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Stop the steamroller. Reject Gonzales

As US Attorney General, John Ashcroft had a multitude of frightening beliefs and policies. Alberto Gonzales, nominated to succeed Ashcroft, has his own.

            During last week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont seemed concerned about Gonzales's past. But, said Leahy, looking back at the Ashcroft record, Gonzales's nomination "seems to offer the possibility of a new era."

            Senators, said Leahy, need to know more about Gonzales's judgment.

            More? How much more can we stomach?

            There are, no doubt, many Americans who applauded Gonzales's equivocations during his testimony. There are Americans who believe that torture is all right in some situations, who think that the treatment of some prisoners should not be covered by the Geneva Conventions, who believe that the president isn't always bound by international law and treaties.

            But United States Senators can not plead such ignorance.

            During the hearing, Gonzales tried to distance himself from the most widely publicized example of torture, the Abu Ghraib scandal. Some senators and some commentators have even pretended that Abu Ghraib was an aberration. It was not. Similar mistreatment of prisoners has occurred in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo.

            And as author Mark Danner wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece, the torture did not stop when Abu Ghraib made the news. Danner cites the account of an FBI official who, three months after the exposure of Abu Ghraib, personally saw prisoners who had been abused. One of them was so traumatized that he had "apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night."

            Danner gives clear reasons why Gonzales should not be confirmed. He helped the president find ways to circumvent the law. He is now "the symbol of the United States' fateful departure from a body of settled international law and human rights practice for which the country claims to stand." And warns Danner, the next attorney general will face "a raft of torture cases that challenge the very policies that [Gonzales] personally helped devise."

            "Mr. Gonzales," writes the Times' Bob Herbert, "shouldn't be allowed anywhere near that office."

            But as NPR's Nina Totenberg reported last week, all Senate Republicans are expected to approve the Gonzales nomination, "as are many Democrats." And, it is said, that'll put Gonzales on the fast track to the Supreme Court.

            "The political climate is hardly right for a challenge to a newly re-elected president," said Totenberg.

            Hardly right? If not now, when?

            You know the drill:

            Senator Charles Schumer (a member of the Judiciary Committee), 3040 FederalBuilding, 100 State Street, Rochester14614;

            Senator Hillary Clinton, 3280 FederalBuilding, 100 State Street, Rochester14614;

What, me worry?

My goodness: Is next year's governor's race already Eliot Spitzer's to lose?

            A lot can happen before November 2006, of course. But in last week's State of the State address, Pataki might as well have handed the election to Spitzer on a silver tray.

            There had been speculation that Pataki might use State of the State to signal his intentions about running for re-election. If he did, the signal was lost under all the fluff and puff. (Maybe he's waiting to see whether there's a place for him in Bush Administration II. Maybe he's waiting for Rehnquist to resign, to open up a spot for Alberto Gonzales with the Supremes, which will open up the AG's post again. Well? It's as good a guess as any, yes?)

            Pataki's "State" was a dismaying speech, full of reports of bold action and progress. We're the safest large state in America. We have the best Homeland Security Office in the nation.

            There were astonishing howlers: "We came together and boldly transformed New York's failing economic climate by enacting a series of sweeping changes to state government."

            "We know tax cuts work." (Well, yes, if the goal is to ramp up the state's debt. Off-books accounting works, too.)

            There were hollow promises --- promises to fix the same things Pataki has promised to fix in his previous State of the States.

            There were promises to expand programs and add new ones, and to cut taxes further. And there was, of course, no mention --- not a word --- about the state's $6 billion deficit. And that $6 billion doesn't count the $6 additional billion --- a year --- that the state has been ordered to put into schools... in New York City alone.

            It will not be easy to turn this state around. How will we reconcile the need to care for the large number of New York's needy --- the frail elderly, the ill, the poor, the drug addicted, the homeless, the unemployed --- with the pressure to lower taxes? The next governor will have to have intelligence, skill, and determination. The next governor will have to have a cooperative legislature, and there are sure no guarantees there.

            But no matter. "Today," glowed Pataki as he wrapped up his 69-minute review, "the storm clouds are dispersing, and the sun is breaking through. And as it does, it will shine ever brighter upon our EmpireState."

            We should all be writhing in embarrassment. As sad as the Pataki speech was, though, sadder still is New York itself: debt ridden, uncompetitive, lackluster, rudderless and leaderless, with little vision, grand or otherwise.

            The state Pataki praises, with the wealth of talent and diversity he points to, just can't get it together.

            It is sinful, folks. Just sinful.