I get fundraising solicitations all the time. At work. At home. In the mail. In my in-box. Over the phone. Sometimes over the fax.
I even got a letter from Vice President Dick Cheney subtly suggesting that, for a thousand bucks, I could be a "neighborhood leader." Wonder what my neighbors would say? (He actually started the letter by saying that I must have forgotten to answer the previous letter I got from the President. Sorry, Dick, I was busy writing my weblog exposing your Administration's numerous assaults on women.)
I get these invitations because I give once in awhile. There's no other choice right now--the polluters give, so do the HMOs and pharmaceutical giants, and the K Street crowd. If a progressive stands a chance, he or she's got to have some money. (There's little chance we can compete with corporate wealth, but that doesn't mean we should hamstring good people who are running.) But we shouldn't kid ourselves. If all we do is try to keep up in the money chase we'll never get anywhere. Money-intensive politics in a country where wealth is so unequally distributed will forever tilt against the majority.
That's why we need a comprehensive break from the campaign finance status quo. We need to give candidates who can demonstrate public support an alternative way to run for office without having to rely on deep-pocketed donors. The full public financing systems in place in Maine and Arizona lend hope. (Click here for info on how these systems work.)
Obviously, the partial public financing system, put in place for the primaries a generation ago to prevent the buying of the presidency, is no longer serving its purpose. President Bush has opted again to circumvent its spending limits by foregoing matching funds, and instead turning to corporate America to pay for his re-election.
If you doubt the detrimental effects of putting the White House up for sale, go to Public Citizen's new website . Or, for fun, check out Public Campaign's GeorgeWBuy.com. Bush is on track to raise $200 million or more, double his take from four years ago. If the last few years are any guide, he's going to be delivering even more policy paybacks to all his big donors should he win re-election.
So what is to be done? It's not enough to get in the trenches for whatever Democratic candidate you think has the best shot at beating Bush. We've got to also make sure that by the time 2008 rolls around, the whole presidential campaign finance system is on a far fairer footing.
That means full public funding for candidates once they gather a large number of relatively small contributions--not a never-ending money chase where our clean public dollars are used to match contributions from private givers. And it means making more public money available--say $75 million for the primaries--and giving some of it out earlier and getting rid of the state-by-state spending limits, which everyone evades anyway, and instead distributing the public funds in timed chunks, to force the candidates to spread their spending across the primary calendar. It also means, as is the case in Maine and Arizona, making additional funds available to match big-spending privately financed candidates, since there is no Constitutional right to drown out your opponent with your wallet.
Signing the "Lincoln Call: A Presidency Of, By, and For the People" issued last week by Public Campaign and Public Campaign Action Fund is a step in the right direction. Thousands already have signed on. I have.
The Lincoln Call lays out a vision ("We cannot preach democracy to the world when the leaders of our country are forced to sell access and influence to the highest bidder."). It sets the bar high for any presidential candidate considering his or her own campaign finance reform proposal precisely because it doesn't ask, "What is possible in Washington today?" Rather, the Lincoln Call forces the question, "How do we measure our progress against the ideals of democracy, against the principle of one person, one vote?"
Click here to take the first step. Then get involved. Bird-dog the candidates. Write letters to the editor. Call your local talk-radio host. Make sure they have a good answer to the present campaign finance mess. And keep your eyes on the prize.
Why do people consistently vote against their self-interest? Consider Alabama, where low-income people, who hardly benefit from tax cuts that jeopardize government services, recently voted down a referendum that tried to shift the burden from overtaxed working people to under-taxed business interests.
Alabama's citizens, as a New York Times editorial comment pointed out, voted "for fewer social services, less education, and a shoddier legal system--to become, that is, more like a third-world nation." Through a decision made by its own residents, Alabama is now entrenched at the bottom of the national rankings in government services.
The national landscape isn't much brighter. Is there some plausible explanation for why Americans support spending more on government programs like education and healthcare, express disappointment that the gap between rich and poor has widened, but then give their support to Bush's tax cuts, which disproportionately benefit the super-rich?
Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels' recent report, Homer Gets a Tax Cut: Inequality and Public Policy in the American Mind, offers some answers. As he points out, there is "a good deal of ignorance and uncertainty about the workings of the tax system" and a failure to connect tax cuts to rising inequality, the future tax burden or the availability of public services. The report also reveals how people are bamboozled by political spin and poor factual information offered up by our infotainment-ized media. (For more on the report, see Alan Krueger's Economic Scene," New York Times Business section, October 15).
I think that one reason why people vote against their self-interest is distrust of government. Alabama's low taxes and limited services are, in fact, legacies of this distrust-- fed equally by big business, fake-populists like the late Governor George Wallace and, now, a growing Republican majority.
Indeed, in interviews around the state on the eve of the referendum, voter disgust toward state government was palpable, with most people saying they did not trust legislators to spend taxpayers' money. These fears are fanned by rightwing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, which have worked assiduously to denigrate government. As anti-government ideologues like Grover Norquist see it, lowering taxes and downsizing government are the way to destroy the social safety net. (Norquist, after all, promotes the idea that government should be shrunk to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub.) Then there are the consequences of signals people receive from politicians who have made an art of lowering expectations of what government can do even faster than they disappoint them.
Progressives have to take into account the historic libertarian, even anti-government, impulses of most Americans, and accept the role of market forces in many social solutions, but we must also challenge the widespread belief that because government has sometimes performed poorly in recent years, it cannot perform at all.
What's heartening is that even after decades of rightwing government bashing, a progressive domestic agenda is in fact quite popular with voters, as we know from polls and surveys. The problem is that Democrats have not coherently or consistently articulated that agenda, while the Republicans have hammered away with a disciplined message about the phony dangers of "big government." (Matt Miller effectively skewers this message in his valuable new book The Two Percent Solution:Fixing America's Problems in Ways that Liberals and Conservatives Can Love.) And a Murdochized, conglomeratized media too often peddles spin --not factual information that might contribute to citizens acting in their self-interest.
Progressives could begin by articulating a coherent, alternative vision of the purpose and meaning of government. Opposition to the tax cuts is all very good, but for what purpose, to do what?
Let's invoke President Lincoln's injunction that government exists to do what individuals cannot do for themselves. Let's challenge the view that we, as a society, cannot do things together and put forward new and compelling ideas about the role of government and how it can improve our lives. Let's reclaim the ability to articulate why government is a social good, that investments in schools, infrastructure, health care and social services are worth making and that everyone should pay their fair share. And to the wealthy who aren't paying their fair share--ask yourself if you aren't better off being prosperous and paying taxes than going down in the first-class cabins of a sinking ship.
State Senator and Deputy Minority Leader Eric Schneiderman is a politician New York Republicans love to hate. As the New York Observer put it: "Mr. Schneiderman's scrappy refusal to observe the traditions of Albany politics may earn him some short-term pain, but it also indicates the gritty stuff out of which New Yorkers mold their favorite politicians."
As one of the state's most important progressive voices on issues of social and economic justice, Schneiderman has led the successful effort to force the Senate to pass major gun control legislation and is a leading advocate for stronger environmental protections, increased funding for our city's schools and mass transit, and the reform of the draconian Rockefeller drug laws. He was also the lead attorney in litigation against the MTA to roll back the fare hike. Most recently, Schneiderman has been one of the most active opponents of the proposed charter revision to eliminate party primaries.
The Op-Ed below is adapted from a longer paper--compiling fifty years of scholarly political science research--showing starkly that "non-partisan" elections favor the elite, the wealthy and the Republican party.
"Nonpartisan" Elections Favor the Wealthy by Eric Schneiderman
The most remarkable thing about the current debate over the proposed Charter Amendment to end party primaries and replace them with "nonpartisan" elections is the fact that the Mayor's Charter Revision Commission has been able to cover up fifty years of academic research showing that such elections favor the elite, the wealthy and the Republican Party.
While the Mayor's Commission has asserted that the academic literature is inconclusive, the overwhelming body of scholarly evidence is to the contrary. In a 1988 publication, Professors Chandler Davidson and Luis Ricardo Fraga summed it up as follows:
"Scholars are virtually unanimous that nonpartisan systems in general disadvantage the poor, the working classes, liberal voters and Democrats. "
In fact, scholars routinely use the term "Republican Advantage" or "Republican Bias" in discussions of the effect of a nonpartisan system. In 1991, Professor Edward Lascher of Harvard University wrote an article titled The Case of the Missing Democrats: Reexamining the 'Republican Advantage' in Nonpartisan Elections, which concluded: "These results dramatically underscore the Republican advantage [in nonpartisan elections] except at very high levels of Democratic voter registration.
The Commission managed to conceal the true record on nonpartisan elections in their report with the crudest kinds of distortions-quoting selectively, presenting quotes out of context, and in one case literally deleting the second half of a sentence they purport to quote because it squarely contradicts the argument they are making.
To attempt to rebut the overwhelming evidence of a Republican advantage in nonpartisan elections, the report relies heavily on only two articles, including a 1986 article by Susan Welch and Timothy Bledsoe. The commission quotes the authors stating that the Republican bias only "surfaced in smaller cities, in those of moderate income and in those with at-large elections."
The obvious inference is that New York does not fit this model. However, the Commission leaves out the very next line after the quoted sentence, which reads that a Republican bias "appears in cities dominated by Democrats but not in competitive or Republican ones." Clearly such a bias towards Republicans would occur in New York City.
Incredibly, the Commission's abuse of the Welch and Bledsoe study pales in comparison to its misrepresentations of Professor Carol A. Cassel's 1986 article, which is cited repeatedly and is the principle source offered to rebut decades of literature establishing that nonpartisan elections favor the wealthy, the elite and Republicans.
The Commission conveniently omits the following statements from Professor Cassel's article:
"It does appear that Republicans, members of the business community, and professionals are elected more frequently in nonpartisan than in partisan systems."
"Partisan elections do appear to provide better access to local office to persons who are not community elites."
The only other significant study cited in the Commission's report is a 1962 paper by Professor Charles Gilbert. Once again, the Commission misrepresents Gilbert's findings. They quote him as stating: "Republicans have been elected in nonpartisan cities only in circumstances in which they might equally have been elected in partisan elections…" In fact, Gilbert's statement goes on to say "or in situations in which their 'Republicanism' was not apparent and in which, therefore, few partisan benefits could accrue." The Commission's proposal would allow Republicans to run without identifying their party affiliation. Clearly, that would constitute a situation in which "their Republicanism was not apparent." It is hard to conceive of a cruder form of deception than cutting off the end of a sentence to change its meaning.
There is no need for New York City to rush into a vote on a Charter reform that will not take effect until 2009 without a full investigation of the research into these issues. We could also use an investigation into the crude misrepresentations in the Commission's report.
Virtually ignored amid boosterish reports of the $13 billion in pledges and grants for Iraq secured by the US at the Madrid conference were the consequences for other impoverished regions. Development officials say that the sums cited by the World Bank and the US as necessary to meet Iraq's needs over four or five years (between $33 and 55 billion) dwarf what other poor, war-torn countries have received in the modern history of aid projects. It could also mean that what aid there is for these countries would effectively dry up.
As economist Jeffrey Sachs recently pointed out, it's crucial that the world development agenda be set by the world, not by the US alone. The Bush Administration obsessively views "every problem through the lens of terror and accordingly considers itself excused from the struggle against poverty, environmental degradation and disease."
As Sachs rightly argues, "The irony is that without solutions to these problems, terrorism is bound to worsen, no matter how many soldiers are thrown at it." More alarming, Sachs continues, "at the same time, the US is starving international initiatives in disease control, development assistance and environmental improvement."
If Iraq, according to World Bank and IMF estimates, needs $55 billion over the next four years for reconstruction, "what do the poorest countries need to keep their people alive and get a foot on to the ladder of economic development?" Sachs asks. "The US champions Iraq's needs while suppressing an honest evaluation of the needs of…dozens of other countries that are in desperate straits."
While making the war on terror the master narrative of its international agenda, the US has allowed other global problems to fester. But it's a crucial moment to make the case that the war on terrorism is only one of many wars and that the battles against AIDS, infant mortality, TB and Malaria and environmental degradation demand as much of the world's attention.
As the Bush White House juggles two political grenades--the Wilson leak and the MIA WMDs--there are two questions: can Bush and his gang prevent detonations, and can the Democrats make it difficult for Bush to defuse these controversies and escape without offering full explanations?
Within the political-media community of Washington, a consensus is emerging: the Wilson leak story has lost steam. That's to be expected. The burst of attention that occurred several weeks ago followed the surprising disclosure that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak in a July 14 Robert Novak column that identified the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson as a CIA operative working in the field of weapons counterproliferation. Wilson had criticized the Bush administration's Iraq policy--particularly its use of the allegation that Iraq had been uranium shopping in Iraq--and the leak, attributed by Novak to two "senior administration officials," appeared to have been meant to punish or discredit Wilson. It may have violated a federal law against naming covert government officers.
Once the initial shock passed--the CIA and the White House in a catfight!--the story shifted to a process matter: the conduct of the investigation. A dozen or so FBI agents are gumshoeing away, examining documents, holding interviews. This is not the traditional stuff of front-page headlines. The investigation has become a part of the routine agenda of Washington. As such, it is no longer fodder for the talking-head echo chamber of the cable news networks. And the White House has done a good job of turning down the volume. There have been no articles about Bush aides hiring lawyers. (I've asked around and so far have only heard that Novak has retained an attorney.) And there have been no stories about worry or paranoia at the White House.
Several Washington reporters to whom I have spoken recently have asked, what can the Democrats do to keep the Wilson leak story alive? This sort of question--common in the capital--is a reflection of the structural bias of the press corps. It is easy for reporters to cover an issue if the Ds and the Rs are tussling over it. But if there is no conflict or no holy-shit new developments, reporters move on. So the responsibility for keeping a story oxygenated often falls to the political opposition, not the media.
The Democrats are trying in the Wilson affair. Senator Chuck Schumer has been criticizing the Justice Department investigation--particularly the investigators' decisions to grant the White House a 12-hour delay before White House officials had to turn over requested documents. And on October 24, other Democratic senators held a faux hearing in a room in the Capitol. At this event, Senator Tom Daschle, the minority leader, and several of his Democratic colleagues questioned three former CIA officials about the Wilson business. It was a panel discussion set up to look like a hearing. "Testifying" before the senators were Vincent Cannistraro, a onetime senior official at the CIA Counterterrorism Center, Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst who went through training with Valerie Wilson (nee Plame), and James Marcinkowski, a former CIA clandestine officer.
The remarks from the panelists were sharp and passionate. They each decried the leak, criticized Bush's lackadaisical response to it, and blasted the Bush allies who have downplayed the significance of the leak and politicized the issue by attacking Joseph Wilson. The three men demolished much of the spin that has been coming from Republican circles. "Anyone who would care to try to portray this action as merely negligent, as opposed to deliberate, should also be prepared to explain how anyone so completely inept as to divulge this information by accident ever became a ‘senior official' in any organization, let alone an organization running the country," Marcinkowski remarked in his prepared statement. "What sickens me," said Johnson, "is the partisan nature that the White House has allowed [the leak controversy] to take on." Johnson noted that he had written his remarks with two other CIA veterans who had trained with Valerie Wilson--Michael Grimaldi and Brent Cavan--and that he and his co-authors were Republicans who had voted for Bush and contributed money to his presidential campaign.
Cannistraro told the senators he had heard from current CIA officials that before the war there was "a pattern of pressure" from the Bush White House aimed at pressing the CIA to produce intelligence that backed the case for invading Iraq. He pointed to visits to CIA headquarters made by Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff Lewis Libby, who met with "desk-level" analysts. The analysts, Cannistraro said, maintained there was no intelligence to support the allegation that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium in Africa, and Cheney responded by telling them they were not looking hard enough. "This is the first time in 27 years I have ever heard of a vice president sitting down with desk analysts and…pushing them to find support for something he believes," Cannistraro said. "That is pressure."
The session drew only a modest amount of reporters; C-SPAN broadcast it live. Daschle and his comrades fully expressed their outrage over the leak and its possible harm to national security, and they voiced concern that the Bush administration had attempted to muscle CIA analysts. But they failed to drive home the point that they had organized this event because Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee, had refused to hold a real hearing along these lines.
This panel discussion was an attempt to sustain the Wilson leak story. But the Democrats committed a strategic blunder by failing to use the opportunity to present a wider definition of the leak scandal and by not insisting that a congressional inquiry supplement the ongoing criminal investigation.
The Justice Department probe is focused on a narrow question: did anyone break a law in leaking Valerie Wilson's name and occupation to Novak? Leak investigations are notoriously difficult and often wind up a bust. And due to the intricacies of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, the leakers in this case, if they are tracked down by the feds, may be able to slip through the net. There are certainly leads for the investigators to follow. (A CIA officer now assigned to the National Security Council previously worked at the CIA with Valerie Wilson. Did he or she mention Valerie Wilson's CIA connection to others in the White House?) Still, even an on-the-level Justice Department investigation might not conclude with a prosecutable case. If that happens, there would be no further official activity and whatever information the Justice Department obtained could well remain secret. The findings of criminal investigations are supposed to stay confidential if no prosecution ensues. The Justice Department would not be compelled to produce a public report fingering suspected leakers or examining what the White House did or did not do in response to the leak.
But the original leak is not the only aspect of the controversy that deserves scrutiny. Nor is it the only potential vulnerability for the White House. There is evidence the White House sought to exploit the leak after it occurred. The official White House line, as served up by press secretary Scott McClellan, is that Bush and his aides did not respond to the leak because it was attributed to anonymous sources and the White House does not chase after anonymous leaks. The White House in the past has indeed reacted to anonymous leaks. But more importantly, the available information strongly indicates that once the leak happened White House officials, rather than ignoring it, sought to take advantage of it by calling other reporters and encouraging them to report further on Valerie Wilson. This was probably not illegal. But it was wrong and ugly. And the public ought to know if the Bush White House, instead of seeking the source of a possibly illegal leak that undermined national security, tried to benefit politically from it.
The post-Novak column activity--call it Phase II-- could involve more (and more senior) White House officials than the original leak. A Newsweek report suggested that White House aide Karl Rove might have participated in--or condoned--a post-leak campaign. And McClellan has tried hard to not answer questions about this part of the Wilson-leak affair.
Yet Phase II is not the main subject of the criminal inquiry underway. And that investigation is not geared toward uncovering what happened after the leak. This is more a matter for a congressional probe. But--no surprise--none has materialized, and the Democrats have not made a major push for such an investigation. This is a mistake on their part. Should the Justice Department investigation finish with no prosecutions, where will the Democrats be? At that point, they can try to revive their call for a special counsel. But that will look like desperation. And if they then start to holler about Phase II, they will be open to the charge they are beating a dead horse to make political hay.
In order to serve their political interests--as well as the public interest--the Democrats should now be demanding an investigation that covers Phase II. Such a probe could be conducted by either the congressional intelligence committees or the government affairs committees. With the Republicans in charge, the prospects for a bipartisan investigation are nil. But Democrats could lay down a marker and at least try to expand the boundaries of the Wilson-leak scandal. In the Senate intelligence committee, Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat, does have the ability to initiate an inquiry if he can gather five signatures on a request. There are eight Democrats on the committee.
Rockefeller, though, has yet to show any interest in such an investigation. After the panel discussion with the three CIA alumni, I asked him whether the intelligence committee should examine Phase II of the Wilson leak. "How long do you want to do these things?" he replied. "We'd be here for three years." The Democrats clearly believe the Wilson-leak scandal can hurt Bush. But if they are relying on Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department to score political points for them, they may end up disappointed.
The Democrats have also been slow to react fully to the recent news that Senate intelligence committee, at the direction of Roberts, is preparing a blistering report on the prewar intelligence that will conclude, according to Roberts, that the intelligence on Iraq was "sloppy" and inconclusive. Roberts is arriving late to this conclusion. Others who have found that the prewar intelligence was full of uncertainty include David Kay, the chief weapons hunter; Porter Goss, the GOP chairman of the House intelligence committee; and Richard Kerr, a former deputy CIA chief who has been reviewing the prewar intelligence for the CIA.
The news story about Roberts' report--which he attempted to quasi-deny later--did prompt a dust-up between Rockefeller and Roberts. Rockefeller accused Roberts of rushing out a report that would protect the Bush administration by blaming the CIA for bad intelligence on Iraq's yet-to-be-found weapons of mass destruction. He noted that Roberts had blocked an inquiry into how Bush and his aides had used the prewar intelligence.
Had Bush misrepresented the intelligence? That has not been part of the committee investigation Roberts has been overseeing. And Rockefeller has threatened to use the five-member rule to order such a probe. He also complained that whenever CIA analysts were interviewed by the intelligence committee, representatives of the CIA's general counsel office or legislative affairs office sat in on the sessions. Under such conditions, these analysts probably would be less likely to reveal whether they had been pressured by the White House.
But Rockefeller is not known as a streetfighter. As The Washington Post noted, he "is under considerable pressure from the Senate Democratic leadership not to allow Roberts to focus only on intelligence bureaucrats while avoiding questions about whether Bush…and others exaggerated the threat from Iraq." He has to be pressed to do this? Rockefeller did strike a firm stance--at least in front of reporters--on forcing Roberts to widen the intelligence committee's inquiry to cover Bush's use of the intelligence. But he and other Democrats did not make the most of the revelations about the Senate intelligence committee's report.
If the prewar intelligence on Iraq's WMDs and the supposed connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda was shoddy, there are two options. Either the CIA misled Bush, or Bush misled the nation. Bush and his aides told the public that there was no doubt that Iraq possessed significant amounts of biological and chemical weapons, and Bush claimed that Hussein was "dealing" with al Qaeda and at any moment could slip his WMDs to Osama bin Laden's murderous schemers. Was that what the intelligence definitively said or not? If Bush based his prewar assertions on intelligence that he assumed to be solid but that actually was sloppy, he should be damn mad and sending heads rolling at the CIA, including that of CIA chief George Tenet. If Bush misrepresented less-than-definitive intelligence to make the case for war appear stronger, then he should be apologizing to the nation. So Democrats ought to be asking,, was Bush ill-served by the CIA, or did he misuse its intelligence? Bush should either be beheading folks at Langley or acknowledging fault. But he is doing neither, and Democrats should be vigorously calling attention to that.
With the Wilson leak--Phase I and Phase II--and the increasing number of reports noting that the prewar intelligence was loaded with uncertainties, there are plenty of questions that Bush ought to answer. The Democrats need to pose them.
JUST RELEASED AND A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER: David Corn's new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.
From the valuable listserv, " Democracy Dispatches," a project of Demos--the New York City-based Public Policy and Advocacy organization, which tracks and analyzes democracy issues in the states, comes news of a novel way to boost voter turnout.
The " Voter Reward" initiative in Arizona is designed to motivate people to vote by entering those who have cast ballots into a random drawing with a $1 million jackpot. (Before implementing the program, it would be necessary to change the Arizona law, which currently makes it illegal to pay people to get them to vote.)
Mark Osterloh, who helped pass the Arizona Clean Elections statute, is also the mastermind behind this idea. "Opponents will say we are bribing people to vote," he says. "We are not. What we are doing is rewarding behavior we want to encourage. The 'Voter Reward' program is not bribery; it is capitalism at its best." What's next? A recording contract and chance to sing on TV in return for pulling the lever?
What with Bush and his cronies on the road to raking in an unprecedented $200 million this campaign season, I admit it's hard to focus on small ticket outrages. But it's still worth looking at what's going on in South Carolina, where the state Democratic Party is considering allowing corporations to sponsor its next presidential primary.
It turns out that South Carolina is one of only two states that require the state parties to pay for the primaries, rather than picking up the tab itself. And, according to Democratic chief Joe Erwin, raising the estimated $500,000 in a soft economy has been tough. So, Erwin--a Greenville advertising executive--got the idea of soliciting corporate sponsorships, which he describes as a creative takeoff on the way ballparks sell ads on scoreboards or colleges name buildings after companies.
So, corporations could sponsor get-out-the-vote ads or signs outside polling places. According to the Charlotte Observer, the party originally considered allowing corporate sponsors to put their names on the ballot, but Erwin ruled that out. "It just didn't pass the common-sense test," he said.
Paul Sanford, counsel for the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, said selling space on election materials is probably legal, though he's troubled by the possibility. "I don't really think it's a good thing to commercialize the voting process." As David Donnelly of Campaign Money Watch, adds: "Imagine if South Carolina had the ballot initiative process and there was a health care question before voters, and HMOs and pharmaceutical companies contributed big money to pay for the election, and then they sponsored get-out-the vote campaigns or ran ads at polling places?"
Democracy belongs to all of us. But, with so many public services being privatized--from education and sanitation pick-ups to incarceration and mass transportation, are privatized elections next? Without real reform, it's not hard to imagine that in the not-too-distant future we'll walk into our polling places to find ballots "Brought to you by Wal-Mart".
Can America Afford The Price Of Democracy?
Here's another under-reported story about money and politics. It turns out that the budget crisis has led some states to decide democracy is too expensive to maintain. Citing budget pressures, three states have cancelled their 2004 presidential primaries.
In Colorado, Governor Bill Owens (R) cancelled the primary on March 5th, saving the state $2.2 million. The Republican-controlled Utah legislature followed suit, cancelling the 2004 primary--a measure supported by their Republican Governor. And in Kansas, Democratic Governor Kathleen Sebelius cancelled her state's 2004 primary, saving approximately $1.75 million next year. But critics have pointed out that partisan politics also contributed to these measures because cancellations prevent the field of Democratic candidates from getting much public attention.
As Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (D) said in vetoing Republican-sponsored legislation to cancel the primary in her state, "Arizona can well afford the price of democracy."
Thanks to USA Today, the public now knows some of what Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld really thinks of the war of terrorism. And thanks to Rumsfeld, the public knows that Bush is spinning when he discusses the war on terrorism.
The newspaper obtained an October 16, 2003, memo Rumsfeld wrote to four senior aides, in which he asked, "Are we winning or losing the Global War on Terror?" Rumsfeld also noted, "We are having mixed results with Al Qaida." The much-discussed memo was clearly intended to goose his top people--General Richard Myers, General Peter Pace, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith--to think boldly and imaginatively about the war at hand. But Rumsfeld observed, "Today, we lack the metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror." He wondered whether more terrorists are being produced on a daily basis than the number of terrorists being captured, killed, deterred or dissuaded by U.S. actions.
If Rumsfeld says there is no way to measure success or defeat in the campaign against terrorism, how can George W. Bush declare that he is winning the war? Yet while speaking on September 12 at Fort Stewart in Georgia, before soldiers and families of the Third Infantry Division, Bush said, "We're rolling back the terrorist threat, not on the fringes of its influence but at the heart of its power."
As Rumsfeld might put it, according to what metrics, Mr. President?
But the Rumsfeld memo is significant beyond its inadvertent truth-telling. Bush has repeatedly said that Iraq is "the central front" in the war on terrorism. Yet Rumsfeld's memo barely mentioned Iraq. Instead, Rumsfeld focused on combating terrorism at its roots, and he asked his aides to bring him ideas to counter the radical Islamic schools--the madrassas--that instruct students to hate the West. As he noted, "Does the U.S. need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists?" And he asked, "Should we create a private foundation to entice radical madrassas to a more moderate course?"
With these comments, Rumsfeld veered dangerously close to becoming one of those root-cause-symps who routinely are derided by hawks for arguing that the United States and other nations need to address the forces that fuel anti-Americanism overseas--in the Muslim world and elsewhere. The public disclosure of these views also made Rumsfeld's refusal to criticize Lt. General William Boykin appear all the more curious.
Boykin, the newly appointed deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, was recently caught by NBC News and The Los Angeles Times making comments that indicate he believes that Islam is a false religion--he called Allah "an idol"--and that he sees the war on terrorism as a spiritual conflict between "a Christian nation" and heathens.
In various press briefings, Rumsfeld has dodged addressing Boykin's remarks. At one point Rumsfeld said he had tried to watch a videotape of one of Boykin's church speeches, but he was unable to make out the words. (Boykin made most of his controversial statements from various church pulpits.) Wait a minute. The Pentagon can analyze communications intercepts and satellite imagery, but it cannot provide the defense secretary a clear rendition of a broadcast videotape?
Social conservatives have predictably rallied behind Boykin, trotting out the to-be-expected argument that the poor general is being assailed for his religious views. Now what if he had said something like, "According to my religious views, Judaism is a false religion"? Or, "my religion teaches that black people are inferior to white people"? Would Rumsfeld and Boykin's defenders have been as temperate in their response?
Writing in The Washington Times, conservative commentator Tony Blankley noted, "Whether or not American officials chose to call this a religious war, it is unambiguously clear that our enemy, bin Laden and the other terrorists, are motivated by Islamic religious fanaticism.....It shouldn't be a firing offense for the occasional American general to return the compliment." In other words, in this war (religious or not), the United States is entitled to be as extremist and intolerant as its murderous foes. Blankley fondly recounted that when Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met on a cruiser off the coast of Newfoundland on August 9, 1941, they sang "Onward, Christian Soldiers" with the assembled sailors. Does he suggest that Boykin lead the Pentagon masses in singing that same number? Perhaps Bush and Rumsfeld can provide back-up vocals.
Boykin's prominent role in the administration's war on terrorism is certainly an impediment to any effort to encourage fundamentalist Islamic institutions to become more moderate. Rumsfeld ended his memo with a wide-open question: "What else should we be considering?" Here's a no-brainer: how about not appointing a Christian jihadist to be one of the leaders of an endeavor that aims to persuade Islamicists that the West is not so bad? Or is that too far outside the box?
JUST RELEASED AND A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER: David Corn's new book, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.
The Senate voted Tuesday to ban so-called "partial-birth" abortions, marking the end of eight years of legislative skirmishes and the beginning of a major court battle, which could begin even before President Bush signs the bill into law, which he's said he'll do.
This will become the first federal ban on a specific abortion method since a woman's constitutional right to have an abortion was established by the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
As Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel writes in her weblog, this bill is just the latest in a series of increasingly aggressive assaults on women that Bush and his Administration have been launching since he took office. As abortion-rights activists like NARAL's Kate Michelman are pointing out, no one should be fooled as to the real intentions of this bill's sponsors: they want to take away a woman's right to choose.
Fortunately, there are numerous groups mobilizing in opposition: The Feminist Campus Network is planning protests and lobbying campaigns and is helping with what organizers hope will be a good, old-fashioned, massive march on Washington on April 25. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, headquartered in Washington, DC, works with twenty-two affiliates in states nationwide to conduct educational, lobbying and media efforts. NARAL and Planned Parenthood are both in the trenches slugging it out with the Bush appointees looking to choke off funding for virtually all social programs. The Abortion Access Project is increasing abortion services by training new abortion providers. And the California Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League is promoting good tips on combating the radical right's toxic effect on public policy.
Now, Bush has vowed to sign into law legislation passed yesterday by the Senate that would ban so-called "partial-birth" abortions. As NARAL President Kate Michelman said, "The Senate took its final step toward substituting politicians' judgement for that of a woman, her family, and her doctor...No one should be fooled as to the real intentions of this Bill's sponsors; they want to take away entirely the right to personal privacy and a woman's right to choose."
With Bush in the White House, women's right to choose is in greater danger now than it has been at any time since the Supreme Court issued the Roe V. Wade decision thirty years ago. It is truly, as Senator Barbara Boxer said after passage of the ban, a "very sad day for the women of America." This latest assault on women's reproductive rights is part of a larger war--waged by the Republican Party with Bush as its general.
Click here for a top-ten list of Bush Assaults on Women and Families. And thanks to the many readers who have sent me their own contributions to this list, which I'll be publishing in the coming weeks. (Click here to share your thoughts with me. I'll keep a running tally of Bush assaults as we head into 2004.)