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The Nation

The Swift Boating of Sherrod Brown

Rove Rule #1: When in doubt, exploit 9-11 and swift boat the hell outof your opponent.

In his latest advertisement, a desperate Ohio Senator Mike Dewine has adopted this most base brand of Rovian politics by not only using images of the Twin Towers burning, but actually doctoring them as ifthe reality didn't suffice for needed shock value. The tasteless ad goes on to smearRep. Sherrod Brown in an effort to portray him as "weakening American security."

We're revisiting the dirty, divisive, shameful Bush-Cheney playbook of 2004 with its mushroom clouds, swift boat lies, and false patriotism.

Senator Dewine's ad ends with the assertion that Sherrod Brown is "out of touch with Ohio values." Maybe it's time to let Senator Dewine know that what is out of touch is his use of gutter politics.

Bush and the NAACP

President Bush finally got around to speaking to an annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Thursday, and he did a reasonably good job of making amends for failing to build a relationship with the nation's most influential civil rights organization during the first five years of his presidency.

To his credit Bush opened his remarks by acknowledging the inappropriateness of his refusals of past invitations from the group – a pattern that made him the first president since Warren G. Harding to so snub the NAACP.

Referring to his introduction by NAACP president Bruce Gordon, the president joked, "Bruce was a polite guy. I thought what he was going to say, 'It's about time you showed up.' And I'm glad I did."

Bush also acknowledged the extent to which his Republican Party has neglected and insulted the African-American community in recent years.

"I understand that racism still lingers in America -- it's a lot easier to change a law than to change a human heart. And I understand that many African-Americans distrust my political party," Bush admitted, adding that, "I consider it a tragedy that the party of Abraham Lincoln let go of its historical ties with the African-American community," Bush said. "For too long, my party wrote off the African-American vote, and many African-Americans wrote off the Republican Party."

Those were statements that had to be made if Bush was to be taken seriously at the podium. And the president and his aides deserve credit for recognizing and responding to that requirement.

The president also deserves credit for recognizing that apologies are not enough.

Bush needed to display an understanding that baseline commitments must be made by a political leader who seeks any kind of working relationship with the NAACP and with the tens of millions of Americans who share the group's belief that the struggle for social and economic justice is far from complete. On Thursday, he offered just such a commitment, and he did so with proper enthusiasm.

Speaking of legislation to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act – which some Congressional Republicans have openly opposed and others have sought to undermine with amendments – Bush told the crowd, "Soon the Senate will take up the legislation. I look forward to the Senate passing this bill promptly without amendment so I can sign it into law." (Within hours, the Senate passed the legislation unanimously.)

The president earned a round of loud and sincere applause for that statement.

That was as it should be. Though there is still too much distance between this president and the civil rights community, George Bush has finally taken a first small step to bridge the gap. Of course, he should have done so sooner. But his decision to do so at this point – and to offer both good words and good deeds – ought not be diminished.

There are plenty of reasons to criticize this president and his administration. But when George Bush does something right – even if it is late in the game, and even if his motivations may be tinged with politics – he deserves the measure of praise that might encourage him to continue trying to walk the higher ground.

Neonuts

For them, Afghanistan and Iraq will not suffice. They want to take out Syria and Iran, and speed full steam ahead towards World Wars III and IV. The Weekly Standard asks simply, "Why wait?"

According to Newt Gingrich, there is no need to wait at all. On Meet the Press this past Sunday he offered that the Israel-Hezbollah conflict "… is, in fact, World War III" and "the U.S. ought to be helping...."

And how might the US help fight Newt's World War? The Weekly Standard provides the answer: "It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions – and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement."

George Will – not exactly your run-of-the-mill, card-carrying liberal – describes the neocons as "so untethered from reality as to defy caricature."

But what has caused them to become so completely unhinged (even more so than before, if one can imagine that possibility)?

With the deteriorating occupation in Iraq and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan the neocons have been completely discredited. Meanwhile, the Bush administration is engaging in a "muddled multilateralism" – not quite pursuing diplomacy but not acting unilaterally at the whims of the Decider et al., either.

And this simply infuriates them. As Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) told The Washington Post, "I don't have a friend in… any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration."

Well, perhaps The Weekly Standard staffers, editors, and allies at the likes of AEI will harness some of their "fury", put on flak jackets and (poorly) funded armor (is there enough to go around after Iraq?), and go fight their own failed war in defense of their own failed ideology.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will remain here on this planet.

Lamont Over Lieberman

Joe is down. And for the first time in his eighteen year Senate career, he may be going down.

A new Quinnipiac University poll released today finds Ned Lamont holding a 51 to 47 percent lead over Lieberman among likely Democratic primary voters. Just six weeks ago, Lieberman was up by fifteen points. And a month before that, Lieberman's lead was three times that size.

Talk about a surge for Lamont. In a state where 83 percent of the population disapproves of the Iraq war and only 31 percent approve of President Bush, Lieberman's in big, big trouble with Democratic voters.

If he loses the primary, Lieberman plans to run as an Independent. The Quinnipiac shows him winning handily in that scenario; 51 percent, to 27 percent for Lamont and 9 percent for likely Republican candidate Alan Schlesinger.

The new party would be called "Connecticut for Lieberman." Funny how it's not "Lieberman for Connecticut." When it comes to his state and his party, it's all about Joe.

Lebanon In Crisis; Bush, Most Democrats In Denial

A little more than a week of Israeli bombing and American neglect has created a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon. In a country that just months ago was being written up in travel magazines as one of the world's next great tourist destinations, and where a fragile democracy was beginning finally to define itself as something real, hundreds of civilians now lay dead; thousands have been injured; airports, ports, bridges and roads have been destroyed; and an estimated 500,000 men, women and children have been forced to flee their homes.

Officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross say they are "extremely concerned" that the situation in Lebanon is degenerating into chaos and dysfunction.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is expressing horror at what is becoming of Lebanon.

"The distress felt at the destruction not only of life but also the infrastructure so painstakingly rebuilt after years of conflict will, I know, be acute and reinforce the sense of helplessness at being caught up in a wider regional struggle," writes the archbishop in a letter to Lebanese churches. "My condemnation of this resort to violence is unequivocal."

Unfortunately, neither the International Committee of the Red Cross, nor the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor the Israeli anti-war community, which rallied several thousand critics of Prime Minister Ehud Ohlmert's policies in Tel Aviv last Sunday, has sufficient international presence or authority to demand a halt to the destruction of Lebanon and of northern Israel – where the rockets of Hezbollah, which has so cynically and successfully provoked Israel, have killed civilians and done lesser but not insignificant damage to infrastructure.

President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. leaders who have that presence and authority have chosen a hands-off approach that effectively encourages the expansion of violence in the region. Their neglect of the crisis is the foreign-policy equivalent of the White House's initial response to the Katrina catastrophe of last year in New Orleans. By failing to move quickly or responsibly, they make a bad situation worse.

Most Congressional Democrats have been the president's willing accomplices in this neglect of duty. But a handful of House members, led by Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, have stepped up. A House resolution, sponsored by Kucinich and cosponsored by close to two dozen other representatives urges "the President to appeal to all sides in the current crisis in the Middle East for an immediate cessation of violence and to commit the United States diplomats to multi-party negotiations with no preconditions."

"The continuing violence in the Middle East is spiraling out of control and is on the verge of being full-out regional war in which there will be no winners," says Kucinich. "The US has a moral obligation to become immediately engaged and to try to seek a peaceful resolution to the situation. This Administration must seek an immediate cease-fire and return all sides to the negotiating table."

"The region urgently needs diplomatic assistance," the congressman adds. "The only way the US can reclaim its role, as a mediator is to speak and act like a mediator. Unfortunately, the Administration is making statements that only will contribute to escalation."

Kucinich is right. This is a testing time for members of Congress. Those who join Kucinich in calling for action to ease the conflict will be remembered as leaders – and as the true friends of Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and a battered peace process. Those who fail to do so will deserve to be remembered – and vilified -- for their failure to act when a humanitarian crisis unfolded before the eyes of the world.

Iran and Gay Rights

Last year I wrote a long article on the execution of two teenage boys in Mashhad and the firestorm that erupted when they were identified by some gay activists and bloggers as "gay teenagers." Suffice to say, since homosexuality and radical Islam are irresistible topics these days, the story did not end there.

Sometime Nation contributor Doug Ireland has written often on his blog and in Gay City News about what he considers a "vicious pogrom against Iranian gays." The New Republic's Rob Anderson chirped up and attacked US gay rights groups for not taking a harder line. Britain's Peter Tatchell (who publicized the original story) has organized a global protest against Iran. He's been supported by Anderson, Ireland, Michael Petrelis and a bevy of other activists (see Ireland's blog for the full list).

Missing from this list are Paula Ettelbrick of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and Scott Long of Human Rights Watch's LGBT Rights Division. They've both been criticized by Tatchell in an open letter for their non-endorsement. (Full disclosure: I serve on the advisory board of HRW's LGBT rights program). Some of the dispute centers, still, around whether or not the two teenagers were gay and were executed for consensual gay sex (see my piece). But in the larger sense, the controversy represents two different strategies for pursuing sexual rights in precarious and fraught locations such as Iran. As Long puts it in his response to Tatchell, "I urge people to think very carefully about what the demonstrations are meant to achieve...What happens after July 19? How are these demonstrations meant to affect the Iranian government? How are they going to be seen in Iran? Are they only about publicity, consciousness-raising, the self-purifying effect of protest? Do you have a plan for change, or just for catharsis?"

It would take me another 5,000 words (and more strong coffee, cigarettes and vodka than my stomach can handle) to describe and explicate how the story has moved since I last wrote. So instead I urge readers to make up their own mind. New Yorkers can attend the protest outside of the Iranian Mission to the UN (622 Third Avenue at 40th St.). It's happening, like, now (5PM), so start lacing up those shoes.

And when you are done there, please attend the following event at the LGBT Center.

THINKING GLOBALLY, ACTING LOCALLY:HUMAN RIGHTS, IRAN, AND LGBT ADVOCACY

WHAT:The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), Human Rights Watch (HRW), National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Amnesty International OUTfront, Al-Fatiha and SoulforceNYC invite all interested advocates to participate in Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: Human Rights, Iran, and LGBT Advocacy, a community dialogue about the persecution faced by LGBT people in Iran and how activists in the West can responsibly engage in supporting our colleagues in Iran as well as Iranian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in New York and elsewhere.

WHO:* Scott Long, Director of LGBT Rights Program, Human Rights Watch* Paula Ettelbrick, Executive Director of IGLHRC* Parvez Sharma, Director of the new documentary film "In the Name of Allah"* Hadi Ghaemi, Iran Researcher, Human Rights Watch* Kouross Esmaeli, Iranian filmmaker* Ayaz Ahmed, Al-Fatiha* Moderated by Hossein Alizadeh, IGLHRC

WHY:Numerous reports and stories of persecution faced by gay men and lesbians in Iran have been circulating. In particular, the executions of two young Iranian men last year on July 19 have been reported as gay-related deaths, prompting some activists to call for demonstrations in local communities to draw attention to these issues on the year anniversary of their hangings. This call raises important questions for human rights and LGBT advocates concerned about human rights violations globally, but unsure of how best to engage and respond.

* How do we situate campaigns for LGBT rights in the context of other human rights issues such as the death penalty and women's rights? * How do we respond in situations where facts are contested and documentation difficult? * What are the responsibilities--and dangers--for Western campaigners wanting to think globally and act locally? * How do we avoid reinforcing stereotypes and playing into hostilities prompted by our own government?

These are not abstract questions or ones relevant only to activists for sexual rights. While Iran will be emphasized in this discussion, the questions are relevant for all human rights advocates as we grapple with how global calls for justice can be made meaningful in the face of persecution and global hostilities.

While IGLHRC had initially offered to coordinate a public vigil to protest the use of the death penalty as a punishment for sexually-based crimes in Iran and elsewhere, conversations with colleagues have made clear that in New York City, dialogue, not demonstrations, would be the most productive way to build longer term strategies and understandings of how best to respond to human rights violations around the world.

WHEN: Wednesday, July 19, 20066:00 PM – 8:00 PM

WHERE: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center208 West 13th Street between 7th & 8th AvenuesNew York, New York

Iraqi Oil Theft Drives Up Reconstruction Costs

According to James Jeffrey of the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, at $21.9 billion the Iraqi reconstruction program is "the largest since the Marshall Plan."

If only it included the PLAN part.

Assessing the Bush Administration's "2005 National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," a newly released Government Accountability Office report criticizes the Bush administration's failure to identify "which U.S. agencies are responsible for implementation" as well as "current and future costs…."

Last Tuesday, U.S. Comptroller General David Walker told a House Government Reform subcommittee of "massive corruption" and "theft" in the Iraqi oil industry – including the stealing of 10 percent of refined fuels, and 30 percent of imported fuels. Walker noted the "tremendous incentive" for theft given that subsidized gas sells for 44 cents per gallon in Iraq, compared to 90 cents per gallon elsewhere in the region. And with oil production down from prewar levels, the invasion-justification-assumption that these revenues would largely pay for reconstruction has proven wildly off target.

Joseph Christoff, GAO's director of international affairs and trade, also spoke of wasted payments to a "bloated bureaucracy" and "ghost employees."

The GAO report concludes with the staggering assertion that neither the Defense Department nor Congress "can reliably determine the costs of war, nor do they have the details on how appropriated funds are being spent or historical data useful in considering future funding needs."

The Congressional Budget Office added to the grim picture revealed last week by estimating that – even in the case of a rapid withdrawal – "an additional $166 billion would be needed… on top of $290 billion already allocated."

But the American people have been misled on the costs of this war at every stage, so why what possible reason do we have to believe that these are real numbers? Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz places the costs at $1 trillion to $2 trillion, depending on how long this madness continues.

And this is the reckless, uncharted course that the administration and its GOP accomplices (and Joe Lieberman) continue to ask our nation to follow? To use Mr. Bush's own words, unwittingly captured by a microphone at the G-8 Summit, "That seems odd."

Condi's Charade

After a week of dithering, the Bush Administration has finally decided to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Middle East. But when Condi arrives on Friday, ten days after the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah began, she won't try and push for an immediate ceasefire.

In 1993 and 1996, Secretary of State Warren Christopher launched a vigorous push for diplomacy that quieted fighting between the Israeli army and Lebanese militants. But today, according to the Wall Street Journal, Bush and Rice "have no intention of launching a similar round of diplomacy to end the current fighting. Visiting Damascus is out of the question. And a cease-fire isn't their most pressing aim, they say."

No, Condi's belatedly stopping by "to build support for the effective crippling of Hezbollah." An ambitious goal, but shouldn't an end to the violence come first?

As the WSJ notes, the continued Israeli bombing and recent incursion into South Lebanon will likely only strengthen the standing of Hezbollah and Iran, while weakening the fragile, anti-Syrian, government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. If Hezbollah attacks Tel Aviv and Israel responds by hitting Syria, the entire region could go up in flames.

That's why "many top officials in Europe and Arab capitals are calling for a far speedier end to the current fighting than Washington supports. Some are calling for the introduction of international peacekeeping forces into Southern Lebanon."

Not surprisingly, the Bush Administration has thus far brushed off that idea, similar to the way they belittled the Clinton Administration's peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and then did nothing to push the so-called "road map" for peace.

Their only policy towards the region seems to have been the invasion of Iraq. A world of good that's done.

Brothers in Arms

There's been much chatter about President Bush's earthy open-mic discussion of the Middle East crises with Tony Blair. But it was the joint news conference at the G8 summit between Bush and Putin that caught my attention. I'm still trying to fathom what led Bush to describe his private conversations with Russian President Putin this way: "I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world, like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same."

Putin's rejoinder, which garnered disbelieving guffaws from the press gaggle, was: "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy that they have in Iraq, quite honestly." Then there's the fact that despite the worsening relationship between the US and Russia, Bush still claims he and Putin are friends. Perhaps this is because of the parallels in their leadership styles.

Putin has used the disastrous war in Chechnya and terrorist attacks on the homeland as the pretext for rolling back Russian civil liberties and democratic institutions. Similarly Bush has used the war in Iraq and 9/11 as ever ready excuses for his imperial presidency.

The Bush administration has spied on our library records, phone conversations, and bank records and then castigated the free press for freely reporting on it. We've just learned that he personally stopped a Justice Department inquiry into the domestic surveillance program. And of course there are the presidential signing statements, which even some conservatives consider to be unconstitutional.

Maybe what Bush saw when he looked into Putin's authoritarian soul was a reflection of himself.