The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bernie Sanders Interview

Bernie Sanders Interview
By Ruth Conniff
December 2005 Issue -- The Progressive

Bernie Sanders, the independent, socialist Representative from Vermont, is poised to win the Senate seat vacated by Jim Jeffords in 2006. According to the Associated Press, Sanders has received donations from 100 times as many Vermont supporters as his likely opponent, the self-financed, Bentley-driving corporate executive Rich Tarrant.

An outspoken critic of the Patriot Act, the first lawmaker to take a busload of constituents to Canada to buy prescription drugs, the leader of a successful effort to block the Bush Administration’s plan to slash worker pensions, and an economic populist with crossover appeal to Vermont’s rural dairy farmers as well as liberals in Burlington, Sanders is the kind of down-to-earth grassroots candidate willing to oppose the Republicans in no uncertain terms. Without taking corporate PAC money, he has managed to win against better-financed Republican opponents again and again. In 1996, when Newt Gingrich put up a well-financed candidate to unseat him, Sanders won reelection with 55 percent of the vote.

In September, Sanders came to Madison, Wisconsin, for “Fighting Bob Fest”—a progressive rally held annually in memory of Robert M. La Follette, the great Senator who helped usher in the Progressive Era. I caught up with Sanders at a hotel in downtown Madison, where he was preparing to speak to a group of lawyers at a fundraiser for his campaign and that of a fellow opponent of the Iraq War, Representative John Conyers.

Unlike many of his colleagues in Washington, Sanders has an utterly unassuming manner. Any other candidate for national office might arrive with an entourage, or at least an aide in tow, and think nothing of coming an hour late. Sanders tramped into the hotel lobby looking slightly windblown, having made the three-hour drive by himself from the airport in Chicago. He had called my cell phone to apologize, saying he was running behind by ten minutes.

He spoke earnestly, in his native Brooklyn accent, about the state of national politics and his own race for the Senate, refusing to put a rosy spin on things, cautioning that the troubles facing the Republicans don’t mean an automatic win for their opponents. There’s a lot of work to be done, he said, but progressives are right on the issues, and represent the true interests of a majority of Americans. The only thing to do, he said, is to get out and talk to our fellow citizens—especially those who don’t already agree with us.

Question: What does Hurricane Katrina tell us?

Bernie Sanders: I think Katrina is one more indication of how inefficient and corrupt this Administration is, and indicates the absolute lack of seriousness that Bush has in making the government respond to the needs of the people. He is there primarily to give tax breaks to billionaires, to do the service of large corporations. This is just one more powerful, dramatic, painful example of the incompetence and lack of concern of this Administration. They are so separated from the lives of normal, low-income people that it never occurred to them that if you’re poor and have no money, no car, that you can’t leave. You don’t just get in your SUV and go to a nice hotel a few miles away.

Q: People finally saw indifference and incompetence?

Sanders: What they were seeing on television was people dying because they’re poor. And they’re dying because they don’t have a car they can get into and go to a hotel. But what you don’t see on television is people dying today because they can’t get to a doctor and they can’t afford prescription drugs. That’s why they are also dying. They are dying in Iraq because they are poor and they have gone into the military because they can’t afford to go to college. They’re dying because they’re living in communities where asthma rates are extremely high because the air is filthy. The suffering of the poor and working class people is a virtual nonissue for the media. But that is the reality.

Obviously, you were seeing it incredibly starkly in New Orleans. You’re poor, you can’t get out of town, you die.

Q: Is this a particularly ripe moment for change?

Sanders: I think it is. Given the fact that poverty is growing, more and more Americans are losing health insurance, health care costs are going up, the middle class is shrinking, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing wider, we have lost 2,000 soldiers in Iraq, we’re spending some $300 billion there, and Bush has no idea of an exit strategy. Add all of those things together and the real question should be asked, how is it conceivable that he is even at 40 percent?

That speaks to the weakness of the opposition. People do not like George Bush. But I think it’s fair to say that they are not flocking to the Democratic Party, or see the Democrats as a real alternative.

Q: So what’s your message to progressives?

Sanders: We have got to change the political culture in America. We need a political revolution. That means we are working on politics not just three weeks before an election but 365 days a year. We have to develop a strong economic message which says every American is entitled to health care through a national health care program. And we’re not going to allow these large corporations to push through trade agreements which allow them to throw Americans out on the street and run to China. We’re not going to give tax breaks to billionaires and then cut back on the needs of our elderly or poor or kids or education. We’re not going to privatize Social Security—in fact, we’re going to strengthen it. We’re going to provide quality education for every kid in America, from preschool through college. We have to take on these corporate leaders who are selling out the American people, whose allegiance is now much more to China than it is to the United States. If we have the courage to take these people on, I think we can overwhelm Bush and his friends.

Why is it that two-thirds of white, rural men voted Republican? Why? That’s what we have to address. That’s crazy. These people are working longer and longer hours. They can’t afford to pay $3.50 for a gallon of gas. They’re losing their jobs. So why do they vote for President Bush? And the Republican Party? We’ve got to address this.

It’s very easy to make fun of George Bush, but that ain’t going to do it. What we have to do is knock on doors and go into communities where there are people who disagree with us on certain issues.

And we have to talk to them. They’re our friends. They’re our allies. They’re our co-workers. We can’t see them as enemies.

That’s easier said than done.

All over this country you have progressive communities like Madison and Burlington, but we’ve got to go well, well, well outside of those communities. We’ve got to go to the rural areas. We’ve got to go where a lot of working people are voting Republican.

We just can’t talk to each other. That’s too easy.

Q: How is your own campaign going? Are you seeing a national Republican effort to defeat you? Is money coming in?

Sanders: Vermont is such a small state, and the most money that’s ever been spent in the history of political campaigns there is $2 million. That number is going to be surpassed many times. Vermont remains a “cheap state” for the Republican National Committee. So putting $5 or $10 million into Vermont—compared to New York or California or Illinois—that’s small potatoes.

The truth is that Bush and Karl Rove do not like Vermont for a lot of reasons. They don’t like the fact that Jim Jeffords gave the Senate over to the Democrats. They don’t like Howard Dean. They don’t like Leahy. They don’t like me. And they would very much like to win this seat. So we expect huge amounts of money to come into the state. I believe that I’ll be running against the richest guy in the state of Vermont, worth a few hundred million dollars. So clearly we know they will do everything they can to win, including spending more money than has ever been spent.

Q: Do you think they’re going to use the socialist label against you, and do you think that’s going to matter?

Sanders: No, I doubt it will make a dent. I’ve run for statewide office plenty of times, and people know me. If you look at what they did to Max Cleland and what they did to John Kerry, we have a pretty good idea of what they can do. It’s the politics of personal destruction. They are incapable of debating issues, because their positions on all of the issues are horrendous. Their style has always been to try to personally destroy whom they run against. So we expect a great deal of negativity.

I won my last election by forty points. The Republican I ran against, at the end of the campaign, had decided that I was “a friend of terrorists” and “a friend of pedophiles.” That’s the kind of crap they came out with. I expect that’s the kind of crap they’ll come out with again.

Their weakness is they have nothing to say. What are they going to say about the economy? What are they going to say about tax policy when they give tax breaks to billionaires and inadequately fund veterans’ benefits? What do they say about the environment when they are among the few remaining people on Earth who do not believe in global warming and have just passed a disastrous energy bill that has almost no energy conservation or sustainable energy?
What can they say about Social Security when the vast majority of the people don’t want to privatize it?

On issue after issue they are bankrupt. The only thing they can do is try to destroy the character and the integrity of their opponent. That’s all that they have left.

Q: What kinds of things do you want to do as Senator?

Sanders: If people envisage me in the Senate they might think of me as someone who would emulate Paul Wellstone, fighting for the issues he fought for. He was a good friend of mine.

We’ll be trying to do a couple of things. One is fighting for national health care. Another is fighting to raise the minimum wage to a living wage, and changing our trade policies.

But also we’ll be trying to use the office to connect the grassroots to the United States Senate and the Congress. Because of a mass media more interested in gossip and sensationalism than real issues, I would say a vast majority of the American public doesn’t have a clue about how the Congress functions and what goes on.

I think it’s important that members of the United States Senate spend time not just on Capitol Hill but making contact with ordinary people and engaging them in the political process. We’re not going to bring about change unless that happens.

In many respects, this country is becoming an oligarchy, with a tiny percentage of America owning the media, owning the country.

We have the technology to turn it around. Everyone can have health care. Everyone can earn a living wage. We can educate all our kids—well.

But none of that happens unless there’s a political revolution. And it’s not going to happen unless we deal with corporate control of the media.

Q: Where should progressives put their energy, in the Democrats or in third party efforts?

Sanders: I’ll give you an example. In Vermont we probably have the most successful third party in the country, electorally. When I was mayor of Burlington I defeated a Democrat. And out of that victory came what for all intents and purposes was a party. Legally it wasn’t—it was called the Progressive Coalition. It evolved into the Progressive Party, which now has six members of the state legislature. So it’s not just in Burlington. They’re doing a good job.

Without trying to oversimplify the issue, I think people are going to use common sense. The common sense is that there is nothing wrong with a third party. Third parties can play a very important role. And in Vermont, for example, I think the Progressive Party is playing a very important role. They are raising a lot of good issues in the legislature. Having said that, I think clearly somebody like a Ralph Nader taking away votes from a Kerry at this critical, critical moment in American history is something that a majority of the progressive community correctly reacted strongly against.

You have to look at the moment, at reality. At this particular moment progressives have got to unite.
In my view this happens to be one of the most dangerous moments in American history. These guys are not just reactionaries. They are changing the rules of the game so they will stay in power for the indefinite future. We see this abuse of power on the floor of the House. They kept the voting rolls open for three hours to pass the Medicare prescription drug bill. I had an amendment, which won, on the Patriot Act. They kept the voting open twenty minutes longer to defeat it. They break the rules. It’s like having a football game go into the fifth quarter because you don’t like the results at the end of the fourth quarter. We know what DeLay did in Texas. They have taken chairmen—yanked them out—because they defy the leadership of the House. They are now attempting to destroy the judiciary system, which will have profound implications for the future of this country.

This is very, very serious. They are very radical people. Far more radical than someone like a Bill Clinton ever dreamed of being.

Q: What about Hillary? What do you think about her as the likely Presidential nominee?

Sanders: I think it’s too early. Everybody in the world is running. Kerry is running. Edwards is running. Russ Feingold, I gather, is running. Here, I’ll make you a campaign pledge: If elected to the U.S. Senate, I’ll be the only person not running for President.

Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Frank Rich | All the President's Flacks

All the President's Flacks
By Frank Rich
The New York Times

Sunday 04 December 2005

When "all of the facts come out in this case," Bob Woodward told Terry Gross on NPR in July, "it's going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great."

Who's laughing now?

Why Mr. Woodward took more than two years to tell his editor that he had his own personal Deep Throat in the Wilson affair is a mystery best tackled by combatants in the Washington Post newsroom. (Been there, done that here at The Times.) Mr. Woodward says he wanted to avoid a subpoena, but he first learned that Joseph Wilson's wife was in the C.I.A. in mid-June 2003, more than six months before Patrick Fitzgerald or subpoenas entered the picture. Never mind. Far more disturbing is Mr. Woodward's utter failure to recognize the import of the story that fell into his lap so long ago.

The reporter who with Carl Bernstein turned a "third-rate burglary" into a key for unlocking the true character of the Nixon White House still can't quite believe that a Washington leak story unworthy of his attention has somehow become the drip-drip-drip exposing the debacle of Iraq. "I don't know how this is about the buildup to the war, the Valerie Plame Wilson issue," he said on "Larry King Live" on the eve of the Scooter Libby indictment. Everyone else does. Largely because of the revelations prompted by the marathon Fitzgerald investigation, a majority of Americans now believe that the Bush administration deliberately misled the country into war. The case's consequences for journalism have been nearly as traumatic, and not just because of the subpoenas. The Wilson story has ruthlessly exposed the credulousness with which most (though not all) of the press bought and disseminated the White House line that any delay in invading Iraq would bring nuclear Armageddon.

"W.M.D. - I got it totally wrong," Judy Miller said, with no exaggeration, before leaving The Times. The Woodward affair, for all its superficial similarities to the Miller drama, offers an even wider window onto the White House flimflams and the press's role in enabling them. Mr. Woodward knows more about the internal workings of this presidency than any other reporter. He has been granted access to all its top officials, including lengthy interviews with the president himself, to produce two Bush best sellers since 9/11. But he was gamed anyway by the White House, which exploited his special stature to the fullest for its own propagandistic ends.

Mr. Woodward, to his credit, is not guilty of hyping Saddam's W.M.D.'s. And his books did contain valuable news: of the Wolfowitz axis' early push to take on Iraq, of the president's messianic view of himself as God's chosen warrior, of the Powell-Rumsfeld conflicts that led to the war's catastrophic execution. Yet to reread these Woodward books today, especially the second, the 2004 "Plan of Attack," is to understand just how slickly his lofty sources deflected him from the big picture, of which the Wilson case is just one small, if illuminating, piece.

In her famous takedown of Mr. Woodward for The New York Review of Books in 1996, Joan Didion wrote that what he "chooses to leave unrecorded, or what he apparently does not think to elicit, is in many ways more instructive than what he commits to paper." She was referring to his account of Hillary Clinton's health care fiasco in his book "The Agenda," but her words also fit his account of the path to war in Iraq. This time, however, there is much more at stake than there was in Hillarycare.

What remains unrecorded in "Plan of Attack" is any inkling of the disinformation campaign built to gin up this war. While Mr. Woodward tells us about the controversial posturing of Douglas Feith, the former under secretary of defense for policy, there's only an incidental, even dismissive allusion to Mr. Feith's Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group. That was the secret intelligence unit established at the Pentagon to "prove" Iraq-Qaeda connections, which Vice President Dick Cheney then would trumpet in arenas like "Meet the Press." Mr. Woodward mentions in passing the White House Iraq Group, convened to market the war, but ignores the direct correlation between WHIG's inception and the accelerating hysteria in the Bush-Cheney-Rice warnings about Saddam's impending mushroom clouds in the late summer and fall of 2002. This story was broken by Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus in Mr. Woodward's own paper eight months before "Plan of Attack" was published.

Near the book's end, Mr. Woodward writes of some "troubling" tips from three sources "that the intelligence on W.M.D. was not as conclusive as the C.I.A. and the administration had suggested" and of how he helped push a Pincus story saying much the same into print just before the invasion. (It appeared on Page 17.) But Mr. Woodward never seriously investigates others' suspicions that the White House might have deliberately suppressed or ignored evidence that would contradict George Tenet's "slam-dunk" case for Saddam's W.M.D.'s. "Plan of Attack" gives greatest weight instead to the White House spin that any hyped intelligence was an innocent error or solely the result of the ineptitude of Mr. Tenet and the C.I.A.

Dick Cheney and Scooter Libby are omnipresent in the narrative, and Mr. Woodward says now that his notes show he had questions for them back then about "yellowcake" uranium and "Joe Wilson's wife." But the leak case - indeed Valerie Wilson herself - is never mentioned in the 400-plus pages, even though it had exploded more than six months before he completed the book. That's the most damning omission of all and suggests the real motive for his failure to share what he did know about this case with either his editor or his readers. If you assume, as Mr. Woodward apparently did against mounting evidence to the contrary, that the White House acted in good faith when purveying its claims of imminent doomsday and pre-9/11 Qaeda-Saddam collaborations, then there's no White House wrongdoing that needs to be covered up. So why would anyone in the administration try to do something nasty to silence a whistle-blower like Joseph Wilson? The West Wing was merely gossiping idly about the guy, Mr. Woodward now says, in perhaps an unconscious echo of the Karl Rove defense strategy.

Joan Didion was among the first to point out that Mr. Woodward's passive notion of journalistic neutrality is easily manipulated by his sources. He flatters those who give him the most access by upholding their version of events. Hence Mary Matalin, the former Cheney flack who helped shape WHIG's war propaganda, rushed to defend Mr. Woodward last week. Asked by Howard Kurtz of The Post why "an administration not known for being fond of the press put so much effort into cooperating with Woodward," Ms. Matalin responded that he does "an extraordinary job" and that "it's in the White House's interest to have a neutral source writing the history of the way Bush makes decisions." You bet it is. Sounds as if she's read Didion as well as Machiavelli.

In an analysis of Mr. Woodward written for The Huffington Post, Nora Ephron likens him to Theodore H. White, who invented the modern "inside" Washington book with "The Making of the President 1960." White eventually became such an insider himself that in "The Making of the President 1972," he missed Watergate, the story broken under his (and much of the press's) nose by Woodward and Bernstein. "They were outsiders," Ms. Ephron writes of those then-lowly beat reporters, "and their lack of top-level access was probably their greatest asset."

INDEED it's reporters who didn't have top-level access to the likes of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney who have gotten the Iraq story right. In the new book "Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11," Kristina Borjesson interviews some of them, including Jonathan Landay of Knight Ridder, who heard early on from a low-level source that "the vice president is lying" and produced a story headlined "Lack of Hard Evidence of Iraqi Weapons Worries Top U.S. Officials" on Sept. 6, 2002. That was two days before administration officials fanned out on the Sunday-morning talk shows to point ominously at the now-discredited front-page Times story about Saddam's aluminum tubes. Warren Strobel, a frequent reportorial collaborator with Mr. Landay at Knight Ridder, tells Ms. Borjesson, "The most surprising thing to us was we had the field to ourselves for so long in terms of writing stuff that was critical or questioning the administration's case for war."

Such critical stories - including those at The Post and The Times that were too often relegated to Page 17 - did not get traction until the failure to find W.M.D.'s and the Wilson affair made America take a second look. Now that the country has awakened to that history, it will take more to shock it than the latest revelation that the Defense Department has been paying Iraqi newspapers to print its propaganda. Thanks in large part to the case Mr. Woodward found so inconsequential, everyone knows that much of the American press did just the same before the war - and, unlike those Iraqi newspapers or, say, Armstrong Williams, did so gratis.