The Nation

Giving DC a Vote

Imagine you lived in the most powerful city in the world. Imagine elected officials from all across the country came there to debate the nation's future. Imagine you paid taxes and fought in wars. Now imagine that only you didn't have an elected representative, or a say in how the country chooses its president.

By now, you obviously know I'm talking about Washington, DC, which since its inception has been disenfranchised. That could be changing, finally, and not a minute too soon. "The House of Representatives will vote on a bill to give the people of Washington, DC full representation in the People's House by the end of the month," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced this week. "The people of the District have waited too long to have a voice in the House."

This is an important first step. But, as Sam Schramski reported last summer, the real goal for DC residents is statehood, which the House bill does not address. The motto should be: "No Taxation without full Representation."

UPDATE: Posters in the comments section are already saying that this is a ploy to get Dems an extra seat in the House. Not so. The bill would add another seat in the red state of Utah, enlarging the House to 437 members and offsetting a likely Dem in DC with a likely Republican in Utah.

Wasting Our Soldiers' Lives

We know that, since the moment President Bush stood under the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln in early May 2003 and declared "major combat operations in Iraq have ended," American deaths have risen from relatively few into the range of nearly 100 a month or more. We know that these deaths have also grown steadier on a day-to-day basis like a dripping faucet that can't be fixed. This February, for instance, there were only five days on which, according to the definitive Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, the Pentagon did not report at least one (and often multiple) American deaths.

It's finally national news that Americans wounded in Iraq come home "on the cheap" (as Tomdispatch's Judith Coburn reported back in April 2006). The crisis at the country's premier military hospital, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, is already proving to be another "Brownie-heck-of-a-job" privatization scandal (with the contract to run the place having gone to a company headed by two former Halliburton execs), and the nightly network news as well as major newspapers assure us that this is just "the tip of the iceberg."

According to a Congressional staffer quoted in human-rights lawyer Scott Horton's "No Comment" newsletter, "This is Hurricane Katrina all over again. Grossly incompetent management and sweetheart contracts given to contractors with tight GOP connections. There will be enough blame to go around, but the core of the problem is increasingly clear: it's political appointees near the center of power in the Pentagon who have spun the system for partisan and personal benefit. But they'll make a brigade of soldiers and officers walk the plank to try to throw us off the scent."

As Juan Cole pointed out recently,

"The privatization of patient care services is responsible for a lot of the problem here… The Bush-Cheney regime rewarded civilian firms with billions while they paid US GIs a pittance to risk their lives for their country. And then when they were wounded they were sent someplace with black mold on the walls. A full investigation into the full meaning of 'privatization' at the Pentagon for our troops would uncover epochal scandals."

What a needless waste!

We know that the U.S. military has been ground down; that the National Guard has been run ragged by its multiple Iraq call-ups and tour-of-duty extensions -- according to the Washington Post, "Nearly 90 percent of Army National Guard units in the United States are rated ‘not ready'"--and can no longer be counted on to "surge" effectively in crises like Hurricane Katrina here at home; that the Reserves are in equally shaky shape; that troops are being shipped into Iraq without proper training or equipment; that the Army is offering increasing numbers of "moral waivers" for criminal activities just to fill its ranks; that the soldiers joining our all-volunteer military, however they come home, are increasingly from communities more likely to be in economic trouble -- rural and immigrant -- either forgotten or overlooked by most Americans; that these traditionally patriotic areas are now strikingly less supportive of administration policy; and that the death rate in Iraq and Afghanistan is 60% higher for soldiers from rural than suburban or urban areas. If all of this doesn't add up to a programmatic policy of waste and evasion of responsibility, what does?

We know that, on February 11th, the day Sen. Barack Obama, in his first speech as an avowed presidential candidate, said, "We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged, and to which we now have spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted," Sgt. Robert B. Thrasher, 23, of Folsom, California died in Baghdad of "small-arms fire," Sgt. Russell A. Kurtz, 22, of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania in Fallujah from an IED, and Spc. Dennis L. Sellen Jr., 20, of Newhall, California in Umm Qsar of "non-combat related injuries." We know that on February 28th, the day that Senator John McCain announced his candidacy for the presidency on the Late Show with David Letterman, saying, "Americans are very frustrated, and they have every right to be. We've wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, over there," Sgt. Chad M. Allen, 25, of Maple Lake, Minnesota and Pfc. Bufford K. Van Slyke, 22, of Bay City, Michigan died while "conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province."

We know that, while in the remote backlands along the Pakistani border with Afghanistan--an area our President recently called "wilder than the Wild West"--and in Afghanistan itself, the Taliban is resurgent and al-Qaeda has reorganized, Americans die in Iraq. We know that every Bush administration public explanation for the invasion and occupation of Iraq--Saddam's links to the 9/11 attacks, his weapons of mass destruction and burgeoning nuclear program, the "liberation" of Iraqis, the bringing of "democracy" to Iraq--has sunk beneath the same waves that took down the President's "victory" (a word, as late as November 2005, he used 15 times in a speech promoting his "strategy for victory in Iraq"). We know that the President's policies, from New Orleans to Afghanistan, have been characterized by massive waste, programmatic incompetence, misrepresentation, and outright lies.

We know that the real explanations for the invasion of Iraq, involving the urge to nail down the energy heartlands of the planet and establish an eternal American dominance in the Middle East (and beyond)--in part through a series of elaborate permanent bases in Iraq--still can't be seriously discussed in the mainstream in this country. We know that the Bush administration has never hesitated to press hot-button emotional issues to get its way with the public and that, until perhaps 2005, the hot-button issue of choice was the President's Global War on Terror, which translated into the heightening of a post-9/11 American sense of insecurity and fear in the face of the world. We know as well that this worked with remarkable efficiency, even after the color-coded version of that insecurity and those fears was left in the dust. We know that in this al-Qaeda played a striking role -- from the attacks of September 11, 2001, in which a small number of fanatics were able to create the look of the apocalypse, to the release of an Osama bin Laden video just before the election of 2004. What a waste that such a tiny group of extremists was blown up to the size of Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia in the public imagination.

We know that there is only one hot-button issue left for this administration (short of a massive new terrorist attack on "the homeland") -- the American troops already in or going to Iraq or those who have already died there. We know that Senators Obama and McCain had to immediately backtrack and express "regrets" for in any way indicating that American deaths in Iraq might represent a "waste" of young lives; that, for their statements, Obama was promptly attacked by Fox News and right-wing bloggers, while McCain was set upon by the Democratic National Committee. So we also know that there is some kind of agreement across the board politically when it comes to those troops, which goes under the rubric of "supporting" them.

We know that both Senators' statements about a profligate invasion, a disastrous occupation, and a catastrophic pacification campaign, all based on a web of lies and false (or cleverly cherry-picked) intelligence, turning Iraq into a charnel house -- far more Iraqis have now died than were ever killed by Saddam Hussein -- and a center for extremist activity, were promptly pegged in the media as "slips" or "gaffes" that hurt each of the politicians involved. We also know that the American people in poll after poll now say that the Iraq War was not worth fighting and the invasion not worth launching; that similar majorities want the war to end quickly, preferably within a six-month to one-year time-frame for the withdrawal of all troops with no garrisons left in Iraq.

We know that congressional representatives are generally terrified of not seeming to "support the troops"; that somehow those troops themselves have been separated from the actual fighting in Iraq, even though, for better or worse, you can't separate the military from the mission; that, to some extent, you are (and are affected by) what you do; and that when the mission is a "waste" -- or, in this case, even worse than that because it has created conditions more dangerous than those it wiped away--then any life lost in the process is, by definition, a waste of some sort as well. No matter what your brand of politics might be, this should be an obvious, if painful, fact--that the loss of young people, who might have accomplished and experienced so much, in the pursuit of such waste is the definition of wasting a life. That this can hardly be said today is one of the stranger aspects of our moment and it has a strange little history to go with it.

[Note: That history will be in part 3 of this series, "How Our Soldiers Became Hostages," which will appear Monday. Part 1 was "A Wasted War."]

Paradoxes of the US-Iranian Dance

One week ago today we were sitting in the lobby of our hotel in Amman,Jordan, talking with the very smart and well-informed Middle Eastanalyst Joost Hiltermann about the interactions that US power now hasin and over Iraq with Iraq's much weightier eastern neighbor,Iran. (Hiltermann has worked onIraq-related issues for manyyears, including for several years now as the senior Iraq analyst forthe International Crisis Group.)

He said,

Well, the US and Iran agree on twothings inside today's Iraq-- but they disagree on one key thing.

What they agree on, at least until now, is the unity of Iraq, and needfor democracy or at least some form of majority rule there.

What they disagree on is the continued US troop presence there. Because the US basically now wantsto be able to withdraw those troops, and Iran wants them to stay!

He conjectured that the main reason Iran wants the US troops to stay inIraq is because they are deployed there, basically, as sitting duckswho would be extremely vulnerable to Iranian military retaliation inthe event of any US (or Israeli) military attack on Iran. Theyare, in effect, Iran's best form of insurance against the launching ofany such attack.

I have entertained that conjecture myself, too, on numerous occasionsin the past. So I was interested that Hiltermann not only voicedit, but also framed it in such an elegant way. (For my part, I amslightly less convinced than he is that the decisionmakers in the Bushadministration at this pointare clear that they want the US troops out of Iraq... But I think theyare headed toward that conclusion, and that the developments in theregion will certainly continue to push them that way.)

From this point of view, we might conclude that the decisionmakers inTeheran-- some of whom are strategic thinkers with much greaterexperience and even technical expertise than anyone in the current Bushadministration-- would be seeing the possibility of "allowing" the USto withdraw its troops from Iraq only within the context of the kind of"grand bargain" that Teheran seeks. The first and overwhelminglymost important item in that "grand bargain" would be that Washingtoncredibly and irrevocably back off from any thought of pursuing astrategy of regime change inside Iran or from any threats of militaryforce against it.

Under this bargain, Washington would need to agree, fundamentally, thatdespite serious continuing disagreements in many areas of policy, itwould deal with the regime that exists in Teheran-- as in earlierdecades it dealt with the regime that existed in the Soviet Union--rather than seeking to overthrow it. Teheran might well also askfor more than that-- including some easing of the US campaign againstit over the nuclear issue, etc. But I believe there is no way themullahs in Teheran could settle for any less than a basic normalizationof working relations with Washington-- such as would most likely beexemplified by the restoration of normal diplomatic relations betweenthe two governments-- in return for "allowing" the US troops towithdraw from Iraq.

There are numerous paradoxes here. Not only has Washington's widedistribution of its troops throughout the Iraq has become a strategicliability, rather than an asset, but now the heirs of the same Iranianregime that stormed the US Embassy in the 1970s and violated all thenorms of diplomatic protocol by holding scores of diplomats as hostagesthere are the ones who are, essentially, clamoring for the restorationof diplomatic relations with Washington.

... Meantime, a great part of the steely, pre-negotiationdance of these two wilful powers is being played out within the bordersof poor, long-suffering Iraq. For the sake of the Iraqis, I hopeWashington and Teheran resolve their issues and move to the normalworking relationship of two fully adult powers as soon as possible.

One last footnote here. I do see some intriguing possibilitieswithin the Bushites' repeated use of the mantra that "All options arestill on the table" regarding Iran. Generally, that has beenunderstood by most listeners (and most likely intended by its utterers)to meanthat what is "on the table of possibilities" is all military options-- up toand perhaps even including nuclear military options, which the Bushiteshave never explicitly taken off the table with regard to Iran.

But why should we not also interpret "all options" to include also all diplomatic options? Thatwould be an option worth pursuing!

(This post has been cross-posted tomy home blog, Just World News.)

Waxman Sets Hearings on CIA Leak Case

Vice President Dick Cheney may have avoided serious law enforcement scrutiny in regard to his office's efforts to discredit and harm the man who exposed the administration's manipulation of pre-war intelligence.

But Congress has the power to examine wrongdoing by members of the executive branch, and it is going to start using that power.

The House Oversight and Government Affairs will open hearings – perhaps as early as March 16 -- on issues raised by the trial of Cheney's former chief-of-staff, I. "Scooter" Libby, who this week was convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to the FBI in an investigation into the leaking of the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative who is married to former Ambassador Joe Wilson.

The revelation by Wilson that members of the Bush-Cheney administration should have known statements the president and vice president were making to be false enraged Cheney, who personally dictated talking points designed to discredit Wilson.

Congressman Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who chairs the powerful oversight committee, announced Thursday afternoon that his committee will investigate the scandal. Waxman, who is widely regarded as the House's most diligent scrutinizer of governmental wrongdoing, says he may open the hearings with testimony from Valerie Plame.

Waxman has written to Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in the Libby case, expressing concern that core questions about how the White House handled the whole affair remain unresolved.

Waxman has asked Fitzgerald to meet with him to discuss possible testimony before the oversight committee by the prosecutor.

"The trial proceedings raise questions about whether senior White House officials, including the Vice President and Senior Advisor to the President Karl Rove, complied with the requirements governing the handling of classified information," Waxman explained in his letter to Fitzgerald. "They also raise questions about whether the White House took appropriate remedial action following the leak and whether the existing requirements are sufficient to protect against future leaks. Your perspective on these matters is important."

How aggressive will the Waxman-led hearings be?

Would Waxman consider asking Cheney to testify? If Cheney refuses, might a congressional subpoena be in order?

A hint may be found in a letter, sent in November, 2005, by Waxman, New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey and Michigan Democrat John Conyers to the vice president. The trio requested that Cheney testify before the House regarding his role in the CIA leak case.

The letter declared that:

It is extremely important with regard to the maintenance of the integrity of our democratic republic that the full and complete truth of this matter be made available to the American people. Unfortunately, doubts and questions will continue to grow until the nation learns the complete story behind the leak of Valerie Wilson's identity. There are many wide-ranging questions about your involvement with the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity to which the American people deserve answers, including:

1.) Why were you and other officials in your office investigating Valerie Wilson's employment with the CIA?

2.) Did you authorize Mr. Libby to disclose Valerie Wilson's identity to the news media? Were you aware that he was doing so?

3.) At the time of the leak, Valerie Wilson's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had been publicly questioning the Administration's claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger, which had been used as a primary justification for war. At the time of the leak, did you believe the claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger was true? When did you first learn that the uranium claims were untrue? Was the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity an attempt to discredit her husband and what he had been saying about the uranium claims being false?

4.) When you learned that the leak had occurred, did you investigate whether any members your staff were responsible for this act? If so, when did you do so and what were your findings?

5.) Do you think that those involved with the leak should be allowed to maintain their security clearances?

The Libby trial has highlighted the need to answer these questions.

Waxman has the authority to pursue those answers.

Perhaps most significantly, he understands that it is, indeed, "important with regard to the maintenance of the integrity of our democratic republic that the full and complete truth of this matter be made available to the American people."


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.'"

For Women in Iraq, a Sad Day

It's Women's Day in Iraq, again, but not the bread-and-roses kind of day women want. The fact is, since the US invasion, every day has been a sick-and-twisted kind of women's day in that country -- a day on which Iraqi women's rights and their lives are under assault.

In the four months following the US invasion and occupation, women's rights groups estimate that some four hundred women were abducted and raped. At the time, the violence was blamed on the general breakdown of society, but there were always women warning that the killings weren't chaotic, they were systematic, and they heralded something worse.

They were right. A new report from the international women's human rights organization MADRE makes the case that gender-based violence is rampant and made worse by the US presence. As Houzan Mahmoud of the Organization for Women's Freedom, told a MADRE-organized press conference this week at the United Nations, reliable data is hard to gather in Iraq, but when OWFI visited a hospital in Basra last October they found 100 women's corpses, many showing evidence of torture. "The bodies were mutilated and unclaimed because families are too scared to pick them up."

The violence isn't a detail, it's strategic, said MADRE's Yifat Susskind (the author of the group's report.) "Gender based violence is central to the Islamists' agenda to create a theocratic state." The targets aren't just any women, but women whom the killers' claim flout Islamic law--other targets include artists and LGBT Iraqis--anyone whose continued existence doesn't suit the kind society the Islamists want. The media report the killings (as they did this week, when reporters covered attacks on a historic Baghdad book-market,) but they don't connect the dots. Why are militias bombing intellectuals? Because they're secular, says Susskind. For the same reason they've been beating and beheading women who refuse to cover their head.

While politicians in DC dodge and dart around the role that US troops play in Iraq, they'd be well-advised to read MADRE's Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy. All this guff about "protecting" Iraqis obscures the reality that for four years now, US forces haven't policed killers, they've unleashed them.

"The transformation of Iraq into an Islamist state is often characterized as one of numerous "unintended consequences" of US decision making since 2003." MADRE reports. "But the US has long viewed the religious right as a strategic ally in the Middle East." In Iraq, the US actively cultivated Shiite militias to help battle the Sunni-led "insurgency." The State Department even had the gall to call the policy of training and equipping Islamist death squads "The Salvador Option," reminding one that Iraq is hardly the first war in which the Pentagon has sacrificed the security of people for a fantasy of permanent military bases and (in Iraq's case oil-) profits.

The winds are changing in Washington. As journalists Patrick Cockburn and Seymour Hersh have been writing, the US is getting nervous about Iran and Shiites and they've begun to funnel money to Sunni jihadists to push back. What's next, a cozying up to the Taliban or Al Qaeda? Of one thing you can be sure, it won't be a concern for women's rights that holds anyone back.

MADRE (on whose board I'm proud to sit) and their sister group, OWFI somehow manage to run safe houses in Iraq and an underground railroad to help victims escape. If you're going to pay your war taxes the least you could do is send them a check. Then tune in Saturday when Patrick Cockburn will be our guest on RadioNation.

Legislation Watch

Earlier this year, as the new Democratic Congress gathered, I highlighted 10 pieces of legislation that I believe deserve to be passed – they would certainly help put our nation back on a path toward a more perfect union. One of the ten bills featured was Representative Ed Markey's Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act which was reintroduced on Tuesday as H.R. 1352.

In the last session of Congress the bill had 33 original cosponsors. There are now 45 original cosponsors of the new bill, and on Wednesday, Rep. Tom Lantos – Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs – also signed on.

"I feel a rising optimism that we can end this repugnant and counterproductive practice of outsourcing torture during the 110th Congress," Markey said.

Let's hope he's right. The practice of sending individuals detained by our government off to other countries that torture – known in Orwellian speak as "extraordinary rendition" – flies in the face of the international Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States in 1994, and the 1998 Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act. It has led to the reprehensible and tragic cases of Maher Arar, Khaled El-Masri and Abu Omar – and in all likelihood the torture of many other innocent victims that we have not yet heard from.

Markey's legislation would bar the transfer of any individuals in US custody to any country known to use torture. It would also prohibit the use of "diplomatic assurances" – as the Bush administration claims to have received from Syria in the case of Arar's transfer – as the basis for determining that the threat of torture does not exist. The legislation would require the Secretary of State to submit to Congress a list of countries that engage in torture and forbid the transfer of any individual to those countries (unless the Secretary of State certifies that a country no longer practices torture and a mechanism is in place to assure that the person transferred will not be tortured).

With over 1000 CIA-operated "ghost flights" over Europe reported by the European Parliament; black sites used by the CIA; and cases against CIA agents for the abduction of innocent civilians now being prepared by both Germany and Italy – passing the Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act is a necessary step towards restoring our commitment to human rights and our standing in the international community.

Dems Aren't Urgent Enough About Withdrawal

If we accept scientific estimates of the Iraqi death toll since the U.S. invasion of that country, as detailed in the British medical journal The Lancet, then it is fair to say that an Iraqi dies from violence or deprivation every ten minutes. An American dies every ten hours. And, every ten days, significantly more than a billion dollars from the U.S. treasury is spent maintaining the occupation -- not on helping veterans, not on assisting in the reconstruction of Iraq, but on continuing the physical occupation of a country where polling and circumstances on the ground indicate that the people do not favor the continued presence of foreign forces.

There are those who suggest that America has time to wait before we begin bringing our troops home from Iraq. House Democratic leaders on Thursday proposed legislation that would set benchmarks for progress in Iraq. If those benchmarks remain unmet, a slow process of extracting troops would begin under the plan favored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California; Wisconsin's David Obey and Pennsylvania's John Murtha, the chair and defense subcommittee chair respectively of the appropriations committee; and Missouri's Ike Skelton, who chairs the armed services committee.

The fact that Democratic leaders are talking about attempting to impose a timeline for withdrawal of troops is good. It puts the opposition party in a position of actually opposing an unpopular president's exceptionally unpopular policies.

Unfortunately, because the president wants to maintain the occupation on his terms, Bush can be counted on to veto legislation establishing benchmarks and a timeline. So the Democrats find themselves in a difficult position. They plan to expend immense time and energy -- and perhaps even a small measure of political capital -- to promote a withdrawal strategy. Yet, the strategy they are promoting is unlikely to excite Americans who want this war to end.

In other words, while Pelosi and her compatriots propose to fight for a timeline, it is not the right timeline.

Theoretically, the Democratic leadership plan would create the potential for the withdrawal of some U.S. troops in six months. Realistically, because the Democratic plans lacks adequate monitoring mechanisms -- even Pelosi says determinations about whether benchmarks are met would be a "a subjective call" -- chances are that there would be no withdrawals for more than a year. The Speaker essentially acknowledged as much when, in announcing the plan, she said, "No matter what, by March 2008, the redeployment begins."

Forcing young Americans and Iraqis to die for George Bush's delusions for another year, while emptying the treasury at a rate of a billion dollars a week, is not an adequate response to the demands -- let alone the realities -- of the moment.

"This plan would require us to believe whatever the president would tell us about progress that was being made," says Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-California, speaking for the bipartisan Out of Iraq Caucus. "This is same president that led us into a war with false information, no weapons of mass destruction, said we would be (welcomed) with open arms, said that the mission had been accomplished. Now we expect him to give us a progress report in their plan by July?"

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Lynn Woolsey, D-California, says of the legislation. "There's no enforcement mechanism. We have had the same thing in place for two years and [now] we're expecting [Bush] to do something...?"

Woolsey's question begs another question: Why? Why are Democrats, who just wasted weeks arguing about non-binding resolutions regarding Bush's surge of 21,5OO more troops into Iraq, now preparing to pour their energy into fighting for what appears to be another vague and inadequate proposal?

Rather than try to answer that one, perhaps it is best to note that Peace Action and other anti-war groups are launching a massive, rolling call-in campaign leading up to the vote on President Bush's request for another $93 billion to fund his approach to the war. Peace Action is asking Americans to tell their representatives to stand with Woolsey, who recently said "the only money I will support for Iraq is funding that is used for the withdrawal of every last US soldier and military contractor from Iraq."


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.'"

"Tax" Is Not a Four Letter Word

Down in the Texas state capitol for the day, enjoying both the buzz of activity that comes with the legislature actually being in session (they only have regular sessions for five month, once every two years) and the good ole boy lobbyists stalking the halls, making deals. Just had an interesting interview with a Republican State Senator in which he raised an interesting point. Basically, he was complaining about how the conservative movement had essentially been reduced to one single, inviolable principle: never raise taxes ever. It's crazy he said. "I'm as much against having my taxes raised as anybody, but the the voters don't send us to the capitol just to make sure taxes don't get raised, they send us here to spend their money wisely. And if there's some program that can benefit the residents of the state, then we should fund it."

But instead, Grover Norquist's infamous no-tax pledge has created an untenable situation across the country, one in which state governments are increasingly resorting to gimmicks, tricks and the outright Russian-style auctioning off of state assets in order to fund government. This despite the fact, that, as this Republican legislator pointed out to me, spending on social programs is quite popular. "The notion that these are programs Democrats want and Republicans abhor may have been true thirty years ago, but I feel like there's been a shift. Now, everybody wants the programs, but one group [the Republicans] is unwilling to pay for them, and the other group [the Democrats] is unable to pay for them."

The only way this is going to change is if there's a) an organized lobbying effort on the part of citizens and interest groups to increase taxes b) some bold legislators vote for tax increases and find out that they won't necessarily get ridden out of town by angry voters. But I was amazed that this Republican legislator was so frank about the problem. And googling around I see that Republican presidential front-runners Rudy Giuliani and John McCain have both yet to sign the no new taxes pledge. It does suggest that the "tax revolt" may indeed be coming to a close.

The Clean Elections Challenge

My recent Nation article on Senator Max Baucus, "K Street's Favorite Democrat," has been a topic of discussion back in Montana, where Baucus is up for re-election in 2008.

Last night I talked about the article on Montana NPR's Evening Edition and Baucus went on after to respond. Host Sally Mauk said Baucus "laments the need for large corporate donations to his campaign."

Here's what Baucus said: "I've voted for every single campaign reform legislation that's been here. There's too many dollars in politics today. But you have to live with the system. And to live with the system you're gonna have to raise money, regrettably."

Later this month, Senator Dick Durbin will introduce a bill calling for publicly financed clean elections. If Baucus is serious about changing the system, he'll sign on as a cosponsor.