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John Nichols

John Nichols

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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."

¿Cómo Se Dice 'Spin'?

George Bush had a tough time of it last weekend in Argentina.

Mass demonstrations of opposition to the President's trade and economic policies greeted his every move. And even inside the cloistered gathering rooms of luxury hotel where the the Summit of the Americas was convened, Bush was the odd man out. Leaders of Latin American countries, many of them elected because of their explicit opposition to the American President's approach, made it clear that Bush will have a hard time establishing a hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americans that his campaign contributors so desperately seek.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

When he ran for the presidency in 2000, Bush benefited from the claim that he spoke Spanish and understood better than most politicians how to relate to the countries and the peoples of the South. As a candidate, Bush delivered a major policy address in which he complained that "Latin America often remains an afterthought of American foreign policy," and declared, "Those who ignore Latin America do not fully understand America itself. And those who ignore our hemisphere do not fully understand American interests."

Unfortunately, four years into the Bush presidency, it is now clear that the suggestion that Bush would seek to understand and work with Latin America--perhaps even in the language of many of the region's countries--was merely another example of Karl Rove's campaign spin.

When he does not have a script in front of him, Bush can barely mumble a restaurant order in Spanish. And his mastery of the intricacies of the western hemisphere is even less impressive.

Bush continues to peddle discredited proposals for progress in Latin America, such as privatization of public services and the conversion of family farms to factory farms. And, of course, he continues to promote a free-trade agenda that allows corporations to hop from country to country in search of the lowest wages and the least restrictive environmental and worker-safety protections.

What Bush and his aides do not recognize is that the people of Latin America are already well aware that the president's prescriptions do not work. The North American Free Trade Agreement has been a dismal failure for Mexico, where wages for industrial workers actually fell after deal was put into place in 1994 and where small farmers have been driven from the land in record numbers as a result of trade policies that have flooded the market with cheap beans and corn. As a result of NAFTA, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans have been forced to make the painful choice to abandon their country and to enter the United States seeking work.

Just as Mexicans understand the devastating impact of the free trade policies Bush is promoting, so Bolivians understand the devastating impact of the privatization policies that the president talks up, and so Argentines understand the devastating impact of the structural adjustment policies that Bush claims are necessary.

In short, the president went to Latin America with a program that was outdated and wholly unworkable program and he tried to sell it to the people who have suffered through the experiments that have proven the program's flaws.

Bush has become the president he warned against in the 2000 campaign – the president who ignores the experiences and the concerns of Latin America because he "(does) not fully understand America itself."

Congressmen Want Cheney to Testify

Vice President Dick Cheney has had very little to say about the indictment of his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, and even less to say about aspects of the investigation that have touched on his own actions before and after the invasion of Iraq. Now, three key Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives want to give the vice president an opportunity to clear the air.

Recalling that Cheney's former boss, then-President Gerald Ford, testified before the House after his controversial pardon of former President Richard Nixon in 1974, Representatives John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat who is the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee; Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who is the ranking minority member of the Government Reform Committee; and Maurice Hinchey, the New York Democrat who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the administration's misuse of intelligence during the period before the Iraq War began, have asked the vice president to "make yourself available to appear before Congress to explain the details and reasons for your office's involvement -- and your personal involvement - in the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative."

The letter, sent to Cheney on Thursday, two days after Democratic Leader Harry Reid forced the Senate into closed session to discuss investigations of efforts by the administration to inflate intelligence assessments of the threat posed by Iraq, offers the latest signal that Congressional Democrats are determined to hold key players in the administration, particularly Cheney, to account.

"We are going to do everything we can to force this administration and this Congress to face up to the truth and to face up to their responsibility under the Constitution," said Hinchey.

"The people who wrote the Constitution that set this government up knew what they were doing. They knew what would happen if you let a regime go its own way without oversight. That's why they set up the system of checks and balances," added Hinchey. "This Congress has shunned its responsibility, tossed its obligations under the Constitution aside – allowing the administration to do whatever it chooses, even to the point of looking aside when the administration lies to Congress and violates federal laws. That's got to stop. We cannot have a monolithic government. We have to restore some balance, where the legislative branch is a part of this process. And we think that one way to do that is by asking the vice president, in light of the questions that have arisen with regards to his actions, to come to Congress and answer the questions that are on the minds of the American people and their representatives.

It may be true that the House, like the Senate, is controlled by a Republican majority that is uncomfortable calling members of the administration to account, admits Hinchey. But, the veteran representative from New York says, Republicans ought to ask themselves whether they want to allow partisanship to stand in the way of their responsibilities under the Constitution. Hinchey says Congressional leaders of both parties should, as well, be concerned about their responsibility to help the American people sort through not just what happened when Cheney's chief aide apparently set out to punish Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had raised pointed questions about the administration use of intelligence, by revealing that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative -- but also broader questions about why the vice president's office was so determined to attack that critic, a former ambassador who had revealed how the administration deliberately used faulty intelligence to make the "case" for war.

"It's just intolerable for any Congress, no matter which party is in charge, to look aside when an administration engages in the sort of behavior that this administration has engaged in-- and that is especially true when those behaviors, those issues relate to the most serious decision that any Congress can take: the decision to go to war," the congressman explained.

Three senior members of the House have refused to look aside. And, while it may be the case that Cheney will disregard their request, the American people are unlikely to be so dismissive. Polls show that, by a wide majority, Americans think the vice president has been less than forthcoming with regards to his actions, and that they want answers from Cheney about the Wilson case and all of the issues it has raised.

Here is the letter that asks for those answers:

Dear Mr. Vice President:

In response to significant public scrutiny, President Gerald R. Ford came to Capitol Hill on October 17, 1974 to testify before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Justice on why he pardoned President Richard M. Nixon. At the time of President Ford's appearance before Congress, you served as his Deputy Chief of Staff and later became his Chief of Staff. With that precedent in mind, we respectfully request that you make yourself available to appear before Congress to explain the details and reasons for your office's involvement -- and your personal involvement - in the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative.

Last week, your former Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was indicted for committing perjury and obstructing the investigation of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald into the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity. According to the indictment, you and members of your office were involved in discussions about Valerie Wilson and her work for the CIA. In fact, the indictment alleges that you personally informed Mr. Libby that Valerie Wilson worked in the CIA's Counterproliferation Division and that you had learned this information from the CIA.

It is extremely important with regard to the maintenance of the integrity of our democratic republic that the full and complete truth of this matter be made available to the American people. Unfortunately, doubts and questions will continue to grow until the nation learns the complete story behind the leak of Valerie Wilson's identity. There are many wide-ranging questions about your involvement with the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity to which the American people deserve answers, including:

· Why were you and other officials in your office investigating Valerie Wilson's employment with the CIA?

· Did you authorize Mr. Libby to disclose Valerie Wilson's identity to the news media? Were you aware that he was doing so?

· At the time of the leak, Valerie Wilson's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had been publicly questioning the Administration's claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger, which had been used as a primary justification for war. At the time of the leak, did you believe the claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger was true? When did you first learn that the uranium claims were untrue? Was the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity an attempt to discredit her husband and what he had been saying about the uranium claims being false?

· When you learned that the leak had occurred, did you investigate whether any members of your staff were responsible for this act? If so, when did you do so and what were your findings? Do you think that those involved with the leak should be allowed to maintain their security clearances?

We therefore encourage you to follow the example of your former boss, President Ford, by testifying before Congress. Openness and sunshine are the best way to restore public trust that the White House is operating ethically, efficiently, and in compliance with rules protecting national security.

Sincerely,

Maurice Hinchey Henry Waxman John Conyers, Jr.

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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."

John Conyers and Rosa Parks

The death last week of Rosa Parks at age 92 has inspired a predictableoutpouring of tributes from politicians of every partisan andideological bent. Even President Bush, a man who inspired the ire ofParks as far back as the mid-1990s, when she was campaigning againstcapital punishment in Texas, hailed the mother of the civil rightsmovement as "one of the most inspiring women of the 20th century" anddeclared that she had "transformed America for the better."

In their self-serving rush to praise Parks prior to her funderal today,a number of politicians displayed their complete ignorance of thewoman's history and her legacy. The worst of them was Senate MajorityLeader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, who said of the protest that sparkedthe Montogomery bus boycott of the 1950s and gave rise to thehigh-profile civil rights movement of the 1960s: "Rosa Parks' bold andprincipled refusal to give up her seat was not an intentional attemptto change a nation, but a singular act aimed at restoring the dignityof the individual."

Frist was, of course, wrong. Parks' refusal to give up her seat on thatbus was an intentional attempt to change a nation. At a time when theNational Association for the Advancement of Colored People was underattack in the segregated south, Parks was an elected official of herlocal NAACP branch from the 1940s on and an activist with Voters'League, a pioneering voting rights group in Alabama. Employed byClifford and Virginia Durr, who were among the most outspoken whitesupporters of civil rights in the south, Parks was trained at theHighlander Folk School and acted as an informed and intentionalactivist.

Parks would remain an activist across the years that followed herrefusal to give up that seat on the bus, as one of the electedofficials who paid tribute to her well knew.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers, the Detroit Democrat who is the senior memberof the House Judiciary Committee, was elected to Congress in 1964, theyear the Civil Rights Act was passed. He immediately hired Rosa Parksas a member of his staff.

Parks, whose political views mirrored those of the outspoken Conyers,would remain on the congressman's staff until her retirement in 1988.

Parks would remain close to Conyers, who recalled the other day that,when Nelson Mandela visited Detroit in 1990, the pair joined the SouthAfrican leader on stage.

Mandela got the crowd to join him in chanting "Rosa Parks!"

Conyers said that day with Mandela caused him to recognize a simpletruth: "Rosa Parks is worldwide."

Yet the icon was also a warm and generous human being. Thus, when RosaParks died, Conyers explained, "America lost a living legend; and I,along with countless others, lost a friend."

As a token of his respect for his former aide's accomplishments,Conyers always referred to her as "Mrs. Parks." But there was nothingformal about their friendship. She regarded him as the most importantpolitical leader in the many struggles that she waged--not just forcivil rights but for peace, economic justice and, in particular, an endto the death penalty.

The congressman regarded "Mrs. Parks" as something akin to a secularsaint, as his warm reflection on her passing makes abundantly clear:

We all knew that Mrs. Parks was frail. We always feared this moment,and now it is here. The extent to which she will be missed cannot bedignified with words.

She and her husband moved to Detroit in 1957, and I think it is fair tosay we bonded right away. Mrs. Parks was there with me at the beginningof my career as a Congressman in 1965 and worked for me as myadministrative assistant for next 20 years until her retirment in 1988.I am therefore one of the lucky few who have had the privilege of beingable to call her my colleague, as well as my friend.

As the mother of the new civil rights movement, she left an impact notjust on the nation, but on the world. And while she was an apostle ofthe nonviolence movement, Mrs. Parks never saw her self that way. Shenever sought the limelight and was never really a political figure atall. It was important to her that people understand the government andto understand their rights and the Constitution that people are stilltrying to perfect today.

Mrs. Parks will endure in my memory as an almost saint-like person. AndI use that term with care. She was very humble and soft-spoken, butinside she had a determination that was quite fierce. You treated herwith deference because she was so quiet, so serene.

There will only ever be one Rosa Parks..."

And there will only ever be one John Conyers.

Cheney, Libby and the Mess They Made

Much of official Washington remains focused on the issues -- legal and political -- that have arisen from the indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney who was a principal architect of the administration's approach to Iraq before and after the invasion and occupation of that distant land. This is as it should be: Libby and his former boss need to be held accountable for leading this country's military forces into a quagmire that has cost more than 2,000 American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives.

The only problem with this otherwise healthy obsession with the investigation is that it draws attention away from the disaster that Cheney, Libby and their crew of neoconservative nutcases have created.

In addition to the rapidly mounting death toll -- 93 U.S. troops were killed in October, the highest casualty rate since January -- the insurgency's Tet offensive-level attacks within the capital city of Baghdad, and the degeneration of the trial of Saddam Hussein into a legal farce, there is the tragedy of the country's bumbled attempt to craft and implement a constitution.

Were any U.S. officials paying serious attention to the process -- as opposed to trying to spin it into something it is not -- they would acknowledge that Iraq is in a state of constitutional crisis. Even if the October 15 vote on the new Iraqi constitution were technically legitimate -- under the undemocratic rules adopted by its framers in order to guarantee a particular result -- it would have been hard to spin as a meaningful signal of progress toward democracy.

The details of the document were literally up for grabs until just days before the voting began, and not even the most over-the-top apologists for the process would dare suggest that the people of Iraq knew what they were voting on. More significantly, the vote took place while the country was occupied by a foreign force that deposed the previous government, that faces an open insurrection and that, by all accounts, shaped the character of the constitution more than did the Iraqis themselves.

But, of course, all this is beside the point, since the vote does not appear to have met the base standards of legitimacy.

Iraq's election commission was for the better part of a week forced to delay the release of the results as it investigated serious irregularities in the voting. The commission had to examine evidence of vote totals that did not appear to be credible -- including "unusually high" numbers of yes votes in provinces where there was widespread opposition to the constitution. Also of concern to the commission were reports that Iraqi police removed ballot boxes from districts where there was significant opposition to the constitution and that districts where there was more support for the document had recorded more votes than there were registered voters.

It is true that, after all the irregularities that were documented in the 2000 and 2004 U.S. presidential elections, the U.S. government lacks the authority that it once had in discussions of democracy. But the Bush administration and members of Congress should have been much more concerned about the evidence of fraud and corruption in what was supposed to be a definitional vote regarding Iraq's future.

As of now, questions about the legitimacy of the Iraq vote remain, especially after the release of "results" suggesting that the constitution was rejected by a majority of voters in three Iraqi provinces. That was the standard that was set for rejection of the plan, but because the constitution was not rejected by a supermajority in one of the provinces, it was determined to have been "approved."

The state of affairs is so troubling that claims by American supporters of the war that Iraq has passed another "milestone" lack even the bare minimum of credibility. The only way the new constitution can ever be considered a viable document, by the Iraqis or by honest observers from the rest of the world, is if all questions about the legitimacy of the process in general and the October 15 vote in particular are removed.

That has not happened. Concerns about stolen and stuffed ballot boxes remain. So, too, do equally serious questions about whether Iraqis were fully aware of the contents of a document that was in flux up until the eve of the vote, and about whether a country can or should try to define its future while under occupation.

Before U.S. officials can make grand claims about "progress" in Iraq, these are the issues that must be addressed.

If Iraq is every to become the stable, functioning democracy that not only President Bush but the vast majority of his critics would like to see emerge, the process must begin with the absolute assurance that elections are conducted in a manner that is transparent, fair and fully legitimate. In light of the scandalous manner in which the vote on the new constitution was conducted -- and the scandals that have arisen as a result -- no such assurance can be found.

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."

Patrick Fitzgerald: It's Not Over

The most intriguing news with regard to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation of the apparent effort by the Bush-Cheney administration to punish former Ambassador Joe Wilson for revealing how the White House deceived the American people about the threat posed by Iraq is not the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.

Make no mistake, it is exceptionally significant that Cheney's closest aide and political confidante over the past two decades, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, has been charged with two counts of making false statements to federal agents, two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice for misleading and deceiving the grand jury about how he learned that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a Central Intelligence Agency operative.

Of course, it matters that Fitzgerald's office says Libby lied "about how and when in 2003 he learned and subsequently disclosed to reporters then-classified information concerning the employment of Valerie (Plame) by the Central Intelligence Agency." Of course it matters that, in response to these indictments, one of the most powerful players in Washington -- the right-hand man of the vice president, a pioneering champion of the neo-conservative worldview and a principal architect of the war with Iraq -- has resigned from his positions with the administration.

But what matters most are the questions that the Libby indictment has raised with regard to Cheney's actions?

Let's be clear: If the Libby indictment and resignation is all that comes of Fitzgerald's two-year-long investigation into a case that touches on fundamental questions of government accountability, abuse of power and the dubious "case" that was made for going to war in Iraq, then this whole matter will be no more that a footnote to the sorry history of the Bush-Cheney era.

But Libby indictment is not necessarily all that will come of this investigation.

As Fitzgerald said during his press conference Friday, "It's not over."

Fitzgerald was extremely cautious about what he meant by that statement. But he did confirm that he will be keeping the "(grand)jury open to consider other matters."

But, while Fitzgerald made the predictable announcement that that the "substantial work" of the investigation was done, the fact that the grand jury remains empaneled makes it reasonable to suggest, or at the very least to hope, that we have reached the Churchillian moment when it can be said: "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

There will be those who are excited by the prospect that an extended investigation might actually "get" White House political czar Karl Rove, who has long been a subject of the inquiry but was spared indictment Friday. That's very possible, as Fitzgerald has reportedly informed Rove's lawyers that he is still under investigation.

But this will never be the inquiry that it can and should be if it merely tags Libby and Rove for wrongdoing.

The fundamental responsibility of the special prosecutor, and the one that he now has an opportunity to pursue, is to determine whether the Bush-Cheney administration set out to punish Wilson for exposing the fact that the president and the vice president had deliberately and dramatically inflated claims regarding Iraqi programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. Even David Gergen, the former adviser to presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton who is as cautious as the come in these matters, says that the indictments that have now been obtained in the case "raise questions about whether criminal acts were perpetrated to help get the country into war."

The Congress and the media, which should have served as watchdogs on the administration before and after the start of the war, failed in their duty. And, while it is now commonly accepted that the president and the vice president stretched the truth to the breaking point in their feverish campaign to win support for action against Iraq, the specific details of the administration's abuse of intelligence materials have yet to be adequately established. It is in the establishment of those details, and the facts surrounding them, that it becomes possible to understand why so many powerful people were so determined to destroy Wilson's reputation and that of his wife. It is, as well, where questions about the precise roles of the president and the vice president in this whole sordid affair can, and must, be clarified.

Some details with regard to the vice president's role have been revealed. The indictment indicates that Cheney was one of the first federal official who spoke with Libby about the identity of Joe Wilson's wife. "On or about June 12, 2003, Libby was advised by the Vice President of the United States that Wilson's wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Division," it explains. "Libby understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA."

The document goes on to point out that several of Libby's most controversial calls to reporters appear to have taken place following conversations with Cheney. "On or about July 12, 2003," the indictment says, "Libby flew with the Vice President and others to and from Norfolk, Virginia, on Air Force Two. On his return trip, Libby discussed with other officials aboard the plane what Libby should say in response to certain pending media inquiries, including questions from Time reporter Matthew Cooper."

The indictment does not detail what was discussed in those conversations, and it does not get into who said exactly what. But it does note that Libby called both Cooper and Judith Miller of the New York Times, and that the Wilson's wife was discussed during both those conversations.

Fitzgerald is careful to say, "We make no allegation that the vice president committed any criminal act." But, as he explained, that is the "standard" response to questions regarding individuals who have not been indicted.

A review of the documents surrounding the Libby indictment leaves little doubt that there are still many questions to be answered, and that at least some of those questions should relate to the actions of the highest-ranking officials in the administration.

This is why 40 members of the U.S. House have urged Fitzgerald to expand the inquiry to examine whether Bush, Cheney and members of the White House's Iraq War Group conspired to deceive Congress into authorizing the war – thus committing the federal crime of lying to Congress. Of course, there will be those who argue that such an investigation would be too broad an extension of the special prosecutor's brief. But that's just the latest line from those who have always wanted to close down this inquiry.

The simple fact is that, if Patrick Fitzgerald wants to get to the truth about who was behind the attempt to discredit Wilson and Plame, he has to examine the reason why the White House cared so very much about what was said regarding the use and misuse of intelligence. That is the examination that Fitzgerald can and should now begin.

John Nichols' biography of Vice President Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President (The New Press, 2004) is currently available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. An expanded paperback version of the book, which Publisher's Weekly describes as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says "reveals the inner Cheney," will be available this fall under the title, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press).

With Miers Out, The Games Begin

Faced with a choice of Biblical proportions, America's born-again president decided to sacrifice Harriet Miers for Karl Rove's sins.

On the day when much of official Washington was buzzing about the prospect that his political Svengali could be indicted for something akin to treason, along with the chief aide of his vice president and various and sundry other administration insiders, President Bush "reluctantly accepted" the decision of his embattled nominee for the Supreme Court to withdraw her name from consideration.

There was nothing "reluctant" about it.

Miers, whose nomination was already in trouble with Senate conservatives and this week faced the prospect of a low rating from the American Bar Association that might well have destroyed her chances with moderates, was going to have to go. When the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter -- says a Republican president's nominee for the highest court in the land "needs a crash course in constitutional law," the question becomes not "if" but "when" the withdrawal will be "reluctantly accepted."Adding just a little more insult to the injury of Harriet Miers, the White House decided to use her withdrawal as part of an elaborate public-relations strategy designed to distract official Washington -- which, of course, includes the White House press corps -- from the question that has transfixed it for days: When will special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald indict Rove or "Scooter" Libby or someone else or everyone else?The Miers withdrawal announcement, timed to dominate the news cycles on what would otherwise have been a day of all-indictment-talk-all-the-time, gains the president a brief respite from the around-the-clock speculation about how far the investigation of criminal wrongdoing -- the "outing" of a covert operative for the CIA and attempts to cover up for that wrongdoing -- would reach into the offices of the president and vice president.

The flip-side of the administration's calculus is this: When and if indictments finally come, everyone in Washington will quickly forget about Miers.

None of this means that the administration is in a good position -- there will still be legitimate talk about the crisis of confidence with regard to this president, and Bush's poll numbers will drop -- but it is clear that this White House is still playing the sort of political games for which it is now well known. And that should concern Americans who worry about the character of the Supreme Court.

With Miers out, and with the president and vice president linked to a serious scandal, the administration has an opportunity to come up with a replacement nominee who will draw attention away from discussions of unindicted co-conspirators and the misuse of intelligence to argue the country into a war of whim.

The choice to achieve that goal will undoubtedly be a clearly conservative jurist, almost certainly a woman, whose nomination can rally the Republican base while bringing liberals to the barricades. A rip-roaring fight over the most critical Supreme Court nomination in years is, in the thinking of administration aides, just what Bush needs to turn attention away from his other troubles -- and to suggest that those troubles have more to do with partisanship than presidential missteps and misdeeds.

The withdrawal of the Miers nomination on this critical day tells us that the administration is thinking hard about how to spin its way out of its troubles. It also tells us that, for all the talk about how loyal Bush is to his friends and his country, the reality is that, when this president is in trouble, no one and no institution is safe -- not Harriet Miers, and certainly not the U.S. Supreme Court.

What Rosa Parks Gave America

In 1776, the Continental Congress awarded the first Congressional Gold Medal of Honor to General George Washington, a bold and determined man who had the courage to lead his country into battle for its freedom but who lacked the wisdom to recognize that the promise of the American Revolution would never be fully realized for so long as African Americans were second-class citizens.

In 1999, two hundred and twenty three years after Washington was recognized by the Continental Congress, its successor, the 106th Congress, voted overwhelmingly to award the same Congressional Gold Medal of Honor that had once been given to the man know as The Father of His Country to the woman who will forever be known as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.

With her December 5, 1955, refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus to a white passenger, Rosa Parks triggered a boycott by African Americans of the municipal bus system that lasted more than a year and inspired the movement that forced the end of the officially-sanctioned segregation that had created an apartheid system in the American south.For that, and for her resolute commitment to carry on the struggle for social and economic justice throughout a long life of fighting discrimination based on race, class, sex and sexuality, Parks received many awards, all of them richly deserved.

But Parks, who died Monday at age 92, never needed those honors as much as America needed to bestow them.

And no recognition of Parks was more necessary than the awarding of that Congressional Gold Medal of Honor in 1999.

The American Revolution was not an event but rather a promise of freedom. That promise may have been made by a Virginia plantation owner and his white male compatriots. But it was realized by an African American seamstress from Montgomery, Alabama, who refused to believe that that promise did not apply to her.

President William Jefferson Clinton, who was named for the greatest of Washington's comrades in that struggle for freedom, and who presented the medal to Parks on June 15, 1999, gave voice to that reality when he explained to the crowd that gathered in the Capitol Rotunda to celebrate the honor that, "In so many ways Rosa Parks brought America home to our founders' dream."

It was not merely appropriate that Rosa Parks receive the same recognition as George Washington had been accorded. It was essential, for without Parks and those who joined her in forging the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Washington's promise of freedom would have remained forever constricted by the overt chains of slavery and the covert chains of segregation.

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