Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Democracy Now: Alito hearings; Carol Leif, BuzzFlash, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Tom Hayden, Eleanor Smeal

NSA Extensively Spied on Baltimore Peace Group
This news on the Bush administration's domestic spy program -- the website has obtained government documents showing the National Security Agency spied on the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore, a Quaker-linked peace group. The documents indicate the group was extensively monitored, with detailed records of their travel movements, driving routes -- and even the helium balloons they used in a protest. On one day, the group's movements were reported every 15 minutes. And at a protest during "Keep Space for Peace Week", the NSA planned to conduct ariel surveillance and have a Weapons of Mass Destruction Rapid Response Team nearby.
NSA Denies Whistleblower's Demand To Testify Before Congress
Meanwhile, ABC News is reporting the National Security Agency has denied the request of whistleblower Russell Tice to testify before Congress. Tice, a former intelligence agent at the NSA and Defense Intelligence Agency who has spoken out against the domestic spy program, was told he is not free to testify because staff members on Capitol Hill do not have high enough security clearance to hear the secrets he has to tell. Tice first spoke out on record on Democracy Now last week.
House Democrats To Hold Informal Hearing on Spy Program
And House Democrats have scheduled an informal hearing on the NSA spy program. Michigan Congressmember John Conyers announced Tuesday the hearing will be held on January 20th. Conyers, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said House Republicans had ignored calls for a formal hearing.
Harvard's Tribe: Bush Administration's NSA Legal Argument "Poppycock"
In making the announcement, Conyers also released a letter from prominent Harvard legal scholar Laurence Tribe. Commenting on the Bush administration's argument its program was legally sound, Tribe writes: "The technical legal term for that, I believe, is poppycock."
The above four items are from today's Democracy Now! Headlines and were selected by George, Rob, Kara and Justin. Democracy Now! ("always informing you," as Marcia says):

Headlines for January 11, 2006

- Alito Hearings' 2nd Day Focus on Abortion, Presidential Power
- UN Admits July Cite Soleil Raid Killed Innocent Civilians
- Court Reinstates $54M Verdict Against Ex-Salvadoran Generals
- NSA Denies Whistleblower Demand To Testify Before Congress
- IRS Withheld Warranted Tax Refunds To Poor Workers
- UK Commander: US Military Practices "Institutional Racism" in Iraq
- Public Tribunal Delivers War Crimes Indictments to White House

Los Titulares de Hoy: Democracy Now!'s daily news summary translated into Spanish

Senators Question Alito on Past Statements and Rulings on Abortion, Presidential Power and the Role of the Judiciary

On Capitol Hill, Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito is entering his third day of confirmation hearings today before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Tuesday, Alito was repeatedly questioned about his past statements and rulings on abortion, presidential power and the role of the judiciary.
We play excerpts of the hearings including the questioning of Alito by Senators Arlen Specter, Diane Feinstein and Jeff Sessions on abortion and Roe v. Wade and Sen. Patrick Leahy on spying and torture and Alito's membership in a discriminatory Princeton group. [includes rush transcript - partial]

Jumping into highlights (with a long winded commentary by me in the middle of the highlights), Maria notes Carol Leif's latest "Supreme Court Judgmental" (A New Leif, Ms. Magazine):

The hearings started Monday. I was completely prepared to write all about it. I even TiVo'd C-SPAN which is not natural for me or for TiVo. I just sat there and stared. Nothing. Now, it's day two and still nothing.
It's not that there's nothing to talk about. Abortion. Secret wire-taps. Civil rights. Filibuster. Nuclear option. Ted Kennedy rules. Plenty of topics.
What is blocking me? Then, I remembered that Halloween day that Bush nominated Judge Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O'Connor and I knew. I had only one thing on my mind then, and it seems to be my only thought now. Maybe if I just say it, then I can finally focus.
I don't like the guy.
Which is more than reason enough. If you're listening to Pacifica to hear the hearings, good for you. Just doing that is more than some in the so-called opposition appear to have done this week. Dick Durbin spoke this morning and bailed. When the need to see "your heart" was stressed, I had to bail myself. At least Durbin showed strength.
"Does it really feel 'over?'" asked Cindy in an e-mail this morning (after reading this morning's gina & krista roundrobin -- my comments in the roundtable). Yes, it really does. When Durbin started bringing up Bruce Springsteen and the "crushing hand of fate," it did seem like there was cause for hope.
But, and I said this once in the roundtable, I'm not watching [onTV] or listening [on radio]. I have no idea how it plays out. What I notice is that Diane Feinstein wants to be "likeable" in the hearings, that Joe Biden needs to get a trim in back (truly, his staff has failed him by not scheduling a trip to the barber before these hearings started), that you come to count on the ones you usually count on -- Ted Kennedy, Russ Feingold and Patrick Leahy. I'll even say that Joe Biden showed a desire to come alive in spots.
Kyle e-mailed saying Mitch Jeserich offered in commentary (yesterday) that (I'm summarizing Kyle's summary -- twice removed) when Diane Feinstein finished her questioning, he had the sense that it was over. I'd say that was a good call not just because I personally feel that way but because that was a sentiment many were sharing. I haven't seen that in the Times but it's not surprising that Pacifica would provide you the commentary or any other that doesn't make it into the paper of record. That's one of many reasons that Pacifica is so important to the country.
Susan wondered if, considering the way things are going, I'm not thinking "I should have stayed home." No. However this goes down, I want to witness it and say I did my best to say "NO!"
Pacifica is providing coverage. And I'm providing that link several times in this entry because a few members, reading this morning's round-robin, appear to understand my comments to be, "Good for NPR for not airing the hearings!"
That wasn't what I was attempting to say. My point was that Alito wasn't Roberts. (And Judge has made that point in his coverage for the round-robin as did ___ who came in for last night's roundtable.) Roberts rubbed elbows and more. He was one of the inner circle on the DC scene.
Roberts would have had to have been caught frenching a Grand Dragon of the KKK in Dupont Circle, in broad daylight with many witnesses, for the fawning press to have turned on him. Alito didn't have that level of insider status. Some in the mainstream press were willing to go after something if the Democrats presented their case. They really haven't. There have been exceptions. (And I'd even include some of Biden's moments on the list.)
But the press is said to be on full snow job mode now (and the Times bears that out this morning). If so, that's due to the fact that there was no blood in the water. If the Dems had gotten one good "wound," the sharks would have come swarming.
But they're not going to do a thing without the Dems. (Hold on for the second part.) And that has to do with more then the usual nonsense (which is why I brought ____ into the roundtable last night to explain that point of view). What is the point of angering a Supreme Court Judge? Especially in light of the attacks on the press already? If the Dems appear to be throwing in the towel, then why should the press stand up?
That's a point of view from the press. Now let's deal with the Dems. They're playing the Dukakis strategy all over again. "I'll make a point and then expect the press to flesh it out and run with it!" Doesn't happen that way. (We'll have at least one former Congress member in tonight's roundtable so if I'm doing the Senate's position a disservice, that can be straightened out tonight.)
But I'm not impressed by the behavior during the hearings. The Senate does have a sense of decorum to uphold. But that doesn't excuse turning a job interview into a Sunday greet the new neighbor brunch. (Which Mike went into in the roundtable but a link will be provided to Mike's comment on that online.)
Before I walked out this morning, Alito was being asked about an issue that, as the Senator presented the question, "will come up" -- will be heard before the Court and?
Alito weighed in. No arm twisting. Why? It wasn't about abortion. It was about public displays of worship.
Why aren't the Dems pointing that out? Maybe they will. Maybe they will make a point of that. But as it stands, Alito speaks in code (and uses Plessy v. Ferguson and "equal protection to all") to signal to the base that he will vote to chip away and overturn Roe. But he gets a pass on it. Not just in terms of being confronted on that and him being allowed not to answer -- he's not even being asked about it. On public displays of worship, an issue that will come before the Court, Alito feels free to weigh in.
So his so-called "Ginsburg defense" is applied selectively. That should be an issue emphasized. But the reality is nothing is being emphasized.
Maybe the press coverage is grabbing a soundbyte? I don't know. Outside of the New York Times the only thing I've caught is Democracy Now! on TV. DN! isn't mainstream media (it's brave independent media) so I have no idea how it's playing out in the media.
But I'm not impressed with what's gone in the hearings. Could they turn it around? Yes. But the Dems will have to do it. While Alito's present. The press (mainstream) has little interest in covering the witnesses. If there's a dynamo among the witnesses, someone needs to start leaking. As it is, when Alito's done being questioned, many of the coverage will disappear.
Can they (Dems) still turn it around? I hope so. Because, not endorsing this just noting the rumors as I said in the roundtable last night, the rumbles are that Bully Boy thinks he may get a third nomination. (Let's hope he's impeached before that can happen.) If Kennedy is the one they think he'll get to replace, as some of the rumors indicate, the Court will not be the same.
Diane Feinstein can say, "I questioned Alito! I questioned Roberts!" She did. She asked them silly questions for the most part. Then, with serious questions, she took the statements at face value. It was embarrassing in the Roberts hearings and it's embarrassing in these.
Her "I take my responsibility seriously" as the only woman on the commitee remarks may be sincere. But sincere or not, her questioning hasn't been helpful. Dick Durbin did a far better job probing the issues of Roe than did Feinstein.
Pacifica is covering the hearings. You should listen to them (unless the whole thing upsets you too much). NPR should be covering them live. My comment last night re: NPR was that possibly when the indications of no-filibuster were made, they saw no point in covering it. That wasn't a defense of them. They should be covering it. It sounds like Pacifica is doing a wonderful job (no surprise there). But this is historic and NPR should be covering it live. That's what public radio should do. You put your middle of the road, tired, gas bag based shows on ice and cover the hearings live. [**"tired, gas bag based shows, refers to NPR's lineup.] Pacifica is covering the hearings. If I were home, I'd be listening to Pacifica.
But the point I was making re: NPR is that they aren't public radio, they are the mainstream press. And the press lost a great deal of interest in covering topics the minute the noises were made (by some Dems) that a filibuster wasn't likely. The impression was, for the mainstream press, that Dems weren't going to fight this. When that impression took hold, the prospect of the press pursuing leads (and some were being pursued) got tossed aside.
I'm not saying that's right. (In fact, I said in the round-robin that I thought that was lazy and irresponsible.)
I think there's value in following the hearings. Short of the Dems getting their act together, I don't think the left will be pleased with the results of the hearings. (We're told repeatedly that things are "about" to change -- in the hearings. We keep waiting to reach that "about.") But that doesn't change that the hearings are significant. Pacifica's broadcasting the hearings live and providing commentaries. They're taking it seriously.
We started with Carol Leif's comments and they really say it all. She had a visceral reaction. Many people did (I did) to Alito's nomination. So the lack of strong questioning has been distressing.
But we can learn from it. One thing we can do is start demanding that another woman be added to the judicial committee. All this time after Anita Hill faced an all male panel, to have but one female on the committee just isn't good enough. That should be true whether you think Diane Feinstein is doing a good job or not.
And we can see that once again Ted Kennedy is a fighter. Patrick Leahy fought, Russ Feingold fought. Dick Durbin fought. Even Joe Biden has had some moments.
Hopefully, there will be more. But you did see who would fight and you saw who would make nice. (And your evaluations of who fought and who didn't may differ from mine.) So there is reason to follow the hearings and, if you do, please do so by listening to Pacifica which is public radio, not corporate sponsored radio pretending to be public. Supposedly, things are "about" to heat up. That's been said repeatedly but it could happen. You never know what will happen with live coverage so listen in via
On the subject of Alito, Billie e-mailed to note BuzzFlash's "'The Big Show' -- Confirming Alito Moves Us one Step Closer to Erasing the American Revolution:"

A Washington Post headline on January 9th blared, "Democrats Ready to Go After Alito". But, it's probably too late, as usual. And this time, the Democrats are signing their own death warrant -- and that of Congress -- if Alito gets seated.
As usual, the hearing will all just be a farce, a sparring match like pissing into the wind. These hearings almost always are, as the Madison Capitol Times pointed out: "When the Senate Judiciary Committee begins questioning Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito this week, Americans will again be reminded of the limitations of the confirmation process for presidential picks to serve on the federal bench. Alito will lie to the committee, intentionally and repeatedly."
While the Democratic senators once again surrender to the concept that stage-crafted hearings filled with lies and evasions by the Republican Supreme Court nominees matter, the GOP has been running ads, holding rallies, and grassroots lobbying like a well-oiled machine. The Republican junta isn't waiting to make up its mind.
Dina notes Katrina vanden Heuvel's "Frank Wilkinson's Legacy" (Editor's Cut, The Nation):
As many obituaries noted, as a result of a shameful Supreme Court decision, Wilkinson was one of the last two people jailed for refusing to tell the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) whether he was a Communist. As a result, in 1961 he spent nine months in federal prison in Lewisburg, PA. After prison, Wilkinson spent more than a decade on the road, working with the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation, determined to shut down HUAC. When HUAC was finally abolished in 1975, Wilkinson's crusading work was widely cited as a key reason for its demise.
But there was another important part of Wilkinson's legacy--his pioneering work as an activist for affordable public housing--which received too little attention in the national obituaries. Of special significance was his role in the controversial battle of Chez Ravine--a tightly-knit Los Angeles neighborhood--which became a legend of urban planning, inspiring a recent album by guitarist Ry Cooder, a play by the Culture Clash Theater group, documentaries and many books and academic articles.
In this spirit, longtime Nationcontributor Peter Dreier and his colleague Jan Breidenbach offer a fascinating tribute, with a sharp focus on the other legacy of Frank Wilkinson, which they've kindly allowed me to publish in this space.

Lastly, Mia notes Tom Hayden's "Pacifying Iraq: Insurgent Scenarios" (The Nation via Common Dreams):

Iraq's armed national resistance is willing to support an honorable American troop withdrawal and recognize "the interests of the US as a superpower," according to a Baghdad source with intimate knowledge of the insurgents. He was interviewed this week in Amman, where he had driven twenty hours from Baghdad for conversations.
I interviewed this source, who insisted on anonymity, to explore the political aims of the resistance movement against the US occupation. Is theirs only a decentralized military strategy, or is there a shared set of demands that might lead to peace? The source, who is known and respected by several American media outlets, comes from one of Baghdad's once-mixed neighborhoods of Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and Christians. In his mid-40s, he ekes out a living as a guide and translator for visiting reporters and occasional peace activists. The source spoke with urgency about the need for greater American understanding of the Iraqi resistance, so far faceless in the West.
While recent surveys show 80 percent of Iraqis supporting a US military withdrawal, opposition voices are rarely ever reported in American public discourse. Security conditions do not permit the insurgents to establish an overt political arm, like Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, American officials celebrate the large Iraqi voter turnout in the December 15 elections while not acknowledging that most of those same voters favor a US withdrawal. Instead of heeding the Iraqi majority, Newsweek reported that American military officials accused the insurgents of "cynically using the election process" in a new strategy they called"talk and fight."
The United States can be accused of the same designs, continuing its air war and offensive ground operations while attempting to co-opt local insurgents into an alliance with the "coalition" (a k a "occupation" forces against the jihadists linked with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The "sticking point" in this US gambit is the insurgents' demand for a timetable for US troop withdrawal. If the United States secretly decides to withdraw, which is a distinctly remote scenario, an "invitation" might be arranged with a red carpet and flowers. Otherwise, the insurgency will continue to develop in response to the occupation.
Last highlight, Nicole notes Eleanor Smeal's "Alito Hearings Day Two" (The Smeal Report, Ms. Magazine):
The Computer Glitch that Wasn't
Senator Russ Feingold's (D-WI) questioning of Judge Alito on his failure to recuse himself from cases involving Vanguard, despite his promises to the Senate, was another particularly exciting exchange in the hearing.
Before the hearings, Alito had explained his failure to recuse himself in Vanguard cases as a "computer glitch," blaming it on a problem in the computerized screening process used to prevent judges from being assigned to cases in which they may have an interest.
But documents just obtained by the Judiciary Committee make clear that Alito failed to place Vanguard on the recusal list he submitted annually to the court during various years. Feingold asked Alito, "But you don't think it was a computer glitch anymore, do you?" Alito acknowledged, "It was not a computer glitch..." and went on to suggest that he was misled by a clerk. But Feingold was unsatisfied, asking Alito, "Why not just admit you made a mistake, agree to recuse and move on? Why didn't you just do that when the issue was raised here, instead of coming up with these different explanations that, in some cases, I think, have become unconvincing?"
This is an issue that does not seem to be going away for Alito. Indeed, it shouldn't, since his credibility is at stake.
Perhaps the most remarkable statement of the day, and the one that is most telling about what is on the minds of many on Capitol Hill, was Senator Lindsay Graham's (R-SC) off-the-cuff statement made immediately following Alito's Vanguard exchange with Feingold.
Graham stated, "That was an interesting exchange ... I hope you'll understand if any of us come before a court and we can't remember Abramoff, you will tend to believe us!"

Please note that Eleanor is giving an indepth rundown. The excerpt above is one section only. The Smeal Report is following the hearings closely and providing strong commentary. Especially if you find the hearings too depressing to read about in the newspapers (as a number of you have expressed in e-mails) consider checking out The Smeal Report.

Lastly, ___, who is kind enough to type up my dictated entry, notes again regrets for getting a link wrong yesterday. The correct link is in this morning's first entry. And I've made mistakes in links myself. But ___ wanted to note it, so it's noted.
Only thought it was lastly. Just reminded that these have been hitting the site repeatedly. There's no control over when these hit. It's almost eleven (est) as I finish dictating this. When it hits (and how often) no one knows. Place your bets, place your bets.

The e-mail address for this site currently is -- but Yahoo says they've fixed (Members, the private account is up and running.)

[Note: Post corrected to be clear that "gas bags" referred to NPR. Sorry for the lack of clarity and my thanks for pointing it out to Nathan.]