Friday, June 08, 2007


The United States of America is founded on two basic functional principles: our democratic system and our rule of law, both set forth in the U.S. Constitution. In both categories, thanks to the Bush administration, this nation is in grave danger of failing. And by failing I mean setting itself up for chaos and blatant dictatorship, which in effect will threaten the future of the civilized world and perhaps life as we know it on Earth.

Our rule of law is challenged again and again, so obviously this past week when the Bushites try again to override a court decision that denies them their ability to destroy constitutional and international rights. The principle of habeus corpus is obscurely named --perhaps it should be repeated as "the right to your day in court" or to be charged and put on trial according to law. But its bad branding shouldn't obscure how fundamental a right it is--basic to every other right in the Constitution, including free speech and freedom of religion. As Constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley said on Countdown: " is actually the foundation for all other rights. When the president—when the government throws you into a dungeon for what you say or who you pray to, it‘s habeas corpus that‘s the right that allows you to see the enforcement of the other rights."

We learned more last week about the lengths to which the Bushites go to deny these rights, in the effort to circumvent the law by appealing to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft when he had relinquished his authority temporarily to have surgery and recover from it.

But these are not new efforts--the Bush administration has been doing all this persistently, and yet they continue to do so, with no one effectively stopping them. Such brazen success emboldens others to defy the rule of law, such as the Republicans who lined up last week to demand the immediate pardon of Scooter Libby, despite his lawful prosecution and conviction, despite the fact that he was convicted of obstructing justice by preventing effective investigation and possible prosecution of larger, underlying crimes in the Valerie Plame affair, and despite contravening the established procedures for pardons in the most outrageous ways. Pardons are normally given after the sentence is served or at least begun, and after the convicted admits guilt, repents and asks for mercy. But Republicans want the law and the courts to simply be ignored and overpowered by the executive.

What if President Clinton had looked at the Supreme Court decision of Gore v. Bush that gave the election to Bush in 2000, rightly concluded that it was a flawed decision, against precedent, and made by justices with political conflicts of interest, and simply voided it? The principle is exactly the same.

In other times, actions of which President Bush and Vice-President Cheney are accused or have admitted would be sufficient cause to bring articles of impeachment against them. But no such congressional action is forthcoming.

The Bushite challenge to the rule of law is an aspect of their challenge to the fundamentals of our democratic system. The Iraq war is opposed by three-fourths of the American people, yet it goes on. Three-fourths of the American people believe the country is on the wrong track, and yet the Bushites persist. Even though the Bushites are legitimately in power until the next election, this indecent ignoring of the opinions of citizens is very dangerous to democracy.

More serious still are the Bushites direct threats to electoral democracy. The pattern of firing and hiring officers of the law in the U.S. Justice system based on political party and ideological loyalties is itself a major threat to our system. Yet the people responsible for this have not been held accountable. After many calls for his firing, after many predictions that he would not last out the week or the month, Alberto Gonzales is still the Attorney General of the U.S., despite evidence which continues to mount that he has been dishonest, incompetent and acted against the rule of law, and against fairness necessary for the democratic electoral system to function.

Moreover, the intent of these manipulations of justice seems more and more clearly to be to suppress votes that may go to Democrats, by appointing judges who would prosecute charges of voter fraud against Democrats, no matter how dubious those charges might be, and to ignore charges of voter suppression and fraud against Republicans, no matter how substantial the evidence might be.

The intent clearly is to create a permanent majority for Bushites, who might more properly be called Rovians, because they intend to continue beyond this administration (possibly with Fred Thompson.) So simply waiting for Bush to leave office won't be enough. The intent is to subvert the electoral system.

The Bushites have so far successfully acted like a dictatorship, and no one has stopped them. There are ongoing investigations but they are painfully and perhaps fatally slow. The Bushites, the Rovians seek to establish the means for further dictatorship, and no one is preventing them. The U.S. is in deep trouble, and so is the future.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

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The anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy's death comes at a dark moment of intense political polarization, in a nation roiled by an unpopular war characterized by official deceit. Many of Robert Kennedy's words on Vietnam could be dropped into the newspaper today and they would be just as relevant.

It is a time of violence in word and deed. It is a time mortal peril for this country and its institutions, the country and the institutions of which he had a deep knowledge, for which he had a deep commitment. It is a time of mortal peril for the world and its life. His son and namesake knows this--Robert Kennedy, Jr. has been and remains one of our greatest champions of our environment.

1968 was a time of political upheaval as well. In this election year it is well to remember that the revered RFK, if he were a politican today, would be criticized and castigated from one end of the political spectrum to the other, and all over the Internet. He would be charged today, as he was charged then,with opportunism, cynical and self-centered politics, and trading on his name and wealthy family.

Kennedy was himself a polarizing figure, although his words were of reconcilation. That in part was what made him polarizing. His positions on various issues did not satisfy the templates of the left or right. Yet he was the only white politician who had the passionate support and love of many blacks. He was the only political leader who spent time on Indian reservations and tiny Inuit villages as well as southern rural and white West Virgina mountain shanty towns.

He inspired passions for and passions against. People wanted to touch him, and he needed to touch others--he seemed to learn through touch. He learned through children, extending the feelings of a father to compassion for all children.

He grew up in privilege, and his early meetings with black leaders were not warm. Yet by 1968, when Martin Luther King was shot and killed, his widow asked Robert Kennedy to arrange to have his body moved from Memphis to Atlanta. His impromptu speech, passing on the news of King's assassination in a black neighborhood where he happened to be, is one of his most famous.

Kennedy's first major speech was just after King's death, and after the violent riots that torched and destroyed significant parts of many cities. In some cities, like Washington, it would be more than a decade before those areas recovered.

I could quote his Vietnam speeches, emphasizing the horror for the victims of war. But Robert Kennedy's life, and a great deal of the promise of America, was ended by an act of violence in June 1968. I remember those hours and days. The primary emotion I felt I later understood as this: loneliness. Robert Kennedy's death made this a very lonely country for me.

Robert Kennedy took on that last political fight, knowing the odds were against him, knowing that violence was in the air. He was a warrior for peace. It is important to remember even as we stand up against the cynical and cowardly violence of the rabid right, that Robert Kennedy's last crusade was this: as he said to a largely black audience in that unwritten speech on the night of Martin Luther King's assassination, "Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world."

In his next major speech, in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 4, he said this:

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, this poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all. I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family , then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies---to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look on our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear--only a common desire to retreat from each other--only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this there are no final answers. Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what program to enact. The question is whether we can find in our midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be enobled or enriched by hatred or revenge. Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land.

A friend of ours was talking the other day about how much
she enjoys watching the barn swallows on her property
go through their nesting rituals in the spring. We see them
only occasionally around our house, but this is a photo off
the web of one. But we have seen that at least one of our
hummingbirds has returned.
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Wolfing Down the Debate

UPDATE: A post by MissLaura at Daily Kos reminds me that even before Hillary objected to the hypotheticals, Barack Obama called Wolfie out on an overly simplistic "show of hands" question on English as the official U.S. language. His statement set the stage for Hillary's, and is in itself another victory in demanding serious consideration of serious issues, which involves using language correctly.

In many ways the debate among Democratic candidates on Monday was heartening. It's a capable group of candidates, substantative and incisive. Several mentioned the climate crisis though there were as usual no questions directly about it. Senator Biden showed real passion on the Darfur genocide and for a moment took the debate out of politics when he insisted that while they debated, people were dying, and it is needless.

Some say Hillary won, some say John Edwards, and except for momentum of the moment, it hardly matters. But there was a moment that might matter: when the candidates revolted against the inquisitor, Wolf Blitzer of CNN.

I've seen comments on several blogs assuming that Blitzer is a Republican advocate, but what certainly was clear by his questions was he is a wolf for the most sensational possible headline he could create from the event. Every chance he got he honed in on some hot button issue or phrase. He often did it with hypothetical scenario questions, like the one in the first debate (if two U.S. cities were attacked simultaneously by terrorists, what would you do? or some such.)

The first such hypothetical I can recall was the most devastating: in 1988, when the Willie Horton ads were honing in on the Crime issue, and specifically the record of Governor Michael Dukakis, the Dem candidate, the first question in the debate was how would he feel if a criminal released from prison raped his wife (or something like that), and he gave a bloodless policy wonk answer. Years later he said he knew immediately that he'd just lost the election.

Well, that only increased the hunger for hypotheticals among "news reporters" eager to make news and their mark on history. Still, the candidates appeared surprised by the one in the first debate this year. Not this time. Wolf asked several, there was general grumbling, and then Hillary said directly, "we're not going to answer hypotheticals." And that's all it took.

I hope this is a trend, and I'd advise the next bugaboo they take on directly is the language that Republicans impose on issues. There has been endless debate and discussion the past few years about framing and memes and branding and Frank Luntz versus George Lakoff. It's about time to bring it out in the open on the presidential debate level.

For example, right now the Republican buzzword is "amnesty" on immigration. Somebody has to step up and say, regarding provisions in the current immigration bill, "It's not amnesty. Amnesty is a general pardon. Nobody's being pardoned--illegal immigrants will pay a fine and go through a process in order to become citizens." Etc. Refusing to let the newsWolf control the debate and distort its purpose with simplistic hypotheticals is the first step. The next is refusing to accede to distorting and simplistic language just because it's endlessly repeated.