Friday, July 07, 2006

Larry King Fiddles in Lovefest with the President While the Country Burns: Some REAL QUESTIONS Journalists Should Be Asking

As many commentators have noted, this country is facing a perfect storm of mounting crises of national and global significance. Yet members of the Press, like Larry King, who have rare opportunities to seriously interview or question the President, continue to fiddle with the President and members of Congress, and to offer us lovefests rather than serious interviews, while the country burns (perhaps this was a condition of permitting Larry to do the interview: Did you have to sign a prior restraint agreement, Larry, promising to ask only lovefest questions? If not, all the more reason you should be ashamed of yourself for not fulfilling your obligations as a journalist to your fellow citizens--)

We don't need to wait for terrorists to attack to have a crisis or disaster of national proportions, as Katrina proved. And this disaster, which is already here, is growing worse every day, as the President, Congress, and the national Press seem to do little more than help each other to avoid addressing the real issues inflicting pain and suffering on the lives of American citizens every day: inadequate health care, poverty, lack of effective and adequate disaster relief aid, global warming, non-existent energy policy....

There is a growing constitutional crisis over the Executive Administration's deliberate defiance of Congressionally-mandated laws like FISA, as well as multiple international crises (the worsening wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the missile crisis in N. Korea), and growing domestic crises related to rising poverty rates, terrible health care, a non-existent energy policy, and global warming.

Meanwhile, the President and Congress are fiddling while the country is burning (in some places literally: witness the many fires burning in the West, which a recent scientific study has attributed to global warming)-- the President and Congress would rather spend tax-payer money advocating flag-burning amendments and anti-gay constitutional initiatives and discriminatory legislation, than address the real life-or-death crises facing the citizens of this country.

And what is the Press doing, when it has a chance to ask the President direct questions? Larry King's birthday lovefest with the President yesterday still seems to be all too typical of the way the people of the Press (& especially those in Washington who are privileged with the power and access to challenge political leaders to get off their butts and do something real) are continually failing to fulfill their responsibility to US citizens.

Larry King had a whole hour with the President in the White House yesterday, and yet not one tough question was asked. The whole interview amounted to little more than a publicity event for the President. Thank you, Larry King, for helping the President once again to avoid addressing any serious questions. Once again I naively hoped that at least one solid and real question would be asked of the President, but alas--how foolish I was to hope....

I once believed the members of the National Press were supposed to be concerned about more than simply providing politicians free opportunities to bloviate and obscure all that they are not doing to address this country's pressing problems. But except for the rare instances when a newspaper like the New York Times actually has the courage to challenge the status quo, the national Press seems to be failing to ask the hard questions of our political leaders that need to be asked, if our democratic system of government is to be preserved in this century.

So for all journalists who might have an opportunity to ask the President or others in the Administration a real question or two about what is really happening in this country, here are a few sample questions you might ask, to begin to put some real pressure on politicians for real answers:

(For background reading on basis for some of these questions, check out two great articles by New Yorker investigative reporter Jane Mayer:

THE HIDDEN POWER: The legal mind behind the White House’s war on terror

THE MEMO: How an internal effort to ban the abuse and torture of detainees was thwarted


Real Questions for the President:

Mr. President, in a recent profile of the Vice-President's Chief of Staff David Addington for the New Yorker (by Jane Mayer), Addington is said to have asserted that he and Dick Cheney were interested in "merging the VP's office with the President's office into a single Exec. Office." Any comment?

In accepting the Office of President of the United States, you swore to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States"

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution reads:
"The Congress shall have power to …provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; [The explicit stated powers of Congress include]:
"To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court;
"To declare war, …and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
"To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces"--

Do you believe that during time of war the President has the authority to ignore any of these congressional powers in the name of national security?

Your administration obviously believes in a strong and robust executive authority in relation to Congress. Do you believe that your authority as commander in chief during time of war extends to ignoring or circumventing Congressional authority to oversee and limit the power of the president in accord with Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, or to set aside congressional statutes prohibiting torture, secret detention, and warrantless surveillance, as in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act?

Example: The US War Crimes Act passed into law by Congress, forbids the violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions, which bars cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, as well as outrages against human dignity. By not accepting the relevance of Common Article 3 in your conduct of the war on terror, and the establishment of detention centers at Guantanamo and elsewhere, are you not ignoring or contravening laws established by Congress?

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has stated that a state of war does not give any President a blank check to ignore constitutional limitations on presidential power. Do you disagree with Justice O'Connor?


Do you believe that in the name of national security you have the authority to ignore or defy congressional oversight laws such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or to set aside congressional statutes prohibiting torture, secret detention, and warrantless surveillance?


If the American people, through a majority of their elected representatives in Congress, pass a law that says the President cannot do such and such a thing, as happened after Watergate in response to Nixon's abuse of executive powers when Congress enacted the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] law to protect civil liberties and keep future Presidents from abusing their authority-- do you believe the President has the right to ignore or defy that Congressional legislation?


The famous presidential historian Arthur Schlesinger has stated that this administration has turned historical aberrations of executive overreach, such as Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus rights during the Civil War, into a regular policy of government? Any response?


Your administration's interpretation of law has been challenged on several major issues, including your conduct of surveillance in seeming defiance of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and your appointment of military commissions, along with your very liberal use of signing statements (over 750 so far)—

This has suggested to some that the policy strategies being employed by your administration amount not only to defying Constitutional law, which gives Congress significant responsibilities of oversight, but to setting your office in defiance of basic constitutional doctrine of checks and balances. Any comment?

On Signing Statements:

The American Bar Association has recently started an investigation into your use of signing statements as a potentially unconstitutional method for simply ignoring the laws passed by Congress. Instead of being accountable to the public by openly vetoing the law or committing yourself to following it, you seem to be reserving the right to ignore Congressional legislation as you wish.

Bruce Fein, a lawyer and former deputy attorney general in the Reagan admin, and someone who voted for you in both elections, argues that Addington’s signing statements are “unconstitutional as a strategy,” because the Founding Fathers wanted Presidents to veto congressional legislation openly, as part of the balancing process, if they thought the bills were unconstitutional, and that this was a way of keeping both the President and Congress accountable to the American people for their actions. Fein has also stated the Founding Fathers would be shocked by what you have done…. Why are you using signing statements in a way that seems to make you unaccountable to both Congress and the American people?

On Military Commissions:

David Addington, Cheney's chief of staff, has been directly involved in the creation of the military commissions that the Supreme Court recently declared unconstitutional, even as other senior cabinet officials, including Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, were left out of the process of decision-making related to the creation of those commissions--

Since there has been so little positive progress on this issue, and now that the Supreme Court decision has declared these commissions to be unconstitutional (as you were warned they would), do you have any regrets about the form of decision-making within your administration, which seems to have handed over to one person in the VP's office unprecedented latitude to define the policy of your administration on such important issues as this? Have you learned any lessons about the positive value of involving a much wider number of senior cabinet officials, such as the secretary of state, in key decisions such as this?

Any thoughts of taking responsibility for these mistakes of overreach by asking David Addington (who is also involved in the signing statements and in articulating the administration's position on surveillance issues) to resign?


Fourteen prominent constitutional scholars have written an open letter to Congress arguing that the N.S.A. surveillance program violates constitutional law, because your administration has not amended the FISA law, but has chosen simply to ignore it--

After the abuses of executive power by President Nixon that led to Watergate, Congress passed laws designed to protect civil liberties and curb abuses of executive power in order to protect civil liberties and try to insure that no President would repeat Nixon's abuses. Yet it is a matter of record that within your administration head legal advisors, such as David Addington, Cheney's Chief of Staff, and Cheney himself, believe these laws are not legitimate because they put too much restraint on the president's power. Do you agree with Cheney and Addington in thinking that the legal restrictions placed on presidential power after Watergate ought to be abandoned?


All of these questions address real and serious crises that need immediate attention and strategic action NOW, not 2 or 4 years from now. Yet none of these crises are being meaningfully addressed by the President or Congress or the Press in a sustained way, even as much energy is focused on debating symbolic issues like flag burning, and on depriving gay people of the right to marriage and a family, all in the name of so-called "family values." (Presumably, this is why the anti-gay crowd would rather have foster children needing adoption remain in foster homes, rather than have them adopted by loving gay parents!)

Apparently, what these anti-gay values people "value" is more about discriminating against gays, than it is about offering as many people as possible in this country the opportunity to participate in the institutions of married and family life. For those who subscribe to the "Heterosexuals Only" Family Policy, "family" is only what homophobic heterosexuals define it to be. If you're not heterosexual, or if you're a child looking for loving parents, who might happen to be gay, too bad for you!

This country's "Heterosexuals Only" Family policy would rather keep kids in foster homes or send them and their potential gay adoptive parents to hell than allow them to participate in the very institution these anti-gay heterosexuals say is the bedrock of a "decent" moral society. How wonderfully "decent" and hypocritical it is for the laws of this country to deprive an entire class of persons in our society the right to equal participation in the very institutions of marriage and family so-called pro-family advocates say they value as the bedrock of our civilization.

But so it goes in this country that seems to have lost its mind, along with its heart and soul, as decisions are made, like those in New York and Georgia this week.

And meanwhile, the forests of this country--which help to absorb carbon dioxide and keep global warming from worsening--are burning. This is an issue that should be of REAL and immediate concern to pro-family advocates, since all families will suffer from the effects of global warming --including those loving gay families that will continue to exist in spite of all efforts to discriminate and legislate against them.

And to the extent that this country continues to invest its time, energy, and political focus on passing laws to discriminate against gay families, rather than to address the serious policy issues of energy, global warming, and the preservation of our democratic constitutional order, well--what can we say about such insanity, other than--For Shame!

--What a tragic shame, for all Americans, our children, and the people of the rest of the world--


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