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Refusing to Exploit 9-11

Two days after President Bush used a nationally-televised address to exploit the memory of September 11 for political purposes – employing language and logic so crude that it would have made Richard Nixon cringe – the Republican Congressional leadership tried to plant a campaign yard sign in the wreckage of the World Trade Center. And the vast majority of House Democrats, lacking both the courage of their convictions and all other forms of that precious commodity, gave their assent to the desecration.

With the fall election season in full swing, House Republicans tried to take full advantage of the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington to suggest that the Congress has been anything more than a useless appendage of the Bush administration for the past five years. U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, sponsored a resolution that, while it was promoted as a commemoration of one of the most solemn dates in American history, was in fact an apologia for Congressional assaults on civil liberties such as the Patriot Act.

A number of Democrats objected to the clumsy attempt by King and his compatriots to use the memory of 9-11 to justify their wrongheaded theory that the only way to fight terrorism is to shred the Constitution.

But when it came time to vote, the vast majority of Democrats joined Republicans in what will go down as one of the cheapest stunts yet in a Capitol that has seen more than its share of embarrassing behavior.

Only 22 member of the House refused to go along with the unseemly charade. Twenty-one Democrats and one dissident Republican, Ron Paul of Texas, refused to play politics.

Among the handful of House members who did the right thing was Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, who complained that, "The Republican majority disgracefully politicized what should have been a solemn and sincere resolution."

Instead of honoring the memory of those who died and recalling the trauma that the attacks inflicted on the United States, Baldwin said, "[House Republicans] converted the resolution into an endorsement of the PATRIOT Act, punitive immigration bills, and other highly controversial measures, which many of my constituents oppose. The Republicans show enormous disrespect to the 9/11 victims and families by playing election year politics with something as solemn as the fifth anniversary of 9/11."

Joining Baldwin and Republican Paul in voting "no" were: Arizona's Raul Grijalva; Californians Mike Honda, Barbara Lee, Pete Stark and Lynn Woolsey; Georgians Cynthia McKinney and John Lewis; Illinoisans Danny Davis, Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky; Maine's Mike Michaud; Massachusetts' Barney Frank, Ed Markey and Jim McGovern; New Yorker Maurice Hinchey; North Carolina's Mel Watt; Ohio's Dennis Kucinich; Oregon's Earl Blumenauer; Virginia's Bobby Scott; and Washington's Jim McDermott. (An additional member, Democrat Mike Capuano of Massachusetts, voted "present.")

Unlike most members of Congress, these dissenters actually believe that their votes matter. And, this week, they used their "no" votes to reject the exploitation of the memory of 9-11 for political purposes.

The Skewed Electorate

A new report from a California think tank confirms what many have long suspected: if Latinos, the poor, and the uneducated voted in proportionate numbers the state's political landscape would be vastly different.

Even as the Golden State's population continues to diversify, the actual electorate remains skewed toward older, wealthier and better-educated Whites. "If the trends in voting continue," says Mark Baldassare of the Public Policy Institute, "we face the prospect of an electorate making policy choices that neglect the realities and problems facing large segments of California society."

California is the only state in which no ethnic or racial group constitutes the majority, with whites representing 46 percent of the population and Latinos 32 percent. Yet, whites make up 70 percent of the electorate, and Latinos only 16 percent.

In California's November balloting, for example, only 8 million people are expected to vote out of 22.6 million adults who are eligible to vote and 27.7 million adults overall. And only 4 million, or 15 percent of the population, will represent the majority that decides all the issues.

At some point in history, somebody is going to have to take seriously the notion of a new voter registration drive. Until then, expect more of the status quo.

Hack the Vote

So much for ballot security.

Three Princeton University professors designed and tested software to hack a Diebold electronic voting machine. Watch the video.

On Huffington Post, Marty Kaplan demonstrated how to trick a Diebold machine within a matter of minutes using a screwdriver, flash card and basic computer knowledge. Watch the video.

An election could easily be stolen, either through malicious hacking (see above), or plain ol' stupidity (see below).

Maryland experienced widespread problems with electronic voting machines in their primary elections on Tuesday, when poll workers forgot the plastic cards needed to activate the voting machines, election judges didn't know how to use the technology and election results didn't transmit electronically from precincts to the central elections office.

"It was chaos," state Senator-elect Jamie Raskin said. "It was Florida. It was Mexico. It was your worst nightmare."

In the upcoming '06 elections, 80 percent of voters will cast their ballots on electronic voting machines. We better hope these videos and results are not a precursor of things to come.

Novak vs. Armitage: Was the Plame Leak Deliberate?

The book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, has set off a dispute between conservative columnist Bob Novak and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

The book--which recounts the behind-the-scenes battles that went on within the CIA, the State Department, Congress and the White House over the administration's case for war before and after the Iraq invasion--discloses that Armitage was the original source for the Novak column of July 14, 2003, which outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA "operative on weapons of mass destruction." (The book also reveals that Valerie Wilson was operations chief for the clandestine Joint Task Force on Iraq and oversaw espionage operations aimed at gathering intelligence on Saddam Hussein's supposed WMDs.) Following the book's release, Armitage publicly confessed and apologized to Valerie Wilson and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. He said that the leak had been an inadvertent slip, an act of gossip that came during an interview with Novak about Colin Powell and the State Department. Armitage claimed he had merely told Novak--in an off-the-cuff fashion--"I think his wife works out there," meaning the CIA.

In a column published on Wednesday, Novak accuses Armitage of not telling the truth. The former No. 2 at the State Department, Novak insists, "obscured what he really did." Novak writes:

First, Armitage did not, as he now indicates, merely pass on something he had heard and that he "thought" might be so. Rather, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked, and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former Amb. Joseph Wilson.

Second, Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column.

This account depicts Armitage as deliberately leaking information on Valerie Wilson. In our book, Isikoff and I raise the possibility that Armitage might have told Novak about Wilson's wife and her CIA employment to distance the State Department from the burgeoning Wilson imbroglio--as a way of saying, We here at State had nothing to do with that trouble-causing Wilson trip to Niger. Novak claims that Armitage "told me unequivocally that Mrs. Wilson worked in the CIA's Counter-Proliferation Division and that she had suggested her husband's mission." (Valerie Wilson's role in her husband's mission has been overblown; Isikoff and I lay this out in the book.)

Novak, as he acknowledges, did not take notes of this hour-long conversation, which might strike some reporters as odd, given that he had been endeavoring for years to snag an interview with Armitage. So outsiders are left with a he-said/he-said tussle. But Novak's latest account does seem to contradict an earlier version.

In his recent column, Novak contends that Armitage intentionally passed him information on Wilson and went so far as to suggest the material might be good fodder for a column. Yet in an October 1, 2003 column, Novak said of the leak,

It was an offhand revelation from this [unnamed] official, who is no partisan gunslinger.

"Offhand revelation" doesn't quite cover Novak's (current) depiction of the exchange as a deliberate leak. Novak's October 1, 2003 column--written days after the news broke that the FBI had launched a criminal investigation of the leak that was targeting the White House--seemed intended to downplay the leak as significant or intentional. (That article also stated, "It was well known around Washington that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.") Novak's recent column, written at a time when White House defenders are trying to dump all the blame on Armitage, claims the leak was purposeful. Which was it?

Novak's current account may well be an accurate recollection. There's no reason to take Armitage's quasi-face-saving version at face-value. But perhaps Novak can explain in yet one more column why he first called the leak an "offhand revelation"?

At the end of his new column, Novak excoriates Armitage:

Armitage's silence the next 2 1/2 years caused intense pain for his colleagues in government and enabled partisan Democrats in Congress to falsely accuse Rove of being my primary source.

Novak neglects to note that Karl Rove was the source he used to confirm the leak he had received from Armitage--and that Rove also leaked classified information on Valerie Wilson to Matt Cooper of Time magazine before the leak appeared in Novak's column. Nor does Novak mention that Scooter Libby leaked information on Valerie Wilson to Judith Miller of The New York Times weeks before Novak entered Armitage's office--and also confirmed Rove's leak to Cooper. (A source close to Rove is quoted in Hubris saying that Rove "probably" learned about Valerie Wilson from Libby.) Like Armitage, Rove and Libby kept silent, even as the White House claimed they were not involved in the leak. Maybe it's time for all leakers to come clean and tell what happened.

******

INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here

Pointing the Way

Last night's primary contests had some highs and lows. [Check out John Nichols's dispatches on the web and in the magazine to get a better sense of what we can take away from September 12th.] But there's one victory in Maryland I'd like to single out for celebration. Last night, Jamie Raskin--Democratic candidate for Maryland's State Senate--won a resounding primary victory in a tough race against a longtime incumbent. He is now virtually assured of winning in November.

Jamie--who ran a smart and creative race, with national support--is a professor of Constitutional Law at American University and a valued contributor to The Nation.

I believe there are four issues in this election year: The Constitution--DEFEND IT; The War --END IT; National Health Care --PASS IT ; Corporate Power--CURB IT. If you believe, as I do, that this nation faces these (and other) critical issues, and that we must confront them with intelligence, sanity, decency--and passion....then all of us won with Jamie's win.

Jamie Raskin is far more than a defender of the Constitution. He breathes life into it--through his scholarly writings, through his activism, his numerous pieces in The Nation... and now by taking this next step into the electoral arena.

Here's a good example of Jamie Raskin living the constitution. In March, he was the only professor of constitutional law to agree to testify against Maryland Republicans' proposed anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, After his testimony, one Republican State Senator told Jamie that maintaining marriage discrimination was purely a matter of following "biblical principles." Jamie responded, in words that should be engraved in every courtroom, state legislature and in our very own congress...and in words that in this era criss-crossed the internet, "Senator, when you took your oath of office, you put your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You didn't put your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible." The response in the hearing room was so raucous and enthusiastic that the chairman of the committee pounded his gavel and said, "this is not a football game."

Sadly, our politics today too often do resemble a football game--though some day, thanks to Jamie's pioneering work--I know we will count votes more fairly, and proportion our districts differently, more fairly, and have public financing of elections challenging what Jamie called in The Nation "the incumbentocracy."

In the meantime, the fact that Jamie Raskin, a respected scholar with an international reputation, seeks to begin what we all hope will be a long and distinguished political career in the Maryland State Senate is not just appropriate, not just necessary, it makes a helluva lot of sense. These days, Washington DC is literally and figuratively in gridlock. Congress is not a place where much gets done these days -- at least not much that is positive.

Jamie recognizes that, and he understands that at the state legislative level, especially in a state where the legislature has a track record of leading the country when it comes to passing innovative laws, he'll be able to do more than just think big -- he'll be able to make big things happen.

Maryland, as many of you know, has been in the forefront of fights to expand health care, check corporate power and protect workers in recent years. Indeed, with the legislature's vote to require Wal-Mart to behave with a measure of responsibility-- providing some health benefits for its workers, Maryland made national news. That measure was overridden, but such crucial fights take years. With Jamie in the Senate, the state will make national news even more frequently. He has bold ideas about how to make Maryland a leader in protecting the rights of workers--as founding chair of the state's Higher Education Labor Relations Board for five years, Jamie wrote rules that allowed more than 7,000 low wage workers--janitors, cleaning staff, dining hall employees, security officers to join unions. And that model became a national model for states extending organizing rights to college campuses. He's also shaped housing, transportation and education programs that can/could/should become national models.

These are times to remember the great progressive reforms of the 20th century because they began America's journey of renewal at the state level. When states were, as Judge Brandeis, once said..."laboratories of democracy." These are times of many local, and statewide victories--some small but also sweet: Portland, Oregon last year, for example, became the first city in the country to approve full public financing of elections. Connecticut passed the strongest campaign finance reform bill. Living wage bills have been passed coast to coast; California just passed the Global Warming Solutions Act--the first time that mandatory, comprehensive caps on greenhouse gas emissions have been passed in the US.

It should be noted that the greatest president of the 20th century began his political career as a state legislator. When Jamie wins his State Senate seat this November it will signal a renewal of the promise of progressive reform coming from the states and sweeping across the nation.

Shameless in Chicago

Apparently, Wal-Mart's defenders are still shamelessly willing to play the racism card in order to slander the company's critics. For years, as I've written before, the company has cast itself as the savior of the downtrodden black residents of inner cities, portraying labor and community opponents as racist white people -- never mind that so much of the opposition to big box development in inner cities comes from people of color who feel that their communities deserve better than Wal-Mart, real economic development that includes decently-paying jobs. Wal-Mart's line of argument -- which was always sleazy and mendacious -- recently reached a new level of ugliness. Andrew Young -- civil rights activist turned corporate tool -- then-spokesperson for the laughably-named Working Families for Wal-Mart (this, of course, is a "grass roots" organization, borne out of the organic love that the American people have for their favorite discount store, not a creation of Bentonville or a high-priced PR firm), waxed a bit racist last month when asked about Wal-Mart's tendency to shutter a community's small businesses:

But you see, those are the people who have been overcharging us selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they've ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it's Arabs; very few black people own these stores.

Oops! Foot in mouth, Too-Candid-Andy had to resign, and Wal-Mart hastened to distance itself from the very attitudes it usually tries so hard to exploit.You'd think these creeps would want to avoid this racism topic for a while. But race-baiting is almost compulsive among Wal-Mart's defenders, so eager are they to use the issue to divide the progressive opposition. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who this week, as my colleague Sam Graham-Felsen has written, vetoed an ordinance which would require big-box stores in Chicago to pay a living wage, joined this unfortunate chorus yesterday by absurdly implying that advocates of the ordinance were motivated by a desire to deprive black communities of jobs. He said:"Only in the West Side. Only in the South Side. ... At the same time it was all right for the North and Southwest Side to get the big boxes before this. It was all right. No one said anything. But all of a sudden we talk about economic development in the black community--there's something wrong there."In fact, Chicago's living wage ordinance has been pushed by a diverse coalition of groups, many of them black people who feel that, actually, it is racist and insulting to imply that their communities should be forced to settle -- and be grateful -- for dead-end jobs. But everyone agrees that because of the historic discrimination by some unions in the city -- particularly in the building trades -- such coalitions can be vulnerable to race-baiting. In a way, it was clever of Wal-Mart to figure this out.Still, playing the race card can backfire, as Too-Candid-Andy and his Bentonville bosses found out. Daley deserves to be publicly pilloried as Young was, for exploiting racial tensions in his city, dishonestly framing the debate (oh, and and for being a grovelling towel-boy to one of America's worst corporations). Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. rightly suggested that if Daley is so opposed to this ordinance, he should put his money where his mouth is: give up his own fat salary and live on a sub-living wage. I'd like it if all Wal-Mart's defenders would do the same: before hurling charges of racism at the company's critics, just try getting by on the wages that you think Chicago's South Siders should receive so gratefully.

Torture 'R' Us [Corrections Department]

On Tuesday, in its page 2 "Corrections: For the Record" section, the New York Times corrected the misstated given name of a state trooper and the misstated year in which Nikolay Davydenko reached the French Open semifinals, as well as an Internet address for a canoe trail, but led with this correction:

"A front-page article on Thursday about an announcement by President Bush that 14 high-profile terror suspects had been transferred from secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency to the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, incompletely described the interrogation technique of waterboarding, which intelligence officials say was used on one suspect. The technique involves strapping a prisoner to a board with his feet elevated above his head and placing a wet cloth down his throat or over his nose and mouth to create the sensation of drowning."

The original passage in the article by Kate Zernike and Neil A. Lewis read: "In addition, the [new Pentagon] manual bans a technique known as waterboarding, in which a prisoner is strapped to a board and made to feel as if he is drowning."

No doubt this correction makes the "technique" clearer, though it would be interesting to know what sort of complaint by whom spurred it into existence. The article itself -- and in this it follows the general rule of thumb of the mainstream media -- refers to such "techniques" as "abuse" or "abusive practices" but not usually as "torture." This, it seems to me, is a media "technique" that just might be worth correcting.

Torture is regularly named as such only when the President denies that we do it or that he ordered it, as he did recently in his absurd Guantanamo prisoner-transfer news conference.

Another little "correction" might be in order as well -- this time to the correction. In that phrase, "which intelligence officials say was used on one suspect," the Times does seem to imply that waterboarding was a one-time deal for this administration, no more than a dipped toe in the water. They are surely referring to the waterboarding of al-Qaeda operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, which the Times itself revealed in a 2004 piece. But what about Abu Zubaydah? About two minutes searching Ron Suskind's new book, The One Percent Doctrine -- and his intelligence sources are at least as good as the Times' -- brings you to this sentence on p. 115: "According to CIA sources, [Zubaydah] was water-boarded, a technique in which a captive's face is covered with a towel as water is poured atop."

And if you really believe that this technique, approved by Alberto Gonzalez (when he was still White House Counsel), David Addington (of the Vice President's office), and John Yoo, who drafted the infamous 2002"torture memo," was only applied to two men in the President's Global War on Terror, then, boy, do I have a large bridge in New York I'd like to sell you.

Back in Medieval times, before the defining of things had become quite so complicated in the civilized world, waterboarding went by another name: "The Water Torture." But then they were brutes. What did they know?

Ford's Fate

When it comes to winning back the Senate, Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee is beginning to look like the Democrats' make-or-break candidate--and that might not be such a good thing.

Ford is running surprisingly well in his race to replace retiring Senate Majority LeaderBill Frist in traditionally conservative Tennessee. He ran virtually unopposed in the August primary. And a recent poll has Ford just one pointbehind his Republican rival, former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker.

If he wins in November, the 36-year-old Ford would become the firstAfrican-American senator from the South since reconstruction. Ever sincehis keynote speech at the 2000 Democratic convention, Ford has been seenas a rising star in the party, yet his very conservative views on avariety of issues make him seem more like the next Joe Lieberman than abeacon of light in future of the party.

During his nearly decade-long career in Congress, Ford has supported constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and flag-burning. Hewas an outspoken opponent of a filibuster attempt to prevent SamuelAlito's appointment to the Supreme Court. He has supported theplacement of the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, prayer in schools andan end to handgun bans.

Most disappointing was his vote in favor for the war in Iraq, when so many of his colleaguesin the House had the wisdom not to.

Ford is certainly a charismatic congressman. Tennessee AFL-CIO LaborCouncil president Jerry Lee has called him, "the most exciting candidateI've seen since John F. Kennedy" and he's even appeared in Peoplemagazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" issue . Yet for some time now, the American public, and progressivesespecially, have been crying out for more than a pretty face. They wanta real change in leadership, but in a Senate where Rep. Ford couldostensibly be the deciding vote on a host of issues, change might comemuch slower than they'd hoped.

Pondering Peretz

The long-time finacier and reinging poo-bah of The New Republic, Marty Peretz, has formally entered the blogosphere with a dramtic ... thud.

Dubbing his site The Spine, Peretz offers himself up as the stiff, upright antidote to what he sees as the limp world of contemporary journalism. His main indictment of the MSM? That it gives air-time to Al Sharpton.

Oh well. The New Republic has been in slow decline for the last half decade, having tied itself to the political fortunes of first Al Gore and, more recently, Joe Lieberman and now, it seems, none other than Scooter Libby!

It seems doubtful that Peretz' new online foray will do much to revive the mag's slumping appeal. His long time nemesis, Slate's rapier-togued Jack Shafer just can't hold himself back. Muses Shafer:

The Peretz Index: Number of words: 1,500. Number of self-references: 28. Number of $10 words: two ("tocsin" and "phantasmagorical"). Number of stupid comparisons: one (the Republicans are like Sen. Joe McCarthy because they have the "habit" of referring to the Democratic Party as the "Democrat Party," just as Joe did). Number of foreign words or phrases: one ("par excellence"). Number of grammatical errors flagged by Microsoft Word: one (he writes "It's" when he means "Its"). Number of sentences that begin with "And": nine. Number of British spellings: one (he writes "judgement" twice).