Monday, June 27, 2005


National Guard Troops in Iraq in 2003- the sign reads: "ONE WEEKEND A MONTH, MY ASS!"

(This column ran in the 6-30-05 THE ALBANY (Ga.) JOURNAL)

"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9-11 and the attacks and prepared for war. Liberals saw the savagery of the 9-11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9-11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban. In the wake of 9-11, the liberals believed it was time to submit a petition."

White House presidential advisor Karl Rove ("The President’s Brain"), speaking to right wing conservatives in June of 2005.

So what do we make of the President’s top advisor- the architect of his political victories in Texas and for the White House- throwing red meat to the right wingers who agree with Ann Coulter that American liberals (roughly 20 percent of voters) are nothing less than "traitors?" Tellingly, one top Republican Senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, called the White House "completely disconnected from reality. It’s like they’re just making it up as they go along."

One explanation for Rove’s outrageous (and absurd) slanders against patriotic Americans is that George Bush in 2005 needs a huge distraction from current events- a harkening to his situation only three years ago. In 2002, the President and his Party, facing a potentially devastating loss in the November 2002 mid-term elections, suddenly began clamoring for a war against a country which had receded into the background since the 1991 Gulf War.

Ordinarily, a political party in control of the levers of government will attempt to highlight its successes and downplay failures. But in the Summer of 2002, the Bush Administration and the Republican Party desperately needed a huge distraction from the growing Enron and WorldCom scandals, the disappeared Clinton surplus which had been transformed into a burgeoning deficit in less than 18 months, negative economic indicators, including a net job loss, and the complete failure to locate Osama bin Laden "dead or alive," as President Bush had vowed to do shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks. News reports in the Summer of 2002 suggested that the Bush Administration was facing the very real possibility that Democrats would increase their razor thin majority in the Senate while Republicans could lose control of the House. If that had happened, then by November of 2002, Mr. Bush would have been transformed into a relatively powerless lame duck with two years still to go in his first, and probably only, term.

At this point, the astute reader (defined as one who does NOT get his or her information solely from local media here in Albany) may realize that Karl Rove and President Bush are becoming very nervous about current events and are, once again, desperate to throw out as many red herrings as possible to distract the media and the populace from the daily death toll in Iraq and from the potential disaster looming from "THE DOWNING STREET MEMO." If you haven’t heard of this memo or you don’t know why it’s important enough that impeachment murmers are slowly boiling to the surface among House Democrats, then you are probably a victim of the Media and Rove’s massive attempts to distract you with quotes about liberals wanting to provide "therapy" for the 9-11 terrorists, stories on a missing high school girl in Aruba, Michael Jackson’s trial, and (the latest) book deal for the runaway bride from Georgia. Of course, we now have this year’s gay marriage wedge issue- the unashamed wrapping (almost literally) of Congressional Republicans in the American Flag.

As for The Downing Street Memo, it first came to public attention on May 1, 2005, when the Times of London reported the secret minutes of a meeting at the British Prime Minister’s cabinet on July 23, 2002- nine months before President Bush gave the order to American troops to invade Iraq, topple its government, and begin an occupation now into its third year which has cost over 1700 American lives and upwards of $200 billion from the United States Treasury. The explosive information in the minutes of the meeting, now referred to as "The Downing Street Memo," revealed that in the summer of 2002 President Bush had already decided to invade Iraq, was looking at weapons of mass destruction and terrorist connections as pretexts for the invasion, but because the intelligence coming to the Bush Administration didn’t provide the justification, the intelligence was being "fixed" to justify the decision. As the Memo revealed:

"Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."

As it turns out, the Bush Administration not only made the decision to go to war long in advance of the presentation to the United Nations in February of 2003, but it had also begun a bombing campaign as early as the summer of 2002. As the Memo revealed:

"The Defence Secretary said that the US had already begun "spikes of activity" to put pressure on the regime."

On June 26, 2005, Michael Smith of The Times of London confirmed the 2002 Memo’s observation, reporting that: "[American] Lieutenant-General Michael Moseley said that in 2002 and early 2003 allied aircraft flew 21,736 sorties, dropping more than 600 bombs on 391 "carefully selected targets" before the war officially started."

In the Summer of 2002, the Bush Administration’s hyperbolic warning about an alleged military threat to the United States from Iraq was not only wrong, it was laughable. Both Vice President Cheney and then National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice warned of a smoking gun in the form of a "mushroom cloud" and argued that America couldn’t afford to wait to find out whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction poised for use. The truth was, as every member of Congress- Republican and Democrat- well knew, American forces had Iraq virtually surrounded with troops in Turkey and Kuwait, we had no-fly zones in the North and South of Iraq, our Air Force had taken out Iraqi military targets with ease when it suited our purposes, and economic sanctions were still in place. As then Secretary of State Colin Powell testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 15, 2001:

"The sanctions, as they are called, have succeeded over the last 10 years.... The Iraqi regime militarily remains fairly weak. ... It has been contained."

In the summer of 2002, President Bush’s "brain," Karl Rove, set in motion the political demagogue’s hallowed tradition of drumming up a war fever to take the focus away from the disasters over which Bush had presided- not least of which was the question as to how he had failed to anticipate and prevent the 9-11 terror attacks.

By early 2003, when the huge American troop buildup in the desert of Kuwait made it clear that we were going to invade no matter what, the media and Congress once again missed the most obvious signals that the WMD threat was a hoax: virtually every nation bordering Iraq, including our NATO ally Turkey and including Iran- the one country against whom Saddam had used chemical weapons- was urging us not to invade. Turkey went so far as to refuse to allow us to use our bases there as staging areas for a northern front. Had Saddam actually possessed WMD's, the means of delivering them, and the intention to do so, those countries bordering Iraq would have been first in line to be targeted, not the United States half a world away, and they would have been begging us to take out the mad dictator who threatened their citizenry.

In 2002 and 2003 Iraq was no military threat whatsoever to its immediate neighbors, let alone the United States. But President Bush used Congress’s authorization to launch the disastrous war which has diverted essential resources from the real war on Al Qaida in Afghanistan, decimated the military’s ability to recruit, and contributed to annual deficits of over $400 billion.

And the official lies will continue until members of the media and our elected officials recognize that our country and our troops in harm's way are more important than their careers.

Friday, June 17, 2005


Defense Department Deputy Counsel Michael Fucci told the Albany (Ga.) Bar Ass'n that most of these Gov't detainees are living in better conditions and eating better than they ever had

(This column ran in the 6/23/05 THE ALBANY (Ga.) JOURNAL)

When asked why the U.S. Government opposed granting fair trials to the Guantanamo Detainees, Defense Department Deputy Counsel Michael Fucci startled the audience of Albany lawyers and judges when he asserted that the detainees didn't deserve hearings because they weren't criminals and had broken no laws.

"... a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens."
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the majority in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld.

Recently, as embarrassing disclosures of abuses of detainees has led members of both political parties to call for the Bush Administration to close down the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I recalled that a few months ago one of the top lawyers in the Defense Department was unapologetic about the denial of all basic rights to foreign Muslims in the custody of the United States.

At the invitation of Dougherty Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ken Hodges, Michael Fucci, the Deputy Counsel to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, spoke at the January 2005 meeting of the Dougherty Circuit Bar Association here in Albany, Georgia. Fucci's position in the Defense Department presumably means that he was one of the architects of America's infamous policy of detaining foreign "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay- a policy which has resulted in some persons being detained over three years with no charges being brought against them, and with no access to families, lawyers, or hearings in any court.

After his speech, Mr. Fucci took questions from the audience of lawyers and local judges. My question to him was posed in the context of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. I reminded Mr. Fucci that in April of 1995 we suffered what was then the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in our nation's history when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was blown up, killing over 160 people. But we didn't act in a blind panic. Once we located the suspects- Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols- we didn't throw out the protections of the Constitution, didn't bar them from access to counsel or the courts, and didn't torture them. We didn't round up hundreds of other suspects having nothing to do with the bombing and confine them indefinitely without due process of law. I asked Mr. Fucci if he thought that in 2005 our nation is now so weak and frightened that we have to set aside everything that used to make our country great, admired, and respected- our dedication to Constitutional protection of human rights and freedom?

In defending Bush & Co.'s decision to house foreign prisoners outside of the U.S. mainland, Mr. Fucci contended that most of the detainees were living in better conditions and eating better than they ever had before their incarceration. (A position echoed last week by Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter as he did his best Julia Child impression by displaying all of the succulent foods being provided to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.) My unspoken thought on hearing Fucci's remark: "Well, that certainly explains all the suicide attempts."

Mr. Fucci specifically mentioned the right of habeas corpus (a legal writ issued by a court to free persons detained in violation of the Constitution) as a privilege that shouldn't be extended to detainees in Guantanamo. Last year the Bush Administration had argued to the Supreme Court that it could deny detainees every right guaranteed by the Constitution and by International Law, including access to counsel, notice of charges against them, and an opportunity to be heard before an impartial tribunal to determine whether they had committed an offense warranting incarceration. Mr. Fucci's position was that the detainees didn't deserve hearings because they weren't criminals and had broken no laws- surely an admission which would surprise most ordinary Americans who assume that if you don't do anything wrong, you have nothing to fear from our government.

In June of 2004 the Supreme Court, in the cases of Rasul v. Bush and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, rejected the clever attempt of the Defense Department to create a zone free of American law, telling the Bush Administration in no uncertain terms that:

"... as critical as the Government's interest may be in detaining those who actually pose an immediate threat to the national security of the United States during ongoing international conflict, history and common sense teach us that an unchecked system of detention carries the potential to become a means for oppression and abuse of others who do not present that sort of threat."

As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld:

"... a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens."

Thank goodness the Supreme Court put the rule of law above the caprice of man. But if President Bush gets two more appointments to the Court, the freedoms guaranteed to all by the Bill of Rights could become no more than a fond memory.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


This vote counting system was replaced with a paperless DIEBOLD voting machine that counted 4,258 Bush votes in an Ohio precinct with only 638 voters

(This column ran in the June 10, 2005, THE ALBANY (Ga.) JOURNAL)

"I don’t anticipate that being a major problem."

Representative Ed Rynders’ response when asked how he would feel if elderly voters without drivers’ licenses are turned away from the polls because they were unaware of the 2005 change engineered by Republicans in Georgia’s voter identification law.

I’ve known and liked Ed Rynders since the days we played basketball at the YMCA. He’s a lot smarter and more politically astute than some people think, and he differs from many Republicans elected to office in that he appears to genuinely respect opposing points of view. But I am troubled by the adjective "major" that he used in the above quote. Troubled because the Republicans who took control of this year’s Georgia legislative session were determined to change the voter ID law (over universal Democratic opposition) to prevent elderly voters from continuing to use their Social Security cards as identification at the polls, and they didn’t seem to care that a "minor" problem would result in disenfranchising thousands of elderly Georgians who regularly perform their civic duty by voting.

Sometimes Republican controlled legislatures do act to address pressing needs- such as the urgent concerns over safeguarding our ports and borders from terrorists smuggling portable nuclear weapon. Oh wait, bad example. Almost four years after 9-11-01, our ports are still porous, cargo on commercial aircraft is still largely uninspected, and chemical plants are still vulnerable to terrorist attack. Instead, Homeland Security agents have been busy protecting Americans from... (wait for it) ... illegal downloading of the new Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith. MSNBC’s website reported on May 25th:

"Federal authorities on Wednesday shut down a Web site used to find movies on the Bit Torrent file-sharing network, which was used to distribute the new "Star Wars" movie even before it was shown in theaters.... Search warrants were executed in 10 cities across the United States, said Jamie Zuieback, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Homeland Security Department."

So it should come as no surprise that the newly Republicanized Georgia legislature came to the issue of voting in Georgia’s upcoming elections with a slightly skewed vision. One might hope that Georgia’s Republican Party, which now controls both houses of the State legislature, would be concerned with issues such as reducing long waits at the polls, eliminating the corrupting influence of money in campaigns, and alleviating the anxiety caused by a lack of a paper trail when casting electronic votes. One would be wrong. In spite of the fact that many voters were discouraged by long lines in many locations during last November’s general election, and computer glitches were widely reported around the country- one precinct in Ohio’s Franklin County recorded 4,258 votes for Bush in a precinct with only 638 voters- Georgia’s Republican controlled legislature took no action on any of those issues.

Although Leesburg’s Republican State House member Ed Rynders says he would support legislation requiring a paper trail to confirm computer ballots, he had no explanation for his party’s failure to introduce legislation that would have allayed voters’ concerns that their ballots be accurately counted, unlike the Ohio imbroglio. (As a side note to Hilary haters/fans: the Count Every Vote Act introduced by Democratic Senators Hilary Clinton and Barbara Boxer seeks to repair voting irregularities of the 2000 and 2004 elections by creating a paper record of every vote recorded. Because it doesn’t involve the private medical decision of a Florida family or confirmation of a judge who will rule in favor of litigants who are her financial contributors, the bill has no chance of getting to a floor vote in Bill Frist’s Senate.)

However, Representative Rynders did vote in favor of one Republican initiative which not only passed Georgia’s legislature, but was identical to legislation proposed by Republicans in other states- the photo ID bill that will prohibit elderly voters from voting with their Social Security cards as they have in past years.

As Georgia State Senator Kasim Reed pointed out in a letter addressed to the Atlanta Constitution, the new photo ID bill:

"... contains no voter education component to let the public know that the forms of acceptable identification have been reduced from seventeen (17) to six (6). None. Therefore, a senior citizen who voted with his or her Social Security card in November of 2004 could show-up at [the] precinct and be turned away because he or she was never told that the State of Georgia changed the rules without providing... any notice."

Since the Republican Party chose to address this issue above all others, surely there must have been massive numbers of illegal voters who were able to fraudulently vote under other persons’ names? When asked how many instances of Georgia voter fraud from lack of photo ID were presented to the Legislature, Mr. Rynders ducked the question:

"Q. How many instances of voter fraud involving a lack of photo ID were presented to the committee reviewing the bill or to the State House of Representatives before they were asked to vote on the bill?

A. My vote was based on a pro-active measure as a deterrent to past and future potential voter fraud."

Senator Reed was more forthcoming:

"I serve on the State and Local Governmental Operations committee which first heard HB 244 and its Senate companion bill. At no time during any of these hearings did the proponents of this bill cite even one example of voter fraud which would have been prevented by the passage of HB 244. After hearing almost no meaningful testimony, the Committee passed the bill completely along partisan lines, with every Republican supporting it, and every Democrat opposing it."

Georgia’s top election official, Secretary of State Cathy Cox, was quoted in a New York Times article on Georgia’s photo ID bill as stating that there had not been a single instance of voter identity fraud during her tenure. And since Georgia’s 159 counties have only 53 driver's license offices, and more than a third of Georgians over 75 lack a valid driver's license, the bill will disparately impact the rural elderly. Meanwhile, Secretary Cox noted that other Republican sponsored legislation would encourage voter fraud by loosening requirements for voting by absentee ballot.

So why did the Republican Party in Georgia and other states decide to enact identical legislation which would have the practical effect of restricting ballot access to the poor, the elderly, and rural voters while allowing greater access to absentee voters? The answer is simple: electoral math based on polls which reveal the demographics of who votes Democrat or Republican. Subtract elderly, poor, rural voters from the equation, and Democrats will suffer a net loss of votes. Increase absentee ballots cast, and Republicans receive a net gain of votes. With some recent statewide and national races hinging on only a few thousand- or in the case of Florida in the 2000 Presidential election, a few hundred- votes, every vote for the opponent eliminated from the polls increases the chances of Republican victory.

And what was Mr. Rynders’ response to the probability that African-American voters will be disproportionately disenfranchised because more than 10% of African-Americans do not have automobiles?

"I expect everyone who is serious about the privilege of voting will make the necessary arrangements regardless of ethnicity."

So there you have it. The Republican Party puts obstacles in the path of likely Democratic voters. First they have to find out about election law changes, then cadge a ride 25 to 50 miles to a DMV license station; but if they don’t or can’t accomplish that trick by the time next year’s election arrives, then they aren’t "serious about the privilege of voting."

A neutral observer might note that the Republicans aren’t "serious about the privilege of governing" if they are willing to use their newfound power to disenfranchise innocent American citizens to solve a non-existent problem.