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Constitutional Crisis (continued)

On the eve of Alberto Gonzales' testimony before Congress about his deep involvement in US Attorneygate, the Bush Administration has the gall to propose a bill which would greatly expand its ability to intercept telephone calls and e-mail correspondence as well as provide immunity to participating telecom companies. The bill would do far more damage to our right to privacy than many in the mainstream media are reporting.

According to the New York Times, Democratic leaders "reacted cautiously" to the White House proposal. (Even though "they have become increasingly concerned by disclosures of abuses in other data collection programs.") But is this a time for caution in dealing with this White House and its cronies? It's a time for spine, mettle, and moxie. The question that all small-d democrats need to ask themselves is this: are you a defender or a subverter of our Constitution?

The telecom immunity (with impunity!) provision of this should-be-dead-on-arrival proposal is easy to address. In opposing the measure, even Republican Senator Arlen Specter told The Times, "That provision is a pig in the poke. There has never been a statement from the Administration as to what these companies have done. That's been an intolerable situation."

As for White House claims that it is simply trying to "modernize" the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – there is a clear record of FISA providing both the oversight needed to guard against executive abuse and meeting our nation's national security needs.

As Elizabeth Holtzman noted in a Nation cover story, "Since 1978, when the law was enacted, more than 10,000 national security warrants have been approved by the FISA court; only four have been turned down."

And Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, and Legislative Counsel Timothy Sparapani, wrote in a letter to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence: "… the Administration has not publicly provided Congress with a single example of how current standards in FISA have either prevented the intelligence community from using new technologies or proven unworkable for the personnel tasked with following them." Frederickson concluded in a statement, "FISA has been constantly violated since President Bush authorized warrantless wiretapping and data mining of Americans by the National Security Agency in 2001. Congress shouldn't reward a president who continuously disregards the rule of law. FISA has already been amended numerous times. It doesn't need to be 'modernized,' it needs to be followed." Mike German, Policy Counsel, adds, "This proposal doesn't 'modernize' FISA. It guts it."

What is most frightening about the Bush proposal is that although the Administration claims – and many in the mainstream media are reporting – that the plans are an effort at modernization and increasing the monitoring of targeted foreign persons (which is troubling enough), it's really about increasing surveillance of Americans too, according to Mike German.

By changing the definition of "electronic surveillance", the Administration would be able to exempt all international phone calls from the warrant requirement. The same holds true for e-mails. The government wouldn't have to go to the FISA Court long unless it knew that "the sender and all intended recipients are located within" the US. Any e-mail routed through a foreign country could be fair game. So, for example, if AOL routes an email originating in Washington, DC to a recipient in San Francisco – via Canada – the government could mine the content of that email. (Of course, cooperating telecom companies would be protected with immunity.) And let's say the government just happened to grab some of this information in violation of the law…. currently it is required to destroy it. The new proposal allows the government to "keep material that they improperly took by accident," German says.

Just as Gonzales was a key player in creating and defending warrantless wiretaps to spy on Americans; stripping habeas corpus rights and weakening our commitment to the Geneva Convention; politicizing the civil rights division at his Department of (In)Justice… no doubt he will offer his unabashed support for the Administration's latest proposal to expand domestic spying, weaken oversight, and rollback the checks and balances of our system to create an unfettered Executive. The contempt for our Constitution is clear, and the pattern of abuse is consistent with what former Nightline anchor Ted Koppel recently warned happens "when a regime places a higher value on ideological loyalty than it does on honesty or creativity or even efficiency."

FISA needs to be strengthened, not weakened. Gonzales needs to resign – he has no credibility as our top law enforcement official. And investigations need to be held to determine the telecom role during five years of illegal domestic spying.

There is only one bright side to this latest chapter of madness in the long insanity of the Bush Administration. It raises another opportunity for sane political leaders and pro-democracy patriots to push back and answer this fundamental question: are we a nation of laws or do we bend to the partisan rule of a few men?

Ten Questions for Alberto Gonzales

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales goes in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee today as the most embattled high-ranking member of a presidential administration to appear before an oversight panel in decades. That Gonzales has clung to his position in the face of an overwhelming tide of revelations about his own misdeeds and the "take-the-fifth" actions of his lieutenants is a testament not to tenacity but to the closeness of his relationship with his enabling protector, President Bush, and the refusal of the current administration to entertain even baseline standards of accountability.

By any reasonable measure of propriety and practical politics, Gonzales looks to be on the way out. A ranking Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, Utah's Orrin Hatch, is already angling for the attorney general's job and it is difficult to imagine that Hatch will not have it in due course.

That said, the Gonzales testimony is important. Even in full spin mode -- and, make no mistake, the attorney general will appear with more lines memorized that a Shakespearean actor -- what transpires on Capitol Hill today could go a long way toward defining the future not just of the inquiry into the firings of U.S. Attorneys but of the Bush administration.

To that end, here are ten sets of questions that ought to be asked and answered by Gonzales:

1. Is it true that you have spent most of the past month preparing to give this testimony? Is it true that you have participated in hundreds of hours of practice sessions and reviews of information related to concerns about the politicization of the hiring and firing of U.S. Attorneys and allegations that sitting and former prosecutors were pressured to use their positions to advance the electoral and policy goals of the Bush White House and the Republican Party? If so, can we assume that you are prepared to provide thorough, detailed and straight-forward testimony without resorting to claims that you do not recall, recognize or understand matters that might reasonably have been expected to arise today?

2. When you took office two years ago, you swore an oath to the obey the Constitution. Is it your understanding that this oath requires you to place the good of the country and the rule of law ahead of the personal and political whims of the president? In other words, do you you consider yourself to serve the president or the republic?

3. If the president or members of his administration proposed using U.S. Attorneys to advance political and policy agendas -- by using so-called "voter fraud" investigations to encourage support for legislation tightening Voter ID and registration rules, or by advancing speculative prosecutions of key Democrats or those around them at election time -- would that be wrong? In such a circumstance, would you see it as your duty to tell him that such initiatives represent inappropriate and potentially illegal abuses of prosecutorial powers?

4. Did you and the president discuss so-called "voter fraud" investigations and prosecutions in the month before the 2OO6 congressional and state elections? Did the president tell you to ramp up those initiatives? As the head of a department that had access to the most detailed information regarding voting issues nationwide and knowing -- as has now been confirmed by investigative reports appearing in the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times and other publications -- that there was no real problem with voter fraud, did you explain to the president that pursuing the sorts of investigations and prosecutions he was proposing was wrongheaded? Did you ask the president why he was proposing such initiatives? Did you seek to ascertain whether there was a political motive? Did you take actions in response to his demands?

5. It has been said by the defenders of the firings of U.S. Attorneys by the Bush administration that President Clinton removed all of the U.S. Attorneys in the country when he took office. Isn't it true that it is standard practice for new presidents to replace U.S. Attorneys when they take office? Didn't George Bush do this? And is it not true that Clinton retained Republican-appointed U.S. Attorneys and acting U.S. Attorneys, including current Department of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff who was then a U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, in their positions until they had completed sensitive inquiries? Why did you not correct this deliberate misconception when it was being spread by members of the Bush administration and its supporters?

6. Were you ever involved in conversations, verbal or digital, in which White House political czar Karl Rove outlined a desire to politicize prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys around the country? Were you ever involved in conversations with state or national Republican party leaders in this regard? Did you ever read memos from state party officials outlining prosecutions they would like to see brought? What actions, if any, did you take to prevent politicized prosecutions? Did concerns about how U.S. Attorneys handled so-called "voter fraud" cases and other political matters weigh in deliberations by you and your aides about whether to retain federal prosecutors?

7. Why is it that so many of the U.S. Attorneys who were fired appear to have been those who faced criticism from state and local Republican officials for failing to advance political prosecutions of Democrats in an election year? What do you know about the statements of New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, who says that before he was removed from his position he resisted pressure from Congresswoman Heather Wilson, R-New Mexico, and Senator Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico, to mount prosecutions of Democrats prior to the November, 2OO6, election in which Wilson was locked in a tight contest with the state's Democratic Attorney General? Were the alleged contacts by Wilson and Domenici inappropriate? Were you aware of them? Did you seek to investigate them? Why was Iglesias removed? Knowing that several of the other fired U.S. Attorneys can point to similar pressures, is it not reasonable for the Senate to conclude that Iglesias and the rest were removed for political rather than legal or administrative reasons? If not, what can you tell us that would counter concerns raised by fired U.S. Attorneys who had previously been praised by your office?

8. Were any of the 85 U.S. Attorneys who were not fired subjected to political pressures. How many of them announced investigations of so-called "voter fraud" cases on a time line that paralleled efforts by Republicans to advance legislation to establish new voter registration and Voter ID laws? How many of them launched prosecutions of top Democrats and people around them on time lines that paralleled election cycles? Were you ever involved in discussions of any kind regarding the political value of advancing such investigations and prosecutions? Did you ever remove a U.S. Attorney after being pressured by Republican officials or lobbyists? Why was the acting U.S. Attorney on Guam, Fred Black, who had launched an investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff's activities in the Pacific Island region, removed from his position after Abramoff circulated a complaint that, "I don't care if they appoint bozo the clown, we need to get rid of Fred Black?" If pressure from Abramoff was not a factor, why was Black, a respected prosecutor who had served under three presidents, removed?

9. Were you aware that the Republican Party of Wisconsin prepared packages of documents, including a lengthy memo outlining proposals for mounting "voter fraud" cases in Milwaukee that were forwarded to Rove's office in 2OO5 and that Steven Biskupic, the U.S. Attorney for Eastern Wisconsin who remains on the job, announced in 2OO5 the creation of a high-profile "voter fraud" task force and mounted more than ten percent of all voter fraud cases in the nation -- despite the fact that his jurisdiction represents barely one percent of the population and despite the fact that even Biskupic would eventually acknowledge there was no serious "voter fraud" problem there? ,Are you aware that, on a time line paralleling the 2OO6 gubernatorial campaign in Wisconsin, Biskupic prosecuted of a state employee on charges that she directed a state contract to a donor to the campaign of Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, that Republicans and their backers mounted an expensive television ad campaign attempting to link Doyle to the woman, and that after the election was done a federal appeals court described the evidence Biskupic used in the case as "beyond thin"?

1O. Were you aware that, on a time line paralleling the 2OO6 U.S. Senate campaign in New Jersey, a U.S. Attorney in that state, Chris Christie, began issuing subpoenas aimed at raising questions about the ethics of Bob Menendez, the incumbent senator who was seeking reelection that fall? Are you aware that Christie, a Bush "pioneer" fund raiser and former Republican elected official who has been talked about as a likely Republican statewide candidate, took the rare step of commenting about those subpoenas at the same time that Republicans were mounting an expensive television advertising campaign designed to attack Menendez's ethics and highlight the issues raised by Christie? Are you aware the inquiry has gone nowhere since Menendez was reelected? Why, Mr. Attorney General, do you think the urgency ended with the end of the election cycle?

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

Trouble in the Magic Kingdom

Many families head for Walt Disney World over April vacation. It's a fun place to take kids of many ages, and even the most cynical and grouchy grown-ups are likely to end up enjoying themselves. Encouraging this cheery mood has always been part of the job of Disney World workers, and it's a job they do well. But this April, these workers are not feeling so cheerful, and the Magic Kingdom, for all its splendid illusions, looking an awful lot like the real world of low-wage service work in America.

Disney World pays entry-level workers only 33 cents above Florida's minimum wage of $6.67, and about 41% of its employees make less than $8.50. Disney workers must also pay thousands of dollars a year for their health insurance. Like many service workers, Disney workers are expected to make themselves available to work at almost any time of the day or night, but are only guaranteed 32 hours a week, and are often not told when they will be working until the last minute; this policy wreaks havoc on family life. Disney has also been "outsourcing" --using outside contractors instead of hiring its own workers -- a practice that lowers labor standards significantly for all its employees (Walt Disney himself renounced this practice as he found it resulted in lower standards of hospitality and service). You can learn all this and more from We Are Disney.Info, a website set up by the Service Trades Council Union, a coalition of union locals representing Disney World workers. The site has personal testimonials from Disney workers, people like Judy Claypool, who has been with the company 17 years and feels personally insulted by its conduct. "When Walt Disney World outsources our jobs," she says, "they disrespect our hard work and years of service." Others describe the material hardship of low pay and unaffordable health insurance. The Disney workers will be re-negotiating a contract beginning April 28, and they're hoping to improve their lot.

If you're planning a trip to Disney World, don't cancel your plans just yet. The workers are not encouraging the public to boycott. But do keep in mind that underneath that Mickey Mouse or Goofy costume may be a disgruntled worker struggling to pay his own family's rent, and let Disney know you support him.

Debunking the Gun Lobby

Back in the late 1990s, the Harvard School of Public Health undertook an exhaustive study of Americans' attitudes toward guns. Given our reputation as a trigger-hungry nation, the findings were surprising--and worth revisiting in light of the horrific tragedy at Virginia Tech.

"Americans feel less safe rather than more safe as more people in their community begin to carry guns," the paper, published in 2001, stated. "By margins of at least nine to one, Americans do not believe that 'regular' citizens should be allowed to bring their guns into restaurants, college campuses, sports stadiums, bars, hospitals, or government buildings." [Via Down With Tyranny.]

The study shows a striking disconnect between the policies promoted by the NRA (and passed by politicians) and the views of the public. After Columbine, for example, "bills were introduced to bolster background checks, force the inclusion of trigger locks with gun sales, and close legal loopholes that allowed firearms to be bought from gun shows without full background checks," according to the Washington Post. "But the NRA helped scuttle those measures."

As the Harvard study notes, the US has the highest rates of gun ownership in the developed world and the highest rates of gun homicide. Compare that to the much-vilified French. Guns are nearly impossible to procure in France and, according to David Rieff's recent article in the New York Times Magazine "homicide rates are far, far lower than in American cities."

The state of Virginia, by contrast, allows its residents to buy a gun a month, with a background check that take minutes. Maybe it's time to say that laws like these are crazy.

Impeach Cheney First?

It is no secret that Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich has been toying with the idea of moving articles of impeachment against a member of the Bush administration. And he appears to be focusing more and more of his attention on the man that many activists around the country see as the ripest target for sanctioning: Vice President Dick Cheney.

Despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's efforts to convince Democrats to keep presidential accountability "off the table," Kucinich is just one of many House Democrats who have acknowledged in recent days that they are hearing the call for action loud and clear from their constituents and from grassroots activists across the country.

"I get one call after another saying, 'Impeach the president,'" says Congressman John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania. Congresswoman Diane Watson, D-California, says constituents in Los Angeles "are saying impeachment. I am hearing that more and more and more."

Kucinich, for his part, has sent more signals than anyone else in the caucus about his interest in raising accountability issues. The congressman, who has broken with Pelosi on issues relating to the funding of the war in Iraq, has been blunt about his frustration with the caution of Congress when it comes to addressing executive excess.

"This House cannot avoid its constitutionally authorized responsibility to restrain the abuse of Executive power," he told the House last month, adding that "impeachment may well be the only remedy which remains to stop a war of aggression against Iran."

Around the same time, in a letter to supporters of his anti-war bid for the 2OO8 Democratic presidential nomination, Kucinich asked it it was time to put impeachment on the table. The response was an overwhelming "yes."

Earlier this week, according to media reports Kucinich emailed House colleagues with a note that began, "I intend to introduce Articles of Impeachment with respect to the conduct of Vice President Cheney."

Kucinich put the plan on hold after the Virginia Tech shooting massacre. But the general expectation is that he will raise the issue anew after a decent interval.

Cheney's office sees no grounds for impeachment. "The vice president has had nearly 40 years of government service and has done so in an honorable fashion," says Megan McGinn, Cheney's deputy press secretary.

McGinn got that line out with a straight face.

Americans of who are not on the vice president's payroll are inclined to recognize Cheney's manipulation of intelligence prior to the Iraq War, his active role in going after administration critic Joe Wilson and Wilson's wife Valarie Plame, and his ongoing links to the Halliburton war-profiteering cartel as arguments against giving the vice president any prizes for "honorable" government service.

Impeachment activists have in recent months pushed an "Impeach Cheney First" message, in part to counter the complaint that impeaching Bush would put an even darker figure in charge. Of course, going after the most powerful vice president in history has consequences, as well. In the unlikely event that Cheney were removed from office, one line of reasoning goes, Bush would for the first time find himself in charge.

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

Stamp Out the Rate Hikes

America's founders understood the First Amendment would be worth little without a postal system that encouraged broad public participation in America's "marketplace of ideas." Thomas Jefferson called for a postal service that allowed ideas to "penetrate the whole mass of the people." Along with James Madison, he paved the way for a system that gave low-cost mailing incentives to small publications of information and ideas.

The postal policies that resulted have helped spur a vibrant political culture in the United States by easing the entry of diverse political viewpoints into a national discourse often dominated by the largest media organizations.

Now, this is all about to change, putting the future of The Nation, along with many other publications, at risk.

Postal regulators have decided to extend special favors to mega-publishers, like Time Warner and Hearst, while unduly burdening smaller and independent magazines with much higher postal rates--The Nation is being saddled with an unexpected increase of $500,000 in annual costs.

The new rates, which go into effect on July 15, were developed with no public involvement or congressional oversight, and the increased costs could damage hundreds, even thousands, of smaller publications, forcing many to the brink of bankruptcy. This includes virtually every political journal in the nation. (Shockingly, the new plan was drafted by Time Warner, the largest magazine publisher in the nation. All evidence available, as Robert McChesney explains in an editorial on CommonDreams, suggests the bureaucrats responsible have never considered the implications of their draconian reforms for small and independent publishers.)

It'll be tough to reverse the decision but stranger things have happened. There are precedents for the Postal Rate Commission to revise rulings but it's going to take a massive groundswell of public opposition similar to the explosion of outrage over the FCC's 2003 decision to change media ownership rules.

Our friends at Free Press, the national nonpartisan organization working to generate policies that will produce a more competitive and public interest-oriented media system, have created a website to mobilize the opposition but the protests aren't coming only from progressives. This is not a right/left issue, which is why The Nation and William F. Buckley's National Review are teaming up to demand that the Postal Board of Governors reverse its decision. The rightwing American Spectator and American Conservative have also both signed on to a letter of protest to the Postal Board of Governors.

Please join us in urging postal regulators and Congress to convene public hearings, determine how these rate increases were decided, and reverse the ruling. We only have until April 23--the end of the public comment period--to respond, so please take action today:

Write the Postal Rate Commission and Congress.

Learn more about the issue.

Help spread the word about the campaign.

The Post Office should not use its monopoly power to favor the largest publishers and undermine the ability of smaller publishers to compete. With your help we can reverse this decision and salvage the postal system that has served free speech in America so well for so long.

Benn Better

The New York Times reported yesterday that Hilary Benn – a senior politician in the Labour Party and Tony Blair's international development secretary – has spoken out against the Bush administration's use of the phrase "war on terror" and its emphasis on military force.

In a speech at the Center on International Cooperation of New York University, Benn said: "In the UK we do not use the phrase ‘war on terror' because we can't win by military means alone…." According to the Times Benn also noted that "it would be more beneficial for the United States to use the ‘soft power' of values and ideas as well as military prowess to defeat extremists."

As I wrote in a previous post, what we are engaged in isn't primarily a military operation, but an intelligence-gathering, law-enforcement, public-diplomacy effort. However, few American political leaders have the courage to say that what we face is not a "war" on terrorism. Nor do many possess the moxie to call the Bush administration out on using their war to justify almost everything – abusing international human rights standards, condoning torture, unlawful detention and use of black sites. As retired American Ambassador Ronald Spiers wrote in a piece for Vermont's Rutland Herald, "The President has found this ‘war' useful as an all-purpose justification for almost anything he wants or doesn't want to do; fuzziness serves the administration politically. It brings to mind Big Brother's vague and never-ending war in Orwell's 1984."

Benn suggested that the Bush "War on Terror" even encourages the terrorists – "…by letting them feel part of something bigger, we give them strength." I also wrote last month – on the fourth anniversary of the war against Iraq – that the misconceived "war on terrorism" has damaged our long-term security and engagement with the world. "Yes, terrorism does pose a threat to national and international security that can never be eliminated. But there are far more effective (and ethical) ways to advance US security than a forward-based and military-heavy strategy of intrusion into the Islamic world."

Confronting terror doesn't require a hyper-militarized war without end. But lawful and targeted intelligence work; smart diplomacy; and the elevation rather than the shredding of our greatest ideals and principles.

Hillary and the Antiwar Congressman

When Philip Johnston, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts, first heard the news, he was stunned. Representative Jim McGovern, the six-term Democrat who represents the state's Third Congressional District, had endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton for president. On March 29, the Clinton campaign had issued a press release announcing that McGovern was backing the former First Lady in the Democratic presidential contest. The notice proclaimed that McGovern considered her the "best candidate to end war in Iraq." To Johnston, who's backing Democratic Senator Barack Obama's presidential bid, and other political observers, this Clinton-McGovern meet-up appeared curious: a fierce critic of the war backing a politician who has been accused (rightly or wrongly) of being hawkish.

McGovern is renowned as a liberal legislator. In the 1970s and early 1980s, he worked for Senator George McGovern (no relation), managing the senator's second-time-around 1984 presidential campaign in Massachusetts. Since before the Iraq invasion, Jim McGovern has been an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war. In November 2005, he introduced legislation that would end the war by prohibiting the president from using any taxpayer dollars for the deployment of US troops in Iraq (except for the "safe and orderly withdrawal" of troops).

Hillary Clinton has been slammed by anti-war activists for voting to grant George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq and for not apologizing for that vote. Her anti-war detractors have hounded her, protesting at her office and campaign events. Though she recently proposed cutting off money for Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and voted with her party to tie troop withdrawals to ongoing funding for the war, she had previously been critical only of the execution of the war, not of the idea of the war. She had seemed more supportive of the endeavor than her two key Democratic rivals: Obama, who spoke against the war before its start, and former Senator John Edwards, who (like Clinton) voted for the war but later apologized for having done so. On the campaign trail, Clinton now declares she will end the war should she return to the White House. Still, her past stance suggests she and McGovern might be odd foxhole-fellows.

Not so, says McGovern. Asked to explain why he partnered up with Clinton, he notes,

"I just decided to do it. I called her office. I talked to a number of people close to her over a period of weeks. They suggested it would be more useful if the endorsement came sooner than later. I've known her for a lot of years, and I respect her and admire a lot of what she did as First Lady. Even though HillaryCare did not fly, she was on the right track. She's out front as someone committed to universal health care and to early childhood development. She held conferences on childhood development at the White House that I attended. We need to get serious that education begins at age 0 and that we need universal preschool."

McGovern also offers an up-close-and-personal reason for the endorsement:

"I picked up my daughter from kindergarten the day after Hillary announced her presidential campaign, and all these five-year-old girls were talking about Hillary. I found it amazing. They were excited about Hillary's candidacy. I realized if she's elected, she breaks an important glass ceiling. These little girls learn about presidents who are only men. For me this is a very powerful moment. A lot of people portray her candidacy as a cautious and establishment candidacy, as if she's the Walter Mondale of this campaign. I see this as a bold, history-making campaign."

But what about the Iraq war?

"I believe her when she says that if it's not over when she takes office, she will end this war. If this war is still going on then, you're going to need somebody with skill and experience to bring everyone together here in the United States and within an international coalition. On the war, there's not a dime's worth of difference among the leading Democratic candidates. They're all voting for or supporting timetables and withdrawals. It's not as quickly as I want. My bill would start a safe and immediate withdrawal. If I were president, this war would be over now. But I can't get 218 people [in the House] to agree with me....People say, 'How could you do this when Hillary voted for the war.' John Kerry, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden voted for the war. I can't change the past. I can only try to shape the future."

Hillary Clinton has refused to apologize for her vote to hand Bush the authority to invade Iraq. Does that bother McGovern?

"Jesus Christ," he exclaims, "I'm not interested in an apology. I'm interested in the strategy. People are saying she has to get down on her knees and beg for forgiveness. This war is such a tragedy. Insisting upon an apology is an issue that trivializes the war. The war is the biggest moral, political, diplomatic, and military catastrophe in our history. I hate this war. I want to end it before the next presidency. And every Democratic candidate wants to end this war." McGovern contends that Clinton is best equipped to do so, citing her ability to work with Republicans in the Senate and her efforts and missions overseas during her husband's presidency. "She has the international statue," he says, adding, "the Bill connection helps."

Political endorsements don't "mean a lot," McGovern maintains. But he has told Hillary Clinton he will gladly work for her campaign, perhaps as an emissary to die-hard liberal Democrats who might harbor doubts about her. "I'm willing to go to New Hampshire, Iowa, Massachusetts, wherever I can be of help," he says. "Some of the people who believe as I do in liberal politics go after her the way they go after George Bush. I can tell them, read what she believes in, listen to what she says."

Both Hillary and Bill Clinton were helpful to McGovern when he faced difficult congressional campaigns in his early years as a House member. One reporter, McGovern recalls, accused him of endorsing Hillary Clinton as payback for that assistance. McGovern insists he's not redeeming a political IOU--and that this endorsement is not part of a calculated attempt on the part of the Clinton campaign to bolster her left flank. "I approached them," he recalls.

What about the other candidates? Obama, a onetime community activist, has caused many progressive Democrats to swoon. His campaign also can shatter a political barrier. "In his first year in the Senate," McGovern says, "I don't recall him being much of a leader." McGovern notes he admires John Edwards' "focus on dealing with issues of poverty." Representative Dennis Kucinich? This progressive legislator agrees with McGovern that US troops should be removed from Iraq immediately. "On the war, our views are the closest," McGovern says. "I hope he does well. But there's more than just that one issue." Senator Chris Dodd, McGovern notes, is a friend. The two have worked together for years on Central America issues: "I think he's terrific."

But McGovern says there was no competition for his political affections. He's a Hillary Clinton fan. "I think she's a good person," he says. "Maybe because I know her as a woman who cares deeply about a lot of issues and who's motivated not just by ambition. That's how I've seen her for years--not this caricature of a person who doesn't stand for anything and who's secretly pro-war."

For some progressives, the Clinton years were a time of frustration and disappointment--a period of lost opportunity (with or without the Monica madness and other scandals, real or hyped). McGovern doesn't remember it that way. "I wish we could've done more then," he says. "But Bill Clinton protected more land in this country than any president since Teddy Roosevelt. He defended civil rights and reproductive rights. Do I wish he had been more liberal? Sure. I had sharp disagreements with him on Nafta and the [anti-drug trafficking] Colombia Plan. Overall, I thought he was a good president. As time goes on, I appreciate more the job he did."

Endorsing Hillary Clinton was no tough call for McGovern: "I didn't anguish over this. She's who I want to be with. She's the right person for the job. If I thought for one second that she wouldn't do everything humanly possible to end this war as fast as possible, no way in hell I would endorse her." McGovern is now looking forward to trekking from church basements in Iowa to pot luck suppers in New Hampshire to convince other Democrats she ought to be president.

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DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

More Guns, More Murder

Upon his re-election as Mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg said his top priority was curbing gun violence. "Our most urgent challenge is ending the threat of guns and the violence they do," he said at his second inaugural address. He subsequently formed an organization of 180 mayors, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, to expose the true costs of gun violence in America and to combat the political stranglehold of the NRA.

The gun lobby, as expected, has irately pushed back. Two gun stores in Virginia, accused by the mayor of lax enforcement policies, on Thursday plan to hold a "Bloomberg Gun GiveAway." Spend over $100 at either Bob Moates Gun Shop or Old Dominion Guns and Tackle and you could win a free handgun or rifle, value $900. The stores have no plans to cancel the raffle in the wake of the horrific massacre at Virginia Tech.

Thanks to the Republican Congress, law enforcement officials can't even get a full picture of which guns are used during crimes in their communities. The assault weapons ban of 1994 was not renewed upon expiring in 2004. It's been ten years since any gun control law has been approved by Congress.

Many Democrats have hardly been better than their GOP counterparts. Senator Jim Webb never apologized for recently carrying a firearm in possible violation of DC gun laws. Groups like Americans for Gun Safety, in conjunction with the DLC, have long tried to push the party to the right on this issue. Everyone remembers that ridiculous picture of John Kerry hunting in camouflage.

A few brave Democrats, such as Representative Carolyn McCarthy from Long Island, are trying to toughen rather than weaken federal gun laws. McCarthy lost her husband, and almost her son, in a horrendous 1993 shooting known as the Long Island Railroad Massacre. Maybe after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, we'll listen to what McCarthy and Bloomberg have to say.