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John Nichols

John Nichols

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"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


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


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


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."

¿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.


Maurice Hinchey Henry Waxman John Conyers, Jr.


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.

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