Only one in five American voters believe the United States is heading in the right direction, and the overwhelming majority of them have lost confidence in President Bush to right the country's course.
Unfortunately for Democrats, the voters appear to be in the process of losing confidence in the opposition party to do much better than Bush.
According to the latest Associated Press/Ipsos poll, a mere 21 percent of those surveyed said the U.S. was on the right track.
Bush's approval rating, which had trended modestly upward earlier in the spring, fell back to the all-time low for AP/Ipsos surveys: 32 percent. And the number of Americans who expressed satisfaction with president's handling of the Iraq War is at just 28 percent.
That's bad news for Republicans, but it is not particularly good news for Democrats.
Americans are actually more dissatisfied with the direction of the country than they are with the president.
Translation: The Democrats who are in charge of the Congress have not created a sense that they are turning things around.
In fact, with their failure to effectively challenge Bush's management of the war in Iraq, their struggling with issues such as health care and immigration, and their inability so far to hold Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to account, Congressional Democrats are starting to look to a lot of Americans like part of the problem.
Congress still gets higher marks than Bush -- 39 percent approval in the latest ABC/Washington Post poll, 35 percent approval in last month's AP/Ipsos survey. But the numbers have declined as it has become clear that Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are unwilling to hold their ground in confrontations with Bush regarding the war and a host of other issues. And the messy, often confusing and increasingly bitter debate over immigration reform won't help.
What's happening is that the Democrats in Congress, who as recently as April maintained a dramatic approval rating advantage over Bush -- 24 percent better in ABC/Washington Post polling -- have essentially lost their advantage.
Why are Democrats falling in the public esteem? According to a smart analysis by ABC News Polling Unit director Gary Langer, "In terms of their overall approval rating, the damage is almost entirely among people who strongly oppose the war in Iraq. In this group 69 percent approved of the Democrats in April, but just 54 percent still approve now -- a likely effect of the Democrats' failure to push a withdrawal timetable through Congress."
There is no evidence to suggest that the decline in Democratic fortunes will benefit Republicans. And Democrats still do a good deal better than the GOP when voters are forced to choose between the two parties. But the dual-disenchantment factor ought not be underestimated.
The intensity of enthusiasm for the Democrats is dwindling. And the decision of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to give Bush a blank check to pursue his war of whim is a big factor in the shift.
Rather than accepting the mandate of the voters to stand in opposition to the Bush-Cheney administration, Pelosi and Reid have in the eyes of a growing number of Americans made Democrats the partners of the president and vice president.
Defenders of Democratic leaders argue that this is an unavoidable circumstance because of divisions within the ranks of the party's House and Senate caucuses.
But that excuse does not appear to be cutting it with voters. Nor does the suggestion that pushing for a bring-the-troops-home time line will identify the Democrats as being weak on national defense; 53 percent of those interviewed for the Washington Post-ABC News poll -- a new high -- said they do not believe that the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States.
It is said that the problem with contemporary policymaking is that too many politicians "read the polls." But perhaps the problem is that Democrats aren't reading the polls closely enough.
The voters are sending a message, and it is every bit as powerful as the one they tried to send when Democrats were given control of Congress last fall.
If Congressional Democrats don't get this message, and adjust their approach on Iraq appropriately, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid could soon find themselves pulling even with Bush in the disapproval sweepstakes.
John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
Last month's failed missile defense test was categorized as a "No Test" by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The target missile didn't fly into range of the interceptor so it was never launched.
Even though it was deemed a "No Test" by the MDA, an agency spokesman nevertheless claimed that the results of "the failed test underscored the need of the US to install 10 interceptors in Poland and a tracking radar station in the Czech Republic as a defense against potential missile attack from Iran…. It showed that any missiles that Iran launched could similarly go astray and land in Europe even if Europe was not Iran's target."
Welcome to what Joseph Cirincione – senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of the new book, Bomb Scare – calls, "This week's episode of President Bush in Fantasyland."
"President Bush is rushing to deploy a technology that does not work against a threat that does not exist," Cirincione says. "Iran is at least 5 to 10 years away from the capability to build a nuclear weapon and at least that far from having a missile that could hit Europe let alone the US. And anti-missile systems are still nowhere near working despite $150 billion spent since the 1983 Star Wars program started and years of phony tests staged to demonstrate ‘progress' and ‘success.'"
None of this has stopped Bush from continuing to tout his Czech Republic and Poland-based "proposed missile defense system designed to thwart a possible nuclear attack from Iran." Adding to the irony (and the outrage) is the fact that while Bush continues to frame the weapons system as indispensable to democracy – "This is aimed at a country like Iran… so they couldn't blackmail the free world" – the people of the Czech Republic and Poland continue to oppose the plans (as I initially reported here). Recent polls show that over 60 percent of Czechs are opposed and only 25 percent of Poles support the missile defense plan.
The mayor of the Czech village of Trokavec where the radar site would be located recently held a referendum and 71 of 72 votes were cast against the plan. The mayor of Stitov, Vaclav Hudec, and "most of" his village's 58 residents "are bitterly opposed" to the radar site. Hudec wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd outlining the opposition of "nearly two dozen" Czech mayors to the missile defense plan.
"This is a crisis of our own making," Cirincione says. "President Bush so fervently believes in something that doesn't exist that he jeopardizes – again – our real security interests. The fact is the Czechs don't want the radar, the Europeans don't trust his explanations and deplore his unilateralism, the Congress has already cut the funds on purely programmatic grounds. This was a dumb idea before, now it is yet another foreign policy disaster."
All of this for a system Cirincione says isn't important to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who view these programs as "expensive pet rocks."
"The Joint Chiefs were happy to cut this budget as soon as Presidents Reagan and Bush left office," he says. "In 1993 they formally wrote President Clinton and recommended spending only $2.8 billion with $2.3 billion of that devoted to short-range defenses." (We currently spend in the range of $10 billion per year.)
And while many in the mainstream media swallow the Bush Administration talking points on Russian President Vladimir Putin as if once again being spoon-fed pre-war intelligence, other experts on arms control and foreign policy suggest Putin has real reason to worry about the Bush Administration's moves.
In The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy, published in Foreign Affairs last year, Keir A. Liber and Daryl G. Press wrote: "… the sort of missile defenses that the United States might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one – as an adjunct to a US first-strike capability, not as a stand-alone shield. If the United States launched a nuclear attack against Russia (or China), the targeted country would be left with a tiny surviving arsenal – if any at all. At that point, even a relatively modest or inefficient missile-defense system might well be enough to protect against any retaliatory strikes…"
Cirincione adds that he thinks Putin's response is a "clever gambit."
"There is a reason Russians are the best chess players – they know how to read the board and exploit their opportunities," he says. "President Putin thinks the US policies represent a new imperialism. Now, he sees President Bush trying to build permanent military bases on Russia's borders. Putin isn't afraid of 10 interceptors but he has to worry about what comes next – any Russian leader would. He doesn't believe President Bush and many Europeans don't either. This issue feeds into the mistrust of America that Europeans feel on a host of Bush Administration policies from global warming to Iraq."
So why is the Bush administration imposing this sucker of a weapons system that nobody wants on an already inflamed relationship with Russia? Why risk sparking a renewed nuclear arms race?
"Politics drives this deployment decision," Cirincione says. "Bush Administration officials are trying to lock in the program before they leave office. They are trying to build bases they hope the next president will find impossible to shut down."
Thank you, Mr. Bush. One more relic from your Fantasyland we could do without.
UPDATE: Today, Putin stated that he would not object if the radar-based system wereplaced in Azerbaijan instead of the Czech Republic. He didn't commenton the issue of the interceptors being placed in Poland.
Putin noted, "… as soon as a country, for instance,Iran, carries out its first test of its long-range missile… Three tofive years will be necessary… until the system is operational. Thistime is fairly enough to deploy any ABM system. Therefore, no matterhow long our talks are going on, we will never be late…. I'm gratefulto the President of the United States for a constructive dialoguetoday."
"Brilliant move by Putin," Cirincione said in an e-mail. "He isbasically doing to President Bush what Bush is trying to do to theEuropeans on global warming: offer a counter proposal that appears tobe constructive but has the effect of delaying the entire process andmoving it in a completely different direction. Moving the radar toAzerbaijan both solves some of the Russian military concerns--as theradar will not be able to track Russian ICBMs from that site--andRussian geostrategic concerns by placing any radar in a country muchmore in their sphere of influence…. Better, the talks about where tosite the radar will take months. Putin could well play out the clockon Bush's presidency. But how can President Bush refuse to talk? Isn'tPutin doing exactly what President Bush had asked--that is, talk aboutcooperating on anti-missile systems? If he does refuse, he will lookeven more the aggressor, eroding what is left of hisadministration's credibility. President Bush has fallen neatly intoPutin's trap. They may have to invent a new name for this gambit."
Bush's nominee for surgeon general, Dr. James Holsinger, has come under fire this week for his anti-gay politics (first documented by Bible Belt Blogger Frank Lockwood). By day Holsinger teaches health sciences at the University of Kentucky where he was chancellor of the Chandler Medical Center. By night, however, the good doctor is a bible-thumping Reverend with a degree in biblical studies from Asbury Theological Seminary and a seeming
fascination of antipathy towards homosexuals.
Holsinger founded the Hope Springs Community Church, a "recovery ministry" that caters to alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts and those seeking to "walk out of that [homosexual] lifestyle," according to its pastor Rev. David Calhoun. When not busy endorsing ex-gay conversion therapy, Holsinger served on the highest court of the United Methodist Church where he voted to remove a lesbian pastor from her position.
And today, the Human Rights Campaign released a document Holsinger authored in 1991 as a member of the United Methodist Church's Committee to Study Homosexuality. Titled Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality, Holsinger's religious tract-cum-scientific paper is a fascinating window into the perverse imagination of homophobia. In essence, Holsinger argues that male-female "reproductive systems are fully complementary" because "anatomically the vagina is designed to receive the penis." The remainder of his paper is a graphic account of the "delicate" rectum which is "incapable" of "protection" if "objects that are large, sharp, or pointed are inserted" into it. From there Holsinger continues to discuss what he imagines are the pains (and pleasures?) of anal sex, from "fist fornication" and "sphincter injuries" to "lacerations," "perforations" and "deaths seen in connection with anal eroticism."
Sharp objects! Deaths seen in connection with anal eroticism! Gadzooks! Now, I've been around the block one or ten times, and I don't know any gay men who have put scissors up their ass, much less died from it. Of course, the barely mentioned but palpably anxious context in which Holsinger connects "death" with "anal eroticism" is the AIDS epidemic. And it should come as no surprise that his paper was part of a larger, pseudo-medical, moral discourse in which gay men's mode of sex (and by extension gay men) were blamed for AIDS - the death we deserved, the sexual suicide we courted.
The flip side of Dr. Holsinger's lurid speculation is the dangerous presumption that because heterosexual sex is "natural," it is safe -- safe from HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases and the trauma and injury that Holsinger seems so feverishly eager to attribute to gay anal sex. We now know, tragically and beyond any possible doubt, that heterosexual sex is not safe unless one practices it as such. And no amount of wishing and praying by our next Surgeon General on the "complementarity of the human sexes" will make it so.
A few years after Dr. Holsinger wrote his little brief against male-male anal sex, then Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders suggested, at a UN Conference on AIDS, that masturbation might be taught to young people as a mode of reducing sexual risk. On this point she was absolutely correct, but for even daring to mention the M-word, she was lampooned by the Christian right and eventually asked to resign by a cowardly Bill Clinton who, in retrospect, might have paid more attention to Dr. Elders and spent less time inserting foreign objects into inappropriate places.
But no matter. The doctor who gave sound, clinical medical advice was fired, while the doctor who engaged in wild, graphic and unsubstantiated fantasies about gay sex will most likely assume the helm as "America's chief health educator." And you wonder why we have a health care crisis in this country.
Tuesday night's Republican presidential debate was, for the most part, a polite affair. Candidates frequently spoke of how much they agreed with their opponents. They acknowledged that, despite differences on issues as fundamental as abortion rights, they would back one another against any Democrat in November, 2OO8. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney took the wind out of his mild criticisms of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Senator John McCain when he kept referring to his fellow front runners as "my friend."
But the candidates did not go entirely soft when it came to taking partisan potshots.
There was one Republican who suffered a trashing: George W. Bush.
When the candidates were asked how they would "use" the outgoing president in their administrations, the responses were breathtaking.
Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, an outspoken foe of the Bush administration's immigration policies, told the story of a call he got from White House political czar Karl Rove during a dust-up on the issue several years ago. Tancredo said an angry Rove told him to "never darken the door of the White House."
"I've been so disappointed in the president in so many ways," said Trancredo, who complained about the administration's immigration, education and prescription-drug policies before asserting that, "As president, I would have to tell George Bush exactly the same thing that Karl Rove told me"
That's not a policy difference. That's hate.
But even the Republicans who supposedly like Bush played the president's failures for laughs.
What may have been the best line of the night came when first-term Bush Cabinet member Tommy Thompson referenced his former boss's lack of diplomatic skills in his reply to the what-do-you-do-with-Bush question.
"I would certainly not send him to the United Nations," said Thompson.
Speaking of the Bush administration, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services told the Republican-leaning crowd at the debate in the first primary state of New Hampshire: "We went to Washington to change Washington. Washington changed us."
At least Thompson said "we."
The other candidates were less generous.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Bush "bungled Katrina," suggesting that not just the president but the Republican Party "lost credibility" when White House failed to respond quickly or effectively when a deadly hurricane struck New Orleans in 2005.
Running down a long list of Bush administration failures, Huckabee said of the mid-term election thumping the party took in 2006: "We didn't do what we were hired to do and the people fired us. The Republican Party as a whole deserved to get beat."
McCain agreed. "We let spending get out of control," he said of the Bush years. "We presided over the largest increase in the size of government since [Democratic President Lyndon Johnson's] Great Society. And our constituents and our Republican [backers] became dispirited and disenchanted."
What of Bush's signature issue: the Iraq invasion and occupation?
Both McCain and Romney said the commander-in-chief blew it early on.
"I think we were under-prepared and under-planned for what came after we knocked down Saddam Hussein," explained Romney.
McCain, who made the amazing admission that he voted to authorize Bush to attack Iraq without reading the National Intelligence Estimate of risks associated with the invasion, said, "This war was very badly mismanaged for a long time."
The crowd at New Hampshire's St. Anselm College, which was made up of Republicans and independents who said they expected to vote Republican in next January's presidential primary, repeatedly applauded the banging on Bush.
Even Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a favorite target of the other candidates at the last GOP debate, received a remarkably warm response when he scored the current administration for adopting a policy of preemptive war making.
"We in the past have always declared war in the defense of our liberties or go to aid of somebody," he said. "But now we have accepted the principle of preemptive war -- we have rejected the just war theory of Christianity," the anti-war congressman said of a president who regularly references his Christianity.
"We have to come to our senses about this issue of war and preemption and go back to traditions and our constitution and defend our liberties and defend our rights."
The audience burst into applause for the Republican who was bashing Bush before Bush bashing was cool.
John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
Last week, New York Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote of Lou Dobbs' tenuous relationship with the truth – "a somewhat flexible relationship with reality"– and his refusal to own up to an erroneous, fear-inducing report in violation of a basic journalistic creed.
It seems Dobbs wants to stick to a completely false assertion – first aired on his CNN program in 2005 and repeated again this May – that "there had been 7,000 cases of leprosy in this country over the previous three years, far more than in the past." Dobbs attributed this increase to "unscreened illegal immigrants."
Leonhardt reported that there have indeed been approximately 7,000 diagnosed cases – but not over the past three years as Dobbs would have viewers believe. Rather, these incidents occurred over a thirty-year period and have "dropped steadily" since a peak of 456 cases in 1983. "Mr. Dobbs was flat-out wrong," Leonhardt writes. But facts be damned, Dobbs is sticking by his numbers ("If we reported it, it's a fact," Dobbs said.)
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) – a civil rights organization that fights discrimination and monitors hate groups – ran an ad in the New York Times and USA Today calling for CNN to issue a correction on Dobbs' show. In its Open Letter to CNN the SPLC wrote: "The source for Dobbs' leprosy claim is the late Madeleine Cosman – an anti-immigration zealot who once publicly stated that 'most' Latino immigrant men ‘molest girls under 12, although some specialize in boys, and some in nuns'….Given that Mr. Dobbs refuses to retract his leprosy claim, we believe it is CNN's responsibility to do so. We suggest that the appropriate place for the correction is the same place where the falsehood was told: on Mr. Dobbs' show."
In response to Leonhardt's article – which Dobbs called a "personal scurrilous attack" – Dobbs said he wouldn't have used Cosman if he had known of her background. But last year, Daphne Eviatar reported in The Nation, "Dobbs often features and quotes activists with links to extremist and even openly racist groups…. Yet Dobbs consistently fails to mention those connections." Also, in "vilifying immigrants," Dobbs "searches high and low for statistics showing the negative impact of immigration on the US economy, and he conveniently leaves out contradictory information."
This pattern of ignoring the facts and engaging in inflammatory rhetoric not only poisons an important national debate on immigration – as SPLC President Richard Cohen said in a recent web chat– it also places Dobbs in what Eviatar described as "a long line of illustrious, and notorious, Americans who have played pivotal roles in the nation's periodic outbreaks of nativism…."
Leonhardt wrote, "The most common complaint about [Dobbs], at least from other journalists, is that his program combines factual reporting with editorializing." But that's not the real problem, in my view. I have no problem with the mix of factual reporting and editorializing, interpretive journalism married to factual accuracy. (In fact, I think Dobbs has done a good job in this regard when it comes to issues like outsourcing, the minimum wage, and corporate welfare.) We do that every week in The Nation – along with investigative reporting, editorials, review essays, etc. And unlike CNN, which claims to be politically "neutral," we are politically engaged and open about our politics and values. We are also assiduous in our fact-checking – always believing that accuracy is a duty, not a luxury or simply a virtue. And we publish clarifications and corrections as needed.
But there are no signs that CNN is doing anything to set the record straight or address Dobbs' relationship to factual accuracy. Even CBS – which initially caught what Frank Rich described as "Lou Dobbs's hoax blaming immigrants for a nonexistent rise in leprosy"– has now hired him as a commentator for The Early Show. How far will Dobbs go in pushing his fact-challenged immigration agenda on this new outlet? And if he truly wants to serve his viewers by reporting on what he calls a "nonpartisan independent reality" then isn't it time he stop pulling the wool over folks' eyes?
A few weeks ago The Nation disclosed that Hillary Clinton's chief strategist and pollster, Mark Penn, leads a giant PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, that aggressively helps corporations stop union organizing drives. We cited the specific example of how B-M successfully assists the highly profitable and controversial uniform and laundry supply company Cintas in blocking union efforts to organize 20,000 of the company's garment workers and truck drivers.
The article and subsequent follow-ups prompted a lot of unease in labor circles. Now the heads of the two unions leading the organizing drive at Cintas, Bruce Raynor of UNITE-HERE and James Hoffa of the Teamsters, have gone public with their concerns, writing a letter to Hillary, highlighted in the New York Times today, expressing their displeasure with Penn's company and his role in her campaign. A copy of their signed letter is below:
Dear Senator Clinton:
It is with distress that we write you today. The Nation recently posted a story about Mark Penn, your pollster and chief strategist, detailing some of his firm's direct support for anti-union/anti-worker campaigns. His firm's activities in the effort to undermine workers right to organize at Cintas, a campaign our unions are involved in, is particularly disheartening.
We wanted to bring this to your attention since we value your positions on EFCA [Employee Free Choice Act] and many other workers issues and do not want to see you or the Democratic Party embarrassed.
We look forward to hearing back from you on this matter.
James P. HoffaTeamsters General President
Bruce S. RaynorUNITE HERE General President
A labor official told me that he expects Hillary to sit down with the two union heads and "placate us a little bit. But I don't think she'll cut Penn lose. He's her Rove."
Penn may eventually be forced take a formal leave of absence from Burson-Marsteller, a step he has thus far resisted. That might erase the political liability Penn has become for Hillary's campaign, but it hardly diminishes the underlying implications of his presence as her top strategist, the anti-union work Burson-Marsteller continues to do and the likelihood that if Hillary is elected Penn and his clients will greatly benefit, further blurring the distinction between the corporate and political world.
Perhaps in their private meeting Raynor and Hoffa will ask Senator Clinton why she elevated someone like Penn in the first place and chose to ignore his anti-labor ties.
I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby stood before federal district court Judge Reggie Walton. It was finally the moment for Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff to speak. The sentencing hearing was coming to an end; Walton was about to pronounce the punishment Libby would face for having obstructed justice in the CIA leak case. Libby, who did not testify during the trial, thanked the court for showing him and his defense team consideration during the proceedings. He told the judge, "It is...my hope the court will consider...my whole life."
That was it. No apology. No expression of remorse.
Then Walton sentenced Libby to 30 months in jail and a $250,000 fine. Libby didn't flinch. His wife, Harriet Grant, cried. Notable conservatives in the front row of the crowded courtroom--Mary Matalin, Barbara Comstock, and Victoria Toensing--appeared shocked.
Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had asked Walton to incarcerate Libby for 30 to 37 months. At the hearing, prior to Walton's ruling, Libby's defense attorneys--Ted Wells and William Jeffress Jr.--contended that Libby should get off with probation. They threw several arguments at the judge. First, they claimed that the toughest sentencing guides should not be applied to Libby, echoing an argument put forward by Libby's champions in rightwing circles: Nobody was ever charged with leaking the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, so the whole case was not such a big deal. Walton did not bite. Citing appeals court decisions, he noted that in an obstruction of justice case it's the investigation that counts, not the ultimate outcome of the investigation. "Your position," Walton told Jeffress, "would seem to promote someone aggressively engaging in obstruction behavior."
Next, Jeffress asserted that no one really knew if Valerie Wilson had been a covert CIA officer covered by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and suggested this ought to be a mitigating factor. (In a recent court filing, Fitzgerald declared, "It was clear from very early in the investigation that Ms. Wilson qualified under the relevant statute [the Intelligence Identities Protection Act] as a covert agent whose identity had been disclosed by public officials, including Mr. Libby, to the press.") Walton, with his voice rising, outlined the case: "The CIA believes one of its agents was improperly outed....They had a legitimate concern. So they contact the Justice Department and they say this needs to be investigated....And the Justice Department...goes to investigate and they make inquiries....And that person lies." Walton went on: "When law enforcement officials...initiate an investigation...it is the obligation of the American citizenry to be honest and forthright." And Fitzgerald, wearing a gray rumpled suit, added that Libby's lie to those investigating the Plame leak created "a house of mirrors" and made it more difficult for the investigators to "sort out the truth."
Walton indicated that as a matter of law he was sticking with the tougher sentencing guidelines. Next, the issue was whether he ought to use judicial discretion and cut Libby any slack. Fitzgerald argued that Walton's sentence should "make a clear statement that truth matters." He noted that Libby had lied persistently during the leak investigation and had subsequently displayed no contrition. The sentence, the prosecutor continued, should also send the message "that one's status in life does not matter" when it comes to justice. Realizing what Wells and Jeffress were about to argue, Fitzgerald declared that a public servant ought not to receive special treatment. Libby, he said, deserved no more consideration than a social worker, a teacher, a cop. Fitzgerald recognized that Libby had worked long and hard in a variety of government jobs, but he said, "We need the truth from government officials."
Wells had one last shot. The dynamic and dramatic African-American defense attorney said he had "no quarrel with Mr. Fitzgerald's statement that truth matters." But, he added, "it is entirely appropriate for a sentencing judge to take into consideration the good works and the good deeds a person has done." He contended that Libby for decades had engaged in "exceptional public service." He reminded the judge that more than 150 people had submitted to the court letters hailing Libby. This band includes prominent conservative and neoconservative hawks, including Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Henry Kissinger, John Bolton, Doug Feith.
But Wells did not read the letters from these notables. He chose six others. In this group were retired Admiral Joseph Lopez, who praised Libby as a "linchpin" during the first Persian Gulf War; Seth Carus, a biowarfare expert who asserted "Libby has done more to enable the United States to address the challenge of bioterrorism than any other single person"; Robert Blackwill, a former Bush National Security Council official, who said that at the White House no one was "more driven by...sound policy reasoning than Libby"; and Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary, who extolled Libby's "decisive contribution" to forging the post-Cold War world. (Wells' use of Wolfowitz, the scandal-struck and outgoing World Bank president, as a character reference prompted smirks among reporters in the courtroom.)
None of the testimonials Wells read referred to the Iraq war. And Wells told the court that though the Libby case was not about the war, it did "seem that Libby was the poster child for all that has gone wrong with this terrible war." Wells essentially argued that was punishment enough. He noted that Libby has "been exposed...to overwhelming negative press coverage" and has "endured public scorn and ridicule." He pointed out that Libby has received hate mail. And that whether Libby goes to jail or not, he will no longer be able to serve his two great loves: working in the government and practicing law. "He has fallen from public grace," Wells exclaimed. "It's a tragic fall....There's no need to incarcerate Mr. Libby."
Walton accepted none of this. He acknowledged Libby had been a public servant for years, foregoing income he could have obtained in private practice. But, the judge noted, "we expect a lot" of senior government officials. Libby's high position, Walton remarked, came with high obligations. Walton derided the attacks launched by Libby partisans and commentators against the CIA leak investigation, the trial, and the verdict. "The evidence overwhelmingly indicates Mr. Libby's culpability," he declared. He blasted Libby for discussing Valerie Wilson with reporters without considering that she might have been an undercover officer. "Government officials must realize," he said, "if they're going to step over the line...there are consequences."
In the end, Walton explained, Libby's government service and his violation of the obligations of his office balanced each other out. There would be no mitigation in the sentencing. He announced his decision: two-and-a-half years in jail and a quarter of a million dollars.
Libby was not hauled off to jail. His lawyers asked Walton to permit Libby to remain free on bond while they appeal the conviction. Walton indicated he was not sympathetic to this position. But he noted that it would take the Bureau of Prisons 45 to 60 days to find a spot for Libby. Consequently, he said, the defense could file a motion on this point by Thursday, and he scheduled a hearing on this question for next week. Presuming Walton does not change his mind at that hearing, Libby will have to surrender himself and begin his jail term sometime in the next two months.
After the sentencing hearing was concluded, Libby exchanged hugs with his wife and friends. His lawyers said they would make no statements. They quickly left the courthouse. Fitzgerald and his team exited the courtroom without answering questions. A few minutes later, I spotted Fitzgerald alone in a courthouse hallway. He was checking messages on his cellphone. Anything to say? I and another reporter asked. He shrugged sheepishly and stuttered, "I...I..." He closed his cell phone. "Just can't." He had an apologetic look on his face. Then he left the building.
Minutes later, as television camera crews in front of the courthouse were breaking down their equipment, a motorcade sped past. In a dark limousine was Cheney, on his way to a meeting on Capitol Hill. His former aide--who had helped Cheney guide the country into the Iraq war--was heading to jail, having been convicted of obstructing an investigation that had targeted Cheney among others. Cheney was still in power. His office had, as of that moment, issued no comment on Libby's sentence.
Fitzgerald got from Walton the message he wanted: Libby lied; this lying was consequential; it demanded serious punishment. One of the Bush officials responsible for a war that many Americans believe was sold with lies will be imprisoned for lying. Still, Libby's conviction and sentencing will have little impact on popular opinion, for most of the public has already reached a verdict on Bush, Cheney and their administration. The Libby case is merely an affirmation of the (widely-held) view that the Bush crowd is not an honest one.
Now the Libby saga enters the real endgame: pardon or no pardon. Bush has a week until the question is truly forced upon him. If next Thursday's hearing changes nothing, Libby will be awaiting a vacancy in a federal penitentiary. This will drive the Libby Lobby to pump up the volume on its call for a pardon. Conservative pundits will go wild. Republican presidential candidates will demand freedom for Libby. (Former Senator Fred Thompson is a member of the Libby Legal Defense Trust and has hosted a fundraiser for Libby.) What will Cheney say? What will Bush do? It appears Bush will not be able to opt for on-the-sly, last-minute sort of pardon that his father awarded Iran-contra figures shortly before leaving office and that President Bill Clinton handed to fugitive financier Marc Rich as the Clinton presidency was ending. If Bush wants to pardon Libby, he will have to do it in full public glare. He will have to explain why a convicted liar--who shares blame for the mess in Iraq--ought to go free.
When Bush first ran for president in 2000, he vowed to bring accountability and ethics back to the White House. A pardon of Libby would be a telling moment in his long departure from that promise.
JUST OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.
This week marks is the 40th anniversary of the beginning of Israel's Six-Day War, when the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began.
On Saturday, June 10 , tens of thousands of people are expected to turn out in Washington, DC, as part of a Global Day of Action Against the Israeli Occupation, followed by a day of lobbying on June 11. There'll be a teach-in on Sunday morning, a rally on the west lawn of the capitol from 2:00 to 4:00 and a subsequent march from Capitol Hill to the White House, among other related activities.
These activities are the first national actions in the US ever specifically opposing the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, and Syrian Golan Heights. Pro-Israeli critics have been putting out the word that the event seeks "the dissolution of Israel." This is false. Here are the demands being put forth by the organizing coalition:
* An end to US military, economic, diplomatic, and corporate support for Israel's military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.
* A change in US policy to one that supports a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis based on equality, human rights and international law, and the full implementation of all relevant UN resolutions.
In this blogger's view, these goals would not only bring about a more just situation for the Palestinians but would increase any chances the Israelis have for a stable and relatively peaceful existence.
Sponsored by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and United for Peace and Justice, and endorsed by dozens of religious, peace, student and Jewish groups, the events will bring a broad constituency to the nation's capitol to oppose occupation in any form. The weekend is, says one of the organizers, a "coming out" for the Palestine solidarity movement in the United States. It's about time.
For more information on the anti-occupation march, visit EndTheOccupation.org. Click here to sign the rally's petition, get info on bus caravans leaving from various cities, find affordable housing options in DC and check out maps and key logistical info.
Finally, for some crucial background on the 1967 war, its real causes and its enduring legacy, read my colleague Jon Wiener's recent interview with Tom Segev, one of Israel's leading historians, and author of the new book 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East.
Weigh in on the Israeli "wall of seperation" in the new Nation Online Poll.
Israel went to war 40 years ago this week more because of "psychological weakness" than because of a genuine strategic threat--that's the conclusion of Tom Segev, one of Israel's leading historians, and author of the new book 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East. June 5 is the 40th anniversary of the beginning of Israel's Six-Day war, when the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began. I spoke with Tom Segev on the phone in Jerusalem on Monday.
The prevailing view of the war, in both the US and Israel, was expressed by historian Michael Orren, who wrote in the LA Times on Sunday that the war "saved Israel from destruction." Segev commented, "We don't really know that. We don't really know what the Arabs intended to do." But we do know what Israelis thought: "They thought Egypt was out to destroy them. It's really a psychological matter more than a clear-cut strategic one. Psychologically Israelis were very weak on the eve of the Six-Day War; they believed they were facing a second Holocaust."
How much of that psychology was an accurate response to the strategic situation, and how much was caused by other factors? "The crisis of May 1967 caught Israel at a weak point in its history," Segev said, "with economic recession and unemployment, more Israelis leaving Israel than Jews coming to live there, a generation gap with people fearing they were losing their children as Zionists, and a widespread feeling that the Zionist dream was over. And beyond that Israel was feeling the first acts of Palestinian terrorism, and the army had no answer to that, just as it doesn't have an answer to today's terrorism. All this led to a deep pessimism. Then the crisis broke out."
I asked Segev whether he thought Israel over-reacted to Egyptian and Syrian threats by going to war. "I think this crisis might have been solved without war," he replied. "There were suggestions coming from Washington and several ideas in Israel about how to do that. But that required a stronger society, stronger nerves, stronger leadership, more patience, and we didn't have all that. So we gave in to an understandable Holocaust panic. That made war with Egypt inevitable. But to say today that the Six-Day War saved Israel's existence--that is not accurate."
Today we think of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as the main legacy of the 1967 war. Orthodox Jews regard the West Bank as the biblical land of Israel: Judea and Samaria. They believe God wants Jews to live there. I asked Segev how popular that idea was in Israel before the war. "It was not very popular," he said. "Most Israelis did not expect the Green Line to change. Some had hopes--there was a strong political party headed by Menachem Begin that advocated taking the West Bank, but most Israelis regarded that as unrealistic.
The government came to the same conclusion: "Six months prior to the war," Segev reports, "the head of the Mossad, the head of the Army intelligence branch, and the Foreign Office sat down together and did something Israelis don't often do – they thought ahead. They concluded it would not be in the interests of Israel to take the West Bank. Because of the Palestinian population, of course. Six months before this war. Then on June 5, Jordan attacks Israeli forces in Jerusalem, and all reason is forgotten: Israel takes East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, in spite of all the reasons not to do so, in opposition to our national interest."
Segev's book has a stunning cover: a photo of Israeli soldiers posing triumphantly in front of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, one of the three holiest shrines in Islam. When Israeli forces conquered the old city, he reports, the chief rabbi of the Israeli army advised his commanding officer to blow up the Dome of the Rock. "Everybody lost their minds," Segev explained. "Everybody was euphoric. There were lots of crazy ideas floating around. It speaks to the credit of the military commander that he told the chief rabbi of the army, ‘if you repeat that suggestion, I will put you in jail.' But that was the atmosphere in those days--a feeling that the sky's the limit, we're an all powerful empire. The euphoria that followed the war was as wrong as the panic that preceded it."
As Israeli forces advanced through the West Bank, Segev shows, they pressured Palestinians to leave, to flee to Jordan. "200,000 Palestinians left the West Bank," he told me, "and at least half of them were actually forced to leave. Many are still in Jordan. When speak about the refugee problem we think about 1948, but there is a refugee problem from 1967 as well."
Back in 1948, the UN had called for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt occupied Gaza. I asked Segev what kind of national movement existed among Palestinians on the eve of the Six-Day War. "It was very weak," he said, "not much more than a feeling of shared identity and solidarity. Actually as a result of the Six-Day War the Palestinian national identity became much stronger, just as Israeli analysts had predicted prior to the war."
Future prime minster Yitzhak Rabin supported Palestinian independence after the war, according to Segev, who reports that the Israeli government held secret talks at the time with Palestinian leaders. "Isn't that amazing?" he said. "Rabin was chief of staff. He felt it was the right moment to punish Jordan, to take the West Bank away from Jordan, but not God forbid, to control it--instead to give the Palestinians independence. He thought that was the right way to do it. By the way, that's what the government of Israel thinks today, 40 years later – and it's what most Israelis think."