Forget about the economy. Forget about the environment. Forget about the mess that he has made of US relations with the rest of the world. The issue that is on George W. Bush's mind is more basic: Does a leader end up paying a political price if voters think he lied his country into an unwise and unnecessary war in Iraq?
For the answer to that question, the president and his aides might want to look to Britain, where Bush's closest comrade-in-arms before, during and since the Iraq invasion, Prime Minister Tony Blair, just took a political body blow.
In a multi-ethnic, working-class section of London that has for decades been a political stronghold for Blair's Labour Party, voters used a special election to fill a vacant seat in the Parliament to send the prime minister a message that has shaken the British political establishment. It is a message that ought to be heard, as well, in the United States.
In the parliamentary elections of two years ago that saw Blair's Labour Party sweep to victory across Great Britain, London's Brent-East constituency gave the Labour Party candidate 63 percent of the vote, for a majority of 13,047 votes over his closest challenger.
In the special "by-election" held Thursday to fill the vacancy created when the area's member of parliament died, the Labour Party candidate won only 34 percent of the vote. That 29 percent drop in support for Blair's party cleared the way for a headline-grabbing victory by the candidate of the Liberal Democrats, a third party that opposed the Bush-Blair rush to war.
The defeat marked Labour's first loss of a seat in a parliamentary by-election in 15 years. And the BBC described the swing by traditional Labour voters against the party as "one of the most stunning turnarounds in British electoral history."
No one doubts that anger over Blair's approach to the Iraq war, as well as doubts about his honesty, played a role in that turnaround.
Sarah Teather, a 29-year-old local charity worker and Liberal Democrat party activist, won the Brent-East seat after a campaign in which she said, "It has been inevitable as I have gone door-to-door in such a cosmopolitan area that the war in Iraq has come to the fore. People have said they feel let down and cheated." Teather, who serves on the local council for the neighborhood of Islington, where Blair made his home before he moved to 10 Downing Street, criticized Labour's increasingly conservative domestic policies, as well. But, after the votes were counted, London's Daily Mirror newspaper argued that, "Mr Blair was skewered by an angry backlash over the war in Iraq and a collapse in public trust."
"Labour found itself struggling against the perception that the government is untrustworthy," observed the Guardian newspaper.
The British press, which is far more aggressive than the U.S. media, has pursued stories about inconsistencies in Blair's arguments for going to war. That led to a parliamentary investigation of whether the prime minister and his aides "sexed up" a dossier making the case action against Iraq. (That dossier, which was released last fall, was used by the Bush administration to convince Congress to give the president the authority to attack Iraq. See "Bogus Blair, Bogus Bush" at: http://www.thenation.com/thebeat/index.mhtml?bid=1&pid=895)
Amid the controversy over charges that Bush and Blair inflated perceived threats in order to gain support for an attack on Iraq, David Kelly, a British scientist who had provided information to journalists, committed suicide. The suicide led to a high-profile investigation of charges that the Blair government had made life "hell" for Kelly, and that in a broader sense the government had sought to punish those who questioned government claims about Iraq's supposed stashes of weapons of mass destruction. In the course of the inquiry by Lord Brian Hutton, a respected senior jurist, Blair's closest aide, Alastair Campbell, has been forced to resign, and Minister of Defense Geoff Hoon has become the subject of widespread speculation that he too will have to go.
The political impact of the controversy over whether Britain was "spun into war" has been devastating for Blair. His approval ratings have plummeted -- according to a poll published by London's Daily Telegraph in late August, only 22 percent of respondents said they felt Blair's government was trustworthy.
But poll numbers can be disputed. Elections are the measures of voter sentiment that politicians take most seriously. And the Brent-East by-election was framed from the start as a test of Blair's personal popularity and the appeal of the war that he and Bush promoted.
Teather, who will become the youngest member of Parliament, celebrated her victory by declaring,"Tony Blair, I hope that you are listening tonight. The people of Brent have spoken for the people of Britain."
Considering the fact that Bush used Blair's doctored dossier in his campaign to convince Congress and the American people that war was necessary, that statement might be extended. As there have been no special elections for Congress in recent months, perhaps there is room for a coalition of the willing (to ask tough questions) that would say, "George Bush, we hope you were listening Thursday night. The people of Brent East have spoken for people all over the world who believe that you and Tony Blair need to be held accountable for your war in Iraq."
That is a theme that Democrats in Congress, and on the presidential campaign trail, need to embrace. While the debate about whether the Blair government lied Britain into war remains red hot, the discussion of Bush's claims regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction has been allowed to cool somewhat since mid-summer. When Britain's main opposition party, the Tories, failed to challenge Blair effectively, Sarah Teather's Liberal Democrats filled the void. Instead of complaining about the Greens and the prospect of another presidential campaign by consumer activist Ralph Nader, Democrats should fill the void. They can start by following the lead of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, who charged Thursday that Bush administration officials relied on "distortion, misrepresentation, a selection of intelligence" to press their case for war. "There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically," said Kennedy. "This whole thing was a fraud."
As the results from across the sea attest, that is a winning political message.
"I want to do everything," Madonna said recently. I thought she was talking about positions. (I was a keen reader of her X-rated 1992 book of photography, Sex.) My twelve year old daughter thought she was talking about her MTV Video Music Awards' open-mouth pump and grind kissing routine with Britney Spears and Cristina Aguilera.
Turns out that we were clueless. Madonna has found another way to have it all. On September 15th, this kinder and gentler forty-four year old mother of two, America's premier mistress of reinvention (once married to bad boy Sean Penn and involved romantically with, among others, Warren Beatty and Dennis Rodman), tackled J.K. Rowling's empire.
Madonna's first children's book, English Roses, was simultaneously released in more than one hundred countries in forty two languages with all the hoopla and publicity that normally surrounds Rowling's Harry Potter. The plot is based on Madonna's spiritual lodestar Kabbalah--the mystical Jewish guide to the universe. ("Yikes, I for one never knew Madonna was Jewish," writes some strange columnist called Mr. Joel of Hollywood, an independent blogger.)
I think early Madonna was brilliant, I respect her ability to cause controversy and her mastery of reinvention and rejuvenation, and I would rather read Madonna's book for kids than William Bennett's moral sermons--or, for that matter, former French sexpot Brigitte Bardot's new work, Cry in the Silence. (Bardot, an ardent right-wing National Front supporter, uses her book to rail against immigration to France, to bash women in politics, gays who assert their rights, and unemployed people who are "handsomely kept by taxpayers.")
Madonna, on the other hand, recently made an antiwar music video for her new single "American Life." When accused that she was being un-American, Madonna responded: "I am not anti-Bush. I am not pro-Iraq. I am pro-peace." (So America has better aging sexpots than France. Maybe the Bush Administration could find a way to work this into its French-bashing routines?)
As a forty three year old mother of one, who believes in personal reinvention and redemption (and sin and sex), I think Madonna has a right to have it all. My daughter and I are going off to buy English Roses later this week. And I may dig out my 1984 copy of Like A Virgin. I bet it's held up well.
When the World Trade Organization's fifth ministerial conference in Cancun collapsed Sunday without reaching agreement on how to launch new free-trade initiatives, American activist Gretchen Gordon declared, "This is a major victory for the social movements of the world, and a reality the Bush administration can't ignore if it continues to pursue the same failed policies in other regional trade agreements."
Gordon, the director of the Washington-based Citizens Trade Campaign, was right to turn the attention to Bush. The collapse of the WTO's Cancun summit represents a serious blow for the president. How serious a blow remains to be seen -- with much of the impact to be determined by the willingness of Bush's Democratic challengers to make an issue of trade policy in the 2004 election campaign. But there is no question that the administration's free-trade policies and politics took a hit in Cancun. Gordon and her allies are hoping the blow could prove sufficient to weaken the president's secretive effort to negotiate a Fast Track agreement for a Free Trade Area of the Americas that would create a hemispheric corporate free-trade zone stretching from Argentina to Alaska.
The optimism and enthusiasm displayed by Gordon was echoed by her allies in the labor, farm and human rights organizations that worked around-the-clock in recent weeks to prevent the WTO from writing trade policies that would help global corporations to further dominate the economic, social and political life of the planet.
Developing countries walked out of the WTO meeting in Cancun after the United States, the European Union and Japan rejected demands for trade policies that address the needs of the world's poor, rather than the bottom lines of the multinational corporations that are the prime beneficiaries of WTO rule making. When they refused to negotiate any longer, the representatives of India, Brazil and smaller countries caused the collapse of what had been a critical gathering for the international organization that came into being nine years ago with a charge to define global rules for trade.
Groups representing workers, farmers, environmentalists and human rights campaigners the world over had organized to prevent the WTO from launching a new push to restructure trade rules. There was particular concern that an agreement reached in Cancun could lead to a major assault on the limited protections that remain for small farmers around the world. Such an initiative would have provided tremendous benefits for agribusiness corporations, but it could devastate family farms from Iowa to India.
Farmers from around the world traveled to Mexico to protest against the WTO's corporations-first, people-last agenda. One of their number, South Korean farm activist Lee Kyung-Hae, took his life in a tragic attempt to illustrate the message of the sign he carried: "WTO kills farmers."
The loud protests from farmers, workers and environmental activists were heard by negotiators for developing countries, if not by US representatives. That message was summed up by Mark Ritchie, president of the Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy who said, "We can't continue a global trading system that primarily benefits the interests of multinational corporations and doesn't address the serious concerns of farmers, workers and people around the world."
No one lost more credibility in Cancun than President Bush. "The Bush administration calls itself the great promoter of democracy, free trade and the global trade system, but it just imploded the WTO summit by rejecting the demands of the majority of WTO signatory nations for a little democracy, free trade and multilateralism after those countries refused to sign off on the corporate agenda for the WTO pushed by the U.S. and its small rich-country coalition of corporate shilling," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch campaign.
The Bush Administration continues to position the US as the primary advocate for multinational corporations. And it is unlikely that the president, who collects most of his campaign money from individuals and groups associated with those corporations, will change course.
But it is possible to change the politics of the United States. As Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and to a slightly lesser extent former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, have long argued, trade issues must be discussed on the 2004 presidential campaign.
In 2000, Republican Bush and Democrat Al Gore sounded way too much alike on trade issues. Gore's failure to distinguish himself cost him votes in critical states such as Ohio, where a Democratic win would have tipped the electoral college in Gore's favor. Democrats who want to oppose Bush in 2004 appear to have learned from Gore's mistake. Kucinich greeted the news from Cancun by declaring, "Working people the world 'round have the same complaints about the WTO: it's bad for their jobs, bad for their livelihoods and bad for their income. Small farmers in Africa lose their jobs just like steelworkers in Ohio. The evidence of the failure of the WTO to deliver anything like the prosperity its promoters have promised is plain for everyone to see. That is why the WTO talks in Cancun collapsed, and that is why the US Congress should reevaluate the WTO and rewrite the trade agenda our trade representative advocates."
Kucinich and Gephardt are no longer alone in questioning the wisdom of the Bush administration's trade policies. As manufacturing job loss figures have continued to mount, most of the contenders -- with the exception of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, a free trader every bit as militant as Bush -- have been talking tough on trade. Even former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, a one-time defender of the corporate free-trade agenda, now says he favor policies that protect American workers and farmers.
Dean echoes Paul Wellstone, the late US senator from Minnesota, when the Vermonter claims on the campaign trail to be the candidate of "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." Hopefully, he and other Democratic contenders will be inspired by the news from Cancun to echo Wellstone in a more substantial way. After activists halted the WTO's attempts to launch new free-trade initiatives in the fall of 1999, US Senator Paul Wellstone said Democrats needed to make a major issue of failed U.S. trade policies in order to distinguish themselves from Republicans. Gore and too many other Democrats failed to follow Wellstone's advice in 2000. If Democrats are to succeed in 2004, the contenders who would carry the party's banner into next year's contest with George W. Bush cannot afford to make the same mistake as their party's last presidential nominee.
Is there some deadline approaching, after which Bush administration officials have to engage in honest debate? It seems as if there has been a rash of misleading, deceptive, and disingenuous remarks coming from on high in recent days. The gang at "Capital Games" has been working overtime to keep up with the truth-bending of the president, the vice president, the defense secretary, and the deputy defense secretary. (After all, we do have a book coming out in two weeks called The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception.) Here is--we fear--a partial report.
Let's start with Dick Cheney. He appeared on Meet The Press and was asked by host Tim Russert if there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks. He replied, "Of course, we've had the story that's been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack. But we've never been able to develop any more of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don't know." This was a deceptive answer. Shortly after 9/11, Czech intelligence officials did say they had a report from a source--a single source--that Atta had met with this Iraqi intelligence official in April 2001. Subsequent media reports in the United States noted that the source was an Arab student who was not considered particularly reliable. The FBI investigated and found nothing to substantiate the report of the meeting. In fact, the FBI concluded that Atta was most likely in Florida at the time of the supposed meeting, and the CIA questioned the existence of this meeting. (Even if there had been a meeting, one could not tell what it meant unless it was known what was said--and no one, not even Cheney, has claimed to know what might have transpired.)
Moreover, on October 21, 2002, The New York Times reported that Czech President Vaclav Havel "quietly told the White House he has concluded that there is no evidence to confirm earlier reports" of the meeting. And it seemed that Atta had gone to Prague in June 2000, not April 2001. "Now," the paper noted, "some Czech and German officials say that their best explanation of why Mr. Atta came to Prague was to get a cheap airfare to the United States."
For some reason, Cheney did not share with the Meet the Press audience the information about Havel's denial. Nor did he note that U.S. forces had nabbed this Iraqi intelligence official in July and that there has been no word--no leaks--about him confirming the supposed meeting. All in all, the case for the meeting is rather flimsy. But Cheney, as he did a year ago on the same show, pointed to this alleged meeting as a reason to suspect Hussein was in on the 9/11 attacks--which, if true, would justify the U.S. strike against Iraq. Waving the Atta-in-Prague story was an act of mendacious information manipulation, and Russert did not challenge Cheney on it.
Cheney also violated the truth in other exchanges. He declared that two tractor-trailers discovered in northern Iraq were mobile bioweapons labs. That is what the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency have stated. But other experts--including the DIA's own engineering experts--have challenged that conclusion. At best, the purpose of these trucks remains an open question. Cheney refused to acknowledge the case is far from closed.
Cheney claimed that if the U.S. succeeds in Iraq "we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11." Huh? What's the public evidence that any of the 9/11 plotters used Iraq as a "geographic base"? There is none. Afghanistan was the "geographic base" for al Qaeda. Has Cheney forgotten that?
And when Russert asked Cheney about a Congressional Budget Office report that says that the Army "lacks sufficient active-duty forces to maintain its current level of nearly 150,000 troops in Iraq beyond next spring," Cheney ducked this tough issue, replying that "failure's not an option." He did not say whether the Bush administration has an unannounced plan for dealing with this or whether it is simply ignoring the possible crisis ahead.
On the subject of the missing WMD in Iraq, Cheney backpedaled from the administration's former claims that Iraq possessed conventional weapons: "There's no doubt in my mind but that Saddam Hussein had these capabilities." Capabilities? At one point, Bush said Hussein had "massive stockpiles." Was the war waged over "capabilities" or actual weapons? Asked for evidence to back up his prewar claim that Hussein had "reconstituted" his nuclear weapons program, Cheney cited Hussein's before-the-war possession of 500 tons of uranium. But this material was the waste-product of a nuclear reactor and could only become suitable for weapons through a sophisticated enrichment process. And there is no evidence that Iraq possessed such technology (though it had sought this sort of equipment in the past).
Cheney added, "To suggest that there is no evidence there [in Iraq] that [Hussein] had no aspirations to acquire nuclear weapons, I don't think is valid." This is disingenuous. The issue was not Hussein's "aspirations," but what he had in hand, what he was developing. Before the war, Cheney claimed Hussein had revived a nuclear weapons program that had been dismantled previously by inspectors. He did not say back then that Hussein merely was yearning for nuclear weapons. And those who said before the war that there was no evidence of any such reconstitution--including the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency--were not so foolish to argue that Hussein had dropped his interest in nukes.
Discussing the widening deficit, Cheney kept up his assault on truthful discourse. Russert asked if the administration would consider freezing the Bush tax cuts for the top 1 percent of Americans to cover the $87 billion request Bush recently made for operations in Iraq. Cheney answered, "I think it's a serious mistake; the wrong time to raise taxes." No, the issue is not raising existing taxes; it is preventing certain tax cuts from kicking in. Big difference. Cheney, though, purposefully (presumably) miscast the terms of the debate to score political points.
There was more in the Cheney interview that can be dissected, but other Bushies deserve their due. Speaking at a National Press Club luncheon last week, Rumsfeld was asked, "On March 30th you said, referring to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, quote, 'We know where they are.' Do you know where they are now? Will they be found?" He replied, "In that instance, we had been in the country for about 15 seconds; sometimes I overstate for emphasis....What we had...is a long list of suspect sites. And they were sites that the inspectors had been in the process of looking at when they concluded that the inspection process really wasn't working, because of lack of cooperation on the part of Saddam Hussein's regime. And I said, 'We know they're in that area.' I should have said, 'I believe they're in that area.'..And we were being pressed to find them while the war was still in its earliest, earliest days. And it seemed to me a somewhat unrealistic expectation."
Rumsfeld was pegging the needle on the duplicity meter. The UN inspectors never concluded that the inspections process wasn't working. They had identified problems and complained about aspects of the process, presenting mixed reports to the Security Council on their progress and Iraq's cooperation. And their complaints mostly concerned Iraq's reluctance to account for past WMD materials, not the lack of access to suspected sites.
Were there, as Rumsfeld now maintains, unrealistic expectations about finding WMDs? During the first week of the war--before he made the comment quoted in the question at the luncheon--Rumsfeld himself declared, "We're there to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction in that country." Didn't that suggest the U.S. military was hell-bent on finding them ASAP? And when he said on March 30--after a weak of fighting--that the administration knew where to find the WMDs, that was yet another signal from the administration that there was no question about the reason for going to war. Before the war, the administration peddled suspicion as fact. Bush and his aides did not say, we think Hussein has weapons. They repeatedly asserted they knew it for a fact. Rumsfeld's March 30th remark was fully in keeping with the truth-defying rhetoric of the administration, not a verbal slip.
As for his, "sometimes I overstate" remark, that was indeed truthful. Now he tells us.And during the same talk, Rumsfeld said, "I don't believe it's our job to reconstruct that country after 30 years of centralized, Stalinist-like economic controls in that country." Then why is the Bush administration asking U.S. taxpayers for $20 billion for Iraq reconstruction?
Now, we turn to Rumsfeld's second. In an interview with Associated Press on September 12, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz conceded he had not spoken accurately the previous day when he said on ABC's Good Morning America. "We know [Iraq] had a great deal to do with terrorism in general and with al Qaeda in particular, and we know a great many of bin Laden's key lieutenants are now trying to organize in cooperation with old loyalists from the Saddam regime to attack in Iraq." Well, Wolfowitz's many meant one. Speaking to AP, he said he was only referring to a single individual--Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a terrorist whom the Bush administration has linked to al Qaeda. But the Zarqawi connection has not been confirmed, and intelligence officials have been repeatedly quoted noting that Zarqawi perhaps maintained ties with al Qaeda but acted independently of Osama bin Laden's network. In fact, Newsweek reported that Zarqawi might be more of a rival than a partner of al Qaeda.
As for Wolfowitz's larger claim--that the Bush administration knows that Iraq had a "great deal to do" with al Qaeda--the only significant case the administration has put forward in this regard is based on the iffy Zarqawi link. And former deputy CIA director, Richard Kerr, who is conducting a review of the CIA's prewar intelligence, has said that the intelligence before the war did not conclusively connect Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda. So then how could Wolfowitz have known "a great deal" on the unproven collaboration between Hussein and al Qaeda? As AP notes, "The Bush administration has outlined only limited evidence of Iraqi-al Qaeda contacts before the war, and no conclusive evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda plotted joint terror operations." Wolfowitz did retract the "many" in his Good Morning America remark, but he did not retreat on his overall--and misleading--assertion about a Hussein-al Qaeda relationship.
Last, but not least, George W. Bush. September is back-to-school time, and Bush hit the road to promote his education policies. During a speech at a Nashville elementary school, he hailed his education record by noting that "the budget for next year boosts funding for elementary and secondary education to $53.1 billion. That's a 26-percent increase since I took office. In other words, we understand that resources need to flow to help solve the problems." A few things were untrue in these remarks. Bush's proposed elementary and secondary education budget for next year is $34.9 billion, not $53.1 billion, according to his own Department of Education. It's his total proposed education budget that is $53.1 billion. More importantly, there is no next-year "boost" in this budget. Elementary and secondary education received $35.8 billion in 2003. Bush's 2004 budget cuts that back nearly a billion dollars, and the overall education spending in his budget is the same as the 2003 level.
Instead of a "boost," there is the opposite--a decrease. Perhaps like Rumsfeld--and Cheney and Wolfowitz--the president merely was overstating.
COMING SOON: David Corn's new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers, due out September 30). For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.
Later this year, Rick Rubin's American Recordings label will release a collection of Johnny Cash songs including a collaboration between the legendary country singer and one of his greatest fans, the Clash's Joe Strummer. The pair's version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" will serve as a poignant reminder of why Cash, who died Friday at age 71, was so revered by his fellow musicians -- if not always by a music industry that had a hard time figuring him out.
"In a garden full of weeds," explained U2's Bono, Cash was "the oak tree."
Cash loved playing with younger artists who shared his recognition that a song ought to come with an edge -- and maybe even a little politics. His collaborations with Bob Dylan, U2 and Strummer, and the delight with which he covered songs by Nine Inch Nails, Nick Cave, Beck, Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen, made it impossible to slot Cash into the narrow categories where contemporary radio programmers consign artists. "He's an outsider, never been part of a trend," Rubin said of Cash.
In his remarkable 1997 autobiography, Cash reflected on a career that began with hit singles but eventually saw him searching for a proper record label -- a search that ended only when Rubin, a groundbreaking rock and rap producer, signed him to American Recordings and produced four starkly brilliant albums. When people wondered why a country singer was on his label, Rubin said, "A rock star is a musical outlaw and that's Johnny."
Cash embraced that outlaw image, singing in his signature song, "Man in Black":
"Well you wonder why I always dress in black/Why you never see bright colors on my back/And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone/Well there's a reason for the things that I have on/I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down/Livin' in the hopeless hungry side of town/I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime/But is there because he's a victim of the times."
Later in the song, he referenced the war in Vietnam, singing: "I wear the black in mourning for the lives that could have been/Each week we lose a hundred fine young men."
Cash took sides in his own songs, and in the songs he chose to sing. And he preferred the side of those imprisoned by the law -- and by economics. Cash's obituaries are quick to quote the lines at the start of his classic song, "Folsom Prison Blues," which go:
When I was just a baby my mama told me son/Always be a good boy don't ever play with guns/But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die...
Later in the song about a prisoner listening to a passing train, however, Cash sings:
I bet there's rich folks eatin' in some fancy dining car/They're probably drinkin' coffee and smokin' big cigars/Well I know I had it comin' I know I can't be free/But those people keep a movin' and that's what tortures me
Though he was not known as an expressly political artist, Cash waded into the controversies of his times with a passion. Like the US troops in Vietnam who idolized him, he questioned the wisdom of that war. And in the mid-1960s, at the height of his success, he released an album that challenged his country's treatment of Native Americans. That album, Bitter Tears, featured an powerful version of Peter LaFarge's "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow," a sad, angry rumination on the mistreatment of the Seneca tribe of the Iroquois nation, and of how the US government "broke the ancient treaty with a politician's grin."
Years later, Cash would remember that, as he prepared Bitter Tears, "I dove into primary and secondary sources, immersing myself in the tragic stories of the Cherokee and the Apache, among others, until I was almost as raw as Peter. By the time I actually recorded the album I carried a heavy load of sadness and outrage; I felt every word of those songs, particularly 'Apache Tears' and 'The Ballad of Ira Hayes.' I meant every word, too. I was long past pulling my punches."
The Bitter Tears project inspired one of Cash's many disputes with a music industry that wanted him to entertain rather than educate.
"I expected there to be trouble with that album, and there was," Cash wrote in his autobiography. "I got a lot of flak from the Columbia Records bosses while I was recording it -- though Frank Jones, my producer, had the sense and courage to let me go ahead and do what I wanted -- and when it was released, many radio stations wouldn't play it. My reaction was to write the disc jockeys a letter and pay to have it published as a full-page ad in Billboard. It talked about them wanting to 'wallow in meaninglessness' and noted their 'lack of vision for our music.' Predictably enough, it got me off the air in more places than it got me on."
Even in the 1960s, Cash said, "craven worship of the almighty dollar" was interfering with the ability of artists to get good music heard.
Thirty years later, as Clear Channel and other radio conglomerates sucked what life there was out of radio, Cash would argue, "The very idea of unconventional or even original ideas ending up on ‘country' radio in the late 1990s is absurd."
In 1998, after Cash won the Grammy award for best country album, American Recordings purchased a full-page ad in Billboard that was addressed to country radio programmers who had failed to play his music. The ad featured a picture of a much younger Cash with his middle finger held high in a fierce gesture of defiance.
Even as Cash was widely honored in his last years, his music was seldom played on mainstream country radio. And, yet, Johnny Cash kept being heard, singing the last track of a U2 album, appearing in a haunting video that somehow found a place on MTV and joining in that one last "Redemption Song" with a late British punk named Strummer who recognized that no one rocked like the Man in Black.
It was reported today that retired four-star General, ardent critic of Bush's national security policies, telegenic TV commentator, and recently declared Democrat Wesley Clark will enter the crowded presidential race.
Democrats believe that Clark, as a former military officer, could make the party more viable on foreign affairs than it's been since a general named George Marshall was containing Communism under the command of a president named Harry Truman. (That's the conventional wisdom, though the staggering cost of the badly bungled Iraqi occupation has diminished the Republican advantage on defense no matter who runs against Bush.)
While media commentary on Clark's prospective candidacy has been almost entirely favorable--even adulatory--it's worth looking back at a forgotten chapter in his military biography that occurred when Clark was Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and Commander In Chief for the US European Command. Call it Clark's "High Noon" showdown. It's an incident that deserves scrutiny because Clark's claim to be an experienced leader in national security matters is tied, in significant part, to his record in the Balkans.
On June 12, 1999, in the immediate aftermath of NATO's air war against Yugoslavia, a small contingent of Russian troops dashed to occupy the Pristina airfield in Kosovo. Clark was so anxious to stop the Russians that he ordered an airborne assault to confront these units--an order which could have unleashed the most frightening showdown with Moscow since the end of the Cold War. Hyperbole? You can decide. But British General Michael Jackson, the three-star general and commander of K-FOR, the international force organized and commanded by NATO to enforce an agreement in Kosovo, told Clark: "Sir, I'm not starting world war three for you," when refusing to accept his order to prevent Russian forces from taking over the airport. (Jackson was rightly worried that any precipitous NATO action could risk a confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia and upset the NATO-led peacekeeping plan just getting underway with the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo.)
After being rebuffed by Jackson, Clark, according to various media reports at the time, then ordered Admiral James Ellis, the American in charge of NATO's southern command, to use Apache helicopters to occupy the airfield. Ellis didn't comply--replying that British General Jackson would oppose such a move. Had Clark's orders been followed, the subsequent NATO-negotiated compromise with the Russians--a positive element in the roller-coaster relationship between Moscow and Washington, which eventually incorporated Russian troops into peacekeeping operations--might well have been undermined.
In the end, Russian reinforcements were stopped when Washington persuaded Hungary, a new NATO member, to refuse to allow Russian aircraft to fly over its territory. Meanwhile, Jackson was appealing to senior British authorities, who persuaded Clinton Administration officials--some of whom had previously favored occupying the airport--to drop support for Clark's hotheaded plan. As a result, when Clark appealed to Washington, he was rebuffed at the highest levels. His virtually unprecedented showdown with a subordinate subsequently prompted hearings by the Armed Forces Services Committee, which raised sharp questions about NATO's chain of command.
As a Guardian article said at the time, "The episode triggers reminscences of the Korean War. Then, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of the UN force, wanted to invade, even nuke, China, until he was brought to heel by President Truman." Of course, the comparison is inexact. The stakes were not as high in the Balkans, but Clark's hip-shooting willingness to engage Russian troops in a risky military showdown at the end of the war is instructive nonetheless.
Indeed, it is believed in military circles that Clark's Pristina incident was the final straw that led the Pentagon to relieve him of his duties (actually retire him earlier). Clark had also angered the Pentagon brass--and Secretary of Defense William Cohen in particular--with his numerous media appearances and repeated public requests for more weapons and for more freedom to wage the Kosovo war the way he wanted (with ground troops). At one point, according to media reports, Defense Secretary Cohen, through Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton, told Clark to "get your fucking face off of TV."
In recent years, it's only fair to note, Clark has insisted in interviews and in his memoir Waging Modern War that the incident was a surprising moment for him. Clark said that his order to confront the Russian troops was refused by an emotional General Jackson, who took the matter up the British chain of command, where General Charles Guthrie, British Chief of Defence, said that he agreed with Jackson. Guthrie, according to Clark, told him that Joint Chiefs Chairman Shelton also agreed with the British. This surprised Clark because he claims that the original suggestion to block the Russians came from Washington. Clark maintains that the matter was a policy problem between the US and British governments and insists that he was carrying out the suggestions of the Clinton Administration.
Despite concerns this incident raises, it remains a fact that the Clark candidacy is a tantalizing prospect. Clark says he is a liberal Democrat who favors abortion rights, affirmative action, gun control and progressive economic policies. He has also spoken eloquently about basing America's role in the world on the country's better principles: "generosity, humility, engagement..."
The other day, Clark told http://www.billmaher.tv/Bill Maher"> Bill Maher on HBO that this country was founded on "the idea that people could talk, reason, have dialogue, discuss the issues…We can't lose that in this country. We've got to get it back."
Perhaps Clark has learned that building alliances--and not risking showdowns--is more crucial than ever in these perilous times? It would be good to hear from the general himself now that he has decided to run for president.
The rising death toll in Iraq, Israel and Palestine has kept media coverage of the War on Terror focused squarely on the Middle East. Lost in this reporting are serious allegations concerning the Philippines--a chief ally of the US in its global fight with Islamic fundamentalism.
As Nation columnist Naomi Klein recently detailed, on July 27, three hundred soldiers of the Philippine Army rigged a Manila shopping mall with explosives in an act of protest against their superiors. The story quickly faded from view and with it the serious allegations made by the insurgent troops, among them the startling charge that the Philippine government and army had themselves engineered terrorist bombings, which they then blamed on Islamic terrorist groups in an elaborate plot to justify increased military aid from the United States.
The mutineers insisted they were not interested in taking power but only wanted to expose a top-level conspiracy. When Philippine President Gloria Arroyo promised to launch a full investigation into the allegations, the mutiny ended peacefully. And, as Klein wrote, though the soldiers' tactics were widely condemned in the Philippines, there was widespread recognition, even inside the military, that their claims were "valid and legitimate," as retired Navy Capt. Danilo Vizmanos told her.
Especially given that Southeast Asia looks like it could quickly become the next front in America's War on Terror, it's particularly important not to let these charges drop. Writing members of the House Foreign Relations Committee can't hurt. Click here to access the Nation's Congressional directory database. Contacting the media could also be a big help. The Nation has created an easy way for you to write, call or email your local media about this story letting them know that the issue needs to be reported, examined and debated.
Click here to send a letter to your local daily or weekly newspaper, talk-radio program or public affairs television station. And tell any print pub you contact that if they don't have the resources to devote to this important story, they should consider reprinting Klein's Nation column, which is available at very reasonable rates. (Click here for reprint info.)
Television viewers on Sunday night had a choice of two George W. Bushes. They could see him standing tall on a Showtime docudrama on 9/11 (produced by a prominent Hollywood conservative), in which a heroic Bush all but exclaims "damn the torpedoes" before all but parachuting Rambo-like into Afghanistan to capture Osama bin Laden single-handedly. (Remember bin Laden?) Or they could watch the real thing stiffly read a speech in which he did little than to urge Americans and allies to buck up and stay his course.
There's nothing like dropping to a 52-percent approval rating to send a president--especially a wartime president--rushing to the Cabinet room ( sans table) to deliver a primetime speech declaring "great progress." Bush both reiterated that Iraq was a crucial battle in the war against terrorism and asserted it now is "the central front." On the first point, he had nothing to say--literally--to back up his prewar assertions. He did not address the where-are-the-weapons criticism he has received over the past few months. Instead, he hailed his invasion for having overturned a regime that "sponsored terror" and "possessed and used weapons of mass destruction." Possessed and used, that is, if one looks back to the Iraq of the 1980s (when Saddam Hussein was being courted by the Reagan and Bush I administrations). In all his advocacy for war, Bush never based his case on a two-decades-old weapons charge. His argument was that Hussein had unconventional weapons now (not in the 1980s or early 1990s) and that this tyrant was sponsoring a particular set of terrorists, namely al Qaeda. None of that has proven true, and the available evidence to date supports the notion that Bush was lying to the American public. So as Bush continues to adhere to his pre-invasion fibs, what credibility does he carry when he now maintains he is willing to cooperate with other nations in the rebuilding of Iraq (as long as they pony up)?
But Bush's argument that Iraq was key to the war on terrorism has become self-fulfilling due to his own actions. It appears that the occupation has led to the rise of a terrorist claque within Iraq, attracting jihadists from elsewhere. US troops are indeed confronting terrorists in Mesopotamia. (What else do you call the brutal killers behind the blast at the UN compound?) Bush may have succeeded in achieving what neither bin Laden nor Hussein could have done: uniting the secular Ba'athists and the fundamentalist Islamic fascists. Iraq has become the frontline because Bush sent in the Marines--and the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Yet he keeps on pushing the neoconnish line that if Iraq were to be transformed into a democracy, that would be a blow to terrorists everywhere--especially the terrorists who aim to strike the United States. There remains no indication that Hussein enabled the mass-murderers of 9/11. So Bush's theory is just that--an assertion that may or may not be true. He told his television audience that the triumph of democracy and tolerance in Iraq would be a "grave setback to terrorists." Certainly, this triumph would be a good thing--but there is no telling whether or not such a development would have any impact upon the terrorist threat America faces.
During the speech, Bush also maintained that American misadventures in Beirut and Somalia (the first authored by Reagan; the second initiated by Bush the Elder) were partial causes of 9/11. These episodes--in which Washington ended up cutting and running--supposedly led anti-American terrorists like bin Laden to see the United States as a soft foe and, consequently, encouraged them to take on America. Indeed, bin Laden and others had wondered about US resolve, though I'd be willing to wager that bin Laden did assume that the 9/11 attack would result in serious payback. Bush dumbs down the analysis. "Terrorist attacks," he said, "are not caused by the use of strength. They are invited by the perception of weakness." Bush's self-acclaimed boldness, though, has given the terrorists in Iraq--whoever they are--more chances to kill Americans. The use of strength does not necessarily provide a disincentive to terrorists. See Israel. The goal should be the smart use of strength. But Bush is now depicting the Iraq war as justified because it sent a don't-mess-with-us message. And he argues, in a way, that the United States is now stuck with this message, like it or not. After all, would turning tail enhance American security?
Perhaps it might. If that would mean internationalizing the redevelopment of Iraq. Bush, who was willing to go to war alone, now says he is committed to a more multilateral approach in Iraq. But it's unclear what he is offering to allies--except the opportunity to pay for his occupation. In his address, he remarked that members of the international community must assume "a broader role" and that "past differences" cannot interfere with "present duties." But his administration was quick to snub the French and to signal that nations that went along with Bush's march to war would be rewarded, while those who resisted would be punished. In his speech, Bush also called for the Iraqis to get with the program, noting that "now they must rise to the responsibilities of a free people." A point of clarification: they are not a free people. The occupation authority has canceled local elections and still exercises censorship over some media. After first promising a speedy hand-off of power to the Iraqis, the US occupation authority then slowed the transition and, of late, has been trying to quicken the pace, perhaps to rid itself of sole responsibility for governing a problem-wracked nation.
In demanding that Iraqis meet their obligations, Bush seemed rather ungracious. He still has been unable to provide the security needed for political revival in Iraq. Members of the Iraqi governing council--who were handpicked by the Americans--have bitterly complained that the occupation authority has not responded to their requests for additional security for themselves. And it is clear that the Bush administration never had a plan on how it would "rise to the responsibilities" of an occupying power and provide security and generate economic development.
In his short address, Bush announced the occupation (and reconstruction in Afghanistan) would cost an extra $87 billion in the coming year--on top of the $79 billion already approved for the war and the occupation through September 30. He offered no explanation of how he would pay for that. He did not say, Sorry, but we're going to have to ask the major beneficiaries of the latest round of tax cuts--millionaires, investors, and the like--to do with a little less. Or, There's going to be less Medicare coverage for our seniors, but that's the price of defending freedom. Bush vowed he would do "whatever is necessary." But that does include asking Americans to make any sacrifices (other than those who serve in the military). Presumably, Bush will just charge it--add the price of the occupation to an already bulging deficit and let someone else worry about it down the road. Once more, this is hardly rising to responsibility.
Bush is in a fix. He's stuck in his Iraqmire. He did not prepare the country for a long drawn-out endeavor in Iraq, which keeps on claiming the lives of Americans. In fact, before the war, some Bush aides claimed that this would be a no-fuss occupation. Now Bush has little choice but to resort to the usual rah-rah about resolve. He points fingers at the international community and the Iraqis, failing, of course, to acknowledge his own miscalculations. And he's looking a tad desperate. Don't expect a Showtime sequel covering Bush's days as an occupier.
******COMING SOON: David Corn's new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers), will be released on September 30. For more information, click here.
So, Richard Perle--a man whose arrogance knows no limits, whose countless op-eds and television appearances about the imminent threat Iraq posed to the US deceived the American people---has now admitted that he and his neocon cabal underestimated the disastrous consequences of poor postwar planning.
In a recent interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, the NeoCon Prince of Darkness acknowledges, "Our main mistake, in my opinion, is that we haven't succeeded in working closely with Iraqis before the war so that an Iraqi opposition could have been able to immediately take the matter in hand."
But wasn't it the Bush Administration's over-reliance on the claims of the self-interested exiled Iraqi opposition (and its handmaidens on the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board), that was one of the main reasons for the US failure to anticipate the postwar crisis? As the costs of occupation soar--in both lives and dollars--shouldn't chickenhawks like Perle be held accountable for their failures and fabrications?
After all, wasn't Perle--along with the other faith-based warrior intellectuals at the project for the New American Century and in corporate-funded think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute--an architect of these failed policies? Isn't it time that their colossal failure meet its just response? President Bush should ask Dick Cheney and his cabal of (failed) armchair wargamers to hit the road.
Lower pay, longer hours and unpredictable work schedules are some of the increased challenges working families will face if the Bush Administration is able to pass its proposed changes to overtime rules in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
Some of the most important employment protections for working families today are part of the FLSA, established in 1938, which sets minimum national standards for wages and overtime. Under the FLSA's overtime rules, some eighty million workers are now paid time-and-a-half when they work more than forty hours a week. Many of them depend on this overtime pay for survival at a time when the minimum wage is far from a living wage in most parts of the US. But the Bush Team seems determined to terminate this hard-fought benefit for millions of workers.
Promoted by the Administration as "family-friendly" measures, the proposed changes, along with five Big Business-backed bills now in Congress, would actually make it much more difficult for working families to stay afloat. As an Economic Policy Institute report released June 26 notes, the main consequence of the changes would be that about eight million police officers, nurses, store supervisors, secretaries and many other workers would face reduced pay because employers who require their workers to labor more than forty hours a week would not be required to pay the time-and-a-half formula.
The AFL-CIO has been working overtime against the changes as have local unions and grassroots groups nationwide. Check the Federation's site for background on the FLSA and click here to view its powerful new TV ad currently running this week nationally on CNN and in Maine, Ohio and Missouri. (Maine is home to moderate GOP Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Sens. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Christopher Bond, R-Mo., are up for re-election next year.)
Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, one of organized labor's strongest supporters in Congress, has proposed an amendment that would block the new proposed regulations. The Senate debate began this week and a vote is scheduled for WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10. Click here ASAP to tell your Senators to support the Harkin amendment. Tell them their own jobs really might depend on it.
Harkin says that he believes he has three to six Republican votes, which could be decisive in the Senate, where the GOP is in control by a narrow margin. This fight looks like it'll be close so let your reps know how you feel today.