Wisconsin surprise

Wisconsin produced some surprises with Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) coming in a close second to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), thanks to Edwards strong appeal to independents in the state’s open primary Feb. 17. Kerry will face a continued challenge that is likely to turn out record numbers of voters for the March 2 Super Tuesday primary in eight states.

So far the enthusiasm, and the underlying unity against the ultra-right displayed in the primaries, bodes well for the general elections in November.

Wisconsin was the end point for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who poured a lot into the state and came up with a third-place finish. While falling short of early expectations, Dean’s role in the primary should not be dismissed. He played a galvanizing role in this primary season, laying the basis for a voter movement to defeat Bush Nov. 2. He and his supporters used the Internet, phone banking, and “meet-ups” to pull millions, especially first-time voters, into the anti-Bush crusade. Dean’s early antiwar message helped to energize the more progressive segments of the electorate. He also spoke out against racism and urged multiracial unity. He garnered important labor and Democratic endorsements. All in all, the movement and message helped to push current frontrunners Kerry and Edwards to embrace a more combative, populist stance, exposing the bankrupt “Republican lite” policies of the more conservative Democratic Leadership Council.

After Iowa, the media gang-up with Dean’s speech, the governor’s own negative responses, and voters’ worry about “electability,” his campaign never recovered.

Some have voiced fears that Dean’s movement will fall apart, that his supporters will sit out the election. Our hunch is that the millions who poured into the Dean movement are in this fight until victory. It transcends any particular candidate. Many put it simply: “Anybody but Bush.”

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Bush’s Afghanistan

With 15 weeks until Afghanistan’s elections, only 8 percent of the nation’s 10.5 million eligible voters have registered and only 2 percent of eligible women. Even these voters are clustered in Kabul and a handful of other cities. The countryside is so dangerous it is impossible to venture out to register people.

The United Nations hopes to register millions but UN envoy Jean Arnault warns that it may be necessary to postpone the election.

Last week Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, convened a hearing on opium production in Afghanistan, pointing out that the narcotic is 50 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Afghanistan could become a “narco-terrrorist state,” he warned. It already supplies 70 percent of the world’s heroin, and last year, opium production doubled.

There is a mountain of evidence that the CIA trafficked in drugs – from opium during the Vietnam War to crack cocaine during former President Ronald Reagan’s “dirty war” in Central America. It would be foolish to expect the Bush-Cheney gang to eradicate the opium scourge and shepherd Afghanistan toward democracy. They have a class interest in perpetuating the trade.

The real hope lies in redoubling UN assistance, pulling U.S. troops out, and helping the Afghan people establish the infrastructure of a civil society in which the rights of labor, women and national minorities are protected. It means creating the wherewithal for Afghan farmers to grow urgently needed food and fiber. It means providing low interest loans to build factories, roads, schools, and hospitals. Money for rebuilding Afghanistan should be taken from U.S. corporate war profits and oil companies, like Unocal, which still seeks to build a pipeline there.

The war against Afghanistan has often been referred to as a dress rehearsal for Iraq. The current state of affairs in Afghanistan serves as a warning. The U.S. administration’s plans for supposedly “bringing democracy” to the region is nothing but a fig leaf for disaster.