Daily Briefing


From Bali to Baghdad?
Will the UN Cave, Too?
Ashcroft Knows Best?
Radanovich to the Rescue

WAR WATCH
From Bali to Baghdad?

The war against global terrorism remains dangerously incomplete. The death and destruction in Bali should make that fact horribly evident to everyone. But will the Bush administration, fixated on very different war, see it that way? Or will the president and his inner circle of hawks choose to ignore the ramifications of the Indonesia attack and press ahead with plans to invade and occupy Iraq? And, finally, is Washington’s all-encompassing obsession with a war against Baghdad undermining the far-from-finished war on terror?

Richard Norton-Taylor, pondering those questions, suggests that the Bali bombings will make it harder for Bush to justify an invasion and occupation of Iraq, in part because such an attack would “encourage further recruits to the cause of Islamist extremism.” And, Norton-Taylor suggests, persuasively, that Washington’s “short-sighted” administration hawks are wasting time, money and resources trying to build a non-existant connection between Iraq and the Sept. 11 terror attacks — all in the name of building support for a US invasion:

“They have been trying desperately to come up with evidence to prove it, a task which they have singularly failed to achieve. But in trying they have diverted the resources of their intelligence agencies, including the CIA, and worse, they are trying to manipulate intelligence-gathering for political ends.”

The Independent worries that Bush will actually attempt to use the Bali bloodshed as another far-fetched justification for invasion. Never mind that there is no evidence to suggest a link, never mind that the bombing suggests the war on terror is not going well, never mind that an invasion of Iraq would not help the war on terror in any way, never mind that the war on terror has done nothing to attack the problematic dynamics that lead to such hatred and extremism:

“It ought to be obvious now that the inevitable focus of the war against terrorism on the person of Osama bin Laden was misplaced. Mr bin Laden may well be dead — that seems the likeliest explanation of his failure to record a video taunting the US for failing to kill him — and the main territorial centre of his organisation in Afghanistan has been overrun. But the deep hatred of Westernism that exists among Muslim extremists from North Africa to the Philippines can be, and is, mobilised by a range of overlapping networks, organisations and sects. Whether or not the one calling itself al-Qa’ida was responsible for the weekend’s atrocity, it none the less seems the product of the same phenomenon.”

Now, remember, the president and his arch-conservatives cronies have assured the American people that Washington can fight terror and fight Saddam Hussein at the same time, and win both fights. But the US isn’t actually fighting in Iraq at this point. The only war we’re actively fighting is that first one, the war on terror, the one against the kind of people that blow up vacationers and local workers at a beach resort.

Will the UN Cave, Too?

After Congress handed him a blank check to wage war against Iraq, the president proclaimed that the votes should send a message to the people of the world … and the United Nations Security Council. Certainly, Capitol Hill’s unprecedented abdication of its war-authorizing duties will convince the UN to jump on board, right?

Maybe not.

While the war resolution was approved by healthy margins in both the House and the Senate, scores of supporters have taken pains to qualify their support. As Thomas Oliphant of The Boston Globe points out, Bush may find that the vote is sending a very different message than he hopes — particularly to those Security Council members who remain dissatisfied with the non-answers the White House offered in response to its congressional critics.

“In other words, the formal authorization of force has resolved much less than it appears on the surface. Whether one supports or opposes the resolution, the questions and arguments raised remain alive. Now that the issue of authorization has been resolved, President Bush has discovered that his need to explain and justify plans and positions has become greater.”

Of course, there appeared to be meaningful opposition in Congress only two weeks ago. So, will the critics in the UN cave as quickly? Probably. But even The Economist predicts that France and Russia will impose some limitations on Washington before endorsing the administration’s war designs.

“Although some differences between countries are narrowing, many remain deeply worried that Mr Bush could be handed a blank cheque, setting a dangerous precedent for the world’s most powerful leader to launch a unilateral pre-emptive strike against another country.”

Members of Congress, fixated by the November election and undoubtedly aware of how effectively the administration has attacked the patriotism of its opponents, have voted to trust that the president will only use his new authority wisely. Foreign diplomats, who don’t need to worry about pleasing American voters, and certainly don’t claim to be American patriots, can make matters far more difficult for the White House. Let’s hope they do.

LAW & JUSTICE
Ashcroft Knows Best?

Congress has voted to trust the president to wage war against Iraq, whenever and however he pleases. Meanwhile, a US appeals court has decided that immigration judges cannot be trusted to decide whether deportation cases they hear should be open to the press:

“Because immigration judges cannot be expected accurately to assess the harm that might result from disclosing seemingly trivial facts… seeking closure on a case-by-case basis would ineffectively protect the nation’s interests.”

The decision is a major setback for First Amendment advocates, and a huge victory for Attorney General John Ashcroft. Of course, as David Cole notes in The Nation, attacking, subverting and undermining constitutional rights has become old hat for Ashcroft. In Ashcroft’s world, “there simply are no liberty interests in the balance between liberty and security,” Cole observes.

What is particularly worrisome about the ruling is that the appeals court seems to have made its decision based not on any evidence, but simply because they trust Ashcroft, stating “in recognition of [Ashcroft’s] experience (and our own lack of experience) in this field, we will defer to his judgment.”

That such legal abdication is unacceptable should be obvious, but The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal takes the time to spell it out. The very tension between national security and constitutional freedoms, writes The Sentinal, demands that convincing factual evidence be brought before a judge, who scrupulously may enforce the law.

ENVIRONMENT
Radanovich to the Rescue

Republican congressman George Radanovich has become an unlikely environmental hero, stepping up his attacks on the Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency over its negligence in allowing the Army Corps of Engineers to illegally dump some 200,000 tons of sludge into the Potomac River each year. As Betsy Rothstein notes in The Hill, the California lawmaker has joined fellow Republican Senator George Allen in introducing the Potomac River Protection Act, a sincere attempt to limit the corps’ unregulated discharge of a “thick, muddy tar-like substance with a latrine-like stench.”

The bill’s success, writes Rothstein, depends on a revision of the Endangered Species Act and on the enforcement of federal environmental laws — ones that are routinely enforced on the West Coast and often ignored in the East. According to Brian DeBose of The Washington Times, the EPA is allowing the sludge to be discharged into the Potomac at “more than 1,000 times the national average.” A spokesman for the National Wilderness Institute, which has filed suit against the EPA over the matter, claims that that waste contains multiple toxic metals, including lead, mercury, chromium, and arsenic.

Whose War on Terror?
Electoral Chaos in Serbia
Blame Pitt?
Tapping The Colorado

WAR WATCH
Whose War on Terror?

The deadly bombing of the Sari Club in Bali has, for the moment, overshadowed the US’s impending showdown with Iraq, and may well reinvigorate a coordinated international fight against terrorism. Among the dead and wounded are tourists from as many as 20 countries, including Great Britain, Canada, Ecuador, Italy, France, Switzerland, New Zealand, the United States, and Australia — which is thought to have suffered the greatest number of casualties in the attack. Yet as editorials from newspapers in the region illustrate, this renewed sense of global purpose comes not because of the Bush Administration’s leadership in the “War on Terror” but, in many cases, in spite of it.

The Australian, a conservative-leaning Sydney daily, argues that the bombings “expose the lie that the act of war on September 11, 2001, was simply an attack on Americans and American values

“We cannot let national rivalries, domestic political differences, or cynical anti-Americanism divide us. The Bali bombings should serve as a lesson to the waverers who have let their distaste for George W. Bush or knee-jerk isolationism blind them to the realities of terrorism.”

Yet the fact that the editorial board of The Australian feels compelled to redirect anti-American outrage toward the actual terrorist perpetrators is telling — illustrating the degree to which America and the Bush administration have come to be seen as part of the problem. (This is the same phenomenon MotherJones.com‘s Todd Gitlin described last month in his piece “How to Squander Moral Capital.” Through a foreign policy marked by “monumental arrogance,” Gitlin argues, the Bush Administration has succeeded in undermining the international solidarity it built in the wake of September 11, and returned anti-Americanism to vogue.)

The more liberal papers in Australia, meanwhile, have mused openly that current U.S. foreign policy may be a root cause of the Bali attack. An editorial in Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald asked: “The question is whether external actors are manipulating nascent, radical Islam inside Indonesia, or whether international events–in particular US war plans for Iraq–are, themselves, creating a new breed of Indonesian terrorists.”

Today’s Herald, meanwhile, weighs a just response to the bombings and outwardly rejects the Bush administration’s militaristic model:

“It is being said by some that Bali is Australia’s New York and that the Sari Club is our twin towers. If that view means Australia should respond by an ever-widening ‘war on terrorism,’ such as President George Bush is leading the U.S. into, it is mistaken. Australia is a nation divided over whether support for Mr. Bush’s war on Iraq is helping or harming Australian security. The Bali bombing has convinced many Australians that the Howard Government’s uncritical support for war on Iraq has been harmful.”

Unsurprisingly, many Asian papers have begun making the case that Indonesia — not Iraq — must now become the focus in any global campaign against terror. An editorial in The Straits Times of Singapore, for example, argues that the Bush administration’s determination to fold Iraq into its War on Terror can only damage its credibility as a leader in the battle against non-state-sponsored terrorism:

“President George W. Bush needs to take a step back in the light of the [Bali] attack and think hard: Has his campaign against organised terror, so well-marshalled after the New York devastation and leading on to Afghanistan, been side-tracked by his obsession with Iraq? The way the Iraqi issue has been framed, not only by himself but also his chest-thumping aides, has fed the impression that the US is increasingly unable to differentiate between a live threat to all humankind and an implied one.”

FOREIGN NEWS
Electoral Chaos in Serbia

The political legacy of Slobodan Milosevic continues to haunt the former Yugoslavia. The former Yugoslav strongman and current war crimes defendant remains a political power in Serbia, and now a voter turnout law he imposed in 1997 as a tool to manipulate elections has nullified the republic’s presidential vote — the first since Serbs took to the streets to overthrow Milosevic two years ago. The nation’s hesitant transition to democracy is once again under siege.

International observers are urging Serbian officials to immediately scrap the Milosevic-era law, which invalidates any election if voter turnout falls below 50 percent. But, as Ian Traynor writes in The Guardian, repealing the election law will do nothing to help Serbia’s squabbling post-Milosevic reformers regain the nation’s support:

“The unprecedented vote of no confidence in the democratic process threatens months of political paralysis and infighting among the political elite which are likely to deepen voters’ alienation.”

And Washington must bear a portion of the blame for this Balkan mess. As The Baltimore Sun noted earlier this month, US officials had been actively supporting the candidacy of Miroljub Labus, “quietly trying to buy votes” for the pro-western, free-market reformer. That tactic has backfired badly — hardly surprising, given that strong anti-American sentiments continue to course through Serbia. Labus was soundly beaten in the invalidated election, gaining only 31 percent of the vote. The winner on Sunday, Vojislav Kostunica, is hardly an admirer of Washington; he has long expressed deep distrust of both NATO the war crimes court in The Hague. The futile and transparent US efforts to help his opponent are unlikely to change Kostunica’s opinions.

What should be of more concern to Washington, however, is that the nullified vote will probably resuscitate the political ambitions of ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj, an accused war criminal who received a jailhouse endorsement from Milosevic. As Tom Hundley reports in The Chicago Tribune, Seselj used his political mentor’s voter turnout law to subvert the process:

“Seselj, whose armed thugs were responsible for some of the worst atrocities during the wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo, helped his own cause by urging supporters to boycott Sunday’s election, thereby giving him a fresh chance.”

GLOBAL ECONOMY
Blame Pitt?

No matter how loudly the White House beats the war drums, it just can’t drown out the bad news from Wall Street and its erstwhile regulators, the Securities and Exchange Commission.

First came the release of the Senate’s report on the Enron collapse, which skewered the SEC for abdicating its duties as a corporate watchdog. Now, chief regulator Harvey Pitt is under fire again, for succumbing to the accounting industry’s lobbying efforts and scuttling the appointment of John Biggs to be head of the agency’s newly-created independent oversight board.

The sad irony isn’t lost on The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s editorial board, which notes acidly:

“Now, there’s a concept. A special-interest group gets to undermine reforms designed to address its own shenanigans – notably, the Arthur Andersen-style audits that abetted the numbers fudging at Enron Corp.”

In fact, as the editors of The St. Petersburg Times see it, Pitt’s latest move merely confirms what many always suspected: that he’s just a shill for the Big Five accounting firms:

“Many thought the depth of the corporate greed uncovered this summer and the resulting impact on investor confidence would have convinced Pitt to hang up his laissez-faire attitude and get serious about his regulatory responsibilities. Apparently not.”

Now, disturbed that investor confidence continues to plummet under Pitt’s watch, even the editors of The Wall Street Journal are calling for his scalp.

“He’s the guy who has to toss the drunks from the bar to bring back the paying customers. Instead Mr. Pitt has behaved as if he cares less about the integrity of markets than about playing the Beltway angles.”

But is Pitt really the problem? Molly Ivins doesn’t think so — and she makes a pretty compelling argument. While Pitt may be spineless and ineffective, the larger political system is worse:

“They’ve already called off the reform effort; it’s over. Corporate muscle showed up and shut it down … Bottom line: It’s all going to happen again. We learned zip from the entire financial collapse. Our political system is too bought-off to respond intelligently.”

ENVIRONMENT
Tapping The Colorado

A Republican lawmaker from Arizona is proposing the Senate approve plans to build a $125 million water pipeline and pumping station in the Grand Canyon — plans that would require drilling 1,200-foot shafts through the canyon rim.

As The Arizona Daily Sun reports, environmental groups are understandably outraged by the proposal, which the paper says “will require an unprecedented public works project comparable to construction of Glen Canyon Dam four decades ago.” Geoff Barnard, president of the Grand Canyon Trust, told the paper:

“It’s an unbelievable proposal. It flies in the face of what we know the American public feels about the Grand Canyon and the care the federal government ought to be taking with the Grand Canyon.”

Ironically, the lawmaker backing the plan, Sen. Jon Kyl, claims environmentalists should support his bill, as it will provide a needed source of drinking water to native Americans living in the Black Mesa region. In fact, the real beneficiary of Kyl’s plan is a coal-fired generating station located in Laughlin, Nevada.

As Environment News Service reports, the water being pumped from the Grand Canyon would actually be used in an existing coal slurry pipeline, which delivers coal from Black Mesa to the generating station 273 miles away. At this point, Peabody Energy is pumping water from an acquifer beneath Black Mesa to run the slurry — a practice that the Hopi Tribe has demanded stop by 2005 because the acquifer is the region’s only source of drinking water.

Presidential Posturing and the War Vote
CIA vs. Bush
Brooding over Bali
A Conservative Divide
Fouling the Air
Clemency and Controversy

WAR WATCH
Presidential Posturing and the War Vote

Before hitting today’s news, let’s quickly revisit two of last week’s Big Stories: the Congressional war vote, and the CIA’s intelligence briefing, which made the case that attacking Saddam Hussein is likely to force him into bed with the real terrorists.

First the War Resolution:

The November election’s impact on the vote — with jittery Democrats ‘aye’-ing the war resolution so as not to alienate swing voters — has been widely noted. But much less has been made of those Congressfolk with a different campaign in mind: the no-longer-so-distant 2004 presidential election. The final roll call shows that every single might-be Democratic contender from Congress — Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman, Evan Bayh, John Edwards, Tom Daschle, Hillary Clinton, Diane Feinstein, and John Kerry — lined up on the side of the war resolution.

For what it’s worth, Al Gore — who three weeks ago roared in his opposition to a unilateral war in Iraq — registered an eloquent dissent. But in true Jeckle-and-Hyde fashion, Gore spoke this time in a whisper, telling the Associated Press (through a spokesman no less): “The president’s strategy confuses the threat posed by Iraq, which is serious indeed, and the threat posed by Osama, which is both serious and imminent … . Blending these two threats together as if they were the same could simultaneously create a more dangerous situation in Iraq and undermine the effectiveness of our global response to al-Qaida.”

Kerry’s late assent seems the most feckless. Previously a dogged opponent of Bush’s Iraq policy, Kerry’s presidential ambitions seemed to trump his anti-war convictions in this case. Kerry did try to cushion the blow of his vote by reiterating his deep reservations, vowing on the Senate floor that he would “be among the first to speak out” should Bush not make good on his commitments to work, first, through the UN Security council. However, as Will Saletan of Slate points out, there are no take-backs when sweeping war-resolutions are concerned:

“Any member of Congress who voted for the Iraq resolution,” writes Saletan “has signed up for the responsibilities of war. Many senators seem to think that if Saddam calls our bluff, and the Security Council offers a watered-down resolution, and Bush says that isn’t good enough, and the U.S. Air Force takes off for Iraq, they’re entitled to some further say in the matter. They aren’t. They had their chance to say no. They said yes. It’s their baby now.”

CIA vs. Bush

Turning to the CIA’s evaluation of the Iraqi threat, Michael Kinsley offers a clear-eyed rebuke of the Bush administration’s refusal to give more weight to last week’s CIA intelligence briefing, which declared that Saddam Hussein becomes an imminent threat to U.S. interests only if and when we attack him.

“Bush cannot have it both ways,” Kinsley writes. “He cannot insist that Saddam Hussein is able and eager to do so much harm to the United States that we must go to war to remove him, and at the same time refuse to acknowledge the increased risk of such harm as one of the costs of going to war.”

“Saddam surely realizes that evidence will be found linking him to any terrorist act for the foreseeable future, whether such evidence exists or not. Meanwhile, though, if the United States is inexorably committed to “regime change” — which, in any scenario, Saddam is unlikely to survive in one piece — any reason for him to show restraint disappears.”

On the other side of the fence, outgoing Texas senator Phil Gramm, in testimony on the Senate floor last week, offered a Texas-sized metaphor for why the U.S. should proceed with war against Saddam despite the increased dangers:

“The “analogy you might make that there’s this rattlesnake nesting in your rock garden. And our colleagues are saying, Well, look, if you go in there and you try to find that rattlesnake and try to kill him, he’s liable to bite you. And the probability of being bitten is lower if you leave him alone.

And for a short period of time, they’re right. There’s no doubt about the fact that if you put on your snake boots and you get rat-shot in your pistol and you go out there with a stick, you start poking around trying to find him, the probability during that period of time that you’re going to get bitten does go up.

But I think most rational people get their pistol and get that stick and go out there because that rattlesnake’s going to be out there for a long time. Your dog might go through there and get bitten. Your grandchild might be playing out there.

And the good thing about going in to find the rattlesnake is you know that he’s there, and you’re alert to the threat.”

Brooding over Bali

In the wake of the Bali bombing, the international outpouring of indignation about the United States’ priorities in the “war on terror” continues. Writing in the London daily The Guardian, Jonathan Freedland stops short of blaming US policy for the attack, but says the US has lost its focus, and that unless the Bush administration owns up to ways in which its Iraq policy is fostering radical Islamism, we will all pay a dear price.

“The world has every right to feel angry. Not just with the perpetrators of the Saturday night massacre in Bali, but with the governments who vowed to wage a “war on terror” which would make attacks like it less likely… .

The prosecutors of the war on terror–who promised to focus like a laser beam–have let their eye wander. Like the rulers of Orwell’s 1984, our leaders have urged us to switch our hatred overnight not from Eastasia to Eurasia but from al-Qaida to Baghdad. Now we are to believe Saddam is the urgent, number one priority

Bali has proved why that is a woeful error. A war on Iraq will win yet more backing for jihadism in the Muslim world, apparently concerning all Bin Laden’s most lurid predictions of a clash of west against Islam. A prolonged US occupation of Iraq will be the greatest provocation yet. But it will also be a distraction from the struggle we were all urged to join a year ago. Bali has proved what Clinton argued a fortnight ago: that radical Islamism remains the “most pressing” threat in the world today. Clinton gets that. The only question is, does Tony Blair? And if he does, is he telling George W Bush?”

A Conservative Divide

The Weekly Standard admits that a war in Iraq will alienate our allies in the war on terror, but says we shouldn’t lose sleep over it. In his defense of unilateralism, Marc Gerecht writes:

“Self-interest and fear of American power, not feelings of fraternity and common purpose, are what will glue together any lasting international effort against terrorism….European public opinion may fear the war in Iraq, European elites may loathe the moralizing, over-muscled, ‘unilateral’ American approach to foreign policy, but European statesmen and policemen, first and foremost, want to protect their own. They know there is no neutral option in this war against terrorism.”

Gerecht also makes the counter-intuitive (and self-serving) case that, having come this far, it is now too dangerous to back down from a war with Iraq:

“It should be obvious that if the Bush administration now fails to go to war against Saddam Hussein, we will lose enormous face throughout the region. President Bush has defined himself and America by his axis-of-evil, regime-change policy toward Iraq. Without a successful war to remove Saddam, we will return to the pre-9/11 pattern of timidity that Osama bin Laden so effectively underscored in his writings and speeches. In the eyes of the young men who live with the purpose and promise conferred by the hope of martyrdom, we will have shown that Osama was right–that indeed we are no longer “the strongest horse.” And these young men will, sooner rather than later, brutally reveal to us that an attempt to prosecute a “global counterterrorist campaign” in the absence of awe at American power is bound to fail.”

There is no conservative unanimity on either of these points, however. Christopher Layne, a fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, makes the counter-argument — that an excessive display of American power is itself a major problem. Writing last week in the Los Angeles Times, Layne pillories the Bush administration’s newly stated goal of maintaining the United States as the world’s ultimate superpower:

“Flushed with triumph and the awesome display of American might, U.S. policymakers have succumbed to hubris in the false belief that American hegemony is an unchallengeable fact of international life. They believe the U.S. can use its muscle to bring about regime changes and compel others to embrace American-style democracy and free markets. They believe America can impose its will on the world and stabilize endemically turbulent regions like the Persian Gulf and Central Asia …. .

There is a problem with this picture, however. The historical record shows that in the real world, hegemony never has been a winning grand strategy. The reason is simple: The primary aim of states in international politics is to survive and maintain their sovereignty. And when one state becomes too powerful — becomes a hegemon — the imbalance of power in its favor is a menace to the security of all other states.”

Elsewhere on the libertarian front, Pat Buchanan surfaced this week to decry the Bush White House’s urge to empire: “Indeed, if America’s goal is to occupy Iraq, reshape its society and reorient its foreign policy,” Buchanan writes, “that would be imperialism pure and simple… . The War Party is out of the closet. Behind its feigned fear of Iraqi ‘weapons of mass destruction’ being detonated on U.S. soil, the War Party sees an American Empire in the Middle East.” — Tim Dickinson

ENVIRONMENT
Fouling the Air

Who says the White House is so preoccupied with Iraq that it can’t find time for pressing domestic issues? Not Detroit automakers.

Last week, the Bush administration tore itself away from war planning long enough to join the auto industry’s lawsuit challenging California’s zero emissions law. At issue is California’s requirement that 10 percent of new vehicles sold in the state be electric or hybrid cars by 2003. Automakers are arguing that California — which has long had more stringent air quality rules than the nation as a whole — does not have the right to dictate to the auto industry. The White House, naturally, agrees.

The Sacramento Bee‘s editorial board, noting that state regulators had bent over backwards to accommodate the industry’s demands, dismisses the suit — and the Bush administration’s support of it — as the height of cynicism:

“At the behest of carmakers, the requirement has been whittled back to little beyond the symbolic … Car companies know that; they lobbied for and then helped write these rules. Now, cynically, they’ve sued to overturn them, and the White House has joined in the effort.”

As the editors of The San Jose Mercury News see it, the administration’s support for the suit offers further proof — if any was needed — of the Bush team’s rabidly anti-environment, pro-business ideology.

“The Bush administration didn’t have to get into this fight. GM and DaimlerChrysler can afford to hire their own lawyers. By assisting them, the administration shows that it is not only indifferent to stricter mileage and pollution standards at the federal level, but hostile to state efforts to clean up the air.”

Still, California may soon have allies in its fight. Despite the administration’s clear opposition, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that both New Jersey and Pennsylvania are looking to follow California’s lead, mulling bills similar to the Golden State’s zero emissions law.

LAW & JUSTICE
Clemency and Controversy in Illinois

This has been a banner year for death penalty opponents, with legal challenges to both federal and state capital punishment laws making headway. But the biggest victory may be yet to come.

Illinois opens clemency hearings today for 142 felons currently on death row, and many critics of capital punishment are hoping the deliberations will produce a resounding blow against the death penalty in general. The state hearings were initiated by Gov. George Ryan, and come just months before his term will end in January. Moreover, as the BBC reports, Ryan has said he will consider using a “blanket clemency” to commute the sentences for all death row inmates.

Death penalty advocates unsuccessfully tried to block the hearings. That effort has been led by Cook Country District Attorney Richard Devine, who told The New York Times that the death row inmates “richly deserve the penalty they have received,” declaring that “many of these individuals are the personification of evil.”

While the hearings will be a direct challenge to the state’s death penalty law, they could also represent a meaningful evaluation of Illinois’ entire justice system. Chicago Tribune columnist Dawn Turner Trice says both would be welcome developments:

“No one wants to see an innocent person die for a crime he or she didn’t commit. It’s false closure for the victims’ families and for the rest of society in whose name these death sentences are carried out.

The capital punishment system is one that has to be perfect every time. It hasn’t been in the past and it will never be.”

Surprising nobody, William F. Buckley expresses concern in The National Review at what he believes is the flouting of public law initiated by many political figures. Buckley contends that Governor Ryan is making a last-ditch effort to impose controversial beliefs on his state before leaving office. What’s more, in a fascinating feat of predictive fancy, Buckley suggests that the real loser in this process might by Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan, a death penalty supporter and the Republican candidate for governor. Why would Ryan suffer, you ask? Because voters who support the death penalty might confuse Jim Ryan with George Ryan on election day, Buckley suggests. Never mind that the Democratic candidate Jim Ryan is facing, Rod Blagojevich, supports the current governor’s initiative and would hardly represent a compelling choice for pro-death-penalty voters.

WAR WATCH
The Anti-War Epicenter
Back to Containment…
Bulldozing Peace
Spy Planes and the Sniper
DAILY BRIEFING
Musharraf’s Nightmare
Venezuela on the Brink?
New Trigger for Gun Control?

War Watch

The Anti-War Epicenter

Frequent Mother Jones contributor Evelyn Nieves writes in the Washington Post of a hopeful and growing peace movement. Nieves locates the epicenter of anti-war activism in the Bay Area, but says the movement is gathering strength nationwide:

“In the Bay Area, bastion of the most liberal Democrats in the country, speaking out against unilateral action on Iraq is like preaching the dangers of binge drinking at an Alcoholics Anonymous convention. Anti-war rallies on two consecutive weekends drew 10,000 people each, and hastily called protests draw several hundred. Unlike the rest of the country — or even the rest of California — activists here can boast that most of their elected representatives (10 of 13) heeded their thousands of phone calls and voted against the resolution on Iraq.

But the Bay Area is not, as some pundits would have it, “out there” alone. It is simply the most obvious place, veteran peace organizers say, to see a burgeoning national anti-war movement that is gaining momentum by the day.”

Far from throwing the peace movement off stride, Nieves reports, the congressional war resolution seems to have lighted a fire under peace activists. Her report also highlights the centrality of the Internet to today’s anti-war organizer, noting that Global Exchange’s site, www.unitedforpeace.org maintains a database of actions in every state, while the weeks-old Not In Our Name website, www.notinourname.org, has already gotten more than 25,000 hits and is fielding over 1,000 emails a day.

Other journalists reporting on the growth of the peace movement, including Michelle Goldberg of Salon.com, worry about who’s at the helm. Goldberg echoes concerns expressed here by Todd Gitlin that the movement’s far-left leadership may alienate mainstream war doubters. In the extreme, Golberg argues, this could turn the movement into little more than a side-show.

In shriller tones than Gitlin, Goldberg claims that the two most visible arms of the anti-war movement are headed by extremist “Peace Kooks.” Not in Our Name, she writes, “is being run by founders of a New York-based radical activist group called Refuse & Resist, who are closely tied to the Maoist-inspired Revolutionary Communist Party.” This group, (whose three degrees of separation from Not In Our Name strikes War Watch as something less than alarming) is said by Goldberg to support “Peru’s maniacally brutal Shining Path (‘Support the People’s War in Peru!’ screams the RCP Web site), the communist guerillas who specialized in urban terrorism, and venerates the bloody insurgency in Nepal and lauds the Maoist campaign to ‘liberate’ Tibet.”

Goldberg voices similar concerns about the International Action Center — founded by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark — which is one of the main organizers of the upcoming, October 26 peace march on Washington. “The International Action Center, [is] an anathema to most Americans — including the vast majority of people who oppose a U.S. war on Iraq,” writes Goldberg. “IAC opposes any action against Saddam, including containment. ‘It is the position of the International Action Center that Iraq, as part of its self-determination, has the right to a military force sufficient to defend itself,’ says a 1999 statement. Its Web site is a cornucopia of empty lefty hyperbole that boils down to the notion that, as Richard Becker, IAC’s western region co-director writes, “No one in the world … has a worse human rights record than the United States.”

As if to confirm Goldberg’s darkest fears, Woody Harrelson appears today as a celebrity guest columnist in the London Guardian:

“The warmongers who stole the White House (you call them “hawks”, but I would never disparage such a fine bird) have hijacked a nation’s grief and turned it into a perpetual war on any non-white country they choose to describe as terrorist.”

Harrelson also describes what he’d do if he were president. It starts off alright, but then …

“I’d honour Kyoto. Join the world court. I’d stop subsidising earth rapers like Monsanto, Dupont and Exxon. I’d shut down the nuclear power plants… I’d revive the Chemurgy movement, which made the farmer the root of the economy, and make paper and fuel from wheat straw, rice straw, and hemp.”

Back to Containment …

If war against Iraq isn’t the answer, What is? Harrold Meyerson, writing in The Washington Post makes the case that continuing the Clinton policy of containment in conjunction with stepped-up inspections is the only sound alternative:

“Sept. 11 has made it more difficult for opponents of the administration’s policy to argue that Iraq can be contained and deterred — not because of the merits of the case, but because it is easy to make the containment argument look like the new-age version of Munich-like appeasement. And never mind that after 45 years of containment, the Soviet Union was appeased into collapse. Never mind that Iraq is not a terrorist group that can flee to the hills: It is a nation-state, it is the hills. It could suffer assured destruction just as the Soviet Union could have, and it wouldn’t be mutual. ”

The New Republic‘s Jonathan Chait isn’t buying it, and stakes out an argument for why Liberals shouldn’t rule out war. (Some would argue that Chait uses the term “liberal” a bit too liberally.)

“When asked about war, [liberals] typically offer the following propositions: President Bush has cynically timed the debate to bolster Republican chances in the November elections, he has pursued his Iraq policy with an arrogant disregard for the views of Congress and the public, and his rationales for military action have been contradictory and in some cases false. I happen to believe all these criticisms are true (although the first is hard to prove) and that they add more evidence to what is already a damning indictment of the Bush presidency. But these are objections to the way Bush has carried out his Iraq policy rather than to the policy itself. (If Bush were to employ such dishonest tactics on behalf of, say, universal health care, that wouldn’t make the policy a bad idea.) Ultimately the central question is: Does war with Iraq promote liberal foreign policy principles? The answer is yes, it does.”

Bulldozing Peace

In a resonant Op-Ed this week in the Los Angeles Times, Amy Wilentz (another Mother Jones contributor) reasons why Israel’s Ariel Sharon (not unlike his counterpart in Washington) seems more intent on bringing about a regime change than fighting true terrorists. Wilentz says there is no mystery as to why Sharon has been focused on making war with Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, rather than bulldozing the compound of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, “the quadriplegic eminence grise of Hamas…who is frequently quoted and not exactly in hiding.”

“Sharon and Hamas have the same agenda: the destruction of peace. The extremes dance to each other’s music, and Sharon must be fully aware that after smashing peace each time it rears its ugly head, he will be left to deal with Hamas. Hamas has just been one of his tools for getting rid of the Palestinian Authority and everything it stands for. Once that’s done, Hamas will be easier to run under: It has no standing, no international legitimacy, no Western friends. He can just blow it away.”

The problem with this scenario, Wilentz points out, is that other factors Sharon cannot control have come into play — among them an Arab backlash to the US-led war on terror and “the growing U.S. distaste for Sharon’s smashing and crashing.”

“Sharon is in a tight spot, one that demands a feel for diplomatic niceties and a sensitivity to nuance, qualities he is not known for.”

Spy Planes and the Sniper

The D.C. sniper is diverting enough attention from an impending war that could kill tens of thousands, and War Watch is loathe to dedicate space to him here. But there’s one troubling aspect of the sniper story that merits attention. In possible violation of federal law, The New York Times reports, the Pentagon is deploying military spy planes to aid in the manhunt. Under the deal worked out between the Army and John Aschroft’s Justice Department, the Times says, military personnel will man the plane, while an FBI agent on board will direct the show.

“The deployment of the Army’s Airborne Reconnaissance Low planes is the latest and perhaps most dramatic tactic in the sniper investigation. Military and Justice Department officials wrestled for much of the day today with the question of how and whether the Pentagon could aid in the sniper investigation without violating an 1878 law, the Posse Comitatus Act, which restricts military personnel from taking part in domestic law enforcement operations. Lawyers ultimately decided that the military could offer equipment in the manhunt without violating the law…

“‘We’re just providing the equipment and the operators,’ a senior military official said.”

War Watch hates to sound like an alarmist, but wonders if the church-and-state separation of military and law enforcement hasn’t served us pretty well over the last 124 years. Absent the events of September 11, this development would be front page news, not buried on page A-18.

— Tim Dickinson

Daily Briefing
FOREIGN NEWS
Musharraf’s Nightmare

A week after Pakistanis went to the polls, two things are clear: Strongman Pervez Musharraf’s stratagems have backfired, and the country’s hard-line Islamist parties are emerging as the big winners.

Even though Musharraf’s party won a majority of seats in last week’s parliamentary elections, a coalition of Islamist groups surpassed all expectations, taking half of the country’s provinces and winning the third greatest number of parliamentary seats. Ironically, Musharraf’s pre-vote gerrymandering led to the Islamist’s success, Gretchen Peters writes in The Christian Science Monitor.

“Analysts say Mr. Musharraf opened a political vacuum, which the fundamentalists waltzed into, when he banned major political figures such as ex-Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif from running … The moderate general, who is known both personally and politically to oppose extremist Islamic groups, may now be regretting his decision to let the religious parties run … .”

Now, the stage is set for confrontation between Musharraf and the newly ascendant Islamists, who are demanding an end to Pakistan’s close cooperation with the US war on terrorism. As Zulfiqar Ahmad writes in The San Francisco Chronicle, “a nightmare scenario is in the making,” one to which the US must pay attention:

“It will be Pakistan’s nightmare above all; but, in this globalized world, nations share their pain with others, especially with those perceived to be supporters of their tormentors; Will Pakistan’s future demonstrate again that the United States has learned nothing from the Iranian revolution and the subsequent hostage crisis; the fallout from the blind policy of first using, and then abandoning, dictators like Pakistan’s General Zia and fanatics like the Taliban to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan?”

Importantly, the Islamist parties have gained as much from their strident attacks on governmental corruption as from their open antipathy for the US. And, as M.K. Bhadrakumar argues, the Islamists could actually prove a more powerful ally for the US in its war on global terrorism:

“[W]hat is often forgotten is that the Islamic parties of Pakistan are extremely well known to the Americans historically. These parties were pillars of the political establishment under successive military dictatorships in Pakistan during the Cold War era. They may be parochial in their world views, but their leaders have worked particularly closely with the Americans over decades.”

Venezuela on the Brink?

After surviving an attempted coup in April, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez appears to be riding yet another wave of massive civil unrest. As before, the anti-Chávez campaign is allegedly being led by business and union leaders. And, as before, both sides are using massive street demonstrations to fuel the fire.

Chávez is adamantly rejecting calls for his resignation, and has dismissed union leaders’ threat of a national strike on October 21. But there are signs that, once again, anti-Chávez sentiment is gaining steam outside of Venezuela.

Claiming to be disappointed by Chávez’s failure to deliver his promised “revolution” since taking power in 1998, the editorial board of The Miami Herald proclaims that the Venezuelan leader “has proven to be divisive, erratic and even authoritarian as president,” driving the country toward a “political and economic abyss.”

Arguing that the only sensible course of action is to push for an early presidential election, The Economist worries whether Venezuela’s moderates remain powerful enough to take up the cause. Concerned about the possibility of civil war, that magazine writes:

“Two things make Venezuela’s renewed political polarisation dangerous. The first is the complete lack of trust between the two sides: each denies the other’s legitimacy….In the opposition’s view, Mr. Chavez is using the instruments of democracy to impose a dictatorship….The second reason why Venezuela’s divide has become so dangerous is that both sides are armed.”

Still, some in the US remain optimistic — about both Chávez and Venezuela’s democracy. Narco News denounces the world media’s coverage of the protests, declaring the events a triumph for Venezuela’s civil society. The simple fact that Chávez allowed an opposition march — and that he refrained from using violence to counter it — are evidence of the president’s commitment to democracy, Narco News contends.

“People peaceably assembled. Sure, they called for the violent overthrow of the government, but that’s speech too. The government police and military – despite all kinds of provocations and threats of violent coups – remained calm and ensured the right of its opponents to march. After the march, the supporters of the Chávez government partied in the streets because there had been no coup d’etat. And then everybody went home. Sounds like a healthy democracy to us.”

POLITICS
New Trigger for Gun Control?

While the Bush administration remains focused on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the capital’s gun control advocates are focusing on destruction closer to home — the sniper who continues to terrorize residents in the Washington area.

David Corn lambastes the administration for referring to Iraq as an imminent threat while ignoring the immediate threat at home — and the ways in which the gun lobby has undermined steps which might aid law enforcement officials searching for the elusive murderer.

When it comes to disarmament, The Globalist argues, the issue of small-arms proliferation is as vital as the question of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction:

“It therefore doesn’t do for the U.S. government to aggressively pursue regime change in Iraq, all the while ignoring — and even indirectly promoting — the global scourge of small arms violence. Especially when the effects of small arms violence can be seen on the home front — as the incidents in the Washington area make plain.”

A renewed dialogue on gun control is particularly timely, The Christian Science Monitor argues, because the gun lobby is actively working to kill the national ban on semiautomatic weapons — a ban which expires in 2004 — and because gun control remains “at the forefront of some midterm election campaigns.”

WAR WATCH
Pyongyang’s Plutonium Bombshell
General-ly Speaking, a Pacifist
Panning the Post-War Plan
Armey: Justice ‘Out of Control’
DAILY BRIEFING
The Truth About Polygraphs
BP’s Oily Green Ads
Water Privatization Sinks in New Orleans

War Watch

Pyongyang’s Plutonium Bombshell

The White House’s reaction to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is befuddling anyone looking for consistency from the Bush administration as far as dictators “addicted to weapons of mass destruction” are concerned.

One might have expected that the White House, having sat on this bombshell for twelve days, would try to present a reasonable-sounding rationale for its decision to push ahead with the Iraq attack while pursuing a diplomatic solution in North Korea. Yet the best argument White House spokesman Scott McClellan could muster yesterday was the blanket statement, “These are different regions, different problems.”

Howard LaFranchi, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, says Pyongyang’s acknowledgement “may lend fresh credence to the idea the North Korea belongs to an ‘axis of evil.'” But, he adds, “it also profoundly complicates the American response to the mass-weapons problem.”

“For all the diplomatic and security knots the Iraq crisis is tying, dealing with Saddam Hussein may turn out to be much less complicated than the challenges posed by the prospect of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons on the Korean peninsula…. The different approaches to the two challenges will expose the US to more charges of warmongering (in the case of Iraq) and of contradictory action.”

(A quick aside: There may indeed have been a sound, diplomatic rationale for Bush’s decision to sit on the news of North Korea’s nukes for nearly two weeks, but War Watch can’t help but wonder how a more timely revelation might have skewed last week’s war vote in Congress.)

General-ly Speaking, a Pacifist

Overshadowed by last week’s war vote were the decidedly dovish remarks by retired General Anthony Zinni, Tommy Franks’s predecessor at the helm of US Central Command. In a speech delivered at the Middle East Institute in Washington, Zinni advocated containing Saddam Hussein:

“I believe that he can be deterred and is containable at this moment. As a matter of fact, I think the containment can be ratcheted up in a way that is acceptable to everybody.”

Parts of that quote made the papers. Zinni’s frank assessment of the difficulties posed by an Iraqi regime change, however, did not:

“If we think there is a fast solution to changing the governance of Iraq, then we don’t understand history, the nature of the country, the divisions, or the underneath-suppressed passions that could rise up. God help us if we think this transition will occur easily….

The full transcript of Zinni’s address can be found here.

Panning the Post-War Plan

A week ago, the major dailies reported that the Bush administration is developing a post-war plan for Iraq modeled on our post-WWII occupation of Japan — with an American general (presumably Tommy Franks) ruling the country MacArthur-style until Iraqi war criminals can be tried, and a until a functional civilian government can be elected. This week, a chorus of op-ed writers is making the case that Iraq is no Japan. (And if this plan should come closer to fruition, expect another chorus detailing why the camera-shy Franks — who conducted the Afghanistan war from a remote command center in Tampa, Florida — is no Doug MacArthur.)

Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Trudy Rubin argues: “The Iraq-Japan parallel is so flawed, it makes me wonder whether anyone on the Bush team has bothered to read any history…

Echoing this sentiment in a Los Angeles Times commentary, the president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, Chalmers Johnson, says, “Our politics become more surreal every day…. I am doubtful that a group of heavily armed American infidels can bring “democracy” to Iraq, but I know for certain that what happened 50 years ago in Japan is no model.” And Ian Buruma, writing in the London daily The Guardian , says that “talk of restoring democracy to Iraq is absurd“:

“What exactly is there to be restored? Iraq may have a well-educated urban middle-class, but [unlike Japan] it never had a democracy. It is also riven by ethnic and religious rivalries, unlike Japan. And unlike the Japanese, who were quite happy for a while to be treated as pupils in the school of US democracy, it is by no means certain that the Iraqis will take so kindly to American tutelage, let alone the governorship of General Tommy Franks.”

Taking a different tack, William Pfaff, writing from Paris in the International Herald Tribune, says this hypothetical post-war talk is just the latest troubling speculation in a war debate that’s been “awash with unchecked fantasies about the future.”

“War is a grave matter even for a country that fancies itself invincible. One does not attack another society, inflict destruction upon it, kill its soldiers and people and send one’s own soldiers to death on the basis of speculation, hypothesis, and partisan theories about the future.”

Armey: Justice ‘Out of Control’

Outgoing House Majority Leader, Dick Armey (R-Texas) gave USA Today a bold assessment of John Ashcroft’s Justice Department this week: “I told the president I thought his Justice Department was out of control,” the retiring lawmaker told the paper’s editorial board.

“‘Are we going to save ourselves from international terrorism in order to deny the fundamental liberties we protect to ourselves?’ he said. ‘It doesn’t make sense to me.’

Armey’s comments came as the American Civil Liberties Union launched a $3.5 million advertising and lobbying campaign accusing the attorney general of eroding personal freedoms.”

A Closing Thought

Again, from that unlikely pacifist, General Zinni:

“I don’t think that violence and war is the solution. There are times when you reluctantly, as a last resort, have to go to war. But as a general that has seen war…I will tell you that in my time, I never saw anything come out of fighting that was worth the fight.”

– Tim Dickinson

Daily Briefing
LAW & JUSTICE
The Truth About Polygraphs

Unwilling to be distracted by the facts, law enforcement agencies continue to line up in support of the polygraph test as a vital tool in the fight against crime and terror — despite a recent study showing that lie detectors are about as reliable as phrenology when it comes to ferreting out falsehoods.

The study, conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, concludes that polygraph tests are so worthless as to represent “a danger to national security.” Lie detectors may be useful for solving specific crimes, the scientists note, but they ensnare the innocent at an alarming rate, and they have failed utterly at spycatching. Despite the report, Charles Piller reports in the Los Angeles Times, the nation’s crime-fighters and spy-catchers aren’t about to mothball their machines— a fact that has many outside the law enforcement community deeply worried:

“Experts view such widespread support for a discredited technology as a distressing sign of lowered standards of protection as the nation races to catch not only spies and terrorists, but those who might merely be contemplating a criminal act. It signals, they say, a growing disconnect between scientific certainty and security imperatives in the post-9/11 world.”

One of those experts, former FBI agent Drew Richardson, comes down squarely on the scientists’ side. Writing in The Washington Times, Richardson dismisses government arguments that the polygraph is a useful, if limited, tool, and warns of the danger polygraphs pose to both civil liberties and national security:

“As has been demonstrated in spades over the years, not only is polygraph screening not a solution for the problems encountered by those entrusted with protecting the national security, but it is, in fact, a real threat itself to the national security and the reputations of our citizens.”

ENVIRONMENT
BP’s Oily Green Ads

Call it another corporate makeover attempt. British Petroleum hasn’t gone so far as to legally change its name (a tactic favored by more than one firm recently), but one might get that impression from the oil conglomerate’s most recent advertising campaign.

The slick new eco-ads focus on the company’s supposed commitment to solar energy, and feature the tag line ‘Beyond Petroleum’ — leading us to believe that is what ‘BP’ actually stands for. As Daniel Gross points out in Slate, the suggestion is as dishonest as the campaign is misleading:

“[The] ads feature man- and woman-in-the-street interviews with consumers who muse about the virtues of a world in which fossil fuels are bit players. It’s a little like McDonald’s running ads in which Eric Schlosser, author of the expose Fast Food Nation, discusses the horrors of ground beef.”

In fact, BP remains scalp-deep in the crude business. As Gross reports, an overwhelming majority of BP’s $160 billion in annual revenues comes from oil and gas, and the company has actually cut back on its alternate fuel efforts over the past two decades. The ads, Gross contends, are little more than an attempt to suggest that SUV drivers should “sleep better after filling the 14-mile-per-gallon Jeep from an energy-efficient pump.”

The Washington Times is equally reproving of the BP campaign, although the paper’s notoriously conservative editorial board obliquely suggests the company is right in paying only lip service to “environmentalist shibboleths.”

“If BP executives were completely honest about it, they’d have to admit that company spends far more in a single year burnishing its environmental image than it has invested in solar power in the last six years. There’s a reason for that, of course. Solar power, wind power, hydrogen cells, electric cars – all of the energy alternatives that bring tears of joy to eyes of impressionable environmentalists – simply aren’t economical.”

GLOBAL ECONOMY
Water Privatization Sinks in New Orleans

In what might be a sign of things to come for privatization projects across the country, the New Orleans city council has voted to kill a high-profile plan to turn the city’s water system over to a private firm. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that the Council voted 6-5 to reject all three competitive bids, scrapping a $3.8 million, three year campaign for the largest public works contract in the city’s history.

Most observers had expected the council to approve the controversial but lucrative project — strongly supported by Mayor Ray Nagin and City Council President Eddie Sapir — and evaluate the bids. The vote’s outcome may have hinged on the absence of two council members — one of whom arrived 15 minutes late and had planned to vote for privatization.

Activists and grassroots organizations that campaigned passionately against the project were elated by the news. One of those groups, Washington-based Public Citizen, issued a press release heralding the decision, proclaiming that “citizens fighting to keep water in the public trust have triumphed over a private company’s profit-seeking venture.”