"Two months ago, the special election race in the 2nd Congressional District, which stretches across seven southern Ohio counties, was expected to be a low-key affair, a near-automatic win for whichever republican candidate emerged from the June 14 GOP primary," the local newspaper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, noted on Tuesday. "After all, the previous congressman, Republican Rob Portman, routinely won the district with more than 70 percent of the vote."
In fact, Portman, who was plucked from the southern-Ohio district by President Bush to serve as the US Trade Representative, won all of his seven campaigns for the seat with more than 72 percent of the vote. The district had been so radically gerrymandered by Republican governors and legislators that it was all-but-unimaginable that a Democrat could ever be competitive there.
But, in Tuesday night, Democrat Paul Hackett almost did just that. Hackett's near-win came after a remarkable campaign in which he blunted Republican efforts to exploit national security issues and provided food for thought for Democrats as they prepare for 2006 Congressional races nationwide.
Republican Jean Schmidt, a feverish foe of reproductive rights who used her links to religious right activists to beat more mainstream Republicans and secure the party's nomination for the open seat, was leading Hackett, a smart, telegenic Iraq War veteran who criticized the Bush administration for leading the country into the war and then mishandling it, by an unexpectedly thin margin of just 3,573 votes. Unofficial returns gave Schmidt 59,095 votes (51.7 percent) to 55,091 votes (48.3 percent) for Hackett.
Remarkably, in a district that favored George W. Bush over John Kerry by almost a 2-1 margin in 2004, Hackett won four of seven counties and only narrowly lost the most populous county, Hamilton. Only an overwhelming vote for Schmidt from her home county, Clermont, secured the district for the Republican.
Hackett might well have pulled the ultimate upset had he not been "swiftboated" by Republican operatives and right-wing talk radio hosts in the final days of the campaign. Even nationally-syndicated hosts such as Rush Limbaugh devoted time to attacking Hackett's military record, patriotism and sincerity.
Despite the battering from right-wing media, and despite being overwhelmingly outspent, Hackett achieved the best Democratic showing in the region since the Watergate election of 1974. Indeed, on Wednesday morning, the Enquirer referred to the Democrat's showing as "nothing short of astounding."
This was not a simple Democratic surge. Hackett, a lawyer and former local elected official who entered the race at the last minute, proved to be a masterful candidate. But that does not mean that there are no lessons to be learned from this near upset.For one thing, Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean's "50 state strategy" -- which argues that Democrats should compete hard in contests that had previously been ceded to the Democrats -- makes a lot of sense when the opposition party can find smart, edgy candidates who are willing to break political rules.Hackett was just such a candidate.
The Marine Reserve major who volunteered to serve in Iraq did not hesitate to trumpet his military, but he was also blunt about his feelings regarding the commander-in-chief. Calling the president the greatest threat to the safety and security of Americans, Hackett said of Bush during the campaign: "I've said that I don't like the son-of-a-bitch that lives in the White House but I'd put my life on the line for him."
In a sense, that's exactly what Hackett did, re-enlisting in the Marines in 2004 and then serving in the high-profile fight for the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.In a pre-election interview with USA Today shortly before the election, Hackett rebuked Bush for his swaggering 2003 declaration regarding the Iraqi insurgents that: "There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on."
"That's the most incredibly stupid comment I've ever heard a president of the United States make," Hackett told the interviewer. "He cheered on the enemy."Hackett also referred to Republican supporters of the war who had not served in the military as "chickenhawks."
Serious Democratic candidates have rarely been so blunt regarding the president's shoot-from-the-lip management style. But Hackett's willingness to take Bush on, as well as his own compelling story, played well in the special-election contest.No, not well enough to win.
But certainly well enough to position Hackett for a run against Schmidt in 2006 -- and certainly enough to encourage other Democratic contenders to take the gloves off. It is true that not every challenger will have the military credentials that Hackett brought to the Ohio contest. It should be noted, however, that a number of veterans are expected to run for the House in 2006 as Democrats, including another Marine, David Ashe, who came close to winning an open Virginia seat in 2004.
Readers of The Nation online are used to hearing about Wal-Mart. In fact, it tends to be one of those subjects that we can't do enough on. We've been strongly supportive of efforts to pressure the world's wealthiest company to raise wages and alter business practices that are significantly increasing low-wage dead-end, benefit-less jobs. We've organized a public debate, shown on CSPAN and streamed on the web, against The Economist magazine about Wal-Mart. We've even started a regular Nation web feature called Wal-Mart Nation by Liza Featherstone.
So we're very excited about the potential of Robert Greenwald's new documentary, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, to pump up the volume on what's wrong with the retail giant and why.
The film looks to be a powerful, emotional and entertaining way to help trigger change in the way the company conducts business in the US and across the globe. The only way the film can have an impact, though, is if lots of people help spread the word. The best way is by hosting your own screening of the movie. Click here if you're interested in learning more about the possibilities of staging an event yourself. (Just pick a day that is likely to be most convenient. You won't be bound to it! Don't worry about the details yet--Greenwald's office will be in touch with you as November draws closer.) And click here to check out the film trailer.
There are three other ways you can help:
Not sure you want to host an event? No problem. But reserve your spot at a screening, and make sure you're given first priority at getting into one near you this November. Click here to RSVP.
Always wanted to get into showbiz? Here's your chance! Sign up to be a Field Producer for the Wal-Mart movie. FP's do a variety of things. Click here for info.
The last way to help is simply by emailing this post to your friends, family, co-workers...anyone who you know who might want to be part of this exciting grassroots network dedicated to exposing the truth about Wal-Mart's causes and effects.
With your support, we can help give the movie a citizens' premiere that will blow the lid off traditional film distribution, and fuel the national debate raging about the high cost of Wal-Mart's "low prices."
Bonus Link: Another new anti-Wal-Mart action is being launched by American Rights at Work. The group's new website spotlights the retail giant's unfair practices in the workplace while also providing a platform for activists to communicate and coordinate their opposition to the company's anti-union behavior. There's also a nationwide petition to which you can add your name.
Finally, click here to peruse a comprehensive collection of "Wal-Mart Watchdogs and Activists."
When the United States sought to be a true world leader, as opposed to a petulant global bully, this country's seat at the United Nations was occupied by great men and women. Consider just some of the amazing figures who have served as U.S. ambassadors to the international body: former Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., two-time presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, former Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton, former civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman Andrew Young, academics and public intellectuals Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jean Kirkpatrick, Madeine Albright and Richard Holbrooke, former State Department aide and New Mexico Congressman Bill Richardson, former Missouri Senator John Danforth.
These ambassdors came from different parties and from different ideological backgrounds, they had different styles and different goals, but they had one thing in common: They served with the broad support of official Washington and the American people. When they spoke, they spoke for America. And they did so in a tradition of U.S. regard for the mission of the UN, which was perhaps best expressed by an American who served for three decades as a key player in the world council, Ralph Bunche. "The United Nations," said Bunche, "is our one great hope for a peaceful and free world."
To make that hope real, U.S. ambassadors had to be both strong and pragmatic advocates for the best interests of their own country and visionaries who recognized that all United Nations member states merited at least a measure of diplomatic regard. As Adlai Stevenson, who capped a brilliant career in American politics by representing his country at the UN during some of the hottest years of the Cold War, explained, "The whole basis of the United Nations is the right of all nations--great or small--to have weight, to have a vote, to be attended to, to be a part of the twentieth century."
Needless to say, John Bolton has never expressed any sentiment regarding international affairs or the United Nations so well or wisely as Stevenson. Bolton is a hack politician, a career retainer of the Bush family who is famous for nothing so much as his disrespect for the diplomacy and international cooperation in general, and for the United Nations in particular.
So creepy has been Bolton's partisanship -- he was a prime player in moves to shut down the recount of Florida votes following the disputed 2000 presidential election -- and so crude has been his behavior that thoughtful Republicans such as Ohio Senator George Voinovich determined that the nominee would not be an appropriate representative of the United States.But President Bush has forced Bolton on the U.S. and the UN, making a recess appointment that places his controversial nominee in the same position once occupied by Lodge, Stevenson and Moynihan.
Bolton will serve differently than his predecessors. For one thing, he is neither the intellectual nor the emotional equal of those who came before him. For another, he will be seen as a representative only of the Bush White House -- not of the United States or its people.
At a time when the United States should be a full and active participant in the United Nations, it will instead be marginalized force -- an embarrassed land represented by one its most embarrassing sons.
U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been a leading advocate for bipartisan approaches to foreign policy, spoke well for America -- and for this country's shattered tradition of respect for the UN -- when he said on the day of the recess appointment: "Mr. Bolton is fundamentally unsuited for the job, and his record reveals a truly disturbing intolerance of dissent. Mr. Bolton did not win the support of a majority of members of the Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate refused to make a final decision on this nomination pending review of documents that the Administration declined to provide in blatant disregard for the Senate's constitutional rights and responsibilities. But despite all of the warning signs and all of the red flags, the President has taken this extraordinary step to send a polarizing figure with tattered credibility to represent us at the United Nations. At a time when we need to be doing our very best to mend frayed relationships, encourage real burden-sharing, and nurture a rock-solid international coalition to fight terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the American people deserve better than John Bolton."
John Nichols's new book is Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books). Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com
Even his supporters acknowledged that former U.S. Rep. Christopher Cox was a controversial nominee to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission. A former corporate lawyer who had collected millions of dollars from business interests, wealthy CEOS and some of the country's most prominent stock-market manipulators during eight campaigns for the House, Cox arrived with precisely the wrong resume for the head of an agency that is supposed to regulate the corporate sector and Wall Street. As such, his nomination represented a presidential poke in the eye to workers seeking protection of their pensions, small investors worried about being defrauded and consumers.
Of course, conservative Republicans in the Senate were enthused about Cox's nomination. After all, the California Republican was a key player on the supply-side economic team, someone who had in the House sponsored legislation designed to make it harder for shareholders to sue corporations that engage in scandalous practices. He has, as well, been one of the Congress's most ardent defenders of "creative bookkeeping" by the nation's top corporations -- supporting schemes such as the one that allowed corporations that pay employees with stock options to avoid reporting those payments as expenses against their bottom lines.
But how could responsible Republican, Democratic and independent members of the Senate ever approve an SEC nominee who, when he was a securities lawyer in the 1980s, worked for First Pension Corp., a company that was accused by the government of bilking investors, that was sued by the SEC for fraudulent activity and that saw its founder plead guilty to charges of felony wrongdoing? How could any member of the Senate who was not completely in the pocket of the securities industry vote for a nominee who the watchdog group Public Citizen described as "a defender of corporate interests whose legislative record indicates he would not protect investors if he were confirmed"?
The answer to that question is: without so much a blink of the eye.
The Cox nomination sailed through the Senate Banking Committee in late July after the nominee promised to be "vigilant."
Then, as the Senate raced to finish business before the August recess, Cox was approved by a voice vote to take charge of what is supposed to one of the nation's premier regulatory agencies.
No one, not one Democrat, not one maverick Republican, not one honest conservative who cared enough about capitalism to stand up for small investors, bothered to ask for the recorded vote that might have at least told the fox he was being watched as he entered the henhouse.
If the United States had a Senate that actually took its advice and consent duties seriously, or if, and of course this is a very big "if," the country actually had an opposition party, a serious debate over the Cox nomination would have provided a golden opportunity to discuss the influence of money on not just politics but policy.
In the 70-year history of the SEC, Cox is the first member of Congress to be nominated to head the regulatory agency.As such, he is the first SEC chair who will find himself in the position of regulating companies that donated substantial amounts of money to his campaigns.
In 2004, Cox easily defeated a Democratic challenger, John L. Graham, who raised a sum total of $40 dollars for his campaign.Cox raised $1,120,427 and spent $1,038,914. The Republican collected $461,968 from business-linked political action committees for the campaign. Donors from the financial-services and insurance industries were the most generous to Cox, writing checks for a hefty $180,025. Lawyers and lobbyists, many of them tied to the financial-services industry, chipped in another $79,094.
That's a lot of money to take from folks who Cox now promises to vigilantly monitor and regulate. But the 2004 reports only give a small indication of the extent to which Cox relied on industries that are regulated by the SEC to finance his campaigns. During the course of his Congressional career, the new SEC chair collected $1,256,891 from the financial services and insurance industries -- with $632,289 coming from political action committees and $624,602 from individual donors. Cox got another $439,350 from lawyers and lobbyists.
The donors got what they paid for. According to Public Citizen, "On major legislation of interest to investors in recent years – the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and retirement investment protection matters – Cox cast only one vote out of 22 – 4.5 percent (of all votes cast) – in support of investors."
That should have caused the Senate pause.
Instead, Cox was approved without debate and without a recorded vote.
In a statement opposing the Cox nomination, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said, "The United States cannot afford to have an SEC chairman who doesn't put investors first. Given the recent corporate crime wave and the enormous financial losses that so many Americans have sustained because of corporate misdeeds, it is essential that the SEC be headed by someone who will look out for the average investor."
Claybrook was, of course, correct. But the way in which the Cox nomination was so casually approved points to an even more important observation: The United States cannot afford to have a Senate that doesn't put investors first. Given the recent corporate crime wave and the enormous financial losses that so many Americans have sustained because of corporate misdeeds, it is essential that the Senate be made up of members who will look out for the average investor.
At this point, the Senate is suffering from a severe, make that complete, shortage of such members.
This was supposed to be a Sweet Victory post. That's the weekly feature Sam Graham-Felsen and I started last fall. In those grim days after the election, we believed that one antidote to the political darkness was to shed some light on progressive wins--from legislative and electoral victories to successful organizing efforts, protests and boycotts, to the launching of promising new organizations or initiatives. We hoped these stories would serve not only as a source of information but as inspiration.
We plan to continue tracking these victories. And we hope you Nation readers will continue to send us tips about what you think we should be covering. (Click here to send suggestions.) But I have to confess that it was really tough to come up with a sweet victory in this last week of July 2005.
As a friend from DC wrote me late last night: "So this is the week from hell: the AFL-CIO splits, the DLC unveils Hillary as head of its American Dream new ideas committee (god forbid), to be followed by confirmation of Christopher Cox to head the SEC without a fight, passage of a big oil energy bill with massive giveaways to industry, including Halliburton, passage of CAFTA, with 15 Dems on board. Bush declares triumph; hailed as effective. Country takes it in ear. No wonder breathing the air here in DC is officially bad for your health....And as Congress heads to recess, both parties show what they are. Rs are disciplined and utterly corrupt, willing to hijack democracy for their own agenda, and wrongheaded. And Ds still in disarray, divided with too little fight in them."
Infuriating, depressing, yes. But though it's probably healthy to mourn a bit, it's also more important then ever to keep organizing and agitating in the days and weeks ahead. In that spirit, we'll keep highlighting big and small--but always sweet--victories worth celebrating.
A couple of months ago, with the help of terrific song suggestions from Nation readers, I put together a playlist for Dubya's iPod. Radiohead's Hail to the Thief, Green Day's American Idiot, Kid Rock's Pimp of the Nation, and REM's The End of the World, As We Know It, all made the Top Ten. Masters like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Frank Zappa (especially his The Torture Never Stops) were also at the top of many readers' lists.
The Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want, made it to the top fifty. Now, it seems, the band may be gunning for the top slot with its new single. Britain's New Musical Express reported last week that the next Stones album, slated for release this September, will include a track critical of the Bush gang's foreign policy. Sweet Neo-Con, according to the weekly, "is believed to be an attack on the politics of George Bush and the Republican Administraton." Virgin Records has been telling people the song has "a political message about moralism in the White House."
Jagger giving Dubya morality lessons. I like it. Sympathy for the Devil.
The Central American Free Trade Agreement, which was such a high priority for the Bush administration that the president personally lobbied Congressional Republicans on the issue Wednesday, passed the House by two votes.
Those two votes came from members who can best be described as "Bush Democrats."
The final vote on CAFTA was 217-215 in favor of the deal, the closest margin possible -- as a tie vote would have prevented approval.
Of the 217 supporters of the bill, 202 were Republicans and 15 were Democrats.
Of the 215 opponents of the bill, 187 were Democrats, 27 were Republicans and one was an independent, Vermont's Bernie Sanders.
The Republicans who split with the president withstood immense pressure from the White House and corporate lobbyists in order to take a stand with the organized labor, environmental, farm and international human rights groups that opposed the agreement. They were so courageous and so consistent in their determination to block the president's agenda that, during the floor debate, Representative Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat who led opposition to CAFTA, specifically praised Republicans such as Idaho's Butch Otter and North Carolina's Walter Jones for their efforts.
On the other hand, the Democrats who supported Bush's agenda faced little or no pressure from the White House. Nor did they show anything akin to courage or consistency. They simply voted with the White House because, either they agree with the president's misguided approach to global trade or they thought they could trade their votes for big contributions from the corporate interests that see the NAFTA/CAFTA model of free trade as an opportunity to improve business bottom lines at the expense of workers, the environment and communities in the U.S. and Latin America.
Let's give the Bush Democrats the benefit of the doubt and accept that they actually support the corporate model for trade that Bush backs. This puts them at odds with mainstream Democrats on what can only be described as the most fundamental of economic issues -- as trade deals get into the core questions of whether American workers will have jobs, whether communities can maintain their industrial bases, whether government has the power to protect the environment, and whether the U.S. government will be a willing co-conspirator in the exploitation of men, women and children in developing countries.
So, unless they are crooks who trade their votes for campaign checks, the Bush Democrats are supporters of a corporate agenda that Representative Robert Menendez -- a New Jersey Democrat who has a long history of involvement with Latin American affairs -- explained during the CAFTA debate would harm U.S. workers and farmers while plunging Central American countries deeper into poverty and causing more Latin Americans to migrate to the U.S.
At the least, this suggests that the Bush Democrats -- Melissa Bean of Illinois, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Norm Dicks of Washington, Ruben Hinojosa of Texas, William Jefferson of Louisiana, Jim Matheson of Utah, Gregory Meeks of New York, Dennis Moore of Kansas, Jim Moran of Virginia, Solomon Ortiz of Texas, Ike Skelton of Missouri, Vic Snyder of Arkansas, John Tanner of Tennessee, and Edolphus Towns of New York -- are on the wrong side of history, and of humanity.
But does this one vote, necessarily, make them Bush Democrats?
Let's look at where they lined up on other economic issues that matter to the Bush White House?
When the so-called "bankruptcy reform" bill came up earlier this year, the White House and Wall Street favored a "yes" vote to make it harder for working Americans who get hit with a medical emergency or some other form of crisis to get back on their feet financially. Twelve of the pro-CAFTA Democrats -- Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Hinojosa, Jefferson, Matheson, Meeks, Moore, Moran, Ortiz, Skelton and Tanner -- voted with the White House.
On the so-called "tort-reform" legislation that passed the House earlier this year, and which will make it dramatically harder for individuals who are wronged by corporations to hold them accountable, nine of pro-CAFTA Democrats voted with the White House and Wall Street: Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Hinojosa, Matheson, Meeks, Moore, Moran and Tanner.
But what about other issues that are top White House priorities, such as the war in Iraq.
Of the pro-CAFTA Democrats, six backed the 2002 resolution authorizing Bush to go to war in Iraq: Dicks, Jefferson, Matheson, Moore, Skelton and Tanner, while another four were either not serving in the House or did not vote: Bean, Cooper, Cuellar and Ortiz.
When the House voted on California Democrat Lynn Woolsey's May, 2005 amendment that sought to begin taking steps to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, only Hinojosa, Jefferson, Meeks, Moran and Towns voted in favor of seeking an exit strategy. (On the question of whether to hand the Bush administration another $82 billion for the war, only Meeks and Towns voted for holding the White House accountable with regards to the war.)
So where does this leave us:
On fundamental economic issues, Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Hinojosa, Matheson, Meeks, Moore, Moran and Tanner are consistent Bush Democrats.
On a broader array of issues, Hinojosa, Meeks and Moran move off the list.
But it is safe to say that, whether the issue is peace or prosperity, Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Matheson, Moore and Tanner take the side of a White House that has consistently been at odds with both those goals.
Progressives in the labor, environmental, human rights, consumer and peace movements will have to decide where to draw the line -- either by withdrawing active support or by aggressively promoting Democratic primary or third-party general election challenges -- with regards to the Bush Democrats. Some will decide, as key unions already have, to withhold backing of the 15 House Democrats who backed CAFTA.
Others will focus their anger on the nine who, using measures suggested by activist and writer David Sirota, are the most consistent backers of Bush's corporations-first economic agenda.
It is notable that, of the six members who are with Bush when it comes to the economy and the war, Bean, Matheson and Moore come from swing districts where they are likely to be extremely vulnerable in the fall of 2006. Cooper, Cuellar and Tanner come from more decidedly Democratic districts where they might well be more vulnerable to Democratic primary challenges.
Of the rest of the pro-CAFTA 15, Dicks, Hinojosa, Jefferson, Meeks, Moran, Ortiz, Skelton, Snyder and Towns come from districts that trend Democratic -- although Skelton's Missouri district and Snyder's Arkansas district, could be swing turf.
By most measures, however, Dicks, Hinojosa, Jefferson, Meeks, Moran, Ortiz and Towns represent districts where an economic populist challenge in a Democrat primary could be significant.
The safe bet is that, in the next Congress, most of these members will still be present. But if even one or two Bush Democrats fall, either because of their CAFTA vote or because of a broader pattern of backing the White House on economic and foreign affairs issues, the president will have to look deeper into his own Republican caucus for support. He won't be able to rely on the Bush Democrats, as was the case with CAFTA.
Another part of the save-Rove cover story is not holding.
Once the Plame/CIA leak became big (mainstream-media) news in September 2003--when word hit that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak, which had appeared in a Bob Novak column two months earlier--friends of the White House, including Novak, started saying that Valerie Wilson wasn't really under cover at the CIA and, thus, the disclosure of her employment at the CIA wasn't worth a federal case (or investigation). They claimed that no big wrong had occurred, and this argument also conveniently offered any leaker a legal defense. Under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, a government official can only be prosecuted for disclosing information identifying a "covert agent" whose cover the United States government was taking steps to protect. White House allies asserted that while Valerie Wilson may have technically been a clandestine CIA official, in practice she wasn't. So all this bother over the leak was much ado about nothing.
Novak, for example, downplayed Valerie Wilson's covert status in an October 1, 2003 column, in which he vaguely described how he had originally learned of her connection to the CIA. He noted that after a senior administration official told him that Joseph Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, he called the CIA:
At the CIA, the official designated to talk to me denied that Wilson's wife had inspired his selection but said she was delegated to request his help. He asked me not to use her name, saying she probably never again will be given a foreign assignment but that exposure of her name might cause "difficulties" if she travels abroad. He never suggested to me that Wilson's wife or anybody else would be endangered. If he had, I would not have used her name. I used it in the sixth paragraph of my column because it looked like the missing explanation of an otherwise incredible choice by the CIA for its mission.
Bush-backers have cited this paragraph to argue that the CIA didn't do much to protect Valerie Wilson's cover. I've heard GOP lawyer Victoria Toensing, who helped draft the Intelligence Identities Act, claim that Novak's exchange with the CIA is proof that the CIA was not taking serious measures to preserve Wilson's cover--which means the law she helped concoct does not apply in the case of this leak.
Should Novak be taken at his word on this point? Until now, the public only knew of his side of his conversation with the CIA. But The Washington Post published a piece on Wednesday that provides the CIA's version of this exchange. And it is significantly different from Novak's account. The paper reports,
[Bill] Harlow, the former CIA spokesman, said in an interview yesterday that he testified last year before a grand jury about conversations he had with Novak at least three days before the column was published. He said he warned Novak, in the strongest terms he was permitted to use without revealing classified information, that Wilson's wife had not authorized the mission [to Niger taken by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson] and that if he did write about it, her name should not be revealed.
Harlow said that after Novak's call, he checked Plame's status and confirmed that she was an undercover operative. He said he called Novak back to repeat that the story Novak had related to him was wrong and that Plame's name should not be used. But he did not tell Novak directly that she was undercover because that was classified.
So how many contradictions can you find? Novak indicated he had one substantive conversation with a CIA official about Valerie Wilson and he received no clear signal that revealing her name would cause any significant trouble. Harlow said there were two conversations and that in each one he warned Novak about using her name. (Harlow also said he told Novak that Valerie Wilson had not authorized her husband's trip. Remember, several Rove defenders have maintained that when Rove spoke to Time's Matt Cooper--and told Cooper that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and had authorized his trip to Niger--he was merely trying to make sure that Cooper published an accurate account of what happened. Yet the CIA says she did not authorize this trip. Rove was feeding Cooper misleading information.)
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Rove and the Plame/CIA leak, Bill Frist's latest bone-headed move, and Oliver Stone.
Is Harlow telling the truth? Who, besides Novak and him, can know? But I do know that when I spoke to Harlow a year later and asked about the identity of another covert officer, Harlow would not confirm the person's covert status. How could he? That would be sharing classified information with a reporter. When Novak called, Harlow was in no position to say, "Hey, Bob, you're right, and she's an undercover officer. So please don't reveal her name." All he could have done was to toss out a no-comment (which Harlow was good at doing) or offer a vague warning.
Harlow's account--in which he tried to protect Valerie Wilson from the quick-to-out-her columnist--is as self-serving as Novak's. But it rings true. Am I saying this because of my own bias? Perhaps. But the key thing is that Novak's defense--the CIA didn't give me a strong enough signal--is now in dispute. No one can use Novak's October 1, 2003, column as evidence that Valerie Wilson was not truly a "covert agent."
In that article, Novak also declared that Valerie Wilson's position at the CIA was an open secret throughout the nation's capital. His source for this? Journalist-turned-Republican-operative Clifford May. Novak wrote:
How big a secret was it? It was well known around Washington that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. Republican activist Clifford May wrote Monday, in National Review Online, that he had been told of her identity by a non-government source before my column appeared and that it was common knowledge.
Indeed, May had written:
On July 14, Robert Novak wrote a column in the Post and other newspapers naming Mr. Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA operative.
That wasn't news to me. I had been told that--but not by anyone working in the White House. Rather, I learned it from someone who formerly worked in the government and he mentioned it in an offhanded manner, leading me to infer it was something that insiders were well aware of.
Appearing on Fox News Channel, May amplified this assertion:
"I knew this, and a lot of other people knew it...So I think it may be something of an open secret."
"Insiders" were well aware of Valerie Wilson's job at the CIA? "A lot of other people" knew it, too? In the time since May boasted of his access to this "inside" information, what other evidence has emerged that Valerie Wilson's CIA identity was widely know to "insiders" (whatever that means)? I'll answer that rhetorical question: none. Her neighbors have been quoted saying they did not realize she was a CIA employee. (Maybe these neighbors are not "insiders.") And in recent weeks, attorneys for Karl Rove and Scooter Libby have put out the story that neither one of them knew her name. So these "insiders" were not truly in the know. (Oddly--but, then again, perhaps not--May recently tried to turn tables and argue that I am the one who actually outed Valerie Wilson as an undercover CIA officer. First, he said everyone knew. Now he says only I did. It's hard to keep up.)
Novak and May's claim that Valerie Wilson's CIA position was an open secret known throughout Washington has not held up. Novak's claim that the CIA did not wave him off now stands contested. Will either one of them run a correction?
IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."
For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.
Last night, President Bush eked out a very narrow victory on his top trade priority, with the House of Representatives approving a free-trade agreement with Central American countries by just two votes. The House vote was held open for more than one hour to ensure passage. The final tally was 217 to 215.
The White House's victory on CAFTA was achieved through a combination of intense pressure and outright bribery to secure support for the measure, which fostered strong opposition from Democrats and Republicans. As Republican Representative C.L. "Butch" Otter, Republican of Idaho, told the Boston Globe today, GOP leaders promised pork-barrel spending and future legislation to undecided members, with a massive highway spending bill scheduled to be completed this week as a prime location for pet projects. "They're pulling out all the stops," Otter said. "They're either promising or threatening. They've done everything they could." (The Idaho rep. said he opposed CAFTA, despite personal lobbying from Bush at the White House.)
At least the GOP legislators were able to wrest unrelated bribes for their districts in return for their votes. That much cannot be said for the 15 so-called Democrats who voted for the pact and made passage possible.
As Jonathan Tasini writes in his excellent blog, The Working Life, "If we ever want to make politicians take us seriously when it comes to important laws touching the lives of workers, we must punish the 15 so-called Democrats who voted for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)--and punish them hard."
Click here to see who these 15 are and what to do to make clear to them your anger over their pro-CAFTA votes.
Let's be clear: Any member of Congress who votes for the Central American Free Trade Agreement has signaled their disregard for labor, environmental, farm, consumer and human rights groups that have spent the better part of a year actively opposing the Bush administration's attempt to create trade policies that favor only the interests of multinational corporations.
That goes for Republicans, for independents and, especially, for Democrats.
The Democratic party has relied heavily on labor support to win and hold competitive seats in the House, and its Democratic representatives cannot hide behind the excuses of White House pressure or political necessity that Republicans employ.
Yet, as a House vote on CAFTA approaches this week, at least six Democrats have announced their support for the deal and as many as a dozen others could still end up supporting it. With broad opposition from textile-state Republicans to the trade deal, Democratic unity against CAFTA can kill the deal. But if just a handful of Democrats side with the Bush agenda on trade, the deal could win approval by a narrow margin.
One of the Democrats who has endorsed CAFTA is Illinois Representative Melissa Bean, who last year took the seat of Republican veteran Phil Crane.
Bean could come to regret her decision. She won her 2004 race with strong support from unions, which contributed $235,000 to the effort. And she will been courting labor support for her reelection bid in 2006, when she will face a strong GOP challenge in a traditionally Republican district. Bean's fund-raising efforts have been assisted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) -- headed by Illinois Representative Rahm Emanuel, a militant advocate for the North American Free Trade Agreement when he served as an aide to then-President Bill Clinton. The DCCC has designated her as one of its so-called "Frontline" candidates. The "Frontline" initiative seeks to fill the campaign coffers of the ten House incumbents who are likely to face the toughest challenges from Republicans next year.
This week, however, leaders of some of the largest unions in the country have indicated that they will not be backing Frontline candidates who vote for CAFTA, and they are urging the DCCC to drop Frontline efforts for members who support the deal. Bean is identified by name in the letter, along with Representatives Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Dennis Moore, D-Kansas, both of whom have voted for free-trade pacts in the past and are seen as potential CAFTA backers.
The letter, which was sent to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Emanuel and other House Democratic leaders, declares that, "We recognize that the party and House Democrats are not homogeneous, that every member has a right to vote his or her conscience on all issues, including CAFTA. But this letter is to make it clear that we find it both objectionable and unacceptable that Leadership and the DCCC are pushing the Federation and individual affiliates to support vulnerable incumbents -- the so-called 'Frontline Candidates,' and some of these members are poised to desert labor on this core issue."
"This week," the letter continues, "three of those members who benefited from labor's substantial support, Melissa Bean, Jim Matheson and Dennis Moore, are either undecided on how they will vote on CAFTA or are leaning in the direction of supporting it. We expect that House Democratic Leadership will convey very strongly to all wavering Democrats, and particularly to Frontline Candidates, that voting for CAFTA against our strong, clear, and loud objections, would signal to the labor movement that those Frontline Candidates do not want our support."
In case there was any confusion about the letter's message, it closes with a declaration that, "Our work to help elect at-risk members, at your urging, will not extend to those who vote against us on this issue. As such, we hope that you will also convey to them that we believe those who receive our support have an obligation to vote with us on CAFTA. Further, we ask that the DCCC remove from Frontline status any member who votes wrong on CAFTA. Simply put, there must be real and measurable consequences for opposing labor on this issue. The stakes are too high for the workers of America. We cannot and we will not give any Democrat a pass on CAFTA."
The signers of the letter, which was organized by Fire Fighters union president Harold A. Schaitberger, included the presidents of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, the Building and Construction Trades Department, the Iron Workers, the Machinists, the Boilermakers; the Electrical Workers, the Teamsters, the Painters, the Seafarers, the Service Employees, the Sheet Metal Workers, the Transportation-Communications International Union, UNITE-HERE, the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry, the Auto Workers, the Food and Commercial Workers, the Steelworkers and the Laborer's.
What is striking about that list is that it includes unions that have remained loyal to the AFL-CIO and unions allied with the dissident Change to Win coalition. The Change to Win unions have made it clear that they want to hold Democrats to a higher standard of accountability on issues such as CAFTA. And it seems the AFL-CIO is moving in that direction. Delegates to the federation's convention in Chicago this week adopted a resolution submitted by the Fire Fighters, which commits the AFL-CIO to "a non-partisan political and legislative strategy that bases labors' support on union issues and worker issues, not political parties."