George Bush has given up.
We should have seen this coming. During the first debate of the fall 2004 campaign, a weary and frustrated Bush repeatedly referred to how the presidency had proven to be a difficult job for him. Again and again, the commander-in-chief responded to questions about the missteps, mistakes and misdeeds of his first term by pleading that, "It's hard work."
The guy was clearly overwhelmed a year ago. So it can't really come as much of surprise that he has thrown in the towel.
The evidence of his surrender is all around. The man who spent years denying global warming is now borrowing talking points from Jimmy Carter to call for energy conservation. He can't even convince himself -- let alone anyone else -- that the "mission-accomplished" occupation of Iraq is functional, let alone a success story. He has essentially abandoned his primary domestic-policy initiative for 2005, admitting during a Rose Garden press conference that there is a "diminished appetite" for his scheme to privatize Social Security. And when it came to what is arguably the most important appointment of his presidency -- the selection of a replacement for the critical "swing" justice on the U.S. Supreme Court – he didn't even try.
In defending his selection of his attorney, Harriet Miers, to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Bush claimed that, "I picked the best person I could find."
He obviously did not look very hard. Maybe that's because the guy who used to tell him who to nominate for judicial openings, Karl Rove, is busy trying to avoid a indictment by a federal grand jury. Maybe it is because Vice President Dick Cheney's office is in crisis, as the veep's chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby, is targeted by the same investigation into who in the White House revealed the identity of an intelligence operative in order to punish the husband of that operative, Ambassador Joe Wilson, for revealing that the administration had warped intelligence in order to make the "case" for invading Iraq.
Whatever the explanation, the Miers nomination is a signal of surrender.
Miers is a dramatically less inspired selection for an open seat on the nation's highest court even than the last great "crony" appointment: former President Lyndon Johnson's naming of his sometime attorney and longtime pal Abe Fortas to replace Associate Justice Arthur Goldberg in 1965. Like Miers, Fortas had no record of judicial service. And, like Miers, Fortas's primary qualification was unquestionably his friendship with the man making the appointments.
But at least Fortas had argued landmark cases before the Supreme Court, putting together the team of lawyers that won the unanimous Gideon v. Wainwright ruling that secured the constitutional right of criminal defendants to legal counsel. Fortas had also taught at Yale Law School, served as Undersecretary of the Interior during Franklin Roosevelt's presidency and earned acclaim in the legal community for his courageous defense of the victims of former Senator Joe McCarthy's ideological witch hunts of the 1950s.
Miers can point to no such record of accomplishment. Where Fortas had earned a place in legal history books before he was ever considered for a place on the Supreme Court, Miers hadn't even garnered footnote status before Bush tapped her for the lifetime sinecure.
Yet, while the Fortas nomination was easily confirmed in 1965 by a Senate that was friendly to Johnson, his story still serves as a reminder of the perils of cronyism. Three years later, when Johnson tried to name Fortas as the replacement for Chief Justice Earl Warren, the nomination faced a Senate filibuster that ultimately derailed it. A year later, when it was revealed that he had accepted a $20,000 fee from a foundation controlled by a financier who was under investigation for violating Federal securities laws, Fortas was forced to resign from the court.
Harriet Mier's closet may not have as many skeletons in it as did Abe Fortas's.
But the story of the last crony appointment to the high court remains a cautionary one for Bush. Lyndon Johnson nominated Fortas for the job of Chief Justice in June of 1968, after he had announced that he would not seek a second full term. Like Bush, Johnson had given up. He lacked the political capital to hold his own party's senators in line. The Fortas nomination was blocked when Democrats abandoned the nominee of a Democratic president.
With the rising tide of conservative criticism of the Miers nomination, Bush's primary problem at the moment is with Republicans -- not with the Democrats who, as usual, are having a hard time figuring out how to respond to crass cronyism. Columnists George Will and Ann Coulter, former presidential speechwriter Peggy Noonan and other prominent conservatives have condemned the nomination, as has Manual Miranda, who heads the Third Branch Conference, a coalition of 150 grassroots conservative and libertarian groups across the country. And Bush's feeble defenses of his nominee have done little to silence the outcry. If the Miers nomination fails -- either because it is withdrawn or because it fails to gain traction in the Senate -- the reason for that failure will be the same as it was for the Fortas flop: a failing president's inability to keep his own partisan allies in line. If enough right-wing senators – led by Kansan Sam Brownback and Oklahoman Tom Coburn – abandon Miers, and by extension Bush, this nomination could yet be crushed in a right-left vice grip. There's no guarantee that will happen. The current Senate has a penchant for confirming stealth nominees such as Miers. But if Miers is rejected as the result of a right-wing revolt, it will not merely be a defeat for Bush. It will be the inevitable consequence of his decision – conscious or otherwise – to just give up.
Finally, the New York Times and Judith Miller speak, and the paper and reporter leave their readers with as many questions as answers. In Sunday's edition, the Times publishes a lengthy account by three reporters (Don Van Natta Jr., Adam Liptak and Clifford Levy) of what it calls "the Miller case" and a first-person account by Miller. Neither piece explains all.
Miller spent eighty-five days in a federal prison after she refused to cooperate with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who has been investigating the Bush Administration leak that outed undercover CIA officer Valerie Wilson, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the Bush White House. She was released from jail after she received a personal waiver from a confidential source, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, that granted her permission to discuss their conversations with Fitzgerald. With that waiver in hand, she cut a deal with Fitzgerald that limited his questioning only to her discussions with Libby (not other sources) and that compelled Miller to turn over her notes of these conversations with Libby.
The denouement of Miller's legal tussle with Fitzgerald was rather puzzling. Libby's lawyer indicated that Miller could have had the personal waiver a year earlier. And after Miller and the Times had spent months crowing that Miller--unlike other reporters--would stand on principle and not submit to Fitzgerald's zealous pursuits, her final settlement with Fitzgerald (which resembled that of the other reporters) was not in sync with the grand we're-protecting-journalism rhetoric the Times and Miller had hurled. Moreover, there were new and old questions about Miller's involvement in the case. Why had Fitzgerald subpoenaed her? How did it come to happen that she only recently discovered a notebook containing notes of Miller's first conversation with Libby about Joseph (and possibly Valerie) Wilson? What had Libby told her? What sort of relationship did she have with Libby? Was Miller eager to discredit Wilson because her prewar reporting on Iraq's WMDs had overstated and hyped the claim that Saddam Hussein presented a WMD threat?
The Times's double-header does not clear up all the mysteries. Let's start with Miller's article, "My Four Hours Testifying in the Federal Grand Jury Room." Miller does not explain the disappearance and discovery of a notebook that contained notes of a June 23, 2003, conversation she had with Libby. This chat occurred two weeks before Wilson published an op-ed piece for the Times in which he revealed that after being sent to Niger in 2002 by the CIA he had concluded that it was highly unlikely that Iraq had been able to obtain weapons-grade uranium there. For weeks, Wilson had been talking to reporters--off the record--about his trip to Niger, and media stories regarding the trip had appeared without naming Wilson as the former diplomat who had gone on this mission.
Miller's account of the June 23, 2003, discussion with Libby indicates that the White House was already looking to discredit Wilson's account prior to Wilson going public with his story--and that this was part of a White House effort to protect itself from intelligence leaks suggesting that the Bush Administration had played up the prewar intelligence on WMDs in Iraq. This was, of course, occurring at a time when the absence of WMDs in Iraq was becoming a problem for the White House. It is not surprising that Libby tried to peddle to Miller the argument that the White House had not relied on skimpy intelligence to go to war. And in this conversation, according to Miller, Libby told her that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA.
How did Libby know this? Why did Libby know this? Miller may not possess the answers to these critical questions. But Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA was classified information. Wittingly or not, Libby was passing classified information to a reporter whom he obviously hoped would be sympathetic to the White House's cause.
In a second meeting on July 8, 2003--two days after Wilson's op-ed appeared--Libby and Miller again discussed Wilson. Once again, Libby was telling Miller that the White House had based its claim that Iraq had been seeking uranium in Niger on solid intelligence. Miller writes that Libby cited the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq produced in October 2002 and said it had firmly concluded Iraq had been pursuing uranium. (It seems that Libby did not tell Miller that this NIE contained a dissent from the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which said, "the claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR's assessment, highly dubious.") At this meeting, Libby again referred to Wilson's wife, apparently telling Miller, according to her notes, that she "works at Winpac," the CIA office on Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control.
Miller says she told Fitzgerald's grand jury that she believes this is the first time she had heard that Wilson's wife worked at Winpac. But she cannot recall--she says--why Libby was discussing Wilson's wife. That seems strange. It's not odd that someone would not recall the details of a conversation that happened two years ago. But six days after this conversation--when Novak outed her--Valerie Wilson was big news. Did Miller--who now says she was annoyed she had been scooped on the Plame/Wilson story by Novak--at that point not recall her six-day-old conversation with Libby on this matter and not develop a deeper impression of the portion of their chat that covered Valerie Wilson?
There's more on this point. In the notebook in which she recorded her notes from this meeting with Libby, Miller wrote the words "Valerie Flame." Clearly, this was a reference to Valerie Plame. Was Libby the source for this name? Miller says she does not think so and that she told Fitzgerald "I believed the information came from another source, whom I could not recall." Again, it might be hard for a reporter to remember who told them what over two years ago. But isn't it difficult to believe that come July 14, 2003--the day the name Valerie Plame became public--Miller would not have recalled who had told her days earlier about this CIA officer? And isn't it hard to believe that she would no longer remember that?
There is something else odd about her July 8, 2003, discussion with Libby. When the subject turned to Wilson, Libby asked Miller that he be identified in any story she would write as a "former Hill staffer." Previously the two had agreed that Miller would refer to Libby as a "senior administration official." Now Miller agreed that she would ID him as a "former Hill staffer." (Libby had once worked on Capitol Hill.) She assumed, she writes, that "Libby did not want the White House to be seen as attacking Mr. Wilson." But this shows the dishonest game that reporters can play. Technically, Libby was a former Hill staffer, but he was talking to Miller--and trying to undermine Wilson's account--as a White House official. Calling Libby a "former Hill staffer" in print would have been highly misleading. (Miller never did write a piece on Wilson.) Is this how the Times plays ball? This small slice of Miller's piece deserves a response from executive editor Bill Keller.
In a notebook that chronicled a third pre-leak conversation with Libby--which transpired on July 12, 2003--Miller scribbled the words "Victoria Wilson." Miller writes, "I told Mr. Fitzgerald I was not sure whether Mr. Libby had used this name or whether I just made a mistake in writing it on my own. Another possibility, I said, is that I gave Mr. Libby the wrong name on purpose to see whether he would correct me and confirm her identity." She says she might have been calling others about Wilson's wife, but she is not sure on this point. There is a lot of don't-know in her account. Can Miller not answer a simple question: Did you know Joseph Wilson's wife was named Valerie Wilson (or Plame) and did counter-WMD work at the CIA before Novak published his column? If so, how did you learn this?
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Harriet Miers, CNN's love affair with Pat Robertson, Louis Freeh's disingenuous attack on Bill Clinton, the Karl Rove scandal and other in-the-news matters.
Miller's piece, fittingly, ends on a weird and uncertain note. When she was before the grand jury, she recalls, Fitzgerald asked her to read from a letter that Libby sent her last month while she was in jail. The letter encouraged her to testify and said, "The public report of every other reporter's testimony makes clear that they did not discuss Ms. Plame's name or identity with me." Miller told Fitzgerald that she was surprised by the letter because it might be perceived as an attempt by Libby to encourage her to testify that she had not discussed Valerie Wilson's CIA identity with him even though they had. Fitzgerald asked Miller about the letter's closing lines. "Out West," Libby had written, "where you vacation, the aspens will be turning. They turn in clusters, because their roots connect them." What, Fitzgerald wondered, did Miller make of this reference to connected roots? In her Times piece, Miller says she answered Fitzgerald by recalling the last time she had seen Libby. In August 2003, she was at a rodeo in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and a man in jeans, a cowboy hat and sunglasses approached her and asked her about a conference she had just attended in Aspen, Colorado. She had no idea who this fellow was. "Judy," he told her. "It's Scooter Libby." And that was--literally--all Miller wrote.
This may be a nice anecdote for ending an article, but it hardly was responsive to Fitzgerald's question. As for her readers, Miller fails them by not providing a clearer answer. Why did an editor not send this page back to Miller with the query: "Funny bit, but irrelevant; tell reader what you think odd sign-off in Libby letter means"? But given the article Miller has produced, it is, in a way, an appropriate conclusion.
The news story that appears in the Times is less exasperating. But it too leaves one wanting more. It doesn't tell the reader anything else about the missing notebook, the "Valerie Flame" reference, or Miller's dealings with Libby. In a section covering Miller's history at the paper, the story quotes Miller on her WMD stories:
"W.M.D.-I got it totally wrong," she said. "The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them--we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job that I could."
The paper did not note that there were experts and journalists before the war who were skeptical of the WMD claims. For instance, Mohamed ElBaradeii and the International Atomic Energy Agency said before the war that there was no evidence Iraq had revived its nuclear weapons program. The day after Colin Powell's infamous--and misleading--show at the United Nations, The Washington Post published several articles that quoted technical experts taking issue with his Powell's pronouncements. Miller was not wrong because everybody was wrong. She was wrong because she relied upon sources--administration officials, Iraqi exiles connected to Ahmed Chalabi--who had a reason to hype the WMD threat. But the Times gives her a pass on this, allowing her to spin away.
The triple-bylined article does not advance the story much beyond the account presented in Miller's piece. Regarding who else might have told Miller about "Victoria Wilson," this article has no additional information and only notes, "In an interview, [Miller] would not discuss her sources." Well, thanks for cracking that nut.
The article does dig slightly further into the dispute between Miller's legal camp and Libby's attorney over what happened during their negotiations. According to Miller, her attorney, Floyd Abrams, said that Libby's attorney, Joseph Tate, pressed Abrams to tell him what Miller would say to the grand jury should she testify. Abrams also claimed that Tate said that Libby had already testified that he had not mentioned Valerie Wilson's name or her undercover status to Miller. This raises the possibility that Libby was seeking to shape Miller's testimony, which could be illegal. Tate calls such an interpretation "outrageous." But the Times account does not sort this out as clearly as a reader--or a prosecutor--might like.
The Times story also further undermines Miller's attempt to become the Joan of Arc for modern-day journalists. The article notes that her attorneys had tried early on to arrange a deal under which Miller would testify before the grand jury if Fitzgerald limited the scope of the questions. In public, Miller and the Times management struck an absolutist and noble-sounding stance. But in the suites, they were trying to reach a compromise. The article also chronicles how the Times was constrained in covering the Miller case and Fitzgerald's investigation:
In August, Douglas Jehl and David Johnston, two other Washington reporters, sent a memo to the Washington bureau chief, Mr. [Philip] Taubman, listing ideas for coverage of the case. Mr. Taubman said Mr. Keller did not want them pursued because of the risk of provoking Mr. Fitzgerald or exposing Mr. Libby, while Ms. Miller was in jail.
Mr. Taubman said he felt bad for his reporters, but he added that he and other senior editors felt that they had no choice. "No editor wants to be in the position of keeping information out of the newspaper," Mr. Taubman said.
So much for without fear or favor. This is an awful acknowledgment for the nation's leading paper. Taubman and Jill Abramson, a managing editor, called the situation "Excruciatingly difficult." It was worse. As I've written before, Jayson Blair bamboozled his editors; Judy Miller handcuffed hers. If a deal could have been reached a year earlier, the Times would not be as embarrassed as it is today. No wonder, as the paper reports, when Miller made a post-release speech in the newsroom, claiming a victory for press freedoms, her colleagues "responded with restrained applause."
When the Times reporters interviewed Abramson and asked her what she regretted about the paper's handling of the Miller case, she replied, "The entire thing." That was a refreshing shot of candor. But Miller's account and the paper's extensive take-out do not totally clear the air. They leave the impression that we're still not getting all the news that ought to be fit to print.
Last week the US Senate voted overwhelmingly (90-9) to stand solidly against torture. The amendment, introduced by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), calls for prisoners and detainees to be treated according to guidelines established by the Army Field Manual. In short, it outlaws degrading and inhumane treatment of anyone in US military custody. McCain's bill, as The Nation writes this week in the magazine's lead editorial, "stands as a singular legislative attempt to corral Bush into compliance with international law and human rights standards."
Politically, McCain has played this well. The amendment was appended to the massive defense appropriations bill. Consequently, passage of the $440 billion defense budget depends on the adoption of this vital amendment. Nonetheless, President Bush has threatened to veto the entire piece of legislation in order to kill the anti-torture amendment. This despite a recent report by Human Rights Watch documenting US soldiers' accounts of abuses against detainees committed by troops of the 82nd Airborne stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury (FOB Mercury), near Fallujah. (Click here to read, and circulate, it in full.)
For once, the Senate has done the right thing. Now, a coalition of groups, led by FaithfulAmerica.org, an online community of progressive people of faith, is calling for all Americans to ask their Senators to stand strong against the president's threatened pro-torture veto.
From every angle, this veto would be a disaster: It would hurt US standing in the world, serve to enable the torture of innocent people, and likely fail to produce actionable information even if applied on someone plotting terror attacks. (The counter-productiveness of torture in strategic terms was driven home by the bill's endorsement by more than two dozen retired military officers, including Colin Powell and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili.)
McCain and his colleagues are trying to extricate the government from direct complicity in war crimes. Join them by clicking here to send a letter of support to your Senators on this issue.
As I noted previously, it has been interesting to watch Karl Rove's defense evolve. After the news broke in September 2003 that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak in Bob Novak's July 14, 2003, column that outed former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie, as an undercover CIA officer, the White House declared that Rove and Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, were not involved in the leak--no ifs, ands or buts. Speaking of Rove, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, "He wasn't involved. The president knows hewasn't involved." The White House was signaling--rightly or wrongly--that it had no worries about its uber-strategist. And a year later, a White House aide who had just left his job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue told me that the consensus view within the Bush gang at that point was that Rove was too smart for special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and that there was no reason for Rove to explain--or admit--anything. (One prominent Washington defense attorney said--after I recently mentioned this conversation--"only a fool would think he or she could outsmart a prosecutor.")
This past July, after Time agreed to turn over Matt Cooper's notes to Fitzgerald, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff revealed that Cooper had spoken to Rove about Joe Wilson. Responding to Isikoff's scoop, Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, said that Rove "did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA." But a week later, Isikoff disclosed that Cooper and Rove had discussed Wilson's wife and her employment at the CIA and that an email from Cooper to his editors had confirmed this. And days later, news reports--probably relying upon Luskin as an unidentified source--disclosed that Rove had told Novak that he, like Novak, had heard that Wilson's wife was a CIA officer. All this undermined the Rove camp's claim that Rove never mentioned Valerie Plame and her CIA position to any reporter. (I supposed Luskin could argue that Rove, during his chats with Cooper and Novak, had not referred to Wilson's wife as "Valerie Plame.")
In the three months since, Rove's defense has shifted further. This week, Luskin told CNN that "Karl has truthfully told everyone who's asked him that he did not circulate Valerie Plame's name to punish her husband, Joe Wilson." (When CNN asked if that included George W. Bush, Luskin added, "Everyone is everyone.") This line--Rove did not circulate Plame's name to punish Joseph Wilson--is a far cry from the assertion that Rove did not tell any reporter that Valerie Plame was a CIA officer. It appears that Luskin and Rove are making up lyrics as the music changes. Rove detractors might find this legalistic squirming perversely enjoyable. But what's telling is a comparison between Rove's position (the current one) and that of his boss.
Two years ago, when Bush was asked about the Plame/CIA leak, he said:
I have told our administration, people in my administration, to be fully cooperative. I want to know the truth. If anybody has got any information inside our administration or outside our administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true.
A journalist then asked:
Yesterday we were told that Karl Rove had no role in it. Have you talked to Karl and do you have confidence in him?
Listen, I know of nobody--I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know, and we'll take the appropriate action. And this investigation is a good thing....And if people have got solid information, please come forward with it....And we can clarify this thing very quickly if people who have got solid evidence would come forward and speak out. And I would hope they would....I want to know who the leakers are.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Harriet Miers, CNN's love affair with Pat Robertson, Louis Freeh's disingenuous attack on Bill Clinton, what's gone wrong at The New York Times, and other in-the-news matters.
By Rove's own admission--or that of his attorney--Rove did pass classified information (Valerie Wilson's employment status at the CIA was classified) to at least two reporters (Cooper and Novak). By Bush's statement, Rove deserves "appropriate action." Yet so far no "appropriate action" has apparently been taken. Why might that be?
Moreover, if Rove used his current defense--that he did not circulate the Plame name to punish Wilson--in his conversations with Bush, as Luskin suggested to CNN, then Rove engaged in insubordination. Bush had said that he wanted to know the truth and that anyone with information should "come forward and speak out." Did Rove do that? No. According to Luskin, Rove told people--including the president--that he did not circulate the name of Wilson's wife. This seems to indicate that Rove did not tell Bush that he actually had spoken to Cooper about Wilson's wife and that he had confirmed the leak to Novak--actions that Rove and Luskin apparently do not consider "circulating." In other words, Rove did not respond to Bush's public request for information. Bush said he wanted to know who the leakers were. Yet Rove, if Luskin is to be believed, only assured Bush that he had not disseminated Valerie Wilson's maiden name in an act of vengeance. That was not being responsive to Bush. That was not sharing the full truth with the president. That was being insubordinate.
Perhaps the latest version of Rove's defense is--shall we say--not fully accurate. Perhaps Rove told Bush more. That would mean that Bush knew the White House line--Rove ain't involved--was false and took no steps to better inform the public.
There is no way to reconcile Bush's statements on the leak investigation and Rove's new-and-improved defense. Rove disobeyed Bush's I-want-to-know command. And Bush has let this slide and tossed aside his vow to take "action" against the Plame/CIA leakers. The wait for indictments continues, but Rove is already guilty of spreading--if not circulating--classified information, and he is guilty of either disobeying the president or drawing him into a White House conspiracy to mislead the public. His continued presence at the White House indicates that Bush does not take his own words seriously.
When Oscar Torres saw a Venezuelan band perform the song "Casas de carton" ("cardboard houses") in 2001, he knew that he wanted to "write something about the song" that he remembered so well from his childhood days growing up in war-torn and impoverished El Salvador. Soon after, Torres started working on a screenplay that ultimately served as the basis for the film Innocent Voices which will begin playing in 11 US cities on October 14.
The film has received critical acclaim after being released in Latin America and shown at this year's Amnesty International Film Festival. It deserves a wide audience in the United States. Directed by the talented Mexican filmmaker Luis Mandoki, Innocent Voices tells the story of Torres' embattled youth. The narrative is exquisitely told through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy named Chava whose character is based on Torres' boyhood. (Chava, appropriately, is a nickname for "Salvador.") Innocent Voices depicts the horror of war and its impact on children caught in the middle of El Salvador's civil strife in the 1980s.
There are no "good guys" in this conflict (though it's fair to say that the government paramilitary militias are definitely the "worse guys.") The film shows the government's soldiers hunting down and conscripting all 12-year-old boys in the village to serve in the military. But the bullets of the rebel-led Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) kill children just as effectively as the guns of the right-wing government's forces. And then there are the US soldiers who train and arm the government's military and who come across as depraved and without remorse.
Innocent Voices is Mandoki and Torres' reminder that "No child should ever bear arms." As Mandoki recently said in an interview, "Children were born to play." One question that Chava poses to himself at the beginning of the film--as he is being held prisoner by government soldiers--haunts the rest of the film: "Why do they want to kill us if we haven't done anything?"
Much of the film's tension stems from the government's policy of conscripting 12-year-old boys. We see the soldiers arriving at Chava's middle school, shouting out the names of the school's 12-year-olds and rousting them out of their classes. Chava, 11, understands that his turn is next, and that If he is lucky, he has just one year of innocence left, one year before he, too, will be conscripted to fight the government's battle against the peasant rebels of the FMLN.
The soldiers patrol the streets, invade the village's church and menace the children in the village center. As the children stroll along in neatly pressed white school shirts, the soldiers hover in the background with rifles slung over their shoulders. The children could fall prey to the combatants at any moment, and the atmosphere is claustrophobic.
Other scenes reveal the painful ways in which war shortens the lives of every child unlucky enough to be caught up in it. Chava and his friends must climb onto the roofs of their homes to evade detection by soldiers who ransack the village in search of recruits. When Chava and his friends encounter an old classmate by the banks of a river who is now a soldier, they see him transformed into a trained killer who has been instructed in warfare by "gringos" who had served in Vietnam.
Torres and Mandoki have made a film that is both gripping and highly entertaining, interspersing moments of laughter and light and scenes of beauty with the inhumanity of war itself. They pit Chava's childhood, his relationship with his family and his falling in love for the first time against a backdrop of horrific violence. And we see him struggling amid the bloodshed to hold onto his innocence.
Chava flies paper fireflies at night with his friends. He pretends to be a bus driver rumbling through the streets of his village. He smears lipstick on his face to make his screaming younger brother burst into laughter as bullets fly through the family's cardboard home. And Chava sings and dances in the street while serenading his first love. These episodes of what should be a normal childhood make the plight of children in war all the more poignant. It's clear that Chava, like all children, shouldn't be caught in the middle of this or any other armed conflict.
Innocent Voices, however, is more than just the story of how Oscar Torres survived El Salvador's civil war. The movie reminds us that more than 300,000 children are serving in armies in some 40 nations and that hundreds of thousands of children have their childhoods destroyed by wars.
Torres recalled in a recent interview that prior to beginning work on his screenplay, the story of his boyhood was a "story that he always wanted to forget." But, as Torres, Mandoki, and the film's politically astute producer Lawrence Bender understand, Innocent Voices was a story that had to be told. Bender said in an interview that the film combines his passion for film with his political activism. Above all, it shows pictures that we never see on TV or in the movies--"pictures of children" and parents struggling to survive amid war.
Torres' story could be happening "anywhere in the world," Bender said. He hopes that the United Nations and UNICEF will put a spotlight on the issue of recruitment of children as soldiers and that we will be able to "shame countries" that allow children to be conscripted to fight in wars into ending this horrible practice.
Ultimately, Innocent Voices makes us understand that war exacts its most awful toll on the most vulnerable people in any society. It is an antiwar classic.
P.S. Innocent Voices could not only draw attention to the issue of child soldiers, but the film also could help force compliance with the United Nations Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. (It's a mouthful, but it's a crucial document.)
The Protocol entered into force in 2002. It outlaws the use of children under 18 in armed conflict, and it requires its signatories to raise the age of compulsory recruitment and fighting in conflicts to 18, along with other common-sense provisions. While the United States ratified the UN's principal treaty on child soldiers in December 2002, it is, incredibly, one of only two countries, along with Somalia, that has still not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. (Right-wing opponents in the US are afraid that the Convention will cause the US to promote abortion and sex education.) If you want to get active in the campaign to stop the use of child soldiers in war, click here to check out The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, make a donation to its work, and learn more about what steps the world can take to put an end to one of the horrors of our times.
I'm a Tom Frank fan. I think he's a wonderful and passionate writer. But, now a respected political scientist is arguing that the "Great Backlash" Frank chronicled in his last book, in which "conservatives won the heart of America" and created a "dominant political coalition" by convincing Kansans and blue-collar, working-class people to vote against their own economic interests in order to defend traditional cultural values against bicoastal elites "isn't actually happening--at least, not in anything like the way Frank portrays." (Thanks to Doug Henwood--editor of the invaluable Left Business Observer and longtime Nation contributing editor--for turning me on to this new study.)
In a fascinating paper called "What's the Matter With What's the Matter with Kansas?", Princeton professor Larry Bartels uses data from National Election Study (NES) surveys to test Frank's thesis. He examines class-related patterns of issue preferences, partisanship, and voting over the past half-century. Bartels concludes that the white working class hasn't moved right and that "moral values" are not pushing them to vote Republican.
Moreover, for the most part, voters' economic and cultural attitudes are either both liberal or both conservative rather than the bifurcated split Frank sees. Bartels also disproves the argument that there's been a long-term decline in turnout.
Here's a summary of the report's findings if you don't have time to read the full 43 page paper, first presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association this September. You can also click here to listen to Henwood's interview with Bartels.
* Has the white working class abandoned the Democratic Party? No. White voters in the bottom third of the income distribution have actually become more reliably Democratic in presidential elections over the past half-century, while middle and upper-income white voters have trended Republican. Low-income whites have become less Democratic in their partisan identifications, but at a slower rate than more affluent whites--and that trend is entirely confined to the South, where Democratic identification was artificially inflated by the one-party system of the Jim Crow era--itself a holdover from the legacy of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
* Has the white working class become more conservative? No. The typical views of low-income whites have remained virtually unchanged over the past 30 years. (A pro-choice shift on abortion in the 1970s and '80s has been partially reversed since the early 1990s.) Their positions relative to more affluent white voters--generally less liberal on social issues and less conservative on economic issues--have also remained virtually unchanged.
* Do working class "moral values" trump economics in determining voting patterns? No. Social issues (including abortion) are less strongly related to party identification and presidential votes than economic issues, and that is even more true for whites in the bottom third of the income distribution than for more affluent whites. Moreover, while social issue preferences have become more strongly related to presidential votes among middle- and high-income whites, there is no evidence of a corresponding trend among low-income whites.
* Are religious voters distracted from economic issues? No. For church-goers as for non-church-goers, partisanship and voting behavior are primarily shaped by economic issues, not cultural issues.
Click here to read the full study and let's hope that Democratic Party strategists are doing the same.
The Plame/CIA leak case is getting what all good scandals need: props.
We now have the "missing notebook" and the "missing email." The "missing notebook," as several news reports noted at the end of last week, belongs to New York Times reporter Judith Miller and reportedly contains notes of a conversation regarding former Ambassador Joseph Wilson that she had with Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, on June 25, 2003. The date is intriguing, for this is weeks before Wilson published his now famous New York Times op-ed piece (in which he revealed that after traveling to Niger for the CIA he had concluded that the allegation that Iraq had been uranium shopping there was dubious). And, of course, this was weeks before Robert Novak wrote a column outing Wilson's wife as an undercover CIA officer. So why were the two discussing Wilson at that point? Why did this notebook go missing within the paper's Washington bureau? Who found it? Miller or someone else? Why won't the Times explain to its readers how it came to be discovered? What do the notes in this notebook say?
The Case of the Missing Notebook does prompt much pondering. As Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher listed a set of questions raised by the missing notebook in his own column:
-- Did Libby lie to the grand jury about not talking to Miller about Wilson earlier than July 8? Did Miller lie about that? If so, why?
-- How did Fitzgerald find out about these notes? Did he know about the June conversation for quite some time but just recently found out about the notes? Or did Miller come forward herself? If she did, was it after someone tipped off Fitzgerald about the June interview?
-- Does the existence of a Miller chat with Libby two weeks before the Wilson Op-Ed, and well before Robert Novak outed Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent, indicate that Libby, indeed, was the original source of the Plame leak? And/or does it suggest that Miller herself was a "carrier" of that leak to others in the media and the administration, well before Novak's bombshell?
What is frustrating is that the Times could have quickly cleared up a number of these matters. But it chose not to. So the final question on this front is, why?
On to the other new prop. This past weekend, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff reported that Karl Rove's return to the grand jury (for visit No. 4) was caused by the "White House's handling of a potentially crucial e-mail sent by senior aide Karl Rove two years ago." Apparently, when Rove was first interviewed by FBI agents and when he first appeared before Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury, he neglected to mention his July 11, 2003, conversation with Time's Matt Cooper, in which he told Cooper that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. But after that first grand jury appearance, Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, according to Isikoff's report, found an email Rove had sent on July 11 that referred to his conversation with Cooper. Rove then went back to the grand jury to discuss his July 11 chat with Cooper. I suppose Rove merely needed to have his memory refreshed.
The Newsweek report doesn't make clear what this missing email has to do with Rove's latest trip to the grand jury room. But it does seem that this visit may be connected to possible discrepancies between Rove's and Cooper's account of their conversation.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Louis Freeh's disingenuous attack on Bill Clinton, the latest on the troubled Harriet Miers nomination, what's gone wrong at The New York Times, and other in-the-news matters.
The Newsweek piece, though, does unveil Rove's latest defense--and perhaps that of the White House. According to Luskin, Rove also did not initially tell Bush about his conversation with Cooper. In the fall of 2003, Rove only assured Bush that he was not part of a "scheme" to discredit Wilson by blowing the cover of his wife. So even though Rove did share classified information with at least two reporters (he also told Novak that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA), he now claims this was not done with any intent to undermine Wilson, a prominent critic of Bush's policy in Iraq.
But when it comes to various laws under which Rove's actions might be prosecutable, intent is not the issue. Moreover, note that in this telling Rove failed at first to tell his boss that he had discussed Wilson's wife with reporters. Bush had said publicly that he wanted to find out what had happened and that aides who had leaked classified information would be punished. His White House also declared that neither Rove nor Libby had been involved in the Wilson leak (though now it's clear they both were). So did Rove disobey the commander in chief by keeping the details from Bush and by only giving Bush a general assurance that he had not plotted against Wilson?
Who knows if the latest Luskin-Rove account is true? Luskin has peddled misleading information for Rove previously. But Rove's aim appears to be to keep Bush out of the loop--even if that means Rove has to depict himself as a subordinate who did not fully come clean with the president. An account in which Rove does not share the full truth with his boss is better for the White House than one that implicates the president with knowledge. If Bush knew about Rove's conversations with Cooper and Novak, then he would also have known that his White House's assertion that Rove had been uninvolved in the leak was false. With this latest account, is Luskin building a firewall, rather than a stonewall?
Meanwhile, the Times reported on Friday that Fitzgerald might be using espionage-related laws to bring indictments in the CIA leak case. Regular readers of this column might recall that I noted this possibility two months ago. I pointed out then that the indictments in the AIPAC case were "bad news for the Bush White House and Karl Rove" because they show that "Rove and any other White House aide involved in the Plame/CIA leak might be vulnerable to prosecution under the Espionage Act." For more on this legal twist, click here. In the meantime, keep your eye on the missing notebook and email. They don't have the dramatic punch of that eighteen-and-a-half-minute gap on a Watergate tape. But they may have some legal resonance in a case that does seem, finally, to be giving the White House the jitters.
Sally Baron is not alone in the afterlife.
The Wisconsin woman whose August, 2003, obituary created a nation sensation with Americans who had come to resent George W. Bush's disreputable presidency -- it included the line "Memorials in her honor can be made to any organization working for the removal of President Bush," inspiring t-shirts, badges and, as of this week, more than 980,000 unique references on the Internet -- will be pleased to make the acquaintance of one Theodore Roosevelt Heller.
Heller, who died last week in his native Chicago was recalled in yesterday's editions of the Chicago Tribune with an obituary that read:
Theodore Roosevelt Heller, 88, loving father of Charles (Joann) Heller; dear brother of the late Sonya (the late Jack) Steinberg. Ted was discharged from the U.S. Army during WWII due to service related injuries, and then forced his way back into the Illinois National Guard insisting no one tells him when to serve his country. Graveside services Tuesday 11 a.m. at Waldheim Jewish Cemetery (Ziditshover section), 1700 S. Harlem Ave., Chicago. In lieu of flowers, please send acerbic letters to Republicans.
Heller lived to see two more years of lies, corruption and cronyism. He also lived to see Bush's approval rating fall to the lowest level of his presidency -- just 37 percent, according to the latest CBS News poll.
So, while Baron referred to Bush as a liar and a "whistleass," it is possible that the ascerbic letters sent in the late Chicagoan's honor might direct even fiestier langauge toward Bush's Republican supporters.
The President has lost the support of Democrats (84 percent of whom disapprove of his presidency) and independents (64 percent of whom disapprove ), but he still runs strong among true believers in the Grand Old Party. Seventy-nine percent of self-described Republicans interviewed for the CBS poll expressed approval of Bush, while just 13 percent disapproved.
But perhaps even blind partisanship has its limits.
According to the new AP-Ipsos poll, Bush's support is softening among Republicans.
In the weeks after the 2004 election, an AP-Ipsos survey found that almost two-thirds of Republicans expressed strong approved of the president's work. In the new AP-Ipsos survey, only half expressed "strong" approval." And, according to AP, "Those most likely to have lost confidence about the nation's direction over the past year include white evangelicals, down 30 percentage points, Republican women, 28 points, Southerners, 26 points, and suburban men, 20 points."
So how best to honor Theodore Roosevelt Heller -- a man who was, after all, named for a great Republican?
Perhaps with a friendly reminder to Republicans that it is not merely appropriate, but necessary, to criticize a president who has lost his way. That may be best done with a quote from the TR, himself. To wit:
"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants," Roosevelt explained in 1918. "He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."
Of course, if it really is most important to tell the truth about the president, it might be necessary add the following:"P.S. Bush is still a whistleass."
In 1999 Cintas Corp, the largest uniformrental provider in the country, signed a contract with Hayward,California to become the officiallaunderer of the city's uniforms. As a condition in the contract,Cintas agreed to comply with Hayward's living wage ordinance. Problemwas, Cintas didn't comply--in fact, for the next four years it paidworkers far less than Hayward's requirement.
It was a long time coming, but Cintas employees have finally gottentheir fair share. On September 23, an Alameda County judge orderedthe uniform giant to pay 219 workers more than $1 million of backwages in what is being hailed as a landmark decision. Paul Sonn ofNYU's Brennan Center for Justice, called it "the first large scaleenforcement effort involving a large group of workers in a classaction suit."
When workers filed suit against Cintas in 2003, the company backed outof its contract with Hayward and refused to pay the back wages.Cintas, whose headquarters lie in Cincinnati, Ohio, argued thatHawyard's living wage ordinance carried no weight beyond city lines.But judge Steven Brick upheld the living wage law and allowed the caseto proceed, stating "Just as cities have permissibly enactedrequirements that city contractors have an affirmative action plan orprovide equal benefits to employees' domestic partners, the city ofHayward can require that its service contractors pay their employeeswho perform work on a contract with the city to be paid at the ratesset forth in the living wage ordinance."
The verdict not only provides an immediate boost to the plaintiffsbut will also strengthen the resolve of communities in Marin County,Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Dayton, Ohio--all cities who arechallenging Cintas for flouting living wage ordinances. "There are 130living wage laws under the books, but much less enforcement thanthat," says Jason Oringer of UNITEHERE! "Contractors were not paying a hell of a lot of attention theseordinances before this. It's a huge victory for low-wage workers."
Email is flying, cell phones are humming, Blackberries are bursting. All with the news--broken by Associated Press--that Rove asked to testify one mo' time before Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury in the Plame/CIA leak case. On HuffingtonPost.com, blogger Lawrence O'Donnell, who has demonstrated he has some decent sources on this story, made this prediction: "at least three high level Bush Administration personnel indicted and possibly one or more very high level unindicted coconspirator."
While more news about Rove's pending testimony to the grand jury may leak out--Michael Isikoff, where are you?--today's revelation does give speculators and analysts much to chew on. The key question is whether there is any way to spin this news in a positive direction for Rove. So far, the lawyers and others I have spoken and corresponded with concur: no.
No lawyer would send a client in front of a grand jury unless he or she had to. This is an "extreme and desperate act," said one attorney I consulted. It's important to note that the AP story says that Rove requested the chance to talk to the grand jury in July. It does not say when in July this occurred. But it was on July 13 that Matt Cooper testified to the grand jury and said that Rove had told him that former ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. (A Cooper email to his editors confirmed this.) Did Cooper's testimony contradict Rove's? (Perhaps Rove had previously told Fitzgerald he had not spoken to Cooper about Valerie Wilson.) If so, Rove would have a pressing need to engage in testimony rehabilitation.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Bush's latest Big Speech on the war on terrorism, the troubled (?) Harriet Miers nomination, and other in-the-news matters.
As one lawyer pointed out to me, Rove's attempted rush to the grand jury room could be explained by three scenarios. Rove wanted to try to spin away the contradiction and explain what the meaning of "is" is. ("In my previous testimony, I said I never mentioned Valerie Wilson's name to any reporter. That is true. I never said I didn't talk about 'Wilson's wife.'") Or he's looking to cut a deal: agree that--due to faulty memory--he accidentally misstated his previous testimony and he's willing to accept a minor infraction in exchange for more accurate testimony. Prosecutors do occasionally run "blue plate" specials: come in now, tell all, and it won't be so bad. Has Rove's number been called in that fashion. Or there's this possibility: some other Bush official--the Vice President?--has given testimony that poses problems for Rove. My hunch is that the fact that Rove's request happened in the same month Cooper testified is telling.
In the meantime, the signs are that Rove is indeed a target of the investigation, since Fitzgerald would not declare he is not. Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, who has made false statements previously, yesterday issued a no-comment when asked if Rove was a target. But today he subtly shifted his position and claimed that Rove had not received a letter from Fitzgerald informing him he is a target. One lawyer I chatted with says that the absence of such a letter at this point in the investigation does not mean much. Rove could be a target without having received a letter.
A Democrat I spoke with said that other Democrats in Washington have noticed that in the past few days Rove has not been spotted at White House events that he customarily would attend. Perhaps he has a cold.
But the big point--at the moment--is that Rove would not have asked to appear once more before the grand jury unless he had to. And note that Fitzgerald did not take him up on this offer for nearly three months. That suggests Fitzgerald wanted to collect more material before hearing from Rove yet again.
Unlike O'Donnell, I'm not issuing a prediction. I'm just speculating. Perhaps there's an innocent explanation that no smart lawyer can yet explain. But for some reason Rove felt compelled to return to the grand jury room. That must be some reason.