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The South Changes Course

The South is known for its strong support of the military. Perhaps it's that very support that has led to something one might not expect – growing opposition to the war in Iraq. Not only opposition matching national levels, but in some southern states even exceeding it.

An important new national survey by the Institute for Southern Studies and the School of Public and International Affairs at North Carolina State University shows that, "Southerners, after disproportionate support for the war early on, now doubt US policy in Iraq just as strongly as people in other regions of the country, and in some cases more so."

Fifty-seven percent of Southerners believe the US "should have stayed out of Iraq," compared to fifty-eight percent nationally. Thirty percent said the US should "withdraw completely," compared to twenty-six in non-Southern states. Fifty-six percent of Southerners support a decrease or total withdrawal of US troops, compared to fifty-nine percent in other regions. (The 13 southern states for purposes of this poll include: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.)

According to the Institute for Southern Studies, "The results signal a shift in Southern attitudes towards Iraq. As recently as July 2005, a Pew Center poll found fifty-three percent of Southerners believed using military force against Iraq was ‘the right decision,' the highest level of support in the country."

This survey comes on the heels of an Associated Press-Ipsos poll that reveals a similar shift among southern women: only thirty-two percent approve of President Bush's handling of the war, compared to twenty-eight percent nationally. Further, three out of five southern women plan to vote Democratic in the midterm elections – an encouraging change from the fifty-four percent support George Bush received in 2004.

"The current Washington leadership has counted on Southern states as a bastion of support on Iraq," said Chris Kromm, director of the non-partisan Institute based in Durham, NC., "but clearly that support is deteriorating."

The significance of this southern shift was noted in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution op-ed by the astute Jay Bookman: "When you've lost even the South, it's over. Pretending that we can sustain our effort in Iraq for several more years with such meager support here at home is sheer fantasy."

Of course, operating under sheer fantasy is nothing new for the Bush administration. The only way to burst its bubble and end this war is to voice opposition, vote opposition, and hold our representatives accountable on November 7.





Working Families Party--Continued
This past Monday, I posted an Editor's Cut about the great Pete Seeger's letter urging New Yorkers to vote this election season on the Working Families Party ballot line. I also suggested that those--like me--who believe the WFP should have either abstained from endorsing, or refused to cross-endorse, Hillary Clinton for Senate because of her position on the war should just go for Spitzer and the down ballot races. My colleague Katha Pollitt, the finest columnist working in these times, wrote me and asked:

Hi Katrina,
What do you make of this, from the listserv Portside:

"In another race in Rockland County where I live, we have a Democratic candidate, Nancy Low-Hogan, challenging the long entrenched Republican/Conservative endorsed Thomas P. Morahan for the State Senate in the 38th Senate District. The Working Families Party also has given Morahan their line instead of the Democratic candidate."

Do you really want people to "vote the WFP ticket in down ticket races" as you say in Editor's Cut-- when the WFP candidate is a Republican?"

Katha,
Thanks for pointing out this race. I'd still strongly urge people to vote for Eliot Spitzer for Governor on the WFP line. Then, voters should choose their candidates, down ballot, as they see fit. Follow your conscience--and in these days, that may well mean a vote against the GOP. However, it's worth pointing out that in some of these cases, what we should really focus on is redistricting (which we need a pro-democracy movement to bust up) because those Republican candidates on the WFP line are pretty much invulnerable. But the bottom line remains: The WFP operates as a fusion party, trying to provide strategic support and then using the leverage it builds for policy gains that actually improves people's lives. It's fair to say that in terms of real-world impact in New York, in terms of building a multi-class, multi-racial political organization, the WFP's strategy has been effective.

NJ Supreme Court Backs Same-Sex Unions (updated)

So here are some more thoughts on today's same-sex union decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court. First, while the decision is more expansive and pro-gay than New York's and Washington's, it's hardly the ringing victory the gay marriage movement wanted. It's also, despite eloquent portions, fundamentally flawed in the same way that those previous decisions were. By ruling that there is no "fundamental right to same-sex marriage" in the NJ constitution, the majority framed the liberty/due process issue in a narrow, circular way. Of course there's no "fundamental right to same-sex marriage" in the NJ or US constitution.

But that's not the point. As Judge Poritz points out in her dissent (citing Judge Judith Kaye's dissent in the NY decision), when courts ask "whether there is a fundamental right to marriage rooted in the traditions, history and conscience of our people, there is universal agreement that the answer is 'yes.'" In other words, the issue is not the right to same-sex marriage, but the right to marry period.

Second, in terms of the November elections, while conservatives like James Dobson of Focus on the Family (FoF) have railed against the decision as "a travesty," it's also clear that they can barely hide their disappointment at not getting the base-galvanizing, pro-marriage decision that they were dreading/anticipating.

An FoF article says that "today's ruling in favor of same-sex unions must motivate values voters to get to the polls." Dobson warns that "nothing less than the future of the American family hangs in the balance," and attempts to drum up support for the eight state anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballot on Nov. 7. Bruce Hausknecht, FoF's judicial analyst, speculates that "New Jersey could now become the gay-marriage capital of the United States," and cautions that the decision could become "electric." Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) rails against activist judges and says that the New Jersey decision "warrants swift, decisive action by Congress in the form of passage of the Marriage Protection Amendment."

Try as they might, these right-wing attempts to ratchet up the gay marriage fear factor come off as rather lame. By leaving it up to the legislature to decide between gay marriage or civil union, the court dodged a bullet. And all signs indicate that the Democrat-controlled legislature and Gov. Corzine will take the easy way out and pass a civil union bill (like Vermont's or Connecticut's). It's hard to see how even the right-wing machine could turn the incredibly slim chance that the NJ legislature would pass a gay marriage bill into a viable election issue. It's a local issue now, not national. As I pointed out earlier, only same-sex marriage outright would create the possibility for gay couples to sue in federal courts for broader marriage benefits.

Finally, the die-hards in the gay marriage movement are set on getting marriage in NJ and in the country at large. A creepy and policing statement from Freedom to Marry (led by marriage guru Evan Wolfson) reads, "This is not about civil unions, and we should insure that we do not allow that sort of confusion to creep into the conversation. It is our responsibility to be VERY CAREFUL not to even address the civil unions issue...We're not fighting for civil unions, so let's not even let it enter the argument."

If this sounds anxious, it's because gay marriage advocates have every cause to be alarmed. When the court granted all the rights and benefits (and also all the "burdens and obligations") of marriage to same-sex couples and allowed that civil unions could fulfill those rights and benefits, it set up a political situation in which gay marriage advocates will have to convince the legislature and the public that the symbolic title of marriage matters. It does, of course, in the sense that only marriage opens up the federal courts to gay marriage claims -- but stripped of the compelling testimonials of gay couples denied material rights and benefits, the case became much harder.

For those located in DC and up at the ungodly hour of 6AM, I'm on Washington Post Radio (107.7 FM and 1500 AM) tomorrow (Thursday) to discuss the NJ decision. I'm also on OUT-FM/WBAI on Monday at 11:30. Tune in.

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In a 4-3 decision the New Jersey Supreme Court held that "although we cannot find that a fundamental right to same-sex marriage exists in this State, the unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our State Constitution."

Translation? In short, the Court said that gay couples should receive all the rights and benefits of marriage that the state of NJ can provide. But it's up to the legislature to decide whether or not that union is called "marriage" or "civil union" or some other term. Essentially, the NJ decision echoes Vermont's. It mandates that the legislature resolve these inequalities within six months. Given that Corzine and other leading NJ Dems haven't supported "gay marriage" outright, expect civil unions, and not gay marriage, to be the solution.

The distinction won't matter within NJ per se-- since the Court said that whatever the union is called, it must provide all the rights and benefits of marriage -- but it could have implications nationwide. A gay marriage bill from the legislature would open up the possibility that the federal government and other states would have to recognize same-sex marriages from NJ under the full faith and credit clause of the US Constitution. A civil union bill would not have such ramifications. Massachusetts has a law barring out of state couples from marrying within state if their home state would not recognize the union; New Jersey does not. Hence, gay marriage advocates were eager for a definitive pro-marriage decision and, despite what they say to the press, surely a bit dissappointed at this ruling.

Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, joined by Justices Long and Zazzali, filed a concurring and dissenting opinion. Their opinion called for full marriage rights (thus the concurring part) including the right to the title "marriage" (the dissenting part).

I'll file more later once I digest the entire decision.

NJ Supreme Court Backs Same-Sex Unions

In a 4-3 decision the New Jersey Supreme Court held that "although we cannot find that a fundamental right to same-sex marriage exists in this State, the unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our State Constitution."

Translation? In short, the Court said that gay couples should receive all the rights and benefits of marriage that the state of NJ can provide. But it's up to the legislature to decide whether or not that union is called "marriage" or "civil union" or some other term. Essentially, the NJ decision echoes Vermont's. It mandates that the legislature resolve these inequalities within six months. Given that Corzine and other leading NJ Dems haven't supported "gay marriage" outright, expect civil unions, and not gay marriage, to be the solution.

The distinction won't matter within NJ per se-- since the Court said that whatever the union is called, it must provide all the rights and benefits of marriage -- but it could have implications nationwide. A gay marriage bill from the legislature would open up the possibility that the federal government and other states would have to recognize same-sex marriages from NJ under the full faith and credit clause of the US Constitution. A civil union bill would not have such ramifications. Massachusetts has a law barring out of state couples from marrying within state if their home state would not recognize the union; New Jersey does not. Hence, gay marriage advocates were eager for a definitive pro-marriage decision and, despite what they say to the press, surely a bit dissappointed at this ruling.

Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, joined by Justices Long and Zazzali, filed a concurring and dissenting opinion. Their opinion called for full marriage rights (thus the concurring part) including the right to the title "marriage" (the dissenting part).

I'll file more later once I digest the entire decision.

Bush's Cynical Numbers Game

For a long time, the President and his top officials remained on the page first bookmarked by Centcom Commander Tommy Franks during the early phases of the Afghan War when he said, "We don't do body counts."

On December 12, 2005, however, President Bush was faced with a reporter's question: "Since the inception of the Iraqi war, I'd like to know the approximate total of Iraqis who have been killed. And by Iraqis I include civilians, military, police, insurgents, translators."

To the surprise of many, the President responded with an actual number: "How many Iraqi citizens have died in this war? I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis." When asked for the President's sourcing, White House spokesman Scott McClellan responded: "[M]edia reports which have cited information that suggests that some 30,000 people, Iraqi citizens, may have been killed."

As it happens, the White House has had something of a predilection for the pleasantly round number of 30,000. In 2003, before the invasion of Iraq, in the President's State of the Union Address, he used that very number for Saddam's mythical stock of "munitions capable of delivering chemical agents"; and, post-invasion, for police put back on patrol in the streets of Iraq. In 2005, that number was cited both for "new businesses" started in Iraq and new teachers trained since the fall of Baghdad. In 2006, in the President's "Strategy for Victory," that was the number of square miles Iraqi forces were by then primarily responsible for patrolling.

Last week, the President was challenged again at his news conference because of a study in the respected British medical journal The Lancet that offered up a staggering set of figures on Iraqi deaths. Based on a door-to-door survey of Iraqi households among a countrywide cohort of almost 13,000 people, the rigorous study estimated that perhaps 655,000 "excess deaths" had occurred since the invasion, mainly due to violence. (Its lowest estimate of excess deaths came in just under 400,000; its highest above 900,000, a figure no one in the U.S. cared to deal with at all.)

When asked if, given the Lancet study, he stood by the number 30,000 Iraqi deaths, the President responded, "You know, I stand by the figure. A lot of innocent people have lost their life--600,000, or whatever they guessed at, is just--it's not credible." The reporter's response: "Thank you, Mr. President," and all and sundry turned to other matters.

And yet, such a statement is little short of the darkest of jokes. By last December, 30,000 was already a ludicrously low-ball figure for the Iraqi dead of the war, occupation, insurgency, and incipient civil war. Early on, in a study completely ignored in the U.S. press, a group of Iraqi academics and political activists tried to research the question of civilian casualties, consulting with hospitals, gravediggers, and morgues, and came up with the figure of 37,000 deaths just between March 2003 and October 2003. The cautious website Iraq Body Count, which now offers death statistics ranging from a low of 44,661 to a high of 49,610, was at that time in the 27,000 to 30,000+ range, but that was only for "media-reported" civilian deaths, not all Iraqi deaths, which, as the U.S. military surely knew, were far higher. An October 2004 Lancet study had estimated over 100,000 excess deaths.

Between December 12, 2005 and his news conference last week, even the President has admitted that Iraq has been going through an exceedingly violent period. We know that in just July and August, according to a UN report based on counts from the Baghdad central morgue and various hospitals, 5,106 Iraqis died, almost totally by violent means, often on the killing grounds of the 23 or more militias US officials have counted in the capital. For the rest of Iraq add another 1,493 dead souls (while noting that the July count lacks a single death from al-Anbar province, the very heartland of the Sunni insurgency). All over the country, it's evident that bodies go unreported. As the Washington Post's Ellen Knickmeyer recently pointed out, "Bodies are increasingly being dumped in and around Baghdad in fields staked out by individual Shiite militias and Sunni insurgent groups. Iraqi security forces often refuse to go to the dumping grounds, leaving the precise number of bodies in those sites unknown."

So, for the President to "stand by" his almost year-old figure in the casualty wars--especially after this particular almost-year--while claiming that The Lancet study's figures weren't "credible," is, on the face of it, absurd. It's hardly less absurd that nothing significant was made of this in the media--that George W. Bush was not called on the carpet for a figure that, even based on his own previous testimony, is close to criminally negligent.

For more on this, go to the latest dispatch at my website, Tomdispatch.com.

Tennessee Turmoil

In one week, Republicans ran not one, not two, but three racist to borderline racist television and radio ads about Harold Ford Jr. in Tennessee, the Democrat who's trying to become the first black Senator elected from the South since Reconstruction.

One ad run by the Republican National Committee, (RNC) shows a scantily clad white woman who says "I met Harold at the Playboy party," before whispering, "Harold, call me," and winking.

Hillary Shelton, Washington director of the NAACP, accused the ad of playing "to pre-existing prejudices about African American men and white women." William Cohen, the former Republican Senator from Tennnessee, called it "a very serious appeal to a racist sentiment."

Another ad, by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, asks "what kind of man parties with Playboy playmates in lingerie and then films political ads from a church pew?" A valid question, only the ad is done in the style of a blaxploitation film and set to funk music. Would Republicans run the same ad against a white candidate? I think not.

A third radio ad, commissioned by a group called Tennesseans for Truth (sound familiar?), explicitly plays the race card by citing Ford's membership in the Congressional Black Caucus, "an all-black group of congressmen who represent the interests of black people above all others."

Amidst increasing pressure from members of both parties, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman had the first ad mentioned pulled from the airwaves yesterday, after he initially claimed he didn't have the power to remove it. In its place the RNC debuted a new ad, falsely claiming that Ford "voted to recognize gay marriage" and "wants to give the abortion pill to our schoolchildren." At least two stations, including WRCB in Chattanooga (Corker's home town), have refused to run the new ad. And Ford recently went up with this response.

Mehlman may have apologized to the NAACP last year for the Republican Party's legacy of "trying to benefit politically from racial polarization." But that's exactly what the GOP is doing in Tennessee.

Limbaugh's Cruelty

Rush Limbaugh has proven time and again what a nasty bully he can be.Remember his feeble attempt to insult Chelsea Clinton by criticizing herappearance when she was just a child? And his racist musings on whetherblack men were equipped to play quarterback?(FYI, Rush, at least five African-Americans are starting quarterbacks inNFL right now.)

This week however, Limbaugh sank to a new low by mocking actor MichaelJ. Fox and his battle with Parkinson's disease.

Fox has become a Limbaugh target because he has appeared inpolitical ads for Democratic senatorial candidates who support stem cellresearch, such as Rep. Ben Cardin of Maryland and Claire McCaskill inMissouri.

"He is exaggerating the effects of the disease," Limbaugh toldlisteners Monday. "He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely anact...This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't takehis medication or he's acting."

Limbaugh ultimately offered a half-hearted apology, but it's difficult to takethis seriously. With a weekly audience of 10 million, he lives togenerate this type of controversy. He and Ann Coulter seem to be in acompetition for who can be the most consistently repugnant and woefullyignorant.

With his acting career essentially over, Fox now works to raiseawareness of the plight of people who suffer from Parkinson's. Even ifLimbaugh objects to stem cell research, it certainly isn't a crime forFox to weigh in on the issue. Muhammad Ali has done this admirably. So did the late Christopher Reeve. Will they be the next to draw Limbaugh'svindictive ire?

Stem Cell Politics

The last day that I spent with Paul Wellstone began on a sunny morning in the living room of his St. Paul home. I'd arrived to join him as he campaigned for reelection in what was widely seen as the most hotly contested Senate race in the nation.

But when I walked in, Wellstone was not making calls for campaign contributions or rehearsing soundbites.

He was reading.

Wellstone was a passionate reader. He always had a new book under his arm. And he read widely -- far beyond the confines of the history, biography and public-policy shelves that political figures tend to frequent.

On that last day, he was reading Michael J. Fox's 2002 book, Lucky Man: A Memoir.

Wellstone couldn't stop talking about the actor's autobiography, especially the sections where Fox wrote about his struggle with Parkinson's disease. The senator from Minnesota, whose parents had suffered from that ailment and who had himself been recently diagnosed with a mild form of multiple sclerosis, related to what he was reading. He went on at some length about how important it was for prominent people to be open about their chronic conditions. He felt it helped promote understanding and empathy, which in Wellstone's view was often the first step toward political engagement. And, as the senate's most passionate advocate for medical research and a national health care system, he felt that engaging the great mass of Americans in a discussion about the importance of federal and state funding of groundbreaking -- and sometimes controversial -- studies was essential.

Wellstone believed, as many scientists do, that with proper support, embryonic stem cell research could identify treatments and perhaps even cures for life-threatening illnesses such as Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, Type I or Juvenile Diabetes, Duchenne' Dystrophy, and spinal chord injuries.

After President Bush's 2001 decision to sharply limit federal funding of medical research that uses embryonic stem cell lines, Wellstone said, "The sharp limitation of federal support may well close the door on some of the life-saving promise of embryonic stem cell research, which can be conducted consistent with basic ethical and legal principles that respect the value of human life. I do not believe that President Bush's decision will be the final word on this important federal policy. In light of this disappointing announcement, Congress, and the American people, will now surely be heard."

As he was on so many issues, Paul Wellstone turned out to be prescient.

On this, the fourth anniversary of his death in a Minnesota plane crash, stem-cell research is finally emerging as the sort of political issue that Wellstone thought it should be. And Michael J. Fox, whose book the senator was reading on that sunny morning that now seems so very long ago, is at the center of the debate. This week, Fox began appearing in televised campaign commercials for Democratic supporters of embryonic stem-cell research -- including Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Claire McCaskill, Maryland U.S. Senate candidate Ben Cardin, Illinois U.S. House candidate Tammy Duckworth and Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle -- who are locked in tight races with Republicans who want to limit support for scientific inquiry.

Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing commentators who once trashed Wellstone are now attacking Fox. Limbaugh has gone so far as to claim that the actor "is exaggerating the effects of the disease," while claiming that the commercials are "purely an act." Why the attacks? It comes back to that point Wellstone made: When a prominent figure who suffers from a life-threatening condition joins the debate over funding scientific research, it can shift the political pendulum. If Michael J. Fox succeeds in framing the stem-cell research fight as the life-and-death issue that it is, then, perhaps, "the American people will now surely be heard." And Paul Wellstone will again be proven right.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

NJ Gay Marriage Decision Due Today

Today at 3PM, the New Jersey Supreme Court will issue its ruling on Lewis v. Harris, the same-sex marriage case brought by seven gay and lesbian couples. My sources all predict a victory for gay marriage advocates, which would make New Jersey the second state, after Massachusetts, to legalize gay marriage. They point to the court's liberal record (including its ruling in the Boy Scouts case), as well as the timing of the announcement. It will be the last decision released before Chief Justice Deborah Poritz retires, so the expectation is that it will be a momentous one.

Of course, my sources could all be wrong, but with the election only two weeks away, talk has already begun on how a pro-gay ruling will play out in the ballot box. In New Jersey, Democrat Bob Menendez has edged ahead of Republican Tom Kean, Jr. in polls. But it's still a close race, one that could determine the balance in the Senate. Both candidates say marriage should be between a man and a woman, and New Jersey Republicans are largely Kean-Whitman moderates, not bible belters -- so it's unlikely that a pro-gay marriage decision will shake up that particular race much.

But what are the implications nationwide? With Christian conservatives threatening to stay home, and with the Foley scandal still occupying front page real estate, is this the GOP's last chance to rally its family values base? If NJ does go the way of Massachusetts, Bush will almost certainly reiterate calls for a federal marriage amendment. But is it too little, too late? Eight states have defense of marriage amendments on the ballot this November, but polls from some of them -- Wisconsin, Arizona, Colorado and South Dakota -- indicate that the issue has lost some of its punch.

In a cynical way, I'm tickled pink that gays are now seen as sand in the electoral machine -- first gay marriage in '04 and now Foleygate in '06. Homosexuals: we're the equal opportunity spoilers, the Ross Perots of the new century. We're here! We're queer! And we will ruin your elections!

Alright, I'm getting a little too excited. I'll post again when the decision comes down. In the meantime, speculate wildly amongst yourselves.

Tricks, No Treats

Things are looking so bad for Republicans this year that you could almost feel sorry for them. That is until you see just how low they will go to cling to power. Here is just a partial roll call of their most recent dirty tricks.

A Republican attack ad accused New York Democratic House candidate Michael Arcuri of calling a sex phone line. When it was clearly shown the number was a misdial, seven television stations in upstate New York refused to run the ad.

California House Republican candidate Tad Nguyen's campaign sent out 14,000 letters in Spanish to residents with Hispanic surnames falsely threatening, and I quote, "if you're an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that can result in incarceration or deportation."

In Tennessee the Republican National Committee is running a racially-charged ad that "juxtaposes women and men talking about [Democratic candidate Harold] Ford's good looks with suggestions that he took money from pornographers, was seen at a Playboy function and at the end, has a white blonde asking him to call her."

But as former White House staffer David Kuo points out in his new book, Tempting Faith, the dirtiest Republican trick of all is their pretense to care about evangelical Christians and their issues when in fact they have contempt for them. On November 7th we will see if the Republican base returns the favor.