The Nation

Faithful Lose Faith in Their President

Could it possibly get any worse for George Bush?

Could he possibly be any less popular?

Yes, if diehard Republicans start to abandon him.

And that, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, is what is now happening.

Bush's approval rating fell to the lowest level ever in the poll -- just 29 percent.

That's a drop of six points since April, the last time when the NBC/Journal pollsters were in the field.

Polls by various media groups have for weeks been showing a decline in approval ratings for the president. But the acceleration in that decline in recent surveys has pushed the president into what even Republican analysts suggest is dangerous turf: the territory where it becomes hard for him to get a serious hearing even from formerly friendly members of Congress, and where a risky act like pardoning Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I "Scooter" Libby, could embolden Congressional Democrats to mount serious inquiries and challenges to the president's authority.

Where's the trouble?

With Republicans.

According to NBC's analysis, "Back in April, 75 percent of Republicans approved of Bush's job performance, compared with 21 percent who disapproved. Now, only 62 percent of Republican approve, versus 32 percent who disapprove."

A lot of the problem is with the immigration issue, according to poll analyst Jay Campbell. The Republican right has worked hard to stir anti-immigrant sentiment at the party's base. Now that Bush is working with Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy ☼ to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, the most avid Grand Old Partiers are none to happy with their president.

But immigration is just one piece of a broader puzzle. If Bush had not already raised serious doubts with his handling of the war in Iraq, his budget-busting approach to spending and his antipathy toward basic freedoms that conservatives hold as dear as liberals, he would probably have been better positioned to maintain the faith of the party faithful.

That faith is slipping fast, however. And the latest polls numbers may not be the last stop on Bush's downhill ride.

Indeed, if numbers pointing to a growing sense of malaise are right, Republicans may be coming to the conclusion that the president they defended against all comers for six years just can't handle the job.

In that sense, they are like most Americans.

Should Democrats celebrate? Perhaps, but not too much. While the Congress, which is now under Democratic leadership, is almost as unpopular as the Republican-led Congress it replaced in January, the divisions within the Republican camp are likely to lead to more infighting -- not to mention panic -- within an increasingly uncertain Grand Old Party. That will probably help the relatively united Democrats survive their own slipping approval ratings.

Of course, Democrats would be doing much better if they noted the distaste that American's are expressing for the current direction of the country. A mere 19 percent believe George Bush's United States is headed in the right direction.

This is the first time in 15 years that the "right direction" number has fallen below 20 percent.

At a point when what NBC refers to as a "whopping" 68 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, Democrats might want entertain the notion that it is time to break with Bush on the war in Iraq, trade policy, tax policy and just about everything else.


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.'"

Libby Is Closer to Jail; Now Comes Neocon Pardon-mania

Now it gets serious.

On Thursday afternoon, federal district court Judge Reggie Walton ruled that he will not put off sending Scooter Libby to jail. Last week, the judge sentenced Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff to 30 months and a $250,000 fine for obstructing justice during the CIA leak investigation. Libby's lawyers asked for Libby to remain free on bail while they appeal the conviction. Walton said he would entertain the request, though he indicated he was not at all sympathetic to their legal arguments. He did not change his mind.

His ruling was a routine legal decision. Walton usually sends criminals convicted in his court (who are not flight risks) to prison once the Bureau of Prison notifies him it has selected a prison for the convict. That process tends to take 45 to 60 days. So unless Libby's layers can persuade an appeals court to overturn Walton's decision, Libby will soon be reporting to a federal penitentiary.

Which means neocon pardon-mania is about to hit.

The Libby Lobby has long called for George W. Bush to pardon Libby--even before his trial and conviction. And the neocons and conservatives have amped up their demand for a pardon in the days since Libby was sentenced.

On June 5, The National Review reiterated its call for a pardon:

[Libby] is a dedicated public servant caught in a crazy political fight that should have never happened, convicted of lying about a crime that the prosecutor can't even prove was committed. President Bush has the power to end this ridiculous saga right now. He should do so.

Days later, William F. Buckley suggested this was an issue involving Bush's manhood:

Mr. Bush will have to exhibit the courage for which he is loved and hated, by doing the right thing, and letting Mr. Libby get on with life.

Today, P.S. Ruckman, writing for The National Review, proposed that Bush issue a "respite" that would delay Libby's jail term while Libby's appeal continues.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, too, has been in the forefront of the free Scooter movement. Three days ago, it opined:

With Mr. Libby, what is Mr. Bush afraid of--jeopardizing his 33% approval rating? A pardon would be a two-day story. His opponents can't hate Mr. Bush more than they already do, and his supporters would cheer to see the President standing by the man who stood by him when others in his Administration cut and ran.

Days earlier, The WSJers proclaimed:

Mr. President, this buck stops with you.

Among the rush-to-war crowd, there is outrage that Bush has not waved his magic wand for Libby. These conservatives believe that that Libby (and they) have been betrayed by the president. Rightwing columnist Bob Novak (who started the leak scandal when he outed covert CIA officer Valerie Plame in his column) recently channeled this rage in a column:

The treatment of Lewis Libby, once Vice President Cheney's influential chief of staff, enrages Republicans far more than their public utterances suggest. The president's studied distance from the CIA leak case led to the appointment of a special prosecutor by then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey at a time when Comey already knew the leaker's identity. That distance has continued with Bush's response from Europe to Libby's conviction; it was filtered through a deputy press secretary, emphasizing that he had no intention of issuing a pardon.

One Republican who did not watch her words last week was Washington lawyer Victoria Toensing: "If the president can pardon 12 million illegal immigrants, he can pardon Scooter Libby." Toensing is joining the procession supporting the still-unannounced run for president by Fred Thompson, who is unequivocal in his outrage over Libby's fate and asserts that he would pardon him.

You can feel the rage. And the neocons know how to gin up campaigns. They will do whatever it takes to pressure Bush. Expect them to go--to use a technical term--bananas. Especially since the White House still is indicating Bush is not eager to untie Libby from the train tracks. After Walton turned down Libby's request to remain free, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said, "Scooter Libby still has the right to appeal, and therefore the president will continue not to intervene in the judicial process. The president feels terribly for Scooter, his wife, and their young children, and all that they're going through."

There was wiggle room in the statement. Perhaps if Libby exhausts his appeals on the issue of staying out of prison while he appeals the conviction, Bush might then consider a pardon. But this was not the message the Libby Lobby wanted to hear.

These days Bush has lost the general public due to the Iraq war, He is in trouble with party's base because of the immigration bill he's been pushing. Now the elite guard of the GOP is in an uproar over his failure (so far) to pardon Libby. These guys and gals are going to endeavor to make this decision a painful one for Bush. They know how to play (read: manipulate) the media. And they have a mole in the White House: Dick Cheney. With Americans and Iraqi civilians being killed in Iraq every day, they will pour all their passion into the Save Scooter fight. After all, he is one of them. And though most neocons who misguided the United States into the failed war in Iraq have never served in the military, they do share a credo with one of the military services: leave no man behind. Scooter is their holy cause. The crusade has just begun.


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.

Senate Weighs Workers' Rights--UPDATED

The Senate began debate on the Employee Free Choice Act yesterday as labor and its supporters nationally continued to press lawmakers to support this critical bill. In early March, the House issued its strong support for the legislation, passing it with a 241-185 vote. But the measure is expected to face a more difficult course in the Senate, where it has so far picked up 47 co-sponsors. Business groups have mounted a big fight against the bill, with one organization, the Center for Union Facts, spending $500,000 on over-the-top newspaper and TV spots this week alone. A vote is expected to take place tomorrow in the Senate. Scroll down to implore your elected reps today to vote in favor of basic worker rights. --June 20 Update

Sixty years ago this month, US labor law was dramatically altered in the interests of capital when the Republican-led 80th Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act over intense opposition from organized labor. The legislation survived a veto by President Harry Truman, who described the act as a "slave-labor bill", arguing that it would "conflict with important principles of our democratic society."

The amendments enacted in Taft-Hartley added a list of prohibited actions, or "unfair labor practices", on the part of unions to the National Labor Relations Act, which had previously existed to monitor abuses on the part of employers. The Act prohibited jurisdictional strikes, secondary boycotts and "common situs" picketing, closed shops, and monetary donations by unions to federal political campaigns. Union shops were heavily restricted, and states were allowed to pass "right-to-work" laws that outlawed union shops. Furthermore, the executive branch of the Federal government was empowered to break strikes if an action "imperiled the national health or safety," a test that has been interpreted broadly by the courts.

Earlier this year, the new Democratic-led House passed the Employee Free Choice Act, designed to undo some of the worst aspects of Taft-Hartley. The 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. Union officials called it the most important piece of pro-labor legislation to pass a house of Congress in decades.

In February in this space, I urged readers to lobby their reps and many of you did. Now, the legislation is pending before the Senate, but faces a GOP filibuster and--if that fails--a threatened veto by President Bush. The vote could come as early as Wednesday, June 20.

Nonetheless, across the country, momentum is building for passage of the bill. Workers have been delivering thousands of messages via email, phone calls or in rallies urging Senate support for the act.

Meanwhile, more than 45 state and local legislative bodies have passed resolutions supporting the legislation and urging their members of Congress to vote for it. Legislators like Maryland state Sen. Jamie Raskin, who says: "The union-busting and union-prevention campaigns of the last three decades have wrecked the dreams of millions of working people, and we need a new movement to safeguard the right of citizens to organize at the workplace. I totally favor the card-check majority plan and will do whatever I can to help it pass."

You can help too by letting your senators know you expect them to vote in favor of the Act, by joining the AFL-CIO's Employee Free Choice Action Team, and by helping spread the word about this critical piece of legislation.

The Queen of Earmarks?

There is nothing inherently wrong with "earmarks," which the Sunlight Foundation describes as "a provision in legislation that directs funds to be spent on specific projects." But in recent years earmarking has become a symbol of the culture of corruption in Washington, used and abused by crooked politicians like Duke Cunningham and Conrad Burns to benefit wealthy benefactors.

The Hill reported yesterday that Hillary Clinton inserted more earmarks into the latest defense spending bill than any other Senator except for Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin. The 26 earmarks, totaling $148.4 million, mostly went to the New York-based defense industry. (For more on Hillary's ties to military contractors, see the Village Voice article "Mama Warbucks.")

These earmarks appear to be legitimate and above board. But that didn't stop the RNC from calling Hillary the "President of Pork" or John McCain from noting that the Pentagon did not request them.

And Hillary is vulnerable on the issue. When the Senate debated lobbying and ethics reforms in January, Clinton voted against requiring public disclosure of earmark sponsors and earmark recipients, and to change the definition of an earmark to include both federal and non-federal projects.

How to Restore Habeas Corpus

The American Civil Liberties Union is right when it says that last week's Senate Judiciary Committee vote in favor of the restoration of habeas corpus protections "signals to the White House and the Republican minority in Congress that this is a real issue."

But that does not mean that renewal of the most basic of our Constitutional guarantees is just around the corner.

The frustrating fight to restore habeas corpus has reached an important milestone. Democrats appear to have signed on for the struggle. But Republicans, for the most part, remain wrong or silent.

That creates a calculus that must be understood by serious constitutionalists. This fight is about more than gaining partisan advantage or "sending a message." A fundamental of the republic is at stake. Thus, it is essential to recognize that, even though Democrats control the Congress, GOP control of the White House means that this constitutional restoration project must now focus attention and energy on those congressional Republicans who call themselves "strict constructionists." Only if the Senate votes overwhelmingly for the restoration of habeas corpus will there be any chance of forcing the hand of a president who has not distinguished himself as an enthusiast for the Bill of Rights.

Is it reasonable to think that grass-roots activists might succeed in forcing a significant number of Republicans to do the right thing?

Absolutely, especially when we recognize the progress that has been made thus far. And even more so when we consider that this progress is a direct reflection of the fact that the passion for restoring habeas corpus has always been greater at the grass roots than in Washington. People were shocked when a Republican-controlled Congress moved to undermine an essential check in the American Constitution -- a protection the U.S. Supreme Court has described as "the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against lawless state action."

After Democrats won control of the U.S. House and Senate last November, the popular Internet site www.democrats.com asked people to identify the first action the new Congress should take. The online survey listed 140 possible changes. The top response? "Restore habeas corpus."

Of course, it was not just Democrats who were worried about the kick in the teeth that the Constitution had taken. Earlier this year, the conservatives and libertarians associated with the Liberty Coalition and the right-wing legal scholars at the Rutherford Institute signed onto a letter outlining 10 steps the new Congress could take to restore U.S. moral authority in the world. The first step was: Restore habeas corpus.

The messages from the grassroots were heard in Washington.

The new Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., took the lead in declaring that the hasty approval prior to the 2006 election of the Military Commissions Act -- the measure that attacked habeas corpus -- represented a dark moment in our history. "The passage of this bill was a profound mistake, and its elimination of habeas corpus review was its worst error. Righting this wrong is one of my top priorities," explained Leahy, who with the ranking Republican on the committee, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, introduced the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act on the first day of the new Congress.

Leahy and Specter were quickly joined in their initiative by the Senate's chief defender of constitutional protections, Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold.

Over time, all four Democratic senators who are seeking their party's presidential nomination -- first New York's Hillary Clinton, then Connecticut's Chris Dodd, then Illinois' Barack Obama and finally Delaware's Joe Biden -- became co-sponsors.

The signs of Democratic solidarity on the issue are good.

Unfortunately, with the exception of Specter, Republicans have failed to come on board for restoring the traditional reading of the founding document. Going into the Judiciary Committee vote on the act, Specter's was the only Republican name on the list of 20 co-sponsors.

The pattern held when the committee voted 10-8 to send the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act to the full Senate with no amendments. It was frustrating, indeed, that all but one Republican on the committee that is should take the lead in upholding the Constitution voted against it.

As the measure moves to the full Senate -- for a vote that could take place in a matter of weeks -- the challenge will be to build Republican support. It can be done. Republicans, especially those in the party's "old-right" wing, have broken with the White House on the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretapping and other Bill of Rights issues. The list starts with New Hampshire's John Sununu, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Idaho's Larry Craig and Nebraska's Chuck Hagel, all of whom have, like Specter, gotten into dust ups with the administration over civil liberties. But its should not stop there; every Republican who claims to favor a literal -- "strict constructionist" -- reading of the Constitution ought to be targeted for intensive lobbying. These Republicans must be convinced, as Specter has been, that the essential fight to restore habeas corpus is about more than party or ideology.

It is about respecting the most basic premises of the American experiment.


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.'"

Idiot Liberals Strike Again

When will Democratic leaders stop dissing their base? David Obey is making a habit of it.

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin veteran, who heads up the House Appropriations Committee called anti-war workers, "idiot liberals" for calling for a cut off in funds for Bush's Iraq disaster. This week, Obey told advocates for youth to grow up and stop complaining about the millions of dollars his committee intends to shovel to deadly, discredited abstinence-only programs.

House Democrats will likely vote today to increase abstinence-only miseducation programs to $140 million, a larger increase than any put forward in the last three years of the Republican Congress. Obey told NPR it's all about pragmatism: the Appropriations Bill faces a veto threat from the President, and House Democrats need all the support they can get from Republicans. And there are quid pro quos: to secure a proposed $27 million increase for the family planning program Title X anti-choicers need to be bought off with $27 million for deadly abstinence.

"It's about people acting like adults and realizing that you can't just hold your breath until you get your own way," Obey told Morning Edition June 14th.

But that $27 million increase represents just a ten percent growth in the budget for Title X; it's a 30 percent increase for abstinence only. Besides, most sane Americans were expecting the purportedly pro-choice Democratic majority to cut off funding for this boondoggle not increase it.

Anyone who read Michael Reynolds' excellent piece on the Abstinence Gluttons knows the myriad ways in which these censorship programs stink. As a congressionally mandated report recently concluded, they're bad health policy, bad fiscal policy, and should be ended. As Reynolds' documented in depth, federal funding of "abstinence" also gifts billions of dollars to GOP partisans who not only mess with young minds but also campaign against Democrats and progressive priorities.

As James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth told the Air Americans last week, the GOP gravy train was bad enough. "Now it's switched tracks and became a Democratic train. Obey can now stand tall and say that he is now one of the biggest funders of the Radical Right in America."

It'd be bad enough if it were just Obey, but progressive caucus members including Nita Lowey and Barbara Lee who sit on both the Appropriations and the Health and Human Services subcommittee (also chaired by Obey) that put forward this proposal are complicit. Democrats enjoy a 37:29 majority on Appropriations. What they push moves. The battle goes to the Senate next, where the 15:14 split on appropriations is much tighter. Speaking of senators, Hillary Clinton is talking up a storm on the campaign trail about her support for Title X. So far she's remained mum about millions more for sex-miseducation.

"We are not your pawns," youth activists told House Democrats on the eve of the Committee's vote. Wagoner has some glum young progressive organizers in his office to explain the Democratic majority to. Said Wagoner "as an activist you expect to fight this in a conservative republican Congress, but I can't tell you how infuriated, how angry I feel, having witnessed Democratic allies sell us out."

Thus Wagoner and his team join the anti-war activists. Bravo Democrats you're swelling the ranks of pissed-off, enraged, "liberal idiots."

Laura Flanders is the author of Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians, from The Penguin Press. Buy the book.

It's Not About Dan and Katie

When asked about his view of CBS Evening News during a radio interview with MSNBC's Joe Scarborough on Monday, Dan Rather said network execs had tried to boost ratings by "dumbing it down and tarting it up."

The media firestorm that's followed illustrates the very point--the larger point--Rather has consistently tried to make about the degradation of the mainstream, corporate news biz and the obliteration of the line between news and entertainment.

Watch as CBS dances, deflects and dodges the valid and valuable criticism levied by Rather and plenty of other media watchdogs. Les Moonves, CBS CEO, called Rather's remark "sexist" and said, "Let's give [Katie] a break."

But it's got nothing to do with Katie Couric. Nor does it really have anything to do with the messenger, Rather (whose colorful, native Texanspeak has gotten him into hot water in the past--much as it did for the late former Governor Anne Richards). It's about the message.

Rather's predecessor at CBS, Walter Cronkite--no fan of Rather himself--offered a similar take in a recent keynote address. According to the Associated Press, Cronkite suggested that the pressure for profits is "threatening the very freedom the nation was built upon."

"It's not just the journalist's job at risk here," Cronkite said. "It's American democracy. It is freedom."

And in a recent New York Times op-ed, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps warned of "pressure from media conglomerates" that has made licensing renewals for the free use of the public airwaves a virtual "rubber-stamp" every eight years. He contrasts this with a past when every three years the requirement that networks serve the public interest was given "a hard look" – prior to "deregulatory mania in the 1980's."

As for Rather, in these last four years he's been a consistent critic of the corporate media and his own role in it. He's self-critical enough--unlike so many others – to know that he weaved and wavered in the run-up to the Iraq War. As he told Bill Moyers, "I don't think there is any excuse for, you know, my performance and the performance of the press in general in the roll up to the war. There were exceptions. There were some people, who, I think, did a better job than others. But overall and in the main there's no question that we didn't do a good job…. We weren't smart enough, we weren't alert enough, we didn't dig enough. And we shouldn't have been fooled in this way…."

Rather has also described a culture of fear that permeates the newsroom. In an interview with BBC he said, "It is an obscene comparison--you know I am not sure I like it--but you know there was a time in South Africa that people would put flaming tyres around people's necks if they dissented. And in some ways the fear is that you will be necklaced here, you will have a flaming tyre of lack of patriotism put around your neck. Now it is that fear that keeps journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions, and to continue to bore in on the tough questions so often. And again, I am humbled to say, I do not except myself from this criticism."

And, speaking to Moyers: "Fear is in every newsroom in the country. And fear of what? Well… a combination of: if you don't go along to get along, you're going to get the reputation of being a troublemaker. There's also the fear...particularly in networks, they've become huge, international conglomerates. They have big needs, legislative needs, repertory needs in Washington. Nobody has to send you a memo to tell you that that's the case…. And that puts a seed in your mind of, well, if you stick your neck out, if you take the risk of going against the grain with your reporting, is anybody going to back you up?"

Recently, NBC News led its evening news program with two-and-a-half minutes on Paris Hilton. Coverage of Anna Nicole Smith topped Iraq War coverage on the networks night after night. There is no question that the network news programs have become cogs in the conglomerate machine where news is a profit center.

We desperately need a news media that raises the tough questions, acts as watchdogs of the public interest, questions authority--performs the basic duties required of a free press in a democracy. A flawed media leads to a flawed democracy. And in these past six or so years, with some notable exceptions, the media has been too easily intimidated by an administration that used fear to make its case for war, labeled its critics un-American, quashed dissent, perverted the meaning of patriotism and brazenly--on all fronts--subverted the Constitution. As longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas wrote in The Nation,"[Reporters] lapped up everything the Pentagon and White House could dish out--no questions asked."

So, now, when Dan Rather talks about dumbing down news in order to tart it up--it ain't about Dan, and it ain't about Katie. It's about consolidation, conglomeration, and the impact on the Fourth Estate and our democracy.

Justice Department Scandals Draw Subpoenas

The most amusing spin following the vote by a majority of US senators to prepare a "no-confidence" vote against Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was the suggestion that the scandal-plagued Cabinet member had earned something of a reprieve.

Because the Senate did not muster the super-majority of 60 votes needed to schedule the "no-confidence" vote on Monday, the White House and its media acolytes suggested, the tide had turned in favor of Gonzales.

In fact, the decision of seven Republican senators to join their Democratic colleagues in taking steps to signal that the Attorney General did nothing to dampen enthusiasm for holding Gonzales to account.

In fact, it certainly looks as if congressional investigators are feeling emboldened.

How much?

On Wednesday, long-delayed subpoenas were issued to former White House aides who were intimately involved in efforts to remove US attorneys who were deemed to be insufficiently partisan in their investigations and prosecutions.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, issued a subpoena to former White House political director Sara Taylor. Leahy left no doubt about what the line of questioning would be, saying that, "White House officials like former Political Director Sara Taylor were deeply involved in the mass firings of well-performing prosecutors..."

Another of those White House officials, former counsel Harriet Miers, is set to receive a subpoena from House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, D-Michigan.

The dispatching of subpoenas to key players in the Bush White House -- both of whom left their jobs only this year: Miers in January, Taylor in late May -- opens an important new front in the inquiry into the firings of the US attorneys and the broader issue of the politicization of the Justice Department. It also takes the investigation closer to the president, whose closeness to Miers was highlighted to his ill-fated attempt to place her on the Supreme Court.

But this is only the beginning of the next stage.

Leahy has been authorized to subpoena a number of current and former White House aides, most notably political czar Karl Rove. That makes the call for Taylor to testify especially significant, as she worked with Rove on a daily basis.

Does this mean Rove will be getting a subpoena soon? Bet on it.

Testimony by Taylor and Miers, which should come in July if the White House decides not to fight the demands from the House and Senate, will help to set the stage for a grilling of Rove. And once Rove is under oath, the discussion will turn to the meetings where outgoing White House counselor Dan Bartlett has confirmed that Bush discussed firing the prosecutors with his chief political adviser and Gonzales.

White House spokesperson Dana Perino grumbles Leahy and Conyers are issuing the subpoenas because they are interested in "drama."

The always unwitting Perino is, on this particular point, correct.

What could be more dramatic than a summer of testimony about how White House legal and political aides conspired with the Attorney General and the president himself to hire and fire U.S. Attorneys as part of scheme to use law enforcement agencies of the federal government to achieve political ends?


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.'"

Breastfeeding and Blow Jobs

Yesterday was one of those days when, having read the paper you are quite certain it is full of misprints and mistakes--either that or you've slipped down Alice's rabbit hole into a logic-free world.

Are Muslim clerics really issuing salacious fatwas by ordering Egyptian working women to breast-feed their male colleagues five times in order to "establish family ties" and to enable unmarried men and women to work together without the usual Koranic restrictions?

Are young people in this country really serving 10-year prison sentences for consensual oral sex?

I'm referring, of course, to the highly-publicized case of Genarlow Wilson who is in his second year of prison in Georgia for having received oral sex at a high school New Year's Eve party from a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. While it is true that drugs and alcohol were being used. (What?! You're kidding! At a high school party!?) It is also true that the girl never contended that it was anything but consensual.

Four others at the 2003 party, which was videotaped, pled guilty in order to serve less time. But in the 2005 trial, Wilson stated that he did not want to enter a guilty plea and spend his life registered as a sex offender--precluding him from living in the same home as his 8-year-old sister, among other things--and successfully fought a sexual assault charge. But he was found guilty of aggravated child molestation for the oral sex. This carried a 10-year-minimum sentence in Georgia.

The Georgia law originally included an exception. Dubbed "The Romeo & Juliet" clause, it clarified that teens who engaged in consensual intercourse would be excluded from the 10-year-minimum sentencing requirement. Instead, these offenders would be guilty of a lesser misdemeanor charge. But they forgot to include language about oral sex.

In 2006, state legislators amended the law so that teens engaging in intercourse and/or oral sex could only be charged with a misdemeanor--and serve up to 12 months in jail for the "crime."

When I read about this case, I have an evil fantasy.

I envision a slew of creative activists spreading out across the state of Georgia--with a special emphasis on the home districts of this law's proponents and hey, maybe even the lawmakers' own teens--and collecting the tens (no, wait a minute) hundreds (no wait a minute) thousands (no, wait a minute) tens of thousands (no, wait a minute) hundreds of thousands of teens who have broken the law by having oral sex or intercourse in their "tender years" and flooding the courts with their cases. (Remember, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 70 percent of teens are sexually active by the time they reach 19; the average age of first intercourse is 17; 59 percent of sexually experienced female teens had first sex with a partner who was 1 to 3 years their senior; 13 percent of all 15-year-olds have had intercourse.) I would like to see all these cases stacked on the desk of the over-eager district attorney who has so vigorously pursued this absurd case. And I would like to see state legislators buckling under the cost of these investigations, trials, and long prison sentences.

Some residents in the state have worried that African-American Genarlow Wilson was selectively prosecuted because of his race. I believe the state of Georgia would do well to allay these concerns by pursuing, in a fair and equitable manner, each and every case involving sex among consenting minors. After all, it's a crime, right?

Or have I fallen down some rabbit hole?