October 31, 2005

Rich Republicans Vote Against Minimum Wage

Here is the vote in the Senate that defeated an increase in the minimum wage for America's working poor. The net combined wealth of all the Republicans in the Senate probably approaches that of some small countries, but they can't see their way to giving America's least a modest increase in their hourly wage. Where is the lightening that should be striking these people?

Rick Santorum voted for the minimum wage only because he is running for his life in his Senate race in Pennsylvania. The voters of Pennsylvania should awaken to this man's two-faced, unprincipled election-time self-serving vote. He has voted against minimum wage every time before this. But he swallowed his right-wing, anti-worker self-righteousness and voted for something he has never supported in the past. Pennsylvania deserves better.

The Two Sides of Bush's Mouth

Here he is talking out of one side of his mouth -- "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!"

Here he is talking out of the other

"We don't know the course of our own struggle, where it will take us or the sacrifices that might lie ahead."

"But we do know however that the defence of freedom is worth our sacrifice."

"We do know the love of freedom is the mightiest force of history and we do know the cause of freedom will once again prevail."

From his speech in Norfolk, Virginia, October 28, 2005

Most Americans wonder when this man will straighten his mouth out.

An Egyptian View of Baghdad and Iraq

Al-Ahram Weekly just published this view from Baghdad. We have created such a sad reality for Iraqis and ourselves. Here it is, reprinted in its entirety.

Baghdad: 2002-2005

In Baghdad for the first time after three years, Dina Ezzat finds an Arab capital consumed by ugly signs of American occupation

Under harsh and suffocating international sanctions, the echo of two draining wars -- with Iran and the US -- and the rule of Saddam Hussein, a dictator by all accounts, Baghdad in January 2002 came across as a sad if not miserable city. It was a city dotted with massive granite statues and huge portraits of Saddam that people looked at with quelled anger. It was, indeed, a city with unmistakable signs of poverty that is unbecoming of the wealth of Iraq.

However, unlike October 2005, in January 2002 when Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa arrived in Iraq on his successful mission of convincing Saddam to allow the return of international weapons inspectors, Baghdad was a city where foreign visitors, especially journalists and diplomats, could walk freely and go for late dinners by the riverside, provided they refrained from quizzing individuals about their views on Saddam or engaged in confrontations over security clearance measures with the Iraqi police.

In January 2002 -- 14 months before the US war on Iraq -- Baghdad was a city where people walked to markets and through streets without fear, even if they had to be careful of every word they said.

Almost four years later, in October 2005, Baghdad is not just a sad city ruled by the fear of a self-idolised dictator or beaten down by sanctions-brought poverty. It is a city crushed by the ugly signs of the American war and occupation that has turned a proud Arab capital into a stage for perpetual military operations that target both innocent Iraqis and US soldiers and that have driven the Baghdadis to either escape or hide. It is a city where journalists and diplomats are kidnapped -- if ever they go there. It is a city where fear and poverty have been coupled with anger at the US presence and the humiliation inflicted by way of the insensitivity shown by Americans to Iraqi social values.

The Green Zone, the fortified neighbourhood of the US- supported Iraqi government, the US Embassy and several American military bases, occupies a once-upon-a-time rich neighbourhood of Baghdad. "This has almost always been an off-limit neighbourhood. Under Saddam it was a zone cordoned off for his palaces, his children and his security personnel. Today, the Americans, and members of the new government who came with the Americans, are using this same neighbourhood to run the city," said an Iraqi driver whose name, like the rest of all other sources speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, is withheld for reasons of his safety. He added, "however, unlike Saddam neither the Americans nor the new government can really rule the city. They just rule parts of it; for example, the Americans cannot get anywhere near the militant Sunni-controlled neighbourhood -- they fear to be shot down by militants."

Few others go to these areas either. An Egyptian journalist posted in Baghdad since the early weeks following the fall of the city to the US invasion on 9 April 2003 argues, "the war is still ongoing somehow, but it has become a war that people co-exist with." According to this journalist the direct confrontation between Americans and Iraqis have receded a great deal, but the "battles still happen". They are, he said, not necessarily military battles. At times they are just battles of daring to kill. "It has become very common that when American soldiers try to stop an Iraqi driver in a rude fashion, some drivers would deliberately ignore the aggressive instructions. They would drive on only to be stopped after their bodies and cars are cut into small pieces by the volley of bullets coming out of the lethal weapons carried by American soldiers." The American soldiers, he added, have become very frustrated and exhausted by their long and seemingly unending stay in Iraq. "They feel desperate and threatened by the attack of fearless Iraqi militants. They see a potential attack in every defying or inattentive speeding car. Their instant reaction has become one of shoot-to-kill."

This is a story that several Iraqis who spoke to the Weekly during the heavily secured visit of Moussa to Baghdad on Thursday, Friday and Saturday confirmed.
"I lost three friends to the bullets of fearful American soldiers who use their lethal weapons far too often," said one Iraqi diplomat. The three friends of this Iraqi diplomat did not die alone. One died with his pregnant wife as he was rushing her to the hospital to deliver their first baby. "And the baby was not saved. Of course he was blown into pieces in his mother's womb." The other died with a group of friends and the third died with a brother-in-law on their way back from a family dinner. "It is insane. Those who died were not militants. They were civil servants who just hoped to lead a normal life and who had no intention of attacking anyone. They did that under the rule of Saddam and thought they could continue to do so under the US occupation."
Despite his severe words of criticism of Saddam, this diplomat, who was recruited after Saddam was toppled, said he was not sure if toppling Saddam was the best thing that happened to his country. "He was certainly a brutal dictator. He would kill anybody who disagrees with him or who dared challenge him," he stated. He added that when Moussa visited Baghdad in 2002 to talk to Saddam, many Iraqis secretly hoped that the senior Arab official would convince the dictator-president to step down, even though they knew it was impossible. "But today I am not sure if things are really better without Saddam. They might be better in some aspects, especially for the Shias and Kurds who were persecuted by Saddam, but I am not sure about the entire country." According to this diplomat who lives in Baghdad, security has become very unpredictable. "Things might seem calm on the surface but all of a sudden there is a big explosion and so many people die."

Women are particular targets, this diplomat added. Under Saddam, he admitted, some families feared for their beautiful daughters or sisters; you might have been afraid that she would be kidnapped and raped by some of Saddam's thugs who used to frequent girls schools to pick their victims. "But today the threat is much wider. Women have now to cover their hair for fear of being targeted by radical militants who also have forced almost all women hairdressers to close down their businesses. They have to be escorted on every errand they run if they are going out after sunset."

The risk is so high in some parts of Baghdad that some families have prevented their daughters from going to school at all. "I asked my sisters to study at home and to only go to school to sit for the exams. And when it is exam time, an armed group of friends and I accompany them to secure the school while they take their exams. This would never have happened under Saddam," said an Iraqi escort.

And it is not just women who are subject to excessive threats. Today, doctors too are prime targets in Baghdad. One physician told the Weekly that since the beginning of the US invasion 30 doctor friends had died in unexplainable circumstances. They would just be shot at the entrance of their houses, in their cars or near universities. "Some of our best doctors are killed and many others have fled to Jordan. Now if someone wants to get good medical attention from their Iraqi doctors they need to go to their new clinics in the Jordanian capital, Amman," one Iraqi doctor said.

This doctor added that under Saddam if one stayed away from politics one had a good chance of being spared from the dictator's wrath, but today "one has to be willing to approve of everything the Americans want to do to the country so as to be spared." This physician added that doctors of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds were targeted; and so were scientists especially physicists and chemists. The same goes for industrial engineers. "The Americans want to deprive Iraq of its wealth of scientists; they want to liquidate the one good thing that Saddam has done: his investment in high-calibre human resources."

Other Iraqis who spoke to the Weekly in Baghdad this week recalled similar stories of American attempts to deprive Iraq of its scientific minds and wealth. They offered accounts of schools of physics and chemistry being robbed of their rare books and expensive laboratory equipment. Others said that entire schools of science were burnt down and rebuilt with elegant interiors but without sophisticated laboratories. There were also stories of factories dismantled or burnt down. Members of the Iraqi government say these stories are exaggerated but they do not say they are completely false.

Protection for the few remaining high-calibre Iraqi physicians and scientists is one thing that some Iraqis hoped the reconciliation conference proposed by Arab League Secretary- General Moussa during his visit to Iraq this week would address. Otherwise, there are serious fears that more will either flee the country or be liquidated.

According to the assessment of the few Baghdad residents open to speaking to the Weekly, it is not just physicians and scientists who have been escaping the Iraqi capital. "All those who have the means are out of the country. They went to Syria and Jordan or to Europe. Some even went to relatives who have been in the US, to escape the rule and wrath of Saddam," said one Iraqi security officer. He added that those with limited financial resources have tried to go to relatives living in other parts of the country. "I do not have accurate figures, but I can safely say that the volume of the inhabitants of Baghdad has dramatically decreased during the past three years." Numerous signs of "For rent or sale" which can be spotted on the fa├žades of houses along every single street that the motorcade of Moussa cut through were testimony enough of the veracity of such assessments.

"When the war started there was heavy bombardment. We stuck to the city hoping that once the war was over things would somehow get better. Today, the war does not seem to be really coming to an end, and our capital is terrifying, even if it might seem safe at times," the Iraqi security officer lamented. This security officer does not reveal the nature of his job to his neighbours. "I tell them I am trading with exported goods. If it is known that I am a security officer I could be killed by militants or my family targeted."

While his work is by mandate coordinated with and linked to the US forces in Baghdad, this officer and many of his colleagues dislike, or simply hate, the Americans. "I hated Saddam but I hate the Americans more," said one member of the Iraqi Special Forces. "Our government say they are not occupation forces but I am telling you -- and I know because I work with them -- that they act like true occupation forces and everything they say about preparing the Iraqi army and police to replace them is simply dishonest; they are so weak, so they want to hide behind us, but they do not want to go. They are just afraid. At least Saddam was a man and he was never afraid of anyone -- not even the Americans."

This and other officers who spoke to the Weekly complained that the US soldiers use advanced weapons to which Iraqis have no access. "They treat us like a second class and our government tolerates this. This explains why there are so many militant groups who fight the Americans." The battle waged from the other side requires collecting and providing information to US generals in Iraq about potential Iraqi targets. This is something that many Iraqi officers, according to those who spoke to the Weekly, find morally wrong -- or at least perplexing.
"I do not provide information, arrest or kill any Iraqi except if I know for fact that he is a thug. There are thugs who make a living off kidnapping and killing people on behalf of foreign countries," one officer said. This officer, who is in his early 20s, is not hopeful that the Americans will get out of Iraq even before he turns 70. "They are here to control the oil, water resources and the people. They will never get out," he said.

Blaming Saddam for the sad destiny of his capital and, as he said, of himself, is what this officer does. "Saddam was fooled by Donald Rumsfeld to get into a war with Iran that took eight years and drained so many of our resources that we could not complete building an underground metro that he initiated in 1980. He was then fooled by the American ambassador to invade Kuwait. Once he was of no use to the Americans he was toppled and they came to occupy the country. But it is us, Iraqis, who have been losing all along."

Like other Iraqis speaking to the Weekly in Baghdad, this 24-year-old said he did not know what to feel when he saw Saddam addressing the prosecuting judge on TV on the opening day of the war crimes trial last week. "I know that he did horrible things. I know that he killed so many Kurds. I know that he was mad and evil. However, I believe that despite all the horrible things about Saddam he was the lesser of two evils compared to the Americans."

He added, "the American officers tell us that had it not been for them we would never have gotten rid of Saddam. This is probably true. But now how will we get rid of the Americans?"

© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

October 30, 2005

Sistani Fatwa Against USA?

If suspicion becomes reality in Iraq, and the Grand Ayatollah Sistani issues a fatwa (a religious edict) that the United States must leave Iraq, then Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush will have no choice but to bring American troops home, concludes Juan Cole at Informed Comment.

It is worth visiting the website of the Grand Ayatollah Sistani to gain some insight into how he might interpret the new Constitution and laws promulgated by the new Iraqi legislative process.

Here are some particularly interesting Sistani answers (istifta) to questions posed to him by Muslim believers.

-- Playing chess is a means for debauchery. It is forbidden, and although the reason why it is forbidden is not known, it is still forbidden;

-- Having cat's hair on your clothing while praying is okay;

-- Here's a question and answer regarding the veil for women:

Question : What are the minimum requirements of Hijab (Islamic modest dress) for a Muslim woman?
Answer : Woman should conceal her body and hair from a man who is non-Mahram [non-family], and as an obligatory precaution, she should conceal herself even from a Na-baligh [prebuscent] boy who is able to discern between good and evil, and could probably be sexually excited. But she can leave her face and hands upto wrists uncovered in the presence of Na-Mahram [non-family], as long as it does not lead him to casting a sinful, evil glance or her to doing something forbidden; for in both these cases, she must cover them.

I wonder who decides whether "he" is casting a sinful, evil glance?

-- Oral sex is okay, but not swallowing (which, of course, is biologically and physically impossible), and, by the way, having sex in front of a mirror is okay;

-- Women's menstruation gets a number of questions with Sistani's answers;

-- Masturbation is out (although it doesn't even seem to be a consideration for women);

-- Abortion is not permitted;

-- Adultery (zina) only occurs when there is penetration (Bill Clinton take note);

-- "...if a boy of ten years of age divorces his wife, precaution must be exercised; (hmmm)

-- "Temporary marriage" , even for the purpose of getting it on and even if you are already married, is apparently acceptable as long as all the males in the family agree;

-- After the age of two, the right of custody of children becomes solely that of the father.


It's going to be interesting to see how much impact Sistani will have on the new government of Iraq, its legislative process and its judicial process as well. As these bodies issue rules, regulations and pass laws, just how big an impact will Sistani and other religious rulers like Muqtada al-Sadr have?

Certainly, if they decide the time has come for the US to leave Iraq, we will have no choice.

What Started It All

If you haven't read the Bob Novak column that outed Valerie Plame as a covert operative of the CIA, here it is.

Or read it here:

WASHINGTON -- The CIA's decision to send retired diplomat Joseph C. Wilson to Africa in February 2002 to investigate possible Iraqi purchases of uranium was made routinely at a low level without Director George Tenet's knowledge. Remarkably, this produced a political firestorm that has not yet subsided.
Wilson's report that an Iraqi purchase of uranium yellowcake from Niger was highly unlikely was regarded by the CIA as less than definitive, and it is doubtful Tenet ever saw it. Certainly, President Bush did not, prior to his 2003 State of the Union address, when he attributed reports of attempted uranium purchases to the British government. That the British relied on forged documents made Wilson's mission, nearly a year earlier, the basis of furious Democratic accusations of burying intelligence though the report was forgotten by the time the president spoke.
Reluctance at the White House to admit a mistake has led Democrats ever closer to saying the president lied the country into war. Even after a belated admission of error last Monday, finger-pointing between Bush administration agencies continued. Messages between Washington and the presidential entourage traveling in Africa hashed over the mission to Niger.
Wilson's mission was created after an early 2002 report by the Italian intelligence service about attempted uranium purchases from Niger, derived from forged documents prepared by what the CIA calls a "con man." This misinformation, peddled by Italian journalists, spread through the U.S. government. The White House, State Department and Pentagon, and not just Vice President Dick Cheney, asked the CIA to look into it.
That's where Joe Wilson came in. His first public notice had come in 1991 after 15 years as a Foreign Service officer when, as U.S. charge in Baghdad, he risked his life to shelter in the embassy some 800 Americans from Saddam Hussein's wrath. My partner Rowland Evans reported from the Iraqi capital in our column that Wilson showed "the stuff of heroism." President George H.W. Bush the next year named him ambassador to Gabon, and President Bill Clinton put him in charge of African affairs at the National Security Council until his retirement in 1998.
Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. "I will not answer any question about my wife," Wilson told me.
After eight days in the Niger capital of Niamey (where he once served), Wilson made an oral report in Langley that an Iraqi uranium purchase was "highly unlikely," though he also mentioned in passing that a 1988 Iraqi delegation tried to establish commercial contacts. CIA officials did not regard Wilson's intelligence as definitive, being based primarily on what the Niger officials told him and probably would have claimed under any circumstances. The CIA report of Wilson's briefing remains classified.
All this was forgotten until reporter Walter Pincus revealed in the Washington Post June 12 that an unnamed retired diplomat had given the CIA a negative report. Not until Wilson went public on July 6, however, did his finding ignite the firestorm.
During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Wilson had taken a measured public position -- viewing weapons of mass destruction as a danger but considering military action as a last resort. He has seemed much more critical of the administration since revealing his role in Niger. In the Washington Post July 6, he talked about the Bush team "misrepresenting the facts," asking: "What else are they lying about?"
After the White House admitted error, Wilson declined all television and radio interviews. "The story was never me," he told me, "it was always the statement in (Bush's) speech." The story, actually, is whether the administration deliberately ignored Wilson's advice, and that requires scrutinizing the CIA summary of what their envoy reported. The Agency never before has declassified that kind of information, but the White House would like it to do just that now -- in its and in the public's interest.

Robert Novak is a television personality and a columnist who writes Inside Report.

Bush Got Speechifying

There are rumors that George Bush is getting pretty short with people in the White House, yelling and slamming doors kinds of things. His words are getting pretty short, too. Witness his recent statement about Libby's indictment. Someone needs to remind him about the word "have."

"I got a job to do, and so do the people who work in the White House. We got a job to protect the American people, and that's what we'll continue working hard to do. "

If nothing else, Bush got short words and he got short ideas. And that's that.

October 29, 2005

The Libby Indictment: Why Did He Lie?

At risk of repeating what others are saying, as well as contributing more words to what is already an avalanche, I feel compelled to make some observations about the Libby indictment.

I wasn't able to watch the entire Fitzgerald press conference yesterday and I have not been able to slice and dice the indictment and accompanying documents like others have, but I think it is fair to say that Fitzgerald's investigation has essentially exposed a White House that was hell-bent on revenge against Ambassador Joe Wilson for having brought them what they did not want to hear about his investigation into the Iraqis and uranium in Niger.

Here was a career diplomat, along with a wife who was a covert operative for America's leading intelligence organization, both ostensibly good Americans serving their countries, no less than any soldier on the battlefield. Ironically, Wilson had actually contributed $1000 to the Bush campaign for the presidency in 2000.

Fitzgerald has been able to demonstrate that various White House officials, including Libby, disclosed the fact that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. What he apparently hasn't been able to prove is that anyone did so knowingly and with the intent of outing a covert agent. Prosecuting under the statute is almost impossible.

What he claims he has proven is that Lewis Libby, in the process of this investigation, lied to federal agents and to the grand jury, and that is why he indicted him.

But the question remains: if Libby did nothing wrong, why did he lie? What was his motivation?

I heard one Fox News analyst state, matter of factly, in answer to the question of why did Libby lie: "Because he knew he could," as if that silly notion explains anything.

Libby had to have lied because he needed to cover for someone else. He did not lie because he could, or because he had contempt for the investigation, or because he was stupid.

He probably lied because he was a witness to the knowing and direct exposure of a CIA agent to a member of the press. At a private lunch, perhaps, he and Cheney and Novak were all flexing their muscles about Iraq, and expressing their irritation that this guy Wilson was not part of the Bush/Cheney team, and oh, by the way, the bastard's wife is a CIA covert agent and wouldn't that just serve him right if that came out! I doubt Bush was directly involved, but it certainly would be something he might have condoned, perhaps he even knew it was going to happen.

I like to fantasize these White House meetings and conversations because, if they actually occured, they would be so human, so possible, so predictable, and so unsurprising. It is exactly the way I imagine these three men do business.

So when Libby was asked about all this stuff, he had to shuffle the deck in a way that deflected any suspicion from his boss. He knew he might have to fall on his sword, but I think they all are convinced that the price Libby will ultimately have to pay in terms of a criminal sentence, after he plea-bargains (this will NOT come to trial), will amount to something along the lines of house detention.

In good loyal fashion, Libby probably even volunteered to do it.

October 28, 2005

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize -- The O'Connor Seat

I find it interesting how the dominant, radical right segment of the Republican Party, along with their American Taliban religious allies, can defend Bush's integrity and honesty when it comes to the invasion of Iraq, but when he says "trust me" about his nomination of Harriet Miers, they all believe he is lying or they simply don't trust him. Their attacks on Ms. Miers (and on Bush himself) have resulted in what they wanted - Miers withdrawal.

If I was a conspiracy theorist, I might conclude that this is exactly what Bush and his aides planned all along. Here's how it goes:

Bush and a small cadre of his closest advisors are all sitting around having ginger ale, talking about how they can get someone on the Supreme Court who will legislate their corporate, and religious, agenda on the Court. "Let's sacrifice a woman. Let's find someone that the religious right will oppose, the radical conservatives in the Senate and House will oppose, and, of course, the Democrats will oppose. A woman who has absolutely no judicial record or experience at all would fit the bill. Hmmmm Hey, let's nominate Harriet!! When she goes down in flames, we can say we tried with a woman, a woman we believe would not legislate from the bench, and we gave it our best shot. Then we can nominate a dyed-in-the-wool believer who will kick ass up there. We'll appeal to the American people when the Democrats try to stop the nomination. We have to replace O'Connor with a known quantity and someone who will support us."

Of course, this is all fantasy, and perhaps it gives too much credit to the Bush gang for some brilliant Machiavellian thinking. But it's really hard to imagine why Bush nominated Miers in the first place without knowing that there would be such a huge backlash within his own party. If the Bush team really did not see this coming, then perhaps they really are as utterly incompetent and oblivious as many people have suspected they are.

Either way, we are now faced with the prospect of a seriously conservative jurist being nominated, someone clearly to the right of John Roberts. The O'Connor seat has been the swing seat. Come hell or high water, Bush wants that seat to swing his way all the time.

46% of Wal-Mart Children Uninsured

The New York Times has obtained an internal Wal-Mart memo that reveals that while Wall-Mart had $10.5 billion in profits last year, it is trying to squeeze another $1 billion in savings in health care and other costs from its "associates," the clever Newspeak term used by Wal-Mart to label its employees.

Instead of using the word "employee," which makes clear the relationship between the owner and the worker, Wal-Mart uses the term "associate" which implies, according to dictionary definitions, a "partnership," "having equal or nearly equal status," even a "colleague." Of course, Wal-Mart employees are none of these things. If associates are partners or colleagues, then why are 46% of associates' children uninsured?

The momorandum admits that 38% of Wal-Mart's "associates" spent one-sixth of their income last year on health care. To understand the impact of that fact, consider that the average pay for a Wal-Mart associate is $17,500 per year.

Enough is not enough when it comes to profits for Wal-Mart. In contradiction to its huge advertising and public relations campaign to sell Wal-Mart as a company that cares about its employees and "community," this memorandum, while it does admit certain inadequacies in its policies which could be redressed, concentrates heavily on ways to cut costs and obtain increased savings.

October 27, 2005

New Biomedical Agency to Be Ultra-Secret

The United States Senate is moving a bill through its legislative process that would create a new government agency, specifically S. 1873 would "prepare and strengthen the biodefenses of the United States against deliberate, accidental, and natural outbreaks of illness."

The new agency, Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA), would be categorically exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), according to the Federation of American Scientists, from which most of this report was taken.

The Federation of American Scientists reports: Ordinary FOIA exemptions place specific categories of information beyond the reach of FOIA. But the audacious new BARDA exemption would nullify the applicability of the FOIA to an entire agency.

"Information that relates to the activities, working groups, and advisory boards of the BARDA shall not be subject to disclosure under section 552 of title 5, United States Code [i.e. the FOIA], unless the Secretary or Director determines that such disclosure would pose no threat to national security," the bill states. And it says that such a determination by the Secretary or Director will not be subject to judicial review, which means that no one will be able to challenge such a decision in court.

"Even intelligence agencies and the Defense Department do not have blanket exemptions from FOIA," noted Nick Schwellenbach of the Project on Government Oversight.

"Secrecy is inappropriate when developing [drugs and other] countermeasures for natural infectious disease," wrote Alan Pearson and Lynn Klotz of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in a letter to Senators.

Why the need for total secrecy? While it is understandable that certain biomedical countermeasure efforts to defend the American people from biomedical terrorist weapons would need to be kept secret, what would be the necessity, for instance, of keeping secret what our experts are doing to prevent or curtail "natural outbreaks of illness?" Does it mean that if we found a vaccine to prevent a human variant of Avian flu, we'd keep that a secret?

Secrecy is a necessary evil in a free society, up to a point. This legislation, sponsored by among others, Republican Majority Leader Senator Doctor Bill Frist, would set an extremely bad precedent in the world of government secrecy classifications. It deserves a resounding "no" vote when it comes to the Senate floor.

October 26, 2005

The Language of Blogging -- Emulate Rosa Parks, Not Ann Coulter

While perusing the world of blogs this morning, I encountered a piece on Think Progress that caught my eye. I read it and then followed it to the comments section. I was struck by the number of times expletives were used by bloggers in the comments section.

It's not something new. I have read blogging comments and blogs themselves, all over the internet, that are replete with profanities. What I usually do when I encounter them in a blog or a comment is stop reading.

I am not some shrinking violet who is offended by such words -- I have been known to use a good curseword now and then (he said modestly). But, if I admit it, they do me more good than anyone else. It may be emotionally satisfying to hurl a profanity against Dick Cheney every now and then (he certainly felt free, himself, to hurl one against Senator Patrick Leahy), but it doesn't help me understand what specific criticism the person is making about Cheney, and it certainly doesn't enthuse or mobilize me against Cheney in any meaningful way.

While I can't stand Tucker Carlson, and while I abhor the Republican Right, I am not pleased to see progressives referring to them as "Republicunts." It attaches a certain feminine characteristic to a political party that is anything but feminine or femininist, it uses a demeaning word most commonly associated with soldiers in barracks, high school boys in locker rooms, and misogynists who are threatened by women. Using words like this in our written or spoken attacks and criticisms of the Bush regime and its corporate and Christian allies diminishes our position, rather than enhances it. If we can't show their lies, their miscreant behavior, their greed and corruption in language other than this, we'll never be taken seriously.

I'm sure the person who used the cute trick of "Fucker" Carlson felt clever, but it interfered with his point, if he had one. What does that mean anyway? Does it mean that he copulates? We all do. Copulation is a good thing. For that matter, cunts are a good thing. Why is it that we use the language of sex, something most humans love, to attack and demean other people? It is ineffective and puerile, quite frankly.

Listen, the more we undermine these people on the issues, rather than attack them in emotional tirades, the more effect we will have. The more we reveal their misdeeds and lies in clear straightforward language, backed up by evidence and facts, the more we will change people's minds and the more change we can create in America.

If you think about all the most successful non-violent revolutions, they were led by people who stood on their principles and spoke truth. Can you imagine Susan B. Anthony, or Ghandi, or Nelson Mandela, or Rosa Parks, or Martin Luther King Jr. speaking words like this today? Let's emulate them and speak truth to these liars and thieves. People will listen to that.

October 25, 2005

Health Insurance as "Moral Hazard"

In what is probably the most cogent analysis of our health care system I have ever read, Malcolm Gladwell explains the "moral hazard" element used by health care economists to oppose universal health care insurance or a national health care plan. It is a piece from the August 29, 2005 issue of The New Yorker.

If you have ever wanted to understand the dilemma America faces with respect to our health care system, read this essay. I can't stress enough how important this piece is. It also happens to contain some of the most stunning facts about our health care system you will read anywhere, as well as some of the most disturbing comparisons of our system with the rest of industrialized world.

Get a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine, find a quiet place, and read it.

Many thanks to Hume's Ghost for recommending it.

WalMart's Three Card Monty

WalMart has announced two new health insurance plans for its employees. Dan Fogleman, a spokesman for WalMart, said that the company was "listening" to its "associates," not to public criticism of its policies. I would imagine if each associate were asked what kind of insurance coverage they would want from WalMart, each one would say "more" -- certainly, alot more than they are getting.

At a time when corporations across the country are cutting employee benefits, not increasing them, when companies are cutting health care benefits, cutting pensions, and pressuring employees to work more overtime with less pay, it stretches the bounds of credulity to believe that WalMart is really taking a big charitable hit to its profits by offering some new generous health insurance package to its employees. In fact, it isn't.

Here's the analysis from Wake-Up Walmart:

Last year, WalMart had two major health care plan options:

1) the Standard plan and;
2) the Network plan.

Each of those plans has 4 options within them: 1) a $350 deductible; 2) a $500 deductible; 3) a $750 deductible; and, 4) a $1,000 deductible.

This year, WalMart is introducing two additional options:
1) a so-called Value plan, and;
2) Health Savings Accounts (HSA’s).

Since the HSA’s are only available to employees who have already been enrolled in a WalMart health care plan for one year, the HSA’s are not designed to, nor will the HSA’s, increase health care coverage for anyone.

Therefore, the only plan that has the potential to increase the abysmal fact that WalMart only provides health insurance coverage to 48% of its employees is the Value plan. The Value plan, however, comes with a $1,000 deductible. In addition, the Value plan has additional deductibles for in-hospital care, prescription drugs and surgical care. All told, the Value plan’s deductibles plus premiums could be as much as 25% of an employee’s take-home pay for individual coverage and up to 40% for family coverage. Even more disturbing is the fact that the Value plan is almost identical, if not worse, than the $1,000 deductible versions of the existing Standard and Network plans already offered to Wal-Mart employees.

WalMart’s business model has already paved the way for other corporations to try and reduce their health benefits to employees. Currently, the average company with 200 or more employees has 67% of its workers covered under the company health care plan, WalMart is well below that average with only 48% of its employees covered under the company health care plan.
“WalMart’s so-called Value health care plan offers nothing but an empty promise of higher deductibles that remain unaffordable and out-of-reach to most WalMart workers. With WalMart’s poverty-level wages, the average worker would have to spend up to 40% of their take-home pay to purchase the family option of this so-called Value plan. No wonder WalMart admits the taxpayer-funded public safety net is often a ‘better value’ than their own inadequate health care plan.”

It's pretty disingenuous of WalMart to say it is listening to its employees when what it is offering doesn't even come close to what they want, much less what they need. It's just another example of how working Americans come out at the bottom when corporations shuffle the deck. The corporate aristocracy gets dealt all the aces -- over-paid, over-perked, and over-spoiled. The working class gets the three-card monty.

October 24, 2005

Iraqi Vox Populi

The British Ministry of Defence conducted a secret poll in Iraq and here are the results as reported by the Sunday Telegraph and as summarized by Juan Cole:

• Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;
• 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;
• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;
• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;
• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;
• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.

If 100% of the people of Iraq said they wanted us out, Bush would still stay, for reasons having nothing to do with terrorism and insurgents -- oil; strategic position vis a vis the Saudis, Iranians, Syrianjs and Russians; and personal pride .

In a related story, the Sunday Times of Britain reports that a British army colonel did something so rare in the military that it is particularly noteworthy -- he quit his position in protest of the lack of armor for his men. The accompanying story details the increased danger that British troops are facing in the south, and describes areas those troops never patrol.

One senior British source said that British troops were now using tanks or convoys of up to 12 Warrior armoured vehicles to mount patrols with some areas deemed too dangerous to be patrolled at all.

“We’re in survival mode right now, we can’t do anything at all,” he said.

October 22, 2005

Bush Hypocrisy

Syria is suspected of having been behind the assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister, and George Bush wants the United Nations to get the guns out and punish Syria.

But when the United Nations did not support Bush's invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, he basically told it to go fly a kite.

His selective use of the United Nations, only when it suits his own personal ambitions, is the height of hypocrisy.


For two hours yesterday afternoon, CNN, Fox and MSNBC focused exclusively on one story. I know, I watched it.

I came home to fix myself some lunch and thought I would check on Hurricane Wilma and I got caught up in the story which was unfolding on all three of these 24-hour news channels.

Here's what happened. Two men apparently approached Capitol Police and said some suspicious sounding things about something in their car. It was a Florida rental that was parked near Capitol Hill. The bomb squad went into immediate action and there was a lockdown of the entire area. For the next two hours or so, all three of these news networks concentrated their entire coverage to this unfolding story. It was spellbinding, for them at least.

I admit I fantasized about bombs. I even fantasized about a nuclear suitcase bomb in the trunk, boobytrapped so that when the bomb squad went to check the car, it would go off and the screen would go blank.

All the talking heads were chattering non-stop with "experts" they must have on such immediate call that they were all available on a moment's notice. Cameras zoomed in and out, focusing on the car, but excited every time a bomb squad member would appear on screen. A pretty blond Capitol Police spokeswoman would appear occasionally and provide updates about the process and procedure that was being followed.

It was decided that the police would use a disrupting technique that would employ some kind of pressurized water cannon to "interfere" with the suspicious package and its contents.

Like some mind-numbed automaton, I followed this while I ate, not able to take my eyes off the screen for fear of missing something.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, they set the thing off and nothing happened. It blew the back door of the car open but there was no explosion. Apparently, there was nothing. I turned the TV off, unsatisfied, embarrassed of sorts, and went back to my office.

Curious, this morning, I checked the front pages of the news websites for MSNBC, Fox, and CNN to see what the result was of my two hours spent with them yesterday.

On Fox, it can be found by scrolling down on the front page, and is headlined "Bomb Scare in D.C." I finally found a short story on MSNBC after clicking on US News, then looking under U.S. Security. On CNN, same thing, click on US and then you'll find a short story.

But in contrast to yesterday's actual coverage, these stories don't even come close to conveying the excitement and tension of those two hours -- "BREAKING NEWS" screaming at me from every channel. Everything else was pushed aside yesterday, all resources were devoted to covering and explaining what was happening with that car --who knows how much money it cost them all.

Each network left me breathless, a cliffhanger before each advertising break (you don't think they skipped those, do you?). But then, unlike fictional cliffhangers, when you were returned to the BREAKING NEWS, nothing had happened. There was this constant ebb and flow of tension, unrelieved by anything actually happening. You could also see the competitiveness of each network, working hard to get the best camera angle, the best expert analysis, the best "inside" information from the bomb squad.

I wonder if, in hindsight, they are as embarrassed about their coverage as I am about having watched it. What other stories might they have broken away to cover while they continue to monitor the car?

I wonder how many Iraqi men, women and children were killed during those two hours; how many more Americans lost jobs during those two hours; how many more square miles of Brazilian rainforest were cut down; how many more American children went hungry; how many more AIDS victims died because they could not afford the drugs that could keep them alive: how many more American cigarettes were sold to the Chinese people; how many more CEO's got raises while their companies were tanking.

Just how much other, more important news could have been covered during that time?

I am not contending that the DC police should not have taken the steps they did. And I am not contending that the networks should not have covered it. What I am saying is that it was way over the top, that the networks could have been more sober about their coverage, they could have tempered it, and they could have covered other news while they continued to monitor this story.

But what happened is a sign of the time, it's a reflection of the race for ratings. It's coverage for the lowest common denominator -- advertising income. Essentially, it boils down to this: how can you take the excitement and tension of a TV show like 24 and bring that to TV News?

Yesterday's coverage of this bomb scare is the answer.

October 21, 2005

The Happiest Mugshot in History?

This has got to be the happiest mug in a mugshot ever taken. Or at least, the intention is to make it look happy. To my mind, there is a hint, in those eyes of his, of roiling anger and revenge. The smile feels practiced and set in stone.

Thanks to BAGNewsNotes

Taxpayer Money To Rebuild Religious Schools

Americans United has issued a warning about a plan by FEMA to use taxpayer money to rebuild religious schools damaged or destroyed by hurricane Katrina.

James Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, told reporters yesterday that using public funds to rebuild religious facilities is permissible as long as no money goes directly to subsidize buildings used primarily for religious purposes.

Would Towey have us believe that there are certain parts of a religious school that are not "primarily religious?" Is FEMA only going to rebuild the bathrooms?

I went to a private Catholic school and, outside of the driveway and parking lot, I seem to recall crucifixes in every classroom, Bibles everywhere, and "Hail Marys" said in every classroom before and after class. The funny thing was that these classes were also filled with non-Catholics like me. It was a Catholic school in Tokyo, Japan run by the Christian Brothers of Canada (Trois Rivieres). We had 48 countries and 20 differetn religions represented in the school. The Lord's Prayer and three Hail Marys were recited before each class. To be fair, the non-Catholics were not "required" to say these prayers, but after a while, boredom took hold and everyone joined in. I, an Episcopalian, always found it amusing and odd that some of my Jewish, Muslim and Shinto classmates were saying Hail Marys.

The fact is, whether it's a Catholic school or a Protestant evangelical school, religious worship and religious content are woven in to the very fabric of classroom subjects and discussions. It is inescapable. That the Bush administration would split hairs on which parts of the school are religious and which are not is the highest level of political legerdemain and dissimulation.

The bottom line is that what FEMA is attempting to do is circumvent what is flat-out a violation of the Constitution of the United States.

October 20, 2005

American Health Care Example of How NOT to Do It

When other countries in the so-called "first world" look at the American health care system, they usually gulp, and then pat themselves on their backs for not emulating us.

The Dutch are currently undertaking a reform of their own health care system and are looking at the American system to learn what not to do.

A recent example of what's wrong with our system is how General Motors has strongarmed the autoworkers union to accept substantial reductions in health care benefits, in the face of implied threats of bankruptcy. Delphi, the huge autoparts supplier, which just declared bankruptcy is another example of how health care costs have gotten out of control. Unfortunately, corporations are using this fact to shove through reductions in benefits for workers, instead of demanding that we reform health care through a major reform of our American system. They only see it as a way to cut costs. Ford and Chrysler are next in line to demand benefit cuts from their workers.

This commentary on the American system, published in the Dutch paper NRC Handelsblad, describes the American health care system this way:

The latest findings by the American Census Bureau found that 45 million Americans are uninsured. This is almost one sixth of the population! At the same time, the Americans are spending more on healthcare than any other country in the industrialized world. In 2003 that number stood at 15% of gross domestic product, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development or OESO. That is almost twice as much as the yearly average of all other first world countries. Combine that with the fact that in America, the number of doctors, nurses and intensive care hospital beds is significantly lower than the OESO averages. Simple conclusion: less care, for less people at a decidedly higher cost.

And yet, in our country, the Republican Congress, the Republican White House, the American Medical Association, the corporate world of hospital conglomerates and pharmaceutical behemoths, are the ones who enforce and reaffirm the American health care model which is based on a belief that health care in America is a matter of free market forces, nothing more, nothing less. Leave the government out of health care and we'll all be healthier as a result. Of course, how they define "all" is the problem.

October 19, 2005

Vice President McCain?

The rumors and backroom talk, some gossip, some likely true, are all at superheated levels. One email from a Democratic House staffer is worth reading.

This one email (read it!) predicts that Rove, Libby, and Hadley will be indicted. A senior aide to John Bolton could also be indicted. It guesses that Cheney also will be indicted, or probably has already been warned that he will be indicted. It says that Cheney's lawyers are already talking with prosecutors. Shades of Spiro Agnew. The email calls it "redmeat."

The email states flatly that Colin Powell revealed the information about Joe Wilson's wife Valerie Plame to two people, and two people only -- Bush and Cheney, on a flight on Air Force One.

The email suggests that John McCain and Lindsey Graham might be considered to replace Cheney.

Perhaps Bush will be indicted too, or perhaps he can't be indicted because he is President? Maybe Fitzgerald will say that he would be indicted if he were not President, which could lead the way to impeachment.

An arrest warrant has been issued for Tom Delay.

Will Frist be indicted next?

Various pro and con fractions within Republican ranks seem to be in a feeding frenzy on the issue of Harriet Miers.

Is this all good for us, for progressives, for the American people? I'm not sure. If I knew there was a strong Democratic Party allied with a strong progressive movement and trade union movement, I might feel more sanguine about all this. I guess what I am afraid of is that all these nitwits will be replaced by some really competent rightwingers, and then where will we be?

October 17, 2005

2000 Dead

Do you want to know what 2000 dead Americans look like?

Click Here (it's not gory, just shocking and sad)

P.S. The link works now!!

Thanks, Sarah

Miers and Roberts: The Corporatocracy's Wet Dream

The Christian Right , and some neo-cons, may have doubts about Harriet Miers, but I believe they have nothing to worry about. And I have explained why earlier.

Now the blogosphere and some mainstream media is saturated with stories about how both Harriet Miers and John Roberts are the corporate world's dream come true.

As practicing attorneys, each has a long history of working for corporate clients. David Sirota's blog outlines some of the mischief; Business Week describes how the corporate world will get "more days in court," implying positive days, of course; and The Washington Post gives voice to the ruling class (tip-of-the-hat to PJB), and they couldn't be more pleased (Miers has represented Microsoft and Disney, and Roberts has represented Fox).

The end result will be the opposite of a David Souter, I fear. These two ideologues will give everyone what they want. The Christian Right will be redeemed and the corporate world will be ecstatic. Miers and Roberts represent the best of the marriage of corporate America and the Christian Right, the political marriage that Karl Rove painstakingly arranged as part and parcel of the GOP/Bush ascendancy. Rove's legacy seems assured, even if he becomes a convicted felon.

October 16, 2005

The Language of Confused Men

In May of this year, Dick Cheney said the insurgency was in its "last throes." Since then, thousands of Americans and Iraqis have died or been wounded. Did Cheney make this statement because he simply wanted it to be true, or because he wanted to convince someone else it was true? Or did he know it was a simple lie, but that it was important to tell that lie to justify his continued support of the war? Or was it because he is simply confused by what is happening there; that what is happening does not fit into his neat little world of American dominion, Republican dogma, and neo-conservative predictions? Like the robot on Lost in Space, all Cheney (who is lost in a different kind of space) can think of saying is "Danger, Danger."

Could it be that what is happening in Iraq is so complex and byzantine that he, too, is confused? Could it be that the more he doesn't understand, the more confident he comes across, putting on that John Wayne smirk, but finding himself really lost in a sea of unfathomable facts and realities?

Only a month after the Vice President of the United States tells us that the insurgency is in its "last throes", we have the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, telling us: "Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years." Are we confused yet? Rumsfeld claimed that, as the insurgents become more desperate, the violence in Iraq will increase. No room for alternatives like: 1) as the insurgents have more successes, the violence in Iraq will increase; or 2) as the insurgents become stronger and better organized, the violence in Iraq will increase; or 3) as the insurgents contribute more and more to the devolution of Iraqi society, the violence in Iraq will increase; or 4) as the insurgents spark more internecine warfare and civil war, the violence in Iraq will increase. Just how confused do you have to be to focus on only one possibility, that the violence is increasing only because the insurgents are becoming more desperate?

At a hearing before Congress around the same time, Rumsfeld also said: "If this does go on for four, eight, 10, 12, 15 years -- whatever -- and I agree with General Myers, we don't know -- it is going to be a problem for people of Iraq. They are going to have to cope with that insurgency over time." Notice that this time he extended it to 15 years? And it must be so reassuring to the Iraqi people to know that Rumsfeld fears they may have to "cope" with ongoing slaughter and death for anonther 15 years.

And then we have the generals testifying before Congress saying one thing and then going on television and saying another. More confusion.

Gen John Abizaid and Gen George W. Casey, the two top commanders in Iraq, told Congress, among other things, that "Iraqi armed forces will not have an independent capability for some time." The Washington Post reported:

On Thursday, Casey said the "Iraqi armed forces will not have an independent capability for some time." The day before, he backed away from earlier predictions that a "substantial" number of U.S. troops could by withdrawn early next year. "Right now, we're in a period of a little greater uncertainty than when I was asked that question back in July and March," he told reporters Wednesday...On Thursday, the generals also told Congress that the number of Iraqi army battalions that can fight insurgents without U.S. and coalition help had dropped from three to one -- meaning about 750 Iraqi troops out of 200,000 being trained were capable of operating independently -- and that the security situation was too uncertain to predict large-scale U.S. troop withdrawals anytime soon.

But on television, the generals were "upbeat."

"There are peaks and valleys that you go through, but overall the trend is good," Abizaid told NBC's "Meet the Press." "We're certainly confident." The training of Iraqi security forces is "very much on track," Casey told ABC's "This Week."

Isn't all this crazy-making? The administration's confusion and confused message could not be more apparent. And in the middle of all of it, we have George Bush blithely continuing with his endlessly persistent declaration that "we will stay the course."

To paraphrase someone I can't remember, if confusion is the first step to knowledge, these guys must be geniuses.

October 15, 2005

Heritage Foundation Pipedreams

The most prominent item on the Heritage Foundation website front page is on the left, headlined "Iraq: A New Dynamic?," a short piece introducing two longer essays, one by Kim R. Holmes, optimistically entitled "Al-Queda Agonistes", and the other by James A. Phillips on what he calls the Iraqi "malleable constitution." These are two of the Heritage Foundations top Middle East experts.

Holmes' hopeful message is based on the newly discovered letter from Al-Queda second-in-command Al-Zawahiri to Zarqawi, Al-Queda's main man in Iraq. There is never a question as to its authenticity, just wonderful conclusions we can all make from its negative content. Al-Queda is in trouble. George Bush is winning. Iraq democracy is overcoming. And the terrorists are out of money and on the run. Has Holmes translated the alleged Zawahiri letter to Zarqawi and discovered its linguistic inconsistencies? If not, how can he possibly vouch for its authenticity and use it to forward his arguments? We don't even know if Holmes speaks Arabic.

As part of his argument that Al-Queda is finished in Iraq, Holmes states: "If a constitution respectful of Islam can embrace not only the freedom of all Islamic groups but also of all people, then the dark dreams of jihadist terrorists will never be realized."

I wonder if Holmes has ever read any of the other Arab states' constitutions? The Syrian constitution says, among other things, "Freedom is a sacred right and popular democracy is the ideal formulation which insures for the citizen the exercise of his freedom..." It also says "(1) The governmental system of the Syrian Arab region is a republican system. (2) Sovereignty is vested in the people, who exercise it in accordance with this Constitution," and "Islamic jurisprudence is a main source of legislation." How has this language provided for real democracy, for relief from religious dogma, or for women's rights among Syrians? Holmes might want to study the constitutions of other Arab countries also. His easy conclusions about the Iraqi constitution are suspect, at the very least.

Phillips' piece addresses the vote on the Iraqi constitution and the changes made to it in an attempt to entice more Sunnis to support it. Phillips writes paragraphs filled with ifs, ands or buts. He throws in alot of words such as "likely," "unclear," and "may," never really certain that all the pieces of his pipedream puzzle will actually fall into place. At one point, he says: "A successful vote is unlikely to have an immediate impact on the intensity of insurgent violence." And he never addresses those aspects of the Iraqi constitution that place democracy, religious tolerance, and women's rights in great jeopardy. To wit, Article 2:

Article (2): 1st - Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation:
(a) No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam.
(b) No law can be passed that contradicts the principles of democracy.
(c) No law can be passed that contradicts the rights and basic freedoms outlined in this constitution.
2nd - This constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people and the full religious rights for all individuals and the freedom of creed and religious practices.

If learned white men (scholars all, no doubt) sitting in Washington DC, believe that the first line of this article means anything other than what it says, they have a rude surprise in store for them. Iraq will be ruled by religious leaders regardless of which Brooks Brothers-suited men ostensibly lead the Iraqi government.

October 14, 2005

Al-Zawahiri Letter Probably a "Forgery"

Some really serious doubts have been cast by Prof. Juan Cole on the letter allegedly written by Ayman Al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed Al-Queda leader in Iraq.

The doubts are based on very specific linguistic grounds.

1. The opening greeting seems to be wrong, that of a Shiite Muslim, not a Sunni Muslim from Egypt, like Zawahiri.
2. An additional salutation in the greeting is also not Sunnji, but Shiite, and probably would be insulting to a Sunni like Zarqawi.
3. Zawahiri refers to earlier times in completely inappropriate ways, as if Zarqawi and Zawahiri had been buddies, which they never were.

It will be interesting to see how many other Arabic and Muslim scholars confirm what Cole is contending. I hope this gets reviewed by many of them. And then, if confirmed, I hope we can nail whoever was the source for the forging of this document in yet another attempt to hoodwink the American people and the world press.

Smorgasbord of Sleaze, Part 19

While this really isn't Part 19 (I think I have done only a handful of these Smorgasbords of Sleaze pieces), it seems like 19. It could be Part 457 if I had been paying attention, if I had written one every time I had a small list of sleazy actions by Bush and his cronies. In any event, here's another list of the sleaze that emanates from this crowd on a regular basis. If you don't want to read through all of it, here is a concise summary:

We have President Bush putting on a dog and pony show using American soldiers as props for his dirty war, in the midst of record Iraqi civilian deaths which never get mentioned, while he proposes vetoing a bill to pay those soldiers because it contains a stricture on torture that really irritates him because it would prevent him from torturing more detainees, all while his administration seeks to limit environmental protection laws on coal-burning power plants so more Americans can die of lung cancer, concurrent with minions in his government emailing New York's aristocracy to warn them of a possible terror attack, and while Bush's corporate executive buddies seek to enrich themselves while stealing from the workers. That all sounds like the Bush world we know, doesn't it?


There is now an investigation underway to determine who in the government sent emails to wealthy fat cats in New York City in advance of the terror alert warning that turned out, in the end, to be merely a puffed up diversion for Bush. Nevertheless, the fact that rich individuals received advance warning of the terror threat is reprehensible.


In an Orwellian setting if there ever was one, President Bush teleconferenced with soldiers in Iraq, talking with them about a highly controlled, limited list of subjects, all orchestrated by Defense Department and White House propaganda hacks.


Molly Ivins writes about Bush's reaction to the Senate's legislating against him on the issue of torture. Bush has not used his veto power even once since coming to power, but he now threatens its use on a bill that contains a provision which had 90% support from Republicans and Democrats alike. The outrage is that it is a bill which authorizes payment to our soldiers. Here's how Molly describes it:

"Think about it: Five years of stupefying pork, ideological nonsense, dumb administrative ideas, fiscal idiocy, misbegotten energy programs -- and the first thing the man vetoes is a bill to pay our soldiers because it carries an amendment saying, once again, that this country does not torture prisoners."

How much proof do we need that this President cares about one thing, and one thing only -- getting his way, period?


The dead in Iraq (not American) continues to mount, but it might as well be a secret for all the US news media cares about it. Here's a piece from The Independent (UK) by Robert Fisk, describing his visit to the Baghdad morgue about just July's body count. He says:

"July was the bloodiest month in Baghdad's modern history - in all, 1,100 bodies were brought to the city's mortuary; executed for the most part, eviscerated, stabbed, bludgeoned, tortured to death. The figure is secret. We are not supposed to know that the Iraqi capital's death toll last month was only 700 short of the total American fatalities in Iraq since April of 2003. Of the dead, 963 were men - many with their hands bound, their eyes taped and bullets in their heads - and 137 women. The statistics are as shameful as they are horrifying. For these are the men and women we supposedly came to "liberate" - and about whose fate we do not care."


While Delphi Corporation, the nation's largest auto parts manufacturer settles into its Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it has proposed, to the court, as part of its reorganization plan, doing two things:

1. cutting the wages and benefits of the average worker by as much as 50%;
2. giving the top 400 executives raises and bonuses for staying on with the company during the re-organization.

In light of the fact that the 400 executives are probably responsible for Delphi's failure, the court should actually force the Delphi reorganization plan to fire them, and replace them with competent managers. Instead, we have the opposite, the workers get shafted, and the executives get raises. Sleaze triumphs again.


The Bush administration has proposed loosening air quality controls yet again. Here's the lead sentence from Reuters (UK):

"The Bush administration on Thursday proposed changing environmental rules to give U.S. coal-fired power plants more leeway to expand aging facilities without installing expensive equipment to cut air pollution."


October 13, 2005

Noodle Imperialism

It looks as though we now have the final proof that it is the Chinese who are responsible for the spread of noodles throughout the world.

Previously, there was debate about whether it might be possible that the Italians invented noodles. The Italians can be blamed for many things, but it seems noodles are not one of them. Marco Polo was probably responsible for being a mere vessel for Chinese noodle imperialism, but he certainly knew not what he was doing.

Some historians also theorized that "Arabs" might have first developed the technology to make noodles. Again, we can blame Arabs for lots of things (and boy, what a passtime that has become), but noodles now must be stricken from their list of noteworthy efforts.

The conclusive evidence, estimated to be 4,000 years old, was found at the Lajia archaeological site on the Yellow River, and were made from millet grass, unlike modern wheat flour noodles.

October 12, 2005

What Does It Mean to "Control" Iraqi Oil?

Of all the reasons for the invasion of Iraq given by the Bush administration, the one spoken of least, the one that was not a prevarication or an outright fabrication, was Iraqi oil. Some of the reasons (the presence of weapons of mass destruction and links between Hussein and Al-Queda) were Presidential lies.

Controlling and exploiting Iraqi oil production was a key strategic goal for the Bush administration. The administration's private vision was that the US would be able to take control of Iraqi oil production in an environment of relative calm. Rumsfeld, in particular, believed the people of Iraq would be so thankful for the American invasion and overthrow of Saddam Hussein, that a US occupation would be relatively problem-free.

Only after the Al-Queda, Sunni and Baathist insurgencies, accompanied by the religious and political backlash against the occupation, did the Bush administration come up with the concoction that we were creating a new front, away from our homeland, in the fight against terror. The line went something like this: "It's better to fight them over there than at home." It is an improvised fabrication in the face of an unpredicted reality. None of the reasons for this war have made any sense, so they keep trying on new ones.

Let us assume that all the other reasons for the invasion are lies, and that the real reason, all along, has been the imperial American design of taking control of Iraqi oil. Centrally locating troops, bases, and large resources like Halliburton and its corporate allies in Iraq, abutting Iran and Syria, challenging Saudi Arabia's oil dominance, giving OPEC the finger, and sending a message to the rest of the world that the United States will do anything to maintain its supply of oil for its globalized economy -- this enterprise, this target, this motivation makes sense.

So, this line of thinking assumes Bush wants Iraqi oil production to expand. Obviously, under this scenario, the realization is far from what they expected. Iraqi oil production is now below pre-war levels. The Iraqi government is not obtaining the large oil revenues it and the Americans projected. And we're not talking about a small amount less than before the war, we're talking about 25% less than what Saddam Hussein was producing. This one alleged strategic objective of the United States in Iraq has failed miserably. We cannot keep the pipelines safe; over 200 attacks have been recorded since 2003. We are having a hard time rebuilding Iraq's oil facilities because of outdated equipment and equipment breakdowns. One expert points out that Iraq is producing less this year than last year. In light of this, it's curious how US administration officials continue to claim progress in rebuilding Iraqi oil production.

But the question is this: Do Bush and Cheney want to expand Iraqi oil production or do they merely want to control it? Is there some possible good for them and their oil company buddies in not seeing an expansion of Iraqi oil supplies?

In a December 28, 2002 paper, the Global Policy Forum, a non-governmental organization with consultative status at the UN, offered this intriguing insight into possible US motivations, only a few months before the US invasion of Iraq:

In the event that Saddam doesn't set fire to the oil wells, the [US] hawks maintain that during a "transitional reconstruction period" the United States should supervise Iraqi oil to prevent future sabotage and avoid disruption of the oil market. Certainly a surge in production would do no one - except possibly Western consumers in the short term - much good. As one British oil-industry source pointed out, increased Iraqi oil production would be harmful even to the major U.S. oil companies, which would see their profit margins cut with lower prices.

As we all know, so far, there certainly has not been an increase in Iraqi oil production which has threatened the profit margins of the oil companies. In fact, all the oil companies are racking up huge profits at the expense of Western consumers -- for the time being, at least.

As it turns out, control or lack of control of Iraqi oil (depending on how one might look at it) has been a boon for the international oil cartel.

Here's what Global Policy Forum has to say about the future of Iraqi oil, in light of the US occupation:

Iraq has the world’s second largest proven oil reserves. According to oil industry experts, new exploration will probably raise Iraq’s reserves to 2-300 billion barrels of high-grade crude, extraordinarily cheap to produce, leading to a gold-rush of profits for international oil firms in the post-Saddam era. The four giant firms located in the US and the UK have been keen to get back into Iraq, from which they were excluded with the nationalization of 1972. They face companies from France, Russia, China, Japan and elsewhere, who already have major concessions. But in the post-war setting, with Washington running the show, the US-UK companies expect eventually to overcome their rivals and gain the most lucrative oil deals that will be worth hundreds of billions, even trillions of dollars in profits in the coming decades.

In an almost unnoticed and little covered part of the new Iraqi Constitution, there is absolute proof of the claim in the preceding paragraph. Here is how the Global Policy Forum describes it:

Despite noisy debates over Iraq’s draft constitution, references in the document to Iraq’s oil resources have evaded public comment. The interim government is already going ahead with a plan in which the state-owned Iraq National Oil Company (INOC) may only develop oil-fields that are already in production. Development of all other oil fields, the constitution specifies, should follow “modern techniques” and “market principles,” a code for Production Sharing Agreements with major firms such as BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil. At estimated reserve levels, that leaves 64% of Iraq’s oil open to foreign companies, casting a shadow on Iraq’s sovereignty and economic viability.

This pretty much sums it up. From the point of view of Bush and the oil companies, Iraq is the second-largest oil barrel in the world and needs to be controlled, one way or the other.

All the rest is irritant and inconvenience.

October 11, 2005

Bush's Harem of Protection

I don't have much time this morning, but I did read an article which I recommend highly to anyone who wants to understand more about what makes George Bush tick. How many of us know that, when he went to Camp David, to make his final decision about invading Iraq, he invited only two people to join him in his deliberations? They were Condaleeza Rice and Karen Hughes.

This piece, translated from the French newspaper Liberation, is a stunning analysis of the kind of women in George Bush's life and the role they have played in making him who he is.

October 10, 2005

Litmus Test

When George Bush says there is no litmus test for Harriet Miers, he is probably telling the truth. He simply did not have to give her any test, because she had already qualified herself by telling him exactly what he wanted to know, a long time ago. No test was ever necessary. She already had her honorary BA (Bachelor of Anti-Abortion) degree conferred.

Harriet Miers has had conversations with Bush in which she has revealed what she believes. She has been to church with him, if not in fact, at the very least, in spirit. They have held hands at prayer breakfasts, small and large. Miers and Bush have had myriad private conversations covered by attorney-client privilege. They have talked, over the years, about many issues, including abortion.

When George Bush was pondering whom to name to the Supreme Court, he knew he had to name someone he could trust to vote his way on a variety of crucial issues to his Presidency and his legacy. The most important ones are: the Patriot Act, the war on terror, non-combatant detainees and their treatment, and abortion. He worried about naming any judge with a public record of any kind who would support him on these issues, knowing that the Democrats would, in all likelihood, fight to the bitter end of a filibuster. Harriet Miers was a perfect answer to all these concerns. You can't filibuster a blank page.

Bush knew, and has known for a long time, that she is on his side, without qualification. She believes, in her own words for crying out loud, that George Bush is the most brilliant man she has ever met. If that doesn't tell us all something, what would?

Apparently, in ways direct and indirect, a number of other people now know what George Bush knows about Harriet Miers. James Dobson, one of Bush's evangelical generals, has had conversations with Karl Rove and the "White House," presumably meaning others at the White House, and Dobson now feels certain enough to support her.

Will Senator Arlen Specter and Senator Leahy, chair and senior minority member on the Judiciary Committee respectively, now subpoena Dobson and Rove, and any others, including George Bush, to testify about what they know that the Committee and the American people don't know?

The entire thing stinks. The fix is in, but the American people don't know it, yet. Now is the time to stop this sham in its tracks.

October 08, 2005

Chickenlittles and Chickenhawks

George Bush is ankle-deep in doodoo of his own making. Ever notice that when he is in trouble, the chickenlittles and chickenhawks are let loose and we see more war success stories and more terror threat stories?

What to do, what to do?

On CNN, we have the we-are-winning-in-Iraq story, the terrorists are in trouble. In fact, they even admit they have lost Afghanistan. This "communication" the Pentagon claims it intercepted shows that we are winning and they are losing.

In the New York Times, we have the story about the terror threat to the New York subway. When the Bush administration is in trouble, their first tactical response is to scare the American people. Here's an excerpt from the story:

While not entirely dismissing it, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security described it as "specific yet noncredible," adding that the intelligence community had concluded that the information was of "doubtful credibility."

"Specific yet noncredible." "Doubtful credibility." This is our Department of Motherland Perils speaking. What they meant to say was that some policeman in Marseille who arrested a drunken Arab two nights ago heard him say he'd like to blow up all the infidels in the New York City subway if he could. His boss reported it to Inspector Clouseau, who immediately called someone at GOP headquarters in Washington, who called chickenhawk Scooter Libby, who told chickenhawk Dickey Cheney, and the rest is history. Voila, we have a specific, noncredible, doubtful credibility.

Do these people actually listen to themselves?

I do not want, in any way, to disparage or belittle the actual threat Americans are confronted with. I believe we will be hit again. The Bush politically motivated scare tactics are hurting America's preparedness for the real thing, rather than helping.

Harriet Mier's Church

Knowing something about Harriet Miers church may tell us something about her personal religious beliefs, which may tell us something about how she might vote on the Supreme Court. Of course, all this assumes she belonged to the church in Texas because she actually did believe in what it stands for.

The church in question is the Valley View Christian Church in Dallas.

Here's a taste of what the church believes (from its own website):

We believe the Bible to be the only infallible, inspired, authoritative Word of God. As such it is our final authority for all matters of faith and Christian practice. ( 2 Timothy 3:14-16 )

We believe that man, created by God, willfully sinned and as a result is lost and without hope apart from receiving Jesus Christ. ( Romans 3:23;6:23; Acts 4:12)

We believe that salvation (forgiveness of sins) is available only by the grace of God through the blood of Jesus Christ. This free gift of forgiveness is offered to all who receive Christ as Lord and Savior. ( Ephesians 2:8-9; Colossians 2:6; John 3:16)

We believe that death seals the eternity of each person ( Hebrews 9:27 ). Those who are forgiven will spend eternity with God in heaven, those not forgiven will be eternally separated from God in hell .( John 5:28-29; Daniel 12:2; 2 Corinthians 4:14; Acts 17:31)

Essentially, Harriet's church, which she attended for over 20 years before she came to Washington DC, believes in the literal interpretation of the Bible, that all who do not receive salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ will not receive forgiveness for their sins, and, as a result, will burn in hell forever. Harriet's church basically believes that the vast majority of the people in the world are lost.

How much of it does Harriet Mears believe in? Somehow I doubt she has been faking it all this time. Who knows really? Maybe there are some things about the church she does disagree with but never spoke up about. Perhaps she liked the social setting it provided a single woman. The truth is, we won't know a thing until she begins to make her decisions.

October 07, 2005

Delay's Posse

One good look at the list of Tom Delay's defense fund benefactors and you have a pretty good idea who is thanking him for all he has done for them. How long they will stick with Delay is another question, but for right now we have a who's who of the most powerful and influential right-wing political and corporate powers on his side.

A partial list of the corporate backers includes:

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco
Philip Morris
American Trucking Association
BellSouth Corp
GAF Corp
Global Marine
International Game Technology
Lifecare Management Services
Maxxam Inc.
Nissan North America
Panda Energy International
Reliant Energy
Verizon Services Group

Individual contributions have come from some of the Right's best and brightest.

First, and most timely, there are three partners at Locke, Liddell & Sapp, Harriet Miers old Houston law firm.

On the Congressional payback front, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) figured out how to give twice, through two different PACs. Other Congressional donors include: Roy Blount (R-MO), J.C. Watts (R-OK), Spencer Bacchus (R-AL), Charles Bass (R-NH), Henry Bonilla (R-TX), Randy Cunningham (R-CA), Paul Gilmor (R-OH), Bob Barr for Congress, John Cooksey (R-LA), Jimmy Duncan (R-TN), Eric Cantor (R-VA), and the list goes on and on.

Other notables include the DeVos Family of Amway fame, Ed Feulner of the Heritage Foundation, the Fund for Living American Government (like the one we have now?), Boone Pickens of BP Capital, and Roy Blount's Rely on Your Beliefs Fund (I love the names these guys come up with).

My two favorites are the contributions from Spirit of Democratic Capitalism Fund and from Your Way Fumigation. The latter must be old friends of Delay's from when he was in the pest control business. The former, however, really leaves me in stitches. Democratic capitalism? Is that where the consumers get to vote on how large corporations profits can be? Or is it when the stockholders vote on what products a company develops? and whether they are environmentally friendly? Or is democratic capitalism just another doublethink phrase designed by the Right to pull the wool over the American people's eyes?

So far, Delay has raised almost a half million dollars. He'll need alot more. Two indictments down, more to come?

Stay Tuned.

October 05, 2005

More Than a Month Later

More than a month later, when you'd think New Orleans would need its city employees most, New Orlean's Mayor, Ray Nagin, has laid off 3000 workers, half the city's workforce. The city's revenues have shrunk enormously, and he is not able to find state, federal, or private funding to keep these people on the payroll, helping to rebuild New Orleans.

More than a month later, hundreds of thousands of victims of Katrina are still without housing .

It's more than a month later and we don't even have names of the dead.

More than a month later, perhaps 400,000 evacuees, all of whom have lost jobs, are looking for work, any kind of work.

More than a month later, the bureaucratic red tape is still preventing assistance from getting to the people who need it most.

As for New Orleans itself, two hopeful, former Clinton HUD officials propose equitable redevelopment :

Many observers have raised the prospect that a rebuilt New Orleans will resemble a Las Vegas or Disneyland on the Gulf, dominated by the entertainment and tourism industry, favoring luxury housing, and planned by a group that even The Wall Street Journal labeled ''the power elite." Clearly, that is an outcome to be avoided.

But how? They have a dream:

By equitable redevelopment, we mean something much more specific, however, including housing affordable to families at a wide range of income levels, measurably better public transportation and other job links, schools that are on track to succeed, healthcare access, a smart retail mix, business linkages to the regional economy, a viable tax base, and more mixed-income communities that reflect how urban America can and should function.

Wow. Hurricanes should hit all the major urban centers of America, and then we could finally fulfill our dream of an equitable society, with good schools and hospitals for all, mass transportation for the people, affordable housing for all, an equitable tax system, and the dream goes on.

The two Globe writers believe this is "ambitious" but "realistic."

With Karl Rove, Halliburton, and the corporate power brokers of New Orleans and Louisiana in charge of this rebuilding, does anyone really believe that an "equitable redevelopment" is possible?

The fact is, so many things are conspiring to prevent people from returning to New Orleans.

Many are finding shelter and jobs elsewhere, simply because they must. They can't wait to be offered jobs and homes in New Orleans. The thousands who find jobs and settle down in towns and cities across the country will probably never return.

The sad thing is that many of them will be underemployed for a long time. Nurses without licenses will work temporary hospital menial jobs. Shipyard workers will become greeters at Wal-Mart. Many people who had good jobs can't even find their old employers to use as references. Higher wage workers can only find low wage work. And low wage workers are lucky to find any work at all.

Then, there are those who never want to return anyway. The fears and losses they experienced prevent them from even imagining a return to a place that was such a nightmare for them.

For those who want to return, how will they get back? Scattered all over the country, either unemployted or working low wage jobs, living in temporary housing, they have no vehicles, they have no m oney to pay for a way back, and when they do go back, what will state and federal government offer them?

The grim reality is that certain facts have been created by the aftermath of Katrina. Certain powerful forces have been set in motion. And none of them bode well for the people who could benefit from equitable redevelopment.