Quantcast

The Nation

Bush, Cheney, Rice and Kucinich on Iran

Those echoes that Americans are hearing in the noisy-and-getting-noisier debate about Iran are from 2002 and 2003, when members of the current administration were busy spinning the fantasy that the United States needed to attack Iraq.

George "Uranium From Africa" Bush sure sounds like he wants to attack Iran. Just last week, the president said, "I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from (obtaining) the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

Dick "Greeted As Liberators" Cheney sure sounds like he wants to attack Iran. This week, the vice president declared: "Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions."

Secretary of State Condoleezza "Mushroom Clouds" Rice sure sounds like she wants to attack Iran. "Unfortunately the Iranian government continues to spurn our offer of open negotiations, instead threatening peace and security by pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to a nuclear weapon..." Rice said on Thursday, as she announced drastic new sanctions against the country that serious analysts say poses little threat to its neighbors and no real threat to the U.S.

And, as in 2002 and early 2003, the most rational response is coming from Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio Democrat who says, "After the lies and deception used to lead us to war in Iraq, the belligerent Bush Administration cannot be given leeway with statements that suggest a preemptive attack on Iran is necessary," says Kucinich, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nod who deserves a much better hearing that he has been afforded so far by the media and Democratic power brokers. "We are systematically destroying every available route to restoring peace and security in the Middle East," he adds.

Kucinich may be running for the White House, but his message is most relevant to Capitol Hill. "Congress," he says, "must take back its exclusive authority to declare war from the Bush Administration."

He's right.

But being right is not always enough in tenuous times.

Being heard is what matters.

It could well be that the American experiment's best hope lies in the remote prospect that, having been proven right in 2002 and 2003, it will be Kucinich's counsel -- as opposed to that of Bush, Cheney and Rice -- that is heeded in this new moment of peril.

The point here is not a political one. This is not about whether Kucinich becomes president, or the Democratic nominee, or even a strong contender in his race with cautious Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This is about the most fundamental question in a democracy: At a time when talk of war is growing louder, will we hear a real debate or merely the exaggerated echoes of those who have never gotten anything right?

The answer could well be measured by the extent to which Dennis Kucinich and those who stood with him in 2002 and 2003 are afforded the forums that their record of having been able to cut through the spin of the past should afford them in the present.

Are We Heading for a Slow-Motion Showdown over Iraqi Oil?

Before the invasion of Iraq, while millions demonstrated in the streets, often waving homemade placards with "No Blood for Oil"--or equivalents like "Don't Trade Lives for Oil" and like "How Did USA's Oil Get under Iraq's Sand?"--the Bush administration said remarkably little about the vast quantities of petroleum on which Saddam Hussein's regime was perched. The President did, however, speak reverently about preserving not Iraq's "energy reserves" but its "patrimony," as he so euphemistically put it. The American mainstream media followed suit, dismissing arguments about the significance of Iraqi and Middle Eastern oil as the refuge of, if not scoundrels, then at least truly simpleminded dissidents who knew not whereof they spoke. Generally, in our news pages and on the TV news, with Iraq at the edge of a shock-and-awe invasion, Iraqi energy reserves were dealt with as if no more than a passing thought, as if the Middle East's main export was hummus.

Little has changed. When former Fed chief Alan Greenspan recently indicated in passing in his memoir that the war was "about oil," there was a brief firestorm of scorn in Washington; an administration spokesperson termed it "Georgetown cocktail party analysis" ("A refill of crude, please, straight up…") and Greenspan quickly began to backtrack under the pressure. Oil? Who us? The Bush administration's plans to protect the Oil Ministry in Baghdad and Iraq's major oil fields amid otherwise unchecked chaos in April 2003 were certainly noted in the news, but went largely uncommented upon (unless you were an Internet news jockey).

Here's the strange thing about the Iraq oil "debate" in our media world. Call me crazy, but if you were going to invade Iraq and oil wasn't right at the forefront of your brain, you would be truly derelict, even if you hadn't run a major energy services corporation or hadn't had a double-hulled oil tanker named after you. Jack Miles, author of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book God: A Biography, has just recently suggested that the oil endgame in Iraq is in sight -- of which, except in the Web world, there has largely been neither a beginning game. nor a middle game.

He begins dramatically this way: "The oil game in Iraq may be almost up. On September 29th, like a landlord serving notice, the government of Iraq announced that the next annual renewal of the United Nations Security Council mandate for a multinational force in Iraq--the only legal basis for a continuation of the American occupation--will be the last." If that was the first Iraqi shoe to fall, Miles suggests that terminating a little noticed companion Security Council mandate on Iraqi oil may be the second.

As he writes, the political half of the Bush administration's gamble in Iraq has already been lost, but it "has proven adamantly unwilling to accept the loss of the economic half, the oil half, without a desperate fight." He then offers a unique exploration of what may be a kind of "slow-motion showdown" between the Bush administration and the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which has, in the "Blackwatergate" affair and other matters, suddenly been flexing muscle that no one previously imagined it had. As Iraqi oil legislation--that "benchmark" of both Congress and the White House--flounders terminally in the Iraqi parliament, the question is: Will a fragmenting Iraq take back sovereignty over its oil resources, even on a regional basis? As Miles puts it, will "a new, Iran-allied, oil-rich, nine-province Shiite Iraq... match Kurdistan's deal [with Hunt Oil] with one of its own, perhaps even with ready-and-willing China. Will any combination of American military and diplomatic pressure suffice to stop such an untoward outcome?"

 

Everybody Look What's Going Down

There's somethin' happening here, What it is ain't exactly clear. There's a man with a gun over there, tellin' me I gotta beware. I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound, everybody look what's going down.
--For What It's Worth, Stephen Stills, 1966

It was nearly 30 years ago, in 1979, when Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt and John Hall founded Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) to fight against the use of nuclear power. They organized five exhilarating nights of No Nukes concerts at Madison Square Garden and led a rally of 200,000 people in New York's downtown Battery Park. Their efforts helped to channel public outrage in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident and strengthen opposition to Big Nuclear Energy.

Now, as Congress considers $50 billion in new loan guarantees to the nuclear industry over the next two years (it has already received nearly $10 billion from the Bush-Cheney Energy Debacle of 2005), as well as extended federal liability insurance, Raitt, Browne, and Nash have reunited to educate the public and a new generation about "what's going down" and advocate for a saner path. Along with Ben Harper and Keb Mo, the original No Nukes crowd cut a new music video based on Stephen Stills' For What It's Worth that links to a petition against the massive nuclear industry handout.

On Monday night, the musicians joined their MUSE co-founder -- now Congressman John Hall-- and performed for lawmakers who will be debating this critical Energy Bill that is intended to set us on a greener course. Tuesday, they were back on Capitol Hill lobbying against a "virtual blank check from taxpayers" to build new nuclear plants.

While Big Nuclear is touting a self-proclaimed "nuclear renaissance" and promoting the myth that nuclear energy will solve our climate change crisis, MUSE co-founder and Freepress.org/NukeFree.org editor, Harvey Wasserman, explains the top three reasons to oppose the "Nuclear Bailout" in this video. (A more extensive post by Wasserman on reasons for opposition is here).

In a nutshell, after fifty years since the first reactor was built in 1957, nuclear plants can't pay for themselves. Wall Street doesn't want anything to do with them --exorbitant cost overruns and construction problems continue to plague them -- so the industry is looking to Congress to foot the bill. Secondly, the risk of a terrorist attack -- or human error -- at these facilities is so great that the industry can't even get private insurance so, again, it looks to government to limit liability in case of a major accident. Finally, there is no safe way of dealing with high-level nuclear waste. Despite $11 billion public dollars spent on Yucca Mountain, there are still too many unanswered questions about how to safely contain waste that must be isolated for at least tens of thousands of years, if not longer-- according to Jon Block, nuclear energy and climate change project manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Block concludes in a recent op-ed that "any glowing description of nuclear power's benefits ignores serious issues of nuclear plant safety, security against sabotage and terrorist attack and waste disposal."

As to the notion that new nuclear plants are the answer to the climate crisis, Wasserman notes that greenhouse gasses are created in the mining, milling, and enrichment of uranium fuel; and that "huge plumes of heat" are emitted directly into the air and water by the reactors.

But, most importantly, one must completely ignore the devastating risks that these monstrosities pose to the environment, as the Natural Resource Defense Council writes, "The accidental release of radioactivity, whether from a reactor accident, terrorist attack, or slow leakage of radioactive waste into the local environment, poses the risk of catastrophic harm to communities and to vital natural resources, such as underground aquifers used for irrigation and drinking water."

Block also sees far better options than the nuclear one: "The most sensible strategy to reduce global warming is to quickly deploy the cleanest, fastest, lowest risk solutions first. Conservation and increased efficiency by energy producers and consumers are the cheapest and quickest measures by far. Likewise, a wide range of renewable energy resources, including wind, solar, geothermal and tidal power, have enormous potential and are inherently safe-and they would encourage economic development."

Thirty years after MUSE raised public-consciousness about the atomic madness of the 70's, it's good to see them back on the job fighting an absurd and illogical nuclear bailout in 2007. Like the song still says, "Stop-- everybody look what's going down." Don't accept the latest giveaway to corporate lobbyists, sign the petition today.

Maryland Judge: Some Domestic Violence Victims Like Being Hit

Domestic violence cases are notoriously difficult to prosecute.

But every once in a while, prosecutors get handed the tools for a conviction on a silver platter: An impartial eyewitness who just happens to be a police officer.

Such was the case in a domestic violence trial that made the local papers here in Maryland last week. A cop pulling into an Exxon station saw a man hit his girlfriend in the face three times, called in back-up and had the man arrested.

But according to Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul Harris, who is "probably as against domestic violence as anybody, when the case is proven," one can't simply assume that a woman who is being hit didn't consent to the attack. "Sadomasochists sometimes like to get beat up," the judge reminded the courtroom--then acquitted the man.

The judge appeared to be in a snit because the girlfriend, the alleged victim in the attack, had disappeared, even though she had been ordered to testify. Ignoring decades of research proving that domestic violence victims are often too afraid and intimidated to testify against perpetrators, the judge discounted the female cop's eyewitness account.

The Baltimore Sun reported on the judge's comments: "The state is stepping into the shoes of the victim when she obviously doesn't care," Harris told the prosecutor, according to a recording of the October 3 hearing. "It's that big brother mentality of the state....But I have to decide the case based on what I have and I think a crucial element is missing." Judge Harris, defending his position, asserted that to prove this was truly a second-degree assault, it had to be clear that "the defendant's actions were not consented to by the victim." He wondered, "How do you determine that without the victim?"

Hmmm.

"What would we do in a murder case?" Byron L. Warnken, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, fretted to a Baltimore Sun reporter.

The Capital of Annapolis and Baltimore Sun reporters thoroughly chronicled this miscarriage of justice, but silence greeted this dangerous precedent from the rest of the nation.

If a woman falls in a parking lot and no one is around to hear, does she make a sound?

Feingold Leadership Vs. Obama, Clinton Posturing

Russ Feingold stood on the floor of the Senate Wednesday to mark the passing of the fifth anniversary of President Bush's signing of the Congressional resolution that authorized his use of military force in Iraq -- and to declare that he would not rest until the dark deed was undone.

"I will not stand idly by while this mistaken war continues," the Democratic senator from Wisconsin announced, as he pledged to make the wrongheaded occupation of Iraq a day-in, day-out issue in the Senate for the rest of 2007 and into 2008. Refusing to be distracted by the coming presidential election, Feingold promised to remain focused on the work at hand: bringing U.S. troops home, taking honest steps to promote stability in the Middle East, and turning the attention of the U.S. intelligence and defense establishment toward real threats as opposed to the fantasies of Dick Cheney and the neocons.

Feingold's declaration was an essential act that, unlike the silly sparring of recent weeks between Illinois Senator Barack Obama and New York Senator Hillary Clinton about who said what when and why, recognized the reality of the moment rather than the over-the-top demands of presidential posturing.

Of course, it matters that Obama trusted his gut instincts and spoke out against attacking Iraq in 2002, just as it matters that Clinton lacked the knowledge and the skepticism that her position as a member of the Senate required. But it matters a good deal more that, once the occupation began, Obama and Clinton began to sound an awfully lot alike. And it matters a great deal more that both contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination have failed to lead in the way that Feingold -- who not only spoke right but voted right back in 2002 -- has in the struggle to bring the troops home and to hold the president and vice president to account.

By using the anniversary as an opportunity to refocus the discussion on Bush's responsibility for a war authorized on the basis of his administration's inflated and irresponsible claims, Feingold brought the discussion back to the reality of the moment. Almost 4,000 soldiers from the United States have died in an unwise and unnecessary occupation that threatens to claim thousands of additional lives. More than 27,000 soldiers from the United States have been severely wounded in an occupation that threatens to claim the physical and mental health of tens of thousands more. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed and millions displaced in a war that threatens to displaces hundreds of thousands more and to displace millions more.

Neither Obama nor Clinton is running as an anti-war candidate. They both continue to fuzz the margins, so much so that neither will commit to getting U.S. troops out of Iraq during their first term. They both continue to suggest that the way to end the war is to elect a new president in November, 2009, and hope for a change of course sometime in 2009 or, perhaps, 2013.

Neither Obama nor Clinton has spoken so bluntly about the duty of this Senate in this year as Feingold did when he informed his colleagues on Wednesday that, "I will continue working to end this war and bring our troops home, and I will continue looking in the days and weeks ahead for opportunities to debate and vote on ending the war – this year, and, if necessary, next as well. My colleagues may complain, they may be inconvenienced, they may prefer to focus on other matters. But this Congress has no greater priority than making right the mistake it made five years ago when it authorized this misguided war."

There is, of course, much interest in what goes on in Iowa and New Hampshire and other early caucus and primary states. The fight for the Democratic presidential nomination is relevant to the debate about the war. But what goes on in Washington is more relevant. And, right now, Russ Feingold is showing a great deal more seriousness than Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton regarding the need to save the thousands, the tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands, the millions of lives that are at stake.

War Costs: Even Worse Than You Think

The federal government will spend $2.4 trillion by 2017 for waging the "War on Terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was the most mind-boggling statistic to come from the Congressional Budget Office's estimate released today on the rapidly rising costs of Bush's war.

The number assumes that the current 200,00 U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will be reduced to 75,000 by 2013 and remain at that level by 2017. At a hearing of the House Budget Committee on Wednesday, CBO Director Peter Orzag described just how much money we're talking about:

-$11 billion a month is being spent in funding for Afghanistan and Iraq-- of which $9 billion goes to Iraq. In 2003, President Bush's Budget Director, Mitch Daniels, estimated the cost of the Iraq War would be $50 to $60 billion.

-Of the $2.4 trillion figure, $1.7 trillion is the projected war costs over the next 10 years. Nearly $900 billion of this is for actually fighting the wars, while $700 billion will be used to pay off interest on the money borrowed to finance the wars.

-Bush is asking for $196 billion in war funding in next years' budget. This is more money than the total budgets for the Department of Agriculture, Justice Department, FBI and Environmental Protection Agency.

The CBO did offer an alternative, withdrawal-based budget scenario where by 2010 there would only be 30,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. This would bring war costs to $570 billion by 2017.

At the same time, the CBO's projection is not even a worst-case scenario. "This doesn't consider if Vice-Preisdent Cheney is successful in invading Iran," pointed out Texas Democratic Representative Lloyd Doggett. "This assumes troop levels will stay the same and then go lower." Orzag also admitted that it's hard to estimate the full veterans health-care costs, particularly in treating Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome.

During the hearing, Orzag was intent on pointing out to the committee that the "emergency funding" Bush keeps requesting for the Iraq War really isn't emergency funding, noting that a lot of this money goes to buying equipment. "The purpose of 'emergency funding' isn't to replace a 1990 tank with a high-technology 2007 or 2008 tank," Orzag said.

Wisconsin's Paul Ryan, who spent most of the hearing as the only Republican there and only defender of the Bush policy, also declared, "We should be putting these [war] costs in our base budget."

Democratic members made much of the absence of Republicans and the fact that Bush Administration officials declined to testify about the war costs. "Their absence speaks even louder than words and statistics," Doggett huffed.

"Someday, somebody has to pay for this war and that's going to be the children of the wounded," Massachusetts Democratic Representative Jim McGovern noted. "I only wish the President was listening." McGovern is one of several Democrats proposing a tax to pay for the war that Orzag called "unsustainable" in budgetary terms.

The Post Office vs. the Founding Fathers

On July 15, the postal rates for America's most important political magazines, both left and right, increased by twenty to thirty percent after the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) adopted a rate plan written by lobbyists from Time-Warner.

The lobbyists' plan, unsurprisingly, has the effect of shifting the burden of new postal increases away from its large circulation corporate clients like Time and People toward smaller, independent publications like The Nation and National Review. (The Nation is looking at roughly $500,000 in increased annual postal costs.)

The rate hikes turn more than two hundred years of postal policy on its head and have led numerous small publications to the brink of bankruptcy. As the Founding Fathers understood, political magazines of all perspectives and persuasions are invaluable incubators for political ideas and discourse. Their disappearance degrades our media and cripples our democracy.

Postal rate increases for the magazine industry generally don't generate major news and the PRC was counting on its obscurity to insulate it from the criticism it well deserved. But last spring when we at The Nation found out about the PRC's abdication to Time-Warner and what it would mean, not just for us, but for all publications in our category, we started talking to colleagues and friends and a bipartisan grassroots fire was soon lit with the non-profit media reform group Free Press leading the charge. (Even the blogosphere, which obviously need not concern itself with postal costs, took on the issue, rightly insisting that Time-Warner's efforts to harm the independent press off-line mirrored Big Media's goal of upending the net neutrality that guarantees that web users can access small, independent websites as easily as they can find the big boys.)

A bipartisan group of publications banded together and shot off a letter to the Postal Board of Governors demanding a delay in implementation of the new rates until an investigation into the process was completed. A massive media campaign was undertaken that saw scores of newspapers, radio programs, websites and magazines come out against the rate increase. Almost 1,000 academics started a petition drive to Congress requesting hearings on the matter and the public responded to the coalition's joint call to similarly petition Congress to address the charges being directed at the PRC.

....And they listened! Next Tuesday, October 30, the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia chaired by Danny Davis (D-IL) will hear testimony from a series of witnesses, including The Nation's Victor Navasky. It's unlikely that the increases will be overturned but stranger things have happened and just the fact of the hearings themselves is a testament to the power of grassroots protest.

Help keep it going by signing the Free Press petition to Congress to reverse the unjust postal rate increase for small political publications. It'll also help to call the offices of the members of the subcommittee prior to the hearing next week, especially if you happen to live in one of the subcommittee member's districts. Names and number follow:

Danny K. Davis, Chairman, (202) 225-5006
Eleanor Holmes Norton, (202) 225-8050
John P. Sarbanes, (202) 225-4016
Elijah E. Cummings, (202) 225-4741
Dennis J. Kucinich, (202) 225-5871
Wm. Lacy Clay, (202) 225-2406
Stephen F. Lynch, (202) 225-8273
Kenny Marchant, (202) 225-6605
John M. McHugh, (202) 225-4611
John L. Mica, (202) 225-4035
Darrell E. Issa, (202) 225-3906
Jim Jordan, (202) 225-2676

There are precedents for the Postal Rate Commission's rulings to be revised but it's going to take a massive groundswell of public opposition similar to the explosion of outrage over the FCC's 2003 decision to change media ownership rules. The Post Office should not use its monopoly power to favor the largest publishers and undermine the ability of smaller publishers to compete. With your help we can reverse this decision and salvage the postal system that has served free speech in America so well for so long.

Bush on Cuba

President Bush's belligerent speech on Cuba signals that he intends to continue his Administration's delusional crusade for regime change--despite the self-inflicted wounds of the Iraq war. His unwise and misguided warning to Cuba was troubling for its inference that there might (read: should be) violent upheaval on the island; his effort to push the Cuban people toward that; and his effort to split the country's military.

The speech shows how distant Bush remains from understanding Cuba's reality today, and how little leverage the US has to exert a positive influence on the transition well underway. This past Spring, in a special issue on Cuba guest-edited by Peter Kornbluh, The Nation laid out a new US policy--one that would end 48 years of delusion and discord. "The next occupant of the White House," we argued, "will have an unusual opportunity to bring US policy toward Cuba into the twenty-first century." lifting the embargo and building normal relations.

Colin Powell's former chief of staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson put it well, referring to the US's intransigent stance. It is "the dumbest policy on the face of the earth. The time has come to change it."

Hillary Day at the Nixon Library

"Hillary's fear of humiliation, her fear of secrets being revealed, absolutely permeates her life," Carl Bernstein told a packed auditorium at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California, earlier this week.

Bernstein is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter on Watergate, and author of a new book on Hillary, A Woman in Charge. His appearance in Yorba Linda was a historic moment of sorts, as he himself noted: if he had said in 1999, when he started doing research on Hillary, "that I would be invited to speak at the Nixon Library, and that I'd be talking about Hillary as possibly the next president of the United States, I'd be accused of smoking something--and inhaling."

The event marked the transformation of the Nixon Library from a private institution run by Nixon loyalists to a public one run by the National Archives, under the direction of historian Tim Naftali. Bernstein spoke to a full house--300 people--including many students from nearby colleges getting extra credit for showing up.

Hillary's life with Bill, Bernstein said, was one of "remarkable sacrifices and embarrassments," because "she undertook the job of containing and covering up the effects of his sexual compulsions."

At lunch before his talk, Bernstein emphasized Hillary's continuing obsession with secrecy. He told me he did not think Hillary would repeal Bush's Executive Order on Classification, the most restrictive ever, which has outraged advocates of freedom of information in Congress and the media. Bush's order gives the president or any former president the right to withhold the former president's papers from the public. At the time it was issued--shortly after 9-11--it seemed intended to conceal from the public information about the presidency of Bush senior, many of whose staffers held high positions in the White House of Bush junior.

But the Bush executive order on classification would have a special appeal for Hillary as president, Bernstein said. "Do you think she wants to open the papers of Bill's presidency, which include all the material on her role?" Asked about the legislation introduced by Congressman Henry Waxman to repeal Bush's classification order, Bernstein was skeptical it would pass in the next congress: "Do you think Democrats in Congress would demand repeal in the face of Hillary's opposition?"

"Nixon's history is settled," Bernstein told the audience at the Nixon Library. "What is not yet settled is the history of the Clintons--their use and abuse of power." That's important because, if Hillary wins, "we're talking about a restoration."

Her obsession with humiliation and secrecy can be traced back to her "hellish childhood," Bernstein said, in a family where her father "verbally humiliated and abused her mother." The question asked by people at the time, according to Bernstein, was, "Why did her mother stay with this man?" He couldn't help noting that the same question would be asked about her.

While Hillary's concern with secrecy remains a constant today, Bernstein said, she has changed in other ways since her days as First Lady. In the White House she had "a take-no-prisoner combativeness, an anger that was consuming." It had disastrous effects: the 1994 victory of New Gingrich and the Republicans, which transferred control of the House away from the Democrats for the first time since the New Deal, he said, "was a result of the failures of Hillary Clinton."

But in the Senate "she became self-confident in a way she had never been since she met Bill." Her old combativeness "is gone." As for the senators who voted to convict her husband in his impeachment trial, Bernstein said, "she joined their prayer group."

Finally, does Carl Bernstein think Hillary going to win the presidency? He replied, "The night the Supreme Court voted to make Bush president, I said on TV I thought he would be a compassionate conservative, reach out to Democrats, and govern from the center. So don't turn to me for predictions about politics."