The Republican Party's "K Street Project," intended to make lobbyists pledge their allegiance to the GOP, has supposedly been shut down in the wake of the Abramoff scandal. But in the mind of Rep. Tom Reynolds, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the effort is still very much alive.
Last week, according to Roll Call, Reynolds warned a gathering of top lobbyists to refrain from donating to Democrats. "For those of you thinking about hedging your bets, I am watching you and I am going to know," said Reynolds, according to one Republican source at the meeting. "We will have no choice but to report to the Republican Conference any changes in your pattern of giving," Reynolds added, according to a second source.
Publicly threatening lobbyists is likely not to the best PR move for Reynolds in light of Bob Ney's guilty plea last week. But it's fitting behavior for a man who once called Tom DeLay "a darn good mentor of mine."
You know the peace movement is in trouble when Andrew Rosenthal -- who edited WMD-fantasist Judy Miller at the New York Times -- bemoans its invisibility, as he did in an editorial a few weeks ago. When protesters do hit the streets, however, the result is not always inspiring. Today's rally at the United Nations, timed to coincide with Bush's speech to that enfeebled body, was thinly attended: just a few thousand people. Energy was low, and 911 conspiracy loons plentiful. United for Peace and Justice did a good job of making a necessary protest possible, by fighting for -- and winning -- a permit to march, and doing the vital organizing to get bodies and TV cameras to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. But the event's dreary mood stood in sharp contrast to a neighboring rally for Iranian political candidate Maryam Rajavi, whose supporters played music and danced, and waved signs with Rajavi's attractive face on it. (Semiotically moderate, she wears a headscarf and makeup. Her party is reputed to be a weird cult, unfortunately, but they certainly know how to throw a rally!) The mood at the Rajavi gathering was buoyant and optimistic, while the anti-war protesters seemed doleful and stuck in the past. Things are clearly dire when the grand finale speaker is Jesse Jackson, who hasn't been interesting since the 1980s.
Part of the problem is that the left's obsession with Bush -- quite understandable but always shallow -- no longer even provides decent slogans, much less vision. Indeed, looking out at the sea of anti-Bush signs at the rally, the man standing next to me -- who had a relative who'd just come back from Iraq "fucked up" -- remarked, "The problem is not just Bush. He's doing what the corporations tell him. He represents the people with billions of dollars. Not just millions, billions. And they want to keep it." Note to protesters and Democrats alike: W's approval ratings are back up. Running against him isn't good enough anymore.
In Connecticut today, a statewide interfaith network of religious leaders--Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice-- working with with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, is calling on the state's Congressional delegation to take a firm stand against weakening the United States' commitment to Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.
"Nothing less than the soul of our nation is at stake," said the Reverend Allie Perry, "not to mention the rule of law."
Senator Joe Lieberman--who might soon join forces with the Decider to serve as his official sidekick, the Moral Equivocator--has seized the opportunity to (somewhat) oppose President Bush's torture proposal. "I think McCain's got it right," said Lieberman. "I think we're probably in agreement in about 90 percent on how we should treat them."
But what Jolting Joe can't cut and run from--as Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith point out in their recent article on The Nation.com--are his votes to strip Guantánamo captives of the right to habeas corpus, and to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General, essentially endorsing Gonzales' infamous torture memo.
If Lieberman sees supporting the Warner/McCain/Graham bill as a way to take an election year stand against Bush while posing as protector of our historical international obligations, he is dead wrong. As J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights said, "The Administration and Warner bills...would authorize the life-long detention of more than 450 men who have been imprisoned in Guantánamo for nearly five years without ever having been charged with an offense or receiving a fair hearing. This is unconscionable. Every person detained by our nation must receive a fair hearing--one that does not rely on secret evidence or evidence obtained by torture or coercion--because fairness and due process are what America stands for."
In Connecticut, and across the nation, as candidates are forced to take a stand on such issues as torture, habeas corpus, and the separation of powers, we will learn who represents our finest traditions, and who would settle for a poor imitation which will further erode our historical role as a beacon for human rights.
When George W. Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, he glowingly referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN in 1948. He said:
This morning, I want to speak about the more hopeful world that is within our reach, a world beyond terror, where ordinary men and women are free to determine their own destiny, where the voices of moderation are empowered, and where the extremists are marginalized by the peaceful majority. This world can be ours if we seek it and if we work together.
The principles of this world beyond terror can be found in the very first sentence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document declares that "the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom and justice and peace in the world."
One of the authors of this document was a Lebanese diplomat named Charles Malik, who would go on to become president of this assembly. Mr. Malik insisted that these principles applied equally to all people, of all regions, of all religions, including the men and women of the Arab world that was his home.
In the nearly six decades since that document was approved, we have seen the forces of freedom and moderation transform entire continents....The words of the Universal Declaration are as true today as they were when they were written.
That is some endorsement. But how familiar is Bush with the entire document? Let's start with Article 5:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Bush claims that his adminsitration has not tortured any terrorist suspect. But that claim has been challenged. (In the book I co-wrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the War, we recount the tale of a captured al Qaeda commander handed over by the CIA to Egyptian authorities, who was aggressively questioned--perhaps tortured--and provided false information linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda. This information was then used by Colin Powell during his now infamous UN speech before the invasion of Iraq.)
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.
Terrorist suspects detained as enemy combatants by the United States were not afforded equal protection of the law.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
The Bush White House has argued that the president has the power to arrest and detain anyone suspected of being an enemy combatant and that a detainee can be held as long as the president deems fit, without any due process. The Supreme Court, though, has not gone along with that view.
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him
Did Bush's original idea of using a military tribunal to try suspected terrorists jibe with this provision? Is his current proposal to try detainees with secret evidence in sync with this article?
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Bush keeps insisting on the right to wiretap people--including American citizens (under certain circumstances)--without a warrant, not even a secret warrant. As for the right not to have one's honor and reputation assailed, the drafters of this declaration must have forgotten to put in a clause exempting the targets of political campaigns.
Noting in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein
In other words, not even a wartime president gets a pass. So did Bush read this document before he praised it? Or was he just reading a speech?
INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says "Hubris is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For more information on Hubris, click here.
Academy Award winning actor and director George Clooney does not have a new film to promote. He does not want to call attention to a high-profile romance he's involved in. He simply, like so many other Americans, wants there to be more aggressive action on the part of the United States and the rest of the international community with regards to the genocide ongoing in Darfur.
"It's not a political issue," Clooney has said, "It's not about left and right, conservative or liberal points of view. It's only about right and wrong." While the idea of Hollywood movie stars lecturing about the world's dilemmas may make some people cringe or complain the reality is that Clooney has been one of the few consistent and influential voices on this problem. In April he and his journalist father, Nick Clooney, made a highly publicized visit to the region and footage they shot of refugees there helped get the Darfur crisis back in the news again for the first times in months.
President Bush appears paralyzed on this issue by his aversion to the International Criminal Court and his dedication to the quagmire in Iraq. Meanwhile, Sudan's Khartoum government continues to allow the Janjaweed militia to continue mass murder. A recent study by two scientists from the University of Wisconsin and Northwestern University has found that nearly half a million people have perished since the violence began, far more than has been recently estimated.
While all the President seems to be able to do is muster cranky complaints about the UN from the Rose Garden, last week, Clooney, along with Nobel Prize winner and Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel has been engaging in talks directly with members of the international community in the hopes that they can provide the pressure necessary to break the seemingly unending deadlock within the African Union's Peace and Security Council about how to act. "The critical hour for Darfur is now," said Clooney.
As a society we tend to roll our eyes collectively when rich and famous celebrities take up causes such as these but no matter what you think of Clooney's work or his intentions, he happens to be right about this. Something must be done.
Is the Bush Administration mistaking Iran for pre-war Iraq? Recent events certainly sound eerily familiar.
Intelligence experts and counter-terrorism officials say hawkish Republicans are exaggerating the state of Iran's nuclear program and support for terrorism.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, in particular, said a report by House Republicans contained "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated information."
"The dispute was a virtual rerun of the months before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq," Knight-Ridder reported.
Once again, the offices of Cheney and Rumsfeld are "receiving a stream of questionable information that originates with Iranian exiles," Knight-Ridder writes.
The head of the infamous Office of Special Plans, Abram Shulsky, now helms a new Iranian directorate at the Pentagon.
And once again, President Bush is addressing the UN General Assembly, calling for sanctions. "Iran must abandon its nuclear weapon ambitions," Bush said today. (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressing the UN tonight, skipped the speech.)
Bush claimed he's still seeking a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. But a military option is very much on the table.
Retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner told CNN yesterday: "We are conducting military operations inside Iran right now." And US naval forces have been alerted for deployment.
As improbable as it seems, could an attack on Iran be this election season's October surprise?
For some time now we've known about the Bush administration's outsourcing of torture to foreign dictatorships. But for the first time we can see the whole process vividly detailed by a Western governmental source.
A Candadian judicial panel has made public its findings in the case of hapless computer programmer Maher Arar, a Muslim Canadian citizen. Wrongly suspected of terrorist connections by Canadian intelligence, Arar was placed on a U.S. watchlist.
In September 2002, while changing planes in New York City, Arar was plain kidnapped by U.S. agents and essentially "disappeared." After being held in American custody for 12 days, he was flown by the U.S. to Jordan then driven to, yes, Syria. There he was beaten and held in a coffin-sized cell for ten horrific months.
The Syrians. The Syrians we hate. The Syrians we refuse to talk to. The Syrians we will have nothing to do with. Unless, that is, we need them to torture an innocent for us.
In Sunday's Washington Post, excerpts from Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City reveal the fundamentally corrupt approach this administration took to Iraq Reconstruction.
Chandrasekaran writes,"[Job] applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What seemed most important was loyalty to the Bush administration."
President Bush's appointee who screened applicants made certain his staff asked such relevant questions as whether an individual had voted for his boss? Even views on Roe v. Wade were explored.
This is how a 24 year-old with no background in finance was tapped to reopen the Baghdad stock exchange. A 60-year old social worker with limited international health experience working for an evangelical Christian NGO was selected to rebuild Iraq's health care system. And then media-darling (and since disgraced) Bernie Kerik – the former New York City police commissioner of 9/11 fame and Homeland Security infamy – was chosen to oversee the training of Iraq's police forces, partly because he had no previous postwar policing experience and "the White House viewed that as an asset."
Frederick Smith, former deputy director of the Coalition Provisional Authority's Washington office, explains: "We didn't tap -- and it should have started from the White House on down -- just didn't tap the right people to do this job. It was a tough, tough job. Instead we got people who went out there because of their political leanings."
"The decision to send the loyal and the willing," Chandrasekaran writes, "instead of the best and the brightest" has had staggering consequences.
The health care administrator, James Haveman Jr., who replaced, according to one USAID official, "the single most talented and experienced post-conflict health specialist working for the United States government" – funded an anti-smoking campaign rather than focusing on "childhood diarrhea and other fatal maladies." He stressed privatizing and selling the drug-delivery system rather than addressing immediate drug shortages. He focused on maternity wards and new fee-based medical clinics ("Haveman didn't like the idea that medical care in Iraq was free") at the expense of hospitals treating the victims of insurgent attacks that "were the country's single largest health challenge."
"When Haveman left Iraq, Baghdad's hospitals were as decrepit as the day the Americans arrived. At Yarmouk Hospital, the city's largest, rooms lacked the most basic equipment to monitor a patient's blood pressure and heart rate, operating theaters were without modern surgical tools and sterile implements, and the pharmacy's shelves were bare. Nationwide, the Health Ministry reported that 40 percent of the 900 drugs it deemed essential were out of stock in hospitals. Of the 32 medicines used in public clinics for the management of chronic diseases, 26 were unavailable."
Kerik's results were equally abysmal. He ventured out on nighttime raids that garnered good press, and slept during the day when the real business of administration needed to be done. According to Chandrasekaran, while officers "needed to be screened for Baath Party connections," due process and interrogations without torture needed to be taught (who taught whom?), new weapons needed to be procured, and new chiefs and officers needed to be hired…. Kerik held exactly two staff meetings. One on the day he arrived, the other when the New York Times was shadowing him.
Kerik left after three months, saying, "I was in my own world. I did my own thing."
The same can be said of this entire administration.
The raw and wanton costs of GOP cronyism have played out in a tragic and obscene way in Iraq, where implementing a flat tax was more important than rehabilitating hospitals… where selling government assets was more important than generating electricity… where allegiance to George Bush was more critical than language fluency or postwar rebuilding experience.
These days it is often said that the Bush administration lacked a plan for reconstruction. In fact, its plan and that of the GOP party-liners is all too clear: Iraq was simply a lab rat for its crony capitalism and savage treatment of the Iraqi people -- not to mention the exploitation of our men and women sent to fight and die for a plan this administration dare not utter.
This administration doesn't have a problem with attention to detail. The injustice lies in the details it selects and pays attention to -- leaving a world of destruction in its wake.
The Sunday Washington Post headline said it all. Echoing a theme that is finally being picked up by print and broadcast media that for too long has neglected the dramatic problems with this country's systems for casting and counting votes, the newspaper's front page announced: "Major Problems At Polls Feared: Some Officials Say Voting Law Changes And New Technology Will Cause Trouble."
Following a disastrous election day in Maryland that was defined by human blunders, technical glitches, long lines and long delays in vote counting so severe that some contests remain unresolved almost a week after the balloting, the Post declared that, "An overhaul in how states and localities record votes and administer elections since the Florida recount battle six years ago has created conditions that could trigger a repeat -- this time on a national scale -- of last week's Election Day debacle in the Maryland suburbs, election experts said."
Some of us have been writing and talking about this country's almost fully dysfunctional electoral systems for the better part of a decade. And the one thing that every serious observer of the electoral meltdown recognizes is that the people who have managed the mess ought not to be trusted to clean it up.
That's the message that underpins the candidacy of John Bonifaz for the Democratic nomination for Massachusetts Secretary of State.
Bonifaz, the founder of the National Voting Rights Institute, is one of a number of activists and advocates who are running in races for secretary of state positions around the country this year. They have recognized that these posts, which in most states are responsible for conducting elections, can no longer be trusted to Republican partisans -- such as Florida's Katherine Harris and Ohio's Ken Blackwell -- or Democratic hacks. They have to be occupied by champions of democracy who believe that protecting and the promoting the right to vote must be the central function of local and state election officials.
Some of these champions have already secured secretary of state nominations, including Minnesota Democrat Mark Ritchie and California Democrat Debra Bowen. But in Massachusetts, where the primary is Tuesday, Bonifaz faces a tough challenge. He must overcome an entrenched incumbent, William Galvin, who at one point was considered a serious contender for governor but dropped back to seek reelection as secretary of state.
That decision by Galvin made Bonifaz's job much harder. But he has persevered with a primary campaign that has spoken well and wisely of the need to fix our broken election systems. His small "d" democratic commitment has earned Bonifaz enthusiastic endorsements from newspapers such as the Boston Phoenix, one of the nation's premier alternative weeklies, and the New Bedford Standard-Times, which declared last week that, "Mr. Galvin has not used his office enough to push through voting reforms that make Massachusetts a shining example and a leader in reviving democracy at the local level. Mr. Bonifaz will be that champion for the voter."
Bonifaz has also won the backing of national figures who have been active on behalf of voting rights, including U.S. Representatives John Conyers, D-Michigan, and Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Illinois., along with the support of the state's many Progressive Democrats of America chapters.
What appeals about Bonifaz is the seriousness of his uphill campaign, a seriousness that is highlighted by the candidate's commitment to a Voters' Bill of Rights that ought to be the platform on which progressives stand as they address this country's democracy shortfall.
Bonifaz's Voters Bill of Rights promises to:
1. Count every vote
The right to vote includes the right to have our votes properly counted.
We must ensure that every citizen's vote will be counted. This includes a guarantee of open and transparent elections with verified voting, paper trails, hand-recorded paper ballots, and access to the source codes for, and random audits of, electronic voting machines. It also includes a guarantee that we the people, through our government, will control our voting machines -- not private companies.
2. Make voting easier
We should enact election day registration here in Massachusetts, removing the barrier of registration prior to Election Day. Seven states have election day registration. They have a higher voter turnout in their elections and have no evidence of voter fraud. We should be encouraging greater participation in the political process, starting with election day registration.
We should also ensure absentee voting for all, allow for early voting, and remove other barriers that make it difficult for people to vote.
3. End the big money dominance of our electoral process
In a democracy, public elections should be publicly financed. In Maine and Arizona, publicly financed elections have enabled people to run for office who would never have dreamed of running under a system dominated by big money interests. We, as voters, need to own our elections, rather than allow the process to be controlled by the wealthy few.
We also need to enact mandatory limits on campaign spending. In 1976, the Supreme Court wrongly struck down mandatory campaign spending limits for congressional elections. Massachusetts should help lead the way with campaign spending limits for our elections.
4. Expand voter choice
Instant run-off voting: Voters should be able to rank their choices of candidates, ensuring majority support for those elected and allowing greater voter choice and wider voter participation.
Cross Endorsement Voting (Fusion voting): Voters should be able to cast their ballots for major party candidates on a minor party's ballot line, placing power in the hands of the people and broadening public debate on the issues of the day.
Proportional Representation: Voters should be allowed their fair share of representation, ensuring that majority rule does not prevent minority voices from being heard.
5. Ensure access for new citizens and language minorities
The right to vote does not speak one specific language. It is universal. No one should be denied the right to vote because of a language barrier.
6. Level the playing field for challengers
Redistricting reform -- Incumbent legislators should not have the power to draw their own district lines. We must transfer this power to independent non-partisan commissions and create fair standards for redistricting, thereby promoting competition in our electoral process and improving representation for the people.
7. Ensure non-partisan election administration
The Secretary of the Commonwealth must be a Secretary for all of us, regardless of party affiliation. The Secretary should not be allowed to serve as a co-chair of campaigns of candidates. To ensure the people's trust in the integrity of our elections, the Secretary must conduct the administration of elections in a non-partisan manner.
8. Make government more accessible to all of us
Democracy is not just about our participation on Election Day. We need to participate every day and our government needs to be accessible to us every day. This means a government that is open and transparent, that encourages people to make their voices heard, and that enlists citizen participation in addressing the major issues of our time.
9. Amend the US Constitution to ensure an affirmative right to vote
One hundred and eight democratic nations in the world have explicit language guaranteeing the right to vote in their constitutions, and the United States -- along with only ten other such nations -- does not. As a result, the way we administer elections in this country changes from state to state, from county to county, from locality to locality. The Secretary of the Commonwealth must fight for a constitutional amendment that affirmatively guarantees the right to vote in the US Constitution.
John Nichols is the author of Jews for Buchanan (The New Press), an account of the Florida recount fight following the 2000 presidential election, and numerous articles on America's dysfunctional electoral systems.
The Bush Administration appointed political cronies to run Iraq and gave lucrative no-bid contracts to the former employer of our Vice President.
No wonder the occupation is turning out so badly.
Of the $18 billion spent on the now-halted Iraqi reconstruction, half is still missing. Since October 2004, the Department of Defense has not had one internal investigator on the ground.
Corruption has run rampant under such circumstances, with Halliburton the leading beneficiary.
Today, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held its tenth hearing on contracting abuses in Iraq. An earlier hearing found that Halliburton had been unable to substantiate $1.4 billion in charges to the government. Today's hearing focused on how Halliburton billed taxpayers for a Super Bowl Party, among other luxuries--and also knowingly sent truck drivers into hotspots without warning or protection.
Yet the Bush Administration has done nothing to curtail such conduct, refusing to investigate these abuses under the False Claims Act. "The last thing the Administration wants, it appears, is more bad news out of Iraq, and it is willing to throw a monkey wrench into the machinery of justice to prevent that," testified attorney Alan Grayson, who Taxpayers Against Fraud recently named lawyer of the year.
Many of the revelations from today's hearing--and more--are featured in Robert Greenwald's new film, "Iraq For Sale." The film opens tonight. Go see it.