As the world burns, Dick Cheney campaigns.
Today Cheney will spend seven hours in Iowa, stumping for two Congressional candidates and addressing the Iowa National Guard. No doubt Cheney will brag about how the Bush Administration is spreading peace and democracy across the globe.
But with the Middle East in flames, is political campaigning really the best use of the Vice President's time? We are talking about the man who effectively runs the White House.
With the Middle East on the cusp of war, President Bush's foreign policy for the area--remaking the region through invasion and occupation--is now effectively buried under the rubble of bombed out buildings, decimated bridges and civilian bodies.
The ongoing sectarian carnage in Iraq now barely makes it onto the front pages--and television is filled with the latest, horrifying scenes of devastation from the region. But Jessica Stern's op-ed, in Saturday's New York Times, is a powerful reminder of why we must not lose sight of ending the US occupation of a ravaged Iraq. Stern, a leading expert on terrorism, argues that our continuing occupation--and the growing number of revelations of US military atrocities (which she points out "are likely to proliferate the longer we remain in Iraq") will vastly increase the pool from which Al Qaeda and its sympathizers can recruit new members and supporters. As she reports, the latest Al-Qaeda video "tries to recruit ordinary American Muslims who might be offended, as many ordinary Americans are, by America's mistakes and moral failings in carrying out the war on terrorists." What Stern is saying is that this Administration's policies are actually increasing the possibility of future terrorist acts here in the US.
Yes, Iraq is complicated. As Robert Kuttner wrote recently in the Boston Globe, "..the search for a viable Iraq policy is really hard. President Bush has left the country with a policy problem from hell that may be literally insoluble, for him or anyone else." I agree, but at the same time that view should not lend a kind of gloss of acceptance to continued occupation.
As leaders of the world's richest nations gather in St. Petersburg to craft a global energy security strategy, they're poised to endorse a major expansion of nuclear power. Bad idea.
As Lebanon braces for a descent into an all-too-familiar chaos, anger and the quest for comfort have sent people to the streets in search of bread and someone to blame.
Congressional "Friends of Israel" are busy making noises about the "need" for the United States to provide that Middle Eastern land with full support as it assaults its neighbors.
But no genuine friend of Israel can be happy with what is being done in that country's name by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his misguided followers.
Israel's attack on Lebanon, which has already killed and wounded hundreds and destroyed much of that fragile democracy's infrastructure--including airports, seaports, bridges and roads--has done nothing to make Israel safer or more secure from threats posed by the militant Islamic organization Hezbollah. Indeed, the terrorist group's attacks on targets in northern Israel have become more brazen--and deadly--since Israel began striking Lebanon.
In your lifetime, has the US ever exercised less global leadership?
The Middle East is burning. Iraq is disintegrating. Afghanistan is collapsing. North Korea is escalating. Iran is cheering.
And all President Bush can do is dither. The Administration has no foreign policy. At least the invasion of Iraq, though wholly misguided and strategically disastrous, was an example of decisive action. Today, in the face of crisis after crisis, Bush does nothing.
For years, leaders of the Republican Party and their amen corner in the media has been demanding to know why African-American voters so consistently support the Democratic Party.
Here's a thought:
When the U.S. House debated the "Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act" this month, the process was bogged down for weeks by objections from Republican members of the House who sought to eliminate some or all of the essential protections contained in the 41-year-old guarantee of equal protection for minority voters.
After running as a so-called "reformer" in the race to replace Tom DeLay as House Majority Leader, Ohio Rep. John Boehner admitted in his first major TV interview, "I've got a very open relationship with lobbyists in town."
Since assuming the House's number two leadership slot, his coziness with K Street has only intensified. According to a front page New York Timesstory today, Boehner's raising $10,000 a day in campaign contributions from lobbyists and corporations, at a rate that would make even Tom DeLay blush.
As the Bush Administration continues to exercise an inordinate amount of
power, will the Supreme Court's Hamdan v. Rumsfeld ruling become
a guidepost for future government or a last lonely relic of a proud
As Bush and Putin meet in St. Petersburg for the G-8 summit, there's a lot of talk in the US media about Russia's backsliding on democracy. Of course, Russia isn't on a path to democracy. Putin has reasserted state control over Russian television, jailed a leading oligarch and may well try to alter the Russian constitution so he can remain President for a third term beginning in 2008. But as scholars and writers with a sense of history have argued -- including (my husband) Stephen Cohen in a recent cover story in The Nation and Anatol Lieven in a Los Angeles Times op-ed -- de-democratization began not under Putin but under Boris Yeltsin. As Lieven explains, "The 'democracy' that Putin has allegedly overthrown was, in fact, not a real democracy at all, but a pseudo-democracy ruled over by corrupt and brutal oligarchical clans." Furthermore, he notes, " During the 1990s, the administration of Boris Yeltsin, under the sway of oligarchs and the liberal elites, rigged elections, repressed the opposition and launched a bloody and unnecessary war in Chechnya--all with the support of Washington."
But don't ask that champion of democracy, civil liberties and human rights Dick Cheney to get his history right. Instead, in May, Cheney used his shotgun approach and traveled through the former Soviet Union hectoring Russia's government for its anti-democratic ways. As William Fisher noted at the time, in a sharp commentary on Truthout.com, it was "truly grotesque" that Cheney would be "lecturing anyone about democracy and human rights." As Fisher, who worked for the US State Department and USAID for thirty years, put it, " [Cheney} has dishonored these core American values in his own country...Could there be anyone less credible on subjects like democratic reform and open government?"
Instead of counter-productive lectures, perhaps we should listen more carefully to former Russian dissidents like Boris Kagarlitsky. I've known Kagarlitsky for more than twenty five years. He is a man of integrity, a man of the democratic left, who was imprisoned in the Brezhnev years for samizdat literature and speaking his mind. In May, I asked him what he made of U.S. criticism of Russia's political landscape. Here is Boris's brief and sharp reply.
After pressure from the local newspaper and the City Council
questioning the use of sweatshop labor to create Pittsburgh Pirates regalia, Major League Baseball seems willing to listen to activists' complaints.
If I do well in school can I jump over jail?
If I pray every night can I jump over this hell?
Will the preacher say a special prayer?
Will the social workers really care?
It doesn't seem that as a child it should be my fault
All these hurdles to jump over before I could even walk.
--from Against All Odds, by 17 year old Cardarius Becton, Life Pieces to Masterpieces
Program, three months before he was shot in the back and killed after being robbed.
The nation's capital has declared a Crime Emergency in response to a recent surge in homicides and armed robberies. But, as Courtland Milloy writes in the Washington Post, "Violent robberies are certainly nothing new in the Washington areaâ€¦To a certain extent, however, these black-on-black crimes seem to be of interest only to the victims, their families and closest friends."
What has changed is gentrification, a new proximity between rich and poor, and the recent crimes being black on white. "The sense of security among the affluent and influential has been shaken," according to Milloy.
Adding to the sadness and outrage is the lack of political will, vision, and commitment to promote real change â€“ to truly fight back against the poverty and hopelessness. To be sure, no one â€“ including Milloy â€“ is minimizing these crimes or the suffering of innocent victims. Yet it must be recognized: "Here's part of the problem: Juveniles, many of whom have been robbed themselves â€“ ripped off by parents and schools and communities that couldn't care less about them â€“ have become hardened and increasingly violent."
And while DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey has responded with increased rewards for information leading to arrests, and greater deployment of police officers, that is not what will change the tide of crime in DC or any other city. Again, Milloy: "But it's unlikely that money and police alone will solve the problem. The city is being terrorized â€“ and, as residents of many low-income neighborhoods will tell you, it's been that way for years. When discussing terrorism abroad, we talk about giving would-be terrorists a better choice â€“ of giving them hope of a better life and providing them with the tools to help them realize the fruits of freedom and democracy. Now that the homegrown terrorists have our attention, maybe it would be a good time to show how that's done â€“ in the nation's capital."
There are no shortage of mentoring, tutoring or apprenticeship programs â€“ with proven results â€“ taking kids from the most difficult situations and helping them turn their lives around. In fact, one DC mayoral candidate, former VerizonDC President, Marie Johns, has highlighted such programs on her Fighting Poverty Tour. The Tour is designed to examine the economic divide in the nation's capital â€“ the city with the largest wealth disparity in the nation â€“ and offer leadership and ideas where current elected officials have failed.
"I want to do the work that has been ignored in our city for generations now," Johns said. "That's why I am running for office."
This past week Johns visited the Life Pieces to Masterpieces (LPTM) program that works with kids from the worst neighborhoods in DC. LPTM offers tutoring and enrichment programs, and teaches youths to express their challenges and accomplishments through artistic means. Many of the youths have been with the program for 8 to 10 years, and now serve as mentors for the younger kids.
"The younger kids who come in see the older kids â€“ from their same neighborhoods â€“ modeling positive behavior. It takes the stigma away," said Executive Director Mary Brown. "We are literally saving lives. But we've never had a candidate come to our program in eleven years of existence."
14 year old Malik â€“ an eight year veteran of the program â€“ was a little more pointed in his thoughts. During a session he told Johns, "You coming shows you really want to make a difference to help us out. Most politicians only care about money."
Johns highlighted LPTM because of its track record and its need for new space.
"There are great programs out there that turn lives around," Johns said. "But they usually only have resources sufficient to reach a small number of kids; they have to spend way too much of their time chasing money; and they often struggle to find space and a permanent home. The financial commitment it would take to stabilize and expand these preventative programs is a drop in the bucket compared to the human costs, public health costs, and the criminal justice costs of the way we are doing business in the nation's capital today."
On the national level, John Edwards stands out for making poverty a moral and political issue. He recently delivered an inspiring speech to the National Press Club where he called poverty "the great moral issue of our time" and issued a challenge to cut it by one-third in a decade, and end it within 30 years. Edwards called for raising the minimum wage, overhauling housing policy, strengthening education, cutting taxes for low-income workers and families, and helping Americans save for the future.
It's time we stop treating people as disposable. The "new" crime emergency for some has, in fact, been the status quo for many. There is a desperate need for vision, political will and action to produce real change right now. It is the only way the suffering of innocent people in our American cities will subside.
The other night Dan Rather was back in center ring. In an hour long interview with CNN's Larry King. Rather spoke with quiet fury about the suits at CBS who treated him, a 44-year employee, so disgracefully. It turns out that at the end, it was the lawyers--not actor-turned corporate honcho Leslie Moonves--who told Rather "we just don't have a place for you." But, as Rather understood--as has anyone watching the networks these last years--CBS News is a cog in an entertainment company.
"There came a time," he told King (who also works for an entertainment company with a news division) " when I realized...that we were working for not CBS and not CBS News. We were working for Viacom News...a larger entertainment company....but I want to do news that matters. And so much of the news these days...it's so driven by ratings, so driven by demographics, so driven by, we used to be told stockholder value. It's driven by things other than the public interest. I want to do news that's fair and accurate, do it with integrity and I want to do it in the public interest."
In one of the more interesting exchanges, Rather talked about 60 Minutes's controversial broadcast about Bush's National Guard record.
"There is always a charge that socialism does not fit human nature. We've encountered that for a long time. Maybe that's true. But can't people be educated? Can't people learn to cooperate with each other? Surely that must be our goal, because the alternative is redolent with war and poverty and all the ills of the world."
-- Frank Zeidler
Citizens, lawyers and constitutional scholars of all political stripes
have reason to be concerned about President Bush's use of "signing
statements," which assert his right to ignore a law and threaten the
central tenet of America's system of constrained government.