The Nation

Impeach Cheney First?

It is no secret that Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich has been toying with the idea of moving articles of impeachment against a member of the Bush administration. And he appears to be focusing more and more of his attention on the man that many activists around the country see as the ripest target for sanctioning: Vice President Dick Cheney.

Despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's efforts to convince Democrats to keep presidential accountability "off the table," Kucinich is just one of many House Democrats who have acknowledged in recent days that they are hearing the call for action loud and clear from their constituents and from grassroots activists across the country.

"I get one call after another saying, 'Impeach the president,'" says Congressman John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania. Congresswoman Diane Watson, D-California, says constituents in Los Angeles "are saying impeachment. I am hearing that more and more and more."

Kucinich, for his part, has sent more signals than anyone else in the caucus about his interest in raising accountability issues. The congressman, who has broken with Pelosi on issues relating to the funding of the war in Iraq, has been blunt about his frustration with the caution of Congress when it comes to addressing executive excess.

"This House cannot avoid its constitutionally authorized responsibility to restrain the abuse of Executive power," he told the House last month, adding that "impeachment may well be the only remedy which remains to stop a war of aggression against Iran."

Around the same time, in a letter to supporters of his anti-war bid for the 2OO8 Democratic presidential nomination, Kucinich asked it it was time to put impeachment on the table. The response was an overwhelming "yes."

Earlier this week, according to media reports Kucinich emailed House colleagues with a note that began, "I intend to introduce Articles of Impeachment with respect to the conduct of Vice President Cheney."

Kucinich put the plan on hold after the Virginia Tech shooting massacre. But the general expectation is that he will raise the issue anew after a decent interval.

Cheney's office sees no grounds for impeachment. "The vice president has had nearly 40 years of government service and has done so in an honorable fashion," says Megan McGinn, Cheney's deputy press secretary.

McGinn got that line out with a straight face.

Americans of who are not on the vice president's payroll are inclined to recognize Cheney's manipulation of intelligence prior to the Iraq War, his active role in going after administration critic Joe Wilson and Wilson's wife Valarie Plame, and his ongoing links to the Halliburton war-profiteering cartel as arguments against giving the vice president any prizes for "honorable" government service.

Impeachment activists have in recent months pushed an "Impeach Cheney First" message, in part to counter the complaint that impeaching Bush would put an even darker figure in charge. Of course, going after the most powerful vice president in history has consequences, as well. In the unlikely event that Cheney were removed from office, one line of reasoning goes, Bush would for the first time find himself in charge.


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.'"

Stamp Out the Rate Hikes

America's founders understood the First Amendment would be worth little without a postal system that encouraged broad public participation in America's "marketplace of ideas." Thomas Jefferson called for a postal service that allowed ideas to "penetrate the whole mass of the people." Along with James Madison, he paved the way for a system that gave low-cost mailing incentives to small publications of information and ideas.

The postal policies that resulted have helped spur a vibrant political culture in the United States by easing the entry of diverse political viewpoints into a national discourse often dominated by the largest media organizations.

Now, this is all about to change, putting the future of The Nation, along with many other publications, at risk.

Postal regulators have decided to extend special favors to mega-publishers, like Time Warner and Hearst, while unduly burdening smaller and independent magazines with much higher postal rates--The Nation is being saddled with an unexpected increase of $500,000 in annual costs.

The new rates, which go into effect on July 15, were developed with no public involvement or congressional oversight, and the increased costs could damage hundreds, even thousands, of smaller publications, forcing many to the brink of bankruptcy. This includes virtually every political journal in the nation. (Shockingly, the new plan was drafted by Time Warner, the largest magazine publisher in the nation. All evidence available, as Robert McChesney explains in an editorial on CommonDreams, suggests the bureaucrats responsible have never considered the implications of their draconian reforms for small and independent publishers.)

It'll be tough to reverse the decision but stranger things have happened. There are precedents for the Postal Rate Commission to revise rulings but it's going to take a massive groundswell of public opposition similar to the explosion of outrage over the FCC's 2003 decision to change media ownership rules.

Our friends at Free Press, the national nonpartisan organization working to generate policies that will produce a more competitive and public interest-oriented media system, have created a website to mobilize the opposition but the protests aren't coming only from progressives. This is not a right/left issue, which is why The Nation and William F. Buckley's National Review are teaming up to demand that the Postal Board of Governors reverse its decision. The rightwing American Spectator and American Conservative have also both signed on to a letter of protest to the Postal Board of Governors.

Please join us in urging postal regulators and Congress to convene public hearings, determine how these rate increases were decided, and reverse the ruling. We only have until April 23--the end of the public comment period--to respond, so please take action today:

Write the Postal Rate Commission and Congress.

Learn more about the issue.

Help spread the word about the campaign.

The Post Office should not use its monopoly power to favor the largest publishers and undermine the ability of smaller publishers to compete. With your help we can reverse this decision and salvage the postal system that has served free speech in America so well for so long.

Benn Better

The New York Times reported yesterday that Hilary Benn – a senior politician in the Labour Party and Tony Blair's international development secretary – has spoken out against the Bush administration's use of the phrase "war on terror" and its emphasis on military force.

In a speech at the Center on International Cooperation of New York University, Benn said: "In the UK we do not use the phrase ‘war on terror' because we can't win by military means alone…." According to the Times Benn also noted that "it would be more beneficial for the United States to use the ‘soft power' of values and ideas as well as military prowess to defeat extremists."

As I wrote in a previous post, what we are engaged in isn't primarily a military operation, but an intelligence-gathering, law-enforcement, public-diplomacy effort. However, few American political leaders have the courage to say that what we face is not a "war" on terrorism. Nor do many possess the moxie to call the Bush administration out on using their war to justify almost everything – abusing international human rights standards, condoning torture, unlawful detention and use of black sites. As retired American Ambassador Ronald Spiers wrote in a piece for Vermont's Rutland Herald, "The President has found this ‘war' useful as an all-purpose justification for almost anything he wants or doesn't want to do; fuzziness serves the administration politically. It brings to mind Big Brother's vague and never-ending war in Orwell's 1984."

Benn suggested that the Bush "War on Terror" even encourages the terrorists – "…by letting them feel part of something bigger, we give them strength." I also wrote last month – on the fourth anniversary of the war against Iraq – that the misconceived "war on terrorism" has damaged our long-term security and engagement with the world. "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."

Confronting terror doesn't require a hyper-militarized war without end. But lawful and targeted intelligence work; smart diplomacy; and the elevation rather than the shredding of our greatest ideals and principles.

Hillary and the Antiwar Congressman

When Philip Johnston, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts, first heard the news, he was stunned. Representative Jim McGovern, the six-term Democrat who represents the state's Third Congressional District, had endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton for president. On March 29, the Clinton campaign had issued a press release announcing that McGovern was backing the former First Lady in the Democratic presidential contest. The notice proclaimed that McGovern considered her the "best candidate to end war in Iraq." To Johnston, who's backing Democratic Senator Barack Obama's presidential bid, and other political observers, this Clinton-McGovern meet-up appeared curious: a fierce critic of the war backing a politician who has been accused (rightly or wrongly) of being hawkish.

McGovern is renowned as a liberal legislator. In the 1970s and early 1980s, he worked for Senator George McGovern (no relation), managing the senator's second-time-around 1984 presidential campaign in Massachusetts. Since before the Iraq invasion, Jim McGovern has been an outspoken opponent of the Iraq war. In November 2005, he introduced legislation that would end the war by prohibiting the president from using any taxpayer dollars for the deployment of US troops in Iraq (except for the "safe and orderly withdrawal" of troops).

Hillary Clinton has been slammed by anti-war activists for voting to grant George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq and for not apologizing for that vote. Her anti-war detractors have hounded her, protesting at her office and campaign events. Though she recently proposed cutting off money for Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and voted with her party to tie troop withdrawals to ongoing funding for the war, she had previously been critical only of the execution of the war, not of the idea of the war. She had seemed more supportive of the endeavor than her two key Democratic rivals: Obama, who spoke against the war before its start, and former Senator John Edwards, who (like Clinton) voted for the war but later apologized for having done so. On the campaign trail, Clinton now declares she will end the war should she return to the White House. Still, her past stance suggests she and McGovern might be odd foxhole-fellows.

Not so, says McGovern. Asked to explain why he partnered up with Clinton, he notes,

"I just decided to do it. I called her office. I talked to a number of people close to her over a period of weeks. They suggested it would be more useful if the endorsement came sooner than later. I've known her for a lot of years, and I respect her and admire a lot of what she did as First Lady. Even though HillaryCare did not fly, she was on the right track. She's out front as someone committed to universal health care and to early childhood development. She held conferences on childhood development at the White House that I attended. We need to get serious that education begins at age 0 and that we need universal preschool."

McGovern also offers an up-close-and-personal reason for the endorsement:

"I picked up my daughter from kindergarten the day after Hillary announced her presidential campaign, and all these five-year-old girls were talking about Hillary. I found it amazing. They were excited about Hillary's candidacy. I realized if she's elected, she breaks an important glass ceiling. These little girls learn about presidents who are only men. For me this is a very powerful moment. A lot of people portray her candidacy as a cautious and establishment candidacy, as if she's the Walter Mondale of this campaign. I see this as a bold, history-making campaign."

But what about the Iraq war?

"I believe her when she says that if it's not over when she takes office, she will end this war. If this war is still going on then, you're going to need somebody with skill and experience to bring everyone together here in the United States and within an international coalition. On the war, there's not a dime's worth of difference among the leading Democratic candidates. They're all voting for or supporting timetables and withdrawals. It's not as quickly as I want. My bill would start a safe and immediate withdrawal. If I were president, this war would be over now. But I can't get 218 people [in the House] to agree with me....People say, 'How could you do this when Hillary voted for the war.' John Kerry, John Edwards, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden voted for the war. I can't change the past. I can only try to shape the future."

Hillary Clinton has refused to apologize for her vote to hand Bush the authority to invade Iraq. Does that bother McGovern?

"Jesus Christ," he exclaims, "I'm not interested in an apology. I'm interested in the strategy. People are saying she has to get down on her knees and beg for forgiveness. This war is such a tragedy. Insisting upon an apology is an issue that trivializes the war. The war is the biggest moral, political, diplomatic, and military catastrophe in our history. I hate this war. I want to end it before the next presidency. And every Democratic candidate wants to end this war." McGovern contends that Clinton is best equipped to do so, citing her ability to work with Republicans in the Senate and her efforts and missions overseas during her husband's presidency. "She has the international statue," he says, adding, "the Bill connection helps."

Political endorsements don't "mean a lot," McGovern maintains. But he has told Hillary Clinton he will gladly work for her campaign, perhaps as an emissary to die-hard liberal Democrats who might harbor doubts about her. "I'm willing to go to New Hampshire, Iowa, Massachusetts, wherever I can be of help," he says. "Some of the people who believe as I do in liberal politics go after her the way they go after George Bush. I can tell them, read what she believes in, listen to what she says."

Both Hillary and Bill Clinton were helpful to McGovern when he faced difficult congressional campaigns in his early years as a House member. One reporter, McGovern recalls, accused him of endorsing Hillary Clinton as payback for that assistance. McGovern insists he's not redeeming a political IOU--and that this endorsement is not part of a calculated attempt on the part of the Clinton campaign to bolster her left flank. "I approached them," he recalls.

What about the other candidates? Obama, a onetime community activist, has caused many progressive Democrats to swoon. His campaign also can shatter a political barrier. "In his first year in the Senate," McGovern says, "I don't recall him being much of a leader." McGovern notes he admires John Edwards' "focus on dealing with issues of poverty." Representative Dennis Kucinich? This progressive legislator agrees with McGovern that US troops should be removed from Iraq immediately. "On the war, our views are the closest," McGovern says. "I hope he does well. But there's more than just that one issue." Senator Chris Dodd, McGovern notes, is a friend. The two have worked together for years on Central America issues: "I think he's terrific."

But McGovern says there was no competition for his political affections. He's a Hillary Clinton fan. "I think she's a good person," he says. "Maybe because I know her as a woman who cares deeply about a lot of issues and who's motivated not just by ambition. That's how I've seen her for years--not this caricature of a person who doesn't stand for anything and who's secretly pro-war."

For some progressives, the Clinton years were a time of frustration and disappointment--a period of lost opportunity (with or without the Monica madness and other scandals, real or hyped). McGovern doesn't remember it that way. "I wish we could've done more then," he says. "But Bill Clinton protected more land in this country than any president since Teddy Roosevelt. He defended civil rights and reproductive rights. Do I wish he had been more liberal? Sure. I had sharp disagreements with him on Nafta and the [anti-drug trafficking] Colombia Plan. Overall, I thought he was a good president. As time goes on, I appreciate more the job he did."

Endorsing Hillary Clinton was no tough call for McGovern: "I didn't anguish over this. She's who I want to be with. She's the right person for the job. If I thought for one second that she wouldn't do everything humanly possible to end this war as fast as possible, no way in hell I would endorse her." McGovern is now looking forward to trekking from church basements in Iowa to pot luck suppers in New Hampshire to convince other Democrats she ought to be president.


DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." 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.

More Guns, More Murder

Upon his re-election as Mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg said his top priority was curbing gun violence. "Our most urgent challenge is ending the threat of guns and the violence they do," he said at his second inaugural address. He subsequently formed an organization of 180 mayors, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, to expose the true costs of gun violence in America and to combat the political stranglehold of the NRA.

The gun lobby, as expected, has irately pushed back. Two gun stores in Virginia, accused by the mayor of lax enforcement policies, on Thursday plan to hold a "Bloomberg Gun GiveAway." Spend over $100 at either Bob Moates Gun Shop or Old Dominion Guns and Tackle and you could win a free handgun or rifle, value $900. The stores have no plans to cancel the raffle in the wake of the horrific massacre at Virginia Tech.

Thanks to the Republican Congress, law enforcement officials can't even get a full picture of which guns are used during crimes in their communities. The assault weapons ban of 1994 was not renewed upon expiring in 2004. It's been ten years since any gun control law has been approved by Congress.

Many Democrats have hardly been better than their GOP counterparts. Senator Jim Webb never apologized for recently carrying a firearm in possible violation of DC gun laws. Groups like Americans for Gun Safety, in conjunction with the DLC, have long tried to push the party to the right on this issue. Everyone remembers that ridiculous picture of John Kerry hunting in camouflage.

A few brave Democrats, such as Representative Carolyn McCarthy from Long Island, are trying to toughen rather than weaken federal gun laws. McCarthy lost her husband, and almost her son, in a horrendous 1993 shooting known as the Long Island Railroad Massacre. Maybe after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, we'll listen to what McCarthy and Bloomberg have to say.

Give a Pulitzer to James McMurtry

The Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded for 2OO6, and they have gone to the usual deserving souls. Of special note is the national reporting award to the Boston Globe's Charlie Savage for his articles examining how President Bush has used "signing statements" to assert a supposed "right" to bypass provisions of new federal laws. Without Savage's groundbreaking reporting, the signing statements issue would still be off radar. He deserves this Pulitzer, and he should get another one for breaking the story of how more than 15O graduates of Pat Robertson's Regent University have been handed high-powered federal government positions since President Bush took office in 2001 -- including Monica Goodling, the former top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who resigned in disgrace after asserting her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying before Congress about his role in the burgeoning U.S. Attorneys scandal.

But there is another American writing who should be getting a Pulitzer along with Charlie Savage for producing journalism that truly reflects the zeitgeist. He's Texas songwriter James McMurtry.

Of course, there are those who will say that a songwriter cannot be a journalist. Bunk. Throughout history, songwriters have been among the best communicators of news, information and insight. And McMurtry has proven himself to be a worthy heir to that tradition, especially in the past year.

McMurtry's songs have always had the literary quality that might be expected from the son of author Larry McMurtry, himself a 1985 Pulitzer winner for his novel Lonesome Dove.

In 2OO6, however, McMurtry reframed his writing to tell the story of George Bush's America. And his topically-charged songs have frequently beaten the mainstream media to the punch.

Well before serious attention turned to the scandalous treatment of veterans of the Iraq War by the Veterans Administration, McMurtry wrote his song, "We Can't Make It Here Anymore," which opens with the lines:

Vietnam Vet with a cardboard sign

Sitting there by the left turn line

Flag on the wheelchair flapping in the breeze

One leg missing, both hands free

No one's paying much mind to him

The V.A. budget's stretched so thin

And there's more comin' home from the Mideast war

We can't make it here anymore

Or consider the opening lines of another new McMurtry song, "God Bless America," which anticipated the debate about war profiteering, military contractors and mercenaries that have exploded with the publication this spring of Jeremy Scahill's Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army [Nation Books]:

Look yonder comin', mercy me

Three wise men in a SUV

Corporate logo on the side

Air-conditioned quiet ride

That thing don't run on french fry grease

That thing don't run on love and peace

Takes gasoline make that thing go

Now bring your hands up nice and slow

McMurtry's recent songs make linkages between the Bush administration's obsession with Iraq and its dramatic neglect of fundamental issues at home that are far more vivid than anything you will see on the evening news, and far more potent than most of what you'll hear from even the president's most virulent critics. "We Can't Make It Here Anymore" is smarter examination of the damage done by corporate-sponsored "free trade" policies than anything you will hear on Capitol Hill.

Now I'm stocking shirts in the Wal-Mart store

Just like the ones we made before

'Cept this one came from Singapore

I guess we can't make it here anymore

Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin

Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I'm in

Should I hate 'em for having our jobs today

No I hate the men sent the jobs away

I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams

All lily white and squeaky clean

They've never known want, they'll never know need

Their sh@# don't stink and their kids won't bleed

Their kids won't bleed in the damn little war

And we can't make it here anymore...

McMurtry is honored in the current issue of Esquire magazine as the nation's "Best Agitator." But I'd still give him the Pultizer, if only for one line from "God Bless America":

You keep talking that sh@# like I never heard

Hush, little President, don't say a word...


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."

What If the Shiites Went into the Streets?

Mortar attacks on the Green Zone, the American controlled and massively fortified citadel in the heart of Baghdad, were already on the rise when, late last week, a suicide bomber managed to penetrate the Parliament building inside the Zone and kill at least one legislator, while wounding others, in its cafeteria. Some parliamentary representatives were soon declaring the still unfolding American "surge" plan in the capital a dismal failure.

"'Someone can walk into our parliament building with bombs. What security do we have?' said Saleh al-Mutlaq, who heads the Sunni National Dialogue Front in the Iraqi parliament.

"'The plan is 100% a failure. It's a complete flop,' said Khalaf al-Ilyan, one of the three leaders of the Iraqi Accordance Front, which holds 44 seats in parliament. 'The explosion means that instability and lack of security has reached the Green Zone.'"

In the meantime, while the Americans could point to a drop in Iraqi civilian deaths in the capital (along with a rise in American ones), overall Iraqi deaths throughout the country were, not surprisingly, surging as guerrilla operations and sectarian struggles simply shifted to places of less American strength. Baghdad was hardly untouched though: a famous bridge across the Tigris River was severed by a truck bomb last week, while a fierce battle against Sunni insurgents was fought in central Baghdad, using helicopters.

Faced with intensifying fighting, rising casualties, and chaos, the Bush administration, which has resisted setting timetables of any sort in Iraq, finally set one. In a Pentagon news briefing on Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced a set of "clear guidelines that our commanders, troops and their families could understand and use in determining how future rotations in support of the global war on terror would affect them." Thanks to the thoughtful timetable-setting of the Bush administration, Army families, who might previously have hoped that their loved ones would come home at the end of a 12-month tour of duty in Iraq, are now assured that they will definitively have to wait another three months. This is certainly a sign of desperation for the faltering all-volunteer military in a situation fewer and fewer Americans would care to volunteer to be part of.

Although administration-backing politicians like Senator John McCain and pundits like David Brooks of the New York Times are urging that the surge plan be given "a shot to play out" before being consigned to the dust heap of history, the signs for the future in Iraq are grim indeed. Even in the more peaceful Kurdish north, there are signs of trouble. General Yasar Buyukanit, head of Turkey's military General Staff, raised the incendiary possibility of Turkish cross-border military operations into Iraqi Kurdistan to "crush" Kurdish rebels, causing a predictable storm of response in Iraq. Meanwhile, a dangerous game of chicken is being played out at the edge of some cliff by the Bush administration and its Iranian counterparts -- with kidnapped Iranian diplomats-cum-Revolutionary-Guards held somewhere in America's Iraqi prison mini-gulag, those British sailors taken hostage by Iranian Revolutionary Guards (and then freed), an American ex-FBI agent mysteriously missing in Iran, and the report from Robert Fisk of the British Independent that "the US military intends to place as many as five mechanized brigades -- comprising about 40,000 men -- south and east of Baghdad, at least three of them positioned between the capital and the Iranian border. This would present Iran with a powerful -- and potentially aggressive -- American military force close to its border in the event of a US or Israeli military strike against its nuclear facilities later this year."

And let's remember that all this has happened without the majority Shiite population having truly entered the Iraq War, which remains (however precariously) a struggle largely against a Sunni minority insurgency. This may slowly be changing as, in another desperately dangerous game of chicken, the American military tries to peel away and take out parts of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army -- elements of which were engaged in street battles last week in Diwaniyah to the south of Baghdad, while Sadr's followers peacefully protested for the end of the American occupation of the country in a vast, over 8-mile long march in Najaf.

After all these years, the Bush administration still seems not to grasp the full dangers it faces, including, as Juan Cole long ago pointed out, what might be called the Khomeini solution in which the majority Shiite population would take to the streets, a development against which the Americans could prove helpless. ("An urban insurgency/revolution," Cole wrote back in 2004, "can in fact win, and win quite decisively, as the urban crowds won out over the Shah [of Iran]. The Shah tried everything to put down the urban crowds. He had them spied on. He had them shot at. Nothing worked. The urban crowds just got bigger and bigger.") And don't forget those endless supply lines from Kuwait, so crucial for the American war-fighting and base system -- and so vulnerable.

To complicate matters, Sadr pulled his six ministers from the already shaky Maliki government Monday to protest the arrest of Mahdi Army commanders and the Prime Minister's unwillingness to sponsor a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces from the country. (This is a position backed, in the latest opinion poll, by 80% of Shiites and 97% of Sunnis.) Recently, Middle Eastern expert Dilip Hiro reminded us not to overlook another Iraqi figure, a Shiite nationalist who, these days, gets very little print at all -- Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani against whose wishes, in crucial moments in the past, the Americans have proven remarkably helpless. With the American surge already faltering, the situation in Iraq looks ever more explosive.

Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

On this afternoon of national sorrow, President Bush offered his prayers to those who are suffering as a result of today's enormous tragedy at Virginia Tech, as well as his support for a full investigation.

His statement of grief came shortly after White House spokeswoman Dana Perino had voiced this sentiment, "The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed."

It seemed to me there was something missing in the response of the President and his administration.

Perhaps Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, put it best in issuing this statement today: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the Virginia Tech University community, and to the families of the victims of what appears to be one of the worst mass shootings in American history... Eight years ago this week, the young people in Littleton, Colorado suffered a horrible attack at Columbine High School, and almost exactly six months ago, five young people were killed at an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania.  Since these killings, we've done nothing as a country to end gun violence in our schools and communities.  If anything, we've made it easier to access powerful weapons... We have now seen another horrible tragedy that will never be forgotten. It is long overdue for us to take some common-sense actions to prevent tragedies like this from continuing to occur."

It's time to move beyond thoughts and prayers.

Comeuppance is Making a Comeback

Comeuppance is making a comeback. The CBS talk jock Don Imus got his. The World Bank President, Paul Wolfowitz's seems to be in the works. The odds are that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' will get his sooner rather than later. Karl Rove could be next .

We could all talk for hours about Imus (and who hasn't?) What's more interesting than the man's foul-mouth, is the process by which his brand went south. It wasn't corporate conscience that broke the Imus brand. It was people-power -- first at the National Association of Black Journalists -- and then as expressed by Al SharptonNational Action Network and (according to newspaper accounts,) by African American staff people at MSNBC and CBS who met with management and talked. Corporations pulled their advertising because Imus lost legitimacy -- not the other way around.

Scales can tip. That's exactly what's happening to Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank. I was just in Washington DC where employees of the bank were were preparing to protest publicly for their boss to be given the boot. For "Wolfie" the Bank's annual meeting will be a very uncomfortable place.

Will Rove be next? The erased email scandal is only getting hotter And it's hard to believe that the emails turning up from the Justice Department won't soon cost Attorney General Gonzales his job. When Gonzales's brand gets tainted, it's not just the man that's in trouble. When its Justice Department loses legitimacy the entire country's is on the skids and that's bound to wake people up.

Like Imus, Wolfie and Gonzales are falling foul of the trip-wire of legitimacy. It's a real tool in the public's arsenal, one of the few we've got. For years, the Bush administration's grasp on power has seemed impenetrable. People in power have a habit of believing that tomorrow will be more or less like yesterday. Things will proceed as they have. But sometimes today is different. One day Imus woke up, and after a lifetime, his insults were no longer laughed at. People watched the women of the Scarlet Knights and got it, this stuff hurts.

Democrats don't have the votes or the guts yet, to cut off funds or impeach. But legitimacy matters. Who has it, how it is defined. And that can be changed by us.

Laura Flanders is the author of the just-released Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians (The Penguin Press.) She will be speaking Tuesday April 17th at the UCLA Hammer Museum, 7.00 pm. 10899 Wilshire Blvd. Tickets are free.