Quantcast

The Nation

"For Paul's Seat"

After recalling his campaign swings through his home state of Minnesota on behalf of the late Paul Wellstone, comedian, author and activist Al Franken closed his last Air America radio show with an announcement that he will be running in 2OO8 "for Paul's seat."

Franken's challenge to Republican incumbent Norm Coleman, who took Wellstone's place in the Senate after the popular incumbent was killed in a fall 2OO2 plane crash, was expected. What was intriguing was Franken's signal with the broadcast announcement that his will be a certain kind of candidacy, run very much in the Wellstone tradition.

Humility was the order of the day.

Instead of grand pronouncements, Franken said he would spend the coming months "listening to Minnesota," with a schedule that in coming days will take him to Nashwauk, Duluth, Rochester, Mankato and Moorhead -- not the usual mid-winter stomping grounds of celebrity contenders.

He'll begin tomorrow morning at a Minneapolis health care clinic where doctors and nurses volunteer to care for the uninsured.

The visit to the clinic will highlight a signature issue of Franken's campaign -- getting the federal government focused on the task of assuring that all Americans have access to affordable quality health care. '

Rejecting the conservative premise that government can do little or no good, Franken began his campaign by offering a contemporary take on the New Deal liberalism of Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party stalwarts such as Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Wellstone.

"Your government should have your back," the man who has spent the last three years serving as the voice of liberal talk radio said in a video produced for his campaign. "That should be our mission in Washington, the one FDR (President Franklin D. Rooosevelt) gave us during another challenging time: freedom from fear."

Just as Wellstone did when he launched his challenge to another Minnesota Republican senator in 199O, as an academic and activist who had never held elected office, Franken knows he must convince Minnesotans -- first within the DFL, where he will face a challenge from wealthy lawyer Mike Ciresi and perhaps others, and if he is nominated then in a fall contest with Coleman that will be one of the most intense in the country -- that he in a credible contender.Franken began by stating the obvious: that he is not a "typical politician."

In Minnesota, a state where the voters elected a professional wrestler governor in 1998, and a college professor senator in 199O, that's an advantage. But it did not prevent predictably political attacks.

Telegraphing Republican fears that Franken's celebrity, fund-raising skills and familiarity with issues that have been regular topics on his talk show make the affable comedian a daunting challenger to Coleman -- a political creation of White House political czar Karl Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney who is broadly perceived to be one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the country -- Minnesota Republican Party chairman Ron Carey was spinning hard and fast on Wednesday afternoon. "Given his blind partisanship and extreme anger, Al Franken is the last person Minnesotans need in the United States Senate," growled Carey. "While Sen. Norm Coleman continues to work with all sides for the betterment of our stateand nation, Franken offers Minnesotans nothing but polarization and vitriolic personal attacks."

The joke was on Carey, however, as he sounded far more vitriolic than Franken.

While the Republican was spewing vitriol, the Democrat was self-deprecating, beginning his campaign with an admission that he needed to convince Minnesotans to elect as their senator a "Saturday Night Live" alumnus who once penned a book titled: Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations.

"Minnesotans have a right to be skeptical about whether I'm ready forthis challenge and to wonder how seriously I would take theresponsibility that I'm asking you to give me," Franken said in a video message featured on his www.alfranken.com campaign website.

"I want you to know: nothing means more to me than making governmentwork better for the working families of this state," Franken said. "And over the next 20 months I look forward to proving to you that I take these issues seriously."

If his Minnesota-nice, Wellstone-referencing entry into the race is any indication, Franken will not have much problem proving he is serious -- and, in turn, being taken seriously by the voters of a state that has proven its willingness over the years to take chances on candidates who are not "typical politicians."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

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.'"

No Katrina Hearings? Gotcha, Joe

Senator Joseph Lieberman, chair of the Senate Homeland Security andGovernmental Affairs Committee, recently did a 180 and said thathe will not hold investigations into the disastrous Bush administration(non-)response to Hurricane Katrina. He said,"We don't want to play ‘gotcha' anymore" and that "looking back… wouldbe a waste of Congress' time."

In an attempt to explain the inexplicable Lieberman's spokeswomanLeslie Philips offered this somewhat bizarre statement: "The senatorbelieves a more productive use of his time and that of his staff is to…ensure that a response to a future catastrophe is better."

Huh? Isn't that the whole point of examining the mistakes that weremade and why they occurred? To make sure that we get it right the nexttime?

In fact, Phillips' statement was reminiscent of something Liebermanwrote in May, 2006 in support of the very investigations he is nowdismissing: "Only through a thorough and comprehensive investigation ofwhat went wrong [can] we be assured that the government will know whatsteps are necessary to get it right the next time." Lieberman also decried "a conscious strategy of slow-walking our investigation inthe hope that we would run out of time to follow the investigation'snatural progression to where it leads." He accused the White House ofordering witnesses not to respond to questions, and the Departments ofJustice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security of failing tocooperate as well.

But Lieberman Version 2006 was on the verge of losing his party'snomination for Senate and was desperately treading water to save hispolitical life. Lieberman Version 2007, in contrast, owes his newpolitical life in part to George Bush who steered Republican supporthis way in the general election. It's pay-back time.

Gotcha, Joe.

One hopes that others will pick up the ball dropped by the fecklessLieberman. Presidential candidate Barack Obama is a member ofLieberman's committee. This is a clear opportunity for him to speakout in support of common sense and against the "smallness ofpolitics"--a centerpiece of his campaign.

In the House, Representative Henry Waxman chairs the Committee onOversight and Government Reform. (Waxman is also a member of theCongressional Progressive Caucus, whose members chair the majority ofcommittees and subcommittees and have generally committed to making New Orleans a priority.) He told me today, "Ihave a strong interest in the response to Hurricane Katrina, and it isunder consideration by the Committee." But, according to Newsweek, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is "keep[ing] committees on a tight leash."

Former FEMA Director Michael Brown says there was a video conference inthe White House Situation Room, in which he warned "senior officials"about the disastrous situation and was met with "deafening silence." There are also believed to be records of conversations between Bush,Cheney, and aides as "the disaster was unfolding."

Joe Lieberman Version 2006 had it right. Joe Version 2007 is smokingsomething. Who will step up to ensure that our government learns thelessons it needs to learn to strengthen the security of all Americans?

Is the Bush Administration Lying About Iran?

Did the Bush Administration miss a major opportunity in the spring of 2003 to engage Iran and stabilize the Middle East? Two high-ranking former Administration officials contend it did.

In May 2003, Iran faxed a letter to the State Department, via the Swiss ambassador to Iran, proposing a sweeping realignment in US-Iranian relations. Iran offered "full transparency" on its nuclear enrichment program, to take "decisive action against any terrorists (above all Al Qaeda) on Iranian territory," to help stabilize Iraq and establish democratic institutions there, to disarm Hezbollah, to stop "material support to Palestinian opposition groups," and accept a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In exchange, the Iranian government asked the US government to foreswear regime change, abolish sanctions, crack down on the terrorist group MEK and allow Iran to develop peaceful nuclear technology.

"What the Iranians offered in 2003 was nothing short of a Nixon-in-China breakthrough in US-Iranian relations," said Flynt Leverett, the Bush Administration's former top official on Middle East policy at the National Security Council, at a conference on Iran sponsored by the New America Foundation today. "The Bush Administration, for its own reasons, rejected it."

According to Leverett, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell said he "couldn't sell it at the White House." Added Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell's top deputy: "I doubt Powell thought he had the power or political capitol" to take on Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, who opposed negotiations with Iran.

Then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice could have pushed President Bush to begin talks with Iran. But Rice did nothing--and now claims she never saw the memo. "I just don't remember ever seeing any such thing," she told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week.

Leverett says Rice is lying. She's acknowledged the existence of the Iranian offer in previous interviews and discussed it with him personally. "She owes Congress an apology for saying she has never seen that document," he says.

Both Leverett and Wilkerson stressed that it is not to late to begin negotiating with Iran, as the Baker-Hamilton Commission and countless other foreign policy experts have urged. "If the Administration comes to its senses, it's still possible to put US-Iranian relations on a more positive trajectory," says Leverett.

That means favoring diplomacy over sanctions, unproven accusations and threats of military action. It's up to Congress to keep the Administration honest. The House Foreign Affairs Committee should invite Rice back and ask her why she can't keep her facts straight.

Libby Trial: No Scooter, No Cheney

The news in the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby perjury trial on Tuesday came as court was shutting down because of a slight snowfall in Washington: neither the defendant nor his onetime boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, will testify in the case. Ted Wells, Libby's lead lawyer, told federal district court Judge Reggie Walton in the afternoon that Team Libby had released Cheney as a potential witness and that Wells had recommended to Libby that they rest their case after the defense calls three minor witnesses on Wednesday (if the judge rules they can appear) and perhaps brings back Meet the Press host Tim Russert. Judge Walton asked Libby if he had accepted his lawyer's advice and did waive his right to testify. Libby stood up in court and replied, "Yes, sir."

The trial will end with a whimper, not a bang. The jurors will not hear the defendant defend his statements to the FBI and the grand jury that investigated the leak that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer. They will not hear him claim that he honestly misremembered facts or that his recollections (as opposed to those of all the prosecution witnesses) are accurate. They will not hear Libby maintain that he was the victim of a--take-your-pick--CIA plot, State Department plot, White House plot or NBC News plot (as Wells has variously suggested throughout the trial). They will not hear Cheney vouch for the integrity of the man whom he recently called "one of the most honest men I've ever met."

Libby's attorneys will argue Libby's innocence (or lack of guilt) by attacking the credibility of Fitzgerald's witnesses, by suggesting Libby was too busy to recall accurately such a minor matter as Valerie Wilson's CIA employment, by maintaining that Libby might have done no worse than confused a couple of phone calls, by contending that because Libby did not leak information on Valerie Wilson to some of the reporters he spoke with, he did not leak it to Judith Miller, then of the New York Times, and Matt Cooper, then of Time.

With the decision not to testify, Libby spares himself the obligation of explaining the convoluted explanation he provided the FBI and grand jury. He told the investigators that although Cheney in early June 2003 had told him that Valerie Wilson worked at the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA, he (Libby) totally forgot this and then on July 11 learned it "anew" when Russert said to him that "all the reporters" knew that Wilson's wife was a CIA employee. In Libby's telling, Russert conversation had not reminded him of what Cheney previously told him. Libby essentially claimed he had been struck by total amnesia on this one fact. This was an important point because Libby asserted that when he spoke to Miller and Cooper on July 12, 2003, and mentioned Valerie Wilson and her CIA connection, he was only passing along gossip he had received from Russert--not official (and classified) information he had obtained from Cheney.

Moreover, Libby told the grand jurors that he didn't even know at the time of the leak that Wilson had a wife. Yet Fitzgerald has presented several past and present government officials who testified that in the weeks before the leak they provided official information about Wilson's wife to Libby. And former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testified that Libby had told him about Wilson's wife a week before the leak became public in Robert Novak's July 14, 2003 column.

How could Libby clarify his FBI and grand jury statements? How could he have testified that he hadn't even known Wilson had a wife? Well, now he won't have to explain. When his lawyers present their closing argument, they will attack the credibility and memory of each prosecution witness and toss out evidence-free speculation about what was really happening behind the scenes regarding the CIA leak--all to confuse, or raise a reasonable doubt. Wells also has suggested he might argue that Russert--contrary to Russert's testimony--did know about Wilson's wife and might have indeed shared this tidbit with Libby.

Cheney is off the hook, too. At the start of the trial, the defense raised the dramatic prospect of the vice president on the stand, but such a move always was problematic. Would Cheney have any credibility as a witness? ("You can trust me: Scooter was so busy helping me run the Iraq war that he failed to testify accurately.") And could Cheney withstand a cross-examination from Fitzgerald, who might have been able to ask Cheney about Cheney's own efforts to gather information on Joseph and Valerie Wilson and to question him about the curious conversations that occurred when Cheney (according to Libby) told Libby that Libby did not have to inform Cheney about Libby's full involvement in the leak episode.

The trial jurors spent three days listening to audio tapes of Libby's grand jury testimony and hearing (in Libby's own voice) what Fitzgerald has claimed to be lies. Many on the jury would probably prefer to hear directly from Libby. Yet his lawyers have concluded that the vice president's former chief of staff cannot be a strong witness in his own defense. It's his right not to testify. And defense attorneys routinely keep clients off the stand. Nevertheless, Libby's decision to remain mute and not submit himself to cross-examination is not without symbolic content.

Before Wells announced that Libby and Cheney would not testify, Libby's defense called to the stand John Hannah, who succeeded Libby as Cheney's national security adviser. And the following exchange--paraphrased because a transcript is not yet available--occurred:

Q: How would you evaluate Scooter Libby's memory?

A: On certain things, Scooter just had an awful memory. There were times too many to count when in the morning we would discuss policy issues, analyses and recommendations and then later in the day he would repeat back to me the same analyses and recommendations and have no idea I had mentioned them to him.

Libby's lawyers and his out-of-court defenders have long suggested that Libby's statements to the FBI and the grand jury were not deliberately deceptive (as Fitzgerald has charged) but merely the result of imperfect recollections held by a fellow consumed with pressing national security matters. Consequently, it was odd that when Libby's attorneys finally had the chance to present a witness who could back up this explanation, there was little punch to the memory defense. Hannah, who was one of Libby's deputies on national security issues at the time of the CIA leak, said little to support his assertion that Libby's memory was occasionally "awful" other than to depict an apparently routine scenario that made it seem like his boss was stealing his ideas.

Hannah was more persuasive on the other front: that Libby was a damn busy man. Under the careful prompting of John Cline, a Libby lawyer, Hannah described Libby's usual day when he was Cheney's Cheney. Libby had to manage a "very heavy" information flow, with memos and material coming to him from ten to twelve special advisers on national security in the vice president's office. He had several person-sized safes filled top to bottom with classified material. He had to prepare for meetings with other government officials and foreign officials; he had to prepare Cheney for meetings with other government officials and foreign officials. His work days began with an early morning intelligence briefing with Cheney and typically did not conclude until 8:00 or 9:00 at night. The job was challenging, Hannah said.

And there were so many weighty affairs of state for Libby to process. Cline walked Hannah through a list of topics previously cleared for public discussion by Judge Walton and government agencies, and he asked Hannah if each subject had been a matter of concern for Libby during the period of May 2003 to March 2004 (from when the Wilson affair started until Libby testified to the grand jury). Was Libby fretting about the proper role and size of Iraqi security forces in post-invasion Iraq and the composition of the government there? Yes, Hannah said: "It was a very important issue for us." Was he worried that the plans of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad for the buildup of the Iraqi police and security forces were insufficient? "Sounds right," Hannah replied. He noted that Libby was a "leader" in the effort to create more robust security plans for Iraq.

Libby was occupied with far more than Iraq, Hannah noted in response to Cline's questions. In June and July 2003, he was monitoring student protests in Iran and Iran's detention and possible harboring of al Qaeda suspects. Not to mention Tehran's nuclear ambitions. He was tracking developments in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Most important, he was doing what he could to defend the United States against al Qaeda and terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction. Hannah said that senior administration officials, including Libby, were "concerned" that al Qaeda was developing biological weapons and pursuing nuclear weapons. Libby believed, Hannah said, that the US government's contingency plans to defend against WMD attacks were inadequate, and Libby pressed for more action. Libby, according to Hannah, was also deeply immersed in crafting the administration's responses to two foreign policy crises: the arrest of Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq and the rise of unrest in Liberia.

Libby, Hannah testified, managed all these knotty national security matters while serving as Cheney's chief of staff and handling domestic policy issues as well. After Hannah left the stand, Cline told the judge, "We want to paint a picture of a person who was overloaded, who was overwhelmed, who had a full plate."

Fitzgerald's questioning of Hannah was brief. If Cheney's integrity regarding the rationale for the Iraq war was publicly challenged, the prosecutor asked, would it have been important for Libby to respond? "It would be important to push back on those kinds" of attacks," Hannah answered. And, Fitzgerald asked, during the second week in July 2003, when Libby was burdened with the Turkey and Liberia crises and all else that Hannah had mentioned, would it have been easy for Hannah to have had a morning coffee with Libby for an hour to discuss these issues? "It would be harder," Hannah responded. It was obvious what Fitzgerald had in mind: on July 8, 2003, Libby held a morning meeting lasting over an hour with Judith Miller, during which he shared with her White House arguments to back up the administration's case for war and (according to Miller) told her that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. In other words, Libby was not too busy protecting America from terrorists that morning to chat confidentially with a reporter who could help him and Cheney conduct damage control.

The too-swamped-with-saving-the-world argument has other problems. In his grand jury testimony, Libby described how he spent considerable time dealing with the Wilson imbroglio and the controversy concerning the administration's prewar use of the allegation that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger. And a CIA briefer testified earlier in the trial that Libby had met with actor Tom Cruise in June 2003 to discuss Germany's treatment of Scientologists. So Fitzgerald can argue that no matter how overwhelmed Libby was by the big stuff he still found time to fight back on the Wilson matter and talk about Scientology with a Hollywood star.

Closing arguments are now scheduled for Tuesday. Fitzgerald will sum up his narrow case: Libby told investigators he knew nothing certain or official about Wilson's wife at the time of the leak and only shared scuttlebutt with reporters, but the testimony of three journalists and five past and present government officials disputes that. Wells will do all he can to slice and dice the witnesses. He will likely suggest--but not prove--alternative narratives that cast Libby as a victim or bystander. He will not rely on what Libby or Cheney could have told the jury. The two apparently have not much to say that can help Libby.

******

DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Conditioning the Funds

The House today begins debate on a simple two paragraph non-binding resolution [pdf] opposing President Bush's escalation in Iraq. After the speeches this week, the real work of combing through the Bush Administration's budget begins.

Reports the Washington Post:

Waiting in the wings is binding legislation that would fully fund Bush's $100 billion request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but add four conditions: Soldiers and Marines could be deployed to Iraq only after being certified as fully trained and equipped. National Guardsmen and reservists could be subject to no more than two deployments, or roughly 12 months of combat duty. The administration could use none of the money for permanent bases in Iraq. And additional funding for the National Guard and reserves must be spent to retool operations at home, such as emergency response.

At this stage, Jack Murtha's Defense Appropriations Subcommittee won't cut off funding for the war. But the conditions Murtha is proposing will make it very difficult for Bush to keep troops in Iraq for an indefinite period of time.

Is Obama's Race a Factor in Howard's Attack?

Why would Australian Prime Minister John Howard separate out Barack Obama from all of the other contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination -- and from all the prominent Democratic and Republican critics of President Bush's dangerous foreign policies -- for attack as the favorite son of the terrorists?

Why would Howard, suggest that the Illinois senator's candidacy will"encourage those who wanted completely to destabilize and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and victory for the terrorists to hang on and hope for an Obama victory"?

What was Howard thinking when he claimed in an interview on Australiantelevision that: "If I was running al Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats"?

Is Howard, arguably the truest believer in the Iraq War this side of Dick Cheney, so supportive of the Bush administration that he is ready to attack anyone who challenges the president? No, that's not the case. In fact, Howard has in recent days gone out of his way to tell Australians that he did not intend to "generically" criticize American Democrats; rather, he clarified, he was specifically attacking Obama. "I don't apologise for criticising Senator Obama's observation because I thought what he said was wrong," explained Howard.

But Howard, a savvy student of US politics, is unquestionably aware that many prominent Democrats -- including figures such as John Kerry, Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, who are far better known in Australia than Obama -- have criticized both the war in Iraq, which Howard continues to support unquestioningly, and the general approach of the Bush Administration to the so-called "war on terror."

So why the full-force assault on Obama, who has gained more global attention because he might be the first black presient of the United States than because of his stance on the Iraq War?

Perhaps some comments from a 2005 debate in the upper house of the parliament of the Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, will clear things up. After racial violence erupted in several suburbs of Sydney in the fall of that year, Howard dismissed concerns about the motivations behind the violence, despite reports that they had been provoked at least in part by neo-Nazis who targeted immigrants and people of color. "Every country has incidents that don't play well overseas," mused Howard, whose response provoked outrage on the part of civil rights campaigners in Sydney and the rest of Australia.

That outrage led to a parliamentary debate on the subject of "Racism and Prime Minister John Howard."

During the debate, Sylvia Hale, a representative from the Sydney area, explained that, "Racism has preoccupied this House and the community over the past week. It is pertinent now to re-examine the Prime Minister's contribution to the rise of racism in this country. John Howard's primary political strategy has been to divide and rule this nation. He has consistently pitted one section of the community against the other, whether it be wharfies, Aborigines, the unemployed, refugees, academics, welfare recipients or tradeunionists. By identifying a minority and telling the majority that they should fear and loathe it because it is a threat to the way of life of the majority, the Prime Minister has had electoral success, but he has also created the social division that we all now confront."

"Undoubtedly," Hale continued, "the most destructive aspect of the strategy has been his pandering to the fearful, racist element in the Australian community. John Howard consistently denies that he does so but, as in so many other matters, when you examine the facts you see that the Prime Minister does not speak the truth. Examine his record and his message becomes clear. During his first term as Opposition leader, John Howard saw potential electoral advantage in playing racial politics. His comments in July 1988 promising a reduction in Asian immigration if he became Prime Minister established his credentials as a politician willing to play the race card if he thought it would win him votes. He was widely condemned forthose comments and forced to withdraw them, but the lesson he learned was not that this sort of politics is destructive and wrong. Rather, he learned that his appeal to racism had to be more subtle."

When a supporter of the prime minister interrupted Hale with a point of order that attempted to shut her up, she was ruled to be entirely in order. Hale finished by explaining that, "I am accusing the Prime Minister of fostering a situation where racist tensions can increase."

It was hardly the first time that Howard faced such withering criticism. Howard came to prominence in Australia as a outspoken critic of multiculturalism and moves to respect and foster diversity. In the 198Os, he pointedly criticized moves to challenge South Africa's apartheid system. In the 199Os, he stirred anti-immigrant sentiment, taking stands that would make US "border wars" politicians like Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo wince. The Bangkok Post observed at the time that, "Australian Prime Minister John Howard may moan and whine about how he personally abhors racism, as he did this week, but few people will believe him."

Australian author and political commentator Greg Barns described Howard's 2001 attacks on refugees, as a "racist outburst" that came as part of "a disgraceful campaign of the Howard Government in 2001 to demonise the wretched and the weak who sought sanctuary on our shores."

Concerns about Howard's penchant for exploiting and exascerbating racial divisions for political purposes are so widespread in Australia that it the issue was the topic of a well-reviewed book by one of the nation's most prominent academics -- Race: John Howard and the Remaking of Australian Politics, by Andrew Markus, a former head of the School of Historical Studies at Australia's MonashUniversity, where he currently directs the Australian Centre for the Study of Jewish Civilisation. The premise of Markus' bookis that racial issues have become disturbingly prominent in Australian public life during the Howard years.

Now, with his over-the-top attempt to associate Obama with terrorism, Howard has turned his attention to public life in the United States. Of course, John Howard will deny that Obama's race was a factor in his decision to loudly and aggressively attack just one of more than a dozen Democrats who are actively campaigning or considering a presidential run -- most of whom are war critics.

But, as Sylvia Hale suggested with regard to the prime minister: "Examine his record and his message becomes clear."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

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.'"

Show Her the Money

I've never met Drew Gilpin Faust, the new president of Harvard, and I confess to being unfamiliar with her work. But from what I've read about her, it sounds like Harvard made an admirable choice. A self-described "rebel," Professor Faust marched for civil rights, against the Vietnam War and refused the "scratchy organdy dresses" that marked the "man's world" of the South. As a nine-year old she wrote President Eisenhower a letter pleading for desegregation (Lisa Simpson would be proud!). As a tenured full professor and a noted scholar of the Civil War, she pointed to some of the deeply irrational, but deeply felt, popular appeals of the Iraq War (see Jon Weiner).

Given Larry Summer's bonehead remarks about women's genetic inferiority, Professor Faust's ascendency makes for compelling feminist symbolism. As many reporters cheerily observed, half of all Ivy League presidents are now women.

But hold the parade. For if Professor Faust's career were typical of women in the academy, she'd be making only 81% of what her male colleagues do. According to the latest AAUP report on gender equity (by Martha West and John Curtis), not only do women as a class earn less than men in the academy, they are less likely to be hired for full-time positions, less likely to be granted tenure and less likely to be promoted to full professor. They are, however, more likely to hold the non-tenure track, lousy pay, high workload jobs that have come to dominate the academy in recent years.

All of these disparities contribute to the stunning 19% salary gap between male and female faculty, which West and Curtis note "has remained virtually unchanged" since the late '70s despite that fact that women are getting PhDs in record numbers. Maybe Larry Summers can find a "genetic" explanation for this inequality. Savvier anti-feminists will say that women "opt out" of higher-paying, tenure track, research-oriented jobs. In my years in the academy, I've never met a woman (or man) who "opted" to teach 4-5 classes a semester at adjunct wages with no job security and minimal benefits. But even when one controls for variables like institution type, discipline, tenure, rank, degree, age etc., the AAUP notes a persistent, "unexplained" salary gap of several percentage points between women and men.

Conventional wisdom and history say that the President of Harvard has the capacity to act as a voice for justice beyond the confines of the Yard. In this case, let's hope that's true and that Professor Faust remains outspoken about war abroad and committed to women's equality at home.

Libby Trial: What Scooter Didn't Do

Scooter Libby didn't tell Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Libby didn't tell Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that she was employed at the CIA. Libby didn't tell New York Times reporter David Sanger the envoy's wife was CIA. Libby didn't tell Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post anything about her. And he said nothing to rightwing columnist Robert Novak about the woman.

That's how the defense in the perjury trial of I. Lewis" Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, began its case on Monday. The aim was to show that Libby was not willy-nilly spreading information to reporters about Valerie Wilson and her CIA employment in the weeks before she was outed as a CIA officer by Novak's July 14, 2003 column. Libby stands accused of having lied to a grand jury and the FBI when he told both that he had not passed official information regarding Valerie Wilson to reporter Judith Miller, then of The New York Times (during conversations on June 23, July 8 and July 12, 2003) and correspondent Matt Cooper, then of Time (during a phone call on July 12, 2003). With the testimony of the journalists who appeared on Monday, Libby's lawyers will be able to argue to the jurors that if Libby was purposefully leaking information on Valerie Wilson, he sure let plenty of opportunities pass him by.

The defense also elicited testimony from two reporters who each said he had been told about Wilson's wife (before the Novak leak) by an administration official other than Libby. Pincus testified that on July 12 Ari Fleischer, then the White House press secretary, said to him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and had sent her husband on a boondoggle. (Pincus had previously disclosed that an administration source made such a remark to him without identifying the source.) And Woodward testified that on June 13 he met with then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who told him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and had been involved with the trip Joseph Wilson had taken to Niger for the CIA to check out the allegation that Iraq had sought uranium there. (The day before Woodward saw Armitage, Pincus had reported on the trip in the Post without naming Wilson).

Libby's lawyers merged these two key points--Libby had not leaked to these reporters while other officials had leaked--and composed a timeline in front of the jury that listed Libby's conversations with Pincus, Woodward, Sanger, Kessler, and Novak and Armitage's conversations with Woodward and Novak and Fleischer's with Pincus. The Libby conversations were noted in black ink. (Black meant no mention of WIlson's wife). The other three were in red. (Red meant Wilson's wife was mentioned.) Voila! The only conversations on the chart involving Valerie Wilson were those between reporters and Bush administration officials besides Libby.

Libby is in legal trouble because in 2003 and 2004 he told the FBI and the grand jury investigating the CIA leak that when he discussed Wilson's wife with Cooper and Miller, he was merely passing along gossip he had picked up from Meet the Press host Tim Russert--not official information gathered from government sources. Fitzgerald has presented witnesses who have testified that Libby did seek and obtain classified information on Valerie Wilson's CIA employment from Cheney and CIA and State Department officials and then leaked it to Miller and Cooper.

During the prosecution's case, Libby's attorneys attempted to impeach the credibility of these witnesses--and suggested several conspiracy theories that they have yet to support with evidence. Now that it's their turn, Libby's lawyers began with a contextual argument: look at all the times he didn't leak. But in Washington not every leak is an equal opportunity leak handed out to all comers. A leak often can be selective. During his grand jury testimony--which was played for the trial jurors--Libby explained how he had been tasked by Cheney (with George W. Bush's approval) to leak selectively to Miller excerpts from the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (which the White House believed supported its case for war). Libby also told the grand jurors how he worked with then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to leak portions of the NIE to The Wall Street Journal--not to every reporter with whom he would come into contact.

Libby's I-didn't-leak-to-these-other-reporters argument has additional problems. When he didn't leak to Pincus, Woodward, and Sanger, the Wilson matter was not yet a firestorm. And some of these conversations did not concern the Wilson affair. Sanger testified that he had contacted Libby regarding Libby's role in Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5, 2003 presentation to the United Nations, during which Powell laid out a case for war based on false information. Is it fair to say your discussion with Libby did not involve allegations about Joseph Wilson? Fitzgerald asked Sanger. "That's fair to say," the reporter replied. And during the entire Sanger-Libby interview, Fitzgerald noted, Cathie Martin, Cheyenne's top press aide, was in the room. The prosecutor was suggesting it would be unlikely for Libby to leak classified information about Valerie Wilson to a reporter chasing another story while a press aide was watching. And Glenn Kessler of the Post testified that his phone conversation with Libby came about because he was helping a colleague at the paper gather answers to questions related to postwar planning. Kessler's phone call with Libby did not cover the Wilson trip.

Some of the testimony from the reporters did not enhance Libby's credibility. According to Pincus, Libby told him that Wilson's trip to Niger had been sparked by a question about the Niger allegation raised by an aide to the vice president. But the CIA had dispatched Wilson to Africa after Cheney himself asked about the NIger allegation. In talking to Pincus, Libby was dissembling to keep the boss out of the picture.

When Novak testified, he noted that on July 8, 2003, shortly after Armitage told him that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA, he (Novak) called Libby--and Novak's phone records support this. Libby returned the call that day or the next, according to Novak, and the two discussed the ongoing controversy concerning Bush's use of the Niger allegation in his 2003 State of the Union trip. Novak told the court that he might have asked Libby about Wilson's wife during this conversation but had no recollection of doing so. Yet during his grand jury testimony, Libby denied talking to Novak in this period. Libby claimed he had not had any conversation with Novak at "any time near" Novak's July 14, 2003 leak column--noting he had spoken to Novak "maybe a year and a half" before that article and then a "week and a half or so" after the column came out. Why then does Novak clearly recall a conversation with Libby at that time? This conflict in recollection was not addressed by the prosecution and the defense.

Through the day, the testimony of the notable journalists yielded several news nuggets. Fleischer was revealed to be more of a leaker than previously disclosed. (When he testified as a prosecution witness, Fleischer admitted to leaking to NBC News reporter David Gregory and John Dickerson, then of Time--though Dickerson's emails from the time show Fleischer did not tell him about Wilson's wife.) And Novak confirmed that Karl Rove, the Bush administration's top strategist, was the second source for his column blowing Valerie Wilson's cover. On the stand, Novak noted that at the time of the leak Rove was a "good source" with whom he spoke to two or three times a week. He said that he and Rove had a "modus operandi" in which Rove would quickly confirm or deny information Novak possessed without Novak "getting into a long dissertation"--and that Rove confirmed the information leaked to Novak by Armitage. Anyone remember the White House vow made by then-press secretary Scott McClellan in fall 2003 that any White House official involved in the leak would be booted out of the Bush administration? Confirming a leak is certainly involvement. Rove, though, still works at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. (Tony Snow, care to comment?)

On the stand, Novak also said that he shared a draft of his leak column three days before it was published with a good friend and Republican lobbyist named Richard Hohlt. (Hohlt has represented BMW, JP Morgan Chase, SBC Communications, the Nuclear Energy Institute, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Northwest Airlines, and other corporate clients.) Novak testified that he had a "vague recollection" that Hohlt that day told the White House that a "very interesting" piece would be coming out. This seemed curious: Novak slipping a column to a GOP lobbyist who then immediately provided a head's up to the White House. But nothing else about this episode was disclosed.

When Woodward was on the stand, the prosecution introduced as evidence an audio clip of two minutes from Woodward's taped June 13 interview with Armitage. This was the first time--as far as the public record goes--that a Bush administration official told a reporter that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA. (Woodward did not report the information.) Armitage, according to a transcript of this exchange, showed Woodward a classified memo noting that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA as a WMD analyst. (The memo had it wrong; Valerie Wilson was operations chief for the Joint Task Force on Iraq of the Counterproliferation Division in the agency's clandestine operations directorate.) "His wife is in the agency....," said Armitage, who is well-known for his use of salty language. "How about that [expletive deleted]." (The transcript introduced in court redacted Armitage's salt.)

With Monday's testimony, the defense took a stab at providing a behavioral alibi for Libby. He didn't leak here, so he didn't leak there. It's unclear what the rest of the defense is going to cover. Libby's lawyers have said they expect to call Jill Abramson of The New York Times (supposedly to impeach Judith Miller's earlier testimony) and NBC News' Andrea Mitchell (supposedly to impeach Russert's earlier testimony). Libby's attorney have also mentioned bringing to the stand former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow and John Hannah, Cheney's current national security adviser. Hannah would presumably testify as to how busy Libby was with national security leaks at the time of the Valerie Wilson leak. His lawyers could then argue that Libby cannot be expected to remember accurately such minor business as the leak.

The defense has not yet declared whether it will call Cheney or Libby as witnesses. And the defense and prosecution have been squabbling over what evidence could be introduced should Libby not testify. Libby's lawyers began their case with a side issue: what Libby didn't say to other reporters. They have yet to disclose all that will follow.

******

DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes Hubris "is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

Note to Schumer: What About George Bailey?

In his new book, Positively American: Winning Back the American Middle Class One Family at a Time, Senator Charles Schumer reveals the imaginary constituents that have long informed his political career: Joe and Eileen Bailey. The Baileys live in a suburb of Long Island with their three kids, they both work, and they earn about $75,000 annually. They worry about terrorism, health care, property taxes, college tuition, outsourcing, elderly care and retirement. They believe in charity but also that "people who work hard and play by the rules will do fine in America.... They don't follow politics particularly closely and are not ideological, but they always vote.... In 2006, they crossed back to the Democratic side for the first time in years." Schumer says that the Baileys are in towns across the nation, with different names and backgrounds, but common interests and the feeling that the government too often focuses on the "very rich or very poor" while overlooking their needs.

Schumer says he wrote this book because he believes that in 2008 a long-term majority is there for the taking, and that only by creating a platform that appeals to the Baileys will the Democrats be successful in doing that. He offers a plan that he calls " The 50% Solution," which he says is "our kitchen table compact" with "all the Baileys in America." It includes some smart ideas such as tripling federal education spending and putting an end to an inequitable system that relies on property taxes to fund our public schools; committing $10 billion a year "to create a Manhattan Project for new energy"; guaranteeing all Americans access to early-detection screenings for high-risk cancers (though Schumer tellingly avoids proposing universal health care other than to write that it's "a Democratic worldview, but it doesn't tie to a specific policy that we are ready to implement"); and restoring Pell Grants and federal loans and adjusting them as average tuition costs increase in the future.

Schumer describes this moment as one when Democrats need to be "clearer, bolder, broader." But ironically, while many of the new Senate leaders Schumer helped to elect as Chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee--like Sherrod Brown, Jim Webb, and Jon Tester--are all speaking in bold populist terms that capture a growing majority of Americans' frustration with the free trade/corporate agenda, Schumer has been promoting a go-slow approach that might tamp down the very boldness he claims to stand for in Positively American. Indeed, at a recent book discussion in Washington, DC, Schumer said that he believes presidential candidate John Edwards' populist stance on trade is "a mistake" politically and policy-wise.

As I read this book, I repeatedly thought of another fictitious, decidedly middle-class Bailey: the great American icon George Bailey, of Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life. I would imagine that Schumer's Baileys--like most Americans--love George Bailey. And why do we love him (aside from Jimmy Stewart's charm, charisma, good looks, etc.)? Because George Bailey fights and sacrifices for the welfare of ordinary Americans. He is dedicated to keeping the Potters of the world from buying influence and taking over people's lives, neighborhoods and communities.

In Positively American, Senator Schumer would do well to extend his circle of imaginary constituents to include one more Bailey.