Quantcast

The Nation

Not Dominion, But Liberty

As the 229th anniversary of the founding of the American experiment approached, President Bush provided a painful reminder of how far the United States has drifted from the ideals of her youth.

Speaking to soldiers who would soon be dispatched to occupy Iraq, Bush sounded an awfully lot like the King George against whom George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the other revolutionaries of 1776 led their revolt.

America was founded in opposition to empire. The Declaration of Independence was a manifesto against colonialism. And the wisest of the founding generations abhorred imperialism.

Their opposition to empire was not merely rooted in their own bitter experience. It was, as well, rooted in a faith that American freedoms and democracy would suffer if the nation embarked upon a career of empire.

So, while Bush suggests that other lands must be occupied to preserve liberty at home, the patriots of our time recall will do well to recall words spoken on another July 4.

When America was younger and truer to her ideals, on Independence Day, 1821, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams appeared before the US House of Representatives and declared:

And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and Shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind?

Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.

She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.

She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.

She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.

She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right.

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.

But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.

She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force....

She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....

[America's] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) was published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com

Court Fight: It's More Than Left vs. Right

"A nation's success or failure in achieving democracy is judged in part by how well it responds to those at the bottom and the margins of the social order.... The very problems that democratic change brings--social tension, heightened expectations, political unrest--are also strengths. Discord is a sign of progress afoot; unease is an indication that a society has let go of what it knows and is working out something better and new."

Those are not the thoughts of a great civil rights leader, nor of a prominent progressive reformer.

They are the words of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the "swing" vote on the US Supreme Court, who on Friday announced that she is stepping down.

O'Connor joined the Court as an ideological conservative and, for the most part, served as such. But, as the above quote from her 2003 memoir, The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice, suggests, the first woman to serve on the nation's highest court was a conservative of the modern age.

Her nuanced stances on issues such as abortion rights--she defended the court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion as "a rule of law and a component of liberty we cannot renounce"--distinguished her from the Court's conservative judicial activists, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. (To get a full sense of what is at stake, see the list of 5-to-4 decisions where O'Connor cast the deciding vote, which follows this piece.)

With O'Connor's exit, the Court will move in one of two directions. No, not right or left. With O'Connor out, the Court will either go backward or forward.

If President Bush nominates and the Senate confirms an activist soul mate for Scalia and Thomas, the Court will not simply become more conservative.

It will move back toward the days before Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower used their nominations in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s to wrench the judicial branch out of a dark and undistinguished past. Those selections made the Supreme Court a functional branch of government, rather than an obstructionist defender of an often corrupt old order.

People for the American Way President Ralph Neas put it best when he said Friday, "A Scalia-Thomas majority would not only reverse more than seven decades of Supreme Court legal precedents but could also return us to a situation America faced in the first third of the twentieth century, when progressive legislation, like child labor laws, was adopted by Congress and signed by the President but repeatedly rejected on constitutional grounds by the Supreme Court."

Neas understands his history well. The contemporary image of the Supreme Court as a defender of civil liberties and civil rights, and an ally of progress, is one that developed over the course of the twentieth century. It was not always so. And there are no guarantees that it will remain so.

As such, this is not merely a battle over a Court vacancy, nor even over the balance on the bench.

If the Court moves backward to the bad old days, so too will the nation.

With a Court guided by a majority determined to reverse the progress made on issues ranging from reproductive freedom to privacy rights, affirmative action, church-state separation, environmental protection, consumer safeguards and worker rights, Neas warns, America would return to a time when the judicial branch took as its mandate the preservation of the status quo against the march of social progress.

"A Supreme Court with additional justices who do not meet consensus standards could radically rewrite our nation's fundamental definitions of justice," says Neas.

In so doing, it could also rewrite our sense of time. Instead of living in 2005, Americans could find themselves dragged backward to those nineteenth-century days when the Supreme Court was the nation's primary barrier to social and economic justice.****************************************************************

People for the American Way has compiled a list of 5-to-4 rulings in which Sandra Day O'Connor was the decisive Justice. Here are some of the decisions that the group says are in danger of being overturned:

1. Grutter v. Bollinger (2003): Affirmed the right of state colleges and universities to use affirmative action in their admissions policies to increase educational opportunities for minorities and promote racial diversity on campus.

2. Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation v. EPA (2004): Said the Environmental Protection Agency could step in and take action to reduce air pollution under the Clean Air Act when a state conservation agency fails to act.

3. Rush Prudential HMO, Inc. v. Moran (2002): Upheld state laws giving people the right to a second doctor's opinion if their HMOs tried to deny them treatment.

4. Hunt v. Cromartie (2001): Affirmed the right of state legislators to take race into account to secure minority voting rights in redistricting.

5. Tennessee v. Lane (2004): Upheld the constitutionality of Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act and required that courtrooms be physically accessible to the disabled.

6. Hibbs v. Winn (2004): Subjected discriminatory and unconstitutional state tax laws to review by the federal judiciary.

7. Zadvydas v. Davis (2001): Told the government it could not indefinitely detain an immigrant who was under final order of removal even if no other country would accept that person.

8. Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (2001): Affirmed that civil rights laws apply to associations regulating interscholastic sports.

9. Lee v. Weisman (1992): Continued the tradition of government neutrality toward religion, finding that government-sponsored prayer is unacceptable at graduations and other public school events.

10. Brown v. Legal Foundation of Washington (2003): Maintained a key source of funding for legal assistance for the poor.

11. Morse v. Republican Party of Virginia (1996): Said key antidiscrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act apply to political conventions that choose party candidates.

12. Federal Election Commission v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee (2001): Upheld laws that limit political party expenditures that are coordinated with a candidate and seek to evade campaign contribution limits.

13. McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003): Upheld most of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, including its ban on political parties' use of unlimited soft-money contributions.

14. Stenberg v. Carhart (2000): Overturned a state ban on so-called partial birth abortion.

15. McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky (2005): Upheld the principle of government neutrality toward religion and ruled unconstitutional Ten Commandments displays in several courthouses.

O'Connor Resigns; Ugliness To Come

I just posted the below comments at my blog at www.davidcorn.com. I am happy to share these first-reaction thoughts here.

I was not happy to see the flood of mails with similar subject headings: "O'Connor resigning." From a parochial point of view, a titanic fight over a Supreme Court nomination can really ruin a summer in Washington. (Actually, despite the heat, summers in Washington tend to be quite pleasant; the town slows down, Congress is gone for a good spell, traffic eases, there's plenty of parking, and I can catch up on a year's worth of filing.) But, worse, the expected war over the nominee (whoever it is) will be ugly. It should be ugly. There will be much at stake. But ugly is ugly--and the Democrats are hardly in a strong position to block George Bush if he makes a not-dumb choice. So the pessimist in me--which is usually, though not always, right when it comes to predicting the success rate (or lack thereof) rate for the Dems--fears that after all the ugliness transpires Bush will win out, and the court will veer further to the right. The operative question may be, How much?

Let's be clear about this. During the nuclear option fight, the Democrats were not able to court enough Republicans to prevent Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist from killing the judicial filibuster in an up-or-down vote. It took a tilted-to-the-GOP compromise fashioned by so-called moderates in both parties to thwart (perhaps temporarily) Frist's desire to eliminate the judicial filibuster. Any fight over a Bush nominee to the Supreme Court will eventually have to come down to a with-us-or-against-us vote. That means if Bush nominates someone who the Democrats believe warrants a filibuster, there will be a replay of the nuclear option drama. Only this time it will be more dramatic. The Democrats will threaten a filibuster; Frist will threaten the nuclear option. And those same six or so Republicans whom the Democrats tried (and failed) to win over as a bloc on the nuclear option fight will again be the targets for the Democratic leaders. But what would make these GOPers side with the Democrats this time, especially when the stakes are higher? And, unlike the last episode, these Republicans will not be saved by the bell of a compromise that kicks the can down the road (to mix metaphors). There will be more pressure on them to stick to the party line when a Supreme Court nomination is at stake.

The above analysis is based on the assumption--or presumption--that Bush will nominate a jurist whom the Democrats can sell as filibuster-material. If he does not do so, then what will the Dems and the progressive outfits do?

Of course, they will correctly note that replacing O'Connor--often the key swing vote on the court on crucial matters (such as abortion rights)--will change the ideological composition of the Supreme Court. Bush's social conservative supporters have been demanding he select someone who will clearly shove the court toward the right. Much has been written and pundited on this topic. Will he go with proven conservative jurist and please the Dobson crowd? Or will he reward Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a Bush loyalist who conservatives suspect (for whatever paranoid reasons they have) might turn out to be another David Souter? Is Bush planning a surprise for everyone? (Orrin Hatch?)

In any event, the Democrats and progressives may be placed in the position of having to oppose an experienced jurist whose opinions they do not like on policy grounds. They should fight such a nominee vigorously, and they should be upfront about their reasons. Rather than label that person an "extremist," they ought to argue that the Senate ought not to confirm a nominee who is likely to vote to curtail or eliminate abortion rights, to favor corporate polluters over consumers, or to restrict the federal government's ability to advance social justice. The "extremist" strategy, I fear, is worn out and ineffective. It worked for Robert Bork, thanks to his too-honest writings and wacky beard. But most of the far-right jurists on the list of potential nominees will be able to appear before a Senate committee, not drool, answer questions about their opinions politely, and come across as intelligent and somewhat reasonable people, not extremist monsters plotting to lead America into a Time of Darkness. So progressives, beware, the E-word is probably not your friend.

And there's this to think of: Bush will probably get another Supreme Court pick soon. Perhaps real soon. Chief Justice William Rehnquist may not be there much longer--by choice or not. One smart move for Bush would be to nominate for the O'Connor vacancy a decidedly conservative person but one who is well-equipped to beat back the expected charges of extremism from the left and who goes on to be confirmed. (Does Gonzales fit this bill?) Next--for the Rehnquist opening--Bush could nominate a true conservative whacko, a Bork II. The Democrats and the left would have a tough time redeploying the extremist attack, even if it were warranted this time. Once more--from a political perspective--Democrats and progressives ought to think carefully about how and when they use the charge of extremism. They can only cry "wolf" so many times--even if Bush unleashes a pack of wolverines.

Will any good come out of this? It may be entertaining, for a while, to watch the tussle that ensues between social conservatives and the White House if Bush does not nominate a person to their liking. That would certainly have reverberations for the Republican presidential race, perhaps causing a more divisive primary contest. Then again, if Bush does decide to elevate Gonzales--a fellow who has protected Bush's legal backside numerous times during Bush's political career--and nominate the first Hispanic-American to the highest court of the land, the Democrats might find it more difficult to stop the drift of Hispanic-American voters toward the GOP.

All in all, this battle is Bush's to lose. A clever move or two on his part could place the Democrats and progressives at serious political disadvantage. They must now devise a damn smart and sophisticated campaign of opposition designed for more than the vacancy of the moment.

Sweet Victory: People Over Profits in Brazil

Each day, while pharmaceutical companies prosper, 8,500 people in the global South die of AIDS. Thanks to strict intellectual property laws that keep drug prices sky-high, only 7 percent of HIV-positive people in low to middle-income countries have access to antiretroviral medicine.

But last week, Brazil--already renown for having one of the most progressive AIDS policies in the world--took a bold stand against big pharma. On June 25th, health minister Humberto Costa announced that Brazil will break the patent of the antiretroviral drug Kaletra, which is manufactured by the US company Abbott Laboratories, unless the company dramatically reduces its prices. Brazil intends to make a generic version of the drug, which it says will cost barely half of the $2,630 per patient the country annually pays Abbott. In doing so, Brazil will be able to extend its free AIDS treatment program to tens of thousands more HIV-infected citizens.

Brazil maintains that its decision is completely legal under the WTO framework, which allows poor countries to break patents in cases of national health emergencies (Brazil will still have to pay a 3 percent royalty to Abbott). Costa hopes that Brazil's action will embolden other poor and disease-ridden countries--which have been bullied into submission by trade pressure from the United States and other powerful nations--to follow suit.

"Brazil's decision to put people with HIV and public health first, before protecting big pharma's monopolies…will decrease the price of that critical medicine not only in Brazil but also worldwide," says Asia Russell of Health GAP, an organization that advocates for affordable AIDS treatment.

As of last Friday, Brazil has given Abbott a final ten-day window to voluntarily lower prices before creating a generic version of Kaletra. Russell hopes that Brazil will stand firm: "Because generic competition continues to depress prices over time, a compulsory license [to produce the generic version] will help Brazil save more lives than relying on Abbott--a US drug company that recently increased the American price of one of its AIDS drugs 400 percent--with no justification."

You don't have to be a die-hard fair trade activist to agree that when corporate avarice comes before saving lives, enough is enough. To learn what you can do to be a part of the global fight for affordable AIDS treatment, click here .

We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing nationvictories@gmail.com.

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.

The Big Lie

"We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11th attacks."

George W. Bush -- September 17, 2003

To the extend that George Bush had retained the slightest shred of dignity through the whole ugly Iraq imbroglio, it was found in his refusal to fully embrace the biggest of the Big Lies told by his aides: The claim that the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein had played a role in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The president was never honorable in this regard. He did not go out of his way correct the confusion among the American people, a majority of whom believed around the time of the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq that Hussein's regime was somehow linked with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. Nor did he step up to challenge the misinformation being spread by members of his administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, about a supposed connection between Iraq and al-Qaida. And, early on, he actually tried to defend Cheney's statements.

But, even before the the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States established that there was no collaboration between Iraq and al-Qaida, Bush was a good deal more cautious than Cheney. And when the president was directly confronted this spring by reporters and asked whether he shared the vice president's view that a connection had been established, Bush detached himself fully from his vice president's mad ranting and made it clear that he knew of no evidence to support the charge.

In other words, Bush made at least some effort to avoid echoing Cheney's Big Lies.

Until now.

On Tuesday night, however, the president abandoned the narrow patch of high ground that he had staked out and dove into the raging flood of deceit that his administration had unleashed.

In what was billed as a major address regarding Iraq, Bush mentioned the September 11 attacks no less than five times.

Before 750 members of the 82nd Airborne Division and the Army's Special Operations unit, who had been assembled at Fort Bragg, N.C., to give Bush a respectful and unquestioning audience, the president declared, "The troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror. This war reached our shores on September 11, 2001. The terrorists who attacked us -- and the terrorists we face -- murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance and despises all dissent. Their aim is to remake the Middle East in their own grim image of tyranny and oppression, by toppling governments, driving us out of the region and exporting terror."

Bush went on to claim that, "After September 11, I made a commitment to the American people: The nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy. Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war."

By suggesting that the invasion and occupation of Iraq should be seen as part of a legitimate and necessary response to September 11, as he clearly did on Tuesday, Bush made a deliberate break with reality -- not so complete a break, perhaps, as that of Cheney and the wingnut faction of the administration, but a break all the same.

The president speech was written and delivered with the intent of deceiving the American people into believing things that were never true.

Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, to be sure, but he ruled as a militant secularist, who gave Christians and members of other religious and ethnic minorities positions of power and authority within the governments he assembled. Hussein saw the rise of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida as a threat, and he meticulously -- sometimes violently -- kept that threat out of Iraq. To the extent that elements of al-Qaida are now on the ground in that country, it is not as a result of Hussein's invitation but as a result of his removal.

The point here is not to defend Hussein. The point is to recognize reality: The invasion and occupation of Iraq did not control the spread of terrorist activity in the Middle East. It handed the terrorists new opportunities for recruitment, and it gave them new territory in which to operate. Until the president acknowledges these fundamental realities -- and his own responsibility for making things worse -- it will be impossible to undo the damage.

George Bush set out to deceive to the American people Tuesday. That was morally wrong, and tactically foolish.

But George Bush also deceived himself, by engaging in the fantasy that some new spin will allow him to avoid taking responsibility for making the world a more dangerous place. Ultimately, that is the bigger, and far more dangerous lie.

Bush's No-News Iraq Speech

Twelve days ago, The Washington Post reported that the Bush White House had concluded that George W. Bush--who was facing sinking polling numbers regarding the war in Iraq--needed to "shift strategies." He would (of course) not be implementing any policy changes, the paper noted; his new approach" would be "mostly rhetorical." Yet in his prime-time speech on Iraq--delivered before a quiet audience of troops at Fort Bragg on Tuesday evening--Bush proved the Post report wrong. There was no shift of strategy--rhetorical or otherwise. Bush delivered a flat recital of his previous justifications of the war, while offering vague assurances that (a) he realizes (really, really) that the war in Iraq is "hard" work and that (b) his administration is indeed winning the war. On that latter point, Bush mentioned no metrics (as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would call them)--that is, concrete indicators--to demonstrate that he holds a more accurate view of the war than, say, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel who days ago exclaimed, "The reality is that we're losing in Iraq." Bush's plan this night was rather transparent: assert success...and then assert it some more.

At other points during the war when the White House became worried about public opinion, the White House dispatched Bush to make a major speech on the war. But those speeches had little, if any, impact on the public mood, the policy debate, or the events in Iraq. His Fort Bragg address can be filed in the same folder. It was an artificial event; Bush was standing at the podium and reading words off a TelePrompTer that were written by a speechwriter not because he had anything new or significant to say but because the White House had no better PR alternatives at this moment. (What no flight suit?) And in this White House reconsidering policy is not an option.

So Bush warmed up and doled out the usual fare. He didn't even bother to come up with new lines of "disassembling." Once more Bush claimed the war in Iraq was an appropriate and mandatory response to 9/11. He repeatedly referred to the enemy in Iraq as "the terrorists," not the insurgents, continuing his strategic effort to blur the distinction between the foreign jihadists who have flocked to Iraq to kill Americans and the homegrown insurgent thugs who blow up US troops and Iraqi civilians for a different set of motivations. Bush keeps tying the insurgency in Iraq to 9/11: "Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home." Many--and probably most--of the enemy forces faced by US troops in Iraq are not followers of Osama bin Laden. According to recent estimates gathered by the Brookings Institution, there are now about 16,000 insurgents and about 1,000 foreign fighters engaged in the war against the US military and the interim Iraqi government. And Bush neglected to mention the recent intelligence report noting that Iraq--thanks to his invasion--has become an effective breeding ground for the anti-American terrorists who may indeed look to attack the United States elsewhere.

Such facts are perhaps too subtle or nuanced to fit into the hit-the-bastards-before-they-hit-us view Bush wants to sell to the public. He noted, "We are fighting against men with blind hatred and armed with lethal weapons who are capable of any atrocity. They wear no uniform; they respect no laws of warfare or morality." That is true. But if the war in Iraq is nothing but a fundamental battle of good (us) against evil (them), then why is the US military, as the administration has acknowledged, negotiating with certain leaders of the insurgency? Can you cut a deal with evil?

Bush continued to maintain that Iraq is "a central front in the war on terror." How did he prove this case? He quoted Osama bin Laden, who once said, "This third world war is raging in Iraq. The whole world is watching this war." You see, Bush attacked Iraq (which had no weapons of mass destruction and no operational ties to the terrorists who mounted the horrific attacks of 9/11), a war ensued, Islamic fundamentalists rushed to Iraq to do battle with the Americans, bin Laden welcomed this opportunity to have his followers kill US troops (who might otherwise be coming after him or securing Afghanistan), and that is Bush's proof the war in Iraq is "a central front in the war on terror." In essence, because bin Laden said so after Bush invaded Iraq.

******

Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on who was wrong on Iraq, NPR's vacancy in Baghdad, and Karl Rove's hypocrisy.

*******

Bush tried to acknowledge the troubles in Iraq, while pushing the good news: "Our progress has been uneven, but progress is being made." He also said, "In the past year, we have made significant progress." In case anyone missed the message, he noted, "The progress in the past year has been significant, and we have a clear path forward." He also remarked, "We have made progress, but we have a lot more work to do." What signs of progress did he point to? He claimed that 160,000 Iraqi security troops have been trained and that NATO and several nations have joined in the training effort. Bush did not address the fact that several nations have pulled troops out of Iraq. But he did concede that these Iraqi security forces "are at different levels of readiness." How different he didn't fully explore. For example, how many of these troops are capable of fighting the insurgents on their own? Bush's answer: "some." When Senator Joe Biden returned recently from a trip to Iraq, he said he had been told that of the 107 Iraqi battalions being trained, only three were operational. Three certainly is "some."

Bush hailed developments that have been mixed at best. He declared, "we are partnering coalition units with Iraqi units. These coalition Iraqi teams are conducting operations together in the field. These combined operations are giving Iraqis a chance to experience how the most professional armed forces in the world operate in combat." But media reports from Iraq note that Iraqi and American units have often not worked together effectively. American soldiers have expressed doubts about the abilities and commitment of their Iraqi counterparts. The Iraqis have voiced resentment about their American partners. (Click here for one depressing account.) In any event, US military officials have estimated it could take several years to train an effective Iraqi security force. Bush made no reference to such a timeframe. Instead, he tossed out catchy spin: "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." Nor did he have anything to say about Rumsfeld's and Vice President Dick Cheney's recent comments on the insurgency. (Cheney said the opposition was in its "last throes," Rumsfeld noted that quashing the insurgency could take up to twelve years.)

No, everything policy-wise is fine. There is no reason for even minor adjustments. And Bush hid behind his commanders when necessary. "Some Americans ask me," he said, "'If completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops?' If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job." Then why do backers of the war complain about the porous borders (especially the Syrian border) that permit foreign jihadists to enter Iraq? Might that have something to do with there being not enough troops to secure the borders?

But never mind all that on-the-ground stuff; freedom is on the march. "Iraqis," Bush said, "will bind their multiethnic society together in a democracy that respects the will of the majority and protects minority rights." Let's hope he's right. But such happy-talk ignores the sectarian violence that appears to be on the rise within Iraq. The problem there is not merely that anti-American terrorists are using murder and mayhem to block the achievement of democracy. There are fundamental divides within the nation that are playing out--all too often in violent fashion--as well. But recognition of that would interfere with Bush's comic-book version of the evildoers-versus-us struggle in Iraq.

In this speech, Bush reprised the messianic and simplistic neocon analysis (or fantasy) that the war in Iraq has led to the spread of democracy elsewhere. He proclaimed, "Across the broader Middle East, people are claiming their freedom. In the last few months, we have witnessed elections in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon. These elections are inspiring democratic reformers in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia." Well, Yassir Arafat's timely death did more than the war in Iraq to bring about the recent electoral success in the Palestinian Territories. The election in Lebanon was scheduled before Iraqis trekked to the polls. The Saudi election was a modest affair (and women need not apply). And in Egypt, democratic reformers howled about Laura Bush's support of an election law that allowed the ruling party to decide who could run against it.

Without showing much enthusiasm--is he war-weary?--Bush ended with the usual rah-rah. He suggested that anyone who counsels withdrawal is not part of the American tradition: "The American people do not falter under threat, and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins....Americans have always held firm, because we have always believed in certain truths. We know that if evil is not confronted, it gains in strength and audacity and returns to strike us again. We know that when the work is hard, the proper response is not retreat, it is courage." In other words, don't be wimps, don't listen to those who say that it might be time to rethink what the United States is doing in Iraq. Stay the course. Just do it. Believe.

With the polls registering what might be deepening skepticism about the war, this may be the most powerful political argument Bush has: Americans don't quit. His allies in Congress and the commentariat have been repeating a street-level variant of this message: America does not turn tail. It's the ultimate fall-back position for the pro-war crowd. It is not a policy argument; it's pushing a psychological button. And as the public mood appears to sour on the war, Bush-backers are also starting to accuse critics at home of undermining the war effort and--worse of all--demoralizing the troops in Iraq. Bush stayed clear of this scoundrel maneuver. But soon after his speech was done, Senator John Warner, the Republican chairman of the armed services committee, was on Fox News Channel warning unnamed persons of making "statements back home....that are troubling the troops." He added, "We here at home have to show a strong bipartisan support for our troops." This is the ultimate escape hatch for supporters of a war that is not going well: the critics are to blame. Bush ended his speech by thanking and praising the members of the US military and their families. He said nothing about the recently disclosed $1 billion shortfall in funding for veterans' health care.

Bush's speech will not alter the landscape--here or in Iraq. It was the rhetorical equivalent of treading water. Before the speech, NPR had asked me to talk about the address afterward with a conservative pundit. Minutes before we were to go on, an NPR worker called. We've decided, she said, that there was not enough in the speech to warrant an analysis segment. I could hardly protest.

*******************

IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO 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 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.

Rove on the Couch

As you all have heard, Karl Rove said liberals wanted to offer the terrorists therapy after 9/11. I know a lot of liberals. None of them were talking about counseling Osama bin Laden in that terrible time. But there is one person liberals would like to see in therapy: Karl Rove. How else to understand the enemy?

I'd like to know what terrible childhood trauma caused an Episcopalian from Utah to believe establishing a permanent Republican majority was his life's calling. Was he abused by a homeless man? Did feminists burn his American flag notebook at a pro-choice rally? Was he humiliated by a member of the liberal elite during graduate studies at the University of Texas?

I'd like to see Rove take a word association test. How does Karl feel when he hears the phrase "push pull polls" or "merge/purge" or "dirty tricks"?

But I'm most fascinated by his submissive and self-abnegating relationship with George W. Bush. Does Karl thrill every time Bush calls him by his nickname, "Turd Blossom"?

Yes, liberals would like to offer Rove therapy…and then prepare indictments.

Reinforcing the Wall

In his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, then-President Thomas Jefferson made it clear that the intent of the founders was to maintain a "wall of separation between church and state." It was for that reason, Jefferson explained, that the First Amendment to the Constitution barred the government of the new nation from engaging in the promotion of a particular religion.

Jefferson and the other founders had no doubts about the need to prevent any mingling of the affairs of church and state. They had seen the damage done to government and religion by the state religions of Europe -- particularly, though not exclusively, King George III's Church of England -- and they wanted to assure that the United States would avoid the patterns of hatred, discrimination and violence that arise when one faith is officially sanctioned. They also recognized the advantages that came with keeping politicians out of pulpits and preachers out of policymaking. Though many of the founders were Christians, they held dramatically different views regarding the practice of religion. And, as George Washington and others made clear, they respected the contributions made to the new Republic by Jews and other non-Christians.

History has proven the concerns of the founders to have been well placed. When Jefferson's wall has been maintained, the American experiment has been at its best: welcoming, tolerant, open to new ideas and respectful of science, reason and progress.

When the wall has been undermined, however, the country has often degenerated into bitterness and dysfunction.

Fights over religion have caused divisions so serious that they have warped not just politics but basic human interactions at the hometown level.

Certainly, that has been the case in recent years in several southern states.

The highest profile fight has been seen in Alabama, where a local judge named Roy Moore began stirring controversy in the late 1990s by ordering the display of the Ten Commandments in his DeKalb County courtroom. Moore argued that the United States was founded on Christian principles such as those contained in the list of Biblical injunctions, and that it thus was appropriate to display them in a prominent location as a set of guiding principles.

But Moore's true intent, which was obvious from the start, was to stir up support among Christian fundamentalists for his political ambitions. He tried to undermine the wall of separation between church and state in order to provoke a high-profile fight that would identify him as a "defender of the faith" against the "threats" posed by secularism that Jefferson, Madison and other founders clearly believed was essential to the success of the Republic.

To be sure, Moore is a sly politician. He parlayed the Ten Commandments controversy into a successful run in 2000 for the state Supreme Court, where as that body's chief justice he ordered the display of the Ten Commandments in front of the court building.

The ensuing fight made national news, and created fierce tensions in Alabama. Moore, who was forced to step down as chief justice, entertained the notion of seeking the presidency as a "Christian" challenger to President Bush in 2004 and is now talking about running for governor of Alabama in 2006.

But, while Moore may be a sly politician, he is a poor reader of the Constitution.

That fact was confirmed Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Ten Commandments cannot be displayed by government agencies in a manner intended to suggest a church-state connection.

The decision in a case involving the display of framed copies of the Ten Commandments in two Kentucky courthouses saw the high court's majority -- which included Justices David Souter, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer -- signal that the Biblical document cannot be so showcased by a government agency when there is a "predominantly religious purpose" in doing so. A second decision, in a related case from Texas, maintained the flexibility that has traditionally been seen in debates about such matters -- with the court permitting reasonable displays of the Ten Commandments in historical and educational contexts.

Make no mistake, however, about the Supreme Court's clear intent.

The majority's overall message was clear: It is unconstitutional for politicians to use the Ten Commandments, or any other statement of religious principle, as battering ram against the Mr. Jefferson's wall.

-----------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols is the author of Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) and has written extensively about religion and politics.

Preventing AIDS

Considered one of the world's most promising new HIV-prevention technologies by scientists and medical professionals, microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women could apply topically to prevent the transmission of AIDS and other infections. Microbicides could come in many forms like gels, creams or rings and would allow women to protect themselves whether a man wore a condom or not.

Developing and bringing a safe, effective microbicide to market could literally save millions of lives, but barely two percent of the US budget for HIV/AIDS research (already scandalously low) is spent toward this goal. To remedy this and kick-start work on what will eventually be hailed as a revolutionary medical breakthrough, Reps. Chris Shays (R-CT), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Danny Davis (D-IL) will introduce the Microbicide Development Act (MDA) in the House this summer. The Global Campaign for Microbicides is organizing support for the bill as well as spearheading other efforts to increasing funding for R&D.

Click here to ask your rep to vote for the MDA, click here to sign a petition for greater investment in microbicides, and click here for info on the medical and political history of microbicides.