February has been a very queer month for the US military.
Early this month, the Defense Department admitted (in a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee) that its TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notice) surveillance program engaged in "inappropriate" domestic spying on anti-war groups. As NBC News reported late last year, military intelligence labeled UC Santa Cruz's Students Against War a "credible threat" after they shut-down a recruitment visit and returned a few months later to spy on a kiss-in against the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Likewise, the FBI spied on a demonstration against military recruiters organized by NYU's OUTLaw. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (along with the ACLU) has filed a lawsuit requesting more information on the program and its impact on LGBT organizations.
On February 14, a 12-member commission assembled by the University of California (which included Clinton's Defense Secretary William Perry and Reagan's Assistant Defense Secretary Lawrence Korb) concluded that the GAO has severely underestimated the cost of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The panel found that the total cost of implementing Don't Ask, Don't Tell (including discharging and replacing troops) during its first decade was $364 million, almost double the GAO figure of $190 million.
Among the revelations in the torture documents released by the ACLU on February 23, is the apparent use of gay porn as a torture tool in Guantanamo. In a series of e-mails, FBI agents working at Guantanamo complained about military interrogators' techniques to their supervisors. One e-mail notes that the Bureau and Army intelligence have "parted ways" and then reports:
Last evening I went to observe an interview of __ with __. The adjoining room, observable from the monitoring booth, was occupied by 2 DHS investigators showing a detainee homosexual porn movies and using a strobe light in the room. We moved our interview to a different room! We've heard that DHS interrogators routinely identify themselves as FBI Agents and then interrogate a detainee for 16-18 hours using tactics as described above and others (wrapping in Israeli flag, constant loud music, cranking the A/C down, etc). The next time a real Agent tries to talk to that guy, you can imagine the result.
You can access the results of the ACLU's FOIA here.
Finally, culminating a month-long investigation, on February 25, army officials recommended that seven paratroopers from the famed 82nd Airborne Division stationed in Fort Bragg be discharged after appearing on a gay pornographic website -- which gay bloggers quickly concluded was www.activeduty.com. (I won't make this link hot as a courtesy to those who are unwilling or unable to view gay porn at work!). More serious than a discharge under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, three of the soldiers face court-martial on charges of sodomy, pandering and "wrongfully engaging in sexual acts with another person while being filmed with the intent of broadcasting the images over the Internet for money." (Yes, while sodomy is perfectly legal for civilians after Lawrence v. Texas, military appeals courts have upheld military sodomy laws). Four others were demoted and penalized for underage drinking, drunken driving and adultery.
This confluence of events presents the unlikely but completely plausible scenario in which 1) military boys star in gay porn which is 2) subsequently used by military interrogators in Guantanamo to torture prisoners in violation of international law then 3) these same military boys are prosecuted for acts which are perfectly legal under civilian law but remain punishable offenses under a silly and discriminatory set of military policies while 4) the torturers and their supervisors get off totally scot-free. Ain't that America.
As Russian-watcher and ex-Nation blogger Matt Bivens detailed in this space last week, despite the spate of media coverage being devoted to Larry Summers' resignation as Harvard University's President, little, if anything, has been said about Summers' role as deputy treasury secretary in the Clinton Administration in aiding and abetting Russian corruption during the Yeltsin era.
That is, until today, when the New York Times reported that a devastating 18,500 word (22,007 with sidebars) expose in Institutional Investor, "How Harvard Lost Russia," may have led to Summers' downfall. The article, written by award winning journalist David McClintick, chronicled financial improprieties by those in charge of Harvard's Russia project, including Andrei Shleifer, a professor of economics who is a friend and protégé of Dr. Summers's, and Jonathan Hay, a Harvard-trained lawyer. Shleifer, who agreed to pay $2 million in a settlement, has not been subjected to any disclipinary action by Harvard. As the Times reports, "Some Harvard watchers attribute that to Dr. Summers' influence, though he formally recused himself from the matter, and they see the entire affair, assiduously detailed by Mr. McClintick, as an indelible stain on Harvard's reputation."
The Nation has been reporting on this for some time. Click here to read Bivens' piece for the details of Summers' role in Russian corruption which didn't make the New York Times.
The other day, I received a letter from Robert Burrows of Whitewater, Wisconsin. I was moved to read his description of why the Democratic Party of Walworth County, Wisconsin voted for a motion to impeach President George W. Bush.
Here's what he wrote:
Dear Ms. Vanden Heuvel:
Copies of Elizabeth Holtzman's brilliant article calling for the impeachment of George W. Bush were distributed to all thirty members of the Democratic Party of Walworth County (Wisconsin) at our January 2006 meeting.
The effect of the article was electrifying. Two members had brought copies of the article to the meeting; their call for an immediate response to Holtzman's challenge led to vigorous discussion, followed by the unanimous adoption of the motion to impeach.
Please communicate to Elizabeth Holtzman our thanks for galvanizing our group into action. We applaud her initiative--and commend The Nation for giving such prominent space to her impressively reasoned call for action.
Robert N. Burrows
P.S. Copies of our resolution calling for Bush's impeachment have been sent to Senators Kohl and Feingold of Wisconsin and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, our representative at the Capitol. Alsothe Democratic Party of Wisconsin and key Wisconsin members of the House of Representatives.
The local paper, The Janesville Gazette, also ran a good story about the party meeting, noting that "the groups' list of reasons for impeachment takes a page out of a recent article in the liberal-leaning magazine, The Nation."
How serious are Republican -- and some Democratic -- politicians who go on and on about the need to restrict embryonic stem-cell research?
Stem cell research, which scientists believe holds the promise of cures or treatments for everything from diabetes to Alzheimer's disease, is popular with the American people. But it is unpopular with the faction of the anti-choice movement that tends to be most active in Republican primaries. So a lot of prominent Republican politicians tip their hat to the "pro-life" crowd by backing so-called "anti-cloning" bills that purport to restrict mad science but that are really written to prevent promising research projects from going forward.
The cloning critics seek to energize the faithful by backing these silly bills, while at the same time hoping that no one in the broader electorate will notice.
When the issue does become the fodder for a general election campaign, however, all best are off as, suddenly, stem-cell research critics become stem-cell research advocates.
That's what has happened in Missouri, where Republican U.S. Senator Jim Talent has a long and ugly record as an outspoken advocate for the sort of restrictions on stem-cell research that are favored by the anti-choice movement.
Talent, who has never been a particularly popular senator, faces a tough challenge this year from Democrat Claire McCaskill, the very popular state auditor. McCaskill has actually been running ahead of Talent in some polls. She's a supporter of stem-cell research, who is highlighting that stance in her campaign. "We should be promoting hope for people suffering with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, ALS, spinal cord injuries, and other debilitating diseases," said McCaskill, when she announced her support for a Missouri ballot initiative that seeks to guarantee that research into lifesaving cures can be done in the state.
"Stem cell research holds the promise of saving lives and alleviating the pain and suffering endured by so many of our people," added McCaskill. "This initiative enables Missouri doctors and researches to be at the forefront of lifesaving research and it has my support."
In a state where polls show voters favor embryonic stem-cell research by a 2-1 margin. Talent felt the heat. So, last week, he withdrew as a co-sponsor of a federal anti-cloning bill that that seeks to outlaw what many scientists see as one of the most promising forms of embryonic stem-cell research. Talent's tortured speech announcing his new stance, in which he announced that he had come across "an ethically untroubling way" for obtaining embryonic stem cells that can be used in research, was an attempt to blunt McCaskill's appeal. But, as McCaskill noted, Talent still supports many restrictions on stem-cell research.
"Unfortunately," McCaskill says of Talent, "like too many politicians, he's trying to hide his opposition by dancing around science for politics. In a 30-minute long speech chock full of scientific jargon, he attempted to obfuscate his position and distract Missourians from the real issue: why does he think we should criminalize research instead of providing hope and cures for our people?"
McCaskill adds, with the directness that voters should expect of candidates on these issues: "I don't need 30 minutes or even 30 seconds to tell you where I stand. I support hope, I support science, and I support lifesaving cures. Because desperately ill Missourians deserve hope, not political cover -- and scientists deserve support, not handcuffs."
Bob Hagan has for decades been one of Ohio's most progressive-minded and intellectually adventurous legislators. So it comes as no surprise that the Democratic state senator from Youngstown would blaze a new policy-making trail with a plan to reform adoption laws.
Hagan's proposal: Ban Republicans from adopting children.
In an email dispatched to fellow legislators last week, the senator announced his plan to "introduce legislation in the near future that would ban households with one or more Republican voters from adopting children or acting as foster parents."
Explaining that "policymakers in (Ohio) have ignored this growing threat to our communities for far too long," Hagan wrote that: "Credible research exists that strongly suggests that adopted children raised in Republican households, though significantly wealthier than their Democrat-raised counterparts, are more at risk for developing emotional problems, social stigmas, inflated egos, an alarming lack of tolerance for others they deem different than themselves, and an air of overconfidence to mask their insecurities."
"In addition," the Democrat noted, "I have spoken to many adopted children raised in Republican households who have admitted that 'Well, it's just plain boring most of the time.'"
Hagan acknowledges that the "credible research" to which he refers cannot he quantified. But that should not be a problem, he explains, as a bill proposed by Republican state Rep. Ron Hood, R-Ashville, which would prohibit adoptions of children by gay and lesbian couples, suffers from a similar deficiency.
Since Hood's homophobic legislation is not backed by evidence that gay and lesbian parents are in any way detrimental to children, Hagan argues, why should his Republicanphobic legislation have to be grounded in anything more than emotions or ideology. (Hood's proposal, one of many similar measures being pushed around the country in a move by Republicans to stir up their voter base in advance of the 2006 and 2008 elections, would bar children from being placed for adoption or foster care in homes where the prospective parent or anyone else living in the house is gay, lesbian bisexual or transgendered.)
Hagan has no cosponsors for his bill at this point, a circumstance that may have something to do with the fact that the legislation has been proposed, as he says, with "tongue was planted firmly in cheek."
But Hagan does have a point for legislators in Ohio and other states who are wrestling with questions of whether to discriminate against upstanding and responsible citizens whose sexuality does not meet with the approval of the homophobic wing of the Republican party.
"We need to see what we are doing," explained Hagan, who notes that, while Republicans seek to score cheep political points, there are close to 3,000 Ohio children awaiting adoption and close to 20,000 in foster care.
The conservative Cincinnati Enquirer agreed.
Noting that "(Republican Representative) Hood's offensive and discriminatory bill would hurt, not help, children," the usually pro-Republican newspaper observed in an editorial that, "perhaps Hagan's modest proposal gave some folks a taste, however fleeting, of what it would be like to be labeled as a class somehow incapable, unworthy or unacceptable."
But Hagan has the best counter of all to the repeated attempts by Republican legislators to fake up issues involving gays and lesbians -- from amendments to ban same-sex marriage or their new nationwide push on the adoption front. Speaking of Hood's proposal, Hagan says, "It flies in the face of reason when we need to reform our education system, address health care and environmental issues that we put energy and wasted time (into) legislation like this."
I spent this past weekend bunkered in with 350 movement conservatives and some of their favorite pols and strategists – from John Ashcroft to Tom Tancredo to Jim Woolsey --and let me tell you, even many of these folks are openly worried about Republican chances in the Fall.
The Phoenix gathering was the latest edition of David Horowitz's Restoration Weekend, a traditional gathering of the right-wing tribes. And no, I didn't go native. I was merely a panelist on the future of the Democratic Party along with Matt Bai of The New York Times and Democratic consultants Flavia Colgan and Pat Caddell. You can see my personal blog for the Ashcroft jokes.
But here's the serious part: there's a lot of fear and trembling going on among Republicans. A rich sampler from this weekend's panel discussions:
Conservative Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake: He pleaded with fellow conservatives to take the high road of liberalized immigration reform in the escalating debate and not go down the immigrant-bashing path. "I encourage Republicans to not repeat what happened in California in 1994," he said referring to GOP support for Prop 187. "It works for one cycle and then you pay a price for a decade."
Former Congressman Pat Toomey, current head of The Club for Growth: "We have to acknowledge we have a President who is not popular… The war in Iraq is the 800 lb. gorilla in the room and a major downturn could drown anything we do… We won in 1994 because we promised small government and going into the 2006 elections this is key idea we have abandoned."
Former Colorado State Senator John Andrews: "I feel the Republican Party in my state and nationally is a party that has lost its way… we need to find our way back to a reason to vote Republican."
Missouri Lt. Governor Pete Kinder on the state of the party: "The demoralization of the base is real. I hear it everywhere."
Conservative Arizona Congressman John Shaddeg on the Abramoff scandal: "I believe these scandals are the end of the 1994 Revolution… all this seriously threatens the Republican majority. It might be hard to shrink government as we promised. But it's not that hard to be honest and we haven't."
By the way, I had a terrific time.
As we approach the third anniversary of Bush's invasion of Iraq, with domestic spending being gutted, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans being extended, and the Bush administration submitting a request for an additional $72.4 billion in war-related funding, the National Priorities Project (NPP) has issued an invaluable new report demonstrating the financial impact of the war on taxpayers in every state.
Upon approval of the supplemental funding bill, total spending on the war and occupation in Iraq will exceed $315 billion. Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, estimates that when all is said and done the final price tag will reach somewhere between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.
The NPP highlights the unfathomable trade-offs our nation is making in order to continue funding the Iraq occupation – other spending priorities that are being missed – both at the state and national levels.
Check out these vivid examples: for the same $315 billion, over 71 million people could have received comprehensive health care (36 million are currently uninsured); 61 million students could receive university scholarships; nearly 5 million workers could be employed as port container inspectors (only 6 percent of the 9 million containers arriving annually are currently inspected); or every child in the world could be given basic immunizations for the next 80 years...
In Washington, DC, where US citizens are still denied representation in Congress, taxpayers will pay $1.5 billion towards Iraq through Fiscal Year 2006. Money that could otherwise be used to place 201,000 children in Head Start; build 10,000 affordable housing units; open 175 new Elementary schools; or ensure that 607,000 children receive health care….
NPP has made it very easy to see what could be done in your state if not for the war's costs. Click here to check it out, and make sure your friends, family, and representatives know the true story about the waste, costs, and lost opportunities that result from the continued disaster in Iraq.
In the New York Times on Friday, Ted Koppel – now a columnist free from the strictures of ABC-Disney – lays it on the line in examining the undeniable role of oil in our continuing occupation of Iraq. Koppel notes, "….America's rapt attention to the security of the Persian Gulf is what it has always been. It's about the oil."
Hmmm….I seem to recall hearing some ideas along those lines – years ago – from the likes of Michael Moore in Farenheit 9/11 and many other lefties & progressives as well. They were each summarily dismissed – not just by the right but also by many in the MSM – as "unpatriotic," "conspiracy-theorists," "paranoid," "un-American," "simplistic," "leftists," etc.
Perhaps now, after three years of confronting the chaos, ineptitude, dishonesty, and failures of Iraq policy, critics will no longer face the scathing, simplistic, backlash that once confronted them.
Time will tell.
There's one thing you can say about Duke Cunningham: He didn't come cheap. Mitchell Wade, the defense contractor who purchased Cunningham's California home for a price inflated by $700,000, today pleaded guilty to showering Duke with $1 million in bribes.
These bribes included, among other things, a $140,000 yacht (the "Duke-Stir"), an 1850s Louis Phillipe commode, Persian rugs, a Rolls Royce and two silver candelabras, all used to "feather his nest in San Diego." The requests came courtesy of Duke's "bribe menu." In return Wade's company MZM earned over $150 million in government contracts, courtesy of Duke's seat on the House defense appropriation subcommittee.
According to his plea Wade also bribed the former executive director of the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center and two sitting members of Congress, Reps. Virgil Goode (R-VA) and Katherine Harris (R-FL).
Yes, the same Katherine Harris who helped hand Bush the election in Florida and is now running for the Senate against Bill Nelson. It's hard to imagine a more deserving target.
Bill Moyers is hitting the road in California for an eight-city speaking tour to raise issues of money and politics. And, as usual, he's got a lot to say about the withering state of our democracy.
But how could anyone think that the Texas-born observer of the American Zeitgeist would avoid comment on the vice presidential "peppering" spree that recently took place in Moyers' home state.
Moyers promises to leave "the rich threads of humor to pluck from the hunting incident in Texas" to The Daily Show's Jon Stewart. But the man who once served as press secretary for former President Lyndon Johnson is intrigued by the backstory of Dick Cheney's trevails that is rich with insight and righteous indignation about what has become of our politics and our public life.
"I can accept Dick Cheney's word that the accident was one of the worst moments of his life. What intrigues me as a journalist now is the rare glimpse we have serendipitously been offered into the tightly knit world of the elites who govern today," says Moyers, who did such a good job of shining the light of public scrutiny on those elites when he hosted PBS's NOW program that Bush administration allies set up a covert campaign to get him off the air.
"The Vice President was hunting on a 50-thousand acre ranch owned by a lobbyist friend who is the heiress to a family fortune of land, cattle, banking and oil (ah, yes, the quickest and surest way to the American dream remains to choose your parents well)," adds Moyers in remarks prepared for his California speaking tour.
"The circumstances of the hunt and the identity of the hunters provoked a lament from The Economist. The most influential pro-business magazine in the world is concerned that hunting in America is becoming a matter of class: the rich are doing more, the working stiffs, less. The annual loss of 1.5 million acres of wildlife habitat and 1 million acres of farm and ranchland to development and sprawl has come "at the expense of ‘The Deer Hunter' crowd in the small towns of the north-east, the rednecks of the south and the cowboys of the west." Their places, says The Economist, are being taken by the affluent who pay plenty for such conveniences as being driven to where the covey cooperatively awaits. The magazine (hardly a Marxist rag, remember) describes Mr. Cheney's own expedition as "a lot closer to ‘Gosford Park' than ‘The Deer Hunter' – a group of fat old toffs waiting for wildlife to be flushed towards them at huge expense.
"At the heart of this story is a metaphor of power. The Vice President turned his host, the lobbyist who is also the ranch owner, into his de facto news manager. She would disclose the shooting only when Cheney was ready and only on his terms. Sure enough, nothing was made public for almost 20 hours until she finally leaked the authorized version to the local newspaper. Ms. Armstrong suggested the blame lay with the victim, who, she indicated, had failed to inform the Vice President of his whereabouts and walked into a hail of friendly fire. Three days later Cheney revised the story and apologized. Don't you wonder what went back and forth with the White House that long night of trying to agree on the official line?
"We do know someone from the hunting party was in touch with Karl Rove at the White House. For certain Rove's the kind of fellow you want on the other end of the line when great concoctions are being hatched, especially if you wish the victim to hang for the crime committed against him."
Describing the whole affair "a study of the inner circle at the top of American politics," Moyers reflects on a recent article by Sidney Blumenthal that notes how incestuous that inner circle has become.
"Armstrong's father invested in Rove's political consulting firm that managed George W. Bush's election as governor of Texas and as president. Her mother, Anne Armstrong, is a longtime Republican activist and donor. Ronald Reagan appointed her to the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board after her tenure as Ambassador to the United Kingdom under President Ford, whose chief of staff was a young Dick Cheney," explains Moyers. "Anne Armstrong served on the board of directors of Halliburton that hired Cheney to run the company. Her daughter, Katherine Armstrong, host of the hunting party, was once a lobbyist for the powerful Houston law firm founded by the family of James A. Baker III, who was chief of staff to Reagan, Secretary of State under the first George Bush, and the man designated by the Bush family to make sure the younger Bush was named President in 2000 despite having lost the popular vote. According to Blumenthal, one of her more recent lobbying jobs was with a large construction firm with contracts in Iraq."
Moyers sums things up with an observation of our times that is as telling as it is chilling: "It is a Dick Cheney world out there –- a world where politicians and lobbyists hunt together, dine together, drink together, play together, pray together and prey together, all the while carving up the world according to their own interests."
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."