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Sweet Victory: Vilsack Restores Voting Rights

This August marks the fortieth anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Upon sending the bill to Congress, Lyndon Johnson stated, "But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America…to secure for [African-Americans] the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too."

Yet, with approximately 4.7 million US citizens still disenfranchised--a vastly disproportionate number of them African-American--the promise of the Voting Rights Act remains unfulfilled. Today, 13 percent of all American black men are ineligible to vote due to draconian felony disenfranchisement laws.

But last week, Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa announced that on July 4th, he will restore voting rights to thousands of Iowans, reversing an unjust state law that imposes lifetime disenfranchisement for anyone convicted of a felony

Reform was badly needed in Iowa. Despite the state's two percent black population, 25 percent of those affected by the disenfranchisement law were African-American--the highest percentage in the country. "This is a huge victory for voting rights and for civil rights," says Catherine Weiss, of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, one of the partners in the Right To Vote Campaign "… it is a bold strike for justice and equality."

In March, Nebraska also overturned its lifetime disenfranchisement law for convicted felons, and currently only four states--Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia--continue to uphold this absurdly punitive law. For information about felony disenfranchisement laws in your state, click here and to see what you can to be a part of this new wave of the voting rights movement, click here.

We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing nationvictories@gmail.com.

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.

Grilled Rumsfeld Anyone?

Rarely in recent years has Washington seen so dramatic a clash between the legislative and executive branches as was witnessed Thursday, when U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Masschusetts, went after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the question of whether the Pentagon chief should resign for mismanaging the war in Iraq.

"This war has been consistently and grossly mismanaged. And we are now in a seemingly intractable quagmire. Our troops are dying. And there really is no end in sight," Kennedy said, as the Secretary of Defense sat opposite him during an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Arguing that "the American people, I believe, deserve leadership worthy of the sacrifices that our fighting forces have made, and they deserve the real facts," Kennedy told Rumsfeld, "I regret to say that I don't believe that you have provided either."

Rumsfeld was clearly shocked by the aggressiveness of the senator's comments.

"Well, that is quite a statement," huffed the Secretary of Defense, who pointedly told Kennedy, "The suggestion by you that people -- me or others -- are painting a rosy picture is false."

But the Massachusetts senator, who has been one of the most ardent Congressional critics of the war, wasn't buying the secretary's line. Nor was Kennedy cutting Rumsfeld any more slack.

"In baseball, it's three strikes you're out," Kennedy told Rumsfeld. "Isn't it time for you to resign?"

Rumsfeld, who was evidently shaken by the question, paused briefly before saying, "Senator, I've offered my resignation to the president twice."

President Bush rejected Rumsfeld's offers, which came at the height of the scandal over the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The Secretary of Defense told the committee he would defer to the president on the question of when he should step down. "That's his call," Rumseld said of Bush.

The intensity of Kennedy's questioning illustrated a shift that has begun to take place in Congress in recent weeks, as more and more Democrats, and a growing number of Republicans, have begun to bluntly challenge the administration's inflated claims about the "success" of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

In fact, even Rumsfeld distanced himself from Vice President Dick Cheney's absurd assertion that the insurgency in Iraq is in its "last throes."

After General John Abizaid, the commander of the multinational forces in Iraq, told members of the committee that he believed "more foreign fighters (are) coming into Iraq than there were six months ago," Rumsfeld was asked whether it sounded to him like the insurgency has entered the "last throes" stage.

Noting that he had not uttered the "last throes" line, an obviously exasperated Rumsfeld said of Cheney's choice of words: "I didn't use them, and I might not use them."

Perhaps Kennedy should have asked Rumsfeld if Cheney ought to resign.

Alternatively, the Wisconsin Democratic Party, at its state's convention earlier this month, passed a resolution that would seem to cover all the bases.

The delegates called for immediate steps to be taken to impeach Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush.

Rove-ing from the Truth

Karl Rove is a hypocrite. I know that's hard to believe. And you're going to need a chunk of proof before accepting that conclusion. So let me give it my best shot.

In April, Rove delivered a speech at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. Trying to come across as a statesman (instead of a hack political strategist), he urged participants in today's tough political and policy debates to engage in high-minded discourse. "Most people I know on both sides of the aisle," he remarked, "believe in the positions they take." He continued, "Unless you have clear evidence to the contrary, commentators should answer arguments instead of impugning the motives of those with whom they disagree."

Let's see how well he takes his own advice. Last night, Rove was interviewed by NBC News' David Gregory on Hardball. Gregory began the sit-down by asking Rove about the recent vote in the Senate on the John Bolton nomination. Democrats had once again prevented an up-and-down vote because the Bush White House had continued to withhold information they had requested regarding Bolton. Rove replied,

Well it's sad. I mean they're putting their commitment to politics above their commitment to doing what's right for the country.

That sure sounds as if Rove is impugning the motives of the Democrats. Isn't it just possible that they really do want to see whether Bolton misused classified information or tried to stretch intelligence? Gregory asked, "Why not give the Democrats what they're asking for. They're asking for names related to these [National Security Agency] intercepts to answer the question whether Bolton retaliated against criticism of the administration?" Rove did not respond directly. He repeated himself:

I say it shows that their commitment to politics is above their commitment for doing what's right for this country.

So his first statement impugning the Democrats was no slip. Rove was arguing not merely that the Democrats are wrong in their policy views but that they put politics above national interest. Certainly, it was his perogative to make such a case. And there are times I would argue that Rove and his pupil take actions that serve their political interests more than those of the public. But this exchange with Gregory demonstrated that Rove was not being honest when he addressed those college students. If he was paid an honorarium, Washington College should ask for its money back.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Corn's battle with The Washington Post over Deep Throat stories, Business Week's bashing of corporate lobbyists, and Gitmo and Halliburton.

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The Rove-Gregory session also contained a number of other illuminating exchanges. When Gregory asked him why most Americans, according to recent polls, now believe the war in Iraq is not worth the cost, Rove--perhaps adopting the reality-denying ways of his boss--refused to accept Gregory's premise about popular sentiment on the war. He also repeatedly said that Americans do not want to see the United States "turn tail and run," thus equating calls for setting a timetable for withdrawing US troops with cowardly retreat. (Expect more of this, as talk of withdrawal spreads among members of Congress from both parties.) And when Gregory inquired as to whether Rove agreed with Dick Cheney that the insurgency in Iraq is in "its last throes," Rove sidestepped the query. Instead, he said,

We know that when a movement like this, a jihadist movement, a terrorist movement, is most dangerous when it is running out of options....So I do believe the vice president said it correct: we will find these jihadists and the Al Qaeda most dangerous when they are at the moment of greatest danger for them.

Huh? Cheney wasn't saying the insurgency was most dangerous now but that it was close to coming to an end. Also, note how Rove twice defined the insurgents as "jihadists" and connected them to al Qaeda. Though Musab al-Zarqawi, who has affiliated his murderous gang with al Qaeda, has received the most media attention, the prevailing analysis these days is that the insurgency is mostly composed of Sunnis and former Ba'athists. It is not a violent "jihadist" movement but a murderous sectarian campaign. That sure doesn't make it any less worrisome. But focusing on "jihadists" defines the matter in a manner that is politically beneficial for the Bush White House.

Rove also talked up the US training of Iraqi security forces. He said,

We are systematically both expanding the number of people being trained and increasing the level of training for each unit. We've got, I think there are three units now, three brigades that are at the absolute highest level.

He didn't mention that these three brigades are a rather small percentage of the 107 brigades now being trained.

Gregory turned to the Downing Street memos and noted these documents indicate that the Bush administration engaged in little prewar planning for the aftermath of the invasion. Rove answered,

[R]emember the time frame, it is months and months and months before the balloon goes up in Iraq. And in those intervening months there was plenty of time planning for postwar efforts, vast amounts of planning. You never know exactly how a war is going to plan out. Napoleon once said. Vast numbers of refugees enormous problems with food aid--did not happen. Vast uprising--didn't happen. That we would see a vast uprising by hundreds of thousands of Iraqis--didn't happen. War is ugly, but a lot went very well with this effort and in part it was because the United States government and our coalition partners used the months to plan for any eventuality.

Dizzy from the spin? Gregory had asked why the administration didn't plan sufficiently for the post-invasion period, and Rove replied by noting the terrible things that did not happen. What about what did transpire? The lack of security in the post-invasion period? The absence of any political preparation? There was no plan for what to do with the Iraqi military. There was no plan for managing and reconstructing the Iraqi economy. The administration claimed before the war that Iraqi reconstruction would be financed with Iraqi oil revenues. And we are repeatedly told these days that an insurgency lasting years was not foreseen before the war (though some Middle East experts who were skeptical about the war did predict years of instability and internal conflict.) Yet Rove said the Bush administration used the months before war to "plan for any eventuality." Too bad there was no studio audience to laugh him off the set. (For my latest take on the Downing Street memos, click here.)

Next up for Gregory was Gitmo, and he asked Rove,

You said after the Abu Ghraib scandal that it will take a generation for the U.S. image to recover. When you hear the accusations about what's going in Guantanamo, and hear how enemies of the United States are using Guantanamo Bay against the United States, do you worry that the same kind of damage could be being done?

Rove immediately shot back:

You use the right word: accusations. In what we've seen about Guantanamo is by and large accusations from dangerous people who were picked up on a battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it is appalling to me that some public figures seem to put more credence in the views and statements of a jihadist, who has been in many cases instructed by his training to attack the United States, to attack his treatment--they put more credence in those people than in our men and women in uniform.

Here was a not-so-veiled attack from Rove on Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who has been under fire for comparing practices at Guantanamo to those used by Nazis and the gulag-keepers of the Soviet Union. But Durbin did not base his remarks on the "accusations" of any "jihadist." He quoted from reports filed by FBI agents who had reviewed the interrogation procedures at Guantanamo Bay. Critics of Guantanamo need not take the word of "jihadists." An FBI examiner declared US interrogators there were using "torture techniques." US military officials have noted that interrogators at Gitmo might be subject to criminal prosecution. The Pentagon has acknowledged instances of mistreatment of the Koran. Rove was trying to set up a smokescreen, suggesting that the Guantanamo controversy was merely the product of lies told by "jihadists."

That was a disingenuous and dishonest reply to a serious question. But let's not impugn Rove's motives by accusing him of playing politics with the truth.

*******************

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.

Help Save PBS/NPR

On June 16, the House Appropriations Committee voted to slash funding for public broadcasting by more than $200 million for 2006. The cut--which, if implemented, would affect everything from "Clifford the Big Red Dog" to programming on small news outlets that serve rural and minority audiences--marked a devastating blow for public television and radio. The full House is expected to vote as soon as tomorrow.

Worse yet, the June 16 de-funding vote marked just one part of a larger assault on public broadcasting. Bush ally Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), offered the latest example with the revelations that he hired a longtime GOP operative to track "anti-Bush" and "anti-Tom DeLay" comments by the guests of NOW with Bill Moyers. This move prompted Congressional calls for an investigation into charges that Tomlinson had become "a source of political interference" in public broadcasting and helped spark cries for his resignation from a host of public interest groups and politicians.

Free Press is one of a few national groups waging a major battle in defense of public broadcasting. With so much at stake in this debate, Free Press's efforts are more than worthy of support.

Here's what you can do:

Click here to implore your representatives in Congress to vote for full funding for public broadcasting. A vote by the full House on the funding cuts is expected as soon as tomorrow, Thursday. So please contact them TODAY.

Move.On has collected one million signatures calling for full funding of PBS and NPR. Click here to join them.

Click here to sign Free Press's petition calling for Tomlinson to resign.

Click here to send a letter to your local newspaper defending the importance of public broadcasting in a modern democracy.

Click here to become a member of Free Press in order to support its efforts.

Recruiters Sink to New Lows

During the Vietnam War, protesters burned draft cards, rallied on campuses and marched on Robert McNamara's Pentagon. Today, with the war in Iraq raging on and on, parents, teachers and other community leaders are spearheading a new antiwar effort, telling the military to keep their hands off the children. The Times' Bob Herbert put it well: "The parents of the kids being sought by recruiters to fight this unpopular war are creating a highly vocal and potentially very effective antiwar movement."

The debacle in Iraq has made recruiting an impossibly difficult job and recruiters are sinking to new lows in the face of growing pressure to fulfill monthly quotas as well as fierce opposition from parents who don't support the President's botched Iraq war mission.

While the stunning list of recruiting abuses has received some needed media attention, it's worth reviewing the extremes to which the military has gone to fill its ranks. In Houston, one recruiter warned a potential recruit that if he backed out of a meeting, "we'll have a warrant" for the potential recruit's arrest. In Colorado, a high school student, David McSwane, who wanted to see "how far the Army would go during a war to get one more soldier," told recruiters that he didn't finish high school and that he had a drug problem. "No problem," the recruiters responded. McSwane was told to create a diploma from scratch and to buy products at a store that would help him beat the drug test.

Recruiters have urged teens to lie to their parents and have ignored medical and police records of potential recruits to not compromise recruiting goals. In Ohio, two recruiters signed up a 21-one-year-old man with bipolar disorder who had just been released from a psychiatric ward. The violations, all told, forced the Army into halting all recruiting for a day last May so it could re-train its recruiters and remind them of the ethical considerations entailed in their jobs.

Despite this recent recruit-at-all-costs mentality, the Army has now failed to meet its monthly recruiting quotas for four months straight. (It's beginning to re-jigger its goals in mid-stream and even then it still can't meet its quotas.) There's even talk among retired military brass and other defense experts that the all-volunteer Army is stretched so thin in Iraq that it can't sustain the mission much longer.

Hence, recruiting violations in the Army have nearly doubled to 320 in 2004 from 199 in 1999, and as my colleague Ari Berman pointed out the Army has added 1,200 recruiters, "upped enlistment bonuses from $6,000 to $20,000 per recruit," and created 15-month enlistments as an alternative to the standard two-year enlistment period. The Army is also accepting into its ranks a greater number of high school dropouts and lower-scoring applicants as well.

"The problem is that no one wants to join," one recruiter recently told the Times. "We have to play fast and loose with the rules just to get by." The standards for those already in are also being adjusted: The Wall Street Journal recently reported on an internal army memo which said that battalion commanders could no longer kick out of the military enlistees who had abused drugs and alcohol, gotten pregnant or were unfit for duty.

If you want to understand just how dire the situation is, you need to know that the Army is busily exploiting a provision in the No Child Left Behind law that allows recruiters to go into public schools receiving federal funding, gain access to students' personal data and cultivate potential recruits with a virtually unfettered hand. According to an Army manual, savvy recruiters should eat in the school cafeteria, befriend administrators, bring coffee and donuts for teachers and buddy up to team captains and student body presidents to win the hearts and minds of other students.

Activists are holding rallies to raise awareness, urging families to tell schools to keep their personal data private. A student-led campaign at a high school in Montclair, New Jersey, convinced more than 80 percent of the student body to keep their private information hidden from recruiters.

Then there's NASCAR. Our US military is spending millions of dollars a year recruiting young men at NASCAR races. As the Air Force's superintendent of motorsports said (according to the AP, that's actually his job­superintendent of motorsports), NASCAR is the military's "target market." The Army alone is spending $16 million a year at NASCAR events. Each branch of the Armed Forces sponsors NASCAR race drivers and they set up recruiting booths outside of NASCAR events. This "belly-to-belly selling," the superintendent of motorsports explained, enables the military to woo potential recruits "face to face."

Recruiters are paying a high price, suffering from depression, headaches and stomach problems brought on by the tremendous pressure of having to find two new recruits per month to meet their quotas, avoid their commanders' wrath and fulfill their mission. One Texas recruiter told the New York Times' Damien Cave that he'd rather be fighting on the front lines of the war in Iraq than recruiting weary teenagers and coping with anxious parents in the states.

"The evidence is overwhelming that the Army is slowly being worn down by its commitment in Iraq," a Pentagon adviser and military analyst at the Lexington Institute told Newsday. The handwriting is on the wall: This is a failed war, and the American people are refusing in their wisdom to fight it.

Free Aung San Suu Kyi

In 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi was legally elected the leader of Myanmar, then named Burma. But she has spent most of the time since 1989 under some form of detention, including house arrest for the last two years, following a surreptitious attempt on her life by pro-government forces.

From time to time, the military junta that imprisons Suu Kyi promises to release her, but today supporters around the world observe her 60th birthday with no sign of her freedom. Nonetheless, activists around the world are using the occasion to honor the human rights leader and highlight the injustice of her continued detention and the tyrannical regime holding power in her country. (Major birthday events are taking place today in Edinburgh, Bangkok, Manila, San Francisco, and, most courageously, across her small Southeast Asian country.)

Amnesty International has also launched a global petition calling on the Burmese authorities to stop abusing the justice system to silence peaceful political activists and to immediately and unconditionally release Suu Kyi along with the other 1,350 political prisoners estimated to be rotting in Myanmar jails currently.

According to AI's diligent investigations, these detainees include prisoners of conscience incarcerated for activities such as writing poems and publishing magazines, forming student unions or calling for peaceful demonstrations. They are subjected to torture, held incommunicado without access to lawyers, and sentenced under repressive legislation in unfair trials.

Click for background on Myanmar's repression of Suu Kyi and political dissent generally, click here to add your name to AI's global petition calling for her immediate release, and click here to become a member of Amnesty International and support more work on behalf of global human rights.

Conyers vs. The Post

There is painful irony in the fact that, during the same month that the confirmation of "Deep Throat's" identity has allowed the Washington Post to relive its Watergate-era glory days, the newspaper is blowing the dramatically more significant story of the "fixed" intelligence the Bush Administration used to scam Congress and US allies into supporting the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Last week, when the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Michigan Democrat John Conyers, chaired an extraordinary hearing on what has come to be known as the "Downing Street Memo"--details of pre-war meetings where aides to British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed the fact that, while the case for war was "thin," the Bush Administration was busy making sure that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy"--the Post ridiculed Conyers and the dozens of other members of Congress who are trying to get to the bottom of a scandal that former White House counsel John Dean has correctly identified as "worse than Watergate."

Post writer Dana Milbank penned a snarky little piece that, like similar articles in the New York Times and other "newspapers of record," displayed all the skepticism regarding Bush Administration misdeeds that one might expect to find in a White House press release.

To his credit, Conyers hit back.

In a letter addressed to the Post's national editor, the newspaper's ombudsman and Milbank, the veteran House member was blunt.

"Dear Sirs," Conyers began, "I write to express my profound disappointment with Dana Milbank's June 17 report, 'Democrats Play House to Rally Against the War,' which purports to describe a Democratic hearing I chaired in the Capitol yesterday. In sum, the piece cherry-picks some facts, manufactures others out of whole cloth, and does a disservice to some 30 members of Congress who persevered under difficult circumstances, not of our own making, to examine a very serious subject: whether the American people were deliberately misled in the lead up to war. The fact that this was the Post's only coverage of this event makes the journalistic shortcomings in this piece even more egregious.

"In an inaccurate piece of reporting that typifies the article, Milbank implies that one of the obstacles the Members in the meeting have is that 'only one' member has mentioned the Downing Street Minutes on the floor of either the House or Senate. This is not only incorrect but misleading. In fact, just yesterday, the Senate Democratic Leader, Harry Reid, mentioned it on the Senate floor. Senator Boxer talked at some length about it at the recent confirmation hearing for the Ambassador to Iraq. The House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, recently signed on to my letter, along with 121 other Democrats asking for answers about the memo. This information is not difficult to find either. For example, the Reid speech was the subject of an AP wire service report posted on the Washington Post website with the headline 'Democrats Cite Downing Street Memo in Bolton Fight.' Other similar mistakes, mischaracterizations and cheap shots are littered throughout the article.

"The article begins with an especially mean and nasty tone, claiming that House Democrats 'pretended' a small conference room was the Judiciary Committee hearing room and deriding the decor of the room. Milbank fails to share with his readers one essential fact: the reason the hearing was held in that room, an important piece of context. Despite the fact that a number of other suitable rooms were available in the Capitol and House office buildings, Republicans declined my request for each and every one of them. Milbank could have written about the perseverance of many of my colleagues in the face of such adverse circumstances, but declined to do so. Milbank also ignores the critical fact picked up by the AP, CNN and other newsletters that at the very moment the hearing was scheduled to begin, the Republican Leadership scheduled an almost unprecedented number of 11 consecutive floor votes, making it next to impossible for most Members to participate in the first hour and one half of the hearing.

"In what can only be described as a deliberate effort to discredit the entire hearing, Milbank quotes one of the witnesses as making an anti-semitic assertion and further describes anti-semitic literature that was being handed out in the overflow room for the event. First, let me be clear: I consider myself to be a friend and supporter of Israel and there were a number of other staunchly pro-Israel members who were in attendance at the hearing. I do not agree with, support, or condone any comments asserting Israeli control over US policy, and I find any allegation that Israel is trying to dominate the world or had anything to do with the September 11 tragedy disgusting and offensive.

"That said, to give such emphasis to 100 seconds of a 3 hour and five minute hearing that included the powerful and sad testimony (hardly mentioned by Milbank) of a woman who lost her son in the Iraq war and now feels lied to as a result of the Downing Street Minutes, is incredibly misleading. Many, many different pamphlets were being passed out at the overflow room, including pamphlets about getting out of the Iraq war and anti-Central American Free Trade Agreement, and it is puzzling why Milbank saw fit to only mention the one he did.

"In a typically derisive and uninformed passage, Milbank makes much of other lawmakers calling me 'Mr. Chairman' and says I liked it so much that I used 'chairmanly phrases.' Milbank may not know that I was the Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee from 1988 to 1994. By protocol and tradition in the House, once you have been a Chairman you are always referred to as such. Thus, there was nothing unusual about my being referred to as Mr. Chairman.

"To administer his coup-de-grace, Milbank literally makes up another cheap shot that I 'was having so much fun that [I] ignored aides' entreaties to end the session.' This did not occur. None of my aides offered entreaties to end the session and I have no idea where Milbank gets that information. The hearing certainly ran longer than expected, but that was because so many Members of Congress persevered under very difficult circumstances to attend, and I thought--given that--the least I could do was allow them to say their piece. That is called courtesy, not 'fun.'

"By the way, the 'Downing Street Memo' is actually the minutes of a British cabinet meeting. In the meeting, British officials--having just met with their American counterparts--describe their discussions with such counterparts. I mention this because that basic piece of context, a simple description of the memo, is found nowhere in Milbank's article.

"The fact that I and my fellow Democrats had to stuff a hearing into a room the size of a large closet to hold a hearing on an important issue shouldn't make us the object of ridicule. In my opinion, the ridicule should be placed in two places: first, at the feet of Republicans who are so afraid to discuss ideas and facts that they try to sabotage our efforts to do so; and second, on Dana Milbank and the Washington Post, who do not feel the need to give serious coverage on a serious hearing about a serious matter-whether more than 1700 Americans have died because of a deliberate lie. Milbank may disagree, but the Post certainly owed its readers some coverage of that viewpoint.

"Sincerely, John Conyers, Jr"

The years of the Bush presidency will be remembered as a time when American media, for the most part, practiced stenography to power --and when once-great newspapers became little more than what the reformers of another time referred to as "the kept press."

The Conyers letter, like the thousands of communications from grassroots activists to media outlets across this country pressing for serious coverage of the "Downing Street Memo" and the broader debate about the Bush Administration's doctoring of intelligence prior to the launch of the Iraq war, is an essential response to our contemporary media crisis. That it had to be written provides evidence of just how serious that crisis has grown.

The Beginning of the End?

"We see this as the beginning of the end," said Tom Andrews, a former Democratic representative from Maine who is executive director of the antiwar group Win Without War. "It's the very beginning of a new wave of activism on this war. There's a real sense that something is beginning to move."--Los Angeles Times, Friday June 17, 2005

Earlier that day, a friend and longtime antiwar activist left me a voice mail message. Just ten days earlier he told me that he was more depressed about our politics than at anytime in the last 40 years. "Hello, this is..." he said. "I was in Washington yesterday at the rally and at the Conyers hearings. And since I laid a heavy statement on you last week, I just wanted to make a correction. It's finally over. My despair is over. Something has happened these last ten days that has revived the antiwar issue. It has to do with public opinion polls and casualties and Republicans like Walter Jones and more Democrats standing up. I won't say how optimistic I am. But something is coming together--you can feel it."

You can feel it.

*Every day brings news of public opinion turning against the occupation--and the President's conduct of the war. Last week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that for the first time since the war began, more than half of the public believes the US invasion has not made the US more secure; and nearly 40 percent described the situation there now as analagous to the Vietnam War. A new Gallup survey finds that almost 60 percent of Americans say the US should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq, the largest number in that category ever. And for the first time, most Americans say they would be "upset" if President Bush sent more troops. Gallup also found that 56 percent now feel the war was "not worth it," and 73 percent consider the number of casualties unacceptable.

* Every day brings news of more Democrats coming forward, standing up and introducing "exit strategy" resolutions. (Though, as of yet, leadership isn't coming from the leadership.) Lynn Woolsey forced a Congressional vote on bipartisan legislation that would have asked Bush to submit a plan to Congress explaining the outlines of an exit strategy from Iraq. Senator Russell Feingold has introduced a nonbinding resolution calling on the Bush Administration to set specific goals for leaving Iraq.

In the House, the International Relations Committee last week voted overwhelmingly, 32 to 9, to call on the White House to develop and submit a plan to Congress for establishing a stable government and military in Iraq that would "permit a decreased US presence" in the country. Congresswomen Maxine Waters (D/CA)--along with 41 Congressional progressives, including Woolsey, John Lewis, Charles Rangel, Jim McGovern, Rush Holt, Marcy Kaptur and Jan Schakowsky--has just formed the "Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus." Its sole purpose, Waters says, "is to be the main agitators in the movement to bring our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan." And Rep John Conyers' impassioned efforts to bring attention to the Downing Street Memo--on Thursday he held hearings on Capitol Hill and then delivered to the White House letters that contained the names of more than 560,000 Americans demanding answers to questions raised by the British memo--has reenergized and refocused opposition to the war.

While the Administration and its allies in Congress are trying to make it seem as if these new initiatives merely reflect Democrats' reading of the polls, I say--bring it on. Let's welcome more Democrats--and sane Republicans--giving legislative expression and voice to the majority of Americans who want to see our Iraq policy changed. (In fact, according to the recent Gallup poll, Congress appears to be lagging behind the public on the issue: Some 72 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of independents and 41 percent of Republicans say they favor a partial or complete withdrawal.)

*Every day brings news of another Republican signing on to the bipartisan resolution introduced last Thursday by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC)--the man who brought us "Freedom Fries"--and Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii). That resolution calls for the Bush Administration to announce a plan for the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq by the end of the year and to initiate the plan as soon as possible. Maverick Congressman Ron Paul (R/Texas) is already a sponsor, Jim Leach (R/ Iowa) signed on Friday and Howard Coble (R/North Carolina) is considering adding his signature. (With 2006 midterms fast approaching, more Republicans will be hearing from constituents who are growing uneasy about the war. And more GOP members up for reelection may start sounding like Jones, who said in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopolous last weekend that he votes his conscience first, his constituents second, and his party third.)

But much hard and grinding organizing work remains ahead.

On Monday afternoon, Abercrombie and others are going to sit down with Congressman Jones and other House members to discuss options to advance the resolution and build activism against the war.

They'll be supported by a national coalition, that includes Win Without War, MoveOn.org, The National Council of Churches, True Majority, Sojourners, Working Assets and the National Organization of Women, which is planning a grassroots outreach campaign encouraging Members of Congress to sign onto the newly introduced bipartisan resolution.

These organizations are going to be concentrating on those members of Congress who should be particularly susceptible to constituent demand about the war. (As Tom Andrews of the invaluable Win Without War group says, "Take it from one who has been there, in Congress loyalty to one's party leaders and president stops at the 'waters edge' of the voters at home.")

"A prairie fire of activism has started," Andrews argues. "Our job now is to fan these flames and get a conflagration of opposition spreading across the country. We are working with our member groups as well as others on a range of action options to build momentum over the next several months. These will include a major action in Washington in September with what I hope will include a complementary Internet based component. Between those marching in DC and those joining through the Internet around the country I am certain that we could have a million Americans demonstrating against the Bush war in September."

The combination of dropping poll numbers, the grinding images of chaos and violence in Iraq, the daily news of young Americans dying in what seems a senseless war and the increasingly active and visible opposition of constituents is bad news for the president and his Congressional allies.

This really can be the beginning of the end of a disastrous war and a bankrupt national security strategy.

Blogging Iran

Today, voters in Iran cast ballots for a new President--choosing from a field of eight candidates that includes hardline clerics and reformers. The campaign has underscored how dramatically political life inside Iran has changed in recent years.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, has been in Iran during the final days of the presidential election, interviewing a wide range of people. In an article this past week, he reported: "The Moin campaign [Mostafa Moin is the leading reformist candidate who polls show as the second choice. He is also the only candidate with an active blog] drew 10,000 people to a rally at Tehran stadium Tuesday night. A number of speakers emphasized that the campaign is aiming to lay the groundwork for a movement--and this election is just the beginning...The Tehran Time reported Wednesday [that] the outspoken Moin 'referred to the upcoming establishment of a Democracy and Human Rights Front in Iran to defend the rights of all Iran's religious and ethnic groups, the youth, academicians, women and political opposition groups whose rights are often neglected..'"

"In a country, " Solomon observed, "where political imprisonment and torture continue, such public statements are emblematic of a courageous movement struggling to emerge from the shadows of the Islamic Republic. "

But that movement for human rights and democracy needs to develop indigenously. As Nobel Peace Prize winner--and Iranian human rights lawyer and activist--Shirin Ebadi warned last year, US government support for Iran's dissidents might not only deprive them of authenticity in their own land but, worse, could stigmatize them as proxies of American neocons intent on regime change.

Or, as Solomon argues: "Iran's most repressive clerics and the USA's most militaristic neocons share a common interest: They're very eager to see the failure of Iranian activism for democracy and human rights...The hardliners in both countries need each other. Theirs is a perverse, mutual dependency that dares not speak its name."

If you want to diversify your newsfeed about this fascinating election--and understand what it may mean for the future of that country--check out the ten blogs I wrote about earlier this month.

As one of Iran's leading bloggers Hossein Derakhshan recently pointed out, the country's many blogs (Iran has 75,000 bloggers) are generating "an unprecedented amount of information." In fact, as he observed: this election "will probably be one of the most open and transparent" Iran has ever seen.