Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Commonweal Editors

Beleaguered is the polite word now most often used to describe the Bush administration. Yet making sense of the administration’s failures requires stronger language. As the events and revelations of the last few weeks remind us, almost nothing this administration does works and almost nothing it says adds up.

What is one to make of the deplorable treatment of wounded and damaged Iraq war veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center? How could an administration that endlessly boasts of its “support for the troops” allow those who have paid the highest price for this unnecessary war to be neglected in this way? Evidently, similar problems pervade the military health-care system. Veterans Administration hospitals, which under the Clinton administration were models of what good government stewardship could accomplish, are now also in disarray. Like everything else associated with the Iraq debacle, the military medical system was simply not equipped to deal with the unintended consequences of the war, namely the tens of thousands of severely traumatized soldiers who will require decades of care. Some generals have been fired, and a bipartisan commission has been established to investigate the scandal, but this should not distract attention from the fact that the buck stops in the White House.

A rare moment of accountability occurred in the conviction of I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, on perjury and obstruction of justice charges. Libby lied to FBI agents and to a grand jury investigating the administration’s efforts to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the administration’s unfounded claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. The legal issues of the case, which initially involved an investigation into the “outing” of Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent, were far from clear, and Wilson himself is no paragon of truthfulness. What is undeniable, though, is that Libby lied about his role in the administration’s feverish effort to smear an opponent of the war.

Contineud on Commonweal site.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Celebrate the emerging Republican Minority: CHANGES IN PUBLIC OPINION SURVEYED:

Emerging Republican Minority

by Paul Krugman

Remember how the 2004 election was supposed to have demonstrated, once and for all, that conservatism was the future of American politics? I do: early in 2005, some colleagues in the news media urged me, in effect, to give up. “The election settled some things,” I was told.

But at this point 2004 looks like an aberration, an election won with fear-and-smear tactics that have passed their sell-by date. Republicans no longer have a perceived edge over Democrats on national security — and without that edge, they stand revealed as ideologues out of step with an increasingly liberal American public.

Right now the talk of the political chattering classes is a report from the Pew Research Center showing a precipitous decline in Republican support. In 2002 equal numbers of Americans identified themselves as Republicans and Democrats, but since then the Democrats have opened up a 15-point advantage.

Part of the Republican collapse surely reflects public disgust with the Bush administration. The gap between the parties will probably get even wider when — not if — more and worse tales of corruption and abuse of power emerge.

But polling data on the issues, from Pew and elsewhere, suggest that the G.O.P.’s problems lie as much with its ideology as with one man’s disastrous reign.

For the conservatives who run today’s Republican Party are devoted, above all, to the proposition that government is always the problem, never the solution. For a while the American people seemed to agree; but lately they’ve concluded that sometimes government is the solution, after all, and they’d like to see more of it.

Consider, for example, the question of whether the government should provide fewer services in order to cut spending, or provide more services even if this requires higher spending. According to the American National Election Studies, in 1994, the year the Republicans began their 12-year control of Congress, those who favored smaller government had the edge, by 36 to 27. By 2004, however, those in favor of bigger government had a 43-to-20 lead.

And public opinion seems to have taken a particularly strong turn in favor of universal health care. Gallup reports that 69 percent of the public believes that “it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health care coverage,” up from 59 percent in 2000.

The main force driving this shift to the left is probably rising income inequality. According to Pew, there has recently been a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans who agree with the statement that “the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.” Interestingly, the big increase in disgruntlement over rising inequality has come among the relatively well off — those making more than $75,000 a year.

Indeed, even the relatively well off have good reason to feel left behind in today’s economy, because the big income gains have been going to a tiny, super-rich minority. It’s not surprising, under those circumstances, that most people favor a stronger safety net — which they might need — even at the expense of higher taxes, much of which could be paid by the ever-richer elite.

And in the case of health care, there’s also the fact that the traditional system of employer-based coverage is gradually disintegrating. It’s no wonder, then, that a bit of socialized medicine is looking good to most Americans.

So what does this say about the political outlook? It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. But at this point it looks as if we’re seeing an emerging Republican minority.

After all, Democratic priorities — in particular, on health care, where John Edwards has set the standard for all the candidates with a specific proposal to finance universal coverage with higher taxes on the rich — seem to be more or less in line with what the public wants.

Republicans, on the other hand, are still wallowing in nostalgia — nostalgia for the days when people thought they were heroic terrorism-fighters, nostalgia for the days when lots of Americans hated Big Government.

Many Republicans still imagine that what their party needs is a return to the conservative legacy of Ronald Reagan. It will probably take quite a while in the political wilderness before they take on board the message of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback in California — which is that what they really need is a return to the moderate legacy of Dwight Eisenhower.

© Copyright 2007 New York Times

Discuss this story

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Are we citizens? Howard Zinn

Are We Politicians or Citizens?

Are We Politicians or Citizens?
By Howard Zinn

May 2007 Issue

As I write this, Congress is debating timetables for withdrawal from Iraq. In response to the Bush Administration’s “surge” of troops, and the Republicans’ refusal to limit our occupation, the Democrats are behaving with their customary timidity, proposing withdrawal, but only after a year, or eighteen months. And it seems they expect the anti-war movement to support them.

That was suggested in a recent message from MoveOn, which polled its members on the Democrat proposal, saying that progressives in Congress, “like many of us, don’t think the bill goes far enough, but see it as the first concrete step to ending the war.”

Ironically, and shockingly, the same bill appropriates $124 billion in more funds to carry the war. It’s as if, before the Civil War, abolitionists agreed to postpone the emancipation of the slaves for a year, or two years, or five years, and coupled this with an appropriation of funds to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

When a social movement adopts the compromises of legislators, it has forgotten its role, which is to push and challenge the politicians, not to fall in meekly behind them.

We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens. Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable, in a shamefully timorous Congress.

We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens. Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable, in a shamefully timorous Congress.

Timetables for withdrawal are not only morally reprehensible in the case of a brutal occupation (would you give a thug who invaded your house, smashed everything in sight, and terrorized your children a timetable for withdrawal?) but logically nonsensical. If our troops are preventing civil war, helping people, controlling violence, then why withdraw at all? If they are in fact doing the opposite—provoking civil war, hurting people, perpetuating violence—they should withdraw as quickly as ships and planes can carry them home.

It is four years since the United States invaded Iraq with a ferocious bombardment, with “shock and awe.” That is enough time to decide if the presence of our troops is making the lives of the Iraqis better or worse. The evidence is overwhelming. Since the invasion, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died, and, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, about two million Iraqis have left the country, and an almost equal number are internal refugees, forced out of their homes, seeking shelter elsewhere in the country.

Yes, Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant. But his capture and death have not made the lives of Iraqis better, as the U.S. occupation has created chaos: no clean water, rising rates of hunger, 50 percent unemployment, shortages of food, electricity, and fuel, a rise in child malnutrition and infant deaths. Has the U.S. presence diminished violence? On the contrary, by January 2007 the number of insurgent attacks has increased dramatically to 180 a day.

The response of the Bush Administration to four years of failure is to send more troops. To add more troops matches the definition of fanaticism: If you find you’re going in the wrong direction, redouble your speed. It reminds me of the physician in Europe in the early nineteenth century who decided that bloodletting would cure pneumonia. When that didn’t work, he concluded that not enough blood had been let.

The Congressional Democrats’ proposal is to give more funds to the war, and to set a timetable that will let the bloodletting go on for another year or more. It is necessary, they say, to compromise, and some anti-war people have been willing to go along. However, it is one thing to compromise when you are immediately given part of what you are demanding, if that can then be a springboard for getting more in the future. That is the situation described in the recent movie The Wind That Shakes The Barley, in which the Irish rebels against British rule are given a compromise solution—to have part of Ireland free, as the Irish Free State. In the movie, Irish brother fights against brother over whether to accept this compromise. But at least the acceptance of that compromise, however short of justice, created the Irish Free State. The withdrawal timetable proposed by the Democrats gets nothing tangible, only a promise, and leaves the fulfillment of that promise in the hands of the Bush Administration.

There have been similar dilemmas for the labor movement. Indeed, it is a common occurrence that unions, fighting for a new contract, must decide if they will accept an offer that gives them only part of what they have demanded. It’s always a difficult decision, but in almost all cases, whether the compromise can be considered a victory or a defeat, the workers have been given some thing palpable, improving their condition to some degree. If they were offered only a promise of something in the future, while continuing an unbearable situation in the present, it would not be considered a compromise, but a sellout. A union leader who said, “Take this, it’s the best we can get” (which is what the MoveOn people are saying about the Democrats’ resolution) would be hooted off the platform.

I am reminded of the situation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, when the black delegation from Mississippi asked to be seated, to represent the 40 percent black population of that state. They were offered a “compromise”—two nonvoting seats. “This is the best we can get,” some black leaders said. The Mississippians, led by Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses, turned it down, and thus held on to their fighting spirit, which later brought them what they had asked for. That mantra—“the best we can get”—is a recipe for corruption.

It is not easy, in the corrupting atmosphere of Washington, D.C., to hold on firmly to the truth, to resist the temptation of capitulation that presents itself as compromise. A few manage to do so. I think of Barbara Lee, the one person in the House of Representatives who, in the hysterical atmosphere of the days following 9/11, voted against the resolution authorizing Bush to invade Afghanistan. Today, she is one of the few who refuse to fund the Iraq War, insist on a prompt end to the war, reject the dishonesty of a false compromise.

Except for the rare few, like Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey, and John Lewis, our representatives are politicians, and will surrender their integrity, claiming to be “realistic.”

We are not politicians, but citizens. We have no office to hold on to, only our consciences, which insist on telling the truth. That, history suggests, is the most realistic thing a citizen can do.

Howard Zinn is the author, most recently, of “A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Political Profiling by White House and Justice Department detailed in study.

March 21, 2007

Study: White House Guilty Of "Political Profiling"

By Bob Geiger

In a study cited on the floor of the United States Senate earlier this week, two researchers have found that the Bush administration's Justice Department has persistently engaged in what they call "political profiling" and that there is a "non-proportionate political profiling of elected Democratic officials" by U.S. Attorneys.

In a February 2007 article, "The Political Profiling of Elected Democratic Officials: When Rhetorical Vision Participation Runs Amok," Donald Shields, Ph.D. and John Cragan, both Professors of Communications at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and Illinois State University, respectively, provide the data behind a charge leveled by Assistant Democratic Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) on the Senate floor Monday.

"These statistics are troubling, and we have to look into them," said Durbin. "The firings of the U.S. attorneys and documents that have been turned over to Congress really call into question the legitimacy of all prosecutions brought by the U.S. attorney in cases involving partisan interests."

Durbin is referring to a study done by Shields and Cragan showing that, under the Ashcroft/Gonzales Justice Departments from 2001 through 2006, a vastly disproportionate number of Democratic officials were scrutinized when total investigations were viewed based on political party affiliation.

"We compare political profiling to racial profiling by presenting the results (January 2001 through December 2006) of the U.S. Attorneys' federal investigation and/or indictment of 375 elected officials," write the authors in their study. "The distribution of party affiliation of the sample is compared to the available normative data (50% Dem, 41% GOP, and 9% Ind.)."

The Shields-Cragan report reveals that, of the 375 investigations of public officials conducted by the Bush Justice Department, 298 -- or almost 80 percent -- were done against Democratic public officials. Only 67 investigations were performed on Republicans, while 10 probes were done on people affiliated with the Independent, Green or other parties.

"Our ongoing study of the Bush Justice Department (to be published in 2009) investigates the implications of the Bush/Ashcroft/Gonzales Justice Department's blended religious-fundamentalist and neo-conservative rhetorical vision," write Shields and Cragan. "The study views the impact of the Justice Department's vision on the fight against public corruption and reveals the non-proportionate political profiling of elected Democratic officials."

Shields and Cragan also take the corporate media to task for allowing all of this to go on right under their noses:

"We believe that this tremendous disparity is politically motivated and it occurs because the local (non-state-wide and non-Congressional) investigations occur under the radar of a diligent national press. Each instance is treated by a local beat reporter as an isolated case that is only of local interest. The real Pulitizer Prize-winning story is the extent of the politicization of Justice Department investigations and/or indictments of local elected and office-seeking Democrats vis-a-vis their Republican counterparts across the nation."
What's also interesting is to take a look at the list of 375 names and see what prominent Democrats have been investigated under the Bush watch.

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was investigated in 2005, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2002 and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in 2004 -- all led to nothing.

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and freshman Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) were investigated by the Gonzales Justice Department -- both also dead ends -- and, in what should surprise nobody, those investigation occurred in late 2006 as both were locked in tight U.S. Senate campaigns.

Conversely, of the relatively few times U.S. Attorneys bothered to look under the Republican rock, they dug up Randy "Duke" Cunningham for receiving bribes for defense contracts, Congressman Bob Ney for public corruption and a guy named Tom DeLay for influence peddling.

The study draws the same conclusion that is likely to be seen in the Congressional investigations of the Justice Department that will come in the next few weeks and months -- that this all stinks to high heaven and Americans are damn lucky they chose to return oversight to the United States Congress in November.

"Our paper calls for new federal laws that would create a national registry of federal investigations of elected officials by party affiliation," say Shields and Cragan. "The current Bush Republican Administration appears to be the first to have engaged in political profiling."

Note: You can view the details (PDF file) of the 375 investigations examined here.

You can read more from Bob at BobGeiger.com.

Authors Website: http://bobgeiger.blogspot.com

Friday, March 16, 2007


WASHINGTON - It's hard to remember the last time a live blonde got this much attention, and even the Republicans on the House oversight committee that heard from Valerie Plame Wilson today seemed in awe of the glam spy outed by the Bush administration.

"If I seem a little nervous," drawled Georgia Republican Lynn Westmoreland, "I've never questioned a spy before." Why, baseball players on steroids hadn't rated this kind of coverage, he noted.

That's because, in the nearly four years since 20 different administration officials had leaked Wilson's name to various reporters -- and columnist Bob Novak finally took the bait and revealed it -- she had maintained public silence.

She'd said nothing about the campaign of retribution that came after her husband corrected the president's story about Saddam's Iraq trying to buy uranium for a nuclear bomb in Africa.

She'd made no comment on the abrupt end of her career as an undercover CIA operative, and none, either, on the cost to her colleagues of a security breach orchestrated by her own government.

Because life rarely imitates art quite so attractively -- in Washington, at any rate -- it was hard not to be distracted by the aesthetics of Wilson's debut in a speaking role: Wow, great colorist. What a well-made jacket. Sharon Stone or Laura Linney? In the movie, of course.

Yet when she did spill today, with the cool and control that must have gotten her the job in the first place, even those panel members who normally like asking questions better than they do listening to the answers were attentive.

During committee chairman Henry Waxman's opening statement, Wilson heightened the sense of expectation with just a nod here and there: At the time Novak disclosed her identity to the world, "Ms. Wilson's CIA employment status was covert." (Emphatic nod.) "She took on serious risk on behalf of our country." (Slight nod.) Compared to the American heroes mistreated at Walter Reed, "she faces much more favorable circumstances now than some of the soldiers we met last week." (Nod, nod, nod.) "But she, too, had been one of those anonymous people fighting to preserve our freedom." Until, of course, she wasn't.

Waxman took pains to explain that the CIA had cleared every word he spoke, and confirmed every word of this statement: "Ms. Wilson was undercover...Ms. Wilson's employment status was covert...Ms. Wilson worked on some of the most sensitive and highly secretive matters handled by the CIA...Ms. Wilson served at various times overseas for the CIA...It is accurate to say that she worked on the prevention of the development and use of Weapons of Mass Destruction against the United States."

Clearly, the central purpose of the hearing was to knock down persistent Republican claims that she was not undercover, and had never been placed in any danger. And when at last she spoke for herself, she could not have been clearer:

"In the run-up to the war with Iraq, I worked in the counter-proliferation division of the CIA, still as a covert official, whose affiliation with the CIA was classified." She developed "solid intelligence for senior policy makers on Iraq's presumed WMD programs. I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions to find vital intelligence. I loved my career because I loved my country."

"It was not common knowledge on the Georgetown cocktail circuit that everyone knew where I worked," she said, refuting that particular claim with a rather remarkable absence of attitude. "But all of my efforts on behalf of our national security, all of my training, all of my years of service were abruptly ended when my name and identity were exposed irresponsibly."

Though even now she cannot provide details, she said, "the harm that is done is grave...lives are literally at stake. We in the CIA always know that we might be exposed and threatened by foreign enemies. It was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover."

And contrary to the story put out by the White House, Wilson said, it was not she who had suggested her husband go to Niger to investigate the claim that the Iraqis had tried to purchase uranium there.

After a colleague proposed his name, "I'll be honest, I was somewhat ambivalent; at the time, we had two-year-old twins at home." All she could think of, she said, was what bedtime would be like with Daddy in Africa.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

How the Right went Wrong. Time Cover article, Mar 26 , see ref

How The Right Went Wrong

A generation ago, fresh off the second biggest electoral landslide in American history, Ronald Reagan surveyed the wreckage that had been the opposition and declared victory. Standing before 1,700 true believers at the 1985 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), he proclaimed, "The tide of history is moving irresistibly in our direction. Why? Because the other side is virtually bankrupt of ideas. It has nothing more to say, nothing to add to the debate. It has spent its intellectual capital."

At this year's conference two weeks ago, Reagan's name was invoked more than anyone else's. But the mood at the most storied annual gathering of conservatives was anything but triumphal. John McCain, the Establishment favorite to win the 2008 Republican nomination, skipped CPAC entirely but did show up on David Letterman the night before, choosing the most aggressively glib venue to semiofficially announce his candidacy. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was there to make his pitch for 2008 but had to compete with a man who was working the crowd in a dolphin costume and a T-shirt identifying him as flip romney: just another flip flopper from massachusetts. Ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani barely mentioned the social issues on which he parts ways with conservatives, except to joke, "I don't agree with myself on everything."

And the only memorable sound bite of the whole affair came from right-wing telepundit Ann Coulter, whose idea of an ideological rallying cry was to declare Democratic hopeful John Edwards a "faggot." The condemnation that followed, in which at least seven newspapers banished her column from their opinion pages, became a ragged coda for the state of a movement that had once been justly proud of its ability to win an argument.

These are gloomy and uncertain days for conservatives, who—except for the eight-year Clinton interregnum—have dominated political power and thought in this country since Reagan rode in from the West. Their tradition goes back even further, to Founding Fathers who believed that people should do things for themselves and who shook off a monarchy in their conviction that Big Government is more to be feared than encouraged. The Boston Tea Party, as Reagan used to point out, was an antitax initiative.....



Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Unlawful Attorney General, of Mr. Bush.

The Failed Attorney General
Editorial, New York Times

During the hearing on his nomination as attorney general, Alberto Gonzales said he understood the difference between the job he held — President Bush’s in-house lawyer — and the job he wanted, which was to represent all Americans as their chief law enforcement officer and a key defender of the Constitution. Two years later, it is obvious Mr. Gonzales does not have a clue about the difference.

He has never stopped being consigliere to Mr. Bush’s imperial presidency. If anyone, outside Mr. Bush’s rapidly shrinking circle of enablers, still had doubts about that, the events of last week should have erased them.

First, there was Mr. Gonzales’s lame op-ed article in USA Today trying to defend the obviously politically motivated firing of eight United States attorneys, which he dismissed as an “overblown personnel matter.” Then his inspector general exposed the way the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been abusing yet another unnecessary new power that Mr. Gonzales helped wring out of the Republican-dominated Congress in the name of fighting terrorism.

The F.B.I. has been using powers it obtained under the Patriot Act to get financial, business and telephone records of Americans by issuing tens of thousands of “national security letters,” a euphemism for warrants that are issued without any judicial review or avenue of appeal. The administration said that, as with many powers it has arrogated since the 9/11 attacks, this radical change was essential to fast and nimble antiterrorism efforts, and it promised to police the use of the letters carefully.

But like so many of the administration’s promises, this one evaporated before the ink on those letters could dry. The F.B.I. director, Robert Mueller, admitted Friday that his agency had used the new powers improperly.

Mr. Gonzales does not directly run the F.B.I., but it is part of his department and has clearly gotten the message that promises (and civil rights) are meant to be broken.

It was Mr. Gonzales, after all, who repeatedly defended Mr. Bush’s decision to authorize warrantless eavesdropping on Americans’ international calls and e-mail. He was an eager public champion of the absurd notion that as commander in chief during a time of war, Mr. Bush can ignore laws that he thinks get in his way. Mr. Gonzales was disdainful of any attempt by Congress to examine the spying program, let alone control it.

The attorney general helped formulate and later defended the policies that repudiated the Geneva Conventions in the war against terror, and that sanctioned the use of kidnapping, secret detentions, abuse and torture. He has been central to the administration’s assault on the courts, which he recently said had no right to judge national security policies, and on the constitutional separation of powers.

His Justice Department has abandoned its duties as guardian of election integrity and voting rights. It approved a Georgia photo-ID law that a federal judge later likened to a poll tax, a case in which Mr. Gonzales’s political team overrode the objections of the department’s professional staff.

The Justice Department has been shamefully indifferent to complaints of voter suppression aimed at minority voters. But it has managed to find the time to sue a group of black political leaders in Mississippi for discriminating against white voters.

We opposed Mr. Gonzales’s nomination as attorney general. His résumé was weak, centered around producing legal briefs for Mr. Bush that assured him that the law said what he wanted it to say. More than anyone in the administration, except perhaps Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Gonzales symbolizes Mr. Bush’s disdain for the separation of powers, civil liberties and the rule of law.

On Thursday, Senator Arlen Specter, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, hinted very obliquely that perhaps Mr. Gonzales’s time was up. We’re not going to be oblique. Mr. Bush should dismiss Mr. Gonzales and finally appoint an attorney general who will use the job to enforce the law and defend the Constitution.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Does Being Christian mean caring for others? Newsweek

BeliefWatch: Good Word
Lisa Miller. Newswek, March 10

March 12, 2007 issue - On the day of John F. Kennedy's funeral, Robert Kennedy wrote his eldest child, who was 12, a short note: "Dear Kathleen," it said, "you seemed to understand that Jack died and was buried today. As the oldest of the Kennedy grandchildren—you have a particular responsibility now—a special responsibility to John and Joe. Be kind to others and work for your country. Love, Daddy."

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend grew up in that kind of Roman Catholic family, the kind that—in spite of the imperfections of individual members—put country and duty above personal pain, the kind that put the suffering of those with less above the suffering of those with more. In a new book, "Failing America's Faithful," Kennedy Townsend joins former senator Jack Danforth and other "old school" politicians in mourning a world in which being Christian meant caring for others and making sacrifices to solve problems.

And so she suggests reforms that she believes will revitalize her beloved Catholic Church and refocus the faithful on service. The hierarchy in Rome, she says, needs to stop obsessing about sex. It needs to rethink its position on the ordination of women and married people, on abortion, on gay clergy and gay unions. "Clearly," she says, "if we can believe in the virgin birth and that the body and blood of Christ are in the eucharist, then we can certainly believe that a woman can be a priest." These recommendations will infuriate Catholic traditionalists, but Kennedy Townsend doesn't care: she loves her church and she's not leaving. "The church," she says, "is full of possibilities."

The most moving sections of the book are those in which she remembers her religious upbringing: the evening rosary, the daily mass her mother mandated in the summer months, the wise nuns who taught her in school. The church helped her through the terrible death of her uncle and, five years later, of her own father. In an interview with NEWSWEEK, she told even more childhood stories, like the Christmas the family went skiing at Sun Valley. Some of the children were hoping to skip midnight mass in favor of sleep, but Bobby packed them into the car, saying, "Nope, we're going to mass." And who wouldn't love this one? In the early 1960s, she recalls, she went to Poland with her parents, who were visiting dignitaries and Catholic leaders. During one meeting, Kathleen's mother, Ethel, said she was hungry, and a cleric named Karol Wojtyla made her a cheese sandwich.

© 2007 Newsweek, Inc. |

Thursday, March 08, 2007

GOP's record of "suporting our troops" : what does the record show?

Members Were Aware of Lapses at Walter Reed

Senior Republicans who knew about problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center while their party controlled Congress insist they did all they could to prod the Pentagon to fix them.

But C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., former chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he stopped short of going public with the hospital’s problems to avoid embarrassing the Army while it was fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Young and Thomas M. Davis III, R-Va., the former chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, both acknowledged in interviews that they were aware of patient care problems at Walter Reed long before The Washington Post exposed them two weeks ago.

At a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday, Young detailed his efforts to assist patients at Walter Reed during visits he or his wife made to the hospital as early as 2003. He described repeatedly confronting the hospital’s then commander, Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, about patients who, they discovered, had received poor care.

Young said his wife, Beverly, found one Walter Reed patient lying in his hospital bed without sheets or blankets, having soiled himself. Another, who suffered from a battlefield brain injury, had fallen out of his bed three times, even after Young had told Kiley about the problem, the lawmaker said. And he said a third patient, who had an aneurysm, died after a respiratory therapist ignored family warnings about the patient’s fragile condition and treated him anyway.

“We got in Gen. Kiley’s face on a regular basis,” Young said, adding that he even contacted the commander of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda in the hopes of getting better care there for the patient with the aneurysm, though doctors at Walter Reed declined to transfer him.

“What else do you want me to do? I am not going to go into a hospital and push my way into a medical situation,” Young said after the hearing.

Young said he “separates my life as a member of Congress and the work I do on a volunteer basis,” visiting military hospitals with his wife almost every week.

Young said he used his role as an appropriator to push to fund a new lab at Walter Reed and a new phone system at Fort Carson so patients could more easily make appointments.

But he said he purposely opted to bring concerns about individual patients’ care privately to the attention of Walter Reed commanders, rather than wield his clout as an Appropriations subcommittee chairman.

“We did not go public with these concerns, because we did not want to undermine the confidence of the patients and their families and give the Army a black eye while fighting a war,” Young said.

At the time, Young said, he believed “what I was dealing with was basically isolated cases, solder by soldier,” rather than a systemic problem at the hospital.

Even now, Young said, he’s not sure what more he could have done.

“Appropriations alone cannot solve all problems,” he said. “It takes more. It takes skill, it takes experience, it takes determination, and it takes attitude.”

He placed the blame for the hospital’s substandard conditions on Kiley, who now serves as the Army’s surgeon general, its top-ranking uniformed doctor. Young said he was not satisfied with Kiley’s answers at the hearing Wednesday and predicted that he would be relieved of his post by the weekend.

“The rumor around the Capitol is they’re keeping him here to take all the spears,” Young said.

Davis’ Panel Aware Since 2004

Davis, the former chairman of the committee with responsibility for oversight of government programs, said his options also were limited. He said his committee staff first learned in 2004 about problems with wounded soldiers’ health care while investigating their pay problems.

At a February 2005 hearing on care for wounded Army Guard and Reserve soldiers, Davis said, “I’m appalled that these men and women not only have had to face the recovery from their war wounds, but are simultaneously forced to navigate a confusing and seemingly uncaring system of benefits.”

Davis said he directed the Government Accountability Office to conduct several studies, “some of them coming from complaints from veterans that were stationed” at Walter Reed.

Davis’ committee staff aides fielded calls and attempted to help wounded soldiers and their families who called with complaints about pay and health care problems. At the committee’s March 5 hearing at Walter Reed, Annette L. McLeod testified that only after calling Davis’ office in 2006 did she make progress in getting proper care for her husband, Army National Guard Spec. Wendell W. McLeod Jr., who was injured while deployed in Iraq.

But Davis says he never pressed other committees or Republican leaders for legislation or new money to address problems his staff had identified.

“We are not appropriators. . . . I don’t know what else we could have done,” Davis said. “If generals don’t go around and look at the barracks, how do you legislate that?”

Democrats Also Aware

Democrats said they did all they could while in the minority.

John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, who was the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, said he sought appropriations to address problems he found during visits to military hospitals. For example, he obtained money for air conditioners for the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and modern stretchers for a Baghdad field hospital.

Murtha focused blame for the Walter Reed scandal on the Bush administration and said the Pentagon discouraged patients from talking to lawmakers in both parties.

“My impression is that the military was constrained, even intimidated, from telling me and other congressional members about the real problems and the real needs,” Murtha said.

Democrat Henry A. Waxman of California, who now chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, defended how his predecessor as chairman had handled the problems at Walter Reed.

“It isn’t that Chairman Davis didn’t ask them to account for it,” Waxman said. “I don’t think the problem is in our committee. The problem is in the Department of Defense.”

John F. Tierney, D-Mass., the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, made a point to praise Davis and former subcommittee Chairman Christopher Shays, R-Conn., at the March 5 hearing at Walter Reed. “I want to thank those members for their leadership so far,” Tierney said.

Army officials are scheduled to testify Thursday about Walter Reed before the House Armed Services Committee, while administration officials will appear before the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, capping appearances at five congressional hearings this week.

Source: CQ Today
Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill.
© 2007 Congressional Quarterly Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Candidates stories, opinion by James Carroll, Boston Globe

Published on Monday, March 5, 2007 by the Boston Globe
Candidates' Stories Tell Us What We've Become
by James Carroll
IN ANNOUNCING his candidacy for president on David Letterman's show last week, John McCain used the word "wasted" in reference to American lives lost in Iraq. The next day, apologizing profusely, he said he should have used the word "sacrifice." McCain was doing more than avoiding the pit into which John F. Kerry fell with the "botched joke" that seemed to disrespect the troops. Indeed, McCain was protecting the core meaning of the narrative around which he has built his life, the story that will define his presidential campaign. Each candidate has such a story, and together they tell us a lot about what America has become.

John McCain's political career is built on the 5 1/2 years he spent in a North Vietnamese prison. It is not just that his exemplary fortitude was so powerfully displayed by that experience. Far more significantly, McCain returned from Vietnam as a rare figure of sacrificial redemption, a man who had not only survived an ordeal that destroyed so many of his generation, but who had been ennobled by it. His "straight talk" began with his defiance of brutal North Vietnamese prison guards. He was decidedly seen as a victim, not a perpetrator (his role as a bomber of civilian infrastructure was forgotten). In McCain, America gratefully saw a good warrior whose suffering mitigated the guilt that otherwise came from America's own shameful brutality.

McCain showed that the war could be a source of virtue, salving its absurdity. (Kerry showed the opposite, dooming him.) If McCain has consistently been the most militaristic politician of his time, enthusiastic in his support of the Bush war in Iraq, critical only of Bush's failure to send even more US troops into the maw, it is because his image is carefully constructed to embody the magnificence of sacrifice offered in war's name. For McCain to use the word "waste" is to contradict the very meaning of his own life -- and the pro-war saga that he hopes will galvanize a demoralized nation, carrying him to the White House.

Few candidates have such a compelling story, but each one is the central figure in an at least implicit narrative, touching on a crucial national conflict. The political contest is, above all, a competition of stories : John Edwards and poverty, Mitt Romney and a minority religion, Rudolph Giuliani and 9/11 -- you can hear the blocks being winched into place.

Hillary Rodham Clinton's, obviously, is the story of the American woman, and her campaign draws its electricity from the positive-negative polarity of an unresolved national ambivalence about issues of gender, sex, and privacy. Perhaps privacy is the key to the drama already unfolding, with Hillary Clinton's evident qualifications set against imagined scenarios involving her husband. If Bill Clinton's indiscretions traumatized the nation, it was because the common good depends on a proper balance between the private and public realms, a balance his behavior destroyed. The political arrival of women as equal citizens, meanwhile, depends exactly on privacy, newly upheld by courts as a near-absolute value. (Roe v. Wade protects not abortion, but a woman's privacy.) What makes Hillary Clinton's story riveting is whether she can protect her privacy -- and, by extension, everyone's -- without seeming to have something to hide. In a nation where privacy is under assault from every direction, the stakes in Clinton's campaign are a universal currency.

Barack Obama's is the tale of two races. Slavery remains the unhealed American wound (with incarceration rates of young black men as that wound's gape), and any black political candidate must play out that drama. Yet Obama, as the son of a Kenyan and a white American, seems degrees removed from the slavery story, which may account both for early white enthusiasm and an African-American skepticism that only now seems to be lifting. But who is to say Obama is untouched by the tragic legacy? One readily imagines what it cost the millions of Africans kidnapped by slave traders, but the ravaged continent paid a price, as well -- and still does. African losses, too, must be reckoned with. If Barack Obama succeeds in his campaign of reconciliation and hope, the results can be transcendent, and not only for this nation.

The United States, with its war, racism, sexual restlessness, religious confusion, and economic disparity, is a nest of festering conflicts. Politics is the set of stories we tell ourselves as a way of seeking resolution. The campaign already shows how the beginnings of those stories are usually happy and why their endings rarely are.

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.

© Copyright 2007 Boston Globe


Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Lawelessness of the Bush team is far reaching, and must be halted if we are to preserve our constitutional democracy.

March 4, 2007

The Must-Do List

The Bush administration’s assault on some of the founding principles of American democracy marches onward despite the Democratic victory in the 2006 elections. The new Democratic majorities in Congress can block the sort of noxious measures that the Republican majority rubber-stamped. But preventing new assaults on civil liberties is not nearly enough.

Five years of presidential overreaching and Congressional collaboration continue to exact a high toll in human lives, America’s global reputation and the architecture of democracy. Brutality toward prisoners, and the denial of their human rights, have been institutionalized; unlawful spying on Americans continues; and the courts are being closed to legal challenges of these practices.

It will require forceful steps by this Congress to undo the damage. A few lawmakers are offering bills intended to do just that, but they are only a start. Taking on this task is a moral imperative that will show the world the United States can be tough on terrorism without sacrificing its humanity and the rule of law.

Today we’re offering a list — which, sadly, is hardly exhaustive — of things that need to be done to reverse the unwise and lawless policies of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Many will require a rewrite of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, an atrocious measure pushed through Congress with the help of three Republican senators, Arlen Specter, Lindsey Graham and John McCain; Senator McCain lent his moral authority to improving one part of the bill and thus obscured its many other problems.

Our list starts with three fundamental tasks:

Restore Habeas Corpus

One of the new act’s most indecent provisions denies anyone Mr. Bush labels an “illegal enemy combatant” the ancient right to challenge his imprisonment in court. The arguments for doing this were specious. Habeas corpus is nothing remotely like a get-out-of-jail-free card for terrorists, as supporters would have you believe. It is a way to sort out those justly detained from those unjustly detained. It will not “clog the courts,” as Senator Graham claims. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has a worthy bill that would restore habeas corpus. It is essential to bringing integrity to the detention system and reviving the United States’ credibility.

Stop Illegal Spying

Mr. Bush’s program of intercepting Americans’ international calls and e-mail messages without a warrant has not ceased. The agreement announced recently — under which a secret court supposedly gave its blessing to the program — did nothing to restore judicial process or ensure that Americans’ rights are preserved. Congress needs to pass a measure, like one proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein, to force Mr. Bush to obey the law that requires warrants for electronic surveillance.

Ban Torture, Really

The provisions in the Military Commissions Act that Senator McCain trumpeted as a ban on torture are hardly that. It is still largely up to the president to decide what constitutes torture and abuse for the purpose of prosecuting anyone who breaks the rules. This amounts to rewriting the Geneva Conventions and puts every American soldier at far greater risk if captured. It allows the president to decide in secret what kinds of treatment he will permit at the Central Intelligence Agency’s prisons. The law absolves American intelligence agents and their bosses of any acts of torture and abuse they have already committed.

Many of the tasks facing Congress involve the way the United States takes prisoners, and how it treats them. There are two sets of prisons in the war on terror. The military runs one set in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. The other is even more shadowy, run by the C.I.A. at secret places.

Close the C.I.A. Prisons

When the Military Commissions Act passed, Mr. Bush triumphantly announced that he now had the power to keep the secret prisons open. He cast this as a great victory for national security. It was a defeat for America’s image around the world. The prisons should be closed.

Account for ‘Ghost Prisoners’

The United States has to come clean on all of the “ghost prisoners” it has in the secret camps. Holding prisoners without any accounting violates human rights norms. Human Rights Watch says it has identified nearly 40 men and women who have disappeared into secret American-run prisons.

Ban Extraordinary Rendition

This is the odious practice of abducting foreign citizens and secretly flying them to countries where everyone knows they will be tortured. It is already illegal to send a prisoner to a country if there is reason to believe he will be tortured. The administration’s claim that it got “diplomatic assurances” that prisoners would not be abused is laughable.

A bill by Representative Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, would require the executive branch to list countries known to abuse and torture prisoners. No prisoner could be sent to any of them unless the secretary of state certified that the country’s government no longer abused its prisoners or offered a way to verify that a prisoner will not be mistreated. It says “diplomatic assurances” are not sufficient.

Congress needs to completely overhaul the military prisons for terrorist suspects, starting with the way prisoners are classified. Shortly after 9/11, Mr. Bush declared all members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban to be “illegal enemy combatants” not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions or American justice. Over time, the designation was applied to anyone the administration chose, including some United States citizens and the entire detainee population of Gitmo.

To address this mess, the government must:

Tighten the Definition of Combatant

“Illegal enemy combatant” is assigned a dangerously broad definition in the Military Commissions Act. It allows Mr. Bush — or for that matter anyone he chooses to designate to do the job — to apply this label to virtually any foreigner anywhere, including those living legally in the United States.

Screen Prisoners Fairly and Effectively

When the administration began taking prisoners in Afghanistan, it did not much bother to screen them. Hundreds of innocent men were sent to Gitmo, where far too many remain to this day. The vast majority will never even be brought before tribunals and still face indefinite detention without charges.

Under legal pressure, Mr. Bush created “combatant status review tribunals,” but they are a mockery of any civilized legal proceeding. They take place thousands of miles from the point of capture, and often years later. Evidence obtained by coercion and torture is permitted. The inmates do not get to challenge this evidence. They usually do not see it.

The Bush administration uses the hoary “fog of war” dodge to justify the failure to screen prisoners, saying it is not practical to do that on the battlefield. That’s nonsense. It did not happen in Afghanistan, and often in Iraq, because Mr. Bush decided just to ship the prisoners off to Gitmo.

Prisoners designated as illegal combatants are subject to trial rules out of the Red Queen’s playbook. The administration refuses to allow lawyers access to 14 terrorism suspects transferred in September from C.I.A. prisons to Guantánamo. It says that if they had a lawyer, they might say that they were tortured or abused at the C.I.A. prisons, and anything that happened at those prisons is secret.

At first, Mr. Bush provided no system of trial at the Guantánamo camp. Then he invented his own military tribunals, which were rightly overturned by the Supreme Court. Congress then passed the Military Commissions Act, which did not fix the problem. Some tasks now for Congress:

Ban Tainted Evidence

The Military Commissions Act and the regulations drawn up by the Pentagon to put it into action, are far too permissive on evidence obtained through physical abuse or coercion. This evidence is unreliable. The method of obtaining it is an affront.

Ban Secret Evidence

Under the Pentagon’s new rules for military tribunals, judges are allowed to keep evidence secret from a prisoner’s lawyer if the government persuades the judge it is classified. The information that may be withheld can include interrogation methods, which would make it hard, if not impossible, to prove torture or abuse.

Better Define ‘Classified’ Evidence

The military commission rules define this sort of secret evidence as “any information or material that has been determined by the United States government pursuant to statute, executive order or regulation to require protection against unauthorized disclosure for reasons of national security.” This is too broad, even if a president can be trusted to exercise the power fairly and carefully. Mr. Bush has shown he cannot be trusted to do that.

Respect the Right to Counsel

Soon after 9/11, the Bush administration allowed the government to listen to conversations and intercept mail between some prisoners and their lawyers. This had the effect of suspending their right to effective legal representation. Since then, the administration has been unceasingly hostile to any lawyers who defend detainees. The right to legal counsel does not exist to coddle serial terrorists or snarl legal proceedings. It exists to protect innocent people from illegal imprisonment.

Beyond all these huge tasks, Congress should halt the federal government’s race to classify documents to avoid public scrutiny — 15.6 million in 2005, nearly double the 2001 number. It should also reverse the grievous harm this administration has done to the Freedom of Information Act by encouraging agencies to reject requests for documents whenever possible. Congress should curtail F.B.I. spying on nonviolent antiwar groups and revisit parts of the Patriot Act that allow this practice.

The United States should apologize to a Canadian citizen and a German citizen, both innocent, who were kidnapped and tortured by American agents.

Oh yes, and it is time to close the Guantánamo camp. It is a despicable symbol of the abuses committed by this administration (with Congress’s complicity) in the name of fighting terrorism.