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A Congressman's Defeat Spells Trouble for Business Democrats

U.S. Rep. Tom Sawyer, who broke with other industrial-state Democrats to back free trade measures such as NAFTA, suffered a stunning defeat in an Ohio's May 7 Democratic primary. And, despite the best efforts of Sawyer's old friends in the business-funded Democratic Leadership Council to try and explain away the eight-term incumbent's rejection at the hands of home-state voters, the message from Ohio was a blunt signal for Democrats who side with Wall Street against Main Street.

Trade issues have long been views by labor and environmental activists as the canary-in-the-coal mine measures of corporate dominance over Congress. Most, though not all, Republicans back the free-trade agenda pushed by major multinational corporations and Republican and Democratic presidents. Most Democrats oppose that agenda. Since the early 1990s, trade votes in the House of Representatives have tended to be close, however. That has meant that the margins of victory for the corporate trade agenda has often been delivered by a floating pool of Democrats -- including Sawyer -- who have been willing to vote with free-trade Republicans on key issues such as NAFTA, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and normalization of trade relations with China. Most of the free-trade Democrats are associated with the New Democrat Coalition, a DLC-tied House group that was formed in 1997 with Sawyer as a charter member.

Patrick Woodall, research director for Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, says Sawyer's defeat must be read as very bad news for those free-trade Democrats.

"If all you do is hang around at think tanks in Washington, you might think that everyone loves free trade. But, when you get outside Washington, you start running into Americans who have seen factories closed and communities kicked in the teeth by the North American Free Trade Agreement and all these other trade bills," explains Woodall, one of the savviest followers of trade fights in Washington and around the country. "Tom Sawyer's defeat ought to be a wake-up call for Democrats who think they can get away with voting for a free-trade agenda that does not protect workers, farmers and the environment. Tom Sawyer found out on Tuesday that there are consequences."

Of course, there will still be Democrats who don't quite "get it." Even as Thursday's edition of Roll Call, the Capitol Hill-insider publication, carried a Page One headline reading "NAFTA Stance Hurt Sawyer," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-SD, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., were cutting a deal to give President Bush Fast Track authority to negotiate a sweeping Free Trade Area of the Americas agreements that critics describe as "NAFTA on steroids."

But if some top Democrats were having trouble figuring out the politics of trade, Sawyer top aide was no longer suffering under any delusions. The congressman's chief of staff, Dan Lucas, said after his boss lost: "The big issue was NAFTA." And the big loser was the argument that, given a choice, Democrats from blue-collar districts will stick with members of Congress who vote the Wall Street line on trade issues. As Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee executive director Howard Wolfson delicately explained, "(In) some districts in this country a free trade position is not helpful."

Sawyer was not the first Democrat in recent years to discover those consequences. After voting for a previous version of Fast Track, California Rep. Matthew Martinez was defeated in a 2000 primary by labor-backed challenger Hilda Solis. And Rep. Ken Bentsen, a Houston Democrat who voted for the current Fast Track proposal when it came before the House last December, lost a March Democratic primary for an open U.S. Senate seat after his opponent, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, said he would have opposed Fast Track.

But, by any measure, Sawyer's defeat is the most significant so far for a free-trade Democrat in the House.

Since his 1993 vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement, Sawyer had been held up by backers of free trade as living proof that it was safe for Democrats from industrial states to break with organized labor and vote for corporate-friendly trade legislation. Despite lots of griping over his NAFTA vote, Sawyer was reelected several times by voters in a district made up of Akron -- a city where he had served as mayor -- and white-collar Cleveland-area suburbs.

In the redistricting process following the 2000 Census, Sawyer's district lines were altered. He kept much of the Akron area but took in Youngstown and Mahoning Valley towns represented by U.S. Rep. Jim Traficant. After his conviction on 10 felony counts including racketeering and bribery, Traficant decided to skip the Democratic primary and Sawyer was supposed to be safe. By far the biggest name in the race, Sawyer collected a campaign bankroll that drawfed those of his opponents. And he did not hesitate to spend that money freely on slick television commercials that filled the airwaves in the weeks before the primary.

Sawyer and his Democratic challengers agreed on most issues. But trade was the dividing line. And trade mattered -- especially in Youngstown and other hard-hit steel-mill communities up and down the Mahoning Valley. Though Sawyer had voted with labor on some trade issues -- including the December Fast Track test -- he is known in Ohio as the Democrat who backed NAFTA, and for unemployed steelworkers and their families NAFTA invokes the bitterest of memories.

"Sawyer's vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement killed him in the valley, observers agree. Even though Sawyer had a strong pro-labor voting record, that one vote was all that mattered," the Akron Beacon-Journal newspaper observed. "Mahoning Valley voters hate free trade, especially the North American Free Trade Agreement," echoed the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. ``That NAFTA vote (by Sawyer) added fuel to the fire," said William Binning, chairman of the political science department at Youngstown State University.

The fire was stoked by several of Sawyer's lesser-known opponents, who strongly opposed NAFTA. But the line from the pundits held that, even if trade turned out to be an issue, the NAFTA foes would split the labor vote, allowing Sawyer to prevail with ease. As it turned out, one of the challengers, State Sen. Tim Ryan, broke from the pack by wrapping himself in the banner of the labor movement.

Though a number of national unions backed Sawyer because he looked like a winner, Mahoning Valley unions went with Ryan, a 28-year-old Democrat who had once worked for Traficant. And, unlike Democrats who collect campaign checks from labor and then quickly scramble away from their blue-collar backers, Ryan wore his hometown union support as a badge of honor. His homey television commercials featured the song "Swing, Swing, Swing" as the names of unions that had endorsed him flashed across the screen.

Ryan didn't put many commercials on TV, however. The young candidate was outspent 6-1 by Sawyer. And most of the money Ryan did spend went into the sort of grassroots, down-at-the-union-hall campaigning that is rarely seen in American politics these days. One of the Ryan campaigns biggest expenditures was for t-shirts for his supporters. ``He defies the modern campaign,'' Binning says of Ryan.

On election night, Ryan defied expectations. He won 41 percent of the vote to 28 percent for Sawyer. Another 20 percent of the vote went to State Rep.Anthony Latell, who like Ryan identified himself as a strong foe of NAFTA.

Ryan still faces a November contest that against a Republican legislator. In addition, Traficant is running as an independent, along with Warren Davis, a veteran United Auto Workers union official. By week's end, however, there was speculation that Traficant might be in a jail cell and Davis might be out of the race by November -- creating the prospect that Ryan could end up as an easy winner in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.

No matter what happens, however, Tom Sawyer will be leaving Congress. With him should go the assumption that Democratic voters will always forgive and forget free-trade votes of Democratic members of Congress.

A Voting Reform That Works Is Transforming Texas

Considering the role that Florida's electoral mess played in making him president, and considering his active disinterest in reforming political processes to assure that the Florida fiasco will never be repeated, George W. Bush is not widely regarded as a pioneering proponent of moves to make American democracy more fair and representative.

Yet, an obscure Texas law that then-Governor Bush signed in 1995 is transforming the electoral landscape in Texas for the better. In fact, a recent vote in Amarillo suggests that it is breaking the grip of Bush's allies in the business community that has for so long dominated Texas electioneering.

The reform that Bush inked with little fanfare seven years ago made it easier for local school districts across Texas to create cumulative voting systems.

Traditionally in Texas, school board members were elected using standard winner-take-all, at-large systems where voters are limited to casting one vote for each candidate. The system made it easy for majority racial or ethnic groups in a district to dominate the balloting. Thus, school districts with substantial minority populations continued to be governed by all-white boards.

Under cumulative systems, voters are allowed to cast as many votes as there are seats. They can distribute the votes among various contenders or assign them all to one candidate. This, as Harvard professor Lani Guinier has noted, makes it possible for members of minority groups to focus their voting on electing members of their own communities and bringing diversity to elected boards.

Since 1995, groups seeking to increase minority representation on local school boards in Texas have regularly pressed Voting Rights Act challenges seeking to upset winner-take-all, at-large systems. In a growing number of cases they have, in settling their legal actions, opted for cumulative voting as a vehicle to achieve better balance on boards. At least 57 Texas communities have adopted cumulative voting systems, according to the Maryland-based Center for Voting and Democracy. And there is growing enthusiasm regarding the reform among voting rights activists with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"Cumulative voting allows minority groups to elect their preferred candidate in an at-large election system," said Nina Perales, staff attorney for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "It does work. If voters understand the system, it works very well."

In Amarillo, where a cumulative voting system was adopted in 1999 in order to settle a Voting Rights Act challenge, the reform does indeed seem to be working very well. From the late 1970s to the late 1990s, no minority candidates were elected to the Amarillo Independent School District board -- despite the fact that close to 30 percent of the voting population, and 40 percent of the school-age population, is Hispanic or African American.

With the May, 2000, local school board election, Amarillo became the largest U.S. jurisdiction currently utilizing cumulative voting. And the system has worked precisely as local, state and national voting rights activists had hoped. In 2000, voters elected an African American and a Latina to the school board. And, last week, in the second Amarillo school board election held under the cumulative voting system, a second Latina candidate was elected -- bringing minority representation on the school board to a record high level.

"The eyes of the minority voting rights community were focused on Amarillo. This election was seen by many as a test of the ability of cumulative voting to work for the minority community," says Joleen Garcia, a Center for Voting and Democracy staffer who works in Texas to promote electoral alternatives. "For those who work for better election systems and fair representation, this was an important victory."

In a five-way race for three school board seats, Janie Rivas was the sole minority candidate. A veteran community activist, Rivas finished second in voting that ousted an Anglo incumbent who was backed by Business In Our Schools (BIOS), a powerful local political group financed as its name suggests by business interests. According to political observers in Amarillo, Rivas was the first school board candidate to be elected in many years without a BIOS endorsement.

Rivas' election means that the Amarillo Independent School District board is now made up of four Anglo members, two Latinas and one black representative.

A stark contrast to the dramatic progress in minority representation on the school board achieved under the cumulative voting system came in elections the same day for the local college board. Despite a big push to elect a Latino candidate, the college board vote under the old winner-take-all, at-large system produced three Anglo winners.

The evidence is mounting that real election reforms make a real difference. So far, however, there is little evidence that George W. Bush wants to make this Texas success story a national model.

Crusader: Intrigue and Backstabbing In the House of Bush

It's a tale of big guns and a big gun. It's a Bush family melodrama, a story of personal connections, possible backstabbing and multiple intrigues, a Washington soap opera. And it's all about an 80-ton mobile artillery system dubbed the Crusader.

Last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in something of a sneak attack, announced he wanted to cancel the $11 billion program. This was major news. The Pentagon almost never deep-sixes a major weapons program. The Army, whose baby this is, was understandably shocked. The Crusader was eight years in development. The Pentagon had decided last year to keep the program going, even though some critics--in and out of the military--had complained the heavy gun, which fires a 155 mm shell, was a Cold War relic of not much use in contemporary warfare.

Immediately after Rumsfeld targeted the Crusader, the Army initiated a rearguard operation against Rumsfeld by lobbying members of Congress to save the Crusader. The SecDef was not pleased. "I have a minimum of high regard for that kind of behavior," he growled. He ordered the Army inspector general to investigate--and caught in the crosshairs was Thomas White, the already-beleaguered secretary of the Army. White had been quoted by an ally, Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma (where the Crusader would be built), as saying he was "in a fight to save [the] Crusader within the building," meaning the Pentagon.

This was not a good time for White to be on the wrong side of Rumsfeld. In earlier installments of As the Pentagon Turns, we learned that White, a former Enron executive, was responsible for one of the bankrupt company's most problematic (financially and ethically) divisions, failed to divest his Enron stock in a timely manner and misled members of Congress about it, and reportedly used official aircraft for non-official business. [See the previous "Capital Games" column: "W's Biggest Enron Liability: The Case Against Thomas White".] White seems to have survived the flaps over his travel and his less-than-truthful statements to Congress, but the Justice Department supposedly is still investigating White for insider trading concerning his Enron holdings. He is on the ledge--and he just pissed off the guy who can pull him in.

White also had the bad sense--and bad manners--to win the latest tussle on the Crusader. During a late night mark-up on May 1, the House Armed Services Committee--which was reviewing the $52 billion budget hike for the Pentagon--added a provision to the military authorization bill to preserve $475 million in funding for the Crusader. It undid Rumsfeld's proposed cancellation. This was not a shocker. Members of Congress, mindful of the jobs produced by arms contracts, are often more reluctant to cut weapons than the Pentagonists. The civilian in charge of the Pentagon--that would be Rumsfeld--was bested by the Army and Congress. Then on May 6, a senior Pentagon official, speaking for Rumsfeld, reiterated Rumsfeld's position: "The Crusader is dead." And the next day, Rumsfeld voiced his support for White: "He's doing a good job. He has my confidence."

Yet there are more budget rounds on Capital Hill ahead for the Crusader. Will White and Rumsfeld remain at odds? In past confrontations of this sort, Congress has sided with the individual service and succeeded in forcing the Pentagon to buy weapons it did not desire.

The Rumsfeld-White pas de deux was only one delicious plot-line at work. Consider the manufacturer of the Crusader: United Defense Industries. It is the Army's fifth-largest contractor, and it is controlled by the Carlyle Group, an investment firm that is practically surgically attached to the House of Bush. Daddy Bush is a senior adviser to the Carlyle Group, making lots of money by giving speeches and opening doors overseas for Carlyle. James Baker, Bush I's former secretary of state, is a top Carlyle executive. He also masterminded W's legal team during the Florida recount mess. Moreover, Frank Carlucci, the Reagan-Bush secretary of defense who is chairman of Carlyle, is a close pal of Rumsfeld. The two were on the wrestling team at Princeton.

These connections have caused good-government advocates and conspiracy theorists to wonder if Bush II has been motivated to render policy decisions which would benefit Carlyle. Which would also benefit his father and W's own family, assuming Daddy Bush doesn't leave his multimillion-dollar estate only to son Neil. On the web and elsewhere, you can find suggestions (or outright assertions) that, in the aftermath of 9/11, Bush is waging the war on terrorism and expanding the Pentagon budget to fatten the Carlyle Group--which was already doing very nicely, averaging more than 34 percent on its $12.5 billion in investments. In fact, last year it did look as if Carlyle had cashed in on September 11 and its Bush contacts.

Two weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon, United Defense--which had revised the Crusader design and had waged a lobbying campaign on the Hill, oiled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions--signed a deal with the Army for a $665 million contract to complete development of the Crusader, now weighing in at a more slender 40 tons. On December 13, Congress fully funded the program. The next day Carlyle took United Defense Industries public. Its stock offering had listed the Crusader contract and the 9/11 attacks as selling points. The IPO was a whopping success, and the Carlyle Group earned $237 million in this deal.

Pentagon decisions certainly had helped Carlyle, for the Crusader system was a critical part of the turnaround Carlyle had achieved at United Defense. Carlyle rejected suggestions that its ties to prominent Bushies had anything to do with its good fortune. Spokesman Chris Ullman told The Los Angeles Times, "I can assure you [Frank Carlucci] doesn't lobby. That's the last thing he'd do. You'd have to know Carlucci to know he'd never do that, and you'd have to know Rumsfeld to know it wouldn't matter."

Might that have been truth, not spin? By spitting into the eye of the Crusader recently, Rumsfeld sent the stock of United Defense Industries tumbling 15 percent. That couldn't have made Carlucci, his old mat-mate, or Daddy Bush, Baker, and anyone else at Carlyle happy. So does that mean the Carlyle Group, with its behind-the-scenes clout, does not have the Bush II Administration fully in its pocket?

Cynics can still find reasons to be suspicious. Rumsfeld, after all, did not strike at the Crusader until after United Defense Industries went public. And when he did move to smother this program, he certainly had reason to expect that legislators on the Hill would cram the money back in--whether or not they were egged on by his less-than-loyal secretary of the Army. But after suggesting last week that the Army had thirty days to consider alternative designs for the Crusader, Rumsfeld then pulled the plug. That demonstrated his seriousness about ridding the Pentagon of unnecessary weapons (that is, unnecessary in Rumsfeld's book). What remains to be seen is the seriousness of the inquiry into White's end-run (not Enron) on the Crusader front.

This saga is not over. In coming installments of the Crusader mini-series, look for the roles (cameo or otherwise) played by George W. Bush and his Office of Management and Budget, as members of Congress rally behind the Crusader. Will the President and OMB back up Rumsfeld? Or will they overrule him? Perhaps Bush should recuse himself. This is a financially significant matter for the company that enriches both his father and the man who engineered his crucial triumph in the Florida post-election battle.

As of now, there are no signs from the Bush White House. But it is clear no matter what direction this story takes, it can only end one way: Thomas White getting a job at the Carlyle Group.

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God, Make W Faster Than a Speeding Bullet?

Do you think Americans should ask God to grant George W. Bush the power to fly? House majority whip Tom DeLay, the ability to predict the future? Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, X-ray vision? In a prayer written for the National Day of Prayer, May 2, the Reverend Lloyd Olgivie, the Senate chaplain, asks God to "bless our President, Congress, and all our leaders with supernatural power." He didn't beseech God to endow them with strength and wisdom--a more reasonable request--but to make them superheroes.

The National Day of Prayer (or NDP, as it is known to religion insiders) is an annual event established by an act of Congress five decades ago. The point was to encourage Americans to pray for their nation--at least once every twelve months. Each year, the president and the governors issue proclamations encouraging such importuning. And the NDP has become a major ritual for the religious right. For years, the National Day of Prayer Task Force--a nonprofit group run by Shirley Dobson, the wife of religious right leader James Dobson--has been pushing this prayer-holiday and organizing events.

This year, Dobson's NDP Task Force claimed it had 40,000 volunteers and coordinators putting together prayer events--including what the group called a "national observance" at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC. Its website noted that the headliners booked for the Washington gathering were radio evangelist Ravi Zacharias and youth evangelist Josh McDowell, both advocates of apologetics--which Marshall calls "a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity." That is, the belief that Christianity is the only way. The other main draw: virtue-czar and Ariel Sharon-backer William Bennett.

Anything wrong with this? The NDP Task Force states, "this government-sanctioned day is offered to all Americans." Yet the national observance, organized by the task force, was hardly designed to reflect the diverse religious nature of the United States--or even that of Christianity. This is not surprising, for on its website, the NDP Task Force also says its efforts "are executed in alignment with its Christian beliefs." Which means a group that is devoted to a certain type of evangelical Christianity and that excludes others from its commemoration of the Day of Prayer was given the privilege of hosting the day's main event in a congressional facility. (In 1999, the NDP Task Force said that every one of its volunteers "must be a Christian" with a "personal relationship with Christ.") And the prayer Olgivie, a Presbyterian, wrote--which the NDP Task Force promoted as the prayer to read at noon--said, "We commit ourselves to be faithful to You as Sovereign of our land and as our personal Lord and Savior." Such an invocation, with its reference to "Savior," smacked of a Christian devotional.

A secularist has reason to question the basic premise of the National Day of Prayer. Should Congress, the president, and governors officially encourage religious worship? Might that undermine the separation of church and state? But, moreover, the NDP Task Force has angled to turn the NDP into a day of Christian prayer. And government officials have gone along. US appeals court Judge David Sentelle, Representative Mike McIntyre, a North Carolina Democrat, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez, and Captain Leroy Gilbert, the Coast Guard chaplain, were scheduled to participate in the Washington event--which would highlight a Christian-oriented prayer written by a government-paid chaplain.

The NDP Task Force cites a long history of support for a prayer day. The Continental Congress asked the colonies to pray for wisdom as the new country was being formed. In 1863, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln called for a day of "humiliation, fasting, and prayer." In 1952, a congressional act, signed by President Truman, declared an annual day of prayer. And in 1988, President Reagan approved an amended law that set the first Thursday of every May as the day for America to pray.

But some founders were not keen on this sort of government promotion of religion. James Madison opposed governmental "religious proclamations" for several reasons, including, "They seem to imply and certainly nourish the erronious idea of a national religion." And Thomas Jefferson, in an 1808 letter to the Reverend Samuel Miller, said, "Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the General Government." He was even against recommending a day of fasting and prayer. Doing so, he explained, would "indirectly assume to the United States an authority over religious exercises, which the Constitution has directly precluded them from." He was worried that even a suggestion from the government could be taken the wrong way: "It must be meant, too, that this recommendation [of a day of prayer] is to carry some authority, and to be sanctioned by some penalty on those who disregard it; not indeed of fine and imprisonment, but of some degree of proscription, perhaps in public opinion."

At the moment, Jefferson and Madison are losing the debate. Shirley Dobson and Pat Robertson are winning. But what these founders might have feared--a national prayer day slipping into a day that emphasizes one religion over another--has been happening.

I called the Reverend Olgivie to ask him about his prayer--its Christian nature, and its call for supernatural powers for Bush and others. The fellow who answered the phone at his Senate office said the Reverend was too busy to talk. This aide refused to give me his full name or to provide budget information for Olgivie's office. "It's in the public records," he said and turned down my request for assistance in locating the figure. (For the record, the amount is $288,000.) I can understand why Olgivie, a former California television minister, might be shy around reporters. Last year, The Wall Street Journal published a piece on him revealing that his Senate office had accepted tens of thousands of dollars from Christian nonprofits, some of which was used to buy copies of his books he then distributed around the Senate.

Still, I would like to hear Olgivie explain his prayer, particularly what supernatural powers he wants to see bestowed upon the president. Might it help to have Congress pass legislation suggesting a particular course of action in this regard? Such an act, of course, would have to be non-binding..

Searching for "Moral Clarity"

If the rightwing had actual cheerleaders, they would be chanting, "What do we want? Moral clarity! When do we want it? Now." In recent weeks, "moral clarity" has become the buzz-phrase for conservatives upset with President Bush's less-than-wholehearted effort to pressure Ariel Sharon and to revive talks between Israelis and the Palestinians.

A quick tour: Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, says Bush has "lost moral clarity on terror." The Weekly Standard's William Kristol and Robert Kagan complain Bush's Middle East policy "wasn't exactly moral clarity." Thomas Hendriksen, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, writes, "George W. Bush has witnessed the moral clarity of his post-September 11 vision confounded by the deepening crisis between Israelis and Palestinians." Arch-hawk and former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu huffs that Bush had shown a lack of "moral clarity" in the Middle East crisis. Senator Joseph Lieberman, joining this choir, grouses that Bush's call for an end to Israeli military action in the West Bank "muddled our moral clarity" in the war against terrorism. And author and self-proclaimed virtue-czar William Bennett asserts, "We cannot stand between them [the Israelis and the Palestinians] without losing the moral clarity of Mr. Bush's earlier message." By the way, Bennett has a new book out: Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism.

This moral clarity thing has really caught on. When a reporter asked a demonstrator at a pro-Israel rally in Washington what he wanted, the fellow said, "We hope President Bush will show the same moral clarity [on the Middle East] that he has shown in the fight against al Qaeda." At a pro-Palestinian rally, a counter-protester backing Israel said he was "supporting President Bush's war on terrorism and the moral clarity he brings."

To be clear about it, moral clarity has come to mean, let Sharon do whatever he wants on the West Bank. After all, the argument goes, if Bush could portray his post-9/11 war in black-and-white terms (you're with us or you're agin' us; we blast away at terrorists and anyone who harbors or winks at them wherever and whenever we find them), then why cannot Sharon do the same? And why should Bush have anything to do with Palestinians--including Yasser Arafat--who can be linked to terrorism or who have not done enough to prevent terrorism? The MC police, who crave a full-force Israeli offensive, have been trying to appeal to Bush by shoving his Bush Doctrine in his face ("look--see, see?-- you said this") and by cloaking their strategic aim with a noble term. Who's for moral cloudiness?

But moral clarity are weasel words when used in this fashion. They negate nuance. They suggest there is a simple and straightforward solution to a difficult foreign policy challenge (blow away the so-called Palestinian terrorist infrastructure without regard to the damage done to civilians or the prospects for negotiations). When Bush finally decided to get involved--way too late--he gazed at the Middle East and saw a conflict not defined by either/or. Not white hats and black hats, as with his war on terrorism. And that has driven the MC crowd bonkers.

It could be that the MCers are having some impact. After Secretary of State Colin Powell returned from his not-very-successful trip to the Middle East--and after Sharon had defied Bush's call for an immediate withdrawal--Bush pronounced Sharon a "man of peace." Not even pro-Sharon hawks in Israel would say that of the person who was found indirectly responsible for massacres at refugee camps in the 1980s and whose troops recently stormed through the Jenin refugee camp, killing civilians. Sharon is supported in Israel precisely because he is a man of war--and many Israelis desire such a leader at this point in time. Sure, it's possible that Sharon might prefer peace (on his terms) over war. But what moral clarity comes from calling a militarist a "man of peace"?

Another interesting twist on moral clarity came when deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz spoke at that pro-Israel rally at the Capitol. For most of the event, speakers from across the political spectrum--Netanyahu, Bennett, Hillary Clinton, Dick Armey, Rudy Giuliani, Dick Gephardt, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney--voiced support for Israel and its current government. Many were trying to MC the Bushies into dropping their somewhat more-balanced view. Wolfowitz, the hawk's hawk in the Bush Administration, was not there to pressure his own boss. He expressed the administration's solidarity with Israel. But he dared to tell the crowd that "innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying as well" as Israelis and that "we deplore the deliberate killing of innocents, and I believe in my heart that the majority of Palestinians do so as well." The crowd booed; demonstrators shouted, "No double standard! No double standard!" When Wolfowitz spoke of a Palestinian state, the crowd jeered. He got the bum's rush.

Where is moral clarity when it comes to recognizing suffering on the Palestinian side--even when it is depicted in the gentle terms used by Wolfowitz? Afterward, there were no howls from the right (or from Democrats) that Wolfowitz was mistreated, that he was MC-PCed. If a government official had been booed off the stage by Arab-Americans at a pro-Palestinian rally (if one would even attend), you can bet that the cable TV shoutfests would be all over that story. And why was it that only a hawk--not a liberal Democrat or a labor leader--referred to Palestinians in human terms, who expressed compassion for innocents killed on the Palestinian side? (I won't get carried away here, for Wolfowitz, who hungers for war on Iraq, has not publicly expressed such sentiments concerning civilians killed or maimed by U.S. bombs in Afghanistan.)

Moral clarity, as Bush has learned recently, is easier preached than practiced. When Colin Powell appeared on Meet the Press on April 21, he refused to call Sharon a "man of peace," he declined to criticize Sharon's slow and partial withdrawal, and he said that the Bush Administration would not consider taking ex-President Jimmy Carter's advice and consider cutting off aid to Israel. But at the same time, he noted that "in order to help the people in Jenin," Washington was sending the refugee camp 800 family-sized tents for "people who have lost their homes," water purification equipment, several thousand disease prevention kits, and ordnance demolition teams.

I waited for Tim Russert to ask the obvious question: What's wrong with this picture: the United States supplies Israel with weaponry needed for its offensive on the West Bank, it threatens no cutback in such assistance when Israel uses these military supplies for an operation the Bush Administration deems wrong, and then Washington spends more taxpayer dollars to help the people harmed by the Israeli attack? Isn't this odd? Wouldn't it make more sense for the United States to do all it could to prevent the violence at the git-go? Russert never got around to this query. But, indirectly, an absurd point was made: the United States ends up paying, in part, for the destruction and the cleanup. Not much clarity there. But would the MC gang have the United States do nothing after the Israeli assault on Jenin? After all, in the MC view (per the Bush Doctrine), these Palestinians are living side-by-side with terrorists--their sons, cousins, nieces, etc.-- and, in many cases, supporting them.

Moral clarity, as hurled by conservatives and Democratic hawks, is an attractive-sounding but disingenuous concept. It is an attempt to bully the president, to deny complexities, and to turn the Middle East conflict into a comic-book face-off that offers only one policy option: all-out war.

Seventy-Five Thousand Protest in Washington

"I think the movement is beginning to wake up," Valerie Mullen, an 80-year-old anti-war activist from Vermont, exclaimed as she surveyed the swelling crowd of people protesting against the economic, international and military policies of the Bush Administration.

While activists always like to declare victory when a decent crowd shows up to demonstrate for causes dear to their hearts, Mullen was not alone in expressing a sense of awe at the size of the crowds that showed up in Washington for weekend protests against corporate globalization, a seemingly endless "war against terrorism" and US military aid to Israel.

District of Columbia police officials estimated that 75,000 people from across the country joined four permitted protest marches in Washington Saturday, while San Francisco police estimated that close to 20,000 people took part in what local officials identified as one of the largest peace rallies that city has seen in years. Thousands more joined demonstrations in Seattle, Houston, Boston, Salt Lake City and other communities.

Official estimates are invariably more conservative than those of organizers, but there was a rare level of agreement among organizers and police chiefs that the weekend of diverse activism against US policies abroad had far exceeded expectations. "I'm just floored by the amount of people here today," said Mark Rickling, an organizer with the Mobilization for Global Justice that brought thousands to Washington to protest corporate globalization in general and the spring meeting of World Bank and International Monetary Fund mandarins in particular. Not far away, DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey agreed that the size of the crowds was far greater than had been anticipated.

The size of the protests is notable because they come at a time when most political leaders and media commentators remain cautious about criticizing US policies. Organizers across the country argued that the turnout at marches and demonstrations was evidence that there is far more opposition to US policy among the American people than the relative silence of official Washington would indicate.

"We cannot have peace without justice," the Rev. Robert Jeffrey of Seattle's New Hope Baptist Church told a rally in that city. "That people who are left out should just keep quiet and accept what happens to them, that just won't happen."

The demonstrators who came to Washington sought to deliver many messages. The Mobilization for Global Justice protests against the World Bank, the IMF, corporate globalization and third-world debt are a rite of spring in Washington. The A20 Mobilization to Stop the War at Home and Abroad -- a coalition that included hundreds of groups ranging from the United States Student Association to the American Friends Service Committee, Peace Action, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the Amarillo, Tx., Citizen for Just Democracy -- chose the weekend to mount the first large-scale protest in the US against Bush's proposals to dramatically expand the "war on terrorism," and with it an already bloated Pentagon budget. Opponents of US policies in Latin America marched in opposition to "Plan Colombia" aid to that country's military. The messages of the multiple movements came together in banners that read, "Drop debt, not bombs."

A surprise for many organizers in Washington and San Francisco, however, came in the form of the dramatic turnout of Arab Americans and others angered over continued US military aid for Israel at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is ordering attacks on Palestinian communities on the West Bank. The Washington demonstration was described by organizers as the largest show of support for Palestinian rights ever in the nation's Capitol, perhaps in the US.

Referring to US military aid to Israel, demonstrator Amal K. David said, "My beloved country is financing such death and destruction. I am so ashamed."

David, a Palestinian-American, arrived on one of the more than 20 buses that came to Washington from Detroit for the weekend demonstrations. As many as 50 buses came from New York, and large contingents showed up from as far away as Minnesota and Texas. They were joined by a substantial number of Jews – including several dozen Orthodox rabbis from New York – who marched behind banners that read "Not In My Name" and "Jewish Voice for Peace." "We're here as Jews saying that the values of Judaism do not support what Ariel Sharon is doing," said marcher Jacob Hodes.

Arab-Americans and Jews intermingled along the line of march, which eventually merged with anti-war and anti-corporate globalization marches and rallies. Organizers acknowledged that they often did not know where one protest ended and the next began. "There's a great deal of anger at Bush administration policies. Different people are angry about different policies," said Ben Manski, an organizer who was active with the Green Party's efforts to build support for various DC demonstrations. "What's exciting is that a lot of people are recognizing that when we get together we send a loud message."

It's Time to Turn the Farm Bill Debate Into a Food Fight

Would someone in Congress please, please, please propose changing the name of the "farm bill" to the "food bill"?

Maybe if the issue at hand had a more dramatic name the media and the American public would take a serious interest in congressional debates that are in the process of defining not just the quality of the food we eat but the future of our rural communities, the environment that surrounds us, and the type of economy our nation chooses to construct.

This week, Congress is putting the finishing touches on a long-term farm bill that has, for the most part, been developed behind closed doors in such complex and interest-driven negotiations that most Americans are unaware of the issues that are in play. Yet, as the disastrous Freedom to Farm Act of 1996 proved, a bad farm bill can devastate a good nation.

When Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott got together to write a farm bill that favored corporate agribusiness at every turn, they undermined working family farmers so badly that the bill quickly became known as "the Freedom to Fail Bill." And farmers did fail, with several states experiencing the most dramatic loss in the number of family farms since the Great Depression era.

The next multiyear farm bill is now being shaped in high-stakes sessions of a powerful House-Senate Farm Bill Conference Committee. The bill that will eventually be sent to President Bush's desk will be a compromise measure between a House plan that has been more influenced by corporate agribusiness demands and Senate legislation that is somewhat more reflective of the goals of working farmers.

Any compromise is likely to be better than the soon-to-be-scrapped "Freedom to Fail" structure. And that's a good thing. Sympathy for working farmers is a legitimate rationale for backing a redirection of federal agricultural policy priorities. But it is far from the only one.

Americans who have never walked a fence line, planted a seed or milked a cow ought to get engaged with the current debate because the issues that it touches on go far beyond the farm gate.

Farm bill debates are the legislative venue for most discussions on food labeling (so that consumers know where and how their meat, grains, cheeses, fruits, vegetables and drinks are produced), importation of potentially unsafe food products, and regulation of genetic modification of food. Farm bill debates are also the place where Congress entertains questions of controlling corporate monopolies, regulating food-processing industries, and development of rural areas that contain some of the poorest and most racially diverse stretches of America.

"There are all these issues of race, class, corporate power -- not to mention the quality of what we eat and drink -- that are decided in the farm bill debate," Merle Hansen, the Nebraska farmer who is president emeritus of the North American Farm Alliance, once explained to me. "Yet, for the most part, Americans don't know that the debate is going on. People need to recognize that the lobbyists for the agribusiness corporations are the ones who like it this way. The less attention there is, the more they can get away with."

The Senate farm bill includes a number of critical anti-corporate and consumer-protection components that need to be safeguarded. Of particular interest are measures to require country-of-origin labeling on agricultural products and provide for far more serious examination of where and how food is produced; programs to aid sustainable agriculture initiatives; and a section proposed by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., to protect the legal right of farmers to challenge unsound practices being forced upon them by agribusiness corporations with which they contract.

The National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture has set up a great Web site (www.sustainableagriculture.net) to help Americans -- even those with no mud on their boots -- leap into the debate. And everyone who eats ought to make the leap because, while they call what is being shaped in Washington a farm bill, this really is the food bill.

Taiwangate: A Fallout-Free Scandal

Some scandals find traction in Washington, others fizzle. The Taiwangate affair--which involves a $100 million secret Taiwan government slush fund that financed intelligence, propaganda, and influence activities within the United States and elsewhere--seems to be in the latter category at the moment. The beneficiaries of the lack of attention include three prominent Bush appointees at the State Department who, before joining the Bush administration, received money from this account. And one of these officials, John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, submitted pro-Taiwan testimony to Congress in the 1990s without revealing he was a paid consultant to Taiwan. His work for Taiwan, it turns out, was financed by this slush fund.

On April 2, The Nation reported that news stories out of Asia, citing leaked classified documents, showed that former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui had established an illegal covert fund when he was in office and that several million dollars from it apparently were used to pay for a pro-Taiwan lobbying campaign in Washington mounted by Cassidy and Associates, a powerful lobbying firm. The clandestine account, according to the Asian media reports, underwrote the travels of Carl Ford, Jr., a former senior CIA analyst who was a consultant to the Cassidy and Associates effort. The Pacific Forum, the Honolulu-based armed of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also received money--perhaps $100,000--from the slush fund, when James Kelly, a past National Security Council officer, headed the Forum. Forty-thousand dollars of that money, CSIS confirmed, was sent to Harvard to cover the costs of a fellowship for a former Japanese defense official. In May 2001, Bush appointed Ford to be assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, and Kelly to be assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. (For more details, see the "Capital Games" dispatch preceding this one, "Taiwangate?--Bush Appointees Linked to Secret Slush Funds.")

On April 5, The Washington Post published a similar story, reporting that Taiwanese officials said the fund had paid $30,000 to John Bolton for research papers he wrote in the mid-1990s on how Taiwan could win readmission into the United Nations.

Neither the State Department nor the three State officials who reportedly received money from Lee's slush fund have felt compelled to make a statement regarding the scandal. None of the officials would answer any questions from The Nation or the Post on the matter.

The day the Post story appeared, a reporter at the daily State Department briefing asked Philip Reeker, the deputy spokesman for the department, to comment on the Post's article and the involvement of "State Department officials like John Bolton and Jim Kelly" in the slush fund.

"No, I don't think I read the story," Reeker said, "and I don't think we would comment on things that involve people prior to their work at the State Department, their official capacity. So that is just not something we would have anything on."

Didn't read a front-page story on a massive and secret Taiwanese endeavor to obtain influence in the United States and other nations that mentions three senior State Department officials by name? Reeker should be canned for that. But it does not take too keen an observer to see the damage-control strategy being employed. Bolton, Ford and Kelly refuse to take calls, while the State Department flacks say this all happened before we--and the three men--got here, so it's none of our business. And everyone hopes there are no more revelations and the story fades.

That's not a bad strategy, so far. Bolton and Company might be able to ride this out without much discomfort.

But the Taiwangate stories out of Asia also revive an issue Bolton encountered during his March 29, 2001, confirmation hearing held by the Senate foreign relations committee. During that session, he was asked if he had ever served as consultant to the Taiwanese government. Bolton said he was paid $10,000 a year in 1994, 1995 and 1996 by Taiwan to write research papers on Taiwan-U.N. membership issues. With Lee's slush fund still a secret, there was no reason for senators to question Bolton about the ultimate source of the payments. Instead, Democratic senators were more interested in whether Bolton--who had previously called for U.S. recognition of Taiwan as a separate nation (thus, opposing the U.S. official position of "one-China") and who had received money from Taiwan--would have to recuse himself from Taiwan-related issues. Bolton provided the obligatory reassurances. The Democrats were also concerned with his arch-conservative approach to arms control and foreign policy issues. (They had cause to fear. See the March 11, 2002, "Capital Games" dispatch below, "Bush's New Nuclear Weapon Plan: A Shot at Nonproliferation.") For his part, Senator Jesse Helms, then chairman of the committee, declared, "John Bolton is the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, or what the Bible describes as the final battle between good and evil in this world."

Bolton acknowledged his financial connection to Taiwan, but he did not mention he had previously appeared before Congress and given testimony supporting Taiwan without revealing then he was on that nation's payroll. On July 14, 1994, and August 3, 1995, Bolton testified before the House foreign affairs committee. Each time he identified himself as a former assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs. (At the second appearance, he also referred to himself as president of the National Policy Forum, a conservative think tank.) His prepared testimony for each session began the same way: "I believe that the United States should support the efforts of the Republic of China on Taiwan to become a full member of the United Nations." In neither instance did he note he was a paid adviser to the Taiwan government.

Shouldn't Bolton have told the House committee in 1994 and 1995 that he was a consultant to Taiwan--that he was not only a policy advocate with a long-term interest in the subject? These appearances also raise the question of whether he should have registered as a foreign agent. At the time of his confirmation hearing last year, a "source close to the State Department" told The Washington Post that Bolton, a lawyer, had been exempted from registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act because he was "providing legal services." Indeed, the Justice Department's Foreign Agents Registration Unit notes on its website that "lawyers engaged in legal representation of foreign principals in the courts or similar type proceedings" are exempt. But Bolton was not representing Taiwan within a legal forum, and the Justice Department unit says a lawyer is exempt "so long as the attorney does not try to influence policy at the behest of his client." Bolton was obviously hoping to influence policy when he came before the House foreign affairs committee. But was he doing so on behalf of Taiwan?

According to that "source close to the State Department," Bolton claimed he was not paid or directed by Taiwan to testify before the House committee. Still, this is a matter Bolton should address himself. And Bolton, Carl Ford, and Jim Kelly ought to respond about their role--witting or unwitting--in Taiwan's secret campaign to gain influence in Washington and elsewhere. Doesn't the American public deserve to know what Taiwan was up to? Whether it took advantage of past and future U.S. officials? Moreover, the State Department and President Bush should have something to say about Taiwan's clandestine project to shape U.S. policy. Yet there is little pressure on any of these parties to talk. A search of the major U.S. newspapers turns up no references to the Taiwan scandal after the Post piece.

The scandal out of Taiwan is ripe for congressional digging. How far was the slush slopped? Were any other former or current U.S. officials exploited by Taiwan? And think of it this way: what would the Republicans have done had three senior Clinton State Department officials been handed money from a foreign leader's secret operations account? Taiwangate has been causing much noise in Asia. But not even a page-one story in the Post is enough to stir a fuss here. How lucky for the Taiwangate Three--and the man who appointed them.

British Tell Blair Not to Be President's 'Poodle'

"I made up my mind that Saddam needs to go," President Bush told Britain's ITV News as he prepared for the arrival of British Prime Minister Tony Blair Friday for weekend meetings at the presidential ranch in Crawford, Texas. Though recent violence on the West Bank and in Israel has shifted the focus of press attention to what Bush and Blair will have to say about that conflict, the president's blunt remark was a reminder that this meeting of allies was originally organized as a forum to explore how Saddam Hussein's Iraq could be made the next target of an expanding "war on terrorism."

Blair reportedly arrived in Crawford with plans to tell Bush that talk of launching a war on Iraq ought to be put on hold at least until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict calms. The question that remains is whether Blair will give Bush an honest report on British sentiments regarding plans for an eventual attack on Iraq by the U.S. and Britain. If the prime minister does that, the summit will not provide Bush with much in the way of encouragement.

It turns out that Blair, who has been the president's most enthusiastic international ally since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, has been having a very hard time making the case at home for British support of a U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

Indeed, some of the loudest opposition to a Bush-Blair alliance on Iraq is coming from within the prime minister's own Labor party and from the national newspaper that historically has been most supportive of Labor Party initiatives.

Dismissing Blair's sympathy for the American president's military strategies as misguided, the mass-circulation Mirror newspaper has taken to referring to the prime minister as "the president's poodle." "We didn't do so lightly -- but the truth is the prime minister has done nothing but play lapdog to the Washington Red Neck," Mirror editors wrote in an editorial that appeared Friday morning. "Whenever Bush has barked, Mr. Blair has rolled over with his legs in the air. As other European leaders held back from jumping to Bush's demands (on Iraq), Britain under Blair has rushed forward with embarrassing haste."

The Mirror told the poodle to show his teeth in Crawford. "When (Blair) sits down with Bush, he must remember just what sort of man the president is. He's ruthless -- a man who has sent hundreds of convicts to the execution chamber. A president determined to take the war wherever he wants," the newspaper argued. Referring to Bush's enthusiasm for war with Iraq, the newspaper argued, "Mr. Blair must be the voice of reason. He must stand up to Bush and, if needs be, say 'no.'"

Though the U.S. media has given little notice to Blair's homeland insecurities, the story is front-page news in London. "Blair threatened with huge revolt over Iraq stance," read a headline this week in The Independent, a national daily newspaper. "PM faces dissent on Iraq after supportive words for Bush's fighting talk," read a recent headline in The Guardian newspaper. When Dick Cheney arrived in London last month to consult with Blair regarding Iraq, the Mirror headlined its story on the meeting: "An American Warwolf in London."

Polls show that a majority of British voters oppose an attack on Iraq. Anti-war demonstrations have drawn tens of thousands. And British Home Secretary David Blunkett reportedly briefed a meeting of Blair's Cabinet last month on the danger, if the British military joined a U.S. attack on Iraq, that riots could break out in the streets of British cities.

The opposition Conservative Party has generally backed Blair's talk of taking on Iraq, although some Tories wavered when senior British military sources told reporters that, "We are not aware of evidence, intelligence or otherwise, that the Iraqi government or its agencies are passing on weapons of mass destruction to al-Qa'ida. Nor have we seen any credible evidence linking the Iraqi government to the September 11 attacks."

Leaders of the Liberal Democrats, Britain's third party -- which has 53 members of parliament, including a former Labor Party member who recently switched because of his opposition to Britain's role in the bombing of Afghanistan -- are openly critical of Blair for following Bush's "Lone Star nation" line too closely.

Some of the toughest criticism of Blair comes from within the Labor Party. More than 120 of the party's members of parliament have signed a House of Commons motion expressing "deep unease" about any British alliance with the U.S. to attack Iraq. Former Labor Party Cabinet minister Tony Benn, a Blair critic, says, "The objections from parliament are very significant because, of course, the parliamentary party is far more supportive of Blair's position than the grassroots of the party."

The Campaign Group, an organization of Labor parliament members that is a British version of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the U.S., is urging Britain's 641 local Labor party organizations to pass resolutions opposing British participation in any new military assault on Iraq. Many Campaign Group members have been loud critics of Saddam Hussein, and remain so. But they are objecting now to expanded British involvement in a war against a country that, to their view, does not pose a significant terrorist threat.

"If Britain is trying to be a global policeman on the U.S. scale, the money is going to come from hospitals, schools, pensions and the other necessities of people's lives," explained Alice Mahon, a Labor Party member of parliament. Critics also warn that a massive strike by the U.S. and Britain against Iraq will, in the words of former British Foreign Office minister Tony Lloyd "further polarize and alienate opinion within the Middle East and broader afield."

"The cause of terrorism is not fanatics, extremists, fundamentalists but instability, disempowerment, marginalization and the anger generated by these combined factors," says Labor Member of Parliament Ian Gibson. "If the United States invades Iraq, it will nourish these sentiments in the Middle East."

Are the Labor Party critics of Blair merely a fringe element? In fact, one of the most outspoken foes of an attack on Iraq is International Development Secretary Clare Short, who told reporters she would quit Blair's Cabinet if Britain joined a U.S. strike on Iraq without United Nations backing. Former Culture Minister Chris Smith has been critical of the rush to war. And Tam Dalyell, the longest serving Labor Party member in the parliament, has been a fierce critic of advisors who have pushed Blair to align with the U.S. rather than follow the direction of the United Nations.

When a Blair foreign policy advisor recently proposed that Britain might join U.S. military interventions as part of "a new kind of imperialism," Dalyell declared, ""The Tsarina of Russia was better advised by Rasputin than the prime minister is by this maniac."