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Taylor Testifies—Sort Of

The news was that there was no news.

She showed up and testified--but in the end former White House political director Sara Taylor didn't--or couldn't--say much.

Again and again at a hearing of the Senator Judiciary Committee, the underling of Karl Rove invoked the order of executive privilege President Bush mandated on Monday to prevent his aides from testifying about the dismissal of nine US Attorneys. But in between her frequent bouts of non-answer, Taylor did manage to include a plug for her boss.

Taylor told Chairman Patrick Leahy that she never discussed firing the attorneys with the President. "I don't believe the White House did anything wrong," she stated.

If there was no foul play, Senators wondered, then why couldn't she discuss what went on at her old employ?

Leahy blasted the President's executive privilege intervention as "an unprecedented blanket assertion" and kept asking "What is it that the White House is trying to hide?"

President Bush announced this afternoon that Harriet Miers will not testify on Thursday before Congress as scheduled. Senator Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Committee and the only GOP Senator to originally show up, even suggested that Taylor and Miers could face criminal contempt charges for following Bush's order "not to testify concerning White House communications whether internal or external."

The 32-year-old Taylor, who worked with Rove on a daily basis for four years, did an expert job of cherrypicking. She spent three hours of testimony answering almost any question that did not implicate the White House in "Attorneygate" and invoked executive privilege when Senators pressed for specifics about the hiring and firing of federal prosecutors. She admitted toward the end of her hearing that while she tried to be consistent in honoring the President's executive privilege, "perhaps I have not done a great job."

In fairness, Taylor was placed in an untenable spot by the President. Answer questions and violate a however misguided presidential order. Or refuse to talk and anger Senators hungry to get to the bottom of this convoluted story. Senators understood that she was yet another pawn in the Bush Administration's resistance to Congressional inquiry. "The White House has put you in a position of being a tight-rope walker," said New York Democrat Chuck Schumer. Illinois's Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, added, "Karl Rove should be sitting at that table, not you."

Reporting by Matthew Blake

Pax Pelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has demonstrated admirable shrewdness in the fight she provoked with her own Democrats over approving new trade agreements for George W. Bush. She backed off.

The conflict is not entirely settled yet, but Pelosi wisely decided to defuse the intense anger in the Democratic caucus rather than try to bull through it. In pursuit of unity, she has shown respect for the new folks elected last fall and other rank-and-file Democrats determined to challenge the free-trade status quo and to change it. That is good for them. And good for her.

The surest sign Pelosi is moving in the right direction are the hostile rebukes from the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. "Trade Double-Cross," said the headline on the Journal's editorial. "House Democrats go protectionist." This is nonsense, but typical of the Journal's slanderous style. Pelosi is demeaned as a pawn of organized labor and lefty extremists. Makes you wonder if the doctrinaire right-wing Journal could get any worse with Rupert Murdoch as the owner.

This intramural conflict started in May when Pelosi, arm-in-arm with Ways and Means chair Charles Rangel, abruptly announced their "historic deal" with the Bush White House . Dems would approve new trade agreements with Peru and Panama that include much improved labor rights provisions and possibly two other agreements with Colombia and South Korea. The pro-business atmospherics suggested Pelosi might even be persuaded to renew "fast track" negotiating authority for this president .

Democrats were rightly alarmed. Doing a deal with Bush and the multinational lobby suggested Pelosi and senior colleagues were ignoring the rebellious content of last Fall's election and prepared to put the new voices in their place. At a time when Bush's base is imploding, it did not seem smart politics to splinter the Democratic party on such a pivotal matter.

The leadership was pursuing business-as-usual, Washington style, in the name of accomplishing something, however flawed. In fact, they were embracing the same failed model for trade agreements that produced horrendous losses of US manufacturing production and jobs during the last fifteen years. The model includes the scandalous special privileges for multinational capital and corporations, the so-called "investor-state" provisions that began with Bill Clinton's NAFTA.

Pelosi pulled back with a series of assurances. The Panama and Peru agreements need more work, she allowed, and will be postponed until the Fall. For different reasons, Colombia and South Korea were not going to get a vote (Colombia's government is associated with the paramilitary thugs who have murdered hundreds of labor leaders). "Fast track" is not going to get renewed--not for this president anyway.

The leaders left some important issues dangling, but Pelosi responded substantially to suggestions from AFL-CIO president John Sweeney and Leo Gerard, president of the steelworkers union, for how to avoid a bloody battle in which nobody wins but Republicans.

If they are wise, the party leaders will let the Peru-Panama agreements die quietly without a roll call. The economic stakes are trivial, but the principle is not. What is the point of giving George Bush a cheap victory when half or more of the Democratic caucus will likely vote against their own leaders? Not a good start for a party trying to reinvent itself and restore its reputation with the public.

A truce now leaves the substantial issues on the table for the real fight later. Democrats in Congress seem divided almost along generational lines. Those who endured all the hard years in the wilderness as the impotent minority naturally want to legislate now that they can. The newcomers who want big change are understandably suspicious of incremental measures that continue down the wrong road.

For Pelosi and other leaders, the choice is about more than emotional loyalties to the old guard. The new crowd represents the party's potential for real growth and a working majority. Lose them and you lose the future.

Key Republican Snowe Backs Withdrawal Plan

As the most sensible moderate member of the Senate Republican Caucus, Maine's Olympia Snowe should have been on board long ago for a strict timeline to bring the troops home from the senseless war in Iraq.Instead, for months, she played the current Republican game of complaining bitterly about the war while eschewing the tough votes to bring it to a conclusion. As recently as May, when Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, were pushing the Senate to endorse a genuine exit strategy, Snowe joined centrist Senator Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, in proposing a murky plan that was designed to give the Iraq government more time to meet benchmarks before getting serious about a withdrawal strategy.

Now, however, as it becomes clear that benchmarks aren't being met and that President Bush's "surge" strategy is only getting more Americans and Iraqis killed, Snowe has finally come around to the place where she should have been all along.

With a Senate vote expected next week on a proposal by Democrats Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island to begin a troop withdrawal from Iraq within 120 days and to complete the extraction by next April, Snowe is signaling that she plans to vote with the vast majority of Senate Democrats in support of the plan.

"We … are not prepared to make an indefinite open-ended commitment to the Iraqis until they decide when they're going to make their political decisions," Snowe said at the opening of the Senate debate on the Levin-Reed amendment. "Our men and women are making the military sacrifice; they're not prepared to make the political sacrifice."

Despite personal lobbying yesterday from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who urged Snowe to wait until September before rejecting Bush's approach policy, the senator says "the tide has turned."

Speaking of the Bush administration, which has generally had her support in key votes on the war, Snowe said "They obviously would prefer that we wait until September, but my view is that we should send a very strong message now."

Snowe's move is important.

While a number of key Republicans – including former Senate Relations Committee chair Richard Lugar of Indiana – have expressed dismay at the Bush administration's determination to maintain the failed occupation of Iraq, few of them have clearly signed on with the Levin-Reed plan.

Now that Snowe has done so, other Republicans who like to portray themselves as more centrist and sensible than their party's leadership – including Senators Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota, both of whom are up for reelection in 2008 along with Snowe's Maine colleague Susan Collins – will be under significantly greater pressure to back the amendment.

So, too, will centrist Democrats, like Bayh, who have been cautious about getting too specific with a timeline.

Snowe's move matters a good deal – even if it did come a good deal too late.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Blame Canada

Blame Canada

The increasingly isolated President is under siege from allsides. From the right, Republican senators are jumping off hisIraqi bandwagon faster than Leo DiCaprio on the Titanic. From theleft, Democrats are trying to peer past his stonewall ofexecutive privilege.

Abroad, he faces an imploding Middle East. From the Far East,China's economic rise is challenging American political hegemony.He can't build a wall fast or tall enough to stop immigrationfrom the south. And from the north, there has arisen an assertiveand aggressive--wait for this--Canada.

Yes, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper ordered six naval ships to defend the melting Northwest Passage from the UnitedStates, which claims the Arctic is international territory. Yousee, as global warming melts the icecaps it is revealing anattractive shipping route and unexplored resources, like fish,minerals, and yes oil.

"Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereigntyover the Arctic," Harper says. "We either use it or lose it. Andmake no mistake, this government intends to use it."

And thus we have the prospect of a South Park parody come to life. Prepare your anti-war protest posters now: "No CanadianBlood For Oil, eh."

 

Landlord to the Planet

As the editor of Chalmers Johnson's Blowback Trilogy for the American Empire Project, I was struck by an oddity when the second volume, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, was published in 2004 to splendid reviews in this country. Johnson's focus in the book -- its heart and soul, you might say -- was what he called our "empire of bases," the over-700 military bases, giant to micro, that the Pentagon then listed as ours. The book vividly laid out the Pentagon's global basing structure, its "footprint" (to use the term the Defense Department favors), in startling detail.

It was a way of getting at the nature of imperial power for a country that largely avoided colonies, but nonetheless managed to garrison the globe. As a topic, all those bases would have seemed unavoidable in any serious review, no less one praising the book. Yet, somehow, review after review managed not to mention, no less substantively discuss, this crucial aspect of Johnson's thesis. Only recently, all these years later, has a mainstream review appeared in this country that focused on his work on those bases. Jonathan Freedland, reviewing the third volume in Johnson's trilogy, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, in the New York Review of Books, took up the subject eloquently -- and (wouldn't you know it?), he isn't an American. He works for the British Guardian.

Isn't it strange that we Americans can garrison the planet and yet, in this country, bases are only a topic of discussion when some local U.S. community suddenly hears that it might lose its special base and an uproar ensues. Typically, we have made it through years of war since 2001, during which untold billions of dollars have gone into constructing massive bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and yet these bases (as well as the planning behind them) have, until recently, gone almost totally unmentioned in all the argument, debate, and uproar over what to do about Iraq.

In reality -- explain it as you will -- Americans have little grasp of the enormity of the Pentagon, despite real military budgets that, by some calculations, exceed three-quarters of a trillion dollars yearly. (And don't forget that, since 2002, we've been piling on with a second Defense Department, the hapless bureaucratic morass that goes by the name of the Department of Homeland Security.) Nick Turse, whose book, The Complex -- about all the newest twists on the old Military-Industrial you-know-what -- will be out in the spring of 2008, has just sized the Pentagon, the place that unabashedly refers to itself as "one of the world's largest landlords," for rest of us in a piece at Tomdispatch.com, "Planet Pentagon."

Did you know, for instance, that the Pentagon owns more land in this country than America's ten largest individual landowners; has 3,731 sites in its global "real property portfolio"; boasts around 587,900 "buildings and structures"; controls 20% of the Japanese island of Okinawa; has utilized 330,149 creatures for various types of experimentation in a single year; owns over 2,050 railcars; spent $6 million on sheet music, musical instruments, and accessories in 2005; or that it is one of the world's largest slum landlords with, according to the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, "180,000 inadequate family housing units." And that's just the beginning.

And yet the Pentagon has its problems, as in Iraq, where property values have turned out to be steep indeed. In the end, Turse wonders: "Will Iraq be added to the list of permanently occupied territories and take on the look of long-garrisoned South Korea have urged -- or will it be added to a growing list of places that have effectively resisted paying the rent on Planet Pentagon?"

 

Michael Moore v. CNN

The frequently ridiculous Dr. Sanjay Gupta and the always ridiculous Wolf Blitzer tried to take apart filmmaker Michael Moore case against the failed U.S. health care system this week on CNN's "The Situation Room."

They lost.

Badly.

After airing Gupta's four-minute attack on Moore's new documentary, "Sicko," which sounded at times more like an insurance-industry advertisement than journalism, Blitzer introduced a live appearance by Moore.

"That report was so biased, I can't imagine what pharmaceutical company's ads are coming up right after our break here," Moore immediately declared. "Why don't you tell the truth to the American people? I wish that CNN and the other mainstream media would just for once tell the truth about what's going on in this country."

Focusing on CNN's on-bended-knee coverage of the Bush administration's pre-war arguments for attacking Iraq, Moore suggested that viewers might have their doubts about the willingness of the network to speak truth to power -- in the Oval Office or in the boardrooms of insurance and pharmaceutical corporations.

"You're the ones who are fudging the facts," Moore told Blitzer. "You've fudged the facts to the American people now for I don't know how long about this issue, about the war, and I'm just curious, when are you going to just stand there and apologize to the American people for not bringing the truth to them that isn't sponsored by some major corporation?"

Moore did not back down and, to their credit, CNN's producers invited him to stick around an tape a longer segment in which the filmmaker ripped apart the network's attempts to discredit his reporting on health care systems in foreign countries that are dramatically superior to the U.S. system.

"Our own government admits that because of the 47 million who aren't insured, we now have about 18,000 people a year that die in this country, simply because they don't have health insurance. That's six 9/11s every single year," said Moore, who argued that the U.S. needs "universal health care that's free for everyone who lives in this country, it'll cost us less than what we're spending now lining the pockets of these private health insurance companies, or these pharmaceutical companies."

It's all at www.michaelmoore.com

Check it out. This is almost as good as "Sicko."

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

A "Family Values" Headache for Senate GOP

Republicans are already facing a lot of trouble going into the 2008 competition for control of the Senate. And, now, they've got a prostitution problem -- invloving Louisiana Senator David "Family Values" Vitter -- that could cost the party another seat.

After losing control of the Senate in 2006, Republicans have to turn around and defend all the seats the party's candidates won in the party's 2002 sweep. With President Bush's approval numbers in the tank, and with the most of the senators tied by their votes to an unpopular war, that won't be easy.

The GOP's got to defend a number of incumbents who are vulnerable because of their closeness to the Bush administration -- Maine's Susan Collins, Minnesota's Norm Coleman, New Hampshire's John Sununu. Several of their "secure" incumbents are suddenly looking less secure because of ethical scandals, including senior senators Ted Stevens of Alaska and New Mexico's Pete Domenici. And their newest senator, Wyoming's John Barrasso, was appointed rather than elected and must face voters in a western state where the Democrats are showing previous unimagined signs of life.

But the toughest challenge the party faces could involve the senator who was not even supposed to be on the ballot next year.

Louisiana Vitter, a former congressman who was elected with ease in 2004, is having an increasingly hard time explaining his penchant for paying prostitutes -- in Washington and New Orleans -- to have help him commit "a very serious sin."

Vitter is not the first Louisiana politician to let the good times roll. But as a social conservative who has not hesitated to attack the morality of others, he is facing charges of the sort of hypocrisy that could force him from office.

How serious is the discussion about resignation? One prominent conservative, senior State Department official Randall Tobias, quit his position in April after it was revealed that he had frequently the D.C. escort service to which Vitter's name has now been linked.

And at least one prominent Louisiana Republican says Vitter should follow Tobias' lead.

On Tuesday, Louisiana Republican State Central Committeeman Vincent Bruno called on Vitter to resign "for his own good, the good of the party and the good of his family."

Bruno says that if Vitter fails to leave office after the revelations about how he is apparently hooked on hookers, Bruno suggested that the Senator might want to "join the Democratic Party where they think that kind of behavior is OK."

Yes, that's a cheap shot that's short on accuracy. But Bruno's concern about what Vitter's continued service in the Senate might do to the image of the Republican Party is sincere -- and appropriate.

"If (Republican leaders are) not going to enforce family values, they ought to take it out of the vocabulary," says Bruno, a longtime critic of Vitter who has in the past suggested that the senator had a problem when it comes to defending the sanctity of his own marriage.

Should Vitter remain in office, says the Republican state committeeman, then: "We're the party of hypocrites: 'Vote for us and we'll lie to you, we'll engage prostitutes and we'll cheat on our wives.'"

That's strong talk. But it is directed at a man who, in addition to hypocrisy, has by every indication violated the laws of his home state and the nation's capital city.

If Vitter were to resign, the Democrats are all but certain to gain a Senate seat.

Under's Louisiana's Election Code, the governor picks the replacement for a U.S. senator who leaves office before his or her term is done.

Louisiana's governor is a Democrat, Kathleen Blanco.

Blanco's not running for reelection this year, so there is little likelihood that she would bother to try and win favor with Republicans by appointing one of their number to replace Vitter.

To be sure, any appointment would be temporary.

According to Louisiana's election code, a special election would have to be held -- perhaps this year, perhaps next, depending on when Vitter might leave office.

By the time the special election rolls around, however, the Democrat would have the advantage of incumbency in a state that -- even after losing a lot of Democratic voters from New Orleans in the post-Hurricane Katrina exodus -- could probably still elect the right Democrat to a Senate seat. Amusingly, that right Democrat might be Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, whose sister Mary holds the state's other Senate seat. Two-term State Treasurer John Kennedy is another prospect, as is south Louisiana Congressman Charlie Melancon.

Look for the White House and the National Republican Senatorial Campaign committee to be in a most forgiving mood with regard to Vitter's transgressions. They can't afford to lose him because they can't afford to have another Senate seat in play during a cycle that already looks like a rough one for the party.

But even the best efforts of Bush and his congressional cronies may not be enough to save a senator whose story is starting to sound like the script for a very bad TV movie -- or, perhaps, a film that would not be rated for family viewing.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

A Blast from Vitter's Past

In the fall of 1998, David Vitter felt compelled to weigh in on the national debate over the possible impeachment of President Bill Clinton for lying about sex. Vitter was not yet a member of Congress; he was a Republican state representative. And in an October 29, 1998, opinion piece for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Vitter took issue with a previous article, written by two law professors who had argued that impeachment "is a process of removing a president from office who can no longer effectively govern; it is not about punishment." Given that Clinton was still a capable chief executive, they had maintained, impeachment was not in order.

Vitter, a graduate of Harvard University and Tulane law school and a Rhodes scholar, was aghast at this amoral position. He blasted the law professors for criticizing those congressional Republicans pushing for Clinton's impeachment. Their argument that impeachment is "not primarily about right and wrong or moral fitness to govern," he wrote, was utterly wrongheaded. He continued:

Some current polls may suggest that people are turned off by the whole Clinton mess and don't care -- because the stock market is good, the Clinton spin machine is even better or other reasons. But that doesn't answer the question of whether President Clinton should be impeached and removed from office because he is morally unfit to govern.

The writings of the Founding Fathers are very instructive on this issue. They are not cast in terms of political effectiveness at all but in terms of right and wrong -- moral fitness. Hamilton writes in the Federalists Papers(No. 65) that impeachable offenses are those that "proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust."

In considering impeachment, Vitter asserted, Congress had to judge Clinton on moral terms. Decrying the law professors' failure to see this, Vitter observed, "Is that the level of moral relatively [sic] and vacuousness we have come to?" If no "meaningful action" were to be taken against Clinton, Vitter wrote, "his leadership will only further drain any sense of values left to our political culture."

Strong words. Now that Vitter, who entered the House of Representatives in 1999 after winning a special election to fill the seat of Representative Bob Livingston (who resigned after being caught in an adultery scandal) and who was elected senator in 2004, has admitted he placed a phone call to the so-called DC Madam, his constituents can only wonder if he will hold himself to the same standards he sought to apply to Bill Clinton.

Vitter, who is married with four children, has been a vigorous advocate of family values, championing abstinence-only programs and calling for a ban on gay marriage. In a statement his office rushed out on Monday night--before he could be outed by Hustler magazine--Vitter said he had committed a "serious sin" and claimed that "several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling." I seem to recall that Bill Clinton took a similar stance after he acknowledged his affair with Monica Lewinsky. That, though, did not prevent Vitter from calling for Clinton's forcible removal from office.

Perhaps Vitter ought to revisit the issue of whether the absence of moral fitness is a firing offense for a public official.

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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.

Vitter-Sweet on DC Madam

So much for the DC madam's client list not being newsworthy. Tell that to Senator David Vitter, the conservative Louisiana Republican and first major politico linked to Madam Deborah Jane Palfrey.

After the AP reported that his phone number appeared in Palfrey's phone records, Vitter apologized for "a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible." He continued: "Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling." It was unclear if that was before or after a prominent Louisiana Republican accused Vitter of repeatedly shaking up with a prostitute in New Orleans' French Quarter.

Vitter, in yet another delicious slice of religious right hypocrisy, is one of the most outspoken social conservatives in the Senate. He co-sponsored legislation to federally finance abstinence-only education and called a ban on gay marriage the most important issue in the country today. He also told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that "infidelity, divorce, and deadbeat dads contribute to the breakdown of traditional families."

Marc Ambinder reminds us that Vitter was the first GOP Senator to endorse Rudy Giuliani and serves as one of the campaign's key ambassadors to social conservatives.

It gets better. Vitter first ran for Congress to fill the seat of Speaker of the House Bob Livingston, who resigned after his extramarital affairs became public. Asked in 2000 what she would do if her husband committed similar transgressions, Vitter's wife Wendy responded: "I'm a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary. If he does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony, trust me."