The Nation

Party for the Planet

This Saturday, people around the world will attend more than 5,000 parties in honor of a much idolized, much abused celeb-of-the-moment. No, it's not Princess Di. These parties aim to help the planet, by committing the guests to work against climate change. It's the first time the political house party has ever been used globally, according to the organizers, and it's reached at least 114 countries so far, including Bosnia, Sierra Leone and the Philippines. (Note the rather severe troubles facing people in those countries. So, those of you thinking of not bothering because you have your own problems to deal with? You might want to think again.) Organized by Avaaz (which I've written about in this space before) and MoveOn, the house parties will coincide with the Live Earth concert. Big fat global concert events don't always accomplish much. (Remember Live Aid? Or worse, the dreadful "Feed the World" theme song? Block that 80s flashback!) But the organizers of these house parties believe Live Earth can be different, and they're aiming to, according to Ricken Patel, executive director of Avaaz, "turn the moment into a movement." Party guests will pledge not only to change consumption habits but more importantly, to engage in political action on this issue. They'll agree to pressure their governments to sign on to a global climate treaty agreeing to a 90% reduction in emissions over the next generation. What are you doing Saturday night?

Libby Turned Down Again, Getting Closer to Jail

Is Scooter Libby really going to jail now? Today a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, turned down Libby's request to remain free on bond while his attorneys appeal his conviction on obstruction of justice charges. In a two-sentence ruling, the three judges said that Libby "has not shown that the appeal raises a substantial [legal] question." This means that Libby will have to report to a federal penitentiary as soon as the Bureau of Prisons finds a spot for him, and that could occur within weeks.

Libby's defenders--the folks who claimed he was wrongfully investigated, then wrongfully indicted, then wrongfully convicted by a jury, then wrongfully sentenced to 30 months and a $250,000 fine--will no doubt say this matter was wrongfully decided by these three judges (one of whom was a Ronald Reagan appointee and one of whom was a George H.W. Bush appointee). But (hopeless) legal arguments aside, this ruling will cause the neocons (and their conservative allies) to intensify the campaign for a Libby pardon. (I recently detailed the Let Libby Go crusade here.) Now the Libby Lobby will pump up the volume, pressing George W. Bush to intervene.

Libby's champions seem to be motivated, in part, by an intense sense of personal betrayal. Libby partisans have essentially accused Bush of being an ingrate and coward for not rushing to the rescue of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. With the clock ticking on Jail Day for Libby, the Save Scooter advocates can be expected to voice further their frustration and resentment.

Will Bush yield? There's no telling. So far he's kept his distance from the Libby case--which stands as a reminder that Bush led the nation to an unpopular war on the basis of misrepresentations and false statements. But one thing's for sure: if Bush doesn't pardon this former White House aide, he will receive plenty of abuse from people who once hailed him for initiating the war they had craved for years. The pro-war neocons often appear distant from the disastrous consequences of the invasion of Iraq, including the civilian casualties of the war. But when it comes to the plight of Libby, an architect of the war convicted of lying, they feel his pain so passionately. We are all Scooter!, they practically proclaim. And in a way, they're right.


JUST OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." 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 highlights from Hubris, click here.

Obama Hits Another Homer

Barack Obama hit another one out of the park. By now you've heard all about the $32.5 million the Illinois Senator's campaign raised in the second quarter of this year. That's five million more than the big kahuna, Hillary Clinton, who was easily supposed to win the money chase. And well more than three times the amount of John Edwards.

Obama tapped over a quarter million donors en route to smashing all primary fundraising records. That's a very impressive number. But let's not lose sight of what it all means.

Obama's first quarter take was powered by a lot of small donors. And to his credit Obama doesn't accept money from lobbyists. But that didn't stop him from cozying up to powerful sectors such as Wall Street and raising a boatload from places like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. We'll know the details of the second quarter take soon enough.

Money corrupts. Take one look at Washington today. Obama has said so himself. "We need a President who sees government not as a tool to enrich well-connected friends and high-priced lobbyists, but as the defender of fairness and opportunity for every American," he said in New Hampshire recently.

Obama has a natural instinct for reform. He's co-sponsored legislation to publicly finance political campaigns. But every time a politician holds a top-dollar fundraiser, it seems like another little piece of idealism gets bought.

While he's stuck in a system driven by dough, Obama should keep talking about how to change it.

To the Courts, Then, on Behalf of the Constitution!

The founder of the Republic, conscious of the excesses that resulted when King George III and his Parliament cooperated, endeavored to put the legislative and executive branches of the United States at odds with one another.

Jefferson believed: "The concentrating [of the legislative, executive and judicial powers] in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government."

To combat such despotism, the first democrat said, "The powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others."

Jefferson's frequent rival, John Adams, agreed with him on this point, arguing that, "[Checks and balances] are our only security."

During the first six years of the Bush-Cheney interregnum, the system of checks and balances established at the opening of the American experiment effectively collapsed. Republicans, who generally controlled the legislative branch of government during the period, were more concerned with party loyalty than their duties to the Republic. Democrats, who briefly controlled the Senate, operated as a compromised opposition party under the cowering "leadership" of House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Since the November, 2006, elections, which marked something of a breaking point in the pattern of executive dominance that had been in operation up to that point, there has been much talk about the restoration of the separation of powers required by the Constitution.

Only now, however, with the declaration by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, that he will take the Bush-Cheney White House to court if the administration continues to refuse to cooperate with subpoenas, does the talk begin to have meaning.

"The president and vice president are not above the law anymore than you and I are," Leahy declared Sunday.

Asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" whether he would seek a congressional vote on contempt citations that would take the subpoena fight to the courts, Leahy said, "If they don't cooperate, yes I'll go that far."Speaking of White House stonewalling in the struggle to get to the bottom of the U.S. Attorneys scandal and related cases of executive excess, the senior senator from Vermont said of Bush and Cheney, "They've chosen confrontation rather than compromise or cooperation. The bottom line is in the U.S. attorney investigation, we have people manipulating law enforcement. Law enforcement can't be partisan."

Leahy's committee has, with support from Democrats and Republicans, issued subpoenas the White House seeking documents relating to the firings of eight U.S. Attorneys who were deemed to be insufficiently partisan in their investigations and prosecutions. The committee has also sent subpoenas to the White House and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney seeking documents detailing the legal debates around the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. And it has issued summons to key players in the administration and the Justice Department.

The administration's reaction has, so far, been one of refusal to cooperate in a serious manner. White House counsel Fred Fielding announced last week that the president was invoking "executive privilege" in refusing to turn over requested documents on the firings. Bush has also claimed the right to prevent former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former White House political director Sara Taylor from testifying under oath about their role in pressuring U.S. Attorneys to politicize prosecutions.

Leahy's statements Sunday indicate a willingness to have lawmakers vote to cite the White House for contempt of Congress. Ironically, the matter would then be referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring before a grand jury.

If the matter actually gets to court, it would be the first time that such a dispute has been so litigated since the Watergate-era clashes between Nixon White House and Congress. The value of those clashes, above all, was the role they played in restoring a measure of Constitutional order to the Republic.

What is amusing is that some media outlets have in recent days taken to speculating about whether a constitutional crisis might ensue if Leahy takes things to the courts.

In fact, the constitutional crisis has played out over the past six years. What Leahy proposes is to address it.


John Nichols's book The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney." The London Review of Books says The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney "makes a persuasive case…that the vice-presidency is the real locus of power in the current administration: Cheney runs the show."

The Pulitzer Prize Winner and Her Husband

It was less than one year after winning a Pulitzer Prize that columnist Connie Schultz took a leave from her job with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She wanted to campaign full-time for her husband, then-Congressman Sherrod Brown, in his run for the Senate. It turned out to be a shock to her system. In her just published book, … and His Lovely Wife, Schultz tells of sitting down at her kitchen table the day after her decision and writing in her journal, "WHAT'S TO BECOME OF ME?"

She quickly saw her identity "vaporizing," as tends to happen in campaigns in which a spouse is simply viewed as "a prop or a problem." In December 2005, at a restaurant in a southern county, a local party chairman introduced Schultz along with Brown as simply "his lovely wife." This quickly became the norm throughout the state ("his lovely wife, Candy," on a bad day), even in Cleveland where she had written for the Plain Dealer for twelve years. Schultz writes that the campaign trail would "test my every assumption about how far women have come in this country."

But over time Schultz learned something that will come as no surprise to devoted readers of her (now syndicated) biweekly column: "…I could write my own playbook. I didn't have to follow someone else's rules on how to be a political wife. In fact, I could just keep on being Sherrod's wife and do what I have always done: talk to people, take notes, and share their stories – and my own. It took a while for me to get there, but once I did, I never looked back."

What gave Schultz her moxie?

Schultz grew up in a working-class family in Ashtabula, Ohio, where – as she said on the campaign trail and in her book – her parents "wore their bodies out so that we would never have to." Her father worked "a factory job he hated every day of his thirty-six years at work"; her mother took a job as a nurse's aide, working for an hourly wage, so that her parents could "buy the first, and only, home they ever owned" when Schultz was in high school. Schultz was the first in her family to graduate from college – Kent State University – "ninety minutes and a whole world away" from Ashtabula.

Now, as a columnist (and as she campaigned for her husband), Schultz's spirit – her sensitivity, empathy and humor – authentically capture the way people are living their lives. While columnists such as EJ Dionne, Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, Frank Rich, Eugene Robinson, Ellen Goodman, Maureen Dowd and others cover national and international politics in smart, sassy and often passionate ways, what sets Schultz apart is her attentiveness to the gritty detail of ordinary lives, and the personal, and the local. Credit the Pulitzer Committee for getting that right: the citation for her Pulitzer Award for Commentary noted "her pungent columns that provided a voice for the underdog and underprivileged."

There's also a fearlessness in her writing – and in Schultz herself – and that quality, along with her humor, reminds many of the late, great Texas columnist, Molly Ivins. Her fearlessness was striking on the campaign trail, and in the agreement she made with her husband before he entered the race: any time Republicans attacked, Sherrod would fight back.

Or, as a Washington Post profile last year on Schultz reported her telling a United Auto Worker rally, "We're going to fight back. You respond, you pivot, and you deck 'em." Schultz's humor was a great asset on the campaign trail too. Early in the race, Fox News identified Brown as a woman, and Rush Limbaugh described him as African American. In a speech the next day Schultz told an audience of women, "So, you see, I'm even more liberal than you thought. I'm actually married to an African American woman."

Schultz is now back at her job and understands how lucky she is to be able to step back into a career where she's made a name for herself. Other spouses aren't so lucky. Which brings us back to her book.

In these times, when a woman is the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, 16 women serve as senators, and a woman is Speaker of the House – is "Political Wife Syndrome" changing?

"I hope so, I hope it is," Schultz tells me. "I hope I'll help move that conversation along with the book, that's part of the reason I wrote it. And it's not just about spouses of politicians – it can be any woman married to a man in a prominent position, anywhere, even in a small town…. I hope that readers of my book start thinking about other women who they have dismissed as the less significant part of a couple."

We're lucky Connie Schultz has written about her life during the campaign. We would also be lucky if she decided to run for Ohio's other Senate seat. But don't count it. Schultz says she doesn't have the constitution for political office and she can make a difference doing just what she is doing. "But I'm a hypocrite," she says, "because I want lots and lots of other women to run."

It's probably for the best. Schultz's writing would be missed.

Bloomberg the Philanthropist

Veteran journalist Roger Simon put it well: " Should [Mayor Bloomberg] spend a billion dollars on a quixotic campaign for President or [does he] spend the same billion dollars to help cure AIDS, feed the hungry, house the homeless, fund the arts?" After reading the long list of grants Mayor Michael Bloomberg made last week--more than $30 million to 530 neighborhood-based cultural, health and social service groups --I vote for Bloomberg as philanthropist. Drop the Presidential ambitions. (For a full list of the Mayor's "anonymous" grants--given via the Carnegie Corporation of New York, go to www.carnegie.org/sub/news/2007anonymous)

Sure, if elected President Bloomberg might well use government funds to support needle exchange programs to help reduce the spread of H.I.V. or programs to help battered women or groups working to repeal the draconian Rockefeller Drug laws and organizations dedicated to ending violence against gays and lesbians. But let's get real here. Until we bust open our two party duopoly with a slew of vital electoral reforms, third party candidates just don't have a chance. (That's why we should demand that the Presidential candidates --and the parties' platforms--support pro-democracy reforms like Instant Runoff Voting.) But back to Bloomberg. Unless you've been too consumed reading the Washington Post's riveting (but two-years-too-late) four-part, 20,000 word series on Cheney, you know that New York's billionaire mayor is playing footsie with running for President as an independent. And you've probably heard the punditchatter about about how Bloomberg could become '08's Ross Perot. However, here's another reality check:while Perot got 19% of the vote, he didn't get a single electoral vote. And as we've learned the hard way these last few years, the College controls the endgame. (That's another pro-democracy reform we need to fight for--check out the National Popular Vote campaign at Fairvote.org) If Bloomberg is as savvy and sharp and concerned about the country's future direction as he says he is, he'd be wise to stick to his promise to devote his life to philanthropy when he leaves the mayor's office.

Another World Is Possible; Another U.S.A. is Necessary

ATLANTA -- The political discussion in the United States is, for the most part, disappointing -- not merely because it is too ideologically and intellectually narrow but also because it is too backward in focus.

Instead of imagining what might be, contemporary politicians spend most of their time talking, at best, about treating existing wounds to the body politic and, at worst, about "threats" that no longer exist. In the former category, place all the Democratic and Republican politicians who promise a "new direction" with regard to the Iraq quagmire but never get around to rejecting the neo-conservative -- or more precisely, neo-colonial -- policies that got us into the mess in the first place. In the latter category, place all the partisans who suggest that the problem with our health-care system is too much government involvement -- which is a little like claiming that the problem with a headache is too much aspirin.

At a certain point, you just want to say: "Get over it! At a point when only one in five Americans think the country is headed in the right direction, isn't it time we changed course?"

That's the message of the thousands of Americans who have gathered in Atlanta in recent days for the U.S. Social Forum.

Modeled on the World Social Forums initiated by the South American left, which have brought together activists from every corner of the planet to strategize about organizing across border to promote fundamental change -- ending poverty, addressing environmental threats, rejecting war and genocide as responses to conflict -- the U.S. Social Forum says radical reform is both a realistic goal and a reasonable one.

It adopts the World Social Forum mantra: "Another World Is Possible."

And it adds an essential second line: "Another U.S.A. Is Necessary."

As the diverse range of peace and social justice groups that have organized the U.S. Social Forum recognize, only when the U.S. becomes a more responsible player will the planet become a more functional and humane place. This is not a matter of blaming the U.S. for everything that ails the world; there is plenty of blame to go around. Rather, the point is a positive one: By making the United States live up its founding promises of democracy, respect for the rule of law and avoidance of entangling alliances, this country can both lead by example and by the practice of respecting the right of others for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

There is a good deal of optimism on display in Atlanta this weekend. But it is an optimism rooted in bitter experience. Activists like the Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution's Ben Manski have long track records of battling against empire, injustice and environmental degradation. They know how hard it is to change the course of American politics and governing.

Yet, they believe that the American people, if freed to shape the country of their desires rather than their fears, would make the U.S. a better player on the planet. In other words, they argue that America is not the sum of George Bush and Dick Cheney. Rather, it should be the expression of the best insti of three hundred million basically decent people who, given an opportunity, would opt for peace, fairness, equality and sustainability.

Manski, the executive director of Liberty Tree, has played a critical role in developing the U.S. Social Forum's "Democracy Track," a series of events designed to get people thinking about how to renew and extend citizen participation in decision making at the local, state and federal levels. As a participant in several of the plenaries, I've been genuinely impressed with the seriousness of everyone involved to, as Manski puts it, "build a democracy movement for the U.S.A."

There is no question of the need for such a movement. Our electoral processes are a shambles, as evidenced by the dubious results of the last two presidential elections. Our campaign finance system is a crime. Our media aids and abets all that afflicts the nation. And working families find it harder and harder to make their voices heard on the job, in the school or in the community. The crisis is clear. What's exciting about the U.S. Social Forum is that the solutions -- fundamental structural and policy changes in foreign and domestic policies, rather than tinkers around the edges -- are coming into focus.


John Nichols's book The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney." The London Review of Books says The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney "makes a persuasive case…that the vice-presidency is the real locus of power in the current administration: Cheney runs the show."

Should Democrats Nuke Washington?

It was not so long ago that Republicans threatened to "nuke" the Senate if Democrats employed the filibuster to block President Bush's judicial nominees, particularly those to the Supreme Court (which in light of recent decisions, they clearly should have).

Fast forward two years later, with Democrats narrowly in control, and the Senate is in a state of permanent filibuster. It takes 60 votes to get "cloture" and pass just about anything.

As a result, pieces of legislation that won a majority but failed to garner 60 votes, such as the Employee Free Choice Act, a minimum wage increase without tax breaks for business, major investments in renewable energy and mandates for clean-energy sources, the importation of cheap prescription drugs from Canada, allowing the government to negotiate lower drug prices under Medicare, countless amendments to the immigration bill and on and on.

We are told this is just the way the Senate works. Fine. But there is a clear double standard in terms of media coverage. No one reported that Republicans "filibustered" the Employee Free Choice Act. And no Democrat is vowing to nuke the Senate as a consequence.

During the debate over the "nuclear option" Matthew Yglesias and a handful of other liberal dissidents urged Republicans to proceed, arguing that in the long run the filibuster was a major impediment to progressive change. Perhaps they were right.

Contempt of Congress

No one was all that surprised when the Bush administration announced Thursday that it would not cooperate with congressional demands for documents and testimony by prominent former officials that would likely confirm this White House's reckless disregard for the rule of law.

What was surprising, and encouraging, was the decisiveness with which key players in Congress responded.

After the White House asserted executive privilege in rejecting subpoenas issued by the House and Senate Judiciary committees as part of the ongoing probe of abuses within the Department of Justice, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers wasted no time expressing his sense that a Contempt of Congress citation is in order.

"The President's response to our subpoena shows an appalling disregard for the right of the people to know what is going on in their government," explained Conyers, a Michigan Democrat who is the only Judiciary Committee to have participated in the fight between Congress and the Nixon White House for Watergate-related documents. "At this point, I see only one choice in moving forward, and that is to enforce the rule of law set forth in these subpoenas."

The best way to enforce the rule of law is by issuing a Contempt of Congress citation. The rules of Congress permit standing committees, such as the House and Senate Judiciary panels, to compel witnesses to produce documents and testimony required to complete inquiries. Committee chairs are permitted to issue subpoenas seeking documents and testimony. And, when the targets of those subpoenas refuse to cooperate, a Contempt of Congress citation -- outlining a criminal offense against the legislative branch of the federal government -- can be drawn up.

The issuance of a Contempt of Congress citation would provoke the sort of Constitutional showdown that it now appears will be required if this administration is to be held to account for its abuses of power. In such a showdown between the legislative and executive branches, the third branch of the federal government, the judiciary, would be asked to decide whether the White House has a right to assert, as White House counsel Fred Fielding did in a letter telling the committee chairs that their demands would not be met.

The "fear of being commanded to Capitol Hill to testify or having their documents produced to Congress" would prevent presidential advisers from communicating "openly and honestly" with the president," wrote Fielding.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy suggests, there is another sort of fear in play: the fear of having improper and potentially illegal schemes exposed.

Fielding's assertion of executive privilege came in response to subpoenas for documents and testimony relating to the firing of nine federal prosecutors in 2006. Leahy and members of his committee have explored the question of whether those U.S. Attorneys were dismissed for improper political reasons as part of a broad move by the White House to politicize federal investigations and prosecutions.

"This White House cannot have it both ways," says Leahy. "They cannot stonewall Congressional investigations by refusing to provide documents and witnesses, while claiming nothing improper occurred."

The Vermont Democrat described assertion of executive privilege in an investigation of official misconduct as a "further shift by the Bush administration into Nixonian stonewalling."

"Increasingly," says Leahy, "the president and vice president feel they are above the law -- in America no one is above law."

The senator is right, at least in theory.

But, in practice, this administration has operated above, or more precisely outside the law for more than six years. Without proper congressional and judicial oversight, the White House has expanded the reach and authority of the executive branch far beyond the limits imagined by the founders. And it will continue to do so until Congress reasserts itself as a coequal branch of government.

That process begins with the issuance of Contempt of Congress citations.

For the sake of the Republic, those citation cannot be dispatched quickly enough.


John Nichols's book The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney." The London Review of Books says The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney "makes a persuasive case…that the vice-presidency is the real locus of power in the current administration: Cheney runs the show."