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Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Battling Bush from the Grave

(Update on "Sally Baron RIP")

The AP reports explaining that Wisconsite Baron's family had asked that memorials in her honor be made to any organization working for the removal of President Bush from office caught the attention of American citizens far from the verdant scenery of Wisconsin.

The Madison Capital Times reports that already "dozens of people from around the United States have written to the [paper] saying they will make donations." (People have even printed shirts featuring a photo of Baron.) And Keith Olberman's national coverage of the Baron family's request on MSNBC recently is sure to increase this number.

Baron's story is also being hotly discussed on online bulletin boards, among both liberals and conservatives. Baron "has become a sort of poster girl for all of us who despise George Bush," wrote Nancy Tonies of Appleton, on the chat-site democraticunderground.com. "I did not know Sally at all, but I wish I had had the opportunity," wrote Linda Brown, a retired teacher in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "We would have had fun shouting back at the TV together. I suspect my language would have been worse than hers."

Memorials in Baron's honor can be made to any organization working for the removal of President Bush.

America’s New Anti-Imperialists

In 1898, the Anti-Imperialist League was established to oppose America's territorial expansion, especially the "liberation" of the Philippines from Spain. Long before a President talked of an "axis of evil" and "regime change," or before Trent Lott and John Ashcroft accused critics of aiding the enemy, President William McKinley and his men attacked members of the League for opposing an America that projected its ideals abroad by force.

Imperialism, League members argued, was unjust, unnecessary and harmful to America's national interests. The league had a diverse membership featuring many respected public figures like Mark Twain, historian and industrialist Charles Francis Adams, Harvard professor and writer William James, financier Andrew Carnegie, reform journalist and senator Carl Schurz and The Nation's founding editor and prominent abolitionist E.L. Godkin.

League members drew a dramatic contrast between America's proud history as the land of liberty and its brutal repression of the Filipinos' struggle for independence. Such militaristic tyranny, they argued in their national platform, would ultimately erode the country's "fundamental principles and noblest ideals."

As Charles Eliot Norton, a founding member of the League, said: "It is not that we would hold America back from playing her full part in the world's affairs, but that we believe that her part could be better accomplished by close adherence to those high principles which are ideally embodied in her institutions--by the establishment of her own democracy in such ways as to make it a symbol of noble self-government, and by exercising the influence of a great, unarmed and peaceful power on the affairs and the moral temper of the world."

Fast forward a hundred years and meet the "Committee for the Republic." The Committee, recently formed to ignite a discussion in the establishment about America's lurch toward empire, includes Republican former counsel to first President Bush C. Boyden Gray; former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Charles Freeman, Jr.; President of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development Stephen P. Cohen; William Nitze, son of Paul Nitze, the Reagan Administration's top arms control negotiator; and Washington businessman (and descendant of Revolutionary war patriot Patrick Henry) John B. Henry.

The Committee's draft manifesto includes language the Anti-Imperialist League would recognize: "Domestic liberty is the first casualty of adventurist foreign policy...To justify the high cost of maintaining rule over foreign territories and peoples, leaders are left with no choice but to deceive the people...America has begun to stray from its founding tradition of leading the world by example rather than by force."

Committee members say the group may create a nonprofit organization and will sponsor forums examining how imperial behavior weakened earlier republics, starting with the Roman Empire. "We want to have a great national debate about what our role in the world is," says Henry. The Committee is also considering ways to "educate Americans about the dangers of empire and the need to return to our founding traditions and values."

In my mind, these latter day anti-imperialists are charter members of the Coalition of the Rational--an embryonic idea I recently proposed to bring a broad, transpartisan group of concerned members of the establishment together to mobilize Americans in informed opposition to the Bush Administration's extremist undermining of our national security.

The Committee's creation is yet another sign of how mainstream members of the conservative establishment are waking up to George W's (mis)leading of the country into ruin. (Paleocons like Patrick Buchanan have also lined up against Bush's empire-building.) After all, imperialism is just as un-American today as it was at the turn of the century--or in 1776.

Bush's Southern Problem

"Any Democratic candidate will be destroyed in the South," gloated Chris Caldwell in a recent issue of the Weekly Standard. Caldwell should head to Greenville, South Carolina, one of the most conservative areas in the United States, where Bush--bashing currently extends from unemployed machine operators to textile industry CEOs.

"Bush can forget about the Solid South," says Roger Chastain, president of a textile company. "There's no Solid South anymore." Chastain told the New York Times that the massive loss of jobs (2.5 million nationally) since Bush took office, and anger over the stagnant pace of economic recovery, makes the president vulnerable in a region his party has long taken for granted. Lynn Mayson, a mother of three, and unemployed for months, put it bluntly: "I'm not going to vote for Bush unless things change. The economy has got to get better." Both Chastain and Mayson are registered Republicans, part of the "solid south" that helped Bush win office in 2000.

The trade issue has become a lightning rod of discontent in these parts. Even the Republican chief executive of Spartanburg, South Carolina's Economic Development Corporation, laments that the number of new jobs is not keeping pace with those lost, putting South Carolina among the highest-ranked states in percentage of jobs lost during the Bush years (#3 behind Massachusetts and Ohio).

With all the talk about how free trade has been good for the country, textile industry leaders in the region are so fed up with job flight to Mexico, Indonesia and China that they've vowed to withhold support for Bush in 2004 if the Administration doesn't immediately narrow the trade gap. Chastain, like other South Carolina Republicans, says problems have reached such a point that he would consider voting for a Democrat like Richard Gephardt, a consistent foe of NAFTA. Mayson says she would vote for anyone with a plan to create more jobs.

One of the great surprises of Election Night 2000 were the early results that suggested Al Gore might win Virginia, Louisiana and Arkansas--as well as Florida. Gore barely bothered to campaign in the South and he was anything but an ideal messenger for the Democratic Party in the region. But he did offer a dose of us-against-them populism in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention and in enough of his subsequent appearances to remain competitive in states where he was not supposed to be a player.

Indeed, Gore proved to be so competitive on Election Day that the television networks couldn't declare the winner in many southern states for hours after the polls closed. At the very least, Gore tied Florida, ended up winning forty-five percent of the vote in Virginia, Louisiana and Arkansas, and secured only slightly weaker finishes in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. Only in George W. Bush's homestate of Texas did Gore pull under forty percent of the vote.

The bottom line for Democrats should be clear: Fighting the next election on behalf of jobs, family farms, healthcare and education for all, a populist Democratic nominee could give George Herbert Hoover Bush a real race in a region that the GOP--and its media boosters--now take for granted.

At last Saturday's rally honoring the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Civil Rights, the Rev. Jesse Jackson recounted the narrow election losses Democrats have suffered in southern states and called for a renewed emphasis on voter registration and populist campaigning to close the gap.

"We must go South today," said Jackson. "It is the red zone where we must go to win the election." Jackson is right. If the Administration's economic policies continue to destroy the industrial base of the region, the South need not be solid for Bush in 2004. In fact, it could well provide the margin of victory for the Democrat who is willing to challenge Bush with the old cry, "It's the economy, stupid."

Bush Endangers New Yorkers

The Bush White House persistently manipulates scientific data to advance its ideology and the interests of its political supporters. That was the conclusion of a forty-page report issued earlier this month by the House Committee on Government Reform. It accused the Administration of compromising the scientific integrity of federal institutions that monitor food and medicine, conduct medical research, control disease and health risks and protect the environment.

Now, we learn--thanks to a report released last week by the EPA's Inspector General--that the White House also instructed agency officials to reassure New Yorkers after September 11th that the air in the vicinity of the World Trade Center was safe to breathe, even though deadly contaminants were present, and the quality of the air, was, at best, unclear. (See Matt Bivens' Daily Outrage for more.)

Dr. Stephen Levin, director of the World Trade Center Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program at Mount Sinai Medical Center, called the report "shocking," in an interview in New York Newsday. "It's an outrageous interference in the role of the public health agencies that were established to protect the people," Levin said of the Bush Administration's alleged influence over the EPA.

What were the "competing considerations" that pushed Bush officials to mislead New York City residents? One important factor, according to the report, was "the desire to reopen Wall Street." So, we have an administration that misleads its citizens, at the expense of their health, in order to benefit Wall Street?

Sadly, that's not too surprising. Every day brings fresh revelations of how this Administration's deceit threatens its citizens' health and welfare. New York Senator Hillary Clinton has called on the Justice Department to look into the EPA report. Rep. Jerry Nadler is demanding a formal Congressional investigation. But, what's really needed is an independent investigation into the Bush Administration's unprecedented manipulation of the scientific process.

Sally Baron RIP

The passionate desire for democratic regime change in 2004 extends even into the grave. Hardworking Sally Baron of Stoughton, Wisconsin--who raised six children and cared for her husband after he was crushed in a mining accident--should be an example to all Americans. Click here to read an August 21 obituary for Baron from the Madison Capital-Times to find out what her children decided was a fitting memorial in her honor.

And read native Wisconsinite and Nation Washington correspondent John Nichols's moving tribute to Baron, also published in the Cap-Times, for more on the working-class political culture of old-time Wisconsin, which shaped Baron's progressive worldview.

Postwar? Or Guerrilla War?

On August 18th, one day before the horrifying bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, President Bush revised his earlier characterization of the fighting in Iraq. The once-swaggering commander-in-chief, who strutted on the decks of the USS Abraham Lincoln to declare victory, now allows that combat operations are still underway.

It always seemed premature to speak of the period in Iraq as one of "postwar." But that didn't stop the White House from rushing to declare that the conflict was concluded. However, the steady stream of American and Iraqi casualties, the increasingly sophisticated guerrilla attacks on Iraqi infrastructure--and, now, the UN headquarters--suggest that the Iraq war continues, and that only its conventional battlefield phase is over. Even the American military commander in Iraq recently described Iraqi attacks as classic "guerrilla warfare," a term Administration officials--until just recently--have been loath to use.

What is needed now is not--as many are demanding--an escalation of US forces but, rather, an acknowledgment that the US and its small band of allies, do not have the resources, legitimacy or even competence to stabilize Iraq. Instead of entrenching a Pentagon-led occupation, the White House should use this perilous moment to seek internationalization of the rebuilding and administration of the country, which can only happen if the process is turned over to the UN.

As Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, reminds, "The US-UK war and occupation were and remain illegal." By agreeing to participate under the authority of that occupation force, the UN, unfortunately, is providing a political fig leaf for an illegal occupation. If the United Nations is to be perceived by the Iraqi people as a legitimate and stabilizing force, it will need to play a genuinely independent role and disassociate itself from the US occupation. And so as to avoid the trap of internationalization on the cheap, the UN will need real resources--and control--in the reconstruction process.

But time is running short. Listen to terrorism expert Jessica Stern: The "bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was the latest evidence that America has taken a country that was not a terrorist threat and turned it into one," Stern wrote recently in the New York Times. "The occupation has given disparate groups from various countries a common battlefield on which to fight a common enemy...Most ominously, Al-Qaeda's influence may be growing."

We are now witnessing the tragic unfolding of consequences that The Nation--and millions opposed to war--warned against: the fueling of anti-Americanism in the Islamic world; the undermining of the global fight against terrorism and the deaths of innocent US soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

We also argued that occupation would mean more spending on war and less on homeland security and numerous unmet domestic needs. The Administration will continue to deny what it has created in Iraq. But shifting public sentiment suggests an opening: a recent PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll found that 64 percent of Americans want the UN to take the lead in rebuilding Iraq.

As long as the US is an occupying power--US v. International Jihad--the harder it will be to pull together the international resources, will and expertise required for the long-term project of stabilizing Iraq, reestablishing true self-government in that country, and combating terrorism around the world.

For Halliburton, Iraq Is a Cash Cow

War is a tragedy for some and a boon for others. As American soldiers continue to die in Iraq, and the length of the war and its costs escalate, Halliburton, the company headed by Vice-President Dick Cheney before the Bush Administration took office, announced that it had converted a half billion dollar quarterly loss of a year ago into a quarterly profit of $26 million for the same period in 2003. This profit comes largely from hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraqi rebuilding and oil contracts awarded by the Bush Administration.

But why should war be good for those who have been good to the Republican party? "The Bush Administration," the Baltimore Sun recently reported, "continues to use American corporations to perform work that United Nations agencies and nonprofit aid groups can do more cheaply." "Both for ideological reasons," Paul Krugman observed in the New York Times, "and, one suspects, because of the patronage involved, the people now running the country seem determined to have public services provided by private corporations, no matter what the circumstances."

Representatives Henry Waxman, John Dingell and Maxine Waters are to be commended for monitoring the war profiteers and the conflicts of interest so pervavsive in this Administration. (In March, Waters offered an amendment that would have prohibited the Administration from awarding contracts to companies which had employed senior administration officials. In April, Waxman and Dingell sent letters to the General Accounting Office demanding an investigation into how the Pentagon was handling the bidding process for lucrative contracts for rebuilding Iraq.)

But where's the broader outrage? Isn't the issue of war profiteering a strong one for Democratic Presidential candidates? Or even for common-sense Republicans who put their country before profit? They could lead their party against a President and Vice-President rolling in corporate cash--some of it from companies that have directly profited from war. Where is the leader with the courage to say, as Franklin Roosevelt did during World War II, '"I don't want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster'"? Even Harry Truman, considered a model centrist by DLC types, referred to profiteering during World War II as "treason."

With all due credit to the World Policy Institute's new report ,"New Numbers: The Price of Freedom in Iraq and Power in Washington," let's call for:

*Transparency and Accountabilty: Let's demand a Senate Investigation on war profiteering comparable to the one that Truman conducted at the end of World War Two.

*Curbs on Profiteering: All contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq should be on a limited profit basis, not the open-ended deals that Halliburton and other US contractors have received thus far.

*Legislation which would require all rebuilding contracts for Iraq to be subject to an open bidding process, and a temporary "Truman Committee" to oversee all Iraqi war contracts, as The Nation proposed in an editorial last May.

*Putting the Political Money Machine on Hold: To avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest, Bush and all of his challengers should pledge that they will not accept campaign contributions from companies that have profited from the war in Iraq, or the subsequent rebuilding effort.

Muscular Congressional actions like these would go a long way toward tempering some of the most corrupt practices of this ethically-challenged and political tone-deaf Administration.

August Wakeup Calls

How skewed are this Administration's priorities? Consider the insanity of throwing away billions of dollars on hightech military boondoggles like Star Wars that don't work. Or doling out billions in tax giveaways to the richest Americans. If we want true security, shouldn't we be investing in our country's infrastructure--from upgrading our power grid to improving transportation, healthcare and education?

President Bush called the largest blackout in US history a "wakeup call"? (And that after his Administration lobbied against legislation that would have modernized the country's power grid.) Well, maybe Bush and his team need another wakeup call--relating to Iraq. This time last summer, many opponents of the rush to war argued that an invasion and occupation would serve as a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda, fuel existing anti-Americanism in the region and make the US less secure.

One year later, these concerns seem tragically on target. Just this past weekend, a London-based research company, issued a report saying that the war against Iraq has made America more of a target for terrorist attack. According to the World Markets Reseach Center, the US is now the fourth most likely--of 186 countries surveyed--to be the target of a major terrorist act within the next twelve months. (Colombia, Israel and Pakistan top the list as the only countries with a greater terror risk than the US.)

"Networks of militant Islamist groups," the report observes, "are less extensive in the US than they are Western Europe, but US led military action in Afghanistan and Iraq has exacerbated anti-US sentiment."

And, as the US occupiers endure almost daily casualties--and with shortages of fuel, water and, yes, electricity, precipitating riots and fueling anger among the Iraqi people--it is worth paying attention to the underreported warnings of Ghassan Salameh, a senior UN official and adviser to the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, Kofi Annan's special representative to Iraq, who was killed today in the tragic attack at UN headquarters in Baghdad.

In a recent interview with the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, Salameh, a longtime observer of the Arab world, warns that prominent Iraqis who "despised" Saddam Hussein will take up arms against US forces if life under occupation does not quickly improve. "Many influential Iraqis who initally felt liberated from a despised regime have assured me," Salameh reports," that they will take up arms if the coalition troops do not arrive at a result. Time is short."

Salameh warned that ordinary people, frustrated by the lack of basic services four months after Saddam's fall, could rally behind ideological opponents of the occupying forces. "In reality, the population is very surprised," he told the French weekly. "They don't understand how such a level of efficiency during the war could be followed by such a lack of efficiency in ‘peace.'"

Slim Shady vs. Dubya

It sounds like a Texas wrestling match: Slim vs Dubya. But in a recent poll that asked about truthfulness, rapper Eminem scored higher than President Bush. According to a global marketing agency, Euro RSCG Worldwide, 53 percent of American adults aged 35-44 believe that Eminem's lyrics contain "more truth" than Bush's speeches. (62 percent in the 18-24 age group agreed.) It turns out that we may need to do a better job of protecting our kids from our President's gangsta' rap.

A Form of Looting

George Akerlof is becoming a household name. Well, sort of. The 2001 Nobel Prize Laureate for Economics, who teaches at Berkeley, was recently cited by Al Gore in his rousing speech to MoveOn at New York University.

Just a few days earlier, Akerlof had been quoted in the German magazine Der Spiegel condemning the Bush Administration as "the worst government the US has ever had in its more than 200 years of history." These words catapulted Akerlof to the top of Google for a few days but it's worth reading the full text of his illuminating interview with the German weekly for a look at how horrified another longtime member of the American establishment is at the extremism of the Bush Administration.

"This is not normal government policy," Akerlof says. "Now is the time for [American] people to engage in civil disobedience. I think it's time to protest as much as possible." When asked about the deficit, one of his many areas of professional expertise, Akerlof replied that with the current tax cuts, a realistic estimate would be in excess of six trillion, far more than the Administration is predicting.

So is the government just bad at doing the math? "The government is not really telling the truth to the American people...Past administrations from the time of Alexander Hamilton have, on the average, run responsible budgetary policies. What we have here is a form of looting."

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