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It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp

Political corruption, the world's second oldest profession, just isn't as easy as it used to be.

Take defense contractor Mitchell Wade, for example. He had a good thing going with Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham, until the Congressman's taste for bling got them both busted.

Mr. Wade now claims he funneled $50,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Katherine Harris for some military largesse, but the Congresswoman failed to secure the pay-off. After what she pulled off for George W., Mr. Wade must wonder if Katherine was holding out on him.

Or take John Goodman, president and founder of a Dallas-based think tank. He thought he had bought himself another reliable intellectual to shill for George W., but what he ended up with in Bruce Bartlett, the author of Imposter: How George Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, was a pundit with a guilty conscious and a leaky mouth.

At first Mr. Goodman's money did the trick, however. Or to quote Mr. Bartlett directly, "Being supportive of Mr. Bush was definitely more rewarding to me than being critical." But what is an obscure "fellowship" at a third-rate think tank compared to a major book deal, a New York Times blog, and a guest appearance on the Daily Show?

With Iraq on the brink of Civil War and the president's poll numbers in the tank, it will be interesting to see who will join Sullivan, Buckley, Fukuyama, and now Bartlett as the next convert to the anti-Bush camp.

The War's More Popular Than Bush

George Bush's approval ratings have hit a record low according to a new poll released Monday night, but what does that really mean?

Well, consider this:

Bush's approval rating has fallen to 36 percent, according to the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

By comparison, 38 percent of Americans believe the war in Iraq is going well.

That's right. In the midst of a dramatic degeneration of the Iraq occupation, with the explosion of sectarian violence following February's bombing of the al-Askariya mosque in Samarra, with the U.S. casualty numbers pushing rapidly upward -- to 2,309 dead and 17,004 wounded as of Monday -- and with the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reporting a new poll that shows almost three quarters of U.S. troops serving in Iraq favor complete withdrawal from that country within a year, more Americans think the war is "going well" than think George Bush's presidency is "going well."

So why is Bush less popular than his war?

Another poll result may answer that question:

When asked if they thought the Bush administration deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, 51 percent of those surveyed said the president had lied.

Feingold's Folly?

I admit to great ambivalence over Senator Russ Feingold's flagging effort to officially censure President Bush. The same sort of ambivalence I felt when he voted – a few years back--to confirm John Ashcroft for Attorney General because, Feingold argued, a President should have the cabinet he wants.

Feingold is a senator of singular courage and solid principle (note that he was also the only senator to vote against the same Ashcroft's Patriot Act). His call to censure is a bold and admirable moral stand. But effective politics are rarely about morality – unfortunately. Censure, like impeachment (and for that matter like Western Civilization)to paraphrase Gandhi, "would be a good idea."

Censure or impeachment is neither about the law nor really very much about the Constitution. They are, instead, strictly and wholly political acts. So we have to ask ourselves, is Feingold's move actually good politics? Any somnolent Grand Jury could probably indict just about any sitting president on some or another high crime or misdemeanor. But so what? There must be a political consensus to move ahead with such acts --- either untenable revulsion even by one's own party as was the case with Nixon (who jumped before getting pushed). Or of a solid partisan opposition majority, as was the case with Bill Clinton.

Neither of these conditions is present in the case of George W. Bush. It's little wonder that most other Democrats went scurrying away from Feingold's resolution. Who couldn't predict that? It's hard to believe that the Senator from Wisconsin, one of the sharpest guys around, didn't fully anticipate this, thereby raising questions about his own intent. Was his move to censure a personal moral statement? A pre-positioning as the "progressive" alternative in 2008? Perhaps. If there's a broader political strategy, what is it?

What we do know, and what Feingold certainly knew, is that this issue coming to vote is nigh impossible.

As I said, I'm ambivalent. Right now George W. Bush is at an all-time low in his popularity ratings. His party is fragmenting over immigration, spending, the Dubai ports deal and his general unpopularity. It's a rare golden opportunity for Democrats --one that has fallen into their laps rather than having been seized. I might be wrong, but, in agreement with Josh Marshall, I suspect that these same Democrats would be much better served by concentrating on a pro-active counter-offer to a disgruntled electorate instead of imposing upon it some sort of "prosecute Bush" litmus test.

Progressives should be particularly sensitive to this point. The conventional wisdom on the Democratic Left is that the more liberal the 2008 Democratic nominee, the more virulently anti-Bush, the more successful he or she will be. Again, I'd like that to be true but I've no way to prove it. Can anyone?

Meanwhile, as Matt Bai pointed out in this week's New York Times Magazine, the momentum inside the machinery of the Democratic Party might be tilting in an unpredictable direction. What if the eventual "Anti-Hillary" runs not to her left, but to her right? Even better reason for liberals to stay focused on what's ahead rather than simply flailing away at Bush.

Exit Katharine Harris?

Republican insiders always knew it would be a major mistake to pin their hopes for unseating Florida Senator Bill Nelson, a supposedly vulnerable Democrat, on one of the most bizarre players in American politics.

Now, they're being reminded that they should have trusted their instincts.

U.S. Representative Katharine Harris, the former Florida Secretary of State who used her position to undermine the 2000 recount process and prepare the way for the Supreme Court to hand the state's electoral votes and the presidency to George Bush, elbowed her way into the Senate contest last year. Harris was never the party's first choice but, over time, as other serious contenders dropped back, she emerged as the likely GOP nominee. By January, Presidential Brother-in-Chief Jeb Bush was proclaiming his "strong support" for Harris.

But Harris remained as strange as ever, aggressively flirting with Sean Hannity in appearances on the Fox News personality's television program, referring to her campaign as a "grassfire" and promising to work as a senator to make sure federal judges don't "make laws" from the bench -- apparently forgetting the Supreme Court's unprecedented intervention in the case of Bush v. Gore.

Now, it looks as if Harris may be preparing to exit the race she worked so hard to make her own.

After it was revealed last week that Harris had accepted more than $50,000 in illegal campaign contributions from the defense contractor who bribed former U.S. Representative Duke Cunningham, R-California, Harris quickly announced that: "We've had some negative hits but we've had an overwhelming response from grassroots and leadership around the state that are saying 'Go for it' and that's what we're doing."

Then, on Saturday, the Harris campaign released a subdued statement from the candidate that said she would "prayerfully prepare with my family, friends and advisors to finalize the strategy for a major announcement next week concerning my candidacy for the US Senate."

The betting is that Harris will withdraw -- with Republicans hoping against hope that she can still be replaced by a big-name candidate such as Governor Bush or Representative Mark Foley. But with Katharine Harris the watchword is always "weird" so no one is sure what she will do until the deed is done. And everyone is sure that the time and money Republicans wasted on her candidacy has strengthened Nelson's position -- no matter who his challenger turns out to be in November.

Is Gore Still Looking for Votes in Florida?

Al Gore returned to Florida this weekend. And you know what that means. (Insert joke about butterfly ballots, hanging chads, Katherine Harris and Jews for Buchanan.)

He still uses the line about being a "recovering politician." It still draws laughter. But those of us who've followed Gore know he's emerged from the political wilderness as one of the most eloquent critics of the Bush Administration, a favorite among the Democratic base and even a dark horse for the '08 nomination. By all accounts, his foray into Florida, campaigning for state candidates, only boosted his political fortunes. From the Orlando Sun-Sentinel:

 

"Welcome back, Mr. President!" someone yelled from the crowd as Gore took the stage.

 

 

...

 

 

"This was the scene of a crime," said West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel, whose son, Marine Capt. Benjamin Lubin, has served in Afghanistan.

 

 

...

 

 

"We're very proud of him," Frankel said of her son. "But I can tell you, if Al Gore had been president, my son would not have been at war."

 

 

...

 

 

"I want to give you a couple of reasons to redouble your efforts," Gore said.

 

 

"Voter fraud!" an audience member quickly offered up, to the delight of the crowd.

 

 

Gore smiled.

 

 

"I'll let others talk about that, but I like some of what I heard out here," he said.

 

Call it the looser, freer, funnier Al. Gore 2.0. Maybe if he returned to politics Gore would instantly tighten up and start babbling about lockboxes. But--risking the scorn of many--I think he could pull a Nixon or Reagan and win back the presidency.

IF he's willing to take on his former boss's wife.

Feingold Moves to Censure Bush

U.S. Senator Russ Feingold on Monday asked the Senate to officially censure President Bush for breaking the law by authorizing an illegal wiretapping program, and for misleading Congress and the American people about the existence and legality of that program.

If the Wisconsin Democrat's move were to succeed, Bush would be the first president in 172 years to be so condemned by Congress.

Charging that the President's illegal wiretapping program is in direct violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – which makes it a crime to wiretap Americans in the United States without a warrant or a court order -- Feingold argues that Congress cannot avoid facing the fact that fundamental Constitutional issues are at stake.

"The President must be held accountable for authorizing a program that clearly violates the law and then misleading the country about its existence and its legality," says Feingold. "The President's actions, as well as his misleading statements to both Congress and the public about the program, demand a serious response. If Congress does not censure the President, we will be tacitly condoning his actions, and undermining both the separation of powers and the rule of law."

Feingold's motion faces an uphill fight in a Republican-controlled Senate that does not appear to be inclined to make Bush the first president since Andrew Jackson to be censured by Congress. But it does raise the stakes at a point when the Wisconsin senator and civil libertarians have grown frustrated with the failure of Congress to aggressively challenge the administration's penchant for warrantless wiretapping.

Republican senators have proposed rewriting laws to remove barriers to wiretapping, arguing that the president must have flexibility in order to pursue his war on terror.

But Feingold rejects the suggestion that changing the rules after the fact would absolve the president.

"This issue is not about whether the government should be wiretapping terrorists – of course it should, and it can under current law" Feingold said. "But this President and this administration decided to break the law and they have yet to give a convincing explanation of why their actions were necessary, appropriate, or legal. Passing more laws will not change the fact that the President broke the ones already in place and for that, Congress must hold him accountable." Though the censure procedure is not outlined in the Constitution – as is impeachment – it is well established in the history and traditions of the Congress.

Jackson was censured in 1834 for refusing to cooperate with a Congressional investigation, and there have been many moves over the years to use the procedure to hold president's to account.

In 1998, a then-new online activist group, MoveOn.org, proposed that as an alternative to impeaching Bill Clinton for lying to a grand jury and obstructing justice, the president could be censured. After rejecting impeachment in 1999, senators discussed censuring Clinton but failed to muster the votes to do so.

Last December, U.S. Representative John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, introduced separate resolutions to censure President Bush and Vice President Cheney for refusing to cooperate with Congressional investigations into the manipulation and mismanagement of intelligence by the administration when it was lobbying the House and Senate to authorize and support the invasion of Iraq.

Conyers has also introduced a resolution calling for establishment of a select committee to review the actions of administration with regard to the use of pre-war intelligence and to make recommendations regarding impeachment.

While the impeachment process can lead to the removal of a president or vice president from office, a vote to censure Bush would merely condemn him.

Though Feingold says that the president's actions are "in the strike zone" of meeting the definition of an impeachable offense, the senator argues that censuring Bush is the proper and necessary step at this time. "The president has broken the law and, in some way, he must be held accountable," explained the third-term senator who is considering a run for the presidency in 2008.

"Congress has to reassert our system of government, and the cleanest and the most efficient way to do that is to censure the president," said Feingold, who added that he hoped a censure vote would lead Bush to "acknowledge that he did something wrong."

The White House did not respond to Feingold's announcement. But Republican senators rallied to the administration's defense. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, dismissed the censure move as "a crazy political move" that would weaken the president's hand in a time of war. U.S. Senator John Warner, R-Virginia, accused Feingold of "political grandstanding."

But Feingold's record of challenging the actions of Democrat and Republican administrations may make that charge a tough sell. The ranking Democrat on the Constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Feingold has repeatedly clashed with the Bush administration, and before that with the Clinton administration, over separation of powers issues. Indeed, he was the only Democrat who broke party ranks in 1999 to oppose a proposal to dismiss charges against Clinton before the Senate trial on the impeachment charges against the Democratic president had been completed.

An outspoken civil libertarian, the Wisconsin Democrat has a long record of confronting abuses of Constitutional protections by the executive branch.

When it was revealed in December that, despite previous denials by the president and his aides, Bush had repeatedly authorized a secret program by the National Security Agency to listen in on Americans' phone calls, Feingold charged that the spying scheme was indicative of a "pattern of abuse" by a president who was "grabbing too much power."

"We have a system of law. (Bush) just can't make up the law," complained Feingold. "It would turn George Bush not into President George Bush, but King George Bush."

A Subversive Southerner Passes

On Monday, March 6, when Anne Braden died, the South lost one of its most dedicated, courageous and feisty fighters for racial justice, civil liberties and economic rights.

I met Anne Braden in the early 1980s when I worked for ABC's "Closeup" unit, one of the last serious documentary divisions at a news network. Our crew spent a week in Louisville, Kentucky, interviewing Anne--and those who had supported, shunned and persecuted her in the 1950s--for The American Inquisition, an hour-long documentary about the impact of the McCarthy era on our nation's politics and society. (It aired in 1983.)

I remember trying to get Anne Braden to tell us about how she came to her radical politics. Some of it was her father, she said. He had been, in Anne's telling--a "committed racist" in a segregationist family. But much of it, as her unusually revealing memoirs The Wall Between explained, came from her work as a newspaper reporter, covering the Birmingham courthouse. That, she told us, "made a radical out of me." As her biographer, Catherine Fosl remembers, Anne explained that seeing "two different systems of justice," where violence against blacks was ignored and violence by blacks was harshly punished, moved her to live a life of radicalism and agitation.

Anne and Carl Braden gained national attention in 1954 when they bought a house for an African-American couple in an all-white neighborhood in Shively, a suburb of Lousiville. As the Lousiville Courier-Journal obituary reports, "In the resulting backlash, assailants shot out the windows, burned a cross in the yard and bombed the house, though no one was hurt. Anne and Carl Braden were charged with sedition and accused of planning the explosion to stir up trouble and to promote Communism--charges the Bradens denied. Carl Braden's eventual conviction was later overturned."

But for many years, as Fosl's invaluable biography Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and The Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South, reminds us, these charges left the Bradens pariahs, "branded as radicals and 'reds' in the Cold War South."

But the Bradens never slowed down. In fact, sedition charges were brought against them again in 1967, this time in Pike County, Kentucky, where they were accused of being communists trying to overthrow the county government. (They had been helping a couple protest strip mining.) "Before the Bradens could be tried," the Journal reported, "a federal appeals court declared Kentucky's sedition law unconstitutional."

For her courageous work, and early stands against segregation, Anne Braden was one of only five white southerners commended by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his historic 1963 "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

In the late 1950s, into the 1970s, Anne Braden traveled throughout the South, chronicling racial injustices and the struggles they provoked for the Southern Patriot monthly newspaper, which she edited from 1957-73. She and her husband Carl, who died in 1975, were also generous mentors to a generation of Southern activists.

When she was named, not long ago, to the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame, Anne Braden said: "The battle goes on as far as I'm concerned. You can't give up."

She lived what she preached. "As feisty and dedicated as ever," Fosl writes, "Braden joined other Lousiville activists last fall on buses bound for the anti-war demonstration in Washington, DC even though she was in a wheelchair."

Anne Braden's 1958 book, The Wall Between, was recently reisssued with a 40-page epilogue by the University of Tennessee.

For those who wish to continue Anne Braden's work, donations can be made to the Carl Braden Memorial Center, 3208 West Broadway, Louisville,Kentucky, 40211. Or, make gifts and contributions to the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression.

And for a new generation of subversive Southerners--and Americans--I recommend that you buy a few copies of Catherine Fosl's biography of Anne Braden.(Share with your relatives, colleagues and anyone in need of some inspiration these days.)

Port Deal Question: What's the White House Still Hiding?

President Bush, after watching his already low approval rating take a dive because of his mishandling of the issue, wants memories of the controversy about whether Dubai Ports World should run six east coast ports to fade away fast.

Republicans in Congress, well aware that severe damage has been done to the public impression that their party is serious about national security, want the controversy to go away.

Democrats in Congress, punch drunk from the experience of actually prevailing in a standoff with the White House, appear to be quite willing to pop the champagne corks and declare victory.

And a Washington press corps that loves neat little stories with beginnings and ends – even if the "end" in this case takes the form of a clear-as-mud announcement by the UAE firm that it would shift control of the ports of New York and other major cities to a "U.S. entity" -- is more than willing to bend once more to the will of official Washington.

But the one member of Congress who just can't quite go with the flow – perhaps because his past breaks with conventional wisdom have so frequently put him on the right side of history – is not letting go.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the Cleveland Democrat who knows a thing or two about ports from his days as mayor of a big city on Lake Erie in the days when Great Lakes ports were still going strong, is not willing to pretend that all the issues raised by the administration's attempt to sneak through approval of a move that would have shifted operational control of the six ports Dubai Ports World have been settled.

"The port deal is not dead," says Kucinich. "Much as they would like to, Congress must not allow this Administration to sweep this under the rug. Congress must fulfill its Constitutional duty and provide aggressive oversight of this ill-advised and misguided deal. Congress must continue to investigate this deal to ensure similar deals, which put the security of our nation at grave risk, can not happen again."

Kucinich, the ranking Democratic member of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, has invoked the House's little used "Resolution of Inquiry" procedure in an attempt to force the Bush administration to turn over documents relating to whatever security review was conducted with regard to the port deal.

Specifically, Kucinich is demanding that the White House and the Department of Homeland Security turn over to Congress:

1. All documents in their possession regarding the December 13, 2005, Coast Guard Intelligence Coordination Center document – materials which could show that the Bush administration had been informed of security concerns regarding the UAE firm.

2. All documents in their possession regarding discussions between the White House and Dubai Ports World relating to the Committee on Foreign Investment process for approving the acquisition – materials which could show that the administration worked with the UAE firm to help advance the deal.

3. All documents in their possession regarding discussions between the White House and the Carlyle Group between October 1, 2005, and March 2, 2006 – materials which could shed light on whether the president's enthusiasm for the port deal might have been stoked by contacts with international business interests with which his father remains closely associated.

How far will Kucinich get with his demand for documents from a White House that is never forthcoming when it comes to cooperating with Congress? That depends, in large part, on his fellow House Democrats, and on those scared House Republicans who were so busy claiming to the cameras that they wanted to "get to the bottom" of all the issues raised by the port deal.

Under House rules, when a member introduces a Resolution of Inquiry, it must be taken up by an appropriate committee – in this case the House Financial Services Committee -- within 14 legislative days. If the committee, which of course has a Republican majority, votes to votes to squelch the resolution, then the White House is off the hook. That's likely to happen unless House Democrats pick up Kucinich's call and make enough noise to keep this issue alive.

If Congress ran as it should, this would not be a partisan issue. In the past, members of the president's part often demanded accountability from the Executive Branch. But, in this almost fully dysfunctional Congress, only a united Democratic demand will give Kucinich's important initiative a chance. Unfortunately, House Democrats have tended to put the "d" in dysfunctional for some time now. So Kucinich could, again, be left in the unenviable position of having to wait for history to again prove him right.

Sweet Victory: The Resolutions Roll In

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.

No matter how many polls show that the majorityof American citizens (and eventroops) want a speedy withdrawal from Iraq, the stay-the-course consensus continues to suffocate DC.

Yet, while politicians may be able to ignore polls, it's harder for them to ignore concerted, collective action in the form of official resolutions. On the eve of the third anniversary of the Iraq war, resolutions from America's largest cities, labor organizations, and religious groups are calling for our troops to come home.

The nationwide push for local resolutions is being led by Cities for Progress, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies, which also works towards passing local bills on extending health care benefits, establishing living wages and opposing the Patriot Act. Themovement has grown considerably since its inception last March, when dozens of towns and cities in Vermont first called for withdrawal.Currently, 76 municipalities including Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Sacramento, have joined in.

And some of the smaller towns that have passed resolutions are making a big impact as well. In December, the town of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania passed a resolution in support of Rep. Jack Murtha's plan for US troops to come home from Iraq in six months. That month, Wikinsburg's Rep. Mike Doyle announced that he was co-sponsoring Murtha's bill.

"These resolutions are an expression of the will of the people that is simply not being heard on Capitol Hill," said Karen Dolan, director of Cities for Progress. "This is direct democracy, and it gives average Americans a microphone to say 'I am frustrated, I want my tax dollars spent in my own town, I want our children back home.' It's a unique and exciting new avenue for regular people to make their voices heard."

This Spring, in Wisconsin, 31 different communities will have a referendum on the ballot. "Polls are a passive conduit, but when citizens are out going door-to-door, expressing serious commitment, getting thousands ofsignatures, and getting resolutions passed, it sends a direct message to members of Congress," said George Martin of Coalition for a Just Peace, which is behind the Wisconsin resolution push. Martin says the antiwarmovement is flourishing on the local level because residents are increasingly disturbed by the way the Iraq effort is depleting much-needed local resources. "It's very clearly illustrated by the Katrina tragedy.Local guard and reserves are supposed to serve their own communities and they weren't available because of Iraq. Equipment that could have been used to dig dirt for the levees was in Iraq," said Martin.

Organized labor and religious groups have joined in on the resolutions movement as well. Last July, the AFL-CIO called for "the rapid return of UStroops" and a rapidlygrowing list of local, state, and national labor organizations have passed similar resolutions.

Last October, the United Methodist Church passed a resolution calling for withdrawal. "It is my hope andprayer that our statement against the war in Iraq will be heard loud and clear by our fellow United Methodists, President Bush and Vice President Cheney," said Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the UMC's Board of Churchand Society. "Conservative and liberal board members worked together to craft a strong statement calling for the troops to come home and for those responsible for leading us into this disastrous war to be held accountable."

A month later, the Union of Reform Judaism--which, with 1.5 million members, represents the largest Jewish movement in the US--voted to bring the troops home.

Meanwhile, scores of prominent individuals within the religious community have publicly voiced opposition to the continuing occupation.

"The role the faith community has to play in social change is critical; we were major players in the movements for civil rights and workers rights," says Peter Lems of the American Friends Service Committee. "It can't really happen without us, and leaders are starting to speak out and encourage political action. We may not prevail on the day of the third anniversary, but we'll be several steps closer."

As resolutions from towns, cities, labor, and religious organizations continue to pile up, it is becoming abundantly clear that those who want to retain their seats in '06 will have no choice but to listen.


Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.