The Nation

Democrats for Demagoguery

I think it's time to start a new political party: Democrats for Demagoguery.

I'll give you three examples of why.

First there was the Dubai ports scandal. Sure, the uproar was bipartisan, but did any Democrat really believe that an Arab company couldn't run a US port as badly as an American one?

Then there was the furor over Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki offering so-called "amnesty" for insurgents who've killed American soldiers. It's a disgusting proposition, but bringing insurgents into the political process is a critical step towards ending the violence. Democrats who favor a speedy withdrawal from Iraq should've known that.

And finally Democrats went off the rocker this week about Maliki's denunciation of Israel's bombing of Lebanon. Howard Dean, the man who once rightly noted that the US should be more "evenhanded" in the Middle East, yesterday called Maliki an "anti-Semite." I'm sorry, but what do Democrats expect from a man whose government might get overthrown by Moqtada al-Sadr?

Our president is obtuse enough. He doesn't need an assist from the opposition.

101 People Who Are Really Screwing America

For everyone who has been waiting for the response to Bernard Goldberg's awful 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, Nationbooks has the answer--101 People Who Are Really Screwing America by Jack Huberman of The Bush-Haters Handbook fame. In this witty book, Huberman lays out in well-researched detail the interlocking relationships within the vast rightwing agenda to undermine our democratic institutions for profit and prophesy.

For example, there is Regnery Publishing, whose authors include Ann Coulter, David Horowitz, Phyllis Schlafly, Wayne LaPierre, G. Gordon Liddy, and whose founder William Regnery (#71) has started a match-making service for "heterosexual whites of Christian cultural heritage." And don't forget the Reverend Sun Myung Moon (#54), who published The Washington Times and started lobbying Republican politicians heavily after his organization ran afoul of the IRS. Since then he hasn't had as many legal problems. Of course, you would expect Halliburton and its CEO, David Lesar, (#72) to make the list, but did you know that Dick Cheney's old company was helping the Iranians develop their natural gas fields in 2005--two years after the Axis of Evil speech?

It is these and so many other details in Huberman's book that remind us who we are fighting and why.

Why Is the US in Iraq?

The sectarian violence that's taking place in the Baghdad area...is probably the gravest threat to stability that there is in the country right now.
-- General John Abizaid, chief of US Central Command
July 25, 2006

It is a new challenge. This isn't about insurgency, this isn't about terror, this is about sectarian violence. And it's a new challenge for the government. And they recognize that.
--Stephen Hadley, national security adviser
July 25, 2006

The greatest threat Iraq's people face is terror; terror inflicted by extremists.
--Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister
July 26, 2006

Why is the United States in Iraq?

That is question that is increasingly difficult for the White House to answer coherently--and honestly. This past week, George W. Bush, appearing at a press conference with Maliki, noted that the horrific and intensifying violence in Iraq of recent weeks is "terrible" and that more US troops will be deployed to Baghdad. But who--and what--is the enemy? And what can US troops do about disorder and violence there?

Sectarian violence, according to Abizaid and Hadley, is now the main problem in Iraq (which was predicted by some experts before the invasion). Maliki, for obvious reasons, does not concede that. He wants US troops to remain in Iraq. Consequently, when he spoke to the US Congress on July 27, he depicted the fight in Iraq as a struggle pitting lovers of democracy (his government and the United States) against "terrorists" connected to those who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001. ("I will not allow Iraq to become a launch pad for al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations," he declared, in a line rather reminiscent of the previous work of White House speechwriters.) In a fact sheet, the White House noted that when Maliki met with Bush, the Iraqi leader "made clear that he does not want American troops to leave his country until his government can protect the Iraqi people."

Mission creep is under way. The cause--despite Maliki's Bush-like rhetoric--is no longer combating jihadists (which replaced weapons of mass destruction as the reason for the war). It's making Iraq safe from Iraqi religious extremists. Maliki's government cannot protect Iraqis from their own neighbors, so he is looking to Bush to be his nation's cop-on-the-beat. But can the US military be an effective police force in a society increasingly plagued by sectarian violence that has little, if anything, to do with the fight against al Qaeda and Islamic jihadism? Maliki's own government is even part of the problem. Death squads connected to the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry have been lead players in the current killing spree. If Maliki cannot control these elements, how can the US military? (In his speech to the US Congress, Maliki didn't address the knotty matter of the government-linked death squads. He briefly referred to "armed militias" but claimed that the rule of law and human rights are "flourishing" in Iraq.)

Sunni leaders--who once called for US forces to quit Iraq right away--now fear the ascendancy of Shiite killing squads so much that they have quieted their demands for a US withdrawal, fearing such a move would leave the Shiite militias even more unfettered. But should the United States remain in Iraq in response to such concerns? If so, US troops would be risking and sacrificing their lives to assist a government that is tied to death squads in order to prevent (Sunni) opponents of the leading (Shiite) bloc of that government from being killed by (Shiite) supporters of that leading bloc. Yes, politics in the Middle East have always been notoriously complicated and Byzantine. How many books--or intelligence reports--has Bush read about the intricacies of Arabic culture, history and politics?

Bush, all too obviously, has no good ideas how to navigate these shoals--which may not be navigable. After saying that more troops would be deployed to Baghdad, Bush was asked by an Iraqi reporter what could be done to improve the security situation in Baghdad. "There needs to be more forces inside Baghdad who are willing to hold people to account," he replied. "In other words if you find somebody who's kidnapping and murdering, the murderer ought to be held to account. And it ought to be clear in society that that kind of behavior is not tolerated....We ought to be saying that, if you murder, you're responsible for your actions. And I think the Iraqi people appreciate that type of attitude."

In other words, just say no to killing. That's not much of a plan. And there's not much of a role for US troops in such a plan.

Bush has led the United States into a rough thicket in Iraq. It has taken him months--perhaps years--to acknowledge the troubles there. And his inadequate description--it's "terrible"--is far more upbeat than the depictions shared by reporters and others who have come back from Iraq in recent weeks bearing depressing and ugly tales of a society falling apart.

Iraq is a mess. Bush bears much of the responsibility for that. He invaded the country supposedly to defend the United States from a threat that didn't exist. He did not ensure that there were proper plans for the post-invasion challenges. He did nothing as his national security aides bungled one key strategic post-invasion decision after another. Now he has to contend with a violent sectarian conflict that his elective war unleashed. He has, to a limited degree, acknowledged the problem. He hasn't yet admitted there may be little he can do about it.

Whither the WTO

The announcement from Geneva that the "Doha Round" negotiations for another global trade agreement is in "collapse" lacked high drama since impending failure was already clear to all but the most fervent cheerleaders for the World Trade Organization. Five years of sloganeering and media pep talks and clever maneuvering failed to persuade developing nations or even inspire much enthusiasm in advanced economies. This is very good news for peoples of the world, though you won't see the story played that way in the American press.

In round-about fashion, the WTO's failure represents belated vindication for the blue-green movement that arose in Seattle six years ago and the Global Social Forum launched later from Porto Alegre, Brazil. These bottom-up political mobilizations offered an alternative vision for globalization – not dominated by the desires and dictates of multinational corporations but by ideas of popular sovereignty and common human aspirations that are shared by people in vastly different trading nations. That promising movement was eclipsed by the drama of 9/11 and war in Iraq, but it was never really sidetracked. Many individual countries have already revolted against the "Washington Consensus" and even establishment experts are beginning to acknowledge its failures. Defeat for them in Geneva is an important marker of progress for those who can imagine a different world.

That assembly includes especially the poorer nations of the world, struggling to find their way in a complex game of economic diplomacy usually controlled by the corporate big boys. This time, the impoverished countries stood their ground. They did not take the bait and swallow the empty promises, though they were coaxed and bullied by the major industrial players, led by the US. That reflects both their courage and growing maturity.

The essential deal offered the poor was, if they would accept the expanded domination of the WTO and its multinational sponsors, the rich nations would slash their lush subsidies for global agribusiness, leaving more market space for agricultural producers in developing nations. Many gullible editorial writers bought the logic, but not the poorer nations themselves. To believe that promise, you had to believe George W. Bush was going to sell out Texas cotton and Florida sugar and Midwestern grain or that Paris intended to dump the prosperous farmers of Normandy.

The larger meaning of the Doha collapse is the growing rejection of the WTO itself as a trustworthy governing institution for the global system. It was created ten years ago and it's been down hill ever since, both for rich and poor nations. The activists of Global Trade Watch, arm in arm with other groups around the world, make this case persuasively in a new briefing paper. The demise of Doha, they argue, should restart the worldwide debate on new and more fundamental terms – more promising for people and less deferential to global capital.

"Instead of pinning blame on specific countries, the focus of energy should be on how the world's governments can develop a multilateral trade system that preserves the benefits of trade growth and development, while pruning away the many anti-democratic condstraints on domestic policy making in the existing WTO rules," Global Trade Watch explains. "Much of the backlash against coroporate globalization implemented by the WTO is aimed at the damage caused by the comprehensive one-size-fits-all, non-trade rules comprising the majority of the WTO text."

In blunt summary, the new approach means the following: Scale back the powers of the WTO so that human rights, environmental, labor and other public-interest standards can be adopted "as a floor of conduct for corporations seeking the benefits of global trade rules." In other words, bring other international organizations into the process, with power to enforce standards on everything from toxics to food security to worker rights.

The system, meanwhile, must loosen its grip on individual nations and governments so they can develop their own domestic priorities on non-trade issues. "Countries must be free to prioritize other values and goals above what are sometimes countervailing demands of multinational corporations," the briefing paper asserts.

This is an immense challenge and obviously difficult for brain-dead politicians to grasp and embrace. But it's also an exciting and promising new opening. Imagine that the collapse of the old order has occurred, though not yet acknowledged by its sponsors. "Another world is possible," as the activists like to say, and it has just become a bit more possible.

Beyond Same-Sex Marriage

Minutes after I posted, the Washington Supreme Court issued its decision. Essentially, it went the way of New York State and tossed the issue back to the legislature. Here's the relevant quote:

"In reaching this conclusion, we have engaged in an exhaustive constitutional inquiry and have deferred to the legislative branch as required by our tri-partite form of government. Our decision accords with the substantial weight of authority from courts considering similar constitutional claims. We see no reason, however, why the legislature or the people acting through the initiative process would be foreclosed from extending the right to marry to gay and lesbian couples in Washington."

More later...

In the next few hours the Washington State Supreme Court will issue its decision in Anderson vs. King County, a lawsuit brought by 19 gay and lesbian couples challenging the constitutionality of Washington's Defense of Marriage Act. Coming off the heels of a defeat in New York State, the decision will be closely watched by gay marriage advocates and opponents alike.

According to lawyers I spoke with, the Court can decide to uphold the DOMA, strike down the DOMA and legalize gay marriage, or follow New York's footsteps and pass the issue to the legislature. I'll give you all an update (and hasty analysis) when the decision is announced.

Meanwhile, I want to announce the public debut of a major project I've been working on for the past few months. In April, I was part of a group of LGBT activists who met to discuss the dangers of the gay marriage debate as it's been framed in this country. There were some disagreements, but all of us agreed on a basic set of principles. We support marriage equality, but think that "marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship, and it should not be legally and economically privileged above all others."

We wrote a manifesto of sorts called Beyond Same-Sex Marriage. And as today it's been endorsed by Gloria Steinem, Dorothy Allison, Cornel West, Michael Lerner, Barbara Ehrenreich, Laura Flanders, The Nation's own Betsy Reed, Judith Butler, Joan Scott, Charlotte Bunch, Leslie Feinberg, Craig Lucas, Armistead Maupin, Terrence McNally, Paula Vogel, Susie Bright and a raft of others. So go to our website, read the statement and add your name. It's www.beyondmarriage.org.

Bill Moyers for President? Absolutely!

Molly Ivins is trying to get Democrats excited about the prospect of running Bill Moyers for president.

"Dear desperate Democrats," the nation's most widely-read liberal newspaper columnist begins her latest missive. "Here's what we do: We run Bill Moyers for president. I am serious as a stroke about this. It's simple, cheap, and effective, and it will move the entire spectrum of political discussion in this country. Moyers is the only public figure who can take the entire discussion and shove it toward moral clarity just by being there."

Ivins makes a great case for why her fellow Texan ought to be on the ballot in 2008.

"Bill Moyers has been grappling with how to fit moral issues to political issues ever since he left Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and went to work for Lyndon Johnson in the teeth of the Vietnam War," she writes. "Moyers worked for years in television, seriously addressing the most difficult issues of our day. He has studied all different kinds of religions and different approaches to spirituality. He's no Holy Joe, but he is a serious man. He opens minds--he doesn't scare people. He includes people in, not out. And he sees through the dark search for a temporary political advantage to the clear ground of the Founders. He listens and he respects others."

After making her case, however, Ivins adds what appears to be the "reality" section:

"Do I think Bill Moyers can win the presidency? No, that seems like a very long shot to me. The nomination? No, that seems like a very long shot to me."

Ivins wants Moyers to make a sympbolic run, with the purpose of shaking up the Democratic party, and perhaps the nation.

"It won't take much money -- file for him in a couple of early primaries and just get him into the debates," the columnist explains. "Think about the potential Democratic candidates. Every single one of them needs spine, needs political courage. What Moyers can do is not only show them what it looks like and indeed what it is, but also how people respond to it. I'm damned if I want to go through another presidential primary with everyone trying to figure out who has the best chance to win instead of who's right. I want to vote for somebody who's good and brave and who should win."

But why limit this quest?

Why ask Democratic primary voters to send a message when they can send the best man into the November competition and, if the stars align correctly, perhaps even to the White House?

With all due regard to one of the finest journalists and finest Americans I know, I respectfully disagree with Molly Ivins -- not on the merits of a Moyers candidacy, but on the potential.

I'm not suggesting that Bill Moyers -- with whom I've had the pleasure of working in recent years on media reform issues -- is a sure bet to win the Democratic nomination or the presidency in 2008. I'm not even suggesting that he would be a good bet. But the politics of 2008 are already so muddled, so quirky and so potentially volatile that I believe -- as someone who has covered my share of presidential campaigns -- that Moyers could be a contender.

Moyers would enter the 2008 race with far more Washington political experience than Dwight Eisenhower had in 1952, far more national name recognition than Jimmy Carter had in 1976 and far more to offer the country than most of our recent chief executives.

Against the candidates who are lining up for the 2008 contest, Bill Moyers and his supporters would not need to make any excuses.

After all, the supposed Democratic frontrunner is a former First Lady who ran her first election campaign just six years ago. One of the leading Republican contenders is a guy whose main claim to fame is that he did a good job of running the Olympics in Salt Lake City, while another is still best known as the son of a famous football coach. And the strongest Republican prospect, John McCain, is actually more popular with Democrats than with his own partisans.

Consider the fact that a professional body builder is the governor of the largest state in the union, and that the list of serious contenders for seats in Congress and for governorships this year is packed with retired athletes, former television anchorpersons and bored millionaires, and it simply is not that big a stretch to suggest that someone with the government and private-sector experience, the national recognition and the broad respect that Bill Moyers has attained across five decades of public life could not make a serious run for the presidency.

So, Molly, I'll see your suggestion of Bill Moyers, and up the ante to suggest that Moyers really could be a contender.

The Madness of King George

Today, a bipartisan American Bar Association task force released its report challenging George Bush's flagrant misuse of signing statements to circumvent the constitutional separation of powers.

Bush has issued more than 800 challenges to provisions of passed laws (more than all previous presidents combined) and he has asserted "his right to ignore law." Among the areas of laws Bush has threatened through this "shortcut veto" are the ban on torture, affirmative action, whistleblower protection, and limits on use of "illegally collected intelligence."

The 10 member ABA panel includes three well-known conservatives, including Mickey Edwards – a former Republican Congressman who places protecting the Constitution above lock-step partisanship. Edwards, a former chair of the American Conservative Union and a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation, is a true maverick whose recent article in The Nation signals his commitment to protecting our constitutional design. "The President. " Edwards wrote, [has] "chosen not to veto legislation with which he disagreed – thus giving Congress a chance to override his veto – but simply to assert his right to ignore the law, whether a domestic issue or a prohibition against torturing prisoners of war."

Task force member Bruce Fein, who served in the Reagan administration, concurs: "When the president signs a bill and says he is not going to enforce parts of a bill that he finds unconstitutional, it is in effect an absolute veto, because the Congress has no power to override him."

According to The Washington Post, panel members wrote: "The President's constitutional duty is to enforce laws he has signed into being unless and until they are held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court or a subordinate tribunal. The Constitution is not what the President says it is."

The panel is recommending legislation that would require a president to publicly disclose his intention to not enforce any law, including "the reasons and legal basis for the [signing] statement." A second piece of legislation would enable Congress or individuals to seek judicial review in the event that a president claims the authority to not enforce "a law that he has signed or interprets a law in conflict with the clear intent of Congress."

ABA President Michael Greco underscores the importance of these recommendations: "We will be close to a constitutional crisis if this issue…is left unchecked."

As Edwards writes, "… the real issue at stake is not one of presidential policy but of the continued viability of the separation of powers, the central tenet in America's system of constrained government."

This is a critical first step toward reining in presidential power run amok. Certainly more needs to be done, especially as a complicit GOP tries to make legal what should not be – such as the warrantless wiretapping legislation the White House is now seeking.... Which brings us to November.

While one might not agree with all that the Democrats are doing (and I don't), and might wish for more leadership on core issues like the Iraq War and sanity in the Middle East (leadership such as that demonstrated recently by two dozen congressional leaders calling for a cease-fire)…. We MUST restore the checks and balances to counter the one-party state we now live in, especially at this moment when the Republican Party is arguably the most extreme of any governing majority in the nation's history.

Get involved in your Congressional and Senate races. Help stop the madness of King George.

How to Help in Lebanon

Researchers for Human Rights Watch, the New York-based non-governmental organization, say they have compiled details on the deaths of more than a quarter of the roughly 400 Lebanese civilians killed to date by Israeli air strikes. "We've investigated the results of air campaigns in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and the pattern here is different. They're hitting civilians time and time again," Peter Bouckaert, a long-serving Human Rights Watch investigator, said. "Just because the Israelis are using smart weapons doesn't mean they're hitting military targets," he added.

By all accounts, Israel's disproportionate and seemingly indiscriminate attack has caused a mounting humanitarian crisis in Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced and with most of the country's infrastructure destroyed by air strikes, medical technicians willing to brave the bombings are facing great difficulties traversing crater-filled roads and burning bridges to even reach the thousands of wounded civilians.

How to help?

Nation columnist Naomi Klein is urging support for the Sanayeh Relief Center, established by a group of non-sectarian Lebanese leftists. Sanayeh is providing relief at 27 schools in the city of Beirut, which are currently housing 9,117 displaced people--more than 1,000 under the age of five--from the southern regions of Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut. The relief activities being carried out include, "basic needs such as medication, materials for child care, and sanitary products for women, in addition to water, food, mattresses and blankets, all through local and international support campaigns." The number of volunteers, working in the operations organized by the relief center, has reached about 230 total. Click here for more details on the group and read Klein's appeal below to see why the Center is so deserving of support.

The new website Save Lebanon also highlights the work of other good relief groups operating with roots on the ground. It also offers a way to contact the members of the United Nations Security Council to urge them to make every effort to establish an international force to intervene in Lebanon and stop the Israeli offensive. Finally, closer to home, it can't hurt to contact your own elected rep and implore them to join Rep. Dennis Kucinich and twenty-three other members of the House in supporting House Resolution 450, which calls on the President to appeal for an immediate ceasefire.

Please use the comments section below to let me know what groups I should have included in this survey but didn't. I'll also continue to highlight good reporting from the region so please also keep writing with suggestions of websites, blogs, newspapers, etc that you find valuable.

An Open Letter From Naomi Klein
I urge all who are horrified by the Israeli government's inflicting of collective punishment on the people of Lebanon to join me in supporting the Sanayeh Relief Center. It is a remarkable coalition of grassroots activists in Beirut who have rapidly joined together to provide emergency relief to many victims of this human-created disaster. I have researched their work and feel confident that all support we send is going to the urgent task of distributing basic supplies such as food and medicine to people suffering under the Israeli bombing, including thousands of internally displaced refugees being housed in 32 displacement centers.

Virtually the only response from western governments to Israel's sickening decision to wage all out war on the people of Lebanon has been to send helicopters and boats to rescue their own citizens. Millions of people without such precious passports are left behind without aid, trapped by Israeli bombs that have systematically targeted roads, bridges and the airport.

There is no "international community" that is coming to save the day, only our own anti-war networks that we have built in our communities and online. So at the same time as we raise our voices to demand an immediate end to Israeli aggression, we must also offer our financial support to trustworthy, on-the-ground activists like those at the Sanayeh ReliefCenter. In a world increasingly governed by brute force and indifference, the Sanayeh Relief Center is a beacon of humanity and mutual aid, please do what you can to increase its strength. It is a concrete act of peace.

Naomi Klein
Wednesday, July 19th

Suggestions for Condi

In recent years, as too many elected representatives and so-called experts rushed to support the Bush Administration's foreign policy misadventures, former Carter Administration National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has emerged as perhaps the sharpest voice of dissent in Washington's foreign policy establishment.

Last Thursday, Brzezinski gave a fascinating talk sponsored by the New America Foundation, where he labeled Israel's ferocious military bombing of Lebanon "dogged, heavy-handed, politically unproductive and morally wrong."

"What Israel is doing today in Lebanon is in effect the killing of hostages," Brzezinski said. And the US government enabled the military campaign "by abandoning the tradition of being a negotiator to a promise of complete partiality."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should pull a Kissinger, Brzezinski said, and "stay in the region" until the fighting stops. To that end, Brzezinski offered five practical suggestions for how the Bush Administration might quell the violence.

1. Recreate viability for the Palestinians by working with Hamas.

2. Talk to the Syrians, with or through the French.

3. Talk to the Lebanese government, so they don't just appear as victims screaming for help.

4. Talk to Hezbollah through Syria.

5. Negotiate the sequential release of prisoners between Israel and Hezbollah.

Of course, the Administration refuses to negotiate with Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. But the US essentially has two options: engage or do nothing.

"Either she's doing what she should be doing," Brzezinski said of Condi, "or she's sitting in front of a mirror, talking to herself."