Want to know where to find weapons of mass destruction? Last weekend, the New York Times buried an article on how authorities in Thailand had seized as much as sixty-six pounds of Cesium-137, a radioactive material which could be used to make "dirty" bombs.
Experts said they were startled by the amount found. "Pounds? Most studies of 'dirty' bombs start off by describing weapons with an ounce of Cesium," said Joseph Cirincione, director of the non-proliferation project at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. "Cesium-137 is serious stuff, highly radioactive. You put it alongside ten pounds or more of dynamite, and you've got a really dangerous terror weapon."
Non-proliferation experts said they wouldn't be surprised if the Cesium came from the former Soviet Union--the source of much of the radioactive material seized on the black market in recent years. Just three days later, the New York Times' World Briefing section ran a tiny item noting that police in Tbilisi, Georgia had just discovered 170 pounds of Cesium-137, along with strontium 90 in a taxi.
WMD in a taxicab in downtown Tbilisi? WMD in a metal box in Bangkok? Isn't it time for a performance review of the job the Bush Administration is doing to ensure America's national security? In the postwar chaos, Iraq's nuclear sites have been looted, radioactive materials can't be accounted for and there's no sign ofany weapons of mass destruction. (And even if they are found, it's clear that they never posed an imminent and grave threat.)
It's no wonder former national security official and Special Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism Rand Beers, who resigned eight week ago, blasted the Administration's agenda as the reason for his departure: "They're making us less secure, not more secure."
With each passing day, the White House's priorities seem scandalously skewed. Just consider: The Bush team will spend close to $100 billion on war with Iraq, while they disastrously underfund vital programs to safeguard, destroy or neutralize Russia's vast and poorly-secured nuclear, chemical and biological stockpile. (Current funding for these nonproliferation programs is around $1 billion a year--less than 1/400th of the current Pentagon budget.)
You think I'm hyping the problem. Listen to former Department of Energy official Jon Wolfstahl's warning to Congress last May: "It is impossible to overstate the dangers posed by the continued lack of security over the weapons complex of the former Soviet Union. Each day, hundreds of tons of material and an unknown number of nuclear weapons--capable of killing millions of American citizens--are at risk of theft or diversion."
After reaching the same conclusion, a bipartisan task force headed by former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker and former White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler called on the US to commit to a $3 billion per year, ten-year plan to secure or destroy Russia's nuclear stockpile. But, as Wolfstahl says, the Administration continues to "spend a lot more time talking about 'evildoers' than spending time securing radioactive materials that could actually hurt Americans."
The FCC's 3-2 vote on June 2 to relax the few regulations concerning media ownership rules still on the books represented an unprecedented give-away to the corporate media and a striking dismissal of the public will.
The consequent popular outrage sparked a bipartisan backlash with Republicans like Trent Lott, Ted Stevens and Kay Bailey Hutchison joining Dems led by Byron Dorgan and Ernest Hollings in demanding that Congress restore a semblance of sanity and competition to the media marketplace.
"The effect of the media's march to amalgamation on Americans' freedom of voice is too worrisome to be left to three unelected commissioners," William Safire wrote yesterday in the New York Times. "The far-reaching political decision should be made by Congress and the White House, after extensive hearings and fair coverage by too-shy broadcasters, no-local-news cable networks and conflicted newspapers."
This Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee will vote on whether to send Stevens' proposed bill S1046--which would rescind important parts of the FCC's corporate giveaway--to Congress for a vote.
Write your elected reps today and urge them to take immediate action to overturn the new FCC rules by supporting S1046. As much as they don't seem to listen, on this issue, it could really help make a difference.
And check out a new website, co-founded by Nation regulars John Nichols and Robert McChesney, for extensive background on media reform, talking points, action alerts, a media activist calendar and a voluminous set of links.
Remember General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, who warned that occupying Iraq might require hundreds of thousands of soldiers for an extended period? He was immediately reprimanded by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz for being "wildly off the mark."
It's now two months since Baghdad fell, no WMD's have been found and US forces are bogged down in Iraq. American generals, happy to boast about the rapid defeat of Saddam's regime, now admit the war is far from over. The other night, General Barry McCaffrey predicted that US troops would be in Iraq for five years and warned that three divisions of the National Guard might be needed to reinforce Army divisions already deployed. And Lieutenant General David McKiernan, commander of US ground forces in Iraq, recently said his troops would be needed for a long time to come, that Baghdad and a large swathe of northern and western Iraq is only a "semi-permissive" environment, and that "subversive forces" are still active.
Since Bush strutted onto the USS Lincoln to declare "Mission Accomplished," more than forty Americans have been killed with many more wounded, (sixty-six have been killed since the fall of Baghdad on April 9.) No wonder General Shinseki--the highest-ranking Asian-American in US military history--retired the other day with a blast at the arrogance of the Pentagon's civilian leaders:
"You must love those you lead before you can be an effective leader," he said. "You can certainly command without that sense of commitment, but you cannot lead without it. And without leadership, command is a hollow experience, a vacuum often filled with mistrust and arrogance."
Read between the lines. The Army chief of staff is telling us that men like Donald Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz are arrogant commanders, who not only exaggerated the threat Iraq posed but gravely underestimated the problems of postwar occupation. Americans would do well to heed General Shinseki's final warning.
MILWAUKEE -- When Democratic party activists from across Wisconsin gathered for their party's state convention last weekend, they heard speeches from three presidential candidates and surrogates for several others. They also witnessed the arrival of a new political issue that may turn out to be a significant factor in the elections of 2004.
In speech after speech to the delegates and guests at the convention, members of Congress condemned the June 2 vote by the Federal Communications Commission to weaken the few remaining barriers to consolidation of media ownership by the corporate conglomerates that already dominate most of America's political debate and cultural discourse. And the crowd responded with enthusiastic cheering and applause.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that the delegates and guests were not cheering populist criticisms of media consolidation and bias by their party's presidential candidates. That's because the candidates failed to focus on media issues. Rather, the crowd was cheering members of Wisconsin's Congressional delegation, who made media ownership issues central to their speeches at the convention. Therein lies the challenge for the Democrats who would be president: Will they recognize in time that media ownership issues have become critical concerns for the grassroots activists who will be critical players in naming the party's 2004 nominee?
The candidates cannot claim ignorance. They all criticized the FCC decisions when they were made. Yet,they have yet to recognize the potential this issue has as an old-fashioned populist political tool.
Certainly, the response of Wisconsin Democrats to the speeches that addressed media ownership issues illustrates the extent to which they have become meaningful matters for their state's party activists. And Wisconsin is not so different from other states. After more than 750,000 Americans contacted the FCC to oppose the rule changes, members of Congress started to wake up to the mood of the country. Now, with more than 100 Democratic members of Congress actively engaged in efforts to reverse the FCC rule changes -- and with dozens of Republicans joining them -- there is a dawning awareness that concerns about media consolidation, monopoly and bias are no longer limited to inside-the-beltway debates between industry lobbyists and watchdog groups.
As members of Congress prepare to take steps to reverse FCC decisions that would loosen rules governing against media consolidation at the local and national levels, the speeches and responses in Milwaukee illustrated the extent to which the Washington insider debate had moved outside to America.
Warning that "the health of democracy is put at risk" when media monopolies are allowed to extend their reach, U.S. Rep. David Obey, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, drew thunderous applause when he declared, "We cannot afford homogenized news from mega-corporations."
Decrying the warped reporting on events in Washington by "the corporate U.S. news media," U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, a member of the Judiciary Committee, earned a standing ovation for her declaration that, "Restoring democracy to our news media had got to be a part of our Democratic agenda."
U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, a pioneering supporter of Congressional efforts to restore controls against media monopoly, echoed Baldwin's call for Democrats to make media ownership an issue in 2004.
Portraying the FCC decision on the ownership rules as another example of Washington bowing to pressure from corporate lobbyists, Feingold said that Democrats need to "show the American people that it's the Democratic party that wants to hear all the diverse voices of America -- not just the corporate few."
Feingold's comments drew chants of "Go get 'em, Russ" from the crowd of more than 1,000 grassroots party activists.
With Obey, Baldwin and Feingold speaking before them, the Democratic presidential contenders should have recognized the potency of the issue. But they didn't.
The three Democratic presidential candidates who attended the convention were all outspoken in their criticism of the FCC in early June. Two of them -- U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio -- are working in Congress with Feingold, Obey, Baldwin, amd key members like U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-North Dakota, and U.S. Representative Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and to rescind rule changes that favor media corporations over diversity, competition and local content. But Kerry, Kucinich and the third candidate who appeared at the weekend convention, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, failed to put the same emphasis on media issues that the delegates heard from their Wisconsin representatives.
There's a lesson in this for all of the 2004 presidential contenders. Grassroots Democrats -- along with Greens, Independents and a growing number of Republicans -- want issues of media monopoly, consolidation and commercialization on the national agenda. The smart candidates will be the ones who share in that recognition, and who speak to it with the insight and the passion that Feingold, Baldwin and Obey display. In a presidential contest where Democrats are still trying to define themselves, a willingness to raise media ownership issues on a regular basis could be the characteristic that allows the right contender to draw lines of real distinction not just from Bush but from more cautious Democrats.
"We face an unemployment problem that is certainly without precedent in my lifetime," said Paul Bremer, the US-appointed Governor of Iraq, as he unveiled a $100 million public works program for that battered country, using funds drawn from the Iraqi Central Bank. The move, according to the Wall Street Journal, is part of a broader effort to get Iraqis back to work, rebuild the country's hospitals and highways and, generally, jump-start the moribund economy.
Meanwhile, back in Palestine, West Virginia--best known as the hometown of Private Jessica Lynch--nearly half of the adults in Wirt county are unemployed, the poverty rate hovers near 20 percent and funds for civic projects like rebuilding the 41-year old county swimming pool have completely dried up.
West Virginia generally derived little benefit from the "boom" years of the 1990s, and has been hit hard by the recent economic downturn. Research by the National Center for Children in Poverty shows that the state's child poverty rate of 27.5 percent is almost ten points higher than the national average. And, according to recent census data, six percent of all West Virginia families still use wood as the sole fuel to heat their homes, five percent of households have no telephone service of any kind, and 12,009 families live without either plumbing or kitchen facilities.
So, where are the nation-building plans for Palestine, USA--and the other towns across America, forced to shorten school years, increase class size, eliminate preschool programs, close libraries, lay off highway workers, and slash health benefits? Where is the jobs program for the almost nine million unemployed Americans--and the many millions more underemployed (and underpaid)? Why can Iraqi public funds be used for hospitals, schools and highways, while, increasingly, US public funds are shrunken through tax cuts for the rich and diverted away from rebuilding our infrastructure and domestic security?
Next time this Administration announces a plan to build schools or roads or housing in Baghdad, we should ask: where is a similar plan for rebuilding Palestine, West Virginia?
It seems to me that the most authentic and appropriate way to support Private Lynch's service would be to offer her community genuine assistance in overcoming poverty. In short, federal policies that provide opportunities and urgently-needed aid for the poorest communities in America--the places that disproportionately supply the ranks of the brave soldiers risking their lives in Iraq today.
From June 23th to June 25th, the Bush Administration is hosting hundreds of government ministers and corporate reps in a Sacramento, CA summit designed to pave the way for the US agenda of "free trade", water privatization, genetic engineering and factory farming at the next WTO ministerial in Cancun, Mexico this September.
This Sacramento meeting will promote industrial models of agriculture that enrich transnational agribusiness interests while undermining the food security, food sovereignty and welfare of the impoverished and disenfranchised peoples of the global South.
In turn, California activists, recognizing the excellent educational opportunities presented by the Sacramento Ministerial on Agriculture, Science and Technology, are planning a five-day festival of diverse resistance to the Bush Administration's economic and foreign-policy agenda. Click here to see how you can join the fun, help get the word out, get to Cali cheap, and help support a future of sustainable agriculture, community democracy and ecological sanity.
And read FoodFirst's exhaustive analysis of the issues involved in the Sacramento Ministerial for background on why this fight is so important.
Remember the outrage over Bill Clinton's dissembling about Monica? But where's the outrage on the right over this Administration's manipulation of intelligence regarding Iraq's WMD? (Factoid: Did you know that the investigation of what went wrong in the run-up to 9-11 is currently funded at $15 million, less than one-fourth of what the Republican-led Congress authorized for the Monica Lewinsky investigation?)
New York Times columnist William Safire, who lived in a constant state of outrage during the Clinton years, argues that anger over the Bush Administration's manipulations is overblown. But the evidence that a cabal of neocons misled America into war just keeps on coming. (On Friday, a declassified September report from the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that there was "no reliable information" that Iraq was producing new chemical weapons.)
The White House faces a mounting credibility gap of staggering scale. Newspapers around the globe are accusing the Administration of lying to the world. Tony Blair is facing fierce pressure at home over the issue. Analogies to Watergate are rife. Indeed, the celebrated question of that scandal is as relevant today as it was then: What did the President (and his key people) know and when did they know it?
As Malcolm Savidge, a Labour Party member of the British Parliament, told MSNBC's Brian Williams the other night: If the WMD allegations are true, "it would be a graver charge [than Watergate] and it really would fit into the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors which we in Britain used to have as a basis for impeachment and which, of course, you still have as a basis for impeachment."
Rumblings of impeachment are also being heard on our side of the Atlantic. John Dean--a man who knows something about political scandal--wrote an astonishing column published on CNN's website this past weekend:
"In the three decades since Watergate, this is the first potential scandal I have seen that could make Watergate pale by comparison...To put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be "a high crime" under the Constitution's impeachment clause. It would also be a violation of federal criminal law, including the broad federal anti-conspiracy statute, which renders it a felony "to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose."
Or listen to what Robert Byrd said on the Senate floor last Friday: "Could it be that the intelligence was wrong, or could it be that the facts were manipulated? These are very serious and grave questions, and they require immediate answers. We cannot--and must not--brush such questions aside. We owe the people of this country an answer. Every member of this body ought to be demanding answers."
As almost every major institution in America--from the New York Times, baseball (see Sammy Sosa), domestic diva Martha Stewart, to the Catholic Church--is held to some standard of accountability, shouldn't the Bush Administration be held accountable on the gravest of all charges--deceiving its citizens in order to lead them into war?
Democratic presidential candidates were handed a dream audience of 1,000 "ready-for-action" labor, civil rights, peace and economic justice campaigners at the Take Back America conference organized in Washington last week by the Campaign for America's Future. And the 2004 contenders grabbed for it, delivering some of the better speeches of a campaign that remains rhetorically -- and directionally -- challenged. But it was a non-candidate who won the hearts and minds of the crowd with a "Cross of Gold" speech for the 21st century.
Recalling the populism and old-school progressivism of the era in which William Jennings Bryan stirred the Democratic National Convention of 1896 to enter into the great struggle between privilege and democracy -- and to spontaneously nominate the young Nebraskan for president -- journalist and former presidential aide Bill Moyers delivered a call to arms against "government of, by and for the ruling corporate class."
Condemning "the unholy alliance between government and wealth" and the compassionate conservative spin that tries to make "the rape of America sound like a consensual date," Moyers charged that "rightwing wrecking crews" assembled by the Bush Administration and its Congressional allies were out to bankrupt government. Then, he said, they would privatize public services in order to enrich the corporate interests that fund campaigns and provide golden parachutes to pliable politicians. If unchecked, Moyers warned, the result of these machinations will be the dismantling of "every last brick of the social contract."
"I think this is a deliberate, intentional destruction of the United States of America," said Moyers, as he called for the progressives gathered in Washington -- and for their allies across the United States -- to organize not merely in defense of social and economic justice but in order to preserve democracy itself. Paraphrasing the words of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th president rallied the nation to battle against slavery, Moyers declared, "our nation can no more survive as half democracy and half oligarchy than it could survive half slave and half free."
There was little doubt that the crowd of activists from across the country would have nominated Moyers by acclamation when he finished a remarkable address in which he challenged not just the policies of the Bush Administration but the failures of Democratic leaders in Congress to effectively challenge the president and his minions. In the face of what he described as "a radical assault" on American values by those who seek to redistribute wealth upward from the many to a wealthy few, Moyers said he could not understand why "the Democrats are afraid to be branded class warriors in a war the other side started and is winning."
Several of the Democratic presidential contenders who addressed the crowd after Moyers picked up pieces of his argument. Former US Senator Carol Moseley Braun actually quoted William Jennings Bryan, while North Carolina Senator John Edwards and Massachusetts Senator John Kerry tried -- with about as much success as Al Gore in 2000 -- to sound populist. Former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt promised not to be "Bush-lite," and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean drew warm applause when he said the way for Democrats to get elected "is not to be like Republicans, but to stand up against them and fight." Ultimately, however, only the Rev. Al Sharpton and Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Dennis Kucinich came close to matching the fury and the passion of the crowd.
Kucinich, who earned nine standing ovations for his antiwar and anti-corporate free trade rhetoric, probably did more to advance his candidacy than any of the other contenders. But he never got to the place Moyers reached with a speech that legal scholar Jamie Raskin described as one of the most "amazing and spellbinding" addresses he had ever heard. Author and activist Frances Moore Lappe said she was close to tears as she thanked Moyers for providing precisely the mixture of perspective and hope that progressives need as they prepare to challenge the right in 2004.
That, Moyers explained, was the point of his address, which reflected on White House political czar Karl Rove's oft-stated admiration for Mark Hanna, the Ohio political boss who managed the campaigns and the presidency of conservative Republican William McKinley. It was McKinley who beat Bryan in 1896 and -- with Hanna's help -- fashioned a White House that served the interests of the corporate trusts.
Comparing the excesses of Hanna and Rove, and McKinley and Bush, Moyers said "the social dislocations and the meanness" of the 19th century were being renewed by a new generation of politicians who, like their predecessors, seek to strangle the spirit of the American revolution "in the hard grip of the ruling class."
To break that grip, Moyers said, progressives of today must learn from the revolutionaries and reformers of old. Recalling the progressive movement that rose up in the first years of the 20th century to preserve a "balance between wealth and commonwealth," and the successes of the New Dealers who turned progressive ideals into national policy, Moyers told the crowd to "get back in the fight." "Hear me!" he cried. "Allow yourself that conceit to believe that the flame of democracy will never go out as long as there is one candle in your hand."
While others were campaigning last week, Moyers was tending the flame of democracy. In doing so, he unwittingly made himself the candle holder-in-chief for those who seek to spark a new progressive era.
As Gore Vidal likes to say, we're living in the United States of Amnesia. If you had any reason to doubt the great man, check out the new reality shows crowding our TV screens currently. There's Dog Eat Dog, NBC's new offering, in which "six sexy and savvy players play upon each other's strengths and weaknesses" to compete for $25,000.
The other night, in the show's quiz section, a young female contestant was stumped when asked: "Which West Point graduate led the allied forces in Gulf War One?" A fog of amnesia passed over her youthful face, then she lit up and blurted: "Al Gore." Gore Vidal would have enjoyed that.
Ari, Watch What You Say
Aaron McGruder knows how to say goodbye to outgoing White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. (Remember the chill you felt, just weeks after 9/11, when you heard Fleischer tell Americans that they needed "to watch what they say.")
In a recent Boondocks, my favorite comic-strip as even casual readers of this weblog know, Huey asks Caesar, "You heard Ari Fleischer is resigning as White House spokesman?" Caesar: "Did they say why?" Huey: "Presumably to spend less time lying to the public and more time lying to his wife."
Remember Vice President Dick Cheney's dire warning, in the run-up to war against Iraq: "The risks of inaction are far greater than the risk of action." I'd like to see Congressional hearings in which the VP is forced to account for that statement, in light of growing evidence that the Bush Administration grossly manipulated intelligence about those weapons of mass destruction.
While we're at it, let's throw Cheney's warning back at him in another context. How about the argument that the risks of inaction on fundamental healthcare reform are much higher than any of the risks associated with a major overhaul of our failing system?
As David Broder noted in a recent Washington Post column, even leading private sector leaders and heads of several of America's major corporations are beginning to make the case that, as the head of California's public employees retirement system known as CalPERS put it, "fixing our dysfunctional health care system...needs to be our top priority."
CalPERS and several large corporations are members of the bipartisan National Health Coalition on Health Care. Even this moderate coalition, co-chaired by former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, understands that only a comprehensive approach, like universal health insurance, can head off our looming healthcare crisis.
But, despite a growing national consensus for healthcare reform, when it comes to the human security of 41 million uninsured Americans, the Bush White House is comfortable living with the risks of inaction.