On Tuesday, Democrats in Kentucky will choose their nominee to battle notoriously corrupt Governor Ernie Fletcher this November. This is not just a typical Democratic primary, but another chapter in what some have described as the ongoing battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.
The race pits relatively progressive Attorney General Steve Beshear against multimillionaire healthcare executive Bruce Lunsford, who's running as a Democrat even though he's given tens of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates, endorsed Fletcher in '03 and has been involved in a number of questionable business ventures. Oh, and his political consultant is Doug Schoen, former partner of Mark Penn.
This race involves a candidate in Bruce Lunsford, who not only belongs in the Republican primary, but he belongs in the Ken Lay wing of the Republican Party. Lunsford made his millions founding the healthcare company formerly known as Vencor. While he was the CEO, the federal government brought a fraud claim of $1.3 billion against it, alleging that Vencor overbilled Medicare.
The company eventually agreed to pay a $104.5 million settlement, and ended up in bankruptcy. However, Lunsford's attacks on Kentucky's working families may not have ended there. Lunsford split his Vencor company before it headed to bankruptcy and created a second company, Ventas. It may not be to anyone's surprise that the wife of Senator Mitch McConnell, current Secretary of Labor to George W. Bush, Elaine Chao, was named to the Board of Directors.
In 1997, Lunsford and his partners were sued for "insider trading, fraudulent omissions and stock prices punctured by bad news in the health care industry." (Lexington Herald Leader, 6/1/2001) The lawsuit was tossed by a Louisville judge but in 2001, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reinstated the case after holding that the plaintiffs arguments "permit a strong inference that defendants engaged in securities fraud." (Courier-Journal, 6/7/2001)
Lunsford never learned to steer clear of his crowd of Republican friends, and ran for governor with a coterie of advisors that looked like a Jack Abramoff foursome returning from a Scottish golfing trip. One of his top advisors in 2003, Larry Townsend, followed Lunsford's lead in supporting George W. Bush, and even took it a step further by co-chairing "Democrats for Bush" with Zell Miller.
There's speculation in Kentucky that Lunsford, who supported Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for re-election in 2002, made a deal to support (or at least not actively oppose) him again. McConnell is one of the Democrats top targets in '08. That's one of the reasons why Tuesday's race has ramifications beyond the Bluegrass state.
"The president still has full confidence in Alberto Gonzales," says White House spokesman Tony Snow.
Yikes! The president still has confidence.
Even Snow, whose willingness to explore the outer limits of spin is well established, can't pretty this mess up.
There is no way to get around the fact that the Attorney General is in bigger trouble today than he was yesterday, and he will almost certainly be in more trouble tomorrow.
The latest shoe to drop took the form of the revelation by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey that Gonzales in March 2004 - when he served as George Bush's White House counsel - plotted to undermine the authority of the department he now heads by pressuring Ashcroft to approve the president's warrantless wiretapping project.
Comey's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week -- which came the same day as the No. 2 man in the Department of Justice announced he was exiting -- proved to be the last straw for two more key senators.
Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a maverick potential presidential candidate, issued a statement to the effect that: "The American people deserve an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of our country, whose honesty and capability are beyond question. Attorney General Gonzales can no longer meet this standard. He has failed this country. He has lost the moral authority to lead."
There will be those who suggest that Hagel's abandonment of Gonzales was to be expected, but no one can say that of Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, who chaired the Intelligence Committee at the time when Comey says Gonzales was scheming to clear the way for the illegal gathering of intelligence.
Yet, on Wednesday, Roberts said that Gonzales should consider quitting. "When you have to spend more time up here on Capitol Hill instead of running the Justice Department, maybe you ought to think about it," explained Roberts, a conservative who is generally seen as one of the premier Bush administration loyalists in the Senate.
Roberts echoed statements by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and several other key Republicans in the Senate.
And more Republicans are rumored to be preparing calls for Gonzales to step down.
The debate over whether Gonzales should stay is no longer a partisan or ideological fight. At stake is the question of whether the Department of Justice can continue to function when the Attorney General is suspected of lying to Congress and the American people on a regular basis.
The question of the Gonzales's credibility is highlighted by a new letter from four key players on the Judiciary Committee -- Democratic Senators Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Chuck Schumer of New York, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Dick Durbin of Illinois -- that asks Gonzales: "In light of Mr. Comey's testimony yesterday, do you stand by your 2006 Senate and House testimony, or do you wish to revise it?"
Translation: "We don't want to call you a 'liar,' but..."
John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal, Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into the intentions of the founders and embraced by activists for its groundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability. After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone political writer Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "John Nichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, The Genius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less with the particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and instead combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com
In an era when every Ann, Isaiah and Tim can bask in the toxic green glow of homophobe fame just by throwing around the F-word a few times in public, it's nice to know that some people still have standards. To commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia (May 17), my friends over at Human Rights Watch have assembled a Hall of Shame. And they are not messing around with this GLAAD-Entertainment Tonight-Rehab-Apology bullshit.
This year's inductees include: Pope Benedict (for politicizing the Catholic Church's theological views on homosexuality), George W. Bush (for threatening the health of LGBT people by mandating abstinence-only sex education) and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (for launching a campaign against "public immorality" that has led to the arbitrary arrest of thousands). As HRW's Scott Long put it, the Hall of Shame "highlights leaders who have lent their authority to denying basic human rights." Jerry Falwell, may he rest forever, would be proud. You can check out the full list of dishonors here.
Speaking of Falwell, I'm just passing along news (via queerty) that the Lesbian Death Angels have claimed responsibility for hexing Rev. Falwell into the afterlife. This coven of self-described "pro-choice radical lesbians" seeks justice "one hex at a time." And they are looking for their "next target for early karmic justice." Ladies, I'm not sure human rights and witchcraft are compatible, but see HRW's list!
It's dispiriting for opponents of the war that a motion to bring an end to combat operations in Iraq by March 2008 received only 29 votes in the Senate yesterday.
True, this was a largely symbolic vote; an amendment to a water bill that had no chance of passing. And sure, it was a sign of progress that there was a vote at all on a controversial measure like this.
But still. Only seven more Democrats voted to end the war as to oppose it in the first place. There were some notable converts, such as Hillary Clinton. Yet even supposedly antiwar Democrats, such as Carl Levin, Jon Tester and Jim Webb, voted against the Reid-Feingold proposal. Not one Republican strayed from the party line.
One could argue that this was yet another example of Congress's disconnect from the American public. Yet if 70 percent of Americans strongly favored getting out of Iraq by a firm, set date, then don't you think more Senators would've voted aye? They're behind public opinion, but not that far behind.
Look at the polls. The American people oppose this war and want it to end. But when asked, they're not quite certain of how. Apparently neither is Congress.
The Iraq-official memoir publishing industry is beginning to resemble a circular firing squad. In last Sunday's Washington Post, Paul Bremer duked it out with those who've accused him of incompetence and stupid decisions which contributed to the insurgency we see raging in Iraq today.
Bremer accuses former CIA Director George Tenet of pillorying him in his just-published, best-selling memoirs, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. But it's not only Tenet, Bremer whines. "Similar charges are unquestionably repeated in books and articles." And while the charges, counter-charges, accusations, rebuttals may titillate, while providing misleadingly biased drafts of history, it's worth remembering that a few key officials (who helped mislead this nation into the most colossal foreign policy disaster in US history) are profiting nicely.
Take George Tenet. He was paid a whopping $ 4 million for his memoirs. When asked by ABC's Charles Gibson why he had waited so long, nearly three years after his resignation, to make criticisms he had not made during the 2004 election, Tenet replied that he needed the time to collect his thoughts. What he might have said is that he needed the time to collect the money.
Then there's Ari Fleischer's Taking Heat, Bremer's My Year in Iraq and, in March 2008 HarperCollins is bringing out Douglas Feith's War and Decision. There are bound to be more Iraq memoirs on the way. How could Rummy not cut a deal to tell his side of the story? Or Wolfie-- after he's booted from the World Bank. Condi is already planning hers. Check out what she told CNN's Wolf Blitzer when he asked her about Tenet's assertion that she did not perform her job well, she said, "Well, look, not everything went right....There were some things that went right and some things that went wrong. And you know what? We'll have a chance to look at that in history, and I'll have a chance to reflect on that when I have a chance to write my book."
As the human and economic cost of this war soar, shouldn't these officials be barred from making money off of books about their illegal, immoral, security-destroying failures of judgment and action? Perhaps there is a model to be found in how a few states forbid criminals and others from profiting off violent crime. After all, as a recent article reports, "Criminals had been barred from making money off their exploits until 1991, when the Supreme Court overturned a NY law after finding that it was so broad it would discourage people from telling stories of public interest --such as the Watergate scandal." While a unanimous 1991 Court decision said such laws could stand only if carefully worded to protect First Amendment rights, some states have already revised or created new laws to address that concern.
So, I propose that we citizens demand that any official involved in decision making which misled us into this debacle be required to contribute advances and royalties made off their Iraq-related memoirs to organizations helping veterans or Iraqi civilians. (I've made a short list below; I am sure there are others you can add.)
And the publishing houses involved--HarperCollins, Threshold Editions, William Morrow--should also consider contributing any company profits.
* Iraq Veterans Against The War
* Vets' For Justice
* Military Families Speak Out
* Gold Star Families for Peace
* International Committee of the Red Cross
* Families for Peace Humanitarian Aid Delegation
* International Rescue Committee
* No More Victims
US troops have questioned hundreds of people and detained 11 in the search for three American soldiers feared captured by al-Qaeda during a deadly weekend ambush south of Baghdad, the US military said this afternoon. Undoubtedly, some of those being questioned are uninvolved and will be mistreated, hardening their own anti-American feelings and further inflaming the conflagration.
With more than 3,300 US troops dead and 24,000 injured, an untold number of Iraqis killed, the vast majority of both Sunni and Shia opposed to the occupation and most Americans wanting a quick exit, it's way past time for a real plan to bring the troops home. Since the politicians are still waffling and disaster in the field won't dissuade the White House from bumbling on, antiwar pressure is needed more than ever.
Students, despite an unfair apathetic rep among sectors of the left, have been in the forefront of working against the war since its beginning. Now our friends at Campus Progress Action are providing material support and training to antiwar students during Iraq Action Camp week. Students can go to Washington, DC from June 10 to 14 for five days of training, campfires, lobbying, networking and parties.
There'll be seminars with organizers from MoveOn, Democracy Matters, the United States Student Association and Campus Progress Action detailing what a good campaign can look like, how to best work with the media and what lobbying tactics can be most effective and why. It's all free, including food and camping, if desired, at Greenbelt Park, Maryland. Travel scholarships to get to DC are also available. Then, after the week, attendees will be able to apply for grant money to seed antiwar projects on college campuses and in local communities coast to coast.
The Iraq Action Camp is the latest piece of Campus Progress' Iraq Campaign which "works to halt the escalation, bring a prompt resolution to the conflict, reduce violence and suffering in Iraq, bring our troops home, and build greater peace and security for the United States and the world." Click here to apply for the camp and check out what else the Campaign is doing. [Full disclosure: Campus Progress also partners with The Nation on an annual student journalism conference and supplies a few articles each week to StudentNation for re-posting.]
Finally, watch this short YouTube video to see the impetus behind the Iraq Action Camp.
After a brief hiatus, I'm re-starting "Sweet Victories" as a weekly feature. Launched in the bleak aftermath of the 2004 elections, "SV" chronicles progressive wins--from legislative and electoral victories to successful organizing efforts, protests and boycotts, to the launching of a promising new idea, organization or initiative. I hope these stories will serve not only as a source of information but as inspiration. The victories may sometimes be small, but they'll always be sweet. And I hope Nation readers will contribute their own ideas for "sweet victories" by emailing us at email@example.com
A few months before Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a healthcare plan that, according to Shum Preston of the California Nurses Association "will take us backwards by increasing the income and influence of insurance companies," he vetoed Sen. Sheila Kuehl's California Universal Healthcare Act. The legislation, which was reported on in an Editor's Cut last fall would have guaranteed "truly affordable healthcare to all."
The veto was no doubt a setback for those who struggle to go through life without health insurance, but Sen. Kuehl and the people of California have a message for their governor: we still demand health care for all and this bill is not going away.
Sen. Kuehl has reintroduced the bill and on May 8, thousands of health care activists rallied at the State House in Sacramento to urge its passing. The bill has already been passed by the Senate Health Committee and there is optimism that bill will once again make it through the state legislature and back to Schwarzenegger's desk.
Will he deprive Californians again, or will he be a healthcare hero? Thanks to the work of Sen. Kuehl and others, he may well have to decide, publicly, whether or not to adhere to the will of his constituents.
And that is indeed a sweet victory.
This post was co-written by Michael Corcoran, a Nation intern and freelance writer based in New York City.
The various and sundry Republican presidential contenders will be stumbling over one another tonight--as they debate in South Carolina--and in the days ahead to curry favor with the religious right by expressing their sorrow at the passing of the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
It's not that most of the Republican candidates really cared much for Falwell. Aside from Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, the most seriously evangelical of the bunch, none of the GOP runners really qualifies as a Falwell follower in the classic sense.
But the Republicans who would be President care for those whom Falwell claimed to speak for, the millions of fire-and-brimstone Christians in states such as Iowa and South Carolina who are expected to participate in next year's caucuses and primaries. It may be true that Falwell had ceased to be a definitional figure on the Republican right some years ago--perhaps even before he blamed the 9/11 attacks on pagans and feminists.
But few of the Republican candidates will chance it when it comes to praising the preacher.
So get ready for the "Old Time Hypocrisy Hour."
Arizona Senator John McCain got things rolling with a statement released just minutes after the announcement that the man who for many years was the face of evangelical politics in America had died from an apparent heart attack at age 73.
"I join the students, faculty, and staff of Liberty University and Americans of all faiths in mourning the loss of Reverend Jerry Falwell," said McCain. "Dr. Falwell was a man of distinguished accomplishment who devoted his life to serving his faith and country."
Distinguished accomplishment? Would that be when Falwell regularly featured segregationists Lester Maddox and George Wallace on his Old Time Gospel Hour television program in the 1960s? When he condemned the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and referred to the civil rights movement as "the civil wrongs movement"? When he opposed sanctions against South Africa's apartheid regime in the 1980s? When he produced an infomercial in the 1990s accusing President Clinton of orchestrating murders of journalists and political critics, even though he would eventually admit that "I do not know the accuracy of the claims"? When he attacked Teletubbies character Tinky Winky as a gay recruitment tool? When he asserted that the Antichrist "must be, of necessity, a Jewish male"?
Falwell is a fascinating and significant figure in American political life, a man worthy of study and serious consideration. But McCain did not always see the preacher as a servant of his country.
Indeed, McCain's praise of the preacher today is a far cry from what the Senator said in 2000, when, in a much-heralded speech in Virginia, he described the fiery Falwell as "an agent of intolerance."
"Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right," McCain declared, as he accused Falwell and others like him of narrow-minded ideologues who would "padlock the Republican Party and surrender the future of our nation."
As he was battling George Bush for the Republican presidential nomination that year, McCain told Tim Russert on MSNBC's Meet the Press that "Governor Bush swung far to the right and sought out the base support of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Those aren't the ideas that I think are good for the Republican Party."
McCain has gone through some changes since the days when he was preaching "big-tent" Republicanism. He learned an ugly lesson in 2000, and he's playing hard to the right this time around. As such, he has made his peace with Falwell.
Last year, the Arizona Senator made his way to Lynchburg, Virginia, to deliver the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University. Was it a pander to the people by way of the man he once referred to as an "agent of intolerance"? And he got called on it. "Are you freaking out on us?" Daily Show host Jon Stewart, once a McCain fan, asked the Senator. "Are you going into the crazy-base world?"
The short answer is "yes." And McCain will have plenty of company in the rush to the crazy-base world.
While there are serious debates opening up about just how strong a force the religious right remains within a Republican Party that is struggling to position itself for the post-Bush era--after all, prochoice gay-rights supporter Rudy Giuliani is the GOP poll leader of the moment--there is no question that McCain and most of the other contenders fear the wrath of the evangelicals Falwell did so much to lead into the Republican fold more than a quarter-century ago.
That fear is uglier than anything Falwell ever did or said.
It is possible to treat Falwell with respect in death, to recognize that he apologized for some of his more divisive and destructive statements and that he grew beyond his segregationist stances and some of his other intolerances. It is certainly possible to regard him as a political figure of consequence and deeply held views.
But for McCain to heap praise on Falwell at this politically convenient moment is an embarrassing example of how the maverick of the 2000 race has become the predictable politician of the 2008 contest.
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.'"
Way back in 1999, when I was still a Tomdispatch-less book editor, I read a proposal from Chalmers Johnson. He was, then, known mainly as a scholar of modern Japan, though years earlier I had read his brilliant book on Chinese peasant nationalism--about a period in the 1940s when imperial Japan was carrying out its "3-all" campaigns (kill-all, burn-all, loot-all) in the northern Chinese countryside. The proposal, for a book to be called "Blowback"--a CIA term of tradecraft that, like most Americans, I had never heard before -- focused on the "unintended consequences" of the Agency's covert activities abroad and the disasters they might someday bring down upon us. Johnson began with an introduction in which he reviewed, among other things, his experiences in the Vietnam War era when, as a professed Cold Warrior, a former CIA consultant, and a professor of Asian studies at Berkeley, he would have been on the other side of the political fence from me.
In that introduction, he recalled his dismay with antiwar activists who were, he felt (not incorrectly), often blindly romantic about Asian communism and hadn't bothered to do their homework on the subject. "They were," he wrote, "defining the Vietnamese Communists largely out of their own romantic desires to oppose Washington's policies." He added:
"As it turned out, however, they understood far better than I did the impulse of a Robert McNamara, a McGeorge Bundy, or a Walt Rostow. They grasped something essential about the nature of America's imperial role in the world that I had failed to perceive. In retrospect, I wish I had stood with the antiwar protest movement. For all its naïveté and unruliness, it was right and American policy wrong."
It was a reversal of sentiment to which no other American of his age and background, to the best of my knowledge, had admitted. It reflected a mind impressively willing to reconsider and change--and, as it happened, it also reflected a man on a journey out of the world of Cold War anti-communism and into the heart of the American empire. When Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire finally came out in 2000, it was largely ignored (or derided) in the mainstream -- until, that is, September 11th, 2001. Then, "blowback," and the phrase that went with it, "unintended consequences," entered our language, thanks to Johnson, and the paperback of the book, now seen as prophetic, hit the 9/11 tables in bookstores across the United States, becoming a bestseller.
Johnson's intellectual odyssey had begun when the Cold War ended, when the Soviet Union disappeared and the American imperial structure of bases (and policy) in Asia remained standing, remarkably unchanged and unaffected by that seemingly world-shaking event. An invitation, five years later, to visit the heavily American-garrisoned Japanese island of Okinawa, in turmoil over a case in which two U.S. Marines and a sailor had raped a 12 year-old Okinawan girl, also strongly affected his thinking. There, Johnson saw firsthand what our global baseworld looked like and what it did to others on this planet. ("I was flabbergasted by the 37 American military bases I found on an island smaller than Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands and the enormous pressures it put on the population there… As I began to study it, though, I discovered that Okinawa was not exceptional. It was the norm. It was what you find in all of the American military enclaves around the world.")
Now, five and a half years after the 9/11 attacks, Johnson has reached the provisional end of his quest and the single prophetic volume, Blowback, has become "The Blowback Trilogy." In 2004, a second volume, The Sorrows of Empire, arrived, focused on how the American military had garrisoned the globe and how militarism had us in its grip; and finally, this year, a magisterial third and final volume, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, appeared. No one should miss it. It lays out in chilling detail the ways in which imperial overstretch imperils the American republic and what's left of our democratic system as well as the American economy.
Now, in a step beyond even his latest book, in a piece called "Evil Empire" at Tomdispatch.com, Johnson considers whether we can end our empire before it ends us. He concludes:
"When Ronald Reagan coined the phrase ‘evil empire,' he was referring to the Soviet Union, and I basically agreed with him that the USSR needed to be contained and checkmated. But today it is the U.S. that is widely perceived as an evil empire and world forces are gathering to stop us. The Bush administration insists that if we leave Iraq our enemies will ‘win' or -- even more improbably – ‘follow us home.' I believe that, if we leave Iraq and our other imperial enclaves, we can regain the moral high ground and disavow the need for a foreign policy based on preventive war. I also believe that unless we follow this path, we will lose our democracy and then it will not matter much what else we lose. In the immortal words of Pogo, ‘We have met the enemy and he is us.'"
I saw Paul McNulty, who announced yesterday that he was resigning as Deputy Attorney General, at the Dallas airport on Sunday. He was coming from a prosecutor conference at San Antonio and I was returning from a wedding. The similarities end there. McNulty sat in first class and I trudged back to coach.
The next morning news broke that McNulty was stepping down as DOJ's #2 official so that he could go make money to pay for his kids' colleges. Or at least that's what he said.
The news was really no surprise. Alberto Gonzales's deputy, after all, was never qualified to serve. McNulty was a longtime Republican operative who acted as spokesman for House Republicans during Bill Clinton's impeachment and had never tried a case before becoming US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, one of the country's most important offices, three days after 9/11. Loyalty to the Republican Party allowed McNulty to rise rapidly at DOJ. He was the first official to tell Congress that the dismissals of the eight US prosecutors were "performance-related." He was also implicated in the shady circumstances surrounding the replacement of the acting US attorney in Guam, which I explored in the recent article, "Attorneygate in Guam."
Many commentators are now arguing that McNulty was simply the fall guy for Gonzales. Probably so. But either way, the deputy deserved to go.