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Time for a Senate Investigation

Following the recent testimony by Dick Cheney's former chief of staff that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney were actively involved in scheming to discredit former Ambassador Joe Wilson, after Wilson revealed that the administration had used discredited intelligence to make the "case" for attacking Iraq, another key figure from the Watergate era has called for a Congressional investigation of wrongdoing by the current occupants of the White House.

On the heels of former White House counsel John Dean's charge that the crimes of the Bush administration are "worse than Watergate," Carl Bernstein, who as a young reporter for the Washington Post was part of the team that broke the story of Richard Nixon's high crimes and misdemeanors, is urging the Senate to launch a bipartisan investigation into the president's actions.

Though he says it is "premature" to talk of impeachment, Bernstein argues in a new Vanity Fair article that, "[It] is essential that the Senate vote -- hopefully before the November elections, and with overwhelming support from both parties -- to undertake a full investigation of the conduct of the presidency of George W. Bush, along the lines of the Senate Watergate Committee's investigation during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon."

Bernstein asks, rhetorically, "How much evidence is there to justify such action?"

His answer: "Certainly enough to form a consensus around a national imperative: to learn what this president and his vice president knew and when they knew it; to determine what the Bush administration has done under the guise of national security; and to find out who did what, whether legal or illegal, unconstitutional or merely under the wire, in ignorance or incompetence or with good reason, while the administration barricaded itself behind the most Draconian secrecy and disingenuous information policies of the modern presidential era."

But could Arlen Specter really be the Sam Ervin of the 21st century?

Bernstein suggests that Republicans such as Senate Judiciary Committee chair Specter, who control the Senate, ought to recognize -- for political reasons, if nothing else -- that their party needs to signal its willingness to challenge an increasingly unpopular. administration.

"[Voting] now to create a Senate investigation -- chaired by a Republican -- could work to the advantage both of the truth and of Republican candidates eager to put distance between themselves and the White House," writes the veteran reporter, who adds, "The calculations of politicians about their electoral futures should pale in comparison to the urgency of examining perhaps the most disastrous five years of decision-making of any modern American presidency."

Bernstein closes his detailed argument for a senatorial intervention with an observation and an appropriate call to action.

"After Nixon's resignation, it was often said that the system had worked. Confronted by an aberrant president, the checks and balances on the executive by the legislative and judicial branches of government, and by a free press, had functioned as the founders had envisioned," he writes. "The system has thus far failed during the presidency of George W. Bush - at incalculable cost in human lives, to the American political system, to undertaking an intelligent and effective war against terror, and to the standing of the United States in parts of the world where it previously had been held in the highest regard. There was understandable reluctance in the Congress to begin a serious investigation of the Nixon presidency. Then there came a time when it was unavoidable. That time in the Bush presidency has arrived."

Our True Colors

In the Washington Post Monday, pollster Richard Morin writes about how George Bush's plummeting poll numbers have rendered the red-blue political map close-to-obsolete.

"States that were once reliably red are turning pink," Morin points out. "Some are no longer red but a sort of powder blue." The Washington Post's polling director goes on to note that "In fact, a solid majority of residents in states that president Bush carried in 2004 now disapprove of the job he is doing...[and] views of the GOP have also soured in those Republican red states."

Residents of states Bush carried in 2004 now trust Democrats over Republicans to deal with our nation's biggest problems--48 to 42 percent. And in the 2004 blue states, George Bush's approval rating has declined even further from 45 to 33 percent.

Morin quotes pollster Dan Jones at the University of Utah, "Bush is dragging down every Republican officeholder in the nation, even here." Which, actually, doesn't surprise The Nation one bit--one of our most loyal readers is the Mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson.

I would suggest that the hues are not just red and blue, or pink and powder blue, but green and yellow and purple and beige. And that until we see electoral reform that changes the way votes are counted, districts are proportioned and views are represented, the political map will fail to reveal our true colors.

Just after the 2004 election, The Nation argued that the red-blue stereotype propagated by the television media was hyped--that, in fact, many states labeled red or blue were almost evenly divided.

And as the Bush administration implodes, we see a diverse opposition emerging to confront it--its lies and ineptitude on Iraq policy; its extremist positions on fiscal policy and trade; its brazen approach to everything from Katrina response to domestic spying to social security privatization.

This is a moment of change--a time to act boldly not only to capture the new shades of red and blue in 2006, but to reform our system so that the political map of the future is drawn using a color palette that represents the great diversity of this country.

 


Nation Event Note

The Nation is visiting Yale University on Wednesday, April 26, 2006. Click here for details on a free public event, sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute, featuring Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel.

 

Sweet Victory: WiFi For All

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.

As corporate telecommunications giants accelerate their efforts to create a http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060213/chester ">two-tiered Internet, one of our greatest tools for democracy and equality is under assault. America already lags far behind other industrialized nations in Net access--paying http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2006/0601.podesta.html ">"two to three times as much for slower and poorer quality service than countries like South Korea or Japan"--and if big telecom succeeds, the Internet may be slower and more costly than ever.

Fortunatrely, media rights activists are fighting--and winning--battles to ensure that more, not fewer, are given access to the web. One of the major fronts in the fight to equalize Internet access has been the effort to provide universal wireless service, and cities across the nation are rapidly embracing WiFi-for-all initiatives.

In 2004, Philadelphia became the first major city in the US to launch a universal, affordable wireless Internet service, creating a massive "wireless mesh network" which will reach 135 miles throughout the city. Philly's plan, which is slated to be available in 2007, will cost around $20 per month and about half as much for low-income residents--far below the market rate for high-speed Internet access.

San Francisco already has a community wireless program in the works, and several other major cities, including Chicago and Boston have created task forces for universal Wi-Fi plans. Meanwhile, smaller towns and cities like Urbana, Illinois, are also passing "magnificent pro-wireless resolutions," according to Sascha Meinrath of the media reform advocacy organization Free Press.

Of course, big telecom lobbyists are fighting tooth and nail to eliminate these programs, and have already helped to create laws in 14 states making it illegal for cities to build their own wireless grids. Louisiana is one of these states, and in New Orleans--where free Wi-Fi access was made available in the wake of Katrina--big telecom is trying to shut down this critical source of communication for desperately needy residents.

"Whether you look at broadband penetration rates, service speeds, or basic costs of broadband provision, the US is pretty stagnant compared with the rest of the industrialized world," says Meinrath, and community wireless initiatives "have the potential to address" many of these problems. (Meinrath warns that some of the municipal models, like San Francisco, are in danger of becoming "usurped by the same corporations that created such exorbitantly priced, substandard telecommunications services in the first place.")

To engage in the fight for fair and universal wireless access, check out http://www.freepress.net/ ">Free Press, and urge your Senators to co-sponsor the Community Broadband Act, which would enable states and cities to legally build community wireless grids. In an age of deceit and misinformation, we need a robust, accessible, and affordable Internet more than ever.


Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.


Nation Event Note

The Nation is visiting Yale University on Wednesday, April 26, 2006. Click here for details on a free public event, sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute, featuring Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel.

What Will DeLay Do? (WWDD)

What will Tom DeLay do next?

Will he form a ministry from prison, a la Chuck Colson? Will he join his lobbyist buddies on K Street? Will he become a right-wing activist? Or could he be headed for the White House?

According to US News and World Report, the White House is looking at "an outsider with strong fiscal conservative credentials" to head the Office of Management and Budget. The post became open when Josh Bolten was named George W. Bush's chief of staff a few weeks back. DeLay, apparently, is among the contenders--a fitting position for someone who consistently rubberstamped Bush's budgets in Congress. The rumor surfaced on Wednesday and, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to be confirmed or denied.

The Hammer in the Bush Administration? Maybe it's not such a wild rumor after all. As recent events prove, he'd hardly be the first crook to enter, or exit, this White House.

In Pursuit of Justice, In Search of Peace

The Nazarene whose resurrection is celebrated Sunday preached a gospel of justice and peace. His sincere followers recognize him as a man of action, who chased the money changers from the temple. But they recall, as well, that he rejected the violence of emperors and their militaries and he abhorred harm done to innocents.

Some years ago, in an effort to promote moral values, Christians of a particular persuasion began wearing wristbands imprinted with "WWJD?" -- the acronym for the question, "What Would Jesus Do?"

After George W. Bush -- who once identified the prophet as his favorite philosopher -- initiated a preemptive attack on Iraq, killing tens of thousands of civilians, critics of the president and his war offered a variation on wristband slogan. They printed bumper stickers that asked: "Who Would Jesus Bomb?"

The absurdity of the notion that the Nazarene would sympathize in any way with the violent invasion and occupation of Iraq was not lost on one of the greatest Christian spokesmen of our time, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin. The longtime chaplain of Yale University and pastor of New York City's Riverside Church, who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the early days of the civil rights movement and came to national prominence as one of the most outspoken moral critics of the war in Vietnam, died last week at the age of 81.

Active to the end, Coffin explained in one of his last interviews that, "There are two major biblical imperatives: pursue justice and seek peace." Honoring those imperatives, he campaigned consistently and loudly – even as his own health failed -- for the quick withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

As a World War II veteran and a passionate patriot who described his arguments with U.S. foreign policies as "a lovers' quarrel," Coffin counseled his fellow citizens that, "What we shouldn't do is to believe President Bush when he says that to honor those who have died, more Americans must die. That's using examples of his failures to promote still greater failures."

The preacher who argued that, "War is a coward's escape from the problems of peace," believed that many of his fellow pastors were too tepid in their condemnation of the Bush administration and its Iraq imbroglio, explaining last fall that, "Local clergy must brave the accusation of meddling in politics, a charge first made no doubt by the Pharaoh against Moses. When war has a bloodstained face none of us have the right to avert our gaze. And it's not the sincerity of the Administration, but its passionate conviction of the war's rightness that needs to be questioned. Self-righteousness is the bane of human relations, of them all -- personal and international. And the search for peace is Biblically mandated. If religious people don't search hard, and only say 'Peace is desirable,' then secular authorities are free to decide 'War is necessary.'"

Coffin complained in the early years of the Bush interregnum that the United States was in a spiritual recession. But before his passing, Coffin witnessed encouraging signs that the recession was coming to a close.

Almost three dozen mainstream Christian denominations signed a February letter that signaled a more aggressive antiwar stance, in which U.S. religious leaders admitted that, "We have failed to raise a prophetic voice loud enough and persistent enough to deter our leaders from this path of preemptive war." That acknowledgement marks the opening of a more aggressive campaign on the party of the churches to raise a prophetic voice that, echoing William Sloane Coffin Jr. and the Nazarene he followed, calls for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. This is the truth that Coffin counseled must be spoken; just as the Pharaoh of ancient times had to be challenges, so must the pharaoh of our contemporary passage.

The Generals Revolt

Batiste. Eaton. Newbold. Riggs. Zinni….Is there a retired general left in the States who hasn't called on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to fall on his sword? While The Nation suggested he resign in April, 2003, an unanticipated and unprecedented cast of characters has joined the growing chorus.

Maj. Gen. John Batiste (US Army, Ret.) is the latest in a line of top military brass to ask the embattled Rumsfeld to step down. As the Washington Post reported Thursday, Batiste said, "It speaks volumes that guys like me are speaking out from retirement about the leadership climate in the Department of Defense."

Volumes indeed. Batiste commanded an army division in Iraq and was offered three-stars as well as the No. 2 position there. He chose instead to retire rather than continuing to serve under Rumsfeld. Batiste believes "… the administration's handling of the Iraq war has violated fundamental military principles…." And, as he told The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, "…the strategic underpinnings of this war can be traced back in policy to the secretary of defense. He built it the way he wanted it."

Last month Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton – who oversaw the training of Iraqi troops – was much more pointed in his criticism of Rumsfeld. He wrote in a New York Times op-ed that Rumsfeld is "incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically" and should resign.

And in an essay for Time magazine last week, Lt. Gen Gregory Newbold – the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff until shortly before the invasion – called for replacing Rumsfeld "and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach."

It is unprecedented for career military leaders to be speaking out in this manner – and it's the tip of the iceberg. Imagine what we might hear if the rank-and-file could speak freely? Well-connected Washington Post columnist David Ignatius says that "the retired generals who are speaking out ...express the view of hundreds of other officers on active duty." He adds, "when I recently asked an Army officer with extensive Iraq combat experience how many of his colleagues wanted Rumsfeld out, he guessed 75 percent." Ignatius suspects--based on his conversations with senior officers over the past three years--that figure may be low.

What we are witnessing is the impact of the arrogance and recklessness not just of Rumsfeld – but the entire Bush administration. As Gen. Newbold wrote, the decision to invade "was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions -- or bury the results."

There are signs that the spate of retired generals calling for Rumsfeld's resignation is far from over. Lt. General Paul Van Riper, who is retired from the Marine Corps, said in an interview Thursday he had received a call from another retired General who was weighing whether to publicly join the calls for Rumsfeld's dismissal.

What next? The formation of "Generals Against Rumsfeld"? As one retired Army General asked the other day, "Are the floodgates opening?" Yes. As they should be.

As the spirited site Buzzflash,com put it this morning, " It's not that Rumsfeld's resignation would alone begin to turn this nation back from being run by the crew of the Titanic, but it would restore hope that there is some accountability for the disastrous failure in performance by our one-party Republican government."

I would simply add--there must also be accountability for misleading a nation into an unprovoked, unnecessary and unlawful war that has become a political, moral and military catastrophe.


Nation Event Note

The Nation is visiting Yale University on Wednesday, April 26, 2006. Click here for details on a free public event, sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute, featuring Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel.

Pentagon Papers Figure Bids for Presidency

In the tradition of the late Paul Tsongas, the former Massachusetts senator who in 1991 launched a decidedly uphill run for the Democratic presidential nomination and succeeded in making his concerns about deficit spending central to the national discourse, another former U.S. senator will launch a presidential campaign Monday that seeks to highlight big ideas -- in this case about the Constitution and direct democracy.

Mike Gravel, who represented Alaska as a maverick Democratic Senate from 1969 to 1981, will announce his candidacy for the Democratic nomination with a press conference at the National Press Club.

Gravel came to national prominence in 1971, during the struggle over the Pentagon Papers, the secret official study that detailed how missteps and manipulations by successive U.S. administrations and their agents had created the quagmire that was the Vietnam War. Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, provoked a national uproar when he put the report in the hands of the New York Times, which published portions of it in June of that year. The Justice Department moved to block further publication of information from the Pentagon Papers and to punish newspaper publishers who revealed the contents. At that point, Gravel, a war critic, stepped in. The senator tried to read the contents of the study into the Senate record and to release them to the public, arguing that he had the authority to do so as a senator communicating with his constituents. He then sought to publish the papers in book form as The Senator Gravel Edition, The Pentagon Papers [Beacon Press]. When Justice Department went after the senator and his publisher, Gravel fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court. While lower courts expressed sympathy for the Gravel's stance, the high court rejected his claim that as a senator he had a right and a responsibility to share official documents with his constituents. Fortunately for Gravel, publicity surrounding the case was so damning to the administration's position that it finally backed off.

The Pentagon Papers battle was a classic Mike Gravel fight. A scrappy former speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, the senator had little patience with the secrecy and compromises of official Washington. An unrelenting critic of nuclear weapons testing on the Alaskan island of Amchitka, he came to the Capitol prepared to take on presidents and fellow senators, and he did so repeatedly. Gravel clashed not just with the Nixon administration but with fellow Democrats who counseled a more cautious approach to a president who, before Watergate, was perceived as being both popular and powerful. It was Gravel who in 1971, against the advice of Democratic leaders in the Senate, launched a one-man filibuster to end the peactime military draft, forcing the administration to cut a deal that allowed the draft to expire in 1973.

In 1972, Gravel sought the Democratic nomination for vice president, winning the votes of 226 delegates at the Miami convention that nominated George McGovern for president. He would be reelected to the Senate with ease in the "Watergate election" of 1974, only to be defeated in the Reagan landslide of 1980.

In recent years, Gravel has been an outspoken advocate for democratic reforms, particularly a Constitutional amendment that would allow for national referendums on major public policy issues. He is, as well, a proponent of radical tax reform initiatives, such as the replacement of corporate and individual income taxes with a 23 percent national sales tax on goods and services.

Gravel plans to talk about those reforms in his campaign for the Democratic nod, but he will also highlight his passionate opposition to the Iraq War, which he frequently compares to Vietnam, and to the secrecy and dishonesty of the Bush administration, which he suggests is worse in many senses than what he saw during the Nixon years.

After the indictment last fall of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. "Scooter" Libby, as part of the ongoing investigation of moves by the Bush-Cheney administration to punish former Ambassador Joe Wilson for revealing that the president's arguments for going to war with Iraq were unfounded, Gravel said. "This is much more serious [than many of the fights over Nixon's wrongdoing]. What we are talking about here is actually a conspiracy of elements of the Bush administration to hoodwink, or lie, to the American people, so that they could go to war in Iraq. Of course that whole process took advantage of the Congress, and the American people, and the American media."

Though his record is impressive, and his ideas are worthy of discussion, Gravel probably faces an even greater challenge as a 2008 presidential contender than did Tsongas in 1992. Tsongas had been out of the Senate for less than a decade and was still a relatively young man when he waded into a much more fluid contest for the Democratic nomination against former President George Herbert Walker Bush. Gravel left the Capitol more than a quarter century ago and is now 75. He also faces the prospect that at least one current senator who shares many of his concerns about the war and official secrecy, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, will be in the running. Feingold, who travels to Iowa later this month, has a much higher profile -- especially since he proposed censuring the president -- and is raising money and hiring staff at an aggressive clip.

But Gravel is experience, articulate and, above all, gutsy. And if he gets into a few of the higher-profile debates with Feingold and a group of other Democrats that could include New York Senator Hillary Clinton, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards and others, the former senator from Alaska will hold his own. At the very least Mike Gravel begins with the promise, like that offered by Paul Tsongas back in the early 1990s, that with him in the running the Democratic debates are likely to be broader and better than they would be without him.

And Now Oprah

Last week I wrote about the efforts of Representative Sherrod Brown and others to change a system in which the federal minimum wage has been frozen for eight years at $5.15 an hour, while a corporate CEO earns $13,700 an hour.

But this week there were some hopeful signs--Arkansas raised its state minimum wage to $6.25 an hour. And today the most popular woman in America--Oprah--will feature the struggles of minimum wage workers who earn a maximum of approximately $10,000 annually, and the growing coalition of organizations working to make certain that a hard day's work receives a fair day's pay.

Perhaps if the Republican Congress won't listen to America they will listen to Oprah. Stranger things have happened (why it was only weeks ago that George Bush attempted to wax – while not exactly eloquent--wax interested about America's addiction to oil).

With 86 percent of Americans in favor of an increase in the wage, this much is clear: no one wants leaders who turn a blind eye to people now forced to live out of their cars; working two and three jobs and still not making ends meet; and an increasingly squeezed middle class that is a stone's throw away from financial ruin.

And if Congress won't listen – not even to Oprah – then make sure they listen on Election Day. In the meantime, get involved on the local level to continue changing things for the better--state-by-state.


Nation Event Note

 

The Nation is visiting Yale University on Wednesday, April 26, 2006. Click here for details on a free public event, sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute, featuring Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel.

 

Stamps for Peace/H.O.P.E. for Darfur

Giving voice to the majority of Americans who support the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, the antiwar coalition Bring Them Home Now! has created a thirty-nine cent postage stamp. Yes, they're real. Apparently, pretty much anyone can create legal tender stamps with images of their choosing.

The new antiwar stamp features the symbol of the growing "Bring 'Em Home Now!" movement – a yellow ribbon transposed over a peace sign – providing millions of Americans with a unique way to show support for a pullout. The response so far has been strong. The first run of 10,000 stamps sold out quickly and the second batch of 10,000 is selling briskly.

Bring 'Em Home Now! suggests sending in antiwar-stamped tax returns in a symbolic protest against the $250 billion in taxpayer dollars spent on the war to date. At the same time you'll be raising money for veterans' groups. All proceeds from the sale of the stamps (as well as shirts, buttons and stickers featuring the popular "Bring 'Em Home Now!" designs) benefit citizen groups working to end the war, including Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Peace.

Finally, click here for info on antiwar protests planned for April 29. A major march is expected in New York City, kicking off in Manhattan at 12:00 noon, just north of Union Square, and proceeding south along Broadway to Foley Square, where a Peace and Justice Festival will hold sway all afternoon.




H.O.P.E. for Darfur

Nothing I can write can describe the trouble the Sudanese people have seen. Everyone knows it's genocide but little gets done. And it's not for lack of ideas. Human Rights First recently launched a H.O.P.E. (Help Organize a Peace Envoy) for Darfur Campaign. Many argue that Sudan needs not only the peacekeeping forces of the African Union and perhaps the UN, but also a peacemaker in the form of a high-level, visible Peace Envoy. Human Rights First's campaign, in keeping with that idea, calls for a high-profile leader whose entry into the process could signal a new resolve by the international community to address the slaughter. Ideally, this new envoy would be appointed by the United Nations and strongly supported by the United States.

I try not to subscribe to the great-man theory of history, but one individual sometimes really can make a difference. The Bush Administration dispatched John Danforth to Sudan to help successfully negotiate a peace between the Khartoum government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement four years ago. The Clinton Administration turned to George Mitchell to negotiate the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland.

So click here to sign Human Rights First's petition calling for a UN-appointed diplomat of the highest international stature to lead a peace process in Darfur and click here for background on the horrifying situation in Sudan.


Event Note

This Wednesday, April 19, our friends at the New York Society for Ethical Culture are hosting a terrific event in conjunction with Human Rights First and Amnesty International USA. Click here for details on the free discussion on how to end the atrocities in Darfur featuring Nicholas Kristof, Mark Malloch Brown, Juan Mendez and Tragi Musfafa.




The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie

The New York Theatre Workshop's cowardly decision to back off from a play based on Rachel Corrie's life has been widely publicized. (The show is currently in its third staging in London--this time on the West End, where it's playing to packed houses and good reviews.) The first musical take on Corrie that I've heard comes, appropriately, from Billy Bragg, who adapted Bob Dylan's classic, the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, to tell the story of her life and death. Click here to listen to and download the Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie.


Nation Event Note

The Nation is visiting Yale University on Wednesday, April 26, 2006. Click here for details on a free public event, sponsored by the Roosevelt Institute, featuring Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel.