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The Nation

Denny's Man

Yesterday the House Ethics Committee issued four dozen subpoenas but declined to appoint an outside counsel to investigate a possible cover-up of Mark Foley's conduct by the House Republican leadership--meaning that they're likely to sweep the most damning revelations under the rug.

There's many reasons to distrust the Ethics Committee, which I outlined in a piece in January, "Ethics-Go-Round." The most obvious red herring is that the Chairman of the committee, Rep. Doc Hastings, was specifically appointed by Hastert to prevent investigations of fellow Republicans.

After rebuking Tom DeLay three times, Hastert purged three Republicans from the committee and replaced the old chairman, Rep. Joel Hefley, with Hastings. The committee didn't function for the next year, even as scandal after scandal gripped Washington.

Only recently did the Committee hire full-time staff and begin working again. But it's hardly independent. Is the man who owes his job to Hastert really going to thoroughly investigate him?

N.J. Pride At Risk

As someone who was born and raised in New Jersey I can assure you with some authenticity that New Jersey pride is often under-appreciated and overlooked. Personally, I've always been particularly proud of my state's more liberal leanings over the last few decades. But my confidence in the judgment of my states' voters is being shaken currently by an uncomfortably close race for senate between 10-month-long Democratic incumbent Robert Menendez and his Republican challenger, Tom Kean Jr., who's son of 9/11 commission head and popular former N.J. governor Tom Kean.

In Jersey, Bush is more unpopular than he is in roughly 45 of the other states. He was defeated there handily in '00 and '04. The state hasn't elected a Republican senator in over 30 years. But with the corruption and scandal fueled downfalls of former Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli in 2002 and the former Democratic Governor James McGreevey last year, has soured many New Jersey citizens on the state's Democratic machine. Menendez, an appointee of Gov. Jon Corzine's, has been similarly marred by accusations of poor ethics. With the exception of a recent Zogby poll, Menendez has been trailing Kean Jr by a few points consistently for weeks now.

Even more discouragingly, Menendez has about as much charisma as a 9th grade algebra teacher. Nevertheless, he has taken some impressive political stands. Throughout the campaign Menendez has been savvy to highlight his opposition to the war in Iraq from day one. On the other hand he's shown a disheartening inclination to pander to the right, as he did by voting to essentially allow President Bush to continue with his blatant disregard for the Geneva Conventions.

Meanwhile Kean Jr. seems just as affable and sensible as his father. But his sunny exterior and moderate posturing disguise much more conservative views on issues like stem cell research. When it comes to what is arguably the most important issue in the country right now, the war in Iraq, Kean Jr. says he supported it initially and despite what we all now know, still does.

New Jersey can't risk putting someone in office from either party who spouts that kind of reactionary rhetoric. The senate swings in the balance and the opportunity to finally change course on Iraq and host of other issues does too.

Waterboarding's Comeback

Did you read Walter Pincus's important article in Thursday's Washington Post? Pincus--whose extraordinary reporting has been a rare beacon of truth and accountability in these last years--shows through historical example that actions once considered, and treated, like war crimes are now condoned and sanctioned by legislators relying on immoral legalisms crafted by criminal yes-men like David Addington and John Yoo and, of course Dick Cheney. I'm talking about torture. Specifically, waterboarding. In 1947, the US charged a Japanese officer with war crimes for carrying out a form of waterboarding on a US civilian. The officer was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor.

No wonder millions of Americans--you can read their words in letters to the editor or hear their words on talk radio--express a sense of loss. I'm not just talking about the tragic loss of lives in Iraq or the loss of jobs or the loss of America's good name in the world. I'm talking about a loss of our moral standing as a great nation. What use is power if corroded by torture and fear?

I also think of our loss as a democracy. Think of this: There have been other periods in American history when torture has been committed, when habeas corpus has been suspended; when innocent civilians have been imprisoned; when secret prisons were created; when due process has been denied; when private records have been subpoened; when illegal domestic spying has been approved; when the President of the United States has repeatedly and consistently broken the law.

But they have never all happened at the same time. They have never all happened under the watch of the same Administration. They have never come with the promise that this song will remain the same for the rest of our natural lives. Because of it, I believe there has never been a more important time to raise our voices and hold our leaders accountable as there is today.

Every other chapter of excess and overreach in American history has been followed by a period of regret, and then reform. But what do we make of this President's claim that the war on terror is a war without end? Does that also mean that the war on our fundamental rights and liberties knows no end?

The true test of a great nation's highest ideals aren't what it espouses when times are good, but the ideals and values it embraces when times are bad. I believe that the best defense against excess are informed and engaged citizens, unafraid to speak their minds, unafraid to hold their leaders accountable, unafraid to remind us of the principles that made this nation great.

Teach the Children Well

Escalating violence in Iraq has resulted in the deaths of 24 US soldiers since Saturday, and the Pentagon just reported that IED attacks are taking place at an unprecedented rate. (The number of planted bombs is "at an all-time high," Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell told the Washington Post, defying American efforts to stanch the vicious sectarian bloodshed in Baghdad that has the country on the cusp of civil war.) Unsurprisingly, the latest CNN poll reports that 66 percent of Americans currently disapprove of the job the President is doing in Iraq.

Why is the United States still occupying Iraq? How and when can we withdraw? How does the Iraqi occupation relate to the current crisis in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon? What are the prospects for a new war in Iran or Syria? How and why is the Bush Administration expanding the powers of the Executive Branch? What are the domestic effects of the administration's commitment to a prolonged "war on terrorism?"

Historians Against the War (HAW), formed in 2003 to oppose the Iraq invasion, is urging professors and students nationwide to organize National Teach-Ins from October 17 to November 7 to address these questions. There are currently more than thirty events planned coast to coast with many more in the works. The exact formats and themes will reflect the specific identities and issues of each respective institution but the common bond will be a revulsion against this war, an accounting of the multilayered costs it has exacted, and a renewed commitment to bringing the troops home.

Check out HAW's website if you'd like to organize something yourself. The group is currently lining up speakers, offering suggestions on logistics and planning, and faciliating connections between student groups and national organizations such as Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Parents and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Click here to see if there's a teach-in near you, and sign and circulate HAW's statement against the war. Any historian, historically-minded scholar, teacher, or student of history is eligible.

The Blame Game

Republicans have finally found the causes and culprits of Foleygate: political correctness and George Soros.

First, political correctness. On Tuesday the Arlington Group, a coalition of over seventy religious right organizations, issued a letter responding to Rep. Foley's conduct.

"We are very concerned that the early warnings of Mr. Foley's odd behavior toward young male pages may have been overlooked or treated with deference, fearing a backlash from the radical gay rights movement because of Mr, Foley's sexual orientation," the letter stated. "It appears that the integrity of the conservative majority has given way to political correctness, trading the virtues of decency and respect for that of tolerance and diversity. No one should be surprised at the results ofsuch a tragic exchange."

In other words, gays and liberals are to blame.

But it doesn't stop there. The new conservative talking point is that Soros-funded organizations, particularly Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) leaked the emails and IMs between Foley and the underage pages to help Democrats regain control of Congress. "The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros," still-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert told the Chicago Tribune yesterday as part of a desperate attempt to keep his job.

Last I heard, ABC News is not funded by Soros. And CREW, which filed an ethics complaint against Foley and passed on some of his emails to the FBI, targets Democrats as well as Republicans and receives only a small percentage of its budget from Soros personally.

And the source who originally gave ABC News the emails was a House GOP aide. Let me repeat: a Republican. Not someone presumably funded by the "radical gay rights movement" or George Soros.

Big-Brother Software

Read Wednesday's New York Times article about how software is being developed to monitor negative opinions of the US or its leaders in overseas newspapers and other publications. It's like an episode of The Twilight Zone written by Orwell.

It's also creepy because it's so reminiscent of the aborted 2002 attempt to develop a tracking system called Total Information Awareness that, as the Times points out, "was intended to detect terrorists by analyzing troves of information."

This administration actively tries to alienate everyone through its words and actions and then it wants to measure just how much they've offended everyone? You couldn't make this stuff up.

Premature Celebration

The President and his speechwriters have, these last years, fallen in love with "victory." Back in November, 2005, for instance, promoting his administration's "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," Bush used the word "victory" 15 times in a single speech. Things in Iraq were already bad enough then. Now, of course, they are beyond disastrous and, in a small but telling piece on p. A28 of Wednesday's New York Times, Thom Shanker reports the following: "Tucked away in fine print in the military spending bill for this past year was a lump sum of $20 million to pay for a celebration in the nation's capital ‘for commemoration of success' in Iraq and Afghanistan." He adds, "Not surprisingly, the money was not spent." It was, in fact, rolled over to next year when… well, if the Republicans still control Congress, it will surely be rolled over to 2008, 2009, and 2010.

Victory in Iraq is not on many American minds right now in a country where, according to the latest CNN poll, 66% of us disapprove of the job the President is doing there. So it's not surprising that a little piece about marches in honor of "success" in his wars is tucked away in the paper, while an unexpected slaughter among the Amish and mayhem over charges over pedophilia cover-ups among Republicans, dominates front pages countrywide. But here's the strange thing: Right now, if victory is relegated to p. 28 (and next year's military budget), the pain of American loss has hardly been easier to see recently, unless, as Juan Cole pointed out at his Informed Comment blog, you're reading very local papers.

Since Saturday, at least 23 American soldiers have died in Iraq (mostly in Baghdad) and at least 2 in Afghanistan. A single day total of 8 was announced by the Pentagon for Monday and yet these numbers generally didn't make it near a front page. The Washington Post, whose Wednesday front page had a huge story on the murdered Amish girls, "Pa. Killer Had Prepared for ‘Long Siege,'" on page 1, dealt with American casualties in Iraq in a tiny Associated Press piece on page A21 ("11 U.S. Troops, 52 Iraqis Killed"). A story of rising American casualties around Baghdad only hit the paper's front page today. The New York Times, whose front page had a similar Amish story ("Elaborate Plan Seen by Police in School Siege") Wednesday, put its Iraq piece by Michael Luo ("8 G.I.'s Die in Baghdad, Most in a Day Since '05") on p. A12 -- with a tiny box about it on p. 1.

The news from Baghdad is even worse than you might imagine, but this week you had to be a news junkie to notice. The capital not only experienced the highest daily American casualties of the war, but "the highest number of car bombs and roadside bombs... this year." And here's the real twist: While American casualties are on the rise, Iraqi military casualties are actually falling! This undoubtedly reflects not better fighting skills on the part of the Iraqi Army, but an ever-lessening engagement with the insurgency in Baghdad where a militia-ridden, death-squad-linked national police brigade was also being pulled off the capital's streets and replaced by… well, what did you expect?... American troops.

The President has long said, "As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." But what if they stand down? And Americans in their place simply die in increasing numbers.

Maybe the Vietnam-era advice of Vermont Senator George Aiken is still worth considering. What if we just declared "victory" and started to come home. Then that $20 million in parades might be a fine investment.

Hastert Under Mounting Pressure

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, has scheduled a press conference this morning in Chicago.

What will Hastert, who faces mounting pressure to quit over his mishandling of the scandal surrounding former Congressional Mark Foley, have to say?

Chances are, Hastert may not know.

In a Wednesday evening interview with the Chicago Tribune -- which followed the announcement by Foley's former chief of staff that he had warned Hastert's office more than two years ago about the Florida congressman's inappropriate behavior toward teenage pages – the Speaker said he was not going to quit. "Look, I've talked to our members," Hastert told the largest newspaper in his home state. "Our members are supportive. I think that (resignation) is exactly what our opponents would like to have happen -- that I'd fold my tent and others would fold our tent and they would sweep the House."

But it wasn't just Democrats who were telling Hastert to fold the tent.

Human Events, the influential conservative weekly newspaper, is reportedly set to editorialize today for Hastert's exit and the election of a new Speaker. ``We think the Republicans need new leaders, and I don't think Hastert will be there much longer,'' explained Human Events the editor-in-chief Tom Winter in an interview Wednesday. ``I think (Hastert) has to do this for the team, he has to step down.''

Another conservative publication, the Washington Times, called earlier in the week for Hastert's resignation.

But the real measure of Hastert's troubles may be coming from the ranks of his own caucus. Congressman Ron Lewis, a Kentucky Republican who is waging a tough reelection campaign, announced on Wednesday that he had cancelled a fundraiser that was to have featured Hastert.

Lewis is unlikely to be the only Republican in a close race to distance himself or herself from Hastert, who is under fire for failing to respond adequately when concerns were raised about sexually-explicit communications between Foley and congressional pages and who, since the scandal broke last week, has repeatedly been caught in lies about it.

As conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote late Wednesday, "a dysfunctional House leadership" – led by Hastert – is now a key factor threatening GOP control of the House. "The anger by rank-and-file Republican House members over the incompetence of their leaders is palpable," explained Novak.

All of this points to the prospect of a Hastert resignation. What argues against that prospect?

One big argument that key Republicans are making for keeping Hastert is the challenge of finding another leader who is not tarnished by the scandal. Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, is at least as closely tied to the scandal as Hastert, as are other top Republicans such as New York Congressman Tom Reynolds, the chair of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.

The former Foley aide who has come forward to challenge Hastert's version of events had served as chief of staff for Reynolds until the aide abruptly resigned Wednesday.

One suggestion that seems to be gaining traction is a proposal that Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde, a senior Republican who is not seeking reelection, might replace Hastert for the short term.

But many Republicans fear that even a shuffle of leadership that put the reasonably well-regarded Hyde in charge would not be enough to make the party's problems go away. Indeed, there is concern that a Hastert resignation would bring so much additional attention to the scandal that disenchantment among religious conservatives – essential supporters of the GOP in recent election cycles – would spread. No one thinks that fundamentalist voters will switch as a group to the Democrats in this fall's elections. Rather, the fear is a portion of the party's social-conservative base would simply fail to turn out on Election Day.

The Circle Fires

The fallout from Foleygate keeps increasing. Just when it looks like Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert might be shoring up his support among conservatives, another bombshell drops.

Just an hour ago the AP reported that former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham asked Hastert to intervene three years ago.

GOP aides had previously told ABC News that Fordham, who resigned today, prevented an inquiry into Foley. When Fordham read the report, he went public with what he knew.

"Rather than trying to shift the blame on me, those who are employed by these House leaders should acknowledge what they know about their action or inaction in response to the information they knew about Mr. Foley prior to 2005," Fordham told the AP.

After leaving Foley's office, Fordham went to work for National Republican Congressional Committee Tom Reynolds, who accepted $100,000 from Foley and himself is a central figure in the cover-up.

But Fordham's revelation puts the spotlight back on Hastert. His contradictory explanations thus far about why he didn't investigate Foley earlier have been woefully inadequate. Now sources on Capitol Hill say it may be a matter of hours before Hastert loses his job.