Before nonpresident Al Gore recently weighed in against President Bush's
rush to war in Iraq (for posing "the potential to seriously damage our
ability to win the war against terrorism and to w
Even as Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone announced his opposition to
In January, when George W. Bush's pollster warned that "Enron is a much
bigger story than anyone in Washington realizes," White House political
director Karl Rove informed the Republican National Committee that this
fall's election would have to be about national security rather than the
economy. Rove wasn't practicing political rocket science; he was merely
echoing the common-sense calculations of veteran Republican strategists
like Jack Pitney, who says, "If voters go to the polls with corporate
scandals at the top of their list, they're probably going to vote
Democratic. If they go [thinking about] the war on terrorism and taxes,"
Republicans have the advantage. Now, with the election that will set the
course for the second half of Bush's term less than two months away,
Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, National Security
Adviser Rice and every other Republican with a talking-head permit is
busy making the improbable case for war with Iraq.
Rove's sly strategy appears to be working. On September 4, the day
Congress returned from its summer break, the Dow Jones average plunged
355 points. Yet the next morning's headlines talked about how Bush would
"put the case for action in Iraq to key lawmakers." Whether Bush
actually believes that the war he's promoting is necessary--or even
marketable--there's no question that Republican prospects are aided by
the fact that he's talking about Saddam Hussein rather than Enron,
WorldCom, Harken, Halliburton, deficits, layoffs and 401(k)atastrophes.
There is, however, some question as to why Democrats are allowing Rove's
scenario to play out so smoothly. Along with those questions comes the
fear that unless the supposed party of opposition finds its voice soon,
Democrats could squander opportunities not only to stop a senseless and
unnecessary war but also to hold the Senate and wrest control of the
House from the right in November.
So far, however, most of the coherent Congressional challenges to the
Bush strategy have been initiated by Republicans worried about the
threat a war would pose to the domestic economy (House majority leader
Dick Armey) or who actually listen to the State Department (Jim Leach, a
key player on the House International Relations Committee). While Bush
and Rove have had trouble keeping their GOP comrades in line, they've
had more luck with Democrats. Only a handful of Democrats, like
Progressive Caucus chair Dennis Kucinich, have echoed Armey's blunt
criticisms of the rush to war. A few more have chimed in with practical
arguments against the Administration line, a view perhaps best expressed
by Martin Sabo of Minnesota, who says that "to move into a country and
say we're going to topple the government and take over the
government--and I think inherent in that is also 'run it'--is not
something we have ever proved very capable of doing."
But House Democratic opposition has been muddled by the fact that
minority leader Dick Gephardt has positioned himself as an enthusiastic
backer of "regime change" in Iraq. One senior member of his caucus says,
"You can pin most of the blame on Gephardt. If he hadn't been so
enthusiastic about going to war when the Bush people brought this up in
the first place, I think they would have backed off." Acknowledging that
Gephardt's position could make it difficult to hold off a House vote in
October, Kucinich says, "I think it could all come down to how Daschle
handles the issue."
Senate majority leader Tom Daschle is not doing Bush as many favors as
Gephardt--Daschle at least says Congress needs more information. But the
Senate's leader has yet to echo likely 2004 Democratic presidential
candidate Senator John Kerry's suggestion that a policy of containment
would be sufficient to manage any threat posed by Iraq, let alone to
express the steady skepticism of Senate Armed Services Committee chair
Carl Levin, who left a meeting at which Rumsfeld tried to make the case
for war and said, "I don't think [the Administration] added anything."
Daschle's caution is rooted in his concern that a misstep on issues of
war and patriotism could jeopardize his continued leadership of the
Senate. It's a legitimate worry; his one-seat majority could well be
endangered if flag-waving appeals take hold--as they have before--in
Senate battleground states like Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Georgia,
North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Daschle's own South Dakota.
But Daschle's caution is not making things easier for Democrats in those
states. It has simply left him playing Karl Rove's game when he should
be saying what most Americans know: that in the absence of any credible
evidence of an immediate and quantifiable threat from Iraq, Congress
should not get bogged down in this issue. Moving aggressively to shift
the focus from Iraq to corporate wrongdoing and economic instability
would be smart politics for Daschle and the Democrats. More important,
calling the President's bluff on Iraq would slow the rush toward a
senseless war while freeing Congress to debate genuine threats to
Doomed by the incoherence of a foreign policy defined largely by biblical notions of the struggle between good and evil, the Bush Administration thrashes about in its hunt for the devil.
The US Green Party held its first-ever midterm convention since becoming a full-fledged national party in Philadelphia a week ago, and the gathering of seventy-nine delegates from thirty-nine stat
This past weekend, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) convened a national conversation in New York City.
It was bad enough that the Bush Administration co-opted the Children's
Defense Fund slogan "Leave No Child Behind." Then the most famous former
board member of CDF, Hillary Rodham Clinton, apparently decided to leave
children behind in her rush to the political center, endorsing a bill
that contained some of the worst elements of the Bush welfare reform
Fortunately, Hillary's Senate colleagues decided to take a courageous
stand. To the surprise and relief of advocates, the Senate produced a
bipartisan welfare reform bill that is more progressive than the current
law in almost every way.
The Senate bill, which emerged from the Finance Committee and soon goes
to the floor, repudiates the White House vision of welfare reform. But
the final version is still up in the air, and the politics of welfare
reform are fickle, as evidenced by Hillary's unexpectedly harsh
position. Whether we have a welfare reform law aimed at simply ending
welfare or a sincere effort to help families get out of poverty will be
decided in the days to come.
The House of Representatives and the White House wanted to double the
hours of work--paid and unpaid--for poor single mothers, effectively
ending their chances of getting better jobs through education and
training. They wanted to do away with exemptions from this workload for
mothers with small children and other significant barriers to
employment, and make it even harder for them to obtain access during
"work hours" to drug treatment, domestic violence counseling and other
services that might help people become more employable--not to mention
lead more tolerable lives. (The bill Hillary signed onto also contained
these provisions.) They wanted to keep the ban on Medicaid for many
legal immigrants. And, despite all the emphasis on work, they added next
to nothing for childcare, stranding single mothers with young children
in an impossible situation.
The Senate has taken a much more responsible approach: rejecting the
increase in work hours, expanding education and training, and restoring
benefits for legal immigrants. The Senate bill, however, has a few major
flaws. One of the biggest is the $5.5 billion proposed for childcare
funding, which will not even cover the cost of maintaining existing
The final bill will likely increase those funds (twenty-five Democrats,
including Hillary Clinton, are on the record as supporting more money
for childcare). The bigger problem is that the quality of available care
is so inferior as to be developmentally damaging and, in some cases,
outright dangerous for poor children. Two toddlers died when they were
forgotten in a hot van all day at a daycare center used by
welfare-reform clients in Memphis. More commonly, children find
themselves strapped into car seats, attended only by blaring television
sets, or simply left to roam the streets. The trade-off of more mothers
in the work force for more bad care leaves kids the losers.
If policy-makers are serious about ending the cycle of poverty, they
will look closely at the price children are paying for welfare "reforms"
that focus relentlessly on pushing more poor mothers into low-wage work.
A study by researchers at Columbia, Stanford, Yale and the University of
California reports that mothers who have moved from welfare to work
spend four hours less each day with their preschool children, read to
and talk with their children less, suffer twice the rate of clinical
depression as the rest of the population and cut meals to make ends
"You go through so much because of these people," says Swan Moore, a
welfare client and member of Community Voices Heard, an advocacy group
in New York City. Moore was one of 200 low-income women who took a bus
ride to Washington in May to protest outside Hillary Clinton's home when
she signed the welfare reform bill written by Evan Bayh, head of the
Democratic Leadership Council. The women threw waffles on Clinton's
lawn, urging her to stop "waffling"--saying she supported poor women and
children, then signed punitive legislation.
"I just wish politicians would meet with people and talk to us and stop
trying to hop on some political bandwagon," says Moore. "How can you
make laws for people you know nothing about?"
Shortly after the protest, Clinton joined Ted Kennedy in a statement of
progressive principles on welfare reform. But her waffling shows just
how tenuous support for the poor can be. The question now is: Will
Senate Democrats stick to their guns and fight for welfare reform that
makes a positive difference? Watch what happens in the floor debate,
particularly on issues of childcare and the five-year lifetime limit on
assistance, which currently applies even to people working in low-paying
jobs, who receive income supplements as low as $50 a month.
There is a real chance for progressive legislation to reach the
President's desk, now that the Senate bill has marshaled bipartisan
support. The welfare bill came out of the most conservative committee in
the Senate. Democrats have the votes to make it even better on the
The world has changed since the Clinton White House ended welfare as we
knew it in 1996. No one is arguing for a return to the old system.
Instead, advocates are pushing for a few provisions to allow poor women
with children to earn a living and do right by their kids. The Senate
bill contains the seeds of hope for that vision. Rather than risking a
veto, the White House may try to delay until the bill dies. That would
mean a one-year extension of the current law--but a year from now there
will be even less money available for progressive programs.
It's now or never. As the 1996 welfare reform law comes up for
reauthorization, Congress and the President have a historic opportunity
to change the future for children who live below the poverty line--16
percent of all kids, and 30 percent of African-American children. That's
a lot of people to leave behind.
SEC chairman Harvey Pitt lurches from lapdog to bulldog, threatening
CEOs with jail time if their corporate reports mislead. George Bush
demands "top floor" accountability. Republican leaders in the House
muscle their own caucus members into passing a sham prescription drug
The run-up to the fall elections has begun. Barely a month ago, White
House political guru Karl Rove was telling Republicans they could retain
control of Congress by waving the flag, celebrating the recovery and
promoting an ill-defined "compassion agenda." Now, with the dollar and
the stock market sinking, the recovery looking shaky and Vice President
Cheney back in hiding as investigations widen into accounting deceptions
at his former company, Halliburton, Republicans are getting nervous.
Americans don't want the war on terrorism turned to partisan purpose,
pollster Stan Greenberg informed a Campaign for America's Future press
briefing, "and they want this election to be about their own pressing
concerns"--the soaring price of healthcare, educating their children,
paying for college, decent jobs with good benefits and whether they can
afford to retire now that their 401(k) has become a 201(k).
At such a moment, progressive reforms are not only good policy but good
politics. Add a real prescription drug provision to Medicare. Get
serious about cracking down on HMOs. Invest in teachers, schools and
after-school care and help with college tuition; pay for it by closing
down offshore tax havens and making billionaires pay what they did
before George W. Bush cut their taxes. Raise the minimum wage and curb
excessive executive pay packages. Protect workers' pensions and
prosecute corrupt corporate executives. Save Social Security from
privatization's benefit cuts. Stop fast-track trade authority and demand
trade accords that strengthen rather than diminish worker, farmer and
environmental protections. Make polluters pay for cleaning up their
toxic wastes instead of sending the bill to taxpayers and slowing the
The popularity of these reforms has led Republicans to add political
cross-dressing to the Rove strategy: Hug a tree, hang a CEO, don't say
the word "privatization." Whether they can get away with this is
unclear. It's a bit like putting pearl earrings on a sow. It's an
all-too-real prospect, however, at a time when Democrats control the
Senate but fast track passes easily, when Senator Ted Kennedy still has
trouble getting fellow Democrats to sign on for a rewrite of Bush's
fundamentally flawed tax plan, and when Democratic Leadership
Council-addled "money Democrats" blur the differences between the
If Democrats hope to win in 2002, they will have to do it the
old-fashioned way--by running as Democrats. And labor, community, civil
rights, women's and environmental groups will have to give them a push
in the right direction--just as they did with the successful effort to
keep the GOP from enacting a permanent repeal of the estate tax. Rove
and his army of strategists are masters at filling the narrow cracks
between the GOP and "kinder, gentler" Democrats. Only by opening a
significant divide between themselves and the GOP can the Democrats
emerge as the alternative that Rove and his minions fear--and that the
voters are ready to embrace.
"How long do I have?" James Pierson asked, trying to maintain eye
contact with the man behind the desk.
"Three months, eleven days, seven hours and forty-three minutes,"
David Barnett said.
"Well, it's now the afternoon of August 19, 2010," Barnett said. "We're
advising people not to wait until the very last day. December 31 is a
time when there can be a certain amount of New Year's Eve chaos at
hospitals, and that could put the death certificate over until next
year, or at least muddy the waters if there's a question that ends up in
court. So, getting it done in 2010, if you're being prudent, means
getting it done before December 31, or three months, eleven days, seven
hours and forty-three minutes from now."
Pierson swallowed. He found the phrase "getting it done" off-putting.
Finally, he said, "I don't suppose there's a chance that this could be
"Well, in theory there's always a chance," Barnett said. "The Democrats
could come back after recess and announce that they've changed their
minds, and, despite everything they've said in the nine years since
2001, they're going to make the repeal of the inheritance tax permanent,
but I don't think it would be wise to count on that happening."
"So it's now or never is what you're saying?" Pierson said.
"Well, it's this year or never. Look, under the provisions of the
original law, the exemption has been raised and the rates lowered every
year for the past nine years. It would have been shortsighted to die in
order to take advantage of any of those tax reductions, because this
year the tax is gone altogether. But the law still has its sunset
provision: It fades away on December 31, 2010, unless it's renewed. So,
given the Democratic majorities in both houses and the current deficit,
it's likely that starting January 1, 2011, the estate tax will be the
same as it was before the rates started coming down. From a tax
liability standpoint, there is no alternative to taking advantage of
this window of opportunity."
"Look, Jim," Barnett said, "Why are you in the business you're in?"
"Because the company had enormous paper losses that saved me a bundle in
taxes and the only thing it actually owned was shares in some airliners
that we depreciated the hell out of before we fobbed them off on some
bush airline in Central America."
"And why do you drive the vehicle you drive, even though the dozer
attachment makes it difficult to park in any space smaller than the
Wal-Mart parking lot?"
"Because we can write it off as farm equipment, of course," Pierson
"This is my point," Barnett said. "You've always run your life according
to what makes sense from a tax-liability standpoint. You have a vacation
condo in Louisiana, where you exist in what amounts to a steam bath all
summer, because it's in a development that juts out into the gulf and we
figured out how to depreciate it as a shrimp boat. You and Margaret
tried to time the birth of your children for late December to get an
extra year's deduction. You've planted a lot of weird-looking trees so
we could have your backyard declared an experimental forest and take a
$14,000 loss every year, not to mention deducting what you pay the kid
to mow the lawn. I'm just your tax consultant, Jim. But it seems to me
that if you don't take advantage of the 2010 window, you wouldn't be
"I'd be alive, of course," Pierson said. "There's that."
"But don't you see: You'd just be living for the government," Barnett
said. "Just because you live past 2010, 50 percent of your estate will
go right into Uncle Sam's pocket. What's the point?"
"Fifty percent!" Pierson blurted out--and then, before he realized what
he was saying, added, "I'd sooner die than give the government 50
"Exactly!" Barnett said.
Pierson was silent for a while. Then, his voice still tentative, he
said, "Have you been making any suggestions about method? When you said
'window of opportunity' a moment ago..."
"No, no," Barnett said. "What we're recommending is a high-quality
hunting rifle. It's dependable, easy to operate and almost certain to be
completely undamaged by the incident, so that it can be passed on in
mint condition to the heirs--who, of course, would pay absolutely no
inheritance tax on it."
"A high-quality hunting rifle would be rather expensive," Pierson said.
"I don't suppose..."
"Yes, we believe that under a loophole in a rider to the Reserve Officer
Training Act, as rewritten in 1978, we have a way to deduct it," Barnett
said, "as long as you register your cellar as an Alternate Emergency
Munitions Collection Point."
Pierson nodded his head silently, and then said, "I wouldn't imagine..."
"Yes," Bartlett said. "We believe we've figured out a way that your
heirs could depreciate the hunting rifle."
"Over ten or fifteen years?"
"Six years," Bartlett said, beaming with pride.
"Six years!" Pierson said.
"Wow!" He nodded his head again, slapped his hands on his knees, and
stood up. Then he said, with new resolution in his voice, "That settles
The Pentagon's recent decision to limit anthrax vaccine shots to those
at high risk does not address the fundamental objection to the shots,
which is the lack of informed consent. The military maintains that it is
not required to seek informed consent for the vaccine because it is
currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and it continues
to court-martial personnel who refuse the vaccine. These servicemembers
contend that the vaccine is unsafe and that the military is not using it
in the prescribed manner.
The Pentagon announced its controversial plan to forcibly inoculate all
2.4 million troops against anthrax in 1997. Almost immediately, military
members began to protest, based in part on the revelation that
approximately 300,000 servicemembers had been given experimental drugs
without their knowledge in the Gulf War. Both during and after the Gulf
War, many military personnel experienced systemic medical problems,
which are often collectively termed Gulf War Syndrome. Seven years after
the Gulf War, the military finally admitted that it had used
experimental drugs on its personnel without their consent, and that
these drugs could be factors in the medical problems.
The FDA approved the current anthrax vaccine in 1970 primarily for
agricultural workers, but not for routine immunization on large
populations. Originally approved for a six-shot, eighteen-month
protocol, the vaccine is intended to treat cutaneous (through the skin)
anthrax, but has never been tested for inhalation anthrax, which is the
most deadly form and the most likely to occur in a combat situation.
Despite the military's assertions that very few adverse reactions have
been reported from the vaccine, the General Accounting Office found that
the Pentagon has been negligent in tracking such reactions. In fact,
many military personnel have reported adverse reactions. In 2000 the GAO
surveyed the National Guard and reserve forces given the vaccine, and 85
percent reported some reactions, with 23.8 percent reported to be
systemic. Additionally, the GAO reports that the long-term effects of
the anthrax vaccine have never been studied. In 1994 one of the Army's
top biological researchers wrote that "the current vaccine against
anthrax is unsatisfactory."
In 1996 the manufacturer BioPort submitted an application to the FDA to
amend the original anthrax vaccine license to include treatment of
inhalation anthrax as an approved use, as well as an approved reduction
in the vaccination schedule. FDA regulations specify that should an
organization desire a license change for a previously approved drug or a
modified dosing schedule, the drug essentially reverts to experimental
status. Due to a vaccine shortage, the military does not require that
personnel complete the six-shot protocol, and in some cases it has
prescribed that only two of the six required shots are necessary. So
under the current law, the military, in using the anthrax vaccine as a
prophylactic against inhalation anthrax, is basically using an
experimental drug on its own people without their consent.
In light of the Gulf War experimental drug abuses, the Pentagon's
circumvention of FDA regulations with anthrax vaccine is very
unsettling. Even after the anthrax scare post-9/11, we cannot simply
ignore the system of checks and balances for experimental drugs. In
volunteering for service, military members sacrifice much for their
country. Just as they are expected to conform to the rules of their
superiors, the Pentagon should be expected to obey the laws of the