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Long, Hot Summer for Wal-Mart

Anti-Wal-Mart activism is pushing some Democrats to speak out against the company's exploitative practices. While Leslie Dach and many other Democratic operatives are collecting fat paychecks defending the retailer -- and Al Gore has been visiting Bentonville to offer environmental wisdom -- an increasing number of Democratic politicians are reaping political capital by attacking Wal-Mart. This will become more and more apparent as Wake Up Wal-Mart 's "Change Wal-Mart, Change America" (19-state and 35-city) bus tour-- which launched today in still Wal-Mart-free New York City-- winds its way through the nation. Former vice presidential hopeful John Edwards will be participating, as will Howard Dean's brother Jim -- chair of Democracy for America -- and numerous other party folk. In a moment of drama that everyone in Connecticut should check out, Bush paramour Joe Lieberman and his primary challenger for the Senate, insurgent preppy war opponent Ned Lamont, will appear together tomorrow at noon at an anti-Wal-Mart rally in Bridgeport (the bus tour's second stop). Ah, Wal-Mart, the great uniter!

(I asked Wake Up Wal-Mart spokesman Paul Blank if his group had approached former Wal-Mart board member Senator Hillary about participating in the New York leg of the tour. He said she had a "schedule conflict.")

In other Wal-Mart news, Chicago last week passed a law requiring big-box stores to pay a living wage -- at least $10 an hour, with benefits of at least $3. Other cities are looking closely at Chicago's bill and thinking about following the Windy City's example; perhaps people fighting at the local level can make the retail sector a decent source of employment for working people.

Check out, too, the intriguing cover storyin Fortune magazine, which details some of the genuinely good things Wal-Mart is doing for the environment, none of which would be happening without the grass-roots Wal-Mart reform movement, which has forced Wal-Mart to get serious about its image, and even take a few real steps toward better corporate citizenship. It's, of course, great that Lee Scott is finding his inner Ben Cohen, but the company should not be allowed to greenwash its way out of criticism over its abuse of workers -- nor over the ecological unsustainability of its whole business model, which has so far, been based on selling cheap, disposable crap and building on cheap land far from town centers. Still, because of Wal-Mart's scale, even its small gestures can have a huge impact, and are worth watching closely. Just to get a flavor of the conversations the Fortune article has sparked, read David Roberts on the Grist blog for some ecstatic praise and conversion, and, on BuyBlue.org, an indignant response to Roberts.

Strange Bedfellows in Iraq and Lebanon

Here's an ironic scenario: as Israel fights a proxy war against Hezbollah, the United States is propping up an Iraqi government that helped create the Lebanese militants.

David Clark, a former foreign policy advisor to Tony Blair, laid out the details in an op-ed yesterday in The Guardian:

Some of the earliest suicide bombings commonly attributed to Hizbullah, such as the 1983 attacks on the US embassy and marine barracks in Beirut, were believed by American intelligence sources at the time to have been orchestrated by the Iraqi Dawa party. Hizbullah barely existed in 1983 and Dawa cadres are said to have been instrumental in setting it up at Tehran's behest. Dawa's current leadership includes none other than the new Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, feted last week in London and Washington as the great hope for the future of the Middle East. As the old saying goes, today's terrorist is tomorrow's statesman--at least when it suits us.

Meanwhile, at a memorial service for a slain Iraqi cleric yesterday, leading members of the Iraqi government joined al-Maliki in denouncing Israel's assault on Lebanese civilians. "These horrible massacres carried out by the Israeli aggression, incites in us the spirit of brotherhood and solidarity," said Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, perhaps the country's key power broker, labeled the Israeli bombing of Qana an "outrageous crime."

Even staunchly pro-American President Jalal Talabani, a Sunni Kurd, "offered similar condemnations of Israel," according to the New York Times. Will Howard Dean and the rest of the Democratic leadership now denounce the entire Iraqi government as anti-Semites?

With the country increasingly spiraling out of control and its leaders growing more vocally anti-Israel and anti-American, it's fair to ask another question: what exactly are American troops still fighting and dying for in Iraq?

Dems on Iraq: Still Vague, Out of Touch

From the Baby Steps Department where Democratic leaders plot policy comes a letter to President Bush signed by the opposition party's Congressional leadership, as well as a number of House and Senate Democrats who have been associated with national security and intelligence issues.

The letter from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and their partisan compatriots identifies the crisis of the moment: "Iraq has exploded in violence. Some 6,000 Iraqis were killed in May and June, and sectarian and insurgent violence continues to claim American and Iraqi lives at an alarming rate. In the face of this onslaught, one can only conclude that the Baghdad security plan you announced five weeks ago is in great jeopardy."

The letter identifies the broader crisis: "U.S. troops and taxpayers continue to pay a high price as your Administration searches for a policy. Over 2,500 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice and over 18,000 others have been wounded. The Iraq war has also strained our military and constrained our ability to deal with other challenges. Readiness levels for the Army are at lows not seen since Vietnam, as virtually no active Army non-deployed combat brigade is prepared to perform its wartime missions."

The letter identifies the source of the crisis: "Far from implementing a comprehensive ‘Strategy for Victory' as you promised months ago, your Administration's strategy appears to be one of trying to avoid defeat."

The only thing that is lacking is a proper response to the crisis.

While the letter declares the belief of its signers "that a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq should begin before the end of 2006," it does not propose anything akin to an exit strategy.

In effect, the letter is an embrace by key House Democrats -- Pelosi; Minority Whip Steny Hoyer; Ike Skelton, the ranking minority member of the House Armed Services Committee; Tom Lantos, the ranking minority member of the House International Relations Committee; Jane Harman, the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee; and John Murtha, the ranking minority member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee -- of the a proposal by Senators Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, that was voted down by the Republican-controlled Senate in June.

The vague Reed-Levin measure was a soft alternative to a proposal by Senators Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, and John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, to establish a timeline for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Most Senate Democrats backed Reed-Levin -- although, notably, Senator John Lieberman, who faces a stiff primary challenge next Tuesday from anti-war Democrat Ned Lamont, did not. Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee was the sole Republican backer of the proposal.

Most Senate Democrats refused to back the Feingold-Kerry proposal, [The 13 Democrats who did take a clear anti-war stance were the sponsors and Senators Dan Araka and Dan Inouye of Hawaii, Barbara Boxer of California, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon.]

So where does this new letter leave the Democrats. Not far from where they were in June, before all hell broke loose in Baghdad. House Democratic leaders are a little more united than they were early in the summer -- with former cheerleaders for the war such as Harman and Lantos, both of whom faced California Democratic primary challenges to their Bush-friendly stances, moving in a more clearly skeptical direction regarding the administration's misguided foreign policies.

That's progress. But the Democratic Party has yet to embrace the position taken by the overwhelming majority of Americans. A July Gallup poll found that roughly 2 in 3 Americans want the U.S. to exit Iraq. [Significantly, 31 percent wanted the exodus to begin immediately.]

While the new letter to Bush was intended to suggest that Democrats are united, the fact is that the party leadership has not yet figured out how to talk about Iraq in a meaningful way. If they ever do, it will most likely be because of a push from the party's grassroots. That's why the Lieberman-Lamont contest in Connecticut is such a big deal. The rejection of Lieberman by Democratic primary voters would not merely signal grassroots anger with one war-backing senator, it would signal that Democrats want their party to start making a serious appeal to the great majority of voters who want out of Iraq.

Political Blackmail

"Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people…."

Thus spoke Representative Dennis Kucinich on the House floor last week, quoting Isaiah, as he railed against a cynical attempt by Republicans to attach the first minimum wage increase in nine years (during which time Congress has received EIGHT pay raises, and is scheduled for its ninth), to an estate tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. Despite his efforts, on the eve of adjourning on July 29, House Republicans pushed through this controversial bill linking a minimum-wage increase to a package of tax cuts.

At a time when the gap between rich and poor is greater than even during the Gilded Age…at a time of unprecedented tax cuts for the wealthy during the so-called war on terror…at a time of vast cuts in our social service infrastructure...at a time when a federal surplus has been transformed into a soaring deficit....the Republican leadership refused to allow a straight up or down vote on the minimum wage.

"It's political blackmail to say the only way that minimum wage workers can get a raise is to give tax giveaways to the wealthiest Americans," said Senator Edward Kennedy.

"This Republican Bill reeks of cynicism," said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. "It's a political stunt designed to give vulnerable Republicans in tough elections the opportunity to say they voted to raise the minimum wage -- even though they know this bill is going nowhere in the Senate."

Indeed, the bill should reach the Senate floor this week, where Democrats are expected to filibuster the GOP's minimum wage/maximum estate-wealth bill.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the estate tax cut would benefit 8,200 estates with an average tax cut of $1.4 million. For the 6.6 million Americans who would directly benefit from the minimum wage hike, the increase in annual earnings would average $1,200. Of course, even many of the workers' modest gains would be off-set if Republicans pay for their Paris Hilton tax cut -- which will cost $268 billion in lost revenues over the next decade -- by slashing programs like Medicare and Medicaid, food stamps and veterans programs. (Not to mention their complete lack of attention to the rising costs of energy, education, housing, healthcare, childcare and more.)

So, according to the GOP, in order for those Americans who have been doing an honest day's work for $10,700 a year – for 9 years–-- to get a raise, the richest 8,200 families must receive yet another irresponsible, unjust cut that the country cannot afford. Can the Republicans openly reveal their contempt for working people any more clearly? The just response: Vote them out of office this November.

The Neverending Saga of Phase II

Why is it taking the Senate intelligence committee forty times longer to examine how the Bush administration used--or misused--the prewar intelligence on Iraq and WMDs than it took for the United States military to topple Saddam Hussein? American troops reached Baghdad in three weeks (there were a few complications after that). But the intelligence committee, led by Republican Senator Pat Roberts, has dilly-dallied for two-and-a-half years when it has come to reviewing how George W. Bush and his top aides represented--or misrepresented--the WMD intelligence as they led (or misled) the nation to war. Last fall, the Senate Democrats shut down the Senate for a few hours to protest the committee's lack of progress in producing the so-called Phase II report that was supposed to focus on this matter. Roberts and the Republicans promised to conclude the inquiry soon. Yet another nine months have gone by, and as The Washington Post reported on Sunday, the committee is still not yet done. The Post noted:

The Republican-led committee, which agreed in February 2004 to write the report, has yet to complete its work. Just two of five planned sections of the committee's findings are fully drafted and ready to be voted on by members, according to Democratic and Republican staffers. Committee sources involved with the report, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they are working hard to complete it. But disputing Roberts, they said they had started almost from scratch in November after Democrats staged their protest.

And those two sections do not focus on the central subject--the administration's use of the prewar intelligence. One examines the intelligence agencies' prewar WMD estimates with what was found on the ground in Iraq. The other looks at what information provided by Iraqi exiles made it into official intelligence estimates. (It does not explore the influence of Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress on Bush administration officials before the invasion.)

I take the committee's lackadaisical approach to this issue personally, for Roberts once directly promised me that the Phase II would be a priority. This is what happened. On July 9, 2004, Roberts and his committee released a 500-plus page report on how the intelligence community screwed up the prewar intelligence. But the committee's report (over the objection of its Democratic members) ignored the touchy matter of whether Bush officials had mischaracterized the intelligence to win support for the invasion of Iraq. Not surprisingly, the committee, under Roberts direction, was avoiding this subject as the 2004 election neared. At the press conference Roberts held to mark the release of the committee's report on the WMD intelligence, I asked him about this missing part of the inquiry. Here's the exchange:

QUESTION: Given the 800 American GIs who have lost their lives so far, thousands have had serious injuries, lost limbs, all on the basis of false [WMD] claims...[and that] American taxpayers have had to kick in almost $200 billion, doesn't the American public and the relatives of people who lost their lives have a right to know before the next election whether this administration handled intelligence matters adequately and made statements that were justified -- before the election, not after the election?

ROBERTS: This is in phase two of our efforts. We simply couldn't get that done with the work product that we put out....It is one of my top priorities....Now, we have 20 legislative days. We want to have hearings from wise men and women in regards to the [intelligence] reform effort, and we will proceed with staff on phase two of the report. It involves probably three things -- or at least three. One is the prewar intelligence on Iraq, which is what you're talking about. Secondly is the situation with the assistant secretary of defense, Douglas Feith, and his activity in regards to material that he provided with a so-called intelligence planning cell to the Department of Defense and to the CIA. And then the left one -- what is the last one? What's the third one? Help me with it....Well, that's prewar intelligence on Iraq.

There is a third one, and I don't know why I can't come up with it right now. But, anyway, it is a priority. And, hey, I have told [Senator] Jay [Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee], I have told everybody on the other side of the aisle, everybody on our side of the aisle, 'We'll proceed with phase two. It is a priority.' I made my commitment, and it will be done.

So Roberts looked straight at me and said that the Phase II report was a "priority" for him and that he had made a commitment to complete this mission. Yet he has not made good on that commitment. It causes me to wonder if he misled me--that is, if he falsely declared he was committed to such a review only to kick the can down the road past the 2004 election. Now, according to the Post, he's trying to do the same with the 2006 elections. The paper noted:

The section most Democrats have sought, however, is not yet in draft form and might not emerge until after the November election, staffers said. That section will examine the administration's deliberations over prewar intelligence and whether its public presentation of the threat reflected the evidence senior officials reviewed in private.

Were Roberts truly committed to this task, it would have been done before the 2004 election. One committee staffer once told me this sort of review could be finished within months. Yet Roberts has been playing games--and he has got away with it. The Phase II controversy boils up (into public view) every six months or so and then fades. And only once has the Democrats succeeded in embarrassing Roberts for doing nothing. So he keeps kicking that can--rather than looking inside it. It's a funny way to treat a "priority."

******

BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION: If any of you happen to be near Cape Cod this week, I will be speaking/performing at the Payomet Theater on the evening of Wednesday, August 2. The event is billed "An Evening of Political Insight, Gossip and Outrage, Volume II," and it will combine satire, humor, analysis, self-righteous indignation, and bombast. I'll let the reviewers describe it in further detail. But as regular readers of DavidCorn.com know, I've taken a stab at stand-up during the past few years, and last summer when asked to participate in a spoken word series at the Payomet Theater in Truro (a town situated between Wellfleet and Provincetown), I let portions of that stand-up routine bleed into my usual lecture on the Current Political Situation. For some odd reason, I was invited back this summer. If you need more information, go to the home page of the Payomet Performing Arts Center.

Lieberman Loses New York Times Backing

Does it matter that The New York Times has endorsed anti-war challenger Ned Lamont over Senator Joe Lieberman in the August 8 Connecticut Democratic primary?

Of course it does.

No, newspaper endorsements do not swing all that many votes in and of themselves, especially in high-profile contests. But, especially when they go against a long-term incumbent like Lieberman, they help wavering voters make the leap into the opposition camp.

For Lamont, who is running slightly ahead in the polls, today's Times endorsement comes at precisely the right moment -- as the campaign enters its final stretch. And it comes in the Sunday edition of the paper, which is more closely read in Connecticut -- and elsewhere -- than any other.

The Times circulates widely in Connecticut, and has a long tradition of making endorsements in the state's elections, so the newspaper's choice was long awaited. If the Times had endorsed Lieberman, as the more Republican-friendly Hartford Courant did Sunday, then the senator's flagging campaign might have received the boost it failed to get when former President Bill Clinton swept into the state last Monday to try and pump some life into the incumbent's reelection bid.

The endorsement by the Times, which has backed Lieberman in most of his past races, and which is far more cautious politically than its conservative critics would have America believe, came as something of a shock to Lamont backers. Just a few weeks ago, when I interviewed a Lamont aide in Connecticut, he told me that the candidate was merely hoping for a few kind words from the paper in what was expected to be a pro-Lieberman editorial.

Instead, the Times hit Lieberman where it hurts, ridiculing the senator's suggestion that his support of President Bush's misguided foreign policies makes him some kind of statesman. Suggesting that the Republican White's House's favorite Democratic senator has a "warped version of bipartisanship," the Times editorial explained that, by making himself an apologist for the Bush administration's worst excesses, Lieberman "has forfeited his role as a conscience of his party and has forfeited our support."

At the same time, the newspaper of record offered Lamont exactly what a political newcomer challenging an entrenched incumbent needs: respect from a known quantity. The editors of the Times referred to Lamont as a "smart and moderate" candidate who "showed spine in challenging the senator while other Democrats groused privately."

The Times editorial closed by giving Connecticut Democrats who might not be sure about jettisoning the man their party nominated for vice president in 2000 a compelling case for doing so. "[This] primary is not about Mr. Lieberman's legislative record. Instead it has become a referendum on his warped version of bipartisanship, in which the never-ending war on terror becomes an excuse for silence and inaction," the editors explain, before concluding that, on the basis of this choice, "We endorse Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary for Senate in Connecticut."

The GOP's Sleaziest Attack Campaign

How low will Republicans go to try and hang onto control of Ohio, the swing state where their machinations secured the presidency for George W. Bush in 2004?

Lower than reasonable Americans, no matter what their partisanship, no matter what their ideology, could imagine.

Gary Lankford, the Ohio Republican Party's recently hired "social conservative coordinator" this week dispatched a mass e-mail to so-called "pro-family friends" that featured his 10-point introduction to U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, the Democratic nominee for governor.

Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister who has thrown Republicans for a loop by speaking about his faith during the campaign, is running far ahead of scandal-plagued Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the Republican nominee who gained national fame in 2004 when he was broadly accused of manipulating election processes and vote counting to favor Bush in the presidential race.

What's the GOP strategy for getting Blackwell back into the running? Imply that Strickland is gay.

What are Republican staffers pointing to as evidence? Reports that the Democratic congressman and his wife of 20 years reside in different locations when he is in Washington.

In his email, Lankford, the GOP "social conservative coordinator," links to an Internet posting by a conservative operative that is headlined: "Article Adds Fire to Strickland Gay Rumors." The posting suggests that a mid-June Toledo Blade newspaper article implies "the Stricklands are both gay."

The article turns out to be a wide-ranging Father's Day feature on Strickland and Blackwell, in which mention was made of the fact that Strickland and his wife have no children. Blackwell was quoted as saying that it would be absurd to try and make an issue of whether the Democrat was a father or not. "Some of my most adored, most respected leaders are not parents," said the Republican. "Pope John Paul II was not a parent."

But Strickland, who is supported by gay and lesbian groups in the state and has criticized legislative assaults on gay rights, noted the frustration of Republicans with the Democrat's ability to match them on moral values issues and suggested that he might well be attacked. "The most effective way to campaign now is to identify your opponent's strengths and try to destroy those strengths," Strickland warned.

It looks like the Republican Party in Ohio has decided to jettison the "some of my most adored, most respected leaders are not parents" line in favor of an aggressive "Strickland's gay" assault on the Democrat's "moral values" appeal.

Indeed, Lankford's email, which highlighted his Republican Party role, urged recipients to: "Pass this information along."

When the "information" got passed along to the media, Ohio Republican Party political director Jason Mauk said the party repudiated the email. "We do not engage in rumor or innuendo," said Mauk, "especially rumors that are not relevant to this election."

Sure.

Democrats for Demagoguery

I think it's time to start a new political party: Democrats for Demagoguery.

I'll give you three examples of why.

First there was the Dubai ports scandal. Sure, the uproar was bipartisan, but did any Democrat really believe that an Arab company couldn't run a US port as badly as an American one?

Then there was the furor over Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki offering so-called "amnesty" for insurgents who've killed American soldiers. It's a disgusting proposition, but bringing insurgents into the political process is a critical step towards ending the violence. Democrats who favor a speedy withdrawal from Iraq should've known that.

And finally Democrats went off the rocker this week about Maliki's denunciation of Israel's bombing of Lebanon. Howard Dean, the man who once rightly noted that the US should be more "evenhanded" in the Middle East, yesterday called Maliki an "anti-Semite." I'm sorry, but what do Democrats expect from a man whose government might get overthrown by Moqtada al-Sadr?

Our president is obtuse enough. He doesn't need an assist from the opposition.

101 People Who Are Really Screwing America

For everyone who has been waiting for the response to Bernard Goldberg's awful 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, Nationbooks has the answer--101 People Who Are Really Screwing America by Jack Huberman of The Bush-Haters Handbook fame. In this witty book, Huberman lays out in well-researched detail the interlocking relationships within the vast rightwing agenda to undermine our democratic institutions for profit and prophesy.

For example, there is Regnery Publishing, whose authors include Ann Coulter, David Horowitz, Phyllis Schlafly, Wayne LaPierre, G. Gordon Liddy, and whose founder William Regnery (#71) has started a match-making service for "heterosexual whites of Christian cultural heritage." And don't forget the Reverend Sun Myung Moon (#54), who published The Washington Times and started lobbying Republican politicians heavily after his organization ran afoul of the IRS. Since then he hasn't had as many legal problems. Of course, you would expect Halliburton and its CEO, David Lesar, (#72) to make the list, but did you know that Dick Cheney's old company was helping the Iranians develop their natural gas fields in 2005--two years after the Axis of Evil speech?

It is these and so many other details in Huberman's book that remind us who we are fighting and why.