Earlier this week I wrote about the constitutional crisis we currently face as a result of George Bush's abuse, overreach and lawlessness. (A recent article in the Boston Globe documents how Bush has claimed the right to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office.) Accomplices in this assault on our democracy include the religious right which would intrude into our personal lives to determine our rights and freedoms.
Fortunately, there's an important new online grassroots group fighting these extremists: The Campaign to Defend The Constitution (DefCon). Director Jessica Smith describes the group's mission as this, "DefCon has assumed a leading role in the ever intensifying battle between those who believe in the separation of church and state and those who seek, through political influence, to undo this fundamental American principle." DefCon has a dynamic and committed Board of Directors composed of leading legal scholars, scientists and civil liberty activists, including: Kate Michelman (former head of NARAL), Harold Varmus (former head of NIH), Ira Glasser (former head of ACLU) and Bruce Alberts (former President of the National Academy of Sciences).
The group works with activists from diverse backgrounds, including many people of faith who are tired of seeing their beliefs and values hijacked by right-wing extremists. DefCon focuses on strengthening the separation of church and state; an independent judiciary that safeguards rather than rolls back our rights; science and technology that is not hindered by religious ideology; and the right to privacy--whether protecting choice or combating anti-gay legislation.
Since its inception last fall, 55,000 people have joined DefCon and are already making a real impact. In Ohio, DefCon members helped reverse a Board of Education decision that had allowed pro-intelligent design language into the state's science standards. In Utah, 455,000 emails – no, that is not a typo – 455,000 emails helped thwart a well-organized intelligent design movement in the Utah State Legislature.
DefCon has also exposed the maddening hypocrisy of the religious right in its TV and newspaper advertising campaign on the "unholy alliance" between Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, Rev. Louis Sheldon, and James Dobson.
In the fight to defend our Constitution, DefCon offers democracy advocates invaluable tools for these times. Check it out today.
Early last month, I highlighted an appeal to support progressive South Dakota State Senate candidate Charon Asetoyer. The Executive Director of the Native Women's Health Education Resource Center on the Yankton Reservation, Asetoyer is challenging an opponent--Cooper Garnos--who compiled a zero voting rank on women's health and safety issues during his previous legislative term.
In the wake of the South Dakota legislature's nearly complete ban on abortion last February, more women than ever before are running for office in the state--frequently on women's rights platforms. Asetoyer, a Comanche, decided to run (after an appearance on RadioNation with Laura Flanders) to combat bills detrimental to women's rights and the rights of families that were passed by the last two legislatures. "I feel we are going into a frightening time. Legislators are going down a dangerous path and it is very scary," she told Indian Country Today recently. ''They are trying to get the public to buy into the idea that contraceptives abort a pregnancy, that's wrong. They are trying to go after our contraceptives.''
Fortunately, thanks to the generosity of people like you, Asetoyer's campaign has gained ground. As she heads into the critical last four weeks of campaigning before the June 6 primary, she's up to speed with her buttons, bumperstickers, lawn signs and creative radio ads that started airing on two stations this week. She's also part of a wave in the state comprising three other Native American women candidates vying for Democratic primary nominations in order to take on some of the most reactionary members of any state Republican Party anywhere. These candidates--Faith Spotted Eagle, Paula Long Fox and Theresa Spry, along with Asetoyer, could actually win. But they really need more help.
Political races in South Dakota don't take nearly as much money to run as big state, big city races, but that doesn't mean they can run on nothing and so far it seems pretty unlikely that the SD Democratic Party is going to pitch in for them before the primaries.
So, our job is to help them win their primaries in a big way so that they become seen as "viable" by the party elite who control the pursestrings. A few dollars to each of these campaigns can help create change in South Dakota that we'll all feel wherever we live. The individual limit for donations to candidates in SD is $250, so consider maxing out, if you can. But $100, $50, or $25 can do a lot -- from helping to pay for candidate forums to ads in hometown papers and radio spots.
Here's where you can send your checks:
Charon Asetoyer (Dist. 21 Senate)
Campaign for Change
P.O. Box 472
Lake Andes, SD 57356
Faith Spotted Eagle (Dist. 21 House)
Faith Spotted Eagle for Change
P.O. Box 762
Lake Andes, SD 57356
Paula Long Fox (Dist. 33 House)
10520 Canyon Place
Rapid City, SD 57707
Theresa Spry (Dist. 35 Senate)
821 Halley Ave.
Rapid City, SD 57701
As a small group of women working to highlight these candidacies write in a recent appeal (from which I drew most of the info in this post), "We're not just building grassroots political action, we're building grassfires of progressive activism that can spread across South Dakota and our whole country."
General Michael Hayden is getting a warm reception from the Senate Intelligence Committee, who gets first dibs on his nomination as CIA director. But elsewhere on the Hill prominent Republicans are grumbling, led by House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert--pretty much the last person you'd expect to bash the Bush Administration. "I don't think a military guy should be head of CIA, frankly," Hastert sais yesterday. From sub-only Roll Call:
Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) has come out against the nomination of Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to head the CIA, calling the ousting of former Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) from the agency's top post "a power grab" by John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence.
Hastert's opposition to Hayden is not based on any personal reservations about the nominee. Rather, Hastert is concerned that installing a top-ranking military official at the "CIA would give too much influence over the U.S. intelligence community to the Pentagon."
Hastert's aides later expanded on his comments. "The Speaker does not believe that a military person should be leading the CIA, a civilian agency," said Ron Bonjean, Hastert's spokesman.
Hastert also said Negroponte stopped by his office Wednesday and made no mention of the fact that Goss, who served in the House with Hastert for 16 years, would be stepping down as CIA director two days later.
"It looks like a power grab by Mr. Negroponte," said Hastert.
Of course, the House won't vote on Hayden's nomination, so it's safer for members, including Hastert, to criticize. And the Administration would clearly rather talk about the CIA and warrantless wiretapping than high gas prices, illegal immigration or the war in Iraq. But with his approval rating hovering in the low 30s, is another fight really what Bush needs?
Here's an idea…. instead of appointing the chief architect of the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program, Gen. Michael Hayden, as the new CIA Director--how about the chief architect of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), 27-year CIA veteran Ray McGovern?
VIPS is a group of around 35 retired or resigned high-level intelligence operatives who exposed the Bush administration's misuse and abuse of pre-war intelligence. Prior to the Iraq invasion, these contemporary Paul Reveres warned the public that the WMD's and links to Al Queda cited by the Bush Administration to justify the war simply didn't exist.
Last week McGovern confronted Rummy during a public Q & A session in Atlanta. "Why did you lie to get us into a war that caused these kind of casualties and was not necessary?" Referring to WMDs he added, "You said you knew where they were." Rumsfeld was caught in his web of lies and, the New York Times noted, his response was to spout more of the same.
The political benefit of a McGovern appointment for a sinking Bush administration that has all but sent its Mayday signal is this: McGovern has a track record as a patriot and a truth-teller--and there is a dearth of both in the Bush-Cheney-Rummy reign of ruin. Additionally, Tony Snow's harsh view of his new boss--"No president has looked this impotent this long"--would suddenly read as McGovern-lite, comparatively speaking.
If you have other thoughts on the pros of a McGovern appointment please post them here.
"The Culture of Corruption" is a clever alliteration, a catchy political phrase, but without a vivid image to bring it to life, it amounts to a series of statistics: the increase in earmarks, the number of no-bid contracts, etc. But a rather vivid picture has started to emerge of a new scandal Wonkette is calling WatergateGate.
According to reporting in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and The Nation's own David Corn, the CIA inspector general and the FBI are investigating whether Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the CIA's executive director, helped businessman Brent Wilkes win overpriced CIA contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Foggo was a regular at Wilke's poker game.
Wilkes stands accused of conspiring with defense contractor Mitchell Wade to bribe Randy "Duke" Cunningham. Wade, who has pled guilty, claims he also provided the Republican congressman with free limos, prostitutes, and rooms at, yes, the Watergate Hotel. The feds are investigating whether any other current or former Congressmen or their staffs received similar perks.
And just as these two stories were gathering momentum, Porter Goss, the former Republican congressman who promoted and worked closely with Foggo at the CIA, resigned rather abruptly Friday afternoon. So abruptly in fact that he forgot to mention he wanted to spend more time with his family.
So picture this: Republican Congressmen, CIA officials, defense contractors, shady businessmen, and lobbyists playing poker in a Watergate hotel room complete with your tax dollars and free prostitutes. The mind boggles. Were they Russian? It's like Christopher Buckley penned an episode of The Sopranos.
Bada Bing Bada Bombshell.
As far as scandals are concerned, the widening investigation into former Rep. Duke Cunningham has got it all. The drumroll, in no specific order:
Prostitutes. Poker. The Watergate Hotel. Members of Congress. Shady limousine companies. CIA officials with names like Dusty Foggo and Nine Fingers.
What more could reporters want in a story? I seem to recall that the last time there was a sex scandal in DC, back in the late 1990s, reporters paid rapt attention.
As Media Matters astutely noted, these are the "only hookers Fox WON'T cover."
Is it possible that George W. Bush didn't know that there are, um, blacks in Brazil? Some have long thought that such a notion -- first aired a couple of years ago-- was an urban legend.
Well...blogger Randy Paul has come across some corrobating evidence. And his source is pretty good: none other than the autobiography of former Brazilian President Henrique Cardoso.
While we're on the subject of Latin America. There's also this depressing news -- that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is talking about staying in power another 25 years. This is totally unacceptable and should not be rationalized by anyone, no matter how sympathetic with his policies.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.
Last week, hundreds of thousands of high school students across the country made the choice that will help shape their futures for years to come--where to attend college. But with exorbitant tuition rates and unprecedented cuts in student aid, for many, there was no choice at all.
And while state universities have leveled the playing field for low and middle-income students--with tuition rates at a fraction of those for private schools--thousands of undocumented immigrants are deprived of the chance of attending state schools altogether. Currently, the 65,000 undocumented high school students who graduate each year are technically ineligible for in-state tuition rates, and as a result, often must forgo college, work menial jobs, and more or less abandon their American dreams. Many of these students have lived in America for the majority of their lives, speak perfect English, and have exceled in high schools.
The bipartisan DREAM Act-- which was introduced by Senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch in 2003 and included in the McCain-Kennedy bill-- would reverse this excessively punitive policy and also provide opportunities for these students to eventually obtain full legal status. But with the collapse of comprehensive immigration reform and http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/02/AR200605... ">indefinite stalling in the Senate, many states, fearing longterm federal inaction, have now taken up the cause.
On April 12, "red" Nebraska became the 10th state to open up in-state tuition rates to undocumented students. Rep DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln, former chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, who spent five years trying to get the bill passed, rejoiced as the state legislature overrode Gov. Dave Heineman's veto by a vote of 30 to 16.
Josh Bernstein of the National Immigration Law Center believes that the victory in Nebraska will help pressure the Senate to pass the DREAM Act nationally.
"We should take these kids out of the battlefield of this [immigration reform] war, because that's not where kids belong" said Bernstein. "The DREAM Act, fundamentally, is not even about immigration policy, it's about how we treat young people who grow up here," said Bernstein.
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.
A bolt out of the blue? Or a bolt?
Porter Goss's sudden announcement of his departure from the CIA is puzzling. The former Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee and ex-CIA case officer offered no reason for vacating the CIA directorship, and there was no successor ready to go. News of his resignation came during a brief joint appearance at the White House by George W. Bush and Goss on Friday afternoon (the traditional time slot for putting out bad news). And--whaddayaknow--no pesky questions from journalists. This has led to the obvious speculation: was it the hookers?
I'll get to the (potential) hot stuff in a moment. But consider this: The CIA has been a mess for years--especially after 9/11. Former CIA officials routinely say that morale is lousy and that employees have been fleeing the agency, many of them alienated by the heavy-handed Goss regime, regarded as too close to the White House. One former CIA official recently told me that the retention rate for new analysts and case officers has plummeted. Many are leaving after a year. Private contractors routinely troll the CIA cafeteria, luring away the best talent they can find. ("We'll pay you more, contract you back to the agency, and you won't have to deal with those damn bureaucrats.") And there is a war still going on. The Bush administration has yet to declare al Qaeda defeated. In fact, Osama bin Laden is continues to make his videos.
The CIA beset with problems, Americans dying overseas--why would Goss give up this crucial post at a critical time before a replacement was in the wings? What sort of patriot is this?
And--I'm getting closer to the sex angle--there's already turmoil on the Seventh Floor of CIA HQ. Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the CIA's executive director (who was put in that post by Goss), has been under investigation by both the CIA's inspector general and the FBI. Foggo, the No. 3 man at the CIA, was a regular at a poker game hosted by Brent Wilkes, a businessman tagged by federal prosecutors as a coconspirator in the bribery case that landed Republican Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham in jail. The CIA IG is examining whether Foggo helped one of Wilkes' companies win a CIA contract for providing bottled water, first-aid supplies and other items to CIA officials in Afghanistan and Iraq. According to he San Diego Union-Tribune, critics have claimed the CIA overpaid for this contract.
Did Foggo help Wilkes, his best friend since the late 1960s, bilk the CIA?
That may be the least of it. Last week--here it is!--the Wall Street Journal reported that the feds are investigating whether Wilkes and Mitchell Wade, a defense contractor who pleaded guilty to giving Duke Cunningham more than $1 million in bribes, supplied Cunningham with prostitutes, limos and hotel rooms (a dangerous combination). The Journal wrote, "Besides scrutinizing the prostitution scheme for evidence that might implicate contractor Brent Wilkes, investigators are focusing on whether any other members of Congress, or their staffs, may also have used the same free services, though it isn't clear whether investigators have turned up anything to implicate others." Other members of Congress. That's something to ponder.
Wade reportedly has confessed that he did periodically arrange for a limousine to pick up Cunningham and a hooker and ferry them to a suite at the Watergate Hotel or the Westin Grand. Wade also said that Wilkes participated in the ply-Duke-with-sex scheme.
What's this got to do with Porter Goss? Maybe nothing. But here's the reason for speculation. Wilkes did hold parties and poker games for CIA officials and lawmakers, including members of the House intelligence committee. (Goss has been a CIA director, a lawmaker, and a member of the House intelligence committee.) Wilkes was pals with Foggo. (As CIA executive director, Foggo manages the CIA on a day-by-day basis for Goss.) So might Goss know anything about (a) a rigged contract; (b) bad behavior at Wilkes' poker bashes; (c) the non-recreational use of prostitutes; (d) all of the above or something we cannot even imagine? The Foggo-Wilkes-hooker links are certainly quite sketchy at the moment. But--to put this in perspective--they are firmer than some of the intelligence the Bush administration used to claim Saddam Hussein was in bed with bin Laden.
Did Goss attend those poker games? Does he have a connection with Wilkes? Is there a bad movie in all this? Some initial reports have suggested that Goss left the CIA after losing a bureaucratic turf fight against John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence. But if Goss had a good explanation for his decision to bail, he could have shared it--even on a Friday afternoon. And if the reason is just old-fashioned anger over losing some of his power, he could have orchestrated a smoother transition. What led to his abrupt resignation should not be a top secret.
His departure is not necessarily a loss for the CIA. He brought in aides who were assailed as political hacks. Weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that the White House officials had asked the CIA to tell them the political affiliations of senior CIA officials. (Why would the White House want that information?) Representative Jane Harman, the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee, pointing to all the experienced hands who have left the agency after Goss took over, recently complained that "CIA is in a free fall." And Goss has hardly inspired confidence--in the agency or his own leadership. Last year, he said in a public speech that he was overwhelmed: "The jobs I'm being asked to do, the five hats that I wear are too much for this mortal. I'm a little amazed at the workload."
Well, Goss is hanging up those five hats--and prompting suspicion that there are other shoes (or high heels) to drop.
Challenged by veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern to explain why he had claimed to "know" before the invasion of Iraq that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction when that suggestion had been repeatedly called into question, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tried to use former Secretary of State Colin Powell as a human shield.
From the crowd at an Atlanta gathering of the Southern Center for International Studies, McGovern asked: "Why did you lie to get us into a war that caused these kind of casualties and was not necessary?"
Rumsfeld replied, "Well, first of all, I haven't lied. I did not lie then. Colin Powell didn't lie. He spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence Agency people and prepared a presentation that I know he believed was accurate, and he presented that to the United Nations. The president spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence people and he went to the American people and made a presentation. I'm not in the intelligence business. They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there."
What Rumsfeld failed to mention is the hard evidence that Powell was pressured by Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld and others to make far more aggressive statements regarding WMDs than the Secretary of State thought to be appropriate.
British scholar Philippe Sands, the author of the very fine book Lawless World and perhaps the most dogged investigator of the internal discussions involving the cabinets of President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair prior to the war, has revealed that Powell shared his doubts with his British counterpart before speaking to the United Nations in February, 2003.
Referring to a memorandum containing details of a meeting between Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Sands pointed out during a March, 2006, interview on MSNBC that, "[There's] now no shred of doubt and there's been no denial, you will have noticed, as to the contents of the memorandum that the decision was indeed taken in January before Colin Powell went [to the UN]. In fact, one other aspect that I've described in my book, Lawless World, that hasn't emerged so much in the New York Times memo is another memo which records a conversation between Colin Powell and his counterpart in the United Kingdom, Jack Straw, which makes it clear that in Colin Powell's eyes if there wasn't enough evidence for a second Security Council resolution, then there wasn't enough evidence to justify the U.S. going it alone."
"So," Sands explained, "Colin Powell was spot on, but it seems he was overridden by a president and others in the administration who were absolutely committed to taking the United States to war, tragically in erroneous circumstances, irrespective of what the inspectors found."
The fact that Powell had been presented with information that cast into doubt the claims he would make to the UN was confirmed by his former chief of staff at the State Department, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who said in a February, 2006, interview on the PBS program NOW: "[The] Intelligence Bureau and the State Department at this time we were preparing Secretary Powell dissented on one key issue. And they essentially said there was no active nuclear program in Iraq."
Wilkerson has detailed the work of Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of what refers to as their "cabal" to hijack what should have been a serious examination of the intelligence regarding Iraq. He has also revealed that Powell was troubled by the over-the-top claims contained in the "script" the White House initially asked him to read from at the UN. Ultimately, Powell was pressured by Cheney and others to deliver a version of the speech that, while toned down in some areas, still contained claims based on statements by sources that had been discredited within the intelligence community.
The point here is not to make a hero of Powell. There is every reason to continue the debate about whether Powell was duped or whether he gave in to the intense pressure from Cheney, Rumsfeld and their aides in order to maintain his political viability. There is no question, however, that the former Secretary of State and those around him quickly came to be embarrassed by the roles they were forced to play. Indeed, for most of the last year in which they worked together in the White House, the split between the Cheney and Rumsfeld camp and the Powell camp was so severe that the Vice President and the Secretary of Defense rarely spoke with the Secretary of State.
Of his own participation in the preparations for the UN speech, Wilkerson says, "It makes me feel terrible. I've said in other places that it... constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. My participation in that presentation at the UN constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community and the United Nations Security Council. How do you think that makes me feel? Thirty-one years in the United States Army and I more or less end my career with that kind of a blot on my record? That's not a very comforting thing."
Powell, it should be noted, has not distanced himself from Wilkerson's remarks.
As for Rumsfeld, he can say that he "did not lie." But he cannot claim that his statement in Atlanta was an honest one. He knows that his reference to Powell was an attempt to deflect blame from himself. He also knows the real story of how he and Cheney pressured Powell to make the "case" for war using dubious and discredited intelligence. And, above all, he knows that any attempt to link his own statements and actions with those of Powell is spin rather than an honest response to the most fundamental of all questions regarding this administration's high crimes and misdemeanors.