"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Friday, August 27, 2004

Marching for Our Values and Our Vision

On Sunday, August 29, 2004, hundreds of thousands of people will be traveling to New York City to come together in a massive protest march. They will be marching against the politics of endless war abroad, matched with fear, hatred, and corporate greed at home. These sentiments will be echoed at simultaneous marches in other communities around the country.

Sunday's march has been called by United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), a coalition of more than 800 antiwar and social justice organizations. As a member of UFPJ since its inception, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has helped to build this march, and our offices up and down the northeast United States have helped fill buses with our friends and supporters.

Sunday's protests are an outpouring of what has become known as the world's “second superpower” – global public opinion. AFSC is proud of doing our part to sustain and lift up diverse voices from every community and every country that are calling for a peaceful future, equality and basic rights for all people, and a just and sustainable economy for our world.

For AFSC, raising such a voice is part of our foundational commitment, rooted in the Quaker tradition, to speaking truth to power. It also involves the exercise of the most basic democratic rights, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Both are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Both are fundamental underpinnings of any democratic system.

In this time of fear, marching for our values and our vision is the most powerful way we know to lift up a voice of faith, love, and determination. Sunday's march is completely legal and has been issued a permit by the City of New York. At this writing, the rally site at the end of the march is the subject of a lawsuit before the New York State Supreme Court, and is thus still uncertain.

Some of the city's preparations for the march involve the necessary care that any municipal government must take to accommodate a large public gathering. Other preparations, however, seem designed to mute the voices of protest, or intimidate potential protestors from traveling to New York – by raising the specter of violent confrontation, lining the march route with barricades, or issuing news statements about tactics that will be used to confront protestors.

Not long ago, an AFSC intern in Denver, Colorado, was visited in her home by four FBI agents and two police officers — at least one in full SWAT gear — who refused to identify themselves and asked our intern and her housemates if they were planning any criminal activity at either the Democratic or Republican national conventions. It is difficult to understand this incident as anything but intimidation, and it is only one of many troubling stories from around the country.

Like other march organizers, we will be making every effort to keep events in New York safe and enjoyable for everyone. We call on local, state, and federal authorities to do the same — for the countless New Yorkers, and countless visitors, who are coming together on Sunday to exercise their inalienable democratic rights. We are protesting because we must — and because AFSC's existence as an organization is based in our faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.


Israel Cave Linked to John the Baptist

Archaeologists think they've found a cave where John the Baptist baptized many of his followers - basing their theory on thousands of shards from ritual jugs, a stone used for foot cleansing and wall carvings telling the story of the biblical preacher.

Only a few artifacts linked to New Testament figures have ever been found in the Holy Land, and the cave is potentially a major discovery in biblical archaeology. "John the Baptist, who was just a figure from the Gospels, now comes to life," British archaeologist Shimon Gibson said during an exclusive tour of the cave given to The Associated Press.
But some scholars said Gibson's finds aren't enough to support his theory, and one colleague said that short of an inscription with John's name in the cave, there could never be conclusive proof of his presence there.

John, a distant relative of Jesus - their mothers were kin, according to the Bible - was a fiery preacher with a message of repentance and a considerable following. Tradition says he was born in the village of Ein Kerem, which today is part of modern Jerusalem. Just 2.5 miles away, on the land of Kibbutz Tzuba, a communal farm, the cave lies hidden in a limestone hill - 24 yards long, four yards deep and four yards wide.

It was carved by the Israelites in the Iron Age, sometime between 800 B.C. and 500 B.C, the scientists said. It apparently was used from the start as a ritual immersion pool, preceding the Jewish tradition of the ritual bath.

Over the centuries, the cave filled with mud and sediment, leaving only a tiny opening that was hidden by trees and bushes. Yet in recent years, it had occasional visitors - Reuven Kalifon, an immigrant from Cleveland who teaches Hebrew at the kibbutz, took his students spelunking.

They would crawl through the narrow slit at the mouth of the cave, all the way to the back wall, though they saw nothing but dirt and walls. In December 1999, Kalifon asked Gibson, a friend, to take a closer look.

Gibson, who has excavated in the Holy Land for more than 30 years, moved a few boulders near the walls and laid bare a crude carving of a head. Excited, he organized a full-fledged excavation.

Over the next five years, Gibson and his team, including volunteers from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, cleared out layers of soil, picking up about 250,000 shards from small jugs apparently used in purification rituals.

The explorers uncovered 28 steps leading to the bottom of the cave. On the right, a niche is carved into the wall - typical of those used in Jewish ritual baths for discarding the clothes before immersion. Near the end of the stairs, the team found an oval stone with a foot-shaped indentation - about a shoe size 11. Just above, a soapdish-like niche apparently held ritual oil that would flow through a small channel onto the believer's right foot.

On the water-covered floor of the cave, stones and boulders were moved aside by the worshippers and a middle path was filled with gravel, said Egon Lass, an archaeological consultant at Wheaton College, near Chicago, who also worked on the dig.

Crude images were carved on the walls, near the ceiling, and Gibson said they tell the story of John's life. One is the figure of the man Gibson spotted on his first visit to the cave. The man appears to have an unruly head of hair and wears a tunic with dots, apparently meant to suggest an animal hide. He grasps a staff and holds up his other hand in a gesture of proclamation.

James Tabor, a Bible scholar from the University of North Carolina, said there is little doubt this is John himself. The Gospels say that John was a member of the Nazarites, a sect whose followers didn't cut their hair, and that he adopted the dress of the ancient prophets, including a garment woven of camel's hair.

On the opposite wall is a carving of a face that could be meant to symbolize John's severed head. The preacher had his head cut off by Herod Antipas after he dared take the ruler to task over an illicit affair.

But the images are from the Byzantine era, apparently carved by monks who associated the site with John, following local folklore, Gibson and Tabor said. "Unfortunately, we didn't find any inscriptions" that would conclusively link the cave to John, Tabor said.

Still, Gibson, who heads the Jerusalem Archaeological Field Unit, a private research group, argues that the finds and the proximity of John's hometown are strong evidence the cave was used by the preacher. "All these elements are coming together and fill in the picture of the life and times of John the Baptist," said Gibson, who has written a book about the dig, "The Cave of John the Baptist," to be published this week.

Stephen Pfann, a Bible scholar and president of the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, said Gibson has provided a plausible explanation for the unusual finds, but further study is needed. "It is inviting more scholars to come in and give alternative explanations, if they can," he said.

Gibson said he has left about a third of the cave untouched for other archaeologists to explore.

Tabor said no one could ever say for certain that John the Baptist used the cave. However, he said, the cave could help bring to life an important part of the New Testament. "We actually have a geographical location near Ein Kerem now, at which water purification rites were conducted that go back to the first century and connects them to the traditions of John the Baptist," he said.

The Associated Press

Ideological Engine Behind John Paul II's Papacy

In a 1995 interview, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Catholic Church's doctrinal czar, was asked to describe what Pope John Paul II meant when he said the third millennium would be a "springtime of the human spirit." Ratzinger sketched the pope's hopeful vision that, after two millennia of division, the third millennium would be one of unity among peoples and religions, in which the entire human family would come together to build God's kingdom. Then Ratzinger added dryly: "At the moment, I do not yet see it approaching."

That in a nutshell captures the difference between John Paul II and the Bavarian theologian who has been his intellectual guru since 1981 and who is back in the headlines with a new critique of feminism. The pope and Ratzinger - head of what is known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is, effectively, the successor to the Inquisition - share a basically conservative stance on most issues that constitute the culture wars in the West.
Yet John Paul II plays the part of Ronald Reagan to Ratzinger's Pat Buchanan; the pope is optimistic, cheerful, brimming with confidence, and Ratzinger is less sanguine about the movements of history. Whereas John Paul sees a church on the brink of expansion, Ratzinger believes Christianity must become smaller in order to be faithful.

This frank realism may explain why Ratzinger, who ironically started out as a liberal reformer at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, has been dubbed the "Panzer-Kardinal" by the German press. He is not one to apply a polite gloss, as the world saw anew on July 31 with his "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women."

The letter pulls no punches. "Radical feminism" has promoted a climate of hostility between men and women, it argues, and has led women to deny or play down their distinctive maternal and nurturing instincts. It has also spread confusion about gender that promotes tolerance of homosexuality. The alternative vision, according to the letter, is "the collaboration of men and women," meaning differences between the sexes should be seen as complementary rather than competitive.

Feminism is merely Ratzinger's latest target. Since John Paul II tapped him as the church's top theologian in 1981, he has been the driving force in several other battles:

In the 1980s, Ratzinger cracked down on "liberation theology," a movement in Latin America that sought to ally the Catholic Church with progressive efforts for social change. Ratzinger felt the liberationists were Marxists who wanted to introduce class struggle into the Catholic Church.
Under Ratzinger, the Catholic Church has emphatically criticized homosexuality and gay marriage. A famous 1986 Vatican document over his signature called homosexuality a tendency toward "intrinsic moral evil." It is still the official position of the Catholic Church.
In the 1990s, Ratzinger disciplined a series of Catholic theologians who expressed a belief that non-Christian religions are a positive part of God's plan.
Ratzinger has made it much more difficult for Catholic theologians to challenge the Vatican or the bishops, insisting that even routine pronouncements enjoy a kind of infallibility.
Most recently, a confidential memo was unearthed in which Ratzinger stated that pro-abortion Catholic politicians could be barred from receiving Holy Communion - an explosive position that could affect Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry and many other American politicians.
It's certainly possible that the Catholic Church would have taken many of these positions even without Ratzinger. Yet the intensity of the debates owes much to the man - who, it should be said, comes across in person as meek and humble, not like the bull in a china shop that his public persona suggests.

Supporters believe he has brought clarity to a muddled world, while critics say he's put the Catholic Church on the wrong side of progress.

What's clear is that his effect has been felt far outside the Catholic Church, which is unusual for a Vatican official. His anti- liberation theology crusade, for instance, helped change the course of political development in Latin America, depriving progressive governments of Catholic support.

At 77, is Ratzinger's career at twilight? Not necessarily; that's the age at which Cardinal Angelo Roncalli was elected pope as John XXIII in 1958. Indeed, there's a constituency in the College of Cardinals, the body that elects the pope, that would love to see the same thing happen to Ratzinger.

Yet the likelihood is that age and controversy make him a long shot.

Even so, few figures in the last 100 years of Catholic history have done more to shape their times. Ratzinger is proof that even in a secularized, post-Christian world, the Catholic Church matters. Whether he has deployed its resources for good or ill largely frames the debate facing Catholicism today.

The Bergen (N.J.) Record

California Court Voids Gay Marriages

San Francisco, Aug 12—(UPI) Nearly 4,000 same-sex marriages performed in San Francisco were voided Thursday by the California Supreme Court.

The court declared the mayor of the city had overstepped his authority when he gave the green light to the issuance of marriage licenses to homosexual and lesbian couples last winter.
The ruling did not address the constitutionality of a state law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples; however on a 5-2 vote, it did nullify the nuptials performed during an unprecedented marriage spree at City Hall.

Mayor Gavin Newsome had authorized gay marriages on the grounds the state law violated constitutional guarantees of equal access under the law.

The Bush Betrayal

George W. Bush came to the presidency promising prosperity, peace, and humility. Instead, Bush has spawned record federal budget deficits, launched an unnecessary war, and made America the most hated nation in the world. Bush is expanding federal power and stretching prerogatives in almost every area that captures his fancy. Though Bush continually invokes freedom to sanctify himself and his policies, Bush freedom is based on boundless trust in the righteousness of the rulers and all their actions.

Truth is a lagging indicator in politics. A president’s promises and speeches receive far more publicity than subsequent reports and revelations about how his cherished programs crash and burn. This book does not aim to analyze all Bush policies. Instead, it examines an array of his domestic and foreign actions that vivify the damage Bush is inflicting and the danger he poses both to America and the world.

Bush governs like an elective monarch, entitled to reverence and deference on all issues. Secret Service agents ensure that Bush rarely views opponents of his reign, carefully quarantining protesters in “free speech zones” far from public view. The FBI has formally requested that local police monitor antiwar groups and send information on demonstrators to FBI-led terrorism task forces. Thanks to the campaign finance act Bush signed, Americans have also lost much of their freedom to criticize their rulers — at least in the 60 days before an election.

After 9/11, privacy is a luxury Americans supposedly can no longer afford. The administration has left no stone unturned, giving itself powers to sweep up people’s e-mail with the FBI’s Carnivore system, unleash FBI agents to conduct surveillance almost anywhere, allow G-men to secretly search people’s homes, bankroll Pentagon research on creating hundreds of millions of dossiers on Americans, expand the military’s role in domestic surveillance, and vacuum up personal data to create a federal “color code” for every air traveler. The administration is defining freedom down, pretending that protection from federal prying is no longer relevant to liberty. Americans are supposed to accept that freedom from terrorism is the ultimate freedom — and nothing else matters any more.

Bush is dropping an iron curtain around the federal government. The Bush administration is hollowing out the Freedom of Information Act, making it more difficult for citizens to discover government actions and abuses. Bush invoked executive privilege to block a congressional investigation into the FBI’s role in mass murder in Boston and in framing innocent men for those murders. The Supreme Court tacitly endorsed the Bush doctrine that the feds may carry out mass secret arrests and suppress all information about the roundup (including names of those detained, charges, and details on prison beatings).

Bush is wrapping himself in a flag drenched with the blood of Americans who died due to the failure of the federal government he commanded. The Bush reelection campaign is running television ads showing an American flag flying in front of the ruins of the World Trade Center towers and a flag-draped corpse being carried out of Ground Zero by firefighters. The Republicans will hold their national convention in New York days before the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Bush exploits the 9/11 dead while he stonewalls the 9/11 Commission. The Bush reelection team seems convinced that Bush’s actions on that day entitle Bush to rule Americans for four more years.

King of All Boondoggles

Americans will be forced to pay trillions of dollars in higher taxes in the coming decades to finance George Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. Bush browbeat Congress into enacting the biggest expansion of the welfare state since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. The White House blatantly deceived Congress about the cost of the new Medicare prescription drug entitlement, withholding key information that would have guaranteed the defeat of Bush’s giveaway. The administration launched a federally financed ad campaign showing a crowd cheering Bush as he signed the new law; federal auditors ruled that the ads were illegal propaganda. The new drug benefit will expedite Medicare’s bankruptcy and do nothing to improve medical care for most seniors.

Vote-buying is the prime motive of many Bush policies. Bush signed the most exorbitant farm bill in history in 2002, bilking taxpayers for $180 billion to rain benefits on millionaire landowners and other deserving mendicants. Bush repeatedly bragged that his farm bill was “generous” — as if Washington politicians have carte blanche to redistribute Americans’ paychecks to any group they choose. Bush imposed high tariffs on steel imports, wantonly destroying thousands of American manufacturing jobs simply because he wanted to try to snare the endorsement of the United Steel Workers and to boost his reelection chances.

After 9/11, almost every expansion of government became a coup for homeland security. When Bush announced plans to bloat the AmeriCorps “paid volunteer” program, he declared: “One way to defeat terrorism is to show the world the true values of America through the gathering momentum of a million acts of responsibility and decency and service.” While Bush portrays AmeriCorps recruits as heroes, AmeriCorps members busy themselves putting on puppet shows to persuade three-year-olds of the value of smoke alarms, hoeing corn at tourist farms, and sanctimoniously picking up litter in bad neighborhoods. Bush summoned every citizen to give four thousand hours of “service.” After dubious federal statistics showed a marginal rise in volunteering, Bush hyped the uptick as proof that his leadership is morally rejuvenating America.

The Transportation Security Administration and its 45,000-member airport occupation army is one of the Bush administration’s biggest shams. Despite more than $10 billion spent since 9/11, airport screeners are not any more competent than they were in 1987. Yet, as long as TSA brags about seizing millions of pointy objects each year from grandmothers and other scofflaws, Americans are supposed to believe that the endless delays are worthwhile. TSA is punishing critics, slapping fines of up to $1,500 on airline passengers guilty of showing the wrong “attitude” as they pass through TSA checkpoint gauntlets.

Some of Bush’s cherished reforms consist of little more than finding new names for old boondoggles. Bush sharply boosted foreign aid and created a new program, the Millennium Challenge Account. Bush denounces traditional foreign aid for bankrolling corruption, and insists that his program rewards governments for being honest. Even though the aid still goes to many of the same Third World politician-looters, the new program’s lofty rhetoric automatically converts the money into a force for goodness.

Political cosmetics pervade many Bush policies. The No Child Left Behind Act is perhaps Bush’s biggest domestic fraud. The act was falsely sold as giving freedom to local school officials. In reality, it empowers the feds to effectively judge and punish local schools for not fulfilling arbitrary guidelines. Many states are “dumbing down” academic standards, using bureaucratic racketeering to avoid harsh federal sanctions. Though the No Child Left Behind Act promised to permit children to escape “persistently dangerous” schools, most states defined that term to claim that all their schools were safe. As long as people believe Bush cares about children, it doesn’t matter that his education policy is a charade.

While Bush hypes himself as a “compassionate conservative,” his drug policy relies on wrath and harsh punishment (except for special cases like his niece Noelle Bush and talk show host Rush Limbaugh). John Walters, Bush’s drug czar, demonized drug users in federally funded TV ads, portraying people who buy drugs as terrorist financiers threatening America with complete destruction. Federal drug warriors have arrested cancer patients who smoke marijuana to control their chemo-induced nausea, busted doctors who give suffering patients more pain killers than the DEA approves, and carried out high-profile crackdowns on targets ranging from hemp food makers to comedian Tommy Chong (busted for bong trafficking).

Terrorizing in the Name of Antiterrorism

Bush appears determined to force Americans to pay almost any price so that he can be a world savior. He declared in December 2003: “I believe we have a responsibility to promote freedom [abroad] that is as solemn as the responsibility is to protecting the American people, because the two go hand in hand.” But the Constitution does not grant the president the prerogative to dispose of the lives of American soldiers any place in the world he longs to do a good deed. Though Bush is adept at destroying freedom in America, he has yet to demonstrate any ability to create it in foreign lands.

Bush greatly exaggerates the benefits of his conquests. After the Afghan war, Bush repeatedly told Americans that they had liberated Afghan women and that Afghan girls were now going to school. Yet, women are still heavily oppressed in most of Afghanistan and most Afghan girls still do not attend schools. While Bush portrays Afghanistan as a liberated new democracy, most Afghans are brutalized either by warlords or the resurgent Taliban. But the Bush White House rarely allows cold facts to impede a warm and touching story line.

For Bush, the right to rule apparently includes the right to lie. In his 2004 State of the Union address, Bush proclaimed that, as a result of actions such as the U.S. invasion of Iraq, “No one can now doubt the word of America.” A year earlier, in his 2003 State of the Union address, Bush rattled off a long list of biological and chemical weapons that he claimed he knew that Iraq possessed. No such weapons have been found. Bush has never shown a speck of contrition for his false prewar statements. Instead, he acts like a clumsy magician who assumes his audience is too feebleminded to recognize the elaborate trick that fell to pieces in front of their eyes.

The war in Iraq is the most visible debacle of the Bush war on terrorism. The president pirouetted in a flight suit on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, in front of a giant banner proclaiming, “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.” But Iraq subsequently became far more treacherous. On July 2, when asked about Iraqi attacks on American forces, Bush issued a taunt: “Bring ’em on!” In the subsequent months, more than 600 American soldiers were killed and thousands were wounded and maimed as Iraqis took up the Bush challenge. While Bush continually brags of how the United States “liberated” 25 million Iraqis, the U.S. military government vigorously suppresses television stations and shuts down newspapers that criticize American forces or U.S. policy. While Bush rhapsodizes about winning Iraqi hearts and minds, U.S. troops carry out crackdowns with names such as Operation Iron Hammer, conduct thousands of no-knock raids in people’s homes searching for weapons, routinely demolish the houses of suspected resistance fighters, imprison people solely for being relatives of insurgents, and kill hundreds of innocent civilians. Bush-style benevolence was best captured by U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Nathan Sassaman, commanding a battalion that enclosed an entire Iraqi town with barbed wire, when he observed: “With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them.”

Bush proudly declared last year: “No President has ever done more for human rights than I have.” In reality, Bush has done more to formally subvert rights than any American president of the modern era. Bush claimed the right to label people as enemy combatants and thereby nullify all of their legal rights. Once detainees had no rights, torturing them apparently became permissible — at least in the eyes of some Justice Department and Pentagon officials. The Bush administration ignored warning after warning of the gross abuses that were being committed against detainees in Afghanistan, Cuba, and Iraq. After the torture photos from the Abu Ghraib prison became public in April 2004, Bush repeatedly falsely claimed that the abuses were the result of a few wayward soldiers. In speeches in his reelection campaign, Bush continued to brag about ending Saddam’s torture.

Foreign military “victories” have done nothing to increase the competence of homeland security. Even though federal agencies’ failure to combine terrorist watch lists helped allow two known Al Qaeda members to enter the United States before the 9/11 hijackings, the federal government still does not have a single, up-to-date terrorist watch list. The General Accounting Office concluded in late 2003 that the feds are still doing a lousy job of pursuing terrorist finances, despite a vast increase in the financial surveillance of average Americans. A federal commission on terrorist threats reported in December 2003 that federal, state, and local government agencies are still doing a very poor job of sharing key information about terrorist threats. And some of the information that the feds do send along — such as the FBI warning that people carrying world almanacs could be terrorist plotters — aids only late-night television comics.

Bush’s foreign policies are creating more terrorists than he is vanquishing. There are far more terrorist attacks in the Middle East now than before the United States invaded Iraq. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, declared in early 2004 that “Al Qaeda remains as dangerous as it was before September 11.” British intelligence experts warn that Al Qaeda is a greater threat than before. Bush’s interventionist policies and meddling are spurring intense animosity throughout the Arab and Muslim world. And there is no evidence that the Bush administration is competent to protect Americans from all the new enemies its policies are breeding.

Repealing 1776

President George W. Bush, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and other administration officials continually remind Americans that everything changed after 9/11. But does that include the Constitution? Are the myths of 9/11 undermining the truths of 1776?

The Founding Fathers taught Americans that power is dangerous regardless of who wields it. Bush would have people believe that, after 9/11, America will perish if the president lacks boundless power. The Founding Fathers saw individual rights as bulwarks against government abuses. Bush acts as if individual rights are barriers to public safety. The Founding Fathers sought to deter tyranny with checks and balances within the federal government. Bush acts as if the only legitimate check on his power is people’s chance to cast a ballot once every four years. Bush perennially talks as if tax cuts are the only protection people need against Big Government.

The Bush presidency is continuing and accelerating many of the noxious trends of the Clinton era, most of which started long before William Jefferson Clinton became president. Many of the abuses of the last few years would likely have occurred regardless of who was elected president in 2000. However, the glorification of Bush after 9/11 would not have reached such extremes without the slavish efforts of many Republican congressmen and much of the conservative news media. The president’s rarely challenged power grabs revealed the cravenness of many of Washington’s avowed champions of freedom.

Though this book focuses primarily on the blunders and deceits of Bush and his team, Democratic members of Congress are either complicit in or acquiescent to most of Bush’s abuses. Most of the budget disputes in Washington involve how to waste tax dollars, not whether tax dollars should be wasted. Some Democrats did yeoman work — such as Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) in opposing the war on Iraq, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) in opposing the Patriot Act, and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) in opposing Ashcroft. Yet Democratic members of Congress as a group have been less vigilant and courageous in opposing misgovernment than were Republicans during the first Clinton administration.

Regardless of who wins in November 2004, Americans must recognize the damage the federal government is inflicting on their rights, liberty, and safety. Even if Bush wins reelection, the more Americans who recognize the failures and frauds of his first term, the more difficult it will be for Bush to perpetrate new abuses in his second term. Americans must understand the Bush Betrayal if they are ever to rein in the government.

The above is the first chapter from Jim Bovard’s The Bush Betrayal. Copyright 2004 by James Bovard. All rights reserved

Cynical Presidential Candidates

There is a simple reason why so many people despise politics. They can see that it is little more than a despicable grab for power and that most candidates will say anything, avoid saying anything, and “reinterpret” their own previous words to be elected. The current presidential campaign already abounds with examples.

Take the controversy around Democratic candidate John Kerry’s time in Vietnam. (I will not call it “service,” unless that is to mean service to the corrupt Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. America was not served by anything that went on there.)

I do not know who is telling the truth, or the greater part of it. Both sides are tainted. Kerry wants to be president. His critics are Bush partisans and still sore about Kerry’s anti-war activities. It’s possible that both sides are not being entirely truthful. For example, Kerry’s claim that he spent time in Cambodia helping to conduct an illegal war has been contradicted — by Kerry himself. Some of the critical vets once praised him.

My point is not to argue for one side or the other. It’s to examine statements by Kerry and President Bush to show how cynical they both are.

When Kerry left the navy and protested the war, he told a congressional committee that U.S. forces, routinely and with the connivance of higher-ups, engaged in horrible acts against Vietnamese civilians. Kerry used the word “atrocities,” in which he implicated himself.

When asked about his testimony during the present campaign, he is less than forthcoming. On Meet the Press in April, Kerry said, “[The] words were honest, but on the other hand, they were a little bit over the top.”

That’s how virtually all politicians talk, and for that they deserve the contempt of every thinking American. Look at Kerry’s words, which seem calculated to fulfill the flip-flop stereotype the Republicans are working to establish. “The words were honest”: His statement begins with what looks like a clear point of fact. But he quickly retreats with “on the other hand.” That can mean: there’s another valid way of looking at things. What’s the other way? The words “were a little bit over the top.” What does that mean? The American Heritage Dictionary defines the phrase as “exceeding the normal bounds; immoderate; extravagant” — but just “a little bit” so.

Kerry wants it both ways: he spoke honestly and dishonestly 30 years ago. He can’t say he lied back then, but he can’t stand behind his words either. Each path is perilous to his quest for the presidency.

Bush, as we should know, is not above such wordplay. He has been pressed to repudiate television spots paid for by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who claim Kerry didn’t earn his war medals. Financing for the spots comes under section 527 of the IRS code, permitting “soft money” to be spent independently of official political campaigns.

Bush has apparently calculated that he would look bad casting aspersions on Kerry’s war record. (Guess why.) So he can’t openly countenance the Swift Boat Vets, whom John McCain has denounced as liars. In fact, Bush says Kerry “served admirably.” But he also can’t be upset with the disruption the criticism is causing to Kerry’s campaign. So he won’t clearly denounce the vets’ anti-Kerry crusade as dishonest.

He tries to have it both ways. Asked if the vets’ ads should be pulled, he replies that all “527” ads should be stopped: “This kind of unregulated soft money is wrong for the process.... I thought we were gonna once and for all get rid of a system where people could pour tons of money in and not be held to account for the advertising.”

That’s not what he was asked. He was asked about a particular ad that many people feel is shamefully dishonest. Instead of answering, he attacked freedom of speech by private organizations and endorsed censorship. What else would you call abolishing “unregulated soft money” and the advertising it supports?

Bush would rather offend civil libertarians than Kerry’s enemies. Thus is freedom sacrificed for political expediency.

Sheldon Richman, August 27, 2004

The Hijacking of the Republican Party

The traditional principles of the Republican Party have in the past several years been subordinated to a more intrusive domestic policy and an imperialistic foreign policy. Whereas a policy of less federal government intrusion into domestic personal affairs once held together most party adherents, now the party machinery has more recently been redirected to a more pragmatic policy of winning and keeping political control, attendant to philosophic principles only insofar as “practical politics” demands it. Similarly, what historically was once considered a more reserved, sometimes near-isolationist, stance in foreign affairs has been replaced by a foreign policy that is overtly interventionist.

This transformation of party and governmental policy is in no way accidental and is only marginally related to the appalling terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. That calamity only provided additional stimulus for the visionary, planned takeover or hijacking of the immense power attendant to the presidency of the United States. The neoconservative movement had been looking for just such an opportunity for several years, and has used the Republican Party as its vehicle of transformation only in relatively recent years, beginning when the Reagan administration adopted a more energetic and militaristic approach to international affairs.

The neoconservative movement, now implemented by people who hold disproportionate power in the administration of President George W. Bush, first took shape in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. The movement has always consisted of only a relative handful of extraordinarily influential people who formerly were more aligned with collectivist, or Trotskyite, ideals. Leaders of the movement recognized that the more-militaristic policies of President Reagan in the 1980s lent more advantage to achieving their goals, so many of them became supporters of Republican policies and therefore became, to their friends, new conservatives or “neoconservatives.” The neoconservatives, acting from a self-righteous and virtuous conviction that America possesses a special moral status, believe that the United States should exercise its moral imperative to enforce world peace and extend the benefits of liberty and prosperity through the spread of American values. Their immediate, continuing, and primary goal has been to stabilize the Middle East and, not incidentally, to buttress the security of Israel. Another description for such a vision is that of an American hegemony.

The president and the neoconservatives surrounding him believe that it is the mission of the United States to redraw the map of the Middle East by force, if necessary, as part of their vision for an American empire. Such a policy translates, of course, into a belief that using the armed services of the United States to force American ideals and values on others is acceptable, and that the American military should not be limited to the direct defense of our country. Nothing in the Constitution of the United States delegates such power to the president.

The neoconservatives further believe that a powerful and encompassing federal government is a benefit to domestic society as well, and that governmental policies should be determined by strong and forceful executive, not legislative, decisions. This attitude goes hand in hand with their belief that infringements on civil liberties, such as some of those in the USA PATRIOT Act, are necessary and desirable. If the PATRIOT Act had been promoted by President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno, most Republicans would have been more than dismayed.

During the current administration, nondefense spending has increased more than 18 percent, and not a single spending bill from a compliant Congress has been vetoed. The bloated farm bill was extravagant beyond reckless. The education bill increases, not decreases, federal intervention and control of K–12 education. Policies such as these enlarge the scope and power of the federal government and are not conservative at all, but tend toward increased federal control of the citizenry.

Both the new domestic and foreign policies have swept along with them most of the approximately one-third of the population who think of themselves as Republican. The traditional conservative vision of less government, free and open international trade, a more truly humble foreign policy, and expanding civil liberties is dramatically receding. It is to be hoped that more Republicans soon will recognize the trend and attempt to change it, realizing that centralized, intrusive domestic policies and risky, adventurous foreign policies do not conform with their traditional conservative Republican values.

James Muhm is a freelance writer residing in Denver, Colorado.

Path of Arrogance in Iraq

Path of Arrogance in Iraq

An independent panel that included two former secretaries of Defense and a separate investigating team led by two Army generals heaped yet more withering criticism this week on the Pentagon's handling of Iraq after the invasion. The findings dealt with the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, but they should be read as condemning more than just the sickening scenes of torture documented in widely seen photographs.

The independent team rejected the Bush administration's claim that the Abu Ghraib mistreatment was the work of a few rogue soldiers. The number of military police and military intelligence specialists who will be charged with criminal wrongdoing may be limited, but the panel traced some of the blame all the way to the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The arrogant "we know best" attitude of the Pentagon's civilian leadership demands condemnation. The halfhearted acceptance of responsibility that Rumsfeld offered in his testimony in May before the Senate and House armed services committees doesn't let him off the hook for failing to provide consistent guidelines on the treatment of prisoners. The independent panel's report, and another released Wednesday concluding that 41 intelligence officers, CIA officials, contractors, medics and military police officers either took part in the abuses or knew of them but did nothing to stop them, should force the resignation or firing of top officials, military or civilian. At least two top officers might be facing such sanctions — Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who oversaw the military police at the prison, and Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who oversaw the military intelligence personnel, are expected to receive reprimands that could end their careers. That would be a good start.

Investigators need to address another aspect of conduct at Abu Ghraib. An article last week in Britain's leading medical journal, written by a University of Minnesota professor of medicine, cited government documents that he said showed military medical personnel violated medical ethics at Abu Ghraib. The article said some medical workers revived prisoners for further torture and falsified death certificates of prisoners who died during interrogation. The Pentagon strongly denied the charges, which recall abuses in Nazi Germany. Those claims warrant a separate investigation.

The independent panel's report offers common-sense recommendations for reform, understanding that operations in a war zone often are chaotic. More personnel, better training and increased emphasis on law and ethics can go far toward preventing similar abuses. As with so much else in postwar Iraq, more humility in the corridors of the Pentagon would be another antidote.

If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at latimes.com/archives.

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Venezuela: Hugo Chavez, Clutch Hitter

Bottom of the Ninth

President Hugo Chavez strode into the press conference wearing a business suit and tie. Thickset and unabashed, he grinned broadly at the crush of reporters assembled before him. There were journalists from around the world, pens poised, ready to take down his last words before an extraordinary recall vote that could very well oust him.

But if Chavez was worried, he didn't show it. He oozed confidence and charm. "Thank you very much," he said in thickly accented English, smiling to his international audience. Chavez doesn't really speak English, but he does have a strong command of baseball terminology, which he injected into his comments that day -- as he often does during marathon speeches. And now it was the bottom of the ninth, and half the country expected Chavez to strike out.

I'd come to Venezuela to try to understand how this affable ex-paratrooper had grown into the most polemical leader in the Western Hemisphere, inspiring seething hatred in his opponents and jealous devotion in his followers. Since Chavez was re-elected in 2000, Venezuela has split into two feuding camps: his poverty-stricken supporters, living in roughshod housing, and his well-heeled detractors, living in the comfortable high-rises built during Venezuela's earlier oil booms. Chavez sympathizers might have a glass of water thrown at them in an elegant café; an opposition leader wouldn't dream of setting foot in one of the slums that climb the hills surrounding Caracas.

The August 15 vote that awaited Chavez had been billed as the last act, the culmination of a fervent campaign to drive him from office. To force the recall referendum, Chavez opponents had collected 2.4 million signatures. The referendum was to bring a record number of people to the polls, and with the severe bottlenecking at voting stations, many Venezuelans would stand in line under a scorching sun for 11 or 12 hours, determined to cast their ballot.

So what was it about Chavez that motivated so many people to weigh in on his presidency even if it meant standing in lines that trailed off for nearly a mile? Why did they feel so strongly about him? And once the votes were tallied, would the election help mend the country's deep rift?

Waiters passed black coffee to journalists, and Chavez began to play ball. During the next three-and-a-half hours -- and that's short for a Chavez address -- he delved into his plans to flood poor barrios with doctors and food banks, then railed against U.S. free trade policies, which he branded as "imperialism." He promoted his "Bolivarian" revolution, named after the region's early 19th-century independence hero, Simón Bolívar, and called for a united bloc of Latin American countries to counter what he labels "the colossus from the north."

Later, in response to a question about CIA involvement in Venezuela, Chavez rambled off track. The CIA sees itself as James Bond, he said, insisting that the dashing, fictional spook had suffered a slump in popularity lately. That reminded Chavez that Tarzan and Dracula were having image problems, too, which in turn reminded him of Batman and Robin. He paused to reflect on Christopher Reeve's riding accident and how, in Reeve's absence, there could never be another Superman.

The point, I think, was that the CIA is in demise, but the only part most of us in the press clearly understood was that the president thinks Sean Connery is the best Bond.

This was vintage Chavez: hard-hitting leftist rhetoric and folksy asides. But even if it's easy to see why his detractors call Chavez a crackpot, it's hard to dismiss him. Chavez doesn't blink. He has faced off against a wealthy and rowdy opposition movement during two-and-a-half years of sporadic street clashes and crippling strikes. He answered a walkout at the state-run oil company by firing 18,000 dissenting workers. In April 2002, he even bounced back from a 48-hour coup when his supporters flooded the streets and demanded his return. And he's responded to U.S. criticism with verbal blows to the gut. He once called President George W. Bush an imbecile, and he regularly refers to political opponents as "the squalid ones" and a "rancid" elite.

"The government of George Bush will be defeated on Sunday," Chavez boomed during the press conference. "It's not a question of whether Chavez goes or stays. It's a question of whether Venezuela remains sovereign or goes back to being an American colony."

Chavez often accuses Washington of backing his political enemies, and in fact, the U.S. government's National Endowment for Democracy has funneled $1 million in the last year to groups linked to the opposition. Washington also publicly welcomed the 2002 coup that briefly unseated Chavez, saying he'd gotten what he deserved. But Chavez may get more political mileage out of such apparent favoritism of the opposition than the opposition does, since it fits perfectly into his incendiary discourse, in which he casts himself as the underdog fighting against a greedy, intervening world power and against Venezuela's wealthy "oligarchs."

The Power of Oil

Analysts say the only reason Chavez can get away with such inflammatory talk is that he's sitting on the world's largest proved oil reserve outside the Middle East. Venezuela is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and provides 13 percent of the oil imported by the United States. With oil prices climbing to 21-year highs in the run-up to the referendum on Chavez's rule, Washington was careful not to incite him.

Oil has also paved the way for the Bolivarian revolution. Chavez has siphoned $1.7 billion dollars from the hulking, state-run Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA as it is known worldwide, to pay for literacy programs, expanded educational programs, mobile clinics and subsidized markets for the country's poor, who make up more than 60 percent of the population. Cuba, meanwhile, has shipped thousands of medics to the country's hardscrabble barrios in return for cut-rate Venezuelan crude. As oil analyst Lawrence Goldstein, president of the New York-based Petroleum Industry Research Foundation, put it, "Oil has allowed Chavez to be all things to all people."

Oil has also fueled a gaping class divide. Throw in the combative Chavez, and you have a starkly polarized nation. During the run-up to the referendum, the air was thick with the tension between the "yes" and the "no" votes. For example, hiking up Avila Mountain, which looms over Caracas, the day before the vote, I joked with a couple of journalist friends that the opposition had failed to produce any fresh faces to counter Chavez's populist appeal. Just months before, Chavez's foes had turned out an 83-year-old former communist to make stump speeches and improve the opposition's battered image. A woman hiking past us balked.

"It must be very entertaining for you," she scolded, in perfect English, "to come here and make fun of something that has cost people years of hard work." She defiantly predicted her side would oust Chavez in the recall.

Farther up the mountain, we stopped to ask directions. A man in a baggy tracksuit asked us where we were from, then blurted out that he would be voting for Chavez because he was poor and felt that Chavez wanted to help him.

Election Day

The next day we fanned out into the sunny streets of Caracas. At the first voting station I visited, a fragile 87-year-old woman named Carmen Cardona linked her arm around mine and asked me to walk her to the registration desk. The National Electoral Council had invented what it considered to be a fraud-proof voting system that included electronic voting machines and two fingerprint checks, one of them digital. But when Cardona pushed her thumb onto the digital pad her fingerprint was too sketchy to register.

"Come, little grandmother," a volunteer said, pressing Cardona's fingers onto the pad again and again. "You have a thin fingerprint. You've worked too much in life."

In the end it took a good 10 minutes for Cardona to get past this single stage. Within hours, the local press was abuzz with the news that people were stalled at fingerprint scans across the country, and the voting lines were growing fast.

But that didn't deter Grisel Marin, the 43-year-old editor of a local culture magazine, who by midmorning had been standing in line for hours but had barely taken 10 steps forward. Marin told me she considered Chavez a member of her family, and she credited him with sharing Venezuela's great oil wealth with the working class. Also, in a city that hosts many a Subway sandwich shop and a scattering of Miami-style malls, she said Chavez was protecting Venezuelans from the corrosive effects of U.S. culture.

"We're not going to turn in our arepa for a McDonald's hamburger," she said, referring to the popular corn-meal tortilla. Asked what she thought of the opposition, she answered, "They come [to] the street [to demonstrate] with manicured nails and necklaces and hairdos. They think we're lepers."

Across town, Augusto Rendon, 51, who lost his job as human resources manager at PDVSA when Chavez purged the company of dissenters, was equally resolute. Wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap, he insisted Chavez was the worst president Venezuela had ever had.

"We'll put up with whatever it takes to get rid of this man today," he said, having waited six hours in line already. He switched to English for emphasis: "Whatever it takes."

"He says he's going to end poverty, and people are digging through the trash looking for something to eat," Rendon's wife, Giobanna, added. "It's lie after lie. He's a dictator."

Poverty and crime have, in fact, climbed since Chavez took office, although the government blames protracted opposition strikes for draining the economy and fanning discontent. His detractors, for their part, say Chavez is bypassing fiscal controls with his latest wave of social programs. The cheap markets and Cuban medics represent quick fixes, they say. They don't address institutional problems.

I ran into this in the vast Catia district of western Caracas, where residents drive clunky old cars and where the remains of battered kites hang from criss-crossed telephone wires. A woman there told me she'd taken her son to see a Cuban doctor just down the street, and she was thrilled to have such easy access to a health professional. But two minutes later she showed me the booklet of lottery tickets she was selling to help raise money for medicine for her nephew, a cancer patient. "Visiting a hospital is an unpleasant experience," she said.

Back at the polling booths, the lines were still growing. Voters brought out deck chairs and dominoes and resigned themselves to a wait that would stretch late into the night. Election officials extended polling hours twice, and it wasn't until the early hours of the morning that they announced the results. After a record turnout, an overwhelming 59 percent of voters had opted to keep the president in office until his term expired in 2007; 41 percent had voted to unseat him. Chavez had hit a home run.

Or had he?

Grand Slam

Just before dawn, Chavez appeared on the balcony of the Miraflores Palace, above the heads of ecstatic supporters, and trumpeted his victory. "The Venezuelan people have spoken, and the voice of the people is the voice of God!" he thundered. But within hours the opposition was crying foul and contesting the outcome. Later in the day, pro-Chavez gunmen shot randomly at a crowd of opposition supporters, killing one and injuring several others.

Former President Jimmy Carter, leading a team of international observers, said it was the largest voter turnout he'd ever seen and endorsed the results based on a highly accurate "quick count" conducted by the Atlanta-based Carter Center and the Organization of American States. Used in elections worldwide, the quick count tallied ballots at select polling sites and confirmed what a tamper-proof electronic voting system had concluded: that Chavez had swept away his opponents yet again, this time in a landslide electoral triumph.

But in this polarized country, neither side is willing to give an inch. And to Chavez's adversaries, Carter was now the enemy. As the Nobel Prize winner entered an elegant Italian restaurant in front of my hotel the next day, drivers who spotted him honked their horns irately. A woman on the sidewalk cupped her hands around her mouth and screeched, "Lies! Lies!"

The opposition was stunned by its defeat and refused to relinquish even the most slender hope of recovery. Opposition leaders continued to contest the results and simultaneously refused to participate in an audit of the outcome. United for so long by their hatred of Chavez, they fell into disarray.

Some 8.5 million of Venezuela's 14 million registered voters had come out to cast their ballot in the referendum, waiting in line for hour upon hour, in a show of democratic valor that impressed even veteran election observers. But the country was still split, and the jury was still out on whether Chavez would extend a healing hand toward his political enemies. Analyst Ana Maria Sanjuan of the Central University of Venezuela noted that Chavez had left his military uniform -- a symbol of his defiant ways -- in the closet lately and that he had been meeting repeatedly with business leaders in a show of political pragmatism. She was hopeful that he would now build bridges to the opposition.

I wondered if Venezuelans were willing to extend a hand to their brothers, and I put the question to Spic Limo, a 30-year-old mining engineer, as he waited to vote late Sunday night. "It will take years and years for this to heal," he said, as he shuffled forward in the dark.

By Ruth Morris
August 24, 2004

The 'Dumb' Factor

It was here in the parking lot of Cramer's Home Center, less than seven miles from a NASCAR track, in a pivotal battleground state, on the back of a battered work van, that we saw the first one.

"Somewhere in Texas," the bumper sticker said, "A Village Is Missing Its Idiot." The next showed up at the Home Depot on the back of an equally battered pickup driven by a tough-looking kid dressed for construction work. It said: "Bush," and then, "Like a Rock Only Dumber."

These are signs of the fierce conviction of some voters -- and the secret fear of a quieter and perhaps larger group -- that George W. Bush is not smart enough to continue as president. Indeed, if an unscientific survey of bumper stickers, graffiti and letters to the editor in this conservative mountain region is an indicator, doubts are spreading. Yet the subject is seldom taken head-on by the mainstream newspapers and network news. The discourse about presidential intelligence appears mainly on the Internet, in the partisan press, among television comics and at the level of backyard jokes and arguments.

After four decades of newspapering, including covering the "dumb" Ronald Reagan and the "smart" Jimmy Carter, I am not unsympathetic to the problems of trying to inform the public on this touchiest of competency issues. Big news organizations are captives of our own rules of fairness. Voters are doubly disadvantaged, by both a paucity of information in campaign coverage and by the elusive nature of the evidence about the kinds of intelligence that matter in our leaders.

My generation of White House correspondents was accused of covering up Ronald Reagan's supposed stupidity and his reliance on fictional "facts" derived from Errol Flynn movies and the John Birch Society. In 1981 Clark Clifford, the Democratic "wise man," entertained Georgetown dinner parties with the killer line that Reagan was "an amiable dunce." Twenty years later we know that Clark Clifford was charged in a banking scandal and the dunce ended the Cold War.

What is presidential intelligence and how much does it really matter?

We can all recite the lists of ostentatiously brilliant presidents who faltered (Wilson, Hoover, etc.) and apparent plodders who triumphed (Truman). When I was covering the Reagan White House in 1981, all his top aides were wholesaling Oliver Wendell Holmes's famous comment about Franklin Roosevelt's possessing "a second-rate intellect, but a first-rate temperament." In the end, Reagan confounded scholars, journalists and voters alike. In an obituary essay, his biographer Edmund Morris referred first to Reagan's "intelligence" and later to his "ignorance."

To be fair, innate intelligence has to do with capability, and ignorance to do with variables such as educational opportunity and personal diligence. But the conundrum remains. Is intellect important in presidents? If Americans can't solve the question definitively in the matter of John F. Kerry and George W. Bush, we damn sure ought to make an educated guess.

One highly imperfect but salient way to do so is at the level of campaign tactics. Does anyone in America doubt that Kerry has a higher IQ than Bush? I'm sure the candidates' SATs and college transcripts would put Kerry far ahead. Yet, at this point in the campaign, Bush deserves an A or a high B -- instead of a gentleman's C -- when it comes to neutralizing Kerry's knowledge advantage.

He, or more likely Karl Rove, has triggered Kerry's taste for complicated ideas and explanations. Kerry is telling us that we live in a complex world. Americans know that, but as an electorate, they are not drawn to complexity. Sen. Kerry, read my lips. Your explanations about your conflicting votes on the Iraq war and how you would have conducted it are wondrous as rhetorical architecture. They are also signs that Bush has trapped you into having the wrong conversation with the voters. He trumped your weeks of intricate explanation by going on "Larry King Live" and saying over and over that a president must be resolute and that he will be. More recently, the White House has displayed a devious brilliance in making the Atwateresque Swift boat commercials the focus of campaign news.

Whatever his IQ, George W. Bush as a candidate is a one-trick pony, and so far Kerry is letting him get by with his single trick: endless repetitions of "I make a decision; I stick to it; that's what presidents do." The Kerry campaign has yet to force Bush outside this comfort zone.

John Kerry is a flip-flopper and a phony: That's the spine of the White House message, carried at the moment mainly in the purportedly independent commercials by Vietnam veterans questioning Kerry's battlefield performance. There's a reason these ads are paid for by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a front financed by Karl Rove's wealthy Texas allies, rather than by the Bush campaign itself. Bush doesn't want to identify with these worms, but he wants them to keep eating away at the apple of Kerry's stronger reputation as a warrior. And a contrived debate over Kerry's well-documented war record diverts voters' attention from a truly important national security question related to the intellectual capability of the incumbent: Was George W. dumb enough to be talked into adopting a flawed strategy for a phony war by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney?

Bush's former counselor Karen Hughes, in her awkwardly named book "Ten Minutes From Normal," assures us that what "Bush does best of all" is "ask questions that bore to the heart of the matter." She says that during the 2000 campaign she and a "brilliant" issues staff "never once succeeded" in anticipating all of Bush's penetrating questions. "He has a laser-like ability," Hughes writes, "to reduce an issue to its core."

In regard to Iraq and the war on terror, though, there's little evidence in the public record of such Bush interventions. We have been told instead that George Tenet, then director of central intelligence, successfully misled Bush by assuring him that the evidence on Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction was "a slam-dunk."

The millions of us who did not witness this and other potentially laser-like interactions must rely on speculation as to how Bush's mind works. The most informative writing I've seen on that score was an essay published over a year ago in the Atlantic by Richard Brookhiser, a historian and conservative columnist sympathetic to Bush. "Bush has intelligence, energy and humility," he writes, "but does he have imagination?" Brookhiser worries that Bush's limited information "habitat" could cut him off from the ideas necessary to feed presidential creativity in activities such as running a major war. Brookhiser goes on to speak of Bush's reliance on "instinct" and the fact that Bush's "faith means that he does not tolerate, or even recognize, ambiguity."

The comments sent my mind reeling back to the Reagan campaigns and what the cartoonist Garry Trudeau called the search for Reagan's brain. Trudeau's meaning, of course, was that Reagan didn't have one, but these days the phrase is to me more evocative of the journalistic gropings of the press corps to explain what, if anything, was going on inside that big, smiling, glossy-haired head.

In some thoughts I wrote down in 1982 after two years of close observation of Reagan on the campaign trail and in the White House, I characterized him as a "political primitive" who valued "beliefs over knowledge" based on verifiable facts. I also noted that Reagan had a "high tolerance for ambiguity" as to the outcome of policies that proceeded from such rough-hewn thought.

That strikes me as a different -- less troubling -- trait than what Brookhiser sees as Bush's refusal to recognize the mere existence of ambiguity. In general I've come to feel that what we have in Bush is a shadowy version of Reagan's strengths and an exaggerated version of his intellectual weaknesses.

At the height of my journalistic desire to understand Reagan's brain, I went to see David Gergen, then a presidential assistant. I told Gergen I wanted to write a piece for the sophisticated reader about exactly how Reagan's mind worked. With a twinkle in his eye, Gergen said that it would be a long, long time before we could have that conversation.

It hardly seems worth the trouble now, with Reagan in the pantheon.

But with some 140,000 troops in Iraq, the richest 1 percent of Americans about to get a five-figure tax windfall and millions of urbanites worrying about suitcase nukes, it's surely worth asking how George W. Bush's mind really works.

Howell Raines
Friday, August 27, 2004; Page A21

The writer is former executive editor of the New York Times.

Kerry's Attempt to Finesse Iraq Issue May Backfire

President Bush's rationale for war in Iraq continues to crumble, but it seems that Sen. John F. Kerry has his own war problem.

While the effort to tar Kerry's Vietnam record has not been a positive development for the Democrat, it has obscured media coverage over a more current subject -- Kerry's position on the conflict in Iraq.

In case you missed it, Bush forced Kerry into a corner earlier this month by demanding he answer a simple yes-or-no question: "Knowing what we know now [would Kerry] have supported going into Iraq?"

If Kerry answered no, then the Bush campaign would take the sound bite and make the argument that Saddam Hussein would still be in power if Kerry had been president. If Kerry answered yes, they would argue that his position was essentially the same as Bush's position and that his criticism of the president's Iraq policy was hypocritical.

Kerry -- who insinuated at the Democratic convention that Bush had misled the nation into war -- said that he "would have voted for" the resolution that permitted the possibility of going to war in Iraq even given what we know now. But he added that as president, he would have "used that authority to do things very differently."

For Kerry, it all hinges on the word "authority." Kerry believes that Bush needed explicit congressional authority "to hold Saddam Hussein accountable for the agreements that Saddam Hussein made with the world, which were the only things that kept him in power after the Gulf War," said David Wade, a spokesman for Kerry's campaign.

In Kerry's convention speech in Boston last month, and more pointedly in interviews following the speech, he criticized Bush for using faulty intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to justify the war and suggested that the president knew better than to make strong links between al Qaeda and Iraq. And now, even knowing all that, Kerry says he would still have voted for the resolution.

But weapons of mass destruction and connections to al Qaeda were the predominant justifications in the resolution giving the president the authority to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq." [Full Text of the Resolution]

The following are the only non-WMD, non-al Qaeda justifications cited in the resolution authorizing use of force:

• Iraq persists in violating resolutions of the United Nations Security Council by continuing to engage in brutal repression of its civilian population thereby threatening international peace and security in the region, by refusing to release, repatriate, or account for non-Iraqi citizens wrongfully detained by Iraq, including an American serviceman, and by failing to return property wrongfully seized by Iraq from Kuwait;

• The current Iraqi regime has demonstrated its continuing hostility toward, and willingness to attack, the United States, including by attempting in 1993 to assassinate former President Bush and by firing on many thousands of occasions on United States and Coalition Armed Forces engaged in enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council;

• Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-338) expressed the sense of Congress that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove from power the current Iraqi regime and promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime;

• It is in the national security interests of the United States to restore international peace and security to the Persian Gulf region.

So it seems that Kerry believes that Hussein's refusal to admit U.N. weapons inspectors, Hussein's attack on U.S. planes in Operation Southern Watch, and his 1993 attempt to assassinate the first President Bush are reasons enough for using U.S. forces to remove Hussein from power.

Kerry seems to be saying that he would have voted to give Bush the authority to go to war, even if he had known that U.S. intelligence was flawed, that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, and that there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Political Implications

The Republican National Committee is circulating an edited video of Kerry's comments on Iraq, some of which show Kerry arguing that Iraq's efforts to obtain and use weapons of mass destruction and the potential of those weapons flowing from Iraq to terrorist organizations are a basis for removing Hussein.

"After months of attacking President Bush's motives and credibility during the Democrat presidential primary, going so far as to declare himself the anti-war candidate, John Kerry now says knowing what he knows now he would still have voted for the Iraq war," said Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie at a news conference this week. "Senator Kerry's ever changing positions on Iraq are not the kind of steady leadership we need in these times of challenge and change. And we're going to continue to make that point between now and November 2."

A spokesman for the Kerry campaign dismissed the Republican video as a distortion of his words for political purposes. But the bad news for Kerry is that those political purposes seem to have found an audience. The online video has been viewed more than 6 million times, according to the RNC.

For his part, Kerry insists that he has been consistent. His problem with Bush, he says, is that the president rushed to war without building an international coalition. But while the resolution calls on Congress to support the president's efforts to "strictly enforce all Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq" and obtain "prompt and decisive action" by the Security Council to ensure that Iraq comply all orders, it does not require coalition building as a precursor for attack.

Whatever the case, Kerry's position on Iraq is similar enough to Bush's to make the most important issue for most voters a non-issue. This might help Kerry with some independent voters in key battleground states, but a question remains over just how fired up the party's base will be able to get for a candidate who has an almost indistinguishable foreign policy from that of a president they strongly dislike.

In the closely fought state of Nevada, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday demonstrated the tough time that Kerry has in rallying top Democrats behind his position. Pelosi, after calling the war "a grotesque mistake," said she couldn't understand why Kerry still says he would have voted for the Iraq resolution, according to a report in the "Las Vegas Review-Journal."

Kerry's unwillingness to disavow his vote for the war has meant that he also hasn't been able to take advantage of dissent from some in the president's party. More and more members of Congress -- including conservative Rep. Doug Bereuter, a Republican from Nebraska -- say that they wouldn't have voted for the war if they knew then what they know now.

What will diminish this as a problem for Kerry is the fact that many Democratic base voters will assume that, no matter what Kerry says, he would never have handled Iraq as President Bush did. And this is the argument on which Kerry relies.

"The bigger question is, how would Bush answer the question, would you go to war with a plan to win the peace?" asks Wade, the Kerry spokesman. "Would you go to war again without virtually anyone else by your side…The president is the one who needs to answer some questions."

Terry M. Neal
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, August 27, 2004; 8:47 AM

The Voting Machine Jackpot

While the rest of us are concerned about votes being stolen, the voting machine industry is squeezing millions from the public treasury.

On August 24th, droves of state and county election officials converged on Washington, D.C. for a four day-long conference designed to help prepare them for the crucial task they will perform this November 2. The conference will allow them to chat with the four members of the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) appointed by President Bush to administer election standards, mingle with congressional members involved in recent election reforms, and finally, they will be presented with awards by the three major voting machine companies that wined, dined and lobbied them throughout the entire four days.

Though the notion that the voting machine industry would use a purportedly educational conference as its forum to lobby state and federal officials is startling, it is only the latest front in the industry's campaign to earn as much federal money as it can with as few complications as possible. By setting aside hundreds of millions of dollars each year to help states buy new voting equipment without mandating standards for that equipment, the 2002 Help America Vote Act's (HAVA) most enduring reform has been the establishment of a taxpayer-funded piggy bank for the voting machine industry. And with hundreds of millions of HAVA money still slated for distribution to the states, the industry is eager to sell them its new direct-recording-electronic touch screen voting systems (DRE's).

Unfortunately for the industry, during its roll to record profits, DRE's have been demonstrated as vulnerable to fraud by voting technology experts while the machines themselves have demonstrated a tendency to go haywire in numerous elections, including last spring's election in California in which many Diebold DRE's malfunctioned and may have disenfranchised thousands of voters. Events like the California crash have led scientists, lawmakers, and concerned citizens to argue for a paper trail system so voters can see their vote was cast properly and election officials can perform recounts if necessary. However, the industry apparently views the paper trail movement as an obstacle to widening its profit margin, and the paper trail itself as a risky proposition that could add to its public relations headache by providing further evidence of faultiness of the its technology. In the rush to send out its machines before November, the industry has identified the paper trail movement as the chief obstacle to widening its profit margin.

In a furious effort to prevent its cash cow from becoming a sacrificial lamb, the industry contracted the lobbying powerhouse, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), to wage a bitter PR counter-offensive against its perceived enemies. The industry has also found a quiet but effective partner in Doug Lewis and the Election Center, a 501 c-3 non-profit that helps train and regulate election officials and certify voting machines which has nevertheless accepted donations from the industry while assisting ITAA to develop talking points and lobby the very officials it trains.

The groundwork for the voting machine industry's path toward a lucrative federal giveaway was laid in the immediate aftermath of the 2000 Florida recount debacle, when punch-card voting systems were blamed for throwing the results of the presidential election into doubt. With Americans of all political stripes disillusioned with their democracy and with congress under pressure to deliver voting reform legislation, ITAA's lobbyists gleaned a golden opportunity. As ITAA's senior VP of communications, Bob Cohen, said, ITAA's lobbyists arrived on Capitol Hill in 2001 to demonstrate DRE systems for members of congress and to push for a bill which would encourage states to replace their lever and punch-card systems with DRE's.

ITAA is America's premier information technology lobbying firm. On its website, it describes itself as "the only trade association representing the broad spectrum of the world-leading U.S. IT industry," an industry which, according to ITAA, represented over $800 billion in spending in 2001. ITAA has over 350 corporate clients including major defense contractors like Boeing and Silicon Valley giants such as EarthLink and Dell.

According to Bob Cohen, none of the major voting machine manufacturers were ITAA clients when it lobbied congress in 2001. Yet because ITAA is America's only major IT lobbying firm, by pressing for a bill that allotted states with federal money to buy new voting systems, ITAA ostensibly hoped to boost revenues for the voting machine companies that would inevitably become its clients – and thus reap a windfall profit.

In 2002, ITAA's agenda advanced with the passage of HAVA, which was ushered in by Representatives Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chris Dodd (D-CT). Though HAVA does not mandate that states replace punch-card systems with DRE's, it provides significant encouragement. For instance, HAVA requires that each polling place have a voting machine accessible to people with disabilities. Though there are various disability-accessible systems, many states found purchasing the easily available and aggressively marketed DRE's the easiest way to satisfy this requirement. But perhaps the best motivation state officials had to buy DRE's was HAVA's promise of heaps of federal money. This year alone, congress has earmarked $500 million under HAVA for states to buy new voting systems.

"The unfortunate thing about HAVA is it encouraged the states to buy new machines before any standards were put into place, so states tended to buy the shiniest equipment they could find – which was touch screen voting machines [DRE's], although they're not required," said David Dill, a Stanford University computer scientist and leading paper trail proponent.

With the industry newly flush in the wake of HAVA's passage, it entered into formal discussions with ITAA about mounting an aggressive PR campaign to vilify DRE critics and shore up the confidence of election officials. As the Center for Media and Democracy's Diane Farsetta reported for Alternet on August 2, ITAA issued an E-voting Industry Coalition Draft Plan in late 2002 to industry executives proposing a campaign to "create confidence and trust" and "repair short term damage done by negative reports and media coverage." The plan proposed to target the media, academics, lawmakers, the public and "those involved in the purchase decision." Although ITAA fashioned its plan to present a positive, proactive agenda, it was soon revealed as a reactive attempt to convince states their DRE's were worth taxpayer money despite the findings of computer scientists who had cast the reliability and security of DRE's into doubt. In an August, 2003 conference call between ITAA's president, Harris Miller, and industry executives, Miller declared that his plan was carefully worded because "we just didn't want a document floating around saying the election industry is in trouble, so they decided to put together a lobbying campaign," according to a transcript of the call published by Scoop. The conference call was also occasion for Harris to set his lobbying fees – a whopping $100,000 to $200,000 per company. (To the chagrin of ITAA, the call was secretly recorded by the publisher of voting reform activist Bev Harris' book "Black Box Voting," David Allen, who was given a passcode by an industry insider disturbed by the lobbying campaign. "Basically he was eavesdropping on a private call," declared ITAA's Cohen. "He had no right to be in on that call.")

Four months later, ITAA and the industry made their relationship official by forming the Electronic Technology Council (ETC). According to ITAA's Cohen, the council is "a trade association and part of its program is informing the American voter on electronic voting and doing outreach. But we don't do PR." ETC's chair, David Hart, who is also president of the DRE manufacturer HartInterCivic, gave a more frank assessment of ETC's agenda to Computerworld in December, 2003: "We came together because our environment has become chaotic.... We want to be part of the debate and tell our industry's side of the story. There's a lot of misinformation."

Upon its formation, ETC dished out the industry's side of the story in the form of personal attacks on its critics, whom it cast as egomaniacal and revanchistic. On May 5, 2004, after Johns Hopkins University scientist Dr. Avi Rubin presented his findings on the perils of DRE technology to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, ITAA issued a press release accusing him of belonging to "a small vocal minority" and stating, "To anyone who has used, or is familiar with this technology, Dr. Rubin's 15 minutes of fame is starting to feel like 50." ITAA's Cohen said of paper trail proponents, "These detractors would like to take us back to Florida in 2000 when elections officials were holding ballots up to the light to see if the voter made an imprint or not."

"A trade association has the ability to take the more benign vendors and the less benign vendors and bring everybody to a consensus," says Dill of Stanford University. "ETC could have been a way to bring the companies together to make some changes. But instead, every month they come out with a new theory about why we [paper trail proponents] are doing what we're doing, and every time they ignore some very legitimate concerns."

The industry and its lobbyists have found quiet assistance from the Election Center's Doug Lewis, who according to Bev Harris, "holds the most powerful position in the United States when it comes to election security." Little is known about Lewis' background except that he once ran a computer parts store for eight years before it went out of business and according to Harris, he claims to have been an assistant to a president – though he doesn't say which one – and was the head of the Texas and Kansas Democratic parties – but doesn't say when. Now Lewis' Election Center organizes and trains state election officials, and through the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), he selects voting machine certifiers. Lewis did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.

Considering that Lewis' Election Center is one of America's leading regulators of state elections officials, his collusion with the voting machine industry and its lobbyists raises serious conflict of interest issues. Not only has Lewis' Election Center accepted $10,000 a year from 1997 to 2000 from voting machine vendors Diebold and ES&S, Lewis arranged the August, 2003 conference call between ITAA and industry executives. Lewis is also the organizer of the August 24-28th conference of elections officials in Washington, D.C., which is sponsored by Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia. At the conference, Lewis will host a seminar entitled "The Media: Fighting Back (Getting the Story Straight)," ostensibly a boot camp for elections officials wishing to participate in the voting machine industry's PR campaign against paper trail proponents.

As is the case with most conferences that Lewis is involved with, prominent computer scientists and voting machine experts who advocate for paper trail printers in DRE's have not been invited. At the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers (IACREOT) conference on August 1st, 2003, which Lewis helped organize, Bryn Mawr College computer science professor and leading voting system security expert Rebecca Mercuri was forcibly ejected despite the fact her credentials were approved. According to Dill, who was in attendance, "While Professor Mercuri was being escorted off the premises, voting machine companies were busy lobbying everyone in sight." Dill added, "The Election Center is the embodiment of an entrenched elections establishment that has been very resistant to change, particularly on paper trail issues."

With one of the country's foremost regulators of state election officials squarely in the camp of the voting machine industry, if voting machine reform is to take place, the onus is now on congress. However, calls for paper trail legislation have been met with bitter resistance there. Last June, former Vermont governor and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean issued a petition signed by over 120,000 voters to Rep. Bob Ney, a HAVA sponsor who, as chair of the governmental affairs committee, is in charge of bringing voting reform legislation to the House floor. "Today we call on you to require any electronic voting machine used in this election to produce a paper trail – one that allows voters to verify their choices and officials to conduct recounts." Dean also hinted at a nefarious plot by the voting industry to steal the election for the Republicans by noting Diebold CEO Wally O'Dell's pledge to "helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president."

Ney's response to Dean came in the form of a terse, hostile "Dear Colleague" letter. "Left-wing groups like yours and America Coming Together [a Democratic 527] that are exploiting this issue to inflame your supporters and raise money for yourselves are recklessly making claims that are unsupported by the facts," Ney wrote. Needless to say, Ney has refused to bring legislation to the House floor mandating paper trail printers in DRE's.

Though Dean and Ney's exchange highlighted the difficulties paper trail proponents face at the highest levels of government, it was a dispute so clearly animated by partisanship it actually served to obscure the agenda of the voting machine industry, its lobbyists and its supporters in government. The champagne will probably be flowing freely in the Diebold boardroom if Bush wins re-election, but does that mean that the voting industry and right-wing lawmakers are obstructing the advent of paper trail printers in order to fulfill a surreptitious scheme to steal the election for Bush? While it's irresponsible to dismiss such a scenario as a baseless "conspiracy theory," it's worth noting that HAVA's two Democratic sponsors, Rep. Steny Hoyer and Sen. Chris Dodd, have joined their Republican colleagues in opposing paper trail printers.

Given the success the industry and its cavalcade of lobbyists have had in compromising the integrity of state election officials and members of congress in their quest for as much federal money as they can get its hands on, it would seem that a more salient explanation for their motives is good old-fashioned corporate greed. It's not as intriguing an explanation as election theft-plotting, but that doesn't make it any less outrageous, does it?

Max Blumenthal is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. Read his blog at maxblumenthal.blogspot.com.

Bring Najaf to New York

There is only one chance for Americans to express their wholehearted rejection of the ongoing war on Iraq: in the streets outside the Republican National Convention.

I've been in New York a week now, watching the city prepare for the Republican National Convention and the accompanying protests. Much is predictable: tabloid hysteria about an anarchist siege; cops showing off their new crowd control toys; fierce debates about whether the demonstrations will hurt the Republicans or inadvertently help them.

What surprises me is what isn't here: Najaf. It's nowhere to be found. Every day, US bombs and tanks move closer to the sacred Imam Ali Shrine, reportedly damaging outer walls and sending shrapnel flying into the courtyard; every day, children are killed in their homes as US soldiers inflict collective punishment on the holy city; every day, more bodies are disturbed as US Marines stomp through the Valley of Peace cemetery, their boots slipping into graves as they use tombstones for cover.

Sure, the fighting in Najaf makes the news, but not in any way connected to the election. Instead it's relegated to the status of a faraway intractable ethnic conflict, like Afghanistan, Sudan or Palestine. Even within the antiwar movement, the events in Najaf are barely visible. The "handover" has worked: Iraq is becoming somebody else's problem. It's true that war is at the center of the election campaign-just not the one in Iraq. The talk is all of what happened on Swift boats 35 years ago, not what is being dropped out of US AC-130 gunships this week.

But while Vietnam has taken up far too much space in this campaign already, I find myself thinking about the words of Vietnam veteran and novelist Tim O'Brien. In an interview for the 1980 documentary Vietnam: The 10,000 Day War, O'Brien said, "My time in Vietnam is a memory of ignorance and I mean utter ignorance. I didn't know the language. I couldn't communicate with the Vietnamese except in pidgin English. I knew nothing about the culture of Vietnam. I knew nothing about the religion, religions. I knew nothing about the village community. I knew nothing about the aims of the people, whether they were for the war or against the war…No knowledge of what the enemy was after…and I compensated for that ignorance in a whole bunch of ways, some evil ways. Blowing things up, burning huts as a frustration of being ignorant and not knowing where the enemy was."

He could have been talking about Iraq today. When a foreign army invades a country about which it knows virtually nothing, there is plenty of deliberate brutality, but there is also the unintended barbarism of blind ignorance. It starts with cultural and religious slights: soldiers storming into a home without giving women a chance to cover their heads; army boots traipsing through mosques that have never been touched by the soles of shoes; a misunderstood hand signal at a checkpoint with deadly consequences.

And now Najaf. It's not just that sacred burial sites are being desecrated with fresh blood; it's that Americans appear unaware of the depths of this offense, and the repercussions it will have for decades to come. The Imam Ali Shrine is not a run-of-the-mill holy site, it's the Shiite equivalent of the Sistine Chapel. Najaf is not just another Iraqi city, it is the city of the dead, where the cemeteries go on forever, a place so sacred that every devout Shiite dreams of being buried there. And Moqtada al Sadr and his followers are not just another group of generic terrorists out to kill Americans; their opposition to the occupation represents the overwhelmingly mainstream sentiment in Iraq. Yes, if elected, al Sadr would try to turn Iraq into a theocracy like Iran, but for now his demands are for direct elections and an end to foreign occupation.

Compare O'Brien's humility with the cockiness expressed by Glen Butler, a major in the Marines whose August 23 New York Times op-ed reads as if it were ghostwritten by Karl Rove. Butler brags that though he has been in Iraq for just over a month, he "know[s] a bit about the caliph, about the five pillars and about Allah." He goes on to explain that by swooping low over Najaf's cemeteries, he is not inflaming anti-American hatred in the Arab world but "attacking the source of the threat." The helicopter pilot blithely dismisses his enemies as foreign fighters and ex-Baathists and "a few frustrated Iraqis who worry about Wal-Mart culture infringing on their neighborhood."

It's hard to know where to begin. The Mahdi Army that Butler is attacking is made up of Iraqi citizens, not foreigners. They are not Baathists, they were the most oppressed under Saddam's regime and cheered his overthrow. And they aren't worried that Wal-Mart is taking over their neighborhood, they are enraged that they still lack electricity and sewage treatment despite the billions pledged for reconstruction.

Before al Sadr's supporters began their uprising, they made their demands for elections and an end to occupation through sermons, peaceful protests and newspaper articles. US forces responded by shutting down their newspapers, firing on their demonstrations and bombing their neighborhoods. It was only then that al Sadr went to war against the occupation. And every round fired out of Butler's helicopter doesn't make Des Moines and Santa Monica safer, as he claims. It makes the Mahdi army stronger.

As I write this, days before the Republican convention, the plan for the demonstration seems to be to express general outrage about Iraq, to say "no to war" and "no to the Bush agenda." This is an important message, but it's not enough. We also need to hear specific demands to end the disastrous siege on Najaf, and unequivocal support for Iraqis who are desperate for democracy and an end to occupation.

United for Peace and Justice states that "there are two key moments this year when people throughout the United States will have the opportunity to send a resounding message of opposition to the Bush Agenda: November 2, election day, and August 29, in New York City." Sadly, this isn't the case: There is no chance for Bush's war agenda to be clearly rejected on Election Day, because John Kerry is promising to continue, and even strengthen, the military occupation of Iraq. That means there is only one chance for Americans to express their wholehearted rejection of the ongoing war on Iraq: in the streets outside the Republican National Convention. It's time to bring Najaf to New York.

Naomi Klein is the author of "No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies" and "Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate."

Protester Scare Stories

"Anarchists Emerge as the Convention's Wild Card." That was the headline of a front page piece of the August 20 New York Times. The story by Randal C. Archibold kicked off this way:

Their reputation precedes them. Self-described anarchists were blamed for inciting the violence in Seattle at a 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization in which 500 people were arrested and several businesses damaged. They have been accused by the police of throwing rocks or threatening officers with liquid substances at demonstrations against the Republican convention in Philadelphia in 2000 and at an economic summit meeting in Miami last year. Now, as the Republican National Convention is about to begin in New York City, the police are bracing for the actions of this loosely aligned and often shadowy group of protesters, and consider them the great unknown factor in whether the demonstrations remain under control or veer toward violence."

For many readers, the story won't raise any eyebrows. Archibold's narrative goes down easy because it's the story we've been hearing for years: Violence at demonstrations is the fault of shadowy anarchists, a group with a habit of disrupting protests and attacking police. Their reputation precedes them. It's true, but it's a reputation brought to you by the status quo media machine. We the Constitution-loving public would be a whole lot better prepared these days, if we actually had the facts.

As the Kerry Swift boat story tells us, being blamed isn't the same as being guilty. Want to know who started the violence in Seattle? Ask the media who covered the protests early on. From-the-scene reports showed that it was the police who locked down the city, used chemical weapons on penned-in crowds, and fired rubber bullets at nonviolent demonstrators – even at bystanders and families trying to flee.

According to a long ACLU report on the matter the Seattle police bullied local residents and shoppers, made hundreds of improper arrests, and committed widespread acts of brutality.

Turn to Philadelphia, and were protestors accused? Yes. But convicted? Mostly not. In fact, the enormous majority of the cases brought against activists were dismissed, in no small part because of the revelations about undercover police tactics that came out in court. Legal documents revealed that in violation of Philadelphia law, the police infiltrated protest groups, spied on organizers, instructed city housing officers to shut down buildings on specious pretexts, police provocateurs provoked violence. Federal, state and local police, it turned out, were working together with the Secret Service – and the basis for at least one group of search warrants was a report produced by a extremist right wing think tank, the Maldon Institute. One targeted demonstrator, arrested while walking down the street, made history when he became the first American ever accused – but not convicted – of brandishing a cellphone with intent to commit a crime. Bail was set at $1 million.

All of this, it should be said, was long before the PATRIOT ACT.

Why go into all this history? Well, look at this way: The very same guy who was police chief in Philadelphia is now advising the city of New York on policing the RNC. After Philly, John Timoney became the chief of police in Miami where he oversaw the militarization of that city in advance of the protests targeting the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit. A judge presiding over the cases of protestors arrested there told the Miami Herald that he personally witnessed no less than 20 felonies committed by police officers during the FTAA demonstrations. Miami got $8.5 million in federal funds "for security" from the money approved for spending in Iraq.

In 21st Century USA, I happen to believe that nonviolent protest is the most effective kind. Whenever someone or a group engages in self-destructive behavior or behaviour that backfires on their colleagues, it's a shame. But abusing the criminal justice system to intimidate and witch-hunt protestors, using provocateurs, suppressing Constitutional rights of speech and assembly is worse. The power of the few to abuse is nothing compared to the power of the world's richest state.

If I had been writing The New York Times front page story August 20, I would have led off this way:

"John Timoney's reputation precedes him. Forces under his command have repeatedly been found guilty of constitutional abuse. There are lots of unknown factors but one is known – conspiring and often shadowy law enforcement agencies have a history of violence against protestors and it seems to be getting worse. Who's bracing in New York City in advance of the 2004 RNC? Regular Americans seeking to express their opinions of a man who purports to be their president. "

This commentary first aired on Air America Radio on Sunday, August 22.

Laura Flanders is the host of "The Laura Flanders Show" heard on weekends on Air America Radio. She is the author of "Bushwomen, tales of a cynical species (Verso).