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Beltway Media Pleased to Distort GOP Position on Iraq

In the Washington Post's front page story this Sunday about the Democratic Party's position on the Iraq War, the newspaper makes a highly misleading statement about the Republican Party's position. After a comment by Montana Democratic Senate nominee Jon Tester demanding a "plan to move the troops out of Iraq," the Post claims flatly that "no Republican is advocating that the United States maintain high troop levels indefinitely."

One could stretch to make the argument that such a statement is technically true -- no Republican has gone on record saying word-for-word "I want to keep large amounts of U.S. troops in Iraq forever." However, top Republican leaders have repeatedly gone on record making statements or taking concrete steps that support actually keeping large amounts of U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely.

For example, less than three months ago, Reuters reported that "congressional Republicans killed a provision in an Iraq war funding bill that would have put the United States on record against the permanent basing of U.S. military facilities in that country." In other words, despite the Post's claim, Republicans just a few months ago actually went on record as supporting the concept of a permanent, indefinite military presence in Iraq (you can see the video of the congressional debate here). Congressional Democrats' efforts to prevent U.S. troops from being in Iraq indefinitely came after the BBC reported that the administration made massive emergency spending request for base construction that the House Appropriations Committee noted was "of a magnitude normally associated with permanent bases."

A week after that request, "top US General John Abizaid refused to rule out a long-term presence" in Iraq. In fact, this hasn't just been going on this year. The Chicago Tribune reported in 2004 that Bush administration military planners were moving forward with plans for "constructing 14 enduring bases, long-term encampments for the thousands of American troops."

Then there is President Bush, who stated just last week that we will not be reducing troops "while I'm the president."

That was just the latest statement from the administration and the Pentagon about indefinite troop deployments. For example, in May of 2004, international news service AFP reported that the administration quietly announced that it will "keep high force levels in Iraq indefinitely."

Even if you just look at Tester's opponent, Republican Sen. Conrad Burns (R), it's clear that Republicans are quite brazenly advocating for indefinite deployments of large amounts of U.S. troops in Iraq -- regardless of what the public thinks about the war. As the Associated Press reported last week, "Burns said the U.S. must show 'great patience and resolve' and stay in Iraq even if public support for the war continues to erode."

Here's the thing -- politicians either support a plan to draw down troops at some point in the future, or they support leaving U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely. There is no "middle ground" and there is no "third way." Being for one of those positions automatically means you are against the other position, and vice versa -- it's a zero sum question, no matter how much the Washington Post, the Beltway neoconservatives or D.C. Republican Party operatives try to fudge the issue with warmed over double talk. In other words, this is the one of the times where Bush's black-or-white world view is actually applicable: you are either for ultimately bringing troops home, or you are against ultimately bringing troops home - and thus for leaving them as targets in the Iraqi shooting gallery indefinitely.

Democratic incumbents and candidates have largely united in support of pushing the White House to begin crafting a plan to get troops out of Iraq. That is a position polls show the majority of Americans support -- and a position the stay-in-Iraq-indefinitely Republican Party opposes. While the Post may want to try to create false Democratic rifts in order to fabricate grist for its front page, and may want to push dishonest storylines about the GOP supposedly not being for indefinite troop deployments, the facts speak for themselves.

Military Recruiting 101

Why does the military have direct access to the private information of American high school students? Under the No Child Left Behind legislation, Sec 9528, education funding in America has been turned into a recruiting tool for our military! Buried in this legislation is a section that mandates student's private information be given directly to the military unless the student's parent or guardian opts their records out – meaning that a request letter from the parent or guardian must be submitted to the school to keep the student's records private.

This is essentially a permission slip to keep one's records private instead of a permission slip to authorize access to one's private records. Yes, the law really was intentionally written completely backwards! To make matters worse, no concerted effort is being made to inform students and parents that their personal information is being given out.

While a few organizations have talked about this law, more must be done to educate students and parents on how this issue directly affects them and their private records. I am proud to be working with Congressman McDermott of Washington State, Congressman Stark of California and Congresswoman Woolsey of California to try and build a greater national awareness of what this legislation does to students' right to privacy.

If the military is already given millions in tax-payer dollars for advertising, why does it need direct access to student's private information to aid recruiting? The answer is in a March 6, 2005 Reuters' News Service article that states:

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The Dispassion of the Christian Right

They were livid over SpongeBob Square Pants' participation in a video advocating tolerance, and fuming about Buster the Bunny's visit to a lesbian household. So where's the outrage from the Christian right over the Jeff Gannon Affair? Despite a chunk of time having passed since the Gannon Affair was first uncovered, Christian-right organizations are still cloaked in silence. As of Feb. 24, there wasn't any news about the Gannon Affair available on the web sites of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, or the Traditional Values Coalition. As best as I could determine, no special alerts about the Gannon Affair have been issued; and no campaigns have been launched to get to the bottom of the matter.

Curious about this wall of silence, I phoned several Christian-right groups on Tuesday, Feb. 22, hoping to find someone who could comment on the Gannon Affair. This is what I found:

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Democracy in a Trash Can

These days, schemes to suppress the vote are coming down the pike at a NASCAR-like clip: In July, Michigan State Rep. John Pappageorge told a gathering of party officials at an election strategy meeting of the Oakland County Republican Party that "If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we're going to have a tough time in this election cycle." In Orlando, Fla., members of the Orlando League of Voters – an African-American civic group made up of mostly elderly women that has helped turn out large numbers of Democratic voters in the city – were the subject of an intimidating house-to-house investigation by Governor Jeb Bush's state police, who were supposedly checking out charges of electoral irregularities. The Rev. Jesse Jackson recently charged Republican Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell with "trying to reverse gains made by the civil rights movement by limiting where some Ohioans can cast their ballots," the Palm Beach Post recently reported.

Now, a new voter suppression scheme has been uncovered: One that thwarts the democratic process before voters even exercise their franchise. A voter registration outfit largely funded by the Republican National Committee is being accused of destroying the registration forms of hundreds of newly registered Democratic voters in Nevada.

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, when hundreds and perhaps thousands of registered Democrats enter their polling places in Nevada, they will be in for a rude surprise: They won't be allowed to vote. Even though they filled out their registration forms properly and they did it way ahead of the deadline, there will be no record of their being registered to vote. That's because, according to an investigation by Las Vegas television station KLAS, a private voter registration company called Voters Outreach of America – an outfit largely funded by the Republican National Committee – has trashed hundreds of registration forms of registered Democrats.

"Anyone who has recently registered or re-registered to vote outside a mall or grocery store or even government building may be affected," George Knapp, an investigative reporter for the television station's Eyewitness News I-Team, reported. Knapp was able to obtain information about an "alleged widespread pattern of potential registration fraud aimed at Democrats," from former employees of the company.

Over the past few months, Voters Outreach of America has been working the Las Vegas area, sending more than 300 part-time workers to shopping malls, grocery stores, government buildings and busy street corners throughout the city to register voters. The kicker, according to the former workers: Apparently, the company was only interested in Republican registrations.

Knapp reported that two former employees claimed that they had "personally witnessed company supervisors rip up and trash registration forms signed by Democrats."

"We caught her taking Democrats out of my pile, handed them to her assistant and he ripped them up right in front of us. I grabbed some of them out of the garbage and she tells her assistant to get those from me," said Eric Russell, a former Voters Outreach employee.

According to Knapp, Russell said he was able "to retrieve a pile of shredded paperwork including signed voter registration forms, all from Democrats" and he "took them to the Clark County Election Department and confirmed that they had not, in fact, been filed with the county as required by law."

When the I-Team went to talk with Voters Outreach, the company had abandoned its offices and they were rented by someone else. According to the Voters Outreach landlord, the outfit was "evicted for non-payment of rent."

Recently, the Reno Gazette Journal ran the following ad for "Canvassing Neighborhoods in Support of the GOP": "Voter's Outreach of America is hiring door-to-door canvassers asking people to register to vote. Must be at least 18 yrs of age, no felonies, registered to vote and have own transportation. Need good communication skills and professional appearance. ... Paid for by the Republican National Committee."

According to a web site called TOPDOG04.COM, Voters Outreach "has set up registration drives in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and Nevada and is accused of the same things [as KLAS-TV reported] in most if not all of these states."

TOPDOG04.COM also reports that in a separate incident, Sproul & Associates, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based Republican consulting firm run by Nathan Sproul, former head of the Arizona Republican party and Arizona Christian Coalition, which has hired Voters Outreach, tried to pass itself off as America Votes, a truly non-partisan voter registration drive.

Sproul & Associates has received nearly $500,000 from the Republican Party this year for "political consulting" according to OpenSecrets.org, and received another $125,000 for voter registration.

In Arizona, Sproul paid Aaron "A.J." James, the director of Voters Outreach of America, "to get as many signatures as possible for [Independent presidential candidate Ralph] Nader," Arizona indymedia.org reported. "'Aaron [James] told me he was out here getting signatures for Nader. So I can only assume that Diane [Burns] was too,' said Derek Lee, who, as owner of Lee Petitions, was part of the traveling petition carnival that descended on Arizona this spring."

On Wednesday, Oct. 13, the Associated Press reported that Sproul "denied ... that a group he hired to register Republicans in Nevada deliberately tore up Democratic voter registration forms." Sproul blamed the controversy on a disgruntled former employee.

A recent report issued by the People for the American Way Foundation and the NAACP documented numerous incidents of voter intimidation and suppression over the past 39 years. The report notes that, as we might expect, the tactics have become "more subtle and subterranean" over time. But it also demonstrates that attempts to suppress the vote persist to this day.

According to the report, "Robbing voters of their right to vote and to have their vote counted undermines the very foundations of our democratic society. Politicians, political strategists and party officials who may consider voter intimidation and suppression efforts as part of their tactical arsenal should prepare to be exposed and prosecuted."

The report concludes by saying: "State and federal officials, including Justice Department and national political party officials, should publicly repudiate such tactics and make clear that those who engage in them will face severe punishment."

Newly registered Nevada voters are being urged to call the Clark County Election Department at 455-VOTE or go to the County's web site to see if they are registered.

Across the country, a coalition of liberal, nonpartisan groups – including People for the American Way, the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – will be sending lawyers and law students to key precincts in unprecedented numbers – 2,000 in Florida alone. Their T-shirts and signs will bear the message "Having trouble voting? Call us." They will carry disposable cameras to record infractions.

And, according to the Newhouse News Service, The Kerry campaign and the Democratic National Committee are going to "dispatch as many as 10,000 lawyers across America on Election Day and have established five post-election 'SWAT teams' to hit the ground running wherever they might be needed."

A Day of Living Dangerously

"I swear I saw dogs eating the body of a woman." – Iraqi man fleeing Samarra

Is the fight for the city of Samarra the beginning of the final battle for Iraq? With the pacification of the city proceeding at a timely clip, is the U.S. finally turning the corner in Iraq? U.S. Major General John Batiste, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan, and Iraqi Interior Minister Falah Al-Naqib seem to think so. They all believe a new day is dawning for that troubled city and for the entire country.

Speaking on CNN , Major General Batiste said that the military operation – which included 3000 U.S. marines and 2000 Iraqi national guard troops backed by tanks, warplanes and attack helicopters – resulted in the death of 125 suspected insurgents and the capture of 88. "This is great news for the people of Samarra, 200,000 people who have been held captives, hostages if you will, by just a couple of hundred thugs," Major-General Batiste said.

"It is over in Samarra," Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan told the Al-Arabiya network on October 3. And Iraq's Interior Minister, Falah Al-Naqib, a former member of the Samarra provincial administration, claimed the Iraqi Government was "moving from a defensive to an offensive position to regain control over all of Iraq."

While the U.S. and the Iraqi military claimed they had killed only the bad guys, the Human Rights Ministry, in a letter to the Iraqi Red Crescent, described what happened in the city as a "tragedy" and called for urgent emergency assistance, London's Independent reported. According to the Associated Press , "Of the 70 dead brought to Samarra General Hospital since fighting erupted, 23 were children and 18 were women, hospital official Abdul-Nasser Hamed Yassin said. "Another 160 wounded people also were treated," Yassin added.

In addition, the Independent reported, Samarra residents claimed said that many of the 1,000 insurgents believed to be in the city had escaped before the attack began.

If the pacification of Samarra is good news for the Bush Administration, what are we to make of the following events in Iraq? (The following summary was pulled together by Randy Gould, the editor of the always informative online newsletter, The Oread Daily):
At least 22 were dead and 96 injured in two car bomb attacks Monday, October 3, outside Baghdad's Green Zone government center and in the hotel district. Two American troops were killed by small arms fire at a checkpoint in Baghdad. The Italian Foreign Ministry has notified the family of a kidnapped Iraqi businessman – a longtime resident of Italy – that he has been killed in Iraq. A car bomb exploded near a primary school in the city of Mosul killing seven people, including two children.

Early Monday, U.S. warplanes bombed Fallujah, killing at least 11 people, according to hospital officials. Doctor Adel Khamis of Fallujah General Hospital said seven of the dead were women and children. Another strike in the central al-Jumhuriyah area killed nine people, including three women and four children, said Dr. Khamis – twelve were wounded, including six women and three children, he said. A second strike in the city's southern Al-Shuhada (Martyrs) neighborhood killed two more people, according to Dr. Khamis.

A senior official at Iraq's science and technology ministry was shot dead along with a female civil servant by unknown attackers in Baghdad. A roadside bomb detonated in the city of Ramadi, killing two Iraqis. "Two people were killed and six others injured in a bomb blast ... in the west of the city," said Atallah Dlimi, a police lieutenant. A 13-year-old school girl was killed by mortar fire in a residential area of Baquba, police said, adding that another seven people were injured in the attack.

Poland, a highly-trumpeted U.S. ally in Iraq, should withdraw its troops from the Mideast nation at the end of next year, Poland's defense minister said.
A leading Sunni Muslim religious group blasted the U.S. led Samarra operation calling it a "massacre" and warned the interim government that its U.S.-influenced strategy will plunge the country into more chaos.

Baghdad Burning, a remarkable web log written by a woman in Iraq, pointed out that "Watching the military attacks on Samarra and hearing the stories from displaced families or people from around the area is like reliving the frustration and anger of the war. It's like a nightmare within a nightmare, seeing the corpses pile up and watching people drag their loved ones from under the bricks and steel of what was once a home.

"To top it off, we have to watch American military spokespersons and our new Iraqi politicians justify the attacks and talk about 'insurgents' and 'terrorists' like they actually believe what they are saying... like hundreds of civilians aren't being massacred on a daily basis by the worlds most advanced military technology."

Now, attention will shift back to the long troubled city of Fallujah, the supposed headquarters of Jordanian-born militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Although the U.S. has been carrying out bombing raids over the past several weeks, will the Bush Administration risk a major attack on the city and a series of bloody battles before November 2?

According to the Independent , a coalition spokesman, commenting on an air attack over the weekend said: "A large number of enemy fighters are presumed killed." But residents tell a different story. According to them, the air strike "had killed eight people at the home of Hamad Hdaib Mohammedi, who was known for his opposition to the militants." In addition, "television footage showed the body of a small girl being pulled from the rubble of the house."

On October 5, the Coalition Press Information Center issued a press release that could presage the future: "Iraqi and Multi-National forces today kicked off their most sweeping operation to date in Northern Babil, moving against multiple targets across the central Iraqi province in a continuing campaign to restore security and stability here."

Closing California

If the Republican Party’s pre-convention decision to keep immigration issues and developments in Utah and Colorado – where a xenophobic candidate was defeated and an anti-immigration initiative failed to qualify for the ballot, respectively – out of the spotlight are indicative of a sea-change in the nation’s “immigration wars,” the conservative California Republican Assembly, and Dr. Franklin L. Banker, a Carmichael, California, oncologist, apparently haven’t gotten the news.

The California Republican Assembly, a Monrovia-based, ultra right-wing grassroots GOP group headed by Mike Spence, is aiming to gather enough signatures to qualify another anti-immigrant initiative for the March 2006 state ballot. According to Copley News Service, the Save Our License initiative "is a narrowed version of the polarizing Proposition 187,” a 1994 ballot measure that was handily approved by voters by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin.

Proposition 187 was later invalidated by the state’s courts, which decided to allow children of illegal immigrants to attend school and receive medical care.

The new initiative would not ban services the courts have already exempted.

"I'm trying to protect the Constitution, trying to protect the great United States of America," Spence told the Pasadena Star-News. "Wave upon wave of immigration throughout history has had a way of integrating itself into American society. Now, we have created a process where that isn't happening. We're not having assimilation, they're not embracing American values."

Spence, who has been in the forefront of efforts to deny driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, told the newspaper that "the will of the voters was betrayed in the deal that ended Proposition 187."

According to the CRA web site, the Save Our License Initiative consists of three main provisions: "First, the government will not provide any benefits not mandated by federal law. Second, the government will defend this law against any and all legal challenges. Third, individual citizens will be granted the power to sue to compel compliance with the law.”

Banker's Brief

Dr. Franklin L. Banker is taking a different approach to the question of immigration. He is cleverly couching his proposal as a pro-environment, anti-population growth and pro-sexuality education measure – with a number of anti-immigrant sections tucked into it. Dr. Banker’s magic number is 373,816 – the number of qualified signatures he needs to collect by October 15, 2004 in order to qualify for the California ballot.

“Dr. Banker’s initiative comes on the heels of the Save Our State initiative – Proposition 187 redux – introduced in California by Paul Nachman, a leader of SUSPS,” Devin Burghart, the director of the Building Democracy Initiative of the Chicago-based Center for New Community and a veteran anti-immigration watcher, told me in a recent e-mail interview. “That initiative went nowhere; it wasn’t even able to garner enough support to get on the ballot. Now, it appears that they’re looking for new ways to package anti-immigrant legislation and make it more appealing to environmentalists as a constituency.”

The good doctor’s effort also appears to be stamped from the same mold as the recent failed “hostile takeover” of the Sierra Club by SUSPS activists and other anti-immigration organizations. “The proposed ballot language is remarkably similar to the way in which anti-immigrant activists pitched their candidates to Sierra Club voters,” said Burghart.

In late May, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley announced that proponents could begin collecting signatures to qualify the “Population Policy. Legislative Directive. Initiative Statute” for the ballot.

The initiative claims that “California is experiencing extreme population crisis that is economically and environmentally unsustainable” and requires the Governor and State Legislature “to develop comprehensive population policy that enhances quality of life and preserves the environment.” The initiative advocates expanding access to “family planning,” and encourages “small families and responsible sexual behavior” and an end to “illegal immigration.” The initiative also “prohibits driver’s licenses, reduced college tuition, or other benefits [be offered] to illegal immigrants” and “instructs California’s congressional delegation to sponsor federal legislation limiting the yearly number of legal immigrants to the United States to 300,000.”

Anti-immigration fever: Cooling down or heating up?

California’s anti-immigration proposals appear to be running against the tide of recent events: A hardline anti-immigration congressional candidate was soundly defeated in the Republican Party’s recent primary in Utah’s 3rd District; in Colorado, an anti-immigration ballot initiative aimed at changing the state’s constitution by denying the undocumented access to any state services failed to make the ballot.

“If there is any place in America where the anti-immigration message should receive a receptive hearing, it would seem to be Colorado. ... Yet every indication is that the closed-border mentality doesn't play well here politically,” Stephen Moore, the president of the right-wing Club for Growth, recently wrote in The Weekly Standard.

In Arizona, Project Arizona Now, instigators of that state’s anti-immigration initiative – which will be voted on in November – finally managed to gather enough signatures to qualify its ballot initiative after paying a California consulting firm $400,000 to collect signatures. If Arizona's anti-immigrant initiative passes, however, it could prime the pump for California's anti-immigration campaigners.

"Of the two initiative campaigns now circulating petitions in California, the California Republican Assembly-sponsored effort stands a better chance of qualifying for the ballot – and eventually passing – even though it is actually a rehash of the one they initially floated to get on this November’s ballot in California but couldn’t get enough support for it,” Devin Burghart said.

“Given that this effort has the support of this politically powerful organization, it is much more likely to go somewhere than Dr. Banker’s measure,” he pointed out. “There is a significant and growing insurgency within the Republican Party that is coalescing around anti-immigrant politics. Should Bush lose the election, that insurgency is going to bust wide open. It is already surfacing in a number of Congressional races this year.”




President Peter Pan

On this, there can be no question. Regarding Iraq, John Kerry is acknowledging reality. George Bush is not.

Bush embarrassed America when he went before a stony-faced audience at the United Nations Tuesday and claimed that all was well in Iraq, calling it a country well on its way to being a "beacon of freedom in the Middle East." More tellingly, he spent far more time defending his decision to invade in the first place, ignoring the consequences of a war that is now dangerously unraveling.

Meanwhile, Kerry seems to have finally found his voice on Iraq. Kerry is in trouble when he tries to parse his explanation of his vote in favor of war in Congress; no matter how sensible it might or might not be, it plays into the "flip-flop" stereotype Republicans have created for him. But there can be no mistaking the current situation in Iraq, and Kerry is spot on when he thunders, as he did Tuesday, that "the president really has no credibility at this point. He has no credibility with foreign leaders who hear him come before them and talk as if everything is going well... The president needs to live in the world of reality."

Alas, on the most critical issue now facing the country – Iraq and Bush's misbegotten War on Terror – reality is not President Peter Pan's strong suit. White House spinsters will be working hard this week to pretend all is well, crowned by the address to Congress on Thursday of Iraq's appointed U.S. puppet prime minister, Iyad Allawi. Allawi not only has no credibility in his own country, but his government, like U.S. troops, cannot even access nearly half of the country. He is, in the eyes of his countrymen, tainted not only by his past as a thug – first for Saddam and then for Western intelligence agencies – but by the very fact he was installed by and works with the Americans.

If there was ever a chance that Bush's ideal of a democratic Iraq on the American model could be achieved, it's long gone. No politician acceptable to Washington will be accepted at this point by the vast majority of Iraqis. Bush knows this, or at least he should; his intelligence agencies, as well as Congressional Republicans, have been telling him. But he is either stubbornly clinging to his own fantasy world, or, for political reasons, he's refusing to acknowledge the crisis.

The White House hope is that stunts like Allawi's address to Congress can help maintain the fiction of a normalized Iraq, on its intended course, at least until the US election in November. Oddly, it may not matter much to the election; polling suggests that the fiasco in Iraq is not changing the minds of those coveted swing voters. But that's not the point. Every week that goes by where Iraq military strategy is dictated by the political goals of the Bush Administration is a week where the insurgency grows stronger and more soldiers are put in harm's way for crass political purposes.

Kerry, in an unusually pointed speech in New York on Monday, finally got the situation right: "Invading Iraq has created a crisis of historic proportions, and... the prospect of a war with no end in sight." His prescription of more foreign assistance may not help much at this point; more radical remedies are probably needed. But at least Kerry understands and acknowledges the situation.

Judging from his public pronouncements, George Bush either doesn't understand what he has created in Iraq, or – even worse – he understands it, but is working his hardest to ensure that the American public is misled. Either way is inexcusable. And either way leads inexorably to John Kerry's conclusion: that Bush does not have the credibility to lead the world, or the United States.

Hijacking Catastrophe

I’m a former full-time journalist turned journalism professor. I continue to commit occasional acts of journalism, and I retain a deep affection for, and commitment to, the craft and its ideals. That’s why it pains me to say this: The performance of the U.S. corporate commercial news media after 9/11 has been the most profound and dangerous failure of journalism in my lifetime.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the void is being filled by other institutions, including the Media Education Foundation with its new documentary, “Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American Empire.”

That performance of journalists in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq was so abysmal that the country’s top two daily newspapers, the Washington Post and New York Times, eventually were forced to engage in a bit of self-criticism, albeit shallow and inadequate. The U.S. news media’s willingness to serve as a largely uncritical conduit for the lies, half-truths, and distortions the Bush administration used to create the pretext for war showed how easily journalists can become de facto agents of a state propaganda campaign, which in this case mobilized public support for an illegal war.

But the lies that led to the Iraq War are only part of a bigger story, the most important story of the past three years: The Bush administration’s manipulation of the tragedy of 9/11 to extend and intensify the longstanding U.S. project of empire building (and the complicity of most Democrats in that endeavor).

No publication or network in the mainstream of U.S. journalism has offered an independent, critical analysis of that project. Only a few journalists, mostly on the margins, have even dared to take a crack at it. The best consistent work has been in the foreign press or the alternative media in the United States.

This also has been the year of the political documentary, and “Hijacking Catastrophe” is the best film in this genre to date.

(Full disclosure: I was one of the people interviewed for “Hijacking Catastrophe,” and I also have appeared in two other MEF films. I agreed to participate in these projects because, after years of using MEF videos in the classroom, I have come to respect the quality of the work and the integrity of its staff.)

Until this year, MEF had focused primarily on media criticism; its videos examined the effect of mass media on U.S. politics and culture. MEF primarily took as its task the job of explaining the failures of journalists, not doing the work of journalists. With “Hijacking Catastrophe,” directors Sut Jhally and Jeremy Earp also take up that task, covering the tremendously important story of the current phase of the U.S. empire that journalists have let slip through their fingers.

The film concentrates on two major topics: The neoconservative agenda for U.S. domination of the world, which was created long before 9/11, and the selling of that agenda to the U.S. public after 9/11.

The first story goes back to the early 1990s and the end of the Cold War, when policy planners such as Paul Wolfowitz (current deputy secretary of defense) were devising a more aggressive foreign policy and military posture to allow the United States to capitalize on the collapse of the Soviet Union and to dominate the globe in ways that had not previously been possible. At the time, the plans were considered so extreme that the first Bush administration reined in these ideological fanatics; the U.S. empire could go forward but not in such radical form.

During the remainder of the 1990s, these neoconservative planners chafed at what they saw as an insufficiently aggressive approach to expansion of the empire in the Clinton administration. The Project for the New American Century, a neoconservative think tank, was created as a vehicle for promoting this ideology, which was able to take center stage with the George W. Bush administration.

Resistance to such an aggressive and dangerous project remained, however, and the project still had to be sold to the U.S. public. The attacks of 9/11 created the political climate which made that possible.

The second story told by “Hijacking Catastrophe” is how the Bush administration – again, with the Democrats either helping or standing aside, and the news media playing a compliant lapdog role – devised and executed a propaganda campaign to ratchet up and manipulate the public’s fear of terrorism to justify first an illegal, immoral, and counterproductive invasion of Afghanistan (designed to solidify U.S. control in Central Asia) and then an even more blatantly illegal and disastrous invasion of Iraq (designed to solidify U.S. control of the Middle East).

Reviews in the Washington Post and New York Times both acknowledged that the film offers a “cogent, concise and engaging” argument and makes a “convincing case” (the case, perhaps, that journalists from those papers should have been reporting all along). Both reviews also note that Jhally’s and Earp’s presentation of “the facts without any funny business” marks “Hijacking Catastrophe” as a film different from “Fahrenheit 9/11,” one that is “more sober, yet no less sobering” than Michael Moore’s movie.

These repeated failures of journalists to hold the powerful accountable should be a subject of serious discussion not just within the profession but for all of us. If journalists don’t provide a truly independent source of news and instead routinely subordinate themselves to power – especially in times of war and national crisis – it’s difficult to imagine how citizens can adequately inform themselves so that they can participate in the political arena in a meaningful way.

But when journalism fails, it’s possible for other institutions to take on some of the news media’s obligations. That doesn’t mean MEF or groups like it can replace existing journalistic institutions on their own. Nor does it mean that Jhally and Earp are holding themselves out to the public as journalists, in the same way that so-called “objective” journalists do.

Instead, films such as “Hijacking Catastrophe” provide information and analysis, coming from a political orientation (critical, dissident, progressive – historically, the hallmarks of great journalism) that is up front. The question isn’t whether the people who made the film and appear in it have a politics – of course they do, just as mainstream journalists and mainstream journalism’s institutions do. The question is whether the information presented is accurate, the judgments made are honest, and the conclusions reached are compelling.

On those criteria, “Hijacking Catastrophe” is one of the best pieces of journalism of recent years.

More information about 'Hijacking Catastrophe,' including how to purchase it, is available on the website.

Searching for the Undecided

BOSTON – This is no place to go hunting for the endangered species of the 2004 election. A real, live, undecided voter is even harder to find than a self-confessed pessimist in this resolutely upbeat Democratic convention.

Nevertheless, the delegates, candidates and party honchos all have indecision on their minds. The good behavior, the careful image-and-message honing has been directed to that incredibly shrinking segment of the population who are uncertain, or – imagine! – just beginning to pay attention.

Ask any pollster within range of the Fleet Center – they are here in numbers just short of bloggers – and they will tell you that the public is more polarized, more locked down than the highways out of Boston. It may be July on Boston Harbor, but it's October in terms of the electorate. As few as 5 percent of voters are undecided.

As any speechwriter worth his software knows, somewhere between 58 percent and 70 percent of these undecided voters are women. These are not the fabled soccer moms. Nor are they just security moms. And they are definitely not Sex and the City singles, to reprise another of the handles that have been used to simplify the undefinable group of women who haven't made up their minds.

At one event, Marie Wilson, who heads a project to get these women to vote, called them "How-am-I-going-to-make-it-today-moms." Fit that on a bumper sticker.

Most of them are between 25 and 40. Two-thirds haven't been to college. Wilson parses their dubiousness about voting this way: "I don't have time, I don't think I know enough and I don't know if it matters." Karen White of EMILY's List, the political action group, describes the undecideds and their larger cohort, the swing voters, as women "who spend 23 hours a day focused on domestic and family issues." That leaves just a few minutes for politics.

It is of course refreshing to see the women who buy their coffee at Dunkin' Donuts and not Starbucks being wooed this earnestly. And who among us isn't charmed when women are the ones having trouble making a commitment?

But in some ways these women should be an easy match for the Democrats. They put issues like health care at the top of their domestic dance card. In answer to a pivotal question, they very strongly disapprove of the direction the country is going. Perhaps most startling, in a recent EMILY's List poll, women swing voters were asked to say something, anything, positive about the country and only 39 percent could come up with an answer.

It isn't just that women are having trouble making up their pretty little minds about what political hat to wear. They aren't wishy-washy. They have strong – but conflicted – feelings.

As Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster puts it, they are torn between national security interests and domestic interests. And on security issues, they are equally torn. They are disproportionately opposed to the war in Iraq and disproportionately worried about safety at home.

When the undecideds talk about Iraq, they talk about loss of life and the possibility of a draft and the money going to rebuild Iraqi schools rather than their own. But at the same time the undecideds are very certain that there is real danger in the world. Indeed as recently as February, 42 percent of women – 47 percent of all mothers – said they worry that they or someone in their families could be victims of terrorism.

It wasn't an accident that Bill Clinton included one line of scripture in his speech: Be Not Afraid. Bush plays this fear like a color-coded terrorism alert. Kerry hasn't yet convinced these women that he can protect the country.

So many are in the unenviable pickle of hating the war and thinking the commander in chief is a strong leader. Agreeing with Kerry on everything from health care to Iraq, but unsure he is strong enough to protect them from terrorists.

Not long ago, the peripatetic Republican pollster Frank Luntz said that a Republican candidate has to show "empathy" for swing women voters by understanding their big problem: the time crunch. When women hear that, Luntz said, they'll listen to the rest of message. It's the empathy, stupid.

For John Kerry, it's the safety, stupid. If he can assure undecided women that he can protect the country, they'll listen to the rest.

Want to know why the word strong has been attached to every evening schedule, every speech, every slogan, every duckling in the Public Garden? The woman who is having trouble making a commitment is looking for a guy who is a strong ... but not silent.

Slouching Toward Theocracy

"If the presidency is a 'bully pulpit' as Teddy Roosevelt claimed," Stephen Mansfield writes in the introduction to his recently published book "The Faith of George W. Bush," "no one in recent memory has pounded that pulpit for religion's role in government quite like the forty-third president." Bush's "unapologetic religious tone" and his willingness to "speak of being called to the presidency, of a God who rules in the affairs of men, and of the United States owing her origin to Providence," also separate him from recent predecessors.

In mid-January, while on a two-state fundraising trip -- during which he squeezed in a few minutes to honor the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- the president stopped by at Union Bethel A.M.E. Church, a mostly African American church in New Orleans, to once again sing the praises of his faith-based initiative. He told the audience that since he had been unable to garner congressional support for his faith-based initiative, he issued executive orders; recently putting the finishing touches on regulations instructing all federal agencies not to discriminate against religious groups. This executive order makes religious groups eligible for $3.7 billion in Federal program funds dispersed through the Justice Department primarily for programs supporting victims of crime, the prevention of child victimization, and safe schools.

Last week marked the third anniversary of the president's creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI). Over the past three years, executive orders were issued, Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives were established at seven federal agencies, web sites were created, technical assistance to religious organizations was given at seminars and conferences, guidebooks helping religious groups apply for government funds were published, and billions were earmarked for faith-based institutions.

But it hasn't been all smooth sailing for Team Bush. Conservatives and liberals initially opposed the president's initiative; many conservatives eventually got on board, while liberals continue to object to what they characterize as violations of the separation of church and state and the potential for discriminatory hiring practices by many religious organizations fundamentally opposed to hiring gays and lesbians. John DiIulio, the longtime criminologist and political scientist hired to run the OFBCI, resigned after only six months on the job and later was the subject of an Esquire magazine interview highly critical of the administration. A major crisis developed when the Washington Post revealed that top administration officials had tried to solicit support from the Salvation Army by offering a firm commitment that any legislation would allow religious organizations to sidestep state and local anti-discrimination measures barring discriminatory hiring practices on the basis of sexual orientation. And Congress still hasn't developed a comprehensive faith-based legislative package.

On balance, however, the administration has achieved much more than people think. A White House-issued Press Release dated January 15 proudly pointed to seven "Milestones" in the life of the president's faith-based initiative -- from its launch in January 2001 through this month's $3.7 billion executive order. As originally conceived, Bush's faith-based initiative was to be the centerpiece of his administration's domestic agenda, spearheading the final attack on the New Deal and the War on Poverty, transferring a host of government programs from government agencies to the religious sector.

In August 2001, the administration laid the groundwork for doling out money to religious institutions by publishing a report entitled "Unlevel Playing Field," "documenting regulatory and administrative barriers that effectively discriminated against faith-based and community groups in the Federal grants process."

Sixteen months later Bush issued an executive order "directing agencies to take steps to ensure that all policies (including guidance, regulations, and internal agency procedures) are consistent with the 'equal treatment' principles."

During his 2003 State of the Union address, the president proposed an initiative aimed at mentoring children whose parents are in prison, along with a $600 million program "to help addicted Americans find needed treatment from the most effective programs, including faith-based institutions."

In September 2003, HUD received $8 billion for housing programs, and HHS nearly $20 billion for social service programs, a portion of which are competitive grants thus allowing religious institutions to bid to provide services.

The administration also discovered what it calls "religious hiring rights," another way of skirting anti-discrimination laws while and providing back door support for faith-based organizations.

In a position paper titled "Protecting the Civil Rights and Religious Liberty of Faith-Based Organizations: Why Religious Hiring Rights Must Be Preserved," Team Bush argued that religious organizations receiving government grants have the right to hire anyone they please. At least two pieces of legislation with "religious hiring rights" provisions were under consideration by Congress last year: "The School Readiness Act of 2003," H.R. 2210, allows religious organizations receiving government funds for providing Head Start services to discriminate in their hiring practices. That bill is now before the Senate Education Committee.

The $4 billion Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act -- passed by the full House on a party-line 220-204 vote -- also included a similar faith-based exemption. In November, the Senate passed a version that removed the employment-discrimination exemption; it is now being taken up by a House-Senate conference committee.

"Government should not fear faith-based programs. We ought to welcome faith-based programs and we ought to fund faith-based programs," Bush told parishioners at Union Bethel A.M.E. Church in mid-January. "Many of the problems that are facing our society are problems of the heart."

In his recent State of the Union address, the president rolled out another round of faith-based initiatives including encouraging "healthy marriages" among the poor, spending more on abstinence-only sex education for America's teens, and a faith-based release and reentry program for prisoners.

Brother Bush's Faith-based Prison

This past Christmas Eve, Florida Governor Jeb Bush presided over the opening of the nation's first full-fledged faith-based prison. The Governor participated in the dedication ceremonies -- featuring a Roman Catholic mass and speeches by Bush and several clergy members -- that officially opened the remodeled Lawtey Correctional Institute.

Sterling Ivey, spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections, noted that since "faith-based dorms" already exist in 10 Florida prisons, "operating an entire faith-based prison was the next logical step." The idea for an entire prison -- a medium-security facility designed to house 800 men -- devoted to faith-based programs came from state Corrections Secretary James V. Crosby, Ivey said.

The prison works with inmates convicted of felonies such as burglary, holdups, car thefts and assaults and eighty percent of them are within three years of release, Ivey said. Inmates represent at least 26 different religious faiths including Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, Rastafarians, adherents of American Indian beliefs, and Buddhists.

"This is not just fluffy policy. This is serious policy," Gov. Bush told the London Daily Telegraph.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State are taking the governor seriously. In mid-January, the watchdog group filed a freedom-of-information request with Florida's Department of Corrections to learn more about the program.

The recently passed Omnibus Spending Bill contains $100 million for the Access to Recovery drug treatment program announced in SOTU 2003, $50 million for the mentoring of the children of prisoners, and $48 million for the Compassion Capital Fund (CCF), the White House announced.

Seven federal agencies have established Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives including the Departments of Justice, Agriculture, Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and the Agency for International Development.

And the initiative is spreading to the states. By the end of January, Team Bush expects at least 20 governors will have faith-based offices or liaisons. In addition, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has opened a faith-based office, as have 180 mayors, including the mayors of Philadelphia, Miami, San Diego, and Denver.

BRAND NEW STORIES

Happy Holidays!