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11th Hour, 11th Day, 11th Month

On the 11th hour of the 11th Day of the 11th month, the guns of World War I fell silent. And a war that should never have been fought – arguably by anyone, certainly by Americans – was done.

Americans who know their history celebrate Veterans Day not to honor war, but to recognize the soldiers who died and the soldiers who survived the wars of the past – and, hopefully, to ponder the futility of abandoning George Washington's advice to avoid the entangling alliances of distant continents and the mortal combats of the kings and conquerers who intrigues Americans rejected when the United States revolted against monarchy, colonialism and the madness of empire.

It is in that latter pondering that Americans would do well to recognize the courage of those who opposed the madness that was World War I, a courage born of a concern for America's troops that was not evidenced by their commander-in-chief.

Wisconsin Senator Robert M. La Follette, the great midwestern progressive leader of the first quarter of the American century, risked his political career to oppose World War I and to defend the free-speech rights of those who joined him in opposition.

La Follette rejected the arguments of President Woodrow Wilson as empty excuses for plunging the sons of Wisconsin farmers and factory worker in a European war where they had no place and no cause.

Wilson, a petty Anglophile of the worst sort, told the American people that entering the Europe's war on the side of the British king was some kind of fight for democracy. But La Follette challenged that fantasy by noting that there was scant democracy in the British colonies of Ireland, Egypt and India. Detailing the cruelties and bigotries of British colonialism, he condemned Wilson for seeking to "inflame the mind of our people into the frenzy of war."

Unfortunately, the frenzy of war won out. La Follette was one of just six senators to oppose the declaration of war that would send 166,516 Americans to their deaths and leave 204002 severely wounded. In the House, 50 members who opposed the declaration, including its sole woman member, Montana Republican Jeannette Rankin, who famously declared, "I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war. I vote no."

For their opposition, La Follette, Rankin and their allies were branded traitors.

But La Follette knew the people were with him. He often recalled that, of all the letters he received during 19 years as a senator, more than a third came during the relatively short course of the war and they ran 60-1 in his favor. Four years after the war was done, Wisconsinites reelected La Follette to the Senate by a record margin.

Six years after the war's finish, 4.8 million Americans cast ballots for the ticket of La Follette and his fellow critic of the World War I war profiteers, Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler, in the 1924 presidential race.

Along with the votes of his fellow Americans – which meant the most to the great democrat – La Follette would receive vindication from history.

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who celebrated La Follette's opposition to World War I as a profile in courage, would tell historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. that Wilson's scheming to pull the United States into World War I merited placing Wilson low on any list of American president.

Surely, George W. Bush will rank lower.

A president has no greater responsibility than that of assuring that the men and women of the U.s. military are called to duty only when absolutely necessary. Wilson failed in that duty 90 years ago, just as Bush fails today. That is the painful truth of this Veteran's Day. But it is a truth that must never obscure our regard for the soldiers who serve and suffer in this country's name.

So, on this anniversary of that distant 11th day of that distant 11th month, let us honor all the dead of all America's wars. Let us honor the living by bringing the soldiers who are mired in the quagmire that is Iraq home from a Middle Eastern civil war in which they have no place and no cause. And let us honor those anti-war Americans who today display the courage, the wisdom and the sincere concern for the troops and the country they serve that was so well evidenced Robert M. La Follette nine decades ago.

Norman Mailer--The Good Father

My mother and Norman Mailer were longtime friends. So it made sense that Betsy Mailer and I were roommates in our first year of college. On the big moving day, out of NYC to Princeton, Norman and Norris (Betsy's stepmother) and my mother Jean rented a car, packed us up and drove us the hour or so down the Jersey turnpike. It was an uneventful trip, though I think we all groaned and held our noses driving through the chemical smells of Elizabeth, NJ.

When we got to the campus, I'll never forget Norman Mailer-- great American writer, world class rabble rouser, pugilistic pensman--helping move stuff into our dorm room and chatting with parents who'd come from around the country for the big day. I remember thinking that most didn't seem to have a clue who he was. And Norman didn't seem to mind.

My mother, who wasn't chatting it up with the other parents, was wearing the biggest sunglasses I'd ever seen. And she kept sniffling and tearing up about my leaving home. Norman didn't have much patience with her...barking, at some point, "Jean, the kids have to get out of the house!" It was a loving bark. I didn't quite get it then, though I realized soon after that Norman was depositing his second child-- of eight of his brood/ kids at college. My mother stopped sniffling. Eventually, after we all had a meal in town, the parents took off back down the turnpike.

Betsy and I enjoyed the craziness of first year at college--without parents. I don't think Norman and Norris ever came back to Princeton, except for graduation, though I may be wrong. I know my mother never made it back down, except for another round of sunglasses and tears at graduation five years later (I didn't get out of there in 4 years-- deciding, instead, to take a year off to intern at The Nation.)

Many will celebrate the work of Norman Mailer--as it should and must be. But I keep thinking of Mailer, the Good Father, moving books and stuff into his daughter's dorm room on her first day of college in Fall 1977.

Norman Mailer: He Went Down Swinging

There is much, much to be said of Norman Mailer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and world-class rabble-rouser who died Saturday at age 84.

But the pugilistic pensman would perhaps be most pleased to have it known that he went down swinging. The chronicler of our politics and protests in the 1960s with two of the era's definitional books--1968's Armies of the Night and Miami and the Siege of Chicago, did not rest on the laurels--and they were legion--earned for exposing the dark undersides of the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

He went after George Bush with a fury, and a precision, that was born of his faith that all politicians--including 1969 New York City mayoral candidate Norman Mailer - had to be viewed skeptically. And, when found to be lacking, had to be dealt with using all tools available to a writer who had pocketed two Pulitzers, a National Book Award, a George Polk Award, a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation and a global prominence rarely accorded the pushers of pens.

Mailer did not hesitate to suggest that Bush and his compatriots were setting up "a pre-fascistic atmosphere in America" and he saw the war in Iraq as an imperialistic endeavor destined--as all such attempts are--to diminish democracy at home.

"Iraq is the excuse for moving in an imperial direction," Mailer wrote on the eve of the conflict. "War with Iraq, as they originally conceived it, would be a quick, dramatic step that would enable them to control the Near East as a powerful base -- not least because of the oil there, as well as the water supplies from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers--to build a world empire."

Mailer recognized in the president's schoolboy militarism the most dangerous of instincts. So it was that, when Bush made his 2003 appearance in flight-suit drag before a sign declaring "Mission Accomplished" as part of the first--though certainly not the last--celebration of the fantasy of "victory" in Iraq, Mailer responded with a critique that remains the most damning assessment of a president who has known more than his share of damnation.

"Democracy, more than any other political system, depends on a modicum of honesty. Ultimately, it is much at the mercy of a leader who has never been embarrassed by himself," Mailer, who as a young Harvard graduate had served in the South Pacific during World War II, wrote of Bush at the close of a brilliant piece for The New York Review of Books. "What is to be said of a man who spent two years in the Air Force of the National Guard (as a way of not having to go to Vietnam) and proceeded--like many another spoiled and wealthy father's son--not to bother to show up for duty in his second year of service? Most of us have episodes in our youth that can cause us shame on reflection. It is a mark of maturation that we do not try to profit from our early lacks and vices but do our best to learn from them. Bush proceeded, however, to turn his declaration of the Iraqi campaign's end into a mighty fashion show. He chose--this overnight clone of Honest Abe--to arrive on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln on an S-3B Viking jet that came in with a dramatic tail-hook landing. The carrier was easily within helicopter range of San Diego but G.W. would not have been able to show himself in flight regalia, and so would not have been able to demonstrate how well he wore the uniform he had not honored. Jack Kennedy, a war hero, was always in civvies while he was commander in chief. So was General Eisenhower. George W. Bush, who might, if he had been entirely on his own, have made a world-class male model (since he never takes an awkward photograph), proceeded to tote the flight helmet and sport the flight suit. There he was for the photo-op looking like one more great guy among the great guys. Let us hope that our democracy will survive these nonstop foulings of the nest."

Mailer would continue protesting the foulings of the nest, on the streets of New York during the 2004 Republican National Coronation and with a pugilistic pen that pummeled the empire builders and their lesser stooges--asking pointedly in final years that paralleled Bush's "Patriot Acts" and an endless "war on terror": "What does it profit us if we gain extreme security and lose our democracy?"--until it was finally laid to rest on Saturday.

What's Next For 'ENDA With No Gender'?

Congressional democrats, civil rights groups and now the New York Times frame The Employment Non-Discrimination Act as an example of the politics of the possible. But an almost-definite Presidential veto makes it look like a convoluted example.

An ENDA bill to protect employees from sexual orientation discrimination passed the House Wednesday, after Tammy Baldwin's amendment to include protections for transgendered employees was debated but not voted on.

Expect the Senate to also keep transgendered people in the rhetoric but not the legislation. A press release yesterday by Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy pointed out that, "Today it's perfectly legal in most states to fire an employee because of sexual orientation or gender identity." Kennedy declared that, "America stands for justice for all" and "Congress must make clear that when we say 'all' we mean all."

The Senator's solution? To "extend the protection of Title VII [of the 1964 Civil Rights Act] to those who are victimized because of their sexual orientation."

His strategy follows fellow Massachusetts liberal Barney Frank. A longtime champion of GLBT rights, Frank originally wrote House legislation that included transgendered people but took that provision out when Labor Committee Chairman George Miller told him freshmen Democrats from districts that voted for Bush would never support it. "I wish we had the votes to ban all discrimination," Frank said on the House floor Wednesday. "But I will not act on my wishes irresponsibly."

But the committee's compromise has not made Republicans any less aghast. Of course, they can't quite come out and say it's okay to fire someone because they're gay. Which, as Frank noted, is progress in its own way.

"I first filed a bill 35 years ago to say that you couldn't fire someone because he was gay or she was a lesbian, and at the time people were very straightforward in their opposition," Frank recounted to members of the House. "Times have changed: It is no longer fashionable to say that you ought to be able to discriminate against someone based on his or her sexual orientation, so now we get other arguments."

Indeed, Republicans acted like Congress was on the verge of passing the "Mandatory Gay Marriage and Frivolous Lawsuit Act of 2007." Pennsylvania's Joseph Pitts warned in House debate that ENDA is a devious "component in a larger strategy," a "building block to overturn traditional marriage law." And when not implying that ending workplace discrimination for gay and lesbian employees will wreak havoc on heterosexual marriages everywhere, Republicans reverted to hoary whining about "burdensome litigation."

"This is frankly a trail lawyers dream," moaned Buck McKeon of California, warning bill implementation will be a nightmare for the rest of us.

President Bush, who has benefited from GOP voter mobilization efforts around state amendments to ban gay marriage, is not surprisingly on the same page. A White House statement gives the legally dubious argument that ENDA would statutorily recognize state sanctioned same-sex marriages and thereby conflict with the Federal Defense of Marriage Act.

So with those obstacles in mind, New York Democrat Jarrod Nadler argued on the House floor that now was the time to make a "principled stand" and include transgendered people while waiting for a Democratic President to make a bill law.

Protections for transgendered employees is hardly a symbolic issue. A letter to Congress signed by the NAACP, several unions and the Human Rights Campaign, a leading GLBT advocacy group, asserted it was "beyond dispute" that transgendered employees "face far more pervasive and severe bias in the workplace and society as a whole."

But after first opposing "ENDA without gender" those groups now support it. Human Rights Campaign reasons that House passage was historic and that if a bill including transgendered people had been defeated it would have been harder to pass the next time.

It sounds like a politcally sensible strategy from politically sensible progressives. The problem is that its one thing to tell GLBT advocates to compromise and quite another to to tell the Republican Party.

Karl Rove Slams Bloggers

Karl Rove ripped into liberal bloggers at a web politics conference this week, assailing the "angry kooks" on the "nutty fringe of political life" who have seized "inexpensive and easily accessible" platforms to upend public debate. Ever the strategist, Rove also emphasized that he is a "fan of many blogs." So how does he know which ones are good? Apparently blogs affiliated with the liberal netroots are the problem:

My point is not that liberals swear publicly more often than conservatives. That may be true, but that's not my point [...] It is that the netroots often argue from anger rather than reason, and too often, their object is personal release, not political persuasion.

 Several people have pointed out the blatant hypocrisy here. Rove is famous for a political career built on the most vitriolic, angry and immoral approach to public affairs. He is an equal opportunity slander operative, smearing John Kerry and Ann Richards with the same intensity as he sabotaged conservative "allies" like John McCain and John DiIulio. But dealing with Rove, there's a political lesson here too.

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Karl Rove poses with bloggers at Yahoo's "The Rise of Citizen 2.0" conference on Thursday. Photo credit: Clay Johnson.

Rove's attack fits with the Republicans' long-term strategy to discredit the netroots, marginalize bloggers and pressure Democratic politicians to avoid their own web activists. The idea is to blunt the obvious fundraising, organizing and energizing benefits of liberal web activism by isolating it from Democratic leadership and the progressive establishment in general. That is why Republicans aim to morph liberal Internet activism into a "scandal" whenever possible, from random blog comments to the MoveOn Petraus ad to the feigned outrage over John Edwards' campaign bloggers. In fact, the Edwards dust-up in February traces Rove's new attack quite closely. A Republican operative famous for unethical hardball (Bill Donahue) hypocritically attacks the "vitriol" of bloggers, focusing exclusively on liberals in order to pressure naive Democrats -- not improve public discourse. Then important people grow very "concerned" about an outbreak of "dirty politics" on the left. In February, the bloggers resigned from the campaign; this week, Rove is pushing a broader narrative for the media, not trying to actually get a specific person fired. (For more details, see the Nation comment I wrote about the incident at the time.)

But the real question is whether any Democrats (or reporters) will naively take another self-interested Republican attack at face value. Rove is simply attacking liberal bloggers because they are effective. Deep down, he might even admire their aggressive approach to politics. Ironically, that would be another thing he does not have in common with many Democratic leaders.

UPDATE: Washingtonian reports that during the conference Rove also IM'd with MoveOn.org Washington Director Tom Matzzie, whom he criticized during his remarks: "This is rove and I did take your name in vain [...] Have enjoyed listening to your calls!" 
 It's not clear if Rove was joking about domestic surveillance, referring to MoveOn's political autocalls, or something else.

Shame on Clinton, Obama, Dodd & Biden for Skipping AG Vote

Michael Mukasey was confirmed late Thursday by the U.S. Senate to serve as the nation's 81st Attorney General. This means that, despite the fact refused to commit during the course of his confirmation hearings to abide by the Constitution or to hold the president accountable to the rule of law, the former federal judge will now serve as the country's chief law enforcement officer.

Mukasey's nomination was cinched when two Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, New York Senator Chuck Schumer and California Senator Dianne Feinstein, decided to accept the nominee's assurance that he would respect a law specifically banning the torture tactic of waterboarding. The assurance was meaningless, as Congress is unlikely to pass such a law and President Bush would veto it.

But, as bad as Schumer and Feinstein's votes may have been, at least they cast them when the Mukasey nomination came to the Senate floor.

That's better than can be said for New York Senator Hillary Clinton, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd and Delaware Senator Joe Biden, the four members of the chamber who are seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Clinton, Obama, Dodd and Biden, all of whom had been critical of the Mukasey nomination, chose to keep campaigning rather than to honor their responsibility to approve or reject presidential appointments.

Running for president is, to be sure, a big deal. Candidates who happen to be members of the Congress probably cannot be expected to show up for every vote -- although Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul do a remarkably good job of it.

But the debate about who will be the Attorney General of the United States ought to merit a brief turn off the campaign trail.

As it was, Democrats could muster just 40 votes against Mukasey. A united front of Republicans, joined by the Democratic indefensibles Schumer, Feinstein, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Tom Carper of Delaware, Mary Landrieu or Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and the always-in-his-own-category Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

Had the Democratic presidential candidates bothered to show up, the Senate could have registered greater opposition to Mukasey than to any of the president's major Cabinet or Supreme Court nominees -- with at least 44 votes go against the president's pick. That would have sent a signal regarding the concerns raised not just on the torture issue but on the broader question of whether Mukasey will take any steps to reign in a lawless executive branch.

As it was, the new Attorney General was approved with less opposition than Democrats were able to muster for John Ashcroft (42 votes against) or Gonzales (36 votes against).

It is certainly true that votes against Mukasey would have been symbolic, as the nomination was going to be approved.

But in the tug of war between the executive and legislative branches, shows of strength are meaningful. It matters to send the right signal. Clinton, Obama, Dodd and Biden made it harder to send the right signal about the wrong pick for Attorney General. In so doing, they failed the Republic and the cause of Constitutional renewal that should be more important than any presidential campaign.

A Video Report From "Islamofascism Awareness Week"

During the week of October 21, far-right wing operative and former communist agitator David Horowitz deployed his allies to college campuses America to spout crude anti-Muslim invective and hype the threat of more terror attacks on the United States. Horowitz called this event "Islamofascism Awareness Week." Among his stable of campus speakers were noted Islam experts Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity.

"Islamofascism Awareness Week" was, from the beginning, little more than a marathon fashion show for the paranoid style. But it was not until Horowitz muscled his way onto the campus of his alma mater, Columbia University, on October 26 that his event attained the commanding heights of reactionary hysteria.

Pacing the stage like a drunken circus clown impersonating some bygone demagogue, and standing beneath a massive image of a woman being shot in the head, Horowitz launched into a long, frenetic rant about his own persecution at the hands of a shadowy liberal conspiracy.

Though Horowitz devoted portions of his tirade to attacks on the Muslim Students Association, which he sought to paint as a front for virtually every Islamist group that strikes fear in the heart of his culturally deprived conservative peanut gallery, he seemed more comfortable lashing out at his perceived oppressors -- liberal professors, leftists, and the Democratic party -- than he did at any so-called "Islamofascists."

When I asked Horowitz about his weird comparison of his own father to 9/11 mastermind Mohammed Atta in his book, "The End of Time," his hysteria peaked. My question provoked him to link Jerry Falwell, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and "Jerry Springer and all his guests" together in a plot to bring social justice to the world "at the point of a gun."

Listening to Horowitz was like being trapped in a subway car with a raving derelict for an hour and a half. But unlike in the subway, where the transit police usually arrive to remove the derelict, the police came to Columbia to protect Horowitz from the non-existent security threat he had invoked in fundraising appeals for days leading up to his speech.

Horowitz's performance had to be seen to be believed. Luckily, despite being forbidden to film by the president of the Columbia University College Republicans, my co-producer, Thomas Shomaker, and I managed to smuggle a camera into Horowitz's speech and record it all.

Take a look at our latest video, "The Demons of David Horowitz."

Terror Watchlist Membership Really Taking Off

Congress is, gradually, dealing with the consequences of a federal terrorist watchlist that in four years has swelled to 860,000 records. Today, New York Democrat Yvette Clark proposed the Fair, Secure and Timely Redress Act of 2007 that would provide a "one-stop shop" for U.S. citizens erroneously put on the burgeoning watchlist.

"There is now a single, comprehensive terrorist watch list," Clarke reasoned at a Capitol Hill press conference today. "So it only makes sense to have a comprehensive 'clear' list." The bill. expected to be co-sponsored by House Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, would require the Department of Homeland Security to develop a consolidated database of people who have been mistakenly put on the list.

Whether Clarke's legislation is the right solution, recent government reports make clear that she is not dealing with an isolated problem. A Justice Department Inspector General's report found that of the 99,000 instances where a citizen crossing the border or boarding a plane matched a name on the Terrorist Screening Center's watchlist, 43 percent were cases of mistaken identity.

Of these "false positives" 16,000 have formally asked to be removed from the list and DHS, in concert with the Departments of State and Justice, has adjudicated 7,400 cases. Deciding that someone is, in fact, not a terrorist or associated with a terrorist takes an average of 67 days. According to the Inspector General's report, the Department has yet to define a reasonable timeframe for dealing with these redresses.

Handling complaints, however, is only the tip of the iceberg in dealing with a database that has gotten out of hand. DHS accepted the inspector general's assertion that the screening center lacks a procedure to monitor the accuracy of watchlist records or the ability to review the database and subsequently remove names.

The Department also accepted criticism by a Government Accountability Office report that, "The government lacks an up-to-date strategy and implementation plan-supported by clearly defined leadership or governance stucture-for enhancing the effectiveness of terrorist screening, consistent with presidential directives." In other words, no one knows how to use the data.

But the question of whether government can ever create an effective database that doesn't cause civil liberties violations and severe headaches remains taboo. Kathleen Kraninger, Director of the Screening Coordination Office at DHS, concluded that the watchlist has been part of successfully preventing a post-9/11 terrorist attack and, well, you can't prove her wrong.

And at a hearing today, Indiana Republican Mark Souder grew visibly nervous when problems surrounding the watchlist were being discussed a little too in-depth. "Asking how we might get the watchlist fixed is something that maybe shouldn't be done in a public forum," Souder argued. "We might be giving tips."

Souder was referring to aiding terrorists but hopefully the hearing and companion legislation will be less nefariously used to clean up a spiraling bureaucratic mess.

Peru Trade Bill: It's the Money, Stupid

In terms of economic consequences, the new trade agreement with Peru istrivial. In political terms, however, it delivers an ominous message.When faced with a choice between money and their own rank-and-file, theDemocratic leaders in the House will go with the money, even if itrequires them to pass legislation with Republican votes. Even if amajority of their own caucus is opposed. Even if it means handing theshrinking president, George W. Bush, a rare legislative victory.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled it off today at considerable costto her own reputation. How different are the new Dems in Congress? Notvery, it seems. That is a reasonable interpretation of events and theSpeaker is now stuck with the burden of disproving it.

Pelosi's lieutenants "whipped" the party caucus energetically and didbetter than expected--109 Dems voting for the Peru trade bill, 116 Demsagainst.

But Pelosi still winds up looking like the great triangulator, BillClinton, who managed to pass important trade measures like NAFTA only byrelying on Republican votes over his own party. Pelosi will come toregret the comparison, I suspect, because it suggests she is unreliableas a party leader, at least if you thought Democrats were going tochange things. On the Peru vote, she played big-money contributors andthe opposition party against her own troops. Clinton used to do thisbrilliantly with lots of soulful rhetoric extolling his own courage.Pelosi and team are not so adept.

Why would she depart from her usual form? After all, Pelosi normallywon't bring an issue to the House floor unless assured of overwhelmingconsensus among her members.

Her explanation: "I don't want this party to be viewed as an anti-tradeparty." That is the same simple-minded non sequitur the multinationalestablishment always invoke to scold Democrats. None of the Democraticdissenters are arguing for "no trade." They are trying to change therules of trade so US workers are not the first victims of newagreements. Pelosi argued that the Peru agreement includes an importantreform--stronger language in support of labor and environmentalstandards--and it does. But is there perhaps another reason why shepushed so hard against her own caucus?

Steven R.Weisman of the New York Times gently suggested one. "Democratsfrom the prosperous areas of the East and West Coast have becomeespecially responsive, many Democrats say, to the desire of Wall Streetand the high technology, health, pharmaceutical and entertainmentindustries to expand their sales overseas," Weisman wrote. "Theseindustries have also become major Democratic contributors."

She did it for the money. That is a more plausible explanation thaninsider arguments over the fine print in an inconsequential new tradebill. The big-money sectors are anxious to squelch the new critics ofglobalization in Democratic ranks before they can gain momentum inCongress. Looking toward financing the 2008 elections, Pelosi chose tostand with the money guys and dismiss the political backlash againstglobalization building across the country. She is probably bettingpeople aren't paying attention to such trivial matters.

But I wouldn't count on that. She is liable to lose her bet as economicconditions worsen for folks in coming months. People are likely to getmore anxious and angry than they already are. One thing Democrats shouldnot try to tell voters in '08 is they are the party of change. Mightyield more yawns and snickers than votes.