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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.

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.

DEBATE: Litmus Tests

Bush's slip in the third debate was about Osama, but his big, calculated lie last night was, as in the second debate, about the Supreme Court. Bush said he wouldn't apply a "litmus test" to any judicial appointments, and then fell silent. But in the second debate he elaborated, saying he wanted "strict constructionists." 

In evangelical circles this is code for anti-Roe judges, because the litmus test for a strict constructionist is opposition to Roe. Bush's favorite justices, Scalia and Thomas, are strict constructionists. Ginsburg and Breyer are not. If this weren't enough, Bush went on to say he wanted the kind of judge who opposes Dred Scott, the 1857 decision that extended the property rights of slave-owners.

This confused many people, as Katha Pollitt explains in the current issue of Nation. Who supports Dred Scott? Was this another one of Bush's mental lapses? Or was it a painfully awkward Republican appeal to black voters? Actually no. According to Slate, and as Pollitt elaborated, Dred Scott is also code for Roe in anti-choice circles. When Christian conservatives want to denigrate Roe, they compare it to Dred Scott.

So Bush apparently felt the need to reassure conservative evangelicals that he intends to apply an anti-Roe litmus test with not one but two coded references, one for each of the only two votes it would take to outlaw legal abortion in the United States. Yet another example of why we can't trust Bush to tell us the truth.

For more on last night's debate, click here to read my contribution to a forum hosted by TomPaine.Com which also included American Prospect editor Michael Tomasky and Campaign for America's Future co-founder Roger Hickey.

A Woman of Firsts

When Waangari Maathai got news that she had received the Nobel Peace Prize, she removed her jewelry, knelt down in the dirt and planted seeds of a Kenyan tree known as the Nandi Flame on the grounds of the Outspan Hotel in Nyeri, in the foothills of Mount Kenya. "It cannot get any better than this," she said. "Maybe in heaven."

Maathai is a woman of firsts: the first woman in eastern and central Africa to earn a doctorate, the first female professor at the University of Nairobi and, now, the first African woman to win the Peace Prize.

Known as Kenya's "Green Militant," she founded the "Green Belt" movement--a grassroots women's group which since the late 1970s has planted more than thirty million trees in Kenya and a dozen other African countries, halting the deforestation that has stripped much of the continent bare. And as important, as a New York Times profile noted, the movement "has also nurtured as many women as it has acacias or cedars,"--providing jobs, economic opportunity and independence to nearly 10,000 women who plant and sell seedlings for a living.

"Many wars we witness around the world are over natural resources," Maathai said the other day. "Without a properly managed enviroment, all of our lives are threatened.... In sustainable development, we plant the seeds of peace."

Maathai's passionate dedication to building a sustainable environment for the local and global community has always been linked to her fierce commitment to empowering women within their communities and fighting the forces of greed and corruption that threaten natural resources and human rights.

In awarding the Peace Prize to Maathai, the Nobel Committee signaled its recognition that peace is possible only when communities can achieve economic and environmental sustainability. "We have added a new dimension to the concept of peace," said the head of the Nobel Committee. "We have emphasized the environment, democracy building, human rights and, especially, women's rights."

Maathai's courageous resistance to Kenya's former leader, Daniel Arap Moi--who ruled for two decades--was the centerpiece of a 1995 article she contributed to The Nation. Published as part of a Forum on challenges facing women on the eve of the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women, her piece is a bold statement of opposition to what she termed "greedy and egocentric leaders [who] assisted by international companies take advantage" of the power they have to ravage the environment and lay waste to their countries. (See below for the full text.)

In 1999, as a result of her uncompromising opposition to the Kenyan president's corruption, Maathai--along with other Green Belt members--was beaten and arrested by security forces for protesting the clearing of a forest near Nairobi for a luxury housing development. Maathai seized the country's attention by insisting on signing her police report in blood from her head wound. The houses were never built.

Moi, who once called Maathai a "mad woman" and "a threat to the order and security of the country" for her relentless work to preserve Kenya's forests, lost a presidential election in 2002. That same year, Maathai was elected to parliament; she is now assistant minister for the environment.

Many in Kenya hope that Maathai's newfound global fame will draw attention to a current controversy in her country. According to the Washington Post, top government officials, including Moi and another former president Jomo Kenyatta, are accused of taking public lands for their private use in order to clear trees for quick profits."The generation that destroys the environment is usually not the generation that suffers," Maathai said.

And for the suffering women of Africa, her prize sends an inspirational message. "The culture pulls us down so often," said Beatrice Elachi of the National Council of Kenya. "We are told to give way to men. But now, thanks to Wangari, every woman will know she can make it."

*****

...And the Other Nobel Peace Prize Winner

Many--including internet bookmaker Centrebet--the first to organize betting on the Nobel Peace Prize contest--had listed Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as favorites at 4-1 for their work in reducing the risks of nuclear proliferation. (Maathai was such an outsider that you couldn't bet on her by name.)

If the Nobel Committee had awarded ElBaradei the prize, it would have been another powerful acknowledgment that the Bush Administration's rationale for war lies in tatters. And it would have vindicated the work of ElBaredei and the IAEA, whose prescient and well-documented work was pilloried and dismissed by the US media and the Bush Administration in the run up to war. In the end, preventive war failed while sanctions, inspections and containment worked.

But vindication comes in other forms. As ElBaradei told reporters at the Japan National Press Club the very day of the Nobel announcement, he felt "vindicated" after the release of a report by the chief US weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, confirming that there were no WMDs and no active WMD programs in Iraq. "Although it took a war to prove that, we were proven correct," ElBaradei said. "The lesson I take is that the international community should listen to us more carefully in the future before they take the decision to use coercive action."

A Nobel for an extraordinarily courageous and prescient African women; vindication for inspections over war....not a bad week. Here's hoping that November brings equally hopeful news.

*****The following was written by Wangari Maathai and published in the September 11, 1995, issue of The Nation.

Although democracy and economic development are advancing in South Africa and other African nations, the tragic truth is that much of the continent is being impoverished by greedy and egocentric leaders assisted by international companies who take advantage of the fact that some presidents run their country as if it were their personal property. Oppressed, cowed and living in debilitating poverty, the majority of Africans can only watch as their leaders mortgage them and their lands with projects they neither want nor need.

In Kenya, my own country, President Daniel Arap Moi has contracted with a Canadian group to build a multimillion-dollar international airport in his hometown, Eldoret, when the two existing airports in Mairobi and Mombasa are grossly under utilized and mismanaged. The French have just completed another multimillion-dollar white elephant in the same area, the Turkwell hydroelectric complex, which ordinary Kenyans must pay for.

The UN women's conference should pressure the World Bank, IMF and donor countries to do business by behaving as if people matter. That must be a major mission of delegations and women participating in the conference and the N.G.O. forum when they return to their homelands.

Male misleadership and incitement of tribal conflicts have brought wars, mass rapes, starvation and other horrors to some African countries. Women must rise to the occasion and say No to the guns. And at the UN conference in Beijing and around the world, we must say Yes to women's political, economic and social empowerment.

Wangari Maathai is the founder of the Green Belt movement, a grass-roots organization of women who have planted more than 10 million trees in Kenya and a dozen other African countries. Maathai, a professor of chemistry, was Kenya's first woman Ph.D. and the first woman member of its Parliament. She is also a co-chair of the women's Environment & Development Organization.

The Revolt Against Big Pharma

In recent months, we've seen a full-scale revolt over the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs in this country.

Two weeks ago, a high-level dissident executive from Pfizer, the world's largest drugmaker, denounced the pharmaceutical industry for resisting legislation that would allow imports of low-cost prescription drugs from Canada and other countries. Just days later, the City Council of Montgomery County, Maryland, ironically the home of the FDA, added its name to a long list of cities and states that have defied federal law and passed legislation permitting citizens to buy medications in Canada. Moreover, eighteen state attorneys general have written the Bush Administration urging passage of legislation allowing prescription drugs to be imported.

"Stopping good importation bills has a high, high cost not just in money, but in American lives," Dr. Peter Rost, the dissident Pfizer exec, declared at a rally on Capitol Hill in support of legislation that allow imports. "Every day we delay, Americans die because they cannot afford life-saving drugs." (Thomas Ryan, the CEO of the drugstore conglomerate CVS, made a similar concession in May.)

In the veep debate, it was good to hear John Edwards blast the Administration for blocking the importation of drugs from Canada and tell Amercians--"We're not going to allow it." Sen. John Kerry has talked about prescription drug prices as well, but too often, in this campaign, the importation issue has been shoved under the rug. This, then, is a stealth issue whose time has come. An anti-corporate underground railroad has taken center stage in the legal vacuum, operating in the best tradition of direct action protest. Consumer advocates of all ages are organizing bus trips to Canada where US citizens can purchase cheaper drugs. (Savings run as high as 50 percent; prozac--the popular anti-depressant--costs $3.34 a pill in the US and $1.54 a pill in Canada, to cite one example.)

In St. Paul, Minnesota, the protesters are senior citizens who gather in parking lots, where they board buses so they can journey over eight hours to reach Winnipeg. (These trips are funded in part by Sen. Mark Dayton--a millionaire who donates his entire Congressional salary to fund the bus trips.) The trip takes about two days.

This rebellion is being joined by a bipartisan coalition of governors, citizens and state officials who are creating websites linking consumers to Canadian pharmacies. New Hampshire, for instance, includes a link to Canadadrugs.com on its official state website. Even the Republican Governor Craig Benson recommends Canadadrugs.com, which is regulated by the Canadian government. So far, the FDA--faced with a drumbeat of pressure from supporters of importation--has not acted to shut the sites down.

This movement is spreading like wildfire across the country. Just a few days ago, Illinois and Wisconsin launched "I-Saverk"--the nation's first state-sponsored program to help residents buy cheaper prescription drugs from both Europe and Canada. And some 24 states are considering legislation that would permit importation of drugs from Canada or elsewhere, while Connecticut, West Virginia and Vermont are among several states that have already enacted pro-importation laws.

We may be looking at a nationwide insurrection. Currently, one to two million Americans are defying federal law by using the Internet to purchase drugs from Canadian pharmacies. And, according to one Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University School of Public Health poll, approximately 80 percent of Americans support importing RX drugs from Canada. Who can blame them? In 2002, Americans paid 67 percent more than Canadians for patented drug products, and medicines will cost US consumers an estimated $210 billion in 2004. The groundswell is so strong that Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thomson conceded in May that Congress will inevitably have to yield.

Much of the blame for the lack of action at the federal level can be pinned on Pharma, the pharmaceutical lobby, which values protecting profits above lives, and which is playing hard-ball in hopes of beating back an importation law. After Rost spoke out, Pfizer launched an investigation into his political activities, which seven members of Congress--including Dan Burton, the Indiana Republican--criticized as "clearly intended to intimidate Dr. Rost."

The Bush Administration and Republican leaders in Congress are also at fault. Recipients of more than $40 million in drug and insurance industry contributions since 2000, they have refused support for any re-importation proposal. Bush's most recent Medicare package failed to address drug prices and strictly prohibited Medicare from negotiating the lowest, best possible drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries.

Another Republican star recently showed himself to be in the pocket of the drugcompanies: Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed several bills which would have allowed importation of drugs from Canada as well as the creation of a website highlighting Canadian pharmacies.

The Republicans have their talking points: Importing medicines from Canada, they argue, will squeeze industry profits and undermine private-sector research and development. But as Marcia Angell, the author of the recently-published "The Truth About the Drug Companies" and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, has pointed out, the majority of innovation nowadays is coming from the National Institutes of Health, small biotechnology companies, and taxpayer-funded research in the universities, not from the laboratories of pharmaceutical giants.

Imports, the GOP-Pharma alliance falsely claims, are also hazardous to people's health. Pharma warned Americans "that many such drugs will be unapproved, adulterated, contaminated or counterfeit." The mother of all hypocrites is Senate Majority Leader and medical doctor Bill Frist, who has refused to allow the Senate to vote on re-importation legislation because, as one of his flaks piously put it, 'he won't put the American people in jeopardy."

It's a bogus argument: Both the FDA and the Canadian government oversee much of Canada's prescription drug supply, and "if anything, drugs obtained from Canada are likely to be safer, since they must meet the standards of both countries," said Angell. Montgomery, Ala., has a program allowing drug re-importations from Canada, and residents have "had absolutely no complaints or problems associated with the program," said John Carnell, the city's risk manager.

While the US Senate under GOP leadership has promised to find the time to vote on a flag-burning Amendment to the Constitution, thousands of senior citizens are forced to choose between buying food and medicine. They suffer, but not in silence.

It doesn't have to be this way. The government could easily take steps to regulate prescription drug prices, including empowering Medicare to leverage its bargaining power to negotiate drug prices AND permiting the re-importation of prescription drugs from Canada. If Republicans in Congress and the White House don't pass such legislation, then senior citizens should rise up and throw Pharma-funded politicians out of office.

The trip to the pharmacy should take ten minutes, not two days.

Saving the Middle Class

In Orlando, Florida just hours after the first presidential debate, a reinvigorated John Kerry told a crowd at Freedom High School that he had a message for every "middle-class American family that's struggling to build a better life for themselves and for their family: 'I've got your back.'"

It's not only a good soundbite, but a meaningful promise to the millions who've been squeezed tight by an Administration which treats the rich and the powerful as its base and the poor and middle class as its enemy. America wants to hear more. In the next two debates, Kerry has an opportunity to explain to the struggling and shrinking middle class--as well as the working poor--what he'll do differently to give hope back to the millions of Americans desperately struggling to survive.

Today, the Drum Major Institute (DMI)--the New York based non-partisan organization--released a list of ten smart, tough and pointed questions designed to help Americans better understand the candidates' positions on issues like job creation, expanded access to affordable health care, a restructured tax code and how Americans can cope with skyrocketing higher education costs.

"The current crisis of the middle class isn't some grand coincidence," says DMI's savvy Executive Director Andrea Batista Schlesinger. "It was the result of public policy--and of choices made by those elected to represent us. We're asking the presidential candidates to step up and identify the greatest challenges facing the middle class and talk specifically about what they will do to meet them."

As Schlesinger puts it: "That's the only way we can hold their feet to the fire the next time they come around wanting to appeal to the American Dream."

DMI's Top Ten questions will be shared with both campaigns and the moderators of the next two debates. They'll also be posted on the group's website, which collects a raft of valuable material. Click here to read and circulate the questions.

Fake Republicanism

If there was any lingering doubt that President Bush is a recklessextremist rather than a true conservative, an extraordinary letter by theson of President Dwight D. Eisenhower should dispel it. John Eisenhower,who served as American Ambassador to Belgium between 1969 and 1971,joins President Ronald Reagan's son in condemning the BushAdministration for its abdication of conservative principles. Click here to read Eisenhower's letter published this past Tuesday in New Hampshire's Manchester Union Leader.

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