Music for America (MfA) is Example A of why the future is for the young and MfA-type organizations who are inspired now more than ever to continue to effect positive change. Twenty-one million Americans under the age of 30 cast ballots, 4.6 million of them were new voters. This was the highest youth turnout since the voting age was lowered to 18 in 1972, and it's an important example of what went right in the campaign.
If only 18, 19 and 20 year olds had been permitted to vote in this election, Kerry would have carried Ohio, Florida and Missouri, defeating Bush by more than 200 electoral votes. MfA supplied a lot of the muscle. It recruited almost 20,000 volunteers, allied with more than 200 bands and helped arrange over 2,000 concerts, which, the group's savvy 25-year old executive director Molly Moon says, reached two million people.
The real story behind MfA's success, however, lies beyond a mere recitation of post-election statistics. Culture and politics were fused together in new ways, as MfA worked to speak to communities through the force of music. Its artists tailored their messages to homegrown audiences and inspired their fans through local appeals. Artists included Caustic Resin--"Boise, Idaho favorites," as Alias Records described them; Cold Duck Complex, from Northampton, Mass., playing "music that makes you think"; and Amersterband, "round pegs in square holes" from the Ozarks in Southwest Missouri, according to MfA's website. MfA's 45,000 members connected with peers through blogs, concerts and other peer-to-peer interactions.
MFA's strength comes from its clarity and willingness to avoid the nonpartisan pitches issued by groups like Rock the Vote. MfA reached out to young voters, as Moon put it, by "talking about how unemployment sucks, or how young people don't like bans on gay marriage, or were screwed out of jobs or benefits and social security, and how they're oppressed by drug laws strengthened through this Republican Administration."
MFA sought out mostly local artists with local constituencies who weren't national celebrities and encouraged them to be partisan, but in their own unique ways. The group refused to shove pre-packaged talking points down band members' throats, and urged artists to find their own voice, their own issues, and their own messages--"to speak to their community in their own way," said Moon. As Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla explained to The Nation's Hillary Frey in a recent online interview, "the crowds know what's going on. They've been very receptive and very warm. The whole atmosphere at each of the shows has been a lot homier than I would have expected. Really encouraging and really cool."
MfA's success was built on its vision for a growing, long-term movement. While it had a laser-like focus on the 2004 election, MfA also started a dialogue among young voters (and potential voters) that might have a lasting impact on the political future of this nation.
Just weeks after the election, MfA is moving full speed ahead. It plans to survey its members to see which issues are most important to them. A few have already surfaced--rising tuition costs, student loan cuts, Republican attempts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage, and support for legislation and ballot initiatives that would legalize same-day-voter-registration to increase the youth turnout. Issues like free speech, media consolidation and the drug war also resonate with MfA's politically savvy community.
"[Consolidation] severely damages the public interest by interfering with our ability to receive unbiased information from news outlets, and destroys the ability of artists to create new work…in favor of a controlled, homogenized culture," wrote Mike Connery, a blogger on MfA's website.
MfA's members chafe at decisions by the Federal Communications Commission to chastise musicians like U2, levy fines against networks (like Infinity) and censor talk radio kingpins (Howard Stern). And MfA has linked to drugpolicy.org (part of an alliance to end the war on drugs), which describes the RAVE Act, which holds nightclub owners accountable when patrons use drugs on their premises, as a heavy-handed attack on youth culture in general.
Finally, the 14-to-18-year-old demographic, which Moon calls "a major political force," will be a focal point of MfA's efforts. (The highest birth year in America since 1962 was 1990, Moon has pointed out.) "What's the best way to communicate with 14-year-olds?" Moon asks. Answering that question will help MfA win the fight for the future. Although she admits her group still has to figure out how to appeal to this demographic, MFA--and other groups--understand that this is a critical group for their future.
MfA's fusion of politics and culture has gone a long way to suggest that the conventional notion that musicians (or cultural figures more generally) are out of touch with America's voters is way overstated. When it comes to MfA, the organization's artists never swept in to localities like carpetbaggers, creating a dreaded (and unintended) backlash against Democrats. Drawing a connection between politics and culture, when done with sensitivity to a local, grassroots base and with sufficient sophistication, resources and organizing, can recruit a younger generation that seeks an authenticity and connection being provided by music, rather than a traditional political media message.
Ultimately, MfA proves the point that culture can bring young people together through the power of music, issues, ideas and partisanship--no small achievement.
Out to sea? Yes, I am...on the Nation cruise. A week of chewing (over the 2004 election), pulling (hair over the prospects of the next four years) and eating (five or so times a day--ever been on a cruise?). So for this week, check out my recent "Capital Games" columns by clicking here. And don't forget about my blog at www.davidcorn.com. I'll be back soon--tan, not so rested, ready (perhaps), and bloated (definitely).
Earlier this month, I wrote about the right's linguistic strategy, which is to use words, which may sound moderate to us but mean something completely different to its base. To counter these semantic tactics, I proposed an idea for how we could debunk and decode the right's veritable Orwellian Code of encrypted language: A Republican Dictionary.
I put together a small list to get the project started and asked readers to send me their own entries. Response has been overwhelming--more than 350 people sent me definitions.
Nation reader Laurence Cumbie even thanked me for "the very first laugh I have had since November 3." The idea, he added, "seems to me to be precisely the type of simplistic but effective antidote we need" to counter the linguistic trickery of the right.
Toward that end, I'm publishing a small sample of the new dictionary entries I've received below. We may even create a small book or extended pamphlet using the most creative examples submitted. Many thanks to those who took the time to write and apologies to those whose ideas we weren't able to include in this post. But watch this space. We're going to continue posting additional entries in the weeks ahead. And please click here to suggest your own contributions.
ACTIVIST JUDGE, n. A judge who attempts to protect the rights of minorities--most especially homosexuals--against the tyranny of the majority. (Amy Mashberg, Austin, Texas)
ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES, n. New locations to drill for oil and gas. (Peter Scholz, Fort Collins, Colorado)
CIVIL LIBERTIES, n. Unnecessary privileges that you aren't afraid of losing unless you are a God-hating, baby-killing, elitist liberal who loves Saddam Hussein more than your own safety. (Megan Ellis, Bellingham, Washington)
CLIMATE CHANGE, n. Global warming, without that annoying suggestion that something is wrong. (Robert Shanafelt, Statesboro, Georgia)
DEATH TAX, n. A term invented by anti-tax zealots and referring to a tax used to prevent the very wealthy from establishing a dominating aristocracy in this country. (David McNeely, Lutz, Florida)
DEMOCRATIC ALLY, n. Any democracy, monarchy, plutocracy, oligarchy or dictatorship--no matter how ruthless--that verbally supports American diplomatic and economic goals. (L.J. Klass, Concord, New Hampshire)
DEREGULATE, v. To pursue greed and exploitation. (Nathan Taylor, Long Beach, California)
DETAIN, v. Hold in a secret place without recourse to law and treat in any manner one wishes. (Jeannine Bettis, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)
ECONOMIC PROGRESS, n. 1. Recession; 2. Rising unemployment; 3. Minimum-wage freeze. (Terry McGarry, East Rockaway, New York)
FAITH-BASED INITIATIVE, n. Christian Right Payoff. (Michael Gendelman, Fair Haven, New Jersey)
FAMILY VALUES, n. Oppression of women. (Nancy Matsunaga, Brooklyn, New York)
FOX NEWS, n. White House Press Office. (Donnalyn Murphy, San Francisco, California)
HARD WORK, n. What Republicans say when they can't think of anything better. (Brain McDowell), Durham, North Carolina)
INSURGENT, n. Armed or unarmed, violent or non-violent Iraqi on the receiving end of an American rocket blast or bullet spray, regardless of age, gender or political affiliation. (Joey Flores, Marina del Ray, California)
MODERNIZE, v. To do away with, as in modernizing Social Security, labor laws, etc. (Robert Sean Roarty, Atlanta, Georgia)
OBSTRUCTIONIST, n. Any elected representative who dares to question Republican radicals on the issue of the day. (Terry Levine, Toronto, Ontario)
OWNERSHIP SOCIETY, n. A society in which Republican donors own the rest of us. (Adrianne Stevens, Seattle, Washington)
PRIVATIZE, v. To steal the resources of the national community and give them to private business. (Susan Dyer, Ottsville, Pennsylvania)
REFORM, v. To eliminate, as in tort reform (to eliminate all lawsuits against businesses and corporations) or Social Security and Medicare reform (to eliminate these programs altogether). (Darren Staley, Millers Creek, North Carolina)
STRICT CONSTRUCTIONIST, n. A judge with extremely conservative beliefs, who interprets laws in a manner that fits his/rarely-her own belief systems, while maintaining that this was the original intent of the law. (Floyd Doney, Athens, Ohio)
SUPPORT THE MILITARY, v. To praise Bush when he sends our young men and women off to die for no reason and without proper body armor. (Marc Goldberg, Vancouver, Washington)
TAX REFORM, n. The shifting of the tax burden from unearned income to earned income, or rather, from the wealthy elite to the working class. (Eric Evans, Gregory, Michigan)
TORT REFORM, n. Corporate immunity and impunity. (Sue Bazy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
UNITER, n. A Leader who brings together his followers by fomenting hatred for anyone who disagrees with him. (Larry Allred, Las Cruces, New Mexico)
With Tom Ridge following Colin Powell out the White House revolving door, George Bush has finally completed his purge of Vietnam veterans from the Cabinet. Call it the revenge of the Deferment Generation.
In mourning over this latest "spend more time with my family" loss, Americans in airports across the nation removed their jackets, shoes and cowboy belt buckles. Some even consoled each other with quick frisks and pat-downs.
You can tell I find it hard to know whether to laugh, cry, or shout over his departure. Ridge's Homeland Security Department represented the War on Terrorism in its Dadaist mode: a series of pointless provocations involving color codes, duct tape, suspiciously-timed alerts and endless talk about terrorist "chatter."
But while Ridge made us feel less secure at home, Donald Rumsfeld and his fellow Chicken Hawks actually did make us less secure abroad with a "fight them over there" strategy that has worked all too well. Two years, 150,000 soldiers, and tens of thousands of American and Iraqi lives later, and we have yet to secure Baghdad's airport road. Each month the number of casualties rises. November was the worst of the entire war.
What was sold as an easy battle in our latest War On An Abstract Concept has become another dreaded "quagmire"--a black hole for American prestige, treasure and blood. This is tragedy replaying itself as farce. And we have the men who avoided service in Vietnam to thank.
The Rev. John Thomas, who serves as general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, is having a hard time figuring out why the same broadcasters that profited so handsomely from airing the vicious and divisive attack advertisements during the recent presidential election are now refusing to air an advertisement from his denomination that celebrates respect for one another and inclusiveness.
"It's ironic that after a political season awash in commercials based on fear and deception by both parties seen on all the major networks , an ad with a message of welcome and inclusion would be deemed too controversial," said Thomas. "What's going on here?"
The ad in question is part of an ambitious new national campaign by the UCC to appeal to Americans who feel alienated from religion and churches, and to equip the denomination's 6,000 congregations across the U.S. to welcome newcomers. In an effort to break through the commercial clutter that clogs the arteries of broadcast and cable television, the UCC ad features an arresting image: a pair of muscle-bound bouncers standing in front of a church and telling some people they can attend while turning others away.
After people of color, a disabled man and a pair of men who might be gay are turned away, the image dissolves to a text statement that: "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."
Then, as images of diverse couples and families appear on screen, an announcer explains that, "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here."
It is a graceful commercial, which delivers an important message gently yet effectively -- something that cannot be said of most television advertising these days. But viewers of the CBS and NBC television networks won't see it because, in this age of heightened focus on so-called "moral values," quoting Jesus on the issue of inclusion is deemed to be "too controversial."
What was controversial? Apparently, the networks don't like the ad's implication that the Nazarene's welcome to all people might actually include ALL people.
Noting that the image of one woman putting her arm around another was included in the ad, CBS announced, "Because the commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations, and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the (CBS and UPN) networks."
NBC was similarly concerned that the spot was "controversial." UCC leaders, pastors and congregation members are upset, and rightly so.
"It' seems incredible to me that CBS admits it is refusing to air the commercial because of something the Executive Branch, the Bush administration, is doing," says Dave Moyer, conference minister for the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC. "Since when is it unacceptable to offer a different perspective?"
Moyer says that people of all religious faiths and all ideological perspectives should be concerned that the major networks -- which dominate so much of the discourse in America -- are seeking to narrow the dialogue.
The Rev. Curt Anderson, the pastor of the First United Church of Christ in Madison, Wisconsin, says that people of good will should also be concerned about the message being sent to gays and lesbians in the aftermath of an election season that saw them targeted by the political right.
"I'm thinking of the LGBT folks in my church who felt so under attack after the election. They are getting hit again," explained the pastor. "This is another way where the culture, the media, makes them invisible. It is incredible that it is controversial for one woman to put her arm around another."
It is also bizarrely hypocritical. After all, the same NBC network that found the UCC ad "too controversial" airs programs such as "Will & Grace" that feature gay and lesbian characters. "We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies and titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome to committed gay couples, that's where they draw the line," explained the Rev. Bob Chase, director of the national UCC's communication ministry.
Chase has a point. CBS and NBC, networks that reap enormous profits from the public airwaves, are not serving the public interest. Rather, they are assaulting it by narrowing the dialogue and rejecting a message of inclusion that is sorely needed at this point in the American experiment.
The emails keep pouring in. Please investigate voter fraud! Here's evidence the Republicans stole the election! We're watching YOU cover the election irregularities! A number of Americans--is the number growing?--believe George W. Bush only won the election because the voting was somehow rigged. And each day they disseminate via email what they consider to be proof--or, at the least, reasons to be suspicious. In pieces for The Nation magazine, I've noted that there is good cause to worry about the integrity of a voting system that is overseen by partisan players and that relies in part upon paperless electronic voting machines that are manufactured by companies that are led by pro-GOP executives and that refuse to reveal the computer codes they use. But I've also cautioned against declaring that the potential for abuse means the system was abused to flip the results. Exit polls that differ from reported vote counts are not necessarily proof of foul play, and statistical analyses that seem to raise questions need thorough vetting before they are waved about as signs of chicanery.
Take one of the early arguments for the "stolen election." Shortly after E Day, a former high school math teacher named Kathy Dopp sent out a chart that showed George W. Bush faring unusually well in Florida counties that used optical scan voting machines. A-ha, some folks exclaimed, this chart demonstrated the vote had been fixed. A team of political scientists led by Walter Mebane, a professor of government at Cornell, then examined the votes in these counties and found they were consistent with a years-long trend of registered Democrats in rural counties voting for Republican presidential candidates. Their findings were disputed by some "stolen election" advocates. But the Caltech/MIT Voter Technology Project released a study that reached the same conclusion as the Mebane paper. And this past Sunday, the Miami Herald published the results of its investigation of this particular voting pattern. The paper noted,
Some wondered whether Florida's tally was corrupt, with one Internet site writing: "George W. Bush's vote tallies, especially in the key state of Florida, are so statistically stunning that they border on the unbelievable."
The Miami Herald last week went to see for itself whether Bush's steamroll through north Florida was legitimate. Picking three counties that fit the conspiracy-theory profile--staunchly Democratic by registration, whoppingly GOP by voting--two reporters counted more than 17,000 ballots over three days. The conclusion: no conspiracy.
The count of optical-scan ballots in Suwannee, Lafayette and Union counties showed Bush whipping John Kerry in a region where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1.
The Herald found minor differences with official results, most involving ballots that had been discarded as unreadable by optical-scan machines but in which reporters thought the voter's intent was clear.
For instance, in Union County, more than 75 percent of registered voters were listed as Democrat. The official vote count was 3,396 for Bush and 1,251 for Kerry. The Herald found 3,393 votes for Bush and 1,272 for Kerry--practically no difference. The results were the same in the other two counties. This hands-on exercise demonstrated that statistical analyses that rely on predicted outcomes based on voter registration figures can only prove so much. There's no substitute for inspecting actual evidence, such as ballots.
Of course, that's the problem when it comes to votes cast on machines that produce no physical trace of a voter's decision. After the election, three graduate students at University of California at Berkeley ran the vote counts from three heavily Democratic counties in Florida that used touch-screen voting machines--Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade--through a statistical model based on past voting patterns. They found what they call "ghost votes" for Bush--vote tallies that exceeded what could be expected given previous elections in these counties. In Broward County, the grad students maintained, Bush collected 72,000 of these "ghost votes." They pointed to electronic touch-screen voting machines as the cause of this and estimated that the fifteen e-voting counties in Florida mistakenly yielded Bush between 130,733 and 260,000 "ghost votes." This pattern, they said, did not occur in counties that used optical scan voting machines.
According to Florida's official vote count, Bush won by 381,000 votes--more than the total of these "ghost votes." Still, the grad student study has been hailed by election results skeptics as reason to believe skullduggery transpired. Yet other experts in statistics have not been persuaded. Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at MIT and researcher at the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, examined the data used by the Berkeley researchers and found what he calls "an interesting pattern." But, he told me, "it may not have anything to do with voting machines." He explained, "It is a baroque form of regression model they're using. Almost everyone I talk to says it looks like they were fishing for results. I would hope you'd find a lot of skeptics." Stewart pointed to two sets of precincts he examined in Palm Beach County. Both were heavily Democratic, one contained many African-Americans, the other set had but a few. It was the set with few black voters that shifted dramatically toward Bush, according to Stewart. And this movement, he said, may be unrelated to the e-voting machines. These precincts, he speculated, could have had more Jewish voters who shifted toward Bush this election.
Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics at Columbia University, also examined the Berkeley study and found that the statistical anomalies only were significant in two counties--Broward and Palm Beach--not all of the 15 e-voting counties. On his weblog, he notes that the Berkeley researchers "make some pretty strong causal claims which I would think should be studied further, but with some skepticism." Gelman observes, "Something unusual seems to have happened in Broward and Palm Beach counties in 2004. One possibility, as suggested by [the Berkeley researchers] is cheating." But he is quick to add, "I don't know what was going on in these counties, what else was on the ballot, etc., but an obvious alternative explanation is that, for various reasons, 3% more people in those counties preferred Bush in 2004, compared to 2000...[S]uch a swing would be unusual (at least compared to recent history), but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen!...It would make sense to look further at Broward and Palm Beach counties, where swings happened which look unexpected compared to the other counties and compared to 2000, 1996, and 1992. But lots of unexpected things happen in elections, so we shouldn't jump to the conclusion that e-voting is related to these particular surprises." (Pollster John Zogby says that he does not believe that the "election was stolen," but he concedes it was an odd result: "51 percent of the voters gave Bush a negative approval rating; 51 percent voted for him.")
The Berkeley study is no slam-dunk. And the-election-was-rigged activists are raising other issues regarding the Florida vote count. When Bev Harris, a prominent critic of electronic voting who runs www.blackboxvoting.org, showed up at the elections office of Volusia County--where Kerry won by 3,723 votes--in mid-November seeking poll tapes for the optical scan voting machines used during the election, she found a set of the poll tapes discarded in a garbage bag. Was this part of a cover-up? Elections Supervisor Deanie Lowe told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that these election records were backup copies destined for a shredder. Harris and others fear there is more to the tale. And today Black Box Voting sued Teresa LaPore, the elections supervisor for Palm Beach County, to force her to turn over elections records. (The group is threatening to initiate similar lawsuits against 13 other counties in Florida and up to 80 counties in Ohio.)
When you're done reading this article, visit David Corn's WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent entries on who--or what--should be the new Democratic Party chairman, billboards funded by ClearChannel that declare Bush "Our Leader," and Bush whoppers on Iraq and 9/11.
In Ohio--where Bush's margin of victory was 136,000--much organizing has been conducted by activists who question the final tally. As of yet, there have been no statistical studies of Ohio similar to the Berkeley paper. But emailers have zapped around a chart that supposedly shows 93,000 "extra" votes were cast in various municipalities in Cuyahoga County--that is, these areas listed more votes than registered voters. As I've reported earlier, county elections officials have what sounds like a good explanation for this. They claim their software has an odd glitch that assigns absentee ballots for a group of municipalities to one of the municipalities in the group. Consequently, on the spreadsheet posted by the elections office a particular municipality can end up showing more votes than registered voters. Cuyahoga elections officials--who work in an office run by a Democrat--insist there were no "extra" votes.
A recount is set to occur in Ohio as soon as Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a conservative republican who cochaired Bush's campaign in the state, certifies the results (which is scheduled to happen this week). The recount was requested by David Cobb and Michael Badnarik, who were the presidential candidates for, respectively, the Green Party and the Libertarian Party. The Kerry campaign has not been involved, but it is watching. [UPDATE: On November 30, the Kerry campaign asked an Ohio judge to let it join a lawsuit against Delaware County, which has been seeking to sit out the statewide recount.] The state Democratic Party, though, is supporting the recount, citing complaints from Ohio voters that they faced long lines at the polls, encountered malfunctioning machines, and never received absentee ballots. "As Senator Kerry stated in his concession speech in Boston," Ohio Democratic Party chairman Dennis White remarked, "we do not necessarily expect the results of the election to change; however, we believe it necessary to make sure everyone's vote is counted fairly and accurately."
And claiming there was "fraud and [vote] stealing" in Ohio--without detailing the charges--Jesse Jackson has asked the state supreme court to consider setting aside the election results there. Jackson has called for a "thorough" investigation of voting irregularities. There does seem to be evidence of voter suppression in Ohio--and that does merit investigation. But it is far from clear that any of the alleged suppression tactics--such as not providing Democratic precincts enough functioning voting machines--cost Kerry over 136,000 votes. Nevertheless, a coalition of public-interest outfits calling itself the Ohio Honest Election Campaign has threatened to file a lawsuit to challenge the election results, asserting that thousands of Ohioans votes were incorrectly counted or not counted. And on November 26, People for the American Way filed a lawsuit to challenge the rejection of 8,000 of 24,472 provisional ballots. RedefeatBush.com plans to bus in protesters for a rally in Columbus, Ohio, on December 4 to support the recount.
A strong case that the election was stolen--either in Ohio or Florida--still has yet to be made. Statistical arguments are not convincing without concrete evidence (or widespread support among statistical experts). When reporters looked at actual ballots in Florida they found the armchair analysts were way off in their assumptions. And a recount requested by Ralph Nader in a limited number of precincts in New Hampshire--after Bush received higher than expected vote tallies in those parts of the Granite State--found little change from the original results. KPFK, the Pacifica radio station in Los Angeles, was a bit ahead of the facts when it issued a statement on November 23 noting it was projecting that Kerry "has won the State of Ohio and thus the Presidency by a minimum electoral college count of 272 to 266."
Yet the voting system is shaky enough to warrant serious concern. The General Accountability Office was right to agree to a request from Representative John Conyers and four other Democratic House members that it investigate election irregularities in the 2004 election. According to these members of Congress, the GAO will examine the security and accuracy of voting technologies, distribution and allocation of voting machines, and the counting of provisional ballots. "All Americans, no matter how they voted, need to have confidence that when they cast their ballot, their voice is heard," the lawmakers said in a statement. Indeed. There are Bush critics who probably never will accept the November 2 results. And the systemic problems that do exist--secretive voting technologies, the opportunity for partisan hacks to engage in voter suppression--will allow these people to hang on to their worst fears and to continue to share look-at-this! emails with fellow believers (or nonbelievers). But the evidence to date is that the election results were not rigged but were produced by a flawed system.
IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."
For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.
A Russian friend once said to me, "You Americans are an odd people. You love our liberals, but you don't like your own liberals." He added, "You should support your local liberals too."
My friend's words came to mind this past week as I watched the extraordinary street protests in Ukraine. Anyone who cares about citizens fighting corrupt regimes can't help but be moved by scenes of thousands of demonstrators, many of them students, standing for hours in Kiev's Independence Square in sub-zero temperatures--waving banners, chanting and protesting what they believe is a rigged election.
When the Bush Administration rushed to celebrate the protesters' courage and tenacity, I thought--what rank hypocrisy. These same officials have shown no respect for American pro-democracy protesters, and, if they have their way, they'll probably lock their political opponents out of central Washington when Inauguration Day rolls around.
On the hypocrisy meter: Consider how the Ukrainian protesters' charges of election fraud have been treated so seriously by Bush and his team, while they dismiss such charges when they are raised here at home. And how exactly does the Bush Administration--which has said that it cannot accept the results of the Ukrainian presidential election as legitimate "because it does not meet international standards"--explain why those international standards don't apply to the US? What right does this Administration have to lecture Ukraine when Bush came to office in a non-violent coup d'etat in 2000, and when numerous reports document that the 2004 election was marred by GOP voter suppression and intimidation tactics, flawed voting equipment and unexplained discrepancies between exit polls and official results in key swing states?
Then there's the reality that the mass street protests in Ukraine are not as sweet or homegrown as they appear. Although it is virtually unreported in our media, the US has been closely involved in funding and training Ukraine's youth protests, and the united opposition.
As Ian Traynor reports in The Guardian, "...while the gains of the orange-bedecked 'chestnut revolution' are Ukraine's, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in Western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries and four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavory regimes...Funded and organized by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, the two big American parties and US non-government organizations...the operation--engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience--is now so slick that the methods have matured into a template for winning other people's elections."
It was even US funding that organized and paid for key exit polls; those gave the opposition candidate Viktor Yuschenko an 11-point lead and set the stage for charges of vote fraud.
Nor is it accurate to think that we are watching an unalloyed struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. As Jonathan Steele observes in The Guardian, "Yuschenko, who claims to have won Sunday's election, served as Prime Minister under the outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, and some of his backers are also linked to the brutal industrial clans who manipulated Ukraine's post-Soviet privatization." (It is also worth noting, as The Independent reported Sunday, that Yuschenko's wife, a US citizen of Ukrainian descent, worked in the Reagan White House.) Certainly, many Ukrainians seek a less corrupt, more democratic system, but as Steele notes, "to suggest that [Yuschenko] would provide a sea-change in Ukrainian politics and economic management is naive."
Yet, this more realistic view of Yuschenko shouldn't diminish the democratic awakening in Kiev and other cities. In many ways, as The Guardian's Nick Paton observes, "this protest is no longer about America's or Russia's candidate, but an end to the past 12 years of misrule." The journalists who are breaking with state rules--as well as the thousands who have filled Independence Square--are "for the first time, realizing how they could one day have a government whose main interest is not stealing from state coffers and protecting favored oligarchs, but actually representing the people who elected them. For most people, this is a first taste of real self-determination."
But, for now, we need a media which provides needed historical and political background and context. Since 1991, every election in the former Soviet Union has been tainted by fraud, unfair use of state television and, quite often by direct rigging. Yet, the Bush team has ignored far more egregious examples of voter fraud, as was the case with Azerbaijan's transparently fraudulent election last year.
It may well be that the Ukrainian election was one of the most fairly conducted, with the two candidates ("the two Viktors" as the Russian press refers to them) even engaging in a nationally televised debate several weeks before the election. That doesn't mean vote fraud isn't an issue or that discrepancies shouldn't be challenged but, as Steele points out: "The decision to protest appears to depend mainly on realpolitik and whether the challengers or the incumbent are considered 'pro-Western' or 'pro-market.'"
With the country culturally and geographically divided between the heavily industrialized East, traditionally allied with Russia, and the West, a traditional center of Ukrainian nationalism, there is already talk of secession by leading governors in the Eastern part of the country. (On Sunday, as many as 3,500 officials from 17 regions in Eastern Ukraine voted unanimously to seek autonomy by public referendum if the opposition continues its fight to make Yuschenko president.)
And though there has been no violence yet, the streets remain filled with growing crowds of impassioned protesters, eyeball to eyeball with riot police. In the next few days, the country's Supreme Court is likely to rule on the validity of the election, which will add a new element to the chaotic mix. And calls for a recount--to be overseen by international observers--are being issued by many European leaders. But that too will take time, and patience is running thin.
Perhaps of gravest import is that we're witnessing the worst crisis in US-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War--with both sides deeply involved in the election, with each having a candidate, and with each proclaiming the fateful consequences of the election's resolution. (An important footnote: The US--in actions reminiscent of the Cold War--has since 1991 encircled Russia with NATO troops and US bases, from the Baltics to Central Asia. While not condoning Russia's meddling in Ukraine, some media reporting on this historical and geopolitical context might provide necessary insight into the deep anxiety in Moscow about a divided or, perhaps, anti-Russian Ukraine on its borders.)
Depending on the outcome, and let us pray for a peaceful resolution, the consequences may well be profound and far-reaching. Even apart from the possibility of civil violence, the result may be a new European divide between East and West; the end of any meaningful Russian cooperation with the US--remember Putin has been one of Bush's leading European "friends" since the Iraq war began; and if Ukraine is "lost," we may even witness the destabilization of Putin's leadership and Russia itself.
With the election won, the Bush Administration and its Congressional allies are moving rapidly ahead with plans to radically revamp the country's environmental laws with the general aim of making it cheaper and easier for corporations to pollute.
The favors are already being parceled out, as Ari Berman reported recently in The Daily Outrage. This month Congress authorized drilling in the protected Yukon Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, opened up the East Coast's largest undeveloped island for commercial exploration, defeated an amendment eliminating subsidies for timber corporations, and slashed clean water spending by $242 million.
Moreover, in keeping with its first-term rejection of the Kyoto Accords on climate change, the White House is working to keep an upcoming eight-nation report from endorsing broad international policies designed to curb global warming, as Juliet Eilperin revealed recently in the Washington Post.
Fortunately, there are plenty of groups determined to protect the environment from the Administration, and it's critical that they receive support to carry on these next four years. The widely known organizations like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the NRDC and the League of Conservation Voters are all gearing up for the fight of their lives. There are also hundreds of other grassroots environmental groups vowing to resist Bush's second-term assault on the planet. You can help the environment by helping them.
"We have fought a three-year battle to blunt a string of radical environmental attacks by this Administration and we're not about to stop now," says Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "Though we fully realize that those fights may get harder in the next Bush term, we stand ready to meet the challenge, and to protect our natural heritage for our children and grandchildren."
Clean Water Action is trying to combat various Administration proposals that threaten to undermine the safety of many municipal US water systems. "We made sure our members got to the polls and we will make sure they continue to stand up for healthier communities during the second Bush Administration," said Bob Wendelgass, the group's director.
Environmental Defense, a group dedicated to linking "science, economics and law to create innovative, equitable and cost-effective solutions to society's most urgent environmental problems," is in the forefront of the Living Cities movement, which is organizing support for things like mass transportation, solar-powered stoplights, tax credits for farmers' markets, more green space in new developments, financial incentives to revitalize abandoned industrial lands, and a decrease in the use of fossil fuels generally.
The California Wilderness Coalition is the only organization specifically dedicated to protecting California's wild places and native biodiversity. Through advocacy and public education, CWC builds support for threatened wild places and works with community leaders, businesspeople, local organizations, policy-makers, and activists in an effort to promote a broader view on the value on conservation.
It's also, of course, more important than ever to stay informed. One of the best ways to keep up on environmental news is by reading Grist, an online magazine which tackles environmental topics with irreverence, intelligence, and a fresh perspective. The mag's feisty Seattle-based staff publishes new content each weekday, and its reporting, cartoons, interviews with activists, book reviews, and environmental advice column offer some of the sharpest eco-news around.
Republican Senator John McCain had it right when he recently criticized the Administration's environmental record as "disgraceful." With a president concerned far more with politics and profits than safeguarding the planet for future generations, a powerful grassroots movement is the only defense against rapid ecological devastation. So join, volunteer with, contribute to and otherwise support one of the many environmental groups operating in the US today.
Aside from the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving is the most distinctly American of our national holidays.
As such, if we see it as more than just the day before the Christmas shopping season begins, Thanksgiving offers an opportunity to reflect on the direction of the nation.
The Pilgrims who came ashore at Plymouth Rock were not the first Americans. But their story, and their relatively peaceful interactions with the Indians who welcomed them to the region, form an essential part of the national narrative for many Americans.
It is as a touchstone for self-reflection and self-assessment that this day is most meaningful. Indeed, if we are to have any chance of making America the country it should be, it seems most likely that the process would begin on a day so rich in historical references as Thanksgiving.
This is not a contemporary observation spun out in the aftermath of a particularly disappointing national election. Rather, it is a variation on the theme taken up by Daniel Webster when he delivered one of the most remarkable speeches in the history of American oratory.
Late in the fall of 1820, two hundred years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Webster, then a young political figure who was still rising to prominence, was invited to deliver an oration on the site of their arrival. He used the opportunity not merely to reflect but to engage in the painful process of contrasting historic ideals with contemporary compromises. In addition to physical memorials to the Pilgrims' progress, Webster said, "we would leave here, also, for the generations which are rising up rapidly to fill our places, some proof that we have endeavored to transmit the great inheritance unimpaired; that in our estimate of public principles and private virtue, in our veneration of religion and piety, in our devotion to civil and religions liberty, in our regard for whatever advances human knowledge or improves human happiness, we are not altogether unworthy of our origin."
Noting the communal nature of the Pilgrim experiment, which broke from the feudal structures of the European lands they had fled, Webster warned that America was becoming less equal. And, he added, "The freest government, if it could exist, would not be long acceptable if the tendency of the laws were to create a rapid accumulation of property in few hands, and to render the great mass of the population dependent and penniless."
But Webster did not limit himself to vague economic theory. He spoke specifically of America's original sin: the practice of slavery.
"I deem it my duty on this occasion to suggest, that the land is not yet wholly free from the contamination of a traffic, at which every feeling of humanity must for ever revolt -- I mean the African slave-trade. Neither public sentiment, nor the law, has hitherto been able entirely to put an end to his odious and abominable trade," said Webster, who spoke at a time when most politicians refused to address the question of human bondage.
"At the moment when God in his mercy has blessed the Christian world with a universal peace, there is reason to fear, that, to the disgrace of the Christian name and character, new efforts are making for the extension of this trade by subjects and citizens of Christian states, in whose hearts there dwell no sentiments of humanity or of justice, and over whom neither the fear of God nor the fear of man exercises a control. In the sight of our law, the African slave-trader is a pirate and a felon; and in the sight of Heaven, an offender beyond the ordinary depth of human guilt."
Those were radical words for the times. And to utter them in the midst of a discussion of America's founding and heritage was considered inappropriate by the guardians of political propriety. But Daniel Webster used that day well, just as we should use this day -- to call this country to the higher ground.
The best question asked in the aftermath of the 2004 US election came from a British newspaper, The Daily Mirror, which inquired over a picture of George W. Bush, "How can 59,054,087 be so dumb?
Now, another British newspaper has answered the question. A new marketing campaign for The Weekly Guardian, one of the most respected publications in the world, features images of a dancing Bush and notes that, "Many US citizens think the world backed the war in Iraq. Maybe it's the papers they're reading."
The weekly compendium of articles and analyses of global affairs from Britain's liberal Guardian newspaper has long been regarded as an antidote to government controlled, spun and inept local media. Nelson Mandela, when he was held in South Africa's Pollsmor Prison, referred to the Weekly Guardian as a "window on the wider world."
But is it really appropriate to compare the United States in 2004 with a warped media market like South Africa during apartheid days?
Actually, the comparison may be a bit unfair to South African media in the apartheid era--when many courageous journalists struggled to speak truth to power.
No serious observer of the current circumstance in the United States would suggest that our major media serves the cause of democracy. Years of consolidation and bottom-line pressures have forced even once responsible media to allow entertainment and commercial values to supersede civic and democratic values when making news decisions. And the determination to color within the lines of official spin is such that even the supposed pinnacles of the profession--the New York Times, the Washington Post and CBS News' 60 Minutes--have been forced to acknowledge that they got the story of the rush to war with Iraq wrong.
There can be apologies. But there cannot be excuses because, of course, media in the rest of the world got that story right.
And there are consequences when major media blows big stories. As the Weekly Guardian's new marketing campaign suggests, a lot of Americans voted for George W. Bush on November 2 on the basis of wrong assumptions.
According to a survey conducted during the fall campaign season by the Program on International Policy Attitudes--a joint initiative of the Center on Policy Attitudes and the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs--a lot of what Americans know is wrong.
Despite the fact that surveys by the Gallup organization and other polling firms have repeatedly confirmed that the vast majority of citizens of other countries opposed the war in Iraq, the PIPA survey found that only 31 percent of Bush supporters recognized that the majority of people in the world opposed the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq.
Amazingly, according to the PIPA poll, 57 percent of Bush supporters assumed that the majority of people in the world would favor Bush's reelection, while only 33 percent assumed that global views regarding Bush were evenly divided. Only 9 percent of Bush backers correctly assumed that Kerry was the world's choice.
That wasn't the end of the misperception.
"Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72 percent of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47 percent) or a major program for developing them (25 percent)," explained the summary of PIPA's polling. "Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57 percent also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program."
"Similarly," the pollsters found, "75 percent of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63 percent believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55 percent assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission."
PIPA analysts suggest that the "tendency of Bush supporters to ignore dissonant information" offers some explanation for these numbers. And there is something to that. After all, Kerry backers displayed a far sounder sense of reality in PIPA surveys.
But unless we want to assume that close to 60 million Americans look at the world only through Bush-colored glasses, there has to be some acceptance of the fact that good citizens who consume American media come away with dramatic misconceptions about the most vital issues of the day.
Sure, Fox warps facts intentionally. But what about CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, USA Today, the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as most local media across the country? They may strive to be more accurate than Fox or talk-radio personalities such as Rush Limbaugh. But they still fed the American people an inaccurate picture when they allowed the Bush team to peddle lies about Iraq and other issues without aggressively and consistently challenging those misstatements of fact.
America has many great journalists. And there are still good newspapers, magazines and broadcast programs. But, taken as a whole, US media--with its obsessive focus on John Kerry's Vietnam record, its neglect of fundamental economic and environmental issues and its stenographic repetition of even the most absurd claims by the president and vice president--warped the debate in 2004.
Some of those 59,054,087 Bush voters may have been dumb.
But a far better explanation for the election result is summed up by the Weekly Guardian's observation that, "Maybe it's the papers they're reading."