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Camp Democracy and the Genius of Impeachment

No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above Justice?

-- George Mason, 1787

More than 5,000 people crowded the Sauk County Fairgrounds in Baraboo, Wisconsin, for Fighting Bob Fest, one of the largest gatherings of progressives in the nation. The annual event, which is pulled together by volunteers on a minimal budget, now attracts speakers such as U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, "Democracy Now" host Amy Goodman and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The success of Bob Fest serves as a reminder that there is a yearning in America for the sort of community and discourse that was once seen on the Chautauqua circuit, which in the first years of the twentieth century drew William Jennings Bryan, Jane Addams, W.E.B. DuBois and Robert M. "Fighting Bob" La Follette to cities and towns across the country. In those days, as today, the speaker circuit served as a needed alternative to a media that often failed to provide a full and honest portrait of the issues and ideas that matter most.

I was proud to be a part of the Fighting Bob Fest speaker roster, and I was thrilled that, when I brought up the subject of impeaching George Bush and Dick Cheney, the crowd roared its approval.

I will be equally proud to participate this weekend in a similarly well-intentioned and ambitious initiative on the National Mall in Washington: Camp Democracy. Sponsored by dozens of progressive groups from around the country, the almost month-long series of events has brought the anti-war, justice and accountability sentiments of the nation to the nation's capital for Chautauqua-style forums featuring members of Congress, authors and activists.

On Sunday, we'll discuss the subject that the mainstream media loves to ignore: proposals for the impeachment of George W. Bush and members of his administration. Sunday's "Impeachment Encampment," sponsored by the good folks at Democrats.com, will feature a morning panel that includes Marcus Raskin, a member of the special staff of the National Security Council in President Kennedy's Administration, and author of "Liberalism," and co-editor of "In Democracy's Shadow"; Elizabeth de la Vega, former federal prosecutor; Dave Lindorff, author of "The Case for Impeachment" and myself. David Swanson, a cofounder of AfterDowningStreet.org and a brilliant organizer on issues of accountability, will moderate.

In the afternoon, another panel will feature: Elizabeth Holtzman, former congresswoman and co-author of "The Impeachment of George W. Bush"; Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst; author and professor Jennifer Van Bergen; Geoff King, president of Constitution Summer; Michael Avery, president of the National Lawyers Guild. Also present will be Dan DeWalt, the Vermont town selectman who started the grassroots movement to pass local impeachment resolutions last spring will also be present, along with Steve Cobble, the veteran political strategist who has been one of the smartest advocates for accountability.

In this election season, a lot of politicians are avoiding talk of impeachment. They fear a discussion about accountability that ends up at the logical conclusion. But the people have no such fear, as evidenced by the enthusiasm for local and state impeachment resolutions and the healthy discourse that is playing out across the country and, this Sunday, in Washington at Camp Democracy.

* For more on Camp Democracy, visit the website at: http://www.campdemocracy.org/

* John Nichols' new book, The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism (The New Press), will be published in October. Of it, Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: "Bugger off!"So should we say today. And Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so."

Will Ned Lamont Get Connecticut AFSCME's Endorsement?

Watch for tonight's vote at the Connecticut AFSCME Council 4 meeting. A high-level source in the Lamont campaign told me last night that it looks likely that Council's members will vote to endorse Lamont-- even though they endorsed Lieberman in the primary.

Last night, AFSCME 4's steering committee voted to give Lamont the nod. Tonight, that motion is being taken up by the Council's 150 delegates. Chances that sanity will prevail -- and the Council will endorse the real Democratic candidate -- are pretty good considering that 60% is required to override the steering committee's recommendation.

Both Lamont and Lieberman will make a showing at this crucial meeting --sometime in early evening.

With AFSCME such a powerful presence in the AFL, tonight's vote could well lead to the AFL endorsing Lamont. Watch here for an update on the vote.

Real Link Between 9/11 and Iraq Revealed

You've heard the President and Vice President say it over and over: There was a connection between the events of September 11, 2001 and Iraq. Let's take this seriously and consider some of the links between the two:

*At least 3,438 Iraqis died by violent means during July, significantly more than the 2,973 people who died in the attacks of September 11, 2001.

*1,536 Iraqis died in Baghdad alone in August, according to figures from the Baghdad morgue -- over half the 9/11 casualties in one city in one increasingly typical month. According to the Washington Post, this figure does not include suicide-bombing victims taken to the city's hospitals or deaths in towns near the capital.

*By the beginning of September, 2,974 U.S. military service members had died in Iraq and in the Bush administration's Global War on Terror, more than died in the attacks of 9/11.

*Five years later, according to the British newspaper, the Independent, the Bush administration's Global War on Terror has resulted in, at a minimum, 20 times the deaths of 9/11; at a maximum, 60 times. According to journalist Paul McGeough, Iraqi officials estimate that that country's death toll since 2003 "stands at 50,000 or more -- the proportional equivalent of about 570,000 Americans."

*Recently, the Senate agreed to appropriate another $63 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the (taxpayer) cost for Bush's wars to about $469 billion and climbing. That's the equivalent of 469 Ground Zero memorials at full cost-overrun estimates, double that if the memorial comes in at the recently revised budget of $500 million.

While Americans are planning to remember 9/11 with four vast towers and a huge, costly memorial sunk into Manhattan's Ground Zero, Baghdadis have been thinking more practically. They are putting scarce funds into two new branch morgues (with refrigeration units) in the capital for what's now most plentiful in their country: dead bodies. They plan to raise the city's morgue capacity to 250 bodies a day. That would be 7,500 bodies a month. Think of it as a hedge against ever more probable futures.

The link between 9/11 and Iraq is unfortunately all too real. The Bush administration made it so in the heat of the post-9/11 shock.

Think of it this way: In the immediate wake of 9/11, our President and Vice President hijacked our country, using the low-tech rhetorical equivalents of box cutters and mace; then, with most passengers on board and not quite enough of the spirit of United Flight 93 to spare, after a brief Afghan overflight, they crashed the plane of state directly into Iraq, causing the equivalent of a Katrina that never ends and turning that country into the global equivalent of Ground Zero.

For a longer version of this, check out the full essay at my website, Tomdispatch.com (and scroll down).

Refusing to Exploit 9-11

Two days after President Bush used a nationally-televised address to exploit the memory of September 11 for political purposes – employing language and logic so crude that it would have made Richard Nixon cringe – the Republican Congressional leadership tried to plant a campaign yard sign in the wreckage of the World Trade Center. And the vast majority of House Democrats, lacking both the courage of their convictions and all other forms of that precious commodity, gave their assent to the desecration.

With the fall election season in full swing, House Republicans tried to take full advantage of the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington to suggest that the Congress has been anything more than a useless appendage of the Bush administration for the past five years. U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, sponsored a resolution that, while it was promoted as a commemoration of one of the most solemn dates in American history, was in fact an apologia for Congressional assaults on civil liberties such as the Patriot Act.

A number of Democrats objected to the clumsy attempt by King and his compatriots to use the memory of 9-11 to justify their wrongheaded theory that the only way to fight terrorism is to shred the Constitution.

But when it came time to vote, the vast majority of Democrats joined Republicans in what will go down as one of the cheapest stunts yet in a Capitol that has seen more than its share of embarrassing behavior.

Only 22 member of the House refused to go along with the unseemly charade. Twenty-one Democrats and one dissident Republican, Ron Paul of Texas, refused to play politics.

Among the handful of House members who did the right thing was Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, who complained that, "The Republican majority disgracefully politicized what should have been a solemn and sincere resolution."

Instead of honoring the memory of those who died and recalling the trauma that the attacks inflicted on the United States, Baldwin said, "[House Republicans] converted the resolution into an endorsement of the PATRIOT Act, punitive immigration bills, and other highly controversial measures, which many of my constituents oppose. The Republicans show enormous disrespect to the 9/11 victims and families by playing election year politics with something as solemn as the fifth anniversary of 9/11."

Joining Baldwin and Republican Paul in voting "no" were: Arizona's Raul Grijalva; Californians Mike Honda, Barbara Lee, Pete Stark and Lynn Woolsey; Georgians Cynthia McKinney and John Lewis; Illinoisans Danny Davis, Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky; Maine's Mike Michaud; Massachusetts' Barney Frank, Ed Markey and Jim McGovern; New Yorker Maurice Hinchey; North Carolina's Mel Watt; Ohio's Dennis Kucinich; Oregon's Earl Blumenauer; Virginia's Bobby Scott; and Washington's Jim McDermott. (An additional member, Democrat Mike Capuano of Massachusetts, voted "present.")

Unlike most members of Congress, these dissenters actually believe that their votes matter. And, this week, they used their "no" votes to reject the exploitation of the memory of 9-11 for political purposes.

The Skewed Electorate

A new report from a California think tank confirms what many have long suspected: if Latinos, the poor, and the uneducated voted in proportionate numbers the state's political landscape would be vastly different.

Even as the Golden State's population continues to diversify, the actual electorate remains skewed toward older, wealthier and better-educated Whites. "If the trends in voting continue," says Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute, "we face the prospect of an electorate making policy choices that neglect the realities and problems facing large segments of California society."

California is the only state in which no ethnic or racial group constitutes the majority, with whites representing 46 percent of the population and Latinos 32 percent. Yet, whites make up 70 percent of the electorate, and Latinos only 16 percent.

In California's November balloting, for example, only 8 million people are expected to vote out of 22.6 million adults who are eligible to vote and 27.7 million adults overall. And only 4 million, or 15 percent of the population, will represent the majority that decides all the issues.

At some point in history, somebody is going to have to take seriously the notion of a new voter registration drive. Until then, expect more of the status quo.

Hack the Vote

So much for ballot security.

Three Princeton University professors designed and tested software to hack a Diebold electronic voting machine. Watch the video.

On Huffington Post, Marty Kaplan demonstrated how to trick a Diebold machine within a matter of minutes using a screwdriver, flash card and basic computer knowledge. Watch the video.

An election could easily be stolen, either through malicious hacking (see above), or plain ol' stupidity (see below).

Maryland experienced widespread problems with electronic voting machines in their primary elections on Tuesday, when poll workers forgot the plastic cards needed to activate the voting machines, election judges didn't know how to use the technology and election results didn't transmit electronically from precincts to the central elections office.

"It was chaos," state Senator-elect Jamie Raskin said. "It was Florida. It was Mexico. It was your worst nightmare."

In the upcoming '06 elections, 80 percent of voters will cast their ballots on electronic voting machines. We better hope these videos and results are not a precursor of things to come.

Novak vs. Armitage: Was the Plame Leak Deliberate?

The book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, has set off a dispute between conservative columnist Bob Novak and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

The book--which recounts the behind-the-scenes battles that went on within the CIA, the State Department, Congress and the White House over the administration's case for war before and after the Iraq invasion--discloses that Armitage was the original source for the Novak column of July 14, 2003, which outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA "operative on weapons of mass destruction." (The book also reveals that Valerie Wilson was operations chief for the clandestine Joint Task Force on Iraq and oversaw espionage operations aimed at gathering intelligence on Saddam Hussein's supposed WMDs.) Following the book's release, Armitage publicly confessed and apologized to Valerie Wilson and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. He said that the leak had been an inadvertent slip, an act of gossip that came during an interview with Novak about Colin Powell and the State Department. Armitage claimed he had merely told Novak--in an off-the-cuff fashion--"I think his wife works out there," meaning the CIA.

In a column published on Wednesday, Novak accuses Armitage of not telling the truth. The former No. 2 at the State Department, Novak insists, "obscured what he really did." Novak writes:

First, Armitage did not, as he now indicates, merely pass on something he had heard and that he "thought" might be so. Rather, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked, and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former Amb. Joseph Wilson.

Second, Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column.

This account depicts Armitage as deliberately leaking information on Valerie Wilson. In our book, Isikoff and I raise the possibility that Armitage might have told Novak about Wilson's wife and her CIA employment to distance the State Department from the burgeoning Wilson imbroglio--as a way of saying, We here at State had nothing to do with that trouble-causing Wilson trip to Niger. Novak claims that Armitage "told me unequivocally that Mrs. Wilson worked in the CIA's Counter-Proliferation Division and that she had suggested her husband's mission." (Valerie Wilson's role in her husband's mission has been overblown; Isikoff and I lay this out in the book.)

Novak, as he acknowledges, did not take notes of this hour-long conversation, which might strike some reporters as odd, given that he had been endeavoring for years to snag an interview with Armitage. So outsiders are left with a he-said/he-said tussle. But Novak's latest account does seem to contradict an earlier version.

In his recent column, Novak contends that Armitage intentionally passed him information on Wilson and went so far as to suggest the material might be good fodder for a column. Yet in an October 1, 2003 column, Novak said of the leak,

It was an offhand revelation from this [unnamed] official, who is no partisan gunslinger.

"Offhand revelation" doesn't quite cover Novak's (current) depiction of the exchange as a deliberate leak. Novak's October 1, 2003 column--written days after the news broke that the FBI had launched a criminal investigation of the leak that was targeting the White House--seemed intended to downplay the leak as significant or intentional. (That article also stated, "It was well known around Washington that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.") Novak's recent column, written at a time when White House defenders are trying to dump all the blame on Armitage, claims the leak was purposeful. Which was it?

Novak's current account may well be an accurate recollection. There's no reason to take Armitage's quasi-face-saving version at face-value. But perhaps Novak can explain in yet one more column why he first called the leak an "offhand revelation"?

At the end of his new column, Novak excoriates Armitage:

Armitage's silence the next 2 1/2 years caused intense pain for his colleagues in government and enabled partisan Democrats in Congress to falsely accuse Rove of being my primary source.

Novak neglects to note that Karl Rove was the source he used to confirm the leak he had received from Armitage--and that Rove also leaked classified information on Valerie Wilson to Matt Cooper of Time magazine before the leak appeared in Novak's column. Nor does Novak mention that Scooter Libby leaked information on Valerie Wilson to Judith Miller of The New York Times weeks before Novak entered Armitage's office--and also confirmed Rove's leak to Cooper. (A source close to Rove is quoted in Hubris saying that Rove "probably" learned about Valerie Wilson from Libby.) Like Armitage, Rove and Libby kept silent, even as the White House claimed they were not involved in the leak. Maybe it's time for all leakers to come clean and tell what happened.

******

INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here

Pointing the Way

Last night's primary contests had some highs and lows. [Check out John Nichols's dispatches on the web and in the magazine to get a better sense of what we can take away from September 12th.] But there's one victory in Maryland I'd like to single out for celebration. Last night, Jamie Raskin--Democratic candidate for Maryland's State Senate--won a resounding primary victory in a tough race against a longtime incumbent. He is now virtually assured of winning in November.

Jamie--who ran a smart and creative race, with national support--is a professor of Constitutional Law at American University and a valued contributor to The Nation.

I believe there are four issues in this election year: The Constitution--DEFEND IT; The War --END IT; National Health Care --PASS IT ; Corporate Power--CURB IT. If you believe, as I do, that this nation faces these (and other) critical issues, and that we must confront them with intelligence, sanity, decency--and passion....then all of us won with Jamie's win.

Jamie Raskin is far more than a defender of the Constitution. He breathes life into it--through his scholarly writings, through his activism, his numerous pieces in The Nation... and now by taking this next step into the electoral arena.

Here's a good example of Jamie Raskin living the constitution. In March, he was the only professor of constitutional law to agree to testify against Maryland Republicans' proposed anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, After his testimony, one Republican State Senator told Jamie that maintaining marriage discrimination was purely a matter of following "biblical principles." Jamie responded, in words that should be engraved in every courtroom, state legislature and in our very own congress...and in words that in this era criss-crossed the internet, "Senator, when you took your oath of office, you put your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You didn't put your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible." The response in the hearing room was so raucous and enthusiastic that the chairman of the committee pounded his gavel and said, "this is not a football game."

Sadly, our politics today too often do resemble a football game--though some day, thanks to Jamie's pioneering work--I know we will count votes more fairly, and proportion our districts differently, more fairly, and have public financing of elections challenging what Jamie called in The Nation "the incumbentocracy."

In the meantime, the fact that Jamie Raskin, a respected scholar with an international reputation, seeks to begin what we all hope will be a long and distinguished political career in the Maryland State Senate is not just appropriate, not just necessary, it makes a helluva lot of sense. These days, Washington DC is literally and figuratively in gridlock. Congress is not a place where much gets done these days -- at least not much that is positive.

Jamie recognizes that, and he understands that at the state legislative level, especially in a state where the legislature has a track record of leading the country when it comes to passing innovative laws, he'll be able to do more than just think big -- he'll be able to make big things happen.

Maryland, as many of you know, has been in the forefront of fights to expand health care, check corporate power and protect workers in recent years. Indeed, with the legislature's vote to require Wal-Mart to behave with a measure of responsibility-- providing some health benefits for its workers, Maryland made national news. That measure was overridden, but such crucial fights take years. With Jamie in the Senate, the state will make national news even more frequently. He has bold ideas about how to make Maryland a leader in protecting the rights of workers--as founding chair of the state's Higher Education Labor Relations Board for five years, Jamie wrote rules that allowed more than 7,000 low wage workers--janitors, cleaning staff, dining hall employees, security officers to join unions. And that model became a national model for states extending organizing rights to college campuses. He's also shaped housing, transportation and education programs that can/could/should become national models.

These are times to remember the great progressive reforms of the 20th century because they began America's journey of renewal at the state level. When states were, as Judge Brandeis, once said..."laboratories of democracy." These are times of many local, and statewide victories--some small but also sweet: Portland, Oregon last year, for example, became the first city in the country to approve full public financing of elections. Connecticut passed the strongest campaign finance reform bill. Living wage bills have been passed coast to coast; California just passed the Global Warming Solutions Act--the first time that mandatory, comprehensive caps on greenhouse gas emissions have been passed in the US.

It should be noted that the greatest president of the 20th century began his political career as a state legislator. When Jamie wins his State Senate seat this November it will signal a renewal of the promise of progressive reform coming from the states and sweeping across the nation.

Shameless in Chicago

Apparently, Wal-Mart's defenders are still shamelessly willing to play the racism card in order to slander the company's critics. For years, as I've written before, the company has cast itself as the savior of the downtrodden black residents of inner cities, portraying labor and community opponents as racist white people -- never mind that so much of the opposition to big box development in inner cities comes from people of color who feel that their communities deserve better than Wal-Mart, real economic development that includes decently-paying jobs. Wal-Mart's line of argument -- which was always sleazy and mendacious -- recently reached a new level of ugliness. Andrew Young -- civil rights activist turned corporate tool -- then-spokesperson for the laughably-named Working Families for Wal-Mart (this, of course, is a "grass roots" organization, borne out of the organic love that the American people have for their favorite discount store, not a creation of Bentonville or a high-priced PR firm), waxed a bit racist last month when asked about Wal-Mart's tendency to shutter a community's small businesses:

But you see, those are the people who have been overcharging us selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they've ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it's Arabs; very few black people own these stores.

Oops! Foot in mouth, Too-Candid-Andy had to resign, and Wal-Mart hastened to distance itself from the very attitudes it usually tries so hard to exploit.You'd think these creeps would want to avoid this racism topic for a while. But race-baiting is almost compulsive among Wal-Mart's defenders, so eager are they to use the issue to divide the progressive opposition. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who this week, as my colleague Sam Graham-Felsen has written, vetoed an ordinance which would require big-box stores in Chicago to pay a living wage, joined this unfortunate chorus yesterday by absurdly implying that advocates of the ordinance were motivated by a desire to deprive black communities of jobs. He said:"Only in the West Side. Only in the South Side. ... At the same time it was all right for the North and Southwest Side to get the big boxes before this. It was all right. No one said anything. But all of a sudden we talk about economic development in the black community--there's something wrong there."In fact, Chicago's living wage ordinance has been pushed by a diverse coalition of groups, many of them black people who feel that, actually, it is racist and insulting to imply that their communities should be forced to settle -- and be grateful -- for dead-end jobs. But everyone agrees that because of the historic discrimination by some unions in the city -- particularly in the building trades -- such coalitions can be vulnerable to race-baiting. In a way, it was clever of Wal-Mart to figure this out.Still, playing the race card can backfire, as Too-Candid-Andy and his Bentonville bosses found out. Daley deserves to be publicly pilloried as Young was, for exploiting racial tensions in his city, dishonestly framing the debate (oh, and and for being a grovelling towel-boy to one of America's worst corporations). Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. rightly suggested that if Daley is so opposed to this ordinance, he should put his money where his mouth is: give up his own fat salary and live on a sub-living wage. I'd like it if all Wal-Mart's defenders would do the same: before hurling charges of racism at the company's critics, just try getting by on the wages that you think Chicago's South Siders should receive so gratefully.