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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.

Taking Back the Tax Debate

Maybe it's the summer heat, but I thought I was hallucinating when I picked up Monday's Washington Post and read the headline, "Democrats Not Shying Away from Tax Talk."

It seems like common sense to me, but for decades Dems have shied away from the T-issue for fear of being called soft on tax increases. But it turns out that Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg has recent numbers suggesting that taxes can be a good issue for Democrats.

While voters still are likely to believe that Republicans have a more favorable position on taxes generally, they support Democratic efforts to close corporate loopholes and to make the tax system fairer.

If the issue is fairness, Democrats should have a field day. Take July 24, when the Republican's chief tax man, Representative Bill Thomas, introduced a budget-busting tax break for corporations. (It would reduce the top rate from 35 percent to 32 percent--and add a whopping $120 billion to the deficit over the next ten years.) Compare this to the Republicans' refusal to expand the child tax credit for low income families--a step whose ten-year cost of $3.5 billion seems paltry compared to the tax breaks being doled out to the super-rich.

In a recent survey, a majority of Americans (57 percent) say they want to move in "a significantly different direction" on the economy. What puzzles me is that Democratic stimulus programs, with few exceptions, have been uniformly tepid--focused more on targeted tax cuts than on necessary public spending.

What about the evidence that shows that voters see a more direct connection between government spending on streets, highways, bridges and school construction and the creation of jobs than the connection between tax cuts and job creation. As Jeff Madrick pointed out in a recent column in the New York Times business section, these are times that cry out for bold proposals from the Democrats. A bold--and sensible--new economic program, according to Madrick, would reject individual tax cuts and stress government spending that creates jobs.

A new program could include "adequate transfer of money to the states--as much as $100 billion. It could also include seriously financing the president's new education bill, which has been neglected...and innovative investment in transportation infrastructure." Given the dire state of the economy, what the nation needs is a jobs program. It might even be a winning ticket.

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 thirteen 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 yesterday's Boston Globe.

The Diplomat Who Resigned in Protest

Remember diplomat John Brady Kiesling's powerful resignation statement last February?

Kiesling, who was serving as political counselor at the US Embassy in Athens, played a noteworthy role in strengthening opposition to war against Iraq. His resignation letter to his boss Colin Powell, a searing indictment of Bush Administration policies, was published by the New York Times, and pasted into e-mails that flew around the US foreign policy establishment, the US press and the world.

A twenty-year veteran of the US Foreign Service, Kiesling is a charter member of the Coalition of the Rational, an embryonic idea to bring a broad, transpartisan group of concerned citizens together to mobilize Americans in informed opposition to the Bush Administration's undermining of US security in our name. (Click here for more on the Coalition.)

And read last week's riveting Washington Post portrait of Kiesling by veteran investigative reporter Bob Thompson in the newspaper's (undervalued) Sunday magazine for more on how and why the extremism of the Bush foreign-policy agenda drove Kiesling out of government. Kiesling also offers valuable insights into the current postwar disaster.

The chaos of postwar Iraq, Kiesling argues, was easily predictable, and there's no guarantee that what comes out of it will serve US interests. As Thompson writes, "the idea that the war will produce American-style democracy in the Middle East seems to him [Kiesling] the equivalent of dynamite fishing: You toss explosives in a pond and hope the right thing floats to the surface. As for Iraqi's elusive weapons of mass destruction, Kiesling says, even if they are found, it's now clear that the intelligence on which we based our attack was worthless. This is no small problem."

'If you're going to talk about preemption or preventive war,' Kiesling explains, 'you have to have some standard, some threshold of action.' If preemptors don't care about that, the precedent is 'terrifying.'"

Who's 'Dangerously Irresponsible'?

Calling them "dangerously irresponsible," US District Judge Robert Blackburn last week sentenced three nuns to prison for up to three years for swinging a hammer at a Minuteman III nuclear missile silo and smearing their blood on it in the form of a cross. Prosecutors said the nuns, all close colleagues of the late peace activist Philip Berrigan, showed a blatant disregard for the law. The nuns argued that the Minuteman is a first-strike weapon prohibited by international law. Peace activists believe the felony convictions are unduly harsh and intended to have a chilling effect on other protestors.

Meanwhile, a few days before the nuns--members of the Sacred Earth Network, a national nuclear disarmament group--were sentenced, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham defended the Bush Administration's growing nuclear weapons programs in the Washington Post. Abraham cloaked the White House's decision to build new nuclear weapons in a haze of euphemism, alternately referring to these unprecedented new killing machines as "new challenges," "low-yield weapons," "advanced concepts" and "weapons concepts."

Nevertheless, even through the haze, it is clear that by reviving the nuclear arms race at home, the Administration's policy shift will dangerously undermine efforts to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world.

This is one more issue that, despite rational opposition across the political spectrum, the White House seems determined to ram down the country's throat. The American public is opposed to building new nuclear weapons. The military didn't even ask for them. Even, Rep. David L. Hobson,the Republican Chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on energy and water expressed concern that the Bush Administration is planning to spend tens of millions of dollars to build new nuclear weapons before there is even a need for them.

So, three Roman Catholic nuns, who want to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction, will report to prison for multi-year sentences on August 25th. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration is scrambling to launch a new global nuclear arms race. Who's "dangerously irresponsible"?

Fried Rice?

Sunday's front page Washington Post story about National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is such a powerful indictment of her role in the runup to the Iraq war that for the sake of her country's credibility Rice should immediately resign.

The article by Mike Allen and Dana Milbank (a master exposer of Bush Administration lies) makes clear that Rice is either incompetent or a liar. Listen to Rep. Henry Waxman:

"If the national security adviser didn't understand the repeated State Department and CIA warnings about the uranium allegation, that's a frightening level of incompetence....It's even more serious if she knew and ignored the intelligence warnings and has deliberately misled our nation...In any case, it's hard to see why the President or the public will have confidence in her office."

Even sources described as "generally sympathetic" to Rice question her many shifting and contradictory statements regarding Iraq's alleged uranium purchase and the WMD (non)threat. Several former officials scoffed at the idea that Rice didn't have time to review the National Intelligence Estimate about an enemy on the eve of war. "It's implausible that the national security adviser would be too busy to pay attention to something that's going to come out of the President's mouth," said a former NSC official.

Each time the buck passes, another level of incompetence--or deceit--is exposed. It's a no-brainer that Rice should resign. But that's not enough. So far, President Bush, the man ultimately responsible for taking the nation to war, has refused to take responsibility for his words. The American people deserve the truth. We have a right to know if Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney or other White House officials manipulated intelligence to justify taking America to war. That's why we desperately need an independent commission to determine the veracity of other potentially suspect evidence used to convince Americans (and the world) that Iraq posed an imminent threat to our nation.

How you can help:

Click here for contact info for your elected reps. Please ask them to support H.R. 2625, legislation authored by Rep. Waxman to create an independent commission. You can also sign Move.On.org's nationwide petition by clicking here.

David Broder's Tipping Point

You know this is a tipping point moment when veteran Washington Post columnist David Broder, a barometer of conventional wisdom, writes that "the shadow of defeat" is crossing President Bush's "political horizon."

In a recent column Broder--the dean of American political punditry--offered a bleak picture of Bush's reelection chances. Why does this matter? Well, as Eric Alterman points out in his smart and timely book, "What Liberal Media," Broder is "revered by elite journalists for his alleged ability...to speak to what is understood to be the common sense 'middle ground' of American politics."

So, Beltway insiders take notice when Broder pontificates--in this case, he lays out the grim ramifications of AWOL WMDs, mounting casualties in a guerrilla war, and a rotten economy on Bush's reelection chances.

Could this signal that Bush's free ride is over? Let's hope that what one beltway reporter said of Broder still holds true: "There are those the rest of us seek out for guidance...This is particularly true in political journalism where one person stands out--David Broder."

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Boondocks Fantasy

Everyday brings news of the collateral damage inflicted on our democracy and economy by this Administration's war without end. We're no longer on the threshold of building a permanent war economy, which will distort America's priorities at home and abroad--we've crossed the rubicon.

And this week we learn that the US military--with a budget larger than the next fifteen nations combined--may not have enough troops to meet the US's expanding global commitments. Shouldn't that soldier from the Third Infantry, who called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation, be honored instead of silenced?

If you fantasize, as I do, about what a sane and decent government, with humane priorities, could do for its citizens, check out a recent episode of Aaron McGruder's Boondocks strip:

Huey listens intently to a TV announcer:

"And in other news, President Bush announced sweeping changes in his administration's domestic policy today. Starting with quadrupling the amount of money spent on education and teacher pay raises...The additional money will come from a massive slashing of the defense budget combined with a complete elimination of corporate welfare programs. Following the changes to education, the President said he would break up media monopolies, guarantee health care to all citizens, and take critical steps to rescue the environment. 'These tasks are critically important to our future as Americans," said President Bush. "And I promise to get started immediately....." As Huey walks away from the TV in shock, Bush continues, "...Just as soon as the war on terror is brought to a triumphant conclusion.""Sigh," groans Huey.

If you're a Boondocks fan, like I am, watch for McGruder's forthcoming book, "The Right to be Hostile," with an introduction by Michael Moore.

The Other Jessica Lynch Story

Despite a boost from the killing of Saddam's two sons, George W looks increasingly vulnerable. As US deaths in Iraq mount, no weapons of mass destruction are found, the costs of unilateral occupation skyrocket, the stonewalling on the Africa uranium issue continues, and the June unemployment rate jumps to a nine-year high, Bush appears to be at an all-time low. Look at the latest Zogby poll, which shows Bush's approval at only 53 percent.

And if you want to know just how vulnerable Bush is, leave the beltway, turn off the talking heads, and listen to what people in Jessica Lynch's hometown had to say on the eve of Lynch's grand homecoming, in a segment on the Newshour with Brian Williams.

Helen Burns, restaurant manager in Palestine, West Virginia: "It's sad. I mean it's just almost sickening to--to think that our--our people is getting killed over there for nothing, as far as I'm concerned."

Thorn Roberts, a businessman: "Where is the light at the end of the tunnel in this situation? Remember, LBJ's remark about the light at the end of the tunnel in Vietnam. I sort of see the same about this."

Eva Clegg, retired state employee: "Now that they're coming out with things that they didn't have those nuclear weapons and all that, you just wonder if it's worth all that our boys are going through."

Emzy Ashby, businessman: "They keep hollering it's over with, but it will never be over with."

The Administration (and much of the media) sold a story spun to embellish Jessica Lynch's heroism. Selling postwar reality is proving to be a lot tougher. Listen to Lynch's neighbors.

Back to the UN?

Next time you hear the Bush Administration boast about the multinational support for its occupation of Iraq, remember the story of the Hungarian truck company. It turns out that the Hungarians, who offered to send a truck company to Iraq, have no trucks, or other equipment commonly associated with a military unit of this type. "They contribute 133 drivers, but no trucks, or mechanics, or anything else," a Defense Department official said. "Either somebody else is going to donate trucks, or they're going to be driving ours."

Maybe Hungary played a small role in the Bush Administration's recent change of course. What with the costs of the occupation running $1 billion a week, demoralized US soldiers facing what the military's new commander in Iraq calls a "classical guerrilla-type" war, and dozens of nations refusing to contribute troops or money without a UN mandate, Administration officials acknowledge they are rethinking their disastrous strategy.

On Saturday, it was reported that after spurning the United Nations in the run-up to war, the Administration may seek a UN resolution that could placate countries like India, Germany--even the reviled France. "The Administration has to give up its arrogant attitude toward foreign policy--it's my way or the highway--and bring in the international community," Senator Edward Kennedy said in a televised interview last week.

A shift away from unilateral US control has broad potential support. In a late June Knowledge Network Poll, 64 percent of Americans wanted the UN to take a leadership role in Iraq, up from 50 percent in April. And in a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in mid-July, 52 percent considered the level of US casualties "unacceptable." (Several more US soldiers have been killed since.)

Having to return to the United Nations would be a humiliating defeat for the neocon extremists who were determined to wage war without international support. As Joseph Nye, Jr., Dean of the Kennedy School at Harvard, told the New York Times, "for some of them--in particular those who celebrated that we didn't use the UN--it will be painful." We can only hope.

Smart Letters/Mad George's Revisionism

Have you noticed that many days, in newspapers nationwide, the letters to the editor are more enlightening and provocative than the op-eds or editorials they're sandwiched between? Take Saturday's Washington Post, for example. The smartest item on the editorial page was a letter, titled "The President's 'Revisionism," from two historians, Linda Gordon and Linda Kerber.

"Last week," they wrote, "when his administration was criticized for justifying the Iraq invasion with forged evidence, President Bush accused his critics of trying to 'rewrite history'. In addition, his then-press secretary, Ari Fleischer, sneered at 'revisionist historians.'

As historians, we are troubled by these remarks. It is central to the work of historians to search for accuracy and to revise conclusions that prove to be unsupported by evidence. Revision, based on fresh evidence, is a good thing. The argument about the use of misleading claims in the State of Union address is not about revising history; it is about whether public statements were founded on honestly presented evidence."

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Not-So-Curious George's Revisionism

It's Bush who should be exposed for "rewriting history" based on unsupported evidence--and there's videotape to prove it. At a meeting in the Oval Office with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on July 14th, Bush defended the decision to go to war with the astonishing explanation that "we gave [Hussein] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power..."

Some might call Bush's account revisionist, or even perhaps delusional, history. We know he's not a curious George, and that he has a tenuous relationship to the truth, but didn't someone on his staff brief him about the more than 400 inspections conducted by the UN inspectors, covering more than 300 sites. Doesn't he remember Hans Blix--the guy his Administration tried to discredit with personal dirt? (They couldn't find anything on squeaky clean Blix.) What about the president's 48-hour ultimatum to Iraq, issued on March 17th, when he specifically demanded that the inspectors leave that country? Even Condy Rice would have a hard time explaining how Bush's statement about the inspectors is "technically accurate."

This kind of revisionism from the country's Chief Executive should raise the gravest of doubts. "It is impossible to believe that Bush has forgotten the inspectors so quickly, or that he mis-spoke on an issue of such historic importance," says Bob Fertik, co-founder of Democrats.com. "The only conclusion we can draw is that Bush has lost touch with reality--in other words, he has gone mad." (Democrats.com has launched a campaign, with a website (MadGeorge.us), to have the president declared insane and expelled from office under the 25th amendment.)

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Noir Wisdom

A British arms expert, at the center of the dispute on the use (or misuse) of Iraq data on WMDs, is mysteriously found dead near his home in Oxfordshire, England. These are dog days made for John Le Carre, Tom Clancy or film noir.

For solace, I reach for my copy of "The Little Black and White Book of Film Noir". Published by Arsenal Pulp Press, this palm-sized paperback is a quick and dirty guide to life, love and politics.

Here are a few--of the many--lines that seem made-to-order for these "noir" days:

"My, my. Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains."Humphrey Bogart, The Big Sleep.

"We ain't safe with no crackpot giving orders."Steve Cochran, White Heat.

"You don't seem very sorry." "I am sorry. Sorry that I was caught."Judith Anderson and Barbara Stanwyck. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.

"The world, my friends, as it is now constituted, stinks!"Jack Carson, Blues in the Night.

The Coalition of the Rational

Here's a modest proposal. Let's start a Coalition of the Rational to take back our country from this radical rightwing Administration. After all, these are times when true conservatives are as concerned as liberal Democrats about the damage being done to our democracy and international credibility as a result of manipulated intelligence, preemptive war policy and arrogant unilateralism.

The coalition could bring together a broad, transpartisan group of concerned citizens--from Goldwater-style conservatives, Rockefeller Republicans and former State Department and intelligence officials, to progressive Democrats and religious, labor and student leaders--to mobilize Americans in informed opposition to the Bush Administration's undermining of US security in our name.

Here are some nominations for charter members of the Coalition of the Rational:

*The dozens of active intelligence officials who are coming forward--mostly through leaks in the press--to describe how Administration officials pressured them to exaggerate the Iraqi threat and deceive the country.

*Veteran Intelligence Professionals For Sanity, a national organization of retired CIA, military and NSA intelligence officers who called into question the Administration's rationale for war and is now up in arms over the Bush Team's manipulation of intelligence. Check out the group's statement released last May, which noted in part: "In intelligence, there is one unpardonable sin--cooking intelligence to the recipe of high policy. There is ample indication that this has been done with respect to Iraq....[N]ever before has such warping been used in such a systematic way to mislead our elected representatives into voting to authorize launching a war." The group's recent statement powerfully indicts the vice president and "strongly recommends Dick Cheney's immediate resignation" for his role in deceiving the public, the media and other policy-makers regarding the true threat Iraq actually posed to the United States.

*Rand Beers, a National Security Council adviser to five administrations, including those of Reagan and Bush 41, who recently resigned as Bush's special counterrorism assistant. As he stepped down, Beers blasted the Administration's handling of the war on terror as "making us less secure, not more secure."

*Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser to President Carter, who cautions that "our single-minded and...demagogic fixation with Iraq is undermining the credibility as well as the legitimacy of US leadership."

*Joseph Wilson, the highest-ranking American diplomat in Baghdad immediately before the Gulf War, who argues that the "underlying objective of this war [Iraq] is the imposition of a Pax Americana on the region," and that "the projection of influence and power through the use of force will breed resistance in the Arab world that will sorely test our political will and stamina."

*James W. Ziglar, Sr., Bush's former Immigration commissioner and a self-described "conservative in the Barry Goldwater mold," recently warned that the Administration's increasingly aggressive antiterrorism tactics may be violating citizens' basic constitutional rights.

*Greg Thielmann, the former head of the State Department's Office of Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs, and a career foreign service officer who served under three Republican and two Democratic Presidents, recently went public with his anger and disgust at the Bush Administration for completely misrepresenting Iraq as an imminent threat to US security by knowingly distorting intelligence information. "This Administration has had a faith-based intelligence attitude," Thielmann has said. "We know the answers--give us the intelligence to support those answers."

*John Brady Kiesling, a career diplomat for nearly twenty years, who resigned last February in protest against the Administration's drive to war. In his resignation letter, he warned that "Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson." When asked if his views were widely shared among his diplomatic colleagues, Kiesling replied: "Not one of my colleagues is comfortable with our policy." Several other career foreign service officials resigned in the weeks after Kiesling stepped down.

*George Kennan, the chief architect of the containment and deterrence policies that shaped American foreign policy for more than fifty years, attacked the Administration's national security doctrine as "a great mistake in principle." He also denounced dishonest efforts by the White House to link Al-Qaeda terrorists with Saddam Hussein.

*Ray McGovern, who worked for the CIA at high levels for twenty-seven years, and regularly briefed Bush's father in the 1980s, and who recently quit his post in protest at the Bush Administration's misuse of intelligence briefings.

*Arthur Schlesinger, presidential special assistant and author, who argues that "the Bush Doctrine converts us into the world's judge, jury and executioner--a self-appointed status that, however benign our motives, is bound to corrupt our leadership," and who warns that because of Bush, the "global wave of sympathy that engulfed the United States after 9/11 has given way to a global wave of hatred of American arrogance and militarism."

*Ted Sorensen, former chief speechwriter to a muscular Democrat--President John Kennedy--who laments that the "long uneasiness with bloodletting and battle that followed Vietnam has been replaced by a new infatuation for war, a preference for invasion over persuasion."

And there are scores of others inside and outside the Administration; in Establishment circles; in military and business organizations, who are alarmed by the White House's radical extremism. At off-the-record meetings at the Council on Foreign Relations, for example, prominent figures regularly express shock (and no awe) at how this Administration is undermining America's security--and reputation in the world.

The Coalition of the Rational could launch nationwide public hearings and town hall meetings to expose the dangers posed by the Bush Administration. Members could propose sane, alternative foreign and security policies. Its key members could speak out on TV, radio and on op-ed pages, and its institutions could join forces with internet-based networks such as MoveOn and TrueMajority to create a broad-based coalition sufficiently powerful to take back this country from the extremists now running our government.

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