Quantcast

John Nichols | The Nation

  •  
John Nichols

John Nichols

Breaking news and analysis of politics, the economy and activism.

Labor Gets Tough on CAFTA

Let's be clear: Any member of Congress who votes for the Central American Free Trade Agreement has signaled their disregard for labor, environmental, farm, consumer and human rights groups that have spent the better part of a year actively opposing the Bush administration's attempt to create trade policies that favor only the interests of multinational corporations.

That goes for Republicans, for independents and, especially, for Democrats.

The Democratic party has relied heavily on labor support to win and hold competitive seats in the House, and its Democratic representatives cannot hide behind the excuses of White House pressure or political necessity that Republicans employ.

Yet, as a House vote on CAFTA approaches this week, at least six Democrats have announced their support for the deal and as many as a dozen others could still end up supporting it. With broad opposition from textile-state Republicans to the trade deal, Democratic unity against CAFTA can kill the deal. But if just a handful of Democrats side with the Bush agenda on trade, the deal could win approval by a narrow margin.

One of the Democrats who has endorsed CAFTA is Illinois Representative Melissa Bean, who last year took the seat of Republican veteran Phil Crane.

Bean could come to regret her decision. She won her 2004 race with strong support from unions, which contributed $235,000 to the effort. And she will been courting labor support for her reelection bid in 2006, when she will face a strong GOP challenge in a traditionally Republican district. Bean's fund-raising efforts have been assisted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) -- headed by Illinois Representative Rahm Emanuel, a militant advocate for the North American Free Trade Agreement when he served as an aide to then-President Bill Clinton. The DCCC has designated her as one of its so-called "Frontline" candidates. The "Frontline" initiative seeks to fill the campaign coffers of the ten House incumbents who are likely to face the toughest challenges from Republicans next year.

This week, however, leaders of some of the largest unions in the country have indicated that they will not be backing Frontline candidates who vote for CAFTA, and they are urging the DCCC to drop Frontline efforts for members who support the deal. Bean is identified by name in the letter, along with Representatives Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Dennis Moore, D-Kansas, both of whom have voted for free-trade pacts in the past and are seen as potential CAFTA backers.

The letter, which was sent to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Emanuel and other House Democratic leaders, declares that, "We recognize that the party and House Democrats are not homogeneous, that every member has a right to vote his or her conscience on all issues, including CAFTA. But this letter is to make it clear that we find it both objectionable and unacceptable that Leadership and the DCCC are pushing the Federation and individual affiliates to support vulnerable incumbents -- the so-called 'Frontline Candidates,' and some of these members are poised to desert labor on this core issue."

"This week," the letter continues, "three of those members who benefited from labor's substantial support, Melissa Bean, Jim Matheson and Dennis Moore, are either undecided on how they will vote on CAFTA or are leaning in the direction of supporting it. We expect that House Democratic Leadership will convey very strongly to all wavering Democrats, and particularly to Frontline Candidates, that voting for CAFTA against our strong, clear, and loud objections, would signal to the labor movement that those Frontline Candidates do not want our support."

In case there was any confusion about the letter's message, it closes with a declaration that, "Our work to help elect at-risk members, at your urging, will not extend to those who vote against us on this issue. As such, we hope that you will also convey to them that we believe those who receive our support have an obligation to vote with us on CAFTA. Further, we ask that the DCCC remove from Frontline status any member who votes wrong on CAFTA. Simply put, there must be real and measurable consequences for opposing labor on this issue. The stakes are too high for the workers of America. We cannot and we will not give any Democrat a pass on CAFTA."

The signers of the letter, which was organized by Fire Fighters union president Harold A. Schaitberger, included the presidents of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, the Building and Construction Trades Department, the Iron Workers, the Machinists, the Boilermakers; the Electrical Workers, the Teamsters, the Painters, the Seafarers, the Service Employees, the Sheet Metal Workers, the Transportation-Communications International Union, UNITE-HERE, the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry, the Auto Workers, the Food and Commercial Workers, the Steelworkers and the Laborer's.

What is striking about that list is that it includes unions that have remained loyal to the AFL-CIO and unions allied with the dissident Change to Win coalition. The Change to Win unions have made it clear that they want to hold Democrats to a higher standard of accountability on issues such as CAFTA. And it seems the AFL-CIO is moving in that direction. Delegates to the federation's convention in Chicago this week adopted a resolution submitted by the Fire Fighters, which commits the AFL-CIO to "a non-partisan political and legislative strategy that bases labors' support on union issues and worker issues, not political parties."

Patriot Games

If House Democrats had stuck together in opposition to moves by the Bush administration to reauthorize the worst elements of the Patriot Act, the legislation would have been defeated and a major victory would have been won for civil liberties.

Unfortunately, Democrats did not stick together on Thursday, when the House considered sixteen provisions of the act that are set to expire at the end of the year unless they are reauthorized by Congress.

Following a day-long debate on Thursday, the House voted 257 to 171 to extend, and in some case make permanent, the most controversial provisions of the law that was hastily crafted in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "Now we know the truth. The Patriot Act was never intended as an emergency measure," argued Representative Lynn Woolsey, the California Democrat who has long been an outspoken critic of the law that had its start in former Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department. "It appears the sponsors were always interested in a permanant crackdown on civil liberties."

There was far more opposition in the House this year than was seen in 2001, when the vote for the original version of the Patriot Act was 357-66. But Thursday's House action was a far cry from the vote that should have -- and could have -- been taken to place reasonable limits on the unprecedented powers that the so-called "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001" gives government agents to seize educational, financial and medical records.

Of the 257 votes cast Thursday for the Bush's administration's version of the Patriot Act, 214 came from Republicans, while 43 came from Democrats -- including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, and Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois representative who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Of the 171 votes against the administration's version of the Patriot Act, 156 came from Democrats, 14 from Republicans and one from Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders.

Had the 43 Democrats who voted with the White House and the Republican leadership instead sided with House Democrats and Republicans who were worried about the threat to civil liberties posed by the Patriot Act, the opposition total would have risen to 214 while support for the measure would have fallen to 214.

On a tie vote, the legislation would not have advanced.

That would have been more than just a setback for the White House's draconian approach to civil liberties. It would have dramatically improved prospects for a bipartisan move by members of the Senate to clean up the Patriot Act. On Thursday, as the House was debating the issue, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously for legislation that would require greater oversight of the Justice Department's role in implementing the act and that would place new restrictions on surveillance and secret searches.

The Senate is divided on the question, however. The chamber's intelligence committee voted in June for a separate bill that would make all provisions of the Patriot Act permanent and give the FBI additional powers to issue subpoenas without the approval of a judge.

The fight will now play out in the Senate, where Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold -- who cast the sole Senate vote against the original version of the Patriot Act -- is a leading for of blanket reauthorization.

While he is still hopeful about prospects that the Senate can pass a better bill and then negotiate changes in the House legislation, Feingold was disappointed by the failure of the House to address the fundamental civil liberties concerns that have been raised by the Bush administration's approach.

"I joined my Senate Judiciary Committee colleagues yesterday in unanimously passing a consensus, bipartisan bill that significantly improves the most controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act," Feingold explained on Friday. "In the House, unfortunately, the outcome has been disappointing. House leadership refused to allow meaningful amendments to come to a vote on the House floor. While some improvements were incorporated, the end result is still a far cry from what Congress owes the American people – meaningful changes to the Patriot Act that will protect innocent people from government surveillance. The Senate Judiciary Committee took the first step in that direction yesterday morning. It's unfortunate that the House was not willing to join us."

It is doubly unfortunate that the administration won a House endorsement for its approach with the support of 43 Democrats, including several such as Hoyer and Emanuel who hold key leadership positions in a party that is supposed to be at least a little bit more committed to defending civil liberties.

Another Activist Judge

In 1999, when he was trying to appeal to the conservative base that would eventually deliver the Republican presidential nomination to him, Candidate George W. Bush said the Supreme Court justices he most admired were Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. The clear intimation was that, given the opportunity, Bush would nominate someone like Scalia and Thomas-- a conservative judicial activist bent on upsetting established law--to the high court.

More recently, as he has finally been faced with the task of naming a nominee to the Court, President George W. Bush has attempted to sound more moderate and thoughtful, suggesting that "a nominee to that Court must be a person of superb credentials and the highest integrity, a person who will faithfully apply the Constitution and keep our founding promise of equal justice under law." President Bush has said that he prefers nominees who display "respect for the rule of law and for the liberties guaranteed to every citizen" and who "will strictly apply the Constitution and laws, not legislate from the bench."

So which George W. Bush named federal appeals judge John G. Roberts Jr. to fill the opening on the Supreme Court created by the decision of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to retire? Is Roberts the Scalia/Thomas clone that Candidate Bush promised or is he the mainstreamer President Bush suggested he was looking for?

Chalk Roberts up as Candidate Bush's pick.

For more than a decade, Scalia and Thomas have campaigned without success to reverse the Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which removed barriers to a woman's right to choose. This is the hottest of the hot-button issues facing the Court. And on it, all indications are that Roberts will be the clone Scalia and Thomas need to complete their machinations.

When he served as principal deputy solicitor general of the United States from 1989 to 1993--under Solicitor General Ken Starr--Roberts filed a 1990 brief with the Supreme Court that declared: "Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled. [T]he Court's conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion," argued Roberts, "finds no support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution."

Never mind that Supreme Court justices selected by presidents of both parties had consistently concluded otherwise. Roberts had a different opinion and he did not hestitate to advance it. As the deputy solicitor general, he argued for a "gag rule" that prevented physicians working with family planning programs that were recipients of federal funding from discussing abortion with their patients. He even went so far as to appear before the Court to argue in support of Operation Rescue during the period when the group's members were aggressively, sometimes violently, blocking access to healthcare clinics that provided abortions.

Roberts was so feverish in his attempts to find a way to overturn Roe that Supreme Court justices openly joked about his over-the-top antics. Once, during an oral argument before the Court, one of the justices asked the deputy solicitor general: "Mr. Roberts, in this case are you asking that Roe v. Wade be overruled?"

Roberts replied, "No, your honor, the issue doesn't even come up."

"Well," the justice responded, "that hasn't prevented the solicitor general from taking that position in prior cases."

The NARAL Pro-Choice America brief on Roberts, which reviews his aggressive advocacy for antichoice positions, is blunt: "If Roberts is confirmed to a lifetime appointment, there is little doubt that he will work to overturn Roe v. Wade."

On this point, NARAL Pro-Choice America is in full agreement with Roberts's old pals at Operation Rescue.

The militant antichoice group was among the first to hail Bush's selection of Roberts to fill the seat being vacated by O'Connor, who was generally a supporter of reproductive rights. "We pray that Roberts will be swiftly confirmed," announced Operation Rescue President Troy Newman.

Now, it is said that a President ought to have a great deal of latitude when it comes to making judicial nominations.

But all indications are that Roberts is not the nominee of President Bush, the man who condemns judges who would "legislate from the bench" and undermine "equal justice for all."

Rather, he is the political pick of Candidate Bush, the man who promised right-wing Republicans that he would give them another Scalia or Thomas. Indeed, Candidate Bush has found a nominee extreme enough to satisfy even Operation Rescue.

Countering Doublespeak

The House of Representatives is moving toward a vote on the proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement, and the spin machines of the White House and the corporate special interests - along with their amen corner in the media - are working overtime.

These are the days when the big lies get told - as we learned more than a decade ago when the Clinton White House was busy working with congressional Republicans to win support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and more recently when Congress debated establishing permanent normal trade relations with China.

To counter the Orwellian twists of facts and figures that are sure to come from the White House and its political allies, fair trade campaigners (www.citizenstrade.org and www.wiscotrader.org) have come up with a top 10 list of trade doublespeak - and the facts to counter it:

No. 10: Our trade deficit actually shows how strong the economy is.That's a lot like arguing that the more you go into debt, the richer you really are. Here's what happened with NAFTA: Our trade deficit with those countries is 12 times bigger than before the pact - it shot up from $9 billion in 1993 to $111 billion last year. A high trade deficit weakens our economy.

No. 9: CAFTA slows immigration.This same false promise was made under NAFTA, and we all witnessed the opposite result of increased immigration from Mexico. CAFTA has back-door provisions that may make U.S. immigration laws and visa requirements in violation of the agreement, and unenforceable.

No. 8: CAFTA opens a substantial market for U.S.goods.Central America has some of the poorest countries in the world, and the aggregate economy of the six CAFTA nations is minuscule. "Add up the six CAFTA economies and you get a market the size of New Haven, Conn.," points out trade analyst Alan Tonelson of the U.S. Business and Industry Council. Tonelson concludes that CAFTA is a "classic outsourcing agreement" - an arrangement in which the only significant U.S. export would be manufacturing jobs to poor, low-wage nations.

No. 7: CAFTA helps the working poor of Central America.Since NAFTA, real wages for Mexican workers have fallen. Over 1.5 million displaced Mexican subsistence farmers were turned into unemployed masses. Mexico is becoming poorer. Today, 40 percent of Central America's workers earn less than $2 a day. Their employment rights are routinely abused, and CAFTA will require these countries to merely enforce their own weak and unfair labor laws. CAFTA is about making corporations, not Central American workers, richer.

No. 6: CAFTA helps farmers.The poor of Central America will not be buying cheese from Wisconsin or corn from Iowa. Under CAFTA, barriers to agricultural imports from these countries would be removed immediately, while barriers to U.S. exports wouldn't be lifted for anywhere from 10 to 20 years - thereby crippling U.S. agricultural producers. Many state-level farm organizations publicly oppose CAFTA. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture passed a resolution against CAFTA because farm products aren't adequately protected by the agreement. CAFTA will hurt the American farmer, but funnel money to large agribusiness corporations who do business overseas.

No. 5: CAFTA is essential for national security.This desperate plea by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is a last-ditch effort by a failing administration to resuscitate CAFTA using fear and divisiveness. Short of votes in Congress, with a flawed strategy, they are attempting to scare the American people into support. Nobody really thinks al-Qaida has splinter cells in Costa Rica. We won't be fooled into believing Osama bin Laden is hiding out in the Dominican Republic.

No. 4: CAFTA is a relatively small trade agreement.CAFTA is the largest trade agreement before our country since NAFTA, and a critical steppingstone toward creation of a 34-nation Free Trade Area of the Americas. It has become a national referendum on failed trade policies of the past, and the outcome will set a course for our future dealings with China. For local and state government, CAFTA would become the highest law of the land, determining rules on procurement, health care, zoning and immigration.

No. 3: CAFTA helps the American worker.Just the opposite. When companies in other countries are allowed to race to the basement, employment conditions for our American workers deteriorate. We get less pay, fewer benefits and reduced health care coverage. CAFTA is the Wal-Mart of trade deals. CEOs justify actions by the need to stay competitive and keep prices low. Big corporations then get all the breaks, and the profits, while workers' rights and wages are forsaken.

No. 2: Trade deals always pass in Congress; so will CAFTA.Right now, a majority of House members, including a significant number of Republicans, oppose CAFTA. Another sizable bloc of GOP House members is uncommitted. For CAFTA to pass, over two dozen House members will have to breakcommitments to vote against it, and every single uncommitted member will need to vote for it. That's not likely to happen, as polling shows opposition to outsourcing and CAFTA is growing. The more Americans find out about it, the less they like it.

No. 1 doublespeak: CAFTA trade policies create jobs and stimulate economic growth.It's the Big Lie. When we import more, and our trade deficit grows, we lose jobs, and export our wealth to other countries. We lost an estimated 900,000 net jobs to NAFTA. Outsourcing the American economy to other countries is a failing strategy for our future.

Rove Defense Team

It appears that no one in Washington has bothered to ask why it is that the Republican National Committee is leading the defense of Karl Rove. But it's a good question.

If Rove is really the president's deputy chief of staff in charge of policy, as opposed to a political hack operating within the White House and using taxpayer money to do the work of the Republican Party, wouldn't it make sense that his defenders would be current and retired policy specialists? And since the controversy in which he is embroiled has something to do with national security, wouldn't it be at least a little more assuring if a former Secretary of Defense, National Security Adviser or chief of the Central Intelligence Agency were to speak up on his behalf?

But, no, as the controversy about his leaking of classified information heats up, Rove is being defended, for the most part, by RNC chair Ken Mehlman, a political operative who has never been seriously involved in policy matters – let alone national security issues.

Mehlman is a second-string hack, a veteran of the losing presidential campaigns of George Bush I in 1992 and Mr. Elizabeth Dole in 1996.

To the extent that Mehlman has a reputation is it as a professional "spin doctor" – a party operative who is paid to warp the truth.

That's precisely what Mehlman is doing in his defense of Rove. Instead of trying to muster a defense of Rove's leaking of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame to reporters -- apparently in an effort to punish Plame's husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, for exposing the administration's lies regarding Iraq and weapons of mass destruction – Mehlman and his team have been busy spreading lies about Wilson.Attacking Wilson is currently mission critical for the RNC. The latest display items on the committee's website are headlined "Joe Wilson's Top Ten Worst Inaccuracies And Misstatements" and "In Case You Missed It: Excerpts From RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman on FOX News' ‘Fox And Friends,' – a Friday morning appearance in which the RNC chair essentially repeated the list of supposed inaccuracies and misstatements.

Here's the problem: It is the RNC, not Wilson, which is guilty of spreading inaccuracies and misstatements. The RNC claims that Rove told Time magazine writer Matthew Cooper that "Wilson's wife" had OK'ed the former ambassador's 2002 mission to Niger in Africa to check out claims that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis had been attempting to buy materials that might be used to develop WMDs. In fact, it was not Plame but the CIA's Directorate of Operations for the Counterproliferation Division, which sent Wilson to Niger.

The folks at the watchdog group MediaMatters, who are working hard to set the record straight, state that, "The Los Angeles Times reported on July 15, 2004, that an unnamed CIA official confirmed that Plame was not responsible for the CIA's decision to send Wilson to Niger, saying: ‘Her bosses say she did not initiate the idea of her husband going. ... They asked her if he'd be willing to go, and she said yes.'"

The second big lie that the RNC is spreading suggests that Rove was leaking information to Time's Cooper in order to prevent the reporter from repeating a supposed false claim by Wilson – that he was sent on the Niger mission by Vice President Dick Cheney.

This is just pure fantasy. Wilson has always been exceptionally precise about how he ended up in Niger. He laid things out in the original op-ed piece for The New York Times in July, 2003, where he explained,

"In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report. While I never saw the report, I was told that it referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake -- a form of lightly processed ore -- by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990's. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office."

How to Oppose a War

Contemporary politicians who are struggling to determine when the time will be right to start talking about withdrawing troops from Iraq would do well to borrow a page from former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, D-Wisconsin.

In the spring of 1964, when only about 16,500 U.S. troops were present in the country as "advisers," and when no one had heard of the Gulf of Tonkin, Nelson was asked by a television reporter to discuss the U.S. presence in southeast Asia. Nelson responded by suggesting that President Lyndon Johnson should reconsider the decision to commit troops to the region, arguing that the time had come to "set some timetable for withdrawal from the situation."

The Wisconsin senator completely rejected the notion that any good would result from an escalation in the U.S. role in the troubled country.

"I don't think that additional men and materials and economic aid ... is going to solve the problem in South Vietnam," asserted Nelson, who repeated his counsel that the time was coming for "an orderly withdrawal."

As the senator's biographer, Bill Christofferson, noted, "Nelson knew almost from the start that the Vietnam War was a mistake."

Even more significantly, Nelson had the courage to express that opinion when few others were willing to do so.

To be sure, Nelson, who died last week at age 89, will be most remembered as the originator of Earth Day. And his role in launching the contemporary environmental movement certainly merits recognition and praise. But it is important to recall that Nelson's green activism was only a part of his broader progressive vision and commitment.

Raised in the Wisconsin progressive tradition of former U.S. Sen. Robert M. "Fighting Bob" La Follette, who courageously and correctly opposed Woodrow Wilson's decision to march U.S. troops into World War I, Nelson emerged in the mid-1960s as an equally courageous and correct critic of Johnson's misadventure in Vietnam.

After being assured by Sen. J. William Fulbright, the respected chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that the Johnson administration would not use the Gulf of Tonkin resolution as an excuse to expand the U.S. mission in southeast Asia, Nelson grudgingly voted for that August1964 measure. Only a pair of maverick senior senators, Oregon's Wayne Morse and Alaska's Ernest Gruening, opposed it. But, as Nelson came to realize that Fulbright had been bamboozled by the president, the Wisconsin senator joined Morse and Gruening in working to end the war.

In May 1965, when Johnson sought a $700 million supplemental appropriation "to meet the mounting military costs of Vietnam," the Wisconsin Democrat broke ranks with the Democratic administration to join Morse and Gruening in opposing the spending measure. Speaking to the Senate, Nelson declared, "Members of the Senate, known as the world's greatest deliberative body, are stumbling over each other to see who can say 'yea' the quickest and the loudest. I regret it, and I think that someday we shall all regret it."

Noting that the administration had failed to make a compelling case that the war was necessary, let alone wise, the senator concluded, "Thus, reluctantly, I express my opposition to our procedure here by voting 'nay.' The support of the Congress for this measure is clearly overwhelming. Obviously, you need my vote less than I need my conscience."

Nelson would continue for the better part a decade to be one of the Senate's most passionate foes of the war. When the fighting was finished in 1973, he said, "Let us hope that our political leaders in both political parties have learned a lesson from this mistaken enterprise and will not involve the country again in a civil war where the vital interests of this country are not at stake."

With U.S. troops stuck in the quagmire that is Iraq, it is obvious that the lesson was not learned. And the only way they will get out alive is if more senators learn the lesson that Nelson taught: Start talking about withdrawal early and don't be afraid to vote your conscience.

Bugged by the Brits

Conservative radio and television personalities in the United States were unsettled after last week's bombings in London -- not because of the terrorist attack on a major western city, but because too few Londoners were willing to serve as props to support the right-wing ranting of the Americans. After one stoic Brit, who had blood on the side of his face, calmly described climbing out of a smoke-filled subway station, a Fox anchor exclaimed, "That man's obviously in shock."

Actually, the man appeared to be completely in control of his faculties, as did the British journalists who appeared that evening on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor." Host Bill O'Reilly, the king of the hysterics, had a hard time with the Brits, who simply were not as feverish as he had hoped -- and who were genuinely bemused when he started ranting about how much he hated Britain's highly regarded Guardian newspaper.

O'Reilly, like too many other American radio and television commentators, expected the British attacks to provide a new opportunity to hype support for the war in Iraq, gripe about "open borders" and generally spin sorrow and fear into political gold for the conservative cause.

It didn't happen, though not for lack of trying by the folks at Fox.

The Fox commentary following the London bombings was surreal. Brit Hume babbled about how the dip in stock values after the attacks meant it was "time to buy," Brian Kilmeade suggested that a deadly terrorist attack on a country where the G8 leaders were meeting "works to our advantage," and John Gibson bemoaned the fact that the bombs hit London and not Paris. "They'd blow up Paris, and who cares?" chuckled Gibson, the host of one of the network's "news" shows.

But the Fox personalities and their allies in right-wing talk radio found few takers among the British for their efforts to politicize the gruesome developments in the British capital.

Try as American conservative commentators did to get Londoners to echo their pro-Bush, pro-war line, the British generally refused to play along.

This does not mean that most Brits who were interviewed embraced calls for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq or other alternatives to the Bush administration's misguided approach to the so-called "war on terror." But it does mean that, instead of parroting propaganda, the Brits preferred to engage in thoughtful discussions about what had happened, why the terrorists targeted London and what ought to be done to prevent future attacks. Few topics were off limits.

Veteran journalist Gary Younge suggested that the attacks were "Blair's blowback" -- the bloody wages of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision to back President Bush's disastrous decision to invade Iraq. Some members of parliament called for Britain to quickly withdraw its troops from the quagmire. Others suggested that Britain needs to get more engaged in promoting the Middle East peace process. There was no single response, no lockstep approach, because the Brits were angry enough -- and determined enough -- to put everything on the table.

Unfortunately, a thoughtful, nuanced discussion that was focused on finding solutions -- rather than merely venting or promoting a particular political agenda -- didn't fit into the Fox format.

The inability of American right-wing media to recognize honest discourse prevented most U.S. media outlets from recognizing that which was genuinely meaningful and moving about the British reaction.

For instance, U.S. media pretty much missed the one truly Churchillian response to the attacks -- that of London Mayor Ken Livingstone, a committed socialist and anti-war activist, who issued the following statement on the day of the attacks:

I have no doubt whatsoever that this is a terrorist attack. We did hope in the first few minutes after hearing about the events on the Underground that it might simply be a maintenance tragedy. That was not the case. I have been able to stay in touch through the very excellent communications that were established for the eventuality that I might be out of the city at the time of a terrorist attack and they have worked with remarkable effectiveness. I will be in continual contact until I am back in London.

I want to say one thing specifically to the world today. This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at presidents or prime ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.

That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith -- it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other. I said yesterday to the International Olympic Committee that the city of London is the greatest in the world, because everybody lives side by side in harmony.

Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I'm proud to be the mayor of that city.

Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life.

I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others -- that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail.

In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfill their dreams and achieve their potential.

They choose to come to London, as so many have come before, because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don't want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.

How to Fight Terrorism

President Bush unwittingly provided an appropriate response to the gruesome terrorist attacks on London.

Highlighting the "vivid" contrast between the Group of Eight summit in Gleneagles, Scotland -- where the world's most powerful leaders have been forced by grassroots pressure to address issues of global poverty and climate change -- and the carnage in London after coordinated bomb blasts killed dozens of commuters Thursday morning, Bush said, "On the one hand, we got people here who are working to alleviate poverty and to help rid the world of the pandemic of AIDS and that are working on ways to have a clean environment. And on the other hand, you've got people killing innocent people. And the contrast couldn't be clearer between the intentions and the hearts of those of us who care deeply about human rights and human liberty, and those who kill, those who've got such evil in their heart that they will take the lives of innocent folks."

Bush went on to promise that, "we will spread an ideology of hope and compassion that will overwhelm their ideology of hate."

Imagine the cries of outrage and incomprehension that would have arisen from right-wing talk radio and television pundits if a President Al Gore or a President John Kerry had called, in the immediate aftermath of an attack linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, for spreading an "ideology of hope and compassion" as part of the response to terrorism.

Imagine if a President Gore or a Kerry had spoken, as Bush did, of bringing those responsible for the attacks "to justice" rather than pledging to "hunt them down and kill them."

Imagine if a President Gore or Kerry had failed to make any mention of the invasion and occupation of Iraq -- supposedly a critical front in the "war on terror" -- at such a moment.

Bush's amen corner in the media is, of course, packed with hypocrites who hear echoes of Churchill in the president's every utterance, just as they detect the language of treason in the mere mention of alternative approaches to fighting terrorism.

But the failings of his followers ought not obscure the fact that the president's response -- intentionally or otherwise --went to the issues that should be addressed.

Bush expressed his "heartfelt condolences," he called for bringing the killers to justice. And then he spoke -- in the context of a broader discussion about alleviating poverty, disease and environmental decay -- about combating terrorism with "hope and compassion." In the end, it will only be when hope and compassion are delivered to the world's most dispossessed peoples -- through debt reduction, aid and measures that combat the spread of easily treated diseases -- that those who preach violence as a response to inequity and injustice will be sufficiently marginalized to make it possible to talk of "winning" a war on terrorism.

Is it possible that the president is beginning to accept this reality? Could he be coming to realize that the challenges posed by international terrorism cannot be met merely with cowboy rhetoric and bombs?

Surely, the painful recognition that, almost four years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, al-Qaeda is apparently still capable of pulling off coordinated, and extremely deadly, attacks in one of the most security-savvy cities on the planet ought to cause Bush to rethink his misguided response to what he describes as the great challenge of his presidency.

Unfortunately, Bush has shown little capacity for growth in his knowledge or understanding of world affairs. So it is wise to remain skeptical about how far he plans to take his "hope and compassion" response.

That said, we ought to hold the man to his words -- and to remind the president's amen corner that it was not Ted Kennedy or Nancy Pelosi who responded to the news of a terrorist attack with a discussion about alleviating poverty and ridding the world of disease. It was George W. Bush. And, at least in that moment, he was right.

Democrats for CAFTA

Organized labor is opposed to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

Progressive farm groups are opposed to CAFTA.

Environmental groups are opposed to CAFTA.

Civil rights groups are opposed to CAFTA.

Human rights groups are opposed to CAFTA.

Virtually all of the organizations that are associated with what is loosely defined as the Democratic coalition are opposed to the trade deal that Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin says "will hurt American workers, hurt the workers of Central America and create instability in Central America that will force more immigration into the United States."

So, of course, Senate Democrats must have been united in opposition to the Bush administration's proposal to expand on the failed model of the North American Free Trade Agreement -- which has wrecked havoc with the economies of the U.S., Mexico and Canada -- to create a free trade zone that extends from the Panama Canal to the Arctic Circle. Right?

Wrong?

Just before the July 4 Congressional break, when the Senate voted on CAFTA, a dozen Republicans abandoned the administration to vote "no." That meant that, if Democrats had been united in their opposition, the trade deal would have been easily defeated and the president's plan to make it easier for multinational corporations to exploit workers, communities and the environment throughout the hemisphere would have been dealt a fatal blow.

Instead, ten Democrats -- New Mexico's Jeff Bingaman, Washington's Maria Cantwell, Delaware's Tom Carper, California's Dianne Feinstein, Arkansas's Blanche Lincoln, Washington's Patty Murray, Florida's Bill Nelson, Nebraska's Ben Nelson, Arkansas's Mark Pryor and, Oregon's Ron Wyden, as well as Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords, who caucuses with the Democrats, voted for the president's proposal.

As a result, CAFTA won by a 55-45 margin.

Make no mistake, it was a failure of focus on the part of Democrats that gave Bush's trade policies Senate approval.

Fortunately, the fight is not done. Opposition to CAFTA is more widespread in the House of Representatives, which still must vote on the measure. More House Republicans have broken with the president on the issue and House Democrats appear to be more united in their opposition than ever before.

As U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, a steadfast foe of corporate-sponsored free trade deals notes, opposition to CAFTA has grown as members of both chambers "who (once) blindly accepted these agreements are now beginning to read the fine print."

Feingold's right. The trend is against CAFTA.

The sad thing is that, because 10 Democrats and Jeffords are still blindly accepting the flawed arguments of the Bush administration -- just as they did the flawed arguments of the Clinton administration before it – a trade pact that could do severe harm to workers, farmers and the environment in the U.S. and abroad cleared the Senate. Had those Bush Democrats bothered to read the fine print -- and to make a break with the corporate funders of so many of their campaigns -- the CAFTA fight would already be done.

Not Dominion, But Liberty

As the 229th anniversary of the founding of the American experiment approached, President Bush provided a painful reminder of how far the United States has drifted from the ideals of her youth.

Speaking to soldiers who would soon be dispatched to occupy Iraq, Bush sounded an awfully lot like the King George against whom George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the other revolutionaries of 1776 led their revolt.

America was founded in opposition to empire. The Declaration of Independence was a manifesto against colonialism. And the wisest of the founding generations abhorred imperialism.

Their opposition to empire was not merely rooted in their own bitter experience. It was, as well, rooted in a faith that American freedoms and democracy would suffer if the nation embarked upon a career of empire.

So, while Bush suggests that other lands must be occupied to preserve liberty at home, the patriots of our time recall will do well to recall words spoken on another July 4.

When America was younger and truer to her ideals, on Independence Day, 1821, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams appeared before the US House of Representatives and declared:

And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and Shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind?

Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.

She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.

She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.

She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.

She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right.

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.

But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.

She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force....

She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....

[America's] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) was 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." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com

Syndicate content