January 31, 2006

Kicking Ass: The Democratic Party Blog

Believe it or not, that is the actual name of the official Democratic Party blog -- Kicking Ass.

I just went there for the first time ever, as part of my research into and interest in the Democratic Party strategy to win in November, and that is what I discovered.

I can imagine a blog started by boosters of a high school football team naming their blog Kicking Ass.

I can imagine a blog for karate students naming their blog Kicking Ass.

I can imagine fans of wrestlemania naming their blog Kicking Ass.

I can imagine a blog started by unrepentant wife-beaters naming their blog Kicking Ass.

Was the naming of this blog left to some 17-year old intern? What adult approved this puerile name? What kind of message does the Democratic Party think this name sends to supporters and opponents alike? How can the people at the National Democratic headquarters not be constantly embarrassed by this name? Does the leadership of the Democratic Party really think we are going to garner undecided votes with language like this?

I can just see the Republicans cowering in their corridors of power -- "ohhhh noooo, they are going to kick our asses!!"

I am not a prude, by any means. Ask anyone who knows me. But this is really disheartening.

Democrats Shout Hallelujah!

According to the NY Times, southern Democrats are supporting teaching bible classes in public schools in Georgia and Alabama.

Southern Democrats have always tried to maintain a slight disconnect from the national party because of what is seen as its secular image. Many of these Democrats support prayer in school and tend to wear their religion (Christianity, of course) on their sleeves. They would like to see the national party get religion much more than it does. Howard Dean seems to be taking their side:

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, promised that Democrats would do a better job talking about values to religious voters. "We have done it in a secular way, and we don't have to," he said, adding, "I think teaching the Bible as literature is a good thing."

Unfortunately, the Democrats probably look like Johnny-come-latelys since southern conservative Republicans have been supporting the idea of Bible study in the classroom for decades and have actually succeeded in getting it into some classrooms already.

The bible study in question is based on a new textbook, The Bible and Its Influence.

The NYT reports:

It was produced by the nonpartisan, ecumenical Bible Literacy Project and provides an assessment of the Bible's impact on history, literature and art that is academic and detached, if largely laudatory.

The NYT goes on:

In Georgia, the proposal marked a new course for the Democratic Party. The state's Democrats, including some sponsors of the bill, opposed a Republican proposal a few years ago to authorize the teaching of a different Bible course, which used a translation of the Scriptures as its text, calling it an inappropriate endorsement of religion. The sponsors say they are introducing their Bible measure now partly to pre-empt a potential Republican proposal seeking to display the Ten Commandments in schools...In Alabama, a deeply religious state where Democrats support prayer in the schools and a Democratic candidate for governor recently introduced her campaign with the hymn "Give Me That Old Time Religion..."

Notice how the Times says that Alabama is a deeply religious state. Now there is precise reporting. Is it a deeply religious Muslim state? Or a deeply religious Jewish state? Or perhaps it is a deeply religious Hindu state? Why can't the Times just say simply that it is a deeply religious Christian state?

And let's be clear about one thing -- the conservative Christian Republicans don't want to teach some kind of watered-down, "academic," and "detached" textbook on the bible, they want to teach the actual BIBLE in public schools. These Democrats don't even have the spine of their so-called Christian convictions.

Here's how the Times reports on the conservative Republican response to this Democratic conversion:

Christian conservatives, however, say they have been pushing public schools to offer courses on the Bible for decades, and Republicans in both Alabama and Georgia say some schools already offer such electives.
"Their proposal makes them modern-day pharisees," State Senator Eric Johnson of Georgia, the Republican leader from Savannah, said in a statement. "This is election-year pandering using voters' deepest beliefs as a tool."
Saying he found "a little irony" in the fact that the Democratic sponsors had voted against a Republican proposal for a Bible course six years ago, Mr. Johnson added, "It should also be noted that the so-called Bible bill doesn't use the Bible as the textbook, and would allow teachers with no belief at all in the Bible to teach the course."
Betty Peters, a Republican on the Alabama school board who opposed the initiative in that state, also dismissed the initiative as "pandering." Democrats, she argued, had adopted a new strategy: "Let's just wrap ourselves in Jesus."

They have a point. The Democrats look utterly stupid and craven taking these positions. There simply is no way that the Democrats are going to take back power by trying to outplay the Republicans with the Christianity card. There are so many issues the Democrats need to concentrate on and this is not one of them.

At a time when the American people are losing their jobs, losing their pensions, losing their savings, going bankrupt, facing health care crises, working more and making less, being raped at the gas pump, facing increased foreclosures, having their privacy invaded, and finding themselves increasingly the victim of corporate extortion -- this is not the time to attempt to out-Jesus the Republicans.

It's one thing to reach out on economic, political and social issues, but it's quite another to try to convince evangelical Christians that Democrats Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Evan Bayh, Wesley Walker, and John Kerry are bible believers. They are not. There is a big difference between being a Christian and being a bible believer. Just ask the bible believers. Trying to hoodwink these people will never gain any votes at all for the Democrats.

Bush Administration Threatens American Scientist

The Bush administration has threatened "one of the most productive and creative scientists in the world" with "dire consequences" if he doesn't shut up about greenhouse gas emissions and his conernes about them.

The New York Times (thanks to Priscilla at Water Weaving for bringing this to my attention) reports on the attempts to muzzle Dr. James E. Hansen, longtime director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. According to the story, "officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists."

Hansen, himself, said that all the pressure has come in the form of undocumentable telephone calls.

What sparked this clampdown on him? He gave information to ABC News that scientific data clearly demonstrates that 2005 was the warmest year on record in over 100 years. Imagine that. Bush doesn't want us to hear something as important as that.

About his responsibility as a scientist, Hansen said: "Communicating with the public seems to be essential, because public concern is probably the only thing capable of overcoming the special interests that have obfuscated the topic."

Apparently, the special interests are watching Dr. Hansen very carefully. The fact is, however, they don't even have to twist arms with the Bush administration to get it to do their bidding. Those special interests have people who work right in the White House itself, and in other federal agencies, who will make all the calls necessary on behalf of their corporate clients. It's a simple premise -- those clients don't want the facts about corporate responsibility for polluting our environment known.

This kind of threat and menace toward a world renowned scientist comes easy to people who ignore the welfare of American citizens and who willingly aid and abet the polluters and exploiters of our land, air and sea.

January 30, 2006

Hamas: Listening to the Press

Here are snippets from the world press commenting on Hamas and its electoral victory.

The Associated Press:

The group (Hamas), which opposes the existence of Israel and has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, is expected to lead the next Palestinian government, hurting the chances for a peace deal.

Columnist Jonathan Steele in the Guardian (UK):

Above all, Europe should not get hung up on the wrong issues, like armed resistance and the "war on terror". Murdering a Palestinian politician by a long-range attack that is bound also to kill innocent civilians is morally and legally no better than a suicide bomb on a bus. Hamas's refusal to give formal recognition of Israel's right to exist should also not be seen by Europe as an urgent problem.


Hamas's charter calls for the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an Islamic Palestinian state.

The Sunday Telegraph (UK):

...though Hamas retains much of its spine-chilling rhetoric towards Israel and remains committed to regaining lost Palestinian land by force, a new pragmatism is entering its outlook.

The New York Times:

(Hamas leader Khalid Maashal) insisted that "resistance is a legitimate right that we will practice and protect," and he defended attacks on Israeli civilians, which included many suicide bombings until a cease-fire nearly a year ago...

(The Hamas Charter) calls for the elimination of Israel and Jews from Islamic holy land and portrays the Jews as evil, citing an anti-Semitic version of history going back to the Crusades. It also includes a reference to the noted czarist forgery of a plan for world domination, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," and condemnation of supposedly Zionist organizations like the Rotary Club and the Masons...

No Hamas leader or candidate is on record as sanctioning a permanent recognition of Israel's right to exist side by side with an independent Palestinian state, which has been the cornerstone assumption of peace negotiations since the Oslo accords in 1993...

...As Mr. Zahar (prominent Hamas leader in Gaza) also said, "We do not recognize the Israeli enemy, nor his right to be our neighbor, nor to stay, nor his ownership of any inch of land."

Russia's Moskovskiy Komsomolets:

"Hamas is terrorism. Terrorism is war...It is obvious that the emerging situation will bring peace to no-one: neither Palestinians nor their neighbours."

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:

"First we should wait and see how the forming of a government in Ramallah proceeds, and what kind of signals a new government under the influence of Hamas sends out... even results which we do not really want to see need to be accepted."

The Washington Post:

The Bush administration has spent nearly $500 million in the past year to bolster the Palestinian Authority and the ruling Fatah party, which was nonetheless crushed by Hamas at the polls. Against the advice of Israeli officials, the administration had pushed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to hold the elections without delay, believing that the voting would strengthen his hand in disarming militia groups. Instead, the plan backfired, and an organization that has claimed credit for dozens of suicide bombings -- some resulting in the deaths of Americans -- is poised to take power.

USA Today:

Hamas' win comes amid political uncertainty in Israel. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had a stroke this month and is in a coma. Olmert has assumed Sharon's powers until elections March 28.

Hamas has an extensive network of charities and social services. Its candidates swept to wins in West Bank municipal elections last month.

Hamas' parliamentary campaign focused on ridding the Palestinian Authority of Fatah corruption and boosting living standards. Its platform made no mention of suicide bombers or the destruction of Israel, but the group's charter calls for Israel to be made an Islamic state for Palestinians.

White House Tampers with Abramoff Investigation

George Bush has offered the federal prosecutor in charge of the Abramoff inquiry a federal judgeship appointment. According to the Times of London, "Noel Hillman, in charge of unravelling the burgeoning bribery scandal on Capitol Hill that could ensnare dozens of Republican congressmen and their staff, will step down next week after accepting the offer of a judgeship in New Jersey."

Reminiscent of the Saturday Night Massacre, when Richard Nixon fired Watergate independent prosecutor Archibald Cox, and then forced the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, the Bush White House has brazenly stalled and delayed the ongoing investigation by this act.

This White House and the GOP is so fearful of the results of such an investigation and the negative impact it will have on incumbent Republicans and the 2006 Congressional elections, it will do whatever it can to interrupt the process as much as possible between now and November of this year. All the protestations by the White House to the contrary cannot obscure the fact that this action delays the investigation which will proceed, leaderless, for an indeterminate amount of time.

This is the first shot in the Bush administration's war against this investigation.

January 29, 2006

Divining Davos

Originally published at www.tompaine.com

The world's rich and powerful are heading this week to their annual meeting in the plush mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland. Hosted by the great global corporations (Citigroup, Siemens, Microsoft, Nestlé, etc.), some 2000 CEOs, prominent politicians, pundits and international bureaucrats will network over great food, fine wine, good skiing and cozy evenings by the fire contemplating the world's future.

This is not a secret cabal; journalists will issue daily reports to the rest of us on the wit and informal charm of our financial betters. Rather, it is like the political convention of those who manage the global economy. Call it the Party of Davos.

All markets are systems of rules that determine what sort of people are winners and what sort are losers. Politics is largely conflict among the different sorts -- or classes -- over who gets what.

In stable societies, a social contract provides for enough wealth to trickle down to keep the lower orders from rebelling. Thus, in the 1950s, when Dwight Eisenhower's secretary of defense said that what was good for General Motors was good for America, most Americans -- including the United Auto Workers -- agreed. Within the boundaries of the U.S. economy, capital and labor needed each other.

But as corporations went global, the mutual dependence weakened. And in the absence of global democracy, their owners and top managers seized the opportunity to set the new rules without social constraints. The first head of the World Trade Organization called these new rules a "constitution for the global economy." It's a constitution that protects just one world citizen -- the corporate investor. It prohibits effective protections for the workers, consumers and the environment.

In America, as in most places, the party of Davos is bipartisan. It includes Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney, Robert Rubin and Don Rumsfeld, Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice. (George Bush is also a member, but he doesn't like to travel). John Kerry is quoted as having called himself a "Davos" man.

Indeed, without reference to economic class, it is impossible to explain why Democratic elites championed NAFTA, the WTO and the other instruments of corporate protectionism, which traded away the interests of its blue-collar industrial base in favor of the GOP constituencies in Wall Street and red-state agribusiness. Nor is it possible to explain why Washington is indifferent to a relentlessly rising trade deficit, and the resulting foreign debt that has put the country's future in the hands of the central bank of China, while the Pentagon simulates war games with China as the enemy.

The media language we use to talk to each other about globalization hides its class structure. The press consistently talks about national "interest" without defining who exactly is getting what. Thus, American workers are told that the "Chinese" are taking their jobs. But the China threat is, in fact, another global business partnership -- this one between commissars who supply the cheap labor and the United States and other foreign capitalists who supply the technology and two-thirds of the capital used to finance China's exports. The rest of the world calls this "neoliberalism," a term unknown among America's media "internationalists."

The politics of the global marketplace are a one-party system. The opposition to Davos is unorganized globally. What might be called the Party of Porto Alegre -- the NGOs who meet at the same time in Brazil -- is politically marginal. The trade union movement's effort to organize the workers of the world is at best at a very early stage.

Still, there may be some bad new ahead for Davos. After a quarter of a century, the world is beginning to resist policies that have shifted wealth and power away from people who work for a living to those who invest. Scarcely a day goes by without a major riot somewhere in China, Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia. In South America, anti-neoliberal parties have come to power in Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela and Argentina -- and already have slowed down the effort to extend NAFTA to the rest of the hemisphere. Very close to home, a leftist candidate is leading in the campaign for Mexico's next president.

But perhaps more important, Davos' chief champion -- the U.S. governing class -- is in trouble. The opposition to the war in Iraq has demonstrated the limits of America's willingness to send its children to die in order to force the world's cultures into one vast shopping mall. And the looming crisis of America's foreign debt will cramp the ability of our elites to use the countries' economic power to support their global corporate backers. The erosion of the American social contract -- already being reflected in stagnant wages, financial insecurity and collapsing health care system -- could soon force the governing class to pay more attention to Bloomington, Ill., than to Baghdad, Iraq.

Globalization will not go away. Improvements in communication and transportation will continue to make the world smaller for as far into the future as we can see. Nor will economic classes soon disappear. The question is, as always, who sets the rules and in whose interests? So although the parties at Davos may not be over, the rest of the world seems less willing to pay for them.


Jeff Faux is the founder and former president of the Economic Policy Institute and the author of the new book The Global Class War, a study of the impact of globalization abroad and on U.S. living standards and politics.

January 28, 2006

Israelis and Palestinians: Listening to the Words

In the aftermath of the Hamas electoral victory, there have been all sorts of dire predictions, as well as some hopeful ones. On the one hand, some say that like it took Nixon to go to China, like it took Menachem Begin to make peace with Anwar Sadat, that it will take Hamas to make peace with Israel. On the other, some predict renewed major conflict with the armed wing of Hamas, an escalation of violence and a renewed effort to wall off the West Bank and separate Israelis from Palestinians as permanently as possible.

Perhaps what we might want to do is listen first. Listen to what the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are saying. We might want to listen to what Hamas says, and what the Israeli government says.

And while we are listening, we need to watch what they all do. Then we will have a clearer idea of where all this is going.

Let's start with the average Israeli and Palestinian people speaking. Here, from the BBC, alternating between Palestinian and Israeli, is some of what they have to say:


Khaled Jaber, office manager
"Hamas winning is a good thing - it is the choice of the people. I think the future will be better under a Hamas government. There won't be any problems in the government as there were under Fatah. Religion is the manual for good government in the world and I think we shall see a good Hamas government."


Ludmilla Mossovtsev, teacher
"It is not good that Hamas won the elections. These people are terrorists and now they are in the government. They blow up buses and should not be running a country. I want peace but I don't think that the Palestinian people want peace and they've shown this by voting for Hamas."


Felicia Barghouti, journalist
"We expected Hamas to do well because it won many seats in local polls. After Yasser Arafat's death, Fatah collapsed. It couldn't work cohesively, there were always problems. People became tired. As for Hamas, I'm not worried society will get more conservative. Hamas is focused on resistance against Israel and on fixing the economy."


David Komer, soldier
"Hamas being in power concerns me. The world doesn't seem to have a problem with Hamas.
Now because they are a valid political party it makes it okay in the eyes of the world that they blew up buses. I won't be willing to negotiate with anyone that advocates the destruction of Israel."


Alla Abu Turk, marketing boss
"It doesn't matter what party governs - what matters is they need experience. I'm worried that Hamas don't have any experience in government and they will have to learn very quickly."


Baruch Sangauker, chef
"Hamas and Fatah are one and the same. But we need to talk to Hamas and if they don't understand our position then we need to be prepared to defend ourselves. It's very important that we see whether we have a partner for peace with Hamas. But I am really not concerned that Hamas are in power."


Nehad Mahmoud, rights worker
"I support Hamas. They will bring new ideas to government. I like Hamas because they are the real resistance against Israel. Hamas are positive whereas Fatah are negative. Fatah were only interested in positions and money, not in the people. The international community will have to talk to Hamas if it wants to speak to the Palestinians."


Rebecca Illulina, student
"I think it's pretty scary that Hamas have come to power. It will be a country run by terrorists and I feel very unsafe having them as neighbours. It's like al-Qaeda running the United States. I think the result is anti-democratic, it's the opposite of freedom. Even freedom needs boundaries and Hamas are outside those boundaries."


Barakat Barakat, civil servant
"Hamas are a change for good. Hamas won this election because people wanted a change.
They are the group that supports the Palestinian people and they are our best friend. Through their social services Hamas help the people. People asked yesterday who is for the Palestinian people and the answer came today: Hamas."


Yoram Shilony, restaurant owner
"I am very happy that Hamas will be in government - they are so fanatical that maybe being in government will moderate them. If this happens, it will be good for Israel. Fatah said they wanted peace but all they made was war. Now Hamas speaks the truth and we know exactly what they think and what stands in front of us."


Akram Baker, business adviser
"This was an exercise in Palestinian democracy but Hamas are going to find the difference between governing and not governing very difficult. The writing was on the wall for Fatah for quite a while now. I think a lot of Hamas' support came from protest votes. People were tired of Fatah infighting and corruption."


Matthew Israel, gift shop owner
"I think it's good for democracy that Hamas are in power, that's democracy. The only problem is that, like Nasser, they want to throw us in the sea. Now they are our enemy, and who can sit down and talk with the enemy? But if Hamas changes its way, then Israel should talk to them."


What the American administration has said:

"I have made it very clear, however, that a political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal." (President Bush, Press Conference, January 26, 2006)

"I think the President made our view very clear yesterday. We don't deal with Hamas because Hamas is a terrorist organization....I think I indicated to you earlier in that statement we do not, and will not, give money to a terrorist organization." (Scott McClellan, White House Press Briefing, January 27, 2006)

How Hamas has responded:

"A senior Hamas leader has rejected demands that the Islamic militant group renounce violence, to prevent aid cuts for the Palestinian Authority. Ismail Haniya, who headed Hamas' election list, said they would not give in to "blackmail" by foreign donors." (BBC, January 28, 2006)

What the Israeli Government has said:

"Israel has said it will not deal with a Palestinian government including Hamas, following the Islamic militant group's sweeping victory in Palestinian polls. Israeli interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ruled out any talks with "an armed terror organisation that calls for Israel's destruction." (BBC, January 27, 2006)


I don't think that at this point in the process of digesting what the Hamas victory means, that we can expect anything less than what we have heard above. What really could we expect all these people to say otherwise? There is nothing new in any of these positions or viewpoints.

But I do take away a sense of two possibilities. One possibility -- all out civil war among the Palestinians with the Israelis brought in militarily -- could make the Intifada look like a minor scuffle. Or the other possibility, a slow moderation of each side coming to terms with the reality that the only sensible alternative is to find a way to peace. Hamas must know that it cannot destroy Israel, and the Israelis must know that it cannot continue to support huge settlements in so much of the West Bank.

I take some hope from something else Ehud Olmert, the acting Israeli Prime Minister, said a few days ago, before the Hamas victory:

"In order to ensure the existence of a Jewish national home, we will not be able to continue ruling over the territories in which the majority of the Palestinian population lives."

January 27, 2006

When Will American Women Stand Up for Peace?

Medea Benjamin asks in The Nation why American women are not front and center advocating for peace. Benjamon wants to know where the great tradition has gone of the "suffragettes who chained themselves to the White House fence for the right to vote;" where the women garment workers are "whose struggles for decent working conditions inspired the first International Women's Day in 1910;" where the women are who have "emulated Rosa Parks, risking their lives or livelihoods to confront the evils of racism."

Benjamin says: "Given their tradition of activism, why aren't American women today rising up against a government that dragged them into war with lies, that spies on their peaceful activities and diverts money from their children's schools or their mothers' nursing homes to pay for an immoral war?"

Perhaps we will find out where they are when they vote in November, late this year.

January 26, 2006

America: Where the Rich Get Richer

By Bob Warren, aka The Old Pessimist

The inherent internal inequity of America – the proverbial ‘Land of Opportunity,’ the putative ‘Richest, Most Powerful Nation in the World’ – stands as one of the great contradictions of democracy in the New Millennium. Voracious wealth disparity implicates an inordinately complex calculus, involving social philosophy and economic policy, deeply embedded history, an unwillingness to confront reality, and political decisions that have little to do with the common good and much to do with special interests. Notwithstanding its compound complexity, the essence of the problem can be reduced to a simple single sentence: Far too few have far too much, while far too many have far too little.

Unless one is in a persistent vegetative state, mentally impaired or a hermit, the realities of inequality of opportunity, income and wealth disparity, and the deprivation occasioned by all manner of class barriers are manifest. If we don’t see them, it is only because we don’t want to see them. Cause-and-effect are the subject of endless studies and ceaseless debates, some purely academic, some firmly rooted in reality. To those who believe that all’s well with America, or that a citizen’s individual responsibility does not attach to national policy, or the jaded view that in the end, we all get what we deserve – I cite below a number of verifiable facts and assessments.

They are not necessarily presented entirely within context. Take them as you wish, although it is in the aggregate that they make the most sense.
  • On 2/7/05, the White House released its fiscal 2006 defense budget, amounting to $419.3 billion, a nearly 5% increase over FY2005. Defense spending in FY2006 is 41% above FY2001. [Source: DoD News Release, 2/7/05].
  • In 2004, only 15 other countries in the world had a Gross Domestic Product that exceeded the U.S. current defense budget. [Source: Wikipedia]
  • It is thought by many that by mid-2006, the U.S. Defense Budget will equal that of the rest of the world’s defense expenditures combined. [Source: Jane’s Defence Industry, 5/5/05, as reported by Guy Anderson.]
  • Admittedly, the American population chronically overburdens itself with personal debt, $2.157 trillion as of 11/30/05. [Source: Reuters, D.C., 1/9/06]
  • In a recent letter to Congress, Treasury Secretary John Snow stated that unless the Government’s current $8.2 trillion debt ceiling is raised by mid-March 2006, "we will be unable to continue to finance government operations." [Source: S.F. Chronicle, AP, 1/8/06] By way of comparison: in 2002, the national debt limit inherited by President Bush from the Clinton Administration was ‘only’ $5.95 trillion.
  • The official poverty rate in 2004 was 12.7%, up from 12.5% in 2003;
    In 2004, 37.0 million people lived in poverty, up 1.1 million from 2003;
    (NB: As defined by the OMB and updated for inflation using the CPI, the average poverty threshold for a family of four in 2004 was income of $19,307; for a family of three, $15,067; for a family of two, $12,334; and for unrelated individuals, $9,645, i.e., $26.42 per day for food, housing and incidentals.)

The above statistics reflect a worst-case perspective for viewing the economic facts-of-life in America. What follows broadens that perception. All figures, unless otherwise indicated, are as compiled by the Economic Policy Institute in a recently published report entitled FACTS & FIGURES, State of Working America, 2004 – 2005.

    In 2001, 20% of all income went to the top-earning 1% of households, which also held 33.4% of all net worth. The 90% of households with the lowest incomes received 54.8% of all income, but had only 28.5 of all net worth.
    In 2001, the top fifth of households held 84.4 of all wealth; the middle fifth held only 3.9%, their smallest share since 1962. The bottom fifth had a negative net worth, owing more than it owned.
    For the past 40 years, approximately 80% of all wealth has been held by 20% of all households.
    The top 1% of stock owners hold 44.% of all stocks, by value, while the bottom 80% own just 5.8% of total stock holdings.
    About 48% of households own no stock and another 11.8% have less than $5,000 in stock.
    Households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more control 69% of all stock.
    About 75% of the stock market growth from 1989 – 2001 went to the wealthiest 10% of households.
    In 1979, the average income for the top 1% was 33.1 times the income of the lowest 20% and 10.1 times that of the middle fifth. By 2000, the average income of the top 1% was 88.5 times that of the bottom fifth.
  • REAL WEALTH (or not):
    Distribution of U.S. Wealth Ownership, 2001
    (Total U.S. net worth $42,389,200,000,000):
    Top 1% of population = 32.7% of accumulated wealth
    Next 4% = 25.0%
    Next 5% = 12.1%
    Next 40% = 25.4%
    Bottom 50% = 2.8%
    [Source: A. B. Kennickell, "A Rolling Tide: Changes in the Distribution of Wealth in the U.S., 1989-2001," Table 10 (Levy Economics Institute: November, 2003.)
  • INCOME comparisons:
    Average real after-tax income levels, 1980 – 2000, by income group (2001 dollars):
    Year Lowest Quintile Highest Quintile Top 1% All Quintiles
    1980 $13,000 $83,800 $288,100 $40,500
    1985 $11,700 $99,200 $433,000 $44,300
    1990 $12,600 $107,900 $500,400 $47,500
    1995 $13,600 $112,000 $500,700 $49,400
    2000 $14,100 $145,400 $886,800 $58,600
    [Source: Congressional Budget Office]
    Real and Current Values of the Federal Minimum Wage, 1960 - 2003
  • Minimum Wage Minimum Wage
    Year Current Dollar Real Dollars (2003)
    1960 $1.00 $5.26
    1970 $1.60 $6.56
    1980 $3.10 $6.55
    1990 $3.80 $5.19
    2000 $5.15 $5.50
    2003 $5.15 $5.15
    [Source: The State of Working America 2004-2005, id., at figure 2W]

In my experience, there is only so much that one can absorb from bare, bloodless statistics.

Indeed, there is a disconcerting disconnect between statistical compilations and the human conditions they reflect. But this is enough of a start, at least if one makes the effort to project the impact of these dry data onto our nearly three hundred million fellow Americans who comprise the diverse American population.

It is a given: life is inherently unfair. Advantages and disadvantages are unevenly and unpredictably distributed. Sometimes, simply the circumstances of birth determine success or failure. Our time is filled with perils and risks, some avoidable, others not. Here are some of them:

-- a sudden critical illness;

-- the unexpected loss of a job;

-- an un- or under-insured personal catastrophe of one sort or another;

-- the withdrawal or reduction of employer-sponsored health-care benefits or pension funding;

-- the need to provide medical care and/or housing for aging parents,;

-- meeting the costs of higher education for two or three college-age children.

Wealth doesn’t buy happiness, but it can purchase peace, security and comfort. Wealth isn’t necessarily power, but it is protection. In the final analysis, wealth is opportunity.

Despite its enormous riches, America rations far too little genuine opportunity to most of its citizens. Freedom, yes. But freedom to do what? To paraphrase another’s famous observation: "It’s amazing. In America, even the rich are free to seek shelter under the cities’ bridges during freezing cold winter nights."

Part of answering questions about why so few Americans enjoy the opportunity of America's riches lies in questions about who is taxed, who isn’t, and what becomes of the revenue. Before turning to the specifics, first a preemptive rebuttal to those who will predictably claim that all the Bush Administration’s tax cuts have led to ‘good times’ for most of the nation’s taxpayers.

In its ‘Thanksgiving 2005 Report,’ United for a Fair Economy demonstrates its contention that there is “No correlation Between Bush Tax Cuts and Job Creation: Rate of Job Growth at Historic Low After 4 Years of Tax Cuts; Quality of Jobs [created in that time] Poor.”

The highlights of that report note that (1) a review of the past six decades shows that changes in tax policy have not resulted in either job creation or job destruction, i.e., tax policy has no predictable effect on the job market; (2) from June 2003 to December 2004, the Administration promised that its tax-cutting policy would create 5.5 million new jobs - but a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey showed that only 2.6 million new jobs were created, even though 4.1 million would have been expected without any special economic stimulus; and, (3) while there is no definitive evidence that massive tax cuts create jobs, there is considerable evidence that they contribute to economy-choking deficits.

A more recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities further undercuts the Bush Administration’s claims: (1) In six out of seven indicators, growth rates during the current recovery have been below average for post-World War II recoveries (the sole exception being ‘corporate profits,’ which have grown far more rapidly than on average); (2) the labor market is below average for a post-World War II recovery; (3) the President’s recent claim that “We’re still on track to cut the federal deficit in half by 2009” is true only when not including substantial future expenditures that are very likely to be incurred, e.g., additional funding for Iraq, Afghanistan, relief for the Alternative Minimum Tax, and massive additional federal subsidies for rebuilding efforts along the U.S. Gulf Coast following Hurricanes Katrina-Rita; and, (4) the Administration’s policies will expand the deficit over the next five years, mostly because the budget cuts that it has proposed in domestic programs [see below] are more than outweighed by its proposed tax cuts, coupled with increases in defense and homeland security spending.

The authors of the same CBPP report also note the following: (a) according to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, tax cuts enacted since President Bush took office reduced revenues by $211 billion in 2005, a year in which the federal deficit was $319 billion; (b) even though revenue growth was better than expected in 2005, revenues in that year remained at historically low levels; and, (c) finally, revenues in 2005 were well below the levels at which they were projected after the 2001 tax cut was enacted (this, even after disregarding the additional revenue losses caused by the tax cuts enacted after 2001).

N. G. Mankiw, the former chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and a Harvard economic professor, wrote in his well-known textbook that there is “no credible evidence” that “tax revenues . . . rise in the face of lower tax rates.” Mankiw compared an economist who says that tax cuts can pay for themselves to a “snake oil salesman who is trying to sell a miracle cure.”

[See also a somewhat earlier but much more detailed report, since substantiated, also published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, entitled, Tax Returns: A Comprehensive Assessment of the Bush Administration’s Record on Cutting Taxes, by Isaac Shapiro and Joel Friedman. Finally on this topic, I highly recommend the much discussed article authored by William H. Gates, Sr. and Chuck Collins, “TAX the WEALTHY: Why America Needs the Estate Tax.” The authors do an admirable job of explaining the particulars of ‘the death tax’ and lay waste to many misinterpretations of its cause-and-effect.]

On January 1, 2006, two tax cuts became effective that primarily benefit ‘persons of high net worth’ (the new term for the well-worn sobriquet of ‘millionaire’). These cuts will eliminate provisions of the tax code that limit the value of personal exemptions and itemized deductions that people at high income levels may take. Nearly all of the two combined cuts (97%) will benefit households with incomes over $200,000. To be precise: 53.3% of the benefit will flow to households with incomes over $1 million; 43.2% to households with income between $200,000 and $1 million; and, 3.3% to households with income of between $100,000 and $200,000.

Household with incomes under $100,000 will receive 0.1% of the benefits.

Putting this in perspective, only 0.2% of households have income over $1 million and 11% have incomes between $100,000 and $200,000. When the two cuts are fully implemented in 2010, millionaires will gain an average of $19,000 per year, which will be in addition to another $103,000 they received in 2005 due to other tax cuts that have been enacted since 2001. [Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 12/28/2005, Two Tax Cuts Primarily Benefiting Millionaires Will Start Taking Effect January 1; Congress Declines to Rethink These Tax Cuts As It Proposes to Cut Aid to Low-Income Families] For a complete statement of the underside of the pending tax legislation, see, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Assessing the Effects of The Budget Conference Agreement on Low-Income Families and Individuals, Rev’d 1/9/06

No matter what the excuse, explanation, justification, or pretext, we no longer treat ourselves very well. The rich do get richer, which is to be expected in a capitalist society I suppose, but they do so at the expense of the poor, who more and more get the back of Society’s hand. We’ve lost sight not only of the virtue of generosity, but of its benefits as well.

Perhaps the two most generous national acts in my lifetime were the enactment of the G.I. Bill after World War II, enabling an entire generationwhich had been in the trenches and fought and won ‘The Good War’ (to use Studs Terkel’s term) to pull itself up the economic and sociological ladder (a generation which, I might add, became the most prolifically innovative and diligent in modern America’s history, and the Marshall Plan, the far-sighted foreign assistance package to devastated Europe after World War II which, arguably, ultimately saved our world from Communist domination. Although the expense of each program was monumental, we got back far more than the cost of our initial investment.

I predict that the egregious wealth disparity that now prevails in this country ultimately will be the death of the American dream. These days, equality of opportunity is a whimsical notion at best, a cruel lie at worst. The ‘Me Generation’ has morphed into the ‘My Generation.’ Greed is on its way to squeezing out decency and kindness and caring. We would do well to listen to the words of the late Hubert Humphrey, who, in Washington, D.C. on November 1, 1977, observed"...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped."

By those tenets, our Government today is flunking this most important test of all.

January 25, 2006


An impressive example of how bloggers can make a difference. Here, from the Secrecy Report of the Federation of American Scientists FAS), is coverage of a blogger's report on how the Bush administration rejected a previous proposal from a Republican Congressman to water down the Foreign Intelligence Suveillance Act (FISA) by lowering the standard for obtaining wiretap permissions. The Bush administration worried then, in 2002, that it might be "unconstitutional!"

The hypocrisy of the Bush administration knows no bounds. The following is taken directly from FAS.


The Bush Administration rejected a Congressional initiative in 2002 that would have lowered the legal threshold for conducting surveillance of non-US persons under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act from "probable cause" that the target is aterrorist or agent of a foreign power to "reasonable suspicion." Administration officials said at the time that the legislative proposal was unnecessary and possibly unconstitutional.

Yet in a speech this week on the NSA domestic surveillance program, Deputy Director of National Intelligence Gen. Michael V. Hayden indicated that the executive branch had unilaterally adopted a similar "reasonable suspicion" standard. Instead of FISA's more stringent "probable cause" requirement, the presidentially-directed NSA surveillance operation applied to international calls that "we have a reasonable basis to believe involve al Qaeda or one of its affiliates," Gen. Hayden said on January 23.

The unexplained contradiction between the Administration's public rejection of the "reasonable suspicion" standard for FISA, and its secret adoption of that same standard was noted yesterday by attorney and blogger Glenn Greenwald.

The 2002 legislative proposed, S. 2659 introduced by Rep. Michael DeWine (R-OH), "raises both significant legal and practical issues [and] the Administration at this time is not prepared to support it," said James A. Baker of the Justice Department. Among other concerns, Mr. Baker said, "If we err in our analysis and courts were ultimately to find a 'reasonable suspicion' standard unconstitutional, we could potentially put at risk ongoing investigations and prosecutions."See Mr. Baker's prepared statement from the July 31, 2002 hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The transcript and other prepared statements from that Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "Proposals to Amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act" are available here.

George Bush Drunk?

Caught on film? (endure a short ad first)

"Progressive Conservative?"

In its story about the victory of Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party in Canada, the BBC says that Harper was able to transform his image as a "hardline right-winger" to that of a "progressive conservative." That sounds even better than George Bush's "compassionate conservatism."

Of course, it's a crock of first rate bull.

Harper is Bush's kinda guy.

  • He is opposed to gay marriage, abortion, even civil unions.
  • He is opposed to trade unions, in favor of tax cuts, and wants a bigger Canadian military.
  • Harper opposes the Kyoto Protocol on global warming (taking the chill off George Bush's cold, cold cockles).
  • He opposes "death taxes," the same Bush euphemism for the inheritance tax (let's not even hint at any classism or inequity in either American or Canadian society).
  • He supported US President George Bush's war in Iraq, calling the Canadian position "abrasively neutral."
  • He supported George Bush's US Anti-ballistic defence shield.

Harper's words and positions on a whole host of issues is scary and revealing.

The Conservatives have won 120 seats (36% of the vote) in the new Parliament, the Liberals 104 seats (30% of the vote), the Block Quebecois has 51 seats, and the very progressive New Democratic Party (which actually saw a gain) has 29.

The Conservatives do not have a majority and need to find a coalition to rule.

Let's hope that any coalition partners extract commitments from Harper that will rein in his most extreme ideas and policies.

January 24, 2006

Jimmy Carter's Take on Abortion: "Life" is in Thrall to Death

A review by Gary Wills of Jimmy Carter's new book Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis contains some interesting and worthwhile perspectives on the issues of abortion and the dogmatism of fundamentalist Christians from the former President.

Writing from the perspective of a born-again Christian, who is disapproved of by many of the well-known born-again Christians on the national stage, Carter describes "the marks of this new fundamentalism" which are, according to him "rigidity, self-righteousness, and an eagerness to use compulsion (including political compulsion)."

Herewith, part of Gary Wills review:


Its spokesmen [referring to this new fundamentalism] are contemptuous of all who do not agree with them one hundred percent. Pat Robertson, on his 700 Club, typified the new "popes" when he proclaimed: "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist." Carter got a firsthand taste of such intolerance when the president of the Southern Baptist Convention visited him in the White House to tell him, "We are praying, Mr. President, that you will abandon secular humanism as your religion."

Such attitudes are far from the ones recommended by Jesus in the gospels as Carter has studied and taught them through the decades, and their proponents have brought similar attitudes into the political world, where a matching political fundamentalism has taken over much of the electoral process. Such dictatorial attitudes defeat the stated goals of the fundamentalists themselves.
On abortion, for instance, Carter argues that a "pro-life" dogmatism defeats human life and values at many turns. Carter is opposed to abortion, as what he calls a tragedy "brought about by a combination of human errors." But the "pro-life" forces compound rather than reduce the errors. The most common abortions, and the most common reasons cited for undergoing them, are caused by economic pressure compounded by ignorance.

Yet the anti-life movement that calls itself pro-life protects ignorance by opposing family planning, sex education, and informed use of contraceptives, tactics that not only increase the likelihood of abortion but tragedies like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rigid system of the "pro-life" movement makes poverty harsher as well, with low minimum wages, opposition to maternity leaves, and lack of health services and insurance. In combination, these policies make ideal conditions for promoting abortion, as one can see from the contrast with countries that do have sex education and medical insurance.
Carter writes:
"Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but, deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likely to have an abortion, and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/ AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group in Germany.... It has long been known that there are fewer abortions in nations where prospective mothers have access to contraceptives, the assurance that they and their babies will have good health care, and at least enough income to meet their basic needs.

The result of a rigid fundamentalism combined with poverty and ignorance can be seen where the law forbids abortion:

In some predominantly Roman Catholic countries where all abortions are illegal and few social services are available, such as Peru, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia, the abortion rate is fifty per thousand. According to the World Health Organization, this is the highest ratio of unsafe abortions [in the world]."

A New York Times article that came out after Carter's book appeared further confirms what he is saying: "Four million abortions, most of them illegal, take place in Latin America annually, the United Nations reports, and up to 5,000 women are believed to die each year from complications from abortions."[*] This takes place in countries where churches and schools teach abstinence as the only form of contraception—demonstrating conclusively the ineffectiveness of that kind of program.

By contrast, in the United States, where abortion is legal and sex education is broader, the abortion rate reached a twenty-four-year low during the 1990s. Yet the ironically named "pro-life" movement would return the United States to the condition of Chile or Colombia. And not only that, the fundamentalists try to impose the anti-life program in other countries by refusing foreign aid to programs that teach family planning, safe sex, and contraceptive knowledge. They also oppose life-saving advances through the use of stem cell research.
With friends like these, "life" is in thrall to death. Carter finds these results neither loving (in religious terms) nor just (in political terms).

The Other Speech the Press Ignored

When labor talks, the press walks. It's always been true. Organized labor, even when it represented a larger percentage of the workforce than it does now (only 12% or so) was the step-child of economic thought, a footnote in The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Barron's, and all the rest of the media that covers capitalism. It remains that way today.

So when John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO spoke to the National Press Club the other day, his voice was yet again one voice for labor in the midst of thousands and thousands of voices against labor. But it was a speech, like Al Gore's on Martin Luther King Day, that it worth reading and distributing as far and wide as possible.

If you don't have time to read the whole speech, here is the essence of what he said (from the AFL-CIO press release):

Jan. 18—Stopping the senseless slaughter of good American jobs is the most critical challenge facing the United States, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told a National Press Club audience Jan. 18 in Washington, D.C.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said the senseless slaughter of good U.S. jobs must be stopped.

Cheryl Burns, a 28-year veteran flight attendant with United Airlines, saw her pension cut by more than half after the airline declared bankruptcy.

“The senseless slaughter of the good American job has been going on for the past 25 years. It’s at the core of a corporate-driven strategy to compete in the global marketplace by degrading work and workers, rather than competing through ingenuity—competing through privatization, deregulation and de-unionization, rather than by innovation,” he said.

Speaking as part of the Press Club’s Newsmakers series, Sweeney decried the destruction of good U.S. jobs, jobs that once created “the largest middle class, the most dynamic economy and the strongest democracy in the history of the world.” Instead, America’s workers face a huge loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs, shrinking health care coverage, stagnant incomes and insecure retirements as a growing number of corporations such as IBM and Verizon drop pension plans.

What if Bush Told the Truth About the Economy?

When President George W. Bush makes his State of the Union speech this month, he is expected to paint a rosy picture of the nation’s economic future.

“But what if he told the American people the truth?” Sweeney asked.

Sweeney said Bush won’t do that because the truth would involve admitting “we are barely creating enough new jobs to match the growth in our workforce—and increasingly, the jobs we are generating are dead-end alleys. Our trade policies have translated into over 2 million lost manufacturing jobs…just since 1998, our debt to other countries is rising by more than $1 million a minute and almost $700 billion in U.S. Treasury notes are held by China alone.”

According to The New York Times writer Louis Uchitelle, author of The Disposable American, due out from Knopf in March, more than 30 million workers were involuntarily displaced from their jobs between 1980 and 2001.

“Far more than in the past, America lives with a chronically floating, low-wage workforce, one that would not exist if the deterioration in pay and training, and the acquiescence to layoffs, had not made inroads into the dignity of work,” Uchitelle writes. And just today, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that U.S. workers’ inflation-adjusted average hourly earnings declined 0.5 percent in 2005.

To stem the flood of job loss, Sweeney said the nation must reverse its trade policies and demand that rights for workers receive the same protections as corporate interests in all trade agreements. In addition, new laws should be enacted to make it illegal for companies to buy or sell merchandise or services manufactured or provided under sweatshop working conditions.
Also, Sweeney said tax laws that encourage corporations to send jobs overseas should be repealed and all goods and services paid for with tax dollars should be produced or provided in this country.

Corporations Use Bankruptcy to Abandon Their Commitments to Workers

Sweeney said some 150 major U.S. corporations “are using the bankruptcy courts to abandon their commitments to provide guaranteed pensions to the workers who have enabled them to grow and profit.”

He pointed to Cheryl Burns, a 28-year veteran flight attendant with United Airlines, who, before the air carrier’s bankruptcy, was due a $3,000 a month pension.
“A backroom deal cut that pension payment to $1,200 a month and now she’s threatened with further wage and benefit cuts at a time when her CEO is being assured total compensation of more than $50 million a year,” he said.

Sweeney called for universal health coverage so workers can live secure lives and corporations can compete in the global marketplace; for corporations to invest more in workers and less in their executives; for doubling funding for job training and skills development and education; and for raising the federal minimum wage.

The Union Solution

Working families can’t count on the corporate-influenced and anti-worker Congress and the Bush administration to change the course of the country so they are turning to their unions to help steer in a new direction.
He pointed to the success of the AFL-CIO community affiliate, Working America, founded in 2004, that now includes more than 1 million members and which has “worked hand-in-hand with our collective bargaining members to defeat Social Security privatization, and in November they helped break the bonds of ex-urban county politics to bring home a win for Tim Kaine in Virginia.”

In addition, the AFL-CIO is investing significant funds in the National Labor College to train union leaders of the future and has stepped its Voice@Work campaign to expose employers who interfere with workers’ right to form and join unions and improve their workplaces.

“If I were President, I would ask every member of the House and Senate to sign on as a sponsor to the Employee Free Choice Act, which guarantees the freedom of America’s workers to come together in unions and bargain for a better life,” Sweeney said. “It will stop American employers from taking advantage of our laughable labor laws to destroy the unions that keep our middle class healthy and growing. It will make it possible for workers to join unions and add their voices to our campaign for the good jobs that guarantee economic equality and a strong democracy.”

In July, at the AFL-CIO Convention, Sweeney said, “We made an historic decision to increase our emphasis on helping new members organize so we can build the strength we need and working families deserve. We also decided to devote more resources to legislative and political advocacy and to fold up our election-cycle model and replace it with a new grassroots program that works year-in and year-out to build a vibrant movement and hold our elected representatives accountable.

That model was used in November’s special election in California to defeat four anti-worker ballot initiatives.

He also outlined the federation’s political and legislative mobilization on the state and local levels, which played a key role in overriding Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s (R) veto of a Fair Share Health Care bill and his leading the fight for similar legislation in more than 30 states.

With Congress refusing to raise the federal minimum wage since 1997, union-backed campaigns are under way to increase state and local minimum wages.

Among other things, Sweeney listed the following newspaper headlines as signs of the times:

From the Washington Post: “Consumer Prices Increase, Outstrip Wages.”

From Reuters, “China to Service United Fleet.”

Another from the Post: “Trade Gap Ballooned in October.”

A cover headline from The Economist warned: “Danger Time for America.”

A headline from the Associated Press: “Tough Times Ahead for Middle Class Worker; Manufacturing Jobs Vanishing From Our Shores.”

From the New York Times: “IBM Freezes Its Pension Plans.”

From the Wall Street Journal: “Growth in Medical Cost Slows As Firms Shift Tab to Workers.”

And another from the Wall Street Journal carrying the counter-intuitive headline, “Wal-Mart Urges Congress to Raise the Minimum Wage.” The Wal-Mart CEO said the company was urging the long-overdue federal increase because, and I quote, “Our core customers aren’t making enough money to spend enough money.”

Finally, the New York Times weighed in with a story we already knew was coming: “U.S. Poverty Rate Was Up Last Year.” It was the first time on record that household incomes failed to increase for five straight years — and that record includes the Great Depression.

And he pointed out one salient historical fact that is worth considering:

That Depression followed the only other time in modern history when the White House, the Supreme Court and both houses of Congress ALL were controlled by one anti-expansion, anti-working family, anti-union political party.

Our country was headed in the wrong direction then, so we took back control and charted a new course that spread the wealth and regulated the excesses of big business.

Bob Warren, a friend of mine who has been writing about the inequities in America (I'll be publishing his two part series entitled: Wealth Disparity in America, reminded me of something Hubert Humphrey said not long before he died:

"...the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped."

Bob's conclusion, and mine, is that our current government is failing this test in every way.

January 23, 2006

Canada Emulating USA

Canada used to be the place that Americans fantasized moving to (some actually have done it) to get out of the way of the Radical Right juggernaut in this country. Now, they'll have to consider Ireland, or Sweden, or Colombia.

Canada's Liberal Party faces a major loss, and will be replaced by a Bush friendly Canadian leadership that wants to expand the Canadian military, fight crime, end liberal sin and corruption. Sounds like the US in 2000, huh? The Conservatives in Canada also want to cozy up alot more to Bush.

It will be interesting to see how big the Conservatives actually win in elections in Canada today.

Hurray for Canada....Karl Rove will, yet, teach you a thing or two about democracy.

The Voice of the Democratic Party

The Democratic Party has chosen Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (Tom Paine, where are you when we need you?) to respond to Bush's upcoming State of the Union address. Like Arianna Huffington and Michael Miller (at Informed Dissent), I wish they had chosen someone else, someone like John Murtha, for instance.

But the Democrats are in the habit of eating their own, especially when it comes to independent powerful voices willing to stand up and lead the Party and the American people. The entrenched Democratic Party leadership is unhinged and discomfitted by voices like Murtha's, preferring to campaign against the GOP with the same old tired, milquetoast acquiescience. So Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have chosen a safe voice for the Democrats.

Here's the voice the Democrats are putting up against Bush (all below comes from Kaine's campaign website):

-- Tim Kaine has what he calls "a faith-based opposition to abortion;"
-- at the top of his list of issues on his gubernatorial campaign website are the words, "faith and family;"
-- he's tax cutter, his campaign website emphasizes over and over how he will cut taxes, for just about everyone;
-- he is an unwavering supporter of the Second Amendment, opposing any infringment on the right of citizens to bear arms;
-- his environmental policy statement on his campaign website does not mention the words "global warming" anywhere and is a perfect example of a conservative's polite and accomodating approach to the corporate rape of our environment;
-- in his statement on the obscene oil prices of last year, he apes the fawning pleas of the Bush administration to the oil companies to play fair and be nice;
-- his position on health care is the very essence of Democratic spinelessness and innocuousness, proposing "a voluntary public-private small business insurance pool, tax cuts to help small businesses afford health insurance, and tools to help business owners and their workers become better health care consumers."

In Vermont, we would call him a conservative Republican.

Saying that, I know that the Kaine win in Virginia was a great boost to the Democrats in this past election. I know that he is better than whatever the Virginia GOP offered. But come on, is this really the best voice the Democrats can put up against Bush?

William Rivers Pitt has proposed that the Democrats stand up, en masse, during the State of the Union address, and silently walk out. He says this:

Understand this, congressional Democrats, and understand it well: you are not dealing merely with a body of political opponents in the GOP. You are dealing with a group of people that want you exterminated politically. The days of walking the halls of the Rayburn Building, sharing a bourbon with a colleague from the other side of the aisle, and hammering out a compromise are as dead as Julius Caesar. Collegiality is out. Mutual respect is out. They want you gone for good. Erased. Destroyed.

Those are pretty alarmist words. Some might say they are hysterical. Pitt says the Democrats have been too polite about all this, that:

The writing has been on the wall for a while now. Back in 1995, Republican Senator Phil Gramm said, "We're going to keep building the party until we're hunting Democrats with dogs." That was eleven years ago. If you listen close, you can hear the beasts baying in the distance, waiting to slip the leash. Your limp tactics in the face of the assault upon you, your vacillation, your strange hope that maybe the GOP will be nicer tomorrow, has left you all smelling like Alpo.

Pitt maintains that the Abramoff scandal will not carry the Democrats to victory in November 2006, that this issue will either sputter out or will be delayed (no pun intended). He offers a very specific strategy for the Democrats to follow in their walkout:

It takes a spine to stand up. Find yours. Get up and walk out of the State of the Union speech. Turn your backs on the blizzard of lies and empty promises that are sure to pour forth from that podium. Give it exactly what it deserves.
Walk outside to the steps of the Capitol Building and hold a Counter-State-of-the-Union. Lay out your plans for a better future. Explain how you will reform the system that spawned Mr. Abramoff. Demand answers and explanations about what is happening in Iraq, what is happening over at the National Security Agency, and why this administration believes itself to be completely above the law.
I can even offer a bit of text for your opening statement. "Three years ago during this very speech," your leading spokesperson can say from those steps, "Mr. Bush told us that Iraq was in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons - which is one million pounds - of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent, 30,000 missiles to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs, al Qaeda connections, and uranium from Niger for use in a robust nuclear weapons program. He said all this three years ago, during this all-important annual address, and all of it was a lie. The American people deserve an explanation."

This is an intriguing idea. It won't happen. It contains huge risks. I'd like to hear what Pitt thinks some of the risks are, but the obvious one is a negative reaction from the American people, fueled by a media and GOP backlash-- essentially a reaction that says the GOP is right, the Dems are obstructionist, petulant, and unpatriotic. The press would say, when the going gets tough, the Democrats get going. The Democrats would be tarred and feathered, but not kicked out of Washigton DC, yet. They would be forced to sit in their seats and endure national condemnation and, then, significant losses in November.

I do agree with Pitt's basic fundamental understanding of those who currently rule this country. I empathize with his frustration and understand his call to action. He is saying "Do something", "Do Anything!"

The American Right has worked for a long time to gain power and solidify the plutocracy. It will do anything to maintain it. Could it be that the Democratic leadership, the group that confronts these people on a daily basis, really doesn't understand this fundamental fact about them? If they don't, then we are in bigger trouble than we think.

When Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, the top two Democrats in Congress, pick Tim Kaine to be the single voice of opposition to Bush's State of the Union address, I worry they don't get it.

We Have Always Been At War With Eastasia

Reprinted with kind permission by Echidne of the Snakes, Saturday January 21, 2006


The title refers to George Orwell's 1984 and is shorthand for telling you that I'm an ivory tower elitist latte-sipping liberal who has read at least one book in her long life. It's also, sadly, an extremely apt and short way of summarizing what is going on in this country right now, and it is the exploitation of the human fear of dying.

Karl Rove is back in the saddle because George Bush fears horses. All the rest of us will be made to fear and to fear and then to fear some more. We are going to be scared of those dark shadows hiding in the corners and of dirty bombs and of dark-haired men with beards:

What Rove underscored in his stripped-down presentation was the degree to which the White House is gearing up for another "He Protected Us Against Osama bin Laden Even If We Can't Find Him" election. For terrorism remains the most potent political argument for reelecting a Republican Congress.

Other presidents, particularly Bill Clinton, needed the Permanent Campaign to sustain them politically. As Rove demonstrated Friday in his first out-from-hiding speech since November, Bush and the Republicans are banking everything politically on the Permanent War. Permanent War, against a shadowy enemy with no country, no government. An enemy we cannot find or kill, an enemy which might disappear from the book of the living and we wouldn't know that this had happened. An eternal world of war, with all peacetime laws suspended.

How do you like that, my friends? But it's because of the terror, the possibility that right at this moment an evil terrorist might be building a bomb, might be putting it into a box and might be writing your name and address on the box. What wouldn't we give up to be safe? How about everything that Osama bin Laden wanted to destroy? For that is where we seem to be heading.


January 22, 2006

Bush's Tongue Slips

From the transcript of a meeting at a trucking company in Virginia where Bush spoke at length on many subjects and took questions from attendees which were obviously all setup in advance. In the course of one question, here is what he said:

Q (Inaudible.) And we're proud of you Mr. President, and your --
THE PRESIDENT: Keep it up, will you? (Laughter.) About time.
Q (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Laughter and applause.) It's always good to have a plant in every audience, you know? (Laughter.)

The word "plant" must be on his mind alot when he attends these staged events. He must be fully aware, and reassured, that he is almost always talking to groups that his handlers have pre-screened and which have had questions planted among them. He knows how it all works. He just spoke the truth out loud.

Letter to Bush from an Iraqi Citizen

This is from Azzaman, an Arabic daily in Iraq, which also publishes an online international edition in English.

A letter from a disgruntled Iraqi man to U.S. President George W. Bush

Azzaman, January 16, 2006

Dear Mr. Bush,

Please accept my warmest greetings and appreciation for all the ‘good things’ your ‘friendly and liberation’ troops have done to my country.

In the nearly three years since ‘the liberation’, you and your troops have been leading us along the path of ‘democracy and freedom’ and have managed to bring security and stability to our land after decades of oppression.

And because I am so happy with what you have done for us I dreamed of you the other night. Your face beamed, and you kept smiling and you hand an olive branch in your right hand.

You were surrounded by angels in the form of birds and looked as an upright, pious man with a Godly mission.

You said all your actions were driven by heavenly advice including your invasion of our country.

For this reason we thank God for all the suffering, grievances and calamities that have befallen us because of you since that, in you mind, is the wish of God.

Dear Mr. President,

Your deeds in Iraq are bearing fruit and your efforts have not gone in vain. ‘The new Iraq’ is a product of your persistence and perseverance.

And because of you and your deeds, ‘democracy’ is now deeply rooted in Iraq.

Because of you we have gained nothing and lost almost everything – may God bless you for it?

We now enjoy the privileges of your humanitarian experiences and because of that our country has returned to the pre-industrial age which your father had predicted for us.

Our country now has no drinking water, no electricity and no fuel. But what do we need these luxuries for at a time we are relishing the taste of ‘the democracy’ you have given us.

You may want to know that we are in a tunnel without light whose end will be the disintegration of our country into shaky statelets that will be easy to devour by others.

Congratulations Mr. President.

Yours faithfully,

Sammak Burhan

January 21, 2006

Debunking the Christian Nation Myth

Priscilla, over at Water Weaving (via Buridan's Ass), has a great list of quotes from the founding fathers which should serve to rebutt any claims by the religious right that this is a Christian nation founded as a Christian nation.

Copy this list of quotes someplace accessible so you can pull it out the next time someone tries to tell you that the USA is a Christian-based country.

I Will Not Support Hillary Clinton for President by Molly Ivins

I'd like to make it clear to the people who run the Democratic Party that I will not support Hillary Clinton for president.

Enough. Enough triangulation, calculation and equivocation. Enough clever straddling, enough not offending anyone. This is not a Dick Morris election.

Sen. Clinton is apparently incapable of taking a clear stand on the war inIraq, and that alone is enough to disqualify her. Her failure to speak outon Terri Schiavo, not to mention that gross pandering on flag-burning, are just contemptible little dodges.

The recent death of Gene McCarthy reminded me of a lesson I spent a long, long time unlearning, so now I have to re-learn it. It's about political courage and heroes, and when a country is desperate for leadership. There are times when regular politics will not do, and this is one of those times. There are times a country is so tired of bull that only the truth can provide relief. If no one in conventional-wisdom politics has the courage to speak up and say what needs to be said, then you go out and find some obscure junior senator from Minnesota with the guts to do it. In 1968, Gene McCarthy wasthe little boy who said out loud, "Look, the emperor isn't wearing anyclothes." Bobby Kennedy -- rough, tough Bobby Kennedy -- didn't do it. Just this quiet man trained by Benedictines who liked to quote poetry.

What kind of courage does it take, for mercy's sake?

The majority of theAmerican people (55 percent) think the war in Iraq is a mistake and that we should get out.

The majority (65 percent) of the American people want single-payer health care and are willing to pay more taxes to get it.

The majority (86 percent) of the American people favor raising the minimum wage.

The majority of the American people (60 percent) favor repealingBush's tax cuts, or at least those that go only to the rich.

The majority(66 percent) wants to reduce the deficit not by cutting domestic spending,but by reducing Pentagon spending or raising taxes.

The majority (77 percent) thinks we should do "whatever it takes" to protect the environment.

The majority (87 percent) thinks big oil companiesare gouging consumers and would support a windfall profits tax.

That is the center, you fools. WHO ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

I listen to people like Rahm Emanuel superciliously explaining elementary politics to us clueless naifs outside the Beltway ("First, you have to win elections"). Can't you even read the damn polls?

Here's a prize example by someone named Barry Casselman, who writes, "There is an invisible civil war in the Democratic Party, and it is between those who are attempting to satisfy the defeatist and pacifist left base of the party and those who are attempting to prepare the party for successful elections in 2006 and 2008." This supposedly pits Howard Dean, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, emboldenedby "a string of bad news from the Middle East ... into calling for premature retreat from Iraq," versus those pragmatic folk like Steny Hoyer, Rahm Emmanuel, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman.

Oh come on, people -- get a grip on the concept of leadership. Look at this war -- from the lies that led us into it, to the lies they continue to dump on us daily. You sit there in Washington so frightened of the big, bad Republican machine you have no idea what people are thinking. I'm telling you right now, Tom DeLay is going to lose in his district. If Democrats in Washington haven't got enough sense to OWN the issue of political reform, I give up on them entirely.

Do it all, go long, go for public campaign financing for Congress. I'm serious as a stroke about this -- that is the only reform that will work,and you know it, as well as everyone else who's ever studied this. Do all the goo-goo stuff everybody has made fun of all these years: embracere districting reform, electoral reform, House rules changes, the whole package.

Put up, or shut up. Own this issue, or let Jack Abramoff politics continue to run your town. Bush, Cheney and Co. will continue to play the patriotic bully card just as long as you let them.

I've said it before: War brings out the patriotic bullies. In World War I, they went around kicking dachshunds on the grounds that dachshunds were "German dogs." They did not, however, go around kicking German shepherds. The MINUTE someone impugns your patriotism for opposing this war, turn on them like a snarling dog and explain what loving your country really means. That, or you could just piss on them elegantly, as Rep. John Murtha did. Or eviscerate them with wit (look up Mark Twain on the war in the Philippines). Or point out the latest in the endless "string of bad news." Do not sit there cowering and pretending the only way to win is as Republican-lite. If the Washington-based party can't get up and fight,we'll find someone who can.

Lobby Reform

Is there some immunity that the Republicans have to being embarrassed or shamed? Immediately after Jack Abramoff's guilty plea, not only did dozens of Republican legislators dump tens of thousands of dollars of the filthy lucre they got from him as campaign contributions, but now the GOP has come out foresquare in favor of lobbying reform -- all without the slightest hint of embarrassment or shame.

The Democrats are not much better. Even though the number of Democrats tainted by the Abramoff scandal is smaller, by far, they, too, have unloaded campaign contributions from him, and the Democratic leadership has now, on the heels of the Republicans, announced its discovery of the need for lobby reform.

When I worked on Capitol Hill, in the 1970s, not only as a lobbyist, but also as chief of staff for a member of the House of Representatives, the corrupting influence of lobbying was evident to me then. The marriage of lobbying with political donations was the currency of influence and control. But it was a mouse back then, compared to the elephant it has become.

The Congress has evolved into a snake pit of greed and corruption, stuffed fat and obeisant by corporate money, carried by lobbyists with their pockets and mouths stuffed with cash and favors. It is so bad, and so far gone, that any small reforms that a Republican controlled Congress might approve will be laughable and inconsequential. They'll talk about it all year, through the November 2006 elections, and do little, if anything. And, of course, the Republican reform proposals will be clothed in more outrage and self-righteousness than the Democratic reforms, and will also be touted as more effective than the Democratic reform proposals.

This is not even an elephant in America's living room anymore, this is a mammoth, a huge immovable long-haired creature that has such weight and such control that it will not be dislodged unless we do the dislodging.

Congress is powerless to cure its addiction to money. Only the voters can do it by taking the corrupted out of Congress.

It is not going to happen any other way.

January 18, 2006

Aborting America

Here is why the Democratic Party has such a huge problem.

Ann Coulter, the banshee of hate, eviscerates the Democratic Party members of the Judiciary Committee for their miserable, disorganized, purposeless performance in the Alito hearings. She doesn't merely pin on them the one-issue tag of abortion, she nails it on them.

What is being remembered from these hearings?

The long-winded speechifying by Democratic Senators, the lecturing, the hectoring, and a seeming obessisive concentration on the abortion issue. What made it worse were characterizations that made it seem as though abortion is, indeed, some kind of good thing, some exalted human behavior, something almost revered or sacrosanct. The Democrats are right about supporting a woman's right to choose, but they do it so clumsily and awkwardly it hurts their cause. Abortion is NOT a good thing, and anyone who believes it is a good thing is kidding herself. The Democratic Senators tried to make abortion into an American ideal, a mantra like the abolition of slavery.

Abortion is a hard, difficult choice women make and I believe they have every right to make that choice.

But we need to find a way to communicate why a woman's right to choose an abortion needs to be ensured, but not enshrined. There is a difference.

Language matters. And, although I hate to agree with Coulter, that's what I saw in the hearings.

On Saturday, January 14, our state capital, Montpelier, witnessed what was probably the largest march and demonstration against abortion ever. Four hundred people rallied to call abortion murder and claim that millions of murders have been committed since Roe v Wade. The anti-abortion movement in this country is more hopeful now than ever that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe. They believe Roberts and Alito will spearhead that process. For four hundred people opposed to abortion to rally in Montpelier is a big thing. For four hundred people to rally about anything in Montpelier is a big thing.

We must make these anti-abortionists accountable for the results of criminalizing abortion would bring to American society, its families, its schools, its churches, its police forces, and its judicial and penal system. If abortion becomes murder, then they must answer these questions:

Who will be responsible for arresting and prosecuting all of the doctors, physician assistants, nurses, nurses aides, and others who will secretly provide abortions to the millions of women who will still have abortions after they are criminalized?

Who will be responsible for arresting and prosecuting the millions of women who will still have the abortions?

Where are all the jails into which these people will need to be placed?

Who are all the prosecutors and grand juries who will bring the indictments and prosecute the cases?

Who are all the policemen who will be charged with investigating all these women and their accomplices?

What will be the sentencing guidelines -- life sentences? capital punishment? 20 years to life?

Can you even imagine what America will become if this happens?

It is worth your time to watch this extraordinary 6:47 film from ATCenterNetwork where anti-abortion demonstrators are asked what should happen to women who have abortions once abortion has become illegal.

Just what will it mean for America if abortion is illegal?

January 17, 2006

The First Jewish Veteran Eagle Scout President of the United States?

Here is a statement on the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates by Freshman David Englin (D-45) on the third day of his first session. He is speaking against a "defense of marriage" amendment.

There is a deep sense of patriotism in his words, common sense in his ideas, and an urgency in his message of tolerance. Bigotry cannot survive if we talk like this, if this is the kind of appeal we make, if these are the words we use, over and over again. There is something inviolable and unassailable about a language of American tolerance. Bigots and racists and dogmatists and extremists of every kind must be confronted with the words of people like David Englin.

Hat-tip to DailyKos.


Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to this resolution. I'm not going to talk about same-sex marriage. I'm no fool -- although others might make a different judgement about a freshman delegate rising in this chamber on the third day of session. But I understand that on the issue of marriage, I'm in the minority, perhaps even in my own caucus. I also sleep very well at night knowing that at some point in the future of this great Commonwealth, those of us of my opinion will be judged to have been on the right side of history. But let's for a moment forget about the question of same-sex marriage, because this amendment addresses much more than that. We need to be clear and honest: This amendment also outlaws civil unions and domestic partnerships and other similar private legal arrangements.

We have heard from the other side that this constitutional amendment is necessary to protect conventional marriage. I am blessed with a beautiful and brilliant wife who is the love of my life. In June, Shayna and I will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, and I would fight with every ounce of my strength anything that would threaten my marriage. So I would like to know, how exactly civil unions and domestic partnerships and other similar arrangements threaten my marriage?

We have heard from the other side that this amendment will protect families. Shayna and I are blessed with a strong and bright six-year-old son, Caleb, and we have a strong family. My friend the gentleman from Rockingham County, Delegate Lohr, and I have discussed how we come from different backgrounds and different parts of this great Commonwealth, yet we share a deep and abiding commitment to our families. I want nothing more than to protect my family. I spent 12 years wearing the uniform of the United States Air Force to protect my family. I've been in harm's way to protect my family. So I would like to know, how exactly do civil unions and domestic partnerships and other similar arrangements threaten my family? Because if they do, I will be the first one to stand up and fight, because nobody better threaten my family.

Moreover, we have heard from the other side that this amendment must pass sooner rather than later, as if there is some kind of crisis that is more important than issues like transportation or education or health care. Why else would this be our first order of business? Yet Virginia law already makes same-sex marriage and civil unions and domestic partnerships illegal.

So if this amendment doesn't help protect my marriage, and doesn't help protect my family, and if it doesn't even change the status of same-sex marriage and civil unions and domestic partnership contracts, then what exactly does this amendment do? I submit to my fair-minded colleagues that this amendment sends a message. And that message is, if you are gay, or lesbian, or even a man and a woman living together and committed to each other who are not married, you are not welcome in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

And who are these people whom we are shutting out in the cold?

They are my dear friends Karen and Sue, who have been together for years and are as loving and committed to each other as any husband and wife.

They are my friend Lou, who served with me at the Pentagon, and continues to serve our country today.

They are Father Mychal Judge, the gay priest who died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 while ministering to fallen firefighters.

They are Mark Bingham, a gay passenger on United Airlines Flight 93, who fought back against Al Queda hijackers and sacrificed his life to save others.

They are Ronald Gamboa and his partner Dan Brandhorst, who, along with their 3 year old son David, were killed when Al Quaeda flew United Airlines Flight 175 into the World Trade Center.

They are David Charlebois, the co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon when Al Qaeda tried to kill me and my comrades who were on duty inside the Pentagon at the time.

They are friends and neighbors and teachers and doctors and soldiers and loving parents who want nothing more than to live life without fear that the government will tear their families apart.

I'm a student of history, and I find our Founding Fathers to be a great source of wisdom on many matters, so I want to close my remarks by reading from a letter that great Virginian named George Washington wrote more than two centuries ago:

"The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind . . . a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.
May the Children of the Stock of Abraham who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."

Ladies and gentlemen, I implore you, be strong and of good courage and vote down this resolution.