Monday, February 28, 2005

Fw: Take action now!


----- Original Message -----
From: "Connie Mancini Haack"
To:
Sent: Sunday, February 27, 2005 8:02 PM
Subject: Take action now!

I just wrote a letter about Iraq, and I hope you will do the same.

Click on this URL to take action now
http://capwiz.com/fconl/utr/2/?a=7092416&i=32117441

If your email program does not recognize the URL as a link,
copy the entire URL and paste it into your Web browser.

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It's Called Torture

A Call To Action
The New York Times
February 28, 2005
OP-ED COLUMNIST

By BOB HERBERT

As a nation, does the United States have a conscience? Or is anything and everything O.K. in post-9/11 America? If torture and the denial of due process are O.K., why not murder? When the government can just make people vanish - which it can, and which it does - where is the line that we, as a nation, dare not cross?

When I interviewed Maher Arar in Ottawa last week, it seemed clear that however thoughtful his comments, I was talking with the frightened, shaky successor of a once robust and fully functioning human being. Torture does that to a person. It's an unspeakable crime, an affront to one's humanity that can rob you of a portion of your being as surely as acid can destroy your flesh.

Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen with a wife and two young children, had his life flipped upside down in the fall of 2002 when John Ashcroft's Justice Department, acting at least in part on bad information supplied by the Canadian government, decided it would be a good idea to abduct Mr. Arar and ship him off to Syria, an outlaw nation that the Justice Department honchos well knew was addicted to torture.

Mr. Arar was not charged with anything, and yet he was deprived not only of his liberty, but of all legal and human rights. He was handed over in shackles to the Syrian government and, to no one's surprise, promptly brutalized. A year later he emerged, and still no charges were lodged against him. His torturers said they were unable to elicit any link between Mr. Arar and terrorism. He was sent back to Canada to face the torment of a life in ruins.

Mr. Arar's is the case we know about. How many other individuals have disappeared at the hands of the Bush administration? How many have been sent, like the victims of a lynch mob, to overseas torture centers? How many people are being held in the C.I.A.'s highly secret offshore prisons? Who are they and how are they being treated? Have any been wrongly accused? If so, what recourse do they have?

President Bush spent much of last week lecturing other nations about freedom, democracy and the rule of law. It was a breathtaking display of chutzpah. He seemed to me like a judge who starves his children and then sits on the bench to hear child abuse cases. In Brussels Mr. Bush said he planned to remind Russian President Vladimir Putin that democracies are based on, among other things, "the rule of law and the respect for human rights and human dignity."

Someone should tell that to Maher Arar and his family.

Mr. Arar was the victim of an American policy that is known as extraordinary rendition. That's a euphemism. What it means is that the United States seizes individuals, presumably terror suspects, and sends them off without even a nod in the direction of due process to countries known to practice torture.

A Massachusetts congressman, Edward Markey, has taken the eminently sensible step of introducing legislation that would ban this utterly reprehensible practice. In a speech on the floor of the House, Mr. Markey, a Democrat, said: "Torture is morally repugnant whether we do it or whether we ask another country to do it for us. It is morally wrong whether it is captured on film or whether it goes on behind closed doors unannounced to the American people."

Unfortunately, the outlook for this legislation is not good. I asked Pete Jeffries, the communications director for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, if the speaker supported Mr. Markey's bill. After checking with the policy experts in his office, Mr. Jeffries called back and said: "The speaker does not support the Markey proposal. He believes that suspected terrorists should be sent back to their home countries."

Surprised, I asked why suspected terrorists should be sent anywhere. Why shouldn't they be held by the United States and prosecuted?

"Because," said Mr. Jeffries, "U.S. taxpayers should not necessarily be on the hook for their judicial and incarceration costs."

It was, perhaps, the most preposterous response to any question I've ever asked as a journalist. It was not by any means an accurate reflection of Bush administration policy. All it indicated was that the speaker's office does not understand this issue, and has not even bothered to take it seriously.

More important, it means that torture by proxy, close kin to contract murder, remains all right. Congressman Markey's bill is going nowhere. Extraordinary rendition lives.

E-mail: bobherb@nytimes.com

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Don't Blame Wal-Mart

A Call To Action
The New York Times
February 28, 2005
OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

By ROBERT B. REICH

Berkeley, Calif. — BOWING to intense pressure from neighborhood and labor groups, a real estate developer has just given up plans to include a Wal-Mart store in a mall in Queens, thereby blocking Wal-Mart's plan to open its first store in New York City. In the eyes of Wal-Mart's detractors, the Arkansas-based chain embodies the worst kind of economic exploitation: it pays its 1.2 million American workers an average of only $9.68 an hour, doesn't provide most of them with health insurance, keeps out unions, has a checkered history on labor law and turns main streets into ghost towns by sucking business away from small retailers.

But isn't Wal-Mart really being punished for our sins? After all, it's not as if Wal-Mart's founder, Sam Walton, and his successors created the world's largest retailer by putting a gun to our heads and forcing us to shop there.

Instead, Wal-Mart has lured customers with low prices. "We expect our suppliers to drive the costs out of the supply chain," a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart said. "It's good for us and good for them."

Wal-Mart may have perfected this technique, but you can find it almost everywhere these days. Corporations are in fierce competition to get and keep customers, so they pass the bulk of their cost cuts through to consumers as lower prices. Products are manufactured in China at a fraction of the cost of making them here, and American consumers get great deals. Back-office work, along with computer programming and data crunching, is "offshored" to India, so our dollars go even further.

Meanwhile, many of us pressure companies to give us even better bargains. I look on the Internet to find the lowest price I can and buy airline tickets, books, merchandise from just about anywhere with a click of a mouse. Don't you?

The fact is, today's economy offers us a Faustian bargain: it can give consumers deals largely because it hammers workers and communities.

We can blame big corporations, but we're mostly making this bargain with ourselves. The easier it is for us to get great deals, the stronger the downward pressure on wages and benefits. Last year, the real wages of hourly workers, who make up about 80 percent of the work force, actually dropped for the first time in more than a decade; hourly workers' health and pension benefits are in free fall. The easier it is for us to find better professional services, the harder professionals have to hustle to attract and keep clients. The more efficiently we can summon products from anywhere on the globe, the more stress we put on our own communities.

But you and I aren't just consumers. We're also workers and citizens. How do we strike the right balance? To claim that people shouldn't have access to Wal-Mart or to cut-rate airfares or services from India or to Internet shopping, because these somehow reduce their quality of life, is paternalistic tripe. No one is a better judge of what people want than they themselves.

The problem is, the choices we make in the market don't fully reflect our values as workers or as citizens. I didn't want our community bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., to close (as it did last fall) yet I still bought lots of books from Amazon.com. In addition, we may not see the larger bargain when our own job or community isn't directly at stake. I don't like what's happening to airline workers, but I still try for the cheapest fare I can get.

The only way for the workers or citizens in us to trump the consumers in us is through laws and regulations that make our purchases a social choice as well as a personal one. A requirement that companies with more than 50 employees offer their workers affordable health insurance, for example, might increase slightly the price of their goods and services. My inner consumer won't like that very much, but the worker in me thinks it a fair price to pay. Same with an increase in the minimum wage or a change in labor laws making it easier for employees to organize and negotiate better terms.

I wouldn't go so far as to re-regulate the airline industry or hobble free trade with China and India - that would cost me as a consumer far too much - but I'd like the government to offer wage insurance to ease the pain of sudden losses of pay. And I'd support labor standards that make trade agreements a bit more fair.

These provisions might end up costing me some money, but the citizen in me thinks they are worth the price. You might think differently, but as a nation we aren't even having this sort of discussion. Instead, our debates about economic change take place between two warring camps: those who want the best consumer deals, and those who want to preserve jobs and communities much as they are. Instead of finding ways to soften the blows, compensate the losers or slow the pace of change - so the consumers in us can enjoy lower prices and better products without wreaking too much damage on us in our role as workers and citizens - we go to battle.

I don't know if Wal-Mart will ever make it into New York City. I do know that New Yorkers, like most other Americans, want the great deals that can be had in a rapidly globalizing high-tech economy. Yet the prices on sales tags don't reflect the full prices we have to pay as workers and citizens. A sensible public debate would focus on how to make that total price as low as possible.

Robert B. Reich, the author of "Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America," was secretary of labor from 1993 to 1997.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Thousands Died in Africa Yesterday

A Call To Action



February 27, 2005
EDITORIAL
Thousands Died in Africa Yesterday

hen a once-in-a-century natural disaster swept away the lives of more than 100,000 poor Asians last December, the developed world opened its hearts and its checkbooks. Yet when it comes to Africa, where hundreds of thousands of poor men, women and children die needlessly each year from preventable diseases, or unnatural disasters like civil wars, much of the developed world seems to have a heart of stone.



Not every African state is failing. Most are not. But the continent's most troubled regions - including Somalia and Sudan in the east, Congo in the center, Zimbabwe in the south and Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the west - challenge not only our common humanity, but global security as well. The lethal combination of corrupt or destructive leaders, porous and unmonitored borders and rootless or hopeless young men has made some of these regions incubators of international terrorism and contagious diseases like AIDS. Others are sanctuaries for swindlers and drug traffickers whose victims can be found throughout the world.

In many of these places, poverty and unemployment and the desperation they spawn leave young men vulnerable to the lure of terrorist organizations, which, beyond offering two meals a day, also provide a target to vent their anger at rich societies, which they are led to believe view them with condescension and treat them with contempt. Training camps for Islamic extremists are now thought to be sprouting like anthills on the savanna.

"America is committed not only to the campaign against terrorism in a military sense, but the campaign against poverty, the campaign against illiteracy and ignorance." Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said that. Well, America launched its war on terror after Sept. 11, but did not bother to look at some of the deeper causes of global instability. This country is going to spend more than $400 billion on the military this year, and another $100 billion or so for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that amount is never going to buy Americans peace if the government continues to spend an anemic $16 billion - the Pentagon budget is 25 times that size - in foreign aid that addresses the plight of the poorest of the world's poor.



For decades, most Americans either have preferred not to hear about these problems, or, blanching at the scope of the human tragedy, have thrown up their hands. But in terms of the kind of money the West thinks nothing of spending, on such things as sports and entertainment extravaganzas, not to speak of defense budgets, meeting many of Africa's most urgent needs seems shockingly affordable. What has been missing is the political will.

This year, there is a real chance of scrounging up, and then mobilizing, this political will. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who has stood resolutely by President Bush at Mr. Blair's own political peril through the war in Iraq, has staked Britain's presidency of the Group of 8 industrial nations this year on tackling poverty in Africa. Mr. Blair wants his ally, Mr. Bush, to stand beside him at the coming G-8 summit meeting at Gleneagles in Scotland this July. After the G-8 meeting there will be a United Nations summit meeting in New York in September, where the world's leaders will examine progress made toward reaching the Millennium Development Goals of cutting global poverty in half by 2015. Chief among those goals was that developed countries like America, Britain and France would work toward giving 0.7 percent of their national incomes for development aid for poor countries.

If the progress made so far is any guide, it is going to be a short meeting. While Britain is about halfway to the goal, at 0.34 percent, and France is at 0.41 percent, America remains near rock bottom, at 0.18 percent. Undoubtedly, President Bush will point to his Millennium Challenge Account when he attends the summit meeting. He will be correct in saying that his administration has given more annually in foreign aid than the Clinton administration in sheer dollars. His Millennium Challenge Account was supposed to increase United States assistance to poor countries that are committed to policies promoting development. This is a worthy endeavor, but it has three big problems.



First, neither the administration nor Congress has come anywhere close to financing the program fully. Second, the program, announced back in 2002, has yet to disburse a single dollar.

Most important, relying mostly on programs like the Millennium Challenge Account, which tie foreign aid to good governance, condemns millions of Africans who have dreadful governments (Liberia, Congo, Ivory Coast) or no government (Somalia) to die. No donor nation is, or should be, willing to direct money to despotic, thieving or incompetent governments likely to misspend it or divert it to the personal bank accounts of their leaders. Strict international criteria of political accountability, financial transparency and development-friendly social and economic policies need to be established and enforced, not just by outside donors but by prominent and influential African leaders, like South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki.

Help for people living under governments that fail these criteria will have to be channeled mainly through international and nongovernmental organizations. Bypassed governments will not like this, but they cannot be allowed to stand in the way of outside help to the victims of their misrule. It is not the fault of Africa's millions of refugees that warring armies have burned their villages and fields and driven them into unsafe and disease-ridden camps, like those in the Darfur region of Sudan. And no fair-minded person would blame the victims of callous and destructive governments, like Zimbabwe's, for the economic and social misery they create.

In the next few months, Mr. Bush could take a giant step towards altering the way the world views America by joining Mr. Blair in pushing for more help in Africa. It's past time; the continent is dying. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is anything but, some 1,000 people die every day of preventable diseases like malaria and diarrhea. That's the equivalent of a tsunami every five months, in that one country alone. Throughout the continent of Africa, thousands of people die needlessly every day from diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.



One hundred years ago, before we had the medical know-how to eradicate these illnesses, this might have been acceptable. But we are the first generation able to afford to end poverty and the diseases it spawns. It's past time we step up to the plate. We are all responsible for choosing to view the tsunami victims in Southeast Asia as more deserving of our help than the malaria victims in Africa. Jeffrey Sachs, the economist who heads the United Nations' Millennium Development Project to end global poverty, rightly takes issue with the press in his book "The End of Poverty": "Every morning," Mr. Sachs writes, "our newspapers could report, 'More than 20,000 people perished yesterday of extreme poverty.' "

So, on this page, we'd like to make a first step.

Yesterday, more than 20,000 people perished of extreme poverty.



Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Thousands Died in Africa Yesterday

A Call To Action

February 27, 2005
EDITORIAL
Thousands Died in Africa Yesterday

hen a once-in-a-century natural disaster swept away the lives of more than 100,000 poor Asians last December, the developed world opened its hearts and its checkbooks. Yet when it comes to Africa, where hundreds of thousands of poor men, women and children die needlessly each year from preventable diseases, or unnatural disasters like civil wars, much of the developed world seems to have a heart of stone.



Not every African state is failing. Most are not. But the continent's most troubled regions - including Somalia and Sudan in the east, Congo in the center, Zimbabwe in the south and Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the west - challenge not only our common humanity, but global security as well. The lethal combination of corrupt or destructive leaders, porous and unmonitored borders and rootless or hopeless young men has made some of these regions incubators of international terrorism and contagious diseases like AIDS. Others are sanctuaries for swindlers and drug traffickers whose victims can be found throughout the world.

In many of these places, poverty and unemployment and the desperation they spawn leave young men vulnerable to the lure of terrorist organizations, which, beyond offering two meals a day, also provide a target to vent their anger at rich societies, which they are led to believe view them with condescension and treat them with contempt. Training camps for Islamic extremists are now thought to be sprouting like anthills on the savanna.

"America is committed not only to the campaign against terrorism in a military sense, but the campaign against poverty, the campaign against illiteracy and ignorance." Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said that. Well, America launched its war on terror after Sept. 11, but did not bother to look at some of the deeper causes of global instability. This country is going to spend more than $400 billion on the military this year, and another $100 billion or so for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that amount is never going to buy Americans peace if the government continues to spend an anemic $16 billion - the Pentagon budget is 25 times that size - in foreign aid that addresses the plight of the poorest of the world's poor.



For decades, most Americans either have preferred not to hear about these problems, or, blanching at the scope of the human tragedy, have thrown up their hands. But in terms of the kind of money the West thinks nothing of spending, on such things as sports and entertainment extravaganzas, not to speak of defense budgets, meeting many of Africa's most urgent needs seems shockingly affordable. What has been missing is the political will.

This year, there is a real chance of scrounging up, and then mobilizing, this political will. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who has stood resolutely by President Bush at Mr. Blair's own political peril through the war in Iraq, has staked Britain's presidency of the Group of 8 industrial nations this year on tackling poverty in Africa. Mr. Blair wants his ally, Mr. Bush, to stand beside him at the coming G-8 summit meeting at Gleneagles in Scotland this July. After the G-8 meeting there will be a United Nations summit meeting in New York in September, where the world's leaders will examine progress made toward reaching the Millennium Development Goals of cutting global poverty in half by 2015. Chief among those goals was that developed countries like America, Britain and France would work toward giving 0.7 percent of their national incomes for development aid for poor countries.

If the progress made so far is any guide, it is going to be a short meeting. While Britain is about halfway to the goal, at 0.34 percent, and France is at 0.41 percent, America remains near rock bottom, at 0.18 percent. Undoubtedly, President Bush will point to his Millennium Challenge Account when he attends the summit meeting. He will be correct in saying that his administration has given more annually in foreign aid than the Clinton administration in sheer dollars. His Millennium Challenge Account was supposed to increase United States assistance to poor countries that are committed to policies promoting development. This is a worthy endeavor, but it has three big problems.



First, neither the administration nor Congress has come anywhere close to financing the program fully. Second, the program, announced back in 2002, has yet to disburse a single dollar.

Most important, relying mostly on programs like the Millennium Challenge Account, which tie foreign aid to good governance, condemns millions of Africans who have dreadful governments (Liberia, Congo, Ivory Coast) or no government (Somalia) to die. No donor nation is, or should be, willing to direct money to despotic, thieving or incompetent governments likely to misspend it or divert it to the personal bank accounts of their leaders. Strict international criteria of political accountability, financial transparency and development-friendly social and economic policies need to be established and enforced, not just by outside donors but by prominent and influential African leaders, like South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki.

Help for people living under governments that fail these criteria will have to be channeled mainly through international and nongovernmental organizations. Bypassed governments will not like this, but they cannot be allowed to stand in the way of outside help to the victims of their misrule. It is not the fault of Africa's millions of refugees that warring armies have burned their villages and fields and driven them into unsafe and disease-ridden camps, like those in the Darfur region of Sudan. And no fair-minded person would blame the victims of callous and destructive governments, like Zimbabwe's, for the economic and social misery they create.

In the next few months, Mr. Bush could take a giant step towards altering the way the world views America by joining Mr. Blair in pushing for more help in Africa. It's past time; the continent is dying. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is anything but, some 1,000 people die every day of preventable diseases like malaria and diarrhea. That's the equivalent of a tsunami every five months, in that one country alone. Throughout the continent of Africa, thousands of people die needlessly every day from diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.



One hundred years ago, before we had the medical know-how to eradicate these illnesses, this might have been acceptable. But we are the first generation able to afford to end poverty and the diseases it spawns. It's past time we step up to the plate. We are all responsible for choosing to view the tsunami victims in Southeast Asia as more deserving of our help than the malaria victims in Africa. Jeffrey Sachs, the economist who heads the United Nations' Millennium Development Project to end global poverty, rightly takes issue with the press in his book "The End of Poverty": "Every morning," Mr. Sachs writes, "our newspapers could report, 'More than 20,000 people perished yesterday of extreme poverty.' "

So, on this page, we'd like to make a first step.

Yesterday, more than 20,000 people perished of extreme poverty.



Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Saturday, February 26, 2005

W.'s Stiletto Democracy

A Call To Action
The New York Times
February 27, 2005
OP-ED COLUMNIST

By MAUREEN DOWD

WASHINGTON

It was remarkable to see President Bush lecture Vladimir Putin on the importance of checks and balances in a democratic society.

Remarkably brazen, given that the only checks Mr. Bush seems to believe in are those written to the "journalists" Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher and Karen Ryan, the fake TV anchor, to help promote his policies. The administration has given a whole new meaning to checkbook journalism, paying a stupendous $97 million to an outside P.R. firm to buy columnists and produce propaganda, including faux video news releases.

The only balance W. likes is the slavering, Pravda-like "Fair and Balanced" coverage Fox News provides. Mr. Bush pledges to spread democracy while his officials strive to create a Potemkin press village at home. This White House seems to prefer softball questions from a self-advertised male escort with a fake name to hardball questions from journalists with real names; it prefers tossing journalists who protect their sources into the gulag to giving up the officials who broke the law by leaking the name of their own C.I.A. agent.

W., who once looked into Mr. Putin's soul and liked what he saw, did not demand the end of tyranny, as he did in his second Inaugural Address. His upper lip sweating a bit, he did not rise to the level of his hero Ronald Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Instead, he said that "the common ground is a lot more than those areas where we disagree." The Russians were happy to stress the common ground as well.

An irritated Mr. Putin compared the Russian system to the American Electoral College, perhaps reminding the man preaching to him about democracy that he had come in second in 2000 according to the popular vote, the standard most democracies use.

Certainly the autocratic former K.G.B. agent needs to be upbraided by someone - Tony Blair, maybe? - for eviscerating the meager steps toward democracy that Russia had made before Mr. Putin came to power. But Mr. Bush is on shaky ground if he wants to hold up his administration as a paragon of safeguarding liberty - considering it has trampled civil liberties in the name of the war on terror and outsourced the torture of prisoners to bastions of democracy like Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. (The secretary of state canceled a trip to Egypt this week after Egypt's arrest of a leading opposition politician.)

"I live in a transparent country," Mr. Bush protested to a Russian reporter who implicitly criticized the Patriot Act by noting that the private lives of American citizens "are now being monitored by the state."

Dick Cheney's secret meetings with energy lobbyists were certainly a model of transparency. As was the buildup to the Iraq war, when the Bush hawks did their best to cloak the real reasons they wanted to go to war and trumpet the trumped-up reasons.

The Bush administration wields maximum secrecy with minimal opposition. The White House press is timid. The poor, limp Democrats don't have enough power to convene Congressional hearings on any Republican outrages and are reduced to writing whining letters of protest that are tossed in the Oval Office trash.

When nearly $9 billion allotted for Iraqi reconstruction during Paul Bremer's tenure went up in smoke, Democratic lawmakers vainly pleaded with Republicans to open a Congressional investigation.

Even the near absence of checks and balances is not enough for W. Not content with controlling the White House, Congress, the Supreme Court and a good chunk of the Fourth Estate, he goes to even more ludicrous lengths to avoid being challenged.

The White House wants its Republican allies in the Senate to stamp out the filibuster, one of the few weapons the handcuffed Democrats have left. They want to invoke the so-called nuclear option and get rid of the 150-year-old tradition in order to ram through more right-wing judges.

Mr. Bush and Condi Rice strut in their speeches - the secretary of state also strutted in Wiesbaden in her foxy "Matrix"-dominatrix black leather stiletto boots - but they shy away from taking questions from the public unless they get to vet the questions and audiences in advance.

Administration officials went so far as to cancel a town hall meeting during Mr. Bush's visit to Germany last week after deciding an unscripted setting would be too risky, opting for a round-table talk in Mainz with preselected Germans and Americans.

The president loves democracy - as long as democracy means he's always right.

E-mail:

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Thrown To The Wolves

OP-ED COLUMNIST

Thrown to the Wolves
By BOB HERBERT

OTTAWA

If John Ashcroft was right, then I was staring into the malevolent,
duplicitous eyes of pure evil, the eyes of a man with the mass murder of
Americans on
his mind. But all I could really see was a polite, unassuming, neatly
dressed guy who looked like a suburban Little League coach.

If Mr. Ashcroft was right, then Maher Arar should have been in a U.S.
prison, not talking to me in an office in downtown Ottawa. But there he was,
a 34-year-old
man who now wears a perpetually sad expression, talking about his recent
experiences - a real-life story with the hideous aura of a hallucination.
Mr.
Arar's 3-year-old son, Houd, loudly crunched potato chips while his father
was being interviewed.

"I still have nightmares about being in Syria, being beaten, being in jail,"
said Mr. Arar. "They feel very real. When I wake up, I feel very relieved to
find myself in my room."

In the fall of 2002 Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, suddenly found himself
caught up in the cruel mockery of justice that the Bush administration has
substituted
for the rule of law in the post-Sept. 11 world. While attempting to change
planes at Kennedy Airport on his way home to Canada from a family vacation
in
Tunisia, he was seized by American authorities, interrogated and thrown into
jail. He was not charged with anything, and he never would be charged with
anything, but his life would be ruined.

Mr. Arar was surreptitiously flown out of the United States to Jordan and
then driven to Syria, where he was kept like a nocturnal animal in an unlit,
underground,
rat-infested cell that was the size of a grave. From time to time he was
tortured.

He wept. He begged not to be beaten anymore. He signed whatever confessions
he was told to sign. He prayed.

Among the worst moments, he said, were the times he could hear babies crying
in a nearby cell where women were imprisoned. He recalled hearing one woman
pleading with a guard for several days for milk for her child.

He could hear other prisoners screaming as they were tortured.

"I used to ask God to help them," he said.

The Justice Department has alleged, without disclosing any evidence
whatsoever, that Mr. Arar is a member of, or somehow linked to, Al Qaeda. If
that's
so, how can the administration possibly allow him to roam free? The Syrians,
who tortured him, have concluded that Mr. Arar is not linked in any way to
terrorism.

And the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a sometimes-clownish outfit that
seems to have helped set this entire fiasco in motion by forwarding bad
information
to American authorities, is being criticized heavily in Canada for failing
to follow its own rules on the handling and dissemination of raw classified
information.

Official documents in Canada suggest that Mr. Arar was never the target of a
terror investigation there. One former Canadian official, commenting on the
Arar case, was quoted in a local newspaper as saying "accidents will happen"
in the war on terror.

Whatever may have happened in Canada, nothing can excuse the behavior of the
United States in this episode. Mr. Arar was deliberately dispatched by U.S.
officials to Syria, a country that - as they knew - practices torture. And
if Canadian officials hadn't intervened, he most likely would not have been
heard from again.

Mr. Arar is the most visible victim of the reprehensible U.S. policy known
as extraordinary rendition, in which individuals are abducted by American
authorities
and transferred, without any legal rights whatever, to a regime skilled in
the art of torture. The fact that some of the people swallowed up by this
policy
may in fact have been hard-core terrorists does not make it any less
repugnant.

Mr. Arar, who is married and also has an 8-year-old daughter, said the pain
from some of the beatings he endured lasted for six months.

"It was so scary," he said. "After a while I became like an animal."

A lawsuit on Mr. Arar's behalf has been filed against the United States by
the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Barbara Olshansky, a
lawyer
with the center, noted yesterday that the government is arguing that none of
Mr. Arar's claims can even be adjudicated because they "would involve the
revelation of state secrets."

This is a government that feels it is answerable to no one.

E-mail:
bobherb@nytimes.com
Posted by Miriam V. 2/25

HIV prevalence in blacks doubles to 2 percent

A Call To Action


The Associated Press

BOSTON — The HIV infection rate has doubled among U.S. blacks over a decade while holding steady among whites.

Such numbers offer stark evidence of a widening racial gap in the epidemic.

Other troubling statistics indicate that almost half of all infected people in the United States who should be receiving HIV drugs are not getting them.

The findings were released Friday at the 12th annual Retrovirus Conference, the world's chief scientific gathering on the disease.

“It's incredibly disappointing,” said Terje Anderson, director of the National Association of People With AIDS. “We just have a burgeoning epidemic in the African-American community that is not being dealt with effectively.”

Researchers and AIDS prevention advocates attributed the high rate among blacks to such factors as drug addiction, poverty and poor access to health care.

The HIV rates were derived from the widely used National Health and Nutrition Examinations Surveys, which analyze a representative sample of U.S. households and contain the most complete HIV data in the country. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compared 1988-1994 data with figures from 1999-2002.

The surveys look only at young and middle-age adults who live in households, excluding such groups as soldiers, prisoners and the homeless. Thus, health officials think the numbers probably underestimate true HIV rates.

Still, they show a striking rise in the prevalence of the AIDS virus from 1 percent to 2 percent of blacks. White rates held steady at 0.2 percent. Largely because of the increase among blacks, the overall U.S. rate rose slightly from 0.3 percent to 0.4 percent.

Susan Buchbinder, who leads HIV research for San Francisco, recommended a stronger focus on treating drug addiction.

The lead CDC researcher, Geraldine McQuillan, said she was encouraged to see the HIV rate among younger blacks holding steady at just under 1.5 percent.

“It tells me we're making some headway,” she said.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Kansas On My Mind

A Call To Action


February 25, 2005
OP-ED COLUMNIST
Kansas on My Mind
By PAUL KRUGMAN

all it "What's the Matter With Kansas - The Cartoon Version."

The slime campaign has begun against AARP, which opposes Social Security privatization. There's no hard evidence that the people involved - some of them also responsible for the "Swift Boat" election smear - are taking orders from the White House. So you're free to believe that this is an independent venture. You're also free to believe in the tooth fairy.

Their first foray - an ad accusing the seniors' organization of being against the troops and for gay marriage - was notably inept. But they'll be back, and it's important to understand what they're up to.

The answer lies in "What's the Matter With Kansas?," Thomas Frank's meditation on how right-wingers, whose economic policies harm working Americans, nonetheless get so many of those working Americans to vote for them.

People like myself - members of what one scornful Bush aide called the "reality-based community" - tend to attribute the right's electoral victories to its success at spreading policy disinformation. And the campaign against Social Security certainly involves a lot of disinformation, both about how the current system works and about the consequences of privatization.

But if that were all there is to it, Social Security should be safe, because this particular disinformation campaign isn't going at all well. In fact, there's a sense of wonderment among defenders of Social Security about the other side's lack of preparation. The Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation have spent decades campaigning for privatization. Yet they weren't ready to answer even the most obvious questions about how it would work - like how benefits could be maintained for older Americans without a dangerous increase in debt.

Privatizers are even having a hard time pretending that they want to strengthen Social Security, not dismantle it. At one of Senator Rick Santorum's recent town-hall meetings promoting privatization, college Republicans began chanting, "Hey hey, ho ho, Social Security's got to go."

But before the anti-privatization forces assume that winning the rational arguments is enough, they need to read Mr. Frank.

The message of Mr. Frank's book is that the right has been able to win elections, despite the fact that its economic policies hurt workers, by portraying itself as the defender of mainstream values against a malevolent cultural elite. The right "mobilizes voters with explosive social issues, summoning public outrage ... which it then marries to pro-business economic policies. Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends."

In Mr. Frank's view, this is a confidence trick: politicians like Mr. Santorum trumpet their defense of traditional values, but their true loyalty is to elitist economic policies. "Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. ... Vote to stand tall against terrorists; receive Social Security privatization." But it keeps working.

And this week we saw Mr. Frank's thesis acted out so crudely that it was as if someone had deliberately staged it. The right wants to dismantle Social Security, a successful program that is a pillar of stability for working Americans. AARP stands in the way. So without a moment's hesitation, the usual suspects declared that this organization of staid seniors is actually an anti-soldier, pro-gay-marriage leftist front.

It's tempting to dismiss this as an exceptional case in which right-wingers, unable to come up with a real cultural grievance to exploit, fabricated one out of thin air. But such fabrications are the rule, not the exception.

For example, for much of December viewers of Fox News were treated to a series of ominous warnings about "Christmas under siege" - the plot by secular humanists to take Christ out of America's favorite holiday. The evidence for such a plot consisted largely of occasions when someone in an official capacity said, "Happy holidays," instead of, "Merry Christmas."

So it doesn't matter that Social Security is a pro-family program that was created by and for America's greatest generation - and that it is especially crucial in poor but conservative states like Alabama and Arkansas, where it's the only thing keeping a majority of seniors above the poverty line. Right-wingers will still find ways to claim that anyone who opposes privatization supports terrorists and hates family values.

Their first attack may have missed the mark, but it's the shape of smears to come.


E-mail: krugman@nytimes.com



Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Ashcroft's Legacy

A Call To Action
AlterNet

By Nancy Talanian, AlterNet
Posted on February 16, 2005, Printed on February 24, 2005
http://www.alternet.org/story/21280/

"The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal – well-meaning but without understanding." (Justice Louis D. Brandeis)

When President Bush chose former Sen. John Ashcroft to be attorney general in 2001, a common refrain among Missourians was that had they known, they would not have elected a dead man (Gov. Mel Carnahan) as their senator over the incumbent, John Ashcroft.

Several of Mr. Ashcroft's former colleagues in the Senate shared Missourians' doubts about him when they confirmed him on Feb. 1, 2001, as attorney general with only 58 votes, the fewest in the history of the office. (Attorney General Alberto Gonzales received the second-fewest votes – 60.) At Ashcroft's Judiciary Committee hearing prior to the vote, Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, said: "We know that while serving in high office, he has time and again aggressively used litigation and legislation in creative and inappropriate ways to advance his political and ideological goals. How can we have any confidence at all that he won't do the same thing with the vast new powers he will have at his disposal as attorney general of the United States?"

Before Sept. 11, 2001, Attorney General Ashcroft failed to make counterterrorism a priority or to grant the FBI the counterterrorism funding it claimed to need. (See his May 10, 2001, memo.) After Sept. 11th, under the guise of fighting terrorism, attorney general Ashcroft and his Justice Department drafted laws and enacted policies that granted sweeping new powers to the executive branch while reducing the powers of the judiciary and Congress and curtailing the rights of the people. To avoid meaningful debate, he capitalized on fears of terrorism and characterized himself and supporters of the new laws and executive branch policies as the true patriots who were doing everything possible to protect their country. In contrast, he accused those who cast doubt on the constitutionality of the new laws and policies of aiding the terrorists.

The naming of the USA Patriot Act was Mr. Ashcroft's "doublespeak" at its best. It was a resounding success in Congress, where it helped speed the Act's passage without committee mark-up or debate. But after its passage, as people gradually began to see the act's name as a disguise concealing its un-American contents, "USA Patriot Act" became synonymous with all the unjust laws, orders, practices, and policies the administration used after 9/11 to deny people their constitutional rights. Ashcroft and the DOJ staff have used the misleading phrase "terrorism related investigations" to give the American people the false impression that the thousands of men whom it detained had some connection to terrorism. In an article in The Nation, Georgetown University Law Center Professor David Cole notes that Mr. Ashcroft's record in so-called "terrorism" cases is "0 for 5,000" (http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20041004&s=cole).

Recognizing that knowledge is power, Mr. Ashcroft alternately concealed and revealed information to bolster his image. In November, he claimed his department was holding al-Qaeda members and would soon release their names. When none of the detainees apparently turned out to be members of al Qaeda, he simply classified the list of names, claiming that he didn't want to reveal to al Qaeda which of their members were in U.S. custody (http://www.cnss.org/agrelease.htm). On the other hand, he declassified a DOJ memo from the Clinton era written by 9/11 Commission member Jaime Gorelick to support his claim that the Clinton Administration had erected "the wall" between intelligence and law enforcement, and therefore, deserved blame for failing to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

At his frequent news conferences, Mr. Ashcroft was a master of hyperbole, trumpeting his department's successes in unraveling imaginary terrorist threats and sleeper cells, such as Jose Padilla's foiled "dirty bomb" plot that was never actually planned, and probably didn't involve a dirty bomb. But when things did not go his way, such as when the Detroit convictions he had touted were overturned because of prosecutorial misconduct, he was silent. When silence wasn't an option, he simply lied. He assured the American people that the post-9/11 detainees were allowed access to attorneys, a claim later refuted by a DOJ Inspector General's report. And just days before a copy of the DOJ-drafted Domestic Security Enhancement Act (AKA "Patriot II") landed in the hands of the Center for Public Integrity, Mr. Ashcroft denied to a member of Senator Leahy's staff that his department was drafting such a bill.

Mr. Ashcroft believes his greatest failure was not fully explaining to the American people how the USA Patriot Act has helped in the "war on terrorism." Many more would say he failed his country by placing his loyalty to the president and personal ambition above his duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. system of justice. His loyalty even caused him to argue forcefully for policies he personally opposed, such as the indefinite detentions at Guantanamo without legal recourse and military tribunals. Toward the end of his term, he prevented the Senate from seeing documents that might have shed light on Alberto Gonzales' and Michael Chertoff's actions, positions, and statements on the use of torture in interrogations.

But through his many failures, Mr. Ashcroft has reminded millions of us that, as Thomas Jefferson warned, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." Across the country, nearly 400 communities and four state legislatures have passed resolutions or ordinances affirming the constitutional rights of their 56 million residents. Hundreds more resolutions are in progress. Grassroots groups across the country will participate in a national debate this year over reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act's portions that sunset and other civil liberties abuses.

They are the legacy of John Ashcroft.

© 2005 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/21280/

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Bipartisan Study Assails No Child Left Behind Act

A Call To Action
The New York Times
February 23, 2005

By SAM DILLON

A bipartisan panel of state lawmakers that studied the effectiveness of President Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative assailed it today as a flawed, convoluted and unconstitutional education reform effort that had usurped state and local control of public schools.

While the report, based on hearings in several cities, praised the legislation's goal of ending the gap in scholastic achievement between white and minority students, most of its 77 pages was devoted to a detailed inventory and discussion of the initiative's flaws.

It found that the law undermined other school improvement efforts already under way in many states, and it said that the law's accountability system, which punishes schools whose students fail to improve steadily on standardized tests, relied on the wrong indicators.

"Under N.C.L.B., the federal government's role has become excessively intrusive in the day-to-day operations of public education," the National Conference of State Legislatures said in its panel's report. "The task force does not believe that N.C.L.B. is constitutional."

Several educational experts said the task force had accurately captured the views of thousands of state lawmakers and local educators. If so, then the Bush administration may face a growing chorus of challenges to the law and to the Department of Education's implementation of it over the coming months.

Nine state legislatures are currently considering various challenges to the law, and the Utah Senate is poised to vote on a bill already passed by its House that would require Utah education officials to give higher priority to state education laws than to the federal law.

Several business and other groups that strongly support the federal No Child Left Behind legislation took issue with the report, saying that the report's authors had overstated the quality of the state programs that they said the federal government had hampered.

In preparing their report, task force members worked for 10 months and held a series of public hearings in Washington, Chicago, Salt Lake City, New York, Santa Fe and Portland. The panel also met for deliberations in Savannah, Ga.

"They went out and heard lots of things from different people around the country, and this report reflects the breadth and depth of what they heard," said Patricia Sullivan, director of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy, who attended hearings in two cities.

An assistant secretary of education, Ray Simon, met with members of the task force in Washington today to discuss the report.

"The department will continue to work with every state to address their concerns and make this law work for their children," the Education Department said in a statement. "But the report could be interpreted as wanting to reverse the progress we've made."

It added, "No Child Left Behind is bringing new hope and new opportunity to families throughout America, and we will not reverse course."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Of, By and For Big Business

A Call To Action


Of, By and For Big Business
By Robert Scheer, AlterNet
Posted on February 22, 2005, Printed on February 23, 2005
http://www.alternet.org/story/21325/
Watching the 109th Congress, one would be forgiven for thinking our Constitution was the blueprint for a government of Big Business, by Big Business and for Big Business. Forget the people – this is Robin Hood in reverse.

Here's the agenda, as laid out by the president and the Republicans who control Congress: First, limit people's power to right wrongs done to them by corporations. Next, force people to repay usurious loans to credit card companies that make gazillions off the fine print. Then, for the coup de grace, hand over history's most successful public safety net to Wall Street.

Of course, the GOP and the White House use slightly different language for this corporate-lobbyist trifecta: "Tort reform," "eliminating abuse of bankruptcy" and "keeping Social Security solvent" are the preferred Beltway phrasings for messing with the little guy.

The first installment came last week with the passage of a law that will make it more difficult for consumers to win class-action lawsuits against private companies. Because state courts, which are closer to the people, have proved sympathetic to the liability claims of ordinary folks, the new legislation puts many class-action suits in federal courts, which turn out decisions more attuned to the heartfelt pleas of corporate attorneys.

What is so phony about the much ballyhooed tort reform is that it aims not at overzealous lawyers but only at those who happen to represent poorer plaintiffs. Corporate lawyers are very much in play in writing this new legislation.

Which is why we should expect severe limits on the amount of damages that can be collected by those harmed by asbestos exposure or by medical malpractice. Memo to would-be Erin Brockoviches: Don't give up your day job.

Next on the corporate wish list is savaging Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief, which is offered to individuals who can't pay their debts. It allows them to give up nonessential assets in exchange for a fresh start. Chapter 7 has been a tool for family and societal stability for decades; torquing it in the favor of credit card companies has been a fantasy of the industry for almost as long.

Never mind that it is obvious to everybody who gets junk mail that lenders should be far more responsible about how they hand out credit cards. The credit industry's sleazy come-ons, onerous interest rates and frantic marketing to teenagers go unaddressed by Congress; it is only consumers who are expected to be conscientious.

Is "onerous" too strong? Hardly. It's way beyond onerous when a struggling parent puts back-to-school expenses on an "introductory rate" credit card and then sees the interest rate surge toward 30 percent when she's two days late with her payment. Now $500 in books and clothes are going to cost her thousands by the time she can afford to finish paying for them. Ironically, considering the number of senators and representatives who love to quote Scripture, such outrageous usury was explicitly condemned in the Old Testament as what it is, "extortion."

And while the story of Jesus in the temple is also being roundly ignored, so is that other once- sacred pillar of the Republican philosophy: states' rights. Nearly all states have reasonable limits on interest rates, which have been trumped by D.C. politicians in the thrall of corporate lobbies. Sure, business interests deserve some clout in a democracy, but this is ridiculous.

In fact, the GOP's legislative calendar looks like a wish list sent over to the White House from the Chamber of Commerce across the street. Senate Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) dropped in there the other day after a breakfast meeting with the president to assure the chamber that its wishes would soon be law. After all, the chamber spent $168 million to push the anti-class-action lawsuit bill along. Still to come this session: raising allowable emissions standards on major pollutants, oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the granddaddy of all corporate payouts: privatization of Social Security.


So what's the big revelation? That, almost 2,000 years after Jesus routed those scoundrels, the money changers have not merely reentered the temple – they are the temple.



© 2005 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

The Secret Genocide Archive

A Call To Action


February 23, 2005
OP-ED COLUMNIST
The Secret Genocide Archive
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

hotos don't normally appear on this page. But it's time for all of us to look squarely at the victims of our indifference.

These are just four photos in a secret archive of thousands of photos and reports that document the genocide under way in Darfur. The materials were gathered by African Union monitors, who are just about the only people able to travel widely in that part of Sudan.

This African Union archive is classified, but it was shared with me by someone who believes that Americans will be stirred if they can see the consequences of their complacency.

The photo at the upper left was taken in the village of Hamada on Jan. 15, right after a Sudanese government-backed militia, the janjaweed, attacked it and killed 107 people. One of them was this little boy. I'm not showing the photo of his older brother, about 5 years old, who lay beside him because the brother had been beaten so badly that nothing was left of his face. And alongside the two boys was the corpse of their mother.

The photo to the right shows the corpse of a man with an injured leg who was apparently unable to run away when the janjaweed militia attacked.

At the lower left is a man who fled barefoot and almost made it to this bush before he was shot dead.

Last is the skeleton of a man or woman whose wrists are still bound. The attackers pulled the person's clothes down to the knees, presumably so the victim could be sexually abused before being killed. If the victim was a man, he was probably castrated; if a woman, she was probably raped.

There are thousands more of these photos. Many of them show attacks on children and are too horrific for a newspaper.

One wrenching photo in the archive shows the manacled hands of a teenager from the girls' school in Suleia who was burned alive. It's been common for the Sudanese militias to gang-rape teenage girls and then mutilate or kill them.

Another photo shows the body of a young girl, perhaps 10 years old, staring up from the ground where she was killed. Still another shows a man who was castrated and shot in the head.

This archive, including scores of reports by the monitors on the scene, underscores that this slaughter is waged by and with the support of the Sudanese government as it tries to clear the area of non-Arabs. Many of the photos show men in Sudanese Army uniforms pillaging and burning African villages. I hope the African Union will open its archive to demonstrate publicly just what is going on in Darfur.

The archive also includes an extraordinary document seized from a janjaweed official that apparently outlines genocidal policies. Dated last August, the document calls for the "execution of all directives from the president of the republic" and is directed to regional commanders and security officials.

"Change the demography of Darfur and make it void of African tribes," the document urges. It encourages "killing, burning villages and farms, terrorizing people, confiscating property from members of African tribes and forcing them from Darfur."

It's worth being skeptical of any document because forgeries are possible. But the African Union believes this document to be authentic. I also consulted a variety of experts on Sudan and shared it with some of them, and the consensus was that it appears to be real.

Certainly there's no doubt about the slaughter, although the numbers are fuzzy. A figure of 70,000 is sometimes stated as an estimated death toll, but that is simply a U.N. estimate for the deaths in one seven-month period from nonviolent causes. It's hard to know the total mortality over two years of genocide, partly because the Sudanese government is blocking a U.N. team from going to Darfur and making such an estimate. But independent estimates exceed 220,000 - and the number is rising by about 10,000 per month.

So what can stop this genocide? At one level the answer is technical: sanctions against Sudan, a no-fly zone, a freeze of Sudanese officials' assets, prosecution of the killers by the International Criminal Court, a team effort by African and Arab countries to pressure Sudan, and an international force of African troops with financing and logistical support from the West.

But that's the narrow answer. What will really stop this genocide is indignation. Senator Paul Simon, who died in 2003, said after the Rwandan genocide, "If every member of the House and Senate had received 100 letters from people back home saying we have to do something about Rwanda, when the crisis was first developing, then I think the response would have been different."

The same is true this time. Web sites like www.darfurgenocide.org and www.savedarfur.org are trying to galvanize Americans, but the response has been pathetic.

I'm sorry for inflicting these horrific photos on you. But the real obscenity isn't in printing pictures of dead babies - it's in our passivity, which allows these people to be slaughtered.

During past genocides against Armenians, Jews and Cambodians, it was possible to claim that we didn't fully know what was going on. This time, President Bush, Congress and the European Parliament have already declared genocide to be under way. And we have photos.

This time, we have no excuse.


E-mail: nicholas@nytimes.com



Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

South Korean report sparks currency sale

A Call To Action


- Tom Abate, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The dollar fell against the euro, the yen and other currencies Tuesday as traders dumped greenbacks after a report that South Korea's central bank plans to increase its nondollar reserves.

Against the euro, the dollar lost 1.5 percent, falling to $1.3260 from $1. 3068 in afternoon trading in New York, according to EBS, an electronic foreign- exchange system. It was the biggest drop since Aug. 6. The U.S. currency slid 1.3 percent to 104.13 yen from 105.54.

Central banks hold reserves to defend their currencies from speculative attacks and to help finance international borrowing and trade. The dollar has long been the world's leading reserve currency, although its position has been eroding.

A report from Reuters news service earlier this week disclosed the confidential diversification plan of South Korea's central bank, which holds roughly $200 billion in dollar reserves, making it one of the largest holders of U.S. currency. That spooked traders, who have been hearing a steady stream of bad news about U.S. budget and trade deficits.

"People really got excited, and a lot of them felt it was a significant statement,'' said Ray McKenzie, director of foreign currency products at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

The Australian and Canadian dollars also gained. The South Korean central bank statement that sparked the U.S. dollar dumping specifically cited the Australian and Canadian dollars as diversification candidates.

Economics Professor Don Nichols, a foreign-currency expert with the University of Wisconsin's La Follette School of Public Affairs, said Tuesday's sell-off reflects the market's reaction to fundamental weaknesses in the U.S. economy -- big federal budget deficits coupled with big foreign trade imbalances. These have forced the United States to borrow more, with foreigners holding a big share of U.S. debt.

The dollar's fall makes U.S. exports cheaper and could lessen the trade imbalance.

Authorities such as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan have questioned when foreign buyers would lose their appetite for dollars, Nichols said.

Other dollar holders in Asia have hinted they were reluctant to keep buying. In January, for instance, the chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority said that other countries would not finance U.S. deficits indefinitely.

Barbara Rockefeller, a Connecticut foreign-exchange expert and newsletter publisher, said the Korean statement provided the catalyst for traders to act.

The dollar, which has been sliding for about three years, had regained some strength relative to the euro and other leading currencies at the start of the year. That trend recently reached a critical point that analysts had been watching closely for. Rockefeller said this turning point caused traders to start buying foreign currency, which added force to Tuesday's dollar slide.

"Traders were looking for an excuse to do what they wanted to do anyway, '' Rockefeller said.

No one knows how far the dollar will slide and how this will affect its position as the world's dominant currency, said Brian Bethune, director of financial economics with the Massachusetts consulting firm Global Insight.

Europe and Japan, the economic powers whose currencies are the strongest challengers to the dollar, have lower growth rates than the United States, he noted. They have even larger problems related to funding retirement and health care programs, he added.

Rockefeller said that while the dollar will probably continue to slide, she does not expect it to lose its position as the world's reserve currency, principally for reasons of global politics rather than economics.

"You have to be a military power,'' she said, adding that no other nation can match American might.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.E-mail Tom Abate at tabate@sfchronicle.com.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Wag-the-Dog Protection

A Call To Action


February 22, 2005
OP-ED COLUMNIST
Wag-the-Dog Protection
By PAUL KRUGMAN

he campaign against Social Security is going so badly that longtime critics of President Bush, accustomed to seeing their efforts to point out flaws in administration initiatives brushed aside, are pinching themselves. But they shouldn't relax: if the past is any guide, the Bush administration will soon change the subject back to national security.

The political landscape today reminds me of the spring of 2002, after the big revelations of corporate fraud. Then, as now, the administration was on the defensive, and Democrats expected to do well in midterm elections.

Then, suddenly, it was all Iraq, all the time, and Harken Energy and Halliburton vanished from the headlines.

I don't know which foreign threat the administration will start playing up this time, but Bush critics should be prepared for the shift. They must curb their natural inclination to focus almost exclusively on domestic issues, and challenge the administration on national security policy, too.

I say this even though many critics, myself included, would prefer to stick with the domestic issues. After all, domestic issues, particularly Social Security, are very comfortable ground for moderates and liberals. The relevant facts are all in the public domain, voters clearly oppose the administration's hard-right agenda, and Mr. Bush's attack on Social Security stumbled badly out of the gate. It's understandable, then, that critiques of the administration's national security policy have faded into the background in recent months.

But a president can always change the subject to national security if he wants to - and Mr. Bush has repeatedly shown himself willing to play the terrorism card when he is losing the debate on other issues. So it's important to point out that Mr. Bush, for all his posturing, has done a very bad job of protecting the nation - and to make that point now, rather than in the heat of the next foreign crisis.

The fact is that Mr. Bush, while willing to go to war on weak evidence, hasn't taken the task of protecting America from terrorists at all seriously.

Consider, for example, the case of chemical plants.

Just days after 9/11, many analysts identified sites that store toxic chemicals as a major terror risk, and called for new safety rules. But as The New York Times reported last fall, "after the oil and chemical industries met with Karl Rove ... the White House quietly blocked those efforts."

Nearly three and a half years after 9/11, those chemical plants are still unprotected.

Other major risks identified within days of the attack included the possibility of terrorist attacks on major ports or nuclear plants. But in the months after 9/11, the administration flatly refused to allocate the sums that members of the House and Senate from both parties thought necessary to secure these sites.

And when the administration does spend money protecting possible terrorist targets, politics, not national security, dictates where the money goes. Remember the "first responders" program that ended up spending seven times as much protecting each resident of Wyoming as it spent protecting each resident of New York?

Well, it's still happening. An audit of the Homeland Security Department's (greatly inadequate) program to protect ports found that much of the money went to unlikely locations, including six sites in landlocked Arkansas, where the department's recently resigned chief of border and transportation security is reported to be considering a run for governor.

Nor are Mr. Bush's national security failures limited to nonmilitary policy. The administration appears to be in a state of denial over the effects of the endless war in Iraq on U.S. military readiness, particularly the strains on the reserves and the National Guard.

The ultimate demonstration of Mr. Bush's true priorities was his attempt to appoint Bernard Kerik as homeland security director. Either the administration didn't bother to do even the most basic background checks, or it regarded protecting the nation from terrorists as a matter of so little importance that it didn't matter who was in charge.

My point is that Mr. Bush's critics are falling unnecessarily into a trap if they focus only on domestic policies and allow Mr. Bush to keep his undeserved reputation as someone who keeps Americans safe. National security policy should not be a refuge to which Mr. Bush can flee when his domestic agenda falls apart.


E-mail: krugman@nytimes.com

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Monday, February 21, 2005

Now He Has the Power

A Call To Action
AlterNet

By John Nichols, The Nation
Posted on February 21, 2005, Printed on February 21, 2005
http://www.alternet.org/story/21304/

With the selection of Howard Dean as its chairman, the 213-year-old Democratic Party has become something it has not been for a long time: exciting. A measure of that came three days before the 447 members of the Democratic National Committee chose him, at a pre-victory party Dean held in a microbrewery just blocks from DNC headquarters. Hundreds of his mostly young, mostly liberal supporters packed the place to hear Dean declare the Democrats to be the "party of the future." They also got a signal that he remained "their man," not the neutered version of himself that party insiders were still hoping he might become in his new role. When a backer bellowed the updated Harry Truman slogan that became a mantra for Dean's presidential campaign – "Give 'em hell, Howard!" – a wicked grin rippled across Dean's face. "I'm trying to be restrained in my new role," he chirped. "I may be looking for a three-piece suit." Then he burst into laughter and exclaimed, "Fat chance!"

The crowd cheered. Reporters flipped open notebooks. A faint shudder was heard from the offices of Congressional Democratic leaders. And Republicans, recalling the Iowa caucus incident that so damaged Dean's presidential prospects, repeated their tired take on the Vermonter's political resurrection: "It's a scream."

But unlike past DNC chairs, Dean won't have to scream for attention. Taking over as chairman of a party that is locked out of the White House and unable to muster anything more than a "minority leader" to flex its legislative muscle, Dean has positioned himself as the most camera-ready Democrat in the country. As such, he is in a position to make his party – as opposed to an individual candidate or faction – more newsworthy and potentially more dangerous than it has been in decades. What remains to be seen, however, is whether Dean's tenure will prove merely a wild ride or a ride into the flourishing future the new chair promises: with huge gains in the 2006 elections and a Democratic President marching down Pennsylvania Avenue on Jan. 20, 2009.

Dean has become the Democratic Party's Rorschach test. Frustrated grassroots activists and donors see him as the tribune of their anti-war, anticorporate and anti-Bush views. Big thinkers see him as an idea filter who understands the potential of neglected issues and strategies. State and local party officials recognize him as a former governor who understands that Democrats can compete in all 50 states and is more likely to listen to them than Congressional leaders who remain obsessed with "targeted" states and races. Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson sums up the pro-Dean sentiment when he says Dean will "bring new spirit and new energy to the party, the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time." But his enthusiasm is not echoed by the Democratic insiders in D.Cc who have gotten so used to playing politics by GOP rules that they see Dean as a "madman" on a suicide mission that will wreck everything they know. New Republic commentator Jonathan Chait put their fears into words when he grumbled that "Dean, with his intense secularism, arrogant style, throngs of high-profile counterculture supporters and association with the peace movement, is the precise opposite of the image Democrats want to send out."

The fact that Dean inspires such diverse passions among Democrats says as much about the party's current troubles as it does about him. The truth is that his is a fairly conventional story of political progress. He was a successful, if not particularly progressive, Vermont governor who – in the tradition of small-state governors making big splashes in national Democratic politics – mounted an innovative run for the presidential nomination that inspired bedraggled party cadres. That campaign was doomed not by Dean's anti-war rhetoric or advocacy of domestic reforms but by his bumbling transition from insurgent to frontrunner. Were it not for another candidate's bumbling, that might have been the end of his story. "If Kerry had won, he would have picked the chairman and it wouldn't have been Howard," says Mike Tate, a former DNC member who worked for Dean's presidential campaign. "What happened in November opened up a debate about the party's future that Dean could be a part of. In fact, he'll be leading it."

Historically, the DNC has rubber-stamped as chairman the choice of whatever establishment figure was calling the shots – a president, former president, Congressional leader or big contributor. But with Kerry defeated, Bill Clinton retired and Democratic Congressional leaders struggling to remain afloat in the GOP tide, the way was clear for something Democrats hadn't seen in years: a genuine contest. The competition suited Dean and the activists, but it horrified Beltway Democrats. Much of the griping about Dean by the party's Washington elites and their amen corner in that city's punditocracy was rooted in their faith that the DNC chairman was supposed to be someone like them: a D.C. veteran who knew more about where to grab lunch near K Street than about the best diner in Keokuk, Iowa. Thus, they cheered as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (as well as Kerry) all moved to block Dean's return to the fray. They never quite figured out that Dean was going to win because he'd been to that diner in Keokuk, and he'd met there with beleaguered grassroots Democrats who appreciated his saying, "We need to be proud to be Democrats" – and appreciated even more his suggestion that the way to express that pride is as a genuine opposition party.

"Dean understands that the essence of a good political communicator is somebody who can execute strong message contrasts," says former DNC chair David Wilhelm, a Chicago-based pol who never quite fit into the Washington scene. "Maybe what seemed wild in a presidential candidate will seem much more normal in a chair of a national party." As such, Dean picked up lots of support from Democrats who were never Deaniacs but knew the party had to change. "The Washington axis tends to cast the question in terms of right versus left, but the better way of looking at it is outside versus inside," former Labor Secretary Robert Reich told a reporter. "The Republicans have somehow managed to root themselves outside of Washington, and it's worked to their advantage. But the Democrats are rooted now essentially inside the Senate. Ugh. The argument for Dean is that he'll help change that."

A story line being developed by Dean's critics, and some Dean enthusiasts, says his people took over the party. They didn't. Dean won the contest by doing what he did best during the 2004 campaign: relentlessly working the phones to connect with the people who do the heavy lifting in the party (he called the Arizona Democratic Party chair at 10:30 on a Saturday night to discuss the DNC race) and getting local activists in neglected corners of the country excited. "I was not going to vote for Howard Dean," says Randy Roy, a Topeka hotel owner and Kansas representative on the DNC. "Then I heard him and he won me over. He doesn't put his finger up in the wind. He says we are the party of social justice. We are the party that evens the playing field for the little guy. And he recognizes that we need to say that again and again and again."

The Washington-insider line on Dean was that he would be anathema to Democrats from "red" states like Kansas, where Kerry won only a single county. The reality was the opposite: Some of Dean's first major endorsements for chair came from party leaders in Alabama, Mississippi and, yes, Kansas. When Reid suggested that Justice Antonin Scalia would be an acceptable chief justice, Dean disagreed. That created a stir in Washington, including an "it's not your job to set policy" admonishment from outgoing chair Terry McAuliffe. But it didn't hurt Dean with DNC members. "That, to me, is one more reason to elect him chairman," says Roy.

Now that Dean is chairman, he'll have to strike a balance between grassroots Democrats, who want the party to be more muscular in opposition, and Congressional Democrats, who tend to believe, as Pelosi has argued, that the chair will "take his lead from us." Dean, who once ran the Democratic Governors Association and knows a lot about party etiquette, won't go to war with the Congressional leaders. But, as one Dean backer said, "He has to prod them. I mean, what's the point of making Dean party chair if he isn't going to get these people to use their backbones?" Dean's aides say he will lie low initially, looking for fights where he can put a charged-up party to work for Congressional Democrats, perhaps in defense of Social Security, perhaps in opposition to a Supreme Court nominee.

Dean will paper over a lot of tensions if he can make the DNC as essential for Democratic candidates as the RNC is for Republicans. Even before Dean's election as chair, the DNC made a major commitment to aid party nominees in 2005 contests for mayor of New York City and governor of New Jersey and Virginia. And the DNC will be all over the 2006 fights for the Senate, where Democrats will struggle to defend more seats than the GOP, and the House, where Democratic prospects should be somewhat better. But Dean's best chance to prove himself will be at the state and local levels, where three dozen governorships, attorneys general slots, control of state legislatures and thousands of county posts that are vital to rebuilding the party's infrastructure will be at stake. Dean's pledge to transform the party into a grassroots organization "that can win in all 50 states" will be put to the test. Dean – energized by the success that Democracy for America, the successor organization to his 2004 campaign, had in aiding successful local campaigns in places like Salt Lake County, Utah, and Montgomery, Ala. – relishes the prospect, an attitude that distinguishes him from predecessors who seldom found time for legislative races, let alone county commission contests.

Dean starts with a DNC that is financially sound – McAuliffe left a surplus, and Kerry just kicked in another $1 million from unspent campaign funds – and that has developed a broadened base of small donors. But Dean will need to expand that base, not only because it will free him and the party from the constraints placed on it in the 1990s by an overreliance on big donors and special interests but also because his ambitious program will require him to move a lot of money out of the D.C. headquarters, which McAuliffe spent so much time renovating. Dean's plan to spend at least $11 million annually to beef up state parties will be his most expensive early initiative. But he has a lot of big ideas. "The tools that were pioneered in my [presidential] campaign – like blogs and Meetups and streaming video – are just a start," he says. "We must use all of the power and potential of technology as part of an aggressive outreach to meet and include voters, to work with the state parties, and to influence media coverage."

One of the most intriguing measures of the difference between Dean and his DNC predecessors is the excitement his election has generated among people with big ideas about strategy and policy. Internet innovators like Zach Exley and Zephyr Teachout have already made smart proposals for how to push the technological envelope [see Katrina vanden Heuvel's Feb. 13 "Editor's Cut" weblog at www.thenation.com]. But where Dean could cause the greatest stir is in championing bold new approaches that will again make the Democrats a party of ideas. He still converses with the wide circle of academics and activists who, during the 2004 campaign, transformed an initially cautious candidate into a champion of innovative proposals to create a national commission on how to restore democracy, break up media conglomerates and force corporations to provide not just a full financial accounting but also a social accounting of their adherence to environmental, labor and community standards. After the campaign finished, Dean kept talking to public intellectuals like Benjamin Barber, who introduced him to progressive leaders from around the world on a trip to Rome last year, and whose ideas about how America can relate to the world offer the party a framework for a positive internationalism.

What's genuinely exciting about the Dean chairmanship is the prospect that the party might come to mirror its new chief's enthusiasm for bold stances and strategies. Dean's best applause line in the race for DNC chair was, "We cannot win by being Republican-lite. We've tried it; it does not work." For all the important talk of rebuilding state parties and using new technologies, what matters most about Dean's election as DNC chair is his recognition that Democrats have to be serious about holding out to Americans the twin promises of reform and progress, and that they are not going to do that by tinkering with the status quo. "We just can't let the Republicans define the debate anymore. We have to be the party of ideas," Randy Roy says from Topeka. "Dean understands that we have to be the party that shakes things up."
© 2005 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/21304/

A New Target for Advisers to Swift Vets

A Call To Action
The New York Times
February 21, 2005

By GLEN JUSTICE

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 - Taking its cues from the success of last year's Swift boat veterans' campaign in the presidential race, a conservative lobbying organization has hired some of the same consultants to orchestrate attacks on one of President Bush's toughest opponents in the battle to overhaul Social Security.

The lobbying group, USA Next, which has poured millions of dollars into Republican policy battles, now says it plans to spend as much as $10 million on commercials and other tactics assailing AARP, the powerhouse lobby opposing the private investment accounts at the center of Mr. Bush's plan.

"They are the boulder in the middle of the highway to personal savings accounts," said Charlie Jarvis, president of USA Next and former deputy under secretary of the interior in the Reagan and first Bush administrations. "We will be the dynamite that removes them."

Though it is not clear how much money USA Next has in hand for the campaign - Mr. Jarvis will not say, and the group, which claims 1.5 million members, does not have to disclose its donors - officials say that the group's annual budget was more than $28 million last year. The group, a membership organization with no age requirements for joining, has also spent millions in recent years vigorously supporting Bush proposals on tax cuts, energy and the Medicare prescription drug plan.

So far, the groups dueling over Social Security have been relatively tame, but the plans by USA Next foreshadow what could be a steep escalation in the war to sway public opinion and members of Congress in the days ahead.

Already, AARP is holding dozens of forums on the issue, has sent mailings to its 35 million members and has spent roughly $5 million on print advertisements in major newspapers opposing private accounts. "If we feel like gambling," some advertisements said, "we'll play the slots."

AARP is spending another $5 million on a new print advertising campaign beginning this week.

To help set USA Next's strategy, the group has hired Chris LaCivita, an enthusiastic former marine who advised Swift Vets and P.O.W.'s for Truth, formerly known as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, on its media campaign and helped write its potent commercials. He earned more than $30,000 for his work, campaign finance filings show.

Officials said the group is also seeking to hire Rick Reed, a partner at Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm, a firm that was hired by Swift Vets and was paid more than $276,000 to do media production, records show.

For public relations, USA Next has turned to Creative Response Concepts, a Virginia firm that represented both Swift Vets - the company was paid more than $165,000 - and Regnery Publishing, the publisher of "Unfit for Command," a book about Senator John Kerry's military service whose co-author was John E. O'Neill, one of the primary leaders of Swift Vets.

Swift Vets captured headlines for weeks in last year's presidential race, when it spent millions of dollars on incendiary commercials attacking Senator Kerry's war record. Because federal law prohibits outside groups from coordinating with presidential campaigns during elections, the organization came under fire when it was revealed that a lawyer for Mr. Bush's campaign was also advising Swift Vets.

Mr. Bush criticized groups like Swift Vets last year, and his campaign kept its distance from the groups' attacks on Mr. Kerry. In policy battles like the one looming over Social Security, though, there is no prohibition against coordination. Several huge business lobbies, like the Business Roundtable, have become closely linked to Mr. Bush's plans for Social Security and have assembled coalitions to promote the proposals across the country.

In the case of USA Next, the group and the White House say they are not working together. Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, said the administration was familiar with the group and has interacted with it on issues in the past, but said that it had no input on its current efforts. USA Next says it has taken pains to disassociate itself from the administration, even declining to join the large lobbying coalitions the White House is working with to pass Social Security legislation.

"We don't like asking anyone for permission to do anything," Mr. Jarvis said. "We totally support the president's boldness on Social Security, but we don't coordinate with the White House or the Hill. We know the people at the White House agree with us and we agree with them."

.

USA Next has been portraying AARP as a liberal organization out of step with Republican values, and is now trying to discredit its stance on Social Security. USA Next's campaign has involved appearances by its leaders, including Art Linkletter, its national chairman, on Fox News and various television programs. Its commercials are to be broadcast around the country in coming weeks.

AARP, the largest organization representing middle-aged and older Americans, is considered a major obstacle to Mr. Bush's Social Security plan in part because of its size and influence with the elderly. Though it is officially nonpartisan, and it stood beside the administration to help pass a prescription drug bill in 2003, many Republicans have long characterized the group as left-leaning.

Officials at AARP say that their organization has weathered attacks and allegations of partisanship over the years and that they were not overly concerned about the current barrage.

"I don't ever want to see someone attack us, but we haven't found they had a significant impact in the past," said David Certner, the group's director of federal affairs.

One USA Next official predicted that this time around, the campaign would be so aggressive that the White House might not to want to associate with it.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the White House doesn't want anything to do with a group that is attacking the AARP," the official said, adding, "We are not going to drag them into this mess."

At one point recently, USA Next was also talking to Terry Nelson, the former national political director of Mr. Bush's campaign who is a partner at Dawson McCarthy Nelson Media, about working as a consultant. But Mr. Nelson was already employed by Compass, a coalition of major trade associations working with the White House to support Mr. Bush's plan, and that stopped the deal. "They wanted to maintain absolute independence," Mr. Nelson said. "They felt it was a conflict for them."

Mr. Jarvis said the group's goal is to peel off one million members from AARP, by presenting itself as a conservative, free-market alternative. He says USA Next surveys show that more than 37 percent of AARP members call themselves Republicans.

"We are going to take them on in hand-to-hand combat," said Mr. Jarvis, who is biting in his remarks about AARP, calling the group "stodgy, overweight, bureaucratic and out of touch."

Formerly known as the United Seniors Association, USA Next was founded in 1991 by Richard Viguerie, a Republican pioneer and mastermind of direct mailings, who raised millions of dollars from older Americans using solicitations that sent alarming messages about Social Security. In 1992, there were allegations that the group was used as a device to enrich other companies owned by Mr. Viguerie, drawing criticism from watchdog groups and Democratic lawmakers.

Mr. Jarvis, who joined the group in 2001, said he knew little about the allegations, and Mr. Viguerie could not be reached for comment. The group persevered and has grown in the years since then. The group spent years primarily working with direct mail before changing to a model that emphasized the use of heavy television and radio advertising to get its message across, fueled by millions of dollars from wealthy donors, trade associations and companies that share its views.

Mr. Jarvis said donors have included food, nutrition, energy and pharmaceutical companies, which have given money to support various advertising campaigns.

In previous years, and often during elections, the money was used to saturate the airwaves with advertisements. In 2002, for example, the group relied partly on money from the pharmaceutical industry to spend roughly $9 million on television commercials and mailings supporting Republican prescription drug legislation and the lawmakers who backed it.

The group spent more money than any other interest group on House races that year, according to a study by the Wisconsin Advertising Project, and drew charges from Democrats that it was a stealth campaign by the pharmaceutical industry to support House Republicans. The group denied the allegations. Critics contended that the group was a front for corporate special interests. In a 2002 report, Public Citizen's Congress Watch denounced it, calling its leadership "hired guns."

In 2003 and 2004, USA Next was again heavily represented, spending roughly $20 million, according to the group's own numbers. It sponsored more than 19,800 television and radio advertisements last year alone.

To USA Next, the battle lines have already been drawn, and it does not shy away from comparisons to the veterans' campaign against Senator Kerry. "It's an honor to be equated with the Swift boat guys," Mr. Jarvis said.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Democrats Grass Roots Shift The Power

washingtonpost.com: Democrats' Grass Roots Shift the Power

jump/wpni
washingtonpost.com
Democrats' Grass Roots Shift the Power
Activists Energized Fundraising, but Some Worry They Could Push Party to
Left

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page A04

The bloggers have been busy on the Democratic National Committee Web site
since Howard Dean was elected party chairman a week ago.

"Paul in OC" and "Steviemo in MN" wrote that they had made their first-ever
contributions to the national committee. Someone identified as "J" pleaded
with
Dean to come to Florida, "home of Baby Bush," to "heal the irritating red
and help us become a cool blue state again." "Donna in Evanston" wrote,
"It's
sad, but it is up to the grassroots to set the example for our
representatives in Washington. Howard gets it. Maybe some day the beltway
bunch will get
it too."

Those sentiments square neatly with Dean's call for "bottom-up reform" of
the Democratic Party and the further empowerment of grass-roots activists
who
flexed their political muscle in his unsuccessful presidential campaign.
They later became the backbone of organizing and fundraising efforts by John
F.
Kerry's campaign and the DNC's election-year efforts.

But the rising of this grass-roots force also signals a shift in the balance
of power within the party, one that raises questions about its ultimate
impact
on a Democratic Party searching for direction and identity after losses in
2002 and 2004.

At a minimum, say party strategists, the shift will mean a more
confrontational Democratic Party in battles with President Bush and the
Republicans. But
some strategists worry that the influence of grass-roots activists could
push the party even further to the left, particularly on national security,
reinforcing
a weakness that Bush exploited in his reelection campaign.

It was Dean during the presidential primaries who argued that it was time
for the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" to reassert itself, an
implicit
criticism of strategies that guided President Bill Clinton in his battles
with Republicans in the 1990s. Clinton recently warned Democrats not to
assume
that the policies he pursued are incompatible with a vibrant, progressive
wing of the party.

As Dean takes the helm as party chairman, Democrats now face a competition
between what might be called the Dean model and the Clinton model, between
confrontation
and triangulation. This amounts to a contest between a bold reassertion of
the party's traditional philosophy that fits the polarized environment of
the
Bush presidency vs. a less provocative effort to balance core values with
centrist ideas that proved successful in the 1990s but has since produced a
backlash
within the party.

Dean recognizes the difficult job ahead as he tries to welcome a cadre of
political outsiders, many of them turned off by the party's recent
leadership,
into the institutional party he now heads. His first steps have sought to
bridge the ideological divisions with a call for a party that is fiscally
responsible
and socially progressive.

Tom Ochs, a top Dean adviser, said the challenge is less about ideology than
the political culture of the audiences to whom Dean is speaking. "It's
clearly
an insider-outsider thing that I think crosses ideological terrain, where
there are people who haven't been involved who want to be involved and see
in
Governor Dean someone who wasn't part of an existing enterprise," he said.
"I'm very optimistic about our ability to do what a lot of people think will
be hard to do, which is to get a lot of people involved, regardless of their
ideology, to get Democrats elected."

But other Democrats, a number of whom declined to be quoted by name because
they wanted to be more candid about the problems they see, said there are
ideological
overtones to the growing significance of the grass roots. They said the
belief by some of those activists that Democrats can solve their problems by
playing
more directly to their core constituents ignores several realities,
particularly the question of whether voters see Democrats as strong enough
to win the
war on terrorism. One strategist called that the "one scab" where
differences may be difficult to resolve.

Another Democrat, firmly in the party's centrist camp, said, "It's striking
to me how reluctant the party is to come to terms with the fact that we have
a painfully obvious national security threshold that we're going to have to
cross if we're going to rule this country again."

It is no surprise that Democratic leaders are paying much closer attention
to grass-roots activists. In 2003 and 2004, those activists became
prodigious
contributors to the Democratic Party, to Kerry and to Dean, who first tapped
into their potential through the Internet during his campaign for the
Democratic
nomination.

Figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show that in 2003 and
2004, the DNC raised $171 million in contributions of less than $250. That
represented 42 percent of the $404.5 million raised from all sources by the
committee. Four years ago, before large soft-money contributions were banned
by the new campaign finance reform law, the DNC raised a total of $260
million from all sources. Kerry's campaign raised an additional $84 million
in contributions
under $250.

In the 1980s, Democrats courted corporate interests for political
contributions, and that marriage helped influence party policy on economic
and tax issues.
But it also produced complaints by liberal Democrats that the party was
selling out its principles for campaign cash. Gauging the ideological
complexion
of the small donors who opened their wallets in 2004 is much harder, but
their participation in the process has diminished the power of business
interests
within the party and likely will produce some shift in the party's ideology
as well.

"If the choice is between the grass roots and the big soft contributors of
the prior period, I prefer the grass roots," said Stan Greenberg, a
Democratic
pollster who did considerable polling for MoveOn.org before shifting to the
Kerry campaign last year. "What McCain-Feingold [campaign finance
legislation]
did was produce a shift away from soft money to grass-roots support. The
great fear was it wouldn't happen, that Democrats would be left without
resources.
But starting with Dean and extending to outside groups like MoveOn, but also
John Kerry and the DNC, there was a surge of giving and engagement that I
can't believe isn't healthy."

Eli Pariser, who runs the MoveOn political action committee, said the rising
power of the grass roots will make establishment Democrats uncomfortable and
has helped reinvigorate the progressive wing of the party. But he said more
than that, it has brought about a rethinking of how Democrats should
organize
themselves against Republicans.

"I think it's pretty clear that the era of triangulation is over," he said.
"The reason for that is that if you step halfway between Republicans and
Democrats,
you get your head cut off by Republicans. There's no compromise and no
mercy, so I think it's pretty clear that Democrats need to be an opposition
that
can explain why we believe the current administration is corrupt and
misleading the country. It's not something you can do easily by putting
yourself somewhere
between the poles."

Many Democrats see the choice between nurturing the base and reaching out to
expand the party's coalition as a false choice. "I find the 'base versus
swing
' conversation not only to be a false choice but to be a deadly choice,"
said Mark Mellman, a pollster and adviser to Kerry's campaign. "If somebody
is
forcing that choice on us, they are forcing us to lose elections."

Clinton recently told Democrats not to succumb to the idea that they must
choose between a vibrant progressive wing and the strategies he followed as
president.
Mark Penn, Clinton's pollster in 1996 and an adviser to Sen. Hillary Rodham
Clinton (D-N.Y.), said he sees a greater desire on the part of Democrats to
reach a consensus around that model. But he said Democrats have to view the
grass roots more expansively.

"I think [Clinton's] remarks represented the view that there is a synthesis
here for Democrats that is not left or right, but the right kind of
grass-roots
movement will take that into account," he said. "I think the Republicans
organized a wide diversity of people [in 2004]. It wasn't just religious
people
but a wide diversity of people they coaxed to the polls."

Simon Rosenberg, founder of the centrist New Democrat Network and a
challenger to Dean in the race for DNC chairmanship, said he did not know
the ideological
implications of an energized grass roots but urged centrists not to fear
such a development. "Who can be scared at having millions of people giving
money
and fighting?" he said. "But it's not enough for us to win."

The spike in activity on the DNC Web site in the past week shows that Dean's
election has excited grass-roots activists, but keeping them happy may not
be as easy as he thinks.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Posted by Miriam V Feb. 20


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