Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bush Spreading Islamofascism?

This post about Abdul Rahman, the Christian Afghan convert, is a good one. Check it out:
Informed Comment

And Donkey Path talks about Rumsfeld's analysis of our "country's" communication problems.

"Utter debacle"

Eric Haney, a founder of Delta Force and a Rome boy, has some fascinating words about our President and his proscecution of his "War on Terror". Check it out. It will be interesting to see how long it takes the Swiftboat-Dubya-Walks-On-Water gang to find a way to vilify this patriot ala their smearing of Kerry, Murtha, Shinseki, Wilson, Cleland, etc., etc.

Rome News Tribune article

Interview Excerpts

Tell Me That I Am Not Prescient

Tell Me That I Am Not Prescient

I keep seeing the noun “prescience,” and the adjective, “prescient,” in a lot of things I read. These words, which at root, mean, “the foreknowledge of events,” for some reason seem to be popping up in my reading more and more.

It reminds of a movie, the title of which I can’t recall, where the protagonist works for the CIA and has a great job: his job, every day, simply is to read new books and other current publications, and, over time, to note any repeated themes or ideas. The CIA’s premise, in this movie, is that indicators of future trends or events often emerge simultaneously, through the general unconscious, finding expression in a variety of writings. So, I’m wondering if the increased use of the word, “prescience,” that I am noting, indicates that more and more people are feeling prescient. Or is it just me?

Foreknowledge does not require magical powers, it may require simply paying some attention. Maybe it is that more and more people are paying attention. Many people are losing their jobs, losing their pensions. The national debt keeps increasing at a dizzying rate. We are sucked into an expensive war, with increasing atrocities, with increasing degradation of any respect for life, and there is no end in sight. Our political leadership, Democratic and Republican, demonstrates again and again that it is incompetent, unprincipled, full of confused thinking. We see unfolding situations that makes us wonder how any positive outcomes ever will be found.

Humans, it seems, are sort of hard-wired to be optimistic. Our ancestors had to overcome much adversity and, in order to survive, had to make huge efforts. Without the inclination to convince themselves that a better day was coming, our ancestors could never have succeeded. In the face of continuing bad news, however, there is a tipping point -- where fear overcomes optimism. The problem is that when this tipping point is reached, it is not easily reversed.

Everyone knows that our economic system depends on a foundation of confidence, optimism, to sustain itself. When confidence is strong, the stock market goes up, and billions of dollars of value are created seemingly out of thin air; property values increase and owners have new wealth. But when confidence is shaken, the stock market slides and suddenly billions of dollars are missing. A lack of confidence, a sense of fear, has huge potential consequences.

FDR famously said that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. He was speaking of the debilitating fear that feeds upon itself and destroys everything in its path. But, not all fear is bad. Fear may serve the useful purpose to warn us, to guide us away from danger, to motivate us to make wise plans.

Under George W. Bush, our national debt has grown $3 trillion to a total of $9 trillion. At that rate, by the end of George W’s term, by conservative estimates, the debt will easily be $11 trillion. And all signs indicate that it will probably be more. An $11 trillion debt, at even a modest rate of interest, will absorb over $500 billion of tax revenues each year. That causes me to wonder: Where will the money for an increasingly needed social safety net come from? How much deprivation and disparity is possible before destructive social unrest develops? Will a decreasing sense of confidence, in time, accelerate to the point where it becomes destructive fear? Could there be a collapse of confidence leading to a 1930’s type of national economic disaster?

The foundation of our democracy relies on a sense of confidence, a sense of confidence built on the reality that in America we live in a fair society with democratically elected leaders who are responsive to the needs and values of the citizenry. The arrogance, carelessness, lies, and twisted values of George W. and his crowd, however, have caused realities that, I believe, are dangerously eroding the foundation of our democracy.

A disaster, an earthquake, known as George W. Bush has happened, and, now, all the signs point to the fact that a tsunami is headed our way. We cannot be sure what this tsunami will be like or what its outcome will be, but all signs point to tough times ahead. We are not prepared and it appears that the shock of it all could provoke a devastation of confidence that could put our economy and entire democracy in jeopardy. Stop me from going on. Tell me that I am not prescient.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Shake, Rattle, and Roll!


We're back in town after a quick trip to Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Florida, to visit our daughter and watch her perform. Here's a pic of her troupe on stage in their fifties revue at the amusement park's 750 seat theater. Great show!
Shake, Rattle, and Roll!


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Welcome to the Limb, Mike Bock!

The Limb is a little less lonely today: Mike Bock, a kindred spirit and friend since our college days, has agreed to be a regular guest writer. His first independent post here deals with his opinions about the need for character development in students, inspired by his reading of David McCullough's John Adams.

This is not Mike's first post here, though. Here are the other posts he has written that I have borrowed for the Limb, as well as a longish comment on one of my posts:

A Proposal or Two

A few weeks ago I wrote a letter to the editor of the Rome News-Tribune. It was in regard to the property that has recently been bulldozed at the former site of the Holiday Inn (later Ramada Inn) at the corner of our street and Turner-McCall Blvd. This pic shows the site and its view. The Oostanaula River and the Riverwalk are to the left. The utility poles are not quite so intrusive on the view from the site itself.



Letter to the Editor

A Proposal or Two

Some Rome restauranteur or developer is missing a great opportunity to open the signature Rome restaurant. Call it Top O’ the River, Clocktower Inn, Ridge Ferry Place, whatever. The beautiful view of downtown from a well-designed restaurant on the site of the old Ramada Inn would be a great enticement, with outstanding food, for Romans and visitors alike. The Clocktower, County Courthouse, Library, Church spires, river, and levee make a lovely landscape.

Please, developers, don’t waste this beautiful site on fast-food or office supplies or other cookie cutter franchises. This spot is made for something special. It is historic as well as beautiful. Chief John Ross had his home very near this spot of high ground in Cherokee days and a beautiful Victorian home stood here before and after Desoto was annexed into Rome. Thank goodness that ugly sixties hotel is gone. Let's replace it with something that enhances our city.

A several story hotel (with architecture to harmonize with other downtown buildings) with rooms designed to take in the view and a restaurant on top would be a good choice as well. It's close to downtown, the Braves stadium, Barron Stadium, the Forum, Ridge Ferry Park, the Tennis Center, the hospital complex, and many churches.

Now, to the four franchise restaurants going up across the Oostanaula at the old Chevy location: please give access to the riverwalk and take advantage of your river location. Don’t just turn your ugly dumpsters and loading docks to the river! Put a deck out back. Build steps down to the riverwalk. The rivers are why Rome is here. Use them. Promote them. Make them help your business.

And while we’re working at the site, city fathers, how about redoing the fill on the bank to raise the riverwalk -- it floods frequently at that spot -- and landscape the steep man-made slope. Give walkers and bikers access from the riverwalk to the Turner-McCall bridge.

Terrell Shaw

The Education Of John Adams

The Education Of John Adams

David McCullough’s book, John Adams, tells about the education of John Adams.

John Adams graduated from Harvard, received a law degree, acquired academic recognition, read Cicero and the classics, was immersed in life-long learning. What distinguished John Adams most, however, was not his learning accomplishments; what distinguished John Adams was his overall character, his: integrity, commitment to truth and justice, dedication to service, commitment to personal excellence, inner self-reflection, personal courage, etc. The education of John Adams involved the mastery of academics, but, the more important part of his education was the development and strengthening of his character.

The development and strengthening of character is a vital part of what it means to become a fully realized person. Character development is an important part of an effective education. But since character development is not something that evaluators of a school measure, character development is now effectively ignored by schools. Academic growth is what is emphasized. Evaluators periodically want to know: Has there been sufficient growth in the children's reading, writing and math progress? Has there been growth in the children’s test taking skills? The merit of a school is determined according to the findings of such evaluations. The importance of character development may be mentioned in school publications as a vague goal, but, practically, because character development is not part of school evaluations, schools ignore character development.

If a real goal of schools was to promote character growth in children, then schools would be evaluated not just on academic growth, but on character growth as well. Evaluators periodically would want to know the answers to such questions as: Has there been any positive growth in the children's integrity, commitment to truth? Any growth in the children's inclination to question authority, to think independently? Any growth in the children's commitment to personal excellence or inner self-reflection? And schools would be evaluated and ranked according to the evaluators’ findings of such questions.

The purpose for public schools has become lost.

The purpose for public schools that makes most sense to me is that public schools should provide an education to its citizens that will empower and encourage them to participate effectively in their democracy. The public good in public education of most importance, it seems to me, is the development of a citizenry with the personal qualities, with the character, needed to assure the preservation and growth of our democracy, the preservation of a government, "for the people, by the people."

Schools, generally, do not model for students what democracy should be, but, rather, immerse students into a benign or petty dictatorship -- an overall organizational structure that is the hallmark of most schools. Schools convince students, by much reinforcement over the years, that when one obeys and fawns over authority, one receives rewards and when one defies authority, one receives punishment. Structures of control that may seem appropriate to guide the behavior of 6 or 7 year olds, continue to be used by schools to control 16 or 17 year olds. Schools, through their practices, engage in enforcing immaturity within their students. Students are not encouraged to develop the character of John Adams, but, in fact, are often punished for displaying independent thinking that challenges authority or for showing a commitment to personal integrity. The idea that schools should prepare students for effective citizenry has become a forgotten idea.

Most of John Adams' early character development occurred outside of his formal schooling. McCullough shows that Adams’ parents played a big role in his development. One central quality that Adams continually credited to his father was his high standard for honesty, and, it is apparent that his parents' character proved to be an inspiration and model for Adams throughout his entire life.

The other huge early educational influence on John Adams, that impacted his character development, was simply his overall environment. By his report, he lived a wonderful childhood, surrounded by a supportive, vital community. Not only his immediate family, but, his whole community contributed to his happy development. "It takes a village," is a powerful concept, the application of which can positively be seen in Adams' early life.

If a childhood such as Adams enjoyed, with the influence of such positive parents and community, could be every child's birthright, then the matter of schools providing the education needed for effective citizenry would not be a concern. Students would acquire the tools for effective citizenry, like Adams, outside of their formal schooling. But, few children are so privileged as Adams was privileged. And the issue is not only money. Regardless that their personal comfort/affluence is probably much higher than what Adams experienced in his childhood, by the standard of Adams' childhood, most children today are deprived. Children today often lack the attention and care of wise, grounded parents; they lack the interactions of a vital community. Rather, children are immersed in a media culture and in media values; the TV often serves both as parents and community.

The deprivation of children that schools most note is the deprivation that will get the schools in most trouble in state evaluations. But, the most important deprivation of students is not their lack of a foundation in math or writing skills. The deprivation of children that is most important is their lack of good role models, their lack of the support of a vital community, their lack of practical and real experiences. It is these deprivations that most hinder the development of character in children. How schools can effectively compensate for these more important deprivations of children is a key question.

Schools make a mistake by not recognizing the importance of the developing and strengthening character within students. Character development is actually the cornerstone of education. Character development goes hand in hand with academic development. We cannot, try as we may, divide humans into distinct compartments. The early education of John Adams resulted in his becoming a man of great learning, and a man of great character. Learning helped improve and strengthen John Adams’ character, and a strengthened character helped Adams to be a better learner. This relation between learning and character seems a great principle that could be applied to much advantage in schools.

And so, how can character be developed in schools? Certainly not through dictatorial efforts nor through workbooks or classes. It seems to me that the question of how student character can be developed and strengthened in schools requires an answer, in fact, that goes beyond what is imaginable for schools as they are currently structured. But whatever the answer is, the first step is to acknowlege the importance of character development and to make a commitment to finding ways to make character development a central concern of schools. John Adams' biography reveals principles of character development. Principles endure. The challenge is to use principles to guide the design of new educational structures, new schools -- but that is a challenge for another day.

It is an interesting question: what would educational structures/schools look like that would implement and use the principles that were the basis for the education of John Adams?

Happy Birthday to Me!

My sister, The Median Sib, honored me with a post and pictures today. Thanks, Carol!

I also got a HBTY wish from my sister, Joan, at Daddy's Roses. Thanks, Joan!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Pandora - Ohio 2004 - Violence - Evil Mr. Rahman - Death in the Blogosphere

Happy Birthday to me. In honor of my birthday (I started my sixtieth year on Planet Earth at 20 minutes past midnight) I am giving myself license to plant my tongue firmly in cheek and have a little fun with my political foes here and there in this post.

  • Our President opened a Pandora's Box when he declared his policy of Pre-emptive War. Here is even more evidence of what the Bring-It-On arrogance of George W. Bush has brought us. Teddy Roosevelt's motto, "Speak softly and carry a big stick", evidently was lost on this guy. He loudly blusters and brags while he whittles our big stick down to a bunch of toothpicks. And the supposedly conservative Republican Congress? Their Rubber Stamps are ready. "Whadya need Mr. President? Another trillion? Sure, no problem. The kids can pay for it."

  • A columnist for the Miami Herald takes a peek at Ohio 2004. Turns out the great "Liberal Media" gave Bush another free ride there. (That "Liberal Media" is so doggone successful at hoodwinking the public, all three branches of government are now totally controled by, well, uh, conservative Republicans!)

  • The same guy writes a provocative post about all the violence:"theirs" and "ours". I'm not sure I'm ready to subscribe to his every word, but he reminds me of what bothers me so much about the gung-ho-for-the-Iraq-war blogs. These people say things like: The (a bleeping term for those who oppose the Iraq war) condemn (some apologetic term for the Abu Ghraib mistreatment of prisoners) but say nothing about the "hacking of heads" by "Islamofascists".
    The basic concept that such writers seem to totally miss is that the terrorists are doing what terrorists have always done. We expect terrorists to, well, terrorize. Excuse me if I expect American Presidents and American soldiers to live up to a higher standard, for heaven's sake. Surely, even the most radical writers on the far right wing realize that ALL loyal Americans despise terrorism and are repulsed and appalled by the age-old tactics of the bad guys. But the fact that bad guys are bad does not excuse abuse and torture by Americans. To point out the misdeeds of our President and his administration is not to excuse the inexcusable in others. The others are not representing my country: Bush and company are.
    Read a few right-wing blogs and you'll appreciate this quote: "As any propagandist knows, it's much easier to countenance violence and death delivered against a people once they have been dehumanized to mere slurs."
    Anyway, here's another editorial for you to consider.

  • And now the "democracy" we have set up in Afghanistan is ready to execute a terrible criminal, Abdur Rahman. Rahman converted to Christianity 16 years ago. The unrepentant ne'er-do-well refuses to renounce his Christian faith and return to the Islamic fold. Death is prescribed by Islamic law. Put up with that sort of thing and before long the guy might start doing even more evil, like drawing cartoons or something. We can expect the majority Shi-ites in Iraq to stand up for Islam in a similar manner should they take control by democratic vote or after a civil war in that country. I really think Bush was just about totally ignorant of what he was getting into. The poor guy thought "Mission Accomplished" two years ago, for heaven's sake! We've got to bring millions of people forward several centuries to have this mission accomplished! Or we could just wipe the Islamists out, maybe? A final solution, anyone?

  • And MyDD says the Right Wing Blogoshpere is dead! The blogs of the right that I have seen seem to be mainly about namecalling rather than real discussion. Does that mean they are dead?

    Right wing blog A: The Democrats and MSM are low-down (crude term for toilet paper).
    Comment from Blogrolling Right Wing Blog B: Man you are so right. The Democrats and MSM are Islamofascist Apologists AND (crude term for participants in incest).
    Comment from Blogrolling Right Wing Blog C: Well said. Astute observations, Blogs A and B. You should check out Right Wing Blog D. His erudite elucidations on all the Democratic (crude term for bodily waste) reinforce your conclusions irrefutably!
    Right wing blog A: Thanks, y'all. You're so kind. And great Americans. Let me tell you about my grandchildren...

    Dead? Nah.

Spring Has Sprung!

Another pic from our Sunday walkabout.




This reminds me of one of my favorite poems. A good one for procrastinators, I guess.

Loveliest of Trees

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my three score years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

-A.E. Housman

Daddy's Roses: Monday Memory

My sister Joan, a hero of mine, wrote yesterday of her memories of Kindergarten and Early Elementary in the little mill town where my family lived in the forties.
She talked of nap time and that reminded me of my shock on learning that my attitude toward sleep is not shared by all members of my species. Here's the comment I made to her post:

Naps! Cruel and unusual punishment!!

I used to do a little interest inventory with my new students each year. As part of it they would make a list of their favorite activities. I was shocked that first year to see that several kids listed sleeping! An "activity"??!!

It had never occurred to me that ANYONE would sleep except for cause. Sleep is what I have always done when I could be wakeful no longer! It has never been an activity for me, but, in fact, the antithesis of activity -- an actual loss of a fraction of my time for meaningful activity on earth.

I do not remember naptime at school but if my teachers enforced it, I'm sure I rebelled!



Check out my sister's interesting autobiography:
Daddy's Roses: Monday Memory

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Iraq Miscellany

Troops Think We Need to Leave Soon

According to the guy I once heard Rush Limbaugh describe as his favorite pollster, John Zogby, our troops are a lot less sure of the mission in Iraq than their Commander in Chief. Check out the story in Stars and Stripes.

It is not surprizing that the figures are being variously interpreted by inhabitants of the real world and those who live in Neoconland.

One of the most shocking details, to me, is that, according to the Zogby poll:


"... 85 percent believe a major reason they were sent into war was “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the Sept. 11 attacks.”
That this belief is held by 85% of our troops is illustrative of the brazen misinformation the Bush administration has encouraged.


Dissent: A Responsibility

And this about the right and responsibility to dissent from a veteran:
"...we want to talk specifically about President Bush's renewal of his stance on pre-emptive war, which is basically the same as his whole approach to governance: He wants to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it and he doesn't feel the need to answer to anyone for his actions."
Civil War

And today Alawi admits there is civil war in Iraq.

Vietnam redux?

Friday, March 17, 2006

Two Interesting Links

Sites That My Republican Friends
Should Probably Avoid


1 Red/Blue Maps of the US 2004-2006
That a majority of voters could be so blind as they were in November of 2004 was, as anyone who knows me realizes, very disheartening to me. Watch this little animation of the American map and be cheered.

2 Nothing is Sure But Debt and Taxes
"Between 1970 to 2001, the U.S. economy more than doubled in size. But working people didn’t see any of the benefits of this huge increase in wealth. Over the three decades leading up to 2000, the 90 percent of U.S. households on the bottom end of the income ladder saw no increase at all in income on average, after adjusting for inflation.
The top ten percent, on the other hand, nearly doubled their income on average over the 30 years. "

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Guest Post: Were the Quakers Right?

Weren’t The Quakers Right?

Note from the Limb: You are about to read a provocative post. My good friend, Mike Bock, has been carrying on an e-mail conversation with a friend about their reactions to David McCullough's biography of John Adams. This post was born of that conversation. As someone who has revered the founders of the American republic, it is difficult for me to even consider that Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin, et al, may have been mistaken and that world history since might have been just as free and more peaceful had the Quakers' pacifism prevailed in the 1770s. It is an interesting discussion though, and so, despite a little discomfort at the thought, I am pleased to give Mike this forum to explore his ideas. Whadya'll think?

Was the Revolutionary War justified? I read in David McCullough’s book on John Adams that the Quakers opposed the Revolutionary War, an opposition based upon the Quakers’ understanding of the principle of Christian pacifism. I must have previously heard that fact, but, before now, I’ve never really thought about the implications of the Quaker opposition to the Revolutionary War.

We are brainwashed from childhood, of course, to believe that the Revolutionary War was a war of virtue; by implication or by outright teaching the message about the beginnings of our country is that the Revolutionary War, by founding a Christian nation, was a war pleasing to God. But the Quakers say: No. The Quakers have always said: No to War. The history of man is that violence begets violence, war leads to more war. The American Revolution, in a very important way, served as a bad example to history. Violence -- in the name of liberty, equality, etc. -- via the American Revolution, was given legitimacy/moral approval and this approval has helped to spawn and to legitimize violence throughout the entire world, up to and including this time.

Didn’t the Quakers, in opposing the Revolutionary War, advocate a position more in keeping with the teachings of Christ than the position advocated by individuals such as Adams or Jefferson? It seems to me that the thesis could be developed that The Revolutionary War, a war that gained popular support via persuasive propaganda such as Common Sense, etc., and gained support via the advocacy of highly regarded thinkers such as John Adams, was, in fact, a war of choice. How could the act of choosing to pursue war, an unnecessary war, be defended as in keeping with the teachings of Christ? Of course, the key word is “unnecessary” and the point that war is unnecessary is never a point granted by the propagandists -- of the Revolutionary War or of any war. Rather, propagandists convince people of the urgency/need for war, because war is presented as demanded by circumstances, as impossible to avoid, etc. But as it turns out, and history shows, the Revolutionary War, in fact, was not necessary. The arc of history that produced a democratic Canada and Australia would also, in time, certainly have produced a democratic United States. And, it is interesting to consider, if the United States would have been created through nonviolence, and if the principles of nonviolence, early in our history, would have been instilled as part of our national character, how spectacularly improved would the world be today?

The fact that there were devout Christians -- Quakers -- who, in response to their Christianity, opposed the Revolutionary War is a fact that is often overlooked in our history textbooks. As a country, we want to believe that God sanctioned the Revolutionary War, and we want to believe that God sanctions our current war. Our textbooks, opinion pages and TV news/commentaries disseminate information that assists in persuading us of the belief that as a nation we are, “under God.” We have the picture of George Washington, at Valley Forge, praying over the falling snow, as part of our national mythology. And we connect that iconic image of Washington praying with the image of George W. Bush, looking pious, at a prayer breakfast, praying. As a country, we want to convince ourselves that God is on our side.

But, as I heard in a sermon once, the question we should ask is not if God is on our side, but, we should ask if we are on God’s side. What is interesting is that there are many people who identify themselves as Christians who reject the idea that one of God’s principles, as revealed by Christ, is the principle of pacifism. It is interesting that today many people who identify themselves as Christians claim that God’s principles actually sanction war and violence. Of course, throughout history, people who have identified themselves as Christians have also claimed that God’s principles have sanctioned such things as: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the burning of infidels, and the institution of slavery. So there is ample historical evidence that people who call themselves Christians have been spectacularly wrong in their understanding of what Christianity should be all about, wrong about what the message of Christ is all about, wrong about what God’s principles are. I am wondering if it is possible that we are entering an era when many Christians will experience a revelation that they are spectacularly wrong about the issues of peace and war and that this revelation will be the basis for a genuine Christian peace movement within our nation?

The Quakers, during the Revolutionary War, were persecuted for their conviction that pacifism is God’s principle. And the Quakers, regardless of persecution, stood by their principles. Shouldn’t we learn from the Quakers? Weren’t the Quakers right then? And, aren’t the Quakers right even now?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Degeneration of the Right

Many bloggers on the right have gone off the deep end condemning a young teacher who noticed huge differences in Bush and a certain mass murderer/dictator, but also some "...eerie similarities to the tone they both use...". I wish the fellow had avoided the incendiary comparison and used a more generic one. He presented the Fox "News" folks and the right wing blogs a way to cloud the issue. By an interesting coincidence Sandra Day O'Connor, this week, made a similar comparison about the right wing of the GOP but did it more gently. According to Justice O'Connor (criticizing the Republican attack on judicial independence) [See DailyKos]
"It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings."
This from Ronald Reagan's choice for the Supreme Court and one of the five who, to their historical shame, put Bush in the White House. This time she got it right.

Censure George W. Bush

The unprecedented power grab by President Bush, in blatently breaking the FISA law and lying about it, must be stopped by Congress. I challenge my "anything Bush wants in the (permanent) War Against Terrorism" friends to tell me where Senator Feingold is wrong. I don't see it. Either the law applies to all or it doesn't. If it doesn't apply to Bush, then Bush has succeeded where Bin Laden failed: He will have destroyed American liberty.

Remarks of Senator Russ Feingold
Introducing a Resolution to Censure
President George W. Bush


As Prepared

March 13, 2006

Mr. President, when the President of the United States breaks the law, he must be held accountable. That is why today I am introducing a resolution to censure President George W. Bush.

The President authorized an illegal program to spy on American citizens on American soil, and then misled Congress and the public about the existence and legality of that program. It is up to this body to reaffirm the rule of law by condemning the President’s actions.

All of us in this body took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and bear true allegiance to the same. Fulfilling that oath requires us to speak clearly and forcefully when the President violates the law. This resolution allows us to send a clear message that the President’s conduct was wrong.

And we must do that. The President’s actions demand a formal judgment from Congress.

At moments in our history like this, we are reminded why the founders balanced the powers of the different branches of government so carefully in the Constitution. At the very heart of our system of government lies the recognition that some leaders will do wrong, and that others in the government will then bear the responsibility to do right.

"This President has done wrong. This body can do right by condemning his conduct and showing the people of this nation that his actions will not be allowed to stand unchallenged."

This President has done wrong. This body can do right by condemning his conduct and showing the people of this nation that his actions will not be allowed to stand unchallenged.

To date, members of Congress have responded in very different ways to the President’s conduct. Some are responding by defending his conduct, ceding him the power he claims, and even seeking to grant him expanded statutory authorization powers to make his conduct legal. While we know he is breaking the law, we do not know the details of what the President has authorized or whether there is any need to change the law to allow it, yet some want to give him carte blanche to continue his illegal conduct. To approve the President’s actions now, without demanding a full inquiry into this program, a detailed explanation for why the President authorized it, and accountability for his illegal actions, would be irresponsible. It would be to abandon the duty of the legislative branch under our constitutional system of separation of powers while the President recklessly grabs for power and ignores the rule of law.

Others in Congress have taken important steps to check the President. Senator Specter has held hearings on the wiretapping program in the Judiciary Committee. He has even suggested that Congress may need to use the power of the purse in order to get some answers out of the Administration. And Senator Byrd has proposed that Congress establish an independent commission to investigate this program.

As we move forward, Congress will need to consider a range of possible actions, including investigations, independent commissions, legislation, or even impeachment. But, at a minimum, Congress should censure a president who has so plainly broken the law.

Our founders anticipated that these kinds of abuses would occur. Federalist Number 51 speaks of the Constitution’s system of checks and balances:

“It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

"...we are faced with an executive branch that places itself above the law. "

Mr. President, we are faced with an executive branch that places itself above the law. The founders understood that the branches must check each other to control abuses of government power. The president’s actions are such an abuse, Mr. President. His actions must be checked, and he should be censured.

This President exploited the climate of anxiety after September 11, 2001, both to push for overly intrusive powers in the Patriot Act, and to take us into a war in Iraq that has been a tragic diversion from the critical fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates. In both of those instances, however, Congress gave its approval to the President’s actions, however mistaken that approval may have been.

That was not the case with the illegal domestic wiretapping program authorized by the President shortly after September 11th. The President violated the law, ignored the Constitution and the other two branches of government, and disregarded the rights and freedoms upon which our country was founded. No one questions whether the government should wiretap suspected terrorists. Of course we should, and we can under current law. If there were a demonstrated need to change that law, Congress could consider that step. But instead the President is refusing to follow that law while offering the flimsiest of arguments to justify his misconduct. He must be held accountable for his actions.

The facts are straightforward: Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as “FISA”, nearly 30 years ago to ensure that as we wiretap suspected terrorists and spies, we also protect innocent Americans from unjustified government intrusion. FISA makes it a crime to wiretap Americans on U.S. soil without the requisite warrants, and the President has ordered warrantless wiretaps of Americans on U.S. soil. The President has broken that law, and that alone is unacceptable. But the President did much more than that.

"Not only did the President break the law, he also actively misled Congress and the American people about his actions..."

Not only did the President break the law, he also actively misled Congress and the American people about his actions, and then, when the program was made public, about the legality of the NSA program.

He has fundamentally violated the trust of the American people.

The President’s own words show just how seriously he has violated that trust.

We now know that the NSA wiretapping program began not long after September 11th. Before the existence of this program was revealed, the President went out of his way in several speeches to assure the public that the government was getting court orders to wiretap Americans in the United States – something that he now admits was not the case.

On April 20, 2004, for example, the President told an audience in Buffalo that: “Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires – a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way.”

In fact, a lot had changed, but the President wasn’t being upfront with the American people.

Just months later, on July 14, 2004, in my own state of Wisconsin, the President said that: “Any action that takes place by law enforcement requires a court order. In other words, the government can't move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order.”

Last summer, on June 9, 2005, the President spoke in Columbus, Ohio, and again insisted that his administration was abiding by the laws governing wiretaps. “Law enforcement officers need a federal judge's permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist's phone, a federal judge's permission to track his calls, or a federal judge's permission to search his property. Officers must meet strict standards to use any of these tools. And these standards are fully consistent with the Constitution of the U.S.”

In all of these cases, the President knew he wasn’t telling the complete story. But engaged in tough political battle during the presidential campaign, and later over Patriot Act reauthorization, he wanted to convince the public that a systems of checks and balances was in place to protect innocent people from government snooping. He knew when he gave those reassurances that he had authorized the NSA to bypass the very system of checks and balances that he was using as a shield against criticisms of the Patriot Act and his Administration’s performance.

This conduct is unacceptable. The President had a duty to play it straight with the American people. But for political purposes, he ignored that duty.

After a New York Times story exposed the NSA program in December of last year, the White House launched an intensive effort to mislead the American people yet again. No one would come to testify before Congress until February, but the President’s surrogates held press conferences and made speeches to try to convince the public that he had acted lawfully.

"...the President himself participated in this disinformation campaign."

Most troubling of all, the President himself participated in this disinformation campaign. In the State of the Union address, he implied that the program was necessary because otherwise the government would be unable to wiretap terrorists at all. That is simply untrue. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. You don’t need a warrant to wiretap terrorists overseas – period. You do need a warrant to wiretap Americans on American soil and Congress passed FISA specifically to lay out the rules for these types of domestic wiretaps.

FISA created a secret court, made up of judges who develop national security expertise, to issue warrants for surveillance of suspected terrorists and spies. These are the judges from whom the Bush Administration has obtained thousands of warrants since 9/11. They are the judges who review applications for business records orders and wiretapping authority under the Patriot Act. The Administration has almost never had a warrant request rejected by those judges. It has used the FISA Court thousands of times, but at the same time it asserts that FISA is an “old law” or “out of date” in this age of terrorism and can’t be complied with. Clearly, the Administration can and does comply with it – except when it doesn’t. Then it just arbitrarily decides to go around these judges, and around the law.

The Administration has said that it ignored FISA because it takes too long to get a warrant under that law. But we know that in an emergency, where the Attorney General believes that surveillance must begin before a court order can be obtained, FISA permits the wiretap to be executed immediately as long as the government goes to the court within 72 hours. The Attorney General has complained that the emergency provision does not give him enough flexibility, he has complained that getting a FISA application together or getting the necessary approvals takes too long. But the problems he has cited are bureaucratic barriers that the executive branch put in place, and could remove if it wanted.

FISA also permits the Attorney General to authorize unlimited warrantless electronic surveillance in the United States during the 15 days following a declaration of war, to allow time to consider any amendments to FISA required by a wartime emergency. That is the time period that Congress specified. Yet the President thinks that he can do this indefinitely.

The President has argued that Congress gave him authority to wiretap Americans on U.S. soil without a warrant when it passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force after September 11, 2001. Mr. President, that is ridiculous. Members of Congress did not pass this resolution to give the President blanket authority to order warrantless wiretaps. We all know that. Anyone in this body who would tell you otherwise either wasn’t here at the time or isn’t telling the truth. We authorized the President to use military force in Afghanistan, a necessary and justified response to September 11. We did not authorize him to wiretap American citizens on American soil without going through the process that was set up nearly three decades ago precisely to facilitate the domestic surveillance of terrorists – with the approval of a judge. That is why both Republicans and Democrats have questioned this theory.

"It is ridiculous to think that Congress would have negotiated and enacted all the changes to FISA in the Patriot Act if it thought it had just authorized the President to ignore FISA in the AUMF."

This particular claim is further undermined by congressional approval of the Patriot Act just a few weeks after we passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force. The Patriot Act made it easier for law enforcement to conduct surveillance on suspected terrorists and spies, while maintaining FISA’s baseline requirement of judicial approval for wiretaps of Americans in the U.S. It is ridiculous to think that Congress would have negotiated and enacted all the changes to FISA in the Patriot Act if it thought it had just authorized the President to ignore FISA in the AUMF.

In addition, in the intelligence authorization bill passed in December 2001, we extended the emergency authority in FISA, at the Administration’s request, from 24 to 72 hours. Why do that if the President has the power to ignore FISA? That makes no sense at all.

The President has also said that his inherent executive power gives him the power to approve this program. But here the President is acting in direct violation of a criminal statute. That means his power is, as Justice Jackson said in the steel seizure cases half a century ago, “at its lowest ebb.” A letter from a group of law professors and former executive branch officials points out that “every time the Supreme Court has confronted a statute limiting the Commander-in-Chief’s authority, it has upheld the statute.” The Senate reports issued when FISA was enacted confirm the understanding that FISA overrode any pre-existing inherent authority of the President. As the 1978 Senate Judiciary Committee report stated, FISA “recognizes no inherent power of the president in this area.” And “Congress has declared that this statute, not any claimed presidential power, controls.” Contrary to what the President told the country in the State of the Union, no court has ever approved warrantless surveillance in violation of FISA.

The President’s claims of inherent executive authority, and his assertions that the courts have approved this type of activity, are baseless.

But it is one thing to make a legal argument that has no real support in the law. It is much worse to do what the President has done, which is to make misleading statements about what prior Presidents have done and what courts have approved, to try to make the public believe his legal arguments are much stronger than they are.

For example, in the State of the Union, the President argued that federal courts have approved the use of presidential authority that he was invoking. I asked the Attorney General about this when he came before the Judiciary Committee, and he could point me to no court – not the Supreme Court or any other court – that has considered whether, after FISA was enacted, the President nonetheless had the authority to bypass it and authorize warrantless wiretaps. Not one court. The Administration’s effort to find support for what it has done in snippets of other court decisions would be laughable if this issue were not so serious.

In the same speech, the President referred to other Presidents in American history who cited executive authority to order warrantless surveillance. But of course, those past presidents – like Wilson and Roosevelt – were acting before the Supreme Court decided in 1967 that our communications are protected by the Fourth Amendment, and before Congress decided in 1978 that the executive branch could no longer unilaterally decide which Americans to wiretap. I asked the Attorney General about this issue when he testified before the Judiciary Committee. And neither he nor anyone in the Administration has been able to come up with a single prior example of wiretapping inside the United States since 1978 that was conducted outside FISA’s authorization.

So the President’s arguments in the State of the Union were baseless, and it is unacceptable that the President of the United States would so obviously mislead the Congress and American public.

The President also has argued that periodic internal executive branch review provides an adequate check on the program. He has even characterized this periodic review as a safeguard for civil liberties. But we don’t know what this check involves. And we do know that Congress explicitly rejected this idea of unilateral executive decision-making in this area when it passed FISA.

Finally, the President has tried to claim that informing a handful of congressional leaders, the so-called Gang of Eight, somehow excuses breaking the law. Of course, several of these members said they weren’t given the full story. And all of them were prohibited from discussing what they were told. So the fact that they were informed under these extraordinary circumstances does not constitute congressional oversight, and it most certainly does not constitute congressional approval of the program.

Indeed, it doesn’t even comply with the National Security Act, which requires the entire memberships of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee to be “fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States.” Nor does the latest agreement to allow a seven-member subcommittee to review the program comply with the law. Granting a minority of the committee access to information is inadequate and still does not comply with the law requiring that the full committee be kept fully informed.

In addition, we now know that some of the Gang of Eight expressed concern about the program. The Administration ignored their protests. One of the eight members of Congress who has been briefed about the program, Congresswoman Jane Harman, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, has said she sees no reason why the Administration cannot accomplish its goals within the law as currently written.

None of the President’s arguments explains or excuses his conduct, or the NSA’s domestic spying program. Not one. It is hard to believe that the President has the audacity to claim that they do.

"He essentially argues that the American people should trust him simply because of the office he holds."

And perhaps that is what is most troubling here, Mr. President. Even more troubling than the arguments the President has made is what he relies on to make them convincing – the credibility of the office of the President itself. He essentially argues that the American people should trust him simply because of the office he holds.

But Presidents don’t serve our country by just asking for trust, they must earn that trust, and they must tell the truth.

This President hides behind flawed legal arguments, and even behind the office he holds, but he cannot hide from what he has created: nothing short of a constitutional crisis. The President has violated the law, and Congress must respond. Congress must investigate and demand answers. Congress should also determine whether current law is inadequate and address that deficiency if it is demonstrated. But before doing so, Congress should ensure that there is accountability for authorizing illegal conduct.

A formal censure by Congress is an appropriate and responsible first step to assure the public that when the President thinks he can violate the law without consequences, Congress has the will to hold him accountable. If Congress does not reaffirm the rule of law, we will create another failure of leadership, and deal another blow to the public’s trust.

"We in the Congress bear the responsibility to check a President who has violated the law, who continues to violate the law, and who has not been held accountable for his actions."

The President’s wrongdoing demands a response. And not just a response that prevents wrongdoing in the future, but a response that passes judgment on what has happened. We in the Congress bear the responsibility to check a President who has violated the law, who continues to violate the law, and who has not been held accountable for his actions.

Passing a resolution to censure the President is a way to hold this President accountable. A resolution of censure is a time-honored means for the Congress to express the most serious disapproval possible, short of impeachment, of the Executive’s conduct. It is different than passing a law to make clear that certain conduct is impermissible or to cut off funding for certain activities. Both of those alternatives are ways for Congress to affect future action. But when the President acts illegally, he should be formally rebuked. He should be censured.

The founders anticipated abuses of executive power by creating a balance of powers in the Constitution. Supporting and defending the Constitution, as we have taken an oath to do, require us to preserve that balance, and to have the will to act. We must meet a serious transgression by the President with a serious response. We must work, as the founders urged us in Federalist Number 51, to control the abuses of government.

The Constitution looks to the Congress to right the balance of power. The American people look to us to take action, to speak out, with one clear voice, against wrongdoing by the President of the United States. In our system of government, no one, not even the President, is above the law.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the resolution be printed in the Record following my remarks. I yield the floor.

"In our system of government, no one, not even the President, is above the law."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Don Baird, my cuz.



Don Baird

During my teen years, pressed for conversation on a date, I would tune in 750 on the old radio dial and see if I could catch my first cousin Don broadcasting the news on WSB. Clear channel WSB can be heard just about anywhere. That was good for a little conversation about my famous cousin. What a great radio voice! I didn't really know Don that well at the time. He was older and we only saw each other at weddings, funerals, and other reunions at Mama Baird's house.

In recent years I've been able to know this guy better. Since he is an only child and both his parents are gone, my mother and I and my siblings have managed to talk him into joining our branch of the family tree more often, even joining us for some vacation time.

Don is smart, wise, gentle, unassuming, creative, and full of fascinating stories about the great interviews he has done with folks like Peter, Paul, and Mary or Lester Maddox or lots of other celebrities and politicians. He's had a spate of health problems lately. I hope he will soon feel like joining our family blog obsession and tell a few of those stories.

I ran across this website of WSB Radio history with a nice little article about Don.