James Ridgeway

James Ridgeway

In 1965, James Ridgeway helped launch the modern muckraking era by revealing that General Motors had hired private eyes to spy on an obscure consumer advocate named Ralph Nader. He worked for many years at the Village Voice, has written 16 books, and has codirected Blood in the Face, a film about the far right. In 2012, he was named a Soros Justice Media Fellow.

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Casey's Man

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 7:47 AM PST

The first key test for the new Democratic Majority in the Senate will be whether or not to confirm Robert Gates as new Secretary of Defense. It is too early to tell for sure, but with the relief at the firing of Rumsfeld, it seems unlikely anyone will seriously challenge Gates, a man who is often thought of as the creation of Reagan's CIA director William Casey. Senator Joe Biden, new chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that Gates has a much more "pragmatic and realistic view of the place we find ourselves."

In the media Gates is being hailed, along with the reappearance of Jim Baker, as a return to sanity. Both are members of the Iraq Study Group. It has all the appearances of a supra State Department for deciding what to do in Iraq. All thanks in large part to Bush senior who is thought to be sending in a rescue team to get his boy off the hook.

Gates faced rough confirmation hearings in 1991 when appointed CIA director by Bush senior. There was concern about his manipulation of intelligence back then, but more than that, official Washington didn't know whether to trust him because of his relationship with Ollie North in the secret Iran-Contra war. At the time, Gates brushed aside questions on Iran-Contra, saying he couldn't remember details, or apologetically stating that he should have given the whole situation closer attention. In the end, Congress attributed whatever errors were made to Casey, the CIA director at the time, who was long viewed as a strong, independent-minded anti-Communist of a somewhat bizarre sort. But as has been noted before, Gates often was thought of as Casey's man, and it was Casey who put him in a top job as deputy director and chair of the National Intelligence Council.

At Gates' confirmation hearings in 1991, the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee appeared weary of Iran-Contra. Warren Rudman, then a Republican congressman from New Hampshire, remarked, "I might say parenthetically that I hope someday I will never have to talk about this subject again. But I guess it just keeps coming up. It's almost like a typhus epidemic in that anybody within five miles of the germ either died, is infected, or is barely able to survive, so I guess we're back in that mode again."

That was 15 years ago. The memories of most people in Congress aren't likely to go back that far.

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The Rise of McCain

| Wed Nov. 8, 2006 7:19 AM PST

Yesterday's elections open the door on the 2008 presidential race with John McCain front and center for the Republicans. Once laughed off by Bush, detested by many in the military, and vilified by the right wing Christians, McCain has stayed the course and now is in a position to organize a strong race for the presidency in 2008.

To an unknown degree this will depend on the Arizona senator's health (he has melanoma). He will have to contend with a far more conservative group of Republicans in the House, who will be demanding sharp curtailments on spending. These are people, for example, who wanted to drastically curtail what little the federal government made available for Katrina victims. This conservative cadre is unlikely to be in the mood for bipartisan deal making, and can conceivably force a greater degree of separation between the parties.

Some conservatives already are threatening to throw wrenches into the House machinery with stalling tactics and other measures. These may be idle threats, but giving the GOP record in running a backbench, that can't be counted on.

"There's going to be a batch of people who are going to personally owe McCain and there's going to be another batch of people who are going to have to rethink their view of him," Michael McKenna, a Republican strategist and pollster, told the Washington Times.

Democrats almost surely will try and extend the Medicare drug plan and get behind an immigration bill which provides a mechanism for illegals to obtain citizenship. Dems can reopen their internal fight over free trade with the old Clintonista centrists arguing for free trade measures, and progressives, in the past led by Dennis Kucinich and others, against such steps.

A Soldier's Letter or Death Rattle?

| Tue Nov. 7, 2006 5:20 PM PST

A Republican poll watcher writes in to the National Review's Jonah Goldberg:

Jonah,

Spent my lunch hours working the polls in the People's Republic of Old Town, Alexandria. My polling place is city hall, where Clinton et al. had their rally last night. I couldn't avoid the rally, since it was right around the corner from my house. The turnout and the energy of the crowd made me very concerned about the results today. True, this is a very liberal area, but I've been through many elections and never seen that sort of buzz for a political rally here. These people are pretty fired up. True to form, Clinton arrived late and spoke to long, crowding others off the schedule.

Turnout today was about 1,000 voters by lunchtime. Last year for the gubernatorial election, it was less than half that. While passing out Allen literature, I was called macaca once, and another person said he was getting his noose for Allen – a reference to a Post story about a noose he kept in his office I believe. The talk was generally that Allen ran a terrible campaign, and if this election decides anything, it is that Allen and Kerry are both toast for 2008.

A pickup truck with a coffin in it was parked in front of Market Square, the site of last night's rally. The owner appeared to be a middle aged Hispanic man, mourning his son who was killed in Iraq. He had a pickup truck with information on his son, and a coffin in the back with his service information. I wasn't close enough to hear, but he appeared to be blaming Bush for his son's death to the TV cameras. It was really a pretty moving sight. Although I think the conclusions he has drawn are incorrect, I am sure that sort of thing can sway many people.

My report from the front.

For Some Virginia Voters It's "The Best Day of the Year.'' Dispatches from Around the State

| Tue Nov. 7, 2006 2:34 PM PST

By mid afternoon, voters had slowed to a trickle at polling booths in towns along the fringes of northern Virginia exurbia, which often provides the swing vote for the state as a whole. Voters we talked to tended to be disgusted in general with the Bush Administration and fed up with the dirty Senate campaign. Nonetheless, there were numerous Allen diehards, who noted he had been dependable in the past and now could be viewed as the lesser of two evils.

Reston, once a model new town, is situated well out from Washington in northern Virginia, the key swing area of the state. At the Community Center, Jane Bullock, 58, an entrepreneur, formerly Chief of Staff for FEMA, said she had to leave her job at FEMA because of the administration. She was plenty mad. "This country is on the wrong track, the president is deranged. We need senators who will bridge the gap. I think Webb is more conservative than I am but he's the better choice. He's got the right attitude on the war in Iraq." She went on, "This administration, they don't care about government. You saw what happened with Katrina. They simply don't care about people and it shows in their government."

Linda Cooper, 37, bartender, former graphic designer, came up to the polling station skipping and singing: "This is the best day of the year!" She declared, "Mr. Bush is inarticulate and the Republican Party follows a not very well thought out foreign policy, and a not very well thought out domestic policy. I don't think they care about the average American who earn less than $30,000 a year. He is insular in his wealth and I think the majority of Republicans are. And I think the average American is suffering." Time for a change, she said.

Justin Salop, 26, accountant, said he voted for Allen: "There was a lot more negative ads and campaigning and more shock than what I have seen in the past. It has made me increasingly upset with the parties and politics." He decided to vote for "the lesser of two evils," adding, "Being a business guy I have always been for growth and expansion, but I think we have hit a point, at least in this area where it has gone way too far. I'm getting tired of every little area being turned into a condo."

Dave Spanbauer, 62, retired high school basketball coach, voted for George Allen "because he's an athlete and because I'm a basketball coach. I would have voted Democrat if the Democrat person had enticed me to vote for him. But the fact that he came on to slander Allen."

Further west is Leesburg, offering a nostalgic glimpse of a Virginia long gone. In the early 1970s you could still see chain gangs of prisoners working along the roadside under a shotgun toting police officer. Segregation died hard around here, if in fact it did die. By its looks, Leesburg remains a memento of an earlier time. At the town firehouse, Mary Kraseman, 65 and retired, said "George Allen has always come through on what he said he was going to do."'

A 58 year old woman teacher, who asked that her name not be used, said "I think it's time for a change and the Republicans have messed things up totally."

Purcellville, once a farm town center not far from Leesburg, now part of the sprawling exurbia. At the elementary school, Mary Coate, 50, a housewife said, "I am for the marriage amendment. I believe it should be between a man and a woman and I don't want people from Massachusetts coming and demanding recognition for their gay marriages."

-- Reporting in Virginia by Caroline Dobuzinskis and Jessica Savage

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