Sunday, July 04, 2004

July 4, 2004 Not Feeling Groovy .... Maureen Dowd

July 4, 2004
Not Feeling Groovy

ASHINGTON — I didn't appreciate the 60's in high school.

I spurned the unisex style of dirty jeans. I was more under the influence of nuns than bongs. And I was frightened of the cost of free love.

But as other decades passed — the bland, polyester 70's; the greedy, padded-shoulder 80's; the materialistic, designer 90's; the bullying, Botox 00's — I've become nostalgic for the idealistic passion of the 60's.

It's amazing, given how far we've come from the spirit of the 60's — with Bob Dylan hawking Victoria's Secret and Hillary Clinton a hawk — how obsessed conservatives still are with pulverizing that decade.

Their disgust with the 60's spurs oxymoronic — and moronic — behavior, as anti-big-government types conjure up audacious social engineering schemes to turn back the clock.

The day after his re-election to the House in 1994, the future speaker, Newt Gingrich, jubilantly told me he intended to bury any remnants of the "Great Society, counterculture, McGovernik" legacy represented by the morally lax Clintons and return America to a more black-and-white view of right and wrong.

He said America had slid into "a situation-ethics morality, in which your immediate concern about your personal needs outweighs any obligation to others."

A decade later, after it came out that Mr. Gingrich had his own affair with a young Washington political aide, and he divorced and embarked on his third marriage, he would be a top adviser to Donald Rumsfeld when Rummy and Dick Cheney decided they wanted to bring back a black-and-white view of right and wrong. The old cold warriors thought they could improve the national character by invading Iraq — in that way banishing post-Vietnam ambivalence about using force and toughening up what they saw as the Clintonesque 60's mentality — a weak, pinprick-bombing, if-it-feels-good-do-it attitude. Their new motto was: If it makes someone else feel bad, do it.

W., who had tuned out during the 60's, preferring frat parties to war moratoriums and civil rights marches, and George Jones to "psychedelic" Beatles albums, was on board with his regents' retro concerns, like Star Wars and Saddam, and outdated cold-war assumptions, like the idea that terrorists could thrive only if sponsored by a state.

In his book tour, Bill Clinton has been defending the 60's, noting that the polarization of American politics began with the civil rights, women's rights, gay rights and abortion rights struggles of the 60's and the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. "If you look back on the 60's and on balance, you think there was more good than harm, then you're probably a Democrat," he told a Chicago audience. "If you think there was more harm than good, you're probably a Republican."

Mr. Clinton told another audience that Republicans had had success portraying Democrats as "weak elitists who couldn't be trusted to defend their country, couldn't be trusted with tax money, didn't believe in work, wanted to give all the money to poor people and people of color."

He said the "antigovernment, values crowd" wanted to make sure "the right people were in power."

Once they returned to power, the Bush II team, dripping with contempt for Bill Clinton and oozing with "we know best" cockiness, thought they could use the sacking of Saddam to change the way Americans saw themselves and the way America was seen in the world.

Their swaggering determination to expunge the ghosts of Vietnam and embark on a post-cold-war triumphalism has backfired, leaving the military depleted and drawn into a de facto draft, and once more leaving America bogged down halfway around the world in a hostile nation.

The Bushes and Republicans recoiled at Mr. Clinton's moral relativism about Monica, but this administration indulged in a far more dangerous relativism when it misled the American public about Iraq's W.M.D., and links between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

Instead of Americans' changing their view of themselves, many have changed their view of Mr. Bush — fearing, with the sanctioning of pre-emptive invasions, torture and restricting civil liberties, he has gone too far in distorting the principles the country was founded on.

The president did end up changing America's image in the world. Just not for the better.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

About Independence NYTIMES EDITORIAL

About Independence

Published: July 4, 2004


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Justice Department

Federal Bureau of Investigation



eople too often get the impression that the only people who use the nation's civil liberties protections are lawbreakers who were not quite guilty of the exact felony they were charged with. Perhaps we should thank the Bush administration for providing so many situations that demonstrate how an unfettered law enforcement system, even one pursuing worthy ends, can destroy the lives of the innocent out of hubris or carelessness.

There was, for instance, Purna Raj Bajracharya, who was videotaping the sights of New York City for his family back in Nepal when he inadvertently included an office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was taken into custody, where officials found he had overstayed his tourist visa, a violation punishable by deportation. Instead, Mr. Bajracharya wound up in solitary confinement in a federal detention center for three months, weeping constantly, in a 6-by-9 cell where the lights were never turned off. As a recent article by Nina Bernstein in The Times recounted, Mr. Bajracharya, who speaks little English, might have been in there much longer if an F.B.I. agent had not finally taken it upon himself to summon legal help.

Mr. Bajracharya ran afoul of a Justice Department ruling after the 2001 terrorist attacks that ordered immigration judges to hold secret hearings in closed courtrooms for immigration cases of "special interest." The subjects of these hearings could be kept in custody until the F.B.I. made sure they were not terrorists. That rule might have seemed prudent after the horror of 9/11. But since it is almost always impossible to prove a negative, any decision to let a person once suspected of terrorism free constitutes at least a political risk. If officials have no particular prod for action, they will generally prefer to play it safe and do nothing. The unfortunate Nepalese was finally released only because of James Wynne, the F.B.I. agent who originally sent him to detention. Mr. Wynne's investigation quickly cleared Mr. Bajracharya of suspicion, but no one approved the paperwork necessary to get him out of prison. Eventually, Mr. Wynne called Legal Aid, which otherwise would have had no way of knowing he was even in custody.

When law enforcement officials make mistakes, there is an all-too-human temptation to press on rather than admit an error. Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer in Oregon, was arrested in connection with the bombing of commuter trains in Madrid, even though he had never been to Spain. Spanish authorities had taken a fingerprint from a plastic bag discovered at the scene and F.B.I. officials thought it matched Mr. Mayfield's prints, which were among the many from discharged soldiers in the enormous federal database.

The American investigators must have felt they hit pay dirt when they discovered that Mr. Mayfield was a convert to Islam, that his wife had been born in Egypt and that he had once represented a terrorism defendant in a child custody case. The fact that there was no indication he had been out of the country in a decade did not sway them. Neither did the fact that Spanish authorities were telling them that the fingerprints did not actually match. Mr. Mayfield was held for two weeks, even though the only other connections between him and terrorism were things like the fact, as the F.B.I. pointed out, that his law firm advertised in a "Muslim yellow page directory" whose publisher had once had a business relationship with Osama bin Laden's former personal secretary.

When the Spaniards linked the fingerprint to an Algerian man in May, Mr. Mayfield's case was dismissed and the F.B.I. did apologize. But the ordeal could have dragged on much longer if the investigation had not involved another nation, whose police were not invested in the idea that the Oregon lawyer was the culprit. And it could have been endless if Mr. Mayfield had been an undocumented worker being held in post-9/11 secrecy, or if he had been picked up in Afghanistan as a suspected Taliban fighter and held incommunicado at Guantánamo.

For more than two years now, about 600 men have been kept in American custody in Cuba, and the odds are that some — perhaps most — were merely hapless Afghan foot soldiers or bystanders swept up in the confusion of the American invasion. But it took the Supreme Court to tell the Bush administration they could not be kept there forever without giving them a chance to contest their imprisonment.

Anyone who needs another demonstration of how difficult it is for law enforcement authorities to acknowledge error can always look to the case of Capt. James Yee. A Muslim convert, Captain Yee was a chaplain at Guantánamo until he was taken into custody on suspicion of espionage. He was held in solitary confinement for nearly three months, during which time authorities realized that the case against him was nonexistent. Rather than simply let him go, they charged him with mishandling classified material. The charges seemed to have much less to do with security concerns than official face-saving. And to repay Captain Yee for its self-inflicted embarrassment, the military went at great lengths in court to prove he was having an affair with a female officer. While that had nothing to do with security either, it did humiliate the defendant in public, as well as his wife and child, who were present at the trial.

Virtually every time the Bush administration feels cornered, it falls back on the argument that the president and his officials are honorable men and women. This is an invitation to turn what should be a debate about policy into a referendum on the hearts of the people making it. But this nation was organized under a rule of law, not a dictatorship of the virtuous. The founding fathers wrote the Bill of Rights specifically because they did not believe that honorable men always do the right thing.

Editorial...When Irish Eyes Stop Smiling's Times

When Irish Eyes Stop Smiling

Published: July 4, 2004


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Summit Conferences



he planners of President Bush's recent European summit trip may have envisioned a pleasant inning of softball questions when they penciled in a brief interview with RTE, the state television of Ireland, first stop on his tour. What they got was the intrepid Carole Coleman, RTE's Washington correspondent, firing follow-up questions about death and destruction in Iraq, even as Mr. Bush protested being cut off from fully answering. "You ask the questions and I'll answer them," Mr. Bush finally told Ms. Coleman, a veteran correspondent who served up her next question as he complained.

The White House later protested to the Irish Embassy, but her employers gave Ms. Coleman a well-done, and so do we. The colloquy, as the Irish say, was a sight for sore eyes — an American president who seldom holds a White House news conference unexpectedly subjected to some muscular European perspective. "Do you not see the world is a more dangerous place?" Ms. Coleman asked, her tone more curious than deferential.

Mr. Bush gave as good as he got, once his Irish was up. But Ms. Coleman remained resolute. It may have cost her a follow-up interview with Laura Bush. But the griping and debate about the interview was a sad reminder to Americans that the White House seldom welcomes robust questioning, especially when it is most needed.

Barbara Ehrenreich Today

July 4, 2004
Their George and Ours

hen they first heard the Declaration of Independence in July of 1776, New Yorkers were so electrified that they toppled a statue of King George III and had it melted down to make 42,000 bullets for the war. Two hundred twenty-eight years later, you can still get a rush from those opening paragraphs. "We hold these truths to be self-evident." The audacity!

Read a little further to those parts of the declaration we seldom venture into after ninth-grade civics class, and you may feel something other than admiration: an icy chill of recognition. The bulk of the declaration is devoted to a list of charges against George III, several of which bear an eerie relevance to our own time.

George III is accused, for example, of "depriving us in many cases of the benefits of Trial by Jury." Our own George II has imprisoned two U.S. citizens — Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi — since 2002, without benefit of trials, legal counsel or any opportunity to challenge the evidence against them. Even die-hard Tories Scalia and Rehnquist recently judged such executive hauteur intolerable.

It would be silly, of course, to overstate the parallels between 1776 and 2004. The signers of the declaration were colonial subjects of a man they had come to see as a foreign king. One of their major grievances had to do with the tax burden imposed on them to support the king's wars. In contrast, our taxes have been reduced — especially for those who need the money least — and the huge costs of war sloughed off to our children and grandchildren. Nor would it be tactful to press the analogy between our George II and their George III, of whom the British historian John Richard Green wrote: "He had a smaller mind than any English king before him save James II."

But the parallels are there, and undeniable. "He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power," the declaration said of George III, and today the military is indulgently allowed to investigate its own crimes in Iraq. George III "obstructed the Administration of Justice." Our George II has sought to evade judicial review by hiding detainees away in Guantánamo, and has steadfastly resisted the use of the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows non-U.S. citizens to bring charges of human rights violations to U.S. courts.

The signers further indicted their erstwhile monarch for "taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments." The administration has been trying its best to establish a modern equivalent to the divine right of kings, with legal memorandums asserting that George II's "inherent" powers allow him to ignore federal laws prohibiting torture and war crimes.

Then there is the declaration's boldest and most sweeping indictment of all, condemning George III for "transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation." Translate "mercenaries" into contract workers and proxy armies (remember the bloodthirsty, misogynist Northern Alliance?), and translate that last long phrase into Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib.

But it is the final sentence of the declaration that deserves the closest study: "And for the support of this Declaration . . . we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." Today, those who believe that the war on terror requires the sacrifice of our liberties like to argue that "the Constitution is not a suicide pact." In a sense, however, the Declaration of Independence was precisely that.

By signing Jefferson's text, the signers of the declaration were putting their lives on the line. England was then the world's greatest military power, against which a bunch of provincial farmers had little chance of prevailing. Benjamin Franklin wasn't kidding around with his quip about hanging together or hanging separately. If the rebel American militias were beaten on the battlefield, their ringleaders could expect to be hanged as traitors.

They signed anyway, thereby stating to the world that there is something worth more than life, and that is liberty. Thanks to their courage, we do not have to risk death to preserve the liberties they bequeathed us. All we have to do is vote.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

Frank Rich Returns With Guns Blazing

July 4, 2004
Sex, Lies and No Chalabi

O sooner did the epic Ronald Reagan funeral finally sputter out, leaving about as much residual trace on the national memory as the last "Matrix" sequel, than it was Bill Clinton's turn for the saturation resurrection tour. Like its immediate predecessor, the Clinton mediathon quickly proved too much of a muchness.

For me, toxic shock started to set in before "My Life" officially went on sale. When Mr. Clinton and Dan Rather jointly donned rustic wear for an Arkansas summit on "60 Minutes," they seemed as authentic as Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie slumming in red-state America on the Fox reality show "The Simple Life 2." On publication day 36 hours later, Mr. Clinton did "Oprah," this time in an income-appropriate power suit, set off by a natty pink tie that once again matched his interviewer's ensemble. The hour began with two separate standing ovations — one each for the host and the author. It concluded with her giving him two thumbs up. In between, the mutually assured narcissism never quit. The closest the conversation got to testy was when Oprah asked why her status as a White House visitor did not propel her onto any of the book's 957 pages. The author blamed his editor — a vast Alfred A. Knopf conspiracy.

As with the Reagan farewell, pundits obsessively ask of the Clinton rollout: how will it affect the election? This is a recipe for infinite bloviation, since there is no answer. Voting day is four long months away. The more realistic question is what the re-emergence of these past presidents tells us about the country that will make that choice. The comeback kid's current comeback, even more dramatically than the weeklong siege of Reagan redux, gives us a snapshot of an America eager to wallow in any past, even the silt of Whitewater, to escape the world we live in now. It's a mood that feels less like the sunny nostalgia we imbibe on the Fourth of July than high anxiety. Better a clear-cut evil empire than an axis of evil whose members can't always be distinguished from our "allies." Better lying under oath about oral sex than dissembling with impunity about gathering "mushroom clouds" to justify the wholesale shipping of American troops into a shooting gallery.

This isn't to say that the spirit of Kenneth Starr has been exorcised from public life. But it's now mutated into a parody of itself, a reliable form of national comic relief just when we need it. Even as Americans gorge on porn, Washington's Keystone sex Kops remain on the march. On June 22, the same day that "My Life" hit the shelves with its promise of a fresh slice of Monica, the Senate voted almost unanimously, in a rare bipartisan gesture, to increase by more than $240,000 the penalty on broadcasters who trade in "indecency." Like an outrageous coincidence in a bedroom farce, the day of this historic vote was also the one on which Vice President Cheney, visiting the Senate floor for a photo session, used a four-letter word to tell a Democratic Senator, Patrick Leahy, what he could do to himself.

Mr. Cheney didn't seem to realize he had chosen the very word that had helped spur the Congressional smut crackdown in the first place — the one Bono had used at the Golden Globes last year. Has the vice president no sense of indecency? Had C-Span only caught his transgression on camera, we might have seen Brian Lamb placed under house arrest and fined on the spot. Later Mr. Cheney said he "felt better after I had done it," and of all commentators, only Jon Stewart had a theory as to why. The vice president's demand that Senator Leahy commit an act of auto-eroticism, he reasoned, may be a signal that the Republicans are belatedly endorsing the gay-friendly ethos of the Clinton administration. "I think it's them opening up their hearts to a different lifestyle," Mr. Stewart said to Larry King.

In its account of the Cheney incident, The Washington Post ran the expletive verbatim — another throwback to the Clinton era. It was the first time the paper had printed this epithet since publishing the unexpurgated Starr Report in 1998. The White House didn't seem to mind. Though Andrew Card, the president's chief of staff, condemned John Kerry for using this same word in a Rolling Stone interview in December — "I'm very disappointed that he would use that kind of language," the sorrowful Mr. Card had said — this time the transgression was given a pass. We're all moral relativists now.

Surely the moral clarity promised by Mr. Clinton's successors is long gone. Much as Democrats helped push for the television V-chip while looking the other way at their president's private life, so the party of Kenneth Starr now tosses worthless family-friendly initiatives to religious conservatives while countenancing Clinton-style behavior among its own if holding on to power is at stake. You could see this dynamic in action, conveniently enough, during the same week of the "My Life" publication. President Bush was in the swing state of Ohio promoting a "healthy marriage" program to a cheering crowd just as fellow Republicans were rallying around a rumored swing voter of another sort, Jack Ryan, the party's scandal-beset senatorial candidate in Illinois.

For those who missed this delightful bit of hard-core politics, here are the good parts: unsealed court documents from Mr. Ryan's custody battle with his former wife, the TV starlet Jeri Ryan ("Star Trek: Voyager"), included accusations that he had tried to coerce her into joining him in public sex at a New York club equipped with "cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling." Mr. Ryan, whose denomination of religiosity extends to opposing legal abortion and gay civil rights, defended himself, saying, "There's no breaking of the Ten Commandments anywhere." On The Chicago Sun-Times's Web site, coverage of this scandal carried banners touting Mr. Clinton's "My Life" as a "related advertising link."

George F. Will, who wrote a column last fall extolling Mr. Ryan for his daily attendance at mass and an overall beneficence that makes "the rest of us seem like moral slackers," did not raise his voice in condemnation now. Nor did any major Republican leader, including Mr. Cheney, who had just appeared at a Ryan fund-raiser. "Jack Ryan, unlike Bill Clinton, did not commit adultery and did not lie," was how the columnist Robert Novak stood up for his man, sounding very much like Arnold Schwarzenegger's conservative apologists of last summer. Mr. Ryan, who had been regularly praised by Mr. Will and other admirers for being "Hollywood handsome," dropped out of the race anyway last week but only because he lacked Mr. Schwarzenegger's big-screen bravura (and poll numbers) to tough it out.

Mr. Ryan's demise was the cue for another sex sleuth minted in the Clinton years, Matt Drudge, to seek tit for tat by trying to gin up a new Clinton-style scandal about a Democrat. A banner story on his site, unsullied by any evidence, suggested that "media outlets" might soon go to court to unseal John Kerry's divorce records just as Mr. Ryan's had been. Even if this titillating possibility hadn't been posted just as an American marine was taken hostage in Iraq, it's hard to imagine it creating the stir in 2004 it would have six years ago. An earlier attempt by Drudge to pin an intern on Mr. Kerry had also flopped, despite the efforts of the former Bush speechwriter David Frum to keep the rumor alive on The National Review's Web site until it was proved false.

Such prurient fun and games, Washington style, seem like innocent escapism post-9/11. Not even Mr. Clinton's renewed omnipresence can help us revive the apocalyptic hysteria that attended the Lewinsky revelations. History is supposed to play out first as tragedy, then as farce. But this time you have to wonder if the farce, though once taken as tragedy, came first. Mr. Clinton's claim that he had "never had sexual relations with that woman" just doesn't seem as compelling as Mr. Bush's replay of the same script last month when disowning his administration's soured affair with Ahmad Chalabi. Asked if Mr. Chalabi had fed us some of the false intelligence on weapons of mass destruction that took us to war in Iraq, the president said he had never "had any extensive conversations" with that man and knew him from greeting him on a rope line (more shades of Monica!). To buy that, you have to believe that Mr. Chalabi's appearance with Laura Bush as a guest of honor at January's State of the Union is as irrelevant to this president's assertion of innocence as the stained dress was to his predecessor's.

Two days after Mr. Clinton's appearance on "Oprah," Mr. Bush aped him again — becoming the first sitting president to be questioned by prosecutors at the White House since Mr. Starr was in his Whitewater heyday. Ah, Whitewater! I wonder if any of its sleazy particulars are as vivid in the public mind as the alleged crime that led the new special prosecutor to question Mr. Bush 10 days ago: the leaking of the name of an undercover C.I.A. officer (to the ubiquitous Mr. Novak) by an administration official as payback for the agent's husband's criticism of Mr. Bush. Somehow wartime scandals that threaten national security, putting American lives in jeopardy, trump those of money and real estate just as they do sex.

Many of Mr. Clinton's old antagonists, as we're learning since "My Life" was published, are starting to realize exactly that. "The Monica Lewinsky stuff now really seems so last century," said the conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on Fox as book buyers lined up for Mr. Clinton. "I mean, it just seems so old and tired and nothing new." Thus the new tactic is to update the brief to include 9/11. When Mr. Clinton appeared on "60 Minutes," the same anti-Clinton group that led the Whitewater charge a decade ago took out ads implying that it's entirely the former president's fault that al Qaeda wasn't stopped.

Actually, there's more than enough blame to go around — Osama bin Laden has now gotten away during two presidencies. How the current president used semantic tricks to conflate Saddam with bin Laden, allowing him to escape yet again, is something we'd rather not think about just now. No doubt the Clinton revival will be as short-lived as Reagan's. But for the moment it takes us back to that halcyon time when we could despise a president for falsifying the meaning of a word as free of terror as "is."

Copyright 2004