Monday, May 29, 2006

Reagan's Navy secretary takes on new fight with Senate bid

Here's another great story that's worth a read:

Reagan's Navy secretary takes on new fight with Senate bid

AP Political Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) _ Thirty-seven summers ago, in the swelter of An Hua Basin, Marine Lt. James H. Webb saw more bloodshed and death than most people see in a lifetime.

Since his decorated tenure in Vietnam, Webb has added hitches as President Reagan's Navy secretary, an Emmy-winning journalist and author of best-selling, military-suspense novels to his made-for-the-movies biography.

Why, then, suddenly run this year as a Democrat to unseat Sen. George Allen, a Republican former governor whom Webb endorsed just six years ago?

``When I look at where this administration has taken its own party, I cannot help but think about the pendulum of history,'' Webb said. ``The pendulum has swung, I think, as far as it can swing given the principles this party had once espoused.''

Webb says Allen is part of an arrogant Republican majority in Washington bent on repeating in Iraq the blunders that killed so many of his buddies in Vietnam a generation ago.

He accuses President Bush, whom he backed in 2000, of betraying conservative fiscal governance by pushing the federal debt toward $9 trillion. He claims the GOP, his former party, and Allen in particular are Bush's eager accomplices.

``We really need to get back to a time when the members of Congress will stand up to an administration that is abusing its constitutional privileges,'' Webb said.

Allen campaign spokesman Dick Wadhams dismissed Webb's criticism with a chuckle, a rhetorical question his only reply: ``So is Jim Webb still a Democrat today, or did he switch back over to being a Republican?''

Just three months into his first run for elected office, Webb is still learning how to be a candidate. He can seem ill at ease in a crowd; anger sometimes flashes through.

After the taping of a contentious television talk show in Norfolk with Webb and his rival for the Democratic nod, former technology industry lobbyist Harris Miller, reporters asked each if he would support the other as the nominee. The primary is June 13.

As Webb began his response, Miller interrupted. Webb glared at him.

``Harris, if you'll shut your mouth, I'll answer the question,'' Webb snapped. ``If you win, I will support you.''

Webb, 60, is powerfully built and square-jawed with a close crop of thick auburn hair, a mischievous grin and intense gray eyes. In a deliberate counterpoint to Allen's trademark cowboy boots, Webb always wears buff-colored desert combat boots like those his son will wear as a Marine rifleman in Iraq this fall.

If he defeats Miller, Webb brings a credible challenge on the deadly Iraq conflict into the fall campaign against Allen, whose 2008 presidential ambitions could be ruined by a poor showing this November.

In Vietnam, Webb commanded a Marine rifle company in 1969 in some of the war's bloodiest fighting. He was awarded two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars, the Navy Cross and the Silver Star.

``Thirty-seven years ago this week, over a two-week period of time we were in about 12 battles and lost a lot of guys,'' said Michael ``Mac'' McGarvey, a radio operator in Webb's unit who lost his right arm to enemy fire. He's now Webb's wheel man, driving his camouflage-painted Jeep sport utility vehicle.

In 1984, Reagan made Webb an assistant secretary of defense. The Naval Academy graduate became secretary of the Navy three years later, but quit in 1988 rather than sign off on a budget-cutting move to downsize the Navy fleet.

Webb's experiences informed six novels, including ``Rules of Engagement,'' which was adapted into a film starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson. In 2004, his first nonfiction book, ``Born Fighting,'' detailed the history of America's Scots-Irish, including his own soldier-ancestors who fought on both sides in the Civil War.

Allen has no military service, but he's prepared to take on Webb's record if necessary. A top Allen adviser, Christopher J. LaCivita, was the mastermind behind Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group of Vietnam veterans who made unsubstantiated allegations against Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's claims of wartime heroism.

Webb entered the race late _ in February _ betting that his portfolio, his shiny military record and his populist views would bring middle-class conservatives back to the Democratic Party.

It's comparable to the path popular former Gov. Mark Warner charted in 2001. The Democrat sponsored a NASCAR car, supported gun owners and promised jobs for downtrodden mill, mining and tobacco towns to win areas Allen and Bush dominated in 2000. Warner is exploring a 2008 presidential bid and the architect of his gubernatorial triumph, Democratic strategist Steve Jarding, now runs Webb's campaign.

Webb's first challenge, however, is to win over more Democratic insiders and activists in the primary than Miller, 54, a 30-year party loyalist with deep ties to many key state Democratic leaders. Webb clocks his time as a Democrat in months.

Black Democratic legislators endorsed Miller, citing columns Webb wrote criticizing affirmative action. Retired Gen. Claudia Kennedy, the Army's first three-star female general, endorsed Miller because of Webb's long-ago writings and comments questioning women's fitness for combat.

But mostly, Miller assails Webb's Republican past, his endorsement of Allen over Democratic Sen. Chuck Robb and his criticisms of President Clinton.

``What didn't Jim Webb like about the Clinton presidency, the peace or the prosperity?'' Miller asks at almost every Democratic gathering.

Miller appeared to be closing in on the nomination until Webb got some outside help on May 11.

Five senior Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, had just endorsed Webb. Eleven of Robb's former top aides forgave Webb for backing Allen and endorsed Webb. Warner hosted a $125,000 fundraiser for Webb.

Warner has also raised money for Miller and is neutral in the primary, but his appearance with Webb was a critical signal to Virginia Democrats that Webb is one of them.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Circumventing the Constitution?

The following is a column written by a retired district court judge. I wish that he had cited his sources better, however, if his claims are true, than this is extraordinary.
Bush governs in dictator style
Robert L. Black Jr.

The investigation by Congress of the surveillance of domestic telephone and emails calls is an absolute necessity, because the greatest threat at this time is not so much to our "security" as to the preservation of our constitutional system of government.

The underlying question is whether we will discard the checks and balances of the Constitution in favor of some sort of mythical guarantee of our security.

President Bush's approval of domestic surveillance is just the tip of the iceberg. The Boston Globe on April 30 (and the New York Times on May 12) reported that President Bush claims authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office.

He has used statements made in writing at the time he signed the laws (known as "signing statements") to state his position that he need not enforce specific provisions of the act. His assertion is that he thinks they are unconstitutional because they encroach on his inherent powers as president. In brief, his position is that he alone can decide what is constitutional.

An outstanding example is the one he issued after the torture law was enacted placing clear restrictions on the use of torture. He had agreed to the wording of the law during the legislative process. In the signing statement he basically repudiated the whole act by claiming he could decide when the law would be enforced and when it would not be enforced.

The Constitution says that the president must enforce congressional enactments without exception.

Bush has implicitly defied the Supreme Court's ruling that Congress could legally give certain executive branch officials (such as, a special prosecutor) the power to act independently of the president or the executive branch. He has said that the Constitution gives him control over all executive officials regardless of what Congress enacts.

The leadership style is hierarchical, with the top guy able to make any decision he pleases basically without any approval from any quarter. It is the style of a dictator. It is 100 percent subversive of our Constitutional framework.

Are we read to discard our Constitution because we are afraid of Osama bin Laden?

Robert L. Black Jr. is retired judge for the Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Scroll Editorial

The following is an editorial that I wrote for Scroll.
If you are deluded enough to believe the government can be trusted with your privacy then you are the same type of person who believes the government should be given more money, that government is a better parent than you are and that, overall, government does a better job at running your life than you do.

USA Today revealed a story on Thursday, May 11, 2006 that claimed the National Security Agency had been building a database of phone call records made by tens of millions of Americans since as early as September 2001. Sources, quoted by USA Today, said, “It’s the largest database ever assembled in the world,” and its goal is “to create a database of every call ever made” within the nation’s borders, this person added. (Refer to front page for more info.)

Kent Marlor, of the political science department said, “It ([NSA] spying on Americans) is repugnant to the Constitution. The events of 9/11 don’t justify the actions of the NSA one whit. It doesn’t even really surprise me and I don’t agree with it. We have these amendments in the Constitution to protect us from government.”

According to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.”

Not to mention that the 1974 Foreign Intelligence Surveillence Act requires that there be court authorization for just this type of thing. As far as we know, in this instance, there has been no court approval, and there have been no warrants issued.

This NSA program violates American principle. Have you ever had someone read your journal? Have you ever had someone ea vesdrop on an intimate conversation? Privacy wouldn’t matter if everyone held respect for each other, but that’s not reality. Being able to reserve thoughts and actions to oneself is inherent in the American doctrine and spirit.

Many argue, “If you have nothing to be guilty of then you should have nothing to hide.” That is naive and insulting. It is nobody’s business how much money you make, who you voted for or who you worship. And it’s nobody’s business who you call on the phone. Do any of these activities warrant guilt? No, of course not. They are guarded and personal. They are private.

According to the Constitution there must be “probable cause” in order to do a search or seizure of someone’s property. Is the White House trying to tell us they have probable cause to believe “tens of millions” of Americans are somehow linked to terrorist groups?

Even more insulting to Americans is a quote by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who said, “To suggest that there’s some sort of cover-up is not correct, and the motivation of those who would suggest otherwise is obvious. We need to be conscious of what’s at stake: the security and safety of the American people. That should not fall prey to petty, partisan politics. One of the reasons the administration doesn’t tell more members of Congress about such programs is because Congress leaks.”

Is Sen. Cornyn suggesting that Congress is not trustworthy? If the White House and the NSA are not accountable to Congress or the courts, then why do we bother having a system that checks and balances each other? Should we just throw the Bill of Rights out the window?

Our most basic rights are slowly being undermined under a subtle, crafty and fear-mongering message of security.

Is security important? Yes, but at what expense? The essence of humanity? If you believe security is more important than preserving the divine laws of nature then you should take a closer look at the former Soviet Union. During that time Russians, in the name of “security,” had no privacy, government had all power and if there was any accusation made toward you about loyalty, you could be carried off in the middle of the night to prison.

If the security of Americans is under such great danger that it warrants wiretapping and phone call collection, then perhaps it would be quicker if we would just resurrect Sen. Joseph McCarthy and ask him to haul people in for questioning.

This should be alarming to all Americans regardless of political party. President Bush said, “The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval.” And, he said, “The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities.”

Don’t take his word for it, don’t take the government’s word for it, don’t take your grandmother’s word for it.

Readers should write in to their representatives at all levels and urge them to hold investigations and hearings to be sure the rights of Americans are being protected.

We should commend civil servants like the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who called for more congressional oversight to monitor the NSA program; and said he would call the phone companies that handed over the phone records to appear before a panel “to find out exactly what is going on.”

It is every loyal citizen’s responsibility to be skeptical of government and every citizen should request the government to show how the collection of private phone records is not an infringement on privacy.