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John Nichols

John Nichols

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An Antiwar Challenge to Hillary Clinton

Former National Writers Union president Jonathan Tasini, one of the most outspoken progressive activists in the U.S. labor movement, is expected this week to launch a Democratic primary challenge to New York Senator Hillary Clinton on a progressive platform that features a call for bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Tasini has scheduled an announcement for Tuesday morning in New York City, setting up a campaign that could put unexpected pressure from the left on Clinton, the unannounced frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination who until recently has been one of the strongest Democratic backers of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Tasini plans to campaign in support of the call by U.S. Representative John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, for the rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from that Middle Eastern country.

"Senator Clinton is out of step with the values of a majority of New Yorkers. While a majority of New Yorkers support an end to the war, Senator Clinton has repeatedly voiced her support for a war that continues to accumulate unacceptable costs, in terms of American and Iraqi lives and our own government spending," explained Tasini, decribing a central theme of a campaign that is also expected to advocate for fair trade, economic reforms and universal health care.

Clinton has felt little heat so far from her most prominent Republican challenger, Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro, whose campaign so far has been so hapless that some top Republicans are now calling for her to quit the race and instead run for state Attorney General.

But Tasini, who served for more than a decade as head of a national union and has since worked as president of the Economic Future Group, poses a far different and potentially more interesting challenge to Clinton. An author and frequent guest on television public affairs programs, Tasini runs a well-regarded progressive blog, Working Life, at his www.workinglife.org website, where his reviews of trade, health care and labor policy issues have drawn a broad following.

Unlike Pirro, Tasini understands the issues, he's quick on his feet, he knows his way around the state's union halls and he recognizes that Clinton's greatest vulnerability is a cautious centrism that has frequently put her at odds with grassroots Democrats.

Striking a chord that may well resonate with Democratic activists, Tasini says, "My candidacy will borrow a phrase from the late Senator Paul Wellstone, asking New Yorkers to'vote for what you believe in.'"

Even in liberal New York, a Tasini win in next September's Democratic primary would be a huge upset.

Clinton has a deep-pockets campaign treasury, a solid Senate record and an appeal to many Democrats who see her as both an heir to her husband Bill Clinton's legacy and potentially the best candidate to carry that legacy forward as a 2008 presidential contender. She also has an approach to even the most critical issues of the day that might charitably be referred to as "flexible."

In 2002, Clinton broke with more progressive Democrats such as Wellstone, the late senator from Minnesota, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd and Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, to support authorizing President Bush to use force in Iraq. And during the 2004 presidential campaign, she echoed the sentiments of the most hawkish Republicans when she criticized Bush for not sending enough troops to Iraq.

But, as the war has lost popular appeal, Clinton has begun to blur her position. In a November 30 letter to constituents, the senator seemed to back away from her support of the 2002 resolution, writing, "I voted for it on the basis of the evidence presented by the Administration, assurances they gave that they would first seek to resolve the issue of weapons of mass destruction peacefully through United Nations sponsored inspections, and the argument that the resolution was needed because Saddam Hussein never did anything to comply with his obligations that he was not forced to do. Their assurances turned out to be empty ones, as the Administration refused repeated requests from the U.N. inspectors to finish their work. And the 'evidence' of weapons of mass destruction and links to al Qaeda turned out to be false. Based on the information that we have today, Congress never would have been asked to give the President authority to use force against Iraq. And if Congress had been asked, based on what we know now, we never would have agreed, given the lack of a long-term plan, paltry international support, the proven absence of weapons of mass destruction, and the reallocation of troops and resources that might have been used in Afghanistan to eliminate Bin Laden and al Qaeda, and fully uproot the Taliban."

Clinton stopped short of admitting that her 2002 vote was "wrong," which is what former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, another prospective candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, did in a recent Washington Post opinion piece.

She has also refused to side with another backer of the 2002 resolution, Murtha, who is now pushing for a quick exit strategy. Clinton claims that, "I do not believe that we should allow this to be an open-ended commitment without limits or end." But, she adds, "Nor do I believe that we can or should pull out of Iraq immediately." And a close read of her letter reveals that, while the senator is quick to criticize Bush, she is still in the camp that says America has "a big job to do" in Iraq.

That's the opening that Tasini will attempt to exploit. It will not be easy -- even some of his old allies in the labor movement will be slow to officially embrace his challenge to one of the most prominent and powerful Democrats in the country.

But frustration with Clinton runs deeper among activist Democrats than is often noted in the media.

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a slain soldier in Iraq whose August protest outside George Bush's ranchette in Crawford, Texas, made her one of the country's most prominent anti-war advocates, has been almost as vocal in her criticism of the senator as she has been of the president. "Hillary Clinton is the leader of the pack" of pro-war Democrats, says Sheehan, who recently joined the board of the anti-war Progressive Democrats of America group. In an open letter posted in October on filmmaker Michael Moore's web site, Sheehan wrote of Clinton: "I think she is a political animal who believes she has to be a war hawk to keep up with the big boys."

Sheehan added that, "I will resist (Clinton's) candidacy with every bit of my power and strength."

That line led some New York activists to suggest that Sheehan should move to the state -- as Clinton did before her 2000 Senate run -- and run against the incumbent.

That's not going to happen. Rather, Sheehan has issued a letter of support for Tasini's challenge to Clinton, which you can read on Tasini's website.

Pelosi Sides With Murtha For Withdrawal

The big news on any day when President Bush delivers a "major address" regarding Iraq is never what the commander-in-chief says. Bush has been on autopilot for so long now that he does not even bother to say anything new -- even when he is supposedly laying out a strategy for "victory."

That was certainly the case Wednesday, when the president treated an audience of cadets at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, to a repeat of every tired cliche he had previously uttered about the war, right down to the clumsy attempt to make a 9-11 link, the ridiculous comparisons with World War II and the don't-bother-me-with-the-facts pledge that, no matter how bad things get, "America will not run." What Bush fails to mention, of course that, with the depth of the quagmire into which he has steered the U.S. military, it's just about impossible to run.

A diginified withdrawal, on the other hand, remains not merely possible but preferable to the Bush approach.

And it is on the withdrawal front that the big news came Wednesday.

After the president spoke, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, announced that she is now backing the call by U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

That's a reversal for Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, who two weeks ago rejected Murtha's call for an exit strategy.

Despite the fact that Murtha had been a key supporter of her climb up the Democratic leadership ladder in the House, Pelosi was initially cautious about embracing the decorated Vietnam veteran's proposal to begin bringing the troops home.

Now, Pelosi says, "We should follow the lead of Congressman John Murtha, who has put forth a plan to make American safer, to make our military stronger and to make Iraq more stable. That is what the American people and our troops deserve."

That's big news.

For the first time since the war began, Democrats finally have a congressional leader who says it should end.

But that's not big enough news.

Pelosi is still holding back when it comes to putting the House Democratic Caucus on record in support of Murtha's withdrawal proposal.

"I believe that a majority of our caucus clearly supports Mr. Murtha," says Pelosi. But the minority leader still says "a vote on the war is an individual vote."

At a point when two thirds of Americans say that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, and a majority say that the time has come to start rectifying that mistake by bringing troops home, this country needs an opposition party that is in tune with the sentiments of the citizens.

To be sure, a handful of neocon Democrats -- led by Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman -- will continue to side with the Bush administration and support the war. But, as Pelosi admits, the vast majority of House Democrats are with Murtha. It is time for the caucus as a whole to take a stand that will clarify the debate and force at House Republicans who are increasingly wary of "staying the course" that is being set by a lameduck president.

Two years ago, Nancy Pelosi was elected minority leader in order to turn the House Democrats into an opposition party. She pulled her punches for far too long, doing serious damage not just to her party but to the national discourse -- which suffered from the lack of an alternative to the Bush administration's increasingly absurd pro-war line. Now, Pelosi has begun to speak up. That's good. But it's not good enough.

Pelosi is not an individual member. She is the Democratic leader in the House, and she needs to lead.

Al Franken Overrules Antonin Scalia

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is, supposedly, a very smart man.Indeed, he is frequently referred to as the intellectual giant on the current highcourt.

Yet, when Scalia was confronted by comedian and social commentator AlFranken with a basic question of legal ethics, it was the funny man, not the"serious" jurist, who proved to be the most knowledgeable.

The confrontation took place last week in New York City, where Scalia was theguest of Conversations on the Circle, a prestigious series ofone-on-one interviews with Norman Pearlstine, the outgoing Time Inc.editor-in-chief.

After Pearlstine tossed a predictable set of softball questions to thejustice, the session was opened to questions from the audience. Up poppedFranken, the best-selling author and host of Air America's The Al FrankenShow.

According to a scathing article that appeared in the Scalia-friendly NewYork Post, "Franken stood up in the back row and started talking about‘judicial demeanor' and asking ‘hypothetically' about whether a judge shouldrecuse himself if he had gone duck-hunting or flown in a private jet with aparty in a case before his court."

Franken's reference was to Scalia's refusal to recuse himself fromdeliberations involving a lawsuit brought by public-interest groups thatsaid Vice President Dick Cheney engaged in improper contacts withenergy-industry executives and lobbyists while heading the Bush administration task force on energypolicy. A federal court ordered Cheney to release documents related to his work with the task force, at which point the Bush administration appealed to the Supreme Court.

After the administration filed its appeal but before the court took the case, Cheney and Scalia were seen dining together in November, 2003, at an out-of-the-way restaurant on Maryland's eastern shore.

After the court agreed to take the case, Cheney and Scalia spent several days in January, 2004, hunting ducks at a remote camp in Louisiana.

Watchdog groups called for Scalia to recuse himself -- Charles Lewis, director of the Center for Public Integrity, argued that fraternization involving a justice and a litigant with a case before the court "gives the appearance of a tainted process where decisions are not made on the merits" -- but the justice responded by announcing that, "I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned."

Several months later, Scalia and the other justices remanded the case back to the appellate court for further consideration -- a decision that effectively made the issue go away during the 2004 presidential contest.

Scalia, a friend of Cheney's since the days when they worked together in the administration of former President Gerald Ford, had participated in a decision that was of tremendous benefit to the vice president in an election year.

Yet, when Franken raised the issue at the Conversation on the Circle event, according to the Post, Scalia "chidedFranken as if he were a delinquent schoolboy." And Time Warner chairman Dick Parsons said of author: "Al was not quiteready for prime time."

In fact, it was Scalia, not Franken, who was caught with his ethics down.

Scalia took issue with the comic's use of the word demeanor. "Demeanor is the wrong word. You meanethics," the justice claimed, before adding that, "Ethics is governed by tradition. It has neverbeen the case where you recuse because of friendship."

Actually, Scalia was wrong on all accounts. Because U.S. Supreme Court justices decide when to recuse themselves for ethical reasons, they operate under looser standards and softer scrutiny than other jurists. Thus, the term "demeanor" was precisely correct. Legal dictionaries define "demeanor" as one's "outward manner" and "way of conducting oneself." By any measure, with his refusal to recuse himself from a case involving his friend Cheney, Scalia chose to conduct himself in an unethical manner.

How do we know that?

The American Bar Association's Model Code of Judicial Conduct, certainly a reasonable measure for such decisions, is blunt with regards to these questions, stating that:

1.) "(A judge) shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."

2.) "A judge shall conduct all of the judge's extra-judicial activities so they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge."

3.) "A judge shall not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge's judicial conduct or judgment."

4.) "(A judge shall not) convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge."

Unfortunately, the ABA's model code does not apply -- in any official sense -- to high court justices.

But there is still no question that Scalia should have recused himself. The standard for U.S. Supreme Court Justices was set by the court itself in a majority opinion in the 1994 resolution of the case of Liteky v. United States. According to that opinion, recusal is required where "impartiality might reasonably be questioned." The opinion set a high standard, declaring that what matters "is not the reality of bias or prejudice, but its appearance."

Who was the stickler for ethics who wrote those words?

Justice Antonin Scalia.

An expanded paperback edition of John Nichols' biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press: 2005), is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. The book features an exclusive interview with Joe Wilson and a chapter on the vice president's use and misuse of intelligence. Publisher's Weekly describes the book as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."

"The Rebel Jesus"

Despite the worst efforts of Wal-Mart and its equally carnivorous competitors to hype up an earlier start, Thanksgiving Day still marks something akin to the official opening of the Holiday season. And with this beginning even the most resistant radio stations and elevator operators will now be programming a mix of Christmas music that can charitably be referred to as "lamentable."

A musical tradition that was meant to be inspiring, uplifting and perhaps even challenging degenerates each November into a mind-numbing slurry of "festive" Muzak that will, in short order, have tens of millions of Americans counting the days until December 25.

But, hark, there is redemption to be found -- though perhaps not on the radio dials of our ever most consolidated and rigidly-programmed media monopolies.

A better class of Christmas music is out there, waiting to be heard by those who seek it.

In fact, one of the finest contemporary Christmas songs is rapidly taking on "classic" status as it is recorded by discerning artists.

Canadian singers Kate and Anna McGarrigle's fine new holiday CD, The McGarrigle Christmas Hour, features a stirring rendition of the song in question: Jackson Browne's "The Rebel Jesus."

Originally recorded by Browne for the brilliant 1991 Chieftains holiday collaboration, The Bells of Dublin, "The Rebel Jesus" has taken on a life of its own. Along the way, it has become the most welcome antidote to the deadening dose of commercialism that Americans imbibe each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

So let us begin the season with Browne's wise words:

All the streets are filled with laughter and light

And the music of the season

And the merchants' windows are all bright

With the faces of the children

And the families hurrying to their homes

As the sky darkens and freezes

They'll be gathering around the hearths and tales

Giving thanks for all god's graces

And the birth of the rebel Jesus

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Well they call him by the prince of peace

And they call him by the savior

And they pray to him upon the seas

And in every bold endeavor

As they fill his churches with their pride and gold

And their faith in him increases

But they've turned the nature that I worshipped in

From a temple to a robber's den

In the words of the rebel Jesus

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We guard our world with locks and guns

And we guard our fine possessions

And once a year when christmas comes

We give to our relations

And perhaps we give a little to the poor

If the generosity should seize us

But if any one of us should interfere

In the business of why they are poor

They get the same as the rebel Jesus

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But please forgive me if I seem

To take the tone of judgment

For I've no wish to come between

This day and your enjoyment

In this life of hardship and of earthly toil

We have need for anything that frees us

So I bid you pleasure

And I bid you cheer

From a heathen and a pagan

On the side of the rebel Jesus.

Cheney Picks a Fight With a Marine

When Dick Cheney, a Wyoming congressman who had never served in the military and who had failed during his political career to gain much respect from those who wore the uniform he had worked so hard to avoid putting on during the Vietnam War, was selected in 1989 by former President George Herbert Walker Bush to serve as Secretary of Defense, he had a credibility problem. Lacking in the experience and the connections required to effectively take charge of the Pentagon in turbulent times, he turned to a House colleague, Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha, a decorated combat veteran whose hawkish stances on military matters had made him a favorite of the armed services. "I'm going to need a lot of help," Cheney told Murtha. "I don't know a blankety-blank thing about defense."

Murtha, a retired Marine colonel who earned a chest full of medals during the Vietnam fight and who has often broken with fellow Democrats to back U.S. military interventions abroad -- most notably in Latin America, where Murtha often supported former President Ronald Reagan's controversial policies regarding El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s -- gave that assistance.

During both the first and second Bush administrations he emerged as a key ally -- often, the most important Democratic ally -- of the Republican presidents. Cheney frequently acknowledged their long working relationship, describing Murtha in public statements as a Democrat he could "work with."

In the 2004 vice presidential debate, Cheney noted that, "One of my strongest allies in Congress when I was Secretary of Defense was Jack Murtha, a Democrat who is chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee." The vice president was particularly complimentary over the years of the Pennsylvania representatives decision to provide high-profile backing of the administration's 2002 request for authorization to use force against Iraq.

But the cross-party relationship has soured as Murtha, whose concern has always been first and foremost for the men and women who serve in the military, has reached the conclusion that the Iraq intervention has steered U.S. troops into a quagmire from which they must be extracted. Typically blunt, Murtha said this week: "The U.S. cannot accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It is time to bring (the troops) home."

Cheney's response to the man he begged to help him understand military affairs during the first Bush administration was to rip into Murtha and other Democrats who had tried to work with the administration. "Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorising force against Saddam Hussein," the vice president growled in a speech to the conservative Frontiers of Freedom Institute. In another clear reference to Murtha, Cheney said, "The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone -- but we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history."

Of course, it is not Murtha but Cheney who is rewriting history -- or, at least, attempting to obscure it.

As Murtha noted, he's the one who put on a Marine uniform, took his shots in Vietnam and went on to a long career of working with and defending the military, while Cheney is the one who did everything in his power to avoid serving in southeast Asia and has never been seen as a friend of the men and women who actually fight the wars the vice president so shamelessly -- and disingenuously -- promotes. "I like guys who got five deferments and (have) never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done," said Murtha, referencing the vice president's long record of draft avoidance in the 1960s.

The clearest evidence that Cheney still does not "get it" when it comes to defense policy is his decision to take on Jack Murtha.The draft dodger who not all that many years ago admitted that he "(didn't) know a blankety-blank thing about defense" will come to regret picking a fight with the Marine he called in to help him understand military matters.

An expanded paperback edition of John Nichols' biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press: 2005), is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. The book features an exclusive interview with Joe Wilson and a chapter on the vice president's use and misuse of intelligence. Publisher's Weekly describes the book as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."

O'Reilly to San Francisco: You're Out of the US

I was in San Francisco last week, when Fox News commentator-in-chief Bill O'Reilly had one of his tantrums and told would-be terrorists to "go ahead" and blow the city off the map of the United States.

The experience got me thinking about why it is that O'Reilly and his fellow broadcast bloviators are so venomous toward the American communities that are generally recognized - even by thinking conservatives - as the most appealing and open-minded places in the country. There's an explanation here, and it does not reflect well on the right-wing ranters.

But, first, to O'Reilly's complaint.

In referendum votes last week, San Franciscans expressed their opposition to military recruitment in the public schools and to handgun ownership. That was too much democracy for the man who presides over cable television's "no spin zone." So he did what he usually does when Americans start exercising their First Amendment rights - he blew up.

On his syndicated radio program, O'Reilly told San Franciscans they were no longer welcome in his America.

"You want to be your own country? Go right ahead," he told the residents of the Bay Area. "And if al-Qaida comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, 'Look, every other place in America is off limits to you except San Francisco.'"

O'Reilly even suggested a target for the terrorists. "You want to blow up Coit Tower (a San Francisco landmark)," he told the suicide bombers. "Go ahead."

San Franciscans took O'Reilly's remarks in stride. The city's major daily newspaper headlined an amusing front page account: "Talk host's towering rant: S.F. not worth saving," while San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who represents the district where Coit Tower is located, recalled the addiction problems of another talk radio host and said, "It sounds like (O'Reilly's) on the same medication Rush Limbaugh is addicted to, and he should go see a therapist."

To be sure, O'Reilly is ready for some anger management instruction.

But what fascinates me is the target of so much of his anger: American cities that work.

O'Reilly's always got his shorts in a knot about some city like San Francisco or Madison or Boulder that has made the mistake of questioning Fox's Orwellian "war-is-peace," "tolerance-is-hateful," "smart-is-stupid" dogmas.

Nothing bugs the cable TV's boldest blowhard more than Americans who think for themselves. And the people who live in America's most livable cities tend to be a diverse lot of entrepreneurs and innovators, big thinkers and big doers who are better educated, better traveled and better prepared to see through the spin that is pumped out by the Bush White House and its media amen corner.

As such, they are less likely to take cues about how to vote or what to think from television and radio personalities. That's bad news for O'Reilly, who has gone so far as to write a children's book - "The O'Reilly Factor for Kids" - that pushes the "indoctrination" envelope to places even Limbaugh feared to go.

And a city that is immune to indoctrination, a city that thinks for itself and refuses to fall for the fear-mongering that is the stock in trade of the cable news channels these days, well, that's just not O'Reilly country.

What's an O'Reilly to do? Point the terrorists in the direction of the cities that are not scared enough, not paranoid enough, not ignorant enough to put their trust in the likes of Bill O'Reilly.

God's Pat Problem

It cannot be easy being God these days, what with so many of His self-proclaimed followers launching wars in His name.

So the last thing that the Almighty needs is a whackjob calling down the wrath of, er, well, God on communities that fail to follow the instructions in the "Christian Coalition Voter Guide."

But that's what God's got in the person of Pat Robertson, the religious broadcaster who frequently uses his 700 Club television program to pray about weather patterns or to encourage the assassination of foreign leaders.

Last week, Robertson went the next step and began deciding who can and cannot talk to God.

After the citizens of Dover, Pa., voted to remove eight school board members who had attempted to introduce an "intelligent design" curriculum -- which encourages the rejection of science and established views of evolution in order to promote the notion that the universe was simply popped into being by the Big Guy -- Robertson announced that people living in that community are off God's Christmas card list.

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city," Robertson said on his Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club."

Instead of praying to God, Robertson said the folks in Dover will have to worship science. "If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin," the television personality declared. "Maybe he can help them."

To be sure, there will be those sincere disbelievers who suggest that prayers to Darwin would be of equal consequence with prayers to the Almighty. That's a debate for another day.

But the choice that Robertson sets up for followers of his Christian faith is false one.

Many of the greatest evolutionary scientists of history and the present day have been men and women of deep religious faith -- with Christians well represented among their number. These scientists have suggested in some of the most thoughtful and elegant essays of our time that the study of evolution can -- and should -- be seen as an endeavor that is entirely in synch with their faith. After all, they ask, what could be wrong with trying to better explain God's creation?

The answer, of course, is "nothing" -- unless you've made a fortune setting yourself up as God's "spokesman."

Robertson and his ilk despise science because it provides explanations and insights that expose their pseudo-religious rants about who is on the right or wrong side of God -- not to mention who gets to pray and how -- for what they are: schemes to scare Christians into voting for Robertson's right-wing allies and writing checks to Robertson's enterprises and causes.

The so-called "Christian broadcaster" is wrong this time, as he has so frequently been in the past.

Despite what Roberston says, the people of Dover can pray to whomever they choose: God or Charles Darwin or even Pat Robertson.

And they can believe, as no doubt most Dover, Pa., voters did when they cast their ballots, that sound religion and sound science need not be in conflict.

Forcing Bush and Senate Republicans to Honor Veterans

Former U.S. Senator Max Cleland, the Georgia Democrat who lost his right arm and both legs in the quagmire that was Vietnam, explained a few years ago that, "Within the soul of each Vietnam veteran there is probably something that says 'Bad war, good soldier.' Only now are Americans beginning to separate the war from the warrior."

Cleland's wise words need to be recalled on this Veterans Day, when it is more necessary than ever to separate a bad war from the warriors who are required to fight it.

The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is an unfolding disaster with such nightmarish consequences that is not merely easy, but necessary to be angry with those who are responsible. And Americans are angry. Overwhelming majorities of U.S. citizens now tell pollsters that they believe the decision to invade Iraq was a mistake, and a substantial proportion of them say that the continued occupation of that Middle East land is a fool's mission.

It is appropriate to direct our anger at the man whose determination to wage a war of whim rather than necessity put hundreds of thousands of Americans in harm's way. But it is not appropriate to blame those young men and women for following the direction of their commanders in a time of global uncertainty.

What is truly unfortunate is the attempt by political supporters of the man who is responsible for steering America into the quagmire with those who are stuck in it. Republicans have distributed noxious bumper stickers that declare, "Support the Troops and the President."

To be fair, it is possible to support the troops and the president -- if one chooses to believe that the war was necessary and that it continues to be necessary. But the number of Americans who entertain such beliefs is dwindling rapidly.

For those Americans who think George W. Bush has been wrong all along about Iraq, it is entirely appropriate -- and entirely possible -- to support the troops and oppose the president.

That's what U.S. Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, did last summer when it was revealed that the Department of Veterans Affairs did not have the resources to provide adequate care for soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Murray, who had voted against authorizing President Bush to go to war, offered an amendment to address the shortfall of more than $1 billion. But her move was blocked by Senate Republicans who claimed that the money was not needed.

Murray kept the pressure up, and her concerns were echoed by veterans groups such as the American Legion, the Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Disabled American Veterans. Richard Fuller, the legislative director of the Paralyzed Veterans, told the Washington Post that the money problems were obvious to anyone visiting VA clinics and hospitals. "You could see it happening, clinics shutting down, appointments delayed," Fuller explained. Joseph A. Violante, legislative director of the Disabled American Veterans, added a blunter assessment, charging that the administration was "shortchanging veterans."

Finally, in the face of mounting pressure from a senator who had opposed the war and groups that were increasingly troubled about the treatment of its veterans, Senate Republicans relented and voted to provide the needed money.

U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, a leading conservative who is big on supporting the president but not so enthusiastic when it comes to supporting veterans, was forced to admit that, "We were in error. Sen. Murray was right."

To her credit, Murray was gracious, saying of the Republicans: "It was not easy for them to eat crow on this. But as I've said so many times in the last few days on the floor of the Senate, this is not a Republican issue and this is not a Democratic issue; it is an American issue."

Murray's right. In the years to come, as more and more soldiers return from the nightmare that is Iraq, it will be vital for Americans of all political persuasions to recognize that a massive new commitment of federal resources is required to assure that the nightmare does not continue for the veterans of this awful conflict.

Mark Warner's Election Victory

The last time Democrats elected a new president who had not been a governor was in 1960, when U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy was the party's nominee and the narrow victor of a contest with Republican Richard Nixon. And two of the four Republican presidents since then were present or former governors, as well. So it makes at least a measure of sense to argue that the place to prospect for a 2008 Democratic nominee is in the states rather than Washington.

And, after Tuesday's election in Virginia, Democrats have a new statehouse star. No, it's not Tim Kaine, the Democrat who won a surprisingly easy victory over Republican Jerry Kilgore in the only southern state to hold a gubernatorial contest this fall. What matters as regards national politics is the fact that Kaine will be replacing a fellow Democrat, Mark Warner.

Warner has been boomed as a presidential prospect for some time now, and even before Tuesday's voting there were strong indications that the moderate Virginian was taking steps to enter the race for the party's 2008 nomination.

But Tuesday's off-year election vote in Virginia gives Warner a major boost.

In many senses, Kaine's victory was really Warner's win.

Kaine ran on a promise to carry on where Warner, whose approval ratings are in the high sixties, leaves off.

Warner appeared in almost as many of Kaine's television commercials as did the candidate himself.

And in the final days of the campaign, Warner and Kaine barnstormed across the state's southern counties, where Warner's combination of downhome appeals to sportsmen and NASCAR racing fans and a little bit of economic populism went a long way toward overcoming the instinct of cultural conservatives to vote for the Republican.

The strategy of linking Kaine with Warner worked in large part because Warner has been such a successful governor.

The Warner model of increasing taxes to pay for education and infrastructure improvements, defending the right to choose and promoting racial harmony, and creating economic-development initiatives for hard-hit regions has generally worked well for Virginia. No, the southern state has not become a bastion of progressivism, and there are still plenty of reasons to question whether Warner is the right man to put some spine back into the Democratic column.

But there is no question that Warner can point to some impressive accomplishments in Virginia. A state that had a history of going from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis now has a surplus and some of the best bond ratings in the country. As such, Democrat Kaine's promise to carry on was a lot more appealing than Republican Kilgore's promise of a return to "no-more-taxes" dogma and financial instability.

Against a Democratic field that is likely to be thick with senators -- New York's Hillary Clinton, Indiana's Evan Bayh, Delaware's Joe Biden, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, Massachusetts' John Kerry, the 2004 nominee, and his running mate from that year, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards -- Warner's argument that the party needs a nominee with executive experience could have significant appeal. And he will have a much easier time directing the attention of voters toward Virginia, now that Kaine will be sitting in the governor's chair.

With Kaine in charge of Virginia, Warner will have several advantages if he chooses to seek the party's nomination in 2008. First, in a state where the governor is not allowed to succeed himself, Kaine's win is the next best vindication for Warner to a reelection of his own. Also, with a Democrat in charge of Virginia, Warner can hit the presidential campaign trail without fear of having a homestate rival poking at him -- as John Kerry did in 2004, when the Republican governor of the Bay State, Mitt Romney, was dispatched by GOP managers to batter the Democratic presidential nominee.

With Jimmy Carter, the former governor of a southern state, and Bill Clinton, the sitting governor of a southern state,, Democrats were able to defeat Republican presidents in 1976 and 1992, respectively. Kaine's win in Virginia positions Warner to advance the claim that Democrats need to turn once more to a statehouse veteran if they want to secure the White House.

Watch for him to do just that in the coming months.

Swift Boat Attack on Bernie Sanders

The latest polls from Vermont show that U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders, the only independent member of the House, has a dramatic lead in the race for that state's open U.S. Senate seat. In a race where the Democrats are expected to fall back and allow the Sanders a clean shot at the seat, a WCAX-TV/Research 2000 poll, released last week, found the congressman to be leading the likely Republican nominee, millionaire Rich Tarrant, by a margin of 64 percent to 16 percent of Vermonters who were surveyed.

Those numbers will not come as much of a surprise to anyone who has spent time in Vermont, where Sanders' three decades of political independence and straight-talk about economic issues have earned him the admiration even of those who do not always agree with his progressive populism. But Sanders' strong position is a source of frustration for inside-the-Beltway Republican operatives and their network of henchmen.

Aside from impending indictments, few things frighten the political hacks who run the White House more than the thought of Sanders, who has served with great success as an independent member of the House since 1991, entering the Senate and developing an even greater national profile. Unlike the Democrats who have such a hard time appealing across lines of party and ideology on fundamental economic issues, Sanders is something of a genius when it comes to building broad coalitions – as illustrated by his big wins in Vermont regions that generally vote Republican.

In the Senate, Sanders would give voice to a critique of Bush administration economic policies and the White House's assault on domestic civil liberties that would make would be far more likely to resonate with voters than the tepid Democratic message. And Karl Rove and his compatriots know that voice could turn the direction on debates on a host of major issues. It's for that reason that -- despite Sanders' immense popularity in Vermont -- the hacks in Washington have not given up on trying to figure out how to beat him in next year's Senate race.

Needless to say, they understand that it will take a lot of character assassination, innuendo and outright deception to defeat the man who is generally recognized as the most popular political figure in Vermont.

So it comes as no surprise that, just days after the WCAX-TV/Research 2000 poll results showed just how daunting the task of taking on Sanders has become for the Beltway bandits, the big gun were called out.

John O'Neill, the man behind the "swiftboating" of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, is now going after Sanders. O'Neill, who started working with Republicans to attack political dissenters back in the Nixon years but who really came into his own with his role in promoting the wildly disingenuous and broadly disputed "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" attacks on Kerry's Vietnam service record during the 2004 campaign, has just penned an anti-Sanders letter that is being distributed on right-wing websites. O'Neill says he's enthusiastic about the campaign of little-known perennial candidate Greg Parke in the Republican Senate primary, but it's clear that he is getting involved in the race to attack Sanders rather than to promote Parke.

Never one to hold back the hyperbole, O'Neill labels Sanders "the most dangerous liberal in America" and promises to defeat the congressman with a "similar mission" to the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" crusade against Kerry. The letter features the standard talking points against the congressman from the Republican Senate Campaign Committee but it goes heavy on the suggestion that Sanders poses some kind of threat to national security.

"His record in the House of Representative -- particularly on defense matters -- is disgraceful," writes O'Neill. In particular, the man who made "swiftboating" a political term of attack goes after Sanders for his efforts to fight wasteful spending by the Pentagon and for challenging the Bush administration's wrongheaded rush to attack Iraq. "He's consistently fought President Bush on issues of national security -- most specifically he voted against the use of force to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein," O'Neill writes of Sanders in a message that conveniently forgets to note that, according to recent polls, a clear majority of Americans now believe the decision to invade and occupy Iraq was a mistake.

What O'Neill, who claims to speak for veterans, also fails to note is the fact that Sanders has been one of the most ardent champions in Congress for men and women who have served in the military. In addition to co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation to assure that victims of Gulf War Illness get all of the medical care to which they are entitled, he has battled Republican attempts to cut funding for veterans programs. Indeed, Sanders has been such an effective advocate for those who wore the uniform of the U.S. military that he has been endorsed in his House races by the political arm of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

These are facts that O'Neill neglects as he attempts to "swiftboat" Sanders. That's typical of O'Neill and his group, which ought to be called Swift Boat Veterans for (Anything But the) Truth."

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