Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Book review--Tragedy and Farce

The subtitle to this one reads: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy. And that's precisely what this extended essay sets out to do, although the authors try to point out some solutions to this corrosive issue as well. Nichols and McChesney have not set out to describe in detail the faults of the so-called liberal news media, nor do they necessarily try to prove how conservative they really are. Nichols and McChesney work instead from the assumption that those things have already been proven, and analyze how the men and women of the news media's failure to be either true journalists or even objective observers affects the citizenry.
By focusing on the two most important and salient roles the press is supposed to play, according to the Founding Fathers (the title of the book is from a quote from Madison regarding what happens to a democracy when its press stops telling the truth)--being a watchdog over the government during times of war or electioneering--the authors show how our country is rapidly becoming more akin to the Soviet Union (for example) as our populace endures being lied to without correction. Ignorance is not bliss, the authors argue, but rather leads to destruction for a democracy. Our country was founded in the belief, and indeed with the demand, that we remain knowledgeable and involved citizens. In turn this requires an active and independent (not necessarily objective) press, which is why the 1st Amendment to the Constitution calls for freedom of the press from governmental interference. The problem with our current news media is that it is no longer independent; our reporters simply act as stenographers for "official sources" from "both sides" in an effort not to seek the truth, but in order to report what famous and important people say about events.
The populace has allowed this erosion of journalism precisely because of our heritage of actual reportage, since newspapers were at one time pretty reliable sources of information. The slide from journalism to stenography went unnoticed (and is still hidden from the vast majority of the people in the US, although not from the eyes of the world) amidst the barrage of mindless and insubstantiated conservative criticism that our media was biased against conservatives. Truly liberal minded reporters became so sensitive to these charges that they stopped looking behind the public statements of government officials or politicians seeking office, leaving the field open to master manipulators such as Reagan, Rove, Smirky and Dick, who understood immediately that the media was theirs for the taking. That the media companies themselves were the objects of corporate deregulation, with all the attendant consolidation under increasingly right-wing wealthy ownership inherent in that movement, amplified the constraints felt by the lowly reporters on the political beats. (Or, even worse, the reporters themselves became members of the upper class and sold their heritage out in favor of maintaining their privileged status as insiders. Access is "power" for stenographers; those without access soon find themselves unemployed.)
Nichols and McChesney outline the rise and fall of both Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich as candidates for President in 2004 as evidence of the total journalistic bankruptcy of our media. Both men (especially Dean) became media darlings by being underdogs willing to speak about issues and policies, but once either "crossed the line" by being either publicly outspoken against media manipulation/condescension (as Kucinich did when he took on Ted Koppel during the first debate) or by proving fallible in the primaries (Dean), they were portrayed as unbalanced and unworthy of serious attention. After all, since neither man was obviously going to win, why should the news media corporations waste time and precious capital covering their campaigns? The authors point out that by avoiding the substance of either man's rhetoric, to say nothing of the truly outsider campaigns of Sharpton and Mosley Braun, both of whom were clearly willing to speak truth to power, the press actually determined the outcome of the primaries as a whole. [As a side note, I missed seeing the first Democratic debate, so I read a transcript of it. You know what? Sharpton was far and away the most impressive person on the stage that night; his takes on the issues and the problems facing this country were thoughtful and pointed, and his anger at both his fellow candidates and the media for ignoring them was refreshing and relevant.] That alone should make us all scared for our future; I won't even talk about the media's role in covering for Smirky's a$$ in the runup to the Iraqi occupation, although the authors do.
Nichols and McChesney do a great job in showing us the next step in assessing the downfall of our media. They are no longer objective or independent, that is proven (by writers that I've reviewed here, in fact--see Alterman's What Liberal Media for the best and most complete evidence, and Auletta's Three Blind Mice for the earliest reporting of the commercialization of the news amidst the corporate takeover movement in the 1980s)--but the effects of their abdication of their Constitutionally sanctioned role are now becoming obvious as well. Unfortunately for us, those effects happen to include the destruction of our nation's democratic values. Nichols and McChesney do point out some potential methods for overcoming the media's governmentally guided onslaught on our country's political system (achieved mostly through grassroots political activism seeking governmental re-regulation), but it's a bit depressing that we have to fight this "trust busting" battle all over again. The Progressives already did that in the early 20th century; are we simply going to have to repeat their struggle in the early 21st? What a disconcerting thought . . .

Monday, January 30, 2006

Screwed for a generation, at the very least

25 votes. 25 freaking votes. That's all the anti-Alito forces could muster on the vote that matters--to preserve the filibuster which held the only hope of keeping the Supreme Court even modestly centrist. It hardly matters that he'll most likely be confirmed with one of the lowest totals ever; who cares about that? That's much like the grades one gets in graduate school--completely irrelevant in the job market. Once he's in, he's in for life, and it doesn't matter one whit whether he gets in by unanimous acclaim or by a single vote.
This is a black day for those of us who care about liberty, or rights, or anything remotely American. We have been let down by the only party that even barely represents us. The Democratic Party could only hold onto 56+% of its members, letting us all know that our political system is dying. Instead of 2 parties representing alternative views of our nation, its values, and our future, we have 1 party hell-bent on ruling over the rest of the nation with an iron fist and another that acquiesces on issue after issue, trying in vain to pretend as if it's still 1979 and the Republicans will play fair, or be reasonable, or behave responsibly "next time".
I've got news for you, Joe Lieberman, Robert Byrd, and all the other wretched power mongrels on "our" side of the aisle: they ain't ever going to be fair or reasonable again. Voting along with them is exactly like giving in to a spoiled brat; they won't be grateful, they'll simply ask for even more next time, and they'll gloat about what losers you are to boot. The problem is that you aren't simply losing political infights over some pork barrel legislation--this stuff will affect the present and future of our country, for chrissakes! Don't you guys get it? The Republicans intend to strip the gains of the 20th century away from us, causing us to revert back to a 19th century economy and society. I realize it must be tough for you to understand, since you are almost all rich white men and don't stand to lose too much through all this--heck, maybe you really don't care about the rest of us out here, and that "D" next your name means absolutely nothing anyway.
Who needs curbs on employer power? Who needs a safety net for those wrongfully accused of a crime or fired? Who needs protection against illegal searches or imprisonment? Who needs a judiciary that recognizes discrimination as a societal wrong? Who needs abortions? Who needs a judicial system that actually functions as an independent branch of our government? (I'm sure President Smirky has it in his heart to care, right? I mean, he wouldn't do anything to hurt anybody, would he?) We all do, you scumbags.
I hope you all get strip and cavity searched on the way home tonight--Sammy approves of that, remember? Even if you're only a 10-year old girl.
I hope you all get thrown in prison and tortured--Sammy approves of that, too.
I hope you all lose your jobs and pensions due to your political persuasion--Sammy wouldn't stop the executive branch from doing that, because he believes in the power of the "unitary executive", and Smirky and the boys don't need you around.
I hope you all get punched in the stomach every day for 9 months straight and then after that have to pass a baseball through your penis, because that's as close to pregnancy and delivery as a man can get (or for you, Sen. Landrieu, a full-term birth of triplets), and that you all have to adopt and care for every unwanted child that gets born from this point until the day you die--Sammy doesn't believe that abortions should be legal.
I don't necessarily blame the Republicans for being assholes--most of them are too stupid (or insane, which means you, Sen. Bunning) to realize that they're presiding over the death of our society and political culture, and the others are pure evil--have you ever listened to Santorum, Frist, or Graham speak? Those Democrats who consistently cross the aisle to vote for their agenda, on the other hand, have to be aware that they are betraying the principles of their party, and they are therefore blameworthy.
I will continue to look for people to support in office, and I will continue to analyze the outrageous behavior of those sick fu%^s in power, but this was indeed a black day for our country, folks, and unless sane people regain power soon--and do something to overturn the political and governmental actions of the last 3 disastrous decades--we've definitely been witnessing the beginning of the end of our democracy. We can't afford to piss the entire world off and sell off all our assets and destroy the Constitutional basis of our government and still survive the century intact. All republics and democracies throughout history, to say nothing of empires, have failed in precisely this manner, and we are doing absolutely nothing to stop it from happening here and now. Ooh, but look over there! Something shiny!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Parsing Alito, part 4

Ted Kennedy has done a great deal of good for this country, and his questioning of Alito is certainly among his better moments. Alito's responses, on the other hand, continue to reveal his incompetence--or at the very least, his skill at avoiding the issues and questions put to him.
KENNEDY: You wrote these words: The president's understanding of the bill should be just as important as that of Congress. With respect to the statement issued by President Bush reserving his right to order torture, is that what you had in mind when you wrote the president's understanding of the bill should be just as important as that of Congress ?
ALITO: When I interpret statutes -- and that's something that I do with some frequency on the Court of Appeals -- where I start and often where I end is with the text of the statute. And if you do that, I think you eliminate a lot of problems involving legislative history and also with signing statements.

So, Sammy, does that mean that you were wrong about what you wrote and you've changed your mind, or that you have absolutely no way to wriggle out from under the awful ramifications of what you truly believe? It's hard to say based on your weirdly irrelevant response.
Our next exchange shows another side to Sammy, as he pontificates on and on (so as to use up Senator Kennedy's time) regarding something that finally wasn't asked of him.
KENNEDY: …why should we believe that you'll act as an independent check on the president when he claims the power to ignore the laws passed by Congress?
ALITO: Well, Senator, let me explain what I understand the idea of the unitary executive to be. And I think there has been some misunderstanding, at least as to what I understand this concept to mean. I think it is important to draw a distinction between two very different ideas. One is the scope of executive power. Often presidents -- or occasionally presidents -- have asserted inherent executive powers not set out in the Constitution. We might think of that as, you know, how big is this table, the extent of executive power. The second question is: When you have the power that is within the prerogative of the executive, who controls the executive? Those are separate questions. The issue of, to my mind, the concept of the unitary executive, does not have to do with the scope of executive power. It has to do with who within the executive branch controls the exercise of executive power. The theory is the Constitution says the executive power is conferred on the president. Now, the power that I was addressing in that speech was the power to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, not some inherent power but a power that is explicitly set out in the Constitution.

Now, it is true that Kennedy talked a bit about this concept of the "unitary executive" in the preamble to his actual question, but his question as shown here was pretty straightforward. Sammy's response, on the other hand, went waaaay down the rabbit hole in search of an answer to a question not posed. Let's abstract out the gist of what we have just read, shall we?
Q: Will you do your Constitutional duty?
A: In lieu of answering that, let me describe my interpretation of the idea some have accused me of holding.
For those of you unfamiliar with the process of taking an essay exam when you don't know any of the real answers, this is what high schoolers and college students call "bullshitting"--i.e., talking about something you kinda do know instead of simply fessing up and taking your lumps. Should a member of our most esteemed body of jurists do this in a job interview? I think not. Why is there a question about his unfitness?!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Parsing Alito, part 3

Orrin Hatch is one of the "elder statesmen" of the Republican Party, and as such, can be expected to carry their standard in any appearances he makes. So what kind of standard bearer is he? Let's see:
HATCH: Welcome, Judge Alito. We appreciate you and the service that you have given. But much has been made about your membership in an organization called the Concerned Alumni of Princeton. You mentioned this organization in your 1985 job application for a position in President Reagan's administration. And you've told us what you felt you know about your membership in that organization. So is it fair to say that you were not a founding member?
ALITO: I certainly was not a founding member.
HATCH: You were not a board member?
ALITO: I was not a board member.
HATCH: Or for that matter, you were not even an active member of the organization, to the best of your recollection?
ALITO: I don't believe I did anything that was active in relation to this organization.
HATCH: Well, some have suggested, as my friend from Massachusetts did yesterday, that by your membership in this organization, you were somehow against the rights of women and minorities attending colleges. So let me just ask you directly, on the record, are you against women and minorities attending colleges?
ALITO: Absolutely not, Senator. No.
HATCH: You know, I felt that that would be your answer. I really did.
That's a good question, though. It's one that kind of overcomes the implications that you were.

Everyone out there who thought that Sammy would actually answer "yes" to Hatch's question re: women and minorities, please raise your hands. No one? Gee, even if he really believed it? No? But Orrin thought that it was "a good question"; in fact, he even felt that he had to tell us that, lest we think he was simply puffing up his own ego while simultaneously lobbing softballs to his new judicial hero!
Even amidst the softballs, though, Sammy demonstrated a remarkable inability to give us real evidence that he's not a total jerk:
HATCH: Well, much has been written about the just and egalitarian changes that took place at Princeton and other elite institutions in the 1960's, making them more welcoming to persons without an elite background. It has been alleged by some -- most prominently, I might add, by a Democratic witness who was withdrawn at the last minute because of some politically embarrassing comments that he made -- that your membership in this group demonstrates your desire to maintain some old boy's network to the detriment of women and minorities. Could you comment on that particular suggestion?
ALITO: I certainly had no such desire. And I think that what I did when I was a student at Princeton and my activities since then illustrate that. As I said, when I was at Princeton, I was a member of this university facility, and it was open to everybody, and it was one of the most coeducational facilities on the campus. And since graduating, I have actually been involved in a way in the admissions process. I was on the school's committee for a number of years and interviewed applicants to Princeton. And I think that shows my attitude toward the general way in which the university has been run.

Notice that even though he asserts that his activities "when [he] was a student...and since then" prove that he's not a bigot, he doesn't actually give us any evidence. His reference to a "university facility" which was "open to everybody" is completely disingenuous--he's referring to the eating hall he joined, which was only open to those who could afford to pay the fees. I wonder how many of the vast hordes of women and ethnic minorities that were crowding Princeton's halls back then could afford to belong to this facility that was "open to everybody" . . . (Although he doesn't even say that it was open to non-whites, does he? It was only "one of the most coeducational facilities on campus"--meaning what? They allowed one woman instead of zero? Who can say?) And his statement regarding his participation in the admissions process is wholly empty--he doesn't even stress the possibility that he actively advocated for the admission of minorities, leaving open, of course the question of what he was doing on those admission boards.
Sammy made clear (ahem) his judicial "philosophy" to Hatch a little later:
ALITO: My general philosophy is that the judiciary has a very important role to play. And, in speaking with Senator Leahy, I highlighted some of that. But the judiciary has to protect rights. And it should be vigorous in doing that. And it should be vigorous in enforcing the law and in interpreting the law in accordance with what it really means and enforcing the law even if that's unpopular. But, although the judiciary has a very important role to play, it's a limited role. It is not -- it should always be asking itself whether it is straying over the bounds, whether it's invading the authority of the legislature, for example, whether it is making policy judgments rather than interpreting the law. And that has to be a constant process of reexamination on the part of the judges. And that's the role that the judiciary should play.
Sounds almost human, doesn't he? Let's look closer, putting aside the fact that he sounds as if he's lecturing 5 year olds instead of speaking to esteemed members of the Senate (well, other than Kyl, that is. [/snark]) Even though Sammy stresses the limitations of the judiciary (thereby appeasing all who could possibly claim that he's one of those dreaded "activist judges" we're all supposed to so scared of, right?), he gets it so wrong as to be laughable. You see, the judiciary has absolutely no business "enforcing" the law--that's what the Executive Branch does. And it wasn't a simple slip, either--Sammy says it twice! What he's saying, in effect, is that while there is a very clean line between the Judicial and Legislative Branches--judges shouldn't be making "policy judgments", now, remember that, Senator Kennedy--he either doesn't see as clean a division between the judiciary and the executive, or he simply doesn't understand the difference! We can't tell from this whether his philosophy is slanted or just plain ignorant, but it really shouldn't matter--either would disqualify him from the bench. Oh yeah, except for the fact that he's a sure vote to kill off the last vestiges of our liberty against corporations and Presidential oppression, that is . . .

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Parsing Alito, part 2

Just in case anyone thought Sammy was only evasive (or contradictory) when questioned by Republicans (uh huh), let's take a look at some of his responses (I can't really call them answers, now, can I?) to Senator Leahy:
LEAHY: But why wouldn't it be constitutional for the -- or wouldn't it be constitutional for the Congress to outlaw Americans from using torture?
ALITO: And Congress has done that, and it is certainly -- it is certainly an expression of the very deep value of our country.
LEAHY: And if the president were to authorize somebody or say they would immunize somebody from doing that, he wouldn't have that power, would he?
ALITO: Well, Senator, I think that the important points are that the president has to follow Constitution and the laws, and it is up to Congress to exercise its legislative power. But as to specific issues that might come up, I really need to know the specifics. I need to know what was done and why it was done and hear the arguments of the issue.
A classic "yes, but no" response, isn't it? "The President has to follow the ... laws" but "I need to hear the arguments of the issue". Um, Sammy, what arguments could there possibly be that would explain why the President could choose not to follow the laws? It's once again obvious that Alito has no intention of sticking to his Constitutional role of arbiter of the law regardless of personal belief or who's in the docket, isn't it?!
Here's a quick hitter on how clearly Sammy wants nothing to do with revealing his mind to the committee:
LEAHY: Do you continue to hold the position you took in your opinion, or do you now agree with the majority? They're right and you're wrong?
ALITO: Well, Senator, I haven't had occasion to think that what I said in that case was correct. But let me just explain what was going on there.

Can anyone outside his head even fathom what he's talking about in this response, even given that I didn't provide the specifics? "I haven't had occasion to think that what I said in that case was correct"?! Huh?
Here's the most infamous Alito moment from the first day, wherein he was asked about his membership in, and job seeking use of, the reactionary Concerned Alumni of Princeton:
LEAHY: ...why in heaven's name were you proud of being part of CAP?
ALITO: Well, Senator, I have wracked my memory about this issue, and I really have no specific recollection of that organization. But since I put it down on that statement, then I certainly must have been a member at that time.
. . . And the issue that had rankled me about Princeton for some time was the issue of ROTC. I was in ROTC when I was at Princeton, and the unit was expelled from the campus, and I thought that was very wrong. I had a lot of friends who were against the war in Vietnam, and I respected their opinions, but I didn't think that it was right to oppose the military for that reason.

Sure, Sammy, everyone joins a racist, near fascist, organization in college, and lists it on their job rèsumès for years, only to "have no specific recollection" of it. Happens all the time to me. And for good measure, Sammy then attempted to derail the line of questioning by talking about how upset he was that ROTC was kicked off campus for a couple years while he was there, as if that had something to do with his joining (and maintaining a membership in) an organization whose purpose was to actively restrict admissions to the university to white men. How can anybody in a position of responsibility, even those in lockstep with the anti-Americans on the Right, even come close to justifying voting to place this man on the Supreme Court? We'll see next time, as Orrin Hatch tries to salvage Alito's "good" name by playing footsies with him.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Gore is the Man!

For those of you who didn't know (including me!), Al Gore gave a terrific MLK day speech that was--Dog Bites Man alert!!--completely ignored by the media, proving yet again that they are in thrall to the loons on the right. Shocker! Any way, here's the speech in total--and it's well worth the read. Gore touches on all the problems facing our country, in the most eloquent and forceful manner yet heard. To put it bluntly and not too sappily, Al Gore's words here make me proud to be American, even in the face of the bleakness surrounding me.
With any luck, this will signal Gore's re-entrance into politics; it is my opinion that he has said and done all the right things since the disaster of 2000, and remains the pre-eminent candidate for the office he should have been occupying since then, even if he has yet to officially declare his candidacy. I gladly supported him then; I would rabidly support him now. We need someone who cares. We need someone who thinks. We need someone who understands why the US is (or at least, can be) special. I thought Gore was that person then, I now know he is.

For those with RealPlayer, paste this into the address line to see the video, which gives this speech its total due--Gore was on fire!: rtsp://video.c-span.org/project/ter/ter011606_gore.rm

Congressman Barr and I have disagreed many times over the years, but we have joined together today with thousands of our fellow citizens-Democrats and Republicans alike-to express our shared concern that America's Constitution is in grave danger.

In spite of our differences over ideology and politics, we are in strong agreement that the American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the Administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power.

As we begin this new year, the Executive Branch of our government has been caught eavesdropping on huge numbers of American citizens and has brazenly declared that it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established law enacted by Congress precisely to prevent such abuses. It is imperative that respect for the rule of law be restored in our country.

And that is why many of us have come here to Constitution Hall to sound an alarm and call upon our fellow citizens to put aside partisan differences insofar as it is possible to do so and join with us in demanding that our Constitution be defended and preserved.

It is appropriate that we make this appeal on the day our nation has set aside to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who challenged America to breathe new life into our oldest values by extending its promise to all of our people.

And on this particular Martin Luther King Day, it is especially important to recall that for the last several years of his life, Dr. King was illegally wiretapped-one of hundreds of thousands of Americans whose private communications were intercepted by the U.S. government during that period.

The FBI privately labeled King the "most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country" and vowed to "take him off his pedestal." The government even attempted to destroy his marriage and tried to blackmail him into committing suicide.

This campaign continued until Dr. King's murder. The discovery that the FBI conducted this long-running and extensive campaign of secret electronic surveillance designed to infiltrate the inner workings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and to learn the most intimate details of Dr. King's life, was instrumental in helping to convince Congress to enact restrictions on wiretapping.

And one result was the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA), which was enacted expressly to ensure that foreign intelligence surveillance would be presented to an impartial judge to verify that there was indeed a sufficient cause for the surveillance. It included ample flexibility and an ability for the executive to move with as much speed as the executive desired. I voted for that law during my first term in Congress and for almost thirty years the system has proven a workable and valued means of affording a level of protection for American citizens, while permitting foreign surveillance to continue whenever it is necessary.

And yet, just one month ago, Americans awoke to the shocking news that in spite of this long settled law, the Executive Branch has been secretly spying on large numbers of Americans for the last four years and eavesdropping on, and I quote the report, "large volumes of telephone calls, e-mail messages, and other Internet traffic inside the United States." The New York Times reported that the President decided to launch this massive eavesdropping program "without search warrants or any new laws that would permit domestic intelligence collection."

During the period when this eavesdropping was still secret, the President seemed to go out of his way to reassure the American people on more than one occasion that, of course, judicial permission is required for any government spying on American citizens and that, of course, these constitutional safeguards were still in place.

But surprisingly, the President's soothing statements turned out to be false. Moreover, as soon as this massive domestic spying program was uncovered by the press, the President not only confirmed that the story was true, but in the next breath declared that he has no intention stopping or of bringing these wholesale invasions of privacy to an end.

At present, we still have much to learn about the NSA's domestic surveillance. What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the President of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently.

A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our Founding Fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. They recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution - our system of checks and balances - was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: "The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men."

An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress or to act free of the check of the judiciary becomes the central threat that the Founders sought to nullify in the Constitution - an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the King from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet, "On Common Sense" ignited the American Revolution, succinctly described America's alternative. Here, he said, we intended to make certain that, in his phrase, "the law is king."

Vigilant adherence to the rule of law actually strengthens our democracy, of course, and strengthens America. It ensures that those who govern us operate within our constitutional structure, which means that our democratic institutions play their indispensable role in shaping policy and determining the direction of our nation. It means that the people of this nation ultimately determine its course and not executive officials operating in secret without constraint, under the rule of law.

And make no mistake, the rule of law makes us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied, reviewed, and examined through the normal processes of government that are designed to improve policy, and avoid error. And the knowledge that they will be reviewed prevents over-reaching and checks the accretion to power.

A commitment to openness, truthfulness, and accountability helps our country avoid many serious mistakes, that we would otherwise make. Recently, for example, we learned from just declassified documents, after almost forty years, that the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized the tragic Vietnam war, was actually based on false information. And we now know that the decision by Congress to authorize the Iraq War, 38 years later, was also based on false information. Now the point is that America would have been better off knowing the truth and avoiding both of these colossal mistakes in our history. And that is the reason why following the rule of law makes us safer, not more vulnerable.

The President and I agree on one thing. The threat from terrorism is all too real. There is simply no question that we continue to face new challenges in the wake of the attack on September 11th and that we must be ever-vigilant in protecting our citizens from harm.

Where we disagree is on the proposition that we have to break the law or sacrifice our system of government in order to protect Americans from terrorism. When in fact, doing so would make us weaker and more vulnerable.

And remember that once violated, the rule of law is itself in danger. Unless stopped, lawlessness grows. The greater the power of the executive grows, the more difficult it becomes for the other branches to perform their constitutional roles. As the executive acts outside its constitutionally prescribed role and is able to control access to information that would expose its mistakes and reveal errors, it becomes increasingly difficult for the other branches to police its activities. Once that ability is lost, democracy itself is threatened and we become a government of men and not laws.

The President's men have minced words about America's laws. The Attorney General, for example, openly conceded that the "kind of surveillance" we now know they have been conducting does require a court order unless authorized by statute. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act self-evidently does not authorize what the NSA has been doing, and no one inside or outside the Administration claims that it does. Incredibly, the Administration claims, instead, that the surveillance was implicitly authorized when Congress voted to use force against those who attacked us on September 11th.

But, this argument simply does not hold any water. Without getting into the legal intricacies, it faces a number of embarrassing facts. First, another admission by the Attorney General: he concedes that the Administration knew that the NSA project was prohibited by existing law and that is why they consulted with some members of Congress about the possibility of changing the statute. Genl. Gonzalez says that they were told by the members of congress consulted that this would probably not be possible. And so they decided not to make the request. So how can they now argue that the Authorization for the use of military force somehow implicitly authorized it all along? Indeed, when the Authorization was being debated, the Administration did in fact seek to have language inserted in it that would have authorized them to use military force domestically - and the Congress refused to agree. Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Jim McGovern, among others, made clear statements during the debate on the floor of the house and the senate, respectively, clearly stating that that Authorization did not operate domestically. And there is no assertion to the contrary.

When President Bush failed to convince Congress to give him the power he wanted when this measure was passed, he secretly assumed that power anyway, as if congressional authorization was a useless bother. But as Justice Frankfurter once wrote: "To find authority so explicitly withheld is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between the President and the Congress."

This is precisely the "disrespect" for the law that the Supreme Court struck down in the steel seizure case during the Korean War.

It is this same disrespect for America's Constitution which has now brought our republic to the brink of a dangerous breach in the fabric of the Constitution. And the disrespect embodied in these apparent mass violations of the law is part of a larger pattern of seeming indifference to the Constitution that is deeply troubling to millions of Americans in both political parties.

For example, as you know the President has also declared that he has a heretofore unrecognized inherent power to seize and imprison any American citizen that he alone determines to be a threat to our nation, and that, notwithstanding his American citizenship, that person imprisoned has no right to talk with a lawyer-even if he wants to argue that the President or his appointees have made a mistake and imprisoned the wrong person. The President claims that he can imprison that American citizen -- any American Citizen he chooses -- indefinitely for the rest of his live without an even arrest warrant, without notifying them about what charges have been filed against them, without even informing their families that they have been imprisoned. No such right exists in the America that you and I know and love. It is foreign to our constitution. It must be rejected.

At the same time, the Executive branch has also claimed a previously unrecognized authority to mistreat prisoners in its custody in ways that plainly constitute torture and have plainly constituted torture in a widespread pattern that has been extensively documented in U.S. facilities located in several countries around the world.

Over 100 of these captives have reportedly died while being tortured by Executive branch interrogators and many more have been broken and humiliated. And, in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, investigators who documented the pattern of torture estimated that more than 90 percent of the victims were completely innocent of any criminal charges whatsoever. This is a shameful exercise of power that overturns a set of principles that our nation has observed since General George Washington first enunciated them during our Revolutionary War. They have been observed by every president since then - until now. They violate the Geneva Conventions and the International Convention Against Torture, and our own laws against torture.

The President has also claimed that he has the authority to kidnap individuals on the streets of foreign cities and deliver them for imprisonment and interrogation on our behalf by autocratic regimes in nations that are infamous for the cruelty of their techniques for torture. Some of our traditional allies have been deeply shocked by these new, and uncharacteristic patterns on the part of Americans. The British Ambassador to Uzbekistan - one of those nations with the worst reputations for torture in its prisons - registered a complaint to his home office about the cruelty and senselessness of the new U.S. practice that he witnessed: "This material we’re getting is useless,” he wrote and then he continued with this – “we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful."

Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is "yes" then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the President has the inherent authority to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison American citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?

The Dean of Yale Law School, Harold Koh, said after analyzing the Executive Branch's extravagant claims of these previously unrecognized powers: "If the President has commander-in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution."

The fact that our normal American safeguards have thus far failed to contain this unprecedented expansion of executive power is, itself, deeply troubling. This failure is due in part to the fact that the Executive Branch has followed a determined strategy of obfuscating, delaying, withholding information, appearing to yield but then refusing to do so and dissembling in order to frustrate the efforts of the legislative and judicial branches to restore a healthy constitutional balance.

For example, after appearing to support legislation sponsored by John McCain to stop the continuation of torture, the President declared in the act of signing the bill that he reserved the right not to comply with it. Similarly, the Executive Branch claimed that it could unilaterally imprison American citizens without giving them access to review by any tribunal. And when the Supreme Court disagreed, the President engaged in legal maneuvers designed to prevent the Court from providing any meaningful content to the rights of the citizens affected.

A conservative jurist on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the Executive branch's handling of one such case seemed to involve the sudden abandonment of principle, and I quote him, "at substantial cost to the government's credibility before the courts."

As a result of this unprecedented claim of new unilateral power, the Executive branch has now put our constitutional design at grave risk. The stakes for America's democracy are far higher than has been generally recognized.

These claims must be rejected and a healthy balance of power restored to our Republic. Otherwise, the fundamental nature of our democracy may well undergo a radical transformation.

For more than two centuries, America's freedoms have been preserved in large part by our founders' wise decision to separate the aggregate power of our government into three co-equal branches, each of which, as you know, serves to check and balance the power of the other two.

On more than a few occasions, in our history, the dynamic interaction among all three branches has resulted in collisions and temporary impasses that create what are invariably labeled "constitutional crises." These crises have often been dangerous and uncertain times for our Republic. But in each such case so far, we have found a resolution of the crisis by renewing our common agreement to live together under the rule of law.

The principle alternative to democracy throughout history has, of course, been the consolidation of virtually all state power in the hands of a single strongman or small group who exercise that power without the informed consent of the governed.

It was in revolt against just such a regime, after all, that America was founded. When Lincoln declared at the time of our greatest crisis that the ultimate question being decided in the Civil War was, in his memorable phrase, "whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure," he was not only saving our union, he was recognizing the fact that democracies are rare in history. And when they fail, as did Athens and the Roman Republic upon whose designs our founders drew heavily, what emerges in their place is another strongman regime.

There have of course been other periods in American history when the Executive Branch claimed new powers later seen as excessive and mistaken. Our second president, John Adams, passed the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts and sought to silence and imprison critics and political opponents. And when his successor, President Thomas Jefferson, eliminated the abuses, in his first inaugural he said: "[The essential principles of our Government] form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation... [S]hould we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety."

President Lincoln, of course, suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. Some of the worst abuses prior to those of the current administration were committed by President Wilson during and after WWI with the notorious Red Scare and Palmer Raids. The internment of Japanese Americans during WWII marked a shameful low point for the respect of individual rights at the hands of the executive. And, of course, during the Vietnam War, the notorious COINTELPRO program was part and parcel of those abuses experienced by Dr. King and so many thousands of others.

But in each of these cases throughout American history, when the conflict and turmoil subsided, our nation recovered its equilibrium and absorbed the lessons learned in a recurring cycle of excess and regret.

But, there are reasons for concern this time around, that conditions may be changing and that the cycle may not repeat itself. For one thing, we have for decades been witnessing the slow and steady accumulation of presidential power. In a globe where there are nuclear weapons and cold war tensions, Congress and the American people accepted ever enlarging spheres of presidential initiative to conduct intelligence and counter- intelligence activities and to allocate our military forces on the global stage. When military force has been used as an instrument of foreign policy or in response to humanitarian demands, it has almost always been as the result of presidential initiative and leadership. But, as Justice Frankfurter wrote in that famous Steel Seizure Case, "The accretion of dangerous power does not come in a day. It does come, however slowly, from the generative force of unchecked disregard of the restrictions that fence in even the most disinterested assertion of authority."

A second reason to that believe we may be experiencing something new -- outside that historical cycle -- is that we are, after all, told by this Administration that the war footing upon which he has tried to place the country is going to "last” in their phrase, “for the rest of our lives." And so, we are told that the conditions of national threat that have been used by other Presidents to justify arrogations of power will, in this case, persist in near perpetuity.

Third, we need to be keenly aware of the startling advances in the sophistication of eavesdropping and surveillance technologies with their capacity to easily sweep up and analyze enormous quantities of information and then mine it for intelligence. And this adds significant vulnerability to the privacy and freedom of enormous numbers of innocent people at the same time as the potential power of those technologies grows. Those technologies do have the potential for shifting the balance of power between the apparatus of the state and the freedom of the individual in ways that are both subtle and profound.

Don't misunderstand me: the threat of additional terror strikes is real and the concerted efforts by terrorists to acquire weapons of mass destruction does indeed create a real imperative to exercise the powers of the Executive Branch with swiftness and agility. Moreover, there is in fact an inherent power conferred by the Constitution to the any President to take unilateral action when necessary to protect the nation from a sudden and immediate threat. And it is simply not possible to precisely define in legalistic terms exactly when that power is appropriate and when it is not. But the existence of that inherent power cannot be used to justify a gross and excessive power grab lasting for many years and producing a serious imbalance in the relationship between the executive and the other two branches of government.

And there is a final reason to worry that we may be experiencing something more than just another cycle. This Administration has come to power in the thrall of a legal theory that aims to convince us that this excessive concentration of presidential power is exactly what our Constitution intended.

This legal theory, which its proponents call the theory of the unitary executive but which ought to be more accurately described as the unilateral executive, threatens to expand the president's powers until the contours of the constitution that the Framers actually gave us become obliterated beyond all recognition. Under this theory, the President's authority when acting as Commander-in-Chief or when making foreign policy cannot be reviewed by the judiciary, cannot be checked by Congress. And President Bush has pushed the implications of this idea to its maximum by continually stressing his role as Commander-in-Chief, invoking it has frequently as he can, conflating it with his other roles, both domestic and foreign. And when added to the idea that we have entered a perpetual state of war, the implications of this theory stretch quite literally as far into the future as we can imagine.

This effort to rework America's carefully balanced constitutional design into a lopsided structure dominated by an all powerful Executive Branch with a subservient Congress and subservient judiciary is ironically accompanied by an effort by the same administration to rework America's foreign policy from one that is based primarily on U.S. moral authority into one that is based on a misguided and self-defeating effort to establish a form of dominance in the world.

And the common denominator seems to be based on an instinct to intimidate and control.

This same pattern has characterized the effort to silence dissenting views within the Executive branch, to censor information that may be inconsistent with its stated ideological goals, and to demand conformity from all Executive branch employees.

For example, CIA analysts who strongly disagreed with the White House assertion that Osama bin Laden was linked to Saddam Hussein found themselves under pressure at work and became fearful of losing promotions and salary increases.

Ironically, that is exactly what happened to the FBI officials in the 1960s who disagreed with J. Edgar Hoover's assertion that Martin Luther King was closely connected to Communists. The head of the FBI's domestic intelligence division testified that his effort to tell the truth about King's innocence of the charge resulted in he and his colleagues becoming isolated within the FBI and pressured. And I quote: "It was evident that we had to change our ways or we would all be out on the street.... The men and I (he continued) discussed how to get out of trouble. To be in trouble with Mr. Hoover was a serious matter. These men (he continued) were trying to buy homes, mortgages on homes, children in school. They lived in fear of getting transferred, losing money on their homes, as they usually did. ... so they wanted another memorandum written to get us out of the trouble that we were in."

The Constitution's framers who studied human nature so closely understood this dilemma quite well. As Alexander Hamilton put it, "a power over a man's support is a power over his will." (Federalist No. 73)

In any case, quite soon, there was no more difference of opinion within the FBI. And the false accusation became the unanimous view. In exactly the same way, George Tenet's CIA eventually joined in endorsing a manifestly false view that there was a linkage between al Qaeda and the government of Iraq.

In the words of George Orwell: "We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right.

Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that, sooner or later, a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield." 2,200 American soldiers have lost their lives as this false belief bumped into a solid reality.

And indeed, whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable it almost inevitably leads to gross mistakes and abuses. That is part of human nature. In the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes. Dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded. It is human nature -- whether for Republicans or Democrats or people of any set of views.

Last week, for example, Vice President Cheney attempted to defend the Administration's eavesdropping on American citizens by saying that if it had conducted this program prior to 9/11, they would have found out the names of some of the hijackers.

Tragically, he apparently still does not know that the Administration did in fact have the names of at least 2 of the hijackers well before 9/11 and had available to them information that could have led to the identification of most of the others. One of them was in the phonebook. And yet, because of incompetence, unaccountable incompetence in the handling of this information, it was never used to protect the American people.

It is often the case, again, regardless of which party might be in power, that an Executive branch, beguiled by the pursuit of unchecked power, responds to its own mistakes by reflexively proposing that it be given still more power. Often, the request itself it used to mask accountability for mistakes in the use of power it already has.

Moreover, if the pattern of practice begun by this Administration is not challenged, it may well become a permanent part of the American system. That’s why many conservatives have pointed out that granting unchecked power to this President means that the next will have unchecked power as well. And the next President may be someone whose values and belief you do not trust. And that is why Republicans as well as Democrats should be concerned with what this President has done. If his attempt to dramatically expand executive power goes unquestioned, then our constitutional design of checks and balances will be lost. And the next President or some future President will be able, in the name of national security, to restrict our liberties in a way the framers never would have imagined possible.

This same instinct to expand its power and to establish dominance has characterized the relationship between this Administration and the courts and the Congress.

In a properly functioning system, the Judicial branch would serve as the constitutional umpire to ensure that the branches of government observed their proper spheres of authority, observed civil liberties, adhered to the rule of law. Unfortunately, the unilateral executive has tried hard to thwart the ability of the judiciary to call balls and strikes by keeping controversies out of its hands - notably those challenging its ability to detain individuals without legal process -- by appointing judges who will be deferential to its exercise of power and by its support of assaults on the independence of the third branch.

The President's decision, for example, to ignore the FISA law was a direct assault on the power of the judges who sit on that court. Congress established the FISA court precisely to be a check on executive power to wiretap. And yet, to ensure that the court could not function as a check on executive power, the President simply did not take matters to it and did not even let the court know that it was being bypassed.

The President's judicial appointments are clearly designed to ensure the courts will not serve as an effective check on executive power. As we have all learned, Judge Alito is a longtime supporter of a powerful executive - a supporter of that so-called unitary executive. Whether you support his confirmation or not - and I respect the fact that some of the co-sponsors of this event do. I do not – but whatever your view, we must all agree that he will not vote as an effective check on the expansion of executive power. Likewise, Chief Justice Roberts has made plain his deference to the expansion of executive power through his support of judicial deference to executive agency rulemaking.

And the Administration has also supported the assault on judicial independence that has been conducted largely in Congress. That assault includes a threat by the Republican majority in the Senate to permanently change the rules to eliminate the right of the minority to engage in extended debate of the President's nominees. The assault has extended to legislative efforts to curtail the jurisdiction of courts in matters ranging from habeas corpus to the pledge of allegiance. In short, the Administration has demonstrated a contempt for the judicial role and sought to evade judicial review of its actions at every turn.

But the most serious damage in our constitutional framework has been done to the legislative branch. The sharp decline of congressional power and autonomy in recent years has been almost as shocking as the efforts by the Executive to attain this massive expansion of its power.

I was elected to the Congress in 1976, served eight years in the house, 8 years in the Senate, presided over the Senate for 8 years as Vice President. As a young man, I saw the Congress first hand as the son of a Senator. My father was elected to Congress in 1938, 10 years before I was born, and left the Senate after I had graduated from college.

The Congress we have today is structurally unrecognizable compared to the one in which my father served. There are many distinguished and outstanding Senators and Congressmen serving today. I am honored to know them and to have worked with them. But the legislative branch of government, as a whole, under its current leadership now operates as if it were entirely subservient to the Executive branch. It is astonishing to me, and so foreign to what the Congress is supposed to be.

Moreover, too many members of the House and Senate now feel compelled to spend a majority of their time not in thoughtful debate on the issues, but instead raising money to purchase 30 second TV commercials.

Moreover, there have now been two or three generations of congressmen who don't really know what an oversight hearing is. In the 70's and 80's, the oversight hearings in which my colleagues and I participated held the feet of the Executive branch to the fire - no matter which party was in power. Yet oversight is almost unknown in the Congress today.

The role of the authorization committees has declined into insignificance. The 13 annual appropriation bills are hardly ever actually passed as bills, anymore. Everything is lumped into a familiar single giant measure that is not even available for members of Congress to read before they vote on it. Members of the minority party are now routinely excluded from conference committees, and amendments are routinely disallowed during floor consideration of legislation.

In the United States Senate, which used to pride itself on being the "greatest deliberative body in the world," meaningful debate is now a rarity. Even on the eve of the fateful vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq, Senator Robert Byrd famously asked: "Why is this chamber empty?" In the House of Representatives, the number who face a genuinely competitive election contest every two years is typically less than a dozen out of 435.

And too many incumbents have come to believe that the key to continued access to the money for re-election is to stay on the good side of those who have the money to give; and, in the case of the majority party, the whole process is largely controlled by the incumbent president and his political organization.

So the willingness of Congress to challenge the Executive branch is further limited when the same party controls both Congress and the Administration. The Executive branch, time and again, has co-opted Congress' role, and too often Congress has been a willing accomplice in the surrender of its own power.

Look for example at the Congressional role in "overseeing" this massive four year eavesdropping campaign that on its face seemed so clearly to violate the Bill of Rights. The President says he informed Congress, but what he really means is that he talked with the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate intelligence committees and sometimes the leaders of the House and Senate. This small group, in turn, claimed they were not given the full facts, though at least one of the committee leaders handwrote a letter of concern to the vice-president.

Though I sympathize with the awkward position in which these men and women were placed, I cannot disagree with the Liberty Coalition when it says that Democrats as well as Republicans in the Congress must share the blame for not taking sufficient action to protest and seek to prevent what they consider a grossly unconstitutional program. Many did.

Moreover, in the Congress as a whole-both House and Senate-the enhanced role of money in the re-election process, coupled with the sharply diminished role for reasoned deliberation and debate, has produced an atmosphere conducive to pervasive institutionalized corruption that some have fallen vulnerable to.

The Abramoff scandal is but the tip of a giant iceberg threatening the integrity of the entire legislative branch of government.

It is the pitiful state of our legislative branch which primarily explains the failure of our vaunted checks and balances to prevent the dangerous overreach by the Executive Branch now threatening a radical transformation of the American system.

I call upon Democratic and Republican members of Congress today to uphold your oath of office and defend the Constitution. Stop going along to get along. Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of American government you are supposed to be under the Constitution of our country. But there is yet another Constitutional player whose pulse must also be taken and whose role must be examined in order to understand the dangerous imbalance that has accompanied these efforts by the Executive branch to dominate our constitutional system.

We the people are-collectively-still the key to the survival of America's democracy. We-must examine ourselves. We - as Lincoln put it, "[e]ven we here"-must examine our own role as citizens in allowing and not preventing the shocking decay and hollowing out and degradation of American democracy! It is time to stand up for the American system that we know and love! It is time to breathe new life back into America’s democracy!

Thomas Jefferson said: "An informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will" America’s based on the belief that we can govern ourselves. And exercise the power of self-government. The American idea proceeded from the bedrock principle that all just power is derived from the consent of the governed.

The intricate and carefully balanced constitutional system that is now in such danger was created with the full and widespread participation of the population as a whole. The Federalist Papers were, back in the day, widely-read newspaper essays, and they represented only one of twenty-four series of essays that crowded the vibrant marketplace of ideas in which farmers and shopkeepers recapitulated the debates that played out so fruitfully in Philadelphia.

And when the Convention had done its best, it was the people - in their various States - that refused to confirm the result until, at their insistence, the Bill of Rights was made integral to the document sent forward for ratification.

And it is "We the people" who must now find, once again, the ability we once had to play an integral role in saving our Constitution. And here there is cause for both concern and for great hope. The age of printed pamphlets and political essays has long since been replaced by television - a distracting and absorbing medium which sees determined to entertain and sell more than it informs and educates.

Lincoln's memorable call during the Civil War is now applicable in a new way to our dilemma today: "We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

Forty years have passed since the majority of Americans adopted television as their principal source of information. And its dominance has now become so extensive that virtually all significant political communication now takes place within the confines of flickering 30-second television advertisements, and they’re not the Federalist Papers.

The political economy supported by these short but expensive television ads is as different from the vibrant politics of America's first century as those politics were different from the feudalism which thrived on the ignorance of the masses of people in the Dark Ages.

The constricted role of ideas in the American political system today has encouraged efforts by the Executive branch to believe it can and should control the flow of information as a means of controlling the outcome of important decisions that still lie in the hands of the people.

The Administration vigorously asserts its power to maintain secrecy in its operations. After all, if the other branches don’t know what is happening they can't be a check or a balance.

For example, when the Administration was attempting to persuade Congress to enact the Medicare prescription drug benefit, many in the House and Senate raised concerns about the cost and design of the program. But, rather than engaging in open debate on the basis of factual data, the Administration withheld facts and actively prevented the Congress from hearing testimony that it had sought from the principal administration expert who had the information showing in advance of the vote that, indeed, the true cost estimates were far beyond the numbers given to Congress by the President. And the workings of the program would play out very differently than Congress had been told.

Deprived of that information, and believing the false numbers given to it instead, the Congress approved the program. And tragically, the entire initiative is now collapsing- all over the country- with the Administration making an appeal just this weekend to major insurance companies to volunteer to bail it out. But the American people, who have the right to believe that its elected representatives will learn the truth and act on the basis of knowledge and utilize the rule of reason, have been let down.

To take another example, scientific warnings about the catastrophic consequences of unchecked global warming were censored by a political appointee in the White House who had no scientific training, whatsoever. Today, one of the leading scientific experts in the world on global warming in NASA, has been ordered not to talk to members of the press, ordered to keep a careful log of everyone he meets with so that the Executive branch can monitor and control what he shares of his knowledge of global warming. This is a planetary crisis – we owe ourselves a truthful and reasoned discussion.

One of the other ways the Administration has tried to control the flow of information has been by consistently resorting to the language and politics of fear in order to short-circuit the debate and drive its agenda forward without regard to the evidence or the public interest. President Eisenhower said this: "Any who act as if freedom's defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America."

Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction. Justice Brandeis once wrote: "Men feared witches and burnt women."

The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk.

Yet, in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the full Bill of Rights.

Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of nuclear missiles ready to be launched on a moment’s notice to completely annihilate the country? Is America in more danger now than when we faced worldwide fascism on the march-when the last generation had to fight and win two World Wars simultaneously?

It is simply an insult to those who came before us and sacrificed so much on our behalf to imply that we have more to be fearful of than they did. Yet they faithfully protected our freedoms and now it’s up to us to do the very same thing!

We have a duty as Americans to defend our citizens' right not only to life but also to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is therefore vital in our current circumstances that immediate steps be taken to safeguard our Constitution against the present danger posed by the intrusive overreaching on the part of the Executive branch and the President's apparent belief that he need not live under the rule of law.

I endorse the words of Bob Barr, when he said, and I quote: "The President has dared the American people to do something about it. For the sake of the Constitution, I hope they will."

A special counsel should immediately be appointed by the Attorney General to remedy the obvious conflict of interest that prevents him from investigating what many believe are serious violations of law by the President. We’ve had a fresh demonstration of how an independent investigation by a special counsel with integrity can rebuild confidence in our system of justice. Patrick Fitzgerald has, by all accounts, shown neither fear nor favor in pursuing allegations that the Executive branch has violated other laws.

Republican as well as Democratic members of Congress should support the bipartisan call of the Liberty Coalition for the appointment of this special counsel to pursue the criminal issues raised by the warrantless wiretapping of Americans by the President, and it should be a political issue in any race -- regardless of party, section of the country, house of congress for anyone who opposes the appointment of a special counsel under these dangerous circumstances when our Constitution is at risk. Secondly, new whistleblower protections should immediately be established for members of the Executive branch who report evidence of wrongdoing -- especially where it involves the abuse of authority in these sensitive areas of national security.

Third, both Houses of Congress should, of course, hold comprehensive-and not just superficial-hearings into these serious allegations of criminal behavior on the part of the President. And, they should follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Fourth, the extensive new powers requested by the Executive branch in its proposal to extend and enlarge the Patriot Act should, under no circumstances be granted, unless and until there are adequate and enforceable safeguards to protect the Constitution and the rights of the American people against the kinds of abuses that have so recently been revealed.

Fifth, any telecommunications company that has provided the government with access to private information concerning the communications of Americans without a proper warrant should immediately cease and desist their complicity in this apparently illegal invasion of the privacy of American citizens.

Freedom of communication is an essential prerequisite for the restoration of the health of our democracy.

It is particularly important that the freedom of the Internet be protected against either the encroachment of government or efforts at control by large media conglomerates. The future of our democracy depends on it.

In closing, I mentioned that along with cause for concern, there is reason for hope. As I stand here today, I am filled with optimism that America is on the eve of a golden age in which the vitality of our democracy will be re-established by the people and will flourish more vibrantly than ever. Indeed I can feel it in this hall.

As Dr. King once said, "Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us."

Thank you, very much.

Parsing Alito, part 1

Well, the hearings are over; what did we learn about our nominee for the Supreme Court? Quite a lot, really, although it takes a great deal of work. Alito certainly made clear that he has virtually no concept of his own culpability in his actions, but he did make sure to sidestep the question in all of his "answers" to the Democratic Senators who asked him about his judicial philosophies. He even treated Arlen Specter--a Republican!--to some of the same treatment early on. Let's listen in:
SPECTER: Judge Alito, do you accept the legal principles articulated in Griswold v. Connecticut that the liberty clause in the Constitution carries with it the right to privacy?
ALITO: Senator, I do agree that the Constitution protects a right to privacy. And it protects the right to privacy in a number of ways. The Fourth Amendment certainly speaks to the right of privacy. People have a right to privacy in their homes and in their papers and in their persons. And the standard for whether something is a search is whether there's an invasion of a right to privacy, a legitimate expectation of privacy.
SPECTER: Well, Griswold dealt with the right to privacy on contraception for married women. You agree with that.
ALITO: I agree that Griswold is now, I think, understood by the Supreme Court as based on liberty clauses of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment and 14th Amendment.

Um, what? Let's review: Specter initially asked Alito if he agreed with the ruling in Griswold, a precedent-setting case involving privacy. That seems like it should have prompted a simple "Yes, sir" or "No, sir" from Alito, but instead, Alito spent several minutes detailing his interpretation of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. Specter, amazingly for a Republican these days, asked a follow-up, trying to pin Alito's response down to the actual case to which Specter had referred. Alito, though, once again responded extremely obliquely: "I agree that Griswold is . . . understood . . . as based on liberty clauses of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment and 14th Amendment." Let's forget the inelegance (or near incoherence) of his diction and focus on the fact that he still didn't answer any part of the question!
This was hardly the only time he made noises that sounded intelligent but were ravingly irrelevant. When Specter asked him shortly following the above exchange to evaluate the seeming permanence of Roe v. Wade as a precedent in our culture and how that would affect his decision-making once on the bench, Alito decided to discuss what he called an analogous situation--Rehnquist's acquiescence in treating Miranda (made famous by innumerable cop shows) as settled precedent, even though Rehnquist originally didn't like the ruling. Specter, trying vainly to make the connection between Alito's response to his question, then posed another seemingly simple question:
SPECTER: How would you evaluate the consideration of Roe's being embedded in the culture of our society?
Not that complex, is it?
Alito, though, would not be deterred from making it difficult, even when Specter tried desperately to get an actual answer:
ALITO: I think that Chief Justice Rehnquist there was getting at a very important point.
SPECTER: Do you think he was right?
ALITO: I think he getting at -- he was right in saying that reliance can take many forms. It can take a very specific and concrete form, and there can be reliance in the sense that he was talking about there. I think what he's talking about is that a great many people -- and, in that instance, police departments around the country over a long period of time -- had adapted to the Miranda rule, had internalized it. I think that all the branches of government had become familiar with it and comfortable with it and had come to regard it as a good way, after a considerable breaking in period, a good way of dealing with a difficult problem, and the problem was how to deal with interrogations leading to confessions...

Do you get the feeling that Alito doesn't want to admit that Miranda is a settled precedent, let alone Roe? Heck, he can't even bring himself to discuss Roe when asked point blank, instead choosing to go off on some tangent regarding a completely irrelevant case, and he can't even form a favorable or unfavorable opinion on that one!
One of the most important and damning issues facing Alito in his quest to become confirmed are his statements regarding the power of the President. He has repeatedly gone on record as believing that the President has, or worse, should have, the power to effectively nullify Congressional actions. One method by which the President can do this, according to a memo Alito wrote while serving under President Reagan, was through the heretofore informal, and clearly extra-Constitutional, Presidential "signing statement" whereby the President would make his personal ideas about laws known. Apparently, Alito believed that the President doesn't have to execute any Congressional acts he doesn't agree with, even after he has signed them into law. Specter tried to discover whether Alito still adhered to that belief:
Specter: Is that really true when you say the president's views are as important as Congress?
Alito: I think the most important part of the memo that you're referring to is a fairly big section that discusses theoretical problems. And it consists of a list of questions. And many of the questions are the questions that you just raised. And in that memo, I said, This is an unexplored area, and here are the theoretical questions that -- and, of course, they are of more than theoretical importance -- that arise in this area. That memo is labeled a rough first effort at stating the position of the administration. I was writing there on behalf of a working group that was looking into the question of implementing a decision that had already been made by the attorney general to issue signing statements for the purpose of weighing in on the meaning of statutes. And in this memo, as I said, it was a rough first effort, and the biggest part of it, to my mind, was the statement: There are difficult theoretical interpretive questions here, and here they are. And had I followed up on it -- and I don't believe I had the opportunity to pursue this issue further during my time in the Justice Department -- it would have been necessary to explore all those questions.

Ok, class, can anyone tell me if Sammy said "yes" or "no"? Of course, Alito said neither, but in his refusal to respond to the question as asked we get the true answer. Alito thinks that the issue of whether or not the President can choose to execute the laws of the country--in other words, do his job--is still open! Alito said, under oath, that there are "theoretical interpretive questions" about whether the President has to obey the Constitution! How can this man even be a judge, let alone be considered for the Supreme Court?
More to come, unfortunately . . .

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Nice choke job, guys

Things looked good for the Spoiled Children. They were up by 2 touchdowns with only 6 minutes+ to go in the game. Sure, they gave up the first score too easily, but it still cost the 'Horns a couple of minutes off the clock. All the Trojans had to do was kill 4 minutes of game time and history was to be made. For some unknown reason, however, the offensive coordinator (Lane Kiffin, although I would be hugely surprised if Pete Carroll, genius that he is, hadn't given the final ok) decided that their 2 100-yard rushers weren't up to that task the whole time, so Kiffin called for a pass play in their first set of downs. It fell incomplete, which at every level of football stops the clock. When you are trying to run out the clock, what is the key? That's right, not stopping the clock from continuing its inexorable march to 0:00.
Even given that blunder, the Boys of Troy got that initial first down and moved upfield. With just over 2 minutes to go, however, they found themselves at the Texas 40 or so with a 4th down and a bit more than 1 yard to go. At this juncture, most coaches would have had enough faith in their defense to prevent any team from driving 80+ yards in roughly 2 minutes and would have punted the ball deep into Texas territory. Not Kiffin and Carroll, though. They made the brilliant decision to "go for it" by running the ball up the middle. Of course, it was just a minute earlier that they had decided that their star running backs could not finish off the game successfully, but on a 4th down play in the middle of the field? Sure thing. Granted, if LenDale White had made that yard+, we would all be congratulating Carroll for his "brilliance". But even at the time, I thought it was a stupid move. Pin the Longhorns deep, make them "drive the length of the field". The chance of giving them the ball almost at midfield was too great a risk.
Carroll must have assumed that his defense wouldn't have been able to stop Vince Young and the Longhorns no matter where Texas got the ball (which may well have been true, but we'll never know)--what a boost of confidence for them when they took the field! But the 'Horns only had 1 timeout, there would have been less than 2 minutes to play--USC only had to slow them down long enough for the clock to stop them! As it was, it took Young all but 19 seconds to score from their own 40. Those extra 20, or maybe even 30 or more, yards (and, more importantly, the time it would have taken Texas to gain them) that Carroll and Kiffin simply gave the Longhorns made the difference. I feel sorry for the players who are paying the emotional price for their coaches choking the game away like that. Well, sort of. After all, this is the University of Spoiled Children--it couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of guys, eh?
(And yes, I am fully aware that my own Ducks couldn't beat the unranked Sooners, so where do I get off, right? But I think they did a damn fine job nonetheless, seeing as how they played their last 5 games without their first string star quarterback (going 4-1, and only losing that one by 3 points. Oh well, wait till next year . . .)