Last Sunday President-elect Barack Obama was asked whether he would seek an investigation of possible crimes by the Bush administration. “I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” he responded, but “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”
I’m sorry, but if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.
Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. It’s not just torture and illegal wiretapping, whose perpetrators claim, however implausibly, that they were patriots acting to defend the nation’s security. The fact is that the Bush administration’s abuses extended from environmental policy to voting rights. And most of the abuses involved using the power of government to reward political friends and punish political enemies.
At the Justice Department, for example, political appointees illegally reserved nonpolitical positions for “right-thinking Americans” — their term, not mine — and there’s strong evidence that officials used their positions both to undermine the protection of minority voting rights and to persecute Democratic politicians.
The hiring process at Justice echoed the hiring process during the occupation of Iraq — an occupation whose success was supposedly essential to national security — in which applicants were judged by their politics, their personal loyalty to President Bush and, according to some reports, by their views on Roe v. Wade, rather than by their ability to do the job.
Speaking of Iraq, let’s also not forget that country’s failed reconstruction: the Bush administration handed billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to politically connected companies, companies that then failed to deliver. And why should they have bothered to do their jobs? Any government official who tried to enforce accountability on, say, Halliburton quickly found his or her career derailed.
There’s much, much more. By my count, at least six important government agencies experienced major scandals over the past eight years — in most cases, scandals that were never properly investigated. And then there was the biggest scandal of all: Does anyone seriously doubt that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into invading Iraq?
Why, then, shouldn’t we have an official inquiry into abuses during the Bush years?
One answer you hear is that pursuing the truth would be divisive, that it would exacerbate partisanship. But if partisanship is so terrible, shouldn’t there be some penalty for the Bush administration’s politicization of every aspect of government?
Alternatively, we’re told that we don’t have to dwell on past abuses, because we won’t repeat them. But no important figure in the Bush administration, or among that administration’s political allies, has expressed remorse for breaking the law. What makes anyone think that they or their political heirs won’t do it all over again, given the chance?
In fact, we’ve already seen this movie. During the Reagan years, the Iran-contra conspirators violated the Constitution in the name of national security. But the first President Bush pardoned the major malefactors, and when the White House finally changed hands the political and media establishment gave Bill Clinton the same advice it’s giving Mr. Obama: let sleeping scandals lie. Sure enough, the second Bush administration picked up right where the Iran-contra conspirators left off — which isn’t too surprising when you bear in mind that Mr. Bush actually hired some of those conspirators.
Now, it’s true that a serious investigation of Bush-era abuses would make Washington an uncomfortable place, both for those who abused power and those who acted as their enablers or apologists. And these people have a lot of friends. But the price of protecting their comfort would be high: If we whitewash the abuses of the past eight years, we’ll guarantee that they will happen again.
Meanwhile, about Mr. Obama: while it’s probably in his short-term political interests to forgive and forget, next week he’s going to swear to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That’s not a conditional oath to be honored only when it’s convenient.
And to protect and defend the Constitution, a president must do more than obey the Constitution himself; he must hold those who violate the Constitution accountable. So Mr. Obama should reconsider his apparent decision to let the previous administration get away with crime. Consequences aside, that’s not a decision he has the right to make.
Note from Allison: Great news, everyone! Racism is OVER!
The Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear a challenge to the landmark 1965 voting rights act, paving the way for a major decision this term on federal power to oversee state election laws.
In the backdrop is the recent election of Barack Obama and the question of whether America still needs an expansive law protecting against discrimination in voting now that a black man has won the presidency.
A decision in the case from Texas, to be heard in April, could impact the U.S. government’s authority to ensure that racial minorities — who were subjected to literacy tests and other devices to keep them from the polls for most of the 20th Century — continue to have as much of a chance as whites to elect candidates of their choice.
In dispute is the 2006 renewal of the Voting Rights Act, which Congress passed overwhelmingly and President Bush signed.
Richard Hasen, an election-law expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the dispute “has the potential to be the most important election case since Bush v. Gore.” That 2000 decision cut off Florida ballot recounts and ensured Bush the White House.
“The court has repeatedly upheld the constitutionality (of the disputed provision),” Hasen noted. “The question is whether the role of race in American politics has so changed in the last decade or two that remedies that were once constitutional are now considered impingements on state sovereignty.”
A Texas utility district says the provision known as Section 5, which gives the U.S. government authority to oversee state electoral-law changes, is no longer needed and is unconstitutional. The utility district uses the election of the first black president as evidence.
“The America that has elected Barack Obama as its first African-American president is far different than when Section 5 was first enacted in 1965,” say lawyers for the utility district.
Section 5 covers nine states and several counties and municipalities where, as Justice Department lawyers note, race discrimination “has been most flagrant.” Texas utility district lawyer Gregory Coleman says the continued use of that section attaches a “badge of shame … based on old data” and should be lifted.
Civil rights activists, backing the Justice Department’s defense of the renewed Voting Rights Act, have stressed that parts of the nation continue to vote along racial lines and argue that the law that opened the door to widespread black voting four decades ago is still needed.
“Obama’s election reflects an enormous advancement in race relations in the United States,” says Laughlin McDonald of the American Civil Liberties Union. “But voting, particularly in the southern states covered by the oversight provision, remains significantly polarized along racial lines.”
Exit polls from the Nov. 4 presidential election showed that whites in many southern states heavily favored John McCain to Obama. In Texas, 73% of whites favored McCain; in Georgia, 76%, and in Alabama, 88%. Nationally, the percentage of whites for McCain was 55%, exit poll data show.
Last May, a special lower court unanimously upheld the provision. U.S. Appeals Court Judge David Tatel wrote, “(G)iven the extensive legislative record documenting contemporary racial discrimination in voting in covered jurisdictions, Congress’s decision to extend Section 5 for another twenty-five years was rational and therefore constitutional.”
States covered by jurisdictions cannot make any changes to their electoral laws without getting approval from the Department of Justice or a federal district court in Washington. The requirement is designed to ensure that a local government does not draw new voting-district boundaries or enact rules that would dilute the votes of blacks or other minorities.
The law passed the Senate unanimously and the House by 390-33 in 2006.
U.S. Solicitor General Gregory Garre had emphasized in his filing to the court all the evidence Congress reviewed when it reauthorized the law, including “several instances of minority voters’ being threatened with arrest or prosecution for voting.” He said that significant gaps in registration rates between minorities and white citizens continue to exist and that the threat of Section 5 is a significant deterrent in states and municipalities where white majorities might want to adopt electoral plans that dilute the power of black voters.
The utility district, which conducts elections to select its board of directors, says its policies should not be subject to regular DOJ review. Coleman says federal law has sufficient protections for any voter racial bias that occurs.
The case is Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Mukasey.
A registered Democrat in Pennsylvania writes the Huffington Post to report that she has received an anonymous phone call telling her she should go to the polls on Wednesday.
“I received a phone call from an unidentified caller yesterday telling me that because of the expected high voter turnout, Democrats will need to vote on Wednesday, November 5th,” she writes.
The calls are obviously misleading, as voting ends on Tuesday. And apparently they have been going on for quite some time. This past Friday the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported“robocalls making the rounds in Pittsburgh region” disseminating the misleading information. The reader who contacted Huffington Post was from the Philadelphia suburbs, at the opposite end of the state.
Contacted by the Huffington Post, a spokesman for the Obama campaign’s Pennsylvania operations said he was aware of the misleading calls but “not worried about” their impact.
If you hear anything more about this or other last-minute election tactics, please contact the Huffington Post.
Oh, the irony. Accuse ACORN of voter fraud when you, yourself, have hired a shady operative to commit voter fraud on behalf of the GOP.
As the McCain camp attempts to tie Barack Obama to claims of registration irregularities by the activist group ACORN, campaign finance records detailing the payment to the firm of Nathan Sproul, investigated several times for fraud, threatens to derail that argument.
The documents show that a joint committee of the McCain-Palin campaign, the Republican National Committee and the California Republican Party, made the payment to Lincoln Strategy, of which Mr. Sproul is the managing partner, for the purposes of “voter registration.”
Mr. Sproul has been investigated on numerous occasions for preventing Democrats from voting, destroying registration forms and leading efforts to get Ralph Nader on ballots to leach the Democratic vote.
In October last year, the House Judiciary Committee wrote to the Attorney General requesting answers regarding a number of allegations against Mr. Sproul’s firm, then known as Sproul and Associates. It referred to evidence that ahead of the 2004 national elections, the firm trained staff only to register Republican voters and destroyed any other registration cards, citing affidavits from former staff members and investigations by television news programmes.
One former worker testified that “fooling people was key to the job” and that “canvassers were told to act as if they were non-partisan, to hide that they were working for the RNC, especially if approached by the media,” according to the committee’s letter. It also cited reports from public libraries across the country that the firm had asked to set up voter registration tables claiming it was working on behalf of the non-partisan group America Votes, though in fact no such link existed.
The career of Mr. Sproul, a former leader of the Arizona Republican Party, is littered with accusations of foul play. In Minnesota in 2004, his firm was accused of sacking workers who submitted Democratic registration forms, while other canvassers were allegedly paid bonuses for registering Bush voters. There were similar charges in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oregon and Nevada.
That year, Mr. Sproul’s firm was paid $8,359,161 by the Republican Party, according to a 2005 article in the Baltimore Chronicle, which claimed that this was far more than what had been reported to the Federal Elections Commission.
Mr. McCain and his running mate Sarah Palin have been linking allegations of registration fraud by ACORN, the community group, to theObama campaign.
ACORN has been accused of registering non-existent voters during its nationwide drive, with reports of cartoon characters such as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse being signed up.
The organization insisted that these are isolated incidents carried out by a handful of workers who have since been dismissed.
However, the Republican nominee insists that the group is involved in fraudulent activities, noting that Mr. Obama, before leaving the legal profession to enter politics, was once part of a team which defended the organization. At last week’s debate, he said that ACORN was “perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history”, a claim which the Obama campaign says represents political smear.
The revelation of Mr. Sproul’s involvement with the McCain campaign – he has also donated $30,000 to the ticket and received at least another $37,000 directly from the RNC – could undermine his case.
“It should certainly take away from McCain’s argument,” Bob Grossfeld, an Arizona political consultant who has watched Mr. Sproul’s career closely, told the Huffington Post. “Without knowing anything of what is going on with ACORN, there is a clear history with Mr. Sproul either going over the line or sure as hell kicking dirt on it, and doing it for profit and usually fairly substantive profit.”
In May this year, both ACORN and Mr. Sproul were discussed at a hearing of the House subcommittee on commercial and administrative law. One Republican member, Congressman Chris Cannon, concluded: “The difference between ACORN and Sproul is that ACORN doesn’t throw away or change registration documents after they have been filled out.”
I am an NYU graduate, a magazine reporter and someone who just found out last week I was “Inactive.”
I’ve been reading your work, Mark, and also that of Naomi Wolf, who speaks very highly of you in her latest book Give Me Liberty.
I just wanted to thank you both for sending this email out to people. Unfortunately, it is too late to change your status UNLESS you can get someone at your borough’s board of elections to send you a new “confirmation notice” in the mail – this confirmation notice, once sent out, automatically moves one from the “inactive” to the “active” status.
I know because I got someone to do it for me last week. I had contacted the ACLU’s voting rights project (Neil Bradley, who I’ve cc’d on this email) and also Election Protection dot org, in DC, and had a list of the laws ready to read to whomever at the voting office was unlucky enough to answer my phone call. Basically I badgered them for two days until they moved my name.
I URGE everyone who finds out they are “inactive” to call, call, call their borough’s board of elections, where they were last registered, and beg them to do whatever they can.
I can provide more information on the specific laws I cited when I talked to them, if you’re interested.
Melody S. Wells
Regular readers will notice that DVN is growing longer and longer as the election gets closer and closer. There will be a time, probably within a week of the election, when DVN will just be too long to be of use in a once-a-day publication. When that happens, as I have done in previous years, I will split DVN into a “Morning Edition” and “Evening Edition”.
One of the issues that bears watching is voter registrations. The news has contained many articles, of late, about the huge influx of voter registrations. Counties are under the gun to get the registrations completed and filed into the data base. The big question is will they be able to do it in the time they have left? How many voters who filed new registrations or changes in their registrations are going to end up being told they have to vote on a provisional ballot? And then either not have that ballot counted because the county has decided not to count provisional ballots because they won’t make any difference in the outcome as we have heard in the past; OR, have their ballot not counted because the county never did get the voters application processed? &&& Remember please, do NOT use the straight party option if you get that option. Take the extra few minutes and vote each race on the ballot.
National: Feds question new voter checks in 6 states
National: Battles rage over new voters Legal disputes loom as the political parties spar over voter lists,
National: Election Protection Wiki Safeguards Voting Rights
National: Editorial – Avoid absentee voting trap
National: Students at Rice learn how vulnerable electronic voting really is
National: Electronic voting machines software extremely vulnerable to rigging