Monthly Archives: April, 2006

The Law According To Bush

“No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor.�

These words were expressed by President Theodore Roosevelt in his 3rd Annual Message to Congress in December of 1903. More than a century later, the quote bears repeating, for we live in a time in which the current resident of the White House would seem to differ. President George W. Bush somehow imagines that he is above the law and beyond reproach. In truth, he is beneath contempt for expressing, in word and in action, such arrogance. The unbridled entitlement he asserts for the executive branch makes clear his disdain for the Constitution and the system of checks and balances upon which our democracy depends. As citizens, we are right—and have the right—to hold the President accountable and demand that he obey the law. As our elected representative, deriving his just powers from the consent of the governed, he is duty-bound to comply. Of this there is no question.

In the Sunday Boston Globe, Charlie Savage has written a lengthy article that details Mr. Bush’s cavalier dismissal of a host of laws during his presidency and the historic proportions and repercussions of such. A brief excerpt follows:

Bush challenges hundreds of laws

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….

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. [full text]

Women in Government: More Needed

This Opinion Editorial by Shanna Wells, director of the Rhode Island Commission on Women, has some good statistical information about the shrinking number of women in the legislature in Rhode Island, and the general lack of women in U.S. government.

Since 1920, when the 19th Amendment was passed and established a women’s right to vote in the United States, the percentage of women who register and vote has steadily risen. Furthermore, the percentage of women who vote today is higher than the percentage of men who vote. This holds true in Rhode Island as well.

Unfortunately, the higher voting rates have not translated into electing women to political office. In terms of political representation, Rhode Island women have lost ground and today are not well represented in elected positions.

Nationally, women make up 46 percent of the work force and 52 percent of the electorate, but represent only 14 percent of the U.S. House and 14 percent of the Senate. And, though 52 percent of Rhode Islanders are women, only 16.8 percent of elected state officials are female, down from 26 percent in 1998. According to the Center for Women and Politics, Rhode Island ranks last in New England in female state legislators and 37th nationally.

In a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women’s presence in legislatures and other state-level elected offices is closely associated with better policy for women. Among “women-friendly” policies are those that address violence against women, child support, welfare, education and employment. The findings point to a continued need for targeted efforts to increase women’s representation.

Women’s organizations, political parties and leaders of both genders can all play a role in recruiting women to run for office, supporting women’s candidacies and encouraging both women and men to vote for women. With more Rhode Island women in political office, we will have more balanced discussions, which will lead to improved policies. The Rhode Island Commission on Women encourages women to participate fully in the political process to assure gender-specific input into public policy. The Rhode Island Commission on Women wants Rhode Island to lead the nation in legislative representation that truly reflects the constituency it serves.

For more information on running for office, visit the Secretary of State’s website at http://www.sec.state.ri.us/elections.

Shanna Wells, M.Ed. is director Rhode Island Commission on Women. The Rhode Island Commission on Women is a nonpartisan state agency whose purpose is to advance women toward full equity in all areas of life and promote rights and opportunities for all women. For more information, visit the website at http://www.ricw.ri.gov.

A Panoply Of Perusable Posts

It’s a gorgeous Spring day here in New England, and, rather than ambling into town and pausing to admire the colorful panoply of flora, I am ambling along the information superhighway and pausing to admire the colorful panoply of news articles and such. What, you may ask, accounts for this choice of activities? Dedication? Erudition? The high pollen count? Agoraphobia? It matters not, for I will tarry here but briefly. Whilst doing so, allow me to share a diversity of recommendations for your perusal, in no particular order. Enjoy…

• A Question of Resilience. This is a fine article by Emily Bazelon in today’s New York Times Magazine on some fascinating research that is currently being conducted on psychological resilience. Bazelon details how “[t]he latest research shows that resilience can best be understood as an interplay between particular genes and environment — GxE, in the lingo of the field. Researchers are discovering that a particular variation of a gene can help promote resilience in the people who have it, acting as a buffer against the ruinous effects of adversity.�

• We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs. This article is, in fact, an excerpt from the book of the same title by Nasrin Alavi and comes via The Sun magazine. The author is an expatriate Iranian journalist who offers us a welcome glimpse into the minds and lives of the blogging community in Iran. Given the escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, I would say that such a glimpse is essential in countering the aggressive and dehumanizing rhetoric that has begun to populate the airwaves.

• Coming Home from War on the Cheap: Shortchanging the Wounded. This article by Judith Coburn, writing in TomDispatch, details the appalling state of the Veterans Administration, which—largely thanks to the Bush administration—is so underfunded and overwhelmed that returning veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom have been traumatized by their experiences, are impeded from obtaining necessary services. Needless to say, our troops deserve better.

• The Meatrix and The Meatrix II: Revolting. These are two Flash movies—produced by the Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE) as part of its Sustainable Table program—which creatively spoof The Matrix films so as to highlight the inherent problems of factory farming and to promote healthier and more sustainable practices. It’s times like these that I’m glad to be a vegetarian.

Breaking News: Kmareka Rocks

We began Kmareka over four years ago as a quarterly, publishing articles, fiction, and interviews. Since changing to the blog format for our front page in January of this year, we have more than quadrupled our daily visitors, going from about 100 daily visitors to an average close to 500 for March. We have been noticed by PBS’s blog Mediashift, and at a recent event, had the pleasure of introducing Sheldon Whitehouse, our leading Democratic candidate for US Senate in Rhode Island, whose successful candidacy could help return the Democrats to a majority in the US Senate.

About two weeks ago I was contacted by Newstex.com with a query about whether we would be interested in joining their network, allowing them to license and redistribute our content. We have decided to sign an agreement with Newstex. This will likely help increase our visibility online, and bring in some revenue.

In other news, we were recently interviewed by Brown Daily Herald reporter Ben Leubsdorf for a feature on blogs in Rhode Island. It’s often enlightening to see how others perceive and represent you in the interview process. This interview has helped me rediscover my core mission in creating and maintaining Kmareka:

“I guess for me it’s very important to balance the micro level of doing social work with a more macro level endeavor that raises consciousness and helps people think about things from a different perspective,” she said. “It’s a citizen journalism thing. I try to be a government watchdog and certainly do so locally.”

[...]

I … find that when I go to the ProJo every day, I miss a tremendous amount of what’s going on in the world,” Marek said. “I can cull information and offer it to, obviously, a small readership, but people can find out about things (on my blog) that they won’t if they just read the ProJo.”

[...]

Though she is a Democrat, Marek said she believes in the “competitiveness of ideas” and is “very open to the idea that Democrats can suffer from corruption, from nearsightedness and blind spots.”

[...]

Marek is different from most of her fellow bloggers in one important way – she is a woman, while she estimated that 90 percent of her comments come from men.

“I think as more women do this, we could have a better participatory, civic environment,” she said.

So there it is, in a nutshell. Kmareka is about providing information from a social work perspective. It’s about culling news that affects us locally, nationally and globally, news that is not readily available from mainstream media outlets, and providing a place for people to speak out and discuss this news. It’s about being a Democrat but also being open to ideas from other ideological perspectives. It’s about helping to reinvent the Democratic party so that it improves its ability to serve the common good. It’s about bringing more women online, increasing civic participation in this realm and hopefully creating a better overall civic environment in the process.

Thanks so much to David Jaffe for contributing his incredible talent to this endeavor. Thanks as well to our many commenters who have added valuable ideas and insights to our discussions. Thanks to our readers and to those who have offered supportive advice and constructive criticism.

And on a practical note: if you would like to receive a free daily email of our postings at Kmareka, you can sign up through the Feedblitz sign-up box in our sidebar.

Civil Disobedience From An Unlikely Source

Police take a member of the House to the Big House

Just when I thought that the Democrats in Congress were hardly worth their weight in sod, a handful of House Dems—including two from my home state of Massachusetts—went out and committed a good, old-fashioned act of civil disobedience to protest the continuing genocide in Darfur and the Sudanese government’s complicity in such. I applaud their willingness to put themselves on the line and make a bold, public statement—however symbolic—about these atrocities. My only hope is that they might find a way to muster similar indignation and direct action about the egregious offenses perpetrated these last few years by the Bush administration. While I recognize that such a hope is perhaps more than a little unrealistic, particularly given that there is limited political downside to being arrested for protesting in front of the Sudanese embassy as opposed to in front of the White House, I am nonetheless heartened by seeing some evidence of spinal growth among the habitually invertebrate members of the Democratic delegation. Keep it up, folks.

With regard to today’s action, here is an excerpt of the story, as reported by Jim Doyle of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Five members of Congress arrested over Sudan protest

Five members of Congress, including Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo, CA) were arrested today when they blocked the front entrance at the Embassy of Sudan in Washington, D.C. Their protest and civil disobedience was designed to embarrass the military dictatorship’s ongoing genocide of its non-Arab citizens.

All told, 11 people were arrested outside the Sudanese embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, including six activists as well as representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston), Jim McGovern (D-Worcester, Mass.), Jim Moran (D-Virginia) and John Olver (D-Massachusetts). They were held in a jail cell for about 45 minutes and then released.

“If you’re looking for lack of international morality, Darfur encompasses all aspects,” Lantos said before his arrest. “Here we see the slaughter of innocent black women, children and men by a monstrous regime.”

Lantos, 78, was first elected to Congress in 1981. Two years later, he founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. As the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress, he has pressed the Bush administration to take steps to deter the state-sanctioned murder and rape of hundreds of thousands of people in Sudan’s Darfur region.

“We have been calling on the civilized world to stand up and to say, ‘Enough,’ ” Lantos said. “The slaughter of the people of Darfur must end.”

Lantos’ arrest comes as a diverse coalition of human rights activists is planning to stage major Sudan-related rallies Sunday in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and other cities here and overseas. In recent months, the deteriorating situation in Sudan has become a dilemma for the Bush administration, which formally declared the killings in Sudan genocide in September 2004. Now, activists are trying to put pressure on the White House.

A crowd of about 60 demonstrators cheered as the members of Congress and other activists were arrested by U.S. Secret Service officers. They were taken in a van to a local D.C. Police Station where they were each charged with disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly, a misdemeanor….

The situation in Sudan appears to be getting worse. Relief workers say that about 200,000 people have been displaced from their homes in the past three months. United Nations officials say that Sudan’s tenuous humanitarian aid network could soon break down, triggering the deaths of 100,000 people a month from starvation. [full text]

Tell the Sierra Club: Stop Endorsing Chafee

It’s another case of a great progressive organization (see previous post on NARAL’s continued endorsement of Chafee) refusing to consider changing their Senate candidate endorsement. The Sierra Club is continuing to endorse Lincoln Chafee after he has sided with the Bush administration in appointing William L. Wehrum as assistant EPA administrator for air and radiation.

Endorsements like The Sierra Club’s are largely based on voting records. This makes for a built-in function of protecting incumbents.

If you care about air quality or any of the other major environmental issues, I hope you will join me in either calling or emailing The Sierra Club. Here is a copy of my email:

Dear Sierra Club Legislative Team,

I am writing to ask you to withdraw your endorsement of Lincoln Chafee as a U.S. Senator, based on his vote to nominate William S. Wehrun as assistant EPA administrator for air and radiation. As you well know, since you opposed Wehrun’s nomination, this change will continue the Bush administration’s erosion of environmental protections and will further jeopardize the health and safety of our country.

It’s time for The Sierra Club to take a long look at the environmental record of Sheldon Whitehouse and consider whether he could do a better job than Lincoln Chafee. Having been US Attorney General for Rhode Island, Whitehouse has experience with addressing major environmental concerns for the public good. He received Save the Bay’s 2003 Environmental advocacy award, he began the litigation to prosecute lead paint makers and hold them accountable for this environmental hazard, and he led the investigation of the North Cape oil spill. In 2003, Whitehouse also joined Attorney Generals in the Northeast in filing suit to block Bush administration regulation changes that would have rolled back the new more environmentally-friendly provisions established for power plants.

Thank you for your consideration and your work to protect the environment.

Sincerely,

You can email the Sierra Club at political.desk@sierraclub.org or call their legislative office at 202-547-1141.

Save the Internet: Net Neutrality Awareness Raised

The net neutrality idea was voted down, but Matt at Savetheinternet.com comments that this was a partial victory – that several Congresspersons changed their votes and that the movement is clearly being noticed on Capitol Hill:

Ok, so the vote on the Markey amendment to protect the internet has happened, and it was voted down, 34-22. That is a big deal. It’s too bad we lost the vote, but we expected that loss. What we did not expected was the narrow margin. By way of comparison, the subcommittee vote was 23-8, which means we should have gotten blown out of the water. We did not. All four targeted Dems by McJoan on Daily Kos flipped to our side, and many of the Congressmen both for and against this campaign mentioned the blogs and angry constituents.There’s a white hot firestorm on the issue on Capitol Hill. No one wants to see the telcos make a radical change to the internet and screw this medium up, except, well, the telcos. And now members of Congress are listening to us. The telcos have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and many years lobbying for their position; we launched four days ago, and have closed a lot of ground. Over the next few months, as the public wakes up, we’ll close the rest of it.

The thing to do now is contact your Congresspersons and reinforce the need for net neutrality. Jim Langevin: Washington, D.C. Office: (202) 225-2735, Warwick Office: (401) 732-9400; Patrick Kennedy: Washington Office: (202) 225-4911; Pawtucket Office: (401) 729-5600. Outside Rhode Island, you can go here to find the contact information for your representative in Congress.

Brown Drops Out, Endorses Whitehouse

Matt Brown has officially dropped out of the US Senate race and endorsed Whitehouse.

I just watched the reunion press conference of Whitehouse and Brown on the 6 o’clock news. They had a close-up of the greeting hug that they gave each other. Whitehouse looked eternally grateful. Brown seemed on the verge of tears. It was kind of a nice fatherly-sonly moment.

We were all sort of expecting this to happen. And while it’s good not to have divisive primaries, this gives unaffiliated voters more incentive to vote in the Republican primary than in the Democratic primary, since the Republican primary is going to be more of an unknown. It might mean unusually low voter turn-out for the Democratic primary and record-setting high turnout for the Republican primary. We’ll see.

More On Averting Genocide

Following up on my earlier post related to the ongoing genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur and the ways those of us in the U.S. who are concerned about this conflict might take action to avert further atrocities, today’s New York Times has an article on a burgeoning campaign to encourage universities and municipalities to divest themselves of assets in companies doing business in Sudan. This campaign appears very similar to that which occurred in the 1980’s in response to apartheid in South Africa. An excerpt from the article by Philip Rucker follows:

Student-Driven Sudan Divestment Campaign Grows

NEW HAVEN, April 25 — Universities across the country have divested themselves of endowment assets in companies doing business in Sudan, reacting to pressure from students to take a financial stand against the violence in the Darfur region.

At least seven universities have gotten rid of some of their assets, including the 10-campus University of California system, Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Brown. Divestment campaigns are under way at several other universities, including the University of Maryland, Indiana University and the University of Virginia.

The campaign is organized by a national student-led group, Sudan Divestment Task Force, and is reminiscent of a campaign in the 1980’s when student-led groups lobbied 55 universities to remove money from companies affiliated with the South African apartheid regime.

The Sudan campaign also aims at states and municipalities. Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon have approved divestment, and legislation is pending in several other states.

Earlier this month, Providence, R.I., became the first American city to authorize divestment. Last week, New Haven announced that it would strip municipal employees’ pension funds of investments in companies doing business with the Sudanese government.

“It can’t just be the sort of piecemeal one-or-two companies symbolic approach,” said Daniel Millenson, 19, a Brandeis University freshman and executive director of the task force. “It needs to be several universities, states, whatever, all passing the same kind of divestment solutions.”

Students pressing for divestment are holding rallies, collecting signatures, meeting with administrators to present research against the Sudanese government and writing opinion articles in campus newspapers.

The task force is planning a bus trip to Washington on Thursday for about 500 students to participate in a day of lobbying on Friday and a protest on Sunday. They want troops sent to Darfur.

Mr. Millenson and other student leaders concede that the effect of divestment is largely symbolic at this stage. They hope that eventually the companies’ stock values will drop, leading them to re-evaluate their business ties to the Sudanese government, which has supported militias in a conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people and that the Bush administration has labeled genocide. [full text]

Blessed Are The Peacemakers

If 15-year-old Ava Lowery is an example of what the future holds in store for America, then perhaps there is hope for us after all. If you have never heard of this creative young woman—and, in truth, I had not until just recently—I refer you to an article (excerpted below) by Matthew Rothschild in The Progressive that details her precocious peace activism and the disturbing vitriol that such has inspired from some members of the dissent-ain’t-patriotic crowd.

Animation Producer Gets Ugly Slurs

Ava Lowery is a fifteen-year-old who lives in Alabama. She calls herself a peace activist, and for the past year, she’s been producing her own short animations on her website, peacetakescourage.com. All in all, she’s made about seventy of them, she says, and most of them oppose Bush and his Iraq War.

“I was just so mad about it,� she explains. “And the media are not showing the real images of the war, so I did a lot research and started my own website.�

She submitted one of her latest creations, “WWJD,� to the monthly “contagious� contest that huffingtonpost.com is running. (It’s an open contest that ranks the number of viewers for each submission.)

“WWJD� (“What Would Jesus Do�) is a powerful animation that features a soundtrack of a child singing “Jesus loves me, this I know� while one picture after another of a wounded, bloody, or screaming Iraqi child fills the screen.

“The object of the animation,� says Lowery, is “to get the following point across: Jesus loves Iraqis, too.�

Lowery ends the video with quotations from Beatitudes, including, “Blessed are they who mourn� and “Blessed are the meek� and “Blessed are the merciful� and “Blessed are the peacemakers.�

She says she’s received a lot of positive feedback in short messages back to her site. And she understands that the fact that “people are on the web, and they just let loose.� But she was unprepared for the viciousness of the negative feedback—especially the ugly sexual slurs similar to those that Cindy Sheehan has faced. [full text]

The article goes on to offer examples of this viciousness, which I will spare you here. Despite such, it does not appear that Ava Lowery has been deterred from continuing her good work, which I strongly encourage you to check out on her website (here). Peace takes courage, indeed, and Ava has it in spades! We are all blessed to have her out there.

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