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The Death of Mary McGrory

Washington is less today than it was yesterday. Mary McGrory is dead.

She was the best liberal newspaper columnist of the latter 20th Century. Sorry, Molly Ivins, Frank Rich, Anthony Lewis, Jimmy Breslin and others. But--as any sentient political writer would agree--there's nothing wrong with being in Mary's shadow. Just being in the vicinity of her shadow would be an accomplishment.

For those unfortunates unfamiliar with her work, Mary was a columnist in Washington for fifty years, first for The Washington Star, then after the Star perished in 1981, for The Washington Post. Last year she suffered a stroke, and on Wednesday she died at the age of 85.

Mary was truly unique among newspaper columnists: she left her office to do her job. Most op-ed pundits sit at their desks, go to lunch, work the phone. But Mary married the gumption and discipline of a beat reporter with the style and insight of an opinion journalist. For nearly two decades, I would cross paths with her at committee hearings, press conferences, campaign events. An anthropologist of political Washington, Mary believed in doing field work. She wouldn't just pop in and out of an in-the-news hearing. She would be there for hours, sitting with the poor journalistic grunts who had to stick it out gavel-to-gavel. You never knew when you might find something interesting, she once told me.

Nothing slowed her down--particularly not age. I can recall one set of hearings that she attended while her leg was in a cast. She had trouble walking but she managed to maneuver herself through narrow rows and find a place at the front of press table. When the hearing was over, she hobbled up to dais to ask senators why their questions had not been more penetrating. (You will never see George Will doing this.) She was independent--in her thinking, in her journalism, in her life. At the 2000 presidential debate in Boston, I saw her afterward walking away from the John F. Kennedy Library in the dark by herself. She was trying to find a bus that was supposed to take her back to her hotel. But the scene was a bit chaotic, and she appeared unsure where to head. I was about to get on the subway and offered to help--to find the bus, escort her home on the subway, or locate a taxi. I practically insisted. She pushed me away, and, with a twinkle in her eye, said, in her straightforward but graceful manner, "Need I remind you that we're in Boston." Mary was Boston Irish, and her decades in Washington never changed that. She quickly turned and walked off into the night, certain that she would find her way.

Mary reported the hell out of her columns. She was not shy--no, not at all--about sharing her views. But she made her case with information, not assertion. (The Post has reprinted some of her columns here.) For many years, the Post published her columns not on the op-ed page but within the news pages, showcased in a box. That was a testament to the undeniable fact that Mary was more reporter than pontificator. But she was so irrepressible she could not avoid telling her readers what the facts meant. And she had the knack for finding that one hearing-room exchange, that one fact that fully captured a story or brought home a point, and often that entailed shining a bright light on the phony argument or hypocrisy of her target.

The obituaries make the obvious points: she was a pioneering newswoman who covered and explained the great events of her day; she was a Pulitzer winner; she was a passionate and vigorous liberal voice; she made Richard Nixon's enemies list and took that as a great honor; she didn't just write, she wove words together with flare and strength. But what I've read so far about Mary misses what might have been the basis for her success. She loved to listen. A conversation with Mary usually began with her asking, "Well, what do you think?" She was less eager to tell you what she thought. That's what the column was for. The first time I met her, in the early 1980s, I was writing a lot about nuclear arms control issues, as she had been, too. I introduced myself and immediately she began quizzing me on what I thought would happen next with one arms control matter after another--the nuclear weapons freeze, the MX missile, the Euromissiles. Her sources were certainly better than mine. I was flattered. And what an ego-boost: to be treated by Mary McGrory as a colleague. I wanted to know what she knew, believing I had less to offer than she did. But for Mary, there was always another piece of information, another point of view to collect. You never knew where you might find something interesting.

Perhaps because she preferred listening to talking you didn't see her on television performing in the cable-news circus. She wouldn't do it. Once, when I was hosting a radio show, I managed to coax her on as a guest. But that took much effort. She was wonderfully irascible on air, but quick to defer to the other guests.

I would occasionally send Mary an article that I had written--only bothering her when I thought (rightly or not) that I had concocted a point or uncovered a fact that deserved wider circulation. She was always gracious in acknowledging receipt. But more often I would read her column and see that she had beaten me to the punch. Or I would read her column and reach for a favorite phrase of my pal Jack Shafer: "I was going to think that."

With Mary gone, those who labor in her wake will have to work harder, think better, and write more stylishly. She set a standard that intimidates and inspires. Her voice--needed as much now as ever--will not be replaced. But if we're lucky, the echoes will continue to reverberate. She was the tops. Her column was missed this past year, and now anyone ever touched by Mary and her work will miss it forever.

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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the official website: www.bushlies.com.

Let's Take Back America

Looking for a savvy, sassy and strategic agenda to counter the rightwing and take America back from the most extremist http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=000706 "> Administration of our lifetime? Pick up a copy of Taking Back America--And Taking Down the Radical Right, a new collection of articles which I co-edited with Campaign for America's Future head http://www.thenation.com/directory/bios/bio.mhtml?id=63 "> Robert Borosage.

Featuring illuminating and inspiring contributions from Bill Moyers, Barbara Ehrenreich, Benjamin Barber, William Greider, Robert Reich, Danny Goldberg, Joel Rogers, Reps. Jesse L. Jackson and Jan Schakowsky and other leading scholars, thinkers and advocates, NationBooks' Taking Back America offers positive alternatives to the reactionary policies of the http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=000706 ">Bush Administration.

It's not hard for progressives (or any sane citizen, for that matter) to see that we're in the fight of our lives. George Bush's policies have ravaged our country. Since he took office, America has suffered a staggering decline, moving from prosperity to recession, from peace to war, from record budget surpluses to record deficits. This Administration's legacy is one of http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=030503 ">preemptive strikes; de-stabilizing tax cuts; the rollback of protection for workers; consumers and the environment; an assault on the rights of women and minorities; and a crony,capitalist corruption devoid of shame.

Progressives have no choice but to rouse themselves, to build the arguments, movements, and institutions needed to turn this country around. It is time to take back America--and build a country that is safer, healthier, better educated, more secure and committed to shared prosperity and opportunity for all. But we must work in smart and coordinated ways. And while many translate this into http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=00080602 "> electoral terms---and we must defeat Bush in 2004--it is also more than a matter of changing the occupants of the White House. The challenge requires a coherent critique of the conservative ideas that have dominated the past 25 years. It requires bold new vision and vast citizen mobilization to counter the entrenched and growing power of corporate lobbies and restore an America that lives up to its democratic promise. It is a journey not of a year but of a decade or more.

What is hopeful is that on fundamental questions, Bush and the Right are out of tune with the majority of Americans. In area after area, Americans prefer progressive alternatives to the failed policies of the conservative right---investment in health care and education over tax cuts, fair trade over free trade, corporate accountability over deregulation, environmental protection over laissez-faire oversight, defending http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=00040403 "> Social Security and Medicare over privatizing them, public schools over vouchers, raising the minimum wage over eliminating it. Moreover, civilizing causes like civil rights, reproductive choice and environmental protection are now mainstream values.

It is increasingly clear that Americans face challenges that will never be addressed by the rightwing extremists now in power. Taking Back America features thinkers, writers and strategists intent on laying out an agenda that makes sense for most Americans. It offers policies that are commensurate with the size of the challenge. But it is also filled with strategic insights and good ideas about how to build the capacity to reach out to citizens, to mobilize allies, to identify, recruit, train and support the next generation of leaders.

It is time, as Senator Paul Wellstone said in one of his last speeches, not to duck, not to hide, not to bite our tongues or bide our time. It is time to stand up, to speak out. We need to return to a politics of passion and principle that asserts our values, our ideas and our energy and develop the independent capacity to drive our causes into the political debate and electoral arena.

Click here for more information about Taking Back America.

And sign up for the Campaign for America's Future "Take Back America" conference and Awards Dinner to be held from June 2 to June 4th, in Washington DC. Our book arises largely from last year's extraordinary conference at which over 2,000 progressives gathered to share ideas and strategy. (Click here to watch online highlights.) This year, John Sweeney, Jesse Jackson, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Julian Bond, Gerald McEntee, Kim Gandy, Sen. Jon Corzine, Arianna Huffington and many others are all scheduled to speak. Click here for info and to register.

And, if you're going to be in New York City on May 14 and 15, check out " What We Stand For: Ideas and Values to Take Back America," a conference organized by the Nation Institute and the New Democracy Project featuring many contributors to the book--as well as Paul Krugman, Joe Trippi, Gary Hart, Kevin Phillips, Eliot Spitzer, David Cole, Lori Wallach, Ellen Chesler, Eli Pariser,and Anne-Marie Slaughter.

I'm also heading to Los Angeles this weekend--along with other Nation folk--to participate in the Los Angeles Times' annual Festival of Books. Friday night, I'll be at Santa Monica's Track 16 Gallery for what I anticipate will be a spirited conversation about the state of the nation and The Nation--with nationally syndicated columnist and Nation contributing editor Robert Scheer. Seating is limited.

Marching for Women's Lives

As the inimitable Molly Ivins wrote in her syndicated column today, this Sunday's March for Women's Lives "is not just about choice on abortion but literally about life or death for women all over the globe."

More than thirty-one years after Roe v. Wade, the number of US abortion providers has fallen to its lowest level in three decades, a trend many physicians ascribe to a hostile political climate, the surge of hospital mergers and a lack of enthusiasm for teaching the procedure at most medical schools.

Furthermore, the promise of Roe has been severely compromised on the ground by the more than 335 new state laws restricting a woman's right to choose, which have been passed in the last eight years. As a result, eighty-seven percent of US counties currently have no safe abortion provider and twenty-four states have mandatory delays and state-prepared anti-choice propaganda.

It's hard to believe, as the Nation editors write in the mag's lead editorial in next week's issue, that during the last presidential election the conventional view held that both Bush and Gore were essentially posturing on abortion to fire up their respective bases. Roe v. Wade was untouchable, countless pundits assured us: Republican strategists would never really go after abortion. They feared awakening the sleeping pro-choice electoral giant.

Well the sleeping giant is waking up this weekend. This Sunday, April 25, some 1,300 progressive and feminist organizations will spearhead what's expected to be a massive March for Women's Lives in Washington, DC, drawing outraged women, men and children by the busload and carload from every corner of the country.

Click here for info on transportation, housing, volunteering and here for ideas on ways you can help promote and publicize the march in the next few days. Another great way to help is to make a donation to help defray costs. This march should not be missed.

Meet ALICE

It isn't sexy. In fact, it's not even something that most people even notice. But local government in thousands of counties, cities and towns--with more than 490,000 elected officials distributed across them--have primary responsibility for many of the issues most important to progressives: primary and secondary schools and community colleges, land use and planning, work-force development and job-skills training, water allocation, housing, childcare and child welfare, health services, and welfare, among many others.

Yet most people cannot name their city council or county board members. And progressives have not yet supplied these elected officials with message, policies and programs.

The American Legislative Issue Campaign Exchange (ALICE) is trying to change that. With a goal of identifying, supporting and assisting 10,000 progressive local elected officials, they seek immediate policy gains and passage of dozens, if not hundreds, of model local ordinances by the end of 2005.

With its website as the hub, ALICE is already supplying invaluable weekly updates to more than 7,400 elected officials and activists. Until now, the organization has been supported by Joel Rogers and the Center On Wisconsin Strategy (COWS). Last month, ALICE began looking for foundation money, with a fundraising appeal signed by representatives of more than two dozen national groups--from the Center for Policy Alternatives to Good Jobs First, the AFL-CIO to the Institute For Women's Policy Research (IWPR)--all of whom recognized the value of the effort, and the niche that it would fill.

Building ALICE is a natural part of building the progressive infrastructure. Along with their sheer weight in policy, which is only growing in this age of devolution, city council and county board members, not to mention mayors and county executives, are part of the "farm team" for future federal office. Get them early in their careers, show them the feasibility of a progressive program, and positive political change at the local, much less national, level can be made much easier to achieve.

Certainly the Right recognizes the importance of local politics. Just as it has organized state legislative leaders over the past generation through ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), it intends now to move down to local government. There, we hope, it will find ALICE--its younger, brighter, and decidedly more progressive younger sister.

Holtzman to Bush: Testify!

History usually provides a roadmap for the present. Unfortunately, leaders fail to consult the map.That's certainly been the case as the 9/11 Commission has prepared to hear behind-closed-doors testimony from Vice President Dick Cheney and President George Bush at the same time.

Members of the commission and, for the most part, members of congress, have accepted the secret-testimony arrangement. But why?

Presidents have testified before investigatory committees before. And they have done so on comparable issues. Former US Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman reminds us that in 1974, amid the national firestorm that followed President Gerald Ford's pardon of former President Richard Nixon, Ford voluntarily appeared before a House subcommittee that was reviewing the pardon.

"The President came before the subcommittee, made an opening statement and was questioned by the House members. Although each of us had only five minutes, I was able to ask the President directly whether there had been a deal with Nixon about the pardon. The public could determine by Ford's demeanor and his words whether to believe his emphatic denial of any deal," recalls Holtzman, who as a young member of the House was a key player in the Judiciary Committee's investigation of the Watergate scandal.

"The fact that important questions could be posed directly to the President and the fact that the President was willing to face down his severest critics in public were healthy things for our country. And, not even the staunchest Republicans complained that the presidency was being demeaned."

By recalling the history, Holtzman reminds us that President Bush could, and should, simply appear before the 9/11 Commission. There is no Constitutional crisis here. There is no dangerous precedent that could be established. And there is no question of proportionality--certainly, the intensity of the demands for an explanation of the Nixon pardon can appropriately compared with those for an explanation of how the current administration responded to terrorist threats before and after the September 11, 2001 attacks. "As with the Nixon pardon, the events of 9/11 have caused huge national concern," explains Holtzman. "The victims' families--as well as millions of others--have asked why it happened and what if anything could have been done to avert the tragedy. These are simple, reasonable questions."

The best response to those simple, reasonable questions, Holtzman argues, would be for Bush to volunteer to testify in public and under oath to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States.

"Bush would be wise to take a page out of Ford's book. Americans could then decide themselves whether to agree or disagree with Bush's pre-9/11 conduct. They want to trust their President. They want to know that he acted with the best of motives, that he used good judgment and that he is a leader--in other words, that as chief executive, he knows when and how to mobilize the government to take action," Holtzman asserted, in an opinion piece she wrote this week for the New York Daily News.

"If Bush refuses to answer reasonable questions in public, the indelible impression is left that he has something to hide. That impression is reinforced by the White House's insistence that Vice President Cheney sit with Bush at the hearing. The President cannot afford to convey the image that he is afraid to appear on his own. And neither the 9/11 Commission nor the public should permit a behind-closed-door session for anything except national security information. The same principle should have applied to the testimony of former President Bill Clinton. "

Holtzman's wise comments beg one question: Why didn't anyone think to put this former member of Congress and native New Yorker on the 9/11 commission? There are a number of commissioners who share her experience--including, of course, Richard Ben-Veniste, who headed US Justice Department's Watergate Task Force from1973 to 1975. But it would seem that the commission could use someone who recognizes, as Holtzman does, that: "There is no better crucible than a public hearing to help ensure that the truth will come out."

Woodward on Bush

It's hard to know what is more disturbing. That George W. Bush misled the public by stating in the months before the Iraq war that he was seriously pursuing a diplomatic resolution when he was not. That he didn't bother to ask aides to present the case against going to war. That he may have violated the U.S. Constitution by spending hundreds of millions of dollars secretly to prepare for the invasion of Iraq without notifying Congress. That he was misinformed by the CIA director about one of the most critical issues of the day and demanded no accountability. Or that he doesn't care if he got it wrong on the weapons of mass destruction.

Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, illustrates all these points. The full book, which details Bush's march to war, is not yet out, but as is routine for a Woodward book, the more noteworthy passages have preceded the book's release via a well-orchestrated PR blitz ( 60 Minutes, installments in Woodward's Washington Post, and leaks). And before this book--which follows Woodward's Bush at War, a mostly pro-Bush chronicling of the war in Afghanistan--hits the racks, it is already possible to draw conclusions. (Isn't life in the information age wonderful?)

Let's assume Woodward has gotten the story right. He may not deserve the full benefit of the doubt. Everything in the book is apparently drawn from off-the-record interviews except for two sessions with Bush. And some longtime Woodward critics still maintain (reasonably) that his book on the CIA in the 1980s, Veil, ended with a supposedly secret deathbed interview with CIA director William Casey that did not pass the smell test. But after Bush at War was published, the Bush crowd did not take exception to Woodward's work. So it is clear that he has the access and contacts (particularly with Secretary of State Colin Powell) to pen an insider's account of the Bush crowd.

The disclosure that appears to unsettle the White House the most is Woodward's assertion that in mid-January 2003 Bush decided to proceed with the invasion of Iraq. Woodward also notes that in November 2001, Bush asked the Pentagon to whip up a plan for war with Iraq. Such an order can be defended by the administration as prudent planning. After all, in the post-9/11 world, you never know when you might need such a plan. (Yes, General Tommy Franks lied to the public in May 2002 when he said, "My boss has not yet asked me to put together a plan" for attacking Iraq. Who, though, expects a military commander to reveal his secret plans?) But in the months before the war, the White House insisted that Bush was pursuing diplomatic options in good faith. At a November 20, 2002, speech in Prague, Bush said, "Our goal is to secure the peace through the comprehensive and verified disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." And in late January, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "Nobody, but nobody, is more reluctant to go to war than President Bush....He does not want to lead the nation to war."

But, according to Woodward, Bush was already leading the nation to war, having made the decision on January 11. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice--who has become the administration's explainer-in-chief--suggests that Bush was merely thinking aloud at the time. But Woodward's account is pretty strong, noting that the Saudis were informed before Bush bothered to tell his secretary of state.

Which brings us to Disturbing Matter Number Two. So you're president and you're about to go to war--wouldn't it be a useful exercise to have your secretary of state tell you all the reasons this might not be a good idea? But when Bush got around to sharing his decision with Powell, no such conversation ensued. Powell merely noted there will be "consequences." Bush did not ask for details. Nor did the two discuss what to do about such "consequences." In fact, Plan of Attack seems to contain few, if any scenes, in which Bush and his aides consider options other than a full-scale military invasion. (At the time, some non-government policy experts were suggesting more aggressive inspections or military action short of invasion and occupation.) Nor, according to the book, did Bush and his aides seem particularly interested in planning for the post-invasion period--or planning operations to secure the weapons of mass destruction that were supposedly in Iraq.

The Bush-Powell non-conversation comes across as representative of an overall shallowness that infected Bush administration deliberations on the topic of war in Iraq. (Just last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that neither he nor anyone else thought that post-war Iraq would be as tough a mission as it has been. That is simply not true. Many experts--even in the State Department--predicted the exact sort of problems that are plaguing U.S. policy right now.) And while Powell does come out positively in the World According to Woodward, he, too, can be held accountable for enabling the simplism of the Bush gang by being the good soldier who promoted and defended in public a policy that he did not believe was best for the nation or the world. What good is being the grownup in the room, if you let the kiddies take control?

Powell's role in the Woodward book--as a source, as a character--makes for good public affairs soap opera. Conservatives have quickly attacked him for being disloyal and placing his own agenda ahead of the man he serves. (If only he had truly done so when it counted.) What has received less attention in the ongoing gabfest over Woodward's latest is his charge that in the summer of 2002, the Pentagon, following Bush's orders, spent $700 million preparing for war with Iraq--upgrading airfields, bases, weapons storage facilities--and did not tell Congress. Last time I checked Section Nine of Article One of the U.S. Constitution (this morning), it read, "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law." This means Congress decides where the money goes. Congress did not appropriate funds for these purposes, according to Woodward. That is, Bush took money appropriated for other reasons and had the Pentagon use it for his war in Iraq. There are, of course, procedures governing secret spending by a president and the Pentagon, but such spending still--in theory--is supposed to be overseen by members of Congress. Then, at least, spending hidden from the public is not kept secret from the public's representatives. But in this instance, if Woodward is correct, Bush assumed imperial power and violated a basic premise of the republic. Are any of the Republican leaders of Congress interested in an investigation? Don't hold your breath.

Republicans and conservatives, instead, are paying more attention to Woodward's account of a December 21, 2002 meeting at the White House, when senior CIA officials briefed Bush on the evidence the agency had regarding Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction. When Bush expressed doubts, CIA chief George Tenet reportedly said, "It's a slam-dunk case." A-ha, Bush supporters cry, this shows Bush did not misrepresent the evidence. What's the president to do when his CIA chief tells him the evidence is solid? Well, Bush could have asked to read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq himself. It was only 90 pages. And White House officials have conceded that neither Bush nor Rice read that document, which had been produced the previous October. The summary conclusions of the NIE did say that Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, but the NIE also noted that various analysts took exception to key findings of the NIE. If Bush had read the NIE he would have seen there was internal dispute over what Hussein had and whether he posed a serious WMD threat.

Moreover, Tenet's assertion does not get Bush off the hook for his own misleading assertions. Many times Bush exaggerated the WMD threat in public. He said Hussein might possess a nuclear weapon, when the CIA had told Bush he did not. He claimed Hussein was maintaining a "massive stockpile" of biological weapons, when the CIA had only reported Hussein had a development program. Bush accused Iraq of maintaining a "growing fleet" of unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to strike the United States with biological and chemical weapons. The intelligence community said that Iraq, at most, was developing such UAVs (although U.S. Air Force analysts, the best experts on this subject, disagreed that these UAVs could be used for such attacks). And, as is well-documented, Bush said that Hussein was in cahoots with al Qaeda, even though U.S. intelligence had no evidence to support such a bold statement. Tenet might have believed--wrongly--that he had a "slam-dunk case" on the WMDs, but Bush still regularly misrepresented what his government knew about the WMD threat.

Woodward also notes that after the December 21, 2002, session at the White House, Tenet told associates he should have said the evidence on weapons was not ironclad. So if Woodward's telling is accurate, this is the situation: the CIA director misleads the president, who then subsequently misleads the public and the world in order to start a war that causes the deaths of thousands and many other troubles. Is Bush upset by this? Not at all. How can we tell? First, he has retained and repeatedly praised Tenet, who committed one of the biggest errors ever made by a CIA director. Second, Bush says so himself.

In his 60 Minutes appearance, Woodward told Mike Wallace that when he mentioned to Bush that people were concerned about the failure to find WMDs in Iraq, Bush replied, "You travel in elite circles." Bush was not only saying that he was not mad about this, but that the missing WMDs were of minimal importance because the matter only bothered elite intellectuals. Discussing this, Woodward said he believed Bush had a disdain for "the fancy-pants intellectual world." Is this chilling? A president takes the country and the world to war for a very specific reason, and then this reason turns out to have been wrong. Yet that does not bother him in the least, and he brushes aside the matter by suggesting only elitists care about it. Talk about denial. A frightening mental mechanism is at work here. If Bush can dismiss all concerns and criticisms of his actions as merely the gripes of too-smart-for-their-own-good snobs, he then is free to live untroubled in a reality of his own (or Dick Cheney's) making, one unencumbered by competing views and ideas. The leader of the free world is in a bubble.

Bush told Woodward that he remained certain the war had been the right move because he has a "duty to free people." That is not how he had depicted his obligations before the war. Then he claimed his duty was to defend the United States. This remark--coupled with Bush's comment that "there is a higher father that I appeal to"--does make it seem that Bush believes he is on a mission from God. That might scare some, but it would not be so problematic if Bush also believed that God expects him to engage in self-examination and critical and honest discourse before mounting an action that claims thousands of lives and if Bush took into this heart the fact that God (assuming God exists) created intellectuals, experts, skeptics and critics as well as cowboys, oil rig workers, and truck drivers (not that any of these folks cannot be fancy-pants eggheads as well).

The Woodward book is not a full-fire blast like Richard Clarke's book. But it is in several ways more disquieting. Clarke assails Bush and Company for getting the policy wrong--before and after 9/11. Woodward depicts a president who eschews accountability and responsibility, who is embedded in a world detached from critical or challenging perspectives, who appears incapable of self-doubt, who mistakes stubbornness for leadership, and who, while looking to serve that higher father, is likely to provide Woodward more material for the next book--if he gets the chance.

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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.co

Attention Must Be Paid

The greatest economic injustice in America isn't corporate malfeasance, anemic job growth or the outsourcing of jobs, as the mainstream media suggests. The biggest scandal is the highway robbery committed against hard-working families who can't make ends meet despite playing by the rules. While the press has chronicled the crimes of Dennis Koslowski, Martha Stewart and Andrew Fastow, it consistently fails to describe the forces shutting workers out of the broad middle-class.

Upward mobility is one of our democracy's great strengths. In George Bush's America, however, opportunity is being steadily eroded. To understand this anti-worker economy, just begin with the minimum wage.

Currently, the federal minimum wage is a paltry $5.15 an hour. It has remained unchanged since 1997. In a family of three, the breadwinner earns $10,712 in annual income, which is almost $5,000 below the federal poverty level. When Washington State raised its minimum wage in 1998 to $7.16 an hour, many full-time workers with families were still living in poverty.

Republicans in Congress couldn't care less about this crisis. Callous, imperious and anti-worker, the Republican Senate leadership recently refused to even vote on a modest minimum wage increase, which could have helped offset the hardships imposed by declining wages and record job losses. When it comes to the struggle to increase the minimum wage and deal with the crisis of poverty in the US, the Senate has essentially become a "non-functioning institution," to quote Senator Edward Kennedy.

A second force driving this train are the glaring inequities in America's tax system--injustices that have further eroded workers' prospects. David Cay Johnston, who covers the tax system for the New York Times, has demonstrated that in recent decades, a growing portion of the tax burden has shifted to working- and middle-class families while the wealthiest Americans have paid fewer taxes.

Armed with lobbyists and campaign contributions, many corporations have successfully avoided paying virtually any federal income tax for years. From 1996 to 2000, 61 percent of businesses paid no federal income taxes whatsoever. Last year, business's share of the federal tax burden dropped to 7.4 percent, down from a high of 32 percent in 1952. And, this week, we learned that under President Bush, the IRS has performed fewer corporate audits and undertaken fewer prosecutions of corporate tax evaders than ever before.

Meanwhile, the US is the only country on earth where wages are being driven down. Johnston says that for the bottom 80 percent of the income bracket, wages have either fallen or remained stagnant. The next ten percent has seen "infinitesimal growth in income"---while the top ten percent has become spectacularly rich. Americans are experiencing the slowest wage growth in 40 years.

The economy is shafting workers in subtler ways as well, as corporations slash benefits and cheat people out of every last dime. The Wall Street Journal reported that Lucent is cutting medical and life insurance benefits for its retirees. Wal-Mart, America's largest employer, is facing legal action for allegedly cheating workers out of overtime pay. Some companies, according to a recent front-page New York Times' article, have even deleted hours from workers' time sheets in order to maximize profits; such illegal doctoring is "far more prevalent than most Americans believe," noted the Times.

Making matters even worse is the problem of spiraling personal debt with many Americans struggling to pay back school loans, maintain car payments and keep credit card bills at bay. In 2001 [the most recent year for which figures are available], seven out of every 1,000 adults declared personal bankruptcy, a share nearly twice as high as in the last business cycle peak in 1989, according to the Economic Policy Institute. As EPI says, "This rising debt is especially troubling in the midst of an ongoing labor market recession, when income is growing slowly at best."

"Even the few new jobs [announced in last month's Labor Department report] come with an asterisk," Senator Kennedy said in a recent speech. "They pay an average of 8,000 dollars less than the jobs lost in the Bush economy," and they frequently offer only part-time hours and few benefits.

The bottom line is that hard-working Americans face hostile economic forces arrayed against them--and the sign over the gateway to economic security now says: CLOSED FOR BUSINESS. Under President Bush's economic stewardship, America's middle-class is quickly becoming a thing of the past. But, as Willy Loman's wife Linda tells her audience in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman: "Attention must be paid!"

On 9/11, CIA Chief Gets Off Easy

Despite the headlines, CIA chief George Tenet got off easy.

The day after Tenet testified before the 9/11 commission, The New York Times declared on the front page, "Sept. 11 Panel Cites CIA For Failures in Terror Case." The Washington Post blared, "Al Qaeda Unchecked for Years, Panel Says: Tenet Concedes CIA Made Mistakes." The news stories focused on a damning staff statement--one in a series of interim reports--issued by the commission that criticized Tenet's agency for years of misjudgments and errors related to its perceptions and handling of the threat posed by al Qaeda. But when Tenet sat before the ten commissioners, he was praised by the members and faced not a single round of truly discomfiting questions. Though several of its members have referred to 9/11 as a massive intelligence failure, the panel was rather tame when it had the chance to publicly query the fellow who was (and remains) in charge of the system that failed. More importantly, the commissioners neglected to ask key questions. They were doing what the CIA and the FBI have been accused of: failing to connect the dots.

Before examining the issues that Tenet did not have to confront, let's look at some of the alarming findings of the commission's staff statement on the "performance of the Intelligence Community."

* The report notes, "While we know that al Qaeda was formed in 1988, at the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Intelligence Community did not describe this organization, at least in documents we have seen, until 1999. As late as 1997, the [Counterterrorism Center of the CIA] characterized Usama bin Ladin as a financier of terrorism." This is a brutal assessment. Al Qaeda had been involved in several attacks against U.S. targets years before 1999, and the CIA even had information prior to 1997 that showed that bin Laden was much more than a moneyman for Islamic terrorists. In 1996, according to the commission, a walk-in source told the CIA that bin Laden's organization had been involved in a 1992 attack in Yemen against U.S. military personnel, the 1993 shootdown of U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopters in Somalia, and possibly the 1995 bombing of an American training mission in Saudi Arabia.

* Although the intelligence community received several reports in the years before 9/11 noting that Islamic extremists were interested in hijacking airliners and turning them into weapons, the CIA did nothing in response. Its Counterterrorism Center (CTC) did not analyze how a hijacked airliner might be used as a weapon. It did not consider how to defend against such an attack. The CIA did not tell its spies and analysts--or those of other intelligence agencies--to look for signs that terrorists were pursuing such a scheme. (One indicator might be that a person linked to terrorist outfits was seeking flight training.) If it had, perhaps the hints that did come in--such as the August 2001 arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, the suspicious flight school student, might have triggered action. In late August, Tenet and other CIA officials received a briefing on the Moussaoui arrest under the heading, "Islamic Extremist Learns To Fly." Imagine what response could have occurred, had the CIA been primed to pick up on clues that terrorists were interested in a 9/11-like scenario.

* German intelligence in 1999 handed the CIA a lead on a terrorist suspect named "Marwan." The CTC, which had a phone number for this person in the United Arab Emirates, pursued this lead for a "short time" but failed to develop any further information and dropped the matter, without asking any other intelligence agencies (say, the National Security Agency, which conducts electronic eavesdropping around the world) for help. This person was Marwan al Shehhi, who piloted United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. And he had used that UAE telephone number in the period before September 11.

* The CIA put together a plan--dubbed "The Plan" to improve its efforts to collect intelligence on al Qaeda using human sources and had developed what the commission calls "ingenious efforts" to bolster its collection using signals intercepts. But, the report notes, "there was no comprehensive collection strategy to pull together human sources, imagery, signals intelligence and open sources. Even 'The Plan' was essentially a CIA plan, not one for the Intelligence Community as a whole."

* On December 4, 1998, Tenet sent out a directive to several CIA officials that referred to Islamic terrorists and declared, "We are at war. I want no resources or people spared in this effort, either inside CIA or the [Intelligence] Community." The commission reports, "Unfortunately, we found the memorandum had little overall effect on mobilizing the CIA or the Intelligence Committee." The memo supposedly was faxed to the heads of all the intelligence agencies. But most of them told the commission they had never seen it. The NSA director at the time, Lieut. General Kenneth Minihan, said that he believed the memo only applied to the CIA.

* Though Tenet characterized counterterrorism efforts as a "war," the commission notes, he "did not develop a management strategy for a war against terrorism before 9/11." Tenet takes exception to this finding. But, according to the report, in 1998 he called for reforms that would lead to better sharing of counterterrorism data among the CIA, the NSA, the FBI and other agencies. But no plan to do so was developed prior to 9/11.

* Many of the problems the commission identified certainly loom larger after 9/11, but what might be its sharpest criticism concerned an overall institutional failure that stands out as serious and unacceptable without the benefit of hindsight: "we did not find an institution or culture that provided a safe outlet for admitting errors and improving procedures." While Tenet has defended himself and the CIA against most of the commission's criticisms by claiming the CIA was short on money and staff in the years before 9/11, such a defense does not work against this charge.

Another commission staff statement, released the day before Tenet testified, examined the CIA's handling of information on Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaf al Hazmi, two of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. The basics of this tale have been previously revealed. The CIA learned in early 2000 that these two suspected al Qaeda operatives, after attending something of an al Qaeda summit in Malaysia, were heading toward or in the United States. But the CIA did not place their names on any watchlist for people entering the United States, nor did it tell the FBI about the two. The pair rented homes in San Diego and obtained driver's licenses using their real names and were in regular contact with an FBI informant. If the FBI had been alerted to their possible presence in the United States, it may well have been able to track the two--who were in touch with at least two of the other hijackers--during the year and a half prior to 9/11. Who knows what that might have yielded? The CIA did not pass this lead to the FBI until late August 2001. At that point, the FBI went looking for the men and did not find them before September 11.

The commission's latest report on this episode--the most significant screw-up of 9/11--makes the CIA look even worse. It notes that in January 2001, the CIA learned that the suspected leader of the October 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole had been at the January 2000 Malaysia meeting. This meant that Mihdhar and Hazmi had attended a gathering with the possible mastermind of an attack that had killed 17 American troops. (There even had been speculation within the CIA that Mihdhar and the suspected leader were the same person.) Yet the report says, "we found no effort by the CIA to renew the long-abandoned search for Mihdhar." In other words, the CIA knew that an al Qaeda operative linked to the al Qaeda lieutenant suspected of engineering the Cole attack had possibly come to the United States, and it did nothing.

There's more. In May 2001, as threat reporting surged, a CIA official reviewed old cables from early January 2000 that included information that Mihdhar had received a U.S. visa and that Hazmi had come to Los Angeles on January 15, 2000. This officer took no action. Then in the summer of 2001, an FBI official detailed to the CIA was asked to review material about the Malaysia meeting--in her free time. As the report notes (in an understated way), "She grasped the significance of this information." She learned from the Immigration and Naturalization Service that Mihdhar had entered the United States with Hazmi on January 15, 2000, and again on July 4, 2001. In late August, she and an FBI analyst initiated a search for Mihdhar, but higher levels of CIA and FBI management were not told about it. The search was assigned, on a routine basis, to a single FBI agent. This was his very first counterterrorism lead. He was given 30 days to open the case. He started the process a week later. He was still looking for Mihdhar on September 11.

Did the commissioners grill Tenet about the biggest missed opportunity of 9/11? After all, what is his explanation for this series of foul-ups? Had anyone been held accountable? Demoted? Fired? Why did it take an FBI official on loan to the CIA to make the right call? Why had CIA and FBI officials in late August not reported the Mihdhar connection to higher-ups?

No such questions were asked. In fact, there were no queries about the entire matter. Tenet, in his opening statement, did say, "We made mistakes" and cited "our failure to watchlist al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar." But this intelligence blunder--perhaps the worst single lapse in the CIA's history--deserved more than one sentence.

Other obvious areas were left untouched by the commissioners. Here is a sampling of questions that Tenet ought to have been asked.

* The recent release of the August 6, 2001 President's Daily Brief--titled "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US"--caused a media storm regarding whether Bush had been aware before 9/11 that al Qaeda was aiming to conduct attacks in the United States. But the document also raises questions about the performance of your CIA. Why did this short report not refer to other information the CIA possessed indicating al Qaeda's intentions to hit the United States, such as material that emerged during the recent trial of al Qaeda operatives who bombed the U.S. embassies in Africa on 1998? Some of this information--such as al Qaeda's efforts to acquire uranium--had been in the newspapers. But Bush has said he does not routinely read newspapers and relies upon his briefers. Also, the PDB reported that the FBI had 70 anti-al Qaeda "full field investigations" under way throughout the United States. That number, according to testimony before the 9/11 commission, was higher than the actual amount. It turns out that the 70 figure had referred to the number of targeted individuals, not investigations, and that some of the targets were involved only in financing activities. How many investigations were there? Why did the CIA get this wrong? Did the PDB present a false impression that the FBI's anti-al Qaeda efforts were more extensive than they were? Do you believe this short briefing fully conveyed the domestic threat al Qaeda presented?

* What were the nature of your conversations with President Bush about the threat from al Qaeda during 2001? Did he ever instruct you to take any specific steps regarding al Qaeda? Did you tell him there was a "war" going on? Did he agree with this view?

* Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism coordinator, has said that in 2001 he asked you to brief national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on the threat from al Qaeda because he was concerned that Rice was not taking the threat seriously enough. What happened at this briefing? How did Rice respond?

* What did you do after you were told in late August that Moussaoui, a suspicious Islamic extremist, had been trying to learn how to fly a 747? Did you ask for any follow-up action or further reports? Did you make sure the FBI was on top of this (which it was not)?

* Why did the CIA in general fail to respond to the various reports it received over several years indicating that al Qaeda and other terrorists were interested in using airliners as weapons? In 1999, for instance, a public report prepared for the National Intelligence Council, an affiliate of the CIA, by the research division of the Library of Congress noted, "Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft...into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House." Whatever happened to this particular report? And after Bush said shortly after 9/11 that "no one could have conceivably imagined suicide bombers burrowing into our society and then emerging all in the same day to fly their aircraft--fly U.S. aircraft into buildings full of innocent people," did you inform the president he had been mistaken? After Rice in May 2002 said, "I don't think anyone could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center," did you tell her that she was wrong?

* When did the CIA conclude that bin Laden and al Qaeda was responsible for the Cole bombing? Did Bush ever want to talk about the Cole in order to consider possible reprisals? Was he interested in the case? Did he ask to be briefed on it?

* Why did your 1998 declaration of war against the terrorists go unheeded throughout most of the intelligence community you oversee?

* You told the commission that you believe that Bush White House officials grasped the urgency of the al Qaeda threat prior to September 11. But why did deputy CIA director John McLaughlin tell the commission that he felt "a great tension...between the new administration's need to understand these issues and his sense that this was a matter of great urgency"? And if the White House was granting the matter sufficient attention, why did two veteran Counterterrorism officials report to the commission that they "were so worried about an impending disaster that one of them...considered resigning and going public with their concerns"?

* Why did the CIA's internal culture, under your watch (and probably earlier), not provide, as the commission notes, "a safe outlet for admitting errors and improving procedures"?

* In February 2002, you testified before the Senate intelligence committee and said that 9/11 "was not the result of the failure of attention and discipline and focus and consistent attention" on the part of the CIA. In light of the al Mihdhar/al Hazmi episode, would you care to revise that remark?

To his credit, Tenet was attuned to the threat from al Qaeda years before 9/11. Still, the agency he directed and the community he oversaw failed. Misjudgments and specific errors of the CIA and the intelligence community made it easier for the mass murderers of 9/11 to succeed. The 9/11 commission staffers have produced stunning indictments of the CIA and the FBI in their interim reports. But during the public hearings the commissioners have gently questioned the government officials who were in charge--such as Tenet--and avoided some of the more disturbing and difficult topics. It's as if the commission is operating on two separate levels. The staff fires away at the agencies; the commissioners let the responsible people walk away unmussed. No doubt, Tenet, one of the savvier players in Washington, felt the sting of the commission's staff statement when he read the newspapers the next day. But he probably realized that it could have been a lot worse.

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President on Probation

"The President is on probation with military voters," says Peter Feaver, professor of Political Science at Duke University and an expert on military-civilian relations.

It may be anecdotal but three stories in last week's newspapers offer a sharp sense of the growing ambivalence military veterans and families feel toward this Administration. The once rock-solid GOP military voting bloc could become a domestic casualty for Bush. And, as the New York Times reports, with a large number of military personnel living in battleground states like Florida, West Virginia and New Mexico, even small changes in military voting patterns could be decisive in November.

With the occupation into its first year, casualties rising daily and no coherent exit plan in sight, Samie Drown--who voted for Bush in 2000 and has a husband in the Army's 101st Airborne Division--told the New York Times that her view of the Administration has completely changed. "My husband is a soldier and his job is to fight for freedom. But after so many months and so many deaths, no one has shown us any weapons of mass destruction or given us an explanation." A mother of four young kids, she continued: "So a lot of military wives are now asking: 'Why? Why did we go to Iraq? The Administration talked a strong story, but a lot of us are kicking our butts about how we voted last time around. Now we're leaning the other way."

Rhonda Wilson, of Astoria, Queens echoed Drown in remarks she made recently to New York Newsday. Her daughter, Shawna Herron, 26, is a cook with the Army's 225th Battalion.

"I don't know why President Bush don't let our children come home," Wilson said. "He would rather see our kids slaughtered. Who's he to say we're sticking it out? This is not our fight. It never was.

"He's busy trying to get himself re-elected and got all our babies over there risking life and limb," Wilson said. "It's wrong, wrong, and somebody needs to let him know it. So many people have lost their kids."

Samie Drown and Rhonda Wilson must be keeping Karl Rove wide awake in the wee hours of the night.

On the same base as Drown's husband in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Brittany Wood, 19, whose stepfather has spent most of the past 18 months in Iraq, says she was a Bush supporter a year ago but she plans to vote for Kerry this November.

"I was glad we were doing this because we need to help other countries fight for freedom, but now lots of people feel there's been a cover-up and it is a lie and we were not told the real reasons for being in Iraq," Ms. Wood says. ""That is making a lot of soldiers and their families think about voting. And for the first time they're thinking about voting Democratic." (A recent CBS News survey found that forty to forty-eight percent of people from "military families" would vote for Kerry.)

And buried in Sunday's Washington Post report on the small ANSWER-organized antiwar demonstration in DC on Saturday was a telling interview with a veteran on holiday who happened upon the demo unexpectedly. "What they're [the protestors] saying is correct," said T.J. Myers--who had recently returned from a year's stint in Iraq after leaving the Army after a seven year hitch. "It's all about money." Myers, who lives in Fort Benning, Georgia and was in Washington on vacation, said "It's my first time in DC, and I have never seen so many homeless people in my life and right near the White House. How can we send [billions] to another country when we have so many people in trouble here?"

Myers's sentiments are shared by groups like Military Families Speak Out, which together with http://www.unitedforpeace.org ">United for Peace and Justice, organized a press conference and walk to the White House on April 14 to deliver the message that it's time to end the occupation.

All this is showing that military families and personnel may be this election's newest swing voters. They certainly aren't Republican stalwarts anymore.