The Nation

Lee, Woolsey, Waters, Watson Clear Way For Pelosi Bill

Progressive opposition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's plan to give President Bush the money he seeks to maintain the war in Iraq for at least another year -- but to attach benchmarks and a timeline designed to make it easier to ultimately end the war -- went into collapse Thursday.

Four key members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who had been among the more outspoken critics of the Pelosi plan, agreed to back off after meetings with the speaker.

"After two grueling weeks of meetings, progressive members of Congress brought forth an agreement that provided the momentum to pass a supplemental spending bill that, for the first time, establishes a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq," California Democrats Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey, Maxine Waters and Diane Watson said in a statement released late in the day.

Lee and Woolsey co-chair the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Waters is a founder of the bipartisan Out of Iraq Caucus.

All four had objected that the Pelosi bill asked too little of the president and allowed the war to go on for too long.

But, as it became clear that their opposition might prevent passage of the spending bill and hand a preceived victory to the president, the progressives bagan to waver.

Waters said that she and her allies would no longer encourage anti-war Democrats to oppose the Pelosi plan. "We have released people who were beginning…to be pulled in a different direction," she was reported as explaining. "We don't want them to be put in a position where they look like they are undermining Nancy's speakership."

For Lee, the decision to effectively encourage support for Pelosi's plan was particularly tough. She cast the sole vote against authorizing Bush to mount a military response to the 9-11 attacks in 2001, and she has consistently opposed every step to initiate and expand the Iraq War. "I have struggled with this decision, but I finally decided that, while I cannot betray my conscience, I cannot stand in the way of passing a measure that puts a concrete end date on this unnecessary war,'' Lee was quoted as saying by the online magzaine The Politico.

The shift by Lee, who last week voted against advancing the Pelosi plan as part of the deliberations by the Appropriations Committee, is especially significant. It is likely to free up a number of other anti-war Democrats in the House to vote with Pelosi.

Where does this leave the debate over the bill?

Most Republicans will oppose it, as will a handful of Democrats -- some of them Blue Dog conservatives who support the war, some of them anti-war progressives such as Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

But with most of the key players on the anti-war flank of the Democratic caucus in the House signing on, Pelosi's proposal now appears far more likely to be passed than it did just a few days ago. It needs 218 votes, and there is a distinct possibility that the votes of Lee, Waters, Watson and Woolsey could secure its success.

Bush continues to promise a veto of any such measure.


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.'"

Take this McJob, and...

"An unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector." That's The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of "McJob," a term which has been in common use ever since Douglas Coupland popularized it in his 1991 novel Generation X (published the year I graduated from college, which was a dismal year to look for any other kind of job). The Financial Times reports that McDonald's has launched a campaign to remove the word from the esteemed O.E.D. Now, the O.E.D. is obviously not out to slam McDonald's; its experts closely follow trends in the English language. A word gets into the O.E.D. because it is in widespread use. McDonald's could ask itself why it has become synonymous with dead-end, crappy employment, and seek to make life better for its workers. Instead, the company has launched a petition drive to persuade the O.E.D. to drop the term. A petition! As if it was a neighborhood association, rather than a multi-national behemoth. As corporate conduct goes, this is certainly more courteous than suing a ragtag bunch of vegetarian environmentalists, as the company did in the infamous McLibel trial, but the petition strategy is unlikely to succeed. The O.E.D. -- along with other dictionaries that define the word similarly, like Merriam-Webster -- isn't likely to remove the term until it ceases to be in use. That is, until reality changes.

The Elizabeth Edwards Campaign

John Edwards is still in the running.

But his campaign will be different from here on out.

On Thursday morning, as word spread that his wife, Elizabeth, has suffered an extremely serious recurrence of the cancer that struck her in 2004, there was broad speculation that Edwards would suspend his run for the 2OO8 Democratic nomination.

Instead, as reporters crowded around to record what many though would be the exit of the former North Carolina senator from the presidential contest, Edwards declared, "The campaign goes on. The campaign goes on strongly."

But, of course, the campaign will now be shadowed by a discussion about the health of Elizabeth Edwards. It is a discussion that both husband and wife are willing to engage in. And they will put it in perspective.

"Is this a hardship for us? It's yet another hurdle," says Elizabeth Edwards, who was diagnosed this week with what appears to be daunting case of bone cancer. "But I've seen people who are in really desperate shape."

Elizabeth Edwards went on to say that she felt "unbelievably important" for her husband's campaign to continue.

She is not being a "dutiful" political wife when she says this.

Elizabeth Edwards, who I have interviewed frequently and watched on many of the twists and turns of the presidential campaign trail, is a wholly engaged and very serious political player.

She believes in her husband's run for the 2OO8 nomination -- not merely because the candidate is her husband but because the campaign has embraced so many of her progressive values -- and she has influenced it profoundly.

Always more deeply and specifically critical of the Iraq War, Elizabeth Edwards has played a central role in moving her husband toward a more aggressively anti-war position. In the summer of 2OO5, before John Edwards apologized for his 2OO2 vote to authorize President Bush to take the country to war in Iraq, Elizabeth Edwards expressed support for Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain soldier who was then emerging as a leading war critic.

At a time when few prominent political figures were willing to step up and tell President Bush to meet with Sheehan and hear her anti-war views, Elizabeth Edwards wrote, "Whether you agree or disagree with every part, or any part, of what Cindy wants to say, you know it is better that the president hear different opinions, particularly from those with such a deep and personal interest in the decisions of our government. Today, another voice would be helpful. Cindy Sheehan can be that voice. She has earned the right to be that voice."

There is no question that John Edwards has become a stronger candidate as he has listened more to the advice of his wife than the consultants who, in 2OO4, prodded him to be too cautious and controlled. As someone who has seen the two of them together, I am convinced that John Edwards now relies on Elizabeth Edwards as his essential adviser.

That's good for him politically, and, frankly, it's good for progressives who want the Democratic presidential contest to feature a top-tier contender who speaks seriously about the need to advance economic and social justice at home and abroad.

If Elizabeth Edwards wanted John Edwards out of the presidential race, he would be out.

But she wants him to continue the campaign -- not merely as a bid for office but as a crusade to advance a different and more progressive vision of America. She is a true believer. And she will remain the greatest asset for John Edwards' candidacy. For better or worse, the drama surrounding her serious struggle with cancer will make the focus of the Edwards campaign on the need for fundamental health care reforms all the more meaningful.

Some will see that as inappropriate, perhaps even exploitive. But that's absurd. Elizabeth Edwards has a talent for downplaying her own ailments in a way that allows her to connect with people on a human level. And that connection will benefit the Edwards for President bid -- a run that, from here on out, will be more serious, more real and, very possibly, more viably because this couple has made the serious decision to continue with a campaign that is beginning to look more and more like a mission.


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.'"

Energy and Substance

While too much of the media has focused on first-quarter fundraising battles and the sniping between the Obama and Clinton camps, presidential candidate John Edwards took the opportunity to lay out a bold energy plan that addresses some of the great challenges of our time.

As he said in a speech in Iowa, "Our generation must be the one that says, ‘we must halt global warming.' Our generation must be the one that says ‘yes' to renewable fuels and ends forever our dependence on foreign oil. And our generation must be the one that builds the new energy economy. It won't be easy, but it is time to ask the American people to be patriotic about something other than war."

Some key aspects of the Edwards Energy Plan include a cap on greenhouse pollution in 2010 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050 – consistent with the dictates of the latest climate science. He would use an economy-wide, cap-and-trade system and sell a portion of the pollution permits to raise $10 billion a year for a New Energy Economy Fund. The Fund would be used to pursue clean, renewable, and efficient energy technologies and create 1 million jobs in the process – along the lines of what the Apollo Alliance has outlined. One billion dollars a year from would go towards helping US automakers meet higher fuel economy requirements and utilize the latest technologies, including biofuels, hybrid and electric cars, hydrogen fuel cells, and ultra-light materials. Finally, Edwards' plan calls for opening the electricity grid so that small-scale renewable electric generation – by farms, factories, schools, and communities – can compete with large, central power plants. (This is something Academy Award winner and pre-Scalia President-elect, Al Gore, touted in hearings on Capitol Hill today. Great to see Gore pushing the Presidential debate without even being a part of the race).

Edwards might be winning the early frontrunner race when it comes to substance over flash – he has been clear and strong on health care, labor rights and now energy. (And so far, among the frontrunners, Edwards and Obama have been clearest about a plan for ending the War in Iraq – though neither of them matches the clarity and courage of Dennis Kucinich, a presidential candidate who should receive more attention from the blogosphere since it isn't coming from the conventional media.)

With the science of global warming now settled for just about everyone who isn't named Sen. James Inhofe, and the costs of a status quo energy policy perfectly clear, speaking out boldly on how to address these challenges should be a prerequisite for any presidential candidate. Good to see John Edwards doing the right thing here.

The Decider is Delusional

Is George Bush delusional?

No, that question is not an attack on his intelligence.

Nor is it a criticism of some bizarre new position he has taken with regard to the affairs of state--although, as it happens, he has.

Rather, it is a serious question about whether the president understands what is going on around him.

After he announced Tuesday that the White House would not make a serious effort to cooperate with the Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation into the firing of US Attorneys who would not politicize their prosecutions, the President was asked about several of the attorneys who had been removed.

"I'm sorry, just frankly, it bubbled to the surface the way it has, for the US attorneys involved," answered Bush. "I really am. These are --I put them in there in the first place. They're decent people. They serve at our pleasure. And yet, now, they're being held up in the scrutiny of all this. And it's just--what I said in comments, I meant about them. I appreciated their service, and I'm sorry that the situation has gotten to where it's got. But that's Washington, DC, for you. You know, there a lot of politics in this town."

Here's the troubling thing about Bush's response.

It appears that he might be unaware that his firing of the US Attorneys – who, as he notes "serve at the pleasure of the president" – took the situation "to where it's got."

Does Bush think that these US Attorneys are under attack by the Senate?

Does he not understand that the Senate is trying to figure out why Bush and his aides went after the fired prosecutors?

Does he not understand that the US Attorneys in question will be testifying about wrongdoing by presidential appointees?

That's where the question about the President's awareness of what is going on around him arises.

Indeed, the only comment more delusional than his expression of sympathy for the US Attorneys was Bush's suggestion that he and his aides have the authority to refuse to cooperate with Congressional requests for information and testimony regarding wrongdoing within the White House.

After bluntly stating that he would fight efforts to have White House staffers testify before the Judiciary Committee, he said of the Senate: "I hope they don't choose confrontation."

The Senate is not choosing confrontation. Bush is.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, is operating entirely within its Constitutional mandate. Leahy has consulted closely with Republicans on the committee and respected their requests to give the White House time to do the right thing. Now that his White House has refused to respect the separation of powers clauses of the Constitution, Bush says of members of the Senate: "It will be regrettable if they choose to head down the partisan road of issuing subpoenas and demanding show trials, when I have agreed to make key White House officials and documents available."

Let's be clear: The suggestion that the President is delusional is the most respectful assessment of what was said during Tuesday's press conference.

After all, if he is not delusional, than the President of the United States is deliberately attempting to deceive the Congress and the American people about high crimes and misdemeanors that may have been committed by his aides and by himself. In his comments Tuesday, the President made reference to what the framers of the Constitution "understood" when they were "developing the separate branches of government." In fact, what the framers understood was that, in order to assure that the executive branch would cooperate with the legislative branch in disputes over federal affairs, Congress would need the authority to sanction presidents who attempt to avert appropriate checks and balances. This was a matter that the framers of the Constitution took so seriously that they outlined specific remedies for so sanctioning lawless presidents and their aides.

For the President's reference, they are found in Article I in the sections dealing with the power of the Congress to impeach and remove presidents and their aides. It is sobering reading for royalists, so sobering in fact that it could cure a nasty case of presidential delusions.


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.'"

Students Against War

At the outset of the Iraq war four years ago numerous polls found that students, like the majority of the population, overwhelmingly supported the invasion. Now those same polls show that students, more than any other age group, oppose the war.

I've heard much lamenting over the lack of student antiwar activism and organizing around Iraq. The absence of a draft is generally held to be the most important difference in explaining the larger student mobilizations against war in Southeast Asia but charges of apathy also abound.

This has always seemed unfair to me--students have exhibited just as much, if not in most cases more, opposition to the war than any other age group. As Sam Graham-Felsen recounted in a recent Nation article, a broad array of student groups have made ending the war a top priority. Among the main players are a reborn Students for a Democratic Society, the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, the Campus Antiwar Network and the Hip Hop Caucus, a new organization founded by Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. (Check the SDS site for a survey of antiwar actions mounted by students to mark yesterday's fourth anniversary of the war and read Nation intern Wes Enzinna's description of antiwar activists' use of YouTube for more examples of student opposition to the war.)

Offering some of the most substantial support for this collegiate peace activism, Campus Progress, the student program of the Center for American Progress, has launched the Iraq Campaign and Iraq Film Project. (Full disclosure: CP is also an active collaborator with The Nation. We re-publish a small portion of CP content on our StudentNation site and we jointly produce an annual student journalism conference.)

There's been an unusually large number of good documentaries recently produced on the war which can help bring the realities on the ground into sharp focus. Campus Progress is offering to supply organizers with the docs and assist in arranging associated panel discussions with war veterans, elected officials, policy experts, activists, and film directors. Check out the list of films currently being screened, see a list of upcoming screenings, and click here to organize a screening on your campus. More than 40 US campuses have already signed up to host film events.

Campus Progress is also offering ideas for action, downloadable posters and signs, access to policy experts, and, best of all, actual grants of $200 to $1,000 to student activists working on innovative education and advocacy campaigns to end the Iraq war.

If you're not a student and want to get more involved in peace actions, check out the United for Peace website for a range of activist suggestions and tools for change.

Does diversity matter? The National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights is asking students from 12 to 17 years of age that question in a "Kids Speakout" writing contest. All entries must be recieved by March 30. The winner receives $500.

March Madness Cinderella Story

Let the games begin! We're only to the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen and already there's a winner -- and what a Cinderella story it turns out to be. After all, the TV ratings are up 4% for the first rounds of March Madness, those days when the basketball games simply stumble and tumble on top of each other, morning to night, all weekend long and beyond, bursting the bounds of CBS TV and heading into other ad universes, streaming on-line while the advertisers (Dell, Courtyard by Marriott, AT&T, E*Trade, Microsoft, Sonic restaurants, and Pontiac, among others) stream after them. And inside the ads are even more "games" like, for example, the Sonic video ad in which "viewers can click through to a game where they can fling tator tots into a guy's mouth." Throw in your basic office or college betting pool; add in the perhaps $7 billion in March Madness wagers (more than for the Super Bowl) and all those crowds heading not for the courtside seats, but directly for Vegas; stir in oodles of frenetic rooting and there's no end to the fun until April 2 when it does all end with the last team standing and -- always -– the possibility of a ratings-trumping "Cinderella upset."

Actually, I'm not thinking about some smaller team winning the tournament -- it's already impossible -- but CBS itself. It's the real rags-to-riches (or is it riches-to-riches?), glass-slipper, Cinderella tale of this tournament, ditching its regular programming only to ride to ratings dominance. In a mere five years, it's turned the NCAA's college tournament into a corporate carnival that "generates more advertising sales than any other postseason sporting event including the Super Bowl."

This year, the network is expected to take in $500 million in ad revenue from TV alone, up a staggering 70% from 2000. Call it a slam dunk for CBS.

The Bring the Troops Home Amendment

Anti-war Democrats Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey and Maxine Waters continue to strategize about trying to get the House Rules Committee to allow consideration of an amendment by Lee to the Iraq War supplemental appropriations bill that would use the power of the purse to force the withdrawal of U.S. troops and contractors from Iraq by the end of this year.

The supplemental appropriations bill, as it is currently written, provides funding requested by President Bush for the continuation of the war -- along with some soft benchmarks and timelines to which the president objects. Backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, the bill is seen as a slap at Bush but not a clear plan for ending the war.

Lee and Woolsey, California Democrats who chair the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Waters, another California Democrat who leads the bipartisan Out of Iraq Caucus, want more muscular langauge. And the Lee amendment provides it, requiring that funds be appropriated only for the continued protection of U.S. troops and contractors, pending and during a withdrawal process that would be required to be complete by December 31, 2007.

The Lee amendment also provides funding for diplomatic initiatives and for social and economic reconstruction initiatives within Iraq.

The supplemental appropriations bill is expected to be considered by the full House as early as tomorrow. Lee, Woolsey and Waters considered personally appearing before the Rules Committee to ask that the Lee amendment be prepared for consideration by the House prior to a final vote on the supplemnetal.

Pelosi and her allies have been cautious about allowing consideration of amendments. But some members of the Democratic caucus suggest that permitting consideration of the Lee amendment -- which would draw broad support, though perhaps not a majority vote, from Democrats and anti-war Republicans -- would make it easier for the speaker to attract support from anti-war Democrats for the supplemental.

The situation is fluid. Progressive Democrats of America, Peace Action and other groups are lobbying hard for consideration of the Lee amendment. Attention is focusing on Rules Committee chair Louise Slaughter, D-New York, a Pelosi condidante who is also a war critic.

Lee has been pressing her case, focusing on the fact that Democrats have already acknowledged the need to constrain the president's warmaking. "If we believe that the occupation should end and we reject the President's escalation scheme, which is what the House voted to do a month ago, we shouldn't be funding them," she says. "If we are not playing along with the charade that the escalation is working, there is no reason not to withdraw our troops by Christmas."

Whether Lee and others will get a chance to vote for her amendment remains to be seen.

If not, progressives will have to decide whether to make a difficult vote for Pelosi's proposal -- with an eye toward the value of challenging the Bush administration on the war. or an equally difficult vote against it -- with an understanding that, in doing so, they might be seen as handing Bush a victory in a fight with the Democratic leadership of the House.


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.'"

Gonzales & Guam

Last February, The Nation published an article of mine, "Can Justice Be Trusted?" raising questions about whether the White House and the Justice Department replaced the US Attorney in Guam, Fred Black, because of an investigation he had opened into Jack Abramoff's lobbying activities on the island in 2002. This story is worth revisiting in light of the Bush Administration's firing of eight top US prosecutors.

Fred Black was the acting US Attorney in Guam between 1991 and 2003. In November 2002, Black began investigating a contract between Abramoff and Guam's highest court and asked for DOJ's assistance. Since Black's communication happened to raise serious questions about the integrity of a high-level federal official who was being renominated to his post, Justice passed the information on to then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales.

A grand jury, convened by Black, subpoenaed the Abramoff contract on November 18, 2002. The next day the Bush Administration announced that Black would be replaced as US Attorney and demoted him to Assistant US Attorney, after twelve years on the job. His replacement, Leonardo Rapadas, had close ties to the Guam Republican Party, including the support of Abramoff and another lobbyist with access to Karl Rove.

A subsequent Justice Department Inspector General report found that none other than Kyle Sampson, Gonzales's disgraced chief of staff who resigned on March 13, handled Black's dismissal.

Potential US Attorneys were approved by a panel of Administration lawyers, who then sought approval from the Attorney General. According to the IG report, "Sampson stated that he could not recall any occasion when the Deputy Attorney General, Attorney General, and White House Counsel did not concur with the panel's recommendation for a US Attorney." After receiving approval from the White House Counsel (at that time, Gonzales), "Sampson said he would then discuss the US Attorney candidate recommendations with the President." Sampson said he replaced Black, along with other US Attorneys, because the Bush Administration wanted to "get a fresh team in." (The IG found no evidence of foul play, but leaned heavily on Administration testimony to reach its conclusions.)

Thus, it's hard to see how Sampson was acting as a rogue agent--either with regards to Guam or Attorneygate--as the White House now claims. And it's difficult to imagine that Gonzales was not intimately involved, first as White House counsel and then as Attorney General. "Did the White House interfere to stop Black's investigation?" I wrote in February 2006. "Was Gonzales involved?"

These questions about Gonzales--and the White House's uneasy relationship to the rule of law--have even greater significance today.