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The Nation

Lamont's Winning Message for Democrats

For whom does the bellwether toll? It tolls for thee, Joe Lieberman – and, more importantly, for the neoconservative vision that you embraced more passionately than other Democrats and most Republicans.

Lieberman, a three-term incumbent whose defenses of the Iraq War and enthusiasm for a fight with Iran made him the Bush administration's favorite Democrat, lost to anti-war challenger Ned Lamont by a solid margin in Tuesday's Connecticut Senate primary.

With most of the votes counted, Lamont was leading by a 52-48 margin, a result that just a few months ago would have been unimaginable.

The Connecticut voting offered a classic bellwether contest. On one side of the Democratic primary ballot was Lieberman, a three-term incumbent who had aligned himself with the Bush administration in support of the invasion and ongoing occupation of Iraq. On the other side was Lamont, the previously unknown challenger who surfed a wave of resentment against the neoconservative nightmare that has gotten the United States bogged down in Iraq, rendered it diplomatically dysfunctional in the Middle East and created more global resentment toward America than at any time in the nation's history.

As such, the Connecticut contest was always about more than one senator and one state. And in the end, with massive media scrutiny and the frenzied attention of political players from across the country, the primary became what former Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker described on primary night as "a referendum on the Iraq war – not just for Connecticut but for the whole country."

At the very least, the Connecticut primary became a referendum on how the Democratic Party ought to respond to a war that it has often questioned but never effectively opposed.

If Connecticut said "no" Lieberman and the war, Lamont supporters in the state and beyond its borders argued during the course of the primary campaign, party leaders might finally be forced to develop a coherent opposition message. And if Democrats developed a spine, the reasoning went, the warped politics of a nation that has been manipulated for the better part of a decade by the fearmongering of White House political czar Karl Rove might finally take a turn away from the madness of a latter-day King George.

"A lot of people around the country are looking to Connecticut to see what course they want for this country," Lamont said as his state began voting Tuesday in the most closely watched U.S. Senate primary the nation has witnessed in decades.

What the country saw was a win for an anti-war candidate over one of the most prominent war supporters in the Senate. It was not so conclusive a win as some Lamont backers had hoped for. The final result was close enough for Lieberman to find encouragement for his planned independent run, setting up a three-way November contest between Democrat Lamont, Republican Alan Schlesinger and the sole candidate of the senator's "Connecticut for Lieberman" party.

If the primary offers any indication, that November contest will be an intense one. And, while many analysts still try to portray Lieberman as the frontrunner, the reality is that Lamont's star is on the rise. And he is on the right side of the issue that polls identify as the biggest concern of Connecticut voters: the war in Iraq.

Make no mistake, Lamont's victory was a breakthrough win for the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party. With a candidate who had no name recognition in January, anti-war Democrats displaced an 18-year incumbent senator who in 2000 was the party's nominee for vice president and who in 2004 mounted a campaign for the party's presidential nomination.

How did Lamont succeed where others – including 2004 presidential contender and current Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean -- failed? Not by simply expressing opposition to the war, nor even by expressing frustration with Lieberman's refusal to question even the most misguided of Bush administration foreign policies.

Lamont won by doing something most national Democrats have failed to do over the past several election cycles. He put the war in perspective, telling voters that the $250 million a day that is shifted from the U.S. Treasury into a failed fight in Iraq and the deep pockets of defense contractors like Halliburton could be better used to pay for education and health care at home and smart foreign aid programs abroad.

The Lamont message was always a far more sophisticated one than most of the national media coverage of the campaign suggested. The challenger rarely spoke just about Iraq, but instead invited voters to join in a broader discussion of foreign policy, American interests and American values. And he never allowed the war debate to be isolated from the debate about how an America that was not bogged down in Iraq might better spend its resources.

Mocking the rhetoric of the Bush administration and Lieberman regarding Iraq, Lamont said on Tuesday night: "Stay the course -- that's not a winning strategy in Iraq and it's not a winning strategy for America." He meant what he was saying. Just as Lamont wants to "[fix] George Bush's failed foreign policy," he also wants to fix failed domestic policies that have produced what he correctly refers to as a "broken" health care system and an education system that leaves too many children behind. And he recognizes the linkages between failures abroad and failures at home.

Connecticut Democrats rewarded that recognition by handing the Senate nomination to Lamont in a historic primary vote.

National Democratic party leaders and strategists, who have had such a hard time figuring out their message going into this fall's House and Senate elections, would be wise to take a lesson from the campaign that Ned Lamont waged, and the result it produced.

Nedmentum

On August 8, 2000, six years ago to this day, Al Gore selected Joe Lieberman as his vice presidential running mate. After the 2000 election, Lieberman led in early polls for the '04 presidential nomination. "Joe's biggest problem is that he doesn't have any enemies," a Lieberman friend told The New Yorker in 2002.

Oh, those were the days. Tonight Lieberman learned that he had 144,336 voting enemies in the state of Connecticut, losing by four points, 52 to 48 percent, to insurgent challenger Ned Lamont.

Three months ago Lamont trailed by 45 points. A week ago he led by 13 points. Conventional wisdom said the race was narrowing. It did narrow, but conventional wisdom, in this race, was often wrong.

"They call Connecticut the land of steady habits," Lamont said in the first line of his jubilant victory speech. "Tonight we voted for a big change."

As results trickled in, the mood at Lamont headquarters in Meriden moved steadily from anxious to triumphant. For many of Lamont's supporters, this was their first victory in a long time--or ever. As the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. told Lamont earlier in the day at a campaign event in Hartford, "your campaign represents hope."

The hope that Democrats will hold their least progressive accountable. The hope that Iraq should be a central issue, not just a single issue, facing the country. The hope that a candidate few had heard of just months ago could knock off an 18-year Senator who'd become increasingly out of touch with his constituents.

"Stay the course--that's not a winning strategy in Iraq," Lamont said in his victory address, "And it's not a winning strategy for America." The crowd responded by loudly chanting, "Bring them home!"

During Lieberman's faux-concession speech, a room full of dozens of bloggers affiliated with the Lamont campaign booed, laughed and clinked wine glasses. In a sign of how politics is changing, the room reserved for bloggers outnumbered the room designated for traditional media by a margin of 5-1.

"It's a new Democratic Party we're talking about," Matt Stoller, a blogger for Mydd.com who helped recruit Lamont, told me. "Entirely new."

It's not often that a rich millionaire executive from Greenwich, Connecticut, leads a political insurgency. But Lamont has thus far been the right man at the right time. He ran a crisp, energetic, issue-driven campaign, based on strong opposition to the war in Iraq, support for universal health care and a desire to clean up Congress.

"We're doing very well because we're standing up and being bold about where we stand," Lamont said earlier on election day.

In the end, voters rewarded clarity over compromise. And Lamont's backers, many of them still young and idealistic, experienced the sweet smell of success. One day they will take over the Democratic Party. If so, consider tonight a beginning to that end.

Lamont Wins; Lieberman Concedes But Promises November Run

"Stay the course -- that's not a winning strategy in Iraq and it's not a winning strategy for America," declared anti-war candidate Ned Lamont as he accepted the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate from Connecticut.

The man Lamont beat, Senator Joe Lieberman, conceded defeat in the Senate primary Tuesday night. But the three-term incumbent announced he would go ahead with a sore-loser campaign on a third-party line against the candidate of the party that nominated him for vice president in 2000.

"I will not let that result stand," Lieberman said of the decision of Connecticut Democrats to hand their party's nomination to Lamont, a political unknown before his frustration with Lieberman's support of the war in Iraq led him to challenge the Bush administration's favorite Democrat.

"We've just finished the first half, and the Lamont team is ahead," the senator told supporters gathered at a Hartford hotel. But the senator claimed "our team... is going to surge forward to victory in November."

With 97 percent of the state's precincts reporting in the most closely watched Senate primary the nation has seen in years, Lamont had 52 percent, while three-term incumbent Lieberman trailed with 48 percent.

Turnout was high in the primary, especially in areas that were friendly to Lamont. But the challenger's margin was not enough to discourage the senator from running on his "Connecticut for Lieberman" line in a fall race that will also include Republican Alan Schlesinger.

It is expected that Lieberman will try to paint Lamont as a one-issue candidate, and there is no question that an anti-war message defined Lamont primary campaign.

But, as he declared victory, Lamont painted himself as a reformer who would seek not just to change U.S. foreign policy but to reorder national priorities -- particularly on issues such as health care and education.

Saying that Connecticut "voted for big change," the primary winner told his cheering backers, "It's time to fix Congress."

To Lamont's view, that fix requires opposing the Bush White House -- something Joe Lieberman refused to do on the most fundamental issues of the day. That failure cost Lieberman his party's nomination Tuesday, and could yet cost him his Senate seat.

Capitalist Logic

Saving the planet should be motivation enough, but a new report forthcoming from Environment California Research & Policy Center shows that cutting global warming pollution can also create economic opportunities.

In its report being released on August 10th, the Center tells the stories of 12 pioneering businesses in the Golden State that have reduced their carbon dioxide emissions by more than 100 million pounds a year, while saving more than $13 million in the process. (That's in addition to the invaluable publicity that savvy companies now realize they can cynically exploit by appearing green.)

From the Westfield Corporation's energy efficiency and conservation projects in San Diego shopping malls to the installation of large-scale solar photovoltaic panels at P-R Farms' fruit packaging facility in the Central Valley, the report details approaches that work both for the environment and the bottom line. Of course if the climate change crisis goes on too much longer, all of our bottom lines will be devastated and our problems will run much deeper than triple-digit heat waves and air-conditioning breakdowns.

So here are some things you can do:

Join the Stop Global Warming Virtual March. The point is to develop a collective entity that can ultimately demand that governments, corporations, and politicians take the steps necessary to forestall global warming.

Petition your mayor to sign the Climate Protection Agreement if he or she is not one of the 275 US mayors who have already done so. If they have, thank them.

Urge your legislator to support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's Safe Climate Act. Click here for contact info for your legislators.

Finally, join the group StopGlobalWarming.com for updates on new actions and efforts to ensure a viable climate for our descendants.

Lieberman Cancels Campaigning, Fox Carries On

Joe Lieberman canceled his scheduled campaign events on Tuesday afternoon, with his campaign announcing that the embattled senator would spend the rest of primary day making get-out-the-vote calls.

Depending on one's perspective, that's either a sign that the senator is confident, or a sign that he's giving up on winning the primary.

But one thing is sure: the Fox News Channel is still campaigning for Lieberman. An Election Day report on the neoconservative cable channel featured an image of the neoconservative senator's anti-war challenger in today's contest for Connecticut's Democratic Senate nomination, Ned Lamont, above the line: "HAVE THE DEMOCRATS FORGOTTEN THE LESSONS OF 9/11."

The same report featured images of Lamont and Lieberman on a split screen with an image of an Israeli tank, all above the line: A LAMONT WIN, BAD NEWS FOR DEMOCRACY IN MIDEAST?"

Apparently, the network is delivering on Fox personality Sean Hannity's pledge of support from earlier this year. "If you ever want me to do anything, for you and your re-election," Hannity told the senator in February, adding that, "I think we ought to have Conservatives for Lieberman, a big fundraiser in Connecticut, and if I could ever do that, I'd make it the biggest blowout celebration ever."

No fund raiser? O.K., how about some TV time?

Managing Expectations

The primary race is tightening between Ned Lamont and Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, the conventional wisdom goes. Lamont's thirteen point lead is down to six, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll. In reality, both campaigns will admit, the race was always closer than the double digit leads suggested by public polling. The fact that Lamont was down 45 points three months ago and is leading, by however slim a margin as voters go to the polls, is good for the challenger and bad for the incumbent.

A win is a win, the Lamont camp understands.

The mood in Connecticut (yes, I'm here too) is eerily quiet, a bunch of highly caffeinated people waiting for results they can cling onto. Depending on who you talk to, turnout is either incredibly high or depressingly low. The truth, on a hot August day, is probably somewhere in between.

At a campaign stop this afternoon outside of Nica's Restaurant in New Haven, Lieberman claimed "a real surge was occurring."

"Voters understand that even though my opponent is trying to get them to vote against George W. Bush, George Bush ain't on the ballot," he said.

The word "independent," Ari Melber recently pointed out, has been stricken from Lieberman's lexicon. As my cabdriver told me on the way to the hotel, "When Lieberman decided to run as an independent, he said to Connecticut voters 'if you don't pick me, fuck you!'"

Lamont, for his part, is staying upbeat. "I'm confident," he said at a well-attended press conference in New Haven yesterday. His campaign, like so many of the volunteers--bloggers and otherwise, posseses a youthful enthusiasm and sense of possibility. Insurgents on the brink of something much, much greater.

We'll find out how great tonight.

Lieberman, Lamont and the Future of the Democrats

The last time that Democratic primary voters turned out a nationally-known U.S. Senator because they did not like where he stood on an issue of war and peace was in 1970, when Texas Democrats rejected anti-war incumbent Ralph Yarborough and replaced him with Lloyd Bentsen, a former congressman who favored taking a tougher line against the Vietcong in Vietnam and against student protesters on the campuses of the United States.

The Texas result was big news nationally, and it played a significant part in the decision of the Nixon White House to try and stir up a "silent majority" backlash to congressional liberals in that fall's Senate races.

Thirty-six years later, in a very different state, Democratic primary voters may avenge Yarborough's loss and set in motion a backlash of another character altogether.

If anti-Iraq War challenger Ned Lamont defeats pro-war incumbent Joe Lieberman in today's contest for the Democratic Senate nod in Connecticut, and if Democrats in Washington finally figure our that no message energizes their base so much as the "Bring the Troops Home" signal that Lamont has sent, then the 2006 election could yet be the referendum on George W. Bush's misguided policies that Democrats denied voters in 2002 and 2004.

There were a lot of "ifs" and "coulds" in that previous paragraph. Here's why: Though Lamont took a poll lead several weeks ago, there were some indications in the final days of the race that Lieberman was making something of a comeback. A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday had Lamont at 51 percent and Lieberman at 45 percent – suggesting a closer contest than the one seen in polls from last week, which had Lamont up by 10 to 13 points.

Could Lieberman still win this thing? It's not beyond the realm of possibility. Though his reelection campaign has been pathetic, and though he is dramatically out of touch with Democrats on the war issue, the incumbent retains strong name recognition, he has most of the major endorsements from interest groups and newspapers in the state, and he has spent a lot of money on a bitterly negative television advertising campaign against Lamont.

It is the prospect that Lieberman could have a little more going for him than has seemed to be the case through much of the primary fight that has the Lamont campaign working harder than ever today. The narrowing of the polls is likely to bump turnout, perhaps to an unprecedented 45 or 50 percent of the potential primary electorate. The best bet is that this will help Lamont, but the uncertainty about who all these new voters might be – in a state where it is relatively easy for Republicans and independents to reregister as Democrats and participate in the primary – will have everyone on edge until the results are in this evening.

Even if Lamont wins, there is still that bigger "if." Will Democrats in Washington get the message that the war is the issue that gets voters to the polls and that, ultimately, poses a threat to stay-the-course incumbents of both parties? The answer to that question has a lot to do with the size of the margin in Connecticut.

If Lamont wins narrowly – say, by under four points – Lieberman will claim that Democrats are just about evenly divided and plunge into a third-party challenge to the Democratic nominee as the candidate of his newly-created "Connecticut for Lieberman" party.

On the other hand, if Lamont secures a decisive victory with a margin of ten points of more, then the pressure on Lieberman to accept the result will intensify. It will become difficult for the incumbent to hold onto those endorsements from groups such as the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood and the League of Conservation Voters. And the senator might either forego a fall race or mount a titular campaign that will ultimately be a sad footnote to a lamentable career.

If Lieberman has to hang it up tonight or in the next few days, Democratic Party leaders in Washington are likely – because of the intensity of interest in this contest – to be forced by a suddenly engaged press corps to speak with a measure of clarity about where they stand on the war. Chances are that they will try to firm up a message that on the eve of the primary was still better defined as a "whine" than a muscular challenge to Bush and the neoconservatives.

The prospect that the Connecticut primary could be about more than one state's Senate nomination is what will make tonight a rare moment in American politics. It has been a long time since a Democratic Senate primary shifted the direction of national politics. If this one does, and if it pushes the party in the direction of the anti-war position embraced by most Americans at this point, then this will be a historic day – the day when, after far too long, our politics again became meaningful.

Beyond My Lai : New Revelations of Vietnam Atrocities

How long does it take the US government to release documentation about atrocities in which US military forces killed unarmed civilians, women and children? In the case of Vietnam, it's taken almost 40 years. The 1968 My Lai massacre became public in 1969, but officials at the time said My Lai was an "isolated incident"--the same thing we hear about atrocities today in Iraq and elsewhere. After that, GIs described dozens of other My Lai-style atrocities in which they said they had taken part. Those GIs were called liars and traitors, and no one was ever punished for any of the events they described.

Now the Los Angeles Times has published a page one story, "Vietnam Horrors: Darkest Yet," based on official government documents detailing 320 incidents of Vietnam war atrocities that were confirmed by army investigators. The documentation, according to the Times, comes from "a once-secret archive assembled by a Pentagon task force in the early 1970s." This "Vietnam War Crimes Working Group" archive, 9,000 pages long, was discovered by Nick Turse, who was doing research for a Ph.D. dissertation as a student at Columbia University. Turse shares the byline on the Times report with staff writer Deborah Nelson.

The stories are terrible. "Kill anything that moves" – that's what one company of American soldiers was told when they set out on a sweep of the rice paddies on Vietnam's central coast in February 1968, according to Jamie Henry, at the time a 20-year old medic. So they shot and killed 19 unarmed civilians, women and children. When Henry got home to California, he held a news conference describing the slaughter, but there was no official response. Now we learn that the army did investigate his report -- and concluded it was accurate – but did nothing to punish the guilty.

The official line that abuses were "confined to a few rogue units" is demolished by the material Turse discovered. Atrocities were committed, according to the Times, by "every army division that operated in Vietnam." They found a pattern of "recurrent attacks on ordinary Vietnamese--families in their homes, farmers in rice paddies, teenagers out fishing," who were "murdered, raped and tortured with impunity" by American soldiers.

Military investigators documented seven large-scale massacres between 1967 and 1971 in which at least 137 civilians were killed. They described 78 other attacks on civilian noncombatants in which US troops killed at least 57, wounded 56 and sexually assaulted 15. They described 141 incidents of torture of civilians, including the use of electric shock.

The evidence against 203 soldiers was strong enough for the military to bring formal charges of war crimes. According to the Times investigation, 57 were court-martialed and 23 convicted – about ten percent. Fourteen were sentenced to prison for terms ranging from six months to 20 years, but most appealed and won significant reductions. The longest sentence, 20 years, went to an interrogator convicted of "committing indecent acts on a 13 year old girl in an interrogation hut." He served only six months.

Army investigators came to no finding about 500 other reports of atrocities, some of which described extensive killing. One sergeant reported in a 1970 letter about a pattern of American soldiers murdering civilians in the Mekong Delta in 1970. "I am trying to tell you about 120-150 murders, or a My Lay [sic] each month for over a year," he wrote. The Times reported that "there is no evidence in the files that his complaint was investigated further."The extensive LA Times report includes details about particular incidents and online links to documents including statements by participants in atrocitiesand a memo from White House counsel John Dean.

Of course this archive deals only with Vietnam atrocities that the army investigated. Doubtlessly hundreds, perhaps thousands of other incidents were not reported – for example former Senator Bob Kerrey's role in killing unarmed Vietnamese villagers in the Mekong Delta in 1969, first reported in 2001.

The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and official US policy require the protection of civilian non-combatants in wartime. Public opinion in the US turned against the Vietnam war in part because My Lai suggested it was a war on the Vietnamese civilian population rather than a defense of freedom and democracy, as Nixon claimed. 125 eyewitness reports of atrocities were presented at the "Winter Soldier Investigation" in Detroit in 1971, organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War.Senator John Kerry, an anti-war Vietnam vet at the time, described those hearings in his Senate testimony in 1971.

The only recent report confirming Vietnam atrocities was the "Tiger Force" story that won the Toledo Blade a Pulitzer prize in 2004. Tiger Force was an elite unit of the 101st Airborne division that, according to the Blade, "killed unarmed civilians and children during a seven-month rampage." That story also revealed that army officials failed to stop the atrocities and then failed to prosecute soldiers found to have committed war crimes. That story recently was told in a book, Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War. The new revelations in the LA Times are much broader and deal, not with a single unit, but rather with every division that fought in Vietnam.

As for Iraq today, reports of war crimes committed there by US forces have appeared recently. The LA Times has been covering a family of four in Baghdad murdered by US military, including a 14-year-old girl apparently raped first, and her 5-year old sister shot in the head. The incident has gotten a lot of coverage in Iraq.

The records of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group that Nick Turse discovered in the National Archives, and that provided the basis for the L.A. Times story, have now been closed to the public, on the grounds that they contain personal information exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Vietnam documents inevitably raise the question of whether we are getting the full story now about Iraq, and whether the military has changed its Vietnam-era practices of secret investigations of atrocities concluding with no punishment for the guilty. We may have to wait another 40 years to find out.

Culture of Corruption Claims Another Congressman

Three months ago, back when Republicans were dismissing the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and this whole "culture of corruption" thing as a Democratic fantasy, Ohio Congressman Bob Ney earned a standing ovation from members of the House Republican Caucus after he announced that he had no plans to resign even if he was indicted over his dealings with Jack Abramoff.

Never mind that federal prosecutors had described Ney in court documents as having accepted gifts, trips and other things of value from Abramoff and his equally controiversial associates.

Never mind that Ney and his top aides, including his chief of staff, have been subpoenaed as part of the examination of the Abramoff case.

Republicans were on board with Ney – just as they were on board with all the other members of their caucus who have been linked directly or through their staffs with the Washington lobbying scandal.

"I'm supporting Bob Ney as he runs for reelection,"chirped National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds, R-New York. "Bob Ney is my candidate running for reelection."

Oh, what a difference 90 days can make!

Now, the GOP line is: Bob Who?

After rejecting any suggestion that he had been harmed by the Abramoff scandal for months, Ney suddenly turned course Monday and quit his reelection race. He says he won't quit his post -- as did another Abramoff ally, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- until his term is finished in January. But it is safe to say that Ney's political career is finished.

And Republicans are wasting no time in shoving him aside.

With Ney's withdrawal came the announcement that Republicans were preparing to settle on a replacement candidate – an Ohio legislator named Joy Padgett.

So does the Abramoff scandal have political "legs"?

Ask Bob Ney and the Republicans who are now scrambling to replace him on their ballot line.

Or, better yet, ask Conrad Burns, the conservative Republican senator from Montana who took more political contributions from the Abramoff operation -- $150,000 -- than any other member of Congress.. Burns has plenty of other problems, but there can be little doubt that the scandal has contributed to polls that have him trailing Democratic challenger Jon Tester by seven points.

"The way things are going for Montana's Conrad Burns," opined Butte's Montana Standard newspaper recently, "all challenger Jon Tester may have to do is to stay quiet until November to win the hotly contested seat."