Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
Remember the incessant media punditry during the Democratic National Convention--particularly pervasive on Fox and CNN--which echoed GOP claims that what viewers were seeing wasn't the true face of the party? (As Paul Krugman put it in response: "Apparently all those admirals, generals and decorated veterans were ringers.")
Well, it's going to be a lot easier to make the case that the GOP has had an extreme makeover when the party sends out its array of sort-of-moderate, pro-choice speakers while keeping neanderthals like Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback under wraps. But maybe it's only fair that GOP moderates dominate the prime slots at the convention. After all, if Bush is elected in November they will not be seen or heard from again for four more years.
Now that the damage has been done to Kerry's campaign by the Swift Boat Veterans, Bush is trying to play the good guy. After the demonstrably false charges against Kerry has made news for weeks--abetted by cable news shows which have effectively provided free campaign advertising for his attackers--Bush now wants to drop the debate over their respective wartime service. See the story buried on page A23 in the August 28 Los Angeles Times. (Unfortunately the paper's website makes it impossible to link to its articles.)
Bush's flip-flop came shortly after a video resurfaced on the Internet showing former Speaker of the Texas House Ben Barnes describing--and apologizing for--the sleazy way in which he personally pulled strings to get Bush into the National Guard.
On the video, Barnes states: "My name's Ben Barnes. I was Speaker of the Texas House when George W. Bush went into the National Guard. He got preferential treatment. I know. I gave it to him. His family sent a representative to my office and asked me to move their son up on the waiting list. And I did. It was wrong. He was jumped over hundreds of others in line. Some of them went off to Vietnam and died. I made a mistake supporting that war. And as other, less-privileged kids were going off to be killed, I helped the son of a congressman avoid combat. I wish I had not. But I think it's time people know. And it's time for George W. Bush to stop attacking the people who did serve."
I don't think the debate about Bush's service should be dropped. Why? Because this posturing flip-flopper of a President continues to needlessly send American troops to their deaths while campaigning as a resolute war president. Just watch the convention script this week.
We also still need answers to the unresolved questions surrounding Bush's stint in the Texas National Guard from 1968 to 1973. Specifically, what explains the gap in Bush's Guard service between April 1972 and September 1973, a 17-month period when commanders in Texas and Alabama say they never saw him report for duty and records show no pay was issued though Bush was allegedly on duty in Alabama.
The White House has released hundreds of documents--after Bush said in a TV interview in February that he would make all his military records available. But the files released so far haven't answered those questions, and some documents have yet to be made public. And since February, the White House spin-machine has banned all Guard and military commanders outside the Pentagon from commenting on Bush's military record. At least a half-dozen news organizations have filed requests for Bush's files under the Freedom of Information Act, but judging from this White House's systematic clampdown on information--including blocking the scheduled release of presidential papers from Bush I's period--it seems unlikely that the relevant documents will see the light of day--at least until after the election.
Last week, the price of oil futures reached $49.40 a barrel--the highest in 21 years of trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil prices are already up 50 percent this year, and some experts--notably energy consultant Daniel Yergin--believe there's a good chance that oil could reach a steady level of $50 a barrel in the next two months.
The surge in prices has several causes, including political instability in Venezuela and Russia, turmoil in Nigeria, global market speculation and increased Chinese demand. But, in the short term, it is the "fear factor"--the insecurity and instability created by the Bush Administration's Middle East policies, notably the invasion of Iraq--that has raised costs between $8 and $15 a barrel.
It is increasingly clear that the high cost of the war can be seen not just in the number of deaths, and the ballooning federal budget deficits but also in the record oil and gas prices. In a speech in Smithville, Missouri earlier this month, John Kerry squarely blamed the Bush team's wars and failed policies for oil prices hitting new highs.
If prices stay at these levels for three to six months, some economists believe the risk of recession grows dramatically. (And at $50 a barrel, oil would be about 70 percent above the average price of $29 a barrel that has prevailed since 2000.) In that case, the oil shock of 2004 may well affect the outcome of both the US election and the global economic recovery.
While it's hard to find a silver lining--what with a slowing economy, lost jobs and hard hit consumers--the situation may act as a brake on a possible US (or Israeli) preemptive strike against Iran. Such an "October Surprise" would be designed to display Bush's toughness in dealing with prospective nuclear threats, while diverting attention from the debacle in Iraq. But most nonproliferation and energy experts argue that a strike would be counterproductive, further destabilizing the region. And though chaos may be what Ariel Sharon wants, as well as the diehard neocons (what with Iraq such a disaster), cooler heads in the Administration worry about a strike increasing oil prices to $60 a barrel--perhaps the one thing that could ensure Bush's defeat in November.
High oil prices also act as a wake-up call--reminding us that oil is a finite resource and that we are fast approaching the point of peak production, after which global output will fall. It is a moment to launch what Kerry and leading progressive and environmental groups are calling for an "http://www.apolloalliance.org/ Apollo Project" to invest in energy independence. http://www.thenation.com doc.mhtml?i=20040830&s=hertsgaard">This call is good politics and good policy. In a recent poll, 86 percent of Americans placed a priority on reducing dependence on Middle East oil, with 63 percent believing that investment in a combination of renewable power, efficient technology and conservation is the answer to improving security.
But change will not come while there's another "fear factor" on our increasingly polluted horizon--a president who sits idly by while oil shock threatens our future. "If oil prices were Olympic events, George Bush would win medals," Senator Chuck Schumer said last week. He's fiddling while Rome is burning." Bush has compiled the worst environmental record in modern times, while allowing our laws, regulations and policies to be crafted and corrupted by oil and gas lobbyists, polluters and indicted CEOs.
Let's rid ourselves of the Bush "fear factor"--and then fight hard to craft a sane energy policy. It's one of the most urgent challenges facing this country and the world.
As is appropriate and necessary, there's currently much attention being focused on the patently false GOP-supported swift boat ad. But, there's more to the nasty air wars raging across a handful of battleground states this political season. Spending on political commercials has gone through the roof, distortion reigns supreme and Bush has made negativity the norm.
Last month, the Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin reported that the campaigns are ignoring 60 percent of Americans who don't live in the swing states. Out of 210 media markets nationwide, only 93 of them are airing any political commercials. But in Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa and Florida the airwaves are thick with ads, and voters are under heavy bombardment in 14 or 15 additional states.
According to Ken Goldstein, director of the Advertising Project, the campaigns are fixed laser-like on "maybe two, two and a half percent of the voters" who "are actually persuadable in this race." But in the uncontested blue or red states (California, Texas, New York) where the outcome isn't in doubt, a kind of political famine has deprived voters of a firsthand look at this year's (nasty) give-and-take.
Bush is waging perhaps the most negative--and expensive--television assault on a challenger in modern times. Through mid-July, Bush had already spent $84 million on television advertising--most of it negative. His campaign, according to the Washington Post, is defined by "unprecedented negativity." Seventy-five percent of his ads, or almost 50,000 commercials through May 31st were devoted to attacking John Kerry. (Kerry, by contrast, went negative in only 27 percent of his ads during the same period.) In 30-second bombshells saturating the airwaves in swing states, Bush routinely misleads voters by charging that Kerry supported repealing wiretaps on terrorists; proposed a $900 billion tax hike on the middle-class; advocated a fifty-cent gas tax increase; opposed weapons systems that would have helped America fight terrorists, and failed to attend crucial Senate Intelligence Committee hearings.
The drumbeat of distortions is so nasty that even the watchdogs get tired of cleaning up so many White House smears. In April, FactCheck.org, which is sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, said wearily of Bush's ad attacking Kerry's voting record on military hardware: "We've de-bunked these half-truths before but the Bush campaign persists."
Bush's surrogates--or as Maureen Dowd calls them, "Third-Party political assassins"--have also been busy boys. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, well-funded by big GOP donors, is running an ad charging that one of Kerry's Bronze Stars for bravery and two of his three purple hearts were the result of Kerry fabricating events. Sen. John McCain urged Bush to denounce the smear. But Bush and his cronies have refused to condemn the patently false ad. (On Friday, the Swift Boat attackers announced that they were unrolling another anti-Kerry TV ad--this one sliming his antiwar activity.)
Meanwhile, Kerry's campaign is finally responding. Last week, it filed a complaint against the group with the federal elections commission. But by the time the complaint was filed, more than half the country has already heard about or seen the Swift Boat ad, according to the Annenberg Center (Click here to read David Corn'sNation weblog for more on this deceitful ad.)
What's clear is that this incumbent, wartime president and his strategists will use dirty tricks and character assassination to win. "This is the bitterest, most unsavory campaign in the nation's history," McCain said this week. "And it's only going to get worse."
The latest poll numbers have only fueled Bush's desperation. In key battleground states, most polls suggest the President is hurting. (USA Today's latest numbers show Kerry with a 10 percentage point advantage in the key swing state of Ohio. ) The White House has decided that the way to stop the bleeding is to attack Kerry as a flip-flopper and a liberal. (And to use surrogates to do some of their dirty work.) That means jettisoning the campaign's pledge to use August to roll out a second-term agenda. (Remember Karl Rove telling the New York Times, "We need, as we go into the convention, to put more of an emphasis on our agenda. This gives us a chance to tell people what he wants to do over the next four years.") Instead, Rove & Co have gone negative, big-time--revealing Bush as the real flip-flopper in this campaign.
The current campaign system is broken in many ways. When it comes to the air war, these negative ads do little but bestow big benefits on large media companies, advertising agencies and political consultants. According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group which tracks political advertising, candidates in 2002 at the federal, state and local levels spent a combined one billion dollars on political commercials (a four-fold increase from 1982). And the result? The public discourse was debased (remember Saxby Chambliss, who ran the ads that featured consecutive photos of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Democrat Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam?), and media operatives and companies made out like bandits.
To try to address this spiraling madness, Senators McCain, Feingold and Durbin are introducing the " Our Democracy, Our Airwaves Act." The bill is a modest reform. It recognizes that the airwaves are a public trust; it will cut the cost of political communication, will open up new room for fresh ideas, and even perhaps elevate the level of discourse. Let's take a sensible step to fix a system that, as our president has shown in dramatic and mean-spirited ways, is completely dysfunctional.
When the curtain goes up on the Republicans' Big Show this Monday, there will be gospel and country music performers, elaborate videos and celebrities doing what they can to help market (and soften) Bush's agenda.
There will be also a special program called "Preachers and Patriots," replete with celebrity benedictions, choreographed by the convention's director of entertainment--Frank Bredeen, former head of the Gospel Music Association. The goal, Bredeen says, is to to use entertainment to market the party's political ideas: "Just like Cadillac uses Led Zeppelin to market its ideas," he added.
But strip away the compassion-themed entertainment and fake moderation of this "Reinvention" Convention and you'd end up with a schedule something like the one that arrived in my in-box the other day. Thanks to the merry and sharp satirists who sent it along.
REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CONVENTION SCHEDULESeptember 30, 2004, New York, New York
6:00 PM - Opening Prayer led by the Reverend Jerry Falwell
6:30 PM - Pledge of Allegiance
6:46 PM - Seminar #1: Katherine Harris on "Are Elections Really Necessary?"
7:30 PM - Announcement: Lincoln Memorial Renamed for Ronald Reagan
7:40 PM - EPA Address #1: "Mercury: It's What's for Dinner"
8:00 PM - Vote on which country to invade next
8:15 PM - John Ashcroft Lecture: "The Homos Are After Your Children"
8:30 PM - Round-table discussion on reproductive rights (Men Only)
8:50 PM - Seminar #2: "Corporations: The Government of the Future"
9:00 PM - Condi Rice sings "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man"
9:30 PM - Break for secret meetings
10:40 PM - John Ashcroft Demonstration: New Mandatory Kevlar Chastity Belt
10:45 PM - GOP's Tribute to Tokenism, featuring Colin Powell and Condi Rice
10:46 PM - Ann Coulter's Tribute to "Joe McCarthy, American Patriot"
10:50 PM - Seminar #3: "Education: A Drain on Our Nation's Economy"
11:10 PM - Hilary Clinton Piñata Party
11:20 PM - John Ashcroft Lecture: "Evolutionists: A Dangerous New Cult"
11:35 PM - Blame Clinton
11:40 PM - Newt Gingrich speaks on "The Sanctity of Marriage"
11:41 PM - Announcement: Ronald Reagan to be added to Mt. Rushmore
11:50 PM - Closing Prayer led by Jesus Himself
12:00 Midnight - Nomination of George W. Bush as Holy Supreme Planetary Overlord
If you're a recovering Deaniac who believes that Howard Dean's presidential run inspired legions of young people to get involved in politics, leveraged the internet's power to break the grip of big money on politics, and gave the Democratic Party a much-needed spine transplant, you probably already know about the "Dean Dozens" and the newly-formed political action committee, Democracy for America. But, if you don't, here's the early report.
Since May, Dean's DFA, has endorsed more than 60 candidates running in local, state and national races--from school board member in Huntsville, Alabama, to mayor of Salt Lake County, Utah.
For years, progressives have talked about taking a page from the Right's playbook. That means many things--from building think-tanks and media outlets to pioneering new web-based communications. But if our whole is going to equal the sum of our parts, progressives need to recruit, train and support hundreds of candidates at all levels.
In his speeches off the convention floor in Boston, Dean seemed keenly aware of the Right's success in defining our politics over the past generation by building independent institutions and operational capacities. At several points, he even invoked Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition (CC) as an example of how one group had succeeded in changing the GOP by taking over the party's key operations and structures.
At "The Take Back America" conference in Boston during DNC week, a feisty Dean urged supporters to run for local office--even if just the local library board. The centerpiece of his message to progressives: Let's put aside our small differences and take back our party. Or, as Dean said---picking up on what the late Senator Paul Wellstone told us: It's time to strengthen the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."
Toward that goal, Dean and "Democracy for America"--working with savvy progressive groups such as Progressive Majority (PM), and 21st Century Democrats--are committed to giving back power to citizens, and finding and supporting the next generation of grassroots leaders.
DFA supports candidates who are "socially progressive" but also "fiscally responsible." Some of its more than 60 candidates across the country include Suzanne Williams, running for a seat in the Colorado State Senate, Eddgra Fallin, running for the Huntsville, Alabama, school board, and Mary Jo Kilroy running for reelection as Franklin County, Ohio Commissioner. "They probably won't all win," says a key supporter of Democracy for America, "But the point is that they are almost all new to the political process and they will win eventually."
In fact, several Dean Dozen candidates have already scored victories:
* In Georgia, Judge Gail Tusan fought back a conservative onslaught and won re-election in July.
* Following her support of equal rights for gay and lesbian couples, State Representative Alisha Thomas Morgan was challenged in a primary, and won with 87 percent of the vote.
* In Missouri, http://www.maria2004.com/index.html "> Maria Chappelle-Nadal won her closely fought primary to become the Democratic nominee for the 72nd State House District.
The latest Dean Dozen list includes three candidates for state representative in Hawaii--"running to unseat ultra-conservative Republican incumbents;" a candidate for the Colorado state senate and one running for the state house in Connecticut.
If you're an interested candidate, go to the DFA website for information. A " candidate questionnaire" can be filled out on the site. (Among the questions: "What role will grassroots organizing play in your campaign?") Some candidates receive DFA's endorsement because they are courageous enough to challenge conservative incumbents; others get the nod because of their deep community support, internet savvy, labor ties or links to grassroots organizations.
As Gloria Totten, veteran political organizer and Progressive Majority's director, put it, "The time is right for all the new organizing that is happening. George W. Bush and his wrong-headed policies have galvanized us." But, more importantly, she says, "There is an emerging leadership among progressives that is not willing to continue to be right on the issues and lose elections."
One of the best ways to give muscle to the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, empower citizens, and build a politics of passion and principle--in November and beyond--is by recruiting progressives to take back power--from school boards to Capitol Hill. Howard Dean's "Democracy for America" is one of the key groups doing just that. Click here to learn more about DFA's efforts.
With the stakes so high, this election may well bring a massive surge in voter registration. Sadly, the potential for widespread voter disenfranchisement due to incompetence, fraud and outright intimidation is as high as it was in 2000.
Lessons were learned in the debacle of "Selection 2000," but government has done little to reform the process. In addition to the problems associated with butterfly ballots and "hanging chads," as many as three million Americans were disenfranchised by so-called voter registration "glitches." Applicants never got onto voting rolls; Voters were sent to the wrong polling places; some were given faulty information about ID requirements.
And, although these problems still haven't been corrected three months before the presidential election, there's hope because of the America's Families United Voter Protection Project (AFUVPP), one of several good organizations fighting effectively to avert another 2000 fiasco.
AFUVPP says that monumental roadblocks to voter registration and a clean election remain, including the failures of government agencies to process voter registration forms properly; purges of voters from the rolls; voters appearing at the wrong polling place by mistake; improper and confusing ID requirements; intimidation of voters, and problems with ballots and voting systems. Concrete examples abound: in St. Louis, Missouri, election officials told voter registration workers that of 30,000 applications submitted, two-thirds had been rejected. No reasons were given; the Voter Protection Project is investigating the matter. (Missouri's rolls were wildly inaccurate in 2000, sowing chaos on Election Day.) In another state, watchdog organizations can't verify that "applicants have been placed on the roles" because --astonishingly--the state has a statute prohibiting the copying of registration forms that can be matched against the lists of voter applicants!
There's also the problem of voter intimidation. In Louisiana in 2002, fliers were posted in one African-American community urging people to vote on Tuesday, December 10th even though Election Day was Sunday, December 8th. In Texas, a group of African-American students were told that they weren't eligible to vote in the county where they attended college. Forty years after Freedom Summer, voter registration drives continue to face hostility from local law enforcement and private attempts. AFUVPP points out one voter registration office which "was recently visited by a local sheriff, who inquired into irrelevant matters such as the project's funders and employees." These are only a few of dozens of roadblocks AFUVPP is currently addressing.
These problems--as prevalent and sinister as Florida's infamous butterfly ballots--threaten a fair outcome in November's presidential election and serve to mock and menace the promise of a free and fair election. Under our current jerry-built system, local election boards often get overwhelmed and election workers are underpaid and poorly trained; in many cases applicants aren't placed on the rolls due to sheer human incompetence. The AFU's Voter Protection Project is absolutely essential to ensure that every eligible voter has access to the polls, and that every vote cast in 2004 gets counted.
The folks at the Voter Protection Project understand that they can't wait until Election Day to take action. Therefore, to fix the problems in our system, the Project has already launched a sophisticated campaign in as many as 100 counties (and approximately 20 states). The AFUVPP is monitoring registration efforts to ensure applicants get on the rolls. When problems are reported, the AFUVPP works with and watches local officials to correct the mistake, and it "re-register[s] applicants where necessary." The Project will act to clarify the ID rules and processes, to address their implementation and to educatevoters. And AFUVPP is working with "local monitoring and advocacy coalitions" and lawyers to protect voting rights for all Americans.
The AFUVPP, in conjunction with AFU's registration workers and non-partisan voting rights coordinators, is scrutinizing those states that "purge"ex-felons from the rolls to ensure that people's rights aren't violated. It is monitoring electronic touch-screen voting machines (which 30 percent of voters will use on Election Day) to prevent any tampering and ensure a credible result. And finally, armed with lawyers, poll monitors and other volunteers, the AFUVPP will provide training, guidance and legal support to international election observers in six states to guard the process on Election Day.
In a recent interview, Penda D. Hair, the director of the AFUVPP, underscored the need to "start way before the election with voter registration" to avert another 2000 election debacle. "What happened in communities of color went well beyond chads and butterfly ballots," she said, adding that there was "suppression and lost votes," which had a "ripple effect" that undermined people's confidence in the result. Working with state and local leaders and organizations like ACORN and US Action, the AFUVPP is pleased "to have so many allies" in this broad-based civil rights struggle, but it also understands the hard slog ahead.
The NAACP's Julian Bond and People for the American Way's Ralph Neas recently warned: "The bloody days of violence and retribution following the Civil War and Reconstruction are gone. The poll taxes, literacy tests and physical violence of the Jim Crow era have disappeared. Today, more subtle, cynical and creative tactics have taken their place."
If you want to assist the AFUVPP in the fight against voter disenfranchisement, click here and see how you can make a difference. In 2004, the true lessons of the 2000 debacle--beyond butterflies and "chads" must not be forgotten. At stake, isn't simply our choice for America's next president, but also our faith in our nation's democracy.
A friend in Oregon reports: "I made my biweekly visit to Powell's bookstore in Portland this morning and found more than a dozen new anti-Bush books. The woman at the check-out counter told me that an online newsletter called Hey Bookseller had just sent them information on the plethora of anti-Bush books out there. I couldn't believe what she told me, but she kindly recaptured the newsletter from the trash and wrote down the exact quote: 'By rough count there are some 7,345 anti-Bush books already out or soon to be released.'"
He added: "If all of these books were held by the branch of the Multnomah County Public Library down the street from my offices, which serves all of Northwest Portland, they would constitute one-fifth of their entire collection."
And it's not just books. At a small toy store in Sag Harbor, the owner tells me he just can't keep enough Bush paraphernalia in stock. One of the hottest items: a seven-foot tall, three-dimensional bop-bag with a sand filled base. "Duke it out with the Battling Bush! The stress reliever for any situation." The store is also running rapidly through its stocks of Bush buttons. (Young kids are big buyers, he reports.)
His Top Five Sellers:
*Compassionate Conservatism is an Oxymoron, George Bush is Just a Moron.
*Can You Impeach Someone Who is Never Elected in the First Place?
*Another Bush--another Recession and Another War to Cover it Up.
*The Bush Doctrine: Speak Incoherently and Hit Someone with A Big Stick.
*Gay Marriage Ceremony: $5000. War In Iraq: $87 Billion. Bush Not Getting Re-elected: Priceless.
The Nation has its own Dubya buttons, created by award-winning designer Milton Glaser. The buttons, recently praised in the Washington Post, as "models of simple, but powerful design," have been very popular at marches, protests, and at the recent Democratic Party Convention in Boston. Click here if you want to stock up in time for the GOP convention in New York at the end of this month.
Here's a joke which was circulating among Wall Street traders last Friday: "Fewer jobs were created in the US in the entire month of July than the number of people who will be inside Madison Square Garden for the GOP convention at the end of August."
If the latest jobs report, issued monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is any indication--with only 32,000 new jobs added in July, far below the expectations of most analysts--George W. is squarely on track to share the dubious distinction with Herbert Hoover of being the only president in American history to preside over an economy in which jobs have declined.
Bush needs a monthly average of 380,000 new jobs in July, August and September to claim, before the election, that more jobs have been created than lost during his first term. Right now, it doesn't look like he's going to get anywhere near those numbers. Not only was July the worst month for job growth since last December, according to the BLS, but June's jobs report had to be revised down from its original estimate.
Thus, over the last two months, job growth averaged 55,000 per month, way off the growth pace earlier this year, when monthly employment growth averaged 225,000. Moreover, the weak job market continues to place downward pressure on wage growth, which continues to lag behind inflation.
Meanwhile, Bush may brag that many of the jobs created over the past year have been "in high-growth, high-paying industries," but according to USA Today, "jobs in lower-wage industries and regions are growing at a faster pace than higher-wage jobs." As a result, the job growth that has occurred "is less potent for the economy because the majority of new work isn't accompanied by fat paychecks."
This assessment is shared by the mainstream of the economics community. As Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com, was quoted today in the New York Times, "Since employment peaked, we've lost many more higher-paying jobs than lower-paying ones. In recovery, we've created more lower-paying jobs than higher-paying ones."
And with the federal budget on track to grow to a record-breaking $445 billion in fiscal year 2004 (last year the Administration projected the 2004 figure to be $307 billion), and the rolls of people without health insurance increasing by 3.7 million, Bush's economic record should be an easy target--and a winning electoral issue for John Kerry.
Originally formed in 1950, the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) was designed as a "citizen's lobby" to alert the nation to what it saw as the grave menace of Soviet communism. The CPD advocated a "rollback" strategy--a huge military buildup for the purpose of rolling back Communist influence and attaining and maintaining US military supremacy in the world. Bush's preemptive war doctrine has its roots in this "rollback" agenda.
In 1976, the second incarnation of CPD came about when hawks (and hacks) from both parties argued that detente had lulled us into complacency. The group emerged from an organization called Team B, whose aim, according to muckraking columnist Robert Scheer,was to re-evaluate "the [CIA's] own assessment of the Soviet menace, which Team B found too moderate." To the hard-liners, Team B--which was authorized by President Ford and organized by CIA chief George Bush--was a wish fulfilled.
In the eyes of Team B, the CIA was a wobbly organization. (Sound familiar?) Agency experts, it argued, had severely misjudged the Soviets' nuclear capabilities. In 1982, the CPD darkly warned that the US had "become No. 2" to the Soviets in nuclear arms, and "if the United States remains No. 2--US survival would be in jeopardy."
The CPD's ranks were filled with neo-conservative hawks who later occupied high ranking positions in the Reagan Administration. Jeane Kirkpatrick, who served as Reagan's UN representative, was a prominent member of the committee. One typically outspoken member, William Van Cleave, insisted that nuclear war was winnable.
The CPD consistently hyped the Soviet threat and argued that what counted, above all, was Soviet intent, not capabilities. (Sound familiar?) Its key members were quick to engage in redbaiting--they even criticized Reagan for recognizing the authenticity of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr. charged in Foreign Affairs magazine, the CPD had made "extravagant and now abundantly disproven claims that the Soviet Union was overtaking the United States in the arms race." In a recent New York Times editorial, the historian John Patrick Diggins pointed out, "Mr. Reagan was also informed [by Team B] that the Soviet Union was preparing for a possible pre-emptive attack on the United States." That position, said Diggins, was an "alarmist" one.(Sound familiar?)
In recent weeks, the CPD has mounted a third campaign. Reconstituted, the organization ran full-page advertisements last month in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal vowing to "raise a unified voice for a policy of national resolve in the War on Terrorism."
The latest CPD crowd is comprised of discredited hawks and hacks: Fellows from the American Enterprise Institute, and board members or fellows of several other rightwing or neocon think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the former Committee to Liberate Iraq and the National Institute for Public Policy. The majority of members, natch, are associated with policy statements by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), whose founding members in 1997 included Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and a good number of others associated with the discredited policies of the Bush Administration.
Indeed, it's fair to say that many of the current Committee members have a shameful record in foreign affairs. Take, for example, Henry Cooper, who directed the Pentagon's failed Strategic Defense Initiative in the Reagan years; Ken Adelman, who predicted that invading Iraq would be a "cakewalk" and Frank Gaffney, who in a February 2003 interview, predicted that after the invasion of Iraq was finished, Americans would witness:
"An outpouring of appreciation for [Iraqis] liberation that will make what we saw in Afghanistan recently pale by comparison. You'll see, moreover, evidence in the files and the bunkers that become available to our military--not only of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programs and his future ambitions for their use perhaps and for aggression against his neighbors, but also I would be willing to bet evidence of his past complicity with acts of terror against the west which will further vindicate the course of action that this president is courageously embarked upon."
The Committee, in its third incarnation, has gotten off to a rough start. It's managing director, Peter Hannaford, a former Reagan aide, was forced to resign just a few days after the group's big bang relaunch when the New York Sun reported that his PR firm had once represented the interests of Austria's Freedom Party in Washington DC, while the Austrian neo-fascist, Joerg Haider, was the Freedom Party's leader. (Ironically, Haider paid a visit to Saddam Hussein in 2002 as a show of "solidarity" with the Iraqi dictator.)
Our world is defined by grays, but the CPD sees things in black and white: either you're with us, or out to betray us. The CPD is offering Americans a false foreign policy choice in a 9/11 world: appeasement, or escalation. As one leading member--former CIA director James Woolsey--falsely puts it, the battle against radical Islam is "World War IV."
The CPD honorary chair, Sen. Jon Kyl (AZ, Republican), subscribes to a faith-based foreign policy. (He also spearheaded President Bush's national missile defense program, which most experts believe doesn't work.) The other honorary chairman, Sen. Joe Lieberman, has now fully broken with his former running mate, Al Gore, and become an open and avid supporter of the Iraq war and Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive war.
The CPD, in the end, is eager to replay old battles in a new era. Islamic terrorism is an occasion for this gang to fight again, the more so as the very nebulousness of the enemy opens up the prospect of endless conflict. But the CPD's discredited leaders deserve to be exposed, shunned and refuted as charlatans. They are more than just a blast from the past, but also a danger to America's future, a chief reason why America is bogged down in Iraq with no exit strategy in sight. America is no longer respected in the world, and if the CPD's extremist ideology prevails here at home, America will remain an object of derision and a terrorist target for years to come.