Thursday, July 12, 2007

Christian Right Hard-Liners Brand Romney 'Soft on Porn'

Former Massachusetts Governor Comes Under Attack For His Refusal to Ban Adult TV Channels From Hotels While He Served On Marriott's Board of Directors -- Meanwhile, McCain Campaign Is In Deep Trouble Over Iraq War, Immigration

Former GOP rivals Sen. John McCain,...

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (left) and Arizona Senator John McCain stand together prior to the start of a Republican presidential candidates debate last month on CNN. The Romney campaign has run into trouble with Christian conservatives angry over what they see is his "hypocrisy" over pornography, while the McCain campaign is floundering in the polls and in fundraising because of McCain's steadfast support for the deeply unpopular war in Iraq. (Photo: Stan Honda/Agence France-Presse)

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By Skeeter Sanders

For months now, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has vigorously denounced what he has called a "cesspool" of pornography that, thanks to pay-per-view television and the Internet, is more widely accessible than ever.

But the conservative former Massachusetts governor is coming under renewed attack from anti-pornography crusaders strongly aligned with hard-line Christian conservatives, who have had a major influence on GOP presidential primaries in recent years.

They're calling Romney a hypocrite for what they say was his refusal to act to halt hard-core X-rated hotel movie offerings during his nine-year tenure on the board of directors of Marriott International, one of the world's largest hoteliers.

Meanwhile, two top aides to John McCain's struggling campaign for the GOP nomination resigned Tuesday, dealing a sharp blow to the Arizona senator and casting doubt on the future of his 2008 bid.

McCain said he would continue his White House run despite the departures of manager Terry Nelson and longtime chief strategist John Weaver, which were announced just as McCain -- back from another "fact-finding" trip to Iraq -- took to the Senate floor to staunchly defend President Bush's deeply unpopular war strategy there.

Sharp Criticism Underscores Continued Suspicions of Mormons by Many Christian Evangelicals

Two anti-pornography crusaders, as well as two conservative activists long allied with the Christian Right -- which Romney has been courting for weeks -- say his failure to act to stop the distribution of the sexually graphic adult movies in Marriott hotels runs counter to the family image cultivated by Romney, the Marriott family and their shared Mormon faith.

The flap also underscores what remains a lingering problem for the Romney campaign: A persistent belief still held by many Christian evangelicals, particularly Southern Baptists -- a key segment of the GOP's primary voter base -- that the 177-year-old Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as the Mormons are formally known, is a cult.

"Marriott is a major pornographer. And even though he [Romney] may have fought it, everyone on that board is a hypocrite for presenting themselves as being pro-family values when their hotels offer 70 different types of hard-core pornography," said Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, an anti-pornography group based on Ohio.

Daniel Weiss, media analyst for evangelist James Dobson's Focus on the Family organization, said this week in a radio broadcast to Focus members: "If he [Romney] made money off pornography in the past, is he going to turn a blind eye to it if he's president? Because as chief executive of the nation, it's his responsibility to make sure our nation's obscenity laws are efficiently and vigorously enforced."

Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, a leading said that Marriott has to "assume some responsibility. It's their hotels, it's their television sets."

It's Children's Access to Porn That Matters, Says Romney

During a recent interview with The Associated Press, Romney -- who served on the Marriott board from 1992 to 2001 -- said he did not recall pornography coming up for discussion during his tenure, despite being chairman of the board's audit committee. He also said he did not know how much revenue the hotel chain garnered from the distribution of pornography on its TV systems.

The former Massachusetts governor, best known for his stint as head of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics prior to his entry into politics, said he's not concerned about pornography per se, but rather about children unwittingly accessing it on the Internet or on television.

"I'm not pursuing an effort to try and stop adults from being able to acquire or see things that I find objectionable; that's their right,' Romney said. "But I do vehemently oppose practices or business procedures that allow kids to be exposed to obscenity."

Romney linked the prevalence of pornography to the Virginia Tech shooting spree that left 33 dead. "Pornography and violence poison our music and movies and TV and video games," Romney said during a May 5 commencement address at Regent University, the evangelical Christian school run by Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson.

When It Comes to Pornography, Money Talks and . . .

Marriott's chairman and CEO, J.W. "Bill" Marriott Jr., sharply defended his company's distribution of X-rated adult movies, saying they were "inseparable" from the rest of the chain's TV offerings.

In a bluntly-worded June 2000 letter obtained by The AP, Marriott wrote to Bill Johnson, executive director of the Michigan-based American Decency Association that, "The in-room entertainment operators who provide our systems rely upon a certain volume of movie types in order to be economically viable. If we were to eliminate the 'R' and non-rated offerings, the systems would not be economic."

Pornography is a highly lucrative business for various hotel chains. Industry estimates vary widely, up to $500 million a year, according to John Harmer, an outspoken anti-pornography activist and a former lieutenant governor of California.

Marriott and other major hotel chains acknowledge they offer hard-core pay-per-view pornography because their customers demand it and entertainment service contracts require it to underwrite first-run movies and free television. "It certainly would have been wrong to impose his own personal beliefs if they were contrary to the financial interests of the company," Marriott spokesman Roger Conner said of Romney.

Romney's Ties to Marriott Run Deep

Marriott International has more than 500,000 hotel rooms worldwide, generating revenues that exceed $10 billion a year. While the Marriott name is on more than 2,800 buildings, the corporation owns only about a dozen hotels. The rest are owned by franchises, lessening corporate control over their activities.

The Romney family has close ties to the Marriotts that date back decades before the hotel chain was founded in 1957. Not only did the 60-year-old Mitt Romney serve on its board of directors, but his legal first name -- Willard -- was given to him by his parents in honor of the corporation's founder, J. Willard Marriott Sr.

Marriott Sr. and Romney's father, the late former Michigan Governor George Romney, were friends and rose through the ranks together -- Marriott in the hotel industry and the elder Romney in the automotive industry. The elder Romney entered politics in 1961, was elected governor the following year and unsuccessfully challenged Richard Nixon for the 1968 GOP presidential nomination, ultimately serving in Nixon's cabinet.

McCAIN: All Is Not Well in Arizona Senator's Camp as Two Top Aides Quit

With his campaign having mounting trouble raising money and his popularity in sharp decline for his support for the Iraq war and the failed immigration reform bill, McCain was dealt a new setback Tuesday when campaign manager Terry Nelson and longtime chief strategist John Weaver abruptly resigned.

Nelson was President Bush's political director during his 2004 re-election campaign and Weaver was McCain's top strategist during his unsuccessful 2000 GOP nomination race against Bush. Both men refused to say why they were stepping down, but Nelson insisted in a written statement that McCain "is the most experienced and prepared candidate to represent the Republican Party and defeat the Democratic nominee next year."

Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager in 2000 and CEO of his current campaign, will take over as campaign manager.

Once considered the front-runner in the Republican presidential field, support for McCain in opinion polls among independent voters -- who tend to be moderates -- and conservative Republicans has plunged sharply. Iraq is cited as the primary reason for McCain's loss of support among independents, while the senator's support for the failed immigration reform bill is blamed for his fall among Republicans.

More ominously for McCain, his campaign's fundraising has fallen far behind that of his two main GOP rivals, Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Departures Come Amid Poor Fundraising Results for Second Quarter

The sudden, dramatic shake-up comes just days after last week's campaign reorganization and cutbacks in staff -- the result of a weak fundraising quarter that left McCain with only $2 million in the bank. His campaign reported raising $11.2 million from April to June of this year, down from the $13.8 million raised from January through March.

As of late Wednesday, Romney and Giuliani had yet to report their campaigns' second-quarter fundraising totals.

"We've had ups and downs in other campaigns and we'll have ups and downs with this campaign. I think we're doing fine. I'm very happy with where we are," McCain insisted to a crush of reporters at the Capitol, vowing that he would "out-campaign" his rivals.

His backers long have argued that, in the end, GOP primary voters will gravitate toward the 70-year-old's record of experience, leadership and character when they survey the entire GOP field. But with the Iraq war becoming ever-more unpopular with the public, some GOP strategists are openly warning that the McCain candidacy is locked in a downward spiral from which he cannot recover.

'You Can't Buck the Public on Iraq and Expect to Get Elected'

"They can decide to crank up the bus and try to recapture the magic from 2000, but once it's gone it is hard to get back," said a longtime Republican consultant, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. "The fund-raising community just closes their checkbooks."

The consultant also acknowledged that with public opinion solidly against the war -- and mounting almost daily -- McCain and other Republicans already are feeling the heat as the 2008 election cycle draws closer.

While the war remains fiercely popular among most rank-and-file Republicans, GOP voters make up only a third of the general electorate -- and support is crumbling particularly among GOP senators up for re-election next year as they confront implacable opposition by overwhelming majorities of Democratic and independent voters.

"Let's not kid ourselves -- McCain is in trouble because he's taken a position on the war in Iraq that is diametrically opposite that taken by a greater-than-two-thirds majority of the American people," the consultant said. "You can't buck that big a majority of the public and expect to win the White House. President Bush doesn't have to worry about facing the voters again over Iraq -- but the rest of the Republican Party does."

In another sign that a GOP revolt against Bush's war policies was intensifying, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) on Wednesday branded the president's Iraq troop surge as being "at odds with reality." Snowe threw her support behind a Democratic-sponsired bill that would set a binding deadline of the end of April next year for American troops to be brought home.

"We have arrived at the crossroads of hope and reality, and we must now address the reality," Snowe said, after a period of reflection on whether to support new Senate challenges to Bush war policy. "We need to send a strong message from the United States Congress on behalf of the American people that the current strategy is unacceptable and that we must move in a different course."

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Volume II, Number 34
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, July 09, 2007

The Rape of Your Right to Freedom From Unwarranted Government Spying Continues

Federal Appeals Court Dismisses ACLU Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of Bush's Warrantless Spying Program, Ignoring Its Own 1971 Decision -- Unanimously Upheld by the Supreme Court the Following Year -- That Warrants are Required by the Fourth Amendment

Lame-duck Congress unlikely to authorize Bush's warrantless terrorism wiretaps

It's no joke: Big Brother really IS watching you -- or more accurately (for now), listening in on your telephone calls -- without court warrants, which is illegal under the Fourth Amendment. How much longer are you going to put up with this violation of your constitutional right to privacy? (Image Courtesy WHDH-TV, Boston)

By Skeeter Sanders

The next time you make or receive a telephone call, remember to watch what you and the party you're conversing with say on the line -- for Big Brother is likely to be listening in.

This is no joke.

The thought of the government listening in on your most intimate telephone conversations with your spouse or partner may seem far-fetched, but if you think that it's not listening in, you'd better think again.

The fact is, Big Brother is listening in on our telephone calls -- millions of them -- without having first obtained court warrants, as required by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

Not only has Big Brother been doing it for more than four years, but he has every intention to keep on doing it for the foreseeable future -- and the Constitution be damned.

Of course, Big Brother will never publicly admit to this -- and will even deny it. Yet if you challenge him on it, Big Brother will then say that it's a secret that you have no right to know about. As far as this blogger is concerned, that's a tacit admission that Big Brother is spying on you illegally -- and is getting away with it.

In an outrageous betrayal of its duty to uphold the Constitution, a divided federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit Friday challenging President Bush's domestic spying program without ruling on the issue of whether the warrantless wiretapping is legal.

Bush Appointees on Appeals Court Rule In His Favor

In a 2-1 decision with Republican-appointed judges in the majority, a three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio said the plaintiffs had no standing to sue because they couldn't prove their communications had been monitored by the government.

Incredibly, the court majority effectively reversed a 1971 ruling by that same court -- upheld unanimously by the Supreme Court the following year -- that declared a warrantless telephone wiretapping program by the Nixon administration unconstitutional.

Friday's decision underscored the difficulty of challenging the anti-terrorism program in court because its secret nature prevents plaintiffs from obtaining surveillance information. The National Security Agency had refused to turn over information about the warrantless wiretapping that would have bolstered the court case.

The appeals court vacated a 2006 order by a lower court in Detroit, which had concluded that the warrantless surveillance authorized after the September. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was unconstitutional.

But that same district court also struck down President Richard Nixon's warrantless surveillance program. Why, then, would the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court's ruling against Nixon, reverse the district court's decision against Bush?

Bush Appointees Putting Loyalty to 'Dubyah' Over Duty to the Constitution

Simply put, it's only now that the full extent of the cronyism that has marked the Bush-Cheney regime is being realized by the American public.

Look at the two judges on the three-judge panel who ruled in Bush's favor. Both are Bush appointees -- albeit separately by two presidents with the same surname. Judge Julia Smith Gibbons was appointed by our current president, while Judge Alice Batchelder was appointed by his father.

Of the 16 judges currently serving on the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, six were appointed by "King George the W"; five were appointed by Bill Clinton; one was appointed by the senior Bush; one was appointed by Jimmy Carter; and the chief judge -- Julian Boggs -- was appointed by Ronald Reagan. The two remaining seats on the court have been vacant since 2001.

This blogger -- and others -- are finding it harder and harder to avoid coming to the conclusion that appointments to the federal courts by this president reek of cronyism. Until Bush, federal judges did not hesitate to rule against the president who appointed them when it was clear that the administration was acting in a manner contrary to the Constitution.

But in the case of Bush's judicial appointees, never before have we seen so many judges appointed by this president be so unwilling to uphold the Constitution -- as they are legally bound by their oath of office to do -- no matter how much evidence there is to show that this president is flagrantly violating it.

These Bush-appointed judges are putting loyalty to "Dubyah" above their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution and in the process, are corrupting our judicial system -- with the full complicity of the rubber-stamp GOP-controlled Senate in the 108th and 109th Congresses that confirmed them.

If this doesn't teach us all a lesson about the danger of one-party rule in our democracy, nothing will.

Bush Judges Put Plaintiffs Against Warrantless Spying In a 'Catch-22'

While copping out on the question of constitutionality, Batchelder and Gibbons wrote that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue without proof they were monitored by the government. "The plaintiffs are ultimately prevented from establishing standing because of the state secrets privilege," Gibbons wrote.

But Judge Ronald Lee Gilman, a Clinton appointee, sharply disagreed, saying the plaintiffs were well within their rights to sue and that it was clear the surveillance program violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.

"This is a Catch-22," said Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit. "I think what in effect they're saying is that we can't tell you whether you have been wiretapped because that's a secret. And unless you know you've been wiretapped, you can't challenge that program."

The Bush-Cheney regime (This blogger refuses to call it "the Bush administration" anymore) has insisted that it sometimes needed to act without waiting for the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, established by the 1978 law.

In spite of that law and the 1972 Supreme Court ruling that spawned it, Bush authorized warrantless monitoring of international telephone calls and e-mails to or from the United States when one party is believed to be a terrorist or to have terrorist ties.

The Bush-Cheney regime has kept details secret, saying the case involved state secrets whose disclosure would threaten national security. Earlier this year, the regime said the eavesdropping program is now overseen by a special federal intelligence court, so the case was moot.

But, by sidestepping the constitutionality of the surveillance program, the appeals court left open the possibility that Bush or a future president could restart the program, and opponents contend that means the case remains relevant.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, insisted that the appeals court decision does not absolve the administration of complying with a congressional subpoena seeking more information about the program.

"There is a dark cloud over the White House's warrantless wiretapping program, and a full response to the outstanding subpoena from the Senate Judiciary Committee by this administration would be a good start to clearing the air," Leahy said in a statement.

ACLU's Mistake: Not Citing High Court Ruling Against Nixon

The ACLU pursued the lawsuit on behalf of other groups, including lawyers, journalists and scholars who asserted that the government monitoring prevented them from doing their jobs properly. The suit was filed in January 2006, a month after the program's existence became known publicly.

Others have filed court challenges to the program, but none has gotten as far in the court system. Nor have any of the lawsuits, unfortunately, made mention of the Supreme Court's 1972 ruling against Nixon's warrantless wiretapping program.

In this blogger's opinion, that is a fatal mistake that I frankly cannot comprehend, having cited the high court's unanimous ruling in United States v. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, et al. in this column again and again and again -- almost from the day the Bush-Cheney regime's warrantless spying program was exposed by The New York Times more than 18 months ago.

Why the Nixon Ruling Is Vital to the Case Against Bush Spying

Once again, to refresh everyone's memory, the Supreme Court made its landmark -- and unanimous -- 1972 ruling in a case that overturned the convictions of three defendants who were charged by the Nixon administration with conspiring to destroy -- and one of them with actually destroying -- government property.

With then-Associate Justice William Rhenquist not participating in the case, the justices ruled 8-0 that the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures required prior judicial approval for national security wiretaps (Rhenquist was not yet a member of the court and was still awaiting Senate confirmation when the justices heard oral arguments in the fall of 1971).

The case, better known as United States v. Plamondon, arose from a criminal proceeding in the Detroit-based U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, in which the Justice Department charged three defendants with conspiracy to destroy government property.

One of the defendants, identified in court papers only by his surname, Plamondon, was also charged with the dynamite bombing of an office of the CIA in Ann Arbor, Mich.

During pre-trial proceedings, the defendants' attorneys moved to compel the government to disclose certain electronic surveillance information and to conduct a hearing "to determine whether this information 'tainted' the evidence" on which the charges against the defendants were based.

Nixon's AG John Mitchell Admitted Eavesdropping Without Warrants

In response, the Justice Department filed an affidavit by then-Attorney General John Mitchell acknowledging that the department's agents had overheard conversations in which defendant Plamondon had participated.

The affidavit also said that Mitchell approved the wiretaps "to gather intelligence information deemed necessary to protect the nation from attempts of domestic organizations to attack and subvert the existing structure of government."

The Justice Department argued that the surveillance was lawful, even though it was conducted without prior judicial approval, "as a reasonable exercise of [Nixon's] power, exercised through [Mitchell], to protect the national security."

The district court ruled that the warrantless surveillance violated the Fourth Amendment and ordered the government "to make full disclosure to Plamondon of his overheard conversations."

(That same district court would make an almost identical ruling against Bush's warrantless spying program 35 years later).

The Nixon administration appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to set aside the district court's ruling. The appeals court ruled that the surveillance was indeed unlawful and upheld the lower court's decision. The government promptly appealed to the Supreme Court.

Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, the relevant statute at issue in the Plamondon case, authorizes the use of electronic surveillance for certain classes of crimes, but -- like the FISA law passed ten years later -- only after a court order is obtained.

Justices Reject Claim of Unilateral Executive Branch Authority to Spy on Americans

The Supreme Court rejected the Justice Department's argument that the Safe Streets Act gave the president the constitutional authority to unilaterally "take such measures as he deems necessary to protect the nation against an actual or potential attack or other hostile acts of a foreign power, to obtain intelligence information deemed essential to the security of the United States, or to protect national security information against foreign intelligence activities..."

Not only did the justices declare that such unilateral actions by the Nixon administration violated the Fourth Amendment, they also cited a provision in the Safe Streets Act itself, which says that "where the Act authorizes surveillance, the procedure to be followed...therefore requires application to a judge of competent jurisdiction for a prior order of approval and states in detail the information required in such application."

Powell: Fourth Amendment Aimed to Bar 'Unrestrained Abuses'

Justice Lewis Powell, writing for the court, declared that "Civil liberties, as guaranteed by the Constitution, imply the existence of an organized society maintaining public order without which liberty itself would be lost in the excesses of unrestrained abuses...

"These Fourth Amendment freedoms cannot properly be guaranteed if domestic security surveillances may be conducted solely within the discretion of the Executive Branch," Powell continued. "The Fourth Amendment does not contemplate the executive officers of government as neutral and disinterested magistrates. Their duty and responsibility are to enforce the laws, to investigate and to prosecute.

"But those charged with this investigative and prosecutorial duty should not be the sole judges of when to utilize constitutionally sensitive means in pursuing their tasks," Powell wrote."The historical judgement, which the Fourth Amendment accepts, is that unreviewed executive discretion may yield too readily to pressure to obtain incriminating evidence and overlook potential invasions of privacy and protected speech."

When Will America Wake Up to Bush-Cheney Regime's Unconstitutional Actions?

What it is going to take to get the message through that the Bush-Cheney regime's warrantless surveillance program violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution? What is it going to take to get people to realize that this regime is acting in contempt of the nation's highest court by disregarding its 1972 ruling?

Forget about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. It's the Constitution -- the supreme law of this country (Article VI, Section 2) -- that has been and is being violated here.

Dammit, you have a right under the Fourth Amendment of the supreme law of this country to conduct your telephone conversations without the government listening in on them on a whim. The Bush-Cheney regime has been -- and is -- violating your constitutional right to privacy by listening in on your telephone conversations without having first obtained court warrants.

So are you going to do something to stop Big Brother from unconstitutionally listening in on your phone calls -- or are you going to just sit there and do nothing?

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Volume II, Number 33
Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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