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In the last note that 23-year-old American college student Rachel Corrie wrote to her father from a Palestinian community on the Gaza Strip, she thanked Craig Corrie for stepping up his antiwar activism in the United States and urged him to continue speaking out against a US-led attack on Iraq. Four days later, on March 16, Rachel was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer as she attempted to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian physician's home. Even as he and Rachel's mother mourned the death of their daughter, they carried out her wish Wednesday on the terrace of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC.
With three Democratic members of Congress from Rachel Corrie's homestate of Washington -- Jim McDermott and Brian Baird, who voted against the October resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, and Adam Smith, who voted for it -- standing behind them, Craig and Cynthia Corrie read a statement that poignantly added their daughter's voice to the chorus of corncern regarding the Bush Administration's launch of a preemptive war with Iraq.
"We are speaking out today because of Rachel's fears about the impact of a war with Iraq on the people in the Occupied Territories. She reported to us that her Palestinian friends were afraid that with all eyes on Iraq, the Israeli Defense Forces would escalate activity in the Occupied Territories. Rachel wanted to be in Gaza if that happened," explained Cynthia Corrie. "In the last six weeks, Rachel became our eyes and ears for Rafah, a city at the southern tip of Gaza. Now that she's no longer there, we are asking members of Congress and, truly, all the world to watch and listen."
The Corries expressed particular concern for international activists and Palestinians who are seeking to prevent home demolitions, as Rachel Corrie was on the Sunday she was killed. "We are asking members of Congress to bring the US government's attention back to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and to recognize that the occupation of the Palestinian territories is an overwhelming and continuous act of collective violence against the Palestinian people," said the Corries. "We ask that military aid to Israel be commensurate with its efforts to end its occupation of the Palestinian Territories and to adhere to the rules of international law."
Rachel Corrie, who was due to graduate this year from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, was a longtime activist on environmental, social justice and peace issues. Before traveling this winter to the Gaza Strip to join International Solidarity Movement protests against the tactics used by the Israeli military in Palestinian refugee camp, she was active in Olympia's antiwar movement. Her parents said they had learned from Rachel that they must speak out loudly against violence. "Rachel's brutal death illustrates dramatically the madness of war," explained Craig Corrie, an insurance actuary.
Rachel Corrie's parents are not the only ones being inspired to action by her death. Baird, the congressman who represents the Olympia area, said he would introduce a House resolution calling for an investigation by the US State Department of Corrie's death. "I am a strong supporter of Israel, but that doesn't mean you look away," said Baird. "It is incumbent for our State Department to conduct a thorough and comprehensive investigation" of the incident, added Baird, who described the circumstances of Corrie's death as "profoundly troubling to me" and said "I think people should be held accountable."
Baird ripped into conservatives who have criticized Rachel Corrie for placing herself in harm's way as part of a political protest. "To suggest a nonviolent person should be run over by a bulldozer because she said and did things we don't agree with, I find that morally repugnant," argued the congressman. "This is not just about Israeli policy, this is about Israeli conduct against an unarmed American citizen engaged in nonviolent action."
McDermott echoed the call for an investigation and for respect of Rachel Corrie's nonviolent activism, saying, "We must look at this event in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. A girl took action against a policy (home demolitions) that needs to have the light of day shown upon it."
It appears that George W. Bush will get his war. But it will be a war begun in failure. Even as Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders in the United States dutifully signed up with promises of support or silence regarding a war many of them know to be unnecessary, the blunt reality is that this American president has failed to convince the world of the need for a war with Iraq.
The president's dramatic defeat in the court of international public opinion was acknowledged Monday, when the administration abandoned its doomed effort to win a go-ahead from the United Nations Security Council for warmaking.
That rejection of diplomacy was met with a diplomatic response from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who telegraphed his frustration with a read-between-the-lines statement to the effect that, "If the action is to take place without the support of the Council, its legitimacy will be questioned and the support for it will be diminished." Others were not so gentle in their assessment.
Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair abandoned their attempt to get a new UN resolution, said Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, the French ambassador to the UN, because the argument for war was unconvincing. "It (the resolution) did not get the votes because the majority of the UN and, I would say the majority of people in the world, do not think it would be right to have the Council authorize the use of force," he explained.
It was not just the French who noted the collapse of the Bush Administration's diplomatic initiative.
The leader of the British House of Commons, Robin Cook, who quit Blair's Cabinet to protest the Prime Minister's commitment of British troops to the US cause, articulated the reasoned view of that failure when he argued on Tuesday that: "The harsh reality is that Britain is being asked to embark on a war without agreement in any of the international bodies of which we are a leading member. Not Nato. Not the EU. And now not the security council. To end up in such diplomatic isolation is a serious reverse. Only a year ago we and the US were part of a coalition against terrorism which was wider and more diverse than I would previously have thought possible. History will be astonished at the diplomatic miscalculations that led so quickly to the disintegration of that powerful coalition."
In the United States, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, who may be the closest thing the current Congress has to an opposition leader, said, "The President's decision to push our nation, and the world, to the brink of war, in the face of intense international opposition, and without UN approval is a failure by this Administration to exercise world leadership and a grave mistake. The Administration's decision to withdraw its resolution from the United Nations Security Council is a dramatic admission of its failure to convince the world of its case against Iraq."
Despite months of cajoling, conniving and, when all else failed, behind-the-scenes offers of economic aid and political consideration, the Bush Administration could not convince the chief target audience -- Security Council members -- that there was sufficient legal or moral justification for war at this time. To wit:
* The president and his aides built their case for war on a "foundation" of discredited data, including reports of supposed Iraqi "threats" that turned out to have been misread, falsified or, in the case of a key British document, reliant upon out-of-date information culled from the Internet.
* The president and his aides repeatedly attempted to establish a connection between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the al-Qaida terrorist network, yet they never succeeded in doing so. The unrelenting focus on finding such a linkage undermined the Administration's broader argument for war. It became clear to the international community that if there was the slightest shred of evidence, the administration would have produced it. And they were never able to do so.
* The president refused to perform basic diplomatic duties. In particular, he failed to maintain personal contact with leaders of countries that questioned his stance - especially French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Neither the president nor Secretary of State Colin Powell engaged in the sort of international travel and one-on-one communication that former President George Bush and former Secretary of State James Baker used to build coalition support for the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The mumbles, stumbles and bumbles that characterized the Bush Administration's approach to the question of how best to disarm Iraq served to isolate the White House from leaders with whom Bush thought he had built solid personal relationships, such as Russia's Vladimir Putin and Mexico's Vicente Fox. And it has severely strained relations with historic US allies such as Germany and China. The veteran French journalist Gérard Dupuy used a physical metaphor to explain the diplomatic reality. "In the end, Mr. Bush finds himself backed up by the only two leaders who have stuck by him from the beginning - Mr Blair and (Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria) Aznar," noted Dupuy, as he described the one-hour "summit" on an island in the Azores at which the determination was made to reject diplomacy. "Their meeting on an American base lost in the immensity of the Atlantic neatly symbolises the isolation of a president who has fallen victim to his own mediocrity."
Nothing that the president said in Monday night's televised address to the nation, and the world, changed the fact that George W. Bush has entered the international arena and stumbled. Badly. His ultimatum to Iraq's Saddam - leave the country or face the "serious consequences" mentioned in U.N. Resolution 1441 - made war seem inevitable.
If war comes, however, it will not be the war that any thoughtful American president could have wanted. Rather, it will be a misguided mission pursued by a troublingly small "coalition of the willing" - with most coalition "partners" there against the will of the people in their countries.
A wiser president might have refused to go ahead without having convinced more of the world. Then again, a wiser president would not have pursued this path in the first place.
After all, the point of diplomacy is not to wage an unrelenting campaign for an unpopular result. The point of diplomacy is to propose action, open a dialogue about the plan and then to refine and improve the approach until the theoretical becomes the possible. It is about winning the faith of others.
George W. Bush leads the world's remaining superpower. That position places great responsibilities on his shoulders. The greatest of these is to engage seriously and sincerely in the diplomatic process that allows for the collective wisdom of many nations to inform the actions of the United States.
President Bush has failed to meet that responsibility. He has let his country down. He has let his world down. The Spanish newspaper El Pais said it best in an editorial that read, "Diplomacy has ended because the US president has had enough of negotiating..."
No one has made life on the campaign trail more difficult for several of the frontrunning candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination than US Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Last October, Harkin joined Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman and Missouri Representative Richard Gephardt in voting for the resolution that authorized President Bush to take military action against Iraq. But, last week, Harkin admitted that he has been wrong to believe the Bush Administration was serious about exploring diplomatic alternatives to war.
If Congress were to vote again, Harkin said, he would oppose the resolution. "I'm not going to be fooled twice," the Iowan told hometown media in Des Moines. "As I look back it sure looks like the administration was never serious about resolving the situation peacefully," said Harkin, who complained that Bush has acted "like the cowboy who rode out of Texas, all guns blazing."
One of a growing number of Congressional Democrats who voted for the October resolution but who now are critical of the president's failure to respect language that instructed the Administration to pursue diplomatic solutions, Harkin said, "In my adult life, with the exception of Vietnam, this has been the biggest failure of diplomacy I've seen."
Harkin's vote in favor of the October resolution deeply disappointed many Democrats in Iowa, where antiwar sentiment always runs high. And Harkin never suggested that he was overly happy with his vote; indeed, when he delivered the eulogy at Paul Wellstone's memorial service last fall, Harkin praised the late Minnesota senator for having the courage to vote against the resolution.
But, even if Harkin was there uncomfortably, having Iowa's most prominent national Democrat in the pro-resolution camp provided cover for Democratic presidential contenders such as Kerry, Edwards, Lieberman and, above all, Gephardt, who helped organize support for the use-of-force resolution when he served as House Minority Leader. For presidential candidates who backed the resolution, it was a relief to be able to respond to questions about a possible war by saying, "Like Tom Harkin..."
Now, they are no longer "like Harkin." The Iowan says he did not mean to stir up trouble for the contenders for his party's 2004 nomination. But Harkin, himself a former presidential candidate, is too sly a political player not to have known that his statement would stir the political pot. And so it did. In fact, when several of the Democratic candidates arrived in Iowa after Harkin had revealed his new stance, the candidates found that the pot was boiling. In a state where even Republicans -- like Iowa City-area Congressman Jim Leach -- have taken antiwar stances, the sentiments among Democratic activists tend to echo those of Polk County party leader Barbara Boatwright, who says, "I'd like to hear something stronger from Congress. I wish we'd have an outcry and protest from Democratic members of Congress."
That was certainly the message Gephardt got when he arrived in Sioux City over the weekend to talk with Democratic activists whose support he will need in next January's first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. The man who won the state's Democratic presidential caucuses in 1988 took a battering from people like Western Iowa Tech Community College job training director Chris Hansen. "Congress has completely addicated its duty," Hansen told Gephardt at a gathering of Woodbury County Truman Club members. "You've given up the final check and balance on this thing."
Gephardt made a determined effort to steer the conversation toward domestic issues -- such as education and health care -- chosen to illustrate areas of agreement with the roughly 40 Democrats who had gathered to hear him. But it was to no avail. "If we're going to go to war, shouldn't Congress fulfill its constitutional duty and declare that war?" inquired Tom Whitmore, a veteran Democratic activist in the Sioux City area.
Gephardt, who said he would "stand behind my vote" on the October resolution, rejected talk about the need for a new vote by Congress. "If you're saying you want to pass a resolution that says (the US) can't do anything if we can't get the whole UN wound up behind us, then you're really turning decision-making on a very important security matter over to the United Nations. I don't want to do that."
Gephardt's unwavering stance puts him in the camp of Lieberman, who pretty much parrots the Bush line on Iraq, and Edwards, who apologetically tells Iowa Democrats that his position is a matter of "conscience" and then struggles to shift the discussion to domestic issues. On the other side are two candidates who voted against the October resolution, House Progressive Caucus chair Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and former Senate Intelligence Committee chair Bob Graham, D-Florida, and three candidates sharpyl critical of war, civil rights activist Al Sharpton, former US Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean.
In the middle, and thus in the most difficult position following Harkin's shift, is Kerry. When the Massachusetts senator arrived in Iowa Sunday for a series of campaign appearances, he was grilled on his views on Bush's rush to war. Asked directly by the Des Moines Register, Kerry was reported to have "stopped short" of saying that he too regretted his vote last October. "What I do regret is that this Administration has not lived up to the standards of diplomacy set forth in the resolution," said the man who is seen by many Democrats as the frontrunner for the party's presidential nod. "The president's diplomacy has been completely lacking."
Aside from his murky stance on the question of whether his vote for the "use of force" resolution was a good one, Kerry's comments on Bush sound similar to those of the candidate who most frequently criticizes Kerry for backing the resolution: Dean. In Des Moines, Kerry was particularly aggressive, arguing that, "The greatest position of strength is by exercising the best judgement in the pursuit of diplomacy, not in some trumped-up, so-called coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought and the extorted, but in a genuine coalition."
That also sounds a lot like Harkin, save for the Iowa senator's acknowledgement that Congress was wrong to give up so much authority to Bush. Harkin is a smart politician, who knows his state well. Indeed, as Woodbury County Democratic Party chair Al Sturgeon explained after the Sioux City session with Gephardt, "If I had a nickel for every time someone told me Congress wrote Bush a blank check, the Woodbury County Democrats would be in good shape."
In the first significant setback for the Bush Administration in the 108th Congress, Senate Democrats blocked a move Thursday by Republicans to force a vote on controversial judicial nominee Miguel Estrada.
After weeks of on-and-off debate regarding Estrada's nomination to the powerful US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, attempted to break what has evolved into a filibuster against the man who many legal observers believe the Bush Administration is grooming for an eventual Supreme Court nomination. To break the filibuster, Frist needed 60 votes. But he could only muster 55 -- from 51 Republicans and 4 Democrats -- as 44 Democratic senators held firm despite intense pressure from the Administration and its conservative allies.
"This vote was tremendously important for the future of thefederal judiciary and for the rights and freedoms Americans count on the courts to protect, argued People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas, whose group has been a key player in the campaign to block Estrada's nomination as part of a broader effort to prevent the Administration from packing the federal courts with rightwing judicial activists. "It is a major loss for the Bush Administration and its political allies, who have tried to bully senators into submission with outrageous threats and accusations."
When Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, announced in February that his caucus had the votes to block a vote on the Estrada nomination unless the nominee and the White House responded to unanswered questions from Senate Judiciary Committee members, Congressional observers were skeptical. The last time a Senate filibuster succeeded in preventing a president from advancing a judicial nominee was in 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson was forced to withdraw the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas to be chief justice.
Thursday's vote was a clear win for Daschle, and for legal, civil rights, labor and women's groups that have campaigned for months to convince Democrats that Estrada has not met the basic standards for confirmation. Only four Senate Democrats -- Georgia's Zell Miller, Nebraska's Ben Nelson, Florida's Bill Nelson of Florida and Louisiana's John Breaux -- voted to break the filibuster. (Florida Democrat Bob Graham, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination who is recovering from surgery, did not vote.)
Conservative groups worked hard to break Democratic senators loose prior to Thursday's vote, ramping up a campaign that suggested Democrats who voted to block Estrada were thwarting the aspirations of the nation's burgeoning Hispanic population. Estrada, a Honduran immigrant, would be the first Latino to sit on the DC Circuit bench and, if confirmed, could eventually become the first Latino on the Supreme Court.
In the days before the vote, Neas said, he was troubled by "intimidation tactics employed by the Bush White House and Senate Republican leaders. Especially disturbing were the repugnant efforts of a number of Republicans to characterize opponents of Mr. Estrada's confirmation as anti-Hispanic.Groups such as People for the American Way and the Alliance for Justice countered fierce lobbying -- which even involved radio ads in the states of key senators -- by noting that the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project had joined the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in urging rejection of Estrada's nomination.
Ultimately, however, Daschle has been successful in holding the majority of Democrats together in large part because of concerns about Estrada's failure to answer questions posed by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the refusal of the White House to release working papers that Estrada produced while working in the Solicitor General's office.
The White House has stonewalled the request for the papers, and has refused to allow Estrada to participate in a public hearing where he could be asked further questions. Those hardball tactics have upset enough Democratic senators, say Hill aides, that even moderate and conservative members who might be inclined to support Estrada are sticking with the strategy initiated by Daschle, Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy and Vermont's Pat Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.
While Frist says he will keep pushing for a vote on the nomination, Daschle says, "The vote will not change regardless of how many votes are cast. We feel strongly as a caucus and will continue to hold our position as a caucus."
As if there was need for more evidence that major media is neglecting to cover Federal Communications Commission deliberations on whether to fundamentally alter media ownership rules, a new survey shows that 72 percent of Americans know "nothing at all" about the debate in which FCC Commissioner Michael Copps says "fundamental values and democratic virtues are at stake."
Only four percent of 1,254 adults surveyed by the Project For Excellence in Journalism in collaboration with the Pew Research Center for the People and The Press said they had heard "a lot" about the FCC's deliberations regarding rule changes that could redefine the shape and scope of American media.
Echoing concerns voiced by consumer, public interest and labor groups, as well as a growing number of members of Congress, Copps has argued that the FCC should schedule more official hearings on the proposed rule changes. The commissioner also says that major media outlets -- especially the nation's television networks -- have a responsibility to cover the debate over whether to allow greater consolidation of media ownership at the national level and the removal of barriers to control by individual corporations of most of the television, radio and newspaper communications in particular communities.
"I'm frankly concerned about consolidation in the media, and particularly concerned that we are on the verge of dramatically altering our nation's media landscape without the kind of debate and analysis that these issues clearly merit," Copps said as the commission's sole scheduled official hearing opened Thursday in Richmond, Virginia.
FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who has long been the commission's most ardent advocate for rule changes favored by media corporation lobbyists, has resisted efforts to open up the debate. Thursday's hearing in Richmond offered some explanation for why Powell has sought to constrain the dialogue.
Despite rough winter weather, hundreds of critics of the proposed relaxation of controls on consolidation packed the hall where the commissioners heard testimony. While representatives of television networks and newspaper chains argued for the rule changes, the clear signal from the crowd was expressed by David Croteau, a sociology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, who told commissioners: "Less regulation will be a windfall for a few giant media corporations. It is likely to be a huge mistake for the rest of us."
Consolidation has already changed the face of media for the worse, argued Rain Burroughs, a Richmond daycare center worker. Burroughs told the commission that "the best programs don't get to air because of the obsession to maximize profits. Today, we are bombarded with sensationalist, mindless, violent shows."
During the public comment period, speaker after speaker rose to express opposition to rules changes that would lead to more consolidation and commercialization. As the day came to a close, speakers suggested to the commissioners that the public had spoken -- loudly -- against the proposed changes.
"What we are seeing is that, as the public becomes more aware that these issues are on the table before the FCC, people are chomping at the bit to say, 'No, don't do this,'" said Michael Bracy, director of government relations for the Future of Music Coalition, which recently produced a report that exposed the damage done to diversity and content by the consolidation of radio ownership made possible by rule changes in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
The new poll from the Project For Excellence in Journalism confirms Bracy's assessment. Among Americans who said they thought that allowing companies to own more TV, radio and newspaper outlets would make a difference, the survey found that by a 3-1 margin they believe the impact will be a negative one. The proportion of those surveyed who said that the impact of the changes would be negative rose significantly among those Americans who said they knew "a little" or "a lot" about the current debate.
Copps argued in his statement at the opening of Thursday's hearing that the dialogue needs to be dramatically expanded before the FCC makes any decisions on the proposed rules changes. "While the participation of business representatives is essential, so is the input of consumers, labor, educational and religious, minority organizations, and Americans who have never heard of the FCC," Copps said. "We can pretend that these folks read the Federal Register and can afford lawyers to fully participate in our inside-the-beltway decision making. But we'd be kidding ourselves. This decision is too important to make in a business-as-usual way. We need America's buy-in..."
Despite the good dialogue in Richmond, however, that buy-in has yet to occur. Scant major media coverage has created a situation where, as the Project For Excellence in Journalism survey illustrates, most Americans still do not know that the future of media -- and the democracy and culture it influences -- is up for grabs.
The day before MSNBC announced that it was pulling the plug on Phil Donahue's nightly show, the man who pretty much invented talk TV was interviewing actress and author Rosie O'Donnell. But this was not the standard celebrity interview. Rather, Donahue led O'Donnell through a serious discussion of her feelings about whether the U.S. should go to war with Iraq. "Well, I think like every mother, every mother that I've spoken to, every day when I go to pick up my kids from school, every person I've spoken to has said they're against this war, for basic reasons," said O'Donnell. "I don't want to kill innocent mothers and children and fathers in another country when there are alternate mean available, at least at this point." And when Donahue asked why anyone should take what celebrities say about war seriously, O'Donnell came back, "Nobody wants to interview the mother of the two kids in my daughter's class who feels the same way. I stand with 36 women every day outside the elementary school. And if any newscaster wanted to speak to any member of the PTA across America, I have a feeling they would say the same thing I'm saying. I'm not speaking as a celebrity. I'm speaking as a mother and I'm speaking for the mothers who don‘t have the option of an hour on the Phil Donahue show."
As of Friday, no one will have the option of an hour on the Phil Donahue show. The show has been cancelled, and with it will be lost one of the few consistent forums for progressive voices on cable television. Just this month, Donahue's guest list has included U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Institute for Policy Studies foreign policy analyst Phyllis Bennis, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Global Exchange director and "Code Pink" anti-war activist Medea Benjamin. And it is a pretty good bet that, now that Donahue is going off the air, we will not soon see another show like the one where he featured Ralph Nader and Molly Ivins in front of a crowd of laid-off Enron employees. And we certainly are not likely to see such a show on MSNBC, which appears to be veering hard to the right in its programming -- adding former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, and former U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Florida, as regular contributors, and conservative talk radio personality Michael "Savage Nation" Savage as a regular host. MSNBC will temporarily replace Donahue starting next week with "Countdown: Iraq," hosted by Lester Holt. Talk about adding insult to injury. Getting cancelled is bad enough; getting cancelled to make way for a program devoted to anticipating an unnecessary war is just plain awful.
Media analyst Rick Ellis, who writes for the excellent www.allyourtv.com website, makes a strong case that Donahue is being elbowed off the air at this point -- when his ratings have actually been ticking upward -- precisely because it appears that a war is coming. According to Ellis, Donahue's "fate was sealed a number of weeks ago after NBC News executives received the results of a study commissioned to provide guidance on the future of the news channel." According to Ellis, the study suggested "that Donahue presented a ‘difficult public face for NBC in a time of war" and expressed that, in a time of war, Donahue's show might become "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."
NBC executives aren't commenting on the report. But no one is seriously questioning the validity of Ellis' report.
That said, Donahue's disappearance is about more than politics.
Donahue's show was never as successful as it could have been. Coming off a strong supporting role in the Ralph Nader campaign of 2000, and a series of television appearances that saw him challenge the conventional (Republican AND Democratic) wisdom about September 11 and its aftermath, Donahue was to enter the cable wars as a pox-on-all-their-houses lefty who would open his show up to a freewheeling dialogue about war and peace, corruption and cronyism, Republican wrongheadedness and Democratic disappointments. In theory, the show sounded like it might actually allow MSNBC to credibly argue that it was "fiercely independent." In reality, Donahue was sent into to battle Fox's Bill O'Reilly and CNN's Connie Chung with one lobe tied behind his brain. Pressured by desperate MSNBC executives to fit into the contemporary talk-TV mold ("Be like O'Reilly, only nicer -- but not too nice"), Donahue was never allowed to be Donahue. For every program that featured Ralph Nader and Molly Ivins, there were ten where Donahue was forced to ask polite questions of second-string conservative pundits.
Where his conservative competitors never worry about fairness or balance, Donahue was under constant pressured to clog his show's arteries with deadly dull apologists for all things Bush. And when that got too boring, he was pressured to steer the show away from politics and toward the glitzy and the maudlin. The show got worse and worse, the ratings dipped, and Donahue often seemed physically pained by the absurd demands that were being placed on him. Finally, when every dumb idea known to cable television had been tried, someone got the bright idea of allowing Donahue to do what he used to do best -- interview interesting guests and then take questions from a live audience. The guests were better -- Tutu was great, and so was Pat Buchanan. The crowds were enthusiastic. And the ratings were rising.
In its final, more substantive incarnation, "Donahue" was actually beating the much more aggressively promoted MSNBC program, "Hardball With Chris Matthews." By the same token, with an average nightly viewership of 446,000, Donahue was still trailing far behind CNN's Connie Chung and Fox's O'Reilly.
Now that Donahue has been ditched, conservative commentators and network executives will tell themselves that there is no audience for progressive voices on television. They will, of course, be wrong on the broad premise -- some of O'Reilly's best shows feature feisty progressives like U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Bernie Sanders. And they will be wrong more specifically about Donahue. We will never know for sure whether Phil Donahue could have seriously competed with conservative hosts like Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity. What we do know, for sure, is that MSNBC executives were never willing to trust Phil Donahue -- or the American television viewing audience.
When hundreds of labor, academic and community activists gathered in a City University of New York's graduate school auditorium this week to honor the memory of Paul and Sheila Wellstone, the speaker list was itself a tribute to the late Minnesota senator and his partner in marriage and politics. Author Barbara Ehrenreich, scholar Frances Fox Piven, Institute for Policy Studies director John Cavanagh, Wellstone campaign manager Jeff Blodgett and veteran labor leader Bob Muehlenkamp called on the memory of the Wellstones to energize the struggles for econnomic and social justice, and peace, that lost two of their greatest champions when the couple died in a plane crash last fall.
But the standout address of the night came from the member of Congress who may well be the truest heir to the Wellstone mantle. US Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, drew cheer after cheer for a speech that echoed the hope, courage, passion and political timeliness that characterized the career of the unabashedly progressive senator who died less than two weeks before Minnesota voters were expected to reelect him last fall.
"Paul Wellstone taught us that a politics of conviction is a winning politics," said Schakowsky, who like Wellstone was a grassroots organizer long before she ever thought of running for public office.
Like many in the multigenerational crowd that attended the Wellstone tribute, Schakowsky wore her convictions on her sleeve -- or, more precisely, her jacket -- in the form of a large antiwar pin.
Along with Wellstone, whose last major vote was cast in opposition to President Bush's request for blank-check authorization to wage war against Iraq, Schakowsky established herself early as a courageous and consistent foe of the administration's efforts to launch an unwise and unnecessary attack on Iraq. But Schakowsky did not hold herself up as a hero. Rather, she gave credit to the raucously antiwar crowd, and the rest of the movement that has filled the streets of cities around the world with shouts of "Not In Our Name!", for slowing the rush to war.
"For the fact that we are not at war today, Paul Wellstone would thank you," said the member of Congress from Chicago. "Had it not been for this outpouring of opposition, I think we would already be at war." Recalling last fall's Congressional vote on authorizing Bush to pursue war with Iraq, Schakowsky noted, "Members of Congress did hear you. Sixty percent of the Democrats voted against that resolution... and this was against our own (party) leadership."
It is that fact, Schakowsky said, that ought to inspire activists to reject the cynicism that says a war cannot be stopped and to keep struggling to block Bush's military adventurism. "I'm asking you tonight not to accept the inevitability of war," Schakowsky told the crowd. "If Paul Wellstone would have accepted the conventional wisdom, if he had accepted the supposed inevitability, he never would have won."
Then Schakowsky "pulled a Wellstone." She detailed the Bush Administration's assaults on individual liberty, workers rights, education and the environment, as well as the administration's wrongminded approach to foreign policy, and then Schakowsky said, "If you feel overwhelmed by that list, if it makes you feel tired... Get over it!"
Borrowing a line from the trademark calls to action that made Paul Wellstone a touchstone for so many progressives, Schakowsky finished by urging the crowd into the voting booths and the streets. "We need you!" she shouted over a rising tide of applause. "We need you!"
"The whole world is against this war. Only one person wants it," declared South African teenager Bilqees Gamieldien as she joined a Cape Town antiwar demonstration on a weekend when it did indeed seem that the whole world was dissenting from George W. Bush's push for war with Iraq.
Millions of protesters marched into the streets of cities from Tokyo to Tel Aviv to Toronto and Bush's homestate of Texas to deliver a message expressed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson to a crowd of more than one million in London: "It's not too late to stop this war."
Crowd estimates for demonstrations of the kind being seen this weekend are always a source of controversy, especially when nervous politicians -- like British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- try to convince journalists and the public to dismiss the significance of the protests even before they begin. But, faced with a historic show of dissent, even the constantly spinning Blair had to acknowledge that the cost for his unwavering support of the Bush administration on Iraq is turning out to be "unpopular" in his own land.
Britain's Guardian newspaper described the London march as the largest peace demonstration in the country's history. The headline on Sunday morning's Observer newspaper read, "One million. And still they came," and announced that the "massive turnout surpassed the organisers' wildest expectations and Tony Blair's worst fears." Organizers of the British march estimated that as many as 1.5 million were cheering as London Mayor Ken Livingstone told the crowd, "So let everyone recognise what has happened here today: that Britain does not support this war for oil. The British people will not tolerate being used to prop up the most corrupt and racist American administration in over 80 years."
German police said 500,000 marched in Berlin, while organizers put the number considerably higher. In Rome, an estimated one million marched on a day when newspapers reported that polls show 85 percent of Italians do not support a war to disarm Iraq. Organizers put the size of the Madrid crowd at 600,000, while city officials said as many as 1.3 million took to the streets in Barcelona. At least 300,000 people gathered in cities across France.
The protests spread around the globe, to Canada and Mexico, to Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands and Russia, and to Bahrain, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Iraq, South Korea Thailand.
New York's streets were jammed by a crowd that stretched 20 blocks down the city's First Avenue and overflowing onto Second and Third avenues. Estimates of the actual turnout varied wildly, but it seemed reasonable to suggest that at least 300,000 protesters converged for the midtown rally site where Archbishop Desmond Tutu, actors Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover, singers Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte and US Rep. Dennis Kucinich appeared. "Peace! Peace!" shouted Tutu. "Let America listen to the rest of the world -- and the rest of the world is saying: 'Give the inspectors time.'"
Among those expressing opposition to plans for war was Adele Welty, whose son, Timothy, was a firefighter killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. "Timothy was at the World Trade Center on September 11 to save lives," said Welty. "I don't feel that he would sanction innocent lives either in this country or in Iraq being shed in his name."
The larger-than-expected crowds that rallied around the world fed a renewed confidence among peace activists that the message of signs carried at one of the weekend's first rallies -- in Auckland, New Zealand -- might yet turn out to be right: "We can stop this war."
As yachting's America's Cup opened Saturday in that New Zealand city, a plane chartered by Greenpeace circled over the harbor pulling a huge banner with the words: "No War, Peace Now."
"Bugga off bully boy Bush" was the chant on the streets of Auckland as thousands of anti-war demonstrators proudly launched a weekend of protests. "Millions of people around the world are rallying today to say no to war and New Zealand is the first country to send this message," said Greenpeace's Robbie Kelman. "Countries like New Zealand must add their weight to efforts for a peaceful solution to this crisis."
The point of the global protests, according to Kucinich, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who will travel to Iowa this week to launch a bid for the Democratic presidential race as an explicitly anti-war candidate, was to add grassroots pressure to the diplomatic push to avoid war.
Echoing the view of French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who successfully thwarted a Bush administration to ramp up support for war at Friday's United Nations Security Council meeting, the protests around the world argued that war is not justified at a point when evidence indicates that U.N. inspectors are making progress toward disarming Iraq.
Dramatic early evidence of global antiwar sentiment came from Australia, where an estimated 200,000 people filled the streets of Melbourne Friday to protest their government's support of US plans to attack Iraq.
"This is a huge statement by the people of Melbourne, and the people of Australia to John Howard: that he's gone the wrong way and should turn around," said Australian Senator Bob Brown, a Green, who last week led a successful effort by senators to censure Australian Prime Minister John Howard for dispatching troops to the Persian Gulf region. "The people of Australia don't see this as our war."
Organized by labor, religious and student groups, the Melbourne protest was so large that commentators were speculating on the prospect that Howard could face serious political turmoil over his decision to back US President George W. Bush's push for war with Iraq. Signs at the demonstration Friday announced that this would be "Howard's End." And Australian Senator Natasha Stott Despoja told the crowd, "It is an amazing scene here with you today in a show of solidarity to send a strong message to Prime Minister Howard and the Australian government that Australians don't want war."
The Australian demonstration was described by reporters on the scene as the largest the country has seen in more than 30 years. And it was just the beginning of an around-the-world show of opposition to moves by the US, Britain and a handful of allies to force the United Nations to effectively endorse an preemptive attack on Iraq.
More than 600 demonstrations are expected to take place in communities around the world on -- from San Francisco to New York to London to Seoul, and from Antarctica to Iceland -- by the end of the weekend mobilization. Demonstrations are expected to take place in at least 60 countries. Most of the demonstrations were peaceful, although there were skirmishes in Athens; in New York, where police attempted to prevent marchers from getting near the United Nations; and in Colorado Springs, where arrests were made after demonstrators blocked a road near an Air Force base.
The New York demonstration was one of more than 200 planned for this weekend in US cities from Augusta, Maine, to Yakima, Washinbgton, and Wausau, Wisconsin. What was supposed to be a relatively modest Los Angeles demonstration gew so large that television reporters there were reporting breathlessly on the "massive" show of opposition to war. Actors Martin Sheen and Mike Farrell and director Rob Reiner joined a march that filled Hollywood Boulevard from curb to curb for four blocks. Police claimed 30,000 turned out, while organizers said the crowd ultimately swelled to almost 100,000.
Sunday march in San Francisco drew an estimated 250,000, according to estimates reported in the local media, making it one of the largest demonstrations that west coast city has ever seen. "How do you want to spend $1.5 trillion? On our children? Or on war?" Assemblywoman Patricia Wiggins, a Democratic state legislator from Santa Rosa, asked the crowd. The crowd roared for the kids, and against the war.
While weekend demonstrators in the US and Britain were seeking to change the minds of their leaders, crowds in Germany and France were expressing support for moves by the French and German governments to block Bush administration initiatives at the UN. "Help to prevent new suffering, new destruction and new death," read a sign carried by survivors of the Allied bombing of Dresden at the close of World War II. Saturday's huge protests in Berlin mocked U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's criticisms of European war foes, with signs reading, "Old Europe is Against the War."
No leader could have felt more pressure Saturday than Britain's Blair, whose personal approval ratings have dipped dramatically as he has continued to side with Bush's position on war.
Understanding that a switch by Blair could force Bush to rethink his position, Jesse Jackson flew to London to join rock stars, actors, playwrights, former Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella and former British parliamentarian Tony Benn, who recently traveled to Iraq to interview Saddam Hussein, for the Hyde Park rally. "Iraq is a challenge that must be put in perspective. It is not the priority that Bush and Blair have made it to be," Jackson said after arriving in London.
Among those marching with Jackson and the others was British author John Mortimer, long one of the most prominent members of Blair's Labour Party. Noting revelations that Blair's government doctored intelligence reports to create a false impression that they revealed clear and present dangers from Iraq, Mortimer said in announcing his decision to join the London demonstration: "We are being persuaded into war by lies and half truths. A secret service document, making it clear there is no evidence of a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda, is disregarded. A 10-year-old article by an undergraduate is presented, and solemnly referred to by Colin Powell as if it were the latest government report, and no effort has been made for our Government to tell the truth about it."
KUCINICH BID: US Representative Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, confirmed Sunday that he will launch an exploratory committee in preparation for a presidential bid. One of the most outspoken foes of war with Iraq in Congress, Kucinich appeared at Saturday's anti-war rally in New York and then traveled to Iowa, the first Democratic caucus state to headline a planned rally in Des Moines.
A former mayor of Cleveland, Kucinich says his candidacy will be about more than just opposition to war with Iraq. But the Ohio added that, unlike several of the other Democratic contenders, he will not hesitate to address questions of war and peace bluntly. "We need to start asking why is war considered to be an instrument of policy," argues Kucinich. "Inspections are an adequate substitute for war, diplomacy is a substitute for war, human relations are a substitute for war, and so I think that there is no case made for war."
At a Sunday campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the Democratic nominating process will begin with caucuses next Saturday, Kucinich declared, "Yes, I am a candidate for peace."The 75 Democratic activists present responded by giving the new candidate a standing ovation.
Setting up what could be the boldest challenge yet to the Bush administration's drive to pack the nation's courts with conservative judicial activists, Senate Democrats have signaled that they will mount a filibuster to block a Senate vote on the nomination of Bush favorite Miguel Estrada to serve on the powerful U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The administration and Republican operatives in Washington and around the country have waged a fierce campaign to win Senate approval for Estrada, a former solicitor general who is a favorite of movement conservatives and is widely viewed as a likely contender for a future nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. As recently as Tuesday, as the Senate entered the third day of deliberation on the nomination, the White House issued a statement from Bush demanding a quick "up or down vote on the Senate floor." When he learned of the decision by Democrats to filibuster, Bush grumbled about how "a handful of Democrats in the Senate are playing politics with his nomination, and it's shameful politics."
But it is not just "a handful of Democrats." Senate Democratic leaders say that more than 40 members will join efforts to block a vote. The delay, Democrats say, will extend at least until the White House releases information regarding Estrada's legal views. That information was repeatedly requested by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee prior to the panel's 10-9 vote in late January to recommend approval of Estrada. The committee vote split along party lines, and was one of the first indicators that the new Republican leadership of the committee and the Senate would seek to force votes on even the most controversial judicial nominees.
Some Democratic senators have indicated that they would be inclined to vote against the Estrada nomination based on what is already known regarding the former solicitor general's right-wing positions on civil rights and corporate power issues. But Senate Minority Leader Tom Dacshle, D-South Dakota, said the primary focus of any filibuster would be to force the administration to release memoranda that the nominee wrote while he worked in the office of the solicitor general in the Justice Department.
"Until that information is provided, we will not be in a position to allow a vote to come to the Senate floor," Daschle told reporters after a mid-day meeting with Democratic senators at which a decision was made to try and block a vote on Estrada's nomination. "It is critical that the administration recognize the importance of this information and the importance of the constitutional obligation (to review judicial nominations) that we hold very seriously."
Daschle said that, after meeting with key senators, he is certain that Democrats have more than enough support to block a vote with a filibuster. Under Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to cut off a filibuster -- where members who oppose a bill or nomination speak continually against it and employ other procedural moves in order to delay action -- and force a final vote.
No one knows how the filibuster threat will play out, especially with the Senate preparing for a recess next week. Some Senate Republicans threatened to keep the chamber in session until a final vote is taken.
"If they want to stay through the weekend, we'll stay through the weekend," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee.
Republicans still hope to swing enough Democrats to their side to gain the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster and force a vote.A few Democrats, including influential Louisiana Senator John Breaux, have indicated that they will side with Republicans and support Estrada. And Judiciary Committee chair Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has sought to pressure more Democrats to get in line behind a prominent Hispanic nominee. But those efforts were undermined when the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project joined the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in urging rejection of Estrada's nomination.
Opposition to the nomination from leading civil rights groups -- especially those with large Latino constituencies -- is certainly influential with Democrats and some Republicans. Ultimately, however, the tipping point for Senate Democrats appears to have been Estrada's stonewalling at hearings before the Judiciary Committee and the White House's refusal to release the memoranda that effectively form the only official record of Estrada's views.
"By remaining silent Mr. Estrada only buttressed the fear that he's a far-right stealth nominee, a... candidate who will drive the nation's second most important court out of the mainstream."explained Senator Chuck Schumer, D-New York, a key Judiciary Committee member.
Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice (www.afj.org and www.independentjudiciary.com), a national coalition of more than 60 organizations that advocates for an independent judiciary, says the decision of most Democratic senators to work to block Estrada is a major breakthrough. But, she adds, "The administration is going to put a lot of pressure on swing Democrats to break with their leadership and support Estrada. Our job in the next few weeks is to tell the Democrats to hold firm, and to start putting pressure on moderate Republicans. This is a fight that I think we can win, but there is no question that the fight is a long way from finished."
In the White House's latest attempt to suggest that the United States has garnered significant international support for an at´tack on Iraq, President Bush met Monday with Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, How´ard pledged unquestioning support for the US administration's position -- even as the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and other more skeptical lands continued their efforts to avert war.
Howard dutifully echoed Bush's recent "the-game-is-over" rhetoric: "For something serious to happen to turn around the direc´tion of this whole thing, there would have to be a total change of attitude by Iraq," the Australian declared. "It's not good enough to give a little bit. This has happened before. We're not going to play that game again."
White House stenographers, er, reporters scribbled notes on Howard's comments and proclaimed Australia to be fully in the US camp -- just like Estonia and Albania. What they failed to note is that Howard is not speaking for a united Australia. Like most of the countries that have announced official support for the US position on Iraq, Australia is deeply divided.
The latest national opinion poll shows that 76 percent of Australians oppose Australian participation in a US-led war on Iraq. And that sentiment was reflected in an unprece´dented move by the Australian Senate last week, which voted 33-31 to censure Howard for committing 2,000 soldiers -- 450 of whom are already on the ground in the Middle East -- to join US troops in a potential war against Iraq.
"The Senate declares that it has no confidence in the Prime Minister's handling of this grave matter for the nation," read the measure, which also registered the opposition of the upper chamber of the Australian government to an attack on Iraq led by the US, and which insisted that moves to disarm Iraq be carried out under UN authority.
"The result means that Mr Howard does not have the mandate of parliament to deploy troops in a war without United Nations backing," explained Senator John Faulkner, the leader of the opposition Labor Party.
"This is an historic vote by the Senate," added Green Party Senator Bob Brown, a prime mover behind the censure vote. "It's the first time in history, in 102 years, that this Senate has voted no confidence in the Prime Minister of the day. The Prime Minister made the decision to deploy 2,000 defence personnel with no reference to the parliament, without the backing of the Australian people, without a request from the United Nations. He stands condemned, censured and without the confidence of the house of review, the Senate in Australia."
Censure by the Australian Senate, just one of two legislative chambers in that country, is not sufficient to force Howard to change course. But the vote, and continued questioning of Howard's approach by opposition leaders in the other chamber, the Parliament, signal that Australia is far from united for war.
Just as the White House press corps continually fails to take note of the level of dissent in the US, it it now missing the story of serious opposition in countries that the Bush administration would have us believe are "on board" for war.