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The War Over "War on Terror"

Bill Clinton made a habit of blurring the differences between Democrats and Republicans. Now his wife is doing the same to her Democratic rivals.

"The differences among us are minor," she said during last night's debate in New Hampshire. "The differences between us and the Republicans are major." That's true, but only to a point. Take, for example, the rather important question of whether or not the US is engaged, as George W. Bush says, in a global war on terror.

In a speech last month, John Edwards courageously called the "war on terror" a "bumper sticker" for President Bush. "The war on terror is a slogan designed only for politics, not a strategy to make America safe," he said on May 23. "It's a bumper sticker, not a plan." He reiterated that criticism last night. The phrase was intended, Edwards said, "for George Bush to use it to justify everything he does: the ongoing war in Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, spying on Americans, torture."

When asked for her response, Hillary disagreed. "I am a senator from New York," she said. "I have lived with the aftermath of 9/11, and I have seen firsthand the terrible damage that can be inflicted on our country by a small band of terrorists who are intent upon foisting their way of life and using suicide bombers and suicidal people to carry out their agenda." Perhaps most tellingly, she concurred with Bush that the country is safer now than it was before 9/11.

Hillary has aggressively moved left on Iraq since entering the primary. But when it comes to the "war on terror," her answer last night revealed that she still favors the status quo.

Sex and Reality

A recent study commissioned by Congress concluded that abstinence-only programs are completely ineffective in preventing or delaying teenagers from having sexual intercourse. Nor do they lower unwanted pregnancy rates or lessen the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Given this reality, it's bad news that the federal government will waste $176 million on these programs in 2007 alone. "In short, American taxpayers appear to have paid over one billion federal dollars for programs that have no impact," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The good news: Leaders at the state and federal level are learning how counterproductive abstinence-only programs are and are starting to take action.

Several states, including California, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have already rejected Title V funds, for being too restrictive. And more recently, Congressional leaders have indicated that they would allow Title V, a $50 million abstinence-only program, to expire on June 30. "Abstinence-only seems to be a colossal failure," said Rep. John Dingell, (D- MI) chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over Title V funding.

Rep. Waxman is also considering holding hearings on the issue in the near future.

"With all we know about how to prevent teen pregnancy and reduce sexually transmitted diseases," said Rep. Diana DeGette, (D-Col.), "it is high time to redirect the millions of federal dollars that we squander every year on abstinence-only education to programs that actually work."


This post was co-written by Michael Corcoran, a former Nation intern and freelance journalist residing in Boston. His work has appeared in The Nation, the Boston Globe and Campus Progress. he can be reached at www.michaelcorcoran.blogspot.com. Please send us your own ideas for "sweet victories" by emailing to nationvictories@gmail.com

Dems Debate: Is There a Difference on Iraq--Or Not?

There are no major differences among us regarding the Iraq war.

So said Senator Hillary Clinton at Sunday night's Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire.

There are profound differences among us regarding the Iraq war.

So said former Senator John Edwards at the same debate.

The difference over the difference was the main point of contention of the event. The positions staked out by the leading candidates were--no shocker here--obvious. Clinton wants to play down the fact that until recently she was out of step with Democratic primary voters concerning the war, for she had (a) voted to grant George W. Bush the authority to attack Iraq and then (b) more or less defended the war for several years before she (c) announced her campaign for presidency and starting calling (and voting) for an end to the war. So on the stage she pointed out that "we all believe we need to end the war." She added that whatever disagreements exist among the Democrats on how best to do so, these disputes are trivial given that every major Republican running to succeed Bush supports the president on the war. "This is George Bush's war," she declared.

It was a typical frontrunner's performance. Focus not on the rivals in your own party but on the other side. After all, Clinton doesn't want to encourage Democratic voters to compare the Democratic contenders on the Iraq war.

Edwards--who's placing third in the national polls but first in the Iowa polls--needs a line of attack on Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. So at the debate, he maintained there's an immense gap between himself and the other two. He defined it as the "difference between leading and following." He noted--correctly--that when the recent Iraq war funding bill was up for a vote in the Senate, he vociferously urged the Democrats in the Senate to say no to Bush, while Clinton and Obama went mum. Sure, Edwards went on, Clinton and Obama ended up voting against the funding, but they did so "quietly" and said nothing about how they would vote before the roll was called. That, Edwards maintained, is not leadership.

Edwards had a point--but perhaps a minor one. Is this criticism enough to fuel his attempt to overtake Clinton and Obama? Edwards' claim that he's the best antiwar candidate of the leading Democrats would have more potency if his current position were significantly different from theirs. But Clinton and Obama, by voting against the Iraq funding measure, did not give Edwards the opening he craved. And at the debate, Obama had a good comeback. "It is important to lead," he said, adding "I opposed this war from the start...not years late." Edwards, like Clinton, voted to give Bush the authority to start the war.

So among the Democrats' three leaders, there's a candidate who was initially against the war and now pledges to end it, a candidate who voted for the war and now pledges to end it, and a candidate who voted for the war and now pledges to end it and who criticizes his two key opponents for not being sufficiently passionate in their opposition to the war. Viva la difference? Or not.

Clinton hopes to blur the edges; Edwards needs to sharpen them. Meanwhile, Obama cannot coast on his original opposition to the war. If he and Clinton are at the same place now on the most critical issue for Democratic voters, he's going to have a tough time upsetting her apple cart. On Iraq--the dominant topic of the night--this debate did not achieve much for Clinton's main rivals. With Edwards' support slipping and Obama's support softening in the most recent national poll, each needs a boost more than she does. Bottom-line (for those keeping score at home): it was a good night for the former First Lady. Anytime she makes it through a debate without being clobbered, she's the winner.

*****

JUST 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.

The Somalia Strike

Here's something that didn't come up at Sunday's Democratic debate: Under what authorization did President Bush order a military strike on Somalia this past Friday--essentially widening the "war on terror"?

While the Dems argued about the best way to get out of this failed and disastrous war in Iraq, what Friday's military strike reveals is how our political system continues to evade the challenge of finding an exit from a misconceived "war on terror"--and the damage that "war" continues to inflict on our security and engagement with the world.

That's why I think it's useful that John Edwards is attacking the Bush Administration for its cynical use of "the war on terror" metaphor. A bad bumper sticker, he likes to call it, that "has created a frame that is not accurate and that Bush and his gang have used to justify anything they want to do..."

Very true. Witness the collateral damage to our democracy. The "war" has been used by the Bush team as justification for almost everything-- unlawful spying on Americans, illegal detention policies, hyper-secrecy, equating dissent with disloyalty. It's also been used to justify the expansion of America's military capacity--over 700 bases in more than 60 countries, annual military budgets topping $500 billion--as necessary to counter the threat of Islamic extremism and to fight the "war on terror." Now the expansion of the "war on terror" to the Horn of Africa.

What too few politicians (especially frontrunning Dem candidates) are willing to say--clearly, honestly--is that combating terrorism is not a "war" and that military action is the wrong weapon. Yes, terrorism does pose a threat to national and international security that can never be eliminated. But there are far more effective (and ethical) ways to advance US security than a forward-based and military-heavy strategy of intrusion into the Islamic world (including Afghanistan). Indeed, the failed Iraq war should demonstrate, anew, the limits of military power. Yet what Friday's missile strike deep inside Somalia exposes is that the hyper-militarized "war" on terror continues in ways we are only seeing the tip of.

Where were the tough questions, for example, when the Pentagon opened a new "Africa Command" earlier this year to hunt down Islamists in Somalia. The consequence: Friday's strike--led by a US Navy destroyer launching an attack on suspected militant forces--was the third US strike inside Somalia this year. (At least that's the figure we know about; There may well be more strikes we will only learn about through investigative reporting and real Congressional oversight.) According to Sunday's Washington Post, the attack was "the latest in a US military operation that began late last year in Somalia, a moderate Muslim country, and that US officials say is aimed at fighting terrorism in the Horn of Africa." The Post also reports that "Dozens of FBI and CIA personnel have traveled to Ethiopia to question Somalis and foreigners, including at least two US citizens, rounded up by Ethiopian troops in Somalia and held in secret prisons that human rights have likened to a mini-Guantánamo." Chilling. A mini- Gitmo in the Horn of Africa.

Yes, let's end the disastrous war in Iraq but let's not lose sight of how this Administration is USING the 2002 war authorization. It must be repealed, so as to provide some check on this Administration's ability to wage secret wars on obscure battle fronts, large and small, and inflate a real, but limited threat of terrorism into an open-ended global war. Maybe there's a question in here for one of the next Presidential debates?

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.

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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.'"

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.