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Leading With The Left
The daily view from the oasis

August 30, 2002
Want to Stop a War?

Forget About Bush and Congress
(posted August 30 1 AM ET)

The grassroots anti-war movement is kicking into high gear. But is it headed in the right direction?

To be fair, anyone that gets off their ass and speaks out is a true patriot and should be applauded.

But before you speak out, take a moment and ask yourself: who is the best person to be speaking to?

As should be expected, American activists are focusing their efforts on the White House and members of Congress.

But if the Bush Inc. isn’t going to listen to Brent Scocrowft and James Baker, it isn't going to listen to anybody.

And while there is some skittishness within Congress, once Dubya requests a congressional resolution, there will not be enough politicians willing to risk their careers to successfully oppose it.

However, there is one person who is truly on the fence, a person that Bush desperately needs to carry out the war. And public pressure on him could make the difference.

That man is Tony Blair.

Dubya’s Iraq obsession is the worst thing to happen to Blair.

The polls across the pond show almost total opposition to an invasion, especially if Britain takes part. At the same time, Britain cherishes its extremely close relationship with the U.S.

Hence, Blair’s in a bit of a spot.

From the U.S. perspective, Bush needs Britain’s skilled soldiers to successfully execute a war. (The Brits currently share with us no-fly zone patrol duties in Iraq).

Plus, the political and diplomatic fallout that would happen if America’s closest ally left Dubya hanging would be brutal.

The pressure that Bush will exert on Blair will be enormous. But we can mitigate Bush’s pressure by exerting some of our own.

Here’s a suggested letter:

Dear Prime Minister Blair:

I know you will soon face an incredibly difficult decision whether or not to participate in an unprovoked invasion of Iraq. I write to you as an American to say you will be helping my country, and the world, by refusing to take part.

An unprovoked attack will lead to more anti-American sentiment and more terrorism. Furthermore, it will destabilize the Middle East region, potentially disrupting the oil supply and hurting the American, and global, economy.

The threat of Saddam Hussein must be removed. But the return of credible weapons inspectors to Iraq would achieve that goal without causing widespread death and destruction.

Unfortunately, my country is saddled with a President who was not elected by the people and is not responsive to the concerns of the people. My fellow Americans can only look to you as a voice of reason that can prevent a true catastrophe.

As an elected leader, I urge you to listen to your own people as well as the many Americans who know that unprovoked attacks can only do harm.

Thank you very much for your time.

You can contact Blair in these ways.

By mail:

The Rt. Hon Tony Blair MP
10 Downing Street
London, SW1

By fax:


And if you’re heading to a rally, direct your signs and banners to Blair as well. Pictures from these rallies are seen around the world. Your message can and will be heard.

Other anti-war resources:

The Nation’s “No Rush To War” page (lots of links)

MoveOn’s Anti-War Petition

Peace Action’s National Call-in Days (Sept. 9-10)

Calendar of Events from

When is it all going down?, a news site affiliated with the conservative/Moonie outfit The Washington Times, reported yesterday that the U.S. military told its Israeli counterpart that the war would start in late November.

While this is by no means a reliable news source, the timing makes sense in light of recent Bush Inc. actions.

The recent hot rhetoric from Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld is in sync with action happening fairly soon.

But it also had been reported earlier in the year that key congresspeople had been told by the Administration that no attack would happen before the 2002 elections.

How might this add up?

What has not been promised is when the White House would propose a congressional resolution.

What better way to put the squeeze on squeamish Democrats, particularly those up for re-election, by forcing them to vote on war in the midst of a campaign.

By pocketing a resolution in September or October, the Administration could then say to Iraq: you won’t where, you won’t know when.

Bush Inc. could still stick to its original promise to Congress, wait until after the election, then go at the end of November, giving them the entire winter -- the preferred season for war in the desert -- to take out Hussein.

That does not leave much time for us little folk to try to stop this crazy thing.

August 29, 2002
The Neocon Con

(posted August 29 12 AM ET)
(edited August 29 10 AM ET)

The folly of neoconservatism was exposed yesterday, when the NY Times reported that Dubya’s foray into school choice is a complete dud.

The education bill that Bush enacted in January didn’t support vouchers, but did allow students in failing schools to choose another school.

But even though 3.5 million kids can exercise the right this year, barely any tried to take advantage and, more importantly, even fewer slots were available.

This is a classic case of how “thinking out of the box” can think you right out of reality.

The neocon argument for school choice was that increased competition would magically make school administrators and teachers perform better. Extra resources needn’t be a concern.

While there are sincere school choice advocates out there, for many it was just an excuse not to spend taxpayer money on education, cleverly couched in populist rhetoric.

For example: “Why shouldn’t poor kids have the same choices as rich kids?”

Which is not exactly the right question. A better one is: “Why shouldn’t all kids have the same access to a good education?”

Choice always sounds great. But choice doesn’t equal access. You can have all the choice in the world, but if the openings aren’t available, it’s meaningless.

If limited school choice can’t work because the slots don’t exist, then there is no way expanded school choice funded by vouchers will go anywhere.

School choice is the kind of solution you get when you don’t bother to look at the real problems at hand, which in this case are:

-- Large class sizes
-- Difficulty recruiting good teachers because of low pay
-- Crumbling infrastructure
-- Lack of up-to-date textbooks and computers
-- Lack of parental involvement

The first four of those would be solved with more money, not with theories cooked up in think tanks. (The fifth is simply a hard problem not easily tacked by the government.)

If every school were given ample resources, then every kid would have access to a good education in their own neighborhood. And that’s what the goal is.

School choice is not the first neocon solution to be proven wrong. Less known is that welfare reform isn’t working either.

Almost every politician and reporter has blindly accepted that welfare reform is an unmitigated success, citing the huge drop in the number of people receiving benefits – also called the caseload.

What they have not reported is that two-thirds of the caseload decline is not the result of people escaping poverty.

In fact, most of those who have left the rolls are still poor enough to be eligible for welfare benefits.

All welfare reform has done is somehow make it harder for the poor to get the help the law says they deserve.

But no politician is proposing any research to figure out why this is so. They just go on repeating the mantra that welfare reform works.

That’s the best neocons can hope for: implementing unworkable policies and pretending that they work.

It makes you long for the old days, when conservatives just fought to protect the status quo and never bothered to think of creative policy solutions.

Before you know it, they are going to come up with something really nutty, like trying to overthrow a government with as few troops as possible.

August 28, 2002
Look Who Else Is Writing Op-Eds

Is Gore About To Make a Move?
(posted August 28 12:45 AM ET)

While Poppy Bush's pals have been shaking up the Iraq debate with op-eds, gone largely unnoticed is that prospective Gore Administration officials have been playing the same game.

The Gore team theme is not anti-war, but pro-multilateralism.

Yesterday, Gore's likely Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke expanded on a point made by James Baker, arguing for a UN authorization of force after giving no-holds-barred inspections one more shot.

And last Friday, Gore's longtime National Security Adviser Leon Fuerth went beyond Iraq and laid out the importance of global alliances in the long-term.

Fuerth noted that Dubya's "unilateralism, triumphalism, exceptionalism and -- often -- simple arrogance" is doing permanent damage to America's moral authority.

Neither of these pieces has made a big splash with the public, nor did they get much media attention following their publication.

But they are smart politics for 2004. If Gore takes it one step further.

The two pieces (particularly Fuerth’s) are thoughtful and nuanced, which is a nice way of saying they are over the heads of most people.

But the debate between unilateralism and multilateralism is becoming clearer to Americans as concerns about attacking Iraq heighten.

There is not only an opening, but a need, for a Democrat to make a crisp, layman’s case for multilateralism.

Of course, Democrats have been largely absent from the Iraq debate in recent days.

This may pain Sens. Joe Biden (D-DE) and John Kerry (D-MA) who were calling for a smarter Iraq strategy before the Bushies began fighting among themselves.

Yet the Democrats are not perceived as having a well-formed foreign policy, particularly when it comes to Iraq.

In part, this is the Democrats’ own fault, as strategists have openly said they prefer to fight the GOP on domestic issues.

Dem pollster Peter Hart spoke of the “push-pull of American politics…between patriotism and pocketbook.”

The implication being Dems will do better if the voters’ focus is pocketbook, not patriotism.

This myopic attitude leaves a wide opening for Gore to further solidify his position as the leader of the party.

Gore made a case for multilateralism earlier this year, staking out an early claim as a critic of Bush’s foreign policy.

But the time is now, while the debate is hot, while Democrats continue to grapple with the political implications, for Gore to make a high-profile foreign policy address aimed at the broad public.

The fact that two Gore aides published articles within a few days of each other suggests that Gore may be thinking along these lines already.

Let’s hope so, because Democrats need a leader, now.

August 27, 2002
Cheney's Own "Willful Blindness"

(posted August 27 1:30 AM ET)

"The debate in the Administration is over," said the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol yesterday following Dick Cheney's pro-war speech.

Kristol's right of course, which is too bad because Cheney's argument has a massive hole in it, a hole exposed by a current State Department official three years ago.

Cheney’s main point is that weapons inspections are futile, so "regime change" – boardroom speak for war – is necessary to eliminate the threat that Saddam Hussein poses. Said Cheney:

…Saddam Hussein had sought to frustrate and deceive [inspectors] at every turn, and was often successful in doing so.

I'll cite one instance. During the spring of 1995, the inspectors were actually on the verge of declaring that Saddam's programs to develop chemical weapons and longer-range ballistic missiles had been fully accounted for and shut down.

Then Saddam's son-in-law suddenly defected and began sharing information. Within days the inspectors were led to an Iraqi chicken farm.

Hidden there were boxes of documents and lots of evidence regarding Iraq's most secret weapons programs.

That should serve as a reminder to all that we often learned more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself…

…A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with U.N. resolutions. On the contrary, there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow "back in his box."

This is a completely twisted version of events.

Three years ago, Richard Haass – currently a high-level State Department official – explained why the opposite is true:

It gave UNSCOM [the U.N. weapons inspectors] a real lease on life.

See, before this defection, there were those who were saying, "There's no reason to do this. You're looking in dry holes," and the rest.

And when this came out, people who supported UNSCOM could go, "Look, we told you. More than ever, we now need an intrusive inspection regime. These guys will not fess up voluntarily."

So it actually became a very important legitimizing development for UNSCOM.

Cheney also said yesterday, “What we must not do in the face of a mortal threat is give in to wishful thinking or willful blindness.”

Yet it is Cheney and his posse that suffer from willful blindness, by refusing to acknowledge what weapons inspectors did accomplish and could accomplish.

As Scott Ritter, former U.N. weapons inspector, noted last week in an underreported news conference held by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH):

Iraq was fundamentally disarmed, qualitatively disarmed. As of December 1998, Iraq was incapable of producing weapons of mass destruction so long as weapons inspectors were present inside Iraq.

Unfortunately, we no longer have weapons inspectors in Iraq…because the United States ordered them out, and then the United States discredited the inspection program.

Ritter went further and offered a solution to break the stalemate between Iraq and the U.N. and, in turn, get inspectors back in:

We should take advantage, for instance, in Canada. … Alexa McDonough, who is a senior Canadian member of parliament, has come out and said Canada should put its credibility as a nation on the line and say, "We will serve as the honest broker, Canada will intervene, Canada will be the observer."...

…I think it would be great if the United States Congress could reach out to Canada and encourage Canada, or any other nation, to step forward and provide that extremely essential confidence-building mechanism that I believe has to exist if weapons inspectors are going to go back in.

Don’t expect Bush Inc. to embrace such a practical, bloodless solution. Because as Cheney’s speech clearly conveyed, their mind is made up.

August 26, 2002
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown

A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted August 25 11:30 PM ET)

The marquee matchup on Sunday was Rev. Al Sharpton vs. Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet The Press.

Liberals watching the interview may be very tempted to support Sharpton in his expected 2004 presidential run. He will likely offer the clearest progressive vision for the nation.

He aims to repeal the Bush tax cut, and smartly refused to take the GOP bait that doing so is a tax hike.

Instead, he framed it as a choice between a “tax break” for the rich and prescription drug benefits for “Grandma.”

He defines himself as “pro-labor,” and “anti-death penalty.” He backs gun registration and licensing as well as gay marriages.

He is flat-out against a pre-emptive strike on Iraq.

He even showed how deft a debater he is when Russert confronted him with a 20-year old videotape of him talking with a undercover agent about a drug deal.

Noting he was never charged with a crime, Sharpton turned it into a rationale for civil liberties and against unchecked power for the FBI.

But despite all of this, Sharpton should be rejected by the liberal community.

Put aside the charges of anti-Semitism. Even Ed Koch, the man who said Jews would have “to be crazy” to vote for Jesse Jackson, essentially gives Sharpton a pass on that.

(A full account of “Al Sharpton’s Jewish Problem” was in the Village Voice last year.)

Instead, focus on two facts:

1) Conservatives want Sharpton to run

They have said so openly, as in this Cal Thomas column.

The conservative NY Post went out of its way to spin Sharpton’s 5% showing among Dems in a recent poll as proof that he’s a major player in the party.

Never mind that the poll had a 5% margin of error.

Since he is prone to inflammatory statements -- to put it mildly -- he is easy to caricature as a buffoon.

In turn, the Right is eager for the opportunity to hang all of Sharpton’s negatives around the liberals’ collective neck.

2) He puts his own interests ahead of all else, including his own ideology

Note this report from

…in 1986, [Sharpton] endorsed conservative Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato over his liberal Democratic opponent, Mark Green.

Sharpton later acknowledged that the endorsement was a "quid pro quo" for a $500,000 federal anti-drug grant promised by D'Amato to a Brooklyn group headed by Sharpton's mentor.

That under-the-table deal shows he is not a loyal Democrat or a loyal liberal.

All Sharpton wants out of 2004 is be anointed as the pre-eminent national African-American leader, and shove Jesse Jackson off the stage.

And he doesn’t care if his candidacy disrupts the Democratic Party, leads to four more years of Dubya, and hurts the quality of life of African-Americans.

As The New Republic’s Peter Beinart said on CNN’s Late Edition yesterday, Al Sharpton has a wide opening to be the only national black leader, unless the candidacies of Carl McCall and Ron Kirk are successful.

Beinart touches upon a major weakness in the Democratic Party.

Without more high-profile, statewide elected African-American officials, it will be difficult to prevent selfish, destructive politicians like Sharpton from attaining too much power and influence.

For he may become the only game in town, and the Right will do everything it can to make his spotlight as bright as possible.

(August 26 12 PM ET -- Another take on the Sharpton interview from The New Republic.)

The Sandbox
Humor by John Cougarstein

Chung & Povich Busted in Kiddie Kidnap Ring

Connie Chung and Maury Povich were arrested today after 43 abducted children were found in the basement of their Manhattan townhouse.

According to FBI wiretap transcripts, Chung spoke of heading the kidnapping ring so she wouldn’t have to “spend my time on CNN, using big words, talking about boring issues and stuff.”

The plan was to release the children after a few days, so Povich could then corner the market on shows about reuniting parents and their missing kids.

“They’d get the ratings two ways,” said one federal investigator, “Connie on the front-end, Maury on the back.”

A lawyer for the two television personalities insisted that they were just taking care of the kids for America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh.

“Walsh approached them and said he had all these Cambodian refugees and he couldn’t fit them all in his place,” said attorney Franklin Jones. “They were just being courteous.”

When asked why none of the children appeared to be Cambodian, Jones said, “Are you saying that all Asians look alike? That’s an racist question.”

The children were found watching videotape loops of old “A Current Affair” programs. Upon their release, most appeared frightened, and several asked FBI agents if the “Preppie Murderer” was still on the loose.

For more Cougarstein, check out The Cougarstein Ramble and download Cougarstein songs at


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