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)

Friday, December 10, 2004

March at noon Sunday 12-12-04 Jeff City "You Stole My Vote" 51 capital march Sunday, December 12, 2004 at noon Everywhere at all state capitols nationwide -- 28 states, anyway. Remember the election is still not over -- not till January 6, 2005. There is still the recount in Ohio.

Monday, a lot is happening in Ohio. The Greens and Libertarians have gotten their recount. A lawsuit is being filed in Columbus for the Ohio Supreme Court to look at evidence on fraud, long lines, intimidation, suppression, disenfranchisement, etc. The House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Conyers moderated. They held a forum and heard testimony 12-7-04. Not one Republican member of the Judiciary Committee showed up so it couldn't be called a hearing. All were invited. The day before, affidavits were taken that were gathered from across the country about what happened in different precincts. The panel was sponsored by Common Cause and others.

I haven't looked at it yet but there is a website by a guy named Clinton Curtis who says he was asked to write a source code to flip the vote in the machines in Florida. Bev Harris has comments about Ohio at

One woman, who testified and was a poll watcher, lost it giving her testimony because she witnessed what the African Americans where she was had to go through to vote. She said they wanted to vote so much that they stayed and some waited hours. I heard of two who were on IVs and were in line to vote. I have to admit I cried when I heard all the frustration and disappointment in the voices.

I cannot get used to living under a dictator and I can't leave the country. I'll be affected first when they trash Social Security and Medicare. The NeoCons will not stop until they have undone the New Deal. Election day is supposed to be the day when we get a say-so. IT should be a fair and honest election. Why are the citizens in Ukraine the ones in the streets wearing orange as their color of unity? We have gone through the Looking Glass and now Americans, like Senator Lugar, have gone to Ukraine to make sure their vote is fair and honest. They get a new vote.

Yesterday, I looked at the pictures put out by JAMA of the reality of the horror of the wounds these young people are taking while fighting Bush's war. I won't subject any of you to them. Kevlar doesn't help a lot when your vehicle has no armor. Arms, legs and faces get blown away. There should be a way to show these to those who have yellow ribbons on the back of their vehicles that say "Support Our Troops."

May Belle @ MAMBO

Thom Hartmann - Hyping Terror For Fun, Profit - And Power

Hyping Terror For Fun, Profit - And Power

by Thom Hartmann

What if there really was no need for much - or even most - of the
Cold War? What if, in fact, the Cold War had been kept alive for two decades based on phony WMD threats?

What if, similarly, the War On Terror was largely a scam, and the
administration was hyping it to seem larger-than-life? What if
our "enemy" represented a real but relatively small threat posed by
rogue and criminal groups well outside the mainstream of Islam? What
if that hype was done largely to enhance the power, electability,
and stature of George W. Bush and Tony Blair?

And what if the world was to discover the most shocking dimensions
of these twin deceits - that the same men promulgated them in the
1970s and today?

It happened.

The myth-shattering event took place in England the first three
weeks of October, when the BBC aired a three-hour documentary
written and produced by Adam Curtis, titled "The Power of
Nightmares." If the emails and phone calls many of us in the US
received from friends in the UK - and debate in the pages of
publications like The Guardian are any indicator, this was a seismic
event, one that may have even provoked a hasty meeting between Blair
and Bush a few weeks later.

According to this carefully researched and well-vetted BBC
documentary, Richard Nixon, following in the steps of his mentor and
former boss Dwight D. Eisenhower, believed it was possible to end
the Cold War and eliminate fear from the national psyche. The nation
need no longer be afraid of communism or the Soviet Union. Nixon
worked out a truce with the Soviets, meeting their demands for
safety as well as the US needs for security, and then announced to
Americans that they need no longer be afraid.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon returned from the Soviet Union with
a treaty worked out by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the
beginning of a process Kissinger called "détente." On June 1, 1972,
Nixon gave a speech in which he said, "Last Friday, in Moscow, we
witnessed the beginning of the end of that era which began in 1945.
With this step, we have enhanced the security of both nations. We
have begun to reduce the level of fear, by reducing the causes of
fear-for our two peoples, and for all peoples in the world."

But Nixon left amid scandal and Ford came in, and Ford's Secretary
of Defense (Donald Rumsfeld) and Chief of Staff (Dick Cheney)
believed it was intolerable that Americans might no longer be bound
by fear. Without fear, how could Americans be manipulated?

Rumsfeld and Cheney began a concerted effort - first secretly and
then openly - to undermine Nixon's treaty for peace and to rebuild
the state of fear and, thus, reinstate the Cold War.

And these two men - 1974 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Ford
Chief of Staff Dick Cheney - did this by claiming that the Soviets
had secret weapons of mass destruction that the president didn't
know about, that the CIA didn't know about, that nobody but them
knew about. And, they said, because of those weapons, the US must
redirect billions of dollars away from domestic programs and instead
give the money to defense contractors for whom these two men would
one day work.

"The Soviet Union has been busy," Defense Secretary Rumsfeld
explained to America in 1976. "They've been busy in terms of their
level of effort; they've been busy in terms of the actual weapons
they 've been producing; they've been busy in terms of expanding
production rates; they've been busy in terms of expanding their
institutional capability to produce additional weapons at additional
rates; they've been busy in terms of expanding their capability to
increasingly improve the sophistication of those weapons. Year after
year after year, they've been demonstrating that they have
steadiness of purpose. They're purposeful about what they're doing."

The CIA strongly disagreed, calling Rumsfeld's position a "complete
fiction" and pointing out that the Soviet Union was disintegrating
from within, could barely afford to feed their own people, and would
collapse within a decade or two if simply left alone.

But Rumsfeld and Cheney wanted Americans to believe there was
something nefarious going on, something we should be very afraid of.
To this end, they convinced President Ford to appoint a commission
including their old friend Paul Wolfowitz to prove that the Soviets
were up to no good.

According to Curtis' BBC documentary, Wolfowitz's group, known
as "Team B," came to the conclusion that the Soviets had developed
several terrifying new weapons of mass destruction, featuring a
nuclear-armed submarine fleet that used a sonar system that didn't
depend on sound and was, thus, undetectable with our current

The BBC's documentarians asked Dr. Anne Cahn of the U.S. Arms
Control and Disarmament Agency during that time, her thoughts on
Rumsfeld's, Cheney's, and Wolfowitz's 1976 story of the secret
Soviet WMDs. Here's a clip from a transcript of that BBC

" Dr ANNE CAHN, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 1977-80: They
couldn't say that the Soviets had acoustic means of picking up
American submarines, because they couldn't find it. So they said,
well maybe they have a non-acoustic means of making our submarine
fleet vulnerable. But there was no evidence that they had a non-
acoustic system. They're saying, 'we can't find evidence that
they're doing it the way that everyone thinks they're doing it, so
they must be doing it a different way. We don't know what that
different way is, but they must be doing it.'

"INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Even though there was no evidence.

"CAHN: Even though there was no evidence.

"INTERVIEWER: So they're saying there, that the fact that the weapon
doesn't exist.

"CAHN: Doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. It just means that we
haven't found it."

The moderator of the BBC documentary then notes:

" What Team B accused the CIA of missing was a hidden and sinister
reality in the Soviet Union. Not only were there many secret weapons
the CIA hadn't found, but they were wrong about many of those they
could observe, such as the Soviet air defenses. The CIA were
convinced that these were in a state of collapse, reflecting the
growing economic chaos in the Soviet Union. Team B said that this
was actually a cunning deception by the Soviet régime. The air-
defense system worked perfectly. But the only evidence they produced
to prove this was the official Soviet training manual, which proudly
asserted that their air-defense system was fully integrated and
functioned flawlessly. The CIA accused Team B of moving into a
fantasy world."
Nonetheless, as Melvin Goodman, head of the CIA's Office of Soviet
Affairs, 1976-87, noted in the BBC documentary,

" Rumsfeld won that very intense, intense political battle that was
waged in Washington in 1975 and 1976. Now, as part of that battle,
Rumsfeld and others, people such as Paul Wolfowitz, wanted to get
into the CIA. And their mission was to create a much more severe
view of the Soviet Union, Soviet intentions, Soviet views about
fighting and winning a nuclear war."
Although Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld's assertions of powerful new Soviet
WMDs were unproven - they said the lack of proof proved that
undetectable weapons existed - they nonetheless used their charges
to push for dramatic escalations in military spending to selected
defense contractors, a process that continued through the Reagan

But, trillions of dollars and years later, it was proven that they
had been wrong all along, and the CIA had been right. Rumsfeld,
Cheney, and Wolfowitz lied to America in the 1970s about Soviet

Not only do we now know that the Soviets didn't have any new and
impressive WMDs, but we also now know that they were, in fact,
decaying from within, ripe for collapse any time, regardless of what
the US did - just as the CIA (and anybody who visited Soviet states -
as I had - during that time could easily predict). The Soviet
economic and political system wasn't working, and their military was

As arms-control expert Cahn noted in the documentary of those 1970s
claims by Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Rumsfeld:

"I would say that all of it was fantasy. I mean, they looked at
radars out in Krasnoyarsk and said, 'This is a laser beam weapon,'
when in fact it was nothing of the sort. ... And if you go through
most of Team B's specific allegations about weapons systems, and you
just examine them one by one, they were all wrong."

"INTERVIEWER: All of them?

"CAHN: All of them.

"INTERVIEWER: Nothing true?

"CAHN: I don't believe anything in [Wolfowitz's 1977] Team B was
really true."

But the neocons said it was true, and organized a group - The
Committee on the Present Danger - to promote their worldview. The
Committee produced documentaries, publications, and provided guests
for national talk shows and news reports. They worked hard to whip
up fear and encourage increases in defense spending, particularly
for sophisticated weapons systems offered by the defense contractors
for whom neocons would later become lobbyists.

And they succeeded in recreating an atmosphere of fear in the United
States, and making themselves and their defense contractor friends
richer than most of the kingdoms of the world.

The Cold War was good for business, and good for the political power
of its advocates, from Rumsfeld to Reagan.

Similarly, according to this documentary, the War On Terror is the
same sort of scam, run for many of the same reasons, by the same
people. And by hyping it - and then invading Iraq - we may well be
bringing into reality terrors and forces that previously existed
only on the margins and with very little power to harm us.

Curtis' documentary suggests that the War On Terror is just as much
a fiction as were the super-WMDs this same group of neocons said the
Soviets had in the 70s. He suggests we've done more to create terror
than to fight it. That the risk was really quite minimal (at least
until we invaded Iraq), and the terrorists are - like most terrorist
groups - simply people on the fringes, rather easily dispatched by
their own people. He even points out that Al Qaeda itself was a
brand we invented, later adopted by bin Laden because we'd put so
many millions into creating worldwide name recognition for it.

Watching "The Terror of Nightmares" is like taking the Red Pill in
the movie The Matrix.

It's the story of idealism gone wrong, of ideologies promoted in the
US by Leo Strauss and his followers (principally Wolfowitz, Feith,
and Pearle), and in the Muslim world by bin Laden's mentor, Ayman
Zawahiri. Both sought to create a utopian world through world
domination; both believe that the ends justify the means; both are
convinced that "the people" must be frightened into embracing
religion and nationalism for the greater good of morality and a
stable state. Each needs the other in order to hold power.

Whatever your plans are for tonight or tomorrow, clip three hours
out of them and take the Red Pill. Get a pair of headphones (the
audio is faint), plug them into your computer, and visit an
unofficial archive of the Curtis' BBC documentary at the Information
Clearing House website. (The first hour of the program, in a more
viewable format, is also available here.)

For those who prefer to read things online, an unofficial but
complete transcript is on this Belgian site.

But be forewarned: You'll never see political reality - and
certainly never hear the words of the Bush or Blair administrations -
the same again.

Thom Hartmann (thom at is a Project Censored Award-
winning best-selling author and host of a nationally syndicated
daily progressive talk show. His most recent
books are "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal
Protection," "We The People," The Edison Gene, and "What Would
Jefferson Do?."


'We have to protect people'

'We have to protect people'

President Bush wants 'pro-homosexual' drama banned. Gary Taylor meets the politician in charge of making it happen

Thursday December 9, 2004
The Guardian

On the black list... A Chorus Line (pictured: Daniel Crossley and Jason Durr in the 2003 Sheffield Crucible production). Photo: Tristram Kenton

What should we do with US classics like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or The Color Purple? "Dig a hole," Gerald Allen recommends, "and dump them in it." Don't laugh. Gerald Allen's book-burying opinions are not a joke.
Earlier this week, Allen got a call from Washington. He will be meeting with President Bush on Monday. I asked him if this was his first invitation to the White House. "Oh no," he laughs. "It's my fifth meeting with Mr Bush."

Bush is interested in Allen's opinions because Allen is an elected Republican representative in the Alabama state legislature. He is Bush's base. Last week, Bush's base introduced a bill that would ban the use of state funds to purchase any books or other materials that "promote homosexuality". Allen does not want taxpayers' money to support "positive depictions of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle". That's why Tennessee Williams and Alice Walker have got to go.

I ask Allen what prompted this bill. Was one of his children exposed to something in school that he considered inappropriate? Did he see some flamingly gay book displayed prominently at the public library?

No, nothing like that. "It was election day," he explains. Last month, "14 states passed referendums defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman". Exit polls asked people what they considered the most important issue, and "moral values in this country" were "the top of the list".

"Traditional family values are under attack," Allen informs me. They've been under attack "for the last 40 years". The enemy, this time, is not al-Qaida. The axis of evil is "Hollywood, the music industry". We have an obligation to "save society from moral destruction". We have to prevent liberal libarians and trendy teachers from "re-engineering society's fabric in the minds of our children". We have to "protect Alabamians".

I ask him, again, for specific examples. Although heterosexuals are apparently an endangered species in Alabama, and although Allen is a local politician who lives a couple miles from my house, he can't produce any local examples. "Go on the internet," he recommends. "Some time when you've got a week to spare," he jokes, "just go on the internet. You'll see."
Actually, I go on the internet every day. But I'm obviously searching for different things. For Allen, the web is just the largest repository in history of urban myths. The internet is even better than the Bible when it comes to spreading unverifiable, unrefutable stories. And urban myths are political realities. Remember, it was an urban myth (an invented court case about a sex education teacher gang-raped by her own students who, when she protested, laughed and said: "But we're just doing what you taught us!") that all but killed sex education in America.

Since Allen couldn't give me a single example of the homosexual equivalent of 9/11, I gave him some. This autumn the University of Alabama theatre department put on an energetic revival of A Chorus Line, which includes, besides "tits and ass", a prominent gay solo number. Would Allen's bill prevent university students from performing A Chorus Line? It isn't that he's against the theatre, Allen explains. "But why can't you do something else?" (They have done other things, of course. But I didn't think it would be a good idea to mention their sold-out productions of Angels in America and The Rocky Horror Show.)

Cutting off funds to theatre departments that put on A Chorus Line or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof may look like censorship, and smell like censorship, but "it's not censorship", Allen hastens to explain. "For instance, there's a reason for stop lights. You're driving a vehicle, you see that stop light, and I hope you stop." Who can argue with something as reasonable as stop lights? Of course, if you're gay, this particular traffic light never changes to green.

It would not be the first time Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ran into censorship. As Nicholas de Jongh documents in his amusingly appalling history of government regulation of the British theatre, the British establishment was no more enthusiastic, half a century ago, than Alabama's Allen. "Once again Mr Williams vomits up the recurring theme of his not too subconscious," the Lord Chamberlain's Chief Examiner wrote in 1955. In the end, it was first performed in London at the New Watergate Club, for "members only", thereby slipping through a loophole in the censorship laws.

But more than one gay playwright is at a stake here. Allen claims he is acting to "encourage and protect our culture". Does "our culture" include Shakespeare? I ask Allen if he would insist that copies of Shakespeare's sonnets be removed from all public libraries. I point out to him that Romeo and Juliet was originally performed by an all-male cast, and that in Shakespeare's lifetime actors and audiences at the public theatres were all accused of being "sodomites". When Romeo wished he "was a glove upon that hand", the cheek that he fantasised about kissing was a male cheek. Next March the Alabama Shakespeare festival will be performing a new production of As You Like It, and its famous scene of a man wooing another man. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival is also the State Theatre of Alabama. Would Allen's bill cut off state funding for Shakespeare?

"Well," he begins, after a pause, "the current draft of the bill does not address how that is going to be handled. I expect details like that to be worked out at the committee stage. Literature like Shakespeare and Hammet [sic] could be left alone." Could be. Not "would be". In any case, he says, "you could tone it down". That way, if you're not paying real close attention, even a college graduate like Allen himself "could easily miss" what was going on, the "subtle" innuendoes and all.

So he regards his gay book ban as a work in progress. His legislation is "a single spoke in the wheel, it doesn't resolve all the issues". This is just the beginning. "To turn a big ship around it takes a lot of time."

But make no mistake, the ship is turning. You can see that on the face of Cornelius Carter, a professor of dance at Alabama and a prize-winning choreographer who, not long ago, was named university teacher of the year for the entire US. Carter is black. He is also gay, and tired of fighting these battles. "I don't know," he says, "if I belong here any more."

Forty years ago, the American defenders of "our culture" and "traditional values" were opposing racial integration. Now, no politician would dare attack Cornelius Carter for being black. But it's perfectly acceptable to discriminate against people for what they do in bed.

"Dig a hole," Gerald Allen recommends, "and dump them in it."

Of course, Allen was talking about books. He was just talking about books. He never said anything about pink triangles.

Paul Krugman - Borrow, Speculate and Hope

The New York Times
December 10, 2004
Borrow, Speculate and Hope

"The National Association of Securities Dealers," The Wall Street Journal reports, "is investigating whether some brokerage houses are inappropriately pushing individuals to borrow large sums on their houses to invest in the stock market." Can we persuade the association to investigate would-be privatizers of Social Security?

For it is now apparent that the Bush administration's privatization proposal will amount to the same thing: borrow trillions, put the money in the stock market and hope.

Privatization would begin by diverting payroll taxes, which pay for current Social Security benefits, into personal investment accounts. The government, already deep in deficit, would have to borrow to make up the shortfall.

This would sharply increase the government's debt. Never mind, privatization advocates say: in the long run, they claim, people would make so much on personal accounts that the government could save money by cutting retirees' benefits. Financial markets won't believe this claim, as I'll explain in a minute, but let's temporarily grant the point.

Even so, if personal investment accounts were invested in Treasury bonds, this whole process would accomplish precisely nothing. The interest workers would receive on their accounts would exactly match the interest the government would have to pay on its additional debt. To compensate for the initial borrowing, the government would have to cut future benefits so much that workers would gain nothing at all.

How, then, can privatizers claim that they could secure the future of Social Security without raising taxes or reducing the incomes of future retirees? By assuming that workers would invest most of their accounts in stocks, that these investments would make a lot of money and that, in effect, the government, not the workers, would reap most of those gains, because as personal accounts grew, the government could cut benefits.

We can argue at length about whether the high stock returns such schemes assume are realistic (they aren't), but let's cut to the chase: in essence, such schemes involve having the government borrow heavily and put the money in the stock market. That's because the government would, in effect, confiscate workers' gains in their personal accounts by cutting those workers' benefits.

Once you realize that privatization really means government borrowing to speculate on stocks, it doesn't sound too responsible, does it? But the details make it considerably worse.

First, financial markets would, correctly, treat the reality of huge deficits today as a much more important indicator of the government's fiscal health than the mere promise that government could save money by cutting benefits in the distant future.

After all, a government bond is a legally binding promise to pay, while a benefits formula that supposedly cuts costs 40 years from now is nothing more than a suggestion to future Congresses. Social Security rules aren't immutable: in the past, Congress has changed things like the retirement age and the tax treatment of benefits. If a privatization plan passed in 2005 called for steep benefit cuts in 2045, what are the odds that those cuts would really happen?

Second, a system of personal accounts, even though it would mainly be an indirect way for the government to speculate in the stock market, would pay huge brokerage fees. Of course, from Wall Street's point of view that's a benefit, not a cost.

There is, by the way, a precedent for Bush-style privatization. One major reason for Argentina's rapid debt buildup in the 1990's was a pension reform involving a switch to individual accounts - a switch that President Carlos Menem, like President Bush, decided to finance with borrowing rather than taxes. So Mr. Bush intends to emulate a plan that helped set the stage for Argentina's economic crisis.

If Mr. Bush were to say in plain English that his plan to solve our fiscal problems is to borrow trillions, put the money into stocks and hope for the best, everyone would denounce that plan as the height of irresponsibility. The fact that this plan has an elaborate disguise, one that would add considerably to its costs, makes it worse.

And maybe the fact that serious financial experts, the sort qualified to be Treasury secretary, understand all this is the reason why John Snow has just been reappointed.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Davod Sirota - The Democrats' Da Vinci Code

The Democrats' Da Vinci Code
By David J. Sirota, The American Prospect
Posted on December 9, 2004, Printed on December 9, 2004

As the Democratic Party goes through its quadrennial self-flagellation process, the same tired old consultants and insiders are once again complaining that Democratic elected officials have no national agenda and no message.

Yet encrypted within the 2004 election map is a clear national economic platform to build a lasting majority. You don't need Fibonacci's sequence, a decoder ring, or 3-D glasses to see it. You just need to start asking the right questions.

Where, for instance, does a Democrat get off using a progressive message to become governor of Montana? How does an economic populist Democrat keep winning a congressional seat in what is arguably America's most Republican district? Why do culturally conservative rural Wisconsin voters keep sending a Vietnam-era anti-war Democrat back to Congress? What does a self-described socialist do to win support from conservative working-class voters in northern New England?

The answers to these and other questions are the Democrats' very own Da Vinci Code – a road map to political divinity. It is the path Karl Rove fears. He knows his GOP is vulnerable to Democrats who finally follow leaders who have translated a populist economic agenda into powerful cultural and values messages. It also threatens groups like the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), which has pushed the Democratic Party to give up on its working-class roots and embrace big business' agenda. These New Democrats, backed by huge corporate contributions, say that the party must reduce corporate regulation and embrace a free-trade policy that is wiping out local economies throughout the heartland. They have the nerve to call this agenda "centrist" even though poll after poll shows it is far out of the mainstream. Yet these centrists get slaughtered at the ballot box, and their counterparts – the progressive economic populists – are racking up wins and relegating the DLC argument to the scrap heap.

The code's seven lessons are clear, and have been for some time. The question is, will party insiders see the obvious and finally follow their real leaders? Or will they continue mimicking Republican corporatism, thereby hastening their own demise?

Fight the Class War

If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, crying "class warfare" is the last refuge of wealthy elitists. Yet, inexplicably, this red herring emasculates Democrats in Washington. Every time pro-middle-class legislation is offered, Republicans berate it as class warfare. Worse, they get help from corporate factions within the Democratic Party itself.

But as countless examples show, progressives are making inroads into culturally conservative areas by talking about economic class. This is not the traditional (and often condescending) Democratic pandering about the need for a nanny government to provide for the masses. It is us-versus-them red meat, straight talk about how the system is working against ordinary Americans.

In Vermont, Rep. Bernie Sanders, the House's only independent and a self-described socialist, racks up big wins in the "Northeast Kingdom," the rock-ribbed Republican region along the New Hampshire border. Far from the Birkenstock-wearing, liberal caricature of Vermont, the Kingdom is one of the most culturally conservative hotbeds in New England, the place that helped fuel the "Take Back Vermont" movement against gay civil unions.

Yet the pro-choice, pro-gay-rights Sanders' economic stances help him bridge the cultural divide. In the 1990s, he was one of the most energetic opponents of the trade deals with China and Mexico that destroyed the local economy. In the Bush era, he highlighted the inequity of the White House's soak-the-rich tax-cut plan by proposing to instead provide $300 tax-rebate checks to every man, woman, and child regardless of income (a version of Sanders' rebate eventually became law). For his efforts, Sanders has been rewarded in GOP strongholds like Newport Town. While voters there backed George W. Bush and Republican Gov. Jim Douglas in 2004, they also gave Sanders 68 percent of the vote.

Sanders' strength among rural conservatives is not just a cult of personality; it is economic populism's broader triumph over divisive social issues. In culturally conservative Derby, for instance, a first-time third-party candidate used a populist message to defeat a longtime Republican state representative who had become an icon of Vermont's anti-gay movement.

The same message is working in conservative swaths of Oregon, where Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio keeps getting re-elected in a Bush district. For DeFazio, the focus is unfair trade deals and taxpayer giveaways to the wealthy. When Republicans promote plans to "save" Social Security, DeFazio counters not by agreeing with privatization but with his plan to force the wealthy to start paying more into the system.

The message is also used by Mississippi Congressman Gene Taylor, who represents a district that gave 65 percent of its vote to Bush in 2000 and was previously represented in the House by Trent Lott. Taylor bucks his district's GOP tilt by mixing opposition to free trade with what the Almanac of American Politics calls "peppery populism" and a demeanor that is "feisty to the point of being belligerent." "Unlike the policy hawks who never leave Washington ... I know the owners of factories, the foreman, and the workers, and they'll all tell you it's because of NAFTA that their factories closed," Taylor told newspapers in late 2003, criticizing the trade deal signed by President Bill Clinton.

This message contrasts with that of the DLC centrists, who promote, for instance, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh's free-trade, Republican-lite positions as a model for winning in red states. What they don't say is that Bayh comes from one of Indiana's most beloved political families and wins largely by virtue of his last name, not his ideology. Where a corporate message like Bayh's has been put to a real challenge, it has been a disaster. In Louisiana, for instance, the state's tradition of electing Democratic populists like Huey and Russell Long gave way to centrist politicians like Sen. John Breaux, a man best known in Washington for throwing Mardi Gras parties with business lobbyists. When a Breaux clone ran to replace the retiring senator, he was crushed by a moral crusading Republican.

In North Carolina, instead of following John Edwards' class-based formula, Democrats anointed investment banker Erskine Bowles as the nominee to replace Edwards in 2004. At the time, party insiders brushed off concerns that, as a Clinton White House chief of staff, Bowles was an architect of the free-trade policy that helped eliminate North Carolina's manufacturing jobs. But Bowles' opponent, Rep. Richard Burr, made the Democrat pay for his free-trade sellout. "You negotiated the China trade agreement for President Clinton, which is the largest exporter of jobs not just in North Carolina but in this country," Burr said at one debate, robbing Bowles of an economic issue that might have offset North Carolinians' inherent cultural suspicions of a Democrat. On election night, Bowles went down in flames.

Champion Small Business Over Big Business

The small-business lobby in Washington is a de facto wing of the Republican Party. But Democrats are finding that, at the grass-roots level, small-business people are far less uniformly conservative, especially as the GOP increasingly helps huge corporations eat up local economies. While entrepreneurs don't like high taxes and regulations, they also don't like government encouraging multinationals to monopolize the market and destroy Main Street.

As a small-business man himself, Montana's 2004 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Brian Schweitzer, figured out how to use these frustrations in one of America's reddest states. He lamented how out-of-state corporations were using loopholes to avoid paying taxes, thus driving up the tax burden on small in-state companies. He discussed taxing big-box companies like Wal-Mart that have undercut local business. In the process, he became the state's first Democratic governor in 16 years.

In the Midwest and New England, progressives are focused on small manufacturers. These traditional GOP constituencies, which sell components to large multinationals, have been decimated by a trade policy that encourages their customers to head overseas in search of repressive, anti-union regimes that drive down labor costs. "When the economy turned soft [in 2001], we anticipated the business would come back," one owner of a factory-machine business told BusinessWeek. "But it didn't. We saw our customer base either close, or migrate to China."

Free-trade critics like Democratic Reps. Mike Michaud, Ted Strickland and Tim Holden, who perpetually win Republican-leaning districts, are rewarded for their stands with support from these kinds of businesspeople, who had previously been part of the GOP's base. The U.S. Business and Industry Council, which represents America's domestic family-owned manufacturers, now lists these and other progressives at the top of its congressional scorecard.

Unfortunately, these kinds of trailblazers are not yet being rewarded by their own party in Washington. According to reports, the House Democratic leadership is considering promoting some of the most ardent free traders to the Ways and Means Committee, the panel that oversees trade policy. Apparently Democrats have not yet lost enough seats in the heartland to honestly address their Achilles heels.

Protect Tom Joad

Northern Wisconsin and the plains of North Dakota are not naturally friendly territories for progressives. Both areas are culturally conservative, yet their voters keep sending progressive Democrats like Rep. David Obey and Sen. Byron Dorgan, respectively, back to Congress.

No issue is closer to these two leaders' hearts – or more important to their electoral prospects – than the family farm. In Wisconsin, corporate dairy processors have tried to depress prices for farmers' dairy products. In North Dakota, agribusiness has squeezed the average farmer with lower prices for commodities. But unlike other lawmakers who simply pocket agribusiness cash and look the other way, Obey and Dorgan have been voices of dissent. They have pushed legislation to freeze agribusiness mergers, a proposal originally developed by populist Sen.Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. As Dorgan once wrote, "When Cargill, the nation's number one grain exporter, can buy the grain operations of Continental, which is number two, the cops aren't exactly walking tall on the antitrust beat."

Dorgan and Obey also opposed the Republican-backed "Freedom to Farm Act," which President Clinton signed into law. Instead of pretending the subsidies in the bill were good for the little guy, Obey told the truth and called it the "freedom-to-lose-your-shirt" bill. He noted that the new subsidies would primarily go to large corporations, encourage overproduction that depresses prices, and reward big farms over small ones.

Other Democrats are catching on. In South Dakota, Rep. Stephanie Herseth used her family-farm roots to woo Republican voters. As most of Herseth's House Democratic colleagues buckled to corporate pressure and helped pass a free-trade deal with Australia in 2004, the first-term congresswoman attacked her GOP opponent for supporting the pact, arguing that its provisions would undercut American ranchers. She won re-election in the same state where Republicans defeated Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

Similarly, in conservative western Colorado, John Salazar won a House seat by touting his agricultural background. His campaign slogan was "Send a Farmer to Congress," and voters obliged.

And the opportunities for progressives are growing. Instead of neutralizing Democrats' advances on agricultural issues, the GOP is digging in, already planning to repeal country-of-origin labeling laws that help small farms differentiate their products from larger corporate producers. House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, who has pocketed more than $360,000 from agribusiness, wants to kill the measure, claiming, "I can't find any real opposition to doing exactly what we want to do here." Clearly the GOP hasn't talked to any family farmers lately.

Turn the Hunters and the Exurbs Green

For years, conventional wisdom has said that culturally conservative hunters and exurbanites will always vote Republican. But the GOP's willingness to side with private landowners and developers is now putting the party at odds with these constituencies. And that could create a whole new class of Democratic-voting conservationists.

In Montana, Schweitzer criticized his opponents for trying to restrict the state's Stream Access Law, which protects anglers' rights to fish waterways that cross through private land. He also promised to prevent the state from selling off public land. It was one of the ways he outperformed previous Democrats in rural areas and won his race.

In Colorado, when the Bush administration tried to allow development in wildlife areas, John Salazar pounced. He noted that many of the Bush administration's plans went "against what nearly every local elected official on both sides of the aisle has asked for." Salazar's opponent, who was a former lobbyist and industry-friendly state environmental official, was unable to effectively respond.

Meanwhile, successful Colorado Senate candidate Ken Salazar trumpeted his record of creating land-conservation programs, and his surrogates communicated that message to the state's culturally conservative hunters. "Ken's background in resolving water, access and big game habitat, and natural resources issues best qualifies him to be Colorado's next senator," wrote the group Sportsmen for Salazar in an open letter to outdoorsmen. The Democrat had transformed his environmental advocacy from a potential "liberal" albatross into an asset in conservative areas.

Become a Teddy Roosevelt Clone

"Tough on crime" has always been a reliable Republican mantra. Now, though, progressives are claiming that law-and-order mantle for themselves. Led by state attorneys general, Democrats are realizing the political benefits of fighting white-collar crime, big-business rip-offs, and corporate misbehavior.

In Republican Arizona, former Attorney General Janet Napolitano became known as a tough prosecutor of corporate crime. She charged Qwest with fraud and negotiated a $217 million settlement with scandal-plagued accounting firm Arthur Andersen on behalf of investors. The record helped her become the state's first Democratic governor in more than a decade.

In New York, Democrat Eliot Spitzer, who had never held elective office, eked out a victory against a Republican incumbent in 1998 to become the state's Attorney General. He then did something that seemed like political suicide: He took on Wall Street. Specifically, Spitzer used state law to charge investment firms with bilking stockholders. Though opponents labeled him anti-business, he countered that he was pro-business because he was protecting the integrity of the market. Four years later, he won re-election in a landslide, improving his performance in many parts of the conservative upstate.

On Capitol Hill, some senior Democrats have been slower to take up this fight. For instance, as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in 2002, centrist leader Joe Lieberman refused to seriously investigate the Enron and Arthur Andersen scandals. Not surprisingly, both companies had been bathing Lieberman and his New Democrats in cash for years. The Connecticut senator's refusal to aggressively investigate the matter became an embarrassing public admission that he and his kind had been castrated by their corporate financiers. So rank-and-file lawmakers are filling the void. North Dakota's Dorgan, for instance, brushed past Lieberman by leading high-profile hearings on Enron's misbehavior. As TV cameras rolled, Dorgan dressed down executives who had deceived shareholders.

Sanders, meanwhile, won the hearts of Vermont's Republican-leaning IBM employees by fighting to prevent the company from illegally reducing their pensions. And Mississippi's Taylor continues stumping about corporate traitors. He pushed legislation to prevent taxpayer subsidies from going to companies that ship jobs overseas.

This Teddy Roosevelt-inspired posture is potent for two reasons. First, the GOP's reliance on corporate money means it cannot muddle the issues by pretending to meet progressives halfway. Second, the GOP is increasingly using corporate lobbyists and executives as its candidates for public office. Last year alone, Republicans ran corporate lobbyists and executives for top offices in Indiana, South Dakota, Colorado, Montana, and Florida. These kinds of candidates will never be able to fight off progressive opponents who make corporate crime and excess a major campaign issue.

Clean Up Government

In the early 1990s, Newt Gingrich attacked Democrats as corrupt, wasteful, and incompetent, eventually leading the Republicans to reclaim Congress. Now, though, progressives are using the tactic for themselves.

In Montana, voters grew tired of state policy being manipulated by corporate lobbyists while the economy was sputtering. In Gingrichian fashion, Schweitzer criticized his GOP opponent for becoming a corporate lobbyist after a stint in the Legislature. He also asked why his opponent had spent $40,000 of taxpayer money to redecorate the secretary of state's office during a state budget crisis.

Schweitzer was following Arizona's Napolitano, who was making headlines by cutting out almost $1 billion of government waste at a time the state budget was in the red. Her crusade was reminiscent of how deficits have been used by South Carolina Rep. John Spratt to symbolize government mismanagement and win his Republican-leaning district. It also echoed Colorado Democrats, who used deficits to win the state Legislature for the first time in 40 years. "The Republicans' obsession with narrow cultural issues while the state's looming fiscal crisis was ignored drove a deep wedge between fiscally conservative live-and-let-live Republicans and the neo-conservative extremists with an agenda," wrote one Denver Post columnist.

In the conservative suburbs of Chicago, Gingrich's corruption theme arose as Republican Rep. Phil Crane took fire for accepting junkets from companies that do business with Congress. Democrat Melissa Bean, a first-time candidate, used the issue to defeat him. The same thing happened in conservative New Hampshire, where Democratic businessman John Lynch hammered Republican Gov. Craig Benson over cronyism allegations. Lynch painted Benson as "a governor with ethical problems overseeing an administration wrought with scandal," according to The (Manchester) Union Leader. Lynch won the race, making Benson the first New Hampshire governor in almost eight decades to be kicked out of office after just two years.

Use the Values Prism

In 2004, pundits seem to agree that the national election was decided by "moral values." And though many believe the term is a euphemism for religious, anti-abortion, and anti-gay sentiments, it is likely a more general phrase describing whether a candidate is perceived to be "one of us."

It is this sense of cultural solidarity that often trumps other issues. For example, many battleground-state voters may have agreed with John Kerry's economic policies. But the caricature of Kerry as a multimillionaire playboy windsurfing on Nantucket Sound was a more visceral image of elitism. By contrast, successful red-region progressives are using economic populism to define their cultural solidarity with voters. True, many of these Democrats are pro-gun, and some are anti-abortion. But to credit their success exclusively to social conservatism is to ignore how populism culturally connects these leaders to their constituents.

In Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, Sanders' free-trade criticism not only speaks to conservatives' pocketbook concerns but also to a deeper admiration of a congressman willing to take stands corporate politicians refuse to take.

In Montana, Schweitzer's plans to protect hunting access not only attract votes from outdoorsmen but also project a broader willingness to fight for Joe Six-Pack and the state's way of life. As focus groups showed, this stance garnered strong support from Montana's women, who saw it as a values issue.

Wisconsin's Obey may be a high-ranking national Democrat, but he keeps winning his GOP-leaning district by translating legislative fights into values language at home. Debates over Title I funding, for instance, become a venue for Obey to question whether America should provide huge tax cuts to the wealthy while its schools decay. Battles about whether to change antitrust rules become an Obey rant about out-of-state media conglomerates pumping obscene radio shows into his culturally conservative market.

In North Dakota, Enron may have had almost no direct effect on locals. But Dorgan made the company's antics a values commentary on the problem of unethical corporations. "This is disgusting to me," he said to the cameras during an Enron hearing. "[This is] corporate behavior without a moral base."

Mississippi's Taylor flamboyantly challenges free-trade supporters to visit his district to see the effects of their positions. "Some of [those who voted for free trade] knew better, and those are the ones I'm really mad at," he said. "[They] looked out for the big multinational corporations at the expense of average Mississippians and average citizens, even from their own states."


In these seven ways, successful red-region Democrats have tacked back to a class-based populism that puts them firmly on the side of the little guy. And because voters implicitly know that big guys with lots of cash dominate the political system, that populism projects a deeper sense of values and a McCain-like authenticity.

In the aftermath of the recent election, the stale cadre of campaign consultants who helped run the party into the ground now say the solution is for Democrats to simply invoke God more often and radically change their positions on social issues. But the point is not to impulsively lunge rightward in some cheap, unprincipled gesture to red America that would reek of political strategizing.

The point is to follow red-region Democrats who have diminished the electoral impact of traditional social issues by redefining the values debate on economic and class terms. Granted, the progressive populists profiled above do not uniformly hew to the standard liberal line on social issues: some are pro-life, some pro-choice; some pro-gun ownership, some pro-gun control; some pro-gay marriage, some anti-gay marriage; some vociferous about religion, some subdued. But they have shown that there is another path that moves past wedge issues if the party is willing to fundamentally challenge the excesses of corporate America and big money.

Critics may say populism will not appeal to middle-class voters because that portion of the electorate is economically comfortable. But polls show that outsourcing, skyrocketing health costs, and other alarming indicators mean that even those who are getting by do not feel financially stable or secure.

Historical revisionists will claim that the centrist Clinton's ascension in the 1990s directly refutes the electoral potency of class-based populism. But Clinton's 1992 campaign was not the free-trade, Republican-lite corporate shilling that many propose as a Democratic panacea. It was, by contrast, populist on all fronts. "I expect the jetsetters and featherbedders of corporate America to know that if you sell your companies and your workers and your country down the river, you'll be called on the carpet," candidate Clinton promised in 1991. On trade, it was the same. "I wouldn't have done what [George Bush Senior] did and give all those trade preferences to China ... ," he said. "I'd be for [NAFTA] but only – only – if [Mexico] lifted their wage rates and their labor standards and they cleaned up their environment so we could both go up together instead of being dragged down."

Clinton, of course, proceeded to break these pledges, reducing corporate regulation, coddling big business, and leading the fight for NAFTA and free trade with China. Worse, well after these policies were wreaking havoc on working-class America, high-profile Democrats kept pretending nothing was wrong. "[Congress'] NAFTA vote had about a two-week half-life," said Clinton's chief trade negotiator, Mickey Kantor, years after NAFTA was sucking U.S. jobs south of the border. "Even today trade has very little political impact in the country."

Populist red-region Democrats might beg to differ with Kantor, who is now a high-priced corporate lawyer. They know firsthand that the embrace of a big-business agenda arguably did as much long-term damage to the Democratic Party's moral platform as any of Clinton's sex scandals or the battles over social issues. Because, really, how moral is the "party of the working class" when the president it still worships led the fight for trade agreements that hurt that same working class? Where are the principles of a party that has high-profile leaders so tied to big business that they are unwilling to seriously investigate white-collar criminals? And what are the core values of a party that keeps venerating its corporate apologists while marginalizing its voices of reform?

This is why populism is ultimately the way back for Democrats. Because, as red-region progressives show, having the guts to stand up for middle America – even when it draws the ire of corporate America – is as powerful a statement about morality and authenticity as any of the GOP's demagoguery on "guns, God, and gays."

All the Democratic Party has to do is look at the election map: The proof is right there in red and blue.
© 2004 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Maureen Dowd - Lost in a Masquerade

The New York Times
December 9, 2004
Lost in a Masquerade


Hoooo-rah! Rummy finally got called on the carpet.

Not by the president, of course, but by troops fighting in Iraq. Some of them are finally fed up enough to rumble about his back-door draft and failure to provide them with the proper armor for their Humvees, leaving them scrambling to improvise with what they call "hillbilly armor."

The defense secretary had been expected to go to Iraq on this trip but spent the day greeting troops in Kuwait instead. Even though Pentagon officials insist that security wasn't an issue, I bet they had to be worried not to travel the extra 40 miles to Iraq.

Rummy met with troops at Camp Buehring, named for Chad Buehring, an Army colonel who died last year when insurgents in Baghdad launched a rocket-propelled grenade into Al Rasheed, a Green Zone hotel once frequented by Western journalists and administration officials that is still closed to guests because - despite all the president's sunny bromides about resolutely prevailing - security in Iraq is relentlessly deteriorating.

As Joe Biden told Aaron Brown of CNN about his visit to Falluja, "They got the biggest hornets' nest, but the hornets have gone up and set up nests other places." He said that a general had run up to him as he was getting into his helicopter to confide, "Senator, anybody who tells you we don't need forces here is a G.D. liar."

Rummy, however, did not hesitate to give the back of his hand to soldiers about to go risk their lives someplace he didn't trouble to go.

He treated Thomas Wilson - the gutsy guardsman from Tennessee who asked why soldiers had "to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles, and why don't we have those resources readily available to us?" - as if he were a pesky Pentagon reporter. The defense chief used the same coldly cantankerous tone and squint he displays in press briefings, an attitude that long ago wore thin. He did everything but slap the kid in the hospital bed.

In one of his glib "Nothing's perfect," "Freedom's untidy" and "Stuff happens" maxims, Rummy told the soldier: "As you know, you go to war with the Army you have."

It wouldn't make a good Army slogan, and it was a lousy answer, especially when our kids are getting blown up every day in a war ginned up on administration lies. Remember when the president promised in the campaign that the troops would have all the body armor they needed?

These young men and women went to Iraq believing the pap they were told: they'd have a brief battle, chocolate, flowers, gratitude. Instead, they were thrust into a prolonged and savage insurgent war without the troop levels or armor they needed because the Pentagon's neocons had made plans based on their spin - that turning Iraq into a democracy would be a cakewalk. And because Rummy wanted to make his mark by experimenting with a lean, slimmed-down force. And because Rummy kept nattering on about a few "dead-enders," never acknowledging the true force, or true nationalist fervor, of the opposition.

The dreams of Rummy and the neocons were bound to collide. But it's immoral to trap our troops in a guerrilla war without essential, lifesaving support and matériel just so a bunch of officials who have never been in a war can test their theories.

How did this dangerous chucklehead keep his job? He must have argued that because of the president's re-election campaign, the military was constrained from doing what it is trained to do, to flatten Falluja and other insurgent strongholds. He must have told W. he deserved a chance to try again after the election.

He had a willing audience. W. likes officials who feed him swaggering fictions instead of uncomfortable facts.

The president loves dressing up to play soldier. To rally Camp Pendleton marines facing extended deployments in Iraq, he got gussied up in an Ike D-Day-style jacket, with epaulets and a big presidential seal on one lapel and his name and "Commander in Chief" on the other.

When he really had a chance to put on a uniform and go someplace where the enemy was invisible and there was no exit strategy and our government was not leveling with us about how bad it was, W. wasn't so high on the idea. But now that it's just a masquerade - giving a morale boost to troops heading off someplace where the enemy's invisible and there's no exit strategy and the government's not leveling with us about how bad it is - hey, man, it's cool.


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Interesting story with a local connection

Some of the readers of this weblog may be following the story about the United Church of Christ's advertising campaign God is Still Speaking and how NBC and CBS thought their message that Christ loved everyone regardless of who they are was too controversial to air. You can read more on that controversy here. Evidently Mission Broadcasting has decided to air the commercial for free in all of its 14 markets. You can read the details on that decision here. One thing I found interesting in that article was this following quote:

The following is a list of Mission Broadcasting Inc. stations and their network affiliations: WYOU CBS-22 in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa; KOLR CBS-10 in Springfield, Mo.; KCIT Fox-14 and KCPN (LP) Ind-33 in Amarillo, Texas; KJTL Fox-18 and KJBO (LP) UPN-35 in Wichita Falls, Texas; KODE ABC-12 in Joplin, Mo.; WBAK Fox-38 in Terre Haute, Ind.; KAMC ABC-28 in Lubbock, Texas; KRBC NBC-9 in Abilene, Texas; WUTR ABC-20 in Utica, New York; KSAN NBC-3 (a satellite of KRBC) in San Angelo, Texas; and WTVO ABC-17 and WTVODT UPN in Rockford, Ill.
I'll be curious to see what some of the more fundamentalist locals have to say about this message.

David DeBatto - Whitewashing torture?

Whitewashing torture?
A veteran sergeant who told his commanding officers that he witnessed his colleagues torturing Iraqi detainees was strapped to a gurney and flown out of Iraq -- even though there was nothing wrong with him.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By David DeBatto

Dec. 8, 2004 | On June 15, 2003, Sgt. Frank "Greg" Ford, a counterintelligence agent in the California National Guard's 223rd Military Intelligence (M.I.) Battalion stationed in Samarra, Iraq, told his commanding officer, Capt. Victor Artiga, that he had witnessed five incidents of torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees at his base, and requested a formal investigation. Thirty-six hours later, Ford, a 49-year-old with over 30 years of military service in the Coast Guard, Army and Navy, was ordered by U.S. Army medical personnel to lie down on a gurney, was then strapped down, loaded onto a military plane and medevac'd to a military medical center outside the country.

Although no "medevac" order appears to have been written, in violation of Army policy, Ford was clearly shipped out because of a diagnosis that he was suffering from combat stress. After Ford raised the torture allegations, Artiga immediately said Ford was "delusional" and ordered a psychiatric examination, according to Ford. But that examination, carried out by an Army psychiatrist, diagnosed him as "completely normal."

A witness, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Marciello, claims that Artiga became enraged when he read the initial medical report finding nothing wrong with Ford and intimidated the psychiatrist into changing it. According to Marciello, Artiga angrily told the psychiatrist that it was a "C.I. [counterintelligence] or M.I. matter" and insisted that she had to change her report and get Ford out of Iraq.

Documents show that all subsequent examinations of Ford by Army mental-health professionals, over many months, confirmed his initial diagnosis as normal.

An officer at the California Office of the Adjutant General in Sacramento, Calif., Sgt. Maj. Patrick Hammond, has known Ford for over 15 years during their service in the California National Guard. Hammond said, "I have never had any reason to question his honesty and I don't do so now." This reporter served in the military with Ford in Iraq for seven months and can also attest that he is sane and level-headed.

Ford, who has since left the military, claims that his superiors shipped him out of the country to prevent him from exposing the abusive behavior. "They were determined to protect their own asses no matter who they had to take down," he says.

Col. C. Tsai, a military doctor who examined Ford in Germany and found nothing wrong with him, told a film crew for Spiegel Television that he was "not surprised" at Ford's diagnosis. Tsai told Spiegel that he had treated "three or four" other U.S. soldiers from Iraq that were also sent to Landstuhl for psychological evaluations or "combat stress counseling" after they reported incidents of detainee abuse or other wrongdoing by American soldiers.

Artiga and other higher-ups in the 223rd M.I. Battalion deny Ford's charges. But in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal, federal agencies including the Department of Defense, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID), and the FBI are finally looking into them. The Department of the Army's Office of the Inspector General has launched an investigation, according to Ford and his attorney, Kevin Healy, who have been contacted by investigators. If Ford's allegations are proven, the Army would be faced with evidence that its prisoner abuse problem is even more widespread than previously acknowledged -- and that some of its own officers not only turned a blind eye to abuses but actively participated in covering them up.

The 223rd M.I. Battalion was one of the first divisions to enter Iraq after the U.S. "Shock and Awe" aerial bombardment ended, in mid-April 2003. (I also served in that unit in-country from April through October 2003. I met Ford in February 2003, at Fort Bragg, N.C., and continued to stay in contact with him until he was shipped out of the country. I have also since left the military.) The battalion's mission was to collect counterintelligence. Its agents, highly trained soldiers responsible for force protection and for investigating national security crimes committed against the Army, were divided into small units called Tactical Human Intelligence Teams, or THTs. Every day, these teams went out from their forward operating bases in Iraq and interacted with the local people in an effort to gather critical intelligence on such matters as the location of conventional and unconventional weapons and the whereabouts of the fugitives depicted on the Pentagon's 55-most-wanted playing cards. It was arguably one of the most sensitive and important jobs in the entire Iraqi theater of operations. As the team sergeant of his THT, Ford was second in command of his four-person team and responsible for training, discipline, logistics and supervision of day-to-day operations. He was also the team's designated combat life saver, or medic.

Ford spent his first weeks in Iraq at Balad Air Base, also known as Camp Anaconda, about 50 kilometers north of Baghdad along the Tigris. In early May, he was assigned to a THT that was headed for Samarra, another 20 kilometers to the northeast. An ancient trading center that dates to the Mesopotamian era, Samarra was known as a hotbed of Sunni Arab loyalists, ex-Baath Party officials, and Islamist extremists. The two-story police station the Army occupied was located in the center of town, closely surrounded by taller buildings, giving anyone who cared to fire on the Americans an excellent field in which to do so. And fire they did. Almost every night, Ford and his teammates would be forced to dive from their bunks for cover as mortar rounds rocked the compound. The concussions shook the foundation and broke whatever glass windows remained. Fortunately, the Iraqi mortar crews proved wildly inaccurate, and no Americans were killed, but several were wounded and the attacks never let up. There was immense pressure on the THT to find out who was behind the attacks and to supply the information to the "gunslingers" of the 4th Infantry Division. It was in that environment that Ford says he saw the incidents that led to the end of his long military career.

Late last summer I met Ford for lunch on a sunny afternoon at the Delta King Riverboat, which is tied to the docks in downtown Sacramento. Ford has returned to his longtime job as a corrections officer at Folsom Prison, and his wavy brown hair is longer than it was when I knew him in Iraq. He has spent the past year trying to clear his name, but apart from a few newspaper interviews he gave after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke last spring, he has not told his story to anyone until now.

Ford seemed calm and resolute as he talked about how the events that took place in Samarra contradicted everything he thought he knew about the military. For more than three decades, he said, he had always served with "people that I knew I could depend on when it really mattered. They were people that I would have sacrificed my life to save if need be, and I knew they would do the same for me, no questions asked."

He went on, "There were also rules and regulations to follow. Some of the rules applied only in peacetime, some only in time of war. Some always applied. You knew which was which. These simple, basic rules were pounded into your head from the day you got off the bus at basic training. You broke the rules, you paid the price. Period. Everyone knew that simple fact, and everyone accepted it."

But Ford said those rules were savagely broken in Samarra in June 2003. He described multiple incidents of what he called "war crimes" and "torture" of Iraqi detainees ranging in age from about 15 to 35. According to Ford, his teammates, three counterintelligence agents like himself -- one of them a woman -- systematically and repeatedly abused several Iraqi male detainees over a two-to three-week time period. Ford describes incidents of asphyxiation, mock executions, arms being pulled out of sockets, and lit cigarettes forced into detainee's ears while they were blindfolded and bound. These atrocities took place in an Iraqi police station, Ford said. His attempts to stop the abuse were met with either indifference or threats by his team leader, who was himself one of the abusers, according to Ford.

Ford clenched his fists tightly and shook his head slowly from side to side. "I guess one of the things that pisses me off most is the arrogance," he said. "The condescending attitude that my team had. Some of the medics, too. Saying things like 'So what, he's just another haji,' like they were scum or some kind of animal, really just pisses me off."

Ford said he was fighting a raging battle with himself over whether to report what he'd seen to his superiors at Anaconda or to confront the team leader one last time. He felt "sick inside" about the mistreatment of detainees, but he did not want to be a "rat," either. Having worked as a corrections officer for almost 20 years, Ford knew how he would be perceived among the troops if he snitched. "I didn't want to have to watch my back at the same time I was dodging mortar rounds from the Iraqis. I decided that I had to confront [the team leader] and tell him, in no uncertain terms, that I would not stand for any more of that kind of shit toward the detainees."

Ford said he found the team leader and had it out with him. "I told him that if there was ever a court-martial over these incidents, I would absolutely testify against him. I said that this kind of crap has to stop or else I would report it to Artiga." According to Ford, the team leader replied, "Fine, Greg, you do what you have to do." By then, Ford said, he'd "had enough." He told the team leader that he would be filing a complaint against him and the other agent as soon as possible. He said the team leader told him he was "crazy" and "seeing things" and no one would believe him anyway, so "knock yourself out."

The next day, Ford said he rode with the rest of his team down to Camp Anaconda, where the 223rd had its headquarters, as did the 205th M.I. Brigade, which was made infamous by the Abu Ghraib scandal. Both divisions were commanded by Col. Thomas Pappas. Upon his arrival, Ford said that he immediately went to the company headquarters and met with Artiga and 1st Sgt. John Vegilla. Ford said that it was clear that Artiga knew he was coming. "I told them that I wanted to request a formal investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by my team against Iraqi detainees. I said I wanted to request a removal of this whole team and their replacement by a senior team, because they're bringing the house down. He looked right at me and said, 'Nope, that never happened. You're delusional, you imagined the whole thing. And you've got 30 seconds to withdraw your complaint. If you do, it will be as if this conversation never took place.'" Ford refused, and Artiga told him to "get out of here" and that he would call him when the complaint was ready.

In an interview, Artiga denied making those statements. Vegilla did not respond to interview requests.

A few hours later, Marciello, a senior counterintelligence agent, arrived to accompany Ford from the transient tent where he was staying to company headquarters to see Artiga and Vegilla. The slight and bespectacled Marciello, who looks like a cross between Woody Allen and Wally Cox, recently retired from the National Guard after almost 35 years of service. According to Marciello, "Artiga then instructed Vegilla to take Ford's M-16 and ammunition away from him for safekeeping and said that he was revoking Ford's security clearance. He [Artiga] also said that I was being assigned to escort Ford 24 hours a day until further notice." Artiga then ordered Ford to report immediately to Capt. Angela Madera, an Army psychiatrist, at the base mental-health facility for a "combat stress evaluation." Marciello says he escorted Ford to his meeting with Madera.

According to Marciello, he waited outside Madera's office for approximately one hour while Madera interviewed Ford. After the interview, "I escorted Ford back to his tent and then stayed with him for the remainder of the day." To Marciello, Ford seemed frustrated at the situation but calm and under control.

Marciello remembers being summoned the next morning, June 16, to company headquarters by Artiga, who according to Marciello was "really pissed" about the report Madera had written regarding Ford. "He was pacing around in the office holding the report up," Marciello said. "Dr. Madera had diagnosed Ford as completely 'normal' and 'not a danger to himself or others.'" Artiga was "just livid," Marciello recalls. "He took me in tow over to meet with Madera. Just me and him. We practically ran over there. Once we got there, he held up her report and asked her what she thought she was doing. He walked right over to her and got right in her face. Then he told her that this report cannot stay the way it is. He said that she will change it to read that Ford is unstable and must be sent out of [the Iraqi] theater immediately. He then said something to the effect that this was a C.I. or M.I. matter and that he was telling her that she had better see to these changes right now."

Artiga denied pressuring Madera to change her diagnosis and said he did not recall whether Marciello or anyone else was in the room during the meeting.

According to Marciello, "Madera was really shook up by the encounter with Artiga ... She was trembling." With that, Marciello said, "Me and Artiga just up and left Madera's office and headed back to the company area. Artiga went back to the office and I went to find Ford." Marciello found Ford in his tent and related what had just occurred. "I told him to stay put and that I would return in a little while." It was the last time Marciello saw Greg Ford.

The Geneva Conventions signed by the United States and 114 other countries in 1949 give prisoners of war strict protections. They cannot be assaulted, photographed (except for counterintelligence purposes), threatened with physical harm, denied medical care and medication, or deprived of food, water, clothing or sleep. They are also entitled to have mail access and regular visits from the Red Cross or other humanitarian groups.

The photographs from Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad that became public in the spring showed interrogators flagrantly violating those conventions. Seven low-level soldiers have since been charged, with one conviction, but no one up the ladder has been held accountable. Meanwhile, it has become increasingly clear that the mistreatment at Abu Ghraib was symptomatic of a wider problem. The Department of Defense is currently investigating more than a hundred allegations of prisoner abuse. So far, not a single officer or high-ranking enlisted soldier has been charged in any of them.

There are striking parallels between the conditions at Abu Ghraib when the abuses took place and those at Samarra when Greg Ford says he saw his colleagues torturing detainees. Both facilities were suffering heavy casualties as the result of daily mortar attacks from an invisible enemy. In both cases, the command became increasingly frustrated at its inability to identify, locate and stop the attackers and -- bolstered by directives from top military brass to "set the conditions" for information collection -- allowed combat troops and military intelligence operatives to use harsh tactics. Both facilities were populated mostly by young reservists with no combat experience. The majority of detainees, meanwhile, were adolescents or old men of little to no intelligence value.

The M.I. units at both centers also shared a commanding officer, Col. Thomas Pappas, who arrived in Iraq sometime in the middle of June 2003 and formally took charge of the 205th M.I. Brigade at an elaborate change-of-command ceremony at Anaconda on July 1. The 205th comprises Ford's 223rd M.I. Battalion and the 519th M.I. Battalion, which played a part in the both the Abu Ghraib scandal and at least one detainee death in Afghanistan, resulting in criminal charges being filed. After Pappas ordered all members of the 205th to be present at his change-of-command ceremony, three soldiers from the 519th were killed in a vehicular accident while traveling through hostile territory from northern Iraq in order to attend.

The Army has already dealt with one case of abuse by soldiers stationed at Samarra. At a recent court-martial in Fort Hood, Texas, four enlisted soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division in Samarra were convicted of manslaughter for forcing two handcuffed Iraqi men to jump off a bridge over the Tigris River during an interrogation. One of the Iraqis drowned. The soldiers' commanding officer, a lieutenant colonel that regularly worked with agents of the 223rd, was administratively disciplined for helping to cover up the incident.

Not long after Marciello left him, Ford said, Madera, accompanied by an unknown male captain, entered Ford's tent and told him to get ready because he was going to be "medevac'd" to Germany immediately. "What the hell is going on here?" Ford remembered demanding, but Madera told him to "be quiet," that he "had to leave," and that she would explain once they were airborne. She escorted him to a waiting Humvee that took them to the base airstrip, where a C-130 was warming up on the tarmac.

"Madera ordered me to lie down on a gurney that had been in the rear of the Humvee so she could strap me down. I again asked what was going on, only this time a lot more pissed off. I said that I was perfectly able to walk." Ford said Madera insisted, telling him it was the order of "[Lt. Col. Timothy] Ryan and Artiga" that he be "bound and secured" when taken "out of country." "I saw that I had no choice and finally said OK, anything just to get the fuck out of there," Ford recalled. With the help of the male captain, who Ford said identified himself as a medical officer, Madera strapped him to the gurney.

Just then, Ford claimed, Ryan, Artiga's superior officer, pulled up in his Humvee and walked over to where Ford was lying on the gurney. "He looked down at me and said, 'Don't worry. We are going to get you the best treatment available.' I was enraged at that point, and it was a good thing I was strapped down. I just stared back at Ryan with looks that I hoped could kill, but I didn't say nothing. What was the point? He had won that round."

Ryan did not respond to interview requests for this story.

The propellers of the huge turboprop engines on the C-130 sent scorching blasts of superheated air back toward the group, almost hot enough to singe the skin on a face. (When I left Iraq from the same tarmac a few months later, I did get burned from the blasts.) As Ford's gurney sank into the steaming tarmac, Madera and the other medical officer wheeled him up the long ramp and into the aircraft's cavernous interior. Once they were airborne, Madera unstrapped Ford and motioned for him to sit next to her on one of the hard benches that run along the sides of the plane. "She told me that she was forced to get me out of Iraq ASAP by Ryan and Artiga, who she claimed were scared to death by what I might say. She also told me that she wanted me to get out of Iraq as soon as possible because she feared for my safety." Ford said Madera also told him, "These people are serious and very scary." She apologized for having orchestrated such an exit, but said there was no other way. "I told her that I understood, but felt as though I had just been kidnapped." According to Ford, Madera replied, "You were."

Madera did not respond to several requests to be interviewed for this story.

The C-130 took Ford to Kuwait, where he cooled his heels inside transient tents for two to three days and waited for the 223rd to issue him an order. The order never came -- in violation of Army regulations -- but eventually he boarded another aircraft, still accompanied by Madera and the other officer but now acting on his own volition, and flew to the Army Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany. "The first thing they kept asking me at Landstuhl was, 'Where are your orders?' How'd you get out of theater?' I mean, I was probably asked that 50 times when I was there. Everybody asked me that. They have a reception group that meets you there and even the Air Force people when I was getting off the plane said, 'We don't know how you got on this plane because you don't have any orders. We don't have a single set of orders for you.'"

According to a senior official at the California National Guard headquarters in Sacramento, Ford should have had what is known as a "medevac" order from his unit in Iraq (205th M.I. Brigade) in order to leave the country. No one is allowed out of a theater of operations without either a medevac order or a standard set of written orders authorizing travel to a destination. Ford had neither, which is a violation of Army policy.

After a brief stay for evaluation at Landstuhl, Ford says, he was flown to the United States, where he went first to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and then to Fort Lewis, Wash., where he was placed in the Madigan Army Medical Center. At Fort Lewis, Ford filed a complaint with the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, or CID, in which he cited both the uninvestigated "war crimes" allegations and the retaliation that he says followed.

At every stop along the way, from Kuwait to Germany to the United States, Ford was evaluated by Army mental-health professionals and given a clean bill of health. Doctors at each location confirmed Madera's original diagnosis -- that he was mentally stable. Ford supplied me with documents from all of the hospitals he visited, showing diagnoses of "normal," "not delusional," "not paranoid," "no evidence of hallucination," "stable mental condition," and other similar remarks. There is nothing to suggest that any of the Army medical personnel who evaluated Greg Ford after he made his allegations in Iraq felt that there was anything wrong with him. Tsai at the Army Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, gave Ford a final diagnosis of "Stable Mental Condition." Dr. Thomas Hardaway of the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, wrote, "there was not any indication of overt paranoia or delusional quality to what he was saying about his circumstances." He went on to say, "There is nothing on my initial screening evaluation indicating any overt pathology or personality problems ... Release patient from Behavioral Medicine Clinic."

Finally, in February 2004, eight months after he blew the whistle, Ford was released from active duty and given an honorable discharge, and in October, 10 months after his initial application, he was formally retired from the Army.

Even if Ford's allegations of prisoner abuse turn out to be false, the Army's treatment of him betrays an outrageous attempt to cover up a potential scandal and a blatant disregard for its own rules. According to both Ford and a credible witness, Marciello, Ford was strapped to a gurney and bundled off to a mental ward on the basis of a coerced diagnosis for an indefinite period of time, all before any investigation was even started, much less completed. When a CID investigator finally began pursuing the matter in the fall, Artiga told the investigator that the 223rd had "looked into it" and found "nothing wrong." If what Ford and his witnesses say turns out to be true, then the officers involved could face criminal charges ranging from threatening and intimidation, perjury, and assault to false imprisonment, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The list of potential breaches of Army regulations is just as long, including "conduct unbecoming of an officer," a serious offense in the military.

In addition to Ford and the other soldiers treated by Tsai, other Army whistle-blowers have also reported this type of mistreatment. According to a May 25 report by United Press International, Julian Goodrum, a decorated lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves, was allegedly locked in a psychiatric ward as punishment for filing a complaint over the death of a soldier in his command. He had also testified before Congress about the poor medical care Reserve soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were receiving at Fort Knox, Ky. After he escaped from the locked ward, he was charged with being AWOL and was even given a $6,000 bill for room and board during his involuntary hospital stay. Still another whistle-blower, Sgt. Samuel Provance of the 205th M.I. Brigade, was stripped of his security clearance and assigned to administrative duties in Germany after reporting abuses at Abu Ghraib. Provance told me in recent e-mails that he has been harassed by other soldiers and commanders since he made his allegations and has become something of a pariah in his unit.

In August 2004, Ford filed a report on his allegations of war crimes and abduction with the Sacramento office of the FBI. That office forwarded the report to the Bureau's headquarters in Washington, which in turn passed it along to the Department of Defense. Ford says he met with investigators from the DoD's Office of the Inspector General in the last week of September. "It was obvious from their line of questioning that their mission was to cover up for DoD and the Army," Ford said. Special Agent Karen Ernst of the FBI's Sacramento office told me that the Bureau "may" have jurisdiction in the matter and is prepared to step in if the DoD "drops the ball on this." Although she would not offer an opinion of Ford's case, she did say that they only file reports if they believe the allegations have "some merit."

The Department of the Army Office of the Inspector General has also launched an investigation into Ford's allegations. Although by policy they can neither confirm nor deny the existence of a current investigation, Ford said that investigators have flown out to California to interview him and have conducted several follow-up interviews as well as requested documents and e-mail records from him. Requests through the Freedom of Information Act to the Army or the DoD for any reports relating to Ford and his allegations have resulted in a flurry of letters stating essentially that the case is "complex" and that it will take additional time to compile all of the requested documents.

Neither the California Office of the Adjutant General in Sacramento nor the state's Judge Advocate General (JAG) office would officially comment, but staff at both places told me off the record that they hoped Ford would be vindicated and the officers in question punished for "abuse of authority."

According to an Army CID special agent who is familiar with Ford's case, "This is a classic case of a whitewash. A coverup. The agent in Iraq never even looked at the 15-6 investigation the 223rd supposedly did. No one was ever interviewed until Abu Ghraib hit the fan." When I asked him whether the CID was complicit in an Army coverup of the case, he said, "Absolutely ... Do you have any idea how ugly this case could get if they ever really looked into it? It would open up a whole can of worms that they just don't want to touch." The agent, who refused to give his name for fear of retaliation, added, "Based on everything I know about this case, I believe Ford. I have seen too many similar cases not to. It fits the pattern. Everyone involved in this blatant coverup should be criminally prosecuted. For this to have dragged on for over a year without being investigated is ridiculous." In September, the CID conducted two telephone interviews with Marciello, but no one else in the 223rd has yet been interviewed, including myself.

His nightmarish experience with the Army in Iraq has changed him forever, Ford told me as we sat on a bench near the fountain in front of California National Guard headquarters in Sacramento. He said that he intended to devote the next few years, and maybe even the rest of his life, to working with individuals and organizations in the fight for human rights and dignity. He specifically mentioned Amnesty International and the World Organization for Human Rights. The latter has formally requested that Attorney General John Ashcroft file criminal war-crimes charges against high-ranking administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush, over the revelations coming out of Abu Ghraib. Ford said he hoped to join in pushing for that action.

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About the writer
David DeBatto is an author and former U.S. Army counterintelligence agent who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Jonathan Chait - Mad About You - THE CASE FOR BUSH HATRED.

Mad About You
by Jonathan Chait

I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it. I think his policies rank him among the worst presidents in U.S. history. And, while I'm tempted to leave it at that, the truth is that I hate him for less substantive reasons, too. I hate the inequitable way he has come to his economic and political achievements and his utter lack of humility (disguised behind transparently false modesty) at having done so. His favorite answer to the question of nepotism--"I inherited half my father's friends and all his enemies"--conveys the laughable implication that his birth bestowed more disadvantage than advantage. He reminds me of a certain type I knew in high school--the kid who was given a fancy sports car for his sixteenth birthday and believed that he had somehow earned it. I hate the way he walks--shoulders flexed, elbows splayed out from his sides like a teenage boy feigning machismo. I hate the way he talks--blustery self-assurance masked by a pseudo-populist twang. I even hate the things that everybody seems to like about him. I hate his lame nickname-bestowing-- a way to establish one's social superiority beneath a veneer of chumminess (does anybody give their boss a nickname without his consent?). And, while most people who meet Bush claim to like him, I suspect that, if I got to know him personally, I would hate him even more.

There seem to be quite a few of us Bush haters. I have friends who have a viscerally hostile reaction to the sound of his voice or describe his existence as a constant oppressive force in their daily psyche. Nor is this phenomenon limited to my personal experience: Pollster Geoff Garin, speaking to The New York Times, called Bush hatred "as strong as anything I've experienced in 25 years now of polling." Columnist Robert Novak described it as a "hatred ... that I have never seen in 44 years of campaign watching."

Yet, for all its pervasiveness, Bush hatred is described almost exclusively as a sort of incomprehensible mental affliction. James Traub, writing last June in The New York Times Magazine, dismissed the "hysteria" of Bush haters. Conservatives have taken a special interest in the subject. "Democrats are seized with a loathing for President Bush--a contempt and disdain giving way to a hatred that is near pathological--unlike any since they had Richard Nixon to kick around," writes Charles Krauthammer in Time magazine. "The puzzle is where this depth of feeling comes from." Even writers like David Brooks and Christopher Caldwell of The Weekly Standard--the sorts of conservatives who have plenty of liberal friends--seem to regard it from the standpoint of total incomprehension. "Democrats have been driven into a frenzy of illogic by their dislike of George W. Bush," explains Caldwell. "It's mystifying," writes Brooks, noting that Democrats have grown "so caught up in their own victimization that they behave in ways that are patently not in their self-interest, and that are almost guaranteed to perpetuate their suffering."

Have Bush haters lost their minds? Certainly some have. Antipathy to Bush has, for example, led many liberals not only to believe the costs of the Iraq war outweigh the benefits but to refuse to acknowledge any benefits at all, even freeing the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein's reign of terror. And it has caused them to look for the presidential nominee who can best stoke their own anger, not the one who can win over a majority of voters--who, they forget, still like Bush. But, although Bush hatred can result in irrationality, it's not the product of irrationality. Indeed, for those not ideologically or personally committed to Bush's success, hatred for Bush is a logical response to the events of the last few years. It is not the slightest bit mystifying that liberals despise Bush. It would be mystifying if we did not.

One reason Bush hatred is seen as inherently irrational is that its immediate precursor, hatred of Bill Clinton, really did have a paranoid tinge. Conservatives, in retrospect, now concede that some of the Clinton haters were a little bit nutty. But they usually do so only in the context of declaring that Bush hatred is as bad or worse. "Back then, [there were] disapproving articles--not to mention armchair psychoanalysis--about Clinton-hating," complains Byron York in a National Review story this month. "Today, there appears to be less concern." Adds Brooks, "Now it is true that you can find conservatives and Republicans who went berserk during the Clinton years, accusing the Clintons of multiple murders and obsessing how Vince Foster's body may or may not have been moved. ... But the Democratic mood is more pervasive, and potentially more self-destructive."

It's certainly true that there is a left-wing fringe of Bush haters whose lurid conspiracy-mongering neatly parallels that of the Clinton haters. York cites various left-wing websites that compare Bush to Hitler and accuse him of murder. The trouble with this parallel is, first, that this sort of Bush-hating is entirely confined to the political fringe. The most mainstream anti-Bush conspiracy theorist cited in York's piece is Alexander Cockburn, the ultra-left, rabidly anti-Clinton newsletter editor. Mainstream Democrats have avoided delving into Bush's economic ties with the bin Laden family or suggesting that Bush invaded Iraq primarily to benefit Halliburton. The Clinton haters, on the other hand, drew from the highest ranks of the Republican Party and the conservative intelligentsia. Bush's solicitor general, Theodore Olson, was involved with The American Spectator's "Arkansas Project," which used every conceivable method--including paying sources--to dig up dirt from Clinton's past. Mainstream conservative pundits, such as William Safire and Rush Limbaugh, asserted that Vince Foster had been murdered, and GOP Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton attempted to demonstrate this theory forensically by firing a shot into a dummy head in his backyard.

A second, more crucial difference is that Bush is a far more radical president than Clinton was. From a purely ideological standpoint, then, liberal hatred of Bush makes more sense than conservatives' Clinton fixation. Clinton offended liberals time and again, embracing welfare reform, tax cuts, and free trade, and nominating judicial moderates. When budget surpluses first appeared, he stunned the left by reducing the national debt rather than pushing for more spending. Bush, on the other hand, has developed into a truly radical president. Like Ronald Reagan, Bush crusaded for an enormous supply-side tax cut that was anathema to liberals. But, where Reagan followed his cuts with subsequent measures to reduce revenue loss and restore some progressivity to the tax code, Bush proceeded to execute two additional regressive tax cuts. Combined with his stated desire to eliminate virtually all taxes on capital income and to privatize Medicare and Social Security, it's not much of an exaggeration to say that Bush would like to roll back the federal government to something resembling its pre-New Deal state.

And, while there has been no shortage of liberal hysteria over Bush's foreign policy, it's not hard to see why it scares so many people. I was (and remain) a supporter of the war in Iraq. But the way Bush sold it--by playing upon the public's erroneous belief that Saddam had some role in the September 11 attacks--harkened back to the deceit that preceded the Spanish-American War. Bush's doctrine of preemption, which reserved the right to invade just about any nation we desired, was far broader than anything he needed to validate invading a country that had flouted its truce agreements for more than a decade. While liberals may be overreacting to Bush's foreign policy decisions-- remember their fear of an imminent invasion of Syria?--the president's shifting and dishonest rationales and tendency to paint anyone who disagrees with him as unpatriotic offer plenty of grounds for suspicion.

It was not always this way. During the 2000 election, liberals evinced far less disdain for Bush than conservatives did for Al Gore. As The New York Times reported on the eve of the election, "The gap in intensity between Democrats and Republicans has been apparent all year." This "passion gap" manifested itself in the willingness of many liberals and leftists to vote for Ralph Nader, even in swing states. It became even more obvious during the Florida recount, when a December 2000 ABC News/Washington Post poll showed Gore voters more willing to accept a Bush victory than vice-versa, by a 47 to 28 percent margin. "There is no great ideological chasm dividing the candidates," retiring Democratic Senator Pat Moynihan told the Times. "Each one has his prescription-drugs plan, each one has his tax-cut program, and the country obviously thinks one would do about as well as the other."

Most Democrats took Bush's victory with a measure of equanimity because he had spent his campaign presenting himself as a "compassionate conservative"--a phrase intended to contrast him with the GOP ideologues in Congress--who would reduce partisan strife in Washington. His loss of the popular vote, and the disputed Florida recount, followed by his soothing promises to be "president of all Americans," all fed the widespread assumption that Bush would hew a centrist course. "Given the circumstances, there is only one possible governing strategy: a quiet, patient, and persistent bipartisanship," intoned a New Yorker editorial written by Joe Klein.

Instead, Bush has governed as the most partisan president in modern U.S. history. The pillars of his compassionate-conservative agenda--the faith-based initiative, charitable tax credits, additional spending on education--have been abandoned or absurdly underfunded. Instead, Bush's legislative strategy has revolved around wringing out narrow, party-line votes for conservative priorities by applying relentless pressure to GOP moderates--in one case, to the point of driving Vermont's James Jeffords out of the party. Indeed, when bipartisanship shows even the slightest sign of life, Bush usually responds by ruthlessly tamping it down. In 2001, he convinced GOP Representative Charlie Norwood to abandon his long-cherished patients' bill of rights, which enjoyed widespread Democratic support. According to a Washington Post account, Bush and other White House officials "met with Norwood for hours and issued endless appeals to party loyalty." Such behavior is now so routine that it barely rates notice. Earlier this year, a column by Novak noted almost in passing that "senior lawmakers are admonished by junior White House aides to refrain from being too chummy with Democrats."

When the September 11 attacks gave Bush an opportunity to unite the country, he simply took it as another chance for partisan gain. He opposed a plan to bolster airport security for fear that it would lead to a few more union jobs. When Democrats proposed creating a Department of Homeland Security, he resisted it as well. But later, facing controversy over disclosures of pre-September 11 intelligence failures, he adopted the idea as his own and immediately began using it as a cudgel with which to bludgeon Democrats. The episode was telling: Having spent the better part of a year denying the need for any Homeland Security Department at all, Bush aides secretly wrote up a plan with civil service provisions they knew Democrats would oppose and then used it to impugn the patriotism of any Democrats who did--most notably Georgia Senator Max Cleland, a triple-amputee veteran running for reelection who, despite his support for the war with Iraq and general hawkishness, lost his Senate race thanks to an ugly GOP ad linking him to Osama bin Laden.

All this helps answer the oft-posed question of why liberals detest Bush more than Reagan. It's not just that Bush has been more ideologically radical; it's that Bush's success represents a breakdown of the political process. Reagan didn't pretend to be anything other than what he was; his election came at the crest of a twelve-year-long popular rebellion against liberalism. Bush, on the other hand, assumed office at a time when most Americans approved of Clinton's policies. He triumphed largely because a number of democratic safeguards failed. The media overwhelmingly bought into Bush's compassionate-conservative facade and downplayed his radical economic conservatism. On top of that, it took the monomania of a third-party spoiler candidate, plus an electoral college that gives disproportionate weight to GOP voters--the voting population of Gore's blue-state voters exceeded that of Bush's red-state voters--even to bring Bush close enough that faulty ballots in Florida could put him in office.

But Bush is never called to task for the radical disconnect between how he got into office and what he has done since arriving. Reporters don't ask if he has succeeded in "changing the tone." Even the fact that Bush lost the popular vote is hardly ever mentioned. Liberals hate Bush not because he has succeeded but because his success is deeply unfair and could even be described as cheating.

It doesn't help that this also happens to be a pretty compelling explanation of how Bush achieved his station in life. He got into college as a legacy; his parents' friends and political cronies propped him up through a series of failed business ventures (the founder of Harken Energy summed up his economic appeal thusly: "His name was George Bush"); he obtained the primary source of his wealth by selling all his Harken stock before it plunged on bad news, triggering an inconclusive Securities Exchange Commission insider-trading investigation; the GOP establishment cleared a path for him through the primaries by showering him with a political war chest of previously unthinkable size; and conservative justices (one appointed by his father) flouted their own legal principles--adopting an absurdly expansive federal role to enforce voting rights they had never even conceived of before--to halt a recount that threatened to put his more popular opponent in the White House.

Conservatives believe liberals resent Bush in part because he is a rough-hewn Texan. In fact, they hate him because they believe he is not a rough-hewn Texan but rather a pampered frat boy masquerading as one, with his pickup truck and blue jeans serving as the perfect props to disguise his plutocratic nature. The liberal view of Bush was captured by Washington Post (and former tnr) cartoonist Tom Toles, who once depicted Bush being informed by an adviser that he "didn't hit a triple. You were born on third base." A puzzled Bush replies, "I thought I was born at my beloved hardscrabble Crawford ranch," at which point his subordinate reminds him, "You bought that place a couple years ago for your presidential campaign."

During the 1990s, it was occasionally noted that conservatives despised Clinton because he flouted their basic values. From the beginning, they saw him as a product of the 1960s, a moral relativist who gave his wife too much power. But what really set them off was that he cheated on his wife, lied, and got away with it. "We must teach our children that crime does not pay," insisted former California Representative and uber-Clinton hater Bob Dornan. "What kind of example does this set to teach kids that lying like this is OK?" complained Andrea Sheldon Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition.

In a way, Bush's personal life is just as deep an affront to the values of the liberal meritocracy. How can they teach their children that they must get straight A's if the president slid through with C's--and brags about it!--and then, rather than truly earning his living, amasses a fortune through crony capitalism? The beliefs of the striving, educated elite were expressed, fittingly enough, by Clinton at a meeting of the Aspen Institute last month. Clinton, according to New York magazine reporter Michael Wolff, said of the Harken deal that Bush had "sold the stock to buy the baseball team which got him the governorship which got him the presidency." Every aspect of Bush's personal history points to the ways in which American life continues to fall short of the meritocratic ideal.

But perhaps most infuriating of all is the fact that liberals do not see their view of Bush given public expression. It's not that Bush has been spared from any criticism--far from it. It's that certain kinds of criticism have been largely banished from mainstream discourse. After Bush assumed office, the political media pretty much decided that the health of U.S. democracy, having edged uncomfortably close to chaos in December 2000, required a cooling of overheated passions. Criticism of Bush's policies--after a requisite honeymoon--was fine. But the media defined any attempt to question Bush's legitimacy as out-of-bounds. When, in early February, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe invoked the Florida debacle, The Washington Post reported it thusly: "Although some Democratic leaders have concluded that the public wants to move past the ill will over the post-election maneuvering that settled the close Florida contest, McAuliffe plainly believes that with some audiences--namely, the Democratic base of activists he was addressing yesterday--a backward-looking appeal to resentment is for now the best way to motivate and unite an often-fractious party." (This was in a news story!) "It sounds like you're still fighting the election," growled NBC's Tim Russert on "Meet the Press." "So much for bipartisanship!" huffed ABC's Sam Donaldson on "This Week."

Just as mainstream Democrats and liberals ceased to question Bush's right to hold office, so too did they cease to question his intelligence. If you search a journalistic database for articles discussing Bush's brainpower, you will find something curious. The idea of Bush as a dullard comes up frequently--but nearly always in the context of knocking it down. While it's described as a widely held view, one can find very few people who will admit to holding it. Conservatives use the theme as a taunt--if Bush is so dumb, how come he keeps winning? Liberals, spooked, have concluded that calling Bush dumb is a strategic mistake. "You're not going to get votes by assuming that, as a party, you're a lot smarter than the voters," argued Democratic Leadership Council President Bruce Reed last November. "Casting Bush as a dummy also plays into his strategy of casting himself as a Texas common man," wrote Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne in March 2001.

Maybe Bush's limited brainpower hasn't hampered his political success. And maybe pointing out that he's not the brightest bulb is politically counterproductive. Nonetheless, however immaterial or inconvenient the fact may be, it remains true that Bush is just not a terribly bright man. (Or, more precisely, his intellectual incuriosity is such that the effect is the same.) On the rare occasions Bush takes an extemporaneous question for which he hasn't prepared, he usually stumbles embarrassingly. When asked in July whether, given that Israel was releasing Palestinian prisoners, he would consider releasing famed Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, Bush's answer showed he didn't even know who Pollard is. "Well, I said very clearly at the press conference with Prime Minister [Mahmoud] Abbas, I don't expect anybody to release somebody from prison who'll go kill somebody," he rambled. Bush's unscripted replies have caused him to accidentally change U.S. policy on Taiwan. And, while Bush's inner circle remains committed to the pretense of a president in total command of his staff, his advisers occasionally blurt out the truth. In the July issue of Vanity Fair, Richard Perle admitted that, when he first met Bush, "he didn't know very much."

While liberals have pretty much quit questioning Bush's competence, conservatives have given free rein to their most sycophantic impulses. Some of this is Bush's own doing--most notably, his staged aircraft-carrier landing, a naked attempt to transfer the public's admiration for the military onto himself (a man, it must be noted, who took a coveted slot in the National Guard during Vietnam and who then apparently declined to show up for a year of duty). Bush's supporters have spawned an entire industry of hagiographic kitsch. You can buy a twelve-inch doll of Bush clad in his "Mission Accomplished" flight suit or, if you have a couple thousand dollars to spend, a bronze bust depicting a steely-eyed "Commander-in-Chief" Bush. National Review is enticing its readers to fork over $24.95 for a book-length collection of Bush's post-September 11, 2001, speeches--any and all of which could be downloaded from the White House website for free. The collection recasts Bush as Winston Churchill, with even his most mundane pronouncements ("Excerpted Remarks by the President from Speech at the Lighting of the National Christmas Tree," "Excerpted Remarks by the President from Speech to the Missouri Farmers Association") deemed worthy of cherishing in bound form. Meanwhile, the recent Showtime pseudo-documentary "DC 9/11" renders the president as a Clint Eastwood figure, lording over a cringing Dick Cheney and barking out such implausible lines as "If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come on over and get me. I'll be here!"

Certainly Clinton had his defenders and admirers, but no similar cult of personality. Liberal Hollywood fantasies--"The West Wing," The American President--all depict imaginary presidents who pointedly lack Clinton's personal flaws or penchant for compromise. The political point was more to highlight Clinton's deficiencies than to defend them.

The persistence of an absurdly heroic view of Bush is what makes his dullness so maddening. To be a liberal today is to feel as though you've been transported into some alternative universe in which a transparently mediocre man is revered as a moral and strategic giant. You ask yourself why Bush is considered a great, or even a likeable, man. You wonder what it is you have been missing. Being a liberal, you probably subject yourself to frequent periods of self-doubt. But then you conclude that you're actually not missing anything at all. You decide Bush is a dullard lacking any moral constraints in his pursuit of partisan gain, loyal to no principle save the comfort of the very rich, unburdened by any thoughtful consideration of the national interest, and a man who, on those occasions when he actually does make a correct decision, does so almost by accident.

There. That feels better.

Jonathan Chait is a senior editor at TNR.