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Thin Reid: Harry KO's Border Reform

The perhaps fatal collapse Friday of a Senate compromise on sweeping and liberalized immigration reform was, in itself, not totally unpredictable.

What might astound some, however, is what appears to be the ignominious role in the snafu played by none other than the Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid.

Even though a bi-partisan, majority coalition of 63 Senators had rather miraculously agreed on a compromise measure which would have been a significant step forward in much-needed reform, a final vote was scuttled at the last moment -- most likely killing off reform for the foreseeable future.

The non-partisan but Democrat-friendly National Immigration Forum was bitterly blunt in spelling out the reasons why:

There's plenty of blame to go around. The White House could have played a stronger role, and the Majority Leader could have been more insistent on reigning in the hawks in his party seemingly intent on delaying or derailing the process. But in the end, we cannot escape the conclusion that the Democratic Senate leadership was more interested in keeping the immigration issue alive in the run up to mid-terms than in enacting immigration reform legislation.

The fiasco in the Senate Friday reminds us that while the Bush administration is one of the worst in memory, the overall dysfunction of the American political system overflows the simple party divide.

Read the whole discouraging story here.

 

Give 'em Hell Harry!

As his approval ratings plummet, Bush has started attending meetings, town halls and local forums with real people. (Isn't this what presidents are supposed to do? Reading some of the news coverage,you'd think Bush was a man of courage for forsaking handpicked, scripted audiences.)

So there was Bush in Charlotte, North Carolina last night--for one of these newfangled, unscripted forums. That's where 61-year old Charlotte real estate broker Harry Taylor stood up to the President.

It's worth repeating what Taylor had to say: "While I listen to you talk about freedom, I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me without charges, to try to preclude me frombreathing clean air and drinking clean water and eating safe food. If I were a woman, you'd like to restrict my opportunity to make a choice... about whether I can abort a pregnancy... What I wanted to say to you is that--in my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed of, nor more frightened, by my leadership in Washington, including the presidency. And I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of youself... I also want to say I really appreciate the courtesy of allowing me to speak... That is part of what this country is about."

News reports tell us that last night's audience was mostly supportive of the President. Maybe so. But Taylor's statement--almost a cry from the heart of an American upset about what he sees happening to a country he loves--may better reflect the mood in North Carolina, a state Bush twice carried by wide margins. A new poll by a conservative Raleigh think tank found only 46% approve of his performance, while 42% support his handling of the war in Iraq.

House Republicans: Bring Back DeLay

Oh, how House Republicans must miss Tom DeLay. There have been a series of embarrassments for the House leadership since DeLay stepped down as Majority Leader in September. The decision to pull their own 2007 budget from consideration on the House floor yesterday "was the latest and clearest illustration of the Republicans' difficulties in holding lawmakers together with a crucial election approaching," the New York Times wrote.

The aforementioned budget would extend Bush's costly tax cuts, add $3 trillion to the national debt over five years, and cut billions of dollars for education, job training and veterans health care. When conservative Republicans tried to enact even harsher budget rules limiting Congress's ability to control emergency spending for war and natural disasters, powerful House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis balked, dooming the budget for now.

The conventional narrative in Washington has been reversed. Democrats stood firm as Republicans fell apart. The so-called "party of ideas" have none, or at least can no longer agree on what they are.

Even DeLay concurs. "We don't have an agreed agenda," he told reporters this week. "Breaking up our leadership has taken its toll."

$13,700 an Hour

Last Sunday, the New York Times reported that--for the first time--a full-time worker earning minimum wage cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in America at market rates. That means more and more people like Michelle Kennedy--a former Senate page and author of Without a Net: Middle Class and Homeless (with Kids) in America--are finding themselves homeless and living out of their cars.

At a town hall meeting in Ohio last Saturday, Representative Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a staunch advocate for social and economic rights--he and Bernie Sanders are the two best candidates running for Senate in 2006--railed against stagnant wages' contribution to economic hardship. "It is unacceptable that someone can work full-time--and work hard--and not be able to lift their family out of poverty." He blasted a system where a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $10,500 annually, while "last year the CEO of Wal-Mart earned $3,500 an hour. The CEO of Halliburton earned about $8,300 an hour. And the CEO of ExxonMobil earned about $13,700 an hour."

This past weekend Robert Kuttner argued in the Boston Globe that while people are blaming undocumented workers for driving down wages, the real villains are "the people running the government, who have made sure that the lions' share of the productivity gains go to the richest 1 percent of Americans. With different tax, labor, health, and housing policies, native-born workers and immigrants alike could get a fairer share of our productive economy."

Kuttner points to Census data showing that "median household income fell 3.8 percent, or $1,700, from 1999 to 2004...during a period when average productivity rose 3 percent per year." And while income is falling, working people are increasingly squeezed. Costs for housing, healthcare, education and childcare rose 46 percent between 1991 and 2002, according to economist Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute.

And the situation is getting worse. Look at the Delphi Corporation's moves as reported in the Washington Post on Saturday. The company asked a bankruptcy judge to void its union contracts so it could lower worker wages and benefits. CEO Steve Miller played the ever-reliable global competition card saying, "At the end of the day, Delphi must be competitive in the global marketplace."

But as Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University, makes clear, this new tactic will further erode labor's power in the workplace. "What in our laws and in our democracy gives a bankruptcy judge the right to take away freedom of association and collective bargaining?" Bronfenbrenner asked. "Bankruptcy judges should not have that power. Now they do."

In the current climate--with tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans; a minimum wage frozen for eight years and a GOP-dominated Congress; deterioration of labor's power in the workplace; and corporate-authored free-trade agreements that exacerbate these trends--it is heartening to hear Sherrod Brown make the case that "a hard day's work should mean a fair day's pay." But where are the other Democratic leaders who should be standing by his side?

The Democratic Party needs to regain its moral compass, its heart and soul. Sounding an alarm on this economic catastrophe befalling so many Americans is what heart and soul is all about.

Libby: Bush, Cheney Authorized Leaks

President Bush told Vice President Cheney to tell the vice president's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, to disclose highly classified information regarding Iraq intelligence in order to try and discredit legitimate criticism of the administration.

What's this? The latest line from proponents of impeachment?

No, according to court records that became available Thursday, it is what Libby testified was the scenario that played out before he began contacting reporters in an effort to undermine the reputation of former Ambassador Joe Wilson.

According to a National Journal report on the documents: "I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby testified to a federal grand jury that he had received 'approval from the President through the Vice President' to divulge portions of a National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam Hussein's purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons, according to the court papers. Libby was said to have testified that such presidential authorization to disclose classified information was 'unique in his recollection,' the court papers further said."

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The Journal report, which is based on both the court papers and interviews with senior government officials familiar with the investigation of Libby's actions by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the specialprosecutor in the CIA leak case, suggests that a fast-and-loose approach to the release of classified information was authorized by Bush and Cheney before the war as part of an effort to "make the case" for the invasion of Iraq.

After the invasion, when Wilson raised questions about the validity of claims made by the president, the Journal report suggests that the gloves came off, and the weapon of choice was classified information.

"Bush and Cheney authorized the release of the information regarding the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) in the summer of 2003, according to court documents, as part of a damage-control effort undertaken only days after former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV alleged in an op-ed in The New York Times that claims by Bush thatSaddam Hussein had attempted to procure uranium from the African nation of Niger were most likely a hoax."

The White House initial response Thursday was to refuse to comment on Libby's testimony, which has called into serious question the president's October, 2003, assertion that: "I don't know of anyone in my administration who has leaked. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action."

But if the president is not now in a position to take appropriate action, members of Congress are.

U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey, D-New York, who has been the most determined Congressional watchdog with regard to the administration's misuse of intelligence information, says that, "If what Scooter Libby said to the grand jury is true, then this latest development clearly reveals yet again that the CIA leak case goes much deeper than the disclosure of a CIA agent's identity to the press. The heart and motive of this case is about the deliberate attempt at the highest levels of this administration to discredit those who were publicly revealing that the White House lied about its uranium claims leading up to the war. The Bush Administration knew that Iraq had not sought uranium from Africa for a nuclear weapon, yet they went around telling the Congress, the country, and the world just the opposite. When Ambassador Joseph Wilson, Valerie Wilson's husband, publicly spoke out with proof that the administration was not telling the truth on uranium, the administration engaged in an orchestrated plot, which now reportedly includes President Bush, to discredit Ambassador Wilson and dismiss any notion that they had lied about pre-war intelligence."

Hinchey, one of the rare members of the House who has made it his business to monitor and police abuses of executive powers, wrote the 1999 amendment to intelligence reauthorization legislation that forced the declassification of documents that revealed the role played by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and other members of the Nixon administration in the illegal 1973 overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende.

The congressman is one of 33 cosponsors of Representative John Conyers' resolution calling for the creation of a select committee to investigate, among other issues, the Bush administration's manipulation of pre-war and retaliating against critics. That committee would be charged with making recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment, which would, of course, require a finding that high crimes and misdemeanors had been committed by the president and vice president.

Hinchey's says that Libby's testimony adds to the mounting body of evidence that rules, regulations and laws have been bent far beyond the breaking point.

"It is an absolute disgrace to the institution of the presidency that President Bush authorized members of his administration to disclose select parts of highly classified information from a National Intelligence Estimate in order to make political advances and gain public support," says Hinchey. "How dare President Bush and Vice President Cheney say they want to prosecute those who leaked the NSA domestic surveillance program when they themselves authorized the disclosure of information from some of the most highly sensitive documents in the government. The White House opposes leaks when the disclosed information hurts them politically, but supports leaks when information advances their political cause."

Hinchey has for months been urging Fitzgerald to officially expand his investigation to include an examination of the motives behind the leaks by Libby, focusing in particular on the question of whether the administration's intent was to discredit Ambassador Wilson's revelation that Iraq had never sought uranium from Niger or other African countries. If that is proven to be the case, Hinchey has argued, "President Bush and other top members of his administration knowingly lied about uranium to the Congress, which is a crime."

"It is my belief, as well as the belief of my 39 House colleagues who signed my original letter to Special Counsel Fitzgerald, that he has the authority and obligation to expand his investigation to investigate the lies about uranium, which are the true heart of this case," Hinchey explained Thursday, in a statement outlining his intention to step up efforts to press for the expansion of the investigation.

The congressman is laying down the line that members of Congress, be they members of the Democratic opposition or honest Republicans who are beginning to recognize the extent to which they have been deceived by Bush, Cheney and their aides, will need to embrace at a moment when the administration and its media echo chamber will be doing everything in their power to constrain Fitzgerald's investigation.

Says Hinchey: "The heart of the CIA leak case cannot and must not be ignored."

Marriage Myopia

If you want to see the pathologies plaguing the gay marriage movement in action, you need look no farther than this article penned by Jasmyne Cannick. Titled "Gays First, Then Illegals," Cannick's editorial spews the kind of xenophobic rhetoric now rarely heard outside of right-wing radio and white nativist circles -- unless, of course, it's coming from the mainstream gay press. Pitting gay rights against immigrants' rights, Cannick -- former "People of Color Media Manager for GLAAD" -- considers it a "slap in the face to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people" for Congress to debate immigration reform when same-sex marriage remains unrecognized. For your pleasure or fury, here are some of her greatest hits:

"Immigration reform needs to get in line behind the LGBT civil rights movement, which has not yet realized all of its goals. Which is not to say that I don't recognize the plight of illegal immigrants. I do. But I didn't break the law to come into this country. This country broke the law by not recognizing and bestowing upon me my full rights as a citizen."

"America needs to take care of its own backyard before it debates on whether to take care of its neighbor's backyard. Lesbians and gays should not be second-class citizens. Our issues should not get bumped to the back of the line in favor of extending rights to people who have entered this country illegally. Bottom line."

And in my favorite passage, Cannick quotes Audre Lorde, child of immigrants, on the necessity of speaking difficult truths before concluding, "While I know no one wants to be viewed as a racist when it comes to immigration reform, as a lesbian I don't want to move to the back of the bus to accommodate those who broke the law to be here."

Honey, if you don't want to be viewed as a racist, then don't write like one!

As my friend Terry Boggis, Director of Center Kids at the NYC LGBT Center puts it, "As long as we're dragging poor Audre Lorde into the fray and misusing her wisdom to make a point utterly contrary to all she represented, we should be compelled to resurrect her tried-and-true 'There is no hierarchy of oppressions' line. It's hard to believe that in this nation of incomprehensible, dazzling, shameless abundance, we still get this kind of paranoid thinking that rights for some will mean fewer rights for others. Social justice isn't a zero-sum game."

Along with former Clinton apparatchik and media whore Keith Boykin, Cannick is on the board of the National Black Justice Coalition, an organization ostensibly dedicated to "fostering equality by fighting racism and homophobia," but which so far seems mostly devoted to persuading black churches and civil rights groups to support (or at least not block) the drive for same-sex marriage. If the other board members, some of whom I respect, take NBJC's mission seriously, they'd publicly denounce Cannick's editorial.

Sadly, Cannick's perspective may only be exceptional in its forthrightness. As public health activist Debanuj Dasgupta points out, "the 'gay rights movement' is largely dominated by an analysis that is rooted in the premises of citizenship and LGBT identity," without realizing how "citizenship status is a site of major oppression and social control." Moreover, from the enforcement of the Espionage and Sedition Acts to the McCarthy hearings, sexual dissidents and foreigners have historically been caught up in the same dragnets, and the regulation of marriage has long been a focus of racist U.S. immigration policy.

Next month Human Rights Watch's LGBT division will publish a report on binational couples in support of the Uniting American Families Act (formerly the Permanent Partners Immigration Act) which would add same-sex "permanent partners" to the Immigration and Nationality Act. Let's hope that debate starts a more generous, less invidious discussion about reforming both immigration and marriage.

Bob Woodward Replies

On March 31, I posted a piece that compared two accounts of a January 31, 2003 meeting between George W. Bush and Tony Blair. During this Oval Office session, the American president and the British prime minister discussed various war-related subjects six weeks before the invasion of Iraq. One account was the description of the meeting in Bob Woodward's best-selling book, Plan of Attack. The other was a recently disclosed secret memorandum written by a Blair aide who attended the meeting. The memo, I noted, showed that Woodward's insider source(s) who had told him about this conversation had "left out the best and most important stuff." I wrote, "This goes to show that Woodward is only as good as his sources and that those insiders are not always so good when it comes to disclosing the real story." After the article was posted, Woodward called to complain (passionately) that the piece was "immensely dishonest" and "unfair." He urged me to reconsider what I had written. He demanded an apology. I offered him as much space as he would like for a response, and he accepted that invitation. Below is his reply--and mine to his.

To David Corn:

I was genuinely shocked to read your recent column "Woodward and Reality." The column is thoroughly dishonest and represents another low for journalism. Apparently facts don't matter to you if you think you can score a point.

You allege that I "left out the best and most important stuff" in my book Plan of Attack about a January 31, 2003 meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. You draw your conclusions from a memo written by David Manning, Blair's foreign policy adviser, who attended the meeting.  The memo was recently described in The New York Times.

Because Plan of Attack, which was published two years ago, covers the meeting in just over a single page (pp. 297–298), you say this is rare opportunity to "fact check" me. You then cite all these revelations in the memo and suggest they were not in the book at all.  However, as I mentioned to you on the phone, a reader of Plan of Attack would already know most of this in vastly greater detail by the time he or she got to page 297. The whole thrust of your column is that I missed important elements of the story and presented a "tilted" account. The book itself proves you wrong.

The British memo says, "The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March." You suggest I did not report that Bush had decided privately to go to war while publicly asserting otherwise: "Read Woodward's account and you get the impression that Bush...was willing to stick with the United Nations a little longer. Read the Times's account of the memo and you see that Bush had already set a date for war."

This is flat out wrong. Plan of Attack describes in detail that Bush decided well in advance of the January 31st meeting that he was going to war. Just to bore you with some examples:

* I report that in early January 2003 (p. 254), either the Thursday or Friday after New Year's, Bush told Condoleezza Rice, "Probably going to have to, we're going to have to go to war." The book adds, "In Rice's mind, this was the president's decision on war. He had reached the point of no return." The book summarizes, "Bush was now enveloped in a contradiction: he had privately decided on war, but publicly he was continuing the diplomacy."

* A few pages later (p.262), still in early January, I report that "Cheney had come to realize that the president had made his decision."

* Most elaborately, I describe how from January 11 to January 13, two weeks before the Blair meeting, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld told Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar and Secretary of State Powell that Bush had decided on war. (pp. 263-74)

* I report that on January 11, 2003, Cheney summoned Bandar to the White House to assure him the U.S. was going to war in Iraq.  Rumsfeld, who was there, told Bandar, "You can count on this. You can take that to the bank. This is going to happen." I report that Cheney added, "once we start, Saddam is toast."

* Two days later, January 13, I report that Bandar met with President Bush because Bandar said he needed to hear the decision directly from Bush. Bush asked Bandar if he had understood the previous day's briefing. "This is the message I want you to carry for me to the crown prince," Bush said. "The message you're taking is mine, Bandar."

* Later on January 13, I report that Powell met with Bush, and Bush told him of the decision. I write, "The President said he had made up his mind on war. The U.S. should go to war." A few paragraphs later, I reemphasized it: "The fork in the road had been reached and Bush had chosen war."

When my book was released, the fact that Bush had made up his mind earlier than he was publicly asserting was one of the most well covered parts.  In a front-page story April 17, 2004, The New York Times reported on Plan of Attack as the book was being released, and noted in the second paragraph of its story that Bush told Powell on Jan. 13 that he had decided on war and quoted from my account of the meeting.

* Plan of Attack reports that Feb. 15, 2003 was the first potential start date of the war (p. 319), nearly a month earlier than the "penciled in" Mar. 10 cited in the British memo. (The war started Mar. 19).

* The British memo says that both Bush and Blair acknowledged no WMD had been found. This was, in part, because four days earlier on Jan. 27 U.N. weapons' inspector Hans Blix had reported this to the United Nations. My book also noted that I had written a story for The Washington Post on January 28 that said: "Sources said U.S. intelligence agencies have not traced or located a large cache of prohibited weapons or ingredients used in the making of chemical or biological weapons. They said the U.S. government still lacks a smoking gun." (p. 294) The book also quotes General Tommy Franks telling Bush how they had been looking for WMD for 10 years "and haven't found any yet so I can't tell you that I know that there are any specific weapons anywhere." (p. 173) That is from a September 6, 2002 meeting, nearly five months before the Bush-Blair meeting.

* The British memo says Bush and Blair discussed the possibility of assassinating Saddam but provides no detail. Plan of Attack reports this later when it was discussed at an NSC meeting and describes how a Middle Eastern intelligence service planned "to send an emissary to see Saddam, ostensibly for the purpose of negotiation but with the real mission of assassinating the Iraqi leader." (p. 316)

* The British memo says "arms would be twisted" to get a second U.N. resolution and you suggest I present a different picture. I report in Plan of Attack (p.297) that Bush told Blair "we will go flat out" to get a second resolution--the same point.

* The British memo says that there was some tension between Bush and Blair over the legal arguments for war and you suggest I make no reference to this in the book. Plan of Attack presents this theme in many Blair-Bush meetings. For example, in August 2002 British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, following conversations between Bush and Blair, told Powell, "If you are really thinking about war and you want us Brits to be a player, we cannot be unless you go to the United Nations." (pp. 161-162) Also, I report that "for Blair the immediate question was, Would the United Nations be used....It was critical domestically for the prime minister to show his own Labour Party, a pacifist party at heart, opposed to war in principle, that he had gone the U.N. route." (p. 177) On the next page Blair gives Bush his word that he will support military action and Bush tells Blair's aides, "Your man has got cojones." (p.178)

* The British memo says the two leaders discussed the post-war period, including detailed planning on food and medicine. Plan of Attack covers this post-war planning in exhaustive detail in a Jan. 15 NSC meeting. (p. 276-278) 

There were several items mentioned in the British memo which I was not aware of such as Bush's alleged proposal to use a U-2 spy plane as a provocation. As I have always said no account is complete and more information hopefully comes out. The sad fact is that if you had reminded your readers that most of the essential elements contained in the British memo were covered in Plan of Attack, you would have had no column.  There is no way someone writing a book could or would attempt to recap all the decisions previously made in a single meeting.

I was very surprised in our phone conversation yesterday when you said you had read Plan of Attack.  I also see that you wrote about the various revelations when the book came out ("George Bush, Self-Deluded Messiah") in which you said the book was "in several ways more disquieting" than others on the Bush White House. In addressing the new information in the book, you wrote:

The disclosure that appears to unsettle the White House the most is Woodward's assertion that in mid-January 2003 Bush decided to proceed with the invasion of Iraq....

[A]ccording to Woodward, Bush was already leading the nation to war, having made the decision on January 11. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice--who has become the administration's explainer-in-chief--suggests that Bush was merely thinking aloud at the time. But Woodward's account is pretty strong, noting that the Saudis were informed before Bush bothered to tell his secretary of state.

Did you forget? If you'd checked you would have found that the most specific and authoritative account of Bush's early decision, and the discussion around it, comes from Plan of Attack. The New York Times story of April 17, 2004 is but one example.

I want to make two more points. What was the Bush-Blair meeting of Jan. 31, 2003 really about? It was about political survival--Tony Blair's political survival. He was going to face a vote of confidence in the House Commons at some point (he did six weeks later) and he needed a second UN resolution to prove he had not given up on diplomacy. Bush agreed to try for the second resolution which was soon abandoned, but he was so worried that Blair's government would fall that on Mar. 9, 2003--ten days before the start of the war--he phoned Blair and offered to let Britain drop out of the coalition and not send combat troops (p. 338). As I said to you on the phone, I think you are naive about the political stakes--those were the issues for the leaders and this is my focus in reporting the meeting because it was their focus. Bush had already decided on war, Blair knew it, and even a casual reader of Plan of Attack would have known it.

What I find most disturbing is that you knew it also but that fact just did not fit your disfiguring story line. So what did you do? You just left it out. You really ought to be embarrassed. It is just not sound to take one scene from, say, a movie and criticize it for not having all the information in some of the earlier or later important scenes. It is the same for a book. Plan of Attack has stood the test of two years because it was carefully reported from a variety of sources and documents. Almost daily I read an article or a new book that draws heavily from it. At the same time, more information comes out, and I certainly did not have it all.

You wrote a book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception. So, is your approach to adopt the methods and techniques of those you criticize? Has it reached that point? Should deception be matched with deception? Is that the way to straighten out American political dialogue? You owe me but more importantly your readers an apology.

Bob Woodward
April 4, 2006

And now my reply:

Bob Woodward has a point. I should have mentioned that in Plan of Attack he had reported that Bush had already decided to go to war before meeting with Blair on January 31, 2003. That's an important element of the book. As I noted in the original column, "Woodward does capture some (maybe even most) of what occurred" in the run-up to the war. But the fact that Woodward revealed Bush's mindset in passages prior to the pages covering the Bush-Blair meeting does not settle the case here. In Woodward's account, Bush comes off as magnanimous. Blair told him that for political coverage back home he desperately needed a second UN resolution that would authorize military action against Iraq. Bush was opposed to going back to the UN, Woodward wrote, but he conceded and agreed to try. And Woodward inserted a quote from an interview he conducted with Bush, who discussed this very meeting: "And so [Blair's] got a very difficult assignment. Much more difficult, by the way, than the American president in some ways." The bottom line: Blair requested help; Bush put aside his reservations and said yes.

The Manning memo shows that much else was going on. But let's stick with the issue of the second resolution for a moment. Imagine that Woodward's source(s) had informed him--and he had subsequently reported--that Bush had told Blair, If you need a second resolution, I will help, but I'm dead-set on war and have already picked March 10 as the likely date for its start. Would that be a significant change in the account? My view is that the addition of that information would have changed the tenor of Woodward's version.

I don't want to nit-pick, but none of the bullet-points Woodward provides above have Bush establishing a specific date--though one notes that February 15 was the "first potential start date of the war." The February 15 date appears in the section of Plan of Attack covering events in mid-February 2003 (after the January 31 meeting, obviously). And Woodward wrote, "February 15 had been a potential start day for war if the inspections had gone according to plan and exposed Saddam. Now the endgame was not clear." [My emphasis.]

Not to diminish Woodward's considerable reporting talents and the many scoops he does present in the book, but reporting that February 15 had at some point been a potential start date if inspections had "exposed Saddam" (without saying whose start day it was) is not a substitute for reporting that Bush gave Blair a "penciled in" date of March 10.

The March 10 disclosure was not the only Manning memo element missing from Woodward's account of the Bush-Blair meeting--and perhaps not the most significant element absent from Woodward's rendition. The once-secret memo also noted that Bush and Blair had acknowledged that no WMDs had been found in Iraq; that Bush had raised the possibility of provoking a confrontation with Saddam Hussein; that Bush had discussed the possibility of assassinating Saddam; that Bush had said that it was "unlikely there would be internecine warfare between the different religious and ethnic groups"; and that Blair had agreed that sectarian warfare was improbable.

Woodward maintains that Plan of Attack in prior sections had covered most of this. But some of his examples are not fully on point. The fact that Blix had told the UN that no WMDs had yet been found and that US intelligence sources had told Woodward the same makes for a different story than Bush saying to Blair that no unconventional weapons had been unearthed and suggesting they might stage an event to convince the public that war was warranted. According to the Manning memo, one idea Bush had was to paint UN colors on an American U-2 spy plane that would fly over Iraq and (Bush hoped) draw fire from Iraqi forces.

Woodward notes in his reply that he had not been aware of the U-2 proposal. He sensibly reminds us that "no account is complete and more information hopefully comes out." But he adds, "The sad fact is that if you had reminded your readers that most of the essential elements contained in the British memo were covered in Plan of Attack, you would have no column." Here's the essence of our disagreement. He claims that the significance of the meeting--what it was "really about"--was Blair's political survival. And he explains, "this is my focus in reporting the meeting because it was their focus." The "their" refers to Bush and Blair.

But is "their" focus the only, or the most appropriate, focus for a historian or journalist writing about this meeting? The meeting was important because of the politics--though ultimately the second resolution fizzled and Blair had to make do with an invasion not explicitly authorized by the United Nations. But the meeting was also important because it revealed that Bush was so eager to go to war he was considering--in the absence of WMDs--contriving an incident to start it. The Manning memo--the full contents of which have not yet been disclosed--also is significant in that it shows Bush and Blair dismissing the prospect of sectarian violence in post-invasion Iraq. (Woodward's reply does not direct us to a portion of his book in which Bush makes a similar comment.)

I presume that had Woodward's source(s) informed him about the provocation proposal, he would have decided that the "focus" of the meeting was not solely Blair's political needs and he would have included this proposed provocation scheme in his account and claimed it as the scoop it would have been. But my original point was that his source(s)--and that includes Bush--had not shared this information with him, that they (not Woodward) had "left out the best and most important stuff." Perhaps our dispute is over whether the politics of the meeting was more important than Bush's demonstrated willingness to consider concocting an incident to rally support for the war. That's an editorial call, and I'm happy to let others weigh in. In my mind, a president discussing such a stunt with another foreign leader is stop-the-presses stuff.

Had I noted that Woodward's book made clear that Bush had decided on war before January 31, 2003, there still would have been a story here. The Manning memo indicates that the United States has a president who considered resorting to subterfuge to justify a war. Woodward's account does not contain this information. And I assume its absence is due to the reluctance of Woodward's insider sources to share with him the full truth. Next time Woodward interviews Bush, he might want to ask the president why Bush did not tell him about the provocation proposal when the two discussed the January 31, 2003 meeting.

Pointing all this out is no act of deception. As Woodward notes, I have no problem commending him for his work and citing it. By working those insiders, he does bring us important stories. But in this instance, the limitations of his methodology--and that of all source-based reporting (which I and every other journalist practice)--were revealed. The Manning memo is a reminder of how even the nation's most renowned reporter can have the ultimate access and still miss an important part of the tale.

White House Troubled By Democracy in U.S.

Defenders of the war in Iraq are always quick to dismiss any expression of opposition by the American people as so inconsequential that no one in Washington will take notice. That's what they did in March of 2005, when 50 Vermont town meetings voted for anti-war resolutions. And that is what they are now doing in April of 2006, when confronted with the news that the citizens of 24 Wisconsin cities, villages and towns -- including a half dozen communities that voted for President Bush in 2004 -- have voted for Bring the Troops Home Now referendums that call for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The problem with the attempt to dismiss the Wisconsin votes -- which is so obviously meant to discourage more communities in more states from using democratic processes to challenge the war -- is that the Bush White House is not on message. Instead of feigning ignorance of the referendums, or simply refusing to comment, White House press secretary Scott McClellan stumbled through a lengthy discussion of the Wisconsin results on the day after the voting.

Of course, McClellan would never let the truth pass over his lips. But the confirmation that opposition to the war has spread even to some of the most Republican sections of the country had evidently unsettled the White House spokesman.

When asked by a reporter about the anti-war votes -- "What was your reaction to these referendums in Wisconsin, from the President?" -- McClellan replied with a rambling repetition of the White House's stay-the-course-into-the-quagmire line. But the spinner-in-chief, who really should have the rap down by now, struggled to get the talking points out.

"It's important that the Iraqi leaders continue to move forward and form a unity government that is based on strong leadership and represents -- that represents all Iraqis," babbled McClellan. "And that's -- and we are continuing to keep our focus on the strategy for victory that the President has outlined. The worst thing we could do is withdraw before the mission is complete. And that would be retreating. And that's exactly what the terrorists want us to do. But they cannot shake our will. They cannot -- we will not lose our nerve. The President understands the importance of a free Iraq for laying the foundations of peace for generations to come."

Er, keep our focus, uh, can't shake our will, um, won't lose our nerve...

Blind defenders of the war, who claim to be committed to spreading democracy in Iraq, continue to argue that democracy in America does not matter. For all their enthusiasm about elections abroad, they dismiss the will of the American people as expressed through ballot boxes here in the United States.

But how will they explain away the fact that the White House wordsmith was so obviously shaken by a few dozen elections in small towns in the middle of the country?

Perhaps McClellan's mumbling has something to do with the fact that even this White House recognizes that, when Americans in traditionally Republican communities are voting for immediate withdrawal, it is no longer credible to claim, as McClellan attempted on Wednesday, that: "I think most Americans recognize the importance of succeeding in Iraq."

Try as he might to spin this one, it is evident that even Scott McClellan is coming to the realization that most Americans recognize the importance of getting U.S. troops out of Iraq.

Cynthia McKinney, Enough Already!

The media should be talking about Tom DeLay and the collapse of the conservative movement. About immigration reform and the divide in the Republican Party. About how the Bush Administration is trying to export democracy to Iraq while cutting funds for democracy promotion. About how four House Republicans are pushing to force the House to debate the war. Or--if you want something seedy--about how yet another Bush Administration official was arrested, this time for trying to seduce a 14-year-old girl over the Internet.

Instead, they can't get enough of Cynthia McKinney, a controversial Democrat from Georgia who last week punched a police officer on Capitol Hill. It's not just Fox News. Wolf Blitzer had her in the Situation Room. Even Jon Stewart last night juxtaposed images of DeLay and McKinney, as if their sins were equal. And McKinney inexplicably keeps the story alive by holding media appearance after media appearance.

The Nation defended McKinney when the right-wing and AIPAC slimed her as an anti-Semite back in 2002. But, as far as I'm concerned, she's on her own now.

Maybe she was racially profiled, as McKinney adamantly claims. But there are 435 members of the House of Representatives. Surely Capitol Police don't always recognize every member, especially when they've just changed their hair style and aren't wearing any identification. It may have been an honest mistake.

So, for the good of the country and your party Ms. McKinney, can we move on?