Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
It's no secret that progressives need to build a stronger political infrastructure if we're going to achieve an enduring majority for positive change in this country. After all, the Right's success in defining politics in the US over the past generation comes in no small measure from its independent institution-building and operational capacities.
As the late Senator Paul Wellstone used to say, if our whole is going to equal the sum of our parts, we need to build a powerful progressive force that recruits and supports the next generation of leaders, at both the grassroots and national level. He had an abiding belief in the importance of building a permanent infrastructure which could identify and train people to run for local, state and national office; apply effective grassroots organizing to electoral politics; provide support for candidates; run ballot initiatives (campaign finance, living wage, the right to organize); offer a vehicle for coordinated issue campaigns; and galvanize a network of media-savvy groups with a broad-based message.
Progressive Majority, and its program, PROPAC, are just what Wellstone had in mind. Led by veteran organizer Gloria Totten, Progressive Majority was launched in 2001 with the sole purpose of electing progressive champions. In their first cycle, they built a nationwide network of tens of thousands of small donors for targeted races. Now, with PROPAC, they are adding a sophisticated plan to recruit, train and support the next generation of Paul Wellstones.
"The time is right for all of the new organizing that is happening on the Left," Totten argues. "George W. Bush and his wrong-headed policies have galvanized us." But, more importantly, she continues, "there is an emerging leadership on the Left that is not willing to continue to be right on the issues and lose elections."
That's where her group's work comes in. Progressive Majority is working closely with many other "Beat Bush" efforts underway and plans to increase those efforts. But, as the only national organization dedicated exclusively to supporting the next generation of candidates who champion a broad progressive economic and social agenda, Progressive Majority is uniquely positioned. And through PROPAC, its newest political program--the name and idea are conscious echoes of Newt Gingrich's GOPAC, the vehicle by which he rose from Congressional backbencher to House Speaker in 14 carefully plotted years leading up to 1994--Totten hopes to raise some $2.6 million over the next year to recruit and train the next generation of progressive candidates at the grassroots level.
"For too long," Totten believes, "progressives have allowed the Party to dominate candidate recruitment. As a result, the Party has drifted to the political right due to the influence of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)." Totten's ambition is nothing less than to design a bold new strategy to redefine progressive electoral politics by transforming Democratic Party candidate recruitment programs.
As Totten sees it, "It's the first step in a long-range project to fill the pipeline with the next generation of progressive elected leaders." PROPAC will also lend critical fundraising support, tapping candidates into a growing network of more than 20,000 small donors and helping them develop their own donor bases. What we won't be, Totten insists,"is another group from Washington that swoops into a community, tells people what to do and then leaves. We are working at the grassroots to develop lasting relationships to continually identify and recruit good progressives to run for office." (PROPAC'S coalition partners include USAction and their local affiliates, Wellstone Action, the Congressional Black Caucus PAC and the PAC for the Hispanic Caucus; they will also work with the AFL-CIO, AFSCME and other labor organizations.)
In the 2004 cycle, PROPAC will be active in five "battleground" states--They have begun work in Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin, and they will add Arizona, Michigan or Florida as funding allows, all of which could swing either way in the Presidential race. The group plans to add five additional target states in 2006 and five more in 2008 until they have a permanent recruitment operation in the most competetive states in the nation. Ultimately, Progressive Majority hopes to elect enough local and statewide candidates--a "farm team"-- to have an impact on the redistricting battles of 2011. "I want candidate recruitment and development to be a permanent part of our politics--not just an election-year priority," Totten says.
With Progressive Majority and PROPAC emerging as savvy players at this crucial time, there's hope that sometime soon a new generation of passionate and principled leaders will drive progressive values into the political debate and the electoral arena.
Click here for more information about Progressive Majority and PROPAC.
"Ann's latest is called 'Treason,' in which she denounces all liberals as traitors, right Ann?" asks the strip's mock radio interviewer.
"Well, it's not just liberals," Ann screeches. "Lots of moderates are traitors, too--as are conservatives who disagree with me. Treason has just gotten completely out of hand lately!"
"Well, as I'm sure you know, Ann, under the US code, treason is a federal crime carrying the death penalty....So I take it you would argue that over half the country should be put to death?"
"Um....wow...That's a tough one," says Ann. "I'm not sure."
"Perhaps you could ask a passing orderly...," suggests the interviewer.
"Good idea. Hold on..."
Hang it up, Ann.
Palm Beach in Baghdad?
"It would be a disaster to have an election whose legitimacy was contested. Nobody wants Palm Beach County in Baghdad," Noah Feldman, a law professor at New York University, who served as a constitutional law adviser to Paul Bremer, recently told the New York Times.
I blamed it on my bleary eyes. After all, it was Friday 8:00am at the tail end of another long week. Was the New York Times's story actually reporting that, "Mr Bush's campaign says it is raising so much money just to remain competitive with what it says is a well-financed liberal political machine."
Whoa! This is the same President who's going to bust all fundraising records--raising over $200 million, even with an uncontested primary race? It's certainly true that unions, wealthy liberals, and others are pouring what resources they have into election 2004. They've correctly anticipated Bush's enormous financial advantage will require an expensive response and that the stakes are extraordinarily high. And Bush's own fundraising is a fraction of the money that will be spent on his behalf--his party will raise far more money than the Democrats and corporate-friendly investment in Bush, Inc. will make its voice heard loudly as well.
Bush as financial underdog? The only question is whether the press corps covering the presidential race will challenge this remarkable spin.
Ted Turner, Feminist?
Bush and Kim Jong Il Tie for Second Place
In a recent poll of 7,500 Europeans, on the eve of his state visit to Britain, George Bush tied with Kim Jong Il of North Korea as the second most dangerous threat to world peace. (Prime Minister http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/middle_east/2001/israel_and_the_pale... ns/profiles/1154622.stm">Ariel Sharon of Israel ranked No. 1)
America is better for Tony Kushner. A self-described "God-believing Jew and a historical materialist socialist humanist agnostic," Kushner--a member of The Nation's editorial board--is a playful partisan, whose sense of humor and a generous, joyful and truthful voice fills his work, including his Pulitzer prize-winning epic play, Angels in America, which premieres this Sunday on HBO.
And The Nation is better for Kushner's contributions over the years, including his award-winning 1994 essay A Socialism of the Skin, his rabble-rousing commencement address to Vassar's 2002 class, A Word to Graduates: Organize! and a scene from his forthcoming play about Laura Bush reading Dostoevsky to dead Iraqi children. (Click here to read past Nation articles from Kushner.)
What has always moved me about Kushner is his sense of humanity and humility. "I am a person of the left," he said in a recent New York Times profile. "But I am uncertain about a great many things; what to do next; where change is coming from; what is the meaning of being left in a world like this?"
And although his writing often describes the outrages of our time ("There is not enough anger for everything that makes me angry," he once said, quoting novelist Sarah Schulman), Kushner retains his joyful and incendiary spirit--refusing to get preachy or earnest. "I believe that the playwright should be a kind of public intellectual, even if only a crackpot intellectual." Kushner once wrote. "Someone who asks her or his thoughts to get up before crowds, on platforms, and entertain, challenge, instruct, annoy, provoke, appall. I'm amused and horrified when I realize that, on occasion, I've been taken seriously. But, of course being taken seriously is my ambition, semi-secretly-and-very-ambivalently held. I enjoy the tension between responsibility and frivolity; it's where my best work comes from."
That abiding belief in personal responsibility (Or, as he puts it, "when you don't act, you act") may explain Kushner's extraordinary outpouring of work in these last years--from poems, criticism, personal essays, political investigations, public addresses, opera librettos, song lyrics and a children's book.
In the last two months alone, he has published two books, with a third on the way: Brundibar, a picture book filled with melodramatic menace and comedy and real-world politial overtones (with illustrations by Maurice Sendak), Wrestling With Zion, an anthology of progressive Jewish-American responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (with his friend the Village Voice writer Alisa Solomon), and Save Your Democratic Citizen Soul!: Rants, Screeds and Other Public Utterances for Midnight in the Republic, a collection of essays due "out before the next election" Kushner promises.
His new play, Caroline or Change, a semi-autobiographical musical about growing up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, has just opened at the Public Theater in New York City to widespread praise. And while working on Brundibar, he wrote the text for The Art of Maurice Sendak, a book-length essay that the award-winning children's book author considers the best appreciation of his work ever written. And check out this slew of other forthcoming collaborations and projects:
*Only We Who Guard The Mystery Shall Be Unhappy. (The Laura Bush play, in which the First Lady reads the Grand Inquisitor chapter of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov to the ghosts of dead Iraqi children.)
*The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, with a Key to the Scriptures, to open at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 2005.
*A play about Marx and the Jewish Question.
*An adaptation of The Golem.
*Working as an adviser on HBO's version of his play Homebody/Kabul.
*An original screenplay about Eugene O'Neill.
It's hard to feel too bad about the possibilities of the human spirit with Kushner around.
Isn't it interesting that a few small percentage points here and there--third-quarter GDP showed an annual growth rate of 8.2 percent and monthly unemployment dropped from 6.1 percent to 6 percent--produces such euphoria about the country's economic upturn?
Before trumpeting this "boom," the Bush Administration and its crony pundits should pay attention to the real state of the economy--where nine million people are out of work, wages and salaries are stagnant or down, health care costs have increased to staggering double digit rates, retirement savings have been ravaged by the stock market crash, school budgets are taking severe hits, tuitions at public universities are http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0811/p01s03-ussc.html ">soaring and personal bankruptcies are at an all-time high.
Headlines like "Bloom is on the Economy," (The New York Times, 11/8) or "Tough Times Over?" (Washington Post, 11/9) seem foolish, even mean-spirited, when families, communities and whole states are struggling to survive. Consider that in Bush's home state of Texas, according to the Houston Chronicle, 54,000 children have been dropped from the federal-state health insurance program due to budget cuts. Texas, and other states, are also cutting back on subsidies for healthcare, further increasing the number of people with no coverage--now conservatively estimated at 43 million, with their numbers rapidly increasing. And paying for health insurance is becoming a problem for more than just people living on low or fixed-incomes, with many hospitals and neighborhood clinics saying that middle-class people are now joining the poor in seeking their care.
There are more Americans living in poverty now than there were in 1965. Over thirteen million of them are children. (The US has the worst child poverty rate of all the world's industrialized countries.) Last year alone, another 1.7 million Americans slipped below the poverty line, bringing the total to 34.6 million, one in eight of the population, and up from 31.6 million in 2000. (See "Economic Fault Lines in America's States," AFL-CIO report).
And as Trudy Lieberman reported in our pages, the ranks of the hungry are also increasing. About 31 million are now considered to be "food insecure" (they literally do not know where their next meal is coming from.) Hunger is an epidemic in Ohio where, since Bush won there in the 2000 election, the state has lost one in six manufacturing jobs. And two million of the state's 11 million people used food charities last year, an increase of more than 18 percent from 2001. ("Long Queue at Drive-In Soup Kitchen," The Guardian, Julian Borger, November 3)
Economic realities on Main Street, not Wall Street haven't stopped the White House from trumpeting "mission accomplished" when it comes to our supposed economic recovery. Nor has it stopped the Administration's hucksters at the Heritage Foundation from using faulty numbers to "prove" that the Administration's tax cuts are working.
But, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisors, the passage of the most recent round of tax cuts should have led to an economy that produces 306,000 jobs each month. That means that even in the last two months of purportedly "strong economic growth," which produced about 125,000 jobs per month, the economy has produced around 180,000 fewer jobs than the White House promised. And just to keep pace with population growth, the economy would need to produce 140,000 jobs each month.The real "bottom line," taking into account the 3.4 percent gain in population since March 2001, shows that the economy is 6.9 million jobs short of where it would be if payroll levels had remained steady. And, according to Treasury Secretary John Snow's own projection, Bush will end his term with the worst jobs record since Herbert Hoover in the Great Depression.
"The economic policies of the Bush Administration," economist Jeff Madrick , observes, "have been about as crude and destructive a cocktail of stimulants--lavish income and estate tax cuts for upper-income Americans, elimination of taxes on dividends, stepped-up military and homeland security spending--as we have ever seen. The result is short-term growth and long-term damage...the administration's policies will weaken the economy over time, fall particularly harshly on its working middle and low-income citizens, and fail to prepare the nation for a century of far more intense global competition."
"The test of our progress," President Franklin Roosevelt said some sixty-six years ago, "is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; It is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." But does this current President care that there are tens of millions in this country, many of them children, who have too little? And, if Bush does care, is it conceivable that he believes the best way to feed, clothe, educate and care for them is through tax-cuts whose main purpose is to add to the abundance of the super-rich? We may no longer be the country that Roosevelt saw as one-third "ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished," but, this Thanksgiving in America, we are perilously close.
Want to see some thuggish Republican fear-mongering? Check out the GOP's first ad for the 2004 election, which starts running Sunday in Iowa. It accuses Democratic presidential candidates of "attacking the president for attacking the terrorists" and urges viewers to call Congress to "tell them to support the President's policy of preemptive self-defense."
But the Democratic candidates are attacking Bush's preemptive war against Iraq precisely because it had nothing to do with the war on terror. It's now clear--even to most supporters of the war--that Iraq posed no imminent threat to the United States and that Bush and his cronies misled the nation into a war of choice not necessity.
And, if you look at what's happening around the world today, including the recent bombings in Turkey, can any reasonable person argue that "preemptive self defense" has made the world more secure? Instead, it seems easier with each passing day to conclude, tragically, that this Adminstration's disastrous policies have undermined our security and our image in the world and failed to make America--or the world--safer, more secure, more prosperous or more democratic.
If there's any good news in all of this it's that the GOP's decision to run this ad unusually early in the election season signals how worried Republican strategists are about the impact of Iraq on Bush's reelection chances. Growing doubts about the rationale, timing and, of course, the results of the war have led to what few would have predicted last March: Bush's identification with the invasion and occupation of Iraq is now a net negative for his reelection prospects.
As Ruy Teixeira points out in his valuable "Public Opinion Watch," with Bush's key poll ratings on his handling of the war heading South, "a Democratic candidate in 2004 would be foolish not to engage Bush in a sharp debate about America's role in the world and safeguarding our national security." Bush's policy of preemptive war has failed. It now must be ended along with his Administration's preemptive war on truth, civil liberties and the US Constitution.
Uncovered, a new documentary film co-sponsored by Move.On.org and the Center for American Progress and directed by Robert Greenwald, offers far more proof, if any was still necessary, that the Bush Administration's extremism is severely compromising America's national security interests. Featuring never-before-seen interviews with over 20 national security experts--including former Ambassador Joe Wilson; ex CIA chief Stansfield Turner; weapons inspector David Albright; CIA operative Robert Baer, National Security anti-terrorism expert Rand Beers and The Nation's own David Corn--Uncovered exposes the lies, misstatements and distorted intellligence that served as reasons to fight an unnecessary "preemptive" war. The film is a compelling call to action in 2004 and must-see viewing for all citizens who care about changing the direction of our security policy, and our country's leadership. Click here for info on screenings and DVD sales.
The weblog below was originally posted on November 2. We received some powerful responses, which convinced us to re-post the article, a look at why people frequently vote against their own material interests, along with a sampling of reader mail. Click here to read three letters--from Texas, Florida and California.
Why do people consistently vote against their self-interest? Consider Alabama, where low-income people, who hardly benefit from tax cuts that jeopardize government services, recently voted down a referendum that tried to shift the burden from overtaxed working people to under-taxed business interests.
Alabama's citizens, as a New York Times editorial comment pointed out, voted "for fewer social services, less education, and a shoddier legal system--to become, that is, more like a third-world nation." Through a decision made by its own residents, Alabama is now entrenched at the bottom of the national rankings in government services.
The national landscape isn't much brighter. Is there some plausible explanation for why Americans support spending more on government programs like education and healthcare, express disappointment that the gap between rich and poor has widened, but then give their support to Bush's tax cuts, which disproportionately benefit the super-rich?
Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels' recent report, Homer Gets a Tax Cut: Inequality and Public Policy in the American Mind, offers some answers. As he points out, there is "a good deal of ignorance and uncertainty about the workings of the tax system" and a failure to connect tax cuts to rising inequality, the future tax burden or the availability of public services. The report also reveals how people are bamboozled by political spin and poor factual information offered up by our infotainment-ized media. (For more on the report, see Alan Krueger's Economic Scene," New York Times Business section, October 15).
I think that one reason why people vote against their self-interest is distrust of government. Alabama's low taxes and limited services are, in fact, legacies of this distrust-- fed equally by big business, fake-populists like the late Governor George Wallace and, now, a growing Republican majority.
Indeed, in interviews around the state on the eve of the referendum, voter disgust toward state government was palpable, with most people saying they did not trust legislators to spend taxpayers' money. These fears are fanned by rightwing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, which have worked assiduously to denigrate government. As anti-government ideologues like Grover Norquist see it, lowering taxes and downsizing government are the way to destroy the social safety net. (Norquist, after all, promotes the idea that government should be shrunk to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub.) Then there are the consequences of signals people receive from politicians who have made an art of lowering expectations of what government can do even faster than they disappoint them.
Progressives have to take into account the historic libertarian, even anti-government, impulses of most Americans, and accept the role of market forces in many social solutions, but we must also challenge the widespread belief that because government has sometimes performed poorly in recent years, it cannot perform at all.
What's heartening is that even after decades of rightwing government bashing, a progressive domestic agenda is in fact quite popular with voters, as we know from polls and surveys. The problem is that Democrats have not coherently or consistently articulated that agenda, while the Republicans have hammered away with a disciplined message about the phony dangers of "big government." (Matt Miller effectively skewers this message in his valuable new book The Two Percent Solution:Fixing America's Problems in Ways that Liberals and Conservatives Can Love.) And a Murdochized, conglomeratized media too often peddles spin --not factual information that might contribute to citizens acting in their self-interest.
Progressives could begin by articulating a coherent, alternative vision of the purpose and meaning of government. Opposition to the tax cuts is all very good, but for what purpose, to do what?
Let's invoke President Lincoln's injunction that government exists to do what individuals cannot do for themselves. Let's challenge the view that we, as a society, cannot do things together and put forward new and compelling ideas about the role of government and how it can improve our lives. Let's reclaim the ability to articulate why government is a social good, that investments in schools, infrastructure, health care and social services are worth making and that everyone should pay their fair share. And to the wealthy who aren't paying their fair share--ask yourself if you aren't better off being prosperous and paying taxes than going down in the first-class cabins of a sinking ship.
I read with interest Katrina vanden Heuvel's weblog in which she laments the recent decision by Alabama voters to vote down a referendum that would shift taxes from the "folks" to under-taxed business interests. I'm from the south, so I'd like to offer an explanation for this oddity.
Two reasons why this happens:
1) Ignorance. You mention this, and it's just a sad fact. So many people really do not know what the hell is going on. Noam Chomsky said it best in one of his interviews that the powerful simply want the mass of folk to stay dumb and complacent. As long as we watch our sports and soap operas, and eagerly follow the J Lo/Ben romance, they are satisfied that we will not cause too many problems by asking questions and actually being concerned. As long as most of us are mindless consumers everything is a-okay. And lest we forget, Alabama isn't reknowned for its educational system.
2) Who actually votes? I'd be willing to bet that most of the voters in this Alabama referendum could care less about most government services. They are the well-off, the affluent, the very business owners who do not want increased taxes on their business interests. A key point: it's the average folks (those outside of the power bases) that distrust and remain wary of politicians, and sadly, so many of these folks never vote. The rich and powerful slap backs and work deals with the pols. They keep them in their pockets. As long as people have their National Enquirer, cable TV, and porn, that's probably the way it will stay. Think about how things are going now: if you criticize the Bush Administration, especially on the War on Terror, you are damn-near branded a traitor, unpatriotic, and not worthy to be critical of our national policies. Believe me, I'm a soldier in the US Army.
James O. Hacker, El Paso, Texas
I am a white male born and bred in Leon County, Florida, eighteen miles from the Georgia line. I don't drive a pick-up truck with a gun rack in the back and I have never shown the Confederate flag but I wear a Seminole baseball hat, hoop and holler every fall for the FSU football team and would defend to the death the red clay foothills of the Appalachians that form this corner of what is known as the "South."
I just read "Alabama on my Mind" by Katrina vanden Heuvel in the November 10 edition of Editor's Cut. I do not have a direct answer for why people in Alabama voted against what vanden Heuvel considers their best interest but I hope to offer a clue as to why vanden Heuvel and others of her political persuasion remain perplexed by the voting ways of southerners, westerners, hunters and other residents of "red" America (Bush country).
After Howard Dean's recent reiteration of his aspiration to bring under the Democrat's tent the guys who drive pick-up trucks with confederate flags in the back windows, I heard vanden Heuvel on MSNBC's "Hardball."
She described the confederate flag with the same terminology as Mr. Dean as he tried to recover from what he called a clumsy attempt to appeal to voters. "The confederate flag is a loathsome symbol," she said.
Now, ain't that a sure fire cure for clumsiness?
This choice of words reveals a misunderstanding of white men in the South and of people in general, a misunderstanding that speaks volumes about why Democrats, the party of the people, have performed so abysmally since Nixon first adopted the Southern Strategy, in leading and maintaining the prominence in Presidential politics of Republicans, the party of the rich.
I do not dispute that the flag is justifiably rejected by many African-Americans whose ancestors suffered terribly under it and who encounter daily the legacy of slavery in their lives today. They stand on proven ground when they advocate that the Confederate flag not be flown over their state capitols. Nor will I argue that those who show the flag do not have tendencies, or worse, toward racism.
But southern white men do not normally put that flag in the back of their truck to recruit Ku Klux Klan members, advocate racist policies or proclaim that they are white supremacists.
They show the Confederate flag to make the statement "I am a man." "Look at me," they demand. "Look at my pick-up truck, my gun-rack, my flag that symbolizes as few symbols can: DEFIANCE."
"The South will rise again," they say. "And the federal government will never, ever be able to extinguish its spirit, a sprit worthy of honor because it is associated with being a god-fearing man who protects his wife, takes care of his children and makes sacrifices for the good of his family."
Conversely, that flag in the back window says of the truck owner you can tax my property, my income, charge me fees to hunt and drive my truck, educate me and mine poorly, deny me good jobs, regulate me to death, and demean me every which way but it will not work. Because you cannot rob me of my manhood."
That flag says something else, too. It says, "whenever a politician (or a pundit on television advocating for a group of politicians) tells me that my manhood is "loathsome", you can bet your bottom dollar, he'll never get my vote. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER."
Unfortunately for Democrats, George W. Bush and most of the Republicans have an intuitive grasp for what those who wave the Confederate flag intend to communicate.
And like it or not - no matter vanden Heuvel's intellectual or emotional take or Howard Dean's instinctive appeal compromised by offensive apology - their intuition will continue to attract votes.
Barring failed Bush economic policies or handling of Iraq to propel a Democrat into the Presidency, the office will remain an elusive goal for Democrats if they cannot read the obvious central message of a flag from a war that ended more than a century ago and refrain from labeling as loathsome its messenger.
Ain't it the truth?
Trent Malone, Tallahassee, FL
In "Alabama on my Mind" Katrina vanden Heuvel addresses the seeming paradox that many (mostly) poor white Southerners are voting for Republican candidates at a time when they are experiencing rising inequality and a loss of social services.
Although I think part of the explanation is ignorance of the tax codes and a basic distrust of government, I think the general trend towards voting Republican in the South is entirely consistent with rationality. The majority in the South want no gun control, are strongly in favor of the death penalty, extremely opposed to abortion, and want a "tough guy" foreign policy instead of a multilateral approach. And they are willing to trade a little inequality in order to vote for people who they know won't waffle on these issues.
We on the left must not be tricked into believing most of those people are somehow dumb and confused- they know what they want and the Republicans give it to them. Until Democrats realize this they are going to be wasting a lot of time and effort trying to figure out why people are voting Republican instead of putting forth an alternative platform that can captivate the rest of the country.
Jason Scorse, Monterey, California
At the end of October, The Washington Post published a ground-breaking 3,200-word front-page story about Iraq's prewar nuclear weapons program. Post reporter Bart Gellman's reporting provided painstaking detail and overwhelming evidence to reveal what David Kay's inspectors have concluded (that Iraq had no WMD programs) but have been afraid to admit.
After the Post published Kay's cagey rebuttal of the piece's findings, without reply, given the Post's policy of not responding to letters about its stories, some readers concluded that the paper was acknowledging that Kay's assertions letter were correct.
But, Gellman and the Post's editors say they stand by the story 100 percent, as Gellman's convincing rebuttal to Kay--which was sent to "Iraq News," a listserv run by neocon pundit Laurie Mylroie--strongly shows. Gellman's letter, which we've reprinted below, should be widely circulated to counter a campaign underway--led by rightwing newspapers like the Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post, internet columnists like Matt Drudge, and think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute--to discredit Gellman's invaluable reporting and obscure the way the Bush Administration willfully deceived the American public.
Out of respect for you and the readership of Iraq News, I ask that you update a controversy you described in an earlier edition. It had to do with a story I wrote about the investigation of Iraq's prewar nuclear weapons program. David Kay, who declined to provide any answers for that story, and Brig. Gen. Stephen Meekin, whom I quoted, wrote in challenge of what I reported. They said, in effect, that I rendered Meekin's remarks incorrectly and that he was, in any case, neither involved in the WMD hunt nor qualified to pass judgments.
The Washington Post does not reply in print to letters and columns about our stories. Some readers, yourself perhaps included, concluded from this silence that The Post acknowledged the Kay and Meekin letters to be correct or our story to be wrong. We did not. Quite the reverse.
Since then, Leonard Downie, the executive editor, has sent an unpublished letter to David Kay. In it he said he reviewed my raw notes, the full context of two lengthy conversations with Meekin, the identities of my confidential sources and the information those sources supplied. On the basis of that investigation, Downie told Kay the Post is standing by the story without reservation. I believe he is prepared to release his letter to other interested parties.
For our internal review, I provided line by line answers to the Kay and Meekin letters. I will summarize my replies to the three points you highlighted in your previous email. If you reread the two letters closely, you will find that none of these three points are actually in dispute.
1. Meekin's unit was, by all accounts, integrated into the Iraq Survey Group when the ISG stood up in June. As a general officer and leader of a major ISG component -- this is according to Meekin, confirmed by DOD -- Meekin reports direct to Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, the ISG's commander. Meekin is also the ranking Australian officer in the ISG, which means that he retains some elements of national command over all his countrymen there. Dayton, of course, operates under the direction of David Kay. The survey group is a joint, combined and interagency task force, which blurs "reporting" chains to some degree. Kay makes use of that ambiguity in his artful denial that Meekin reports to him.
In ordinary English, Kay is in charge of the weapons hunt and Meekin works for him. Saying otherwise is roughly like saying the leaders of the DCI Counterterrorism Center don't work for George Tenet (because those leaders report through others, and include personnel from the FBI) -- except that there are several layers between the CTC and Tenet and only one between Meekin and Kay.
2. Meekin's unit did indeed have (as Kay said) a major conventional mission -- collecting and analyzing Iraqi radars and SAMS and so on. It also had, according to Meekin and all U.S. officials who spoke of it, two major missions specific to WMD. One was to find delivery systems for CW/BW/nuclear payloads (bombs, warheads, etc.). The other was what Meekin called a "due diligence or counterproliferation mission" to prevent the dispersal of materials that could be used to produce WMD. It was in the latter context that I interviewed Meekin for most of an hour on the aluminum tubes. It's true that among the reasons he cited for calling them innocuous is that the tubes posed no conventional threat to coalition troops. But that part of the conversation took less than a minute, because Meekin did not need many words to persuade me that a rocket body without motor, fins or warhead is fairly benign. The rest of the conversation had to do with the possible use of the tubes as centrifuges, or evidence that would bear on that question.
3. Meekin is not the person responsible for making the nuclear judgment on the tubes, but he did accurately reflect the judgment of those who are. (Please note that Kay writes carefully around this point. He says for himself that it is too soon to make a judgment, but he does not dispute that my story accurately described the judgment of nuclear team leaders.) From confidential sources I know authoritatively what the nuclear team has reported, and the story noted that those sources were afraid to be named. Meekin's value was that he spoke on the record, which is highly prized by our editors and readers alike. As for qualifications, Meekin (a) is director-general of scientific and technical assessment for Australia's Defence Intelligence Organisation, (b) commands a staff of subject matter experts with similar background, including in dual use technology, (c) borrowed experts from other ISG units when his mission required them, specifically including the nuclear team for the tubes, and (d) was describing -- accurately, as I already knew -- the views of his colleagues most directly involved in the question. He need not be a nuclear expert himself to be a credible source in light of these credentials.
I think I am as surprised as anyone at the absence of evidence for Iraqi biological, chemical and missile programs. (Neither I nor most of the experts in the field thought a nuclear program had been revived.) I made some bets before the war that such evidence would be found. That's what I like about my business. It's empirical, and I don't get paid for predictions. I have followed the developing facts to the best of my ability.
It must be tempting, but it's silly, to suppose that my editors or I are looking for a story that discounts the threat. My Unscom series of 1998, linked on the home page below, did as much to highlight Iraq's obstruction of inspectors -- and the Clinton administration's inability to address it in the U.N. -- as any journalism of its day. I'd like as much as you would to find out how the story ends, and I'm not done looking.
Thank you for enabling me to reach your important audience with this reply.
Barton Gellman, The Washington Post
Massive street protests--and the biggest security operation Britain has ever seen for a visiting head of state--will greet George W. Bush when he visits London tomorrow. Antiwar protesters say they will resist moves to enforce an "exclusion zone" designed to keep them from Buckingham Palace, where Bush and his wife will be staying with the Queen.
As the organizer of the Stop the War coalition said last week, "It is an outrage that the most unwelcome guest this country has ever received will be given the freedom of the streets, while a movement that represents majority opinion is denied the right to protest in the area which is the heart of government."
Meanwhile, miles away from Buckingham Palace in a rundown part of London, another kind of protest is being staged during Bush's visit. Americans: A New Century Begins with an Act of Blood, is a play about the rise and decline of imperial power. Eric Schlosser--who demolished the junk food industry in the best-selling Fast Food Nation--wrote it in 1985, at a time when Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were giving old imperial attitudes a new spin for a new generation.
Empire has once again become fashionable. So, ironically a play written nearly twenty years ago, about early 20th century America's determination to replace Britain as the world's leading imperial power, is being staged for the first time as King George arrives in London.
Set in the period before and after President William McKinley's assassination, "Americans" explores the fall of the British empire, the birth of the American colossus, and the historical parallels between the late 19th and 20th centuries. "On both sides of the Atlantic," Schlosser says, "worship of the 'free market', growing corporate power, union-busting and a widening gap between rich and poor suggested the dawn of another Gilded Age."
Leon Czolgosz,, the anarchist who assassinated McKinley at the Pan American Exposition in 1901, is a central figure in the play, and many of his lines resonate today. "If America chooses to become the big bully of the world," he tells another US President, "I promise you, America will pay." Czolgosz saw himself as a Brutus warning his country against the horrors that tyranny and the misuse of power would inflict.
One of the most chilling moments in the play has the unrepentant Czolgosz going to the electric chair warning the assembled witnesses that American cities will one day go up in flames, paying the price for "your outrageous vanity."
The great Southern writer William Faulkner eloquently noted that the past is never dead. It isn't even past. Schlosser speaks for the millions of Americans who understand what Faulkner meant.