Mostly rational politics, with occasional rants about how a few crazy Republicans are ruining the country.
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Thursday, June 30, 2005
Bush jumps in
Pres. Bush today called for $1.2 billion to cut malaria deaths in Africa in half over 5 years. Hopefully he's just getting warmed up. Now is the time to attack the problems of the world's fogotten continent.
Today Spain legalized gay marriage, and earlier in the week the Canadian House of Commons passed legalizing legislation which is expected to be signed by the Senate and law by the end of July. Those two countries join Belgium and the Netherlands as allowing gay marriage nationwide.
What's interesting to me about this issue is the difference between what's happening in the U.S. and what's happening elsewhere. In 2004, all 11 U.S. states where the issue was on the ballot passed Constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. Yet the course of progress abroad, even in our closest neighbor, is towards tolerance and progress. Why is there such a fundamental difference between Americans' and others' capacity for embracing social change? The tempting answer is that Americans are more religious, especially those who vehemently oppose homosexuality, but Spain is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.
Rather than compel conservatives to think again, I believe these actions will fuel the America vs. Everyone Else fire. They will hunker down even harder to prevent that from happening here.
The question for progressives in thinking about how to tackle this issue is the classic chicken/egg dilemma: do you try to use the courts and/or legislature to fix the law first and then hope society gradually comes to accept it, or do you try to influence conservative hearts and minds so that the country eventually demands the law? In today's polar environment, option 2 doesn't seem like something that could happen in America.
The blog Angry Bear has a helpful analysis of national saving and consumption rates by country. Obviously, the quick version is that household savings is very low comparatively in the U.S., and consumption as a % of GDP is high.
What does this mean? As you can see in the last column, our Current Account deficit means that, barring a change, the U.S. will continue to be a net borrower of money from the rest of the world, with almost all the world's lendings going to the U.S. to pay for our consumption. Some would argue that this makes sense because the U.S. is the best place to invest. But is that really still the case for investors in places like India and China where their investment might be much better off if directed within their own country?
I believe that this situation - the U.S. having to borrow billions of dollars a day to pay for its high consumption, both consumer- and government-based - presents a serious national security problem. Foreign governments and civilians own more of the U.S. every day. While we can easily go to war in poor Afghanistan or Iraq in the name of fighting terrorism, countries like China and Japan are decreasingly compelled to listen to U.S. interests, because they hold our economic balance in their hands.
It's possible - I'm not making any predictions - but it's possible that some day your kids and grandkids will ask where you were in 2005 during Live 8, when the world boldly committed to ending severe poverty starting in Africa. So, just in case, don't be left out.
Sign the ONE letter to President Bush, granting him the permission he needs in this time of fiscal strain to be generous to Africa: http://www.one.org/. And join the email list. If you're near Philadelphia, go to the concert on July 2nd.
The Live 8 campaign is aimed at getting the world's collective support behind a great ideal - that the leaders of the G8, meeting in Scotland on July 6, will commit to a new level of targeted aid to Africa to end poverty. And not just throwing $ at the problem and being proud of themselves, but using the amazing resources of NGOs that have collected on that continent to really attack the problems that poverty creates - lack of healthcare, education, infrastructure.
This is an historic time. Most of the G8 leaders (Bush, Blair, Chirac, Shroeder, etc.) are in their final terms and are searching for a legacy. WE MUST GIVE THEM PERMISSION TO COMMIT TO A BOLD NEW PLAN. Bush, especially, needs our backing to take this step: http://www.one.org/AddMyVoice.aspx
On a related topic, I'm looking for someone good at web design to help me with a project related to African aid. If you can help, email me.
If you're a Democrat (I don't know - do I have any Republican readers?) check out the new DNC website: http://www.democrats.org/
Dean & Co. have redesigned it, and it's great. Very user-friendly. Gets to the point. Not laden with too much information.
It also includes the launch of the new fundraising program, Democracy Bonds. If you buy the bond you commit to a recurring donation of $X per month. It's a great way to commit to ongoing funding to support the Democratic party. Many of us would notice a $120 check's impact on the bank account, but how much would you miss $10 a month?
That way his replacement would be (hopefully) nominated by a Democrat. Wishful thinking, I'm sure. But still I'm very surprised that he seems to not be resigning this year. He could still do it in the next few weeks, but each day that passes makes it more unlikely as Bush would have less time to confirm his nominee before the Court resumes in the early fall.
I often wonder why these guys don't want to retire and spend a few years on the beach before the stress they've put on themselves catches up to them, but I suppose there's something very appealing about shaping the world that you will leave to your descendants.
Gifford Miller endorsed by Democracy for America (DFA)
The Dean-led organization (formerly Howard, now led by Howard's brother Jim) endorsed The Jaker's favorite NYC mayoral candidate today. Here's the text of the email:
Gifford Miller knows how to stand up for what counts.
A lifelong New Yorker, Miller won election to City Council at the young age of 26. Eager to make a difference, he hit the ground running to make every day in public office count, and focused on issues to make the city more livable: strong schools, better health care, reliable transportation, and living wages for honest work.
His determination and hard work paid off. In 2002, his colleagues chose him for the council's highest position -- Speaker of the Council. Since then, Miller has made improving the city's public schools his top priority. He initiated the "Education First" plan to end rampant overcrowding in the city's schools by building 23 new schools, rehabilitating hundreds of existing ones, creating 650 new school libraries, providing 136,000 new computers and constructing 670 new science labs.
Make no mistake: Miller has proven he can fight on the issues that matter. He's earned our respect -- and our endorsement.
Gifford is also running the kind of campaign that will change our country from the bottom up. As an early supporter of Governor Dean, Miller has seen the potential for political campaigns to grow and reach out to people who have never been involved or active. He saw that campaigns can change people's lives. That's the kind of campaign he's running and that's the kind of leader he will be as Mayor. Inclusive. Progressive. Exciting. And bold.
He needs your help to do that. Contribute what you can to take back one of the bluest cities in one of the bluest states in the country. Sign up to help. The Miller Team is building a block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood organization that will take back New York City. But we can't do it without your help.
We need progressive leaders like Gifford Miller to run and win. And at DFA, we need to demonstrate that we have the grassroots power to change America, one neighborhood at a time, one check at a time, and one action at a time.
Today should bring the following at the Supreme Court:
A decision on whether the Ten Commandments can hang in courtrooms and government buildings. I expect them to somewhat buck the trend of recent terms and actually allow this to continue, in a ruling that will delight Christian Conservatives. I think you'll get the traditional conservative block of Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy joined by O'Connor on this one, with Stephens issuing a scathing dissent on the continuing evaporation of church/state separation since 2000. UPDATE: I was half right, half wrong. There Court split the 2 cases. They ruled 5-4 that the display in a Kentucky courthouse was unconstitutional, but allowed, in a splintered vote, the display at the Austin, TX state capitol.
An announcement on whether the Court will allow an appeal from two journalists who were ordered to serve jailtime for refusing to divulge the identity of a confidential source. As we saw with Deep Throat, confidentiality of sources is imperative if we are to root out injustice and corruption in government. I hope the Supreme Court will hear this one and will reverse the decision. UPDATE: The Court ruled against the reporters. They said the Constitution does not recognize a reporter's privelege of confidentiality.
And, of course, today should be the day when Rehnquist announces he is retiring, if indeed he is going to do so. Since 2000 I've also held my breath this day every year in fear that Justice Stevens, the Court's most liberal member, will retire as well. He's 85. I'd love to be able to limit Bush to one nominee before 2008. UPDATE: No announcement in the public session, but this can be expected. The announcement might come at the conclusion of the private session that the justices are having right now.
Dems: - Ed Klein's anti-Hillary book seems to have created the exact opposite of its desired effect, despite it ranking in the Top 5 of sales on Amazon. Even conservative commentators like Bill O'Reilly are denouncing it for its "personal attacks". Could people rally to Hillary's side as the right continues to attack her character? Remains to be seen.
GOP: - I'm moving McCain ahead of Chuck Hagel. The press has been good to McCain lately, and this Zogby poll, showing him beating Hillary 54-35, is remarkable. My odds are for the nomination, not the general election, but the fact that McCain has such broad support signals that he is more likely to be able to overcome the resistance of the Christain conservative wing of the Republican party. McCain goes to 9:2.
Changes are in green. Rehnquist's resignation, should he give it, should come next week. But there have been some reports that the CJ is doing better lately. So who knows.
- Moving Samuel Alito (aka Scalito) and J. Michael Luttig up into the frontrunner spots. Both are staunch, hard-line conservatives, and White House insiders seem to be suggesting that Bush wants to nominate such a person. - Wilkinson and Roberts are the other two most frequently mentioned, so they move up. - Despite no mention in that article, I can't ignore Bush's stated desire to nominate the first Hispanic justice, so Garza, Prado, and Gonzales are still definite possibilities. - I've also changed the odds for the Chief Justice nomination. I'm currently projecting that the new justice will be nominated to the CJ job.
Nomination to the Court: Samuel Alito Jr. - 3rd circuit judge. 7:1 J. Michael Luttig - 4th circuit judge from Texas. 7:1 J. Harvie Wilkinson - 4th circuit judge. 8:1 Emilio Miller Garza - 5th circuit judge. 8:1 Edward Prado - 5th circuit judge. 8:1 John Roberts - DC Court of Appeals. 9:1 Alberto Gonzales - U.S. Attorney General, former justice of Texas Supreme Court. 9:1 Ted Olson - former Solicitor General. 9:1 Larry Thompson - former Deputy Attorney General. 9:1 Michael McConnell - 10th circuit judge. 11:1 Edith Jones - 5th circuit judge. 14:1 William Pryor. 18:1 John Cornyn - Sen TX. 20:1
Nomination as Chief Justice: [the new justice] 2:1 Antonin Scalia 5:1 Clarence Thomas 7:1 Sandra Day O'Connor 25:1
Speaking at the New York state Conservative Party dinner in NYC last night, Karl Rove said the following:
Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war.
Speaking to Karl Rove right now, I counter:
Liberals and Conservatives saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and vowed to dismantle the organization that perpetrated them. The Bush Administration did that for a few months, and then decided since they were nearby anyway they might as well take out Iraq as well, despite Iraq having NOTHING to do with 9/11.
I just listened to my second John & Elizabeth Edwards podcast (the first one), and I swear I want Elizabeth Edwards to be President. John is smart, but I think Elizabeth is smarter and you can't help but love her.
Former Republican Senator John C. Danforth aims in last Friday's NYTimes to take back the faith-based morality that has been hijacked by far-right Christian conservatives.
In recent years, conservative Christians have presented themselves as representing the one authentic Christian perspective on politics. With due respect for our conservative friends, equally devout Christians come to very different conclusions.
Danforth notes that "moderates" like him have equally strong Christian convictions, but don't believe that government should, or can, translate all religious beliefs into law. Rather he relies on the only absolute standard that Christians are required to follow: love thy neighbor as thyself.
Which translates to the following differences with the far-right:
A person in a vegetative state should be allowed a natural and merciful end rather than an imposed government action
An opportunity to save our neighbors' lives through stem cell research should be pursued
References of God in the public arena will divide Americans, not advance faith
Advocating compassion to all, opposing amending the Constitution to "humiliate homosexuals"
This is a Conservative Republican speaking. With the message and money machine the far-right Christian wing has created, sometimes it's hard to remember that there are more moderate voices out there that reject the notion that with "faith" comes one and only one prescribed opinion.
The book I'm in the middle of reading right now, The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David Shipler, is the subject of a "bookcast" discussion between John & Elizabeth Edwards and Shipler. Click here to listen to the mp3.
It's just the 3 of them sitting around the Edwards' dining room table talking about the book, which highlights examples of people that work so hard in this country but are caught in a spiral of poverty that is inherently self-perpetuating. Man, I wish there was broader discussion of these kinds of problems, and that people forced themselves to engage these issues.
The book, obviously, is perfect for Edwards who focused on the "Two Americas" in the primary - one for the wealthy who can afford healthcare, good schools, etc. and the rest who are struggling to make ends meet day-to-day - and who is now concentrating on fighting poverty through his new center at UNC.
I highly recommend the book (I'm only half way through, but it's incredibly throught-provoking) and the audio bookcast.
Six months or so ago I could have supported a Biden presidential candidacy. He is outspoken enough to really criticize Republicans when they're being idiots, like, for example, when they attack Iraq to retaliate for Saudis' terrorist activities.
But Biden has betrayed progressive values a number of times recently, most recently in voting for the bankruptcy bill which benefits already immensely-profitable credit card companies that do business in his state. As I said in this March post, I will remember that vote in 2008.
Juneteenth, an unknown holiday in some parts of the country, marks the anniversary of the day in 1865 that black slaves were finally set free in Texas (2+ years after the Emancipation Proclamation - it took union troops arriving in the state). Juneteenth (June 19th) is celebrated mostly in the black south. 16 states have recognized it as an official holiday. More information.
Dems: - Bill Richardson (Gov. NM) has been sitting pretty up there in the #3 Democratic spot for awhile now, even though I've had little to say about him. Well Bill made some noise in New Hampshire a week ago that I missed. He made a strange comment in English about not running for President, which he then contradicted in Spanish. Ah the awkwardness of Presidential campaigning. I don't envy these guys. Anyway, by virtue of his cross-over appeal as governor of a southwestern state, I think he deserves to be 3rd right now, but I'm going to take him down slightly to 6:1. Update: - In the comments Dan alerted me to the fact that I'd left out Gephardt. I think I thought he was too old for 2008, but turns out he's only 64 (grab some hair dye, Dick). So DG enters today alongside Barbara Boxer at 20:1.
GOP: - According to USA Today, leaders of the Christian Conservative movement plan to jointly interview Republican Presidential candidates, possibly endorsing one. This could be a negative for people like McCain and Giuliani, and a plus for Brownback, Santorum, perhaps Frist. But no changes for now.
Reduce class size by 20% (no more than 17 in K-3, 20 in 4-5, and 23 in middle school)
Attracting/keeping good teachers by giving them more creative freedom and paying more for better performance; easing the process to get rid of bad teachers
Initiating a community service requirement in high schools
Provide after-school opportunities for every child
Increase access to successful technology programs
It's a sensible plan, and he's even laid out how he plan to finance it - through the postponement of the expiration on a personal income tax on the highest-income New Yorkers.
Once again, Gifford has proven to me that he's the right guy to lead New York City. We need a Democrat to represent on of the bluest parts of the country, and we need one with good plans and a proven success record.
Think Progress caught Sen Maj Leader Bill Frist in a bit of a lie today. Autopsy shows that Terry Schiavo was blind, but Bill Frist's video "diagnosis" said she "responded" to visual stimuli. He denied it today to Matt Lauer.
E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post has an interesting theory. He thinks that McCain wants to be President and decided in 2004 that he'd never get there as a Democrat - hence turning down Kerry's advances - and wouldn't have the muscle as an independent, so he decided to hitch up to George Bush in hopes of a painless handover.
Dionne now believes that Bush needs McCain just as much as the other way around, and that Jeb Bush could be the bridge between them - Jeb's said no to a top-ticket campaign in '08 but not to the VP spot.
I think EJ might be on to something. Jeb will likely emerge as a top candidate for VP no matter who is still standing atop the pile after the primary. And if McCain can get Bush's tacit endorsement, he might have enough to get him through with the Christian Conservatives. His courtship of that wing will be something to keep an eye on...
Something amazing happened in yesterday's NY Times. An article (not an opinion piece) actually called out President Bush for basically misleading the public on social security. Here are the three key paragraphs:
Social Security now takes in considerably more money than it pays out in benefits. But as legions of baby boomers retire and begin to collect benefits, instead of paying for them, the retirement system will move toward a deficit. Some actuaries have projected that there will be more money going out than coming in by 2017, although full benefits will be payable for some time because of the surplus being accumulated now. But in 2041, Mr. Bush said, the system will be "bankrupt."
Actually, beginning around 2041 the system would be able to pay about three-fourths of the benefits due retirees, assuming there are no changes in the formula before then. Critics of Mr. Bush's proposals have said there are enough ways, and enough time, to fix the system without a drastic change like a shift to private accounts.
The president drew a laugh when, in arguing that big changes are needed, he spoke disparagingly of "the paper i.o.u.'s in a file cabinet in West Virginia" that make up the $1.7 trillion Social Security trust fund. He did not point out those i.o.u.'s are Treasury securities backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, and that the government has never defaulted on its obligations.
Credit due to author David Stout. If the main-stream media had the courage to be honest and straightforward like this more often, and call a lie a lie, the American people would be much better off.
As I noted back in December, one of the major problems facing poor countries currently is that the debt they owe to the World Bank, IMF, etc. is so crippling that they must use their entire budget to just pay the interest on that debt each year - like making the minimum payment on a credit card. They had no hope of ever being able to invest in healthcare infrastructure, or schools, or job-creation programs.
The movement started with Jubilee 2000, a crusade eventually spearheaded by Bono and Pope John Paul II, to erase the debt of the poorest countries at the start of the new millenium. That effort was partially successful, but many countries were still left with staggering debts.
This new effort, promoted by www.one.org, www.data.org, and others, is focused on the G8 summit in July. The finance ministers have now agreed, and the public must keep the pressure on so that when the country leaders meet in July to forge the final commitment, they understand that the world supports debt relief even above and beyond this agreement.
It's an historic accomplishment. And for it, Bono should get the Nobel Peace Prize.
According to Gallup, 56% of Americans say the Iraq war wasn't worth it.
- 1,702 U.S. soldiers killed - 12,762 U.S. soldiers wounded - 22,000 - 25,000 Iraqi civilians killed - 1 dictator removed - 0 weapons of mass destruction found - Vehement anti-Americanism ingrained in the minds of millions of young Muslims
GOP: - John McCain has hired Mark McKinnon, the former Democrat who ran advertising for Bush in 2000 and 2004. This earns McCain a bump in the odds for 2 reasons: 1) it signals he's almost definitely running, and 2) McKinnon is clearly talented at marketing to what people are looking for in a president, and in McCain has another "regular guy" Bush-type figure to go to work on. Additionally, McKinnon's acquiescence signals that McCain is a top player in race. I'm improving his odds from 6:1to 11:2, meaning he jumps just ahead of George Allen and Bill Frist for the number two spot behind my (still speculative) poll-position guy, Chuck Hagel. I still think Republicans will be enamored with Hagel when they get to know him. - I'm taking Giuliani down from 7:1 to 8:1, reflecting how there's been very little noise from his camp on 2008 plans. If he's to run successfully (and he may not run), he needs to be courting the right wing right now, which I don't believe he's started doing. - I'm moving Arkasas governor Mike Huckabee up to 15:1 from 18:1, leapfrogging him over Tom Ridge, Sam Brownback, George Pataki, and Condi Rice. Besides Pataki (who has a slim shot), those others haven't made any indication they might run, while Huckabee has.
Dems: - Hillary has been generating good press lately. The consensus, at least for the next year or so I think, is going to be that it will be very hard for someone to beat her. As such I'm bumping her up slightly from 5:2 to 2:1. - John Kerry takes a tumble due to this week's story about his poor grades. I really think it will hurt him, since he never tried to quell the voice of those who were saying he was clearly so much smarter than Bush, who it turns out got a 1-pt better average at Yale. I'm dropping Kerry from 7:1 to 9:1, behind Mark Warner and Wes Clark.
Apparently a website called www.sportsinteraction.com also has odds on the race, but it's blocked from my work computer (no gambling allowed). Perhaps one of you can fill me in on their projections.
Nomination to the Court: Ted Olson - former Solicitor General. 4:1 Larry Thompson - former Deputy Attorney General. 6:1 Edward Prado - 5th circuit judge. 6:1 Emilio Miller Garza - 5th circuit judge. 7:1 Michael McConnell - 10th circuit judge. 9:1 Alberto Gonzales - U.S. Attorney General, former justice of Texas Supreme Court. 10:1 J. Michael Luttig - 4th circuit judge from Texas. 11:1 Samuel Alito Jr. - 3rd circuit judge. 13:1 Edith Jones - 5th circuit judge. 14:1 J. Harvie Wilkinson - 4th circuit judge. 16:1 John Cornyn - Sen TX. 20:1
Nomination as Chief Justice: Antonin Scalia. 3:1 Ted Olson. 5:1 Larry Thompson. 7:1 Edward Prado - 5th circuit judge. 8:1 Clarence Thomas. 10:1 Emilio Miller Garza - 5th circuit judge. 10:1 Sandra Day O'Connor. 11:1 Alberto Gonzales. 13:1 Michael McConnell. 14:1 Anthony Kennedy. 25:1
Does Downing Street Memo justify impeachment? Nader thinks so
Ralph Nader believes the Downing Street Memo is grounds to impeach Bush. [full text of Salon article in extended post - click "Link" below]. For those who don't know, the Downing Street Memo was written to Tony Blair by British officials in July 2002 (before the April 2003 Iraq invasion) and noted that, despite public statements that diplomatic channels were still being pursued, the mood in Washington had shifted to a determination to attack Iraq, and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed" around the plan to remove Saddam. If true, this would contradict Bush's claim that the invasion was never pre-determined but a logical reaction to evidence of WMD.
The I-word Ralph Nader says the Downing Street memo is grounds to debate the impeachment of the president. Four constitutional scholars weigh the issue.
- - - - - - - - - - - - By Mark Tushnet, Jack Rakove, Michael J. Gerhardt and Cass Sunstein
June 9, 2005 Mark Tushnet, Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Constitutional Law, Georgetown University Law Center
Ralph Nader wrote last week that "mainstream political discourse" should include a discussion of impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Others have made similar observations. Economist Brad DeLong, for example, routinely ends many of his blog posts with "Impeach Bush. Impeach Cheney. Impeach them now." The so-called Downing Street memo is the latest occasion for their outrage.
The memo was written in 2002 as the Bush administration was building its case for attacking Iraq because of Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism. According to the memo, the head of the British foreign intelligence service reported on "his recent talks in Washington," informing the leaders of Tony Blair's foreign policy team that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed" around the policy of removing Saddam Hussein.
Nader and DeLong take the memo as further evidence that Bush, Cheney and their administration lied to the American people. In this view, the administration wanted to invade Iraq and cooked the books because only by misrepresenting the facts could its leaders generate support for the invasion.
I know something about the Constitution, not much about intelligence operations. So, I don't want to engage the factual claims about the meaning of the Downing Street memo. Let's assume that the memo accurately reports the facts and that a reasonable person could conclude that Bush administration officials lied so that they could lead the nation into a war with Iraq. Would those facts justify impeaching them?
On its face, that question is laughable -- because the answer is so obviously yes. If we could ask any of the leaders of the movement to get the Constitution adopted, "Could a president be impeached for lying to the American people in order to get their support for a foreign war?" he would say, "Of course. That's exactly what the impeachment provision is all about."
Impeachment was designed as a mechanism for removing from office a person who had demonstrated the kind of political irresponsibility that seriously threatened the nation's political institutions -- and whose continuation in office was so dangerous that waiting until the next election couldn't be tolerated. Why would anyone think that the kinds of misrepresentations Nader and DeLong believe the administration made shouldn't trigger the impeachment provision?
Mostly because we've been misled by our contemporary understanding of the words the Constitution uses to describe the preconditions for impeachment, having forgotten what those words meant when the Constitution was adopted. The Constitution says that the president and other civil officers, like the vice president and secretary of defense, can be impeached for treason, bribery or "other high crimes and misdemeanors."
Today we think that these provisions refer only to criminal behavior. The House of Representatives impeached President Clinton because it concluded that he had perjured himself. (Technically, "impeachment" refers to the decision by the House to submit a case to the Senate, where the impeachment charges are tried; if the Senate convicts, the person -- already impeached by the House -- is removed from office.) The constitutional dispute in the Clinton impeachment was over whether the reference to "high crimes and misdemeanors" included all serious crimes, not whether a president could be impeached for non-criminal behavior.
But, to the Founders, the answer to that question was obvious. The impeachment provisions referred to behavior that amounted to extraordinarily serious political misconduct -- selling out the country to a foreign nation (treason), selling out the national interest for private gain (bribery), and similar political misconduct. You can have arguments around the edges of the category -- could a president be impeached for murdering his wife's paramour? (Sure, because even though the misconduct is not in itself political, it demonstrates an inability to lead sufficiently serious to justify removal prior to the next election) -- but lying to the American people to gain support for a foreign adventure that they wouldn't otherwise endorse isn't even a close case.
Still, there are a couple of complications. Impeachment has its origins in the British system of the 1700s, where the king appointed the prime minister. Impeachment gave the Parliament a means of removing an unfit leader who somehow retained the king's confidence. The U.S. Constitution gives us a different way of getting rid of unfit leaders -- we can throw them out of office at the next election. (Or, in the case of a second-term president, we simply can wait a few years and he'll be gone, along with his team.)
So, for us, impeachment should be reserved for situations in which two conditions are met -- unfitness as demonstrated by serious political misconduct, and a need to replace the president so urgent that we can't put up with waiting until the next election. It's probably worth noting that Nader and DeLong don't have much to say about why removal is necessary right now.
The second complication is so blindingly obvious that I'm embarrassed to have waited until this point to mention it. Impeachment is a political process with some legal overtones, not a legal one with some political overtones. To get impeachment going you have to have substantial support in the House of Representatives -- and, as the outcome of the Nixon and Clinton impeachments indicates, it's probably a good idea to have substantial bipartisan support. Nixon left office before the impeachment process was concluded, but he did so because he knew that he didn't have much support even within the Republican Party anymore, and Clinton was not convicted by the Senate at least in part because he had essentially unified support from his own party.
The Nader-DeLong position has no legs politically because Republicans in the House and Senate -- a majority in both houses, after all -- support the Bush administration's policy. And, because it has no legs politically, it has no legs legally either.
If you want to impeach the president, you're going to have to win elections. And, of course, if you can do that, you might not have to impeach the president anyway.
Jack Rakove, Coe Professor of History and American Studies, Stanford University
Ralph Nader and Kevin Zeese have summoned Americans once again to utter those fearsome words that ordinarily dare not speak their name: "high crimes and misdemeanors" and, more provocative still, the I-word, impeachment. The objects of their incantations are President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and the occasion is the systematic misrepresentation of intelligence about WMD that provided the now-discredited pretext for the invasion of Iraq. Since the evidence of the administration's dissembling (or "disassembling," as a recent Bushism has it) failed to sway a majority of the electorate last fall, impeachment is the last option available for those who naively believe that every political wrong must have its remedy -- and sooner rather than later.
Why would anyone even bother to make this argument? One would have to suspend oodles -- nay, caboodles -- of disbelief to imagine a scenario under which impeachment proceedings could even begin, much less make any headway in a Republican House. And even with impeachment, how could a two-thirds vote for conviction in the Senate possibly be mustered (or maybe the word is really "mustarded")?
But let's suspend our disbelief for a moment. Politically unrealistic as Nader has repeatedly demonstrated himself to be, an abstract case could be made for uttering the I-word with the current administration in mind. For one thing, the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 set the bar for "high crimes and misdemeanors" so low that any subsequent president could legitimately worry about this generally moribund provision of our Constitution being deployed against him whenever an opposition party controlling Congress found it convenient to do so.
For another, a decision to initiate a war that depended on the calculated misrepresentation of information on the scale alleged against this administration plausibly falls within the unspecified category of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that the framers of the Constitution belatedly added to their original list, limited to treason and bribery. The fact that this original deception was accompanied by a wholesale failure to plan for the occupation presumably compounds the case for impeachment.
It is worth noting, though, that the framers adopted "high crimes and misdemeanors" only after they had first rejected George Mason's proposal to add "maladministration" to the list of impeachable offenses. In James Madison's view, "So vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate." Gouverneur Morris added a further objection. "An election of [the president] every four years will prevent maladministration."
Doubtless Morris was overly optimistic in thinking that the promise of reelection would always persuade incumbents to avoid "maladministration" or offer the country relief in case they failed to do so. But his rationale for linking impeachment to the election cycle identifies another compelling reason for ignoring the Nader-Zeese proposal -- assuming, that is, that we're still taking it seriously.
Simply put, Americans know as much now about the defects in the administration's case for war as we did when we voted in November. True, some details have been added here and there. Additional months of insurgency and countless bombings have repeatedly confirmed how poorly our highest leaders planned for the aftermath of an initial battlefield victory. But the nation had as much information last fall as it needed to make an informed judgment about the rationale for war and the conduct of the occupation. And the challenger, John Kerry, certainly did the best he could to place these issues at the heart of his campaign. Even if large numbers of Bush supporters proved incapable of absorbing this information, their votes do not count any the less for having been cast in self-imposed ignorance.
There is, moreover, a deeper constitutional nexus between the regularity of the election cycle and the spasmodic history of presidential impeachments. Why do we have an impeachment clause at all in the Constitution? It was not because the practice was so well established and venerated in England that the framers simply adopted it uncritically. Though the English practice of impeachment arose in the Middle Ages (the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" dates to the 1380s), it had become so thoroughly politicized in the 17th century that it had essentially faded from use. (But it was being revived just about the time the framers were meeting, in Edmund Burke's campaign to impeach Warren Hastings, the governor-general of India.)
A better answer requires asking how the adoption of the impeachment clause reflects the general difficulties the framers faced in designing the presidency. Two reasons for the adoption of that clause stand out.
First, the presidency is the sole institution in which the Constitution vests the whole power of an entire branch of government in a single individual. In the other political branches, decision making is collective, and the capacity of individuals to subvert governance is greatly diminished. In the judiciary, the special circumstance of tenure during good behavior also made a mechanism for removal necessary. With the presidency, the concentration of power in a single person established its own rationale for a constitutional procedure for removal. (The same circumstance, by the way, satisfactorily explains why this is the one office reserved to natural-born citizens.)
But there was another reason why the peculiar problem of the presidency made something like the impeachment clause seemingly necessary. Of all the institutions the framers designed, this was the most novel, and the one whose political qualities and characteristics were most difficult to predict. There was simply no precedent in 18th century political science for a national executive elected on republican principles. The framers repeatedly looped around on the subject during their debates and fixed on the zany innovation of the Electoral College only at the last minute. Even then, few of them thought the electors would regularly produce a majority for any candidate.
Given their reigning uncertainty about how presidents would actually be chosen, it made a great deal of sense to adopt an impeachment clause for a system whose operations were so difficult to predict. The great irony here is that the election system has generally worked much better than the framers envisioned, usually producing decisive and unchallengeable results. The Y2K election that installed George W. Bush in the presidency is, of course, one of a handful of notable exceptions to this rule. The last election, however, was not. An informed electorate made its choice, and for better or worse, we are stuck with the consequences.
Michael J. Gerhardt, Professor of Law and Director of the Center on Legislative Studies, University of North Carolina Law School
If the Downing Street memo had not been publicized last month, President George W. Bush's critics would have had to invent it. No sooner had the world discovered that Saddam Hussein did not have the weapons of mass destruction whose existence had been claimed as the basis for the Iraq war than Bush was charged with deliberately misleading the American public.
The criticism intensified after Bob Woodward's and former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's inside accounts of the Bush White House indicated that the president and his advisors seemed determined to invade Iraq well before the actual invasion. Democratic candidate John Kerry based his 2004 presidential campaign in part on the repeated claim that the Bush administration had deliberately misrepresented the grounds for the Iraq war.
The Downing Street memo, dated July 23, 2002, confirms, as one report puts it while quoting the memo, "that President Bush had decided, no longer than July 2002, to 'remove Saddam, through military action,' that war with Iraq was 'inevitable'" and that what remained was simply to establish and develop the modalities of justification; that is, to come up with a means of "justifying" the war and "fixing 'the intelligence and the facts ... around the policy.'"
Based on the memo, 89 members of Congress have asked Bush whether intelligence was manipulated to facilitate an invasion of Iraq. Ralph Nader has gone further. He claims the memo "merits introduction of an impeachment resolution" against President Bush and Vice President Cheney for launching an invasion of Iraq undertaken on "false pretenses in violation of domestic and international law..."
Those urging an impeachment inquiry against Bush undoubtedly consider the Downing Street memo akin to the Watergate tapes, which established President Nixon's direct involvement in obstructing justice. But any analogy to Watergate does not hold. Nor does it square with what we know about the impeachment process from the Constitution, its structure, and prior presidential impeachment attempts, including those against Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton.
First, impeachment requires proof of treason, bribery "or other high crimes or misdemeanors." "High crimes or misdemeanors" refer to breaches of the public trust and offenses against the state. While there was substantial disagreement about whether Clinton's misconduct formally qualified as an offense for which he could be properly impeached and removed from office, the case for Nixon's impeachment and removal is widely viewed as paradigmatic. His misconduct was bad, so bad that he resigned from office when it became clear that a majority of the House and at least two-thirds of the Senate were prepared, as required by the Constitution, to make it a basis for removing him from office.
The Downing Street memo tells us nothing we did not know before its publication, and it has hardly mobilized the requisite support in the House for impeaching and in the Senate for convicting the president for misleading the nation into war.
But Nixon's misconduct did not justify his impeachment and removal merely because it was a bad act. What tipped the balance against Nixon was that it became clear, through the Watergate tapes, that he had malicious or criminal intent. The Constitution requires more than just a bad act to merit removal from office; it also requires bad intent. This requirement derives from the framers' explicit use of criminal terminology to describe the scope of impeachable offenses.
Yet the framers never suggested impeachment and removal were appropriate to address political leaders' mistaken judgments. Indeed, the Senate's acquittal of President Andrew Johnson, by the slimmest of margins, has been understood as signifying the Senate's judgment that a president may not be removed for mistaken policy or constitutional judgments. If presidents could be removed for their mistakes, we would have a very different kind of government than the one we do have.
The Downing Street memo does not establish Bush's bad faith. He has repeatedly denied misleading the American people. More importantly, the president's reelection was based in part on the American people's rejecting the charge that he had misled the country in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.
Bush's reelection is pertinent for another reason. The framers designed impeachment as a unique procedure to be used as a last resort to deal with presidential misconduct. The Constitution provides other means. Indeed, an election is a perfectly appropriate means for holding presidents accountable for their misconduct or for redeeming themselves.
During Clinton's impeachment proceedings, his defenders argued that his reelection effectively ratified his conduct in office and rejected claims he was unfit to hold office. They claimed that removing him for the Lewinsky affair substituted the Congress' judgment for that of the voting public. Something similar could be said of President Bush. It is perfectly reasonable to construe Bush's reelection as ratifying his call for war in Iraq and redeeming him against claims that he had acted in bad faith. Nothing in the Downing Street memo suggests we should reject that interpretation.
There is a final lesson that cuts against authorizing an impeachment inquiry against President Bush. One measure of the egregiousness of an official's misconduct is the extent to which it disables him from effectively discharging his constitutional responsibilities.
In the 1990s, for instance, the Senate removed three judges for perjury, income tax fraud, and false statements to a grand jury. The Senate convicted and removed the judges on the ground that the judges' misconduct had robbed them of the requisite integrity to do their jobs. Clinton's acquittal was based in part on the public's unwavering support for him throughout his impeachment proceedings. It was hard to argue he had violated the public's trust when the public continued to trust him to do the job to which they had reelected him. The Downing Street memo has nothing to do with the lag in Bush's approval ratings.
The case for impeaching Bush cannot be made. Manipulating the impeachment process to undo electoral outcomes with which one disagrees is not the American way. The American way is putting your case before the American people as best you can, and accepting the results as graciously as possible.
Cass Sunstein, Karl N. Llewellyn Distinguished Service Professor of Jurisprudence, Law School and Department of Political Science, University of Chicago
Having helped to elect President George W. Bush in 2000, Ralph Nader now seems to be calling for his impeachment. It would be funny, except that it's not funny.
The Constitution allows for impeachment of the president in exceedingly narrow circumstances, involving "high crimes and misdemeanors." The constitutional background demonstrates that the framers of the Constitution were thinking first and foremost of two things: treason and bribery. At a late stage, they concluded that other egregious actions, falling short of treason and bribery, could also be a basis for impeachment -- as, for example, where the president attempts to subvert the Constitution itself. The framers wanted to ensure that impeachment could not be used as a political weapon.
It follows that uses of presidential authority for corrupt purposes, or in ways that patently and persistently undermine the constitutional order, provide a legitimate basis for impeachment. We might even conclude that a president is guilty of a "misdemeanor" if he refuses to do his constitutional duty, for example, by going to the beach for a year or two. But under the Constitution, it is extremely difficult to make out legitimate grounds for impeachment.
For almost all of the nation's history, public officials have respected this aspect of the constitutional plan. Political disagreements, however intense, have not turned into pleas for impeachment. On the contrary, our traditions, at least as much as our founding document, limit impeachment to the most large-scale abuses of public trust.
The principal exception, of course, was the patently unconstitutional impeachment of President Clinton in 1998. In retrospect, that unconstitutional action appears even worse than it seemed at the time. Of course Clinton's behavior should be condemned; he might well have perjured himself. But perjury about sexual behavior doesn't come close to meeting the legal standard for impeachment.
It is clear that those who impeached Clinton were really motivated by their obsessive disapproval of him and his presidency. At a minimum, they hoped to damage him politically, so as to weaken his presidency and the next Democratic nominee as well. They succeeded beyond their hopes. Without the impeachment, it's a good bet that Vice President Gore would have been elected in 2000.
But Democrats shouldn't return the favor. Let's suppose that Bush did mislead the country. For the last year and more, it has been argued, plausibly, that the White House "hyped" the war effort by exaggerating its information about the actual threat from Saddam Hussein. Of course this is a legitimate and quite serious political complaint. And because the complaint involves official behavior, it is at least in the general domain of the impeachable (as Clinton's misconduct was not). Nonetheless, exaggerating a foreign threat, even intentionally, is hardly a legitimate basis for impeachment.
Little is added by the Downing Street memo. What we learn from that memo is that according to the chief of the British intelligence agency M16, Bush wanted to remove Saddam at an early stage, with military action "justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD," with the suggestion that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." We also learn that England's foreign secretary said that "Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capacity was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."
Fine. Is the president of the United States to be impeachable because Britain's foreign secretary believed, in 2002, that Saddam was less capable of using weapons of mass destruction than Libya, North Korea or Iran? Is the president impeachable because of an interpretation of his motivations by the chief of a British intelligence agency?
To be sure, it would be more than objectionable to find a clear demonstration that "intelligence and facts" were, in fact, "fixed" to support a predetermined course of war. We could even imagine circumstances in which such a demonstration would be a plausible basis for considering impeachment. But it is ludicrous to suppose that these words from a 2002 memorandum, representing a judgment from the chief of a British intelligence agency, make it reasonable to call for an impeachment inquiry.
At the very worst, Bush was committed, early on and for multiple reasons, to using force to remove a brutal dictator from office, and he hyped and distorted the evidence to convince the American public of the need for imminent military action. (In my own view, by the way, Bush believed in good faith that Saddam posed a genuine threat to American security, partly because of Saddam's willingness to support terror, partly because of Saddam's own military goals.)
Compare the behavior of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in World War II, who secretly and unlawfully transferred arms -- including more than 20,000 airplanes -- to England. Roosevelt deceived both Congress and the American public about what he was doing. It would have been preposterous to claim that Roosevelt thereby committed an impeachable offense.
So too for Bush. In any four-year period, the nation's leader is highly likely to deceive the public on a serious matter at least once -- sometimes inadvertently, sometimes for legitimate reasons, sometimes for illegitimate ones. Of course presidents should not exaggerate evidence, and it's perfectly proper to ask whether Bush got us into war under false pretenses. But there isn't anything close to a sufficient basis for impeachment.
It's obvious that the call for impeachment of Bush is impractical; it's simply a nonstarter, a publicity stunt, reality-free television. But it's also an irresponsible and even nutty idea in principle -- the lunatic left imitating the lunatic right. Can we talk about something else instead?
I know I've posted about this many times, but I think the ONE campaign is one of today's worthiest causes. We need to elevate the topic of poverty and AIDS in Africa to the forefront of Americans' minds. If you haven't yet, PLEASE visit www.one.org, sign the declaration, tell your friends, and give Bush the overwhelming incentive to commit to a new level of world aid at the G8 summary in July.
I've added a permanent banner to the sidebar at the right.
One serious criticism I have of the Bush administration is that it is incredibly short-sighted. They seem to make decisions that they believe are in our interests today (debatable on many things) without considering the longer-term cost, often repuational, that Americans incur as a result of those actions. For example, by toppling Iraq's government without a well-reasoned argument or a strategy for ensuring the safety of the country and improving its infrastructure in the post-war period, the U.S. has fostered a culture in which young Iraqis (and other Muslims) grow up with ever increasing hatred of the U.S.
I feel the same way about Guantanamo. Of course it's a good idea to lock up selected terrorists during a period of war, but by denying them due process for multiple years and subjecting them to torture and humiliation (including desecrating the Qu'ran), we are negating the short-term "good" of protecting ourselves by dramatically increasing the likelihood that others will want to attack us in the future. That's why I'm happy that it appears there are discussions about closing the Guantanamo detention facility.
As I did in April with the papal election, sometimes I get the itch to put odds on a shorter-term race than the 2008 Presidential Nomination. In that spirit, I present The Jaker's opening line odds on the Supreme Court, on the assumption that CJ Rehnquist will step down about 3 weeks from now.
It is possible that there will be two nominations - one for the nomination to the court, and a second for chief justice. It is also very possible and perfectly legal for the new nominee to be nominated to be CJ as well, rather than a current justice being "elevated", which would necessitate only one confirmation hearing rather than two. Analysts are somewhat split about whether this will occur. As you'll see, I'm factoring both possibilities into my odds.
Here are my opening odds, to be updated whenever I feel the need.
Nomination to the Court: Ted Olson - former Solicitor General. 4:1 Larry Thompson - former Deputy Attorney General. 6:1 Emilio Miller Garza - 5th circuit judge. 7:1 Alberto Gonzales - U.S. Attorney General, former justice of Texas Supreme Court. 8:1 Michael McConnell - 10th circuit judge. 9:1 J. Michael Luttig - 4th circuit judge from Texas. 11:1 Samuel Alito Jr. - 3rd circuit judge. 13:1 Edith Jones - 5th circuit judge. 14:1 J. Harvie Wilkinson - 4th circuit judge. 16:1 John Cornyn - Sen TX. 20:1
Nomination as Chief Justice: Antonin Scalia. 3:1 Ted Olson. 4:1 Larry Thompson. 6:1 Clarence Thomas. 10:1 Emilio Miller Garza - 5th circuit judge. 10:1 Sandra Day O'Connor. 11:1 Alberto Gonzales. 12:1 Michael McConnell. 14:1 Anthony Kennedy. 25:1
Incidentally, Kennedy and O'Connor are possible short-term retirees as well, and liberal JP Stevens is 82 yrs old. After 11 years without a vacancy, the Supreme Court could be in for a dramatic overhaul in the next few years.
So it turns out John Kerry wasn't quite as intellectual as we all thought - his recently released Navy records included a transcript showing his grade average of 76 over four years, including 4 D's out of 10 classes freshman year. I'm not doubting he's smart, but we need to find a way to propel the smartest of the smart into higher office... people like Ruckman.
One of my favorite causes, The ONE Campaign, is involved in the Primetime Live with Diane Sawyer that will air tonight on ABC at 10pm, featuring Brad Pitt, and educating us on the emergency in Africa and some projects that are helping, and that need our continued support.
Watch the special, and sign the ONE letter to President Bush, encouraging Bush to commit, at the July 6 G8 meeting, to devoting an additional 1% of the U.S. budget to fight poverty and AIDS in Africa.
As I've discussed here before, Colorado representative Tom Tancredo, whose career is focused around the single issue of ending immigration (all immigration, not just illegal), may well run for President to get the issue on the table and debate schedule in 2008. Frankly, the strategy works somewhat - he'll turn every question into something immigration-related and force his primary opponents to at least give the topic lip service. So prepare for immigration to be a substantial discussion topic in the next few years. Democrats would be wise to figure out where they stand.
Increasing tax burden on upper-middle class while drastically reducing it on the hyper-rich
The NYT special section on Class, including the most recent article on the richest of the rich, has been superb. I wish everyone in the country would spend 5 minutes reading the following graphic, and realize the wealth reallocation that Bush's tax cuts are causing. I work with many people in that top 0.1% that's benefitting, and trust me - they are not small business owners reinvesting their money in growing their business or providing new jobs. Rather, they are buying bigger houses in the Hamptons and Vail, taking more exotic family vacations, and paying huge sums to join country clubs across the country. They aren't hurting for a tax cut.
According to New York Connection, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver voted no to the West Side stadium today, meaning the unanimous approval of the three-person committee needed to move forward will not be there, and the stadium looks dead in the water (though these things can change).
Good news for those of us who believe the money should be spent elsewhere, like perhaps giving teachers a contract and fixing the schools they teach in.
Tomorrow marks the start of the frenzied petitioning period here in New York City, which means you will be accosted at subway entrances in the name of a functioning democracy. It's a great time to figure out who you support and why, and offer just your signature or perhaps your help - if you're good at accosting.
One interesting point is that, unlike say last spring's presidential primary, I believe you cannot sign the petition of more than one person per office. So, for example, if you sign Mike Bloomberg's petition, Gifford Miller can't sign you up (I believe someone actually checks lists against one another and compares dates of signature). So be careful not to just sign anything put in front of you.
The Jaker's endorsements: - Gifford Miller for mayor. - Gur Tsabar for City Council - 3rd district (Murray Hill & East Village)
Here's today's update on the 2008 Presidential Nomination Race.
Dems: - Feingold, despite his recent divorce, is staying in the fray. He recently launched the Progressive Patriots Fund. I think his odds are about right. - Edwards is so full steam ahead it's hard to believe the election is 3 years away. He sent an email yesterday recounting his recent meetings with Tony Blair and future British PM Gordon Brown - for no reason other than to say he knows them. And he apparently invited bloggers to dinner at his house. I think he's trying to establish himself as the Howard Dean -like "outsider" that the netroots favor in 2008. For that, which I think is a smart strategy, and for running a four-year campaign, Edwards moves up slightly from 5:1 to 9:2, but he's still eating Hillary's dust.
GOP: - Despite his dad's statement that he should run at some point, Jeb Bush says he won't run in '08. At least he shook his head no. Is that the new not-going-to-go-on-record denial?
Well my brief love-affair with the Huffington Post has ended. A few weeks ago I was encouraged when the first couple of days featured posts from a number of interesting people whose names I actually recognized. Now it's reduced to a bunch of people I've never heard of arguing amongst themselves; the only guy I do like to read, Paul Reickhoff, only holds my attention because he was student body president when I was an Amherst freshman. So farewell, HuffPost, your stay in my Links section was unfortunately short-lived.
Over at Table for One, the guest-blogging spot at the new TPM Cafe, Senator John Edwards is writing about his new work (or the new version of his old work) - the study of how to overcome poverty. Among his interesting points is a post entitled "Being Poor is Expensive", which links to this Brookings study that shows that poor people pay more for basically everything, including the exact same goods and services that cost less to wealthier people. From healthcare to insurance to credit card interest, the poor are constantly subjected to conditions that seem designed to keep them poor. Fixing that is one of our most fundamental challenges, if we are to revitalize the American Dream that has stagnated as class status has become entrenched.
My man Gifford Miller has been on the education beat lately. The Daily News and Newsday cover Giff's criticisms of Bloomberg's overstating and taking credit for any improvements he can find, while highlighting the many ways in which education hasn't gotten the attention it deserves from this mayor.
Giff has said all along that education is his main issue. Schools aren't getting the funding they deserve, class sizes are out of control, buildings are dilapidated, etc. Isn't this a better way to spend money than a $600 million stadium?