The Nation

The Alternative to a Failed Status Quo

President Bush and Vice President Cheney constantly claim that critics of the war have not offered an alternative to their proposals to surge deeper into the quagmire they have created in Iraq.

Watching the Senate struggle to open a debate on whether to pass even a non-binding resolution criticizing the surge scheme would seem to reinforce the administration's line.

But the truth is that the "there-is-no-alternative" spin is every bit as disingenuous as the claim that Congress saw the same intelligence as the president and vice president and then fully and unquestioningly bendorsed attacking Iraq. In fact, 133 members of the House and 23 members of the Senate saw the "intelligence" that the administration was peddling in 2002 and voted against authorizing the president to attack and occupy Iraq. Dozens of additional members of the House and Senate -- Democrats and Republicans -- expressed reservations about the administration's rush to war.

A substantial number of the House members who were outspoken in their opposition to attacking Iraq were members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

They read the "intelligence" right in 2002, and they have continued to do so by raising their voices in favor of an exit strategy. CPC co-chair Lynn Woolsey, D-California, advanced an amendment seeking a withdrawal plan almost two years ago, while the other co-chair, Barbara Lee, D-California, has led the House in voting for resolutions opposing the construction of permanent US bases in Iraq. Both continue to be in the forefront of congressional efforts to end the occupation and bring U.S. troops safely home.

Now, the 71-member caucus, which is by far the largest and most diverse ideological grouping of House Democrats, has issued a detailed policy statement regarding the war. It reads:

Over the last four years, the insurgency in Iraq has strengthened and sectarian violence has increased. Furthermore, the current situation on the ground in Iraq is grave and rapidly deteriorating. The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has determined accordingly that a predominantly military approach is no longer a viable solution to stabilizing Iraq.

We are committed to bringing all of the US troops and military contractors in Iraq home in a six-month time frame as part of a fully-funded redeployment plan.

More specifically, we oppose sending additional US troops and military contractors to Iraq and favor binding votes to block President Bush's escalation of US military involvement in Iraq.

We believe all appropriations for US military involvement in Iraq must be for the protection of our troops until and during their withdrawal within six months of the date of enactment of this limitation and accelerating the training and equipping of additional Iraqi security forces during that six-month time frame. The President has left the Congress few alternatives other than to use the power of purse spelled out in Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution to curtail U.S. military operations in Iraq.

Finally, we are opposed to establishing any permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq, support rescinding the President's Iraq war authority, and support greater diplomatic and political engagement in the region, while ensuring that the Iraqi people have control over their own petroleum resources.

This is the alternative that the administration wants Americans to believe does not exist.

This is, as well, a far sounder and more responsible approach to the Iraq imbroglio than anything proposed by the administration, by its allies in Congress or by the too-cautious Democratic leaders of the House and Senate. The only question now is whether the workable alternative of the Congressional Progressive Caucus will garner as much attention from the media as the failed status quo of the Bush-Cheney White House. If it does, the president and vice president will be forced to acknowledge that there is an alternative, and that the American people favor it.


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.'"

Mike Gravel's Campaign

Last weekend, C-Span radio was broadcasting live the speeches of presidential candidates before the Democratic National Committee in Washington. I was listening in the car while running errands. Bill Richardson, the New Mexico governor, was holding forth when I ducked into a store. When I got back to the car, a different candidate was speaking, a voice I didn't recognize.

"We made a grave mistake," he said. "We should have the courage to admit it. We must bring our troops home now--not six months from now, not a year from now--NOW! One more American death for ‘our vital interest' is not worth it. We all know ‘vital interest' is code for oil."

Wow. Who is the guy?

"The Democrats in control of Congress need to act resolutely--and I'm not talking about some mealy-mouthed, non-binding resolutions. They need to precipitate a constitutional confrontation with the George Bush."

It's not Dennis Kucinich. I know his voice.

"We have become a nation ruled by fear. Since the end of the Second World War, various political leaders have fostered fear in the American people--fear of communism, fear of terrorism, fear of immigrants, fear of people based on race and religion, fear of gays and lesbians in love who just want to get married and fear of people who are somehow different. It is fear that allows political leaders to manipulate us all and distort our national priorities."

Yes! I was working up real enthusiasm for this guy, but still didn't know his name. He then assailed the American-led arms race and the claim of "American exceptionalism" made by some of his fellow candidates.

"We are indeed a great nation, one that has made significant contributions to humanity. But our leaders are promoting delusional thinking when boasting that the United States and Americans are superior to the rest of the human race. We are no better and no worse."

I don't know if I've ever heard an American politician say that. He illustrated the point by observing that Americans are mainly "Number One" in production of weapons, consumer spending, debt, people in prison, energy consumption and environmental pollution.

"The major problems we face are all global in nature--energy, the environment, terrorism, drugs, war, immigration, disease, economic and cultural globalization. These problems require global solutions that can only be addressed by concerted diplomacy and cooperation, not jingoism about America's super power superiority."

Amen. He talked too long, but what an inspiring speech it was. Afterwards, I learned his name--Mike Gravel, the former two-term senator from Alaska.

As a gutsy politician, Gravel was always out there. He championed the Alaska state fund that distributes the state's vast oil revenues directly to all its citizens. During the Vietnam war, he filibustered against renewal of the military draft. He unilaterally declassified the Pentagon papers by staging a one-man hearing where he read the documents into the Congressional Record.

This year, Mike Gravel is running for president and promoting a national initiative by which citizens could legislate laws directly. Look for him at the "cattle calls" where Democratic candidates gather. He is 76 years old. He is still speaking truth to power. They can't shut him up.

Libby Trial: Scooter Speaks, Part II

As jurors in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby spent Tuesday listening to audiotapes of Libby's two appearances in 2004 before the grand jury investigating the CIA leak, a possible killer moment occurred. It came when Libby, describing a conversation he had with reporter Matt Cooper, then of Time, on July 12, 2003 (two days before Valerie Wilson was outed as a CIA officer in a Robert Novak column), told the grand jury:

And I said [to Cooper], reporters are telling us that [former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife works at the CIA], I don't know if it's true. I was careful about that because among other things, I wanted to be clear I didn't know Mr. Wilson. I don't know – I think I said, I don't know if he has a wife, but this is what we're hearing.

I don't know if he has a wife--that's what the man said under oath.

By the time the jurors heard this part of the tape, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had presented as witnesses five past or present Bush administration officials and one journalist who each testified that he or she discussed Wilson's wife with Libby prior to Libby's phone call with Cooper. An additional witness--Vice President Dick Cheney's current chief of staff, David Addington--testified that Libby had asked him about the paperwork the CIA would keep if an officer had sent a spouse on a trip. And a Libby note from early June 2003, introduced as evidence by both the prosecution and the defense, indicates that Cheney told Libby, his chief of staff at the time, that Wilson's wife was employed at the CIA's Counterproliferation Division, a unit in the agency's clandestine operations directorate.

Yet now jurors could hear Libby claiming to the grand jury that at the time of the Libby-Cooper phone call--six days after Joseph Wilson had published an op-ed saying he had inside information showing the White House and Cheney's office had twisted the prewar intelligence--he (Libby) had no idea that Wilson was married, let alone that he knew the missus was a CIA employee.

Could Libby really have been telling the truth?

By playing the audiotapes, Fitzgerald placed the jurors in the position he was in when he grilled Libby before the grand jury. At that point, he already had testimony from witnesses who maintained they had told Libby or heard from him about Wilson's wife prior to the leak. Yet when Libby appeared before the grand jury, he told a convoluted tale. In essence, he claimed that he had been struck by amnesia--a rather selective case of amnesia.

Before the grand jury, Libby conceded that sometime before June 12, 2003, Cheney told him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. (This happened during a period when Libby and Cheney were concerned about a Washington Post reporter who was looking into a story about an unnamed former envoy who had gone to Niger for the CIA and returned with information that the ex-envoy believed disproved part of the administration's case for war.) But Libby claimed that he had totally--and he meant totally--forgotten all about the wife when on July 10 or 11, 2003, Meet the Press host Tim Russert told him that "all the reporters" knew that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Before the grand jury, Libby repeatedly said he was "surprised" by the information he received from Russert. He said he felt he was learning it "anew" and was "taken aback." He was not unsure on this point: "I have a specific recollection I was surprised."

Libby was saying not that the Russert conversation had reminded him of what he had known only weeks earlier, but that he had so entirely forgotten what his boss had told him about Valerie Wilson that this was a complete news flash to him. Libby then insisted that he only passed the gossip he had received from Russert to other reporters (such as Cooper), telling them that he (Libby) knew nothing certain about Wilson's wife. Not that Wilson even had a wife.

It was some tale. This is how Libby described his phone call with Russert to the grand jurors:

And then [Russert] said, you know, did you know that this--excuse me, did you know that Ambassador Wilson's wife works at the CIA? And I was a little taken aback by that. I remember being taken aback by it. And I said--he may have said a little more but that was--he said that. And I said, no, I don't know that. And I said, no, I don't know that intentionally because I didn't want him to take anything I was saying as in any way confirming what he said, because at that point in time I did not recall that I had ever known, and I thought this is something that he was telling me that I was first learning. And so I said, no, I don't know that because I want to be very careful not to confirm it for him, so that he didn't take my statement as confirmation for him.

Russert has denied telling Libby any such thing and has said that he knew nothing about Wilson's wife at the time of his conversation with Libby. And during Libby's grand jury appearances, Fitzgerald repeatedly asked Libby if Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman, senior CIA official Robert Grenier, and Cheney aide Cathie Martin had told him, prior to this conversation with Russert, that Wilson's wife was employed at the CIA. Libby said he did not recall any of these discussions. Fitzgerald asked him if he had discussed Wilson's wife and her CIA tie with White House press secretary Ari Fleischer days before the Russert call. Again, Libby said he could not remember doing so. The trial jurors listened to all this, knowing that each of these people had testified at the trial that they did talk to Libby about Wilson's wife before he supposedly learned it "anew." (During his second grand jury appearance, Libby asked to clarify his previous testimony and said that he now recalled having spoken to Grossman about Wilson as "a joke" and that he had ribbed Grossman because an ex-ambassador was leaking information harmful to the administration. He still claimed he had no recollection of Grossman telling him anything about Wilson's wife. A cynical interpretation would be that Libby--or his lawyer--decided it was better to have a difference with Grossman about what was said than a contradiction over whether they had ever talked about the Wilson mission.)

In his grand jury testimony, there were other hard-to-swallow parts. Libby acknowledged that after Wilson's op-ed came out, he discussed the Wilson controversy with Cheney, who was "upset" by the article. But Libby claimed that he and Cheney (who had written a note about Wilson's wife on his copy of the op-ed) had not talked about Wilson's wife until weeks later. In other words, right after the op-ed was published, Cheney and Libby had talked about various aspects of the Wilson case except Wilson's wife.

Libby's grand jury testimony yielded some interesting tidbits. Fitzgerald asked him about phone records indicating that Novak had called him days before he published his column outing Valerie Wilson. Yet Libby said he had no memory of speaking to Novak at that time. What happened? The jury--and the public--may never find out. But the jury did learn who was one of Cheney's favorite reporters: Judith Miller, formerly of The New York Times. Explaining why he chose to pass information from the top-secret National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's WMD to Miller, Libby told the grand jury that he considered Miller (whose prewar reporting on Iraq WMDs was exaggerated) "a serious reporter who cares about the substance of the issues." And Libby testified that before he leaked the NIE excerpts to Miller on July 8, 2003, he told Cheney that he had picked Miller to be the recipient of this leak. Presumably, Cheney considered her a suitable conduit, for he did not stop his aide. (Cheney had arranged for President Bush to declassify parts of the NIE so Libby could selectively leak it to a reporter as part of the administration's effort to beat back the mounting criticism that the White House had hyped the prewar case for war.)

Before the tapes were played, there was a legal tussle in the court concerning the defense team's desire to call New York Times reporter David Sanger as a witness. Libby met with Sanger on July 2, 2003, and apparently Libby said nothing to Sanger about Wilson's wife. The defense wants to point to this conversation to show that Libby was not actively spreading information about Wilson's wife. A Times lawyer argued that if Sanger were forced to testify, his ability to deal with confidential sources would be hampered. Judge Reggie Walton shot down Sanger's argument and said the reporter would have to appear as a witness for the defense. (Will Sanger, like Miller did, defy a court order and face prison time?) As the defense and the Times tangled, Fitzgerald noted that during his July 2 conversation with Sanger, Libby shared information about the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction that was still classified. The implication: Libby was leaking before Cheney gave him permission to do so.

On Wednesday, the jury is scheduled to hear the final two and a half hours of Libby's grand jury testimony. So far the tapes are not favorable for Libby. His story before the grand jury was neither clean nor clear. And on the audiotape, when he made a remark that would later be contradicted by trial witnesses he often paused or dropped the volume of his voice. Are the jurors picking up on that? There's no telling. But his grand jury testimony--which got Libby into his current jam--is not a strong advertisement for the former vice presidential chief of staff. Libby's defense team has filed a motion suggesting Libby may not testify in his own defense. But after hearing Libby present confusing (if not untenable) explanations of his actions to the grand jury, the trial jurors may well want (and expect) to hear Libby clear things up on the witness stand. That is, if he can.


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

Defense Budget Follies (continued)

With President Bush's latest budget request of $245 billion for the "global war on terror" (and a warning from administration officials that there are more funding requests to come), the staggering total has now reached $745 billion. And even that is probably too low.

"There's going to be real sticker shock when we get down to what the truth is about the cost of this war," Senator Kent Conrad, Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, told the Washington Post. "It's going to be way beyond what anybody has fessed up to."

Which is exactly the point Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has made time and again, saying that the war could end up costing over two trillion dollars. Not to mention what Speaker Pelosi understatedly calls an "opportunity cost" sapping the ability of the US to undertake important domestic initiatives – not only now, but for future generations when the bill for the borrowing required to fight this war comes due (in contrast to past wars, this one has been paid for on a "credit card" while taxes for the wealthy are slashed).

It is critical that Congress not only reassert its power of the purse (and use that power to protect the troops and bring them home), but also begin to rethink what an effective, rational foreign policy and defense budget means in these times. Instead of squandering our resources on the Bush course of increased militarization we should be changing course to address national security issues that this administration has avoided like a pre-war intelligence report it doesn't want to hear. For example, global warming should be considered a national security issue. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with hundreds of scientists drawn from 113 nations (including the US), has just concluded based on six years of research that "there is an overwhelming probability that human activities are warming the planet at a dangerous rate, with consequences that could soon take decades or centuries to reverse."

Even the Bush administration can't keep its head in the sand any longer on this front – it's hard to be a denialist now – so it has offered small, token praise. But as Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council said, "Talk is easy. Let's all roll up our sleeves and get on with the task – and end our state of denial."

So where is the administration's boldness to confront this central challenge facing us and the world in the 21st century? Where is the call for a mandatory limit on greenhouse gases from all sources of global warming pollution, including power plants and factories? Where is the commitment not only to alternative fuels – but cleaner, cheaper, and renewable sources of energy?

These challenges are enormous. But fortunately there are some beginning steps now being taken on the road towards sanity. Senators Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer have introduced the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act that would begin cutting emissions now and increase reductions every year – saving money and preventing disasters in the long run. And the Apollo Alliance offers a broad vision on how our nation can invest in energy independence and alternative fuels. That's the kind of commitment, determination, and leadership we need to see to face the challenges of the 21st century – instead of the same old defense budget follies from a Bush administration that would dig us deeper and deeper into its disaster.

Holding Bush to Account for Climate Lies, Neglect

Viewers of Fox News, listeners to Rush Limbaugh and all the other sorry deadenders who choose Bush administration propaganda over perspective will be shocked to learn that the debate about global warming has been over for a long time.

Climate change is real. And the cynical ploy by conservative politicians and commentators of suggesting otherwise has slowed the American response to a crisis scientists say has grown so severe that -- no matter what is now done to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases -- gases that have already been produced or are in production will continue to contribute to global warming and the rise of oceans for more than 1,000 years.

The message from the world's top scientists is sobering. "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level,'' argues a new report from the climate scientists working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change formed by the United Nations' Environment Program and World Meteorological Organization.

The Bush administration has consciously and intentionally failed for six years to address the crisis. Worse yet, the president and his aides have actively attempted to foster the fantasy that global warming: a. does not exist, b. is a natural phenomenon, c. is a good thing or d. all of the above.

The combination of deliberate inaction and delusional denial has earned this president a place in history alongside all the past Neros who have fiddled while their Romes burned. But the evidence that the Bush administration tampered with scientific research on globalwarming in order to advance its agenda calls for more immediate sanction.

The president and those around him have, as evidenced by their actions over the past six years, proven that they cannot be trusted with power. Yet, without an intervention, they will retain power for another two years.

That is not a prospect to be considered casually.

"The Bush Administration is doing to the whole world what it did to New Orleans as Katrina began to descend on the city," says Green Party co-chair Rebecca Rotzler, who has been in the forefront of demanding an official response to the administration's assault on science. "By altering scientific research on global warming to fit his political agenda and refusing to take necessary steps to protect the public, President Bush has aggravated an impending environmental, public health, and security crisis.

What to do? The Green Party, for reasons both of its environmental commitment and the seriousness with which it approaches issues of political accountability, has proposed a proper response. Responding to complaints from more than 120 scientists from seven federal agencies that they have been pressured to remove references to global warming from research reports, press releases, and communications with Congress, the Greens have accused the Bush administration of conspiring to deceive Congress and the America people about fundamental issues facing the nation. And there is a proper sanction for so serious an offense.

"Congress must recognize the Bush Administration's tampering with studies on global warming and other scientific research as an impeachable offense," says Jody Grage, who serves as treasurer of the Green Party. "Ever since Vice President Cheney initiated private meetings with oil company representatives to determine energy policy, the administration has placed the demands for corporate profits over urgent human and environmental needs."

Just as there are still those who debate whether climate change is actually taking place, there are still those who debate whether this president has committed acts that merit impeachment and removal from office.

But the Greens are right on this one.

The founders intended impeachment not as a legal process but as a tool for the protection of the nation and its citizens from irrational, irresponsible and immoral executives. The point of creating a procedure that allowed the Congress to interrupt a presidential term was not to punish minor acts of wrongdoing, it was to preserve the republic -- both structurally and physically -- from a president whose actions, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, might be "productive of cruel distress to our country."

The European kings and queens against whom American revolutionaries took up arms had attacked science and free thought in order not merely to advance their pet theories but to improve their fortunes. A president who did the same, Jefferson argued, was no different from a monarch -- except that his tenure was constitutionally limited. That did not mean, however, that Americans should accept a king for four years.

"An elective despotism was not the government we fought for, but one which should not only be founded on true free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among general bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others," explained the author of the Declaration of Independence who would make himself the steadiest advocate for democratic principles in the early days of the republic.

Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason and their circle fought to assure that the Constitution would include a broad power of impeachment. It was, these men of the enlightenment knew, the essential corrective against an elective despotism that might see an imperial president reject even the logic of science in pursuit of whims, fantasies and self-interest.

The founders knew that the impetus for impeachment might not be an act, but rather an inaction. And if that inaction was the result of a choice by the president and his aides to serve their oil-industry partners and contributors rather than their country and their planet, then surely it is a high crime against the republic -- an impeachable crime in the sense intended by the authors of the Constitution -- that has been committed.

The Greens have wisely recognized this fact, and made an appropriate argument for booting a pathetic president from the Oval Office.

Perhaps if those of us who still retain a Jeffersonian regard for science begin to speak of denying climate change as the impeachable offense that it is, we can begin to put the issue in proper perspective for the folks at Fox -- who seem only to feel a sense of urgency when their dear leader is threatened with sanctions more immediate than those of history.

We may, as well, answer the most poignant of the questions left us by Thomas Jefferson. "Yes, we did produce a near-perfect republic," observed the third president, who then turned his attention to those who would inherit that republic and asked: "But will they keep it?


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.'"

Libby Trial: Scooter Speaks

After two weeks of listening to a series of prosecution witnesses in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the jurors finally got to hear the defendant. He didn't take the stand. That may happen later. On Monday, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald began playing eight hours of audio tapes of Libby's two appearances before the grand jury that investigated the CIA leak case.

The tapes did not contain much information not previously disclosed. Fitzgerald had picked Libby's grand jury testimony clean for his indictment and pretrial submissions. But the airing of the tapes was a visceral moment in a trial that has sometimes bogged down in legal minutia. Jurors could hear Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff utter the words that Fitzgerald has branded lies. They could listen to the pauses, to the moments when Libby's voice became quiet, to the hesitation that occurred during some of his answers--were any of these a tell?--and seek tangible and intangible indications of whether Libby indeed made false statements to prevent himself (and perhaps the vice president) from becoming entangled in a criminal prosecution.

In one of the first questions at the March 5, 2004 grand jury session, Fitzgerald asked Libby to explain how he had received his nickname "Scooter." Libby replied with a small joke: "Are we classified in here? It's--my family is from the South and it's less uncommon than it is up here." That was all he said--he didn't answer the question. Then Fitzgerald bore down on Libby, grilling him on what he had known about the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson and when he had known it.

There were several key exchanges in the first 100 minutes played before the court recessed for the day. (The tapes and the transcripts will be released to the media and the public--over the objection of Libby's defense team--after all the tapes are played in court.) In front of the grand jury, Fitzgerald repeatedly asked Libby if in June 2003 he had discussed Wilson's wife and her CIA employment with either Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman or CIA senior official Robert Grenier. (At that point, Wilson's now infamous trip to Niger--during which he concluded the allegation that Iraq had been seeking uranium in Niger was bunk--had been cited in the media without Wilson being named.) Libby repeatedly told Fitzgerald that he had not spoken with either man about Wilson's wife. Yet both Grossman and Grenier have testified in this trial that Libby demanded information from them about the Wilson mission and that they informed him the ambassador's wife was a CIA employee.

Over and over, Libby told the grand jury he could not remember any such conversations with Grossman or Grenier. "Is that something you would remember?" Fitzgerald asked. "I just don't recall the conversation," Libby replied, in a voice that dropped in volume.

This has been a critical point for Libby. His story is that at the time of the leak that outed Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer on July 14, 2003, he possessed no official or classified information about her. He has claimed that he had forgotten--totally--the one conversation he had with Cheney about her in early June 2003, and he has said that in July 2003 he had heard from reporters--mainly Tim Russert of Meet the Press--that there were rumors that Wilson's wife was CIA. He has claimed it was as if he was learning about Valerie Wilson for the first time. Libby, according to his own account, then merely shared these rumors with other reporters.

Before the grand jury, Libby acknowledged that he had discussed Wilson's wife with his boss sometime before June 12, as Libby was preparing to speak with Walter Pincus, a Washington Post reporter looking to do a piece on the trip of a then-unnamed former ambassador (which had been reported in a column by Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times a month earlier). The vice president told Libby that he had obtained information on this ex-diplomat and mentioned that the former ambassador's wife worked at the CIA's Counterproliferation Division, a unit within the agency's clandestine directorate. (Cheney and Libby were much concerned about the Wilson trip, for they believed the initial story about it suggested they had directly sent Wilson to Africa--which they had not--and that they had subsequently deliberately ignored information indicating that part of the administration's case for war was false.)

Questioning Libby about this conversation with Cheney, Fitzgerald asked if anything had been different in Cheney's tone of voice when he referred to the wife's CIA connection. The remark, Libby said, was a "little bit of a curiosity sort of thing." Was there any negative connotation? Fitzgerald inquired. "I wouldn't say negative," Libby replied. "It was a fact--not everybody's wife works there."

In Libby's telling, the vice president was briefing him about what the vice president had learned about Wilson's trip--a month before the Wilson imbroglio would become a public scandal--and the CIA link was no more than an oddity, even though everything else Cheney had learned about the trip was deemed important by him and Libby. "What did you think of that fact?" Fitzgerald asked, referring to the wife's CIA employment. Libby replied that he saw it as nothing but a "curiosity" that "might mean nothing, might mean something, I don't know."

That's Libby's story: the wife was a trivial matter; thus, he had no reason to lie about what he knew to the grand jury. Other elements of the Wilson trip--such as the fact that the vice president received no direct briefing on its results--were significant, but not this "curiosity." Libby has maintained that he discussed it with no one at State or the CIA. And then he forgot what Cheney had told him about the wife.

It's a hard story to believe--or follow--especially after several past and present Bush administration officials have testified at the trial that Libby was in the know about Valerie Wilson. On Tuesday, the jury will hear another six hours of Libby's grand jury testimony. It will be confusing and convoluted at times. And the jurors will be listening to what they can hear between the lines.


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

Think Globally, Act Globally

Some ideas are just so good that once you hear them explained, you wonder, Why hasn't anyone done this already? Avaaz is just such an idea, a new MoveOn-style group that will mobilize members all over the world to take action on global issues. Avaaz -- the word means "voice" in Urdu, Hindi, Farsi and several other languages -- launches its first campaign today, with a petition and TV adon climate change. The TV spot -- the first genuinely global political TV ad -- shows world leaders snoozing in their bedrooms, while climate disaster rages outside; it begins airing in Washington, D.C. today, and over the next few weeks will show in Paris, Berlin and Delhi. Avaaz begins with 900,000 members (combining the international lists of its two founding organizations, MoveOn and Res Publica, another global citizens' group), and will operate on four continents. The petition urges the global leaders to "set binding global targets" for carbon emissions.

Today I met two of the creative minds behind this project, executive director Ricken Patel and campaign director Tom Perriello (the only American on the team). Patel explains that Avaaz emerged out of "a sense that a real global consciousness is emerging." Founders are also excited by the idea of using technology to mobilize a global citizenry, with not only the Internet, but text-messaging proving to be a startlingly effective means of political communication, especially in the Third World. Of the team behind Avaaz, Perriello observes, "Most of us have policy or diplomacy backgrounds, as well as activist, so the hope is that we will be doing these things at key diplomatic moments." For instance, the climate change campaign is launching just in time for the G8 meeting.

Avaaz also expects to take up Middle East politics (war in Iraq, the need for an Israel-Palestine peace process, potential war with Iran, and Guantanamo), and global poverty. Like climate change, these are issues on which world leaders seem way out of step with most citizens, who are craving sensible solutions. "There is such a huge gap," says Patel, "between the world most people want, and the world we've got." Avaaz ambitiously aspires to narrow that gap.

What's Wrong With This Picture?

Now everything's a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped,

What's good is bad, what's bad is good, you'll find out when you reach the top

You're on the bottom. --Bob Dylan, "Idiot Wind"

Something is wrong with this picture: pharmaceutical giant Pfizer made nearly $15 billion last year. It recently gave a $180 million payout to former CEO Hank McKinnell. But in the last two months the company has announced it will lay off 10,000 workers in manufacturing, research, and sales.

"Incremental change is not enough," new CEO Jeffrey Kindler told the New York Times. "Fundamental change is imperative, and it must happen now."

And so the Brooklyn plant where Pfizer was born will be closed--600 jobs gone. Research sites in Michigan will be closed--2,400 jobs gone. Twenty percent of American sales positions--2,200 jobs. But if I were a betting woman--and I am – I'd bet "fundamental change" won't touch the lobbying operation which is dedicated to preventing fundamental change to the untenable way we do health care in America.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2005 there were 2,326 registered pharmaceutical lobbyists. That amounts to 4.3 lobbyists for every member of Congress, and the drug companies spent $146,783,853 on their efforts. And the Center for Public Integrity reports that between 1998-2005 the industry spent over $675 million on federal lobbying with the top twenty corporations and trade groups accounting for 70 percent of that spending.

Throw in another $133 million in federal and state campaign contributions during that time period (nearly 69 percent went to Republicans) and some key jobs offered to members and their staffs, and it's easy to see how Big Pharma gets such a stellar return on its lobbying investment (i.e. tens of billions of dollars in additional profits; a ban on the reimportation of cheaper drugs from Canada; and barring Medicare from negotiating bulk drug prices for seniors.) This is great news for them, and god-awful news for the rest of us who'd like to see a sane drug policy… and the Pfizer workers in Brooklyn, Michigan, and Omaha who might like a stake in the wealth they helped to create rather than becoming just another statistic in another round of brutal layoffs.

Here's some more upside-down thinking in an industry supposedly devoted to our health and well--being, as well as the bottom line: according to the Center for Public Integrity, the industry annually spends nearly twice as much on marketing as it does on research and development. In 2004, for example, eleven major companies reported spending close to $100 billion on marketing and $50 billion on R&D (Pfizer spent nearly $17 billion on advertising and under $8 billion on R&D). Meanwhile, the US government (taxpayers) supports R&D more than any other western industrialized government through tax breaks and subsidies. But drug prices here remain higher than any where else in the world. Go figure.

States have begun to push back on the skyrocketing drug prices and sweetheart deals for Big Pharma, with legislative proposals that include negotiating for bulk purchasing prices, mandating rebates for residents who don't have prescription drug coverage, and promoting use of generics. Maybe that explains why the industry is amping up its state lobbying efforts. The Center for Public Integrity reports $44 million in spending on lobbying state governments in 2003 and 2004, as well as $8 million in campaign contributions during that time. (Because some states have minimal disclosure requirements the actual figures might be significantly higher.)

And the state lobbying effort is working. "We are being backed up and squashed by the pharmaceutical industry money," said Massachusetts state Senator Mark Montigny, who chaired the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices in 2005. "They have killed lots and lots and lots of legislation in Massachusetts and across the country."

Connecticut state Senator Edith Prague added, "They kill everything when it comes to the bottom line…. We can't get anything done because of [lobbying by] Pfizer, Squibb and Bayer."

As Big Pharma continues to reap huge profits, pay lobbyists lavishly, and discard workers who have helped it reach the top, it's clear the health care business has hit bottom when it comes to striking a balance between concern for the bottom line and concern for human health and well being. That's one of the reasons why over 75 percent of Americans want universal coverage and an army of lobbyists is primed to preserve the status quo.

A Budget for Permanent War

Need proof that George W. Bush is not planning to withdraw US troops from Iraq on his watch? Just look at his latest budget.

The Bush Administration will ask Congress for $100 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan this year--on top of the $70 billion already allocated--and $145 billion for 2008. Why ask for the money if you're not planning to use it?

Administration officials, according to the Washington Post, "warned that even more money will probably will be needed." The Los Angeles Times says the military wants "even larger defense budgets."

Are you kidding me?

The costs of Iraq and Afghanistan aren't even included in the $481 billion the Pentagon demands for 2008, a 10 percent raise over this year. Total these figures up and Bush is asking for roughly $745 billion in defense spending, a higher number, when adjusted for inflation, than the entire cost of the Vietnam War.

Just pause and consider the size of that number. Three-quarters of a trillion dollars and Osama bin Laden is still at large, the Taliban are regrouping in Afghanistan and the US military is stuck in a civil war in Iraq.

"We have the largest Pentagon budget since World War II, but we are losing to an opponent in Iraq that spends less over an entire year than what we spend in one day," says Winslow Wheeler, a longtime defense expert at the Center for Defense Information.

Four defense analysts at the Security Policy Working Group recently awarded the government low or failing grades on virtually every aspect of the budget--use of nation's resources (D), affordability (D), realism (D) and transparency (F). On only one criteria, advertising, did they award at A+, "for the Pentagon managing to convince Congress that the world's largest defense budget is too small."

The question now is whether this Congress will take the bait?