"I made my arguments and went down in flames. History will prove me right."
Yes, that was George W. Bush. No, he wasn't talking about Iraq. The date was September 1993 and Bush, then managing general partner of the Texas Rangers, had voted against "realignment and a new wild-card system" at a Major League Baseball owners meeting. "Bush," writes Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com, "was the lone dissenter in a 27-1 vote."
Skip a few years to February 2003, when Bush found himself involved in another owners' meeting involving "realignment" -- in this case, of the Middle East -- and what was certainly an attempt to install a new "wild-card system." Again, he cast his lone vote. At stake was the fate of the planet and, unlike in 1993, it didn't matter, in the end, how the other owners, then gathering at the United Nations, voted.
The catastrophic results of this realignment effort, we now know well; that Bush again believes history will prove him "right," we also know. Whatever documentation may exist for that 1993 baseball meeting, recently we received a striking document from February 22, 2003 -- a transcript, published in the Spanish newspaper El País, of a conversation at the President's "ranch" in Crawford, Texas, between Bush and Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar. This was less than a month before the President launched his invasion of Iraq. As recorded, his was a remarkable performance, a window into the Presidential mind -- and, as with the famed Downing Street Memo when no one else in the mainstream was willing to publish it, the New York Review of Books is publishing this transcript, newly translated, in its upcoming issue. (It can now be read at the Review's website.)
Mark Danner, who has covered the Iraq War and the Bush administration for the Review, has written an illuminating piece on what we can now see of a President, at the edge of an invasion, and eerily "at peace with himself." More than four-and-a-half years and the same President later, it remains a chilling vision of the man the Supreme Court put in charge of what his followers once loved to hail as the planet's "lone superpower," its New Rome.
Danner concludes with this passage, which might be a painful epitaph for an era:
"Prime Minister Aznar is gone now, having been fatally weakened by his support for the Iraq war and the failure to obtain United Nations support for it; almost exactly a year after the war began, jihadists targeted the Madrid train station, killing nearly two hundred Spaniards and sending the prime minister to electoral defeat. Tony Blair, the star of the Downing Street Memo, is gone as well, his popularity having never recovered from his staunch support of the war. George W. Bush, on the other hand, nearly five years after he launched the war, remains confident of victory, just as he was confident he would win that second UN resolution. There is no sign that his confidence is any more firmly rooted in reality now than it was then. Instead of reality we have faith -- in himself, in the deity, in 'the unstoppable power of human freedom.' He stands as lead actor in his own narrative of history, a story that grows steadily paler and more contested, animated solely by the authority of official power. George W. Bush remains, we are told, 'at peace with himself.'"
Forty years ago, a handful of smart Americans had an idea how to end a war. They published a call for moral, political and financial support for those refusing to serve. Initially signed by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Grace Paley, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Marcus Raskin, and the Reverend William Sloane Coffin among others, eventually, 20,000 signed on and the indispensable RESIST foundation was formed.
Listening as it was read aloud at a 40th anniversary party this weekend, "Resist: A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority" seems as relevant as ever. How about a second Call?
1. An ever growing number of young American men are finding that the American war in Vietnam so outrages their deepest moral and religious sense that they cannot contribute to it in any way. We share their moral outrage.
2. We further believe that the war is unconstitutional and illegal. Congress has not declared a war as required by the Constitution. Moreover, under the Constitution, treaties signed by the President andratified by the Senate have the same force as the Constitution itself. The Charter of the United Nations is such a treaty. The Charter specifically obligates the United States to refrain from force or the threat of force in international relations. It requires member states to exhaust every peaceful means of settling disputes and to submit disputes which cannot be settled peacefully to the Security Council. The United States has systematically violated all of these Charter provisions for thirteen years.
3. Moreover, this war violates international agreements, treaties and principles of law which the United States Government has solemnly endorsed. The combat role of the United States troops in Vietnamviolates the Geneva Accords of 1954 which our government pledged to support but has since subverted. The destruction of rice, crops and livestock; the burning and bulldozing of entire villages consisting exclusively of civilian structures; the interning of civilian non-combatants in concentration camps; the summary executions of civilians in captured villages who could not produce satisfactoryevidence of their loyalties or did not wish to be removed to concentration camps; the slaughter of peasants who dared to stand up in their fields and shake their fists at American helicopters; - these are all actions of the kind which the United States and the other victorious powers of World War II declared to be crimes against humanity for which individuals were to be held personally responsibleeven when acting under the orders of their governments and for which Germans were sentenced at Nuremberg to long prison terms and death The prohibition of such acts as war crimes was incorporated in treaty law by the Geneva Conventions of 1949, ratified by the United States. These are commitments to other countries and to Mankind, and they would claim our allegiance even if Congress should declare war.
4. We also believe it is an unconstitutional denial of religious liberty and equal protection of the laws to withhold draft exemption from men whose religious or profound philosophical beliefs are opposed to what in the Western religious tradition have be en long known as unjust wars.
5. Therefore, we believe on all these grounds that every free man has a legal right and a moral duty to exert every effort to end this war, to avoid collusion with it, and to encourage others to do the same.Young men in the armed forces or threatened wit h the draft face the most excruciating choices. For them various forms of resistance risk separation from their families and their country, destruction of theircareers, loss of their freedom and loss of their lives. Each must choose the course of resistance dictated by his conscience and circumstances. Among those already in the armed forces some arerefusing to obey specific illegal and immoral orders, some are attempting to educate their fellow servicemen on the murderous and barbarous nature of the wa r some are absenting themselves withoutofficial leave. Among those not in the armed forces some are applying for status as conscientious objectors to American aggression in Vietnam, some are refusing to be inducted. Among both groupssome are resisting o penly and paying a heavy penalty, some are organizing more resistance within the United States and some have sought sanctuary in other countries.
6. We believe that each of these forms of resistance against illegitimate authority is courageous and justified. Many of us believe that open resistance to the war and the draft is the course of action most likely to strengthen the moral resolve with whic h all of us can oppose the war and most likely to bring an end to the war.
7. We will continue to lend our support to those who undertake resistance to this war. We will raise funds to organize draft resistance unions, to supply legal defense and bail, to support families and otherwise aid resistance to the war in whatever ways may seem appropriate.
8. We firmly believe that our statement is the sort of speech that under the First Amendment must be free, and that the actions we will undertake are as legal as is the war resistance of the young menthemselves. But we recognize that the courts may find otherwise, and that if so we might all be liable to prosecution and severe punishment. In any case, we feel that we cannot shrink from fulfilling our responsibilities to the youth whom many of us teach, to the country whose freedom we cherish, and to the ancient traditions of religion and philosophy which we strive to preserve in this generation.
9. We call upon all men of good will to join us in this confrontation with immoral authority. Especially we call upon the universities to fulfill their mission of enlightenment and religious organizations to honor their heritage of brotherhood. Now is the time to resist.
LAURA FLANDERS is the host of RadioNation and the author of Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians.
The occupation in Iraq will begin to end on the day that Democrats -- and responsible Republicans -- in Congress decide to stop meeting the demands of the Bush-Cheney administration for more money to fund their imperial endeavor along with the massive war-profiteering by administration-linked firms such as Halliburton and Blackwater.
This is a simple reality. But it remains one that most members of Congress, including many Democrats who should know better, fail to recognize.
The essential document in the current Iraq debate is a letter of commitment, now endorsed by 89 members of the House, that says the signers "will only support appropriating additional funds for U.S. military operations in Iraq during FY08 and beyond for the protection and safe redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq before the end of President Bush's term in office."
In an important new letter to President Bush, the 89 representatives -- 88 Democrats and Texas Republican Ron Paul -- say, "More than 3,800 of our brave soldiers have died in Iraq. More than 28,000 have been seriously wounded. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed or injured in the hostilities and more than 4 million have been displaced from their homes. Furthermore, this conflict has degenerated into a sectarian civil war and U.S. taxpayers have paid more than $500 billion, despite assurances that you and your key advisors gave our nation at the time you ordered the invasion in March, 2003 that this military intervention would cost far less and be paid from Iraqi oil revenues.
"We agree with a clear and growing majority of the American people who are opposed to continued, open-ended U.S. military operations in Iraq, and believe it is unwise and unacceptable for you to continue to unilaterally impose these staggering costs and the soaring debt on Americans currently and for generations to come."
At a time when the president is requesting an additional $50 billion to maintain his escalation of U.S. military operations in Iraq through next April, on top of the $145 billion he requested to continue military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during the 2008 fiscal year, the letter says what all of Congress should be saying: No.
What is now the most important anti-war initiative in the Congress began in July when the following House members signed on: Rep. Lynn Woolsey (CA); Rep. Barbara Lee (CA); Rep. Maxine Waters (CA); Rep. Ellen Tauscher (CA); Rep. Rush Holt (NJ); Rep. Maurice Hinchey (NY); Rep. Diane Watson (CA); Rep. Ed Pastor (AZ); Rep. Barney Frank (MA); Rep. Danny Davis (IL); Rep. John Conyers (MI); Rep. John Hall (NY); Rep. Bob Filner (CA); Rep. Nydia Velazquez (NY); Rep. Bobby Rush (IL); Rep. Charles Rangel (NY); Rep. Ed Towns (NY); Rep. Paul Hodes (NH); Rep. William Lacy Clay (MO); Rep. Earl Blumenauer (OR); Rep. Albert Wynn (MD); Rep. Bill Delahunt (MA); Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC); Rep. G. K. Butterfield (NC); Rep. Hilda Solis (CA); Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY); Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY); Rep. Michael Honda (CA); Rep. Steve Cohen (TN); Rep. Phil Hare (IL); Rep. Grace Flores Napolitano (CA); Rep. Alcee Hastings (FL); Rep. James McGovern (MA); Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH); Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL); Rep. Julia Carson (IN); Rep. Linda Sanchez (CA); Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ); Rep. John Olver (MA); Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX); Rep. Jim McDermott (WA); Rep. Ed Markey (MA); Rep. Chaka Fattah (PA); Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (NJ); Rep. Rubin Hinojosa (TX); Rep. Pete Stark (CA); Rep. Bobby Scott (VA); Rep. Jim Moran (VA); Rep. Betty McCollum (MN); Rep. Jim Oberstar (MN); Rep. Diana DeGette (CO); Rep. Stephen Lynch (MA); Rep. Artur Davis (AL); Rep. Hank Johnson (GA); Rep. Donald Payne (NJ); Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (MO); Rep. John Lewis (GA); Rep. Yvette Clarke (NY); Rep. Neil Abercrombie (HI); Rep. Gwen Moore (WI); Rep. Keith Ellison (MN); Rep. Tammy Baldwin (WI); Rep. Donna Christensen (USVI); Rep. David Scott (GA); Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL); Lois Capps (CA); Steve Rothman (NJ); Elijah Cummings (MD); and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX).
Since Congress returned from its summer break, the following members have joined this burgeoning effort to end the occupation: Rep. Chris Murphy (CT); Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (IL); Rep. Corrine Brown (FL); Rep. Bennie Thompson (MS); Rep. Mel Watt (NC); Rep. Gregory Meeks (NY); Rep. David Loebsack (IA); Rep. Anthony Weiner (NY); Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH); Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR); Rep. Sam Farr (CA); Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA); Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA); Rep. John Tierney (D-CA); Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX); Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA); Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH); Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA); and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY).
Unfortunately, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and other key Democratic leaders have so far refused to commit to the only meaningful challenge to the Bush administration's war-without-end demands.
What Pelosi, who admitted over the weekend that the Congress has not done enough to challenge the administration's Iraq policies, needs to understand is that the time has come to stop the senseless killing and maiming of young Americans in a distant civil war. The time has come to end what is by any honest measure a colonial occupation and to allow Iraqis to decide their own destiny. The time has come to restore a measure of balance and decency to American foreign policy.
Perhaps most importantly, the time has come to ask whether those who fail to recognize the necessity of standing up to this administration -- unequivocally, consistently and without political calculation -- understand that their duty is to serve their constituents, their country and its Constitution -- as opposed to the mad whims of George Bush and Dick Cheney.
The Department of Homeland Security is moving at a glacial pace to safeguard trains, planes and automobiles from a terrorist attack and may not even have a coherent plan to work with. These accusations were made Tuesday by both Democratic and Republican senators who argued that the Transportation Security Administration, a DHS agency, spends far too much time on aviation security, but isn't even addressing the biggest terrorist threats concerning airlines.
At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill assailed TSA Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley for having no plan to audit foreign repair stations. McCaskill pointed out that five of these stations are in countries designated as terrorist safe havens.
"There is no rule requiring even background checks," McCaskill said, regarding individuals who enter and work at the station. "We might as well have terrorists working under the hood of these airplanes."
Other Senators blasted Hawley and TSA for scrutinizing passengers carry-on luggage while largely ignoring their checked luggage. Hawley admitted under questioning that there was no procedure in place to prevent explosives from being hidden in checked luggage.
"I am constantly amazed by the asymmetry of all the people getting stopped while going through with their carry-ons," complained West Virginia Democrat John Rockefeller, who leads the Senate's Intelligence Committee. "Why aren't we looking at checked luggage?"
Hawley promised there was a plan in place to check 50 percent of such cargo within 18 months and all checked bags within three years. To which Rockefeller deadpanned, "Good luck."
The Senators spent much of the hearing giving Hawley grief about the inconvenience of checking-in at airports and the ban on liquid items over four ounces. "I hope you can be as righteously indignant about the foreign repair stations as you are about mascara," McCaskill said.
The TSA has much more on its plate than airline safety. Unfortunately, its efforts to secure ports, bridges, tunnels and railroads remain mired in the developing stages as well. "This is a consistent inability of a major government administration to meet deadlines," said New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg. Lautenberg was specifically criticizing the delay in securing New York and New Jersey ports and providing the proper identification and training to transit workers.
This attack on TSA came on the day that the Government Accountability Office reported that the administration was making "moderate progress" in securing the nation's transportation system.
"You got a whole list of things to do and I don't believe you can get them done," Rockefeller told Hawley. Hawley replied that the administration has 120 different tasks and is trying to "take them all seriously."
In the cloak and dagger, smoke and hall of mirrors that is the CIA, we have more evidence that it's dangerous to be a whistleblower, even if that happens to be your job. The CIA's own inspector general, John Helgerson, is being investigated by CIA Director Michael Hayden regarding his investigations into CIA torture allegations.
According to the New York Times, "The review is particularly focused on complaints that Mr. Helgerson's office has not acted as a fair and impartial judge of agency operations but instead has begun a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs."
Thus, the investigator into torture is being tortured by an investigation--the bureaucratic equivalent of water boarding--into his crusade against the crusaders. And 'round and 'round we go.
But if Hayden is watching Helgerson who is watching Hayden and the CIA, is anyone watching over this mess? Who would benefit from a cowed CIA? Who needs evidence that Iran is up to no good to justify another war? Dick Cheney, perhaps? Who knows? No one watches over him. Not even Google Maps.
Why is it that when a man leaves his wife and she retains custody of the kids we say, simply, "he is divorced?"
Yet when a woman, say Doris Lessing, leaves her husband and he retains custody of the kids we say "she abandoned her family?"
…just something to mull over as we read the New York Times tribute to Doris Lessing, the fabulous feminist writer and 87-year-old winner of the Nobel prize for Literature....Just something to consider, lest us feminists get too cocky and drift toward any you've-come-a-long-way-baby reflection on The Golden Notebook.
When Ann Coulter remarked on CNBC that Jews should become Christians, it wasn't "a faux pas," and she wasn't being "an idiot," as many commentators suggested. Instead she was playing her game -- provoking her critics to get her into the media spotlight that helps sell her books.
That raises the question: should the Republican candidates be asked whether they agree with Ann Coulter that America would be a better place if we were all Christians? Or is that simply playing Ann Coulter's game?
Many people are playing her game this time around: Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, denounced Coulter for speaking in "the classic language of anti-Semites throughout the millennia." The National Jewish Democratic Council asked broadcast news organizations not to give Coulter airtime. Then right wing talk radio got to yell at liberals for trying to deny Ann Coulter her right to free speech.
So it's happened again: Ann Coulter is controversial. Ann Coulter is important. We all need to take a stand for or against Ann Coulter's right to express her views, no matter how repugnant they may be.
But what if we ignored her latest publicity ploy? What if we didn't play Ann Coulter's game – again?
That would be a mistake, Tim Rutten argued recently in the LA Times. We need to press the issue on the candidates, and others, this time -- because, Rutten writes, "the implications of these latest remarks simply are too threatening to be allowed to stand."
Yes, it's worked for her many times before, propelling her books to the top of the best-seller list. Her readers buy her books precisely because they love the way she provokes liberals to screaming outrage. That's why in the past, when asked about our enemies in the Middle East, she said "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity"; that's why she insulted the 9-11widows.
But this time, Rutten argues, it's different. That's because Coulter's argument – that Christianity "perfects" Judaism, and that Jews need "perfecting" -- is the major theological underpinning of anti-Semitism (along with the notion to that the Jews killed Jesus). The Catholic church, and most Protestant denominations, have explicitly broken with that claim. The Republican candidates ought to do the same thing.
"It's a scandal that in this pluralist nation it falls to the voices of organized Jewry to make this case," Rutten writes, "because it is a case whose outcome is of the greatest consequence to us all. For too long we've pretended that the brutal political rhetoric that now characterizes our partisan politics can be quarantined, that it won't inevitably leach over into every other aspect of our lives."
So it would be good to ask Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and their rivals: Ann Coulter is a best-selling Republican pundit; do you agree with her that the ideal America is a Christian America?
I'm recently back from the Green Festival in Washington, DC. Billed as the largest sustainability event in the world, the GF is a two-day extravaganza that started in San Francisco in 2002, took up annual residence in DC as its sort of Second City two years later and has now expanded to Chicago and Seattle with more to come.
Staged by Global Exchange and Co-Op America and co-sponsored by The Nation among scores of other publications, media outfits, non-profits and NGOs, the GF offers one of the best forums for exploring what's next on the horizon for renewable energy, the climate change fight, green parenting, organic foods, the struggle against environmental racism and much more. It's also a great place to buy a gift and get free samples of organic coffee! A massive green fair more than anything, the GF draws tens of thousands of attendees who swamp hundreds of exhibitors hawking the latest in hemp fashion, non-toxic toys, eco-tourist offers, fair trade chocolate, green building supplies, socially responsible investment options and vegan cuisine. And despite the emphasis on buying things, the festival also always manages to present talks and lectures by major progressive figures, and not always on traditionally green topics. In addition to Bill McKibben speaking on the climate change movement, last week's DC fest featured talks by Amy Goodman, Jim Hightower, Medea Benjamin and Ralph Nader. What is maybe most striking about the crowd is the tremendous age span. High school and college kids were prevalent but so were old folks. And there was no shortage of Birkenstock-wearing boomers either.
Beyond all the free samples of coffee, fair trade chocolate, funky-flavored cliff bars, shea butter-based lotion and Yerba Mate tea, the best part of the GF is being able to connect with and learn about so many visionary projects under one roof in one weekend. The partnering organizations, taken together, represent a kind of alternative, sustainable infrastructure that is growing every day. There are magazines (Ode, Plenty, Utne Reader, Mother Earth News, Grist) and media outfits (Air America Radio, Link TV), green businesses (Annie's Homegrown, Stony Field, Kimpton Hotels), an eco-shoemaker (Simple Shoes), green marketing firms (Seven Star Events--which produces the entire GF!, Organic Works) and the world's largest maker of environmentally responsible baby diapers and wipes (Seventh Generation).
I spent an enjoyable 10 minutes talking to the local representative of the Rachel Carson Council, a non-profit organization started the year after Carson's death in 1964 to continue the anti-pesticide and pro-environmental efforts sparked by the publication of Carson's Silent Spring. We talked about Carson's seminal book, what made it so timeless and what can be done to keep Carson's name in the minds of today's youth. The RCC has distilled the great activist and writer's legacy into ten basic points, or commandments, if you will, that people looking to emulate her example can try to adopt.
Though I don't really know him, from what I saw, Doug Moss, the founder and editor of E magazine, is probably as closely aligned with Carson's principles as any successful magazine publisher in the United States can be. I was already familiar with his valuable publication but he told me about a feature called Earth Talk that I didn't know about even though it currently appears in 500 print and online publications! A syndicated weekly reader-generated Q&A column which comes off as a sort of lefty, eco-Dear Abby, Earth Talk offers advice, information, guidance and resources on a range of questions practical, personal and political. It tackles key issues, helps people green their lifestyle, provides tips on how to plug into broader efforts to safeguard the global environment. Click here to receive an emailed version of each week's column and if you have a website or print publication, Moss offers the column for re-posting free of charge.
One of the most impressive projects I saw all weekend is an organization called E+Co. A non-profit that helps local small and medium enterprises supply clean, modern and affordable energy to households, businesses and communities in developing countries, E+Co's efforts have helped supply 3.4 million people with clean energy, have facilitated $140 million of financing for local clean energy initiatives and have led to the creation of 3,000 jobs. Their website offers lots of info about clean energy and how its widespread adoption could both help the environment and provide needed economic opportunities to many currently impoverished places around the world.
Watch this YouTube video for a brief history of the Green Festival. The next confab takes place in San Francisco this November. After that, the 2008 shows kick off with the inaugural Seattle Green Fest in April, Chicago in May, Washington, DC in October and back to SF in November three days after the 2008 election.
How can we understand our world, if we have hardly a clue about the mini-worlds where planning for our future takes place? Just the other day, the Washington Post had one of the odder reports of the year. According to journalist Rick Weiss, demonstrators at protests in Washington DC and elsewhere have been independently reporting large "dragonflies" (with a bizarre "row of spheres, the size of small berries, attached along the tails") hovering near their rallies. ("'I'd never seen anything like it in my life,' the Washington lawyer said. 'They were large for dragonflies. I thought, is that mechanical, or is that alive?'")
Is this the micro-equivalent of UFO madness? Folie à Philip K. Dick? Are these actual dragonflies, which do look robotic, or advanced "spy drones" loosed by some unnamed agency in search of homeland-security troublemakers?
As a matter of fact, militarized insects have been on the Pentagon's drawing boards for quite a while. Most recently, the British Times reported that the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was developing cyborg moths, implanted with computer chips while still in their cocoons, that might someday soon flutter into an al-Qaeda camp in Pakistan and beam back video and other information. (The Post's Weiss quotes DARPA program manager Amit Lal as saying: "You might recall that Gandalf the friendly wizard in the recent classic 'Lord of the Rings' used a moth to call in air support…. [T]his science fiction vision is within the realm of reality.") And don't forget those Pentagon-funded neural-implant experiments involving blue sharks in hopes that they might someday be turned into stealth spies of the oceans.
The first robobug, the "insectothopter," was developed by the CIA back in the 1970s. It "looked just like a dragonfly and contained a tiny gasoline engine to make the four wings flap," but it couldn't handle the crosswinds. Three decades later, no agency will fess up to siccing robobugs on crowds of American demonstrators (as the Cleveland Indians sicced gnats on the Yankee's Joba Chamberlain in a crucial recent playoff game). And some experts agree with Vice Admiral Joe Dyer, former head of the Naval Air Systems Command, who claims: "I'll be seriously dead before that program deploys,"
Whatever the truth of the hovering "dragonflies," planning for new weaponry and supportive technologies no less strange, no less futuristic, no less implausible (if it weren't actually happening) is indeed underway -- and the number of Americans who know anything about it, or the uses to which such new militarized technology is likely to be put, runs to the vanishing point. The other week Tomdispatch.com's Pentagon correspondent, Nick Turse--whose new book, The Complex, on the military-industrial-academic-entertainment-everything complex, will be out in the spring--spent time behind the closed doors of a Pentagon-approved conference that had in mind nothing less than planning weaponry, strategy, and policy for the next hundred years--yours, mine, and our children's.
For two days, he hobnobbed with key players and planners in "Urban Operations," or more familiarly UO, as well as Pentagon power-brokers, active duty and retired US military personnel, foreign coalition partners, representatives of big and small defense contractors, and academics who support their work, all gathered at the "Joint Urban Operations, 2007" conference to discuss weaponry so futuristic that you last encountered it in science fiction films.
While noshing on burnt eggrolls and chocolate-chip cookies, these Pentagon-supported planners are also considering hand-launched tiny spy drones, "sense through walls" technology, weaponry so "precise" that it can take a floor out of a building, leaving the floors above and below largely intact, and the far reaches of "non-lethal weaponry." For these men, the fighting in Baghdad today is the future of American warfare in the burgeoning slum cities of the developing world over the next century.
As Turse concludes in his piece "The Pentagon's 100-Year War": "With their surprisingly bloodless language, antiseptic PowerPoint presentations, and calm tones, these men are planning Iraq-style wars of tomorrow. What makes this chilling is not only that they envision a future of endless urban warfare, but that they have the power to drive such a war-fighting doctrine into that future; that they have the power to mold strategy and advance weaponry that can, in the end, lock Americans into policies that are unlikely to make it beyond these conference-room doors, no less into public debate, before they are unleashed."
So buckle your seat belt, prepare for G-force, and blast off into a future only a military planner could possibly love.
For years, the rightwing has used divisive anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-fear-of-the-day ballot initiatives to boost voter turnout on Election Day and squeak out wins over Democratic candidates. But now Ballotground.org, a grassroots group that kicked off a couple weeks ago, is taking a page from that playbook – minus the divisive ugliness – and working to place antiwar ballot initiatives in the battleground states of Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona and Oregon.
"The right has been using turnout initiatives for years," Executive Director Dylan Loewe told me. "This is the left's response. We're going to work with the states to craft language that captures what more than two-thirds of the country already believes – that it's time to bring our troops home as quickly and safely as possible."
Loewe was pursuing law and public policy degrees at Columbia Law School and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government when he came up with the "vague idea" that led to Ballotground.
"Like most Americans, I'd grown increasingly frustrated with the direction of the war and the impotence of Congress to change it," Loewe said. "I felt like we had to take the issue out of DC, into the states and to the people. People have a right – at the ballot box, on election day – to express that in a democracy our opinion is not irrelevant and that it's time to bring the troops home."
Loewe took a leave of absence from grad school and reached out to an experienced team of colleagues. Together, they looked at the 24 states that have a ballot initiative process and narrowed it down to states that either were battlegrounds in 2004 or could be in 2008. Of the five selected, Arizona is the only one that was decided by more than five percentage points in the 2004 presidential election, and it had been considered "in play" until the final weeks when the Kerry campaign made a controversial decision to pull out. Ballotground is now working closely with civic leaders, state elected officials, antiwar organizations, and the citizens of the targeted states to determine the ballot language and build coalitions.
"Our goal is to literally make the 2008 election a referendum on the war," Loewe said. "These ballot initiatives will boost antiwar turnout, and the greater turnout, the greater the antiwar mandate for the new Congress and president. To end this war, we need a change in the White House and a clear mandate for the new president."
Ballotground will be on the ground in each of the five states sometime between December and March, depending on the states' initiative deadlines. The organization will then spend 30 to 45 days training volunteers, and 100 to 120 days gathering signatures to get on the ballot. It hopes to raise a budget of $6.2 million – about half of which would be used to qualify for the ballot and build a database of antiwar voters, with the remainder going towards voter turnout.
Loewe also hopes in the coming months that Ballotground's success at the grassroots will translate to increasing pressure on the current Congress as 2008 shapes up as a direct referendum on the war.
"I think 2006 definitely showed us that an implied mandate is insufficient," Loewe said. "But more importantly, when it comes to military policy, if you're not sending a mandate directly to the Commander in Chief, you end up with an uphill climb."
George Bush won by a margin of just seventeen electoral votes in 2004. If Ballotground is successful in its effort, citizens will be in a better place to hold the new Commander in Chief accountable.