The Nation

Bush v. Children

The State Children's Health Insurance Program was created by the federal government in 1997 to provide medical insurance coverage for children of families with annual incomes too large to qualify for Medicaid but too small to afford private insurance. The legislation currently insures more than six million children who would otherwise lack coverage. An individual is eligible until age 18 if his or her family income is above Medicaid thresholds but below a total income of $41,300 for a family of four.

The original legislation expired on September 30 and required reauthorization. The Senate and House quickly agreed on a compromise to continue SCHIP by large margins as well as to increase funding to enhance the efficacy of the program.

As promised, President Bush vetoed the bill Wednesday, calling the proposal fiscally irresponsible and an attempt to "federalize medicine." This from a president who has been one of the most profligate spenders in history. The fact is that this veto is yet another example of his administration's never-ending efforts to ignore the truth for the sake of promoting misguided ideological principles.

SCHIP has been successful. Enrollees in SCHIP have been demonstrated to have improved access to higher quality health care. But facts didn't matter enough to Bush as he killed a bipartisan bill. However facts should matter to members of Congress who have the power to override his veto, as a very good editorial in the October 6 Kansas City Star argued. The main point is that "the chronically underfunded 10-year-old SCHIP has made remarkable inroads. It has reduced by a third the uninsurance rate of low-income children whose families don't qualify for Medicaid but can't afford private insurance." As the editorial concludes, "President Bush's veto should not stand. Lawmakers who voted 'no' should reconsider and help override it. If they use the facts as a guide, they will."

Bush is expecting House conservatives to sustain his veto. But significant political pressure--if not reason and morality--can undermine his hopes. Kids might have something to say about it too, as a new video produced by the Campaign for America's Future makes amusingly clear. Watch the video below and click here to learn the facts about SCHIP.

Then, go to CAF's action page and send a message to your Representative in the House imploring him/her to stand up for our kids, stand up to George Bush, and override the veto.

Prison Reformers Finally Set Free

Is the nearly 40-year-old, bipartisan "let's get tough on crime" mantra getting old-- even for politicians? On the campaign trail Barack Obama and John Edwards are now warning of the dire consequences stemming from the rise in the incarceration rates for African-American men and boys. This week the Supreme Court heard arguments against five-year mandatory minimum sentencing laws for crack cocaine dealers.

And on Thursday, the Senate Joint Economic Committee held the first hearing that reform advocates and legislative staffers can remember on the social and economic harms that come from having the highest percentage of incarcerated citizens in the world. Both lawmakers and witnesses explicitly connected the explosion in the prison population to the so-called "War on Drugs." One damning statistic after another was given:

-The number of incarcerated citizens has gone from 250,000 at the dawn of the drug war to a current 2.3 million.

-Despite making up 13 percent of the overall population, half of all current prisoners are black.

-While blacks are not shown to use drugs more than whites, they are four times as likely to be arrested for possession or dealing.

These facts are nothing new. What is new is that the sociologists and prison reformers were reciting these stats not at university lecture halls but to Senators who write criminal law. And Kansas Republican and long-shot presidential candidate Sam Brownback was pushing his Recidivism Reduction and Second Chance Act of 2007.

Brownback and several Republican and Democratic co-sponsors want to provide federal grants for job training, substance abuse treatment and other social re-entry programs to some of the more than 650,000 inmates who leave prison each year. As the prominent Christian conservative pointed out, two-thirds of all inmates currently return to prison in three years.

While Brownback's bill seems the kind of "compassionate conservative" policy President Bush once promised, a fiscal conservative argument for prison reform has also emerged. Building and operating prison is the only part of state budgets beside Medicaid to have grown in the past 20 years. States spent $9 billion on prisons in 1984-- and spent $41 billion in 2004.

At the hearing, Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat from Virginia endorsed Brownback's legislation and spoke broadly on the issue, saying, "The American public needs to understand the cultural divisions of the problem." He noted that the U.S. has more than ten times the percentage of its citizens incarcerated then other developed countries.

Witness Pat Nolan, Vice-president of the advocacy group Prison Fellowship, testified that imprisonment has strayed much too far from the intention of public safety. "Prisons are supposed to be for people we're afraid of," he argued, "But instead they're for people we're mad at."

Not every legislator will immediately sign-up for the Prison Fellowship mailing list, but all-in-all it was an auspicious week for beginning to shed light on the broken criminal justice system.

Who Wants to Bomb Iran? Dems, not the GOP, says Seymour Hersh

When George Bush and Dick Cheney talk about their plans to bomb Iran, they are told "You can't do it, because every Republican is going to be defeated"--that's what a Republican former intelligence official told legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. "But," the former official went on, "Cheney doesn't give a rat's ass about the Republican worries, and neither does the President."

I recently spoke with Hersh, whose new piece, "Target Iran," is featured in The New Yorker this week.

When I asked Hersh who wants to bomb Iran, he said "Ironically there is a lot of pressure coming from Democrats. Hillary Clinton, Obama, and Edwards have all said we cannot have a nuclear-armed Iran. Clearly the pressure from Democrats is a reflection of – we might as well say it – Israeli and Jewish input." He added the obvious: "a lot of money comes to the Democratic campaigns" from Jewish contributors.

But while Democrats argue that we must "do something" about an Iranian nuclear threat, Hersh says the White House has concluded their own effort to convince Americans that Iran poses an imminent threat has "failed." Apparently the public that bought the story of WMD in Iraq is now singing the classic Who song, "Won't be Fooled Again."

Moreover, Hersh reports, "the general consensus of the American intelligence community is that Iran is at least five years away from obtaining a bomb" – so the public is right to be skeptical.

As a result, according to Hersh, the focus of the plans to bomb Iran has shifted from an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities to an emphasis on the famed "surgical strikes" on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere. The White House hopes it can win public support for this kind of campaign by arguing that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is responsible for the deaths of Americans in Iraq.

Why don't Bush and Cheney "give a rat's ass" about getting Republicans reelected to the Senate and the House in 2008? "Of course that was hyperbole to make a point," Hersh said. "When it comes to choice between bombing Iran and taking some political heat, the president will do what he wants. Look, no decision has been made, no order has been given, I've never said it's going to happen. But I had breakfast this morning in Washington with somebody who's close to a lot of military people, and there's a sense among them that the president is essentially messianic about this. He sees this as his mission. It could be because God is telling him to do it. It could be because his daddy didn't do it. It could be because it's step 13 in a 12-step program he was in. I just don't know."

The biggest problem in US relations with Iran, Hersh said, is that Bush refuses to "talk to people he doesn't like. . . . We dealt with China, we dealt with the Soviet Union in those bad days of Stalin and Mao. But there is no pressure whatsoever" coming from the leading Democratic presidential candidates demanding that Bush negotiate with the Iranians rather than bombing them.

What Democracy Looks Like in Costa Rica

Americans may have forgotten what democracy looks like.

Our current president was chosen in 2000 not by the voters -- Al Gore won the popular vote by a comfortable margin of more than 500,000 ballots -- but by a Supreme-Court dictated Electoral College vote. Another Electoral College "win" came in 2004, when George Bush secured a second term on the "strength" of Ohio results that, while more favorable to the Republicans than the 2000 numbers from the battleground state of Florida, were so dubious in their generation and so uncertain in their accuracy that the congressional certification was challenged by Ohio representatives and the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee. Our Congress, which was elected in 2006 to end the war in Iraq, has rejected the will of the people and handed the Bush-Cheney administration more money than it requested to maintain the occupation of a sovereign land where the people would prefer to guide their own affairs. And even as the vast majority of Americans -- including six in ten Republicans -- oppose trade policies that offshore jobs, devastate communities in the U.S. and abroad and batter the environment, an unconscionable president and an unresponsive Congress pursue new agreements designed to empower corporations rather than citizens.

If Americans want to find evidence of democracy, they might look south to the Latin American republic of Costa Rica -- where voters will decide Sunday on whether they want their country to sign onto the Central American Free Trade Agreement that is currently being promoted by the White House, The Wall Street Journal and the multinational corporations that are the generous the patrons of both those institutions.

Imagine that: In Costa Rica, the people are being invited to participate in the debate over their economic future.

It is a concept so foreign to the United States as to be almost unimaginable. Yet, once upon a time, there was a lively debate in the U.S. Congress and this country's media about measures such as the Ludlow and Bricker amendments to the U.S. Constitution, proposals designed to give American citizens a real voice in decisions about whether to go to war and how and when the country will enter into multilateral treaty agreements.

Today, the members of Congress who are cheering on the democratic process in Costa Rica, such as Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, are ridiculed by the Wall Street Journal as opposing open markets and U.S. interests. Sanders is savaged for traveling to Costa Rica to reassure citizens there that voting against CAFTA will not mark their country as a pariah in the eyes of responsible U.S. officials. The senator's defense of democracy and citizen engagement is dismissed by the Journal as "as pure a distillation of the case for protectionism as you'll find outside the pages of Nation magazine..." Of course, The Nation has a long history of embracing enlightened internationalism, as does Sanders, but free-trade fundamentalists do not have much taste for the facts -- or for the will of the people.

So be it.

Democracy has never had many friends among the elites. But Sanders is right to celebrate the fact that, as he notes, "On Oct. 7, Costa Rica will become the first country where citizens have the opportunity to vote for or against a trade agreement. Despite being heavily outspent by the moneyed interests, despite opposition from the Costa Rican government and the U.S. ambassador, despite an extremely hostile media, the latest polls have the election as a toss-up. Incredibly, just the other day, in a nation of only four million people, well over 100,000 marched in opposition to the treaty -- a sign of the deep grassroots opposition there to CAFTA."

Sanders opposes CAFTA. But, on his trip to Costa Rica, he did not tell people there how to vote. "That's there business, not mine," he says. So why did he make the journey? "To help counter the lies being spread in Costa Rica that suggested that if the people there, exercising their democratic rights, voted 'no' on CAFTA, the U.S. government would punish them..."

Unlike his critics, Sanders is enthusiastic about democratizing the debate about trade policy. And he does not want Bush-Cheney administration appointees, The Wall Street Journal or multinational corporate interests to stifle the process. "When the people in a free, democratic and independent country like Costa Rica vote their conscience they should not be punished by the world's superpower," the senator says.

Make no mistake, Sanders is being attacked for expressing deeply-rooted American values. Instead of threatening Costa Rica, our leaders should renew those values by borrowing a page from our good neighbor to the south. If Costa Rica can democratize the trade debate, why not the U.S.?

Judge Radhi Testifies on Iraqi Corruption; GOPers Attack--UPDATE

On Thursday, former Judge Radhi al-Radhi, Iraq's top anticorruption official until he was recently forced out by the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, appeared before the House government oversight committee and described what had become of people who had worked for him at the Commission on Public Integrity as they investigated crime and fraud within the Iraqi government:

Thirty-one employees have been killed as well as at least twelve family members. In a number of cases, my staff and their relatives have been kidnapped or detained and tortured prior to being killed. Many of these people were gunned down at close range. This includes my staff member Mohammed Abd Salif, who was gunned down with his seven-month pregnant wife. In one case of targeted death and torture, the security chief on my staff was threatened with death many times. His father was recently kidnapped and killed because of his son's work at CPI. His body hung on a meat hook. One of my staff members who performed clerical duties was protected by my security staff, but his 80-year-old father was kidnapped because his son worked at CPI. When his dead body was found, a power drill had been used to drill his body with holes. Waleed Kashmoula was the head of CPI's Mosul branch. In March 2005, a suicide bomber met with Waleed in his office...and then set off his vest [bomb], killing Waleed....My family's home has been attacked by rockets. I have had a sniper bullet striking near me as I was outside my office. We have learned the hard way that the corrupt will stop at nothing.

Minutes later, Republicans members of the committee were suggesting there was nothing unusual or shocking about corruption in Iraq. "Corruption is not a new phenomenon," remarked Representative Tom Davis, the senior GOPer on the panel. Another committee Republican, Representative Darrell Issa, huffed, "We're not surprised a country that was run by a corrupt dictator...would have a pattern of corruption." And Republican Representative John Mica noted that corruption plagues many democratic countries, including the United States. Mica cited Watergate and the prosecution of Reagan administration officials, and he claimed that the Clinton administration had "the most number of witnesses to die suddenly."

Their spin: corruption in Iraq is no big deal.

But Radhi in his testimony reiterated what he said in an interview with me several weeks ago: corruption is "rampant" within Iraq (perverting virtually every ministry and costing tens of billions of dollars); it's undermining the entire government and has "stopped the process of reconstruction"; Maliki has consistently blocked corruption investigations (especially probes involving his associates and family); in some instances corruption is "financing terrorism" by funding sectarian militias; and the situation is getting worse. Radhi noted that of the 3000 corruption cases his commission investigated and forwarded to Iraqi courts for prosecution, only 241 have been adjudicated. Also appearing as a witness at the hearing, Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, echoed Radhi, testifying that corruption within the Iraqi government is the "second insurgency." Bowen reported that corruption is on the rise in Iraq--partly due to Maliki's protection of crooked officials. He quoted one Iraqi official who said that "corruption is threatening the state."

That is, this is worse than Watergate. (And back then, no one investigating Richard Nixon's dirty tricks ended up dead and suspended on a meat hook.)

Radhi agreed with the Republicans that corruption was present during the days of Saddam Hussein, but he pointed out that the current corruption "is undermining my country." And he was not fazed when the GOPers tried to discredit his testimony. Republican Representative Dan Burton excitedly pointed out that Radhi had once served as a prosecutor during the Saddam years. (Burton did not mention that Radhi was twice imprisoned and tortured during the Saddam years and still bears the scars.) And Issa suggested that Radhi was appearing at the hearing (and offering testimony inconvenient for the Bush administration) in return for receiving backing from congressional Democrats for an asylum request Radhi recently submitted to the U.S. government for himself and family members.

Radhi came to the United States in August with ten of his CPI investigators for training sessions set up by the Justice Department. While he was in the Washington area, the Maliki government forcibly removed him from his post, accusing him of corruption and essentially stranding him with almost no source of funds. As one of his associates said at the hearing, "If Maliki is right and Judge Radhi stole millions of dollars, why did he have to check out of his hotel here when he couldn't pay the bill?" Christopher Griffith, a State Department official who worked with Radhi, in a pre-hearing interview with the House committee called Radhi "the most honest government of Iraq official that I have met in my 21 months in the country." Arthur Brennan, a former State Department official (and a past New Hampshire state judge) who worked with Radhi in Iraq, has called him "courageous, honest, and effective." Bowen dubbed him, "My most reliable partner....in Iraq."

The Republican attempt to taint Radhi was predictable. Radhi, who has praised the U.S. invasion of Iraq, said he has no political agenda. But his testimony raised a troubling question for the Bush administration: should the United States expend American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars to create "breathing space" for a government that may be too corrupt to achieve political reconciliation or provide essential services to its citizens? As Representative Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the committee, put it, "We need to ask, Is the Maliki government too corrupt to succeed? And if the Maliki government is corrupt, we need to ask whether we can in good conscience continue to sacrifice our blood and tax dollars to prop up his regime."

In response to the Republicans' corruption-is-everywhere defense, Radhi maintained that the "issue is different in Iraq....The infrastructure in Iraq is almost equal to zero. Services in the country is almost equal to zero." He noted that Iraq is a wealthy nation and that its government recently had a budget of $71 billion. Yet, he added, this money has not been used to rebuild and revive the country. David Walker, the comptroller general and another witness at the hearing, tried to spell out why corruption is a significant matter: "When the United States has 160,000 troops on the ground and billions of dollars invested...we ought to be concerned [with corruption] because it can have a direct impact on the Iraqi government's ability to achieve the 18 benchmarks [established by Congress]."

The 62-year-old Radhi left the hearing room quickly after testifying, taking no questions from reporters. Gerry Sikorski, one of his attorneys and a former House member, said, "He took a very risky step coming here"--implying that Radhi or his relatives might face reprisals for his testimony. In a written statement handed out by Sikorski, Radhi said that "real corruption...is destroying my country. It is impossible to have both democracy and corruption at the same time."

At the hearing, Waxman released a committee memorandum indicating that the Bush administration has mounted no serious effort regarding corruption within the Maliki government. After conducting interviews with several State Department officials responsible for anticorruption activity in Iraq, Waxman's committee concluded that "dysfunction and disarray...appear to be frustrating U.S. anticorruption efforts." Former Judge Brennan, who briefly headed State Department's Office of Accountability and Transparency (OAT), told committee investigators there was no coordinated U.S. strategy for combating corruption in Iraq. Michael Richards, the executive secretary of the Anticorruption Working Group, an interagency task force, said that his outfit did not have a coordinator for half a year and that few officials bothered to attend its meetings. And according to the committee memorandum, for a while this summer the State Department's OAT was run by a paralegal who previously had mainly performed administrative tasks within the department. In his prepared testimony, Inspector General Bowen reported that the U.S. embassy in Baghdad has been lackadaisical in its anticorruption efforts.

Yet after Radhi, Bowen and Walker were finished at the witness table, Ambassador Larry Butler, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, testified that the "Department of State has devoted considerable effort and resources to helping courageous Iraqi establish mechanisms and procedures to investigate and prosecute corruption." Butler did not have an easy task. But he stuck to his talking points, and--tougher still--he defended his department's refusal to cooperate fully with Waxman's committee.

Prior to the hearing, Waxman asked the State Department to provide witnesses and documents to his investigators. The department responded by claiming that previously unclassified documents about Iraqi government corruption were now classified (including the U.S. embassy draft report detailing extensive corruption within the Maliki government that I first disclosed in this column) and that any information provided by a State Department officials about corruption in Iraq would have to be classified (meaning it could not be discussed at a public hearing).

Writing to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Waxman contended that this was absurd and outrageous. He argued it was ridiculous for the State Department to claim it could not answer even general questions about Iraqi corruption within a public setting. At the hearing, Waxman hurled a series of queries at Butler. What effect does corruption have on the Iraqi government's ability to achieve political reconciliation? Has Maliki obstructed any corruption investigations? Does the Maliki government have the political will and capability to root out corruption? Is corruption funding the insurgency? Again and again, Butler replied that he would be delighted to answer these questions in the proper setting: a classified hearing behind closed doors. This information, he explained, was secret because its disclosure would "endanger" U.S.-Iraqi relations.

Noting that Rice had previously praised Iraqi anticorruption efforts in public, an upset Waxman declared, "If you say something negative about the Maliki government, it's classified, but if it's positive, then it's not." Representative Stephen Lynch, a Democrat on the committee, angrily remarked, "Do you see the irony here? You've established [for Iraq] a committee on accountability and transparency. But here...you're claiming there is a level of confidentiality...and we cannot tell the American people what we're doing with their money." Butler would not be moved. He kept declining to say anything about corruption in Iraq and its impact on the U.S. efforts there. "Secretary Rice," Waxman warned, "is going to have a confrontation with this committee....The executive branch must answer the questions of the legislative branch."

Well, maybe. In the meantime, it's unclear what will become of Radhi. He has several lawyers working pro bono on his immigration status (and that of his family members). And with the Iraqi government refusing to pay him the retirement benefits usually awarded former government officials of his rank, he will have to find a way to support himself in the United States (assuming he stays here). Moreover, it's not certain what impact, if any, his testimony will have on the ongoing debate in Congress concerning George W. Bush's Iraq policy and the administration's latest funding requests for the war. There were several reporters--but not many--at the hearing.

During his testimony, Radhi said he does not favor a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. But he did say that the Iraqi government can only function effectively if "professional technocrats...qualified to perform vital government services" are placed in charge. And by his own account, that is not happening. He estimates the Iraqi government is meeting 2 to 5 percent of its obligations--with the rest of its activity committed to waste and fraud.

So Radhi is, as Waxman noted, a man "without a country," and he's also a man caught between his desire (a clean and functioning Iraqi government backed by the United States) and his view of reality (a corrupt Iraqi government that's a threat to him and his family and that does not deserve the support of the United States). By design or not, his testimony does undercut the Bush administration's rationale for the so-called "surge--as would any public examination of corruption within the Iraqi government. Which is why the State Department is in fierce battle with Waxman and why this matter will not end with Radhi's testimony.

According to a Radhi associate, Radhi left the committee room believing he had done the right thing. Even as he was depending on the U.S. government to process his asylum request, he had delivered Congress a straight message that happened to be rather inconvenient for the Bush administration. Then hours later, he received disturbing news: his son, who had been trying to obtain political asylum in England, was ordered by the British government to return to Baghdad. That's where people connected to Radhi have been kidnapped, tortured and killed. "For Judge Radhi," the Radhi associate said, "this put his day on Capitol Hill in a very different light."

UPDATE. From my www.davidcorn.com blog: Two days after former Iraqi Judge Radhi al-Radhi testified in Congress about the rampant corruption within the Iraqi government, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki struck back. On Saturday, Maliki, who weeks ago forced out Radhi as Iraq's anticorruption chief, announced his government will prosecute Radhi for smuggling documents, for libeling Maliki, and for engaging in corruption himself.

This is not a new strategy for Maliki. A year ago, the Iraq government accused Radhi and the Commission on Public Integrity that he ran of corruption, but the charges went nowhere. (According to a now-confidential U.S. embassy draft report, Radhi's CPI passed an audit with flying colors.) And Radhi's work and integrity has been endorsed by a number of U.S. officials who worked with him, including Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. By the way, there is documentary evidence showing that Maliki's office has blocked dozens of Radhi's prosecution cases. (Apparently, Maliki is upset that Radhi has copies of these documents and shared them with U.S. congressional investigators.) As for the charge of personal corruption, Radhi shows no signs of having run off with any money. After being stranded in the United States by the Maliki government--which removed him from his post while he was in Washington at the invitation of the Justice Department for a training session--Radhi had to leave his hotel because he could not afford the bill. Friends of his in the United States are now trying to figure out how to raise money for him.

The question is, why is Maliki pursuing Radhi with such vengeance? Yes, Radhi has declared that Maliki's government is so corrupt it ought to be abolished and has accused Maliki of personally stopping corruption investigations targeting his associates and family. And Radhi's appearance on Capitol Hill last week did generate several news stories inconvenient for the Maliki government. But Radhi and his comments have not gotten as much attention as they deserve. From a political perspective, it might have been better for Maliki to ignore Radhi and hope the former judge (who was twice tortured during the days of Saddam Hussein) would slip off into obscurity. Instead, Maliki is pursuing Radhi, and this pursuit will raise Radhi's profile. (I see a 60 Minutes segment in all this.)

Radhi appears to have really gotten to Maliki. More important, Radhi's claims and evidence warrant more notice. As a Washington Post front-page story shows, Iraq's government is unable--and seemingly unwilling--to achieve political reconciliation. If it is also as corrupt and dysfunctional as Radhi says--and the available evidence supports him--then there is no reason for the Bush administration to be supporting the Maliki government and asking American soldiers to die for it. With his anti-Radih crusade, Maliki is digging a deeper hole.

Mine Safety In Deep Trouble

Two days of Congressional hearings on Utah's recent mining tragedy made clear that when it comes to government competency, the Mining Health and Safety Administration is neck-in-neck with FEMA under Mike Brown. Whether the Department of Labor agency proves as hard to clean up is the less certain issue that Congress-and mineworkers- face.

The two hearings, which were held seperately by the House and Senate Education and Labor Committees, turned into a civics lesson on "When Government Doesn't Work." MSHA's failure to communicate with families after the explosion of Crandall Canyon's mine roof has been pretty well documented. But the hearings additionally indicated that the agency lacked an effective inspection system, had no way to get needed information from other federal agencies, and still lacks a good-faith effort to evaluate its shortcomings.

As New Jersey Democratic Representative Robert Andrews noted to relatives of the six miners and three rescue workers killed, "We are sorry that government has let you down in so many ways."

The hearing's most startling moment occurred on the Senate side Tuesday when Kevin Stricklin, the MSHA public health and safety administrator, told the committee that a graduate student inspected the safety of Crandall Canyon. The grad student worked for Agapito Associates, a company that mine operators Murray Energy Corporation hired to inspect Crandall Canyon.

Stricklin testified that the written report from Agapito was submitted directly to MSHA. He did not know whether MSHA checked the graduate student's work. Stricklin additionally told committee chair Ted Kennedy that the Bureau of Land Management had discovered before the mine caved-in that Crandall Canyon was unsafe. But MSHA had no contact with the bureau until after the fact.

"This is like the CIA not talking to the FBI while we're getting attacked by terrorists," Kennedy said to Stricklin, ruefully adding that, "maybe the graduate student knew" about the Land Management's report.

Almost every witness testified that Crandall Canyon miner's lacked a voice, as there were neither represented by the United Mine Workers of America nor, apparently, provided a safety net by MSHA. Despite protests from the agency, The UMWA is now representing the families of victims and flew them in Wednesday to testify.

Along with relating their personal grief, the relatives also explicitly pointed out systemic failures before and after the tragedy."There are not enough safety inspectors and safety committees in non-union mines," said Steve Allred, brother of trapped miner Kerry Allred. Allred compared miners relying on MSHA safety inspectors to playing Russian roulette.

Utah's Republican Governor Jim Hunstman focused on the emergency response failure of MSHA. "There was a lack of defined authority and coordination." Huntsman said. "The [MSHA] experts clearly had not operated in deep mines before."

Other witnesses characterized MSHA employees as glorified yes-men to Murray CEO Jim Murray. "We thought MSHA was going to be in charge but every time we went down there [to the mine] it was Mr. Murray," said Mike Marasco, the son-in-law of miner Allred. Relatives and union representatives said Murray and MSHA have continually lied and withheld information.

Such damning accusations ultimately beg the question of what Congress can and should do. Right now, lawmakers still don't fully know what happened. Department of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao did not appoint a graduate student to head the official government investigation, but she did name two retired MSHA inspectors. And Chao has hampered a more independent investigation by not turning over subpoenaed documents to Congress and the state of Utah.

Congress also doesn't know how to address the broader issue of mine safety. After the Sago mine tragedy in West Virginia last year, Democratic legislators successfully made into law the MINER Act, which was supposed to address the very issues now being debated. Except for members of Congress from Utah, most Republicans didn't show up for either hearing, and those who did argued that more laws are unnecessary. "We're in the business of making good, enforceable policy," explained Jon Kline of Minnesota. "Sometimes in our frustration we just pass a law and say things are okay."

It will be a while until MSHA is judged "okay."

Anna Politkovskaya's Legacy

One year ago, the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered. The fearless, crusading journalist for Russia's leading opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, was just 48 years old when she was found in her Moscow apartment building, shot in the head.

Her unflinching investigative reporting on the brutality and corruption of the Chechen war, as well as other abuses of official power, had made her the target of numerous death threats. On one of her many reporting trips to Chechnya, she was detained and beaten by Russian troops who threw her into a pit, threatened to rape her and performed a mock execution. But, as one of her colleagues wrote soon after her murder, "Anna believed that fate had given her a mission: to tell people the truth about what was actually going on in Chechnya." When she was killed, Politkovskaya was working on an article claiming Chechen civilians were being tortured by security forces loyal to the region's pro-Moscow Consul and now President Ramzan Kadyrov.

In an editorial published immediately after Politkovskaya's assassination, the paper's staff pledged, "While there is a Novaya Gazeta, her killers won't sleep soundly." Four days after her death, the newspaper published her unfinished article, along with photos of the torture victims.

This September, Russia's Prosecutor General announced that ten people had been arrested in Politkovskaya's killing, including a police major, three former police officers and lieutenant colonel in the FSB, the former KGB Yet, for all practical purposes, one year later, her brazen murder remains unsolved. Despite what Russian officials have claimed as breakthroughs, Roman Shleinov, an investigative editor at Novaya Gazeta, says the truth is still buried. The paper's courageous editor-in-chief, Dmitrii Muratov, who was initially satisfied with the progress of the official investigation--even cooperating with it-- now believes that media leaks, the demotion of the lead investigator, the release of a key suspect, and claims of gaping holes in the evidence have undermined hopes of justice being served. And the paper's editors dispute the official version of foreign involvement in Politkovskaya's murder --that it was done in order to discredit the Kremlin and destabilize the Russian state. Novaya Gazeta continues to conduct an independent investigation of its martyred reporter's murder.

However murky the official Russian investigation, what remains clear is that Anna Politkovskaya endures as an example of the importance of truth and courage in journalism. It is that importance --and her fearless pursuit of justice for the powerless and vulnerable --which will be remembered in memorials,from Moscow to London and New York, this weekend.

In London, on the evening of October 5th, a new international human rights group supporting women human rights defenders and women and girl victims of war and conflict -- RAW in WAR (Reach all Women in WAR)--will mark its founding by honoring Anna. Mariana Katzarova, a journalist, human rights advocate and RAW's founder, told me that Anna was very supportive of RAW's work and had just agreed to join the group's advisory board a few days before she was killed. To honor her, and other women human rights defenders, Mariana says, RAW decided to establish a RAW in WAR annual award in the name of Anna Politkovskaya. This year the award will go to Natalya Estemirova, a woman activist from Anna's war--the war in Chechnya. Natalya continues to work for the human rights group Memorial in the Chechen capital of Grozny. (We are publishing her disturbing article about how she and Anna fought to bring a torturer to justice.)

Since 1992, 47 Russian journalists have been murdered, 33 during Boris Yeltsin's presidency, and the vast majority of cases remain unsolved. Some of the most fearless--and vulnerable--of these reporters were women, like Yulia Yudina, chief editor of a provincial paper far from Moscow, who was investigating local corruption. Today, many of those speaking up for media freedom and independence are women, often in the provinces of Russia. Indeed in these bleak times for independent media in Russia, And while a great many mainstream Moscow journalists are compliant, there are hopeful signs of solidarity among the country's journalists. Last May, for example, TV2, located in the Siberian city of Tomsk, posted an open letter to President Putin in defense of media freedom. Within a few days, more than 2000 journalists from almost all Russian regions had signed the petition.

While Anna Politkovskaya's paper, Novaya Gazeta, remains the most critical oppositionist newspaper with national influence in Putin's Russia, it has paid a heavy price for its crusading investigations into high-level corruption, human rights violations and abuses of power. Three of its reporters--Igor Domnikov and Yuri Shchekochikhin-- have been killed-- Ana being the most recent victim. Yet, the paper's tenacious editor, Dmitrii Muratov continues to fight for press freedom --and for justice on behalf of his slain colleagues. This November, he will receive the Committee to Protect Journalist's 2007 International Press Freedom Award at a ceremony in New York city.

Lost amid so much of the remembrance of Anna's killing, one year later, is a sad irony: She was assassinated on the 20th anniversary of the unfolding of Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost policy, in 1986, which led to an increasingly free press. Today, the former Soviet President--who has long been a financial supporter of Novaya Gazeta (he donated part of his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize Award to pay for start-up computers and salaries), is a part owner of the newspaper. It was his words, upon learning of Politkovskaya's murder, that stay with me on this anniversary: " Her murder was a savage crime against the country, against all of us...a blow to the entire democratic, independent press." Let all who care about a free press and a democratic society work to ensure that Anna Politkovskaya's newspaper thrive as an oppositionist, independent force-- and that her killers be brought to justice.

Clinton Says Bush Needs Congressional OK for Iran War

New York Senator Hillary Clinton, the front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, will never be accused of being an anti-war firebrand when it comes to Iran. Her September 26 vote for a non-binding Senate amendment urging the Bush administration to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist entity only heightened concern about her hawkish views.

But, amid mounting concern that the 76-22 Senate vote in favor of the resolution would be read by the Bush administration as an authorization to ramp up preparations for an attack on Iran, Clinton is pulling back from the brink -- and trying to get the rest of the Senate to do the same.

The senator has signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation requiring formal congressional approval for any attack on Iran.

The legislation, written by hawkish Virginia Senator Jim Webb, would bar the use of appropriated funds for war against Iran without authorization by the House and Senate.

"Any military action against Iran will have an immediate impact on our troops serving in Iraq, our allies in the region as well as long-term U.S. strategic interests," says Clinton. "Senator Webb's legislation insures that Congress will play its constitutional role of providing proper oversight over the administration's policy toward Iran. Congressional oversight and debate can help avoid the mistakes and blunders that have afflicted U.S. policy in Iraq. We cannot allow recent history to repeat itself."

Clinton's stances on issues of war and peace are rarely reassuring. But in demanding that Congress play its proper role -- something she failed to do prior to the attack on Iraq -- the senator has come down on the right side of an essential question.

The Moral Dangers of Adventure Tourism

The best read this morning is this amazing piece by Rolf Potts titled "Death of an Adventure Traveler" (via Arts and Letters Daily). The narrative traces his decision as a writer for what he describes as "a Major American Adventure Travel Magazine" to abandon his trade. The immediate reason: the disappearance, and perhaps death of a beloved Burmese friend.

The article delineates the stark and shameful contrast between the faux adrenalin-raising thrills sought by adventure tourists and the very real dangers faced by the people who call these "exotic" destinations home.

Here are some excerpts to encourage you to click through and read the article:

"Readers of Major American Adventure-Travel Magazines, [my editor] told me, didn't want to read about journeys that were obscure or complicated; they wanted exotic challenges wherein they might test -- or, at least, imagine themselves testing -- the extremes of human experience. ... The Major American Adventure-Travel Magazine, it seemed, wanted me to create a tantalizing recipe for the exotic and the unexpected, but only the kind of 'unexpected' that could be planned in advance and completed in less than three weeks. ...

Every time I researched some upscale mountain trek in the Nepal Himalayas or two-week scuba diving excursion off the coast of Papua New Guinea, I couldn't help but ponder how pointless it all was. I began to e-mail my editor pointed questions about how one should define the 'extremes of human experience.' How was kayaking a remote Chinese river, I asked, more notable than surviving on its shores for a lifetime? How did risking frostbite on a helicopter-supported journey to arctic Siberia constitute more of an 'adventure' than risking frostbite on a winter road-crew in Upper Peninsula Michigan?"

All good questions we should ask ourselves when we make our holiday plans.