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The Bad Math Is No Secret

If it's budget time, it must be disinformation time. That's how it goes in the Bush II era. George W. Bush released a budget today that he claims is responsible, honest, and designed to cut the $400 billion-plus deficit in half by 2009. Not so. By now, you probably have heard the obvious criticisms. The budget does not include the $80 billion Bush is asking for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (And that probably won't cover the full tab.) It doesn't account for the $1 trillion to $2 trillion that Bush needs to pay for the private investment accounts he wants to carve out of Social Security. It also doesn't recognize that several hundred billion dollars will disappear from the revenue stream when the government rejiggers the alternative minimum tax--which it must--to prevent this tax (written to apply to corporations that make creative use of loopholes) from hitting middle-class individual tax filers.

There are few secrets about Bush's budgetary shenanigans. While the military gets a hefty boost, housing, education and environmental protection gets hammered. Every advocacy group concerned with federal spending was issuing press releases today. Folks on Capitol Hill were doing the same. Senator Jim Jeffords, the Republican-turned-independent from Vermont, put out a short list of the worst of Bush's proposed cuts. Here it is:

* Environment. Cuts the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget by 5.6 percent from $8.02 billion to $7.57 billion, culminating in an almost 10 percent cut over two years. Most cuts come in efforts to maintain and improve the nation's clean water infrastructure.

* Veterans. More than doubles the co-payment charged to many veterans for prescription drugs and would require some to pay a new fee of $250 a year for the privilege of using the Veterans health care system.

* Health Care. Cuts Medicaid funding by $45 billion over 10 years and eliminates 28 health programs, totaling $1.36 billion. These programs range from rural hospital grants (cuts $39.5 million) to emergency medical services for children (cuts $20 million).

* Job Training. Cuts federal spending on job training by a half-billion dollars. Federal job training programs, including dislocated-worker training, will be cut by $200 million. Federal aid to states for job training, including funding to train veterans, will be cut by $300 million.

* Amtrak. Eliminates all funding for Amtrak, calling bankruptcy proceedings as the solution for our nation's rail system.

* Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP). Cuts LIHEAP by over 8 percent, from $2.2 billion to $2 billion.

* Parks. Cuts the National Park Service by 3 percent from $2.31 billion to $2.24 billion.

The Bush White House defends its cuts, claiming it is targeting programs that don't work. Could it be that the Bushies are right? That those darn bureaucrats running the clean water programs at the EPA are flushing taxpayer dollars down the drain? Perhaps. But here's the thing: if Bush is not being honest about the macro dimensions of his budget--and he's not--then how can he be trusted on the details? Short answer: he cannot. I am willing to believe waste and unnecessary spending can be found throughout government. Maybe even at the Pentagon. (Gosh, no!) But I am not willing to hand the scalpel to Bush and his lieutenants when they spin numbers and refuse to acknowledge the true budgetary problems that they have caused and overseen.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Mark Crispin Miller's dissemination of mud, Bush's delusions about gay families, and more

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For a (relatively) easy-to-follow analysis of Bush's budget proposal, I turn to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Yeah, they're a bunch of liberals over there. But they know their math. Here are some excerpts from the center's first review of Bush's budget:

The Priorities of the Budget

The budget makes very substantial cuts in domestic spending at the same time that it calls for large additional tax cuts. If defense, homeland security, and international affairs are funded at the levels the President proposes, then by 2010, funding for domestic discretionary programs (outside homeland security) would have to be cut about $65 billion, or 16 percent, below the 2005 levels, adjusted for inflation. These cuts hit program...such as education, veterans' health care, and environmental protection....

The budget proposes tax cuts costing $1.6 trillion over 10 years (including interest), even though the paucity of revenues is the main reason behind the rise in the deficit. Revenues are now lower, as a share of the economy, than in any year in the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, or the 1990s. Yet the Administration's budget would make its tax cuts permanent and add a number of new tax cuts on top. It proposes, for example, a series of new tax cuts related to savings that, according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, would go overwhelmingly to those with incomes above $100,000....The Congressional Research Service has estimated that these new tax cuts eventually cost the equivalent today of $300 billion to $500 billion over ten years.

Key low-income programs would be hit even though these programs have contributed little to the return of the deficit, and since 2000, poverty has risen and the number of Americans without health insurance has climbed. The number of poor went up for the third straight year in 2003, the share of total income that goes to the bottom two-fifths of households has fallen to one of its lowest levels since the end of World War II, and the number of people lacking health insurance rose to 45 million in 2003, the highest level on record. Yet the budget proposes food stamp cuts that will eliminate benefits for 200,000 to 300,000 people primarily in low-income working families and a five-year freeze on child care funding that, according to tables in the Administration's budget, will result in cutting the number of low-income children receiving child care assistance by 300,000 in 2009. The budget also proposes to reduce Medicaid funding by at least $45 billion over 10 years; such a proposal would almost certainly push hard-pressed states to eliminate coverage for a substantial number of low-income people, increasing the ranks of the uninsured and the underinsured.

Effects on the Deficit

Despite cuts to scores of domestic programs, the Administration's budget increases rather than decreases the deficit over the next five years. As shown by its own figures, the effect of the Administration's budget is to increase total deficits over the next five years from $1.364 trillion under current law to $1.393 trillion. A main reason for this outcome is the tax-cut proposals the Administration has included in its budget.

Over the longer run, by proposing to make its tax cuts permanent, the Administration's budget proposals would dramatically swell the deficit. In 2015 alone, the Administration's tax proposals -- including the cost of making the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts permanent -- would increase the deficit by $358 billion. If relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax that is due to expire at the end of this year is extended, as is widely expected, this would add another $163 billion to the deficit in 2009. The Administrations proposal to replace part of Social Security with private accounts also would swell deficits further. It would add $1.4 trillion to deficits in its first ten years (2019 to 2028) and another $3.5 trillion in the decade after that. In 2015 alone, it would add $177 billion.

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By the way, the Center also notes that for the first time since 1989 this budget "fails to provide information about the funding of specific discretionary programs beyond the upcoming budget year, thereby hiding the impact of the large discretionary cuts it is proposing." That is, the Bush White House is hiding the greater hits to come to education, veterans' health care, and many other programs after 2009. The White House, according to the Center, also "insists on its practice of budgeting for only five years, masking the full cost of its tax cuts, while it simultaneously insists on using 'infinite' or 75-year time horizons" when discussing such programs as Social Security. How convenient.

Bush is not playing it straight on the big numbers. He never has. So the dramatic budget cuts he now proposes cannot be accepted as a good-faith fix for the mess that he helped create.

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

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there

Single Women Against Bush

A new report recently highlighted in Ruy Teixeira's valuable Public Opinion Watch shows that one of the bright spots for the Democrats in the 2004 election was their performance among single women. The study, done by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Womens' Voices/Women Vote, showed that the "marriage gap is a defining dynamic in today's politics, eclipsing the gender gap, with marital status a significant predictor of the vote, independent of the effects of age, race, income, education or gender."

As Teixeira writes, the new research shows that unmarried women, who voted overwhelmingly for Kerry, "are social and economic progressives advancing a tolerant set of values." One more reason to oppose marriage. (Click here to check out the full report.)

Disunited Opposition to Gonzales

Much was said in the Senate during the debate over the nomination of Alberto Gonzales. But it fell to the two senators with the most powerful records of upholding the Constitution to sum up the arguments against making the disgraced White House counsel the 81st Attorney General of the United States.

One decried Gonzales's shameful record:

"I simply cannot support the nomination of someone who, despite his assertions to the contrary, obviously contributed in large measure to the atrocious policy failures and the contrived and abominable legal decisions that have flowed from this White House," said the dean of the Senate, Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

The other senator decried Gonzales's refusal to renounce that record or to suggest that he would set a higher standard as the federal government's chief law enforcement officer.

"Judge Gonzales too often has seen the law as an obstacle to be dodged or cleared away in furtherance of the president's policies," said Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, who recalled that during the nominee's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, "He simply refused to say without equivocation that the president is not above the law. The Judiciary Committee and the American people deserve to hear whether the next attorney general agrees that the president has the power to disobey laws as fundamental to our nation's character as the prohibition on torture."

In an honest debate, those two arguments would have prevailed.

But the Senate is no longer a forum for honest debate. So it was always certain that the Republican majority would muster the votes to confirm another of President Bush's Cabinet picks. That they did on Thursday.

But what was remarkable was that six members of what is supposed to be an opposition party joined with the Republicans to rubber stamp a nominee whose unapologetic disregard for the rule of law should have disqualified him from service as a town constable.

The final vote in the Senate was 60 to 36 in favor of confirming Gonzales. By most measures, that is a significant show of opposition. In fact, it is the second largest vote against a nominee for attorney general since 1925. Only outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft drew more "no" votes.

Make no mistake, the level of opposition to Gonzales was inspired by the nominee's own appearances before the Judiciary Committee. Had Gonzales acknowledged the legitimate concerns about his role in developing and circulating administration memos that condoned the use of some types of torture against suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Iraq and Afghanistan, he would not have faced the level of opposition that he did. But Gonzales was evasive and equivocal in answering questions about whether he would choose to follow the law of the land or the Bush administration's political agenda.

"When Mr. Gonzales was nominated several weeks ago, I didn't know a single member of this body, Republican or Democrat, who had expressed any intention to vote against this nominee," said Senator Christopher Dodd, D-Connecticut. But, after reviewing the Gonzales's testimony, Dodd was forced to ask: "What does it say about our nation's commitment to the rule of law that this nominee will not say that torture is against the law?"

The only answer was that every member of the chamber faced a simple test Thursday: A senator could vote for Gonzales or for the rule of law. But a senator could not do both.

Accordingly, Feingold and Dodd, both of whom supported Ashcroft on the principle that a president has a right to name his Cabinet except in extraordinary circumstances, voted against confirming Gonzales.

But six Democrats did not. Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Ken Salazar of Colorado chose ignore concerns about nominee's record and his disregard for the rule of law.

Those votes are significant, and not merely because of what they say about these individual senators. Had five of these senators indicated their opposition to Gonzales, Democrats could have mounted a filibuster, blocking the progress of the nomination at least until Gonzales addressed the critical question of whether he would follow the law or the marching orders of the White House.

Early in the week, Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, discussed the prospect of mounting a filibuster against the nomination. But the idea had to be dropped because, while there was widespread opposition to confirming Gonzales, Kennedy and his allies could muster the 41 votes needed to maintain the filibuster in the face of united Republican support for Gonzales.

The Republicans were, indeed, united.

The Democrats were not. As a result of the positions taken by Democrats Mary Landrieu, Joe Lieberman, Bill Nelson, Ben Nelson, Mark Pryor and Ken Salazar, Alberto Gonzales has been sworn in as Attorney General without ever having to clarify the most fundamental questions about his commitment to the rule of law.

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John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) will be published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial."

The State of George W. Bush

George W. Bush knows what to do with a bully pulpit. From the days of Thomas Jefferson to those of William Taft, the State of the Union was a written message delivered by presidents to Congress. Woodrow Wilson turned it into a speech. Subsequent presidents used the State of the Union as a high-profile opportunity to promote their political agendas. Bush went beyond that this evening. He produced grand and effective political theater. In the middle of the address, he transformed the war in Iraq--which even after the historic election there arguably remains his largest liability--into a single, powerfully poignant moment. Exploiting the tradition of inviting symbolically significant guests to sit with the First Lady, Bush introduced the mother of a US Marine killed in Fallujah and an Iraqi human rights advocate whose father had been assassinated by Saddam Hussein and who had voted in Sunday's election. With the House chamber awash with emotion, the two women hugged. Bush was near tears. Members of Congress--perhaps including those legislators who had dyed their index fingers purple for the event--were crying. In a nutshell, here was Bush's story of sacrifice, liberty and freedom. Sentiment--sincere sentiment--was in full synch with spin. The not-too-hidden partisan message: Match that, you naysayers. This was a triumph of political communication. And it was a reminder that despite the apparent difficulties Bush faces in his top-priority effort to partially privatize Social Security, he should hardly be counted out. This man does what it takes.

Bush's approval ratings have been low, but in the aftermath of the Iraqi elections, he approached this speech as a conquering hero--a vindicated hero. There was, of course, no mention of Iraq's (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction. No recognition that America's standing in the world has fallen to an all-time low. No acknowledgment that the administration had failed to plan adequately for the post-invasion period. Bush has not a bashful bone. For him, the Iraqi election was a signal (from God?): full steam ahead. He did not shy away from the freedom-is-our-mission rhetoric of his inaugural speech, which was widely criticized for being cynically unrealistic. Bush declared, "America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." And he named names, calling upon Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two autocracies long supported by Washington, to move toward democracy. Certainly, he--or Condoleezza Rice--might be on the phone tomorrow to Cairo and Riyadh, explaining that Bush does not expect immediate action. Nevertheless, such words probably will provide encouragement to democracy activists in those countries and in others. These people, though, should keep in mind that Bush's father--who clearly is no role model for his son--egged on the Shiites in Iraq at the end of the Gulf War and then did not come to their rescue when they were slaughtered.

Bush also showed he has not lost his appetite for regime change and muscle-flexing. He warned Iran to abandon any pursuit of nuclear weapons, vowing that America will stand with Iranians who seek liberty. He placed Syria in the crosshairs. There was no reference to the "axis of evil," but Bush did move Syria ahead of North Korea in the you-better-worry-next category.

This president does not back down. Perhaps that's why he won in November. He repeated his assertion that Iraq "is a vital front in the war on terror, which is why the terrorists have chosen to make a stand there. Our men and women in uniform are fighting terrorists in Iraq, so we do not have to face them here at home." US forces in Iraq, according to the US military, are mostly fighting Baathists who had no intention of attacking the United States "at home" prior to the invasion. But Bush sticks to his talking points. And he again pledged to stay in Iraq for as long as necessary, while maintaining "we will increasingly focus our efforts on helping prepare more capable Iraqi security forces." Without referring directly to his critics, he dismissed calls for establishing any exit plan with language that was noble: "We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out. We are in Iraq to achieve a result: A country that is democratic, representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors, and able to defend itself. And when that result is achieved, our men and women serving in Iraq will return home with the honor they have earned."

Bush did not denounce his opponents; he cut back on the references to God. But he invoked FDR and the power of the American dream, comparing his project in Iraq to the abolition of slavery, the liberation of Europe, and the defeat of imperial communism. He was riding high on the high road.

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Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Christine Todd Whitman's hypocrisy, the Iraqi elections, Bush's delusions about gay families, and the Super Bowl.

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On domestic matters, the speech was mostly predictable. He praised his tax cuts and his record on job creation. (The United States has added 2.3 million new jobs in the past year, he said, without disclosing that the economy needs to create about 2 million jobs a year to keep up with population growth.) He claimed his forthcoming budget would lead to cutting the deficit in half by 2009--even though budget analysts have said he is relying upon phony numbers and false assumptions. He said he would increase the size of Pell grants for college students. (He promised to do so last year and did not.) He assailed "junk lawsuits" and asserted that the nation's economic performance was being "held back" by asbestos lawsuits. (Asbestos lawsuits? Who knew that was the problem?) When he made a vague reference to medical savings accounts, Republicans in the chambers applauded more loudly than when he called for a community health center in every poor county. Bush vowed to revive his defeated energy program and called for tax reform--without stating what changes he'd like to see in the tax code.

There were surprises. Throwing red meat to the red-staters, he made a rather big deal of gay marriage, noting he supports a constitutional amendment "to protect the institution of marriage" (note that he didn't say "to ban gay marriage") for "the good of...children." This was a political correction, for Bush had recently peeved social conservatives by saying there was no need to push the antigay amendment since there were not enough votes for the measure in the Senate. And while Bush referred to the "culture of life" and decried activist judges, he said nothing directly about abortion. Can we then presume then he believes gay marriage is a more urgent matter than a practice his supporters compare to mass murder? Bush also addressed the issue of capital punishment: not by calling for more executions but by advocating more extensive use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful convictions and proposing more funding to train defense attorneys who handle capital cases. (Too bad he didn't do that when he was governor of Texas.) He said that Laura Bush would head an initiative to keep young men out of gangs. There was no mention of the mission to Mars that Bush announced in his last State of the Union speech.

No doubt, the most anticipated part of his speech was his pitch for messing with Social Security. Bush has dramatically improved his rhetorical case for change. He made it appear he was open to many ideas, and he slyly referred to previous proposals for reform that had come from Democrats. He noted that using current payroll taxes for private retirement accounts for younger workers was not a fix for Social Security but an effort to give those under the age of 55 "a better deal." He did not use the word "crisis," but he did deploy his melodramatic and misleading argument for reform. This created the most interesting political moment of the night. As Bush remarked, "By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt," Democratic legislators shouted, "No, no...." (The Congressional Budget Office has said that come 2052 the Social Security system will only be able to pay about three-quarters of the scheduled benefits. This is a problem; it is not bankruptcy.) As Bush continued in this vein, the Democrats kept up the protest: "No, no, no...." It was reminiscent of question time in the British Parliament.

Bush, as could be expected, skated past the difficult questions: how he would pay $2 trillion to cover the shift to private accounts and how much benefits would be cut for workers under the age of 55. He cannot paper over the harsh realities of such a plan. But Democrats ought to be worried. Polling numbers and media coverage of the Social Security fight have given them reason to hope that Bush cannot pull this off. (The day before the speech, CNN's Lou Dobbs exclaimed, "How in the world do you rationalize private accounts, a $2 trillion addition in the ten-year projection across the federal government? None of it makes a lick of sense right now, let's just be honest. There's no crisis, there is no way in the world that this government responsibly could undertake $2 trillion in further debt, and seniors don't want anyone messing with their Social Security.") But Bush demonstrated he is still improving his Social Security shtick.

Bush's speech was a success--for him, that is, not the Union. After all, the State of Bush is just fine. He clearly loves being a crusader for freedom. He has learned how to project passion and what might actually be conviction. (If he doesn't read the newspapers, maybe he doesn't know his Social Security numbers are off.) Sure, close to half of the voters out there are not going to be charmed or persuaded by Bush, however he performs. And much of his rhetoric can be punctured by facts. But he displayed few, if any, political vulnerabilities. Last Election Day offered plenty of reasons for Democrats to worry. This speech provides additional cause for them to fret.

Which brings us to the Democratic response. It was middling at best, perhaps awful. Senator Harry Reid, the minority leader, tried mightily hard to adopt the language of values. He took the folksy route, reminding viewers he had grown up in a small town in Nevada among hard-rock miners. He referred to a ten-year-old boy who recently told Reid that when he grows up he wants to be a senator. This, Reid noted, was evidence that no one has to tell the children of America to dream big dreams. Reid covered all the bases, critiquing Bush's economic policies and pointing out the flaws and dangers of partially privatizing Social Security. But he was not much of a match for a president riding the wave of self-proclaimed victory in Iraq.

Still, Reid fared better than House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. She proved that she can read a TelePrompTer without blinking or changing her facial expression. Reid went for the down-home approach. Pelosi was a Stepford Democrat. She expressed no emotion. She did not modulate her speech. She looked like she was reading words written by someone else, not sharing convictions that burn in her soul. Handling the national security portion of the Democratic response, she served up all the usual--and correct--criticisms of Bush. But she scored no points. In this arena, delivery counts as much as--no, make that more than--substance. On Iraq, she repeated the Kerry plan: accelerate training of Iraqi security forces, rev up the reconstruction, and intensify regional diplomacy. The goal, she said, is a "much smaller American presence" by the next election, which is scheduled for the end of the year. But it was hard to imagine her swaying anyone who wasn't already a Bush-basher. Pelosi looked like she had to be there. Bush looked like he was relishing the moment. Such a difference matters much.

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Hours before Bush spoke, I received an email for the House Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative members of the House of Representatives. The headline: "House Conservatives React to State of the Union Address." Before Bush had uttered a single word, the conservatives were already praising his speech. "I was encouraged by the president's remarks regarding our need to decrease dependence on foreign sources of oil," declared Rep. Joe Barton of Texas. "As President Bush made clear tonight, freedom is a priceless right," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida exclaimed. "Whether it is in the form of joyous new voters in Afghanistan and Iraq or in the form of financial freedom here at home through responsible Social Security reform and tax reform, freedom must be promoted and defended." Rep. Phil Gingrey of Georgia also had a boffo review of Bush's address: "President Bush really made the case for bipartisan support on a lot of these issues." Good thing these Republicans are independent thinkers. The email was embargoed until 9:01 EST, a minute after Bush was scheduled to start speaking.

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

For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there

Defending the Dream

Join The Nation, Domini Social Investments and Working Assets in supporting this weekend's Responsible Wealth Conference and Lobby Day in Washington, DC, taking place from February 6 to 8.

President Bush knows he's in for a fight on Social Security, but he's counting on being able to make his tax cuts permanent with little opposition. This conference is dedicated to proving him wrong. Come to DC and use your voice to call for progressive taxation, the preservation of the estate tax, and legislative polices that will decrease the wealth gap and shrink the racial economic divide.

Click here for more info and to register for the three-day event, and click here if you want to support RW's efforts on this front but you can't make it to DC.

Rebuke Gonzales and Torture

There is not much chance that the full Senate will block the nomination of White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to serve as Attorney General. But, as the vote approaches, critics of Gonzales have the potential to garner a stronger vote against his confirmation than they did in one or both of the last two fights over controversial conservative nominees to guide the Department of Justice: Edwin Meese in 1985 and John Ashcroft in 2001.

Thirty-one senators -- all of them Democrats -- opposed Meese's confirmation, while forty-two senators -- again, all Democrats -- opposed Ashcroft.

It would be meaningful if foes of the Gonzales nomination in particular, and of the Bush Administration's callous approach to civil liberties and international law in general, could muster as many vote against the current nominee as they did against Meese. And, considering the fact that there are fewer Democrats in the Senate now than in 2001, it would be exceptionally significant if they could equal the anti-Ashcroft vote.

Neither prospect is beyond the realm of possibility.

Unlike Meese, who gained a reasonable level of support from a still-substantial caucus of conservative Democrats, and Ashcroft, a former senator who garnered the votes even of some liberal Democrats with whom he had served, Gonzales has very little claim on Democratic support. Additionally, he could lose the votes of one or more Republicans.

Here are the particulars:

* When the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended approval of the Gonzales nomination, it did so along precise partisan lines. Ten Republicans voted for Gonzales, while eight Democrats voted against him. The Democratic unity is significant, as it was lacking in 2001. That year, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, one of the most liberal members of the chamber, broke with his fellow Judiciary Committee Democrats. Along with Connecticut's Chris Dodd and a handful of other Democrats, Feingold has argued that Presidents have a right to select the Cabinet that they want. But Feingold always promised that he would make an exception if a nominee's record or actions raised serious concerns about ethics or competence. After grilling Gonzales at length during a Judiciary Committee hearing in early January, Feingold said he was not confident that Gonzales would respect the rule of law. Accordingly, he voted against confirming the nominee. The Feingold break is significant, as he has credibility with Democrats who usually refuse to oppose Cabinet nominations. Additionally, Feingold has a measure of across-the-aisle credibility with moderate Republicans who see the Wisconsinite as one of the few senators who tends to rise above partisanship.

* There is a widespread sense in the Senate that objections to Gonzales are more serious than those raised with regard to Ashcroft. Ashcroft, a member of the Senate until just days before the vote on his nomination for Attorney General, had raised the hackles of grassroots activists who were concerned that he was a rigid ideologue -- unyielding in his opposition to abortion rights, unsympathetic to civil liberties, and frequently insensitive to civil rights. While those concerns were legitimate and clearly consequential for millions of activists and a good many senators, the objections to Gonzales are more specific and shocking. Not only did Gonzales solicit and approve legal memoranda that gave permission to US troops and the Central Intelligence Agency to torture Iraqi prisoners and al-Qaida suspects, he also ridiculed the 1947 Geneva Convention as "quaint" and argued that it did not apply to Taliban and al-Qaida operatives captured in Afghanistan. Even worse, as Delaware Democrat Joe Biden noted, Gonzales "utterly failed" to "own up" to his role in developing a legal memorandum that said a U.S. soldier or civilian official who was accused of violating U.S. statutes that make it illegal to torture a suspect could invoke national defense concerns in order to avoid prosecution. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, provided appropriate perspective when he explained, "The attorney general's duty is to uphold the rule of law, not to circumvent it. The Administration has a large and growing accountability deficit, and as this confirmation process draws to a close, I must protest that the stonewalling continues."

* Beyond the Judiciary Committee, Senate Democrats appear to be more united in their concern about the Gonzales nomination than they were with regard to Meese and, probably, Ashcroft. At least one Democrat will back Gonzales -- Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, a conservative Democrat who faces a tough reelection race in 2006. But Nelson's defection could be isolated. The decision of Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh, a centrist with hawkish views regarding national defense issues, to oppose the nomination of Condoleezza Rice for Secretary of State provided evidence that the desire to stand up to the Bush administration runs deep -- especially among Democrats who, like Bayh, entertain hopes of seeking the party's 2004 presidential nomination. If Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Colorado, and Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, can hold the vast majority of their caucus together in opposition to Gonzales, then there might actually be room for outreach to Republicans who are ill at ease with the administration's approach to the Iraq war. First on that list is Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Chafee, who opposed the 2002 use-of-force resolution and remains a thoughtful critic of the misadventure. Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who have shown a measure of independence in the past and who represent a state where there is strong anti-war sentiment, could be vulnerable to the right level of grassroots pressure -- although they will be inclined to stand with Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter, a fellow Republican moderate, who is backing Gonzales.

With Democrats refusing to filibuster the nomination, the safe bet is that Gonzales will be confirmed. But it does not have to be easy. And it does not have to be simply an honorable stand by a circle of liberals -- as was seen when 12 Democrats and Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords opposed Rice's nomination for Secretary of State. This can be a serious challenge to the Bush Administration's wrong-minded war, its abuses of civil liberties, and its callous disregard for the rule of the law. Indeed, if the Bush administration is to be served notice that it will not be allowed to run roughshod over Congress for another four years, then it is essential that the vote against the Gonzales nomination be as strong as the grassroots opposition to this exceptionally poor pick for this exceptionally important position.

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John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) will be published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial."

Deeds, Not Words

In his State of the Union address tomorrow night, we can expect Bush to riff on a familiar theme: the onward march of "freedom." When it comes to this President though, watch the deeds, ignore the rhetoric.

Few would argue that achieving "freedom" and "liberty" are valuable goals though, as historian Eric Foner reminds us, "freedom by its very nature is a contested concept, to which different individuals and groups have imparted different meanings." What progressives need to do is reclaim these terms from an Administration that has corroded their meaning. It's time to stand up for a redefined and affirmative vision of national security and US foreign-policy. The good news: there's a real political opening for a credible and alternative progressive security policy. And as John Powers observed recently in a provocative piece in the LA Weekly, "Money and organization can only take any political movement so far." Ideas matter.

We know what not to do. The New Republic's Peter Beinart recently argued that Democrats should adopt a get-tough crusade, launching a "war against fanatical Islam." But this strategy not only buys into the GOP's fear-mongering and militarized approach to the threat of terror, it is more likely to give life to Bin-Ladenism than it is to liberate people in the Islamic world or serve to protect America's security.

The muscular crusade against terrorism that some in the Democratic Party see as the only way to stop Islamic terrorism-and win votes--ignores the fact that it was previous crusades that helped create bin Laden in the first place. Crusades masquerading as foreign policy will weaken our security and divert precious resources from the real fight for hearts and minds in the Middle East and beyond.

Instead of engaging the Republicans on their terms, progressives need to have a debate framed by our own concerns and values. And fighting terrorism should not be the alpha and omega of America's security policy. Yes, Al-Qaeda remains a threat, but it's a plain fact that "terrorism" is not a menace meriting hysteria or neglect of other national priorities; nor is the "Global War on Terror" a compelling justification for US aggression around the world.

"Islamic fundamentalism is actually on the wane in much of the world," Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, recently argued on the Sunday chat show ABC's This Week. Islamic fundamentalism "does not have the kind of appeal that worldwide Communism did,"Zakaria added.

Progressives can and should debate what an effective security policy would look like. But we also now know that in the fight against stateless terrorism, the war in Iraq was an act of self-sabotage; despite the relative lack of violence this past Sunday, and the courage of millions of Iraqis willing to risk death in order to vote, the invasion of Iraq was an act of hubris that has destroyed US credibility in foreign capitals, killed more than 1,400 US troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis, and drained the US treasury.

We no longer hold the moral high ground after the revelations of torture by US troops at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. In general, Bush's "doctrine" has corroded the rule of law abroad and civil liberties at home, with no measurable gain for our security.

Writing recently in the Financial Times, Michael Lind persuasively argued that Bush's security policy has backfired. "A new world order is indeed emerging," Lind wrote, but Bush's strategies have generated so much ill-will abroad that "its architecture is being drafted in Asia and Europe, at meetings to which Americans have not been invited."

"Practically all new international institution-building of any long-term importance in global diplomacy and trade occurs without American participation."

A fascinating and underreported 119-page study, "Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project," recently issued by the CIA's National Intelligence Council, underscores Lind's arguments by highlighting the steep decline of US moral, political and economic capital. Available on the CIA's website, the report predicts that in 2020 China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and other nations will have emerged as powerful rivals to US global dominance, "transform[ing] the geopolitical landscape" and significantly eroding US power.

What, then, will a democratic alternative to Bush's doctrine look like? First, let's understand that there is a constituency in the US and the world for a progressive-left security policy. (Even Bush's staunch ally Tony Blair seemed to suggest as much in his speech at last week's World Economic Forum in Davos.) The Democratic Party should ground its affirmative vision in the reality of public opinion.

In November 2001, the highly regarded Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) reported that a majority of Americans supported a multilateral approach, wanted a strong UN role in the world, and endorsed using humanitarian and development aid to build good will abroad. In April 2003, PIPA released a poll showing that the American people didn't like Bush's "global cop" vision, and that they endorsed global institutions like the UN that confronted global challenges.

According to a recent Chicago Council of Foreign Relations poll, a large majority of the American people think the US should have "strong evidence that the country is in imminent danger of being attacked" before we use military force. This is a powerful rebuke to the pre-emptive war doctrine, which is at the heart of Bush's security policy. So, too, is the finding also in the Chicago CFR poll that a majority of Americans support the use of diplomatic and economic tools rather than military ones to fight terrorism. Last week, the Pew Research Center revealed that 76 percent of registered Democrats believed that "good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace."

Democrats, in particular, want to see a real alternative to Bush's go-it-alone jingoism; as The Atlantic's Jack Beatty put it, "the neo-cons are history's fools. The strategy they championed was the wrongest possible strategy for the wrongest possible moment in the wrongest possible region of the world." (Abject failure hasn't slowed down the neocons however; full of typical arrogance, in a letter to congress dated January 28, the neoconservative think-tank/power broker known as The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) essentially called for a draft without actually using the 'D' word.)

The second thing progressives should do is talk about a more constructive, intelligent use of American power exemplified by things like the founding of the UN, support for universal human rights, and our commitment, however imperfect, to a framework of multilateralism. We should urge America to support a leadership that wins respect at home and abroad through global partnerships, and understands that the key to world order, peace and prosperity is not American unilateral dominance but the strengthening of international governance and the global rule of law.

Third, the US needs to redefine security to meet the challenges of the 21st century, at a time when the world is increasingly interdependent. The reality is that overwhelming military power is ill suited to dealing with the central challenges of the early 21st century: stateless terrorists with global reach, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), the spread of weapons of mass destruction, insecure and decrepit nuclear arsenals in the former Soviet Union, genocidal conflict and starvation afflicting Africa, environmental degradation, and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality. These are problems that no one country, however powerful, can solve on its own.

The new definition of national security should include using US power to lead a global campaign to meet the UN's Millennium Goals--halving world poverty, cutting child mortality by two-thirds and guaranteeing every child primary education by 2015; strengthening multilateral and verifiable arms control treaties, encouraging nuclear disarmament and increasing funding for Nunn-Lugar and other programs aimed at eliminating nuclear stockpiles in the former Soviet Union; ratifying the Kyoto, ICC, ABM and other treaties to strengthen our alliances; reducing our dependence on foreign oil by forming a global alliance that invests in alternative energy sources; and engaging the world so that America becomes a source of hope, not fear

Democracy cannot be imposed from without on nations with different cultures and histories. Freedom, liberty and democracy are built not in the ashes of war and occupation but from a history of struggle, civic work and economic development. The American people have no appetite for a religious crusade. What they would like to see is a principled foreign policy. Progressives need to offer the American people an affirmative vision.

Iraq: Images vs. Reality

The images of Iraqis crowding polling places for that country's first free election in a half century were both moving and hopeful. The voting, while marred by violence, irregularities and boycotts, went off more smoothly than even the most optimistic members of the Bush administration had dared predict.

Unfortunately, President Bush and his aides could not let the images speak for themselves. The White House spin machine had to declare, even before the last votes were cast, that what happened Sunday was a "turning point" in the painful history of that battered country.

The claim is another example of the sort of wishful thinking that has so frequently trumped reality when it comes to the administration's approach to Iraq in particular and the Middle East in general.

Invariably, when the Bush administration tries to tell the world how to interpret images from Iraq, it leaps to conclusions that are far removed from reality.

For instance, the Bush administration and its amen corner in the media spun images of Saddam Hussein firing an ancient rifle to suggest that the Iraqi leader was a madman who would soon be brandishing more devastating weapons. Thus, pictures of a thug acting thuggish were used to turn the discourse leading up to the invasion of Iraq into a discussion of nothing but weapons of mass destruction that did not exist and "threats" that were not real.

After the invasion, the Bush spin machine used manufactured image of a handful of Iraqis toppling a statue of the deposed Iraqi dictator to suggest that the mission had been accomplished. But thousands of American casualties attest to the fact that it takes more than one fallen monument to win the hearts and minds of the people of an occupied land.

Then, the spin machine used the image of a captured Saddam Hussein to suggest that the insurgency against the U.S. occupation had lost its touchstone and would soon fade. But the insurgency only strengthened in the months after Hussein was incarcerated.

So when President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, their allies in Congress and their media acolytes claim that the images of Iraqis voting should be seen as a sign that a critical turning point has been reached, Americans -- not to mention Iraqis -- have good reason to be dubious.

Yes, of course, it is good that Iraqis are voting. But, after so many false starts, the test of whether this election is actually a turning point will not be met by mere images of ballots sliding into boxes. It will be met only by reality. And the reality that will matter is that of an Iraqi government standing on its own two feet, organizing the policing and the defense of that country, managing it's oil wealth and establishing relations with the rest of the world based on its needs -- not the dictates of an occupying force.

According to polls conducted just before Sunday's voting, the vast majority of Iraqis see the U.S. forces that are on the ground in Iraq as an occupying army. The same surveys show that the majority of Iraqis want the U.S. forces to leave.

If Sunday's elections in Iraq were both legitimate and consequential, if they selected a government that is representative of the Iraqi people, and if that government has the authority to set the course for what should be a sovereign country, then one of its first acts would by any reasonable calculus be to ask the United States to establish a timetable for the rapid withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraqi soil. After all, unless President Bush has come up with new definitions for words such as "freedom" and "democracy," it would seem that such an action would be in entirely the spirit of his inaugural address.

That image of a freely elected Iraqi government, fully empowered to take charge and determined to implement the will of the people who elected it, would indeed be worthy of celebration by those of who cherish democracy -- in Iraq and in the United States.

Until it is produced, however, the rational reaction to the latest set of images from Iraq is a skepticism that the Bush administration -- and too much of the American political class and media -- still seems to be incapable of mustering.

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John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) will be published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial."

Dean Does NYC

Howard Dean was in NYC this weekend for the last of the candidate forums for DNC chair before the party's final meeting from February 10 to 12th. On Saturday he spoke to New York's DNC members; and on Sunday, he met with the state party chairmen. (About fifty of the DNC's 447 voting members have already announced support for Dean, far more than any other candidate.)

On Saturday night, I saw Dean at a small gathering where he spoke passionately about his vision for the Democrats. His smart and pungent comments about how the party needs to give genuine power to the grassroots and build the new politics at the "netroots"; support and build state parties; develop a fifty-state strategy; mobilize the young; change the way we talk about issues, without changing our core principles, makes me pretty certain that Dean has checked out Zack Exley's must-read "Letter to the Next DNC Chair."

Exley--former director of organizing for MoveOn.org, and former Dean and Kerry net mobilizer--describes a new kind of politics emerging and lays out a fascinating scenario for how the Democratic Party can build a vast, permanent field organization with the "New Grassroots" by leveraging email, the web and a little technology.

I particularly like this former, grassroots labor organizer's grounded enthusiasm about what can be done to reshape the party--and build a winning infrastructure for 2006 and 2008. "Using the online assets that Democrats built in 2004, we should be able to jump light years ahead of the Republican field organization. If we do, it will not be thanks to Internet Magic, but rather thanks to mixing new online tools and resources with good old-fashioned grassroots organizing, focusing on results."

Dean gets what Exley is talking about. As he said about one of the central jobs facing the DNC, "In order to make good on the new empowerment, we have to genuinely give power to the states and grassroots. I believe in order to have power, you have to give up power." Power needs to come from the grassroots." Dean gets it. Exley gets it. Do the DNC's 447 delegates get it? We'll soon find out.