It's been over a year since that bastion of liberalism – the U.S. House of Representatives – approved federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. It looks as though this week the Senate will finally do the same.
But President Bush, in his ever-expanding role as "The Decider," is threatening his first veto and holding public health hostage to his skewed-faith-based reality and ideological crusade (see DefCon's ad in today's New York Times: "I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job").
Despite our need for a sane science policy – and supporters of the legislation including Flip-Flopping Dr. Frist and Nancy Reagan literally urging Republicans to enact this for the Gipper – Bush prefers to side with such well-informed (non) members of the scientific community as:
Rev. Pat Robertson: "Before long, we'll be harvesting body parts from fully formed people. Once you begin this...utilitarian use of cells, then everything is up for grabs."
Rev. Jerry Falwell: "...the President was right to ban federal money going to this dangerous and unethical research."
James Dobson: "Experiments on the blastocytes, which are fertilized eggs, has a Nazi-esque aura to it."
As David Broder writes in The Washington Post, "… in the nation as a whole, polls show that public opinion supports expanded stem cell research." As many as 72% of Americans, in fact. But this administration is once again showing its true colors in this latest act of pandering. One hopes voters will make proponents of zealotry over science pay at the polls in 2006.
As the world burns, Dick Cheney campaigns.
Today Cheney will spend seven hours in Iowa, stumping for two Congressional candidates and addressing the Iowa National Guard. No doubt Cheney will brag about how the Bush Administration is spreading peace and democracy across the globe.
But with the Middle East in flames, is political campaigning really the best use of the Vice President's time? We are talking about the man who effectively runs the White House.
Shouldn't top Bush Administration officials like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice be in the region right now, working round the clock to defuse the crisis?
When it comes to engaging the world, a political campaign is no substitute for a foreign policy.
With the Middle East on the cusp of war, President Bush's foreign policy for the area--remaking the region through invasion and occupation--is now effectively buried under the rubble of bombed out buildings, decimated bridges and civilian bodies.
The ongoing sectarian carnage in Iraq now barely makes it onto the front pages--and television is filled with the latest, horrifying scenes of devastation from the region. But Jessica Stern's op-ed, in Saturday's New York Times, is a powerful reminder of why we must not lose sight of ending the US occupation of a ravaged Iraq. Stern, a leading expert on terrorism, argues that our continuing occupation--and the growing number of revelations of US military atrocities (which she points out "are likely to proliferate the longer we remain in Iraq") will vastly increase the pool from which Al Qaeda and its sympathizers can recruit new members and supporters. As she reports, the latest Al-Qaeda video "tries to recruit ordinary American Muslims who might be offended, as many ordinary Americans are, by America's mistakes and moral failings in carrying out the war on terrorists." What Stern is saying is that this Administration's policies are actually increasing the possibility of future terrorist acts here in the US.
Yes, Iraq is complicated. As Robert Kuttner wrote recently in the Boston Globe, "..the search for a viable Iraq policy is really hard. President Bush has left the country with a policy problem from hell that may be literally insoluble, for him or anyone else." I agree, but at the same time that view should not lend a kind of gloss of acceptance to continued occupation.
Over the past three years, the Administration and its allies have offered a succession of reasons for why we must "stay the course"--all designed to match the succession of rationales for the war itself. An American withdrawal, we've been told, would embolden the insurgency, make Iraq a safe haven for terrorists and foreign jihadis and lead to civil war. One by one each of these predictions has come true. Not, of course, because we withdrew or even announced a timetable for withdrawal or redeployment but because we could not control the forces the war and occupation have unleashed and created.
At this point, there may be little America can do to stop the sectarian violence or even an all-out civil war. The sanest course is to remove US forces and work with the international community to keep Iraq from disintegrating as a result of our invasion and occupation. That means a shift from the failed military model to an all-out diplomatic and economic effort to limit the damage our reckless policies have caused. That means declaring no permanent bases or control of oil. But this Administration and its newly energized neo-con allies have little interest in diplomacy or giving Iraqis real sovereignty.
Stern's argument is a powerful and pragmatic rejoinder to the "stay the course" crowd. "We made a major error by going to war in Iraq.....Some errors yield not only bad outcomes, but also bad choices, and this is one. It will be dangerous for both Iraqis and Americans if we leave Iraq as a failed state. But it is even more dangerous to remain where our continuing presence will inevitably result in further cruelties and atroctiies, providing more arguments for more videos to attract more terrorist recruits around the globe--including here at home."
Congressional "Friends of Israel" are busy making noises about the "need" for the United States to provide that Middle Eastern land with full support as it assaults its neighbors.
But no genuine friend of Israel can be happy with what is being done in that country's name by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his misguided followers.
Israel's attack on Lebanon, which has already killed and wounded hundreds and destroyed much of that fragile democracy's infrastructure--including airports, seaports, bridges and roads--has done nothing to make Israel safer or more secure from threats posed by the militant Islamic organization Hezbollah. Indeed, the terrorist group's attacks on targets in northern Israel have become more brazen--and deadly--since Israel began striking Lebanon.
No serious participant in the contemporary discourse would deny that Israel has a right to protect itself. But no one in their right mind thinks Israel is going about the mission in a smart manner.
As Henry Siegman, the former head of the American Jewish Congress explains, "In Lebanon as in Gaza, it is not Israel's right to protect its civilian population from terrorist aggression that is at issue. It is the way Israel goes about exercising that right."
"Despite bitter lessons from the past, Israel's political and military leaders remain addicted to the notion that, whatever they have a right to do, they have a right to overdo, to the point where they lose what international support they had when they began their retaliatory measures," adds Seigman. "Israel's response to the terrorist assault in Gaza and the outrageous and unprovoked Hizbollah assault across its northern border in Lebanon, far from providing protection to its citizens, may well further undermine their security by destabilizing the wider region."
Seigman's right. Israel's assault on Lebanon won't bring stability to the Middle East. Instead, it makes a bad situation worse.
Unfortunately, President Bush has chosen to direct his anger over the crisis toward Syria, a largely disempowered player, and Iran, an increasingly powerful player but not one that listens to the U.S. By failing to express blunt concern about Israel's over-the-top response to a genuine problem, Bush has encouraged Olmert to continue on a course that has already proven devastating for Lebanon and that, ultimately, will threaten Israel's stability.
Bush should start listening to wise voices from Israel, voices that are saying Olmert is wrong.
Both Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter opposed last week's bombings of Hezbollah headquarters and other facilities in Beirut, a move by Olmert and his allies that dramatically increased tensions and violence.
In the Israeli Knesset there is a good deal of opposition to the current strategy.
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, former Israeli Cabinet member Yossi Sarid, a well-regarded veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, argues that Israel -- and the United States -- need to recognize that they are going about things the wrong way. Instead of destroying the economic and physical infrastructure of Lebanon and Palestine, Sarid argues that efforts must be made to improve economies and opportunities for those who now see violence as the only way to demand fairness and opportunity.
"Iraq is destroyed, Afghanistan is destroyed, the Gaza Strip is destroyed and soon Beirut will be destroyed for the umpteenth time, and hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested solely in the vain war against the side that always loses and therefore has nothing more to lose. And hundreds of billions more go down the tubes of corruption," wrote Sarid.
"Maybe the time has come to put the pistol into safety mode for a moment, back into the holster, and at high noon declare a worldwide Marshall Plan, so that the eternal losers will finally have something to lose," Sarid added. "Only then will it be possible to isolate the viruses of violence and terrorism, for which quiet is quagmire and which in our eyes are themselves quagmire. And once isolated, it will be possible to eradicate them one day."
In your lifetime, has the US ever exercised less global leadership?
The Middle East is burning. Iraq is disintegrating. Afghanistan is collapsing. North Korea is escalating. Iran is cheering.
And all President Bush can do is dither. The Administration has no foreign policy. At least the invasion of Iraq, though wholly misguided and strategically disastrous, was an example of decisive action. Today, in the face of crisis after crisis, Bush does nothing.
"In the current crisis, which has the potential to be as or more dangerous than previous ones, the need for a concerted American-led crisis management role is as great or even greater than in the past," writes Duke professor Bruce Jentleson.
Why isn't Condi Rice in the Middle East right now, working round the clock to defuse the violence as Warren Christopher did during the Clinton Administration in 1993 and 1996? Why aren't we talking directly to North Korea? Why do we refuse to negotiate with Iran? Why are we told we can't leave Iraq even though it's increasingly unclear why we need to stay? Why are we letting the Taliban regroup in Afghanistan?
Why doesn't the Bush Administration have a convincing answer to any of these questions?
If cowboy diplomacy is supposedly over, as Time magazine recently proclaimed, the Administration better find a replacement foreign policy, soon.
For years, leaders of the Republican Party and their amen corner in the media has been demanding to know why African-American voters so consistently support the Democratic Party.
Here's a thought:
When the U.S. House debated the "Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act" this month, the process was bogged down for weeks by objections from Republican members of the House who sought to eliminate some or all of the essential protections contained in the 41-year-old guarantee of equal protection for minority voters.
Even on the final day of debate on the measure, the House had to dispense with four amendments – all sponsored by Republicans -- that sought to undermine the scope and application of the Voting Rights Act.
None of the anti-voting rights amendments received as many as five Democratic votes.
All of the anti-voting rights amendments received at least 95 Republican votes.
One of the amendments – Iowa Representative Steve King's move to restrict and potentially eliminate the availability of ballots for Americans who do not speak English as their first language – gained 181 Republican votes.
A majority of House Republicans also voted for an amendment designed to make it easier for communities to "bail out" of Voting Rights Act requirements and for an amendment that sought to limit the number of years for which the act was reauthorized.
In the end, only 33 House members voted against the final reauthorization of the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act. But all of those votes came from Republicans, meaning that 15 percent of the House Republican Caucus opposed renewal of what civil rights pioneer and Georgia Congressman John Lewis told Congress was still very much needed to "reflect a commitment to equal protection under the law."
At the end of the day, a substantial proportion of House Republicans cast specific votes against maintaining the framework for protecting the rights of minority voters, while the vast majority of House Republicans backed steps that would have effectively gutted provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that make real the guarantee of equal protection under the law.
House Republicans did this despite calls for renewal of the act by every major civil rights group in the country, and appeals from their African-American, Latino and Asian-American colleagues. They did so despite the fact that academics and voting-rights experts echoed the assessment of Michigan Representative John Conyers, the senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, that: "The Voting Rights Act's) importance to opening the political process to all Americans is beyond doubt or challenge."
How will African-American voters respond to the House GOP's assault on what Conyers refers to as "the crown jewel of our civil rights laws"?Perhaps they will react as did Georgia Representative David Scott, one of the most moderate members of the current House, who said of his Republican colleagues: "Their goal has been one thing and one thing only: to kill the Voting Rights Act."
After running as a so-called "reformer" in the race to replace Tom DeLay as House Majority Leader, Ohio Rep. John Boehner admitted in his first major TV interview, "I've got a very open relationship with lobbyists in town."
bcf0c6d5bf9&ei=5094&partner=homepage">New York Times story today, Boehner's raising $10,000 a day in campaign contributions from lobbyists and corporations, at a rate that would make even Tom DeLay blush.
"A review of Mr. Boehner's recent contributors finds a 'who's who' of Washington special interests, many with issues before Congress," the Times reported. "Mr. Boehner's biggest donors include the political action committees of lobbying firms, drug and cigarette makers, banks, health insurers, oil companies and military contractors."
Even before joining the House leadership, Boehner placed at least 24 former staffers at plum lobbyist jobs. Since his election last February, Boehner's campaign committees hired two top lobbyists employed by the finance and insurance industries.
And since 2000, Boehner's taken more than twice as many corporate-funded trips as DeLay. When Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert proposed a ban on such travel in January, Boehner quickly nixed the idea--presumably so he could continue attending functions like a convention of commodities traders at a golf resort in Florida. In between hitting the links, Boehner assured the group that Congress would not pass a tax on futures transactions they opposed.
Little wonder why lobbying reform is dead.
As Bush and Putin meet in St. Petersburg for the G-8 summit, there's a lot of talk in the US media about Russia's backsliding on democracy. Of course, Russia isn't on a path to democracy. Putin has reasserted state control over Russian television, jailed a leading oligarch and may well try to alter the Russian constitution so he can remain President for a third term beginning in 2008. But as scholars and writers with a sense of history have argued -- including (my husband) Stephen Cohen in a recent cover story in The Nation and Anatol Lieven in a Los Angeles Times op-ed -- de-democratization began not under Putin but under Boris Yeltsin. As Lieven explains, "The 'democracy' that Putin has allegedly overthrown was, in fact, not a real democracy at all, but a pseudo-democracy ruled over by corrupt and brutal oligarchical clans." Furthermore, he notes, " During the 1990s, the administration of Boris Yeltsin, under the sway of oligarchs and the liberal elites, rigged elections, repressed the opposition and launched a bloody and unnecessary war in Chechnya--all with the support of Washington."
But don't ask that champion of democracy, civil liberties and human rights Dick Cheney to get his history right. Instead, in May, Cheney used his shotgun approach and traveled through the former Soviet Union hectoring Russia's government for its anti-democratic ways. As William Fisher noted at the time, in a sharp commentary on Truthout.com, it was "truly grotesque" that Cheney would be "lecturing anyone about democracy and human rights." As Fisher, who worked for the US State Department and USAID for thirty years, put it, " [Cheney} has dishonored these core American values in his own country...Could there be anyone less credible on subjects like democratic reform and open government?"
Instead of counter-productive lectures, perhaps we should listen more carefully to former Russian dissidents like Boris Kagarlitsky. I've known Kagarlitsky for more than twenty five years. He is a man of integrity, a man of the democratic left, who was imprisoned in the Brezhnev years for samizdat literature and speaking his mind. In May, I asked him what he made of U.S. criticism of Russia's political landscape. Here is Boris's brief and sharp reply.
"Russia doesn't look like a model democracy, but United States under current administration doesn't look so either. Every time American government spoke about exporting democracy somewhere this ended up in disaster, whether it was in Vietnam or in Latin America. We will solve our problems ourselves without George Bush or Dick Cheney. And people who organise elections in Siberia don't need lectures from those who organized elections in Florida... All these technologies are internationally known."Boris Kagarlitsky
If I do well in school can I jump over jail?
If I pray every night can I jump over this hell?
Will the preacher say a special prayer?
Will the social workers really care?
It doesn't seem that as a child it should be my fault
All these hurdles to jump over before I could even walk.
--from Against All Odds, by 17 year old Cardarius Becton, Life Pieces to Masterpieces
Program, three months before he was shot in the back and killed after being robbed.
The nation's capital has declared a Crime Emergency in response to a recent surge in homicides and armed robberies. But, as Courtland Milloy writes in the Washington Post, "Violent robberies are certainly nothing new in the Washington area…To a certain extent, however, these black-on-black crimes seem to be of interest only to the victims, their families and closest friends."
What has changed is gentrification, a new proximity between rich and poor, and the recent crimes being black on white. "The sense of security among the affluent and influential has been shaken," according to Milloy.
Adding to the sadness and outrage is the lack of political will, vision, and commitment to promote real change – to truly fight back against the poverty and hopelessness. To be sure, no one – including Milloy – is minimizing these crimes or the suffering of innocent victims. Yet it must be recognized: "Here's part of the problem: Juveniles, many of whom have been robbed themselves – ripped off by parents and schools and communities that couldn't care less about them – have become hardened and increasingly violent."
And while DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey has responded with increased rewards for information leading to arrests, and greater deployment of police officers, that is not what will change the tide of crime in DC or any other city. Again, Milloy: "But it's unlikely that money and police alone will solve the problem. The city is being terrorized – and, as residents of many low-income neighborhoods will tell you, it's been that way for years. When discussing terrorism abroad, we talk about giving would-be terrorists a better choice – of giving them hope of a better life and providing them with the tools to help them realize the fruits of freedom and democracy. Now that the homegrown terrorists have our attention, maybe it would be a good time to show how that's done – in the nation's capital."
There are no shortage of mentoring, tutoring or apprenticeship programs – with proven results – taking kids from the most difficult situations and helping them turn their lives around. In fact, one DC mayoral candidate, former VerizonDC President, Marie Johns, has highlighted such programs on her Fighting Poverty Tour. The Tour is designed to examine the economic divide in the nation's capital – the city with the largest wealth disparity in the nation – and offer leadership and ideas where current elected officials have failed.
"I want to do the work that has been ignored in our city for generations now," Johns said. "That's why I am running for office."
This past week Johns visited the Life Pieces to Masterpieces (LPTM) program that works with kids from the worst neighborhoods in DC. LPTM offers tutoring and enrichment programs, and teaches youths to express their challenges and accomplishments through artistic means. Many of the youths have been with the program for 8 to 10 years, and now serve as mentors for the younger kids.
"The younger kids who come in see the older kids – from their same neighborhoods – modeling positive behavior. It takes the stigma away," said Executive Director Mary Brown. "We are literally saving lives. But we've never had a candidate come to our program in eleven years of existence."
14 year old Malik – an eight year veteran of the program – was a little more pointed in his thoughts. During a session he told Johns, "You coming shows you really want to make a difference to help us out. Most politicians only care about money."
Johns highlighted LPTM because of its track record and its need for new space.
"There are great programs out there that turn lives around," Johns said. "But they usually only have resources sufficient to reach a small number of kids; they have to spend way too much of their time chasing money; and they often struggle to find space and a permanent home. The financial commitment it would take to stabilize and expand these preventative programs is a drop in the bucket compared to the human costs, public health costs, and the criminal justice costs of the way we are doing business in the nation's capital today."
On the national level, John Edwards stands out for making poverty a moral and political issue. He recently delivered an inspiring speech to the National Press Club where he called poverty "the great moral issue of our time" and issued a challenge to cut it by one-third in a decade, and end it within 30 years. Edwards called for raising the minimum wage, overhauling housing policy, strengthening education, cutting taxes for low-income workers and families, and helping Americans save for the future.
It's time we stop treating people as disposable. The "new" crime emergency for some has, in fact, been the status quo for many. There is a desperate need for vision, political will and action to produce real change right now. It is the only way the suffering of innocent people in our American cities will subside.
The other night Dan Rather was back in center ring. In an hour long interview with CNN's Larry King. Rather spoke with quiet fury about the suits at CBS who treated him, a 44-year employee, so disgracefully. It turns out that at the end, it was the lawyers--not actor-turned corporate honcho Leslie Moonves--who told Rather "we just don't have a place for you." But, as Rather understood--as has anyone watching the networks these last years--CBS News is a cog in an entertainment company.
"There came a time," he told King (who also works for an entertainment company with a news division) " when I realized...that we were working for not CBS and not CBS News. We were working for Viacom News...a larger entertainment company....but I want to do news that matters. And so much of the news these days...it's so driven by ratings, so driven by demographics, so driven by, we used to be told stockholder value. It's driven by things other than the public interest. I want to do news that's fair and accurate, do it with integrity and I want to do it in the public interest."
In one of the more interesting exchanges, Rather talked about 60 Minutes's controversial broadcast about Bush's National Guard record.
King: "You're saying that was a fair report, I mean that was--you believe that report to this day?" Rather: Do I believe the truth of the story? Absolutely.
Rather added, "...We had a lot, a lot of corroboration..it wasn't just the documents. But it's a very old technique used when those who don't like what you're reporting, believe it can be hurtful, then they look for the weakest spot and attack it, which is fair enough." But, he added, " It's a diversionary technique."
Rather is right.
In the days after "60 Minutes" aired its September 2004 report raising tough questions about President Bush's pampered "service" in the Texas National Guard, the heart of the story was obscured by a rightwing blog-fueled controversy over the authenticity of the so-called Killian memos. Instead of asking the White House tough questions about the well-documented information contained in the broadcast, too much of the media focused almost exclusively on the claims and counter-claims made about the disputed documents.
To be sure, Rather and his producers played into the hands of a Bush spin machine that, to this day,remains expert at peddling the lie that a liberal media is out to distort the president's record. As The Nation's John Nichols wrote at the time, "By relying on a few documents that were not adequately verified, CBS handed White House political czar Karl Rove exactly what he needed to steer attention away from the real story." But it always remained true, as Rather said at the time, that " Those who have criticized aspects of our story have never criticized the heart of it...that George Bush received preferential treatment to get into the National Guard and, once there, failed to satisfy the requirements of his service." The basic story was, in fact, well-reported by Texas columnist Molly Ivins and investigative reporter Lou Dubose almost five years before CBS's report. And in the days before and after 60 Minutes broadcast, the AP, the Boston Globe and US News & World Report all raised new questions about Bush's military record. Though each of these stories, as a good report by FAIR pointed out at the time (Sept 14, 2004), were "accompanied by significant official documentation, developments in the investigations by AP, US News and the Globe [were] largely sidetracked by the fixation on questions about the authenticity of documents aired on CBS on September 8." As FAIR's report concluded, It was like "the equivalent of covering the sideshow and ignoring the center ring."
Here's a modest editorial idea for Rather. Now that you're back with a weekly news program on Mark Cuban's HDNet TV-- and with the editorial freedom and mandate to do tough investigative reports, how about documenting the full story about the White House coverup of George W. Bush's military service?