Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
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.
Governor George Pataki's recent veto of the minimum wage bill passed by the New York State Senate was misguided and cruel. His decision sends a clear message: "New York State to working poor: Drop Dead." "The Governor likes to talk about opportunity and rewarding work," said Bertha Lewis, co-chair of the Working Families Party, which led the grassroots fight on the issue, "but with this veto he's shown that he doesn't believe in any of that."
The reasons given by the Pataki Administration for the veto are laughable and often factually wrong. (Go to the WFP website for the facts.) The real reason is politics. As WFP co-chair Dan Cantor points out, "Pataki is playing to the national Republicans and the local Conservatives." After all, "what better way to make yourself known as a tough-guy than to really stick it to low-wage workers. Plus he did it on a day when Kerry's speech, news of the Yankees' new stadium and the MTA fare hike announcement guaranteed it would get relatively little notice. A real profile in cowardice."
Supporters of the minimum wage--a broad coalition ranging from the Catholic Church to business groups to community activists and labor unions--have vowed to fight for an override. A two-thirds majority is needed in both the Senate and Assembly. The bill passed with votes to spare in both, but this will not be easy, especially in the Senate.
Here's the math. 51 senators voted "Yes" last week for the bill. Supporters of the bill need to hold 42 for an override. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who called the veto an "outrageous slap in the face of thousands of hardworking men and women in our state," says he will recommend that the Assembly override when legislators return to Albany on Monday. If there is resistance to an override, the WFP--along with its allies--plans to organize an all-out grassroots campaign to ensure that it happens.
It will take a little time to figure out what's really happening in Albany. But in the short term please send an email or letter TODAY to Majority Leader Bruno urging him to override the veto. Tell him his electoral future just may depend on it. His email: email@example.com. You can also mail or fax him at Sen. Joseph Bruno, 909 LOB, Albany NY 12247 or fax: 518-455-2448.
I sometimes fantasize about being reincarnated as a swing voter in Ohio. After all, the entire convention was designed to seduce about 11 voters in that great state. In Boston, pundits, DNC types and others all seemed to gauge the effectiveness of the day's events through the prism of what someone in a battleground state might have thought. At one of the endless chat 'n'chews on Wednesday, a key member of the DNC Finance Committee told me that after Barack Obama's "a star is born" speech, she had called all her relatives who live in battleground states to get their take on how it had played. She was relieved (and ecstatic) to report that they had loved it.
She didn't need to call relatives after Kerry's speech. Thursday night, MSNBC turned to a small group of Ohio swing voters for their reactions. GOP pollster Frank Luntz--who dons a bipartisan hat as a MSNBC consultant--had equipped these swingers with meters to gauge their views on the speeches' key riffs. Seems that Michael Moore and the swing voters of Ohio may be linked at the hip when it comes to their view of the Saudi royal family. Luntz sheepishly reported that Kerry's attack on Bush's energy policy ("I want an America that relies on its own ingenuity and innovation--not the Saudi royal family.") was the group's fave passage of the night. It was "just off the charts" on the vote-o-meter.
Buchanan Voting for Kerry?
Pat Buchanan is by no means your on-the-reservation Republican, but it was striking to hear him say Thursday night on MSNBC's After Hours: "If I did not know this man or his past record, and heard only this speech tonight, I could easily vote for him." Buchanan went on to alert viewers that veterans were being organized to challenge Kerry's version of his war record. "Look forward to the Guns of August."
The Thrust of Kerry's Speech
I liked much of Kerry's speech--what he said about energy independence and healthcare as a right and using money now going to prisons to fund Head Start and Early Start. But I was turned off by his opening line: "My name is John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty." As he saluted, I thought of how our politics and policies are already too militarized. I can hear people telling me--come on, lighten up; after all. it's just a convention speech. But in the quest to take back defense and national security, could Dems lose their way? Is militarism the centerpiece of the Democrats' vision for the future? As Tikkun editor Michael Lerner wrote in an astute Op-Ed in today's Wall Street Journal: "If militarism and toughness are all that either party can offer the country as a vision for the future....many voters may simply not be inspired to vote at all."
Inside the Fleet Center this week, few speakers have engaged the fierce antiwar views of the vast majority of delegates.
Instead, activists and delegates flocked to panels and forums around Boston in order to debate and discuss the war, the occupation and what is to be done. On Wednesday afternoon, the Campaign for America's Future and The Nation co-sponsored a debate on "Iraq, The US and the World." Agreed: the debacle in Iraq has left America more isolated, more reviled and less safe. Panelists included Dennis Kucinich, who will work hard to elect Kerry, while continuing to speak out in support of the withdrawal of our troops and ending the occupation. Gary Hart, talked about the themes of his new book. He also welcomed a special guest. Robin Cook, the former British Foreign Minister, who courageously resigned on the eve of war to protest Tony Blair's decision, was in Boston for the convention. Referring to Cook's resignation, Hart lamented that in the old days "When people disagreed with policy, they used to resign in protest. What's happened to that tradition," he asked the crowd of some 400 people. ("Run, Robin, Run," people shouted in reply." ) Ambassador Joe Wilson --after listening to Kucinich talk of making nonviolence an organizing principle--asked if it was "okay to harbor just a bit of violence against a certain journalist?" (He was talking about Robert Novak, for those who've been living under a rock these last months.)
Barbara Lee, diminutive in stature, statuesque in her commitment to the Constitution and peace, laid out an alternative progressive foreign policy. She talked of how she had introduced House Resolution 141 to repeal preemptive war doctrine. (It has 40 co-sponsors), and House Resolution 3919, which states that no US tax dollars can be authorized to overthrow a democratically elected government. Look at Haiti, Lee said. "And we need a rational policy toward Cuba. Let us end the embargo against Cuba," she said to rousing applause from the crowd of some 400 people.
Tom Andrews of the Win Without War Coalition and Gayle Smith, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, also participated in the forum.
Like all such panels, time was running out when I stepped up to the podium. What follows below is a longer version of my hastily abbreviated remarks.
July 28, 2004, The Royal Sonesta Hotel, Cambridge, Massachusetts
One reason The Nation (magazine) is thriving is because somuch of the media failed the American people in the run up to war. It failed to ask the tough questions. Robin cook's presence here reminds me of that press conference on the eve of war, when journalists acted more like courtiers at the court of King George than members of a free press. And we welcome Robin Cook to our shores, in these perilous times, and we will conscript him in our fight to oust this President, who on a good day acts like a secular monarch, and on rough days he acts like he's channeling god.
What is the single most important thing that we as Americans can do to advance a more just and secure world? Defeat George W. Bush and send him packing, back to the ranch in crawford. But it's not enough to defeat Bush. That is the first and crucial step.
Everyone in this room knows that after Kerry is elected there is much work ahead to build a compelling and democratic alternative national security policy that affirms the best of our values--including respect for the truth and international law.
This election is a referendum on an Administration that has led usinto the greatest foreign policy failure in us history. It is areferendum on an adminstration that has squandered America'scredibility while pursuing a faithbased foreign policy when it comes to evidence, and a messianic militarist one when it comes to action. Bush and his neocon accomplices have rolled back decades of bispartisan tradition with their preemptive war doctrine. Theirs is not a conservative foreign policy; it is a radical and reckless one. While hijacking our foreign policy, Bush and his people have violated the most essential trust in a democracy and taken Americans into an illegal and unecessary war based on manipulated intelligence, repetitions of baseless claims and the persistent use of fear.
But what is hopeful, as we meet this afternoon, is that a majority of Americans now believe that the war was a mistake. A majority ofAmericans have turned against the war. And they have done so withprecious little leadership from our politicians.
A majority of Americans understand that the war has made America less safe, not more secure. That it has made us more isolated, reviled and hated than at any time in our history. That is a view shared by awide range of establishment sources--from the british inst forstrategic studies, which concluded in a recent study that the warhas led to accelerated recruitment in Al Qaeda; to anonymous, theCIA counterterrorist analyst, who put it plainly, " the war has beena christmas gift to Osama bin Laden." Then there are theestablishment dissenters. The leading diplomats and militaryofficials who worked in reagan and Bush one Administration whorecently issued a powerful statement indicting this admin fordamaging our national security.
A majority of Americans believe the war was a mistake because:
--20,000 US troops have had their tours of duty extended.Redeployment has been met with widespread anger among militaryfamilies and active-duty personnel.
--A majority of US troops report low morale. The military isstretched thin, seriously thin. There is talk of reviving the draft.
**Consider the mounting costs in blood and money.
* More than 900 US troops have died since Bush declared "the end ofmajor combat" in his infamous "mission accomplished' speech in may2003. Another ugly landmark was passed early this week--the 10,000wounded mark. Imagine--over 10,000 wounded Americans in a war ourmilitary and political leadership now say may last years. The coststo the Iraqi people have also been tragic. Over 11,000 Iraqicivilians have died in conflict so far--many of them children.
* The United States has already spent some $126 billion on the war,costing every American family about $3400 each. As the camp for am'sfuture has pointed out, this admin has socked it to hardworkingfamilies on two fronts--Bush passed his massive tax cuts that gave ahuge break to the wealthiest individuals and corporations, and thenwhen he went to war, Bush asked the same working and middle classfamilies who bore the brunt of the tax cuts to pay for the conflict.Meanwhile contract cronies masquerading as companies like halliburtonare making a killing in Iraq after receiving no bid contracts fromthe federal government.
*For the $152 billion Congress has allocated for the war, the UnitedStates could have provided healthcare for 27 million Americans--or we could have spent the $151 million on food for half the hungrypeople in the world for two years; plus a comprehensive global aidsprogram plus clean water for all in the developing world; pluschildhood immunizations for every child in the developing world; orwe could have committed to helping the middle east create the 100million jobs it will need over next 15 years just to keep up with theyouthful populations--thus addressing the root causes of instabilityin this turbulent world. America could once again become a source ofhope and use its power in constructive, intelligent ways.
The work of building a clear, credible and compelling alternative tothe messianic militaristic policies of the Bush Administration.Is the tough and critical job of those who opposed this senselesswar, those citizens' groups and movements and media who have foughtfor years for a more democratic and enlightened foreign policy ...Itis those people, groups who gave Kerry and the party the energy andbackbone in the months before we arrived here in boston. And when weelect Kerry President we're not going away.
For us, peace is not off message. It is the message.
We will work for a Kerry victory because it will mean a necessaryrepudiation of those who have hijacked our security and foreignpolicy. But we have no illusions about a Kerry presidency. As we havelearned from hard trial and error, progressives must gear up to holda democratic Administration accountable and be perpared to fightpitched battles to forward progressive reforms whether in economicpolicy or security policy. But Kerry in the white house will enableprogressives to go from defense to offense. And though Kerry waswrong to vote to give Bush the authority to make war in Iraq, and hehas failed to call for an end to the us occupation, he challengesBush's preemptive war doctrine and promises a foreign policy thatwill be tempered by alliances, international cooperation and the ruleof law. He offers Americans an Administration that will be able torevive America's influence as a source of hope not fear andresentment and enlist its allies, and more willing to address thebroader threats to us security--from catastrophic climate change tothe trade in loose nukes.
But the central issue of our political and historical moment is anend to the occupation of Iraq. If it isn't ended, it will bleed bothour forces, as well as the Iraqi people--and our country ofresources for our own domestic reconstruction.
The Bush Administration bears heavy responsibility for the fact thatthe options in Iraq today are bad, worse and much worse. We cannoteasily rebuild what the Bush Administration has broken, but a fundamentalcourse correction is urgently needed. Slogans about "staying thecourse" are a prescription for inflaming the region while polarizingthe us and undermining us global leadership. America needs a roadmapout of Iraq, one that as senator byrd has said, "is orderly andastute, else more of our men and women in uniform will follow thefate of tennyson's doomed light brigade." It is time to change course--not stay the course.
The costs of continuing the occupation outweigh the risks of aphased and responsible withdrawal.
The occupation, like other occupations throughout history, hasgenerated instability and violence and a growing popular resistancethat cannot be defeated militarily. The longer the us militarypresence lasts, the more likely it is that the Iraqi resistance willintensify. Even leading us generals admit this cannot be wonmilitarily.
Occupation and its abuses are creating new recruiting tools forterrorists in the region; while we neglect hotbeds of terroristactivity along the pakistan-afghan border. It will trap the us andthe un in a spiral of unending violence, as the standoffs in Fallujahand Najaf have demonstrated.
*Yes, arguably withdrawal may leave Iraq a failed state or lead tosome form of civil war. But an extended American occupation may onlyresult in an intensified guerrilla war and attract everydisillusioned muslim fanatic to Iraq to fight the American infidel,which would produce the same or even worse result. A well-coordinatedwithdrawal is more likely to deprive these extremists of a pretextand a context for future attacks. Egyptian President Mubarak warnedthat a us invasion would create "a hundred bin Ladens" and the longerwe stay , the more such extremism will be fostered. It is our respectfor the will of the Iraqi people that will deprive islamic radicalsof their greatest rallying cry. On balance, staying the course willonly doom more Americans and Iraqis to die for a dubious cause atcosts we can ill afford.
And, tragically, if Kerry stays the course, it may well destroy anyof the hopes he has of revitalizing our nation domestically.
To call for a coherent exit strategy is not to abandon Iraq or itspeople. There are still many things that the us can do. Continuedeconomic assistance is one. Another is to help the un andinternational organizations assist in the transition to a newpolitical order. But all combat operations should cease and then, ona fixed and announced timetable, us forces should withdraw in asorderly, responsible way as is possible from the country. In short,the us working with others, should give Iraqis their best chance tosucceed in their own efforts to create their own future. No permanentus bases, no meddling with their legal codes to put fix in for usmultinationals, no shameless war profiteering by halliburton.
I believe that each additional day that American troops continue tofight in Iraq can only compound the eventual price of the originalmistake--costing more lives, pulverizing the society, contributing tothe spiral of violence and animus toward the us, and reducing, notfostering, any chances for a better future for the country.
There are important lessons for an alternative security policy in thetragedy of the reckless strategic crusade in Iraq:
1/ we have seen the limits of American military power to achieve anyreasonable political goals, certainly not at an acceptable cost. AsNation columnist jonathan schell has masterfully demonstrated in hislatest book, the war system has reached a point that using war asprimary goal to resolve differences does as much harm to those thatemploy force as it does to those on the receiving end. It is justcommon sense to acknowledge that most of today's internationalsecurity threats are not susceptible to military solution or willprovoke local resistance that is far more potent than are Americancapabilities. We desperately need a new definition of security in avulnerable and interconected world. Overwhelming military power isill suited to dealing with the central challenges we face: statelessterrorists with global reach, the worst pandemic in human history,the spread of WMD. Insecure and decrepit nuclear arsenals in theformer Soviet Union, genocidal conflict and hunger afflicting africa, thedegradation of our common environment, transnational crime, and aglobal economy that is generating greater instability and inequality.
As we work to end the occupation, let us also fight for a moreconstructive and intelligent use of American power.Let us unshackleour imaginations.
In this context, imagine an Administration which would use America's power to:
*lead a global campaign to meet the un's milennium goal of halvingworld poverty, cutting child mortality by two-thirds and guaranteeingevery child primary education by 2015.
*Strengthen multilateral and verifiable arms control treaties thatcurb WMDs, while at same time promoting nuclear disarmament and internationaldemilitarization.
*End dependence on foreign oil and invest in the development ofalternative energy sources--and commit to the campaign for America's"Apollo Project" on energy indpependence.
*Build up the capacities of the united nations to prevent and contain conflict.
*Ratify the scores of treaties the us has subverted these last twoyears--from Kyoto to the international criminal court, to theanti-ballistic missile treaty.
Or consider these positive steps an enlightened adminsitration might take:
1/ Declare that it will hold Israel accountable to international lawand to un security council resolutuions, and that it will movequickly to a UN quartet-sponsored summit to bring about a finalsettlement with the taba maps as the starting point of finalnegotiations.
2/ Establish, with the European Union and major Asian developednations, a job creation and development fund aimed at creating 100million jobs in the greater Middle East by the year 2020. Thedevelopment fund woulf finance a combination of public investmentprojects, smaller regional funds for small business and homedevelopment, and public education. Arab oil-producing countrieswould be asked to match Americans, european and japanesecontributions.
3/ Move quickly to a non-conditional detente policy with Iran andannounce that it will support un talks aimed at creating anon-nuclear weapons zone in the Middle East.
4/ Announce that it will support with money and expertise a new UNdepartment of state-building for overseeing failed states and forassuming responsibility for afghanistan and Iraq.
None of us here today wish to complicate--or oppose--the campaignof senator John Kerry. We must defeat Bush. But those of us, themillions who rallied to oppose this war, must stand for what webelieve and become an independent factor/force that will fight inthese coming months for an end to an occupation that is the result ofa mistaken war.