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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Boxer Rebellion Spreads

Give Barbara Boxer credit for sparking the most engaged debate that the Senate has yet seen over the Bush Administration lies that led the United States into the quagmire that is Iraq.

Boxer, the California Democrat who has been increasingly vocal in her objections to the Administration's reign of error and excess, seized the opening provided by President Bush's nomination of Condoleezza Rice to serve as Secretary of State to try and force a necessary discussion about the misstatements, misconceptions and misdeeds that Rice and others in the Administration used to make the "case" for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. And, to the surprise even of some war foes, she got it.

Yes, of course, Rice's confirmation was certain. In a Senate where the balance is now tipped 55-45 toward a Republican caucus that for the most part puts party loyalty above duty to country, and where there are still too many Democrats who continue to preach the failed "can't-we-all-just-get-along" mantra that has relegated the party to minority status, there was never any chance that the national security advisor's record of failure and deception would prevent her from taking charge of the State Department.

But Rice's road to Foggy Bottom proved to be far rockier than had been expected. Tuesday's Senate debate on her nomination was one of the most charged that the chamber has seen in recent years, and while Rice survived, she did not finish the day unscathed. Senator after Senator rose to recall what Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, described as Rice's "false reasons" for going to war, and to charge, as Kennedy did, that had Rice told the truth "it might have changed the course of history."

Though he and others were eloquent in their critique of Rice on Tuesday, the person who changed the course of history with regard to the debate over the Bush Administration's nominee for Secretary of State was not Kennedy, nor West Virginia's Robert Byrd, nor any of the other more senior senators who ripped Rice. Rather, it was Barbara Boxer, the diligent if not always prominent senator from the Golden State.

When Rice appeared on January 18 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on which Boxer sits, it was the California Senator who did the heavy lifting. She began by announcing that, "I will...not shrink from questioning a war that was not built on truth." And she then detailed the role that Rice played in creating the foundation of lies for the war.

"Perhaps the most well known statement you have made was the one about Saddam Hussein launching a nuclear weapon on America, with the image of a 'mushroom cloud.' That image had to frighten every American into believing that Saddam Hussein was on the verge of annihilating them if he was not stopped," said Boxer, who then announced that, "I will be placing into the record a number of other such statements which have not been consistent with the facts nor the truth."

Then Boxer hammered home the point that really mattered: That when Rice and her team lied, people died.

"This war was sold to the American people--as Chief of Staff to President Bush Andy Card said--like a 'new product.' You rolled out the idea and then you had to convince the people, and as you made your case, I personally believe that your loyalty to the mission you were given overwhelmed your respect for the truth," Bixer calmly declared. "That was a great disservice to the American people. But worse than that, our young men and women are dying. So far, 1,366 American troops have been killed in Iraq. More than 25 percent of those troops were from California. More than 10,372 have been wounded."

When Boxer read out the statistics, it was a devastating moment -- and a rare one. Seldom do Senators accuse prospective Cabinet members of lying. Rice knew she was taking a harder hit than anyone had expected. The nominee tried to get the upper hand with classic Washington spin. "Senator," Rice whined, "I have never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything. It's not in my nature. It's not in my character. And I would hope we could have this conversation...without impugning my credibility or my integrity."

Rice's problem was that her credibility and integrity had been impugned--not by Boxer but by the nominee herself. All Boxer did was bring Rice's deceptions to light and, perhaps most significantly, to link them to the continuing crisis in Iraq. In so doing, she shamed a number of her fellow Democrats into joining her in opposition not just to Rice but to the Administration's entire approach to the war.

Tuesday's Senate debate was distinguished by the bluntness of the criticism of Rice's record. "She exaggerated and distorted the facts," said Michigan's Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton announced that he was opposing Rice's nomination in order to hold the Administration accountable for its lies. "I don't like impugning anyone's integrity," Dayton said. "But I really don't like being lied to--repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally."

"My vote against this nominee is my statement that this administration's lies must stop now," the Minnesotan explained.

Other senators were equally pointed in their condemnations of the nominee.

"Dr. Rice is responsible for some of the most overblown rhetoric that the administration used to scare the American people," thundered West Virginia's Byrd, who argued that, "Her confirmation will most certainly be viewed as another endorsement of the administration's unconstitutional doctrine of preemptive war, its bullying policies of unilateralism, and its callous rejection of long-standing allies."

Byrd remarks were, as always, historically rich and intellectually powerful. But the dean of the Senate did not hesitate to give credit where credit was due.

Recalling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee session at which his colleague from California had grilled Rice, the senior Senator said, "I was particularly impressed by Senator Boxer, who tackled her role on the committee with passion and forthrightness..."

Expressing his dismay with Republicans who have accused Senate Democrats of engaging in "petty politics" by demanding a debate on Rice's nomination, Byrd argued that, "Nothing could be further from the truth. The Senate's role of advice and consent to presidential nominations is not a ceremonial exercise."

Byrd was right to assert that the Senate's constitutionally dictated "advice and consent" duty "is not a function of pomp and circumstance" and that senators must never "acquiesce mutely to the nomination of one of the most important members of the President's Cabinet."

He was equally right to recognize the critical role that Boxer played in assuring that so many Democratic senators recognized their responsibility to assume that the consideration of Rice's nomination was something more that "a ceremonial exercise."

An Empty Exercise in Deceit

President Bush has not lost his flair for irony.

Just as the President hit the point in his second inaugural address where he declared to the dissidents of the world that "when you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you," authorities were removing peaceful protesters from the regal one's line of sight.

It was a similar juxtaposition of lofty rhetoric and less-than-lofty deeds that made the first term of the Bush presidency so unsettling to thinking people in the United States and abroad. And nothing in Thursday's inaugural ceremony suggested that the second term would be any better. Even as American forces remained mired in the quagmire of Iraq into which they were led by the Bush Administration's deliberate misreading of intelligence information, the President offered no indication whatsoever that he had learned from the mistakes and misdeeds of his first term.

Bush's lack of self-reflection belied the occasionally humble notes struck during his twenty-minute address. And it called into question the speech's bold assertions:

§ "Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen," said Bush, who declared, "America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling." Sounds great. But should anyone read that as an abandonment of the doctrine of preemptive war that served as an excuse for the unilateral invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq during the President's first term? The President provided no such indication, and his record recommends the most extreme skepticism.

§ "We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny," Bush said as he specifically addressed dissidents around the world, urging them to resist oppression and issuing that ringing promise that, "When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." Does this mean that when challenges are mounted to the oppressive regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt or elsewhere, the United States will take the side of the rebels? Can we expect the United States to impose trade sanctions on China because of that country's brutal occupation of Tibet, its jailing of dissidents and its smashing of movements for trade unionism, religious freedom and democracy? If the leaders of Russia continue to dismantle that country's freedoms, will that put them on the wrong side of the United States? The sad truth is that Bush's Republican allies continue to ridicule former President Jimmy Carter for attempting to use economic sanctions and other diplomatic tools to oppose tyranny.

§ "America's influence is considerable, and we will use it competently in freedom's cause," the President announced. That's a reasonable sentiment. But should anyone take this as an acknowledgment that poor planning, self-delusion and isolation from the world made the Iraq occupation the mess that it is? Or that the United States will now set a different course? Read Sy Hersh's latest report in The New Yorker on maneuvering within the Administration to launch a guaranteed-to-be-disastrous war with Iran and you will have a hard time believing that competence and common sense have won out.

§ Speaking of what he called the "essential work at home," the President said he was determined to "make our society more just and equal." But how does he reconcile that pledge with the growing gap between rich and poor, assaults on affirmative action programs that allow victims of past discrimination to get an equal footing in society, and scheming to dismantle the safety-net protections of Social Security, Medicare and other programs?

§ The President affirmed his faith in "the durable wisdom of the Constitution." That's a fine choice of words. But does that mean that a second Bush Administration will begin dismantling the Patriot Act and other policies that undermine constitutional protections? Does that mean that he will refuse to nominate anyone to the federal bench who does not respect the Constitution's well-defined right of privacy--particularly as it relates to a woman's right to choose?

It would be appealing to take George W. Bush at his word. But, considering his track record, that is not an option. In fact, if history is a guide, the one guarantee we have is that Bush's words will not match his deeds. And his inaugural address will be remembered as nothing more than an empty exercise in deceit.

An Un-American Inaugural

The First Lady has always merited her designation as "the brighter Bush." But, clearly, she needs to study up on American history.

With concern mounting about the wisdom of the Bush team's plans for four days of lavish inaugural festivities, Laura Bush was dispatched to make the case for the $40 million blowout that was organized to erase any doubt about who is in charge. Like her husband and his aides, the First Lady announced her approval of the ridiculous extravagance that will accompany what that is starting to look more and more like a royal coronation. The excess is necessary, she explained, because big parties at the opening of a presidential term are "an important part of our history."

"They're a ceremony of our history; they're a ritual of our government," she said of free-spending inaugural celebrations, after being asked whether it was appropriate to spend tens of millions of dollars on ten different parties at a time when the nation is at war and much of the world is still recovering from the tsunami disaster.

It was a measure of the concern of the Bush Administration's political overseers that the First Lady, whose popularity is greater and surely more deserved than that of the President, was sent out to fight for the Administration's right to party.

Unfortunately, she added nothing to the debate over inaugural bloat when she grounded her argument in historical precedent.

The fact is that America has a mixed history with regards to inaugural style. Yes, there have been opulent ceremonies and celebrations in the past, organized by Democrats as well as Republicans. But there have also been restrained recognitions of the transfer of power, particularly in times of war and international turbulence--most notably Franklin Delano Roosevelt's subdued fourth inaugural during the last days of World War II.

In truth, however, only one President has marked his inauguration in the true spirit of the American experiment.

That President understood the experiment better than most because he, Thomas Jefferson, had had such a central hand in launching it.

Elected after a bitter campaign that culminated in the first defeat of a sitting President--the often regal John Adams--Jefferson could have been excused for putting on a great celebration to mark the peaceful transition of power.

But he chose to do the opposite.

On the morning of March 4, 1801, the President-elect awoke in his small room in Conrad's Boarding House on Capitol Hill--where he had lived during the past four years when he served as a dissident Vice President. After dressing in simple clothes, he went to the breakfast room and took his usual seat at the table, declining the offer of a place at the head of the table that had been made in deference to the fact that on this day he would be sworn in as the nation's third President.

Just before noon, Jefferson left Conrad's and walked through the muddy streets of Washington to the Capitol, where he was sworn in without pomp or circumstance. He quietly delivered an inaugural address in which he affirmed his faith in "Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none; the support of the State governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns and the surest bulwarks against antirepublican tendencies; the preservation of the General Government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad; a jealous care of the right of election by the people..."

Jefferson then walked back to his rooming house, where at dinner time he again refused a place of honor at the table--displaying not merely in words, but in deeds, his belief that the President was a servant of the people, not their better and certainly not their ruler.

The symbolism of Jefferson's approach to his inauguration was intentional.

The new President wanted Americans to put behind them the trappings of their colonial past.

He believed that the age of kings and queens was ending, while the age of the democracy was beginning.

It should come as no surprise that George Bush, with his regal instincts and inflated sense of self-importance, would want a big party. But Laura Bush, who has never seemed quite so royally inclined as her husband, should know better than to suggest that there is anything inherently American about such festivities.

They are, in fact, an ugly and wholly indefensible abandonment of the template that Jefferson sought to imprint upon a nation founded in revolt against royalty.

Holding WMD Liars Accountable

Now that the Bush administration has finally stopped wasting millions of tax dollars each month on the futile search for the weapons of mass destruction it promised would be found in Iraq, it is time for an accounting.

First off, let's be clear about the fact that there was never any credible evidence to suggest that Iraq had a serious WMD program -- let alone the "stockpiles" of already-produced weaponry that the president and his aides suggested. Twenty-three members of the Senate and 133 members of the House rejected the intensive lobbying by the administration and the pliable press for the use-of-force resolution that Bush would use as his authorization to launch a preemptive war. Among those who voted "no" were the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and key members of the Senate and House committees responsible for intelligence, armed services and foreign relations -- all of whom had followed the issue for years and saw no evidence of a threat sufficient to justify an invasion of Iraq. Former President Jimmy Carter and others with long-term knowledge of the issues involved were critical of the rush to war, as were dozens of prominent players in the nation's political, foreign service, intelligence and military elites.

So the suggestion that there was broad acceptance of the premise that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs, or was deep into the process of developing them, is absurd. President Bush, Vice President Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice had access to the same information as those who recognized that there was not a sufficient threat to merit military action by the United States. They chose to dismiss that information, and instead to peddle as genuine a fabricated threat.

When we look at what they said, however, it is clear that some pushed the lies more aggressively than others.

To be sure, Bush said outrageous things. For instance, in February 2002, he told the admittedly gullible folks at the American Enterprise Institute, "In Iraq, a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world -- and we will not allow it."

Unless he was referring to someone other than Saddam Hussein, Bush was wrong. Dramatically wrong. But not, arguably, as wrong as Vice President Dick Cheney when he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on August 26, 2002, that, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."

Ouch, that's really wrong. Why, that's almost as wrong as when Cheney told an Air National Guard event in Denver on December 1, 2002, that, "Iraq could decide on any given day to provide biological or chemical weapons to a terrorist group or a terrorist individual." Or when Cheney appeared on NBC-TV's Meet the Press on March 16, 2003, to say of Saddam Hussein: "we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."

Long after it had become clear that the invading forces of the United States were not going to turn up any of the promised weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Cheney continued to promote the lie. Even after the arms inspector David Kay's report raised damning doubts about Iraq's ability to produce WMDs, Cheney told a crowd in Denver on November 7, 2003, that Saddam Hussein had "cultivated weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them."

Cheney's refusal to back off the WMD claim actually became an embarrassment to the Bush reelection campaign when the president was forced to say publicly in 2004 that he could not confirm the statements his own vice president was making.

So if even Bush backed away from Cheney, where was the vice president getting these crazy ideas?

Gee, could have been the national security advisor? Condoleezza Rice, the Dr. Strangelove of the Bush administration, spent much of 2002 promoting the fantasy that Iraq posed a nuclear threat. Famously, she declared on CNN on September 8, 2002, that, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

Don't expect Bush or Cheney appear before a Congressional committee to explain themselves anytime soon. But, conveniently, Rice will have to do so this week, as part of the process of reviewing her nomination to serve as Secretary of State. It seems as if this might be an appropriate point for Congress to begin holding the administration accountable.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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MLK's moral values

The anniversary of the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. falls just five days before the second inauguration of a president who has broken faith with most of the civil rights leader's legacy -- at home and abroad.

But, while today's leaders are out of touch with King's legacy, Americans who still hold out hope that their country might truly embrace a higher and better morality than that of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice must keep in touch.

Amid our celebrations of King's monumental contribution to the struggle for racial and economic justice in the United States, we must also celebrate his commitment to peace – and to the humane foreign policies that ultimately provide the best defense against threats and violence.

Thus it will be appropriate over these next few days, as we honor King's memory, that we recall what the slain civil rights champion had to say about a subject that is much in the news these days: moral values.

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: ‘This is not just.' It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: ‘This is not just.' The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just," King explained in his April 4, 1967, address at Manhattan's Riverside Church.

King explained that robbing the nation's treasury to fund military misadventures abroad did not fit into any definition he knew of "moral values." Indeed, he suggested, morality called Americans to oppose presidents who embarked upon careers of empire -- for the sake not just of victimized nations on the other side of the planet, but for the sake of America.

"A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: 'This way of settling differences is not just.' This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

We honor King best by following his teachings. And, while he taught us much about how to live with one another, he taught us even more about how to live in peace with the rest of the world. It is that lesson that we must carry into what the Bush administration and the pliant press will portray as a festive week of celebration.

For those who are not celebrating with the Bushes and Cheneys, however, it is important to remember that King would not have settled for the excuse of "necessity" that the president will peddle. America, King told the crowd at Riverside Church on that April evening, could change.

"America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values," the Nobel Peace Prize winner explained. "There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood."

An Election Reform Movement

David Cobb, the Green Party presidential candidate who has devoted the past two months to the arduous task of pressing for a full review of the mess that Ohio officials made of the election in that state, called on Friday afternoon to proclaim a sort of victory. "I think we've finally got a movement going for election reform in this country," Cobb said.

To an extent, he's right.

At the grassroots level, there appears to be growing support for a count-every-vote, eliminate-every-opportunity-for-fraud standard that would radically alter the way in which the United States runs elections.

And, to some small extent, this enthusiasm for election reform has been communicated to those members of Congress who are still interested in what their constituents say -- as was evidenced by Thursday's decision on the part of U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, to support the objection by members of the House to the certification of Ohio's electoral votes. The objection, and the Congressional debates that followed, were decried by the usual suspects -- White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who has the distinction of having never told the truth in his official capacity, dismissed evidence of disenfranchisement of minority voters as "conspiracy theories" -- but they also drew enough thoughtful coverage and editorial comment from mainstream media to suggest that the fight was worth it.

A lot more Americans know about our flawed voting systems now. And a few more Democrats in Congress seem to have gotten the point that it is not appropriate to casually certify the results of an election that has been tainted by evidence of disenfranchisement, voter suppression and official misdeeds.

While critics tried to remake the Congressional challenge as an attempt to reverse the result of the 2004 election in Ohio, and by extension nationally, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, explained that, "This objection does not have at its root the hope or even the hint of overturning or challenging the victory of the president." The point, said Tubbs Jones, was to expose the fundamental flaws in the current system and to highlight the need for reform.

It was, added Boxer, a matter of "electoral justice."

Unfortunately, that point was lost on every Republican member of the House and Senate and on the vast majority of Democrats. When all was said and done, only one member of the Senate (Boxer) took a stand for electoral justice by refusing to back certification of the Ohio results. There was more support in the House, from 31 members: Florida's Corrine Brown and Alcee Hastings, Indiana's Julia Carson, Missouri's William Clay Jr., South Carolina's James Clyburn, Michigan's John Conyers and Carolyn Kilpatrick, Illinois' Danny Davis, Lane Evans, Jesse Jackson Jr. and Jan Schakowsky, California's Sam Farr, Bob Filner, Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Diane Watson and Lynn Woolsey, Arizona's Raul Grijalva, New York's Maurice Hinchey and Major Owens, Texas's Sheila Jackson-Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson, Ohio's Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Dennis Kucinich, Georgia's John Lewis and Cynthia McKinney, Massachusetts' Ed Markey and John Olver, New Jersey's Frank Pallone and Donald Payne, and Mississippi's Bennie Thompson.

That most Congressional Democrats failed to act is not merely a matter of a failure of courage. Primarily, it is a matter of lack of responsibility.

Boxer and the 31 House members who objected were not being courageous. They were simply performing their duties in the manner that was intended. The founders of this country gave the legislative branch the responsibility of certifying election results because they understood the need for oversight of elections -- especially for a position as powerful as the presidency. And they trusted that Congressional representatives, who were more directly accountable to the citizenry, would assure that partisan pressures did not trump democracy.

Last Thursday, however, democracy got trumped. The vast majority of the members of the House and Senate chose not to live up to the responsibility rested upon them by the founders.

Congressional Democrats who failed to support the objection to the Ohio count -- as well as those moderate Republicans who would like to think of themselves as anything more than rubber stamps for a president who has never displayed respect for the Constitution -- need to ask themselves some questions: What is it about the phrase "electoral justice" that don't they understand? Is there any level of minority disenfranchisement that they would take seriously? Do they really believe that conservative Republicans in Congress would go along with certification of election results from a state where there was significant evidence of disenfranchisement of a Republican leaning group, such as evangelical Christians?

They know the answers to those questions. And, if they are honest with themselves, those thinking members of Congress who failed to object to the certification of the Ohio results know that they let the American people down.

So the people will have to respond. I hope David Cobb, who has worked so hard on these issues, is right. I hope we are seeing the birth of a multi-partisan movement for election reform that will establish a universal set of standards for registering voters, casting ballots and counting ballots, and a deep commitment to assure that the system works for all Americans. Because, as Thursday's failure of responsibility by most members of Congress illustrated, we are still far short of electoral justice.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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Keep Objecting

The decision of US Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, to sign on to the objection raised Thursday by US Rep. John Conyers Jr. and other House Democrats to the counting of Ohio's electoral votes from the 2004 presidential election sent a powerful signal that at least some -- though certainly not most -- Washington Democrats are listening to the grassroots of the party.

The challenge to the Ohio count, while it was based on legitimate concerns about voter disenfranchisement before, during and after the November 2 election, never had a chance to block the ultimate assignment of that state's electoral votes to President Bush. After a short debate, Republican majorities in the House and Senate were always expected to dismiss any objections and assure that President Bush would have a second term. And they moved quickly on Thursday to do precisely that--with the support of most Democrats. The vote in the House was 267 to 31 to reject the challenge; in the Senate only Boxer voted in favor, with 74 other Senators voting against.

But the lodging of a formal objection, and the debates in the House and Senate that followed it, focused attention on the mess that Ohio officials made of the presidential election in that state -- and on the lingering questions about the extent to which the problems were intentionally created in order to make it harder for supporters of Democrat John Kerry, particularly those in predominantly minority, urban and low-income precincts, to cast their ballots on November 2.

It also gave activist Democrats and their allies on the left a measure of the extent to which the party that relies so heavily on the votes of African Americans and Latinos will take seriously questions about minority-voter disenfranchisement, flawed voting systems and the partisan mess that local and state election officials frequently make of vote counting and recounting in states across this country.

After two months of work by Greens, Libertarians and groups such as Progressive Democrats of America--which highlighted flaws in the practices and procedures of Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell--there was little question that a legitimate case had been made for challenging Ohio's electoral votes during what is usually a perfunctory post-election review by Congress. US Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, did precisely that with his remarkably detailed and well-reasoned report, "Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio."

That report, which was circulated to members of Congress on Wednesday in anticipation of Thursday's formal review of the Electoral College results, bluntly stated that, "We have found numerous, serious irregularities in the Ohio presidential election, which resulted in a significant disenfranchisement of voters. Cumulatively, these irregularities, which affected hundreds of thousands of votes and voters in Ohio, raise grave doubts regarding whether it can be said that Ohio electors selected on December 13, 2004, were chosen in a manner that conforms to Ohio law, let alone federal requirements and constitutional standards."

Conyers and a number of House Democrats were convinced by the evidence of irregularities and disenfranchisement that a formal objection needed to be lodged on Thursday when a joint session of Congress met to review the results. But that objection could only go forward with the signature of at least one senator. As late as Wednesday night, there were serious doubts about whether a senator would sign on -- and real fears of a repeat of the scene, portrayed in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11, when members of the Congressional Black Caucus were ruled out of order when they tried to object in 2001 to the certification of electoral votes from the disputed state of Florida.

"A lot of people were asking whether the Democrats in the Senate would ever stand up and be counted in a fight that is really about minority voter disenfranchisement," said Steve Cobble, a veteran aide to the Rev. Jesse Jackson who attended hearings in Ohio, where evidence regarding long lines at polling places in minority neighborhoods, inadequate equipment and some instances of intimidation were gathered.

Jackson put that question to senators directly, when he personally lobbied them early in the week, and Michael Moore declared in an open letter to senators that progressives would be watching for them to show more backbone in 2005 than they did in 2001. Most -- including Kerry -- refused .

But Boxer came through, arguing that she was objecting "to cast the light of truth on a flawed system which must be fixed now."

Ultimately, however, it was Conyers's letters to senators, and the report, that did the convincing -- along with thousands of grassroots activists across the country who took the news that the senior Democrat would object to the certification of the Ohio results as a call to action to pressure senators such as Boxer and U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin.

So there has been progress from 2001 to 2005. But, at this point, it is only symbolic progress--and it is certainly not enough. The real work begins now. The brief debate over certification of the Ohio results cannot be the end of the process. Democrats and, yes, responsible Republicans need to continue to feel the heat if election reform is to be a reality. After the Florida debacle of 2000, a lot of grassroots Democrats said "never again." That sentiment changed the dynamic when Congress was called upon this year to certify electoral votes from a state where serious questions about voter disenfranchisement had yet to be resolved.

Now, the "never again" sentiment needs to be carried forward in a proactive manner that forces not just a debate but action on the fundamental reforms that are needed to repair the erratic, unequal and easily abused voting systems of what is supposed to be the greatest democracy.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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The State of US Elections

American elections never play out perfectly. But the dramatic imperfections in the 2004 presidential election in Ohio, as detailed in a new report (see below) circulated by Representative John Conyers Jr., D-Michigan, deserve a more serious response than they received from the majority of Congressional Democrats. When Ohioans began to raise concerns about troublesome irregularities in the approach of Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell -- a Bush campaign apparatchik -- to conducting the November 2 election and counting the votes in the contest that ultimately decided the race between Bush and Democrat John Kerry, they initially got more encouragement from Greens and Libertarians than from national Democrats. But Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, took the complaints seriously enough to go to Ohio. There, he and minority staffers for the Judiciary Committee conducted hearings and investigations that cut through the hyperbole and got down to two basic conclusions: first, voting and vote counting procedures in Ohio were so flawed that they created circumstances where citizens were disenfranchised and, second, that legitimate questions about the problems with the Ohio election had not been resolved at the point when the state's electoral votes were cast for Bush. Accordingly, Conyers has announced that he will object to the certification of the results from Ohio when Congress is scheduled to review and approve Electoral College votes this afternoon.

Conyers has found a handful of allies among House Democrats in recent days, mostly members of the Congressional Black Caucus. But as today approached, he had received little encouragement from Democrats in the Senate. (The staff of California Senator Barbara Boxer says she is "considering" going along with Conyers, and Wisconsin's Russ Feingold is reportedly doing the same. But neither had signed on as of this morning.) Barring a last-minute show of solidarity by Boxer, Feingold or another senator, the failure of Senate Democrats to side with Conyers appeared likely to block his formal objection, as federal rules require that a challenge to the counting of electoral votes from a particular state must be backed by at least one member of both the House and the Senate. Conyers, who has served four decades in Congress and been a central player in every major voting rights debate since the 1960s, wrote last week to all 100 senators asking that they sign on to his objection. Yet, even when he distributed materials itemizing and analyzing what he described as "the many irregularities we have come across as part of our hearings and investigation into the Ohio presidential election," he received no response from most. It was an eerie echo of what happened in 2001 when members of the Congressional Black Caucus tried to object to the certification of electoral votes from Florida only to be ruled out of order because no senator had backed their complaint. The scene of African-American members being gaveled into silence was one of the most powerful and poignant moments in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11, and it was impossible to imagine that it would ever be repeated. Yet, as the moment of truth approached this year, Conyers, the senior African-American in Congress, was forced to plead for an opportunity "to debate and highlight the problems in Ohio which disenfranchised innumerable voters."

It is important to note the language Conyers has used. He was not calling for overturning the election of President Bush. Rather, he was suggesting that, based on the evidence of voter disenfranchisement, flawed or corrupted voting machinery, and inappropriate procedures for counting and recounting votes in Ohio, it was inappropriate for Congress simply to rubber stamp the decisions of Secretary of State Blackwell and other officials in Ohio to award the state's electoral votes to Bush. Ultimately, that objection has little chance to get beyond the debating stage, as both the Senate and the House would have to agree to the objection in order to block the counting of Ohio's electoral votes -- and that is not going to happen in either of those Republican-controlled chambers. But Conyers is right to argue that a formal objection needs to be made, and that objection should be broadly supported by Democrats -- and, frankly, honest Republicans -- in both the House and the Senate. That it has not received that broad support is a sad statement about the seriousness with which most Democrats take their party's pledge to "count all the votes this time" -- and about the prospects for reform of erratic, unequal and unreliable voting systems that, as Conyers and his aides have ably illustrated, are prone to abuses that undermine democracy.

THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ON THE CONYERS REPORT--PRESERVING DEMOCRACY-- WHAT WENT WRONG IN OHIO--FOLLOWS:

We have found numerous, serious election irregularities in the Ohio presidential election, which resulted in a significant disenfranchisement of voters. Cumulatively, these irregularities, which affected hundreds of thousand of votes and voters in Ohio, raise grave doubts regarding whether it can be said the Ohio electors selected on December 13, 2004, were chosen in a manner that conforms to Ohio law, let alone federal requirements and constitutional standards.

This report, therefore, makes three recommendations: (1) consistent with the requirements of the United States Constitution concerning the counting of electoral votes by Congress and Federal law implementing these requirements, there are ample grounds for challenging the electors from the State of Ohio; (2) Congress should engage in further hearings into the widespread irregularities reported in Ohio; we believe the problems are serious enough to warrant the appointment of a joint select Committee of the House and Senate to investigate and report back to the Members; and (3) Congress needs to enact election reform to restore our people's trust in our democracy. These changes should include putting in place more specific federal protections for federal elections, particularly in the areas of audit capability for electronic voting machines and casting and counting of provisional ballots, as well as other needed changes to federal and state election laws.

With regards to our factual finding, in brief, we find that there were massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies in Ohio. In many cases these irregularities were caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio.

First, in the run up to election day, the following actions by Mr. Blackwell, the Republican Party and election officials disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Ohio citizens, predominantly minority and Democratic voters:

The misallocation of voting machines led to unprecedented long lines that disenfranchised scores, if not hundreds of thousands, of predominantly minority and Democratic voters. This was illustrated by the fact that the Washington Post reported that in Franklin County, "27 of the 30 wards with the most machines per registered voter showed majorities for Bush. At the other end of the spectrum, six of the seven wards with the fewest machines delivered large margins for Kerry." (See Powell and Slevin, supra). Among other things, the conscious failure to provide sufficient voting machinery violates the Ohio Revised Code which requires the Boards of Elections to "provide adequate facilities at each polling place for conducting the election."Mr. Blackwell's decision to restrict provisional ballots resulted in the disenfranchisement of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of voters, again predominantly minority and Democratic voters. Mr. Blackwell's decision departed from past Ohio law on provisional ballots, and there is no evidence that a broader construction would have led to any significant disruption at the polling places, and did not do so in other states.Mr. Blackwell's widely reviled decision to reject voter registration applications based on paper weight may have resulted in thousands of new voters not being registered in time for the 2004 election.The Ohio Republican Party's decision to engage in preelection "caging" tactics, selectively targeting 35,000 predominantly minority voters for intimidation had a negative impact on voter turnout. The Third Circuit found these activities to be illegal and in direct violation of consent decrees barring the Republican Party from targeting minority voters for poll challenges.The Ohio Republican Party's decision to utilize thousands of partisan challengers concentrated in minority and Democratic areas likely disenfranchised tens of thousands of legal voters, who were not only intimidated, but became discouraged by the long lines. Shockingly, these disruptions were publicly predicted and acknowledged by Republican officials: Mark Weaver, a lawyer for the Ohio Republican Party, admitted the challenges "can't help but create chaos, longer lines and frustration."Mr. Blackwell's decision to prevent voters who requested absentee ballots but did not receive them on a timely basis from being able to receive provisional ballots likely disenfranchised thousands, if not tens of thousands, of voters, particularly seniors. A federal court found Mr. Blackwell's order to be illegal and in violation of HAVA.

Second, on election day, there were numerous unexplained anomalies and irregularities involving hundreds of thousands of votes that have yet to be accounted for:

There were widespread instances of intimidation and misinformation in violation of the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Equal Protection, Due Process and the Ohio Right to Vote. Mr. Blackwell's apparent failure to institute a single investigation into these many serious allegations represents a violation of his statutory duty under Ohio law to investigate election irregularities.We learned of improper purging and other registration errors by election officials that likely disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters statewide. The Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition projects that in Cuyahoga County alone over 10,000 Ohio citizens lost their right to vote as a result of official registration errors.There were 93,000 spoiled ballots where no vote was cast for president, the vast majority of which have yet to be inspected. The problem was particularly acute in two precincts in Montgomery County which had an undervote rate of over 25 percent each - accounting for nearly 6,000 voters who stood in line to vote, but purportedly declined to vote for president.There were numerous, significant unexplained irregularities in other counties throughout the state: (i) in Mahoning county at least 25 electronic machines transferred an unknown number of Kerry votes to the Bush column; (ii) Warren County locked out public observers from vote counting citing an FBI warning about a potential terrorist threat, yet the FBI states that it issued no such warning; (iii) the voting records of Perry county show significantly more votes than voters in some precincts, significantly less ballots than voters in other precincts, and voters casting more than one ballot; (iv) in Butler county a down ballot and underfunded Democratic State Supreme Court candidate implausibly received more votes than the best funded Democratic Presidential candidate in history; (v) in Cuyahoga county, poll worker error may have led to little known third party candidates receiving twenty times more votes than such candidates had ever received in otherwise reliably Democratic leaning areas; (vi) in Miami county, voter turnout was an improbable and highly suspect 98.55 percent, and after 100 percent of the precincts were reported, an additional 19,000 extra votes were recorded for President Bush.

Third, in the post-election period we learned of numerous irregularities in tallying provisional ballots and conducting and completing the recount that disenfanchised thousands of voters and call the entire recount procedure into question (as of this date the recount is still not complete):

Mr. Blackwell's failure to articulate clear and consistent standards for the counting of provisional ballots resulted in the loss of thousands of predominantly minority votes. In Cuyahoga County alone, the lack of guidance and the ultimate narrow and arbitrary review standards significantly contributed to the fact that 8,099 out of 24,472 provisional ballots were ruled invalid, the highest proportion in the state.Mr. Blackwell's failure to issue specific standards for the recount contributed to a lack of uniformity in violation of both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clauses. We found innumerable irregularities in the recount in violation of Ohio law, including (i) counties which did not randomly select the precinct samples; (ii) counties which did not conduct a full hand court after the 3% hand and machine counts did not match; (iii) counties which allowed for irregular marking of ballots and failed to secure and store ballots and machinery; and (iv) counties which prevented witnesses for candidates from observing the various aspects of the recount.The voting computer company Triad has essentially admitted that it engaged in a course of behavior during the recount in numerous counties to provide "cheat sheets" to those counting the ballots. The cheat sheets informed election officials how many votes they should find for each candidate, and how many over and under votes they should calculate to match the machine count. In that way, they could avoid doing a full county-wide hand recount mandated by state law.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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Shirley Chisholm's Legacy

Thirty-three years ago this month, a member of the U.S. House from Brooklyn challenged her party and her country to think more boldly than it ever had before about what the occupant of the White House should look like.

Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm, who four years earlier had become the first African-American woman to win election to Congress, declared that, "I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States. I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people."

Chisholm, who died January 1 at age 80, ran as the "Unbought and Unbossed" candidate for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. She campaigned in key primary states as a militant foe of the war in Vietnam and a champion of the economic and social justice movements that had organized so effectively during the 1960s. And she did not mince words. A co-convener of the founding conference of the National Women's Political Caucus, she once announced, "Women in this country must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and stereotypes."

That kind of talk, along with her refusal to reject the endorsement of the Black Panthers, scared the party establishment -- including most prominent liberals -- and Chisholm's run was dismissed from the start as a vanity campaign that would do nothing more than siphon votes off from better-known anti-war candidates such a South Dakota Senator George McGovern and New York City Mayor John Lindsay. They were not ready for a candidate who promised to "reshape our society," and they accorded her few opportunities to prove herself in a campaign where all of the other contenders were white men. "There is little place in the political scheme of things for an independent, creative personality, for a fighter," Chisholm observed. "Anyone who takes that role must pay a price."

Chisholm had to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission in order to participate in a televised debate featuring McGovern and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Through it all, she maintained the dignity that characterized a political career that began in the clubhouse politics of Brooklyn, saw her elected twice to the New York state Assembly and seven times to the U.S. House, and was capped by President Clinton's nomination of Chisholm to serve as U.S. ambassador to Jamaica -- an honor she was ultimately forced to refuse because of ill health.

One of the most remarkable moments of the 1972 campaign came after Alabama Governor George Wallace, a foe of civil rights who also sought the party's presidential nomination that year, was shot. Wallace was shocked when Chisholm arrived in his hospital room to express her sympathy and concern. "He said, 'What are your people going to say?' I said, 'I know what they are going to say. But I wouldn't want what happened to you to happen to anyone.' He cried and cried," Chisholm recalled.

The congresswoman's compassion -- and her commitment -- struck a chord with voters. While she won no primaries, Chisholm outlasted better-known and better-financed contenders such as Maine Senator Ed Muskie and Washington Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson. At that year's Democratic National Convention in Miami, she received 151 delegate votes and a measure of the respect that she was often denied on the campaign trail.

Chisholm, who would go to serve another decade in the House, never expected to win the presidency in 1972. But she did expect that her candidacy would inspire others. "I ran for the Presidency, despite hopeless odds, to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo," Chisholm wrote in her 1973 book The Good Fight. "The next time a woman runs, or a black, or a Jew or anyone from a group that the country is ‘not ready' to elect to its highest office, I believe that he or she will be taken seriously from the start… I ran because somebody had to do it first. In this country, everybody is supposed to be able to run for President, but that has never really been true."

Chisholm was indeed an inspiration. At least one young "Chisholm for President" campaigner now serves in Congress: California Representative Barbara Lee, the only member of the House to oppose President Bush's demand for a blank check to mount military responses to the September 11, 2001, attacks. U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, spoke for many African-American women in Congress when she said, "If there were no Shirley Chisholm there would be no Stephanie Tubbs Jones." And the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns picked up where Chisholm left off, hailed the woman who served as an advisor to both those candidacies. "She set the pace and pattern for other public officials," Jackson said of Chisholm. "She refused to accept the ordinary."

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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Bush Fails a Global Test

George Bush ended 2004 on a sour note.

But at least he maintained his record as the most disingenuous president since Richard Nixon.

When other world leaders rushed to respond to the crisis caused by last Sunday's tsunamis in southern Asia, George Bush decamped to his ranch in Texas for another vacation. For three days after the disaster, the only formal response from the White House was issued by a deputy press secretary. Finally, after a United Nations official made comments that seemed to highlight the disengaged nature of the official U.S. reaction to one of the worst catastrophes in human history, the president appeared at a hastily-scheduled press conference to grumble about how critics of his embarrassing performance were "misguided and ill-informed."

Bush bragged about the U.S. commitment of $35 million to help respond to a tragedy that has cost more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions of people in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Somalia and other countries.

What the president did not say is that this initial commitment was less than the planned expenditure for his Jan. 20 inauguration: $40 million.

It was, as well, less than the initial commitment by smaller and less wealthy nations such as Spain, which moved immediately to guarantee a $68 million line of credit for relief and rebuilding efforts.

The president's missteps were noted by the rest of the world, and by diplomatic observers at home. Leslie Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Bush had missed an opportunity to display humanitarian, moral and diplomatic leadership in the world. Reflecting on the administration's response, Derek Mitchell, an expert on Asian affairs at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, "I think politically they've done poorly."

An embarrased Bush administration scrambled to up the ante with a new commitment of $350 million, and the president dispatched Secretary of State Colin Powell and First Brother Jeb Bush to Asia. President Bush even ordered that flags be lowed in recognition of the tragedy.

But none of the face-saving measures erased the initial impression that this president is anything but a compassionate conservative.

At a time when the U.S. image abroad has been battered by the president's unilateral decision to order the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration should have been sensitive to the need to respond quickly and effectively to a disaster of this magnitude. But that did not happen. Bush failed to engage at the critical point and then peddled the lie that the U.S. is in the forefront of providing humanitarian aid.

Thirty other developed nations commit greater proportions of their gross domestic products to humanitarian projects than does the U.S. In fact, the entire U.S. commitment for humanitarian aid in 2004 -- $2.4 billion -- was about the same amount as the U.S. spends every ten days to maintain the occupation of Iraq.The contrast between the Bush administration's spare-no-expense approach to Iraq and its initial penny-pinching response to the crisis in southern Asia was devastating for America's image abroad. And, even as Bush tried to make amends, his administration's priorities remained out of whack -- the $350 million commitment that the administration now offers in response to the earthquake and tsunami damage equals less than two days of Iraq spending.

But it is not too late to respond in a more appropriate manner.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, a longtime advocate for a more responsible U.S. policy regarding humanitarian aid, has suggested that the U.S. should rescind a portion of the reconstruction aid that has been budgeted for use in Iraq. Of an estimated $18.4 billion allocated for that purpose through December, only about $2 billion has been spent.

Leahy has already attracted some interest in his proposal from Congressional Republicans. Hopefully, this will influence the administration to dramatically increase its commitment to emergency relief and redevelopment aid.

What is the appropriate commitment? Over the critical period of the next several months, the U.S. should provide at least as much money to rebuild southern Asia as it does to maintain the occupation of Iraq – a figure Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last year put at roughly $3.9 billion a month but that is, in reality, much higher. Committing as much to aiding southern Asia as is now being spent to occupy Iraq would signal that the U.S. wants to rejoin the world community.

Committing dramatically less – as appears to be the president's intent -- will confirm the impression that the U.S. is more interested in spending money on a military misadventure than on a necessary reconstruction.

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John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."

Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.

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