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An Antiwar Challenge to Hillary Clinton

Former National Writers Union president Jonathan Tasini, one of the most outspoken progressive activists in the U.S. labor movement, is expected this week to launch a Democratic primary challenge to New York Senator Hillary Clinton on a progressive platform that features a call for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Tasini has scheduled an announcement for Tuesday morning in New York City, setting up a campaign that could put unexpected pressure from the left on Clinton, the unannounced frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination who until recently has been one of the strongest Democratic backers of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Tasini plans to campaign in support of the call by U.S. Representative John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, for the rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from that Middle Eastern country.

"Senator Clinton is out of step with the values of a majority of New Yorkers. While a majority of New Yorkers support an end to the war, Senator Clinton has repeatedly voiced her support for a war that continues to accumulate unacceptable costs, in terms of American and Iraqi lives and our own government spending," explained Tasini, decribing a central theme of a campaign that is also expected to advocate for fair trade, economic reforms and universal health care.

Clinton has felt little heat so far from her most prominent Republican challenger, Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, whose campaign so far has been so hapless that some top Republicans are now calling for her to quit the race and instead run for state Attorney General.

But Tasini, who served for more than a decade as head of a national union and has since worked as president of the Economic Future Group, poses a far different and potentially more interesting challenge to Clinton. An author and frequent guest on television public affairs programs, Tasini runs a well-regarded progressive blog, Working Life, at his www.workinglife.org website, where his reviews of trade, health care and labor policy issues have drawn a broad following.

Unlike Pirro, Tasini understands the issues, he's quick on his feet, he knows his way around the state's union halls and he recognizes that Clinton's greatest vulnerability is a cautious centrism that has frequently put her at odds with grassroots Democrats.

Striking a chord that may well resonate with Democratic activists, Tasini says, "My candidacy will borrow a phrase from the late Senator Paul Wellstone, asking New Yorkers to'vote for what you believe in.'"

Even in liberal New York, a Tasini win in next September's Democratic primary would be a huge upset.

Clinton has a deep-pockets campaign treasury, a solid Senate record and an appeal to many Democrats who see her as both an heir to her husband Bill Clinton's legacy and potentially the best candidate to carry that legacy forward as a 2008 presidential contender. She also has an approach to even the most critical issues of the day that might charitably be referred to as "flexible."

In 2002, Clinton broke with more progressive Democrats such as Wellstone, the late senator from Minnesota, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd and Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, to support authorizing President Bush to use force in Iraq. And during the 2004 presidential campaign, she echoed the sentiments of the most hawkish Republicans when she criticized Bush for not sending enough troops to Iraq.

But, as the war has lost popular appeal, Clinton has begun to blur her position. In a November 30 letter to constituents, the senator seemed to back away from her support of the 2002 resolution, writing, "I voted for it on the basis of the evidence presented by the Administration, assurances they gave that they would first seek to resolve the issue of weapons of mass destruction peacefully through United Nations sponsored inspections, and the argument that the resolution was needed because Saddam Hussein never did anything to comply with his obligations that he was not forced to do. Their assurances turned out to be empty ones, as the Administration refused repeated requests from the U.N. inspectors to finish their work. And the 'evidence' of weapons of mass destruction and links to al Qaeda turned out to be false. Based on the information that we have today, Congress never would have been asked to give the President authority to use force against Iraq. And if Congress had been asked, based on what we know now, we never would have agreed, given the lack of a long-term plan, paltry international support, the proven absence of weapons of mass destruction, and the reallocation of troops and resources that might have been used in Afghanistan to eliminate Bin Laden and al Qaeda, and fully uproot the Taliban."

Clinton stopped short of admitting that her 2002 vote was "wrong," which is what former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, another prospective candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, did in a recent Washington Post opinion piece.

She has also refused to side with another backer of the 2002 resolution, Murtha, who is now pushing for a quick exit strategy. Clinton claims that, "I do not believe that we should allow this to be an open-ended commitment without limits or end." But, she adds, "Nor do I believe that we can or should pull out of Iraq immediately." And a close read of her letter reveals that, while the senator is quick to criticize Bush, she is still in the camp that says America has "a big job to do" in Iraq.

That's the opening that Tasini will attempt to exploit. It will not be easy -- even some of his old allies in the labor movement will be slow to officially embrace his challenge to one of the most prominent and powerful Democrats in the country.

But frustration with Clinton runs deeper among activist Democrats than is often noted in the media.

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain soldier in Iraq whose August protest outside George Bush's ranchette in Crawford, Texas, made her one of the country's most prominent anti-war advocates, has been almost as vocal in her criticism of the senator as she has been of the president. "Hillary Clinton is the leader of the pack" of pro-war Democrats, says Sheehan, who recently joined the board of the anti-war Progressive Democrats of America group. In an open letter posted in October on filmmaker Michael Moore's web site, Sheehan wrote of Clinton: "I think she is a political animal who believes she has to be a war hawk to keep up with the big boys."

Sheehan added that, "I will resist (Clinton's) candidacy with every bit of my power and strength."

That line led some New York activists to suggest that Sheehan should move to the state -- as Clinton did before her 2000 Senate run -- and run against the incumbent.

That's not going to happen. Rather, Sheehan has issued a letter of support for Tasini's challenge to Clinton, which you can read on Tasini's website.

Release Them Unharmed

Congress returns to DC today, December 6, after a recess and a coalition of groups, led by our friends at Democrats.com are welcoming them with an antiwar message. This National Call-In Day--organized by Democrats.com, Progressive Democrats of America, After Downing Street and United for Peace and Justice--aims to focus legislative offices squarely on the centrality of the war as the foremost issue that must be addressed.

The message is simple: "I am calling to let Rep. ______ know that I think the Iraq war is wrong and all our troops should be brought home immediately!" The call-ins have already started so please click here right away to find contact info for your elected reps and let them know you expect them to work for a speedy end to the war in Iraq. You can also call the Capitol switchboard toll-free at 888-818-6641.

(This same coalition is organizing a series of nationwide "Out of Iraq" events this January 7. Click here for info.)

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Release Them Unharmed

Nearly six days after four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams were abducted in Iraq, their safety remains unknown as peace activists from around the world appeal for their release.

Two of the four abducted are Canadians, one from England and the other from the United States, as identified and confirmed by the Chicago-based international Christian peace organization Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). All of them are long-time peace activists who have all demonstrated a long-term commitment to the ideals of social justice and self-determination.

A British coalition of antiwar groups--including the Muslim Association of Britain, Stop the War and CND--announced yesterday that it would send leading British antiwar campaigner Anas Altikriti to Iraq to appeal directly for the release of hostages.

Echoing the call is an urgent appeal that's being introduced today by an ad-hoc group of concerned writers and activists in the US and Canada. Please read it below and circulate it widely. Then click here to join Arundhati Roy, Rashid Khalidi, Cindy Sheehan, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Nation writers Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill in signing the statement which calls for the activists' immediate release so that they may continue their vital work as witnesses and peacemakers. And, remember, time is of the essence.

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An Urgent Appeal(Click here to add your name.)

Four members of Christian Peacemaker Teams were taken this past Saturday, November 26, in Baghdad, Iraq. They are not spies, nor do they work in the service of any government. They are people who have dedicated their lives to fighting against war and have clearly and publicly opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They are people of faith, but they are not missionaries. They have deep respect for the Islamic faith and for the right of Iraqis to self-determination.

CPT first came to Iraq in October 2002 to oppose the US invasion, and it has remained in the country throughout the occupation in solidarity with the Iraqi people. The group has been invaluable in alerting the world to many of the horrors facing Iraqis detained in US-run prisons and detention centers.

CPT was among the first to document the torture occurring at the AbuGhraib prison, long before the story broke in the mainstream press. Itsmembers have spent countless hours interviewing Iraqis about abuse andtorture suffered at the hands of US forces and have disseminated thisinformation internationally.

Each of the four CPT members being held in Iraq has dedicated his life to resisting the darkness and misery of war and occupation. Convinced that it is not enough to oppose the war from the safety of their homes, they made the difficult decision to go to Iraq, knowing that the climate of mistrust created by foreign occupation meant that they could be mistaken for spies or missionaries. They went there with a simple purpose: to bear witness to injustice and to embody a different kind of relationship between cultures and faiths. Members of CPT willingly undertook the risks of living among Iraqis, in a common neighborhood outside of the infamous Green Zone.

They sought no protection from weapons or armed guards, trusting in, andbenefiting from, the goodwill of the Iraqi people. Acts of kindness andhospitality from Iraqis were innumerable and ensured the CPT members'safety and wellbeing. We believe that spirit will prevail in the currentsituation.

We appeal to those holding these activists to release them unharmed so that they may continue their vital work as witnesses and peacemakers.

[Click here and scroll down to see the full list of initial signers.]

Nation's Strongest Campaign Finance Bill Passes in CT.

"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." 

[Note: Rob Richie of Fair Vote praises the victory but warns of the bill's "terrible anti-third party provision." To see the full text of the bill, click here.] 

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 nationvictories@gmail.com.

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.

Pelosi Sides With Murtha For Withdrawal

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.

Defend Free Speech on Campus

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, bennie.mcmorris@hamptonu.edu or 757-727-5264

Woodson Hopewell, Dean of Men, woodson.hopewell@hamptonu.edu or 757-727-5303

Jewel Long, Dean of Women, jewel.long@hamptonu.edu 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: youth_students@worldcantwait.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.

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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.

Doing Time

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.

Beyond Wilkerson's Remark on Cheney as a War Criminal

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?

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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.

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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?

Al Franken Overrules Antonin Scalia

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."

"The Rebel Jesus"

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

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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

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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

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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.