Reality Check

As we head into the presidential primary season our heart is with Dennis Kucinich but our head tilts toward Howard Dean. Kucinich as the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Cacucus deserves serious consideration in his race for president but he has been relegated by the corporate media to the "B Team." The media elites also have taken aim at Dean but his insurgent Internet army has proven peskier than the Green Mountain Boys of old.

Unlike some of the other Democratic candidates who are taken seriously by the D.C. elite, Kucinich has a full platform of policies available for inspection at his website, www.kucinich.us. But in an interview with The Progressive Populist, Kucinich said he still believes the election will turn on his opposition to the war.

The war in Iraq trumps other economic issues, he said, because the US can't fund improvements in education, health care, housing and other programs as long as it continues spending $155 billion a year in Iraq. He would replace US troops there with UN peacekeepers. "Our troops could be home in 90 days," he said. He predicts his campaign "is going to start moving up very quickly as people see that this is the campaign that's going to help this country move in the direction of peace and prosperity." [See the full interview at www.populist.com/04.2.kucinich.html.]

Iowa is a fair test for Kucinich's strategy. There is as much suspicion in the Hawkeye State about the adventure in Iraq as there is anywhere in the country, so if Kucinich catches fire anywhere it will be in Iowa. The caucuses occur after this goes to press. If Kucinich pulls in 15% of the caucusgoers -- the threshold to obtain delegates -- then his campaign is for real. If he doesn't get there, it's time to consider other options. And it looks to us like Dr. Dean is the best option.

US Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa joined Al Gore and Bill Bradley in endorsing Dean because he thinks the doctor can win. "I love Dick Gephardt," Harkin told us. "I've worked with him for 25 years, but let's face it -- he isn't going to make it." After Iowa and the New Hampshire primary Harkin hopes Dean will lock up the nomination. Then Democrats can stop cutting each other up. "There's just too much at stake in this election," Harkin said. "We need to revitalize the party and we've got to broaden our base. We all talk about getting more small donations from individual donors, but Dean's actually done it."

Dean also has taken a populist line, if for no other reason than to steal the thunder from Kucinich, Gephardt and John Edwards. But he has expressed concern about the concentration of food production among a few corporations and he pledged to enforce antitrust laws. That would be a good first step. He also has called for more industry regulation and would appoint people to the Federal Communications Commission who would break up large media enterprises.

Dean is not the perfect candidate. He frustrated progressives in Vermont with his fiscal conservatism but he also expanded health care while balancing the budget. And he is willing to take on not only Bush but also the Democratic Leadership Council, which is dedicated to keeping the national Democratic Party dependent on Wall Street's largess. Dean is not overly impressed with Inside-the-Beltway resumés. That plays well in the hinterlands, and Eric Alterman wrote in the Jan. 12 Nation, "nobody in America poses a bigger threat to [Washington]'s sense of its own importance."

Dean has been pilloried for accurately observing that Saddam Hussein's capture left the US no safer than before. A Washington Post editorial termed the candidate's views to be "not just unfounded but ludicrous" and complained of his "departure from the Democratic mainstream." ABC's Sam Donaldson said Dean deserved the bad press he's been getting even though he was correct. "That one phrase, 'America is not safer because of Saddam's capture,' in context you know what he's saying, which is the war on terrorism is a wide-ranging war in the future and this will not really affect that," Donaldson said, "... but "it's just the wrong message."

The right-wing screech monkeys, as Randy Holhut calls them, even took to questioning Dean's sanity after Dean noted in a Dec. 1 interview with NPR's Diane Rehm that the White House is suppressing evidence from the commission chaired by Thomas Kean that is investigating the 9/11 terror attacks. Dean said he didn't know why the president was suppressing evidence, but added that he had heard reports that Bush was warned ahead of time by the Saudis.

"Now, who knows what the real situation is?" Dean said. "But the trouble is, by suppressing that kind of information, you lead to those kind of theories, whether or not they have any truth to them or not, and eventually, they get repeated as fact. So I think the president is taking a great risk by suppressing the key information that needs to go to the Kean Commission."

Only in Washington is it considered a gaffe to tell the truth.

But Dean keeps moving on. If he's angry, so are a lot of Democrats, and quite a few independents, and even a few Republicans who are uneasy with what Bush and Tom DeLay have done to their party and their nation. But while other liberals complain about the conservative control of the news media, Dean has bypassed the corporate media with his Internet corps.

So far Dean continues to lead the Democratic pack even as the corporate media, perhaps alarmed at his interest in restoring the Fairness Doctrine and public service obligations for broadcasters, smears him as they smeared Al Gore four years ago. But the people are increasingly tuning out the corporate press that painted Bush as a "compassionate conservative" in 2000 and who parroted the Bush administration's lies on Iraq. Let's hope Democrats keep their eyes on the prize.

Down with Cannibal Burgers

Is our cover story on Mad Cow Disease a little sensational? Perhaps. Should you be concerned about the threat of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, alias Mad Cow Disease? Certainly. Should you stop eating beef? Not necessarily, but a little caution is still in order.

The most surprising thing about the mad cow scare was that the USDA allowed meatpackers to process ailing "downer" cattle for human consumption -- and that "inspectors" tested only about 5% of those cows who were too feeble to walk into the killing pens. So it was just the luck of the draw that they tested the mad cow in Washington -- and later found out it had been imported from Canada. It used to be that downer cattle were destroyed and did not make it into the food chain. Now, even after the USDA hurried in new rules to prohibit downer meat from being used for human food, tainted meat is still allowed to be fed to hogs, chicken, other livestock and pets. Presumably this is because hogs and chickens don't usually live long enough to develop the brain-wasting disease, and we don't eat dogs and cats, but as Dr. Michael Greger writes in the cover story we know so little about how BSE is transmitted to other species that much more caution is warranted.

The best bet is to eat meat from cows raised on hay, grass and corn. If your grocer can't furnish naturally raised meat, stick to whole cuts "off the bone." Avoid meat mixed with nerve tissue, including marrow. It pains me to say that even T-bone steak is marginal. But a ground beef pattie can contain mixtures from up to 100 cows and the USDA found that in some meat-processing plants 35% of processed meat contained "unacceptable nervous tissues" -- the very parts that carry BSE, so buying ground beef from promiscuous meatpackers is a lottery.

Nothing can replace a good burger and fries -- not a chicken sandwich nor a "turkey burger," much less a "veggie burger" -- but until the meatpackers and their enablers at Congress and the USDA clean up their acts and make cattle vegetarians, it's better to stay away from those greasy classics unless you know their pedigree. The good news is local meat markets that deal with local organic ranchers can give you that assurance. -- JMC

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