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News Not Fit to Print?

Last weekend, I wrote here about the history of US government attempts to suppress information. My case study was the Kennedy Administration's successful effort to delay publication of the New York Times' story about CIA planning for the Bay of Pigs disaster. (Since then, several generations of Times editors have publicly regretted that decision. "Our biggest failures," Executive Editor Bill Keller wrote last year, "have generally been when we failed to dig deep enough or to report fully enough. After the Times played down its advance knowledge of the Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy reportedly said he wished we had published what we knew and perhaps prevented a fiasco.")

Yet in these last two days, the Times has acceded to Bush Administration requests to withhold information from the American public.

In yesterday's edition, the paper of record reports that it was "asked to withhold any mention of [Cheney's] trip until he had left Pakistan." What conceivable national security purpose was served by swearing the press pool to secrecy about this trip? And doesn't accepting these ground rules play into the hands of a hyper-secretive Vice-President whose signature contribution to our security has been misleading us into a disastrous war and carpet bombing our constitutional system? The secrecy does expose a national security problem: the "war" on terror is a rank failure and Pakistan is not the stable country that White House talking points try to sell us.

Here's another instance of White House pressure. A front page article in Monday's New York Times --providing conditional evidence of Iranian weapons in Iraq--acknowledges that the paper acceded to Bush Administration requests that it withhold specific details about the weapons. As the Times reported: "In the course of the detailed briefing on the Hilla discovery, Maj. Marty Weber, an explosives expert, said that most of the E.F.P.s in Iraq use C-4 plastic explosive manufactured in Iran. At the request of the Bush Administration, The Times is withholding some specific details about the weapons to protect intelligence sources and methods."

Hours after the story appeared, Congressman Dennis Kucinich issued a statement -- "The New York Times Plays into Bush Administration's Hand." "The White House," Kucinich says, "is up to its old scams again: Providing information by anonymous sources ..... This time, however, they added another trick to their bag: providing the information and prohibiting the Times from publishing it.....The New York Times should not print unsourced, unattributed assertions and then voluntarily hide the details from the American public..." The paper, he went on to argue, "is playing into the Administration's hand and providing further justification for an attack on Iran."

Nancy Pelosi: Farm Girl

Nancy Pelosi has proven to be a far more politically savvy Speaker of the House than most of her critics, and some of her fans, expected. This is not to say that she has done enough to end the war in Iraq or hold the Bush administration to account, nor that she has avoided predictable pitfalls that are discovered by new congressional leaders. But she has kept her caucus together and drawn significant Republican support as the House has addressed minimum wage, stem cell research and ethics issues that were neglected by her Republican predecessor.

Even conservative commentator Bob Novak, via the anything but Pelosi-friendly Evans-Novak political wire, commented that, "The ‘hundred hours' program of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been a success beyond all anticipation. The passage of poll-approved measures came with a unanimous Democratic vote and heavy -- in some cases majority -- Republican support. This performance shows the error and futility of Republican expectations that Pelosi as speaker would fall on her face…"

But Pelosi's achievement ought be measured merely by reviewing the legislation that has passed the House. It is also important to pay attention to her outreach to constituencies that Democrats tended to ignore during the Clinton and early Bush years -- to the party's dramatic detriment.

On Friday, Pelosi will deliver the keynote address at the National Farmers Union's 105th annual convention. Her focus will be on opportunities for development in rural communities, with special attention to increasing the use of renewable fuels. The speaker recognizes that there is common ground on which the party's environmentally-conscious base can stand with farmers, and she is paying a lot of attention to that turf.

But the most important thing about Pelosi's appearance at the NFU convention in Orlando will not be what she says. Rather, it will be that the most prominent Democrat in Washington is going out of her way to spend time with farmers and ranchers.

For years, Democrats prattled on and on about how to appeal to this suburb or that suburb, failing to recognize that they were losing winnable House seats in the vast rural stretches beyond metropolitan America. Campaign after campaign went by, with Republicans printing up their "Farmers and Ranchers for Gingrich," "Farmers and Ranchers for Dole," "Farmers and Ranchers for Bush" signs and, by virtue of minimal attention to rural voters, gaining victories that never should have gone to the party of corporate agribusiness. The Democratic Party's failure to address basic concerns of rural America -- on issues ranging from trade policy to renewable fuels to the unique concerns of remote regions regarding health care and education -- cost the party dearly.

Along with the new Democratic chairs of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, Minnesota's Colin Peterson -- who will also address the NFU convention -- and Iowa's Tom Harkin, Pelosi has worked hard to get farm and rural issues back on the party's agenda. Even before she was speaker, Pelosi urged the formation in 2OO3 of the Rural Working Group, an advisory panel of House members that focuses on policy matters that are of particular concern to farmers and residents of small towns and cities.

Others, particularly Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and that state's new Democratic senator, Jon Tester, have worked hard and well to get Democrats to recognize that there are unmet economic and social needs in rural America -- not to mention significant openings for smart electoral appeals by a Democratic Party that recognizes and addresses those needs. But Pelosi, a native of Baltimore who now represents San Francisco, has been impressively attentive to the concerns of corners of America that have in recent years been exploited by too many Republicans and neglected by too many Democrats.

NFU President Tom Buis says "[Pelosi] is leading the charge to develop strong rural policy in Congress."

That is high praise, indeed, for a big-city politician like Pelosi. But she has earned it by going out of her way to pay attention to rural America, by focusing on proper policies and, perhaps just as importantly, by showing up for events like the convention of the National Farmers Union.

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

Money for Lefties

The right has been generously funding conservative student activists for years. On the other side, the Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund is currently taking applications for grants for progressive student activists for the 2007-08 academic year. These need-based scholarships are awarded to both full-time undergraduate and graduate students actively working for peace and justice.

The maximum grant is $8,000 and awards may be considerably smaller depending on the applicant's circumstances and the funding available. There are 25 to 30 grants awarded each year with all funds come from individual donors. Grants are for one year although students may re-apply for subsequent funding. The deadline for applying is April 1.

Created in 1961, the Fund was originally established as the Marian Davis Scholarship Fund, a memorial to a teacher and outspoken advocate for racial justice and the rights of labor who died of breast cancer in 1960. While raising her family, she was also at home in the classroom, on the picket line, or in a jail cell. Marian's husband, Horace B. Davis, organized the Fund as a tribute to a talented teacher, loved by her students, who was persecuted for her work for peace and freedom.

Recent grantees have been active in the struggle against racism, sexism and homophobia; in building the movement for economic justice; and in working toward peace through international anti-imperialist solidarity.

If you're a student, click here for info on how to apply.

If you're not a student but want to join Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Grace Paley, Pete Seeger and Bernice Johnson Reagon in supporting the Davis-Putter Fund, click here. All funds come from the contributions of individual donors -- there is no endowment. The Fund depends entirely on the generosity of sympathetic individuals to support a new generation of progressive students.

Don't Blame the Base

Fifty-eight percent of the American people support Jack Murtha's plan to properly rest, train and equip American troops before deploying them into battle, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Too bad Congress continues to lag behind the public when it comes to what to do about Iraq.

According to the Post, conservative Democrats are upset that Murtha introduced his plan on a "liberal web site." Oh my goodness, a liberal web site! How provocative. What in the world was Murtha thinking?

He knew that the media would twist his words, as they so often do. So he decided to host an in-depth online chat with Tom Andrews, the head of Win Without War and a former Congressman from Maine, who's not exactly a Bolshevik.

The details of Murtha's proposal, which he hoped to attach to the Bush Administration's latest $100 billion supplemental funding request, had been reported before, including by yours truly. Obviously the "liberal web site" isn't the problem. Pro-war Democrats should say what they really think--they're afraid of Republicans attacking them for not "supporting the troops."

Memo to Congress: Don't blame the Democratic base for your own insecurity. And stop hiding behind the troops. They, like everyone else, want to get out of the quagmire in the desert.

The Sanity of Jimmy Carter

In an interview with This Week, anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, former President Jimmy Carter said that his recent book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid has led to the most personal criticism of his life. Carter said that he has been called a "liar," "anti-Semite," "plagiarist," "thief," "coward"--and yet the 82-year-old remains as focused, passionate and articulate as ever on his reasons for writing the book and what he hopes it will accomplish.

"If I have had one burning desire in my heart and mind for the last thirty years, I would put peace for Israel at the top of the list," Carter said. "And commensurate with that has to be justice and human rights for the Palestinians next door." (To readers who would still question Carter's commitment to Israel, read the article in The Nation by former national Director of the American Jewish Congress, Henry Siegman). Carter hopes his book will precipitate an open debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict and renew the abandoned peace process- certainly, as both Carter and Stephanopoulos noted, it has already accomplished the former.

In Carter's opinion, the need for this vigorous public debate is all the more crucial since he doesn't believe the Democratic Congress will take any more of a balanced approach to peace than its Republican predecessor. Aside from "maybe two or three members" Carter believes that our representatives view any position critical of the current conservative Israeli government as  "politically suicidal."

The same humanity which leads Carter to speak out fearlessly about the Middle East has led him to address "diseases that no one else really cares about much, or knows about"--like Guinea Worm (now on the verge of becoming the first disease eradicated in over twenty-five years largely through the work of the Carter Center)--that impact "the poorest, most destitute, forgotten and needy people on Earth." He stated plainly that the United States needs to increase our foreign aid--"We're at the bottom of all the developed countries in giving to other people"--and he's right, as a percentage of GDP we are shamefully stingy.

Finally, Carter gets the importance of global warming as a defining issue of our time--which is a significant reason why he would support formerly elected by popular vote/Oscar winner, President Al Gore in 2008. "I've put so much pressure on Al to run that he's almost gotten aggravated with me," Carter said, laughing. "He said, 'Jimmy, I'll support you. Don't call.' But he would be my favorite."

At a time when there is too little honesty or boldness in our politics, Jimmy Carter speaks his mind, with sanity and humanity. His ideas deserve discussion and debate, not vituperation and ad hominem attack.

Oscar Postmortem: What About Iraq?

It's great that the problem of global warming was all the rage at last night's Academy Awards. An Inconvenient Truth deservedly won best documentary, Melissa Etheridge's song from the film scored an upset victory and Al Gore was feted like a king, largely because of his prophecy about climate change.

All well and good. But what about Iraq? Maybe global warming is the most pressing calamity our country currently faces. But you'd think that the war that has killed over 3,000 Americans and cost hundreds of billions of dollars would be worthy of Hollywood's attention. Yet aside from two Oscar-nominated documentaries about Iraq, it barely came up.

I wasn't expecting Jennifer Hudson to suddenly call for immediate withdrawal. And celebrities often do more harm than good when they speak out about issues of the day (paging Jane Fonda). But if Hollywood is going to be socially conscious, they should also be consistent. The war in Iraq is messy, complicated and controversial. That's all the more reason to talk about it, even at the Academy Awards.

Talking Points for the Next War

At 10:16 PM on March 19, 2003, after copious military preparations in the Persian Gulf region and beyond, after months of diplomatic maneuvers at the United Nations, after a drumbeat of leaked intelligence warnings and hair-raising statements by top U.S. officials and the President about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and how close Saddam Hussein might be to developing a nuclear weapon, after declaring Saddam's regime a major threat to Americans, after countless insinuations that it was somehow connected to the 9/11 attacks on our country, after endless denials that war with Iraq was necessarily on the administration's agenda, President George W. Bush addressed the nation from the Oval Office. "My fellow citizens," he began, "at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger…"

Almost four years later, all the above elements are again in place, this time in relation to Iran -- with Iranian responsibility for the deaths of Americans in Iraq replacing Iraqi responsibility for the deaths of Americans in New York and Washington. On a careful reading of our President's latest speeches and statements, Michael Klare has noted that an actual list of three charges against Iran, a case for war, has already essentially been drawn up, making it easy enough to imagine that at 10:16 PM on some night not so very distant from this one, from that same desk in the Oval Office, the President of the United States might again begin, "My fellow citizens, at this hour…"

As Klare writes: "Sometime this spring or summer, barring an unexpected turnaround by Tehran, President Bush is likely to go on national television and announce that he has ordered American ships and aircraft to strike at military targets inside Iran. We must still sit through several months of soap opera at the United Nations in New York and assorted foreign capitals before this comes to pass, and it is always possible that a diplomatic breakthrough will occur -- let it be so! -- but I am convinced that Bush has already decided an attack is his only option and the rest is a charade he must go through to satisfy his European allies. The proof of this, I believe, lies half-hidden in recent public statements of his, which, if pieced together, provide a casus belli, or formal list of justifications, for going to war."

But check his piece out for yourself at Tomdispatch.com. It's a chilling glimpse into a possible future for us all.

Libby: No Mistrial, Yet

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, on Monday morning, dismissed a juror in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby after determining that the juror had been exposed to media coverage of the trial of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff.

After meeting with jurors and lawyers behind closed doors, the judge allowed jury deliberations -- now in their fourth day -- to continue with 11 jurors. He could have called on one of two alternate jurors.

The machinations surrounding the errant juror raised concerns about whether a mistrial might ultimately be declared. But that won't happen , at least for now.

From the start of the trial, the jury has been under strict orders to avoid watching, listening to or reading news coverage about the trial and issues related to it because of concerns that contact with the news could taint the process.

The judge halted deliberations after raising concerns about information the juror learned over the weekend.

The deeper worry, according to the judge, was that the juror who had been exposed to the news reports might have shared the news with other jurors. The extent to which this might have happened was the subject of the behind-closed-doors inquiries from Walton and attorneys in the trial.

The Monday morning dust-up raises the possibility -- though not the certainty -- that a mistrial could still be declared after the month-long courtroom drama involving the former White House aide for lying and obstructing an investigation into the 2003 leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. Cheney and his aides have been accused of going after Plame in order to punish her husband, former Ambassador Joe, for revealing the administration's manipulation of intelligence to make a "case" for war with Iraq.

By some calculations, a mistrial could serve the interests of Libby and the Bush administration by dragging the complex case out longer -- toward a point when the president might find it convenient to pardon the man who could point a finger of blame at Bush, Cheney and others in the administration. That presumes that Libby would be convicted.

In the event of a mistrial, Libby's lawyers would likely claim their client had been cheated of exoneration by the jury.

Whatever the spin, if a mistrial is called, it is important that the case be renewed -- just as it is vital that Congress begin to take up issues that were raised during the trial. In particular, there is a need to examine the revelations about Cheney's role in plotting the attacks on Plame and Wilson.

Open Congress

As a political reporter, you often have occassion to attempt to find specific language in a bill, or figure out who's co-sponsored a piece of legislation, or what the status of an amendement is. While all of this can be gleaned from Congress' Thomas web site, it ain't easy. In fact, it's a serious headache. There are other tools aside from Thomas, but while they are comprehensive in their data, none of them synthesizes and presents the information in a particularly useful way. They don't incorporate blogs, and user rating systems, or tell you what other users have been searching for. In short, they don't use all the features of web 2.0 usability that have made the web such a powerful aggregator and distiller of information in the last few years. But now all that is about to change. Today, the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation went live with the beta version of OpenCongress, an amazing new tool for activists and citizens.

OpenCongress gives you access to all the going-on of congress: what bills are in commitee, what amendments are up for floor votes, how individual legislators are voting, and it presents all this information is an easy-to-use, simple-as-pie manner. But you can also spend time on OpenCongress just browsing. The site displays what votes have just taken place and lists which bills and legislators are most viewed. It's got a blog that distills congressional news and even allows you to set up RSS feeds so you can track what's happening with a specific issue or bill. There's nothing else remotely as intuitive and easy. Next time you want to check up on what your elected representative is up to, head over to OpenCongress.