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Iraq for Sale

The Bush Administration appointed political cronies to run Iraq and gave lucrative no-bid contracts to the former employer of our Vice President.

No wonder the occupation is turning out so badly.

Of the $18 billion spent on the now-halted Iraqi reconstruction, half is still missing. Since October 2004, the Department of Defense has not had one internal investigator on the ground.

Corruption has run rampant under such circumstances, with Halliburton the leading beneficiary.

Today, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held its tenth hearing on contracting abuses in Iraq. An earlier hearing found that Halliburton had been unable to substantiate $1.4 billion in charges to the government. Today's hearing focused on how Halliburton billed taxpayers for a Super Bowl Party, among other luxuries--and also knowingly sent truck drivers into hotspots without warning or protection.

Yet the Bush Administration has done nothing to curtail such conduct, refusing to investigate these abuses under the False Claims Act. "The last thing the Administration wants, it appears, is more bad news out of Iraq, and it is willing to throw a monkey wrench into the machinery of justice to prevent that," testified attorney Alan Grayson, who Taxpayers Against Fraud recently named lawyer of the year.

Many of the revelations from today's hearing--and more--are featured in Robert Greenwald's new film, "Iraq For Sale." The film opens tonight. Go see it.

Full Disclosure

Question: What activity burns through money "like jet fuel," involvesthree armored cars, forty-five full-time, Kalashnikov-toting securityguards, and two blast-wall-enclosed houses with belt-fed machine-gunsmounted on their roofs?

Answer: Reporting from Iraq. This comes from New York Timesjournalist Dexter Filkins, now home from Baghdad on a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University.

According to an article by David S. Hirschman ofEditor & Publisher Online, he added as well that, essentially, if you're a Western reporter in Iraq, you can never go out. Filkinsclaimed that "98 percent of Iraq, and even most of Baghdad, has nowbecome ‘off-limits' for Western journalists."

Here's the problem. I've been reading New York Times reportagesince the invasion of Iraq began and I don't remember running across afigure like that -- and neither has just about anyone else who happens to have been reading a major paper in the US for the last year. When, way back in September 2004, an e-mail fromthe Wall Street Journal's fine reporter Farnaz Fassihi slippedinto public view, suggesting that "[b]eing a foreign correspondent inBaghdad these days is like being under virtual house arrest," it wastreated as a scandal in the media; her "objectivity" was called intoquestion; and (if memory serves) she was sent on vacation until afterthe presidential election. While there was a vigorous discussion in the British press of what came to be called "hoteljournalism," it was hardly a subject here, once you got pastThe New York Review ofBooks.

It seems to me that it should be news when Filkins reports that Western journalists can no longer even go to the scene of a car bombing and that there are many situations in Iraq "even too dangerous for Iraqi reporters to report on."

Cigarette packs have their warning labels, as do vitamin supplements.Shouldn't our news have the equivalent? How about little pie-charticons before each Iraqi story suggesting what percentage of the news pie had been available that day. Or a warning label that might say: "This ordinary piece was put together by American reporters locked in their well-guarded and barricaded buildings from scraps of information delivered by Iraqi reporters who can't even tell their families where they work for fear of assassination."

My own theory, based on a 1 percent pie slice of knowledge about that missing98 percent of Iraq, is that that must be where the "good news" is -- you know, the stuff that the Bush administration has so long insisted the media doesn't cover. And it's undoubtedly zealously guarded by Shiite and Sunni militants, who aren't about to share all the wonderful things Bush/Cheney reconstruction has done for Iraq with the rest of us.

Lamont Gets Key Union Endorsement

Last Friday, I predicted that AFSCME'S Council 4--Connecticut's largest AFL-CIO union--would endorse Ned Lamont for the US Senate. While the union backed Lieberman in the primary, its delegates now realize that "it boiled down to a simple question: Which candidate will stand up to George Bush and Dick Cheney." Not a tough choice considering Lieberman, on the stump and at a recent speech at Fairfield University on Friday, sounded an awful lot like the White House and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld.

AFSCME'S delegates were also critical of Lieberman's "lackluster at best" support for the three Democratic candidates challenging Republican incumbents in the state. Those races--and others in the Northeast--are critical if Democrats are to take back the House.

AFSCME's Council 4 represents more than 35,000 state and federal employees. For more on this crucial labor endorsement, read the press release the union issued this morning:

"Since the August 8th primary, we paid close attention to the remarks of both men," said Sal Luciano, executive director of Council 4. "We saw Lieberman moving closer and closer to Bush while Ned Lamont held firm in his strong opposition to the direction Bush is taking us." "In the end, our delegates realized that it boiled down to a simple question: Which candidate will stand up to George Bush and Dick Cheney," Luciano said. "That candidate is Ned Lamont and only Ned Lamont."

"The Bush administration is driving this country into a ditch," Luciano said. "We're spending $250 million a day on the war in Iraq while doling out billions of dollars in corporate welfare and tax breaks for the rich. That's money we should invest in education, healthcare and job creation. And that's why we're supporting Ned Lamont."

"With nearly 400,000 Connecticut citizens going uninsured, our state is facing a serious health care crisis," said Luciano. "Ned Lamont supports universal health care that will provide high quality health care for all."

"Connecticut is losing good-paying jobs at an alarming rate," Luciano continued. "We need real leaders in Washington to fix our flawed trade and tax policies. Ned Lamont will be that kind of leader."

"Endorsing Mr. Lamont was not an easy decision in light of Joe Lieberman's distinguished years of public service," Luciano finished. "Over the years Joe was with us much more that he was against us, but his positions since the primary have not been good. The delegates unanimously endorsed Courtney, Farrell and Murphy," referring to the three challengers to Connecticut's Republican Incumbent Congressmen, "and Mr. Lieberman's support of them has been lackluster at best.Connecticut citizens are fed up with business-as-usual politics in Washington, and Joe just wouldn't listen."

As I wrote last Friday, AFSCME's size and power inside the AFL will make a difference in this race.

Remembering Afghanistan

Let's talk about Afghanistan, since no one else will. The nation is once again in crisis. The Taliban is resurgent. Opium production is soaring. Suicide bombings are on the rise. And the US and NATO-led coalition is feeling the strain.

Last week, NATO leaders issued an urgent call for more troops to stabilize the country. Thus far only one member of the twenty-six country alliance has offered assistance. The US has more than six times as many troops in Iraq as we do in Afghanistan.

As security takes precedence, reconstruction is halting. Afghanistan's collapse after the mujahideen repelled the invasion of the Soviet Union led to the rise of the Taliban. Another return to lawlessness and extremism would be a disaster for the country and a huge seatback for the US campaign against terrorism. We neglect Afghanistan at our own peril.

Iraq: The 2% Truth

Conservatives who whine and bray that the media is presenting a distorted picture of the war may be inadvertently correct. Indeed, things are probably worse than even the darkest and most pessimistic reports.

Respected New York Times war correspondent Dexter Filkins says that Iraq has become so anarchic and dangerous that as much as "98%" of it is now off-limits to reporters.

Even worse, Filkins says, the U.S. military might be similarly isolated and out of touch. His description of the literal small army that the New York Times must deploy just to get minimal reporting done is both mind-boggling and depressing. Imagine a news organization that needs a fleet of armored cars and four-dozen machine-gunners to protect its reporters. Read the details here.

Bob Novak Slimes Me

Robert Novak was on C-SPAN on Friday, and he took the opportunity to slime me. I don't know what the conservative columnist has against yours truly. Countless times in the past three years I've explained to outraged White House critics that Novak could not be charged under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (which applies mainly to government officials and only to journalists who engage in a pattern of identifying undercover CIA officers with the intent of harming the spy service). I haven't even criticized him much--if at all--for publishing the Plame leak, for, as a journalist, I assign more culpability to the leakers in this case (Richard Armitage, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby) than the leak conveyors (Novak, Matt Cooper). Yet Novak has a bug up his keister about me, and he let it fly on C-SPAN.

I suspect his antipathy has something to do with his legal bills. He seems to blame me for the investigation that proceeded the leak he published--an inquiry that caused him to hire a lawyer and say nothing for two-and-a-half years. On C-SPAN, he declared,

There was an enormous hue and cry that was ginned up by left-wing journalists such as David Corn of The Nation and a left-wing investigative team from Newsday. And with Senator Chuck Schumer leading the way, some very partisan Democrats hyped up the case.

And, in Novak's telling, this all led to "a very unnecessary investigation." While presenting his paranoid account--a "left-wing investigative team" from Newsday?--he failed to mention that the CIA first examined the leak and then asked the Justice Department for an FBI investigation. I find it difficult to believe that my one web-column or the remarks of Senator Schumer somehow caused the CIA lawyers to do something they would not have otherwise done. Maybe I am too modest.

Novak was not content to assail me for concocting a scandal (would if I could!); he got personal when referring to the new book I wrote with Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War:

That's a very odd couple: Isikoff and Corn. Isikoff says he is non-ideological and nonpartisan. I think he is. I think he's a great investigative reporter....Corn is a left-wing ideologue from The Nation magazine. In Mr. [Joseph] Wilson's memoir, he has Corn advising him, telling him that a law was broken, egging him on. So he was a part of the whole buildup of this story. And its deeply ironic that his book is the book that is being used to indicate that there was no conspiracy. You can't in your wildest imagination imagine Armitage as part of a plot to undermine the Wilsons. So, of course, Corn is frantic. He's writing blogs and writing in The Nation saying there was another track. Which is a great conspiracy theory. There's always another track.

Being called an "ideologue" by Robert Novak is like being called a "cheat" by Jack Abramoff. Worse, Novak has his facts wrong. I was no adviser to Wilson and did not egg him. As Hubris makes clear--and let me remind readers once again, this book is about the selling of the war, not only the leak case--I called Wilson after the Novak column appeared and asked if he knew of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Wilson said that he didn't and that he wasn't at this point looking to draw additional attention to the Novak column. The next day, I called him again to see if anyone had yet written about this angle. Wilson said no one had; he still was not eager to publicize the leak. When I mentioned I intended to write about the leak and the possible legal (criminal, that is) ramifications, Wilson said, "It's up to you." There was no egging going on--from either side.

Spouting on C-SPAN, Novak ignored this part of the story--just as he ignored whole sections of the book that show that Rove (Novak's friend) and Libby were hell-bent on discrediting Wilson and that during the push-back campaign they waged against Wilson, they each disclosed classified information about his wife's CIA employment to reporters (before the leak appeared in Novak's column). This is not a conspiracy theory. It's a documented narrative that appears in Hubris--with new details. Our account expands on a well-established public record. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald filed court papers earlier this year noting that senior White House officials (meaning Rove and Libby) mounted a campaign to discredit or punish Joseph Wilson, who had criticized the administration's handling of the prewar intelligence on Iraq's WMDs. Is it Novak's position that Rove did not leak to Cooper? That Libby did not leak to Judith Miller of The New York Times? Novak ought to get out more--or, at least, read.

Novak went on:

Mr. Corn is a nasty piece of work--let me tell you that. And he was the one who really built this story up. He is in what I think is a deliciously ironic situation because he was one of the people--much more I believe than Chris Matthews--for building this story up from the outset....And he is in a position where most of the investigative work done by his partner Isikoff he is a party to breaking down this story....which must actually destroy him.

Destroyed? Having a book hit the No. 1 spot on the Amazon.com bestseller list and reach the bestseller lists of The New York Times and The Washington Post is hardly destruction. But see the bind Novak is in? He attributes the disclosure in Hubris that he fancies--that Armitage was his first source--solely to Isikoff; he disregards what the book (co-written by at least one great investigative reporter, according to Novak) reveals about Rove's and Libby's critical involvement in the leak affair. Talk about cherry-picking.

Novak then addressed my recent column on his cat fight with Armitage by attacking me--not by explaining the contradiction I pointed out. He told Brian Lamb:

[Corn] is so outraged at me with this that he seems to be taking Armitage's side....My account is completely truthful.

Novak should look at that column again. I did not take Armitage's side in this disagreement. To recap that tussle: after our book outed Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state confessed but said his leak to Novak was an inadvertent slip. Novak in a column this past week claimed the leak was a deliberate act. Here's how I sussed out the conflict:

Novak's current account may well be an accurate recollection. There's no reason to take Armitage's quasi-face-saving version at face-value.

How is that taking Armitage's side? Novak might need to hone his reading comprehension skills. But I did note that Novak had changed his story significantly. In an October 1, 2003 column, Novak described the leak this way:

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

Yet now Novak maintains that Armitage was slipping him the Plame info purposefully and even suggesting Novak use it in a column. What accounts for this flip-flop? Novak has not explained it. I suggested one possible reason for this change of tune. When Novak in 2003 characterized the leak as idle chitchat, the news had just broken that the White House was being investigated for the leak--and Rove was a possible target of that criminal probe. So Novak, who is close to Rove, had an interest in downplaying the significance of the leak and any intentionality behind it. Now that Bush-backers are exploiting (and misusing) our book to lay all the blame on Armitage's broad shoulders in order to absolve Rove of any wrongdoing, Novak is piling on by depicting Armitage's leak as deliberate. My hunch might be wrong. But Novak has yet to reconcile his recent column with his October 1, 2003 offering. Instead, he attacks me.

I'd rather not be in assorted pissing matches with fact-ignoring conservatives about the leak case. (See here for a rebuttal of a silly charge thrown at me by The Wall Street Journal and Victoria Toensing.) Our book, as I constantly note, is about so much more than the Plame affair. For instance, I'd like to see Novak and other White House allies respond to the scene in our book in which the new Iraqi intelligence chief--a year after the invasion--visits Bush in the Oval Office and tells him the security situation in Baghdad is hellish and getting worse and Bush asks him no question. But White House defenders are only interested in selectively mis-citing the book to help White House aides who share the responsibility for the current mess in Iraq. How shocking.

By the way, there is another contradiction for Novak to explain. On C-SPAN, he repeatedly dismissed me as an "ideologue" and "editorialist" with no reporting skills:

I don't think he's really interested in getting facts. He's interested in getting out a line.

Please don't laugh at the thought of Novak assailing anyone else on such terms--until I reach the punch line. After hearing Novak say that about me, I went to my bookshelf and found a copy of his last book, Completing the Revolution: A Vision for Victory in 2000, which was released in 2000. A book that is certainly the work of an ideologue. (That's "Revolution" as in "Conservative Revolution.") And I located a page describing me as a "bright, young left-wing journalist." (Emphasis added.) High praise indeed from a right-wing ideologue--especially the "young." (I was in my early 40s at the time.) What went wrong? Perhaps Novak simply does not appreciate journalism when it is applied to him and his self-contradicting columns.

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

Let the People Lead

"... it may, perhaps, on some occasion, be found necessary to impeach the President himself..." -- JAMES MADISON

On Sunday, September 17, I appeared on the National Mall in Washington as part of Camp Democracy's day-long session on impeachment.

Camp Democracy organizer David Swanson's timing was, as always, impeccable.

Though it is too little noted by the current guardians of the American experiment -- and the media guardians of the American discourse -- September 17 is Constitution Day. It was on September 17, 1787, that 39 of the founders signed the U.S. Constitution and took the first formal step on America's journey as a nation of laws rather than men.,

It is possible, and indeed appropriate, to debate the intentions of the founders on a host of issues.

But there can be no debate about their determination that the document guarantee the most necessary of all democratic protections: the power of impeachment.

George Mason, who along with James Madison was a definitional figure in the drafting of the Constitution, put it best when he said of the document's contents: "No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued."

Madison's notes from the summer in which the Constitution was drafted, as well as his letters to Jefferson regarding the product of that summer, leave no doubt that the founders intended for impeachment to be utilized whenever necessary in defense of the Republic. They did not want the power to impach treated as a fetish or a fantasy, nor did they intend for its application to be seen as a Constitutional crisis. Rather, they wanted impeachment to be recognized for what it is: the cure for the crisis of executive excess.

It was Madison's view that impeachment was an "indispensable" provision for defending the American experiment -- and the American people -- "against the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate." The promise of another election, at which a wrongdoing executive might be removed, was not enough to provide such protection, Madison had warned in his address to the Constitutional Convention that made provision for impeachment. "The imitation of the period of {the president's] service, was not a sufficient security," explained the man who would, himself, serve two full terms as the new nation's fourth president. "{The president} might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers... In the case of the Executive Magistracy which was to be administered by a single man, loss of capacity or corruption was more within the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the Republic."

Gouverneur Morris, the "gentleman revolutionary" whose pen Madison credited with providing "the finish given to the style and arrangement of the Constitution," was even blunter than his compatriot. Speaking of "the necessity of impeachments," Morris asserted that only the broad power to remove the president -- not merely for corruption and incapacity but for the far more fluidly-defined act of "treachery" -- would provide the essential insurance across time that: "This Magistrate is not the King... The people are the King."

Two hundred and nineteen years after that first September 17, Swanson and the Camp Democracy organizers brought together many of the best thinkers in the nation to discuss the question of how best to maintain the mandate of the Constitution. Former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega, former Kennedy administration aide Marcus Raskin, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern were present, along with former U.S. Representative Elizabeth Holtzman, the co-author of The Case for Impeachment, and Constitutional scholar David Lindorff, the co-author of The Impeachment of George W. Bush. Activists such as Michael Avery, the president of the National Lawyers Guild; Dan DeWalt, the Vermont selectman who began the grassroots movement to pass local impeachment resolution and veteran political operative Steve Cobble showed up to talk strategy.

There was little debate about whether George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their compatriots have committed "high crimes and misdemeanors" -- the deliberately broad term for executive wrongdoing that the founders intended to address both legal and political concerns. There was a good deal of frustration with the failure of Democratic leaders to accept the responsibility of the opposition party to hold out-of-control leaders to account. But there was, as well, a dawning recognition that the discussion about impeachment will be had -- if not as quickly or as well as should be in Washington, then surely in the great expanses of these United States.

Polls and practices suggest that the citizenry well understands the necessity of holding this administration to account -- not to punish Bush or Cheney but to restore the system of checks and balances that has been so warped in this era of executive whim and lawlessness. And 219 years into this American experiment, as we honor the Constitution that is its foundation, the message from Camp Democracy is clear: It is time to remind the politicians and the pundits that: "This Magistrate is not the King... The people are the King."

***

* For more on Camp Democracy, visit the website at: http://www.campdemocracy.org/

* John Nichols' new book, The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism (The New Press), will be published in October. Of it, Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: "Bugger off!" So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so."

Ruffling a Hawk's Feathers

Former state senator and US Senate candidate Burt Cohen (who currentlyhosts a progressive radio talk show) brings us news of a stunning upset inNew Hampshire's first congressional district. No one thought CarolShea-Porter could beat the well-funded, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee-endorsed, middle-of-the-roadcandidate Jim Craig, but she did 54 percent to 35 percent. Her campaign spent about one-fifth of whatthe DCCC candidate spent.

Cohen, who remains cordial with Congressman Jeb Bradley (dating back totheir terms in the state house), reports that Bradley is indeed scared. Fortwo years Shea-Porter, a former social worker, dogged Bradley at townmeetings throughout the district. Focusing her primary campaign on heropposition to the war, Shea-Porter developed a knack for getting underBradley's skin and winning her debate points. He is not surprisingly duckingher challenges to debate. Cohen reports the presidential wannabes nowswarming the Granite State, will be helping--but Shea-Porter's real strengthis an army of grassroots volunteers. Now if she can buy TV ads, many believeshe can win in November.

Camp Democracy and the Genius of Impeachment

No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above Justice?

-- George Mason, 1787

More than 5,000 people crowded the Sauk County Fairgrounds in Baraboo, Wisconsin, for Fighting Bob Fest, one of the largest gatherings of progressives in the nation. The annual event, which is pulled together by volunteers on a minimal budget, now attracts speakers such as U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, "Democracy Now" host Amy Goodman and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

The success of Bob Fest serves as a reminder that there is a yearning in America for the sort of community and discourse that was once seen on the Chautauqua circuit, which in the first years of the twentieth century drew William Jennings Bryan, Jane Addams, W.E.B. DuBois and Robert M. "Fighting Bob" La Follette to cities and towns across the country. In those days, as today, the speaker circuit served as a needed alternative to a media that often failed to provide a full and honest portrait of the issues and ideas that matter most.

I was proud to be a part of the Fighting Bob Fest speaker roster, and I was thrilled that, when I brought up the subject of impeaching George Bush and Dick Cheney, the crowd roared its approval.

I will be equally proud to participate this weekend in a similarly well-intentioned and ambitious initiative on the National Mall in Washington: Camp Democracy. Sponsored by dozens of progressive groups from around the country, the almost month-long series of events has brought the anti-war, justice and accountability sentiments of the nation to the nation's capital for Chautauqua-style forums featuring members of Congress, authors and activists.

On Sunday, we'll discuss the subject that the mainstream media loves to ignore: proposals for the impeachment of George W. Bush and members of his administration. Sunday's "Impeachment Encampment," sponsored by the good folks at Democrats.com, will feature a morning panel that includes Marcus Raskin, a member of the special staff of the National Security Council in President Kennedy's Administration, and author of "Liberalism," and co-editor of "In Democracy's Shadow"; Elizabeth de la Vega, former federal prosecutor; Dave Lindorff, author of "The Case for Impeachment" and myself. David Swanson, a cofounder of AfterDowningStreet.org and a brilliant organizer on issues of accountability, will moderate.

In the afternoon, another panel will feature: Elizabeth Holtzman, former congresswoman and co-author of "The Impeachment of George W. Bush"; Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst; author and professor Jennifer Van Bergen; Geoff King, president of Constitution Summer; Michael Avery, president of the National Lawyers Guild. Also present will be Dan DeWalt, the Vermont town selectman who started the grassroots movement to pass local impeachment resolutions last spring will also be present, along with Steve Cobble, the veteran political strategist who has been one of the smartest advocates for accountability.

In this election season, a lot of politicians are avoiding talk of impeachment. They fear a discussion about accountability that ends up at the logical conclusion. But the people have no such fear, as evidenced by the enthusiasm for local and state impeachment resolutions and the healthy discourse that is playing out across the country and, this Sunday, in Washington at Camp Democracy.

* For more on Camp Democracy, visit the website at: http://www.campdemocracy.org/

* John Nichols' new book, The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism (The New Press), will be published in October. Of it, Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: "Bugger off!"So should we say today. And Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so."