The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Bill Kumbier Letter - 10/30/04

Dear Editor:

To those of us who have been hoping and working for a “regime change” in Washington, the Globe’s endorsement of George Bush for president—“Mr. Bush, of course”—comes as less than surprising but still more than disappointing. The endorsement’s wording, sadly, echoes the rhetoric and mindset, intractable and inflexible, of the Bush campaign. Bush and the Globe remain fixated on the events of 9/11 and, worse, on the misguided, inappropriate and incompetent reactions of the Bush administration to them, reactions falsely promoted as necessary, tough responses to terror.

Truly, none of us should ever forget the horrific deaths of 2,572 on September 11, 2001. But we should also be aware that President Bush’s reckless rush to unprovoked war in Iraq—a war we know has little to do with al-Qaida terrorists and Osama bin Laden—has resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Despite what Bush and the Globe would have us believe, it’s clear that John Kerry would not only talk tough about terror but would do his best to deliver, redirecting our intelligence and military resources to pursuing known terrorist threats. Moreover, Bush’s macho stance against terrorism and his unrelenting appeals to Americans’ understandable fears over their security have succeeded in diverting attention away from domestic crises in our country, in employment, in education and in health care. Indeed, they have also distracted the Globe editors, who give only a scant sentence to domestic concerns and say nothing about Bush’s lamentable record on that score.

The Globe’s endorsement of Bush might have made sense in 2001. Now, it appears hopelessly out-of-touch with the really grim realities Americans face each day. We can change those realities on Election Day, but not by voting for Bush.

Bill Kumbier

Friday, October 29, 2004

The Economist - John Kerry For President

The London-based conservative business magazine endorses Kerry

The incompetent or the incoherent?

Oct 28th 2004 From The Economist print edition

With a heavy heart, we think American readers should vote for John Kerry on November 2nd

YOU might have thought that, three years after a devastating terrorist attack on American soil, a period which has featured two wars, radical political and economic legislation, and an adjustment to one of the biggest stockmarket crashes in history, the campaign for the presidency would be an especially elevated and notable affair. If so, you would be wrong. This year's battle has been between two deeply flawed men: George Bush, who has been a radical, transforming president but who has never seemed truly up to the job, let alone his own ambitions for it; and John Kerry, who often seems to have made up his mind conclusively about something only once, and that was 30 years ago. But on November 2nd, Americans must make their choice, as must The Economist. It is far from an easy call, especially against the backdrop of a turbulent, dangerous world. But, on balance, our instinct is towards change rather than continuity: Mr Kerry, not Mr Bush.

Whenever we express a view of that sort, some readers are bound to protest that we, as a publication based in London, should not be poking our noses in other people's politics. Translated, this invariably means that protesters disagree with our choice. It may also, however, reflect a lack of awareness about our readership. The Economist's weekly sales in the United States are about 450,000 copies, which is three times our British sale and roughly 45% of our worldwide total. All those American readers will now be pondering how to vote, or indeed whether to. Thus, as at every presidential election since 1980, we hope it may be useful for us to say how we would think about our vote—if we had one.

The case against George BushThat decision cannot be separated from the terrible memory of September 11th, nor can it fail to begin as an evaluation of the way in which Mr Bush and his administration responded to that day. For Mr Bush's record during the past three years has been both inspiring and disturbing.

Mr Bush was inspiring in the way he reacted to the new world in which he, and America, found itself. He grasped the magnitude of the challenge well. His military response in Afghanistan was not the sort of poorly directed lashing out that Bill Clinton had used in 1998 after al-Qaeda destroyed two American embassies in east Africa: it was a resolute, measured effort, which was reassuringly sober about the likely length of the campaign against Osama bin Laden and the elusiveness of anything worth the name of victory. Mistakes were made, notably when at Tora Bora Mr bin Laden and other leaders probably escaped, and when following the war both America and its allies devoted insufficient military and financial resources to helping Afghanistan rebuild itself. But overall, the mission has achieved a lot: the Taliban were removed, al-Qaeda lost its training camps and its base, and Afghanistan has just held elections that bring cautious hope for the central government's future ability to bring stability and prosperity.

The biggest mistake, though, was one that will haunt America for years to come. It lay in dealing with prisoners-of-war by sending hundreds of them to the American base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, putting them in a legal limbo, outside the Geneva conventions and outside America's own legal system. That act reflected a genuinely difficult problem: that of having captured people of unknown status but many of whom probably did want to kill Americans, at a time when to set them free would have been politically controversial, to say the least. That difficulty cannot neutralise the damage caused by this decision, however. Today, Guantánamo Bay offers constant evidence of America's hypocrisy, evidence that is disturbing for those who sympathise with it, cause-affirming for those who hate it. This administration, which claims to be fighting for justice, the rule of law and liberty, is incarcerating hundreds of people, whether innocent or guilty, without trial or access to legal representation. The White House's proposed remedy, namely military tribunals, merely compounds the problem.

When Mr Bush decided to frame his foreign policy in the sort of language and objectives previously associated with Woodrow Wilson, John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan, he was bound to be greeted with cynicism. Yet he was right to do so. To paraphrase a formula invented by his ally, Tony Blair, Mr Bush was promising to be “tough on terrorism, tough on the causes of terrorism”, and the latter he attributed to the lack of democracy, human rights and opportunity in much of the world, especially the Arab countries. To call for an effort to change that lamentable state of affairs was inspiring and surely correct. The credibility of the call was enhanced by this month's Afghan election, and may in future be enhanced by successful and free elections in Iraq. But that remains ahead, and meanwhile Mr Bush's credibility has been considerably undermined not just by Guantánamo but also by two big things: by the sheer incompetence and hubristic thinking evident in the way in which his team set about the rebuilding of Iraq, once Saddam Hussein's regime had been toppled; and by the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, which strengthened the suspicion that the mistreatment or even torture of prisoners was being condoned.

Invading Iraq was not a mistake. Although the intelligence about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction has been shown to have been flimsy and, with hindsight, wrong, Saddam's record of deception in the 12 years since the first Gulf war meant that it was right not to give him the benefit of the doubt. The containment scheme deployed around him was unsustainable and politically damaging: military bases in holy Saudi Arabia, sanctions that impoverished and even killed Iraqis and would have collapsed. But changing the regime so incompetently was a huge mistake. By having far too few soldiers to provide security and by failing to pay Saddam's remnant army, a task that was always going to be long and hard has been made much, much harder. Such incompetence is no mere detail: thousands of Iraqis have died as a result and hundreds of American soldiers. The eventual success of the mission, while still possible, has been put in unnecessary jeopardy. So has America's reputation in the Islamic world, both for effectiveness and for moral probity.

If Mr Bush had meanwhile been making progress elsewhere in the Middle East, such mistakes might have been neutralised. But he hasn't. Israel and Palestine remain in their bitter conflict, with America readily accusable of bias. In Iran the conservatives have become stronger and the country has moved closer to making nuclear weapons. Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia have not turned hostile, but neither have they been terribly supportive nor reform-minded. Libya's renunciation of WMD is the sole clear piece of progress.

This only makes the longer-term project more important, not less. To succeed, however, America needs a president capable of admitting to mistakes and of learning from them. Mr Bush has steadfastly refused to admit to anything: even after Abu Ghraib, when he had a perfect opportunity to dismiss Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, and declare a new start, he chose not to. Instead, he treated the abuses as if they were a low-level, disciplinary issue. Can he learn from mistakes? The current approach in Iraq, of training Iraqi security forces and preparing for elections to establish an Iraqi government with popular support, certainly represents an improvement, although America still has too few troops. And no one knows, for example, whether Mr Rumsfeld will stay in his job, or go. In the end, one can do no more than guess about whether in a second term Mr Bush would prove more competent.

Making sense of John KerryThat does at least place him on equal terms with his rival, Mr Kerry. With any challenger, voters have to make a leap of faith about what the new man might be like in office. What he says during the campaign is a poor guide: Mr Bush said in 2000 that America should be “a humble nation, but strong” and should eschew nation-building; Mr Clinton claimed in 1992 to want to confront “the butchers of Beijing” and to reflate the economy through public spending.

Like those two previous challengers, Mr Kerry has shaped many of his positions to contrast himself with the incumbent. That is par for the course. What is more disconcerting, however, is the way those positions have oscillated, even as the facts behind them have stayed the same. In the American system, given Congress's substantial role, presidents should primarily be chosen for their character, their qualities of leadership, for how they might be expected to deal with the crises that may confront them, abroad or at home. Oscillation, even during an election campaign, is a worrying sign.

If the test is a domestic one, especially an economic crisis, Mr Kerry looks acceptable, however. His record and instincts are as a fiscal conservative, suggesting that he would rightly see future federal budget deficits as a threat. His circle of advisers includes the admirable Robert Rubin, formerly Mr Clinton's treasury secretary. His only big spending plan, on health care, would probably be killed by a Republican Congress. On trade, his position is more debatable: while an avowed free trader with a voting record in the Senate to confirm it, he has flirted with attacks on outsourcing this year and chosen a rank protectionist as his running-mate. He has not yet shown Mr Clinton's talent for advocacy on this issue, or any willingness to confront his rather protectionist party. Still, on social policy, Mr Kerry has a clear advantage: unlike Mr Bush he is not in hock to the Christian right. That will make him a more tolerant, less divisive figure on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research.

The biggest questions, though, must be about foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. That is where his oscillations are most unsettling. A war that he voted to authorise, and earlier this year claimed to support, he now describes as “a mistake”. On some occasions he claims to have been profoundly changed by September 11th and to be determined to seek out and destroy terrorists wherever they are hiding, and on others he has seemed to hark back to the old Clintonian view of terrorism as chiefly a question of law and order. He has failed to offer any set of overall objectives for American foreign policy, though perhaps he could hardly oppose Mr Bush's targets of democracy, human rights and liberty. But instead he has merely offered a different process: deeper thought, more consultation with allies.

So what is Mr Kerry's character? His voting record implies he is a vacillator, but that may be unfair, given the technical nature of many Senate votes. His oscillations this year imply that he is more of a ruthless opportunist. His military record suggests he can certainly be decisive when he has to be and his post-Vietnam campaign showed determination. His reputation for political comebacks and as a strong finisher in elections also indicates a degree of willpower that his flip-flopping otherwise belies.

The task ahead, and the man to fit itIn the end, the choice relies on a judgment about who will be better suited to meet the challenges America is likely to face during the next four years. Those challenges must include the probability of another big terrorist attack, in America or western Europe. They must include the need for a period of discipline in economic policy and for compromise on social policy, lest the nation become weak or divided in the face of danger. Above all, though, they include the need to make a success of the rebuilding of Iraq, as the key part of a broader effort to stabilise, modernise and, yes, democratise the Middle East.

Many readers, feeling that Mr Bush has the right vision in foreign policy even if he has made many mistakes, will conclude that the safest option is to leave him in office to finish the job he has started. If Mr Bush is re-elected, and uses a new team and a new approach to achieve that goal, and shakes off his fealty to an extreme minority, the religious right, then The Economist will wish him well. But our confidence in him has been shattered. We agree that his broad vision is the right one but we doubt whether Mr Bush is able to change or has sufficient credibility to succeed, especially in the Islamic world. Iraq's fledgling democracy, if it gets the chance to be born at all, will need support from its neighbours—or at least non-interference—if it is to survive. So will other efforts in the Middle East, particularly concerning Israel and Iran.

John Kerry says the war was a mistake, which is unfortunate if he is to be commander-in-chief of the soldiers charged with fighting it. But his plan for the next phase in Iraq is identical to Mr Bush's, which speaks well of his judgment. He has been forthright about the need to win in Iraq, rather than simply to get out, and will stand a chance of making a fresh start in the Israel-Palestine conflict and (though with even greater difficulty) with Iran. After three necessarily tumultuous and transformative years, this is a time for consolidation, for discipline and for repairing America's moral and practical authority. Furthermore, as Mr Bush has often said, there is a need in life for accountability. He has refused to impose it himself, and so voters should, in our view, impose it on him, given a viable alternative. John Kerry, for all the doubts about him, would be in a better position to carry on with America's great tasks.

Bill Kumbier Letter - 10/29/04

Dear Editor:

By my count, four of the letters printed in Friday's Globe (10/29/04) attack or criticize John Kerry as the less moral presidential candidate, largely because, they claim, he (1) does not unequivocally oppose abortion, (2) supports stem cell research and (3) does not oppose civil unions for gay couples (though he does oppose gay "marriage"). Since Kerry scores zero on this moral checklist, that, it seems, is enough to disqualify him as a viable and desirable leader.

I would encourage southwest Missouri voters, in the face of such apparently clean-cut moral judgments, to broaden the scope of their moral concern. Shouldn't we be concerned about the morality of allowing our children to continue to live in poverty and go without adequate health care or adequately funded education? Shouldn't our moral concern be stirred at the thought of the number of lives stem cell research might save? Shouldn't we be concerned not only with the deaths of our soldiers in Iraq but also with the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, including thousands of children, caused by the war we recklessly began and by continuing mismanagement of it?Moral and political decisions are so easy when one is choosing by checklist.

Though he may not score high by the simplistic moral standards of some, I recommend John Kerry as one who has shown a larger, more encompassing moral vision.

Bill Kumbier

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Air Force Officer David Thalheimer - Why I'm Voting Against My Commander in Chief

Why I'm Voting Against My Commander in Chief

By David Thalheimer
Friday 22 October 2004

I have been a registered Republican since I first became eligible to vote. I've been an Air Force officer for 20 years, first on active duty and now in the reserves. I gladly voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and supported his battle to win the Cold War. If called to serve in Iraq, I would willingly do my duty for my country. You might think I'm a slam-dunk for the Republican ticket this year, but you'd be wrong. I backed John McCain in the 2000 primary, but I did not vote for George W. Bush and I'm even more opposed to him after seeing his performance over the past four years. I can't say I'm a big fan of John Kerry, but he's a smart guy and I'm willing to give him a chance because Bush has done such a bad job and shows so few signs of improvement that he doesn't deserve to get reelected. This letter explains why I'm voting against my Commander in Chief.

President Bush would have you believe that he is making hard decisions and doing what needs to be done to win the Global War on Terrorism. While I have no doubt that he is trying, his actions have shown me that his judgment is poor and he and his advisers aren't smart enough to figure out the right way to win this war. Taking out Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan was a no-brainer, but the invasion of Iraq was a huge diversion of resources away from the real sources of terrorism. Showing the world that we can and will "take out" any country we want may make puny countries like Libya quiver, but it isn't a smart way to beat the terrorists or our real enemies - it plays right into their hands.

Bush has made no real attempt to win the support of the large majority of Muslims who oppose terrorism. Instead, he has created millions of new enemies around the world - people who used to admire the USA - and these people are now more likely to be recruited by or support future terrorists. It is now more likely that they will overthrow their moderate, pro-US governments, such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and replace them with radical Islamic regimes. Far more dangerous to America than Iraq are the radicals trying to take over Pakistan (which already has nuclear weapons), the unpredictable leader of North Korea (which also has nukes), and Iran (which is allegedly working hard to get them). We are less secure today because we are creating more new enemies than we are able to kill or capture. There are smarter ways to track down terrorists and reduce the appeal of radical Islamic ideology, but Bush has decided to take the easy but wrong course of flexing America's conventional military might and intimidating the world rather than rallying our friends and allies around a grand strategy that has a chance of success.

American troops are doing the best they can to win in Iraq, but the decision to go to war and the lack of planning to win the peace were strategic political mistakes made by President Bush, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and the senior White House staff. The rhetoric coming out of the White House about what is happening in Iraq not only continues to mislead our citizens, but it has misled our own troops. It has caused them to misjudge their enemies and make fatal mistakes in dealing with the Iraqi population. Senior White House decisions also sent the message to our troops that they could get around the Geneva Convention when interrogating suspected terrorists - with disastrous results for the detainees at Abu Gharib prison.

President Bush says he has fully supported his troops, but he is really taking credit for good Congressional support and ignoring his own poor record. He has repeatedly submitted defense budgets cutting active, reserve, guard and veterans' benefits, including imminent danger pay, family separation allowance, and the funding of VA hospitals, only to have them protected by Congress. Attempting to pay for tax cuts by cutting military benefits during wartime is outrageous and damaging to our military families.

While national security is of my most grave concern, there are other domestic issues that also matter and can't be allowed to suffer through another four years of bad policy.

I was recently shocked to learn that President Bush, despite all his talk about love of freedom, has attempted to deny our most precious freedom to American citizens who oppose him - the right to free speech. On many occasions, he has used the Secret Service to keep legal, peaceful protesters quarantined in designated "free speech zones" where nobody (especially the media) can see or hear them. Pro-Bush crowds are allowed to get near him during speeches, but people with signs critical of him have been forcibly moved away or illegally arrested. I find this outrageous and intolerable. Some provisions in the Patriot Act are also dangerous to our liberty in the hands of an attorney general who is willing to jail citizens for months or years without any possibility of judicial review. Many American citizens have been jailed secretly, and while I am all for giving the FBI greater powers to investigate suspected terrorists, there have to be checks and balances to protect us from over-zealous government officials. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and all Americans should be wary of any President who is willing to violate our most basic rights.

While I'm not a fan of extreme environmentalists who want to protect every endangered species around, I do care about the quality of my air and water and controls on toxic waste that could endanger all of our health. I'm willing to pay for healthy living conditions, and I don't think that such costs threaten the competitiveness of US companies against low-cost foreign companies that are allowed to pollute. President Bush has attempted to reverse environmental protections across the board and has given big business interests the ability to profit from the destruction of our natural resources. He forced the EPA to stop prosecuting Clean Air Act violators, attempted to increase the amount of toxic mercury allowed in our water, under-funded the cleanup of hazardous waste, reversed EPA bans on the sale of contaminated land, increased logging in our national parks, allowed giant pig "factory farms" to pollute the land, water and homes without having to clean it up, and ignored the threat of global warming. Yes, it costs money to have healthy living conditions and some countries don't want to pay the price. That's when the President has a duty to lead the world to negotiate good environmental treaties, not to refuse to participate, thus guaranteeing failure. He has a duty to protect American companies against unfair foreign competition, not give them a license to break the laws established to protect our own citizens. President Bush has failed to lead the world and protect our citizens from environmental hazards or unfair foreign competition.

President Bush also appears willing to sacrifice our national parks to the interests of oil companies, strip miners and loggers. Once these national treasures have been exploited, they will be ruined forever. Our parks belong to the people and I'm not willing to sell them out for a few bucks, most of which will go to private companies and the rest of which will go to support more government spending or tax cuts for the wealthy.

Finally, let me address the economy. I've never really believed that the President has much short-term influence over the state of the economy. However, I do know that cutting taxes and increasing spending is normally a great way to stimulate economic growth for a few years, while hurting us in the long-term when we have to pay off the debt. Yet, despite the billions in tax cuts and increased homeland security spending, I haven't seen any growth in jobs or spending. I guess that means all we get is the long-term debt. Finally - is President Bush willing to fix Social Security? No - but then again, I don't think anyone in Washington has the guts to do it.

The bottom line is this. President Bush had four years to show us what he can do. He has completely bungled our foreign policy and has been favoring big business interests and wealthy individuals over fiscal responsibility, the well being of our economy, and the health of our citizens. There is no way he's getting another chance if I have anything to say about it.

Sir, you are relieved of duty!

Howard Dean: Why I am Voting for John Kerry

Howard Dean: Why I am Voting for John Kerry
By Howard Dean

Tuesday 26 October 2004

I decided long ago that John Kerry would be a better president than George Bush. We need a new president because we need to change the course of this country. We need a new president because we need our country to be fiscally healthy with more jobs that pay better. We need a new president to ensure that everyone in this country will have health insurance. And, we need a new president because George W. Bush has not been truthful with the American people.

America ought to join every other industrialized country in the world and have health care for all our people. As a physician, I am concerned that over the past three years, a larger number of Americans are finding it more and more expensive to buy less and less health care. I am concerned that 43 million Americans still do not have health insurance and since George W. Bush has been president, the cost of family health insurance has increased by more than $3,500. John Kerry has said that one of his first priorities would be to focus on the health care crisis. He has a realistic plan that will provide affordable health care for 95 percent of Americans, including every child. For example, he wants to cut prescription drug costs and allow drugs from Canada to be easily obtained. And, he wants Americans to be able to have a greater choice of health care plans, just like members of Congress. John Kerry's plan is not full of empty promises - it is practical and affordable.

America has to stop the "borrow and spend" philosophy that is so prevalent in Washington. Not one Republican President since 1968 has ever balanced a budget. John Kerry, like Bill Clinton before him, will give our children the fiscal discipline we deserve, which will lead to job growth. President Bush ran up the largest deficit in American history, therefore forcing our children to be financially responsible for his senselessness. John Kerry will balance the budget. He has an extensive plan to cut the deficit in half in four years. In order to accomplish this, one thing he will do is to reverse the special interest tax cuts President Bush implemented that only affected big corporations and families making more than $200,000 a year. John Kerry will ensure that future generations do not have to pay for George Bush's mistakes.

America can restore its moral leadership at home and abroad with John Kerry as our president. At his core, John Kerry is a truthful person. He has told us what he thinks, sometimes to his detriment, but we know what he believes. George W. Bush has not been truthful with the American people. He has endangered America by creating a crisis in Iraq where there was not one before we invaded. He has misled us on the deficits, on jobs, on health care, on public education and on prescription drugs for the elderly. He appears to stand for little that is not dictated by polls.

America is the greatest nation on the face of the earth. We are a great people - Republicans as well as Democrats, conservatives as well as liberals. America deserves the kind of leadership that will give us back our position as a moral leader in the world. I believe that President Kerry will be that kind of leader.

Molly Ivins - Clueless People Love Bush

Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Clueless People Love Bush

Studies show Bush supporters are misled on Bush policies and the news

by Molly Ivins

Editors note: Last month, workingforchange ran a piece by comedian Will Durst entitled Stupid people love Bush. Unlike that piece -- which was satirical -- this piece is factual.

Oh, you sweet, innocent, carefree citizens in non-swing states. You have no idea how much fun and slime you are missing.

In the swingers, wolves stalk us mercilessly (as the pro-wolf lobby points out indignantly, no one has ever been killed by wolves on U.S. soil, but try arguing that in the face of the relentless new TV ad campaign). Breaking news everywhere -- 380 tons of high explosives in Iraq left unattended, stock market down to year's low, leading economic indicators down, more tragedy in Iraq, the Swift Boat Liars are back, more Halliburton scandal, George Tenet says the war in Iraq is "wrong" -- it feels like you're dodging meteorites here in the Final Days.

Actually, the best evidence suggests we need to slow way down and go way back, because far from being able to take in anything new, it turns out many of our fellow citizens, especially Bush supporters, are stuck like bugs in amber in some early misperceptions that have never been cleared up.

It seems the majority of Bush supporters, according to recent polls, still believe Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda and even to 9-11, and that the United States found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Many of you are asking how that could possibly be, since everybody knows...

But everybody doesn't know. There it is. And if you are wondering why everybody doesn't know, you can either blame it on the media, always a shrewd move, or take notice that the administration is STILL spreading this same misinformation.

Both Donald Rumsfeld and Bush have publicly acknowledged there is no evidence of any links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. However, as Dick Cheney campaigns, a standard part of his stump speech is the accusation that Saddam Hussein "had a relationship" with Al Qaeda or "has long-established ties to Al Qaeda." He makes this claim up to the present day. The 9-11 Commission, however, found that there was "no collaborative relationship" between the two.

Cheney, of course, also has never given up his touching faith that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, recently referring to a "nuclear" program that had in fact been abandoned shortly after the first Gulf War. Bush and Cheney misled the country into war using these two false premises, and it turns out an enormous number of our fellow citizens still believe both of them to be true. It's not because they're stupid, but because an administration they trust is still telling them both phony propositions are true.

Normally, when you get a situation like that -- where people are simply not acknowledging reality -- it is considered a cult, a form of groupthink based on irrational beliefs propagated by what is normally a charismatic leader. So those Kerry volunteers earnestly engaging Bush supporters on the latest outrage are way off base. They need to go all the way back to the Two Great Lies that got us into this: Many American soldiers marching into Iraq believed it was "payback for 9-11."

A third slightly blinding fact (to me) is that more people now think Kerry behaved shamefully in regards to Vietnam than did W. Bush. Incredible what brazen lying will do, isn't it?

A friend of Bush's dad got him into the "champagne unit" of the Texas Air National Guard, a unit packed with the sons of the privileged trying to stay out of Vietnam, and he failed to complete his service there. Kerry is a genuine, bona fide war hero. The men who served on his boat are supporting him for president, but those who didn't serve with him, who weren't there, who don't know what happened, have been given more credence. Wolves will get you!

In further unhappy evidence of how ill-informed the American people are (blame the media), the Program on International Policy Attitudes found Bush supporters consistently ill-informed about Bush's stands on the issues (Kerry-ans, by contrast, are overwhelmingly right about his positions). Eighty-seven percent of Bush supporters think he favors putting labor and environmental standards into international trade agreements. Eighty percent of Bush supporters believe Bush wants to participate in the treaty banning landmines. Seventy-six percent of Bush supporters believe Bush wants to participate in the treaty banning nuclear weapons testing. Sixty-two percent believe Bush would participate in the International Criminal Court. Sixty-one percent believe Bush wants to participate in the Kyoto Treaty on global warming. Fifty-three percent does not believe Bush is building a missile defense system, a.k.a. "Star Wars."

The only two Bush stands the majority of his supporters got right were on increasing defense spending and who should write the new Iraqi constitution.

Kerry supporters, by contrast, know their man on seven out of eight issues, with only 43 percent understanding he wants to keep defense spending the same but change how the money is spent, and 57 percent believing he wants to up it.

So what's going on here? I do not think Kerry people are smarter than Bush people, so why are they better-informed? Maybe a small percentage of ideological right-wingers don't believe anything the Establishment media say, but I don't think this is a matter of not believing what they hear, but of not hearing what's factual.

The great triumph of the political right in this country has been the creation of a network of alternative media. There are people who listen to Rush Limbaugh for more hours every day than the Branch Davidians listened to David Koresh. Watch Fox News, read The Washington Times -- hey, that's what the Bush administration does, according to its own words.

But it's not just the right-wing media purveying lies -- they are quoting the administration. These misimpressions come directly from the Bush administration, still, over and over.

© 2004 Working for Change

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - John Kerry For President

Original URL:

Endorsement: John Kerry for president

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Posted: Oct. 27, 2004

Both presidential candidates are decent men, undeserving of the demonization they’ve endured during this campaign.

That said, there is a clear choice in this election, and that would be John Kerry for president.

Kerry’s record - Vietnam combat vet to anti-war activist to effective U.S. senator - speaks of courage, patriotism and a balanced and thoughtful view of this country, its needs and its role in the world.

It is inescapable, however, that a presidential re-election contest is also a referendum on the incumbent.

Kerry, though not flawless, mostly measures up based on a reasoned look at his record. Regrettably, we find President Bush, though well-intentioned, severely deficient based on his.

Let’s not get mired in whether the president was deceitful or was himself misled on the matter of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He was wrong. The principle reason given for launching this war never deserved as much weight as given to it by this president and vice president.

No, we do not believe they lied. But they were wrong in starting the war for the reasons given and have been equally wrong in how they have waged it.

Americans were not greeted as liberators. Iraq’s oil has not been substantively paying for the reconstruction. Insufficient numbers of U.S. troops, inadequately armored and equipped, were committed for reasons still not entirely credible.
To be sure, a tyrant is gone. But one misstep after another in that war has made the often-stated reason for being in Iraq - once the subject was changed from WMD - seem even more elusive: a democratic country that would transform a troubled region.

Both candidates would train Iraqis to defend themselves. Both would seek international help. They each aver to give the troops whatever it takes to protect themselves and Iraqis. But, of the two, Kerry seems better equipped to pull it off.

Again, it’s a matter of the Bush record.

The president was marvelous immediately following the 9-11 attack. He rallied the country and called citizens to action in a commitment against terrorism. He led a coalition into Afghanistan, the right war at the right time, to deny al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden their Taliban sanctuary.

And then he took that commitment against terrorism to wage a war against a country that had nothing to do with the 9-11 attack. He opposed the creation of a Department of Homeland Security and then didn’t. He opposed a 9-11 commission and then didn’t. He said he was a uniter and we remain bitterly divided.

The charge that this country will be unsafe if Kerry is president is cruel and on shaky ground. It cynically depends on incomplete glimpses of his 19-year voting record. This is beneath the president, just as raising the specter that Bush will institute a military draft and cut Social Security benefits for the elderly is beneath Kerry.

On the economic and social front, Kerry has made health care reform a major plank. While we have doubts about his ability to pay for it, we know the president’s solutions are iffy Band-Aids. Among them a continuing overconfidence in the free market to achieve access for users, tort reform, health savings accounts and allowing businesses to group together for better insurance rates. These are not far-reaching enough.

Kerry’s much bolder health care proposal is not, as Bush bills it, a government plan. Most people would stay in their private health insurance.

Kerry’s plan would have the federal government cover catastrophic health care costs for businesses and workers in excess of $75,000, which could lead to lower premiums for employers and employees both. Kerry would also lower health care costs by allowing the importation of less expensive drugs from Canada and other nations and require the federal government to negotiate Medicare drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. The federal government is now prohibited from doing either under the Medicare reform act that Bush supported, and signed into law, in 2003.

The Kerry plan would extend insurance to 27.3 million Americans who currently have no insurance while the Bush plan would extend insurance to only about 6.7 million additional Americans, according to the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

On jobs, it now appears that Bush will indeed be the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over net losses. A president’s effect on economic cycles can be easily overstated. Yet Bush has been touting his tax cuts as the key to creating jobs.

Most experts are not crediting his tax cuts for what job gains we’ve made. They are, however, crediting them for helping turn a hefty surplus into a deep budget deficit.

Kerry has his flaws. Given what we know now, it’s clear he shouldn’t have voted for the war resolution in October 2002. Back then, this Editorial Board wrote, “Bush said . . . that the military option was his last choice, not his first. It’s important that members of Congress hold the president to those words and include language in their war-powers resolution that authorizes force only if all diplomatic measures have been exhausted.” Kerry, in fact, is still holding the president accountable on his pledge to go to war only as a last resort.
But like Bush, Kerry is also dodging the big questions about Social Security and the budget deficit.

In the senator, however, we see a reasoned pragmatist with enough intellectual curiosity to lead him to prudent, decisive and well-thought-out action.
Installing someone during war who has never been commander in chief is too risky, the president’s campaign is trying to scare you into believing. But voters can weigh that against what should now be a firm understanding of what they will get in a second Bush term. No risks there. There’s every danger of it being worse than the first.

The hatred directed against this president is largely undeserved. The caricatures and barbs hurled carelessly his way have been decidedly mean-spirited. Many will disagree, but we don’t believe that he has deliberately misled. He has good instincts on connecting with people and on hopes for elevating students through his No Child Left Behind program (chronically underfunded, unfortunately). We even believe that his faith-based initiative, though it has its faults, indicates a big heart. Faith that guides generously but doesn’t dictate to others can be a good thing.

In 2000, we lauded Bush for his ability as Texas governor to work in bipartisan fashion. We admired what seemed to be a tendency to make moderate judicial appointments. We’ve seen precious little of that in his first term as president.
This time around, there is just so much at stake.

There is an ever-evolving economy that must lift more boats, a health care crisis requiring bold solutions, Iran and North Korea posing global threats, an environment that needs more protection than has been given in this term and Supreme Court nominations that will touch just about every policy issue imaginable.

The president is a decent man, yes. On the whole, however, he has been so wrong about so much in such a short time that accountability must kick in at some point.

We’re at that point. John Kerry for president.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Springfield News-Leader - Kerry Will Get U.S. Back On Course

Springfield News-Leader Endorses John Kerry for President

Kerry will get U.S. back on course

In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush gave this country true leadership. We needed to see a strong president, comforting those who had lost everything and promising to strike back hard at the killers of innocents.

In the three years since, Bush has continued to be a resolute, unwavering leader. His supporters see this as a strength.

What they choose not to see is that Bush's steadfast leadership is taking this country in the wrong direction. It is time for a change. We endorse John Kerry for president.

Had this election been held in November 2001, Bush would have had our support. He struck hard in Afghanistan, removing the Taliban from power and driving al-Qaida into caves. But instead of finishing what he started, instead of hounding Osama bin Laden to death, he let his attention be diverted to Iraq.

Bush and his top advisers told the nation that Saddam Hussein was the real threat, ignoring all evidence contrary to what they wanted to believe. Bush allowed the Pentagon to ignore State Department planning for winning the peace, a mistake that cost hundreds of American lives.

It is not just in foreign policy that Bush has failed. His government is more secretive than any in memory, keeping from the American people information they could use to protect themselves and their communities or to hold the government accountable. Civil liberties have been singed. Billions of dollars in debt have been heaped upon taxpayers' shoulders.

Bush describes Kerry as a tax-and-spend liberal who will balloon the deficit and enlarge government. The charge has no credibility coming from a president who ballooned the deficit and made government bigger and more intrusive. How could Kerry be any worse than Bush?

Before tossing out an incumbent, we should always ask: Would the challenger be better? What we have seen on the campaign trail says that Kerry would.

Kerry is a realist on Iraq. He knows the United States cannot pull out without creating a larger disaster. But Kerry recognizes that going after al-Qaida should always have been the prime goal. It is the goal upon which a true international coalition could have been built. Kerry could still build that coalition; Bush cannot.

Kerry's domestic policies also are more inclusive than Bush's. For all of Bush's folksy ways, it is Kerry who is in touch with the middle class. It is Kerry who understands the toll taken by the high cost of health care, by jobs lost to foreign competition, by fears of being able to put food on the table. He has reasonable proposals for addressing these issues.

At a time when this nation should be united against a common enemy, we are polarized. Candidate Bush promised to be a uniter, but he has instead pitted American against American.

The nation will still be polarized after this election, but Kerry is more likely to build common ground. His record is one of working across the aisle, which shows a greater willingness to listen to divergent viewpoints than we have seen from Bush.

Times of crisis normally cry for maintaining leadership. But when leaders go the wrong direction, change is required. Kerry is the change this nation needs.

Harold Meyerson - The GOP's Shameful Vote Strategy

The GOP's Shameful Vote Strategy

By Harold Meyerson
Wednesday, October 27, 2004; Page A25

With Election Day almost upon us, it's not clear whether President Bush is running a campaign or plotting a coup d'etat. By all accounts, Republicans are spending these last precious days devoting nearly as much energy to suppressing the Democratic vote as they are to mobilizing their own.

Time was when Republicans were at least embarrassed by their efforts to keep African Americans from the polls. Republican consultant Ed Rollins was all but drummed out of the profession after his efforts to pay black ministers to keep their congregants from voting in a 1993 New Jersey election came to light.

For George W. Bush, Karl Rove and their legion of genteel thugs, however, universal suffrage is just one more musty liberal ideal that threatens conservative rule. Today's Republicans have elevated vote suppression from a dirty secret to a public norm.

In Ohio, Republicans have recruited 3,600 poll monitors and assigned them disproportionately to such heavily black areas as inner-city Cleveland, where Democratic "527" groups have registered many tens of thousands of new voters. "The organized left's efforts to, quote unquote, register voters -- I call them ringers -- have created these problems" of potential massive vote fraud, Cuyahoga County Republican Chairman James P. Trakas recently told the New York Times.

Let's pass over the implication that a registration drive waged by a liberal group is inherently fraud-ridden, and look instead at that word "ringers."

Registration in Ohio is nonpartisan, but independent analysts estimate that roughly 400,000 new Democrats have been added to the rolls this year. Who does Trakas think they are? Have tens of thousands of African Americans been sneaking over the state lines from Pittsburgh and Detroit to vote in Cleveland -- thus putting their own battleground states more at risk of a Republican victory? Is Shaker Heights suddenly filled with Parisians affecting American argot? Or are the Republicans simply terrified that a record number of minority voters will go to the polls next Tuesday? Have they decided to do anything to stop them -- up to and including threatening to criminalize Voting While Black in a Battleground State?

This is civic life in the age of George W. Bush, in which politics has become a continuation of civil war by other means. In Bush's America, there's a war on -- against a foreign enemy so evil that we can ignore the Geneva Conventions, against domestic liberals so insidious that we can ignore democratic norms.

Only bleeding hearts with a pre-Sept. 11 mind-set still believe in voting rights.

For Bush and Rove, the domestic war predates the war on terrorism. From the first day of his presidency, Bush opted to govern from the right, to fan the flames of cultural resentment, to divide the American house against itself in the hope that cultural conservatism would create a stable Republican majority. The Sept. 11 attacks unified us, but Bush exploited those attacks to relentlessly partisan ends. As his foreign and domestic policies abjectly failed, Bush's reliance on identity politics only grew stronger. He anointed himself the standard-bearer for provincials and portrayed Kerry and his backers as arrogant cosmopolitans.

And so here we are, improbably enmeshed in a latter-day version of the election of 1928, when the Catholicism of Democratic presidential nominee Al Smith bitterly divided the nation along Protestant-Catholic and nativist-immigrant lines. To his credit, Smith's opponent (and eventual victor), Herbert Hoover, did not exploit this rift himself. Bush, by contrast, has not merely exploited the modernist-traditionalist tensions in America but helped create new ones and summoned old ones we could be forgiven for thinking were permanently interred. (Kerry will ban the Bible?)

Indeed, it's hard to think of another president more deliberately divisive than the current one. I can come up with only one other president who sought so assiduously to undermine the basic arrangements of American policy (as Bush has undermined the New Deal at home and the systems of post-World War II alliances abroad) with so little concern for the effect this would have on the comity and viability of the nation. And Jefferson Davis wasn't really a president of the United States.

After four years in the White House, George W. Bush's most significant contribution to American life is this pervasive bitterness, this division of the house into raging, feuding halves. We are two nations now, each with a culture that attacks the other. And politics, as the Republicans are openly playing it, need no longer concern itself with the most fundamental democratic norm: the universal right to vote.

As the campaign ends, Bush is playing to the right and Kerry to the center.

That foretells the course of the administrations that each would head. The essential difference between them is simply that, as a matter of strategy and temperament, Bush seeks to exploit our rifts and Kerry to narrow them. That, finally, is the choice before us next Tuesday: between one candidate who wants to pry this nation apart to his own advantage, and another who seeks to make it whole.

Bill Kumbier Letter - 10/27/04

Dear Editor:

According to the New York Times (10/27/04), the White House is preparing another "emergency request for tens of billions of dollars" to sustain the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This would be in addition to the $25 billion already approved for 2004-2005. The Congressional Budget Office and Pentagon officials both estimate the Iraq and Afghanistan wars cost between $4 billion and $6 billion per month. The Times also reports that the latest, state-of-the-art jet fighter added to our arsenal, the F/A-22 Raptor, will cost $258 million each.

Many Americans, including most outspokenly and stubbornly President Bush, believe we should pay whatever it takes to prevail in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m sure the president means what he says, but how many Americans who support him really have thought about what paying that price means. For example: my employer, thankfully, pays about $300 per month to cover my group health care premiums. If we figure the cost of monthly premiums for currently uninsured individuals at $500, the billions now spent on war each month would cover premiums for about 10 million Americans. If workers in my profession, educators and teachers, are paid $3,000 per month—and in some places that’s generous—the money spent each month on war would pay the salaries of about 1.7 million. One Raptor would pay for monthly health care premiums for over 500,000 and monthly salaries for tens of thousands of teachers.

Strategically, the Bush administration will not release the actual amount of its "emergency request" until after the election. But sooner or later, as John Kerry has argued, Americans will realize they shouldn’t be bearing all the costs of the wars and that, to paraphrase the late Republican Senator Everett Dirksen, "a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money."

Bill Kumbier

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. - The White House Wasn't Always God's House


The White House Wasn't Always God's House
by Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

Published on Tuesday, October 26, 2004
by the Los Angeles Times

George W. Bush's presidency is the first faith-based administration in U.S. history.

The founding fathers did not mention God in the Constitution, and the faithful often regarded our early presidents as insufficiently pious.

George Washington was a nominal Anglican who rarely stayed for Communion. John Adams was a Unitarian, which Trinitarians abhorred as heresy. Thomas Jefferson, denounced as an atheist, was actually a deist who detested organized religion and who produced an expurgated version of the New Testament with the miracles eliminated. Jefferson and James Madison, a nominal Episcopalian, were the architects of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. James Monroe was another Virginia Episcopalian. John Quincy Adams was another Massachusetts Unitarian. Andrew Jackson, pressed by clergy members to proclaim a national day of fasting to seek God's help in combating a cholera epidemic, replied that he could not do as they wished "without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion now enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the general government."

In the 19th century, all presidents routinely invoked God and solicited his blessing. But religion did not have a major presence in their lives. Abraham Lincoln was the great exception. Nor did our early presidents use religion as an agency for mobilizing voters. "I would rather be defeated," said James A. Garfield, "than make capital out of my religion."

Nor was there any great popular demand that politicians be men of faith. In 1876, James G. Blaine, an aspirant for the Republican presidential nomination, selected Col. Robert G. Ingersoll, a famed orator but a notorious scoffer at religion, to deliver the nominating speech: The pious knew and feared Ingersoll as "The Great Agnostic"; a 21st century equivalent of Ingersoll would have been booed off the platform at the Republican convention of 2004.

There were presidents of ardent faith in the 20th century. Woodrow Wilson had no doubt that the Almighty designated the United States — and himself — for the redemption and salvation of humankind. Jimmy Carter, like Bush, was "born again." Ronald Reagan, though not a regular churchgoer, had a rapt evangelical following. But neither Wilson nor Carter nor Reagan applied religious tests to secular issues, nor did they exploit their religion for their political benefit. These are the standards that Bush has systematically violated.

The southernization of the Republican Party and the rise of evangelicals as a political force have restructured U.S. politics. When I was a young fellow, fundamentalists were a disdained minority, raw material that H.L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis ("Elmer Gantry") used to make jokes about the Bible Belt.

But in recent years, the religious right has made alliances with right-wing Catholics over abortion and right-wing Jews over the Holy Land. Such alliances have given the evangelicals a measure of political respectability.

Statistics on religion are notoriously unreliable, but it may be, as the Pew Center for the People & the Press asserts, that evangelicals now outnumber mainline Protestants. The religious right constitutes Bush's political base, and the result is the first faith-based presidency in U.S. history.

Bush's first executive order was to establish the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In fiscal 2003, as our president told a White House conference, the federal government gave more than $1 billion to faith-based organizations. And Bush is unique among presidents in his extensive application of religious tests to secular issues.

The opposition to stem cell research that so disturbs Nancy Reagan is typical. Stem cell research promises to expedite cures for Alzheimer's, diabetes, AIDS, Parkinson's and other diseases. But evangelicals are against it, and so is Bush.

Equally alarming is the use of churches for political purposes. A Bush campaign document, according to the New York Times, lays out "a brisk schedule for legions of Christian supporters to help enlist 'conservative churches' and their members, including sending church directories to the campaign."

There is no doubt about the authenticity of Bush's conversion. He would not be president today unless the born-again experience had charged his life with new meaning, purpose and discipline. Redemption through commitment to Jesus is what made him a man and a leader.

But, as author Bob Woodward said in "Bush at War": "The president was casting his mission and that of the country in the grand vision of God's master plan." There is a messianic certitude about our president's pronouncements.

A fanatic, as Finley Peter Dunne's fictitious Mr. Dooley said, does what he thinks the Lord would do if he only knew the facts in the case. The most dangerous people in the world today are those who persuade themselves that they are executing the will of the Almighty.

Lincoln summed it all up in his second inaugural address. Both warring halves of the nation, he said, had read the same Bible and prayed to the same God. Each invoked God's aid against the other.

As Lincoln said, " … let us judge not, that we be not judged…. The Almighty has his own purposes."

Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was a top aide to President Kennedy. His most recent book is a memoir, "A Life in the 20th Century: Innocent Beginnings."

© 2004 Los Angeles Times

George Bush, The Worst Mexican President Ever

El Fisgón on George Bush, President of Mexico

Rafael Barajas is one of Mexico's leading political cartoonists. He pens his cartoons for the daily La Jornada under the name of El Fisgón ("the peeper").

George Bush, The Worst Mexican President EverBy El Fisgón

Free-trade globalization has produced some exceedingly strange phenomena: China, the last socialist power, is glad to provide slave labor to multinationals; a firm in India fills the tax forms of an American corporation that produces vodka in Peru and then sells it to Polish immigrants who are constructing a British-financed building in Madrid; an enterprise which specializes in biotechnology tries to copyright the DNA of an isolated tribe from the Amazon, and George Bush has become the worst Mexican president ever.

Globalization tends to blur or erase all economic, geographic, and cultural boundaries, leaving high technology to coexist with primitive forms of exploitation: Taiwan sells watches to the Swiss; Brazil exports technology to Germany; and all evidence suggests that George Bush has stolen his ruling style from old-fashioned Mexican politicians.

Mexican political culture has very defined features and the President of the United States has absorbed them all: The classical Mexican political boss usually inherits his power from his father. The typical Mexican cacique has a love for guns as well as an inclination toward violence and cruelty; he despises legality and intellectual activity, has a personal history of alcoholism and dissipation, lies systematically, and declares himself a faithful servant of God. (Did we miss anything?)

According to Mexican tradition, politicians always reach their positions thanks to a fraudulent electoral process and then surround themselves with a clique which uses its power to conduct "business" on a staggering scale while in office. The Florida electoral thievery and Halliburton's Iraq contract are classic examples of Mexican corruption.

Based on a complex pyramid of political bosses, a totalitarian presidential regime flourished in Mexico. It was organized around a political party whose name remains a monument to paradox: the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI). Names aside, the PRI model was so efficient (for the PRI, of course) that the party was able to hold power for more than seventy years. The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa called it "the perfect dictatorship."

This dictatorship was a mark of shame for all Mexicans. Only Mexico's political cartoonists were able to benefit from it. The profuse manifestations of cynicism and obsequiousness it produced were a delight for us. In the Mexican court, dialogues like the following were not uncommon and completely irresistible:

The President asks: "What time is it?"

His minister replies: "Whatever time you say, Mister President.

Our presidents were almighty creatures, the voices of God on Earth. Not to be with them was to be against them. After them came the final flood or the atomic apocalypse.

In order to maintain its political control, this regime needed to restrain civil rights and limit freedom of the press. While others fell silent, Mexican political bosses, lacking any kind of legal or moral counterweight, spoke with an enviable freedom and without moral scruples, unbounded by reality. They used to say things like: "In the state of Guerrero, the only ones who complain are the poor," referring of course to 98% of the population; or "I can't say yes or no, but quite the opposite."

Undoubtedly, George Bush had these wise men in mind when he insisted that the French weren't able to understand the United States because they didn't have a word for "entrepreneur." Having learned such turns of phrase and so much more from Mexican politicians, he has now scaled the heights of Mexican political achievement, becoming the most notorious cacique of modern times, and he's done this, without paying his predecessors a cent in royalties.

The creation of "free trade democracies" throughout Latin America has been one of the major political triumphs of globalization. It has been said that the election to the presidency of Vicente Fox, a free-trade globalizer if there ever was one, marked the beginning of a new era for Mexico. This put the fear of God into Mexican caricaturists who dreaded the possibility that the fall of the PRI might mean the end of our professional paradise. We shouldn't have worried. Fox has held onto all the old vices of our former political bosses -- except their authority. What he's added to Mexico's presidency has been a touch of marketing and plenty of unintentional humor. He's been like a genetic experiment in which the DNA of an old-style Mexican president has been cloned with Dan Quayle and Jerry Lewis. Free-trade democrats love to find new ways of reducing the size and power of the state. Fox has proved an exemplar when it comes to this. Never has a Mexican government been so weak; never have Washington's decisions carried such unprecedented weight in Mexican life.

Globalization favors chaos theory: a butterfly flaps its wings in the jungle and a hurricane is formed in the Caribbean; in Saudi Arabia, a baby is born with a silver spoon in its mouth, and two towers fall in Manhattan. An American politician acts like a Mexican cacique and war explodes on the other side of the planet.

The only visible advantage Mexican politicians ever offered the rest of us was their limited ability to damage the world. George Bush has overcome this obstacle. After all, he has access to the sort of technology and to an arsenal that Mexico's local tyrants could only dream of. When he says he's blessed, it's because we're damned.

Under the nuclear umbrella of his free-trade empire and incipient world government, his clique of petty political bosses can dictate the economic agendas of dozens of third-world countries. In recent years, the priorities of the Mexican economy have been defined by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Wall Street, and Washington; they establish our oil quota, the levels of our external debt payments, and the minimum wages we can offer. Vincente Fox acts as what he's always been: a Coca Cola CEO, a multinational middleman, while the true president of Mexico is George Bush, that cacique of caciques.

According to Mexican tradition, politicians are judged depending on how they take care of their people and how they make them prosper… and by such standards, George Bush is the worst Mexican President ever.

We are told that American democracy still works, but if so, it's the only aspect of the U.S. that's not globalized; which means millions of citizens around the world won't have the right to vote in this election, even though their futures too are at stake. For Mexicans this a particularly bitter pill to swallow. After all, shouldn't we have a right to express our opinions on the last cacique?

Rafael Barajas (El Fisgón), political cartoonist for the Mexican daily La Jornada, is also the cofounder of two satirical magazines, a children's book illustrator, a winner of Mexico's National Journalism Prize, and the author of La Historia de un País en Caricatura, a book on the history of nineteenth century Mexican political cartoons. He has been dubbed the "dean of Mexico's vigorous corps of political cartoonists" by the New York Times. His comic-book history of capitalism, How to Succeed at Globalization, A Primer for the Roadside Vendor, has just been published in English.

Copyright C2004 El Fisgón

Use of private contractors in war zones proves costly

Use of private contractors in war zones proves costly

Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. - Jerry Zovko's contract with Blackwater USA looked straightforward: He would earn $600 a day guarding convoys that carried food for U.S. troops in Iraq.

But that cost - $180,000 a year - was just the first installment of what taxpayers were asked to pay for Zovko's work.

Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., and three other companies would add to the bill, and to their profits.

Several Blackwater contracts obtained by The News & Observer open a small window into the multibillion-dollar world of private military contractors in Iraq. The contracts show how costs can add up when the government uses private military contractors to perform tasks once handled by the Army.

Here's how it worked in Zovko's case: Blackwater added a 36 percent markup, plus its overhead costs, and sent the bill to a Kuwaiti company that ordinarily runs hotels. That company, Regency Hotel, tacked on its costs for buying vehicles and weapons and a profit and sent an invoice to a German food services company called ESS that cooked meals for the troops.

ESS added its costs and profit and sent its bill to Halliburton, which also added overhead and a profit and presented the final bill to the Pentagon.

It's nearly impossible to say whether the cost for Zovko doubled, tripled or quadrupled. Congressional investigators and defense auditors have had to fight the primary contractor, Halliburton, for details of the spending. The companies say the subcontracts are confidential and won't discuss them.

About 20,000 private security contractors are now in Iraq, escorting convoys, protecting diplomats, training the Iraqi army and maintaining weapons.

The bills for this work flow from the bottom up. They start with Blackwater's $600-a-day guns for hire such as Zovko and his three comrades, who were killed escorting a convoy through Fallujah in March.

At the top is Houston-based Halliburton, which has an open-ended "cost-plus" contract to supply the U.S. military with food, laundry and other necessities. Cost-plus means the U.S. government pays Halliburton all its expenses - its costs - plus 2 percent profit on top.

So far the Army has committed $7.2 billion on this cost-plus contract to Halliburton, which has been criticized for its performance in Iraq. The company has drawn additional political fire because of its ties to Vice President Dick Cheney, a former Halliburton CEO.

Henry Bunting, a former Halliburton purchasing officer, said he heard a common refrain in 2003 in Kuwait from managers at KBR - also known as Kellogg Brown & Root - a division of Halliburton: "Don't worry about price. It's cost-plus."

"There is no question the taxpayer is getting screwed," said Bunting, who was an Army staff sergeant in Vietnam. "There is no incentive for KBR or their subs to try to reduce costs. No matter what it costs, KBR gets 100 percent back, plus overhead, plus their profit.

"The Army said it is satisfied with Halliburton's performance.

"They are providing essential services to our troops every day," said Daniel Carlson, a spokesman for the Army Field Support Command, which oversees the contract. "All the reports from the field come back that they are providing the services adequately."

Even if the Pentagon could tally all the layers of profit and overhead, it would struggle to compare the cost of using contractors such as Zovko in Iraq against the cost of soldiers.

According to a Defense Department Web site, a soldier with Zovko's experience and final rank (he was a sergeant) would receive about $38,000 a year in base pay and housing and subsistence allowances. That figure would not reflect additional costs for things such as health and retirement benefits or combat pay.

The shift to private contractors has often been justified as cheaper and more efficient. But the real reason for the use of private contractors is to reduce the political costs of war, according to P.W. Singer, an expert on private contractors and the military at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

By using private contractors to do work soldiers once did, Singer said, the administration doesn't have to call up more regular troops, or National Guard and reserves, or compromise with allies to get them to send more troops.

"We don't need another division there - we've got 20,000 private military contractors," Singer said.

But Singer said it's hard to see how five layers of profits and overhead could save money.

"A cost-plus structure is contrary to all the lessons of free-market economics," Singer said. "It is most ripe for abuse ... and by layering it and layering it, you make it even worse."

The way to keep costs under control is vigorous oversight, Singer said. But government auditors and congressional investigators have had a difficult time examining how money has been spent in Iraq.

A recent audit by the Defense Contract Audit Agency said Halliburton could not document 42 percent of a $4 billion invoice submitted to the Pentagon. Much of the $1.8 billion that lacked documentation was for subcontractors who helped feed U.S. troops - the area in which Blackwater was working.

Halliburton will not discuss subcontracts, saying they are private dealings. Company officials dispute all accusations that they have overbilled the Defense Department.

The News & Observer obtained the Blackwater documents while reporting on the fate of four Blackwater contractors ambushed and killed in Fallujah in March: Zovko, Scott Helvenston, Wesley Batalona and Michael Teague.

In the days after the men were killed, the images of the mob abusing the contractors' bodies and dragging them through the streets drew worldwide outrage. The incident also spotlighted the growing role of private military contractors.

What wasn't clear at the time was how complex a structure lay beneath a simple decision: to use private contractors in Iraq.

Blackwater's charges to Regency for Zovko's work were $815 a day, a markup of $215. In addition, Blackwater billed Regency separately for all its overhead and costs in Iraq: insurance, room and board, travel, weapons, ammunition, vehicles, office space and equipment, administrative support, taxes and duties.

Blackwater executives declined to be interviewed for this report.

Regency then billed ESS, the German food company. It's unclear how much Regency tacked on for profit and overhead; Jameel Al Sane, the owner of Regency Hotel, and his associate, retired U.S. Army officer Tim Tapp, declined to answer questions.

Kathy Potter, a former Blackwater employee who helped set up the company's Kuwait office, said Regency was making a tidy profit.

"Tim and Jameel would do stuff like quote ESS a price, say $1,500 per man per day, and then tell Blackwater that it had quoted ESS $1,200," Potter said in an interview this summer.

ESS, in turn, contracted with KBR, the division of Halliburton, which then billed the U.S government.

The Army would not provide information on payments to ESS. The government has no contract with ESS, officials said, so the public must request information from KBR.

Neither KBR nor ESS would answer questions about the contracts. The information belongs to KBR's subcontractors and is confidential, KBR spokeswoman Melissa Norcross said.

"Any contract details between Compass/ESS and its suppliers and employees are confidential and we adhere to a policy of nondisclosure," Mike Moore, managing director for ESS in the Middle East, wrote in an e-mail message.

Even the U.S. government struggles to get information about the spending. Accountants in the Defense Contract Audit Agency have had a long-running problem getting Halliburton to back up its invoices with documentation.

In March, the agency complained that Halliburton wasn't backing up its bills, despite repeated requests for supporting paperwork. The auditors said Halliburton couldn't ensure subcontractors were doing their work and didn't log their payments to them.

Halliburton billed the government for as much as three times as many meals as were actually served, auditors said. The company couldn't adequately explain or document payments to its dining subcontractors.

Despite those complaints, the defense agency that approves the payments, the Army Field Support Command in Illinois, kept giving Halliburton more time to answer the auditors - three extensions totaling 135 days.

Finally, the auditors lost patience.

In a strongly worded memo Aug. 16, they said Halliburton could not support $1.8 billion of a $4.2 billion payment request. The auditors urged the Army to stop the extensions and withhold 15 percent of the payment until Halliburton provided the backup documents: "It is clear to us KBR will not provide an adequate proposal until there is a consequence."

The Army has not yet decided whether to withhold the 15 percent from Halliburton.

Congress has a hard time getting answers as well.

Rep. Henry Waxman of California and other Democrats on the House Government Reform Committee have had trouble getting information on basic spending or Defense Department audits of Halliburton.

The administration has not turned it over, and the committee has requested but not received copies of KBR contracts with subcontractors.

"We don't have accountability, we don't have transparency on where the money is spent," Waxman said. "Taxpayer money is being wasted. Huge amounts are going to subcontractors, and we have no idea how the money is being spent."
The private companies have also acted to protect themselves from their individual contractors and subcontractors.

For example, at least some private contracts protect the companies from their workers' becoming whistle-blowers. Contractors wanting to work for Blackwater in Iraq, such as Zovko, must sign contracts that compel them to pay Blackwater a quarter of a million dollars in instant damages if they violate their contract for doing things such as discussing details of the contracts or work.

The contract between Blackwater and Regency also contains explicit confidentiality clauses. Singer, the Brookings Institution analyst, said that is typical but troubling: The agreement is between private companies, but their activities are wholly in the public interest.

"The public is paying for it, and it is taking place in a war zone," Singer said. "It illustrates the lack of transparency in this whole business."

The New Yorker - The Choice

For the first time in 80 years, the New Yorker magazine has endorsed a presidential candidate---guess who?

by The Editors

Issue of 2004-11-01Posted 2004-10-25

This Presidential campaign has been as ugly and as bitter as any in American memory. The ugliness has flowed mostly in one direction, reaching its apotheosis in the effort, undertaken by a supposedly independent group financed by friends of the incumbent, to portray the challenger—who in his mid-twenties was an exemplary combatant in both the Vietnam War and the movement to end that war—as a coward and a traitor. The bitterness has been felt mostly by the challenger’s adherents; yet there has been more than enough to go around. This is one campaign in which no one thinks of having the band strike up “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

The heightened emotions of the race that (with any luck) will end on November 2, 2004, are rooted in the events of three previous Tuesdays. On Tuesday, November 7, 2000, more than a hundred and five million Americans went to the polls and, by a small but indisputable plurality, voted to make Al Gore President of the United States. Because of the way the votes were distributed, however, the outcome in the electoral college turned on the outcome in Florida. In that state, George W. Bush held a lead of some five hundred votes, one one-thousandth of Gore’s national margin; irregularities, and there were many, all had the effect of taking votes away from Gore; and the state’s electoral machinery was in the hands of Bush’s brother, who was the governor, and one of Bush’s state campaign co-chairs, who was the Florida secretary of state.
Bush sued to stop any recounting of the votes, and, on Tuesday, December 12th, the United States Supreme Court gave him what he wanted. Bush v. Gore was so shoddily reasoned and transparently partisan that the five justices who endorsed the decision declined to put their names on it, while the four dissenters did not bother to conceal their disgust. There are rules for settling electoral disputes of this kind, in federal and state law and in the Constitution itself. By ignoring them—by cutting off the process and installing Bush by fiat—the Court made a mockery not only of popular democracy but also of constitutional republicanism.

A result so inimical to both majority rule and individual civic equality was bound to inflict damage on the fabric of comity. But the damage would have been far less severe if the new President had made some effort to take account of the special circumstances of his election—in the composition of his Cabinet, in the way that he pursued his policy goals, perhaps even in the goals themselves. He made no such effort. According to Bob Woodward in “Plan of Attack,” Vice-President Dick Cheney put it this way: “From the very day we walked in the building, a notion of sort of a restrained presidency because it was such a close election, that lasted maybe thirty seconds. It was not contemplated for any length of time. We had an agenda, we ran on that agenda, we won the election—full speed ahead.”

The new President’s main order of business was to push through Congress a program of tax reductions overwhelmingly skewed to favor the very rich. The policies he pursued through executive action, such as weakening environmental protection and cutting off funds for international family-planning efforts, were mostly unpopular outside what became known (in English, not Arabic) as “the base,” which is to say the conservative movement and, especially, its evangelical component. The President’s enthusiastic embrace of that movement was such that, four months into the Administration, the defection of a moderate senator from Vermont, Jim Jeffords, cost his party control of the Senate. And, four months after that, the President’s political fortunes appeared to be coasting into a gentle but inexorable decline. Then came the blackest Tuesday of all.
September 11, 2001, brought with it one positive gift: a surge of solidarity, global and national—solidarity with and solidarity within the United States. This extraordinary outpouring provided Bush with a second opportunity to create something like a government of national unity. Again, he brushed the opportunity aside, choosing to use the political capital handed to him by Osama bin Laden to push through more elements of his unmandated domestic program. A year after 9/11, in the midterm elections, he increased his majority in the House and recaptured control of the Senate by portraying selected Democrats as friends of terrorism. Is it any wonder that the anger felt by many Democrats is even greater than can be explained by the profound differences in outlook between the two candidates and their parties?

The Bush Administration has had success in carrying out its policies and implementing its intentions, aided by majorities—political and, apparently, ideological—in both Houses of Congress. Substantively, however, its record has been one of failure, arrogance, and—strikingly for a team that prided itself on crisp professionalism—incompetence.

In January, 2001, just after Bush’s inauguration, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office published its budget outlook for the coming decade. It showed a cumulative surplus of more than five trillion dollars. At the time, there was a lot of talk about what to do with the anticipated bounty, a discussion that now seems antique. Last year’s federal deficit was three hundred and seventy-five billion dollars; this year’s will top four hundred billion. According to the C.B.O., which came out with its latest projection in September, the period from 2005 to 2014 will see a cumulative shortfall of $2.3 trillion.

Even this seven-trillion-dollar turnaround underestimates the looming fiscal disaster. In doing its calculations, the C.B.O. assumed that most of the Bush tax cuts would expire in 2011, as specified in the legislation that enacted them. However, nobody in Washington expects them to go away on schedule; they were designated as temporary only to make their ultimate results look less scary. If Congress extends the expiration deadlines—a near-certainty if Bush wins and the Republicans retain control of Congress—then, according to the C.B.O., the cumulative deficit between 2005 and 2014 will nearly double, to $4.5 trillion.

What has the country received in return for mortgaging its future? The President says that his tax cuts lifted the economy before and after 9/11, thereby moderating the downturn that began with the Nasdaq’s collapse in April, 2000. It’s true that even badly designed tax cuts can give the economy a momentary jolt. But this doesn’t make them wise policy. “Most of the tax cuts went to low- and middle-income Americans,” Bush said during his final debate with Senator John Kerry. This is false—a lie, actually—though at least it suggests some dim awareness that the reverse Robin Hood approach to tax cuts is politically and morally repugnant. But for tax cuts to stimulate economic activity quickly and efficiently they should go to people who will spend the extra money. Largely at the insistence of Democrats and moderate Republicans, the Bush cuts gave middle-class families some relief in the form of refunds, bigger child credits, and a smaller marriage penalty. Still, the rich do better, to put it mildly. Citizens for Tax Justice, a Washington research group whose findings have proved highly dependable, notes that, this year, a typical person in the lowest fifth of the income distribution will get a tax cut of ninety-one dollars, a typical person in the middle fifth will pocket eight hundred and sixty-three dollars, and a typical person in the top one per cent will collect a windfall of fifty-nine thousand two hundred and ninety-two dollars.

These disparities help explain the familiar charge that Bush will likely be the first chief executive since Hoover to preside over a net loss of American jobs. This Administration’s most unshakable commitment has been to shifting the burden of taxation away from the sort of income that rewards wealth and onto the sort that rewards work. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, another Washington research group, estimates that the average federal tax rate on income generated from corporate dividends and capital gains is now about ten per cent. On wages and salaries it’s about twenty-three per cent. The President promises, in a second term, to expand tax-free savings accounts, cut taxes further on dividends and capital gains, and permanently abolish the estate tax—all of which will widen the widening gap between the richest and the rest.

Bush signalled his approach toward the environment a few weeks into his term, when he reneged on a campaign pledge to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions, the primary cause of global warming. His record since then has been dictated, sometimes literally, by the industries affected. In 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed rescinding a key provision of the Clean Air Act known as “new source review,” which requires power-plant operators to install modern pollution controls when upgrading older facilities. The change, it turned out, had been recommended by some of the nation’s largest polluters, in e-mails to the Energy Task Force, which was chaired by Vice-President Cheney. More recently, the Administration proposed new rules that would significantly weaken controls on mercury emissions from power plants. The E.P.A.’s regulation drafters had copied, in some instances verbatim, memos sent to it by a law firm representing the utility industry.

“I guess you’d say I’m a good steward of the land,” Bush mused dreamily during debate No. 2. Or maybe you’d say nothing of the kind. The President has so far been unable to persuade the Senate to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but vast stretches of accessible wilderness have been opened up to development. By stripping away restrictions on the use of federal lands, often through little-advertised rule changes, the Administration has potentially opened up sixty million acres, an area larger than Indiana and Iowa combined, to logging, mining, and oil exploration.

During the fevered period immediately after September 11th, the Administration rushed what it was pleased to call the U.S.A. Patriot Act through a compliant Congress. Some of the reaction to that law has been excessive. Many of its provisions, such as allowing broader information-sharing among investigative agencies, are sensible. About others there are legitimate concerns. Section 215 of the law, for example, permits government investigators to obtain—without a subpoena or a search warrant based on probable cause—a court order entitling them to records from libraries, bookstores, doctors, universities, and Internet service providers, among other public and private entities. Officials of the Department of Justice say that they have used Section 215 with restraint, and that they have not, so far, sought information from libraries or bookstores. Their avowals of good faith would be more reassuring if their record were not otherwise so troubling.

Secrecy and arrogance have been the touchstones of the Justice Department under Bush and his attorney general, John Ashcroft. Seven weeks after the 9/11 attacks, the Administration announced that its investigation had resulted in nearly twelve hundred arrests. The arrests have continued, but eventually the Administration simply stopped saying how many people were and are being held. In any event, not one of the detainees has been convicted of anything resembling a terrorist act. At least as reprehensible is the way that foreign nationals living in the United States have been treated. Since September 11th, some five thousand have been rounded up and more than five hundred have been deported, all for immigration infractions, after hearings that, in line with a novel doctrine asserted by Ashcroft, were held in secret. Since it is official policy not to deport terrorism suspects, it is unclear what legitimate anti-terror purpose these secret hearings serve.

President Bush often complains about Democratic obstructionism, but the truth is that he has made considerable progress, if that’s the right word, toward the goal of stocking the federal courts with conservative ideologues. The Senate has confirmed two hundred and one of his judicial nominees, more than the per-term averages for Presidents Clinton, Reagan, and Bush senior. Senate Republicans blocked more than sixty of Clinton’s nominees; Senate Democrats have blocked only ten of Bush’s. (Those ten, by the way, got exactly what they deserved. Some of them—such as Carolyn Kuhl, who devoted years of her career to trying to preserve tax breaks for colleges that practice racial discrimination, and Brett Kavanaugh, a thirty-eight-year-old with no judicial or courtroom experience who co-wrote the Starr Report—rank among the worst judicial appointments ever attempted.)

Even so, to the extent that Bush and Ashcroft have been thwarted it has been due largely to our still vigorous federal judiciary, especially the Supreme Court. Like some of the Court’s worst decisions of the past four years (Bush v. Gore again comes to mind), most of its best—salvaging affirmative action, upholding civil liberties for terrorist suspects, striking down Texas’s anti-sodomy law, banning executions of the mentally retarded—were reached by one- or two-vote majorities. (Roe v. Wade is two justices removed from reversal.) All but one of the sitting justices are senior citizens, ranging in age from sixty-five to eighty-four, and the gap since the last appointment—ten years—is the longest since 1821. Bush has said more than once that Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are his favorite justices. In a second Bush term, the Court could be remade in their images.

The record is similarly dismal in other areas of domestic policy. An executive order giving former Presidents the power to keep their papers indefinitely sealed is one example among many of a mania for secrecy that long antedates 9/11. The President’s hostility to science, exemplified by his decision to place crippling limits on federal support of stem-cell research and by a systematic willingness to distort or suppress scientific findings discomfiting to “the base,” is such that scores of eminent scientists who are normally indifferent to politics have called for his defeat. The Administration’s energy policies, especially its resistance to increasing fuel-efficiency requirements, are of a piece with its environmental irresponsibility. Even the highly touted No Child Left Behind education program, enacted with the support of the liberal lion Edward Kennedy, is being allowed to fail, on account of grossly inadequate funding. Some of the money that has been pumped into it has been leached from other education programs, dozens of which are slated for cuts next year.
Ordinarily, such a record would be what lawyers call dispositive. But this election is anything but ordinary. Jobs, health care, education, and the rest may not count for much when weighed against the prospect of large-scale terrorist attack. The most important Presidential responsibility of the next four years, as of the past three, is the “war on terror”—more precisely, the struggle against a brand of Islamist fundamentalist totalitarianism that uses particularly ruthless forms of terrorism as its main weapon.

Bush’s immediate reaction to the events of September 11, 2001, was an almost palpable bewilderment and anxiety. Within a few days, to the universal relief of his fellow-citizens, he seemed to find his focus. His decision to use American military power to topple the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, who had turned their country into the principal base of operations for the perpetrators of the attacks, earned the near-unanimous support of the American people and of America’s allies. Troops from Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Norway, and Spain are serving alongside Americans in Afghanistan to this day.
The determination of ordinary Afghans to vote in last month’s Presidential election, for which the votes are still being counted, is clearly a positive sign. Yet the job in Afghanistan has been left undone, despite fervent promises at the outset that the chaos that was allowed to develop after the defeat of the Soviet occupation in the nineteen-eighties would not be repeated. The Taliban has regrouped in eastern and southern regions. Bin Laden’s organization continues to enjoy sanctuary and support from Afghans as well as Pakistanis on both sides of their common border. Warlords control much of Afghanistan outside the capital of Kabul, which is the extent of the territorial writ of the decent but beleaguered President Hamid Karzai. Opium production has increased fortyfold.

The White House’s real priorities were elsewhere from the start. According to the former counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke, in a Situation Room crisis meeting on September 12, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld suggested launching retaliatory strikes against Iraq. When Clarke and others pointed out to him that Al Qaeda—the presumed culprit—was based in Afghanistan, not Iraq, Rumsfeld is said to have remarked that there were better targets in Iraq. The bottom line, as Bush’s former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has said, was that the Bush-Cheney team had been planning to carry out regime change in Baghdad well before September 11th—one way or another, come what may.

At all three debates, President Bush defended the Iraq war by saying that without it Saddam Hussein would still be in power. This is probably true, and Saddam’s record of colossal cruelty--of murder, oppression, and regional aggression--was such that even those who doubted the war’s wisdom acknowledged his fall as an occasion for satisfaction. But the removal of Saddam has not been the war’s only consequence; and, as we now know, his power, however fearsome to the millions directly under its sway, was far less of a threat to the United States and the rest of the world than it pretended—and, more important, was made out—to be.

As a variety of memoirs and journalistic accounts have made plain, Bush seldom entertains contrary opinion. He boasts that he listens to no outside advisers, and inside advisers who dare to express unwelcome views are met with anger or disdain. He lives and works within a self-created bubble of faith-based affirmation. Nowhere has his solipsism been more damaging than in the case of Iraq. The arguments and warnings of analysts in the State Department, in the Central Intelligence Agency, in the uniformed military services, and in the chanceries of sympathetic foreign governments had no more effect than the chants of millions of marchers.

The decision to invade and occupy Iraq was made on the basis of four assumptions: first, that Saddam’s regime was on the verge of acquiring nuclear explosives and had already amassed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons; second, that the regime had meaningful links with Al Qaeda and (as was repeatedly suggested by the Vice-President and others) might have had something to do with 9/11; third, that within Iraq the regime’s fall would be followed by prolonged celebration and rapid and peaceful democratization; and, fourth, that a similar democratic transformation would be precipitated elsewhere in the region, accompanied by a new eagerness among Arab governments and publics to make peace between Israel and a presumptive Palestinian state. The first two of these assumptions have been shown to be entirely baseless. As for the second two, if the wishes behind them do someday come true, it may not be clear that the invasion of Iraq was a help rather than a hindrance.

In Bush’s rhetoric, the Iraq war began on March 20, 2003, with precision bombings of government buildings in Baghdad, and ended exactly three weeks later, with the iconic statue pulldown. That military operation was indeed a success. But the cakewalk led over a cliff, to a succession of heedless and disastrous mistakes that leave one wondering, at the very least, how the Pentagon’s civilian leadership remains intact and the President’s sense of infallibility undisturbed. The failure, against the advice of such leaders as General Eric Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, to deploy an adequate protective force led to unchallenged looting of government buildings, hospitals, museums, and—most inexcusable of all—arms depots. (“Stuff happens,” Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld explained, though no stuff happened to the oil ministry.) The Pentagon all but ignored the State Department’s postwar plans, compiled by its Future of Iraq project, which warned not only of looting but also of the potential for insurgencies and the folly of relying on exiles such as Ahmad Chalabi; the project’s head, Thomas Warrick, was sidelined. The White House counsel’s disparagement of the Geneva Conventions and of prohibitions on torture as “quaint” opened the way to systematic and spectacular abuses at Abu Ghraib and other American-run prisons--a moral and political catastrophe for which, in a pattern characteristic of the Administration’s management style, no one in a policymaking position has been held accountable. And, no matter how Bush may cleave to his arguments about a grand coalition (“What’s he say to Tony Blair?” “He forgot Poland!”), the coalition he assembled was anything but grand, and it has been steadily melting away in Iraq’s cauldron of violence.

By the end of the current fiscal year, the financial cost of this war will be two hundred billion dollars (the figure projected by Lawrence Lindsey, who headed the President’s Council of Economic Advisers until, like numerous other bearers of unpalatable news, he was cashiered) and rising. And there are other, more serious costs that were unforeseen by the dominant factions in the Administration (although there were plenty of people who did foresee them). The United States has become mired in a low-intensity guerrilla war that has taken more lives since the mission was declared to be accomplished than before. American military deaths have mounted to more than a thousand, a number that underplays the real level of suffering: among the eight thousand wounded are many who have been left seriously maimed. The toll of Iraqi dead and wounded is of an order of magnitude greater than the American. Al Qaeda, previously an insignificant presence in Iraq, is an important one now. Before this war, we had persuaded ourselves and the world that our military might was effectively infinite. Now it is overstretched, a reality obvious to all. And, if the exposure of American weakness encourages our enemies, surely the blame lies with those who created the reality, not with those who, like Senator Kerry, acknowledge it as a necessary step toward changing it.

When the Administration’s geopolitical, national-interest, and anti-terrorism justifications for the Iraq war collapsed, it groped for an argument from altruism: postwar chaos, violence, unemployment, and brownouts notwithstanding, the war has purchased freedoms for the people of Iraq which they could not have had without Saddam’s fall. That is true. But a sad and ironic consequence of this war is that its fumbling prosecution has undermined its only even arguably meritorious rationale—and, as a further consequence, the salience of idealism in American foreign policy has been likewise undermined. Foreign-policy idealism has taken many forms—Wilson’s aborted world federalism, Carter’s human-rights jawboning, and Reagan’s flirtation with total nuclear disarmament, among others. The failed armed intervention in Somalia and the successful ones in the Balkans are other examples. The neoconservative version ascendant in the Bush Administration, post-9/11, draws partly on these strains. There is surely idealistic purpose in envisioning a Middle East finally relieved of its autocracies and dictatorships. Yet this Administration’s adventure in Iraq is so gravely flawed and its credibility so badly damaged that in the future, faced with yet another moral dilemma abroad, it can be expected to retreat, a victim of its own Iraq Syndrome.

The damage visited upon America, and upon America’s standing in the world, by the Bush Administration’s reckless mishandling of the public trust will not easily be undone. And for many voters the desire to see the damage arrested is reason enough to vote for John Kerry. But the challenger has more to offer than the fact that he is not George W. Bush. In every crucial area of concern to Americans (the economy, health care, the environment, Social Security, the judiciary, national security, foreign policy, the war in Iraq, the fight against terrorism), Kerry offers a clear, corrective alternative to Bush’s curious blend of smugness, radicalism, and demagoguery. Pollsters like to ask voters which candidate they’d most like to have a beer with, and on that metric Bush always wins. We prefer to ask which candidate is better suited to the governance of our nation.

Throughout his long career in public service, John Kerry has demonstrated steadiness and sturdiness of character. The physical courage he showed in combat in Vietnam was matched by moral courage when he raised his voice against the war, a choice that has carried political costs from his first run for Congress, lost in 1972 to a campaign of character assassination from a local newspaper that could not forgive his antiwar stand, right through this year’s Swift Boat ads. As a senator, Kerry helped expose the mischief of the Bank of Commerce and Credit International, a money-laundering operation that favored terrorists and criminal cartels; when his investigation forced him to confront corruption among fellow-Democrats, he rejected the cronyism of colleagues and brought down power brokers of his own party with the same dedication that he showed in going after Oliver North in the Iran-Contra scandal. His leadership, with John McCain, of the bipartisan effort to put to rest the toxic debate over Vietnam-era P.O.W.s and M.I.A.s and to lay the diplomatic groundwork for Washington’s normalization of relations with Hanoi, in the mid-nineties, was the signal accomplishment of his twenty years on Capitol Hill, and it is emblematic of his fairness of mind and independence of spirit. Kerry has made mistakes (most notably, in hindsight at least, his initial opposition to the Gulf War in 1990), but—in contrast to the President, who touts his imperviousness to changing realities as a virtue—he has learned from them.

Kerry’s performance on the stump has been uneven, and his public groping for a firm explanation of his position on Iraq was discouraging to behold. He can be cautious to a fault, overeager to acknowledge every angle of an issue; and his reluctance to expose the Administration’s appalling record bluntly and relentlessly until very late in the race was a missed opportunity. But when his foes sought to destroy him rather than to debate him they found no scandals and no evidence of bad faith in his past. In the face of infuriating and scurrilous calumnies, he kept the sort of cool that the thin-skinned and painfully insecure incumbent cannot even feign during the unprogrammed give-and-take of an electoral debate. Kerry’s mettle has been tested under fire—the fire of real bullets and the political fire that will surely not abate but, rather, intensify if he is elected—and he has shown himself to be tough, resilient, and possessed of a properly Presidential dose of dignified authority. While Bush has pandered relentlessly to the narrowest urges of his base, Kerry has sought to appeal broadly to the American center. In a time of primitive partisanship, he has exhibited a fundamentally undogmatic temperament. In campaigning for America’s mainstream restoration, Kerry has insisted that this election ought to be decided on the urgent issues of our moment, the issues that will define American life for the coming half century. That insistence is a measure of his character. He is plainly the better choice. As observers, reporters, and commentators we will hold him to the highest standards of honesty and performance. For now, as citizens, we hope for his victory.