To truly understand conservatives, you need to experience them in their element. The largest such gathering of true believers is the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which took place this weekend in Washington, DC. CPAC is a rite of passage for young conservatives, graced by the likes of Dick Cheney, John Bolton and Bill Frist.
I and The Nation's Max Blumenthal stopped by on Friday, hoping to catch Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, the subject of Jeff Sharlet's masterful profile in this month's Rolling Stone. Brownback didn't show, but luckily Ann Coulter was on the menu later in the day. She didn't disappoint--characterizing Muslims as "ragheads," comparing moderate Republicans to slave plantations and wishing she'd assassinated Bill Clinton. Go read Max's blog for the full account.
Before Coulter's speech we strolled around the exhibit hall, home to such vendors as the "ex-gay is OK" table and "Muslims for Bush." We stopped by the booth of one man opposed to affirmative action in South Africa, of all places. Much to our surprise, he was not a fan of the current Republican Party or its followers. When Max told him to go see Coulter he responded, "my friend warned me about her."
Even white nationalists from South Africa are more mainstream than Republican activists in this country.
Americans ought be listening to Russ Feingold in these defining days for the Republic, because what the Democratic senator from Wisconsin is saying goes to the heart of the question of whether a nation founded in revolt against monarchy will be ruled by laws or by the crude whims of an intemperate sovereign and his out-of-control administration.
Feingold has been fighting for weeks to get the Congress to address the issue of President Bush's illegal approval of warrantless wiretapping of Americans. A small but growing group in Congress, including some prominent Republicans -- most recently, U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., the chair of the House Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, who this week called for a "complete review" of the National Security Agency domestic spying program -- have begun echoing Feingold's demand that the Constitutional crisis created by the president's wrongdoing be taken seriously.
But too many major media outlets continue to treat the eavesdropping scandal as little more than a political game. They chart the progress of the critics and then measure the extent to which the administration's spin has limited the damage to the president's approval ratings.
Frustrated by the game playing, Feingold went to the floor of the Senate last Tuesday in an effort to break through the spin and speak the blunt truths of the moment.
"Last week the President of the United States gave his State of the Union address, where he spoke of America's leadership in the world, and called on all of us to 'lead this world toward freedom.' Again and again, he invoked the principle of freedom, and how it can transform nations, and empower people around the world," Feingold told the chamber. "But, almost in the same breath, the President openly acknowledged that he has ordered the government to spy on Americans, on American soil, without the warrants required by law. The President issued a call to spread freedom throughout the world, and then he admitted that he has deprived Americans of one of their most basic freedoms under the Fourth Amendment -- to be free from unjustified government intrusion."
The Wisconsinite who emerged as the Capitol's most diligent defender of the Constitution when he cast the sole vote in the Senate against the Patriot Act in 2001 delivered a blistering indictment not just of the president but of those who are treating the debate over the administration's assault on basic liberties as just another fight between political partisans.
"The President was blunt. He said that he had authorized the NSA's domestic spying program, and he made a number of misleading arguments to defend himself. His words got rousing applause from Republicans, and I think even some Democrats," Feingold continued. "The President was blunt, so I will be blunt: This program is breaking the law, and this President is breaking the law. Not only that, he is misleading the American people in his efforts to justify this program."
Noting that many Republican members of the House and Senate cheered the president's defense of his illegal acts, Feingold asked, "How is that worthy of applause? Since when do we celebrate our commander in chief for violating our most basic freedoms, and misleading the American people in the process? When did we start to stand up and cheer for breaking the law? In that moment at the State of the Union, I felt ashamed."
It is time, Feingold explained, for his colleagues to recognize its shame and begin to act honorably.
"Congress," the senator said, "has lost its way if we don't hold this President accountable for his actions."
Feingold is right. But it is not only Congress that must act. The American people need to get into this fight.
The defense of the Constitution against executive lawbreaking is not merely the work of elected legislators.
It must be the work of patriots. Feingold is leading the defense of basic liberties, but we all have a place in this struggle to preserve both the Bill of Rights and an American experiment that is now gravely threatened. Only an outcry from the people will assure that Congress -- and America -- does not lose its way.
Think the Internet will always be the freewheeling, democratic information superhighway you've grown to rely on? Well, think again. Corporate media giants are working hard behind the scenes to convince a clueless and compliant Congress to privatize the Internet. The telecom and cable giants want to fence off the Internet with one area for the haves--who will pay a premium to enjoy life in the fast lane--and the other for the have-nots.
As digital democracy expert Jeff Chester wrote on The Nation's site, "The nation's largest telephone and cable companies are crafting an alarming set of strategies that would transform the free, open and nondiscriminatory Internet of today to a privately run and branded service that would charge a fee for virtually everything we do online."
To ward off the prospect of "virtual toll booths on the information highway," an interesting coalition of public-interest groups like Common Cause and Free Press, along with new media companies like Amazon.com, are calling for new federal policies requiring "network neutrality" on the Internet. This would prohibit broadband providers from discriminating against any forms of digital content. In this way internet service providers would be regulated like telephone companies used to be, and couldn't simply decide to block their customers' access to legal websites.
Net neutrality wouldn't completely neuter the threat of Internet privatization but it would be an important victory in maintaining the Internet's public sphere. Congressional hearings took place last week. Congress will vote on the issue sometime relatively soon. Now is the time to make your voice heard. Free Press has a good action letter. Click here to tell Congress to protect freedom and openness on the Internet by supporting net neutrality. And click here to read and circulate background info detailing why the stakes are so high in this battle.
Twenty-two members of the House have now signed on as co-sponors of the call by Representative John Conyers, D-Michigan, to establish a select committee of the Congress to investigate whether the Bush administration's actions before and after the invasion of Iraq violated Constitutional requirements, statutes and standards in a manner that would merit impeachment of the president or vice president.
Conyers introduced the resolution last December, and only a handful of members agreed to cosponsor the measure before Congress went on its long holiday break: California's Lois Capps, Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey, New Jersey's Donald Payne, New York's Charles Rangel and Texan Sheila Jackson-Lee. The list of cosponsors swelled after the long holiday break, when ten members from around the country -- California's Barbara Lee and Pete Stark, Hawaii's Neil Abercrombie, Illinois' Jan Schakowsky, Minnesota's Jim Oberstar, Missouri's William Lacy Clay, New York's Jerry Nadler and Major Owens, Washington's Jim McDermott and Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin -- came back to Washington convinced that the American people are a good deal more interested than most DC insiders recognize in reasserting checks and balances on an administration that has spun out of control.
In the past week, six additional members have signed on: California's Mike Honda and Sam Farr, Georgia's John Lewis and Cynthia McKinney, and New York's Carolyn Maloney and Maurice Hinchey.
There's a reason why this measure is beginning to draw broader support.
In addition to seeking a review of whether the administration began planning to go to war before obtaining authorization from Congress, along with investigations of the White House's manipulation of pre-war intelligence and encouragement and countenancing of torture, the Conyers resolution proposes to examine steps taken by the administration to retaliate against critics.
It is that final concern that could prove to be the most immediate threat to a member of the administration -- now that National Journal is reporting that Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, has told a federal grand jury that he was "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" to disclose classified information to journalists as part of a scheme to defend the Bush administration's manipulation of prewar intelligence in order to make the "case" for going to war with Iraq.
No one who has followed the workings of this White House has ever doubted that Cheney -- the administration's most over-the-top proponent of the war -- would turn out to be the ripest target for impeachment. But the leap from Scooter Libby's charges, if they are confirmed, to actual articles of impeachment is not a long one.
An essential step in that process has already been taken. One of the cosponsors of the Conyers resolution, Maurice Hinchey, is calling for an aggressive Congressional inquiry into the issue, arguing that, "[The] revelation in National Journal that Vice President Cheney and other White House superiors authorized Scooter Libby to disclose classified information to the news media in order to defend the Administration's use of pre-war intelligence on Iraq is alarming. That the vice president would put his own political gain before the safety and security of the American people by approving the release of classified information to the press warrants a full congressional investigation, including testimony from the vice president himself."
Hinchey has been dogged in demanding that Cheney come clean about his role in the scandal that has arisen with regard to the administration's leaking of classified information in an attempt to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had raised damning questions with regard to the administration's pre-war claims about the threat posed by Iraq.
In a statement released after the latest revelations about Cheney, Hinchey said, "While many of us in Congress had long suspected that Vice President Cheney played a central role in the leaking of Valerie Wilson's name to the press, today's news report confirms that there is merit to that belief. The leaking of Valerie Wilson's identity as a covert CIA agent is a very serious crime that jeopardized national security and everyone who was involved must be held accountable and brought to justice. No one, including, Vice President Cheney, should be shielded from prosecution."
Hinchey, who actually believes in a system of checks and balances where the legislative branch embraces its responsibility to hold the executive branch to account, argues that Cheney -- who began his career as a White House aide in the administration of former President Richard Nixon -- can no longer be allowed to stonewall this investigation.
"On November 3, 2005, I, along with Congressmen Conyers and Waxman, sent a letter to Vice President Cheney asking that he come to Congress to testify about his involvement in the CIA leak case. The vice president disregarded that letter and never responded. Congress and the American people deserve more than silence from the vice president about such a serious matter. Now is the time for the Vice President Cheney to step forward and answer questions, under oath, as to what his involvement was in the CIA leak case and whether he ever authorized the disclosure of classified information to the press in order to justify going to war in Iraq," says Hinchey.
"I also renew the call I made in September with 40 House members for Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to closely examine the motive behind the White House's disclosure of Valerie Wilson's name, which I believe was to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was refuting the White House's claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger. The National Journal article reports that Libby testified to the grand jury in the CIA leak case that he worked closely with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to determine what information the White House should leak to the press in order to gain support for the war in Iraq. It is clear that Libby, Hadley, and Rove worked together to twist, manipulate, and selectively release the intelligence on Iraq in order to gain public approval for the war. All those who leaked classified information and deliberately misled the American people and Congress into thinking Iraq had weapons of mass destruction must be brought to justice so the world can see that the United States holds those accountable who break the law."
John Nichols' 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. The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney includes an interview with Joseph Wilson and details the inner workings of the vice president's office at the time of the Plame-Wilson leak.
Following up on Ari's post about the Band of Brothers, those military veterans running for Congress as Democrats.
The theory is that as former soldiers they will be immunized against Republican charges that Dems are unpatriotic girly-men who are "soft on defense." (As "Mask" points out in the comments section of Ari's post, running as a vet worked so well for Max Cleland and John Kerry!)
One thing the Band of Brothers strategy will do if it succeeds is to help keep Congress white and male. Of the 56 candidates currently marching under the brotherly battle flag, only three are women. (One of the three, Mishonda Baldwin, is also the only African-American).
So I guess the Dems are giving up on that whole gender-gap equality thing. Remember when Patty Murray ran for Senate as a "mom in tennis shoes"? A mother had better wear combat boots if she hopes to attract the attention of the DNC today!
Do we really want to promote the idea that military service is some kind of necessary item on apolitical resume? That personal machismo is a qualification for office? The BOB strikes me as a gimmick, if not an outright pander to militarism and sexism--time for the daddies to retake the mommy party! Chaaarge! And yet more proof, ladies, that the Dems are writing you off.
Is the White House coming begging to Senate Minority Leader HarryReid? "Karl Rove's back and there's no doubt about that," Reid remarkedat a one-hour on-the-record breakfast sponsored by The AmericanProspect that I attended today. "He's so desperate he's called methree times in the last few weeks." The White House knows it's going toexceed the government's debt limit, Reid said, and they want his help.But there's little agreement between Rove and Reid on the deficit ormany other issues these days. "I don't think Karl Rove's message, ifhe's still out of jail [in 2006], will have the same sound as it did."
Reid, a pro-life, pro-gun Mormon from Nevada, vacillated betweenthe left and the center before the group of progressive journalists. Herepeatedly praised Russ Feingold as an example of a Democrat who standsup for what he believes in but refused to endorse a timetable for thewithdrawal of troops from Iraq, as Feingold advocates. "I met with theJoints Chiefs of Staff recently and troops are gonna be pulled out ofIraq this year," Reid said, without specifying whether all the troopsshould leave. Feingold was "still really upset" about the compromise reached on the Patriot Act last night, Reid indicated,and will try to slow its passage.
After the unveiling of their anti-corruption "Honest LeadershipAct," Senate Democrats will focus on "real security," including a planby Indiana Senator Evan Bayh to increase the size of the Army by100,000 troops. "On a number of different directions we're going afternational defense," he said. "We'll be more competitive on that issuethan ever before."
Reid dismissed an Associated Press story linking him to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, alleging that"no one that gave me any money did anything wrong," though he jokedthat billionaire financier Howard Hughes did hand him $10,000 in cashat the beginning of his political career. He indicated that hesupported the efforts of Senators Dick Durbin and Chris Dodd to promotepublicly financed elections.
And he seemed downright buoyant about the prospects for Democraticgains in the Senate this year. "If the election were held today theSenate would be tied 50-50," he boasted. "I used to say it would be amiracle to take the Senate. It's not a miracle any more." As to whenthe Democrats would actually unveil a comprehensive agenda, Reid notedthat the GOP's "Contract with America" in 1994 didn't come out untillate September of that year. "We'll roll out one [issue] at a time. BySeptember it will all be out."
Until then, he'll have his hands full stalling the GOP'slegislative priorities and keeping his divided Democratic caucus inline.
For those who had any doubts that the Bush Administration manipulatedintelligence to take us into a disastrous, unprovoked and unnecessarywar, Walter Pincus's front page story in today's WashingtonPost is must reading. Pincus's fine reporting in the monthspreceding the invasion exposed the divisions about the war within theintelligence community and its anger about how information was beingpoliticized. But his stories were almost always buried in the Post'sinside pages.
Today's story, in my view, is the equivalent of America's Downing Street Memo. PaulR. Pillar, the former CIA official who coordinated US intelligence onthe Middle East until last year now publicly accuses the Bush WhiteHouse of "cherrypicking" intelligence on Iraq to justify its decisionto go to war. "Intelligence," Pillar asserts, "was misused publicly tojustify decision already made..." This is an eerie echo of the famouswords from the Downing Street Memo--in which Britain's MI-6 DirectorRichard Dearlove told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that "theintelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. "
As Pincus notes, this is the first time that such a senior intelligenceofficer "has so directly and publicly condemned" Bush & Company'shandling of intelligence. Pillar's critique is also one of "the mostsevere indictments of White House actions by a former Bush officialsince Richard C. Clarke , a former National Security council staffmember, went public with his criticism of the administration's handlingof the September 11, 2001, attacks."
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
This week, we present victories that have been submitted by ourreaders. We read every submission and we encourage readers to keepthem coming (submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org).While these stories may not reflect tectonic shifts in Americanpolitics, it's our belief that no "Sweet Victory" is too small tocelebrate.
Here in Wisconsin, one of the victories we're savoring is thesuccessful effort to place "Bring Our Troops Home" referenda on localballots around the state. In 27 towns, villages and cities, citizenscollected sufficient signatures to place a referendum on the ballotfor our April 4, 2006 city and county elections.
Steve BurnsMadison, Wisconsin
Being a liberal Democrat in a red state is a real challenge. Here'sone small victory that I will never forget. As a precinct chairperson,one of my duties on election day November 11, 2004 was to give voters rides to the polls. One voter I assisted (I'll call him "Martin" for the purposes of this message) was a middle aged African-American gentleman who lived in an assisted living facility and had been dropped off at the wrong poll. "Martin" had been in a very serious accident and survived brain damage and a prolonged coma. He needed a walker to get around, his speech was very slow and garbled, he drooled a bit and his arms and legs still had residual stiffness from neurological injury. It took us a good while to squeeze him into my car and find a space for his walker but we finally made it. We arrived at the correct polling place and again huffed and puffed to get him out of the car and ready to go with his walker. I offered to help him walk in to the polling place but "Martin" said he wanted to do it himself because he liked being independent.
As we were walking toward the entrance, "Martin" told me that this wasthe first time in his life that he had ever voted. And then he added,"I'm voting for all the Democrats because Bush and his kind don't givea damn about people like me." When the election workers noticed that"Martin" was a first time voter, they all stood up and applauded himand one by one they shook his hand. One small, sweet victory, in a redcity, in a very red county in the reddest of states.
Candace Flenniken KingSchertz, TX
I doubt that this will be considered a newsworthy victory, but Iwanted to share it with someone, anyone, who might be interested tohear it. Who better than The Nation!
Myself, and a small group of antiwar students protested the presenceof military recruiters at our school (Plymouth State University,Plymouth, NH) today and successfully drove them out--for now, that is.We stood silently, shoulder to shoulder, in front of their table thatwas set up in the main union building. I was in the middle, with asign pinned to my jacket that read: "PSU Wants: Education, NotOccupations."
I was alone for about the first hour, but was then joined by othersand brought our total to five or six, with the numbers varying as some had to get to class. A small group, yes, but we got the job done. The best part was that the recruiters packed up and left just as a campusofficial was threatening to call the university police on us.
The recruiters will most likely be back, but so will I, and I'm surethe others who were brave enough to stand with me will do so again.Thank you for reading my email, and supporting progressive victories!
Ryan W. McLellanPlymouth State University
The University of Wisconsin chapter of the student-run campus antiwarnetwork, Stop the War, recently won a victory over an investigation bythe Dean of Students office alleging misconduct by the group andthreatening disciplinary action against myself because of my role asgroup contact person. Ultimately the UW dropped the investigationafter being bombarded by complaints from all over the country.
Paul PryseUniversity of Wisconsin
Roger Touissant. Thank God one man stood up and fought for me--ablue-collar working man!
Brian FrakerNew York
The most important victory by far of 2005 was the organizing of thejanitors in Houston, Texas by SEIU. If we can organize in the mostanti-union town in the country, we can do anything.
Sam AbramsCrete, Greece
Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.
The other night, Pat Buchanan said on Scarborough Country's segment about "The Politics of Impeachment" that my views on the subject are irrelevant.
I suggest Pat check out a little known book, Everything I Needed to Know About the Constitution I Learned in Third Grade. He might rediscover some basic American tenets such as a system of checks and balances,loyalty to the Constitution and shared power and accountability between three branches of government.
It's the shredding of these ideals that has led to growing, mainstream support for discussing the impeachment of Mr. Bush: conservative business magazine, Barron's...John Dean...leading constitutional scholars...former intelligence officers…even some Republicans...and the 53 percent of Americans who said in November that Bush should be impeached if it is found that he lied about the basis for invading Iraq.
During the segment, high webstress Arianna Huffington suggested that Democrats should focus on ending the disastrous war in Iraq -- an issue that is building new (and productive) alliances between the left and right -- rather than focusing energy on an impeachment drive.
While I agree that Democrats need to expose how this Administration has made us less safe through a messianic and hyper-militarized foreign-policy, I also agree with Elizabeth Holtzman, who made a strong point drawn from her January cover story in The Nation: Our greatest imperative is to preserve our democracy.
So when impeachment is the right thing to do, citizens and leaders must begin building that case -- because it won't happen overnight. And there is no reason that laying out Bush's high crimes and misdemeanors –- as well as the need to end the war and strengthen our security –- should be mutually exclusive.
In the meantime, Pat Buchanan should visit his local elementary school and brush up on our Constitution. And while he's doing that, how about the rest of us contemplate the basic American values that Bush & Co. have apparently unlearned since their own school days.
Most comments about the Danish cartoons of Muhammad assert that Muslimsbelieve it is completely taboo to depict him, period. But is the ban ondepicting the prophet really so severe? At Zombietimeyou can view dozens of images of the prophet, including some from theMuslim world: medieval Persian miniatures; a portrait of Muhammad as ayouth by the contemporary Iranian woman painter Oranous (okay byShi'ites because he wasn't the prophet yet); posters being sold in Iraqright now.
From the Middle Ages on, Muhammad has appeared in Western art notinfrequently--in drawings, paintings, book illustrations, comics,advertisements, and on the covers of books and magazines, including arecent issue of Le Nouvel Observateur.
Muhammad has been portrayed by the cartoonist Doug Marlette and hasappeared on South Park. And get this: Muhammad appears on the NorthFrieze in the courtroom of our very own Supreme Court! He's the man withthe scimitar, between Justinian and Charlemagne.
Some of this art is respectful; some fanciful and playful; somesatirical or even crude and vicious. Only once, however, has any of itseemed to bother believers: in 2002 police uncovered a jihadist plan toblow up the church of San Petronio in Bologna, site of a fresco byGiovanni da Modena showing Muhammad being tortured in Hell (this scene,from Dante's Inferno, was also depicted by Gustav Dore, William Blake,Auguste Rodin and Salvador Dali).
I don't know where exactly this clarification takes us. Maybe I'm justirked by lazy pundits who talk about the global uproar as if everyoneshould have known this is what happens when you draw Muhammad:Naturally, believers would go round the bend!
But wait, a solution may be at hand to this whole clash of civilizationsthing. Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly which reprinted theMuhammad-mocking Danish cartoons, says it will publish cartoonssatirizing the Holocaust. I guess they didn't want to be upstaged byIran, where President Ahmadinejad an announced a a contest forHolocaust-mocking cartoons. (This is an advance on his previousposition, which was to deny the Holocaust occurred. Now, it happened,but it's funny.). At last Muslim fundamentalists and free-speech-loving Europeans have found common ground: Anti-semitism!