Katrina vanden Heuvel | The Nation

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

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

Radical Cheerleaders

Radical cheerleaders. Must be a lefty fantasy, right? Nope. Cheerleaders may be wholesome symbols of America like apple pie, the flag and Bill Bennett (before May 2003.) But now cheerleading has gone political.

Instead of waxing poetic on behalf of the Oakland Raiders or the hometown Lakers or Clippers, a Los Angeles-based team called "Radical Teen Cheer" has been recently livening up political protests and rallies across Southern California. "We're teens, we're cute, we're radical to boot!" they chant. Another favorite: "Who trained, who trained bin Laden? Who armed, who armed Saddam Hussein?"

As the Guardian's Duncan Campbell reports, radical cheerleading teams--among them the Dirty Southern Belles in Memphis and the Rocky Mountain Rebels in Denver--are cropping up in dozens of US cities, twirling pom poms of protest for diverse causes from gay rights to anti-sweatshop organizing to calls for a humane US foreign-policy.

Many of the twenty girls on LA's Radical Teen Cheer hail from a Latino working class neighborhood in East Los Angeles. "Cheerleading is just our way of getting our message across," team member Natalya told Campbell. Another teammate said people had accused them of being unpatriotic, and a couple of girls had to give up due to family pressure. "But we love our country," she said.

As far as I know, Emma Goldman never shook any pom poms. But she always said she didn't want to be part of any revolution if she couldn't dance. So, I have a feeling if she were around, Emma would be shaking it with Radical Teen Cheer, the Dirty Southern Belles and the Rocky Mountain Rebels.

A Race With No Winners

After weeks of searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, there's still no trace of the fearsome arsenal the Administration advertised. Back in the US, however, the Bush Administration is adding to our own stockpile of weapons of mass destruction by lifting a decade-old ban on research and testing of small nuclear weapons to allow for the development of "low yield" nukes for battlefield use.

The White House's Strangelovian nuclear policy signals a dramatic shift in US nuclear doctrine--one that undermines five decades of bipartisan efforts to delegitimize the use of nuclear weapons. What Senator Edward Kennedy called a "far-reaching and highly dangerous U-turn in our longstanding policy against the first use of nuclear weapons," was accelerated on May 20th when the Republican-controlled Senate turned back a Democratic effort to maintain the ban. "It's a one way street that can lead only to nuclear war," Kennedy warned.

If anyone needs evidence that the Administration's reckless policy is about to launch a new nuclear arms race, Russian President Vladimir Putin provided it on May 15th when he announced to the Russian Parliament his country will soon begin developing new nuclear weapons and low-yield nuclear devices of their own. His remark was met greeted by applause.

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States and Russia have worked together, slowly but steadily, to scale back their strategic nuclear arsenals. There were even baby steps taken to safeguard and reduce the former Soviet Union's ill-secured weapons of mass destruction. Now, Bush's unilateral assault on decades of disarmament may revive a nuclear arms race, hinder our chances to secure "loose nukes," and lead Putin to re-invest in his country's decrepit nuclear infrastructure. Do you feel safer?

NOTE: TrueMajority is currently sponsoring a campaign allowing you to send a free fax to your elected representatives telling them to vote against "Usable Nukes." Click here for info.

Memo to Dems: Passion & Principles Matter

At a forum in Iowa this past Saturday, organized by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, most of the Dems angling for their party's nomination finally challenged Bush on his record in fighting terrorism abroad and protecting Americans at home. Bush's opponents need to keep asking American citizens if they feel safer now after the invasion of Iraq? I don't.

Look at the record: Al-Qaeda regrouping, warlords running Afghanistan, Iraq sliding into lawlessness, no sign of those weapons of mass destruction, and the gutting of homeland security funding. Isn't this what any sane person would call a failed national security policy?

It's also time to challenge Terry McAuliffe, Chair of the Democratic National Committee, who earlier this year urged that "the war...not be on the ballot in 2004." But why should Dems cede national security when even Karl Rove has all but admitted that Bush is vulnerable on the issue? It's also time to take on the corporate wing of the party, the Democratic Leadership Council--or, as Jesse Jackson used to call it, the Democratic Leisure Class.

The DLC's recent memo, "The Real Soul of the Democratic Party," purporting to be a strategy for winning in 2004, has received lots of attention for its blast at Howard Dean for being an elitist liberal. (For an intelligent critique of Dean, read Jim Farrell's recent Nation edit.) This memo is must reading for anyone who's forgotten the Democratic debacle in the 2002 midterms. If that disaster taught us anything, it is that Bush is a relentless and effective campaigner, and the only way to beat him and his party will be for the Dems to distinguish themselves as a relentless and effective party of opposition.

Message to Al From and his timid DLC: The Republican-lite Democratic Leadership Council's hard to beat something with nothing. Unless the Dems stand up and lay out a real agenda for the country, with some passion, principles and vision, they can forget about electability.

Looking Like America

While the Administration denies media reports that it has given US forces in Iraq the go-ahead to shoot looters on sight, Donald Rumsfeld, testifying last week before the Senate Appropriations Committee, promised that US forces will be "using muscle" to contain the looting. Rumsfeld also called for patience, saying of Iraq: "We can't make it like the United States in five minutes, and we know that."

Some good Senator should have asked Rumsfeld about the looting going on in Washington, DC. Politically-connected corporations with close ties to the Bush Administration are arranging lucrative contracts to rebuild Iraq. (Bechtel has a contract worth up to $700 million and the Halliburton subsidiary has been authorized to take profits of up to $490 million.) And where was the Senator to point out how singularly ill-suited the Bush Administration is to the task of rebuilding Iraq?

Bush Inc.--the most resolutely anti-government Administration since before the New Deal--is brazenly indifferent to the rebuilding--or even the maintaining--of the United States. So Rumsfeld & Co's idea of making Iraq like the US may not take as much time as they think--if it means gutting the infrastructure of a country, while looting its treasury (and oil wealth) to line the pockets of war-profiteering corporations.

Jokes in the News

Sociologist Herbert Gans has a good idea. "What if the news media reported the best of the monologue material as well as the currently circulating political jokes and connected them with the news stories that inspired them?"

After all, as Gans reminds us in his new book Democracy and the News, many people, particularly those between eighteen and thiry-five, get much of their news from late-night comedy hosts like Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Jon Stewart, of Comedy Central's The Daily Show (recently described by Susan Douglas in The Nation as "the medically prescribed antidote to CNN and Fox.")

Here's a joke I'd like to see connected to the news stories that inspired it. It's from one of my favorite comedians--Chris Rock:

"You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, the best golfer is a black guy, the tallest guy in the NBA is Chinese, the Swiss hold the America's Cup, France is accusing the US of arrogance, Germany doesn't want to go to war, and the three most powerful men in America are named 'Bush', 'Dick' and 'Colon'. Need I say more?"

Need I say more?

George W--Hottie Flyboy?

What is it with neocon women? They'll find any opportunity to bash the upper west side. In last Friday's Wall Street Journal, former Dan Quayle speech-writer and charter member of the rightwing, antifeminist Independent Women's Forum Lisa Schiffren shared her sex fantasies:

"I had the most astonishing thought last Thursday. After a long day of hauling the kids to playdates and ballet, I turned on the news. And there was the president, landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, stepping out of a fighter jet in that amazing uniform, looking--how to put it?--really hot. Also, presidential, of course. Not to mention credible as a commander in chief. But mostly 'hot' as in virile, sexy and powerful. You don't see that a lot in my neighborhood, the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (I'm told there's more of it in the 'red' states.)"

Lisa, Lisa, Lisa, where are you hanging out? Not in my neighborhood, my upper west side. Haven't you walked through Riverside Park this spring? Checked out the running paths and soccer fields? What about the basketball courts at 92nd and Amsterdam?

And Lisa, on my upper west side we like our men to be "hot" in real life, not just in photo-ops. Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey (another Upper West Sider) summed it up well when, after subjecting the photographic record of Bush's combat getup to close scrutiny, she wondered if he had stuffed "socks down the front of the jumpsuit." (My gay friend Luccio says that internet images of Bush in uniform titled "Bush's Package" are wildly popular among his friends.)

The White House's Top Gun spectacle distorted reality in all sorts of ways. Why not use the photo-op to give GOP voters like Schiffren something to fantasize about at night?


Preemptive Strike Against Hillary

Can't the Republican Presidential Task Force come up with more imaginative ways of raising money than attacking Hillary Clinton? Last week it sent out a mass mailing seeking funds to stop any prospective Clinton presidential candidacy.

"If Republicans don't take immediate steps to counter her," writes Senator George Allen, chair of the Republican Senatorial Committee, "Senator Hillary Clinton will continue to rise unimpeded to the very pinnacle of power in Washington and we will see the dawning of a new, more liberal Clinton era."

Spare me. The specter of Hillary Clinton as Senator--and now President--may be one of the great rightwing moneymaking gambits of our time. (Also one of the most fraudulent given Hillary's longtime centrist record.) HillaryNo.com helped Rudy Giuliani, her then assumed rival for the New York Senate, haul in an unprecedented 19 million dollars in campaign contributions. Since then, scores of rightwing writers have cashed in by pillorying Hillary. Conservative publishing houses have grown fat from Hillary-bashing. Talk radio's revenues would be cut in half without the Clintons, and Hannity, Scarborough, Savage and O'Reilly could go out of business without Hillary to kick around. (Rightwing attack-journalist turned repentant whistleblower David Brock's Blinded by the Right usefully explained the machinery of the anti-Clinton propaganda machine in which he thrived for many years.)

At least retailers are no longer reporting brisk sales in nine-inch Hillary voodoo dolls or doormats bearing her likeness. And maybe someday the Presidential Task Force, whatever that is, will similiarly retire its tired pitches and find a new scapegoat to try to exploit.


Where are the WMD?

With each passing day it appears more likely that Saddam Hussein did NOT possess usable weapons of mass destruction, and therefore did not pose an urgent threat to US, regional or international security. The UN inspectors could have been given more time to complete their job. Ironically, while Saddam rarely, if ever, cooperated fully with UN inspectors, he did let them in. The Bush Administration is currently denying them access into postwar Iraq altogether.

Savage Standards?

I was surprised when the producer from Chris Matthews' MSNBC show Hardball said they wanted me to talk about the controversy surrounding sportswriter Bob Ryan. Maybe I shouldn't have been, what with Michael Jordan as front page news in the Washington Post, and the increased politicization of sports generally--remember Manhattanville College basketball player Toni Smith's now-famous antiwar protest? And, more recently, there was the delicious controversy over the banning of a showing of "Bull Durham" by the Baseball Hall of Fame because of Tim Robbins' antiwar statements. Plus, the NBA playoffs are currently in full-swing, as I know from my basketball-obsessed family. (My twelve year old daughter begins every morning by reading the sports pages.)

It seems Ryan, a venerable Boston Globe sports columnist, set off a firestorm when he said on a local sports TV show that he'd like to "smack" Joumana Kidd, wife of New Jersey Nets star point guard Jason Kidd, whose team, is currently locked in a bitter playoff battle with the Boston Celtics. The comment was particularly insensitive because two years ago Kidd was arrested for striking his wife in a widely-publicized domestic violence incident. After criticism mounted, the Globe quickly suspended Ryan for one month without pay. "Bob Ryan's comments were "offensive and unacceptable," said Martin Baron, the editor of the Globe.

Speaking as a woman, I do find Ryan's comment offensive, cruel and insensitive to the issue of domestic abuse. But, as an editor, I am troubled by suspending a columnist for mean and offensive language. It seems to me that columnists have a certain license, and nothing Ryan said made it impossible for him to continue his work. And while his comments--made on talk radio, not in his column--made the Boston Globe look bad that's not a reason, to me, to suspend him.

As I pointed out on Hardball, there's also the irony of talking about offensive and unacceptable language on a cable TV talk show. (The segment I was on that night ended with Michael Graham, a radio talk show host, telling the audience what he wanted to do to Hillary Clinton after hearing her speak on patriotism: "I wanted to bludgeon her with a tire iron. That's what I wanted to do." )

If the Boston Globe's standards were applied to today's cable news shows and talk radio programs, I think we'd see a helluva lot of suspensions. Take rightwing radio host Michael Savage who also has a weekly MSNBC show. He recently labeled NBC correspondent Ashley Banfield a slut, a porn star and an accessory to the murder of Jewish children because of her reports on the radical Arab point of view. (Doesn't Tom Brokaw care that he is on the same network with this man?)

What action did NBC News take to reprimand Savage? Nada. Instead, when Banfield subsequently criticized NBC News for its sanitized and skewed war coverage, as well as for hiring Savage, the network attacked HER by issuing a statement saying it was "deeply disappointed and troubled" by her remarks. Meanwhile, Savage continues to pollute our airwaves, Michael Graham suffers no reprisals for his ugly misogyny and Bob Ryan lives on his savings for the next month

Top Gun at Job Destruction

There's no denying that George Bush knows how to stage patriotic spectacles at sea, but the reality back on shore is not so technicolor pretty. Did you know that Top Gun Bush is poised to become the first President since Herbert Hoover to preside over job destruction rather than job creation? Thanks to Daniel Gross's article, recently posted on Slate, we also know that Bush's last tax cut, the largest cut in American history, has so far "cost" America 1.7 million jobs and counting.

For a good comparison of how Bush's record of job destruction compares to previous presidencies since World War II, check out the following compilation by the International Association of Machinists, which looked at the average growth in monthly employment during the terms of the last fifteen presidential administrations.

Truman First Term: 60,000 jobs gained per month

Truman Second Term: 113,000 jobs gained per month

Eisenhower First Term: 58,000 jobs gained per month

Eisenhower Second Term: 15,000 jobs gained per month

Kennedy: 122,000 jobs gained per month

Johnson: 206,000 jobs gained per month

Nixon First Term: 129,000 jobs gained per month

Nixon/Ford : 105,000 jobs gained per month

Carter: 218,000 jobs gained per month

Reagan First Term: 109,000 jobs gained per month

Reagan Second Term: 224,000 jobs gained per month

G. Bush: 52,000 jobs gained per month

Clinton First Term: 242,000 jobs gained per month

Clinton Second Term: 235,000 jobs gained per month

G.W. Bush : 69,000 jobs LOST per month

Also back on shore: While this Administration stakes out the patriotic high ground, it is decimating programs that benefit veterans, their families and their communities to hand the super-rich another tax cut. (To find out what you can do to expose Bush's hypocrisy, support the national ad campaign by True Majority and Veterans for Common Sense .)

National unemployment has just increased to 6 percent, the highest in almost a decade. The states face the worst budget crisis since the 1930s. Primary services such as schools, basic health care, sanitation and law enforcement are being undermined. Lines at food banks are longer and longer. Homelessness is on the rise. Even the state agencies charged with combating terrorism are being gutted. As Bob Herbert wrote in his New York Times column, "There is a faint but unmistakable whiff of the Depression in the air."

No wonder Karl Rove predicts that the 2004 election is going to be "close," and "competitive." Maybe he's been reviewing other stats--like the one that says that since 1900, the only incumbent Republican Presidents to lose a second term have been named Hoover and Bush.

Pity David Frum

Conservative talking head and former Bush speechwriter David Frum was quoted yesterday by Howard Kurtz in his online Washington Post media column criticizing my "amazing breath control" and "dazzling long-windedness" during a recent TV program on which the two of us appeared.

I must apologize if Frum felt deprived of his fair share of air time. As we all know, conservative pundits tend to be shy and reserved. Pity Frum and his comrades--Newt Gingrich, Richard Perle, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Fred Barnes--for not being able to express themselves fully in the face of the widespread "microphone-hugging stunts" of the "hard left." Next time, I am on-air with Frum, I promise--really, I do--to throttle back so that his side finally has a chance to reach the public. And perhaps he will take that opportunity to engage the arguments at hand and not worry so much my breathing. Though if he is really interested, I can send him the name of a good yoga instructor.

Kerry & Dean--Where's the Beef?

About a month ago, George Soros sent me a letter along with a copy of a recent speech he'd delivered offering his views on "America's Role in the World." (I'm sure I was one of thousands to get the mailing.) Soros wrote that he was looking for a presidential candidate "who could articulate an alternative vision for America's role in the world and so far I have found two, Governor Howard Dean of Vermont and Senator John Kerry."

I thought of Soros' letter after reading that Kerry's campaign had blasted Dean's credentials as potential commander in chief. As Kerry's communications director, Chris Lehane, put it in attacking the former Vermont Governor's comment: "No serious candidate for the presidency has ever before suggested that he would compromise or tolerate an erosion of America's military supremacy." But who's talking about eroding US military supremacy? (Maybe Kerry went on the attack because he is stung from being derided for "looking French," by an unidentified White House official.)

It turns out that the former Vermont governor was quoted on Time.com as saying something eminently reasonable: "We have to take a different approach [to diplomacy]. We won't always have the strongest military." Some might consider this an alternative vision. I think it's just common sense. Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, said all his candidate was saying was that Bush's foreign policy will ultimately leave the nation less safe in the war against terrorism by relying too heavily on military force at the expense of diplomacy.

But, my worry is that Dean's foreign-policy vision isn't unconventional enough. When I heard him speak a few months ago, he vowed he wouldn't touch the defense budget. If Dean wanted to lay out a credible and progressive security policy he could counter Kerry's attack by noting that the current US defense budget of $400 billion is larger than those of the next fifteen nations in the world combined. He could make the case that unless the Democrats confront the waste in Bush's defense budget (and his reckless tax cut), they will have no money for concrete gains in healthcare, education and the other domestic issues they claim to champion--even if they do win the White House or Congress.

So hell, why doesn't Dean make the case for spending five times more on weapons and the armed forces than the rest of the world combined? Or ten? We'll still have the strongest military for decades to come. Right now, the US has more people without healthcare than any other advanced industrial country. Why not make sensible cuts in the defense budget and let America start competing to be number one in education, employment, housing, literacy, life-expectancy and child health standards? Do the math: Cut one "upgraded" Abrams Tank and we have the money to enroll 1,100 underprivIeged children in (recently defunded) Head Start programs; Cut the Army Comanche Helicopter program and Navy Joint standoff weapons and we can build housing for 600,000 homeless families; Reduce the nuclear arsenal to 1,000 warheads--more than enough to destroy all our potential enemies--and cancel three cold war weapons programs, the F-2 fighter jet, the V-22 Osprey aircraft and the new attack submarine, and we can reduce all classes nationwide in the first, second and third grades to fifteen students total.

Yes, the Democrats need to counter the (wrongheaded) view that they are "softer" on defense than the Republicans. (Instead they continue to abet it by trying to punt in favor of domestic issues.) And there is a real opportunity--after Iraq--to lay out a credible alternative security policy that deals effectively with the dangers of a post-Sept. 11 world--from stateless terrorism to the spread of weapons of mass destruction. After all, it's becoming clearer that we may be the most powerful military might in world history, but preemptive war, unilerateralism and a $400 billion defense budget aren't creating a safer, secure, more democratic, or more prosperous planet.

Shouldn't presidential candidates show some boldness? The way to start is by being honest and saying that America can't continue to increase military spending and still deliver a credible domestic agenda for working Americans.

If Dean wants to look tough while talking common sense (and maybe securing Soros' potentially valuable support), he might take a page out of a true Republican war heroes' playbook? Listen to Dwight Eisenhower: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

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