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The Nation

Duke Players Deserve Apology

The three Duke University lacrosse players falsely indicted on rape charges last year deserve an apology--from the district attorney and members of the media.

The students were guilty of throwing a rowdy and idiotic party. But they are not racists nor rapists. They did not deserve the wildly unfair treatment they endured over the last year. Finally they found justice when charges against them were dropped yesterday.

District Attorney Mike Nifong should be immediately disbarred for recklessly pursuing this case to boost his own re-election prospects. And members of the media, especially TV news, should be ashamed for rushing to paint a distorted picture that bore no relation to the eventual facts.

"I really think this was a classic case of not being able to resist these themes of race and crime and sports in an elite university," Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz told CNN last night. "And I really think we fell down on the job."

Kurtz is right. It's not a question of whether to cover the story. It's how the media chose to cover it, in a typically hysterical and sensationalist way. "It should have been covered with a lot more restraint," Kurtz said.

The Duke scandal should become a textbook case for how NOT to report the news. No wonder the public holds such a low opinion of our profession.

The People Know Better

Once again the people are way ahead of the pundits and the political parties – this time, on matters of foreign policy and national security.

The latest results from the Confidence in US Foreign Policy Index are in. This survey, conducted jointly by Public Agenda and Foreign Affairs (the journal published by that citadel of the establishment – the Council on Foreign Relations), clearly reveals the American people's "increased skepticism about the use of military force and a corresponding inclination to favor diplomatic options instead."

In dealing with Iran, for example, only 8 percent support possible military action – taking that scenario, the report concluded, "virtually off of the table for most of the public." (However, never say never with this crowd in the White House and a Congress that fears being portrayed as "weak on terrorism.") In fact, "attacking countries that develop weapons of mass destruction ranked at the very bottom" of ways to strengthen our nation's security – this despite the fact that controlling the spread of nuclear weapons is the public's top national security priority.

When it comes to war, 70 percent of Americans believe that the US has been too quick to resort to armed conflict and a whopping 84 percent believe "initiating military force only when we have the support of our allies should be important to our foreign policy."

It is also very clear that Americans have had it with the Bush administration's disastrous and hypocritical efforts to "actively create democracies in other countries." This strategy consistently ranks at or near the bottom of the list of goals deemed important for strengthening our nation's security, and only 17 percent of the public feels it is "very important." 74 percent believe that "democracy is something countries come to on their own." These results point not to a new isolationism, but a kind of wisdom – an understanding and respect for other countries ability to find their own ways.

And in another revealing and encouraging measure of our times 75 percent worry about global warming and nearly two-thirds believe that international cooperation can reduce the climate change crisis – 34 percent say there is "a lot" the US government can do to address the problem. 70 percent say "cooperating with other countries on problems like the environment or control of disease" should be a very important foreign policy goal, second only to nuclear nonproliferation. 60 percent say global warming specifically should be a very important priority.

Finally, the top two priorities to strengthen national security have been consistent for two years running now – improving intelligence operations and increasing energy independence.

This survey is comprehensive – covering over 25 major policy areas in more than 130 questions. It used a national random sample of 1,013 adults over the age of 18 and has a three-point margin of error. What it tells us is this: Americans are learning crucial "postwar lessons" that will help determine the nature of the United States' engagement with the world. With little leadership from either party, the public has decided it's time to embark on a new course.

NBC Cans Don Imus

I have no problem with NBC's decision to cancel Don Imus' show, and frankly I could care less if CBS follows suit and takes his program off the radio. Any defense of Imus' "First Amendment rights" is laughable given that corporate news and shock jock radio have never been venues of "free speech." NBC News President Steve Capus claimed on Countdown with Keith Olbermann that firing Imus flew in the face of good business practices, but let's be clear, canning Imus made perfect business sense. Not only had Staples, Procter & Gamble, General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline and Sprint Nextel all pulled their advertisements, but NBC's own employees were threatening open revolt. In the context of corporate media -- where profitability and good ratings depend upon shifting cultural norms -- repudiating Imus is savvy management, intended first and foremost to preserve "brand integrity" and "company morale."

But I do bristle at the self-congratulatory, self-righteous air that has accompanied the whole Imus flap. Does anyone really believe that firing Imus restores "decency" to our "national conversation on race"? Instead of one man (Imus, Michael Richards, Mel Gibson) enduring the cross-cultural tete-a-tetes and ritual apologies and emerging sufficiently rehabilitated to be profitable "talent" once again, now we have a whole network. Good for NBC for taking the bullet. But when it comes to race in America, we don't need decency. We need honesty. And good luck finding that on MSNBC or CBS Radio.

Let's take Imus' notorious slur as an example. When Imus called the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" (in comparison to Tennessee's "cute," white team) he was not just making "some idiot comment meant to be amusing" (as he now claims) or even furthering "a climate of degradation" (as Jesse Jackson puts it), he was engaging in the old, American, racist project of abjecting and regulating black woman's sexuality. "Racist slur" or "stereotype" does not quite cover it, for this ideology is not just a matter of sports banter or drive time radio, it's intrinsic to US history and public policy.

The expression, "nappy-headed hos," probably does not appear in antebellum defenses of slavery, and it certainly doesn't come up in Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's 1965 report on the "Negro Family," or Bill Clinton's welfare reform act of 1996, or Newt Gingrich's Contract With America or even the myriad conservative briefs on the "culture of poverty," but such state policies and decorous studies represent the genealogy of Imus' notorious comment.

Slave owners considered black women's bodies property and their sexuality the source of future capital. Moynihan thought single black mothers a kind of "pathology," responsible not just for "inner city" cultural decline but also for urban economic malaise. Reagan labeled a class of black woman "welfare queens" who bought "welfare Cadillacs" on the state's dime. And so on...to Clinton's "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act," which ushered in marriage promotion (indirectly targeted at black, single mothers), to the Bush administration's bolstering of marriage promotion policies as a panacea to poverty. As the scholar Wahneema Lubiano points out in her brilliant essay on the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, the intense speculation, denigration and regulation of black woman's bodies and sexualities far exceeds the contours of racial slur or stereotype. It constitutes "ideological war by narrative means."

And so it is no accident that Imus' "nappy-headed hos" comment was directed not just at black women, but at young, black women and their bodies, their sexuality -- at that particularly visible and yet mystified entity that is at the center of America's "conversation" on race, sex and class. And it is likewise no accident that the controversy around Imus' comment centers around his own, individual racism, or lack thereof. For in repudiating -- or absolving -- Imus, America forgets its own past and denies its present. So is Imus' firing a restoration of "decency" or merely a sign of cultural and political amnesia?

Let Imus be scorned, repentant, forgotten. I'm still waiting for Moynihan's apology.

GOP Governor says WSJ Takes Dem Bribes

With all the bizarre behavior in Washington, it is easy to forget about the over-the-top antics of state officials around the country. But, sometimes, a governor outdoes himself.

Consider the case of Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons, a former Republican congressman who was elected to his current job last November. Gibbons, who was the subject of an inquiry into whether he assaulted a woman during the gubernatorial race, is now reportedly the target of an Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry into whether he steered federal contracts to a Nevada defense contractor who allegedly made secret payments to the then congressman.

The newspaper that broke the story of the Gibbons scandal was The Wall Street Journal, which is generally seen as the most political conservative and Republican friendly of America's nationally-circulated newspapers. While there is no question that the Journal's editorial page bends hard to the right, it's news pages have a good reputation for reporting responsibly on national affairs -- which should come as no surprise, as titans of industry and Wall Street traders do not like to be lied to.

But Gibbons says The Wall Street Journal is bought and paid for by the Democrats. Indeed, the governor claims "the Democrats have paid to have these Wall Street Journal articles written."

Asked for more details about those payments, the governor's press secretary said, "As far as the Wall Street Journal story goes, we don't know. We don't know who is providing it but we do hear rumors just like you do."

Rumors? Has anyone heard rumors about the Wall Street Journal being on the take from the Democratic Party? If that's the case, Democrats -- aside from Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman -- ought to ask for their money back. No newspaper has more consistently editorialized in favor of the Bush administration's failed policies, and the initiatives of Republicans at the state level, than the Journal.

For the record, officials at the newspaper have not yet come up with any receipts for those Democratic bribes.

Indeed, a Journal spokesperson says, "The Wall Street Journal's articles about Governor Gibbons are supported by extensive reporting. The Governor's suggestion that the Journal's coverage is a product of the Nevada Democrats is baseless."

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Chaos in the Greater Middle East

[ Part 1 of "Six Crises in Search of an Author, How the Bush Administration Destabilized the Arc of Instability"-- "Bush's Absurdist Imperialism" -- appeared yesterday. Here is part 2:]

Sweeping across the region from East to West, let's briefly note the six festering or clamoring crisis spots, any one of which could end up with the major role in the epic drama George Bush and his neocons supporters thought they were writing back in their Global War on Terror glory days.

Pakistan: The Pakistani government was America's main partner, along with the Saudis, in funding, arming, and running the anti-Soviet struggle of the mujahedeen, including Osama bin Laden, in Afghanistan back in the 1980s; and Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, was the godfather of the Taliban (and remains, it seems, a supporter to this day). In September 2001, the Bush administration gave the country's coup-installed military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, the basic you're-either-with-us-or-against-us choice. He chose the "with" and in the course of these last years, under constant American pressure, has lost almost complete control over Pakistan's tribal regions along the Afghan border to various tribal groups, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other foreign jihadis, who have established bases there. Now, significant parts of the country are experiencing unrest in what looks increasingly like a countdown to chaos in a nuclear-armed nation.

Afghanistan: In the meantime, from those Pakistani base areas, the revived and rearmed Taliban (and their al-Qaeda partners) are preparing to launch a major spring offensive in Afghanistan, using tactics from the Iraq War (suicide bombers or "Mullah Omar's Missiles," as they call them, and the roadside bomb or IED). They are already capable of taking over southern Afghan districts for periods of time. The Bush administration used the Northern Alliance--that is, proxy Afghan forces--to take Kabul in November 2001. It then set up its bases and prisons and established President Hamid Karzai as the "mayor of Kabul," only to abandon the task of providing real security and beginning the genuine reconstruction of the country in order to invade Iraq. The rest of this particular horror story is, by now, reasonably well known. The country beyond booming Kabul remains impoverished and significantly in ruins; the population evidently ever more dissatisfied; the American and NATO air war ever more indiscriminate; and it is again the planet's largest producer of opium poppies and, as such, supplier of heroin. Over five years after its "liberation" from the Taliban, Afghanistan is a failed state, home to a successful guerrilla war by one of the most primitively fundamentalist movements on the planet, and a thriving narco-kingdom. It is only likely to get worse. For the first time, the possibility that, like the Russians before them, the Americans (and their NATO allies) could actually suffer defeat in that rugged land seems imaginable.

Iran: The country is a rising regional power, with enormous energy resources, and Shiite allies and allied movements of various sorts throughout the region, including in southern Iraq. But it also has an embattled, divided, fundamentalist government capable of rallying its disgruntled populace only with nationalism (call it, playing the American card). Energy-rich as it is, Iran also has a fractured, weakened economy, threatened with sanctions; and its major enemy, the Bush administration, is running a series of terror operations against it, while trying to cause dissension in its oil-rich minority regions. It is also deploying an unprecedented show of naval and air strength in the Persian Gulf. (An aircraft-carrier, the USS Nimitz, with its strike group, is now on its way to join the two carrier task forces already in place there.) In addition, the administration has threatened to launch a massive air assault on Iran's nuclear and other facilities. Though Iraq runs it a close race, Iran may be the single potentially most explosive hot spot in the arc of instability. In a nanosecond, it would be capable, under U.S. attack, or even some set of miscalculations on all sides, both of suffering grievous harm and of imposing enormous damage not just on American troops in Iraq, or on the oil economy of the region, but on the global economy as well.

Iraq: Do I need to say a word? Iraq is the poster-boy for the Bush administration's ability to turn whatever it touches into hell on Earth. In Iraq, the vaunted American military has been stopped in its tracks by a minority Sunni insurgency. (In recent weeks, however, the war there is threatening to turn into something larger, as the American military launches attacks on radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia.) Iraq now is the site of a religio-ethnic civil war of striking brutality, loosing waves of refugees within the country and on neighboring states; neighborhoods are being ethnically cleansed and deaths have reached into the hundreds of thousands. Amid all this, the occupying U.S. military fully controls only Baghdad's fortified citadel within a city, the Green Zone (and even there dangers are mounting) as well as a series of enormous, multibillion-dollar bases it has built around the country. Iraq is now essentially a failed state and the situation continues to devolve under the pressure of the President's latest "surge" plan. If that plan were to succeed, the citadel-state of the Green Zone would, at best, be turned into the city-state of Baghdad in a sea of chaos. Like Iran, Iraq has the potential to draw other states in the region into a widening civil-cum-religious-cum-terrorist war.

Israel/Palestine/Lebanon: From an early green light for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to join the Global War on Terror (against the Palestinians) to a green light for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to launch and continue a war against Hezbollah in Lebanon last summer, the Bush administration has largely green-lighted Israel these last years. It has also ignored or, in the case of the Lebanon War, purposely held back any possibility of serious peace talks. The provisional results are in. In Lebanon, the heavily populated areas of the Shiite south were strewn with Israeli cluster bombs, making some areas nearly uninhabitable; up to a quarter of the population was, for a time, turned into refugees; parts of Lebanese cities including Beirut were flattened by the Israeli air force; and yet Hezbollah was strengthened, the U.S.-backed Siniora government radically weakened, and the country drawn closer to a possible civil war. In the Palestinian areas, Bush administration democracy-promotion efforts ended with a Hamas electoral victory. Starved of foreign aid and having suffered further Israeli military assaults, the Palestinian population is ever more immiserated; Hamas and Fatah are at each other's throats; and the U.S.-backed President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is in a weakened position. In the wake of a disastrous war, Israel, with a government whose head has a 3% approval rate, is hardly the triumphant, dominant power in the Middle East that various Bush administration figures imagined once upon a time. This looks like another deteriorating situation with no end in sight.

Somalia (or Blackhawk Down, Round 2): In 2006, Director Porter Goss's CIA bet on a group of discredited Somali warlords, threw money and support behind them, and -- typically -- lost out to an Islamist militia that took most of the country and imposed relative peace on it for the first time in years. The ever proactive Bush administration then turned to the autocratic Ethiopian regime and its military (advised and armed by the U.S. with a helping hand from the North Koreans) to open "a new front" in the Global War on Terror. The Ethiopians promptly launched their own "preventive" invasion of Somalia (with modest U.S. air support), installed a government in the capital, Mogadishu, proclaimed victory over the Islamists, and -- giant surprise --promptly found themselves mired in an inter-clan civil war with Iraqi overtones. Today, Somalia, long a failed state and then, for a few months, almost a peaceful land (even if ruled by Islamists fundamentalists), is experiencing the worst fighting and death levels in 15 years. The new government in Mogadishu is shaky; their Ethiopian military supporters bloodied; over 1,000 civilians in the capital are dead or wounded, and tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing Mogadishu and crossing borders in a state of need. Rate it: a developing disaster -- with worse to come.

In short, from Somalia to Pakistan, the region that Bush administration officials, neocons supporters and allied pundits liked to call "the arc of instability" back in 2002-2003 is today a genuine arc of instability. It is filled with ever more failed states (Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, which never even made it to statehood before collapse), possible future failed states (Lebanon, Pakistan), ever shakier autocracies (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan); and huge floods of refugees, internal and external (Somalia, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan) as well as massively damaged areas (Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon). It is also witnessing the growth of extremist and terrorist organizations and sentiments.

[Tomorrow, part 3 of this series: "A Rube Goldberg Instability Machine."]

Senators Expand Inquiry of Political Prosecutions

The question of whether any of the 85 U.S. Attorneys who were not fired by the Bush administration may have engaged in political prosecutions blew open Tuesday, when key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee demanded files pertaining to a botched prosecution in Wisconsin.

Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and five other senators have asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for documents dealing with the case of a Wisconsin state employee who was tried in a case that played out during the course of the 2006 gubernatorial race in that state. Republicans used the prosecution as part of a television attack campaign aimed at defeating Democratic Governor James Doyle.

U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic obtained an election-season conviction of the state employee, Georgia Thompson, on charges that she steered a state contract to a Doyle donor. But a federal appeals court last week overturned that conviction with a stinging decision that complained about a lack of evidence. One of the appeals court judges said Biskupic's case was "beyond thin."

Biskupic, who also investigated Republican-pushed charges of "voter fraud," which proved to be without validity, was not one of the eight U.S. Attorneys fired by Gonzales in what appears to have been an attempt to purge prosecutors who refused to use their positions to advance the agenda of White House political czar Karl Rove and other GOP operative.

Rather, Biskupic was one of the 85 U.S. Attorneys who met the standards applied by Gonzales and the Bush White House.

At issue, of course, is what those standards required of the federal prosecutors who retained their jobs. Were they expected to conduct politicized prosecutions? More importantly, did any of them conduct prosecutions on a schedule designed to benefit Republican electoral prospects?

Leahy and his colleagues have begun the process of seeking answers to those questions, with a request for documents detailing communications between Biskupic and the White House and the Department of Justice, as well as information about communications between the Department of Justice and Republican political operatives concerning cases in Wisconsin.

In their letter, Leahy and New York Senator Chuck Schumer, California Senator Diane Feinstein, Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Wisconsin Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, explain that, "We are concerned whether or not politics may have played a role in a case brought by Steven Biskupic, the United States Attorney based in Milwaukee, against Georgia Thompson, formerly an official in the administration of Wisconsin's Democratic governor. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals was reportedly so troubled by the insufficiency of the evidence against Ms. Thompson that it made the unusual decision to issue an order reversing Ms. Thompson's conviction and releasing her from custody immediately after oral arguments in her appeal."

The request is significant for two reasons – one involving the Wisconsin case in particular, the other involving the broader direction of the Senate's inquiry into political prosecutions.

First, the senators know that there are documents in the possession of the Bush administration detailing the desire of Republicans in Wisconsin to have Biskupic pursue cases that matched their political agenda. Thus, this is not a fishing expedition, but rather a targeted request for memos that have already been confirmed to exist.

Second, the senators have clearly signaled their intent to take the committee's inquiry beyond the narrow confines of a discussion about the eight fired U.S. Attorneys. As they say in their letter, "One of the central issues in our investigation is whether the Department of Justice has improperly encouraged U.S. Attorneys to pursue, or to refrain from pursuing, politically sensitive cases."

What ought not be forgotten is that, while the Wisconsin case has blown up in recent days, concerns have also been raised about the politicization of prosecutions by sitting U.S. Attorneys in New Jersey and other states.

Ultimately, the big story of the scandal at the Department of Justice will not be that of the eight fired prosecutors. It will be that of the 85 who were not fired, and of what they did or did not do to keep their jobs.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Wall Comes Tumbling Down

Want to know what happens when the wall between church and state comes tumbling down? When -- as Ted Koppel recently said -- "ideological loyalty... is allowed to substitute for competence"? Check out this take by Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage on the recent Attorneygate scandal and the goings-on at the Bush DOJ and other agencies…

Students vs. Sweatshops (Again)

This afternoon, students at University of Southern California began occupying their administration's offices. The action is part of a likely wave of sit-ins on the nation's campuses, as students are escalating a campaign for basic human rights for the workers, mostly young women, who make clothing bearing school logos. Seven years ago, a similar wave helped establish the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the oversight group that students established, in cooperation with workers' advocates here and in the developing world, as an alternative to monitors controlled by the apparel industry. (I covered those protests for the Nation, and later in a book.)

Students at USC have been trying for eight years to get their school to affiliate with the WRC. 168 colleges and universities have done this, making USC quite a holdout on this issue. The USC students are also demanding that their university adopt the Designated Suppliers Program (DSP), a sensible system established by the Worker Rights Consortium to determine that collegiate clothing is made under decent conditions. The USC president, Steven Sample, has refused to meet with the students. "As students we learn in the classroom about global problems," says junior Carlo Catteneo Adorno. "It's disappointing that President Sample refuses to tackle such problems in the real world."

Students at University of Michigan -- my alma mater, so I'm proud of them-- occupied their president's office last week, also demanding that the University adopt the DSP. The students began this protest after several years of attempted "dialogue" with the administration on this issue. Instead of taking action to ensure that U-M clothing is not made under sweatshop conditions, President Mary Sue Coleman had the students arrested and forcibly removed from the building. Being a huge football school, U-M is obviously a significant player in the collegiate clothing industry, and it would make a big difference if its administration would finally embrace the DSP.

Several more sit-ins on this issue are expected before the end of the school year, according to Zack Knorr of United Students Against Sweatshops, unless the universities in question decide to avoid the bad publicity by doing the right thing.

Re-Occupying the Occupation

Supporters of the war in Iraq, like Senator John McCain, say the "surge" is making progress. That we must give General David Petraeus, a man who can seemingly do no wrong, time to make his plan work. But are additional troops really helping? Or is Baghdad simply becoming reoccupied--with disastrous results?

The NewsHour's Margaret Warner recently posed these questions to New York Times Iraq correspondent Ed Wong, who's analyzed the escalation. His answers were illuminating.

"There's no clear picture right now on what's going on with the surge," Wong said. "Basically, the picture is still one of massive violence throughout large parts of Iraq." Overall Iraqi casualties have not dropped. And casualties for US troops in Baghdad have doubled since the operation began seven weeks ago.

Wong went on a number of foot patrols with US and Kurdish soldiers throughout the city. Here's what he found:

What struck me was that a lot of the tactics that they were doing now were tried back in 2003 and in early 2004.

I mean, back then, you couldn't go anywhere in Baghdad without encountering American convoys, without seeing American soldiers on the corners. They were everywhere throughout the city. It definitely felt like an occupied city at that point.

Then, the American military started pulling back into these big bases, and that was when sectarian violence really exploded. And now they're trying to get back out into the neighborhoods again.

So I watched these American soldiers talking to families, trying to go into living rooms, gather intelligence from the families. And in many cases, it seemed a little bit awkward to me. There was this disconnect, I think, partly because of language, partly because the soldiers walked in with so many weapons and so much armor.

And here you have these Iraqi families there who were finishing dinner or trying to settle in for the night. These soldiers come in. They asked them about activity in the neighborhoods. And then the families looked a little nervous, and then the soldiers would leave.

Doesn't sound like a recipe for success.