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Last-Minute Gift Ideas

If you're really organized you've already completed your holiday shopping for the year. If so, you can take a break from this column. But if you're like me and still looking for holiday presents with a progressive slant, keep reading for ideas, many of them courtesy of my crack intern researcher Mike Fox (who also plays a mean fiddle and whose band's CD makes a nice holiday gift too).

First, check out Katha Pollitt's latest Nation column, which upholds her recent tradition of offering annual suggestions for giving to groups and organizations doing unbelievable work with shockingly little money. The efficiency of some of these places would awe a McKinsey consultant, so look them over before you make your final round of charitable contributions this year.

Heifer International also makes it easy to help assist needy families far from home. The Heifer gift catalog allows you to purchase an animal that can be a life-line for families in the developing world. A pig can be bought for $120 (or chip in $10 to help share the cost of one), three rabbits are a bargain at $60 total, a flock of chicks costs only $20, and if you're feeling really generous, a $1,500 donation provides two sheep, four goats, a heifer and two llamas.

It's true that donating to Heifer is wholly apolitical and does nothing to shake the fundamental global divide between rich and poor, which creates so much unnecessary misery around the world. But people need to eat while change is being made and I like to think of outfits like Heifer as offering the opportunity for the world's well-off to voluntarily redistribute a bit of their incomes to those that need the money much more than we do.

On to gifts for friends and family: For a range of socially responsible ideas, see the Center for a New American Dream's Conscious Consumer Marketplace. Things like gift baskets with fair trade coffee and organic chocolate, hand lotion and organic cotton clothing are easy to find, as are big-ticket items like wood furniture, energy-efficient kitchen appliances and gift certificates that can be used on a range of green travel packages. There's even a section of presents for college students looking to "green their dorm room."

Over at the GreenGuide, Karen Mockler offers a good case for why parents with young kids should be wary of anything but strictly non-toxic toys this holiday season and tells us where to go and what to get. (NorthStar Toys, featuring a five-piece wooden train set, was my favorite of the companies she recommends.) And--especially if you have a newborn--check out EcoBaby for organic and safe clothes, toys, bedding, bath products, diapers and much more. They're offering free shipping until December 25.

Another good place to shop online is from an innovative collective in India which started in 1986 with only three women, and now employs 480 artisans in 14 artisan-owned cooperatives in and around Mumbai, India. MarketPlace: Handwork of India is a nonprofit, fair trade organization whose intricate handmade clothing and decorative items provide an alternative to the inequities of conventional trade between developed and developing countries.

The idea is to provide access to global markets for low-income Indian women by using design to bridge the gap between skills and markets. And their clothes are nice! Not everything is for everybody, but there's an impressive range of apparel at reasonable prices. And anything can be returned easily with no charge.

The Co-Op America holiday catalogue offers scores of links to small companies and collectives all offering short-term discounts through Co-Op America's site. You can find everything from calendars and cards to food and wine to amber jewelry and Ms. Magazine. Through the Global Exchange holiday site you can buy cosmetic cases created by the Lisu Tribe of Northern China and Burma, hand-stitched quilts from India, teddy bears from Sri Lanka, rugs from the Philippines and Bush playing cards made in the U.S. of A.

In Grist, the internet's premiere environmental magazine, Sarah van Schagen and Sarah Kraybill break down your gift listees into useful demographics before offering gift ideas. There are eco-jeans for the "Trendy Clotheshorse"; natural pet cleaning supplies for the "Pet Obsessed"; a solar phone charger for your "Hipster" friends; Eco-friendly hair color, eye makeup, and lipstick--all in black, of course--for those "Angsty Teens" on your list; bottles of organic beer and bamboo baseball bats for the "Sports Fanatics"; and for those "Anti-Enviros" you must shop for: biodegradable golf balls and tees. They'll never know the difference.

Finally, my boss will not be pleased if I neglect to plug The Nation's revamped Online Shop. Given the rush on our antiwar buttons and anti-Bush apparel this past year, we've developed a full catalogue of new Nation merchandise. All clothing is union-made, ideal for gifts, and can be purchased online in just a few minutes.

Some Highlights:

Nation Gift Subscriptions.

Alfred W. Bush Shirts and Posters.

Antiwar/Anti-Bush Buttons and Bumper Stickers.

Discounted Books by Katrina vanden Heuvel, Victor Navasky, Molly Ivins and many others.

Happy Holidays!

Eugene McCarthy's Lyrical Politics

Even the poets are restless now. They¡¦re not content to go along with Shelley and be the unacknowledged legislators of the world. They want to be acknowledged just a little bit.

Eugene McCarthyMarch, 1968

Eugene McCarthy, who has died more quietly than he lived at the venerable age of 89, will be remembered first and foremost as the courageous Minnesota senator who, when the anti-Vietnam War movement needed a champion in the political arena, took up the fight and deposed one of the most powerful presidents in history.

But of McCarthy, to a greater extent than any contemporary political figure except perhaps former President Jimmy Carter, it can fairly be said that he was much more than maverick senator and an epic presidential contender.

He was, as well, a literary contender -- a poet whose determination to leap from the role of truth teller and angry scold that Percy Bysshe Shelley envisioned when he dubbed poets "the unacknowledged legislators of the world" into the actual legislature and leadership of a global superpower.

It was the poetic impulse that served to explain the most inspired and the most frustrating aspects of McCarthy's long and often quixotic journey across the American political landscape. Indeed, it was in the thick of the 1968 campaign, when his more prominent foes were declining to debate McCarthy that the senator suggested "a poetry contest" where the battle would could down to "who can develop the best rhymes or the best lines -- if we leave it that open..."

McCarthy did not win the presidency. But he would have won his poetry contest hands down.

And if Walt Whitman celebrated his own life as the great poem of America in its questing 19th century moment, then surely Gene McCarthy's 1968 presidential campaign was -- in its brief shining moment -- the great poem of the American political experience.

In these darker days of that experience, it is difficult to imagine a lyrical politics.

Politics and poetry are infrequently associated -- to the detriment of both endeavors.

But four decades ago, in a different and more hopeful America, politics and poetry had a brief acquaintance.

In the fall of 1967, millions of Americans had come to the conclusion that the only way to get U.S. troops out of the quagmire that was Vietnam was to depose President Lyndon Johnson. No small maneuver this -- as Johnson had been elected in a 1964 landslide and retained an air of invincibility. But a small band of anti-war Democrats determined to find a U.S. senator brave --or foolish -- enough to take on his own president and party.

They found an unlikely candidate in a senator from Minnesota who was at least as serious about literature as he was about politics. McCarthy was a radical anomaly in American politics even then, a former college professor who began one of the most important speeches of that 1968 campaign - an address to a great rally in the Dane County Coliseum in Madison Wisconsin -- by quoting, from memory, a long section of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass."

McCarthy's literary bent tended to put off fellow senators, who sometimes dismissed him as too prone to rumination and independent thinking for the game of politics. But it sat well with the ragtag band of political dreamers who dared believe they could defeat a sitting president, end a foolish war and set right a nation.

Their slogan was: "To begin anew... ."

His supporters were the sort of romantic radicals who maintained that it was not merely possible, but in fact necessary, to turn the wheel of politics and governance further than more restrained activists of their day -- and the days since -- would imagine it might go.

Several years ago, when we were talking about our mutual friend Midge Miller, who played a pivotal role in the Wisconsin primary campaign that would yield the great victory of his crusade, McCarthy explained what distinguished Miller and so many of the others who helped him turn the wheel in 1968.

"Midge had been active before my campaign. She knew politics. That made her invaluable, because most people who 'knew' politics were certain that our campaign was doomed to fail," McCarthy said of the woman who would go on to be a founder of the National Women's Political Caucus and to serve many years as a Wisconsin legislator. "She was that rare combination: someone with experience who still believed that great things were possible."

McCarthy and his supporters achieved that which older and "wiser" liberals deemed impossible. They built a campaign so strong that a stunned Johnson responded with an eve-of-the-primary announcement that he was ending his re-election effort. In Wisconsin that spring, McCarthy wrote a poem that well captured the ironic, insurgent and, above all, romantic character of that campaign:

Whose foot is on the treadle

That turns the burning stars

Has spun the world half way round

Since last I called

Come down, come down.

|

That stars that in September

Looked through the mournful rain

Now set their sight again

Upon a world half night, half light

|

Men of distant years have said

That much depends on change of seasons

On solstices and equinox

And they have given reasons.

|

I disagree.

Too much turns on inadvertence

On what seems to be

An accident of hand and knee

A chance sunrise

A glance of eyes

Eugene McCarthy and his followers put their feet to the treadle in 1967 and 1968, challenged the men of distance years, betting on the inadvertence of a poet-senator, and changing the course of their party and their nation. For a moment, all too brief, they found a common ground between poetry and politics -- and they inspired a nation, or at least a few of its more adventurous states, to take a leap of faith.

Even if McCarthy sometimes gave up the ground over the years, many of those who were with him in that distant campaign have stood it ever since - calling the rest of us to believe in the prospect that an inspired few can spin the world half way round.

McCarthy always recognized that it was not just he who had the poetry in him.

"We proved something in that 1968 campaign," McCarthy explained to me a few years ago, during that conversation about Midge Miller and the others who drew him into the race and who sustained him through its unimagined triumphs and its bitter disappointments. "We showed that you could challenge the two political parties and all the powerful institutions in that country, and we did so with some success. (The backers of that 1968 campaign believed), when few others did, that we could take on all the institutions of politics - the parties, the media, the pollsters, the military-industrial complex. You had to have something of the poet in you to believe that."

The poet is gone now. But something of him lingers, on a shelf of finer books than we have much right to expect of a politician and in the memory of a campaign more lyrical than all but the luckiest of of us have since experienced.

Feingold to Fight Patriot Act Reauthorization

Four years ago, when U.S. Senator Russ Feingold stood alone in the Senate to oppose the Bush administration's Patriot Act, he was portrayed as a political fringe dweller whose determination to defend basic liberties was out of touch with the realities of the post-9/11 era.

This year, as Feingold leads the fight to block a flawed proposal to reauthorize the Patriot Act, he does so as the voice of a national movement that includes conservatives and liberals, Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians and independents, and residents of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. And he has enough Senate allies to speak seriously about launching a filibuster to block the measure.

What has changed since 2001?

For one thing, almost 400 communities across the United States and seven states -- Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana and Vermont -- have passed resolutions condemning the assaults on civil liberties and the rule of law contained in the Patriot Act and calling upon Congress to address those concerns before reauthorizing the measure that was approved with minimal debate in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Rarely in American history has a single law drawn such ideologically, politically and geographically diverse opposition.

The message was heard by the Senate which, during this year's reauthorization debate, addressed many of the most serious civil liberties concerns. The bipartisan reauthorization measure, which added basic privacy protections that had been proposed by Feingold and others, was approved unanimously by the Senate.

Unfortunately, the U.S. House, which under the hard-line partisan leadership of Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and his lieutenants no longer operates as an independent legislative chamber but instead rubber stamps the requests of the Bush administration, failed to respond to the public outcry. Instead, it produced a reauthorization of the Patriot Act that was actually more draconian in some senses than the original legislation.

That set up what was supposed to be a clash between House and Senate conferees, who were required to reconcile the differing proposals.

But, rather than accept the Senate's balanced bill, the conference committee opted to advance a version of the legislation that, like the House bill, extends most of the Patriot Act permanently while failing to address the flaws that have inspired so much opposition to the law. Of particular concern to civil libertarians is the fact that the conference committee's proposal extends several of the Patriot Act's most controversial provisions by authorizing roving wiretaps and permitting allowing the government to seize the records of libraries, hospitals and businesses in "fishing expedition" searches.

"The conference committee had the opportunity to fix many of the provisions of the Patriot Act to which Americans across the political spectrum have voiced their opposition over the last four years," explained U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, the leading Congressional critic of the Patriot Act. "Unfortunately, they decided not to listen."

Feingold's objections were echoed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups that seek to defend Bill of Rights protections. "This sham compromise agreement fails to address the primary substantive concern raised by millions of Americans, as well as civil liberties, privacy and business organizations and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and in both chambers," argued Caroline Fredrickson, the director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office.

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, which has played a critical role in organizing opposition to the Patriot Act nationwide, is particularly worried by the decision of the conference committee to disregard language that would have protected against the abusive use of so-called "National Security Letters" -- the documents used to federal agents to demand the records of libraries and businesses. Civil libertarians wants Congress to set a baseline standard requiring that there be a connection between records sought and a suspected terrorist or foreign agent.

Without such protections, Feingold says, the conference committee's proposal lacks "adequate safeguards to protect our constitutional freedoms."

As such, the Wisconsin Democrat says, "I will do everything I can, including a filibuster, to stop this Patriot Act conference report." The filibuster threat is a significant one, as the act will expire if it is not reauthorized by the end of the year.

Unlike in 2001, Feingold has Senate allies. On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators joined him in signing a letter that declared, "We believe that this conference report will not be able to get through the Senate, while the Senate bill would easily pass the House if its leadership would bring it to a vote. We call on our House colleagues to reject this conference report, and to take up and pass the Senate compromise bill. We still can - and must - make sure that our laws give law enforcement agents the tools they need while providing safeguards to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans."

That's the balance that Feingold sought to strike in 2001. He's doing so again in 2005. The difference is that, this time, Feingold will not have to stand alone.

Ford's Fate

When it comes to winning back the Senate, Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee is beginning to look like the Democrats' make-or-break candidate--and that might not be such a good thing.

Ford is running surprisingly well in his race to replace retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in traditionally conservative Tennessee. In August, he ran virtually unopposed for the Democratic nomination. And now, a recent poll has Ford just one point behind his Republican rival, former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker.

If he wins in November, the 36-year-old Ford would become the first African-American senator from the South since reconstruction. Ever since his keynote speech at the 2000 Democratic convention, Ford has been seen as a rising star in the party, yet his very conservative views on a variety of issues make him seem more like the next Joe Lieberman than a beacon of light in future of the party.

During his nearly decade-long career in Congress, Ford has supported constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and flag-burning. He was an outspoken opponent of a filibuster attempt to prevent Samuel Alito's appointment to the Supreme Court. He has supported the placement of the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, prayer in schools and an end to handgun bans.

Most disappointing was his vote in favor for the war in Iraq, when so many of his colleagues in the House had the wisdom not to.

Ford is certainly a charismatic congressman. Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council president Jerry Lee has called him, "the most exciting candidate I've seen since John F. Kennedy" and he's even appeared in People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" issue . Yet for some time now, the American public, and progressives especially, have been crying out for more than a pretty face. They want a real change in leadership, but in a Senate where Rep. Ford could ostensibly be the deciding vote on a host of issues, change might come much slower than they'd hoped.

The Best Secret Tellers in Washington

Washington is a city of secrets. Some old; some new. There are few institutions devoted to the mission of prying these secrets from the filing cabinets of assorted government agencies. Some media outfits periodically pick the locks and obtain scoops. Journalists occasionally receive well- or not-so-well-intentioned leaks about past or present official misdeeds. Once in a while--less so these days--a congressional investigation or a commission unearths long-buried truths about government-gone-bad. But when it comes to consistently forcing important secrets out of the US government no journalist or investigator rivals the National Security Archive, a nonprofit outfit based at George Washington University.

Why gush about it now? Today the Archive is celebrating its 20th anniversary. In 1985 journalists Scott Armstrong and Raymond Bonner. Representative Jim Moody, Ruth Chojnacki, a congressional aide, Morton Halperin, the head of the ACLU office in Washington, and Stephen Paschke, the chief financial officer of the Fund for Peace, founded the organization. At first it was, in a way, a dumping ground for journalists and scholars who had amassed large files on subjects related to national security and foreign policy. Unlike those reporters and scholars who are overly possessive of their records, these folks wanted to make their material available to others. (And who needs all those boxes in their basements?) But the National Security Archive grew into more than a depository. It became a force for openness--first in the United States, then throughout the world. Its researchers relentlessly filed Freedom of Information Act requests--and haggled with various government agencies--to obtain crucial records of historic and contemporary significance. In 1990, a lawsuit it filed jointly with Public Citizen won the release of Oliver North's Iran-contra notebooks. The Archive pressured the US government to release tens of thousands of pages on the dictatorial regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile. It forced Henry Kissinger to relinquish control of 33,000 pages of public records he walked off with when he left the government. And as democracy spread to Eastern Europe and Russia (well, kind of) in the 1990s, the National Security Archive worked with the new governments in these countries to modernize their archives and to bring transparency to their history.

Before gushing further, let me issue this Interest Declared: When writing my book on the CIA, Blond Ghost, in the early 1990s, the Archive was quite helpful. It had collected reams of material on the CIA campaign against Cuba of the early 1960s that was rather important for my project. And I fondly (in a perverse way) recall spending weeks at the Archive poring over a massive computer printout of all the Freedom of Information Act requests the CIA had fulfilled in previous years. The Archive had pressured the CIA to release this information, and the CIA, in response, handed it a printout that listed the data in random order. Not by date. Not by subject. Not by name of requester. In other words, the CIA had organized the information in the least usable form. We figured that the CIA must have programmed a computer to achieve this, for, certainly, the CIA did not maintain its records in such a haphazard fashion. (At least, we hoped so.) The National Security Archive pressed the CIA to turn over the data in an electronic version that could be searchable. (Want to know what documents related to Vietnam the CIA had released? Type in "Vietnam" and hit "Enter.") But the CIA had said no. That meant I had to look at this printout, which covered thousands of requests, line by line. It was a worthwhile endeavor, but my eyes took a pounding. Subsequently--too late for me--the Archive succeeded in forcing the CIA to hand over this information on computer tapes.

Further Interest Declared: several longtime friends of mine work at the Archive, including Peter Kornbluh, Kate Doyle, and Tom Blanton, the director.

Anyone who gives a damn about honesty in history and openness in government ought to cheer the Archive. To celebrate its birthday, the organization has gathered statistics about its accomplishments. It has filed 32,000 FOIA and declassification requests with over 200 offices and agencies of the US government; it has obtained the release of 7 million pages of once-secret documents; its staff and fellows have written 46 books; it has participated in 39 major lawsuits, one of which resulted in the preservation of 40 million emails from the Reagan, Bush I and Clinton administrations. And the Archive this week put out a greatest hits list of 20 big-secret government records it has obtained in the past two decades. It's an impressive list that includes

* Hundreds of photos of flag-draped coffins containing the remains of US troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, which the Pentagon fought to keep secret.

* The January 25, 2001 memo that terrorism czar Richard Clarke sent to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, warning that top Bush administration officials needed to immediately come up with a plan for dealing with al Qaeda.

* The briefing notes for Donald Rumsfeld's 1984 meeting with Saddam Hussein, when Rumsfeld, acting as an envoy for the Reagan administration, was to tell Saddam that the Reagan administration's public criticism of Iraq for using chemical weapons would not interfere with Reagan's effort to forge a closer relationship with Saddam.

* An August 6, 1986 entry from Oliver North's notebook that indicated North had met with then-Vice President George Bush in the midst of the Iran-contra affair.

* The log book of a US Navy destroyer that revealed that on October 27, 1962--in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis--this ship dropped depth charges off the Cuban coast and almost hit the hull of a Soviet submarine carrying a nuclear warhead. The crew of the sub, believing war was at hand, considered firing the nuclear weapon but did not.

* Documents from CIA and FBI files that showed that Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban militant who has sought US asylum, was at two planning meetings for the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner that killed 73 people.

* Guatemalan army intelligence documents and US intelligence documents that indicated that the CIA was assisting the Guatemalan military in the 1980s as that military was killing thousands of civilians.

* Documents that revealed that Henry Kissinger, as secretary of state in 1976, supported the Argentine military dictatorship's crackdown of dissent that led to the deaths of tens of thousands.

* The CIA inspector general's scathing review of the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco, which was kept secret for nearly four decades and which blasted CIA secret operations as "ludicrous or tragic or both."

* A 1967 CIA memo that revealed that the CIA had tried to implant listening devices in cats and train them to approach targets. The memo noted that the "work done on this problem over the years reflects great credit on the personnel who guided it," but that "the environmental and security factors in using this technique in a real foreign situation forces us to conclude that for our...purposes, it would not be practical." The first wired and trained cat had been released near a park and ordered to eavesdrop on two men sitting on a bench. On its way to the target, the cat was run over by a taxi.

******

Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the latest in the CIA leak scandal, Condi and torture, the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death, and other in-the-news matters.

******

Without the National Security Archive much of the secret history of the United States--and other nations--would remain a secret. Is this a puff piece? Certainly. There is no better institution in Washington than the Archive. The work it does is actually something a government could and should do. It's not too hard to imagine a federal openness advocate who would muscle individual federal agencies to release information about past and present activities. But governments tend to be rather reluctant to reveal to the public--the people they ostensibly serve--inconvenient and troubling secrets on their own. Consequently, a bunch of smart people dedicated to the public interest have been gainfully employed for two decades. The public here and abroad knows more about key historical episodes than it would otherwise thanks to the their toils. It is a pity there is such a critical need for the National Security Archive; it is a blessing for journalists, historians and citizens that the Archive exists.

Annals of Outrage III

Last May, I wrote an Annals of Outrage II chronicling the waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government in the first half of 2004. Plenty of time has passed since my last piece and much has happened. Here, then, is my latest attempt to guide you through the Bush Administration's most egregious corruption scandals. The information comes to us courtesy of the federal government's internal investigations into administration fraud, waste and abuse. The cronyism and corruption have hit a new low. 

1) Bat Mitzvah Corruption: In terms of sheer outrage, millionaire defense contractor David H. Brooks is hard to top. The New York Daily News recently reported that Brooks spent an estimated $10 million on his daughter's bat mitzvah reception. Aerosmith performed at the reception (reportedly earning a cool two million dollars), and Kenny G, 50 Cent, Tom Petty and The Eagles' Don Henley and Joe Walsh also played. Here's the kicker: Brooks has reportedly made more than $250 million in wartime profits as the CEO of DHB Industries-- which has had thousands of defective bulletproof vests recalled by the government! 

According to a government investigation into the faulty vests that was uncovered by the Marine Corps Times, DHB's equipment saw "multiple complete penetrations" when 9mm pistol rounds were fired into the vests. One government ballistics expert quoted in the government's findings said he had "little confidence" in DHB's equipment. Meanwhile, the SEC is looking into Brooks' 2004 sale of $186 million worth of company stock. Institute for Policy Studies' Sarah Anderson, who co-authored a report called "Executive Excess 2005," called Brooks a "world champion war profiteer," concluding, he has "no shame." 

2) CPA's Bribes: The war in Iraq continues to churn out profiteering scandals on a weekly basis. The New York Times reported in November that the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction had uncovered a scheme involving a US comptroller in the Coalition Provisional Authority, Robert J. Stein, and other co-conspirators who accepted "kickbacks and bribes…to steer lucrative construction contracts" to an American-run company. According to the criminal complaint, Stein and his wife spent the bribes he received on cars, jewelry, and home improvements. In the meantime, the contracted work either wasn't performed or was shabbily done. Most outrageous of all, Stein was given control over eighty-two million dollars in funds for Iraq rebuilding despite the fact that he had spent eight months in jail in the 1990s on a felony fraud conviction. 

More broadly, the special inspector faulted the CPA for failing to adequately account for 8.8 billion dollars in funds designated for Iraqi rebuilding projects. As the Boston Globe reported this month, "11 investigators in Iraq [are] looking into more than 50…cases of graft involving civilians and the US military." 

3) Halliburton Redux, Redux: Annals of Outrage just wouldn't be the same if Cheney's ex-company didn't make my list. The company, of course, has spawned a cottage industry of government investigations into the corporate construction giant's nebulous billing and spending practices. Halliburton remains under intense scrutiny today. Just last month, CNN.com explained how whistleblower Bunnatine Greenhouse who had worked for the US Army Corps of Engineers charged that Halliburton's subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root was operating under government contracts rife with "the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed." Waste was ubiquitous. Greenhouse told a Democratic hearing sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan that instead of fixing $85,000 trucks in need of relatively minor repairs like flat tires, KBR decided to torch them. The Justice Department told Dorgan that it was looking into the mounting allegations of widespread fraud at Halliburton.

4) No-bid contracts: The effort to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina has created a massive amount of new work for the government's inspectors general. One example, according to the Washington Post, was the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general's report that the government had awarded an $80 billion no-bid contract to an Alabama company, Clearbrook LLC, for building camps for emergency work, but that the company had "mathematically inaccurate [billings] indicating over three million dollars in overcharges" and a "complete lack of documentation supporting price reasonableness." 

That's just the tip of the iceberg. The Post also reported that over at the Pentagon, the Inspector general's office is examining an Army Corps of Engineers contract to distribute ice in Katrina's aftermath and a contract for putting temporary roofs over damaged homes. In fact, by late October, a whopping 92 investigations had been initiated into allegations of corruption, overpayments and other improprieties associated with the federal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. By early November, the website Govexec.com was reporting that investigations had already led to 23 arrests, 12 indictments, and more than 400 investigators reviewing "3,000 contracts worth more than $5.1 billion...."

5) Manna from FEMA: In response to questions from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in October, the Dept. of Homeland Security's inspector general Richard Skinner said that he was investigating complaints that FEMA wily-nilly provided checks for $2,000 to residents of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana unaffected by Katrina's destructive path. "In three Louisiana parishes," the paper reported, "FEMA issued more checks than there are households, at a cost to taxpayers of at least $70 million." One Mississippi official told the Sun-Sentinel that folks "made a ton of money." "We're talking plasma TVs...stereos...bicycles." While FEMA has told Congress that the disbursement problems have been fixed, Skinner said that he couldn't confirm FEMA's claim. By mid-October, 14 people faced charges of fraud in relation to the $2,000 payouts. Skinner said that "we expect many more" to be indicted. 

6) Bilking TSA: As I reported last May, the Transportation Security Administration has its own share of fraud, waste and abuse problems. And so in late October, Rep. Henry Waxman pointed to news reports citing "egregious waste under contracts awarded and administered by the Department of Homeland Security [and TSA]."

Pentagon investigators have found, for instance, that one contractor--the technology company Unisys--might have over-charged TSA by some 171,000 hours in labor and overtime by billing out their employees to TSA "at up to twice their actual rate of compensation," as Waxman's statement put it. One former TSA official told Congress that senior administration officials had ordered him to deflate cost estimates of TSA's deal with Unisys to mislead the public about the true costs of the contract. 

7) No Science Allowed: The Government Accountability Office found in mid-November that the FDA, according to the Los Angeles Times, had "compromised their usual science-based decision making process when they ruled in 2004 against letting the morning-after birth control pill be sold without a prescription." The GAO issued a report saying that the FDA's review process for the Plan B pill was "unusual," "not typical," "novel," "did not follow FDA's traditional practices." Before the scientific review had even concluded, senior FDA officials allegedly told mid-level employees that Plan B was not going to be approved for over-the-counter sales, regardless of the scientific findings. Henry Waxman concluded that the "GAO's final report describes an appalling level of manipulation and suppression of the science. It appears that the decision…was preordained from the outset." 

8) Politicizing Public Programming: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Inspector General Kenneth Konz recently delivered a report in which he found that CPB's former chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson, was trying to politicize PBS's programming by urging PBS to put a conservative talk show on the air and by hiring lobbyists and consultants without the CPB board's approval. Konz's devastating report concluded that Tomlinson (who resigned shortly before the report was publicly released) had "directly violated the agency's statutes and procedures," as the Washington Post put it. 

9) Abramoff: I could have devoted an entire Annals to chronicling the government investigations spawned by the notorious GOP super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But in brief, there's a Justice Department criminal probe into allegations that Abramoff bribed lawmakers and their staffs, bilked millions of dollars from Indian tribal clients, and committed assorted other frauds and abuses. The Inspector general's office in the Dept. of Interior (which is part of the DoJ's Abramoff task force) has been interviewing witnesses to determine whether former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles had agreed to prevent the Gun Lake Indian tribe from building a casino in Michigan in deference to Gun Lake's competitor, an Abramoff client. Apparently, Abramoff had also talked to Griles about giving him a job with Abramoff's firm, and if there was a quid pro quo, it would violate conflict-of-interest laws. 

10) Abramoff II: Former General Services Administration Chief of Staff David Safavian was arrested on charges that he made false statements and obstructed the investigation by the GSA's Inspector General's office into his connections to Abramoff. Safavian told the IG, according to a Justice Dept. news release, that Abramoff "had no business with GSA prior to the August 2002 golf trip" Safavian took to Scotland with Abramoff, Bob Ney, Ralph Reed and others. But Safavian's claims weren't true: "Safavian concealed the fact that the lobbyist had business before GSA prior to the August 2002 golf trip," and he had apparently assisted Abramoff's bid to acquire federally-controlled property in the Washington area. 

Government investigators have their work cut out for them in the new year. Already, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has urged the House's inspector general to review Bob Ney's House Administration Committee's decision to award a big contract to a wireless company, Foxcom Wireless, an Abramoff client, to improve cell phone reception for the House of Representatives. 

And Edward Kennedy recently urged the Pentagon's Inspector general to investigate the Pentagon contractor, the PR firm Lincoln Group, that reportedly paid Iraqi newspapers to publish favorable news stories written by US soldiers without acknowledging the article's origins -- blatant propaganda that erodes America's stated commitment to defending a free press. Kennedy called planting news stories part of a "devious scheme." 

Here's one bet you can take to the bank: The Pentagon's propaganda scandal will appear on my next Annals of Outrage top ten list, so stay tuned in 2006. 

Dictionary of Republicanisms Sequel

I want to thank again all the loyal readers whose outpouring of interest and words of kindness have made The Dictionary of Republicanisms such a rewarding experience. All of us must continue to fight to reclaim our political discourse, so we can reclaim our politics.

In my last post, I suggested that readers might want to organize house/book parties to work on submissions for a sequel to The Dictionary of Republicanisms, or simply to take a moment for a little levity in this period of right-wing darkness. And that is exactly what you have done.

We've heard from several of you who have hosted parties and we've been inundated with sharp, funny new submissions. I have included some of my favorites below. Please keep it up. Each one brightens our work at the magazine and portends the dawning of a new America. If we receive enough new definitions, we may gather them in a follow-up book. If you want to submit a definition, just click here.

ARABIAN HORSE ASSOCIATION, n. Homeland security training camp [Bill Schwartz].

BEACH FRONT PROPERTY, n. Place to drill for oil [Quentin Blanchette, St. Louis, MO].

BROWNIE, n. 1) That stinky stuff stuck on Bush's boot [Paul Trepes]. 2) Piece of feces, which clogged federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina [Lucy Stephens, San Diego, CA].

CORPOCRACY, n. The form of democratic government practiced in the United States [Tom Sutter, Madison, WI].

ENTANGLEMENT, n. Power breakfasts at expensive hotels [Matthew Polly, Topeka, KS].

FEDERAL INDICTMENT, n. Criminalizing politics [Kirby Records, Los Angeles, CA].

GOP BASE, n. The haves and the have-a-lots [Thomas Hartley, Rosendale, NY].

HARRIET MIERED, v. 1) To flip-flop [Lucy Stephens, San Diego, CA]. 2) To be Borked by one's own allies [Matthew Polly, Topeka, KS].

HECK OF A JOB, n. President Bush's favorite compliment, see FUBAR [Bill Schwartz, Buffalo, NY].

PANDEMIC, n. Nature's system of population management [Bill Schwartz, Dayton, OH].

PAT ROBERTSON, pr. n., Pandemic foot-in-mouth disease [Stephen Weinstein, Pulaski, NM].

POLITICS, n. The continuation of war by any means [Martin Richard, Belgrade, MT].

REVISIONISM, n. Republican revival of Soviet era epithet [John Llewellyn, Elizabeth, NJ].

RESPECTING THE FLAG, slang. Not letting it be shown draping caskets [Neil Hoey, Missoula, MT].

SCOOTER n., Mode of transportation used to dodge indictment/impeachment [Menno Eelkema, New York, NY].

SELF-DETERMINATION, n. Right of Iraqis to select a government acceptable to us [Matthew Cross, Tulsa, OK].

STAY THE COURSE, n. Stuck between Iraq and a hard place [Joshua Vizer, San Francisco, CA].

SUPPORT THE TROOPS, slang. Outsource, to favored corporations, using no-bid contracts, what earlier generations of troopes hated, namely, KP, guard and latrine duty, and policing the perimeter, in order to facilitate maximum troop exposure to the enemy and enhance corporate profits [John Llewellyn, New York, NY].

SWIFT BOAT, v. To undermine someone's record with falsehoods [Larry Andriks, Eugene, OR].

TED STEVENS, n. Bridge to nowhere [Stephen Weinstein, San Diego, CA].

TEXAS HOLD 'EM, n. Federal government jobs fair [Michael Joyce, Austin, TX].

TORTURE, n. X-Treme research [Matthew Polly, Topeka, KS].

WMD, acronym. We Meant Democracy [Todd Andresen, St. Louis, MO].

John Murtha's Johnstown

If you want to better understand how public opinion on the war in Iraq has reached a turning point, visit Johnstown in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional district. It's a socially conservative, blue-collar district whose once thriving steel mills now languish. Bush lost the district by only 8,000 votes in 2004 and John Murtha has represented it for 16 terms. One wouldn't expect to find rising opposition to the war here.

Yet, after Murtha's courageous and emotional statement on Thanksgiving eve insisting it's time for US troops to come home within six months, his constituents seem to be siding with him in increasingly large numbers.

Given the district's large veteran population and conservative political tendencies, a surprising number of constituents -- including veterans -- expressed virtually unqualified support for Murtha's newly-stated position that the Iraq conflict has no military solution.

A Vietnam veteran said that he felt, "like Murtha, [that] we should stop [the war] and bring them home and get them out of there." One Army veteran of World War II applauded Murtha's candid assessment of the absence of progress in Iraq, saying that American soldiers should have pulled out of Iraq "a long time ago." The Tribune-Democrat listed the results of an unscientific poll on its website revealing that 63 percent of respondents supported Murtha's arguments that we should withdraw from Iraq within six months while 37 percent disagreed with their Congressman's position.

While polling for opinion in Murtha's district is hard to find, a slew of articles, editorials, interviews and other commentary has appeared in state and local papers and wire services to suggest that public opinion is trending in Murtha's direction across not just his district but also his entire state.

"Many constituents side with Murtha on troops leaving Iraq," one Knight Ridder News story said. The Tribune-Democrat declared: "Murtha's stance on troops generally wins support at home." The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette announced: "Johnstown stands behind Murtha in wake of his call for Iraq exit."

Indeed, phone calls flooding Murtha's main district office in the aftermath of his announcement ran about two-to-one in favor of Murtha's position, Murtha's district director said. Murtha's constituents know him so well that they instinctively trust his judgment and instincts especially on matters of war and peace.

Another factor at work is that at least some of Murtha's constituents have also reached the conclusion that Bush Administration strategy in Iraq has failed, that military victory is not achievable and that the best thing is to withdraw as soon as possible. A few people called Murtha's office and called him a "traitor." For the most part, though, his constituents "in west Pennsylvania signaled weariness for the war," Knight Ridder reported. "It's a conservative area. But we don't support this particular war," one veteran interviewed in Johnstown's American Legion Hall told a reporter. "Most of the people around here are in accord with [Murtha] on this [war]."

Sure, "not everyone in Johnstown is comfortable with Mr. Murtha's new role," David S. Cloud wrote in the New York Times a few days before Thanksgiving. For example, the head of the local Republican party is "kind of perplexed" about Murtha's about-face. "If we would leave right now, I think al-Qaeda's people would be more winners than losers," a Vietnam Veteran told Johnstown's local paper, the Tribune-Democrat, in voicing his opposition to Murtha's new antiwar stance.

But if the editorial pages of the Tribune-Democrat, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Post-Gazette are indicative of the mood in Murtha's district and the state, it's fair to conclude that Pennsylvanians are now opposed to President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq. In Johnstown, the local paper's editorial page urged those defending Bush's war to "hear Murtha out" and argued that the combat "has gone on far too long." The Inquirer's editorial page faulted Murtha's critics for smearing the former Marine while the the Post-Gazette's page explained that Murtha's declaration that the US should pull out "linger[s] in the air with authority" and should not simply be dismissed out of hand.

The growing disillusionment with the war has many roots, including the large costs to the state's communities. In September, five Pennsylvanians died in a single day in a roadside bombing near Ramadi. As of late September, 104 Pennsylvanians had died in combat in Iraq, and the state ranks third behind only Texas and California in the number of fatalities for any single state.

Pennsylvania has also been financially hurt, spending some $10.1 billion of its money to pay for the Iraqi conflict. With over 3,200 of its National Guardsmen serving in Iraq, the state has the highest per capita deployed of any state. The result: Pennsylvania is poorly equipped to handle the kind of natural disaster that hit Louisiana and Mississippi earlier this year.

Murtha's not a lone hawk turned against the war, either; other hawks have had changes-of-heart on Iraq reminiscent of his recent conversion. North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones, who has many military bases based in his district, (and coiner of the "freedom fries" phrase) announced this past June that he had decided that our troops should leave Iraq. Jones even joined Dennis Kucinich and Neil Abercrombie, two leading members of the Progressive Caucus in sponsoring a resolution urging Bush to withdraw troops from Iraq beginning in October 2006. Like Murtha, Jones has seen up-close the devastation of the war on his district's communities and families.

The turning point for Jones came at a funeral for a Marine who left behind a wife and three kids, when Jones heard the Marine's widow read her husband's last letter. Jones said: "This was an event in my life that it actually had spiritual ramifications, because I became part of the family. I was emotional, and I think from that day, my feelings have evolved. I mean, we have to defeat terrorism. I just think that we have achieved the goals in Iraq, and maybe it's now time to consider what we need to be doing down the road."

Jones has displayed pictures of US fatalities in the hallway outside his office. "When I think about what happened in Vietnam -- we lost 58,000 -- I wonder, 'Wouldn't it have been nice if, two years into the war, some representatives would have said, 'Mr. President, where we going?'" Jones explained.

Murtha, of course, has reached similar conclusions about the absence of progress in Iraq and about the mounting human costs of our failed strategy. Murtha, for instance, keeps track of how many of his constituents have died in Iraq (13) and frequently visits the wounded recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center.

One of his constituents, the New York Times reported, is Private Salvatore Ross Jr., who lost part of his leg and is now blind because of a landmine explosion. Murtha helped the soldier receive special treatment at John Hopkins Medical Center, and the Times reported that Murtha "arranged a ceremony in Private Ross's hometown, where he received a Purple Heart."

Murtha is a compelling figure: The first Vietnam veteran elected to Congress, he has been a good friend to the military for decades, and he is the furthest thing from a dove in the US Congress. The Washington Post referred to Murtha as the "Democrats' soldier-legislator." It seems clear that Murtha is close to those in the military who understand this occupation is unwinnable. Because of who he is, what he stands for, Murtha has served his nation well in demanding an end to a reckless war.

An Antiwar Challenge to Hillary Clinton

Former National Writers Union president Jonathan Tasini, one of the most outspoken progressive activists in the U.S. labor movement, is expected this week to launch a Democratic primary challenge to New York Senator Hillary Clinton on a progressive platform that features a call for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Tasini has scheduled an announcement for Tuesday morning in New York City, setting up a campaign that could put unexpected pressure from the left on Clinton, the unannounced frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination who until recently has been one of the strongest Democratic backers of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Tasini plans to campaign in support of the call by U.S. Representative John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, for the rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from that Middle Eastern country.

"Senator Clinton is out of step with the values of a majority of New Yorkers. While a majority of New Yorkers support an end to the war, Senator Clinton has repeatedly voiced her support for a war that continues to accumulate unacceptable costs, in terms of American and Iraqi lives and our own government spending," explained Tasini, decribing a central theme of a campaign that is also expected to advocate for fair trade, economic reforms and universal health care.

Clinton has felt little heat so far from her most prominent Republican challenger, Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, whose campaign so far has been so hapless that some top Republicans are now calling for her to quit the race and instead run for state Attorney General.

But Tasini, who served for more than a decade as head of a national union and has since worked as president of the Economic Future Group, poses a far different and potentially more interesting challenge to Clinton. An author and frequent guest on television public affairs programs, Tasini runs a well-regarded progressive blog, Working Life, at his www.workinglife.org website, where his reviews of trade, health care and labor policy issues have drawn a broad following.

Unlike Pirro, Tasini understands the issues, he's quick on his feet, he knows his way around the state's union halls and he recognizes that Clinton's greatest vulnerability is a cautious centrism that has frequently put her at odds with grassroots Democrats.

Striking a chord that may well resonate with Democratic activists, Tasini says, "My candidacy will borrow a phrase from the late Senator Paul Wellstone, asking New Yorkers to'vote for what you believe in.'"

Even in liberal New York, a Tasini win in next September's Democratic primary would be a huge upset.

Clinton has a deep-pockets campaign treasury, a solid Senate record and an appeal to many Democrats who see her as both an heir to her husband Bill Clinton's legacy and potentially the best candidate to carry that legacy forward as a 2008 presidential contender. She also has an approach to even the most critical issues of the day that might charitably be referred to as "flexible."

In 2002, Clinton broke with more progressive Democrats such as Wellstone, the late senator from Minnesota, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd and Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, to support authorizing President Bush to use force in Iraq. And during the 2004 presidential campaign, she echoed the sentiments of the most hawkish Republicans when she criticized Bush for not sending enough troops to Iraq.

But, as the war has lost popular appeal, Clinton has begun to blur her position. In a November 30 letter to constituents, the senator seemed to back away from her support of the 2002 resolution, writing, "I voted for it on the basis of the evidence presented by the Administration, assurances they gave that they would first seek to resolve the issue of weapons of mass destruction peacefully through United Nations sponsored inspections, and the argument that the resolution was needed because Saddam Hussein never did anything to comply with his obligations that he was not forced to do. Their assurances turned out to be empty ones, as the Administration refused repeated requests from the U.N. inspectors to finish their work. And the 'evidence' of weapons of mass destruction and links to al Qaeda turned out to be false. Based on the information that we have today, Congress never would have been asked to give the President authority to use force against Iraq. And if Congress had been asked, based on what we know now, we never would have agreed, given the lack of a long-term plan, paltry international support, the proven absence of weapons of mass destruction, and the reallocation of troops and resources that might have been used in Afghanistan to eliminate Bin Laden and al Qaeda, and fully uproot the Taliban."

Clinton stopped short of admitting that her 2002 vote was "wrong," which is what former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, another prospective candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, did in a recent Washington Post opinion piece.

She has also refused to side with another backer of the 2002 resolution, Murtha, who is now pushing for a quick exit strategy. Clinton claims that, "I do not believe that we should allow this to be an open-ended commitment without limits or end." But, she adds, "Nor do I believe that we can or should pull out of Iraq immediately." And a close read of her letter reveals that, while the senator is quick to criticize Bush, she is still in the camp that says America has "a big job to do" in Iraq.

That's the opening that Tasini will attempt to exploit. It will not be easy -- even some of his old allies in the labor movement will be slow to officially embrace his challenge to one of the most prominent and powerful Democrats in the country.

But frustration with Clinton runs deeper among activist Democrats than is often noted in the media.

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain soldier in Iraq whose August protest outside George Bush's ranchette in Crawford, Texas, made her one of the country's most prominent anti-war advocates, has been almost as vocal in her criticism of the senator as she has been of the president. "Hillary Clinton is the leader of the pack" of pro-war Democrats, says Sheehan, who recently joined the board of the anti-war Progressive Democrats of America group. In an open letter posted in October on filmmaker Michael Moore's web site, Sheehan wrote of Clinton: "I think she is a political animal who believes she has to be a war hawk to keep up with the big boys."

Sheehan added that, "I will resist (Clinton's) candidacy with every bit of my power and strength."

That line led some New York activists to suggest that Sheehan should move to the state -- as Clinton did before her 2000 Senate run -- and run against the incumbent.

That's not going to happen. Rather, Sheehan has issued a letter of support for Tasini's challenge to Clinton, which you can read on Tasini's website.