Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
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.
Did you know that, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, nine out of ten delegates gathered in Boston think the US should not have gone to war in Iraq and say the gains from the war were not worth the loss of American lives...Only seven percent say "the US did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq," while eighty-six percent say the US should "have stayed out."
This is the first presidential convention that has an official "Blogger Boulevard." And there's lots of excitement about the blogging phenomenon. After all, today there are at least two million people who have started one of these online journals. According to Technorati, a website that tracks what blogs are talking about, the number of new blogs is increasing at a rate of 12,000 a day. Yes, it's true that about one third of these sites don't last--people get bored with their own musings--but the other two thirds are still going at a steady pace. And according to surveys, something like one to fifteen million people say they spend some of their time on the internet reading other people's blogs. If I'm not mistaken, that gives the blogosphere at least as much impact as the cumulative subscription base of all the alternative newsweeklies in America.
How will bloggers affect the coverage of this convention? No one knows. But one of the most popular bloggers sounds a cautionary note. Arriving in Boston, Joshua Micah Marshall blogged in Talkingpointsmemo: "I've never been much for the blog triumphalism that seems always to be so much a part of the blog universe. Blogs make up a small, specialized niche within the interdependent media ecosystem--mainly not producers but primarily or usually secondary consumers--like small field mice, ferrets, or bats...I've always thought of this as just a vehicle for writing--a mix of reporting and opinion journalism, done in a format that allows a maximum degree of flexibility, not bound by limitations of space--the need to write long or short--or any of the confining genre requirements that define conventional journalism. The whole thing is mystifying to me."
Blog Note:Don't miss numerous Nation weblogs this week from Boston. Click here to read them all.
Howard Dean on the Convention Floor
Howard Dean on the convention floor, looking subdued when pressed about Nader: "The base will not forgive Ralph...after getting on the ballot in Oregon with help of anti-gay rightwing forces, Ralph appears to be not just like another politician but worse than some he's attacking."
To strains of "You're Still The One," Senator Edward Kennedy exited stage left, surrounded by family--heading to a tribute at Boston Symphony Hall. "The only thing we have to fear," he told the cheering crowd, "is four more years of George Bush....We will retire Cheney to an undisclosed location."
Across the river, earlier in this afternoon, Michael Moore nearly caused a riot when some 3,000 people descended on the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge for a confab with America's hottest film-maker. Earlier that day, some Bush spokesman had called Moore "the leader of the hate and vitriol celebrity." Two thousand people were turned away by the organizers--the Campaign for America's Future--but they soon gathered on a side street outside the hotel, awaiting Moore's arrival later that afternoon.
Inside the hall, Moore enthralled the crowd with tales of Dale Earnhardt Jr, tirades against the corporate media, jabs at Disney and its honcho Michael Eisner, advice for John Kerry and a warning to Ralph Nader.
Check out these riffs:
* "The true patriots are those who think it's important to ask tough questions. The villain of my film is George W. but the unstated villains are the national media. My film outs them as shills for the Bush Administration, as people who were cheerleaders for the Bush Administration, as journalists who fell asleep on the job. We the people need you in the media to ask the tough questions. Don't be afraid of being called un-American. It'spro-American to ask the tough questions."
* "Whether they use labels or not, most Americans in their heart are either liberal or progressive. It's only a minority who hate. The people running this country are not patriots, they're hatriots."
* "I predict that we'll see the largest percentage of people voting in our lifetime. It's cool now to talk about politics."
* "Dale Earnhardt Jr took his crew to see Fahrenheit 9-11 to prepare for a big race and then he said all of America should see this movie. Hope Bush wasn't eating pretzels watching that race."
* "Here's my plea to John Kerry and the Democrats. You will not win this election by being wimpy, weak, by failing to stand up for your convictions. Only way this is going to happen is if you stand up for what you believe, stand for a liberal/progressive agenda. If you move to the right you'll encourage millions to stay home."
* A word about Ralph (hisses in the hall)..."Yes, Republicans do love Ralph. Just came from Michigan and Ralph gathered fifty thousand signatures--forty-three of those gathered by Michigan Republicans...Ralph, you already did your job. The Democratic party of 2004 is not the Democratic Party of 2000. They got it. Howard Dean carried on and so did Dennis Kucinich...they helped push Dems to liberal/progressive side. Even the Al Gore of 2004 is not the Al Gore of 2000. My appeal to the Nader voters and Green voters...you have a different job to do this year. What you are doing is so misguided, so uncool. I wouldn't have Dems spend any time attacking Nader. They should be giving those people reasons to vote for Kerry."
Just as I thought they were going to start playing Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen's oldie "Ac-cent-tchu-ate The Positive (Mister in-Between)" in the convention hall, former President Jimmy Carter came out swinging. God bless him. Seems that Carter--party statesman, nearly 80 years old--didn't have to run the gauntlet of DNC apparatchiks screening speeches for any harsh anti-Bush rhetoric. Carter spoke forthrightly, deploring the fact that the "Middle East is ablaze," and blasting Bush's extremism, deceit and exploitation of American's fears.
As America's 39th President, rightly insisted, "the Middle East peace process has come to a screeching halt for the first time since Israel became a nation. All former presidents, Democratic and Republican, have attempted to secure a comprehensive peace for Israel with hope and justice for the Palestinians." That is until 43. (Click here to read the full text of Carter's remarks.)
As convention time approached, I asked one of America's most prominent historians, Eric Foner, for some political history about Boston and Massachusetts. Foner, a valued member of The Nation's editorial board and an award-winning author, is a Professor of History at Columbia University, and former President of both the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association. His textbook, Give me Liberty: An American History will be published later this year.
Host for the very first time to a national convention, Boston is a perfect place to reflect on this country's alternative tradition of visionary thinking. It is a city, according to Foner, which illuminates "how the rights and freedoms of all Americans have, again and again in our history, been strengthened and expanded by the struggles of dissenters, and those excluded from the full benefits of the society, to create liberty as they understood it."
Take Roger Williams--the founder of the idea of religious freedom in America, driven out of Puritan Massachusetts for daring to challenge the entrenched orthodoxy. Foner says, "Williams insisted that religious liberty rests on the separation of church and state. He rejected the idea that any one leader or one people had a monopoly on religious truth or enjoyed the special favor of God, and insisted that merging church and state corrupted both politics (by leading rulers to think they were infallible) and religion (by making it the subject of political rivalries)."
Boston was also the cradle of the abolitionist movement, several of whose leaders helped found The Nation in 1865. Their example, Foner says, shows "how a small, couragous band of men and women challenged the most deeply entrenched economic interest in America, insisting that human rights took precedence over the rights of property and that economic activity must be held to a higher standard than more profit and efficiency."
Massachusetts was also one center of the early labor movement, including the legendary female factory workers at Lowell, just outside of Boston, who, Foner observes, "insisted that a modicum of economic autonomy and economic security is essential to freedom--an idea that has found expression at numerous moments in American history including Franklin Roosevelt's Freedom from Want (one of the Four Freedoms)--an idea that has dropped out of our political discourse--and down to those who today insist that economic globalization must be accompanied by labor and environmental safeguards.
And Massachusetts has always been a major center of the women's movement, in both the 19th and 20th centuries, which not only demanded for women the same rights in the public arena as men--the vote, education, economic opportunity, etc--but expanded the idea of freedom and of individual rights into the most intimate realms of life, insisting that the right to control one's own person is the foundation of personal independence (a right that Republicans are today working hard to rescind)."
During this convention week, many actions and gatherings will be devoted to calling for an end to the occupation in Iraq. Boston is the ideal city for such debates because, as Foner reminds, "it has a long tradition of patriotic opposition to unjust wars and to the violations of civil liberties that often accompany wars. Massachusetts was a center of opposition to the Mexican War (Thoreau went to jail rather than pay taxes to support a government that invaded a neighboring country). Every war in US history, with the exception of World War II, has been the subject of strong opposition and internal debate. And the right to criticize the government in wartime, and to retain constitutional protection of civil liberties, is another major strand of patriotic dissent. I'd cite the opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and the Sedition Act of 1918, both of which made it illegal to criticize the federal government, and the recent Supreme Court decisions rebuking the Bush Administration for seeking to abrogate the basic civil liberties of Americans accused of crimes as the latest in a long tradition of instence that the constitution is not suspended even in times of crisis."
And as this Administration attempts to rollback the social and democratic achievements of the 20th century, Boston--home to Senator Edward Kennedy, Congressman Jim McGovern and the late Congressman Joe Moakley, among many others--powerfully reminds us of the victories of 20th-century social liberalism, of using the government to promote greater equality and to aid the weak and disadvantaged. This is a winning legacy which Kerry would do well to evoke and emulate.
After all, as Foner points out, "It is important to note that this tradition, which originated in the Progressive era, and reached its flowering under FDR and LBJ, was originally bipartisan, but that Republican Progressivism has fallen by the wayside, to be replaced by a dog-eat-dog view of society and an alliance with the privileged rather than ordinary Americans."
Watch this space all week for DNC-related posts.
This past week, the New York State Senate took the historic and long overdue step of passing a bill to raise our state minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.15 an hour. This is a tremendous victory for the more than one million workers who will directly benefit from this increase if it is signed by Governor Pataki. At a time when low-wage jobs are failing to keep pace with price increases, it could literally mean the difference for many families. It's also a victory for the Working Families Party's hard work and the effective grassroots organizing the coalition has been doing for the last six years.
Labor unions, Democrats--even the Roman Catholic Church--joined with the Working Families Party in the fight for fairness and equity. The Daily News also earned kudos for publishing seven editorials in the last five months urging a raise in the minimum wage, and assigning reporter Heidi Evans to do a dozen related stories, including a front-page feature on what's it's like to live on $206 each week. And last week, the campaign won support from a powerful, if unexpected, quarter when the Partnership for New York City, one of the city's leading business groups, urged the State Senate to pass the bill. (The Democrat-controlled State Assembly passed a bill last March.) The business group noted that at the current minimum wage, a full-time worker earns only $10,712 a year, which is below the federal poverty level.
Moreover, a recent study by the Fiscal Policy Institute effectively counters claims that raising the minimum wage will hurt small employers. It found that in the 12 states with minimum wages higher than $5.15 an hour, employment levels did not, in fact, decrease as the minimum wage was increased.
But, as Senator Eric Schneiderman (D, Manhattan) , the Deputy Minority Leader and a longtime supporter of the WFP, points out, even with the wage hike's sound economics, it took sustained political pressure, and the threat of possible electoral defeat, to ultimately force Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno to drop his traditional opposition to the Assembly proposal.
"The Republican leadership of the Senate allowed this bill to pass this year because they are afraid they will lose seats in the election this fall in districts where the minimum wage increase is popular and where voters have been educated and organized on the issue of raising the minimum wage," Schneiderman said." It is the sad reality that bills don't pass the Senate because they make sense as public policy, or because passing them is the right thing to do. They pass when the Majority Leader sees that the voters may vote out one or more of his members if an issue isn't addressed, and therefore threaten his position as Majority Leader."
That is why it is so important to continue to support the WFP. Launched in 1998, this feisty coalition of community organizations, unions and individuals, has recruited and backed progressive candidates, run local and statewide issue campaigns and used the leverage of the ballot line to hold candidates and elected officials accountable on issues of concern to working-class, middle-class and poor people. Its unapologetic focus on economic justice, its savvy grassroots organizing and ability to give working people an effective voice in the political debate is needed now more than ever. As Jack Newfield put it in an opinion piece for the New York Sun, "Never before has a political party made such an impact on statewide public policy."
Or think of it this way: the WFP's hard work just helped put about a million dollars an hour into the pockets of the working poor. Click here to help the WFP continue its work and click here to add your name to the WFP's petition to New York Governor George Pataki asking him to sign the new minimum wage bill into law.
Bush put ideology and religion above all in making this decision, and three years later his terrible policy choice is haunting him. Just last week, Ron Reagan Jr. announced that he would criticize Bush's restrictions on stem cell research at the Democratic convention; more than four thousand scientists (a good number of whom have served both Democratic and Republican administrations) have now signed a statement--first released in February--attacking the Administration's unprecedented politicization of science, and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently updated its groundbreaking report on "Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy Making," which examines the methods that the Bush Administration uses to manipulate and distort "the work done by scientists at federal agencies and on scientific advisory panels."
"The Administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions," the scientist's letter warned, "placing people who are professionally unqualified in official posts; disbanding existing advisory committees; censoring and suppressing reports by the government's own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice."
The UCS's report rigorously documents the equivalent of Bush's little shop of anti-enlightenment policy horrors, demonstrating how Bush has twisted facts and suppressed research to enact retrograde policies on such issues as climate change, mercury emissions and emergency contraception. An example: When the EPA discovered that Bush's Clear Skies Act would be "less effective" than a "bipartisan Senate clean air proposal" in guarding the air we breathe, the Administration simply suppressed the EPA study.
The UCS also charges that scientists are now getting blackballed for their political views. The report cites instances in which nominees to scientific advisory panels have been questioned about whether they had voted for Bush. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson's office rejected nineteen of the twenty-six appointments that Dr. Gerald Keusch, who served as director of the NIH's Fogarty International Center until he resigned in frustration, had recommended. Bush's policy has demoralized the scientific community, and prevented our nation's smartest, most experienced scientists from serving on panels devoted to safeguarding public health.
One of the nineteen rejected, the Nobel laureate Torsten Wiesel, happens to be my stepfather. When Keusch questioned HHS's decision on Wiesel, he was told that he "had signed too many full-page letters in the New York Times critical of President Bush." (When did petition-signing qualify as a measure of scientific expertise?) Ironically, this Administration can't get its facts straight--whether it's in the arena of war, budget deficits or science. In a recent email, Torsten told me, "I have not signed a statement against Bush but nonetheless for some reason I am on the Administration's blacklist. Perhaps [it is because of] my human rights activities and being contrary in general."
Torsten, who served as president of the prestigious Rockefeller University for nearly a decade, added, the Administration's "science policy has been bad in general. Instead of choosing the best scientific advice the preference is given to individuals with the right religious or philosophical pedigrees."
Preference is also given to those with big business pedigrees. As Robert Kennedy Jr. pointed out in a Nation cover story last March, Bush's agenda is "to systematically turn government science over to private industry by contracting out thousands of science jobs to compliant consultants already in the habit of massaging data to support corporate profits." This Administration's war on science "is arguably unmatched in the Western world since the Inquisition," he argued.
In the last few weeks alone, Bush's assault on science has intensified. In an unprecedented move, the White House has announced that scientists now need approval from senior Bush political appointees to participate in World Health Organization (WHO) meetings. This has outraged the WHO and others in the scientific community, who believe this decision opens the door for the Administration to blackball scientists who don't follow the line on controversial health issues.
In an April memo, William Steiger, who serves as director of the HHS Office of Global Health Affairs (and has a Ph.D. in Latin American history), also announced a new policy on notices of foreign travel (NFTs). Steiger instructed that any NIH scientist who wants to attend "technical consultations, advisory groups, expert committees and workshops" located in the US and sponsored by "multilateral organizations" must first obtain permission by filing an NFT with his office. (Previously, such requests were routine and perfunctory; scientists filed them simply to alert US embassies to their travel to meetings abroad.)
Under Bush, the NFTs have become a tool to leverage control over government scientists. The changes, said Keusch in an interview this week, are intended to "escalate the levels of control over who can attend" scientific meetings and "what they can say" when there.
Dr. Kurt Gottfried, the chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an interview last week that a second Bush term would "further the demoralization of the professional staff now in service...If Bush is reelected, they would lose hope," Gottfried argued, and "the people most likely to leave [in a second Bush Administration] are the most valuable scientists at the NIH and the CDC, an exodus from which it would take decades for America to recover.
If Bush wins in November, the quality of science that informs policy making will be undermined by the suppression, manipulation and distortion of scientific knowledge. If you want to understand what's at stake, click here to read the UCS's report.
My recent weblog about progressive victories worth celebrating seemed to touch a chord. After asking Nation magazine and website readers to nominate their favorite piece of recent political good news, I was thrilled to receive scores of replies which I subsequently published. I received the letter below after my mailbag.
I'd like to continue highlighting good news in this space. So please click here to send your nomination and I'll keep publishing reader responses in the weeks ahead.
Sam Lorber, Nashville, TN
The good news in Nashville is the formation of MRD-Music Row Democrats. This group is a reaction to the perception that country music is the exclusive domain of the Republican Party. Sixteen Independent, Democrat and Republican producers, artists, songwriters, publishers, managers and promotion people got together in December 2003 to respond to the appropriation of our music and, to many, their faith, by the Right. Six months later there are over one thousand members who have organized to donate tens of thousands of dollars to the Kerry campaign and start Kerry-oke, roving bands of well known artists and songwriters raising money and consciousness all over the place. We are determined to "Take Back Our Country." (Click here for more information on what we're doing.)
I've always thought of Donald Trump as a mega-developer with an oversized ego and a really bad dye job.
So, I haven't paid much attention to his grotesquely successful "reality" show The Apprentice, in which the billionaire vamps shamelessly as a hardworking CEO, or to his latest best-selling how-to-manual, Trump: How to Get Rich.
But "The Donald" did get my attention with his interview in the August issue of Esquire, where he makes it clear that he'd treat Bush like the incompetent guy he is and fire him for his mishandling of Iraq.
"Look at the war in Iraq and the mess that we're in." Trump tells Esquire. "What was the purpose of the whole thing? Hundreds and hundreds of young people killed. And what about the people coming back with no arms and no legs? Not to mention the other side. All those Iraqi kids who've been blown to pieces. And it turns out that all of the reasons for the war were blatantly wrong. All this for nothing!," Trump said.
Trump to Bush: "You're Fired!" Not a bad bumper sticker. And it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.
It's great that attention has been paid to progressives like Illinois' Barack Obama, South Dakota's Stephanie Herseth, and Pennsylvania's Allyson Schwartz and Lois Murphy and Oklahoma's Kalyn Free. All these newcomers to the national stage herald a fresh populism should a Democratic tide sweep over America in November.
And in my city of New York there's Frank Barbaro, who's running for a house seat from Southern Brooklyn and Staten Island, New York City's closest thing to a red state. Barbaro, 76, is an unheralded star, a genuine working-class folk hero who deserves far more attention from the media than his candidacy has received thus far.
The 13th district isn't exactly fertile territory for a 76-year-old Democratic candidate. In normal times, the 13th--composed largely of middle and working-class Italian-Americans--is a safe Republican seat having elected Republicans to the House at every opportunity since Reagan's 1980 presidential landslide. The demographics are gradually shifting though as African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans now constitute twenty-six percent of the electorate, with the area's Hispanic population growing considerably.
Barbaro, the son of Italian immigrants, lives in Bensonhurst smack in the middle of the 13th, where he opened a law practice. Despite the district's conservative leanings, the very progressive Barbaro has a serious shot thanks, in large part, to a stellar resume and a patriot's background. He joined the Navy after graduating from high school, and held jobs as an ironworker, cab driver and butcher. From 1952 to 1967, Barbaro worked as a longshoreman on the waterfront in Brooklyn, and his time on the piers profoundly shaped his philosophy. "My fifteen years on the waterfront were the foundry of my ideology," Barbaro said in an interview last week.
He started at a time when McCarthyism was in the ascendance, and anti-communists were purging the ranks of unions of suspected subversives. Brooklyn's docks were run by the mob, and the conditions were horrendous. Barbaro encountered "a total, utter disregard for workers," and decided to stand for social justice. Enduring threats against him and his friends, Barbaro expressed his outrage at his coworkers' exposure to dangerous asbestos levels in the ships and the constant hazardous waterfront tasks and mob intimidation of the AFL-CIO. One time, "4,000 pounds of concrete came pouring down on [Barbaro and his fellow workers]," and Barbaro spearheaded a spontaneous walkout, telling his bosses: "We're not gonna work like animals."
By the late sixties, Barbaro had become a firm believer in the power of organizing. He eventually entered politics and served in the New York Assembly, where he championed important pro-labor and tenants rights legislation. While an assemblyman, Barbaro led a rent strike in the city, and when he was later elevated to the state Supreme Court Justice, he wrote opinions that he proudly recalled safeguarded due process rights for the accused. But it was on the waterfront where he sunk his progressive roots, learning the "absolute necessity of building a people's movement--to be a countervailing force" to corporations.
Now Barbaro faces a four-term Republican incumbent, Vito Fossella, who Barbaro calls "a total political opportunist" who has ignored his constituents and instead done the bidding of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Fossella has indeed amassed a shameful record. He turned his back on Staten Island's veterans, supporting Bush's 2003 budget that cut veterans benefits by $14 billion. He voted against putting more cops on the beat, and supported Bush's massive tax giveaways to corporate America. "Vito is silent," thundered Barbaro at his announcement rally, when it comes to ensuring that New York firefighters and other first responders have "functioning radios" and the equipment "to fight bio-terrorism, [and] dirty bombs."
Barbaro believes that local interests--from Staten Island's Advance newspaper to the borough's business community and even some Republicans--are tired of Fossella's incompetence and inability to assist his district. "If you don't want to work, get out of the way," Barbaro has said. One of his slogans is: "Veto Vito!"
Above all, Barbaro takes the fight for social and economic justice as a lifelong task, and he's running at age 76 because he wants to give Staten Island and Brooklyn's residents their fair shake, and to send a wake-up call to the country.
"Large monies are essential to run campaigns" nowadays, "and the Democratic Party has moved to the right" in recent years, Barbaro argues. "If you stay in the middle you really don't stand for anything." If Barbaro defeats Fossella, he intends to fight "without fear" for unabashed progressive values and goals: healthcare for all; union power; tax justice so corporations pay their fair share; and a full, independent investigation into the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. "[I will fight to] redefine the "mission and philosophy of the Democratic Party," he promises. One of his first orders of business will be to gather grassroots progressives and union organizers to figure out better ways of spreading the populist agenda across America.
Barbaro is running not just on the Democratic ticket but also on the Working Families Party line, which sees in Barbaro an exemplary vessel for its core mission "to inject the concerns of working-class, middle-class, and poor people into the public debate." Dan Cantor at WFP explained Barbaro's appeal: "If Paul Wellstone was a 78 year old Italian from Brooklyn, his name would be Frank Barbaro."
A bold and passionate advocate, Barbaro says "my greatest accomplishment is my belief in America and belief in economic and social justice and my belief in staying the course. [I have] unwavering confidence in the American people that they will, in the end, do what is right for America."
To wage this tough fight for Congress, Barbaro needs progressives to rally to his cause. Click here if you want to support a lifelong fighter for liberal values and a man who never forgot his working-class roots and make a contribution today. With your assistance, Barbaro could launch a movement that will sweep George Bush and Vito Fossella ou