The Nation

The Deficit Divide

A divide is re-emerging within the Democratic Party between those who want to invest in long-neglected priorities, such as healthcare, poverty and education, and those that believe America's first fiscal goal must be balancing the budget. John Edwards falls in the former camp and Hillary Clinton and her advisors in the latter. [See Jamie Galbraith's Nation article "What Kind of Economy" for more.]

At a speech yesterday to the Economic Policy Institute, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, chairman of President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors, broke ranks with his former colleagues. The Clinton economic boom, Stiglitz said, was a "peculiar situation" resulting from a number of factors, not the direct effect of closing the deficit. Moreover, after six years of Republican rule, Stiglitz agrees with Edwards that the country has urgent needs (making globalization work, providing universal healthcare, curbing global warming) and "meeting these will require spending money...If spent well, it's worth doing, even if it increases the deficit."

Stiglitz recognizes that this is not an either/or game. A future president can reduce the deficit and promote ambitious spending policies, if done wisely. But it will require making some tough (and potentially risky political choices), he says, such as ending the war in Iraq and cutting defense expenditures for "weapons that don't work against enemies that no longer exist," and restoring a progressive tax code that increase taxes on the rich and provides relief for middle and lower-income Americans.

Of the major presidential candidates, Edwards is closest to Stiglitz's views. "Those are higher priorities to me than the elimination of the deficit," he told voters in Des Moines in December. Yet even Edwards won't go as far as Stiglitz in calling for a smarter and less bloated defense budget or a fairer, simpler tax code. I suppose there's a reason Stiglitz is in academia and not politics.

Conyers, Sanchez Seek Rove's RNC Emails

The burgeoning congressional focus on the supposedly "missing" emails of White House political czar Karl Rove and almost two dozen other presidential aides who were doing political work on the taxpayers' dime is not limited to questions about the eight U.S. Attorneys who were fired after at least some of them reportedly failed to politicize their prosecutions.

A new letter issued by key members of the House Judiciary Committee specifically expresses concerns that push the inquiry beyond the eight to look at the potential that some of the 85 U.S. Attorneys who were not fired may have been kept on because they used their powers in a manner that pleased Rove and his minions.

While working in the White House, Rove and at least 21 other aides used computer accounts set up by the Republican National Committee to allow them to do political work from their federal offices.

House Judiciary Committee chair Chairman Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Michigan, and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, D-California, who chairs the Judiciary subcommittee that is leading the investigation into wrongdoing by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others linked to the U.S. Attorneys scandal, have asked Republican National Committee Chairman Robert Duncan for e-mails and other documents. Of course, following what has become standard operating procedure for the White House and its allies at the U.S. Attorneys scandal has developed, the RNC claims that key emails have gone missing.

Digital digressions aside, the letter from Conyers and Sanchez telegraphs an important evolution of the inquiry.

In a letter dispatched this week to Duncan, Conyers and Sanchez have requested copies of emails sent and received on RNC accounts that discuss the performance of any U.S. attorney, including questions of whether to retain, dismiss or seek resignations.

The letter goes into detail about the Wisconsin case in which a state employee was prosecuted by a Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney on a timeline that coincided with a tight gubernatorial race between incumbent Jim Doyle, a Democrat, and Congressman Mark Green, a Republican with close ties to the Bush White House. The employee, who was charged with steering a contract to a Doyle campaign donor was convicted and jailed. Republicans made the case a prime feature of their fall campaign against Doyle.

This month, a federal appeals court panel, on which the majority of judges were Republican appointees, threw the conviction out and ordered the jailed woman freed from federal prison. One of the federal judges referred to the evidence against the state employee as "beyond thin" and the panel repeatedly questioned how and why the U.S. Attorney, Steven Biskupic, brought the case.

White House counselor Dan Bartlett has acknowledged that President Bush discussed concerns about politically-sensitive federal prosecutions in Wisconsin with Gonzales in October of 2006, as the gubernatorial election approached. Those conversations reportedly involved so-called "voter fraud" cases that were being promoted by state and federal Republicans, but Bartlett has not said whether the conversation was limited to such matters.

Conyers and Sanchez want to know what the president's political chief, Rove, and other Republican operatives working within the White House were saying in emails about federal prosecutions in Wisconsin, a key battleground state that has long been a subject of Rove's personal scrutiny.

Specifically, Conyers and Sanchez wrote to RNC chair Duncan, "We have also been advised that there may be RNC e-mail traffic relating to Republican Party concerns about the United States Attorney in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, prior to his announcing, on the eve of the hotly contested 2006 gubernatorial election, that he was indicting an official in the incumbent Democratic governor's administration. This prosecution was a topic of energetic discussion by Republicans in Wisconsin in the days leading up to the election, but was apparently so lacking in merit that the panel of judges on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reviewing the case, after a thirty-minute oral argument, immediately ordered, from the bench, that the official be released from prison and indicated it was reversing the conviction because it was unsupported by sufficient evidence."

No one was particularly surprised that the RNC's initial response to various congressional requests was to suggest that at least some of the emails in question had gone missing. But, just as Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy isn't buying the claim by White House aides that they have lost emails the Senate committee has sought, House committee chairs are not backing off.

The duel over access to the emails -- which computer experts generally agree can be found -- will play out in coming days.

But don't miss the key development here.

The Conyers-Sanchez letter represents another important move by the House and Senate judiciary committees to expand the U.S. Attorneys inquiry beyond a precise focus on the fired prosecutors.

Conyers and Sanchez, along with their Senate colleagues, are beginning to ask vital questions about whether any of the 85 U.S. Attorneys who were not fired used their offices to mount political prosecutions during an election season that was of critical concern to the Bush White House.

Emails from Rove and other White House operatives, which should be in the RNC's possession, may well hold the answers to those questions. However, since George Bush does not use email, Rove's testimony about what he and others said to the president regarding prosecutions in Wisconsin and elsewhere, becomes all the more essential.


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.'"

Post-Imus Fatigue

For those of you who think Don Imus got a bad rap, and you know who you are, how do you defend this Maya Angelou poem parody a producer on his show read last month?

"Whitey plucked you from the jungle; for too many years took away your pride, your dignity and your spears."

My guess is you can't and you don't because just like most of Mr. Imus' "comedy" it ‘s about cruelty rather than wit or insight. In fact, I would argue that it's even more offensive than the now infamous "nappy headed ho's" remark which ultimately lost him both of his high profile, high paying jobs. Yet it was usually simply shrugged off or excused as the madcap antics of one of our beloved American shock jocks.

Am I glad Mr. Imus has been fired? More relieved then glad. I want to believe those in the media who have said that this incident has given the country an opportunity to explore our still very real and very deep racial divisions in this country but then I think about how the same things were said after Hurricane Katrina and the Michael Richards outburst but people moved on sooner rather than later after those too.

I also roll my eyes at the notion that the black community's loudest voice on these issues is Rev. Al Sharpton, a man who for about 20 years has demonstrated an amazing talent for self-promotion and little or nothing else. His role is a true national leader is highly suspect and his record as a public figure is incredibly dubious and checkered.

As reprehensible as Imus' behavior has been, I don't think he can hold a candle to Rush Limbaugh's radio rants in a competition for who spews the most purely hostile bile. And programs like Vh1's "Flavor of Love" have arguably contributed far more to the degradation of Black Americans than anything Mr. Imus has said. As far as I'm concerned the work of healing this nation's racial wounds is far from over and we shouldn't be looking to men like Rev. Sharpton to do it for us.

Hatch Campaigns for Attorney General

Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, a six-term veteran who once chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, had always wanted to cap his career by joining the U.S. Supreme Court. But Republicans prefer young justices who can serve long tenures. And, while he remains vital, Hatch is now 73.

So the senator is looking for a conciliation prize, and he appears to have found it.

It is no longer a secret that Hatch is moving aggressively to position himself as the replacement for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. With the scandal involving Gonzales' firing of U.S. Attorneys deepening on a daily basis, there is no longer much question that President Bush is going to need someone new to take charge of the Department of Justice. And Hatch has made little secret of the fact that he thinks he is the man for the job.

No a term-closing stint as Attorney General is not so hot a ticket as a lifelong appointment to the high court. But if there is no place on the bench for him, a steady steam of reports from Capitol Hill insiders says Hatch is letting it be known that he is willing to settle.

Not every Republican is excited by the prospect.

The Senator is not so reliably friendly to Bush as Gonzales. And he has, at times, broken ranks with his fellow Republicans -- Hatch's support of stem-cell research rankles the right, as does the senator's close relationship with Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, his longtime counterpart on the Judiciary Committee.

But Hatch's slight distance from the White House and from some of the more frenzied members of his own party simply adds to his appeal as a pick for Attorney General. With the Bush administration at its weakest point, a Hatch nomination would be assured of rapid and very possibly unanimous approval by the Senate.

And Utah has a conservative Republican governor, Jon Huntsman, who would name an interim senator. Whoever Huntsman picks would then be positioned to compete in the 2008 election for an opportunity to serve out the last four years of Hatch's term. Considering the political demographics of Utah, the seat would in all likelihood remain in Republican hands. And it would probably be held by a slightly more reliably conservative partisan than Hatch.

Put the pieces together and Bush has in Hatch an appealing prospect to replace Gonzales. And, rest assured, the president is going to need someone soon.


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

The Green Festival

Step It Up! takes place tomorrow, Saturday. Check out an event near you.

For the first time, the largest and most authentic sustainability event in the world is coming to Chicago. Previously held only in San Francisco and Washington, DC, the Green Festival is expanding to one of America's greenest cities at the invitation of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's office. It takes place all day on both April 21 and 22 at McCormick Place.

Co-produced by Global Exchange and Co-Op America and co-sponsored by The Nation, the GF offers one of the best forums for exploring what's next on the horizon for renewable energy, socially responsible investing, the climate change fight, eco-fashions, groundbreaking films, eco-tourism, green building, green parenting, organic foods, the struggle against environmental racism and much more.

The Chicago Green Festival will bring together more than 300 exhibitors, 150 speakers and tens of thousands of attendees for a two-day party with a very serious objective: expanding popular support for policies aimed at ecological sustainability and social justice.

The Nation will be at booth #2008 throughout the Festival. Meet Nation writers and staffers and pick up free copies of the magazine and buttons! Don't miss Nation writer Chris Hayes speaking on Sunday, April 22, at 3:00 in Room 1 and check out other featured speakers, including Amy Goodman, Jim Hightower, Dennis Kucinich, Bill McKibben, Van Jones and Frances Moore Lappe. Click here for a full schedule and to buy tickets. And if you can't make it to Chicago, check out the GF website for info on webcasts.

McKibben will be speaking about Step It Up!, the April 14 National Day of Climate Action, and what can be done to combat the consequences of global climate change. Click here to see what Step It Up! activities are taking place near you this Saturday and read my previous ActNow blog for more info on the largest day of citizen action focusing on global warming in our nation's history.

Finally, watch this YouTube video for a brief history of the Green Festival.

The People Know Better (continued)

Yesterday I posted about the public's increasing opposition to war and its desire for our government to pursue diplomacy. This week, in the city of Urbana, IL, residents expressed that exact sentiment by placing a referendum against a war with Iran on the ballot for the February 2008 election. And in the cities of Berkeley, CA and Portland, OR, the city councils passed resolutions opposing US military engagement with Iran. Actions like these will continue to grow the peace movement's momentum and pressure our elected representatives to catch up to the will of the people.

White House "Lost" Political E-mails About US Attorneys

The US Attorneys scandal seems to be turning an important new page every day. And today it turned what can best be referred to as the "Rose Mary Woods" page.

Rose Mary Woods was the longtime secretary to Richard Nixon who as a fiercely loyal employee of the president in the waning days of the Watergate crisis claimed in grand jury testimony that she had inadvertently created at least part of an 18 1/2 minute gap a White House audio tape that had become central to the investigation of presidential wrongdoing.

"The Rose Mary Woods Defense" proved to be a tough sell in 1974, failing to close off congressional inquiries that would eventually lead to votes by the House Judiciary Committee in favor of articles of impeachment against Nixon.

But that has not stopped the Bush White House from mounting a "Rose Mary Woods Defense" in its attempt to prevent the House and Senate judiciary committees from examining the full scope of the scandal that arose after the White House fired eight U.S. Attorneys who, apparently, did not want to politicize their offices in a manner that would benefit Republican electoral prospects.

In response to demands from the Senate Judiciary Committee for records of political communications by Bush aides, the White House is claiming emails that could shed light on the role political czar Karl Rove and as many as 21 other presidential appointees may have played in pressuring U.S. Attorneys are "potentially lost."

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel had acknowledged that 22 White House aides have e-mail accounts sponsored by the Republican National Committee. Those accounts have become a focus of the rapidly-expanding U.S. Attorneys inquiry, as it is assumed that they would have been the avenue by which state party officials sent memos asking key players in the White House to pressure the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorneys to advance so-called "voter fraud" cases, to prosecute Democrats or to back off prosecutions of Republicans.

Stanzel says e-mails sent and received on those accounts can't be found.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, is not taking those claims seriously.

"They say they have not been preserved. I don't believe that!" Leahy declared in what for him was an exceptionally passionate speech on the Senate floor Thursday. "You can't erase e-mails, not today. They've gone through too many servers. Those e-mails are there, they just don't want to produce them. We'll subpoena them if necessary."

Stanzel insists that the White House, which has repeatedly attempted to thwart congressional inquiries into matters relating to the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys who fell afoul of the Bush administration for what appear to have been political reasons, now says that there is no effort to conceal emails that could reveal information about contacts regarding the eight fired U.S. Attorneys or about pressures on the 85 U.S. Attorneys who were no fired.

On Tuesday, Leahy and five other senators demanded documents regarding a botched prosecution in Wisconsin by a U.S. Attorney who was not fired. That prosecution paralleled the 2OO6 election cycle and was exploited by Republicans in a television ad campaign against Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. The Senate's interest in the Wisconsin case indicates that the inquiry is expanding to examine not just White House pressures on fired prosecutors but on those who were retained.

Stanzel says the White House counsel's office is conducting a "review" into the missing emails. "The purpose of our review is to make every reasonable effort to recover potentially lost e-mails, and that is why we've been in contact with forensic experts," says the Bush aide.

But Leahy bluntly responds, "E-mails don't get lost. These are just e-mails they don't want to bring forward."

It looks like the "Rose Mary Woods Defense" is not going over any better in 2OO7 than it did in 1974. To his credit, the usually cautious Leahy says he is prepared to subpoena the emails and related documents. He won't be satisfied with "dog-ate-my-homework" excuses. And rightly so.

These emails are definitely not missing, but they may well be incriminating.


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

The Saddam Statue-Toppling, Four Years Later

The lead editorial in today's New York Times states that, four years ago this week, "as American troops made their first, triumphant entrance into Baghdad, joyous Iraqis pulled down a giant statue of Saddam Hussein." There's one problem with that statement: it's not true. "Joyous Iraqis" did not pull down the Saddam statue in Firdos Square; US marines did.

The New York Times four years ago reported that "thousands" of "ordinary Iraqis" took part in the statue-toppling. The Washington Post ran a Reuters report describing the scene at the statue-toppling as "reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989," when tens of thousands participated. Those reports also were false. The most straightforward account of the event appeared a few weeks later in The New Yorker, where John Lee Anderson described it: "in the traffic circle in front of the hotel, a statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down by soldiers in an armored personnel carrier." Anderson made no mention of thousands of joyous Iraqis. ("The Collapse," April 21, 2003).

On "Nightline" on ABC-TV, Robert Krulwich also provided a more realistic report two days after the statue-toppling: "On television, the crowd gathered around statue seemed, well, big. But on TV, framing is everything. Widen the frame of this scene and look. It's kind of empty in the foreground. Now, pull back further, this is about three minutes after the statue fell. And that big celebration seen all over the world wasn't really very big. Pictures on TV can deceive, same with pictures in the paper."

The New York Times editorial today called the statue-toppling "powerful symbolism" – but what exactly was being symbolized? What looked like Iraqis hailing Americans as liberators was in fact a phony photo-op staged by the American military. The New York Times fell for it four years ago, when others were already skeptical; at this point, four years later, the Times editors ought to get the Iraq story right.

Duke Players Deserve Apology

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

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

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

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

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

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