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The Nation

Sarah Olson and the Struggle to Save Journalism

American journalism is under assault. The Telecommunications Act of 1996,with its encouragement of media consolidation and homogenization, hasprovoked a marked decline in the diversity and quality of broadcast news.The latest round of print media mergers and acquisitions is puttingnewspaper writers out of work at an unprecedented rate. And the people whoown the nation's communications combines are, for the most part, so risk averse and so thoroughlyobsessed with their bottom lines that they are making it impossible for the serious reporters who remain to do their jobs. These are fundamental, structural andrapidly expanding threats.

Equally serious is the threat posed by a government that, when it is notseeking to deceive a credulous Washington press corps with carefully-wovenspin, overtly threatens and punishes reporters who actually seek in thesedifficult times to practice the craft of journalism.

But the greatest of all threats comes when journalists fail to defend fellowreporters and editors who have come under direct attack.

When the Bush administration decided to ignore legitimate questions fromveteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas -- with presidential presssecretaries and their aides going out of their way to try and isolate anddiscredit her for failing to practice stenography to power -- the remainderof the press corps was for the most part silent. And the power of the press,which the founders of the American experiment had intended to serve as anecessary check and balance upon executive excess, was further diminished.

Now comes another test.

Sarah Olson, a 31-year-old independent writer and radio producer fromOakland, California, finds herself in the targets of Army prosecutors, Thoseprosecutors are demanding that Olson help them build the case against 1stLt. Ehren Watada, an officer who faces a court-martial trial for expressingopposition to the war in Iraq and for refusing to deploy with a unit beingdispatched to that country.

Along with a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Olson was in Decembersent a subpoena seeking testimony that would confirm the accuracy ofanti-war statements attributed to Watada.

The quotes are not seriously in question; in fact, Lieutenant Watada hasmade similar statements in a number of public settings. The firstcommissioned officer in the U.S. armed forces to formally refuse deploymentin George Bush's war, Lieutenant Watada has made it absolutely clear that hehas lost confidence in the president as his commander-in-chief, that hebelieves the war lacks legal legitimacy and that he feels his participationin the conflict could make him a party to war crimes. This month, in remarksto a crowd at Seattle Central Community College, the lieutenant spoke atlength about "the illegality of this war."

So why subpoena Sarah Olson?

Lieutenant Watada case is a difficult one for the Army prosecutors, and byextension for the commander-in-chief.

An Eagle Scout who joined the Army after finishing a degree at HawaiiPacific University, Lieutenant Watada served so ably during a tour of dutyin Korea that he was rated by his superior officers as "among the best" and"exemplary," and recommended for an early promotion. Lieutenant Watada hasvolunteered to serve in Afghanistan, where he believes that U.S. troops areparticipating in "an unambiguous war linked to the September 11 attacks."But he refuses to deploy to Iraq because, he explains, he believes that theU.S. presence in that country violates the Constitution, which requires thatwars be declared by Congress, and the War Powers Act, which places limits onpresidential war making. Lieutenant Watada also argues that the U.S. invasionand occupation of Iraq is in clear conflict with the UN Charter, the GenevaConventions and the Nuremberg Principles, which bar wars of aggression.

It appears that the prosecutors do not want to provide Watada with an openand fair forum in which to explain his arguments against the war. They arefrightened by the prospect that an obviously courageous and patrioticsoldier might, in response to questions about why he has refused to deployto Iraq, make an articulate and convincing case against the legitimacy of anunpopular war.

That's publicity that the Bush administration does not want at a time whenits war of whim has gone terribly awry. And it certainly won't help militaryrecruitment.

So the military prosecutors are trying to get journalists to build the caseagainst the lieutenant.

Olson is balking. The reporter is proud of her work, and she is notparticularly concerned about confirming quotes -- something that journalistsfrequently do. But Olson does not want to serve as a pawn in theprosecution's game.

"It's not a reporter's job to participate in the prosecution of her ownsources,'' she explains. "When you force a journalist to participate, yourun the risk of turning the journalist into an investigative tool of thestate.''

There is no question that Olson is right.

The question is whether journalists will stand with her as she defends ourcraft.

Olson is asking reporters and editors to sign a letter objecting to theArmy's decision to subpoena journalists to testify in the court-martial ofLt. Watada.

"It's a journalist's job to report the news, not to participate ingovernment prosecutions. The press cannot function if it is used by thegovernment to prosecute political speech, and hauling a journalist into amilitary court erodes the separation between government and press. Turningreporters into the investigative arm of the government subverts pressfreedoms and chills dissenting speech in the United States. The press mustpreserve its ability to cover all aspects of a debate, not just theperspectives popular with the current administration. We believe ajournalist's duty is to the public and their right to know, not to thegovernment," reads the statement, which is addressed to the prosecutors. "Inthe name of the cornerstone values this nation claims to uphold and forwhich the men and women in the military are fighting, we ask that you end toyour insistence that journalists participate in the court-martial of Lt.Watada. We need more information, participation, and debate – inside andoutside the military – not less. As the LA Times argued in its January 8theditorial: 'It's time for the Army to back off.'"

I am proud to add my name to the list of signers of a statement that is notmerely a defense of Sarah Olson but a reassertion of the founding principlethat a free press is the essential underpinning of democracy.

John Nichols, a veteran newspaper and magazine writer and editor, haswritten and spoken widely on the intentions of the founders who amended theConstitution to protect freedom of the press. The keynote speaker at the2OO4 Congress of the International Federation of Journalists, he is acofounder of Free Press, the media reform movement, and the co-author withRobert W. McChesney of three books on media and democracy.

Shaken By Obama, Clinton Moves Up

Anyone who thought Barack Obama's announcement that he is preparing to bid for the Democratic presidential nomination would scare off other prospective candidates will be set straight before the weekend is done.

New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who would if elected be the first woman president, announced in a videotaped statement posted this morning on her campaign website that she is filing the paperwork necessary to create an exploratory committee -- the traditional first step in rolling out a presidential campaign.

"I'm in. And I'm in to win," Clinton tells supporters, adding that, "I'm not just starting a campaign, though, I'm beginning a conversation with you, with America. Let's talk. Let's chat. The conversation in Washington has been just a little one-sided lately, don't you think?"

Those who suspect that Clinton is moving up her launch in order to steal some of Obama's thunder before the Sunday talk shows get all wrapped up in an Obamania conversation would, of course, be right.

Until Obama came along, the former First Lady was the acknowledged frontrunner in the race. In fact, most of the talk was about which candidate would emerge as "the anti-Hillary." Now, the speculation has shifted to the question of whether Obama might actually be the frontrunner.

That's a conversation that Clinton wants to change -- quickly.

Clinton's decision to announce the formation of an exploratory committee represents the first formal indication that her much-anticipated run is going forward, and it will end speculation about the prospect that she might yet choose to remain in the Senate. (That speculation, a favorite of some D.C. pundits, never gained much credibility among Democrats at the grassroots, who were well aware of the Clinton team's machinations in early caucus and primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire; at the same time that Obama was making his announcement, Clinton was making personal calls to key Democratic activists in those states.)

But Clinton is not the only Democrat taking steps toward a presidential run this weekend. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who if elected would be the first Hispanic president, is indicating that he will make an announcement on Sunday. A Richardson bid would be especially significant in the early stages of the fight for the nomination, as Democrats in the western state of Nevada -- where the New Mexican is well known, and potentially something of a regional favorite -- will be among the first to weigh in on the race.

From a historical standpoint, it is remarkable that a single week is seeing so many high-profile candidates leap into the Democratic contest. Traditionally, candidates seek to announce in isolation, so that they can reap the most media attention and, potentially, build excitement about their bids.

Even more remarkable is the fact that the latest launches come after a rapid succession of entries by former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Delaware Senator Joe Biden and Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd -- all of whom are in different stages of preparing or advancing candidacies. Still to come: A decision by 2004 nominee John Kerry, and more speculation about what former Vice President Al Gore will do.

Why the rush?

Democrats are well aware that this race is starting fast. Less than a year from now, the Iowa caucuses will be done. And as Gore and Kerry will remind you, a first-place finish in Iowa often translates into primary wins and the nomination.

Obama and Clinton are clearly the first-tier candidates at this point, but Edwards has done the best job of organizing in the early caucus and primary states. The 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee has actually led in some Iowa polls. Edwards has also begun to attract significant labor support in Las Vegas, which could make him a serious contender in Nevada.

Clinton is particularly determined to get going fast now becasue she wants to solidify what she sees as a critical base in New Hampshire. Her fear is that, if she does not move quickly, Obama will trump her there. The Illinois senator plans to return to the first-primary state in the near future, following upon a visit last fall that drew enthusiastic crowds and expressions of interest in his candidacy from key Democrats.

Even if she has more money than the other contenders and, arguably, a better network of potential supporters on the ground -- many of them longtime "Friends of Bill," who got to know Hillary while working on her husband's presidential bid in 1991 and 1992 -- Clinton understands that she cannot afford to lose Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada and expect to maintain a serious bid for the nomination.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines 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.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

Smearing Barack Obama

Today a friend forwarded me an e-mail that a friend of his had received with the subject "Let Us Remain Alert!" the contents of which are below:

Probable U. S. presidential candidate, Barack Hussein Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a black Muslim from Nyangoma-Kogel, Kenya and Ann Dunham, a white atheist from Wichita, Kansas.

Obama's parents met at the University of Hawaii.

When Obama was two years old, his parents divorced. His father returned to Kenya. His mother then married Lolo Soetoro, a radical Muslim from Indonesia. When Obama was 6 years old, the family relocated to Indonesia.

Obama attended a Muslim school in Jakarta. He also spent two years in a Catholic school.

Obama takes great care to conceal the fact that he is a Muslim. He is quick to point out that, he was once a Muslim, but that he also attended Catholic school.

Obama's political handlers are attempting to make it appear that Obama's introduction to Islam came via his father, and that this influence was temporary at best. In reality, the senior Obama returned to Kenya soon after the divorce, and never again had any direct influence over his son's education. Lolo Soetoro, the second husband of Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, introduced his stepson to Islam. Osama [sic--yes, they slipped that in there too] was enrolled in a Wahabi school in Jakarta. Wahabism is the radical teaching that is followed by the Muslim terrorists who are now waging Jihad against the western world.

Since it is politically expedient to be a Christian when seeking major public office in the United States, Barack Hussein Obama has joined the United Church of Christ in an attempt to downplay his Muslim background.

Let us all remain alert concerning Obama's expected presidential candidacy.

Now I see via Atrios, that Fox News has elevated this smear to national television. It seems as a child in Indonesia Obama attended a Muslim school for two years (otherwise known as a madrassa), so obviously he's a latter-day Manchurian candidate brainwashed and programmed at the age of 7 to grow up to be a gifted orator, run for President and immediately replace the Constitution with Sharia. Seriously. (Incidentally, not that this really deserves a response, but it wasn't a Wahhabi school.)

On a related note, it's really bothered me that the word "madrassa" has become synonymous with "terrorist training school." A madrassa is just a Muslim religious school, like a yeshiva or a Catholic school. Jeffrey Goldberg had a typically hyperventilating piece about Wahhabi madrassas in Pakistan a few years back, which I think was what prompted the madrassa freak-out, but as Peter Bergen and Swati Pandey pointed out in the Times two years ago, there's absolutely no correlation between madrassa education and terrorism.

"Cheney Has Stepped Way Over the Line"

Even historians who are not particularly sympathetic to Jimmy Carter's presidency share the widely accepted view that Carter's vice president, Walter Mondale, was one of the most engaged and effective occupants the nation's No. 2 job.

So it means something when Mondale says there are limits to what a Vice President can and should do. And it should mean a lot that Mondale is arguing forcefully that Dick Cheney has exceeded those limits with results that are as practically dangerous as they are politically troubling.

"I think that Cheney has stepped way over the line," Mondale, who during his tenure as Carter's Vice President served as a senior adviser to the President and a prominent spokesman for Administration policies, explained Friady in an aggressive critique of the current Vice President during the opening session of a three-day University of Georgia conference on Carter's presidency.

"I think Cheney's been at the center of cooking up farcical estimates of national risks, weapons of mass destruction and the 9/11 connection to Iraq," Mondale continued in his Friday morning address, which focused on one of the most serious complaints aboit Cheney's tenure in the Bush White House: the penchant of the Vice President and his aides to pressure federal agencies, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency, to produce reports that reflect Cheney's biases rather than reality.

Prior to the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq, Cheney repeatedly visited the CIA headquarters and demanded that briefers confirm his personal theories about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and about supposed links between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.

When veteran CIA briefers informed the Vice President that the facts could not be forced to conform with his political views, Cheney dismissed them and demanded that other analysts brief him.

Eventually, members of the House Intelligence Committee wrote a letter to the Vice President urging him to stop pressuring CIA specialists to warp their reports to match his political whims. By then, however, Cheney was relying on the more politically analysts in an "intelligence" operation that had been set up within Donald Rumsfeld's Department of Defense.

Cheney got the reports he wanted. And President Bush, who meets daily with his Vice President and has made it clear that he defers to Cheney on a host of foreign and domestic policy matters, incorporated Cheney-certified theories and schemes into his public statements early in 2003.

Mondale says that Cheney's determination to fix intelligence in order to make a case for invading Iraq ill served both Bush and the best interests of the nation.

"If I had done as Vice President what this Vice President has done, Carter would have thrown me out of there," Mondale told the University of Georgia forum. "I don't think he could have tolerated a Vice President over there pressuring and pushing other agencies, ordering up different reports than they wanted to send us. I don't think he would have stood for it."

The current President has not been as deliberate or as muscular as Carter and other occupants of the Oval Office were in defining the role of the Vice President. Rather, Bush has accepted Cheney's ill-thought interventions, just as the chief executive has stood by the man many refer to as his "co-president."

But that does not mean that Congress and the American people have to stand by Cheney.

The record of Cheney's distortions and deceits, as well as his efforts to pressure government agencies to confirm his fantasies, is well established.

If Congress wants to force this Administration to accept reality--in the Middle East and elsewhere--the place to begin is by holding Cheney to account.

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John Nichols, the author of The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney [The New Press] is also the author of a new book on holding presidents and vice presidents to account, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. It has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter 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

Cheney Nixed Help from Iran

Yesterday I wrote about how a bipartisan group of House members recently introduced legislation requiring the Bush Administration to get Congressional approval for any potential military action against Iran. Today, at a speech before the National Press Club, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid endorsed such a constitutional check on President Bush. "I'd like to be clear," Reid said in a prebuttal to Bush's State of the Union Address, "the President does not have the authority to launch military action in Iran without first seeking congressional authorization."

During an interview last week with ABC News, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley hedged repeatedly when asked whether the Administration had the authority to attack Iran. As did Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Defense Secretary Bob Gates previously favored engaging Iran; now he opposes that. Laura Rozen recently reported in National Journal: "US officials, who asked not to be identified, say that the Iran policy has expanded from focusing chiefly on Iran's nuclear ambitions to challenging Tehran's suspected misbehavior across the Middle East." Unfortunately for the Administration, "there are no smoking guns about Iran in Iraq," one informed US source tells Rozen. "That's the problem. Sort of like the WMD." Once again, the case for war may hinge on bad intel.

The tragedy is that this brewing confrontation could have been avoided. According to Colin Powell's top deputy, Lawrence Wilkerson, the Iranians offered in 2003 to help the US stabilize Iraq and cut off funding to Hezbollah and Hamas. But none other than Vice President Dick Cheney, the man responsible for so many of America's current problems in the Middle East, nixed the idea.

"We thought it was a very propitious moment," Wilkerson told the BBC on Wednesday. "But as soon as it got to the White House, and as soon as it got to the vice president's office, the old mantra of 'We don't talk to evil'...reasserted itself."

Freshmen Favor Fair Trade

In case anyone missed the fact that the new Democrats who were elected to the House in November are economic populists who the free trade policies advanced by the Bush administration and the White House's allies in the Democratic Leadership Council, 39 Democratic members of the freshman class have signed a letter reminding party leaders in the chamber that, "Vital to our electoral successes was our ability to take a vocal stand against the Administration's misguided trade agenda, and offer our voters real, meaningful alternatives to the job-killing agreements, such as CAFTA, that the majority of our opponents supported."

The letter, which was sent this week to House Ways & Means Committee chair Charles Rangel, D-New York, who will be a key player in defining the new majority's approach to trade policy, explains that, "It is very important that we not only reverse the troubling results of the administration's trade agreements and trade policies, but also that we are able to deliver on the promise we made to our constituents to move our nation in a new and improved direction on trade."

In the old Republican-dominated House, the Bush administration and its allies were able to secure approval of the Central American Free Trade Agreement by a mere two votes -- and that "victory" was secured only after applying extreme pressure to a handful of Republican holdouts against the plan. [If just one more member had voted no, the administration's top trade initiative would have failed on a 216-216 tie when it was considered in July of 2OO5.]

The firm commitment of the Democratic freshmen to fight for fair-trade policies that favor workers, the environment and communities, as opposed to the race-to-the-bottom free-trade policies of the Bush administration and its Democratic allies, should signal a radical shift in direction. There is no longer anything akin to a pro-free trade majority in the House.

The new signal from the House is being echoed in the Senate, where veteran critics of the Clinton and Bush administration's free-trade policies, such as Ohio's Democrat Sherrod Brown and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, have joined a chamber that approved CAFTA by a relatively narrow 54-45. Brown, Sanders and other new senators such as Virginia Democrat Jim Webb have arrived as replacements for Republicans who voted with the administration on trade issues. Webb, who complains about "our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century," says that changing trade policy to protect workers and communities is essential work for the new Congress.

"Every single speech that I made for the entire campaign, I laid out the fact that we must get back to economic fairness -- that we measure the health of a society not by what is happening at the apex, but by what is happening at the base," explains the new senator from Virginia, who adds that, "We measure the health of a society not simply by what the stock market is doing, but [by] whether the people who are doing the work of society are truly receiving a fair share."

Along with a greater willingness to embrace the language of economic populism, the freshmen Democrats in the House and Senate arrive with sharper critiques of trade policy. Their recent experience with the local union and environmental activists who worked on their campaigns, as well as with national the Citizen Trade Campaign PAC, which worked to educate candidates and voters about the need to shift trade policies, has made them aware of dynamics that some older members have yet to fully recognize.

While some veteran representatives still see trade-policy fights as focused on almost entirely on manufacturing concerns, new members such as Wisconsin Democrat Steve Kagen, a physician, recognize that one of the new battlegrounds involves attempts by corporations to import and export professional services. "There is often an irrational belief in our nation that the free market can solve any problem. Unfortunately, there are some services which cannot be appropriately priced or are too essential to be given to the lowest bidder," says Kagen. "There are other harms which can sometimes occur alongside privatization, such as a withdrawal of worker protections or degradation of the environment. It is with concerns like these in mind that I would oppose trade agreements which include ‘service' sector provisions."

Kagen and his fellow freshmen want to bring their economic populism and their understanding of the new dynamics of trade-policy debates to the table. In their latter, they let Rangel know that: "As freshmen, we hope to be able to work with you and other members of the Ways and Means Committee in crafting a new model for U.S. trade agreements that will not only reduce barriers to U.S. exports, but promote fairness and restore opportunity and sustainability for American workers, farmers and small businesses."

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines 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.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

On Carbon Emissions, Political Climate Still Lukewarm

Usually, I roll my eyes when Democratic politicians like Barack and Hillary ooze on about "bipartisanship." That word suggests wimpy centrism, and politics drained of essence. Anyone who takes issues seriously should be willing to believe in something, and should welcome a little partisan conflict. All that said, it is good to see politicians as different as Trent Lott (the Republican from Mississippi who infamously praised segregation four years ago, when he didn't think anyone was listening) and Frank Lautenberg (a New Jersey Democrat), working together to save our nation's flailing train system. This week, the odd couple proposed authorizing $3.2 billion a year to Amtrak, for six years, in exchange for greater efficiency and greater investment by states. Given the fervor of justified concern about global warming, this effort couldn't be more timely. Trains are far better for the environment than cars or planes, yet our train system works so poorly that too few people are able to use it. Amtrak is slow, too expensive and often doesn't go where you need to go. A better train system could help us reduce carbon emissions and also lead a better quality of life, allowing us to spend more of our time taking in the scenery at leisure or reading, rather than sitting in traffic cursing our fellow citizens.

But let's not get too excited about bipartisanship. Speaking of climate change, there are a number of legislative strategies emerging, thanks to political shifts in Washington and increased public worry about the creepy warm winter. Andrew Revkin of the New York Times points out today that of the three Senate sponsors of the most prominent (and probably most politically viable) global-warming bill, two are presidential hopefuls: Barack Obama and John McCain (the other is Joe Lieberman). But, as the Times reports, that bill includes easily abused loopholes that could ease carbon emissions limits "if their impact on the economy were deemed too severe." Deemed by whom, I wonder? The auto industry? The Cato Institute? Another bill, supported by Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer, is far more stringent. But it's important to note that, according to an analysis by the World Resources Institute published as a sidebar to Revkin's article, even with the Sanders-Boxer bill, emissions won't begin to decline until 2010, and temperatures wouldn't stabilize until around 2150! So Sanders-Boxer should obviously be the starting point for further action, not a utopian left-wing impossibility. Under the more moderate Obama-McCain-Joe bill, progress would be much slower. I don't know about you, but I don't want to spend my golden years underwater just because a few ambitious politicians wanted to grandstand without seeming to be anti-business. Sorry to be a downer -- I know people like to get excited about somebody -- but that includes political rock star Barack Obama.

Libby Trial, Day Three: A Tough Search for Jurors

For coverage of the first day of the Libby trial and a deconstruction of Scooter Libby's I-forgot defense, click here. For Day Two, see here.

On the third day of the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the job of finding Washington jurors who do not hold negative views of the George W. Bush administration, its war in Iraq, and Vice President Dick Cheney became harder. Out of the first ten potential jurors screened by the judge and the lawyers, nine were dismissed--most because they said they believe Bush and Cheney are not to be believed. The day began with Juror No. 0420, a woman who is an information technology consultant. She called the war "a tremendous mistake" and "quite a horrendous thing." She noted she would have a difficult time fairly evaluating testimony from Cheney, explaining there was the "potential" that her bias would "leak" into her subconscious. She was gone.

Then came No. 0388, a manager of audits for the Department of Homeland Security. She spends her days sniffing out procurement fraud. When asked about Cheney's ability to tell the truth, she explained she tended to be "skeptical of politicians' credibility"--and that skepticism would extend to Cheney and anyone who worked for him, especially if the matter at hand concerns the administration's response to a critic. "My profession is to be skeptical," she said, explaining that a politician often tries "to shape public opinion" and is not driven by a desire to provide "the most comprehensive presentation." But she insisted that she could evaluate Cheney's and Libby's testimony without bias and that she realized the burden of proof rested with the government. She was dismissed.

No. 0244 told the court he has "strong negative feelings about this current administration and its conduct of the war" and has a friend who is close to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. He lasted less than a minute. No. 0056 said she is a "very partisan Democrat" who had made up her mind about the case. "I would," she said, "start from the presumption that something negative went on...and Mr. Libby revealed information he should not have....I could not presume he was innocent." Excused. No. 1531, a young woman who is an arts reporter for The Washington Post, said it would be tough for her to function as a juror rather than a journalist. She would be sorely tempted, she explained, to share what she learned at the trial with her colleagues at the Post and her live-in boyfriend, who works there. "I'm a gossip," she professed. After federal district court Judge Reggie Walton reminded her she would have to resist such urges, she noted she had a well-formed view regarding Cheney: "I like to believe that as a journalist I can put my feelings aside....[But] my feelings about Vice President Cheney are so strong it would make it very difficult for me....I feel Vice President Cheney puts his business priorities over the good of the country. I don't trust him. And anyone associated with him would have to jump over a hurdle for me to think he was ever telling the truth." Walton didn't wait: "You're excused." (In the media room, a Washington Post reporter cringed.)

A clerical worker at the CIA disclosed that after she had notified the agency's legal office she had been called as a potential juror, a CIA lawyer had talked to her about this case. The attorney told her that Valerie Wilson had been a covert officer at the CIA and her cover had been blown by Libby. She was bounced. No. 1140, a young woman, said, "I believe the vice president would have had the defendant leak." Did she, Walton ask, harbor any preconceived notions about Libby? She replied with one word: "Guilty." She, too, was free to leave. No. 1232, an older African-American man, lasted seconds: "I don't like the Bush administration," he declared, noting he did not believe he could be an impartial juror. Dismissed.

Only six of sixteen potential jurors made it through the screening process today. Walton needs a pool of 36 vetted potential jurors. After such a group is assembled, the prosecution and defense attorneys will then use preemptory challenges to strike would-be jurors. Jury selection will continue into next week, pushing back the opening arguments previously scheduled for January 22.

As the day wore on, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald tussled with the defense attorneys over how far Libby's lawyers could go in grilling jurors about their general views of the Bush administration. "We ought not to tell some jurors [the case is] about politics," he said at one point. And in the middle of the day, Fitzgerald objected when Ted Wells, a Libby lawyer, asked a possible juror--an employee of the National Academy of Sciences--if this juror could put aside any questions he might have about Cheney's credibility with respect to the war. Fitzgerald wanted Wells to limit the credibility issue to potential Cheney testimony on the administration's reaction to Joe Wilson's criticism of its handling of the prewar intelligence. Fitzgerald was trying to prevent yet another juror from being disqualified because he or she questioned Bush and Cheney's justification of the war. Wells acceded to Fitzgerald's request. The juror said he could impartially assess Cheney's testimony related to the leak case, though he called Cheney's selling of the war "a big stretch." This fellow made it to the next round. But it would be surprising if Libby's lawyers did not use a preemptory challenge to keep him off the jury.

The fencing that has gone on between Fitzgerald and Libby's lawyers during jury selection telegraphs what's to come. Fitzgerald will present a narrow case: this is not about the war, not about the Bush administration's misrepresentations; it's about whether one official, Scooter Libby, purposefully lied to FBI agents and a grand jury investigating the Plame leak. Fitzgerald's goal is to keep it simple. Libby said he did not share official information about Valerie Wilson with reporters and only learned about her CIA status from gossipy journalists. Fitzgerald will present evidence and testimony indicating Libby collected classified information on her and then passed it to at least two reporters. Case closed, if Fitzgerald's lucky.

The Libby side wants to create multiple narratives: he was too busy to remember clearly what he said to whom; this prosecution is a result of infighting between various government agencies; he's not the primary leaker in the CIA case; and so on. Create confusion so there is reasonable doubt that Libby intentionally made false statements. But before any of that can happen, a few more jurors have to be found.

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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.

The Iraq Veterans Memorial

Americans voted their disapproval of the President's Iraq strategy in November, yet as we approach the fourth anniversary of Bush's invasion, he has chosen to escalate the conflict by recklessly using more American lives to try to salvage a delusional national policy.

In response, peace groups and politicians from both parties have been crafting creative ideas to extricate the US from this catastrophic conflict and activists are ramping up their efforts to finally force an end to the war.

Nation friend and filmmaker Robert Greenwald has just announced the formation of the Iraq Veterans Memorial. This living online tribute to US soldiers killed in Iraq will bear witness with 60-second video testimonies of family, friends, co-workers, and military colleagues of those killed. The memorial will be unveiled on March 19th--the war's fourth anniversary--across the internet.

Here's how you can help the project:

1. 60 second videos. If you knew a US soldier killed in Iraq, please send us your video testimonial or forward this email to someone who did, and encourage them to participate. Click here for details on how to send material.

2. Join this blog in committing to host the memorial on your own blog, website, or MySpace or Facebook page on March 19th. This will be the big unveiling, and the more widely the memorial is re-posted online, the greater its impact will be. Click here to sign up.

Greenwald will also have people in Washington, DC at the peace march on January 27 filming testimonials during what promises to be the largest outpouring of antiwar sentiment since the war began. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Jr., Members of Congress, Military Families, and Soldiers to Speak will be speaking as marchers call on Congress to listen to the voters, not Bush, by using its power to end Bush's war and bring the troops home. So go to DC on Jan 27 if you can, and watch this space for more ideas on how to help get us out of Iraq.