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The Nation

The President's Healthcare Deform Plan

It is no secret that, in this era of spin uber alles, State of the Union addresses are nothing more than public-relations events. At best, they offer presidents a chance to rally the troops. But, with George Bush's approval ratings falling beneath those of Richard Nixon in the thick of the Watergate scandal, he has very few troops left to rally. Even Republicans are fleeing the president's camp, and nothing he said Tuesday night will bring them back.

That does not mean, however, that this State of Union address was completely irrelevant.

In fact, it will be remembered for having produced what could well be the worst domestic policy proposal of an administration that is not without accomplishment when it comes to turning the wheels of government to make the bad into something truly awful.

What is being referred to by the White House as the President's State of the Union Health Care Initiative is, even by the standards of this administration, a truly nightmarish proposal.

Employing the administration's Orwellian flair for language, the President is pitching his plan as "health care reform."

The accurate term would actually be health care deform.

The President wants the federal government to begin treating contributions from major corporations to help cover the health insurance costs of their employees -- most of which were won through decades of organizing, struggle and bargaining by the unions that represent those employees -- as taxable income. In effect, workers who have quality coverage would be punished, as would the firms that provide that coverage.

The Bush plan's race-to-the-bottom approach to health care policy is being pitched as a way to encourage Americans who currently lack insurance coverage to go out and buy it -- and then to take advantage of an expanded tax deduction for individuals and families that purchase plans.

The problem, of course, while the Bush plan penalizes those who are insured, it does not begin to provide enough support for those who lack it.

Thus, if the Bush initiative were implemented, it would lower the quality of health-care coverage for those who have it while failing to provide it to all of those who lack it. "The President's so-called health care proposal won't help the uninsured, most of whom have limited incomes and are already in low tax brackets," explains the key player in Congress on health care issues, Congressman Pete Stark, the California Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee's powerful health subcommittee. "But it will hurt middle-income Americans, whose employers will shift even more cost and risk to their employees.''

Stark fears that the proposal highlighted in his State of the Union address would actually encourage employers to stop providing insurance to workers who are now reasonably well covered. "Under the guise of tax breaks, the president is pursuing a policy designed to destroy the employer-based health care system through which 160 million people receive coverage," says the congressman, who is viewed by Democrats and Republicans as Washington's most zealous advocate for expanding access to health care.

Stark is not crying wolf.

Paul Fronstin, director of the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute's Health Research and Education Program, says of the Bush plan: "I think [the President is] giving employers the incentive to get out of the business of providing health benefits."

Say what you will about all the domestic-policy damage that Bush has done -- to civil liberties, to education, to health and safety regulation, to race relations, to basic principles of fairness. You will still be hard pressed to come up with a worse idea than helping the few corporations that still provide quality health-care benefits to offload that responsibility.

And just be glad, be very glad, that Pete Stark is in charge of the committee that Bush's "reforms" would have to go through.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

Bush's Iraq Plea Fails

The most pained look of the night on which George Bush delivered the most difficult State of the Union address of his presidency swept across the face of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice midway through the speech.

The President had just delivered the key lines from the foreign-policy section of a speech that -- despite much emphasis on domestic issues such as health care, education and immigration and -- would be judged primarily on the effectiveness of his remarks regarding the Iraq War.

This was the point at which Bush needed to convince a skeptical Congress. And he gave it his all -- or, at the very least, all that his speechwriters could muster.

"If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country -- and in time the entire region could be drawn into the conflict," said Bush, who was making the case for his surge of 21,500 additional troops to Iraq. "For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq, would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens... new recruits ... new resources ... and an even greater determination to harm America."

Then, again seeking to forge the clumsy link between the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and his war of whim in Iraq, Bush declared: "To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September 11 and invite tragedy. And ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East ... to succeed in Iraq ... and to spare the American people from this danger."

The carefully crafted applause line brought Rice to her feet, and she scanned the House chamber to see if it had connected with a Congress that has in recent weeks heard bipartisan expressions of opposition to the president's scheming to expand the war. There was little question that she was hoping for a signal that members of the House and Senate were prepared to give Bush the time he was pleading for in a speech that featured the line: "Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq--and I ask you to give it a chance to work."

The response to the "nothing is more important" line on Iraq was anything but enthusiastic, as many -- perhaps most -- members remained seated. The Congress was not convinced by a repetition of tired rhetoric from a president who has repeatedly misjudged and misguided the war on terror.

Senator Barack Obama, D-Illinois, explained after the speech was done that, "The pall over the room was Iraq."

Rice did not need Obama's analysis. She knew exactly how heavily that pall hung over the chamber as she settled back into her seat Tuesday night.

The Secretary of State was seen grimacing almost as agonizingly as when she was tried to make the case earlier this month for Bush's surge in an excruciating appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- during which she was grilled not just by Democrats but by Republicans.

Rice recognized that the job of selling the surge had not been made any easier by this State of the Union address.

Indeed, if there was an expression of the sentiments of the Congressional majority -- made up of Democrats and a growing number of dissenting Republicans -- it came in the response to the president's speech by Senator Jim Webb, D-Virginia.

"The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the Chief of Staff of the Army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable--and predicted--disarray that has followed," the Reagan Republican turned Democratic Senator explained.

"The war's costs to our nation have been staggering. Financially. The damage to our reputation around the world. The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism. And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve.

"The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq."

Those are the words that, had they been spoken before the Congress Tuesday night, would have brought the chamber to its feet and earned the response Rice had hoped Bush would receive. They are, more significantly, the words that polls suggest the great mass of Americans long to hear not merely from one senator from Virginia but from a Congress that is prepared, finally, to restore the system of checks and balances and force this president to change course.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

Webb to Bush: "We Will Be Showing Him the Way."

Last year, Democrats chose newly elected Virginia Governor Tim Kaine to deliver the Democratic response to President Bush's State of the Union address. Kaine barely mentioned the war in Iraq and mostly spoke about domestic issues, just as President Bush did tonight. He was a red state Governor who won with a smile on his face.

This year Democrats--perhaps reflecting their newfound confidence--chose another Virginian to rebut Bush, but one who's not afraid to go toe to toe with the President, both on domestic policy and matters of war and peace. Unlike Kaine, Webb is more likely to scowl than smile. His implicit message is that serious times deserve serious men.

Webb's upset of George Allen and now infamous exchange with President Bush at the White House in November set the tone for the new Congress. When asked by Bush "How's your boy?" a reference to Webb's 24-year-old son serving as a Marine in Iraq, Webb responded: "I'd like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President."

"That's not what I asked you," Bush said. "How's your boy?"

"That's between me and my boy, Mr. President," Webb said, ending the conversation.

The moment was a deeply symbolic one, proving that President Bush's days of ruling like a king had come to an end. Democrats could be blunt, uncompromising and outspoken. During his campaign, the former Republican Secretary of the Navy "transformed into one of the unlikeliest protest candidates ever," Bob Moser wrote of Webb last October. Now he's becoming a similarly unlikely spokesman for his party.

In his speech tonight, Webb emphasized two issues that brought him and so many other new Democrats to Congress: the rising inequality between rich and poor and the toll the war in Iraq has taken on this nation.

Webb is a keen student of history and the strongest part of his speech came when he invoked the leadership of presidents past.

"Regarding the economic imbalance in our country, I am reminded of the situation President Theodore Roosevelt faced in the early days of the 20th century. America was then, as now, drifting apart along class lines. The so-called robber barons were unapologetically raking in a huge percentage of the national wealth. The dispossessed workers at the bottom were threatening revolt.

Roosevelt spoke strongly against these divisions. He told his fellow Republicans that they must set themselves ‘as resolutely against improper corporate influence on the one hand as against demagogy and mob rule on the other.' And he did something about it.

As I look at Iraq, I recall the words of former general and soon-to-be President Dwight Eisenhower during the dark days of the Korean War, which had fallen into a bloody stalemate. 'When comes the end?' asked the General who had commanded our forces in Europe during World War Two. And as soon as he became President, he brought the Korean War to an end.

These Presidents took the right kind of action, for the benefit of the American people and for the health of our relations around the world. Tonight we are calling on this President to take similar action, in both areas. If he does, we will join him. If he does not, we will be showing him the way."

Take just one instance that often gets forgotten these days: New Orleans. At the beginning of his speech Webb said that he hoped the President was "serious about…restoring the vitality of New Orleans." In fact, tonight Bush conveniently failed to mention Hurricane Katrina. "I do not see myself voting for any more money for these reconstruction and economic projects inside Iraq when we have places like New Orleans that haven't gotten help," Webb said recently. Leadership--both foreign and domestic--Webb realizes, begins at home.

A Tepid Response to Bush's Iraq Plea

The most pained look of the State of the Union night came from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice midway through President Bush's address.

The President had just delivered the key lines from the foreign-policy section of the speech:

"If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country -- and in time the entire region could be drawn into the conflict," said Bush, who was making the case for his surge of 21,500 additional troops to Iraq. "For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq, would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens... new recruits ... new resources ... and an even greater determination to harm America."

Then, again seeking to forge a link between the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the struggle in Iraq, Bush declared: "To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September 11 and invite tragedy. And ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East ... to succeed in Iraq ... and to spare the American people from this danger."

The carefully crafted applause line brought Rice to her feet, and she scanned the House chamber to see if it had connected with a Congress that has in recent weeks heard bipartisan expressions of concern about the president's scheming to expand the war. There was little question that she was hoping for a signal that members of the House and Senate were prepared to give Bush the time he was pleading for in a speech that featured the line: "Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq--and I ask you to give it a chance to work."

The response to the "nothing is more important" line on Iraq was anything but enthusiastic, as many--perhaps most--members remained seated. The applause died within moments.

Senator Barack Obama may have put it best when he said, "The pall over the room was Iraq."

It was obvious that Rice recognized that fact.

As she settled back into her seat, she was seen grimacing almost as agonizingly as when she was trying to make the case for Bush's surge earlier this month in an excruciating appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee--during which she was grilled not just by Democrats but by Republicans.

Rice knew that the job of selling the surge had not been made any easier by this State of the Union address.

Indeed, if there was an expression of the sentiments of the Congressional majority--made up of Democrats and a growing number of dissenting Republicans--it came in the response to the president's speech by Senator Jim Webb, D-Virginia.

"The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable ­and predicted ­disarray that has followed," the Reagan Republican turned Democratic senator explained.

"The war's costs to our nation have been staggering. Financially. The damage to our reputation around the world. The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism. And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve.

"The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq's cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq."

----------------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism has been hailed by authors and historians Gore Vidal,Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn for its meticulous research into theintentions of the founders and embraced by activists for itsgroundbreaking arguments on behalf of presidential accountability.After reviewing recent books on impeachment, Rolling Stone politicalwriter Tim Dickinson, writes in the latest issue of Mother Jones, "JohnNichols' nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic, TheGenius of Impeachment, stands apart. It concerns itself far less withthe particulars of the legal case against Bush and Cheney, and insteadcombines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe "heroic medicine" that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and atwww.amazon.com

"Madam Speaker!"

For the first time in the 220-year history of the Republic, the appearance of President before a joint session of Congress was announced with the words: "Madam Speaker! The President of the United States."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, presided over the joint session to which President Bush delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday night. Never before has a woman been in so powerful a position.

It is true that Pelosi was forced to engage in the unappealing work of making small talk with Vice President Dick Cheney for the better part of a half hour before the announcement came. But the new speaker was seen to smile broadly when the Sergeant at Arms of the House shouted the traditional announcement of the president.

Bush recognized the moment. Diverting from the prepared text that had been distributed before he entered the House chamber, the President said it was his "high privilege" of begin his address with the words, "Madam Speaker..."

The President then graciously recalled the service of the Speaker's father in the House and extended his hand of the woman behind him.

The chamber rose to a rousing standing ovation, in what was certain to be the night's most truly bipartisan moment.

Cutting Off The Nonsense

So there are a bunch of proposals in the House and Senate aimed at using Congressional authority to stop Bush's escalation. Some, like the Kennedy-sponsored bill, would seem to provide a good opportunity to at the very least stop the deployment of 20,000 more American troops. But then we see in today's paper that a significant portion of Democrats are still saying "go slow" and, even more distressingly, Bush has said that even if Congress does pass a bill capping the funding for additional troops, he will simply ignore it.

He's the decider, after all. Point being that even if the Dems do get their act together to do the politically and morally correct thing, that is, vote to limit funding and stop the escalation, it won't stop more young Americans beings sent into a war zone to dodge IED's or more Iraqis having guns pointed at them and orders barked in their direction from terrified, skittish, worn down Americans.

A friend on the Hill says that the real fight is going to be in February when the White House sends its latest emergency appropriations request to Congress. As many people have pointed out, the politics of this will be tricky. It seems like the Bush administration is trying to bait the Democrats into recreating something like the stand-off between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich over the federal budget in 1995-1996. when Gingrich refused to submit a revised budget, allowing the appropriations bills to lapse and forcing parts of the government to shut down. That was, of course, an absolute disaster for Gingrich and the Republicans and one can imagine Bush attemping to contrive a similar situation, in which the Democrats looking like they were cutting off funding to the troops.

But the optics aside, let me note just how insane this notion of "cutting off funding to the troops" is. In Rick Perlstein's forthcoming book on Richard Nixon, he quotes Jonathan Schell, who wrote back in the 1970s that Nixon had so succeeded in highlighting and manipulating the plight of the POWs that "people began to speak as though the North Vietnamese had kidnapped 400 Americans and the United States had gone to war to retrieve them." This is essentially what we face now with the "cutting off funding to the troops" canard. After passing through so many causi belli, we have finally arrived at the reductio an abdurdum for the current war: in arguing against cutting off funding for war because of its effect on the troops, the administration and its allies are essentially arguing that we must continue to fund the war in Iraq because....the troops are in Iraq! Of course, it's the other way around: the troops are in Iraq because our government keeps funding the war. If we stop funding the war, then we will withdraw the troops. It's certainly not the case that we'd just keep them in Iraq, but stop sending them food, armor and bullets as the war's supporters would have us believe.

That said, Democrats are still obviously scared they'll be tagged with this ludicrous insult. So the question persists: how to end the war? If Congress doesn't cut off funding, the White House certainly isn't going to end things on its own. So then what? Given that arguably the largest global protests in history did nothing to stop the war from starting, I was fairly convinced that mass protest was, for a complicated variety of reasons, not going to have much of an effect. But the disapproval of Iraq was registered at the ballot box in November and it's seemingly had no effect on the president. What will it take to make him listen? Millions of people in the streets? Massive war resistance by enlisted solidiers? My brother thinks that ultimately Bush will face a rebellion from fellow Republicans, which seems likely, but will he even listen to them?

At some point, members of Congress are going to have stop running away from "cutting off funding" and explain to the American public why it's the only way to stop the war.

Libby Trial Opens With Simple Tales and Complex Plots

It's simple, said special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald during his opening argument at the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby: Vice President Dick Cheney's onetime chief of staff lied to the FBI and a grand jury to cover up his and Cheney's involvement in the leak that outed Valerie (Plame) Wilson as a CIA official.

This is a twisted, complicated and dark tale, said Ted Wells, a lead lawyer for Libby: one of conspiracies, bureaucratic infighting, turf wars, backroom deals, terrorist plots (involving nuclear weapons and anthrax) against the United States, and assorted memory lapses, convenient and accidental. Libby merely engaged in no-harm-intended forgetfulness, Wells insisted, and, moreover, he was "set up" by Karl Rove as a "sacrificial lamb" in a White House melodrama starring Cheney, who supposedly was defending Libby from a White House effort designed to protect Rove at all costs.

Both lawyers told the jury that the case--in which Libby faces five charges of obstructing justice, perjury and making false statements to government investigators--is not about the war in Iraq or the administration's use of false information to sell the public on the war.

And as the two legal teams began their courtroom battle, new information was disclosed about the leak affair, including the revelation that Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary at the time of the leak, had identified Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer to NBC News reporter David Gregory a week before the leak appeared in Robert Novak's July 14, 2003 column, and that Fleischer, during the subsequent criminal investigation, took the Fifth Amendment and demanded (and received) immunity before testifying to Fitzgerald's' grand jury. Fleischer told the grand jury that he had learned about Valerie Wilson's CIA affiliation first from Libby and then from Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director. (This directly implicated yet two more White House officials in the scandal.) Gregory, though, did not report the information, and he later declined to talk to Fitzgerald about his conversation with Fleischer. Fitzgerald never subpoenaed him. (In a response to an email from a colleague asking about today's disclosure, Gregory emailed, "I can't help you, sorry.") The first day of the trial also brought the news that after the Justice Department opened an investigation of the CIA leak in fall 2003, Cheney pressured the White House press office to make a statement clearing Libby of any wrongdoing.

Libby, Fitzgerald argued, committed a straightforward crime: lying to the FBI and the grand jury, as each was investigating the leak. The case, Fitzgerald acknowledged, has been playing against a large backdrop: the war in Iraq and the controversy regarding the Bush administration's selling of the war. He also conceded that it grew out of the leak scandal and the question of who in the Bush administration had outed Valerie Wilson to reporters after Joseph Wilson publicly accused the White House of having twisted and misrepresented the prewar intelligence. But Fitzgerald attempted to focus the jury on a limited matter: several statements Libby made to the FBI and the grand jury about his role in the leak affair.

In those statements--made during two FBI interviews and two grand jury appearances--Libby said that though he had once possessed official information about Valerie Wilson's CIA employment, he had forgotten all about that, that he then heard about her CIA connection from reporters (mainly, Tim Russert of Meet the Press), and that he subsequently discussed this gossip (not official information) with other reporters. His explanation was essentially this: I forgot to remember what I had once known but had forgotten.

Fitzgerald vowed that he would demonstrate this was a pack of lies. He previewed evidence and testimony cited in the indictment and pretrial submissions that (according to Fitzgerald) shows that Libby in June and early July 2003 was an active gatherer of official (and classified) information on Joseph Wilson and his wife. Fitzgerald pointed to several witnesses who will testify that Libby requested information on the Wilsons from them when they were government officials: Marc Grossman, the No. 3 at the State Department, Robert Grenier, a CIA official, Craig Schmall, a CIA briefer, and Cathie Martin, a spokesperson for Cheney. (Fitzgerald said that Libby called Grenier out of meeting to receive information on the Wilsons from him.) He also noted that Libby, according to Libby's own notes, had learned from Cheney that Valerie Wilson worked at the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA. (This is a unit within the agency's clandestine operations directorate.)

And then Fitzgerald said that he would produce several witnesses to prove that Libby, after obtaining official information on the Wilsons, conveyed some of it to two reporters (Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time) and to the White House press secretary at the time, Ari Fleischer (with the warning the material was "hush-hush").

Libby's story to the FBI and the grand jury was that on July 10, 2003--four days after Joe Wilson had published an op-ed article noting he had inside information proving the administration had misrepresented the case for war--he had called Russert, that Russert had told him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, and that he (Libby) had believed that he was learning about her for the first time. (Libby testified that he was "taken aback" when he heard from Russert that Wilson's wife was a CIA official.) Yet, according to Fitzgerald, Libby had already discussed Valerie Wilson and her CIA affiliation with Fleischer on July 7 and with Miller on July 8. "You cannot learn something startling on Thursday that you were giving out on Monday and Tuesday," Fitzgerald declared. He charged that Libby had concocted the Russert tale to "wipe out" the fact that Libby had earlier been told about Valerie Wilson by Cheney. "This is not a case about bad memory," he maintained. Libby, he said, had been caught in a cover-up.

A diagram of Fitzgerald's case would be a straight line: Libby sought official information, he shared this classified material with reporters, he then made up a story to hide all this from investigators. To get a graphic representation of Well's argument, take a large pot of spaghetti--with plenty of sauce--and hurl it against the wall. Then look at the wall.

In his opening statement, Wells said the case was about forgetting--and about White House payback, Karl Rove's manipulations, dueling between the CIA and 1600 Pennsylvania, conspiring between NBC News and the prosecutors, and much more. Libby, he declared, "is totally innocent." He argued that Libby had done nothing wrong, that he had not "pushed" any reporters to write about Valerie Wilson, that that he had no reason to lie, that he was not concerned about losing his job, but that he was "concerned about being set up...about being the scapegoat for this entire Valerie Wilson controversy." Wells claimed that after the criminal investigation had begun, Libby met with Cheney and complained that "people in the White House" were "trying to sacrifice me...and trying to protect Karl Rove." (At that point, White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who had replaced Flesicher, had publicly declared that Rove was not involved in the leak--even though Rove, as would later become public, had been the primary source for the Novak column.) Responding to Libby's gripe, Cheney wrote a note that said, "Not going to protect one staff [and] sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others."

The "meat grinder," according to Wells, was the White House's fierce effort to rebut criticisms from Joe Wilson. Libby, he claimed, had indeed talked to reporters about Joe Wilson, but only to challenge Wilson's charges on the merits, not to discuss Wilson's wife. And this had taken place during the intense firestorm that Wilson had set off with his op-ed article. Because the CIA had screwed up the prewar intelligence, Wells suggested, Libby, acting on orders from Cheney and Bush, was trying to combat the popular perception--fueled by Wilson--that the White House had cooked the books on the way to war. After the criminal investigation began, Wells continued, the White House was willing to toss Libby to the wolves because Rove, the mastermind of the GOP, was too valuable to lose.

It was a bit fuzzy. How did Rove set up Libby to make false statements--honestly or not--to the FBI and the grand jury? Wells did not explain that. But his defense had much more to it. While trying to depict Libby as a pawn in a big-picture nightmare, he also characterized the case as even more narrow than did Fitzgerald. He argued that Fitzgerald's prosecution rested on "snippets"of three conversations Libby had with reporters that lasted no longer than 20 or 30 seconds. (Those reporters would be Russert, Cooper and Miller.) These journalists, he said, each did not have the clearest recollections of the calls, and none had good notes of the exchanges. He even noted that Russert--who has testified he did not know anything about Wilson's wife when he spoke with Libby--might be wrong and that it is possible that Russert had heard about Wilson's wife from David Gregory, his colleague at NBC News. But, Wells added, Russert was never asked about this possibility because he cut a deal with Fitzgerald to talk only about his phone call with Libby. What was going on here? Wells wondered, hinting at improper government-media collusion.

Wells also had another explanation of the Russert-Libby meeting. Maybe Libby, when he testified about it, confused Russert with Novak. Wells said that Novak will testify that he did speak to Libby at the time of the Russert conversation and might have told Libby that he was about to publish a column about Wilson's wife. So perhaps Libby had indeed learned about Wilson's wife from a reporter (Novak) and simply had a good-faith memory slip, mistakenly attributing that call to Russert. After all, Wells asked the jurors, who can recall what phone conversations he or she had three months earlier? Libby, he added, "was known in the office for having a bad memory," and Libby was quite busy with national security issues "trying to connect the dots so we don't have another 9/11." (Wells introduced a schedule of the week of July 7, 2003, showing that Libby received briefings every morning that included information about possible terrorism attacks on the United States.)

"The case is far more complex than what you heard," Wells told the jurors, referring to Fitzgerald's opening presentation. He certainly made it seem more complex. He promised to raise critical questions about the credibility of key witnesses. He said he would show Libby had no motive to lie. His strategy is to litigate the controversy, create multiple and intricate narratives, cast doubt on the testimony of reporters and government officials. He's being a good defense attorney. He does not have to prove anything; he only has to sow confusion--so that at least one juror says, I can't sort all this out. Fitzgerald has some strong facts on his side. (How could Libby have testified he was "taken aback" when Russert supposedly told him about Valerie Wilson's CIA connection, if Cheney had already informed him about her CIA position?) But Libby's legal team has a lot of spaghetti to throw at the jury. This will not be an easy trial for either side.

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DON"T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR, the best-selling book by David Corn and Michael Isikoff. Click here for information on the book. The New York Times calls Hubris "the most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations" and "fascinating reading." The Washington Post says, "There have been many books about the Iraq war....This one, however, pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." Tom Brokaw notes 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 highlights from Hubris, click here.

The State of Healthcare

According to the Bush administration, the new health care plan that the President unveiled in the State of the Union address Tuesday would cover three million people who are currently uninsured. Three million – out of forty-seven million. After years of dangerous inaction, this is what Bush rolls out to address a grave and growing crisis!

And, of course, no Bush domestic proposal would be complete without a further gutting of the social compact – this time, "cutting Medicaid payments to public hospitals and other ‘safety net' providers by $3.9 billion over the next five years." As Deborah Bachrach, a deputy commissioner in the New York State Health Department, told the New York Times, this cut would impact hospitals "that serve some of the lowest-income, most vulnerable patients." This at a time when many such facilities are already struggling to survive.

The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy survive untouched – in fact, they receive a new deduction if they purchase their own plans. However, the continuing War on the Middle Class is being…well, escalated. Workers who, according to the President, "choose overly expensive, gold-plated plans" through their employers will be taxed, while those who buy plans on their own will receive a deduction. As Columnist Paul Krugman suggested in a Times op-ed, who in our nation has one of those gold-plated plans? Krugman goes on to write, "The uninsured don't need an ‘incentive' to buy insurance; they need something that makes getting insurance possible…. Mr. Bush…is still peddling the fantasy that the free market, with a little help from tax cuts, solves all problems."

"The President's so-called health care proposal won't help the uninsured, most of whom have limited incomes and are already in low tax brackets," said Democratic Representative Pete Stark, Chairman of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee. "But it will hurt middle-income Americans, whose employers will shift even more cost and risk to their employees."

And as Gerald Shea, assistant to the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O, told The Times, "It would throw into turmoil the employment-based system of health insurance, and it would impose a new tax on the middle class."

Most experimentation (both good, not-so-good, and bad) with health care policy is happening at the state level. The often-touted Massachusetts plan – in the words of Doctors Steffi Woolhandler and David Himmelstein of Cambridge Hospital and Harvard Medical School – "offers empty promises and ignores real – and popular – solutions." By requiring every resident of the state to have health insurance or pay a fine while doing nothing to control costs of insurance and care, or setting standards for coverage – Big Insurance wins, and consumers lose. And the middle-class which doesn't qualify for subsidies but can't afford insurance is further squeezed.

In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a similar plan. Again, the plan mandates coverage but, according to State Senator Sheila James Kuehl, "it doesn't ensure that coverage will be comprehensive and affordable…. [it will] at best provide high-cost, low benefits plans for many Californians; it limits what employers pay but not what individuals must pay or what insurance companies can charge."

Although Schwarzenegger has won praise for a "bipartisan approach," in fact both his plan and that of Massachusetts Governor Milt Romney move in a direction Romney's staff calls "a culture of insurance" and "personal responsibility."

State Sen. Kuehl herself has a plan for universal coverage that I previously reported on here. Her proposal – SB 840 – would offer all Californians comprehensive care and the right for a patient to choose his or her doctor. It would replace insurance companies with a statewide trust fund that collects premiums paid by employers and individuals. The creation of a single fund reduces administration costs from nearly 30 percent of total health care costs to under 10 percent. With 80 percent of Californians wanting a government guarantee of affordable health care coverage, one hopes state legislators will take another look at the Kuehl plan.

The Washington Post reports that Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell has proposed a tax – on tobacco and businesses not offering health care coverage – in order to create state-subsidized private insurance for its 767,000 uninsured people. Vermont, Illinois, and Maine have all enacted legislation to expand coverage of uninsured residents as well, and at least eleven other states are "considering" doing the same.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, any real action to improve this unacceptable situation – worse than any other industrialized nation in the world – will have to overcome a lot of naysayers (not to mention powerful lobbying interests with their campaign dollars). Consider these statements from three representatives to The Washington Post:

"The truth of the matter is that dealing with this problem between now and the election is not realistic," said Senator George Voinovich.

"Congress is not going to act in a major way to deal with this access problem in the next couple of years," said Senator Jeff Bingaman. "That's the unfortunate reality that we're facing."

"If we tried to adopt a universal health-care plan on the federal level, we probably wouldn't have the votes," said Representative Frank Pallone Jr.

Nothing like negative, self-fulfilling prophecies to justify do-nothing proposals from our elected leaders.

The fact is there are 78 co-sponsors of HR 676 – the United States National Health Insurance Act introduced by Representatives John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich. There are 225 labor organizations supporting it as well. It would expand Medicare to every resident through savings from negotiated bulk procurement of medications; a tax on the top 5 percent of income earners; and a phased-in payroll tax that is lower than what employers currently pay for less comprehensive employee health coverage.

"There are only two real choices in the present healthcare debate… commercially-based models which reinforce the insurance industry and fail to provide genuine universal and comprehensive care, and HR 676, a patient-based model which caregivers know is the most effective, humane approach," said Deborah Burger, president of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.

"Solutions to the health care crisis based on increasing our reliance on private health insurance companies are bound to fail," said Dr. Oliver Fein, director of Physicians for a National Health Program. "Insurance companies limit patients' choice of doctor and hospital, and take money out of patient care and put it into marketing, bill collectors and claims deniers. We need a National Health Insurance program."

At a time when our nation is spending $8.4 billion per month in Iraq it is clear that the resources are available where there is political will. Just as the President proposes that we continue to follow his course of folly in Iraq, so too will he ask us to stay a course which causes the number of uninsured to grow year after year, and makes access to comprehensive health care a privilege for the fortunate who can afford it.

Tonight, when President Bush offers his flawed prescription for improving the state of health care, respond by signing on to the only real solution: universal health care now.

State of the What?

State of the what? Let's see, 28%, 31%, 33%, 35%. That pretty much sums up the State of the President -- or, at least, of his ever more dismal approval ratings in four of the latest major polls (and don't even mention his state of approval in similar nose-diving polls abroad). Only two Presidents, on the eve of a State of the Union Address have ever scored lower--and one was Richard Nixon at 26%, seven months before he resigned his Presidency. (The other was Truman at 23% and mired in the Korean War.) Unbelievably enough, those aren't even the worst figures around for this administration. Try 26%, 29%, 29%, 30%; that's about how many Americans now think any presidential State of Iraq plan or strategy makes the slightest sense according to polls by Newsweek, CBS, the Washington Post/ABC News, and NBC/the Wall Street Journal. A little lower and you're in the polling basement, the sort of place not normally accessible even to a bunker-busting President.

Basically, if the networks didn't cut off all prime-time programming for the State of the Union Address, I suspect that the percentage of Americans bothering to listen to George W. Bush's words might prove infinitesimal. After all, as the latest polls all essentially indicate, but Mark Murray wrote of the NBC/WSJ poll, "Nearly two-thirds of Americans appear to have given up on success in Iraq and also on [George Bush's] presidency."

In fact, we would undoubtedly do better to stop listening to any of the official words of this administration, since they bear next to no relationship to administration acts. This State of the Union Address, which will be analyzed to death in the press and on TV, matters not a whit. Never has an administration reached for its dictionaries faster or more often to redefine reality to fit its needs. Seldom has the media spent more time parsing (and then generally passing on) words that were meant to do little but promote fantasies, escape responsibility, and confuse the public. It's the acts -- all aggrandizing, all aimed at promoting the unfettered power of a President and Vice President who never learned the word "enough"--that matter and, wherever you look, they couldn't be grimmer in our tattered, battered union.

If you want to read more about just one of the key issues that won't be addressed tonight, turn to former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega's latest piece, "Lying and Spying," on how this administration has slipped and slid away from responsibility for its illegal National Security Agency surveillance program. Click here and scroll down.