The Nation

Inside Cheney's Bunker

The US government and military have undergone a series of jolting expansions in the Bush years. We got, for instance, a second Defense Department called the Department of Homeland Security. We got a military command for North America called United States Northern Command. More than anything else, however, while we already had an "imperial presidency," we also got an add-on--an imperial vice-presidency, a new form of shadow government in the United States, a startlingly unbound, constitutionally unmandated new institutional power.

On taking office, Dick Cheney promptly began to set up a vice-presidential office that essentially mimicked, and then to some extent replaced, the National Security Council (NSC). Just as promptly, his office plunged itself into utter, blinding secrecy--as journalist Robert Dreyfuss discovered when he simply tried to chart out who was working in this new center of power. No information, it turned out, could be revealed to a curious reporter, not even the names and positions of those who worked for the Vice President, those who, theoretically, were working for us. Cheney's office would not even publicly acknowledge its own employees, no less let them be interviewed.

From that office (and allied posts elsewhere in the executive branch and the federal bureaucracy), the Vice President and his various right-hand men like I Lewis "Scooter" Libby and present Chief of Staff David Addington, both fierce believers in the so-called unitary executive theory of government (in which a "wartime" commander-in-chief president is said to have unfettered power to command just about anything), elbowed the State Department, the NSC, and the Intelligence Community. With the President's ear, and in league with Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon (among others), they spearheaded a series of mis- and disinformation operations that led to Iraq and beyond. (Reporter Jim Lobe wrote about this at Tomdispatch in August 2005, "Dating Cheney's Nuclear Drumbeat.")

Now shorn of Rumsfeld, Cheney and his men, increasingly beleaguered, are nonetheless pushing on as the Vice President secretively travels the world, warning and scheming. Only this week, in "The Redirection," a New Yorker piece as chilling as any you might ever want to read, our premier journalist of this era (as well as the Vietnam one), Seymour Hersh reports that, two years ago, old hands from the Iran-Contra fiasco of the Reagan era, well-seeded into the Bush administration, had an informal meeting led by Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams. Their conclusions: "As to what the experience taught them, in terms of future covert operations, the participants found: ‘One, you can't trust our friends. Two, the C.I.A. has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can't trust the uniformed military, and four, it's got to be run out of the Vice-President's office."

That's what passes for learning from experience in the Bush/Cheney White House. Indeed, the same folks are now evidently running an updated version of Iran-Contra (without the CIA) out of the Vice President's office. At the same time, according to Hersh, Cheney, in his urge to roll back Iranian regional power as well as undermine Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia in Iraq, and the Syrians, has set the Saudis loose to fund Sunni jihadis--just as they did in Afghanistan at American behest in the 1980s. The result then was, among other things, al-Qaeda and the Taliban. So imagine: Cheney's office is now working hard to combine the worst of the Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal with the worst of the Afghan disaster. I wonder what the results could possibly be?

The history of this sudden explosion of ultra-secretive vice-presidential power remains to be written, based on documents that have not yet seen the light of day. The Libby trial has recently offered us a glimpse into the most secretive and powerful office in the land and its interplay with the White House, State Department, and CIA. As former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega points out, that glimpse should be enough to trigger a Congressional investigation into the Plame case. It's time to open a few windows on that claustrophic bunker of a vice-presidential office. It's time, she tells us, for Congress to investigate all the President's and Vice President's men and women.

The Right to Organize

Last week, the House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee voted yes on the Employee Free Choice Act. This was a huge step forward in the fight to restore the ability of workers' to form unions.

Some 57 million US workers regularly tell pollsters that they would join a union if they could. But current US labor laws are often too weak to stop the intimidation, harassment and retaliation workers often face from employers when they try to organize.

The Employee Free Choice Act would ensure that when a majority of employees in a workplace decide to form a union, they can do so without the debilitating obstacles employers now use to block their free choice.

Now that the Committee has voted favorably, the bill is moving to a vote by the full House, currently expected to be tomorrow, Thursday, March 1. A business coalition reportedly launched a six-figure radio ad campaign yesterday in an attempt to convince three Democratic freshmen who represent conservative districts to defy organized labor and vote against the bill. Help counter these tactics by taking a minute TODAY to urge your elected representatives to vote in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act and by clicking here to spread the word on this crucial struggle.

The Business of the News Business

Over the last month PBS's Frontline has produced a terrific series on the future of news. Last night's third-part, on the business of journalism, was particularly compelling--and alarming.

No longer is reporting judged and valued by the people who read and create good journalism. What increasingly matters is what Wall Street cares about: the bottom-line.

Take one example featured in last night's show: the Los Angeles Times. For most of its history the paper was owned by the Chandler family, which generously supported it. In 1995 the Chandler's relinquished their publisher role and the paper entered a period of turmoil. The Tribune Company of Chicago bought the paper in 2000 and installed John Carroll, formerly of the Baltimore Sun, as editor, and Dean Baquet, formerly of the New York Times, as managing editor.

Between 2000 and 2006, the LA Times won 13 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other paper. It posted 20 percent a year in operating profits. And still that was not enough for the Tribune Company, which mandated more and more cuts in the paper's budget and workforce to appease restless shareholders. "You have to make more money every year than you made the last year in order to keep the shareholders happy," says Carroll.

By last year, Carroll had had enough and resigned in protest. Baquet was promoted, but after resisting further cuts, he too was shown the door. "There's tension between my view of my world and the people who own newspapers," Baquet says.

He rightly believes that good journalism should be a "public trust." The Frontline special reinforces why. The entire series is online. I strongly recommend you check it out.

News Not Fit to Print?

Last weekend, I wrote here about the history of US government attempts to suppress information. My case study was the Kennedy Administration's successful effort to delay publication of the New York Times' story about CIA planning for the Bay of Pigs disaster. (Since then, several generations of Times editors have publicly regretted that decision. "Our biggest failures," Executive Editor Bill Keller wrote last year, "have generally been when we failed to dig deep enough or to report fully enough. After the Times played down its advance knowledge of the Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy reportedly said he wished we had published what we knew and perhaps prevented a fiasco.")

Yet in these last two days, the Times has acceded to Bush Administration requests to withhold information from the American public.

In yesterday's edition, the paper of record reports that it was "asked to withhold any mention of [Cheney's] trip until he had left Pakistan." What conceivable national security purpose was served by swearing the press pool to secrecy about this trip? And doesn't accepting these ground rules play into the hands of a hyper-secretive Vice-President whose signature contribution to our security has been misleading us into a disastrous war and carpet bombing our constitutional system? The secrecy does expose a national security problem: the "war" on terror is a rank failure and Pakistan is not the stable country that White House talking points try to sell us.

Here's another instance of White House pressure. A front page article in Monday's New York Times --providing conditional evidence of Iranian weapons in Iraq--acknowledges that the paper acceded to Bush Administration requests that it withhold specific details about the weapons. As the Times reported: "In the course of the detailed briefing on the Hilla discovery, Maj. Marty Weber, an explosives expert, said that most of the E.F.P.s in Iraq use C-4 plastic explosive manufactured in Iran. At the request of the Bush Administration, The Times is withholding some specific details about the weapons to protect intelligence sources and methods."

Hours after the story appeared, Congressman Dennis Kucinich issued a statement -- "The New York Times Plays into Bush Administration's Hand." "The White House," Kucinich says, "is up to its old scams again: Providing information by anonymous sources ..... This time, however, they added another trick to their bag: providing the information and prohibiting the Times from publishing it.....The New York Times should not print unsourced, unattributed assertions and then voluntarily hide the details from the American public..." The paper, he went on to argue, "is playing into the Administration's hand and providing further justification for an attack on Iran."

Nancy Pelosi: Farm Girl

Nancy Pelosi has proven to be a far more politically savvy Speaker of the House than most of her critics, and some of her fans, expected. This is not to say that she has done enough to end the war in Iraq or hold the Bush administration to account, nor that she has avoided predictable pitfalls that are discovered by new congressional leaders. But she has kept her caucus together and drawn significant Republican support as the House has addressed minimum wage, stem cell research and ethics issues that were neglected by her Republican predecessor.

Even conservative commentator Bob Novak, via the anything but Pelosi-friendly Evans-Novak political wire, commented that, "The ‘hundred hours' program of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been a success beyond all anticipation. The passage of poll-approved measures came with a unanimous Democratic vote and heavy -- in some cases majority -- Republican support. This performance shows the error and futility of Republican expectations that Pelosi as speaker would fall on her face…"

But Pelosi's achievement ought be measured merely by reviewing the legislation that has passed the House. It is also important to pay attention to her outreach to constituencies that Democrats tended to ignore during the Clinton and early Bush years -- to the party's dramatic detriment.

On Friday, Pelosi will deliver the keynote address at the National Farmers Union's 105th annual convention. Her focus will be on opportunities for development in rural communities, with special attention to increasing the use of renewable fuels. The speaker recognizes that there is common ground on which the party's environmentally-conscious base can stand with farmers, and she is paying a lot of attention to that turf.

But the most important thing about Pelosi's appearance at the NFU convention in Orlando will not be what she says. Rather, it will be that the most prominent Democrat in Washington is going out of her way to spend time with farmers and ranchers.

For years, Democrats prattled on and on about how to appeal to this suburb or that suburb, failing to recognize that they were losing winnable House seats in the vast rural stretches beyond metropolitan America. Campaign after campaign went by, with Republicans printing up their "Farmers and Ranchers for Gingrich," "Farmers and Ranchers for Dole," "Farmers and Ranchers for Bush" signs and, by virtue of minimal attention to rural voters, gaining victories that never should have gone to the party of corporate agribusiness. The Democratic Party's failure to address basic concerns of rural America -- on issues ranging from trade policy to renewable fuels to the unique concerns of remote regions regarding health care and education -- cost the party dearly.

Along with the new Democratic chairs of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, Minnesota's Colin Peterson -- who will also address the NFU convention -- and Iowa's Tom Harkin, Pelosi has worked hard to get farm and rural issues back on the party's agenda. Even before she was speaker, Pelosi urged the formation in 2OO3 of the Rural Working Group, an advisory panel of House members that focuses on policy matters that are of particular concern to farmers and residents of small towns and cities.

Others, particularly Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and that state's new Democratic senator, Jon Tester, have worked hard and well to get Democrats to recognize that there are unmet economic and social needs in rural America -- not to mention significant openings for smart electoral appeals by a Democratic Party that recognizes and addresses those needs. But Pelosi, a native of Baltimore who now represents San Francisco, has been impressively attentive to the concerns of corners of America that have in recent years been exploited by too many Republicans and neglected by too many Democrats.

NFU President Tom Buis says "[Pelosi] is leading the charge to develop strong rural policy in Congress."

That is high praise, indeed, for a big-city politician like Pelosi. But she has earned it by going out of her way to pay attention to rural America, by focusing on proper policies and, perhaps just as importantly, by showing up for events like the convention of the National Farmers Union.


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.'"

Money for Lefties

The right has been generously funding conservative student activists for years. On the other side, the Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund is currently taking applications for grants for progressive student activists for the 2007-08 academic year. These need-based scholarships are awarded to both full-time undergraduate and graduate students actively working for peace and justice.

The maximum grant is $8,000 and awards may be considerably smaller depending on the applicant's circumstances and the funding available. There are 25 to 30 grants awarded each year with all funds come from individual donors. Grants are for one year although students may re-apply for subsequent funding. The deadline for applying is April 1.

Created in 1961, the Fund was originally established as the Marian Davis Scholarship Fund, a memorial to a teacher and outspoken advocate for racial justice and the rights of labor who died of breast cancer in 1960. While raising her family, she was also at home in the classroom, on the picket line, or in a jail cell. Marian's husband, Horace B. Davis, organized the Fund as a tribute to a talented teacher, loved by her students, who was persecuted for her work for peace and freedom.

Recent grantees have been active in the struggle against racism, sexism and homophobia; in building the movement for economic justice; and in working toward peace through international anti-imperialist solidarity.

If you're a student, click here for info on how to apply.

If you're not a student but want to join Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Grace Paley, Pete Seeger and Bernice Johnson Reagon in supporting the Davis-Putter Fund, click here. All funds come from the contributions of individual donors -- there is no endowment. The Fund depends entirely on the generosity of sympathetic individuals to support a new generation of progressive students.

Don't Blame the Base

Fifty-eight percent of the American people support Jack Murtha's plan to properly rest, train and equip American troops before deploying them into battle, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Too bad Congress continues to lag behind the public when it comes to what to do about Iraq.

According to the Post, conservative Democrats are upset that Murtha introduced his plan on a "liberal web site." Oh my goodness, a liberal web site! How provocative. What in the world was Murtha thinking?

He knew that the media would twist his words, as they so often do. So he decided to host an in-depth online chat with Tom Andrews, the head of Win Without War and a former Congressman from Maine, who's not exactly a Bolshevik.

The details of Murtha's proposal, which he hoped to attach to the Bush Administration's latest $100 billion supplemental funding request, had been reported before, including by yours truly. Obviously the "liberal web site" isn't the problem. Pro-war Democrats should say what they really think--they're afraid of Republicans attacking them for not "supporting the troops."

Memo to Congress: Don't blame the Democratic base for your own insecurity. And stop hiding behind the troops. They, like everyone else, want to get out of the quagmire in the desert.

The Sanity of Jimmy Carter

In an interview with This Week, anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, former President Jimmy Carter said that his recent book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid has led to the most personal criticism of his life. Carter said that he has been called a "liar," "anti-Semite," "plagiarist," "thief," "coward"--and yet the 82-year-old remains as focused, passionate and articulate as ever on his reasons for writing the book and what he hopes it will accomplish.

"If I have had one burning desire in my heart and mind for the last thirty years, I would put peace for Israel at the top of the list," Carter said. "And commensurate with that has to be justice and human rights for the Palestinians next door." (To readers who would still question Carter's commitment to Israel, read the article in The Nation by former national Director of the American Jewish Congress, Henry Siegman). Carter hopes his book will precipitate an open debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict and renew the abandoned peace process- certainly, as both Carter and Stephanopoulos noted, it has already accomplished the former.

In Carter's opinion, the need for this vigorous public debate is all the more crucial since he doesn't believe the Democratic Congress will take any more of a balanced approach to peace than its Republican predecessor. Aside from "maybe two or three members" Carter believes that our representatives view any position critical of the current conservative Israeli government as  "politically suicidal."

The same humanity which leads Carter to speak out fearlessly about the Middle East has led him to address "diseases that no one else really cares about much, or knows about"--like Guinea Worm (now on the verge of becoming the first disease eradicated in over twenty-five years largely through the work of the Carter Center)--that impact "the poorest, most destitute, forgotten and needy people on Earth." He stated plainly that the United States needs to increase our foreign aid--"We're at the bottom of all the developed countries in giving to other people"--and he's right, as a percentage of GDP we are shamefully stingy.

Finally, Carter gets the importance of global warming as a defining issue of our time--which is a significant reason why he would support formerly elected by popular vote/Oscar winner, President Al Gore in 2008. "I've put so much pressure on Al to run that he's almost gotten aggravated with me," Carter said, laughing. "He said, 'Jimmy, I'll support you. Don't call.' But he would be my favorite."

At a time when there is too little honesty or boldness in our politics, Jimmy Carter speaks his mind, with sanity and humanity. His ideas deserve discussion and debate, not vituperation and ad hominem attack.

Oscar Postmortem: What About Iraq?

It's great that the problem of global warming was all the rage at last night's Academy Awards. An Inconvenient Truth deservedly won best documentary, Melissa Etheridge's song from the film scored an upset victory and Al Gore was feted like a king, largely because of his prophecy about climate change.

All well and good. But what about Iraq? Maybe global warming is the most pressing calamity our country currently faces. But you'd think that the war that has killed over 3,000 Americans and cost hundreds of billions of dollars would be worthy of Hollywood's attention. Yet aside from two Oscar-nominated documentaries about Iraq, it barely came up.

I wasn't expecting Jennifer Hudson to suddenly call for immediate withdrawal. And celebrities often do more harm than good when they speak out about issues of the day (paging Jane Fonda). But if Hollywood is going to be socially conscious, they should also be consistent. The war in Iraq is messy, complicated and controversial. That's all the more reason to talk about it, even at the Academy Awards.