The Nation

The Media, Impeachment & Kucinich

Richard Cohen has a must-read column in today's Washington Post. It's a terrific antidote to Dana Milbank's recent column in the same paper which ridiculed Presidential candidate and Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

It's fine to disagree with Kucinich on impeachment--and even to suggest that he is isolated within Congress. But the snarky tenor of Milbank's column suggested that to hold the President to account is bizarre behaviour--at a time when the Vermont Senate, state Democratic party groups, scores of communities, city council and labor unions have taken far blunter stances than has Kucinich. Milbank's column was a classic example of inside-the-beltway policing of the debate--and it used the old technique of making fun of a legitimate dissenter.

Cohen, on the other hand, treats Kucinich with the respect he deserves. He may disagree with the remedy of impeachment, considering it too "radical"--but he doesn't stoop to ridicule Kucinich for his stance. (And as would any semi-sentient person living in the US today, Cohen agrees that the congressman's case against Cheney--lying the American people into war--is "persuasive.")

Now I'll admit that I have as many questions as answers when it comes to the political value of pursuing impeachment--and The Nation has published strong views for and against. But that doesn't mean that Kucinich and other good citizens who support impeachment as a democratic tool to hold this administration accountable deserve ridicule.

And while it is true that Kucinich remains fairly isolated in Congress, in a small piece of breaking news two members--Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)--today joined as co-sponsors of Kucinich's H Res 333, the bill introducing articles of impeachment against Cheney. What's especially newsworthy is that Schakowsky is a member of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's inside circle.

The Whole Truth--and Nothing But

"It is time for the truth, the whole truth, versus misinformation and hype." Those were Jessica Lynch's words as she testified before Congress April 24-- along with the brother and mother of the late Army Ranger Specialist Pat Tillman--to set the record straight on her service in Iraq.

On April 2, 2003, Army Private Lynch was carried from an Iraqi hospital and whisked away on a Black Hawk helicopter. It was a great PR opportunity for the Bush administration, and with the help of too many in the mainstream media, they spun it for all that it was worth.

Lynch's testimony last week was timely, coming just one day before the premiere of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, a 90-minute report entitled Buying the War. "Four years after shock and awe," Moyers observed, "the press has yet to come to terms with its role in enabling the Bush administration to go to war on false pretenses."

"I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend...." Lynch said.

As Daphne Eviatar reported in The Nation in 2003, media outlets across the country ran with Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks' initial account of a daring rescue of Lynch by Special Ops forces, complete with firefights upon entering and exiting the "location of danger." The story snowballed into a "daring raid in hostile territory," and anonymous US officials told reporters of Lynch fighting "fiercely" and shooting "several enemy soldiers." She had been shot and stabbed, according to these accounts.

"The whole Rambo story, that I went down fighting. It just wasn't the truth. I didn't even get a shot off. My weapon had jammed. And I didn't even get to fire," Lynch told Newsweek.

Eviatar observed that the "Saving Private Lynch" story arrived at the perfect moment for an administration obsessed with controlling the press coverage. It had been less than two weeks since the invasion and correspondents were delivering a stream of grim news: then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was receiving harsh criticism for deploying too few ground troops to contain the violence; there was "unexpectedly fierce fighting in the south"; a van full of Iraqi women and children were mistakenly killed by US forces; and four Marines died in a helicopter crash. The Lynch story offered a tale of heroism to replace the horrors of this war on the front pages and the airwaves.

"The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes and they don't need to be told elaborate tales," Lynch said.

In his documentary, Moyers said of the lead up to the invasion, "This gets us right to the heart of the debate that's going on now in our craft. We lean heavily in reporting on what [government officials] say…. We really give heavy weight to what public officials say."

This reliance on government accounts continued as the war began and Jessica Lynch was injured. "As with many stories, we were left with our sourcing being other government agencies," Paul Slavin, senior vice president of ABC News, admitted to Eviatar.

"There was a real sense that you don't get that critical of a government that's leading us in war time," Walter Isaacson, former Chairman and CEO of CNN, told Moyers.

By mid-April, the government and media tale was debunked. Lynch hadn't fired her weapon, nor had she been shot or stabbed (an examination did reveal that she had been sexually assaulted, however). And, according to hospital staff, the Iraqi fighters had already abandoned the hospital before she was "rescued," casting doubt on any gunfights and characterizations of daring.

"The nurses at the hospital tried to soothe me and tried unsuccessfully at one point to return me to American troops," Lynch testified.

The lies about the service of Lynch and the death of Tillman demonstrate the lengths to which this administration will go to protect its interests--and the necessity that the media ask tough questions to preserve our democracy. As Naomi Wolf notes in Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps: "In a fascist system, it's not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can't tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit."

"They could have handled situations a lot better and made sure that the truth was more accurate," Lynch said.

They could have indeed.

DC Sex Scandal: Couldn't Happen to Nicer Bunch of Guys

I'm amused that none of my Notion colleagues have commented on the Washington, D.C. sex scandal. Time to break this high-minded code of delicacy. Alleged madam Deborah Jane Palfrey is about to release her client list, and ABC News plans to release her phone records on Friday. To those who think they are are above reveling in something so sordid: hold your high horses. I feel sorry for people whose names are dragged through the mud over personal behavior -- but not if they are right-wing hypocrites who have supported policies interfering with other people's private lives. A couple names have been leaked already, and we shouldn't feel bad for any of them.

Particularly deserving of his current humiliation is Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias, Bush's former AIDS czar, whose job was to promote abstinence and monogamy rather than condoms. In his current job, he was supposed to make sure that groups getting U.S. money to fight HIV and AIDS were opposed to prostitution. (Tobias, who claims he only got massages from these call girls -- bizarre, if true, but isn't that what they always say? -- -- had to resign last weekend over Palfrey's disclosure.) This is not just about hypocrisy: conservatives seem to be more often at the center of such scandals -- though of course we can all think of some liberals and moderates, including Barney Frank and of course Bill Clinton -- because they embrace a repressive morality that seems to drive people to act out, often in weird, alienated ways.

A group called the Sex Workers Project which provides legal services and advocacy to sex workers, pointed out, in a statement, the "irony... that Tobias was the chief enforcer and mouthpiece of the Anti-Prostitution Pledge" which cost Brazil $40 million in USAID money, and stripped funding from services like drop-in centers and English classes -- which could help people move on to other lines of work -- for sex workers in Cambodia and Bangladesh. Condemning -- and, especially, refusing to help -- sex workers is stupid policy: prostitutes who insist on protecting themselves through condom use can play a valuable role in halting the spread of HIV/AIDS. Tobias's connections to an escort agency, the Sex Workers Project notes, "provide an opportunity to reflect on the ineffective and morality-driven policies he enforced."

"The President Has Effectively Gone AWOL"

George Bush, the most ideologically-driven and politically calculating president in American history, wants Americans to believe that he has suddenly discovered a moral high ground from which to make grand declarations about who he must maintain the occupation of Iraq.

After vetoing legislation Tuesday that gave him the money to continue his war but required that he accept loose limits of its ultimate duration, the president told the nation, "I recognize that many Democrats saw this bill as an opportunity to make a political statement about their opposition to the war. They sent their message, and now it is time to put politics behind us and support our troops with the funds they need."

Bush has made his position clear: Democrats, many of whom rightly argued four years ago that going to war in Iraq would be the huge mistake it has turned out to be, and who have since been far ahead of the White House in identifying the nature of the crisis that has since developed, are now to be dismissed as the players of political games when they advocate for a strategy that would begin bringing US troops home from the conflict on a schedule beginning October 1.

That's a remarkable line of analysis from a president whose inability to recognize the flaws in his own neo-conservative vision has rendered his wrong at every turn, and whose determination to play politics with life-and-death decisions has defined not just his approach to the Iraq war but his tenure as president.

Yet Bush is not giving up on his faith that he can frame the argument about Iraq as a fight between Congressional Democrats who are out to score political points and a presidential administration that is motivated merely by a desire to respond appropriately to practical realities on the ground in Iraq.

"Twelve weeks ago, I asked the Congress to pass an emergency war spending bill that would provide our brave men and women in uniform with the funds and flexibility they need," said Bush in framing his veto message. "Instead, members of the House and the Senate passed a bill that substitutes the opinions of politicians for the judgment of our military commanders."

The problem with Bush's "I'm-so-above-politics" line is that he has been disregarding advice from military commanders since before the war began.

Consider the response to his veto from top military men who commanded troops in Iraq.

"The President vetoed our troops and the American people," says retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste. "His stubborn commitment to a failed strategy in Iraq is incomprehensible. He committed our great military to a failed strategy in violation of basic principles of war. His failure to mobilize the nation to defeat world wide Islamic extremism is tragic. We deserve more from our commander-in-chief and his administration."

Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton: "This administration and the previously Republican-controlled legislature have been the most caustic agents against America's Armed Forces in memory. Less than a year ago, the Republicans imposed great hardship on the Army and Marine Corps by their failure to pass a necessary funding language. This time, the President of the United States is holding our Soldiers hostage to his ego. More than ever [it is] apparent [that] only the Army and the Marine Corps are at war -- alone, without their President's support."

Retired military commanders associated with the Washington-based National Security Network have been blunt about their sense that Bush is not just wrong about Iraq but that he is failing the troops he purports to support.

Some make historical comparisons.

Says retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard: "With this veto, the president has doomed us to repeating a terrible history. President Bush's current position is hauntingly reminiscent of March 1968 in Vietnam. At that time, both the Secretary of Defense and the President had recognized that the war could not be won militarily--just as our military commanders in Iraq have acknowledged. But not wanting to be tainted with losing a war, President Johnson authorized a surge of 25,000 troops. At that point, there had been 24,000 U.S. troops killed in action. Five years later, when the withdrawal of US troops was complete, we had suffered 34,000 additional combat deaths.

Others offer a straightforward assessment of Bush's failure as the commander-in-chief. "By vetoing this bill and failing to initiate an immediate and phased withdrawal, the President has effectively gone AWOL, deserting his duty post, leaving American forces with an impossible mission, suffering wholly unnecessary casualties," argues retired Lt. Gen. William E. Odom.

Add the public statements of the retired generals together with the behind-the-scenes expressions of frustration from current commanders and they form the most powerful tool that Congressional Democrats have in what will ultimately be a negotiation not with Bush but with the American people--a negotiation that, the president well understands, is about the question of which side is playing politics and which side is listening to military commanders and supporting the troops.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should take the message of these retired generals--along with the anti-war statements of thousands of current and returned Iraq soldiers --into the fight with Bush. And, to borrow a slightly impolitic phrase from Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden, they should "shove it down his throat."


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.'"

Thompson the Lobbyist

David Sirota has a good post up about how the media is overlooking Fred Thompson's lucrative stint as a lobbyist. In a profile of the possible presidential candidate yesterday, the New York Times mentioned that during the eighteen year gap between working as a Congressional staffer and winning a Senate seat in 1994, Thompson "took on some lobbying clients." Who those clients were and what the work entailed, goes unmentioned. It's a mere throwaway in the larger narrative of the Reagan Republican returning to save the GOP.

In case you were curious, Thompson represented Westinghouse and General Electric in the deregulation of the savings and loan industry, which eventually led to the S&L crisis of the 1980s. After leaving the Senate in 2002, he was paid $760,000 to protect the British reinsurance company Equitas from asbestos claims. He registered to represent foreign clients such as deposed Haitian leader Jean Baptiste Aristide, Toyota and a German mining company.

Thompson's all-but-announced campaign has downplayed this history. "It being so far back, that's an awful undue pressure, burden for the senator to have to go dragging back through records," spokesman Mark Corallo (who recently worked for Karl Rove) told the Politico when asked to provide more information on Thompson's lobbying days. It may behoove his campaign to dust off those records. In 1994, Thompson's Democratic opponent, Congressman Jim Cooper, called him "a Gucci-wearing, Lincoln-driving, Perrier-drinking, Grey Poupon-spreading millionaire Washington special interest lobbyist." It's not hard to imagine a Republican rival saying nearly the same thing.

Murdoch to Buy Wall Street Journal?

Not content with its conservative media empire, Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp is making an ambitious bid to buy the Dow Jones Company and its prized product, the Wall Street Journal. NewsCorp is offering to buy at $60 a share, all cash, 65 percent above Dow Jones' closing price yesterday (which shot up $18.42 as news of the bid broke). Owning the WSJ, along with Barron's and Dow Jones Newswires would be a fantastic coup for NewsCorp, which is launching its rah-rah business channel later this year.

The deal has highly troubling implications. Murdoch is known for pushing his publications, such as the once-liberal New York Post, to the right. Under Murdoch's purview, would the news pages of the Wall Street Journal become more like its conservative editorial section?

Other potential bidders include the Washington Post Co, New York Times Co and Bloomberg LP. All three represent an improvement over the brains behind Fox News.

Mission Unaccomplished

It had taken much thought and planning that wartime May Day four years ago when George W. Bush co-piloted an S-3B Viking sub reconnaissance Naval jet onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. Scott Sforza, a former ABC producer, had "embedded" himself on that aircraft carrier days before the President landed. Along with Bob DeServi, a former NBC cameraman and lighting specialist, and Greg Jenkins, a former Fox News television producer, he had planned out every detail of the President's arrival -- as Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times put it then -- "even down to the members of the Lincoln crew arrayed in coordinated shirt colors over Mr. Bush's right shoulder and the ‘Mission Accomplished' banner placed to perfectly capture the president and the celebratory two words in a single shot. The speech was specifically timed for what image makers call ‘magic hour light,' which cast a golden glow on Mr. Bush."

Before the President could descend jauntily from that plane into the perfect light of a late spring afternoon, and onto what was essentially a movie set, the Abraham Lincoln, which had only recently hit Iraq with 1.6 million pounds of ordnance, had to be stopped just miles short of its home base in San Diego. No one wanted George W. Bush simply to clamber aboard.

Who could forget his Tom-Cruise-style "Top Gun swagger" across that deck -- so much commented on in the media in the following days -- to the carefully positioned podium where he gave his speech? It was to be the exclamation point on his invasion of choice and provide the first fabulous photos for his presidential campaign to come. Only two things about that moment, that speech, are remembered today -- that White House-produced "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him and his announcement, with a flourish, that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."

If his landing and speech are today remembered as a woeful moment, an embarrassment, if those fabulous photos never made it into campaign 2004, that was, in part, because of another event -- a minor headline -- that very same May day: Halfway around the world, soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, occupying an elementary school in Fallujah, fired on a crowd of angry Iraqi demonstrators. Perhaps 15 Iraqis died and more were wounded. Two days later, in a second clash, two more Iraqis would die.

On CNN's website the day after the President's landing, the main headline read: "Bush calls end to ‘major combat.'" But there was that smaller, secondary headline as well: "U.S. Central Command: Seven hurt in Fallujah grenade attack." Two grenades had been tossed into a U.S. military compound, leaving seven American soldiers slightly injured.

In the months to follow, those two headlines would jostle for dominance, a struggle now long over. Before May 1, 2004 ever rolled around, "mission accomplished" would be a scarlet phrase of shame, useful only to critics of the administration. By that one-year anniversary, Fallujah had morphed into a resistant city that had withstood an assault by the Marines. In November 2004, it would be largely destroyed by American firepower without ever being subdued. Now, the already failed American method of turning largely destroyed Fallujah into a giant "gated" prison camp for its residents is being applied to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, where huge walls are slated to rise around 10 or more recalcitrant neighborhoods as part of the President's Baghdad Security Plan, or "surge."

Four years later, casualty figures are so terrible in Iraq that the government, locked inside the Green Zone in the capital, has, for the first time, refused to reveal the monthly figures to the United Nations, though figures do show a continuing epidemic of assassinations of Iraqi academics and of torture of prisoners, a steep rise in deaths among policemen, and a rise in "honor killings" of women by their own families. Four years later, those few "slightly injured" men of the 82nd Airborne Division have morphed into last week's 9 dead and 20 wounded from a double-truck-bomb suicide attack on one of that division's outposts in Diyala Province; over 100 Americans were killed in the month of April alone; 3,350 Americans in all (not including hundreds of "private security contractors").

Four years later, the American military has claimed dramatic success in reducing a wave of sectarian killings in the capital -- but only by leaving out of its count the dead from Sunni car/truck/motorcycle-bomb and other suicide-bomb attacks; with over 100 car bombings last month, and similar figures for this one, Sunni militants are outsurging the U.S. surge in Baghdad, making "a mockery of the US and Iraqi security plan," according to BBC reporter Andrew North.

Four years later, not only has the Bush administration's "reconstruction" of the country been a record of endless uncompleted or ill-completed projects and massive overpayments, not to speak of financial thievery, but even the projects once proclaimed "successes" turn out, according to inspectors from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, to be disasters "no longer operating as planned"; the biggest business boom in a country in which unemployment is sky-high may be "a run on concrete barriers" for security, which are so in demand that sometimes they "are not fully dry when military engineering units pick them up"; electricity availability and potable water supplies are worse than ever; childhood malnutrition is on the rise; no one even mentions Iraqi oil production which remains well below the worst days of Saddam Hussein and billions of dollars of which are being siphoned off onto the black market.

Four years later, U.S. prisons, one of the few reconstruction success stories in Iraq, are chock-a-block full, holding 18,000 or more Iraqis in what are essentially terrorist-producing factories; Iraq has the worst refugee problem (internal and external) on the planet with perhaps 4 million people in a population of 25 million already displaced from their homes (202 of whom were admitted to the United States in 2006); the Iraqi government inside the Green Zone does not fully control a single province of the country, while its legislators are planning to take a two-month summer "vacation"; a State Department report on terrorism just released shows a rise of 25% in terrorist attacks globally, and 45% of these attacks were in Iraq; 80% of Iraqis oppose the U.S. presence in their country; 64% of Americans now want a timetable for a 2008 withdrawal; and the President's approval rating fell to its lowest point, 28%, in the most recent Harris poll, which had the Vice President at a similarly record-setting 25%.

During this grueling, destructive downward spiral through the very gates of hell, whose end is not faintly in sight, the administration's war words and imagery have, unsurprisingly, undergone continual change as well. In the course of these last years, the "turning points," "tipping points," "milestones," and "landmarks" on the road to Iraqi democracy and freedom have turned into modest marks on surveyor's yardsticks ("benchmarks"), not one of which can be met by the woeful Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The "magic hour light" of May 2003 has disappeared, along with those glorious photos from the deck of the carrier. The sort of descriptions you see today, as in a recent David Ignatius column in the Washington Post, sound more like this: "Republicans voice the bitterness and frustration of people chained to the hull of a sinking ship." (The USS George W. Bush, undoubtedly.) Oh, and the President and what's left of his tattered administration have stopped filming on a Top Gun-style movie set and seem now to be intent on remaking The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

This White House has plunged Iraq and the world into the geopolitical equivalent of a blood-and-gore exploitation film that simply won't end. Call that "Mission Accomplished"!

"Tell Them We Blew It"

The rest of the world does not hate the United States. For the most part, other countries and their peoples are extraordinarily generous and supportive of the U.S., even if they may object to our president and his military misadventures.

Yet, if the rest of the world does not hate us, surely they must have a hard time figuring this country out.

After Hurricane Katrina struck in the late summer of 2OO5, countries around the world rushed to aid the U.S. In all, they offered more than $854 million in cash and oil supplies that were to be sold to raise money for the relief efforts.

Now, the better part of two years later, only about $4O million has been spent to aid disaster victims and their communities.

The vast majority of aid offers were turned down, even though they came with no strings attached and clearly were needed -- as the U.S. government still has not restored New Orleans and other storm-damaged communities, and still has not gotten hundreds of thousands of dislocated men, women and children home.

Worse yet, according to documents obtained by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington [CREW] watchdog group, aid that arrived went to waste.

Among to records obtained by CREW, State Department officials debated among themselves about whether to tell the Italian government that shipments of medicine and other supplies that had gotten through to the southeastern United States, were left to spoil in the elements.

Finally, one official said, "Tell them we blew it."

That's an understatement.

It is no secret that the Bush administration, with its war in Iraq, its neglect of crises in the Middle East and its rigid free-trade policies squandered enormous international good will after the September 11, 2OO1, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

But there was still enough good will to attract almost $1 billion in aid offers after Hurricane Katrina struck.

Unfortunately, Bush and his cronies squandered that, too.

Human Rights at Wal-Mart

How appropriate, this May Day, that Human Rights Watch has just released "Discounting Human Rights: Wal-Mart's Violation of US Workers' Right to Freedom of Association," a detailed account of how Wal-Mart systematically violates its workers' right to organize. The right to freedom of association is, as the group notes, "well established under international human rights law," and the United States should be enforcing it. Our government has not been fulfilling this basic task, and as a result, our nation's largest private employer has also become a rogue union buster, whose practices are starkly at odds with any notion of workplace democracy.

Between 2004 and early 2007, Human Rights interviewed forty-one current and former Wal-Mart workers and managers (some of whom supported unionization, some were opposed and some ambivalent). The group also interviewed labor lawyers and union organizers, and analyzed the cases against Wal-Mart charging the company with violating US labor laws. Even adjusted for its size, the human rights group found, Wal-Mart stood out for the number of such violations. Between January 2000 and July 2005, fifteen National Labor Relations Board rulings against Wal-Mart are still standing and have not been overruled -- that is three times as many such rulings as Albertson's, Costco, Kmart, Kroger, Home Depot, Sears and Target combined. Put together, those companies have a workforce 26 percent bigger than Wal-Mart's.

The rights group found that the company begins to indoctrinate and intimidate workers with an anti-union message almost from the moment they are hired. In violation of international standards -- but not in violation of US law -- workers are encouraged to attend "captive audience" meetings in which they hear all the bad news about unions -- with little or no opportunity for union supporters and organizers to respond. In violation even of weak US laws, Wal-Mart spies on union supporters extensively, has fired workers for union organizing, and has told workers they would lose benefits if they supported a union.

The Human Rights Watch report correctly points out that the problems at Wal-Mart neither begin nor end with Wal-Mart. The retailer is, the authors explain, "a case study in what is wrong with US labor laws." Our laws don't meet international standards, and Wal-Mart doesn't even follow our pathetically minimal laws. US penalties are so light they provide no deterrent even for chronic violators. Human Rights Watch suggests some solid policy solutions. The report's authors don't suggest that Lee Scott and the rest of Wal-Mart's management spend some time breaking rocks on a Southern chain gang. That's what I'd call a proper deterrent! But they do, quite sensibly, rather than simply decrying the bad practices and calling on Wal-Mart to change its ways, suggest that Congress pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would increase penalties for breaking labor laws and restore some democracy to the union election process by requiring employers to recognize a union if a majority of workers sign union cards. That bill passed the House in March, and is now under consideration in the Senate.