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Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

All About Osama

In the most unexpected and bizarre October surprise of my lifetime, Osama bin Laden interjected himself into the last days of the presidential campaign by editorializing against Bush. He accused the Bush family of nepotism, cronyism, and corruption. He criticized the Patriot Act by name, saying its purpose is to suppress freedom. And he said he found it easy to provoke and bait this administration. As Bill Maher courageously joked Friday night, "He's stolen Michael Moore's and my act."

Here's Osama's take on the opening scenes of Farenheit 9/11: "It never occurred to us that the commander-in-chief of the American forces would leave 50,000 in the two towers to face those horrors alone…because he thought listening to a child discussing her goat and its ramming was more important than the planes and their ramming of the skyscrapers. That gave us three times the required time to carry out the operations, praise Allah."

In a perfect world we would treat Osama bin Laden's remarks with the disdain they deserve and ignore them. He is a megalomaniacal murderer who should be captured and brought to justice, not analyzed. He's also an aging diva, who desperately wants to get back into the spotlight after having been displaced by a younger, more vicious version of himself--Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Osama looked tan, fit, and rested for his comeback role as Public Enemy #1. This is becoming like a Jihadist production of All About Eve.

Instead we live in Partisan World, where everything is about the horse race. Immediately the media, aided as always by The Note, was weighing two scenarios. A) It helps Bush because it would turn the topic away from the mess in Iraq to terrorism and Osama. B) It helps Kerry because it underlines his critique of the Bush Administration's failure to focus on Osama instead of going to war with Iraq. On balance, the Gang of 500 thinks it helps Bush.

Many reached this conclusion in part because of the virtually audible collective gasp from Kerry supporters on Friday afternoon. Osama bin Laden is using the same lines of attack against Bush that Democrats have been using for the last three years? Talk about the kiss of death.

But the question arises: kiss of death for whom? Since we have already started down this road, one feels the need to ask: does Osama really want Kerry to win? Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, one of our few remaining Arab allies, says Bush is a walking recruitment poster for al Qaeda.

Or to borrow the words of blogger Ana Marie Cox, aka Wonkette, "[Osama's] condemning Bush. Which of course means that he wants Kerry to win. Unless he really wants Bush to win and is just by default endorsing Kerry in order to get people to vote for Bush out of spite. But then again, if we're smart enough to figure this out, then maybe Osama knows that too and he really wants Kerry to win, and is endorsing Kerry so that people will at first lean towards voting for Bush but then think that's what Osama wants…So confusing."

None of this should matter. In a perfect world, the Bush Administration wouldn't try to spin this, because if they acknowledge and therefore amplify Osama's political importance, "the terrorists"--to borrow a popular refrain from three yaers ago--"win."

But in Partisan World, the Republicans were barely able to contain their glee as they went spinning away. "When people look at that guy [Osama], they understand we are at war," said Mr. Bush's campaign manager, Ken Mehlman. "And they want to make sure that their commander-in-chief does."

Well, Ken, since you brought the subject up, does this commander-in-chief really understand we are at war with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda? It seems to me when Bush had a chance to capture Osama "dead or alive" at Tora Bora he not only blew it but almost immediately turned the attention of the military, the special forces and his Administration to war with Iraq and Saddam Hussein, who the 9/11 commission confirmed had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

Correct me if I'm wrong here, Kenny Boy, but wasn't it George W. Bush who said at one of his exceedingly rare press conferences in March of 2002, "So I don't know where he is. Nor, you know, I just don't spend that much time on him really, to be honest with you. I...I truly am not that concerned about him"?

And wasn't it President Bush who was so unconcerned about bin Laden that when Kerry brought up that specific quote in the second debate, Bush, apparently having forgotten he made it, denied it, calling Kerry's attack "One of those exaggerations"--drawling out the word "exaggerations" in the affected West Texas accent he breaks out when going for cheap laughs?

No, this dividing-not-uniting Administration can't help trying to turn its failure to capture bin Laden into a political positive. After all, they successfully turned their failure to take Islamic terrorism seriously before 9/11--remember the August 2001 PDB report entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside United States?"--into a political mandate when grieving Americans quite naturally wanted to rally around the flag after the shocking tragedy.

This Administration initially resisted proposals for a homeland security office before flip-flopping, while still making certain to put a poison pill into the bill limiting the legal rights of the new agency's employees. When Senate Democrats, like war hero Max Cleland, who left three limbs in the jungles of Vietnam, voted against this cynical provision, the Bush Administration used their honorable votes to claim they were soft on terrorism in the 2002 elections. As a result, Vietnam draft deferral specialist Saxby Chambliss beat veteran Cleland because of these baseless attacks.

No, this Administration can't help but try and turn its failures of vision, strategy, and policy into political positives. On November 2nd the American people have the opportunity to reject their cruel and cynical opportunism. I pray we do.

Trick Or…

It's fitting that the last seven days of a presidential campaign fall during Halloween week. Scare tactics are the order for each day. The difference this year is the Republicans only have innuendo, while the Democrats can simply point to facts on the ground.

Bush's recent attack ad tried to cry wolf, but those dogs won't hunt. The real fear factor is Mesopotamia, where M is for Massacre, Mutiny, and Missing Explosives. In Iraq, everyday is the Day of the Dead. The tragedy is that this tragedy was not inevitable.

It is clear the Administration's handling of the occupation of Iraq goes beyond incompetence into the realm of negligence. As the situation went south in the Sunni Triangle, Bush punted, refusing to either increase the number of troops in Iraq or withdraw them. He did neither, preferring to dither on with a failed policy. Bush is not a war president; he's a war criminal president.

Even worse, Bush blames the "commanders-in-the-field," claiming that they say they have enough troops. Of course, they can't disagree publicly. When General Shinseki, the then Army Chief-of-Staff, told Congress we needed more troops to secure Iraq, the Bush Administration retired him early, shooting the messenger. When Paul Bremer, the second Bush appointed civil administrator of Iraq, privately asked for more troops, he was ignored.

Bush has spent his adult life in costume, pretending to be a Texas good ole boy. What he actually is, however, is the anti-Midas. From Arbusto to the Texas Rangers to the US surplus, everything golden he touches turns to lead. We can't afford to bail him out for four more years.

Vote for Kerry on the WFP Line

If you live in the non-swing state of New York, I urge you to vote for John Kerry on the Working Families Party line (Row E). This is the most powerful way for New Yorkers to cast a progressive vote in this national election.

For those unfamiliar with New York's voting rules, here's a brief reminder: Kerry is on the ballot twice, as the nominee of both the Democratic and Working Families Parties. A vote on the WFP line for Kerry counts just as much as a vote on the Democratic line, but it sends a message about what you believe in. It's a vote for equality and democracy, and for living wage jobs, affordable housing, universal healthcare and an end to preemptive wars.

The Nation was an early supporter of the WFP when it was established in 1998. It's fair to say our early hopes have been redeemed, and we have faith that the WFP can become even more potent and effective (including expanding to some new states) if it continues to prosper. Help it do so by casting your vote for Kerry under the banner of the Working Families Party, Row E. (Click here for more info on the WFP.)

******

And In Our State, Support Barbaro and Soares on the WFP Line

Frank Barbaro, who's running for Congress from Southern Brooklyn and Staten Island, deserves your support. As I wrote in this space last July, Barbaro is a genuine working class folk hero and a lifelong fighter for social and economic justice.

In normal times, the 13th district is a safe Republican seat but the demographics are shifting and the four-term Republican incumbent Vito Fossella has amassed a shameful record while ignoring his constituents. As a result, even papers like Crain's New York Business report that Fossella is "facing the most serious challenge since he was elected in 1997."

Barbaro has wrapped up endorsements from all the unions (except for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association), and just the other day Sarah Brady held a press conference on Staten Island to hail Barbaro as a "leader for common sense laws that prevent gun violence and make our communities safer."

Barbaro is running not just on the Democratic ticket but also on the Working Families Party Line, which sees in him an exemplary messenger for its core mission "to inject the concerns of working class, middle class and poor people into the public debate."

As Dan Cantor at WFP explains Barbaro's appeal: "If Paul Wellstone was a 78-year old Italian from Brooklyn, his name would be Frank Barbaro." To win on November 2nd, Barbaro needs support from smart and strategic progressives. Click here for more info on his campaign.

Meanwhile, in Albany, young activist attorney David Soares rocked the county in mid-September with his stunning landslide victory in the Democratic Primary for District Attorney.

A WFP nominee, Soares' race served as a referendum on the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws and his victory was a terrific accomplishment for the urban-suburban, black-white, gay-straight, grassroots community-labor campaign led by the WFP's Albany chair. The defeated Democratic Party incumbent, Paul Clyne, landed a spot on the Independence Party line and since then has been waging an ugly and negative campaign (along with the Republican in the race) to smear Soares for his activist past.

But, so far, not only is Soares leading in a three-way fight (according to the latest figures from an independent Albany Times Union/News Channel 13 poll) but reform of the Rockefeller drug laws--a key campaign issue for Soares--appears to be popular. A whopping sixty-six percent of respondents said Soares' reform stance was a plus. (This crosses party lines, with some 22 percent of Republicans polled saying they will vote for him because of his upport for drug law reform).

In the next few days, here's what you can do to assist Soares and the fight to repeal the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws:

1/ Support Soares by clicking here.

2/ Support the Working Families Party by clicking here.

3/ Vote for Soares if you live in Albany County and/or tell friends who live there to vote for him.

Vote-Pair in 2004

Steve Cobble, political consultant; progressive strategist father to two young women; former political director of the Rainbow Coalition; former McGovern county coordinator in New Mexico and elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention as a twenty-year-old in '72; national delegate coordinator for Jackson in '88, strategist for Nader in '00, strategist for Kucinich in '04 and occasional Nation contributor writes:

"Maybe you're young, and against the war. Or you're blue-collar, and think both major parties are just fronts for the big corporations. Or you think Bush is a liar, but Kerry's too cautious to win your heart.

"So you're still thinking about voting for Ralph Nader, or David Cobb. But you also live in a swing state, and you know it's close. You know it could go either way in Wisconsin, or New Mexico, or yes, Florida.

"And it does make you mad that George W. Bush thinks he can start an unnecessary war and lie to the American people about it. You are disgusted that Enron was Bush's #1 career backer, but when Ken Lay got in trouble, the media let Bush get away with pretending they barely knew each other. And you're really angry about Halliburton, outsourcing and repeated tax cuts for the already rich.

"So you'd like to help Bush lose, too. He just doesn't deserve another term. What do you do? Well, most of the Citizens Committee that endorsed Ralph Nader in 2000 has signed a public statement encouraging people who admire Nader and Cobb in swing states to cast their vote for Kerry. The group includes progressives Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Susan Sarandon, Bonnie Raitt, Barbara Ehrenreich and many more. So you could take their advice. (Click here to see the complete list.)

"Or if not casting your vote for Nader or Cobb is still too much, then why not "vote-pair"? Vote-pairing is legal and constitutional lawyers like Jamin Raskin designed the site using freedom of speech and freedom of association law. It's technically sweet and is staffed by smart and enthusiastic volunteer activists who believe both that third parties often serve a useful purpose and that George W. Bush needs to be defeated this year. (Vote-pairing also 'jiu-jitsus' the stupidity and racism inherent in the outdated electoral college system, in a way that reduces the so-called 'spoiler' problem.)

"Here's how it works: If you're a swing state voter who likes Ralph Nader or David Cobb, you can pair-up with a Kerry supporter from a safe red Bush state (like Utah or Oklahoma or Texas) and essentially swap votes. This way candidates like Nader and Cobb will receive the same number of votes nationally they would have received otherwise and so will John Kerry. But with vote-pairing, Kerry's vote will be in the swing state, the one that counts in the electoral college--a huge difference. Click here for more info and to sign up for vote-paring before it's too late.

"You can have your electoral cake, and eat it, too. On election night. With champagne. When we celebrate regime change at home, together."

The November Surprise?

With eight days to go before election day, it's the "November Surprise" that we need to worry about. Every day brings reports of voter intimidation and suppression in the key battleground states.

A front-page story in Saturday's New York Times reported that the Republican Party has registered thousands of people to serve as partisan "vote challengers" at Ohio polling places, in what they say is an effort to prevent "voter fraud." Meanwhile, the Columbus Dispatch reported that based on a mailing to newly registered voters, the GOP plans to challenge 35,000 voters in an effort to keep them from the polls.

This disturbing news from Ohio points to the potential for massive voter disenfranchisement in November--and additional confusion and chaos at the polls in this key swing state and others, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona--that have seen huge increases in voter registration.

"Based on the lessons of history," says Ralph Neas, President of People for the American Way (PFAW), "this isn't an effort to prevent voter fraud. It's an effort to prevent voting. It's an effort to keep people away from the polls by creating confusion, congestion and chaos. That's un-American."

What is so threatening about tens of thousands of new voters coming to the polls? Doesn't democracy work best when more people vote, not fewer? Obviously, voter fraud must not and should not be tolerated. But there is no evidence of massive voter fraud in this country. Instead, there is evidence of massive voter disenfranchisement.

Last August, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, who closely monitors voter-suppression efforts, reported a conversation with a member of Florida's GOP establishment, who admitted the open secret: "A Democrat can't win a statewide election in Florida without a high turnout....of African-Americans. It's no secret that the name of the game for Republicans is to restrain that turnout as much as possible."

With the election just a week from tomorrow, polls show Bush and Kerry still neck and neck. Will the country wake up on November 3rd with a national nervous electoral breakdown? In a smart piece in The Independent, Andrew Gumbel wonders whether Election 2004 "could just as easily produce a concatenation of knockdown, drag-out fights in several states at once, making the debacle in Florida four years ago look, in retrospect, like the constitutional equivalent of a vicarage tea party."

And it seems appropriate that John Dean, the Watergate-era counsel who knows a few things about electoral dirty tricks, has issued the starkest warning about what the country may face: "Only a miracle, it strikes me, " Dean wrote in a http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/102404V.shtml ">piece that zoomed around the internet on Sunday, "can prevent the election from descending into post-election chaos."

P.S. The best defense against voter suppression is to flood the polls. As Jim Hightower says, "There are only so many votes they can prevent or steal--a massive turnout will overwhelm their perfidy."

Who's His Daddy?

Bush famously told Bob Woodward that when it came to going to war with Iraq he didn't ask his biological father, who had gone to war with Iraq, for advice. He talked to a Higher Father instead.

In Bush's faith-based presidency, the formulation is simple: Bush believes in God, God believes in him, and therefore we should, like God, also believe in Bush. Doubters of the Preacher-in-Chief risk the fires of hell, according to Dick Cheney, in the form of another terrorist attack.

As if this weren't frightening enough, it appears Bush may be talking to the wrong Higher Father. "The Lord told me Iraq was going to be (a) a disaster, and (b) messy," Pat Robertson told Paula Zahn on CNN. But when the evangelical leader passed on the divine warning to Bush, the president's response was: "Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties."

The White House has denied Robertson's assertion, but Jay Garner, Bush's first civil administrator of Iraq, told the New York Times that the Administration had planned to withdraw troops from the country just 60 days after taking Baghdad, failing to anticipate the insurgency which has led to more than one thousand American casualties to date.

Bush isn't divinely inspired; he's delusional, drunk with self-confidence. Robertson, who is a rabid supporter mind you, described Bush as being "like a contented Christian with four aces. He was just sitting there, like, I'm on top of the world."

Let us pray that on November 2nd John Kerry, a devout denizen of Red Sox Nation, teaches George Bush what Boston recently taught Yankee fans--pride goeth before the fall.

You Have the Power

I wrote nearly twelve months ago in this space about the importance of building progressive strength in 2004 and beyond. A year later, progressives have hope in the decade ahead, thanks in part to Howard Dean.

Dean's new book, You Have the Power, is an eloquent attack on Bush's failed record. At its core, however, is Dean's belief that progressives must look beyond November 2nd to achieve a progressive majority.

For starters, tactics matter, argues Dean. "By...establishing a permanent election-to-election presence on the American political scene through think-tanks, foundations, and grassroots organizations," Dean writes, the radical right has achieved political power. Extremists can be beat at their own game, though.

"We need to...have a permanent campaign, which is what the Republicans have done for the last twenty years," Dean recently argued in a Mother Jones' interview, a belief echoed powerfully in his book. After Election Day, progressives can take one month off "and then everybody's got to get back to work."

While Dean has endorsed John Kerry--and is traveling around the country drumming up support for his former rival--he recognizes that victory in this election means the defeat of the right, not the triumph of a progressive movement. Dean understands that no matter what happens next month, it is vital to continue to coordinate, organize and build the infrastructure to drive progressive ideals into the political debate and electoral arena.

In addition to publishing this excellent primer, Dean's new political action group, "Democracy for America" (DFA), is on its way to becoming a central station for progressive action across the country, finding and supporting the next generation of progressive leaders from school boards to Capitol Hill and, most importantly, inspiring members of what the late Senator Paul Wellstone liked to call "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."

DFA's candidates--called "Dean's Dozens"--receive donations and volunteer assistance through DFA's efforts online and on the ground. And Dean's endorsement should not be underestimated; as one Georgia Democrat running for Congress put it, it "jump-started my campaign."

DFA has endorsed and raised money for a school board member in Huntsville, Alabama and mayor of Salt lake City, Utah. It is supporting relatively anonymous candidates like Democrat Richard Morrison who is running against corrupt House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in Sugarland, Texas and more well-known ones like Tom Daschle, who is in a tough re-election fight in South Dakota. And DFA--working with other progressive groups--is also helping candidates running for county commission, city council and state legislatures nationwide.

In less than eight months, DFA has supported nearly 1,000 progressive candidates for office, raised more than $1 million in its first fundraising quarter alone and donated $756,605 to its chosen electoral fights.

We're going to "help build the Democratic Party" by helping to "keep [progressives] moving up and up" in Democratic Party ranks, says Laura Gross, DFA's Communications Director.

To that end, DFA has aligned itself with progressive groups such as Progressive Majority and 21st Century Democrats. What's important about this new moment says Gloria Totten, Progressive Majority's director, is that "we progressives are no longer willing to continue to be right on the issues and lose elections." Winning matters.

Dean's success in 2003, and progressives' future victories, may well rest in part on a new politics of authenticity. Dean was a straight-talking presidential candidate, who took on Bush in an aggressive and bracing way and challenged a cowed Democratic Party to get a spine transplant.

As Kevin Phillips points out in his astute Washington Post review of Dean's book, the Vermont governor was and remains correct in his conclusion that "when you trade your values for the hope of winning, you end up losing and having no values--so you keep losing."

Dean continues to speak out for values and issues that have received too little attention in this campaign, including the importance of restoring a balance between corporate power and citizens' rights, closing the "wealth gap," and fighting media consolidation so more diverse and democratic voices can be heard on airwaves across America.

Holding Republicans' feet to the fire has always been one of Dean's strengths. When rumors started to circulate that Bush had a secret post-election plan to reinstate a military draft, Dean published a column on DFA's website demanding answers from the White House about how it will meet its current commitments without resorting to a draft. He also posted a petition which will be delivered to the White House before the election. (Click here to join the more than 90,000 others who have already added their names to the petition.)

"The man stands his ground in a fight," William Greider said about Dean in The Nation last December. "When someone jabs him, he jabs back."

Dean hasn't wallowed in defeat. With a renewed focus on building a progressive majority in America, Dean is providing new hope. By taking the fight to the radical right and DLC Democrats, Dean's message is coming through loud and clear: progressives won't go away anytime soon.

Scowcroft Blasts W.

Remember how Bush One's National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft used a Wall Street Journal op-ed in the run-up to the Iraq war to warn Bush Two about the perils of an invasion? At the time, many believed Scowcroft, a close collaborator of the 41st President, was acting as a proxy for his former boss.

More recently, in the first presidential debate, Scowcroft's words were thrown back at Dubya when John Kerry invoked Bush One's prescient warning (from A World Transformed, the 1998 book he wrote with Scowcroft) that "had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land."

Now, Scowcroft is back--a little more than two weeks before a highly contested election--with more tough criticism of the Bush Administration. In an interview in the October 14 Financial Times, Scowcroft bluntly criticized the President's handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict. "Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger," Scowcroft told the Financial Times. "I think the president is mesmerized." He added: "When there is a suicide attack [followed by a reprisal] Sharon calls the president and says, 'I'm on the front line of terrorism,' and the president says, 'Yes, you are...' He [Sharon] has been nothing but trouble."

Scowcroft also denounced Iraq as a "failing venture," and lambasted the "extremes of the neocons" for their unilateralist approach which has harmed relations between Europe and the US.

If you need any more evidence that George W. and his neoconners are reckless extremists who need to be booted from office on November 2, check out Scowcroft's remarks.

Faux-Outrage

Have you noticed that when Lynne Cheney thunders about being an "indignant mother" she can't repress a smile? And when husband Dick says he's an "angry father," he's smirking?

That's because they're actually far more pleased than outraged by John Kerry's mention of their daughter's sexual orientation in the last debate. Now they have an issue to distract the country from George Bush's awful debate performances. And the media, which drank deeply from Cheney's WMD concoction, has once again swallowed his deceptions--hook, line, and sinker.

It was Dick Cheney himself, who first brought up his daughter's lesbianism in the 2000 Vice-Presidential debate when he wanted to burnish his compassionate side, a quality never noticed much before and completely absent since. When John Edwards mentioned Cheney's daughter in this year's VP debate, Cheney thanked him for his "kind words."

But within moments after the third debate between Bush and Kerry, Lynne Cheney was ready with a canned line of faux-indignation to feed the post-debate news shows. It's now morphed into an applause line in both mom and pop's campaign speeches. This isn't parental outrage; it is political theater from two of the most cynical people in American politics, and they have successfully manipulated the mainstream media once again.

Debate III: Return of the Frat Boy

What did we learn about Bush from the last debate?

He doesn't believe terrorism can ever be reduced to a "nuisance," which means he believes the War of Terror will be a war without end.

Not only has he seemed to have forgotten Osama bin Laden, he has forgotten what he has said about the Al Qaeda leader, probably because he's not "that worried about him."

Outsourcing is okay with Bush when it comes to the flu vaccine. First he tried England (payback for Iraq?) then Canada, the same country he will not allow seniors to buy cheap prescription drugs from, saying it's too dangerous.

Bush says Kerry's empty promises are called "bait-and-switch." His are called individual retirement and health savings accounts.

The deficit was not caused by Bush's massive tax cuts and record spending. It's the fault of the Clinton recession, the stock market crash, and the attacks of 9/11. In the Bush administration, they pass the buck like a hot potato.

He sent his budget man up to Congress to show how he plans to reduce the deficit by half in five years. The budget man hasn't been heard from since.

He believes his tax cuts were "fair" because "most" of the money went to low- and middle-income Americans. Would he like some cheese with that Whopper?

He says the answer to unemployment and minimum wage jobs is No Child Left Behind. Apparently the poor and jobless should go back to grade school.

He believes health care costs have increased by 36 percent under his watch because the health industry is still in the "buggy and horse days." His solution: the Internets.

Bush really wanted to extend the assault-weapons ban but didn't push it because he was told it was never "going to move" in a House and Senate controlled by his party.

Actually, Bush did meet with the Congressional Black Caucus. It was the NAACP he snubbed. Clearly, he has a nuanced position on black leadership.

He doesn't know if being gay is a choice or not, which prompted Chris Matthews to wonder: when did Bush decide to be straight?

Finally, he prays a lot. And since he's become president, so do we.

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