On June 16, the House Appropriations Committee voted to slash funding for public broadcasting by more than $200 million for 2006. The cut--which, if implemented, would affect everything from "Clifford the Big Red Dog" to programming on small news outlets that serve rural and minority audiences--marked a devastating blow for public television and radio. The full House is expected to vote as soon as tomorrow.
Worse yet, the June 16 de-funding vote marked just one part of a larger assault on public broadcasting. Bush ally Kenneth Tomlinson, chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), offered the latest example with the revelations that he hired a longtime GOP operative to track "anti-Bush" and "anti-Tom DeLay" comments by the guests of NOW with Bill Moyers. This move prompted Congressional calls for an investigation into charges that Tomlinson had become "a source of political interference" in public broadcasting and helped spark cries for his resignation from a host of public interest groups and politicians.
Free Press is one of a few national groups waging a major battle in defense of public broadcasting. With so much at stake in this debate, Free Press's efforts are more than worthy of support.
Here's what you can do:
Click here to implore your representatives in Congress to vote for full funding for public broadcasting. A vote by the full House on the funding cuts is expected as soon as tomorrow, Thursday. So please contact them TODAY.
Move.On has collected one million signatures calling for full funding of PBS and NPR. Click here to join them.
Click here to sign Free Press's petition calling for Tomlinson to resign.
Click here to send a letter to your local newspaper defending the importance of public broadcasting in a modern democracy.
Click here to become a member of Free Press in order to support its efforts.
During the Vietnam War, protesters burned draft cards, rallied on campuses and marched on Robert McNamara's Pentagon. Today, with the war in Iraq raging on and on, parents, teachers and other community leaders are spearheading a new antiwar effort, telling the military to keep their hands off the children. The Times' Bob Herbert put it well: "The parents of the kids being sought by recruiters to fight this unpopular war are creating a highly vocal and potentially very effective antiwar movement."
The debacle in Iraq has made recruiting an impossibly difficult job and recruiters are sinking to new lows in the face of growing pressure to fulfill monthly quotas as well as fierce opposition from parents who don't support the President's botched Iraq war mission.
While the stunning list of recruiting abuses has received some needed media attention, it's worth reviewing the extremes to which the military has gone to fill its ranks. In Houston, one recruiter warned a potential recruit that if he backed out of a meeting, "we'll have a warrant" for the potential recruit's arrest. In Colorado, a high school student, David McSwane, who wanted to see "how far the Army would go during a war to get one more soldier," told recruiters that he didn't finish high school and that he had a drug problem. "No problem," the recruiters responded. McSwane was told to create a diploma from scratch and to buy products at a store that would help him beat the drug test.
Recruiters have urged teens to lie to their parents and have ignored medical and police records of potential recruits to not compromise recruiting goals. In Ohio, two recruiters signed up a 21-one-year-old man with bipolar disorder who had just been released from a psychiatric ward. The violations, all told, forced the Army into halting all recruiting for a day last May so it could re-train its recruiters and remind them of the ethical considerations entailed in their jobs.
Despite this recent recruit-at-all-costs mentality, the Army has now failed to meet its monthly recruiting quotas for four months straight. (It's beginning to re-jigger its goals in mid-stream and even then it still can't meet its quotas.) There's even talk among retired military brass and other defense experts that the all-volunteer Army is stretched so thin in Iraq that it can't sustain the mission much longer.
Hence, recruiting violations in the Army have nearly doubled to 320 in 2004 from 199 in 1999, and as my colleague Ari Berman pointed out the Army has added 1,200 recruiters, "upped enlistment bonuses from $6,000 to $20,000 per recruit," and created 15-month enlistments as an alternative to the standard two-year enlistment period. The Army is also accepting into its ranks a greater number of high school dropouts and lower-scoring applicants as well.
"The problem is that no one wants to join," one recruiter recently told the Times. "We have to play fast and loose with the rules just to get by." The standards for those already in are also being adjusted: The Wall Street Journal recently reported on an internal army memo which said that battalion commanders could no longer kick out of the military enlistees who had abused drugs and alcohol, gotten pregnant or were unfit for duty.
If you want to understand just how dire the situation is, you need to know that the Army is busily exploiting a provision in the No Child Left Behind law that allows recruiters to go into public schools receiving federal funding, gain access to students' personal data and cultivate potential recruits with a virtually unfettered hand. According to an Army manual, savvy recruiters should eat in the school cafeteria, befriend administrators, bring coffee and donuts for teachers and buddy up to team captains and student body presidents to win the hearts and minds of other students.
Activists are holding rallies to raise awareness, urging families to tell schools to keep their personal data private. A student-led campaign at a high school in Montclair, New Jersey, convinced more than 80 percent of the student body to keep their private information hidden from recruiters.
Then there's NASCAR. Our US military is spending millions of dollars a year recruiting young men at NASCAR races. As the Air Force's superintendent of motorsports said (according to the AP, that's actually his jobsuperintendent of motorsports), NASCAR is the military's "target market." The Army alone is spending $16 million a year at NASCAR events. Each branch of the Armed Forces sponsors NASCAR race drivers and they set up recruiting booths outside of NASCAR events. This "belly-to-belly selling," the superintendent of motorsports explained, enables the military to woo potential recruits "face to face."
Recruiters are paying a high price, suffering from depression, headaches and stomach problems brought on by the tremendous pressure of having to find two new recruits per month to meet their quotas, avoid their commanders' wrath and fulfill their mission. One Texas recruiter told the New York Times' Damien Cave that he'd rather be fighting on the front lines of the war in Iraq than recruiting weary teenagers and coping with anxious parents in the states.
"The evidence is overwhelming that the Army is slowly being worn down by its commitment in Iraq," a Pentagon adviser and military analyst at the Lexington Institute told Newsday. The handwriting is on the wall: This is a failed war, and the American people are refusing in their wisdom to fight it.
In 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi was legally elected the leader of Myanmar, then named Burma. But she has spent most of the time since 1989 under some form of detention, including house arrest for the last two years, following a surreptitious attempt on her life by pro-government forces.
From time to time, the military junta that imprisons Suu Kyi promises to release her, but today supporters around the world observe her 60th birthday with no sign of her freedom. Nonetheless, activists around the world are using the occasion to honor the human rights leader and highlight the injustice of her continued detention and the tyrannical regime holding power in her country. (Major birthday events are taking place today in Edinburgh, Bangkok, Manila, San Francisco, and, most courageously, across her small Southeast Asian country.)
Amnesty International has also launched a global petition calling on the Burmese authorities to stop abusing the justice system to silence peaceful political activists and to immediately and unconditionally release Suu Kyi along with the other 1,350 political prisoners estimated to be rotting in Myanmar jails currently.
According to AI's diligent investigations, these detainees include prisoners of conscience incarcerated for activities such as writing poems and publishing magazines, forming student unions or calling for peaceful demonstrations. They are subjected to torture, held incommunicado without access to lawyers, and sentenced under repressive legislation in unfair trials.
Click for background on Myanmar's repression of Suu Kyi and political dissent generally, click here to add your name to AI's global petition calling for her immediate release, and click here to become a member of Amnesty International and support more work on behalf of global human rights.
There is painful irony in the fact that, during the same month that the confirmation of "Deep Throat's" identity has allowed the Washington Post to relive its Watergate-era glory days, the newspaper is blowing the dramatically more significant story of the "fixed" intelligence the Bush Administration used to scam Congress and US allies into supporting the disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Last week, when the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Michigan Democrat John Conyers, chaired an extraordinary hearing on what has come to be known as the "Downing Street Memo"--details of pre-war meetings where aides to British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed the fact that, while the case for war was "thin," the Bush Administration was busy making sure that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy"--the Post ridiculed Conyers and the dozens of other members of Congress who are trying to get to the bottom of a scandal that former White House counsel John Dean has correctly identified as "worse than Watergate."
Post writer Dana Milbank penned a snarky little piece that, like similar articles in the New York Times and other "newspapers of record," displayed all the skepticism regarding Bush Administration misdeeds that one might expect to find in a White House press release.
To his credit, Conyers hit back.
In a letter addressed to the Post's national editor, the newspaper's ombudsman and Milbank, the veteran House member was blunt.
"Dear Sirs," Conyers began, "I write to express my profound disappointment with Dana Milbank's June 17 report, 'Democrats Play House to Rally Against the War,' which purports to describe a Democratic hearing I chaired in the Capitol yesterday. In sum, the piece cherry-picks some facts, manufactures others out of whole cloth, and does a disservice to some 30 members of Congress who persevered under difficult circumstances, not of our own making, to examine a very serious subject: whether the American people were deliberately misled in the lead up to war. The fact that this was the Post's only coverage of this event makes the journalistic shortcomings in this piece even more egregious.
"In an inaccurate piece of reporting that typifies the article, Milbank implies that one of the obstacles the Members in the meeting have is that 'only one' member has mentioned the Downing Street Minutes on the floor of either the House or Senate. This is not only incorrect but misleading. In fact, just yesterday, the Senate Democratic Leader, Harry Reid, mentioned it on the Senate floor. Senator Boxer talked at some length about it at the recent confirmation hearing for the Ambassador to Iraq. The House Democratic Leader, Nancy Pelosi, recently signed on to my letter, along with 121 other Democrats asking for answers about the memo. This information is not difficult to find either. For example, the Reid speech was the subject of an AP wire service report posted on the Washington Post website with the headline 'Democrats Cite Downing Street Memo in Bolton Fight.' Other similar mistakes, mischaracterizations and cheap shots are littered throughout the article.
"The article begins with an especially mean and nasty tone, claiming that House Democrats 'pretended' a small conference room was the Judiciary Committee hearing room and deriding the decor of the room. Milbank fails to share with his readers one essential fact: the reason the hearing was held in that room, an important piece of context. Despite the fact that a number of other suitable rooms were available in the Capitol and House office buildings, Republicans declined my request for each and every one of them. Milbank could have written about the perseverance of many of my colleagues in the face of such adverse circumstances, but declined to do so. Milbank also ignores the critical fact picked up by the AP, CNN and other newsletters that at the very moment the hearing was scheduled to begin, the Republican Leadership scheduled an almost unprecedented number of 11 consecutive floor votes, making it next to impossible for most Members to participate in the first hour and one half of the hearing.
"In what can only be described as a deliberate effort to discredit the entire hearing, Milbank quotes one of the witnesses as making an anti-semitic assertion and further describes anti-semitic literature that was being handed out in the overflow room for the event. First, let me be clear: I consider myself to be a friend and supporter of Israel and there were a number of other staunchly pro-Israel members who were in attendance at the hearing. I do not agree with, support, or condone any comments asserting Israeli control over US policy, and I find any allegation that Israel is trying to dominate the world or had anything to do with the September 11 tragedy disgusting and offensive.
"That said, to give such emphasis to 100 seconds of a 3 hour and five minute hearing that included the powerful and sad testimony (hardly mentioned by Milbank) of a woman who lost her son in the Iraq war and now feels lied to as a result of the Downing Street Minutes, is incredibly misleading. Many, many different pamphlets were being passed out at the overflow room, including pamphlets about getting out of the Iraq war and anti-Central American Free Trade Agreement, and it is puzzling why Milbank saw fit to only mention the one he did.
"In a typically derisive and uninformed passage, Milbank makes much of other lawmakers calling me 'Mr. Chairman' and says I liked it so much that I used 'chairmanly phrases.' Milbank may not know that I was the Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee from 1988 to 1994. By protocol and tradition in the House, once you have been a Chairman you are always referred to as such. Thus, there was nothing unusual about my being referred to as Mr. Chairman.
"To administer his coup-de-grace, Milbank literally makes up another cheap shot that I 'was having so much fun that [I] ignored aides' entreaties to end the session.' This did not occur. None of my aides offered entreaties to end the session and I have no idea where Milbank gets that information. The hearing certainly ran longer than expected, but that was because so many Members of Congress persevered under very difficult circumstances to attend, and I thought--given that--the least I could do was allow them to say their piece. That is called courtesy, not 'fun.'
"By the way, the 'Downing Street Memo' is actually the minutes of a British cabinet meeting. In the meeting, British officials--having just met with their American counterparts--describe their discussions with such counterparts. I mention this because that basic piece of context, a simple description of the memo, is found nowhere in Milbank's article.
"The fact that I and my fellow Democrats had to stuff a hearing into a room the size of a large closet to hold a hearing on an important issue shouldn't make us the object of ridicule. In my opinion, the ridicule should be placed in two places: first, at the feet of Republicans who are so afraid to discuss ideas and facts that they try to sabotage our efforts to do so; and second, on Dana Milbank and the Washington Post, who do not feel the need to give serious coverage on a serious hearing about a serious matter-whether more than 1700 Americans have died because of a deliberate lie. Milbank may disagree, but the Post certainly owed its readers some coverage of that viewpoint.
"Sincerely, John Conyers, Jr"
The years of the Bush presidency will be remembered as a time when American media, for the most part, practiced stenography to power --and when once-great newspapers became little more than what the reformers of another time referred to as "the kept press."
The Conyers letter, like the thousands of communications from grassroots activists to media outlets across this country pressing for serious coverage of the "Downing Street Memo" and the broader debate about the Bush Administration's doctoring of intelligence prior to the launch of the Iraq war, is an essential response to our contemporary media crisis. That it had to be written provides evidence of just how serious that crisis has grown.
"We see this as the beginning of the end," said Tom Andrews, a former Democratic representative from Maine who is executive director of the antiwar group Win Without War. "It's the very beginning of a new wave of activism on this war. There's a real sense that something is beginning to move."--Los Angeles Times, Friday June 17, 2005
Earlier that day, a friend and longtime antiwar activist left me a voice mail message. Just ten days earlier he told me that he was more depressed about our politics than at anytime in the last 40 years. "Hello, this is..." he said. "I was in Washington yesterday at the rally and at the Conyers hearings. And since I laid a heavy statement on you last week, I just wanted to make a correction. It's finally over. My despair is over. Something has happened these last ten days that has revived the antiwar issue. It has to do with public opinion polls and casualties and Republicans like Walter Jones and more Democrats standing up. I won't say how optimistic I am. But something is coming together--you can feel it."
You can feel it.
*Every day brings news of public opinion turning against the occupation--and the President's conduct of the war. Last week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that for the first time since the war began, more than half of the public believes the US invasion has not made the US more secure; and nearly 40 percent described the situation there now as analagous to the Vietnam War. A new Gallup survey finds that almost 60 percent of Americans say the US should withdraw some or all of its troops from Iraq, the largest number in that category ever. And for the first time, most Americans say they would be "upset" if President Bush sent more troops. Gallup also found that 56 percent now feel the war was "not worth it," and 73 percent consider the number of casualties unacceptable.
* Every day brings news of more Democrats coming forward, standing up and introducing "exit strategy" resolutions. (Though, as of yet, leadership isn't coming from the leadership.) Lynn Woolsey forced a Congressional vote on bipartisan legislation that would have asked Bush to submit a plan to Congress explaining the outlines of an exit strategy from Iraq. Senator Russell Feingold has introduced a nonbinding resolution calling on the Bush Administration to set specific goals for leaving Iraq.
In the House, the International Relations Committee last week voted overwhelmingly, 32 to 9, to call on the White House to develop and submit a plan to Congress for establishing a stable government and military in Iraq that would "permit a decreased US presence" in the country. Congresswomen Maxine Waters (D/CA)--along with 41 Congressional progressives, including Woolsey, John Lewis, Charles Rangel, Jim McGovern, Rush Holt, Marcy Kaptur and Jan Schakowsky--has just formed the "Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus." Its sole purpose, Waters says, "is to be the main agitators in the movement to bring our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan." And Rep John Conyers' impassioned efforts to bring attention to the Downing Street Memo--on Thursday he held hearings on Capitol Hill and then delivered to the White House letters that contained the names of more than 560,000 Americans demanding answers to questions raised by the British memo--has reenergized and refocused opposition to the war.
While the Administration and its allies in Congress are trying to make it seem as if these new initiatives merely reflect Democrats' reading of the polls, I say--bring it on. Let's welcome more Democrats--and sane Republicans--giving legislative expression and voice to the majority of Americans who want to see our Iraq policy changed. (In fact, according to the recent Gallup poll, Congress appears to be lagging behind the public on the issue: Some 72 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of independents and 41 percent of Republicans say they favor a partial or complete withdrawal.)
*Every day brings news of another Republican signing on to the bipartisan resolution introduced last Thursday by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC)--the man who brought us "Freedom Fries"--and Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii). That resolution calls for the Bush Administration to announce a plan for the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq by the end of the year and to initiate the plan as soon as possible. Maverick Congressman Ron Paul (R/Texas) is already a sponsor, Jim Leach (R/ Iowa) signed on Friday and Howard Coble (R/North Carolina) is considering adding his signature. (With 2006 midterms fast approaching, more Republicans will be hearing from constituents who are growing uneasy about the war. And more GOP members up for reelection may start sounding like Jones, who said in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopolous last weekend that he votes his conscience first, his constituents second, and his party third.)
But much hard and grinding organizing work remains ahead.
On Monday afternoon, Abercrombie and others are going to sit down with Congressman Jones and other House members to discuss options to advance the resolution and build activism against the war.
They'll be supported by a national coalition, that includes Win Without War, MoveOn.org, The National Council of Churches, True Majority, Sojourners, Working Assets and the National Organization of Women, which is planning a grassroots outreach campaign encouraging Members of Congress to sign onto the newly introduced bipartisan resolution.
These organizations are going to be concentrating on those members of Congress who should be particularly susceptible to constituent demand about the war. (As Tom Andrews of the invaluable Win Without War group says, "Take it from one who has been there, in Congress loyalty to one's party leaders and president stops at the 'waters edge' of the voters at home.")
"A prairie fire of activism has started," Andrews argues. "Our job now is to fan these flames and get a conflagration of opposition spreading across the country. We are working with our member groups as well as others on a range of action options to build momentum over the next several months. These will include a major action in Washington in September with what I hope will include a complementary Internet based component. Between those marching in DC and those joining through the Internet around the country I am certain that we could have a million Americans demonstrating against the Bush war in September."
The combination of dropping poll numbers, the grinding images of chaos and violence in Iraq, the daily news of young Americans dying in what seems a senseless war and the increasingly active and visible opposition of constituents is bad news for the president and his Congressional allies.
This really can be the beginning of the end of a disastrous war and a bankrupt national security strategy.
Today, voters in Iran cast ballots for a new President--choosing from a field of eight candidates that includes hardline clerics and reformers. The campaign has underscored how dramatically political life inside Iran has changed in recent years.
Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, has been in Iran during the final days of the presidential election, interviewing a wide range of people. In an article this past week, he reported: "The Moin campaign [Mostafa Moin is the leading reformist candidate who polls show as the second choice. He is also the only candidate with an active blog] drew 10,000 people to a rally at Tehran stadium Tuesday night. A number of speakers emphasized that the campaign is aiming to lay the groundwork for a movement--and this election is just the beginning...The Tehran Time reported Wednesday [that] the outspoken Moin 'referred to the upcoming establishment of a Democracy and Human Rights Front in Iran to defend the rights of all Iran's religious and ethnic groups, the youth, academicians, women and political opposition groups whose rights are often neglected..'"
"In a country, " Solomon observed, "where political imprisonment and torture continue, such public statements are emblematic of a courageous movement struggling to emerge from the shadows of the Islamic Republic. "
But that movement for human rights and democracy needs to develop indigenously. As Nobel Peace Prize winner--and Iranian human rights lawyer and activist--Shirin Ebadi warned last year, US government support for Iran's dissidents might not only deprive them of authenticity in their own land but, worse, could stigmatize them as proxies of American neocons intent on regime change.
Or, as Solomon argues: "Iran's most repressive clerics and the USA's most militaristic neocons share a common interest: They're very eager to see the failure of Iranian activism for democracy and human rights...The hardliners in both countries need each other. Theirs is a perverse, mutual dependency that dares not speak its name."
If you want to diversify your newsfeed about this fascinating election--and understand what it may mean for the future of that country--check out the ten blogs I wrote about earlier this month.
As one of Iran's leading bloggers Hossein Derakhshan recently pointed out, the country's many blogs (Iran has 75,000 bloggers) are generating "an unprecedented amount of information." In fact, as he observed: this election "will probably be one of the most open and transparent" Iran has ever seen.
New "Downing Street" memos keep popping up. In recent days, several confidential memos written by senior officials in Tony Blair's government in March 2002 have garnered attention. (AfterDowningStreet.org has all of them posted.) These records--first obtained by Michael Smith, a British journalist formerly working at the Daily Telegraph and now with the Sunday Times of London--provide more evidence that Bush's case for war was less than convincing for his number-one ally. They also illustrate the hubris that drove Blair in his wartime partnership with George W. Bush.
The first and now infamous Downing Street memo chronicled a high-level briefing for Blair that occurred in July 2002, during which the head of British intelligence said Bush was already committed to war and intelligence and facts were being "fixed around the policy" and during which Foreign Minister Jack Straw reported the WMD case for war was "thin." (See my previous column on the memo.) Months before this secret meeting, British officials were already sharing similar sentiments among themselves (not with the public, of course). In a March 22, 2002, memo for Straw, Peter Ricketts, political director of Britain's foreign service, noted that "even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programmes will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or [chemical weapons/biological weapons] fronts." He also reported that the "US scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and Al Aaida [sic] is so far frankly unconvincing."
A March 8, 2002, options paper prepared by Blair's national security aides noted that Iraq's nuclear weapons program was "effectively frozen," its missile program "severely restricted," and its chemical and biological weapons programs "hindered." Saddam Hussein, it reported, "has not succeeded in seriously threatening his neighbors." This paper also said the intelligence on Iraq's supposed WMD program was "poor." It noted that there was no "recent evidence" of Iraqi ties to al Qaeda.
All of this contradicts what Bush told Americans before the invasion of Iraq. He and his aides claimed that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program, that Hussein was producing and stockpiling biological and chemical weapons, that Baghdad was in cahoots with al Qaeda, and that the intelligence obtained by the United States and other governments (presumably including the Brits) left "no doubt" that Iraq posed a direct WMD threat to the United States.
The British memos are further evidence that Bush overstated the main reasons for the war. They also show that his key line of defense is bunk. When confronted with questions about the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush and his allies have consistently pointed to bad intelligence. But the previously released Downing Street memos and the new ones indicate that the Brits--who had access to the prewar intelligence--saw that the WMD case (based on that intelligence) was, as Jack Straw observed, weak. One might ask, why did they have such a different take than the one Bush shared with the public?
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on The Washington Post almost accusing Bush of lying and on Corn's recent Deep Throat scoop.
These memos demonstrate that the issue is not whether Bush was unwittingly duped by bad intelligence. (Bad, George Tenet, bad.) No, Bush tried to sell lousy--or "thin"--intelligence as the basis for the war he desired. According to the new documents, the Brits saw through this. But they did not share their informed perspective with the British or American public. Instead, they went along for the ride.
Why did Blair join with Bush? Probably for several reasons. The memos do show the Blair gang was worried about Saddam Hussein and WMDs, despite realizing Bush was hyping the threat. But the Ricketts' memo suggests Blair saddled up with Bush partly so he could steer the American president. In this memo--entitled "Advice for the Prime Minister"--Ricketts wrote:
By sharing Bush's broad objective, the Prime Minister can help shape how it is defined, and the approach to achieving it. In the process he can bring home to Bush some of the realities which will be less evident from Washington. He can help Bush make good decisions by telling him things his own machine probably isn't.
Ricketts was essentially saying that Bush was not fully attached to reality and that his "own machine" was not providing him all the necessary information. What a harsh indictment of a partner-in-war. Ricketts feared that Bush consequently would make rotten decisions about the war in Iraq. But, Ricketts noted, Blair could be a positive influence by spelling out "the realities" for Bush. Blair, though, could only do that if he was with the program. This is a chilling passage. It illuminates the arrogance of the Blairites. Because they knew better than the not-fully-informed president, they assumed they could nudge Bush in the appropriate direction. But they were signing up for a war led by a man whom they believed was not in sync with reality and who could not be trusted to wage war properly on his own.
What hubris on the part of the Blair team. Feeling superior to Bush, they felt they would be the tail that would wag the dog. But Blair ended up with a war based on a "thin" claim that has yielded an enormous mess. And the fellow in charge of finding a way out of this jam is a guy whose "own machine" keeps reality from him.
Conservatives, some editors in the establishment media, and even the usually smart columnist Michael Kinsley have dismissed the significance and newsworthiness of the Downing Street memos. But these documents afford the public a more extensive view of the misrepresentations Bush deployed to grease the way to war. And they illustrate the serious doubts the Brits had concerning the lead arguments for war and concerning the man who was making those arguments. If only the Downing Street documents could be augmented by a similar set of Pennsylvania Avenue memos.
IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."
For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.
Congressman Walter Jones is a Republican from North Carolina, he voted for the war in Iraq, and he coined the term Freedom Fries. So he's obviously no peacenik, but he is the first Republican to break with the White House and call for a firm date to withdraw American troops from Iraq. He says he had a change of heart when he saw the devastation this war has caused to military families across the country.
Military families aren't just speaking to their Congressional representatives; they are speaking loudly to all of us by refusing to allow their sons and daughter, husbands and wives to enlist. President Bush interpreted the November election as an affirmation of his agenda, but as we see from his plummeting poll numbers, the unpopularity of his policy proposals, and the dramatic drop in recruitment numbers, he was wrong.
Congressman Jones said in an interview last Sunday with ABC's George Stephanopoulos that he votes his conscience first, his constituents second, his party third. Even if this is just a good line, it's exactly the way we need our politicians to think if we are ever to get out of this terrible mess in Iraq.
So, with the heaving sound of an old tree suddenly splitting apart in a storm, the labor movement is finally breaking up. Last weekend the SEIU executive board authorized its leadership to leave the AFL-CIO.
Today, the five unions now comprising the Change To Win Coalition (CTWC)--along with SEIU, the Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, Laborers, and UNITE HERE--meet to form what amounts to a rival federation, whether they all formally leave the AFL-CIO or not. These unions' collective 5 million membership represents 40 percent of the AFL-CIO's 13 million total. If the mammoth 2.7 million member National Education Association aligns with the effort, CTWC will hold exactly half of all union members in the United States.
The avowed basis of the break is a fundamental disagreement on strategy, often depicted as a choice by the insurgents of organizing over politics. This is misleading. Many of the unions remaining in the federation are every bit as committed as the CTWC group to organizing new union members. And some CTWC unions, particularly SEIU, are keenly aware of the importance of politics in increasing union membership. The fight is really about consolidation and political focus. SEIU has argued that the current practice of having several unions competing in single industrial sectors--"15 separate organizations in transportation, 15 in construction, 13 in public employment, 9 in manufacturing, and so on"--defeats the scaled effort needed to take on business in today's climate. It wants to compel fewer, bigger, more clearly sectorally-based unions, as in northern Europe. And it has argued that labor must find ways to mobilize support outside itself, chiefly through more engagement in state and local politics.
It is hard to argue with any of these claims, though whether CTWC can realize its promise is an open question. Even unions without competition in their declared industries are showing declines in density, as indeed are the new Coalition's own members. And outside SEIU itself, and UNITE HERE in a few cities, few of CTWC's members show much commitment to the community links and coalition work needed to gain greater influence over state and local politics. In all the shifting of positions over the past seven months, as this "coalition of the willing" has been constructed, the present result sometimes seems less the principled conclusion to a principled debate than the final triumph of testosterone over inertia.The latter is largely produced by the fragmented governing structure of the AFL,which makes it very difficult to undertake bold initiatives.
But so be it. Barring some miracle at the AFL-CIO convention in late July, or some last-minute membership or governance concession to SEIU offered by one of the loyalists with something it wants (most likely AFSCME)--labor is now split more or less in half. We can look forward to a long ugly period of dissension in America's most important single progressive movement, facing an administration intent on its complete destruction.
I don't think this split was necessary, and still think it would have been best for the state of progressive politics if both sides could have worked out a deal on federation reform. But I also recognize that in the areas of greatest need for labor--organizing, and political engagement and programs in the states and cities--it's hard to do much worse than what is being done now.
So, while I believe that solidarity in the face of an onslaught is preferable, I respect those who argue that standing together may not make sense if they aren't standing in the right place. And I appreciate the difficulty of changing a dysfunctional organization from within. So I wish the insurgents luck. This country desperately needs a labor movement that is again "the collection of many that speaks for all," that can provide an organized and intelligent moral center to a majoritarian progressive politics--the folks who brought you the weekend, the eight-hour day, and so much else that makes this country (almost) civilized. I just wish we weren't starting this way in reclaiming that.
Michael Jackson has been acquitted on the ten charges of child molestation and related wrongs that were brought against the self-proclaimed "King of Pop."
That's right, "So what!"
Jackson's trial was certainly of consequence to the 46-year-old poster boy for arrested development. And it undoubtedly mattered to his accuser and the boy's family. It was also a big deal for the legal team that got Jackson off, and for the man who brought the prosecution, Santa Barbara County District Attorney Tom Sneddon, whose bizarre career of headline-grabbing has taken a definite turn for the worse.
But nothing about the Michael Jackson trial mattered to the rest of America. It was merely a soap opera that served -- for 18 long months -- to distract the citizenry from the serious business of electing a president, protecting their retirement security from Wall Street raiders and following the degeneration of the war in Iraq into the quagmire it was destined to be.
Make no mistake: Big media corporations loved the Jackson trial because it was cheap to cover -- set up a camera in front of a California courthouse and the hard work is done -- and because it had a lowest-common-denominator appeal that could always be relied on to titillate audiences trained to believe that celebrity gossip is "news."
The problem with big media's cynical game of feeding the American people a junk-food diet of movie-star romances and showbiz scandals is that eventually perspective starts to get lost. On Monday, a breathless CBS radio news announcer described the Jackson verdict as "the lead story of the day, perhaps the month, perhaps the year."
If that announcer was even remotely right, then America is in serious trouble, because despite what much of the media may choose to make of the Jackson story, this tired little tabloid report is not the story that matters. It is, however, the story that keeps on giving to the powerful players in Washington who would prefer to avoid the sort of scrutiny that is directed at the Michael Jackson of the moment.
Notably, on the day that the story of Jackson's acquittal dominated the national news, Vice President Dick Cheney was cheerfully handing out journalism awards at the National Press Club in Washington. While the reporters who received the "Gerald Ford Journalism Awards" from the vice president were officially the ones being honored, it was Cheney who had the most to be thankful for.
So long as the so-called "news" media continues to use most of its might -- and most of the public's airwaves -- to distract the American people from the real lead stories about the misdeeds of a government that has sent almost 1,700 of this country's sons and daughters to needless death in Iraq and about war profiteering by corporations such as Cheney's former employer, Halliburton, the vice president and his cronies have even more to celebrate than Michael Jackson.