Quantcast

The Nation

Clinton Beats Blitzer in CNN Debate

Maybe the Democratic presidential candidates should rethink their decision not to debate on the Fox New Channel. It couldn't be worse than the theater of the absurd CNN organized Sunday night at New Hampshire's St. Anselm College – which, it should be noted, was co-sponsored by an even more aggressively conservative media outlet than Fox: the rabidly right-wing Manchester Union-Leader newspaper.

The second major debate between the eight Democrats who would be president broke little new ground. In fairness, that wasn't CNN's fault. It's still too early for the candidates to stray from their talking points; that won't happen until the desperate days of the late fall and early winter when contenders who recognize that the keys to the Oval Office are slipping from their grasp decide to go for broke.

So Sunday's debate was, for the most part, a dull dance.

Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards repeated appropriate criticisms of his fellow frontrunners, New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Illinois Senator Barack Obama, for failing to take a leadership role in opposing the war in Iraq – while Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd tried to get some attention for the fact that they actually been outspoken in their opposition to giving President Bush another blank check to pursue his war of whim.

The former First Lady said she'd make "dear husband" Bill some sort of roving ambassador, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel said they'd do the same. While the other candidates made vague promises that they won't even try to keep regarding what they'd do in their first 100 days in office, Dodd stood out by saying he would use his first day to renew and restore basic liberties that have been undermined by George Bush's presidential edicts, decrees and secret schemes. Richardson was equally impressive when he suggested – correctly – that a U.S. threat to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics could play a vital role in ending the genocide in Darfur.

Unfortunately, Dodd did not get a chance to speak in anything more than the shortest sound bite about resurrecting the Constitution. And Richardson never got to explain that, because of China's trade links with the Sudanese government, and because of Beijing's obsession with making next year's Olympics a success, the threat of a U.S. boycott of the games could be dramatically more effective than most such gambits.

Despite the fact that this was a two-hour debate, moderator Wolf Blitzer acted throughout the night as if he was hosting "Beat the Clock." Of course, a moderator must keep a crowded field under control. But the candidates weren't the ones who were off the leash. Rather, it was the CNN anchor who repeatedly interrupted contenders who were trying to explain the basics of their positions, cut off thoughful answers in mid-sentence and failed to follow up when significant points of difference – on issues such as trade policy – were thrown into the mix.

Worst of all, Blitzer tried to take complex issues and reduce them to show-of-hand stunts.

At one point, Blitzer tossed a wild hypothetical at the candidates: If they knew where Osama bin Laden would be for 20 minutes, would they move to eliminate him even if that meant killing "innocent civilians"? Blitzer's question raised fundamental questions: What do we mean by innocent civilians? Are we talking about children? How many would die? Could bin Laden be captured? Would taking him out compromise a flow of intelligence that might provide information that could prevent future attacks on Americans?

Kucinich tried to explore subtleties of international law and common sense, but Blitzer shut him down. Instead of a nuanced discussion on how the U.S. might operate in a post-Bush world, Blitzer simply demanded that candidates raise their hands if they were for getting bin Laden.

Moments later, after Delaware Senator Joe Biden suggested using military force to end the genocide in Darfur, Blitzer was again calling for a show of hands.

No room for a discussion about what sort of force – a no-fly zone or troops on the ground, an international coalition or a U.S.-led expedition, a full-fledged attack on another Muslim state or peacekeeping in the desert – just hands in the air by candidates who were for marching on Africa.

Blitzer was determined to race past anything akin to a serious discussion. And through most of the night, he got away with it.

Finally, as the moderator pressed his "who's-against-genocide" show and tell, Clinton called him on his antics. While the other candidates grumbled about the host's absurdly overbearing approach, the New York senator pointedly declared, "We're not going to engage in these hypotheticals. I mean one of the jobs of a president is being very reasoned in approaching these issues. And I don't think it's useful to be talking in these kinds of abstract hypothetical terms."

She got a deserved round of applause from a crowd that was as annoyed as the candidates were with Blitzer.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

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.'"

When the Prince of Darkness Visits

"I want to know when the Prince of Darkness comes to visit Mr. Cheney," the wife of a colleague said in response to the Vice President's most recent power grab.

The most secretive VP in US history has arbitrarily decided that the Secret Service logs of visitors to his official residence at the Naval Observatory are none of the people's business. In September 2006, Cheney's Counsel, Shannen Coffin, wrote the Secret Service that all logs should be handed over to the Office of the Vice President and that the agency "shall not retain any copy of these documents and information…. If any documents remain in your possession, please return them to OVP as soon as possible."

The letter was written as the Washington Post requested the logs under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) – a watchdog group targeting officials who "sacrifice the common good to special interests" – had sued the Secret Service for access to the records under the FOIA as well. CREW is seeking to identify conservative religious leaders who visited both the White House and Vice President's residence and the Coffin letter was filed by the Justice department in an effort to get the group's lawsuit dismissed.

"The latest filings make clear that the administration has been destroying documents and entering into secret agreements in violation of the law," said Anne Weisman, CREW's chief counsel.

Against Cheney's wishes, the Secret Service has retained copies of the records (though it maintains that these records – despite being "created as part of the Secret Service's performance of its statutorily-mandated function of protecting the President and Vice President" – are not subject to disclosure under the FOIA.) The Bush administration maintains that all of these records are protected under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, and it "quietly" signed an agreement to that effect with the Secret Service a year ago as the media sought to investigate Jack Abramoff's White House access.

"The scary thing about this move by the vice president's office is the power grab part of it," Tom Blanton, head of the National Security Archive, told the Associated Press. "We're looking at a huge problem if the White House can reach into any agency and say certain records have something to do with the White House and they are presidential from now on. This White House has been infinitely creative in finding new ways and new forms of government secrecy."

And no one has been more aggressive on this battle against transparency than the Man Who Should Be Impeached (first). From secret meetings with energy executives to craft an energy policy that does nothing to alleviate oil dependence and everything to increase their own profits; to setting up a rogue agency (Office of Special Plans) that cherry-picked intelligence and lied our nation into this catastrophic war; to his close involvement with a parallel Justice Department (Office of Legal Policy – with David Addington and cronies) that sought to justify torture, use Presidential signing statements to ignore laws, and expand Executive powers at the expense of our system of checks and balances under the unitary executive theory. And now the Vice President is using and abusing his power to make secret what is the rightful knowledge of US taxpaying citizens.

What's next?

Dan Bartlett's Exit Strategy

White House counselor Dan Bartlett, the man who unwittingly confirmed that President Bush participated in discussions with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and political czar Karl Rove about firing U.S. Attorneys who weren't sufficiently political in their prosecutions, is hightailing it out of the administration.

Bartlett made the traditional Friday announcement of his exit strategy, coupling it with the even more traditional announcement that when the going gets tough the tough suddenly recognize that they want to spend more time with their children.

What really made Bartlett, a veteran if not exceptionally competent presidential apologist, decide at this particular point to follow the rats over the side of the Bush battleship?

Could it be that even Bartlett – a man who has been at Bush's side for 14 years – has tired of the boy king's, er, gee, what's the right word here, um, madness.

Syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer writes in Thursday's editions of The Dallas Morning News: "[By] all reports, President Bush is more convinced than ever of his righteousness. Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated "I am the president!" He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of "our country's destiny."

Geyer's report echoes assessment by Chris Nelson, who edits The Nelson Report, a well-regarded daily review of national security issues that circulates among politicians and opinion makers in Washington. Nelson wrote earlier this month that: "[Big] money players up from Texas recently paid a visit to their friend in the White House. The story goes that they got out exactly one question, and the rest of the meeting consisted of The President in an extended whine, a rant, actually, about no one understands him, the critics are all messed up, if only people would see what he's doing things would be OK… etc., etc. This is called a "bunker mentality" and it's not attractive when a friend does it. When the friend is the President of the United States, it can be downright dangerous. Apparently the Texas friends were suitably appalled, hence the story now in circulation."

Let's see: The commander-in-chief is "wild-eyed."

He's whining about how "no one understands."

Taking his finger off the nuclear button and "thumping himself on the chest."

Ranting "I am the president!"

Calling Iraq "our country's destiny."

Friends turn to Bartlett, the man they have always seen at Bush's side, for an explanation of the president's increasingly erratic behavior.

Bartlett checks his watch. "Oops, time to go! Gotta spend more time with the kids."

One Memorial A Month

Here is a stark consequence of the human costs of the Iraq war. It was reported Thursday that because so many Fort Lewis soliders are being killed in Iraq, the Washington State army base says it will no longer hold individual memorial services. Starting today, Fort Lewis will hold one memorial a month for all dead soldiers. In May, the bloodiest month of the occupation in 2007, 19 Fort Lewis soldiers were killed --more than at any time during this war, About 10,000 of the bases troops are now in Iraq--the most since the 2003 invasion.With this order, the base commanders appear to be signaling that they foresee bloodier, deadlier times ahead--as the "surge" takes more lives. And though they may wish to diminish the pain and grief of a hard hit community, collective memorials will also shield people from the reality of the death and destruction wrought by this war and occupation. It is also a policy that reminds of other attempts to suppress the reality of this war. This Administration, for example, has gone out of its way to prohibit evidence of dead soldiers returning home--by prohibiting photographs of coffins as they arrived back in the US. The President and Vice-President have carefully avoided attending any of the more than 3000 funerals which are the tragic fabric of this war. It is worth remembering that it was the grief and pain at the scores of funerals they attended that moved Republican Walter Jones of North Carolina and Democrat John Murtha of Pennsylvania to oppose this war. Every day we delay leaving Iraq costs only more American and Iraqi lives.

Stop Southwick

Remember the courts?

The Bush Administration is trying to slip another extremist judicial appointment through a distracted Congress with the nomination of Leslie H. Southwick, a former Mississippi Court of Appeals judge, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a New Orleans-based court that hears cases from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Southwick offers a truly lamentable record of rulings on civil and equal rights and a history that staunchly favors special interests over individual rights and liberties. As an exhaustive report by the Alliance for Justice shows, Southwick has gone out of his way to express troubling views on workers' rights, has joined strikingly homophobic decisions and has voted consistently against consumers and workers in divided torts and employment cases.

In 1995 he joined a decision, over a strong dissent, upholding a ruling taking away an eight-year-old girl from her mother and awarding full custody to the father, largely because the woman was living in a "lesbian home." Southwick went even further a few years later and joined a gratuitously anti-gay opinion underscoring Mississippi's right, under "the principles of Federalism," to treat gay men and lesbians like second-class citizens. In another case, again over strong dissents, Southwick joined an opinion upholding the reinstatement without any disciplinary action of a white state employee who had been fired for calling a co-worker a "good ole nigger."

And this is just what we know! As AFJ founder Nan Aron noted, "Perhaps as disturbing as what we do know about Judge Southwick is what we don't know. Thousands of pages of unpublished opinions he joined have not yet been made available to the public. The burden is on Judge Southwick to demonstrate his qualifications for a lifetime appointment. It is a burden he has failed to meet."

That's why there's been mounting opposition by both state and national civil rights groups over Judge Southwick's record. The Congressional Black Caucus, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, People for the American Way, Human Rights Campaign, National Employment Lawyers Association, National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, Mississippi NAACP and the Magnolia Bar are all calling for his defeat.

Check out the AFJ's report for more background on Southwick's sordid resume. Then, if you're sufficiently appalled, join the opposition by clicking here to implore your reps to vote against this nominee. This is a fight that can be won.

Meet Fred Thompson: Friend of Felons

Here is the latest from the front page of the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Trust, the group that has been shaking down Republican donors for the money needed to maintain the convicted felon's silence until an appropriate moment arrives for him to be pardoned by President Bush:

"Former Senator Fred Thompson, a member of the Advisory Committee for the Libby Legal Defense Trust has graciously offered to host another fund raiser for the Libby Legal Defense Trust. We will be providing additional details in the coming days."

Thompson's schedule is getting busier and busier these days, as the man who reversed Ronald Reagan's career trajectory by going from the Senate into acting prepared to bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

But, hopefully, Thompson will find time to further identify himself with Libby, who the TV attorney identifies as "a man with nothing to hide."

The Thompson-Libby relationship, particularly Thompson's recent statements regarding it, tells Americans everything they need to know about the man who seeks to replace George W. Bush in the Oval Office.

Thompson is either a longtime acquaintance of Libby or someone who rushed to the side of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff when he determined that an injustice was being done.

According to a February 23 report by Associated Press, "Trust spokeswoman Barbara Comstock says Thompson knew Libby from serving on the Senate Intelligence Committee and dealing with top White House staff."

According to Thompson, in a speech delivered May 12 to the Council for National Policy, "I didn't know Scooter Libby, but I did know something about this intersection of law, politics, special counsels and intelligence. And it was obvious to me that what was happening was not right. So I called him to see what I could do to help, and along the way we became friends. You know the rest of the story: a D.C. jury convicted him."

Whatever the facts of their relationship, however, there is no debating Thompson's loyalty to Libby. He is the leading proponent of a presidential pardon for the convicted felon. And he regularly uses his prominence as a TV lawyer to accuse the man who brought Libby to justice, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, of "perverting the rule of law."

In the faux-conservative circles that define the modern Republican Party, Thompson is more closely associated with the defense of the disgraced White House aide than with any particular stand on the issues facing the nation. That's one of the reasons why so many of the true believers in the Bush presidency are so very enthusiastic about Thompson's now likely candidacy to replace Bush

Since Libby was convicted in March on four counts of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements about how he learned the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame -- the wife of former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who was targeted for attack by Cheney's office after he exposed the administration's manipulation of intelligence when it was lobbying for war with Iraq -- Thompson has maintained that special counsel Fitzgerald, the federal judges associated with the case and the federal grand jury that decided it were all part of "the Beltway machinery" that railroaded an innocent man because "he worked for Dick Cheney."

"The Justice Department, bowing to political and media pressure, appointed a Special Counsel to investigate the leak and promised that the Justice Department would exercise no supervision over him whatsoever -- a status even the Attorney General does not have," Thompson explained in his May 12 speech. "The only problem with this little scenario was that there was no violation of the law, by anyone, and everybody -- the CIA, the Justice Department and the Special Counsel knew it. Ms. Plame was not a 'covered person' under the statute and it was obvious from the outset."

Thompson was, of course, speaking as an experienced player in courtroom dramas on ABC.

Here is what an actual prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, said in the 18-page Libby sentencing memorandum released two weeks after Thompson asserted that "everybody knew" Plame-Wilson was "not a covered person" under the rules that protect covert agents: "[It] was clear from very early in the investigation that Ms. Wilson qualified under the relevant statute (Title 50, United States Code, Section 421) as a covert agent."

Fitzgerald also detailed how Libby had blown Plame-Wilson's cover in conversations with reporters and White House aides, and explained that, "Mr. Libby kept the Vice President apprised of his shifting accounts of how he claimed to have learned about Ms. Wilson's CIA employment."

To all of this, Thompson says, "In no other prosecutor's office in the country would a case like this one have been brought."

Fitzgerald says: "To accept the argument that Mr. Libby's prosecution is the inappropriate product of an investigation that should have been closed at an early stage, one must accept the proposition that the investigation should have been closed after at least three high-ranking government officials were identified as having disclosed to reporters classified information about covert agent Valerie Wilson, where the account of one of them was directly contradicted by other witnesses, where there was reason to believe that some of the relevant activity may have been coordinated, and where there was an indication from Mr. Libby himself that his disclosures to the press may have been personally sanctioned by the Vice President. To state this claim is to refute it. Peremptorily closing this investigation in the face of the information available at its early stages would have been a dereliction of duty, and would have afforded Mr. Libby and others preferential treatment not accorded to ordinary persons implicated in criminal investigations."

This is, frankly, a better debate than any that will broadcast during the course of the presidential race.

Thompson, a career politician who plays a prosecutor on TV, says that it is wrong to prosecute someone who knowingly used a position in the White House to punish critics of the Bush administration and then lied about his abuses of authority and the public trust.

Fitzgerald, a career prosecutor who tends to avoid the cameras, disagrees.

Thompson is preparing to seek the presidency as the standard bearer of the wing of the Republican Party that turns a blind eye to official misconduct.

Fitzgerald is preparing to return to his work as one of the nation's most trusted enforcers of the rule of law.

Here is a real contest for Americans to decide. They can choose between two tickets: Thompson/Libby versus Fitzgerald/Rule of Law.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

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.'"

Thompson's Team

For eighteen years Fred Thompson was a lobbyist in Washington, a part of his biography his jump-start presidential campaign is not likely to highlight.

So despite Thompson's "folksy" appeal, perhaps it's not surprising that his campaign team is a who's who of Washington insiders and corporate execs. Until recently his campaign manager-to-be, Tom Collamore, was a top tobacco industry exec at Altria (formerly Philip Morris). His division, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, has "been responsible for implementing countermeasures to combat public health efforts to control tobacco...and PM programs to enact tort reform, head off increased cigarette taxes and thwart legislated smoking restrictions."

Another rumored top Thompson staffer is Tim Griffin, the RNC operative who Karl Rove recently installed as US Attorney for Eastern Arkansas as part of Attorneygate.

His spokesman is Mark Corallo, the former press flack for Karl Rove during the Scooter Libby trial.

The man who organized a Thompson conference call this week, Ken Rietz, is a top exec at the PR firm Burson-Marsteller (which is ironically run by Hillary Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn). Rietz, as Rick Perlstein notes, once spied on Ed Muskie's presidential campaign on behalf of Richard Nixon in 1972 as part of "Operation Sedan Chair."

And though it's unrelated to his corporate past and present, it's worth mentioning (since we're talking about the GOP primary) that Thompson's second wife and key political counselor, Jeri, is 25 years his junior and younger than the kids from his first marriage.

John Edwards-- Abolitionist

Last week, John Edwards visited the Council on Foreign Relations--the citadel of the foreign policy establishment--to deliver a speech laying out his national security policy. There wasn't anything remarkable about the speech, "A Strong Military for a New Century." What was remarkable, however, was Edwards' answer to a question posed by Cora Weiss --President of the Hague Appeal for Peace and long-time human rights, anti-nuclear and peace activist (and Nation reader).

In the subsequent (on the record) Q&A session, Edwards joined those who have called for the elimination of nuclear weapons. In doing so, he signed on to views expressed in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on January 4, signed by Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn, whch called for a world free of nuclear weapons. (Their newfound wisdom came nearly a decade after The Nation published Jonathan Schell's The Gift of Time--a special issue calling for nuclear abolition.)

Here's the Q&A:

Cora Weiss: -- in keeping with your expression used today that there should be no excuse to abandon international law, and in keeping with the international court's unanimous opinion that all countries should eliminate their nuclear weapons, and in keeping with Mr. Kissinger, Sam Nunn and Schultz' op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, when you are president, what will you do about nuclear weapons given that Mr. Bush has just announced the complex 2030 plan to redesign and develop a new generation of nuclear weapons?

John Edwards: Well, let me say first, I think I would want to associate myself with the concepts that are conveyed by Kissinger, Sam Nunn and others in the op-ed piece. I thought it was very thoughtful. And I think essentially what they said if I remember -- I don't remember the precise language -- was that we should aspire to a nuclear-free world. I agree with that. Now, there are a lot of steps that have to go between here and there. Some of them are pretty obvious, which is America should not be building new nuclear weapons. And then I think America should be doing things like leading an international effort to close the holes in the NPT. There are clearly serious flaws in the NPT. And I think America, leading an international effort to reduce the supplies nuclear sense in the world -- all aimed at the general goal that's described in that piece that you just spoke about.

Now that Edwards has broken the resounding silence (among the leading Presidential candidates) on the nuclear threat which engulfs us all, and spoken openly of his support for a nuclear-free world, isn't it time to challenge the other candidates to answer the same question?

For those candidates (and citizens) seeking an up-to-the-minute analysis and a cogent blueprint for how to rid our planet of weapons of mass destruction, get a copy of the just-released book --Nuclear Disorder or Cooperative Security?: US Weapons of Terror, The Global Proliferation Crisis, and Paths to Peace. (The authors are experts in law and policy relating to nuclear weapons, and bring a fresh, critical, perspective, informed by many years of experience.)

The Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy presents the book on May 31st at a conference in Washington DC. To order a copy, click here.

Dick Cheney's Dead Wrongs

Two years ago, on May 30, 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney said of the violence in Iraq: "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

The comment came in response to a question from CNN's Larry King.

That's the line everyone remembers from the interview.

What people don't remember is Cheney's response to King's inquiry about when US troops would come home from Iraq.

KING: You expect it in your administration?

CHENEY: I do.

Note that Cheney did not correct the reference to "your administration." As he has ever since selecting himself for a place on George W. Bush's ticket in 2000, Cheney was more than willing to assume the mantle of power.

Unfortunately, it does not wear well on the man whose record for getting wrong actually surpasses that of his supposed boss.

There is no question that Cheney, who honed his skills as a military strategist by collecting a remarkable five draft deferments during the Vietnam War, was wrong about the insurgency entering its last throes.

And if we are to believe President Bush, who says the occupation will continue through the end of his second term, Cheney was also wrong when he said that the troops would exit in his administration.

Cheney can afford to be wrong. It costs him nothing. Congress is not about to hold the Vice President, or anyone else in the administration, to account for misstating, misreading and miscalculating everything about the Iraq imbroglio. Indeed, Congress is actually giving the administration more money than it requested to maintain the occupation.

As has been the case throughout his career, Cheney's errors only cost others. Since the vice president said the insurgency was in its last throes, tens of thousands of additional Iraqis have died. Major nation's have excited Bush's so-called "coalition of the willing." And the number of American deaths in the quagmire of Bush and Cheney's creation has more than doubled.

When Cheney talked with Larry King, fewer than 1,700 American soldiers had died in Iraq. Now, the figure stands at 3,468 -- pending the latest round of Department of Defense confirmations.

The Vice President fancies himself something of a amateur historian. Perhaps, then, he will be intrigued by some of the historic mileposts that have been passed since he spoke two years ago. Since Cheney was telling Americans that the war had taken a turn for the better and that the troops would return on his watch, total American losses in Iraq have surpassed the US death tolls in the Spanish-American War (2,446) and the War of 1812 (2,260). And they are fast approaching the death total for the Revolutionary War (4,435).

So it goes with Dick Cheney. No apologies. No accountability. Just a whole lot of wrong. And a whole lot of funerals.

John Nichols' biography of the vice president, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes the book as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."