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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.

It's Just Opposition, Stupid!

Have you noticed how sensitive some of these Republicans are? When did plain and simple opposition become political hate speech?

After former Vice-President Al Gore delivered a smart, sometimes humorous, and ultimately scathing critique of the Bush Administration's assault on the environment in a speech in New York City last Thursday, GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie characterized Gore's remarks as "political hate speech" and called on him to repudiate such "vile tactics." (Click here for the full text of Gore's speech.)

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay--who dishes it out but can' t take it--had the same overheated reaction to Senator Edward Kennedy's powerful talk last week in which he accused Bush and his advisers of capitalizing on fear from the September 11th attacks and putting "a spin on truth to justify a war that could well become one of the worst blunders in more than two centuries of American foreign policy." (Click hereto read Kennedy's remarks.)

Kennedy's speech, according to DeLay--the man aptly called the Hammer--was a "hateful attack" that "insulted the President's patriotism." Someone's gotta get these guys into a good Con-Law class fast before they brand the Bill of Rights a subversive document because it protects the right to dissent--or what Gillespie calls "political hate speech."

NOTE: Thanks to longtime Nation reader Adam Komisaruk from Morgantown, West Virginia for his help with drafting "Parallel O'Reilly Factor."

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Grover's World

Talking about political hate, did you see the Washington Post's January 12 profile of anti-tax guru Grover Norquist? Norquist, an intimate of Karl Rove is the head of Americans for Tax Reform and the architect of a rightwing infrastructure designed to implement his long-cherished plan to shrink government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

More recently, Norquist has made comments like "Bipartisanship is another name for date rape," or fantastically compared the estate tax to the Holocaust. (His reasoning: Referring to the supposedly specious argument that the estate tax was worth keeping because it really affected only "two percent of Americans," Norquist went on, "I mean that's the morality of the Holocaust. 'Well, it's only a small percentage,' you know, I mean, it's not you. It's somebody else.")

Now, he's ready to crush and purge. According to the Post profile, Norquist says "Democrats used to anger him." But "he's past angry now. 'Do you get mad at cancer? We'll defeat and crush their institutions, and the trial lawyers will go sell pizza, We're not going to hang them. Most of the the people on the left will be happy in Grover's world. I feel about the left the way Rumsfeld felt about the Iraqis." Welcome to Grover's world. Talk about haters.

NOTE: Thanks to longtime Nation reader Adam Komisaruk from Morgantown, West Virginia for his help with drafting "Parallel O'Reilly Factor."

The Arrogance of George Will

The tale of Conrad Black, the media magnate facing inquiries by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department for looting millions from Hollinger International, the newspaper company he controlled, is foremost a story of rotten greed and corporate abuse. But, it's also a tale about media corruption and the lack of journalistic ethics.

"My business is my business. Got it?" That was syndicated columnist George Will's reply when asked why he didn't tell his readers in a column--defending Black's political views on Iraq--that he had been a member of an advisory group set up by Black and had received $25,000 per diem for each meeting he attended.

You'd think that Will's arrogant reply would have elicited quick rebuke--hell, even outrage--from his editors at the Washington Post. Instead, after theNew York Times revealed Will's renumerative affiliation with Black in a front-page story, Alan Shearer, editorial director and general manager of the Washington Post Writers' Group, peeped up: "I think I would have liked to have known."

So, it was heartening to see the Post's Ombudsman Michael Getler finally weigh in last Sunday. After quoting Fred Hiatt, editor of the Post's editorial page--who argued lamely that Will's "lack of disclosure doesn't strike me as a major lapse"--Getler blasted the Post's influential and widely syndicated columnist for his arrogant failure to disclose his conflict of interest.

"My own view," Getler wrote, "is one that is troubled by this omission. It is important to be reminded, as Hiatt points out, that this financial relationship ended more than two years before the column reference. Yet it seems to me that all journalists and commentators need to be scrupulous in making known any possible conflict of interests, real or likely to perceived. Sometimes it needs to be done in print, but it certainly must be made known to editors, who can make their own decision before publication or distribution. It shouldn't be so easy to just say 'got it' when it comes to conditions for access to the columns of the country's newspapers and magazines."

Or as Gilbert Cranberg, the former Chair of the Professional Standards Committee of the National Conference of Editorial Writers, put it in a letter to theNew York Times two weeks earlier, "The code of ethics of the National Conference of Editorial Writers, the organization of editorial page editors and writers puts it plainly: 'The writer should be constantly alert to conflicts of interest, real or apparent, including those that may arise from financial holdings, secondary employment, holding public office or involvement in political, civic or other organizations. Timely public disclosure can minimize suspicion. Editors should seek to hold syndicates to these standards."

As Getler noted, Will is no novice when it comes to flouting journalistic ethics. In fact, as Nation columnist Eric Alterman makes clear in his valuable book, The Sound and the Fury:The Washington Punditocracy and The Collapse of AmericanPolitics, super-pundits like Will "never developed a recognizable code of ethics." Remember "Debategate"--when Will helped Ronald Reagan in his debate with President Jimmy Carter and then, appearing on "Nightline" as an impartial observer, credited his pupil with a "thoroughbred performance"? At the time, a Los Angeles Times media critic called Will "a political shill," Chicago columnist Mike Rokyo called him a "lapdog," and the New York Daily News kicked him off their editorial pages (though it reinstated him too soon after).

Even Ben Bradlee, Alterman reports, then the nation's most respected newspaperman, and editor of Will's flagship daily the Washington Post, later complained that if it had been up to him, "I would have canned him on the spot." The denunciations were so vehement that Will was forced to respond with some pap about how he had accepted the invitation to help prepare Reagan for his debate as a columnist, rather than as a journalist. "But, far from resulting in Will's losing his job," Alterman writes, "the controversy only added to Willian lore, further blurring the line between watchdogs and the watched."

These days, as that line has become ever more blurred--largely due to media conglomeratization, Murdochization and the media's political timidity--it's worth commending Ombudsman Getler for trying to hold lapdog Will to some standard of accountability.

Fire Chaney!

No, it's not a typo or misspelling. In my house, it often seems like we've spent more time lately talking about the other Chaney--that's Don, the just-fired coach of the New York Knicks, not Dick, the should-be-fired-Vice president.

(My daughter is a basketball junkie. Like her father, she knows stats I've never heard of; she can tell you where some NBA player played college ball; who famously failed in what playoff series or who coached which championship team in 1986. In the mornings, as I scan the news pages, she's got her nose buried in the New York Times sports section. She frequently ends her days with Pete Vecsey's New York Post column "Hoop du Jour." In between, she plays small forward for her JV team. Her ambition is to be the first woman coach in the NBA.)

Irate Knicks fans have been recently calling for Chaney's scalp for misleading the team into one too many losses. At last Friday's blowout home game against the Houston Rockets, the unforgiving crowd began chanting "Fire Chaney" before the first quarter even ended. The taunts re-surfaced this past Monday toward the end of an overtime loss to Dallas. Then, today, the axe finally fell (even though, as my daughter stresses, any coach needs a couple of weeks after a team gets new players, as the Knicks just did, before they can be fairly judged.)

So, if this Chaney can be fired for misleading a basketball team, shouldn't the other Cheney go as well for a far more serious offense--misleading the country?

Let's take a cue from Knicks fans and start calling for the other Cheney's scalp. Hell, isn't it time that America had some new coaches?

Lost in Space

So, we're destroying our own way of life on earth but Bush wants to establish a permanent base on the moon as a prelude to sending humans to Mars?

Isn't this just another sign, as former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill reports in Ron Suskind's new book, The Price of Loyalty, that we have a space cadet as President? And don't these neocons have enough bases ringing the earth? Or is their desire for world domination so unquenchable that they're using this new initiative, as some believe, as a stealth program to speed up the militarization of space? And, not to be too visionless, but at a time of record budget deficits and massive tax cuts for the rich, where's the money going to come from for these adventures in outer space?

While the New York Times reports that Bush's space initiative "would allow the president to be portrayed as an inspirational leader whose vision goes beyond terrorism and tax cuts," it seems more wasteful indulgence than "inspirational" when our own planet is in such danger. Just last week, more evidence (if it was needed) came in a major scientific report showing that more than a million species will become extinct over the next fifty years as a result of global warming. Other recent studies show that the planet's rainforests are disappearing at a rate of one acre per minute.

And, just the other day, in the prestigious journal Science, the British government's chief scientific adviser launched a withering attack on the Bush Administration for failing to tackle global warming. "In my view," he warned, "climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today, more serious even than terrorism."

Bush may think it's good politics to invoke the image of John Kennedy, challenging the nation to send a man to the moon. But these are times that call for a different kind of Apollo Project--on earth, not in space. We desperately need to harness the best scientific R&D in a crash effort to achieve energy independence from fossil fuels and to address the devastating impact of global warming.

For one terrific proposal, check out the Apollo Alliance, a new coalition of unions, environmental groups, consumer advocates and socially responsible businesses, whose bold program would advance energy efficiency and promote renewable energy, drive investment in new technology and public infrastructure and offer real stimulus to our flagging economy through long-term job creation. (Click here for info.)

In 1989, Mr. Bush's father proposed that America begin "the permanent settlement of space." If this President vowed to send all the neocons on a mission to colonize some distant planet, I just might reconsider my opposition to space exploration. But, short of that, let's put earthly needs first.   

Keep FDR on the Dime!

Have you heard about the attempt to replace Franklin Roosevelt with Ronald Reagan on our dime? Some 89 conservative co-sponsors of the "Ronald Reagan Dime Act" say that anger over CBS's docudrama about the Reagans pushed them to introduce the bill. Liberal congressman Jim McGovern (D, MA) is countering with a bill to keep FDR on the coin. (Fortunately, he has gathered 106 co-sponsors so far.)

McGovern argues that changing the dime is the wrong way to honor Reagan (who already has National Airport named after him, a major federal building in Washington and schools, roads and bridges around the country). He also points out that FDR's face is on the dime because of a specific and special connection to the coin. Roosevelt founded the March of Dimes, which funded the research that resulted in the polio vaccine which ended the scourge of the 20th century. (The disability community, it's worth noting, is outraged by this conservative gambit and plans to fight hard if the Republicans schedule the bill for the floor.)

The fact that the high priest of anti-tax activism, Grover Norquist, is involved in this fight--as chairman of the Reagan Legacy Project--imbues the coin toss with a distinct ideological flavor. After all, Norquist once said that he wanted "to shrink government in half to the point where we can drown it in the bathtub." Roosevelt, on the other hand, believed government could be a force for good. McGovern argues that Norquist and his fellow traveling conservatives are using this fight as part of their battle plan to diminish, dismantle, and eventually drown Roosevelt's New Deal legacy in its entirety. (Co-sponsors of the Reagan dime bill include the top pitbulls of the GOP, including Speaker Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader Tom Delay, House Whip Roy Blunt and Rules Committee Chair David Dreier.)

But Norquist, Delay and their ilk may have met their match in a surprising adversary: Nancy Reagan. Her recent statement opposing the renaming effort may hopefully squash the bill's momentum. She is right to speak out--after all, unlike some of these rabid conservatives she retains a historical memory of her husband's four votes for FDR--Reagan often cited as the inspiration of his public life and the greatest president of the 20th century. She may also remember that it was Reagan who made possible the FDR Memorial in Washington.

But, as of now, Mrs. Reagan's statement hasn't discouraged the true believers who continue to push for the Reagan dime. According to one close observer of the fight, they are now arguing that Mrs. Reagan's comments show just how classy she is--that is, it would be untoward for her to publicly support replacing FDR on the dime, so it's up to others to take the lead in the fight. Even more preposterously, some of the bill's co-sponsors argue that when President Reagan was shot, the bullet was "flattened to the size of a dime," which is why it's appropriate to change the dime, rather than, say, the penny or the nickel.

Reagan's death is likely to let loose an enormous effort to rename everything, perhaps including the country, but, for now, let's keep Roosevelt's image on the dime and fight the dismantling of what's left of the New Deal.

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To Take Action:

1) Let your elected reps know that you expect them to sign on to the McGovern bill. Click here for contact info for your legislators.

2) Send letters to the editor of your local paper and make calls to your local talk-radio program showing support for keeping FDR on the dime. Click here for contact info for media in your area.

War's Collateral Damage

In his year-end news conference, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan lamented that so much of the year had been devoted to Iraq at the expense of other global problems like poverty, hunger, disease and illiteracy. "Let's get our priorities right in 2004," Annan said before opening the floor to questions. The New York Times reported that twenty four questions were asked--all but three were about Iraq.

Saving My Mind

As the New Year approaches, I've started making my list of resolutions. Work for democratic regime change at home. Build a more peaceful and just world. Make it to all of my daughter's basketball games. For the sake of my sanity, I vow to break my e-mail addiction and build some boundaries between my work and personal life. And to stave off memory loss, I vow to stop multitasking.

Yes, multitasking. According to a growing body of scientific research, juggling three or four tasks at once as I do too often can actually scramble your brain and lead to short-term memory loss. And chronic, intense multitasking has been shown to induce a stress response--an adrenaline rush that when prolonged can damage cells that form new memory. Other warning signs for inveterate multitaskers--and ones I've experienced--include changes in the ability to concentrate and gaps in attentiveness.

So, in this new year without multitasking, I resolve to take up mental aerobics--or active memory training. It seems that scientists have discovered that training and stimulation may tone and firm the brain just as the nautilus equipment at the gym does the abs. The concept is catching on. UCLA offers a five-week memory training course; the Memory Training Institute in Connecticut teaches mnemonic devices and other recall tricks. And at Florida Atlantic University, there's a class that includes "brain games," checkers, bridge, computational puzzles and even flash cards for adults.

Premised on a "use it or lose it" theory, mental aerobics build on research that suggests stimulating your mind actually causes the rewiring of the brain, even the sprouting new synapses. Of course there are simpler ways to help halt memory decline--getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, reducing stress and eating a diet rich in antioxidants such as berries and vitamins A and E. But if I think I'm going to get more sleep or cut back on stress, while editing a political weekly in 2004, then I'm really losing my mind!

The Take-No-Prisoners Congress

If you haven't been following the take-no-prisoners approach of the Congressional Republican leadership--ramming through Medicare legislation by threatening reluctant GOP colleagues, barring Democrats from conference committees, keeping roll call open for almost three hours (breaking with the usual fifteen minutes)--Senator Chuck Hagel's (R, Neb) recent remarks convey some sense of the damage being done to our parliamentary system by the rightwing thugs currently running Congress.

"It's almost anything goes," said Senator Hagel, far from a liberal voice, in criticizing his own party's leadership. "I think we're on the edge of something dangerous if we don't turn it around...It's like the Middle East. You just keep ratcheting up the intensity of the conflict."

Representative Nick Smith (R, Mich), who is retiring next year and hopes his son will succeed him, is one of those feeling the heat. Smith--a feisty, independent six-term conservative Congressman--says that the arm-twisting during the Medicare vote was the strongest he has experienced in his twenty-seven years in politics.

The day after the bill squeaked through the House by a vote of 220 to 215, Smith wrote a column for a Michigan newspaper (the Lenawee Connection) detailing the Republican House Leadership's use of what he called "bribes and special deals" to eke out the margin of victory. In a subsequent interview with a Michigan radio station, Smith spoke about being pressured by the "leadership" and said "they" had offered "$100,000 plus" for his son's upcoming campaign before threatening that "some of us are going to work to make sure your son doesn't get to Congress" unless Smith relented and supported the Medicare bill. (Smith voted against the legislation.)

In the last weeks, Smith has declined to specify who allegedly offered the bribes and made the threats, though Representative Gil Gutknecht (R. Minn) recalls Smith saying it was "people from the leadership" who had offered the money. Gutknecht assumed it was someone who controlled a "large leadership PAC, who can raise a few hundred thousand dollars by hosting a few fundraisers."

What is not in dispute--even eight members of the Republican Study Committee (a group of fiscally conservative House lawmakers) agree--is that Smith was pressured in unprecedented ways by a House leadership willing to do whatever was needed to pass the bill.

The Democratic National Committee (and two independent groups that work on ethics issues) have requested a Justice Department investigation into whether the pressure on Smith was not just run-of-the-mill Capitol Hill horse-trading but a violation of federal anti-bribery law. Surprise, surprise--so far, the Justice Department says no decision has been made as to whether to investigate.

If our system worked, and there was some measure of accountability, we'd have a rigorous inquiry into who did what when and key members of the House Republican leadership would resign if Smith's allegations were proven true. The real danger is that if we don't change the way our Congress is being run, it may well be, as Rep. Barney Frank (D, Mass) said after the roll call for the Medicare vote was manipulated by the Republican leadership, "the end of parliamentary democracy as we have known it."

Parallel O'Reilly Factor

I agreed to go on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show recently to discuss progressive responses to Bush. I'm always ambivalent about participating in Fox talk shows. As one Nation reader said in a letter lamenting my appearance on the program: "It seems both demeaning to your stature as an actual reporter of fact-based news as well as lending undeserved credibility to the show."

But I also feel compelled to take opportunities to speak to an "unconverted" audience. Click here for the transcript of the program, but also read below for what I was hoping would be possible when I said yes to the booker.

December 1, 2003 (Parallel O'Reilly Factor)**

O'REILLY: All right, Ms. Vanden Heuvel, is this strategy on the left going to succeed?

VANDEN HEUVEL: I hope it does, because if it does, America will be a safer, healthier, better educated, more secure society. Progressives are uniting, thanks to Bush.

O'REILLY: Well, I agree with your last point. Your magazine's up fifty percent, right?

VANDEN HEUVEL: The Nation's circulation is up fifty percent...

O'REILLY: Then why are only twenty percent of Americans liberals?

VANDEN HEUVEL: That's a meaningless statistic. Twenty percent of Americans identify with a label in some poll. The vast majority of people share core liberal values. Reproductive choice. Public education. Healthcare and Social Security without the profit motive. An internationalist foreign policy. Fair wages and fair taxation.

O'REILLY: The polls show that President Bush's approval rating is well over fifty percent.

VANDEN HEUVEL: So what? An approval rating isn't a blanket endorsement of his policies. Those numbers crash and burn when people learn about specifics.

O'REILLY: So you're saying the American people are stupid.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Just the opposite. They're misinformed, and in some cases deceived. I think there should be a marketplace of ideas in this country that reflects a much fuller range of political opinion that we currently see.

O'REILLY: And there is. Look, you've got NPR, you've got FOX News, you've got CNN, you've got the New York Times, you've got every point of view expressed.

VANDEN HEUVEL: I disagree. Something like the New York Times is basically liberal on social issues. But where's the serious discussion of a living wage in this country? Of universal health insurance? Of the fact that the Iraq war violated international law? These are the nuts-and-bolts progressive issues, but you won't hear them in the so-called elite liberal media. Much of the media is elitist because it usually serves corporate interests or follows the official line. And whatever you think of NPR and PBS, they're no match for it, not only because they too depend increasingly on corporate money to survive.

O'REILLY: But you have the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, bashing Bush, saying if we elect a Democrat, all the problems are going to be solved, just like they were under eight years of Mr. Clinton. All the problems were solved, yes.

VANDEN HEUVEL: You're equating the left with the Democratic Party. The Nation was very critical of both Clinton and Gore. We need to reassert the core progressive values that most Americans see as perfectly reasonable, may of which were not ones upheld by Clinton. This is what the Democrats need to do if they want to start winning elections again. But progressives also need to build independent political capacity, inject some passion and principle into our politics. Hell, one out of two eligible voters don't even vote.**The above conversation never happened--and it's unlikely to on Fox TV.

Neoconning us Again?

More inside the Beltway spinning at work: Libya's coming clean on WMD is solely the product of Bush's war in Iraq. That's what the Bush Administration wants us to believe. And the Beltway paper of record seems awfully accepting of the Administration's spin. In Sunday's Post, Dana Milbank writes, "It has been a week of sweet vindication for those who promulgated what they call the Bush Doctrine."

Richard Perle scurried to tell Milbank, "It's always been at the heart of the Bush doctrine that a more robust policy would permit us to elicit greater cooperation from adversaries than we'd had in the past when we acquiesced. With the capture of Saddam, the sense that momentum may be with us is very important."

In the Beltway narrative, there's no room for how Libya's decision to permit UN weapons inspectors in confirms that the US can achieve its strategic international goals using tools other than military force--for example, diplomatic, political and economic pressure. Nor is there room for all the work and time numerous European nations have invested in engaging Libya over the last five years. Or of the hard work of the UN Security Council in negotiating a settlement of the Lockerbie case, a resolution which may have had more to do with Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi's desire to reenter the international mainstream than any other single factor.

Nor is there any discussion of why the Administration supports the role of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors in disarming Libya whereas it was so dismissive of the IAEA's work in Iraq. And, how many understand that--as Flynt Leverett, a former Bush Adminstration National Security Council staff member reveals--"Within months after September 11th, we had the Libyans, the Syrians and the Iranians all coming to us saying what can we do [to better relations]? We didn't really engage any of them because we decided to do Iraq. We really squandered two years of capital that will make it harder to apply this model to the hard cases like Iran and Syria."

Libya's agreement to disarm under the watch of international inspectors is a welcome development but it is not as dramatic a turnaround as Bush & Co want us to believe. According to Joseph Cirincone, an arms specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "It's part of a trend that has been underway for ten years--of reforms and trying to reintegrate with Europe, mainly for business reasons."

Let's not allow the Administration to neocon us into believing that Libya's decision is the sole result of Bush's war in Iraq. Instead, let's use Libya's example to call for inspections and reductions of WMD in all countries around the world, including here in the US.

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