The Nation

"Kerry Was Right"

You know things aren't going well for the Bush Administration when a former top advisor to the President drafts an op-ed entitled "Kerry Was Right."

Matthew Dowd (no relation to Maureen) painted Kerry as a flip-flopper in 2004. Now he sides with the former Democratic nominee in calling for a withdrawal from Iraq. "If the American public says they're done with something, our leaders have to understand what they want," Dowd told the New York Times in an interview published on Sunday. "They're saying, 'Get out of Iraq.'" He calls his former boss "secluded and bubbled in."

Dowd may be late to the party, as some have commented, but his entrance is a stirring one nonetheless. He's not the first Bush insider to speak out against the policies and tactics of this Administration. Think of John Dilulio and David Kuo and Lawrence Wilkerson and Flynt Leverett.

Yet Dowd's the most high-profile ally-turned-critic yet. And it's fair to say he won't be the last.

Teach Bush To Google

From my blog at www.davidcorn.com....

Here's a frightening sign of how bad things are in the Bush White House. In Friday's Washington Post reporter Peter Baker reports on the recent staff exits at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The director of strategic initiatives, the counsel, the political director--each is fleeing the S.S. Bush, as chief of staff Joshua Bolten says this all part of the "natural ebb and flow." The departed include Thomas Graham, Bush's top Russia adviser. In recounting all these escapes, Baker writes:

The departures take their toll, though. Bush was embarrassed to learn that a Russian general he hosted in the Oval Office this week has been accused of war crimes in Chechnya. Some officials suggested that would not have slipped onto his calendar had Graham, a veteran Moscow watcher, still been at the National Security Council.

Now this is what's scary. You don't need to be a "veteran Moscow watcher" to know that that Vladimir Shamanov--the Russian general Bush had to the White House--is a suspected war criminal. Type his name into Google and the first reference is his Wikipedia entry, which starts,

Vladimir Shamanov is a governor of the Ulyanovsk region of Russian Federation. Shamanov is a Major General in the Soviet and Russian Army, awarded with title of Hero of Russia. He has been criticized by human-rights groups for failing to control his troops in military actions during the Second Chechen War.

War Crimes Accusations
When he was a commander in the North Caucasus (Chechnya) region, he was awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation title for actions around the village of Alkhan-Yurt. However, Human Rights Watch have asked the Russian government to open an investigation into the incident, which HRW has declared a "massacre."

The "War Crimes Accusations" heading does appear in bold on that page.

Most sentient White House staffers would realize it might be problematic for Bush to meet with a general accused of overseeing a massacre. Isn't it SOP for White House staff to vet visitors and brief Bush about the foreign officials he invites to the White House? So even if Bush's top Russia guy had split, an intern could have Googled the general and prevented Bush from rubbing elbows with a fellow with bloody hands. If the White House cannot get something like this right, the Bush administration--and the country--is really in trouble. After all, anyone who wages war in the 21st Century really ought to know how to use the Internet.

Diplomats to the Sidelines

Ever since September 2001, the President's central operative image has been "war" -- specifically, his "global war on terror" (promptly transformed into the grim acronym GWOT). With it went the fantasy that we had been plunged into the modern equivalent of World War II with--as George loved to put it--"theaters" of operation and "fronts" on a global scale. Remember how, as we occupied Baghdad in April 2003, administration pronouncements almost made it seem as though we were occupying Tokyo or Berlin, 1945? And when things went badly in Iraq, that country quickly became "the central front in the war on terror" in the President's speeches. Well, now it may indeed be just that.

In the framework -- essentially a fundamentalist religion -- of global force and "preventive" war adopted by the Bush administration, the only place for diplomats was assumedly on the sidelines, holding the pens, as the enemy surrendered to the military. (Too bad, when we hit Baghdad, there was no one around to surrender, no way to put a John Hancock on our "victory.") Otherwise, as classically happened in Iraq, where the State Department, despite copious planning for the postwar moment, was cut out of the process and left in the Kuwaiti or Washingtonian dust by Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon, all issues of diplomacy were essentially relegated to Wimp World. After all, as the infamous neocon slogan once went, "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran." And it was well known that diplomats were not "real men."

Nowhere on the planet was a diplomat worth a sou. Not surprisingly, then, the two central figures in George W. Bush's second-term diplomatic non-endeavors became his two key female enablers, Condoleezza Rice, now secretary of state, and Karen Hughes, now undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs. Not surprisingly, Rice has managed to do nothing of significance on our planet -- even the great diplomatic "success" of this administration, its shaky deal with North Korea, was basically crafted by the Chinese on terms worse than could have been obtained years earlier -- and Hughes, as diplomacy's spinmeister, has managed to put less than no polish on our globally disastrous image.

By now, of course, we've arrived at a moment in the Middle East so grim, so fraught with dangers, so at the edge of who knows what, with so many disparate crises merging, that it's even occurred to Rice something must be done. As Tony Karon, senior editor at Time.com, and the creator of the Rootless Cosmopolitan blog points out, Rice has so far gotten a "free ride" here. Her approval ratings, until recently, hovered well above 50%, while the President's were sinking close to 30%. Now, there's desperate work to be done, and while the Saudis gear up, denouncing the "illegitimate foreign occupation" of Iraq, cancelling state dinners at the White House, consorting with the Iranians, and attempting to broker a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Rice (and the U.S. media) remain mired what Karon calls a "fantasy" version of diplomacy. "They must serve up some pretty powerful Kool Aid in the press room down at Foggy Bottom," he writes, "judging by U.S. media coverage of Condi Rice's latest ‘Look Busy' tour of the Middle East." Don't expect results.


In an unusual move for a Sunday talk show pundit, this week Time Managing Editor Rick Stengel publicly replied to criticism of inaccurate statements he made about the prosecutor purge on Sunday's Chris Mathews Show. (Riveting YouTube clip here.) Stengel had told Mathews he was "so uninterested" in Democratic efforts to make Karl Rove testify regarding the prosecutor scandal because doing so would be politically "bad" for Democrats, since such investigations are "not what voters want to see." In fact, the public overwhelmingly supports congressional investigations into the Bush Administration's conduct, according to nonpartisan polling, as Salon's Glenn Greenwald reported in several thorough essays this week. After prodding by Greenwald, other bloggers, Time readers and Time blogger Ana Marie Cox, Stengel replied in a strange email posted on Time's blog, most of which is below:

... I realize that I've been caught out speaking as a citizen rather than as editor of Time. Lord knows, the Democrats going after Karl Rove is "interesting" in an objective way for Time and for journalists in general. It's hard to overstate Rove's role in this administration and it would certainly create yards of headlines and good copy if the Democrats manage to get some traction. But as a citizen, I think it's unfortunate and perhaps short-sighted for Democrats to be perceived as focusing on the past rather than the future. If people see the Democrats as obsessively concerned with settling scores, that's not good for the Democrats or the country... (emphasis added)

There are two deeply disturbing problems with this response. The first problem, as Greenwald and others have noted, is that Stengel refuses to address his own error. Even when writing in response to factual criticism, he does not acknowledge the overwhelming public data undermining his assertion, let alone correct himself. (If Time had published the same claim, a correction would be in order.) It is disturbing to see a journalist, especially the managing editor of one of the leading news magazines in the country, so resistant to factual correction.

But there is a second, more subtle problem with the response that's been largely overlooked. Critics have rightly focused on Stengel's erroneous claims about public opinion. But even if Stengel weren't wrong about public opinion, his email still reveals a cynical premise about how he thinks Congress should act.

Writing "as a citizen," he finds it "unfortunate" that Democrats are pursuing these investigations, because that could lead people to perceive the Democrats as obsessively trying to settle scores. And that perception would not be good "for the Democrats or the country."

The entire analysis consists of naked political strategizing, supposedly on behalf of the Democratic Party.

There is no pretense of addressing the proper nonpartisan role of congressional oversight. There is no analysis of how the Justice Department should serve the rule of law and the American public. The Democrats' political prospects - supposedly jeopardized by a perception of score-settling - are simply conflated with what is "good" for the country.

When you look at it, Stengel's vapid argument boils down to this: Democrats are playing politics with attorneygate, but they're playing politics ineptly because the investigations will politically backfire, so Democrats should back off because that would be good for them politically. In other words, instead of playing politics by aggressively investigating, they should play politics by not aggressively investigating.

I think that sounds more like the logic of a cynical political operative than a "citizen" or journalist. But more importantly, the argument leaves Stengel calling on Congress to act on political expediency. Does he simply think Congress should not conduct worthwhile investigations that are politically unpopular? Should then-Senator Harry Truman have avoided investigating the military spending of his own party during World War II? Should the Republicans on the Watergate committee have refused to vote against their party's president? And if, as Stengel believes, Democrats are taking a political risk by investigating the Bush Administration, is that really a good reason to back off investigations?

Stengel owes his readers an actual correction and a fuller explanation. Polls show Americans are "interested" in investigations precisely because the public resents the complete politicization of the government - which is what got the prosecutors fired in the first place. When Stengel implies that the only "interesting" issue is the cynical calculations he imputes to investigators, he endorses that very politicization.

Making Mitch Pay

Because of procedural rules, it usually takes 60 votes to pass even nominally controversial pieces of legislation in the US Senate. Democrats only have 50 votes, give or take Joe Lieberman. That means that Republicans can stall, block and "obstruct"--to borrow a phrase they repeatedly leveled against Democrats in the minority--pretty much anything they want to.

The man pulling the strings is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. McConnell's kept a pretty low-profile over the years, mastering legislative minutiae and blocking any attempts to get big money out of politics. But now he's front and center--and Democrats and progressive groups intend to keep it that way. Their goal is to paint McConnell as lead obstructionist, blocking not only debate on the Iraq war--as he did a few weeks back--but also on populist priorities such as energy independence, cheaper drugs and student debt relief.

"He long ago became one of the legendary money grubbers in modern American politics," the Louisville Courier-Journal editorialized recently. "He spells it P-O-L-I-T-I-C-$."

Americans United for Change launched a "McConnell Watch" campaign this week, starting with a television ad lambasting the Senator's rosy view of the war in Iraq. For a long-time Senator and leader of his party, McConnell is surprisingly vulnerable. In the latest Survey USA poll, 49 percent of Kentuckians approve of the job he is doing, versus 43 percent who disapprove. He's not endangered, but he can't get too comfortable, either.

Democrats almost knocked off Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning in '04. They'll be gunning for McConnell in '08.

Free Gary Tyler

Gary Tyler, black, now aged 48, is serving a life prison sentence in the infamous State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana. He was convicted in 1975 for the murder of 13-year-old Timothy Weber, a white schoolboy who was shot during an attack by a white mob on a school bus filled with black students.

Tyler, who was 16 at the time of the incident, has consistently denied involvement in the crime. Since his trial, serious doubts have been raised about the evidence on which he was convicted, according to Amnesty International, which named him a prisoner of conscience in 1994 and which argues that Tyler was denied a fair trial and that racial prejudice played a major part in his prosecution. (Two months ago the human rights group renewed its call to the Louisiana authorities for a pardon to be granted Tyler.)

Tyler was tried by an all-white jury with members of the black community deliberately excluded from jury selection. The prosecution relied mainly on the testimony of one student, Nathalie Blanks, who was in the same bus with Tyler. She testified to having seen him fire the gun but after the trial she recanted her testimony. Other students who also testified against Tyler have later recanted, saying that they were coerced by the police to making the statements.

As Bob Herbert wrote in the first of a recent series of three New York Times' columns on Tyler, "That single shot in this rural town about 25 miles up the Mississippi River from New Orleans set in motion a tale of appalling injustice that has lasted to the present day." Herbert's reporting has helped revive interest in the case and and given the miscarriage of justice new visibility.

Building on this momentum, Nation sportswriter Dave Zirin recently contacted a range of people from the world of sports to ask if they would stand with Tyler at this critical time. Numerous athletes have joined their name to the cause, including NBA player Etan Thomas, boxer Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos and former major league pitchers Jim Bouton and Bill Lee.

How you can help:

**Sign a petition to Kathleen Blanco, Governor of Louisiana, imploring her to issue a pardon, and send her office an email or fax.

**Download and distribute 'Time To Free Gary Tyler' flyers.

**Send a letter of support to Tyler. Here's his address: Gary Tyler # 84156, Louisiana State PenitentiaryASH-4, Angola, LA 70712.

**Spread the word about this travesty of justice. Click here to read and circulate background info on the case.

Sampson: Gonzales Not Telling Whole Truth

Kyle Sampson resigned as a loyal servant. Now the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is taking issue with some of the key statements his boss has recently made.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Sampson contradicted Gonzales's claims that he was not directly involved in the firing of eight US attorneys.

"[I] was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on," Gonzales told reporters on March 13.

Not true, Sampson says. "The Attorney General was aware of this process from the beginning," Sampson testified. "I don't think [the AG's statement] is entirely accurate...We did discuss it when he was Attorney-General designate...and when the process came to the conclusion in the fall of 2006."

Gonzales spokesman Tasia Scolinos told reporters on March 23: "He did not participate in the selection of US attorneys to be fired." Sampson's response: "That's not accurate." He confirmed that Gonzales appeared at a meeting on November 27 to discuss "US Attorney Appointments."

Sampson's recollection was that Gonzales spoke at that meeting. "He was there, at least for a portion of the meeting," he said. "It was in the Attorney General's conference room. At the close of the meeting, I followed the Attorney General into his office."

A third bone of contention: In his March press conference, Gonzales claimed that "information that he [Sampson] had not was shared with individuals within the department who would then be providing testimony and information to the Congress." But Sampson says he did fully brief Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, who now stand accused of misleading Congress for claiming that the Attorney firings were "performance-related."

Clearly there are major discrepancies here. Gonzales will have a lot of explaining to do when he testifies before Congress on April 17--if he lasts that long.

Buddying Up to Wal-Mart

Last week, in a remarkable interview with the American Prospect magazine's Ezra Klein, SEIU president Andy Stern, normally one of the more articulate leaders of the American labor movement, was unable to form a single persuasive sentence on the subject of his recent partnership with Wal-Mart on health care policy reform. Klein pressed Stern pretty hard, asking what exactly Wal-Mart has committed to do, in exchange for all the positive publicity the company gets for working with unions on this issue. Stern hemmed and hawed and finally said that if the partnership doesn't work, he was "gonna eat a lotta crow." Looks like that feathery chow-down may occur sooner rather than later.

I've written before about Wal-Mart's strategy of buying off potential critics: African-Americans, community groups in cities where Wal-Mart's entry is politically contested, environmentalists and women's organizations. In this week's New Yorker magazine, Jeffrey Goldberg profiles Leslie Dach, Democratic consultant turned Wal-Mart spinmeister. Goldberg shows that this practice is a conscious and systematic plan, writing:

"Dach and Edelman have been innovators in their field. A press release issued in 2000 outlines a strategy that Dach has used repeatedly to good effect. "You've got an environmental disaster on your hands," the document reads. "Have you consulted with Greenpeace in developing your crisis response plan? Co-opting your would-be attackers may seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense when you consider that N.G.O.s (non-governmental organizations) are trusted by the public nearly two to one to 'do what's right' compared with government bodies, media organizations and corporations." The document goes on to describe Amnesty International, the Sierra Club, and the World Wildlife Fund as "brands" that the public believes "do what's right."

Edelman's co-option policy may already be on display at Wal-Mart. Greenpeace has talked with the company abou the issue of environmentally sound product packaging, and earlier this year Lee Scott joined Andy Stern, the leader of the Service Employees International Union, in a coalition of businesses and unions calling for quality health care to be made available to all Americans by 2012."

Now, Wal-Mart's "co-option" of SEIU may not work as well as Wal-Mart would like, in that SEIU probably will continue to attack and criticize Wal-Mart. But there's no question that Wal-Mart is trying to BS its way into some credibility with the public on the healthcare issue, and there's -- so far -- no evidence that the company is at all serious about using its substantial lobbying power to push for real health care reform. If Andy Stern can get Wal-Mart to do that, we will of course owe him a ginormous debt as a nation. But sadly, he may just be the latest on a long list of co-optees.

In other Wal-Mart developments, CEO Lee Scott said yesterday that he didn't "personally care" if Wal-Mart came to New York City and strongly implied that the company was giving up the fight. "I don't think it's worth the effort," he told the New York Times in a meeting with the paper's editors and reporters. Labor's war against Wal-Mart has worked well here. That's good news, especially for the many New Yorkers who work in in this city's retail industry.

WSJ Discovers Globalization's Downside

This just in from today's Wall Street Journal: "Pain From Free Trade Spurs Second Thoughts." Can you believe it? A "downer" story on globalization from the mother church of free-market capitalism. Who knew it was so bad? Actually, many millions of working Americans knew and have known for many years. They were regarded as mindless "protectionists." WSJ gave them the back of its hand.

Think of today's lengthy, revelatory story as a massive "correction." It led the newspaper's front page and recounted the heavy doubts accumulating among establishment free-traders about what they have wrought. The actual destruction from globalization is worse than anything they had imagined and it's going to get far worse.

The Journal is playing catch-up, to put it kindly. This is the bad news that newspaper was never willing to face frankly and publish. Now that it has, however, the impact will be truly significant--mainly by opening the way for other newspapers (think New York Times and Washington Post) whose editors and reporters have been similarly afraid to tell the whole truth about free-trade dogma's destructive impact on American prosperity. I look forward to many more confessional "corrections" from our leading media.

The WSJ reporters featured Princeton economist Alan Blinder as their influential truth-teller, now bravely breaking the news. Blinder was Federal Reserve vice chair and economic advisor to Bill Clinton, who participated directly in the facile promotion of unregulated, lopsided free trade with Mexico, China and other developing economies. Blinder was one of the credentialed "experts" cited to assure everyone that free trade is a blessing for all, pay no attention to those whining workers who lost their jobs.

So now he wants to warn us? I regard him as a "running dog" looking for a little absolution, after the fact.

I also have a bone to pick with David Wessel and Bob Davis, the two WSJ reporters who wrong the piece. Wessel and Davis have been preeminent cheerleaders for establishment line for many years, though I always suspected they knew better. We had an unpleasant encounter ten years ago, when my own book on the global economy was published – One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism. Davis and Wessel made a very public point of disparaging my analysis and predictions. Wrong, wrong, wrong, they said on a public affairs TV show where we both appeared. The thrust of my book's argument is what these two reported today as news.

I sent them an e-mail this morning congratulating their breakthrough in understanding things. "Time for an apology?" I asked. "Not holding my breath."