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Even as President Bush was trying, once more on Sunday, to spin the fantasy that the Iraq invasion and occupation are some kind of success, Vice President Dick Cheney's visit to Iraq confirmed the truth of the mess that this military misadventure has created.

The vice president's "surprise" visit to Iraq -- which, coming shortly after voting in the latest of the country's quickie elections had finished, was about as surprising as Cheney's repetition of the administration's "stay-the-course" mantra -- was a public-relations disaster.

Why?

As the House of Representatives voted to allow oil drilling in the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich decried
the back-door methods and contemplated the impact on the
indigenous Gwich'in people.

How realistic is it to stop the Bush Administration from pursuing its
war agenda? Former prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega offers some
hard-core advice about how to challenge the status quo.

Rhetoric only goes so far in trumping reality--especially when it comes to a messy war. George W. Bush has been on a roll the past two weeks, delivering one...

"This shocking revelation ought to send a chill down the spine of every American."

Senator Russell Feingold, December 17, 2005

As reported by the New York Times on Friday, "Months after the September 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying."

A senior intelligence officer says Bush personally and repeatedly gave the NSA permission for these taps--more than three dozen times since October 2001. Each time, the White House counsel and the Attorney General--whose job it is to guard and defend our civil liberties and freedoms--certified the lawfulness of the program. (It is useful here to note "The Yoo Factor": The domestic spying program was justified by a "classified legal opinion" written by former Justice Department official John Yoo, the same official who wrote a memo arguing that interrogation techniques only constitute torture if they are "equivalent in intensity to...organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.")

Illegally spying on Americans is chilling--even for this Administration. Moreover, as Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, told the Times, "the secret order may amount to the president authorizing criminal activity." Some officials at the NSA agree. According to the Times, "Some agency officials wanted nothing to do with the program, apparently fearful of participating in an illegal operation." Others were "worried that the program might come under scrutiny by Congressional or criminal investigators if Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, was elected President."

Four years ago, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold distinguished himself as the Senate's premier defender of the Constitution, when he cast the chamber's sole vote against enactment of the Patriot Act. As a time when every other senator – even liberal Democrats with long records of championing the Bill of Rights -- joined the post-September 11 rush to curtail basic liberties, Feingold stood alone in defense of the principle that it was possible to combat terrorism and protect the rights of Americans.

But Feingold no longer stands alone. On Friday, he led a bipartisan group of senators that successfully blocked the administration's concerted effort to renew the Patriot Act in a form that maintains its most abusive components. A move by Republican leaders of the Senate to prevent Feingold from mounting a filibuster fell seven votes short of the number needed.A remarkable 47 senators – including Democrats and Republicans – backed the Wisconsin Democrat's stance. That's far more than the 40 needed to prevent a filibuster, and it means that Feingold now heads a coalition that should be able to force significant changes in the Patriot Act before the December 31 deadline for its renewal.

The Senate coalition that the maverick senator has assembled is made up of members from across the political spectrum – from Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, the dean of Senate liberals, to Idaho Republican Larry Craig, one of the chamber's most right-wing members – who have joined Feingold in calling for reform of the Patriot Act.

In the gloom of post-election 2004 few people, if any, could have
anticipated the wild surprises of 2005. Focusing on three unforeseen
developments of the past year, a meditation on
how life has changed in unexpected ways.

Our editorial statement that "The Nation will not support any candidate
for national office who does not make a speedy end to the American war
in Iraq a major issue in his or her camp

Pasted bumpily on brick, life-sized. Inside,
in a former foundry's casting vault, my father in the role
of Agamemnon died. A thin-browed bronze mask skating

"A shift in the structure of experience..."
As I pass down Broadway this misty late-winter morning,
the city is ever alluring, but thousands of miles to the south

Anne Winters's The Displaced of Capital, winner of the 2005 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, is a reflective, documentary and visionary volume of poetry inspired by the city of New York.

Two new books on indolence, How To Be Idle and Bonjour Laziness, issue low-energy cries for political apathy, a shorter work week and the fine art of slacking off.

John Banville's latest novel, The Sea, winner of the Man Booker Prize, is a painstaking narrative of memory, grief and many losses, remarkable for what it richly conveys about what it is to be alive, while continuously experiencing loss.

George W. Bush has a new favorite senator: Joe Lieberman.

As part of his "I've-Got-a-Secret-Plan-That's-Just-As-Good-As-Nixon's" stump tour to shore up sagging support for his war in Iraq, the president has been talking up the Connecticut Democrat as just about the only official outside the administration who "gets it."

In his December 7 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Bush was quoting Lieberman -- a Vietnam war foe who eluded military service every bit as efficiently as did Vice President Dick Cheney -- as if the senator was a modern-day Carl von Clausewitz. Recalling Lieberman's most recent pro-war outburst -- "What a colossal mistake it would be for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will, and, in a famous phrase, 'to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory'" -- the president declared: "Senator Lieberman is right."

The GOP is an object of popular loathing, yet prospects seem dim for ousting it from power. Three new books explain why: Off Center explores the GOP's genius for subverting the mechanisms of accountability, and Death by a Thousand Cuts and Stand Up Fight Back examine how the Republican machine dominates issues from tax cuts to energy conservation. Plus, the Clinton biography The Survivor looks at the man who once made liberals feel like winners, yet whose legacy holds them back.

NADER'S 'UNSAFE' AT 40

Should Stephen Spielberg be preparing himself for crucifixion? Last night I attended a screening of his new film, Munich, which is soon to open. It's...

Among the sweetest victories of 2005: Social Security reform has been blocked, pressure to withdraw from Iraq is growing and progressive activists are making progress on local, state and national issues.

Reading Patrick Fitzgerald's sixty-page indictment of publishing magnate Conrad Black and his associates, one gets the feeling that the next stop for this high-living power-broker will be a prison cell.

As Justice Department investigators follow the cash flow from lobbyist Jack Abramoff's influence-peddling scandal, the evidence mounts against Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney. Who's next?

Eugene McCarthy was a pure original, a great and good man, whose fundamental historical achievement was to be the standard-bearer for a moral and philosophical campaign against the Vietnam War.

If New Orleans is to reclaim its greatness, the scope of the solution must match the scope of the problem. The city could become the nation's classroom by re-engineering levees, responsibly building neighborhoods and schools and repairing the environment, but time is running out.