The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Monday, March 06, 2006

New York Times | Kabuki Congress

Kabuki Congress
New York Times | Editorial

Monday 06 March 2006

Imagine being stopped for speeding and having the local legislature raise the limit so you won't have to pay the fine. It sounds absurd, but it's just what is happening to the 28-year-old law that prohibits the president from spying on Americans without getting a warrant from a judge.

It's a familiar pattern. President Bush ignores the Constitution and the laws of the land, and the cowardly, rigidly partisan majority in Congress helps him out by rewriting the laws he's broken.

In 2004, to take one particularly disturbing example, Congress learned that American troops were abusing, torturing and killing prisoners, and that the administration was illegally detaining hundreds of people at camps around the world. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner, huffed and puffed about the abuse, but did nothing. And when the courts said the detention camps do fall under the laws of the land, compliant lawmakers simply changed them.

Now the response of Congress to Mr. Bush's domestic wiretapping scheme is following the same pattern, only worse.

At first, lawmakers expressed outrage at the warrantless domestic spying, and some Democrats and a few Republicans still want a full investigation. But the Republican leadership has already reverted to form. Senator Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has held one investigative hearing, notable primarily for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's refusal to answer questions.

Mr. Specter then loyally produced a bill that actually grants legal cover, retroactively, to the one spying program Mr. Bush has acknowledged. It also covers any other illegal wiretapping we don't know about - including, it appears, entire "programs" that could cover hundreds, thousands or millions of unknowing people.

Mr. Specter's bill at least offers the veneer of judicial oversight from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. A far more noxious proposal being floated by Senator Mike DeWine, Republican of Ohio, would entirely remove intelligence gathering related to terrorism from the law on spying, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Let's call this what it is: a shell game. The question is whether the Bush administration broke the law by allowing the National Security Agency to spy on Americans and others in the United States without obtaining the required warrant. The White House wants Americans to believe that the spying is restricted only to conversations between agents of Al Qaeda and people in the United States. But even if that were true, which it evidently is not, the administration has not offered the slightest evidence that it could not have efficiently monitored those Qaeda-related phone calls and e-mail messages while following the existing rules.

In other words, there is not a shred of proof that the illegal program produced information that could not have been obtained legally, had the administration wanted to bother to stay within the law.

The administration has assured the nation it had plenty of good reason, but there's no way for Congress to know, since it has been denied information on the details of the wiretap program. And Senator Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, seems bent on making sure it stays that way. He has refused to permit a vote on whether to investigate the spying scandal.

There were glimmers of hope on the House side. Representative Heather Wilson, the New Mexico Republican who heads one of the subcommittees supervising intelligence, called for a "painstaking" review of the necessity and legality of the spying operation. But the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra, is turning that into a pro forma review that would end with Congress rewriting the foreign-intelligence law the way Mr. Bush wants.

Ms. Wilson still says that the House needs to get the facts before it rewrites the law, and we hope she sticks to it. But she's facing a tough race this fall, and her staff has already started saying that, well, she never called for "an investigation," just "an oversight review."

Putting on face paint and pretending that illusion is reality is fine for Kabuki theater. Congress should have higher standards.

Bush, lies, and videotape - The Boston Globe

The Boston Globe
JAMES CARROLL
Bush, lies, and videotape

By James Carroll | March 6, 2006

IF GEORGE W. BUSH were a character in a novel or a play, last week might have been the turning point in the narrative. He was shown on film being explicitly warned, just hours before Hurricane Katrina hit, that the levees in New Orleans were vulnerable.

But everyone knows that after the levees broke, he denied having been warned that such a thing was possible. The broadcast of the film amounted to a terrible epiphany: The president seemed caught in a lie. Grave questions had already been raised about his administration's manipulations of the truth, especially in relation to the war in Iraq. Does the truth matter in America any more?

Critics of the president (among whom I must be counted) might come to yet another swift judgment of him, finding further evidence of a disqualifying character flaw. Rumbles about impeachment can be heard, despite the unlikelihood of such an outcome, shy of still-fanciful Democratic victories in the fall elections.

But what if our concern with Bush was embedded in literature, not politics? In that case, the conflict we would care about is not the one between a public figure and his critics, but the struggle inside the man himself. Literature unfolds across an inner landscape, and on that terrain the character flaw is essential.

Indeed, the character flaw of the hero is what enables a reader or playgoer to identify with him, even while passing judgment. Last week's videotape revelation raised public questions about the president's truthfulness, but the private question -- the one a man must face alone, in the crucible of conscience -- is a version of the question we all must ask of ourselves.

Consider the possibilities. The fictional character -- let's call him ''Bush" -- learns that his firm public statement about what he had been told is radically contradicted by incontrovertible evidence. What he told the nation at its moment of crisis was not true, and that contradiction is now exposed.

Learning this, in one narrative line, ''Bush" might feel deeply shamed to have laid bare what he has always known was a lie. The character flaw is deception. But in another narrative line, ''Bush" might be shocked to realize that, in the traumatic moments of the hurricane crisis, he had blocked all memory of the critical briefing. He hadn't consciously lied, but had constructed a new reality tailored to personal and political needs. The character flaw, in this case, is not deception, but self-deception.

Whatever ''Bush" did in the past, however, the drama that matters adheres in what he does now, at the moment of being exposed. Whether ''Bush" is a deceiver or a self-deceiver, the question is: What happens inside him at the terrible moment of judgment? In that instant, will he experience a transformation in awareness, as the truth of his condition shows itself? Or will he descend into a further circle of denial, deepening his predicament?

If this were a novel or a play, we would watch with a certain empathy, alert to revelations of our own inevitable implication in deception and self-deception. None of us is innocent, and it is to wrestle with that fact of our condition that we read books and buy theater tickets.

But the present American story is not a work of literature. From all appearances, the president is not a candidate for the role of ''Bush" because a narrative that unfolds across the terrain of an inner life requires an inner life, and Bush shows no sign of having one.

Even a character flaw presumes a depth of character that the president seems to lack. What interior conflict can there be for a man who attributes all failures, all mistakes, all crimes to those around him, as if he himself (alone of all humans) is blameless? Where there is no capacity for shame, there is none for insight, much less transformation. Without the secret struggle against the self, there can be no drama, only pathos.

As for us, the beholders of this narrative, there can be no suspension of disbelief, no identification, and no recognition of our own fate being rescued by a confrontation with the truth. On the contrary, since this is not literature but life, there is only the increased awareness of the danger into which the world is plunged by having such a hollow creature in the position of ultimate power.

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Bill Moyers - DeLay, Abramoff, and The Public Trust

Bill Moyers

DeLay, Abramoff, and The Public Trust


Back in the first Gilded Age, Boies Penrose was a United States senator from Pennsylvania who had been put and kept in office by the railroad tycoons and oil barons. He assured the moguls: "I believe in the division of labor. You send us to Congress; we pass laws under which you make money... and out of your profits you further contribute to our campaign funds to send us back again to pass more laws to enable you to make more money."

Gilded Ages - then and now - have one thing in common: Audacious and shameless people for whom the very idea of the public trust is a cynical joke.

A recent CBS News/New York Times poll found that 70% of Americans believe lobbyists bribing members of Congress is the way things work. Findings like these underscore the fact that ordinary people believe their bonds with democracy are not only stretched but sundered.

You see the breach clearly with Tom DeLay. As he became the king of campaign fundraising, the Associated Press writes, "He began to live a lifestyle his constituents back in Sugar Land would have a hard time ever imagining." Big corporations provided private jets to take him to places of luxury most Americans have never seen - places with "dazzling views, warm golden sunsets, golf, goose-down comforters, marble bathrooms and balconies overlooking the ocean." The AP reports that various organizations - campaign committees, political action committees, even a children's charity established by DeLay - paid over $1 million on hotels, restaurants, golf resorts and corporate jets in DeLay's behalf.

DeLay was a man on the move and on the take. But he needed help to sustain the cash flow. He found it in a fellow right wing ideologue named Jack Abramoff. Abramoff personifies the Republican money machine of which DeLay with the blessing of the House leadership was the major domo.
Just last month Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials, a spectacular fall for a man whose rise to power began 25 years ago with his election as Chairman of the College Republicans. Despite its innocuous name, the organization became a political attack machine for the Far Right and a launching pad for younger conservatives on the make. "Our job," Abramoff, then 22 years old, wrote after his first visit to the Reagan White House, "is to remove liberals from power permanently [from] student newspaper and radio stations, student governments, and academia." Karl Rove had once held the same job as chairman. So did Grover Norquist, who ran Abramoff's campaign. A youthful $200-a-month intern named Ralph Reed was at their side. These were the rising young stars of the conservative movement who came to town to lead a revolution and stayed to run a racket.

Abramoff made his name, so to speak, representing Indian tribes with gambling interests. As his partner he hired a DeLay crony named Michael Scanlon. Together they would bilk half a dozen Indian tribes who hired them to protect their tribal gambling interests from competition. Abramoff and Scanlon came up with one scheme they called "Gimme Five": Abramoff would refer tribes to Scanlon for grassroots public relations work, and Scanlon would then kick back about 50% to Abramoff, all without the tribes' knowledge. Before it was over the tribes had paid them $82 million dollars, much of it going directly into Abramoff's and Scanlon's pockets.

Some of the money went to so-called charities set up by Abramoff and DeLay that filtered money for lavish trips for members of Congress and their staff, as well as salaries for Congressional family members and DeLay's pet projects. And some of the money found its way to the righteous folks of the Christian Right.

It gets worse.

Some of Abramoff's money from lobbying went to start a non-profit organization called the U.S. Family Network. Nice name, yes? An uplifting all-American name, like so many others that fly the conservative banner in Washington. But the organization did no discernable grassroots organizing and its money came from business groups with no demonstrated interest in the "moral fitness" agenda that was the network's professed aim.

Let's call it what it was: a scam - one more cog in the money-laundering machine controlled by DeLay and Abramoff. A former top assistant founded the organization. DeLay's wife also got a sizeable salary.

Twenty five years ago Grover Norquist had said that "What Republicans need is 50 Jack Abramoffs in Washington. Then this will be a different town."

Well, they got what they needed, and the arc of the conservative takeover of government has now been completed.

Here we come to the heart of darkness.

One of Abramoff's first big lobbying clients was the Northern Marianas Islands in the Pacific. After World War II the Marianas became a trusteeship of the United Nations, administered by the U.S. Government under the stewardship of the Interior Department. We should all remember that thousands of Marines died there, fighting for our way of life and our freedoms. Now, the main island, Saipan, has become known as America's biggest sweatshop.

In 1998 a government report found workers there living in substandard conditions, suffering severe malnutrition and health problems and subjected to unprovoked acts of violence.

When these scandalous conditions began to attract attention, the sweatshop moguls fought all efforts at reform. Knowing that Jack Abramoff was close to Tom DeLay, they hired him to lobby for the islands. Conservative members of Congress lined up as Abramoff's team arranged for them to visit the islands on carefully guided junkets. They flew first-class, dined at posh restaurants, slept in comfort at the beachfront hotel, and returned to write and speak of the islands as "a true free market success story" and "a laboratory of liberty."

Abramoff took Tom DeLay and his wife there, too. DeLay practically swooned. He said the Marianas "represented what is best about America." He called them "my Galapagos" - "a perfect petri dish of capitalism."

For his services to the Marianas Jack Abramoff was paid nearly $10 million dollars. One of the sweatshop moguls with whom Abramoff was particularly close contributed half a million dollars to - you guessed it - Tom DeLay's U. S. Family Network.

To this day, workers on the Marianas are still denied the federal minimum wage while working long hours for subsistence income in their little "petri dish of capitalism" - "America at its best."

There are no victimless crimes in politics. The cost of corruption is passed on to you. When the government of the United States falls under the thumb of the powerful and privileged, regular folks get squashed.

Washington would have you believe this is just "a lobbying scandal." They would have you think that if they pass a few nominal reforms, put a little more distance between the politician and the lobbyist, you will think everything is okay and they can go back to business as usual.

They're trying it now. Just look at Congressman John Boehner, elected to replace Tom DeLay as House Majority Leader. Today he speaks the language of reform, but ten years ago Boehner was handing out checks from the tobacco executives on the floor of the House. He has thought nothing of hopping on corporate jets or cruising Caribbean during winter breaks with high-powered lobbyists.

Moreover, the man Boehner beat to succeed DeLay - Congressman Roy Blunt - has been elected to DeLay's first job as Majority Whip despite being deeply compromised by millions upon millions of dollars raised from the same interests that bought off DeLay.

And what now of DeLay? He's under indictment for money laundering in Texas, but the other day the party bosses in Congress gave him a seat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and - are you ready for this? - they put him on the subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department which is investigating the Abramoff scandal, including Abramoff's connections to DeLay.

Business as usual. The usual rot. The power of arrogance.

I have painted a bleak picture of democracy. I believe it is a true picture. But it is not a hopeless picture. Something can be done about it. Organized people have always had to take on organized money. If they had not, blacks would still be three-fifths of a person, women wouldn't have the vote, workers couldn't organize, and children would still be working in the mines. Our democracy today is more real and more inclusive than existed in the days of the Founders because time and again, the people have organized themselves to insist that America become "a more perfect union."

It is time to fight again. These people in Washington have no right to be doing what they are doing. It's not their government, it's your government. They work for you. They're public employees - and if they let us down and sell us out, they should be fired. That goes for the lowliest bureaucrat in town to the senior leaders of Congress on up to the President of the United States.

Excerpted from remarks I delivered on an 8-day speaking trip in California on the issue of money and politics.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-moyers/delay-abramoff-and-the-_b_16534.html