Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday Reading

Impeachment? Linda Boyd makes the case in a column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

After six years of state of emergency, the Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, continual war and occupations, our Constitution is deeply in crisis. Americans are in danger of losing our system of government and civil rights if they do not roll back the Bush administration’s assault on the rule of law.

Allowing Cheney and George W. Bush to finish their terms without being impeached means future presidents are free to copy their lawless behavior. Of course many important issues deserve the attention of Congress. But the Constitution is the foundation of our democracy, not just an issue. Without the Constitution, we have nothing.

Polls show that 74 percent of Democrats and the majority of American adults support impeaching Cheney. “Never in our history have the high crimes and misdemeanors been so flagrant, and the people of our country know it,” writes local author Richard Behan.

Kucinich has targeted Cheney first, but investigations will implicate the president as well. For the first time in the history of the Gallup Poll, 50 percent of respondents say they “strongly disapprove” of the president. Richard Nixon had reached the previous high, 48 percent, just before an impeachment inquiry was launched in 1974. With these numbers, why aren’t Bush and Cheney gone already?

[…]

“The most conservative principle of the Founding Fathers was distrust of unchecked power. Centuries of experience substantiated that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Constitution embraced a separation of powers to keep the legislative, executive and judicial branches in equilibrium,” Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer and associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, said in the October 2006 edition of Washington Monthly.

If Congress were serious about oversight, there already would be dozens of bills and resolutions calling for impeachment of Bush and Cheney. The “Unitary Executive Theory” violates the principle of balance of power in the Constitution. The president cites this “unitary” power in hundreds of signing statements that say he can ignore laws passed by Congress.

The First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments are all now subject to the caprice of government officials. The Military Commissions Act allows U.S. citizens to be detained without due process if they are declared enemy combatants. Without our permission, this country has become an exporter of torture.

Congress has failed to provide oversight and exercise its authority to rein in a criminal administration. Only swift action on impeachment can redeem it now. The people have done the heavy work of bringing impeachment forward. Representatives need only ask if the allegations are serious enough to warrant investigations.

George Bush and Dick Cheney promote an imperial presidency. They assert that the executive is the most powerful branch of government, undermining the judiciary and Congress in violation of the Constitution’s bedrock principle of shared power among three co-equal branches. This subverts the very nature of our system of government.

“This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy. … That’s a big problem because that’s essentially a dictatorship,” Fein said.

[…]

The issue is not about removing Bush and Cheney as much as it is about preserving the Constitution and redeeming the office of the executive. The Constitution is the contract of governance between the people and the government. What happens when major portions of the contract are violated?

The Republicans believe that impeachment is reserved only for the worst crimes that a president or a vice president can commit, such as getting a blow job. All else pales in comparison.

After Pete: The retirement of Sen. Pete Domenici is causing a lot of turmoil in New Mexico.

New Mexicans like to hold on to their United States senators.

Their junior senator, a Democrat, has been in office since early in the Reagan administration. Their senior senator, a Republican, was elected the year Richard M. Nixon defeated George McGovern.

Now that seat, occupied for 35 years by Senator Pete V. Domenici, is up for grabs. The state’s three members of Congress are battling for it, surrendering their House careers and setting off a domino effect of political consequences for incumbents and newcomers alike — and for political influence in Washington.

“It’s blown the state wide open,” said Joe Monahan, whose daily blog is among New Mexico’s most closely followed political journals.

For political buffs, it was almost too much to fathom, Mr. Monahan said, adding, “We’ll never see it again in our lifetime.”

The scramble was set off Oct. 4 by Mr. Domenici’s announcement that at 75 he was suffering from an incurable brain disease and would not seek re-election in 2008. It was a pivotal moment for an important swing state, where 366 votes spelled victory for Al Gore in 2000 and 5,988 votes handed New Mexico to President Bush four years later. The balloting and the state’s electoral votes have gone the way of the top vote-getter in every presidential election since statehood in 1912, except for 1976.

Class Warfare: If you flew this weekend or are flying home today, chances are you had a harried and uncomfortable trip, and that’s after having gone through the lines at the ticket counter or the self-serve kiosk, been examined by an underpaid TSA agent working overtime, and after sitting in the gate area listening to the toddlers going through their vocal exercises as they warmed up to remind you every ten seconds that the screech of one cranky two-year-old will convince five banshees to get out of the business. Then you have to troop aboard the plane and wedge yourself into a seat that was taken out of the front seat of a 1969 Volkswagen and had the stuffing removed. You will have to bring your own food, and worst of all, somebody already did the crossword puzzle in the in-flight magazine — in ink. Fly the friendly skies, indeed.

Doug Fesler, an executive at a medical research group in Washington, wasn’t expecting much in the way of amenities on his American Airlines flight to Honolulu in September. In fact, knowing the airline no longer served free meals, he had packed his own lunch for the second leg of his flight from Dallas to Honolulu. But he said he was shocked at the lack of basic services and the overall condition of the cabin.

On that flight, the audio for the movie was broken. The light that indicated when the bathroom was occupied was squirrely, causing confusion and, in some cases, embarrassingly long waits for passengers in need of the lavatory. And though food was available for purchase, it ran out before the flight attendants could serve the entire cabin, leaving some fellow passengers looking longingly at the snack he had packed.

His return flight was just as disappointing. This time the audio for the movie worked — but only in Spanish — and his seat refused to stay in the upright position. “I was just appalled,” Mr. Fesler said. “You pay $500 or $600 for a seat, and you expect it to be functional.” He said he has considered refusing to fly airlines with such poor service, but added that “if you did that with every airline that made you mad, you’d never get anywhere in this country.”

Mr. Fesler is hardly alone in his antipathy toward the airlines, as anyone who has spent time reading the angry customer postings on Web sites like flyertalk.com, airlinerage.com and flightsfromhell.com knows.

The fact is that airlines, flying so close to full capacity today, have realized that they really don’t have to cater to economy passengers — most of whom are booking on price alone, and who increasingly have no real airline loyalty — because the cost of doing so would never be worth it in pure bottom-line terms.

Does that sound harsh? Well, an unexpected — but not totally surprising — insight into how airline executives think these days came this summer when B. Ben Baldanza, chief executive of the aggressively bare-bones Spirit Airlines, hit “reply all” to an e-mail message from a passenger who wished to be compensated for a delayed flight that caused him to miss a concert he was planning to attend. Mr. Baldanza’s response, which seemed to be intended only for a Spirit Airlines employee but subsequently appeared on multiple travel blogs, said: “Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.”

While Mr. Baldanza may regret the manner in which his e-mail statement was delivered, his position hasn’t changed. “The point that I was making in that e-mail, maybe not as politically correctly as I should have, is let’s not over-obsess or spend a lot of money dealing with customers with completely unrealistic expectations,” he said, pointing out that the delay was due to weather and that the passenger was offered a $200 voucher toward future flights even though he had paid only $73 for two round-trip tickets. “When the fare’s this cheap, we’re going to get another customer,” he said.

Thus airlines are increasingly cutting back services in coach or charging passengers for things that used to be free, like meals ($5 for a snack box on United) or drinks ($2 for a 16-fluid-ounce bottle of water on Spirit) or, in the case of Delta, US Airways, Northwest and Continental, starting to use narrow-body planes more frequently on trans-Atlantic flights, making those long-haul flights more cost-effective, albeit at the expense of passenger comfort.

It’s all simple economics. In January, United removed half-ounce pretzel snack mixes from the economy section of flights that are less than two hours long, about 29 percent of its flights, to save what it says is about $650,000 a year. (Cutting out pretzels has reportedly saved Northwest $2 million a year.) Meanwhile, American has estimated that it would save $30 million a year by eliminating free meal service in coach. Last September, in a move that extinguished any hope of hot meals returning to coach, the airline removed the rear galleys — including the oven — from its MD-80 aircraft and replaced them with four seats. That change, the airline told The Washington Post, will be worth an additional $34 million a year. Overall, the amount of money the nine largest passenger carriers in the United States spend on food per passenger has been slashed to about $3.40 from $5.92 in 1992, according to the Department of Transportation.

And wonder why it’s almost impossible to get a pillow anymore? Again, it comes down to money. American has said it saved $300,000 when it removed pillows from its MD-80s in November 2004. In February 2005 it began removing pillows from 737s, 757s and Airbus 300s on nearly all flights within the continental United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico, with the airline explaining that the change saved it $600,000.

The story is much different in the front of the plane — and it’s not just things like the four-course meal (served on china, with real utensils, and with a choice of four wines) that American now serves its business-class passengers on overseas flights and the fact that, yes, a pillow and a blanket still await you.

Passengers flying business class on United from Washington Dulles to Frankfurt, for example, are now offered “180-degree lie-flat” seats. The upgraded seats, which are part of a multimillion-dollar makeover of its international premium cabins, transform into 6-foot-4-inch beds and feature larger personal TV screens, iPod adapters and noise-canceling headphones. Delta Air Lines and American are also upgrading their upper-class cabins on international flights with such features as wider, bedlike seats, improved in-flight entertainment, and new food options. And Delta and United have turned to celebrity chefs — Michelle Bernstein for Delta and Charlie Trotter for United — to create menus for its business- and first-class customers.

Which is why I save — and use — my frequent flier miles…while they’re still valid.

Doonesbury: Dining light.

Opus: Out and about.