Harry Reid must be ecstatic right now. It might have been easy enough to beat the always hilarious Sue “Can I trade three chickens for my root canal?” Lowden, but the outcome of the Republican primary in Nevada supplies Reid with an even crazier opponent: Tea Party sweetheart Sharron Angle.
Angle is somewhat of an unknown, but the glimpses I’ve seen of her ideologies are incoherent, at best.
“My greatest problem with marijuana is that it’s illegal, which gives Nevadans a false sense of security in this whole thing. If the DEA has the manpower and wanted to go after this, there is no place in Nevada state law that can protect people because federal law supersedes state law. I would tell you that I have the same feelings about legalizing marijuana, not medical marijuana, but just legalizing marijuana. I feel the same about legalizing alcohol. The effect on society is so great that I’m just not a real proponent of legalizing any drug or encouraging any drug abuse. I’m elected by the people to protect, and I think that law should protect.”
I will give anyone who can tell me what the fuck this means a shiny nickel. Here is the best I can translate: Alcohol, which is legal, should be treated like marijuana, which is illegal(?) I’ve heard lots of good arguments for decriminalizing marijuana, and some — at least coherent — arguments against decriminalizing it, but it takes a special breed of bad politician to advocate outlawing alcohol again.
At her worst, Angle has been known to dip into the right-wing extremist fringe.
Barbara Herbert, a course director at Tufts University School of Medicine, made a short, but compelling plea in today’s New York Times. Herbert argued that the United States government should convene a truth and reconciliation commission, using the one in South Africa as a model, to investigate into possible crimes committed by the Bush administration.
Such a commission would allow a nation to (a) find the truth of what happened from multiple perspectives, (b) develop an understanding of how it happened and (c) heal.
A commission isn’t some kind of partisan booby trap thrown together in a frenzied quest for retribution as Harry Reid suggested last week. The formation of a nonpartisan commission also wouldn’t act as a nefarious tool to dismantle the foundation of The American Way (corrupting the sweet “mysteries” of life,) as Bush apologists like Peggy Noonan claim.
A truth commission would use the law as a compass, and its only goal would be to restore order in America. As Herbert wrote, “We need a chance for secular redemption and healing.”
On Tuesday, Jeremy Scahill reported that Rep. John Conyers, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder officially requesting the appointment of an independent Special Prosecutor to “to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute torture committed against detainees during the Bush administration.” In order to restore credibility to the Justice Department, Holder must adhere to the rule of law, and not partisan demands. He must investigate into possible crimes committed under the Bush administration.
The law is not a fringe issue. Progressives may be the ones demanding an investigative commission, but the issue at stake here is the law itself. That’s not a partisan issue. The law should be sacred to all Americans: Republicans and Democrats. And if Democrats are proven to have been complicit in torture, then they too must be punished according to the law.
Otherwise, Americans will learn only one lesson: the law does not apply to our leaders. What a terrible lesson to teach young Americans.
“Some things in life need to be mysterious,” Peggy Noonan explained. Americans needed the Noon’s guidance. You see, the unenlightened herd needs political elites to explain complicated and seemingly contradictory lessons in morality. Why is it okay if America tortures? Didn’t we sign that Geneva Conventions thingy?
Nevermind. Aunt Peggy is here to explain away the bad thoughts. “Sometimes you need to just keep walking.” Indeed.
Roger Cohen agrees, and as usual, wrote a succinct summation that would have made Hemingway blush at his own rambling oeuvre: “In a thicket of words lies plausible deniability when the time for horror’s accounting arrives.” Cohen translates a few paragraphs down: “I’m wary of the clamor for retribution.” Oh.
Senate Democratic leaders, teaming with the Obama White House, rushed to support the study of Noonology, and said they would resist efforts to investigate the harsh interrogation methods used on detainees. (Emphasis mine).
Mr. Reid, who repeatedly denounced the use of harsh interrogation techniques when Mr. Bush was president, suggested that naming a special panel would signal an intent to exact “retribution” and he sought to paper over the disagreement with members of his own caucus, like Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, who want a commission.
Apparently, upholding the law is now a fringe issue. Those on the “hard left ” want accountability, and the serious beltway “journalists” want to “keep walking” away from “retribution” so as to maintain life’s sweet “mystery.”
Sweeping away the government’s crimes is no longer the behavior of apologist sycophants. It’s called Noonology, and now you can try it at home!
Got some unpaid parking tickets? Not a problem. You march right into your local courthouse, look that mean ole’ judge right in his beady eyes, and say, “I’m not paying these tickets! I’m moving forward!”
Just lost your job? Never fear! Go rob a convenient store. When the cops try to arrest you, explain they’re shattering life’s sweet mysteries by prosecuting you under the law.
Neighbor playing loud music? Shoot him!** If society, or “the man,” starts harassing you about murdering a human being, explain that retribution is pointless, and by trying to hold you accountable for your deeds, the cops are tearing at society’s very fabric.
- Main Entry: noon·o·lo·gy
- Pronunciation: \ˈnün-ä-lə-jē\
- Function: noun
- Etymology: English, creation of a smartass blogger
- Date: 2008
** I’m kidding. You’ll totally go to jail because you don’t work for the government and so the law applies to you.
Note from Allison: Congratulations to all the protesters that made this happen! You should all be very proud of yourselves.
Today, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent the following letter to the Acting Architect of the Capitol, Stephen T. Ayers,asking that the Capitol Power Plant (CPP) use 100 percent natural gas for its operations. They write, “the switch to natural gas will allow the CPP to dramatically reduce carbon and criteria pollutant emissions, eliminating more than 95 percent of sulfur oxides and at least 50 percent of carbon monoxide… We strongly encourage you to move forward aggressively with us on a comprehensive set of policies for the entire Capitol complex and the entire Legislative Branch to quickly reduce emissions and petroleum consumption through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean alternative fuels.”
UPDATE: Bill McKibben, who helped organize the impending civil disobedience at the CPP emails me “just to say, this civil disobedience stuff kind of works. How many coal plants are there?”
Here is the letter:
February 26, 2009
Mr. Stephen T. Ayers
Acting Architect of the Capitol
SB-15 U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Mr. Ayers:
We want to commend your office for working to implement the Green the Capitol Initiative by increasing energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, there is a shadow that hangs over the success of your and our efforts to improve the environmental performance of the Capitol and the entire Legislative Branch. The Capitol Power Plant (CPP) continues to be the number one source of air pollution and carbon emissions in the District of Columbia and the focal point for criticism from local community and national environmental and public health groups.
Since 1910, as you know, the CPP has continuously provided the Capitol, House and Senate office buildings, and other facilities with steam and chilled water for heating and cooling purposes. The plant remains an important component of the facilities master plan and the future of the Capitol complex, and we know your office has taken steps to make the plant cleaner and more efficient. While your progress has been noteworthy, more must be done to dramatically reduce plant emissions and the CPP’s impact. Since there are not projected to be any economical or feasible technologies to reduce coal-burning emissions soon, there are several steps you should take in the short term to reduce the amount of coal burned at the plant while preparing for a conversion to cleaner burning natural gas.
We encourage you to take advantage of current excess capacity to burn cleaner fuels and reduce pollution. According to the General Accounting Office (GAO) and an independent analysis from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the boilers at the CPP are now running with more capacity than has been historically demanded or anticipated. Even with the new Capitol Visitor Center in operation, these analyses show there is sufficient capacity to further increase the burning of natural gas and still meet energy demands at peak hours.
We are also interested in identifying and supporting funding to retrofit CPP if necessary so that it can operate on 100 percent natural gas. Unfortunately, our staff has received conflicting information and cost estimates on what would actually be required to operate the CPP year-round with exclusively natural gas. If a retrofit of two remaining boilers is indeed required, then we encourage you to develop realistic budget numbers to accomplish the retrofit expeditiously including any costs for the purchase of additional quantities of natural gas. In your budget analysis, it is important to take into account that time is of the essence for converting the fuel of the CPP. Therefore it is our desire that your approach focus on retrofitting at least one of the coal boilers as early as this summer, and the remaining boiler by the end of the year.
While the costs associated with purchasing additional natural gas will certainly be higher, the investment will far outweigh its cost. The switch to natural gas will allow the CPP to dramatically reduce carbon and criteria pollutant emissions, eliminating more than 95 percent of sulfur oxides and at least 50 percent of carbon monoxide. The conversion will also reduce the cost of storing and transporting coal as well as the costs associated with cleaning up the fly ash and waste. Eliminating coal from the fuel mixture should also assist the City of Washington, D.C., in meeting and complying with national air quality standards, and demonstrate that Congress can be a good and conscientious neighbor by mitigating health concerns for residents and workers around Capitol Hill.
Taking this major step toward cleaning up the Capitol Power Plant’s emissions would be an important demonstration of Congress’ willingness to deal with the enormous challenges of global warming, energy independence and our inefficient use of finite fossil fuels. We strongly encourage you to move forward aggressively with us on a comprehensive set of policies for the entire Capitol complex and the entire Legislative Branch to quickly reduce emissions and petroleum consumption through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean alternative fuels.
Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.
Speaker of the House
Senate Majority Leader
PRESIDENT OBAMA has decided to spend his political capital now, pushing through an ambitious agenda of health care, education and energy reform. If the Democrats in the Senate want to help him accomplish his goals, they should work to eliminate one of the greatest threats facing effective governance — the phantom filibuster.
Most Americans think of the filibuster (if they think of it at all) through the lens of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” — a minority in the Senate deeply disagrees with a measure, takes to the floor and argues passionately round the clock to prevent it from passing. These filibusters are relatively rare because they take so much time and effort.
To reduce deadlock, in 1917 the Senate passed Rule 22, which made it possible for a supermajority — two-thirds of the chamber — to end a filibuster by voting for cloture. The two-thirds majority was later changed to three-fifths, or 60 of the current 100 senators.
In recent years, however, the Senate has become so averse to the filibuster that if fewer than 60 senators support a controversial measure, it usually won’t come up for discussion at all. The mere threat of a filibuster has become a filibuster, a phantom filibuster. Instead of needing a sufficient number of dedicated senators to hold the floor for many days and nights, all it takes to block movement on a bill is for 41 senators to raise their little fingers in opposition.
Historically, the filibuster was justified as a last-ditch defense of minority rights. Under this principle, an intense opposition should be able to protect itself from the tyranny of the majority. But today, the minority does not have to be intense at all. Its members have only to disagree with a measure to kill it. Essentially, the minority has veto power.
The phantom filibuster is clearly unconstitutional. The founders required a supermajority in only five situations: veto overrides and votes on treaties, constitutional amendments, convictions of impeached officials and expulsions of members of the House or Senate. The Constitution certainly does not call for a supermajority before debate on any controversial measure can begin.
And fixing the problem would not require any change in Senate rules. The phantom filibuster could be done away with overnight by the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. All he needs to do is call the minority’s bluff by bringing a challenged measure to the floor and letting the debate begin.
Some argue that this procedure would mire the Senate in one filibuster after another. But avoiding delay by not bringing measures to the floor makes no sense. For fear of not getting much done, almost nothing is done at all. And what does get done is so compromised and toothless to make it filibuster-proof that it fails to solve problems.
Better to risk a filibuster — an event that, because of the great effort involved, would actually be rare — than to save time and accomplish little or nothing.
It also happens to make a great deal of political sense for the Democrats to force the Republicans to take the Senate floor and show voters that they oppose Mr. Obama’s initiatives. If the Republicans want to publicly block a popular president who is trying to resolve major problems, let them do it. And if the Republicans feel that the basic principles they believe in are worth standing up for, let them exercise their minority rights with an actual filibuster.
It is up to Mr. Reid. He can do away with the supermajority requirement for virtually all significant measures and return majority rule to the Senate. This is not to say that the Democrats should ride roughshod over the Republicans. Republicans should be included at all stages of the legislative process. However, with the daunting prospect of having to mount a real filibuster to demonstrate their opposition, Republicans may become much more willing to compromise.
David E. RePass is an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Connecticut.
So there is going to be a reconvening of the State Senate today at 10am. I know, that’s what they said yesterday. But the plan from Sen. Steinberg is to keep the Senate on the floor until 27 members vote for passage and the crisis is (temporarily) averted. Meanwhile, 20,000 state employee layoff notices and the closure of $3.8 billion in state public works projects will take place today. Things like projects to eliminate arsenic in Live Oak in the Central Valley. You know, dispensable things. And the Times has a bead on the three Assembly members who plan to vote in favor – Roger Niello, Anthony Adams and Minority Leader Mike Villines. This is a representative sample of the countervailing forces that Yacht Party members have to deal with.
Adams, a bearded 37-year-old who was elected in 2006 after working for San Bernardino County as its legislative liaison to Sacramento and Washington, has said he would provide the Assembly’s third GOP vote.
“It’s unconscionable that we let this state go over the cliff,” Adams said in an interview. “My job is to get the best possible deal for Republicans.”
Adams faces reelection next year, and his support for the budget package has antitax advocates interested in lining up a challenger in the GOP primary. And because he represents a swing district, Adams must also worry about a general-election challenge from a Democrat.Adams said he had not asked for specific concessions for his vote, or for assurances that he would get assistance to fend off election challenges.
“I’m not trying to find some soft landing,” he said, “although my wife is going to kill me if she hears that.”
They are not rewarded for their vote, and they fear their own “head on a stick” party members more than the opposition. And so you get this gridlock.
It occurs to me that what Steinberg is doing is what progressives have asked Harry Reid to do in the US Senate for years now. When GOP obstructionists threaten to filibuster key legislation, we always say “Make them filibuster! Make them stand up in the well of the Senate and talk endlessly about how we can’t afford to provide health care for children, or how we have to offer more tax cuts to the wealthiest 1%. Let the whole country see it!” Well, we’re basically doing that. The 15 members of the Yacht Party caucus in the Senate will be locked down and forced to reiterate their arguments indefinitely.
Problem is, the whole country won’t be seeing it, the whole state won’t be seeing it, in fact almost nobody will be seeing it. This is the true failure of a lack of political awareness in California, and a lack of political media. The pressure points are nearly impossible to hit. A lot of lawmakers will get tired and need to “bring your toothbrush,” as Steinberg said, but there’s precious little drama outside of Sacramento. And yet the decisions made in that chamber will undoubtedly impact the entire national economy, not just us.
But that is also good, in a sense, because it means that a sliver of opinion makers descending on the phone lines of the legislature can seen like an army. I’m going to reprint the email alert that Calitics sent out last night, which you may have received, because I think he captured the situation perfectly. The leadership is making them filibuster. Now it’s up to us to put on the pressure.
Hey there, registered Calitics user –
If you have been watching Calitics or the news this week, you’ve heard about the budget debacle going on in Sacramento. For the last three days, we have remained one vote short of the required two-thirds majority for a budget deal, with only two Republicans being willing to join the Democratic caucus in the Senate. You can follow our coverage of the Budget here
To be blunt, the budget deal on the table is a mess. It consists of over twenty bills in each chamber. It guts environmental protections on several major projects, it offers gifts to corporations and a few powerful industries. It relies on cuts and borrowing far too heavily, and does not provide the real long-term fixes of our revenue stream that we so desperately need. And the spending cap that will go to the ballot in the spring represents a major step backward, and progressives will have to expend substantial resources to defeat it. Yet despite all that, only one thing is really clear:
If we do nothing, the state faces systemic collapse.
Because Republicans refused for years to look at new revenues to balance the state’s budget, California is being hit harder by the economic crisis than any other state. We face a $40 billion deficit, and already the state is running out of money. Schools are looking at cutting classes and laying off teachers. Tomorrow, if there is no budget, 276 infrastructure projects will be halted – affecting 38,000 workers in the state, and the governor has announced that he will issue layoff notices to 20,000 state workers. And the state’s credit rating, already low, will suffer further downgrades, effectively costing taxpayers more money.
The media has now taken notice that the Republicans are trying to bring the state down with them. But the media has little power if we aren’t watching and if our leaders don’t know we are watching them. So, here is what we need to do:
Call Senator Abel Maldanado (R-Monterey County, 916-651-4015) and tell him to give up his list of demands and end this hostage situation.
Call Senator Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks, 916-651-4001) and tell him that the state deserves better than a Senator who goes back on a deal when threatened by his own party’s extremists.
Tell as many people to do the same thing. Use every tool at your disposal, Twitter, facebook, or just word of mouth. The more people that know about this Republican extremism threatening our state, the better.
The Senate is set to once again resume session, and we might be in for another all-nighter. However, keep at it, because this is simply too important to let Republicans play their dangerous games with the lives of Californians.
David Rogers has a piece in Politico that offers a nice summary of the recovery plan’s actual high-speed rail provisions and the direct role of the White House in securing them:
The $787.2 billion economic recovery bill — to be signed by President Barack Obama on Tuesday — dedicates $8 billion to high-speed rail, most of which was added in the final closed-door bargaining at the instigation of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. […] The same Maine and Pennsylvania Republican moderates who had criticized Obama’s school construction initiative were more accepting of the rail funds, since the Northeast corridor has a major stake in more improvements. To help pay for the added cost, a business tax break — providing a five-year carry back for net operating losses — was narrowed to keep the focus more on smaller firms with receipts of less than $15 million.
Needless to say, this reality is at odds with the made-up story conservatives have been telling all weekend about $8 billion being earmarked for a train to Las Vegas. And Rogers, as we’ll see, knows what the truth is, knows what conservatives have been saying, and knows that the two are different things, but he can’t quite seem to describe what’s happening with regular English words:
At the same time, conservative Republicans seemed almost blind to Obama’s role. Instead, in their campaign to find pork barrel projects in the stimulus bill, they painted the whole funding as a scheme by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on behalf of Las Vegas interests seeking a rail link to Los Angeles. “Sin City to Tomorrow Land” was one description.
Here is Rep. Candice S. Miller (R-Mich.) explaining her vote against the bill Friday despite the benefits to her home state: “Michigan is a state of about 10 million people, and we are the hardest hit, as I said, by this economy. And yet we are expected to get approximately $7 billion from this bill. And apparently the Senate majority leader has earmarked $8 billion for a rail system from Las Vegas to Los Angeles? You have got to be kidding. You have got to be kidding.”
Rep Miller wasn’t “explaining” anything, she was lying to her constituents. Nor were conservatives running a “campaign to find pork barrel projects int he stimulus bill” they were inventing fictional projects. Nor were obscure House backbenchers like Miller running a rogue operation here. House Minority Leader John Boehner led the charge on peddling this lie, and Senator Jim Demint was on the case as well.
WASHINGTON — Intent on blocking organized labor’s top legislative goal, corporations are quietly contributing to lobbying groups with appealing names like the Workforce Fairness Institute and the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace.
These groups are planning a multimillion-dollar campaign in the hope of killing legislation that would give unions the right to win recognition at a workplace once a majority of employees sign cards saying they want a union. Business groups fear the bill will enable unions to quickly add millions of workers and drive up labor costs.
The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, a federation of 500 business groups, ran a full-page advertisement on Wednesday that sought to discredit the legislation, called the Employee Free Choice Act. The advertisement said that if secret ballots were good enough to elect Barack Obama then they should be good enough for union members, too.
Richard Berman, a Washington lobbyist, has created a business-backed group, the Center for Union Facts, that is planning to run millions of dollars’ worth of television spots over the next few months to pressure moderate Democrats to oppose the bill.
During last fall’s presidential campaign, groups opposing the legislation spent more than $20 million on television commercials in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota and other states in an effort to defeat Democratic Senate candidates who backed the bill.
At a confirmation hearing set for Friday, Republican senators are expected to challenge Representative Hilda L. Solis of California, President-elect Obama’s choice for labor secretary, over her support for the legislation.
Business leaders denounce the bill because it would largely eliminate secret-ballot elections to determine whether workers want a union. (The union win rate has traditionally been far higher through majority signups than elections.)
“If you know anything about politics, it is a game changer,” said Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada. “It is a total game changer for the next 40 to 50 years if the Democrats are able to get this legislation that eliminates the right to a secret ballot. We are fighting it hard.”
Senate Democrats have not decided when to bring up the measure. Given its divisiveness, it will not be one of the first bills they bring to the floor. But the legislation has the strong backing of Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, who is expected to bring it up once Democrats are confident they can overcome any filibuster.
In 2007, the House passed a similar bill, but it failed in the Senate on a procedural vote.
Republican leaders and business lobbyists say the Democrats do not have the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. But union leaders voice optimism, noting that Mr. Obama has endorsed the bill and that Democrats have close to 60 seats in the Senate, though two remain in dispute. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who once was a co-sponsor of the bill, has not decided whether he would support it this time, an aide said.
Whether it is Wal-Mart or the National Restaurant Association, many companies and corporate groups financing the opposition fear that their companies and industries will be among labor’s earliest organizing targets should the bill become law.
Labor leaders say they are setting their sights on several industries, like banks and big-box retailers like Wal-Mart or Target, where unions have had virtually no success.
“We’re going to organize in the basic industries of our unions: construction, hospitality, health care, retail, food production and manufacturing,” said Tom Woodruff, director of strategic organizing for Change to Win, a federation of seven unions that includes the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers. “Those are jobs that are going to stay in the country. The question is whether those jobs are going to be decent middle-class jobs.”
Mark McKinnon, a media adviser to the presidential campaigns of John McCain and George W. Bush, is a spokesman for the Workforce Fairness Institute. Mr. McKinnon said the institute was focusing on drumming up grass-roots support from business. He would not say which companies are financing the institute, founded by several longtime Republican operatives.
“This issue has really become very high on the radar screen,” he said. “Businesses are hearing about it, and they are ready to riot in the street about it.”
The measure “is the most radical rewrite of labor legislation since the 1930s,” Mr. McKinnon said. “It is a political nightmare and a public policy disaster.”
Opponents fear that the legislation will enable labor to become a wealthier and more powerful political force. Union leaders see the bill as crucial for reversing labor’s long decline — unions represent just 7.5 percent of private-sector workers, down from nearly 40 percent a half-century ago.
John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, said that if Wal-Mart’s United States work force of 1.4 million were unionized, that could mean $500 million in additional union dues collected each year — tens of millions of which might be used to support Democratic causes and candidates.
Acknowledging that Wal-Mart presents a formidable challenge, labor leaders say they hope to unionize up to 100 of Wal-Mart’s more than 4,000 United States stores for starters, which might add 30,000 members.
“We are against any bill that would effectively eliminate freedom of choice and the right to a secret ballot election,” said a Wal-Mart spokesman, David Tovar. “We believe every associate” — Wal-Mart’s term for employees — “should have the right to make a private and informed decision regarding union representation.”
Labor leaders say they do not oppose secret-ballot elections, but rather the bitter two-month management-versus-union campaigns that often precede elections. Union leaders say those campaigns are usually unfair because corporations often fire union supporters and press their anti-union views day and night in one-on-one sessions and large meetings while union organizers are prohibited from company property.
Labor leaders said that last month they won one of the biggest unionization victories in years for the nearly 5,000 workers at the Smithfield pork processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C., by insisting on what they said were fairer rules.
If the bill is enacted, unions say they will try to organize workers by quietly getting a majority to sign pro-union cards before companies can begin an anti-union campaign. In theory, a union organizer or pro-union employee would have an easy time signing up a majority of, say, the 25 workers at a McDonald’s, the 15 baristas at a Starbucks or the 50 aides at a nursing home.
Corporations also oppose a provision of the bill that would allow government arbitrators to determine the terms of a contract when no agreement has been reached within 120 days of a union’s winning recognition. Defending that provision, labor leaders say companies often undermine newly formed unions by dragging out contract talks for months, even years.
“The idea of negotiating a contract and turning it over to an arbitrator who has no interest in the company or the workers’ future and then can dictate the terms of a contract, that’s a pretty reckless way to go,” said Mr. Engler of the manufacturers’ association. “This is the one issue that everybody who’s an employer agrees is a bad idea.”
World concern over, and opposition to, the Israeli war in Gaza is rapidly mounting:
International pressure intensified sharply on Israel on Thursday, the 13th day of its Gaza assault, after the United Nations suspended food aid deliveries, the International Committee of the Red Cross accused the Israelis of knowingly blocking assistance to the injured, and a top Vatican official defended comments in which he compared Gaza to a concentration camp.
The Israelis have deliberately made it impossible to know the full extent of the carnage and humanitarian disasters because they continue to prevent journalists from entering Gaza even in the face of a now week-old Israeli Supreme Court order compelling them to do so. According to Palestinian sources, there are now 700 dead Palestinians — at least 200 of them children — and well over 1,000 wounded. Those numbers are not seriously doubted by anyone. By comparison, a total of 10 Israelis have died — 10 — almost all of them by “friendly fire.” The unusually worded Red Cross condemnation of Israel was prompted by its discovery, after finally being allowed into Gaza, of starving Palestinian children laying next to corpses, with ambulances blocked for days by the IDF. Even with the relative “restraint” Israel is excercising (the damage it could cause is obviously much greater), this is not so much of a war as it is a completely one-sided massacre.
As a result, much of the world is urging an end to the war and acting to forge a cease-fire — except the United States. Here, blind and unequivocal support for the Israeli attack is actually increasing almost as fast as the Palestinian body count piles up. Apparently, it isn’t enough that we supply the very bombs being dropped on the Palestinians and use our U.N. veto power to prevent any U.N. action to stop the war or even to urge its cessation. The U.S. Congress wants to involve the U.S. further still in Israel’s war.
This afternoon, the Democratic-led U.S. Senate did just that by enacting — via a cowardly voice vote — a completely one-sided, non-binding resolution that expresses unequivocal support for the Israeli war, and heaps all the blame for the conflict on Hamas and none of it on Israel. Harry Reid — who jointly sponsored the Resolution with GOP Leader Mitch McConnell — proudly proclaimed: “When we pass this resolution, the United States Senate will strengthen our historic bond with the state of Israel.” On its website, AIPAC is already patting the U.S. Senate on its head for “for conveying America’s unequivocal and steadfast support for Israel’s right to self-defense.”
The Senate resolution is here (.pdf). The very similar House version that was circulated earlier today was drafted by Israel-centric House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.). It is here (.pdf), and is expected to pass later today or tomorrow — undoubtedly with overwhelming bipartisan support. ThinkProgess noted yesterday that Democrats took the lead in drafting the Resolution because they did not want to be “out-hawked by the Republicans,” though it’s hardly unusual for Democrats to march in lockstep with Republicans on Israel more than any other issue.
It’s hard to overstate how one-sided this resolution is. It “expresses vigorous support and unwavering commitment to the welfare, security, and survival of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders.” Why should the U.S. maintain an “unwavering commitment to the welfare” of a foreign country? It “lays blame both for the breaking of the ‘calm’ and for subsequent civilian casualties in Gaza precisely where blame belongs, that is, on Hamas.” It repeatedly mentions the various sins of Hamas — from rockets to suicide attacks — but does not mention a single syllable of criticism for Israel. In the world of the U.S. Congress, neither the 4-decade occupation of Palestinian land nor the devastating blockade of Gaza nor the ongoingexpansion of Israeli settlements even exist. That may not be mentioned.
The Resolution demands that Hamas take multiple steps towards peaceful resolution but demands that Israel do absolutely nothing. It purports to call for a cease-fire in which the Palestinians make all the concessions and Israel makes none. Worst of all — in light of the Red Cross condemnation, yesterday’s slaughter at the U.N. school, and other similar incidents — the Resolution disgustingly praises Israel’s conduct of the war, claiming that “Israel has facilitated humanitarian aid to Gaza with hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian assistance and numerous ambulances entering the Gaza Strip since the current round of fighting began on December 27, 2008.”
This one-sided, ostensibly “pro-Israel” bipartisan inflaming of tensions by the U.S. is nothing new. Long-time Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller, inNewsweek, earlier this week made one of the most startling revelations in some time — that in all the time the U.S. has supposedly been attempting to forge a Middle East peace agreement over the past 25 years, it never once, in any meaningful way, raised with Israeli leaders the damage that comes from Israeli settlements. Specifically, said Miller: “I can’t recall one meeting where we had a serious discussion with an Israeli prime minister about the damage that settlement activity — including land confiscation, bypass roads and housing demolitions — does to the peacemaking process.”
Miller emphasized that by being so blindly supportive even of misguided Israeli actions, “the United States has allowed that special bond to become exclusive in ways that undermine America’s, and Israel’s, national interests.” The only way the U.S. can play a constructive role in the Middle East, he argues, is if it is even-handed and, most importantly, willing to criticize Israeli actions when they harm American interests (and their own) and pressure them to stop. Matt Yglesias, in a new piece up at The American Prospect, makes much the same point.
Yet here we have, yet again, exactly the opposite behavior — equally from both parties. At exactly the time that worldwide horror over this war is at its peak, the Democratic-led Congress steps up to announce to the world: “this is our war, too; we support whatever Israel does absolutely and without reservations.” We thus make Israel’s wars our wars; its enemies our enemies; its intractable disputes our disputes; and the hostility and anger it generates our own. And we embolden Israel to continue further.
Given that we endlessly hear from our political establishment that the first and most important obligation of our leaders is to “keep us safe” — that’s the justification for everything from torture to presidential lawbreaking — what possible legitimate rationale is there for the U.S. Congress to act in unison to involve itself in Israel’s war so emphatically, and to thereby re-direct the anger over Israeli actions even further towards the U.S. and American citizens? How are U.S. interests even remotely advanced by insinuating ourselves this way? As Juan Cole recounted this week:
In 1996, Israeli jets bombed a UN building where civilians had taken refuge at Cana/ Qana in south Lebanon, killing 102 persons; in the place where Jesus is said to have made water into wine, Israeli bombs wrought a different sort of transformation. In the distant, picturesque port of Hamburg, a young graduate student studying traditional architecture of Aleppo saw footage like this on the news [graphic]. He was consumed with anguish and the desire for revenge. As soon as operation Grapes of Wrath had begun the week before, he had written out a martyrdom will, indicating his willingness to die avenging the victims, killed in that operation–with airplanes and bombs that were a free gift from the United States. His name was Muhammad Atta. Five years later he piloted American Airlines 11 into the World Trade Center. . . .
On Tuesday, the Israeli military shelled a United Nations school to which terrified Gazans had fled for refuge, killing at least 42 persons and wounding 55, virtually all of them civilians, and many of them children. The Palestinian death toll rose to 660.
You wonder if someone somewhere is writing out a will today.
The U.S. does enough on its own to make itself the target of worldwide anger. Why must it take on Israel’s battles as well?
The fact that this is a non-binding resolution makes it worse, not better. It achieves nothing other than rubbing in the world’s face — including the Muslim world — that this is not just an Israeli attack on Palestinians but an American attack as well. As BooMan put it in explaining that virtually no mainstream U.S. politician would dare oppose this Resolution: “This, then, creates the false impression that there is near unanimity of support for whatever it is that Israel wants to do. And let me frank about this . . . sending such a message does more to put Americans at risk than it does it protect Israelis.”
TPM’s Elana Schor today wrote: “We’re looking into whether any senator was bold enough to decline to co-sponsor the measure.” It will be a surprise if there were any. Many members of Congress — with some noble exceptions — still remain pitifully afraid that the likes of David “Axis of Evil” Frum will accuse them of being anti-Semitic if they dare oppose Israeli actions, even in the name of U.S. interests, while others continue to be supportive of any war or proposed war waged on Muslims or Arabs — regardless of the rationale for the war or its severity.
Whatever the motives, for America to blindly support Israel’s self-destructive and unjustified behavior does not serve Israeli interests and — most importantly — does not serve America’s. Blind support isn’t “friendship,” nor is enabling someone else’s destructive behavior. It’s subservience. And few things are as harmful or as unjust as the cowardly, lockstep behavior of both major American political parties when it comes to Israel.
UPDATE: Since the Israeli attack on Gaza began, the advocacy of J Street — the new Jewish-American organization designed to break AIPAC’s monoply on speaking for American Jews — has been superb. They have gone much further than any Jewish group that is taken seriously in the establishment has gone, continuously expressing opposition to the Israeli offensive and infuriating those who want to maintain a neoconservative stranglehold over speaking for American Jews. Earlier today, I asked them for their position on the Senate Resolution and, just now, this is what they sent me:
Since the first days of the crisis in Gaza, J Street has consistently called for strong American leadership to reach a ceasefire that ends all military operations, stops the rockets aimed at Israel, institutes an effective mechanism to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza, and lifts the blockade of Gaza. Since J Street’s founding, we have consistently advocated for active American diplomacy to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We support Congressional action that endorses these aims.
That statement — by design, I would guess — is unclear in the extreme. It seems intended to imply — without actually stating — support for the Congressional Resolutions. They say they “support Congressional action that endorses these aims,” but — conspicuously — they don’t actually say whether the Resolution passed by the Senate and to be passed by the House does so. It’s hard to see how either of the two Resolutions could be deemed to do so, given that neither even mentions, for instance, a lifting of the blockade of Gaza. But that’s the statement J Street issued.
On a related note, MediaBloodHound has the details on the very interesting story of how AP caused to vanish into thin air the tough questioning by its reporter of the U.S. State Department regarding Gaza.
(updated below – Update II – Update III)
Dick Cheney’s interview yesterday with Fox’s Chris Wallace was filled with significant claims, but certainly among the most significant was his detailed narration of how the administration, and Cheney personally, told numerous Democratic Congressional leaders — repeatedly and in detail — about the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program. And, according to Cheney, every one of those Democrats — every last one — not only urged its continuation, but insisted that it be kept secret:
WALLACE: Let’s drill down into some of the specific measures that you pushed — first of all, the warrantless surveillance on a massive scale, without telling the appropriate court, without seeking legislation from Congress.
Why not, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the spirit of national unity, get approval, support, bring in the other branches of government?
CHENEY: Well, let me tell you a story about the terror surveillance program. We did brief the Congress. And we brought in…
WALLACE: Well, you briefed a few members.
CHENEY: We brought in the chairman and the ranking member, House and Senate, and briefed them a number of times up until — this was — be from late ’01 up until ’04 when there was additional controversy concerning the program.
At that point, we brought in what I describe as the big nine — not only the intel people but also the speaker, the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate, and brought them into the situation room in the basement of the White House.
I presided over the meeting. We briefed them on the program, and what we’d achieved, and how it worked, and asked them, “Should we continue the program?” They were unanimous, Republican and Democrat alike. All agreed — absolutely essential to continue the program.
I then said, “Do we need to come to the Congress and get additional legislative authorization to continue what we’re doing?” They said, “Absolutely not. Don’t do it, because it will reveal to the enemy how it is we’re reading their mail.”
That happened. We did consult. We did keep them involved. We ultimately ended up having to go to the Congress after the New York Times decided they were going to make the judge to review all of — or make all of this available, obviously, when they reacted to a specific leak.
But it was a program that we briefed on repeatedly. We did these briefings in my office. I presided over them. We went to the key people in the House and Senate intel committees and ultimately the entirely leadership and sought their advice and counsel, and they agreed we should not come back to the Congress.
Cheney’s reference to the “additional controversy concerning the program” that arose after 2004 and that led to additional Congressional briefings is ambiguous and creates a somewhat unclear time line: is he referring to late 2004, when the White House learned that The New York Times knew about the NSA program and was considering writing about it (only to then obey the President’s orders to keep it a secret), or is he referring to the time when,more than a full year later, in December 2005, the NYT finally got around to writing about it, once Bush was safely re-elected?
Either way, Cheney’s general claim is as clear as it is incriminating. According to him, key Congressional Democrats were told about the illegal NSA spying program in detail, and they not only actively approved of it, but far beyond that, they insisted that no Congressional authorization should even be sought, based on what was always the patently inane claim that to discuss the fact that the administration was eavesdropping on our conversations without warrants (rather than with warrants, as the law required) would be to reveal our secrets — “our playbook” — to Al Qaeda.
It is certainly true that Dick Cheney is not exactly the most scrupulously honest public servant around. In fact, he’s almost certainly the opposite. Still, what he said yesterday was merely an expanded and more detailed version of what has previously been publicly reported and, to some degree, confirmed about the knowledge and support of Democratic leaders for the NSA program. Cheney’s claims encompasses the following key Democrats:
- Nancy Pelosi (Ranking Member, House Intelligence Committee, House Minority Leader);
- Jane Harman (Ranking Member, House Intelligence Committee);
- Jay Rockefeller (Ranking Member, Senate Intelligence Committee);
- Harry Reid Tom Daschle (Senate Minority Leader).
Unsurprisingly, Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller all voted last July to legalize warrantless eavesdropping and to immunize telecoms from liability, thereby ensuring an end to the ongoing investigations into these programs. And though he ultimately cast a meaningless vote against final passage, it was Reid’s decisions as Majority Leader which played an instrumental role in ensuring passage of that bill.
One would think that these Democratic leaders would, on their own, want to respond to Cheney’s claims about them and deny the truth of those claims. After all, Cheney’s statement is nothing less than an accusation that they not only enthusiastically approved, but actively insisted upon the continuation and ongoing secrecy, of a blatantly illegal domestic spying program (one that several of them would, once it was made public, pretend to protest). As Armando says, “The Democratic members who participated in this meeting have two choices in my mind – refute Cheney’s statements or admit their complicity in the illegal activity perpetrated by the Bush Administration.”
I’m going to spend the day calling these members and trying to get some response to Cheney’s claim. If I’m unable to obtain any responses, I’ll post their numbers and encourage everyone to make similar calls. As I wrote on Saturday — and documented before: “As a practical reality, the largest barrier to any route to prosecution — including this one — is that the Congressional Democratic leadership was complicit, to varying degrees, in the illegal programs.” That’s true not only of the NSA program, but also the Bush/Cheney torture program.
One last point: there is much consternation over Dick Cheney’s “Nixon/Frost moment” yesterday, where he expressly endorsed the idea that, as a “general proposition,” a “wartime” President can do anything he wants — even if it violates duly enacted statutes — as long as it’s justified in the name of national security. In one sense, Cheney was being so explicit yesterday about his belief in Bush’s lawbreaking powers in part because he’s taking pride in being so defiant on his way out the door — daring a meek and impotent political class to do anything about his lawlessness — and also because Chris Wallace conducted one of the best interviews (and, revealingly, one of the only interviews) about the Bush/Cheney view of executive power.
But that this was the Bush administration’s central operating principle is something that — as was true for Cheney’s involvement in America’s torture regime — was long known. As I wrote all the way back in December, 2005, days after the NSA scandal was first revealed:
These are not academic questions. Quite the contrary, it is hard to imagine questions more pressing. We are at a moment in time when not just fringe ideologues, but core, mainstream supporters of the President — not to mention senior officials in the Administration itself – are openly embracing the theory that the President can use the power and military force of the United States to do whatever he wants, including to and against U.S. citizens, as long as he claims that it is connected to America’s “war” against terrorists – a war which is undeclared, ever-expanding, and without any visible or definable end.
While Bush advocates have long been toying with this theory in the shadows, the disclosure that Bush ordered warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens in undeniable violation of a Congressional statute has finally forced them to articulate their lawless power theories out in the open. Bush got caught red-handed violating the law, and once it became apparent that no argument could be made that he complied with the law, the only way to defend him was to come right out and say that he has the right to break the law. So that debate — over the claimed limitlessness of George Bush’s power — can’t be put off any longer.
By itself, the long-disclosed September 25, 2001 Yoo Memorandum left no doubt that our Government had formally and explicitly adopted an ideology of lawlessness. As a country, we just chose to ignore all of that, chose to do nothing about it. The absues and extremism of the last eight years began as a Bush administration initiative, but it culminated as something for which both political parties, our leading political and media institutions, and our citizenry generally bear collective responsibility.
* * * * *
On a somewhat related note, this creepy little post inserted onto Matt Yglesias’ Center for American Progress blog by Jennifer Palmieri, the CEO of CAP’s “Action Fund”, is a vivid exhibit illustrating how Washington works, for reasons which Matt Stoller, Markos Moulitsas, and Brendan Nyhan all describe. Matt very well may not consider it to constitute interference with his editorial autonomy, but it nonetheless illustrates the potential constraints that can come from writing for an organization like that.
When I first joined Salon, the commitment they made, which for me was non-negotiatiable, was absolute editorial independence. Though that’s an unusual commitment for a magazine to make, they did make it, and they never once — in almost two years of my being here — even came close to violating it. Even as I’ve waged quite acrimonious mini-wars with friends and former colleagues of top editors and officers here, and even as I’ve aggressively advocated views that were, at times, the opposite of the ones top editors here were advocating, there’s never been a hint of interference or even pressure, and I couldn’t even fathom their doing anything like sticking a note onto my blog of the type Palmieri just inserted onto Matt’s blog.
Editorial independence is quite rare and quite valuable. It’s still one of the key distinguishing features between blogs/alternative media outlets and establishment media. As Atrios suggests: “contemplate the issue of editorial independence, and the various revenue models which make it possible or not.” It’s worth supporting the bloggers who practice it and the media venues that allow and encourage it.
UPDATE: As I said, Cheney’s time line is unclear, and it’s possible, when he references an “additional controversy,” he’s referring to the DOJ’s objections to the NSA program in March, 2004 — not anything having to do with the New York Times. That would mean the detailed, expanded briefings he’s describing would have included then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle, but not Harry Reid (who only became Minority Leader in 2005, once Daschle lost). If Cheney is describing 2005 briefings, they would have included Reid. That’s all the more reason why responses from leading Democrats here is required.
That key Democrats were briefed on the NSA program is anything but new. USA Today reported in 2006 that Democratic leaders including Pelosi were repeatedly briefed on the program. There is some marginal dispute about what they were and weren’t told, but no dispute about the existence of the briefings and the complete lack of any real efforts by Democrats to stop it or even object.
UPDATE II: Via email, several very knowledgeable bloggers — including Marcy Wheeler and Christy Hardin Smith — are arguing, persuasively, that Cheney did not really disclose any specific new facts yesterday about Democratic complicity, that while he may have emphasized more clearly than ever before the approval he claims Democrats gave, all of the facts, in one venue or another, have been previously disclosed. Cheney yesterday was almost certainly talking about the March, 2004 White House briefing (that would have included Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller — but not Reid), which has been reported.
Re-examining what Cheney said, they’re probably right. But none of that, as Spencer Ackerman points out, undermines at all the need for Congressional Democrats finally to give a full accounting of what they knew, what they were told, and what they said about these programs. Particularly given how publicly Cheney is taunting them for having approved of the NSA program, they should respond specifically to Cheney’s claims — confirm the parts that are true and deny the parts, if any, that aren’t.
The reason the law requires that Congressional leaders be briefed on intelligence programs is not because it’s nice in the abstract for someone to know. It’s because Congressional leaders have the right and the obligation to take action to stop illegal intelligence programs — something all briefed Democrats clearly failed to do. Cheney, on his way out the door, is answering questions about what he knew and approved. It’s way past time for Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller, at the very least, to do the same.
UPDATE III: Last week, I was interviewed by Fox News’ Jim Angle regarding the John Brennan controversy. For those interested: his story will air tonight on Brit Hume’s Fox News broadcast, at 6:00 p.m. EST.