Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
The Bush Administration, in a stealthy move designed to minimize anticipated insurgent attacks, yesterday handed "sovereignty" to Iraq's interim government two days before it had been scheduled to do so on June 30th.
The premature hand-off--or what might be called a sovereignty scam--means that the Bush Team's PR offensive is certain to kick into high gear in the coming weeks. (When Bush learned that Paul Bremer had formally relinquished his authority to the Iraqi government, he added an Orwellian touch to a hand-written note that his national security advisor Condi Rice had just sent him. His note said: "Let Freedom Reign!")
Now more than at any time since Bush invaded Iraq, journalists need to give Americans a clear assessment of the mounting costs of this war. This is a great opportunity for the media to redeem itself for malpractice in the run-up to war when, as Washington Post ombudsperson Michael Getler wrote this month in a tough rebuke to his own paper---and the larger media world, "...the press, as a whole, did not do a very good job in challenging administration claims...Too many public events in which alternative views were expressed...were either missed, underreported or poorly displayed."
The costs are now detailed in a devastating report just released by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF). It is an extraordinary compilation of the mounting human, economic, environmental, security and other costs of this war of choice.
In human terms, seven hundred US servicemen and women have died since Bush declared "the end of major combat" in his infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech in May 2003, while more than 5,000 soldiers have been wounded since the war began. Many of them, as Michael Moore documents in his provocative new film Fahrenheit 911, have lost arms and legs.The cost to the Iraqi people has also been tragic. Up to 11,317 Iraqi civilians have died in the conflict so far--many of them children whose only crime was to be caught living in the middle of a war zone.
In financial terms, the costs to the American taxpayer are massive. The US has already spent $126 billion on the war, costing every American family approximately $3,400 each. As the Campaign for America's Future recently pointed out, this Administration has socked it to hard-working families on two fronts: Bush passed his massive tax cuts that gave a huge tax break to the wealthiest individuals and corporations, and then when he went to war, he asked the same working-and middle-class families who bore the brunt of the tax cuts to pay for the conflict. Meanwhile, companies like Halliburton are making a mint in Iraq after receiving no-bid contracts from the federal government.
A new report by Christian Aid--a non-profit group that seeks solutions to poverty--makes clear who has been the real beneficiaries of the invasion and occupation. It shows that "a majority of Iraq's reconstruction projects have been awarded to US companies, which charge up to ten times more than Iraqi firms." (Also check out Naomi Klein's recent Nation column detailing how during the run-up to this "handover" the US occupation powers have been "unabashed in their efforts to steal money that is supposed to aid a war-ravaged people.")
By the end of 2004, according to the IPS/FPIP report, Bush will have spent approximately $151 billion to wage his crusade in Iraq. That money could have paid for 23 million housing vouchers for poor and working-class Americans, and given America's elementary school children three million new teachers. It could have provided healthcare for 27 million uninsured Americans and allowed 20 million more children to enter the Head Start program.
Floridians alone will have to shell out almost $8 billion to pay for W's war in Iraq. Meanwhile, the Bush Team is providing Florida only half that amount for initiatives in such vital areas as education, environmental protection and community block grants in a state where nineteen percent of the children currently live below the poverty line.
If there is any good news, it is that Americans are at long last recognizing that this President is untrustworthy and dishonest. Today, the latest New York Times/CBS poll was released showing that Bush's job approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency, while the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that by a margin of 52 percent to 39 percent, Kerry is seen as more honest and trustworthy. And just last week a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans for the first time believe that invading Iraq was a mistake.
More and more Americans are understanding that the country is paying a very high price for this war and occupation and that this "war" president hoodwinked both Congress and the people.
Sanity prevailed at the Green Party Convention this weekend as its members rejected the entreaties of Ralph Nader's running mate Peter Camejo to vote for "no nominee." The Greens rank-and-file instead nominated Texas attorney David Cobb as its candidate for president Saturday, rebuffing Nader's efforts to secure the party's formal endorsement and likely access to the ballot in key states like Wisconsin and California.
Though no fan of John Kerry, Cobb's strategy for "smart growth" for the Green Party calls for him to aggressively campaign for votes only in safe states while advising party members to essentially vote for Kerry in the ten or so states he considers the battlegrounds which will decide this November's presidential election. This Green candidate understands that Kerry is an imperfect candidate; but he is sane enough to make the clear distinction between imperfection and a candidate like George Bush who, as he says, "is a genuine threat to the planet."
Cobb's strategy jibes with a new grassroots campaign that launched just days before the Green Convention in Milwaukee. "Greens for Kerry" urges former Nader voters and Greens in swing states to unite to defeat Bush by voting for the Democrat's candidate.
"While we acknowledge some policy disagreements with Kerry," the founding statement of Greens for Kerry reads, "we believe that the threat posed by another four years of George Bush endangers our country, the world and many of the gains that progressive and grassroots movements have achieved over the past century, including women's rights, environmental protection, social justice, minority rights, and many more. What's worse, if a Nader or Green Party run helps Bush win a second term, the Green Party itself will suffer, which we certainly don't want to happen."
The campaign, launched by registered Green Party member and former Nader campaign volunteer Sarah Newman, has set a goal of gathering a minimum of 10,000 signatures on its website pledging support for Kerry in battleground states. (Click here for info.)
On related fronts, recent attempts to stop Nader included the Arizona Democratic Party's effort to block him from getting on the state ballot, and the Congressional Black Caucus uniformly and heatedly asking him to withdraw from the race rather than take votes away from Kerry. (Nader testily rejected their request.)
Perhaps the most extreme suggestion could be found in last week's "Boondocks"-- Aaron McGruder's brilliant comic strip. "We Must Stop Ralph Nader," Mr. Dubois tells Huey. "We must do everything in our power to band together as freedom-loving liberals and stop this man." But kidnapping? Check out last week's strip for the details.
Is it any surprise that the publication of Clinton's memoir My Life has revived the vitriolic bleating from those on the right who just can't seem to stop salivating over blue dresses and beret-wearing interns ?
But if these self-appointed morality police were truly committed to upholding ethics and promoting values in government, they would begin challenging the House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who is hands down one of the most corrupt politicians in the United States.
"The Hammer"--DeLay got that nickname because he runs the US House of Representatives with an iron fist--has allegedly bribed his GOP colleagues to win their votes for legislation that he desperately wanted to pass in the House. He's engaged in quid pro quos with corporations seeking legislative favors, and violated campaign finance laws in Texas during the 2002 state house election contests. Now, after a seven-year truce in the US House that discouraged members from filing ethics charges against one another, Rep. Chris Bell has gone to the ethics committee and filed a 187-page bombshell charging that DeLay engaged in extortion, money-laundering and other abuses of power.
Just this week, the ethics committee said that Bell had met the criteria for filing a complaint, and it will now spend at least the next forty-five days reviewing the charges that DeLay violated the house's ethics rules. Bell called the committee's decision "an important first step in the long journey to restore integrity and ethics to the people's House and to hold the House majority leader accountable for his actions." He received a riproaring (standing) ovation from the Democratic Caucus this week, winning a tacit endorsement from colleagues in his ongoing battle to hold DeLay accountable.
Bell, who lost his seat in Texas after DeLay rammed through his undemocratic statewide redistricting plan designed to help Republicans hold on to power there, has taken a bold stand. But kudos must also be given to the courageous folks at the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington who have been filing complaints against DeLay and shining a spotlight on his transgressions for many months now. CREW bills itself as a non-partisan watchdog group established to use litigation to help ordinary people against unscrupulous government officials. "Of course, we should have high standards for government leaders," CREW's mission statement notes, "but the greatest danger to democracy is posed not by the personal peccadilloes of government leaders, but rather, public policy unduly influenced by special interests." Although it has adopted the model of legal advocacy developed by right-wing organizations like Judicial Watch and the Rutherford Institute, CREW has no political ideology, and in recent years it has stood alongside a bevy of brave souls, from columnist Paul Krugman to Democratic officials in the Texas legislature, who have opposed DeLay's brass-knuckles tactics and criticized the Majority Leader's illegal and undemocratic activities.
Thanks to Bell's complaint and CREW's persistence, Americans now have in their hands a vivid picture of corruption and ethical rule-breaking that belies the notion that this Administration and its Republican Congressional allies do anything more than simply pay lip service to upholding ethics and morality in the seats of federal power. For starters, the Democratic District Attorney in Travis County, Texas has convened a grand jury to investigate charges that "the Hammer" used his political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, to raise millions in corporate campaign contributions and then spent some of this money on polling, fundraising and get-out-the-vote activities in violation of Texas law, which says that corporate contributions can be used only for general administrative purposes.
DeLay is also charged in Bell's complaint with extracting campaign contributions from an electric utility in Kansas called Westar Energy. DeLay, it's alleged, agreed to insert provisions into an energy bill that would save Westar billions of dollars. One e-mail that has subsequently come to light reveals that Westar's executives thought that they were buying a "seat at the table" when they donated money to groups with links to the Majority Leader.
Then there's DeLay's role in corralling votes on behalf of the GOP's sham Medicare prescription drug legislation, a legislative low point that occurred in the long night of Republican arm-twisting last November. According to the Associated Press, Rep. Nick Smith, a Republican from Michigan, said that unnamed House Republican leaders threatened to work against Smith's son (who was running for Nick's seat) unless Smith voted for the legislation. Robert Novak reported in his column that Smith was also told that "business interests would give his son $100,000 in return for his father's vote." While Smith later recanted these allegations, his charges have the ring of truth, and they are in keeping with DeLay's thuggish tactics of forcing even his own Republican colleagues to submit to the Republican leadership's will on closely fought legislative matters.
DeLay's brazen attacks on democratic governance--a tangled web of truly scandalous behavior--are so outrageous that even conservative Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel has assailed the Republican leadership for fomenting an "anything goes" atmosphere: "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." Real conservatives like Hagel believe that they should take responsibility for their actions. These conservatives actually value the rule of law, and they understand that the ends don't always justify the means in the pursuit of a radical right-wing ideology that serves corporate special interests above all.
Tom DeLay has never understood these things. He is committed to his take-no-prisoners agenda, and he sees ethics, morality and rules as nuisances that must be flouted, disdained and ignored. DeLay has racked up a record that demands investigation and action in the ethics committee and the courts of law. His scurrilous misdeeds demonstrate the yawning gap between a former President's private indiscretions and DeLay's dangerous violations of the public trust.
One of the big sports stories of the year was the Detroit Pistons' amazing upset of the formidable LA Lakers in the NBA championship series. Paul Richards, veteran Democratic Party activist and onetime member of the Montana House of Representatives, thinks the Pistons' win has lessons for his party in this November's battle.
What I Learned From the NBA Finals
(Detroit Pistons 4-1 over the Los Angeles Lakers)
* That ordinary guys who get in shape, hustle and persevere can win
* That blue collar workers playing pristine ball can upset spoiled rich prima donnas
* That reality can outshine glitter, despite all the PR to the contrary
* That dynasties can fail and storied empires fall
* That radical restructuring can occur at a moment's notice
* That hard work, courage and initiative can create windows of opportunity
* That if we play cohesively as a team and contest every single possession, we can dominate
* That, given the above, domestic regime change is inevitable
When former Clinton special prosecutor Kenneth Starr resurfaced in a sanctimonious interview on PBS's new Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered last Friday, it seemed like a nightmarish time warp. This right-wing legal zealot, who twisted the law into a political vendetta, quoted from the scriptures at least three times during the eight-minute interview. When asked what Clinton had done wrong, Starr fumbled lamely, and directed Carlson to "the referral." The prosecutor who abused his legal discretion (according to many legal experts, including former Iran/contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh ) couldn't admit that his exhaustive investigation came up with nothing, yet cost taxpayers over $70 million and consumed the time of twenty-eight attorneys and seventy-eight FBI agents over four years. (For more on Starr's abuse of power, see the just-released documentary The Hunting of the President, based on Joe Conason and Gene Lyon's bestselling book of the same name.)
(When asked why the once bitterly hostile inquisitor seemed so mellow these days, one of the show's senior producers grinned and speculated that it was a side effect from Viagra.)
The political strategist Niccolo Machiavelli once observed that the proper place for saints was in the convent, not the councils of state. He also advised citizens and their representatives to take ruthless action against leaders who steal from the public purse or subvert constitutions. Wise advice as we reflect on how historically disproportionate was the punishment demanded of Clinton to the crime. The Nation still has its problems with the former President--but they have to do with his policies when it came to welfare "reform," Rwanda and dealing with post-Communist Russia. Those were Clinton's wrongdoing--not illicit sex and attempts to conceal it.
Yet, for a personal indiscretion, the former President was persecuted by an ethically challenged special prosecutor, at great cost to the nation's business. Yet where is the special prosecutor to investigate President Bush who, according to many legal experts, has committed war crimes, manipulated intelligence to mislead us into a war that was unnecessary and illegal (and that has already cost thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and wounded and maimed tens of thousands), shredded fundamental constitutional safeguards, subverted international law and sanctioned torture?
On a lighter note, last summer I suggested that parents use President Bush's (mis)behavior as a way to talk to their children about values like telling the truth, telling lies and the consequences:
posted 07/31/2003 @ 09:44am
Parenting in 2003
On the eve of the Clinton Impeachment hearings in 1998, The Sexuality Information and Education Council (SIECUS) sent out "Ten Tips for Talking about the Starr Report with Your Children."
"The upcoming impeachment hearing," SIECUS president Debra Haffner advised, "provides parents with a special opportunity to talk to their children about sexuality issues.... The question parents need to ask is 'Who do I want to tell my children about this sad situation?' Another child on the playground? An acquaintance on the school bus? They are unlikely to tell your children the facts in a clear way. And only YOU can give YOUR children YOUR values."
It's now 2003 and if the events of these last weeks don't provide parents with that special opportunity to talk to their children about the president and values like truth, lies and consequences, then I don't know what does.
So, with all due credit to SIECUS, here are Tips for Talking about President Bush with Your Children:
*1) Think about your values as they relate to this situation. What are your family's values about telling the truth? What would you do if your child lied to you and when you scolded him or her, s/he replied: "I am not a fact-checker." Or added, "Isn't it time to move on?"
*2) Ask your children to tell you what words mean to them. Explain that words have consequences and lies can come in two, six or sixteen words.
*3) Clarify facts. Give short, age-appropriate answers. Explain that shifting strategies at damage control only lead to more unanswered questions. Make clear that even if facts are malleable for President Bush, they're not malleable in your home. Explain that even though the White House strategy may be to say whatever is necessary, even if they have to admit later that what they said the first time wasn't exactly true, you don't do it that way yourself.
*4) Use these talks with your child to encourage good decision-making. Let them know that if they grow up to become president and lead a nation into war, the right thing to do is take responsibility for their words and acts. (This is a good opportunity to explain what the saying "the buck stops here" means.)
*5) Use television news as a springboard for discussion. However, do not let children younger than 13 watch this coverage alone. It can be ugly and disturbing for children to watch the President and his aides scapegoat their subordinates with so little compunction.
*6) Help your children understand the larger issues. Let them know that it's not just about sixteen words. You could explain that there appears to be a pattern of dishonesty well beyond the uranium scandal that is extremely worrisome. Explain that the American people are entitled to the truth and they have a right to know if President Bush, Vice President Cheney or any White House officials misrepresented the facts to justify war.
*7) Keep the lines of communication open. Talk. Remember that this is not a one-time or a one-way discussion. Your children need your ongoing support in dealing with their President's tenuous relationship to the truth. Unfortunately, this sad situation is currently a fixed element of the political landscape they are growing up in.
A version of this weblog was published on the op-ed page of [the July 30, 2003] Boston Globe.
Today a group of former senior diplomatic officials and retired military commanders--several of whom are the kind who "have never spoken out before" on such matters--issued a bracing statement arguing that George W. Bush has damaged the country's national security and calling on Americans to defeat him in November. It's too early to tell if the statement will have an impact on this fall's campaign. But Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change, as the group is called, reveals (again) how dangerously isolated the Bush Administration is not just around the world but even from America's own bipartisan foreign policy and military establishments.
This latest missive, as the LA Times and the Washington Post reported last Sunday, is being sent by Democratic and Republican officials who refuse to stay silent in the face of Bush's extremist and ideological foreign policy which, they say, is squandering America's moral standing. These signatories aren't exactly a Who's Who of the American left.
Jack Matlock, who served as Reagan and Bush 41's ambassador to the Soviet Union, has signed the statement, as has Ret. Adm. William Crowe, who served as Reagan's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar has added his name to the list, and he commanded US forces in the Middle East under Bush Sr. Phyllis Oakley, who served as a State Department spokesperson under Reagan, is another signatory. The vast majority of the signatories are, in fact, either conservative Republicans who served under Reagan and Bush 41 or they are bipartisan, consensus-driven ex-diplomats who served their country from Africa to Asia because they believed in America's leadership role around the world.
Now they feel so enraged by Bush's extremist foreign policies that they can no longer stand by as this Administration makes America less secure by upending alliances and alienating much of the world. Against the metastasizing scandal of Abu Ghraib; the botched postwar occupation of Iraq; and the Administration's lies about WMDs in Iraq in the run-up to the war, these old hands are now taking an uncompromising, intelligent stand against what they see as the most arrogant, unilateral and incompetent foreign policy in their adult lifetimes.
Today's signatories join a large and growing chorus of former senior officials who, as I first noted in a July 2003 weblog, were so enraged by Bush's conduct of the Iraq war that sitting on the sidelines simply wasn't an option for them. John Brady Kiesling, now a retired diplomat, led the charge in February 2003 when he courageously quit his foreign-service job with the American Embassy in Athens, and wrote a stinging rebuke to Bush's headlong rush to wage a war in Iraq. Then another career diplomat Gregory Thielmann went public, telling Bill Moyers that Iraq didn't pose an "imminent security threat" to America. Thielmann attacked Bush for hyping intelligence reports and for misleading the American people about the need to go to war in the Middle East. The Administration, he said, "has had a faith-based intelligence attitude.We know the answers--give us the intelligence to support those answers'."
Around the same time, retired military commanders were growing aghast at Bush's utterly inept lack of planning for the occupation of Iraq. That's why, for example, the former Centcom commander Gen. Anthony Zinni ultimately went on 60 Minutes last month and argued that if Bush stayed on the current course in Iraq, America was "headed over Niagara Falls." Hoar, the retired Marine general, has publicly declared that the United States is "absolutely on the brink of failure" in Iraq.
Meanwhile, other former ambassadors and career foreign-service officers began speaking up, each in their own way and on their own timetables. GOP strategists with ties to the White House were quick and shameless in denigrating those who've spent their life serving the national interest.
Ronald Spiers, the former Ambassador to Turkey and Pakistan and well versed in the politics of the Middle East, argued that W.'s policies have unraveled our most important alliances around the globe. Spiers faulted Bush for causing us to lose "a lot of our international partnerships. We've lost a lot of lives. We've lost a lot of money for something that wasn't justified."
William Harrop, a former ambassador to Kenya and Israel, spoke for many in the diplomatic corps, and I suspect for even some former Bush I officials like Brent Scowcroft, when he said: "I really am essentially a Republican. I voted for George Bush's father, and I voted for George Bush. But what we got was not the George Bush we voted for." And former ambassador Joseph Wilson has reminded Americans of just how many lies the Administration was willing to make in its quest to convince people that Iraq posed a nuclear threat to the United States.
Then, of course, there are the high-level NSC officials who, after getting a ringside seat for Bush's bungling national security strategies, decided that enough was enough, and that now was the season to speak up and take a stand. Rand Beers left W.'s White House after serving under Reagan and Bush I, and he is now running foreign policy operations for John Kerry's presidential campaign. Richard Clarke, is one of the most experienced counterterrorism officials America has produced in the last three decades; he, too, could no longer stand idly by as the Administration pursued a fool's errand by starting a war against Iraq.
Just last month, as I noted in another weblog, a separate group of fifty-three ex-diplomats and other high-level national security officials wrote a letter to Bush in which they excoriated the President for sacrificing America's credibility in the Arab world and squandering America's status as honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
The statement issued today marks the high-water point of dissent among diplomats and military commanders who cannot stomach Bush any longer, but there is still time, and a need, for more high-level officials to come forward and voice their opposition to policies that are undermining our security.
The anger towards W., and the antipathy towards his extremely dangerous policies has now, at long last, reached a critical mass. Today's statement reveals just how extremist the Administration's approach has been, and the staggering stupidity of their radical ideologies. This letter is a profound wake-up call to all Americans: George W. Bush must be defeated.
Somehow it seemed fitting that the week former President Ronald Reagan died, the United States was named as one of the world's most serious violators of worker's rights. The other countries included some of the world's most repressive governments--China, Burma, Belarus and Colombia. According to an annual survey by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the US, "far from being a shining beacon of labor practices," is a country in which "trade union rights violations continue unabated." The report cited the "fierce anti-trade union behaviour" of several American companies, including firings, layoffs and threats of closure after workers sought better pay and conditions. ICTFU also reported that 40 percent of America's public employees, or 6.9 million people, are denied collective bargaining rights.
The same week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced that it is considering a radical change in the law that could further inhibit workers from exercising their freedom of association. The Board--three of whose five members were appointed by Bush--announced that it will review a case that reconsiders the long-used practice of forming a union through voluntary recognition. (In this process, companies agree to recognize a union that has collected signature cards from a majority of workers indicating their desire to join, without forcing workers to go through potentially contentious elections.) According to a statement from the newly formed group American Rights at Work, the NLRB's move could further expose workers to potential intimidation and harassment by employers,a common practice during union organizing drives. "Workers who want a voice on the job need more protection, not less," said David Bonior, Chair of American Rights at Work.
The modern war on labor, ruthlessly waged today by the Bush Administration, was launched by Ronald Reagan. His firing of the air traffic controllers in 1981 set the tone for labor relations for years to come. And he appointed members of the National Labor Relations Board who were hostile to union organizing. As Harold Meyerson observed in the Washington Post, "Roughly a quarter of American workers belonged to unions when Reagan took office. When he broke the PATCO strike, it was an unambiguous signal that employers need feel little or no obligation to their workers, and employers got the message loud and clear--illegally firing workers who sought to unionize, replacing permanent employees who could collect benefits with temps who could not, shipping factories and jobs abroad."
This past week, the United States joined some of the world's most repressive regimes as a violator of working peoples' rights and the NLRB threatened to radically weaken workers' freedom of association. That is Reagan's real legacy to the working people of America.
There's a stealth issue in this presidential campaign that could go far in determining the election results. I'm talking about the rising gas, phone, electricity, milk and cable prices that are damaging millions of hard-working families struggling to live in George W. Bush's America. In addition to paying $2-plus per gallon prices at the pump, consumers are getting squeezed at the supermarket--shelling out as much as $4 per gallon for milk.
Other staples are going through the roof. Since 1996, cable rates have risen 56 percent, besting inflation by nearly a factor of three. Sen. John McCain recently pointed out that consumers are getting bilked: "When it comes to purchasing cable channels, consumers have all the choice of a Soviet election ballot. One option: Take it or leave it."
According to an exhaustive study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Enron and other electricity giants manipulated California energy markets to boost wholesale electricity and natural gas prices to make a financial killing. In 2001, electricity prices soared in the western United States, as blackouts became routine and millions of consumers got gouged. Looking ahead and perhaps no farther than next week, phone rates may well rise now that a federal appellate court has scuttled regulations that had saved consumers $11 billion annually on their phone bills. Bush has refused to appeal the phone rate court ruling, a decision that will virtually guarantee higher phone bills for nearly 50 million customers.
This Administration has sided with its corporate cronies on these and other issues. Under Bush many families have had to face tuition hikes, state service cuts and sky-high health care costs. Bush's tax giveaways have boosted the corporate bottom line and helped the wealthiest individuals. Hard-working families have received little to nothing in return.
This White House is addicted to deregulation. It has flung open the doors to its corporate contributors. Cronies like Enron's Ken Lay called the shots in the corridors (and commissions). The FCC's Michael Powell led the fight to raise the media ownership caps, generating momentum for corporate consolidation, stifling diversity and undercutting localism in communities nationwide. Despite valiant efforts by Democratic members of the FCC, the Commission has refused to take action on rising consumer cable rates.
Whether it's mad cow disease or dairy prices, the Administration stands pat while consumers take the hit.
The bitter fruits of deregulation are caught on the recently released Enron traders' tapes. Gloating about how they successfully cheated "poor grandmothers" out of their life savings, these traders show a cynical contempt for people. When one trader gets wind of a transmission line fire that caused a power failure, "Burn baby, burn" is his response.
But, so far, most politicians have failed to become the champion of consumers who are being hit hard in their pocketbooks where it hurts. One Washington communications lawyer told the LA Times: "If you tell this story as part of a larger discussion about the rising price of milk and gas, then suddenly three things make a pattern and you have a campaign issue."
Look at what happened in Florida--not an inconsequential state this November. When state regulators--at industry's urging--proposed a $350 million hike in phone rates, Floridians flooded those regulators with more than 7,000 letters decrying their decision. The regulators responded--they changed the decision.
According to some analysts, the issue of rising phone bills has the potential to sway the presidential race in four closely contested states: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
In Fort Worth, Texas, the cable manager received numerous complaints that the local provider Charter Communications was forcing large cable packages down people's throats, making consumers pay for channels they never even watched.
John Kerry ought to step up and confront the Baby Bells, cable companies and energy conglomerates. His recent statement against media consolidation suggests Kerry understands this is an issue that resonates with voters across the political spectrum. He could side with consumers who are under siege by an Administration that never met a regulation it didn't want to destroy.
But politicians, including Kerry, are lagging behind and failing to seize the opportunity to protect people's pocketbooks. In the meantime, we may see corporate greed and Administration-sanctioned gouging rousing consumers to take action. To paraphrase that great Paddy Chayevsky film Network, we may be at a moment when the American people are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
For more information:
""Bush Backs off Rule that Eased Phone Line Fees"
Stephen Labaton, New York Times, June 10, 2004
"FERC Finds Widespread Energy Manipulation in 2000 Energy Crisis"
SRIMedia.com, March 27, 2003
"FERC Says Power Firms Maybe Gamed Markets"
Hil Anderson, UPI, Insightmag.com
"Rising Cable Television Rates Become Election Year Issue"
Bobby White, Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Texas Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, April 12, 2004
"Got Cash? Milk Prices on the Rise"
Donna Balancia, Florida Today, May 9, 2004
"Got More Money? Milk Prices Rising"
Romeo Cantu, KGBT4.com , June 8, 2004
"Could Telephone Rates Become a Campaign Issue?"
Jube Shiver Jr., LA Times, June 1, 2004
"Milk Still Fortifies the Bones, but What about the Wallet?"
June 7, 2004, Lydia Polgreen, New York Times
"Enron's Awesome Cynicism"
New York Times editorial, June 6, 2004
"Kerry Comes out Against Big Media....Sort of"
Timoth Karr, Mediachannel.org, June 9, 2004
Thursday's Wall Street Journal reports that "the American left is seeing signs of political revival" as Bush's economic and foreign policies alienate growing numbers of Americans. More people are identifying themselves as "liberals" while fewer are willing to call themselves "conservatives," a term many believe has lost meaning since the fiscal excesses and extremist policies of the Bush Administration have replaced traditional conservatism.
The Journal story reports that this shift in America's political identity is also reflected in the country's reading habits. As John Harwood writes, "The flagship publication of the left, the Nation, claims to have captured the highest circulation of any weekly political magazine." The article continues, "The Nation has seen its circulation grow to 160,000 from nearly 140,000 in mid-2003 and just over 102,000 in June 2001. The latest figure exceeds the circulation of longstanding conservative stalwart National Review, which is roughly 155,500, down from about 159,000 in mid-2001."
In a recent interview with Buzzflash.com, I had a chance to talk about politics, passion, principle, the role of The Nation, and my new book Taking Back America--and Taking Down the Radical Right, (co-edited with Robert Borosage).
Buzzflash.com is a progressive news headline and commentary site that has more than 3.6 million visitor sessions a month. It is dedicated to the principle that an informed public is essential to the preservation of our democracy.
The pioneering genius of political advertising, Tony Schwartz, used to preach that the most effective ads don't seek to convey information but to reach into the target audiences' mind to pluck the "responsive chords" already there. And Bill Schneider, the shrewd public opinion analyst, has said, "What the American people want most in a President is what they didn't have in the last one."
So perhaps one way of plucking the "responsive chords" of those four-in-ten Republicans who now say they would reconsider their support for Bush in November is to ask them such "responsive chord" questions as the offhand sampling below.
Would you rather have a President:
Who can change his mind when his vision of reality turns out to be mistaken? Or one who dares not change for fear of appearing weak?
Who believes that evidence necessary to justify a war has to be carefully weighed?Or one who is satisfied when his CIA director tells him the evidence is a slam-dunk?
Who fires advisors who have misled him? Or one who fears to reveal that he knows they have misled him?
Who asks a variety of wise men and women to advise him as well as God? Or one who thinks that it is enough that he hears and recognizes God's voice?
Who goes back to the Constitution for guidance on liberty and values? Or one who goes instead to religious fundamentalists?
Who, when considering healthcare policy, gives first priority to the health of children and parents? Or one who gives first priority to the interests of the drug and insurance corporations?
Who either confides in and trusts his Secretary of State or else replaces him? Or one who does not give his Secretary of State information that he discloses to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia?
Who, when on 9/11 he hears that Washington and New York are under deadly attack, takes charge immediately? Or one who, not knowing what to do, goes on reading to a third-grade class he is visiting?
Who can remember his mistakes, hence moves to remedy them? Or one who says he cannot remember any, hence cannot do any remedying?
Who claims victory when it is won? Or one who claims it before it is won?
Who gives a high priority to humane programs like keeping veterans off welfare? Or one whose priorities run instead toward insuring that corporate contributors like Halliburton receive profitable contracts?
Who faces the media frequently and accepts the obligation to inform press and public? Or one who fears the press and relies on one-liners to divert it?
Who reads some of the newspapers that oppose--or support--him. Or one who does not read any paper?
Who seeks advice from a wide array of energy experts and experienced people? Or one who draws heavily on the oil industry?
Who tries to understand the variety of Americans and the variety of their problems and needs? Or one who thinks his circle of friends is representative of America?
Who appoints a diverse committee to investigate how 9/11 could have happened? Or one who stacks the committee with allies and cronies?
Hopefully some of these questions will spark some "responsive chords." I also welcome readers' suggestions for questions. Click here to send them to me (one per reader!) and I'll post a sampling in the coming weeks.
(I also want to thank Nation Editorial Board member Michael Pertschuk, the former Chair of the FTC, co-founder of the invaluable Advocacy Institute and resident of a battleground state, for his suggestion that we try this project.)
Clarification: Several vigilant readers have complained that my weblog of June 2, "It's Not a War on Terror," is inaccurate because I mention Roosevelt telling Americans during World War II that they had nothing to fear but fear itself. They point out that his famous remark, which went, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," was from his first Inaugural Address in 1933, as the country confronted the Great Depression. I was paraphrasing Roosevelt in a general, not time-bound, way to illustrate how he used hope and courage--not fear--to inspire and lead America through the war and the Depression. Roosevelt's belief that it was dangerous to exploit fear is as relevant to the war years as it is to the Depression. Just think of his idea of the right to freedom from fear, how he made that a pillar of his Four Freedoms--and stood by that belief during the war years.