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Putin's War

The bloody end to the hostage crisis in Russia leaves unfathomable human suffering. More than three hundred children, parents and teachers died in the grusome 52-hour siege that began when heavily armed Chechens--and possibly other guerrillas--stormed Beslan's Middle School #1.

The unconscionable slaughter of the innocents came just days after a female suicide bomber--most likely one of the "black widows," women who have lost husbands, brothers or sons in the Chechen war--blew herself up at a central Moscow subway station, killing nine bystanders and wounding scores of people. And this after two airliners crashed on August 24th--apparently blown up by terrorists.

These latest acts expose the bankruptcy of Vladimir Putin's policy toward Chechnya. After three years of peace, negotiated by Boris Yeltsin's Kremlin with the Chechen secessionists in 1996, Putin came to power by championing a renewed military offensive in the already war-torn region. A series of apartment bombings in Moscow and other cities that year were blamed on Chechen insurgents, and created mass popular support for the dispatching of tens of thousands of troops to the region. (A new Russian documentary, Disbelief, which was shown for the first and, so far, only time last week in Moscow, explores allegations that the Russian security forces set off the bombings as a pretext to secure Putin's electoral victory and create support for re-launching the war.) Early success in the war turned Putin, then Prime Minister, into a national hero and he easily won election as Yeltsin's handpicked successor.

From the beginning, Putin built his career and image on a promise to bring stability, order and security to the Russian people. Instead, the Russian President's brutal military policies--and his unyielding refusal to negotiate a political resolution with the Chechen government in exile, led by the last freely elected Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov--have spurred the wave of terrorism that now afflicts Russia.

During the past two years alone, more than 1,000 Russians have been killed in a series of increasingly lethal terrorist attacks inside Russia, including those in a Moscow theater in October, 2002.

Meanwhile, since the first war began in 1994, more than one hundred thousand Chechens, many also civilians, have been killed since 1994. A generation of young Chechens has grown up knowing nothing but war, brutality and the killing of family members. The once vibrant capital city of Grozny has been bombed into rubble. A decade of fighting has decimated the country's labor force, devastated its agricultural base, destroyed its infrastructure and left many people with deplorable living standards.

Russian troops have used harsh occupation tactics, destroying villages, rounding up and "disappearing" young men. Rape, according to human rights reports, is a routine feature of this merciless war. The decades-long conflict has strengthened the hand of the most murderous and extremist elements among the Chechen insurgency--such as those led by Shamil Basayev, who allegedly planned the school siege. It has also fueled even greater excesses of dehumanizing violence.

As one of the surviving hostages in Beslan told a Russian newspaper: "The terrorists say they are Chechens. They say they're demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. They also told us that their own children have been killed by Russians and they have nothing to lose. I asked one of them how they could put the lives of our children in danger like this. He answered that no one asked his opinion about anything when his children were being killed."

In the wake of Beslan's bloody siege, Putin has vowed an all-out war against terror in Russia. In a nationwide televised address last Saturday, he signaled that he is even more determined to link Russia's war against Chechen separatists to the global war against terror. "Terrorism is not an internal matter," Putin told his country, attributing the siege and other attacks to "the direct intervention of international terror against Russia." But this is Putin's war--not a global war. And though he carefully avoided using the word "Chechnya" in his address, Putin is fully aware that the political and historical roots to Russia's crisis are to be found in that grinding conflict.

While editorials in papers like the Wall Street Journal and terrorism "experts" like Steven Emerson work to conflate Russia's crisis with the battle against Al Qaeda, Moscow's leading liberal (Westernized) opposition politicians are criticizing Putin for blaming the Beslan siege on international terrorism. Even the Bush Administration broke ranks with Putin on Tuesday--stating that only a political settlement could end the crisis. When asked what he thought of Western calls for negotiations with Chechen rebels, Putin replied angrily, "Why don't you meet Osama Bin Laden, invite him to Brussels or to the White House and engage him in talks, ask him what he wants and give it to him so he leaves you in peace?"

Challenging Putin's assertions, Irina Khakamada, who ran against the ex-general in the March presidential election, said: "One can see the desire to explain all problems by international terrorism...it is a desire to evade responsibility for what is going on." Several leading Russian analysts also argued that the government was exaggerating the Arab connection in order to obscure the nationalist impulses of the Chechen insurgency. (The federal security forces quickly claimed that 10 "Arabs" were among the hostage-takers, but a Kremlin spokesman now says that, despite earlier assertions, no Arabs have yet been found among the terrorists.) While it does appear that Muslim fighters have joined the Chechen forces--as the conflict has broadened and festered over these last years, the essential driving force behind the resistance remains nationalist struggle.)

Without a political resolution, it is only a question of how many more civilians will die in a spiraling cycle of resistance and terror. Grigory Yavlinsky, a leading opposition politician and head of Russia's Yabloko party, has long argued that the first requirement for ending this mestasizing conflict is much broader political dialogue. "If you want a political process, you have to speak to your enemies. You should talk to anyone except those who are real criminals. Anything is better than what we have now."

One hopeful sign that there is an understanding of the need for political dialogue came with news that just hours before the end of the school siege last Friday, regional government mediators reached out through back channels to Chechen separatist leaders--notably former Chechen President Maskhadov, for help in resolving the crisis. ("I assured them that President Maskhadov was as distraught as they were," his chief representative Akhmed Zakayev said before the end came. "He is ready without any conditions to make all efforts to save these children and resolve this crisis.")

Yesterday, Maskhadov issued a statement disassociating himself from the torture and killing of the Beslan children. "There cannot be any justification for people who raise their hand against what is most sacred to us--the life of defenseless children."

And in the wake of the Beslan assault, regional officials--apparently desperate to avert a widening war in the Northern Caucasus, which Putin warned of in his address to the nation--announced they would seek to talk to the political wing of the Chechen separatist movement. (The Kremlin, seeking to distance itself from these efforts, insisted that such talks were purely a local matter.)

For the first time in many years, voices can be heard in Russia calling for a political solution as the only way out. There are also calls for an independent investigation into the handling of the hostage crisis and demands that the Putin government resign because of the "negligence that resulted in numerous civilian victims." Even the Motherland Party--formed with Kremlin backing--issued a statement demanding that the government resign. At the other end of the political spectrum, the Communist Party blasted the Administration's failed policies for the hostage taking. (Putin has rejected calls for an independent inquiry.)

Putin can no longer rule as he has--as a leader whose popularity was based on promises to bring order and security to his people. The trust he enjoyed has been seriously eroded.

In the short-term, however, the Russian President may well succeed in deflecting responsibility onto the corruption of the security forces, distancing himself from the misinformation put out during the crisis, and assigning blame to the Yeltsin legacy. (A survey taken this week showed that most Russians blame corrupt special forces for failing to prevent rising terrorism but few hold Putin directly responsible.)

The President's authoritarian instincts suggest he will try to counter any opposition through exploiting his peoples' fears of terrorism, strengthening the power of the security apparatus, cracking down on what remains of a free press, and implementing policies and methods that risk inflaming the Caucausus still further. (One sign of an imminent crackdown on the press came on Monday when the editor of Izvestia resigned under pressure after the paper criticized the authorities' handling of the terror attacks.)

Putin has already essentially wiped out any serious opposition and created a submissive Parliament--a body which was afraid to convene an emergency meeting in the hours after the siege. As political analyst Dimitri Furman out it, "We have created a system in which we reproduced the basic principles of the Soviet system--an unchallengeable government carrying out an unchallengeable policy."

Or, as another astute Russian analyst, Liliya Shvetsova, says in assessing the consequences of Putin's consolidation of power: "We have no other leaders. We have no other alternatives. We are at a dead end." And referring to her own country's political crisis, Shvetsova sounded a lament that will be all too familiar to many Americans these days: "Unfortunately, there is no tradition of accountability for lies and failures."

It may be that, as Shvetsova argues, "new leaders are needed on both sides to initiate a search for common interests and for a path to peaceful dialogue." But if Putin refuses to change course and seek open negotiations with credible and moderate Chechen leaders, Russia's future is grim: More acts of terror, possibly against one of the country's scores of nuclear reactors, a widening civil war throughout the Caucusus, more civilian deaths, the empowerment of extremists on both sides, an even tougher crackdown on the media and the growing power of hardline security forces.

FOX Rejects The Nation

The Fox News Channel ran a splashy full-page ad in our recent GOP Convention issue. In fact, Fox has bought several ads in The Nation in the last year, including our back page, leading some fifty readers to cancel their subscriptions in protest of the magazine taking what they considered tainted money.

But we stand by our advertising policy--one which starts "with the presumption that we will accept advertising even if the views expressed are repugnant to those of the editors.... Blatantly misleading ads, or ads purveying harmful products will fall into a gray area of discretion, but as a general principle, we assume our readers will have sufficient knowledge to judge for themselves the merits of commonly known products (such as cigarettes)." (For more on our ad policy, click here.)

In contrast, Fox News seems to believe its viewers must be protected from news free of White House spin and corporate agendas. More the cowardly lion than the faux-fierce Fox, the cable news network has just rejected a sixty-second TV ad that The Nation was planning to air during the Republican National Convention.

"Nobody owns The Nation. Not Time Warner, not Murdoch," the commercial says. "So there's no corporate slant, no White House spin. Just the straight dope." FOX rejected the ad "out of hand," according to the magazine's senior vice president for circulation Art Stupar, after our ad agency sent the commercial to the network. "I find it ironic." Stupar told the New York Times, which wrote about FOX's censorship. "They are the GOP cable station, a champion of free markets, and they got spooked at the thought of running an ad that doesn't publish spin or serve the agenda of corporate conglomerates." Could mention of Mr. Murdoch have been a problem? A man who takes money from some of the worst regimes in the world can't take a few bucks from The Nation?

Cowardly FOX may be running scared, but the ad appeared on Time Warner's CNN, as well as NBC Universal's MSNBC and Bravo, during RNC week. You can also click here to watch the spot online, and thanks to the readers and others who contributed money to allow us to air it.

Getting the Word Out

And now for some good news this Labor Day. Not about a sudden turnaround in jobs, wages, health insurance, family incomes, poverty, or inequality, all of which continue their dismal course. Nor about the Bush Administration actually doing something to improve the fortunes of working families. No girlie men they.

In fact the good news isn't about the economy per se at all. It's about our growing ability as progressives to say something consistent and intelligent about economic developments, from multiple respected sources around the country--not just a few TV studios in Washington or New York--simultaneously. The Right has long had such an "echo chamber" on policy analysis and recommendations. (You know how it works: Some argument or made-up-fact surfaces in one place, and is suddenly heard nationwide.) We progressives have been slower to get such coordination on our message, which tends to be more truthful and less heard. But we're getting closer.

One good example is the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN), which links local, state, and national groups that conduct and disseminate research on a range of economic issues, including wages and benefits, incomes, jobs, unemployment, workforce and economic development, minimum and living wages, Social Security, and other issues related to working class living standards. Started a few years ago--at the initiative of Nation contributing editor Joel Rogers, a professor at UW-Madison and director of its Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), and Larry Mishel, now president of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), EARN now has 44 such groups, from 34 states, networked together.

In the next few days, in coordination with EPI's Labor Day release of its biannual State of Working America, most of the EARN groups will be releasing "State of Working [name the state]" reviews of conditions in their state. So instead of one organization we'll speak as 24, and instead of a few spokespeople we'll have closer to 100--all working off the same basic national facts and conclusions, and each able to relate those in detail to their own state. And what it's doing this week with its state reports, EARN, currently under the direction of Michael Ettlinger (known to many for his years of work at Citizens for Tax Justice), has done with a number of other simultaneous, multi-state releases.

Along with the national report from EPI and the Wisconsin report from COWS, look for upcoming releases from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, California Budget Project (www.cbp.org), Center for Governmental Studies with the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (IL) (www.ctbaonline.org), Center for Labor Research and Studies (FL) (www.fiu.edu/~clrs), Center for Public Policy Priorities (TX) (www.cppp.org/), Children's Action Alliance (AZ) (www.azchildren.org/caa/welcome.asp), Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute (www.cclponline.org/), Connecticut Voices for Children (www.ctkidslink.org/), Fiscal Policy Institute (NY) (www.fiscalpolicy.org/), Indiana Institute for Working Families (www.ichhi.org/), Institute for Labor Studies and Research (WV), Iowa Policy Project (www.iowapolicyproject.org/), Keystone Research Center (PA), Maine Center for Economic Policy, Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, Minnesota Budget Project and Jobs Now Coalition, New Jersey Policy Perspective, New Mexico Voices for Children, North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, Oregon Center for Public Policy, Policy Matters Ohio, and Utah Issues Center for Poverty Research and Action.

So, on this Labor Day let's celebrate this new "echo chamber" and work to get the message out!

The RNC in Retrospect

This week's Republican National Convention brought fake compassion, fire-and-brimstone, terrible hair-cuts and even worse music from inside Madison Square Garden; close to 1,800 or so arrests in the streets of New York; a raft of progressive film screenings, concerts, readings and panels and protest activity everywhere.

It's unclear how much of this filtered into the US consciousness as ratings numbers and polls showed most Americans turning away from convention coverage, even in this heated election year, in record numbers. Aside from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central's brilliant gift to the American polity and CSPAN's cinema verite coverage, TV offered little of value.

And, in the print and online worlds, there was lots of smart commentary, but, as usual, it was difficult to find, among the glut of decidedly insipid coverage. As is frequently the case, it sometimes helped to look abroad for the most incisive material. Below are links to some good articles from the last week.

S3 Wrap-Up; Jail Crisis by New York IMC, Sept. 3

Bush by Numbers by Graydon Carter, The Independent, Sept. 3

Vigor, Vitriolics but no Violence by Josh Robin, New York Newsday, Sept. 3

Protest Groups 'Empowered' by Large Turnout by Martha T. Moore and Charisse Jones, USA Today, Sept. 3

Flogging the Flag by Simon Schama, The Guardian, Sept. 2

NY Expressionism by David Segal, Washington Post, Sept. 2

The World Election by Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, Sept. 2

Don't Send More Kids to War by Michael Moore, USA Today, Sept. 2

On the Differences Between Kerry and Bush by Noam Chomsky, International Socialist Review, Sept. 1

And, though it's self-referential for me to point out, I want to take every opportunity to draw attention to The Nation's special RNC week weblog, New York Minutes, which dispatched a team of Nation writers to report on the protests through a revolving series of more than 15 dispatches over the course of the week.

Click here and scroll down to read pieces by Victor Navasky, Katha Pollitt, Liza Featherstone, Jennifer Block, Eyal Press, Esther Kaplan, Richard Kim, Ari Berman, Tom Gogola, Debbie Nathan, David Enders and Kristin Jones. Also check out Tom Engelhardt's valuable website, produced in concert with The Nation Institute, which published lots of valuable material during RNC week.

Finally, watch this space for info on urgent campaigns and projects being undertaken in the next two months to unseat George W. Bush on November 2.

Bush: It's About Me and My Crusade

It's official: the 2004 campaign is a referendum on whether the United States should wage a crusade to bring liberty to the repressed of the world--particularly in the Middle East--in order to heed the call of God and to protect the United States from terrorists who target America because they despise freedom. Or, at least, that is how George W. Bush would like the contest to be framed.

In his acceptance speech, Bush pushed the message of the week--it's the war, stupid--to lofty heights. Like the speakers of previous nights, he fully embraced the war in Iraq. But while John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Zell Miller, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Laura Bush depicted the war as an action necessary for safeguarding America, Bush also placed it within the context of an even grander mission. "America," he proclaimed from that altar-like podium, "is called to lead the cause of freedom in the new century....Freedom is not America's gift to the world. It is the Almighty God's gift." (Minutes earlier, New York Governor George Pataki described Bush as the Supreme Being's gift to the United States: "He is one of those men God and fate somehow lead to the fore in times of challenge.")

This rhetoric was nothing new for Bush. He has made these points previously. But at the end of a week in which the war was presented as the Number One reason to vote for Bush, he chose to highlight the messianic side of his military action in Iraq. It was this part of the speech that soared. During the first 35 minutes, Bush ticked off a laundry list of domestic initiatives, as Bill Clinton liked to do. But Bush did so without the enthusiasm that Clinton displayed when discussing such subjects. It was as if this was the obligatory portion of the evening; Bush had to talk about something other than the war to prove he has a second-term agenda. It was an act of self-inoculation, an attempt to preempt Democratic criticism that he doesn't care about the close-to-home stuff. He tossed out a few new (but modest proposals) and the old standbys: health savings accounts, partial privatization of Social Security, tax reform, and tort reform. Especially tort reform--which the GOPers regard as a blow against John Edwards. The delegates roared when Bush pushed this button--much more loudly than when he promised more money for Pell grants or low-income health clinics. As for the details of his domestic agenda, Bush told the crowd to check his website.

He took a couple of spirited swings at John Kerry, deriding his challenger for having voted against the antigay Defense of Marriage Act, for having declared that Hollywood is the "heart and soul of America, and for opposing the $87 billion in funding for the Iraq war. And Bush briefly dished out the red meat to the social conservatives: a few words of support for "the unborn child," a poke at activist judges, a vow to oppose gay marriage. But his passion was reserved for the war on Iraq and the larger undertaking.

The war, in Bush's view, shows that he is willing to do whatever it takes to protect America, that he is a decisive leader whose determination to defeat the nation's enemies cannot be questioned. "You know where I stand," he said--implying you might not now where that other guy stands. And what's more, the war demonstrates that he has a vision beyond kicking terrorist butt. "This young century," he declared, "will be liberty's century. By promoting liberty abroad we will build a safer world....We have a calling from beyond the stars." Idealism (democracy in the Middle East), safety (whipping al Qaeda) and faith (God is calling) all rolled into one neat package. That's not a bad sales pitch. And for a politician who occasionally blows his big speeches, he delivered this half of his acceptance address with strength and conviction.

This was not a transformational speech for Bush. "In general," Senator Orrin Hatch told me, "it's what we've heard before, but he did it well." After Bush described the global campaign he wants to lead in his second term, he then did his down-home, self-deprecating thing: "People sometimes have to correct my English. I knew I had a problem when Arnold Schwarzenegger started doing it." The message: I'm a regular fella whom you have no reason to fear. And while the speech was loaded with the standard misrepresentations--e.g., his choice was to go to war or take Saddam Hussein, a madman, at his word--it did present plenty of clarity. Yes, we certainly do know where he stands when it comes to mounting a crusade.

The obvious question: will the Protector-as-Missionary bit sell? Will voters hear the term "liberty century" and be moved? Or will they ask, is that the name of a new car? It's one thing to turn a lemon (a messy war now considered a mistake by a majority of Americans) into lemonade. But can Bush turn that lemon into blessed wine?

My hunch is that Bush's acceptance speech, no matter what was said, will not make much difference--given that he neither drooled nor pulled a Zell Miller. He came across in a familiar fashion. And after three-and-a-half long years, do voters need more information about Bush to render a decision? If there are any undecided voters--and perhaps they don't really exist--were these citizens paying attention to this speech (or the convention)? And if they were watching, do they want a crusader in the driver's seat? You tell me.

Handicapping this election is a mug's game. On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that political observers and strategists have concluded that the "political terrain has shifted dramatically" in Bush's favor and that "specific proposals are unnecessary." One Bush adviser told the newspaper, "The strategists are saying, 'Everything is breaking our way. It looks like it's almost over.'" But on the same day, The Wall Street Journal noted that a Bush strategist "confided" that "I don't think anything has changed since March. I don't think this election will see a break out." Go figure.

It's impossible to assess how the GOP convention and Bush's speech will play in the long run--meaning over the next two months. Intervening events--the debates, developments in Iraq, swings in the economy--will, well, intervene. But it is easy to discern the Bush gameplan. At this convention, Bush did not pussyfoot about. His message was nuance-free: la guerre est moi. In this regard, he is taking full and complete responsibility and asking to be judged accordingly. And God only knows how that's going to turn out.

--The Journeys Bar, the Essex House, 2:42 am, with assistance--or companionship--from Douglas Brinkley, Michael Isikoff, Greta van Susteren, Mark Hosenball, Tammy Haddad, Dianne Robinson, Brian Doherty, Rosemarie Terenzio, and Ann Klenk. But these people have nothing to do with the views expressed above.

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Read about my adventures in partying with conservatives by clicking here. And see my report on the problem shared by gay GOPers and fundamentalist Republicans. Or check out my review of McCain's speech. And don't forget my piece on Arnold's and Laura's big speeches. And there's the column on how the Bush mob enlisted Zell Miller for a hit job on Kerry.

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When you're done reading this article,visit David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read back entries on the Swift vets and other matters.

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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com.

GOP to UN: Drop Dead

NEW YORK -- John Kerry has taken his hits at this year's Republican National Convention. But the Democratic presidential nominee came off easy compared with the United Nations.

Not since the convention that nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964 has a gathering of the Republican faithful featured so much UN bashing from so many prominent players in the party. What once was the extremist line of John Birch Society cadres and their allies -- "Get US out of the UN," read the society's billboards in the 1960s -- has become a popular position within the Republican party.

The anti-UN sentiment was stoked by Vice President Dick Cheney in his unilateralism then, unilateralism now, unilateralism forever address to the convention on Wednesday night.

Among the vice president's many sneering references to Kerry's internationalism was the declaration that, "History has shown that a strong purposeful America is vital to preserving freedom and keeping us safe, yet time and again Senator Kerry has made the wrong call on national security. Senator Kerry began his political career by saying he would like to see our troops deployed 'only at the directive of the United Nations.'"

In contrast, Cheney thundered, "George W. Bush will never seek a permission slip to defend the American people."

That turned out to be one of the biggest applause lines for a speech that formed the centerpiece of the convention's foreign-policy message.

It was not, however, the biggest anti-UN applause line.

That came from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"If you believe this country, not the United Nations, is the best hope for democracy, then you are a Republican," the actor who once played Conan the Barbarian told the convention.

The dig at the UN was greeted with thunderous and sustained applause from the delegates gathered in Madison Square Garden, which is located just across the island of Manhattan from the international agency's headquarters.

Schwarzenegger's remarks were not so warmly greeted by the Bush administration's new ambassador to the UN.

Former US Sen. John Danforth, a Missouri Republican, has been trying to patch up relations between the United States and the UN. Those relations soured last year, after the the UN Security Council declined to approve Bush's plans for invading Iraq. But Bush has been trying to ease tensions since the UN helped the US to install Iraq's interim government – and, notably, he avoided engaging in explicit UN bashing in his acceptance speech on Thursday night.

Just as notably, however, was the president's avoidance of any defense of the United Nations.

That task was left to Ambassador Danforth. To his credit, Danforth left little doubt of his view that the UN-bashing at the Republican convention is going to make the job of patching up relations between the US and the UN more difficult.

Responding to a question about Schwarzenegger's criticism of the UN, and the convention's enthusiastic response to it, Danforth explained that, "I can only say that when President Bush asked me to do this job, he said that the United Nations is very important, and that this was a very important job."

The ambassador said that "working through the UN and working with other countries and working on a multilateral basis is clearly the strategy that we have in our country and it is very important."

Though he is a senior Republican political figure, who in 2000 was seriously considered as a contender for the party's vice presidential nomination, Danforth was not asked to address the convention.

Zig Zag Zell Wigs Out

Former Congressman Ben Jones had it right when he said last month, "I think that the devil has got into Zell Miller, and he needs an exorcist." Zell "Zig Zag" Miller's vicious keynote speech Wednesday night was so over the top and below the belt that it left even some of the coolest members of the so-called liberal punditocracy stunned.

"I've never heard such a speech...so wildly inaccurate, filled with wild distortions by the basketful...just over the top angry," Time magazine's Joe Klein told CNN's Aaron Brown. The usually cool and crisp CNN analyst Bill Schneider seemed visibly shaken, even somewhat disheveled, as he described Miller's speech "as angrier that Buchanan's in '92." Chris Matthews seemed shocked after Miller exploded on his show and threatened him in an out-of-control screed. Jeff Greenfield almost pulsed with rage after listening to Miller's scurrilous and slanderous attacks on Kerry's character and credentials.

In a post-speech interview, Greenfield (and Judy Woodruff) pushed Miller to defend his serial distortions about Kerry's Senate votes on defense appropriations. But there was no time to ascertain the truth--as is almost always the case on cable TV. At the close of his show, Aaron Brown asked Klein--in his signature, 'aw shucks manner--"We all want our politics at a higher plane. Was the line crossed tonight? " Klein shook his head, looked disgusted, and admitted he didn't know how this latest round of Bush's scummy politics of personal destruction by proxy would play in the country (and in those all important swing states.)

Here's a modest proposal. How about giving over ten minutes on all cable shows, beginning tonight, to a "just the facts" segment. No shouting heads, no blustering anchors. Just bring on a representative from one of the non-partisan "truth squad" election monitoring groups like the Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.Org to ascertain the truth of the speeches and charges of the day. We have 60 days left until the election. Why not try to lift our politics out of the gutter which Bush's character assassins have thrown us into?

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Cut Bush's Time in Half

At a Labor Day Rally yesterday--rescheduled by New York's unions to take advantage of all the Republicans in their city--the President of New York City's Central Labor Council Brian McLaughlin got it right when, referring to the Bush Administration's gutting of overtime protection, he said: "If George Bush can cut our time-and-a-half, then we should cut his time in half."

The Bush Mob Orders Up a Hit

"I can't believe they're doing it again, and getting away with it."

So said a Republican strategist not keen on George W. Bush, referring to the attack being waged against John Kerry. "The Bush gang did it to John McCain four years ago. They're doing it now to Kerry. They're like the mob."

Moments earlier, as delegates filed into Madison Square Garden for Night Three of the GOP convention, I encountered several Republicans who had worked on the McCain campaign in 2000 during the South Carolina primary. It was there that pro-Bush forces mounted the foulest political battle of recent years. McCain had cleaned Bush's clock in the New Hampshire primary. The South Carolina primary was do-or-die for Bush. So desperate Bush-backers did whatever it took. They spread vile rumors about McCain and his family. A Bush supporter who headed a marginal veterans group accused McCain of selling-out and abandoning veterans. "I tell people that if you weren't there you cannot believe what they did," one of the McCainiacs told me. Another said, "Never, never have I seen such a thing." A third exclaimed, "They were like the mob." See a pattern?

The McCain folks' remarks were timely, for on this evening the Bush campaign further exploited the ongoing attacks on Kerry's Vietnam record; and it did so like the mob. The campaign sent for a hit man from outside the family: Senator Zell Miller, a supposed Democrat from Georgia. Miller, who has been a functional Republican for years, picked up where the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth left off. He did not repeat the discredited charges of the Swift Vets about Kerry's service in Vietnam, but Miller--ignoring McCain's Monday night call for civility and respect--further developed the Kerry-is-a-traitor theme that the Swift Vets have been promoting. The Swift Vets have claimed that when Kerry returned from Vietnam and led the charge against the war, he betrayed his fellow GIs. Speaking with the zeal of a convert--Miller is the political equivalent of a Jew for Jesus--the faux Democrat maintained that Kerry and his fellow Democrats are destroying the country for partisan gain. In a loud and angry voice, he said:

"While young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrat's manic obsession to bring down our commander-in-chief."

Reviving the role of the Southern demagogue, Miller put forward acartoonish depiction of Kerry and the leaders of the Democratic Party (yes, he still calls himself a Democrat for some bizarre reason:" In their warped way of thinking America is the problem, not the solution. They don't believe there is any real danger in the world except that which America brings upon itself through our clumsy and misguided foreign policy."

Kerry does not believe there is a threat from al Qaeda? Kerry does not believe "real danger" exists in the world? This was nonsense. But the GOP delegates clapped--as did the Bush family members (including Poppa Bush and Momma Bush) in the VIP box. Miller assailed Kerry for voting against various military systems: "This is the man who wants to be the commander-in-chief of our US Armed Forces? US forces armed with what? Spitballs?" He accused Kerry of not caring about the security needs of the United States: "Senator Kerry has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations. Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending."

This was an ugly performance, the Swift Vets gone nuclear. "For more than twenty years," Miller nearly shouted, "on every one of the great issues of freedom and security, John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak and more wobbly than any other national figure. As a war protester, Kerry blamed our military." That wasn't true either. During the famous testimony Kerry delivered to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee--which has been mischaracterized by the Swift Vets--Kerry blamed the Johnson and Nixon administrations for screwing up the war and placing American GIs in an impossible situation. But truth didn't matter. Miller was carpet-bombing Kerry. Only three years ago, Miller had called Kerry "one of this nation's authentic heroes" and a "great" leader of the Democratic Party. Now he slammed Kerry as an "indecisive" man of "faint-hearted self-indulgence."

Vice President Dick Cheney spoke after Miller and was more subdued than usual. After all, the attack-dog speech had already been given. Often the vice presidential candidate is assigned the task of beating up the opponent. And Cheney has done so loyally and with enthusiasm--to the extent that he has risked becoming seen as Bush's hatchet man. But Miller's chest-thumping and mean-spirited address made Cheney look tame and reasonable. Cheney took only a few swipes at Kerry. He noted that Kerry "speaks often of his service in Vietnam, and we honor him for it." (Not really: many delegates earlier in the week were wearing purple band-aids to mock Kerry's Purple Heart medals--until bad press prompted the Bush campaign to put an end to this political theater.) But Cheney mischaracterized statements made by Kerry to suggest that the Democratic presidential nominee cannot be counted on to protect the United States: "He talks about leading a 'more sensitive war on terror,' as though al Qaeda will be impressed with our softer side. He declared at the Democratic Convention that he will forcefully defend America--after we have been attacked."

This was mild stuff compared to Miller's charge that Kerry only cared about his own political gain and not the security of the nation. Miller's libel of Kerry was swiftly denounced by John McCain, who pronounced Kerry fit to serve. (Earlier in the day, McCain met with editors of The New York Times and told them that when he was a Vietnam POW his captors never used Kerry's congressional testimony to taunt or pressure him. This undermined yet another claim of the Swift Vets.) On Hardball, Chris Matthews pummeled Miller for suggesting Kerry was unpatriotic, and the interview exploded, with Miller threatening to duke it out with Matthews.

But Bush and his strategists had succeeded in the night's mission: blast Kerry as unfit to command. And they did so without Cheney having to take on the role of bad cop. Did Miller's over-the-top rant have any impact? Will it affect undecided voters? Whip up the base? It's unclear what--if anything--at the convention will make a difference. There are few swing voters, perhaps almost none. And Miller hardly came across as a persuasive voice of reason. (If the Democrats over the past twenty years have been bent on destroying the America he loves so much, why did he remain in the party all that time? On a related point, does Democratic Party chair Terry McAuliffe have the power to excommunicate a party member?)

With this convention, the Bush campaign has signaled it is prepared to make the presidential election a referendum on the war in Iraq. The first two nights it brought out the party's most appealing figures--McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Laura Bush--to argue that Bush's actions in Iraq demonstrate he is a decisive leader who can and will do what is necessary to protect this nation. On the third night, the Bushies turned to a Democratic turncoat to make the case that Kerry is a threat to the United States. It was a brutal act of political warfare. No doubt, more is on the way.

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Read about my adventures in partying with conservatives by clicking here. And see my report on the problem shared by gay GOPers and fundamentalist Republicans. Or check out my review of McCain's speech. And don't forget my piece on Arnold's and Laura's big speeches.*********

When you're done reading this article,visit David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read back entries on the Swift vets and other matters.

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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."

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Bringing the Protests to the Republicans

NEW YORK – During a week of protests against President Bush and the Republican National Convention that he will address tonight, demonstrations have taken many different forms – from singing Johnny Cash songs to waving pink slips to a mass flashing of bikini underwear featuring anti-Bush slogans.

But only one demonstration has actually taken place so far on the floor of Madison Square Garden, where Republicans – including White House Chief-of-Staff Andy Card – were confronted Wednesday with the reality that they are not exactly welcome in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.

The Republicans did not take well to the challenge.

Roughly a dozen AIDS activists infiltrated a mid-day gathering of Young Republicans on the floor of the Garden. The activists sat quietly amid the Wisconsin and Nevada delegations as the Youth Convention got underway.

Then, moments after First Daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush introduced Card to a hundreds of Young Republicans, the activists peeled off their street clothes to reveal t-shirts that read "Bush Lies" and they held aloft signs that read, "Bush: Stop Aids. Drop Global Debt Now."

They jumped on their chairs and began blowing whistles and chanting "Bush kills" and "Bush lies."

Instantly, the activists were surrounded by jeering Young Republicans, some of whom pushed and shoved the demonstrators while others tried to drown out the message of the AIDS activists by chanting the convention's ubiquitous "Four more years" slogan. The Republicans held signs up to prevent television cameras from capturing images of the signs held aloft by the demonstrations.

It was a raucous scene. Card attempted to go ahead with his speech but was forced to stop briefly because of the noise. The demonstrators were quickly dragged from the hall by Secret Service agents and police officers, and police later said there was at least one arrest.

The point of the demonstration, according to Sharonann Lynch of ACT UP, was to demand that the Bush Administration support cancellation of the global debt owed by poor countries to donor countries and international banks.

"Right now, sub-Saharan African nations are pouring $15 billion a year into repaying debt to wealthy nations," explained Lynch. "That money could and should be used to provide treatment to the millions of people on the continent living with HIV/AIDS. The Bush Administration must move to save the lives of people in the world's poorest countries by supporting 100 percent debt cancellation now."

Specifically, the activists want the United States to join other industrialized nations in supporting debt forgiveness for the planet's poorest nations, so that those nations can direct more resources to fighting AIDs.

ACT-UP activists also want the U.S. to meet its commitments to the Global Fund for fighting AIDS. "While the Fund requested a contribution of $1.2 billion," explained ACT-UP's Lynch, "the Bush White House only asked Congress for $200 million."