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Why We Fight

The twin headlines on the front page of the Washington Post today, "Gonzales Defends Surveillance," and "Bush's Budget Bolsters Pentagon," made me think of Eugene Jarecki's stirring documentary about the military-industrial complex, Why We Fight.

Jarecki not only provides a historical overview of an arms buildup that dates back to President Eisenhower--who warned of the military establishment's "acquisition of unwarranted influence"--he shows how a lack of opportunities at home helps drive enlistment for foreign interventions abroad. Bush's appalling new budget will only exacerbate this trend by starving domestic programs, cutting taxes and boosting defense spending to a record $439.3 billion at a time of ever-increasing deficits. Defense spending has grown by 45 percent since Bush took office, accounting for more than half of all government programs. And that doesn't include the $120 billion needed this year to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What has over half a trillion dollars bought in terms of America's security? Shoddy intelligence, quagmire in Iraq and a nucular (née nuclear) Iran? Bin Laden's still alive and Hamas is running Palestine.

Democrats (and a few sensible Republicans) are rightfully incensed about Bush's proposed spending and tax cuts. "More deficits, more debt, and more denial," said John Spratt, ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. But these criticisms contain nary a peep about the size and scope of America's bloated and wasteful military budgets. Out in Abilene, Kansas, General Eisenhower is rolling over in his grave.

Going Postal

Did you see last week's horrifying stories about the shootings at the Southern California mail distribution center? A 44 year old woman shot three employees in a parking lot, and three more inside the postal building, and then turned the gun on herself. Experts in workplace killings have called it the nation's deadliest act of workplace violence ever committed by a woman.

For those who track such things, workplace violence by postal workers was more frequent in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, it brought a new phrase into the American vocabulary: "going postal."For those who want to go beyond the headlines and understand the roots of this phenomenon, I recommend Mark Ames' Going Postal: Murder and Rebellion from Reagan's Workplace to Clinton Columbine and Beyond (Soft Skull Press, 2005). The book places so-called "rage murders" in the American workplace and schoolyards in the context of the brutal socio-economic changes following the Reagan Revolution. Ames ties together a massive shift of wealth over the past 25 years--from the lower and middle classes to the wealthy--as well as the change in corporate culture in which companies have squeezed their workers dry for more hours of work at less pay, with less health care and ravaged pensions. He dissects a workforce that has faced massive layoffs, and workers who find themselves scraping by while their bosses live like kings. Ames never excuses, but he does try to understand why we've seen such brutality in the workplace.

This is grim reading --especially in these bleak times-- but as The Toronto Eye Weekly puts it, Ames "writes like a breezy, barroom Foucault while building an alternative history of 'the office' andGoing Postal is audacious, necessary reading...though perhaps not while transiting to work."

Disclosure: Ames is a friend who, with the inimitable Matt Taibbi--now a regular writer at Rolling Stone--co-founded the eXile, an incendiary English-language Moscow-based newspaper. He tells me that the strangest, positive review he received was in Forbes.

Check out Going Postal.

Lieberman's Lapdog Act Not Playing Well

It is no secret that Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman is President Bush's favorite Democrat. With his see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, admit-no-evil defense of the administration's frequent betrayals of public trust before the U.S. invaded Iraq, with his refusal to recognize that the occupation of that country has degenerated into disaster, and with his regular repetition of neoconservative spin on every foreign-policy concern that arises, the man Democrats nominated for vice president in 2000 is a more loyal ally of the president than are many Republicans.

But Lieberman's lapdog act is not playing well in his home state, where grassroots Democrats are furious about the fact that their senator is propping up a failed Republican president. "I think it is one thing to be an independent thinker. It's another thing to be a Democratic senator who is acting as a lobbyist for King George and his Chancellor Cheney," Dorothy Brindamour of Manchester told a meeting of Democrats that gathered last month to take the senator to task.

Since the start of the year, Democratic town committees in two communities have officially chastised Lieberman for providing bipartisan cover for Bush's policies. Town committees are the backbone of Democratic political activism in Connecticut, and these rebukes of Lieberman -- an embarrassing development in a year when he is seeking reelection -- are making 2006 a more contentious year than anyone had expected for the veteran pol.

In January, Democrats in Manchester overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution that declared: "We, the Manchester Democratic Town Committee, do not believe that Sen. Joseph Lieberman is acting in the best interest of the American public or the Democratic Party by supporting President Bush in the handling of the Iraq conflict."

The resolution, which questioned whether Lieberman "fully appreciates the human cost of war" and expressed concern that the Iraq war has "served to galvanize the Arab world against the United States," was blunt in its demand.

"We respectfully ask Sen. Lieberman to reconsider his unconditional support of President Bush," the committee announced.

The censure of Lieberman by Manchester Democrats has now been echoed by the Windsor Democratic Town Committee, which on February 2 voted 34-2 for a resolution expressing frustration with Lieberman's support of the Bush administration in general and his support of the war in particular.

"My goal is to seek a pattern -- a groundswell -- of Democratic town committee motions in Connecticut that will really get the senator's attention," explained Len Swade, a committee member in Windsor, who sponsored the resolution there.

Lieberman does seem to be paying attention. His aides have been trying to promote him as a progressive in communications to town committee members that note the senator's support for abortion rights and environmental protection. And Lieberman has volunteered to discuss the issue of the war with his critics on key town committees.

None of this means that Lieberman is preparing to change his position. But it does suggest that he is feeling the heat in an election year when he might yet face an anti-war foe in his Democratic primary or a general election challenge from Lowell Weicker, a former Connecticut senator and governor, who has entertained the prospect of challenging Lieberman as an anti-war independent.

"Stuff Happens" Rumsfeld Comes to NY

On February 17th, Secretary of Defense Donald "Stuff Happens" Rumsfeld will visit the Council on Foreign Relations, the citadel of America's foreign-policy establishment. The topic of his talk is one Terry Southern, father of "Dr Strangelove," could have devised: "New Realities in the Media Age." (The meeting starts at 12:15 and the Council is located at 58 East 68th Street in Manhattan.)

Whose "new realities" will Rumsfeld talk about? The realities of a White House in which a key aide told a reporter that this Administration has scorn for the "reality-based community"? ("We're an empire," the aide told the reporter, "and when we act, we create our own reality.")

Maybe Rumsfeld will tell us how the "new reality" foreign policy is devised by a "cabal" in this White House--a "cabal" which, according to Colonel Lawrence Wilkinson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's top assistant, has hijacked our foreign policy. Or perhaps he'll explain the "new realities" of the worldview held by Vice-President Cheney, Rumsfeld and a handful of top staffers, including the indicted Scooter Libby, which has led us into a disastrous war, set the stage for torture at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, and encouraged the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame?

Will Rumsfeld explain that the "new" reality necessitates lethal arrogance, incompetence and mendacity in taking America into an unnecessary and immoral war? Will he tell the audience that in "new-reality" speak "supporting the troops" means praising Bush and Rumsfeld when they send our young men and women off to die for a lie without proper and, in some cases, defective body and tank armor?

Will Rumsfeld defend the Bush team's "new reality" in this media age for the way it hides the coffins, the rehab wards and the force-readiness statistics to protect itself from bipartisan criticism of its mismanagement? Do "new realities" prescribe that a Defense Secretary dismissively reject warnings by a Pentagon-sponsored study documenting that the Iraq war risks "breaking" the Army? Does the "new reality" require the Joint Chiefs of Staff to waste their time writing letters to the Washington Post protesting a tough, reality-based Tom Toles cartoon (so as to cover their boss's backside), instead of seeking ways to end the maiming and killing of soldiers.

The Council on Foreign Relations, which has invited Rumsfeld to speak, is the same outfit which acceded to a White House demand that President Bush need not answer any questions when he appeared before its members in Washington, DC last December. By breaking tradition--every President who has appeared before it has engaged in Q&A with its members--the Council became a pawn in the White House's PR apparatus, serving a political propaganda objective rather than an educational purpose.

This time around, the Council will not make the same mistake. Rumsfeld will be questioned by members. (Disclosure: I am a member and I have my question(s) ready, and I know many other members who are eager to grill Rumsfeld. )

A key question any sane citizen must ask is why Rumsfeld hasn't resigned--or been fired? In April 2003, we ran a lead editorial, "Rumsfeld Must Go"--and since then John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Al Gore, Ralph Nader and MoveOn.org have joined us and millions of others in making the same demand.

While we know that George Bush is ultimately responsible for the catastrophe unfolding in Iraq, it is Rumsfeld who is the Cabinet member directly charged with planning and carrying on the war. His resignation should be only the beginning, not the end, of a full accounting of who was responsible for this disastrous war which former Reagan National Security Agency director William Odom has called "the greatest strategic disaster in US history."

Will Scooter Libby Graymail the CIA?

Will Scooter Libby, a neocon who helped orchestrate the war in Iraq, end up graymailing the US government?

That seems to be one of the strategies being considered by the lawyers defending Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, who was indicted by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in the CIA leak case for lying to FBI investigators and grand jurors to cover up his (and possibly Cheney's) participation in the outing of CIA officer Valerie Wilson (née Plame).

Graymail is a defense gambit not available to most criminal suspects. But years ago defense attorneys representing clients connected to the national security establishment--say, a former CIA employee gone bad--figured out a way to squeeze the government in order to win the case: Claim you need access to loads of classified information in order to mount a defense--more than might truly be necessary. Of course, the government is going to put up a fight. It may release some information--but not everything a thorough defense attorney will say is needed. The goal is to get the government to say no to the informant. Then the defense attorney can attempt to convince the judge that without access to this material he or she cannot put up an adequate defense. If the lawyer succeeds, it's case dismissed. In such situations, the defendant is essentially saying, Prosecute me and I'll blow whatever government secrets I can. Isn't that the act of a patriot?

Judges tend to dislike graymailers and shoot them down whenever possible. Still, Libby seems close to making this sort of push. Last week, his attorneys asked for access to ten months' worth of the President's Daily Brief, the highly classified report the President receives each morning from the CIA. (The Bush White House is ferociously possessive about PDBs and has refused to hand them over to Congressional investigations.) Libby's lawyers say that Libby "was immersed throughout the relevant period in urgent and sensitive matters, some literally matters of life and death" and that because of his involvement in "the constant rush of more pressing matters, any errors he made in his FBI interviews or grand jury testimony" were unintentional slips. Libby, a lawyer himself, has to realize that (a) Fitzgerald does not have it within his power to provide the requested PDBs and (b) the overly secretive, presidential-prerogative-is-us White House in which Libby served will never cough up nearly a year of PDBs. But in a display of chutzpah, Libby's attorneys said that Fitzgerald should obtain copies of the PDB from the CIA and Cheney's office and then turn them over to Libby's lawyers.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the Mother of All Downing Street Memos, the Super Bowl, and more.

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Libby's defense team also requested information proving that Valerie Wilson was a classified CIA employee (asserting that the classified nature of her employment at the CIA has not yet been established), and they demanded any CIA damage assessment of the Plame leak. A damage assessment is not the sort of material the agency would supply without a titanic fight. A damage assessment would presumably cover operations and activities the CIA does not want damaged any further by additional disclosure.

These requests seem part of a try-everything defense. How effective will it be for Libby to argue, I didn't tell the truth because I was really busy with affairs of state? (Perhaps Libby is trying to blaze a legal trail for others.) After all, according to Fitzgerald's indictment of Libby, he did not merely get the facts wrong once or twice. It happened in the course of several different interviews--during which Libby consistently told the same (cover?) story: He did not know that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA until reporters told him, and then he merely passed along this unconfirmed gossip to other reporters. Fitzgerald's indictment cites several instances in which Libby obtained or sought information on Valerie Wilson through official channels before he spoke to reporters about her. And the damage assessment issue is no slam-dunk for the defense. Can Libby's defense be that if there was not much damage, then it was okay for him to make false statements purposefully to the FBI and the grand jury?

But Libby may not stop at PDBs, the CIA damage assessment and information pertaining to Valerie Wilson. His lawyer said they might seek other classified records from the State Department, the National Security Council and the Office of the President. And last week, Ted Wells, one of Libby's attorneys, said that "thousands and thousands and thousands" of pages of evidence have been withheld by Fitzgerald. The special counsel disagreed. By the way, Fitzgerald recently sent a letter to Libby's defense team noting, "In an abundance of caution, we advise you that we have learned that not all e-mail of the Office of the Vice President and the Executive Office of the President for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system." Hmmmm. The White House has lost chunks of e-mail from Cheney's and Bush's offices for 2003, the year Bush invaded Iraq, the year of the CIA leak. Must just be an accident, right?

Meanwhile, on other fronts, Libby and the White House received good news and bad news. Libby and GOPers had reason to be pleased when Judge Reggie Walton set a trial date for next January--which would push the trial of Cheney's former chief of staff beyond the Congressional elections. Walton had originally wanted the trial--which could include the spectacle of Dick Cheney taking the stand--in September, but Libby's team asked to push it back, claiming one of his attorneys had a scheduling conflict. (Other good news for Libby and his legal warriors: A Libby defense fund, chaired by Mel Sembler, a former finance chairman of the Republican Party, has raised $2 million for Libby's legal bills. Members of the fund's steering committee include former GOP Senators Fred Thompson and Alan Simpson, former CIA director R. James Woolsey and former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross.)

The bad news for Libby and Republicans was the release of previously withheld court records that indicate the case against Libby may be stronger than Fitzgerald's indictment suggested. These records, referring to grand jury testimony, reveal more details of Libby's alleged lying to investigators and a grand jury. They also suggest that Cheney may play a significant role in the trial. In his grand jury testimony, Libby said that when news accounts of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger first emerged, it was Cheney who told Libby "in an off sort of curiosity sort of fashion" that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA's Counterproliferation Division, which is part of the agency's clandestine service. Libby's use of this clumsy term--an off sort of curiosity sort of fashion--is intriguing. Is it credible that when Cheney was talking to his chief of staff about a fellow who was telling reporters he could prove the Bush Administration had misled the nation about the case for war in Iraq that Cheney would do so in an offhand manner?

These newly released records disclose that former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer told Fitzgerald's grand jury that he had a lunch with Libby during which Libby told him that Wilson's wife did counterproliferation work at the CIA and that this information was "hush-hush." Fleischer described the lunch as "kind of weird." Usually, Libby "operated in a very closed-lip fashion," Fleischer said. But in this instance, it seems, he was trying to spread information that could be used against a White House critic.

The court records also show that Fitzgerald--despite what Libby's attorneys have claimed--have already demonstrated to the courts overseeing the case that Valerie Wilson was an undercover CIA officer. In a filing to the court, Fitzgerald reported that Valerie Wilson is "a person whose identity the CIA was making specific efforts to conceal and who had carried out covert work overseas within the last 5 years."

Libby is certainly not doing all he can to help Fitzgerald get to the bottom of the leak case, as Bush once ordered all White House aides to do. In fact, Libby is fighting back, as is his right, as hard as he can, and his friends are supportive--and perhaps grateful. After all, Libby is not rolling over on Cheney, Rove or anyone else. No wonder he was a welcomed guest at Cheney's Christmas party in December.

Boehner's Broken Promises

In his victory over Roy Blunt to replace Tom DeLay as House Majority Leader, John Boehner ran as the reformer. This weekend he hit the Sunday talk shows to explain just which reforms he had in mind.

Banning earmarks, as he promised to do during his campaign? "I don't know that it's appropriate to eliminate all of them," he told Tim Russert.

Banning privately-funded travel, as suggested by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert? "I've got my doubts about that."

Curtailing contact between lawmakers and lobbyists? "I've got a very open relationship with lobbyists in town."

Empowering the dormant House Ethics Committee? "I think the Ethics Committee process really, in fact, is back up, it's working. They know what the rules are, they interpret the rules."

Returning money from Jack Abramoff-related Indian tribes? "No. Those tribes gave money to my political action committee. It had nothing to do with Jack Abramoff...Some of his under--underlings worked with some low-level employees in my office."

Regaining the trust of the American people? On Fox News Sunday: "Taking actions to ban this and ban that, when there's no appearance of a problem, there's no foundation of a problem, I think, in fact, does not serve the institution well."

But enough about reform this and reform that. On to the other pressing issues Fox host Chris Wallace quizzed Boehner about:

 

WALLACE: I do have to ask you the one question that a lot of people asked me this week. How do you keep that tan?

 

 

BOEHNER: I was born dark, but I do like to play a little golf, and it's myescape from all of the pressures of my job.

 

Reformers yell fore!

Texas Judge Denounces New Bankruptcy Law

I received this email from my colleague Doug Henwood last week:

A bankruptcy judge in Texas, by all accounts a sober and respected fellow, wrote the attached opinion, denouncing the new bankruptcy law. As he puts it: Congress wasn't interested in theopinions of any experts in the field, because it had its own agenda, "to make more money off the backs of consumers." He also says that to call the Act a "consumer protection" Act is the "grossest ofmisnomers," and declared that "no rational human being could make a cogent argument" in the law's favor. Wow. Check it out.

Arnie's Favorite Double Dipper

To some California conservatives, she's no less than Satan. To Governor Schwarzenegger, she's his Chief of Staff and his favorite Democrat. To some reformers, she's the embodiment of a double dippin' conflict of interest.

Susan Kennedy is also a former top aide to Arnold's predecessor Gray Davis, a former director of the state's National Abortion Rights Action League and she's a high-profile lesbian who invited scads of pols to her 1999 commitment ceremony.

Whatever one thinks of Schwarzenegger, putting Kennedy in charge of his staff and now sending her out in public as his most aggressive campaigner for re-election has thrown everyone off-kilter. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, there will be a move at this month's state GOP convention by Republicans who despise Kennedy to withhold endorsement of Schwarzenegger. It's an unlikely bet but still sure to be messy.

On the other side of the spectrum, Kennedy draws fire from left-of-center reformers because of her brazen salary double dipping. She not only gets a state salary of more than $130,000 for her work as Chief of Staff, but will also be collecting an additional $75,000 from the Governor's re-election campaign funds. Schwarzenegger was elected in the 2003 recall on precisely the promise to do away with such funny-money political games. But this movie has taken a twist.

"What's amazing is that you've got a situation where Schwarzenegger has become worse than Gray Davis,'' said Doug Heller, who runs the ArnoldWatch Web site on behalf of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "It's almost like a Schwarzenegger movie where the hero kills the villain -- and takes over his personality.''

Hey, it's California politics. We're strange out here. Make sure to bookmark Bill Bradley's New West Notes to keep close track on All Things Arnold. And while you're at it, take a peek as well at my daily blog. The fight over the Governor's re-election is really heating up. And Bill and I will both be covering it.

Nipplegate's Legacy

Though it has only been two years since it made its live debut on national television, Janet Jackson's right nipple has already left an indelible mark on American society. Many thought that The Nipple's legacy would be limited to introducing the expression "wardrobe malfunction" to the English language, as well as the astonishing revelation that there exists a fashion accessory known as a "nipple shield." Thankfully, both inventions have failed to catch-on. Nonetheless, The Nipple's impact on culture and politics has been profound and deep.

First, ABC broadcast the entire Super Bowl tonight (pre-game, game, half-time show and post-game wrap-up) on a five-second tape delay. I'm not much of a football fan, but the idea seems to me a violation of the democratic ethos of sports and mass spectatorship. Now, the privileged few who are able to cough up the lowest ticket price of $600 will be living history, whereas the masses huddled over nachos in their living rooms will be merely watching history.

Second, in a nod to critics, Super Bowl planners booked the Rolling Stones for this year's half-time show. I am a huge Stones fan, and the apparent fact that Mick and Keith now constitute clean, family-fare is hugely disappointing.

Third, Nipplegate was exactly what social conservatives needed to ramp up the culture war on indecency. In its wake the Parents Television Council launched a campaign encouraging its constituents to flood the FCC with indecency complaints. The result: broadcasters were charged a record $7.9 million in fines in 2004 including $550,000 paid by CBS for Ms. Jackson's "nasty" exposure -- a mere flesh wound to corporate media, but perhaps a harbinger of things to come. The Christian Coalition vociferously lobbied Congress to pass legislation dramatically increasing indecency fines; the bill passed the House but has stalled in the Senate. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, head of the Commerce Committee, floated the idea of extending FCC jurisdiction to cable broadcasters. If he succeeds, you can kiss programs like "The Sopranos," "Sex in the City," "South Park" and "The Daily Show" goodbye. Finally, not content to harass the FCC from the outside, last year conservatives placed former Concerned Women of America board member and anti-porn activist Penny Nance in the FCC's Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis as a special adviser.

Last week Bush nominated telecommunications lawyer and lobbyist Robert McDowell to the FCC. If confirmed by the Senate, McDowell would restore the 3-2 Republican majority and re-ignite attempts to gut media ownership regulations. It doesn't appear that Bush was thinking of Janet Jackson's right nipple and the family-values crowd when he made this choice, but if the Senate takes the confirmation hearings seriously, McDowell should have to answer tough questions on both censorship and media consolidation.