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The Nation

Another Cover-Up?

The patient reader can find much to entertain and enlighten in theNew York Times, if one searches diligently. I came acrossthis pearl today, entitled "Editors' Note."

"The cover photograph in The Times Magazine on Sunday renderedcolors incorrectly for the jacket, shirt and tie worn by Mark Warner,the former Virginia governor who is a possible candidate for thepresidency. The jacket was charcoal, not maroon; the shirt was lightblue, not pink; the tie was dark blue with stripes, not maroon."

The editors blamed this on the film. "The change escaped noticebecause of a misunderstanding by the editors." I wanted to read more.Did editors disagree on whether pink is blue? Or did Governor Warnerlook more presidential in a maroon jacket? The Times did notelaborate.

Turning to the hard news, I began looking for a story I had assumedwould be on page one--the record current accounts deficit of $804billion reported for 2005. The total is up 20 percent and is ominousnews. It describes America's deepening financial dependency on foreigncreditors--China, Japan and others--thanks to trade deficits anddeindustrialization. People who got upset by the Dubai port deal wouldbe apoplectic if they understood the meaning.

Searching, searching, searching. I did finally find thestory on C8, the Real Estate page in the Times businesssection. It was buried under a feature, "Career Switchers Add New DepthTo Talent Pool in Real Estate." Actually, the trade numbers didn'teven get a headline, only a couple of paragraphs in story on Februaryretail sales. The Washington Post did worse--a short squib in "InternationalBriefing." The Wall Street Journal chose an upbeat approach. "Foreign investors' appetite for US assets remained strong..."

What's going on here? Why are the leading newspapers suppressing thisstory when arguably it is the most serious threat of all to America'sfuture? The bloggers who went to arms over Dubai ought to get on thecase and hammer the reporters and editors for explanations. Theguerillas will encounter the same elite opacity that surrounded theDubai issue. Why disturb ignorant readers with this complicatedsubject? It might arouse xenophobic reactions. Let's make the worldlook pink instead of dark blue.

Denny Hastert's Very Long, Very Bad Day

Watch the news out of House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office today. It may well be the site of the best the debate about the continued funding of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Anti-war activists plan to visit the Illinois Republican's office this afternoon and to begin reading aloud the names of U.S. soldiers and Iraqis killed in the war. They say they won't stop until Hastert meets with them to discuss the $67 billion "supplemental" military spending bill that is scheduled for a House vote late today.

They want Hastert to agree to oppose the White House's request for the additional money top fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That's not going to happen, as Hastert is a reliable rubberstamp for White House initiatives.

But the confrontation could draw additional attention to the upcoming vote -- and to the broader issue of the administration's abuse of supplemental spending bills to fund the fighting -- which has received far less coverage than it should from the Washington press corps.

The names will be read by Toledoan Mike Ferner, a Vietnam-era vet, and Chicagoan Jeff Leys, members of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (VCNV), who began a water-only fast and daily vigil at the Capitol since February 15, the third anniversary of global protests against invasion of Iraq, that is scheduled to end on the anniversary of the invasion, March 20.

From NATO to Nation

One thing I've always found perplexing is Wesley Clark's continued high-standing amongst the progressive blogosphere. For months he's consistently either won or placed second in the Daily Kos and MyDD straw polls, for example. Yesterday our ace DC intern Cora Currier bumped into Clark in the Senate and much to her surprise, wooing Nation readers was on the General's mind. I'm posting her dispatch below:

 

I was in Senator Carl Levin's office yesterday talking to an aide when General Wesley Clark strode into the room. He was waiting for a meeting and sat down on the couch near us. Levin's aide asked where I worked and when I replied, "The Nation," Clark jumped into the conversation. Introducing himself, he said: "Now, how are we going to get Nation readers to vote for someone like me?" I didn't know what to say. "I'm a military man," he continued, "and the military scares liberals. They say, oh, no, he's bombed people. People forget that as commander of NATO I was in charge of school children, and communities." He left soon after but gave me his card. "Nation," he said again, pointing to himself.

 

Let's take our own highly unscientific straw poll. If Clark runs again, would you support him?

These Folks Know About Ethics

Bill Clinton certainly had his flaws as a President. He was a militant free trader, who used all of his political skills to win support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, permanent normalization of trade policy with China and a host of other initiatives that slowly but surely kicked the legs out from under American workers, communities and industries. His welfare, education and telecommunications reforms were bumbling at best, and more often malignant. He showed only slightly more respect for the Constitution than the current president, and his military misadventures and meddling in the affairs of other countries suggest that he had no respect at all for George Washington's warning about avoiding "foreign entanglements."

But Clinton's presidency saw significant progress on some fronts, including the signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, a tax increase that reversed the growth in federal deficits that had ballooned during the spending-spree presidency of Ronald Reagan, the nation's last minimum-wage increase and a period of economic growth that lasted long enough to actually begin to modestly improve the circumstance of the country's poor. The relative health of the economy during the second term of his presidency surely contributed to the 65 percent approval rating that Clinton took with him when he left the White House, which represented the highest end-of-term enthusiasm level for any President in the post-Eisenhower era.

Clinton remains a beloved figure in many circles, and that surely accounts for the substantial continuing interest in the former president and his life – and interest that has created something of a tourist boom for tiny Hope, Arkansas, the community where the 42nd president grew up.

Last week, the U.S. House voted on a perfunctory measure authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to designate the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home in Hope, Arkansas, as a National Historic Site and unit of the National Park System. It is notable that, at a time when Republicans are banging away on critics of the Bush administration for not respecting the office of the presidency, the vote was not the unanimous show of approval that might have been expected.

Republican members of the House forced a roll-call vote -- extremely rare on such matters -- and a dozen of them then voted against so honoring Clinton's birthplace.

The "no" votes came from Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn, Florida's Ginny Brown-Waite, Utah's Chris Cannon, California's John Doolittle, Virginia's Virgil Goode, Oklahoma's Ernest Istook, Texan Ron Paul, Pennsylvania's Bill Shuster, Georgia's Lynn Westmoreland and North Carolinians Virginia Foxx, Walter Jones and Patrick McHenry.

Ron Paul gets a pass. The former Libertarian Party presidential candidate is against just about everything the government does.

Give Walter Jones a pass, as well. He's a principled critic of the free-trade policies of both the Clinton and Bush administrations, who says, "If it had been a historic site for George W. Bush, I would have voted against it. I've seen this country outsource jobs and outsource security. I can't even get money for people of my district."

But what about the rest of these "no" voters? Were they just so offended by Clinton's personal transgressions that they could not bring themselves to help a little town in southwest Arkansas stir up some tourism?

Istook's spokesman said the congressman "has never been a big fan of Bill Clinton" – which was, at least, honest. But many of the other members suggested that they had ethical problems with Clinton.

"There are a lot of things to be concerned about, but designating this as a historic site is a joke," growled McHenry, who said of Clinton: "history has not made a final judgment on his presidency," and then added as an aside: "Maybe it should be a landmark. He is only the second president to be impeached."

Brown-Waite, who forced the roll-call vote on the designation, grumbled that: "(Clinton) has some explaining to do."

Frankly, this is an interesting crew to set itself up as the defenders of political virtue and elective ethics.

Indeed, we could be looking at something of a "people-who-live-in-glass-houses" scenario here, considering the fact that:

• Doolittle's name has been more closely associated with that of Jack Abramoff, the GOP "super lobbyist" who pleaded guilty to three felony corruption charges in January, than any member of the House except DeLay and Ohio Republican Bob Ney, accepted more than $100,000 in contributions from the lobbyist and his clients. Doolittle wrote letters and contacted federal agencies on behalf of those clients. The congressman has, as well, been linked to San Diego businessman Brent Wilkes, who has been implicated in the November bribery conviction of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

• Istook took $29,000 from Abramoff and his lobbying partners and, according to the Associated Press, repeatedly signed letters on behalf of Abramoff clients after accepting those contributions.

• Shuster had to give away campaign contributions from Abramoff and his associates after the scandal blew up.• Westmoreland accepted more than $15,000 from former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's ARMPAC, was a leader in efforts to apply ethics standards to DeLay and has been repeatedly linked to "K Street Project" concerns. Westmoreland is, as well, a close ally Abramoff-tied lobbyist Ralph Reed, and an active supporter of Reeds campaign for lieutenant governor of Georgia this year.

• Foxx also accepted $15,000 from DeLay's ARMPAC and also voted to weaken House ethics rules in order to protect her mentor.

• Blackburn's another major recipient of DeLay's largesse and a loyal ally of the indicted ex-leader, having contributed $5,000 to DeLay's legal defense fund. McHenry's one of DeLay's biggest defenders in the House, having declared after the Texan's legal troubles arose that, "I think in this situation Tom DeLay has become a whipping post for all the liberals in Washington."

• Brown-Waite took $20,000 from DeLay's ARMPAC, voted to weaken the ethics rules, contributed to DeLay's legal defense fund. She also met with Abramoff and took money from his clients.

• Cannon took thousands of dollars from associates of Abramoff and then actually hired one of them, David Safavian, to be his chief of staff.

• Goode, along with his friend Duke Cunningham, has been linked to the defense contractor MZM – the company accused of bribing Cunningham with millions of dollars in exchange for defense contracts. Goode recently donated $88,000 in political contributions he had received from MZM and its associates to charity. According to a USA Today investigation: "In more than 30 instances, donations from MZM's political action committee or company employees went to two members of the House Appropriations Committee -- Cunningham and Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va. -- in the days surrounding key votes or contract awards that helped MZM grow."

Feingold Day Two: The Dems Fold

Last night I raised some strategic questions about Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold's move to formally censure President Bush. On the conclusion of Day Two of this drama, I have more questions.As one might expect, Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist immediately took up Feingold's challenge and was ready to call a vote. At a time when the President is losing on every issue around him, he would have easily won this up-down partisan vote.The Democrats, of course, dodged the whole matter. You know it's kind of hard to see the 800lb, polka-dotted elephant in the room when you have the limited vision of a jackass.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters he would not comment on the issue while the Democratic leadership mulls the issue. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said, "Feingold has a point that he wants to make by introducing that resolution." And then she added nothing else/

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the resolution "raises some very important issues," but she refused to discuss what they were. Hmmm.

Senate Minority Leader Reid said he was going to do some research and see if he could find any support for Feingold's resolution.

The Wisconsin Senator, meanwhile, seemed to be fuming. Feingold told the media Tuesday afternoon:

"I'm amazed at Democrats, cowering with this president's numbers so low. The administration just has to raise the specter of the war and the Democrats run and hide. … Too many Democrats are going to do the same thing they did in 2000 and 2004. In the face of this, they'll say we'd better just focus on domestic issues. … [Democrats shouldn't] cower to the argument, that whatever you do, if you question the administration, you're helping the terrorists…"

True enough. But to come back to the point I raised yesterday, why does Feingold say he is amazed? I'm not. And I am sure you, dear reader, are unequally caught by surprise. Unless, that is, Feingold was given some sort of promise by other Democrats that they would join him but then decided to let him twist. I don't think so. The Democrats are merely in their predictable default position.

So, if you will, an in-progress balance sheet of the move to censure now follows. On the plus side: some bad publicity for Bush that reminds people he broke the FISA law; some good publicity for Russ Feingold as one of those rare Senators with principles and cojones. On the negative side: a distraction from the horrific news coming from Iraq; a distraction from the Republican's internal wars over immigration and Presidential succession; a temporary uniting of Senate Republicans in defense of Bush; a nationwide demonstration of the dysfunction of the Democratic Party (though that last point might be just as well put in the plus column).

My question: are the pro-Feingold forces strategically better off today than 48 hours ago? Is this the way Feingold wanted his move to play out? What's next? I wish I had more answers and fewer questions.

P.S. Some reports suggest that even some liberal Dems feel they were blindsided by Feingold suddenly announcing this move on a talk show last Sunday without first lining up his ducks. Other reports say some liberal Democrats are angry because this motion could short-circuit future Congressional hearings during which Republicans like Lindsay Graham and Arlen Specter would have been forced to publicly chastise Bush. I don't know the veracity of these reports. It might be CYA by some embarrassed Dems. Or it might indicate a strategic fumble by Feingold.

Ned Lamont v. Joe Lieberman

Ned Lamont, the Connecticut cable television entrepreneur whose anger over Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman's support of Bush administration policies spurred him to explore whether to mount a primary challenge to the most prominent Democratic supporter of the war on Iraq, is done exploring.

Lamont's running, and he's got a message for the globetrotting incumbent who returned from his most recent trip to Iraq with a ringing endorsement of the occupation: "Senator," the challenger said, "stop by Bridgeport on your way back from Baghdad and listen to your constituents..."

What Lamont thinks Lieberman's constituents will tell the senator when Connecticut Democrats vote in the August 9 primary is that the Bush administration must be challenged, not coddled.

Making pointed reference to the incumbent's status as the Democrat that Republicans love to love, Lamont declared his candidacy with a Monday announcement that, "I am jumping into this Senate primary because voters deserve a choice."

That choice, the challanger suggests, is between a "Republican-lite" incumbent who cooperates with the administration and a progressive who will confront the president when Bush is wrong.

"Let's have the debate," Lamont announced in a speech that spelled out the differences between the three-term incumbent and a progressive challenger who promises he won't be "complicit" with this White House.

Lamont's declaration of candidacy was blunt and aggressive in its critique of Lieberman, signaling that this will not be a tepid challenge to a Democratic incumbent who has broken faith with the progressive base of the Democratic party.

Here's an excerpt from Lamont's announcement speech.

Let's have the debate.

Three years ago politicians with years of political experience rushed our troops off to war; they told us the war would be easy; we'd be greeted as liberators.

Now three years later, America is no safer, Israel is no safer, the Middle East is even less stable, Iran is on the prowl, Osama Bid Laden is on the prowl, and we have 130,000 valiant troops stuck in the middle of a violent civil war in the heart of Iraq.

Those who got us into this mess should be held accountable.

In Washington they give you a medal; in my world they say: "You're fired."

I say it is time for the Iraqis to take control of their own destiny and we're just getting in the way.

Let's have the debate.

The $250 million a day we are spending in Iraq is better spent on pre-school and healthcare, public transit and veterans benefits.

Let's have the debate.

I would have lead the opposition to the nomination of Judge Alito? Next year the Supreme Court will hear the South Dakota law which outlaws a woman's right to choose, even in the case of rape and incest.

Let's have the debate.

I believe that President George Bush's illegal wiretaps, his reckless fiscal and environmental policies are weakening America and leaving too many hardworking citizens behind.

I doubt that anybody will call me "George Bush's favorite Democrat."

Do you remember that Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska? Part of the 6,371 earmarks, which are multi million dollar pork ridden special favors for special congressmen, added to a bill at the last moment, under the cloak of darkness. And it's all legal, the big easy for career politicians.

If you are not shouting from the rafters that this is wrong, then you are complicit and part of the problem.

I am not a shouter, but I come to this race as someone who is obviously not afraid of a challenge. I am ready challenge business as usual, I am ready to fight for our Democratic values and I will tell the Bush administration to put their haughty arrogance in their back pocket and deal with the rest of the world with respect. That's how America will start winning again in a post 9-11 world.

As I travel the state I have heard from thousands of you - students and elderly, veterans and teachers, small business and labor, even a few courageous political leaders: let's have a primary, let's have the debate: how did we get into this mess and how do we get out?

Sure, there are some that have not been quite so encouraging: Ned, don't jeopardize a safe seat.

I tell them, Connecticut is a progressive state. You're not losing a Senator, you're gaining a Democrat.

They tell me, Ned, don't rock the boat.

And I tell them, baby, it's high time we "rock the boat."

We are running for the heart and soul of the Democratic party; we're showing the country that we can win as proud Democrats fueled by your grassroots support and energy and passion; and on August 9 the pundits will be shaking their heads and noting: here come the Democrats.

It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp

Political corruption, the world's second oldest profession, just isn't as easy as it used to be.

Take defense contractor Mitchell Wade, for example. He had a good thing going with Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, until the Congressman's taste for bling got them both busted.

Mr. Wade now claims he funneled $50,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Katherine Harris for some military largesse, but the Congresswoman failed to secure the pay-off. After what she pulled off for George W., Mr. Wade must wonder if Katherine was holding out on him.

Or take John Goodman, president and founder of a Dallas-based think tank. He thought he had bought himself another reliable intellectual to shill for George W., but what he ended up with in Bruce Bartlett, the author of Imposter: How George Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, was a pundit with a guilty conscious and a leaky mouth.

At first Mr. Goodman's money did the trick, however. Or to quote Mr. Bartlett directly, "Being supportive of Mr. Bush was definitely more rewarding to me than being critical." But what is an obscure "fellowship" at a third-rate think tank compared to a major book deal, a New York Times blog, and a guest appearance on the Daily Show?

With Iraq on the brink of Civil War and the president's poll numbers in the tank, it will be interesting to see who will join Sullivan, Buckley, Fukuyama, and now Bartlett as the next convert to the anti-Bush camp.

The War's More Popular Than Bush

George Bush's approval ratings have hit a record low according to a new poll released Monday night, but what does that really mean?

Well, consider this:

Bush's approval rating has fallen to 36 percent, according to the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

By comparison, 38 percent of Americans believe the war in Iraq is going well.

That's right. In the midst of a dramatic degeneration of the Iraq occupation, with the explosion of sectarian violence following February's bombing of the al-Askariya mosque in Samarra, with the U.S. casualty numbers pushing rapidly upward -- to 2,309 dead and 17,004 wounded as of Monday -- and with the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reporting a new poll that shows almost three quarters of U.S. troops serving in Iraq favor complete withdrawal from that country within a year, more Americans think the war is "going well" than think George Bush's presidency is "going well."

So why is Bush less popular than his war?

Another poll result may answer that question:

When asked if they thought the Bush administration deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, 51 percent of those surveyed said the president had lied.

Feingold's Folly?

I admit to great ambivalence over Senator Russ Feingold's flagging effort to officially censure President Bush. The same sort of ambivalence I felt when he voted – a few years back--to confirm John Ashcroft for Attorney General because, Feingold argued, a President should have the cabinet he wants.

Feingold is a senator of singular courage and solid principle (note that he was also the only senator to vote against the same Ashcroft's Patriot Act). His call to censure is a bold and admirable moral stand. But effective politics are rarely about morality – unfortunately. Censure, like impeachment (and for that matter like Western Civilization)to paraphrase Gandhi, "would be a good idea."

Censure or impeachment is neither about the law nor really very much about the Constitution. They are, instead, strictly and wholly political acts. So we have to ask ourselves, is Feingold's move actually good politics? Any somnolent Grand Jury could probably indict just about any sitting president on some or another high crime or misdemeanor. But so what? There must be a political consensus to move ahead with such acts --- either untenable revulsion even by one's own party as was the case with Nixon (who jumped before getting pushed). Or of a solid partisan opposition majority, as was the case with Bill Clinton.

Neither of these conditions is present in the case of George W. Bush. It's little wonder that most other Democrats went scurrying away from Feingold's resolution. Who couldn't predict that? It's hard to believe that the Senator from Wisconsin, one of the sharpest guys around, didn't fully anticipate this, thereby raising questions about his own intent. Was his move to censure a personal moral statement? A pre-positioning as the "progressive" alternative in 2008? Perhaps. If there's a broader political strategy, what is it?

What we do know, and what Feingold certainly knew, is that this issue coming to vote is nigh impossible.

As I said, I'm ambivalent. Right now George W. Bush is at an all-time low in his popularity ratings. His party is fragmenting over immigration, spending, the Dubai ports deal and his general unpopularity. It's a rare golden opportunity for Democrats --one that has fallen into their laps rather than having been seized. I might be wrong, but, in agreement with Josh Marshall, I suspect that these same Democrats would be much better served by concentrating on a pro-active counter-offer to a disgruntled electorate instead of imposing upon it some sort of "prosecute Bush" litmus test.

Progressives should be particularly sensitive to this point. The conventional wisdom on the Democratic Left is that the more liberal the 2008 Democratic nominee, the more virulently anti-Bush, the more successful he or she will be. Again, I'd like that to be true but I've no way to prove it. Can anyone?

Meanwhile, as Matt Bai pointed out in this week's New York Times Magazine, the momentum inside the machinery of the Democratic Party might be tilting in an unpredictable direction. What if the eventual "Anti-Hillary" runs not to her left, but to her right? Even better reason for liberals to stay focused on what's ahead rather than simply flailing away at Bush.