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)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Night Porter Checks Out

The Night Porter Checks Out
by Billmon

I definitely have the feeling that we don't even know one quarter of the story behind Porter Goss's resignation:

"There has been an open conversation for a few weeks, through Negroponte, with the acknowledgment of the president" about replacing Goss, said a senior White House official who discussed the internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity. Another senior White House official said Goss had always been viewed as a "transitional figure" who would leave by year's end. His departure was accelerated when Bush shook up his White House staff in hopes of beginning a political turnaround.

It's not implausible that Goss was fired for incompetence, rather than his involvement in Fornigate -- now that holding people (or at least some people) accountable for their job performance has become the hot new fad in Washington. But trying to spin the dumping of a CIA director in wartime as simply part of Bush's spring cabinet cleaning doesn't pass the smell or the laugh test.

Then again, maybe we really have reached the point where all decisions, even those dealing with the most important organs of state security, are made with an eye on the upcoming congressional elections. As George Packer writes in this week's New Yorker, there isn't any such thing as bipartisanship in U.S. foreign policy anymore, which unfortunately doesn't mean such subjects are now exposed to full and open democratic debate (that'll be the day) but does mean the Cheney administration feels perfectly free to treat the CIA the way Tom DeLay used to treat the Department of Homeland Security -- as its private political fiefdom. And it was by that standard that Goss wasn't getting the job done. He wasn't canned for gutting the nation's most important intelligence agency -- that was the job he was sent there to do -- he was fired because he'd become a political liability, and was threatening to become a much, much bigger one.

That Goss was as unfit for his job as Bernie Kerik would have been for his (if Kerik's own overactive zipper hadn't blown him out of the running before he even left the gate) should have been obvious from the start. Actually it was obvious. Here's what I wrote at the time of Goss's appointment:

When Richard Nixon decided to bang heads together at the CIA, and thereby stop the flow of Watergate-related leaks he suspected were originating there, he at least sent in James Schlesinger - an experienced bureacrat who'd already paid his dues in the national security state. Bush, on the other hand, is sending in a partisan hack congressman with absolutely no experience managing large organizations, and whose glory days as a CIA operative are more than three decades in the past.

Of course, as you would expect, this didn't keep 28 Democratic Senators (including Messrs. Feingold, Daschle, Reid and Schumer, and Ms. Boxer) from voting to confirm the son of a bitch, despite Goss's track record on the House Intelligence Committee, where he proved an even bigger political tool of the Cheney administration than his Senate counterpart, Pat Roberts, R-Coverup. Foreign policy bipartisanship may be dead, but that hasn't stopped a lot of people who should know better from continuing to try to suckle the corpse.

To his partial credit, Jay Rockefeller, the backbone-impaired vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, did oppose Goss -- but naturally, only after his confirmation had become inevitable. Sen. Step 'n Fetch It now wails that Goss's tenure has been a disaster, even if he can't quite bring himself to use the word:

"Regrettably, Porter Goss's tenure as director of the CIA was a tumultuous one," said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (W.Va.), senior Democrat on the intelligence panel.

But here's what trust fund man said back when Butthead nominated the guy:

“I urged the president to look for an individual with unimpeachable, non-partisan national security credentials and I wrote him asking that he consult with Congress prior to making any appointment,” said Rockefeller in a statement, describing his actions when Tenet announced his retirement in June. “I said then and I still believe that the selection of a politician — any politician from either party — is a mistake.”

Nevertheless, Rockefeller qualified his remarks by pledging to “work with Chairman Roberts to move the process forward.” (emphasis added)

So Jay knew the guy was a partisan hack, he knew the administration was going to use him to bring the agency to heel, but he decided to help "move the process forward" anyway -- at the only point where he could possibly have made any difference.

Suck, suck, suck. How come nothing's coming out of this tit?

As an old lefty who's seen a little of the CIA's handiwork in Central America, I probably should be happy the Cheneyites and their Democratic enablers have managed to fuck the agency beyond all recognition. But I have a sinking feeling that's not going to curb the regime from doing the nasty (most death squad program-related activities having been transferred to Rumsfeld's Special Forces X-Men.) But it's already crippled the parts of the CIA that do things that actually serve the national interest (and my own personal interests) like trying to stop, or at least monitor, the spread of WMD. Awhile ago I heard Keith Obermann on MSNBC asking some ex-CIA agent if Goss had managed to turn the agency into the new FEMA (or words to that effect.) The guy basically ducked the question, but the expression on his face as he did so was quite eloquent.

Heckuva job, Porter. Heckuva job.

However, just because the Night Porter is carrying his own bags out the door, that doesn't mean the White House's war on the agency is over. The leak investigations and political purges no doubt will continue, if more discreetly. The people who have been purged -- taking with them something like 300 years worth of cumulative experience -- aren't coming back. The CIA isn't the new FEMA; it's the new New Orleans, flooded and gutted and left to mold in the mud.

I'd say it would take years for the agency to recover, but my suspicion is that it will never recover, as its missions and resources continue to flow towards the Pentagon, like stars being sucked down a black hole. Rather than being a hatchet man, like Schlesinger, or a caretaker, like Carter's CIA director, Stansfield Turner, Goss's successor may be more in the nature of an undertaker, charged with the continued, gradual dismantling of the agency -- taking the C out of CIA.

And that may be the bigger story here. What's been happening over the past decade -- or longer, according to Andrew Bacevich -- has been a relentless expansion in the authority and functions of the military services, and of their civilian overlords in the Secretary of Defense's office, at the expense of the CIA, the State Department, the NSC and the other bits of alphabet in the national security soup. Years ago I saw an editorial cartoon that showed the Pentagon attached to the White House as its new west wing. We may be nearing the day when it's actually the other way around. And Porter Goss has done his part to bring that day closer.

Which is why Bush and Goss probably should have had a banner hanging over their heads at their news conference yesterday -- "Mission Accomplished." I'm sure Rumsfeld would have been happy to have one made for them.

Posted by billmon at May 6, 2006 02:13 AM

http://billmon.org/archives/002429.html

CIA boss Goss is cooked

CIA boss Goss is cooked

Tied to contractor's poker parties -
hints of bribes & women

BY RICHARD SISK and JAMES GORDON MEEK
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU

Outgoing CIA Director Porter Goss shakes hands with President Bush yesterday at surprise White House announcement of Goss' resignation after only a year.
WASHINGTON - CIA Director Porter Goss abruptly resigned yesterday amid allegations that he and a top aide may have attended Watergate poker parties where bribes and prostitutes were provided to a corrupt congressman.

Kyle (Dusty) Foggo, the No. 3 official at the CIA, could soon be indicted in a widening FBI investigation of the parties thrown by defense contractor Brent Wilkes, named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the bribery conviction of former Rep. Randall (Duke) Cunningham, law enforcement sources said.

A CIA spokeswoman said Foggo went to the lavish weekly hospitality-suite parties at the Watergate and Westin Grand hotels but "just for poker."

Intelligence and law enforcement sources said solid evidence had yet to emerge that Goss also went to the parties, but Goss and Foggo share a fondness for poker and expensive cigars, and the FBI investigation was continuing.

Larry Johnson, a former CIA operative and a Bush administration critic, said Goss "had a relationship with Dusty and with Brent Wilkes that's now coming under greater scrutiny."

Johnson vouched for the integrity of Foggo and Goss but said, "Dusty was a big poker player, and it's my understanding that Porter Goss was also there \[at Wilkes' parties\] for poker. It's going to be guilt by association."

"It's all about the Duke Cunningham scandal," a senior law enforcement official told the Daily News in reference to Goss' resignation. Duke, a California Republican, was sentenced to more than eight years in prison after pleading guilty in November to taking $2.4 million in homes, yachts and other bribes in exchange for steering government contracts.

Goss' inability to handle the allegations swirling around Foggo prompted John Negroponte, the director of National Intelligence, who oversees all of the nation's spy agencies, to press for the CIA chief's ouster, the senior official said. The official said Goss is not an FBI target but "there is an impending indictment" of Foggo for steering defense contracts to his poker buddies.

One subject of the FBI investigation is a $3 million CIA contract that went to Wilkes to supply bottled water and other goods to CIA operatives in Iraq and Afghanistan, sources said.

In a hastily arranged Oval Office announcement that stunned official Washington, neither President Bush nor Goss offered a substantive reason for why the head of the spy agency was leaving after only a year on the job.

"He has led ably" in an era of CIA transition, Bush said with Goss seated at his side. "He has a five-year plan to increase the analysts and operatives."

Goss said the trust Bush placed in him "is something I could never have imagined." "I believe the agency is on a very even keel, sailing well," he said.

The official Bush administration spin that emerged later was that Goss lost out in a turf battle with Negroponte, but Goss' tenure was marked by the resignations of several veteran operatives who viewed him as an amateur out of his depth.

White House officials said Bush would announce early next week his choice to succeed Goss. Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, Negroponte's top deputy, heads the list of potential replacements, with White House counterterror chief Fran Townsend also on the short list.

Negroponte "apparently had no confidence" in Goss, and Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board was also "very alarmed by problems at the CIA," said a congressional source involved in oversight of U.S. spy agencies.

"Supposedly the \[Cunningham\] scandal was the last straw," the source said. "This administration may be on the verge of a major scandal."

Problems at spy agency

Here are some other scandals in the CIA's recent history:

#
A human-rights furor erupted in 2005 with revelations that the CIA had set up secret prisons in Eastern European countries to interrogate terror suspects.

#
CIA Director George Tenet took blame for the since-debunked claim in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had purchased enriched uranium from Africa — a major part of his case for why the U.S. should go to war. Heavily criticized over questionable intelligence on the Iraq war and terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Tenet resigned in 2004.

#
Former CIA Director John Deutch's security clearance was suspended in 1999 because he improperly kept classified material on a home computer vulnerable to Internet hackers.

#
A State Department official revealed in 1994 that the CIA covered up what it knew about the role of a Guatemalan colonel, a paid informer, in the slaying of rebel leader Efrain Bamaca, who was married to an American citizen.

#
CIA agent Aldrich Ames spied for the KGB for nine years, until his arrest in 1994, giving the Soviets the names of every undercover agent the CIA had in Moscow, leading to the deaths of at least nine agents.

#
The agency was implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal, the Reagan-era scheme to secretly fund Nicaraguan rebels by illegally selling arms to Tehran.

Originally published on May 6, 2006

http://www.nydailynews.com/front/story/415304p-350961c.html

Friday, May 05, 2006

NY Times - Veto? Who Needs a Veto?

Editorial
Veto? Who Needs a Veto?

One of the abiding curiosities of the Bush administration is that after more than five years in office, the president has yet to issue a veto. No one since Thomas Jefferson has stayed in the White House this long without rejecting a single act of Congress. Some people attribute this to the Republicans' control of the House and the Senate, and others to Mr. Bush's reluctance to expend political capital on anything but tax cuts for the wealthy and the war in Iraq. Now, thanks to a recent article in The Boston Globe, we have a better answer.

President Bush doesn't bother with vetoes; he simply declares his intention not to enforce anything he dislikes. Charlie Savage at The Globe reported recently that Mr. Bush had issued more than 750 "presidential signing statements" declaring he wouldn't do what the laws required. Perhaps the most infamous was the one in which he stated that he did not really feel bound by the Congressional ban on the torture of prisoners.

In this area, as in so many others, Mr. Bush has decided not to take the open, forthright constitutional path. He signed some of the laws in question with great fanfare, then quietly registered his intention to ignore them. He placed his imperial vision of the presidency over the will of America's elected lawmakers. And as usual, the Republican majority in Congress simply looked the other way.

Many of the signing statements reject efforts to curb Mr. Bush's out-of-control sense of his powers in combating terrorism. In March, after frequent pious declarations of his commitment to protecting civil liberties, Mr. Bush issued a signing statement that said he would not obey a new law requiring the Justice Department to report on how the F.B.I. is using the Patriot Act to search homes and secretly seize papers if he decided that such reporting could impair national security or executive branch operations.

In another case, the president said he would not instruct the military to follow a law barring it from storing illegally obtained intelligence about Americans. Now we know, of course, that Mr. Bush had already authorized the National Security Agency, which is run by the Pentagon, to violate the law by eavesdropping on Americans' conversations and reading Americans' e-mail without getting warrants.

We know from this sort of bitter experience that the president is not simply expressing philosophical reservations about how a particular law may affect the war on terror. The signing statements are not even all about national security. Mr. Bush is not willing to enforce a law protecting employees of nuclear-related agencies if they report misdeeds to Congress. In another case, he said he would not turn over scientific information "uncensored and without delay" when Congress needed it. (Remember the altered environmental reports?)

Mr. Bush also demurred from following a law forbidding the Defense Department to censor the legal advice of military lawyers. (Remember the ones who objected to the torture-is-legal policy?) Instead, his signing statement said military lawyers are bound to agree with political appointees at the Justice Department and the Pentagon.

The founding fathers never conceived of anything like a signing statement. The idea was cooked up by Edwin Meese III, when he was the attorney general for Ronald Reagan, to expand presidential powers. He was helped by a young lawyer who was a true believer in the unitary presidency, a euphemism for an autocratic executive branch that ignores Congress and the courts. Unhappily, that lawyer, Samuel Alito Jr., is now on the Supreme Court.

Since the Reagan era, other presidents have issued signing statements to explain how they interpreted a law for the purpose of enforcing it, or to register narrow constitutional concerns. But none have done it as profligately as Mr. Bush. (His father issued about 232 in four years, and Bill Clinton 140 in eight years.) And none have used it so clearly to make the president the interpreter of a law's intent, instead of Congress, and the arbiter of constitutionality, instead of the courts.

Like many of Mr. Bush's other imperial excesses, this one serves no legitimate purpose. Congress is run by a solid and iron-fisted Republican majority. And there is actually a system for the president to object to a law: he vetoes it, and Congress then has a chance to override the veto with a two-thirds majority.

That process was good enough for 42 other presidents. But it has the disadvantage of leaving the chief executive bound by his oath of office to abide by the result. This president seems determined not to play by any rules other than the ones of his own making. And that includes the Constitution.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/05/opinion/05fri1.html?ex=1304481600&en=179676d4e8b40275&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Jeff Cohen - I'm Tired of Bushes and Clintons

I'm Tired of Bushes and Clintons
by Jeff Cohen


Every presidential election since 1980 has had a Bush or a Clinton on a major party ticket. And the pundits say we're likely to see a Clinton atop the next Democratic ticket.

Unlike the last seven presidential elections, I dream of a 2008 contest that is Bush- and Clinton-free. Our country needs new leadership and fresh ideas beyond the realm of just two families.

Of course, influential political families are as old as the Republic. Our nation's first vice president and second president was an Adams; his son was our sixth president. A Republican Roosevelt dominated U.S. politics at the turn of the 20th century; a Democratic Roosevelt, his distant cousin, was even more dominant decades later (joined by our country's greatest first lady, a Roosevelt by birth as well as marriage, who toiled for human rights for years thereafter.) Then came the '60s and the brothers Kennedy...but both John and Robert were killed before the age of 47.

Those earlier eras were marked by hope or social progress. By contrast, the Bush-Clinton era is marked in many respects by political regress and decline. And as major national problems fester, neither Team Bush nor Team Clinton are willing to seriously address them.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not in any way equating the Clintonites with the extremists in today's White House. No one comes close to Bush recklessness and fecklessness. But I believe that until we sweep away the Bush-Clinton era and transcend narrow Bush-Clinton debates (and non-debates), we won't be able to put our country back on the road to social progress.

In the last couple decades -- as power has passed from Bush to Clinton to Bush -- we've seen major problems worsen.

CORPORATE POWER -- Much of our economy, including healthcare and media, is in the grip of a shrinking number of giant amoral corporations. This power grab was not a natural process but the direct result of conscious decisions made, often corruptly, in Washington -- like President Clinton's Telecommunications Act of 1996, a bigger gift to the Rupert Murdochs and Clear Channels and Sinclairs than any George W. Bush was able to muster. Even as exciting new technologies allow for greater competition and decentralization, both Clintons and Bushes have favored the media goliaths. (In that context, Hillary Clinton's recent romance with Darth Murdoch is not a huge surprise.)

The corporatization of healthcare has been accomplished by insurance giants who've built one of the biggest and most wasteful bureaucracies in the world. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton's proposed reform in 1993 would have rewarded the largest private insurers; it buried the obvious solution -- non-bureaucratic national health insurance, which was endorsed by 100 members of Congress, physicians, labor unions, Consumers Union, et al.

Americans across the political spectrum tell pollsters that big business has too much power. Religious Right politicians have exploited sentiment against declining ethics, even as their policies in Washington foster corporate greed and amorality. But the Clintons, so webbed up with corporate power and donations (Hillary spent six years on Wal-Mart's board), are in no position to address this national problem.

CLIMATE CHANGE -- With our nation making up 5% of the world's population but producing 25% of the world's greenhouse gases, it would be nice to have a president at the forefront of the global effort to address the climate crisis. And one who saw renewable technologies as a spur to jobs and small business. But the Bush oiligarchy is obstructionist, flatly rejecting the Kyoto Climate Treaty -- after the Clinton administration had sought to weaken it. It's worth remembering that the Clinton White House steadfastly ignored environmentalists' calls to raise auto fuel efficiency standards. (As a senator, Al Gore had written powerfully about global warming -- but muted his voice for Team Clinton and his presidential run.)

POVERTY -- In our wealthy country, it took a hurricane and the racist neglect afterward to rediscover America's poor. Since the 1980s, government policy has done more to criminalize the poor than to lift them out of poverty. Money for prisons has been plentiful; money for proven anti-poverty programs has been scarce. Due largely to a racially-biased "drug war," our country's prison population grew during the Clinton years from 1.4 million to over 2 million -- many of whom were nonviolent drug offenders, poor and minority. The Florida recount fiasco of 2000 exposed the appalling reality that felony convictions had stripped three of ten black men in that state of their right to vote.

FOREIGN POLICY -- Martin Luther King Jr. went to his grave opposing an immoral war based on lies and a costly, militaristic foreign policy. He envisioned a country known around the globe more for its helping hand than its slugging arm. Today, U.S. military spending is roughly equal to that of all other countries on the planet combined. Bush's disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq was supported by Hillary Clinton, who can muster only vague grousing over its execution. There is no difference today between Bush and Clinton policies on Israel, where uncritical, longstanding U.S. support for occupation of Palestinian land has produced intransigence and needless suffering on both sides -- and is a source of anti-Americanism easily exploited by Islamist extremists.

Many Americans long for a strong presidential candidate in 2008 who will go beyond the tepid Bush-Clinton dialogue and chart a new course for our country -- including in foreign affairs. Aspiring Democrats who refuse to forcefully challenge a failed foreign policy in fear of being labeled "weak on defense" will fare no better than Kerry did. The backpedaling, "GOP-lite" strategy doesn't work.

Any Democrat who breaks from the Bush-Clinton consensus will become a target of mainstream media -- not just Fox News -- much like Howard Dean was in the weeks before the Iowa caucuses. If Al Gore steps out to run for president on a platform derived from his recent speeches on Iraq, foreign policy and Constitutional liberties, brace yourself for the spectacle of elite pundits straining to convince us that the man who was vice president for eight years is now irresponsibly leftish and "out of the mainstream."

Thankfully, corporate media and corporate money are no longer as crucial in determining the Democratic nominee. (Dean nearly succeeded in '04 with little of either.) That's because the last half-dozen years have seen near continuous growth in Internet organizing, independent media, and movements and coalitions for peace, global justice, fair trade, immigrants rights, media reform, etc. It would be smart politics for an '08 presidential contender to align with these coalitions -- smarter than the Clinton approach of wowing elite punditry by pushing away from activists and triangulating halfway between progressive Democrats and rightwing Republicans.

Among mainstream pundits, it's conventional wisdom that Bill Clinton and his centrist realpolitik saved the Democrats. But simple math tells us the opposite: Triangulation may have worked for Clinton personally (and for corporate backers seeking media consolidation and corporate-friendly trade deals like NAFTA), but far from saving the Democrats, the Clinton years represented a free fall for the party. When Clinton entered the White House, Democrats dominated the Senate, 57-43; the House, 258-176; the country's governorships, 30-18, and a large majority of state legislatures. By 2000, Republicans controlled the Senate, 55-45; the House, 222-211; governorships, 30-18, and almost half of state legislatures.

For Americans who want to turn our nation toward health, driving Bush-style extremism from the White House is essential. But it won't be enough to replace it with Clinton-style vacillation and triangulation.

Jeff Cohen is a media critic and writer. His latest book -- "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media" -- will be available in September.

http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0503-31.htm

Glenn Greenwald - Anatomy of the "thought" process of Bush defenders

Anatomy of the "thought" process of Bush defenders
Glenn Greenwald

As much as anything else, Bush defenders are characterized by an increasingly absolutist refusal to recognize any facts which conflict with their political desires, and conversely, by a borderline-religious embrace of any assertions which bolster those desires. It's a world-view which conflates desire with reality, disregards all facts and evidence that conflict with the decreed beliefs, and faithfully embraces any assertions and fantasies, no matter how baseless and flagrantly false, provided that they bolster the mythology.

Thus, things are going really great in Iraq - just as we predicted they would. When we invaded, Saddam had WMD's and he was funding Al Qaeda. Oil revenues will pay for the whole thing, we will be welcomed as liberators, the whole war will be won quickly and easily. A large military presence is unnecessary because there is no insurgency. Bush is a popular and beloved President. All but a handful of radical fringe subversives in America support the war and believe terrorism is the overarching problem. Americans want to militarily confront Iran, want illegal warrantless eavesdropping, and are happy with how the country is being governed.

It never matters how much evidence arises demonstrating the falsity of these beliefs. They are not susceptible to challenge or reconsideration because they are the by-product of faith and desire and not a critical or rational assessment. They believe these things because they want to believe them, they have to believe them, because the whole world-view on which their identity and purpose has come to be based -- the brave, heroic President leading the great conservative nation in glorious, epic war-triumph over the evil Muslim enemy -- depends upon believing these myths. No facts can shake these beliefs because they aren't grounded in facts and aren't the by-product of rationality.

[. . .]

Doesn't that pretty much capture the whole sickness? "There are facts that suggest that what I am saying is not actually true. What is my response do that? 'What-ev-eh.'" As in: "Some people claim there are facts that show that things in Iraq are not going really great. Something about civil war, sectarian hatred, anarchy, widespread violence, a total lack of security. What-ev-eh."

Don't they have somewhere lurking in their brain any critical faculties at all? For the sake of one's own integrity and reputation if nothing else, who would read an undocumented assertion on Drudge -- no matter how much of an emotional need they feel for it to be true -- and then run around reflexively reciting it as truth, writing whole posts celebrating it and analyzing it, without bothering to spend a second of time or a molecule of mental energy trying to figure out if it's really true?

This intellectually corrupt syndrome goes back a long way and has been festering for a long time. Nuggets of deceitful, fact-free fantasy get planted in some cesspool like Drudge and then mindless followers who want to believe it start repeating it as fact, and then it gets ossified forever as conventional wisdom and can never be dislodged from their minds. That's how Al Gore came to "claim that he invented the Internet," how Howard Dean became a far left radical pacifist, how Jessica Lynch had a heroic shoot-out with Al Qaeda and was then rescued by gun-blazing Marines, how Moveon.org produced commercials saying that Bush was Hitler, how Saddam funded Al Qaeda and personally participated in the planning of 9/11. It's even how the lesbian, Hillary, killed Vince Foster in order to ensure that their affair (or whitewater crimes or drug-running landing strip) would be kept quiet and, to this day, it's how Bill Clinton was a wildly unpopular president.

Soon after 9/11, the Bush movement became driven by much more than a set of political beliefs. It provides its adherents with much more than just a vehicle for political activism. It gives them purpose and a feeling of strength and power that they otherwise lack. In that sense, it is not dissimilar to a religion, and it is therefore unsurprising -- but nontheless ugly and destructive -- that their beliefs and convictions are not grounded in facts and reality but in a resolute faith that cannot be shaken by facts. Every event is interpreted so as to bolster the faith, facts are disregarded which undermine the faith and fact-free assertions are embraced which confirm the faith. [. . . .]



http://glenngreenwald.blogspot.com/2006/04/anatomy-of-thought-process-of-bush.html

Tom Gilroy - Bush's Trojan Christ

While virtually every other country in the Western world recognizes May 1st to be 'the International Day of The Worker,' we here in America studiously ignore it as anything other than just another day. That's training for ya.

Sure, the occasional rabid pundit like confessed drug addict Rush Limbaugh or classified info leaker Robert Novak might reach deep into their propaganda bag of tricks to remind us that May Day was officially ordained 'Law Day' by that friend of the working man, President Ronald Reagan, but in general the media does it's best to placate its owners and not give the uppity working man his due.

You remember Ronald Reagan, who's first official act as president (if you don't count negotiating with the Iranian government to keep their American hostages until after he defeated Carter), was breaking the strike of air traffic controllers, the first salvo in an assault on worker's rights that follows a direct line through NAFTA to our current abominations of pension theft and the elimination of minimum wage in New Orleans? A real man of the people.

It was under Reagan that the whole religious 'Great Awakening' began, which wasn't so much an embracing of religion as it was a repudiation of the social advances of the 60's, with Donald Wildmon peddling his pre-Focus on Family 'Promise Keepers,' (where men rule the household), Phyllis Schafly screaming equal rights for women undermines 'family values,' and Charles Schaar Murray declaring--with a straight face--blacks do worse in America simply because they're stupid. It was an awakening, all right.

Suddenly, the 'ostracized' religious right were 'rejoining' the national debate under the 'revolution' of faith---spearheaded by a president who rarely set foot in a church during his reign, lied regularly and outrageously to the public, and illegally funded nun-killing death-squads in Central America.

Or so the story goes, if you listen to Karl Rove, Robert Novak, Peggy Noonan and the other shit-spinners who learned their chops at the feet of Reagan/Bush PR wunderkind Lee Atwater, a vicious mudslinging thug who died young of a brain tumor and renounced his scurrilous tactics on his deathbed---tactics that have made Karl Rove a household name.

What the Reagan years really ushered in was the start of 'The Great Hypocrisy,' the GOP's twisting of religion to create a class of disgruntled zealots so blinded by hate they'd rush to vote into office the very thieves, liars and torturers who would not only screw them at every turn, but would decades later deliver George W. Bush to our doorstep with his Faith Based Everything.

And 'the national debate'---where is it? There is no debate, just ideologues screaming at each other to see whose one-dimensional faith-based sound byte can 'win'--nonsense like 'God Hates Fags' and Rick Santorum's equating homosexuality with bestiality.

It used to be that Christians were known to all by their good deeds, but after almost four decades of the GOP's cleaving the populace into warring sects to be manipulated at the polls, 'being Christian' is no longer defined by doing good deeds, it's defined by an arrogant mission to tell others how they must live---who they can marry, who they can adopt, what they can say in public, what they must teach in schools---all the way down to what kind of medicine they should have access to.

It was easy to look away from inconvenient historical facts of Christianity like the Inquisition, the Crusades, or the pedophilia of the priesthood when you could still see true people of faith marching for civil rights, working in soup kitchens, or bearing witness in Nicaragua as the Reagan-funded militias gunned down families of peasants.

But 'The Great Awakening' now brings us faith-based leaders promoting torture and war, who lie to us on a daily basis, and violate our constitutionally guaranteed rights. The 'national debate' about values is reduced to quippy bumper stickers like 'It's Okay To Pray' or 'One Man + One Woman = Marriage.' Our national conversation on ethics, morality, and faith has become a kind of WWF 'Religious Smackdown.'

The Great Awakening has also brought us, as reported in the Boston Globe (http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2006/04/30/bush_challenges_hundreds_of_laws/) , a president who claims the authority to disobey over 750 of our laws.
Maybe it's time to ask ourselves what exactly has really been awakened.

Is it a coincidence that our most pro-faith president is also our biggest law-breaking president, presiding over our most scandalized administration in history? You tell me.

Is it coincidence that our pro-faith vice president has a gay daughter he'd prevent from adopting a child or marrying her lover, a great Christian whose wife converts from writing lesbian romance novels to ethics primers for kids in the blink of a presidential campaign, a soldier of Christ who tells a senator on the Senate floor to go fuck himself? You tell me.

We have two million people incarcerated in federal prisons. If we're to believe the polls the Pat Robertsons and Bill O'Reillys constantly throw at us that 89% of our country are practicing Christians, that means our federal prisons are stuffed to the breaking point with about 1.8 million Bible-thumpers. Hmmm.

How come when we talk about religion in the great national debate, it's never fact s like these we discuss, instead of arguing over posting the Ten Commandments in City Hall?

What about Lynddie England, described as rarely leaving her barracks in Iraq except to go to church--and of course torture naked Iraqis by forcing them to simulate anal sex for snapshots taken by the father of her illegitimate child. If that 89% is correct, wouldn't that mean that the majority of Lynddie's co-torturers were, you know, Christians? When are we having that faith-based discussion?

And poor Clay Aiken, touting his Christianity to the blind, er, I mean, fans of American Idol, finally outed and humiliated to be caught in a gay relationship and seeking the love that dare not speak it's name on the Web, all the while recording an album of ---you guessed it---Christian songs. His fans are so mad they want to sue RCA for false advertising. Why aren't we hearing any talk about the gullibility of a Christian audience in our national debate? Why is this kind of intelligent discussion avoided in favor of finger pointing and sneering? Aiken's claim of devout Christianity gave him the power to fool--or at least encourage denial in--millions. Shouldn't we look at that?

And what about the Duke Lacrosse team? The entire debate is whether or not a rape occurred, not what were a room full of Christian boys from 'good homes' (two of them educated by Jesuits) doing ordering strippers to entertain them while threatening sodomy with a broomstick and taunting black women with racist jibes about their cotton-picking slave grandparents? Why don't we discuss Christianity in that context?

And of course there's Tom Delay, the great born-again purveyor of moral rectitude, the man with his hand in so many tills even Texas republicans had to cut him loose. The President salutes him as a great patriot who 'served his country well' and the Rove-minions repeat ad nauseum, 'the Dems don't have their poster-boy for corruption to kick around anymore.' What does that mean, exactly? Did he do it, or not? If he's innocent, then how could he possible be a poster-boy for corruption? And if he's guilty, why is the president saluting his patriotism? And if he's a thief and a liar, what are we to think of his relentless touting of Christian values? Doesn't that mean he's a hypocrite, and that Christian values, in a political sense, are meaningless?

What all this tells us is claiming to be Christian, on it's own, signifies nothing. In fact, given the religious makeup of our populace, pedophiles, thieves, liars, hypocrites and torturers in America are more likely to be Christians than Jews, Buddhists, Muslims--or atheists. It's simple math.

This is why the Founding Fathers--Christians all--were smart enough to keep religion out of government. They knew the power appealing to a people's spirituality could have, that faith could be invoked while hiding great violations of it's very tenets, encouraging otherwise docile people to do and say despicable things, to hate each other, to threaten the very fabric of a progressive, democratic, rational society.

Ironically, what Bush, Rove and the rest of the Fourth Reich have shown us is that putting more religion into government doesn't make it more moral; what it does is allow every cut-rate thief, liar and hypocrite to hide behind the cloak of morality while committing immoral acts around the globe and at home that would shame any real person of faith.

It's not a coincidence that the most 'faith-based' government we've had in over a century is also the most corrupt, secretive, murderous, lying, and law breaking in history. In the name of 'reawakening' Christianity in government, Bush, et al, have shown us why it should be locked out. As soon as a politician starts quoting the Bible and going on about his faith, we should run him out of town.

What the GOP has in fact done is mock and destroy Christianity, and that's a shame. Like Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, Christianity and God are some of our greatest creations. By appealing to an ignorant fringe of assholes who codify their hatred behind a misuse of spirituality, the GOP is an embarrassment to not only truly devout Christians, but to the rational world at large.

But they've done us an odd--if unintentional---service by showing us in practice exactly what the Founding Fathers feared and tried to prevent; that religion strikes so deep and renders people who want to be 'good' so gullible to manipulation, that any absurdity can be pushed through, including nonsense like dinosaurs walked the earth only two thousand years ago, praying can stop cancer, and somebody else's marriage can threaten your own.

So if you're against abortion, don't have one. If you're against gay marriage, don't marry one. And if you're against illegal immigrants, don't hire one. Clean your own damn house and pick your own damn broccoli, and when you're unmarried daughter breaks her pledge and gets pregnant, face your own moral dilemma and search your own spirituality for answers--just don't force me to apply those answers to my daughter. I'll handle her, and my grandchild, on my own.

But if you want me to see the beauty and the power of your faith, lead by example, not by cramming it down my throat or voting for politicians who want to screw all of us so the rich can get richer. Christian values are feeding the hungry, helping the poor and aiding the sick---not cutting Medicare, veteran's benefits, environmental protections, school lunch programs or health care. Period.

Values are something you adhere to, not something you force someone else to adhere to; that's called fascism.

And don't stand there and tell me a smiling president who reserves the right to violate a Congressional ban on torture is a man of faith.

That's called stupidity.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tom-gilroy/bushs-trojan-christ_b_20289.html

Monday, May 01, 2006

The New Totalitarianism Defines Desperate Neo-Con End Game

Published on Monday, May 1, 2006 by the Columbus Free Press (Ohio)
The New Totalitarianism Defines Desperate Neo-Con End Game
by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman


As the Bush/neo-con kleptocracy disintegrates in a toxic cloud of military defeat, economic bankruptcy, environmental disaster and escalating mega-scandal, its attack on basic American freedoms---its "New Totalitarianism"---has escalated to a desperate new level, including brutal Soviet-style prosecutions against non-violent dissidents and an all-out offensive for state secrecy, including an attack on the internet.

In obvious panic and disarray, the GOP right has focussed on one basic strategy---kill the messengers. While it slaughters Americans and Iraqis to "bring democracy" to the middle east, it has made democracy itself public enemy Number One here at home.

The New Totalitarianism has become tangible in particular through a string of terrifying prosecutions against non-violent dissenters, an attack on open access to official government papers, and the attempted resurrection by right-wing "theorists" of America's most repressive legislation, dating back to the 1950s, 1917 and even 1797.

Bush's universal spy campaign is the cutting edge of the assault. The GOP Attorney-General has told Congress both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln engaged in electronic wiretapping. He has deemed the Geneva war crimes accords a "quaint" document and treats the Bill of Rights the same way.

Evidence of no-warrant spying on thousands of US citizens continues to surface. Like all totalitarian regimes, this one believes its best defense is to terrorize its citizenry by intruding, Big Brother-like, into all facets of personal life. Inevitably, it is moving prosecute whoever reveals that spying is going on, including a KGB-style search for the hero who leaked Bush's warrantless wire-tap program.

Along with spying comes official secrecy. The Bush regime is reclassifying millions of pages of harmless, marginal documents to prevent public scrutiny. It demands access to the papers of the deceased investigative reporter Jack Anderson so they can be reclassified. It has moved to prosecute reporters, government officials and even lobbyists who have use documents in ways the administration doesn't like.

In Ohio, the official secrecy has entered the state level. Governor Bob Taft, the first sitting criminal governor in Ohio history, is moving to classify thousands of pages of state policy papers. Taft recently admitted to four misdemeanor crimes involved with Tom Noe, a Republican hack now under both state and federal indictment.

Noe can't explain the whereabouts of some $15 million in state funds he supposedly invested. Taft says any documents that allow him to make policy are "privileged." As critics point out, if an aide hands him even a copy of a published newspaper, it becomes covered under "executive privilege" in the first time in Ohio history, and its "mis-use" can be a crime.

Should the trend expand, US citizens could find themselves shut out of access to even the most rudimentary official information at all levels, down to the smallest town.

Simultaneously, prosecutions against dissenters have dramatically escalated. Taft walked away from his convictions with a small fine and an apology. But a community organizer here has been sentenced to 119 days in jail for speaking out at a Columbus School Board meeting. A severe diabetic, Jerry Doyle has been temporarily turned away from his jail sentence due to life-threatening health problems. But authorities intend to imprison Doyle while Taft walks free.

Ironically, Doyle was initially charged with trespassing at the podium although he had an authorized speaker's slip. He was complaining about a school official, Sheri Bird-Long who stole some $200,000 from the school system, pleaded guilty to one felony count of having an unlawful interest in a public contract and one misdemeanor count of unauthorized use of property, a theft-related offense. Unlike Doyle, Bird-Long got no jail time upon conviction.

In Cleveland Heights, Carol Fisher has been charged with a major felony for putting posters on public lamp-posts. The posters are critical of the Bush attack on Iraq. Fisher, who is committed to non-violence, was assaulted by local police who ordered her to take down the posters, then threw her down on the ground and charged her with felonious assault.

"I am 53 years old," she says, "not exactly a spring chicken. A hand comes down to push my chin against the concrete. By this time there are four cops on the scene. My hands are tightly cuffed behind my back. They lift me up and shove me onto a parkbench and shackle my legs. I am still calling out, telling people what this is about."

Fisher says the police cursed her, shouding "Shut up or I will kill you!...I am sick of this anti-Bush shit!...You are definitely going to the psyche ward." Fisher now faces years in prison and the loss of her livelihood.

Such gratuitous, mean-spirited and overtly repressive prosecutions against non-violent dissenters have proliferated throughout the Bush era, in which ordinary citizens with moderate bumper stickers or t-shirts have been turned away from or arrested at public events.

The clear and present purpose is to spread a climate of totalitarian fear aimed at reversing the sacred American freedoms embodied in the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

The campaign runs in tandem with the attack on academic discourse coordinated by David Horowitz and other haters of open debate. In the guise of seeking "balance," the rightist campaign aims to purge liberals from the liberal arts.

It parallels the industry-centered attempts to clamp down on the internet, which has been the sole grassroots source of reliable information and dissenting opinion in the US for years.

With total corporate domination of the major media, only the internet and a few talk radio shows and liberal magazines have kept alive the American tradition of a free press. Predictably, the administration is using a corporate front to shut off this last source of open "diablog."

Bush has taken the same tack against science itself. As Joe Stalin exiled and killed researchers whose fact-based conclusions seemed to contradict the Party line, so the GOP attacks the overwhelming consensus among climatologists that global warming is real. With true Orwellian flare, the administration disappears official research (and researchers) whose data say the oil barons who define Team Bush must curb their emissions.

The repression has reached new theoretical levels. In recent weeks, right-wing journals such as the National Review have featured articles demanding enforcement of ancient legislation outlawing "sedition." With the US now "at war," the right-wingers say it is perfectly fine for Bush to arrest and imprison those who advocate peace. In particular they cite repressive legislation used in the 1950s to clamp down on "known Communists." They also cite acts passed in 1917, during World War I, and the Sedition Act, passed under John Adams in 1797.

These laws in essence gave the Chief Executive power to imprison American citizens at will. Woodrow Wilson used them to jail Eugene V. Debs and thousands more who resisted US intervention in Europe. Debs was sentenced to ten years in federal prison for urging resistance to a war opposed by a significant majority of the American people (Debs ran for president from his Atlanta prison cell in 1920 and got nearly a million votes). Some dissenters were arrested for carrying posters that quoted Wilson's own writings in favor of peace. Opponents of the military draft were routinely jailed without trial. A "Red Scare" was used as cover to smash the Socialist Party and radical labor movement, debilitating the American left for decades to come.

John Adams's Sedition Act had similar aims. Its reign was brief and less destructive. But according to the New Totalitarians, it remains in force, and should be used to crush opponents of Bush's Iraq attack.

The neo-cons have taken particular aim at generals and other officers who have criticized the Bush military strategy, if it can be called that. The critiques have merely underscored the astonishing incompetence of the Bush junta. They reflect the highest order of courage and patriotism.

But such honor and honesty comprise the New Totalitarianism's worst nightmare. With indictments flowing deep into the kleptocracy, the most anti-democratic of all American regimes has just two tactics. The first is to create a culture of fear while silencing the dissenters, by all means necessary.

The second is to rig voting machines and strip voter rolls to guarantee that no matter how deep dissent actually carries in this country, it will have no tangible impact on who holds the reins of power. In tandem comes the deliberate shrinking of the electorate through repressive ID requirements and digitized voter registration lists. Thus far up to ten percent---some 500,000 voters---have been stripped from the registration rolls in Democratic areas of Ohio alone.

Today Bush's popularity has sunk to about a third of the population, a level similar to Hitler's percent of the vote when the Nazis took power in 1933. The GOP neo-cons have clearly realized that they can only hold power with old-fashioned thuggery and high-tech Tammany.

Having lost the public debate on its suicidal military, economic, environmental and social policies, all-out repression and stolen elections are the two remaining pillars of the New Totalitarianism.

Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman are co-authors of How the GOP Stole America's 2004 Election and is Rigging 2008, available at www.freepress.org. They are co-editors, with Steve Rosenfeld, of What Happened in Ohio?, from the New Press.

© 2006 Free Press.org

http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0501-31.htm

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bush challenges hundreds of laws

Bush challenges hundreds of laws
President cites powers of his office

By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe | April 30, 2006

WASHINGTON -- President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ''whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty ''to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to ''execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.

Former administration officials contend that just because Bush reserves the right to disobey a law does not mean he is not enforcing it: In many cases, he is simply asserting his belief that a certain requirement encroaches on presidential power.

But with the disclosure of Bush's domestic spying program, in which he ignored a law requiring warrants to tap the phones of Americans, many legal specialists say Bush is hardly reluctant to bypass laws he believes he has the constitutional authority to override.

Far more than any predecessor, Bush has been aggressive about declaring his right to ignore vast swaths of laws -- many of which he says infringe on power he believes the Constitution assigns to him alone as the head of the executive branch or the commander in chief of the military.

Many legal scholars say they believe that Bush's theory about his own powers goes too far and that he is seizing for himself some of the law-making role of Congress and the Constitution-interpreting role of the courts.

Phillip Cooper, a Portland State University law professor who has studied the executive power claims Bush made during his first term, said Bush and his legal team have spent the past five years quietly working to concentrate ever more governmental power into the White House.

''There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought-out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government," Cooper said. ''This is really big, very expansive, and very significant."

For the first five years of Bush's presidency, his legal claims attracted little attention in Congress or the media. Then, twice in recent months, Bush drew scrutiny after challenging new laws: a torture ban and a requirement that he give detailed reports to Congress about how he is using the Patriot Act.

Bush administration spokesmen declined to make White House or Justice Department attorneys available to discuss any of Bush's challenges to the laws he has signed.

Instead, they referred a Globe reporter to their response to questions about Bush's position that he could ignore provisions of the Patriot Act. They said at the time that Bush was following a practice that has ''been used for several administrations" and that ''the president will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution."

But the words ''in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution" are the catch, legal scholars say, because Bush is according himself the ultimate interpretation of the Constitution. And he is quietly exercising that authority to a degree that is unprecedented in US history.

Bush is the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Instead, he has signed every bill that reached his desk, often inviting the legislation's sponsors to signing ceremonies at which he lavishes praise upon their work.

Then, after the media and the lawmakers have left the White House, Bush quietly files ''signing statements" -- official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law. The statements are recorded in the federal register.

In his signing statements, Bush has repeatedly asserted that the Constitution gives him the right to ignore numerous sections of the bills -- sometimes including provisions that were the subject of negotiations with Congress in order to get lawmakers to pass the bill. He has appended such statements to more than one of every 10 bills he has signed.

''He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises -- and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened," said Christopher Kelley, a Miami University of Ohio political science professor who studies executive power.

Military link
Many of the laws Bush said he can bypass -- including the torture ban -- involve the military.

The Constitution grants Congress the power to create armies, to declare war, to make rules for captured enemies, and ''to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces." But, citing his role as commander in chief, Bush says he can ignore any act of Congress that seeks to regulate the military.

On at least four occasions while Bush has been president, Congress has passed laws forbidding US troops from engaging in combat in Colombia, where the US military is advising the government in its struggle against narcotics-funded Marxist rebels.

After signing each bill, Bush declared in his signing statement that he did not have to obey any of the Colombia restrictions because he is commander in chief.

Bush has also said he can bypass laws requiring him to tell Congress before diverting money from an authorized program in order to start a secret operation, such as the ''black sites" where suspected terrorists are secretly imprisoned.

Congress has also twice passed laws forbidding the military from using intelligence that was not ''lawfully collected," including any information on Americans that was gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches.

Congress first passed this provision in August 2004, when Bush's warrantless domestic spying program was still a secret, and passed it again after the program's existence was disclosed in December 2005.

On both occasions, Bush declared in signing statements that only he, as commander in chief, could decide whether such intelligence can be used by the military.

In October 2004, five months after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in Iraq came to light, Congress passed a series of new rules and regulations for military prisons. Bush signed the provisions into law, then said he could ignore them all. One provision made clear that military lawyers can give their commanders independent advice on such issues as what would constitute torture. But Bush declared that military lawyers could not contradict his administration's lawyers.

Other provisions required the Pentagon to retrain military prison guards on the requirements for humane treatment of detainees under the Geneva Conventions, to perform background checks on civilian contractors in Iraq, and to ban such contractors from performing ''security, intelligence, law enforcement, and criminal justice functions." Bush reserved the right to ignore any of the requirements.

The new law also created the position of inspector general for Iraq. But Bush wrote in his signing statement that the inspector ''shall refrain" from investigating any intelligence or national security matter, or any crime the Pentagon says it prefers to investigate for itself.

Bush had placed similar limits on an inspector general position created by Congress in November 2003 for the initial stage of the US occupation of Iraq. The earlier law also empowered the inspector to notify Congress if a US official refused to cooperate. Bush said the inspector could not give any information to Congress without permission from the administration.

Oversight questioned
Many laws Bush has asserted he can bypass involve requirements to give information about government activity to congressional oversight committees.

In December 2004, Congress passed an intelligence bill requiring the Justice Department to tell them how often, and in what situations, the FBI was using special national security wiretaps on US soil. The law also required the Justice Department to give oversight committees copies of administration memos outlining any new interpretations of domestic-spying laws. And it contained 11 other requirements for reports about such issues as civil liberties, security clearances, border security, and counternarcotics efforts.

After signing the bill, Bush issued a signing statement saying he could withhold all the information sought by Congress.

Likewise, when Congress passed the law creating the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, it said oversight committees must be given information about vulnerabilities at chemical plants and the screening of checked bags at airports.

It also said Congress must be shown unaltered reports about problems with visa services prepared by a new immigration ombudsman. Bush asserted the right to withhold the information and alter the reports.

On several other occasions, Bush contended he could nullify laws creating ''whistle-blower" job protections for federal employees that would stop any attempt to fire them as punishment for telling a member of Congress about possible government wrongdoing.

When Congress passed a massive energy package in August, for example, it strengthened whistle-blower protections for employees at the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The provision was included because lawmakers feared that Bush appointees were intimidating nuclear specialists so they would not testify about safety issues related to a planned nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada -- a facility the administration supported, but both Republicans and Democrats from Nevada opposed.

When Bush signed the energy bill, he issued a signing statement declaring that the executive branch could ignore the whistle-blower protections.

Bush's statement did more than send a threatening message to federal energy specialists inclined to raise concerns with Congress; it also raised the possibility that Bush would not feel bound to obey similar whistle-blower laws that were on the books before he became president. His domestic spying program, for example, violated a surveillance law enacted 23 years before he took office.

David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive-power issues, said Bush has cast a cloud over ''the whole idea that there is a rule of law," because no one can be certain of which laws Bush thinks are valid and which he thinks he can ignore.

''Where you have a president who is willing to declare vast quantities of the legislation that is passed during his term unconstitutional, it implies that he also thinks a very significant amount of the other laws that were already on the books before he became president are also unconstitutional," Golove said.

Defying Supreme Court
Bush has also challenged statutes in which Congress gave certain executive branch officials the power to act independently of the president. The Supreme Court has repeatedly endorsed the power of Congress to make such arrangements. For example, the court has upheld laws creating special prosecutors free of Justice Department oversight and insulating the board of the Federal Trade Commission from political interference.

Nonetheless, Bush has said in his signing statements that the Constitution lets him control any executive official, no matter what a statute passed by Congress might say.

In November 2002, for example, Congress, seeking to generate independent statistics about student performance, passed a law setting up an educational research institute to conduct studies and publish reports ''without the approval" of the Secretary of Education. Bush, however, decreed that the institute's director would be ''subject to the supervision and direction of the secretary of education."

Similarly, the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld affirmative-action programs, as long as they do not include quotas. Most recently, in 2003, the court upheld a race-conscious university admissions program over the strong objections of Bush, who argued that such programs should be struck down as unconstitutional.

Yet despite the court's rulings, Bush has taken exception at least nine times to provisions that seek to ensure that minorities are represented among recipients of government jobs, contracts, and grants. Each time, he singled out the provisions, declaring that he would construe them ''in a manner consistent with" the Constitution's guarantee of ''equal protection" to all -- which some legal scholars say amounts to an argument that the affirmative-action provisions represent reverse discrimination against whites.

Golove said that to the extent Bush is interpreting the Constitution in defiance of the Supreme Court's precedents, he threatens to ''overturn the existing structures of constitutional law."

A president who ignores the court, backed by a Congress that is unwilling to challenge him, Golove said, can make the Constitution simply ''disappear."

Common practice in '80s
Though Bush has gone further than any previous president, his actions are not unprecedented.

Since the early 19th century, American presidents have occasionally signed a large bill while declaring that they would not enforce a specific provision they believed was unconstitutional. On rare occasions, historians say, presidents also issued signing statements interpreting a law and explaining any concerns about it.

But it was not until the mid-1980s, midway through the tenure of President Reagan, that it became common for the president to issue signing statements. The change came about after then-Attorney General Edwin Meese decided that signing statements could be used to increase the power of the president.

When interpreting an ambiguous law, courts often look at the statute's legislative history, debate and testimony, to see what Congress intended it to mean. Meese realized that recording what the president thought the law meant in a signing statement might increase a president's influence over future court rulings.

Under Meese's direction in 1986, a young Justice Department lawyer named Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote a strategy memo about signing statements. It came to light in late 2005, after Bush named Alito to the Supreme Court.

In the memo, Alito predicted that Congress would resent the president's attempt to grab some of its power by seizing ''the last word on questions of interpretation." He suggested that Reagan's legal team should ''concentrate on points of true ambiguity, rather than issuing interpretations that may seem to conflict with those of Congress."

Reagan's successors continued this practice. George H.W. Bush challenged 232 statutes over four years in office, and Bill Clinton objected to 140 laws over his eight years, according to Kelley, the Miami University of Ohio professor.

Many of the challenges involved longstanding legal ambiguities and points of conflict between the president and Congress.

Throughout the past two decades, for example, each president -- including the current one -- has objected to provisions requiring him to get permission from a congressional committee before taking action. The Supreme Court made clear in 1983 that only the full Congress can direct the executive branch to do things, but lawmakers have continued writing laws giving congressional committees such a role.

Still, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton used the presidential veto instead of the signing statement if they had a serious problem with a bill, giving Congress a chance to override their decisions.

But the current President Bush has abandoned the veto entirely, as well as any semblance of the political caution that Alito counseled back in 1986. In just five years, Bush has challenged more than 750 new laws, by far a record for any president, while becoming the first president since Thomas Jefferson to stay so long in office without issuing a veto.

''What we haven't seen until this administration is the sheer number of objections that are being raised on every bill passed through the White House," said Kelley, who has studied presidential signing statements through history. ''That is what is staggering. The numbers are well out of the norm from any previous administration."

Exaggerated fears?
Some administration defenders say that concerns about Bush's signing statements are overblown. Bush's signing statements, they say, should be seen as little more than political chest-thumping by administration lawyers who are dedicated to protecting presidential prerogatives.

Defenders say the fact that Bush is reserving the right to disobey the laws does not necessarily mean he has gone on to disobey them.

Indeed, in some cases, the administration has ended up following laws that Bush said he could bypass. For example, citing his power to ''withhold information" in September 2002, Bush declared that he could ignore a law requiring the State Department to list the number of overseas deaths of US citizens in foreign countries. Nevertheless, the department has still put the list on its website.

Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor who until last year oversaw the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel for the administration, said the statements do not change the law; they just let people know how the president is interpreting it.

''Nobody reads them," said Goldsmith. ''They have no significance. Nothing in the world changes by the publication of a signing statement. The statements merely serve as public notice about how the administration is interpreting the law. Criticism of this practice is surprising, since the usual complaint is that the administration is too secretive in its legal interpretations."

But Cooper, the Portland State University professor who has studied Bush's first-term signing statements, said the documents are being read closely by one key group of people: the bureaucrats who are charged with implementing new laws.

Lower-level officials will follow the president's instructions even when his understanding of a law conflicts with the clear intent of Congress, crafting policies that may endure long after Bush leaves office, Cooper said.

''Years down the road, people will not understand why the policy doesn't look like the legislation," he said.

And in many cases, critics contend, there is no way to know whether the administration is violating laws -- or merely preserving the right to do so.

Many of the laws Bush has challenged involve national security, where it is almost impossible to verify what the government is doing. And since the disclosure of Bush's domestic spying program, many people have expressed alarm about his sweeping claims of the authority to violate laws.

In January, after the Globe first wrote about Bush's contention that he could disobey the torture ban, three Republicans who were the bill's principal sponsors in the Senate -- John McCain of Arizona, John W. Warner of Virginia, and Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina -- all publicly rebuked the president.

''We believe the president understands Congress's intent in passing, by very large majorities, legislation governing the treatment of detainees," McCain and Warner said in a joint statement. ''The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation."

Added Graham: ''I do not believe that any political figure in the country has the ability to set aside any . . . law of armed conflict that we have adopted or treaties that we have ratified."

And in March, when the Globe first wrote about Bush's contention that he could ignore the oversight provisions of the Patriot Act, several Democrats lodged complaints.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, accused Bush of trying to ''cherry-pick the laws he decides he wants to follow."

And Representatives Jane Harman of California and John Conyers Jr. of Michigan -- the ranking Democrats on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees, respectively -- sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales demanding that Bush rescind his claim and abide by the law.

''Many members who supported the final law did so based upon the guarantee of additional reporting and oversight," they wrote. ''The administration cannot, after the fact, unilaterally repeal provisions of the law implementing such oversight. . . . Once the president signs a bill, he and all of us are bound by it."

Lack of court review
Such political fallout from Congress is likely to be the only check on Bush's claims, legal specialists said.

The courts have little chance of reviewing Bush's assertions, especially in the secret realm of national security matters.

''There can't be judicial review if nobody knows about it," said Neil Kinkopf, a Georgia State law professor who was a Justice Department official in the Clinton administration. ''And if they avoid judicial review, they avoid having their constitutional theories rebuked."

Without court involvement, only Congress can check a president who goes too far. But Bush's fellow Republicans control both chambers, and they have shown limited interest in launching the kind of oversight that could damage their party.

''The president is daring Congress to act against his positions, and they're not taking action because they don't want to appear to be too critical of the president, given that their own fortunes are tied to his because they are all Republicans," said Jack Beermann, a Boston University law professor. ''Oversight gets much reduced in a situation where the president and Congress are controlled by the same party."

Said Golove, the New York University law professor: ''Bush has essentially said that 'We're the executive branch and we're going to carry this law out as we please, and if Congress wants to impeach us, go ahead and try it.' "

Bruce Fein, a deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, said the American system of government relies upon the leaders of each branch ''to exercise some self-restraint." But Bush has declared himself the sole judge of his own powers, he said, and then ruled for himself every time.

''This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy," Fein said. ''There is no way for an independent judiciary to check his assertions of power, and Congress isn't doing it, either. So this is moving us toward an unlimited executive power."

http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2006/04/30/bush_challenges_hundreds_of_laws?mode=PF