The cost of elections doubled in the past four years. The average price tag of a top tier Senate race came out to $34 million in '06. The next two years promise to shatter all campaign finance records, as Hillary and her competitors embark on a $500 million money chase.
At least two prominent Senators have had enough. Today Senators Dick Durbin and Arlen Specter introduced the "Fair Elections Now Act" to create--for the first time--a voluntary publicly financed system to cover Congressional campaigns.
Durbin is the number two Democrat in the Senate. Specter is the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. Thus their views carry considerable weight. Both voted for lobbying reform legislation earlier this year, but believe it didn't go nearly far enough.
"We can pass all the lobbying and ethics reforms in the world and it's won't solve the real problem," Durbin says. "Special interest money will always find new loopholes to work its way into campaigns until we change the system fundamentally." Says Specter: "Public financing will go a long way toward restoring public confidence in our electoral system."
Their legislation is based on clean election laws already in place in Arizona and Maine, which are fueled by hundreds of $5 contributions, rather than $2,100 checks written by lobbyists, big business and rich donors. The Maryland House followed suit last year. In recent days, New Jersey passed a fair elections pilot program for a select number of state legislature and Senate districts. Reps. John Tierney and Todd Platts will introduce companion legislation to the "Fair Elections Now Act" in the House of Representatives shortly.
It took seven years to pass the McCain-Feingold soft-money ban of 2002. So don't expect Durbin-Specter to sail through overnight. But at least the conversation is shifting, from how corrupt Washington is to how to clean it up.
Just when it looked as if DC residents would finally gain voting representation in Congress with expected approval of the DC Voting Rights Act in the House this week, the White House – which recently promised to "look carefully" at any Congressional proposal on this issue – announced its opposition to the bill.
"The Constitution specifies that only ‘the people of the several states' elect representatives to the House," White House spokesman Alex Conant told The Washington Post. "And DC is not a state."
Wow. That's what the White House came up with after all of that careful looking? It must have had its top cherry-picking intelligence group on that mission.
Never mind the fact that such liberal ideologues as Judge Kenneth Starr and former Assistant Attorney General under John Ashcroft, Professor Viet Dinh, flat-out disagree with the White House interpretation. Starr wrote, "the Constitution's use of the term ‘State' in Article III cannot mean ‘and not of the District of Columbia.' Identical logic supports legislation to enfranchise the District's voters: the use of the word ‘State' in Article I cannot bar Congress from exercising its plenary authority to extend the franchise to the District's residents." And Dinh testified, "We conclude that Congress has ample constitutional authority to enact the District of Columbia Fairness in Representation Act. In few, if any, other areas does the Constitution grant any broader authority to Congress to legislate." Starr described Congressional authority to provide for the welfare of DC citizens as "majestic in its scope," including the right to end to the practice of taxation without representation.
In response to the White House's eleventh-hour opposition, DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka told The Post , "Our supporters are disappointed in this White House where you have a president who talks so much about voting rights abroad but can't do it two blocks from the White House. The White House opposition is just going to fire up our folks." Zherka noted the irony of a Bush administration that seems to regard privacy and habeas corpus as matters of convenience but "... when it comes to trying to give voting rights, there's a concern about the Constitution."
Robert Richie, Executive Director of FairVote, suggests that opponents of this legislation let people know what their alternative is. "Either say what else you want to do, or let people know you don't care about a half million Americans being denied representation in Congress."
This is by no means a partisan issue. In addition to the bill's cosponsor, Rep. Tom Davis, Zherka notes that other Republicans – like Representatives Dan Burton and Mike Pence, and former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp – "are embracing DC voting rights as a moral issue and have the courage to fight for it."
No matter how this bill fares, 600,000 permanent residents of our nation's capital will continue to fight for full representation in Congress. On April 16, DC Emancipation Day, a Voting Rights March will gather at Freedom Plaza and head to the Capitol. Mark your calendars and help right an historic wrong.
It is too bad that former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson made such a big deal last week about how he was considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination.
If Thompson, a lawyer who served as served as co-chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee and now plays a big-city prosecutor on the NBC television series Law & Order, was not so busy positioning himself for the presidency, he could have added another line to his resume: Attorney General of the United States.
In Washington, where the discussion about Alberto Gonzales' removal has moved from "if" to "when" speculation, the talk is already turning to the question of who will take over for the scandal-plagued Attorney General. Gonzales is in such deep trouble for lying to the Senate that even Republican loyalists are starting to give up on the prospect that he can survive the scrutiny that is coming his way.
According to US News & World Report, the ruminations on replacing Gonzales have centered on the appeal of: "a seasoned insider, a consummate veteran or an elder statesman who has bipartisan respect and acceptance and a squeaky-clean record."
As savvy political observer Ron Gunzberger notes, "[It] sounds like former US Senator Fred Thompson could possibly fit that description, but he seems to have other plans these days."
The serious talk about who will take over for Gonzales focuses on former Solicitor General and veteran Washington fixer Ted Olson; Larry Thompson, a former US attorney for the northern District of Georgia and led the Southeastern Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force before serving as Deputy Attorney General under John Ashcroft during President Bush's first term; and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who as a U.S. Attorney in New Jersey and a judge on the United States Court of Appeals before being named an assistant U.S. Attorney General under Ashcroft.
That's a dubious trio.
Olson played a critical role in "electing" Bush in the fall of 2000, when he argued the then-Republican nominee's brief in the Florida recount case of Bush v. Gore before a Republican-heavy US Supreme Court. As an assistant Attorney General in the 1980s, Olson defended then-President Ronald Reagan's role in the Iran-Contra affair.
Larry Thompson signed the October, 2002, order that rejected concerns about torture and ordered the removal of Canadian Maher Arar from the U.S. custody in a move that would ultimately land Arar in Syria. After the O.K. from Thompson, Arar was secretly flown to Jordan and then driven into Syria, where he was indeed tortured. After an international outcry, Arar's name was finally cleared in 2006 by a Canadian Commission of Inquiry.
Chertoff is, of course, the co-author of the USA PATRIOT Act. And, as the chief of the Justice Department's criminal division under Ashcroft, he advised the Central Intelligence Agency on how to avoid liability for torture, er, "coercive interrogation."
Come to think of it, Fred Thompson may be the only prospective replacement for Gonzales who – aside from an off night on TV -- has not been directly involved in shredding the Constitution.
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.'"
Four years ago today, the United States began its shock-and-awe invasion of Iraq. It's the anniversary few want to remember; and yet, for all the disillusionment in this country, getting out of Iraq doesn't exactly seem to be on the agenda either. Not really. Here's a little tip, when you want to assess the "withdrawal" proposals now being offered by members of Congress. If what's being called for is a withdrawal of American "combat troops" or brigades, or forces, then watch out. "Combat troops" turns out to be a technical term, covering less than half of the American military personnel actually in Iraq.
Here, on the other hand, is a simple argument for withdrawal from Iraq -- and not just of those "combat troops" either. The military newspaper Stars and Stripes reports that, in January 2007, attacks on American troops surged to 180 a day, the highest rate since Baghdad fell in 2003, and double the previous year's numbers. Let's take that as our baseline figure.
Now, get out your calculator: There are 288 days left in 2007. Multiply those by 180 attacks a day -- remembering that the insurgents in Iraq are growing increasingly skilled and using ever more sophisticated weaponry -- and you get 51,840 more attacks on American troops this year. Add in another 65,700 for next year--remembering that if, for instance, Shiite militias get more involved in fighting American troops at some point, the figures could go far higher--and you know at least one grim thing likely to be in store for Americans if a withdrawal doesn't happen. And a decision to withdraw only American "combat troops," under such circumstances, is likely to be a less than halfway step to greater, not lesser, catastrophe.
Those of us who remember the Vietnam era also recall living through years of similar non-withdrawal withdrawal proposals. It won't turn out better this time around.
The US death toll in Iraq now stands at more than 3,200.
The first 3,000 of those deaths can reasonably be said to be the responsibility of President Bush. He, Vice President Cheney and their aides manipulated intelligence in order to frame a case for invading and occupying Iraq. As their deceits began to be exposed, they sought to punish those--such as former Ambassador Joe Wilson--who tried to tell the truth to Congress and the American people.
When that truth became clear, the people elected a new Congress. Last November, Democrats were given control of the US House and Senate. Their mandate was as simple as it was clear: Bring the troops home in a smart, responsible and rapid fashion. And they had the ability to do so, as the Constitution clearly gives Congress the authority to use the power of the purse and other means to conclude an unwise and unnecessary war.
Unfortunately, the Democrats have not moved with the swiftness or the effectiveness that polls suggest the American people want. Instead, they have squandered time and energy on meaningless "non-binding resolutions."
As a result, the more than 200 US troops who have died since control of Congress shifted can reasonably be said to be the responsibility of both the Bush Administration and the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate.
As we mark the fourth anniversary of the most insane military misadventure in American history--yes, even worse than James K. Polk's invasion of Mexico for the purpose of spreading slavery--there is now more than enough blame to go around for the death and destruction that has not merely killed thousands of Americans but that has left hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis dead, emptied the US and Iraqi treasuries into the pockets of unscrupulous contractors and corrupt politicians, and done severe harm to the reputation of the United States as an honest player on the world stage.
It happens that the anniversary coincides with a critical test for members of Congress. As soon as this week, a vote could be held in the House on the question of whether to fund the war for another year--at a cost not merely of roughly $100 billion in additional tax dollars but also of thousands of additional American lives and tens of thousands of additional Iraqi lives.
It is not simplistic to suggest that a vote to continue funding the war as it is currently being conducted is a vote for more death, more destruction and more threats to the stability of the Middle East and the world. The fact that a funding plan may be sponsored by Democrats, and that those Democrats may claim it contains "benchmarks" and "time lines," does not change the reality that any measure that authorizes the president to carry on in pretty much the manner he chooses guarantees that this will not be the last anniversary of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Indeed, when we consider that money moves relatively slowly through the funding pipeline, it becomes evident that this is not just a vote on funding the war for another year--it is a vote on funding the war through the end of George Bush's presidency.
So what should we make of a Democratic plan that, while it does not give the president everything he wants, does give him the money he needs to carry on for another year, and perhaps longer?
Let's begin by accepting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, means well. She voted in 2OO2 against giving Bush permission to start the war, and she knows that she holds the speakership in large part because, in 2OO6, Americans trusted Democrats to end the war.
Let's also accept that Pelosi believes she is advancing the most potent "anti-war" measure that is politically or practically possible. After all, Washington is a town where delusions pass for reality all the time.
If we give Pelosi the full benefit of the doubt, then the task at hand is easily defined: Progressives must force the speaker to recognize that the spending bill as it is currently configured is unacceptable.
Is that an unreasonable message? Is it too much to ask that this bill be made better?
Let's ask some basic questions:
Can the bill be improved? Yes. Pelosi and her allies have already altered the legislation dramatically since it was first proposed. Most of the alterations have been for the worse, but they confirm that the measure is open to alteration.
Do anti-war Democrats have the power to force improvements? Yes. The political reality of the moment is that Pelosi needs every Democratic vote she can get in order to pass a bill on the war. If progressives send a clear signal from the grassroots that this measure needs to be toughened up--with language that prevents Bush from expanding the war and sets a clear timeline for withdrawal--and if anti-war Democrats in the House get the message and demand those changes, Pelosi and others in the House Democratic leadership will have no choice but to consider making changes.
Can a spending bill of this kind be made perfect? Probably not. Perfection is not what progressives ought to be holding out for. Everyone understands that the war will not end immediately. Any exit strategy will be implemented over time. Any withdrawal will be complicated by factors on the ground in Baghdad and by politics in Washington. It is reasonable to suggest that an improved spending bill might still have imperfections. It is reasonable, as well, to recognize that the bill the House passes will not be implemented. Rather, it is a negotiating position from which the Congress can begin a discussion with the White House.
President Bush recognizes this. He and his allies are making a lot of noise about how bad they think the Pelosi bill is because they are already in negotiation mode. They want to force Congress to remove any strings.
Unfortunately, the Pelosi bill contains so few strings that, in the process of negotiation that is to come, the administration will get what it wants.
The only way for Congress to force the president's hand is by making far more specific demands.
That's the bottom line: The problem with the Pelosi bill is not that it is a flawed attempt to end the war. The problem is that the measure's flaws make it unlikely that the war will end before Bush's presidency does.
That's why it matters to demand a better bill--a bill that proposes to end the war rapidly and reasonably.
Tonight, across America, candlelight vigils will be held to mark the anniversary of the start of the war and to call for its swift conclusion. The message of these vigils will be unambiguous to all who participate, and to those who see images of them in newspapers and on television: Bring the Troops Home!
But the message will have to be amplified for Congress. Groups such as Progressive Democrats of America and Peace Action have been organizing campaigns to call Congress and press for a plan that guarantees there will not have to be vigils marking the fifth anniversary of the US presence in Iraq. Those calls ought to go to all members of Congress, including those with good track records of opposing the war.
In Washington, the pressure to fund the war is intense.
It is time for Americans to counter that pressure with a clear message that this is not a time to give George Bush all the money he wants to wage the war as he chooses.
Only by doing so can the people force the opposition party in Congress to advance legislation that sets a clear time line for bringing the troops home, and that establishes spending priorities that guarantee the implementation of that time line.
The message should be blunt: Anti-war Democrats ought not merely hand their votes over to the party leadership.
In the 196Os, when Democrats in the White House and the leadership of the U.S. Senate urged Senator Gaylord Nelson to vote to fund the expansion of the war in Vietnam, the Wisconsin Democrat refused.
"I need my conscience more than the President needs my vote," said Nelson.
If anti-war Democrats adopt the Gaylord Nelson standard and make it clear to Nancy Pelosi that she will not have their votes until she gives them a plan to bring the troops home, they will have a chance to keep their consciences and perhaps get a better bill.
On the other hand, if anti-war Democrats give away their votes without making such a demand, they will find that they have surrendered not only their consciences but any realistic chance to speed the end of the war.
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.'"
I've had many a conservative say many an unflattering--and untrue--thing about me over the years (while some have been kind and accurate). But I don't believe any detractor has testified falsely about me before the U.S. Congress--not until Republican lawyer/commentator Victoria Toensing appeared before the House oversight and government reform committee on Friday.
Toensing was on a panel that was part of the hearing starring retired CIA officer Valerie (Plame) Wilson, who for the first time publicly discussed at length the leak episode and her former status at the agency as a covert officer. After Wilson finished and after James Knodell, director of security at the White House, testified (to the surprise and outrage of Democratic members of the committee) that the White House never investigated the possible involvement of White House officials (such as Karl Rove) in the Plame leak, Toensing took a seat at the witness table.
Toensing, who was a lawyer for the Republican-run Senate intelligence committee in the 1980s and a Justice Department official during the Reagan administration, has been a point-person for the Libby Lobby, denouncing special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the Plame leak and deriding his indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former top aide, for perjury and obstruction of justice. At the hearing, Toensing, looking to absolve White House officials of wrongdoing, blasted the CIA for not adequately protecting Valerie Wilson, and she argued that Valerie Wilson was not a "covert agent" under the terms of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which makes it a crime for a government official to disclose information about an undercover CIA officer in certain circumstances. Toensing helped draft the law in the early 1980s. (More on all that in a moment.)
As the hearing was winding down--when the audience had thinned out and the camera crews and reporters were mostly gone--Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen grilled Toensing about the White House's internal lack of curiosity about the leak. While fending off the questions, Toensing dragged me into the picture. Here's the exchange:
VAN HOLLEN: [White House press secretary] Scott McClellan in another statement said, "We have no information in the White House about any of these disclosures." Before you made that kind of statement, wouldn't you undertake some kind of investigation?
TOENSING: Well, I'm not here to answer for Scott McClellan. I don't know what was in his mind.
VAN HOLLEN: ...A long period of time went by when no administration administrative action was taken. And, as I understand your response to the question by [Democratic Representative Diane] Watson, you would agree that that kind of sort of investigation goes on routinely when there's been a disclosure of classified information, does it not?
TOENSING: It can and it cannot. I mean, I certainly wouldn't have done it in the brouhaha that had occurred well within a week of Bob Novak's publication [of the column that outed Valerie Wilson]. By the way, Bob Novak was not the first person to say she was covert. That was David Corn, who printed that she was covert. All Bob Novak did was call her an operative.
Stop the presses. I said Valerie Wilson was a "covert" officer? This is a canard that some Republican spinners have been peddling for years, in an attempt to get Novak off the hook while muddying the waters. I long ago gave up on persuading conservative ops like Toensing that this is nonsense they should drop, and I no longer routinely reply every time the silly charge is repeated. But when someone testifies falsely about you to Congress, you practically have a civic duty to call him or her on it.
Once again (Victoria), here's what happened. On July 14, 2003--in the midst of the firestorm fueled by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's charge that the White House had twisted the prewar intelligence--Novak published a column about the Wilson affair. Halfway through the piece, Novak, citing "two senior administration officials," reported,
Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction.
This was the first media reference to Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer. It appeared in newspapers across the country. Intelligence agencies around the world must have noticed. Once this story was out, Valerie Wilson's cover was destroyed; her career was ruined; her operations and contacts were imperiled to whatever degree they were imperiled.
Two days later--after the damage was done--I wrote the first article noting that the leak was "a potential violation of the law" and explained that Novak's sources could face prosecution under the little-known Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Note the use of the word "potential." For this article, I interviewed Joseph Wilson and, as the piece reported, he would "neither confirm nor deny that his wife...works for the CIA."
My piece raised the possibility that Valerie Wilson was a "nonofficial cover" officer (a.k.a. a NOC). This was only deduction on my part. Valerie Wilson was known to friends as an energy analyst for a private firm. If she indeed was a CIA officer, she would have to be a NOC, for CIA officers who operate under regular cover tell people they work for other government agencies (such as the State Department or the Pentagon). CIA officers under regular cover do not pretend to be businesspeople. My article did not state that she was a CIA official (NOC or non-NOC). In the column, I even raised the possibility that Novak had botched the story and that "the White House has wrongly branded" Valerie Wilson "as a CIA officer."
Bottom line: I did not identify her as a "covert" officer or any other kind of CIA official. I merely speculated she was a NOC. That speculation was based on Novak's column. And given that Novak had already IDed her as a CIA "operative on weapons of mass destruction" (which happened to be a "covert" position within the agency), her cover--whether nonofficial or official--was blown to smithereens by the time I posted my article.
Toensing is engaged in a desperation-driven and misleading act of hairsplitting when she contends that Novak merely called her an "operative" and that I was the first to "print that she was covert." I never said Valerie Wilson was anything. At the time of the leak and in the following days, I did not know if she was a CIA employee of any kind. (But in our book, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, Michael Isikoff and I revealed for the first time what Valerie Wilson did at the CIA: she was operations chief for the Joint Task Force on Iraq, a unit with the Counterproliferation Division of the agency's clandestine operations directorate.)
So Toensing made a false statement to Congress. It was not her only one that day.
Toensing has repeatedly declared in recent years that Valerie Wilson was not a "covert" officer. In a Washington Post article last month, she made a definitive declaration: "Plame was not covert." Of course, Plame was a clandestine officer--as she and the CIA have confirmed. But Toensing claims that when she denies Valerie Wilson was a "covert" CIA employee she only means that Valerie Wilson was not a "covert agent" under the definitions of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But to make this case, Toensing has to be disingenuous about the law she helped to craft.
During her testimony on Friday, she pointed to the law's definition of a "covert agent" and said, "The person is supposed to reside outside of the United States." That is not what the law says--and one can presume Toensing knows the actual details of the legislation. In defining a "covert agent" (whose identity cannot be disclosed under the act), the law cites two criteria for a current officer or employee of an intelligence agency: that person's "identity as such an officer, employee, or member is classified information" and that officer has to be "serving outside the United States or has within the last five years served outside the United States." Pay attention to Toensing's sleight of hand. Under oath, she told the committee the law applied to clandestine officers residing abroad. Not so.
In her recent Washington Post piece, Toensing wrote of Valerie Wilson, "She worked at CIA headquarters and had not been stationed abroad within five years of the date of Novak's column." This means, Toensing has argued, that Valerie Wilson could not be covered by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. But Valerie Wilson testified that she had been dispatched on overseas missions under cover in the five years prior to the Novak column--an indication she had "served" abroad. (Hubris reported that as well.) Toensing is free to maintain that the law ought to cover only those officers residing overseas as part of a long-term foreign assignment. But that is not what the act says. By stating that the act defines a "covert agent" as an officer residing abroad (as opposed to an officer who had "served" overseas), Toensing misrepresented the law to members of the committee. (By the way, both Fitzgerald and the CIA have said that Valerie Wilson's employment relationship with the CIA was classified.)
As a lawyer, Toensing is probably aware that knowingly making a false statement to a congressional committee conducting an investigation or review is a federal crime. (See Title 18, Section 1001 of the U.S. Code.) The punishment is a fine and/or imprisonment of up to five years. To say that I identified Valerie Wilson as a "covert" officer is to make a false statement.
Toensing's testimony did not impress Representative Henry Waxman, the committee chairman. As he wrapped up the session, he told her, "Some of the statements you've made without any doubt and with great authority I understand may not be accurate, so we're going to check the information and we're going to hold the record open to put in other things that might contradict some of what you had to say." Perhaps Waxman will include this article in the record.
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.
Investigate, investigate, investigate. That's one of key tools given to Democrats since they won back the Congress. And thus far they are using it to impressive effect.
Because of slim majorities, internal discord and Presidential Bush's veto pen, Democrats are unlikely to pass many major pieces of legislation in the next two years. But they can sure make the Bush Administration's life unpleasant. To paraphrase Jesse Jackson, they can keep scandals alive. From Walter Reed to pre-war fabrications to global warming to less glamorous subjects, like the FCC and FDA, the new Congress is performing much-needed oversight.
Just take one recent example: Attorneygate. The firing of eight US attorneys would have flown under the radar of the last Congress. Democrats could have protested publicly---but done little else. Now it's yet another scandal that threatens to topple Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and possibly other top Administration officials. Thanks to the power of subpoena, we can expect to see more explosive testimony on Capitol Hill.
Call me crazy, but it still gets my goat that the entire Iraq debate takes place without the input of the female majority. The Sunday TV talk shows are wall-to-wall male. Tim Russert seems his most relaxed, when--as again on March 18--he's surrounded by white men. Russert's not the only one, on the day before the anniversary of the invasion, three out of five Sunday TV news shows featured no women at all. The sole female on ABC was Senator Dianne Feinstein. Fox News Sunday included one woman on their panel of five, and she was representing Barack Obama.
Simple sexism would be infuriating enough, but leaving women out of this debate is also stupid. In which areas have have the good old boys most spectacularly failed? First in the launching of Bush's criminal war (women, when polled, were disproportionately against.) After the disaster of the invasion came the debacle of the reconstruction. I don't believe women are biologically determined to have more expertise in the winning of hearts-and-minds, but barred historically from the killing and slaughtering professions, women have risen to the top in relief and development and before the invasion, just about all the most experienced people in that arena were accurately anticipating what a mess would follow Rummie's rush into Baghdad.
Just what is it about being correct (as opposed to Right) that bars one from the conversation?
Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and erstwhile United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was right about Bush's "war on terror." I believe it was she who first pointed out that you can't wage a war on a tactic, and besides, the attacks of 9/11 were criminal acts not acts of war. (And acts, of course, that Iraq had nothing to do with.) Retired Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatowski, tried to blow the whistle on Rummie/Feith's failure to prepare for post-Saddam Iraq when she was still working as a Near East expert in the Defense Department. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) is the one person who voted against Bush on the invasion of Afghanistan. She could see what was coming when the Congress still had time not to abdicate their war-powers authority. Sgt. Kelly Dougherty went to Iraq in 2003 and came back to co-found Iraq Veterans Against the War at age 27, determined to sound the alarm about the troops' lack of armor and the racist attitudes driving much of the occupation. Any one of those women would be a fantastic guest. Why not book the bunch?
From Iraq, women like Yanar Mohammed of the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq screamed to high heaven about the dangers of collaborating with warlords (described in this country as clerics who happened to have militias.) American viceroys, eager to get the oil-profits flowing, were trading human rights, especially women's rights, for a phoney promise of security, said Mohammed. But you can't have national security without women's security, said countless women's leaders -- leaders whom the media studiously ignored.
On RadioNation this week, we spoke with Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who witnessed the occupation from far-too close up when she was taken hostage, released and then shot by US forces. Sgrena has "expertise" I wouldn't wish on anyone. The least she deserves is a place in the discussion. Gold Star mom Cindy Sheehan has a PhD in grief and drive. Have the television bookers forgotten that we have a peace movement in this country--one that just elected a Democratic majority --thanks to women including Sheehan, and Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, and Leslie Cagan, co-chair of United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of some 1300 national and local groups, backed up by tireless rabble-rousers like Sunsara Taylor of the World Can't Wait who spent March 17 in freezing rain and snow outside the Pentagon?
I MISS MOLLY IVINS. But heck, I was missing Molly on tv for years before the cancer got her. I'm truly tired of making this argument, so I'll stop. But maybe you'll pick up the baton and (gently) bludgeon someone with it.
Grassroots with Grit Show Democrats How To Win.Pre-Order "Blue Grit," my new book, now at lauraflanders.com.
Today marks the fourth anniversary of America's war against Iraq. The Nation vigorously and rigorously opposed the war before it began. In "An Open Letter to Congress," published on the eve of the vote on the war resolution, we wrote, "the case against the war is simple, clear and strong."
As we mark what may well be the most colossal foreign policy disaster in US history, we mourn the death and destruction--which has not ended. We mark the lies and delusions that launched this war--since they too are continuing.
The majority of the American people have found their way to the truth and are demanding an end to this catastrophe. Yet the political system continues to crawl hesitantly toward accepting the enormity of this failure.
The political battle is joined in Congress as the House approaches a fateful vote on how to compel withdrawal through legislation on military appropriations. We applaud those who seek to defend the principles of a fully funded withdrawal. Yet we also understand that the new Democratic majority is struggling to find ways to force the President ‘s hand and an exit from his wrongful war. It will be a long and tortuous process---judging from the painful political calculations the House leadership is making to cobble together a compromise bill.
As the House grapples with legislative maneuvers it is worth remembering that from the start of this war four years ago, House Democrats stood tall and bravely alone. A substantial majority opposed the original war authorization and their initial skepticism has been fully confirmed by subsequent events.
But as we mark the anniversary of the Iraq war, it is also time to consider the longterm damage the misconceived "war on terrorism" has inflicted on our security and engagement with the world. Eventually US troops will leave Iraq because the brutal facts on the ground will compel it. But even as we struggle to get out of this failed war, our political system continues to evade the challenge of finding an exit from the "war on terror." At a time when we need a coherent alternative to the Bush doctrine and an alternative vision of what this country's role in the world should be, we see both parties calling for intensifying the "war on terror" --even for increasing the size of the military, and for expanding its ability to go places and do things. But who is asking the fundamental question: Won't a war without end do more to weaken our security and democracy than seriously address the threats and challenges ahead?
Witness the collateral damage to our democracy. This Administration has used the "war" as justification for almost anything--unlawful spying on Americans, illegal detention policies, hyper-secrecy, equating dissent with disloyalty and condoning torture.
The Administration has also justified the expansion of America's military capacity---over 700 bases in more than 60 countries, annual military budgets topping $500 billion -- as necessary to counter the threat of Islamic extremism and to fight the "war on terror." What too few politicians are willing to say is that combating terrorism-- a brutal, horrifying tactic -- is not a "war" and that military action is the wrong weapon. Illegality and immorality aside, it simply doesn't succeed. 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. Indeed, the failed Iraq war demonstrated anew the limits of military power.
Fighting terror requires genuine cooperation with other nations in policing and lawful and targeted intelligence work; smart diplomacy; withdrawal of support for oppressive regimes that generate hatred of the US; and real pressure to bring about negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of achieving peace and security for Israel and justice and a secure state for the Palestinians. (There are other effective means of combating terrorism; what is important is that they are harnessed and coordinated so as to provide a true alternative to hyper-military ventures.)
It is also worth remembering as we mark this anniversary that military invasion and occupation, and crusades masquerading as foreign policy, divert precious resources from real security. Four years ago, the doubts and warnings about military action in Iraq were brushed aside (including those clearly and consistently expressed by the Nation). Now that reality has confirmed the argument, isn't it time to act on the knowledge?
Alongside the get-out-of-Iraq debate, the political system needs a parallel debate that lays out how we will exit this "long war" --which is a formula for unlimited militarization and recurring wars. (As an industrial project for the arms industry, it could be even more open-ended than the Cold War.) We need a debate that confronts the danger of inflating a very real, but limited threat of terrorism into an open-ended global war, to be fought simultaneously on countless obscure battle fronts, large and small, visible and secret.
Major political leaders in both parties continue to buy into a view of US global supremacy--the "indispensable nation" scenario. They were silent when the Pentagon opened a new "Africa Command" to hunt down Islamists on that continent. Nor they did object when CIA gunships bombed villages earlier this year in Somalia. When Bush announced intentions to increase Army troop strength by 90,000, Democrats boasted it was their idea first.
To what end? These new troops won't be available for Iraq. Are they for the next war or occupation? The delusion of military power is deeply rooted.
We would do better --both in addressing the danger of a wider sectarian war with failing regimes in the Middle East, and in combating terrorism-- to reduce the heavy US military and geopolitical footprint in the region. That means withdrawing US forces from Iraq and organizing regional diplomacy, including with Iran and Syria, to contain the civil war from spreading to other countries in the region. It would mean addressing the legitimate grievances that arouse the passions of many in the Islamic world, especially Israel's occupation of the West Bank. And it would mean changing the conversation with the people of the Arab and Islamic worlds from the danger of extremism to the promise of more economic opportunity.
A purposeful opposition must form to rethink America's role in the world. There are large and fateful questions to confront: What kind of country does the US want to be in the 21st century? Republic or Empire? Global leader or global cop? Where, as Sherle Schwenninger asked in the Nation's pages a few years ago, "is the America that is less one of warrior and preacher/proselytizer and more one of architect and builder?" How can America act like an imperial power in a post-imperial world? Much can be accomplished by focusing on the questions that conventional opinion ignores. And starting the discussion/debate now can help establish new terms and limits for the next president elected in 2008.
Concretely, Congress should be pushed to take legislative action to renounce the Bush doctrine of "preventive war" enunciated before he invaded Iraq. As The Nation warned in our "Open Letter to the Members of Congress" on the eve of the 2002 war resolution vote, "the decision to go to war has a significance that goes far beyond the war....It declares a policy of military supremacy over the entire earth--an objective never attained by any power. ...The new policy [of preventive war] reverses a long American tradition of contempt for unprovoked attacks. It gives the United States the unrestricted right to attack nations even when it has not been attacked by them and is not about to be attacked by them...It accords the US the right to overthrow any regime--like the one in Iraq--it decided should be overthrown...It declares that the defense of the US and the world against nuclear proliferation is military force." Declaring the Bush doctrine of endless war defunct will not solve the problems posed by Iraq, but it will reduce the likelihood that we will see more Iraqs in our future.
With the 2008 elections looming, it is unlikely that the Democrats (with a few honorable exceptions) will rethink their official national security strategy in any significant way. But citizens committed to a vision of real security can launch a debate framed by our own concerns and values. If we have learned anything in the past six years, it is that even overwhelming military power is ill suited to dealing with the central challenges of the 21st century: climate crisis, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), the spread of weapons of mass destruction, stateless terrorists with global reach, genocidal conflict and starvation afflicting Africa, and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality.
A real security plan would widen the definition to include all threats to human life, whether they stem from terrorism, disease, environmental degradation, natural disasters or global poverty--a definition that makes it clear that the military is only one of many tools that can be used to address urgent threats. A last resort. This alternative security strategy would also reconfigure the US presence in the world – reducing the footprint of American military power, pulling back the forward deployments drastically and reducing the bloated Pentagon budget by as much as half.
Yes, at home, all this will take time and have to overcome the fiercest kind of political resistance. Yet this is not an impossible political goal, now that Americans have seen where the military option leads. Dealing intelligently with reality is not retreat. It is the first wise step toward restoring real national security.
In October, I wrote about workers at the Chong Won garment factory in the Phillipines, who produce clothing for a number of retailers and brands, including Wal-Mart. Back then, workers were on strike defending their legal right to organize. Yesterday I caught up with Father Jose Dizon -- "Father Joe" -- a priest at the Workers' Assistance Centre in Cavite, who has played a major role in supporting the workers' efforts.(Naomi Klein wrote about Father Joe, and this organization, in her ground-breaking 1999 book No Logo.) Soft-spoken and cheerful, despite the grim situations we're discussing, Father Joe is visiting the United States to testify before Congress about the dismal and deteriorating human rights situation in his country. I interviewed him at the United Nations, where he was attending a meeting of social justice-minded religious leaders. He said that factory management still refuses to negotiate with the workers' union.
A February investigation of Chong Won by the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) -- the monitoring group founded by the student anti-sweatshop movement -- found violations of minimum wage, forced overtime and many other laws. It also found that factory management had colluded with local authorities to retaliate violently against striking workers: indeed, the report states, "with respect to freedom of association, Chong Won's misdeeds are among the most egregious and persistent that the WRC has encountered."
As the factory's most powerful customer, Wal-Mart could easily pressure management to respect the workers' rights. In fact, the right to freedom of association is part of Wal-Mart's own code of conduct for suppliers (a fact that many of its U.S. employees would find pretty darkly hilarious). Last fall, Father Joe and the workers met with representatives of Wal-Mart, who said they would pressure the management to do the right thing; he now thinks that they were "not serious." The retailer has taken no action and workers now fear Wal-Mart might pull out altogether, instead of using its economic power to improve the situation. Says Father Joe, "We are just asking Wal-Mart to follow its own code of conduct with respect to the right of workers to collective bargaining."
Father Joe says the workers are determined to continue their strike and that they are still in "high spirits." The picket line is a lively place, he says: "It's become an area for study, for discussion, to raise up their political consciousness."
Write to Wal-Mart and tell the company to act now. Rajan Kamalanathan is theDirector of Compliance at Wal-Mart: firstname.lastname@example.org. [note correction: his name was incorrect in earlier version of this] Can't hurt to drop a line to the factory management, too:
Mr. Yong Ryul Kim,President,Chong Wong Fashion Inc.; South Ave. PEZA;Rosario, Cavite4106;Philippines.Fax: (63)(46) 437-0314;Tel: (63)(46) 437-0316/19;Yong_ryul_kim@yahoo.com
To join a North American support campaign for Chong Won, and learn about other actions you can take, go to the Maquila Solidarity Network website, which will be updated next week. United Students Against Sweatshops also has a campaign on this, as does the International Labor Rights Fund.
The Chong Won situation needs to be viewed in the context not just of Wal-Mart's global indifference to workers, but also of the murderously hostile environment in the Phillipines. Since President Arroyo took power in 2001, there have been 836 political killings, 48 of them labor activists.
Father Joe and other WAC activists have been followed by spies, and have received threatening messages. The organization's director was found murdered in September. These days, they avoid going out alone at night, or working late at the WAC office. This climate of fear, Father Joe says, is "much worse than under Marcos." Indeed, in just three years of Arroyo there have been more extra-judicial killings than in Marcos's entire two decades in power. Under the late dictator, those who faced the most repression were people in the armed, underground resistance. Today, the targets of political violence are engaged in legal organizing activities, which as Father Joe points out, are "above ground, so we are like sitting ducks." Under Marcos, Father Joe faced arrest -- and indeed, was jailed -- but "now, I could lose my life!"
In addition to Wal-Mart, it's a good idea to get in touch with governmental authorities, since they are implicated both in the Chong Won situation, and the killings in the country at large. Here are their addresses:
HE Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo;President, Republic of the Philippines;Malacanang Palace;JP Laurel Street, San Miguel, Manila;1005 Philippines.Fax: (+63 2) 736-10-10;email@example.com
Atty. Lilia B. De Lima;Director-General,Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA);San Luis St. Cor. Roxas Blvd.,Pasay City.Fax: (63) (2) 772-3375; 891-6380;firstname.lastname@example.org ; email@example.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Arturo Brion;Secretary,Department of Labor and Employment;Executive Bldg., San Jose St., Intramuros, Manila.Fax: (63) (2) 527-2121; 527-2131; 527-5523; 527-34-94;email@example.com