Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Rolling Back Women's Rights

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Rolling Back Women's Rights

and, because it is so important, when the link runs out, here is the text again:

ispensing with legislative niceties like holding hearings or full and open debate, President Bush and the Republican Congress have used the cover of a must-pass spending bill to mount a disgraceful sneak attack on women's health and freedom.

Tucked into the $388 billion budget measure just approved by the House and Senate is a sweeping provision that has nothing to do with the task Congress had at hand - providing money for the government. In essence, it tells health care companies, hospitals and insurance companies they are free to ignore Roe v. Wade and state and local laws and regulations currently on the books to make certain that women's access to reproductive health services includes access to abortion.

It remains to be seen exactly how the measure will work in practice. But the intention, plainly, is to curtail further already dwindling access to abortion and even to counseling that mentions abortion as a legal option. It denies federal financing to government agencies that "discriminate" against health care providers who choose for any reason to disregard state mandates to offer abortion-related services. This represents a vast expansion of the "conscience protection" that federal law currently gives to individual doctors who do not want to undergo abortion training.

The affront to women's rights, moreover, should not obscure the serious threat to the First Amendment involved in enacting what is likely to evolve into a domestic "gag rule" as, one by one, health care providers order doctors they employ not to provide patients with information about the abortion option. This echoes the way Mr. Bush reimposed a blanket Reagan-era gag rule for providers of reproductive health services abroad on his first full day in office back in 2001.

Unfortunately, vocal opposition from Democrats and a handful of Republican moderates was not enough to stop the pernicious assault on the rights of millions of women from becoming law in the rush to pass the spending bill. At least Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, won a promise from the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, to permit a direct vote on a bill repealing this measure not long into the new Congressional session. In the meantime, Americans, and American women in particular, are officially on notice that post-election, the Republican war on reproductive rights has entered an ominous new phase.

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Apocalypse (Almost) Now

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Apocalypse (Almost) Now

Friday, November 19, 2004

Bush Administration's personnel policy. From the New Republic

Bush Administration’s hackery

TOWARD A UNIFIED THEORY OF BUSH ADMINISTRATION HACKERY: I count two schools of thought on why the Bush administration tends to reward people who screw up (Condoleezza Rice, Don Rumsfeld, Stephen Hadley, etc.) while dismissing those who speak out when they see mistakes being made (Colin Powell, Paul O'Neill, much of the upper ranks of the CIA). In one camp are those, like the editors of TNR , who argue that, since the administration values loyalty above all else, it's only natural that it would promote or extend the tenures of toadies and yes-men while showing internal critics the door. In the other camp are those, like Matt Yglesias , who argue that the administration has to hang on to the screw-ups because to fire them would be to admit mistakes, something this administration is incapable of doing.

But there's a third, hybrid option I don't think anyone's considered: What if the administration sticks with people who've screwed up because having screwed up makes you even more loyal to the administration, while having not screwed up would tend to make you disloyal. This occurred to me while reading yesterday's profile of Hadley in The Washington Post . Hadley, you may recall, is the guy who took responsibility for the erroneous uranium-from-Niger claim in the president's 2003 State of the Union Address. In most cases, that would not only be a firing offense, it'd be the kind of thing that prevented you from working for future administrations--maybe even limited your career options outside government.

But, then, maybe that's exactly the point as far as this White House is concerned. Because Hadley is such damaged goods, he owes much more to this administration than would someone who had other employment options, meaning he'll be even more loyal than even your standard administration yes-man. I don't think it's crazy to suspect that the White House actually prefers people whose career prospects would be grim the second they fell out of the president's good graces. Conversely, the people who manage to keep their reputations intact and avoid screwing up must scare the hell out of this White House, since they don't owe the president anything and since, for that matter, it's in their interest to distance themselves from any screwing up that goes on there in order to preserve future career options.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Morally correct? from the New Republic

Morally Correct
by Peter Beinart
Once upon a time, conservatives considered "sensitivity" a dirty word. In the 1980s and 1990s, when African Americans and other campus minorities claimed they were victims of racism and demanded greater respect from white students and faculty, conservatives popularized a term for this group whining: political correctness. They gasped when campus radicals tried to silence criticism of affirmative action by saying it created a hostile climate for black students. They worried aloud that university administrators--in their efforts to spare minority students' feelings--were stifling debate. For a time, combating this culture of punitive sensitivity was one of the right's primary concerns. 

Not anymore. In the wake of their recent triumph at the polls, conservatives have found their own supposedly disrespected minority: evangelicals. And they are playing victim politics with a gusto that would make campus radicals proud. 

One of the things that galled the right during the "political correctness" wars was the way leftists casually threw around terms like "racist" and "bigot." For conservatives, some of whom knew firsthand how much harm those accusations could cause, it became axiomatic that such pejoratives should be reserved for only the most egregious, clear-cut examples of racial or ethnic animus. After Trent Lott--a man who had long consorted with white supremacists--praised Strom Thurmond's segregationist 1948 presidential bid, many conservatives called him dumb and embarrassing. (To their credit, some called for his removal as Senate leader.) But very few were willing to call him a bigot. Few would pin the label even on Jesse Helms or Thurmond himself. Extreme scrupulousness about such epithets seemed like a touchstone of the conservative worldview. 

That's how it seemed, anyhow. In recent weeks, prominent conservatives have been anything but scrupulous in charging Democrats with bigotry against people of faith. Just before the election, Christian Right leader James Dobson called Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy a "God's people hater." On November 8, talk-show host Joe Scarborough condemned "Democrats who take solace in their bigoted anti-Christian screeds." Right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin recently blurbed a book titled Persecution: How Liberals are Waging War Against Christianity, noting that "Persecution exposes the hypocrisy and bigotry of the secular, anti-Christian Left." And, last Sunday, Mary Matalin chimed in on "Meet the Press," claiming that "people of faith, in the election process, they have been demonized and they have been treated with disdain and contempt." Imagine if James Carville, who was seated next to her on the show, had made the same claim about African Americans (who, although they are one of the most religious groups in America, vote Democratic, and thus don't fall under Matalin's "people of faith" rubric). Within 15 minutes, the conservative blogosphere would have accused him of politically correct demagoguery. 

To be fair, occasionally liberals do treat evangelical Christians with condescension and scorn. Conservatives frequently, and justifiably, expressed outrage at a Washington Post news story that called followers of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command." (They tend not to note that the story is eleven years old, and the Post issued an immediate retraction.) On November 4, in The New York Times, Garry Wills suggested that America now resembles the theocracies of the Muslim world more than it resembles Western Europe, which is offensive, not to mention absurd. 

But, most of the time, what conservatives call anti-evangelical bigotry is simply harsh criticism of the Christian Right's agenda. Scarborough seized on a recent column by Maureen Dowd, which accused President Bush of "replacing science with religion, and facts with faith," leading America into "another dark age." The Weekly Standard recently pilloried Thomas Friedman for criticizing "Christian fundamentalists" who "promote divisions and intolerance at home and abroad," and Howell Raines, for saying the Christian Right wants to enact "theologically based cultural norms." 

This isn't bigotry. What these (and most other) liberals are saying is that the Christian Right sees politics through the prism of theology, and there's something dangerous in that. And they're right. It's fine if religion influences your moral values. But, when you make public arguments, you have to ground them--as much as possible--in reason and evidence, things that are accessible to people of different religions, or no religion at all. Otherwise, you can't persuade other people, and they can't persuade you. In a diverse democracy, there must be a common political language, and that language can't be theological. 

Sometimes, conservative evangelicals grasp this and find nonreligious justifications for their views. (Christian conservatives sometimes argue that embryonic stem cells hold little scientific promise, or that gay marriage leads to fewer straight ones. On abortion, they sometimes cite medical advances to show that fetuses are more like infants than pro-choicers recognize. Such arguments are accessible to all, and thus permit fruitful debate.) But, since the election, the airwaves have been full of a different kind of argument. What many conservatives are now saying is that, since certain views are part of evangelicals' identity, harshly criticizing those views represents discrimination. It's no different than when some feminists say that, since the right to abortion is a critical part of their identity, opposing abortion disrespects them as women. When George Stephanopoulos asked Dobson to justify his charge that Senator Leahy is an anti-Christian bigot, he replied that the Vermont senator "has been in opposition to most of the things that I believe." In other words, disagree with me and you're a racist. Al Sharpton couldn't have said it better. 

Identity politics is a powerful thing--a way of short-circuiting debate by claiming that your views aren't merely views; they are an integral part of who you are. And who you are must be respected. But harsh criticism is not disrespect--and to claim it is undermines democratic debate by denying opponents the right to aggressively, even impolitely, disagree. That is what conservatives are doing when they accuse liberals of religious bigotry merely for demanding that the Christian Right defend their viewpoints with facts, not faith. Once upon a time, conservatives knew better. I hope some still do. 

Peter Beinart is the editor of TNR.

Scaary!! All those undecideds: The downside of democracy.

Decision Makers
by Christopher Hayes
Only at TNR Online
Post date: 11.17.04

For those who follow politics, there are few things more mysterious, more inscrutable, more maddening than the mind of the undecided voter. In this year's election, when the choice was so stark and the differences between the candidates were so obvious, how could any halfway intelligent human remain undecided for long? "These people," Jonah Goldberg once wrote of undecided voters, on a rare occasion when he probably spoke for the entire political class, "can't make up their minds, in all likelihood, because either they don't care or they don't know anything."

And that was more or less how I felt before I decided to spend the last seven weeks of the campaign talking to swing voters in Wisconsin. In September, I signed up to work for the League of Conservation Voters' Environmental Victory Project--a canvassing operation that recruited volunteers in five states to knock on doors in "swing wards" with high concentrations of undecided or persuadable voters. During my time in suburban Dane County, which surrounds Madison, I knocked on more than 1,000 doors and talked to hundreds of Wisconsin residents. Our mission was simple: to identify undecided voters and convince them to vote for John Kerry.

My seven weeks in Wisconsin left me with a number of observations (all of them highly anecdotal, to be sure) about swing voters, which I explain below. But those small obsFervations add up to one overarching contention: that the caricature of undecided voters favored by liberals and conservatives alike doesn't do justice to the complexity, indeed the oddity, of undecided voters themselves. None of this is to say that undecided voters are completely undeserving of the derision that the political class has heaped on them--just that Jonah Goldberg, and the rest of us, may well be deriding them for the wrong reasons.

Undecided voters aren't as rational as you think. Members of the political class may disparage undecided voters, but we at least tend to impute to them a basic rationality. We're giving them too much credit. I met voters who told me they were voting for Bush, but who named their most important issue as the environment. One man told me he voted for Bush in 2000 because he thought that with Cheney, an oilman, on the ticket, the administration would finally be able to make us independent from foreign oil. A colleague spoke to a voter who had been a big Howard Dean fan, but had switched to supporting Bush after Dean lost the nomination. After half an hour in the man's house, she still couldn't make sense of his decision. Then there was the woman who called our office a few weeks before the election to tell us that though she had signed up to volunteer for Kerry she had now decided to back Bush. Why? Because the president supported stem cell research. The office became quiet as we all stopped what we were doing to listen to one of our fellow organizers try, nobly, to disabuse her of this notion. Despite having the facts on her side, the organizer didn't have much luck.

Undecided voters do care about politics; they just don't enjoy politics. Political junkies tend to assume that undecided voters are undecided because they don't care enough to make up their minds. But while I found that most undecided voters are, as one Kerry aide put it to The New York Times , "relatively low-information, relatively disengaged," the lack of engagement wasn't a sign that they didn't care. After all, if they truly didn't care, they wouldn't have been planning to vote. The undecided voters I talked to did care about politics, or at least judged it to be important; they just didn't enjoy politics.

The mere fact that you're reading this article right now suggests that you not only think politics is important, but you actually like it. You read the paper and listen to political radio and talk about politics at parties. In other words, you view politics the way a lot of people view cooking or sports or opera: as a hobby. Most undecided voters, by contrast, seem to view politics the way I view laundry. While I understand that to be a functioning member of society I have to do my laundry, and I always eventually get it done, I'll never do it before every last piece of clean clothing is dirty, as I find the entire business to be a chore. A significant number of undecided voters, I think, view politics in exactly this way: as a chore, a duty, something that must be done but is altogether unpleasant, and therefore something best put off for as long as possible.

A disturbing number of undecided voters are crypto-racist isolationists. In the age of the war on terror and the war in Iraq, pundits agreed that this would be the most foreign policy-oriented election in a generation--and polling throughout the summer seemed to bear that out. In August the Pew Center found that 40 percent of voters were identifying foreign policy and defense as their top issues, the highest level of interest in foreign policy during an election year since 1972.

But just because voters were unusually concerned about foreign policy didn't mean they had fundamentally shifted their outlook on world affairs. In fact, among undecided voters, I encountered a consistent and surprising isolationism--an isolationism that September 11 was supposed to have made obsolete everywhere but the left and right fringes of the political spectrum. Voters I spoke to were concerned about the Iraq war and about securing American interests, but they seemed entirely unmoved by the argument--accepted, in some form or another, by just about everyone in Washington--that the security of the United States is dependent on the freedom and well-being of the rest of the world.

In fact, there was a disturbing trend among undecided voters--as well as some Kerry supporters--towards an opposition to the Iraq war based largely on the ugliest of rationales. I had one conversation with an undecided, sixtyish, white voter whose wife was voting for Kerry. When I mentioned the "mess in Iraq" he lit up. "We should have gone through Iraq like shit through tinfoil," he said, leaning hard on the railing of his porch. As I tried to make sense of the mental image this evoked, he continued: "I mean we should have dominated the place; that's the only thing these people understand. ... Teaching democracy to Arabs is like teaching the alphabet to rats." I didn't quite know what to do with this comment, so I just thanked him for his time and slipped him some literature. (What were the options? Assure him that a Kerry White House wouldn't waste tax dollars on literacy classes for rodents?)

That may have been the most explicit articulation I heard of this mindset--but it wasn't an isolated incident. A few days later, someone told me that he wished we could put Saddam back in power because he "knew how to rule these people." While Bush's rhetoric about spreading freedom and democracy played well with blue-state liberal hawks and red-state Christian conservatives who are inclined towards a missionary view of world affairs, it seemed to fall flat among the undecided voters I spoke with. This was not merely the view of the odd kook; it was a common theme I heard from all different kinds of undecided voters. Clearly the Kerry campaign had focus groups or polling that supported this, hence its candidate's frequent--and wince- inducing--America-first rhetoric about opening firehouses in Baghdad while closing them in the United States.

The worse things got in Iraq, the better things got for Bush. Liberal commentators, and even many conservative ones, assumed, not unreasonably, that the awful situation in Iraq would prove to be the president's undoing. But I found that the very severity and intractability of the Iraq disaster helped Bush because it induced a kind of fatalism about the possibility of progress. Time after time, undecided voters would agree vociferously with every single critique I offered of Bush's Iraq policy, but conclude that it really didn't matter who was elected, since neither candidate would have any chance of making things better. Yeah, but what's Kerry gonna do? voters would ask me, and when I told them Kerry would bring in allies they would wave their hands and smile with condescension, as if that answer was impossibly naïve. C'mon , they'd say, you don't really think that's going to work, do you?

To be sure, maybe they simply thought Kerry's promise to bring in allies was a lame idea--after all, many well-informed observers did. But I became convinced that there was something else at play here, because undecided voters extended the same logic to other seemingly intractable problems, like the deficit or health care. On these issues, too, undecideds recognized the severity of the situation--but precisely because they understood the severity, they were inclined to be skeptical of Kerry's ability to fix things. Undecided voters, as everyone knows, have a deep skepticism about the ability of politicians to keep their promises and solve problems. So the staggering incompetence and irresponsibility of the Bush administration and the demonstrably poor state of world affairs seemed to serve not as indictments of Bush in particular, but rather of politicians in general. Kerry, by mere dint of being on the ballot, was somehow tainted by Bush's failures as badly as Bush was.

As a result, undecideds seemed oddly unwilling to hold the president accountable for his previous actions, focusing instead on the practical issue of who would have a better chance of success in the future. Because undecideds seemed uninterested in assessing responsibility for the past, Bush suffered no penalty for having made things so bad; and because undecideds were focused on, but cynical about, the future, the worse things appeared, the less inclined they were to believe that problems could be fixed--thereby nullifying the backbone of Kerry's case. Needless to say, I found this logic maddening.

Undecided voters don't think in terms of issues. Perhaps the greatest myth about undecided voters is that they are undecided because of the "issues." That is, while they might favor Kerry on the economy, they favor Bush on terrorism; or while they are anti-gay marriage, they also support social welfare programs. Occasionally I did encounter undecided voters who were genuinely cross-pressured--a couple who was fiercely pro-life, antiwar, and pro-environment for example--but such cases were exceedingly rare. More often than not, when I asked undecided voters what issues they would pay attention to as they made up their minds I was met with a blank stare, as if I'd just asked them to name their favorite prime number.

The majority of undecided voters I spoke to couldn't name a single issue that was important to them. This was shocking to me. Think about it: The "issue" is the basic unit of political analysis for campaigns, candidates, journalists, and other members of the chattering classes. It's what makes up the subheadings on a candidate's website, it's what sober, serious people wish election outcomes hinged on, it's what every candidate pledges to run his campaign on, and it's what we always complain we don't see enough coverage of.

But the very concept of the issue seemed to be almost completely alien to most of the undecided voters I spoke to. (This was also true of a number of committed voters in both camps--though I'll risk being partisan here and say that Kerry voters, in my experience, were more likely to name specific issues they cared about than Bush supporters.) At first I thought this was a problem of simple semantics--maybe, I thought, "issue" is a term of art that sounds wonky and intimidating, causing voters to react as if they're being quizzed on a topic they haven't studied. So I tried other ways of asking the same question: "Anything of particular concern to you? Are you anxious or worried about anything? Are you excited about what's been happening in the country in the last four years?"

These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn't the word "issue"; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the "political." The undecideds I spoke to didn't seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief--not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.

To cite one example: I had a conversation with an undecided truck driver who was despondent because he had just hit a woman's car after having worked a week straight. He didn't think the accident was his fault and he was angry about being sued. "There's too many lawsuits these days," he told me. I was set to have to rebut a "tort reform" argument, but it never came. Even though there was a ready-made connection between what was happening in his life and a campaign issue, he never made the leap. I asked him about the company he worked for and whether it would cover his legal expenses; he said he didn't think so. I asked him if he was unionized and he said no. "The last job was unionized," he said. "They would have covered my expenses." I tried to steer him towards a political discussion about how Kerry would stand up for workers' rights and protect unions, but it never got anywhere. He didn't seem to think there was any connection between politics and whether his company would cover his legal costs. Had he made a connection between his predicament and the issue of tort reform, it might have benefited Bush; had he made a connection between his predicament and the issue of labor rights, it might have benefited Kerry. He made neither, and remained undecided.

In this context, Bush's victory, particularly on the strength of those voters who listed "values" as their number one issue, makes perfect sense. Kerry ran a campaign that was about politics: He parsed the world into political categories and offered political solutions. Bush did this too, but it wasn't the main thrust of his campaign. Instead, the president ran on broad themes, like "character" and "morals." Everyone feels an immediate and intuitive expertise on morals and values--we all know what's right and wrong. But how can undecided voters evaluate a candidate on issues if they don't even grasp what issues are?

Liberals like to point out that majorities of Americans agree with the Democratic Party on the issues, so Republicans are forced to run on character and values in order to win. (This cuts both ways: I met a large number of Bush/Feingold voters whose politics were more in line with the Republican president, but who admired the backbone and gutsiness of their Democratic senator.) But polls that ask people about issues presuppose a basic familiarity with the concept of issues--a familiarity that may not exist.

As far as I can tell, this leaves Democrats with two options: either abandon "issues" as the lynchpin of political campaigns and adopt the language of values, morals, and character as many have suggested; or begin the long-term and arduous task of rebuilding a popular, accessible political vocabulary--of convincing undecided voters to believe once again in the importance of issues. The former strategy could help the Democrats stop the bleeding in time for 2008. But the latter strategy might be necessary for the Democrats to become a majority party again.

Copyright 2004, The New Republic

Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian: American blues

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | American blues
You can also go to an interesting website to promote this author's book, . with very lively "comments" on each of its sections.

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Lame Duck Confit

And you thought that Saratoga Springs had budget problems? read this: The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: Lame Duck Confit

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town

I was writing a piece on Bush's "ownership society". You do remember, of course "the Great Society", the "New Deal" and other such constructs. Now President Bush talks of implementing his vision (do you also remember Bush the elder's "the vision thing") of an ownership society, to justify his inversion of the income redistribution pyramid. He wants to make everybody "own" something, a home, a 401K, a retirement account. Sounds good, doesn't it? But that vision implies that everybody will also own the risks of living in a capitalist society. The State, in our present iteration, seeks to spread the risks widely through mechanisms that ensure that the many support the few and come to the aid of the weak in need. The State remains objective and impersonal, "bureaucratic" while collecting the resources and distributing the help. Surowiecki in The New Yorker: The Talk of the Town tells it better than I ever could.

In The Nation, Barbara Ehrenreich ("Nickel and Dimed" is her much discussed book) tells how the faith based initiatives are subverting this form of income redistribution, much as Hamas is doing among Palestinians on the West Bank. She tells us "...right-leaning Christian churches represent a coldly Calvinist tradition in which, even speaking in tongues, if it occurs at all, has been routinized and restricted to the pastor. What these churches have to offer, in addition to intangibles like eternal salvation, is concrete, material assistance. They have become an alternative welfare state, whose support rests not only on "faith" but also on the loyalty of the grateful recipients."

"Drive out from Washington to the Virginia suburbs, for example, and you will find the McLean Bible Church [...] still hopping on a weekday night. Dozens of families and teenagers enjoy a low-priced dinner in the cafeteria; a hundred unemployed people meet for prayer and job tips at the "Career Ministry"; divorced and abused women gather in support groups. Among its many services, MBC distributes free clothing to 10,000 poor people a year, helped start an inner-city ministry for at-risk youth and operates a "special needs" ministry for disabled children."

And later:"...What makes the typical evangelicals' social welfare efforts sinister is their implicit -and sometimes not so implicit- linkage to a program for the destruction of public and secular services. This year the connecting words were "abortion" and "gay marriage": to vote for the candidate who opposed these supposed moral atrocities, as the Christian Coalition and so many churches strongly advised, was to vote against public housing subsidies, childcare and expanded public forms of health insurance [...] The evangelical church-based welfare system is being fed by the deliberate destruction of the secular welfare state."

Such is the front on the culture wars.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Election irregularities

Today’s New York Times’ editorial
covers much the same ground as my comments yesterday on this issue. But I also wanted to share with you Hendrik Hertzberg’s column
in the New Yorker. There is no reason to give quarter in this post-election season. The Bush Administration is going to pursue its own (as opposed to a national) agenda, and our duty is to oppose, oppose, share, share, and attack, attack to form the opinion and consensus of the next contests.

Have a nice Sunday!

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Election fraud?

Does anybody believe that systematic election fraud has been committed? The answer is yes, to judge from the storm of comments and anecdotes blowing over the blogosphere.
We should remember that our constitution does not promise exact elections, but "fair" elections. Now "fair" can be both an innocuous word and a loaded ideogram. It may mean fair to all parties, to all voters, or to all and sundry. No system, let us face it, can be set up to guarantee 100% objectivity. The best that can be expected from any system is that it satisfies a majority of the participants.

The electoral system is the heart of the Democracy. Therefore it has to satisfy a majority of the individuals that participate in that Democracy. The workings of the Democracy are provided by the population: they manage and work the polls, they vote and adjudicate the votes. We cannot simply confront the system and talk of "them"; "them" is us.

Which means that, in order to understand the workings and outcomes we should engage in more than just pulling the lever and then going home to criticize the outcome. "I voted for my guy and s/he did not win. Ludicrous! The system is corrupt!" Into this state of mind flow torrents of anecdotal evidence of malfunctions, malicious interference, misperceptions and plain muddles.

The election system in every state depends on a balance of bipartisan actors, poll workers, county and state boards of elections (each party represented at each level) checking each other out, and jointly deciding outcomes, sometimes disputatiously, sometimes not. The authority of the topmost official in that pyramid rests less with the appointing predominant party, than in the perception of the fairness of his/her decisions. To what extent can a Republican Secretary of State (as in Florida) sway the election results by administrative measures in the thick of a mangrove of bipartisan election officers, watching jealously over their parcel of power, however small.?

The parties, and the campaigns, will obviously try to nudge and game the system to their advantage by a myriad of devices (redistricting, regulations, registrations, etc.) using the resources of power available to them. Due to the nature of the system the results will always be incremental, never momentous.

Given the size of the system (a 200 million electorate), the diverse locations and differing mechanisms and procedures, what seems a torrent sizes down to trickles, amplified by repetition.

A deliberate and massive subversion of the polls would require a conspiracy of multitudes, cooperating up and down the hierarchy of electoral decision trees.

But, as I have pointed out before, a danger, a decisive danger looms. By adopting electronic voting machines the Democracy is outsourcing and privatising its very heart: the vote count. Electronic voting is with us to stay. For-profit privately-owned corporations are writing the code by which the machines tabulate the individual votes into an aggregate that will determine the outcome of elections. As long as the code remains the property of the machine manufacturers, shielded from scrutiny by proprietary copyright concerns, the appearance of the possibility of fraud will loom very large over the system.

The various manufacturers of voting machines have an interest in being perceived as nonpartisan, indifferent to voting outcomes, mere tools of Democracy. To foster that perception they have to find a way of certifying their software, open up the code that runs their machines as is being done increasingly in the general software world, or providing a reliable way to replicate the voting results by external means, such as a printed individual paper receipt stored within the machine that would enable a recount. The state assemblies around the country have to come up with procedures of conformity to be followed by potential vendors to ensure minimum standards. If they fail to do that they will have hollowed out the core of their legitimacy: the trust in the electoral outcomes.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The New York Times > Washington > Vote Fraud Theories, Spread by Blogs, Are Quickly Buried

The New York Times > Washington > Vote Fraud Theories, Spread by Blogs, Are Quickly Buried

The New Republic Online

The New Republic Online: User Center: Leon Wieseltier says in this week's edition: "Perhaps the most odious feature of contemporary conservatism is its equation of success with virtue. In the realm of economics, this long ago resulted in the strange belief in the moral superiority of the wealthy, a vulgar Calvinism according to which money is a proof of merit and riches are a mark of righteousness. How else is wealth acquired in America, after all, except justly? And now, in the aftermath of the election, the equation of success and virtue, the conflation of outer worth with inner worth, has been extended to the realm of politics. We are instructed that the Republicans won because they have 'values' and the Democrats lost because they do not have 'values.' (Or quantitatively speaking, 59.5 million Americans have 'values' and 55.9 million Americans do not have 'values.') Winners are good, losers are bad...."

Or as Tewje the Milkman says in "Fiddler on the Roof" -"when you are rich, they think you know". This is the subliminal meaning of the Supreme Court's equation of money contributions to the political process with "free speech". As long as the country believes that, no serious campaign finance reform will be possible, and without it we will continue to have this circus passing for election campaign. It starts too early and costs too much. By dragging out over years, the campaign tends to diffuse itself on ancillary irrelevancies, picked out of the headlines, that stand in the way of serious discussion of the problems confronting the electorate. The trivial displaces the essential and thus a candidate can win the contest by just repeating that s/he will not change his/her mind on ....s/he need not say. The voters are left to fill the blanks with whatever their fancy of the day is.

It costs too much, and the candidates and their employees spend inordinate amounts of time finding the raise more money. A campaign gains momentum just by stating that it has raised or spent more than the competing campaign. The unlimited advertising digresses away from issues to personal slurs. If not so much money were slopping around, advertising could stay more focused and be truly informative.

Of course, all the money raised over such a long cycle (a permanent cycle) nurtures the perception that only money matters and that the system is utterly corrupted. Is this what "Liberty, equality and freedom" has come to?


Thursday, November 11, 2004

Sorry Everybody

Sorry Everybody

Remaking the Middle East- again

The death of Rais Yasser Arafat will provide the newly re-elected and, oh-so-confident George W. Bush the opportunity to begin working on his legacy. His previous speeches on the Palestinian-Israel conflict were yesterday described by Sari Nusseibeh as well-crafted, thorough and, in broad lines, on the mark.

We can expect the approach to this issue of foreign policy now to be energetic; Colin Powell, if he considered resigning at all, must be having second thoughts. The temptation to be involved in the resolution of this epochal and overarching Middle East political issue is, no doubt, very powerful. For Bush the question is who would be the better emissary, the dented moderate appeal of Colin Powell, or the visionary energy of Paul Wolfowitz, eager no doubt to burnish his tarnished armour in the field where he has made his reputation?

What do you think?

The New Republic Online: Polls Apart

Today's posts (this one and the two preceding it) will want to look at the American divide, out from our progressive village into the cold, red world outside. Are we progressives really an insular minority, estranged from the American body politic? Should we all emigrate, looking for intellectual and emotional communities that really appreciate us.? Does the 51% percent of the USA that elected Bush really hate us? Have the ideals of the Enlightenment (you know the "Brotherhood, Freedom, Equality" equation) really had their day.?

Let us reflect on this readingThe New Republic Online: Polls Apart. And while we reflect, let us get ready, get active in the future campaigns, run for office, write letters, discuss with and approach others. Let us champion our issues to those that did not like them, showing them that we are as American as they are, and that our concerns touch their lives too. This is the time to take pride in the Liberal label, and help others to overcome their conditioned reflex against the L word.

We Have To Talk (

We Have To Talk (

The Washington Post on the after-election

What's Next?

Results have been tallied and winners declared. Unlike 2000, Election 2004 was definitive -- at least by the day after. But the outcome also raised a lot of questions, and not just for Democrats. Here are just a few that come to mind:

President Bush said he has a "mandate" and has acquired "political capital" that he intends to spend. What sort of programs and initiatives should we expect to see? Will there be a shift in foreign policy? What does the world think of Bush's reelection?

In the Cabinet, who's who for the second term? Or who will be whom, to be grammatically correct?

What sort of political climate can we expect in Washington as Congress returns? How will net Republican gains in both the House and Senate affect the dynamics on Capitol Hill?

Can the Democrats in the Senate stave off Bush appointees to federal benches, possibly including the U.S. Supreme Court, that they find objectionable?

Answers to such questions and others -- mostly speculative for now -- obviously will be dissected and debated ad infinitum in the pages of The Post and elsewhere. Unfortunately our time and space is limited, and so we offer a sampling of commentary from the post-election Sunday Outlook, where a good deal of ink this week was dedicated to interpreting the 2004 election results:

For Democrats, the self-flagellation following Sen. John F. Kerry's near-miss run at the White House and a net loss of seats in both houses of Congress has given way to self-reflection. Bruce Reed, president of the Democratic Leadership Council, wrote:

"If Democrats want to become a majority party again anytime soon, we'd better look where we're going. We can start by using this loss to look forward, not back. ...

"If we can avoid the circular firing squad that followed past defeats, we will see the deeper, more daunting challenge that awaits us. We ran a good campaign against a bad president, and we still got beat."

In his op-ed column on Sunday, The Post's David S. Broder offered this analysis:

"Sam Rayburn, the great 20th-century Democratic speaker of the House, was noted for a line he used on the more obtuse members of his party who failed to learn the lesson of a political setback. "There's no education in the second kick of a mule," he would say.

"Wise as that advice might have been for individual legislators, the opposite is true when it comes to Mr. Rayburn's party. Democrats begin to learn their lessons only after they have been beaten twice."

An election review by Kate O'Beirne, the Washington editor of the National Review, analyzes what Republicans did right in building a winning coalition:

Republicans find themselves on the majority's side of the cultural divide because they don't display the Democrats' condescension and hostility to the moral sentiments and concerns of most Americans. Bush's deeply held religious faith sometimes finds awkward expression but never seems insincere. His habits of heart and mind mark him as a man of faith.

On the Supreme question, Edward Lazarus, author and former law clerk to Justice Harry A. Blackmun, wrote that as soon as it became clear that Bush was the winner, his friends and colleagues were abuzz, "panicked that George Bush's reelection will result in a radical right-wing takeover of the Supreme Court as Bush makes as many as four new appointments, including a successor for the seriously ill Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Only time will tell, but such fears are likely exaggerated. In the next four years, the court's center of gravity will probably change only modestly, if at all."

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Election Postmortem

This is a good reminder of the reasons why we have to continue working and hoping. Running for office is very important at every level. Progressive causes have not been swept under the rug of White House spin, they are winning in many red states,

Asking people to look on the bright side of Election 2004 is, to quote Kristina Wilfore of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, "a little like asking Mrs. Lincoln how the show was." Progressives are reeling and grasping for bearings after a confusing and upsetting loss on Nov. 2. And why shouldn't they be? For millions, it was the first time they'd dared to hope in a long, long time.

But there are reasons to remain hopeful. Despite the high-profile electoral losses and the passage of 11 anti-gay measures, there were dozens of successes and encouraging trends for the progressive cause – most of which came at the local level. Poor Dr. King; he's always turned to when things look bleakest – and now is no different. The latest of his inspiring words making the rounds in post-election e-mails: "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."

This story is about focusing for a moment on some of the important successes from this past Tuesday. And "success" isn't simply code for "where Democrats won." Success, for the purposes of this article is defined by initiatives, candidates and trends that favor anti-war stances, a strong defense of the environment, sane drug policies, and a movement toward a just and tolerant America.

Down to business.

Conscience and Politics Can Play Nice Together

The seven Democratic senators who voted against the Iraq war all won re-election – and they did it by an average margin of nearly 30%.

Anti-war Democrat senators who won:

Barbara Boxer – California – 58%-38%
Daniel Inouye – Hawaii – 76%-21%
Barbara Mikulski – Maryland – 65%-34%
Patty Murray – Washington – 55%-43%
Russ Feingold – Wisconsin – 56%-44%
Ron Wyden – Oregon – 63%-32%
Pat Leahy – Vermont – 71%-25%

Zoom in and the point becomes even clearer. In Oregon, where Kerry, who voted for the war, won by a mere 4 percent, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden won by over 30 percent "despite" his vote against it. Wisconsin, which was too close to call on election night, didn't take very long to declare Russ Feingold, who voted against the war (ignoring warnings from his staff), the winner. He won by 11 percent. Writer John Stauber concludes, "The lesson is this: Russ Feingold proves that an anti-war, populist Democrat, a maverick campaigning to get big money out of politics, can win and win big."

These statistics should strike fear out of the Democrats the next time issues of war and peace are on the table. Maybe, just maybe, if they can persuade the Democratic establishment to disabuse itself of the mistaken belief that reelection comes to those who adopt the safest position, rather than to those who make a strong case for the values they hold most dear, it has a shot at being relevant in the 21st century.

Dean Dozen

Howard Dean supporters were devastated when their man was taken down after the press, doing a fine impersonation of a pack of wolves, disingenuously played and replayed "the scream" 633 times – before apologizing for it. Curiously you didn't hear the press dub themselves "flip-floppers."

But Dean didn't just drop out and angle for a cabinet position. He quickly threw his weight, and organizational structure, into a new group called Democracy for America (DFA) whose mission is to support progressive-minded candidates in primarily local elections "from city council or local school boards to U.S. Senate," and to ensure that every race is contested.

Every two weeks, a pool of 12 candidates was chosen from races around the nation, dubbed the "Dean Dozen," and given public support by the governor himself – though sometimes, the group's spokesperson Laura Gross conceded, "it was a baker's dozen, or two dozen; it depended."

On the premise that "Democrats can't be afraid to run in certain places like Montana and Georgia and Texas, just because they're so-called red states," DFA campaigned for candidates who would otherwise have been left to the wolves or who may never have run at all. "We never said we'd win all the races," Gross said, "but you've got to start somewhere and you can't be shy about running, and that's what we did."

Amazingly, in what were not cherry-picked races designed for a boastful post-election press release, 31 of the 102 of the Dean Dozen candidates were victorious. An amazing 15 of the 32 had never run for office before. Among the highlights:

The mayor of Republican-dominated Salt Lake City, Utah, is now a Democrat.
Openly gay candidate, Nicole LeFeveur, won a seat in the Idaho state legislature.
In heavily Republican Alabama, progressive Anita Kelly was elected as Circuit Court Judge.
In Florida, a first time, Dean-inspired candidate, Susan Clary, won as Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor.
Montana's governor is now a Democrat, Brian Schweitzer.
Heavily Republican New Hampshire elected Democrat John Lynch, kicking the incumbent and ethically challenged Gov. Benson out of office.
Arthur Anderson won the race for supervisor of elections in electorally-challenged Palm Beach County, Fla.
Suzanne Williams won a state senate seat in Colorado, giving the upper house a Democratic majority.
In North Carolina, openly gay Julia Boseman was one of several Democrats to defeat Republican incumbents to take back control of the State House.

According to Gross, "These are all types of people: male, female, black, white, Latino ... when people talk about rebuilding the Democratic party, that's the start of it. You have to start at the base of this organization, the grass roots level and build your way up. That's what the Christian Coalition did 30 or 40 years ago and hey, they're obviously pretty successful."

And DFA's activists? Gross said that "after the election, our people were more energized than ever. There were 450 meet-ups on Wednesday night. Our blog traffic is up 300 percent, our site traffic is up 300 percent. People don't want to have this 'woe is me attitude.' They want to get up and get active again."

Taking the Initiative

The received wisdom spewing from pundits and papers that the nation is overwhelmingly conservative and that the election constituted a "mandate" for the Bush agenda. But the reality is of course more complex than that. This view is buttressed by the number of progressive initiatives that managed to pass across the nation.

Residents of the "red" states of Florida and Nevada, for example, voted overwhelmingly in favor of something Bush refuses to even consider: raising the minimum wage. Despite "intense opposition from pro-business groups," not to mention Florida Gov.Jeb Bush in his neck of the woods, both states raised their minimum wage by a dollar to $6.15. In Nevada, 68 percent of voters went voted for it; in Florida, the number was 71 percent. Meghan Scott, the communications director for Floridians for All, the group that sponsored the Florida initiative, said, "Once people heard what Amendment 5 was and what it would do for Florida's working poor, people really got it."

On education, the story was similar. Bush passed, yet perenially underfunds, the much-mocked "No Child Left Behind" program. So, while voters in the "red" states of Arkansas, North Carolina, and Nevada supported their president, they also felt the need to support initiatives that strengthened their education systems beyond No Child's parameters. Whether it was the Nevada voters' majority decision to require lawmakers to fund K-12 before anything else, Arkansan's decision to use lottery revenue for education, or North Carolinians' decision to use money collected from fines for schools (they also chose to have a more equitable distribution of funds between schools), voters demanded that their tax dollars fund their public schools. Once again, a progressive value supported by "red" state majorities.

In California, voters supported a stem cell research initiative at which, on the federal level, Bush barely throws pennies. While California tends to be more liberal on social issues, it's difficult to overstate the importance of this measure. Due to its size, and thus the size of the measure's funding ($3 billion), California support for stem cell research effectively is U.S. support for stem cell funding. Call this a smart investment. Watch how California's state economy will be further diversified and enriched when the dividends from this potentially life-saving research start coming in. Speaking to the L.A. Times, Berkeley professor Bruce Cain noted that this initiative, "really highlights how California has become the capital of the 'second nation' and is going to the left when the rest of the country goes right ..."

But the "second nation" didn't stop there. Californians also passed a measure that goes against the prevailing wisdom of the Bush tax cuts. In order to expand mental health programs, those earning more than $1 million per year will see their income tax rise by an earth shattering 1 percent. The San Andreas Fault is expected to survive the hike.

In a similar move, Maine voters opposed a cap on property taxes. It's difficult to overstate the importance of this vote as well. Flying in the face of the think tanks, pundits and rhetoric of the right, citizens who vote to keep the door to further taxation open are citizens who understand the true meaning of family. Taxes are each American's contribution to the well-being of all Americans. If this isn't a victory for progressive values, it's difficult to say what is.

Going Green

The environment, according to (and thanks in big part to) the League of Conservation Voters, was a big winner. Of the LCV's 18 "Environmental Champions," all 18 won. Of the "Dirty Dozen," four went down in flames. In the eight congressional races into which significant LCV resources were invested, the LCV won seven of them. Sure, a candidate like Barack Obama was destined for victory, but others like Ken Salazar, who beat millionaire Pete Coors by just three percent, were surely given a boost by the LCV's effort to expose Coors' anti-environment agenda which, in addition to helping elect the greener candidate, may make others reluctant to embrace an anti-environment agenda. And indeed, LCV president Deb Callahan asserted, "LCV will now take this successful electoral blueprint and apply it in both elections and policy debates around the country. We will not rest until all three branches of our government are represented by pro-environment public servants."

Writing about drug policy initiatives that were on the ballot this November, Steve Wishnia notes that, "Even as 59 percent of (Montana's) voters were going for George W. Bush and two-thirds opting to ban gay marriage, Montanans were approving Initiative 148, which would allow medical marijuana use by patients with a doctor's recommendation, by a 62-38 percent margin." Basic initiatives (like decriminalization and/or medical use) also succeeded locally, in Oakland and, surprisingly, in Columbia, Miss. Bolder initiatives like full legalization or less restrictive medical use laws, were only narrowly defeated in Oregon and Alaska – an amazing trend in a nation weaned on DARE and the drug war.

The Ultimate Measure

Conventional wisdom holds that Americans voted against their best interests on Nov. 2. While focusing only on the broad stroke does lean toward that conclusion, a careful analysis reveals a more complex picture. Progressive issues and candidates won by big margins at a state and local level. On many of the issues that would positively effect the majority of Americans: minimum wage, the environment, taxes, and sane drug laws, for example, significant advances were made when put straight to the electorate. Sure, there is the daunting cultural divide with respect to gay civil rights and women's rights but it's certainly not the wholesale "values" difference we're led to believe.

Likewise, if voters' support for those who voted against the Iraq War teaches us anything about the ability to present a diverse electorate with an attractive progressive platform it's that progressive candidates must articulate the fact that all issues are reflective of our values and not simply questions of gays or abortion. Sure, they'll lose blocs of voters devoted to single issues, but those voters simply seeking to elect the candidate they can believe in will follow the candidate who firmly believes in their own position. And they'll do it every time.

Did we miss some examples of progressive victories on Nov.2? Send them in to,

Evan Derkacz is a New York-based writer and contributor to AlterNet.

SojoNet: Faith, Politics, and Culture

A lot of talk about the faithful flocking to the polls to elect their prophet, George W. Bush. Here is a column from Sojourners, a Chriatian magazine, reflecting on reactions north of the border, and on U.S. foreign policy. It is worth a read. Among other things it says:

'So the fact that Bush has hitched his wagon to heaven itself throws us off. The idea of Bush as God's chosen leader of the "free world" strikes me as utterly silly (as I know it does many Americans). The international perception of Bush as a global bully ruling by divine right with a celestial array of Stealth bombers at the ready will have negative consequences for the U.S. and polarizing consequences for humanity. Moral superiority is dangerous foreign policy. God is not a Republican, a Democrat, or an American.

If many global citizens feel the U.S. thumbed its nose at them by re-electing Bush, they are increasingly thumbing their noses right back. Consider vehement anti-Bush protests in Europe, increasing victories for Latin American leaders running against U.S.-backed candidates, trade delegations from southern countries walking out on the U.S. and company at trade talks in Cancun, and Canadian politicians bad-mouthing Bush to popular acclaim. "

SojoNet: Faith, Politics, and Culture

Friday, November 05, 2004


Originally uploaded by midnightepiphanies.

O Canada, we plead to cede to thee


ADOPT US, O Canada!

As a blue-red split continues in the Divided States of America, we note that every blue state is contiguous to Canada or to a another blue state that is contiguous to Canada, except Hawaii - that's not contiguous to anything but a lot of blue water that's contiguous to Canada.

Therefore, we've got an idea. How about a sort of second American Revolution, Canada, in which you annex all the blue states, liberate us from King George, and thus become the world's sole superpower.

What Canada Gets:

* Higher education: All eight Ivy League universities, Stanford, U. Chicago and Northwestern all just lowered their admissions standards for the kids from Saskatchewan.

* Serious sports: Forget the Super Bowl. With the Eagles, Patriots, Steelers, Jets, Vikings and Packers, the Grey Cup is where it's at.

You get the Expos back as they're now in D.C. But who needs the Expos when you've got the Red Sox, Yankees, Twins, Mariners, Giants, Dodgers, Angels, Padres, Phillies and Pirates. The World Series is coming! The World Series is coming!

The Raptors are Canada's favorite basketball team? We don't think so.

What about Flyers-Maple Leafs? Flyers-Canadiens? Settle the strike and drop the puck.

* Warm-weather vacations: Sun yourselves whenever you want in Southern California or Hawaii at Canada's beautiful beaches.

* The cultural arts: Tourists will love Canada's museums including the Smithsonian, the Museum of Natural History and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Plus, in addition to Broadway, the Kennedy Center and top regional theater, we're throwing in our best orchestras - Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and L.A.

* The entertainment industry: You already love our movies and TV shows more than those red-staters and now when that rare production shoots in California or New York instead of Vancouver or Toronto, you still get credit for the jobs and the tax revenue.

* The automobile industry: Ohio can keep its Honda plant. GMs, Fords and Chryslers are made in Canada.

* The biotech industry: With many of the world's top biotech firms located in Massachusetts, New York, Washington and California (thanks to $6 billion in new stem cell research funding), it's likely that Canadian scientists will cure cancer and heart disease within the next 50 years.

* The computer industry: That's right, we keep Microsoft, Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Silicon Valley. "America" gets Dell.

* A burgeoning tourist industry: You've now got a lot more to sell than Toronto, the Cabot Trail and the glaciers in Banff. Even red-staters love to visit Atlantic City, the Liberty Bell, Maui, the Space needle and Disneyland (now Disney Canada).

* Fresher produce: Canada, the artichoke, garlic and strawberry capital of the world. And Canadian wines just got a whole lot tastier.

* Arnold Schwarzenegger: He can't be president but he'd make a swell Canadian premier.

What the Red-Staters get:

* Exactly what they want.

What Blue-Staters get:

* Canadian citizenship: And we don't even have to move.

* "O, Canada": A national anthem that's much easier to sing than "The Star Spangled Banner."

* Free flu shots. (Not to mention free health care.)

You don't like our "values," red-staters, you've got your wish - we're outta here.

But remember, the next time you want to see a Broadway show, visit wine country, Hawaii or the birthplace of liberty, don't just bring your Visa card, bring your visa.

You're in Canada now. And we're tightening our borders.

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: O.K., Folks: Back to Work

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: O.K., Folks: Back to Work

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: No Surrender

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: No Surrender

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: Why We Lost

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: Why We Lost

From the Guardian in London

Bush will now celebrate by putting Falluja to the torch

The world is fated to four more years of brutal confrontation

Robin Cook
Friday November 5, 2004
The Guardian

If you imagine the rest of us have a problem living with George Bush for another four years, spare a thought for the 55 million Americans who voted against him. John Kerry is fated to be stuck with the label of a loser and is already being blamed for his lack of charisma, his absence of passion and his electoral misjudgment of being born on the eastern seaboard rather than the deep south. Yet in fairness to Kerry, more Americans backed him than supported Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter, and some of them queued for two hours in their determination to vote for him. There may be more conservatives in America than ever before, but there are also more Democrats.

Unfortunately this does not add up to a case for a recount. The US does not run a proportional system and the winner takes all. In George Bush's case, he not only took the White House, but he also took a clean sweep of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and he will now have the opportunity to take a majority of the supreme court. All the checks and balances that the founding fathers constructed to restrain presidential power are broken instruments.

It is to be hoped that the obsession of President Bush with fitness will guarantee his health for the length of his renewed tenancy of the White House. Otherwise we get President Cheney. I met Dick Cheney immediately after he had been installed as vice-president in what was the most bizarre en counter of my time at the Foreign Office. He could not disguise his irritation that a European pinko had somehow wormed a way into his diary and for half an hour mostly confined himself to monosyllabic replies. By contrast, this week he was in full triumphalist flood, claiming Bush's election as the greatest "of any presidential candidate in history".
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Cheney himself may not go the distance if the rumours about Halliburton continue to lap closer to his desk, but while he is in post it is hard to see an administration so dripping in contacts with the oil industry taking serious action on global warming. This is a real problem for Tony Blair, who has identified climate change as a major priority for Britain's presidency of the G8 next year. The dilemma for Blair will be whether he uses the role to lever the Bush administration towards the consensus among the other seven, or cajoles the rest to accommodate the idiosyncratic Washington position. If he wants to signal a break from Bush, he will not get a clearer opportunity to do so.

The first sign as to whether the Bush second term will be more flexible will be what now happens to the neoconservatives. Will Paul Wolfowitz, the Pentagon No 2 who lobbied for the invasion of Iraq, be promoted to the front rank? Will John Bolton, the No 3 at the state department who has overseen the Bush campaign to torpedo the International Criminal Court, survive in any rank? Bolton has been responsible for much of the sabre-rattling towards Iran and responded to a question about whether he would support Europe's attempt to offer Iran incentives with the terse one-liner: "I don't do carrots."

What makes this web of reactionary ideologues a menace to the world is that they believe complex, historic problems have simple, instant, military solutions. And it is an article of faith with them that America must acquire full-spectrum dominance of military capabilities in order that it can impose such solutions unilaterally. They are the product of an era in which America has emerged as the sole hyperpower, and they regard allies not as proof of diplomatic strength but as evidence of military weakness.

They will now celebrate their election victory by putting Falluja to the torch. Wolfowitz was furious last spring when the outcry among both Sunnis and Shias obliged the marine corps to abandon its siege; this time he will insist on military victory in Falluja regardless of the political cost across Iraq from civilian casualties. The administration remained sensitive enough to the potential domestic cost of another major offensive in Iraq to delay it until after the presidential polling day, but it will not give a second thought to the adverse impact on public opinion in Britain of escalating civilian casualties.

The unpopularity at home and abroad of his ally's reliance on overwhelming firepower will make it even more essential for Blair to obtain something in return for his support. The first test will be whether it is possible for him to engage the Bush administration in a serious effort to secure peace for the troubled peoples of Israel and Palestine. There has been some imaginative speculation that Bush might be more courageous in putting pressure on the government of Israel now that he does not face re-election.

The problem with such hopes is that they rest on the theory that the Bush administration has been indulgent to Ariel Sharon for reasons of electoral calculation. This is to underestimate the extent to which Bush identifies with Sharon's conviction that terrorism requires a military and not a political solution, and the religious faith with which the southern born-again Christians, of which he is one, believe in the right of Israel to its biblical borders.

It is notable that all the comment this week from the Bush camp on prospects for the Middle East has built on the failing health of Yasser Arafat, as if he alone had been the obstacle to peace. But it is a delusion to imagine that a peace agreement can be established by the simple strategy of finding a more pliable successor to sign up to it. There will be no lasting peace or viable Palestine unless Israel withdraws from its settlements on the West Bank. Far from pressuring Sharon for such a concession, there is no evidence that Bush even supports dismantling the settlements, or that he could get agreement to it from the neoconservatives in his administration, who regard Likud as the nearest thing they have to a sister party.

The paradox may be beyond Bush, but the best way he could make progress in his war on terror would be by winning peace in the Middle East. When Osama bin Laden launched his attack on the twin towers he intended it as a demonstration of his malign belief that the only relationship acceptable between the west and Islam was one of violent confrontation. As George Soros has argued, the Bush administration walked into a trap by responding in a way that accepted the terms of the relationship set down by its enemy.

Now the world is fated to four more years of confrontation, which will widen rather than narrow the gulf between the west and the east. It is ironic, given that terrorism played such a central role in the election, but Osama bin Laden must be as gratified as Dick Cheney that George Bush is back.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

For a change, my own thoughts

We can only hope that, as I read in Saratogaspirit, our predicament will only spark a more lively and energized activism. Only at this late time of the day, though well before midnight, am I finding resources to even contemplate the future.

If nothing else we can conclude that the USA awoke today more Republican; not only Republican, but the nasty, barking kind of Republicanism that so repels the rest of the world. It was not always so. Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. In the early part of the twentieth century the Republican elite, in the words of Colin Kidd in the London Review of Books, were “the stereotypical Episcopalian financiers of the Northeast...with no quarrel with Darwinism or abortion and made uneasy by the party’s deference to trailer-park religiosity.” The present first family includes a recent example of this breed: George Herbert Walker Bush, also known as 41. As Kidd explains: “Conviction politics played little part in the career of the elder Bush, who had a reputation of being somewhat ‘center of center’.” He was known to uphold the principles of “high-minded northeastern Republicanism associated with the Bush dynasty.” Birth control was one of the causes that deserved their solid patrician support. Prescott, the dynasty’s senatorial grandfather, “was a member of Planned Parenthood, and George H. W. Bush was so enthusiastic in the dynastic cause during his early years in Congress that he earned the nickname “Rubbers.”

The big question that now should engage us is determining what the future holds for us progressives. For me progressivism means building a society that cares above all for solidarity among those that live in it, where the ambitions of the more gifted are systematically harnessed to needs of the less fortunate, beyond mushy expressions like “a thousand points of light” or “compassionate conservatism." In such a community security means not protective walls and self defence but a reliable network of services for all.

Does this sound old-fashioned? No wonder: it flows directly from “Fraternity, equality and liberty” of the enlightened revolution.Those words have never been bested.

Monday, November 01, 2004

From Sojourners, a Christian publication


Religious "centrists" may decide the election
by Jim Wallis

Moderate Catholics and Evangelicals may help decide this election. They are what widely respected University of Akron researcher John Green calls "centrist" Catholic and Evangelical voters who comprise 19% of the electorate and are concentrated in some of the most important swing states.

I just finished a 15-city bus tour in those very states, trying to raise poverty as a "religious issue." After almost two weeks of grassroots dialogue with faith-based community leaders, civic officials, journalists, low-income families, and almost 40 audiences of Christian citizens in 12 days, I am convinced that the election may hang on what those "centrist" religious voters ultimately decide the most important "religious issues" are in this campaign.

Everywhere we went political conservatives said the only religious issues at stake in this election year are gay marriage and abortion. Right-wing Catholic bishops have successfully reduced broad Catholic social teaching - which also contains strong commitments against poverty, capital punishment, and unjust wars - down to just the two hot-button social issues. While those narrowed views are outside the mainstream of Catholic social teaching, the conservative bishops' views captured front-page coverage early in the campaign when they suggested that John Kerry be denied communion for his pro-choice stance. When a different and more prominent Catholic bishop's position was made clear and the Vatican itself spoke to counter such single-issue voting, the clarification was buried in the papers. The damage had been done to Kerry, seemingly with collusion between the conservative right-wing bishops and the Republican Party. These bishops don't point out that President George Bush defied church teachings by prosecuting a war of choice in Iraq, or that the Pope vigorously challenged him on his war policies when the two met at the Vatican. I heard more than one Catholic leader declare that "there is no consistent pro-life candidate running for president."

We also discovered that local newspaper ads and bumper stickers asserting that "God is Not a Republican or a Democrat" and challenging "single-issue voting" have sparked real debate at evangelical Christian colleges and churches throughout the Midwest battleground states. As John Green points out, most "centrist" evangelicals are conservative on abortion and family values but don't believe those are the only important moral issues. Compassion for the poor is a growing evangelical concern, as is good stewardship of the environment (especially among a younger generation of evangelicals), as are issues such as HIV/AIDS, and human rights violations and genocide in places such as Darfur in western Sudan.

Iraq is also an issue for many centrist evangelicals, as is America's conduct of the war on terrorism. A group of more than 200 theologians and ethicists from mostly conservative seminaries and Christian colleges has just issued a strong statement called "Confessing Christ in a World of Violence." It asserts that our very affirmation of Christ is being challenged by a "theology of war emanating from the highest circles of American government," by the "language of righteous empire" being employed by those same political leaders, and by the claim of "divine appointment" for a nation and its president in a new war on terrorism that deals much too simplistically with the moral issues of good and evil, and "dangerously confuses the roles of God, church, and nation."

All this could have consequences for the election. If the "religious issues" are successfully narrowed to just abortion and gay marriage, President Bush will carry most of the centrist Evangelicals and Catholics. But if the religious issues are defined more broadly to include poverty, the environment, human rights, the war in Iraq, and the White House's too-easy "good versus evil" theology in the war on terrorism, John Kerry will get serious consideration by those same moderate Christian voters.

Kerry has been playing catch-up on the religion question to Republicans more comfortable with the language and a president who touts his evangelical faith. It may be too little too late, but the more Kerry invokes the parable of the Good Samaritan who helped his needy neighbor on the road, while accusing Republicans of "passing by on the other side," the clearer the contrasts on issues such as jobs, health care, and economic fairness will be. And when Kerry quotes the New Testament epistle of James, asserting that "faith without works is dead," he indicts Bush's "compassionate conservatism" that was gutted by tax cuts for the rich while leaving little for poor and working families.

Centrist Catholics outnumber conservative Catholics by 2 to 1. And Green points out that only one third of Evangelicals are solidly in the Religious Right camp. How the moderates in each group decide to vote could clearly decide the election. So what are the religious values in this election? If there are only two, Bush will win enough religious votes to win the election. But if enough of those Evangelical and Catholic centrists decide that their religious and ethical values apply to more than just abortion and gay marriage, Kerry has a real chance to win this election.

Fix the Electoral System

Fix the Electoral System

John Kerry for President

John Kerry for President

Received over the wire: Good questions!

Regardless of who wins Tuesday's presidential election, here are some questions I hope we can all agree are important to keep asking:

1. Our country faces numerous challenges - serious issues that were not well covered by the media this year. Instead of in-depth analysis, why did most campaign coverage reflect the spectacle of the horserace?

2. I understand the unspoken goal of the "war" on terror is to prevent weapons of mass destruction from being used in America in our lifetime. But, since 42,643 Americans died in traffic accidents in 2003, why isn't there a comparative emphasis on highway safety?

3. In the name of our own "security", we've killed tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan including women and children. How does this square with our values?

4. When we fail to show leadership to promote peace between Israel and Palestine or to stop genocide by Arab "terrorists" in Sudan, what message are we sending to the world?

5. The press are the people's representatives in places of power. How is it that we've allowed our President to refuse to hold regular press conferences? If the President works for us, then why do we not insist that he answer our questions?

6. How is it that our Presidential "debates" are structured so that neither candidate could ask a question of the other? What is lost when the "domestic policy debate" fails to include a question about either the nation's energy or environmental policy? What is lost when the mainstream press won't investigate evidence that the President may have worn a wire?

7. If the President is the humble servant of the people, is it ever appropriate for him to hold an aircraft carrier at sea overnight so that he can land a military jet on it for a photo-op/press conference? What message do we send to our children and people around the world when we glorify our military supremacy?

8. The integrity of our election system lies at the heart of our democracy. Why haven't the serious problems in our election system been fixed four years after the debacle in Florida? Whose responsibility is it to guarantee that our election systems operate outside the margin of error? When can we expect this?

9. We've turned a $236 billion surplus into a $414 billion deficit. We will need another $70 billion early next year to fund our ongoing military efforts. Are we spending our money on the right priorities? What might we have spent this money on, if not on these wars or this tax cut?

10. Could a $100 billion investment in international law enforcement effort help capture Osama bin-Laden and end this "war"?

11. If security is our goal, why have we under-funded programs to secure nuclear materials in Russia? Why aren't we screening freight shipped on passenger airlines for explosives? Why aren't we screening cargo at all of our ports?

12. Will war be the best way to disarm Iran and North Korea? Who will fight these wars? How will we pay for them? How many innocent people will die? Are we making adequate, pre-emptive, non-violent efforts today?

13. In 1995, the richest one percent of Americans owned 38 percent of our wealth. In 1996, the richest ten percent of the U.S. population owned 81.8 percent of the real estate and 81.2 percent of the stock. Should we be comfortable with these levels of wealth distribution?

14. Last week, volunteers counted 2,216 homeless people in and around Seattle. I walked by one person sleeping in a doorway in upscale Wallingford tonight. Are we doing enough to care for these vulnerable, often mentally ill, people?

15. Our nation has been defined in part by our struggle with slavery and this century's victories in the battle for civil rights for all Americans. Yet, the number one cause of death for African American males ages 15-44 is firearm homicide. More black men are in prison than enrolled in university. What message is sent when the President refuses to meet regularly with leaders of the African American community? How should we begin to address these issues?

16. In November 2003, Senator McCain called Bush's Energy bill the "Leave No Lobbyist Behind Act of 2003." In March 2004, two conservative think tanks, the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, were appalled when the Republicans held over a late night vote until Bush's Medicare Bill had enough votes to pass. The bill eliminated government influence on the prices Medicare pays to HMOs and pharmaceutical companies. Last week, Congress passed $148 billion in additional corporate tax breaks. How long will we remain silent as our tax dollars are handed off to wealthy minorities of corporate shareholders?

17. More than eighty percent of Congressional incumbents win easily and dramatically out-fundraise their challengers? Is gerrymandering polarizing congress, inhibiting compromise and adding to gridlock? Would providing (optional) public funding of campaigns be one way to address this?

Obviously, my list in incomplete - but it's all the time I had tonight. Please feel free to reply with additions.

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