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Warrior for Workers

The labor movement is not about one individual or one moment in time. It goes on, regardless. But there are some individuals who rise through the ranks of the movement at the right moment and define it – or, as was the case with Miguel Contreras, redefine it. The tireless chief of Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, whose death Friday from a heart attack at age 52 shocked union activists in California and across the country, transformed a struggling local coalition into a dynamic force for economic justice and political change.

At a time when the national AFL-CIO was only beginning to recognize the need to reach out to the immigrant workers who were fast becoming the backbone of the hotel, restaurant, health care and construction industries, Contreras put the Los Angeles federation in the forefront of campaigns to organize Latino and Asian-American workers. And he turned those newly-organized workers, and their families and neighbors, into a voting bloc with the potential to change not just Los Angeles county but California.

The son of migrant laborers who was drawn into the union movement by Cesar Chavez, Contreras took over the Los Angeles County Federation in 1996, when its member unions had about 650,000 members. Today, they have more than 800,000. The incredible growth of the LA Fed under Contreras's leadership was noticed quickly, and his ideas about organizing immigrants and flexing political muscle inspired activists nationwide. "People across the country look at LA as a model of success," Anna Burger, of the Service Employees International Union, a key ally of Contreras, told the Los Angeles Times.

Contreras took his hits at home – most recently when the LA Fed endorsed Mayor James Hahn, a centrist Democrat, for reelection over City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, a former union organizer and long-time ally of the labor leader. Other politicians objected when Contreras backed a successful challenge by progressive Hilda Solis to incumbent US Representative Marty Martinez in a 2000 Democratic primary. Unions usually back Democratic incumbents, but Martinez had broken with labor on trade issues and Contreras made no apologies. "We're sick and tired of Democrats who come in and tell us they want our endorsement and then go off to Sacramento or Washington and vote against the interests of our members," Contreras told me in 2000. "We've lifted the bar for endorsements. It's not enough to say you're for a minimum-wage increase and expect our backing. We want candidates who make a commitment to be with us on every vote, and to be with us on the picket lines."

Members of Congress who accept labor's backing needed, Contreras said, "to be warriors for workers."

At a time when many Democrats were still voting with the Republican leadership of the House and the corporate lobbies in favor of free-trade legislation, the willingness of Contreras and the LA Fed to punish a veteran House member who did so was important. Equally important was Contreras's willingness to come to Capitol Hill and explain to Democrats and Republicans that Latinos did not want them backing free-trade deals that harmed workers in the US and in Latin American countries. His presence on the hill helped to dispel the corporate spin that suggested Latino workers in the US were enthusiastic about free-trade deals with Mexico and the rest of Latin America.

When US Representative Jane Harmon, a Los Angeles County Democrat whose record on trade issues has sometimes been shaky, announced last month that she would oppose the Central American Free Trade Agreement now being considered by Congress, Contreras was at her side. He explained that the trade deal would hurt workers, family farmers and the environment in the US "while enriching and empowering corporate elites."

Contreras was in the forefront of the campaign against CAFTA, explaining that, "Ten years of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) has proven a complete failure for workers and the LA economy, destroying 30,000 manufacturing jobs here in LA and more than 200,000 jobs statewide. A vote for CAFTA shows contempt for working people and their families. Clearly we must forge ahead with a new approach to international trade."

When the fight over CAFTA is decided by Congress, more than a few of the "no" votes will come from members who were personally lobbied by Miguel Contreras. Indeed, if CAFTA is beaten, as it may well be, that will be one of the many legacies of this "warrior for the workers."

"Pork-Laden" Iraq Bill

Just when you thought it might be impossible for the Bush administration and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to stoop any lower, they have sunk to a new depth. They are now, in the well-chosen words of one member of the U.S. House, "using America's fighting men and women as human shields to pass pork-laden legislation."

The administration and its chief congressional ally hijacked the resolution for supplemental funding of the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and added to the measure a laundry list of giveaways to special interests and bad policies. In addition to packing in all sorts of new immigration rules and expenditures, which should have been dealt with on their own merits rather than buried in an "emergency" spending bill, they also included money for a "wish-list" of Pentagon boondoggles that have nothing to do with helping the troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan -- let alone getting them home alive.

Unfortunately, most Democrats went along with this abuse of the legislative process, making themselves partners in an ugly and unwarranted diversion of taxpayer dollars. The final House vote in favor of the $82 billion package was 368-58. Supporting the "emergency" bill were 225 Republicans and 143 Democrats; opposing it were 54 Democrats, three Republicans and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders.

Why did so many Democrats and so many thinking Republicans back this "pork-laden legislation"?

"Republicans in Congress have stacked the deck on today's fiscally irresponsible supplemental spending bill: forcing members to either appear unpatriotic or support a cash-cow bill stuffed with pork projects that fail to either help our troops or meet any ‘emergency' need," explained U.S. Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, D-Cal. "Rather than taking their Pentagon colleagues to task for not budgeting for the needs of the troops in the regular defense budget request, the Majority has endorsed a fiscally irresponsible ploy used since the start of the war in Iraq: Pass ‘emergency' supplemental after supplemental that Congress has limited or no ability to review."

Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the Pentagon has made annual requests for "emergency funding," and the latest request for $82 billion is unlikely to be the last. Why can't the Pentagon -- with an annual budget in excess of $400 billion -- budget properly? Because doing so would require Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his aides to justify expenses.

"(The) supplemental bill is chock full of projects that could easily be planned and budgeted within the Pentagon's annual request. To call them emergency, last-minute needs is misleading, fiscally irresponsible, and prevents Congress from exercising proper oversight over vital programs and efforts. And now, in order to placate members who see through this costly tactic, the supplemental bill has swelled with unnecessary spending," says Tauscher. "This additional $82 billion measure brings total ‘emergency' supplemental funding for the war to $272 billion. The Administration's policy of irresponsibly budgeting for the Iraq war as a temporary, incremental involvement demonstrates its lack of a comprehensive plan to stabilize the country, internationalize the ground forces, and begin to withdraw American forces. I believe that our troops deserve better than a piecemeal plan."

Tauscher read the bill right. Unfortunately, like most Democrats and almost all Republicans, she did not vote right. For all her fine words, and solid insights, Tauscher did not have the courage to cast a vote against the "pork-laden" bill.

This is the frustrating thing about Congressional Democrats. They are willing to point out the fundamental flaws in the Bush administration's agenda, but most of them still vote with the Republicans to implement that agenda.

Only three Republicans voted "no" -- Texan Ron Paul, North Carolina's Howard Coble and Tennessee's John Duncan. They were joined by the House's only independent, Sanders, and 54 Democrats.

The Democrats who had the wisdom and the courage to object were:

Neil Abercrombie (HA)Tammy Baldwin (WI)Xavier Becerra (CA)Earl Blumenauer (OR)Mike Capuano (MA)Julia Carson (IN)Bill Clay Jr. (MO)John Conyers (MI)Danny Davis (IL)Bill Delahunt (MA)Sam Farr (CA)Bob Filner (CA)Barney Frank (MA)Bart Gordon (TN)Raul Grijalva (AZ)Luis Gutierrez (IL)Maurice Hinchey (NY)Rush Holt (NJ)Mike Honda (CA)Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX)Stephanie Tubbs Jones (OH)Dennis Kucinich (OH)Barbara Lee (CA)John Lewis (GA)Carolyn Maloney (NY)Ed Markey (MA)Betty McCollum (MN)Jim McDermott (WA)Jim McGovern (MA)Cynthia McKinney (GA)Marty Meehan (MA)Gregory Meeks (NY)George Miller (CA)Grace Napolitano (CA)Jim Oberstar (MN)John Olver (MA)Major Owens (NY)Frank Pallone (NJ) Ed Pastor (AZ)Donald Payne (NJ)Charles Rangel (NY)Sánchez, Linda T. (CA)Jan Schakowsky (IL)Jose Serrano (NY)Pete Stark (CA)Mike Thompson (CA)John Tierney (MA)Ed Towns (NY)Nydia Velázquez (NY)Maxine Waters (CA)Mel Watt (NC)Anthony Weiner (NY)Robert Wexler (VL)Lynn Woolsey (CA)

From Iran-contra to Iraq

The George W. Bush presidency has been one long rehab session for the Iran-contra scoundrels of the Reagan-Bush administration. Many infamous veterans of the foreign policy connivance of the Reagan days have found a home in Bush II. Elliott Abrams--who pleaded guilty to misleading Congress regarding the Reagan administration's secret support of the contra rebels fighting the Sandinista government of Nicaragua--was hired as a staff member of George W. Bush's National Security Council and placed in charge of democracy promotion. Retired Admiral John Poindexter--who was Reagan's national security adviser, who supervised Oliver North during the Iran-contra days, and who was convicted of several Iran-contra crimes before the convictions were overturned on a legal technicality--was retained by the Pentagon to search for terrorists using computerized Big Brother technology. John Negroponte--who as ambassador to Honduras in the early 1980s was the on-the-ground overseer of pro-contra operations there--was recruited by Bush to be UN ambassador, then ambassador to Iraq, and, most recently, the first director of national intelligence. Otto Reich--who mounted an arguably illegal pro-contra propaganda effort when he was a Reagan official--was appointed by Bush to be in charge of Latin American policy at the State Department. Now comes the news that another Iran-contra alum--a fellow who failed a polygraph test during the Iran-contra investigation--is playing a critical role in Bush's war in terrorism.

James Steele was recently featured in a New York Times Magazine story as a top adviser to Iraq's "most fearsome counterinsurgency force," an outfit called the Special Police Commandos that numbers about 5000 troops. The article, by Peter Maass, noted that Steele "honed his tactics leading a Special Forces mission in El Salvador during that country's brutal civil war in the 1980s." And, as Maass reminded his readers, that civil war resulted in the deaths of 70,000 people, mostly civilians, and "[m]ost of the killing and torturing was done by the army and right-wing death squads affiliated with it." The army that did all that killing in El Salvador was supported by the United States and US military officials such as Steele, who was head of the US military assistance group in El Salvador for two years in the mid-1980s. (A 1993 UN truth commission, which examined 22,000 atrocities that occurred during the twelve-year civil war in El Salvador, attributed 85 percent of the abuses to the US-backed El Salvador military and its death-squad allies.)

Maass reported that the Special Forces advisers in El Salvador led by Steele "trained front-line battalions that were accused of significant human rights abuses." But he neglected to mention that Steele ran afoul of the Iran-contra investigators for not being honest about his role in the covert and illegal contra-support operation.

After the Iran-contra story broke in 1986, Steele was questioned by Iran-contra investigators, who had good reason to seek information from him. The secret contra-supply network managed by Oliver North had flown weapons and supplies to the contras out of Illopongo Air Base in El Salvador. Steele claimed that he had observed the North network in action but that he had never assisted it. The evidence didn't support this assertion. For one, North had given Steele a special coding device that allowed encrypted communications to be sent securely over telephone lines. Why did Steele need this device if he had nothing to do with the operation? And for a time Steele passed this device to Felix Rodriguez, one of North's key operatives in El Salvador. Furthermore, Congressional investigators discovered evidence indicating that aviation fuel given to El Salvador under a US military aid program that Steele supervised was illegally sold to the North network. (The Reagan administration refused to respond to congressional inquiries about this oil deal.) And according to the accounts of others, Steele had made sure that the North network's planes, used to ferry weapons to the contras, could come and go from Illopongo.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the latest in national security scandals (that haven't quite become full-blown scandals), Pat Robertson's bigotry, and how the Bush administration has screwed up both the hunt for bin Laden and planning for a nuclear terrorist attack.

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When questioned by the Iran-contra independent counsel, Steele maintained that he had limited his actions to providing humanitarian assistance to the contras--an act that would not have violated the prohibition passed by Congress on supplying the contras with weapons. But, as independent counsel Lawrence Walsh later pointed out in his book, Firewall, a lie-detector examination indicated Steel "was not being truthful." Steele's name had also turned up in the private notebooks in which North kept track of his various Iran-contra operations. As Walsh wrote, "Confronted with the results of the lie-detector test and North's notebook, Steele admitted not only his participation in the [clandestine] arms deliveries [to the contras] but also his early discussions of these activities with Donald Gregg [the national security adviser to Vice President George Bush] and the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin G. Corr."

Walsh's description suggested that Steele tried to lie his way past investigators as part of a larger cover-up. At the time of the scandal, a significant question was how much Donald Gregg knew about the operation in El Salvador, for Gregg's connection to the secret, law-skirting contra-support network implicated Vice President Bush, who was running for president and claiming he had been out of the loop on the Iran-contra affair. (George H.W. Bush's own diaries--which he withheld for several years and did not release until after he had lost his 1992 bid for reelection as president--prove that despite his claim of ignorance he knew about the Iran-contra affair before it became public.) Steele had played the good soldier--that is, he did not tell the truth and kept his mouth shut as long as he could.

Steele escaped indictment and his flunking of the polygraph exam was not revealed until Walsh's book came out in 1997. But he did have to pay for his participation in the North's contra scheme. In 1988, the Pentagon sent to the Senate a list of 50 Army colonels who were up for promotion to brigadier general. An a list of proposed promotions to full colonel submitted at the same time included Lt. Colonel Robert Earl, a North deputy who assisted the contra supply effort and participated in the destruction of records after the Iran-contra scandal exploded. Usually such promotions fly though the Senate with no debate. But aides working for Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, noticed Steele's and Earl's names on these lists, and Harkin blocked these two promotions. "There is no way any of these people is going to get a promotion" without a congressional inquiry, Harkin told The Washington Post. The Army claimed that it had found that Steele had committed nothing wrong. Obviously, it had not looked hard enough, for, as Walsh later determined, Steele had not told the truth.

But misleading congressional and independent investigators didn't fully derail Steele's career. He is once more advising a military unit with a questionable human rights record. Let's hope that if his actions this time around become of interest to government investigators he is truthful when they come knocking.

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IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.

Sweet Victory: Code Pink

In her Mother's Day Proclamation of 1870, Julia Ward Howe--the woman who is credited with founding the holiday--wrote : "In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask...that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed...to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace."

A hundred and thirty-five Mother's Days later, the feisty and fiercely intelligent women of Code Pink--the largest women-initiated, antiwar activist group in the country--are fulfilling Howe's call to action. Founded in 2002 during the run-up to war in Iraq, Code Pink has grabbed the nation's attention with some of the boldest, most direct, creative (and good-humored) protests against the war.

Among our favorite Code Pink actions: their four-month vigil in front of the White House; the "pink slip" campaign; crashing the RNC three nights in a row; interrupting hearings to demand the firing of Donald Rumsfeld, and, later, to protest the nomination of John Bolton.

Code Pink's antiwar message is resonating with more and more Americans. The most recent opinion poll indicates that only 44 percent believe it was worth going to war in Iraq--the lowest levels since the invasion in 2003.

"Women have been the guardians of life--not because we are better or purer or more innately nurturing than men, but because the men have busied themselves making war," Code Pink's mission statement reads. "Because of our responsibility to the next generation, because of our own love for our families and communities and this country that we are a part of, we understand the love of a mother in Iraq for her children, and the driving desire of that child for life."

To honor the radical, anti-war origins of Mother's Day, don't just buy a Hallmark card--instead, click here and participate in Code Pink's "Mother's Day Call for Peace."

We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing nationvictories@gmail.com.

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.

The Ditch Blair Project

In Britain, the leader of the government is not elected by a national vote. Rather, the prime minister is the head of the dominant party caucus in the parliament.

It is probably a good thing that the United States decided against going with a parliamentary system, as the boss of the largest partisan caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives is a fellow named Tom DeLay.

But the parliamentary system does force British leaders to campaign on a more human scale -- and to face more poignant and powerful questions.

To retain his post as prime minister, Tony Blair must lead his Labour Party to a national win Thursday. But he also must be reelected by the voters of his parliamentary riding -- the equivalent of a congressional district -- in the north of England.

In all likelihood, Blair will prevail. His riding, Sedgefield, has for generations sent Labour Party members to parliament.

But he faces a tougher fight than ever before because of his decision to march British troops into George Bush's "coalition of the willing" for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Blair's most aggressive challenger in Sedgefield is a man whose passionate opposition to the Iraq war is rooted in personal experience.

Reg Keys, a retired ambulance driver who is running as an independent candidate against Blair, is distributing a simple letter to voters in the Sedgefield riding. It reads:

"Dear Friends. You may ask why I have decided to stand against the Prime Minister. I am not a politician. I am an ordinary family man.

"The last time I saw my son, Tom, was at a railway station when he marched off down the platform with his head held high, proud to do his duty for his country. He believed what he was told. But the Prime Minister misled the country, and Tom and eighty four other soldiers who had their oath of allegiance betrayed came home in coffins - having died for a lie.

"It is time to bring the accountability back in to politics. People in this constituency need an MP they can trust to speak and act honestly on their behalf.

"If you would like a poster, are willing to deliver leaflets or help the campaign in any other way or just want to tell me what you think, please do contact me at the address below

"Yours sincerely, Reg Keys"

The campaign that Keys has waged to hold Blair accountable has drawn national attention and support. The Sedgefield vote has become a referendum on the war, and on the question of whether those who lie in order to launch an invasion ought to be rewarded with another term in office. That is the choice that Americans should have been presented in 2004, but they were denied it by the miserably inept campaign of John Kerry and by a media that has generally shies away from applying standards of "truth" and "accountability" to our politicians.

Britain is seeing a more honorable campaign, particularly in Sedgefield.

Among those who traveled to Sedgefield to campaign for Reg Keys was the novelist Frederick Forsyth, the author of The Odessa File and The Dogs of War.

"So why again did we invade Iraq?" asked Forsyth, in a speech delivered before the memorial to local men who dies in World War I and World War II. "The answer was because one man -- and it was at the time one man, the sitting MP for this constituency -- decided, in secret conclave with the American President, that the American president intended to invade and would not be persuaded from that ambition, and that he, the British premier, would send British troops in to assist the Americans, come what may."

Unfortunately, explained Forsyth, there was no justification for war. So, the author said of Blair, "He made it up... And that is why Tom Keys had to die. He did not -- I'm sorry, I'm sorry for his father -- he did not die because his country was genuinely under threat. He died so that a man could have a standing ovation in Washington..."

Then, with a passion rarely seen or heard in American politics, Forsyth declared, "I ask you: think of Tom Keys in his grave. I ask you to think what he would say. What he would say I think is clear: 'Give your votes to my Dad. Send my Dad down to the palace by the Thames.' I concur with that. If you send him there he will represent you well, and more, he will give you your honour back."

Words such as "honor" are rarely heard in America politics these days. Perhaps that is why it is so refreshing to catch their echo from across the sea.

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John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) was published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com

Republican Dictionary V

Bankruptcy reform was a handout to the credit card companies, the prescription drug bill was a multibillion-dollar donation to the pharmaceutical industry, the repeal of the death tax was a handout to the Paris Hiltons of the country. Never before in our history have our politician's words been as out of touch with their actions.

This is no accident. While Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff have been sucking the pork out of the barrel, their intellectual lackeys have systematically been creating an entire language of Republican doublespeak. In fact they have gotten so brazen at it, their chief spin doctor, Frank Luntz, went on The Daily Show to demonstrate how it's done.

For the past six months, readers of thenation.com and I have been working to pop the festering boil on our political life with the skewer of satire. We've been building a Republican Dictionary that will be published as a book in the fall. We are almost finished, but we still need a few more funny, sharp, and biting definitions. We need your help, specifically for words like "The Patriot Act," "The War on Drugs," "Airport Security," "The House Ethics Committee," "Tom Delay," "Creationism," "Crusade," "Proliferation," "Blue State," "Red State," "The United Nations," "Zell Miller." (Click here to submit your ideas.)

We will select our favorite submissions for the book, and if yours is included we'll send you a free copy. I thank you for your help in this fight.

Where's the Evidence?

Earlier this month, we followed-up Ari Berman's report about two 16 year-old Muslim girls who were arrested in New York City on specious grounds that they were potential suicide bombers, by urging Nation readers to get involved in the case. It's now a few weeks later and despite some media attention, protests and the continued lack of evidence, the young womens' predicament is more dire than ever.

The girls are currently being held without charge while undergoing legal proceedings closed from the public and the media in which they do not have access to the evidence used against them. Few details about the arrests have been released. What we do know, however, suggests that the charges could well be unfounded and propelled more by anti-terrorist hysteria than by actual evidence. Adding to this suspicion, an FBI official recently told the New York Daily News that, "Nobody here believes they are wanna-be suicide bombers."

Click here for background on the case, click here to listen to a relevant NPR segment and check out Detainment, a new blog created to offer updates and ways you can help. One of the best ways is to click here and make a contribution to an Emergency Family Fund for the families and legal fees of the two detainees. You can also come out for May 11 rallies in New York City, Philadelphia and the Bay Area.

Making Iraq the Issue

The US media barely covers the world anymore – except stories that involve those countries that the administration is actively considering attacking and, of course, those lands that have already been invaded and occupied. As a result, many Americans have no idea that a critical election is taking place in Britain, where George W. Bush's closest ally, Prime Minister Tony Blair, is taking a battering on the issue that should have been central to last year's US presidential election: the lies that led to the war in Iraq.

Blair's Labour party is unlikely to be voted out of office in Thursday's voting, in part because the main opposition party – the Conservatives – also supported the war, and in part because a third of the Labour Party's members of parliament opposed Blair's efforts to sign Britain on for Bush's war.

But while his party remains viable, the prime minister's personal approval ratings have tanked. A number of recent polls show that a majority of British voters believe Blair lied to the British people--and his own Cabinet--in order to get Britain on board for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And when Britain's MORI polling agency asked voters whether they approve of how Blair is handling the current situation with Iraq, 63 percent of those surveyed indicated that they disapproved while only 28 percent supported the approach of the man who is derisively referred to as "Bush's poodle."

And as election day draws near, the headlines in the British press, which, unlike the US media, does not take its cues from the spin machines of the various campaigns, has kept the focus firmly on Iraq.

The headline in Tuesday morning's Independent newspaper dismissed Blair's attempts to dismiss the war as a primary issue: "48 hours to go: Iraq, the issue that won't go away"

Other headlines read:

"Widow of soldier says Prime Minister to blame for his death"

"Mother plans court action over Blair's 'war crimes'"

"Iraq war 'will haunt Blair's legacy like Suez'"

"Revealed: documents show Blair's secret plans for war"

British political campaigns are blunt and to the point. They also include a multitude of parties -- including the Liberal Democrats, the nation's third party, and the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, all of which are anti-war. Even the Conservatives have sought to exploit the popular feeling that Blair deceived the country on the eve of the Iraq invasion. An anti-Blair poster seen throughout Great Britain last week featured an image of Blair and the declaration: "If he's prepared to lie to take us to war, he's prepared to lie to win an election." Another deliberately misspells the prime minister's name as "Bliar."

But the critical factor in the focus on Iraq is the fundamental difference between British and U.S. media. In Britain, major media does not report from an "on bended knee" position, as most U.S. media does. British newspapers and the BBC are dramatically more willing to challenge the statements and actions of political leaders than U.S. press and broadcast outlets.

The debate about Blair's integrity heated up last week, as leading British newspapers revealed that Britain's Attorney General expressed serious doubts about the legality of going to war against Iraq, but Blair did not share that information with his Cabinet, Parliament or the British people.

The Independent newspaper editorialized that, "The revelations of the Attorney General's initial reservations on the legality of going to war in Iraq have rightly pushed Iraq into the centre of this election and appear to have dealt a fresh blow to Tony Blair's version of events." A Guardian newspaper article by Robin Cook, who was so opposed to the rush to war that he resigned from Blair's Cabinet, was headlined, "We all now know the war would not stand up in court."

Imagine how different the final stages of the 2004 presidential election campaign in the U.S. might have been if the media had actually made an issue of Bush's integrity, particularly with regard to the lies that led this country into a war that has now taken the lives of more than 1,500 of our sons and daughters.

But, of course, that is merely a fantasy. Just before the U.S. election CBS News and the New York Times both spiked major stories on President Bush's integrity. The censored CBS report was an investigation into how the Bush administration manipulated intelligence and played upon fears in order to make the case for war with Iraq. Why was it killed? A CBS statement announced, "We now believe it would be inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election."

Apparently, that's the difference between the British media and the U.S. media. In Britain, newspapers and broadcast networks are still in the business of giving citizens the information they need to make informed decisions. In the U.S., they are merely stenographers to power.

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John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) was published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com

The George & Laura Show

The entry below is a posting from my personal blog at www.davidcorn.com. It was titled, "The Bushes Offer a Horse Jerk-off Joke But No Words for the Troops...and Other Impolite Observations From the White House Correspondents' Dinner."

No mention of the US troops being killed in Iraq but a horse jerk-off joke--that is one way to sum up the First Couple's appearance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday evening.

This black-tie shindig is an annual ritual. Over two thousand DC media people and government officials mingle with imported Hollywood celebrities--hey there goes Richard Gere!--and the president of the moment shows up and entertains the feeling-good-about-themselves attendees with humorous (often self-deprecating) remarks. Last year, Bush made a crack about my book, The Lies of George W. Bush.

This evening, the Bush White House pulled a switcheroo. Bush started his routine by telling a joke he repeatedly used on the campaign trail. The gag pokes fun at a city slicker lost in a rural area, and what Bush didn't say is that he learned it during his unsuccessful 1978 congressional bid when his opponent told the joke to lampoon a certain Andover, Yale and Harvard grad who was trying to pass himself off as a Texan. As Bush-watchers in the ballroom familiar with this stale chestnut started to groan, Laura Bush stood up, walked to the podium, leaned into the microphone and said, "Not that old joke." She then told her husband to sit down, and she delivered a polished routine that ribbed her old man for being early-to-bed dull. She noted that she had told him, "If you really want to end tyranny in the world, you're going to have to stay up later."

Laura's well-written script included several shots of risque material. After revealing that come nine o'clock at night, "Mr. Excitement is sound asleep, and I'm watching Desperate Housewives," she added, "If those women think they're desperate, they ought to be with George." She then joked that she, Lynne Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice had hit Chippendale's late one night. And moments later--after referring to Barbara Bush as Don Corleone and joking about her husband's aversion to reading--she made fun of her number-one cowboy for knowing little of the ways of ranch life when they bought the spread in Crawford, Texas. Such a greenhorn was George, she explained, "he tried to milk the horse. What's more--it was a male horse."

It was a good performance but weird, for Laura had jabbed at her husband for not reading books, had suggested he was no powerhouse in bed, and had encouraged everyone in the room--and all those children at home glued to C-SPAN--to envision George W. Bush pulling on the penis of a horse. (I wondered how social conservative leader James Dobson, who was scheduled to be at the dinner, reacted.) It was not hard to figure out why the White House decided to have Laura upstage George. Her approval rating is almost twice his, and his number--in the mid-40s--are at a record low. But an HBO routine? Afterward, both Al Franken and Bill Maher were complaining that they could not have gotten away with that horse joke.

Laura's racy act was the talk of the town. But there was something more strange and discomforting about the evening than her channeling of Ellen DeGeneres. Neither she nor her husband once referred to the Americans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly those who had recently lost their lives implementing Bush's policy and (according to the Bushes) defending the United States from evil. At a high-profile event of this nature, it certainly is customary for a president to joke, but he also often concludes with a serious sentiment. At the radio and television correspondents' dinner several weeks ago, Vice President Dick Cheney, standing in for Bush (who was on his way to the Pope's funeral), took a few stabs at humor then devoted most of his remarks to the deceased Pope. Last year, at one of these galas, Bush joked about his inability to find WMDs in Iraq--yeah, he made fun of the mission for which Americans had lost their lives--but then he saluted troops stationed overseas, noting their sacrifices.

His--and Laura's--non-recognition of the American troops (those dying and those doing the real hard work) was not a one-time phenomenon. Two nights earlier at Bush's first primetime news conference in a year, Bush said nothing about the Americans risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not a word of thanks. Not a word of tribute for those recently killed in action. He did mention troop levels and said, "I believe we're making really good progress in Iraq." But nada regarding the men and women he had dispatched into harm's way. Is this a pattern? Of course, Bush does not have to remind people that Americans are being shot to death and blown up in Iraq and that the violence in Iraq has increased lately. But recent polls disclose that a half of Americans now believe that Bush deliberately misled the public about the (nonexistent) WMDs in Iraq and that a slight majority have concluded that the war was not worth it. With most Americans down on the war as the insurgents mount more deadly attacks and military experts in the United States predict this conflict may last for five to 30 years, is Bush consciously not referring directly to the soldiers and, especially, the fallen Americans? Or has he just forgotten to do so when he has appeared in public?

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For most of the night, the dinner yielded less disturbing moments. At a pre-dinner reception hosted by Newsweek, I and my colleague Julian Borger of the British Guardian chatted with Dennis Hopper and his wife, Victoria . Months ago, Hopper, a Bush-backer (from Easy Rider to easy street?), had been invited to participate in Bush's inaugural festivities. Then he was dis-invited. Why? The widespread assumption was that the family-values crowd had bitched about Hopper's involvement because they supposedly were not fans of his various on-screen celebrations of perversity. Dennis and Victoria told us they were not able at the time to get an explanation from the inauguration's organizers, but they noted that the head of the Creative Coalition, a group of politically-minded Hollywood stars, was told by Karl Rove that Hopper had been nixed because Victoria is a Democratic Party activist. I wonder if Rove knows that Cheney's daughter is gay?

Borger and I pressed on and nearly found ourselves asphyxiated in a scrum caused by Richard Gere, the celeb who always had the largest crowd about him. We managed to make it to the main ballroom and caught sight of Bill Gertz, a national security correspondent for the Washington Times, chuckling with Donald Rumsfeld. About what? Who knows? Most folks were trying to spot movie stars. I headed straight toward Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee. Why, I asked ever-so politely, had his committee not yet completed the so-called Phase II report that is supposed to examine how the Bush White House used--or abused--the intelligence on WMDs. Roberts claimed he wanted to finish the report and get the damn thing off his back. But, he explained, the problem was that he had decided that the committee should look at the prewar statements of a variety of public officials--meaning Democratic members of Congress--and the Democrats now were not so hot to proceed. In other words, Roberts had told the Dems, You want to look at what Bush, Cheney, Rice and the rest said about WMDs before the war? Fine, let's go over 46 statements from prominent Democrats--like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, and so on--who also had said there was a WMD threat from Iraq. Very clever, Mr. Chairman. But none of these folks launched an invasion. And it was not their responsibility to ascertain that the intelligence was sound and that it was being represented accurately to the public. And, Roberts went on, he now is overwhelmed with ensuring there's good intelligence on WMDs in North Korea and Iran and overseeing the ongoing reform of the intelligence community's structure. Do we really want to take time and energy away from these crucial tasks, he asked, to go over what was said three years ago? Still, he said, "I'd like to get this done." And I'd like to see Bush milk a horse.

Elsewhere on the floor of the Washington Hilton's grand ballroom, Democrats were feeling pretty giddy due because Bush's poll numbers are lousy and his recent press conference seemingly caused his failing Social Security crusade even more problems. "I wish the election was tomorrow!" exclaimed Representative Rahm Emmanuel, who runs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Former Democratic Party head Terry McAullife declared, "I almost wish I was still chairman."

I found my table and discovered I was siting about ten feet away from deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, the Iran-contra criminal (pardoned by Bush I) whom George W. Bush had rehabilitated. This past week, I had written for a book proposal a sample chapter in which Abrams plays a special role. (When Abrams worked for the Reagan administration he denied that El Salvador troops trained and equipped by the United States had massacred 800 peasants, mainly women and children. But the massacre had happened. Years later, this fellow who had tried to cover up the existence of one of the most tragic human rights atrocities in the Western Hemisphere in recent decades was given a job on the National Security Council by George W. Bush and placed in charge of coordinating human rights policy.) Borger encouraged me to go talk to Abrams. I really had no questions for him, I said. In retrospect, I realize I should have approached Abrams and said, "How would you feel if your family was slaughtered by soldiers and then two governments denied it ever happened?" But I was perhaps distracted by all the hubbub caused by the latest American Idol celebrity, who was sitting several tables in front of us.

After the dinner, while heading out the hotel, I spotted Paul Wolfowitz. He was walking very quickly and holding a copy of the conservative National Review underneath an arm. The magazine had been opened to a page bearing a story headlined "What Went Right" and written by Rich Lowry, whom I occasionally debate on college campuses. The piece begins, "It is time to say it unequivocally: We are winning in Iraq." Since many military experts note the insurgency could go on for many more years--maybe decades--this may be a slightly premature pronouncement. And ultimately meaningless. A Japanese magazine after Pearl Harbor could have declared, "We are winning." The first quotes Lowry offer are not persuasive. An unnamed "top officer in Iraq" says, "It's not over." (Wow, get this person to the Army War College right away.) And an unnamed administration officials says, "I give us a B minus." I sure hope Wolfowitz is able to get more insightful views than these.

Next stop was the only after-party to speak of: the Bloomberg reception. This is always the hot ticket. The party used to be hosted by Vanity Fair, but the VFers grew tired of the bother. Bloomberg rushed in. The bash was two blocks from the hotel. Still, there was limo gridlock between the two spots. After all, there was a drizzle underway. But the Bloombergers had thought of everything. They had stationed young men with bags of umbrellas along the route to the party. There was no need for anyone to show up moist.

I trodded the wet sidewalks of Washington with Michael Isikoff, Maureen Dowd and Jill Abramson of The New York Times. The line was forever long when we arrived, and there was more security than at Washington National airport. I quickly sussed out that I would not get in because my contact person was not working the door as I had been told she would be. (Don't ask how a proper invitation did not make it to me.) But--in the nick of time--there was Arianna Huffington. She whisked me into her entourage. I was in--and, in a way, her date for the evening. Which was fine by me. As we moved through the overcrowded party (can't they keep out gatecrashers?), she greeted practically everyone by asking, "You will be blogging for me?" Wesley Clark. John Podesta. Isikoff. We chatted with Al Franken and Bill Maher. Franken discussed his preparations to run for the Senate from Minnesota in 2008. We then spied Matt Drudge. The new HuffingtonPost.com group-blog has erroneously been described as competition to Drudge's site, but we all talked amicably. Drudge told me that he had recently linked to my blog, after having heard me bash John Bolton on all-night BBC radio in London. And in a rare moment of quiet conversation, Huffington asked me what I would ask David Geffen and Quincy Jones to blog about. Both have agreed to be part of her mega-blog. I'm not going to reveal my suggestions. I want it to be a surprise. The site launches on May 9.

It was at the Bloomberg party that I had my favorite Hollywood moment. As Huffington and I entered the soiree, Ian McShane, the star of HBO's gritty and explicit Western, Deadwood, was leaving. Huffington knows him, of course. (No Rolodex--or Blackberry--can hold all her connections!) They talked. Then I introduced myself to him and remarked that I was a big fan and that Deadwood is a "great fuckin' show." I then realized he probably had heard this a million times, for one signature element of the show is its abundant flow of curse words, especially "fuckin'" and "cocksucker." Whoops, I said. He quickly ended my embarrassment by warmly noting he was familiar with my writings and was delighted to meet me. What a gent. Later, as I thought about this encounter, I recalled that in a recent episode of Deadwood one grizzled no-good ruffian was caught masturbating himself alongside a horse. I wondered if a future episode might feature someone actually milking a stallion.

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