Daily Briefing


What Opposition?
Silenced in Hong Kong
Falwell on Islam
Park Official’s Principled Stand

WAR WATCH
What Opposition?

It now appears certain that Congress will give President Bush sweeping authority to wage war against Iraq. A small handful of liberal and progressive Democrats continue to oppose the president’s push, but, as the Associated Press reports, the party’s election-minded leadership is quickly falling into line behind the White House.

The expected vote will, in all likelihood, also mark the end of the ongoing debate over the Democrat Party’s foreign policy — or the lack thereof. But, as Todd Purdum of The New York Times notes, the issue has been around since the Korean War, and isn’t going away.

The internal fight was perhaps best illustrated by a pair of contrary opinions last week. First, former senator Gary Hart, writing in the Times, argued that his Democratic brethren have ceded all authority on military matters, writing the president a blank check in an effort to “protect themselves against the traditional conservative charge of being “soft on defense.”

Hart’s criticisms — and his call for the Democrats to question the president’s war policies — were rapidly rejected by a House Democrat who, like Gephardt, has said he will support the White House resolution. Congressman Zell Miller, writing in The Wall Street Journal, suggests that Democrats are better served by supporting the commander-in-chief, arguing that “no matter how it is articulated, no matter how laudable or well intended, the antiwar, peace-at-almost-any price position is a loser for Democrats.”

Of course, the lack of meaningful Democratic opposition is nothing new. As Linda Feldmann and Warren Richey of The Christian Science Monitor report, the Bush administration “has taken a series of measures consolidating presidential power,” overriding or simply ignoring what few questions Democrats have raised. The unprecedented resolution giving Bush a free hand to wage war against Iraq, Feldmann and Richey write, is just another link in that chain.

Meanwhile, a few pundits outside Washington continue to ask the questions election-wary Democratic leaders seem unwilling to. Al Neuharth, writing in USA Today, reminds us that the Bush administration has yet to provide evidence justifying a preemptive strike against Iraq. “The president and Vice President Cheney, neither of whom has been on the firing line in war, are hell-bent on firing away at Iraq,” Neuharth writes. “Inspections or verification of suspicions be damned.”

FOREIGN NEWS
Silenced in Hong Kong

The government of Hong Kong finally announced its long-awaited proposal for anti-subversion laws last week, and human rights activists are worried, the BBC reports. The Beijing-drafted laws, designed to protect “national security,” would limit speech that incites sedition and would allow Hong Kong and Chinese authorities to search the homes of those suspected of subversion against the state.

Suggesting that “ China’s slow march toward openness took a big leap backward,” the editorial board of The Christian Science Monitor argues that the laws are a clear attempt by Beijing to squash free speech and political dissent.

POLITICS
Falwell on Islam

He’s at it again. “I think Muhammad was a terrorist,” the Rev. Jerry Falwell told CBS’s “60 Minutes.” Falwell declares that he arrived at that conclusion after reading Muslim and non-Muslim writings on Muhammad, according to the Associated Press. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relation in Washington, wasn’t fazed by Falwell’s new statements. “Anybody is free to be a bigot if they want to,” Hooper says.

ENVIRONMENT
Park Official’s Principled Stand

The superintendant of Yosemite National Park has said he will resign rather than accept a transfer to Great Smoky Mountain National Park, where he claims the Bush administration has embraced plans critics call “two of the largest threats to any park in the national park system,” The Washington Post reports. Superintendent David Mihalic says the proposals — the cutting of a road through the least-touched forest in the East, and a land swap with an adjacent Cherokee tribe — run counter not only to his own dedication to forest preservation, but also to Park Service policy.

An Emerging Movement?
Death in the Water
Bush Bullying Health Groups
Trashing the Agency

WAR WATCH
An Emerging Movement?

Tens of thousands of Americans gathered in cities across the country this weekend, protesting the Bush administration’s feverish drive towards war with Iraq. But will those gatherings coalesce into a viable, national anti-war movement?

Marty Jezer, writing in TomPaine.com, makes a compelling case that such a movement is not only possible, but could still carry the day. Given the broad public ambivalence about invading Iraq, however, Jezer argues that the movement “needs to be an inclusive citizens’ movement that looks beyond the reach of existing peace and anti-war organizations.”

The weekend’s protests were defined by that inclusiveness — as Jennifer Langston of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted: “Mennonites mixed with anarchists. There were groups of Vietnam veterans, social workers and blue-haired teenagers — all opposed to a brewing war.” And organizers of the various protests — coordinated by the New York-based umbrella group Not In Our Name — are taking pains to portray the diverse, multi-message nature of the gatherings as a strength, not a lack of focus.

Recent polls show that a majority of Americans are opposed to war with Iraq if the US has to act alone, without allies or the support of the United Nations. By all indications, the national ambivalence over the administration’s insistent saber-rattling is growing. Except on Capitol Hill, where only a small cadre of about two dozen lawmakers continue to rally around an anti-war message, questioning the Bush administration’s ‘attack now’ doctrine. One of those lawmakers, Rep. Jim McDermott, told his Seattle-area constituents that a popular protest is needed to keep Bush from claiming unprecedented war-waging powers. “This president is trying to bring to himself all the power to become an emperor — to create Empire America,” McDermott told his supporters.

ENVIRONMENT
Death in the Water

Thousands of salmon and trout have died in the Klamath River of northern California and Oregon, and a growing chorus of critics is point the finger of blame directly at Washington. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has been unwilling to speculate about the cause of the fish kill-off, but a broad coalition of native tribes, environmentalists, and fishery advocates aren’t so hesitant. The deaths, they argue, were caused by the diversion of water from the Upper Klamath to serve agriculture in the river basin.

Now, the Yurok tribe is considering filing suit against the federal government for failing to honor historic treaties protecting the tribe’s livelihood. As Michelle Cole of The Oregonian explains, the fish kill has “far-reaching implications for Native Americans who depend on the seasonal fish runs for economic, cultural and spiritual sustenance .”

HEALTH
Bush Bullying Health Groups

While the nation may be focused on the threat of war, the Bush administration has continued to push its conservative social agenda, punishing ideological opponents — particularly in the area of sex education. The Washington Post reported last week that AIDS groups and safe sex advocates are accusing the administration of embarking on a war of disinformation and intimidation directed at organizations which disagree with its arch-conservative, abstinence-only doctrine. AIDS groups critical of administration policies have been singled out for federal investigations while pro-abstinence groups have been rewarded with grant money. All of which makes Michelle Cottle fume. Writing in The New Republic, Cottle blasts the administration’s hypocrisy and idiocy: “Our president sowed his wild oats, found Jesus, and now believes that a firm government policy of Just Say No is the only way to protect today’s youth from their baser instincts,” she writes.

LAW & JUSTICE
Trashing the Agency

Can the CIA’s reputation get any worse? First came weeks of acrimonious hearings on the agency’s pre-Sept. 11 bungling of terror intelligence. Now, the spymasters stand accused of withholding crucial intelligence from a Senate committee reviewing the administration’s plans to invade Iraq, prompting a new outburst of analysis from pundits left and right. David Corn argues on Alternet.org that “in Washington’s bureaucratic culture, self-protection comes before accountability.” What has become abundantly clear, Corn says, is that the culture is as strong among spooks as other government employees. Meanwhile, the true-blue conservative editorial board of The Washington Times argues that there’s nothing wrong at the CIA that a change of leadership and an infusion of cash couldn’t fix. On the first count, Corn and the Times editors agree: CIA chief George Tenet needs to be dumped. But Corn isn’t about to let the rest of the agency off the hook. “It’s about time Congress got mad with the Agency,” he writes.

Bush: Who Needs Proof?
Conservatives: Not Us!
A GM-Free Brazil?
Mormons Mum on Utah Waste Site

WAR WATCH
Bush: Who Needs Proof?

So, did President Bush’s Cincinatti speech lay out a convincing case for his administration’s headlong rush into a war against Iraq? Not if it takes evidence to convince you. As Robert Jenson aptly points out on Common Dreams, Bush failed to present a single shred of compelling new information backing up his aggressive rhetoric:

“Bush’s argument reduces to this: No one can prove that Saddam Hussein is not planning to attack us. And if he had a nuclear weapon, no one can prove he wouldn’t use it. And if he used it, it is possible he could destroy us. So, to stop this unknown, unproven, unquantifiable, logic-defying “threat gathering against us,” we must go to war or risk seeing a mushroom cloud rise over the United States.”

As Marie Cocco of Newsday points out, the President’s case is not only circumstantial, it’s also deeply misleading. For instance, the war resolution currently before Congress invokes the Sept. 11 attacks four times, and, as Cocco notes, Bush weaved the tragedy prominently into his speech on Tuesday, arguing that the deadly day reminded America of its vulnerability — “even to threat that gather on the other side of the Earth.” As to the evidence…

“[N]o member of the Bush administration, no member of Congress, no CIA official, no FBI agent – no one at all – has shown evidence linking the attacks on New York and the Pentagon with either Saddam Hussein or Iraqi-based terrorists.”

In other words, no evidence. The result of this glaring failure to connect the dots, Cocco suggests, is a credibility gap rivaling that created by the manufactured Tonkin Gulf incident. Of course, that gap proved big enough for the entire US armed forces to march through. William Saletan warns on Slate that this new gap, coming without even a hint of a rumor of an incident, is big enough to swallow a dramatic and fatal revision of what acts justify war:

“If Bush had evidence linking the two wars, this was his last plausible chance to divulge it. He didn’t. It’s clear that the two stories are objectively unrelated. The link between them is subjective: The events of Sept. 11 lowered our standards for using force.”

Conservatives: Not Us!

If the burden of proof has been lowered, that’s just fine with James Robbins of The Nataional Review. Robbins acknowledges that the facts are still disputed (big of him). But, with a blind nod at the new, lower standards, he suggests that the president’s concoction of sketchy Iraqi capacity and assumed Iraqi intent has him convinced:

“In his answers, there was nothing new, as critics said; surely nothing new to regular readers of NRO. However, in its exactitude, its completeness, its wholeness, the president’s 3,300-word speech encapsulated a complex situation decades in the making. For those who had argued that the president has not yet made his case, this address was the definitive response.”

So, the definitive response is … no response?

The New York Post‘s John Podhoretz is equally unperturbed by the administration’s lack of clear evidence. In fact, he seems to be blissfully unaware that there is a lack of evidence. As far as Podhoretz is concerned, Iraq’s undeniably bad reputation is reason enough. That and the possibility that, as Bush told the country, Iraq might be building an armada of “manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” Podhoretz, of course, isn’t concerned that the president didn’t produce any evidence that such an armada actually exists, or that such an armada could pose a threat to the US. The case, Podhoretz thunders, is closed.

ENVIRONMENT
A GM-Free Brazil?

You can add Monsanto to the long list of American big-spenders hoping that something can derail Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s headlong charge to the Brazilian presidency.

The leftist candidate, known soccer star-style by the single name Lula, has announced he will uphold his country’s ban on genetically-modified crops if elected. And, with Lula leading in all national polls, that vow has the ring of inevitability. Lula has argued that the ban — hotly opposed by both Brazilian agricultural firms and American biotech companies — will give Brazilian crops access to lucrative markets, particularly in Europe, that are closed to GM-growing competitors in the US and Argentina. Moreover, Lula’s advisors have said they will crack down on the rampant use of black market GM seeds.

Mormons Mum on Utah Waste Site

Polls show that nearly three out of four people in Utah oppose a plan to store tons of radioactive waste just 50 miles west of Salt Lake City. But that majority isn’t speaking out. Maryann Webster thinks she knows why. A Salt Lake City artist, Webster contends that the vast majority of people in Utah are waiting for the Mormon church to take a stand on the issue. Mike Leavitt, the moderate governor of Utah, is opposed to the plan. But, without the support of the state’s unassailable opinion-setters, the silent majority are likely to remain silent, and Utah is likely to become home to the first new, nuclear construction approved in the nation since 1978.

Bush’s ‘Intelligence’
Byrd’s Intelligence
War Economy, Bush Style
Poison-Proofing With Plants

WAR WATCH
Bush’s ‘Intelligence’

President Bush has, time and again, cited undisclosed ‘intelligence’ in arguing that the threat posed by Iraq is immediate and dire enough to warrant his administration’s headlong rush to war. Now, the leaders of the country’s so-called intelligence community are talking, and Bush’s already-flimsy arguments are becoming positively transparent.

As The Baltimore Sun reports, CIA Director George Tenet has told congress that — contrary to what Bush suggested only Tuesday — Iraq is unlikely to launch an unprovoked attack on the US. Moreover, as The Hill reports, Tenet has told lawmakers that the known threat posed by existing terrorist groups is far greater than that posed by Iraq.

So, where is Bush’s ‘intelligence’ coming from? Well, according to current and former intelligence officials interviewed by The Guardian‘s Julian Borger, much is simply being invented by the White House.

“‘Basically, cooked information is working its way into high-level pronouncements and there’s a lot of unhappiness about it in intelligence, especially among analysts at the CIA,’ said Vincent Cannistraro, the CIA’s former head of counter-intelligence.”

Byrd’s Intelligence

Don’t blame Byrd. If, as expected, congress meekly gives the president the sweeping war-waging powers he is demanding, it will be done over the loud and scathing opposition of Robert C. Byrd, the Senate’s senior Democrat. In debating the resolution demanded by Bush, Byrd skewered the administration’s fevered arguments for war, and savaged his colleagues’ spineless acceptance of them. As Byrd notes, Congress is preparing to cede one of its primary authorities — the responsibility to declare and wage war — all in the name of political expedience.

“[I]f we are going to make it a blank check, let’s make it a blank check right upfront, without all of these flowery fig leaves of “whereas” clauses, and simply say that the president has this power. Give it to him and we will put up a sign on the top of this Capitol: “Out of business.” “Gone home.” “Gone fishing.””

John Nichols heaps deserved praise on Byrd, declaring that, thanks to the West Virginia Democrat’s unvarnished comments, “members of Congress who side with the administration will not be able to plead ignorance to the charge that they abandoned their constitutionally mandated responsibilities in order to position themselves for the fall election.” But don’t expect Byrd to change any votes. As Nichols bleakly notes, lawmakers are almost sure to take the easy way out.

If that happens, the only thing standing between the US and a disastrous descent into warfare is President Bush. Or, more specifically, the presidnent’s foreign policy instincts. Which makes Jules Whitcover of The Baltimore Sun understandably gloomy. After all, as Whitcover points out, the country has been down this disastrous road before:

“That apparently is the sort of blind trust that supported the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and gave LBJ the blank check that financed the expansion of the Vietnam War, and that is expected of us now, on the brink of this latest military adventure.”

War Economy, Bush Style

Democratic leaders, eyeing election day, are impatient to put the war debate behind them and refocus the nation’s attention on economic issues. But they’re happily ignoring one little detail — the war is an economic issue, too.

Robert Juttner, writing in The Boston Globe, reminds us that economists now believe only two factors are keeping the economy out of recession: low interest rates and the Bush administration’s deficit-spending. A war, he suggests, could send both spinning out of control:

The federal budget (not counting Social Security) has shifted from a surplus of $86 billion in 2000 to a projected deficit of $314 billion this year. With a war, the deficit will only grow. A war with Iraq is expected to cost billion dollars a day, so we could spend $200 billion on war in 2003. That’s smaller than the cost of Vietnam relative to Gross Domestic Product, but still enough to have an economic impact.”

While wartime spending can spur an economy, the instability of war “could just as easily spook investors, spike the price of oil, and leave spiraling deficits that compelled the Fed to raise rates,” Juttner argues.

Of course, Juttner isn’t the only one worrying about a war’s economic impact. In fact, similar concerns are being expressed in some unlikely places — among them The National Review. Contributor Bruce Bartlett laments the fact that, like his father, W seems to lack attention for anything beyond war:

“Both Bushes became totally preoccupied with Iraq to the exclusion of almost everything else. Both presided over economic recessions that were very slow to end. Both seemed utterly disinterested in economic policy and avoided their economic advisers like the plague. And these advisers were unwilling or unable to confront both presidents about the economic reality, and said little publicly except that everything is okay.”

ENVIRONMENT
Poison-Proofing With Plants

At last, a use for genetic modification that even José Bové might find acceptable. Researchers have discovered that plants can be genetically engineered to soak up cancer-causing arsenic lurking in ground water, reducing the threat to ecosystems worldwide, Cat Lazaroff reports for Environment News Service. After absorbing the arsenic — which, counterintuitively, actually makes the modified plants stronger — the toxin-eating greenery can be uprooted and destroyed, leaving behind clean soil and water. Although the technology is still in its infancy, the discovery is good news for countries like Bangladesh, where millions of people without access to clean water drink from arsenic-tainted wells every day.

A Vote for War
Politics or Principle?
Abbas Kiarostami, Terrorist?
The UN Double Standard

WAR WATCH
A Vote for War

133. That’s how many members of the House of Representatives saw fit to oppose the Bush administration’s headlong rush to war against Iraq. That’s how many members of the House of Representatives saw fit to heed the massive blow to global stability posed by the Bush administration’s go-it-alone doctrine of preemptive attack. That’s how many members of the House of Representatives decided that the authority to wage war rests in the hands of Congress for a reason — and that it should remain there.

296. That’s how many members of the House of Representatives decided that the president knows best, giving him authority to “use the armed forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”

The last time Congress gave a president a blank check to wage war was in 1964, when the Gulf of Tonkin resolution awarded such authority to Lyndon Johnson. That vote led to the Vietnam War. As we now know, the supposed justification for that step was a total fallacy. And, during debate in the House, Congressman Pete Stark of California, one of 126 Democrats to vote against the resolution, said he has similar doubts about the current step:

“The bottom line is I don’t trust this president and his advisors.

Make no mistake, we are voting on a resolution that grants total authority to the president, who wants to invade a sovereign nation without any specific act of provocation. This would authorize the United States to act as the aggressor for the first time in our history. It sets a precedent for our nation — or any nation — to exercise brute force anywhere in the world without regard to international law or international consensus.”

Stark had some partisan company in voting no. In fact, a majority of Democrats cast “No” votes. Congressmen Ron Paul of Texas and John Hostettler of Indiana were in a far lonelier position, two of just six Republicans to defy their party leadership and the White House. Like so many editorial writers across the country, like so many diplomats at the UN, like so many foreign leaders, like so many former lawmakers and former Washington leaders, and like his colleague from Texas, Hostettler reminded the remainder of the House that the White House simply has not made its case.

“Don’t fire unless fired upon.” It is a notion that is at least as old as St. Augustine’s Just War thesis, and it finds agreement with the Minutemen and Framers of the Constitution.

We should not turn our back today on millennia of wisdom by proposing to send America’s beautiful sons and daughters into harm’s way for what might be.

We are told that Saddam Hussein might have a nuclear weapon; he might use a weapon of mass destruction against the United States or our interests overseas; or he might give such weapons to al Qaeda or another terrorist organization. But based on the best of our intelligence information, none of these things have happened.”

Paul made the case even more simply, saying, “there is no convincing evidence that Iraq is capable of threatening the security of this country, and, therefore, very little reason, if any, to pursue a war.”

So, who sided with Stark, Hostettler and Paul? If you’re interested in knowing whether your representative in Congress — the woman or man who was elected to speak and act for you — voted yea or nay, you can peruse the roll call.

Politics or Principle?

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt has bridled at the suggestion that his decision to support the president’s demand for sweeping war authority was politically-motivated. Gephardt claims he has urged his fellow Democrats to vote their conscience. (Of course, as The Baltimore Sun noted at the time, Gephardt was joined in his surprising public display of support for the president by “once and perhaps future White House hopefuls, Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.” Not political. Not at all.)

Who in the House did vote their conscience, you ask? Congressman Jim Maloney of Connecticut, for one. Maloney is locked in a tight and bitter election race with fellow incumbent Nancy Johnson, a Republican. Maloney voted no. Johnson voted yes. USA Today‘s Andrea Stone rightly noted that virtually every other Democrat facing a tough race vowed to vote for the resolution. They all did.

Abbas Kiarostami, Terrorist?

Washington’s new hyper-vigilant standards for screening visitors from 26 Muslim nations is producing a bureaucratic theater of the absurd.

Abbas Kiarostami is Iran’s greatest filmmaker, and widely considered one of the world’s greatest living directors. His newest film, Ten, premiered last month at the New York Film Festival. But Kiarostami wasn’t at the screening. Nor did he show for scheduled lectures at Harvard or Ohio State University. Upon applying for a visa early in September, Kiarostami was told by US embassy officials in Paris that he would have to wait for 90 days while they thoroughly reviewed his background. Never mind that Kiarostami’s background is a matter of public record in the global film community. As one former French minister told Salon, the embassy’s response illustrates America’s “intellectual isolationism and … contempt for other cultures.”

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is showing that absurdity and contempt aren’t uniquely American traits. In a tit-for-tat response to the new US immigration regulations, Riyadh has announced it will fingerprint and register all visiting Americans.

The UN Double Standard

In one of his ever-changing justifications for invading Iraq, President Bush has argued that Baghdad’s violation of United Nations resolutions represents a defiance of international will and demands a punishing response. But, as Mohamad Bazzi points out in Newsday, Iraq isn’t exactly the only country to flout UN demands. In fact, Bazzi cites a new report claiming that a number of staunch US allies — most notably Israel, Turkey and Morocco — have violated UN resolutions more often than Saddam Hussein.

A double standard? Arab leaders certainly believe so, Michael J. Jordan of The Christian Science Monitor reports. And they’re pointing the finger directly at Washington. Says Yahya Mahmassani, the permanent UN observer for the League of Arab States:

“Why should Israel be above the law? Because some members of the Security Council -Ð or one member, maybe Ð- is all the time protecting Israel. If the UN is to be fair, there should not be double standards.”

Jordan doesn’t hold out much hope that Mahmassani will get his wish. After all, Security Council members Russia and China have never been officially rebuked for their brutal policies in Chechnya and Tibet. As Jordan notes, when it comes to flouting international will, size and influence change the game.

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