The Nation

Swiftboating MoveOn

In 2004, Houston multimillionaire Bob Perry was the largest donor to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In 2006, he's using his money to "swift boat" MoveOn.org.

Perry's given $1 million this cycle to the Free Enterprise Fund's "Stop MoveOn.org" campaign, which is running television ads attacking the online organization. Both ads try to link MoveOn to "radical billionaire George Soros," who appears in the spots looking like a crazed burglar.

"MoveOn.org has a radical agenda of tax increases, expanding the welfare state, global governance and socialized government run healthcare," reads a Free Enterprise Fund fundraising pitch. "And since they already own the Democrat [sic] Party, they now want to buy Congress and put their puppets in power."

(Like the Swift Boat Vets, accuracy has never been a strong point of the Free Enterprise Fund. An ad they ran about the estate tax was called "blatantly false" by FactCheck.org.)

MoveOn has become a convenient scapegoat for desperate right-wingers. If only the group had as much clout as conservatives imagine. "They present us as the all-powerful puppeteer of the Democratic Party," jokes MoveOn Executive Director Eli Pariser. "We wish."

But MoveOn has been effective, which is the real reason it is attracting so much scorn from the right. The Free Enterprise Fund admits as much. "Before MoveOn.org's ads [Congresswoman] Thelma Drake in Virginia had a 9% point lead," the fundraising letter states. "This race is now dead even."

In April MoveOn began running a series of ads tying four vulnerable GOP Representatives--Drake, Chris Chocola, Deborah Pryce and Nancy Johnson--to corporate welfare and Republican corruption. The negative ratings of the Republicans rose and their leads began to vanish. Even Majority Leader John Boehner admitted that the ads "certainly have had some impact." The group recently targeted three more GOP Congressmen: Charlie Bass, Randy Kuhl and John Sweeney.

And MoveOn's going beyond the ad market to try and get-out-the-vote for progressive Democratic candidates in the final weeks before the midterms. The group hopes its 3.2 million members will make 5 million phone calls to prospective Democratic voters in 30+ targeted House and Senate races. They've dumped $4 million into the "Call for Change" program, making it one of their most ambitious projects yet.

If MoveOn's successful this November, expect the Right to pay even closer attention.

Conservative Realism or Disingenuous Callousness?

Last week, The Nation and The National Interest held a public discussion to explore whether these days foreign policy realists of the right could make common cause with foreign policy idealists of the left. (The event was titled, "Beyond Neocons and Neolibs: Can Realism Bridge Left and Right" and can be viewed here.) After all, both groups share an opposition to the messianic crusaderism and bullying interventionism of the neocons that has yielded the Iraq war. Speaking for the left were Kai Bird, co-author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Sherle Schwenninger, a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute and a regular contributor to The Nation. The hardheaded crowd was represented by Dov Zakheim, an undersecretary of defense from 2001 to 2004 and now a vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton (who supported the invasion of Iraq), and Dmitri Simes, a former Nixon adviser and now publisher of The National Interest

The presentation showed there was not a lot of territory to share. In his opening remarks, Bird noted that Henry Kissinger had been wrong about everything, and he referred to Vietnam and the US support of the military junta that in 1973 overthrew Salvador Allende, a democratically elected socialist, in Chile. Invoking Kissinger as the embodiment of all that has been wrong with U.S. foreign policy for decades was a deep insult to the conservative realists. Kissinger is the honorary chairman of The National Interest. Bird's salvo prompted Zakheim to defend Kissinger, particularly on Chile. (Nixon and Kissinger, via the CIA, had backed efforts to topple Allende.) "Chile," Zakheim said, "doesn't look to me like a failure....Quite a success. It wasn't doing that well in the 1970s." Simes then chimed in: "I'm not appalled by what Kissinger and Nixon have done in Chile. I'm not aware of them ever endorsing torture."

There's realism; then there's callousness. More than 3,000 Chileans were killed by the junta that was encouraged and then supported by Nixon and Kissinger; millions of Chileans lost all their political rights for years, as well. That's hardly "quite a success." And Simes is wrong to suggest that Kissinger was unaware of the abuses of the Chilean regime. The coup occurred on September 11, 1973. A quick search at the website of the National Security Archive, a nonprofit outfit, produced a November 16, 1973 cable from Jack Kubisch, the assistant secretary of state for Latin America, to Secretary of State Kissinger that noted that the Chilean junta had carried out "summary, on-the-spot executions." The cable also reported that military and police units had engaged in the "rather frequent use of random violence" in the post-coup days.

Weeks earlier, at an October 1 meeting Kubisch told Kissinger about a Newsweek story that maintained that over 2700 Chileans had been killed by the junta and added that the government had only acknowledged 284 deaths. Kissinger noted that the Nixon administration did not "want to get into the position of explaining horror....[W]e should not knock down stories that later prove to be true, nor should we be in the position of defending what they're doing in Santiago. But I think we should understand our policy--that however unpleasant they act, the government is better for us than Allende was."

Here were some early indications for Kissinger of the brutality of the Chilean junta. He obviously cared little about what was happening to Chileans apprehended by the junta. And he tacitly went along with the regime's violent means. Two years later, he showed his scorn for human rights concerns when he met with the Chilean foreign minister. At the start of that meeting, according to a State Department memo, Kissinger pooh-poohed the human rights issue. He told the Chilean, "Well, I read the briefing papers for this meeting and it was nothing but human rights. The State Department is made up of people who have a vocation for the ministry. Because there were not enough churches for them, they went into the Department of State." Kissinger added that it was a "total injustice" to fixate on Chile's human rights record.

In August 1976, according to another State Department document, Kissinger was briefed on Operation Condor, a secret project concocted by the Chilean junta and other military dictatorships in South America to conduct "murder operations" against opponents of those regimes. By the way, two months later, Kissinger met with the foreign minister of the military regime of Argentina, which at that time was conducting a dirty war that would come to "disappear" at least 10,000 people (and maybe over 30,000), and Kissinger took a rather casual attitude toward the abuses in that country. As a State Department memo recounted, Kissinger told the Argentine,

Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed the better… The human rights problem is growing one. Your Ambassador can apprise you. We want a stable situation. We won't cause you unnecessary difficulties. If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better. Whatever freedoms you could restore would help."

In other words, get your abuses over with quickly, while I look away. Unfortunately, the fascistic and anti-Semitic Argentine military regime would continue to disappear and torture its citizens for another seven years.

I'm all for reaching across the ideological divide, seeking common ground, making alliances. And Simes--unlike Zakheim--advocated working together whenever possible. Referring to the current course in US foreign policy, he noted, "This republic is facing a mortal damage," and the Bush administration is "pursuing policies that make us more vulnerable."

But foreign policy intellectuals should not forget about the past as they move ahead. I appreciate the fact that realists fancy being hardheaded. Simes noted that he was aghast at the corruption and state violence he saw when he recently visited Russia. But he added that since the United States needs Russian assistance in dealing with Iran and North Korea a realistic approach has prevented him from insisting that Washington pressure Moscow too forcefully on issues of corruption and political rights.

Such calculations--whether correct or not in the particulars--are understandable. They have a logic to them (whether you agree or not with that logic). But, please, let's be realistic about past decisions and calculations. It's not realism to whitewash history and to deny responsibility for actions taken. Those who distort the past cannot be expected to save American foreign policy from those who distort the present.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris, the new best-seller by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here.

Heck of a Job, Maliki!

In some ways, amid the internecine bloodletting, torture, spiking American casualties, death-dealing confusion, general mayhem, and especially the recent coup rumors that Robert Dreyfuss has been taking the lead in reporting, here's all you really need to know about the Iraqi "government" of Nouri al-Maliki. When the Prime Minister wanted to check on whether he was going to hang onto his position or be overthrown, he didn't go to parliament or to the Iraqi people, he checked in with the President of the United States. What he needed, it turned out, was George Bush's vote of confidence.

Here's the exchange as White House Press spokesman Tony Snow described it:

"Q So he [Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki] is concerned about talk of a timetable for withdrawal, or any specific –

"MR. SNOW: It's not -- no, no, no, it's not a timetable for withdrawal. The way it was portrayed is, we're giving them two months, or we'll go for somebody else. This was a timetable for his government, not for withdrawal. So thank you for positing that.

"Q Tony, is this stuff that came out of the [Senator John] Warner visit or –

"MR. SNOW: No, I think it's -- the answer is I'm not entirely sure, but I believe it refers to the report that said -- that there was a rumor that there were going to be attempts to replace him if certain things didn't happen in two months. And the President said the rumors are not true; we support you.

"Q The President initiated the call?

"MR. SNOW: Yes.

"Q So what was the level of concern that caused the President to pick up the phone?

"MR. SNOW: It's not a level of concern. Here you have the central front in the war on terror, which the President has been talking about, and he's made it clear that he wants to consult with the Prime Minister regularly."

Try, for a second, to imagine the situation in reverse. The American president, fearing a coup d'etat or some other move to throw him out of office, turns to the prime minister of Iraq to discover whether his job is still safe, whether he still has "support."

Of course, that's a ludicrous thought, but it highlights the ongoing inability of the Bush administration to set up an Iraqi government that might have legitimacy and meet its desires as well. Instead, what you have, practically speaking, is the worst of both worlds: a government that lacks legitimacy and is incapable, not to say unwilling, to meet the needs of the President and his advisors. In such a situation, a vote of confidence from one man may end up looking like the kiss of death to another.

Salvaging Their Future

You still sometimes hear periodic laments from progressives over the apathy of today's students in the face of major political turmoil. The Nation's investigations, however, have turned up a new generation of student activists engaged with the issues of the day and creatively and courageously working against the forces of reaction the magazine regularly chronicles.

Sam Graham-Felsen's new Nation magazine piece detailing the accomplishments of the group Students for a New American Politics (SNAP) helps demonstrate that students are not currently lacking in either political commitment or savvy.

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle recently helped make the same point. Citing the efforts of students to promote clean energy and efficiency as influential in his decision, Governor Doyle announced a massive five-year program to make four University of Wisconsin campuses completely energy independent.

The program – endorsed by the Wisconsin Student Public Interest Research Group -- comes in the wake of significant student action. Students across the University of Wisconsin system have been active for several years at both the campus and local level, promoting sustainable policies and educating students and the general public about clean energy solutions.

The program will ensure that 100 percent of each campus's energy supply comes from clean sources like wind and solar, as well as biomass, which has significant potential as a homegrown fuel in Wisconsin. Details of the energy independence program can be found by clicking here.

Meanwhile, in Maine Bowdoin College has been powered by renewable electricity since July, after a student-run campaign last spring succeeded in securing a commitment from President Barry Mills and Treasurer Catherine Longley for the purchase of one hundred percent "clean" renewable energy on its campus. The school is now buying 12 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power per year from Miller Hydro Group -- the owner of the only certified low impact hydroelectric facility in Maine.

At the College of the Atlantic (COA), as Ben Adler reports for Campus Progress, the environmental movement received a jolt that could reverberate last Friday when new COA president David Hales announced a commitment to making the school a "Net-zero" emitter of greenhouse gases. "If institutions across the country begin to follow suit," Adler writes, "the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions--and the concomitant reduction in global warming--could be significant."

In Colorado students are also in the forefront of fighting for their futures, starting with the state's House Bill 1147, which would establish energy efficiency programs for Colorado consumers. Republican governor Bill Owens has already vetoed the bill once, but he's in an increasingly tight race to keep office this November, so there's still hope that he'll sign the popular bill if it gets re-submitted by the Colorado Legislature. As the student-run CoPirg's useful fact-sheet notes, the bill would enable utilities to give consumers rebates on new efficiency products, and require the utility companies to reduce energy consumption twenty-five percent by 2011. (If you're a Colorado citizen, click here to ask the governor to support the bill.)

If you're a student and want to help move your campus toward energy independence, check out the Campus Climate Challenge (CCC) website. The CCC--which I wrote about last August--isa project of more than thirty environmental and social justice groups in the US which runs clean energy drives on campuses nationwide as well as taking part in municipal and state-level advocacy and public education campaigns. If you're not a student, don't dis the kids. Celebrate and support what they're doing.

Armitage's 5 Year Plan

Former Deputy Secretary of State (and Valerie Plame leaker) Richard Armitage called for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq yesterday. Sort of.

"We notify the Iraqis that we're going to be drawing down a reasonable but careful percentage of our troops over a reasonable interval of months--just for example, 5 percent of troops every three months," Armitage told students at New Jersey's DeSales University.

Under Armitage's plan, US troops won't leave Iraq until 2011.

The Army has its own plan to keep the current number of US forces in the country until 2010. And President Bush told Bob Woodward that he'll stick with the war even if only Laura and terrier Barney support him.

But at least Armitage is talking about leaving. That's more than you can say for most Republicans these days, including Armitage's latest foreign policy advisee, John McCain.

The Fish Rots From the Head Down

When historians look back on our times and try to pinpoint the moment when the American century became the Chinese era, they may emphasize a recent battle over labor practices. To be specific, the Chinese government has drafted a law to strengthen the rights of unions to organize and fight workplace abuse while the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai has lobbied against reform, threatening to discourage the opening of US factories in China if the law is passed.

It is an important moment because it represents the first time in the last three decades that the Chinese have questioned the American neoliberal model of economic development and sought to chart their own course. Responding to the vast inequality and social unrest created by what has essentially been Robber Baron capitalism, the Chinese, especially its New Left intellectuals, may well be rediscovering the role of social justice, collective organizing, the welfare state, and workers' rights.

This moment also exposes the fundamental cynicism of American multi-national corporations. Having already used the cheap labor supplied by Chinese factories to undermine US labor unions and lay off hundreds of thousands of American workers, they are now employing similar tactics in China.

What with the passage of legislation sanctioning torture and, now, US multinationals signing onto crushing domestic and overseas labor unions--so much for America's moral authority.

The Conservative Dodge

I often disagree with TNR's Peter Beinart. But his latest essay, debunking the myth that George W. Bush isn't really a conservative, is dead on.

"Rarely has so widespread a view been so wrong," Beinart writes. "In fact, Bush is not merely conservative; he is more conservative than Ronald Reagan, the man whose ideological legacy he has supposedly betrayed."

The argument being peddled by conservative intellectuals is as disingenuous as the argument made by liberal hawks that they didn't know Bush would screw up Iraq so badly.

It's a convenient excuse for movement conservatives. The governing philosophy isn't the problem, the man is. Yet it's factually inaccurate and a gross misrepresentation of history.

In fact, Bush's policies were always the problem. "Conservatives aren't turning on Bush because his policies aren't conservative," Beinart writes. "They are turning on him because his policies, from Iraq to Hurricane Katrina, have dramatically failed--and failed policies, by definition, cannot be conservative. Poor George W. Bush. His supporters fear the Democrats, but they fear cognitive dissonance far more."

Republicans Who Care (And Those Who Don't)

A group of venerable moderate Republican millionaires are starting a new group, Republicans Who Care. As Ellen Miller writes on TPM Cafe, "Does that mean that the rest of the Republicans are members of 'Republicans Who Don't Care'?"

And what precisely do the moderates care about? According to Bloomberg News, the group is raising money for "Republicans who favor balanced federal budgets and believe government should take a hands-off approach on such issues as abortion." The candidates they're planning to help include Senator Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island and Reps. Chris Shays, Nancy Johnson, Rob Simmons, Martha Rainville and Deborah Pryce.

But do these candidates stand up on the aforementioned issues? Take abortion. Pryce had only a 40 percent rating from NARAL last year and is the fourth-ranking Republican in a GOP leadership that is adamantly pro-life.

The rest of the aforementioned Republicans voted for the Bush tax cuts that bloated the federal deficit.

And if Lincoln Chafee is re-elected to the Senate, he'll vote for Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, hardly a moderate.

It doesn't seem like the rich Republican "moderates" are getting too much bang for their buck.

Voting for Impeachment

From Vermont to Illinois to California, voters this fall will be deciding the fate not just of candidates for Congress but of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Communities that are home to more than 1 million Americans will have an opportunity to cast ballots on the question of whether Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against the president and vice president.

Only the U.S. House of Representatives can impeach a member of the executive branch, and only the Senate can convict the targeted official and remove him from office. But the founders always intended for citizens to have a voice in the process. Thomas Jefferson, who argued that power must ultimately rest in the people, as they alone are the surest defenders of the republic and its democratic aspirations, observed, "It behooves our citizens to be on their guard, to be firm in their principles, and full of confidence in themselves. We are able to preserve our self-government if we will but think so."

Duly troubled by a president and vice president who have launched wars without congressional declarations, who have spied without warrants, who have disregarded and disdained the Constitution, citizens across the country have put themselves to the task of preserving self-government by raising the call for impeachment. Dozens of communities have considered resolutions calling on Congress to act, and this fall's referendums will raise the volume.

The precise wording of the questions varies from town to town. Prepared with the assistance of activists with the Constitution Summer project (www.constitutionsummer.org), the propositions in San Francisco and Berkeley read like actual articles of impeachment. In urging members of the House to begin impeachment proceedings against Bush and Cheney, for instance, San Francisco's Proposition J goes far beyond now standard complaints regarding abuses of power related to invasion and occupation of Iraq and argues for holding the administration to account for the mismanagement of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

The proposal is more to the point in tiny Pittsville, Wisconsin -- population 866 -- where voters will be asked to vote "yes" or "no" on a local resolution that declares: "The U.S. House of Representatives should start an impeachment investigation against President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney now."

If the voters say yes, says Bob Hoch, organizer of the Wood County Impeachment Coalition's petition drives, a call to act will be dispatched to the state's congressional delegation -- two of whom, Madison Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Milwaukee Democrat Gwen Moore, have already joined a House call for an impeachment inquiry.

There are those who will suggest that referendum votes in handful of communities as distinct as San Francisco and Pittsville can't possibly mean much to the national discourse. But, surely, the cynics are wrong.

The referendums in those communities, and Montpelier, Vermont, and Urbana, Ill., and other locales across the land are classic illustrations of the petitioning for the redress of grievances that the Constitution does not merely protect but in fact encourages. The impeachment-from-below movement is the modern-day expression of the oldest of American ideals: No man, be he pauper or president, shall stand above the law. And it is wholly appropriate that it is beginning at the municipal level.

Former Harper's magazine editor Lewis Lapham, was asked during a recent visit to San Francisco: "Do you think that's the way we should go about impeachment -- municipally?"

"I don't see why not," Lapham, one of the Republic's most thoughtful and consistent defenders, replied. "I don't see any other way to go about it. I think that the impetus for any revival for democratic government is going to come not from a national level but from a municipal and state level."

There is something satisfying about the fact that the communities that are voting on impeachment -- which range from urban centers to college towns to rural towns -- cannot be stereotyped. That is as it should be, says Buzz Davis, the Veterans for Peace activist who has been leading the impeachment campaign that has qualified two referendums for the November ballots in Wisconsin cities and hopes to qualify many more for next spring's local election ballots. "Impeachment is not a partisan issue but a question of whether our nation will live under the rule of law as our Founding Fathers believed," argues Davis.

James Madison said that "it may, perhaps, on some occasion, be found necessary to impeach the president himself."

It would come as no surprise to Madison or Jefferson that citizens are the first to recognize the occasion and to call upon Congress to act. Nor would this trouble the founders; indeed, they would say that the impeachment-from-below movement is the truest expression of the patriotism that alone will preserve the republic.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com