The decision of CBS News to delay the broadcast of an investigation into how the Bush administration manipulated intelligence and played upon fears in order to make the case for war with Iraq is the most unsettling development yet in a political year that has beem defined by unsettling moments.
CBS News officials, rocked by the controversy surrounding the journalistic missteps of veteran anchor Dan Rather and "60 Minutes" staffers in putting together what should have been an easy report on President Bush's troubled tenure in the Texas National Guard, have announced that they will wait until after the November 2 election to broadcast a much-anticipated investigation of the steps the administration took to warp the debate about whether to go to war.
The fear, at least as it is officially expressed by CBS, is that revealing the extent of the administration's misdeeds might influence the outcome of the election by letting the American people in on what has really been going on in Washington. Thus, a CBS statement announced, "We now believe it would be inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election."
Critics of CBS will, of course, speculate that the decision had less to do with a desire to be fair and balanced than with a fear on the part of corporate honchos that the airing of the expose would lead to new charges that the network is displaying an anti-Bush bias. After the fiasco involving doctored documents regarding Bush's time in the Guard, CBS insiders admit that they are afraid to broadcast reports about the doctored documents the Bush administration used to make its "case" for war.
Critics also note that Sumner Redstone, CEO of CBS's parent company Viacom, has now repeatedly suggested in public statements and interviews that "from a Viacom standpoint, we believe the election of a Republican administration is better for our company."
But let's put these legitimate concerns aside and accept CBS at its word.
Let's accept that the network does not want to air the report before the election because of genuine concerns on the part of CBS News professionals and CBS corporate officials about the impact of sharing the truth with the American people might have on voting patterns.
But let's also be clear about what has happened here: CBS News has ceased to be a news organization.
A network that worries about whether its reports will offend the people who are in power is no longer practicing journalism. And a network that is so worried about being accused of bias that it will not reveal the truth to its viewers is no longer in the business of distributing news.
Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the other founders of this country created the framework for a free press, and fought mightily to defend the rights of dissident editors in the first years of the republic, because they feared the abuses of power that would result if presidents went unchallenged. They knew that democracy would only function if independent watchdogs were forever barking at the powerful from the columns of the partisan newspapers of their day. Jefferson may have put it best when he wrote in 1816 that, "The functionaries of every government have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents. There is no safe deposit for these but with the people themselves, nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe."
By extension, when powerful media outlets censor themselves, the safety to which Jefferson referred is threatened.
The notion that a journalist would sit on a story because he or she fears being accused of bias, or because an expose might have an impact on a presidential election, would have shocked and offended Jefferson, Madison, Tom Paine and the others who fought at the start of this American experiment to forge the way for a free press.
If ever there was a time when a bold and unyielding free press was needed, Jefferson argued, it was in the weeks before a national election. At the point when the American people are preparing to determine who will lead their country, they need more than just stenography. They need news outlets that seek, without fear or favor, to speak truth to power.
Without a free flow of information, especially controversial and shocking information about the most pressing issues of the day, citizens cannot make informed choices. And when citizens cannot make informed choices, democracy ceases to function.
With their decision to sit on a story of how the Bush administration manipulated this country into war, CBS News officials have chosen to block the free flow of information. As such, they have broken faith with the promise of a free press. They are now merely stenographers to power, and impediments to democracy.
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 at www.amazon.com
Groups from all over the country have come together to create the first-ever National Voter Registration Day today to build media interest and to bring out new volunteers for voter registration efforts before most states close their voting rolls on October 4.
You can find organized voter registration activities in most every region, city and town in the US. Click here for a nationwide calendar of events to find out what's happening in your area, and click here for a list of national voting rights projects looking for volunteers.
And make sure that you're registered to vote? MoveOn recently checked public voter files, and, shockingly, found that close to 30 percent of its members were not currently registered. Make sure you're not turned away from the polls on November 2 by clicking here. The process takes about three minutes with The Nation Online's new voting page.
Yesterday, more than fifty national antiwar leaders released a letter to potential Nader voters. Many of the signers are longtime activists who have been central in organizing efforts against the war in Iraq, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the Bush Administration's policy of pre-emptive war.
"We stand with Nader in demanding that the cause of security and peace be at the top of the national agenda," the letter stated, "But we will not vote for him this election...the only practical way to safeguard the nation and the world is to vote for John Kerry for President of the United States."
Individuals signing the letter--which was organized by United Progressives for Victory--include former Congressman Tom Andrews, Executive Director of Win Without War; Dr. Robert K. Musil, Executive Director and CEO of Physicians for Social Responsibility; Amy Isaacs, National Director, Americans for Democratic Action (ADA); Daniel Ellsberg; David Cortright of the Fourth Freedom Forum; and John Isaacs, President of the Council for a Livable World.
UP for Victory includes progressives who have worked with Nader in the past and leaders with years of experience with progressive causes including peace and foreign policy, the environment, consumer rights, women's issues, civil rights, healthcare and workers' rights, and social and economic justice. In other words they have street cred. The full text of the letter and a list of the signers are below:
An Open Letter to Those Considering Voting for Ralph Nader
The November 2 election must end the reign of President George W. Bush whose policies have dismantled what we--and Ralph Nader-- have worked for years to achieve. At stake is the survival of progressive values that we and Ralph Nader hold so dear and the hope for a safer, stronger and better world.
Four more years of President Bush would result in the further undermining of international security: a new generation of nuclear weapons, a resumption of nuclear bomb testing, expansion of National Missile Defense, advancement of the doctrine of pre-emptive war, and the unilateral use of military force independent of the United Nations.
Bush supporters understand power and want to keep it. They have collected ballot signatures for Nader; they have sent him tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. They are using Ralph Nader to divide the progressive vote.
We cannot let them win.
We share Ralph Nader's concern for the condition of America's workers, consumers and citizens. We stand with Nader in demanding that the cause of security and peace be at the top of the national agenda.
But we will not vote for him this election. We will not give George W. Bush four more years to destroy the causes for which we have worked.
Your vote is your voice in this election. Make both of them heard loud and clear. Tell your friends and associates that the only practical way to safeguard the nation and the world is to vote for John Kerry for President of the United States.
1. Edie Allen, President, Colombe Foundation Mass;*2. Dorothy Anderson, MD, Physicians for Social Responsibility;*3. Tom Andrews, ex- member of Congress (D-ME), Executive Director, Win Without War;*4. Ed Arnold, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility/Atlanta;5. Diane Aronson, former executive director, Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament;*6. Former Congressman Les AuCoin, Oregon;7. Catherine Barrett, State Representative, Ohio;8. Robert L. Borosage, Campaign for America's Future;*9. Anne H. Cahn, American University;10. Mary R Cathcart, State Senator, Maine;11. Rev. Dagmar Braun Celeste;12. Susan Clark actor/activist;13. David Cohen, Co-Chair, Advocacy Institute;*14. David Cortright, President, Fourth Freedom Forum;*15. Susan Cundiff, Chapter President, Lane County WAND;16. Mary Byrd Davis, Director, Yggdrasil Institute, a project of Earth Island Institute;*17. Elizabeth Dunn, Souhegan Wood Products, Inc.;*18. Daniel Ellsberg, Author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers;19. Meg Gage, Proteus Fund;*20. Peter W. Galbraith, Former US Ambassador, Senior Diplomatic Fellow, Center For Arms Control and Non-Proliferation;21. Sanford Gottlieb, 20/20 Vision;*22. Raymond F. Graap, M.D.;23. Roy D. Hankins MD, Physicians for Social Responsibility;*24. Bettieanne Hart, Georgia;25. Dudley Herschbach, Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology, Harvard University;*26. Barbara Hildt, President, Youth Empowerment Services Inc., Massachusetts;27. Amy Isaacs, national director, Americans for Democratic Action;28. John Isaacs, President, Council for a Livable World;*29. Karen Jacob, Chapter President of WAND of Northern Indiana and President of the Board of Promoting Enduring Peace;*30. Peggy Maze Johnson, Citizen Alert of Nevada;*31. Carla Brooks Johnston, President, New Centuries Policies;32. Fern Katz, Treasurer, Michigan WAND;*33. Alan Kay, entrepreneur and social innovator;34. Jean Kilbourne;35. Bob Kinsey, Green Party for Congress, CO-4;*36. Barbara Laing, executive director, Colorado Physicians for Social Responsibility;*37. Catherine Lincoln, California;38. Priscilla McMillan, Harvard University;*39. Robert K. Musil, Ph.D, M.P.H., Executive Director and CEO, Physicians for Social Responsibility;*40. John O. Pastore. M.D.,President-elect, Physicians for Social Responsibility;*41. Christopher Paine, Senior Analyst, Natural Resources Defense Council;*42. Mike Pertschuk, Co-Chair, Advocacy Institute;*43. Gene Pokorny, Council for a Livable World;44. Margo Okazawa Rey, Mills College, Women's Leadership Institute;45. Dorothy Rupert, former State Senator, Colorado;46. Claudine Schneider, former Member of Congress;47. Susan Shaer, executive director, Women's Action for New Directions;*48. Sayre Sheldon, President Emerita Women's Action for New Directions;49. John Shepherd, MD, President of Colorado Physicians for Social Responsibility;50. Norman Solomon, Author and syndicated columnist;51. Ivo Spalatin, Treasurer, Council for a Livable World;52. Jeremy J. Stone, President, Catalytic Diplomacy;53. Benn Tannenbaum, Ph.D., Federation of American Scientists;54. Carlotta Tyler, Massachusetts;55. Suleyken Walker, Boston;56. Peter Wilk, M.D.;57. Edith B. Wilkie, President, Peace Through Law Education Fund;*58. Esther B. Wolf, Magnolia Neighborhood Peace Project;*59. Herbert York, Member, Pugwash Movement
*Affiliation for identification purposes only.
George W. Bush is ready to debate John Kerry.
The chronically underestimated president, who invariably prevails in face-to-face showdowns with his general election opponents, has been cramming for weeks. According to Bush aides, the president listens to tapes of Kerry's past debate performances and speeches while he is traveling and during his daily workouts. He has imported a lanky, boring New Englander, New Hampshire U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, to play the role of Kerry during practice debates at the ranch in Crawford, Texas. And he is now memorizing poll-tested one liners crafted to devastate the Democratic challenger and capture the headlines on the day after Thursday's debate in Coral Gables, Florida.
For his part, Kerry is prepping at a resort in Wisconsin. After two weeks of honing an increasingly aggressive message regarding the crisis in Iraq and the mismanaged war on terrorism, he will go into the first of three critical debates feeling confident. But if all Kerry does is wrestle Bush for the tough-on-terror mantle, that confidence will prove misplaced.
In a foreign policy debate that plays out within the lines defined by White House political czar Karl Rove, the best Kerry can hope for is a draw. Predictable punches will not upset Bush's delivery of the simple basic themes -- "battling against evil," "taking the fight to the terrorists," "safer now than on Sept. 11" -- that have allowed him to maintain relatively broad support in the face of increasingly awful news from around the world.
To knock Bush off message, Kerry will need to come into the debates with a message for which Bush is unprepared. And Kerry will have to hammer away on that message until it supplants Bush's mantras in the mind of the voting public.
So what should Kerry talk about? One word: Halliburton.
Kerry should make the crony capitalism that has allowed Vice President Dick Cheney's corporation to become the dominant player in the management of the botched occupation and reconstruction of Iraq a part of every answer to every question. The Democrat should explain to Americans, again and again and again, that one of the primary explanations for the fact that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has turned out badly is the determination of this administration to assure that Halliburton be the primary profiteer in the region.
No corporation has gained more from the invasion of Iraq than Halliburton. Since the war began, it has moved from No.19 on the U.S. Army's list of top contractors to No. 1. Last year, the company pocketed $4.2 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars. And that's merely the take so far; the company's Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) subsidiary has collected what the Washington Post describes as "one of the contracting plums of the war: a classified no-bid deal worth up to $7 billion to do the restoration work."
Yet, by any measure, Halliburton and KBR have done a horrible job of managing the occupation and the reconstruction. The company has been investigated and fined for wrongdoing, and few days go by without new evidence surfacing to suggest that Halliburton either is massively corrupt or massively inept--or, and this is the most likely explanation, a messy combination of the two. Things are so bad that Halliburton officials are now talking about spinning off KBR in order to try to salvage what is left of the parent corporation's reputation.
Kerry has promised that, "As president, I will stop companies like Halliburton from profiting at the expense of our troops and taxpayers." Referencing that fact that Cheney continues to receive money from Halliburton--$178,437 in 2003 alone--Kerry adds, "I will stop companies from receiving no-bid contracts from the government when the president or vice president is still receiving compensation from that company."
That's a message Kerry should take into the debates. Bush wants to talk about "fighting against evil." Kerry should oblige him by forcing the president to address the evil of war profiteering -- and the crime of handing no-bid contracts to a company that is funneling money into the vice president's bank account.
*****************************************************************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 at www.amazon.com*****************************************************************
If there was any lingering doubt that this President rules by sowing division and fear it has been put to rest in these last weeks. As Dana Milbank's chilling front-page story in last Friday's Washington Post details, Bush and leading Republicans dare to argue that a vote for John Kerry is a vote for Al Qaeda.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert says he believes Al Qaeda would prefer a Kerry presidency. GOP Senate candidate John Thune of South Dakota says that his opponent, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's mild criticism of the war "embolden the enemy" and bring "comfort to America's enemies." Darth Vader VP Cheney strongly suggested that America would be more likely to be attacked if Kerry were elected.
These are Republicans who breed a culture of fundamentalism and intolerance, who betray the guiding and founding values of America. If a truly great Republican--Theodore Roosevelt--were among us today, he would expose the despicable politics of these fifth-rate offspring of the Grand Old Party and tell them--as he told the nation in 1918:
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
And Then There Are True Conservatives...
Speaking of sane Republicans, did you see that Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) has made it known that he may not vote for Bush? Last weekend, according to the Washington Post, Chafee told a science seminar in his home state that he would vote for a Republican but not George W., who he has differed with on many issues including tax cuts, the Iraq war and stem cell research.
And let's hope a small item in Saturday's New York Times signals a trend: One of West Virginia's five electors says he may withhold his electoral college vote for Bush even if the President wins in the increasingly important swing state. Elector Richie Robb, the mayor of South Charleston, is incensed about the war in Iraq and painful layoffs in his town.
And by the way, do Bush and Co. believe that conservatives like John McCain, Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar--who have been all over the airwaves arguing that the US is in deep trouble in Iraq--are aiding and abetting the enemy? And what about the discontent with the commander-in chief from within the military itself? According to a Christian Science Monitor story, there is a "discernible countercurrent among US troops in Iraq--those who blame President Bush for entangling them in what they see as a misguided war." Will chickenhawk Cheney blast these soldiers in the field as unpatriotic.
Please shut up, Terry McAuliffe--that is, about George W. Bush and his missing-time in the Texas Air National Guard.
I keep receiving press releases from flacks at the Democratic Party about Bush's Guard service (or lack thereof). For instance, moments before John Kerry delivered a major speech on September 20 that refocused his campaign with a blast against Bush's war in Iraq, the Democratic National Committee press office emailed me and other reporters an invitation to participate in a conference call with McAuliffe on Bush and the Guard. The call was scheduled to occur in the middle of Kerry's speech.
[Correction: After this column was first posted, the DNC contacted me to complain--about its overall thrust and about the depiction of this particular conference call. The DNC says that Kerry's speech was scheduled to start at 10:00 am and the conference call was scheduled for 11:15 am. As it turned out, Kerry began late and was speaking at 11:15. But the DNC did not begin the conference call until after Kerry finished. Still, the main point remains.]
Shouldn't the Democratic Party that day have been reinforcing Kerry's message that Bush has screwed the pooch in Iraq and that Kerry has a plan for dealing with the mess Bush created? (Click here to read about Kerry's proposals.) Instead, McAuliffe and his crew at DNC HQ thought it was best to take yet another swipe at Bush for cutting out on the Guard.
Despite the success of the Swift Vets' assault on Kerry--as fact-free as much of it was--McAuliffe and the party are wrong to obsess over what Bush or did not do three decades ago. I've written frequently about Bush and the Guard, and I encourage journalists and researchers to pursue the story. But Bush's military service should not be a frontline battle for the Democratic Party. By raising the issue incessantly, McAuliffe and the party will not persuade voters. Voters probably have already reached their conclusions about that 32-year-old episode and its significance. Absent new information--material not based on forgeries--McAuliffe should not be beating this horse further.
The matter is a sideshow. Whatever Bush did way back then, his record in the White House is more critical--particularly what he has done since September 11, 2001. Kerry is right to confront Bush directly on the war in Iraq and the misnamed war on terrorism. He has little choice. Bush has deftly and effectively defined the election not only as a referendum on the war in Iraq but a contest to determine which candidate is more decisive and better able to lead a strong and assertive attack on America's enemy. And as president and as head of a party machine that is maniacally disciplined when it comes to message development and promotion, Bush has the power to set the terms of the debate. (Kerry cannot snap his fingers and declare that this election is really about health care and outsourcing.) So the final stretch of this election will focus on who can best be the protector-in-chief. What Kerry did in Vietnam, what Bush did not in Vietnam (and Alabama) is largely irrelevant in this discussion.
When you're done reading this article,visit David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent entries on Chris Matthews going soft on the Swift Vets, the lack of evidence for the charge Kerry is a flip-flopper, Bush's latest flubs and fibs, and my recent adventure at Notre Dame.
Yet as Kerry tries to gain ground in this debate--today he gave a strong speech outlining his specific ideas for countering the terrorist threat posed by Islamic extremists--McAuliffe and his DNC colleagues keep yapping about Bush's Guard record. On Wednesday, they put out a press release asking why Bush aides have offered conflicting explanations for Bush's failure to take a flight physical in 1972. And after the New York Post reported that the "hot rumor in New York political circles has Roger Stone, the longtime GOP activist, as the source for Dan Rather's dubious Texas Air National Guard 'memos,'" McAuliffe issued a statement, in which he asked, "Will [GOP chairman] Ed Gillespie or the White House admit today what they know about Mr. Stone's relationship with these forged documents? Will they unequivocally rule out Mr. Stone's involvement? Or for that matter, others with a known history of dirty tricks, such as Karl Rove or Ralph Reed?" C'mon, who believes gossip reported in the Post?
When CBS News announced it no longer considered the documents authenticated, McAuliffe put out an official statement urging the public and the press to "focus on the facts," not the forgeries. "The American people," he said, "already know that strings were pulled to get President Bush into the Guard; and while in the Guard he missed months of service and was grounded. We know that George Bush was a fortunate son, a child of privilege, who refuses to admit that he used his connections to avoid fulfilling his requirements. But what we still don't know is why Bush didn't fulfill his duty to his country or why he has continued to lie to the American people about it."
There is nothing wrong or inaccurate in what McAuliffe has been saying about Bush and the Guard. But his job should be amplifying Kerry's message. The GOP does that for Bush perfectly. Each day I receive numerous emails from the Republican Party that are on-message in a zombie-like fashion. Then I turn on the cable news shows and see White House officials, Bush campaign aides, and other Republicans mouthing the line du jour--all in complete lockstep. They generally have stayed away from explicitly seconding the Swift Vets' attacks, unless asked.
Kerry has decided that his best chance is to go after Bush directly on the war--this war, not that war. In his speech today, Kerry did not even bother to refer to his own Vietnam service. Instead, he highlighted his policy ideas, as well as his experience in the Senate concerning terrorism and other related national security matters. (Mark Mehlman of the Bush campaign offered the predictable response to Kerry's address. He called it one more flip-flop from a fellow who said the United States "would be safer if Saddam Hussein was still in power.") So McAuliffe ought to get on board and let other partisans bash Bush for being MIA as a Guardsman. (What's a 527 for?) Kerry has adopted a tough course, though it may be the only path available. He must convince voters that Bush, a wartime president, ought to be fired because he botched the fight against al Qaeda by recklessly launching an elective war for which he did not plan adequately. And Kerry must also persuade voters that, despite the accusations of flip-flopping, he will be a stronger leader than the swaggering, you-know-where-I-stand Bush.
There's not much time for Kerry to do all this. And the debates--which start on September 30--will be his best opportunity to put his case before a large group of potential voters. (National security will be the focus of the first debate.) Kerry could use all the back-up he can get. McAuliffe and the party should be boosting Kerry's message--by criticizing Bush for the war, not events from the early 1970s. The Guard issue certainly plays well among Bush-bashers and, no doubt, it is tempting for McAuliffe and his fellow Bush-whackers at the DNC to engage in such easy attacks. But they ought to resist. They need to concentrate their fire on the main target: what Bush has done in Iraq. Both Kerry and Bush agree that is what this election is about. McAuliffe should salute and follow Kerry's charge up a hill that will be rather tough to take.
UPDATE: As noted above, after this article was first posted, several people at the DNC complained. They raised some legitimate points, so I thought I'd share them.
1. They note that the Democratic Party, as depicted in this column, might be seen by some readers as a rogue operation. In fact, the DNCers explain, the party's actions and strategies are designed in consultation with the Kerry campaign. That is, if Terry McAuliffe is pushing the Bush-and-the-Guard angle, that means the Kerry campaign is okay with it.
2. The DNC's continuing criticism of Bush's military record, the DNC folks maintain, is a crucial part of the anti-Bush effort. With Kerry under (illegitimate) fire from the Swift Vets regarding his Vietnam past, the DNC has to fight back in similar fashion. And in response my suggestion that such work could be handled by 527 groups independent of the party, the DNCers say that actually there are not pro-Democratic outfits with the profile of the Swift Vets that could undertake this mission effectively. They also point out that the Bush-and-the-Guard wave was cresting this past week and that the party had little choice but to ride it as far as it could. (Dan Rather's screw-up probably has prevented the Dems from pushing this line of attack any further.)
3. The assault on Bush's past as an MIA Guardsman, they say, is part of the overall strategy devised by the Kerry campaign and the DNC to challenge Bush's credibility and integrity. The Guard story, as the DNC officials see it, is not merely about Bush's choices and actions 32 years ago; it is about the disingenuous and misleading responses he and his aides have relied upon as they have recently faced questions and criticism.
4. This tactic is working--or so the DNC gang says. My hunch is that bashing Bush on the Guard front is no longer politically effective. But one DNC official sent me the results of a recent Fox News poll showing that Bush's mega-lead among veterans has fallen precipitously. The DNCers believe this is proof its Guard-related attack on Bush has drawn blood. Here is how that poll was reported on Fox:
Fox News/Opnion Dynamics poll which show that George Bush's lead among veterans is actually kind of slipped dramatically from the beginning of September. One point there he had a 23-point lead. Now he's got a 10-point lead. So it appears despite all this memogate flap about a forged letter that the attack on Bush's National Guard record is having an effect.
Among likely voters who are veterans, Bush was leading Kerry 48 to 39 percent. That's not such a hefty margin for a swaggering and decisive wartime president running against a wimpy, French-speaking, finger-in-the-wind, flip-flopping uncertain pol with no plan for defending this county and who is al Qaeda's favorite candidate.
One DNC official sent me an Air Force Times article on Bush and the Guard to show that DNC efforts to keep the story in play are worthwhile. Here are some key paragraphs from that piece:
From most accounts, Bush appears to have received preferential treatment to get into the Air National Guard and avoid the draft after he graduated from Yale University in 1968. He was initially regarded as a good pilot, but his performance faded over his final two years in the Guard and he was suspended from flight status. He did not fly for the remaining 18 months he served in the Guard, though he was obligated to do so.
And for significant chunks of time, Bush did not report for duty at all. His superiors took no action, and he was honorably discharged in 1973, six months before he should have been.
In a 2002 interview with USA Today, Dean Roome, a former fighter pilot who lived with Bush in the early 1970s, said Bush was a model officer during the first part of his career. But overall, he said, Bush's Air Guard career was erratic the first three years solid, the last two troubled.
"You wonder if you know who George Bush is," Roome said. "I think he digressed after a while. In the first half, he was gung-ho. Where George failed was to fulfill his obligation as a pilot. It was an irrational time in his life."
The article was headlined "Bush's Air Guard Stint Started Well, Then Faded Into Mystery," and it cannot hurt Kerry any time a military publication presents a serious analysis of Bush's stint in the Guard that questions Bush's account.
Does all of this mean that my criticism of the DNC's obsession with Bush's Vietnam record is misplaced? I still think that Kerry's primary mission--countering Bush's claim that he is strong, decisive and keeping America safe today--is such a tough task that the DNC should aim all the firepower it has at this target. The Guard story may have been in the news earlier this week, but Kerry was trying to break through with his speech on Iraq. The armchair political strategist in me says that the DNC should have been loudly singing back-up on that tune. But I'm no professional political consultant (I only play one on television), and I don't get paid for the advice I freely dispense, so according to market principles it ain't worth much. I do hope that the DNCers are right, and I am wrong. But we'll have to wait for the exit polls to sort that out.
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For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.
This is the season of political documentaries with meditations on the degradations of late capitalism as well, of course, as Bush-bashing films, suddenly being seen as commercial fare.
Most of the recent entries in the field aim to take down myths and debunk conventional wisdom. Whether it's Bush's unnecessary war, FOX News's hypocrisy and bias, the dramatic degree to which the corporate sector has impinged on civil society or the rate at which Big Macs will poison you, one hallmark of the new documentaries is their critical/reactive edge.
And, these times certainly do call for activist chroniclers keeping corrupt politicians, corporate flacks and lying diplomats accountable. But we need at least some hope too, a sense that another world really is possible. And what's much more unusual--in journalism as well as film-making--are projects which focus on positive alternatives to the many negative trends afflicting modern society.
A chance at an optimistic perspective is one of the many reasons to see Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis's new film, The Take. [Full disclosure: The film-makers are also personal friends and are affiliated with The Nation.] Written and produced by Nation columnist and best-selling author Klein, The Take is the film to watch after seeing Fahrenheit 911, Outfoxed and The Corporation--when you're tired of being enraged and are ready to fight back.
Filmed in Argentina over the course of eight months, The Take documents the beginnings of a new social movement that took place under the radar of the world's media. The recent economic crisis that shattered Argentina caused widespread dislocation and pushed more than half the population into extreme poverty. However, at two hundred factories, schools, supermarkets, and health clinics, something remarkable happened: rather than allowing their workplaces to be closed down, they turned these bankrupt businesses into productive, democratically-run cooperatives. The Take tells this story of working people forging genuine alternatives to the brutal economic realities of the Washington Consensus--a story whose implications are universal, and more important than ever.
Up until yesterday, The Take had only played at film festivals, where it has been warmly received: In Buenos Aires, there was a memorable "workers' premiere" projected onto the side of an occupied textile factory; at the other end of the cultural spectrum, The Take was part of the official selection of the Venice Film Festival, where the working class heroes of the film had to compete with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman for attention (they held their own!)
Yesterday, the doc opened to a full-house at Film Forum in New York City in its first public release in theaters in the US. It'll be playing there until at least October 5, after which it'll get rolled out across the country. Bookings in Seattle and San Francisco and set and the films's distributor is working on making sure audiences coast to coast are able to watch this historical tale of industrial workers changing their own fates.
The reviews could hardly be more positive. The New York Times called it "a stirring, idealistic documentary." In New York Newsday, Gene Seymour wrote that "If Michael Moore could calm down just a little and maintain a watchful distance, The Take suggests the kind of film he'd make!" The New Yorker calls the workers in The Take "admirable, displaying a melancholy eloquence and a genuine revolutionary spirit." Even Rupert Murdoch's rabidly rightwing New York Post praises the doc's achievement in "personalizing the globalization debate."
You can also get a good sense of what the film is about by clicking here to listen to a conversation between Klein, Lewis and Brian Lehrer from this past Tuesday's episode of WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show.
So, if you're in New York City, click here to buy tickets to a Film Forum showing. If you're not in the New York area, ask your local theater to contact The Take's distributor, First Run/Icarus Films, and bring the doc to your town, and click here to watch a trailer no matter where you live.
The Army owes Captain James Yee, a Muslim Army Chaplain who was arrested on Sept. 10, 2003, an apology and an explanation. Last year, officials at a Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida discovered allegedly classified documents in Yee's bags. At the time of his arrest, Yee was serving in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he ministered to prisoners at the Navy's detention facility. He ensured that the prisoners were able to hear the Muslim call to prayer, and occasionally clashed with military officials over the treatment of Islamic detainees.
Yee was accused of espionage, sedition, mutiny and aiding the enemy (crimes punishable by death). He sat in solitary confinement for 76 days after his arrest while Defense Department officials anonymously pressed their case in the national media, portraying Yee as part of a Guantanamo spy ring that sympathized with Al Qaeda, and raising suspicions that Yee had passed military secrets to the Syrians. "The fear was that he had started mixing his loyalties," one official told the Washington Post.
Another official explained Yee's decision to become a spy this way: "He was disappointed that he wasn't being integrated into the interrogation process. He wasn't happy with the mission, and thought the detainees were being mistreated." (At the time, Yee's concerns about conditions at Guantanamo Bay were echoed repeatedly by human rights activists.)
All allegations against Yee were eventually dismissed. But then, in a decision that can only be characterized as outrageous overreaching, the Army decided to prosecute Yee for committing adultery and downloading porn onto his computer. Neither act is a criminal offense, and the move was widely regarded as vindictive because, traditionally, the only times when the military prosecutes adultery cases is when other charges like rape or sexual harassment are also involved.
Yee received a reprimand, but a month later, an Army general threw out even this judgment. Exonerated on all charges, Yee received word last week that the Army had authorized his honorable discharge, which is now set for January.
Experts in military justice have expressed disbelief at Yee's Kafkaesque journey from well-regarded Army Chaplain to Public Enemy No. 1. The malice exhibited towards Yee and the Army's incompetent handling of his case are staggering. "This whole thing makes the military prosecutors look ridiculous," John L. Fugh, a retired major general and onetime judge advocate general (the highest uniformed legal officer in the Army), told the New York Times.
The military owes Yee an apology because it dragged his name through the mud, damaged his family and destroyed his reputation. Yee said the Army's pursuit of the case against him has "irreparably injured my personal and professional reputation and destroyed my prospects for a career in the US Army."
But an explanation must also be forthcoming. "The notion that you would keep an officer in maximum security based on these charges is preposterous," Yee's civilian lawyer, Eugene Fidell, said while Yee was sitting in solitary confinement. The Army must explain why Yee was held in such primitive conditions on trumped-up charges.
It's also fair to ask whether Yee's questions about prisoner abuses put him in the crosshairs of Major General Geoffrey Miller.
Miller, who is a central figure in Sy Hersh's new book, Chain of Command, had been in charge of the Guantanamo Bay prison, where he brought a no-holds barred attitude to the interrogation process that created a climate of fear in which abuses were condoned. "Miller was permitted to use legally questionable interrogation techniques at Guantanamo, which could include, with approval, sleep deprivation, exposure to extremes of cold and heat, and placing prisoners in 'stress positions' for agonizing lengths of time," Hersh reported.
It was Miller, according to the US Southern Command, who made the major decisions about how to handle Yee's case, including deciding to bring the initial charges against him, to have him detained in the brig and to include the additional charges.
Miller may well have seen Yee as a threat to his mission to interrogate prisoners freely and without dissent. During his stint in Guantanamo, Miller was dispatched to Iraq to "Gitmoize" prisoner interrogations, where Miller's team, according to the report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, insisted that "the guard force be actively engaged in setting the condition for the successful exploitation of internees." When asked about Miller, Fidell said: "It is incomprehensible that General Miller would have been put in charge of Iraqi prisoners given his conduct in [the Yee] case."
Former counter-terrorism officials have pointed out that military commanders responsible for abuses were instructed to "[take] off the gloves" to glean better intelligence from prisoners. Yee was caught up in this "gloves-are-off" atmosphere. A kind of hysteria surrounded his case, and his treatment may well have been a result of his warnings about abuse of detainees. In prosecuting its case against Yee, the Army trampled on the values that underpin American ideas about fair play and equal justice for all.
Moreover, as David Cole pointed out in a recent Nation article, it is a record of prosecutorial abuse and failure: John Ashcroft has compiled a 0 for 5,000 record when it comes to successfully prosecuting foreign nationals the government has detained on suspicion of sponsoring terrorism.
"Yee was defamed and smeared and accused of being a spy," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Now that the case against Yee has disintegrated, it seems plausible, in retrospect, that Yee's only real crime in the brass' eyes was his willingness to raise questions about abuse of prisoners when few in the military, the media and the federal government had the wisdom to do so. Yee deserves better.
Just about the only sensible voice in the whole controversy over the documents CBS News used in its ham-handed attempt to raise questions about George W. Bush's "service" in the Texas National Guard came from retired typist Marian Carr Knox. As a former assistant to Lt. Colonel Jerry Killian, Bush's squadron commander who allegedly suggested that officers had been pressured to "sugar coat" their evaluations of the politically-connected young Guardsman, Knox was in a position to know more than just about anyone else about the authenticity of the documents and of the sentiments expressed in them.
In interviews with several news outlets, including CBS, Knox suggested that the Killian memos were forged but accurate.
Now that CBS News anchor Dan Rather has acknowledged that he made a "mistake in judgment" when he relied on what now appear to have been bogus documents for a "60 Minutes" report that detailed some of the favorable treatment Bush received, Knox's seemingly strange statement offers one of the few realistic routes out of the thicket of spin the Bush administration has erected to avoid a serious discussion of the president's Vietnam-era "service" in the Guard.
Knox said she did not think the memos that were purported to have been written by Killian were genuine. But, she said, they reflected sentiments the National Guard commander expressed at the time. Thus, the documents that have caused such a stir as this year's presidential campaign enters its final weeks could indeed be both forged and accurate.
So where should Knox's insight lead us?
First, anyone who wants to know the truth about Bush's pampered "service" should be furious with Rather and the CBS crew. When they refused to follow basic fact-checking standards, they failed their viewers and the broader American public that would, for the first time, be exposed by the September 8 "60 Minutes" broadcast to a seemingly serious review of irregularities related to Bush's entry into the guard, his ignoring of direct orders, his failure to show up for duty and a pattern of reassignments that seemed always to benefit the son of a then-congressman from Texas rather than the country he was supposed to be serving.
After more than a month of virtually round-the-clock assessment of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's Vietnam service, major media has a responsibility to reexamine the president's controversial service record.
Yet, by doing a haphazard job of reporting and then rushing to broadcast the supposed "blockbuster" story, Rather and his crew played into the hands of a Bush spin machine that is now expert at peddling the lie that a liberal media is out to distort the president's record. While their intent may have been to shed light on an interesting and potentially significant story of the special treatment accorded this son of privilege, Rather and CBS, in their search for a "scoop," created a fog so thick that it could well obscure the story for the rest of the campaign.
By relying on a few documents that were not adequately verified, CBS handed White House political czar Karl Rove exactly what he needed to steer attention away from the real story. Of course it remains true that, as Rather says, "Those who have criticized aspects of our story have never criticized the heart of it... that George Bush received preferential treatment to get into the National Guard and, once there, failed to satisfy the requirements of his service."
Unfortunately, the "heart" of the story has been largely obscured by the controversy over the doctored documents.
As such, Rather and CBS are guilty of undermining not just their own story but the truth. That's particularly tragic because it was never really their story in the first place. The basic story of the machinations that George Herbert Walker Bush performed to help his son avoid serving in Vietnam, and the dirty details of the son's failure to do his duty as a Guardsman, was well reported almost five years ago by Texas columnist Molly Ivins and Texas investigative reporter Lou Dubose in their still-essential assessment of young Bush's path to power, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (Vintage). That book's chapter regarding Bush's Vietnam-era Guard duty is exceptionally well-reported, compelling and, ultimately, more damning of the Bush family and the current president than anything produced since its publication.
So why didn't Rather and the CBS crew simply invite Ivins and Dubose, both experienced Texas reporters with long histories of sorting fact from fiction when dealing with the Bush family, to help produce a "60 Minutes" report that would have told the story accurately and thoroughly? Perhaps CBS executives thought that, because Ivins and Dubose write with a point of view, rather than feigning journalistic impartiality, they could not be trusted to get the straight story. That, of course, is the common bias of the elite broadcast media in the United States.
Unfortunately, that bias led Rather and CBS to produce a story that has done severe damage to the prospects that the great mass of Americans will ever learn the truth about their president's Vietnam-era actions. There is a lesson to be learned here: There was never any need for Rather and CBS to go searching for a "scoop" regarding Bush's time in the Guard. The story has already been reported and written by Ivins and DuBose. What there was a need for was a network with the courage to take that story, attach some pictures and broadcast it. Unfortunately, CBS proved incapable to performing that simple task. And, in so doing, CBS put the truth a little further out of reach for most Americans.
A friend and I were watching CNN the other night. After fifteen minutes of the Headline News, she asked, "Is there any good news in the world?"
Yes. But it's harder and harder to find.
As I wrote in this space last July, "It can be difficult, in these times, to maintain a sense of hope--as war, corruption, lies and injustices large and small loom all around,and outrage threatens to overwhelm us. But in these past months, as millions of us slug away, agitate, organize and mobilize, there have been some hard-fought victories to celebrate."
One sweet victory took place last week in Albany, New York when a young activist attorney named David Soares rocked the county (and the state) with his stunning landslide victory in the Democratic Primary for District Attorney. A nominee of the Working Families Party, his race was a referendum on the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, and his victory was a magnificent accomplishment for the urban-suburban, black-white, gay-straight, grassroots community-labor campaign led by Albany WFP chair Karen Scharff.
Soares brought a struggling Democratic machine to its knees--defeating incumbent Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne, one of the strongest defenders of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. (Final tally was 62 percent for Soares compared to just 38 percent for the incumbent, with record turnout of more than 22,000.)
Soares, wrote the Albany Times Union, "had the nerve to stand up to the entire political establishment in Albany, fight for what's right--and win...Support for his stance on repeal of the strict Rockefeller Drug Laws and his platform of inclusion was seen in the incumbent's staggering across-the-board loss."
Soares' victory is a clear sign of popular support for reforming antiquated and cruelly ineffective drug laws. "This is the single most important development in more than a decade of trying to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws," according to the Drug Policy Alliance Network, which supported Soares' candidacy. "It's also the first time in contemporary American history that voters have thrown a politician out of office because he's a drug war zealot."
Soares' resounding defeat of an incumbent district attorney in New York State's capital, even in a primary election, sends an unmistakable message to other District Attorneys who, for years, have been the principal obstacle to reform. "All 'lock-'em-up, throw-away-the-key' DAs should take notice of what just happened to Paul Clyne," said Drug Policy Alliance's Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann. "I can't think of anything which will do more to change the prospects for...reform than this."
This victory is also a testament to the Working Families Party's role as a growing force in New York State politics. "The primary result," according to the New York Times, "highlighted the party's power to organize, raise money, make phone calls and knock on doors, as it did in aiding Mr. Soares in a county where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 82,300 to 43,516 as of February."
As Dan Cantor of the WFP argues, Soares' victory is "evidence that a campaign that has a crystal clear stance on key issues, that appeals to the voters' best instincts, and that is unrelenting in getting its message out door by door by door can actually overcome the status quo and the advantages of incumbency."
Soares still has to win the general election in November, and the reform of the Rockefeller Laws still awaits legislative action, but it's worth savoring this sweet victory.
In the next few weeks, here are a few things you can do to support David Soares and the fight to repeal the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws:
1/ Support the Working Families Party.(Click here for info.)
2/ Support the Drug Policy Alliance Network(Click here for info.)
3/ If you live in New York State, write your local paper and call your local talk-radio show to stress how important Rockefeller reform has become in this year's election. You might even commend the New York Post for its editorial last week calling for reform of the drug laws. This represents a major reversal of the Murdoch-owned paper's longtime position. (Click here for contact info for your local media outlets.)
4/ Vote for David Soares in November if you live in Albany County--or tell your friends who live there to vote for him. And contribute to his campaign no matter where you live.
Finally, please click here to send me your nominations for small and sweet victories worth noting. I plan to keep highlighting them in this space in the weeks and months ahead and I want to include your responses.