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The Nation

Two Years Too Late

I'm glad John Kerry finally has a coherent position on the war in Iraq. He's against it, and he wants US troops to leave. I just wish he would have said so two years ago, when it might have made a difference. From his New York Times op-ed today:

 

Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15 to put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military. If Iraqis aren't willing to build a unity government in the five months since the election, they're probably not willing to build one at all. The civil war will only get worse, and we will have no choice anyway but to leave.

 

 

If Iraq's leaders succeed in putting together a government, then we must agree on another deadline: a schedule for withdrawing American combat forces by year's end. Doing so will empower the new Iraqi leadership, put Iraqis in the position of running their own country and undermine support for the insurgency, which is fueled in large measure by the majority of Iraqis who want us to leave their country. Only troops essential to finishing the job of training Iraqi forces should remain.

 

The question now: will more of Kerry's Senate colleagues follow suit?

Scott Ritter Rips Peace Movement

Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, now an ardent anti-war campaigner, has let loose a blistering broadside against the rest of the peace movement. Calling it near "total collapse," Ritter slams the anti-war movement for being disorganized, chaotic and often "highjacked" by a plethora of progressive causes removed from the war itself.

It's a worthy criticism -- and one not far off the mark. Problem is, Ritter seems prone to make the same mistakes for which he is criticizing others. For him, it's not enough --for example-- that conservative Pennsylvania Democrat Jack Murtha has called for a U.S. troop pullback. Ritter also wants Murtha (and other Democrats who initially supported the war) to now formally recant and retract their earlier positions. That's a great idea in itself. But it shouldn't be the price of admission into the anti-war ranks.

Broadening the anti-war movement by focusing its message seems an imperative for success. Imposing litmus tests, on the other hand, seems self-defeating. I've got the whole story on my personal blog.

Why Didn't DeLay Delay?

Did Tom DeLay decide to step down abruptly because he thought he would lose a tough re-election fight? Or did he decide to jump ship before his party returned to minority status?

His money-laundering trial will soon begin in Texas. Former top aides recently pled guilty to "a far-reaching criminal enterprise operating out of DeLay's office," as the Washington Post put it. The internal polling numbers in Sugar Land, Texas, were not good.

DeLay may have been able to stay afloat and squeak out a narrow election victory. He'd still have a plum seat on the Appropriations Committee, doling out federal dollars to his favorite pet projects and corporate benefactors. But as an architect of the Republican majority, toiling in the minority would be a hard pill to swallow.

His colleagues better prepare for the worst. Here's what New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks forecasted over the weekend:

 

There's the war. There's really a torpor in the administration. They're not doing anything right now. I think it's now likely to move the House--that they will lose the House. And I think House Republicans, privately, most of them admit that. For like a year they were saying, `Well, we've got it so sewed up with redistricting. We'll lose, but we won't lose the whole House.' I'd say about two weeks ago the conventional wisdom shifted and people said, `We're in such trouble. We are going to lose the House.'

 

Henry Waxman with subpoena power. John Conyers with impeachment power. John Murtha with war spending power. The Democratic dream would become a Republican nightmare, paid for and sponsored in part by Tom DeLay.

The Empire Strikes Back

I've long thought that the anti-war left makes a mountain out of a moron when they bend over backwards to praise right-wing ideologues who now criticize the Iraq war. Still, it's been a hoot to watch pro-war bloggers and pundits froth from one corner of the mouth and offer faint praise from the other as the list of conservative icons-turned-defectors grows longer and longer. The latest double-speak comes from Peter Wehner, deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House's Office of Strategic Initiatives, in today's Wall Street Journal where he takes on "Messrs. Buckley, Will and Fukuyama."

Cheerily repeating the administration's line, Wehner writes that "In 2005, Iraq's economy continued to recover and grow. Access to clean water and sewage-treatment facilities has increased. The Sunnis are now invested in the political process, which was not previously the case. The Iraqi security forces are far stronger than they were." Is this the same Iraq that the NYT described Sunday in its lead article?

Meanwhile, for those who take faith in such signs, Bill Buckley's latest critique is reported by Bloomberg news. Charles Krauthammer's latest slap-down of "ex-neo con Fukuyama" is here. And over at townhall.com George Will tries to "face facts."

Hammered

When he was making his name in American politics, as then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich's political enforcer, Tom DeLay was confronted by fellow Republicans who urged him to embrace a bipartisan budget compromise. Borrowing an expletive from Dick Cheney, DeLay growled, "F--k that, it's time for all-out war."

DeLay's war on American democracy--which included not just radical gerrymandering of Congressional districts and the formalization of pay-to-play policy-making in Washington but the crude manipulation of the recount that made George Bush President--is now coming to a close. Under indictment, forced from the House leadership by scandal and faced with the prospect of defeat in November, DeLay has signaled that he will quit the House of Representatives that he has effectively run for the better part of a decade.

Histories of this dark passage in the American story will record that no political figure fought harder or longer to dismantle traditions of compromise and cooperation in Congress than DeLay, a man who targeted those with whom he disagreed as zealously as he had once gone after the vermin he chased in his previous career as an exterminator. As far as DeLay was concerned, the niceties of democracy were a cruel impediment to his new career path. So he went to war with the process itself on behalf of his own political advancement--and that of the paymasters in the industries he served more diligently than his Texas constituents, his conservative ideology or his Republican Party.

While it is surely the case that the Texas Congressman's career was in steep decline following his indictment on campaign-corruption charges and his forced resignation from the majority leader position, for so long as Tom DeLay remained within grasping reach of the levers of power in Washington, the prospect of a further dismantling of democracy remained all too real.

It is this truth that makes DeLay's decision to cheat the voters of his Texas district out of an opportunity to remove him from Congress cause for at least a measure of hope with regard to the harrowing circumstance of the American experiment. Yes, of course, it would have been satisfying to watch DeLay defeated on election day. But even the faint risk that this worst of all Washington players might have clawed his way back to another term in the House--and, with that, another chance, however remote, to again take charge of the chamber--was serious enough that the news of his decision to quit rather than fight marks at least a small turning point in the struggle to reconstruct the democracy that the man they called "The Hammer" so consistently and so brutally battered.

In Washington, where the press corps rarely chooses to examine the real political stories of the day, DeLay will be most commonly remembered for his scheming to warp the redistricting processes of his home state in order to gerrymander a half dozen Democrats out of seats they had won fair and square in districts drawn by a judicial panel based on the results of the 2000 Census. His scandalous machinations did more than shift the character of the state's House delegation; they created the opening for a courageous prosecutor, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, to win the indictments that hastened the end of DeLay's reign of error.

There will, as well, be appropriate if incomplete discussion of DeLay's dirty dealings inside the Beltway--his "K Street Project" to formalize links between campaign giving, lobbying and legislating, his thought-policing of the Republican Party, his sex-crazed impeachment of a President he hated for being popular, his creation of a Potemkin Speaker of the House in the form of the bumbling Denny Hastert--and a few commentators will venture the "bold" suggestion that the Texan might have done a bit of harm to the integrity of the governing process.

But DeLay's crudest dismantling of democracy will be little mentioned today, just as it was barely noted at the time that he brought the hammer down.

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 2000, when the eyes of the nation were fixed on the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami, where a Dade County canvassing board was reviewing 10,750 uncounted ballots in Florida's disputed presidential contest between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush, a riot orchestrated by DeLay's top aides and allies and carried out by Republican operatives flown in from Washington stopped the count. In so doing, DeLay's Izod-clad minions assured that the Bush campaign's Florida co-chair, Katherine Harris, would, in her capacity as secretary of state, be able to certify a 537-vote "win" for the Republican when the recount deadline arrived. It was that certification that allowed Florida Governor Jeb Bush to sign a Certificate of Ascertainment designating twenty-five Florida electors pledged to his brother. The paperwork was immediately transferred to the National Archives, where it would eventually be cited by the US Supreme Court in its decision to award the Florida electoral votes, and with them the presidency, to Bush.

DeLay's role in the recount, though little reported and even now little understood outside the inner circles of the Republican and Democratic parties, was definitional.

Furious that the Florida Supreme Court had on November 21, 2000, ordered a real recount of disputed ballots in the race that would decide the presidency, the House Republican leader had issued a statement that declared: "I hope this misguided ruling will be vigorously challenged."

DeLay was not making an idle threat. He was delivering marching orders to the troops in his war on democracy.

On the following day, a crowd of Republican aides and lobbyists flown in from Washington swarmed into the Goverment Center, chased Democratic observers out of the building and began banging on the doors of the area in which the recount of the key county's ballots had begun. Leading the "rioters" in chants of "Stop the Count" was Tom Pyle, a policy analyst in DeLay's office. This "vigorous challenge" to the count proved successful. The three-judge panel of canvassers--who after going through only a handful of the disputed ballots had already identified more than 150 additional votes for Gore--was shaken. After a team of sheriff's deputies restored order, the judges asked for a police escort to return them to the recounting room. There, they voted unanimously to stop the count. The additional votes for Gore that had already been discovered were discarded. Vote totals from Florida's most populous county reverted to pre-recount figures.

David Leahy, the supervisor of elections for the country, admitted that the riot "weighed heavy on our minds" as the decision to stop the recount was made. US Representative Carrie Meeks, a Democrat in Miami, was blunter. "The canvassing board bowed under pressure," she said.

That pressure was applied by DeLay, who would say after the US Supreme Court locked in the results for Bush: "This is something I've been working on for twenty-two years. I mean, we got it."

For once, DeLay was being modest. While Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris and Antonin Scalia all played their parts, it was DeLay who brought down the hammer that stopped the recount process at its most critical point.

DeLay will soon be gone, and there is a good chance that he will be convicted of at least a few of his crimes against democracy. But his greatest crimes will go unpunished, at least for so long as the Congress Tom DeLay created and the presidency that he made possible continue to punish America and the world.

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John Nichols's book on the Florida recount fight of 2000, Jews for Buchanan (The New Press), features a chapter on DeLay's manipulation of the process. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. says, "If you care about American democracy, you must read this book."

Charon Asetoyer: A True Alternative

Last February, South Dakota lawmakers approved the nation's most restrictive ban on abortion, setting the stage for new legal challenges that its supporters hope will lead to an overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The measure, which passed the state Senate 23 to 12, makes it a felony for doctors to perform any abortion, except to save the life of a pregnant woman. This law is clearly illegal. But the idea is to get the case heard by the Supreme Court on appeal after the law is struck down by an appellate court and then hope that the new Roberts/Alito axis changes the law.

As the Washington Post reported, even without this latest ban, South Dakota was already one of the most difficult states in the country in which to get an abortion. It is one of three states with only one abortion provider (Mississippi and North Dakota are the others), and its one clinic, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Sioux Falls, offers the procedure only once a week. Four doctors who fly in from Minnesota on a rotating basis perform the abortions, since no doctor in South Dakota will do so because of the heavy stigma attached. Planned Parenthood is also leading the charge against this repressive measure that would force the closure of its Sioux Falls clinic. Click here for info on the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which is effectively challenging the extremists in South Dakota and beyond.

And don't believe the hype that this new law is what most South Dakotans want. There are some very angry women in the state, and one of them, Charon Asetoyer, recently announced her candidacy for the South Dakota State Senate. Asetoyer, the Executive Director of the Native Women's Health Education Resource Center, is running against an opponent who compiled a zero voting rank on women's health and safety issues during his previous legislative term. A fierce advocate for Native and women's rights in South Dakota, Asetoyer has also long worked to prevent violence against women. We can all help her put her knowledge, experience and lifetime dedication to equal rights and social justice to good use crafting laws and policies that will work for ALL South Dakotans.

Most people reading this can't vote in South Dakota, and most of us can't even get there to do voter outreach, but we can make a donation to Asetoyer's campaign, thus taking a small step toward helping a strong, progressive, feminist, peace-loving South Dakota female candidate for state office.

Asetoyer can win with much less money than it takes in larger state races, so your $25 or $50 can go a long way. South Dakota law limits individual donations to candidates to $250 so you can't really break the bank on this one. She only announced her candidacy two days ago, and, at the moment, the only way to contribute to the campaign is through the mail. So please do that today. You can mail to Campaign for Change/Asetoyer, P.O. Box 472, Lake Andes, SD 57356, and click here to find out more about the candidate and here to find out more about her retrograde incumbent opponent.

Talk About a Smear Merchant!

Last week on The O'Reilly Factor Michelle Malkin referred to me as a "smear merchant." This was her attempt at a response to my appearance on ABC's This Week, where I noted the overlap between white nationalists like David Duke and the position of Rep. Tom Tancredo when it comes to immigration policy.

As Max Blumenthal recently reported on TheNation.com, decades ago "Duke called for the deportation of all undocumented immigrants and harsh penalties for businesses that employ them." Duke also led the "Klan Border Watch" along the Mexican-Californian border at a time when he and his cohorts were dismissed as paranoid.

More than 25 years later, Rep. Tancredo is leading the House effort to make felons out of undocumented immigrants and punish those who would offer them aid or shelter. And the vigilante group now on the scene is the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, whose president recently referred to the southern border as "a virtual war zone." In fact, Tancredo addressed a February 8 rally at the Capitol in support of the Minuteman Project and his website praises them as well.

Simply put, what once was considered extreme is now well-represented in the mainstream by the anti-immigrant forces of the Republican Party.

And before Ms. Malkin asserts that Rep. Tancredo "has done nothing more than insist that we enforce our borders and that the federal government fulfill its obligation to provide for the common defense," she might try explaining his insistence that undocumented immigrants are "a scourge that threatens the very future of our nation," and that "they are coming here to kill you and to kill me and our families."

After slamming me, Malkin goes on to slam the demonstrators in Los Angeles: "These are people who believe that the American Southwest belongs to Mexico…. Who do nothing more than try to sabotage our sovereignty." In her column she labeled Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and California Lt. Gov. Bustamante "Latino supremacists." Talk about smearing people.

My interest on this issue is the same as with any pressing issue: to pursue constructive debate, examine the facts, and advocate the path I believe represents our nation's greatest ideals and values.

I sincerely doubt Ms. Malkin can say the same.

Congress vs. the Law

Congress needs to remember the lyrics from that old Clash song: "I fought the law and the law won."

A series of remarkable events last week proves why.

Jack Abramoff was sentenced in Florida, a prelude to his trial in Washington. Days later Tony Rudy, a former top aide to Abramoff and Tom DeLay, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges--the third figure implicated thus far in L'Affair Abramoff. More indictments are coming down the pike.

The Justice Department did its job. But Congress didn't do theirs.

The Senate passed an incredibly weak lobbying reform bill. The House voted, on party lines, against initiating a congressional investigation into Abramoff's influence over members of Congress. The House Ethics Committee, the body charged with policing fellow members, did finally meet for the first time in a year, but refused to take up any new investigations.

Nothing new there. How many more indictments will it take before members of Congress see the light?

Bush's Prewar Putin Strategy

It was January 31, 2003. George W. Bush was moving toward war in Iraq, and he was meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Oval Office to discuss various war-related matters. Last week, The New York Times disclosed portions of a secret memo--written by Blair's senior foreign policy adviser, David Manning--that summarized what the two leaders covered at this session, which Manning also attended. Blair, according to the memo, wanted Bush to fight for a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing military action against Saddam Hussein. Bush agreed to try for such a resolution, but he told Blair that the start date for the war, win or lose at the UN, would be March 10. Bush also proposed provoking a confrontation with Saddam's regime that would justify attacking Iraq. The pair chatted about postwar Iraq, agreeing that sectarian violence was unlikely.

And according to a previously undisclosed portion of this memo--a passage obtained by The Nation--Bush and Blair discussed what to do about Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was opposed to a war in Iraq. Bush told Blair he had come up with a possible solution: send Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to lecture Putin on free-market economics.

In the weeks prior to the Bush-Blair meeting, Putin had been calling for a diplomatic resolution regarding Iraq. And Russia mattered. Moscow could veto a second resolution in the Security Council--which the previous November had passed a resolution that had demanded that Saddam disarm and that had revived weapons inspections in Iraq.

With Bush aiming to invade Iraq in six weeks, Putin was far from ready to sign on to a war on Iraq. On January 27, Putin spoke with Blair on the telephone and told the British prime minister that weapons inspections should continue, and Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov said that day that there was "practically no chance" that the UN Security Council would support the use of force. On January 28, Putin publicly insisted that the Iraq problem be resolved through the United Nations and not by U.S. military action. Two days later, he called for "international and diplomatic efforts" to deal with Iraq. And Ivanov dismissed one of the Bush administration's chief rationales for invading Iraq: "For the time being, neither Russia nor any other country has information about ties between Iraq and al Qaeda."

How could Bush get Putin on board--or at least persuade him not to veto a Security Council resolution authorizing an invasion of Iraq? Berlusconi was Bush's answer, according to the Manning memo.

Berlusconi, the conservative businessman leader of Italy, was a firm backer of Bush's position on Iraq. He had already agreed to allow US forces to use Italian airbases for an assault on Iraq. On January 30, he met with Bush in the Oval Office and pledged his support to the president. That day, he and the prime ministers of England, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Poland and Denmark released a statement that asserted that the "Iraqi regime and its weapons of mass destruction represent a clear threat to world security" and that called on the Security Council to take action. Berlusconi was due to visit Putin in Moscow on February 3.

During his White House meeting with Berlusconi, Bush tapped the Italian to win over Putin by teaching him about fundamental economics. The Manning memo--according to sources who reviewed parts of the document and took notes--records how Bush described this idea to Blair the next day:

For Putin, the problem was oil. He had convinced himself, quite wrongly, that military action against Iraq would lead to the collapse of the oil price. Bush had encouraged Berlusconi to go and explain a thing or two to Putin about the laws of supply and demand.

Did Bush truly believe that oil was Putin's primary concern--not, say, American unilateralism--and that a lecture from Berlusconi on economics would turn around the Russian leader? How did Berlusconi react to Bush's suggestion? How did Blair respond to this "explain a thing or two" strategy? The memo says nothing else about this part of the Bush-Blair conversation.

On February 3, Putin and Berlusconi did meet in Russia. (The two enjoyed a close relationship; the previous year Putin's daughters had vacationed with the Berlusconi family in Italy.) After their talks, there was no sign that Berlusconi had made much progress with Putin. The Russian did say that "a meaningful part of the responsibility" for the crisis "lies on the Iraqi side," but Putin also maintained that the UN weapons inspectors should be given more time: "Are the inspectors working? They're working. Have they found anything? No, they haven't found anything yet." As for a second resolution that might authorize military action against Iraq, he was noncommittal: "We'll think about it--so far there is no need, but I do not rule it out." A Russian television correspondent noted, "It is possible that Berlusconi will leave with an impression of Russian hospitality but with empty hands." The next day Ivanov was unambiguous: "There is no basis for using force against Baghdad."

The major media coverage of the Putin-Berlusconi talks did not indicate whether Berlusconi had acted upon Bush's suggestion, discussed the political economy of the global oil industry with Putin, and explained a thing or two to the Russian leader.

Had Berlusconi accepted Bush's assignment? Had the controversial Italian media baron, one of the richest people in the world, attempted to persuade Putin to go along with a war in Iraq by laying out the laws of supply and demand? Or had he ditched Bush's suggestion?

Berlusconi faces elections on April 9 and 10. An enterprising Italian reporter might want to ask him and his aides about this episode. It could turn up an interesting anecdote--perhaps one about the American president and his simplistic assessment of Putin's position. Maybe there's even a separate memo about the Berlusconi-Bush meeting.