Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Kurdish Secret

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 2, 2007

Erbil, Iraq

Iraq today is a land of contrasts — mostly black and blacker. Traveling around the central Baghdad area the past few days, I saw little that really gave me hope that the different Iraqi sects can forge a social contract to live together. The only sliver of optimism I find here is in the one region where Iraqis don’t live together: Kurdistan.

Imagine for a moment if one outcome of the U.S. invasion of Iraq had been the creation of an American University of Iraq. Imagine if we had triggered a flood of new investment into Iraq that had gone into new hotels, a big new convention center, office buildings, Internet cafes, two new international airports and Iraqi malls. Imagine if we had paved the way for an explosion of newspapers, even a local Human Rights Watch chapter, and new schools. Imagine if we had created an island of decency in Iraq, with public parks, where women could walk unveiled and not a single American soldier was ever killed — where Americans in fact were popular — and where Islam was practiced in its most tolerant and open manner. Imagine ...

Well, stop imagining. It’s all happening in Kurdistan, the northern Iraqi region, home to four million Kurds. I saw all of the above in Kurdistan’s two biggest towns, Erbil and Sulaimaniya. The Bush team just never told anybody.

No, Kurdistan is not a democracy. It has real Parliamentary elections, but the region’s executive branch is still more “Sopranos” than “West Wing,” more Singapore than Switzerland — dominated by two rival clans, the Talibanis and the Barzanis. It has a vibrant free press, as long as you don’t insult the leadership, and way too much crony-corruption. But it is democratizing, gradually nurturing the civil society and middle class needed for a real democracy.

On Oct. 17, the new American University of Iraq will open classes in Sulaimaniya. “The board wanted three campuses, one in Kurdistan, one in Baghdad and one in Basra, but this is the only part of the country where an American University can open and function safely,” said Owen Cargol, the school’s chancellor.

Iraq is a disaster in so many ways, but at least America’s invasion midwifed something really impressive in Kurdistan. And in the best way: we created the opening and the Kurds did the rest. But while the Kurds liberated their region from Saddam’s army in the 1990s — with U.S. air cover — their current renaissance was only possible, they say, thanks to the overthrow of Saddam, their mortal enemy.

“Saddam’s eyes were always on this region,” said Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan regional government. Once he was toppled, “it gave us psychological hope for the future. Those who had even a limited amount of money started to invest, start small businesses or buy a car, because they thought they could see the future. The uncertainty was removed. ... We have to thank the American people and government. But we are a lover from only one side. We love America, but nothing in response. They don’t want to give the perception that they are helping us.”

Added Hoshyar Omar, a 23-year-old student-translator: “My father was buried alive [by Saddam’s men] when I was 3. I want to thank Mr. George Bush personally. ... He may have made some bad decisions, but freeing Iraq was the best decision he has ever made. ... We had nothing and we built this Kurdistan that you see.”

Why is Kurdistan America’s best-kept secret success? Because the Bush team is afraid the Kurds will break away. But the Kurds have no interest in splitting from Iraq now. Iraq’s borders protect them from Turkey, Iran and Syria.

The Kurdish autonomous zone should be our model for Iraq. Does George Bush or Condi Rice have a better idea? Do they have any idea? Right now, we’re surging aimlessly. Iraq’s only hope is radical federalism — with Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds each running their own affairs, and Baghdad serving as an A.T.M., dispensing cash for all three. Let’s get that on the table — now.

Months after Saddam’s capture, a story made the rounds that he was asked, “If you were set free, could you stabilize Iraq again?” He supposedly said it would take him only “one hour and 10 minutes — one hour to go home and shower and 10 minutes to reunify Iraq.” Maybe an iron-fisted dictator could do that. America can’t.

“No one here accepts to be ruled ever again by the other,” Kosrat Ali, Kurdistan’s vice president, told me. “If you get all the American forces to occupy all of the towns and the cities of Iraq, you might be able to centralize Iraq again. That is the only way.” Otherwise, “centralized rule is finished in Iraq.”

A Rough Script of Life, if Ever There Was One

This Land
The New York Times
September 2, 2007


Item from the blotter of the Chadron Police Department: Caller from the 900 block of Morehead Street reported that someone had taken three garden gnomes from her location sometime during the night. She described them as plastic, “with chubby cheeks and red hats.”

When you reach Chadron you’re glad for it, because this Nebraska town is a long way from anywhere. Drive north on Main Street, past the Police Department, and you hit prairie; drive south, past the state college, and you hit prairie. In between, 5,600 people embrace, avoid and endure one another in a compact place that began more than a century ago as a remote railroad town.

Here, as anywhere, the specifics of most encounters between residents evaporate with the moment, leaving only those precious, fleeting bits, snatched from the ether and pinned by some dispatcher sitting at a desk behind the Police Department’s service window. A call comes in, the dispatcher types and another brief paragraph is added to the continuing Chadron epic.

Caller from the 200 block of Morehead Street advised a man was in front of their shop yelling and yodeling. Subject was told to stop yodeling until Oktoberfest.

It is in this regard that Chadron is blessed. For here, life’s gradual unfolding is measured and honored by Police Beat, a longstanding feature in The Chadron Record, the weekly newspaper. It records those small, true moments lost in the shadows of the large — moments that may not rise to the Olympian heights of newsworthiness, yet still say something about who we are and how we create this thing called community.

Caller from the 400 block of Third Street advised that a subject has been calling her and her employees, singing Elvis songs to them.

Police Beat repeats, almost verbatim, some of the calls that the town’s police dispatchers receive and then dutifully log, often in a literary style that synthesizes the detached jargon of the police with the conversational language of the people.

Caller from the 200 block of Morehead Street advised that a known subject was raising Cain again.

Every day, except on those days when they don’t feel like it, the dispatchers fax copies of their calls log to the ink-perfumed office of The Record, just around the corner. There, a young reporter named Heather Crofutt selects the most interesting items, edits out the names and specific addresses and types them up for Police Beat. Although she is essentially transcribing the reports, she says, “People think I make it up.”

Officer on the 1000 block of West Highway 20 found a known male subject in the creek between Taco John’s and Bauerkemper’s. Subject was covered in water stating he was protecting his family. Officers gave subject ride home.

George Ledbetter, the editor, says Police Beat rivals the obituaries in popularity, so much so that it has become an integral part of local culture. Not long ago, for example, the loud practice sessions of four Chadron State College musicians earned them a mention in the log. They instantly knew what to call their fledgling band: Police Beat.

Mr. Ledbetter struggles to name his favorite item; there are so many. But taken as a whole, he says, the feature is “such a reflection of human life.”

Over the years, Chadron police officials have had a tolerate-hate relationship with Police Beat. One top-ranking officer complains that the feature seems to minimize the difficulty of police work. She says that while there are plenty of calls about animal encounters (Caller on the 900 block of Parry Drive advised a squirrel has climbed down her chimney and is now in the fireplace looking at her through the glass door, chirping at her.), there are plenty of calls about far more serious matters: child abuse, domestic violence, you name it.

But Police Beat often reflects how heavily some of us rely on law enforcement for just about everything (Caller from the 800 block of Pine Street advised that she had just left someone’s home and she forgot her jacket, and requested an officer to get her coat), and demonstrates how deft the police can be at defusing potentially volatile matters:

Caller from the 100 block of North Morehead Street requested to speak to animal control because caller felt that someone was coming into his yard and cutting the hair on his dogs. Dispatch advised caller to set up video surveillance on his house. Caller said he planned on it.

What emerges, then, is a kind of weekly prose poem to the human condition, where annoyance about barking dogs is validated, where nighttime fears born of isolation are reflected, where concern about others is memorialized.

Caller stated that there is a 9-year-old boy out mowing the yard and feels that it is endangering the child in doing so when the mother is perfectly capable of doing it herself.

In short, Police Beat is a rough script to the tragicomedy that is everyday life. And if the details preserved in the ever-expanding Chadron epic do not always find us at our best, there are moments, recorded for posterity, when we seek redemption, we make amends. We try.

Two weeks after the theft of those three chubby-cheeked, red-hatted garden ornaments, a brief item in Police Beat reported a break in the case. Two girls refusing to identify themselves had “brought in some gnomes.”

Hedge Funds and the Little People

Fair Game
The New York Times
September 2, 2007

BURTON R. LIFLAND, a United States bankruptcy judge in Lower Manhattan, said last week that he needed more time to decide whether the liquidation of two failed Bear Stearns mortgage securities funds could proceed in the Cayman Islands, where they are incorporated, or in this country, where most of their assets and many of their investors reside.

Although there is little left in the funds to divvy up among investors and creditors, how Judge Lifland rules will be closely watched. That’s because most hedge funds are domiciled in faraway places where the courts may be, ahem, less friendly to investors than they are to the managers who park billions there. If the Bear Stearns funds are liquidated in the Cayman Islands, they will be shielded from investors’ suits, and all distributions to creditors will be handled by the courts there.

Bear Stearns wants the Cayman courts to oversee the liquidations. The firm’s spokesman, Russell Sherman, said: “Because the two funds are incorporated in the Cayman Islands, the funds’ boards filed for liquidation there. The return to creditors and investors will be based on the underlying assets and liabilities of the funds not on the location of the filing.”

Judge Lifland said in court last week that he would decide the matter shortly.

Ronald L. Greene, 79, a retiree in Northern California, is one investor watching the Bear Stearns case closely. Mr. Greene lost $280,000 in the Bear Stearns High Grade Structured Credit Strategies Fund and says he will join a suit that has been filed against the firm. He contends that Bear Stearns duped him with assurances that the fund’s high-quality investments would protect holders against market and credit risks.

Hedge funds are theoretically open only to institutional investors and extremely wealthy individuals, who are deemed savvy and well heeled enough to assess and weather complex risks. But documents from Mr. Greene’s files show that Bear Stearns Asset Management allowed investments of $250,000 in its fund, considerably smaller than the typical $1 million minimum for many hedge funds.

ON July 20, 2005, he received an e-mail message from his broker at a small regional firm, with the following header: “Bear Stearns High-Grade Structured Credit Strategies Fund will accept smaller investments this month on a limited basis.” Noting that the fund was temporarily reopening on Aug. 1, 2005, the message said that for investors who “do not have $1,000,000 to invest, the fund will accept a limited number of clients this month for 500k and perhaps 250k.”

The message went on to note the fund’s stellar performance: up a cumulative 29.4 percent since its October 2003 inception, and no down months.

Mr. Greene, a former engineer, said he invested in several hedge funds in recent years, aiming to preserve his principal. Most of the funds have worked out well, he said, producing slightly better-than-market returns with little volatility. He estimated that he has $600,000 to $800,000 invested in hedge funds.

He invested in the Bear Stearns fund in October 2005, and he said the fund appealed to him because its returns of about 1 percent a month did not seem to fall into the too-good-to-be-true category.

Mr. Sherman, the Bear Stearns spokesman, said the fund’s general partner was allowed to waive the $1 million investment minimum and that any investor in the fund had to have at least $5 million in liquid, investable assets.

“Everything went fine until last June,” Mr. Greene said; that was when he learned from his broker that the funds were having difficulties. “I asked him how they could be in trouble if they were high-grade securities. He said they were bundled high grade but not really high grade. If you’re going to be dealing with a high-grade securities dealer, I didn’t understand how that was an excuse of any kind.”

Mr. Greene said officials at Bear Stearns Asset Management conducted monthly conference calls with investors, discussing the funds’ performance.

For example, according to notes taken by another investor during some of these calls, Ralph R. Cioffi, senior portfolio manager for the fund and an executive at Bear Stearns Asset Management, predicted on Jan. 18, 2007, that fund investors would benefit from a negative bet that he had recently placed on subprime mortgages. Mr. Cioffi also said the fund had plenty of cash to take advantage of market dislocations, according to the investor, and that the team of people monitoring the securities in the fund had increased to 11.

The next month, according to the investor, Mr. Cioffi told conference-call participants that the fund had little exposure to subprime mortgages. And in April, Mr. Cioffi told investors that even though returns were down, the fund had not been forced to sell securities. Acknowledging that investors had been frightened by unusually high delinquencies on loans made in 2006, Mr. Cioffi said fund investors would be safer at Bear Stearns because it did its own due diligence and did not rely solely on ratings agencies, the investor said.

In June, the wheels came off the Bear Stearns hedge funds. Mr. Greene said that as soon as he learned that his fund was in trouble, he submitted a redemption request to Bear Stearns, through his broker. “We had all kinds of trouble getting them to admit they had received it,” he said. He never got any of his money out.

In mid-July, Bear Stearns told investors that the funds, once worth $1.5 billion, had lost almost all their value. By the end of June, the firm said, the fund Mr. Greene had held was down 91 percent.

“In light of these returns, we will seek an orderly wind-down of the funds over time,” Bear Stearns told its clients in a letter. Obviously, the lawsuits over this debacle are only just beginning for Bear Stearns. One of Mr. Greene’s lawyers, Jacob H. Zamansky, said he and his co-counsel have been contacted by fund investors from around the world. All tell the same story, Mr. Zamansky said.

“We believe that Bear Stearns misrepresented the risk to investors in the hedge fund, misrepresented the extent of risk controls that were in place to cut losses and misrepresented performance on conference calls to avoid a run on the bank,” he said.

Mr. Sherman, the spokesman, said that “the allegations are unjustified and without merit.”

“The accredited, high-net-worth investors in the fund,” he added, “were made very aware that this was a high-risk speculative investment vehicle.”

Of course, it will be up to the securities arbitrators to judge whether investors in the funds were misled about their risks. But these cases may also help regulators understand the degree to which retail investors have bought into hedge funds.

Back in 2003, the Securities and Exchange Commission conducted a study on hedge funds and determined that their investors were mostly institutions. But the study also warned that the types of hedge fund investors appeared to be changing. “Although we did not observe an existing retail market for hedge funds,” the study said, “the potential for that market is clearly at hand.”

The study was right. Four years later, that potential may have become a reality.

Two Champions, and Two Levels of Preparedness

Sports of The Times
September 2, 2007

The threat to Maria Sharapova materialized as an anonymous Polish player who is neither intimidated by willowy stars with frigid stares nor fat rodents far from the cuddly “Ratatouille” variety.

In fact, Agnieszka Radwanska keeps them caged as pets. (The beasts, not the beauties.)

“They’re dangerous, I think,” Radwanska said of her rats. “They’re aggressive.”

The danger to Roger Federer arrived as an unknown named John Isner, equipped with a college résumé and a periscope’s body. Federer is not acrophobic, but dudes at great heights can freak him out.

Over the years, Max Mirnyi, Mario Ancic, Tomas Berdych and Ivan Ljubicic have formed a 6-foot-4-and-over league of players who have, on exceptional occasion, stolen a match from beneath Federer’s greatness.

So at 6-9, with a big serve that kicked like Beckham, Isner wasn’t simply a tall tale from the first week of the United States Open. He was the real deal.

All of Arthur Ashe Stadium witnessed it yesterday as Isner took the first set from Federer, creating the most raucous rumble this side of the 7 train. Holy upset, was everyone seeing double?

A couple of hours earlier, Sharapova, who like Federer walked into Queens as the defending Open champion, had dropped her first set to Radwanska.

The similarities ended there. Federer decoded what hit him. Sharapova was flummoxed by it. Federer survived in four sets. Sharapova exited in three.

In her evolution as an elite player, if she can ever go beyond her rigid father for coaching advice, Sharapova may learn to adjust to the unforeseen, to greet Tour risers with respect. As it happened, Sharapova allowed herself to be psyched out on her serve when Radwanska jumped to and from the service line as if engaged in some tennis hokey-pokey.

As Radwanska explained, “I knew that she doesn’t like if somebody is moving if she serving.”

Sharapova responded, “I don’t worry about what my opponent is doing.”

But part of the game is recognizing an opponent’s tactics and strengths and hot streaks. Part of being a champion is to fret over every detail, no matter how small or how tall. Federer personally scouted Isner against Jarkko Nieminen in the first round.

“I will probably never be surprised on a tennis court because I don’t underestimate opponents anymore,” Federer said last night, adding, “I knew the danger and was ready for it.”

Federer is on heightened alert — now more than ever. He is the dutiful caretaker of his legacy, not in a paranoid way, but in a preservationist’s way.

“It’s different now than maybe two or three years ago,” Federer, 26, said in a recent interview. “Before, I was happy to be No. 1. I know I’m the best, and it’s easy and I think everything I’m doing is the right thing. Now it’s a bit more different.

“You start to think a little more. You’ve done it over so many years now, and you start to wonder how many more years can you do it.”

Can he top Pete Sampras’s 14 major titles? Can he keep up his streak at No. 1? How long will his body continue to glide lightly, almost ghostlike, over the court?

“Because I’m getting so close to all these records, I think, well, these guys before me didn’t make it longer than this age or that age; so for me, time is getting shorter to some degree,” Federer said. “I know I can do it, but there are more questions now. Can I do it? For the past few years, I have. I’m proud of that.”

His pride doesn’t inhibit self-awareness. He knows there are challengers to his extended dominance. Beyond the Rafael Nadals and Andy Roddicks, there are other Isners lurking. Federer doesn’t dismiss his vulnerability, understanding he is the sitting target in the carnival dunk tank.

“You do feel a little like everybody is trying to figure you out,” Federer said. “I really felt that in the very beginning when I became No. 1. It was like, ‘We’re happy for you, but now we’re going to take you down.’ I think once you prove you’re worthy of No. 1 and then, say, win Wimbledon back to back, then people will say, ‘O.K., he’s not just here to go away.’ And then the respect starts to builds and then the aura, you start to create that. Like some people say I sometimes win matches in the locker room even though I don’t believe that.”

He doesn’t rely on aura to win. Sharapova seems to use it as a crutch. She is graced with as much talent, power and intensity as anyone on the Tour — even the Williams sisters — but she has yet to develop a Plan B when her strategy of glowering and attacking fail to intimidate fearless Poles with pet rats.

“I just didn’t quite feel like me out there,” Sharapova said.

The key isn’t just to know yourself, but also your opponent. Fear the unknown. It works for Federer.

Women’s World Cup Team Looks Back and Looks Ahead

Sports of The Times
September 2, 2007

Abby Wambach knows how much she owes the ’91ers, the self-styled old ladies who built women’s soccer in the United States. She starts with the car she drives and the home where she lives.

“They were my source of income,” Wambach said recently about the pioneers of her sport. “I want to say to them directly, ‘You guys did good.’ ”

Wambach, a bruising striker, plans to say exactly that to Kristine Lilly, the last member of that fabled 1991 team still in uniform, when they take the field for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in China, which begins in a week.

Those ’91ers became one of the greatest national teams the United States has ever fielded, winning that first World Cup in China. In talent and charisma and results, they were the equivalent of the 1992 Dream Team of men’s basketball.

But Jordan and Bird and Magic merely upgraded a popular sport, whereas the ’91ers seemed to be building a dynasty. Only it did not happen.

Instead, the fuss over Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy and the rest has left a rosy glow in the darkening sky as the United States prepares to play in this World Cup, literally in the middle of the night back home. To make matters worse, the professional league that began in 2001 did not make it past the third year.

“The Greatest Team You’ve Never Heard Of,” that’s how the media guide describes this year’s team. No matter how well the United States does over there, it will never match the excitement in the Rose Bowl on July 10, 1999, when Lilly stopped a Chinese shot with her head, Briana Scurry defended the goal during the shootout, and Brandi Chastain scored the winning penalty kick and promptly pulled off her jersey to reveal a sports bra more substantial than a lot of outfits seen around Manhattan, her gesture quickly becoming the symbol of that dashing squad.

“Unfortunately, people don’t know our team,” said Kate Markgraf, a leader of this squad who also played in that final.

“They call it the Mia Factor,” said Wambach, 27, who was not on that 1999 team. Wambach adores Hamm, who tutored her when they were teammates with Washington in the first year of the overly ambitious Women’s United Soccer Association.

Wambach, however, feels that the news media and the marketing people often seemed to “focus all your attention on one person. With Mia, it was difficult to know the other faces.”

And therein lies the paradox. Hamm was one of the most reluctant American superstars, displaying a genuine deer-in-the-headlights look when facing the hordes of reporters. She had an ego, of course, but it functioned best on the field, accompanied by sharp elbows and opportunistic feet. (Hamm may not have been the best American player; I would pick Michelle Akers, stalking some hapless opponent who temporarily possessed the ball.)

The news media and public helped create Hamm’s mystique, but now she is a retired mother of twins. Her absence seems linked with the end of that era, as indicated by the tiny corps of seven American news media outlets traveling to China to cover this World Cup.

Have women’s sports been downgraded in a time of news media austerity? Or is this World Cup, on the other side of the globe, running smack into the first month of American football? Probably both.

China was supposed to be the host in 2003, but the tournament was shifted to the United States because of the SARS epidemic there.

With little preparation time, and overlapping with baseball and football in early autumn, the 2003 Women’s World Cup did not match 1999 in any way, as the United States finished third.

Also, the W.U.S.A. folded, a victim of its own grandiosity, although it served a purpose by developing Wambach and Shannon Boxx, two mainstays of the current team.

“Anytime a game is not being played, it limits visibility,” Markgraf said. “Or course, with the league, we’d be much farther along. But that didn’t happen.”

She hopes that the energy from this World Cup and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing will be a stimulus for a proposed league to begin play in April 2009.

Right now, the women are in Shanghai, training for their first game against North Korea in Chengdu on Sept. 11, at 5 a.m. here, televised on ESPN or ESPN2. The players are thankful to their federation for financing the year-round program that got them to China.

“U.S. soccer puts us in an environment to play,” Wambach said. “All of us are excited about ’09. It gets kind of hard kicking each other in practice.”

The 5-foot-11 Wambach is not shy about muscling opponents. If she had come along a few years earlier, she would have been a force even on that great 1999 team.

Now she can only hope that Americans will discover her team in the post-midnight hours of the next few weeks.


Inquisition 2008: Candidates Get Grilled by the Media's Holy Standards

By Rob Boston
September 1, 2007

Democratic presidential contender John Edwards was in a tough spot.

Participating in a CNN debate on "faith and values," Edwards was confronted with a question that can best be described as the theological equivalent of "Are you still beating your wife?" Host Soledad O'Brien pressed Edwards to discuss the "biggest sin you've ever committed."

Edwards dodged the question, telling O'Brien, "I'd have a very hard time telling you one thing, one specific sin. If I've had a day in my 54 years that I haven't sinned multiple times I'd be amazed. We all fall short, which is why we have to ask for forgiveness from the Lord."

During the same June 4 event, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) was asked to explain how her faith got her through her husband's marital infidelity, and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was asked if he believes God takes sides in wars.

Many Americans might be surprised that such questions are being asked at all, given the pressing international and domestic issues vying for the candidates' attention. With a war in Iraq raging, health care in crisis and energy costs spiraling, lots of voters are interested in hearing the candidates' specific policy positions on key issues, not bromides on how often a candidate prays and what he or she prays for.

Yet many candidates remain convinced that millions of voters are fixated on religion -- and the media apparently agrees. Although the general election is more than a year off, the topic of faith has been unusually prominent so far. Indications are that will continue.

The phenomenon is bipartisan. As some Democrats seek to add a little more "God talk" on the stump, Republican contenders are frequently heard talking about religion -- an attempt to sway voters aligned with the Religious Right, a well-funded, well-organized presence in the GOP that always flexes more muscle during the primary season, when more ideologically minded voters are active.

Why is religion so prominent in the race so soon? Several factors are at work. Among them is what may be a sea change in the way the Democratic Party deals with religion. Democrats are being advised by moderate evangelicals like Jim Wallis to talk more openly about faith and God. (A Wallis group, Call to Renewal, sponsored the June debate on CNN. A similar event is planned for the top GOP candidates.) In the 2006 elections, some Democrats won seats after raising religious themes. Some advisors want the party to exploit this trend.

Time magazine reported July 12 on the efforts of one of those strategists, Mara Vanderslice, who worked on John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004 and advised various Democratic campaigns in 2006. Last year, it was reported that Vanderslice, who was raised Unitarian but converted to evangelical Christianity as an adult, advised candidates not to use the term "separation of church and state," arguing it alienates some voters.

Vanderslice has more advice for the Democrats in 2008.

"It has to be authentic," she told recently. "This is not about 'Jesus-ing' up the party, so to speak .... It just won't work if it's seen as a cynical ploy."

Leading Democratic officials are paying attention to this type of advice. On Capitol Hill, Time reported, Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked U.S. Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) to oversee an effort to reach out to religious voters.

According to Time, Price chastised his colleagues for their stands on some church-state issues. For example, Price argues that Democrats missed an opportunity when President George W. Bush launched his "faith-based" initiative.

"We should have said, 'Welcome to the fray, Mr. President. Where have you been? Because we have been at this a long time. So we want to work with you on that,'" Price said. "Instead, Democrats took a dim view of it almost in principle."

Oval Office aspirants like Clinton, Obama, Edwards and others are taking the advice to boost talk about religion as well. As the newsweekly noted, "Clinton has hired Burns Strider, a congressional staffer (and evangelical Baptist from Mississippi) who is assembling a faith steering group from major denominations and sends out a weekly wrap-up, Faith, Family and Values. Edwards has been organizing conference calls with progressive religious leaders and is about to embark on a 12-city poverty tour. In the past month alone, Obama's campaign has run six faith forums in New Hampshire, where local clergy and laypeople discuss religious engagement in politics."

As party strategist Mike McCurry told Time, "What we're seeing is a 'Great Awakening' in the Democratic Party," invoking a period in early American history when evangelical forms of religion became popular.

Talk about God reverberates on the stump. On the campaign trail, Obama has perhaps exploited this most skillfully. The junior senator from Illinois came to national attention largely because of a speech he delivered during the 2004 Democratic Party convention. During the speech, Obama uttered a line that has since become famous: "The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states -- red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states."

On the hustings, Obama is often upfront about his faith, sometimes mentioning his conversion and his longtime membership in the United Church of Christ. His Web site contains a special section titled "People of Faith for Barack" that includes personal endorsements from several members of the clergy and excerpts from speeches the Illinois senator has given about the role of religion in his personal and public lives. (Obama, however, has also endorsed the separation of church and state, noting that many evangelicals fought for it in the colonial era.)

The media has picked up on this trend and, in fact, fueled it. A spate of "Democrats-get-religion" stories has appeared, as well as religious profiles of specific candidates. In early July, The New York Times ran a lengthy front-page article focusing on Clinton's religious life. The New York senator talked of how she carries a Bible on the campaign trail, reads commentaries on the Scripture and how she has felt "the presence of the Holy Spirit on many occasions."

Clinton added that she believes in the resurrection of Jesus but is less certain that Christianity is the only path to salvation.

But there are dangers to such an approach as well. At least a third of the Democratic Party base is composed of voters who attend church rarely, if ever. Many of these secularists are wary of the new emphasis on God talk and are concerned that the party might be moving away from its stand in favor of church-state separation.

Some analysts say the Democrats' success in 2006 came because the party captured a larger percentage of voters who say they don't go to church. Exit polls showed the Democrats' share of this vote rose from 60 percent to 67 percent. Analysts argue that this bloc provided the margin of victory and assert that attempts to win over conservative evangelicals are bound to fail.

Polls show most Americans are wary of basing policy explicitly on a politician's interpretation of the Bible. A poll released by Time magazine in July asked, "Do you think that a president should or should not use his or her personal interpretation of the Bible to make decisions as president?" A solid majority of 62.2 percent said no. Less than half that number, 28.7 percent, said yes.

Even most self-identified Republicans were wary, with 46.4 percent saying they disagree with Bible-based policy, and 42.6 percent agreeing.

Nevertheless, religious themes have frequently driven the Republican campaign this season as candidates seek to curry favor with the Religious Right.

Many Religious Right activists are horrified at the thought that former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani will win the nomination. Giuliani is pro-choice on abortion, favors some gay rights and has been married three times. Candidates like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) and U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) are closely identified with the Religious Right, but concerns linger that they would be weak candidates in the general election. Some Religious Right leaders hope to stop Giuliani by promoting an alternative, such as former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.).

James Dobson, the Religious Right powerhouse who founded Focus on the Family, has been clear about Giuliani.

"I cannot, and will not," he said, "vote for Rudy Giuliani in 2008. It is an irrevocable decision."

The right-wing evangelical magazine World reported that Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said something similar: "I wouldn't even consider voting for him." Meanwhile, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (FRC) has also blasted Giuliani.

With the GOP front-runner failing to inspire enthusiasm, other candidates are seeking the Religious Right vote. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been making a strong play for it. However, political observers say Romney has two strikes against him: He ran as a moderate on social issues when seeking office in Massachusetts, and he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons).

Romney now claims his positions on issues like abortion and gay rights have changed. Some evangelicals accept that transformation, but others remain wary. In addition, members of a hardcore faction that considers Mormonism a cult often challenge Romney about his membership in the Mormon faith during public events.

Influential Religious Right leaders have spurned Romney's overtures as well. In mid July, Max Blumenthal of The Nation reported that Romney was being "swift-boated" through a coordinated effort.

The assault began July 5 when Focus on the Family attacked Romney in a press release, asserting that Romney did nothing to stop Marriott Hotels from offering pornographic movies in rooms during his tenure on the hotel chain's board from 1992-2001.

The FRC soon piled on, blasting Romney's supposed tolerance for porn to the Associated Press. The assault was also distributed to various right-wing Web sites.

Donald Wildmon's American Family Association (AFA) quickly joined the attack. The AFA's right-wing news service, OneNewsNow, ran a video clip of FRC President Tony Perkins criticizing Romney.

"This carefully sequenced attack on Romney over hotel porn is just the opening volley in what appears to be a concerted effort to doom his candidacy," wrote Blumenthal. "Gary Glenn, president of the American Family Association's Michigan chapter, told me, 'This is just part of a broader pattern of concern over Mitt Romney's record of aggressively promoting abortion on demand, the homosexual agenda and gun control. We are judging Romney by his record.'"

Blumenthal also reported that the FRC is promoting Thompson to Religious Right activists behind the scenes.

"Less than two weeks before Focus on the Family launched its attack on Romney, the Family Research Council began an informal campaign to rally support for Thompson," he wrote. "Without fanfare, the Family Research Council's director of web communications, Joe Carter, and the group's web editor, Jared Bridges, founded 'Blogs for Fred,' a website that alternately shields Thompson from criticism and promotes him as the Great Right Hope. When Carter and Bridges are not plumping for Thompson, they blog on the website of the Family Research Council, advancing the causes of faith, family and freedom for the purportedly nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization."

Hoping to deflect the attacks, Romney continues to play up his Religious Right friendly views. He recently released a new television commercial that attacks popular culture as violent and over-sexualized. Romney promises to clean up Web-based porn but does not say how.

Romney can also point to support from a few prominent Religious Right figures. His "Faith and Values Steering Committee" includes TV preacher Pat Robertson's top attorney Jay Sekulow, Religious Right public relations wizard Mark DeMoss and California gay-bashing minister Lou Sheldon. One of Sekulow's sons, Jordan, serves on a similar Romney committee.

Brownback has had to make do with a lesser light. "Christian nation" advocate David Barton has been making campaign appearances on behalf of the Kansas senator.

Thompson, meanwhile, is making a big play for the movement's vote as well. U.S. News reported July 15 that Thompson has hired Bill Wichterman, who served as liaison to conservative groups for former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and Joseph Cella, president of the ultra-orthodox Catholic group Fidelis, to lead an effort to reach out to religious conservatives.

Reported Dan Gilgoff, "The aides are arranging more meetings between Thompson and conservative Christian leaders and have launched a rapid-response operation to fend off attacks on Thompson's conservative credentials."

Romney and Thompson aren't the only GOP hopefuls wooing the Religious Right. Others are stressing religious themes as well. At one Republican debate, the candidates were asked if they accept evolution. Three candidates -- Huckabee, Brownback and Tancredo -- said they reject it outright, and many of the others dissembled.

U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who blasted the Religious Right as "agents of intolerance" in 2000, has been eager to make amends this time around. After saying he accepts evolution during the debate, McCain quickly issued a statement backing the teaching of "other theories," a move that was seen as a sop toward "intelligent design."

Even Giuliani has been scrambling to find ways to move to the right. He has promised to appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia, and he has appeared at TV preacher Pat Robertson's Regent University. While there, Giuliani sat down for an interview with Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network.

Asked about the Supreme Court's school prayer rulings, Giuliani said, "I thought some of them went too far in the direction of over-emphasizing separation of church and state, and underemphasizing the free exercise of religion."

But there's a risk in all of this. A recent poll of Republican voters, conducted for the Republican Main Street Partnership and three other moderate GOP organizations by Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates, found 53 percent saying the party "has spent too much time focusing on moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage and should instead be spending time focusing on economic issues such as taxes and government spending." Seventy-two percent said the government should not interfere with legal abortion, and nearly 80 percent backed employment protections for gay people.

Results like this have infuriated Religious Right leaders. Texas preacher Rick Scarborough, who longs to take the late Jerry Falwell's place, blasted the poll results in a message to supporters, calling on his backers to sign a petition to the Republican National Committee demanding that the party "remain true to its pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-Biblical morality base."

Scarborough also vowed to hold a series of rallies called "70 Weeks to Save America," claiming he hopes to reach two million "values voters."

Aside from making it clear that Giuliani is unacceptable, Scarborough has been coy about the GOP field. Other Religious Right leaders have not been so reticent.

The SBC's Land has spent the past few months acting as a Republican powerbroker, despite his denomination's tax-exempt status and alleged non-partisanship.

Land looks to be solidly in Thompson's camp. He has called the former senator a "southern-fried Reagan" and gushed about Thompson's ability to connect with a crowd. In May, the Southern Baptist lobbyist introduced Thompson before a meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy, an influential war council of far-right leaders. During his remarks, Thompson blasted the Supreme Court for its rulings upholding church-state separation.

Thompson hasn't won over everyone. FOF's Dobson has suggested that Thompson's commitment to the Christian faith is weak. Thompson is a member of the fundamentalist Church of Christ denomination, but some critics have noted that he doesn't seem especially active. Thompson and his second wife, Jeri Kehn, were married in the United Church of Christ, an unrelated denomination that is theologically liberal.

In an attempt to pose as even-handed, the Family Research Council plans to hold a national conference called "The Washington Briefing 2007" Oct. 19-21 in the nation's capital. The FRC claims that all of the 2008 presidential contenders have been invited, but Democratic candidates are unlikely to spend time speaking at such a hostile venue. In fact, FOF and the FRC have made their disdain for the Democratic field clear. Leaders of the groups seem infuriated that the Democrats are daring to raise religious themes this time.

Tom Minnery, senior vice president of government and public policy for Focus on the Family, attacked Obama in a July 5 column that was distributed through WorldNetDaily, a right-wing Web site.

Minnery called Obama "thoroughly misleading about the proper roles of religion and government" for suggesting that government should play a bigger role in the provision of health care and aid to the poor.

Minnery's boss, James Dobson, has been hosting meetings with GOP contenders and is expected to issue an endorsement closer to the election. He has not bothered to meet with any Democrats. Dobson, who has formed a political arm called Focus on the Family Action, claims to endorse candidates as an individual, which the law allows.

But other efforts undertaken by Religious Right groups and leaders are legally questionable. FRC's attack on Romney and its tacit support for Thompson appears to be an attempt to affect the outcome of the race. Such tactics skirt the legal line and may, in fact, lurch over it.

As the election season plays out, Americans United (the organization which publishes Church and State magazine) has re-activated its Project Fair Play to assure that houses of worship and non-profit religious groups abide by the law. The Internal Revenue Service has signaled a crackdown on abuses as well.

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn has criticized the overemphasis on religion in both parties, discussing the issue frequently in the media.

At a recent forum on religion in public life in Austin, Lynn blasted candidates in both parties for "hiring ethics and religion advisers -- that is to say, spin doctors." Lynn added, "It suggests they are not really comfortable themselves knowing whatever it is they do believe.

"This is pandering," Lynn concluded.

Rob Boston is the editor of Church and State magazine.

Brian De Palma's Anti-War Drama Stuns Audiences in Venice

By Adam Howard
September 1, 2007

Brian DePalma's latest film is quite a departure from the over-the-top thrillers and gangster movies for which he is best known. "Redacted" which just made its debut at the Venice film festival tells the true story of the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi schoolgirl by US soldiers, who also slaughtered her family in March of 2006.

DePalma told reporters after the movie screened that he hoped the film would help bring an end to our country's occupation of Iraq

"The pictures are what will stop the war," said De Palma.

DePalma has long been one of my favorite directors and I think one of the most underrated, overlooked and in some cases unfairly criticized filmmakerrs of all time. His dark sense of humor and politically incorrect satire has often been misunderstood. He's best known for gore filled romps like Scarface and Carrie, but he's also directed one of the little seen Vietnam War masterpiece, 1989's Casualties of War

That film also dramatized the true story of a Vietamese woman being kidnapped by American soldiers (the ringleader is played by Sean Penn), who gang rape her and murder her. One soldier (played by Michael J. Fox) refuses to participate and the second half of the film details his ordeal as a whistleblower. DePalma's gift in that film, and all of his films prior and since is his dexterity and incredible skills with the camera. His visual flair is beyond reproach and I'm excited to see him apply his talents to a film of real meaning as opposed to a generic Hollywood thriller.

"All the images we (currently) have of our war are completely constructed -- whitewashed, redacted," said De Palma, "One only hopes that these images will get the public incensed enough to get their congressmen to vote against the war," he added.

According to the AP, "Redacted" hits hard with its dramatic reenactment of the conditions, attitudes and stresses that led up to the real-life crime.

One of the soldiers involved in the crime on which the film is based, Private First Class Jesse Spielman, was sentenced to 110 years in prison this month for his role in the rape and killings.

Shown through the imaginary video lens of one of the soldiers involved in the raid on the girl's home, De Palma's dramatization is interlaced with actual news clips, documentary footage and stills from the war.

The decision to use the device of the videocam arose from De Palma's research on the Internet. "The blogs, the use of language, it's all there," he said.

He explained that legal obstacles in dealing with real people and events meant he was "forced to fictionalise things" to get the movie made.

"Redacted" will initially be distributed nationwide by Magnolia Pictures and its producer Jason Kliot says. "If the response is strong one hopes the distribution will grow the film in a big way."

The affair of US Senator Craig: Media sensationalism and political hypocrisy

By Patrick Martin
1 September 2007

It is the political and media furor over Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho which should arouse outrage and disgust, not anything Craig may have done in a men’s bathroom at the Minneapolis airport three months ago.

Once again, official Washington is focused with hysterical intensity on the private conduct of an individual politician, while the great public crimes being committed by the Bush administration and abetted by the Democratic-controlled Congress go unpunished.

The World Socialist Web Site has no political sympathy for Senator Craig, a typical Republican supporter of militarism abroad and a hard-line defender of the ranching and mining interests in his state, as well as a loyal hand-raiser on the “social issues” of the Christian fundamentalist right, including opposition to gay rights and abortion.

Nonetheless, there is an element of pathos in the spectacle of a 62-year-old man holding a press conference to deny that he is or ever has been gay, and to give an account of his actions so implausible as to arouse more pity than contempt. An individual is being ground up and destroyed by the political and media establishment because of conduct which should never have become the subject of media attention, let alone criminalized.

The circumstances under which Craig was arrested are themselves an exposure of the degraded conditions of life in contemporary America. Police staked out the men’s bathrooms at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, placing undercover officers in the stalls in a sting operation targeting men seeking to make contact for gay sex.

Such entrapment tactics against consensual personal activity are deeply repugnant. What “crime” were the airport police preventing with their dragnet? Who were they protecting? The very fact that tens of millions of dollars are expended by police departments all over the United States on such witch-hunts, with relatively little public outcry or even comment, is an expression of the decay of democratic rights in the United States.

This practice provides another exposure of the cynical “war-on-terror” scare-mongering by the Bush administration and the entire US political establishment. Apparently, despite the 9/11 attacks and a series of subsequent alerts about alleged airplane hijacking plots, police at a major US airport have nothing better to do than conduct surveillance of the bathrooms.

The release Thursday of police audiotapes of Craig squabbling with his arresting officer over their precise actions in adjoining bathroom stalls only further pollutes political discourse in this country. For the past 24 hours, the audiotapes have been recycled endlessly on cable television, fueling the increasingly prurient media coverage of the event, while transcripts have been posted on the Internet and excerpted in newspaper coverage.

This kind of sensationalized exposure not only increases the pressure on Craig to resign—as desired by his Republican Senate colleagues—but could have even graver consequences. In 2004, a Republican congressman from Virginia was “exposed” as a patron of a gay dating website. He resigned under similar political pressures and ultimately committed suicide.

One bitterly ironic aspect of the present political situation in the US is that Craig, in order to pursue a career in the Republican Party, was obliged to conceal his own sexual orientation, a course that must have cost him dearly on the personal level. Despite his private inclinations, he loyally endorsed the increasing Republican obsession with demonizing homosexuality, including repeated votes for legislation and a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

In 1998-99, Craig, who was then in the Senate Republican leadership, played a prominent role in the moralizing campaign over Bill Clinton’s sex life, eventually voting to remove the Democratic president from office after he was impeached by the House of Representatives.

The Idaho senator first won political office in 1974, serving in the state legislature before moving up to the US Congress in 1980, the year Reagan won the presidency. This was in the early days of the right-wing campaign to mobilize Christian fundamentalists as the base of the Republican Party (more evangelicals voted for Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976 than for Republican Gerald Ford), and Craig’s avowed conservatism was focused on an anticommunist foreign policy and a low-tax, pro-business domestic agenda.

Rumors about Craig’s sexual orientation surfaced from time to time. When the media storm broke last fall over a sex scandal involving Republican Congressman Mark Foley and House of Representatives pages, Craig was targeted by a gay activist, Mike Rogers, who advocates the “outing” of closeted gay legislators who vote for anti-gay legislation. Rogers went public on the Internet last October with allegations that Craig had sexual encounters with several men.

In response to Rogers’s charges, which Craig’s Senate office publicly denied, the local Boise newspaper, the Idaho Statesman, began an extensive investigation into Craig’s personal life. According to a lengthy account published Tuesday, the newspaper’s top political reporter, Dan Popkey, went to extraordinary lengths. He interviewed no less than 41 men who were Craig’s fraternity brothers in college, asking each of them what he described as “very unpleasant questions” about Craig’s behavior more than 40 years ago. Popkey even traveled to Washington to visit Union Station restrooms and show around photographs of the senator to see if anyone recognized him.

The probe had the effect, as the newspaper knew it would, of spreading rumors about Craig’s sexual orientation all over the state of Idaho. This provoked perhaps the most genuine moment of the senator’s press appearance Tuesday, when he declared, “For eight months leading up to June 11, my family and I have been relentlessly and viciously harassed by the Idaho Statesman.”

Both Republican congressional leaders and presidential candidates have rushed to disavow and condemn Craig, for fear that the revelation that a Republican senator is gay would alienate the fundamentalist elements who exercise such powerful influence over the party, and who regard homosexuality as a criminal, if not capital, offense.

Within 24 hours of the media firestorm erupting, Senate Republican leaders had demanded—and Craig had agreed—that he step down from his leading position as the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans Affairs committee and two subcommittees.

The four top Senate Republicans signed a letter seeking an Ethics Committee investigation of Craig, something they did not request for Senate David Vitter of Louisiana, who last month admitting frequent use of a Washington call-girl service, or for Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, whose home was raided by the FBI July 31 seeking evidence in a bribery investigation in his state.

Senator and presidential candidate John McCain became the first leading Republican to demand Craig resign, declaring, “When you plead guilty to a crime, you shouldn’t serve.” This is a grotesque distortion, since the driving force of the campaign for Craig’s resignation is that he is gay or bisexual. Vitter publicly admitted patronizing prostitutes, a criminal offense, and many other sitting politicians have been convicted of misdemeanors more serious than the disorderly conduct charge against Craig—for example, the drunk-driving misdemeanor to which a future Texas governor and president pleaded guilty.

McCain was echoed by Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who announced he was donating a campaign contribution from Craig to charity, and Congressman Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. Senator John Ensign of Nevada, who chairs the Republican senatorial campaign committee, did not directly call for Craig to resign, but declared, “If I was in a position like that, that’s what I would do.” Ensign is in charge of directing national party funds and support to senators like Craig who face reelection in 2008. If Craig does resign, his replacement would be selected by Idaho Governor Butch Otter, a Republican, thus keeping the seat in Republican hands.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who had enlisted Craig as the Senate chairman of his presidential campaign, revoked the appointment and scheduled a series of television interviews to denounce his erstwhile supporter as “disgusting.” Romney has sought to curry favor with the Christian right in an effort to overcome the fundamentalist prejudice against his Mormonism, and he has systematically discarded the more moderate views on gay rights and abortion which he long espoused in Massachusetts.

A White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, issued a statement that did not openly call on Craig to resign, but declared, “We want this to be resolved quickly. That would be in the best interests of the US Senate and the people of Idaho.” She described Craig’s conduct as “a disappointment.”

There is an obvious double standard in the treatment of Craig and Senator Vitter of Louisiana, the most prominent official named in the so-called “DC Madam” scandal. There have been no calls from fellow Republicans for Vitter’s resignation, a fact which can be accounted for by two political considerations: gay sex is considered more of a “crime” by the Christian fundamentalist right than patronizing a prostitute; and the governor of Louisiana, who would appoint Vitter’s replacement, is a Democrat, so his resignation would cost the Republicans a seat in the Senate.

Contrary to the views of some advocates of identity politics, like the gay activist Rogers, the bringing down of a politician like Craig through such methods has nothing “progressive” about it.

There is nothing politically positive in the destruction of an individual—even a reactionary senator—because of his evident sexual orientation. It in no way advances the interests of the working class. In the first place, reactionary politicians like Craig are a dime a dozen, and he will simply be replaced by another of similar ilk.

More importantly, such lurid sex scandals do nothing to illuminate the real political and social issues confronting the broad mass of the people, or reveal the class issues that underlie the policies of militarism and social reaction that prevail throughout the entire political system. On the contrary, such media-fueled scandals appeal to the basest instincts and serve to obscure the social and political realities of American society.

In particular, the media uproar over Senator Craig has largely overshadowed any coverage of the series of military court martial decisions this week whitewashing the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and bloody atrocities by US soldiers in Haditha and other Iraqi towns.

The Bush administration has illegally invaded and laid waste to two countries with a combined population of more than 55 million people. The death toll in the Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of these aggressive wars is approaching one million people.

The election of a Democratic-controlled Congress last November has done nothing to stem the war: it has only given the congressional Democrats, in addition to their Republican counterparts, the job of providing funding and authorization for the continuation of this historic crime.

In the domestic sphere, the Bush administration is trampling on constitutional processes and democratic rights, a policy sanctioned by the congressional Democratic leadership this month as they allowed a bill to become law authorizing much wider federal government spying on the American people. At the same time, the economic and social interests of working people are under increasing attack from the chaos in world financial markets and the budget-cutting policies implemented under Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

The entire Craig affair is a political diversion. Monstrous crimes are taking place in official Washington, and they are being committed, not in public restrooms, but in the White House, Pentagon, State Department and CIA—and in the halls of Congress.

Anxious About Tomorrow

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 1, 2007

You know you’ve stepped into a different universe when you hear a major American labor leader saying matter-of-factly that employer-based health insurance and employer-based pensions are relics of a bygone industrial economy.

Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, which has 1.9 million members and is the fastest-growing union in the country, is not your ordinary union leader. With Labor Day approaching, he was reflecting on some of the challenges facing workers in a post-20th-century globalized economy.

“I just don’t think that as a country we’ve conceptualized that this is not our father’s or our grandfather’s economy,” Mr. Stern said in an interview. “We’re going through profound change and we have no plan.”

The feeling that seems to override all others for workers is anxiety. American families, already saddled with enormous debt, are trying to make it in an environment in which employment is becoming increasingly contingent and subject to worldwide competition. Health insurance, unaffordable for millions, is a huge problem. And guaranteed pensions are going the way of typewriter ribbons and carbon paper.

“We’re ending defined benefit pensions in front of our eyes,” said Mr. Stern. “I’d say today’s retirement plan for young workers is: ‘I’m going to work until I die.’ ”

The result of all of this — along with such problems as the mortgage and housing crisis, and a domestic economy that is doing nothing to improve living standards for ordinary Americans — is fear.

“Workers are incredibly, legitimately scared that the American dream, particularly the belief that their kids will do better, is ending,” said Mr. Stern. He is trying to get across the idea that in a period of such profound change, the old templates, the traditional ideas and policies of even the most progressive thinkers and officeholders, will not be sufficient to meet the new challenges.

“We can’t be the only country on earth that asks our employers to put the price of health care on its products when a lot of our competitors don’t,” he said. “And job security? Even if you want to stay with your employer, as in the old economic model, we’re seeing in many industries that your employer is not going to be around to stay with you.”

A comprehensive new approach is needed, but what should that approach be? Franklin Roosevelt always hoped to inject a measure of economic security into the lives of ordinary Americans. But the New Deal was seven decades ago. Workers are insecure now for a host of different reasons and Mr. Stern wants the labor movement to be part of a vast cooperative effort to develop the solutions appropriate to today’s environment.

He told me, “I’d like to say to the Democrats that we are as far today from the New Deal as the New Deal was from the Civil War.”

He wants more people to pay attention to the big issues that affect not just union workers but all working families: How do you bring health care to all? What do you do about retirement security? How will the jobs of the 21st century be created?

And what about schools, energy, global warming, the environment?

Mr. Stern tends to see the nation as a team and wants the team to pull together to develop a creative vision of what the U.S. should be about in the 21st century. A cornerstone of that vision, he said, should be adherence to the “primary value” of rewarding work.

“We’re a team in the 21st-century period of rapid change and competition,” he said. “And right now, we don’t have leadership, and we don’t have a plan. At the same time, a group of people are enriching themselves far beyond anything that’s reasonable.”

What he would like to see, he said, is a large group of thoughtful people from various walks of American life — business, labor, government, academia and so forth — convened to begin the serious work of cooperatively developing a real-world vision of a society that is fairer, healthier, better educated, better prepared to compete globally, and more economically secure.

“I think you’re already seeing the beginnings of odd formations of people who appreciate, issue by issue, that we have to do something different here,” he said.

The kind of effort Mr. Stern would like to see would logically be initiated at the highest levels of government, preferably the White House. But if that’s not in the cards, someone else should take up the challenge. And there should be a sense of urgency about it.

The fears of America’s workers are well founded. “There’s something wrong with the system right now,” said Mr. Stern, “and we can’t just say, ‘Well, it’s all going to work out.’ It’s not.”

And on the 4th Day, They Voted

Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
September 1, 2007


It’s time for the 23rd debate in the Fifth Congressional District Democratic primary campaign! Or perhaps the 22nd. Everyone seems to have lost count, but we can definitely say that if the candidates were puppies, somebody would have been arrested for cruelty.

“We are ready to rock!” says the moderator.

Actually, the candidates look like they’re ready to collapse. This primary — an almost sure ticket to a safe Congressional seat — is going to be held on the day after Labor Day. There is an old saying that the only people who show up for special elections are the kind of compulsive voters who would turn out in a hurricane. For this one, they’re going to be down to the folks who would go to the polls even if God scheduled the Rapture.

The election date is due to timetables the Democrats set up in 2004, when they were looking forward to the triumph of a president-elect from Massachusetts and trying to make sure Mitt Romney would not win the newly opened Senate seat. To summarize: Like most undesirable political developments, this can be blamed on John Kerry.

Nobody here needs to be jealous of the attention voters get in Iowa and New Hampshire. If you were a resident of Lowell or Lawrence and expressed a willingness to show up and vote on the day after Labor Day, you could get any one of five Democrats to volunteer to drive you to the polls, bring you back home, cook your breakfast and tutor your oldest child for the S.A.T.’s.

Massachusetts has only sent three women to Congress since the dawn of time, and the most interesting thing about this race is that the two leading candidates are Eileen Donoghue, the former mayor of Lowell, and Niki Tsongas, the widow of Paul Tsongas, the beloved former congressman, senator and presidential candidate who died of cancer a little over a decade ago.

When Paul Tsongas won the New Hampshire primary in 1992, all the Democratic candidate wives were lawyers. At the time, that seemed to be a significant factoid — a sign that women who married politicians were beginning to carve out their own lives apart from the supportive spouse role. Back in 1985, when she was just starting law school, Niki Tsongas told The Washington Post that the old model of “wives who are very involved” with their husbands’ Congressional activities made her uncomfortable. “I guess I was just too proud. I felt whatever I chose to do I’d have to do it separate from what Paul did,” she added.

Now we seem to have a Third Way — the partner-spouse who is both liberated and completely engaged in her husband’s work. In this campaign, Tsongas calls her husband’s political career “a shared experience.” Once, in a slip of the tongue, she told voters from the district that she had “represented it in Washington for 10 years.”

The debate gets around to the question of Tsongas’s qualifications pretty quickly, since there is not a whit of serious policy disagreement among the major candidates. (Donoghue has a TV commercial pointing out that while Tsongas’s Iraq policy is to end the war and take care of veterans, hers involves ending the war and a specific plan to take care of veterans.)

Inevitably, Donoghue read The Washington Post story.

“That was 25 years ago,” snapped Tsongas.

Either woman would undoubtedly do fine in Congress. (Vote on the day after Labor Day! The stakes are low!) But you can understand Donoghue’s frustration. Paul Tsongas recruited her to run for the Lowell City Council. She has put in nearly 12 years, four as mayor, and Lowell is looking pretty good, its downtown speckled with art galleries and coffee shops that lend the former mill town a fragile panache. Now, she’s running against someone who wants to revert to the old tradition in which the only women who ever got to go to Congress were the widows of former incumbents.

On a recent Sunday morning, right after a Boston television station aired what was possibly the 21st candidate debate, Donoghue was out distributing campaign literature. A man and a woman, she said, came power-walking past her. “Then the woman turned around and came back to me and said: ‘I was on the fence. But after I watched this morning’s debate, I think you’re ready for Congress. And I don’t think she is.’ ”

That cheered Donoghue up immensely. To win an election that arrives on the heels of a three-day weekend, you’re going to need either a large number of relatives or just the kind of people who like to begin their Sunday mornings with the viewing of a debate, followed by a brisk power-walk.

Correction: The Larry Kudlow interview mentioned in Thursday’s column was on CNBC, not MSNBC. Also, when it is 3 p.m. in India, its neighbor Nepal believes it to be 3:15, not 3:45 as I wrote on Aug. 23.

Safin Has Changed but the Grandstand Is the Same

Sports of The Times
September 1, 2007

Primal screams. Pile drivers. Babies crying. Spectators virtually hanging over the court. Welcome to the grandstand at the United States Open, sometimes known as the Graveyard, where tournaments have ended abruptly for highly ranked players, and careers have sometimes begun to teeter.

Because it is intimate, the grandstand is invaded by the clatter of the Long Island Rail Road, a reminder of time and distance. Yesterday, the train of life was rolling onward for Marat Safin of Russia, who won this tournament in 2000 when he was 20. Now an old man of 27, Safin was ushered out in the second round by Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

“You know how many times I have like this?” Safin said later in nearly perfect English, his third language. He added: “And one bad day off, there is not much you can do. That’s it. The day is over and we move on, back to our lives.”

Not everybody has taken an upset on the grandstand court with as much pragmatism, whether feigned or real. Boris Becker was not amused when he was eliminated by Brad Gilbert in 1987, and Vitas Gerulaitis did not wax philosophical when knocked out by the 16-year-old amateur Aaron Krickstein in 1983. And fifth-seeded Kevin Curren staged an epic tirade when he was upset by Guy Forget in the very first round in 1985.

“I hate the city, the environment and Flushing Meadow,” Curren said. “There is noise, the people in the grandstand are never seated and it takes an hour and a half in traffic to get here. It’s sickening that with all the money they get from TV, the U.S.T.A. doesn’t build a better facility. The U.S.T.A. should be shot. And they should drop an A-bomb on the place.”

The Open has since upgraded its facilities, but the grandstand still hunkers down on the east end of campus, a magnet for grounds-pass-only fans who want to get close to good players.

“Hit the ball,” Essie Herron, a fan visiting from Milwaukee, blurted yesterday as Ahsha Rolle of the United States dinked a volley rather than drill her opponent, Dinara Safina of Russia, sister of Marat.

“She does that every game,” added Herron’s friend Lolita Bevenue, also of Milwaukee, part of Rolle’s frustrated gallery, a few rows up behind the baseline.

Rolle was not helped when the pneumatic pile drivers at the Mets’ future ballpark (why do I keep wanting to call it New Shea?) began booming as she served in the 10th game. Perhaps distracted, Rolle lost, 6-4, 6-3, and then Safina’s older brother came out for his grandstand moment.

Strange things have happened in this joint, where Wilt Chamberlain used to sit and schmooze away the lazy August evenings. Bud Collins, the vibrant memory of tennis, recalls rushing over to the grandstand in 1995 when Shuzo Matsuoka of Japan suffered leg cramps and was essentially counted out as he writhed on the court. And for sheer macho tennis, there was Chip Hooper’s second-round knockout of Roscoe Tanner in 1982, volleys hitting body parts like heavyweight punches.

Safin’s loss yesterday was nowhere near that epic, just a 25th-seeded player on his way out. Somebody remembered that after Safin beat Pete Sampras in the 2000 final, Sampras predicted Safin would win many more Grand Slam events.

“See, even the geniuses make the mistakes,” Safin said yesterday. Safin has since won one Australian Open and was not predicting any more yesterday.

“Only the most beautiful moments still to come,” said Safin, a figure out of Tolstoy or Chekhov ruminating on life. “The past wasn’t bad for me, but the future is — that’s why I will hope for the best. That’s why moving through life, I think the best moments are still to come. It can be tennis or anything different.”

Safin said his life was so much better than he could have imagined when his mother, Raouza Islanova, a tennis coach, moved the family from Moscow to Spain and gave him $500, saying: “You have luck or you don’t have luck. So this is your last hope.”

He added: “To come from there, from having nothing, zero, and to become what I achieve right until now, well, it’s a long way. I could have ended up anywhere in Moscow or Russia, doing God knows what. I’m sitting here, and you’re asking me pretty nice questions, so I think I did pretty well in my career.”

This mood was far from the elation he touched off in 2000, when President Vladimir V. Putin praised him in Moscow while Safin partied the night away in New York.

Now, Safin said, he doesn’t hang out in the players’ lounge, preferring to rest up in his Manhattan hotel (“SoHo — I’m not a big fan of uptown,” he said) and perhaps take coffee in a cafe and watch the world pass by. He continued in that reflective vein for many minutes, far removed from the nihilistic Kevin Curren rant 22 years ago. The grandstand affects people in many ways.


Friday, August 31, 2007

The Opinionator

August 31, 2007, 6:16 pm
How Conservatives and Gays Can Get Along
By Chris Suellentrop

Writing at the blog of the Independent Gay Forum, Jonathan Rauch (the author of “Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America”) links to an op-ed by Steve Lonegan, the Republican mayor of Bogota, N.J., that was published August 19 in The Record.

Rauch excerpts part of Lonegan’s op-ed:
Historically, gay Americans have struggled for the freedom to live their lives the way they choose in order to pursue happiness. This is the American Dream, the cornerstone of conservative thinking, and it is these principles that make the increasingly influential gay community the conservative movement’s natural ally.
Rauch comments, “Sadly, it is just about impossible to imagine any nationally prominent Republican, gay or straight, make that statement ­as opposed to the kind of statement Sen. Larry Craig made (‘I am not gay’).”

Lonegan’s op-ed was written in response to “the passing of a constituent, friend and fellow conservative who also happened to be gay.” In it, he proposes a bargain to be struck among religious conservatives and gay Americans: “Gays shouldn’t expect government to foist acceptance of their lifestyle on others; religious conservatives shouldn’t expect gays to abandon an integral part of their being.” Lonegan also writes:
Barry Goldwater once remarked that government cannot pass laws to “make people like each other.” His words still ring true today. Labeling people “homophobes” or “bigots” if they refuse to accept the entire gay agenda creates political fractures that work against individual liberties and serve to keep gay voters in the Democratic Party’s political ghetto.

The Republican Party must reestablish its commitment to the rights of the individual while respecting the moral code of one subset and upholding the freedom of another.

August 31, 2007, 10:13 am
The ‘He Never Proposed’ Defense
By Chris Suellentrop
Tags: ,

Conservatives have begun making a few limited defenses of Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho. Writing at The Corner, National Review’s staff blog, Jonah Goldberg says “Craig’s (alleged) behavior is terrible” but not hypocritical, despite the senator’s voting record on gay marriage and other issues. Goldberg writes:

I’d like someone to walk very slowly through the argument that it’s hypocritical to A) indulge in anonymous gay sex in seedy locations and B) oppose gay marriage. Last I checked, the common definition of hypocrisy involves saying one thing and doing another. Well, Craig wasn’t trying to marry anybody in stall #3 was he?

Goldberg adds, “That being anti-gay marriage and anti-gay are synonymous is a entirely a political argument that people are confusing for a philosophical truth.”

The real hypocrites in this scandal are the Republican senators who have called for Craig’s resignation but not for the resignation of Sen. David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, who admitted to using the services of an escort: “from any social-conservative calculus (or at least my social-conservative calculus) prostitution has to be considered a greater social evil than cruising for gay sex in bathrooms,” Douthat writes.

Douthat criticizes “the unfortunate extent to which socially-conservative politicians have focused their fire on gays, because opposing gay rights was for a long time an 80-20 issue for the Right (though no longer), while studiously ignoring the various beams in heterosexuals’ eyes.”

Douthat concludes that “[i]t’s a hard pattern to break, but the G.O.P. could find worse places to start than making sure that Vitter shares whatever political fate awaits Larry Craig.”

The forgotten Katrina refugees...still left behind

Socialist Worker
August 31, 2007 | Page 3

ELIZABETH SCHULTE reports that the harsh reality exposed by Katrina--of two Americas, one rich and one poor--remains two years later.

WHEN HURRICANE Katrina hit the Gulf Coast two years ago, 79-year-old Carrie Lewis had to flee her assisted-living home in New Orleans. Two years later, she’s still living in a trailer, 100 miles northwest of New Orleans.

“I want to go home,” Lewis told a reporter. “They don’t have places for old people in New Orleans yet. What am I supposed to do? I don’t want to die in a little trailer in the middle of a field somewhere.”

When Katrina hit, 65-year-old Phyllis Taylor also had to evacuate. But for Taylor, that meant leaving behind her downtown penthouse apartment for her 40,000-acre ranch in Foxworth, Miss.

Taylor is the richest woman in the second-poorest state in the country. She became chair and CEO of Taylor Energy company--the largest privately held oil and gas company on the Gulf of Mexico--after her oilman husband died in 2004. In 2007, Forbes magazine estimated her net worth at $1.6 billion.

After the storm, a window was broken in Taylor’s penthouse, and the air-conditioning was out. Carrie Lewis lost everything.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina exposed to the world the reality of two Americas, standing side by side--one rich and one poor. Two years later, that harsh reality remains--but Katrina’s victims are gone from the media’s attention.

Carrie Lewis is like tens of thousands of people still living in trailers supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)--45,000 trailers in Louisiana, 20,000 in Mississippi, 17,000 in Texas and 400 in Alabama--because there is nowhere else for them to go.

Pamela Lomis lives in a FEMA trailer with her two children at the Sugar Hill trailer park, in the middle of the cane fields near Convent, La. Somewhere between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, she’s 20 miles from the nearest grocery store. There’s only one bus that goes there. It leaves at 9 a.m. and returns at 4 p.m.

“We just sit around here with life slipping by,” Lomis said. “We’re just on hold. Just waiting for something that never comes.”

With no homes to go back to--since no one put a priority on rebuilding the low-income housing that many of the poor and elderly once lived in--many are reaching the breaking point.

“I want out of this trailer, out of this place,” said Helen Felton, a resident of Renaissance Village trailer park. “But I get my little Social Security check. Do you know how far $660 goes?”

And the Katrina refugees can expect matters to get worse--people still living in trailers in 2008 will have to start paying rent to FEMA.

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IF THE trailers don’t kill them, that is. As if their living situation wasn’t bad enough, more and more trailer residents are reporting health problems as a result of formaldehyde poisoning.
In early August, 500 people in New Orleans filed a class-action lawsuit against trailer manufacturers, making the case that the 14 companies providing some 120,000 trailers for FEMA ignored regulations on formaldehyde levels, which is resulting in illnesses.

Formaldehyde, a chemical usually associated with embalming dead bodies, is widely used in pressed wood products, particleboard and plywood--which are typically part of FEMA trailers. High levels of formaldehyde are dangerous, causing respiratory diseases, bloody noses, burning eyes, headaches and insomnia--even low levels can cause respiratory problems and exacerbate already existing conditions. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies it as a human carcinogen.

Nancy and Michael Sonnier were glad to get their trailer just before Thanksgiving, after their home was destroyed in Hurricane Rita. When they told a FEMA representative about the fumes in their trailer, “One of them laughed out loud and said, ‘We hear that from all kinds of people. Just open your doors and windows,’” 63-year-old Nancy told Amanda Spake for her article “Running on Fumes,” in Louisiana’s Independent Weekly.

According to evidence introduced at a congressional hearing in mid-July, when trailer residents reported health problems from formaldehyde fumes in their homes to FEMA field workers, top FEMA officials did their best to sweep their complaints under the rug. The House Committee on Oversight and Government made public some of the more than 5,000 internal e-mails that revealed a pattern of cover-ups and denials--what Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) called “an official policy of premeditated ignorance.”

One man, dying of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was forced to move into a motel after he couldn’t breathe because the formaldehyde had caused his lungs to swell. FEMA agreed to pay his motel bill--but only after a FEMA staff member wrote to superiors, “He said he had nowhere to go, and he was dying with cancer. He would not go back to the travel trailer as he had a violent reaction to the formaldehyde.”

Later, a FEMA attorney cut off the motel payment before it was set to end, suggesting the man try a charity.

“One of the things that we’re seeing is that there are more and more children who are having allergy problems and respiratory problems,” Lourna Bourg, executive director of the New Iberia, La.-based Southern Mutual Help Association, told Spake. “Because of the closeness and smallness of the FEMA trailers, there’s a number of people who just can’t tolerate the fumes. We even had one lady who was living in a shed to get out of it.”

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BUT WHILE some former residents are desperate for a safe place to live, people like Phyllis Taylor see dollar signs when they imagine the new New Orleans.
Last year, she told the Dallas Morning News, “We have an opportunity of a lifetime to build an urban Eden.” Earlier this year, she added, “Our challenge is the rebuilding of New Orleans, especially taking advantage of the opportunity to rebuild in a better way.”

A better way--meaning one that doesn’t include poor people.

Some people are profiting big-time from the Katrina disaster. The Bush administration saw the opportunities right away--and assigned billion-dollar contracts for cleaning up the Gulf Coast to corporate friends like Bechtel and Halliburton.

When it came to retrieving dead bodies, FEMA hired Kenyon International Emergency Services, a subsidiary of Service Corporation International, a Texas-based funeral services company run by Robert Waltrip, a close friend of the Bushes and major campaign donor, according to CorpWatch.

The federal government claims to have earmarked millions to rebuild the area, but there’s little proof of that on the ground. The federal government has supposedly promised more than $116 billion for rebuilding the devastated region. But according to a report from the Institute for Southern Studies, less than 42 percent of that money has actually been spent.

The report found that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers received $8.4 billion to restore needed storm defenses. But as of July, less than 20 percent of the money had been spent.

“Included in the oft-cited $116 billion spending figure is $3.5 billion in tax credits to jump-start business in Gulf Opportunity or ‘GO’ Zones across 91 parishes and counties in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi,” noted the Institute for Southern Studies’ Blueprint for Gulf Renewal Report.

“But many of the breaks have been of questionable benefit to Katrina survivors. Take for instance the $1 million deal to build 10 luxury condos next to the University of Alabama football stadium--four hours from the Gulf Coast.”

Meanwhile in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, some homes still have the “X” painted on them by the National Guard to signal that there was a dead body inside.

The federal government is failing New Orleans--and that means the workers who are rebuilding the city, too. During the initial cleanup, dangerous work was subcontracted to companies who regularly abused workers, failing to provide them protective gear and underpaying them afterward.

That’s if they paid them at all. Undocumented workers reported companies that called in Immigration and Customs Enforcement when workers tried to demand the wages they were owed. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which spoke with more than 1,000 Gulf Coast workers, the majority didn’t receive overtime pay, despite the fact that many worked 80 to 100 hours per week.

While all these abuses were happening, the federal government looked the other way. Two years after Katrina, we are still seeing the divide between rich and poor exposed by Katrina--and it’s growing worse all the time.

EDITORIAL: Lying about Vietnam to justify his war

Socialist Worker
August 31, 2007 | Page 2

GEORGE BUSH served up a heaping platter of self-serving distortions and discredited right-wing myths in his much-hyped speech comparing the war that the U.S. lost in Vietnam to the one it’s losing in Iraq.

Speaking to the only audience likely to greet him sympathetically, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Bush lectured, “One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps’ and ‘killing fields.’”

Does Bush honestly believe anyone will buy this hogwash? That the aftermath of the war was worse than the war itself, when U.S. bombs, bullets and napalm exterminated millions? The U.S. would have stayed longer, too, if a growing rebellion within its armed forces hadn’t compelled the military brass to inform politicians that the war simply couldn’t be fought any longer.

As Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild, pointed out, Bush “overlooked the 4 million Indochinese and 58,000 American soldiers who paid the ultimate price for that imperial war. And the myriad Vietnamese and Americans who continue to suffer the devastating effects of the defoliant Agent Orange the U.S. forces dropped on Vietnam.”

Even foreign policy establishment types were appalled by Bush’s speech--albeit because they fear Bush had managed to contaminate U.S. policy in the Middle East with the “Vietnam syndrome,” which limited popular support for U.S. intervention for decades after America was kicked out of Vietnam.

Anthony Cordesman, a former Defense Department official now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Bush’s account “was history written by speechwriters,” adding that “I think most military historians will find it painful because in basic historical terms, the president misstated what happened in Vietnam.”

Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland said the speech invites “examination of the mounting damage that Bush’s approaches to the war in Iraq and to national security in general are doing to U.S. institutions in an American society that has significantly changed since 1975,” the year the U.S. pulled out as North Vietnamese troops overwhelmed the U.S. puppet government in South Vietnam.

Of course, Bush’s intention was to blame the “killing fields” of Cambodia under Pol Pot, the murderous Stalinist dictator, on the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam--and imply that similar violence would ensue in Iraq if the U.S. left.

But the fact is that Pol Pot was able to seize power in large part because the U.S. had fomented a failed right-wing military coup against the Cambodian monarchy. And not long after Pol Pot came to power, he became a secret ally of the U.S. and China to put military pressure on Vietnam.

The Cambodia analogy was too much for the Los Angeles Times editorial board. “Killing fields?” it wrote. “Iraq’s already got them: A dozen or two corpses are found dumped in the streets each morning, and bombs go off daily. Boat people? Two million Iraqis have already fled the country, and perhaps 50,000 more leave each month. Could it get worse? Absolutely. But can we stop it?”

However, the LA Times, like most mainstream media, glossed over who’s responsible for the vast majority of the killing in Iraq--the U.S., whose invasion caused at least 500,000 deaths according to a John Hopkins study that is now several years old.

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THE MEDIA also ignored the other historical falsifications and distortions in Bush’s speech. For example, Bush equated the totalitarianism of imperial Japan and, later, the “communist” bloc with al-Qaeda today--as if the military threat of small armed groups are on par with some of the powerful states in the world in their day.

Then came the mythmaking about the U.S. role in the Pacific, which Bush portrayed as spreading democracy and freedom--first in the occupation of Japan following the Second World War, and next by waging war on the Korean peninsula to create a state allied to the U.S. in the South.

“[E]ven the most optimistic among you probably would not have foreseen that the Japanese would transform themselves into one of America’s strongest and most steadfast allies,” Bush said, “or that the South Koreans would recover from enemy invasion to raise up one of the world’s most powerful economies, or that Asia would pull itself out of poverty and hopelessness as it embraced markets and freedom.”

In fact, the U.S. “liberated” Japan by dropping two atomic bombs on it--entirely unnecessary militarily, but politically useful in sending a warning to the USSR, then looming as its main rival in the postwar world.

The U.S. occupiers of Japan suppressed militant trade unions and the left while fostering a corrupt political machine in the Liberal Democratic Party that has dominated the country ever since. Today, Washington is supporting the buildup of the Japanese military and a revival of right-wing Japanese nationalism in order to pressure China.

Bush’s other example of spreading democracy in Asia, South Korea, doesn’t pass the laugh test. Following the end of the Korean War in 1953, the country was an authoritarian U.S. puppet state, ruled by the military for long stretches. Democracy came to South Korea not because of the U.S., but in spite of it--because of mass strikes and protests in the 1980s that finally forced the regime to concede democratic elections.

Bush’s claims about “markets and freedom” conquering “poverty and hopelessness” in Asia are equally lacking in credibility. One decade ago, the East Asian economic “miracle” crashed, pushing millions into extreme poverty in Indonesia, Thailand and other countries. Today, two of the most dynamic market economies in East Asia aren’t U.S. models of liberal democracy, but the one-party states of China--and Vietnam.

Nevertheless, there is a connection between the U.S. war in Iraq today and its battle over domination of the Pacific with Japan, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Whatever their ideological window dressing or popularity, all of these wars were waged to extend or consolidate U.S. imperial power.

One of the main political difficulties for Bush in selling the Iraq war has been to give it the ideological coherence of the “good war” against Germany and Japan or the Cold War against the USSR and its allies.

But re-fighting the war in Vietnam--rhetorically, of course, since Bush avoided actually going there--hasn’t helped him.

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THE HOSTILE response to Bush’s speech should have been another nail in the coffin of his Iraq policy--now rejected by 75 percent of the country--on the eve of the September report by military commanders on what has taken place since the “surge” of U.S. troops announced at the start of the year.

Instead, the Democrats are letting Bush get away with recycling the same lies that presidents used to prolong the war in Vietnam. Bush talks about the surge producing “success on the ground,” “tactical momentum,” and yes, a “turning point”--and the Democrats back away from withdrawal proposals to embrace “success” in Ramadi, as Hillary Clinton would have it.

“The sad fact is that this war has created stasis in American politics,” wrote Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. “If Bush doesn't budge, he is likely to be able to continue his approach--even if a majority of the country has turned against it and even if there is no political reconciliation in Iraq.”

This is because while Bush’s Iraq policy may be unpopular, the wider aims of the war--greater U.S. control of Middle Eastern oil--are shared by both political parties.

All this underscores the importance of the real lessons of Vietnam: that the mightiest occupying imperial army cannot subdue a nationalist resistance forever, and that to be effective, the antiwar movement in the U.S. must mobilize independently of the politicians, and build within the ranks of the military itself.

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