Which Dangerous Toxins Are in Your Marijuana?

In 2004, California organic farm inspector Chris Van Hook submitted an unusual request to the US Department of Agriculture: He wanted permission to certify a medical marijuana farm as organic. He’d already inspected three pot farms, he says, before word came back that weed couldn't be organic because it wasn’t a federally recognized crop.

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How Immigration Reform Could Split the Right

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently declared that Democrats would take up immigration reform "this year," defying the conventional wisdom that the issue is too perilous for the party to push during an election year. But maybe it's Republicans who should be nervous—because a high-octane immigration fight could drive a wedge between the Republican Party and the Tea Party right.

The Republican Party got badly burned when Congress last considered immigration reform in 2006 and 2007. Some GOP legislators, including Sen. John McCain, championed a bipartisan bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. But this proposition outraged the conservative base, who decried it as an "amnesty" for law-breakers. The right-wingers won the day—their attacks torpedoed the legislation. But this victory came at a cost. George W. Bush had worked hard to woo Latino voters, hoping to bring them into the GOP fold. In the 2008 presidential election, however, Latinos flocked to vote for Obama. Such fights "underscored their divisions—between their rural and conservative blue-collar supporters and their more business-oriented and pro-trade segments of the party," says Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. And the party has yet to recover from the fallout. "Republicans ought to be embracing them instead of chasing them away," says Davis, referring to immigrants. "It hasn't. It’s gone from bad to worse in some ways." 

The emergence of the Tea Party has only widened this rift within the conservative movement. Perhaps the person who best illustrates the division is former House majority leader Dick Armey, a vigorous proponent of immigration reform. Armey, however, is also the head of FreedomWorks, which has played a key role in organizing the Tea Partiers—whose activists can regularly be seen bearing signs with nativist slogans at their rallies. In fact, a group called "Tea Partiers Against Amnesty" is organizing protests across the country this week.

Recently, these two factions have started to clash out in the open. Last month, Armey called anti-immigrant crusader and former Republican representative Tom Tancredo a "destructive" force in the GOP, adding that "the Republican Party is the most naturally talented party at losing its natural constituents in the history of the world." His comments prompted a vehement backlash from conservatives like Michelle Malkin, who slammed Armey as an "amnesty stooge." Similar rifts can be seen in Arizona's GOP Senate primary race, where the Tea Party-backed candidate J.D. Hayworth has assailed for McCain for his role in crafting the 2007 immigration bill. Though McCain has lurched right on the issue—going so far as to call for the National Guard to be dispatched to the Arizona border—he remains cagey about whether he'd support the kind comprehensive reform bill that he once championed.

WIth the rise of the Tea Party, even the elements of immigration reform that most Republicans agree on—namely tougher border security—may create "difficulty for some conservatives, as an imposition on business, a government mandate," says Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former top adviser to McCain’s presidential campaign. "A lot of immigration reform is very interventionist."

Still, not all Republicans are shying away from the issue. "We clearly need to be proactive in terms of reforming the system…[and] figure out the political calculus of that,” said Brendan Steinhauser, director of federal and state campaigns at FreedomWorks. In fact, some Bush-era conservatives are quietly trying to push the GOP back towards embracing immigration reform. In February, the American Principles Project—a group founded by Christian conservative thought leader Robert George—launched the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles. The organization is trying to build momentum for comprehensive reform. And in an effort to revive the Bush-era outreach to Latinos, the Latino Partnership has recruited the former president's chief of the US Office of Citizenship, Alfonso Aguilar, to serve as a spokesman. But it's keeping its distance from the overwhelmingly white Tea Party base. "The Tea Party hasn't come up yet as something we’re going to target immediately," says Allegra Hewell, the group’s communications director

Of course, tackling immigration reform presents political pitfalls for Democrats, too—labor unions would surely protest any move to expand the guest-worker program, especially with unemployment numbers still high. And Reid himself seems to have cooled on the idea, saying this week that he wouldn't raise immigration during the current work period, which ends by Memorial Day. But Davis, the former NRCC chair, offers some strategic advice. If he were a Democrat, immigration reform "would have been been one of my first orders of business. If you were to pass would bring eight to 10 million new voters" to the Democratic Party, Davis says. "Game, set, match. I'm surprised they've waited this long."

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Who Ran Away with Your 401K?

Like most people whose quality of life depends upon the fluctuations of an IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or other acronym-soup retirement account, I was born long before such things existed. It's easy to forget, now that more than half of us have been made shareholders, that until well past the middle of the 20th century, most people had nothing to do with the stock market: Wall Street was for the wealthy and the reckless. It was a world most Americans didn't understand and, after 1929, didn't trust. Some lucky people had pensions, but few had the privilege of even thinking about retirement. They were too busy trying to survive the present -- which in my childhood meant the Great Depression and then World War II.

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Why Is Obama Backing Bank of America in Court?

Now that the Obama administration is a shareholder in Bank of America, will it protect the interests of the bailed-out bank or those of customers targeted by its predatory practices? It's a difficult calculation, and one the administration soon has to make as a class action suit against BoA lands in a state supreme court.

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Obama Wins and Redefines What It Means to Be American

With his decisive triumph over Senator John McCain, Senate Barack Obama made obvious history: he is the first black (or biracial) man to win the presidency. But the meaning of his victory -- in which Obama splashed blue across previously red states -- extends far beyond its racial significance. Obama, a former community organizer and law professor, won the White House as one of the most progressive (or liberal) nominees in the Democratic Party's recent history. Mounting one of the best run presidential bids in decades, Obama tied his support for progressive positions (taxing the wealthy to pay for tax cuts for working Americans, addressing global warming, expanding affordable health insurance, withdrawing troops from Iraq) to calls for cleaning up Washington and for crafting a new type of politics. Charismatic, steady, and confident, he melded substance and style into a winning mix that could be summed up in simple and basic terms: hope and change.

After nearly eight years of George W. Bush's presidency, Obama was the non-Bush: intelligent, curious, thoughtful, deliberate, and competent. His personal narrative -- he was the product of an unconventional family and worked his way into the nation's governing class -- fueled his campaign narrative. His story was the American Dream v2.0. He was change, at least at skin level. But he also championed the end of Bushism. He had opposed the Iraq war. He had opposed Bush's tax cuts for the rich. He was no advocate of let-'er-rip, free market capitalism or American unilateralism. In policy terms, Obama represents a serious course correction.

And more. In the general election campaign, McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, turned the fight for the presidency into a culture clash. They accused Obama of being a socialist. They assailed him for having associated with William Ayers, a former, bomb-throwing Weather Underground radical,who has since become an education expert. Palin indirectly referred to Obama's relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who once preached fiery sermons denouncing the United States government for certain policies. On the campaign trail, Palin suggested there were "real" parts of America and fake parts. At campaign events, she promoted a combative, black-helicopter version of conservatism: if you're for government expansion, you're against freedom. During her one debate with Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, she hinted that if her opponents won the White House there might come a day when kids would ask their grandparents what it had been like to live in a free country. At McCain-Palin rallies, supporters shouted out, "Communist!" and "terrorist!" and "Muslim!" when the Republican candidates referred to Obama. And McCain and Palin hurled the standard charges at Obama: he will raise your taxes and he is weak on national security.

Put it all together and the message was clear: there are two types of Americans. Those who are true Americans -- who love their nation and cherish freedom -- and those who are not. The other Americans do not put their country first; they blame it first. The other Americans do not believe in opportunity; they want to take what you have and give it to someone else. The other Americans do not care about Joe the Plumber; they are out-of-touch elitists who look down on (and laugh at) hard-working, church-going folks. The other Americans do not get the idea of America. They are not patriots. And it just so happens that the other America is full of blacks, Latinos, gays, lesbians, and non-Christians.

McCain, Palin and their compatriots did what they could to depict Obama as the rebel chief of this other un-American America. (Hillary Clinton helped set up their effort during the primaries by beating the Ayers drum.) Remember the stories of Obama's supposed refusal to wear a flag pin or place his hand over his heart for the Pledge of Allegiance? The emails about Obama being a secret Muslim? The goal was to delegitimize Obama, as well as the Americans who were moved by his biography, his rhetoric, and his ideas. It was back to the 1960s -- drawing a harsh line between the squares (the real Americans) and the freaks (those redistribution-loving, terrorist-coddling faux Americans).

It didn't work.

With the nation mired in two wars and beset by a financial crisis, Obama mobilized a diverse coalition that included committed Democratic liberals turned on by his policy stands (unabashed redistributionists, no doubt) and less ideologically-minded voters jazzed by his temperament, meta-themes, and come-together message. He showed that the old Republican attack tactics do not always draw blood. A candidate could advocate raising taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations and withstand being called a socialist. A candidate could advocate talking to the nation's enemies and withstand being tagged weak and dangerous. A candidate could be non-white, have an odd name, boast a less-than-usual ancestry, be an unrepentant Ivy Leaguer, profess a quiet and thoughtful patriotism (that encompasses both love and criticism of country), and still be a real American. And become president.

How He Did It -- The Primaries

From the start of the campaign, Obama and his advisers -- notably campaign manager David Plouffe and chief strategist David Axelrod -- shared a vision of how a freshman senator with relatively little national experience could reach the White House. Obama presented himself as an agent of change leading a movement for change. Given that a large majority of the voters believed the nation was heading in the wrong direction after two terms of George W. Bush, this was not the most brilliant of strategic strokes. But Obama had the chops to pull it off. He spoke well, he conveyed intelligence and energy, and he advocated policies that seemed like an antidote to the Bush years. And he effectively matched his own personal story (a best-selling book!) to this message of renewal.

Throughout the primaries, Obama addressed the sense of disenfranchisement Democrats and independents (and even some Republicans) had experienced during the W years. As these citizens watched Bush and Dick Cheney dole out tax cuts to the wealthy, do nothing about global warming, launch an optional war in Iraq, and expand secrecy and executive power, many felt locked out. It didn't help that Bush and his crowd appeared dismissive of those who disagreed with them, decrying elitism and playing to conservative know-nothingism. Obama came along and invited primary voters to join a crusade for change -- which meant a crusade against them. It was a chance to strike back against the empire. Obama understood the need of many to reclaim their country. The right has often exploited such a sentiment. Think of the rise of the Moral Majority. But Obama was not playing the resentment card.

Crucial to his success was Obama's decision to keep anger (at least his own) out of the equation. For him and his supporters, there was cause to be damn mad. From their perspective, the country had been hijacked by Bush, Cheney and a small band of neocons. (A view they could hold with much justification.) But Obama appeared to have made a calculation: an angry black man could not win over a majority of the voters. He offered voters not fury, but hope. And considering his "improbable" -- as he put it -- rise, he was a natural pitchman for hope. Fixating on hope allowed him to talk about the problems of the United States (past and present) while remaining an optimist. Americans tend not to elect purveyors of doom and gloom to the presidency. Usually the candidate with the sunnier disposition wins. It's not hard to fathom why. When Americans select a president, many are voting for the person who they believe best reflects their own idea of America. Voting for president has a strong psychological component. It's how Americans define their nation. So personal attributes -- character, strength, biography, personality -- are important.

Obama described his presidential bid not as a campaign of outrage but as a cause of hope -- a continuation of the grand and successful progressive movements of the past. For Democratic voters, he had the appropriate liberal policy stances. He had a record as a reformer in the Illinois state senate and the US Senate. But he provided more than resumé; he served up inspiration. Obama could advocate these policies -- policies that often stir sharp partisan fights in Washington and beyond -- and at the same time convincingly call for a new politics of productivity (not partisanship) in Washington. This took some talent. Mark Schmitt credits what he calls Obama's "communitarian populism" -- a quiet, inclusive populism. Leave your pitchforks at the door. This message and his manner of delivering it led many Democratic voters to conclude that he was the right man for the post-Bush cleanup.

Obama had one big obstacle in the primaries: Hillary Clinton. She had a brand name that attracted and repulsed voters. She ran a conventional campaign. She uttered no talk of any movement. She relied on her resumé, and said she was ready to roll up her sleeves and work for you. Will you hire me as your advocate-in-chief? she asked. Obama was offering music; she was offering math. It was virtually a toss-up for the Democratic electorate. What made the difference was that Obama, the heady candidate, managed his campaign more effectively than Clinton, the down-to-earth candidate, managed hers. Clinton and her crew, after losing in Iowa and then fighting back in New Hampshire, botched the middle stretch and allowed Obama to rack up a series of wins that did give him -- oh, that dreadful word -- momentum. More important, her campaign seemed to bounce from one strategy to the next, as infighting roiled Clintonland. Not until the end of the primaries did Clinton get her groove back, winning over blue-collar voters in once-industrial states as the scrappy working-class hero. But it was too late. The delegate math became undeniable.

In beating Clinton, Obama showed that he had assembled a disciplined and skilled campaign staff. Not once was his campaign rocked by internal dissension. It never went through a staff shakeup. There were no media stories, relying on unnamed sources, revealing major disputes or fundamental disagreements at Obama HQ. ("We had our disagreements," says one top Obama aide. "But they were always within the confines of getting to the best decision. I was stunned by how well it all worked.") Consensus, smooth operations, no signs of turf fights or ego battles -- this is virtually unheard of in a major modern presidential campaigns. Obama even handled his flip-flops -- voting for the telecom immunity bill after vowing not to and opting out of public financing system after indicating he would remain within it -- relatively well. The operation of his campaign sent a signal: Obama was a serious person who could ably handle pressure. Obama preached hope and at the same time he was the CEO of a well-managed enterprise that would raise and spend (in record amounts) hundreds of millions of dollars.

How He Did It -- The General Election

Once it became clear that Obama and McCain would each be the presidential nominee of their respective parties, they faced two big tests -- selecting a running mate and addressing the financial meltdown. Obama passed both; McCain failed both.

Obama's choice of Biden was not inspiring. It was, in a way, a conventional pick, a safe bet (relatively safe, given Biden's penchant for verbal slip-ups). Obama's campaign was predicated on the promise he would shake up Washington. Biden, a three-decade veteran of the Senate, was not known as a rebel. But he had deep foreign policy experience and had spent years courting the working-class voters of Delaware. He could reassure voters worried that Obama had not spent enough years toiling on national security matters. And Biden certainly would not compete with Obama for headlines and screen time. Obama was the inspiration on the ticket. Biden was the insurance policy.

By going with Biden, Obama dared to be boring and indicated he was willing to play it straight when necessary. He abided by the first rule of veep selection: do no harm. McCain took another route. He gambled. He picked a governor little-known on the national stage -- a woman whom even McCain barely knew. It gave his campaign a shot of excitement and surprise. Her performance at the Republican convention was dazzling. But this high did not last, as Palin did miserably in media interviews. Several conservative columnists had to admit she was not ready for prime time. Within weeks, McCain's act of daring was widely perceived as an act of recklessness. Her approval ratings plummeted. Polls indicated she was a drag on a ticket and a prominent reason why some voters were not favoring McCain.

Palin was strike one. Strike two was McCain's erratic response to the financial crisis -- saying different things, deciding to suspend his campaign but then suspending the suspension. His actions reinforced the impression created by the Palin misstep: he likes to shoot from the hip. But with the economy and Wall Street in a free fall, many voters were probably not eager for another cowboy president. Meanwhile, Obama, who met with establishment advisers and calmly backed the $700 billion bailout (which McCain also endorsed), looked like the adult in the room that crucial week, which culminated in the first debate. That face-off, according to the insta-polls, was a win for Obama, as were the next two confrontations.

Weeks into the general election, Obama had made a pivot -- but so smoothly that most of the politerati did not even see it. He had gone from the inspiring movement leader calling for wholesale change in Washington to a reassuring figure who demonstrated that he could play well with the establishment. The younger and less experienced of the two nominees seemed better suited to handle a crisis. Iraq and national security were no longer the issues; the economy was. And Obama showed he possessed the steadier hand. At the final debate, as McCain jabbed with punches that packed not much punch, Obama came across as confident if not so dynamic. But when the world is cracking up, who wants pizzazz?

Losing on the economy front -- and in the temperament contest -- McCain, with Palin acting like his gun moll, stepped up his use of the standard GOP attack lines. He went back to basics. Obama, he contended, yearned to raise taxes not just on the rich but on everybody. Even though independent experts had concluded that middle-class voters would receive a bigger tax cut under Obama's proposal than McCain's, the McCain camp kept issuing charges about Obama's tax aims that were not true. They found a mascot in Joe the Plumber (who was not really named Joe and not really a plumber). And they whipped up the old tax-and-spend fear about Democrats.

"Now is no the time to experiment with socialism," Palin exclaimed at rallies, ignoring the fact that she presides over the socialistic state of Alaska (which redistributes tax revenues collected from oil companies to the state's citizens). She dubbed Obama "Barack the Wealth Spreader." At a McCain rally near St. Louis, Representative Todd Akin (R-MO) said, "This campaign in the next couple of weeks is about one thing. It's a referendum on socialism.� Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) weighed in on Obama: "With all due respect, the man is a socialist.� McCain repeatedly referred to Obama as the "redistributionist-in-chief," often stumbling over the phrase. He must have forgotten that during a 2000 campaign event, he was asked, "Are we getting closer and closer to, like, socialism," and McCain replied, "Here's what I really believe: That when you reach a certain level of comfort, there’s nothing wrong with paying somewhat more."

It was an anti-intellectual attack -- taxes equals socialism -- ignoring basic facts and the personal history of McCain (who was roundly accused by conservatives of engaging in "class warfare" in 2000 when he opposed George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich). The point was to strike fear into the hearts of voters who make far less money than Obama's proposed threshold for tax hikes. McCain was not appealing to the better nature of voters.

Putting up a fierce fight, Obama did not make it personal. He paid tribute to McCain's military service. But he slammed McCain for standing with Bush on economic issues. "If you want to know where Senator McCain will drive this economy, just look in the rearview mirror," Obama told campaign audiences. And he challenged the Big Idea of the Republican Party:

The last thing we can afford is four more years of the tired, old theory that says we should give more to billionaires and big corporations and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. The last thing we can afford is four more years where no one in Washington is watching anyone on Wall Street because politicians and lobbyists killed common-sense regulations. Those are the theories that got us into this mess. They haven't worked, and it's time for change.

Obama wasn't just taking on Bushism. He was taking on Reaganism.

McCain, Palin, and their supporters did make it personal. They claimed that Obama was misleading the voters, that he was not what he seemed. They argued that he was not up to the job. The McCain-Palin campaign ran a series of ads -- one falsely asserted that Obama had supported teaching kindergartners "comprehensive sex education" -- that various MSM outlets pronounced untruthful and unfair. The Straight Talk Express was derided as a cavalcade of misrepresentation. The McCain-Palin campaign revived the Bill Ayers attack. It tried to brand Obama an associate of anti-Semites, pointing to his relationship with a Palestinian scholar -- without producing evidence that this Palestinian was anti-Semitic. (The International Republican Institute, a group chaired by McCain, had given over $400,000 to a group co-founded by this scholar.)

It was an ugly assault. Speaking in support of McCain and Palin, Representative Robin Hayes (R-NC) declared, "Liberals hate real Americans that work, and accomplish, and achieve, and believe in God." McCain supporters referred to Obama as "Barack Hussein Obama." At a Palin rally, Representative Steve King (R-IA) said that an Obama victory would cause the United States to turn into a “totalitarian dictatorship.� Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) declared that Obama was "anti-American." While she was at it, she urged the media to investigate and root out anti-Americanism within the US Congress.

This mud did not stick. Perhaps worse for McCain, his camp never presented a coherent strategic argument for its candidate. Obama had change and hope. McCain had no real case for McCain -- other than he was a POW who put his country first. What did he want to do as president? Serve his country again. He essentially asked to be rewarded for his past service and sacrifice. He didn't feel the voters' pain; he wanted them to feel his. And his campaign ended up being defined mostly by its retro attack on Obama: he's an untested and untrustworthy liberal.

Most of the voters disagreed.

With his victory, Obama has ended the Bush II era with an exclamation point. (The Democratic gains in Congress seconded the point.) Now Obama faces a restoration project of unprecedented proportions. It may take years for him and the rest of Washington to remedy the ills neglected, exacerbated or caused by the Bush presidency. And he will have a tough time matching progress to promise. At his victory celebration in Chicago before tens of thousands, he lowered expectations: "the road ahead will be long. The climb ahead will be steep." And he noted that his electoral victory merely provided "only the chance for us to make that change."

But his barrier-breaking victory was indeed change in itself. Consider this: Obama ended his campaign at a rally on Monday night in Manassas, Virginia, the site of Battle of Bull Run, the opening land battle of the Civil War, in which Union troops were routed and forced to retreat back to Washington, DC There before a crowd of 90,000 -- young, old, black, white, affluent, working-class -- Obama summed up his case:

Tomorrow, you can turn the page on policies that have put greed and irresponsibility before hard work and sacrifice. Tomorrow, you can choose policies that invest in our middle class and create new jobs, grow this economy so everybody has a chance to succeed, not just the CEO but the secretary and the janitor, not just the factory owner but the men and women who work the factory floors. And tomorrow, you can end to the politics that would divide a nation just to win an election, that pits region against region, city against town, Republican against Democrat, that asks us to fear at a time when we need to hope.

A black man on the verge of being elected president said that.

But race is just one part of the tale. Obama has done more than become a first. He has redrawn the electoral map (take that, Karl Rove) and reshaped the political culture of the United States. He has transformed the image of the United States -- abroad and at home. (He vowed in Chicago that "a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.") Above all, after eight troubling years and after decades of ideological civil war, Obama has redefined what is real America. "Who knew that we were the Silent Majority?" his press secretary Linda Douglass said moments after Obama left the stage in Grant Park.

The voters who see President-elect Obama as the embodiment of their America can trade the Yes We Can motto for a new one: Yes We Are.

McCain Uses His Big Speech to Give Us a Tour of His Vietnamese Prison Cell

Number of sentences in John McCain's acceptance speech about his experience as a POW in Vietnam: 43.

Number of sentences about his 25 years in the House and Senate: 8.

The convention ended as it began: a commemoration of McCain's hellish years in a Hanoi prison cell four decades ago. The political equation was a simple one: POW equals patriotic hero equals a fighting president. Before McCain walked down the long runway at St. Paul's Xcel Center, a baritone voice declared over the P.A., "When you've lived in a box .... you put your people first." Case closed.

But there was a speech to get through. And before McCain arrived at the climactic I-was-a-POW finale, he delivered, in wooden style, a no-better-than-par speech that was mostly a series of traditional GOP buzz phrases: lower taxes, cut spending, open markets. He noted, "We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law, and judges who dispense justice impartially and don't legislate from the bench. We believe in the values of families, neighborhoods and communities." (Just not community organizers.) Was the speechwriter who penned Sarah Palin's acceptance speech too busy to work on McCain's?

Unlike most speakers at the convention, McCain acknowledged that some Americans are facing tough times. "I fight for Bill and Sue Nebe from Farmington Hills, Michigan, who lost their real estate investments in the bad housing market," he said. "Bill got a temporary job after he was out of work for seven months. Sue works three jobs to help pay the bills." And he said he would fight for Jake and Toni Wimmer of Franklin County, Pennsylvania. "Jake," he explained, "works on a loading dock; coaches Little League, and raises money for the mentally and physically disabled. Toni is a schoolteacher, working toward her Master's Degree. They have two sons, the youngest, Luke, has been diagnosed with autism." But how would McCain help these folks? Moments later, he offered a dumbed-down version of his economic plan: " I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can. My opponent will raise them. I will open new markets to our goods and services. My opponent will close them. I will cut government spending. He will increase it." (By the way, many analysts and journalists have repeatedly noted that Obama's economic plan would cut income taxes far more than McCain for Americans below the top 1 percent.)

Over and over, McCain cited his love of country and his dedication to the nation that "saved" him. He tried to present himself as the candidate of change, who wants to transform "almost everything: from the way we protect our security to the way we compete in the world economy; from the way we respond to disasters to the way we fuel our transportation network; from the way we train our workers to the way we educate our children." (He did not explain why after eight years of a Republican administration the country needs so much change.) McCain reminded the GOP delegates that he has on occasion challenged his own party. His domestic policy ideas, the few he offered, did not rouse the crowd -- except when he called for more oil and gas drilling. In response, the delegates once again enthusiastically chanted, "Drill, baby, drill!" It was one of the biggest shout-outs of the night. The audience was notably silent when McCain called for boosting alternative energy sources.

Maverick, fighter, fixer -- McCain said he was all of that. But, above all, he was McCain the warrior who had returned home. He had fought for the country once before -- and he had suffered. He will fight for it again. "I have the record and the scars to prove it," he declared. "Senator Obama does not." Wave the bloody shirt.

McCain denounced the "constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving" the nation's problems. But this week McCain had commanded a convention that had reprised the standard GOP playbook of spin and fear. Speaker after speaker accused Barack Obama of plotting to raise taxes on middle-income voters. They portrayed Obama as weak, indecisive, inexperienced -- particularly concerning national security. On the final night, retired Lieutenant General Carol Mutter, denouncing Obama's stance on Iraq, told the delegates that the United States' "enemies don't talk about timelines for retreat." Yet the United States' ally in Iraq -- the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- has called for a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops. (Whoops: reality.) Repeatedly, GOP speakers claimed that Obama is not a man who can handle evil. "We cannot afford a president who thinks you can negotiate with evil," proclaimed Representative Mary Fallin, an Oklahoma Republican. But didn't Ronald Reagan negotiate with the Evil Empire? On the first night of the convention, the delegates watched a tribute film to the late President Gerald Ford that celebrated his negotiation of an arms control treaty with the Soviets. (A onetime negotiator-with-evil, Henry Kissinger, was sitting in the V.I.P. section as Fallin spoke.)

Branding Democrats as national security weaklings and tax-and-spend drunkards was predictable. After all, the convention planners didn't dare defend the current administration. In fact, there was hardly a mention of the Bush presidency -- except when George W. Bush addressed the convention by video on its first night. And there was no talk of what the Republicans did between 1994 and 2006 when they controlled both houses of Congress for most of that time. The convention was a very Soviet-like affair; the Bush administration and the Republican Congress of recent years were airbrushed out of the picture.

And there was a heavy dose of us-versus-them -- with "them" being the usual targets of conservative agitators: the media, liberal elites, Hollywood celebrities, "cosmopolitan" Americans (as Rudy Giuliani, of all people, put it), and the government. McCain was exploiting the culture wars. Sarah Palin praised small-town America and mocked Obama for having been an urban community organizer. Onetime football coach Joe Gibbs called for a government of people who "follow [God's] game plan, his Bible, his word," adding that John McCain would be such a leader.

There were more words spoken at the convention about the evils of elites than the subprime meltdown, more words devoted to depicting Obama as an ambitious egomaniac than to addressing the health care crisis. Former Senator Fred Thompson dismissed the Democratic convention for focusing too much on the economic challenges of the day. (He nearly called the Democrats whiners.) When Cindy McCain, the candidate's wife and a multimillionaire heiress, recalled traveling on the campaign trail and seeing Americans facing "difficult situations," she noted that these Americans could "make things right" if the federal government would get "out of our way." A string of speakers accused Obama of failing to recognize the true threat of Islamic terrorism, but none of the major speakers said much -- or anything -- about Afghanistan. McCain himself uttered not a single word about Afghanistan. And nothing about climate change. More words at the convention were spilled about McCain the POW than job loss in America. And the Vietnam War was mythologized over and over as a fight waged for America's freedom and survival.

On the last night of the convention, Senator Sam Brownback told the delegates, "It's not about him; it's about us." Not really. It was about what happened to John McCain forty years ago and what that means to Americans today. His acceptance speech broke no new ground, and it was not meant to. It was just another reminder to cap a convention of reminding. The balloons then dropped, video fireworks fell, the crowd cheered. And for McCain, it was on to the final battle, the old soldier, faith-tested and faith-proved, accompanied by a stylish hockey mom representing small-town goodness -- against those whose mettle have not been tested, whose love of country has not been tested, whose America is rather different from the America of the Republican convention.

McCain Has No Clue on Tech Issues

Political observers have made much of John McCain's admission that he cannot use a computer without assistance. In a campaign where McCain's opponent is 25 years younger than him, the factoid is potent ammunition for those who argue McCain is out of touch and too old for the presidency. But not knowing your way around a MacBook doesn't mean you can't be president. And McCain's personal Ludditism isn't a deal breaker for tech leaders. "I don't give a damn if McCain ever turns on a computer or not," Michael Arrington, coeditor of the blog TechCrunch wrote in January. "I just want a president who has the right top-down polices to support the information economy."

And where is McCain on tech policy? Not so shockingly, the computer-free senator's campaign is not as plugged in as his rival's. In fact, his campaign website fails to address America's lagging performance on broadband access or affordability, the technological capabilities of the federal bureaucracy, or the Internet's ability to increase government transparency. "There are red flags," says Brian Reich, author of the book Media Rules!: Mastering Today's Technology to Connect With and Keep Your Audience and the former editor of Campaign Web Review, a blog that tracked the use of the Internet by candidates, campaigns, and activists.

Barack Obama has embraced the Internet, with his thunderous online fundraising and sophisticated MyBO website. (Plus, he's comfortable talking about what's on his iPod.) Unsurprisingly, high-tech leaders hail his comprehensive tech policies.

Last fall, Obama went to Google headquarters to unveil his proposals related to information technology. He covered the waterfront: broadband access, federal funding for the sciences, using the Internet as a tool to increase government accountability, and more. He promised to appoint the nation's first Chief Technology Officer, a high-level staffer who will make sure that every federal agency has "best-in-class technologies" and uses best practices.

On his campaign website, Obama provides plenty of data on his information-technology stances:

  • He supports net neutrality, a pet issue of the netroots. Net neutrality would prohibit network providers from making websites load faster if their owners pay higher fees. In Obama's America, accessing will take no more or less time than logging on to

  • An Obama administration would seek to provide all Americans access to broadband Internet, the same way they have access to phones.

  • Obama says he would make technology literacy a priority for public schools.

  • His administration would aim to use technology--specifically, a nationwide switch to electronic medical records--to make health care more affordable.

  • Obama has proposed a "Clean Technologies Deployment Venture Capital Fund," funded by $10 billion annually, that would make sure new renewable energy ideas make it to market.

  • He supports increasing federal funding for research in the sciences, and would emphasize math and science at K-12, undergraduate, and graduate levels.

Obama also calls for using technology to increase the transparency and effectiveness of the federal government. He has called for creating a single government website to track grants, contracts, earmarks, and lobbyist contracts. He'd like to see the business of federal agencies conducted over live feeds that can be watched by anyone with an Internet connection. He calls for the federal government to "employ all the technological tools available to allow citizens not just to observe, but also to participate" in these meetings. And there's more: Cabinet officials hosting national town halls on the Internet; permitting members of the public to post comments on pending bills on the White House website; federal agencies employing blogs, wikis, and social networking tools. He'd like to see the US government as connected--and interconnected--with itself and the citizenry as technologically feasible.

The plan has won over techies. Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, a demigod of the tech community, endorsed the Democrat, saying, "Obama has committed himself to a technology policy for government that could radically change how government works." Eric Schmidt, the chairman and CEO of Google, has said, "Senator Obama's plan would help make sure that the Internet remains a free and open platform, and that America maintains an atmosphere of high-tech growth and innovation."

John McCain, as of yet, has few such fans in the tech sector. His campaign website does not have a section about technology. Sprinkled throughout the site are a handful of references to tech issues. He promises to keep the Internet free of taxes, so "this engine of economic growth and prosperity" will not be threatened. He advocates the "rapid deployment of 21st century information systems and technology" that would allow "doctors to practice across state lines." He would set up a $300 million prize for the developer of a "battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars."

Several passages mentioning technology (and using plenty of capitalization) are obtuse:

  • "John McCain Will Streamline The Process For Deploying New Technologies And Requiring More Accountability From Government Programs To Meet Commercialization Goals And Deadlines."
  • "John McCain Will Ensure Rapid Technology Introduction, Quickly Shifting Research From The Laboratory To The Marketplace."

But McCain's site is most elaborate when it refers to the danger the Internet poses to America's children, noting that McCain "has been a leader in pushing legislation through Congress that requires all schools and libraries receiving federal subsidies for Internet connectivity to utilize technology to restrict access to sexually explicit material by children using such computers." It also reports that "John McCain has taken a hard line against pedophiles that would use the Internet to prey upon children by proposing the first-of-its-kind national online registry for persons who have been convicted of sex crimes against children."

Though McCain echoes Obama's call for greater government transparency, his website says little about how technology and the Internet can further that cause. There is no mention of increasing access to broadband. When asked about this in a ZDNet News questionnaire, McCain adopted a classically conservative approach, saying government policies should "promote competition and reduce regulation in order to secure lower prices and higher-quality services for consumers."

His website also lacks a statement on net neutrality. When prompted, though, he has seemed to come out against it, saying, "When you control the pipe you should be able to get profit from your investment," suggesting a philosophical opposition to neutrality. He has also made a dismissive reference to net neutrality as an attempt to "micromanage American business and innovation."

The McCain campaign did not return an emailed request for comment.

Reich, the former editor of Campaign Web Review, isn't willing to dismiss McCain's thin tech stance out of hand. "Most policy development is done by advisers and staff, so just because he doesn't have a technology policy that is clearly articulated doesn't mean I'm going to give up on the prospect of John McCain being a supporter of future innovation," he says. "But he does have various gaps to fill in."

McCain's problem is that Obama has raised the bar. "All the people I know in the technology space are backing Barack Obama and not John McCain," says Reich. That provides McCain with little incentive to do better. "John McCain probably has thoughts and feelings on technology," Reich adds. "But he doesn't see it as an electoral priority to talk about the role technology is going to play in our society going forward, because he's not going to raise any money from Silicon Valley liberals. I think it's both a policy deficiency in his platform and a political deficiency in his strategy."

Michael Cornfield, author of Politics Moves Online: Campaigning and the Internet and a founder of George Washington University's Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet, describes McCain's approach to technology as "tangential." In a charitable interpretation of McCain's lack of an information technology platform, Cornfield points out that it mirrors the "classic Republican approach to the economy: laissez-faire, except where family values come into play. McCain doesn't post any plans for technological development because the best plan from this perspective is, 'Stay out of R&D's way.'"

There is, of course, a less kind alternative. Andrew Rasiej, the founder of the blog techPresident and the Personal Democracy Forum, says, "McCain's interest in tech policy is about as robust as the Horse Traders Association's interest was in steam engines."

Clinton Overblowing Her Role in Irish Peace Accords Says Historian

Last week, Hillary Clinton released a statement celebrating the tenth anniversary of the historic Good Friday Agreement that led to peace in Northern Ireland. She noted,
Ultimately, the real credit for peace can only go to the brave people of Northern Ireland, as well as the leaders of Ireland and the U.K. But I also know that helping to advance the peace process and to achieve the Good Friday Agreement is one of my husband's proudest accomplishments as President. And I too am proud to have played a role in that effort.

The statement -- and Clinton's assertion that she had been part of the peace process -- did not draw much media notice, a sign that her Irish troubles might have eased. Last month, the Barack Obama campaign had challenged her claim to have "helped to bring peace to Northern Island." And that triggered a transatlantic tempest. David Trimble, the former First Minister of the Northern Ireland, called Clinton "a wee bit silly" for claiming to have been a figure of an importance in the peace process:
She visited when things were happening, saw what was going on, she can certainly say it was part of her experience. I don't want to rain on the thing for her but being a cheerleader for something is slightly different from being a principal player.

But then Clinton's campaign posted on its website a statement from John Hume, who shared the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize with Trimble, in which Hume declared: "I can state from firsthand experience that she played a positive role for over a decade in helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland." And Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams told the Irish Times that Clinton played an important role in the peace process. I met the senator on many occasions ... .I always found her to be extremely well-informed on the issues."

These endorsements from Hume and Adams did not fully support the claims from Clinton and her camp that she had been a significant participant in the Irish peace process. On NPR, she had said, "I wasn't sitting at the negotiating table, but the role I played was instrumental." And appearing on CNN on March 4, Terry McAuliffe, her campaign chairman, had said, "We would not have peace today had it not [been] for Hillary's hard work in Northern Ireland." Still, Hume's and Adams' statements did somewhat counter Trimble's dismissive remarks. And the campaign flare-up flared down.

But what was the truth? Had Clinton been instrumental? Was McAuliffe correct to say Northern Ireland would today be a bloody landscape had it not been for Clinton? Looking for an expert on the Irish peace process, I contacted Paul Bew. He is a prominent -- perhaps the most prominent -- historian of Northern Ireland. A professor at Queen's University Belfast, Bew last year published Ireland: The Politics of Enmity 1789-2006, a much-acclaimed work, which is part of the Oxford University Press's Modern Europe series. He once was an adviser to Trimble, and he was appointed to the House of Lords in 2007, in recognition of his own contributions to the Good Friday Agreement.

When I asked Bew about Clinton's claim, he chuckled and replied: "There is a simple point to be made." He referred me to a new book by Jonathan Powell, Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland. Powell was chief of staff to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and his book, which has been a sensation in England, is an insider's account of the peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement. Look at the index of this book for "Hillary Clinton," Bew told me. There is, he said, "only one reference to Hillary Clinton." Bew was right about that. That one citation refers the read to a tangential anecdote in which Powell mistakes a female Secret Service agent assigned to First Lady Clinton for a friend (Nancy Soderberg, a national security aide in the Clinton White House) and cheekily asks for a kiss. "That's it," Bew said. "The only reference to Hillary Clinton in this detailed blow-by-blow account. This is more telling than any other particular point .... It is very revealing."

Powell's book aside, I asked Bew, whose own book covers the Irish peace accords (and who also published a collection of his real-time journalistic accounts of the Good Friday Agreement), how he assessed Clinton's claim to have been "instrumental" in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. "She just was not there," he said. "Calling her instrumental is silly....I can't think of anything to be said for the case that she had a major role."

For the moment, this campaign controversy appears to be done. But if Clinton's Irish troubles return, perhaps the definitive -- and last -- word can go to the guys who wrote the books.

Hillary Steps Up Attacks on Obama as Judgment Day Nears

The conciliatory moment at the end of the Democrats' debate last week in Texas wasn't a sign of things to come. In fact, it was more of a head fake by Hillary Clinton, who has launched several attacks on Barack Obama in recent days, some of which are downright nasty. The remaining week before the primaries in Texas and Ohio may be a slimy one for the Democrats.

It started last week when the Clinton campaign attempted to connect Obama to two Hyde Park radicals that were part of the domestic terror group known as the Weather Underground. The pair, who are unrepentant about setting bombs in government buildings in the 1960s (possibly because they took care to avoid harming any bystanders), hosted an event at their house in the mid-1990s that Obama attended. One of them donated $200 to his state senatorial campaign. The connection is a weak one; there is no evidence Obama has a relationship with these people. What's more, Bill Clinton pardoned a different member of the Weather Underground, also unrepentant, who had served 16 years in prison on federal charges. The attack didn't get much traction in the press, but will undoubtedly be raised again by the McCain campaign should Obama win the Democratic nomination.

The Clinton assault on Obama then moved to Ohio.

On Saturday, Clinton went nuclear on Obama for distributing two mailers in the Buckeye State that she feels unfairly represent her positions on health care and NAFTA. Video of the tirade (and I don't use that word in a pejorative sense; objectively speaking, Clinton went on a tirade) can be seen at right. The sniping back and forth on these two issues has gotten so vicious that neither campaign has clean hands, though in my judgment Obama is mostly right about Clinton's record on NAFTA (she pushed it, along with other Clinton administration officials, when her husband was president) while Clinton is mostly right about health care (Obama's claim that folks who are unable to afford health care will have their arms twisted by an H. Clinton Administration until they pony up is fear-mongering about a core progressive objective). has already done the heavy lifting on this subject, so I'll point you to it: go here for an analysis of the campaigns' disagreement over trade, and here for the same on health care.

After the diatribe in Ohio, Clinton moved to Rhode Island on Sunday, where she mocked Obama's message of unity and hope. With the video at left, you can judge for yourself if she crossed the line. It's safe to say that Clinton oversimplifies Obama's approach to government and theory of change. It also belittles inspiration and unity's power to push an agenda. The best that can be said of it is that it contains no factual errors and is probably par for the course in a presidential campaign.

And then, finally, we've got the Drudge photo (below). Just before 7:00 am this morning, Drudge posted a photo of Obama in Somali garb with the headline "CLINTON STAFFERS CIRCULATE 'DRESSED' OBAMA." Circulating the photo is dirty politics at its worst: It provides fodder for the wing-nuts who are making the case, in emails and fliers, that Obama is a secret Muslim who doesn't say the pledge of allegiance and was educated in madrassas. If you don't think that photo will be passed around every day until the general election, you're crazy.

We don't know for a fact that Clinton campaign is in fact distributing the photo. Drudge doesn't substantiate his claim that "stressed Clinton staffers circulated [the] photo over the weekend." Obama's top folks are attacking the Clinton campaign for passing it around, but in a conference call this morning Obama surrogates couldn't definitively state that the Clinton campaign is behind it. The Clinton campaign released a statement about the photo, saying:

If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed. Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely.
This is nothing more than an obvious and transparent attempt to distract from the serious issues confronting our country today and to attempt to create the very divisions they claim to decry.

This, of course, is nonsense. The Clinton campaign knows that Obama dressed in stereotypically African or Muslim gear plays different than Clinton dressed in the same. Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson shuffled when he was asked about the statement's lack of a clear denial in a conference call with reporters this afternoon. "No," said Wolfson when asked if someone in the campaign had sent the photo to Drudge. "Not to my knowledge." Later, he was asked if he would press the staff to reveal if they had sent it. He responded by citing the size of the campaign. "I'm not in a position to ask 700 people to come and answer questions," he said. "We are not aware of [a staffer sending the photo]. We don't condone it." In other words, it's not that they didn't send the photo; it's that they don't know if they did.

It's possible the Clinton campaign isn't behind this. But the campaign has a history of trying to use racism against Obama. It's not a stretch to think in these desperate days it would use xenophobia as well. Moreover, the timing of the photo's release fits into a pattern of attacks that the Clinton campaign has orchestrated over the past half-week. With Clinton's chances of winning the nomination diminishing, the campaign may have decided it is going to go nasty before it goes away.

Tales of a GOP Push-Pollster

You may have gotten a call from Gabriel Joseph III already. It starts with one of those cheery robo-voices asking if you'll participate in a 45-second survey. If you don't slam the phone down at that point, you'll soon get to a question like this one: "In America when a person dies, the IRS can take up to 55 percent of the inheritance left for family and friends. Do you want Congress to permanently eliminate this unfair tax?" Next, you'll be told that the Democrat running for Congress in your district "voted to keep the death tax in place and refused to vote to make permanent the tax cuts that have caused record economic growth in 2001." At that point, you'll know that you're dealing with a "push poll" -- one of the dirtier, yet mostly legal, tricks in a political operative's bag of last-minute campaign tools.

Push pollsters operate behind the scenes: They don't advertise their services, don't go on TV, and often can't be tracked as they hide behind dozens of aliases. The push polling firm that placed calls to voters in the South Carolina GOP primary in 2000, suggesting that John McCain had an out-of-wedlock child who was black, was never identified, though the calls may well have cost McCain that election.

It was all the more remarkable, then, when Gabriel Joseph outed himself and his firm in a legal battle in Indiana recently. Joseph's company had been doing "surveys" for the Economic Freedom Fund, a group bankrolled by Bob Perry of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth fame. When the fund was sued by the Indiana Attorney General's Office for violating a state anti-robo-calling statute, Joseph countersued; a judge ruled against him October 25.

Joseph's firm operates under at least a half dozen names. Most of the time, the company is called ccAdvertising, though it also goes by as well as a range of less colorful aliases, including FEC Research, Political Research, and Election Research. The FreeEats moniker, Joseph says, is a hangover from the dot-com boom, when he was in the business of pushing web traffic to clients. Today, FreeEats does mostly political work. In November 2002, the company issued a press release claiming to have played a role in the "Republican force that swept America on November 5," noting that "no fewer than six winning candidates and one hot ballot referendum were influenced" by its efforts.

The key to FreeEats' success has been automation -- it has developed proprietary robo-calling software that responds to people's answers and records them. It's similar to the technology used by firms that peddle satellite TV or preapproved mortgage loans; some genuine political polling outfits, such as Rasmussen and Survey USA, also use robo-calls. "Previously, this could have been done only by using live callers," Joseph said in 2002. "But we've automated it, making the process far more efficient and cost-effective, which saves the candidates invaluable time and much-needed funds." Joseph estimates he can handle 3.5 million calls per day, each one costing less than 15 cents.

Dave Johnson, a fellow at the Commonweal Institute, a progressive think tank based in California, says push polls are among the most effective forms of political messaging, far more persuasive even than TV spots. "People are inclined to believe you when they think they're getting a poll," he explains. "It immediately adds credibility to what they're hearing." Push pollsters also identify voters' party preferences -- information that can then be used in get-out-the-vote campaigns. Just how successful these tactics are is a matter of some debate, but according to Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, they certainly have an effect. "Even if they change just 1 percent of the vote, that's a close election margin," he told me in an email. Nancy Mathiowetz, the president-elect of the American Association for Public Opinion Research and a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says that with the use of robo-calling, "we've seen a proliferation of push polling this year, because it's relatively cheap."

Business has certainly been booming for FreeEats, which has deployed its technology on behalf of conservative candidates and causes ranging from the National Rifle Association and the anti-immigration Minutemen to Tom DeLay, who paid the firm $24,101 for telemarketing work between November 2005 and February 2006. DeLay's ally Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, has hired FreeEats to push his antitax agenda, including an unsuccessful effort to prevent a tax increase in Colorado.

FreeEats has also become the go-to firm for conservative groups fighting to restrict gay marriage and abortion, both issues that are dear to the company's chairman, Donald P. Hodel -- a longtime Washington insider who served in two Cabinet posts (secretary of the interior and of energy) during the Reagan administration, then went on to become president of both the Christian Coalition and Focus on the Family. (Mother Jones' calls to Hodel's home in Silverthorne, Colorado, went unanswered.) In 2004, FreeEats was commissioned by the Defense of Marriage Coalition to promote a referendum banning gay marriage in Oregon. During the company's telephone surveys, Oregon residents reported being told: "In Massachusetts, where court-ordered same-sex marriage is legal, they are now preparing materials to teach the gay lifestyle to children, beginning in kindergarten." The referendum passed by a 14-point margin.

This time around, FreeEats has placed calls in 49 states, according to court filings. Among its clients is the Economic Freedom Fund, a political committee run out of the Sacramento law firm of Charles H. Bell Jr., who is also the general counsel to California's Republican Party. The fund, founded in August, is almost entirely financed by Perry, the Texas real-estate magnate and friend of Karl Rove's, who has donated a total of $5 million to the group.

But this time, FreeEats may have bitten off more than it can chew. The company, along with the Economic Freedom Fund, is now battling a lawsuit from the Indiana Attorney General's Office, charging that they broke the law in a "survey" in the 9th Congressional District, where former Democratic congressman Baron Hill is fighting to retake his old seat from Republican Mike Sodrel. According to court documents, FreeEats' robo-calls told voters that the Democrat "voted to allow the sale of a broad range of violent and sexually explicit materials to minors." Each call wound up with the question, "Does knowing this make you less likely to vote for Baron Hill?"

The allegation appears to refer to Hill's 1999 vote against a measure introduced by congressman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) that was so radical, critics said it could have prohibited children from reading anything from the Bible to the morning newspaper. But it wasn't the content of the calls that caused the attorney general to take notice: The robo-calling software itself, the AG argued, violated a state statute prohibiting automated calls to Indiana residents. (North Dakota once fined FreeEats $20,000 for violating a similar statute.) Anticipating that campaigns might turn to such technology, Indiana's attorney general, Stephen Carter, had specifically alerted state party leaders to the prohibition in late August; in mid-September, after receiving 12 consumer complaints, Carter filed suit against the Economic Freedom Fund as well as American Family Voices, a left-leaning organization that was placing automated calls critical of Hill's opponent. FreeEats, which had originally been named as "John Doe 1" in Carter's complaint, then countersued, arguing that federal law and FCC regulations trump Indiana's statute.

Joseph, who says FreeEats has spent a considerable amount of money on legal expenses in general, says it's a First Amendment issue. "There's no more effective free speech tool than what we do," he told me. "That's why people complain. Because we're effective. If it wasn't effective, nobody would say anything." On October 24, U.S. District Judge Larry McKinney ruled against FreeEats, upholding Indiana's right to enforce its statute. "Contrary to FreeEats' suggestion, the harm is more than the simple ringing of the telephone," McKinney wrote in the ruling. "A call recipient cannot interrupt a prerecorded message and request not to be contacted, and if the individual does not answer the telephone or hangs up he or she runs the risk of additional calls in the future." Joseph says his lawyers are reviewing the decision.

But the Indiana ruling won't stop Joseph from operating in other states, and with about two weeks to go in the campaign, some political observers believe that firms like FreeEats are just warming up. "That's what's coming -- the short-term stuff where you don't have the chance to respond," says Johnson of the Commonweal Institute. "I don't even think we've seen the Republican campaign start yet." Christopher Lee, a former Hill staffer who is the director of government relations for the Council for Marketing and Opinion Research, says that there is typically a spike in push polling efforts in the weeks before an election. "You're going to start seeing a lot more phone calls to the people who are in the haven't-made-my-decision category."

Push polls are also a favorite tool in the get-out-the-vote stage of campaigning -- and an investigation of a state GOP official by Alaska's attorney general in 2003 revealed another glimpse of the company's playbook. "If they support our candidate, the candidate comes on with a 20-second GOTV thanking them for their vote and asking them to get their friends and family to vote as well," Joseph wrote in an email to Alaska Republican Party chairman Randy Ruedrich, according to the Anchorage Daily News. "If they support the opponent, we deliver a voter suppression message." (Joseph told me he didn't recall this exchange and denied that he would ever use the phrase "voter suppression." He said he was unaware of the Daily News article, though he is quoted in it.) According to the story, FreeEats' services were recommended to party leaders in Alaska by a former state Assemblyman, who, in turn, learned of the firm from "someone at the White House."

When I asked Joseph about the various allegations lodged against his firm over the years, he responded that what's been said or written about FreeEats doesn't matter in the end -- what counts is impact. "When you make 3 1�2 million phone calls a day, we generally talk to more people than watch television, listen to the radio, or read the newspaper combined." He paused, then added quietly, "If someone writes something that I don't like, I can make their life -- I can make them understand a few things if I choose."

This story is part of's ongoing election coverage.

Respectable Reefer

If it weren't for the little photo gallery on the wall, the office where Dr. William Notcutt's research assistants keep track of their patients would be just like any other cubicle at the James Paget Medical Center in England. As phones ring and stretchers wheel by and these three women go about their business, the snapshots -- Cheryl Phillips, one of Notcutt's staffers, gently holding an emerald green bud of marijuana; a group of people in lab coats smiling for the camera, sinsemilla towering over their heads; a hangar-sized greenhouse stuffed to the gills with lush pot plants -- are about the only evidence that this hospital in East Anglia is at the epicenter of one of the most extensive medical marijuana research projects in the world.

In part, that's because there's no actual pot here; by the time it gets to Paget, GW Pharmaceuticals, the British startup that owns the greenhouses, has turned the plants into Sativex, a pure extract of pot that comes in a pharmacy-friendly bottle and is designed to be sprayed into the mouth. And in part it's because the frivolity is carefully confined to the photos, taken against company policy during a field trip to the secure, undisclosed location where GW grows its weed. After five years, Phillips and her colleagues have grown used to having cannabis -- as the British call marijuana -- in their workaday lives. Not only that, but their boss has been on a bit of a campaign to keep things sober.

"To get to the perception that this is a medicine," Notcutt says, "we've had to move away from the funnies that relate to the pot world. So no pot jokes."

Over a beer at the end of his day, this rumpled, 59-year-old anesthesiologist and contract researcher for GW is positively ebullient about the news that just today the Canadian government approved Sativex, a success he thinks is likely to be repeated soon in England and eventually in the United States. He'll gladly tell you how important earnestness has been in getting GW to this point, how Sativex owes its success not only to the rigorous science of its successful clinical trials but also to painstaking attention to matters of perception.

Take the spray concept. There are sound medical reasons for spraying cannabis under the tongue rather than smoking or eating it. The mucosa of the mouth will absorb the drug faster than the digestive system, indeed almost as fast as the lungs, but without irritating the respiratory system. And Sativex can be precisely metered -- a single one-tenth milliliter spray contains 2.7 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), pot's main psychoactive chemical; 2.5 milligrams of cannabidiol, which doctors think reduces anxiety and muscle tension; and all of pot's active ingredients known as cannabinoids -- so that it can be accurately studied.

But it also has "the advantage of looking like a medicine to the outside world," Notcutt says. "It has been served up like a medicine, prepared like a medicine, researched like a medicine. It looks like a medicine, and it's prescribed like a medicine." Taking pot out of joints scored on the street and putting it into bottles found on pharmacy shelves shows that "we're not just being silly about the herb, even though in the end that's exactly what it is. It's as if you just squeezed the plant," he says, wringing an imaginary stalk in his hands.

Notcutt began trying to medicalize cannabis more than a decade ago, and has been working with GW and its founder and executive chairman, Geoffrey Guy, since the company's inception in 1998. He credits Guy (who wouldn't be interviewed for this article) with hitting upon the spray, just one of the measures he's taken to distance Sativex from its unsavory origins.

Guy has styled GW, which he started solely to develop cannabis medicines, as just another drug company seeking to develop just another drug. He raised money in the usual ways -- first from private investors, then with a 2001 stock offering that garnered $48 million, and finally, in 2003, with an estimated $65 million licensing deal with German pharmaceutical giant Bayer -- and used it to purchase the rights to pot varieties that a Dutch company had spent millions of dollars and more than a decade developing for their medicinal properties.

Guy presents himself as neutral in the drug wars and gained the support of the British government by offering to institute extraordinary security measures at his grow facility to prevent "diversion." The British government, in turn, gave him permission to grow his pot and test it on human subjects and so exempted GW from an international treaty forbidding private production of outlawed drugs. Guy developed a way to blend the plants (a process he has likened to making blended burgundies) into precise mixtures whose chemical profiles can be standardized (which regulators like), patented (which investors like; cannabis itself can't be patented), and then described in company press releases as "a novel prescription pharmaceutical product derived from components of the cannabis plant."

Having successfully distilled pot's reputation as a medicine from its reputation as a way to get high, Notcutt says, "the powers that be at GW worked hard to maintain this myth. We start in that comfort area, we don't talk about anything outside this comfort area."

This hard work has no doubt paid off in Canada and England, reassuring regulators that, as Notcutt put it, "we're talking about a serious medical subject here." The real audience for all this mythmaking, however, isn't Britain or Canada, which will ultimately account for only a small percentage of the cannabinoid drug market, estimated to be almost $1 billion a year. It's the United States, where, Notcutt says, things are different. "Marijuanaphobia is much greater on your side of the pond," he told me. "We've never had the reefer madness."

No Exit From the Danger Zone

The night before Hurricane Katrina hit, tens of thousands of people in New Orleans had one thing in common. It was not their race, although many were African American. And it was not that they were poor, or elderly or infirm -- although many of them were all of these things.

What many of those people shared that night was this: they didn't own a vehicle. They had no car, no truck, no SUV to point north or west, away from the storm and the flood waters. They had no "extra set of car keys" to tuck into their "disaster supply kit," as recommended by the New Orleans Emergency Preparedness Guide. They had no gas tank to keep half-full at all times, a key evacuation preparation step suggested by the Department of Homeland Security. In all, 77,462 households in the New Orleans metropolitan area lacked private transportation, according to the US Census Bureau. Since the average household contains 2.6 people, approximately 200,000 people were without a vehicle and a way out of the imperiled area.

This was not a secret prior to Katrina's landfall: it was widely reported in the local and national media. A full year earlier, in September 2004, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had explained at a press conference that he could not declare a mandatory evacuation of his city in advance of Hurricane Ivan because he had no way of evacuating people without cars.

New Orleans is hardly the only place in such a predicament. Nearly 11 million households in the United States lack vehicles, according to the Census Bureau--which means that approximately 28 million people have difficulty evacuating their area in the event of an emergency. These people might take comfort in the vague reassurances of official disaster plans, such as the single sentence addressing the problem in New Orleans' Emergency Preparedness Guide: "Local transportation will be mobilized to assist persons who lack transportation." But they shouldn't.

"The fact is that in this country, we haven't paid adequate attention to this issue," says Havidan Rodriguez, director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware. "Most evacuation plans are based on the premise that people have transportation available to them--their private cars," he explains. "We think very little about people who don't have automobiles."

Examples can be found everywhere. In hurricane-prone Miami-Dade County, for instance, 14 percent of households lack a vehicle, but the Office of Emergency Management website says only that "public transportation may be provided" to evacuate people without transportation. (Miami-Dade county officials did not return calls for comment.) Similarly, Florida's Department of Emergency Management's website, which has a chart walking people through the decision of whether they should stay put or evacuate in an emergency, advises citizens in either case to fill their cars with gas. No mention of what to do if you have no vehicle, as is the case for 8.1 percent of Florida households.

In fact, the D.C. Emergency Management Agency doesn't even know many households in the nation's capital have no car, as the Washington Post reported on Sept. 7, 2005. (The correct answer: 37 percent, according to Census stats easily accessible online.) Barbara Fockert, the natural disaster planner in Minnesota (site of the devastating Red River floods of 1997), also did not know how many households in her state lacked a vehicle. (The answer is 7 percent.) She said she "really didn't know, and couldn't say," whether any local governments in her state had prepared to evacuate people without a vehicle.

Even New York City, with its formidable public transit system, is considered by disaster-planning experts to be "unevacuable," says Kathleen Tierney, director of the Natural Hazards Center, at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Since 56 percent of the city's households do not have a vehicle, during an evacuation the city would devote "all mass transit" to getting people out of harm's way, says Jarrod Bernstein, spokesperson for the city's Office of Emergency Management. But it would take at least 17.5 hours to evacuate one million residents that way--and that's if the electricity remains on, so that subways and trains are available for the fleeing throngs.

The 17.5 hour estimate comes from New York City's plan to evacuate in the event of a strike from a Category Four hurricane--an event that would require one-eighth of the city's population to relocate at least temporarily. The evacuation would need to start 24 to 36 hours ahead of the hurricane strike to get everyone out on time, says Bernstein. But the trouble is, "we're not going to have 36 hours to prepare," says Tierney. She points out that evacuation decisions are often delayed as officials weigh the cost of a false-alarm evacuation against the danger to the population.

And what about an incident that occurs with no notice? A dirty bomb or bioterrorism or a strike on a nuclear power plant? Or if you had to get more than a million people out -- the city has plans to evacuate neighborhoods, but what if the entire population of 8 million, including the nearly 5 million without cars, had to evacuate? "It would be 'bring on the body bags'," says Tierney. "We don't have a scenario where we would have to evacuate the entire city," concedes Bernstein.

Still, it is not impossible to save the lives of people who lack automobiles.

"A city manager or planner needs to go on [the census bureau's] website, see where the vulnerable people are, and plan accordingly," says the University of Delaware's Rodriguez. But, he adds "this is not done. People are not looking at these types of data, and the organizations that are responsible for disaster preparedness and response are doing last minute actions and initiatives," he says.

To encourage better planning, in 1997, FEMA launched a pilot program called Project Impact, which provided funding for communities to, among other things, assess their vulnerable populations and make arrangements to get people without transportation to safety. The program had reached 250 communities and proved quite effective, says Tierney. However, the Bush administration ended the program in 2001, and funds once earmarked for disaster preparation have been shifted away.

One of the most haunting images from New Orleans was a widely published photograph of about 100 school buses, submerged to their rooftops in water. The picture was meant to show how high the flood waters had reached in the city, but to Rodriguez, it's a vivid portrait of an opportunity missed. "Those buses were not used for evacuation. Why? We have to stop thinking only about the people who can move out of areas like this on their own," he says.

If we don't, then in the next New Orleans-style catastrophe, tens or hundreds of thousands will again be left behind--and many will needlessly die.

Boys Out in America

In 1973, fresh out of college, Dennis St. Jean was hired by the Boy Scouts of America. He quickly worked his way up, serving in a variety of executive positions across the Northeast. In 1991 he was transferred to the BSA's headquarters in Irving, Texas, where, as Assistant Director of Professional Development, he taught management skills to thousands of employees across the country. Ten years later, St. Jean stepped down and moved to the Florida Keys to become General Manager of Sea Base in the Florida Keys. There, he and his seasonal staff of 2000 supervised the 11,000 Boy Scouts who came year-round to snorkel, scuba, and sail at one of scouting's three national high adventure programs.

But on January 28, 2005, according to St. Jean, he became the highest-ranking and longest-serving professional scouter in the history of the BSA to be fired merely for being gay. St. Jean had just successfully led Sea Base through a trying hurricane season when a representative from Irving came to Florida and presented him with the "evidence": a copy of his bill from Lighthouse Court Gay Guesthouses, where he had vacationed months before. (St. Jean believes the bill was obtained by a disgruntled Sea Base employee who had somehow found out about the trip.) Days later, a registered letter from Irving stated that the BSA had "lost confidence" in St. Jean's ability to serve as an employee. "I was like a deer in headlights," recalls St. Jean. "I was dumbfounded--I felt devastated, angry, hurt." The BSA's national spokesperson refused to comment on what he called a "personnel issue," but St. Jean, who says he had never received a professional evaluation that was less than glowing, can see no other explanation for why he was let go.

It is not at all clear exactly when the BSA started forbidding membership to gays and non-theists; for the first seven decades after the organization's 1910 founding the issue never came up in a public way. It wasn't until a series of court cases in the wake of a lawsuit filed by a California Scout--who was forced out after taking a boy to senior prom--that the BSA's membership policies became a legal issue.

The BSA's requires all of its approximately four million youth and adult members (who include about 4,000 employees) to meet its discriminatory membership standards, which were protected by the Supreme Court's 2000 ruling in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. The 5 to 4 decision agreed with the BSA's claim that its membership policies were a form of speech legally known as "expressive association," and were thereby protected by the First Amendment. Since the decision the BSA has shown no sign of changing its mind, and that's angered many who, Like St. Jean, have otherwise felt that they had a home in scouting.

While the National Council's expenditures--$125 million in 2004--are privately funded, the organization has long benefited from a wide variety of in kind contributions and support from state, local, and federal governments. Dale triggered a battery of anti-discrimination lawsuits against the BSA, resulting in court decisions that restricted governmental support for the organization. The most important case yet decided involves the Boy Scout National Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill--an Army base in Northern Virginia, which has hosted the event every four years since 1981--which closes its nine-day run tomorrow. An estimated 40,000 scouts and leaders from across the country will attend this year's summer camp-like gathering. The Department of Defense views the Jamboree as a unique opportunity to educate boys about careers in the military, and gives the military experience in setting up an event akin to running a refugee camp. The Pentagon expects to spend about $7.3 million on in-kind services in support of the Jamboree. This support accounts for about 80 percent of all federal funds directed to the Boy Scouts, according to Adam Schwartz, an attorney for the ACLU. But this spring, a Federal District Court judge for Northern Illinois declared the BSA a religious institution, and hence ruled that the military funds violated the Establishment Clause--which limits government support for organized religion.

To fight its many legal and public relations battles, the BSA is relying on support from a long roster of conservative and religious organizations, who see the Scouts as just another front in the ongoing culture wars to preserve what they, and the BSA, call "traditional values." Robert Bork Jr.--a former fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, and the son of Ronald Reagan's failed Supreme Court nominee--has been hired to coordinate public relations for the scouts; his campaign's centerpiece website recommends related articles from The Weekly Standard and Citizen, the magazine of James Dobson's Focus on the Family. The Federalist Society, the foremost legal think tank of the right, recently hosted a panel on the BSA's struggles, featuring Ken Starr. Scout Councils in Florida and Georgia have held fundraisers that have featured conservative celebrities Ann Coulter and Oliver North.

Mark Noel, a leader in the Coalition for Inclusive Scouting, a national network of activists working to reform the BSA's exclusive policies, thinks that liberal parents and scouts have been "voting with their feet," deciding that Scouting is no longer appropriate for their family after hearing about the discriminatory polices at issue in the lawsuits. Indeed, since Dale, Boy Scout rolls have dropped 3.8 percent. Cub Scout numbers have dropped by a staggering 13.8 percent--a decrease that likely foreshadows a similar drop among older Scouts in a few years time. But the reduced public support has perhaps had a more direct effect: One Portland BSA employee attributed a 10 percent drop in his Council's enrollment after the city forbid recruitment during school hours. Meanwhile, with corporate sponsors and local United Way affiliates cutting funds to BSA Councils, hiring has slowed. According to St. Jean, the BSA calculates that each new professional scouter usually recruits about 1,500 new boys.

The BSA, for its part, insists that the decline is unrelated to the fallout from its membership policies, instead pointing to changing age demographics and a general decrease in interest in scouting-related activities. But the population of eligible boys has held steady, and the Girl Scouts--a similar yet separate organization that does not discriminate on the basis of religion or sexual orientation--has continued to grow.

No matter the exact cause, however, the drop in enrollment is increasing the influence of those within the organization who support BSA's discriminatory rules. Internal efforts to reform membership policies have been thwarted by the BSA's Religious Relations Committee, which has long been dominated by representatives of conservative churches. (The Mormon Church, whose adherents are about 2 percent of the general population but account for about 13 percent of BSA membership, is usually described as the chief impediment.)

But reform efforts are unlikely to get far as long as the scouts continue to stifle dissent. New leaders are required to sign a pledge stating that they believe that someone cannot be the "best kind" of citizen without believing in God. Activists report that the BSA maintains a "litmus test" and refuses to promote any professional who disagrees with the policy.

Noel, concerned about the future of Scouting, points to polls that show younger Americans to be more tolerant than previous generations; these future parents will soon decide whether or not to encourage their sons to join. And he worries that Scouting, which used to respect the values of a broader swath of Americans, will have made up their minds for them.

It's been more than six months since St. Jean was fired. So far, his efforts to reach an out-of-court financial settlement with the BSA for wrongful termination have been unsuccessful; he soon plans to file suit against the organization, under a Monroe County, Florida, ordinance prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and has retained an out-of-state lawyer who previously obtained a settlement for another gay client fired by the BSA.

He's been unemployed since his firing. With his seniority stripped away, the new job he'll soon start will pay about half what he earned at Sea Base. And it will not be with the organization he joined as an eight year old cub scout and "never left"--that is, until they kicked him out.

The End of Poverty

In February of this year, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan remarked: "We will not defeat terrorism unless we also tackle the causes of conflict and misgovernment in developing countries. And we will not defeat poverty so long as trade and investment in any major part of the world are inhibited by fear of violence or instability." The point was that a broader global security strategy needed to go hand in hand with a poverty reduction strategy. To that end, the UN set about drawing up its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Adopted by all member countries in 2000, the MDGs aim to achieve everything from eradicating extreme poverty to ensuring universal primary education and basic health care access, all by the year 2015.

In order to figure out how to reach these goals, Annan organized a panel of over 250 development experts to lay out practical strategies for promoting rapid development. Headed by economist Jeffrey Sachs, the panel published their final report in January of 2005. The report calls for both an increase in aid from Western countries and a reallocation of funding priorities in the developing countries themselves. The report also calls for more aid to be given on a local level. By bypassing governments, the UN hopes to spark more immediate and effective development. For instance, in one test case conducted in Kenya, UN funding went straight to the village of Sauri, where the schools were able to provide much-needed food for their students, and hence jumped in ranking from 68th to 7th in the district.

Shortly after the release of the UN report came the publication of Sachs' book, "The End of Poverty," in which he laid out his own strategies for eradicating poverty by 2025. Sachs, who gained renown for advising Latin American and Asian governments on economic reform, has gained popularity as "can-do" economist amidst a cacophony of naysayers on development. But his optimistic attitude has also attracted quite a bit of skepticism. Why is it that decades of development economics haven't achieved the elimination of poverty? What makes Sachs' proposals so special? Is eradicating poverty a feasible goal to achieve in our lifetime? Sachs recently sat down with Mother Jones to discuss these issues.

Mother Jones: What makes your plan to end poverty so different from the development efforts that were tried in the 1950s and '60s? Why hasn't five decades worth of development work been very successful thus far?

Jeffrey Sachs: I think so far there's been a lack of appropriate effort, which includes many things. For development to work, rich countries need to help poor countries make certain practical investments that are often really very basic. Once you get your head around development issues and realize how solvable many of them are, there are tremendous things that can be done. But for decades we just haven't tried to do many of these basic things. For instance, one issue that has been tragically neglected for decades now is malaria. That's a disease that kills up to 3 million people every year. It's a disease that could be controlled quite dramatically and easily if we just put in the effort. It's truly hard for me to understand why we aren't.

What do you say to critics who argue that it's a waste to put more money into a development system that hasn't used that money very effectively thus far?

Well, we have to be smart about whatever we're doing. But I'm quite convinced that, broadly speaking, economic development works. The main arguments of the Millennium Project Report, and the main argument of my book is that there are certain places on the planet that, because of various circumstances�geographical isolation, burden of disease, climate, or soil�these countries just can't quite get started. So it's a matter of helping them get started, whether to grow more food or to fight malaria or to handle recurring droughts. Then, once they're on the first rung of the ladder of development, they'll start climbing just like the rest of the world.

So do you believe that past efforts, to get these less-developed countries on the "first rung," haven't been pragmatic enough?

Part of it is that many of these countries are invisible places, neglected by us politically, neglected by our business firms, by international markets, and by trade. We tend to focus on these countries only when they're in such extraordinary crises that they get shown on CNN because they're in a deep drought or a massive war, which is something that impoverished countries are much more prone to falling to. There haven't been too many stories in our press about Senegal, Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi, or Ethiopia, other than when the disasters hit. And yet these are places that are in very deep trouble all of the time, but with largely solvable problems. And those are the kinds of the places that I'm talking about as being stuck in extreme poverty.

If there's been no real effort to draw the world's attention to those places, is there any hope that funding will go there?

The world got side-tracked from development issues during the post-9/11 crisis period. During the war in Iraq there were bitter divisions in the world community, and the idea of being able to focus on the problems of extreme poverty or malaria or drought and chronic hunger in Africa were just not at the top of the world's debate.

But I think the tsunami in the Indian Ocean last December, in which we could all see the scope of the devastation on our television screens, shifted discussion towards the plight of the world's poor. So now there are some positive signs. Tony Blair has pushed for an Africa Commission which just produced a report in March that focuses on poorest of the poor in Africa. There will be a UN poverty summit this September which is predicted to be the largest gathering of world leaders in history. And I'm traveling extensively around the world talking about these issues. So I think that even in our country, there is a growing discussion.

I know that former World Bank employee and economist William Easterly has criticized your proposals and called for what he terms a "piecemeal reform" approach in which development efforts are carried out one step at a time, with subsequent evaluation. What is your response to this?

Basically, I don't think that we should be choosing between whether a young girl has immunizations or water, or between whether her mother and father are alive, because they have access of treatment for AIDS, or whether she has a meal at school, or whether her father and mother, who are farmers, are able to grow enough food to feed their family and earn some income. Those all strike me as quite doable and practical things that can be done at once.

I make the analogy that farmers, to grow their food, need good soil, sunshine, proper rain, and heat. If you don't [have] one of those, even if you have the other three, your crop is still not going to grow. A lot of life in a poor village is like that. If you have a clinic but you don't have safe drinking water, or if you have safe drinking water and a clinic, but you don't have bed nets to fight malaria, you just don't get the kind of needs met and the basic quality of life that gives you a chance. I think that Bill Easterly misunderstands what I propose. I'm not proposing a single global plan dictated by some UN central command. Quite the opposite, I'm proposing that we help people help themselves. This can be done without legions of people rushing over to these countries to build houses and schools. This is what people in their own communities can do if we give them the resources to do it.

Part of Easterly's argument is that if you implement different strategies all at once, it will be difficult to isolate and understand which strategies worked effectively, and which did not. Do you share this concern?

I have been working with over 250 of my colleagues on the Millennium Development Report. Everybody here is an expert on a different thing. The soil scientists really know a lot about how to improve soil nutrients and the doctors really know a lot about how to keep children alive. The malariologists really know how to control malaria and the hydrologists really know how to get safe drinking water in a community. One doesn't have to test whether it's good to have more food production, or malaria bed nets or doctors or teachers. These are proven technologies. If we were introducing something new, that would be different, but ours is not an approach based on new discoveries, this is an approach based on the best of proven technologies.

Some critics have expressed concern that the Millennium Goals may set unrealistic targets for certain countries. What if those countries fail to meet the specified level of development and then disillusioned donors decide to lower their funding?

First, it should be understood that the goals in most cases are set proportionate to a given country's situation. So we'll reduce by two-thirds the child mortality rate, or by three-fourths the maternal mortality rate. We're not aiming at the same absolute standard in every country. I think that the other thing that is really important to understand is that as I have been working with the UN on this for the last 3 years and meeting leaders all over the world. What I've found is that their concern isn't that the goals are too high. Exactly the opposite: They actually want these UN goals, they want them to be ambitious, and they want to be held to account. And they want their development partners, the developed world, to be held to account on following through on commitments. Again, this all goes towards pressuring rich nations to set aside 0.7 percent of GNP for development aid. That is not a goal that I set, or that the UN set, this is a goal that was adopted 35 years ago by the world community and the goal that was set again in the Monterrey consensus signed by the U.S. in 2002.

What about aid being sent to countries that have a serious problem with corruption? Some have argued that large amounts of aid will merely prop up those regimes. Can poverty be eradicated while corrupt politicians are in office?

My experience is that there's corruption everywhere: in the U.S., in Europe, in Asia, and in Africa. It's a bit like infectious disease�you can control it, but it's very hard to eradicate it. And yes, there are some cases where the corruption is so massive that unless you are really, really clever and come up with some radically new approach to the issue, you're going to have a hard time accomplishing many development goals. It's quite hard in a place like Zimbabwe, now, where the current government, in a quite despicable way, clings to power. Or, in a country where there is absolutely no transparency or where you have a family ruling violently to stay in power. It's very hard to do a lot of the things that really need to be done to build an effective school system, a health system, and so on. I don't have any magic solution for those situations.

But, let me note that the world successfully eradicated small pox, and not just in countries that scored high on a governance index but in all parts of the world. This was an international effort which targeted a specific outcome undertaken by professionals using a proven technology and a very extensive monitoring system. And that's the general model for our aid proposals. Nothing is done on trust. Everything should be done on a basis of measurement and monitoring. When you really focus, there are so many ways to be clever about how to do this to make it work better. Don't just send money; send bed nets, send in auditors, make targets quantitative. There are a lot of tricks, a lot of ways, that if one is practical about this, one can get results.

But what happens is that everyone's wringing their hands about corruption without trying to solve practical problems. And right now, we're not even helping the well-governed places, the places where we are capable of finding absolutely practical and effective approaches to turning help into real success on the ground. The basic issue is not to lecture about morality and governance. The basic issue is, is there a way for us to help to fight AIDS, TB, malaria, and other killers which are taking an incredible number of lives? I've seen these children dying, each time I visit these clinics. And these are absolutely preventable deaths.

Now you suggest in your book that we need to assess ailing economies just as doctors assess patients. You call it "clinical economics." Does the current academic curriculum for development economics provide a sufficient framework for educating people to ensure that the MDGs will be achieved by future economists?

No it doesn't. I realized 10 or 15 years ago that the students in economics departments write dissertations about countries that they never stepped foot in because their advisor gives them a database from Nigeria or Kenya or some place else, and they do their thesis that way. That's like becoming a doctor without ever seeing a patient. We don't do case studies. We don't train students to understand the differences across countries. There are a tremendous number of loose generalizations made all the time

Similarly, people aren't trained in the practical experiences of being operational. Sometimes people say, "We teach academic things, we don't teach operational things." But, frankly, to do development right, you have to do something that's more like going through medical school and having a clinical hospital where you actually learn about different cases, and do case analyses. When something goes wrong, you study it. There are what are called "M&M rounds" in hospitals�morbidity and mortality rounds. When something doesn't work, when a patient dies or doesn't get better, the doctors get together to discuss the case. We don't do that in academic economics. For me, the field is not properly organized right now to really take on these challenges adequately and I'm hoping that the field will become more like a clinical science.

In your book, you recount some of your experiences in developing countries. In one passage you note, "One day in Goni's office we were brainstorming and hit on the idea of establishing an emergency social fund that would direct money to the poorest communities to help finance local infrastructure like water harvesting, or irrigation, or road improvements. I picked up the phone and called the World Bank. Katherine Marshall, the head of the Bolivia team at the Bank immediately responded, "You're right, let's do this." Why is it that a whole World Bank team specializing in Bolivia hadn't come up with the idea that you had?

Well, sometimes they have ideas, sometimes I have ideas. It just so happened in this case that the idea came from me. But I do feel that in Washington over the last 25 years, especially during this era called "the structural adjustment era," there hasn't been a lot of actual problem-solving. There has been a lot of concern about budget-saving on the part of the rich countries. A lot of what was really happening in Washington had a subtext: "Keep poor people away from our taxpayers, tell them to tighten their belts, tell them to solve their own problems, tell them to keep sending their debt payments to us."

It was, in my view, a very unhappy and unsatisfactory period and there were, no doubt, a lot of creative people that were prepared to do a lot of things but they weren't given assignments to do that. I was absolutely shocked and aghast when I learned that in the late 1990s the World Bank and other donors weren't paying a penny to help treat people dying of AIDS.

Rarely do rich countries say, "Look, we're just not prepared to spend money to save poor people's lives." Instead, you get a lot of skepticism. "You can't do this, this is impossible. We're doing everything we can after all. We've tried everything. Let's go slowly. Let's do one thing at a time." I don't buy those arguments. I think that they all essentially stem from a vision that has been forced on the professional staff of these agencies because they have no money to spend. And they have no money to spend because in the end, the United States and other rich countries aren't giving them the resources to enable them to think ambitiously enough. One of the reasons why that is, is because the American people think we're doing everything we can be doing and frankly because they're told that there's nothing more we can do.

Do you think the U.S. will ever agree to dedicate 0.7 percent of its GNP to development aid?

I don't think that any leading politician believes we're going to do that right now. It's not the conventional wisdom. The way it's going to happen is if the public tells the politicians, "Yes, we want to do this, we want to follow through on our word, it's good for us, and it's good for the world."

I've found in talks and discussion about the Millennium Project that people are very surprised to find out what the U.S. is and is not doing vis-à-vis the world's poor. Opinion surveys show, and I find this verified in audiences, e-mails, and discussion groups, that people tend to overestimate U.S. assistance efforts, usually by a factor of about 25 or 30. People think that we give several percent of our annual income and several percent, maybe even a quarter of budget to foreign aid and they're shocked to find out that it's actually much less than 1 percent of our budget. They're shocked to find that throughout Africa, the kind of practical investments that I'm talking about run to about 1 penny out of every $100 of our GNP. They can't believe it, but that's the unfortunate situation. When they find that out, and they see that we're spending $500 billion on the military and only about $1 to $2 billion on investments in Africa, they're concerned because I think that they feel this is probably not the best choice for America.

What do you think of two recent proposed strategies�President Bush's Millennium Challenge Accounts (MCA), and Britain's International Financing Fund (IFF), proposed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown�as means of promoting global development?

They're both good ideas. But by now, the MCA was supposed to have dispersed $1.7 billion dollars, $3.3 billion in the second year, and $5 billion in the third year. It has missed all its targets. In three years, it's only committed about $100 million dollars to one project. It has not yet been turned into a reality.

Brown's is also a very good idea. Unfortunately the U.S. basically said "no" to participation in that. I think the European countries will undertake the IFF, but not with any U.S. support. But the IFF is a very good concept�the idea is that Britain and six other countries have announced a timetable to reach a goal of dedicating 0.7 percent of their GNP to development by the year 2015. So what this would do is allow them actually to borrow against the rising trend so that they could frontload some of the money.

What the Africa Commission, the Millennium Development Report, the World Bank and IMF have all found is that right now poor countries could usefully absorb a tremendous increase of money and use it properly. The IMF and World Bank recently released a report called the Global Monitoring Report which said that aid should be doubled. There is a professional understanding that the money is needed to break the poverty trap and save lives and that the money can be effectively used.

What Kind of Freedom?

President Bush, fresh off an inaugural address that committed the United States anew to the cause of global freedom, will find his soaring rhetoric put to its latest test in Iraq's national vote this Sunday. And it's a tough test. With the country in flames and insurgent attacks seemingly rising to an election-timed crescendo, Iraq makes a distinctly uninspiring showcase for the neoconservative foreign policy project.

Just ask Christian Parenti. The author and journalist made three trips to Iraq to see for himself how the newly "liberated" country was faring. As the rare correspondent who has "embedded" on both sides of this war – with the U.S. military and the Iraqi resistance – Parenti brought an immediacy and vividness to his reporting for The Nation, and now in his new book, The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq.

As Akeel, a resident of Baghdad and Parenti's 26-year-old translator, remarked when asked of life in the newly freed Iraq: "Ah, the freedom. Look, we have the gas-line freedom, the looting freedom, the killing freedom, the rape freedom, the hash-smoking freedom. I don't know what to do with all this freedom."

Parenti recently came by the office to discuss his reporting from Iraq.

What made you want to go to Iraq?

Christian Parenti: Well, I wanted to see the situation and I also wanted to have the right to speak about the war. I noticed, perhaps at the level of subtext, that some writers were definitely implying that if you were not there you didn't have the right to comment. I also knew the war in Iraq was not going to be quick and clean. This war is simply the biggest story of our generation. After my initial trip, I wanted to go back and better understand the situation there. Immediately people suggested that I write a book, which required return trips, so I went back two more times for roughly a total of four months. So that's why – to weigh in on the largest story of our time.

You got access to both sides of the conflict. How difficult was that to do?

Well, getting access to the U.S. military is not so hard. They have a structure for embedding journalists; it's just a matter of wading through their bureaucracy. One time I was with the Florida National Guard and on a return trip I ended up in Fallujah. The official setting up the embed said, "There's a long line with everyone here in Baghdad, but if you want to go out to the Wild West there's nobody really out there." So I said, "O.K., I'll go there," and they sent me to Fallujah with the 82nd Airborne.

Meeting the resistance was much more complicated: it involved gaining the trust of Iraqis who in turn were equally trusted by the resistance. Organizing the first meetings took a long time – many visits with former soldiers who claimed not to be in the resistance but who wanted to have long conversations, wanted to look at my books, and wanted me to come back the next day to check me out some more. Now, I would be extremely wary if I went back. I definitely would not meet with the resistance now because the kidnapping, especially in central Iraq, is completely uncontrollable.

How, structurally, would you characterize the insurgency?

I see it as a horizontal network made up of cells, with individual groups and clusters of cells. Within this network there are nodes, which have different levels of organization. The nodes with greater organization pulsate out more resources, ideology, direction, and a program to the rest of the network. Some of these nodes are Jihadist, and some are remnants from the old police state, and these factions may or may not relate to one another. The former police forces have relationships with informants as well as with self-organized cells. They can mobilize them and pull them into actions and create networks of alliances for actions and then disband. They are basically horizontal networks of autonomous groups.

Not all of these groups are equal. Some cells are more powerful and connected than others. For example, former security forces are more powerful than, say, a group of farmers from outside of Baghdad. People want to dismiss the role of former security forces because Donald Rumsfeld blames the resistance on old security forces, but that's ridiculous. You don't simply make an army of 400,000 people go away. It just doesn't happen.

What is your prediction for how insurgents will disrupt the election?

I really have no idea, except that there's probably going to be a lot of violence, rampant vote fraud, and some spectacular hits on political people. But maybe it's not Election Day we should be focused on – because it is happening right now. There's no functioning infrastructure for this election in the central part of Iraq, where roughly half of the population lives. The elections will be a sham and a disaster.

Every single nostrum the administration put forward is a complete deception. Remember Fallujah? That was going to be the big showdown with the resistance. So far, U.S. Marines have searched every single house in the entire city and they are now forced to search them again because the resistance is still killing Marines. That's how intense the resistance is – they can't even tame this leveled ghost town.

The book reads, at times, as a portrayal of the underbelly of the war. What kind of underworld exists in Iraq?

I think we forget about the other major war going on in Iraq, which is essentially an apolitical Hobbesian war of all against all. Total criminality and a massive crime wave: people constantly being carjacked, people constantly raiding each other's houses, and countless scores being settled through murder. It is like an extreme version of the Wild West. There is a lot of drug use and prostitution. Drugs, especially Valium and other sedatives, are readily available throughout the urban centers. Prostitution is rampant because women are hungry, women are widowed, and there is a type of lawlessness that encourages it. Most of the prostitution caters to Iraqi men, but it also involves many U.S. soldiers. But much of this so-called underbelly exists in and around Baghdad. When you get into Iraq's rural environment this form of disorder considerably decreases. As a result of all this, a lot of marriages fall apart in the immediate aftermath of war. It gets overlooked because it is somewhat mundane, but it is a major concern to soldiers because so many relationships fall apart.

You close the book with a trip to Florida where you visit with soldiers back from Iraq. What has it been like for you to be back home?

The situation in Iraq is so grim that I immediately noticed a type of political, intellectual and emotional lassitude set in when I returned. It left me profoundly depressed. It is difficult to find a silver lining in the current occupation. The meltdown and total destruction of the homeland of 25 million people – the slaughter and the destabilization of the entire region – could potentially force the U.S. to suffer a form of defeat. That could lead to restructured and improved relationships with other countries, except that the U.S. refuses to cooperate on any topic and with any country. Even that scenario is hollow and unsatisfactory because there will be little left in Iraq and there is no guarantee that political and military defeat in Iraq will result in a restructuring of American foreign policy.

On the subject of trauma, Dan Baum wrote an excellent piece in The New Yorker about soldiers and their reactions to killing people. The fact is that soldiers who kill suffer much worse upon their return than those who do not. So, as a journalist you come away depressed and having witnessed first-hand how dire world politics are. But that pales in comparison to the life-long struggle facing soldiers – the ones who've killed – when they return home.

You spend a lot of time with soldiers in Iraq. Do you see any signs of anti-war activism taking root among returning soldiers?

It's hard to say. I did not see a lot of defiance among U.S. soldiers, but there is a growing amount of activism. The discipline in the U.S. military is pretty strong and morale is fairly high. We are not going to see a mass protest of GIs for some time to come. More of what you see is passive resistance from soldiers – where people file administrative complaints to avoid service, or soldiers just desert.

Traditionally, if you went AWOL and deserted they did not want you in the army. That may be changing with this war given the low troop levels, but the army still wants a force that is committed – or at least guilt tripped – to serve. The military is, generally, a bunch of regular working-class Americans from all over the country. They work extremely hard and remain serious with whatever their task is: changing tires, getting computers to work, making sure communications are operational, making sure there is enough water and food, etc. You just get this serious, all-business, approach to the operations as a whole.

You wrote the book Lockdown America, which details the rise of the prison industrial complex in the U.S. Talk about your visit to Abu Ghraib.

I did not actually get into the Abu Ghraib prison. They were not offering tours, although I could have attended a briefing in a room without access to any prisoners. Instead, I went with a family of a prisoner and hung out in line. There is always a huge crowd outside of Abu Ghraib, many are former prisoners trying to find relatives still incarcerated, and I visited this mass of people several times to conduct interviews. This space, enclosed by all this wire, is essentially part of Abu Ghraib; you are not actually inside the prison but many ex-prisoners are available. The average person detained at Abu Ghraib was not tortured by Charles Graner or Lynndie England, but snatched up in a raid and dumped in an open-air prison camp.

Abu Ghraib and operations there represent just total chaos. The prison is full of people on a giant backlog who have absolutely no intelligence value whatsoever to the U.S. In the outdoor tent-prison, guards do stuff like throw rocks at them and put sand in their food to harass them, but by and large they just ignore them and prisoners try to survive the freezing cold and the heat. After roughly two months, finally someone would come along and put them in a truck and dump them somewhere. Numerous people told me they were questioned and interrogated when they were arrested but never spoken to again once they got to Abu Ghraib. Then there are people like Salah Hassan, a cameraman with Al Jazeera, who described to me the capture and torture he faced at Abu Ghraib. I give credit to The Nation for publishing the story, which broke two months before the torture scandal became more widely known. Hassan described various types of torture used against him while he was wrongly imprisoned at Abu Ghraib.

More recently, I went to Chicago to interview an interrogator who works with the 10th Mountain, which is stationed at Camp Victory surrounding the Baghdad Airport. The interrogators routinely grill people who are completely innocent of anything and snatched at random and brought to Abu Ghraib. This source wouldn't tell the entire story to me. He was too scared to tell it because he had to go back to Iraq and continue in this position. But he did describe an intelligence system that was in complete chaos – where all intelligence has equal value and people are indiscriminately imprisoned. He also discussed an operation called "Clean Sweep" in advance of the Jan. 30 election, which basically rounds up every male in the area between 18-40.

This is just pathetic and ridiculous. It represents a blatant admission of defeat – they have no idea how to fight the resistance, so they are just going to round up Iraqis and throw them into Abu Ghraib. That's not a strategy and this soldier, who is completely pro-war, was extremely worried about that. Imagine if you were pro-war and wanted to invade Iraq, which is what this soldier believed, the way they are doing it is just insane. You grab a bunch of civilians and then throw them into prison camps where there are actually people active in the resistance. You basically allow people who are pissed off to associate with those active in the war and the prison becomes this massive recruiting center.

Why, in your opinion, has the U.S. made such a mess of Iraq?

The clique of wise men around George Bush felt, and still feels, that the U.S. is in a unique position, that this position allows them to solidify a type of global control and reverse the Clinton years, which they see as marked by a failed strategy of humanitarian interventionism and alliance-building. They want decisive, aggressive, and unilateral action that demonstrates, on a global scale, that this is Planet America and this country is in control. They basically took leave of their senses in Iraq because they were completely high off their successes elsewhere. They did not want to listen to anyone who told them otherwise. For example, they didn't want to read the State Department's one-year, $5 million study, which stated that invading Iraq would be incredibly difficult. And now they are in serious trouble.

I don't think we totally understand how bad the situation is in Iraq or that the entire region is primed for instability. The lessons they learned in Vietnam – stay out of guerilla wars and do not engage an enemy with a full-fledged military force – worked well for them in Central America and elsewhere. But they abandoned that strategy and are now lost without any strategy in Iraq.

The opening chapter of The Freedom dissects the cinematic narrative of American imperialism, what you describe as "an exciting drama in which the American national character is being put to the test," from the initial challenge and first easy victory through the moment of doubt and concluding with the inevitable final victory. How can the Bush administration or subsequent administrations possibly spin the inevitable "final victory" this time around?

That part of the story is endlessly regressing, and we always have to wait a little longer for that ending. There is no understanding of history and there is no accountability to history. So the pundit class never holds leaders accountable. Americans simply do not know what is occurring because television news does not cover the facts.

So Americans are free to think that there is really all of this good work going on and schools are being rebuilt. Basically believing that everything is getting better every day and in every way. A lot of people believe that because they only watch television and they simply have no idea of what's going on in the region. Then there is an entire segment of the population who are so ideologically committed to a racist, often religious, American nationalism that they do not care what the facts are, and actively don't want to hear any facts that contradict their worldview of the U.S. as a righteous victim that goes out and helps people. But, by and large, most Americans don't know, don't understand, and don't know how to figure it out.

You got into some trouble last March during an appearance on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, in which you were interviewed by Ray Suarez and stated that Halliburton and Bechtel's failure to provide "meaningful reconstruction" was contributing to instability in Iraq. What happened next?

I got a call the next morning from producer Dan Sagalyn, who was a nice guy and said he liked my reporting, but I could immediately tell something was wrong. He said "some people high up at The Newshour are really upset and think your segment was unbalanced." I was completely surprised because my comments were not that controversial, but he said we needed a right-winger to balance my comments. I said I don't consider myself particularly left-wing, and simply reported the reality in Iraq.

The next day he called back and said Jim Lehrer is extremely upset and he's going to say something at the end of the next broadcast. Sure enough, after interviewing Gen. John Abizaid – and they did not have anyone countering Abizaid's points on that broadcast – Lehrer apologized for what I'd said two nights earlier. Then, what I find really insane, the Village Voice reported on the story because people at The Nation were upset about the incident and The Newshour admitted to the entire thing. It is ridiculous and pathetic how serious they take themselves because I think their show is completely lopsided and mainstream. Unfortunately, they think they represent this independent voice in the media and that is just completely inaccurate.

How are mainstream American media outlets performing in their Iraq coverage?

They're failing us, the citizenry, but [they're] doing a damn fine job of keeping people in a position where they are willing to spend $5 billion a month on this war and tolerate thousands of casualties. They are doing an incredible job of making the Iraq war work for this administration. But how many people have actually been injured in this war? We know that over 10,000 people have been seriously injured, but how many amputees have there been from this war? That should be a standard number from this war. We know that thousands have been wounded, many returned to service, but many horribly maimed. So they're both failing and succeeding – depending on the perspective you have on their mission.

What We Owe Iraq

During the 2000 presidential campaign, President Bush spoke out against "extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions." But after the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, nation-building quickly became a critical piece of American foreign policy. And while another Iraq-style invasion is probably out of the question anytime soon, the United States could easily find itself in another situation like that in Haiti, or Somalia, or Kosovo. So if, for better or worse, we will inevitably find ourselves on more nation-building enterprises, what sorts of responsibilities are involved? How can the United States go about nation-building in a prudent and ethical manner?

In his new book, What We Owe Iraq, Noah Feldman examines the nation-building project that the United States has undertaken in Iraq, using it to outline a set of ethical principles that any nation-builder must follow on its way towards creating a new democractic state. The first step, he writes, is to "immerse oneself in what information [is] available about the country." As a scholar of both constitutional law and Islam, Feldman was uniquely situated to understand how democracy might develop in an Islamic nation like Iraq, and in early 2003 the Coalition Provisional Authority asked him to help with planning for Iraq's constitutional design. Much of what he learned there informs his book's conclusion: �What we ultimately owe Iraq is to let the Iraqis grasp nationhood and sovereignty for themselves � and keep it, if they can." How we get there, however, is a more difficult matter.

Feldman, who is an associate professor of law at New York University and also wrote After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy, recently sat down with to talk about the ethics of nation-building, his experiences in Iraq, and what we can expect from the upcoming elections there.

In your book you define nation-building as basically creating a democracy without holding elections right away. Can you outline briefly the responsibilities involved in nation-building?

Right, the reason you're doing nation-building is that you can't immediately hold elections. If you could hold elections right away, you could skip the nation-building process almost completely and just leave. But I'm describing situations where for whatever reason � a lack of security, say � it's just too soon to hold elections.

So the first duty of any nation-builder, under conditions of occupation, is to recognize that it is exercising political power on behalf of the people whom it is governing. And in that capacity, it has to take responsibility for acting in their interests, just like any other democratic government. So the nation-builder has to allow for oversight by the people who live in the country � through allowing free speech, free assembly, and encouraging active participation through various consultative bodies.

Can you explain how your concept of nation-building differs from how it's been defined in the past � by, for instance, the Hague Convention or the League of Nations?

Sure. Under the Hague Convention, the idea was that the occupier essentially held the occupied people in trust for their rightful sovereign � who was assumed to own those people himself. Under the League of Nations this view changed a little bit, so that now the occupier was supposed to hold in trust the future of the people who were being governed. They were assumed to be unready to rule themselves, so the view was that the occupying power would hold their political development in trust, as if they were children who needed to be brought up.

Under the view that I'm proposing, the only thing that the occupier holds in trust is the temporary authority to govern. It's exactly the same as when we elect a government, that government has authority only until the next set of elections. So my view entails much greater obligations of responsiveness and oversight than any other models do. And it assumes that in the relatively short-term future, authority will be transferred to the people who are being subjected to occupation, in order for them to divine their own political interests, and govern themselves.

Now, way back in early 2003, Lt. Gen. Jay Garner wanted to hand over Iraq as quickly as possible to the Iraqis. Do you think this was a mistake to try to avoid nation-building early on in Iraq?

Well, that decision was above Jay Garner's pay-grade. It wasn't that Jay Garner had this odd strategic vision. He was simply hired by the administration and sent out to be head of Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, because the Bush administration did not believe that it was capable of � or desirable � to govern Iraq. This was an administration that didn't want to do nation-building. Immediately on the fall of Saddam, they said, a new government could emerge. Somewhat by magic.

So that's why Jay Garner was given a job that included no governance component at all. He was just a soldier doing his job, making sure nobody starved � and nobody did � and getting reconstruction projects underway, which he did a little bit of, although probably not as much as even he would have liked to have done, because it turned out that the political disarray was so great and the looting meant that the job of reconstruction was really so much more enormous than anyone had really imagined.

Now eventually the administration did get around, grudgingly, to trying to do nation-building in Iraq. You emphasize in your book that providing security is the first priority, something the U.S. failed to do in Iraq?

It's the first, last, and middle priority. As a matter of international law, the occupant has responsibility to preserve order. As a matter of basic common sense, if you're occupying a country, you need to make sure that ordinary people can go about their daily lives without being endangered or fear for their lives, and furthermore that you're the power in charge for the safety of your own troops. And as a matter of basic ethics, if you have eliminated the government of a place, you have a pretty straightforward ethical duty to provide government.

As a follow-up, you wrote something really interesting in the book that builds off philosopher Robert Nozick's notion of "protective associations" in states of anarchy. You mention that, in the absence of security, Iraqis tend to revert to their pre-existing identities in order to find protection, which is a lot of Iraqis are now strongly identifying with Shi'ism, or Kurdish nationalism, or Arab tribal identities.

I think that's a central piece of the story that's been largely overlooked in most of the thinking about the topic. What I did is I took from Robert Nozick's thought experiment about what people would do under conditions of anarchy. Now he noticed that under these conditions, you need someone to protect you, you need to join some sort of protective association. There's an analogy to being a kid in a bad neighborhood, where everyone else is joining a gang � you obviously have no choice but to join some gang, because otherwise you won't be able to protect yourself.

What I added to that was to observe that under conditions of anarchy, where everyone else is also looking for this sort of protective association, you're likely to look for the most salient marker of identity that you can find. It doesn't really matter that it be ethnicity or religion. It matters that it be an identity that other people will also be likely to rely on, since you're in a race with everyone else who's also trying to find some protective group.

So one of the reasons that we've seen such a strong focus on ethnic, tribal, denominational, other identities in Iraq, is that when the state collapsed, people had little choice but to find some marker of identity that they thought would have some chance of working for them. And these were the identities that were there. We didn't create these identities � they already existed � it's that we turned those identities into focal points for self-organization, by virtue of our failure to provide security. And we therefore made these identities � ethnic/denominational � much more important for Iraqi politics than they otherwise would have been.

Let's talk about the upcoming elections. Can you explain briefly what each side in Iraq (the Kurds, the Shia, the Sunnis) wants as far as the future of the country is concerned?

Well, the Kurds want to take the de facto autonomy that they've had for the last decade or so in the northern part of the country, and pin that down through a form of federalism that makes their autonomy legal, not just practical. They're willing to participate in the government of Iraq because they understand that the U.S. is against their declaring independence, for security reasons. But they'll stay in Iraq only in exchange for a strong recognition of their autonomy.

The Shia want to express their position as a majority in the government � that's why [Grand Ayatollah Ali] Sistani has been pressing so hard for elections � and they would like to use that authority to arrange the government in such a way that resources are distributed to them fairly, which has not been the case in the past. And some Shiites, probably a significant number, also would like to see some expression of their religious identity through the state. More Islamic law, enshrining Islamic family law, that kind of thing. It's hard to know exactly how many Shiites want this, but the ones that do are the best organized politically, so they're likely to do well in the elections.

A final group, the Sunnis, are in a much more uncertain position. Some of them would like to recapture the state, and are participating in the insurgency, but those people are not going to participate in the elections. Other Sunnis simply want to avoid having happen to them what they did to the Shia and the Kurds, which is to say marginalization and sometimes much worse.

Wouldn't it be rational for many Sunnis to continue supporting the insurgency rather than simply consign themselves to a permanent minority? So how do you convince them that it's in their interests to participate in democracy?

It's very tricky to do, but crucial. One thing is that we have to show them that they can't succeed militarily. Because as long as they think they can get even more power through the insurgency, some of them will. Now what seemed like a really crazy view 18 months ago � no one thought the Baathists were ever going to come back into power. But now you look at how well the insurgency's doing relative to the U.S. and you think, well, maybe they can stick it out for another two-three years, kill another few thousand U.S. troops, kill another 50,000-100,000 Iraqis, and come back to power. That's not a crazy thing for them to think. It's terrible to contemplate it but it's not irrational of them.

Anyways, second, we'll also have to make them strong political guarantees � for instance, a second chamber in the new government that gives them disproportionate representation like in our U.S. Senate. Potentially they'd need to be offered stronger roles in other parts of the government, and of course strong constitutional guarantees for the equal distribution of resources across the country. The goal is to show them that even though they're a minority, they won't end up completely excluded from the distribution of public goods. They're worried about this because they know how it's done.

Now it seems clear that many Iraqi Shi'ites are jazzed about taking power via the ballot box. But what kind of understanding do they have of constitutionalism? Do they understand the importance of an independent judiciary? Minority rights?

I think they're gradually getting it, but they don't want to have minority rights be an excuse to avoid the initial elections. The Shi'a want it on the record that they are the clear majority. Now you can't really blame them for having that aspiration, cause they've always been the majority but have never been authorized to act as one.

But the minute that these elections are over, and they form a government, suddenly they're going to be in a position where they actually have to be the ones responsible for what's going on in the country. That will tell them pretty quickly that they need � they're not going to be able to govern by pure coercive means. In a diverse, pluralist democracy, you can't just govern by ordinary police powers, you needed to have buy-in from tons of other groups. And that's why they're going to have to turn towards institutions like independent judiciary, and constitutional guarantees and things like that. Those rights are necessary to good government, they're necessary to avoid a permanent civil war

This goes to an underlying point about when guarantees of rights work in a constitution. It's my belief that these rights don't work when they're just a declaration on a piece of paper. The world is littered with constitutions that have written guarantees of rights but that don't actually deliver rights. What differentiates the ones where rights are real from where rights are fake is that it's in the initial interests of the majority to actually deliver these rights. Then there's time for those rights to catch on institutionally, and then people will start to believe that hey, these rights are a fundamentally crucial part of the civic life. It takes time for that to catch on.

Now you believe that the big Shiite "bloc," which makes up nearly 60 percent of the country, will eventually dissolve as ordinary politics and interests take over?

Yeah, it's essentially unheard of anywhere in the world for 60 percent of the population � who live in different places, have different economic interests and political views � to hold together as a governing majority indefinitely. To look at other examples, the ANC still governs in South Africa, it's still the dominant party, but it's become a much more complex entity over the years. There's no reason to think Shi'ite Iraq is uniquely positioned for communal solidarity.

In fact, the other thing to add is that the main Shi'ite List is not a single party; it openly identifies itself as a list of political parties. So it's already prepared to recognize that there are disparate interests, different political visions, other points of disagreement � all of which is good. In the long run, ordinary politics will be helped by there being a range of different views and ideas to be expressed.

Let's say elections go off well, and all the major groups come to the negotiating table, but then they start bickering. Or let's say the Shi'ites refuse to participat. Is there any part that the U.S. or the UN can play in facilitating the discussions over the constitution, or is it completely out of our hands by now?

I don't think the U.S. should be taking substantive positions on how the Iraqis should get to specific outcomes. Frankly, I think the way that this constitution has a best chance of lasting is if it's essentially negotiated by the people who then have to live with it. They're not making concessions to us, they're making concessions to each other. On the other hand, during this period we're going to remain as a security force in this country, and we do have one piece of significant leverage, which is our potential leaving.

With respect to the United Nations, it's influence will likely be as a bully pulpit. The international community has some leverage, it can say, "If you do these things in your constitution, like guarantee these human rights things, then you can be accepted by the international community and paid off well." That's a form of pressure, but a relatively indirect one frankly. The world is full of nations that are part of the community of nations that don't respect rights.

Now tell me about drafting a constitution � since you were involved in guiding the write-up of the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL). How do you find the balance between guiding an occupied country towards democracy without getting too heavy-handed?

I should say, my role during the drafting of the TAL was not an oversight role, it was a purely consultative role. I was no longer working with the U.S. government, I was working directly with the Iraqis on a pro bono basis. But the U.S. was involved in this process, and here the U.S. did try to effect substantive outcomes in this document, by exercising its own influence. I think that on some points we probably went further than we should have done, in terms of particularized political solutions.

My basic view on how this should be done is this: It's fine to put on the table ideas like: "Hey, the formulation of religious liberty in international declaration of human rights is a pretty attractive one, maybe you'd like to use this." But I don't think it's a good idea to say, "You must adopt this formulation or else." Because if you do, sure, the Iraqis will adopt it, but they won't adopt it on the basis of acceptance, they'll adopt it in order to satisfy an outsider. Then when the time comes for that provision to be implemented, they won't see it as something in their interest, and they won't follow it. That's how you generate a paper constitution that no one will ever follow.

Can you give an example of a time when the U.S. did go too far in demanding or suggesting a certain outcome?

Sure, at one point, when negotiations were ongoing, ambassador Paul Bremer made a public statement in Hilla, where he said publicly, "Don't worry, this won't be an Islamic constitution." This was an enormous mistake. First of all, it achieved the exact opposite of what he presumably wanted it to achieve � it strengthened the hand of the Islamists, by making it look like the U.S. was trying to hold them out, and therefore required the U.S. to make many more concessions than they would have otherwise done.

The question of whether Iraq is going to have a state religion and what the role of that religion is going to be, that's just none of our business � that's a question for Iraqis. We might have a view on it, we might tell them, "We have a pluralism, look how well we've done with separation of church and state." But when Iraqis answer by saying, "Thank you very much, but we have no interest in that," then the appropriate response is, "OK, it's your constitution." Not: "You may not have this!" That's absurd. And it was shown to be absurd relatively quickly, because the constitution (TAL) is more Islamic as a result of Bremer's announcement.

Now in your book you make the good point that elections should not be the end-point of nation-building. But don't you think that's essentially what we're seeing in Iraq?

Well, the first point is that just because you've elected a government doesn't mean a government can actually govern. You haven't accomplished nation-building just by electing a government, since a nation-state requires institutions that are actually running the country and protecting its borders. I am worried that some people in the U.S. government, and certainly the general public, may look at the fact of Iraq's elections and say, "OK, we fulfilled our obligations, we held elections, now let's roll, we're out of here." That really could be disastrous � it could lead to a rapid and premature withdrawal that plunges the country into civil war.

Do you think there's a possibility that the U.S. presence in Iraq is actually exacerbating some of the sectarian/ethnic tensions, how that needs to be weighed against the security benefits we are providing?

My honest view is that the deeper we get, the more we will start exacerbating these tensions. For example, we haven't been able to get the Iraqi military going. So the U.S. has ended up relying heavily on the only effective Iraqi fighting force available � the Kurdish militias � for security. Now that can have the effect of inflaming sectarian tensions in a place like Mosul, which is a mixed Arab/Kurdish city, and where National Guard units are basically Kurdish fighters. So yes, we do find ourselves in that situation sometimes, invariably because we have been insufficient in terms of providing our own manpower and in terms of successfully training the Iraqi armed forces.

But our absence could also do a lot more to inflame the situation. The main thing that keeps the sectarian tensions going is precisely the sense that there's no state there. So that's the tradeoff. A point could arise where our presence is only making things worse, but I don't think we've hit that point quite yet.

The Complex Latino Voter

U.S. Latinos, with a population of nearly 40 million, are the nation's largest minority. They're also perhaps some of its most misunderstood voters. The conventional wisdom is that Latinos are social conservatives and that U.S. immigration policy is one of the most important issues – if not the issue – upon which the Latino votes are lost or gained. Latinos – 7 million of whom are expected to vote in this year's election – are traditionally a Democratic constituency, and indeed John Kerry has a 2-1 advantage among Latinos over George Bush, according to polls. But the Latino vote is far from monolithic, and Latinos' values and voting behavior aren't as predictable as many think.

Democrats and Republicans – who between them are spending an unprecedented $17 million on Spanish language ads – would do well to take a look at recent polls by Pew Hispanic Center /Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post/Univision/Tomas Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI), which debunk some of the common wisdom. As it turns out, Latino voters are not staunch social conservatives, and their presidential pick won't be determined by the candidates' stances on immigration.

Both Bush and Kerry have neglected voters – Latino or otherwise – in California, New York, and Texas, the former two expected to be won safely by Kerry, the latter falling securely into the Bush column. Since most Latinos reside in those three states, it is safe to say that this election year, they will be feeling especially ignored. Not so for the Latino communities in the purple states of New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin and Colorado. While Wisconsin and Colorado may not be the first names that come to mind when thinking about the Latino vote, the growing Latino populations there may just decide the election. For example, Latinos make up 4 percent of the population of Wisconsin, a state that Bush lost to Gore in 2000 by just 5,700 votes.

The majority of Latinos – 62 percent – disapprove of the way Bush is handling the war in Iraq, but it is a less salient issue than the economy and education. According to the Washington Post/Univision/TRPI poll, 33 percent of registered Latino voters named the economy as the "single most important issue" on which they would base their vote, 18 percent education, 15 percent terrorism, and 13 percent the war in Iraq. By contrast, 20 percent of all registered voters named the war in Iraq as the "single most important" issue.

The Washington Post/Univision/TRPI poll did not offer immigration as one of the choices (a puzzling omission), but the earlier Pew Hispanic Center/Kaiser Family Foundation poll echoed its findings. When asked to name those issues that were "extremely important" in determining their vote, 54 percent of registered Latinos named education, 51 percent economy and jobs, another 51 percent health care, 45 percent terrorism, and 40 percent the war in Iraq. Immigration trailed behind these and several other issues with 27 percent. There was a wide consensus across party lines among Latinos on healthcare: 61 percent of both Democrats and Republicans said that they would be willing to pay higher taxes and insurance premiums for government to provide health insurance for the uninsured.

The Pew Hispanic Center/Kaiser Family Foundation poll also showed that Latinos were deeply divided on abortion and gay marriage, defying the stereotype that they are socially conservative and hence, a natural constituency for the Republicans. When asked if they supported the proposed federal amendment banning gay marriage, 45 percent favored it, while 48 percent opposed it. 49 percent said that abortion should be legal either in all or most cases, while 44 percent said that it should be illegal in all or most cases.

Latinos lack high-ranking positions on either campaign, and Kerry in particular has come under criticism for failing to represent this traditionally Democratic constituency, especially given that Bush appointed Latinos to positions of power as president. Bush of course has successfully cultivated the Latino vote since his days as Governor of Texas and it does not hurt the president that he speaks a little bit of Spanish (same goes for the Democratic camp with Teresa Heinz Kerry being a fluent-Spanish speaker). The president's brother Jeb has done well among Latinos as Governor of Florida, which will once again be one of the mostly closely watched states this presidential election. Some excitement was generated by Kerry's consideration of New Mexico's Latino Governor Bill Richardson for the veep spot, but Richardson withdrew his name from the running. Richardson of course chaired last month's Democratic National Convention (he closed the proceedings in Spanish) and made New Mexico quite popular among delegates by handing out 6,000 jars of his signature salsa.

Washington Post columnist Marcela Sanchez has criticized both parties for paying too much attention to immigration and Cuba when presenting their case to Latinos, given that those are not the most important issues to these voters. Arguing that a more "nuanced courtship" of the Latino voter is needed, Sanchez has also blamed stereotyping for the record amount of money spent on Spanish-language ads this year, pointing out that 80 percent of registered Latinos are primarily English-speakers. However, according to the Washington Post/ Univision/TRPI poll, 65 percent of these voters say that the candidate's ability to address them in Spanish is either "very important" or "somewhat important." Ironically, Spanish-language advertising maybe more critical for the Republican Party – usually not known for its support of bilingualism – because immigrants are seen as more likely to vote Republican than the U.S.-born Latinos. Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie, noting that "a slight shift among Hispanic voters" in states like New Mexico and Florida "can tip the Electoral College," said that Republicans "do better in households where Spanish is the principal language." In short, the parties are playing their cards right in terms of the language of the message, but as the recent polls suggest, it is the message itself that needs fine-tuning.

Leave No Millionaire Behind

The President and his party have cooked up the ultimate recipe for keeping political power. A nation in a constant state of anxiety -- over the threat of terrorism, or a potential war -- is a nation off balance. And that insecurity is the perfect cover to divert public attention from the country's serious domestic problems and the administration's political agenda.

The "Bush doctrine" opens the door to a series of pre-emptive wars against "evil" regimes, ostensibly to protect the United States and bring security, stability, safety and democracy to the citizens of Damascus, Tehran, and Pyongyang -- as the president claims to be doing in Baghdad and Kabul. Meanwhile, the administration shows little or no concern for the security, stability and safety of the citizens of Los Angeles, New York, Cleveland, or thousands of other cities and small towns across America, who are facing enormous economic and social difficulties.

Just as in the "The Wizard of Oz," when we finally get to see who is operating the smoke-puffing machine, we find a consummate pitchman. In Bush's case, the man behind the screen is a flag-waving, lapel-pin wearing, anti-terrorist fear monger who labels his opponents anti-patriotic. He has done a clever job of manipulating the mass media, but in reality his smooth imagery and charming personality are subtly undermining America's values. While he composes hymns to individualism, Sunday piety, trickle-down economics, and family values, he is trying to gut every program providing for social, economic, and environmental justice. America's families need less pious rhetoric, and more policies geared toward a healthy economy, secure jobs, decent health care, affordable housing, quality public education, renewable energy and a sustainable environment. Bush seems unable -- or unwilling -- to grasp that the government has an important leadership role in this. In fact, the only policy that Bush seems energized by is one of tax giveaways for the rich and for corporate America.

At present, there exists an air of suspended belief over the radical changes of the past two years. That is because the layoffs, shutdowns, cutbacks, and reduced paychecks have been obscured by the events of September 11 and the nation's subsequent focus on terrorist alerts and the Iraq war. But those changes are taking a huge toll. Bush's economic policy, which in turn determines social policy, is much like the iceberg waiting in the path of a steaming Titanic.

Bush does not seem to understand that, while it is not a sin to be born to privilege, it is a sin to spend your life defending it. John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt understood that. They knew the narrowness privilege can breed. This administration, despite its early pledges to provide a policy of "compassionate conservatism" has in fact adopted policies that amount to a war against the poor and the middle class. The tax and budget cuts were not made in order to jumpstart the economy or balance the budget; they were simply massive cash transfers. Social programs are being slashed to pay for tax giveaways for the wealthy and new defense contracts for arms makers who just happen to be big campaign contributors. Moreover, this was accomplished in a policy vacuum. The administration has not provided the American people with a strategic vision as to how this excessive and bloated arms build-up fits into our larger defense, anti-terrorist, or foreign policy. Is it in the national interest to relegate our most precious assets -- our human and natural resources -- to the junk pile while we increase the pace of an arms race where overkill has long been achieved? Do we really need to spend $9 billion on a missile defense system that doesn't work?

Thomas Jefferson warned us that we could be free or ignorant, but not both. We have not taken that warning to heart. We have not had a serious national debate about the Bush administration's policies because the mass media have treated politics -- as well as economic and social policy -- as entertainment: a combination of hype and palliative. The political and economic life of the country has been reduced to little more that a struggle for partisan power, the results not unlike the score of a football game: BUSH WINS AGAIN or SENATE DEMS BEATEN. There seems to be no sense of higher good, no question of national purpose, no hope for critical judgment. Hype has impoverished our political debate, undermining the very idea that public discourse can be educational and edifying -- or that national public policy can grow out of reflective discussion and shared political values. We have sought simplistic answers to complex problems without even beginning to comprehend our loss.

Which brings us to the difficult and complex issue of the inter-relationship between America's economic and social policy, and how these policies are shaped by politics in Washington. A fundamental assumption underlies the administration's domestic approach -- an assumption so ill-conceived that it seriously jeopardizes any prospects for solving our nation's pressing domestic needs. It is the illusion that economic policy can be separated from social policy.

That is impossible, and the consequences of believing it are grave. By separating economic theory from social policy, and by pursuing the former at the expense of the latter, the administration has adopted a strategy of brinkmanship that could lead to social disaster. The drastic cuts being made in basic social and human service programs will exact painful and immediate social and human costs, and they will also appear as direct financial costs -- in terms of illiteracy, incarceration, and ill-health, among others -- at future times in different ledgers.

The administration's contention that renewed economic growth as a consequence of tax cuts for the rich will eventually "trickle down" to the poor flies in the face of everything we know about poverty today. The best research indicates the opposite. Growth in the private economy has had a declining role in reducing poverty, and virtually all of the reduction in poverty since the mid-1960s has been brought about by the expansion of national social insurance and income-transfer programs of the kind now under attack by the Bush administration.

In addition to the massive tax cuts, the administration proposes to privatize or turn over to the states vast portions of the nation's social, education, housing and health programs -- a move that amounts to reneging on our social and moral commitments as a nation. The real issue is not public versus private or federal versus state; rather, it is the diminution or avoidance of any national standards of responsibility and accountability.
Worse than that, Mr. Bush seems to be denying that this responsibility even exists. Successful and effective national programs are being replaced with an inequitable, inconsistent patchwork of systems run by states -- a patchwork that is restrictively financed, more bureaucratic, less accountable, and subject to intense local, political, and fiscal pressures. Instead of the more efficient government that Bush promises, we will have fifty bureaucratic and anachronistic messes: government by provisional catastrophe. The question becomes whether basic human services will be provided at all.

For true conservatives, the ideological implications behind Bush's economic policies must be disturbing, in that they depart from the genuine conservative philosophies that have played such an important role in American history. Historically, conservatives have not promised lower taxes or economic privatism. Traditionally, conservative leaders have focused on the underlying problems of the human community -- issues of leadership, of equality of opportunity, of continuity and order, of the obligations of the strong to the weak, and of the safeguards needed to keep the privileged from abusing their power.

By contrast, the Bush administration encourages us to revert to our basest inclinations: Look out for number one; write off those who can't make it as shiftless, a drag on the economy. Our moral decline deepens as we condone the sheer political power of special and self-serving private economic interests -- wealthy campaign contributors and corporate powers -- over the legitimate moral authority that represents our nation's best public interests. Rather than opportunity, equality, justice, and vitality, the Bush prescription for economic stimulus amounts to inequality, economic cronyism, and acquiescence. People programs are out and tax avoidance schemes are in. Human needs are made subordinated to political and technical arrogance.

Recently, I took the opportunity to reread Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and the Federalist Papers, and recalled that our founding fathers were well aware that politics and economics were interrelated faces of power, each necessitating its own checks and balances. What impressed me most, though, was their mature leadership, one that was based on a genuine commitment to the struggle for social, political, and environmental justice as well as economic opportunity. A commitment to this sense of public interest is just as important today.

Only those people have a future and can be called humane and historic who have an intuitive sense of what is significant in both their national and public institutions, and who value them. It is this conviction and the continuing belief in the common-sense vision of the American promise that demand that we begin a serious national dialogue over our country's economic and social policies. The Bush administration's radical and dangerous changes have occurred without any serious national debate. Mr. Bush seems to think that his electoral "mandate," as suspect as it was, has changed our government from a representative democracy to economic royalism.

The Bush economic policies -- and the overtly antisocial political priorities driving them -- are not based on a commitment to any high principles such as freedom, liberty, equality, justice, or opportunity, although such pieties are mouthed at the swivel of a camera. Instead, they are based on the narrow personal prejudices and biases of a group of men motivated by the acquisition of money and power. Bush and Cheney have constructed a hypothesis to fit a simple notion: "The plutocracy is good to me, so I'll be good to the plutocracy."

For the past two years I have listened carefully to the President, his chief advisors, and the neo-conservative right. All of it has reminded me of a passage in The Heart of Darkness. Joseph Conrad put it this way:

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The Real Price of Oil

Perhaps it's a sign of politics inching back toward business as usual: Congressional Republicans are exploiting the Sept. 11 terror attacks to push the Bush administration's plan for an all-out increase in energy production.

Lawmakers first proposed making the administration's controversial plan -- which includes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- part of a federal anti-terrorism bill. Though that amendment failed late last month, drilling advocates are likely to continue invoking terrorism fears as they argue for more oil development.

Bush, of course, has long maintained that his energy plan will increase America's "energy security" -- meaning the nation's access to relatively inexpensive electricity and fuel. To that end, he has proposed a package of measures intended to encourage greater production of oil, along with other fossil fuels and nuclear power. In a victory that surprised even Republicans, the House of Representatives in August endorsed much of Bush's approach, including $33 billion worth of tax incentives for oil companies.

It's questionable, however, whether these steps will in fact guarantee stable energy prices. Given the power that OPEC and the international oil companies have to manipulate production, the usual rules of supply and demand don't apply to the oil business. And even if Bush's approach works, it will affect the price of oil only in a narrow sense: what a barrel of light crude fetches on the London spot market, what a gallon of gasoline for the family automobile costs at the pump.

What matters more is what should be called the real price of oil. This is comprised of two elements: petroleum's market price, plus the many indirect costs that its production and consumption impose on nature, public health, and future generations.

Under Bush's plan, for example, the real price of oil will soon include not only those $33 billion in subsidies, but the potential destruction of Alaskan caribou calving grounds. Increased production also means a growing possibility of more oil spills like the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, as well as continuation of the less-publicized release of an average of 10 million gallons of petroleum into the oceans every year from tanker accidents.

Further raising oil's real price will increased air pollution made possible by Bush's relaxation of environmental regulations. Already, diseases stemming from car exhaust kill some 30,000 Americans each year, according to a 1995 Harvard University study. And back in 1993, the Worldwatch Institute estimated the damage to human and environmental health from vehicle emissions at $93 billion a year.

For the world at large, the most serious consequence of continued reliance on oil and other fossil fuels will be accelerating climate change in the 21st century. Though a number of factors contribute to the greenhouse effect, oil remains a major culprit. Some 40 percent of America's greenhouse gas emissions stem from automobiles.

Scientists have noted that already -- after a mere one-degree increase in temperatures over the past century -- glaciers are melting and catastrophic storms becoming more severe and frequent. They expect the planet to warm an additional 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit in the 21st century, bringing yet more violent weather, flooded coastlines, killer droughts and social havoc. One insurance industry study projects that climate change will impose $304 billion of additional direct costs on the global economy every year.

Bush has rightly been criticized for rejecting the Kyoto accord on global warming. But the truth is, America has never been shy about expecting the rest of the world to support its oil habit. Presidents and Congresses of both US political parties have for decades affirmed military and diplomatic policies aimed at guaranteeing American access to overseas oil; the CIA-assisted overthrow in 1953 of Iran's prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh -- who had advocated nationalizing the country's oil supplies -- is but one example.

According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, an eco-think tank that analyzed Pentagon and Department of Energy spending data for the mid-1990s, federally funded research and development provided at least $300 million annually in subsidies for the fossil-fuel industry. And at least $50 billion of the US annual military budget during those years paid for forces whose primary purpose is to safeguard Middle Eastern oil fields and shipping lanes -- and whose presence, especially in the Islamic holy land of Saudi Arabia, provokes bitter resentment in much of the Muslim world.

Economists use the term "externalities" to refer to costs that are not included in a commodity's market price, but are borne by society as a whole. Society, of course, also has benefited from the past century's increase in oil consumption: The US economy underwent an extraordinary expansion during the 20th century, when cheap oil fostered first the automobilization of the nation and, after World War II, its suburbanization. Oil also made possible a transportation system built around individual mobility and personal convenience that in many respects remains the envy of the world.

But the impending threat of climate change suggests that our reliance on oil has reached a point of diminishing returns. It's time for a new strategy -- a shift to energy efficiency in the short term and to solar and other renewable energy forms in the long term. Such a Global Green Deal would not only reduce ecological damage, but yield substantially more jobs, profits and economic prosperity than today's system does. Investments in energy efficiency create two to ten times more jobs per dollar than investments in oil and nuclear power -- a crucial concern as the economy slides into recession.

Bush is betting that the nation is willing to pay whatever it takes to keep oil flowing, and he may be right. In the House of Representatives, the president's plan was supported by Democrats and Republicans, labor and corporate interests. In the Senate, much will depend on what kind of pressure is brought to bear on its members.

Americans may ultimately agree with Bush that maintaining their oil habit is worth any price. But we should at least acknowledge the full cost of such a decision -- not only for Americans, but for the six billion people we share the planet with. What do you think?

Mark Hertsgaard, author of Earth Odyssey: Around the World In Search of Our Environmental Future, is at work on a book about America and why it fascinates, infuriates, and bewilders the rest of the world.

A New Green Deal

George W. Bush has handed his opponents a golden political opportunity with his energy plan, and if they use it wisely they can block his anti-environmental agenda and perhaps even disable his presidency, much as Bill Clinton was undone during his first term by the health care issue. So far, environmentalists and Democrats have correctly pointed out that Bush's emphasis on drilling at any cost will increase pollution and reward his former colleagues in the oil business. But name-calling, no matter how accurate, will not be enough to win this fight.

White House strategists are betting that Americans' immediate economic concerns about electricity blackouts and rising gas prices will trump any unease they feel about the environmental consequences of the administration's energy plan. Bush's opponents can triumph, therefore, only if they put economics at the heart of their message. They must take the offensive and offer Americans a clear, compelling answer to a genuine challenge facing the nation: how to keep the economy strong without trashing the planet.

Toward that end, those who oppose Bush's plan should join in calling for a New Green Deal: a government-led, market-based plan that will solve the nation's energy problems while also yielding economic returns and addressing the most urgent environmental hazard of our time, global climate change. Such a deal would be green in both senses of the word: it would clean up the environment and make money for workers, businesses and communities. In essence, the New Green Deal would do for clean energy technologies what government and industry have already done so well for computer and internet technologies: help launch their commercial take-off.

Under a New Green Deal, the government need not spend more money, only redirect current subsidies more intelligently. By championing energy efficiency and shifting government spending away from fossil and nuclear fuels to solar, wind and other renewable sources, the New Green Deal would foster the biggest jobs and business stimulus program of our time. Investments in energy efficiency yield two to ten times as many jobs per dollar invested as do investments in fossil fuels and nuclear power -- not a minor consideration during an economic downturn.

The political advantages of a New Green Deal are nearly as great as its economic benefits. Since both business and labor stand to prosper from it, it should appeal across the political spectrum. Can anyone say the same for Bush's plan? Free-market rhetoric is all very well, but ultimately business leaders want results, and Bush's plan will do nothing to prevent electricity blackouts this summer in the economically crucial states of California and New York.

The new oil fields, power plants, gas pipelines and other supply sources that Bush advocates will take years to get up and running, even if he succeeds in slashing environmental regulations. But it would take only weeks to implement meaningful efficiency reforms. The city of San Francisco, for example, recently gave away 2,000 energy efficient light bulbs for free to anyone who turned in an old, inefficient bulb. The Pacific Gas & Electric company was asked to donate the bulbs, and citizens lined up around the block to participate.

By handing out bulbs to each of its 300,000 households, San Francisco could cut its residential power consumption by 4.5 percent. If the program were expanded to include, say, half of California's 38 million people, the state would save roughly $375 million worth of electricity at wholesale prices. Whether those 19 million light bulbs are bought by PG&E or the state government, at an average of $10 apiece they would cost roughly half the value of the power saved, making for a 100 percent return on investment. Apply the same policy to big industrial users -- subsidizing their replacement of old-fashioned lighting and electric motors with high-efficiency models -- and the savings could soon multiply enough to prevent blackouts in the Golden State.

Vice President Dick Cheney still believes that energy efficiency is about doing without, when it's really about doing more with less. It's odd that he remains confused, because the advantages of better efficiency are becoming increasingly well-known in corporate circles. As Joseph J. Romm, an assistant secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, documents in his book Cool Companies, Xerox, Compaq, 3M, Toyota, Shell, and many other blue-chip firms have enjoyed returns of 25 percent and more from investments in better lighting and insulation, smarter motors and building design, even as they have cut their greenhouse gas emissions in half.

If the private sector can employ energy efficiency to make handsome profits for shareholders, shouldn't the public sector be doing the same for its shareholders, the taxpayers? A New Green Deal would encourage environmental retrofits of schools, hospitals, government offices and other public buildings. Destination Conservation, an environmental group headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, has helped organize such retrofits at some 3,000 schools across Canada, typically cutting energy bills by 20 to 30 percent. The money saved is then plowed back into the schools: to reduce class size by hiring more teachers, for example, or buying new computers. The economics of saving energy (rather than producing more of it) are so attractive that the retrofitter often guarantees lower utility bills for the school or pays the difference.

Because government at all levels is responsible for approximately 17 percent of the United States' gross domestic product, changing its practices can not only save energy directly but drive market decisions that transform society as a whole. Last year, the federal government bought 189,000 new cars for official use. Under the New Green Deal, Washington would tell Detroit that from now on the cars have to be hybrid-electric or hydrogen fuel-cell cars. Detroit would doubtless scream and holler, but if Washington stood firm, Detroit would comply, and soon carmakers would be climbing the learning curve and offering the competitively priced green cars that consumers say they want.

We know this model of government pump-priming works; it's the reason so many of us have personal computers on our desks today. America's computer companies began learning to produce today's affordable systems during the 1960s, while benefitting from long-term subsidies and guaranteed markets under contract to the Pentagon and NASA. Thirty years later, the US is still reaping the benefits: the digital revolution, despite its recent slowdown, has fueled one of the most extraordinary economic expansions in history.

Investing in energy efficiency makes sense on pure profit grounds, but the project gains extra urgency from the looming threat of global climate change. Already, the world's glaciers are melting and catastrophic storms like Hurricane Mitch are becoming stronger and more frequent. One of the world's leading insurance and banking companies, Munich Re, has projected that climate change will impose $304 billion of additional direct costs on the global economy every year. The Bush administration's studied disregard for what is probably the most serious problem facing the human species is an act of appalling irresponsibility, but it opens the door to a potent counter-attack from opponents.

The climate challenge also illustrates why the New Green Deal must eventually be expanded to other nations as well. Already, China is the world's largest consumer of coal and second-largest producer of greenhouse gases. But China would use 50 percent less coal if it installed the efficiency technologies now available on the world market. Under a globalized New Green Deal, governments in Europe, America and Japan could help China buy these technologies (rather than the coal-fired power plants we now subsidize through the World Bank), creating lots of jobs and profits for workers and companies back home.

First things first, however. The United States is poised for a great debate this summer as the Bush administration labors to pass its energy plan on Capitol Hill. A New Green Deal is unlikely to be embraced by such confirmed oil men as Bush and Cheney, but opponents can derail the administration's plan by offering an economically and environmentally superior alternative and daring members of Congress to vote against it before facing their constituents in the 2002 elections. Notwithstanding the White House's claims about an energy crisis threatening our standard of living, Americans tell pollsters that protecting the environment is more important than boosting the economy. But the truth is, we need not choose between the two.

Not the quickest calf in the pasture, George W. Bush seems to have forgotten that he is no longer governor of an oil-producing state but president of the entire nation. Opponents can show him the error of his ways by uniting behind a New Green Deal. What do you think?

Mark Hertsgaard is the author of four books, including Earth Odyssey: Around the World In Search of Our Environmental Future, and a commentator on NPR's "Living On Earth" program.

Stoners Need Not Apply

Tens of thousands of American students may be denied federal financial assistance this year, as the Bush administration steps up enforcement of a 1998 law barring aid to applicants with past drug convictions.

Last year only 8,620 students were denied assistance after admitting to a drug conviction on their aid applications. Another 300,000 left the "drug question" unanswered, but had their forms processed anyway. This year, however, the Education Department has announced that failing to answer the question will result in a rejected application. So far, with nearly 4 million applications processed out of an expected total of 10 million, almost 15,000 students have left the question unanswered, and some 27,000 have admitted to a drug offense.

"We're talking at least 90,000 students who could be affected by this when it's all said and done," says Shawn Heller of Students for Responsible Drug Policy, which has helped convince more than 50 student governments to pass resolutions against the law. Organizations including the NAACP, the ACLU and the National Organization for Women have also come out against the statute, and Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank has introduced a bill to repeal it.

None of that seems to have impressed Education Secretary Rod Paige, who decided this spring to begin stringently enforcing the law, according to Education Department spokesperson Lindsey Kozberg. "Congress passed legislation and our department is obliged to carry out that legislative direction," she told reporters on April 17.

Admitting to a drug conviction does not automatically disqualify someone from receiving aid -- depending on the severity of the conviction, students may still be eligible to receive partial funding. Still, for lower-income students even a partial aid loss can make higher education unaffordable. "As a society, we should be asking ourselves if what we really want is a hundred thousand fewer kids in college," says Chris Evans, campus coordinator with the Drug Reform Coordination Network.

The Drug War Comes to the Rez

Alex White Plume called it his "field of dreams": an acre and a half of plants so tall and strong they seemed to touch the sky; a crop representing hope for a new and self-sufficient life for his family, residents of the desperately impoverished Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

But on Aug. 24, 2000 at sunrise, just four days before White Plume and his neighbors planned to harvest their bounty, White Plume awoke to the sounds of helicopters. He looked out the window and saw a convoy of vehicles heading for his field.

He raced down to investigate, and was met by a slew of black-clad and heavily armed figures -- 36 agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the US Marshal's office.

When White Plume rolled down the window of his pick-up to ask what was going on, he says, one US marshal pointed a gun in his face. Meanwhile, the other agents chopped down each plant near the roots and hauled them away.

You see, White Plume was growing industrial hemp, a botanical cousin of marijuana. According to tests conducted later by the BIA, White Plume's hemp contained only trace amounts of the psychoactive element THC. But US drug laws do not distinguish between marijuana, which has a higher THC content, and other kinds of hemp; growing either is illegal. (Federal law does permit the possession or sale of mature stalks, fiber, and products made from hemp fiber and hemp seed oil.)

Still, the raid at Pine Ridge wasn't your typical drug bust. The Oglala Sioux tribal government, which passed a resolution allowing White Plume to plant his crop, argues that the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 gave Pine Ridge absolute sovereign status as an independent nation. The BIA, however, says Pine Ridge enjoys only "limited" sovereignty: While the tribe has its own government, constitution, and laws, it is subject to some federal oversight.

White Plume and the tribe knew that they'd be walking a thin line between sovereignty and US drug law. Pine Ridge's ordinance makes a distinction between industrial hemp and its psychoactive cousin and sets a threshold for distinguishing between the two at 1 percent THC. The US government makes no such distinction; any THC is too much, according to US law.

Robert Ecoffey, superintendent of the BIA on Pine Ridge, gave the tribe some hefty warnings before the seeds were planted. Ecoffey says, "I told them, if you're going to plant, I want to be upfront with you, you may be subjecting yourself to arrest and penalties." No arrests were made in connection with the raid, but the South Dakota US attorney's office says it may still prosecute.

In the tribe's view, the decision to grow industrial hemp is well within its right to self-determination. The tribal council based its approval of the hemp ordinance on the Fort Laramie Treaty, which sets apart land for the "absolute and undisturbed use and occupation" of the Lakota.

The gray zone between the Oglala Lakota people's right to self-determination and federal drug laws is where Alex White Plume now finds himself trapped.

"They're treating us like second-class citizens, like wards of the state," says White Plume, who is considering suing the government for compensation and has started soliciting donations to a legal fund. "To me, it's like the US going into Canada and raiding a hemp field over there."

"The US position is [that] the general drug laws apply equally on Indian reservations as they do anywhere else in the US," says Ted McBride, US Attorney for the district of South Dakota, who is handling the case. He says that federal law supersedes tribal law.

That sentiment infuriates some members of the tribe, whose resentments go back more than 200 years of treaties made with -- and broken by -- the US. The bloody history of US-Lakota relations includes the 1890 massacre of 180 Lakota at Wounded Knee, and the 1973 siege at the same site.

Like many American Indian tribes, the Lakota were once a self-sufficient nation. Today the reservation is known for high rates of poverty, disease, alcoholism, and suicide. Poor living conditions are exacerbated by overcrowding because of a shortage of as many as 2,000 housing units on Pine Ridge -- one family of 23 lives in a single trailer.

Members of a Pine Ridge group called the Slim Butte Land Use Association want to change that. Five years ago, they decided to pursue a hemp project to create jobs and housing. They began by purchasing industrial hemp from Canada -- where it's been legally grown since 1998 -- to build a "demonstration house." The house, which is nearing completion, is built from "hempcrete" -- durable, concrete-like blocks that are made from hemp, cement, lime, and sand.

But if the hemp project is to succeed long-term, supporters say, the Oglala Lakota will have to grow their own instead of relying on expensive imports. That's why the tribe passed the ordinance, and Alex White Plume became a farmer.

Ironically, industrial-grade hemp was already growing wild on Pine Ridge, thanks to the federal government's "Hemp for Victory" campaign during World War II. White Plume used seeds from plants growing locally and from the Nebraska wetlands for his field.

"I can't describe the beauty of those plants," says White Plume. "Other than the pulling of the weeds, you don't have to add anything; no pesticides or fertilizers. They just grow. People came from all the country to see them-they were in awe."

To White Plume and his allies, the timing of the seizure seemed suspicious. First, the DEA waited until the plants were fully-grown to confiscate them. In addition, the agency chose to conduct the raid on the day the tribe's legal counsel, attorney Tom Ballanco, was in Kentucky defending actor Woody Harrelson in a separate hemp case. (Harrelson, coincidentally, had agreed to purchase White Plume's crop for use on the demonstration house.)

"They knew I was the attorney up there and that was the one day they could be sure I wasn't going to be at Pine Ridge," says Ballanco, a West Point grad who authored the tribe's hemp ordinance. "It certainly seems like a rather convenient choice of days given they had the entire summer to come get it."

In October, the DEA got authorization from a district court in South Dakota to burn the plants. Now the entire crop is, as they say, up in smoke.

In the activists' view, the DEA raid contrasts sharply with other messages the federal government has been sending to Pine Ridge. Just one year before the raid, President Clinton visited the reservation to celebrate its designation as a federal "empowerment zone."

"You have suffered from neglect, and you know that doesn't work," Clinton said at the time. "You have also suffered from the tyranny of patronizing inadequately funded government programs, and you know that doesn't work. We have tried to have a more respectful, more proper relationship with the tribal governments of this country to promote more genuine independence, but also to give more genuine support."

Winona LaDuke, an Ojibwe activist from the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota and Ralph Nader's running mate in the past two presidential elections, says, "I think it's federal double-speak or forked tongues. The federal government likes to support the sovereignty of Indian tribes when we talk about nuclear-waste dumps and casinos and toxic-waste dumps, but doesn't support their sovereignty when they try to do something which is absolutely healthy, sustainable development with grassroots initiatives."

In late November, a trailer full of Canadian hemp arrived on Pine Ridge. The shipment, donated by the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative Association and the Madison Hemp & Flax Company, replaced the hemp lost in the raid so the tribe can finish its demonstration house.

But the tribe isn't settling for charity. On April 26, hemp seeds will once again be sown somewhere on the Pine Ridge reservation, although not on White Plume's land. The tribe's new president, John Yellow Bird Steele, has endorsed what is sure to be another bumper crop.

Leora Broydo is a frequent contributor to the MoJo Wire and Mother Jones magazine. Don Trent Jacobs contributed to this report.

Schoolhouse Rot

Skeleton Drinking SodaIt has been linked to broken bones, osteoporosis, and obesity. It may increase diabetes rates and the severity of kidney stones. It can lead to nervousness, insomnia, attention-deficit disorder and addiction. And American teen-agers are consuming more of it than ever.

Sure, everyone knows soft drinks aren't good for you. But a wave of new research strongly suggests they're even worse than anyone realized. Nevertheless, American teen-agers are consuming record quantities of the stuff -- thanks in part to a growing number of public schools signing marketing deals with soda companies.

Soda is dispensed in American schools today like coffee in corporate offices. Over the past three years, the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education estimates that 240 school districts in 31 states have sold exclusive rights to one of the three big soda barons eager to hook teen-agers on Dr Pepper, Pepsi, or The Real Thing.

"Many teens are drowning in worthless sugar water," says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Parents should limit their children's soda consumption and demand that schools get rid of soft-drink vending machines, just as they have banished smoking."

New research adds weight to Jacobson's words. Harvard School of Public Health professor Grace Wyshak recently found that ninth and 10th-grade girls who sipped soda were three times more likely to break bones than those who quenched their thirsts with other drinks. Worse, her study found that physically active girls who drank colas were five times more likely to break bones as physically active girls who abstained from carbonated beverages. Wyshak believes the phosphoric acid in colas may interfere with the body's ability to use calcium.

That's of particular concern considering that teen-agers are increasingly substituting corn syrup for calcium -- an essential element for developing bones. From 1965 to 1996, adolescent milk consumption dropped 36 percent, while adolescent soft-drink consumption more than doubled, according to a recent University of North Carolina study. Adolescent girls who fail to get enough calcium will build insufficient bone mass, leaving their bones thin and fragile.

Wyshak's study is just the most recent giving soda a sour taste. Her latest report confirms her earlier research associating carbonated beverage consumption with bone fractures in girls and postmenopausal women. A 1999 South African study warns that cola may exacerbate kidney-stone problems. And a growing body of psychiatrists' work over the last decade fingers the caffeine in soda as a possible culprit in children's inability to sleep, concentrate, and stay on task.

Nutritionists, meanwhile, warn that sugar in soda seems certain to be swelling America's problem with obesity and the concurrent rise in diabetes. Recent research has found that half of American adults and one in five American children are overweight.

The National Soft Drink Association, however, insists its products are being unfairly demonized. Richard Adamson, the association's vice president of scientific and technical affairs, dismisses the Harvard study as "nutritional nonsense."

"Soft drinks have a place in a well-balanced diet," adds Sean McBride, communications director for the NSDA. "If you take all the science as a whole, there is no connection between soft drinks and health problems that have been raised."

Wyshak volleys back: "To me, it's no different from the issue with smoking. If you produce this stuff, and you make money off it, you want to deny it."

Meanwhile, soda sales tempt money-strapped schools with too-good-to-reject deals. In one notorious case, a Colorado Springs school district in 1997 gave Coca-Cola exclusive access to its 30,000 students for a promise of more than $8 million over 10 years. The catch: The kids needed to gulp at least 70,000 cases of Coke products in one of the first three contract years. One enthusiastic school administrator wrote a letter -- signing it "the Coke Dude" -- urging principals to consider allowing kids unlimited access to Coke machines.

Outrage over the Coke Dude's letter helped prompt a federal General Accounting Office investigation last fall. The GAO found that, while soda sales are the most lucrative commercial deal for schools, they still represent only a minute percentage of school budgets.

But the soda companies aren't looking for immediate profits, says Andrew Hagelshaw, executive director of the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education. "It's all about promoting ... an addiction to caffeine and sugar and to a particular brand name."

Bob Phillips, spokesman for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of California, bristles at the word "addiction." Soda manufacturers claim they just add caffeine to soda to enhance flavor. A new Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine taste study, however, supports the notion that caffeine is added to soda to addict drinkers. Only 8 percent of regular cola consumers detected a flavor difference at the caffeine concentration found in popular colas, the study found. Researchers concluded: "The high consumption rates of caffeine-containing soft drinks are more likely to reflect the mood-altering and physical dependence-producing effects of caffeine as a central nervous system-active drug than its subtle effects as a flavoring agent."

"The picture that's painted is that kids are walking around shaking because of soft drinks at school, and I think it's blown out of proportion," says Phillips. Soda companies are just being helpful neighbors, he insists. "As a local business in these communities," Phillips says, "we view it as providing some benefit to the schools."

Few educators seem concerned. None of 20 school administrators, school board members, school nutritionists and school nurses interviewed for this story had heard about the new Harvard study. San Francisco's school district banned exclusive contracts for soda and junk food in 1999, but few areas have followed their example. Former California state Assembly member Kerry Mazzoni tried to push through a bill banning exclusive beverage contracts -- which she calls "selling your children to the highest bidder" -- in schools statewide, but had to settle for a law requiring school boards to hold public hearings before signing such contracts. California is the only state with even this mild requirement.

Parents did bubble up with anger when Coke, as part of its $5 million deal with Houston schools, placed a vending machine stocked with sugary Fruitopia on a Houston elementary school campus. But in general, school administrators say parents rarely complain about soda on campus. Many serve it at home. "I see kids walking to school with a soda pop in their hand," says Judi Baker, a Petaluma, Calif. school nurse. "You wonder if that's breakfast."

"I drink soda, like, 24/7," a Petaluma High School freshman says outside the cafeteria. She carries a 20-ounce plastic bottle of Cherry Coke. When she hears about the Harvard study, she volunteers that she hyper-extended her knee in the seventh grade. "I don't know if I'm going to be able to stop drinking soda," she says, "but I'm not addicted to it." What do you think?

Ronnie Cohen is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about health and environmental issues.

This article originally appeared in The MoJo Wire, the online sister publication of Mother Jones, the award-winning investigative news magazine. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.

Bush Will Be Bad For Blacks

In every election since 1964 blacks have been the die-hard foot soldiers for the Democrats, and virtually never more so than in the one that finally finished this week. Gore took 90 percent of the African-American vote, even more than Clinton got in 1996. That's not because blacks were thrilled about Gore, but because they were terrified of what a Bush presidency might mean for the issues important to African Americans.

They remembered the Reagan years. Blacks uniformly assailed him, and Reagan in turn gave the green light for a full-scale assault on civil rights and social and education programs.

Bush, of course, claims to be a more pragmatic kind of Republican who believes in and promotes diversity and inclusion. Still, the fear is that the near-monolithic support of black voters for the Democrats will cause Bush to ignore their interests on some big-ticket social and political issues.

Supreme Court. There may be three or four vacancies on the court during Bush's term(s). Blacks are scared stiff that Bush will appoint more judges like Clarence Thomas who could wreak monumental damage on civil rights, and civil liberties protections.

Affirmative Action. Bush opposes it. He could actively support conservative efforts to get a permanent Congressional ban on affirmative action. Or he could follow the example of his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who wiped out all affirmative-action provisions in state contracting by executive order. Bush could try to do the same thing on the federal level. This would, however, spark a ferocious fight by civil-rights groups, something Bush might prefer to avoid -- at least at the start of his administration.

Racial profiling and abusive police. In a campaign speech to police chiefs, Bush assured them that he doesnÕt believe the Justice Department should saddle local police departments with consent decrees mandating reforms to eliminate police abuse and racial profiling. He will likely stack the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division with appointees who reflect that position.

Crime and punishment. The overwhelming majority of prisoners currently awaiting federal execution are black. Bush, as Texas governor, did nothing to put the brakes on the Texas execution machine, overseeing dozens of state killings.

Unlike Clinton, he would probably not have granted the recent six-month stay to a federal inmate scheduled for execution pending review of the gaping racial disparities in federal death sentences. But like Clinton, he may propose new federal anti-crime provisions that would accelerate the massive law enforcement build-up that has spawned the wave of race profiling and police abuse cases, grotesque racial disparities in drug sentencing laws, and landed more than 1 million black men in America's jails for mostly non-violent drug offenses and petty crimes.

True, Bush also is likely to boost aid to small business, push teacher accountability and school vouchers, expand urban enterprise zones, provide bigger tax incentives for businesses to train and hire the unemployed, increase funding for historically black colleges, and tout faith- based organizations as the best way to deal with the chronic poor. These are pet Republican notions that many blacks -- particularly young, upwardly mobile blacks -- also favor. And if Bush appoints Colin Powell as secretary of state and Condeleeza Rice as national security advisor, those appointments would be historic firsts for blacks and could pay PR dividends for the GOP among some African American voters.

But these measures are a poor trade-off for the colossal danger that Bush poses to civil rights and civil-liberties protections and to education and social programs. The saving grace is that if -- or maybe when -- he begins a full attack in these policy areas, it will shake black organizations and leaders from their Clinton/Gore-induced lethargy and again force them to wage their own battles to protect civil rights and social programs.

Cyberselfish Cisco

Four years ago, I published an essay in Mother Jones magazine called "Cyberselfish," in which I criticized the dominant libertarian culture of the high-tech universe. Now, it's almost a half-decade later, and in the dot-com bubble that has bloomed and mostly burst, where high-tech has gone mainstream, and the Brownian noise of day-trading hums incessantly, surely nothing I wrote way back then could possibly still be true.


My new book, "Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High-Tech," describes the religion of high-tech, if religion is understood to be a set of mostly unconscious, commonly-held, collective beliefs. And religion, like all human culture, perseveres, even when regimes change (or fail to -- witness the 2000 elections.)

For example, consider the case of Cisco, that fine company which, along with Al Gore, brought you and continues to bring you the Internet. Cisco has a valuation far far in excess of any Old Economy company you can think of, and is one of the Big Three of the New Economy -- Intel and Microsoft being the other two.

Funny thing, Cisco ended up paying no federal income tax last year. Amazing what you can do with the wonders of stock-option accounting. But what's even more amazing, and more telling, is that folks all over Northern California high-tech think this a fine thing: Cisco creates jobs and wealth and isn't this enough?

Yet, as I wrote in the introductory chapter to my book:

"Quiz: where would you want to do business in 2000? In Russia where there's no regulation, no central government, no rule of law; or in Northern California where the roads are mostly well-paved and well-patrolled and trucks and airplanes are safer than not, where the power grid is usually intact and the banking system is mostly fraud-free and mostly works, where construction of new buildings is inspected to make sure they are basically safe and sound, where people mostly don't have to pay protection money, and the majority of law enforcement personnel are not terribly corrupt or brutal? If gangs steal computer chips from factories, these thefts are investigated and the perps prosecuted. And government, through subsidy and regulation and supervision, is the invisible hand behind this relatively peaceful, mostly prosperous scene, making wealth-creation possible.

That government had anything positive to do with any of these structures, checks, and balances that influence so much of how we all live and work (and high-tech so flourishes) is invisible to technolibertarians. Yet these political technolibertarians driving their Hummers home to pricey mansionettes off Woodside Road derive as much benefit from these government interventions as do the poor schnooks driving their Ford LTDs to so-passé factory jobs within commuting distance of Kankakee."

I won't even mention the decades-long government funding for the Internet and the microprocessor industry without which there wouldn't have been a Cisco. But I will instead mention a recent nasty epidemic of food-poisoning that just erupted at a Mexican restaurant in San Mateo county (that's north Silicon Valley). Turns out the restaurant hadn't been inspected in more than a year because -- surprise! -- budget cuts made it impossible to hire enough health inspectors. But hey, government is the Great Satan and we all believe in self-regulation and who needs taxes?

Cisco has also been in the middle of a recent controversy because it wants to develop a 688-acre, 22,000-person campus in Coyote Valley, the last undeveloped open space in the environs of San Jose. The current mayor and planning commission are for it; the Sierra Club and the local Audubon Society are against it -- these two oppponents we would expect.

But also against the development are a former San Jose mayor and a former San Jose planning commissioner, as are the cities and counties to the south and west of the proposed complex. They have all seen what unregulated growth and no planning or funding for infrastructure can do. They have witnessed the effects of the '70s-era tax-revolt ballot initiative known as Proposition 13 -- which capped property taxes and in turn encouraged cash-poor municipalities zone light-industrial to nurture their impovershed taxbases -- has done to Northern California in general and their own communities in particular. It's not a pretty sight. They don't want Silicon Valley's housing, social, environmental, and transit problems to continue to be further exported to them. But these are complex political and social issues, which the Valley always likes to pooh-pooh away.

The proposed Cisco complex will provide 22,000 parking spaces, but no retail and no housing. Traffic? Pollution? Housing costs? These are someone else's problem. We believe in the free market!

The fight is an interesting one, for the argument made by the San Jose planning commission in favor of the project is that its "economic, legal, social, and technological benefits outweigh its environmental impact." Which is truly weird, because last time anyone looked, Silicon Valley was not hurting for jobs. After all, the Valley seems to be a gaping maw for ever greater numbers of imported workers arriving with H1-B visas.

In any event, Cisco's concession is to offer $3 million in to help preserve open space, and help the local Greenbelt Alliance raise the other $97 million needed to effectively protect what little remaining open space remains. This last-ditch effort hinges on a proposed ballot measure to raise $50 million in taxes -- taxes the region wouldn't need to scrape for if its mega-rich local high-tech businesses like Cisco paid any taxes at all.

Yet Cisco isn't nearly as bad a corporate citizen as others in high-tech. Its obliviousness to the notion of the commons is strictly par for the technolibertarian course, as further evidenced by the company's rather typical track record with philanthropy.

Consider the complicated pavane between high-tech and philanthropy. There is a universally acknowledged truth that if a cat loves you, it will give you a dead rat, whether you want a dead rat or not. In high-tech, pretty much the most common instantiantion of communitarian impulses is in the donation of computers, i.e. dead rats.

Ted Turner and John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, got into a fine row out in California this summer past at an Entrepreneurs' Forum luncheon. Chambers went on about Cisco's fine corporate largesse, evidenced through its Cisco Academies, the fancy name given to the curricular materials Cisco provides to high-schools and junior colleges to train the next generation of Cisco technicians. Oops, I mean network troubleshooters.

Turner rightfully blasted Chambers for his primo cat-dead rat thinking: "Half the people in the world don't have electricity. How are you going to get a computer in their hands? I think it's a little self-serving of the computer industry to give away computers, not unlike drug dealers giving out the first hit on the house."

And as for Cisco, what about those people who have other or more pressing desires and talents than those that might lead them to being graduates of the Borg Institute of Technology? Where does the company get off on saying there is other than at best enlightened self-interest in offloading the cost of training its future technicians onto public institutions?

But there's John Morgridge, Chairman of the Cisco board, giving an address to the Commonwealth Club of California, about "Philanthropy in the New Internet Economy" and the glories of the Cisco Academies: "The Internet has spawned a new generation of philanthropists -- with a vision that doesn't always mesh with the old way of doing things."

Yeah, it's called tunnel vision, and unfortunately there isn't 20-minute laser surgery available in the local strip-malls to correct it.

These proposals, that schools ought to be treated like startups (yeah, right, what do you do with the kids who aren't best of breed? What's the IPO here?), that philanthropy ought to be treated as a startup (what is the meaning of business discipline when funding the arts? What the ROI is on funding 2.3 ballets as opposed to 1.7?) are religious pieties, and not fieldnotes from the frontlines of a new economy and a new society.

A friend of mine who writes for Business Week tells me on the monthly conference call he's part of with the CEO of Cisco, dark mutterings are intimated about the threat of government, a dark force always present just below the horizon, to high-tech. Which is ridiculous, for both Bush and Gore and their parties have come a courtin' like mad to high-tech. (Money! Status! Export dollars!)

Their doing so is an interesting gesture, because the question could be asked, "Why should those in mainstream politics be pining after those in high-tech, when high-tech, for the most part, could care less?" Unrequited love affairs, one-sided crushes, are so much less interesting than meaningful relationships of endowed with the capacity for some sort of mutual aid and assistance.

And what's really loopy about someone from Cisco carrying on like this is that when Cisco first got going back in the late '80s, its main customer was the federal government, because who else was funding the Internet back then, and buying internetworking equipment? Cisco and the U.S. government are long-time companions.

But Cisco is as fine an exemplar as one could hope to find of how that technolibertarianism just keeps on biting the hand that gives it the hand-outs.

Paulina Borsook is an author and freelance writer in San Francisco. If you purchase her new book "Cyberselfish: A Critical Romp Through the Terribly Libertarian Culture of High-Tech" through this link, a portion of the proceeds will go to support the Mother Jones Investigative Fund.

Pro-Life Goes Global

"Dear Colleague: You are urgently needed to lobby UN delegates at one of three major UN conferences next year. Experience is not needed!

"... Just last spring we played host to more than 300 citizen lobbyists who, without experience, delivered a stinging defeat to the radical feminists at the Beijing+5 conference. ... They not only made history. They made it for God and for mankind."

That call to action went out in September from the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), one of several groups that are becoming increasingly active in promoting their agenda -- a global version of traditional family values -- at the United Nations. UN conferences on women's issues have been the near-exclusive domain of progressives, but recent years have seen a surge of lobbying by religious conservative groups -- lobbying that could affect the UN's stance on issues from contraception to sex education to gay rights.

UN conferences have addressed questions of women's roles and population growth since the mid-1970s, but until the late 1990s, religious conservatives largely sat out the conversation, dismissing the world body as irrelevant to their goals.

But that changed with the end of the Cold War, which freed up the UN to put more energy into areas such as women's issues. Several recent high-profile UN conferences, notably the 1994 population conference in Cairo and the 1995 women's conference in Beijing, alarmed conservatives.

The Pope himself condemned what he declared to be promotion of contraception and abortion at the population conference in Cairo, and called on people of faith to get involved in forming UN policy. Richard Wilkins, managing director of the World Family Policy Center, attended his first UN meeting in 1996 and says he was startled at what he found. "I saw some very important political issues and very important policy issues being debated by the narrowest range of political viewpoints that I'd ever seen in my professional career," says Wilkins. In response, he began organizing conservatives to lobby the UN on family issues.

Concerned religious conservatives founded both C-FAM and Wilkins' WFPC in 1997. The first World Congress of Families, a more-or-less biannual meeting of socially conservative organizations held by the Howard Center, took place the same year. At the second congress in 1999, speakers included the widow of assassinated Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat and Vatican aide Cardinal Lopez Trujillo. The congress aims to unite religious conservatives of many faiths around shared goals, including opposition to gay rights and abortion, and recognition of the nuclear family -- a married man and woman, and their children -- as the fundamental social unit.

This activism culminated in an unprecedented showing of several hundred religious conservatives at meetings leading up to Beijing+5, a conference held earlier this year to review progress on goals set at the 1995 conference. At the unusually contentious meetings, pressure from conservative groups helped defeat attempts to add protections for gay rights to the outcome document -- the "stinging defeat" that C-FAM cited in its recruiting letter.

C-FAM is already rallying the troops to appear at an upcoming UN conference being held to review progress since the 1990 World Summit for Children. Conservatives aim to swing the discussion on HIV prevention among teenagers away from practices like condom distribution and sex education and toward abstinence.

While many of the UN's decisions in this arena have already been made, the consensus-centered nature of the UN decision-making process makes its formation of new policies uniquely vulnerable to disruption by a small coalition of like-minded member states.

Recognizing this, conservatives are taking a pragmatic approach: C-FAM President Austin Ruse has declared his goal is not to convince the majority, but to organize 12 nations (which he declines to name) whose domestic policies are in sync with those of religious conservatives into a "permanent United Nations pro-family bloc." Among 189 member states, 12 won't win a vote, but can block consensus.

A vocal conservative presence can also make it easier for governments looking for a way out of commitments they've already made, says Charlotte Bunch, executive director of the Center for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University and a veteran of UN conferences. The UN's policies "are only going to be fulfilled if governments and international institutions continue to feel pressure from people to fulfill them," she says.

It's too early to tell just how much clout the religious groups will gain, but progressives are watching nervously. If George W. Bush wins the presidency, the conservatives' efforts may get a boost, perhaps even in the form of support from the official US delegation, says Jennifer Butler, associate director of the progressive Presbyterian United Nations Office. "This is an emerging dynamic and it may fade," she says. "Or it may grow into a major movement that we have to fight."

Smash the Nader Backlash

After eight years of countenancing welfare repeal, stagnant social spending, commercial logging in national forests, a forced mass march into managed health care, 10 million more without health insurance, and a doubling of the number of Americans behind bars, Democratic liberals finally found something to get outraged over: Ralph Nader.

A week after this bizarre election, I am blue in the face from arguing that Al Gore's predicament is exclusively his own fault. I find it curious that Democrats have dispatched Jesse Jackson and an army of Democratic National Committee lawyers to Florida to crusade for the sanctity of each individual ballot while, at the same time, continuing to demonize Nader supporters for voting their consciences. My only personal regret is that I had but one ballot to cast for Ralph.

Meanwhile, the roasting of Nader continues unabated. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney went as far as to call Nader's campaign "reprehensible." So regardless of who eventually triumphs in the Florida micro-count, it seems inevitable that the ugly breach opened this season between Naderites and Democratic "progressives" is bound to be a factor in the next phase of domestic oppositional politics.

This, then, is a good moment to try and sum up what was won by the Green campaign, where it goes from here, and what is to be done about the Big Split.

First the good news: The Nader campaign was able to present a reform, anti-corporate agenda to a couple of hundred thousand Americans. Yes, the Greens fell two points short of the 5 percent total they needed for federal matching funds, but a full 2.5 million voters did respond to Nader's radical call. And Nader must be credited for engaging unknown numbers of otherwise cynical young activists and newly minted voters.

Before the vote, Green parties had ballot access in 24 states. After the vote, that number may go as high as 40. Further, there are now dozens, perhaps scores, of congressional and legislative districts coast to coast in which the newly emerged Green margin will loom as the swing vote -- forcing Democrats to accommodate and negotiate. This is only positive. The hysterical moanings that the Greens will now run against and spoil the chances for such stalwart liberal Democrats as Minnesota's Sen. Paul Wellstone or Wisconsin's Sen. Russell Feingold can be discounted. Green strategists know that campaigns in those districts would be nothing short of suicide.

The challenge for Nader now is how to most effectively use the network he has assembled into the sort of "watchdog party" that he promised in the final days of the campaign. He's got a funding base of 75,000 campaign donors and a database of thousands of volunteers and organizers. He's got several hundred new campus-based groups that supported him. And with either Gore or Bush in the White House, Nader will have a juicy menu of issues before him, ranging from campaign finance reform to media reform to fair trade.

The bad news is that the obstacles in Nader's path are formidable. The biggest problem is probably the Green Party itself -- which is actually multiple decentralized parties scattered throughout the states. Some of its newer incarnations, such as in Texas, show promising signs of broad outreach. But too many of the Green enclaves are insular, marginal echo chambers for a progressive-to-radical fringe.

I have spent a lot of time reporting among the Greens and I always come away with equal amounts of admiration and horror: admiration for the serious and thoughtful activists among their ranks, and stone cold horror for the collection of wingnuts and goofballs all around them. The menu of litmus tests for becoming a Green -- ranging from a marked counterculturalism to a sympathy for vegan cuisine -- is currently too demanding and too narrow to be viable and effective.

What America needs is not a small party to the left of the Democrats, but a big party that goes around and over both the Democrats and the Republicans. A party whose emphasis is on what we have in common in the fight against a corporate-dominated system rather than on what divides us. I am not arguing for the suppression of radical or identity-based politics. But in a winner-take-all political system it makes absolutely no sense to invest in a third party unless you want to build it into a majoritarian party. Leftists, so often obsessed with their personal political purity, are going to have to learn that the art of politics is in combining forces and building coalitions, not purging the infidels.

Building a broad-based alternative electoral front means checking your personal agenda at the front door and coming together on perhaps three or four basic issues that resonate from the left into the radical center. It is no accident that Nader -- even as he speaks today of accepting the role of "leader" in the new movement he is trying to fashion -- has not made any plans to actually join the Green Party.

That reticence is the clearest indication that Nader would favor a cleansing transformation of the Green infrastructure. And that is perhaps his most serious challenge. He will be bumping up against not only the loopier party regulars, but also against every leftist sect with its sights now set on "penetrating" the Greens. (With the collapse of the Reform Party, how long can it be before Lenora Fulani discovers her Green-ness?)

The other challenge before the Naderites is the very real rift that has opened up with progressive Democrats. There's an emerging line inside the AFL-CIO that Nader is now persona non grata and that, thanks to him, the tenuous one-year-old Seattle Coalition is now over. There's a history of low-level tension between Nader and some of the AFL brass. And the outcome of Campaign 2000 has given the most anti-Nader minority of the Federation a disproportionately loud voice in the postelection debate.

The word in DC, meanwhile, is that not only some unions but also some key environmental NGOs are rethinking their working alliance with Nader-founded groups like Public Citizen (whose Global Trade Watch subsidiary played perhaps the key strategic role in making Seattle happen). It's a bum rap, because whatever one thinks of Nader's presidential run, organizations like Public Citizen had nothing to do with it. Indeed, none of Public Citizen's staff even took leave to work on Nader's campaign.

Just how or if this breach gets healed will haunt the left in the months to come. For whatever remains of the blue-green coalition, it will face its next crucial test this coming spring, no matter who is inaugurated. Either administration is expected to come out of the box asking once again for "fast-track" authority to negotiate an expanded version of NAFTA. The battle will be joined.

There will be two major venues in which this battle will be waged: Capitol Hill and the streets. If there will ever be a moment when we need a united rather than a divided blue-green front it will be then. With only a one-vote Republican majority in the Senate, the focus of this next globalization skirmish will be for the first time in the upper house. In the street, plans are afoot to rock an April conference on the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Quebec with simultaneous demonstrations reaching from Santiago to San Diego and beyond.

But if the Seattle coalition crumbles, both of these objectives could become long shots. Teamsters and Turtles, Labor Democrats and Naderite Greens must find some way to once again come together on this front.

Neither side of the blue-green alliance can go it alone. On the labor side, the recriminations and rhetoric must be tamped down and there must be a halt to the scapegoating of the only presidential candidate who unflinchingly championed the full union agenda. There's plenty of blame to go around for Gore's weakness; labor must assume its quota. If the AFL had not given its absurdly early endorsement to Gore way back in October 1999, it might have been able to eventually nudge the Democratic candidate far enough to the left to have made the Green option less attractive to voters.

Labor has been building up its own anti-globalization organizing infrastructure, and there are some in the Federation who believe they can move forward while severing their links with the Green component. They are wrong. The future of the movement -- the young, tireless college radicals -- are attracted into the fight not by labor but by the greenish NGOs. And when it comes to going to the Hill and slugging it out on the most crucial issues to labor -- from NAFTA to the WTO -- there are no more effective, reliable, and tenacious advocates and fighters than those like Lori Wallach, leader of Nader's Global Trade Watch.

On the other side, the Greens also better catch their breath before plowing ahead. It's great that Nader got two million-plus votes -- but that is still only a tiny fraction of the electorate. It's also true that in the closing days of the campaign we saw the emergence of a "Labor for Nader" group. While heartening, that is also a very small piece of organized labor.

From the anti-IMF demos last spring in Washington to this past summer's Republican and Democratic convention protests, we saw a progressive weakening of the street movement coming out of Seattle. By the time it hit LA in mid-August it had become so unfocussed that it bordered on self-caricature. All three of those episodes had something in common: Labor had not been brought on board. Indeed, in Los Angeles, the bulk of labor sat inside the Staples Center with the DNC and the young people in the streets found themselves in opposition.

Once this mess gets settled in Florida, let's get on with our real work.

Ex-Felon Laws Cost Florida Residents Vote

The cliffhanger in Florida may ultimately be decided by those who didn't vote. Hundreds or even thousands of Florida residents may have been erroneously crossed off the voter lists because they were mistakenly identified as ex-felons.

Felon disenfranchisement laws may have hurt Gore in two ways. With the result of the presidential election coming down to a handful of votes in Florida, the disenfranchisement of close to three quarters of a million felons and ex-felons in the state may well have made the difference between a Gore presidency and a Bush one. Considering that the majority of felons are poor, black and Latino -- that is, likely Democratic voters -- had fewer than two percent of the disenfranchised in Florida voted, Gore would have probably been elected president.

But even more disturbing is the possibility that a significant number of Floridians may have been wrongfully barred from voting -- perhaps enough to have tipped the race.

Just months ago, nearly 12,000 Floridians were informed by the state Division of Elections that they had lost their voting rights because of felony convictions in other states. But the company hired by the state to compile that list of names made a massive mistake and misidentified thousands of people, according to the Palm Beach Post and other Florida papers. In response to a barrage of complaints from irate voters, nearly 8,000 of those who had received the notices were subsequently reinstated on the eligible voter lists in time for yesterday's vote.

George Bruder, senior vice president of the Boca Raton-based company, Database Technologies, called the inaccurate lists "a miscommunication." Representatives of the company did not return calls inquiring as to whether the other 4,000 voters on the list turned out to be genuine felons or ultimately had their voting rights restored. Florida election officials also could not be reached for comment.

In a state with such a huge number of disenfranchised citizens, the possibility that other such errors have gone undetected is impossible to ignore. In fact, in a separate, similar incident in August, some 500 people in Miami had their voting rights restored after they turned out to either be non-felons or felons who had been given voting clemency, according to the Tampa Tribune.

In recent years, the Florida Division of Law Enforcement has moved aggressively to remove felons who had sneaked onto the voter rolls. In 1998, the state reported that more than 50,000 felons were voting in Florida. In an effort to crack down on these voters, state authorities provided lists of resident felons to each county; counties then sent out letters informing these people they were being struck from the voter rolls. The state left it up to each county to determine whether the voters they deleted from eligibility were indeed felons; some counties, in turn, placed the onus on individuals who claimed they were the victim of a mistake to prove it, according to local newspapers. At least one county gave citizens only 30 days to respond with a notarized affidavit challenging their disenfranchisement.

In some instances, it is possible legitimate voters whose names were being used as aliases by felons were struck off the voter rolls. In Martin County, for example, Elections Supervisor Peggy Robbins remembers that two people reported being sent the letters erroneously. One person said he had been wrongly disenfranchised several times. If the recipients didn't phone to challenge the letters, says Robbins, there would be no way to rectify the mistake.

How many people might be affected? "There might be one or two," in her county, Robbins believes. "In a great big county, there might be more." Small numbers, but Florida has 67 counties; if this race comes down to just a few hundred votes, such glitches could provide the Democratic Party with grounds for challenging the result in the courts.

The wrongful-disenfranchisement question joins a lengthening list of voting irregularities in Florida. In Palm Beach County, thousands of Gore voters may have mistakenly marked their ballots for Pat Buchanan, thanks to a confusingly laid-out ballot. reports that thousands of other Gore votes may not have been counted because of a computer error in Volusia County. Officials of both major parties also reported that many voters were apparently turned away from the polls and that some precints ran out of ballots. Several papers reported that white state Highway Patrol officers set up a checkpoint near a balloting site in a heavily black district in Broward County, allegedly prompting state and federal officials to investigate whether the incident amounted to intimidation against African-American voters.

In almost any other election, the number of potential wrongful-disenfranchisement errors would be so small as to not matter. But, if a couple thousand -- or even a few hundred -- people who would have voted were wrongfully deprived of their right to do so, it is at the very least possible that the election of the most powerful man in the world will have been swung by bad information about eligible voters fed into computers.

MoJo Wire Senior Editor Vince Beiser and editorial intern Melissa Hostetler contributed to this report.

The Kids Who Could Topple Milosevic

After Yugoslav riot police carted an aging computer, stacks of posters, and every last scrap of paper from the motley Belgrade offices of the country's leading student movement earlier this month, only scattered espresso grounds and a few overflowing ashtrays remained.

Even for Serbia's notorious security forces, the raid seemed excessive. But ahead of this weekend's national elections (Sept. 24) government officials are jittery.

Under normal circumstances, the election results might seem a forgone conclusion. These elections, after all, are being held on the terms of Serbia's poker-faced dictator, Slobodan Milosevic. With a divided opposition, control of the airwaves, a muzzled independent press, and a disillusioned and desperate public living on wages averaging fewer than US$40 per month, Milosevic might appear to be in the catbird seat.

But this time around, Milosevic has a new opponent he can't seem to master: an irreverent, nonviolent, student-led movement called "Otpor" or "Resistance," which prides itself on a leaderless structure and a singular aim of getting rid of a dictator that has spoiled their youth. Otpor has emerged from obscurity to become a powerful national movement with 25,000 activists and 120 chapters across the country. And on the eve of elections that once seemed predestined, Milosevic finds his hold on power may be in genuine peril.

The raid on Otpor's headquarters was just the latest chapter in a widespread government crackdown on opposition groups since April that's included well over a thousand arrests, beatings, restrictions on media, and an unrelenting smear campaign against anti-Milosevic leaders.

A few months ago, election prospects for Milosevic's opponents seemed bleak. After years of low-intensity conflict with Serbia's independent press, Milosevic declared full-scale war on his media foes. On May 3, security forces stormed the two beacons of independent broadcast in Serbia, pulling the plug permanently on Radio B292 and opposition television Studio B. This left Milosevic with complete domination of the airwaves to plead his xenophobic case to the electorate.

Even the facade of an open society has disappeared, according to Duska Anastijevic, a reporter for the Serbian journal of political analysis Vreme. "Milosevic has always wielded repression at home, but in a nuanced way. But we're at the dawn of a naked Latin American-style dictatorship."

Meanwhile opposition parties, as they have done for years in Serbia, seemed to be playing right into Milosevic's hands by bickering and fielding multiple candidates to oppose Milosevic.

None of this has deterred Otpor activists. "Otpor is a new kind of opposition force, and [its] huge popularity in Serbia applied a kind of pressure on the opposition to close ranks," said Saska Rankovic, who covers opposition politics in Belgrade for the independent news service BETA.

"Otpor has a remarkable energy and most importantly they've stood up to Milosevic in a way that the established opposition never has," Rankovic said. "People on the streets they think they're brave. And the opposition is absolutely dependent on them as foot soldiers, especially with independent media being silenced."

Otpor is gearing up for the elections with a get-out-the-vote campaign centered around the mantra "He's finished! It's time for him to go."

"We don't tell people who to vote for, just that their vote counts and that we all have to do our part to get rid of this nightmare called Milosevic," says 24-year-old Otpor activist Veckey Petkovic. "Milosevic controls the media, and he has 20 percent of the people in his pocket. The rest of the country hates his guts and knows he is an evil tyrant. It's our job to motivate those 80 percent."

How did Otpor evolve from a loose group of fed-up college students to a political force strong enough to make an indicted war criminal nervous?

It was just over a year ago that a handful of students founded Otpor to protest draconian academic laws that were turning Belgrade University into a rubber stamp for the Milosevic way. The group quickly picked up steam on campus and made the leap to national politics.

When I wandered into Otpor's Belgrade headquarters last winter, Otpor had yet to make much of a splash. They were obviously having a hell of a good time mounting a campaign to nonviolently oust Milosevic. And it was a campaign that was gaining momentum. Nearly every inch of wall space taken up with some form of the group's trademark clenched fist with which they were blanketing Serbia: More than 10 million fists have been hung, spray-painted, or pasted in public spaces across the country.

On another wall hung life-sized head-to-toe portraits of Milosevic and his powerful and equally despised wife, Mira Marcovic. On the poster, Milosevic's face was obscured with the Otpor fist; his wife framed in a marksman's target.

A giant homemade, wall-sized calendar revealed a growing list of meetings, concerts, and actions in the Serbian hinterlands. Actions often amounted to outlandish political theater. Most skewered Milosevic, and some even took aim at the apathetic citizenry. In one such action, activists took to downtown Belgrade dressed as research scientists. Mockingly, they took to their hands and knees with oversized magnifying glasses in search of microscopic signs of civic engagement among the population.

Sveta Matic, an Otpor member, lives in exile in Budapest after deserting his Yugoslavian Army unit rather than fight in Kosovo, and being hounded by the Serb secret police. He explained that humor has played a part in Otpor's fight from the beginning. "Milosevic is many things, but he is definitely not a funny guy. He's stuck in 1386, in a field of black birds with Czar Lazur losing gloriously to the Turks."

"We're a generation that likes to play jokes, to laugh all the time, and that is our secret weapon. We're sick of being defined by a glorious loser. We want to join the rest of the world," Matic said.

For Milosevic's 59th birthday last month, Otpor plastered a blistering card in town squares throughout Serbia. The greeting: "Thank you for the childhood you have taken from us, for the unforgettable war scenes you have given us, for all the crimes you have committed in the name of Serbs, for all the lost battles. ... Thank you for the unforgettable convoys of our brothers, for the sound of air raid sirens, for all the lives lost in vain .... Happy birthday, Mr. President, may you celebrate the next one with your nearest and dearest on a deserved holiday in the Hague," seat of the International war crimes tribunal for the Balkans, which has indicted Milosevic.

Perhaps the most notable incident in Otpor's campaign came when Serbia's most famous actor, Voya Brovic, took a curtain call while wearing an Otpor T-shirt. With his eyes dramatically clenched shut, Brovic raised his fist to the sky. Brovic's initially startled fellow actors followed suit and raised their fists, joining him in an Otpor salute. The audience reportedly gave a 15 minute standing ovation. The following day the Serbian Ministry of Culture abruptly canceled the play, and Brovic has been blacklisted since.

The government attempted to ignore Otpor for months. Serbia's Minister of Information, Goran Matic, makes a daily habit of denouncing opponents of the regime as spies, terrorists, and enemies of the state. Yet when I interviewed him last winter, Matic made a point of refusing to even mention Otpor's name.

"They may ignore us now, but as we become stronger, they will become more nervous and I think we will have a serious crackdown," said Ivan Marovic, one of Otpor's most colorful young leaders.

Marovic's statement proved prophetic. By January, the regime had dropped its unstated policy of ignoring Otpor and launched a full-scale crackdown in April. Marovic himself has now been arrested six times.

A report on an Otpor demonstration led off a state-sponsored newscast on New Year's Eve. This time, Matic blasted Otpor, calling it a "fascist" and dangerous "terrorist organization" funded by the CIA and British and French Intelligence. Otpor had gone from a nonentity to public enemy number one.

"Calling the Otpor activists terrorists is of course absurd," said Bogdan Ivanisevic, who tracks human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia for Human Rights Watch. "Otpor has shown no signs of being anything but a homegrown, nonviolent movement. But that kind of rhetoric laid the ground for legal pretext to crack down on Otpor's political activities. Serb authorities essentially made Otpor illegal."

The simple act of wearing an Otpor logo has become risky, with dozens of Otpor supporters arrested for displaying the now-famous fist. Most arrested activists are released after a few hours of fruitless interrogation aimed at cracking Otpor's leaderless structure. But Human Rights Watch reports increasing accounts of beatings, and several activists are languishing in prison on bogus but serious charges, including attempted murder.

If anything, Milosevic's rough treatment of Otpor has elevated the group to folk hero status in Serbia. Opposition politicians clamor to don Otpor T-shirts. There are now several chapters of "Mothers and Grandmothers for Otpor." At least a dozen Otpor moms have been arrested alongside their kids.

Even with some clear momentum for the opposition, and a solid lead in the polls, an orderly transition to democracy in Serbia is not likely. Serbian elections are, after all, being held behind a kind of iron curtain with few international election monitors or journalists present.

"It's a tense situation," says Human Rights Watch's Bogdanavic. "Milosevic is extremely unpopular within Serbia. But the trouble is he can't afford to go. The Hague has indicted him for international crimes. So, unfortunately, at this point anything is possible."

For its part, Otpor promises to lead massive street demonstrations if Milosevic tries to steal the elections. But some activists express worry that Milosevic will become even more dangerous as he clings to the edge.

"I talk with many of my friends about what Milosevic will do," Otpor's Petkovic said. "A lot of us worry that after all this ethnic cleansing, he's preparing the ground for 'youth cleansing.' But of course we rarely think like that. We remain the most optimistic people in Serbia."

This article originally appeared in The MoJo Wire, the online sister publication of Mother Jones, the award-winning investigative news magazine. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.

Selling the Cure for Shopaholism

Doctors at Stanford University are studying a medication they hope will alleviate the suffering of millions of American women. But their target isn't breast cancer, osteoporosis, or a similarly well-known affliction. Despite its alarming impact on its victims, the malady in question has received comparatively little medical scrutiny. It's a "hidden epidemic," according to the Stanford researchers: compulsive shopping disorder.

That's right. What was once merely a punchline in television sitcoms is now being taken seriously by many clinicians. According to the Stanford study's leader, Dr. Lorrin Koran, compulsive shopping is "motivated by 'irresistible' impulses, characterized by spending that is excessive and inappropriate, has harmful consequences for the individual, and tends to be chronic and stereotyped." Compulsive shoppers "binge buy" -- most often clothes, shoes, makeup, and jewelry -- and then suffer intense guilt. That, in turn, helps trigger another frenzied trip to the mall, and the cycle continues.

As many as 8 percent of all Americans may be "shopaholics," and according to Dr. Koran, approximately 90 percent of them are women. (All of the 24 participants in the Stanford study are female.) Michael Elliott, another of the Stanford researchers, ascribes the heavy gender bias to the fact that "women are assigned the shopping role for the family in our culture."

Could compulsive shopping be a health hazard associated with America's unparalleled economic prosperity? "It seems to be a disease of affluence," says Dr. Jerrold Pollak, a clinical psychologist who's treated several shopaholics. "Advertisers...would like us to think that shopping is a reason to live," agrees Dr. Cheryl Carmin, another clinical psychologist. "If you do not have the time or inclination to go to the mall or grocery store, there are catalogs, delivery services, home shopping networks on TV, and endless items to buy via the Internet." Indeed, this year, US advertisers will spend $233 billion -- an amount equal to six federal education budgets -- to persuade Americans to buy, buy, buy.

Yet the possibility that US advertisers may be driving certain women in our society to psychosis is only part of the story. It seems that the pharmaceutical companies' quest to cure the effects of excessive marketing may itself be little more than a cleverly-disguised marketing scheme. The Stanford study, like many of its kind, is being funded by a pharmaceutical company. The undisclosed drug is an FDA-approved antidepressant, specifically an SSRI -- a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor. (The researchers are also studying behavioral therapies for compulsive shoppers.)

The researchers running the Stanford study refused to reveal their sponsor. However, only five SSRIs are currently on the US market. Pfizer (makers of Zoloft), Eli Lilly (Prozac) and SmithKline Beecham (Paxil) all reported that they are neither conducting nor planning any studies of their drugs for compulsive shopping. Solvay (Luvox) also seems an unlikely candidate. In 1997, researchers at the University of Iowa tried using Luvox to treat compulsive shoppers and found no measurable differences between the effects of the drug and those of a placebo. Perhaps the manufacturers of Luvox want to give their product another shot. More likely, however, the mysterious benefactor of the Stanford Study is Forest Pharmaceuticals (Celexa). Their PR department neither confirmed nor denied any involvement in Koran's study.

Why would a pharmaceutical company anonymously spend money to license one of its top-selling drugs for a marginal disorder like compulsive shopping? A big part of the answer is profit. The mystery company presumably hopes to carve a unique slice out of the mental-disorder pie in order to market it together with a ready-made treatment. This is not at all a new strategy for the world's mammoth pharmaceutical firms, as David Healy, a professor at the University of Wales College of Medicine, explains in his book "The Anti-Depressant Era." Healy's book describes a process by which companies seek to "educate" both patients and clinicians about a new disorder, to sell the disorder in preparation for selling its cure. Funding clinical trials is a crucial part of that process.

Mental-health professionals do recognize and take seriously the behavior pattern described by Dr. Koran as compulsive shopping disorder (although the disorder's gender-lopsidedness is suspiciously reminiscent of 19th century "female diseases" like neurasthenia and hysteria, syndromes that called for the medical treatment of "female" behavior). However, it isn't listed as a valid disorder in the official diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association. That's because most health care professionals don't view compulsive shopping as a unique disorder, but rather as a symptom of a broader, underlying disorder, such as anxiety or depression, for which several medical and behavioral-therapy treatments already exist.

This is where market manipulation comes into play. Imagine that Ms. X, who has never heard of compulsive shopping disorder as such, spends all kinds of money on things she doesn't need, feels bad about it, spends even more money, and quickly runs into crippling debt. Ms. X might join Debtors Anonymous or some other self-help group. She might link her behavior to depression or an anxiety disorder and seek the help of a mental-health professional who could employ any number of medical or non-medical treatments. But, if Ms. X and her health-care provider have instead heard a lot about compulsive shopping disorder, and there happens to be a newly-licensed drug specifically for it, then she is suddenly a prime customer. A market has been created, prescriptions will increase, and the drug's manufacturer will make money.

"Companies can not only seek to find the key to the lock," Healy writes, "but [they] can dictate a great deal of the shape of the lock to which a key must fit."

Multi-national pharmaceutical companies who make SSRI's certainly have the resources to pull this off. In January, enormous Glaxo Wellcome merged with even more-enormous SmithKline Beecham to become the world's biggest drug company, valued at roughly $189 billion. Pfizer's $90 billion purchase of Warner-Lambert in February was only slightly less impressive. Pharmaceutical companies enjoy higher profits and lower taxes than most other US industries, according to a recent study by the Congressional Research Service. And business is booming: Drug sales rose 9 percent last year to almost 3 billion prescriptions, with antidepressants leading the charge by jumping 17 percent.

At the same time, while in 1997 overall health service costs rose only 5 percent, prescription drug prices rose by 14 percent. The industry argues that their rising prices, disproportionate profits, and tax breaks are needed to offset the massive costs of researching and developing new medications for the public good. Yet recently there's been a dearth of real breakthrough "wonder drugs" like a polio vaccine. No wonder then that these companies turn to market manipulation. Creating simultaneous supply and demand for products such as the shopaholic pill nets both profits for shareholders and "medical advances" for a pill-hungry public.

The industry spends enormous sums advertising their prescription drugs -- $1.8 billion on direct-to-consumer advertising last year alone. With that advertising budget, these companies shouldn't have much trouble selling their pills to people who are already compulsive buyers.

If the treatment Dr. Koran and the other Stanford researchers are studying proves ineffective, we may never know what drug was meant to become the shopaholic pill. But, if this study proves at all successful, chances are we'll hear a lot more about compulsive shopping disorder. The extent of this "hidden epidemic" will be revealed through well-publicized studies, clinical papers, and journal articles. The disorder may even make the pages of the next diagnostic manual. And shopaholics everywhere will be encouraged to make just one more purchase: a little pill to make it all better.

This article originally appeared in The MoJo Wire, the online sister publication of Mother Jones, the award-winning investigative news magazine. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.

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