Aside from the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving is the most distinctly American of our national holidays.
As such, if we see it as more than just the day before the Christmas shopping season begins, Thanksgiving offers an opportunity to reflect on the direction of the nation.
The Pilgrims who came ashore at Plymouth Rock were not the first Americans. But their story, and their relatively peaceful interactions with the Indians who welcomed them to the region, form an essential part of the national narrative for many Americans.
It is as a touchstone for self-reflection and self-assessment that this day is most meaningful. Indeed, if we are to have any chance of making America the country it should be, it seems most likely that the process would begin on a day so rich in historical references as Thanksgiving.
This is not a contemporary observation spun out in the aftermath of a particularly disappointing national election. Rather, it is a variation on the theme taken up by Daniel Webster when he delivered one of the most remarkable speeches in the history of American oratory.
Late in the fall of 1820, two hundred years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Webster, then a young political figure who was still rising to prominence, was invited to deliver an oration on the site of their arrival. He used the opportunity not merely to reflect but to engage in the painful process of contrasting historic ideals with contemporary compromises. In addition to physical memorials to the Pilgrims' progress, Webster said, "we would leave here, also, for the generations which are rising up rapidly to fill our places, some proof that we have endeavored to transmit the great inheritance unimpaired; that in our estimate of public principles and private virtue, in our veneration of religion and piety, in our devotion to civil and religions liberty, in our regard for whatever advances human knowledge or improves human happiness, we are not altogether unworthy of our origin."
Noting the communal nature of the Pilgrim experiment, which broke from the feudal structures of the European lands they had fled, Webster warned that America was becoming less equal. And, he added, "The freest government, if it could exist, would not be long acceptable if the tendency of the laws were to create a rapid accumulation of property in few hands, and to render the great mass of the population dependent and penniless."
But Webster did not limit himself to vague economic theory. He spoke specifically of America's original sin: the practice of slavery.
"I deem it my duty on this occasion to suggest, that the land is not yet wholly free from the contamination of a traffic, at which every feeling of humanity must for ever revolt -- I mean the African slave-trade. Neither public sentiment, nor the law, has hitherto been able entirely to put an end to his odious and abominable trade," said Webster, who spoke at a time when most politicians refused to address the question of human bondage.
"At the moment when God in his mercy has blessed the Christian world with a universal peace, there is reason to fear, that, to the disgrace of the Christian name and character, new efforts are making for the extension of this trade by subjects and citizens of Christian states, in whose hearts there dwell no sentiments of humanity or of justice, and over whom neither the fear of God nor the fear of man exercises a control. In the sight of our law, the African slave-trader is a pirate and a felon; and in the sight of Heaven, an offender beyond the ordinary depth of human guilt."
Those were radical words for the times. And to utter them in the midst of a discussion of America's founding and heritage was considered inappropriate by the guardians of political propriety. But Daniel Webster used that day well, just as we should use this day -- to call this country to the higher ground.
The best question asked in the aftermath of the 2004 US election came from a British newspaper, The Daily Mirror, which inquired over a picture of George W. Bush, "How can 59,054,087 be so dumb?
Now, another British newspaper has answered the question. A new marketing campaign for The Weekly Guardian, one of the most respected publications in the world, features images of a dancing Bush and notes that, "Many US citizens think the world backed the war in Iraq. Maybe it's the papers they're reading."
The weekly compendium of articles and analyses of global affairs from Britain's liberal Guardian newspaper has long been regarded as an antidote to government controlled, spun and inept local media. Nelson Mandela, when he was held in South Africa's Pollsmor Prison, referred to the Weekly Guardian as a "window on the wider world."
But is it really appropriate to compare the United States in 2004 with a warped media market like South Africa during apartheid days?
Actually, the comparison may be a bit unfair to South African media in the apartheid era--when many courageous journalists struggled to speak truth to power.
No serious observer of the current circumstance in the United States would suggest that our major media serves the cause of democracy. Years of consolidation and bottom-line pressures have forced even once responsible media to allow entertainment and commercial values to supersede civic and democratic values when making news decisions. And the determination to color within the lines of official spin is such that even the supposed pinnacles of the profession--the New York Times, the Washington Post and CBS News' 60 Minutes--have been forced to acknowledge that they got the story of the rush to war with Iraq wrong.
There can be apologies. But there cannot be excuses because, of course, media in the rest of the world got that story right.
And there are consequences when major media blows big stories. As the Weekly Guardian's new marketing campaign suggests, a lot of Americans voted for George W. Bush on November 2 on the basis of wrong assumptions.
According to a survey conducted during the fall campaign season by the Program on International Policy Attitudes--a joint initiative of the Center on Policy Attitudes and the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs--a lot of what Americans know is wrong.
Despite the fact that surveys by the Gallup organization and other polling firms have repeatedly confirmed that the vast majority of citizens of other countries opposed the war in Iraq, the PIPA survey found that only 31 percent of Bush supporters recognized that the majority of people in the world opposed the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq.
Amazingly, according to the PIPA poll, 57 percent of Bush supporters assumed that the majority of people in the world would favor Bush's reelection, while only 33 percent assumed that global views regarding Bush were evenly divided. Only 9 percent of Bush backers correctly assumed that Kerry was the world's choice.
That wasn't the end of the misperception.
"Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72 percent of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47 percent) or a major program for developing them (25 percent)," explained the summary of PIPA's polling. "Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57 percent also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program."
"Similarly," the pollsters found, "75 percent of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63 percent believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55 percent assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission."
PIPA analysts suggest that the "tendency of Bush supporters to ignore dissonant information" offers some explanation for these numbers. And there is something to that. After all, Kerry backers displayed a far sounder sense of reality in PIPA surveys.
But unless we want to assume that close to 60 million Americans look at the world only through Bush-colored glasses, there has to be some acceptance of the fact that good citizens who consume American media come away with dramatic misconceptions about the most vital issues of the day.
Sure, Fox warps facts intentionally. But what about CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, USA Today, the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as most local media across the country? They may strive to be more accurate than Fox or talk-radio personalities such as Rush Limbaugh. But they still fed the American people an inaccurate picture when they allowed the Bush team to peddle lies about Iraq and other issues without aggressively and consistently challenging those misstatements of fact.
America has many great journalists. And there are still good newspapers, magazines and broadcast programs. But, taken as a whole, US media--with its obsessive focus on John Kerry's Vietnam record, its neglect of fundamental economic and environmental issues and its stenographic repetition of even the most absurd claims by the president and vice president--warped the debate in 2004.
Some of those 59,054,087 Bush voters may have been dumb.
But a far better explanation for the election result is summed up by the Weekly Guardian's observation that, "Maybe it's the papers they're reading."
In the pregame highlights for the next two years of Republican one-party rule, rightwing radicals dropped their towels and exposed themselves in all their naked ambition last week. It wasn't a pretty sight.
Tom DeLay's buddies voted to lower their Party's ethical standards to protect their conflict-ridden leader over the objection of moderate stalwarts like Christopher Shay.
Arm-twisted behind his back, Arlen Specter cried "Uncle" and signed a White House loyalty oath before he was allowed to replace Orrin Hatch as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a humiliation unprecedented in the history of our constitutional system of checks and balances.
Two Congressional staffers slipped a provision into the Omnibus spending bill giving two committee chairmen and their assistants access to every American citizen's tax returns.
And in a Pacers vs. Piston-like brawl in the House Republican caucus, Defense Department patsies shot down the unarmed Intelligence Reform Bill, much to the shock and awe of Senate Republicans like Pat Roberts, Chuck Hagel and Susan Collins.
It would seem the only thing worse than being a Democrat these days is being a moderate Republican. One has to wonder: how long will they stand the humiliations, the slights, the powerlessness before they defect like Jim Jeffords?
At this rate, executive producer Karl Rove's TV hit, The Permanent Republican Majority, may be cancelled sooner than anyone previously expected.
(Originally published on November 22)
Days ago, I was speaking with a security consultant freshly back from a trip to Iraq, and I asked for his prognosis. It's terrible, he said. We're not winning. "What about Fallujah?" I inquired. "Hasn't the city been retaken?" "Forget Falluja," this former military officer said. "All you have to know is the road to BIAP cannot be traveled safely."
BIAP--that's the Baghdad International Airport. And since the invasion this six mile stretch of road has been insecure, a hair-raising and dangerous strip of territory. When my friend was making arrangements to travel to Baghdad--he's in search of small-scale reconstruction contracts that can be fulfilled using Iraqi workers--he jokingly told his partners in Iraq that when they pick him up at the airport they should bring an AK-47 he could use. Well, upon his arrival at BIAP (pronounced BYE-APP), he was met by two cars packed with armed bodyguards, and someone did toss him a gun. Then off they went, practically flying down the BIAP road--which he says bears an uncanny resemblance to the Dulles airport road, which meanders through rolling hills of suburbia--at 80 miles per hour. A ride to the airport these days, he was told, can cost up to $6000. (That's not a typo.)
He encountered no trouble. But he had in his mind an ambush that happened a few months back on the BIAP road. Two SUVs were carrying private security contractors who work for Blackwater Security Consulting. (In April, four Blackwater employees were killed in Fallujah; the bodies of two of them were burnt by mobs and hung from a bridge.) A van came flying down an access road and pulled alongside the lead SUV. The door to van opened and machine-gun fire blasted the SUV, which came to a halt. The rear SUV was forced to a stop. A pitched battle ensued, with the Blackwater employees firing back until the fuel tanks of their vehicles exploded. At least three Blackwater employees were killed. My source says he was told four were killed. (There was little media coverage of this incident.) And all the insurgents escaped. "This was in the afternoon!" my friend exclaimed. "Nothing stops them from attacking. Nothing stops them from getting away. Imagine this on the road to Dulles. There must have been at least fifteen of them, pulling off a classic L-ambush. Now what does this tell the Iraqi people? That the Americans cannot secure a small stretch of highway. It runs straight from the airport to the entrance of the Green Zone. And it's not secure. That says it all."
It does--to be polite about it--raise questions. In the aftermath of the Fallujah offensive, military commanders have told reporters that the United States has the insurgents on the run. But the "win" in Fallujah has sparked fighting elsewhere: Mosul, Ramadi, Samarra, Baghdad, and Baqubah. And this "win" has prompted talk that the US military may need an extra 3000 to 5000 troops because securing Fallujah and overseeing reconstruction there will tie up a large number of American soldiers. As The Washington Post reports, senior military officials have predicted a gap in desired troop strength over the next two to three months--which is, of course, the period leading up to and including the scheduled January 30 national assembly elections.
When you're done reading this article,visit David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent entries on the budget follies of the Congressional Republicans (and how they tried to get access to your tax records) and whether the Iraq invasion can be considered a humanitarian act.
Interim Iraqi leader Ayad Allawi boldly claims the insurgency will be crushed before voting occurs. The Fallujah offensive, according to the US military, did kill 1600 or so enemy fighters. But it also made the military's job harder. A senior military intelligence officer--who, of course, could not speak on the record about such things--told the Post, "Our assessment is that the insurgency remains viable. One of the things we see the insurgents doing is moving to areas where we don't have a lot of presence." Which means the US military will have to stretch itself further.
This is not to dismiss the tough work done by the troops. But the Fallujah operation shows how difficult it is to deal with a rebellion of this sort. And how much (further) damage was done to the United States' image when video footage of an American GI shooting a man lying on the floor of a mosque point blank was broadcast throughout the Arab world and elsewhere? In the meantime, a study conducted by Iraq's Healthy Ministry in conjunction with Norway's Institute for Applied International Studies and the UN Development program, found that acute malnutrition among younger children in Iraq has doubled since the invasion. The study estimated that 400,000 children were suffering from "wasting"--chronic diarrhea and serious protein deficiencies. And the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank that used to have a conservative reputation, has declared that health care in Iraq is worsening at a fast pace.
Iraq remains a mess. And Bush offers only the now all-too-familiar happy-talk. When confronted by a Chilean reporter while in Santiago for a meeting of Pacific Rim nations, Bush said that even opponents of the war have "got to agree with" his opinion that the world is better off with Saddam Hussein in jail. Perhaps. But Bush should ask the families of the "wasting" children of Iraq if they "got to agree." And he offers no idea of what to do in Iraq other than--as John Kerry might mournfully say--more of the same. "The United States of America will stay the course and we will complete the task," he said in Chile. But what precisely is the course? That is, what's his plan? Limp along to elections that have a scintilla of legitimacy and then declare victory and withdraw? Or pour in the greater number of troops--and it may take tens of thousands of more--to do what is necessary to secure the country, even if such action further alienates the nonviolent citizens of Iraq?
The election has not rid Bush of the basic dilemma in Iraq. Fight harder and deal with the consequences of a more aggressive US presence or pull back and acknowledge (explicitly or not) a severe miscalculation was made. While Bush was in Chile, a Republican official who had been briefed by the White House on its efforts to improve relations overseas told the Post, "What they want is to develop and strengthen alliances, but in the direction of US policy. They think Bush has more leverage after the election to engage other countries, but they're not changing their policy. They believe nothing succeeds like success, and they look at the pretty hard-nosed, unilateral foreign policy of the past four years as having succeeded." Iraq is a success? If this is success, then what is the Bush gang going to do for an encore? (Iran, anyone?) In any event, my security consultant friend has this advice: keep an eye on the highway to BIAP. That's where the rhetoric meets the road.
IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."
For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there
Bush has appointed Torture Guy to run the American "Justice" Department, his "work wife" to serve as America's top diplomat, and a partisan hatchet man, Porter Goss, to subject the CIA's analysts and covert operatives to loyalty oaths. It is hard to imagine how Bush's appointments could get any worse, but here are five suggestions:
Ahmed Chalabi--Ambassador to Iran. Since he's going to spy for them anyway, it'd be better to keep him inside the tent in Tehran and away from any useful information in either Iraq or the United States. Besides he could be our secret weapon against the Mullahs--as he's proven in Jordan, Iraq, and America, he is a parasite capable of seriously damaging any host nation.
James Dobson--Chief Justice. He turned out the evangelicals for Bush, he expects his "values" agenda to be rewarded or else he will turn on the Republicans, and he doesn't think Alberto Gonzales is sufficiently anti-Roe to deserve the job. Besides he's a big believer in spanking, and someone needs to protect corporal punishment from 8th amendment activist judges.
Dennis Hastert--Middle East Envoy. He certainly has the free time, and he's used to holding an important sounding job without having any real power of his own. His appointment would powerfully signal to Ariel Sharon that we want to go through the motions of a "peace process" without changing the status quo.
Sean Hannity--White House Press Secretary. With Helen Thomas out, and a cowed press corps scrambling for sources back in, there's no reason to soft-shoe the Fourth Estate. After all, the media is the last check on Republican one-party rule. It's best to crush them with someone who's had daily practice at fairly balancing a soft, thoughtful, well-meaning liberal into the dustbin of history.
Richard Perle--Director of NSA. Many are the Republicans who are ethically-challenged (Tom De Lay) and many more who were completely wrong about the Iraq War (Donald Rumsfeld), but very few embody both more completely than Perle. Since second terms inevitably founder in the face of high profile scandals, why not bring him in to serve as a potential scapegoat.
See below for an update
More than 10,000 activists from across the US--including actors Martin Sheen and Susan Sarandon and musicians Amy Ray and Utah Phillips--will gather at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia, this Saturday and Sunday to call for the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas.
A combat training facility for Latin American soldiers, the school has served as a de-stabilizing force in Central and South America since its formation in 1946--having trained more than 60,000 soldiers in courses such as counter-insurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. Graduates of the facility return to their countries to utilize their training domestically and are consistently cited for human rights violations throughout Latin America on behalf of repressive rightwing, US-supported governments.
From the slayings of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador in 1989 to the continued human rights abuses in Colombia, many of the most atrocious crimes of the past 50 years have their roots in the US-operated School of the Americas. The inhumane--and in some cases illegal--tactics taught at the institute have repeatedly been used against union organizers, educators, and religious workers.
Many American eyes were opened this past year with the Abu Ghraib revelations to the fact that the US does indeed use torture. The activists at SOA Watch have been in the vanguard of trying to halt the United States's role in propagating torture globally since the organization's founding in 1990. A grassroots group working in solidarity with the people of Latin America to close the military institute, SOA Watch stages an annual demonstration and rally and organizes lobbying, letter-writing and public awareness campaigns all year long.
Click here to learn more about SOA Watch, click here to make a contribution to support the group's efforts, click here if you'd like to join SOA Watch's Research Working Group and click here if you'd like to volunteer on one of the organization's campaigns.
Update, November 22
At least 20 people were arrested yesterday while protesting the School of the Americas. Charges filed against the demonstrators range from trespassing to "wearing a mask," a violation of a rarely invoked 1951 law originally aimed at fighting the Ku Klux Klan. Those arrested were among about a record 16,000 people who demonstrated outside the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, calling for the school to be shut down.
If you want some straight talk in these days of the Democratic Leadership Council's calls to retreat to a monastery or move to the center, check out Howard Dean's feisty comments about his vision for the Democratic Party and what he thinks went down in this election.
In a speech to students at Northwestern University last week, Dean fired back at the Right; he called Reverend Jerry Falwell a hate-monger, and described Justice Antonin Scalia as "sarcastic and mean-spirited." And in a jab at the conservative Club for Growth's ad attacks on him as a "latte-drinking, Volvo-driving, body-piercing, left-wing freak show" who should head back to Vermont, Dean explained, "I don't drink coffee. I have three cars--all of them are American. " "No part of me is pierced that I'm willing to discuss publicly," he added. "And if you want to see a freak show, go look at the people who wrote that ad..."
Dean ended by calling on the students to run for office. In a playful twist on his now infamous "Dean Scream," he shouted, "You need to run for office--not just in Illinois and Ohio and South Carolina! You need to run for office in Mississippi, and Alabama, and Idaho and Texas and..."
Two weeks before the 2004 presidential election, the Bush administration's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, made a solemn pronouncement about her desire to remain outside the political fight between Democrat John Kerry and the man who this week appointed her to serve as Secretary of State. "I think it's important that we not campaign," Rice said of national security aides. She emphasized that this was a particular concern because "we are in a time of war."
Rice made her comments during an interview with the political editor of KDKA, a Pittsburgh-based television powerhouse with a reach capable of taking her words into the homes of millions of voters in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
Then, in a display of her nonpolitical approach, Rice proceeded to rip into Kerry's charge that the administration had botched the search for Osama bin Laden. Kerry's assertion "is just not true," raged Rice, before again refuting the notion that she was campaigning for Bush.
The next day, she flew to Cleveland, Ohio, the largest city in the most hotly contested of all the battleground states and trashed Kerry once more.
Two days later, she was in south Florida, one of the most hotly contested regions of another battleground state where again she dumped on Kerry's strategies for defending the United States before declaring, "The global war on terror calls us, as President Bush immediately understood, to marshall all the elements of our national power to beat terror and the ideology of hatred that protects (terrorists) and recruits others to their ranks."
During the months of September and October of 2001, Rice made no public appearances outside Washington, during September and October of 2002, she made one New York appearance, during September and October of 2003, she appeared in New York and Chicago. But as the November 2 election approached, Rice suddenly discovered the joys of Pittsburgh and Detroit. With the man who she once mistakenly referred to as "my husband" locked in a tough reelection campaign, Rice appeared during the fall of 2004 at least one time each in the battleground states of Oregon, Washington, North Carolina, Michigan and Florida, and at least twice in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Rice's travels were, for the most part, paid for by the taxpayers. And her aides insisted throughout the campaign season that, in the words of James Wilkinson, a deputy national security advisor, "Dr. Rice has continued the nonpolitical tradition of her post."
That pronouncement was so laughable, however, that the Washington Post, which did the ablest job of tracking Rice's travels in the months prior to the election, observed, "The frequency and location of her speeches differ sharply from those before this election year -- and appear to break with the long-standing precedent that the national security adviser try to avoid overt involvement in the presidential campaign. Her predecessors generally restricted themselves to an occasional speech, often in Washington, but (by late October) Rice will have made nine outside Washington since Labor Day."
The woman who claimed she could not appear before the bipartisan committee investigating the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington because it would break precedents set by past national security advisers had no qualms about breaking past precedents when it came to using her position to advance her favorite politician's interests. "I'm afraid this represents, at least in my book, excessive politicization of an office which is unusually sensitive," Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Carter administration's national security, said of Rice's pre-election travels. Brzezinski confirmed the Post's observation that past national security advisers had "viewed the job as not a highly political one."
Obviously, Rice had a different view. Her political campaigning was so blatant and so extensive that the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, U.S. Representative John Conyers, D-Michigan, sought a special counsel investigation of whether Rice had violated the Hatch Act's provisions against campaigning by federal employees who are on the job. "(Any) political activity on the part of the national security adviser would undermine the trust bestowed on such a non-partisan post," argued Conyers in a letter requesting the inquiry.
Of course, there was never any question that Rice was engaging in political activity. The only question was: For who? To be sure, her busy schedule in the battleground states -- which supplemented speeches with high-profile interviews with local television stations and newspapers -- helped Bush. But it also helped Rice.
After Rice appeared in that city in September, the Seattle Times newspaper pointed out that, "Rice sounded at times like a candidate." In a sense, she was. Prior to the election, Washington was abuzz with speculation about the all-but-certain departure of Secretary of State Colin Powell, the closest thing the administration had to an independent man of government -- as opposed to the programmed politicos who peopled most major posts in the Bush White House. Rice, who began campaigning for the Secretary of State post before the 2000 election, did not want there to be any doubt on the part of Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney, the man who runs foreign policy for the administration, that she would be a more loyal and dramatically more politicized player than Powell.
And so she shall be.
Rice, whose many excuses for refusing to appear before the 9/11 Commission included a claim that she was too wrapped up in the serious work of analyzing potential threats to the nation, has always been able to find time for political work on behalf of the Bush-Cheney team -- and on behalf of her own ambition. In March, at the same time that she was stonewalling the 9/11 Commission, Rice found time to deliver an extended briefing to top executives from television networks, magazines, newspapers and other media properties owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. conglomerate. Even as Spain's new prime minister was talking about withdrawing his country's troops from Iraq, and Poland's president was suggesting that he might do the same, Rice blocked out time to speak via satellite to the Murdoch lieutenants gathered at the posh Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Cancun, Mexico.
Certainly, her appearance helped to cement the relationship between the Bush administration and Murdoch's media empire, which includes the Fox broadcast and cable networks, the relentlessly pro-Bush New York Post and the neoconservative Weekly Standard magazine. But it also helped to position Rice as a Bush administration player who, unlike Colin Powell, recognized the need to care for friendly media.
Where Bush, Cheney and the neoconservative readers and advisers who have populated key positions inside the administration and at its edges never trusted Powell, they know they can count on Rice. Just as she politicized the national security adviser to an extent never before seen, she will politicize the State Department. Any pretense of independence or pragmatism will be discarded as quickly as was the tradition of keeping the national security adviser out of politics.
With Powell, its feeble defender, on the way out of the State Department, the last small voices of dissent within the foreign policy bureaucracy will begin to fall silent. If Rice is confirmed, as seems certain considering the partisan divide in the Senate, the Department of State where Thomas Jefferson, William Jennings Bryan and George Marshall once presided, will be little more than an arm of the White House political operation. And the Secretary of State, who has already proven herself to be more interested in campaigning than in defending the best interests of the nation or its security, will not be a diplomat. She will be a politician, nothing more and, certainly, nothing less.
John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, has just been released by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."
Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and by clicking here.
Some days it feels like 1925--when William Jennings Bryan defended the merits of creationism in the Scopes Monkey trial--all over again.
I've written before about how the Right wants to dismantle the achievements of the 20th century--the New Deal, environmentalism, civil rights and civil liberties. But now rightwing social conservatives, our home-grown fundamentalists, are seeking to unravel the scaffolding of science and reason, and this battle deserves attention from humanists of all stripes. One of the most virulent expressions of the rightwing assault on modernity is the war against evolution being waged in America's classrooms and courtrooms, parks and civic institutions.
Slipping creationism into civic discussions picked up steam in the 1990s. That's when Kansas issued new state science guidelines in which "evolution" was replaced with the phrase "change over time," and Illinois made a similar change.
In Oklahoma and Alabama, creationists inserted disclaimers into biology textbooks which cast doubt on evolution. In 1999, school boards in Arizona, Alabama, Illinois, New Mexico, Texas and Nebraska tried to modify the teaching of evolution, in some cases trying to have it excised from the state standards.
Now, we're into the 21st century, Bush is in the White House for another four years, and creationists feel emboldened to impose their beliefs on secular America. From schools to parks, creationists are moving aggressively.
The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/26/science 26cany.html?ex=1256529600&en=66af410f8a71ca6f&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland"> recently reported that six stores in the Grand Canyon National Park are selling a book called Grand Canyon: A Different View. Its wild theory has no factual basis: God, argues the author, created the Grand Canyon in Noah's flood and the flood was intended to destroy "the wickedness of man."
The issue of whether this book should be on sale in park service stores is under review in the solicitor's office of the US Interior Department. But Interior has been silent for almost a year now, in spite of a scientific consensus that hydrology, over millions of years, caused the Grand Canyon's formation, not God's hand. The government should stand on the side of science.
Meanwhile, in Cobb County, Georgia in 2002, the Board of Education unanimously approved the teaching of creationism in public schools. The decision, promised the school board, would provide students with "a balanced education."
In Ohio, educators and parents are promoting the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools; proponents believe that a higher power created human life. And in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, a school board has just revised its science curriculum to permit creationist teachings in local classrooms. (The science curriculum "should not be totally inclusive of just one scientific theory," declared Joni Burgin, the school district's superintendent.)
The rightwing assault on the Enlightenment extends well beyond putting creationism on equal footing with evolutionary science. The Bush Administration has truncated stem cell research, promoted abstinence-only sex education, undermined Roe v. Wade and supported federal funding for faith-based institutions. "Respect for evidence seems not to pertain any more," Garry Wills recently argued in an op-ed. (Somedays, it seems like it's only a matter of time before two guests on CNN's Crossfire are given equal time and equal weight in George Bush's America to debate the merits of the creationist argument.)
In Texas, just days after the election, the Board of Education approved health textbooks that explicitly defined marriage as a union of a man and a woman. Two of America's largest academic publishers--Holt, Rinehart and Winston and Glencoe/McGraw-Hill--capitulated to the board by removing from the text all words like "partners" and phrases like "when two people marry" and replacing them with more traditional circumlocutions like "husbands and wives."
"We thought it was a reasonable thing to do," explained a Holt spokesman. (Wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that Texas is the second-largest buyer of textbooks in the country?)
Activists must join with the ACLU, People for the American Way and the National Coalition against Censorship (NCAC) in fighting off attempts to turn the clock back. "We work with other organizations to provide background and supporting information [and] are always available to help find the right person to give testimony" before school boards, said Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition.
NCAC organized a coalition of progressive groups that signed a statement opposing censorship in sex education. It was sent to every member of Congress and scores of state legislators. The Coalition also stresses partnerships with local groups, encourages letter-writing campaigns to school boards, text-book publishers and local papers and promotes "stirring the pot" to bring publicity and pressure to bear on this crusade against science and reason.
The ACLU, meanwhile, is working with parents to sue the Cobb County School Board in federal district court. Cobb County put stickers in three biology textbooks that warned: "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."
The stickers, argues the ACLU, promote the teaching of creationism and violate the Constitutional separation of church and state. "The religious views of some that contradict science cannot dictate curriculum," said ACLU attorney Maggie Garrett. The Supreme Court has already ruled that teaching creationism has no place in science class, but the ACLU is aggressively re-fighting this battle in Georgia for the sake of religious freedom, knowledge and reasoning.
While creationist groups like the Discovery Institute wage war against evolution in states like Texas, local groups like Stand Up For Science composed of Texas scientists, religious leaders and parents have formed to lead the fight against censoring textbooks there. And the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the religious right, has taken on publishers like Holt Rinehart that put stickers in textbooks challenging evolution.
"Rather than stand up for keeping good science standards in textbooks, Holt Rinehart has compromised the education of Texas students," said Samantha Smoot, the Network's executive director, in August 2003.
People of reason must be savvy, and just as tough as the intolerant Right, in defending scientific discovery and the ideal of human progress from the retrogressive forces now rallying behind this White House. With a messianic militarist in the Oval Office, social conservatives are seizing the initiative and assailing the Enlightenment. Time is not on our side.
Last July, the Washington Post devoted much of its front-page to a well-reported story indicting National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice for her role in misleading Congress and the public in the run-up to the Iraq war. The bottom line: Rice was either incompetent or a liar.
Even sources described as "generally sympathetic" to the NSC adviser questioned her many shifting and contradictory statements regarding Iraq's alleged uranium purchase and the WMD (non)threat. But Rice's dogged loyalty to Bush served her well, and she stayed put.
In August, barely noticed during the campaign, former chief weapons inspector David Kay went before Congress and in impassioned testimony spent most of his time faulting Rice for botching intelligence information before the war. Kay's remarks reflected a widespread view among intelligence specialists that Rice and the NSC have never been held sufficiently accountable for intelligence failures before the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq.
Bush's nomination of Rice to replace Colin Powell as Secretary of State today is just another sign of how this Administration continues to define failure down. As even the Washington Post's lead editorial this morning acknowledged: "...It is a measure of the stunning absence of accountability under Mr. Bush that it is Mr. Powell who leaves, while the architects of the failed and even disastrous policies [Powell] opposed, from postwar Iraq to Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, remain in office."