It was a Super Tuesday for Democrats. Gubernatorial candidates Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) trounced their Republican counterparts, and California voters terminated all four of Arnold's initiatives. Buried beneath the headlines, however, was another crucial victory for the progressive movement: Maine became the sixth and final New England state to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The ballot measure in question--which was was backed by conservative religious groups--would have repealed an amendment to the Maine Human Rights Act passed earlier this year by the state legislature. Yet, 56 percent of Mainers voted to uphold the amendment, which protects gays, lesbians, transsexuals, and transvestites from discrimination in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and education.
For gay rights activists, the victory has been a long time coming. The first gay rights bill in Maine was introduced in the state legislature 28 years ago; and in 1998 and 2000, voters struck down similar measures that would have banned discrimination against gays and lesbians. The movement to defeat the measure was led by Maine Won't Discriminate, a coalition composed of grassroots progressive groups, the Democratic Party, union members, and local business associations. "On Tuesday, we ended a 28-year struggle in Maine to make sure all Mainers are treated equally and fairly under the law. We are so thrilled that it's finally happened," said Jesse Connolly of Maine Won't Discriminate.
"It was a much needed victory for the national movement because we've experienced so many defeats over the last year over marriage equality," says Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which boosted Maine Won't Discriminate's efforts with $170,000 of funding, trainings, and hours of phone banking. "It shows that dogged grassroots organizing can lead to crucial wins at a statewide level."
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing email@example.com.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
Former U.S. Senator Max Cleland, the Georgia Democrat who lost his right arm and both legs in the quagmire that was Vietnam, explained a few years ago that, "Within the soul of each Vietnam veteran there is probably something that says 'Bad war, good soldier.' Only now are Americans beginning to separate the war from the warrior."
Cleland's wise words need to be recalled on this Veterans Day, when it is more necessary than ever to separate a bad war from the warriors who are required to fight it.
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is an unfolding disaster with such nightmarish consequences that is not merely easy, but necessary to be angry with those who are responsible. And Americans are angry. Overwhelming majorities of U.S. citizens now tell pollsters that they believe the decision to invade Iraq was a mistake, and a substantial proportion of them say that the continued occupation of that Middle East land is a fool's mission.
It is appropriate to direct our anger at the man whose determination to wage a war of whim rather than necessity put hundreds of thousands of Americans in harm's way. But it is not appropriate to blame those young men and women for following the direction of their commanders in a time of global uncertainty.
What is truly unfortunate is the attempt by political supporters of the man who is responsible for steering America into the quagmire with those who are stuck in it. Republicans have distributed noxious bumper stickers that declare, "Support the Troops and the President."
To be fair, it is possible to support the troops and the president -- if one chooses to believe that the war was necessary and that it continues to be necessary. But the number of Americans who entertain such beliefs is dwindling rapidly.
For those Americans who think George W. Bush has been wrong all along about Iraq, it is entirely appropriate -- and entirely possible -- to support the troops and oppose the president.
That's what U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, did last summer when it was revealed that the Department of Veterans Affairs did not have the resources to provide adequate care for soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Murray, who had voted against authorizing President Bush to go to war, offered an amendment to address the shortfall of more than $1 billion. But her move was blocked by Senate Republicans who claimed that the money was not needed.
Murray kept the pressure up, and her concerns were echoed by veterans groups such as the American Legion, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Disabled American Veterans. Richard Fuller, the legislative director of the Paralyzed Veterans, told the Washington Post that the money problems were obvious to anyone visiting VA clinics and hospitals. "You could see it happening, clinics shutting down, appointments delayed," Fuller explained. Joseph A. Violante, legislative director of the Disabled American Veterans, added a blunter assessment, charging that the administration was "shortchanging veterans."
Finally, in the face of mounting pressure from a senator who had opposed the war and groups that were increasingly troubled about the treatment of its veterans, Senate Republicans relented and voted to provide the needed money.
U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, a leading conservative who is big on supporting the president but not so enthusiastic when it comes to supporting veterans, was forced to admit that, "We were in error. Sen. Murray was right."
To her credit, Murray was gracious, saying of the Republicans: "It was not easy for them to eat crow on this. But as I've said so many times in the last few days on the floor of the Senate, this is not a Republican issue and this is not a Democratic issue; it is an American issue."
Murray's right. In the years to come, as more and more soldiers return from the nightmare that is Iraq, it will be vital for Americans of all political persuasions to recognize that a massive new commitment of federal resources is required to assure that the nightmare does not continue for the veterans of this awful conflict.
Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi exile leader whose Iraqi National Council peddled bad intelligence on WMDs prior to the war and who is now a deputy prime minister of Iraq, had just finished speaking for close to an hour in a crowded conference room at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that has been Central Command for neocons favoring the war. Before an audience loaded with journalists, camera crews, policy wonks, admirers and his own entourage, Chalabi had detailed the challenges currently facing the Iraqi government. He gently criticized the post-invasion occupation. He had cheered the new constitution (even its treatment of women). He had tried to position himself as a populist, citing the constitutional provision that declares that Iraq's oil wealth belong to the people of Iraq. He had claimed the present government has stopped "95 percent" of government corruption. He had maintained that Iraq is "not out of the storm" but that it is at "the threshold of a new era." This was a triumphant moment for him. His AEI appearance was the major public event of a trip to Washington during which he was scheduled to see five Cabinet members (including Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld), the national security adviser, and the vice president. Not bad for a guy whom the CIA and State Department booted from the payroll and a fellow (once charged with bilking a Jordanian bank of nearly $300 million) who is under investigation for supposedly leaking classified US information to Iran that may have compromised the United States' ability to read intercepted Iranian communications. Before Chalabi started talking, several reporters were pondering if any head of state--let alone a deputy prime minister--would rate such attention and so many high-level meetings (though not one with the president). The answer: none come to mind. Despite the troubles and accusations of the past, Chalabi was receiving the royal treatment.
During his talk, Chalabi had avoided all mention of the unpleasant business of the past, such as when Iraqi troops backed by US forces raided his home in 2004. And he had said nothing of weapons of mass destruction--the main reason George W. Bush gave for invading Iraq. So now that it was time for questions, I thought he should be granted the opportunity to address the gorilla in the room.
In 2004, I said to him, you were asked if you had misled the US government by providing it bad intelligence on WMD, and you said you and the INC were "heroes in error." Given that over 2000 American lives have been lost so far, would you today defend yourself the same way--particularly to a relative of someone who has been killed in Iraq? What errors did you have in mind when you said that? And can you provide a direct answer to the question of whether you misled the US government?
Chalabi was ready for this. "The quote is false," he stated. "I never said that." (This direct quote was reported in February 2004 by Jack Fairweather, a correspondent for the Telegraph newspaper of London.) He then went on: "We are sorry for every American life that is lost in Iraq. As for the fact that I deliberately misled the US government, this is an urban myth. I refer people to page 108 of the Robb-Silberman report that debunks this entire idea." That report was produced by a commission appointed by George W. Bush to investigate the prewar intelligence flaws; the panel's cochairmen were former Senator Chuck Robb and Judge Laurence Silberman. And I'll get to page 108 in a moment.
Then Chalabi moved on to other reporters. Moments later, David Shuster of Hardball followed up. He noted that Chalabi had denied deliberately misleading the US government but Shuster observed that "much of the information" Chalabi's INC had provided was "bogus, false and not true." Would Chalabi, Shuster asked, apologize for passing on information "used to frighten the American people into war?" Chalabi stuck to the reply he had given me: "Read the Robb-Silberman report." Shuster shot back: "Do you regret it?" Chalabi stood firm: "Read the reports." In other words, no.
When Barbara Slavin of USA Today asked if Chalabi was still under active investigation for allegedly leaking US secrets to Iran, he said, "I have no knowledge of any investigation concerning me except what I read in the papers." (His lawyer doesn't tell him anything?) And when a CNN producer questioned Chalabi about his turbulent relationship with the US government, he remarked, "My relationship with the Bush administration is friendly. We have a multi-dimensional relationship. This relationship is developing and growing." He noted that Konrad Adenauer was arrested in Germany after World War II by the British but went on to become the first chancellor of West Germany. A role model?
Before Chalabi had to skedaddle to another meeting with another high-level Bush official, he faced one more question on the WMD issue. What do you believe happened to the WMDs? a reporter asked. Were they taken out of Iraq, buried in the desert, hidden, or did they never exist? "This question," Chalabi replied, "is pregnant with implications. Too many people have said too many things....It is not useful for me to comment on it....We are not engaged in this debate in Iraq."
And he was not engaging in it now. Moreover, he had not told the truth about page 108. On that page, the Robb-Silberman commission does claim that "INC-related sources had a minimal impact on pre-war assessments," but it says that the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (the major prewar intelligence summation compiled by the CIA)
relied on reporting from two INC sources, both of whom were later deemed to be fabricators. One source...provided fabricated reporting on the existence of mobile [biological weapons] facilities in Iraq. The other source, whose information was provided in a text box in the NIE and sourced to a "defector," reported on the possible construction of a new nuclear facility in Iraq. The CIA concluded that this source was being "directed" by the INC to provide information to the U.S. Intelligence Community.
Does this passage debunk what Chalabi called the "myth" that the INC supplied bad information to the US intelligence? Instead, the report states that the INC "directed" a fabricator to give information that was false to the CIA. What "directed" means in this instance is not specified. Perhaps Chalabi and the INC did not realize these sources were making it up. But wouldn't sending along a fabricator--wittingly or not--warrant an apology?
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the Rove/Libby scandal, Corn's appearance with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, the slow Phase II review of prewar intellience, Samuel Alito and other in-the-news matters.
After Chalabi's speech was done, Francis Brooke, Chalabi's Washington adviser, told me that the INC had supplied "good-faith information" to Washington and that it was "the responsibility of the United States to evaluate that information. We have no way of evaluating that information." That is a convenient escape for the INC: we send you the fabricators, you do the vetting. But Chalabi, for some reason, did not deploy this defense when the television cameras were trained upon him and he was called to explain his prewar activity. He cited a report that no reporter had in front of him or her at the time. How canny.
As I headed for the elevator, a white-haired woman whom I did not know yelled at me, "You should be paid by the CIA!" She apparently thought my questioning of Chalabi was too rough. Her jeer was a demonstration of how the Iraq war has twisted the ideological lines in Washington. Yes, I said to her, only a CIA provocateur working for a left-of-center magazine would dare question Chalabi in that manner, and I cannot wait to get back to my office and receive my payment from Langley. As the elevator doors closed, I noticed in the lift my former colleague Christopher Hitchens, who moments earlier I had spotted planting a kiss of greeting upon the cheek of one of Chalabi's many spokespeople. Hitchens noted that it was indeed odd that The Nation was now in the business of protecting the CIA. He was referring to the magazine's--and I presume my--coverage of the Plame/CIA leak scandal. There was nothing wrong with the leak, he said. The public had the right to know that the CIA was out to sabotage the administration and undermine its case for war. And that right-to-know, he explained, included being told all about Valerie Wilson because she had participated in this underhanded plot by dispatching her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger on a mission to discredit the allegation Saddam Hussein had been uranium-shopping there.
Hitchens' affection for the Iraq war and its architects--notably, Paul Wolfowitz--is well advertised. But, as I pointed out to him, his justification of the leak was a step beyond. He clung to his position, as he is good at doing. And as we descended, our debate over the leak turned into an argument over the war. I asked him what he thought of his comrades' use of mischaracterized intelligence to grease the way to war. Outside the AEI building, as a few people gathered to watch our exchange, he maintained that Bush et. al. had prudently based their decision to go to war on worst-case assumptions. But, I countered, that is not what Bush had told the public he was doing; Bush had claimed that the intelligence indicated there was "no doubt" that Iraq possessed WMDs. There was much doubt, I noted, and provided several examples. Oh, Hitchens replied, I was being too literal and had missed the nuances of Bush's position. My retort: Bush being nuanced? Christopher, you would not trust Bush to review a single death penalty application, yet you were happy to hand him the keys to this invasion and now you make excuses for how he misrepresented the intelligence he did not even bother to read. Our sidewalk debate fizzled out; Hitchens drifted off to chat with well-wishers.
Chalabi did not make much news at AEI, which, no doubt, was the point. It was not surprising that he ducked responsibility for helping to push the United States to war on the basis of misinformation (or disinformation) and refused to express remorse for sending fabricators into the arms of US intelligence. (I assume his no-apologies stance covers the INC's prewar dissemination of false information to friendly reporters.) This appearance was just another step for him on the road to rehabilitated statesman. "I always knew he would reach this sort of position," said a former US official who was present and who worked with Chalabi years ago. "He knows where the skeletons are for many people. That has always made him very hard to stop. And he hasn't been stopped yet."
Last night was a grand defeat for George W. Bush--and the shrinking Terminator out in California. Let's celebrate Democrats winning governorships in New Jersey and Virginia--an especially heavy loss for Bush, who made a last-minute campaign stop to prop up the slash-and-smear campaign of GOP candidate Kilgore. But even while celebrating, take a moment to consider that every election cycle brings news of record-breaking, stratospheric campaign spending.
This year is no different. The mudbath--better known as the NJ Governor's race--was the most expensive in the state's history. By the time, the raw and negative ads stopped running, Jon Corzine and Doug Forrester had spent some $72 million. In our own city, Mayor Bloomberg pumped roughly $70 million of his own money into beating his weak and decent Democratic opponent Freddy Ferrer. (Anyone reading this blog is welcome to calculate how much was spent per NYC voter.) The real winner in these races isn't the voter subjected to hundreds of ugly, negative campaign ads; it's the local TV stations raking in the dough.
So, is it time to retreat into cynicism about our money-drenched electoral system? As I've written about in this space, the country has seen some "sweet victories" in these last few years when it comes to "clean money" reforms, particularly in Arizona and Maine and, more recently in our own tri-state region--in Connecticut. There's also the long view, shared with me on election night by Nick Nyhart, executive director of Public Campaign, an invaluable organization committed to ending the corruption of our system. There's no question that this will be a long and winding fight. But read on for some reflections, a measure of hope, and some good analysis from Nyhart:
** In our public financing message study last year (done jointly with Common Cause), we uncovered an incredible hunger for a government and politicians that people could count on to put them first--elected officials who would be accountable to them and keep their promises. Now, that may sound obvious, but the focus group consensus we found stretched from low-income African Americans in Bridgeport, CT to upscale conservative GOP women in Orange County--and it all reflected a sense that this is NOT the case now--that their elected officials serve some other set of interests. Getting people to support reform was tied to them viewing reform as an antidote to this condition.
** The flip side of this is that there is a tremendous upside for an alternative politics that's about ordinary people and not about politics as usual. Given the extraordinarily high ranking of corruption in polling data these days (see USA Today's poll--below--from October 26) and the big "wrong direction" numbers out there, a believable "outsider" candidacy (Dean '04 or McCain '00) might well do better in the next presidential election than in the past.
** The Democrats in DC don't come across as change agents (see last week's Democracy Corps poll) and systemic reformers haven't yet forced their issues into the candidate debate. But the public's increasing concern about corruption and the powerful hunger for better politics will push political actors further in these directions than in the past.
** It is, more than ever before, a time for reformers to be bold in their demands and to think outside the Beltway, as opposed to thinking about what can pass within the confines of today's Bush/Frist/Blunt-DeLay configuration.
** Back to the increasing $$$ in candidate races question – these are outliers, but still reflect a trend. From a policy perspective, full public financing (with ME-AZ matching funds for overspending privately-funded candidates) deals with these issues in almost all races and the Vermont case going to the Supreme Court case is all the more important with a campaign-finance reform bill as a backdrop. But the larger significance of these well-publicized races is that they push public outrage about politics further towards reform, as much as the corruption stories.
Well, it's a start…Making these issues a pragmatic cornerstone of a new democratic politics is a formidable task--but a critical one to reclaiming our democracy. And we can fortunately count on Public Campaign to help lead the way.
The last time Democrats elected a new president who had not been a governor was in 1960, when U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy was the party's nominee and the narrow victor of a contest with Republican Richard Nixon. And two of the four Republican presidents since then were present or former governors, as well. So it makes at least a measure of sense to argue that the place to prospect for a 2008 Democratic nominee is in the states rather than Washington.
And, after Tuesday's election in Virginia, Democrats have a new statehouse star. No, it's not Tim Kaine, the Democrat who won a surprisingly easy victory over Republican Jerry Kilgore in the only southern state to hold a gubernatorial contest this fall. What matters as regards national politics is the fact that Kaine will be replacing a fellow Democrat, Mark Warner.
Warner has been boomed as a presidential prospect for some time now, and even before Tuesday's voting there were strong indications that the moderate Virginian was taking steps to enter the race for the party's 2008 nomination.
But Tuesday's off-year election vote in Virginia gives Warner a major boost.
In many senses, Kaine's victory was really Warner's win.
Kaine ran on a promise to carry on where Warner, whose approval ratings are in the high sixties, leaves off.
Warner appeared in almost as many of Kaine's television commercials as did the candidate himself.
And in the final days of the campaign, Warner and Kaine barnstormed across the state's southern counties, where Warner's combination of downhome appeals to sportsmen and NASCAR racing fans and a little bit of economic populism went a long way toward overcoming the instinct of cultural conservatives to vote for the Republican.
The strategy of linking Kaine with Warner worked in large part because Warner has been such a successful governor.
The Warner model of increasing taxes to pay for education and infrastructure improvements, defending the right to choose and promoting racial harmony, and creating economic-development initiatives for hard-hit regions has generally worked well for Virginia. No, the southern state has not become a bastion of progressivism, and there are still plenty of reasons to question whether Warner is the right man to put some spine back into the Democratic column.
But there is no question that Warner can point to some impressive accomplishments in Virginia. A state that had a history of going from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis now has a surplus and some of the best bond ratings in the country. As such, Democrat Kaine's promise to carry on was a lot more appealing than Republican Kilgore's promise of a return to "no-more-taxes" dogma and financial instability.
Against a Democratic field that is likely to be thick with senators -- New York's Hillary Clinton, Indiana's Evan Bayh, Delaware's Joe Biden, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, Massachusetts' John Kerry, the 2004 nominee, and his running mate from that year, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards -- Warner's argument that the party needs a nominee with executive experience could have significant appeal. And he will have a much easier time directing the attention of voters toward Virginia, now that Kaine will be sitting in the governor's chair.
With Kaine in charge of Virginia, Warner will have several advantages if he chooses to seek the party's nomination in 2008. First, in a state where the governor is not allowed to succeed himself, Kaine's win is the next best vindication for Warner to a reelection of his own. Also, with a Democrat in charge of Virginia, Warner can hit the presidential campaign trail without fear of having a homestate rival poking at him -- as John Kerry did in 2004, when the Republican governor of the Bay State, Mitt Romney, was dispatched by GOP managers to batter the Democratic presidential nominee.
With Jimmy Carter, the former governor of a southern state, and Bill Clinton, the sitting governor of a southern state,, Democrats were able to defeat Republican presidents in 1976 and 1992, respectively. Kaine's win in Virginia positions Warner to advance the claim that Democrats need to turn once more to a statehouse veteran if they want to secure the White House.
Watch for him to do just that in the coming months.
In politics--as the sophisticated analysts say--it is better to win than lose. So Democrats can be happy about their triumphs in New Jersey and Virginia, where their candidates won contests for governor, and they can crow about terminating California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's ballot propositions (particularly the one that would have weakened the political clout of unions). Are these results a bad omen for Republicans in 2006? As several poli-sci experts have pointed out, if you look at recent off-year elections, they predict the outcome of the next election in only two of four cases. That's as good as flipping a coin. But what was notable about these elections is that Rove-style politics did not succeed.
In Virginia and New Jersey, the Republicans campaigned mainly by hurling slash-and-burn ads at the Democrats. In New Jersey, the Republicans even went after Senator Jon Corzine, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, by putting up an ad in which Corzine's ex-wife dumped on him. Despite this woman-scorned strategy, Corzine won.
In Virginia, GOP candidate Jerry Kilgore aired harsh spots that accused Democrat--and eventual winner--Timothy Kaine--of being a wimp on the death penalty. Kaine, a Catholic, explained that he opposed capital punishment due to his moral values but he said he would abide by state law, which allows for executions. Kilgore mercilessly bashed Kaine for holding this view; one Kilgore ad had a murder victim's relative bitterly saying that Kaine could not be trusted on this issue. Kilgore's campaign devoted more resources to anti-Kaine ads than spots celebrating Kilgore's own assets. And in the final weeks of the campaign, Kilgore tried to score points by decrying illegal immigration. That didn't work. Nor did another move aimed at base Republican voters. Shortly before the election, Kilgore declared his support for a measure that would let gun-owners bring concealed weapons into bars. He argued this was safer for gun-owners than requiring them to leave their firearms in their cars whenever they wanted a brewski. (What's next? Permitting guns in schools and courthouses? How about in divorce court?) Pushing the death penalty, pandering to gun-owners, screaming about illegal immigrants, and campaigning with George W. Bush (but only once, and in the last dash of the race)--none of this helped Kilgore in a Red state.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the Rove/Libby scandal, Corn's appearance with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, the slow Phase II review of prewar intellience, Samuel Alito and other in-the-news matters.
That sure ain't bad news for Democrats. Now all they need are effective candidates like Kaine and popular outgoing incumbents like departing Virginia Governor Mark Warner, and they will sweep the nation. Seriously, it's encouraging for Democrats that the traditional weapons of Republicans did not draw blood (at least not in a fatal fashion) in Virginia and New Jersey, states that could be crucial in the next presidential contest. And it has to worry Republicans that Bush is at this moment a dud when it comes to assisting GOP candidates. He will still be able to raise mucho money for Republicans in the 2006 contests. After all, there are plenty of grateful millionaires eager to kick back a small percentage of the large tax cuts they have received courtesy of Bush and the GOP (and a few Democrats). It's usually not too hard for a president to be a cash machine for his party. But the icing on the cake is a president who can hit the road, campaign with candidates of his party, and share his glow with them. Right now, Bush has less glow than a night light. If he doesn't increase his political wattage in the coming year, one motif of the 2006 election will be whether Republicans are running with Bush or away from him.
But remember that whenever anyone discussed the coming elections in terms of national themes, moods, or issues, such talk has to be tempered by the realization that congressional elections in non-presidential years are mostly a collection of 500-odd individual races, each with their own dynamics that may defy or jibe with larger trends. Moreover, the 435 House districts are so gerrymandered that only several dozen of them are likely to be competitive. Most House seats are safe harbors. Consequently, it takes quite a national tide to push enough boats in a direction that leads to a change of control. That did happen in 1994, when GOPers seized the House for the first time in a million years. (It was more like four decades.) But incumbents have done a good job of rigging the system to protect incumbents of both parties.
Still, it's better to have the wind at your back than in your face. Democrats can celebrate. But they still need to build up their 2006 infrastructure. I've heard Democratic activists complain in recent weeks that there is not enough money being raised by the party and--perhaps more importantly--by outside groups for the coming elections. After funders kicked in millions of dollars in 2004 and received nothing on their investment, many are gun-shy this time around. Perhaps Democratic victories in Virginia and New Jersey will buck them up and loosen up the purse strings. There isn't much time. And one thing is for sure: Republican strategists are scrutinizing yesterday's results and figuring out their next whatever-it-takes strategies.
BUY THIS BOOK. As regular readers of my davidcorn.com blog know, Marjorie Williams, a wonderful writer and journalist who died of liver cancer earlier this year, was a friend. Fortunately for those who knew her--and for those who did not--her words live on. A collection of her writings, The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, and Fate, has just been published. The volume was edited by Tim Noah, her husband and a writer for Slate. Whether Marjorie was profiling the powerful of Washington, teasing out the great meanings of everyday family life, or contemplating her own sickness and death, she conveyed the sense that truth was her foremost guide. As Nation columnist Katha Pollitt notes, "Marjorie Williams put her whole best self into everything she wrote--wit, high spirits, honesty, heart, and brilliant literary gifts. She was not just the best Washington journalist of her generation, she was one of the best journalists, period." If you want to know more about Marjorie, see Todd Purdum's poignant piece in The New York Times or my blog item on an excerpt of her book that appeared in last month's Vanity Fair. Here's the link to the book's Amazon.com page. Buy it. Read it. And then join me in regretting this is Marjorie's only and last book.
Five years into an Administration of sniggering mendacity, George Bush apparently feels his staff needs a mandatory refresher course on ethics--a response with the too-little too-late feel of FEMA's to Hurricane Katrina. Harriet Miers's office will conduct the seminars. Out of a bipartisan concern that the White House's counsel will not have a strong grasp of the subject, I offer these Cliff Notes on the history of moral theory.
THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE: Immanuel Kant argued that all moral laws had to be absolute and unconditional and exert their authority in all circumstances. In Kantian terms, it was wrong to leak the name of a covert CIA agent, because if everyone did it, there would be no more covert CIA agents, and then who would we have to invent slam dunk evidence of Iraqi WMDs or torture suspected al-Qaeda members to death?
UTILITARIANISM: John Stuart Mill based his ethical system on the principle of "the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people." Under this formulation, lying to the grand jury is bad, because it makes Patrick Fitzgerald unhappy, and when he's unhappy people end up in jail. And jail is not a happy place, Scooter.
THE PRINCE: While more of an anti-ethicist, Nicolo Machiaveilli's principle that it is better for a leader to be loved than feared did find an ardent supporter in Karl Rove. But what is Rove to do if his Prince is neither loved by the people nor feared by his supporters (David Frum) or enemies (Kim Jong-il)? Find something else to make the people fearful. A global pandemic, perhaps.
The latest polls from Vermont show that U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders, the only independent member of the House, has a dramatic lead in the race for that state's open U.S. Senate seat. In a race where the Democrats are expected to fall back and allow the Sanders a clean shot at the seat, a WCAX-TV/Research 2000 poll, released last week, found the congressman to be leading the likely Republican nominee, millionaire Rich Tarrant, by a margin of 64 percent to 16 percent of Vermonters who were surveyed.
Those numbers will not come as much of a surprise to anyone who has spent time in Vermont, where Sanders' three decades of political independence and straight-talk about economic issues have earned him the admiration even of those who do not always agree with his progressive populism. But Sanders' strong position is a source of frustration for inside-the-Beltway Republican operatives and their network of henchmen.
Aside from impending indictments, few things frighten the political hacks who run the White House more than the thought of Sanders, who has served with great success as an independent member of the House since 1991, entering the Senate and developing an even greater national profile. Unlike the Democrats who have such a hard time appealing across lines of party and ideology on fundamental economic issues, Sanders is something of a genius when it comes to building broad coalitions – as illustrated by his big wins in Vermont regions that generally vote Republican.
In the Senate, Sanders would give voice to a critique of Bush administration economic policies and the White House's assault on domestic civil liberties that would make would be far more likely to resonate with voters than the tepid Democratic message. And Karl Rove and his compatriots know that voice could turn the direction on debates on a host of major issues. It's for that reason that -- despite Sanders' immense popularity in Vermont -- the hacks in Washington have not given up on trying to figure out how to beat him in next year's Senate race.
Needless to say, they understand that it will take a lot of character assassination, innuendo and outright deception to defeat the man who is generally recognized as the most popular political figure in Vermont.
So it comes as no surprise that, just days after the WCAX-TV/Research 2000 poll results showed just how daunting the task of taking on Sanders has become for the Beltway bandits, the big gun were called out.
John O'Neill, the man behind the "swiftboating" of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, is now going after Sanders. O'Neill, who started working with Republicans to attack political dissenters back in the Nixon years but who really came into his own with his role in promoting the wildly disingenuous and broadly disputed "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" attacks on Kerry's Vietnam service record during the 2004 campaign, has just penned an anti-Sanders letter that is being distributed on right-wing websites. O'Neill says he's enthusiastic about the campaign of little-known perennial candidate Greg Parke in the Republican Senate primary, but it's clear that he is getting involved in the race to attack Sanders rather than to promote Parke.
Never one to hold back the hyperbole, O'Neill labels Sanders "the most dangerous liberal in America" and promises to defeat the congressman with a "similar mission" to the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" crusade against Kerry. The letter features the standard talking points against the congressman from the Republican Senate Campaign Committee but it goes heavy on the suggestion that Sanders poses some kind of threat to national security.
"His record in the House of Representative -- particularly on defense matters -- is disgraceful," writes O'Neill. In particular, the man who made "swiftboating" a political term of attack goes after Sanders for his efforts to fight wasteful spending by the Pentagon and for challenging the Bush administration's wrongheaded rush to attack Iraq. "He's consistently fought President Bush on issues of national security -- most specifically he voted against the use of force to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein," O'Neill writes of Sanders in a message that conveniently forgets to note that, according to recent polls, a clear majority of Americans now believe the decision to invade and occupy Iraq was a mistake.
What O'Neill, who claims to speak for veterans, also fails to note is the fact that Sanders has been one of the most ardent champions in Congress for men and women who have served in the military. In addition to co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation to assure that victims of Gulf War Illness get all of the medical care to which they are entitled, he has battled Republican attempts to cut funding for veterans programs. Indeed, Sanders has been such an effective advocate for those who wore the uniform of the U.S. military that he has been endorsed in his House races by the political arm of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
These are facts that O'Neill neglects as he attempts to "swiftboat" Sanders. That's typical of O'Neill and his group, which ought to be called Swift Boat Veterans for (Anything But the) Truth."
George Bush had a tough time of it last weekend in Argentina.
Mass demonstrations of opposition to the President's trade and economic policies greeted his every move. And even inside the cloistered gathering rooms of luxury hotel where the the Summit of the Americas was convened, Bush was the odd man out. Leaders of Latin American countries, many of them elected because of their explicit opposition to the American President's approach, made it clear that Bush will have a hard time establishing a hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americans that his campaign contributors so desperately seek.
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
When he ran for the presidency in 2000, Bush benefited from the claim that he spoke Spanish and understood better than most politicians how to relate to the countries and the peoples of the South. As a candidate, Bush delivered a major policy address in which he complained that "Latin America often remains an afterthought of American foreign policy," and declared, "Those who ignore Latin America do not fully understand America itself. And those who ignore our hemisphere do not fully understand American interests."
Unfortunately, four years into the Bush presidency, it is now clear that the suggestion that Bush would seek to understand and work with Latin America--perhaps even in the language of many of the region's countries--was merely another example of Karl Rove's campaign spin.
When he does not have a script in front of him, Bush can barely mumble a restaurant order in Spanish. And his mastery of the intricacies of the western hemisphere is even less impressive.
Bush continues to peddle discredited proposals for progress in Latin America, such as privatization of public services and the conversion of family farms to factory farms. And, of course, he continues to promote a free-trade agenda that allows corporations to hop from country to country in search of the lowest wages and the least restrictive environmental and worker-safety protections.
What Bush and his aides do not recognize is that the people of Latin America are already well aware that the president's prescriptions do not work. The North American Free Trade Agreement has been a dismal failure for Mexico, where wages for industrial workers actually fell after deal was put into place in 1994 and where small farmers have been driven from the land in record numbers as a result of trade policies that have flooded the market with cheap beans and corn. As a result of NAFTA, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans have been forced to make the painful choice to abandon their country and to enter the United States seeking work.
Just as Mexicans understand the devastating impact of the free trade policies Bush is promoting, so Bolivians understand the devastating impact of the privatization policies that the president talks up, and so Argentines understand the devastating impact of the structural adjustment policies that Bush claims are necessary.
In short, the president went to Latin America with a program that was outdated and wholly unworkable program and he tried to sell it to the people who have suffered through the experiments that have proven the program's flaws.
Bush has become the president he warned against in the 2000 campaign – the president who ignores the experiences and the concerns of Latin America because he "(does) not fully understand America itself."
If one needed more reason to criticize the Washington Post's decision to withhold information, at the government's request, about the CIA's network of prisons in Eastern Europe for suspected Al Qaeda terrorists, read Jane Mayer's horrifying article in this week's New Yorker. In "A Deadly Interrogation," Mayer reports on the death by torture of an Iraqi terrorist suspect in the custody of the CIA. Jamadi died while being interrogated at Abu Ghraib by a CIA officer and a translator. His head had been covered by a plastic bag and he was shackled in a crucifixion-like pose that inhibited his ability to breathe. According to forensic pathologists interviewed by Mayer, Jamadi died of asphyxiation. But in a subsequent internal investigation, US government authorities classified his death as a homicide. Nevertheless, the CIA investigator has not been charged with a crime, and continues to work for the agency. Mayer reports he has been under investigation by the Justice Department for more than a year. (The CIA has reportedly been implicated in at least four deaths of detainees, and has referred eight potentially criminal cases to the Justice Department, Mayer reports. Yet, as she notes, the government has so far brought charges against only one-level contract employee.) It is a fantasy to believe that the architects of these cruel, inhuman interrogation techniques will be held accountable by an Administration whose key figures, especially "The Vice President for Torture," are so deeply implicated in the policies that led to the metastasizing use of torture.
What should not be overlooked is the historic significance of the Washington Post's decision. "This is probably the most important newspaper capitulation since the New York Times yielded to John F. Kennedy's call for them to not run the full story of planning for the Bay of Pigs," Peter Kornbluh, National Security Archive senior analyst, told Columbia Journalism Daily. "By withholding the country names, the Post is directly enabling the rendition, secret detention, and torture of prisoners at these locations to continue. That is a ghastly responsibility."
(In the interest of full disclosure, a reminder about The Nation's role in the reporting on CIA plans for the Bay of Pigs. When the New York Times acceded to Kennedy Administration requests to suppress its story, The Nation went ahead and alerted the country, in an article published on November 19, 1960, to an impending invasion. For this, the magazine was vilified. The New Republic, by the way, also suppressed its story about CIA plans for the invasion--at Kennedy's request.)
For more about the Washington Post's decision, and other recent cases in which news outlets have chosen to honor government requests for secrecy rather than the journalistic duty of informing the public about government wrongdoing, read Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting's valuable report, "The Consequences of Covering Up."
CLARIFICATION: Peter Kornbluh, Nation Security Archive Senior Analyst writes: "Dear Katrina, Thanks for including me in your blog which was forcefully done and wellstated. I'm getting a lot of mileage out of that quote which started asa private email to the editor of CJR to try and get them to do asubstantive story on the Washington Post decision....I'm glad you've delved back into the proud history of the Nation's rolein all that. But I'd like to clarify your chronology and history: The Nation published the firststory on the Bay of Pigs training in Guatemala in November 1960 (beforethe plan was actually an invasion at the Bay of Pigs). Your article wascalled to the attention of a New York Times editor who then assignedPaul Kennedy to do a piece. He filed a story in January 1961 coveringsimilar ground to yours. But it was the Tad Szulc story in the Timesthat ran only only a week before the invasion in April 1961 thatKennedy called the Times owner about and was able to get reduced inprominence and detail (since Tad knew essentially the time and place ofthe invasion.) Arthur Schlesinger told us later that he wished both theTimes and New Republic had run their stories so that the wholecatastrophe would have been avoided."