reception from the Senate Intelligence Committee, who gets first dibs on his nomination as CIA director. But elsewhere on the Hill prominent Republicans are grumbling, led by House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert--pretty much the last person you'd expect to bash the Bush Administration. "I don't think a military guy should be head of CIA, frankly," Hastert sais yesterday. From sub-only Roll Call:
Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has come out against the nomination of Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to head the CIA, calling the ousting of former Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) from the agency's top post "a power grab" by John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence.
Hastert's opposition to Hayden is not based on any personal reservations about the nominee. Rather, Hastert is concerned that installing a top-ranking military official at the "CIA would give too much influence over the U.S. intelligence community to the Pentagon."
Hastert's aides later expanded on his comments. "The Speaker does not believe that a military person should be leading the CIA, a civilian agency," said Ron Bonjean, Hastert's spokesman.
Hastert also said Negroponte stopped by his office Wednesday and made no mention of the fact that Goss, who served in the House with Hastert for 16 years, would be stepping down as CIA director two days later.
"It looks like a power grab by Mr. Negroponte," said Hastert.
Of course, the House won't vote on Hayden's nomination, so it's safer for members, including Hastert, to criticize. And the Administration would clearly rather talk about the CIA and warrantless wiretapping than high gas prices, illegal immigration or the war in Iraq. But with his approval rating hovering in the low 30s, is another fight really what Bush needs?
Here's an idea…. instead of appointing the chief architect of the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program, Gen. Michael Hayden, as the new CIA Director--how about the chief architect of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), 27-year CIA veteran Ray McGovern?
VIPS is a group of around 35 retired or resigned high-level intelligence operatives who exposed the Bush administration's misuse and abuse of pre-war intelligence. Prior to the Iraq invasion, these contemporary Paul Reveres warned the public that the WMD's and links to Al Queda cited by the Bush Administration to justify the war simply didn't exist.
Last week McGovern confronted Rummy during a public Q & A session in Atlanta. "Why did you lie to get us into a war that caused these kind of casualties and was not necessary?" Referring to WMDs he added, "You said you knew where they were." Rumsfeld was caught in his web of lies and, the New York Times noted, his response was to spout more of the same.
The political benefit of a McGovern appointment for a sinking Bush administration that has all but sent its Mayday signal is this: McGovern has a track record as a patriot and a truth-teller--and there is a dearth of both in the Bush-Cheney-Rummy reign of ruin. Additionally, Tony Snow's harsh view of his new boss--"No president has looked this impotent this long"--would suddenly read as McGovern-lite, comparatively speaking.
If you have other thoughts on the pros of a McGovern appointment please post them here.
"The Culture of Corruption" is a clever alliteration, a catchy political phrase, but without a vivid image to bring it to life, it amounts to a series of statistics: the increase in earmarks, the number of no-bid contracts, etc. But a rather vivid picture has started to emerge of a new scandal Wonkette is calling WatergateGate.
According to reporting in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and The Nation's own David Corn, the CIA inspector general and the FBI are investigating whether Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the CIA's executive director, helped businessman Brent Wilkes win overpriced CIA contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Foggo was a regular at Wilke's poker game.
Wilkes stands accused of conspiring with defense contractor Mitchell Wade to bribe Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Wade, who has pled guilty, claims he also provided the Republican congressman with free limos, prostitutes, and rooms at, yes, the Watergate Hotel. The feds are investigating whether any other current or former Congressmen or their staffs received similar perks.
And just as these two stories were gathering momentum, Porter Goss, the former Republican congressman who promoted and worked closely with Foggo at the CIA, resigned rather abruptly Friday afternoon. So abruptly in fact that he forgot to mention he wanted to spend more time with his family.
So picture this: Republican Congressmen, CIA officials, defense contractors, shady businessmen, and lobbyists playing poker in a Watergate hotel room complete with your tax dollars and free prostitutes. The mind boggles. Were they Russian? It's like Christopher Buckley penned an episode of The Sopranos.
Bada Bing Bada Bombshell.
As far as scandals are concerned, the widening investigation into former Rep. Duke Cunningham has got it all. The drumroll, in no specific order:
Prostitutes. Poker. The Watergate Hotel. Members of Congress. Shady limousine companies. CIA officials with names like Dusty Foggo and Nine Fingers.
What more could reporters want in a story? I seem to recall that the last time there was a sex scandal in DC, back in the late 1990s, reporters paid rapt attention.
As Media Matters astutely noted, these are the "only hookers Fox WON'T cover."
Is it possible that George W. Bush didn't know that there are, um, blacks in Brazil? Some have long thought that such a notion -- first aired a couple of years ago-- was an urban legend.
Well...blogger Randy Paul has come across some corrobating evidence. And his source is pretty good: none other than the autobiography of former Brazilian President Henrique Cardoso.
While we're on the subject of Latin America. There's also this depressing news -- that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is talking about staying in power another 25 years. This is totally unacceptable and should not be rationalized by anyone, no matter how sympathetic with his policies.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
Last week, hundreds of thousands of high school students across the country made the choice that will help shape their futures for years to come--where to attend college. But with exorbitant tuition rates and unprecedented cuts in student aid, for many, there was no choice at all.
And while state universities have leveled the playing field for low and middle-income students--with tuition rates at a fraction of those for private schools--thousands of undocumented immigrants are deprived of the chance of attending state schools altogether. Currently, the 65,000 undocumented high school students who graduate each year are technically ineligible for in-state tuition rates, and as a result, often must forgo college, work menial jobs, and more or less abandon their American dreams. Many of these students have lived in America for the majority of their lives, speak perfect English, and have exceled in high schools.
The bipartisan DREAM Act-- which was introduced by Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch in 2003 and included in the McCain-Kennedy bill-- would reverse this excessively punitive policy and also provide opportunities for these students to eventually obtain full legal status. But with the collapse of comprehensive immigration reform and http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/02/AR200605... ">indefinite stalling in the Senate, many states, fearing longterm federal inaction, have now taken up the cause.
On April 12, "red" Nebraska became the 10th state to open up in-state tuition rates to undocumented students. Rep DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln, former chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, who spent five years trying to get the bill passed, rejoiced as the state legislature overrode Gov. Dave Heineman's veto by a vote of 30 to 16.
Josh Bernstein of the National Immigration Law Center believes that the victory in Nebraska will help pressure the Senate to pass the DREAM Act nationally.
"We should take these kids out of the battlefield of this [immigration reform] war, because that's not where kids belong" said Bernstein. "The DREAM Act, fundamentally, is not even about immigration policy, it's about how we treat young people who grow up here," said Bernstein.
Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.