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From the Basement to Rayburn

On Wednesday, the Congressional Progressive Caucus – now the largest caucus in Congress with 69 members – co-hosted a panel discussion along with The Nation and the Institute for Policy Studies on its new Progressive Promise for America. The event took place in the Rayburn House Office Building, a long way from the Capitol basement where the Caucus was founded fifteen years ago by then-Congressman Bernie Sanders and four colleagues. Even in the last few years when Caucus Co-Chair, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, held hearings on Iraq, the Republicans relegated those hearings to the basement.

But now Caucus members chair the majority of committees and subcommittees in the House, and thirteen members participated in the panel even as they came and went to oversee their respective committee hearings. In attendance were: Representatives Barbara Lee, Lynn Woolsey, John Conyers, Dennis Kucinich, Charles Rangel, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Bob Filner, Diane Watson, Barney Frank, Maxine Waters, Maurice Hinchey, Keith Ellison, and Steve Cohen. The Nation's own John Nichols served as a nimble, historically astute, and diplomatic moderator.

Panelists were joined in the conference room by allies from the NAACP, Progressive Democrats of America, Code Pink, Hip Hop Caucus, Peace Action, Campaign for America's Future, Association of Farm Workers Opportunity Program and other progressive groups and people. The room was filled with energy and idealism, and it reflected the Caucus' understanding that the Democratic party's finest hours have come when it has worked alongside popular movements… that democracy works when citizens are inspired to claim it as their own. One of the caucus members set the tone for the gathering, saying we should all have smiles on our faces – we are kindred spirits who helped to change the course of our country and win the last election. It's a new day for a new way.

It was clear from the discussion that caucus members are under no illusions about the struggles ahead – to end the war in Iraq (which Caucus co-Chair Rep. Lee called "the number one marching order" from the people); to bring economic fairness and justice to our nation; and to safeguard our constitution from a Bush administration and its Republican accomplices, who continue to trample upon it. But members are also clearly determined to seize the moment. These strong and decent representatives intend to provide a marker of opposition to the perilous policies of the Bush administration, and also offer alternatives that have the support of the majority of Americans and will inspire a sense of a new direction and new priorities. From ending the war and promoting peace, to fighting for universal health care, to demanding real energy independence and environmental protection… this Caucus and its members will offer bold initiatives.

Rep. Conyers, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, promised to look into the Bush doctrine of preemptive, unilateral action; treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo; and the rendition of suspects to nations that practice torture. Conyers highlighted the importance of such investigations, saying, "We are living under an administration that has taken unto itself more Executive powers than anyone in history… Much of it under the radar and deliberately avoided by the media."

Lee offered an important perspective shared by other Caucus members on how they will conduct hearings. "We have to go where the people are," she said. "Not everyone can get to D.C." Caucus members understand the importance of directly connecting with the people – that the people are ahead of the politicians and the pundits. That same commitment to the grassroots was evident in most committee chairs pledging to go to New Orleans with their members.

Rep. Frank repeated his charge that the administration's Katrina-response (or lack thereof) was "ethnic cleansing by inaction." Frank will invite members of the Financial Services Committee, which he chairs, to join him in visiting New Orleans during the February recess – a visit which will in part inform hearings on affordable housing that he will hold with Rep. Waters. Frank will also challenge the Bush administration's trade agenda. He had just returned from Davos, where elite circles believed the next (Doha) round of WTO negotiations would move smoothly along – further illustration, Frank told the room, of not only this administration's denial but also US and global corporate myopia when it comes to recognizing the shift represented by the recent election.

Threading through almost all of the caucus members' talk was a commitment to rebuilding a city the Bush administration has virtually forgotten – in words and deeds. Rep. Filner, chair of the Committee on Veterans Affairs, pledged that he would also visit New Orleans. Filner cited that there are 200,000 homeless veterans on any given night – half of whom are Vietnam vets – and how this speaks to the importance of getting the Veterans Administration to treat post traumatic stress disorder and other forms of mental illness. He spoke eloquently about why we cannot expect our soldiers to watch their friends get blown up, or mistakenly shoot an innocent, and come home without emotional struggles and challenges. Filner pointed to several hundred cases of suicide committed by soldiers returning home, and he has tried unsuccessfully to obtain the corresponding documentation. His message to soldiers in Iraq is this: "We're against the policy that sent you to war but we're going to give you every bit of care we can." Part of Filner's caring for soldiers is through his co-sponsorship of the Bring Our Troops Home and Sovereignty of Iraq Restoration Act, which – in addition to funding a 6-month orderly withdrawal – would guarantee full health care funding, including mental health, for U.S. veterans of the Iraq war and other conflicts.

Indeed that piece of legislation now has 29 co-sponsors, and legislation has also been introduced by Rep. Kucinich, and Representatives Jerrold Nadler and James McGovern – also Caucus members. These legislators have provided the alternative that the Bush administration and its dwindling allies still claim doesn't exist, including: funding for a 6-month orderly withdrawal of troops and contractors; no permanent bases in Iraq; Iraqi control over their own oil; and participation in international peacekeeping and diplomatic efforts. Caucus members are also fighting the myth that voting to bring the troops home and funding a withdrawal is tantamount to not supporting the troops. As Conyers said, the power of the purse exists for times such as now – to rein in an Executive who is out of control.

Freshman Rep. Cohen, from Memphis, spoke of how ending the war was a key issue in his election and for his district. The caucus, he said, plays a key role in recognizing the urgency of ending this war and not backing off. Cohen cited the lyrics of Jackson Browne's Lives in the Balance (Where a government lies to a people/And a country is drifting to war/… There are lives in the balance/There are people under fire/There are children at the cannons/And there is blood on the wire).

Another freshman, Rep. Ellison of Minneapolis (the first Muslim elected to Congress), closed the panel discussion with a brevity and a clarity that I hope captures the ascendant new progressive spirit. He recounted that during his campaign he told the voters that he wanted to "go to DC to end the war and hold those who took us to war to account. But we also need to stop the next war." He said that the United States must use its power to promote justice and peace.

Perhaps the most personal perspective on the gathering was offered by Rep. Rangel. 76 years old and referred to as "one of the old bulls," Rangel said that he had considered leaving Congress because he actually feared that his grandchildren in the future might say, "You were there. Why didn't you do anything?" But he stayed, in hopes that a Democratic majority would soon come to power, and that he would, in fact, be able to do something about "the most dangerous presidency in my lifetime." Rangel drew a parallel between recent years and a civil rights march that he participated in when he was a boy. He said he complained every step of the way that his feet hurt but then, afterwards, he was glad that he had done it. The last few years have indeed been tough ones for progressives. But brighter days now lie ahead as good elected representatives offer alternatives for a more decent country.

At the end of the evening, tribute was paid to Molly Ivins. I know that she would have loved the gathering – though she might have infused it with a bit more humor. I figure she would have told that room--full of agitators and organizers-- something John Nichols in his spirited tribute to Molly tells us she delighted in telling local ACLU groups across this country: "So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."

A podcast of this event will be posted on TheNation.com on Monday.

Libby Trial: Lawyers Clash Over Motive

Scooter Libby was thrown under the bus. No, Scooter Libby gave the bus driver false directions.

On Thursday, the prosecution and the defense in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby spent much of the day clashing over evidentiary matters, but, as they battled, each side laid out its core theory.

The initial dispute concerned special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's effort to enter into evidence video clips of White House press briefings held in October 2003 shortly after the news broke that the Justice Department, at the CIA's request, was launching a criminal investigation of the leak that outed Valerie Wilson, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, as a CIA officer.

Here's the background: in mid-September 2003, White House press secretary Scott McClellan responded to a remark made by Joe Wilson, in which the former diplomat said he looked forward to the day when Karl Rove would be "frog-marched" out of the White House for having been involved in the CIA leak. It was "totally ridiculous," McClellan said, to suggest that Rove was a party to this leak. (Reality break: as was revealed years later, Rove had slipped information on Valerie Wilson's CIA connection to rightwing columnist Robert Novak and Time's Matt Cooper.) After the criminal investigation became public in late September 2003, McClellan again told reporters Rove had nothing to do with the leak. But when he was asked about Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, McClellan declined to offer a similar denial.

Libby freaked out. According to Ted Wells, one of Libby's attorneys, Libby went to McClellan and White House chief of staff Andrew Card asking for the same treatment that Rove got. They "blew him off," Wells exclaimed in court. Then Libby went to his boss, with talking points he wanted McClellan to recite:

I've talked to Libby. I said it was ridiculous about Karl and it is ridiculous about Libby. Libby was not the source of the Novak story. And he did not leak classified information.

Cheney took the paper on which Libby had written these lines and added his own note:

Has to happen today. Call out to key press saying same thing about Scooter as Karl. Not going to protect one staffer + sacrifice the guy that we asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.

Lo and behold, during press briefings on October 7 and 10, McClellan declared that Libby, like Rove, was "not involved" in the CIA leak. A reporter asked if either had "told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA." McClellan replied, "they assured me that they were not involved in this." He also said that any White House official who had leaked classified information would be booted out of the administration.

Fitzgerald wanted to play the video clips of these and another White House press briefing for the jury. Libby's legal team objected--vociferously.

The McClellan statements, Fitzgerald argued, were important because they provided Libby a motive to lie. Libby, Fitzgerald contended, had "put down a marker." He went to Cheney and had the White House issue a statement that he had not leaked classified information. Days later, he was interviewed by the FBI. He couldn't contradict what he had just forced McClellan to say. So, Fitzgerald maintained, Libby lied. Libby told the agents that he had merely picked up scuttlebutt about Valerie Wilson and her CIA connection from Tim Russert of Meet the Press and had passed that gossip to other reporters. No big deal.

During the trial, though, Fitzgerald has presented testimony and evidence indicating that at least five government officials--including Cheney--had provided Libby with official information about Wilson's wife. Former press secretary Ari Fleischer, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Matt Cooper have testified that Libby shared this information with them. (And Fitzgerald pointed out in his indictment of Libby that Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA was "classified.") But, Fitzgerald said on Thursday, when questioned by the FBI, Libby had "to say that what he leaked to reporters was not [from] an official source....He [had] to tell a story that is consistent with what he just had the White House tell the world." Thus, he cooked up a false account: Russert had been his source and at the time of the leak he possessed no certain and official (a.k.a. classified) information about Wilson's wife. And because McClellan had said that anyone involved in the leak would be canned, Fitzgerald maintained, Libby had further cause to concoct a cover story.

There's a weird wrinkle. At his first FBI interview, which happened on October 14, 2003, Libby acknowledged that in early June 2003--before the Wilson affair erupted and the leak occurred--the vice president had told him that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA's Counterproliferation Division, which was part of the agency's clandestine operations directorate. There are notes of that call--and Libby shared them with the FBI. Yet Libby told the FBI that shortly after speaking to Cheney about Wilson's wife he completely forgot that conversation and that when weeks later he heard about Valerie Wilson's CIA employment from Russert, he believed he was learning about it for the first time. (Russert denies saying anything to Libby about Valerie Wilson). This is a hard-to-believe scenario. But it tracks with Fitzgerald's theory: Libby lied to hide the fact that he had possessed and spread official information about Wilson's wife.

The prosecutor wanted the McClellan statements entered into the record to demonstrate that Libby had reasons to mislead the investigators.

No, its just the opposite, declared Wells, who opposed showing the jurors these McClellan clips. Libby, he claimed, was not concerned about losing his job: "he was concerned they were scapegoating him." They? Wells meant the White House. Who in the White House? Wells hasn't said, but he's hinted that Rove was at the center of a get-Libby conspiracy that was trying to turn Libby into Washington-scandal roadkill. "The government," Wells argued, "says what motivated him to lie was that he thought he would be fired.....My response is that he didn't care [about losing his job]...He acted like an innocent person...Only an innocent person would go to the vice president and say what they're doing is unfair," regarding clearing Rove but not Libby. And Bill Jeffress, another Libby lawyer, maintained that the clips of McClellan would be prejudicial to his client, for they show reporters fiercely grilling McClellan and suggesting that serious wrongdoing had occurred.

Fitzgerald counter-argued: the fact that McClellan did clear Libby indicates there "was no effort to throw him under the bus...Mr. McClellan was standing in front of the bus."

After much back and forth, federal district Judge Reggie Walton ruled that excerpts of McClellan's press briefings could be shown to the jury. Fitzgerald had won this skirmish. And once more, Wells and Jeffress had telegraphed the case they may try to present when the prosecution concludes. The logic of Wells' argument is not yet evident. Libby feared he was being hung out to dry. Perhaps. Even if that were true, though, the White House publicly cleared him before he spoke to the FBI. So why would a White House plot against Libby (that apparently failed--if it existed) affect what Libby would say to the FBI regarding what he had known and said about Valerie Wilson three months earlier?

It doesn't track. But if the defense calls Cheney to the stand--as it has said it might--jurors, no doubt, will want to hear the vice president discuss this sacrifice-Libby-for-Rove skullduggery. They may also want to learn more about the phone call in which Cheney clued in Libby on Valerie Wilson's gig at the CIA. What was Cheney doing gathering information on Wilson at that early point? (Libby told the FBI that he believed Cheney had obtained this information from CIA chief George Tenet.) And after Deborah Bond, an FBI agent, testified for the prosecution on Thursday, there was another matter a juror might want Cheney to explain.

Bond disclosed that during Libby's second FBI interview he said he believed that after he had spoken to Russert (and supposedly had learned anew that Wilson's wife was CIA) he and Cheney discussed whether to disclose Valerie Wilson's CIA connection to the press. But Libby told the FBI he wasn't sure such a conversation had happened.

Still, this was news. That statement probably caused FBI agents and Fitzgerald to wonder during the investigation if Cheney and Libby had conspired to leak information on Joseph Wilson's wife. If Cheney takes the stand, a sharp juror ought to be interested in hearing whether the vice president has anything to say about this. (The safe bet: no.)

On Thursday evening, as the court recessed for the week, Fitzgerald noted that once Bond finishes testifying on Monday, he will play for the jury the seven hours of testimony Libby gave the grand jury. After that, he will call Russert and perhaps one other (unnamed) witness before concluding his case.

Wells and Jeffress then will present their witnesses (should they choose to do so). Will Rove be called to the stand, so they can question him about the plot against Libby? Will Cheney be called to bolster the Single Scapegoat Theory (and to explain other mysteries)? Will Libby's lawyers trot out witnesses who testify about the bitter feuding that went on between the White House and the CIA over the WMD controversy, so they can suggest Libby was an innocent caught in this crossfire? Will they present witnesses who claim the intelligence Wilson attacked was really correct, so Wells and Jeffress can depict Libby as a defender of the truth? Will they offer witnesses who testify that Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state, was the guy who first leaked to Novak, so the defense can argue that Armitage, not Libby, should be the fall guy in this caper?

Maybe Wells and Jeffress will merely stick to witnesses who challenge the credibility of prosecution witnesses. Then again, they might turn toward the jurors and blast them with paint guns--that is, overwhelm the jury with a mess of confusion. Libby's lawyers have presented a foundation for doing anything and everything. The bus could go flying off the road.

*****

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.

Biden Blunders, Again

The remarkable thing about Joe Biden's botched announcement of his second presidential run is not that he said something outrageously inappropriate and, if we are to assume that Democratic caucus and primary participants retain even minimal standards with regard to the competence of contenders, electorally lethal.

The senator from Delaware has a very long history of lodging metatarsals in his oral orifice. And his reference to a more attractive and articulate senator and presidential contender, Illinoisan Barack Obama, as a "clean" African American was, while spectacular in its senselessness, oddly Bidenesque. This is not to suggest that the senior senator is a racist, nor even that he's some kind of neatness freak. (Biden says that, by "clean" he meant "fresh," which seems about right.) Rather, this is to suggest that Joe Biden is still Joe Biden, the linguistically lumbering, intellectually inelegant Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman whose "plan" for solving the Iraq mess is so convoluted that even he has trouble explaining it.

So, no, there was nothing all that astounding about the fact that the politician who got himself kicked out of the 1988 Democratic contest for plagiarism would, with another two decades of practice, come up with an even more sensationally disqualifying gesture this time around.

The remarkable thing about the Biden blow out is the notion that some pundits are actually discussing the extent to which the senator's "clean" comment may have harmed his chances – as if the guy's vanity candidacy ever had a chance.

Biden is, according to several recent polls from the first caucus state of Iowa and the first primary state of New Hampshire, having a hard time competing with Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich among the party faithful. In another early caucus state, Nevada, the Foreign Relations Committee chair is tied with 76-year-old former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel. While it is true that Gravel – who says he would "raze (the) Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prisons to the ground" – is more frequently right on the issues than Biden, the Alaskan is not often identified as a frontrunner.

The truth is that, before the "clean" comment, Biden had about as much chance of winning the Democratic nomination for president as, well, Mike Gravel.

Now, Biden has a little less chance of securing the nod than Gravel.

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John Nichols' latest book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism.

Stopping the Next War

The Bush Administration has a new one size fits all scapegoat for everything that ails Iraq: Iran.

To listen to the Administration recently, you'd think Iran was solely to blame for US soldiers dying, reconstruction stopping and the Iraqi government faltering. The recent US attacks on Iranian targets in Iraq and accusations leveled at the government in Tehran have members of Congress and foreign policy experts increasingly concerned that the Administration is rushing the US into another war, under false pretenses and blind to the consequences.

"The White House has established a Media Outreach Working Group whose mission is to establish international outrage against Iran," Colonel Sam Gardiner testified yesterday on Capitol Hill. "We're seeing a pattern very much like the run up to the invasion of Iraq."

At a hearing convened by Rep. Barbara Lee, military and foreign policy experts stressed the need for Congress to exert its constitutional check on the White House.

"Congress can play a decisive role to prevent the situation from escalating out of control," said Dr. Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council. "If the President refuses to engage in diplomacy, then perhaps Congress should take on that responsibility."

A bipartisan group of Congressmen have introduced legislation requiring President Bush to get Congressional approval for any military action against Iran. Barbara Lee has gone one step further, sponsoring a bill that blocks the use of funds for "any covert action for the purpose of causing regime change in Iran or to carry out any military action against Iran in the absence of an imminent threat, in accordance with international law."

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on January 11, Senator Jim Webb asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a simple question: "Is it the position of this administration that it possesses the authority to take unilateral action against Iran, in the absence of a direct threat, without congressional approval?" He received, via the Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, what a Webb staffer called an "unacceptable response" that was "unresponsive to the question."

Don't Fumble the Football to Al Qaeda

Here's the good news, Super Bowl XLI fans, the air war at home is going just grand! Yes, you'll see the usual crack team of Air Force Thunderbirds performing over Miami's Dolphin Stadium in thrilling pre-game ceremonies.

But that is not all… oh no, that is not all at all. In fact, as an estimated 1,000-plus private jets fly the rich and famous into local south Florida airports this week for the highest holy day on the American entertainment calendar, the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region is gearing up its area patrols, part of Operation Noble Eagle--NORAD's response to the fact that it couldn't get armed planes off the ground back on September 11, 2001.

In its own version of pre-game ceremonies, NORAD fighters are planning to "make low approaches at several local airports Feb. 2, including Boca Raton, Pompano Beach Airpark, Fort Lauderdale Executive, Opa Locka, and Kendall-Tamiami Executive." And then, of course, they will be "increasing sorties" over, and patrolling of, the potentially al-Qaeda-ridden skies over the Super Bowl itself. This is proof, as Maj. Gen. Henry C. Morrow, the commander of both the 1st Air Force and the Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, put it in an American Forces Press Service release bursting with pride, "of our continuing resolve to protect our homeland and citizens during these major events."

All of this is meant "to ensure public safety while demonstrating NORAD's rapid response capability" (useful undoubtedly in future intra-Pentagon budget battles). In the process, the Federal Aviation Administration is also "prohibiting all general aviation aircraft from flying within about 11 miles of the stadium from two hours before kickoff until about midnight."

Even the Goodyear blimp will be missing. After all, military planners have to assume that the leaders of al-Qaeda, in those camps along the Pakistani border stocked with DVDs (and probably resupplied by Netflicks via some jihadi website), have seen the 1977 action flick Black Sunday and watched that ominous blimp head for the Super Bowl bent on mayhem. You can't blame the Goodyear Blimp people either. Based on checkpoint behavior in Iraq, this could be a shoot first, ask questions later situation for any blimp in sight.

And let's hope that Sunday kickoff doesn't fly too high and kick off any NORAD warning signals.

Occupying Melting Glaciers

Amid his plan to escalate the war in Iraq, and his dead-on-arrival health care proposal, barely noticed in President Bush's State of the Union address was the call to permanently expand the US military by 92,000 soldiers over five years. Many Democrats and much of the mainstream media have signed onto this plan without so much as raising an eyebrow.

"I am glad he has realized the need for increasing the size of the armed forces… but this is where the Democrats have been for two years," said Representative Rahm Emanuel.

"In the post-Sept. 11 world," argued a Washington Post editorial, "the Army must be prepared to deploy to multiple theaters, while still guarding against the rise of a strategic threat such as China."

This decision has serious ramifications for the future direction of our country. We already have a hyper-militarized approach to security. This is a critical moment when the new Democratic Congress could lead a vigorous debate over how to best serve the national interest in an era of climate chaos, resource scarcity and geopolitical energy struggles rather than acquiesce to a size and spending increase in order to look "strong on defense."

Despite what some supporters of an expanded military say, this policy would do absolutely nothing to help the current situation of an army stretched thin ("the active Army is about broken," said former Secretary of State Colin Powell) due to this administration's recklessness. Gordon Adams and John Diamond of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars wrote in a recent op-ed, "Even on a fast track, it might be as long as five years before an additional combat-ready brigade would be ready to deploy [to Iraq]." Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "An increase in the size of the Army today really won't show up for some period of time."

So what are the expand-the-military cheerleaders gunning for exactly? A continued course of invasions followed by occupation and nation-building? Spreading the folly of Iraq into Iran or Syria? The Bush administration has already demonstrated that such missions are as achievable as occupying the glaciers it is melting, and the American people have made clear that they have no desire to repeat the human catastrophe of Iraq.

Adams and Diamond cut to the chase: "If this is about invading Iran, or carrying out a land war in China, as The Post has suggested, then maybe we need to have a national debate about that strategy, not slip it in sideways by expanding the Army without agreeing on the mission."

As I wrote in a previous post, the struggle against terrorism is not primarily a military operation. It is an intelligence-gathering, law enforcement, and public diplomacy effort. We already have the strongest military in the world and spend more on our military than the next twenty three leading military spenders in the world combined – increasing the military's size will do nothing to address the very real challenges that lie ahead. What are we going to do when confronted by disappearing and melting glaciers – occupy them?

Indeed a key part of this debate should be assessing exactly what security challenges our nation faces in the 21st century. William Hartung, Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute, suggests defining security strategy more broadly to include, for example, global warming, HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses, and growing divisions in wealth, income, and access to resources. Congress should explore shifting funds that would otherwise be used to increase the size of the military (estimated as high as $85 billion over the next eight years) in order to address security challenges that are currently getting short shrift. Hartung believes Democrats need to make the argument that they are not only strong on defense – but a lot smarter too.

If there's anyone in Congress who hasn't yet learned to not blindly follow the Bush administration on matters of security… well, the administration has some nice glaciers they want to talk to you about investing in too. Enjoy.

Libby Trial: Matt Cooper Contradicts Libby

Washington is like high school.

That seemed true at the Scooter Libby trial on Wednesday when the prosecution and the defense argued whether notes written by Libby on July 10, 2003, could be fully introduced as evidence. The notes covered a conversation between Libby, who was then Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and Mary Matalin, a Republican strategist and Cheney adviser. Libby had called Matalin seeking advice on how to deal with the firestorm of the week: former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's charge that he had inside information proving the White House had twisted the prewar intelligence.

Wilson's criticism had come at a time when questions were being raised about the reference in George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech to the allegation that Iraq had been seeking uranium in Africa. According to the notes, Matalin told Libby that Wilson's charge was fitting into the "Democratic story on the Hill" and that the "story is not going away." The notes say, "We need to address the Wilson motivation." Matalin suggested that Libby call Meet the Press host Tim Russert. "He hates Chris," the notes say, in a reference to Hardball host Chris Matthews, who had been promoting Wilson's accusations on the air and slamming Libby by name. On the same page, Libby wrote, "Wilson is a snake."

This is how the nation's capital works. A scandal erupts, and the spinners go into damage control and try to manipulate the press however they can. In this instance, Matalin apparently believed Cheney's office could play Russert against Matthews.

It was unclear how much of this note federal district court Judge Reggie Walton will allow into evidence. The snake comment, he said, was prejudicial. But the line about Wilson's motivation could be relevant to assessing Libby's state of mind during that wild week. It could be interpreted to mean: let's undermine Wilson not on the merits of his argument but on what might have led to his trip--including his wife's employment at the CIA.

The fight over this document was a small part of the day. The major drama came when Matt Cooper, formerly of Time magazine, was called as a witness. He and Libby spoke on July 12, 2003--six days after Wilson had published an op-ed blasting the White House and two days before Wilson's wife was outed as a CIA officer in a Robert Novak column. During the subsequent CIA leak investigation, Libby told the FBI and a grand jury that he had said to Cooper that various journalists were telling the administration that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA but that he (Libby) didn't know if this was true. Libby testified to the grand jury that he told Cooper that all he knew about Valerie Wilson "was what reporters are telling us" and that "among other things, I didn't know [Wilson] had a wife."

Cooper gave the grand jury a very different account. He said that at the end of their conversation, he asked if Libby had heard anything about Wilson's wife being involved in sending her husband on his now infamous trip to Niger to check out the uranium allegation. As Cooper has put it, "Libby responded with words to the effect of, 'Yeah, I've heard that too.'" A day earlier, Cooper had been told by Karl Rove, a top White House aide, that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and was involved in the Wilson mission. With Libby's remark, Cooper believed he had confirmation of this hot piece of news. But Cooper's editors at Time kept the Wilson wife angle out of the cover story that was going to press the day of his conversation with Libby. Days later, Cooper co-wrote a piece for the magazine's website reporting that "some government officials have noted to TIME in interviews, (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

In Libby's telling, he had merely picked up some gossip from reporters and passed it to Cooper with the caveat that he didn't know if any of it was true. Cooper's account--which Fitzgerald received only after threatening to jail Cooper, who initially refused to cooperate with the investigation--is a direct challenge to the veracity of the statements Libby provided the FBI and the grand jury. And Libby is on trial for allegedly lying to the FBI and the grand jury in part about his chat with Cooper.

On the stand, Cooper described the July 12 phone call. There were no surprises. He stuck to his story. Did Libby, Fitzgerald asked, say to you that he had learned about Wilson's wife from other reporters? No, Cooper said.

It was straightforward--or seemed so. Until Bill Jeffress, a Libby attorney, cross-examined Cooper. He asked a series of questions insinuating that Cooper had learned about Wilson's wife not just from official sources but from John Dickerson, a colleague at Time. But Dickerson has said (more than once) that he was not leaked information about Wilson's wife. (See here.)

Jeffress was suggesting that the Libby confirmation was not important for Cooper--and perhaps even nonexistent. He introduced a "file" Cooper sent to his editors at Time shortly after his discussion with Libby. The memo reported what Libby had told Cooper about the Wilson controversy but did not mention anything about Wilson's wife. "Why did you not put that in your memo?" the attorney asked. "I can't explain that," Cooper replied. (One reason might be that his editors had already signaled to Cooper they were not interested in the Wilson's wife story, and the magazine was just about to close that week's issue.)

Jeffress poked at the sausage-making of journalism. When a source tells you, "I've heard something," he asked Cooper, do you take that as a fact? Cooper replied that he viewed Libby's remark "as confirmation." Did you ask Libby where he had heard it? Jeffress countered. No, said Cooper. Ouch.

Jeffress also engaged in a rather creative maneuver. He puled out the notes Cooper had typed on his laptop while speaking to Libby and highlighted one section that read:

had something and about wilson thing and not sure if it's ever

What did this mean? Cooper didn't know. Is it possible that Cooper had typed "had" instead of "heard." It's possible, Cooper said. And did Cooper often insert extra "ands" into his notes? "I don't accept that characterization," Cooper said, not hiding his irritation. Jeffress referenced another part of these notes that arguably had an unnecessary "and" or two. And, Jeffress continued, do you ever type an "r" when you mean to type an "n"? The lawyer produced two Cooper notes that had nothing to do with the Libby conversation in which Cooper had typed "erroneous" as "erroreous" and "energy" as "eregy." What about the "wilson thing" phrase? Jeffress asked. Could it be a reference to Wilson's wife?

Cooper could see where Jeffress was heading, and he sharply replied, that's not "how I remember it." Then Jeffress unveiled his masterpiece. Change the "had" to "heard," delete the "and," and change the "ever" to "even," and look what you get:

heard something about wilson thing and not sure if it's even.

Jeffress added the last word: true. Presto, Cooper's notes--with these tweaks--chronicle what Libby claims he said to Cooper. "That's not my recollection," Cooper said.

When Fitzgerald had another shot at Cooper, he asked the journalist if he would have considered Libby's remark to be "confirmation" of the information Rove had leaked to Cooper if Libby had said he didn't know the information was true and didn't know Wilson had a wife. "No," Cooper said. Did you ask Libby any follow-up questions about Wilson's wife? the prosecutor asked. "I should have," Cooper responded, evincing regret. Why didn't you? the prosecutor inquired. Libby was reluctant to stay on the phone, Cooper said. And when did the two discuss Wilson's wife? At the end of the conversation, Cooper answered. The words in Cooper's notes that Jeffress had worked his magic upon appear not at the end but about two-thirds into document.

Jeffress had thrown a handful of dirt into Fitzgerald's gears. He had raised questions about Cooper's journalistic practices. He had drawn Dickerson further into the story--perhaps to bolster the defense's less-than-solid contention that Tim Russert may have heard about Valerie Wilson from NBC News reporter David Gregory. This could be important later in the trial, when Russert takes the stand and challenges Libby's claim that he (Libby) heard about Wilson's wife from Russert. (Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testified on Monday that he leaked information about Valerie Wilson to Dickerson and Gregory. Dickerson says Fleischer merely urged him to look into who had sent Wilson on his trip to Niger. An email from the time supports Dickerson.)

Whether or not Jeffress put much of a dent into Cooper--who was an unflappable and savvy witness--he still has a problem. Libby's own story is that he told Cooper he didn't know that Wilson had a wife. So far, seven witnesses have testified that they spoke to Libby about Wilson's wife prior to this conversation. And according to evidence introduced by the defense, Cheney told Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA. Cooper's testimony is hardly the only evidence contradicting what Libby told the grand jury about his conversation with Cooper.

Earlier in the day, Jeffress continued his assault on former New York Times reporter Judy Miller, questioning her ability to recall key information. (See here for an account of his initial attack on Miller.) He asked about conversations she had with sources other than Libby regarding Wilson and his wife. "I remember having other conversations," she said, adding, "I can't remember with whom I had those conversations." Wilson's phone number was in her notebook, Jeffress pointed out: who gave it to you? She couldn't recall.

Could she be sure, the lawyer asked, that no one had told her about Wilson's wife before Libby did so at a June 23, 2003 meeting (as she had testified)? Miller replied she had "no recollection of knowing" anything about Wilson's wife before that conversation with Libby. "You might have," Jeffress countered. "You can't be certain." Miller held fast: "I'm confident I didn't know before that." Then Jeffress quoted a Miller remark from her second grand jury appearance: "I don't remember if [the June 23 meeting with Libby] was absolutely the first time, but it was among the first time I had ever heard that. I don't--I can't recall for sure."

Jeffress asked her about her claim that Libby at that June 23 meeting had told her that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. In her notebook, she had written that Wilson's wife was employed at a "bureau." Miller testified on Tuesday this was a reference to a nonproliferation bureau at the CIA. But she also acknowledged that it had taken her "a while" to figure that out. But isn't the FBI sometimes referred to as the Bureau? Jeffress asked. Aren't there "bureaus" in the State Department? Isn't it true there are no parts of the CIA called a bureau? Didn't you tell the grand jury, he asked Miller, that you were "confused" by Libby's use of the word "bureau" and that your memory is bad on this? He displayed a grand jury transcript backing up his questions. He also noted that Miller's notebook had several references to Valerie Wilson prior to the leak. His suggestion: Miller had been talking to sources other than Libby about Joe Wilson and his wife and, due to her faulty memory, couldn't say for sure who had told her what.

Miller did her best to fend off his punches and defended her testimony. And Jeffress questioned her credibility with less visible enjoyment than the day before. He had already made his point about her memory, and not all jurors fancy overkill. Fitzgerald, during additional questioning, rehabbed Miller on a few matters. Responding to his queries, Miller said that there were no mentions of Wilson's wife in her notebooks prior to the notes related to her June 23 meeting with Libby. Fitzgerald also cited an exchange that occurred during Miller's first grand jury testimony. During that session, she did not recall her June 23 conversation with Libby--a point Jeffress has highlighted. But, as Fitzgerald noted, she also said that she did have a "vague memory" of talking with someone about Valerie Wilson's CIA connection prior to a meeting she had with Libby on July 8, 2003. In other words, she almost remembered her first conversation with Libby about Wilson's wife.

Miller's stint as a witness was ugly. But Fitzgerald managed to steer his case through these shoals. And her account was one more contradicting the statements Libby made to the FBI and a grand jury. Thanks to the cross examinations, jurors might have questions about each prosecution witness. Fitzgerald will win or lose depending on whether the jury looks past all the cuts and nicks. He has only a few more witnesses to call, including Russert, and he said he expects his case to be completed by early next week. Then it will be the Libby team's turn to send witnesses into the crossfire.

*****

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.

Wal-Mart Organics: Buyer Beware!

At the end of last summer, I explored, in the pages of The Nation's special food issue, the complex implications of Wal-Mart's move to expand its organic offerings. (Sorry, only the first couple paragraphs are online.) Like most of my writing about the environmental implications of Wal-Mart's policies, the article was balanced. Although I believe Wal-Mart is bad news for American workers, and has made almost no meaningful attempt to reform its personnel practices, I do think that some of the company's "green" reforms have the potential to genuinely help the earth.

Well, the jury's still out on the company's broader environmental impact, but on organics, it looks like I may have been too kind to Wal-Mart. The Cornucopia Institute, a watchdog group that advocates for family-scale farms and has been following Wal-Mart's organic moves with rigorous skepticism, discovered four months ago that Wal-Mart has been mislabeling non-organic products as organic. Though Cornucopia informed Wal-Mart about the problem, and filed a formal complaintwith the United States Department of Agriculture, many of the inaccurate signs remain .

Earlier this month, Corncopia filed a consumer fraud complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Today, Wal-Mart Watch put out a call for action: Write or email USDA honcho Eileen Broomell and urgeher to begin a nationwide investigation of Wal-Mart's product labeling.

Fraud of this kind is a serious matter, especially with more and more companies marketing social responsibility. According to a study released last week by the marketing firm Packaged Facts, U.S. sales of grocery store products making an ethical claim – organically grown, hormone-free, eco-friendly, local, cruelty-free – have skyrocketed in the past year, reaching nearly $33 billion in 2006, up 17% from 2005. Packaged Facts projects that sales of such items will continue to grow, surpassing $57 billion in 2011. People relish the opportunity to make a difference at the cash register; sure, that impulse may sometimes be naive, but companies like Wal-Mart shouldn't get away with abusing customers' good intentions.

Shine a Light

Kudos to new Senator Jon Tester and Representative Kirsten Gillibrand. They've become the only two members of Congress to post their work schedules online. That doesn't sound like much. But in a place like Washington, where so many deals get done in secret, behind closed doors, letting everyone see what you're up to is a courageous act.

The idea was spearheaded by the Sunlight Foundation, an innovative new group in Washington run by veteran watchdoger Ellen Miller. Thanks to them, you can peruse the archives of Senator Tester's schedule here and Rep. Gillibrand's "Sunlight Report" here.

Both Tester and Gillibrand won elections in which ethics played a major role. They should be congratulated for sticking to their commitments. Hopefully the push for greater transparency will lead to farther-reaching reforms, like publicly financed elections.

I just got off the phone with Senator Tester and encouraged him to persuade his fellow Senators to follow his lead. Something tells me that in the world's most exclusive club, there won't be many eager volunteers.