The last time Democrats elected a new president who had not been a governor was in 1960, when U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy was the party's nominee and the narrow victor of a contest with Republican Richard Nixon. And two of the four Republican presidents since then were present or former governors, as well. So it makes at least a measure of sense to argue that the place to prospect for a 2008 Democratic nominee is in the states rather than Washington.
And, after Tuesday's election in Virginia, Democrats have a new statehouse star. No, it's not Tim Kaine, the Democrat who won a surprisingly easy victory over Republican Jerry Kilgore in the only southern state to hold a gubernatorial contest this fall. What matters as regards national politics is the fact that Kaine will be replacing a fellow Democrat, Mark Warner.
Warner has been boomed as a presidential prospect for some time now, and even before Tuesday's voting there were strong indications that the moderate Virginian was taking steps to enter the race for the party's 2008 nomination.
But Tuesday's off-year election vote in Virginia gives Warner a major boost.
In many senses, Kaine's victory was really Warner's win.
Kaine ran on a promise to carry on where Warner, whose approval ratings are in the high sixties, leaves off.
Warner appeared in almost as many of Kaine's television commercials as did the candidate himself.
And in the final days of the campaign, Warner and Kaine barnstormed across the state's southern counties, where Warner's combination of downhome appeals to sportsmen and NASCAR racing fans and a little bit of economic populism went a long way toward overcoming the instinct of cultural conservatives to vote for the Republican.
The strategy of linking Kaine with Warner worked in large part because Warner has been such a successful governor.
The Warner model of increasing taxes to pay for education and infrastructure improvements, defending the right to choose and promoting racial harmony, and creating economic-development initiatives for hard-hit regions has generally worked well for Virginia. No, the southern state has not become a bastion of progressivism, and there are still plenty of reasons to question whether Warner is the right man to put some spine back into the Democratic column.
But there is no question that Warner can point to some impressive accomplishments in Virginia. A state that had a history of going from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis now has a surplus and some of the best bond ratings in the country. As such, Democrat Kaine's promise to carry on was a lot more appealing than Republican Kilgore's promise of a return to "no-more-taxes" dogma and financial instability.
Against a Democratic field that is likely to be thick with senators -- New York's Hillary Clinton, Indiana's Evan Bayh, Delaware's Joe Biden, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, Massachusetts' John Kerry, the 2004 nominee, and his running mate from that year, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards -- Warner's argument that the party needs a nominee with executive experience could have significant appeal. And he will have a much easier time directing the attention of voters toward Virginia, now that Kaine will be sitting in the governor's chair.
With Kaine in charge of Virginia, Warner will have several advantages if he chooses to seek the party's nomination in 2008. First, in a state where the governor is not allowed to succeed himself, Kaine's win is the next best vindication for Warner to a reelection of his own. Also, with a Democrat in charge of Virginia, Warner can hit the presidential campaign trail without fear of having a homestate rival poking at him -- as John Kerry did in 2004, when the Republican governor of the Bay State, Mitt Romney, was dispatched by GOP managers to batter the Democratic presidential nominee.
With Jimmy Carter, the former governor of a southern state, and Bill Clinton, the sitting governor of a southern state,, Democrats were able to defeat Republican presidents in 1976 and 1992, respectively. Kaine's win in Virginia positions Warner to advance the claim that Democrats need to turn once more to a statehouse veteran if they want to secure the White House.
Watch for him to do just that in the coming months.
In politics--as the sophisticated analysts say--it is better to win than lose. So Democrats can be happy about their triumphs in New Jersey and Virginia, where their candidates won contests for governor, and they can crow about terminating California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's ballot propositions (particularly the one that would have weakened the political clout of unions). Are these results a bad omen for Republicans in 2006? As several poli-sci experts have pointed out, if you look at recent off-year elections, they predict the outcome of the next election in only two of four cases. That's as good as flipping a coin. But what was notable about these elections is that Rove-style politics did not succeed.
In Virginia and New Jersey, the Republicans campaigned mainly by hurling slash-and-burn ads at the Democrats. In New Jersey, the Republicans even went after Senator Jon Corzine, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, by putting up an ad in which Corzine's ex-wife dumped on him. Despite this woman-scorned strategy, Corzine won.
In Virginia, GOP candidate Jerry Kilgore aired harsh spots that accused Democrat--and eventual winner--Timothy Kaine--of being a wimp on the death penalty. Kaine, a Catholic, explained that he opposed capital punishment due to his moral values but he said he would abide by state law, which allows for executions. Kilgore mercilessly bashed Kaine for holding this view; one Kilgore ad had a murder victim's relative bitterly saying that Kaine could not be trusted on this issue. Kilgore's campaign devoted more resources to anti-Kaine ads than spots celebrating Kilgore's own assets. And in the final weeks of the campaign, Kilgore tried to score points by decrying illegal immigration. That didn't work. Nor did another move aimed at base Republican voters. Shortly before the election, Kilgore declared his support for a measure that would let gun-owners bring concealed weapons into bars. He argued this was safer for gun-owners than requiring them to leave their firearms in their cars whenever they wanted a brewski. (What's next? Permitting guns in schools and courthouses? How about in divorce court?) Pushing the death penalty, pandering to gun-owners, screaming about illegal immigrants, and campaigning with George W. Bush (but only once, and in the last dash of the race)--none of this helped Kilgore in a Red state.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the Rove/Libby scandal, Corn's appearance with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, the slow Phase II review of prewar intellience, Samuel Alito and other in-the-news matters.
That sure ain't bad news for Democrats. Now all they need are effective candidates like Kaine and popular outgoing incumbents like departing Virginia Governor Mark Warner, and they will sweep the nation. Seriously, it's encouraging for Democrats that the traditional weapons of Republicans did not draw blood (at least not in a fatal fashion) in Virginia and New Jersey, states that could be crucial in the next presidential contest. And it has to worry Republicans that Bush is at this moment a dud when it comes to assisting GOP candidates. He will still be able to raise mucho money for Republicans in the 2006 contests. After all, there are plenty of grateful millionaires eager to kick back a small percentage of the large tax cuts they have received courtesy of Bush and the GOP (and a few Democrats). It's usually not too hard for a president to be a cash machine for his party. But the icing on the cake is a president who can hit the road, campaign with candidates of his party, and share his glow with them. Right now, Bush has less glow than a night light. If he doesn't increase his political wattage in the coming year, one motif of the 2006 election will be whether Republicans are running with Bush or away from him.
But remember that whenever anyone discussed the coming elections in terms of national themes, moods, or issues, such talk has to be tempered by the realization that congressional elections in non-presidential years are mostly a collection of 500-odd individual races, each with their own dynamics that may defy or jibe with larger trends. Moreover, the 435 House districts are so gerrymandered that only several dozen of them are likely to be competitive. Most House seats are safe harbors. Consequently, it takes quite a national tide to push enough boats in a direction that leads to a change of control. That did happen in 1994, when GOPers seized the House for the first time in a million years. (It was more like four decades.) But incumbents have done a good job of rigging the system to protect incumbents of both parties.
Still, it's better to have the wind at your back than in your face. Democrats can celebrate. But they still need to build up their 2006 infrastructure. I've heard Democratic activists complain in recent weeks that there is not enough money being raised by the party and--perhaps more importantly--by outside groups for the coming elections. After funders kicked in millions of dollars in 2004 and received nothing on their investment, many are gun-shy this time around. Perhaps Democratic victories in Virginia and New Jersey will buck them up and loosen up the purse strings. There isn't much time. And one thing is for sure: Republican strategists are scrutinizing yesterday's results and figuring out their next whatever-it-takes strategies.
BUY THIS BOOK. As regular readers of my davidcorn.com blog know, Marjorie Williams, a wonderful writer and journalist who died of liver cancer earlier this year, was a friend. Fortunately for those who knew her--and for those who did not--her words live on. A collection of her writings, The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, and Fate, has just been published. The volume was edited by Tim Noah, her husband and a writer for Slate. Whether Marjorie was profiling the powerful of Washington, teasing out the great meanings of everyday family life, or contemplating her own sickness and death, she conveyed the sense that truth was her foremost guide. As Nation columnist Katha Pollitt notes, "Marjorie Williams put her whole best self into everything she wrote--wit, high spirits, honesty, heart, and brilliant literary gifts. She was not just the best Washington journalist of her generation, she was one of the best journalists, period." If you want to know more about Marjorie, see Todd Purdum's poignant piece in The New York Times or my blog item on an excerpt of her book that appeared in last month's Vanity Fair. Here's the link to the book's Amazon.com page. Buy it. Read it. And then join me in regretting this is Marjorie's only and last book.
Five years into an Administration of sniggering mendacity, George Bush apparently feels his staff needs a mandatory refresher course on ethics--a response with the too-little too-late feel of FEMA's to Hurricane Katrina. Harriet Miers's office will conduct the seminars. Out of a bipartisan concern that the White House's counsel will not have a strong grasp of the subject, I offer these Cliff Notes on the history of moral theory.
THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE: Immanuel Kant argued that all moral laws had to be absolute and unconditional and exert their authority in all circumstances. In Kantian terms, it was wrong to leak the name of a covert CIA agent, because if everyone did it, there would be no more covert CIA agents, and then who would we have to invent slam dunk evidence of Iraqi WMDs or torture suspected al-Qaeda members to death?
UTILITARIANISM: John Stuart Mill based his ethical system on the principle of "the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people." Under this formulation, lying to the grand jury is bad, because it makes Patrick Fitzgerald unhappy, and when he's unhappy people end up in jail. And jail is not a happy place, Scooter.
THE PRINCE: While more of an anti-ethicist, Nicolo Machiaveilli's principle that it is better for a leader to be loved than feared did find an ardent supporter in Karl Rove. But what is Rove to do if his Prince is neither loved by the people nor feared by his supporters (David Frum) or enemies (Kim Jong-il)? Find something else to make the people fearful. A global pandemic, perhaps.
The latest polls from Vermont show that U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders, the only independent member of the House, has a dramatic lead in the race for that state's open U.S. Senate seat. In a race where the Democrats are expected to fall back and allow the Sanders a clean shot at the seat, a WCAX-TV/Research 2000 poll, released last week, found the congressman to be leading the likely Republican nominee, millionaire Rich Tarrant, by a margin of 64 percent to 16 percent of Vermonters who were surveyed.
Those numbers will not come as much of a surprise to anyone who has spent time in Vermont, where Sanders' three decades of political independence and straight-talk about economic issues have earned him the admiration even of those who do not always agree with his progressive populism. But Sanders' strong position is a source of frustration for inside-the-Beltway Republican operatives and their network of henchmen.
Aside from impending indictments, few things frighten the political hacks who run the White House more than the thought of Sanders, who has served with great success as an independent member of the House since 1991, entering the Senate and developing an even greater national profile. Unlike the Democrats who have such a hard time appealing across lines of party and ideology on fundamental economic issues, Sanders is something of a genius when it comes to building broad coalitions – as illustrated by his big wins in Vermont regions that generally vote Republican.
In the Senate, Sanders would give voice to a critique of Bush administration economic policies and the White House's assault on domestic civil liberties that would make would be far more likely to resonate with voters than the tepid Democratic message. And Karl Rove and his compatriots know that voice could turn the direction on debates on a host of major issues. It's for that reason that -- despite Sanders' immense popularity in Vermont -- the hacks in Washington have not given up on trying to figure out how to beat him in next year's Senate race.
Needless to say, they understand that it will take a lot of character assassination, innuendo and outright deception to defeat the man who is generally recognized as the most popular political figure in Vermont.
So it comes as no surprise that, just days after the WCAX-TV/Research 2000 poll results showed just how daunting the task of taking on Sanders has become for the Beltway bandits, the big gun were called out.
John O'Neill, the man behind the "swiftboating" of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, is now going after Sanders. O'Neill, who started working with Republicans to attack political dissenters back in the Nixon years but who really came into his own with his role in promoting the wildly disingenuous and broadly disputed "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" attacks on Kerry's Vietnam service record during the 2004 campaign, has just penned an anti-Sanders letter that is being distributed on right-wing websites. O'Neill says he's enthusiastic about the campaign of little-known perennial candidate Greg Parke in the Republican Senate primary, but it's clear that he is getting involved in the race to attack Sanders rather than to promote Parke.
Never one to hold back the hyperbole, O'Neill labels Sanders "the most dangerous liberal in America" and promises to defeat the congressman with a "similar mission" to the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" crusade against Kerry. The letter features the standard talking points against the congressman from the Republican Senate Campaign Committee but it goes heavy on the suggestion that Sanders poses some kind of threat to national security.
"His record in the House of Representative -- particularly on defense matters -- is disgraceful," writes O'Neill. In particular, the man who made "swiftboating" a political term of attack goes after Sanders for his efforts to fight wasteful spending by the Pentagon and for challenging the Bush administration's wrongheaded rush to attack Iraq. "He's consistently fought President Bush on issues of national security -- most specifically he voted against the use of force to oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein," O'Neill writes of Sanders in a message that conveniently forgets to note that, according to recent polls, a clear majority of Americans now believe the decision to invade and occupy Iraq was a mistake.
What O'Neill, who claims to speak for veterans, also fails to note is the fact that Sanders has been one of the most ardent champions in Congress for men and women who have served in the military. In addition to co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation to assure that victims of Gulf War Illness get all of the medical care to which they are entitled, he has battled Republican attempts to cut funding for veterans programs. Indeed, Sanders has been such an effective advocate for those who wore the uniform of the U.S. military that he has been endorsed in his House races by the political arm of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
These are facts that O'Neill neglects as he attempts to "swiftboat" Sanders. That's typical of O'Neill and his group, which ought to be called Swift Boat Veterans for (Anything But the) Truth."
George Bush had a tough time of it last weekend in Argentina.
Mass demonstrations of opposition to the President's trade and economic policies greeted his every move. And even inside the cloistered gathering rooms of luxury hotel where the the Summit of the Americas was convened, Bush was the odd man out. Leaders of Latin American countries, many of them elected because of their explicit opposition to the American President's approach, made it clear that Bush will have a hard time establishing a hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americans that his campaign contributors so desperately seek.
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
When he ran for the presidency in 2000, Bush benefited from the claim that he spoke Spanish and understood better than most politicians how to relate to the countries and the peoples of the South. As a candidate, Bush delivered a major policy address in which he complained that "Latin America often remains an afterthought of American foreign policy," and declared, "Those who ignore Latin America do not fully understand America itself. And those who ignore our hemisphere do not fully understand American interests."
Unfortunately, four years into the Bush presidency, it is now clear that the suggestion that Bush would seek to understand and work with Latin America--perhaps even in the language of many of the region's countries--was merely another example of Karl Rove's campaign spin.
When he does not have a script in front of him, Bush can barely mumble a restaurant order in Spanish. And his mastery of the intricacies of the western hemisphere is even less impressive.
Bush continues to peddle discredited proposals for progress in Latin America, such as privatization of public services and the conversion of family farms to factory farms. And, of course, he continues to promote a free-trade agenda that allows corporations to hop from country to country in search of the lowest wages and the least restrictive environmental and worker-safety protections.
What Bush and his aides do not recognize is that the people of Latin America are already well aware that the president's prescriptions do not work. The North American Free Trade Agreement has been a dismal failure for Mexico, where wages for industrial workers actually fell after deal was put into place in 1994 and where small farmers have been driven from the land in record numbers as a result of trade policies that have flooded the market with cheap beans and corn. As a result of NAFTA, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans have been forced to make the painful choice to abandon their country and to enter the United States seeking work.
Just as Mexicans understand the devastating impact of the free trade policies Bush is promoting, so Bolivians understand the devastating impact of the privatization policies that the president talks up, and so Argentines understand the devastating impact of the structural adjustment policies that Bush claims are necessary.
In short, the president went to Latin America with a program that was outdated and wholly unworkable program and he tried to sell it to the people who have suffered through the experiments that have proven the program's flaws.
Bush has become the president he warned against in the 2000 campaign – the president who ignores the experiences and the concerns of Latin America because he "(does) not fully understand America itself."
If one needed more reason to criticize the Washington Post's decision to withhold information, at the government's request, about the CIA's network of prisons in Eastern Europe for suspected Al Qaeda terrorists, read Jane Mayer's horrifying article in this week's New Yorker. In "A Deadly Interrogation," Mayer reports on the death by torture of an Iraqi terrorist suspect in the custody of the CIA. Jamadi died while being interrogated at Abu Ghraib by a CIA officer and a translator. His head had been covered by a plastic bag and he was shackled in a crucifixion-like pose that inhibited his ability to breathe. According to forensic pathologists interviewed by Mayer, Jamadi died of asphyxiation. But in a subsequent internal investigation, US government authorities classified his death as a homicide. Nevertheless, the CIA investigator has not been charged with a crime, and continues to work for the agency. Mayer reports he has been under investigation by the Justice Department for more than a year. (The CIA has reportedly been implicated in at least four deaths of detainees, and has referred eight potentially criminal cases to the Justice Department, Mayer reports. Yet, as she notes, the government has so far brought charges against only one-level contract employee.) It is a fantasy to believe that the architects of these cruel, inhuman interrogation techniques will be held accountable by an Administration whose key figures, especially "The Vice President for Torture," are so deeply implicated in the policies that led to the metastasizing use of torture.
What should not be overlooked is the historic significance of the Washington Post's decision. "This is probably the most important newspaper capitulation since the New York Times yielded to John F. Kennedy's call for them to not run the full story of planning for the Bay of Pigs," Peter Kornbluh, National Security Archive senior analyst, told Columbia Journalism Daily. "By withholding the country names, the Post is directly enabling the rendition, secret detention, and torture of prisoners at these locations to continue. That is a ghastly responsibility."
(In the interest of full disclosure, a reminder about The Nation's role in the reporting on CIA plans for the Bay of Pigs. When the New York Times acceded to Kennedy Administration requests to suppress its story, The Nation went ahead and alerted the country, in an article published on November 19, 1960, to an impending invasion. For this, the magazine was vilified. The New Republic, by the way, also suppressed its story about CIA plans for the invasion--at Kennedy's request.)
For more about the Washington Post's decision, and other recent cases in which news outlets have chosen to honor government requests for secrecy rather than the journalistic duty of informing the public about government wrongdoing, read Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting's valuable report, "The Consequences of Covering Up."
CLARIFICATION: Peter Kornbluh, Nation Security Archive Senior Analyst writes: "Dear Katrina, Thanks for including me in your blog which was forcefully done and wellstated. I'm getting a lot of mileage out of that quote which started asa private email to the editor of CJR to try and get them to do asubstantive story on the Washington Post decision....I'm glad you've delved back into the proud history of the Nation's rolein all that. But I'd like to clarify your chronology and history: The Nation published the firststory on the Bay of Pigs training in Guatemala in November 1960 (beforethe plan was actually an invasion at the Bay of Pigs). Your article wascalled to the attention of a New York Times editor who then assignedPaul Kennedy to do a piece. He filed a story in January 1961 coveringsimilar ground to yours. But it was the Tad Szulc story in the Timesthat ran only only a week before the invasion in April 1961 thatKennedy called the Times owner about and was able to get reduced inprominence and detail (since Tad knew essentially the time and place ofthe invasion.) Arthur Schlesinger told us later that he wished both theTimes and New Republic had run their stories so that the wholecatastrophe would have been avoided."
Vice President Dick Cheney has had very little to say about the indictment of his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, and even less to say about aspects of the investigation that have touched on his own actions before and after the invasion of Iraq. Now, three key Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives want to give the vice president an opportunity to clear the air.
Recalling that Cheney's former boss, then-President Gerald Ford, testified before the House after his controversial pardon of former President Richard Nixon in 1974, Representatives John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat who is the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee; Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who is the ranking minority member of the Government Reform Committee; and Maurice Hinchey, the New York Democrat who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the administration's misuse of intelligence during the period before the Iraq War began, have asked the vice president to "make yourself available to appear before Congress to explain the details and reasons for your office's involvement -- and your personal involvement - in the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative."
The letter, sent to Cheney on Thursday, two days after Democratic Leader Harry Reid forced the Senate into closed session to discuss investigations of efforts by the administration to inflate intelligence assessments of the threat posed by Iraq, offers the latest signal that Congressional Democrats are determined to hold key players in the administration, particularly Cheney, to account.
"We are going to do everything we can to force this administration and this Congress to face up to the truth and to face up to their responsibility under the Constitution," said Hinchey.
"The people who wrote the Constitution that set this government up knew what they were doing. They knew what would happen if you let a regime go its own way without oversight. That's why they set up the system of checks and balances," added Hinchey. "This Congress has shunned its responsibility, tossed its obligations under the Constitution aside – allowing the administration to do whatever it chooses, even to the point of looking aside when the administration lies to Congress and violates federal laws. That's got to stop. We cannot have a monolithic government. We have to restore some balance, where the legislative branch is a part of this process. And we think that one way to do that is by asking the vice president, in light of the questions that have arisen with regards to his actions, to come to Congress and answer the questions that are on the minds of the American people and their representatives.
It may be true that the House, like the Senate, is controlled by a Republican majority that is uncomfortable calling members of the administration to account, admits Hinchey. But, the veteran representative from New York says, Republicans ought to ask themselves whether they want to allow partisanship to stand in the way of their responsibilities under the Constitution. Hinchey says Congressional leaders of both parties should, as well, be concerned about their responsibility to help the American people sort through not just what happened when Cheney's chief aide apparently set out to punish Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had raised pointed questions about the administration use of intelligence, by revealing that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative -- but also broader questions about why the vice president's office was so determined to attack that critic, a former ambassador who had revealed how the administration deliberately used faulty intelligence to make the "case" for war.
"It's just intolerable for any Congress, no matter which party is in charge, to look aside when an administration engages in the sort of behavior that this administration has engaged in-- and that is especially true when those behaviors, those issues relate to the most serious decision that any Congress can take: the decision to go to war," the congressman explained.
Three senior members of the House have refused to look aside. And, while it may be the case that Cheney will disregard their request, the American people are unlikely to be so dismissive. Polls show that, by a wide majority, Americans think the vice president has been less than forthcoming with regards to his actions, and that they want answers from Cheney about the Wilson case and all of the issues it has raised.
Here is the letter that asks for those answers:
Dear Mr. Vice President:
In response to significant public scrutiny, President Gerald R. Ford came to Capitol Hill on October 17, 1974 to testify before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Justice on why he pardoned President Richard M. Nixon. At the time of President Ford's appearance before Congress, you served as his Deputy Chief of Staff and later became his Chief of Staff. With that precedent in mind, we respectfully request that you make yourself available to appear before Congress to explain the details and reasons for your office's involvement -- and your personal involvement - in the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative.
Last week, your former Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was indicted for committing perjury and obstructing the investigation of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald into the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity. According to the indictment, you and members of your office were involved in discussions about Valerie Wilson and her work for the CIA. In fact, the indictment alleges that you personally informed Mr. Libby that Valerie Wilson worked in the CIA's Counterproliferation Division and that you had learned this information from the CIA.
It is extremely important with regard to the maintenance of the integrity of our democratic republic that the full and complete truth of this matter be made available to the American people. Unfortunately, doubts and questions will continue to grow until the nation learns the complete story behind the leak of Valerie Wilson's identity. There are many wide-ranging questions about your involvement with the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity to which the American people deserve answers, including:
· Why were you and other officials in your office investigating Valerie Wilson's employment with the CIA?
· Did you authorize Mr. Libby to disclose Valerie Wilson's identity to the news media? Were you aware that he was doing so?
· At the time of the leak, Valerie Wilson's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had been publicly questioning the Administration's claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger, which had been used as a primary justification for war. At the time of the leak, did you believe the claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger was true? When did you first learn that the uranium claims were untrue? Was the disclosure of Valerie Wilson's identity an attempt to discredit her husband and what he had been saying about the uranium claims being false?
· When you learned that the leak had occurred, did you investigate whether any members of your staff were responsible for this act? If so, when did you do so and what were your findings? Do you think that those involved with the leak should be allowed to maintain their security clearances?
We therefore encourage you to follow the example of your former boss, President Ford, by testifying before Congress. Openness and sunshine are the best way to restore public trust that the White House is operating ethically, efficiently, and in compliance with rules protecting national security.
Maurice Hinchey Henry Waxman John Conyers, Jr.
An expanded paperback edition of John Nichols' biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press: 2005), is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. The book features an exclusive interview with Joe Wilson and a chapter on the vice president's use and misuse of intelligence. Publisher's Weekly describes the book as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."
It's been a tough year for Wal-Mart, and things are about to get tougher.
Last Tuesday, at the world premiere of Robert Greenwald's Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, SEIU chief Andy Stern declared: "This isn't just the premiere of a movie, it's the premiere of a movement." During the week of November 13 to 19, over 3000 screenings of the film are planned in all 50 states and 19 countries. Throughout "Wal-Mart Week," the two largest groups opposing the retail behemoth's practices, Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart, are planning an unprecedented series of actions.
Spiraling into PR crisis mode, the world's largest corporation has just assembled a "rapid-response public relations team in Arkansas," which includes former presidential advisors Michael K. Deaver of the Reagan Administration and Leslie Dach of the Clinton White House. Wal-Mart's new "war room" certainly has its work cut out for itself.
While the movement to change Wal-Mart has reached a fever pitch, throughout the year, Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart have waged a tireless and highly coordinated campaign. Here are some of the highlights:
-- Innovative Boycotts: Over 2,000 teachers, students, and activists in more than 20 states participated in Wake Up Wal-Mart's national "Send Wal-Mart Back to School" campaign with the AFT and NEA (the country's two largest teacher unions), urging students to buy school supplies at stores other than Wal-Mart. Over 20,000 Americans pledged not to buy their Mother's Day gifts at Wal-Mart thanks to Wake Up Wal-Mart's Love Mom, Not Wal-Mart" campaign.
-- Make Wal-Mart Care About Health Care Campaign: Wake Up Wal-Mart helped coordinate more than120 house parties in 38 states, which led to over 150 actions encouraging legislators to crack down on Wal-Mart's health care policy. Thanks largely to pressure from Wake-Up Wal-Mart supporters, Rep. Anthony Weiner, Sen. Ted Kennedy, and Sen. Jon Corzine introduced the Health Care Accountability Act in Congress--which would require states to disclose the names of large employers whose workers are on Medicaid as a result of the companies refusal to provide insurance benefits.
-- Fair Share Health Care Act: Representatives of Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch lobbied Maryland's legislature and helped pass the first legislation in the nation that would require large companies (specifically Wal-Mart) to pay for health benefits for employees. Although Republican Gov. Robert Erlich vetoed the bill, the movement to get such legislation passed in other states has just begun. Over 2,000 Wake Up Wal-Mart supporters have pledged to lead the fight in their states to introduce Fair Share Health Care legislation (click here to help introduce such a bill in your state). In September, the Working Families Party and the Long Island Federation of Labor helped get a bill passed in Suffolk County, New York.
-- Blocking the Bank: In September, Wal-Mart Watch delivered over 11,000 signed petitions to the FDIC in opposition to Wal-Mart's application for an Industrial Loan Charter (ILC) in Utah. According to Wal-Mart Watch, a Utah ILC "would effectively grant Wal-Mart the ability to loan businesses and individuals money to spend in Wal-Mart stores, violating prohibitions against the mixing of banking and commerce." The petitions have had a "staggering impact on the FDIC" and has significantly delayed the ILC process, says Wal-Mart Watch spokesperson Tracy Sefl.
-- The Leaked Memo: On October 26th, Wal-Mart Watch delivered a knock-out blow to Wal-Mart. The corporation had just made giant strides to rebuild its image--publicly declaring its intentions to offer health care plans for its employees and voicing support for a Federal minimum-wage increase. The very next day, the New York Times published a cover-story on a leaked internal memo, acquired by Wal-Mart Watch, which detailed Wal-Mart's plans to systematically weed out unhealthy employees and applicants in order to avoid health care costs. The exposure of the memo instantly deflated Wal-Mart's hollow attempt at an image makeover.
"We don't want to destroy Wal-Mart. We want to change it, to make it a decent, humane company, which it could easily do," says Chris Kofinis, communications director of Wake Up Wal-Mart, who stresses that Wal-Mart will be a key issue in the 2006 and 2008 elections. "We're not going to rest or sleep one bit until that happens."
[Full disclosure: The Nation is part of a wide coalition of groups, organizations and publications helping to generate interest in the screenings.]
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing email@example.com.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
When Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee, promised in 2004 that his committee would investigate how Bush had used (or abused) the prewar intelligence on Iraq's WMDs--an unkept promise that led to the Democratic shutdown of the Senate this week--he made that promise to me.
Actually, what the Democrats did was not bring the Senate to a halt; much of the media mistakenly reported their action was a shutdown. Instead, the Senate Democrats, deploying the rarely used Rule 21, forced the Senate into a closed session--no TV cameras, no visitors, no reporters--in order to discuss (that is, complain about) Roberts' failure to produce the so-called Phase II report, which was supposed to examine whether Bush administration officials had misrepresented the prewar intelligence to whip up public support for the invasion of Iraq. With this maneuver, the Democrats cast attention on the GOP attempt to duck this issue, and pushed the Republicans to establish a bipartisan panel that would review the progress (or lack thereof) of the Phase II inquiry. This panel--which is investigating the investigation--is to report back to the rest of the Senate by mid-November.
But back to me. On July 9, 2004, Roberts' committee released a report on the prewar intelligence. It concluded that the intelligence had been botched and noted that the major conclusions of the intelligence community were "either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence report." The failure of the intelligence community was obvious in the weeks after the invasion. But what Roberts report did not investigate was whether Bush and his aides had hyped problematic intelligence. For instance, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was produced in October 2002, reported--errantly--that Iraq had an active biological weapons R&D program. Yet Bush in a speech declared that Iraq had "stockpiles" of biological weapons. Having an R&D program is not the same as possessing loads of ready-to-use weapons.
Roberts' investigation had ignored such exaggerations of the Bush administration. At that press conference, Senator Jay Rockefeller, the senior Democrat on the intelligence committee, pointed this out:
I have to say, that there is a real frustration over what is not in this report, and I don't think was mentioned in Chairman Roberts' statement, and that is about the--after the analysts and the intelligence community produced an intelligence product, how is it then shaped or used or misused by the policy-makers?
Roberts indicated that his committee would get to this in a second phase of the investigation, one that would not likely be finished until after the upcoming presidential election. Was that a coincidence? One intelligence committee staffer told me that such an inquiry could be completed within a month or two.
During the Q&A, Roberts called on me, and I asked:
Given that 800 American G.I.s have lost their lives so far, thousands have had serious injuries, lost limbs, all on the basis of false claims, and that American taxpayers have had to kick in almost $200 billion, don't the American public and the relatives of people who lost their lives have a right to know before the next election whether this administration handled intelligence matters adequately and made statements that were justified--before the election, not after the election?
No, Roberts essentially said. His actual response was this:
We simply couldn't get that done with the work product that we put out. And he has pointed out that that has a top priority. It is one of my top priorities. It's his top priority, along with the reform effort....It involves probably three things -- or at least three. One is the prewar intelligence on Iraq, which is what you're talking about. Secondly is the situation with the assistant secretary of defense, Douglas Feith, and his activity in regards to material that he provided with a so-called intelligence planning cell to the Department of Defense and to the CIA. And then the left one -- what is the last one? What's the third one? Help me with it....There is a third one, and I don't know why I can't come up with it right now. But, anyway, it is a priority. And, hey, I have told Jay, I have told everybody on the other side of the aisle, everybody on our side of the aisle, "We'll proceed with phase two. It is a priority." I made my commitment, and it will be done.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on the Rove/Libby scandal, Samuel Alito and other in-the-news matters.
Roberts has a rather elastic idea of what makes a commitment. After the election, his committee did little, if any, work on the Phase II project, as I reported last spring. Moreover, in March, Roberts declared that further investigation was pointless. He said that if his investigators asked Bush officials whether they had overstated or mischaracterized prewar intelligence, they'd simply claim their statements had been based on "bum intelligence." And he huffed, "To go though that exercise, it seems to me, in a postelection environment--we didn't see how we could do that and achieve any possible progress. I think everybody pretty well gets it." So after making a promise in July to get it done, he then decided to drop the ball. Democrats, including Rockefeller, protested. But they didn't make too much noise about this.
Then came Rule 21. The Democrats had considered calling on Rule 21 to initiate a closed session in 2004 to highlight the inaction on Phase II, according to a senior Democratic staffer. The staff of Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader at the time (who would be defeated in the November election), had researched how to pull off such a maneuver. Daschle wanted to give Republican Senate majority leader Bill Frist advance notice of the move, but he never pulled the trigger.
This year, with Senator Harry Reid now leading the Democrats, the Democratic leadership decided not to be so polite and to invoke Rule 21 as a surprise. "The Democratic leadership had finally gotten to the point where--after sending letters to Roberts and holding meetings on this--they figured the only way to draw attention to the Phase II cop-out was to do this," the Democratic staffer says. "It also had the ancillary benefit of changing the subject from Alito to what Bush said to justify the war, and it served as a bridge between the Libby indictment and arraignment. It also made the point that Fitzgerald's investigation was a criminal investigation and was not designed to get into the question of whether Bush had misrepresented the intelligence. That's the job of Congress--or should be."
There's still no guarantee that Roberts and the Republicans will efficiently and vigorously tackle the Phase II assignment. According to a statement released by Rockefeller, the intelligence committee in February 2004 decided that Phase II would focus on five subjects. As he put it,
1. Whether public statements, reports, and testimony regarding Iraq by U.S. Government officials made between the Gulf war period and the commencement of Operation Iraqi Freedom were substantiated by intelligence information;
2. Pre-war intelligence assessments about post-war Iraq;
3. Any intelligence activities relating to Iraq within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, headed by Douglas Feith;
4. The use by the Intelligence Community of information provided by the Iraqi National Congress; and
5. The post-war findings about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and weapons programs and links to terrorism and how they compare with pre-war assessments.
This past spring, Roberts told me that the report would not only look at what Bush administration officials said about WMDs in Iraq before the war; it would also examine statements made by leading Democrats about Iraq prior to the war--presumably people like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Bill Clinton, and John Edwards. Roberts' intent is obvious: to make it seem that everyone was wrong. Thus, Bush would deserve no blame. But Bush had ready access to all the intelligence, and it was his job to review it carefully and to represent it accurately to the American public before taking the country to war. Nevertheless, the Phase II report could become a spin job geared more toward distraction than disclosure.
With the Libby indictment as the backdrop, the Senate Democrats, thanks to Rule 21, did remind the public and the media that Bush's use of misinformation (or disinformation) to sell the war remains an open question. But this battle over the run-up to the war is far from over, and Phase II will likely not be the end of it.
The death last week of Rosa Parks at age 92 has inspired a predictableoutpouring of tributes from politicians of every partisan andideological bent. Even President Bush, a man who inspired the ire ofParks as far back as the mid-1990s, when she was campaigning againstcapital punishment in Texas, hailed the mother of the civil rightsmovement as "one of the most inspiring women of the 20th century" anddeclared that she had "transformed America for the better."
In their self-serving rush to praise Parks prior to her funderal today,a number of politicians displayed their complete ignorance of thewoman's history and her legacy. The worst of them was Senate MajorityLeader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, who said of the protest that sparkedthe Montogomery bus boycott of the 1950s and gave rise to thehigh-profile civil rights movement of the 1960s: "Rosa Parks' bold andprincipled refusal to give up her seat was not an intentional attemptto change a nation, but a singular act aimed at restoring the dignityof the individual."
Frist was, of course, wrong. Parks' refusal to give up her seat on thatbus was an intentional attempt to change a nation. At a time when theNational Association for the Advancement of Colored People was underattack in the segregated south, Parks was an elected official of herlocal NAACP branch from the 1940s on and an activist with Voters'League, a pioneering voting rights group in Alabama. Employed byClifford and Virginia Durr, who were among the most outspoken whitesupporters of civil rights in the south, Parks was trained at theHighlander Folk School and acted as an informed and intentionalactivist.
Parks would remain an activist across the years that followed herrefusal to give up that seat on the bus, as one of the electedofficials who paid tribute to her well knew.
U.S. Rep. John Conyers, the Detroit Democrat who is the senior memberof the House Judiciary Committee, was elected to Congress in 1964, theyear the Civil Rights Act was passed. He immediately hired Rosa Parksas a member of his staff.
Parks, whose political views mirrored those of the outspoken Conyers,would remain on the congressman's staff until her retirement in 1988.
Parks would remain close to Conyers, who recalled the other day that,when Nelson Mandela visited Detroit in 1990, the pair joined the SouthAfrican leader on stage.
Mandela got the crowd to join him in chanting "Rosa Parks!"
Conyers said that day with Mandela caused him to recognize a simpletruth: "Rosa Parks is worldwide."
Yet the icon was also a warm and generous human being. Thus, when RosaParks died, Conyers explained, "America lost a living legend; and I,along with countless others, lost a friend."
As a token of his respect for his former aide's accomplishments,Conyers always referred to her as "Mrs. Parks." But there was nothingformal about their friendship. She regarded him as the most importantpolitical leader in the many struggles that she waged--not just forcivil rights but for peace, economic justice and, in particular, an endto the death penalty.
The congressman regarded "Mrs. Parks" as something akin to a secularsaint, as his warm reflection on her passing makes abundantly clear:
We all knew that Mrs. Parks was frail. We always feared this moment,and now it is here. The extent to which she will be missed cannot bedignified with words.
She and her husband moved to Detroit in 1957, and I think it is fair tosay we bonded right away. Mrs. Parks was there with me at the beginningof my career as a Congressman in 1965 and worked for me as myadministrative assistant for next 20 years until her retirment in 1988.I am therefore one of the lucky few who have had the privilege of beingable to call her my colleague, as well as my friend.
As the mother of the new civil rights movement, she left an impact notjust on the nation, but on the world. And while she was an apostle ofthe nonviolence movement, Mrs. Parks never saw her self that way. Shenever sought the limelight and was never really a political figure atall. It was important to her that people understand the government andto understand their rights and the Constitution that people are stilltrying to perfect today.
Mrs. Parks will endure in my memory as an almost saint-like person. AndI use that term with care. She was very humble and soft-spoken, butinside she had a determination that was quite fierce. You treated herwith deference because she was so quiet, so serene.
There will only ever be one Rosa Parks..."
And there will only ever be one John Conyers.