The Nation

Congress's Most Corrupt

Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW), my favorite watchdog group, recently issued a list of the 20 most corrupt members of Congress.

Last year, CREW named the 13 most ethically challenged legislators. Since then, as scandal infects Washington, the cast of characters has expanded.

Republicans dominate the list. Of the 17 most corrupt, only three are Democrats. Those named range from well-known figures such as Bill Frist and Rick Santorum, members under investigation by the FBI, such as Senator Conrad Burns and Reps. Jerry Lewis, William Jefferson and Alan Mollohan, and people you've probably never heard of, like California Reps. Ken Calvert and Gary Miller.

Highlights include House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis, whose lobbyist pal Bill Lowery could become the next Jack Abramoff; New York Rep. John Sweeney, who a few months back showed up drunk to a local frat party, threw a taxpayer funded Winter sporting weekend and hired his wife as a fundraiser even though she had no previous fundraising experience; and North Carolina Rep. Charles Taylor, a former businessman whose partners plead guilty to bank fraud and who did numerous questionable business deals in Russia with a former Soviet KGB colonel that CREW writes is "linked to an international multibillion money-laundering scheme."

The list also includes five members, including Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, to keep an eye on. The way things are going in Washington, expect the list to double by year's end.

Thank You, America

Watch most TV channels and if Iraq is the subject, you see bombs going off. You hear grisly tales of tortured Iraqis slaughtered in the internecine strife that's gripped that country, and you get the almost daily accounts of American troops dying in small but steady numbers. But just as the Bush administration promised us, there is good news, Virginia -- and it's been over on Fox for the last two months.

Since late July, if your timing was right, you might have caught a lilting, almost Edenic-looking ad at Fox, one of a series from "the other Iraq." We're talking about the autonomous region of Kurdistan here. The ad begins with a male over-voice in mellifluous English: "Saddam's goal was to bury every living Kurd. He failed." By now, you're seeing Kurds of every stripe, young and old, many with small US flags, beginning to offer a fulsome chorus of "Thank you" "Thank you, America." The voice continues: "The Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan Iraqi Kurdistan just want to say thank you for helping us win our freedom."

"Thank you." "Thank you for democracy."

Though little commented on anywhere other than right-wing blogs (after Bill O'Reilly played the ad for Arianna Huffington on his show), this has certainly been manna from heaven for the Bush administration. In fact, just what the (spin) doctor ordered from poor, sickly Iraq as the election season approached. And from genuine Iraqis no less! You can check them out (sort of) at the website of the Kurdistan Development Corporation, the "official investment site for Kurdistan, The Other Iraq -- and while you're there, scroll down for the ads.

So the semi-autonomous government of Kurdistan has put up money to thank the Bush administration in its time of need. Touching, really. But almost guaranteed not to be half the story. In the only substantial piece I've found on this "thank you" campaign, Aaron Glantz of Inter Press Service points out that it's being run by an "A-list" Republican PR firm, Russo, Marsh, and Rogers. Responsible for the "Stop Michael Moore" campaign to discredit Fahrenheit 9/11, it also organized an Iraqi "truth tour" to allow right-wing radio hosts to discover "the good news that the old-line liberal news media won't tell you about."

Let's recall that when the Pentagon couldn't get the good news it wanted in Iraq itself, its officials simply bought it. Via The Lincoln Group under a $5 million-plus yearly contract, the Pentagon concocted Iraqi "good news," translated it, and with copious payments placed it in the Iraqi media, offering a lesson in the workings of a "free" press to all those new Iraqi journalists. Now, the Pentagon is plugging "the Other Iraq" by sending out glowing press releases about its latest trade fair, as is the Voice of America.

Is there a reporter in the house? I wouldn't mind knowing if this was an example of a Bush administration-funded disinformation campaign coming home to roost just in time for a rugged election. In August, Thom Shanker and Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times reported on the President's frustration that Iraqis had not shown greater public support and appreciation for the American mission in their country. Is the Bush administration, in essence, using our money to thank itself?

A Visionary for Senate?

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a house party for Bernie Sanders, Vermont's only congressman, and more notably, the only Socialist holding national office in the United States. He was inspiring and upbeat, explaining that to be a socialist is to believe that "civilization has not yet begun." The idea of a society that meets everyone's basic material needs is, he explained, "not utopian -- it's completely possible."

It is refreshing to hear a politician speak in ambitious terms, of great things that we can achieve as a society -- like health care for all -- rather than simply wailing about Republican evils. Sanders was realistic about the right-wing menace, but hasn't lost his vision. After fifteen years in Congress, he's now running for Senate. His opponent, Republican millionaire Rich Tarrant is spending millions of his own money running mendacious, Rove-ian attack ads accusing Sanders of sympathy for terrorists and child molesters. Still, Sanders is leading in the polls by 66 to 27. If you want to help out Sanders in any way, or learn more about his campaign, check out his website .

Also in attendance at the Sanders gathering was Jonathan Tasini, ebullient from winning 17% of the Democratic primary votes in his race against Hillary Clinton. That's much more impressive than anyone expected, considering the popularity -- and, above all, financial muscle -- of the incumbent. Maybe he'll run for office again, now that so many more New Yorkers know who he is. I had a baby with me, and Tasini cooed at him with great sincerity -- obviously a pro after months on the campaign trail. Sanders, by contrast, awkwardly avoided the baby, which was odd for such an accomplished politico -- but nobody's perfect.

The LA Times's "Alamo"

At a time when the shift toward the Internet and the corporate quest for increased profit are threatening the future of journalism, it's inspiring to see the editor of a major daily newspaper paper push back.

Dean Baquet, the editor of the L.A. Times, is staging a high-profile mutiny against the suits at the Tribune Company, publicly refusing to make an estimated $10 million in cuts they are demanding. Baquet has said enough is enough and that a great newspaper cannot be corseted and expected to flourish.

Baquet has garnered support from his publisher Jeff Johnson; from his staff which is circulating a petition; and from an ad hoc committee of L.A. luminaries (including civic-minded billionaires and labor leaders) whose open letter to the Tribune Co. was published, yes, on the editorial page of the Times.

Some have called Baquet's move a last-ditch "Alamo strategy."

We'll see on Thursday when the Tribune board meets in Chicago. Putting down Baquet's rebellion will be at the top of the agenda.

Read the whole story on my blog.

A New Star Shines From Massachusetts

Barack Obama, whose recent campaign-style swing through Iowa has renewed talk of the freshman senator from Illinois as a presidential prospect, is still the frontrunner in discussions about who might be the first African-American to occupy the Oval Office.

But the voters of Massachusetts have given Obama some competition.

The landslide winner of Tuesday's voting in what was supposed to be a close contest for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Deval Patrick, is certainly not as well known as Obama. But if, as many expect, Patrick prevails in the November election, he will quickly find a place on the national stage. And if he proves to be as successful at governing the Bay State as he was as a law clerk for a law clerk for one of the nation's most progressive jurists, Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, as a top lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and as assistant attorney general for civil rights under President Clinton, Patrick will soon enjoy his share of presidential speculation.

Don't go looking for a rivalry between Obama and Patrick, however.

The two men, both products of challenging backgrounds who made it to Harvard Law School, have been friends for more than a decade.

Last year, when political observers discounted Patrick's prospects – the Boston Globe described him as "a political unknown" after he first discussed running – Obama endorsed the Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate. The senator hosted Patrick at a 2005 Congressional Black Caucus weekend in Washington and organized a major fund-raising event on his behalf in Chicago.

In June of this year, Obama returned to Boston -- where he claimed his place on the national stage with an electrifying keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention -- to introduce Patrick at a rally before the June convention where the first-time candidate would secure the gubernatorial endorsement of the state Democratic party. Noting that Patrick was given little chance of winning when the two men began talking about the race in 2005, Obama told a cheering crowd of 3,000, ``Now, lo and behold, one year later… this man who they said could not, in fact, can."

Patrick got off the best line of that night: "You know your campaign is on fire when Barack Obama is your warm-up act."

Patrick's campaign was on fire. Obama's endorsement certainly helped. But the real spark was Patrick's appeal to progressives -- with his strong support for the marriage rights of lesbians and gays, his ardent opposition to the death penalty, his sympathy for the circumstance of immigrants and his backing of a minimum-wage hike and health care for all -- as well as a highly-effective field operation run by veteran civil rights and social justice activists.

Patrick and his backers built a remarkable grassroots campaign that crossed lines or race, ethnicity, class and gender to unite Democrats in a blue state where divisions have repeatedly cost them the governorship. Like Obama in the Illinois Democratic Senate primary of 2004, Patrick emerged on the basis of a smart, aggressive campaign as the clear choice of party activists and, ultimately, of the voters.

On Tuesday night, Patrick was winning close to 50 percent of the Democratic primary vote, while the candidates who were once considered the frontrunners, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly and wealthy businessman Christopher F. Gabrieli, who spent $10 million of his own money on the campaign, each collected about a quarter of the ballots.

Patrick still faces a serious contest in November with the Republican lieutenant governor of a state that has not elected a Democrat to its top job since Michael Dukakis in 1986 -- and that, despite its liberal reputation, has never elected a woman or a person of color as governor. But the momentum's with Patrick and, if he wins, so, too, will be the talk about a place on a future national Democratic ticket.

Who knows? If the America that is evolves to the American that might be, maybe we'll see bumper stickers that read: "Obama-Patrick"?

GOP Leader Threatens Lobbyists

The Republican Party's "K Street Project," intended to make lobbyists pledge their allegiance to the GOP, has supposedly been shut down in the wake of the Abramoff scandal. But in the mind of Rep. Tom Reynolds, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the effort is still very much alive.

Last week, according to Roll Call, Reynolds warned a gathering of top lobbyists to refrain from donating to Democrats. "For those of you thinking about hedging your bets, I am watching you and I am going to know," said Reynolds, according to one Republican source at the meeting. "We will have no choice but to report to the Republican Conference any changes in your pattern of giving," Reynolds added, according to a second source.

Publicly threatening lobbyists is likely not to the best PR move for Reynolds in light of Bob Ney's guilty plea last week. But it's fitting behavior for a man who once called Tom DeLay "a darn good mentor of mine."

Time to Move Beyond Bush-Hating

You know the peace movement is in trouble when Andrew Rosenthal -- who edited WMD-fantasist Judy Miller at the New York Times -- bemoans its invisibility, as he did in an editorial a few weeks ago. When protesters do hit the streets, however, the result is not always inspiring. Today's rally at the United Nations, timed to coincide with Bush's speech to that enfeebled body, was thinly attended: just a few thousand people. Energy was low, and 911 conspiracy loons plentiful. United for Peace and Justice did a good job of making a necessary protest possible, by fighting for -- and winning -- a permit to march, and doing the vital organizing to get bodies and TV cameras to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. But the event's dreary mood stood in sharp contrast to a neighboring rally for Iranian political candidate Maryam Rajavi, whose supporters played music and danced, and waved signs with Rajavi's attractive face on it. (Semiotically moderate, she wears a headscarf and makeup. Her party is reputed to be a weird cult, unfortunately, but they certainly know how to throw a rally!) The mood at the Rajavi gathering was buoyant and optimistic, while the anti-war protesters seemed doleful and stuck in the past. Things are clearly dire when the grand finale speaker is Jesse Jackson, who hasn't been interesting since the 1980s.

Part of the problem is that the left's obsession with Bush -- quite understandable but always shallow -- no longer even provides decent slogans, much less vision. Indeed, looking out at the sea of anti-Bush signs at the rally, the man standing next to me -- who had a relative who'd just come back from Iraq "fucked up" -- remarked, "The problem is not just Bush. He's doing what the corporations tell him. He represents the people with billions of dollars. Not just millions, billions. And they want to keep it." Note to protesters and Democrats alike: W's approval ratings are back up. Running against him isn't good enough anymore.

The War on Torture

In Connecticut today, a statewide interfaith network of religious leaders--Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice-- working with with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, is calling on the state's Congressional delegation to take a firm stand against weakening the United States' commitment to Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

"Nothing less than the soul of our nation is at stake," said the Reverend Allie Perry, "not to mention the rule of law."

Senator Joe Lieberman--who might soon join forces with the Decider to serve as his official sidekick, the Moral Equivocator--has seized the opportunity to (somewhat) oppose President Bush's torture proposal. "I think McCain's got it right," said Lieberman. "I think we're probably in agreement in about 90 percent on how we should treat them."

But what Jolting Joe can't cut and run from--as Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith point out in their recent article on The Nation.com--are his votes to strip Guantánamo captives of the right to habeas corpus, and to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General, essentially endorsing Gonzales' infamous torture memo.

If Lieberman sees supporting the Warner/McCain/Graham bill as a way to take an election year stand against Bush while posing as protector of our historical international obligations, he is dead wrong. As J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights said, "The Administration and Warner bills...would authorize the life-long detention of more than 450 men who have been imprisoned in Guantánamo for nearly five years without ever having been charged with an offense or receiving a fair hearing. This is unconscionable. Every person detained by our nation must receive a fair hearing--one that does not rely on secret evidence or evidence obtained by torture or coercion--because fairness and due process are what America stands for."

In Connecticut, and across the nation, as candidates are forced to take a stand on such issues as torture, habeas corpus, and the separation of powers, we will learn who represents our finest traditions, and who would settle for a poor imitation which will further erode our historical role as a beacon for human rights.

At the UN, Bush Cites Human Rights Declaration

When George W. Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, he glowingly referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN in 1948. He said:

This morning, I want to speak about the more hopeful world that is within our reach, a world beyond terror, where ordinary men and women are free to determine their own destiny, where the voices of moderation are empowered, and where the extremists are marginalized by the peaceful majority. This world can be ours if we seek it and if we work together.

The principles of this world beyond terror can be found in the very first sentence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document declares that "the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom and justice and peace in the world."

One of the authors of this document was a Lebanese diplomat named Charles Malik, who would go on to become president of this assembly. Mr. Malik insisted that these principles applied equally to all people, of all regions, of all religions, including the men and women of the Arab world that was his home.

In the nearly six decades since that document was approved, we have seen the forces of freedom and moderation transform entire continents....The words of the Universal Declaration are as true today as they were when they were written.

That is some endorsement. But how familiar is Bush with the entire document? Let's start with Article 5:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Bush claims that his adminsitration has not tortured any terrorist suspect. But that claim has been challenged. (In the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the War, we recount the tale of a captured al Qaeda commander handed over by the CIA to Egyptian authorities, who was aggressively questioned--perhaps tortured--and provided false information linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda. This information was then used by Colin Powell during his now infamous UN speech before the invasion of Iraq.)

Article 7:

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.

Terrorist suspects detained as enemy combatants by the United States were not afforded equal protection of the law.

Article 9:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

The Bush White House has argued that the president has the power to arrest and detain anyone suspected of being an enemy combatant and that a detainee can be held as long as the president deems fit, without any due process. The Supreme Court, though, has not gone along with that view.

Article 10:

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him

Did Bush's original idea of using a military tribunal to try suspected terrorists jibe with this provision? Is his current proposal to try detainees with secret evidence in sync with this article?

Article 12:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Bush keeps insisting on the right to wiretap people--including American citizens (under certain circumstances)--without a warrant, not even a secret warrant. As for the right not to have one's honor and reputation assailed, the drafters of this declaration must have forgotten to put in a clause exempting the targets of political campaigns.

Article 30:

Noting in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein

In other words, not even a wartime president gets a pass. So did Bush read this document before he praised it? Or was he just reading a speech?


INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "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 more information on Hubris, click here.