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Obama Wins Straw Poll

Barack Obama won the first annual Take Back America straw poll held this afternoon. Of the over 700 respondents, 29 percent favored Obama, followed by John Edwards in a close second with 26 percent and Hillary Clinton in third with 17 percent. Al Gore won a not-too-shabby 8 percent as a write-in candidate.

For their second choices, Obama voters picked Edwards and vice versa, reflecting a strong anti-Hillary contingent at the conference.

The war in Iraq was the top issue for those surveyed, followed by health care and energy/global warming. The top priorities for those at the conference largely mirrored the American public as a whole said pollster Stan Greenberg, who conducted the survey in conjunction with the Politico.com.

Obama and Edwards clearly helped themselves with strong, lively, moving speeches. The response to Clinton, while still largely favorable, was more mixed, including a smattering of boos on Iraq.

Eighty-three percent of those queried described themselves as liberal or progressive. Time will tell whether their preferences match Democrats in places like Iowa and New Hampshire and Nevada.

What to Do About Joe?

Listening to Senator Joseph Lieberman these days, it's difficult to believe that this is the man who was once Al Gore's running mate and not some Pioneer or Ranger or Misadventurer raising money for the Bush-Cheney campaign.

The Washington Post chronicled the Senator's recent "Jomentum" as he continues to carry water for the neocons, touting "evidence" to support an attack on Iran last Sunday on Face The Nation (and again on Friday); opposing the vote of no confidence in Attorney General Alberto "R. for Recall" Gonzales; telling CNN that the surge in Iraq "has worked"; and telling Fox News that "he was more in sync with ‘the leading Republican candidates for the presidential nomination,' especially on ‘Islamist extremist terrorism,' which he called ‘the defining issue of our time.'"

Many citizens in Connecticut aren't taking Lieberman's latest flight to the right lying down. A Connecticut Post editorial – "No More Wars Based on Lies" – read, "In the wake of WMDs, never-ending reports of progress, the insurgency's ‘last throes' and politicized terror alerts, our leaders have lost the country. We don't believe you…. Lieberman and his ilk cannot be allowed to lie us into another war. This madness must be stopped." Letters to the Editor in the same paper were similarly critical: "He is not the senator of the people of Connecticut. He is the senator of his own agenda"…."Every time Lieberman is quoted in news reports here and abroad he is identified as being from the state of Connecticut. Lieberman is bad for Connecticut and bad for our country"…. "…are we seeing the real Sen. Lieberman who would give the president permission to conduct war without the support of the U.S. Congress and the American people?"…. "If the power of recall existed in Connecticut, Lieberman would certainly be removed from office"….

But perhaps no one is more tenacious in his determination to hold Lieberman accountable than Dr. John Orman, author and Professor of Politics at Fairfield University, and Chair – of all things – of the Connecticut for Lieberman Party (CFL). After losing the Democratic primary, Lieberman "created" the CFL Party so that he could appear on the ballot in the general election. Orman, a progressive (former) Democrat who challenged Lieberman for the Senate nomination as an anti-Iraq War candidate in 2005 ("I ran out of money but Ned Lamont arrived to actually save Democrats from Joe," he says), says that he changed his party affiliation to CFL in order to "make political points." Orman won the party Chairmanship in January of this year and there are currently about 20 members.

"We actually encourage our progressive friends to stay in their parties and not join us since we already have official control of Lieberman's fake party," Orman told me. "We have the leadership of the party and we will keep trying to hold Joe accountable because it seems that no one else in Connecticut is willing to do it – except for CFL and bloggers, not mainstream media, Democratic leaders, Republican leaders, etc."

The Connecticut for Lieberman Party has now censured the Senator and called for his resignation. In addition to the Senator's recklessness with regard to Iran, the CFL case against Lieberman rests on three large points: 1) that Lieberman promised Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz that he would form the new third party so that he could run for office, but in fact "he did not join his fake party and his organizing committee failed to form [it] as promised"; 2) that he promised oversight hearings on the Bush Administration's lack of response to Hurricane Katrina and then did a 180 after the election ; and 3) "… most importantly, he lied about his stand on the war in Iraq."

The Connecticut for Lieberman Party cites pre-election statements from August through November, 2006 when Lieberman said he was staying in the race "because I want to help end the war in Iraq"; "No one wants to end the war in Iraq more than I do"; and his campaign characterized the argument that Lieberman was backing the President's "stay the course policy" as "an out and out lie." After winning the election, Orman says, "he wanted to send 30,000 more troops to Iraq and he returned to being hawkish Joe." The Connecticut for Lieberman Party is exploring possible next steps, including no confidence petitions, formal elections complaints, and mock impeachment trials against Lieberman.

Longtime Nation contributor. Lieberman-watcher and Connecticut resident, Bruce Shapiro says, "John [Orman] is showing that you can be creative about politics, not just roll over to pragmatic resignation."

Giving in to resignation is exactly what this country doesn't need right now. Good to see Orman and other Connecticut voters holding Lieberman – who increasingly seems like a loose cannon at best – accountable.

Hillary Booed, Again

Last summer, when she criticized the idea of setting a timetable to withdraw US forces from Iraq, Hillary Clinton was met with a chorus of boos at the annual Take Back America conference.

This year was supposed to be different. Hillary now pledges to end the war on her first day in office. But yet again she experienced boos at Take Back America when she put the blame on the Iraqi government for the mess in Iraq.

"The American military has succeeded," she said midway through her speech. "It is the Iraqi government that has failed." That line has become a standard talking point for politicians of both parties, especially Republicans. But the disingenuousness of the argument didn't sit right at TBA.

The reception caused Hillary to go off-script for a moment. "I like speaking here every year," she said. "I see the signs that say get us out of Iraq. That is what we are trying to do."

That seemed to mollify the crowd. And the rest of the speech, where she ticked off a laundry list of Democratic priorities--like achieving universal healthcare, cleaning up government and strengthening unions--played well.

All in all, she did better compared to last year. But it was no honeymoon, either.

"Heckuva job, Alberto!"

The campaign to impeach Alberto Gonzales -- organized by Democracy for America and filmmaker Robert "Outfoxed" Greenwald's Brave New Films crew under the slogan "President Bush won't fire Attorney General Alberto Gonzales... but YOU can!" -- is keeping the heat on the Bush administration's most scandal-plagued appointee. At a time when the drive-by media is playing the president's game by turning its attention away from the constant -- and increasingly dramatic -- revelations of high crimes and misdemeanors on the attorney general's part, this sort of citizen activism becomes all the more essential.

More than 77,000 Americans have signed onto the campaign's online petition, which declares: "We, The Undersigned, urge the House Judiciary Committee to begin the process of impeachment of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in accordance with Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, which provides for removal of the President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States. We believe the process will prove that Atty. General Gonzales has committed High Crimes and Misdemeanors, including the abuse of power and violation of the public trust, both impeachable offenses."

Greenwald's first video promoting the campaign, a devastating review of the attorney general's lies, went to No. 1 on YouTube. The second video, now up as www.impeachgonzales.org, is an even more powerful indictment.

Take a look:

Assessing specific crimes committed by Gonzales, it features revealing testimony by former Justice Department aides and fired U.S. Attorneys -- including New Mexico's David Iglesias, speaking about "threatening" phone calls he received from top Republican officials -- and blistering questioning of the attorney general's actions by members of the House and Senate. The edgiest challenges to the hapless Bush appointee come from House Judiciary Committee members Maxine Waters, D-California, and Robert Wexler, D-Florida.

Wexler demands of Gonzales: "Did the president select Mr. Iglesias to be put on the termination list? Did the vice president put Mr. Iglesias on the termination list? Who put Mr. Iglesias on the list to be fired? It's a national secret, isn't it?

After scenes of fired U.S. Attorneys talking about "unprecedented" pressure from politicians and phone calls from key aides to Gonzales, Waters tells the attorney general: "There's a pattern here, and it doesn't look good."

Across the screen flash the words:

"Perjury."

"Obstruction."

"Misuse of Power."

This week, Democracy for America activists around the country will begin delivering boxes of petitions to congressional offices nationwide, with the purpose of letting key members of the House and Senate know there is local support for impeachment.

The message from DFA is an important one for Congress. At a time when public disappointment in the legislative branch of the federal government is beginning to rival frustration with the executive branch -- as evidenced by recent polls that show approval ratings for the Congress into the depths occupied by Bush -- it is clear that simply letting the president have his way isn't working. There is no question that, as DFA chair Jim Deans laments, "President Bush continues to back his old Texas crony over the integrity of the Justice Depatrment." But against the president's stonewalling, there is a reality to which Dean correctly draws our attention: "Remember Rumsfeld? Michael Brown? Scooter Libby? The President loves to talk tough. But we've proven that with enough pressure we can make them step down, get fired, or go to jail."

Recalling Bush's "Heckuva job, Brownie" defense of his Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator shortly before Brown was forced out for blowing the response to Hurricane Katrina, Dean is suggesting that the operative phrase of the moment should be, "Heckuva job, Al!"

The bottom line is a vital one for those who are serious about the American experiment: If Alberto Gonzales is allowed to remain in office without an appropriate challenge from Congress -- even if that challenge falls short -- then the contemporary interpretation of the sections of the Constitution dealing with executive-branch accountability will be radically at odds with the intention of the founders. And the prospect that wrongdoers and incompetents in future administrations -- be they Republicans or Democrats -- will be rendered nil.

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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.'"

Obama for the Heart, Edwards for the Head?--UPDATED

One spoke to the heart. One spoke to the head. But both presidential candidates had the same mission: to prevent Senator Hillary Clinton from claiming the soul of their party.

On Tuesday, at the annual Take Back America conference--a three-day gathering in Washington, DC, of thousands of progressive activists--Senator Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards, each an aspirant for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, delivered back-to-back speeches that delineated the stark difference in their political courtship styles.

Obama went first. He started with his own story, talking about his days as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, when he was paid $12,000 a year by church groups to help establish job training and after-school programs in a neighborhood hit hard by a steel plant closing. He described his subsequent entry into local politics and decried a Washington dominated by special interests where "all you see...is another scandal, or a petty argument, or the persistent stubbornness of a President who refuses to end this war in Iraq." Blasting lobbyists for oil and pharmaceutical companies, he exclaimed, "They write the checks and you get stuck with the bills, they get the access while you get to write a letter, they think they own this government, but we;re here to tell them it's not for sale."

That was a good applause line. The cynical ways of Washington, he said, are of no use to an Iowa couple he met who own a small business and cannot longer afford health care coverage. Pay-to-play politics in Washington, he pointed out, does not help the workers of Newton, Iowa, who lost their jobs when Maytag closed their plant and shipped their jobs overseas; nor does it do much for the still-homeless in New Orleans, the 45 million Americans without health insurance, and the 15 million American children living in poverty. "The time for the can't-do, won't-do, won't-even-try style of politics is over," Obama proclaimed. "It's time to turn the page."

And to turn the page requires..hope. Obama, jokingly referring to himself as a "hope-monger," maintained that hope gets results, and he pointed to his accomplishments as a state senator in Illinois: passing legislation that tightened government ethics rules, that reformed the death penalty, and that expanded health care insurance for children. His big message: hope can cause transformation. Washington can be changed; the nation can be changed. He knows that because his own life marks a transformation in America. "On paper," he said, it is impossible that I am here--a U.S. senator running for president." It was obvious what he meant: a black U.S. senator running for president.

Obama touched the right policy points. He promised to sign into a law a universal health care plan by the end of his first term. He called for more money for education. He vowed to place a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions and raise fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. He voiced support for a minimum wage that is a living wage and for legislation that would help unions organize workers. He urged the shutdown of the Guantanamo detention facility. Noting that he had opposed the Iraq war from the start--"we knew back then that it was dangerous diversion from the struggle against the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th; we knew back then that we could find ourselves in an occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences"--he highlighted his previous proposal to begin the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

But his appeal was not his policy shopping list. He was promoting himself foremost as an agent of change who can bring about "a new kind of politics." He offered the crowd "a simple truth, a truth I learned all those years ago as an organizer in Chicago...that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it."

And he connected. The crowd was jazzed by the combo of personal story, progressive policy proposals, and message of transformation. For an audience member looking to be inspired--to be wowed--Obama made it easy. I am your man, he proclaimed. He was convincing.

Moments after Obama was done, Edwards took to the stage. He said little about himself. But he opened by stating he had been wrong to vote to grant George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq. Congress, he insisted, must display strength and conviction and shut down Bush's war. (This was a slight dig at Obama and Clinton, who recently voted against Iraq war funding but who have not been vocal leaders in opposing funding for the war.) But his primary theme extended beyond the war. America, he said, is currently regarded with disdain throughout the world. Instead, it must become a global "force for good."

He went through the litany. The United States has failed the world in its weak response to the genocide of Darfur. The United States has failed the world by not doing enough to spur economic development in the poorer regions of the globe. (He hailed micro-lending programs.) The United States has failed the world by refusing to limit its carbon emissions. But imagine, he said, if the United States would change its energy policies and reduce its oil consumption. Oil prices would fall and Middle Eastern autocrats would have less money in their pockets. And imagine, he said, if the United States and Europe turned toward biofuels. Africa--a continent full of cheap land and cheap labor--could become a source of such energy supplies. "Millions of children," Edwards said, "would be lifted of poverty."

From global warming to biofuels to poverty in Africa. This was a bit Clintonian--as in Bill. Edwards was displaying his policy wonkishness, while offering himself as a man who knows what must be done to lead the United States in the post-Bush world.

Next, he turned to domestic matters. He referred to his antipoverty policy work of recent years. He called for a national housing policy that does not "cluster poor people together." He proposed a "College for Everyone" program that would provide students money for tuition and books if they worked ten hours a week. He promoted his own universal health care proposal, suggesting it was more universal than Obama's. "I will speak for the poor," he said. "I will speak for the uninsured. I will speak for the disenfranchised. This is my life." Paraphrasing Gandhi, he remarked, "You have to be the change you believe in." The audience applauded Edwards, but he had not rocked the house as much as Obama had.

Edwards, who became wealthy as a successful trial attorney, was arguing a case. Obama, the former organizer, had delivered a motivational speech. There was much overlap between the two presentations: America has to treat its less-fortunate citizens better; it must repair its relationship to the rest of the world; and all this depends on you. There were no apparent policy differences. (Only health care experts can argue how the health care plans of these two candidates vary.) Yet each speech was a different experience. Obama spoke as if he was addressing people looking for love. Edwards spoke as if he was before people about to make a hire. Either man, though, will have to win votes of both affection and confidence to best the woman in the lead.

UPDATE: To see how Hillary Clinton tried to out-populist Obama and Edwards at the Take Back America conference, see my report here.

*****

JUST OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

The Gates Inheritance

Think of him as the spymaster who came in from the cold. Well, it wasn't actually so cold out there. After all, Robert Gates was on innumerable corporate boards and the President of Texas A & M University (which, not coincidentally, houses the library, presidential papers, and museum of George H. W. Bush under whom he served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency). But after two dozen years in the CIA and on the National Security Council, after a career which touched (or more than touched) on just about every great foreign policy event in Washington's world from the final days of the Vietnam War and the great Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union to the Central American wars of Ronald Reagan, the Iran-Contra Affair, the Afghan anti-Soviet war, and so much else, he was out of Washington and in hibernation until James Baker's Iraq Study Group called him back. Then, of course, he was picked by George W. Bush as the replacement for the disastrous reign of error of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Gates has, it seems, returned to Washington with a quiet vengeance and evidently with all those skills acquired in his rough-and-tumble years in the intelligence bureaucracy still intact. In practically no time at all, he purged the Defense Department of its leftover neocon civilians, and at every crisis has inserted his own choices in positions of influence -- as secretary of the army, as Centcom commander, and most recently, in place of Rumsfeld's man, Marine General Peter Pace, as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (His emphasis has been on Navy men to replace the discredited Army leadership of the Rumsfeld years.) It's quite a record so far for a man who represented -- until the neocons boarded the ship of state -- more than three decades of the imperial Washington Consensus.

Now, at a moment that couldn't be more crucial, Gates and his "inheritance" get their due, thanks to Roger Morris, a member of the National Security Council Senior Staff under Presidents Johnson and Nixon (he resigned in protest over the invasion of Cambodia) and bestselling author of biographies of Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and the Clintons. Over the next week, the Tomdispatch.com website will offer not just a portrait of the real Robert Gates, but a full-scale, yet miraculously concise, always surprising, history of American "intelligence" (for which read: global covert action and covert intervention). Morris, who previously offered a striking two-part portrait of Donald Rumsfeld and the Defense Department at this site (The Undertaker's Tally, parts 1 and 2), now offers the Gates legacy, which is really the legacy of mainstream Washington, the globe's imperial capital for this last half-century-plus.

The Gates Inheritance will be posted in three parts this week and, long as it is, it's actually a marvel of compression, packing into a relatively modest space an epic history of mayhem none of us should avoid -- a grim history that led to September 11th, 2001 and now leads us into an unknown, increasingly perilous future. Think of it as a necessary reckoning with disaster.

Sherrod Brown Now Opposes the "Torture Bill"

Freshman Senator Sherrod Brown, a popular progressive leader who shocked his supporters by voting for the Military Commissions Act (MCA) last year, now says the vote was a mistake that he intends to "correct."

Speaking with Air America's Cenk Uyger at the Take Back America Conference yesterday, Brown said he regretted the "bad vote":

"I take responsibility. It was the heat of the campaign and I made a mistake."

After backing the MCA, commonly known as the "Torture Bill" in the liberal blogosphere, Brown was kicked out of the Blue America fundraising program. Howie Klein, one of three bloggers who runs the effort, says Brown is the "only person" who was ever booted after an endorsement.

I don't think there will ever be a way to understand how so many members of Congress, who take an oath to uphold the Constitution, could vote for such a patently unconstitutional and un-American bill. Some simply denied the reality that they were advancing torture and undermining our Constitutional rights, others buckled under perceived political pressure--although it was hardly a banner year for the bill's Republican sponsors--and some simply admitted they were betraying their oath and their country.

During the congressional debate, for example, then-Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter admitted on the Senate floor that the bill was unconstitutional. The MCA is likely to go down in history with the Alien and Sedition Acts as one of the worst congressional assaults on the Constitution in American history, as International League for Human Rights President Scott Horton writes in this month's Harper's.

But it is still real progress for members of Congress to admit their mistake and promise to "correct" it, as Brown is doing, just as it was encouraging to see Senator Leahy lead the Judiciary Committee in backing legislation to restore habeas corpus this month.

* * *

In other habeas corpus news, here is a new letter from MoveOn.org Executive Director Eli Pariser, responding to a piece I wrote last month. (The two related Nation pieces are here and here.)

Letter to the Editor, The Nation

We'd like to reassure your readers, see your piece "Why Won't MoveOn Move on Habeas Corpus?" May 21, that MoveOn has moved, is moving and will continue to move on habeas corpus. We didn't include habeas corpus in our membership poll, as you noted, because we already knew our members consider the issue a high priority.

Earlier this Spring, we asked our members to call their Representatives on the House Armed Services Committee and demand that they restore habeas corpus language in the Defense Authorization Bill. Last year we mobilized against the Military Commissions Act, did a major campaign against the government's wiretapping program, supported Senator Feingold's call for censure, ran an ad against wiretapping that compared Bush to Nixon, mobilized members before every relevant committee vote in Congress, helped put together an event with the American Constitution Society and the Liberty Coalition where Al Gore attacked the Bush Administration's assault on civil liberties in detail, and another event where Senator Feingold did the same.

Right now, we're working in coalition with other organizations to find more opportunities to restore habeas corpus and other constitutional rights eliminated or undermined by the Bush Administration with Congressional complicity. We share your concern that everything possible be done to achieve this goal.

Eli Pariser

MoveOn.org Political Action Executive Director

Will McCain-Feingold Survive Another Court Test?

By a vote of 5 to 4, in December 2003, the Supreme Court upheld a major provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance act that prohibits corporations (and labor unions) from paying for ads that mention the name of a federal candidate, and that are broadcast 60 days before an election or 30 days before a primary.

That narrow ruling is now under challenge and could be overturned in the next few weeks, thanks to President Bush's appointments of John G. Roberts Jr. as Chief Justice and Samuel A. Alito Jr. as an Associate Justice.

The case involves Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., which campaigned to prevent the re-election of Senator Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), by taking large sums of money from corporations to buy phony "issue" ads on radio and television. The ads attacked Feingold and Herb Kohl, the other Wisconsin Democrat in the Senate, for blocking Bush judicial nominees. Under the 2003 decision, such bogus ads were the "functional equivalent" of campaign ads and thus banned by the McCain-Feingold provision.

During oral argument in April, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said that what Wisconsin Right to Life was "asking for is for us...to say either in practice or in theory, [the] McCain-Feingold campaign finance law is unconstitutional...If we agree with you in this case, good-bye McCain-Feingold." Justice Antonin Scalia said that Breyer had it right.

Roberts and Alito indicated they were willing to do what Wisconsin Right to Life wants them to do, which would be to open what a New York Times story described as "a significant loophole in the measure that would invite a flood of advertising paid for by corporations and unions as the 2008 elections move into high gear."

But these self-described conservative justices would not be doing what the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist would have done, as he made clear in a 1978 case, First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, in which the issue was whether the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment was abridged by a Massachusetts criminal statute barring banks and business corporations from spending money to influence voting on referendum proposals.

In another 5-4 decision, the Court ruled for the bank. And in the April oral argument, Wisconsin Right to Life counsel James Bopp Jr. said that Bellotti upheld "corporate efforts to influence Legislative and Executive branch officials."

But Rehnquist was a Bellotti dissenter. "A State grants to a business corporation the blessings of potentially perpetual life and limited liability to enhance its efficiency as an economic entity," he wrote. "It might reasonably be concluded that those properties, so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere. Furthermore, it might be argued that liberties of political expression are not at all necessary to effectuate the purposes for which States permit commercial corporations to exist."

Even more memorably, he said this: "I can see no basis for concluding that the liberty of a corporation to engage in political activity with regard to matters having no material effect on its business is necessarily incidental to the purposes for which the Commonwealth permitted these corporations to be organized or admitted within its boundaries."

SiCKO Premiere

Michael Moore's new health care documentary "SiCKO" premiered in Manhattan last night, with an unusual group of movie stars walking the red carpet at the famous Ziegfeld Theatre. The paparazzi were reduced to snapping pictures of non-celebrities, like rescue workers who were denied health care for ailments they contracted on September 11, and dozens of nurses decked out in maroon "SiCKO" scrubs. The nurses are part of a national alliance advocating health care reform, including several labor unions, doctors' organizations, consumer groups and MoveOn.org, which cosponsored the premiere with The New York Observer.

In his opening remarks, Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of the company that produced "SiCKO," singled out MoveOn for helping promote and defend Moore's last documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11." (The group hosted house parties across the country and urged its members to make the film a "huge hit.") Then Weinstein blasted the timid entertainment industry and overbearing insurance companies that stifle hard-hitting documentaries, telling the audience how Moore persevered in this challenging environment because he is a "true American hero."

Moore told the crowd that production was delayed five months because it was hard to find an insurance company to back an expose of insurance companies. Smaller insurers were worried that suits could put them out of business, Moore explained, but his fact-checkers are so good he's never been successfully sued.

The audience enthusiastically cheered Moore, and interrupted the film several times with applause, although it doesn't actually offer many red meat moments. The tone is more "Roger and Me" than "Fahrenheit 9/11," pushing fundamental questions instead of political jeremiads. If we really value the heroes of 9/11, why are some suffering without health care for the injuries they sustained while protecting us? How can this nation celebrate the quarterly returns of HMOs that minimize human life to maximize profits? Why does our public discourse demonize the health care systems of our fellow industrialized democracies, which generally prioritize universal coverage? And in one stretch of aggressive agit-prop that even Karl Rove would admire, Moore asks why the detainees at Guantanamo get better health care than the heroes of 9/11, as he sits among those heroes in a boat along the Cuba-U.S. border.

Vito Valenti, a 9/11 rescue worker with pulmonary fibrosis who dragged his oxygen tank down the red carpet last night, said after the screening that it's obvious the U.S. needs "to reform health care and get everybody covered." Currently on disability, he volunteers to help 9/11 first responders with the nonprofit FealGood Foundation. Valenti is praying the public will see the film and take action. "It really opened my eyes and I hope to God it opens up America's eyes," he said. "If other countries can do it, why can't we?"