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Picking a New AG

This email from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just hit my inbox: "This Nation Needs A New Attorney General, And It Can't Afford To Wait."

The subhead below read: "Democrats Who Asked For New Leadership Will Soon Have The Opportunity To Expeditiously Confirm A New Attorney General."

In other words, get ready for an announcement--soon--of a new Attorney General.

The rumor mill in Washington says the frontrunner is Ted Olson, the former Bush Administration solicitor general who argued Bush v. Gore.

Back in the 1990s, he helped the American Spectator magazine run its notorious "Arkansas Project," which heaped mounds of dirt, much of it later proven untrue, at the Clintons. Democrats tried to raise the issue at Olson's solicitor general confirmation hearing, but the investigation was stymied by then-Chairman Orrin Hatch, another rumored Attorney General candidate.

"I have become concerned that Mr. Olson has not shown a willingness or ability to be sufficiently candid and forthcoming with the Senate," current Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said in 2001. The Judiciary Committee deadlocked on whether to confirm Olson, by a vote to 9-9, and eventually he was narrowly confirmed by the full Senate, 51-47. Democrats Ben Nelson and Zell Miller (who later left the party) were the only ones to vote aye.

If Olson is selected as AG, will his background as a conservative operative and Bush partisan remain an issue? At least some Democrats think so.

Said Senator Chuck Schmer this week: "Clearly if you made a list of consensus nominees, Olson wouldn't appear on that list."

Petraeus: I "Don't Know" If Iraq War Makes U.S. Safer

Did General David Petraeus today suggest that the war in Iraq may not make the United States safer?

During his second day of appearances on Capitol Hill, Petraeus this afternoon appeared before the Senate armed services committee. Fortified with charts and graphs, he presented the same we're-on-the-right-course pitch he delivered to the House armed services and foreign affairs committees (on Monday) and to the Senate foreign relations committee (this morning). During the Q&A round at the armed services committee, Senator John Warner, the Virginia Republican who used to chair the committee and who has called for beginning a disengagement in Iraq, took a few sharp (albeit respectful) jabs at Petraeus, noting that one intelligence report after another has said that political reconciliation in Iraq could be a bridge too far. He then asked Petraeus a pointed question: "Do you feel that [Iraq war] is making America safer"?

Petraeus paused before responding. He then said: "I believe this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq."

That was, of course, a non-answer. And Warner wasn't going to let the general dodge the bullet. He repeated the question: "Does the [Iraq war] make America safer?"

Petraeus replied, "I don't know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind."

Don't know? Is it possible that the war is not making the United States safer? Petraeus went on to note that he has "taken into account" the war's impact on the U.S. military and that it's his job to recommend to the president the best course for reaching "the objectives of the policy" in Iraq. Yet he did not say that the Iraq war is essential to the national security of the United States. Warner did not press the general any further on this point. The senator's time was up.

That was quite a statement from the fellow who is supposed to save Bush's war. He advocates pursuing Bush's course of action in Iraq but he cannot attest that this effort is crucial for America's safety. Is that being a good soldier?

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CHECK OUT David Corn's recent interview with the anticorruption chief of the Iraqi government who was forced out of his job by Prime Minister Maliki and who claims the Maliki regime is so corrupt it ought to be abolished. Click here.

OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." 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.

Small Town Injustice in Jena

For an update on the Jena 6 case read my colleague Mark Sorkin's new exclusive online report.

I've been meaning to write about the Jena 6 since I first heard the shocking details of what sounds like a story from the Jim Crow-era South. But the lives of six black high school students--accused of beating up a white classmate after a series of racial incidents at a high school in the small Louisiana town--are being ruined today in Jena, Louisiana in a case that simply boggles the mind.

The trouble started when one black student, after requesting and receiving permission from the school administration, decided to sit under a shade tree traditionally used by white students. In response, white students hung three nooses from the tree. That act -- a throwback to the days when blacks were lynched for exercising their civil rights -- was portrayed by school officials as a "silly prank," and the white students got off with a slap on the wrist.

But, while the misconduct by white students was handled as a joke, a related incident in which a former student brandished a shotgun at three black students went unpunished and a subsequent attack against a black student at a private party resulted in one of the attackers being charged with only a misdemeanor, school officials and the LaSalle Parish District Attorney have brought out a hammer against the black students charging them with felonious assault and second degree attempted murder which could result in decades of imprisonment.

This video below prepared by Collateral News does a great job in detailing the case, the charges and the racist application of justice so evident in the proceedings so far.

After watching the report, click here to sign a national petition asking the Louisiana governor to intervene in the case and consider sending a donation to the students' legal defense fund by mailing checks to the Jena 6 Defense Fund, PO Box 2798, Jena, La. 71342 or by giving online.

Fortunately, this petition is just one part of a growing campaign on behalf of the six black teenagers charged with attacking a white student in the small town of Jena. The NAACP has made the case a top priority and is organizing a September 20 march on Jena, civil rights leaders are planning to attend protests next week and lawyers nationwide are taking an interest in the situation.

"The case has captured the imagination of a lot of people," Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which is helping to coordinate legal representation for the six boys and is paying for some of their legal fees, told ABC News today. "It's taken on symbolic importance as a microcosm for so many other things that are wrong with the criminal justice system."

Spinning a False Exit

All he did was say that by the summer of 2008, US troop levels in Iraq would be the same as in December 2006. Yet David Petraeus, ever the stoic general, sat before Congress and claimed this would be a "very substantial withdrawal."

Critics of the war long suspected this was the Bush Administration's strategy: revert to status quo pre-surge levels--130,000 troops--while trumpeting the exit and warning that anything more would lead to genocide/Iranian domination/US defeat/an Al Qaeda caliphate, etc, etc.

The question now is whether the media and political class will fall for the Administration's PR trap?

Some in the media already have.

"The General's Long View Could Cut Withdrawal Debate Short," write the usually astute Karen DeYoung and Tom Ricks in the Washington Post. "Prospect of pullout raises some hope," said the Detroit Free-Press. "Petraeus upbeat over reducing US troop levels," wrote The Guardian of London.

Others in the media, however, sniffed out the Bush Administration's long-term plan. "Bush policy to bequeath Iraq to successor," read the headline of an excellent Los Angeles Times analysis. "Viewed more closely," Paul Richter writes, "his [Petraeus] presentation, and that of US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, were better suited to the defense of an earlier strategy: 'stay the course.'"

The latest manifestation of the Administration's Iraq offensive might temporarily reassure the restless Republicans who waited until September to decide what to think about Iraq and then liked what they saw. But it shouldn't satisfy Democrats in Congress. Rather than giving Petraeus the red-carpet treatment, they'd be smart to listen to their Democratic constituency, which is hopping mad over party leaders' inability to effectively question Petraeus and refusal to use every tool in their arsenal to try and bring a close to a seemingly never-ending war.

Honoring 9-11 By Objecting To Its Exploitation

The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Monday for a resolution recalling the 9-11 tragedy, which occurred six years ago today.

The resolution was far more responsible than those offered in past years by Republican House leaders bent on using the commemoration to score political points. Unfortunately, the vote was scheduled for the day on which the Bush administration and its congressional allies had cynically scheduled the testimony of General David Petraeus, as part of an effort to link the failed occupation of Iraq with the "war on terror" that the president launched in a supposed response of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The administration's latest attempt to establish a "connection" between 9-11 and the Iraq quagmire is expected to culminate later this week with a pro-war speech by Bush to the nation.

This White House has exploited the memory of 9-11 in so many inappropriate and dangerous ways that it is hard to muster the energy to complain any longer. But one House member used his vote on the 9-11 resolution to object to the shameless actions of the Bush team.

Some 334 House members – 180 Democrats, 154 Republicans – voted for the measure. Another 94 – 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans – abstained. The solitary "no" vote was cast by Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich.

Just back from a trip to the Middle East, and more upset than ever by the failure of official Washington to promote peace rather than to stir tensions, Kucinich explained that, "I honor the memory of those who died on September 11 and extend sympathies to their family members and to those who lost their lives trying to save lives."

But the congressman and Democratic presidential candidate added, "I believe the best way to honor the memory of those who died on September 11 is to tell the truth of what the Administration did in the wake of September 11. The Bush Administration launched a war against Iraq, conflating the true tragedy of September 11 with lies about weapons of mass destruction."

"On this, the sixth anniversary of September 11, it is important that Congress wake up to the truth and exercise its obligation under the Constitution to save our nation from being destroyed from the lies that took us into Iraq, the lies that keep us there, the lies that are being used to set the stage for war against Iran and the lies that have undermined our basic civil liberties here at home The September 11 resolution that Congress considers today should have made reference to those matters. It does not, so I cannot support it," added Kucinich.

"This Administration long ago politicized the September 11 attacks, distorted it and dishonored it. If Congress really wanted to honor the memory of those who died on September 11, we would cause the full truth to be told to the American people. If Congress really supported our troops we would bring them home and not provide more funding for the war."

Kucinich will not get much credit for trying to insert some nuance into the discussion. But his is surely an appropriate response to politicization of this solemn day.

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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.'"

"Not Buying" the Spin From Petraeus

The good news from the testimony of General David Petraeus before a joint session of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees was certainly not found in his repetition of his claim that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the Bush administration's surge of troops into the Iraq quagmire is "in large measure" meeting its military objectives.

That political statement from Petraeus, the statistically-pliable U.S. commander in Iraq, was predicted days ago by intelligence analysts and officials with the Government Accountability Office, when they detailed how the general and his aides are using doctored data to create the false impression that sectarian violence is declining as a result of the surge.

Nor was there any news to be found in the warning by Petraeus that it would be "premature" to start taking serious steps to extract U.S. troops from the quagmire. Indeed, the best the general could propose was a return to pre-surge troop levels – the status rejected by American voters in last fall's House and Senate elections -- by some time in 2008.

Nothing that Petraeus told the House committees during the first of two days of efforts by the White House to cloak administration spin in a military uniform was any more newsworthy than General William Westmoreland's 1967 claim to Congress that progress was being made in southeast Asia. Indeed, the whole sorry performance by a another general who has chosen to sacrifice his credibility on the altar of political expediency, confirmed the bumper sticker slogan that says: "Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam."

What made Monday's hearing newsworthy, then, was the fact that the chairs of the two committees that hosted Petraeus displayed not the frustrating deference that has tended to characterize the responses of a compliant Congress to a deceptive White House but an appropriate level of skepticism.

House Armed Services Committee chair Ike Skelton, a hawkish Democrat from Missouri, opened Monday's hearing by detailing the long history of the administration's "overoptimistic" assessments of progress in Iraq. Skelton asked whether the U.S. is "beating a dead horse" by maintaining a massive troop presence in the region.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, a California Democrat who like Skelton voted in 2002 to authorize Bush to attack Iraq, described the occupation as a "fiasco" and said in his opening statement: "It would be refreshing if these two capable and dedicated men would outline a new plan that would redeploy our troops and bring them home from Iraq. But I expect instead that the September report -- written not by one of our great military leaders and one of our most capable diplomats, but by Administration political operatives -- will be a regurgitation of the same failed Iraq strategy. I expect this report will be replete with the same litany of requests -- more troops, more money, more patience -- and all in the unlikely belief that our intervention in a bloody, religiously-based civil war will bear fruit."

Bluntly expressing his frustration with the administration's refusal to be honest with Congress – and leaving little doubt of his sense that Petraeus had been sent to Capitol Hill to maintain the deception -- the congressman told the general he was no longer "buying" claims about progress in Iraq. "We cannot take any of this administration's assertions on Iraq at face value anymore," said Lantos.

That brought cries of outrage from administration boosters. Duncan Hunter, the California Republican who is mounting a pro-war presidential campaign that is currently garnering something less that one percent in the polls, growled: "I hope the purpose of this hearing is not to discredit General Petraeus before he takes the stand."

As it happened, Petraeus discredited himself before he took the stand. The general's repetition of spun statistics and fantastical assessments merely confirmed the fact of his misplaced loyalty to an administration that has betrayed the troops commanded by Petraeus.

That was the outrage on display Monday. The skepticism expressed by Skelton and Lantos was the refreshing – and newsworthy – development of the day.

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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.'"

The Peace Primary

At a time when there's a troubling gap between how the politicians in Washington vote and how the folks back home want the US to (re)engage with the rest of the world, the Ploughshares Fund – now the largest grantmaking foundation in the US focused exclusively on peace and security issues, celebrating its 25th Anniversary, with grants totaling over $50 million – has devised a creative way of bringing those issues home to people who care, and introducing a new generation to the importance of simply the most critical issues in life: war and peace. On Saturday, the Fund kicked off its Peace Primary, highlighting the work of extraordinary grassroots groups and activists.

I was honored when the organizers asked me to serve as a judge to help select the finalists for this initiative. (And I enjoyed being called part of an "all-star panel," as my basketball-crazed family has always thought all-star status is reserved for the likes of Shaq, Kobe, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan, etc. Other judges include: writer, commentator and religious scholar Reza Aslan; Ploughshares Fund Executive Director Naila Bolus; the Reverend Dr. Joan Brown Campbell of the Chautauqua Institute; Bonnie Jenkins, program officer at the Ford Foundation; former Congressman Paul (Pete) McCloskey; The Nation's peace and disarmament correspondent, author Jonathan Schell; and actor Martin Sheen.)

I've cared deeply about issues of peace and security – as a journalist who lived in and wrote about Russia during the Gorbachev years and, of course, as Editor of The Nation – a magazine that has been at the forefront, for decades, of finding non-military solutions to problems of our country and world. From our special issue in 1998 on the abolition of nuclear weapons to the fact that we may be the only magazine in the US (or in the world?!) with a peace and disarmament correspondent, the inimitable Jonathan Schell. The Nation has always been engaged with these issues, and in times of crisis, the enduring concerns of this magazine and progressives take on new relevance.

I spent hours poring over the material of about 25 or so groups. In a rigorous process, the judges – with the help of Ploughshares – made some hard decisions and selected 12 extraordinary finalists. People can now vote for the group or groups that they feel best articulate their own peace agenda. Each vote costs just $1 which goes exclusively to the selected group. (Ploughshare always gives 100 percent of public contributions to its grantees--it never takes a cut for administrative overhead or fundraising – which is another unique aspect of its operation.)

The primary runs through October 31 when the group with the most votes will receive an additional $100,000 prize to promote its vision of peace in 2008. The hope we all share is that the Peace Primary will highlight the important work that both Ploughshares and these groups are doing, and also help provide resources to activists who will help shape the debate in 2008.

"By inviting our selection panel to submit groups in addition to the ones Ploughshares came up with we really broadened the scope beyond nuclear non-proliferation, or Iraq," said Deborah Bain, Director of Communications at Ploughshares. "It's a different group from past Ploughshares' grantees, and includes organizations working on Darfur and torture, for example." The twelve finalists include:

* American Friends Service Committee with Iraqis, military families, veterans, and peace supporters in the US to highlight the human and economic costs of war.

*Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation seeks to eliminate nuclear weapons, halt the spread of all weapons of mass destruction, stop the deployment of a national missile defense system, and redirect national security spending to better address the genuine threats facing the United States

* Citizens For Global Solutions works to achieve a future in which countries cooperate to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms and solve the problems facing humanity that no country can solve alone

* Faithful Security is a multi-faith coalition dedicated to harnessing the moral willpower of America's religious communities toward a world without nuclear weapons

* Genocide Intervention Network holds political leaders accountable for their promises – to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, and also raises funds for peacekeeping efforts

* Global Green USA, the US affiliate of Green Cross International which was founded by Gorbachev in 1993, reconnects humanity to the environment, peace and security by working to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, stem climate change, and provide clean, safe drinking water for the 2.4 billion people who currently lack access to it

* National Religious Campaign Against Torture is a national, multi-faith organization dedicated to stopping US sponsored torture, without exception

* Peace Action & Peace Action West with 100,000 members and chapters in nearly 30 states, is the largest grassroots peace organization and is making its voice heard at the polls in opposition to the occupation of Iraq and any wars of aggression against Iran, North Korea, Syria or any other country

* Refugees International has nearly 30 years of experience and is leading the call to increase aid to displaced Iraqis and assist countries in the region that are overwhelmed by the refugee influx

* True Majority is committed to bringing the troops home, supporting Iraqis in repairing their country, and shifting our nation's wealth from defense contractors and the Pentagon to addressing needs like healthcare, reducing the national debt, and rebuilding schools

* Union of Concerned Scientists is educating 2008 candidates about the need to reduce the risks posed by nuclear weapons, stop global warming, and ensure the integrity of government science

* Women's Action For New Directions empowers women to take political action and change our national priorities toward peace and real security, away from militarism and violence.

Since Saturday's launch the web traffic is high and the groups are working hard to steer their members and (friends) to the Peace Primary. In addition to raising resources for these 12 organizations, Ploughshare is working behind-the-scenes to help some of the groups build capacity to reach new supporters and raise their profiles. For example, the Fund offered every organization a Get Out The Vote toolkit outlining 20 ways to promote the Peace Primary.

Bain hopes that in addition to engaging a new generation of supporters, there will also be "cross-fertilization" between the groups. A group like the Genocide Intervention Network, for example, is young, dynamic, and web savvy while Refugee International is an experienced organization with a devoted membership that is looking to expand its online presence. There are plenty of opportunities for like-minded groups like these to cooperate with one another.

These are perilous times which demand a new and enduring vision of peace and human security. If we have learned anything in these last years, it is that overwhelming military might is ill-suited to dealing with the central challenges of our century: the spread of weapons of mass destruction, stateless terrorists with global reach, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), climate change, genocidal conflict and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality.

The Peace Primary can play a powerful role – educating people about vital issues ranging from development of nuclear weapons to policies on arms sales and human rights. It can help people realize the power we have when we act collectively, and ensure that politicians and leaders here and around the world have to answer to an informed and organized electorate on matters of war and peace.

It is time to lead by example, not by force. The Peace Primary – with its commitment to restoring human security and peace in our times – is something I'm proud to be a part of, and in sync with the work and values of The Nation. It is worth supporting and celebrating. Spread the word.

Questioning Petraeus' Credibility

In advance of General David Petraeus' testimony to the House of Representatives today, MoveOn.org is running a hard-hitting ad in the New York Times questioning his credibility.

"General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" the ad asks. "Cooking the Books for the White House."

The ad cites an op-ed Petraeus wrote in September 2004--six weeks before the presidential election--in which he boasted of "tangible progress" in Iraq and that "Iraqi leaders are stepping forward." It also notes that in claiming a reduction of violence, the Pentagon, under Petraeus' directive, is ignoring car bombs, routine types of assassinations (shots to the back of the head count, front do not) and ethnic cleansing in Baghdad. The ad references an Associated Press report that Iraqi civilian deaths and American troop casualties are higher in the last three months than any other summer.

Moreover, according to the Washington Post, Petraeus resisted the original findings of the recent National Intelligence Estimate and "succeeded in having the security judgments softened to reflect improvements in recent months." The Department of Defense also altered a General Accountability Office report that originally found that Iraqis had met only three of the 18 benchmarks required of them. After US officials in Iraq protested, the GAO changed the status of two benchmarks from "did not meet" to "partially met."

Yet Republicans are directing their fury at the rightful target--MoveOn. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this morning condemned the ad as "childish tactics that are insulting to everyone fighting for freedom in Iraq." Just last May, McConnell predicted that "the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall." And he called the lack of progress by the Iraqi government, "a great disappointment to members of the Senate on both sides."

So McConnell, like the rest of the "wait until September" crowd, has been converted.

If only you could say the same about the rest of the military's top brass, who increasingly diverge with Petraeus. The Joint Chief of Staff want troop levels cut in half by the end of next year. Admiral William Fallon this summer recommended "slashing US combat forces in Iraq by three-quarters by 2010," according to the Post.

The American public, a clear majority of whom want to decrease the number of troops in Iraq and set a timetable of next spring for withdrawal, are even more skeptical of Petraeus. According to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, only 39 percent of the public believes Petraeus will "honestly reflect the situation in Iraq" in his testimony today.

End of the World As We Know It?

I'm not a climate scientist or geologist, and no, I don't play one on TV. So I can't assess the accuracy of the report below from yesterday's Guardian. But it sure did catch my attention:

"The Greenland ice cap is melting so quickly that it is triggering earthquakes as pieces of ice several cubic kilometres in size break off.

"Scientists monitoring events this summer say the acceleration could be catastrophic in terms of sea-level rise and make predictions this February by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change far too low.

"The glacier at Ilulissat, which supposedly spawned the iceberg that sank the Titantic, is now flowing three times faster into the sea than it was 10 years ago."

The article says that one observer, Robert Corell, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, reports that "the glacier is now moving at 15km a year into the sea although in surges it moves even faster. He measured one surge at 5km in 90 minutes - an extraordinary event."

Perhaps my new second-floor apartment, which is about four miles, as the crow flies, from Boston Harbor, will soon be waterfront property. Hmm. Note to self: buy some life jackets and a dinghy.