31 December 2007

A Vision of a Preferable Place

Visions of Utopia or Eutopia?
by Sean Gonsalves

It’s the start of a new year. ‘Tis the season to frolic in the Future - a time to consider our utopian dreams and confront our dystopian nightmares. Or, as my grandfather is fond of saying, now’s a good time to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

So, let’s check the futurology front. And who better to consult than the forward-looking folks at The Futurist magazine?

Every year since 1985, TF editors have been publishing “the most thought-provoking ideas and forecasts” that surfaced in their pages in the previous year. This year’s “Outlook Report” is fascinating, as always, including the Top 10 future forecast for 2008.

1. The world will have a billion millionaires by 2025.

Meanwhile water-shortages and poverty will grip two-thirds of the earth’s population. Wealth-gap? How about wealth chasm?

2. Fashion will go wired as technologies and tastes converge to revolutionize the textile industry.

We’re talking “color-changing or perfume-emitting jeans and wristwatches that work as digital wallets.” They call it “smart fabrics.”

3. The threat of another cold war with China, Russia, or both could replace terrorism as the chief foreign-policy concern of the United States.

Citing Edward Luttwak, the editor’s note, “scenarios for what a war with China or Russia would look like make the clashes and wars in which the United States is now involved seem insignificant. The power of radical jihadists is trivial compared with Soviet missile capabilities, for instance. The focus of U.S. foreign policy should thus be on preventing an engagement among Great Powers.”

4. Counterfeiting of currency will proliferate, driving the move toward a cashless society.

There’s Big Brother and then there’s Big Brother’s big brother - Big Biz Brother.

5. The earth is on the verge of a significant extinction event.

The World Resources Institute reports the coming century “could witness a biodiversity collapse 100 to 1,000 times greater than any previous extinction since the dawn of humanity. Protecting biodiversity in a time of increased resource consumption, overpopulation, and environmental degradation will require continued sacrifice on the part of local, often impoverished communities.”

6. Water will be in the 21st century what oil was in the 20th century.

Though the world is full of water (the salty kind), water shortages and droughts are popping up faster than season premiers of yet another new reality TV show. Future war protestors will be carrying signs that say “No War for Water!”

7. World population by 2050 may grow larger than previously expected, due in part to healthier, longer-living people.

Think the world is crowded now? Too much traffic? The UN upped its global population forecast from 9.1 billion people by 2050 to 9.2 billion.

8. The number of Africans imperiled by floods will grow 70-fold by 2080.

Despite the racially-tinged savage imagery we have of the “dark Continent” in the U.S., Africa is actually experiencing rapid urbanization, which is why World Trends & Forecasts cautions that “if global sea levels rise by the predicted 38 cm by 2080, the number of Africans affected by floods will grow from 1 million to 70 million.”

9. Rising prices for natural resources could lead to a full-scale rush to develop the Arctic.

And we’re not talking only oil and natural gas. There’s also a huge Artic supply of nickel, copper, zinc, coal, freshwater, forests, and even fish, all of which are needed to feed the insatiable and metastasizing global economy.

10. More decisions will be made by nonhuman entities.

“Technologies are increasing the complexity of our lives and human workers’ competency is not keeping pace well enough to avoid disasters due to human error,” pushing us toward “electronically enabled teams in networks, robots with artificial intelligence, and other noncarbon life-forms” who “will make financial, health, educational, and even political decisions for us.”

Memo to Election ‘08 reporters: it’s important to focus on the Big Issues of today. But the time is ripe to get the presidential candidates talking (out loud) about the Big Issues of tomorrow.

Questioning them about any one of the above forecasts might stimulate a much-needed discussion about vision, while getting the candidates to reveal something deeper than poll-driven answers and platitudes. Listening to people talk about their vision for the future is how you know if someone is utopian or eutopian - with an ‘e.’

The word “utopia” comes from the Greek for “no place” or “nowhere.” Utopian thought is meant to describe a vision of a better future society - but one beyond our grasp.

Eutopia is a vision of a preferable place - but one with a bridge that gets us from here to there. Visions of a better society don’t attract a critical mass of people. Only future visions with a visible, viable bridge can do that - a lesson many progressives have yet to learn.

It’s not just a vision thing. It’s also a bridge thing.

Sean Gonsalves is an assistant news editor at the
Cape Cod Times and syndicated columnist. He can be reached at sgonsalves@capecodonline.com.


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A Toast to a Green Future, Diplomacy, and ...

Let’s Toast to Ten Good Things About 2007
by Medea Benjamin

As we close this year on the low of Congress giving Bush more billions for war, and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, let’s remember some of the year’s gains that can revive our spirits for the New Year. Here are just ten.

1. With the exception of the White House, this has been a banner year for environmental consciousness and action. Al Gore and the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize. Green building and renewable energy have exploded. Congress passed the Green Jobs Act of 2007, authorizing $125 million for green job training. Over 700 U.S. mayors, representing 25 percent of the U.S. population, have signed a pledge to reduce greenhouse gases by 2012. Illinois became the 26th state to require that some of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources and Kansas became the first state to refuse a permit for a new coal-fired power plant for health and environmental reasons. That’s progress!

2. On the global environmental scene, the Bush dinosaurs were tackled head on. When the US delegation at the UN climate change conference in Bali tried to sabotage the negotiations, the delegate from tiny Papua New Guinea threw diplomatic niceties to the wind and said that if the U.S. couldn’t lead, it should get out of the way. Embarrassed by international and domestic outrage, the U.S. delegation buckled, and the way was cleared for adopting the “Bali road map.” Although it is a weak mandate, it lays the groundwork for a stronger climate agreement post-2012 when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocols ends.

3. Imagine living in a waste-free urban society? Well, it’s no longer a utopian dream but a well-thought-out plan for India’s state of Kerala. The plan to be “waste-free” within five years includes waste prevention, intensive re-use and recycling, composting, replacing unsustainable materials with sustainable ones, training people to produce these materials, and providing funds for setting up sustainably run businesses. The ground-breaking plan, spearheaded by a local grassroots movement, demonstrates how citizen groups can advance pioneering policies to heal the planet.

4. While the war in Iraq rages on, a new war was stopped. The specter of war with Iran loomed large throughout the year, with Washington accusing Iran of killing U.S . soldiers in Iraq and being a nuclear threat. Then in December came the National Intelligence Estimate showing that the Bush administration knew all along that Iran had shelved its nuclear weapons program in 2003. It exposed the Administration claims of an Iranian threat as unjustifiably inflated, and the winds of war were suddenly subdued. Nothing is guaranteed, but a U.S. military attack on Iran is less likely now than it was earlier in the year.

5. This year also brought a decrease in tensions with North Korea. Hostilities flared after North Korea successfully conducted a nuclear test in 2006. But the Bush administration, bogged down in Iraq and pushed by international pressure, agreed to negotiate. Following a series of six-party talks involving North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, Japan, and the U.S, on March 17, 2007, an historic agreement was reached. North Korea agreed to shut down its main nuclear facility and submit a list of its nuclear programs in exchange for fuel and normalization talks with the U.S. and Japan. During this age of raw aggression, it is a welcome example of putting diplomacy first.

6. The Iraqi people have little to celebrate, but there was one important victory for the people this year. Remember how the Bush administration and Congress were insisting that the Iraqi Parliament pass a new oil law? Touted as a way to “share oil revenue among all Iraqis”, the oil law was really designed to transform the country’s currently nationalized oil system to one open to foreign corporate control. But opposition was fierce inside Iraq, especially from the nation’s oil worker unions. In a rare sign of independence from Washington and concern for domestic opinion, the Iraqi Parliament withstood intense U.S. pressure and refused to pass the oil law.

7. In early 2007, few Americans had heard of the private security company Blackwater. By year’s end, Blackwater had become infamous for the killing of civilians in Iraq. The radical privatization of our military to corporations like Blackwater that are accountable to no one was exposed for all to see. This frightening process is still well under way, with more private contractors in Iraq than soldiers, but at least the issue has now entered the public dialogue. And Blackwater has received such a black eye that it’s unlikely to get a new Iraq contract when the present one expires in May.

8. One victory on both the war and environmental fronts came in Australia, where Labor Party’s Kevin Rudd beat conservative John Howard to become Prime Minister. Howard was an enthusiastic backer of George Bush’s disastrous war on terror, from defending the Guantánamo prison and extraordinary rendition to sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. Howard also joined Bush in refusing to ratify the Kyoto Agreement, arguing it would cost Australians jobs. After assuming office on December 3, Kevin Rudd immediately signed the Kyoto agreement and he has promised to remove Australia’s combat troops from Iraq by mid-2008.

9. Sometimes a loss is a win. Hugo Chavez had initiated a constitutional referendum that would have, among other changes, scrapped term limits. His immediate acceptance of a razor-thin margin of defeat before all the votes were even counted showed his democratic colors and made it a lot harder for Bush and the corporate media to label him a dictator. Despite the loss, Chavez remains extremely popular, especially among the poor and working class in Venezuela. And throughout Latin America, the historic transformation led by progressive leaders like Chavez continues to blossom.

10. Last but not least, this year saw the resignation of some of Bush’s closest allies in government - Donald Rumsfeld resigned as Secretary of Defense, Alberto Gonzalez as Attorney General, and Karl Rove as Deputy Chief of Staff. Best of all, we can give thanks that we only have ONE YEAR left of the criminal, war-mongering, constitution-shredding, rights-violating, torture-sanctioning Bush Administration! It’s just GOT to get better than this!

So here’s a toast to a green future, diplomacy, and surviving the last throes of the Bush regime. Que viva 2008!

Medea Benjamin (medea@globalexchange.org) is cofounder of Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org) and CODEPINK: Women for Peace (www.codepinkalert.org).


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The Pause Before the Storm in Iraq

The Five Iraqs
by Scott Ritter

It has become a mantra of sorts among the faltering Republican candidates: Victory is at hand in Iraq. Mitt Romney, in particular, has taken to so openly embracing the “success” of the U.S. troop “surge” that it has become the centerpiece of his litany of attacks on the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton.

“Think of what’s happened this year,” Romney recently implored a crowd in Iowa. “General [David] Petraeus came in to report to Congress and Hillary Clinton said she couldn’t believe him. She said she just couldn’t believe General Petraeus. Now think about that. He’s been proven to be right. He should be on the cover, by the way, of Time magazine, and not Putin.”

Clinton, for her part, has stood her ground. Addressing a crowd of voters in Iowa, she took a swipe back at Romney: “We all know the Republican candidates are just plain wrong when they declare mission accomplished about the troop surge.” She went on to note that U.S. casualty figures in Iraq for 2007 were at an all-time high, and that for all of the positive reports concerning the surge, Iraq remains a nation on the verge of a civil war, no closer today to a political solution than it was before the escalation. She promised that, if nominated, “I will not hesitate to go toe to toe with Republicans in the debates to end the war as quickly and responsibly as possible.”

Therein lies the catch. How does Clinton explain her commitment to quick and responsible withdrawal in the context of the short-term reduction of violence in Iraq achieved by the surge? How does she propose to rectify the admitted internal shortcomings inside Iraq, which she likens to near-civil war conditions, with her pledge for a “responsible” withdrawal? If one takes at face value the alleged successes of the surge, it is difficult to justify the embrace of an alternative policy option. Likewise, if one chooses to criticize the surge as all smoke and mirrors, as Clinton has, and yet argues for a quick and responsible end to the war in Iraq without revealing the details of how this would be accomplished, the rhetoric comes across as remarkably shallow.

I’m not one inclined to speak out in support of Hillary Clinton. She made her bed with Iraq, and she should now be forced to sleep in it. However, she is right that nothing the surge has accomplished so far remotely approaches a solution to these enormously destabilizing realities: a largely disaffected Sunni population which finds the current Shiite-dominated government of Iraq fundamentally unacceptable; a decisively fractured Shiite population torn between an Iranian-dominated government on the one hand (controlled by the political proxies of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI, itself an Iranian proxy) or an indigenous firebrand, Muqtada al-Sadr; and a false paradise in Kurdistan, where the dream of an independent Kurdish homeland corrupts a viable Kurdish autonomy and threatens regional instability by provoking Turkish military intervention.

“Quickly and responsibly”? The problem with Clinton is that when it comes to Iraq, she is as shallow as the next candidate, and once one gets past her flowery rhetoric and protestations of expertise, it becomes crystal clear that she, like almost everyone else in the presidential race from either party, hasn’t a clue about what is really happening on the ground in Iraq.

There are, in fact, five Iraqs that must be dealt with by a singular American policy. The first is the Iraq of the Green Zone, and by that I mean the Iraqi government brought about by the “purple finger revolution” of January 2005. Those sham elections produced a sham democracy which lacks any viability outside of the never-never land of the U.S.-controlled Green Zone. This lack of centralized authority has led some, like Sen. Joe Biden and the U.S. Senate, to advocate the division of Iraq into three de facto states, one Sunni, one Shiite and one Kurdish, lumped together in a loose federation overseen by a weak central authority. Given that the 2005 elections were designed to prevent this very sort of Iraqi breakup to begin with, one can begin to understand the fallacy of any policy that contradicts the very foundation upon which it is built. But this sort of behavior defines the entire Iraq fiasco, one contradiction built upon another, until there has been woven a web of contradictions from which no clarity can ever be found. That, in a sentence, is the reality of the current Iraqi government. It is almost as if by design the Bush administration has cobbled together a wreck incapable of governance. How does Hillary Clinton propose to deal “quickly and responsibly” with such a mess?

The second Iraq is the one being managed from Tehran. This Iraq, stretching from Basra in the south up into Baghdad, exists outside of the reach of the compromised disaster that is the current government of Iraq, and is instead dominated by SCIRI and its military wing, the Badr Brigade. Here one finds the unvarnished reality of the dream of the pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiites, those who reached political maturity festering in the anti-Saddam ideology cooked up in the theocracy of Iran. Given the roots of this political movement, bred and paid for by the reactionary mullahs of Iran, the politics of revenge that it embraces should come as no surprise. However, whereas the mullahs in Tehran seek long-term political stability guaranteed by a friendly, compliant government in Baghdad, the Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiites seem more focused on rapidly reversing decades of inequities, real and perceived. Revenge is not a policy that breeds stability, and yet it is the politics of revenge that dominates the mind-set of SCIRI.

Serving as a major domestic counterweight to SCIRI is the indigenous grass-roots Iraqi Shiite movement controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr, the third Iraq. Possessing similar geographic reach as SCIRI, the Iraq of the “Mahdi Army” is one which rejects the SCIRI proxy government operating out of the Green Zone as but a tool of the American occupation, and the SCIRI movement itself as a tool of Iran. While maintaining close relations with Tehran, al-Sadr mocks those who would govern in south Iraq as having Farsi, vice Arabic, as their first tongue. The movement headed by al-Sadr bases its credibility on its pure Iraqi roots, derived as it is from the Shiites of Iraq who actually lived under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Surprisingly, these Shiites are more inclined to find common cause with their fellow Iraqis, including Sunnis who are disaffected with the current government, than with their SCIRI co-religionists. While much has been made of the Sunni-Shiite divide, the fact is that one of the most serious threats to stability in Iraq is the emerging Shiite-versus-Shiite conflict between al-Sadr and SCIRI.

The fourth Iraq is the Iraq of the Sunni. The first three years of the American occupation were dominated by violence emanating from the Sunni heartland as those elements loyal to Saddam, and those opposed to Shiite domination, worked together to make the American occupation, and any affiliated post-Saddam government derived from the occupation, a failure. To this extent, elements of the Sunni of Iraq, drawn primarily from the intelligence services of the Hussein regime, facilitated the creation and operation of al-Qaida in Iraq. The work of this Iraqi al-Qaida has been successful in destabilizing the country to the point that the United States has been compelled to fund, equip and train Sunni militias in an effort to confront al-Qaida, as well as to make up for the real shortfalls of the central Iraqi government when it comes to security and stability in the Sunni areas. The newfound relationship between the Sunni and the United States, especially in Anbar province, is cited as a major factor in the success of the surge.

The fifth Iraq is that of the Kurds. Long hailed as a poster child of stability and prosperity, the fundamental problems inherent in post-Saddam Kurdistan are coming to a head. The inherent incompatibility between the “sanctuary” created by the United States through the northern “no-fly zone” and post-Saddam Iraq is more evident today than ever. The Kurds, pleased with their status as a “special case” in the eyes of the Bush administration, have made no honest effort to assimilate into a centralized system of government. Furthermore, the false dream of an independent Kurdish homeland has not only poisoned relations with the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad (witness the conflict over oil deals in Kurdistan and the Iraqi national oil law), but also between the U.S. and its NATO ally, Turkey. The Iraqi Kurds’ ongoing support of Kurdish nationalist groups in Turkey and Iran has led to increased instability, the most current manifestation of which are the ongoing cross-border attacks into Iraqi territory by the Turkish military. And, given the high level of emotion attached to matters pertaining to Kurdish nationalism, the likelihood of the situation de-escalating anytime soon is remote.

Five Iraqs, and one Iraq policy ill-suited to the reality of any single situation, yet alone the whole. The success of the surge is pure fantasy, a fancy bit of illusion that would do David Copperfield proud, but not the people of Iraq or the United States. The surge addresses events in Iraq based upon short-term objectives (i.e., reducing the immediate level of violence) without resolving any of the deep-seated, long-term issues that promote the violence to begin with. It is like placing a Band-Aid on a gaping chest wound. The pink, frothy blood may not be visible on the surface, but the wound remains as grave as ever, and because it is not being directly attended to, it only gets worse. Eventually the lungs will collapse and the body will die. This is the reality of Iraq today. Thanks to the surge, we do not see the horrific wound that is Iraq for what it truly is. As such, our policies do nothing to cure the problem, and in doing nothing, only make the matter worse.

History will show that this period of relative “calm” we attribute to the surge is but the pause before the storm. Hillary Clinton is correct to label the surge a failed strategy. But her motivation for doing so rests more with her desire to position herself politically on the domestic front than it is a reflection of a thoughtful Iraq policy. So long as American politicians, regardless of political affiliation, seek to solve the problem of Iraq from a domestic political perspective, then the problem that is Iraq will never be resolved, either “quickly” or “responsibly.” Iraq is an unpopular war. There are, therefore, no “popular” solutions, only realistic ones.

The five-dimensional problem embodied in post-Saddam Iraq cannot be bundled up into a neat package. America, and its leaders, must do the right thing in Iraq, not for Iraq, but for America, even when doing so requires making some tough decisions. Narrow the problem set from five dimensions to two, and the problem becomes more manageable. For my money, I choose working with the Sunnis and al-Sadr to create a viable coalition, and then cutting a deal with Iran that trades off better relations in exchange for encouraging the current failed Iraqi government to step aside in favor of new elections. And the Kurds? Autonomy or nothing.

My loyalty is first and foremost to the United States, and when we look at the situation in Iraq from a genuine national security perspective, there is no threat worthy of the continued sacrifice being asked of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. As such, the only policy option worthy of consideration is that which brings our troops home as expeditiously as possible. Politicians who embrace a different policy are simply using the sacrifice of our service members as a shield behind which to hide their ignorance of Iraqi issues, and their personal cowardice, which manifests itself any time brave young men and women are allowed to die in order to preserve someone’s political viability.

As we in the United States celebrate this holiday season, let us not forget those who serve overseas in uniform, and the sacrifices they make in our name. And as we approach the coming election season, let us never forget those politicians who would have these sacrifices continue in order to safeguard their individual political fortune. This applies to all who seek the nomination for the office of the presidency, even those like Hillary Clinton who claim to embrace an anti-war position but whose words and actions strongly suggest something else.

Scott Ritter was a Marine Corps intelligence officer from 1984 to 1991 and a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of numerous books, including “Iraq Confidential” (Nation Books, 2005) , “Target Iran” (Nation Books, 2006) and his latest, “Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement” (Nation Books, April 2007).

© 2007 TruthDig.com


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The Big Problem with US Healthcare: Insurance Companies

Why We Need Single-Payer Health Care: Does This Happen in Canada?

The story of 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan's recent death from liver failure was tragic. But it was a uniquely American brand of tragedy. Only in the United States would the medical fate of a sick child be left to some private company's idea of what constitutes necessary care.

The Northridge, California, teenager died after her health insurer, Cigna Healthcare, spent critical weeks denying approval for the liver transplant her UCLA medical team said was her last hope. Only after public protests by her family and the California Nurses Association embarrassed Cigna did the company reverse its decision. But it was too late. The decision came the same day Nataline died.

What is wrong with this picture? Like all insurers, Cigna relies on hired medical advisors to evaluate a treatment's medical appropriateness under the terms of a policy. In this case, Cigna's "evidence-based" medical guidelines led it to deny the recommended liver transplant, categorizing the procedure as "experimental." This was a complex medical situation, of course. But all the more reason why the patient's actual medical team should have been the only authority to determine the appropriateness of treatment. In fact, there was uniform support for the transplant from UCLA's medical experts. Instead, the insurer's conduct became a case study in the worst possible outcome that can result from the involvement of a for-profit insurer in medical decisions.

But the case also suggests something is wrong even when things go right under the present health system. Obviously, insurance companies stay in business by paying most claims. No one would buy their products if they didn't. But they also stay profitable by trying to avoid sick people as customers, and whenever possible by not paying claims.

Who among us cannot speak from personal experience about the frustrations of getting a legitimate claim paid? Years ago I once found myself in a hospital emergency room in Chicago with an acute kidney infection. I spent two days in the hospital and was successfully treated. I also ended up with about $4,000 in medical bills. Fortunately, I had health insurance through my employer. But fortunate can be a relative thing when you're dealing with an insurance company. Shortly after returning to work I received a letter from the insurer informing me that my hospital stay was not covered since it was for a "pre-existing condition." The plan excluded pre-existing conditions during my first year of coverage.

By what stretch of the imagination could an acute infection and emergency hospitalization constitute a pre-existing condition? Was it because I had always had a kidney? This was the question I had when I called the company's claims department. The claims rep couldn't answer my question and said he would get back to me. A short while later I received another letter from the company informing me that my hospital stay would now be covered.

The insurer's attempt to avoid paying my claim was clearly wrong. So why would they do it? Was it just an "oversight?" Or was there some cost-benefit analysis somewhere that showed if an insurer denies coverage in 100 similar cases, X number of policyholders could be expected not to challenge the decision, thus saving Y dollars? Insurance companies are not penalized for rejecting claims, of course, unless fraud can be proven in court. But the fact that insurers will often quickly reverse a rejected claim when the customer protests suggests the rotten core at the heart of their system.

I also once sought chiropractic care, which my insurer covered at 70 percent of the cost of care. But the catch was that the insurer paid 70 percent of what they considered a reasonable fee for the particular service. Of course, their idea of a reasonable fee was always lower than the doctor's. The absurdity of this was brought home when my doctor actually lowered her per visit cost by a small amount. Naively, I thought my out-of-pocket costs would go down. Wrong. The insurance company responded by re-adjusting downward their definition of a "reasonable fee."

All this is otherwise known as the "let's see what we can get away with" approach to quarterly profits. Such experiences among policy holders are hardly out of the ordinary, and they raise a pertinent question: Do we really want a health care system that encourages those who pay for care to find ways not to pay for care?

Contrary to the free-market hype of Republicans, inefficiency runs rampant in a health system controlled by private companies. Lavish executive salaries, marketing costs, and stock dividends all eat up financial resources that could be used for actual health care services. But contrary also to the reform hype of most Democrats, a more closely regulated mishmash of private insurance and employer plans combined with new public benefits, tax credits, and subsidies is not going to resolve the current system's failings.

Both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards propose mandates that will require the public to purchase health insurance, a potential boon in new profits the insurance industry can only welcome. In return, they expect the insurance industry to cooperate with reforms to improve their products. Barack Obama's health plan differs fundamentally only in leaving out a purchasing mandate. But either way the candidates are sidestepping reality: for-profit and health care go together like oil and water. In fact, as the California Nurses Association and other single-payer advocates note, mixed public-private systems always seem to end up favoring the private sector's efforts to corral the most profitable patients and services. Invariably less profitable patients and services become the burden of public resources.

Unlike most modern nations, Americans have allowed their health care system to be undermined by a business culture that apparently sees no aspect of the human experience as off-limits to those who prefer dollar signs to social responsibility. Currently, millions of uninsured as well as insured Americans are not getting timely or adequate medical care because of unaffordable costs or concerns over high deductibles and co-pays. Or, sometimes, as one Northridge family learned, because their insurance company is more concerned about profits.

The CEO of Cigna Healthcare's parent Cigna Corporation, H. Edward Hanway, earned about $21 million in total compensation in 2006. You just have to ask. Is this right? Do children who use the Canadian health care system die to make other people rich?

Mark T. Harris is an editorial consultant to healthcare organizations. He lives in Bloomington, Illinois. Visit his website: www.Mark-T-Harris.com.


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There's No Sizzle in the Air

Goodbye 2007 and Good Riddance! Hello 2008 and You'd Better Shape Up

It was the ... No! 2007 was never the best of times. It was a whiny, fretful twelve months, and what should have been a time of keen enjoyment, poking at the graying ashes of the Bush era, saw the left and progressive sectors grasping at phantoms and with less of a significant presence on the national political scene than at any time in the past thirty years. There's scant sign that this will change in 2008 unless some unforeseen earthquake tosses up some exciting Independent candidacies, of which there is zero evidence at the turn of the year.

January 1, 2007

The world still reels from the fall of a titan. A week earlier, on December 26, Gerald Ford entered Valhalla on his golf cart.

These days a hefty slab of the teenagers alive in America will supposedly live to be 100 (presumably working till they drop to pay for the rest, jobless and dying from diabetes). Given the reproductive shadow hanging over America - poor semen quality, cryptorchidism, impaired fecundity - they won't have that many children, although the sparse litters will contain people likely to live to be 125, handing down horrible recipes for turkey giblet gravy to the next generation.

In short, there'll be a lot of centenarians about, and the name Gerald Ford will mean absolutely nothing to any of them. You had to have been born in 1960 to have been 14 in 1974, hence even vaguely conscious of the genial interregnum between Nixon and Carter, over which Ford presided.

At the start of the first viewing day, so the wires services reported, only twenty people were mustered at Capitol Hill to view Ford's casket in the Rotunda. On that day, George Bush excused himself from the state memorial, staying home in Crawford, Texas, presumably watching reruns of Saddam's execution.

Few speak well of Ford. The neocons think he was weak. The libertarians regard him as a statist. The liberals and the left can't get over his pardon of Nixon. Enthusiasts for the man from Grand Rapids seem pretty much confined to Dick Cheney and me.

On the grounds that he didn't have the time and maybe not even the inclination to do too much harm, I've always regarded Ford as America's greatest twentieth-century president, with the possible exception of Warren Harding, a very fine man. Ford reached the White House without vote fraud. He presided over a Keynesian binge. On his benign watch the pork barrel did its noble duty. Nonmilitary appropriations rose by 7.2 per cent, in contrast to Nixon's 4.3, Carter's 2.2, Reagan's 1.3. On his watch, with funding cut off by congress, the U.S. quit Vietnam. The arts flourished. Yes, there was the little matter of the invasion of East Timor. Nobody, certainly no American president, is perfect. Ford probably thought East Timor was a putting green. Anyway, what does it take to be America's greatest President, if it comes down to the height of the mountain of corpses you leave behind? The bar isn't that high.

Ford belonged to the age of détente. The neoliberal age and the Second Cold War really began with Carter. Had Ford beaten back Carter's challenge in 1976, the neocon crusades of the mid- to late 1970s would have been blunted by the mere fact of a Republican occupying the White House. Reagan, most likely, would have returned permanently to his slumbers in California after his abortive challenge to Ford for the nomination in Kansas in 1976.

January 7

The war in Iraq, one of the most disastrous military enterprises in the history of the Republic, has the New York Times' fingerprints all over it. Across the past sixth months, the Times has been waging an equally disingenuous campaign to escalate American troop levels in this doomed enterprises, culminating in an editorial okay for a troop hike the day before Bush's speech.

The prime journalistic promoter of the escalation--it is time to retire the adroitly chosen word "surge"--now being proposed by the White House is Michael Gordon, the Times' military correspondent, a man of fabled arrogance and self esteem.

A long piece on January 2, under the byline of Gordon, John Burns and David Sanger, made these promotion efforts particularly clear. The piece was a prolonged attack on Gen. George Casey, top military commander in Baghdad, depicted in harsh terms as espousing a defeatist plan of orderly withdrawal.

Gordon's "troop surge" campaign has been politically much more influential than the mad-dog ravings of the right-wing broadcasters. The Times helped furnish the 2003 U.S. attack on Iraq. Now it has played a major role in furnishing a likely escalation. There is blood on its hands, and grieving mothers like Cindy Sheehan have as much cause to demonstrate outside its offices as outside Bush's ranch in Crawford.

January 11

A make-or-break speech by a beleaguered U.S. President is usually preceded by a demonstration of American might somewhere on the planet, and the run-up to Bush's address last night was no exception.

The AC-130 gunship that massacred a convoy of fleeing Islamists on Somalia's southwestern border, apparently along with dozens of nomads, their families and livestock, was deployed on Sunday to make timely newspaper headlines indicative of Bush's determination to strike at terror wherever it may lurk. Moral to nomads: when the U.S. president schedules a speech, don't herd, don't go to wedding parties, head for the nearest cave.

President Bush stuck to his expected script last night and said he plans to boost U.S. forces in Iraq by 4,000 Marines to Anbar province and five combat brigades--17,500 troops--to Baghdad, in a new scheme to regain control of the city.

Perhaps it was the shift of setting for his broadcast to the White House library that made him seem uncomfortable. With the exception of Laura, the former librarian, the Bush clan is not a bookish lot. The late Brendan Gill reported after staying at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine how he scoured the premises late one night in search of something to read and could only find The Fart Book.

January 18

Suppose the movers and shakers in the Israel lobby in the U.S.A.--Abe Foxman, Alan Dershowitz and the rest of the crew--had simply decided to leave Jimmy Carter's Peace Not Apartheid alone. How long before the book and all its aspersions on Israel's treatment of Palestinians would have been gathering dust on the remainder shelves?

Suppose even that Dershowitz had rounded up some interns, and simply sallied forth from the Harvard Law School to buy up every copy of Carter's book and toss each one into the Charles River. Would not that have been a more successful suppressor than the attempted blitzkrieg strategy they did adopt?

Of course it would. For weeks now the lobby has hurled its legions into battle against Carter. The Anti-Defamation League has taken out ads. The lobby's allies in the press have hurled their rotten tomatoes. The Amazon.com book site features venomous assaults at unprecedented length.

Carter has been stigmatized as an anti-Semite, a Holocaust denier, a patron of former concentration camp killers, a Christian madman, a pawn of the Arabs, an advocate of terror.

But the assault on Carter is all to no avail. With each gust of abuse, Carter's book soars higher and higher on the bestseller lists, now at number three on Amazon itself. This doesn't prove the lobby has no power. It proves the lobby can be dumb. Once a book by a former President with weighty humanitarian credentials has actually made it into the bookstores, it's a hard job to shoot it down with volleys of wild abuse.

January 24

The Bush presidency is finished. A State of the Union address is always a pitiless register of where exactly the White House incumbent stands, in terms of political power. As Bush plodded through a list of doomed political initiatives the news cameras kept swiveling away from him, like people seeking escape from a bore at a cocktail party.

They peered over his shoulder at Nancy Pelosi, America's first female Speaker of the House; they swiveled up to the balcony at a haggard-looking Laura Bush; they sought out the Democratic presidential hopefuls, such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. A first-timer at this annual event might have thought Bush was doing well, as the politicians and judges and generals bobbed up and down with the usual ovations. But the reactions were dutiful and the mood low-key.

Bush stepped to the rostrum shackled to polling numbers that put him at the third lowest presidential ratings on record. He has the approval of only 28 per cent of the people, still hovering above Carter's 26 per cent in 1979, in the late autumn of his term, and Nixon's 24 per cent shortly before he resigned.

The least enthusiastic people in the chamber were probably members of Bush's own party, who see him as an unalloyed political liability.

When a president who came to maturity making daily obeisance to west Texas starts hailing biodiesel and mumbling about grass clippings as alternative energy, you know it's all over; that the President's policy advisers and speech writers are already sending out their resumes and wondering when to jump ship.

February 1

Aside from winning, there aren't that many ways of ending wars. Governments pay attention when the troops mutiny, when there are riots outside the recruiting offices, when there's revolution on the home front, when the money runs out.

So, here we are, in 2007, coming up on four years of war in Iraq. There's not going to be any significant mutiny among the troops. These people are volunteers. The campuses are quiet, filled with people on career track or downloading music or playing at virtual politics through their laptops. The churches? They are out there protesting torture, but the vocations are dying. We need more nuns! The priests are either on the run or in prison for child abuse.

The respectable old anti-war "movement" stirs into once in a while for pleasant outings like last Saturday's in Washington, D.C. The people don't like the war but this doesn't mean it won't go on so long as there's money to pay for it.

This brings us to Congress. There are the powder-puff non-binding resolutions, which mean nothing. On January 26, even as Senator Joe Biden and the others were solemnly pontificating on the significance of their sense-of-the senate resolution against the war, the Senate confirmed, unanimously, 81-0, the nomination of General Petraeus to command U.S. troops in Iraq. Petraeus has been a leading military advocate of escalation in troop levels.

In September 2006, Congress passed the fiscal 2007 defense appropriations act, containing $70 billion for war. Since Oct. 1, it's what Bush has been using for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That money will run out somewhere between March and May. In past years, the DoD has shifted money around inside the existing budget till a new supplemental is passed.

So right now Bush has money he needs to surge. The White House is sending Congress the entire half trillion defense budget for FY 2008, starting October 1. Congress could cut Iraq spending from this too. Bush could only veto the entire bill.

If there is to be a real battle in Congress over denying Bush money, this is how it will have to take place over the next few months. I doubt the Resistance in Iraq is betting on it.

February 25

The Clintons have always had short fuses, and at the best of times, Hillary is taut by disposition, and already her political prospects for winning the Democratic nomination are getting somewhat cloudier. This last week has been a trying one, crowned by the Oscar-night adulation for Al Gore, no favorite of the Clintons.

On the heels of his $1.3 m. fundraiser for Hillary's rival, Illinois Senator Barrack Obama, Hollywood tycoon and Dreamworks co-founder David Geffen planted a carefully improvised explosive device under HRC's candidacy.

He confided to Maureen Dowd of the New York Times that Mrs. Clinton was not the candidate to unify the Democratic Party, nor the nation; also that he would never forgive her husband for ignoring his own appeals and those of many other liberals to give a White House pardon to Leonard Peltier, a native American convicted of killing two FBI agents back in the 1970s. But while leaving Peltier to rot in prison, Clinton did pardon financier Marc Rich.

Geffen's aim was true. Even though they enjoy political candidates tearing each other to shreds, Americans prefer to have the carnage tricked out with worthy appeals for "unity" and "bipartisanship." The word "divisive" is a deadly one to have hung around one's neck. And for many, Rich's pardon was the quintessential resume of Clintonian corruption.

This, and the Oscar triumph for Gore, have left Mrs. Clinton distinctly frayed. But she is defiant. Asked about her vote for the war at a New Hampshire town hall, she said: "If the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from." Hillary's numbers are not as robust as they were. She had better learn how to smile under fire, or she'll soon be in real trouble.

March 8

It's wheels-up from George Bush today as he heads south for a six-day tour of Latin America. Few Americans study the travel brochures with more zeal than two-term presidents who face impeachment (Nixon and Clinton) or popular loathing (Johnson and Bush Jr.) or displeasing suggestions in the press that they are senile and should be removed from office (Eisenhower and Reagan).

Washington holds scant appeal for our current president. Vice President Dick Cheney's senior aide Scooter Libby has now been convicted. The hoped-for "light at the end of the tunnel" in Iraq is not yet visible and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon have threatened mutiny if Bush orders them to bomb Tehran.

His poll ratings are in the basement. So, it was time to call up Lame Duck Tours and accept the bargain offer of a six-day special to Latin America, meals and hotels included with a trip to Mayan ruins on Tuesday.

Back in his 2000 campaign, Bush pledged "a fundamental commitment" to Latin America. But on Bush's inept watch the subcontinent has swerved left, and now the dominant leader on the continent is Venezuela's Hugo Chavez. The boom in oil prices has allowed Chavez to subsidize energy prices through Latin America, Central America and the Caribbean, and he has cemented important trade and investment agreements with Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia.

The deeper problem is that the U.S. model--free trade pacts, neoliberal onslaughts on public ownership and rule by the International Monetary Fund--simply ran out of steam at the end of the Nineties, leaving Latin America scarred by poverty, unemployment, slums and kleptocracies.

March 12

Until recently, the U.S. people were thinking mainly about the circumstances of Anna Nicole Smith's demise and the likely inheritor of the former Playmate's millions. Now Anna has been swept off the front pages, along with the beleaguered Alberto Gonzales, by the pet food crisis.

An ever-lengthening list of proprietary brands of dog and cat food all come from the same Canadian pet food processor, Menu Foods, into whose vats at some point went wheat gluten from China contaminated by melamine, a fertilizer used in Asia where--not to put too fine a point on it--pet life is cheap.

Only a few animals have died, and America's cats and dogs are at greater risk from lightning strikes, but most Americans are fearfully eyeing Towser and Mittens for signs of renal failure.

Into this firestorm of national anguish now has been tossed the news that Mrs. Judi Giuliani was once in the dog-killing business. This disclosure came on the heels of the news that Judi had not been entirely forthcoming about the number of her legal unions. Like Rudy himself, it turns out she's on her third.

The hitherto undisclosed numero uno, whom she married at age 19, was a salesman at U.S. Surgical, a company selling surgical staples. Young Judi's job was allegedly to demonstrate their efficacy on cuts made on drugged dogs.

According to Patricia Feral, president of the Connecticut-based Friends of Animals, quoted on the New York Post online, which broke the story, earlier this week, U.S. Surgical's reps did sales-demonstration stapling on hundreds of dogs through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Feral says the dogs were "either put to death following the sales demonstrations because they can't recover from them, or they die during them." The stapling had to be done on live dogs because, as one U.S. Surgical CEO put it back in the 1980s, "A dead dog doesn't bleed. You need real blood-flow conditions, or you get a false sense of security."

Americans like their First Family to have a dog. Nixon used to put sesame seeds in the turn-ups of his trousers so his spaniel, King Timahoe, would nuzzle him in public. "Any man who does not like dogs and not want them about does not deserve to be in the White House," said President Calvin Coolidge.

April 14

Like many of the heehaw racists strewn across the cable dial and AM frequencies, Don Imus must be wondering why this time he got his tongue caught in the wringer. It was suddenly news that Imus shored up his ratings with racist cracks at blacks and Hispanics? Only at the start of April he went too far by insulting the women athletes of Rutgers? Is that when he crossed the Rubicon of racism and the shout went up, At long last, have you left no sense of decency? It's like announcing Bluebeard veered into unforgivable moral excess when he knocked off wife number five.

When he realized he was in serious trouble, Imus went full steam into contrition mode. America, far more than other cultures, adores full-bore apologies, leading to a full, low-interest-rate moral re-fi. Not believing in redemption, and schooled by Spinoza and Nietzsche, Europeans tend to take the position that remorse adds to the crime.

Imus's trip to Canossa on the Reverend Al Sharpton's radio program was a particularly rich session, with Imus sniveling that at bottom he is "a good man" and Reverend Al ushering on his daughter as a symbol of black womanhood defiled by Imus's "ho" talk. Imus could have probed the Rev. about his explicit statement on CNN a couple of years ago, amid his campaign to get rappers using physical violence to promote records banned from the airwaves for 90-day punitive periods, that these rappers had a perfect (First amendment) right to rap about violence and presumably hos. But Imus passed up the chance, preferring to dwell on his war on sickle cell anemia, a disease he appeared to think he had the courage and moral stamina to confront in his ranch in New Mexico. This culminated in another wonderful exchange, this one between Imus and Brian Monroe of Ebony:

MONROE: All right. Let me be clear. My magazine, Ebony magazine, has been writing and covering sickle cell anemia for decades now. Back when you were still doing radio spots for used cars. I cannot let you....

A used car salesman! Amidst his abasement, the worm turned.

IMUS: I'm not going to sit here and let you insult me. Don't talk about me doing used car commercials Let me tell you what--I will bet you I have slept in a house with more black children who were not related to me than you have.

In the end it was all to no avail. The execs at MSNBC and at CBS, saw the big advertisers peel away, and instantly threw in the towel. Imus was history--at least until he gets a show on Sirius.

And in the larger context of things--of Anne Coulter, of O'Reilly the Loofah King, of Limbaugh, of Howard Stern, of Cynthia Tucker and Juan Williams; of blacks paid by whites to dump on other blacks like Cynthia McKinney, of Chris Rock chanting the F word, of women-dissing rapper? One listens to the fuss about Imus and thinks, okay -- but this is only one tiny square in our dirty national quilt. We live in a racist, profit-driven culture that is getting more degraded by the hour. War is at the apex of that degradation, and indeed these ceremonies of degradation are an integral part of the war machine, which drives the whole show along. Back in February Imus snarled into his mike, "It might be good to start with somebody who is willing to take three big ones and drop one on Mecca, one on Jeddah and one on Saudi-one on Riyadh." No one asked him to apologize for that one. Take that, you towel heads.

April 19

Since there undoubtedly will be a next time, after these latest campus killings at Virginia Tech, what useful counsel on preventative measures can we offer faculties across America?

Arm teachers and students. There have been the usual howls from the anti-gun lobby, but it's all hot air. America is not about to dump the Second Amendment giving people the right to bear arms.

A better idea would be for appropriately screened teachers and maybe student monitors to carry weapons. This is not as bizarre as it may sound to European ears. A quarter of a century ago students doing military ROTC training regularly carried rifles around campus.

Five years ago Peter Odighizuwa, a 43-year-old Nigerian student, killed three faculty members at Appalachian Law School with a handgun, but before he could wreak further carnage two students fetched weapons from their cars, challenged the murderer with guns leveled, and disarmed him.

Ban anti-depressants. What should be banned from campuses are not weapons but prescriptions for anti-depressants. Cho Seung-hui was on a prescription drug. The likelihood of it being an anti-depressant is high, since campus doctors dispense prescriptions for them like confetti.

Replace campus police with student volunteers. The stupidity of the campus cops at Virginia Tech will undoubtedly cost the college hefty damages.

There was plenty of evidence that Cho Seung-hui was a time bomb waiting to explode. Students talked about him as a possible shooter and refused to take classes with him. His essays so disturbed one of his teachers with their violent ravings that she arranged a secret signal in case she needed security during her tutorials.

When the mass murder session began in the engineering building the police cowered behind their cruisers until Cho Seung-hui finished off the last batch of his 32 victims, then killed himself. Then the police bravely rushed in and started sticking their guns in the faces of the traumatised students, screaming at them to freeze or be shot.

Make laxity in supervision grounds for termination. More than one teacher felt Cho was scarily nuts. They recommended counseling, then didn't bother to review the conclusions. And it has emerged that Cho was actually institutionalized as a psychotic and suicide risk in 2005. Yet when he returned to campus the administrators didn't even tip off his roommate.

College administrators live in constant fear of declining students' enrollment. At the first sign of trouble they cover up. So, there's a double killing in a Virginia Tech dorm at 7.15am, after which Cho has time to go home, make his final home video, walk to the post office, mail his package to NBC and then head off to the engineering building with his guns.

The college's first email to students goes out more than two hours after the first killings were discovered. The ineffable Warren Steger, college president, says later: "You can only make decisions based on the information you have on the time. You don't have hours to reflect on it." Two dead bodies, a killer somewhere on campus, and Steger makes his big decision to do nothing.

May 3

By far the best performance at the recent Democratic candidates' debate organized by MSNBC was by a very distant outsider, Mike Gravel, a 77-year-old former U.S. senator from Alaska, well known nearly 40 years ago for his opposition to the war in Vietnam. In some electrifying tirades, he flayed Clinton, Obama, Edwards, and the others as two-faced on the absolute imperative of getting out of the war in Iraq and not getting into one in Iran. "They frighten me", Gravel shouted, gesturing at his rivals. "You know what's worse than one U.S. soldier dying in vain in Iraq. It's two soldiers dying in vain. In Vietnam they all died in vain."

May 15

Enter the world of Paul Krugman, a world either dark (the eras of Bush One and Bush Two), or bathed in light (when Bill was king). Across the past three years, Krugman has become the Democrats' Clark Kent. A couple of times each week he bursts onto the New York Times op-ed in his blue jumpsuit, shoulders aside the Geneva Conventions and whacks the bad guys. For an economist, he writes pretty good basic English. He lays about him with simple words like "liar," as applied to the Bush crowd, from the president on down. He makes liberals feel good, the way William Safire returned right-wingers their sense of self-esteem after Watergate.

Krugman paints himself as a homely Will Rogers type, speakin' truth to the power elite from his virtuous perch far outside the Beltway: "Why did I see what others failed to see?" he asks, apropos his swiftness in pinning the Liars label on the Bush administration. "I'm not part of the gang," he answers. "I work from central New Jersey, and continue to live the life of a college professor--so I never bought into the shared assumptions I don't need to be in the good graces of top officials, so I also have no need to display the deference that characterizes many journalists."

All of which is self-serving hooey. The homely perch is Princeton. Krugman shares, with no serious demur, all the central assumptions of the neoliberal creed that has governed the prime institutions of the world capitalist system for the past generation and driven much of the world deeper, ever deeper into extreme distress. The unseemly deference he shows Clinton's top officials could be simply, if maliciously explained by his probable hope that one day, perhaps not to long delayed in the event of a Democratic administration taking over in 2005, he may be driving his buggy south down the New Jersey turnpike towards a powerful position of the sort he has certainly entertained hopes of in the past.

June 1

America right now is "anti-war," in the sense that about two-thirds of the people think the war in Iraq is a bad business and the troops should come home. Anti-war sentiment was a major factor in the success of the Democrats in last November's elections, when they recaptured Congress. The irony is that this sharp disillusion of the voters with America's occupation of Iraq owes almost nothing to any anti-war movement. To say the anti-war movement is dead would be an overstatement. But in comparison to kindred movements in the 1960s and early 1970s, or to the struggles against Reagan's wars in Central America in the late 1980s, it is certainly inert.

The anti-war movement proved itself incapable of pressuring House Democrats to hold out. After the Bush veto, the Democratic resistance has crumbled. The Democrats' reward for this shameful collapse? Perceived now as fraudulent in their claims to oppose the war, their standing in the polls is as low as Bush's. Latest news is that the American military presence in Iraq will double by the end of the year.

Do anti-war "movements" end wars? The Vietnam War ended primarily because the Vietnamese defeated the Americans, and because a huge number of U.S. troops were in open mutiny. At home, a large sector of the society was in mutiny too. Anti-war movements are often most significant in their afterlife--schooling a new generation in attitudes and tactics of resistance. What's happened here in the U.S.A. across the intervening years since Vietnam is a steady, unsurprising decline in the left's overall political confidence and ambition and, as in the 1990s, a disastrous failure to attack the Democratic Party and Democratic administration led by Clinton and Gore for the onslaught on Yugoslavia and the inhumane sanctions against Iraq.

In the Bush years, we've seen a further decline in any independent left with any unified theoretical and practical strategy or even political theory; also a rise in unconstructive and indeed demobilizing paranoia, as in the orgy of 9/11 conspiracism. The campuses are sedate. The labor movement is reeling. To describe the anti-war movement in its effective form is really to mention a few good efforts such as the anti-recruitment campaigns, the tours by those who have lost children in Iraq, or three or four brave souls like Cindy Sheehan, who single-handedly reanimated the anti-war movement last year, commencing with her vigil outside Bush's Texas ranch, or the radical Catholic Kathy Kelly.

June 3

Put together Murdoch's Fox News, a mid-May debate between Republican presidential candidates and the state of South Carolina and you have a hotbed of stupidity.

But to the fury of the Republican organizers there was an intrusion of rational thought, in the person of Ron Paul, a U.S. congressman from Texas, classed as a rank outsider in the nomination race.

Texas used to send true individualists to Washington, D.C. One of the brightest moments of my early years, visiting the nation's capital, was watching Rep Wright Patman, head of the House Banking Committee, tell the red-faced Chairman of the Federal Reserve that he deserved to be locked up in the penitentiary.

Paul is the last of the breed. As a small-government, tight-money Republican, this gynecologist-obstetrician (4,000 babies claimed as a career total) regularly votes 'No' on pork barrel projects that would put money into his own district.

But as a Republican in the isolationist, libertarian tradition he also votes 'No', sometimes alone among the 535 members of the U.S. Congress, on war funding, on laws allowing presidents to order arbitrary imprisonment, "coercive interrogation" and suspension of freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

The throng in Columbia, South Carolina, cheered Giuliani, Romney and others as they roared their support for torture and rule by emergency decree. In the 'war on terror' anything goes. Only Paul told the crowd and the TV cameras that No, torture is wrong and the Constitution is paramount.

Paul was asked if 9/11 changed anything. U.S. foreign policy, he answered, was a "major contributing factor. Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attacked us because we've been over there; we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East. So right now we're building an embassy in Iraq that's bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting."

A majority of Americans--65 per cent and up--hate the war in Iraq and think the U.S. troops should leave. But the leading candidates from both parties fence-straddle at best, and also parrot Giuliani on the "war on terror." Hence the popularity of Ron Paul, as soon as he gets a national venue.

June 10

These are troubling times for evangelical Christians. The born-again president they helped elect is in the autumn of his tenure, the bold promises of Christian revival now tarnished or cast aside. Mitt Romney, the front-running Republican contender to be Bush's successor is a Mormon, and although leading evangelical Christians have given him the nod, many foot soldiers in the service of Christ entertain doubts. "The world needs Jesus, the REAL JESUS, not Jesus the half-brother of Lucifer," cries Kevin Stilley on his Christian site.

Then there's the never-ending struggle with the Evil One. Still fresh in the ears of the righteous are the chortles of unbelievers over the tribulations of Pastor Ted Haggard, leader of the New Life Church, outed last year in Colorado by a former male prostitute declaring that Haggard had enjoyed sex with him, their monthly interactions enhanced by crystal meth. In February of this year Haggard had crash counseling across three weeks, overseen by four ministers, to give, as one put it, "Ted the tools to help embrace his heterosexual side". But there have been doubts, even among evangelicals, as to whether Satan and his demons have in this instance been decisively routed after so brief an engagement.

And now, evangelicals face fresh evidence that the Dark Forces miss no opportunity to make further ravages among the righteous. Earlier this week ChristiaNet.com, "the world's most visited Christian website", disclosed the results of a survey it has just concluded, asking site visitors questions about their personal sexual conduct.

"The poll results indicate that 50 per cent of all Christian men and 20 per cent of all Christian women are addicted to pornography," Jones reports bleakly. It seems that 60 per cent of the women who answered the survey admitted to having "significant struggles with lust", 40 per cent admitted to "being involved in sexual sin in the past year", and 20 per cent of the church-going female participants struggle with looking at pornography on an ongoing basis.

Given the sexual apathy, reported by the Chicago study, maybe abstinence is winning after all. A survey this month claims that each day more than 1million condoms are sold in the United States, this being only 0.4 per cent of the population. There's no evidence, in the form of a population explosion, for the other possible deduction.

June 21

Summer's hot breath draws closer and the psychoanalysts of New York and Boston prepare their patients for the difficult two or three weeks of holiday separation. Undoubtedly, beach chat among both analysts and analysands will focus on the end of the Soprano series which, across the past eight years, courtesy of Lorraine Bracco's Jennifer Melfi--Tony Soprano's analyst--has been the biggest boost to the shrink business since Lee J. Cobb starred in the Three Faces of Eve.

Truly comical has been the solemnity with which psychoanalysts across the United States have been deploring the "breach of professional ethics" at a shrinks' dinner party in one of the concluding Soprano episodes in which the identity of Dr. Melfi's patient as Mobster Tony was disclosed. The rare moments when shrinks aren't seducing their female patients (70 per cent, in an informal New York survey some years ago) are usually consumed by such indiscretions, a tradition stretching all the way back to the notoriety of the patients trotting up the stairs of Bergasse 19, Freud's chambers in Vienna.

It's true that some psychoanalysts were indignant at the way Melfi, chided by her colleagues for enabling a sociopath, promptly dumped the Mafia boss as a patient, the climax of a process identified back in 1999 in the British Medical Journal by Dr. Tony David as the collision of "the superego of Melfi's civilized values and the intellect with the murky id that is Soprano's stock in trade." "The strict ethical principles established by the American Psychological Association," wrote one APA member furiously, "do not allow for the arbitrary dismissal of a client even if they are sociopathic in nature (unless there is danger to the therapist)."

It so happens that these same "strict ethical principles" of the APA have been the topic of unsparing rebuke, which probably won't be cited much on those holiday beaches. A recent report by the Pentagon's Inspector General confirms what has been detailed in a number of news stories since 2005 concerning the starring role played by American psychologists and psychoanalysts in devising and supervising torture techniques as administered by the U.S. military in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other secret interrogation centers run by the CIA.

The APA leadership has piously maintained that "psychologists have a critical role in keeping interrogations safe, legal, ethical and effective." The Pentagon Inspector General's Report makes clear this claim is ludicrous. So here we have shrinks refining Tony Soprano's brutish violence, draping his id with the national flag.

July 24

The federal indictment of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick on conspiracy charges associated with his pit bull breeding and training operation at Bad Newz Kennels in Smithfield, Virginia, contains searing descriptions of dreadful cruelty towards these creatures. Tears stained the venerable cheeks of Senator Bobby Byrd as the former Klan Grand Cyclops bewailed the monstros conduct of the black football star and his co-conspirators.

Indeed, the cruelties as laid out in the indictment are horrible and Vick and his coconspirators deservedly face serious penalties, if convicted on the charges. But there are the usual double standards lightly vaulted over by those busy savaging Vick. Judi Giuliani, the current wife of a candidate, hasn't caught much heat for her infamous past as a dog torturer and killer.

August 3

Was there ever a luckier clan than the Bancrofts, whose elders okayed the $5bn sale of the Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. on Tuesday?

There's been much solemn talk about the Bancrofts' "stewardship of this national institution" since they acquired the Dow Jones company a century ago. In fact, the Journal was an undistinguished little sheet until a journalistic genius called Barney Kilgore decided in the years after World War II that a businessman in San Francisco should be able to read the same paper as one in Chicago or New York.

Kilgore devised the technology to do this, along with the paper's reportorial stance--serious but often humorous, in the style of the Midwest, which is where Kilgore was from.

Kilgore made the Bancrofts really rich and they continued in that state for almost half a century, though their stewardship was either indifferent or inept, beyond the pleasant chore of raking in the money. Now they can trouser Murdoch's gold and trot off into the sunset, mumbling that they have extracted all the usual pledges from Rupert that he will respect the Journal's editorial independence.

Surely the 76-year-old mogul must quake with inner merriment as he goes through this oft-repeated rigmarole. I heard it almost 30 years ago when he bought a raffish New York weekly, the Village Voice. I worked for the Voice at the time and, so far as I can remember, we listened to Murdoch issuing a pledge not to fire the editor as he stepped into the elevator on the fifth floor of the Voice's offices on University Place and by the time he stepped out on the ground floor the editor had already been dismissed, as if by osmosis, and Murdoch's man was settling into the editorial chair.

The only reason why Murdoch might respect the Journal's independence, at least in the opinion pages, is that the views expressed there are even more rabid than his own; perhaps he savors the possibility that one day he might call up Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor, and hint that he might moderate his tone.

The Journal's editorial stance of fanatic neoconnery was established by the late Robert Bartley (right) from the mid-'70s onward, and his pages bulged with every mad fantasy of the Cold War lobby. (I did an enjoyable ten-year stint on these same pages as the token left guest columnist, barking every three weeks at the political and corporate elites from my kennel on the op-ed page.)

Bartley led the charge against effete liberalism, and since by the late 1970s American liberalism had thoroughly lost its nerve and really was effete, he carried the day, by far the most influential editorial page editor in American journalism. More than its sometimes excellent reporting, Bartley gave the Journal its high profile in Washington as well as on Wall Street.

From the moment Murdoch made his $60-a-share offer, the actual sale has not been an edifying sight. But then, a Gadarene-like stampede for money seldom is. The final sale was consummated when Murdoch agreed to throw in a $40m sweetener for the bankers and lawyers standing at the Bancroft family elbow and, with supposed dispassion, advising them what to do. Merrill Lynch, urging the Bancrofts to sell, is promised $18.5m for this wise counsel.

Analysts of the media industry have turned out thousands of words about the synergies and kindred virtues consequent upon Murdoch's successful bid. Maybe so. In such takeovers, things seldom go according to plan. But for now Murdoch has carried the day, acquiring for a monstrous sum an over-praised newspaper in poor straits.

Call it his revenge for the story the Journal ran about Murdoch's Chinese wife Wendi Deng in November 2000, methodically detailing the romantic liaisons that helped her to a very powerful position in the Murdoch empire. The piece was flattering to Ms Deng's achievements, but also one that Murdoch would be unlikely to forget or forgive. This is a saga for Dumas or Balzac.

August 7

Led by Democrats since the start of this year, the U.S. Congress now has a "confidence" rating of 14 per cent, the lowest since Gallup started asking the question in 1973 and five points lower the Republicans scored last year.

The voters put the Democrats in to end the war and it's escalating. The Democrats voted money for the surge and the money for the next $459.6 billion military budget. Their latest achievement is to provide enough votes in support of Bush to legalize warrantless wire tapping for " foreign suspects whose communications pass through the United States." Enough Democrats joined Republicans to make this a 227-183 victory for Bush. The Democrats control the House. House leader Nancy Pelosi could have stopped the bill in its tracks if she'd really wanted to. But she didn't. The game is to go along with the White House agenda while stirring up dust storms to blind the Democratic base about their failure to bring the troops home or restore constitutional government.

Just as the Democrats work tirelessly to demonstrate to the voters that it makes zero difference which party controls Congress, the political establishment forces all candidates for the presidential nominations next year to sever any compromising ties to sanity and common sense.

Right now they're hosing down Barack Obama, for "inexperience," after he said in the You Tube debate in South Carolina that he would be prepared to meet with Kim Jong Il, Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Fidel Castro to hash over problems face to face. The pundits promptly whacked him for demonstrating "inexperience". Experienced leaders order the CIA to murder such men.

Then Obama drew even fiercer fire by saying he would not use nuclear weapons to fight terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance," Obama told AP on August 2, adding after a pause, "involving civilians." Then he quickly added, "Let me scratch that. There's been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That's not on the table."

I'm beginning to respect this man. He displays sagacity well beyond the norm for candidates seeking the Oval Office. He comprehends, if only in mid-sentence, that when you drop a nuclear bomb, it will kill civilians. He also realizes that strafing Waziristan with thermonuclear devices in the hopes of nailing Osama Bin Laden is a foolish way to proceed.

So Obama is being flayed for his "inexperience", first and foremost by Hillary Clinton, who permits no table setting which does not include a couple of nuclear weapons next to the salt and pepper. To recoup, Obama has declared his readiness as commander in chief to order U.S. forces hotly pursue Osama into Pakistan, whatever the government of Pakistan might think of this onslaught on its sovereignty.

Has the left the political capacity to influence the conduct of the Democrats? In terms of substantive achievement the answer thus far has been No. People didn't like it when I wrote here a month ago that the anti-war movement was at a low ebb. They invoke the polls showing 70 per cent of Americans want the troops to come home. This is presumptuous, like a barking dog claiming it made the moon go down. It didn't take an anti-war movement to make the people anti-war. People looked at the casualty figures and the newspaper headlines and drew the obvious conclusion the war is a bust. Their attention is already shifting to the crisis in subprime loans.

The left is as easily distracted, currently by the phantasm of impeachment. Why all this clamor to launch a proceeding surely destined to fail, aimed at a duo who will be out of the White House in sixteen months anyway? Pursue them for war crimes after they've stepped down. Mount an international campaign of the sort that has Henry Kissinger worrying at airports that there might be a lawyer with a writ standing next to the man with the limo sign. Right now the impeachment campaign is a distraction from the war and the paramount importance of ending it.

For sure, there are actions around the country: Quakers and Unitarians picketing outside shopping centers, campus vigils, resolutions by city councils and so forth. It's all pretty quiet, in a conflict that has now--as my brother Patrick recently pointed out, gone on longer than the First World War. At the liberal blogger convention, Yearly Kos, held across the first weekend in August, the organizers nixed any serious strategy session on the war in Iraq. John Stauber of PR Watch had to force an impromptu (and very successful) session with leaders of the Iraq Veterans Against the War.

There's no sizzle in the air, like there was back in early 2003.

August 12

African lions struggled for reassurance and meaning after the humiliating rout of four of their number by a herd of Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer). The entire episode was filmed by a human tourist, featured on Youtube ("The buffalo's revenge") and has now been viewed by a world audience in the millions. The footage shows what initially appeared to be a classic "cut out and kill" maneuver straight from the book collapse into farce as an unsuccessful attempt by a crocodile to snatch the targeted calf allowed time for the buffalo herd to regroup, surround the lions, toss two of them on their horns, rescue the calf and chase their assailants away into the bush.

"This is the darkest day for Panthera leo since Frank Baum wrote the Wizard of Oz," said the leader of one pride. "We face the total erosion of our credibility as apex predators."

Anger mingles with apprehension. Word has already spread across the veld and now other traditional sources of nutrition such as gazelles are seeking protection amid herds of emboldened buffalo. Other ungulates such as Connochaetes taurinus (brindled gnu), commonly easy prey, are already displaying uncharacteristic defiance and fighting back.

Some lions, speaking privately, concede that defeat at the horns and hooves of the tough and hefty Cape buffalo is not unprecedented. "Look," said one, "Syncerus caffer is always a problem for us. The disaster here stemmed from tactical folly. They wasted precious minutes in that tug of war with the crocodile and that allowed the buffalo time to return and launch a counter-attack."

Some thoughtful lions see a paradox in the fact that the episode was filmed. "Do you think any of us would be here if it wasn't for the National Geographic and nature films on PBS?" an elderly male asked rhetorically.

September 1

A good lawyer could have got Senator Larry Craig off, if it hadn't been for the panic-stricken Guilty plea copped by Craig already frantic that local paper was set to out him. The cop, Dave Karsnia, entrapped him. It's not against the constitution, at least yet, to adopt a "wide stance". All he did was stamp his foot and waggle it about and put his hand down. It's not as though he made any verbal suggestions to Karsnia, or exhibited his genitals. Karsnia says he was peeping. That's just the word of a policeman against a U.S. senator. Senators probably have a better record for keeping their word--at least in political bargains, though not in campaign promises--than the folks in blue.

When people whine fearfully about the Christian right, I always tell them to relax. Sooner or later the evangelist or the pol be caught in a whorehouse or a lavatory.

Larry Craig of Idaho was a three-term senator. En route to this sanctuary of Republican virtue on June 11 Craig, co-chair of the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, used a stop-over at Minneapolis-St Paul airport to prowl through a lavatory in the Lindbergh terminal. He spotted under a stall door lower extremities belonging to a man we now know to have been undercover cop Karsnia, who--patient as any spider--had been sitting on the john for 13 minutes, waiting for prey which he could entrap.

Americans following the case have learning with fascination how easily some innocent action in a public convenience--known in the argot of gay patrons as "tearooms"--can be misconstrued. Don't put your bag in front of the door. That's what Craig did and Karsnia, a youthful-looking blonde decoy, says in his report, "My experience has shown that individuals engaging in lewd conduct use their bags to block the view from the front of their stall. " Keep your feet still. "At 12:16 hours," Karsnia relates, "Craig tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. Craig tapped his toes several times and moves his foot closer to my foot. I moved my foot up and down slowly. The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area."
Craig then swiped his hand under the stall divider several times. That did it. Karsnia put down his police ID for Craig to check out. Craig quickly plead guilty to disorderly conduct and "peeping", which is defined in Minnesotan statutory lingo as "interference with privacy by surreptitiously gazing, staring or peeping in the window, or other aperture of a sleeping room in a hotel, a tanning booth--this is Minnesota, after all--or other place where a reasonable person would have an expectation of privacy and has exposed or is likely to expose their intimate parts, as defined in Sec. 609. 341, subd 5, or the clothing covering the immediate area of the intimate parts and doing so with the intent to intrude upon or interfere with the privacy of the occupant. A Gross Misdemeanor."

At some level Craig obviously wanted to get caught, just as compulsive gamblers at some level want to lose.

September 8

Predicting imminent war on Iran has been one of the top two items in Cassandra's repertoire for a couple of years now, rivaled only by global warming as a sure-fire way to sell newspapers and boost website hits.

But will it really come to pass?

Despite the unending stream of stories across the months announcing that an attack on Iran is on the way, I've had my doubts. Amid the housing slump here, with the possibility of an inflationary surge as the credit balloon threatens to explode, would the U.S. government really want to see the price of gas at the pump go over $5? What would Hugo Chavez do? Even a hiccup in flows from Venezuela would paralyze refineries here, specifically designed for Venezuelan crude. China has a big stake in Iran. It's also Uncle Sam's banker. The Chinese don't have to destroy the dollar, merely squeeze its windpipe, or revalue their currency enough to double retail prices in Wal-Mart. The Republicans and the presidential candidates wouldn't want that on the edge of an election year.

The other side of the ledger isn't hard to fill in either. The oil companies like a crisis that sends up the price of their commodity. The Chinese are a prudent lot and don't want to rock the world economy. Politically, both they and Russia would like to see the U.S. compound the disaster in Iraq and get into a long-term mess in Iran.

October 26

In America, awareness never sleeps and has been on particularly active duty this October, designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month (proclamation of President George Bush); as Domestic Violence Awareness Month (proclamation of President George Bush); as Energy Awareness Month (proclamation of President George Bush and the Environmental Protection Agency); and--we speak here specifically of October 22-29--Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week (proclamation of David Horowitz, a fat and hairy ex-Trot living in Los Angeles).

Cautionary interpolation: Horowitz was certainly fat last time I clapped eyes on him and he sports a beard which waxes and wanes in outreach depending on which Google image you look at. And yes, Christopher Hitchens is also a fat and hairy ex-Trot, is also a known associate of the man Horowitz, and also thunders against Islamo-Fascism. Nonetheless we speak here of Horowitz.

When I first saw Horowitz he was neither fat nor hairy nor apparently aware of Islamo-Fascism. This was in the late 1960s in London and he was working for the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, studying at the feet of Isaac Deutscher and Ralph Miliband. About a decade later I saw him again, this time in Washington DC presiding over a well-publicized "Second Thoughts" conference, announcing his departure from the Left. He spoke harshly of his parents' decision to make him watch uplifting features about the Soviet Union and forbade any Doris Day movies, a common blunder in child-brain-washing techniques among the comrades at that time.

Since then, like other Trotskyist vets, such as the above-mentioned Hitchens, Horowitz has thrown his energies into crusading on behalf of the American right, fuelled in his efforts by copious annual disbursements from the richer denizens of that well populated sector. Richard Mellon Scaife--apex demon in the "vast right-wing conspiracy" identified by Hillary Clinton amid the Lewinsky scandal--has poured millions into Horowitz's organizations, as have other well-heeled conservative foundations. Every now and again Horowitz will raise some spectacularly nutty alarum, like the Los Angeles Times being taken over by pinkoes, and I always assume that Horowitz must be filling out his annual grant applications, and reminding Scaife that others may snooze and idle, but he, Horowitz, is unceasing in his vigilance against sedition.

In Horowitz's bestiary, sedition comes in all the traditional forms, from commies on campus to commies in the press and he's churned out endless bulletins charting their insidious reach. Some of his specific accusations have no doubt been useful to fearful school administrations eager to harry and expel the few radical teachers able to find employment in these bleak times.

But the problem for Horowitz is one of supply. The left in America is really in very poor shape: near zero commies, and really only a sprinkling of radical black profs, militant Lesbians and kindred antinomians to beat up on. The notion of pinkoes in the media is laughable to all except the fearful imaginations of millionaires like Scaife. Hence the spotlight on Islamo-Fascism, a gloriously vague term whose origin is the topic of a tussle between Malise Ruthven, who used the term in 1980 to describe all authoritarian Islamic governments, and Stephen Schwartz, yet another fat, bearded former Trotskyist who says he was the first to use it in its specific application in 2000, eventually receiving a tap on the shoulder for so doing from Christopher Hitchens and John Sullivan. Arise, Sir Stephen!

Islamo-Fascism Awareness week has been featuring Horowitz and big-name ranters of the right like Anne Coulter and Fox's Sean Hannity, plus former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, and noted Islamophobe Daniel Pipes. They descended on various college campuses to be received by Christian-Fascists and the curious while they hurled imprecations at the left for being soft on sons of the Prophet stoning women to death for adultery.

The reaction of the left has been mixed. In some ways it always takes Horowitz's antics far too seriously, though the latter's effect on timid college administrations cannot be entirely gainsaid. On the other hand, Awareness week is having a galvanizing effect. Coalitions have formed to combat Horowitz's version of Awareness with superior Progressive Awareness about what is good or not so good about Islam. Since Santorum and others have ripe records of intolerance for women, the air is usefully thick with shouts of "hypocrite." Horowitz is probably the best organizer the left has these days.

November 8

Schizophrenia is a mandatory condition for all Democratic presidential candidates, never more so than at this stage in America's election cycle. If a Democrat mentions love in the first part of any sentence, there had better be an endorsement of hate and of war before the full stop.

So, of course, Hillary bobs and weaves. Her problem is that she's not too quick on her feet, unlike her husband Bill, a Baryshnikov of equivocation. In last week's TV debate, out there under the spotlights, with Barack Obama and John Edwards gunning for her, Mrs. Clinton blew it on the immigration question, just when every laptop pundit in the blogosphere was getting bored with the apparent certainty that H Clinton would be the party's nominee.

So they've been piling on ever since. Will she implode, just like that front-runner of November 2004, Howard Dean?

Hillary has a ton of money and the solid support of the party's bosses, which is not surprising since the Clintons picked these bosses in the first place. A great many women in America want her to be president. Recovery is a process the Clintons have been refining ever since Hillary got herself into trouble with the voters of Arkansas back in 1978 for insisting that the first lady of that state be called Hillary Rodham, a stand on feminist principle she abandoned in time for the 1980 governor's race.

Hillary will almost certainly tack to safety out of this mini-typhoon. But the bigger problem is not going away. There's a solid slice of the Old-Glory-loving superpatriots who will never, under any conditions, vote for Hillary Clinton a year from now. Every equivocation on immigrants, on the war, will be replayed mercilessly next autumn.

Hillary's best chance is to have the Republican vote split by the Evangelical Christians - unable to stomach a pro-abortion wife-hopper like Rudy Giuliani - running a candidate of their own. Some born-again type from the South.

December 13

If there was ever a parable about the futility of congressional "oversight," it's surely the uproar over the CIA's secret destruction of thevideotapes of its torture sessions on the Al Qaeda men, Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Here we have the spectacle of members of the CIA oversight committees like Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia saying virtuously the CIA never told him about deep-sixing the videos. If true, the CIA was stupid. All the Agency needed to have done was set up a secret viewing room on Capitol Hill and had "last peek before we burn them" sessions. Sworn to silence, a few senators and Reps would have trooped along, no doubt with Larry Craig in the front row, hogging three seats with his wide stance.

The CIA continues to maintain it doesn't go in for torture. As Jeffrey St Clair and I describe in detail in Whiteout, our book on the CIA (available at www.counterpunch.org), the documented record of its savageries in this area goes back decades, starting with the recruitment of Nazi torture technicians in Operation Paperclip. The Fifties saw its increasing obsession with brainwashing and sensory deprivation. The CIA supplied the interrogators for the Phoenix program in Vietnam.

Down the years, the CIA has methodically destroyed records on matters pertaining to torture, assassination and mind-control. Every decade there are protestations that malpractices have definitively ceased, usually just before the tenure ends of the CIA director making the claim. Every decade they continue.

December 20

The great dread of American political establishments down the decades has been that a wild man will suddenly sneak past all obstructions cunningly devised to repel uncomfortable surprises and upset the apple cart. Democrats even today shiver at the memory of William Jennings Bryan, another implacable foe of Charles Darwin, who ran on a silver platform in the late nineteenth century. George Wallace, a redneck governor out of Alabama, ran as an independent presidential candidate in 1968 and Richard Nixon was terrified that he would steal enough votes to throw the race to the Democrat, Hubert Humphrey. A would-be assassin's bullet put paid to that threat.
The clamor about Huckabee's Christian beliefs is overdone, not least among the left whose bigotry on matters of religion is particularly unappetizing. A robust majority of all Americans, so polls unfailingly show, maintain they have had personal encounters with Jesus Christ. Ronald Reagan believed and publicly stated more than once that the Apocalypse was scheduled to occur in his lifetime at Megiddo, as excitingly trailered in the Good Book. The soigné Governor Mitt Romney, now displaced by Huckabee as the front-runner, is a Mormon and this, unless he is a heretic from the Latter Day Saints on this specific issue, believes that Christ was Lucifer's older brother, as Huckabee has not been slow in pointing out.

But Huckabee should not be dismissed as simply the creature of the Christian fundamentalists who play a very significant role in the Republican primaries and who are currently hoisting him in the polls. Of course they like Huckabee for all the obvious reasons, and because the alternatives are the Mormon Romney or Giuliani, who's hopped from wife to wife, shared an apartment with a male gay couple and favors abortion.

But on many substantive matters, demonstrated during his ten years as the governor of Arkansas, Huckabee was often a progressive, with enlightened views and a record of substantive executive action on immigration, public health, education of poor kids and the possibility of redemption for convicted criminals. In his ten years as governor, Huckabee commuted the sentences of, or outright pardoned, over 1,200 felons including a dozen murderers. This was a courageous and unparalleled display of enlightenment in a country whose interest in rehabilitation is near zero. As Huckabee said in answer to Mitt "throw away the key" Romney, should a woman convicted of check-kiting when she was 17, have this criminal offense prevent her from getting a job thirty years later?

Democrats started by chortling over Huckabee's meteoric rise in the national polls. The Democratic National Committee supposedly ordered a moratorium to onslaughts on the Arkansas governor in the hopes that as the nominee he will be roadkill for them in the race next fall. This patronizing posture is already fraying. Huckabee would not be a pushover. He's quick on his feet, has an easy sense of humor and has a powerful appeal to Americans unconvinced by any of the major contenders.

Thus far, beyond hee-haws at his Christian fundamentalism, the most the liberals can come up with is that he intervened to save his son from very nasty charges of dog-abuse at a Boy Scout camp and that among those whose sentences he commuted was a rapist, Wayne Dumond, who killed at least one woman after his release. Murray Waas has devoted thousands of plodding words to the case.

It's chilling to watch liberals and pwogs thundering their outrage at the mere idea of pardons or commutations, as though one of the besetting horrors of America today isn't the penological mindset that puts people behind bars for decades, or the living death of what the criminal justice industry laconically terms LWOP, Life Without the Possibility of Parole. Let's go back to 1988, when Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis, who had supervised an elightened parole and day-release program as governor of Massachusetts, was trashed for letting Willie Horton out of prison on a weekend pass. Who first raised the Horton issue. No, not George Bush Sr. Not Lee Atwater. It was Al Gore, in the '88 Democratic primaries.

Of course, if you decide not to let people rot in prison for forty years, and let some of them out, there's a chance there'll be a Dumond or a Horton among those released. That's a risk. To say that it's an unacceptable risk is the same as saying there's a risk in administering the death penalty, because an innocent person might get gassed or killed with poison, but that nonetheless the price is worth it. Some guy with a DUI on his record gets his license back, gets loaded again and kills another carload of innocents. So, we should bring in a lifetime ban of all DUIs from driving ever again? More people get killed by drivers with DUIs on their record than by convicted killers let out of prison, or for that matter by sex offenders. These days, with liberal assent, sex offenders serve their full terms and still can't get out of prison. Run a society totally on principles of revenge, not forgiveness or redemption and you end up in the realm of Milton's Moloch, "besmeared with blood of human sacrifice and parents' tears."

Then there are the corruption charges. Huckabee accepted gift vouchers for meals at Taco Bell and had a registry at Target and Dillard's where he and his wife got big-ticket items like a Jack LaLanne juicer. Hold the front page! From reading the furious brayings of Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, you'd think Huckabee was the Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic, crowned on a golden throne, wearing a Roman toga embroidered with a hundred thousand pearls, then driving off in a coach pulled by six white horses flown from Paris.

Try as they may, dustrakers like Taibbi have a hard time showing Huckabee was anything more than a piker in the perks department.

Here's some of the record of shame. Total for items requested on the Target wedding registry, $2,282, including a 12-piece cookware set for $249, a DeLonghi retro 4-slice toaster for $39.99, napkins, kitchen towels, two king-sized pillows and a clock. Total on the Dillard's registry, $4,635, not omitting the Jack Lalanne juicer for $100.

True, the Huckabees got married in 1974, but they had that covenant marriage in 2005, which is certainly as convincing as Hillary Clinton saying she just got lucky when, as Arkansas' first lady she made $99,000 on cattle futures off an initial stake of $1,000, the whole miraculous bonanza organized by a guy in the retinue of Don Tyson, the largest food processor in the state of Arkansas. More convincing, actually.

As so often with American politicians accused of graft and corruption, one reels back in embarrassment at the tiny sums involved. In 2003, Huckabee was fined $250 by the State Ethics Commission of bringing shame on Arkansas by accepting a $500 canoe from Coca-Cola in 2001.

The Commission also gave him a rap on the knuckles for not reporting acceptance of a $200 stadium blanket the same year. He probably wanted it to put over his knees in the canoe.

Huckabee appealed the sanctions to Pulaski County Circuit Court. Judge Fox said he should have owned up to the blanket, but threw out the $ 250 fine, finding that there wasn't sufficient evidence to show that the canoe, painted with the words "Coke, Arkansas and You," illegally rewarded Huckabee for doing his job as governor. Huckabee battled other such charges, including more substantial gifts of clothes and furniture. It was all familiar stuff, to connoisseurs of small-time corruption charges. Were the suits for the shrunken Huckabee to deploy to Arkansas' advantage at conferences of governors or trade trips abroad? Was the furniture for the rehabbed governor's mansion while Mr. and Mrs. Huckabee roosted in the doublewide?

Arkansas underpays its governors as a matter of policy, forcing them into a flexible ethical posture, as opposed to chill high mindedness. Incorruptibles are often more of a menace to society. The American way, which isn't so bad, is to have the laws on the books, for proper use if things start getting seriously out of control. Corruption, held within bounds, is a useful lubricant.

Is it really worse for Muscovites to slip the traffic cop 500 roubles ($20), thus paying a de facto fine, as opposed to getting a ticket, and mailing in your $250 speeding fine to the County Superior Court?

Bill Clinton got $20,000 a year for governing Arkansas. Huckabee got $80,000. These guys had to go to McDonalds or Taco Bell. It's all they could afford. Of course they pocketed $10,000 bribes in cash for issuing end use certificates and the like. If the truth be told, Gov. Clinton in his Arkansas days in the governor's mansion, was a piker in corruption, just like Huckabee. The laughable thing about Whitewater was the pathetically small sums the Clintons stood to make if all went well, which they did not. When the tribunal investigating Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey finally concluded its labors, long after his death, I totted up the proven bribes and it came to something like $50 million.

So Huckabee will probably survive these charges, as he should the whines of New York Times columnists that he is unversed in foreign affairs. Both Ronald Reagan and George Bush demonstrated conclusively that a passing glance at a stamp album is the only education required for dealing with the rest of the world.

Huckabee's single rival as a genuinely interesting candidate is another Republican, Ron Paul, who set a record a few days ago, by raising $6 million in a single day. Unlike Huckabee, Paul's core issues are opposition to the war and to George Bush's abuse of civil liberties inscribed in the U.S. Constitution. His appeal, far more than Huckabee, is to the redneck rebel strain in American political life--the populist beast that the U.S. two-party system is designed to suppress. On Monday night, Paul was asked on Fox News about Huckabee's Christmas ad, which shows the governor backed by a shining cross. Actually it's the mullions of the window behind him, but the illusion is perfect. Paul said the ad reminded him of Sinclair Lewis's line, that "when fascism comes to this country it will be wrapped in a flag and bearing a cross." In the unlikely event they had read Lewis, no other candidate would dare quote that line.


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