"At the national level, we are seeing the most outrageous string of pay-to-play scandals in a generation," wrote Nick Nyhart, co-founder and Executive Director of Public Campaign, on TPMCafe. "Unfortunately, in Congress, no one is focusing on the kinds of reforms that would shift power away from well-healed lobbying interests."
At the state level, however, it's a different story. On Wednesday night, after seven hours of debate, the Connecticut Senate voted 27 to 8 in favor of passing the most comprehensive campaign finance reform bill in the country. The breakthrough legislation comes on the heels of a deeply damaging corruption scandal in Connecticut, where former Governor John Rowland is serving a one-year prison sentence for accepting gifts from state contractors.
Taking effect in December of 2006, the bill bans political contributions from lobbyists and state contractors and creates a publicly funded election system that encompasses all statewide races. What's truly remarkable about Connecticut is that, for the first time, a legislature passed a campaign finance bill that affects its own seats. "It will truly make Connecticut's elections about the voters and not about the donors," said Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford.
We declared a "Sweet Victory" in Connecticut back in June, when Governor Jodi Rell announced the sweeping proposal but months of deadlock in the legislature followed. Thanks to a massive and persistent grassroots effort led by the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, Connecticut Common Cause, the Connecticut League of Women Voters, civil rights, labor, and environmental organizations, the call for reform was finally met. "The Connecticut law is the strongest campaign finance law in the nation," says Nyhart, "[It] gives ordinary people, without connections to big money, a greater role in the electoral process while ratcheting down the clout of lobbyists and powerful state contractors."
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
The big news on any day when President Bush delivers a "major address" regarding Iraq is never what the commander-in-chief says. Bush has been on autopilot for so long now that he does not even bother to say anything new -- even when he is supposedly laying out a strategy for "victory."
That was certainly the case Wednesday, when the president treated an audience of cadets at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, to a repeat of every tired cliche he had previously uttered about the war, right down to the clumsy attempt to make a 9-11 link, the ridiculous comparisons with World War II and the don't-bother-me-with-the-facts pledge that, no matter how bad things get, "America will not run." What Bush fails to mention, of course that, with the depth of the quagmire into which he has steered the U.S. military, it's just about impossible to run.
A diginified withdrawal, on the other hand, remains not merely possible but preferable to the Bush approach.
And it is on the withdrawal front that the big news came Wednesday.
After the president spoke, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, announced that she is now backing the call by U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
That's a reversal for Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, who two weeks ago rejected Murtha's call for an exit strategy.
Despite the fact that Murtha had been a key supporter of her climb up the Democratic leadership ladder in the House, Pelosi was initially cautious about embracing the decorated Vietnam veteran's proposal to begin bringing the troops home.
Now, Pelosi says, "We should follow the lead of Congressman John Murtha, who has put forth a plan to make American safer, to make our military stronger and to make Iraq more stable. That is what the American people and our troops deserve."
That's big news.
For the first time since the war began, Democrats finally have a congressional leader who says it should end.
But that's not big enough news.
Pelosi is still holding back when it comes to putting the House Democratic Caucus on record in support of Murtha's withdrawal proposal.
"I believe that a majority of our caucus clearly supports Mr. Murtha," says Pelosi. But the minority leader still says "a vote on the war is an individual vote."
At a point when two thirds of Americans say that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, and a majority say that the time has come to start rectifying that mistake by bringing troops home, this country needs an opposition party that is in tune with the sentiments of the citizens.
To be sure, a handful of neocon Democrats -- led by Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman -- will continue to side with the Bush administration and support the war. But, as Pelosi admits, the vast majority of House Democrats are with Murtha. It is time for the caucus as a whole to take a stand that will clarify the debate and force at House Republicans who are increasingly wary of "staying the course" that is being set by a lameduck president.
Two years ago, Nancy Pelosi was elected minority leader in order to turn the House Democrats into an opposition party. She pulled her punches for far too long, doing serious damage not just to her party but to the national discourse -- which suffered from the lack of an alternative to the Bush administration's increasingly absurd pro-war line. Now, Pelosi has begun to speak up. That's good. But it's not good enough.
Pelosi is not an individual member. She is the Democratic leader in the House, and she needs to lead.
With thanks to both Nation columnist Katha Pollitt and a student from Hampton University who called me this morning and would like to remain anonymous, we wanted to alert Nation readers to a seriously under-reported travesty about to take place at Hampton, a historically black school in Hampton, Virginia.
Seven Hampton students are facing expulsion hearings THIS FRIDAY. Their "crime" was distributing "unauthorized" literature criticizing the Bush Administration's policies on AIDS, Hurricane Katrina, homophobia, the Iraq war and the Sudan as part of a national series of student protests on November 2nd. "Unauthorized" flyers are distributed and posted all the time of course--it's only when they feature progressive political content that the administration cracks down. This is a free speech issue, an issue of students' rights, and an antiwar issue!
There are a number of ways you can help but you need to act fast. First, call the school. Let Hampton administrators know that you oppose the chilling of free speech on the Hampton campus. Ask them to drop all charges against the students, recognize the activist club as an official student organization, and craft a free speech policy that doesn't criminalize dissent.
Here are the names and contact info for key administrators.
Dr. Bennie McMorris, Vice President for Student Affairs, email@example.com or 757-727-5264
Woodson Hopewell, Dean of Men, firstname.lastname@example.org or 757-727-5303
Jewel Long, Dean of Women, email@example.com or 757-727-5486
After that, please click here to read and circulate a new statement defending the students. (And please join Howard Zinn, Michael Eric Dyson, Pollitt and many others in signing the petition. To do so, email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.) Finally, click here for more info on the case. The more you read, the more pissed off you'll get. Just remember that the hearings are this Friday, so please act quickly.
World AIDS Day Chat
I didn't know it until yesterday but tomorrow, December 1, is World AIDS Day.
To mark the occasion, the estimable Moving Ideas Network and Amnesty International are co-hosting an online chat TOMORROW at 12:00est. Titled Violence Against Women, HIV/AIDS and US Policy, the chat--which features four experts on the AIDS crisis, including Nation writer Salih Booker--will focus on the way the AIDS pandemic has brought to light the inextricable connection between the right to healthcare and other fundamental human rights. Click here to submit questions in advance and click here for more info. Most of all, check out the chat tomorrow at noon.
Republicans may want to reconsider their current efforts to curtail habeas corpus, since it looks like they are intent on taking over yet another branch of government, the federal prison population. Leading the GOP charge is San Diego Republican Congressman, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who pled guilty Monday to charges of bribery, fraud, and tax evasion. Duke says he plans to make amends. He'd be better off planning how he's going to make friends with his cellmate.
Who that might be is the question buzzing around DC since former DeLay aide and lobbyist Michael Scanlon's plea deal. Federal prosecutors are charging that Scanlon and Jack Abramoff provided a stream of bribes to Republican Congressman Robert Ney of Ohio and members of his staff, including a "lavish Scotland golf trip in 2002," in return for legislation that favored their lobbying clients. Ney says he was duped. Let's hope he's not as gullible in prison.
And then there's Scanlon's former boss, Congressman Tom DeLay, the Energizer Bunny of K-street corrupt conservatism. He's already being indicted in Texas. Having his boy turn rat puts him in potential legal jeopardy on a second front.
But as every lobbyist knows for a good golf game you need a fourth. Here's a quote from Bloomberg News: "Senator Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican, helped win a three million dollar government award for the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan to build a school. The Interior Department ruled the tribe was ineligible because its Soaring Eagle casino makes it one of the richest. The tribe, an Abramoff client, donated $32,000 to Burns from 2001 to 2003."
At this rate it won't be long before Leavenworth has enough Republican Congressmen for a quorum.
Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Colin Powell at the State department, is in the news again. He first made headlines several weeks ago by accusing Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld of running a "cabal" that seized control of national security decision-making in the Bush administration prior to the Iraq war. This Tuesday, he's in the news for blasting Cheney for pushing for an anything-goes policy when it comes to detainees held by US forces. Asked during a BBC interview if he believes Cheney is guilty of war crimes for shoving aside the Geneva accords and pushing for harsh treatment (perhaps torture) of detainees, Wilkerson replied,
Well, that's an interesting question. It was certainly a domestic crime to advocate terror and I would suspect that it is--for whatever it's worth--an international crime as well.
That's some statement from a former Bush administration official. (He probably meant to say that it's illegal to conduct, not "advocate," torture, not "terror.") As might be expected, news outfits, bloggers and websites are having a field day with this. But you should read the entire interview, for Wilkerson makes several points that are less melodramatic but as, if not more, important. For instance, he attacks the White House for its recklessly negligent handling of the post-invasion planning for Iraq. This was a criminal--at least in policy terms--act for which Bush and his crowd have escaped accountability. (See what happens when Congress is controlled by the party of the president?) How Bush botched the post-invasion period should have been a bigger issue in the 2004 elections. It wasn't. But it's still not too late to complain and point an accusing finger. Wilkerson told the BBC,
The post-invasion planning for Iraq was handled, in my opinion, in this alternative decision-making process which, in this case, constituted the vice-president and the secretary of defence and certain people in the defence department who did the "post invasion planning", which was as inept and incompetent as perhaps any planning anyone has ever done.
It consisted of largely sending Jay Garner and his organisation to sit in Kuwait until the military forces had moved into Baghdad, and then going to Baghdad and other places in Iraq with no other purpose than to deliver a little humanitarian assistance, perhaps deal with some oil-field fires, put Ahmed Chalabi or some other similar Iraqi in charge and leave.
This was not only inept and incompetent, it was day-dreaming of the most unfortunate type and ever since that failed we've been in a pick-up game - a pick-up game that's cost us over 2,000 American KIAs [killed in action] and almost a division's worth of casualties.
It would have been appropriate for a congressional committee or two to examine what went wrong. But Republicans decided this was not as critical as, say, the Whitewater land deal.
In the interview, a BBC correspondent asked Wilkerson,
You've got also John Kerry recently accusing President Bush of orchestrating one of the great acts of deception in American history, and saying that flawed intelligence was manipulated to fit a political agenda. Now Colin Powell would be tarred with that same brush wouldn't he? Did he feel that he had correct information about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction when he outlined the case against Saddam?
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the latest in the CIA leak scandal, Scooter Libby's view of lying, Republican corruption scandals, and other in-the-news matters.
Here's Wilkerson's reply:
He certainly did and so did I. I was intimately involved in that process and to this point I have more or less defended the administration.
I have basically been supportive of the administration's point that it was simply fooled--that the intelligence community, including the UK, Germany, France, Jordan--other countries that confirmed what we had in our intelligence package, yet we were all just fooled.
Lately, I'm growing increasingly concerned because two things have just happened here that really make me wonder.
And the one is the questioning of Sheikh al-Libby where his confessions were obtained through interrogation techniques other than those authorised by Geneva.
It led Colin Powell to say at the UN on 5 February 2003 that there were some pretty substantive contacts between al-Qaeda and Baghdad. And we now know that al-Libby's forced confession has been recanted and we know--we're pretty sure that it was invalid.
But more important than that, we know that there was a defence intelligence agency dissent on that testimony even before Colin Powell made his presentation. We never heard about that.
Follow that up with Curveball, and the fact that the Germans now say they told our CIA well before Colin Powell gave his presentation that Curveball--the source to the biological mobile laboratories--was lying and was not a trustworthy source. And then you begin to speculate, you begin to wonder was this intelligence spun; was it politicised; was it cherry-picked; did in fact the American people get fooled--I am beginning to have my concerns.
Beginning? It's not too late for that either. Now when will Colin Powell speak as frankly as his former deputy?
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is, supposedly, a very smart man.Indeed, he is frequently referred to as the intellectual giant on the current highcourt.
Yet, when Scalia was confronted by comedian and social commentator AlFranken with a basic question of legal ethics, it was the funny man, not the"serious" jurist, who proved to be the most knowledgeable.
The confrontation took place last week in New York City, where Scalia was theguest of Conversations on the Circle, a prestigious series ofone-on-one interviews with Norman Pearlstine, the outgoing Time Inc.editor-in-chief.
After Pearlstine tossed a predictable set of softball questions to thejustice, the session was opened to questions from the audience. Up poppedFranken, the best-selling author and host of Air America's The Al FrankenShow.
According to a scathing article that appeared in the Scalia-friendly NewYork Post, "Franken stood up in the back row and started talking about‘judicial demeanor' and asking ‘hypothetically' about whether a judge shouldrecuse himself if he had gone duck-hunting or flown in a private jet with aparty in a case before his court."
Franken's reference was to Scalia's refusal to recuse himself fromdeliberations involving a lawsuit brought by public-interest groups thatsaid Vice President Dick Cheney engaged in improper contacts withenergy-industry executives and lobbyists while heading the Bush administration task force on energypolicy. A federal court ordered Cheney to release documents related to his work with the task force, at which point the Bush administration appealed to the Supreme Court.
After the administration filed its appeal but before the court took the case, Cheney and Scalia were seen dining together in November, 2003, at an out-of-the-way restaurant on Maryland's eastern shore.
After the court agreed to take the case, Cheney and Scalia spent several days in January, 2004, hunting ducks at a remote camp in Louisiana.
Watchdog groups called for Scalia to recuse himself -- Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity, argued that fraternization involving a justice and a litigant with a case before the court "gives the appearance of a tainted process where decisions are not made on the merits" -- but the justice responded by announcing that, "I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned."
Several months later, Scalia and the other justices remanded the case back to the appellate court for further consideration -- a decision that effectively made the issue go away during the 2004 presidential contest.
Scalia, a friend of Cheney's since the days when they worked together in the administration of former President Gerald Ford, had participated in a decision that was of tremendous benefit to the vice president in an election year.
Yet, when Franken raised the issue at the Conversation on the Circle event, according to the Post, Scalia "chidedFranken as if he were a delinquent schoolboy." And Time Warner chairman Dick Parsons said of author: "Al was not quiteready for prime time."
In fact, it was Scalia, not Franken, who was caught with his ethics down.
Scalia took issue with the comic's use of the word demeanor. "Demeanor is the wrong word. You meanethics," the justice claimed, before adding that, "Ethics is governed by tradition. It has neverbeen the case where you recuse because of friendship."
Actually, Scalia was wrong on all accounts. Because U.S. Supreme Court justices decide when to recuse themselves for ethical reasons, they operate under looser standards and softer scrutiny than other jurists. Thus, the term "demeanor" was precisely correct. Legal dictionaries define "demeanor" as one's "outward manner" and "way of conducting oneself." By any measure, with his refusal to recuse himself from a case involving his friend Cheney, Scalia chose to conduct himself in an unethical manner.
How do we know that?
The American Bar Association's Model Code of Judicial Conduct, certainly a reasonable measure for such decisions, is blunt with regards to these questions, stating that:
1.) "(A judge) shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."
2.) "A judge shall conduct all of the judge's extra-judicial activities so they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge."
3.) "A judge shall not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge's judicial conduct or judgment."
4.) "(A judge shall not) convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge."
Unfortunately, the ABA's model code does not apply -- in any official sense -- to high court justices.
But there is still no question that Scalia should have recused himself. The standard for U.S. Supreme Court Justices was set by the court itself in a majority opinion in the 1994 resolution of the case of Liteky v. United States. According to that opinion, recusal is required where "impartiality might reasonably be questioned." The opinion set a high standard, declaring that what matters "is not the reality of bias or prejudice, but its appearance."
Who was the stickler for ethics who wrote those words?
Justice Antonin Scalia.
An expanded paperback edition of John Nichols' biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press: 2005), is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. The book features an exclusive interview with Joe Wilson and a chapter on the vice president's use and misuse of intelligence. Publisher's Weekly describes the book as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."
Despite the worst efforts of Wal-Mart and its equally carnivorous competitors to hype up an earlier start, Thanksgiving Day still marks something akin to the official opening of the Holiday season. And with this beginning even the most resistant radio stations and elevator operators will now be programming a mix of Christmas music that can charitably be referred to as "lamentable."
A musical tradition that was meant to be inspiring, uplifting and perhaps even challenging degenerates each November into a mind-numbing slurry of "festive" Muzak that will, in short order, have tens of millions of Americans counting the days until December 25.
But, hark, there is redemption to be found -- though perhaps not on the radio dials of our ever most consolidated and rigidly-programmed media monopolies.
A better class of Christmas music is out there, waiting to be heard by those who seek it.
In fact, one of the finest contemporary Christmas songs is rapidly taking on "classic" status as it is recorded by discerning artists.
Canadian singers Kate and Anna McGarrigle's fine new holiday CD, The McGarrigle Christmas Hour, features a stirring rendition of the song in question: Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus."
Originally recorded by Browne for the brilliant 1991 Chieftains holiday collaboration, The Bells of Dublin, "The Rebel Jesus" has taken on a life of its own. Along the way, it has become the most welcome antidote to the deadening dose of commercialism that Americans imbibe each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
So let us begin the season with Browne's wise words:
All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants' windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
They'll be gathering around the hearths and tales
Giving thanks for all god's graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus
Well they call him by the prince of peace
And they call him by the savior
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
As they fill his churches with their pride and gold
And their faith in him increases
But they've turned the nature that I worshipped in
From a temple to a robber's den
In the words of the rebel Jesus
We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus
But please forgive me if I seem
To take the tone of judgment
For I've no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus.
Disgusted with the performance of the mainstream media when it comes to Iraq? Then click here to check out Catapult--a Quicktime video--and share it with your friends, family and colleagues. (This video is free to post on blogs and web sites.) Produced by two volunteers, the point of Catapult is "to help independent media tell the truth about the war to more Americans." A very worthy goal indeed.
Fight Further Gutting of US Healthcare
In an attempt to further erode the quality of healthcare in order to expand its bottom line, a big business coalition is currently pressing Congress to pass healthcare legislation that will undermine the safety and security of the health insurance that many American families depend on.
State laws throughout the country require insurers to cover some of the most vital and basic health services--like pre-natal and maternity services, cancer screenings, well-child care, direct access to Ob/Gyns, and mammograms. Many states also currently set limits on how much premiums can be increased, and guarantee the right to appeal denied claims. But the Small Business Health Fairness Act being considered by the Senate guts these protections.
So what's big business' agenda?
* To save money by severely restricting coverage for critical preventative procedures such as mammograms and yearly child checkups.
* To be able to raise rates at any time.
* To be able to deny claims with no guaranteed right to appeal.
The Care 2 coalition is leading the fight against this Orwellian-named Small Business Health Fairness Act. So click here to sign its petition against this reactionary legislation and click here to read more on why passage of this bill would be so damaging.
"No Q and A." That's what Chris DeMuth, president of the American Enterprise Institute, said to me on the elevator at his think tank on Monday morning. I knew what he meant. Dick Cheney was coming to AEI, the prowar, neocon headquarters, to give yet another speech on the Iraq war. Last week, Cheney blasted critics who claim Bush misled the nation into war, calling these accusations the most "dishonest" and "reprehensible" statements he's ever encountered in Washington. (And he's been around a long time.) But Cheney, as is his custom, refused at AEI to take questions from reporters on this or any other subject. Presumably, if he held a press conference, he'd be asked to explain his prewar claims about Iraq's supposed WMDs and its supposed contacts with al Qaeda that were not supported by the existing intelligence. (I came prepared to inquire if Cheney thought it had been "dishonest" of him to point to a Czech intelligence report that claimed 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta had met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague five months before September 11, even though the CIA and FBI had discounted this report.) Cheney also might have been asked about the recent news that executives from four large oil companies did meet with his energy task force in 2001, even though CEOs from these firms testified to Congress this month their executives had not. So many Qs for Cheney. But no As.
When Cheney finished his speech--which consumed only one-third of the hour that AEI had scheduled for the event--he quickly darted off. He didn't even stay to greet the AEI policy wonks who had been seeded in the first rows of seats (thus pushing journalists toward the back) and who had applauded enthusiastically for their man in the White House. MSNBC's David Shuster approached me and remarked, "I thought you were going to shout out a question at Cheney." I had thought about doing so. But before I could close my notebook, Cheney was gone.
His speech was both defiant and yielding. He opened with a White House retreat that George W, Bush began the previous day. Noting that the headlines last week said he had called critics of the war "dishonest and reprehensible," Cheney stated,
I do not believe it is wrong to criticize the war on terror or any aspect thereof. Disagreement, argument, and debate are the essence of democracy, and none of us should want it any other way.
He also praised Representative Jack Murtha, the conservative and hawkish Democrat who last week called for a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Murtha's proposal was initially met by hooting from a White House that didn't address Murtha's policy criticisms but that instead derided him as having been captured by Michael Moore and fringe elements of the Democratic Party. Days later, a Republican congresswoman implied that Murtha, a former Marine, was a coward for advocating disengagement. For his part, Murtha fought back by observing that he was not going to fret about attacks from folks who had ducked the Vietnam War by obtaining multiple deferments--a direct reference to Cheney. At AEI, Cheney, following Bush's lead, hailed Murtha as a "good man" and "a patriot," who "is taking a clear stand in an entirely legitimate discussion." Clearly, the White House (maybe after polling) had concluded that it could not win a ground war against Murtha. It was waving a white flag.
As part of this strategic, rhetorical withdrawal, Cheney also said there was nothing untoward about
debating whether the United States and our allies should have liberated Iraq in the first place. Here, as well, the differing views are very passionately and forcefully stated. But nobody is saying we should not be having this discussion, or that you cannot reexamine a decision made by the President and the Congress some years ago.
In other words, it's fine to refight that war. No critic need worry about being accused of treason or of undermining the troops by denouncing Bush's war.
But then Cheney made his stand:
What is not legitimate--and what I will again say is dishonest and reprehensible--is the suggestion by some U. S. senators that the President of the United States or any member of his administration purposely misled the American people on prewar intelligence.
Here we go again. Prior to the invasion, Bush, Cheney and other administration officials did make many statements that were not backed up by the available intelligence. Were these merely careless mistakes? Why not call for a quick conclusion to the Phase II investigation of the Senate intelligence committee and see what the evidence indicates? Rather, Cheney declared,
The flaws in the intelligence are plain enough in hindsight, but any suggestion that prewar information was distorted, hyped, or fabricated by the leader of the nation is utterly false.
How does he explain that administration officials cited evidence that was in dispute--such as Iraq's infamous acquisition of aluminum tubes that Bush officials said could only be used for a nuclear weapons program--and claimed it was rock solid? Is it not a distortion to repeatedly cite an intelligence report that has been discredited by the CIA and the FBI?
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the battle over the prewar intelligence, Curveball-gate, the rise of the new Open Source Media site, Bush's Zarqawi problem, Ahmad Chalabi's weak defense, and other in-the-news matters.
And Cheney, despite his earlier statement, could not help but play the undercuts-the-troops card:
American soldiers and Marines serving in Iraq go out every day into some of the most dangerous and unpredictable conditions. Meanwhile, back in the United States, a few politicians are suggesting these brave Americans were sent into battle for a deliberate falsehood. This is revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety. It has no place anywhere in American politics, much less in the United States Senate. One might also argue that untruthful charges against the Commander-in-Chief have an insidious effect on the war effort itself. I'm unwilling to say that, only because I know the character of the United States Armed Forces--men and women who are fighting the war on terror in Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other fronts. They haven't wavered in the slightest,
Cheney was indeed suggestion that questioning whether he and Bush deliberately oversold the intelligence could be bad for the troops. But since American GIs are so swell, such statements do not unduly affect them. The White House has made an obvious calculation: let's not attack Jack Murtha, let's go after Harry Reid.
Then he pulled out the usual rhetoric. The United States could not afford to withdraw and signal weakness to the "terrorists." He noted that the "terrorists" want to "gain control" of Iraq "so they have a base from which to launch attacks and to wage war against governments that do not meet their demands." And he remarked,
Those who advocate a sudden withdrawal from Iraq should answer a few simple questions: Would the United States and other free nations be better off, or worse off, with Zarqawi, bin Laden, and Zawahiri in control of Iraq? Would we be safer, or less safe, with Iraq ruled by men intent on the destruction of our country?
This is the same simplistic formulation the Bush crowd has been using since the invasion. In this characterization of the war, there is only us and them, the "them" being Zarqawi and the "terrorists" that have flocked to Iraq after the invasion. But Iraq is full of Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites, and the insurgency consists of much more than Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq. Does any reasonable Middle East analyst believe that Zarqawi could take over Iraq, against the wishes of the Shiites and their militias? Zarqawi poses a serious problem, but the more profound dilemma in Iraq involves the rising sectarian conflict and violence within a state that perhaps should not be a state. Bush and Cheney do not fully address this in public.
Cheney, instead, held up a phony argument to assault:
It is a dangerous illusion to suppose that another retreat by the civilized world would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone.
Who says that? Who believes that if the United States disengages in Iraq that al Qaeda would say, "Never mind"? Not Jack Murtha. Not any Democrat or Republican who has questioned the war. One could even ask if in making such a claim Cheney was being a tad "dishonest."
Cheney finished up with the "we will not retreat" mantra. He had nothing new to say about what his administration can do to end the war--or US involvement in Iraq--in the near-term. He was playing to his base, throwing out the same old/same old reasons for keeping US troops in Iraq. That Bush and Cheney still have to explain the war and that they had to reverse course on Operation Smear Murtha indicates that Bush and his lieutenants remain alienated and isolated in a bunker of their own making.
There's a crisis in this country in higher education--and the House GOP's reckless fiscal policies are making it worse. To pay for the rebuilding costs associated with Hurricane Katrina, House Republicans just last week passed $50 billion in budget cuts, eviscerating student loan programs, Medicaid and food stamps while simultaneously seeking to enact a five-year $57 billion tax break for millionaires and corporations. ("The beauty of taking the cuts out of Medicaid and student loan programs...is that it doesn't reduce the flow of funds to the Republican campaign committees by a single dime," Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson observed.)
Make no mistake: the loan cuts could be devastating for low- and middle-income students. The Emergency Campaign for America's Priorities which fought to build opposition to the GOP's budget cuts said that New York students and their families would be looking at a $6,000 hike in costs for higher education should the GOP cuts take effect.
This assault on the poor and the middle-class comes at a low moment in higher education in general. Republicans' fiscal policies have made college less affordable for many. And with less money available at the state and federal level, schools have had to raise tuition and impose other costs on families least equipped to bear the burden.
The New York Times recently reported that for the year starting July 2004 inflation increased only slightly, by 2.2 percent, while tuition at public universities rose by 7.1 percent (it increased by 5.9 percent at private colleges.) If you want to send a child to public university in your own state, you'll now pay an average of $15,566 per year. If your child wants to attend a private college or university, you're looking at an average annual cost of nearly $32,000. Predictably, the enrollment gap between rich and poor has widened in recent years.
While costs are rising, affordable student loans are getting harder and harder to find. The website insidehighered.com reported that students are relying on higher-interest private loans which saddle them with debt for many years after graduation. Colleges are also using merit-based aid as opposed to need-based tuition assistance, which traditionally has helped the neediest students afford the costs of attending college.
At the same time as costs are rising, the quality of what those costs are paying for is decreasing. Colleges are using part-time professors to teach their classes. Course size is swelling, and universities, a professor at Cornell who wrote a book about rising education costs told the Times, "are having great difficulty maintaining the quality of the education they provide."
Take Wayne State University, in Detroit. According to Insidehighered.com, the state government cut the school's funding forcing Wayne State to eliminate 200 staff jobs and "close one college and combine two others to save on adminstrative costs."
The University's provost told the website "We literally couldn't pay our bills," and Wayne State increased tuition by 18.5 percent this year alone because the situation was so desperate. And what's happening at Wayne State is happening nationwide as state colleges are victimized by a federal government which is shortchanging education, and state governments which are slashing funding year after year.
Public universities are being targeted for privatization as a result. "Taxpayer support for public universities, measured per student, has plunged more precipitously since 2001 than at any time in two decades," the Times reported last month. Faculty members are devoting more time to research often funded by private interests; college presidents are raising billions of dollars in private funds, and some of the buildings being built on public university campuses now bear the names of corporate donors.
The Right's immoral fiscal policies are bankrupting the very principles we claim to cherish like access to public education and the possibility of upward mobility for lower- and middle-class Americans. To reverse this trend that we've witnessed over the past five years, we can take five common sense steps.
First, as Sen Edward Kennedy proposed this past January, one bold idea for vastly expanding educational opportunity for all is to offer every child a contract that they, their parents and Uncle Sam will sign when a child reaches eighth grade. Kennedy said "the contract will state that if you work hard, if you finish high school and are admitted to college, we will guarantee you the cost of earning a degree." He added that "We should make undergraduate tuition free for any young person willing to serve as a math or science teacher in a public school for at least four years."
Second, Congress should enact the bipartisan Student Aid Reward Act (Kennedy and Rep. George Miller are co-sponsors) which would provide students with $17.2 billion in new college scholarship funds without costing taxpayers a single penny. The STAR Act will encourage colleges to take advantatge of less expensive federal student loan programs instead of relying on and enriching middlemen--the banks and other private lenders. The stakes are high; as Kennedy said, "We cannot allow 400,000 college-ready students to be held back from going to college full time and 200,000 students to be shut of college completely every year, because they can't afford the cost."
Third, as MoveOn and other progressive organizations have pointed out, pressure should be applied to Congress to roll back Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and increase resources for student loans and other programs that offer broader access to oppportunity to Americans.
Fourth, let's encourage all private institutions to steal a page out of Princeton University's playbook. In 2001, the University did away with student loans and replaced them with "grants" that, it said, "need not be repaid" and it made getting an education at Princeton affordable for all enrolled there.
Fifth, and finally, our nation needs to put a new emphasis on the educational principles that the Washington Monthly identified in its groundbreaking First Annual College Rankings issue published this past September. The magazine said that "three central criteria" should determine how we judge the success of a college in fulfilling its public mission to the American people.
"Universities should be engines of social mobility," the Monthly wrote, "they should produce the academic minds and scientific research that advance knowledge and drive economic growth, and they should inculcate and encourage an ethic of service." The survey produced some surprising results. UCLA ranked 25th in the US News College Guide but on the Monthly's list it finished second because it "excelled in research and...social mobility...because of its astoundingly high graduation rate given its large number of lower-income students." Penn St. finished sixth and Texas A&M seventh because they met the Monthly's service-oriented, opportunity-expanding criteria more successfully than Yale (15th) and Harvard (16th).
Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards told the Houston Chronicle that the GOP's effort to eviscerate student loan programs is akin to "taking the most from those who have the least and nothing from those who have the most."
The same, sadly, could be said of our country's deeply uneven commitment to higher education for all Americans. If the country wants to live up to its vaunted principles, the GOP's drive to enact policies that put the privileged few before people-in-need must be ended.