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The Nation

A New Star Shines From Massachusetts

Barack Obama, whose recent campaign-style swing through Iowa has renewed talk of the freshman senator from Illinois as a presidential prospect, is still the frontrunner in discussions about who might be the first African-American to occupy the Oval Office.

But the voters of Massachusetts have given Obama some competition.

The landslide winner of Tuesday's voting in what was supposed to be a close contest for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Deval Patrick, is certainly not as well known as Obama. But if, as many expect, Patrick prevails in the November election, he will quickly find a place on the national stage. And if he proves to be as successful at governing the Bay State as he was as a law clerk for a law clerk for one of the nation's most progressive jurists, Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, as a top lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and as assistant attorney general for civil rights under President Clinton, Patrick will soon enjoy his share of presidential speculation.

Don't go looking for a rivalry between Obama and Patrick, however.

The two men, both products of challenging backgrounds who made it to Harvard Law School, have been friends for more than a decade.

Last year, when political observers discounted Patrick's prospects – the Boston Globe described him as "a political unknown" after he first discussed running – Obama endorsed the Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate. The senator hosted Patrick at a 2005 Congressional Black Caucus weekend in Washington and organized a major fund-raising event on his behalf in Chicago.

In June of this year, Obama returned to Boston -- where he claimed his place on the national stage with an electrifying keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention -- to introduce Patrick at a rally before the June convention where the first-time candidate would secure the gubernatorial endorsement of the state Democratic party. Noting that Patrick was given little chance of winning when the two men began talking about the race in 2005, Obama told a cheering crowd of 3,000, ``Now, lo and behold, one year later… this man who they said could not, in fact, can."

Patrick got off the best line of that night: "You know your campaign is on fire when Barack Obama is your warm-up act."

Patrick's campaign was on fire. Obama's endorsement certainly helped. But the real spark was Patrick's appeal to progressives -- with his strong support for the marriage rights of lesbians and gays, his ardent opposition to the death penalty, his sympathy for the circumstance of immigrants and his backing of a minimum-wage hike and health care for all -- as well as a highly-effective field operation run by veteran civil rights and social justice activists.

Patrick and his backers built a remarkable grassroots campaign that crossed lines or race, ethnicity, class and gender to unite Democrats in a blue state where divisions have repeatedly cost them the governorship. Like Obama in the Illinois Democratic Senate primary of 2004, Patrick emerged on the basis of a smart, aggressive campaign as the clear choice of party activists and, ultimately, of the voters.

On Tuesday night, Patrick was winning close to 50 percent of the Democratic primary vote, while the candidates who were once considered the frontrunners, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly and wealthy businessman Christopher F. Gabrieli, who spent $10 million of his own money on the campaign, each collected about a quarter of the ballots.

Patrick still faces a serious contest in November with the Republican lieutenant governor of a state that has not elected a Democrat to its top job since Michael Dukakis in 1986 -- and that, despite its liberal reputation, has never elected a woman or a person of color as governor. But the momentum's with Patrick and, if he wins, so, too, will be the talk about a place on a future national Democratic ticket.

Who knows? If the America that is evolves to the American that might be, maybe we'll see bumper stickers that read: "Obama-Patrick"?

GOP Leader Threatens Lobbyists

The Republican Party's "K Street Project," intended to make lobbyists pledge their allegiance to the GOP, has supposedly been shut down in the wake of the Abramoff scandal. But in the mind of Rep. Tom Reynolds, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the effort is still very much alive.

Last week, according to Roll Call, Reynolds warned a gathering of top lobbyists to refrain from donating to Democrats. "For those of you thinking about hedging your bets, I am watching you and I am going to know," said Reynolds, according to one Republican source at the meeting. "We will have no choice but to report to the Republican Conference any changes in your pattern of giving," Reynolds added, according to a second source.

Publicly threatening lobbyists is likely not to the best PR move for Reynolds in light of Bob Ney's guilty plea last week. But it's fitting behavior for a man who once called Tom DeLay "a darn good mentor of mine."

Time to Move Beyond Bush-Hating

You know the peace movement is in trouble when Andrew Rosenthal -- who edited WMD-fantasist Judy Miller at the New York Times -- bemoans its invisibility, as he did in an editorial a few weeks ago. When protesters do hit the streets, however, the result is not always inspiring. Today's rally at the United Nations, timed to coincide with Bush's speech to that enfeebled body, was thinly attended: just a few thousand people. Energy was low, and 911 conspiracy loons plentiful. United for Peace and Justice did a good job of making a necessary protest possible, by fighting for -- and winning -- a permit to march, and doing the vital organizing to get bodies and TV cameras to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. But the event's dreary mood stood in sharp contrast to a neighboring rally for Iranian political candidate Maryam Rajavi, whose supporters played music and danced, and waved signs with Rajavi's attractive face on it. (Semiotically moderate, she wears a headscarf and makeup. Her party is reputed to be a weird cult, unfortunately, but they certainly know how to throw a rally!) The mood at the Rajavi gathering was buoyant and optimistic, while the anti-war protesters seemed doleful and stuck in the past. Things are clearly dire when the grand finale speaker is Jesse Jackson, who hasn't been interesting since the 1980s.

Part of the problem is that the left's obsession with Bush -- quite understandable but always shallow -- no longer even provides decent slogans, much less vision. Indeed, looking out at the sea of anti-Bush signs at the rally, the man standing next to me -- who had a relative who'd just come back from Iraq "fucked up" -- remarked, "The problem is not just Bush. He's doing what the corporations tell him. He represents the people with billions of dollars. Not just millions, billions. And they want to keep it." Note to protesters and Democrats alike: W's approval ratings are back up. Running against him isn't good enough anymore.

The War on Torture

In Connecticut today, a statewide interfaith network of religious leaders--Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice-- working with with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, is calling on the state's Congressional delegation to take a firm stand against weakening the United States' commitment to Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

"Nothing less than the soul of our nation is at stake," said the Reverend Allie Perry, "not to mention the rule of law."

Senator Joe Lieberman--who might soon join forces with the Decider to serve as his official sidekick, the Moral Equivocator--has seized the opportunity to (somewhat) oppose President Bush's torture proposal. "I think McCain's got it right," said Lieberman. "I think we're probably in agreement in about 90 percent on how we should treat them."

But what Jolting Joe can't cut and run from--as Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith point out in their recent article on The Nation.com--are his votes to strip Guantánamo captives of the right to habeas corpus, and to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General, essentially endorsing Gonzales' infamous torture memo.

If Lieberman sees supporting the Warner/McCain/Graham bill as a way to take an election year stand against Bush while posing as protector of our historical international obligations, he is dead wrong. As J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights said, "The Administration and Warner bills...would authorize the life-long detention of more than 450 men who have been imprisoned in Guantánamo for nearly five years without ever having been charged with an offense or receiving a fair hearing. This is unconscionable. Every person detained by our nation must receive a fair hearing--one that does not rely on secret evidence or evidence obtained by torture or coercion--because fairness and due process are what America stands for."

In Connecticut, and across the nation, as candidates are forced to take a stand on such issues as torture, habeas corpus, and the separation of powers, we will learn who represents our finest traditions, and who would settle for a poor imitation which will further erode our historical role as a beacon for human rights.

At the UN, Bush Cites Human Rights Declaration

When George W. Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, he glowingly referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN in 1948. He said:

This morning, I want to speak about the more hopeful world that is within our reach, a world beyond terror, where ordinary men and women are free to determine their own destiny, where the voices of moderation are empowered, and where the extremists are marginalized by the peaceful majority. This world can be ours if we seek it and if we work together.

The principles of this world beyond terror can be found in the very first sentence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document declares that "the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom and justice and peace in the world."

One of the authors of this document was a Lebanese diplomat named Charles Malik, who would go on to become president of this assembly. Mr. Malik insisted that these principles applied equally to all people, of all regions, of all religions, including the men and women of the Arab world that was his home.

In the nearly six decades since that document was approved, we have seen the forces of freedom and moderation transform entire continents....The words of the Universal Declaration are as true today as they were when they were written.

That is some endorsement. But how familiar is Bush with the entire document? Let's start with Article 5:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Bush claims that his adminsitration has not tortured any terrorist suspect. But that claim has been challenged. (In the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the War, we recount the tale of a captured al Qaeda commander handed over by the CIA to Egyptian authorities, who was aggressively questioned--perhaps tortured--and provided false information linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda. This information was then used by Colin Powell during his now infamous UN speech before the invasion of Iraq.)

Article 7:

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.

Terrorist suspects detained as enemy combatants by the United States were not afforded equal protection of the law.

Article 9:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

The Bush White House has argued that the president has the power to arrest and detain anyone suspected of being an enemy combatant and that a detainee can be held as long as the president deems fit, without any due process. The Supreme Court, though, has not gone along with that view.

Article 10:

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him

Did Bush's original idea of using a military tribunal to try suspected terrorists jibe with this provision? Is his current proposal to try detainees with secret evidence in sync with this article?

Article 12:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Bush keeps insisting on the right to wiretap people--including American citizens (under certain circumstances)--without a warrant, not even a secret warrant. As for the right not to have one's honor and reputation assailed, the drafters of this declaration must have forgotten to put in a clause exempting the targets of political campaigns.

Article 30:

Noting in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein

In other words, not even a wartime president gets a pass. So did Bush read this document before he praised it? Or was he just reading a speech?

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INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris 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.

Clooney Cares

Academy Award winning actor and director George Clooney does not have a new film to promote. He does not want to call attention to a high-profile romance he's involved in. He simply, like so many other Americans, wants there to be more aggressive action on the part of the United States and the rest of the international community with regards to the genocide ongoing in Darfur.

"It's not a political issue," Clooney has said, "It's not about left and right, conservative or liberal points of view. It's only about right and wrong." While the idea of Hollywood movie stars lecturing about the world's dilemmas may make some people cringe or complain the reality is that Clooney has been one of the few consistent and influential voices on this problem. In April he and his journalist father, Nick Clooney, made a highly publicized visit to the region and footage they shot of refugees there helped get the Darfur crisis back in the news again for the first times in months.

President Bush appears paralyzed on this issue by his aversion to the International Criminal Court and his dedication to the quagmire in Iraq. Meanwhile, Sudan's Khartoum government continues to allow the Janjaweed militia to continue mass murder. A recent study by two scientists from the University of Wisconsin and Northwestern University has found that nearly half a million people have perished since the violence began, far more than has been recently estimated.

While all the President seems to be able to do is muster cranky complaints about the UN from the Rose Garden, last week, Clooney, along with Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel has been engaging in talks directly with members of the international community in the hopes that they can provide the pressure necessary to break the seemingly unending deadlock within the African Union's Peace and Security Council about how to act. "The critical hour for Darfur is now," said Clooney.

As a society we tend to roll our eyes collectively when rich and famous celebrities take up causes such as these but no matter what you think of Clooney's work or his intentions, he happens to be right about this. Something must be done.

Deja Vu on Iran

Is the Bush Administration mistaking Iran for pre-war Iraq? Recent events certainly sound eerily familiar.

Intelligence experts and counter-terrorism officials say hawkish Republicans are exaggerating the state of Iran's nuclear program and support for terrorism.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, in particular, said a report by House Republicans contained "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated information."

"The dispute was a virtual rerun of the months before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq," Knight-Ridder reported.

Once again, the offices of Cheney and Rumsfeld are "receiving a stream of questionable information that originates with Iranian exiles," Knight-Ridder writes.

The head of the infamous Office of Special Plans, Abram Shulsky, now helms a new Iranian directorate at the Pentagon.

And once again, President Bush is addressing the UN General Assembly, calling for sanctions. "Iran must abandon its nuclear weapon ambitions," Bush said today. (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressing the UN tonight, skipped the speech.)

Bush claimed he's still seeking a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. But a military option is very much on the table.

Retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner told CNN yesterday: "We are conducting military operations inside Iran right now." And US naval forces have been alerted for deployment.

As improbable as it seems, could an attack on Iran be this election season's October surprise?

Rendition Rendered

For some time now we've known about the Bush administration's outsourcing of torture to foreign dictatorships. But for the first time we can see the whole process vividly detailed by a Western governmental source.

A Candadian judicial panel has made public its findings in the case of hapless computer programmer Maher Arar, a Muslim Canadian citizen. Wrongly suspected of terrorist connections by Canadian intelligence, Arar was placed on a U.S. watchlist.

In September 2002, while changing planes in New York City, Arar was plain kidnapped by U.S. agents and essentially "disappeared." After being held in American custody for 12 days, he was flown by the U.S. to Jordan then driven to, yes, Syria. There he was beaten and held in a coffin-sized cell for ten horrific months.

The Syrians. The Syrians we hate. The Syrians we refuse to talk to. The Syrians we will have nothing to do with. Unless, that is, we need them to torture an innocent for us.

Lab Rat for Crony Capitalism

In Sunday's Washington Post, excerpts from Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City reveal the fundamentally corrupt approach this administration took to Iraq Reconstruction.

Chandrasekaran writes,"[Job] applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration."

President Bush's appointee who screened applicants made certain his staff asked such relevant questions as whether an individual had voted for his boss? Even views on Roe v. Wade were explored.

This is how a 24 year-old with no background in finance was tapped to reopen the Baghdad stock exchange. A 60-year old social worker with limited international health experience working for an evangelical Christian NGO was selected to rebuild Iraq's health care system. And then media-darling (and since disgraced) Bernie Kerik – the former New York City police commissioner of 9/11 fame and Homeland Security infamy – was chosen to oversee the training of Iraq's police forces, partly because he had no previous postwar policing experience and "the White House viewed that as an asset."

Frederick Smith, former deputy director of the Coalition Provisional Authority's Washington office, explains: "We didn't tap -- and it should have started from the White House on down -- just didn't tap the right people to do this job. It was a tough, tough job. Instead we got people who went out there because of their political leanings."

"The decision to send the loyal and the willing," Chandrasekaran writes, "instead of the best and the brightest" has had staggering consequences.

The health care administrator, James Haveman Jr., who replaced, according to one USAID official, "the single most talented and experienced post-conflict health specialist working for the United States government" – funded an anti-smoking campaign rather than focusing on "childhood diarrhea and other fatal maladies." He stressed privatizing and selling the drug-delivery system rather than addressing immediate drug shortages. He focused on maternity wards and new fee-based medical clinics ("Haveman didn't like the idea that medical care in Iraq was free") at the expense of hospitals treating the victims of insurgent attacks that "were the country's single largest health challenge."

"When Haveman left Iraq, Baghdad's hospitals were as decrepit as the day the Americans arrived. At Yarmouk Hospital, the city's largest, rooms lacked the most basic equipment to monitor a patient's blood pressure and heart rate, operating theaters were without modern surgical tools and sterile implements, and the pharmacy's shelves were bare. Nationwide, the Health Ministry reported that 40 percent of the 900 drugs it deemed essential were out of stock in hospitals. Of the 32 medicines used in public clinics for the management of chronic diseases, 26 were unavailable."

Kerik's results were equally abysmal. He ventured out on nighttime raids that garnered good press, and slept during the day when the real business of administration needed to be done. According to Chandrasekaran, while officers "needed to be screened for Baath Party connections," due process and interrogations without torture needed to be taught (who taught whom?), new weapons needed to be procured, and new chiefs and officers needed to be hired…. Kerik held exactly two staff meetings. One on the day he arrived, the other when the New York Times was shadowing him.

Kerik left after three months, saying, "I was in my own world. I did my own thing."

The same can be said of this entire administration.

The raw and wanton costs of GOP cronyism have played out in a tragic and obscene way in Iraq, where implementing a flat tax was more important than rehabilitating hospitals… where selling government assets was more important than generating electricity… where allegiance to George Bush was more critical than language fluency or postwar rebuilding experience.

These days it is often said that the Bush administration lacked a plan for reconstruction. In fact, its plan and that of the GOP party-liners is all too clear: Iraq was simply a lab rat for its crony capitalism and savage treatment of the Iraqi people -- not to mention the exploitation of our men and women sent to fight and die for a plan this administration dare not utter.

This administration doesn't have a problem with attention to detail. The injustice lies in the details it selects and pays attention to -- leaving a world of destruction in its wake.