31 January 2008

Why Did YOU Vote Against Your Own Self-Interest?

Bush 2009 Budget to Freeze Programs
By KEVIN FREKING, AP, 2008-01-31 17:33:41

WASHINGTON (Jan. 31) - President Bush's 2009 budget will virtually freeze most domestic programs and seek nearly $200 billion in savings from federal health care programs, a senior administration official said Thursday. The Bush budget also will likely exceed $3 trillion, this official said.

Bush on Monday will present his proposed budget for the new fiscal year to Congress, where it's unlikely to gain much traction in the midst of a presidential campaign. The president has promised a plan that would erase the budget deficit by 2012 if his policies are followed.

Bush will propose nearly $178 billion in savings from Medicare - a number that's nearly triple what he proposed last year. Much of the savings would come from freezing reimbursement rates for most health care providers for three years. An additional $17 billion would come from the Medicaid program, the state-federal partnership that provides health coverage to the poor. The cuts would come over five years.

Read it here.

[+/-]

Would Waterboarding Be Torture If Done to You?

Western Civilization: An Idea Whose Time Has Come
by Amy Goodman

Attorney General Michael Mukasey sipped his water nervously. It was the first time he was testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee since his controversial confirmation. At issue then and now: torture. Does he consider waterboarding torture? Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., made it personal: “Would waterboarding be torture if it was done to you?” “I would feel that it was,” Mukasey responded. Though he deflected questions, before and after Kennedy’s, his personal answer rang true.

Our attorney general should not have to be waterboarded to know that it is torture. Likewise, Americans should not have to suffer under a brutal dictatorship in order to know that it is wrong to support dictators abroad.

Take, for example, the long-reigning dictator of Indonesia, Suharto. He died this week at the age of 86, an age that most of his more than 1 million victims never reached. Suharto ruled Indonesia for more than 30 years, shored up by the most powerful country on Earth, the United States. Suharto rose to power in 1965 in a coup backed by the CIA, which provided him with lists of dissidents whom the Indonesian military then killed, one by one. He was forced from power in 1998, in a pro-democracy uprising.

Throughout Suharto’s reign, U.S. administrations-Democratic and Republican-armed, trained and financed the Indonesian military. In addition to the million Indonesians killed, hundreds of thousands were also killed during Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, a small country 300 miles above Australia. It is a country I know well, having covered it for years. On Nov. 12, 1991, when I was covering a peaceful Timorese procession in Timor’s capital, Dili, Suharto’s occupying army opened fired on the crowd, killing 270 Timorese. I got off easy: The soldiers beat me with their boots and the butts of their U.S. M-16s. They fractured the skull of my colleague Allan Nairn, who was writing for The New Yorker magazine at the time. And that massacre was one of the smaller ones in Timor. Nevertheless, President George H.W. Bush, followed by Bill Clinton, continued to try to supply Indonesia with weapons. Only a grass-roots movement in the United States stopped the U.S. military sales.

Aside from being unimaginably brutal, Suharto was also corrupt. Transparency International estimated Suharto’s fortune to be between $15 billion and $35 billion. The current U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, Cameron Hume, praised Suharto’s memory this week, saying, “President Suharto led Indonesia for over 30 years, a period during which Indonesia achieved remarkable economic and social development. … Though there may be some controversy over his legacy, President Suharto was a historic figure who left a lasting imprint on Indonesia and the region of Southeast Asia.” Imprint? Yes, if he means pulling out people’s fingernails, disappearing Indonesian dissidents, or wiping out a third of the population of East Timor, one of the great genocides of the 20th century. But clearly, that is not what Hume meant.

Whether it’s waterboarding, waging an illegal war or holding hundreds of prisoners without charge for years at Guantanamo Bay or at CIA black sites around the world, I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi, one of the world’s greatest nonviolent leaders. “What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless,” he asked, “whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?”

The Mukasey hearing happened to take place on the 60th anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination. Also on this day, Rudolph Giuliani and John Edwards dropped out of the presidential race. In his exit speech, Edwards said, “America’s hour of transformation is upon us.” As the race narrows, it is a key moment to reflect: One leading candidate, John McCain, was actually tortured (unlike Mukasey, although McCain supported his confirmation). McCain predicted we may be in Iraq for 100 years. He is up against Mitt Romney, who said he would double the size of Guantanamo. Neither of the remaining leading Democratic candidates calls for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Yes, it is a key moment to reflect on the teachings of Gandhi. When asked what he thought of Western civilization, Gandhi responded, “I think it would be a good idea.”

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 650 stations in North America.

© 2008 Amy Goodman


[+/-]

Not With Our Children's Blood

Susan Lenfestey: What would Molly do?
By SUSAN LENFESTEY, January 30, 2008

It's been a year since Molly Ivins died, leaving us to slog through the political landscape without her sanity-saving blend of insight, humor and outrage. Unlike Maureen Dowd, who delights in snippy wordplay, with Molly you felt the words erupting from her soul, ricocheting off her funny bone and then passing through her brain to be arranged in a way that made sense -- an enormous challenge when dealing with the non-sense of the president she called "Shrub."

As Super Tuesday closes in with the fate of -- oh, just about everyone -- at stake, I keep wishing I could open my paper and find Molly's take on it all. What fun she would have had with the entire Republican slate, from the moribund-on-arrival Fred Thompson to the 12th-century worldview of affable Mike Huckabee to the transformation of "America's Mayor" to America's meltdown.

And she wouldn't have let John McCain's resemblance to an ermine -- a short-legged weasel who changes color with the seasons -- go unnoticed.

On the other side I imagine she'd have taken a few jabs at Dennis Kucinich for toe-tapping with a UFO and at John Edwards for his pricey girly-man haircuts -- yet slapped them a high-five for the truths they dare to speak. She encouraged veracity no matter how eccentric the package; she just couldn't tolerate "clever straddling," as she put it.

She would have donned a hazmat suit to deal with the hydra-like beast called Billary that clawed its way to defeat in South Carolina. She was clear on where she stood on the Clintons, calling Bill "as weak as bus-station chili" and writing in January 2006, "I'd like to make it clear to the people who run the Democratic Party that I will not support Hillary Clinton for president. Enough. Enough triangulation, calculation and equivocation."

So as millions of us trudge off to caucuses and primaries next Tuesday, I'm wondering: What Would Molly Do?

Referring to the death of Gene McCarthy in that same 2006 column, she gave a pretty good idea of where she stood.

"There are times a country is so tired of bull that only the truth can provide relief. If no one in conventional-wisdom politics has the courage to speak up and say what needs to be said, then you go out and find some obscure junior senator from Minnesota [or Illinois -- my add] with the guts to do it."

Well, McCarthy didn't win, but he also wasn't much of a candidate. I knew and admired Eugene McCarthy, but I think it's safe to say he was no Barack Obama. But by coalescing the young and the antiwar voters, he forced those who did win to put an end to America's other mistake of a war.

So Molly would rail at us not to let Bush Co. -- and any lily-livered so-called leader who is up for election -- tell us that this war is no longer an issue.

With plans for permanent military bases throughout Iraq and likely Republican candidate John McCain's comfort with 100 years of occupation -- not to mention the obscene daily loss of life and treasure -- we are a nation that will continue to bleed out until we die.

So do what Molly would do. Go to your precinct caucus on Feb. 5, not because your candidate's political future depends on it, but because your nation's future depends on the candidate you choose. Go with Molly's words ringing in your ears: "We want to find solutions other than killing people. Not in our name, not with our money, not with our children's blood."

Susan Lenfestey lives in Minneapolis and writes at the Clotheslineblog.com.


[+/-]

She Used the Adjective "Evil"

In Honor of My Mother and the Power of Love
By Norman Solomon

The last time my mother was in a hospital, an essay by Thich Nhat Hanh moved in front of my eyes. “Our mother is the teacher who first teaches us love, the most important subject in life,” he wrote. “Without my mother I could never have known how to love. Thanks to her I can love my neighbors. Thanks to her I can love all living beings. Through her I acquired my first notions of understanding and compassion.”

My mother, Miriam A. Solomon, died on January 20, which happened to be the seventh anniversary of the inauguration of a man and a presidential regime that she loathed. Once, several years ago, when I referred to George W. Bush as “an idiot,” she made a correction by pointing out he’s much worse than that; she used the adjective “evil.”

At my parents’ apartment, taped on the front door for a long time, a little poster said: “The America I Believe In Doesn’t Torture People.” The poster was from Amnesty International USA — an organization that my mom wrote many protest letters to dictators for — and it summed up her devotion to human decency rather than counterfeit versions of American democracy.

On Monday, the day after my mom died, the Washington Post that arrived on the apartment doorstep carried a lead editorial under the headline “Martin Luther King Jr.: His Words Are More Relevant Than Ever This Election Year.” But the editorial did not include the word “war” — even while it grandly commented on “the vision of Dr. King” and, of course, quoted from his “I Have a Dream” speech.

My mother was among the hundreds of thousands of civil-rights supporters who gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial and heard King’s speech that day in 1963. But unlike the Post’s editorial writers she did not suffer from arrested development in subsequent decades.

She shared in King’s expansive view of essential struggles for human rights during the last few years of his life. And in the decades that followed, she took to heart his denunciations of economic injustice and what he called “the madness of militarism.”

In contrast to the Washington Post — with its fevered editorial support for the war in Vietnam and, a third of a century later, the war in Iraq — my mother was a humanist who cared about human life far more than geopolitical positioning. In October 1967, then a 46-year-old mother of four children, she joined in the large antiwar march to the Pentagon.

She was passionate about the Bill of Rights. In the early 1970s she did extensive volunteer work for the ACLU in defense of the civil liberties of antiwar demonstrators. And for decades she worked to get progressive Democrats elected to office. She was never in the limelight, and she never sought it.

Sometimes she’d tell me about her father, Abe Abramowitz, a socialist who did tireless political work in Brooklyn. As a girl, she went with him to branch meetings of The Workmen’s Circle, where social justice was on the agenda. Once she showed me how he showed her how to quickly seal a lot of envelopes by wetting many flaps all at once with a sponge. Along the way he supported Norman Thomas for president; later on, as circumstances and possibilities shifted, he opted for Franklin Roosevelt.

My mom adored her father, who had a sparkling sense of humor, a love of literature, and — most of all — an overflow of humanistic kindness. He died young, when she was only in her mid-thirties. It must have been a terrible blow to my mother.

My mother did not die young (she was 86), but since then I’ve felt awful waves of sadness. And sometimes I think of people who are mourning loved ones of all ages, due to distinctly unnatural causes. The people dying in Iraq as a consequence of the U.S. war effort. The children in so many countries who lose their lives to the ravages of poverty. The health-care system in the United States that — in the absence of full medical coverage for everyone as a human right — means avoidable death and suffering on a large scale.

In mediaspeak and political discourse, the human toll of corporate domination and the warfare state is routinely abstract. But the results — in true human terms — add rage and more grief on top of grief.

Our own mourning should help us understand and strive to prevent the unspeakable pain of others. And whatever love we have for one person, we should try to apply to the world. I won’t ever be able to talk with my mother again, but I’m sure that she would agree.

After my mother died, I learned about a poem that she wrote long ago — apparently soon after her father passed away. The poem is titled “Bereavement.” Here is how it ends:

More than cherished memories are left
Behind; they leave us — us
To know our duties and our powers
And to carry on without much fuss.

In the crushing grief of the moment, we think of how
vital and good our
loved ones were,
and vow to be worthy of them.


[+/-]

Delusional Democracy

I despise shams. This thing was tucked in with my Washington state primary ballot today. I let myself get angry about this crap, but pasting this sticker on the outside of the envelope when I send it in is what? supposed to make me feel good about myself? supposed to show I'm "patriotic"? supposed to be self-affirming?

Bah - it's bullshit. Voting in this nation has little or no meaning when we get the kind of choices we do: corrupt or slightly less corrupt. Let's get real about what's happening here. Until there is meaningful election reform that eliminates the lobbyists and corporate cash from our election process, you can forget about believing you live in a democracy - you don't.

Richard Jehn

Lobbyists find more ways to bond with lawmakers
By Ken Dilanian, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — The quiet, tree-lined 400 block of New Jersey Avenue, with its expanse of Victorian houses in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, resembles many residential streets in this part of Washington.

Look closer during the cocktail hour while Congress is in session. Well-coiffed men and women mill about behind the grand windows, glasses in hand. Stand on the sidewalk, and you're bound to bump into a lawmaker.

Real estate records explain. One newly renovated house is owned by UPS, the global shipping company. Another belongs to Patton Boggs, the city's top-grossing lobbying firm. There's former Texas congressman-turned-lobbyist Jack Fields' place. Down the way is lobbyist Tim Rupli, who moved in about a year ago.

Most of the thousands of lobbyists work across the city, in and around K Street. In the past decade, 18 lobbying firms, corporations and labor unions have purchased town houses or leased office space near the Capitol, joining more than a dozen others that had operated there for years, according to real estate records.

Despite a strict new ban on gifts to lawmakers, lobbyists routinely use these prime locations to legally wine and dine members of Congress while helping them to raise money, campaign records show. The lawmakers get a venue that is often free or low-cost, a short jaunt from the Capitol. The lobbyists get precious uninterrupted moments with lawmakers — the sort of money-fueled proximity the new lobbying law was designed to curtail. The public seldom learns what happens there because the law doesn't always require fundraising details to be reported.

"It's a nice added bonus to say, 'Hey, we're going to host it at our house,'" said Jeffrey Shoaf, chief lobbyist of the Associated General Contractors of America, which opened its doors for nine fundraisers — and others that he says went undisclosed — last year at its redbrick town house two blocks from the Capitol.

The receptions, which can range from small breakfast meetings of five to large catered parties of 100 or so, are only a sliver of the fundraising universe.

Even so, they illustrate that lawmakers still are allowed to accept valuable favors from special interests willing to pay for access, despite promises by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other lawmakers that the restrictions on gifts and trips would "break the link between lobbyists and legislators."

The role of lobbyists in fundraisers wasn't addressed in the lobbying law signed last September. As long as they don't exceed the federal cap on campaign donations — $10,000 per two-year election cycle for political action committees — lobbyists can underwrite an event for a favored senator or representative at a resort, on a golf trip or at their town house.

USA TODAY counted more than 400 congressional fundraisers at lobbyist-, corporate- or labor-owned Capitol Hill facilities last year through November, benefiting 214 lawmakers — 40% of Congress. Those numbers, based on invitations, interviews and Federal Election Commission records, capture only part of the total because many events go undisclosed. The figures don't include fundraisers hosted by lobbyists at their K Street offices, which are subject to the same rules but don't offer similarly convenient geography. USA TODAY also found examples of lawmakers helping the interests of the lobbyists who hosted them.

"This is business as usual," said Malcolm Berkley, a spokesman for UPS, which opened its doors for lawmakers 57 times during the first 11 months of last year. "We are participating in the system that is established, and we do it by the rules and guidelines."

'A quality opportunity'

Lobbyists have long sponsored fundraisers for Congress members at Capitol Hill restaurants and clubs. When Congress is in session and venues on the Hill book up, those with a well-located private facility have a distinct advantage.

"It's location, location, location," said former Pennsylvania congressman Bob Edgar, a Democrat who heads Common Cause, a citizen watchdog group.

Congress members prefer a fundraiser on the Hill because it affords "more time with their donors and less time in transit," said health care lobbyist Frederick Graefe, who launched a solo practice last year from his million-dollar town house.

He estimates he hosted two dozen events there last year, but only two of them were reported.

The lobbyists offer lawmakers access to a larger donor network, fundraising consultant Tom Hammond said. "Sometimes if you do an event at, say, the UPS town house, other folks in the transportation industry will attend," he said. "Or if it's a Patton Boggs town house event, sometimes some of their clients will show up."

Kate Smith, who hosted at least 29 fundraisers last year near the Capitol as the PAC director for the American Council of Life Insurers, said the gatherings present "a quality opportunity to be able to discuss your issues."

Convenient access doesn't come cheap. The general contractors association, whose headquarters is in suburban Arlington, Va., spent $3 million in 2001 to buy and outfit a town house on D Street near the House office buildings, including $23,000 for artwork, according to its federal tax filings.

"These houses are tangible proof of how big a business the pay-to-play system has become," said Meredith McGehee of the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center. When lawmakers pay to rent the houses for fundraisers, records show, they often get cut-rate deals, despite FEC rules that say campaigns must pay fair-market value for goods and services.

Brett Kappel, a campaign-finance lawyer who advises trade associations, said he tells would-be fundraising hosts to compare what nearby hotels charge to rent a room of similar square footage. The Hyatt Regency Washington, two blocks from the Capitol, charges $500 to rent a room for 25 people for two hours, said Steve Baughan, senior catering manager.

A small event at the Sewall-Belmont House, a historic Capitol Hill town house, costs $800 for a room, according to its website. Records show UPS charges $200.

The Associated General Contractors recently raised its fee from $75 to $100. Shoaf and Berkley said hotels are not an apt comparison. "We've looked at other similarly situated properties in the Capitol Hill area, and we've made the determination with outside counsel" that the company is charging "a fair cost," Berkley said. Shoaf said the contractors open their facilities to non-political groups, and therefore come under an FEC exemption that allows "community rooms" to be used for fundraisers for a nominal fee.

'More transparency' needed

On a recent chilly autumn night on New Jersey Avenue, Rep. Bill Sali sat in on the drums with a band at Rupli's house.

The party was to raise money to retire some of the Idaho Republican's campaign debt, and among the attendees were lobbyists from the Carmen Group, whose slogan is "proven results."

A few weeks later, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's driver double-parked his black SUV in front of the town house owned by partners in the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen while the Maryland Democrat stopped into a fundraiser for Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y. That was two months after the enactment of a bill designed to curb the influence of lobbyists.

Congress passed the law largely in response to the crimes of convicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to corrupting then-representative Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and other government officials with gifts. Under the new rules, members of Congress no longer are allowed to accept even small gifts or meals from lobbyists or their clients. They no longer may take subsidized trips in private jets. Lobbyist-funded travel has been curtailed to no more than two nights.

Some things haven't changed. Some lawmakers have advocated freeing Washington from the grip of lobbyists by day while continuing to take their campaign money by night. Last year through October, Democratic lawmakers outraised Republicans among business interests by $324 million to $253 million, and among registered lobbyists by $6.9 million to $5.3 million, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Asked about lobbyist fundraising last spring, Hoyer said, "If you look at all the convictions and the people who are serving in jail, it's not about campaign money. It's about taking money directly from special interests for travel, meals, in your pocket. The beauty of campaign finance is there is disclosure. People can see."

Not always.

Under federal election rules, groups can provide lawmakers free food, drink and a fundraising venue if they disclose that spending as contributions, usually through their political action committees. Those count against the limits of $10,000 per two-year election cycle for PACs and $4,600 for individuals.

Or they can charge the lawmaker, in which case the expense should show up in election records if it exceeds $200.

In theory, this should mean nearly all events are disclosed, allowing the public to learn which special interests have hosted fundraisers for which legislators. In practice, a list of exemptions prevents that.

The FEC allows lobbyists to give their space to federal candidates, or charge a nominal fee, if they also make it available at little or no cost to charities and civic groups.

FedEx provides its town house free to members of Congress and charities, spokesman Maury Lane said, so there is no public record of the fundraisers. Lane said he didn't know how many events were held.

Another exemption allows an individual to spend up to $1,000 hosting a fundraiser in his home without reporting it or having it count against contribution limits, a provision Graefe said allows most of his events to go undisclosed.

Because some lobbyists charge less than $200 for rent, campaigns don't have to itemize those payments — leaving no record connecting the lawmaker to the lobbyist-hosted event. Hoyer declined to answer questions for this story. His spokeswoman, Stacey Bernards, said, "This may be an area where there could be more transparency."

A little more sunlight is coming. The new law requires disclosure of "bundling" of contributions by lobbyists — long a hidden fixture of fundraising.

The measure, which awaits FEC enforcement rules, requires lawmakers to list the name of any lobbyist who raises at least $15,000 for them in a six-month period, along with the amount raised. Some lobbyists are confident their fundraisers will not be covered.

"Most of our events are under that threshold," said Doyle Bartlett, a former congressional staffer whose firm, Bartlett Bendall, hosted at least 18 Hill fundraisers last year, campaign records show.

Donations, then earmarks

Some observers say the new gift and trip restrictions have put more emphasis on helping Congress members raise money as a way of gaining access to lawmakers.

"A very unfortunate effect of the gift rule changes is that it has definitely forced more of the substantive interaction between members and constituents into a fundraising context," said Stewart Van Scoyoc of Van Scoyoc Associates, the fourth-highest grossing lobbying firm in the first half of last year.

Van Scoyoc's firm maintains a PAC that spent $70,000 during the first 11 months of last year to underwrite 47 fundraisers.

The firm resides in one of the city's most desirable locations for lobbyists, at 101 Constitution Ave. NW, a sleek building that opened in 2002 with a boast on its website of "unparalleled access to leaders."

Hors d'oeuvres served by Van Scoyoc's caterer, Ridgewells of Bethesda, Md., include Peking duck pancake wraps and mini-crab cakes with key lime tartar sauce. Individually, Van Scoyoc and his employees gave $429,500 to federal candidates last year through October, and $812,000 in 2005 and 2006, according to a USA TODAY analysis of FEC records compiled by CQ MoneyLine.

After working with a member of Congress to help a client, Van Scoyoc said, "you're almost ungracious" if you turn down a request for fundraising help.

Trading contributions for official action is illegal, and lobbyists say they don't give with the expectation of achieving a specific policy result. "It's frankly insulting for these so-called consumer groups to say that a member can be bought for $1,000, or that I expect something in return," Graefe said.

Even so, correlations between lobbyist-hosted fundraisers and official actions that please the lobbyists are not hard to find:

• UPS hosted a breakfast fundraiser at its town house for Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., head of the House transportation committee, on June 28. Later that day, Oberstar won committee adoption of an amendment he authored, with UPS' support, that would make it easier for workers at rival FedEx to unionize. Many UPS workers are unionized.

Besides the $728 cost of the breakfast and room, UPS' political action committee contributed $4,772 to Oberstar's campaign this campaign cycle. UPS hosted another town house fundraiser for Oberstar's leadership PAC on Jan. 15. "It just happened that the (committee vote) was the same day," Oberstar said. "It wouldn't have made any difference if we'd had (the fundraiser) the month before or the month afterward. I wasn't thinking about it at all."

He said his amendment would fix a disparity in the law he's long wanted to change. UPS spokesman Berkley also said the timing was a coincidence and UPS was not the driving force behind the FedEx-related proposal.

• On Dec. 19, Rep. Nancy Boyda, a freshman Democrat from Kansas, issued a news release taking credit for a $485,000 grant for a wastewater treatment project in Iola, a town in her district. On Oct. 15, the Van Scoyoc firm had registered to lobby for Iola. On Nov. 1, the firm hosted a fundraiser for Boyda at its offices. The cost for catering, beverages, room rental and incidentals: $1,203, paid for by the firm's PAC.

On the day the House of Representatives passed the lobbying law in July, Boyda said that the ban on gifts and meals was important to her constituents because "they want to know that I'm not sitting someplace in Washington, D.C., with somebody that gets my attention for two solid hours."

On Jan. 18, Boyda said, "If the good people of Kansas want to ask if this passes the smell test, I think that it does," because benefits flowed to her district.

She said towns didn't need to hire a lobbyist to get access to her and added, "This is why we need public financing. The system is a mess."


[+/-]

30 January 2008

Qualitative Rather Than Quantitative Growth

Heavy footprint weighs down U.S. empire
Paul Hanley, The StarPhoenix
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Is the decline of the status of the United States a result of its heavy ecological footprint? A strong argument can be made that the fading of the American empire is fundamentally an environmental issue.

In his book The Upside of Down, Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon devotes a lot of space to an environmental analysis of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Interesting in itself, it is also meant as a cautionary tale, not only for the U.S., but also for all industrialized nations.

The main source of energy for Rome was biomass -- grain for people, fodder for oxen and fuels like wood and olive oil. Indirectly, all are forms of solar energy. As the city of Rome expanded, more and more energy was needed to support the growing urban population and build infrastructure. (The book includes a particularly fascinating study of the embodied energy in the Coliseum.) Thus, Rome had to expand its empire in order to control enough land to produce all the biomass energy it needed for its capital.

In order to build an empire, soldiers were needed, more and more as the empire expanded. All had to be fed and provisioned. The empire also needed tax gatherers and civil servants. These armies and bureaucrats had to be supported by the empire. Expansion was also necessary to get booty and other forms of wealth, such as gold, to pay for the Roman lifestyle and the costs of expansion itself.

All this supported a vicious cycle of expansion to gain land followed by a build-up of soldiers, civil servants and debt, then more expansion.

Meanwhile, the intensive farming and forestry resulted in a deterioration of the environment, particularly through erosion and salination, meaning lower productivity. Once again, the land base had to be expanded to make up for lost productivity. This meant more soldiers and longer supply lines. Gradually, the whole environmental-military-political-financial system became exhausted and the barbarians had their day.

The U.S. is the modern equivalent to Rome, though its energy sources are mainly coal, oil and natural gas. National reserves of oil and gas began to decline decades ago and the U.S. became increasingly dependent on foreign oil. This dependence required a foreign presence with a military backing that is unparalleled in the history of the world. As everyone knows, and former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan finally stated once out of office, wars like Iraq are oil wars, just as Roman conquests were -- in large measure -- about access to biomass energy.

All this oil is needed to support the most lavish lifestyle the world has ever known. The American lifestyle has a very heavy ecological footprint indeed, sucking resources from throughout the world and sending fewer and fewer products out to the world. Consumption is built on a mountain of personal and national debt. The U.S. national debt is a staggering $9 trillion, about $30,000 per person. Much of this is held in foreign countries, mainly China. Meanwhile personal debt is also soaring, yet Americans won't stop spending.

As U.S. Comptroller General David Walker describes it, the numbers on debt just don't hold up. America may not have a "heart attack" in the next few years, but it's been diagnosed with "fiscal cancer." What lies ahead will be worse than any recession, and strains in the American economy will have ripple effects worldwide, as is currently evident.

To maintain its extravagant lifestyle, America is relying on the world's reserves of limited and non-renewable fossil fuels and running on debt. This is a recipe for collapse, very similar to that of Rome's.

Benefiting from history, America should be able to see where this is going and do something different. The solution, of course, is to build a sustainable society. America, and everyone else, will have to convert to an economy based on renewable resources and learn to limit consumption to amounts that can be supplied sustainably by ecosystems. To achieve this, we must switch to a concept of growth that is qualitative rather than quantitative.

(c) The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2008


[+/-]

At Least One American Town Is a Little Sane

'Arrest' Bush Petition Ignites Firestorm
Posted: 2008-01-30 14:11:03

BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (Jan. 30) - A town petition making President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney subject to arrest for crimes against the Constitution has triggered a barrage of criticism from people who say residents are "wackjobs" and "nuts."

Residents of Brattleboro, Vt., will get to vote on a measure that calls for the arrest of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for "crimes against our Constitution." Dozens of people have contacted the town to criticize the ballot question, calling residents "wackjobs" and "nuts."

In e-mail messages, voicemail messages and telephone calls, outraged people are calling the measure the equivalent of treason and vowing never to visit Vermont.

"Has everyone up there been out in the cold too long?" said one.

"I would like to know how I could get some water from your town," said another. "It's obvious that there is something special in it."

The petition - with more than 436 signatures, or at least the 5 percent of voters necessary to be considered - was submitted Thursday and the town Select Board voted 3-2 Friday to put it on the ballot. It goes to a town-wide vote March 4.

It reads: "Shall the Selectboard instruct the Town Attorney to draft indictments against President Bush and Vice President Cheney for crimes against our Constitution, and publish said indictments for consideration by other authorities and shall it be the law of the Town of Brattleboro that the Brattleboro Police, pursuant to the above-mentioned indictments, arrest and detain George Bush and Richard Cheney in Brattleboro if they are not duly impeached, and prosecute or extradite them to other authorities that may reasonably contend to prosecute them?"

News of the measure made the rounds on the Internet, and soon people started calling and writing. The Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce got about 60 e-mails Monday, all of them negative, said Executive Director Jerry Goldberg.

A day later, he said, "we had three or four calls in a row that were very positive. One even volunteered to help."

The petition has no legal standing, since the town attorney has no authority to write an indictment and the police have no authority to arrest Bush or Cheney if either visits Brattleboro.

Anger at the Bush administration is hardly new in Vermont. The state Senate voted last year to support impeaching the president. Anti-war rallies are regular occurrences, and "Impeach Bush" bumper stickers are common.

The petition prompted Brent Caflisch to go to his computer in Rosemount, Minn. "Maybe the terrorists will do us all a favor and attack your town next, our country would be much safer with several thousand dead wackjobs in Vermont," he wrote.

It went on to say terrorists could kidnap the three Select Board members who voted in favor, "cut their heads off, video tape it and put it on the internet."

Caflisch, who confirmed sending the e-mail, said Tuesday he did it out of disgust after reading about the measure on The Drudge Report.

A few messages were positive ("Arrest Bush and Cheney? You go, Brattleboro!" wrote one man) but most were critical.

"Be American, not a sniffeling liberal town that sleeps under the shield of safety provided to you by your President," said another e-mail. "Vacation to VT CANCELLED!"

The reaction caught town officials off guard, and left some workers on edge.

"We have some concerns about safety," said Town Clerk Annette Cappy. "After reading some of these e-mails, you can't help it."

Acting Police Chief Eugene Wrinn said any threats would be taken seriously and possibly prosecuted. So far, no threats have been made, he said.

"If someone is concerned for their safety, if there's a threat of harm, we will look at that seriously," he said.

Resident Kurt Daims, who submitted the petition, said late Tuesday he was chagrined that the town and its employees were subject to ridicule.

"I feel bad for people who are loyal to Bush who have lost a son or had one in the service and it's hard for them to admit the utter waste of it, and that it was caused by this man in the White House," he said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.


[+/-]

They Come, They Demonize, They Obliterate

NATO Genocide in Afghanistan
By Ali Khan

30/01/08 "ICH" -- -- Ali Khan argues that the internationally recognized crime of genocide applies to the intentional killings that NATO troops commit on a weekly basis in the poor villages and mute mountains of Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban.

Sloganeers, propagandists and politicians often use the word "genocide" in ways that the law does not permit. But rarely is the crime of genocide invoked when Western militaries murder Muslim groups. This essay argues that the internationally recognized crime of genocide applies to the intentional killings that NATO troops commit on a weekly basis in the poor villages and mute mountains of Afghanistan to destroy the Taliban, a puritanical Islamic group. NATO combat troops bombard and kill people in Taliban enclaves and meeting places. They also murder defenseless Afghan civilians. The dehumanized label of "Taliban" is used to cloak the nameless victims of NATO operations. Some political opposition to this practice is building in NATO countries, such as Canada, where calls are heard to withdraw troops from Afghanistan or divert them to non-combat tasks.


In almost all NATO nations, the Taliban have been completely dehumanized — a historically-tested signal that perpetrators of the crime of genocide carry unmitigated intentions to eradicate the dehumanized group. Politicians, the armed forces, the media, and even the general public associate in the West the Taliban with irrational fanatics, intolerant fundamentalists, brutal assassins, beheaders of women, bearded extremists, and terrorists. This luminescent negativity paves the way for aggression, military operations, and genocide. Promoting the predatory doctrine of collective self-defense, killing the Taliban is celebrated as a legal virtue. To leave the Taliban in control of Afghanistan, says NATO, is to leave a haven for terrorism.

A similar dehumanization took place in the 16th and 17th centuries when NATO precursors occupied the Americas to purloin land and resources. The killings of native inhabitants were extensive and heartless. Thomas Jefferson, the noble author of the Declaration of Independence, labeled Indians as "merciless savages." President Andrew Jackson pontificated: "What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns, and prosperous farms." Promoting the predatory doctrine of discovery, the United States Supreme Court later ratified the pilgrims' crimes, holding that "discovery gave an exclusive right to extinguish the Indian title (to land). ([T]he Indians were fierce savages...To leave them in possession of their country was to leave the country a wilderness."

The predators have not changed their stripes a bit. They come, they demonize, they obliterate. They do all this in the name of superior civilization.

The Facts

The NATO website lists its killings in Afghanistan. These killings are also reported in the world media, often with a shameless tone of gratitude as if NATO forces are engaged in wiping out cannibals. In 2007 alone, NATO helicopters and precision guided munitions bombed and killed over six thousand "Taliban." Read the following recent attacks, which the NATO itself reports, and smell the scent of genocide:

• On January 19, 2008, NATO launched a preemptive strike relying on "credible intelligence" that the Taliban were planning to mass on a NATO base. The attack killed two dozen "insurgents" in the Watapoor District of Kunar Province, though the exact number of casualties could not be confirmed because of the rough mountainous region. The world media reported that numerous civilians were killed and 25 bodies were buried in just one mass grave.

• On January 12, 2008, NATO forces conducted what it calls a "precise strike" on a compound in Kapsia Province targeting Taliban leaders. NATO claimed that the civilians were cleared from the compound before the attack. The claim is absurd because any removal of civilians from the compound would have alerted the battle-hardened Taliban that an enemy attack was imminent.

• On September 20, 2007, NATO forces launched "Operation Palk Wahel" to kill and remove the Taliban from an area in the Upper Gereshk Valley. Numerous civilians were killed. The evidence of the genocide was so obvious that NATO admitted that it "was unaware of civilians in the vicinity of the target and unfortunately it appears that a number of non-combatants were caught in the attack and killed."

The Law

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (entered into force, 1951) is binding on all states including the 26 member states of NATO. The Genocide Convention is jus cogens, the law from which no derogation is allowed. It provides no exceptions for any nation or any organization of nations, such as the United Nations or NATO, to commit genocide. Nor does the Convention allow any exceptions to genocide "whether committed in time of peace or in time of war." Even traditional self-defense - let alone preemptive self-defense, a deceptive name for aggression – cannot be invoked to justify or excuse the crime of genocide.

In murdering the Taliban, NATO armed forces systematically practice on a continual basis the crime of genocide that consists of three constituent elements - act, intent to destroy, and religious group. The crime, as defined in the Convention, is analyzed below:

1. Act. The Convention lists five acts, each of which qualifies as genocide. NATO forces in Afghanistan are committing three of the five acts. They are killing members of the Taliban. They are causing serious bodily harm to members of the Taliban. They are deliberately inflicting on the Taliban conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction in whole or in part. Any of these three acts committed one time constitutes the crime of genocide. NATO combat troops have been committing, and continue to commit, these acts through multiple means and weapons.

2. Intent to Destroy. The crime of genocide is a crime of intent. It must be shown that NATO combat troops and the high command ordering these troops carry the requisite intent to destroy the Taliban. Mere negligent killings do not qualify as genocide. The statements of NATO's Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and those of NATO spokesmen leave no doubt that the NATO conducts military operations to "hunt and destroy" the Taliban. Preemptive strikes to kill the Taliban are sufficient proof that NATO troops and commanding generals have specific intent to destroy as many Taliban members as they can find. The weekly murderous planning and intelligence gathering to locate and eliminate the Taliban leaders and members further demonstrate that the killings in Afghanistan are not negligent, accidental, or by mistake. For all legal purposes, NATO's incessant and deliberate killings of the Taliban are powered with the specific intent to destroy a religious group.

3. Religious Group. The Genocide Convention is far from universal in that it does not protect all groups from genocide. Its protection covers only four groups: national, ethnic, racial and religious. (Political groups are not protected). The Convention does not require the complete eradication of a protected group as a necessary condition for the crime of genocide. Even part destruction of a protected group constitutes the crime. It is no secret that the Taliban are a religious group. (They may also qualify as a national (Afghan) or ethnic (Pushtun) group). The Taliban advocate and practice a puritanical version of Islam. The Convention does not demand that the protected group advocate and practice a form of religion acceptable to the West or the world. The questionable beliefs and practices of a religious group are no reasons to destroy the group. That the Taliban are armed or support terrorism or oppress women are unlawful excuses to commit genocide. (All reasons that Hitler had to murder Jews would be simply irrelevant under the Convention).

The Holding

It may, therefore, be safely concluded that NATO combat troops and NATO commanders are engaged in murdering the Taliban, a protected group under the Genocide Convention, with the specific intent to physically and mentally destroy the group in whole or in part. This is the crime of genocide.

Ali Khan is a professor at Washburn University School of Law in Kansas. This essay is previously published in JURIST


[+/-]

Go Fuck Yourself, Michael Mukasey

US Justice Chief Refuses to Call Waterboarding Torture
by Paul Handley

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Attorney General Michael Mukasey refused Wednesday to define waterboarding as illegal torture, even while admitting that if he underwent the interrogation technique that he would “feel” it is torture.

Fending off pressure in a Senate Justice Committee hearing to categorically call waterboarding, which simulates drowning, as torture under US law, the top US legal official suggested that under certain conditions it could be legal, and said that learned people could disagree on the issue.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to pass definitive judgement on the technique’s legality,” he said.

“There are some circumstances where current law would appear clearly to prohibit waterboarding’s use. Other circumstances would present a far closer question.”

In his first testimony to the committee since becoming attorney general on November 9, Mukasey said that torture is illegal under US statutes, but that waterboarding is not definitively covered by those statutes.

“There is a statute which says it is a relative issue,” Mukasey said to questioning by Senator Joe Biden.

He also said that the Central Intelligence Agency does not now use waterboarding and that the technique is “currently” not approved for its interrogation program.

However, he declined to say whether it had been used in the past.

“I am not authorized to talk about what the CIA has done in the past,” he told the Senate panel.

Senators were adamant that it is torture, with committee head Patrick Leahy insisting that waterboarding “has been recognized as torture for the last 500 years.”

“Would waterboarding be torture if it was done to you?” Senator Ted Kennedy asked Mukasey.

“I would feel it was,” Mukasey said, while insisting that that does not constitute a legal opinion.

“It’s like saying you are opposed to stealing but aren’t sure if bank robbery would qualify,” Kennedy said.

The hearing renewed pressure on the administration of President George W. Bush to categorically ban waterboarding and other interrogation techniques as torture.

As Mukasey testified, seven women sat in the audience wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods resembling those of the US war on terror prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and waved signs saying “I will not be silent” and “No torture.”

Leahy said that the CIA has used the technique in the recent past, an assertion implicitly confirmed by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who was the US spy chief from 2005 to 2007, in a National Journal interview Monday.

“We’ve taken steps to address the issue of interrogations, for instance, and waterboarding has not been used in years,” Negroponte told the magazine.

Mukasey insisted that, based on briefings he has received since he became attorney general, that the CIA at the moment is not authorized to use the method in its interrogations.

But he said he would not make a categorical statement on it because he did not want to signal to US enemies what they would face in US hands.

“Any answer that I could give could have the effect of articulating publicly and to our adversaries the limits and the contours of generally worded laws that define the limits of a highly classified interrogation program,” he said.

The issue was central to the committee’s hearings late last year on Mukasey’s nomination to head the Justice Department.

At the time he declined to answer questions on it, saying he had not been briefed on CIA practices or the Bush administration’s legal reasonings.

© 2008 Agence France Presse


[+/-]

Is It Hubris Or Denial Or Both?

How Easily Offices Are Stolen in the US
by Pat LaMarche

“No people is wholly civilized where a distinction is drawn between stealing an office and stealing a purse.”- Theodore Roosevelt

I’ll add that no people can be wholly civilized if they don’t even notice offices getting stolen - I like to think that most folks would notice somebody stealing their purse.

I’ve had some interesting experiences in my life. I’ve done some things that made me feel wide awake and really alive. But possibly my most profound political endeavor was becoming party to the Ohio recount after the presidential election of 2004.

My Green Party running mate David Cobb and I didn’t recount Ohio because we thought maybe they would find enough votes to prove we had won. (Though it’s pretty awe inspiring to lose by 58 million votes to a man who shot his friend in the face.) No, we recounted Ohio because voter tampering took place and ordinary people had their most precious democratic possession stolen from them: their right to vote.

In some ways we were unlikely suspects to be launching a recount. But the law in Ohio refuses the offended individuals the right to intercede for themselves. The old black woman who needed to use the bathroom and was denied re-entry to the voter line couldn’t contest the election because as “just a voter” she didn’t have standing. The folks who voted with ballots that Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell said were printed on the wrong weight paper lacked standing too. Only a presidential team could cry “foul” and fight for their rights.

Why us? Well, John Kerry lacked - well - everything needed to stand up against democracy’s undoing.

I don’t know and I don’t care why the 2004 Democratic challenger wouldn’t fight for thousands of Ohio voters - and consequently the country. Sure, I have my opinions. But eventually, during our recount, he finally admitted his purse had been stolen.

It wasn’t the first stolen purse in the history of U.S. politics and unfortunately it’s not the last.

Let’s start first with past stolen elections. Florida in 2000 is the one that everyone mentions when discussing electoral corruption. But I’m not in the mood to argue, so let’s pick one that we can all agree on - and not the Nixon-Kennedy election with allegations of dead relatives voting in Chicago because we would still end up fighting.

Let’s pick one we can all agree involved plotting, stolen opportunity, violence and pure unadulterated usurpation of power. And we can prove it was stolen. One minute this man stood on victory’s pathway and the next he lay sprawled on the floor with a bullet in his head. It was 1968 and Robert Kennedy and the American people lost a weighty purse.

Is it hubris or denial or both that makes Americans believe that elections can’t be stolen in this country?

Maybe it’s a question of semantics. So I’ll proffer a definition.

See a stolen election is a limiting of options. In the case of 2004 Ohio, fraud brought our options from two choices down to one.

But that election was stolen long before then. I mean really, just how much did you like those two choices?

Did you like John McCain until that false rumor began about his adopted child of color being the result of an illicit affair? Did you like Howard Dean until that yelling thing happened and the networks showed it over and over again?

No bullet needed for Dean, no bloody end for McCain; why really assassinate them when character assassination does just fine?

Well this week I stood in Maine’s Hall of Flags with a candidate whose days are numbered. Not because they deserve to be, but because he just won’t get a fair chance. He’s under-funded and marginalized and ridiculed and at times worse - treated like he doesn’t exist. The election stealers won’t stop until Ron Paul has gone the way of Dennis Kucinich and all the “opposition” voices are silenced.

And don’t even get me started about the third party choices that you will never get.

No, by Election Day you’ll substantively have only two choices. And the election will go to a friend of drug companies, insurance companies, imperialism and war.

Oh look! Your purse is missing too.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: the state of homelessness in the United States.” She can be contacted at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.

© 2008 Bangor Daily News


[+/-]

The Ruling Mantra of Junior's Politics of Fear

The ‘War on Terror’ Licenses a New Stupidity in Geopolitics
by Simon Jenkins

The language loved by Bush and Musharraf has translated into a global disaster bringing death and misery to millions

Nothing and nobody can stop bombs going off. No citizen, no police force, no army, no government and no global military alliance can prevent a determined suicide bomber from blowing himself up. It will happen and innocent people will die as a result, horribly, as they do on the roads, from drugs and alcohol, or from natural disasters - again without responsible authority being able to stop it.

What is recent is the admission of this truism into the mainstream of government under the rubric of “terrorism”. This week two outgoing presidents, America’s George Bush and Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf, defined their terms of office in relation to terror. Bush did so in his final state of the union message on Monday and Musharraf that same day in London during a charm offensive prior to next month’s elections.

To Bush, the “war on terror” is the ruling mantra of his politics of fear. Since 9/11 gave a prop to his weakening presidency, his language has scaled new heights of alarmist rhetoric. It has validated every internal repression and every external war. “He who is not with us is against us,” he cries. Terrorists everywhere are “opposing the advance of liberty … evil men who despise freedom, despise America and aim to subject millions to their violent rule”.

As the sociologist Ulrich Beck has written, “properly exploited, a novel risk is always an elixir to an ailing leader”. By declaring a threat so awful as to be intolerable, a politician can limit the liberties of a free society in the name of risk-aversion. Musharraf utters hardly a sentence that does not contain the word terror. Pivotally close to the base from which 9/11 was apparently launched, his dictatorship has been indulged by London and Washington for a full seven years. This week Gordon Brown hailed him as a “key ally on terrorism”, enabling him to take comfort in sacking his judiciary and curbing his media.

Had the war on terror been used only as a metaphor for better policing, like rhetorical “wars” on drugs, poverty and street crime, it might have passed muster. Bush and Musharraf have found the military metaphor too potent to resist and duly carried it into literal effect. The result has been a disaster for their countries, and incidentally for themselves.

The west’s Afghan adventure is now devoid of coherent strategy. Soldiers are dying, the opium trade is booming and aid lies undistributed. Command and control of the war against the Taliban is slipping from the most bizarre western occupying force since the fourth Crusade to a tight cabal around the Afghan ruler, Hamid Karzai, who is fighting to retain a remnant of authority in his own capital.

Karzai’s exasperation with the west has led him to refuse the services as “coordinator” of the former Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown. The latter may have cut a dash in the subsidy swamp of Sarajevo, but in Afghanistan he would have been a boy on a man’s errand. Karzai knows well that his fate lies not with the patronising platitudes of western proconsuls but in the hard graft of provincial warlords, drug gangsters and Taliban go-betweens.

These go-betweens have had their status massively boosted by the war on terror. Bush’s demand in 2001 that Musharraf “join the war” sent Pakistani forces into the border territories, breaking old treaties and driving the Pashtun tribes into the eager arms of Taliban leaders. This undoubtedly saved Osama bin Laden’s skin from the fury of the northern Tajiks, committed to avenge his murder of their leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud.

Musharraf, at America’s bidding and with $10bn of American money, has done what even his craziest predecessors avoided, and recklessly set the Pashtun on the warpath - increasingly in thrall to a revived al-Qaida. The result is a plague of suicide bombings and killings in the heartland of his benighted state. From the law courts of America to the mosques of west London and the mountains of the Hindu Kush, the war on terror has been lethally and predictably counter-productive. It embodies the new stupidity in international affairs.

Nobody disputes that there are killer cells at large in the world, most of them proclaiming various Islamist creeds. It is the job of intelligence agencies and the police to catch as many as they can. After a hesitant start, they appear to be quite good at it. Some bombs will get through but they will not be deterred by draconian laws, any more than by machine gun-toting policemen in Downing Street and Heathrow. Robust societies can handle this admittedly intermittent threat. Only weak ones will capitulate to it.

The menace of these killers lies not in their firepower but in their capacity to distort the judgment and commitment to freedom of politicians too cowardly to bear on their shoulders the burden of risk. In two weeks’ time, the fragile democracy of Pakistan will defy the bombers and hold an election prior, it is hoped, to some version of democratic rule. Such communities will defy a probable burst of terror bombs only if their leaders stop setting “terrorists” on a pedestal and using language that exaggerates their capacity, as Bush puts it, “to oppose the advance of freedom”.

It is leaders, not bombers, who have the power to balk the advance of freedom. Already those leaders have used the war on terror to introduce the Patriot Act, Guantánamo Bay and a $1.5 trillion war in Iraq. In Pakistan they have used it as an excuse for emergency rule, the imprisonment of senior judges, and the provocation of unprecedented insurgency in the north-west frontier territories. In Britain leaders have used the war as an excuse for 42-day detention without trial, the world’s most intrusive surveillance state, and not one but two contested military occupations of foreign soil.

This so-called war on terror has filled the pockets of those profiting from it. It has killed thousands, immiserated millions and infringed the liberty of hundreds of millions. The only rough justice it has delivered is to ruin the careers of those who propagated it. Tony Blair was driven to early resignation. Bush has been humiliated and Musharraf’s wretched rule brought close to an overdue end. It may be an ill wind that blows no good, but it is hardly enough.


Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008


[+/-]

BushCo Is Really Playing with Fire - Chomsky

Chomsky on World Ownership: Noam Chomsky interviewed by Michael Shank
Foreign Policy in Focus, January 23, 2008

Michael Shank: Is the leading Democrats' policy vis-a-vis Iraq at all different from the Bush administration's policy?

Noam Chomsky: It's somewhat different. The situation is very similar to Vietnam. The opposition to the war today in elite sectors, including every viable candidate, is pure cynicism, completely unprincipled: "If we can get away with it, it's fine. If it costs us too much, it's bad." That's the way the Vietnam opposition was in the elite sectors.

Take, say, Anthony Lewis, who's about as far to the critical extreme as you can find in the media. In his final words evaluating the war in The New York Times in 1975, he said the war began with "blundering efforts to do good" but by 1969, namely a year after the American business community had turned against the war, it was clear that the United States "could not impose a solution except at a price too costly to itself," so therefore it was a "disastrous mistake." Nazi generals could have said the same thing after Stalingrad and probably did. That's the extreme position in the left liberal spectrum. Or take the distinguished historian and Kennedy advisor Arthur Schlesinger. When the war was going sour under LBJ, he wrote that "we all pray" that the hawks are right and that more troops will lead to victory. And he knew what victory meant. He said we're leaving "a land of ruin and wreck," but "we all pray" that escalation will succeed and if it does "we may all be saluting the wisdom and statesmanship of the American government." But probably the hawks are wrong, so escalation is a bad idea.

You can translate the rhetoric almost word by word into the elite, including political elite, opposition to the Iraq war.

It's based on two principles. The first principle is: "we totally reject American ideals." The only people who accept American ideals are Iraqis. The United States totally rejects them. What American ideals? The principles of the Nuremburg decision. The Nuremburg tribunal, which is basically American, expressed high ideals, which we profess. Namely, of all the war crimes, aggression is the supreme international crime, which encompasses within it all of the evil that follows. It's obvious that the Iraq invasion is a pure case of aggression and therefore, according to our ideals, it encompasses all the evil that follows, like sectarian warfare, al-Qaeda Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and everything else. The chief U.S. Prosecutor Robert Jackson, addressed the tribunal and said, "we should remember that we're handing these Nazi war criminals a poisoned chalice. If we ever sip from it we must be subject to the same principles or else the whole thing is a farce." Well, it seems that almost no one in the American elite accepts that or can even understand it. But Iraqis accept it.

The latest study of Iraqi opinion, carried out by the American military, provides an illustration. There is an interesting article about it by Karen DeYoung in the Washington Post. She said the American military is very excited and cheered to see the results of this latest study, which showed that Iraqis have "shared beliefs." They're coming together. They're getting to political reconciliation. Well, what are the shared beliefs? The shared beliefs are that the Americans are responsible for all the horrors that took place in Iraq, as the Nuremberg principles hold, and they should get out. That's the shared belief. So yes, they accept American principles. But the American government rejects them totally as does elite opinion. And the same is true in Europe, incidentally. That's point number one.

The second point is that there is a shared assumption here and in the West that we own the world. Unless you accept that assumption, the entire discussion that is taking place is unintelligible. For example, you see a headline in the newspaper, as I saw recently in the Christian Science Monitor, something like "New Study of Foreign Fighters in Iraq." Who are the foreign fighters in Iraq? Some guy who came in from Saudi Arabia. How about the 160,000 American troops? Well, they're not foreign fighters in Iraq because we own the world; therefore we can't be foreign fighters anywhere. Like, if the United States invades Canada, we won't be foreign. And if anybody resists it, they're enemy combatants, we send them to Guantanamo.

The same goes for the entire discussion about Iranian interference in Iraq. If you're looking at this from some rational standpoint, you have to collapse in ridicule. Could there be Allied interference in Vichy France? There can't be. The country was conquered and it's under military occupation. And of course we understand that. When the Russians complained about American interference in Afghanistan, we'd laugh. But when we talk about Iranian interference in Iraq, going back to viable political candidates, every single one of them says that this is outrageous Ð meaning, the Iranians don't understand that we own the world. So if anybody disrupts any action of ours, no matter what it is, the supreme international crime or anything else, they're the criminals. And we send them to Guantanamo and they don't get rights and so on. And the Supreme Court argues about it.

In fact, the same is true almost anywhere you look. Since we own the world, everything we do is necessarily right. It can be too costly and then we don't like it. Or there could be a couple of bad apples who do the wrong thing like Abu Ghraib. Going back to the Nuremburg tribunal, they did not try the SS men who threw people into the extermination chambers. The people who were tried were the people at the top, like von Ribbentrop, the foreign minister, who was accused of having supported a preemptive war. The Germans invaded Norway to try to preempt a British attack against Germany. By our standards they were totally justified. But Powell is not being tried. He is not going to be sentenced to hanging.

Shank: And with a Democrat president, will that thinking fundamentally change?

Chomsky: It'll change. There's a pretty narrow political spectrum, and in fact, intellectual and moral spectrum. But it's not zero. And the Bush administration is way out at the extreme. In fact, so far out at the extreme that they've come under unprecedented attack from the mainstream.

I quoted Schlesinger on the Vietnam War. To his credit, he is perhaps the one person in the mainstream who took a principled stand on the Iraq War. When the bombing started in 2003, Schlesinger did write an op-ed in which he said that this is a day which will live in infamy, quoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as the United States follows the policies of imperial Japan. That's principled.

There was no such principled critique when the liberal Democrats were doing it. But his critique of the invasion of Iraq, from its first days, was unusual. It is probably unique, so much so that it's kind of suppressed. It reflects, first of all, a change of sentiment in the country, and also the fact that the Bush administration is so far out that they're denounced right in the mainstream.

When the Bush administration came out with its National Security Strategy in September 2002, which basically was a call for the invasion of Iraq, Foreign Affairs, which is as respectable as you can get, ran an article just a couple of weeks later by John Ikenberry, a mainstream historian and analyst, in which he pretty sharply condemned what he called this new imperial grand strategy. He said it's going to cause a lot of trouble; it's going to get us in danger. That's quite unusual. But in the case of Bush, there's plenty more like him. So yes, they're way out at the extreme. Any candidate now, maybe anyone except Giuliani, will moderate somewhat the policies.

Shank: With Bush's campaign in the Gulf, rallying Gulf States against Iran, what's the strategy now? What's the importance of the timing of his tour?

Chomsky: First of all, remember that in the United States, which is a rich powerful state which always wins everything, history is an irrelevance. Historical amnesia is required. But among the victims that's not true. They remember history, all over the Third World. The history that Iranians remember is the correct one. The United States has been torturing Iran, without a stop, since 1953. Overthrew the parliamentary government, installed the tyrant Shah Reza Pahlavi, and backed him through horrible torture and everything else. The minute the Shah was overthrown, the United States moved at once to try and overthrow the new regime. The United States turned for support to Saddam Hussein and his attack against Iran, in which hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered with chemical weapons and so on. The United States continued to support Saddam.

In 1989, the Iran-Iraq war was all over. George Bush I, supposedly the moderate, invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the United States for advanced training in weapons production. Iranians don't forget that. After what they've just been through, they should be able to see the total cynicism of what's happening. Immediately after the war, which the United States basically won for Iraq by breaking the embargo, shooting down Iranian commercial airplanes, and so on, the Iranians were convinced that they couldn't fight the United States. So they capitulated. Immediately after that the United States imposed harsh sanctions, which continue, they got worse. Now the United States is threatening to attack. This is a violation of the UN charter, if anybody cares, which bars the threat of force. But outlaw states don't care about things like that.

And it's a credible threat. Just a couple of weeks ago there was a confrontation in the Gulf. Here the story is: "look how awful the Iranians are." But suppose Iranian warships were sailing through Massachusetts Bay or the Gulf of Mexico. Would we think that's fine? But since we own the world of course it's fine when we do it off their shores. And we're there for the benefit of the world, no matter what we do, so it's fine. But Iranians aren't going to see it that way. They don't like the threats of destruction. They don't like the fact that it's a very credible threat. They're surrounded on all sides by hostile American forces. They've got the American Navy sending combat units to the Gulf.

Take this recent Annapolis meeting about Israel-Palestine. Why did they pick Annapolis? Is that the only meeting place in the Washington area? Well, Iranians presumably notice that Annapolis is the base from which the U.S. Navy is being sent to threaten Iran. You think they can't see that? American editorial writers and commentators can't see it, but I'm sure Iranians can.

So yes, they're living under serious constant threat. It's never ended since 1953. And Bush is now desperately trying to organize what Condoleezza Rice calls the "moderate Arab states," namely the most extreme, fundamentalist tyrannies in the world, like Saudi Arabia. So the "moderate Arab states," they're trying hard to organize them to join the United States in confronting Iran. Well, they're not going along. They don't tell Bush and Rice go home. They're polite and so on but they're not going along. They're continuing to enter into limited but real relations with Iran. They don't want a conflict with them.

Shank: Did the National Intelligence Estimate offer a reprieve, any window at all?

Chomsky: I think so. I think it pulled the rug out from under people like Cheney and Bush who probably wanted to have a war to end up their glorious regime. But it's going to be pretty hard to do it now. Although Olmert just announced again yesterday that Israel is leaving open the option of attacking Iran, if Israel decides that it is a threat. Israel, which is a U.S. client state, is granted a right similar to that of the United States. The United States owns the world and can do anything, and its client states can be regional hegemons. Israel wants to make sure that it dominates the region and therefore can carry out whatever policies it wants to in the occupied territories, invading Lebanon or whatever it happens to be. The one threat that they cannot overcome on their own is Iran.

Israel and Iran had pretty good relations right through the 1980s. They were clandestine relations but not bad. And now they recognize that Iran is the one barrier to their complete domination of the region. So therefore they want the United States, the big boy, to step in and take care of it and if the United States won't, they claim they'll do it. I don't think they would unless the United States authorized it. It's much too dangerous. They would do it only if they're pretty sure they can bring the United States in.

Shank: The presidential candidates in the Democratic Party are trying to one-up each other on who can be more militaristic vis-a-vis Pakistan, who would bomb first if there was actionable intelligence. What's Washington's role in helping Pakistan now? Should it have a role and if it does what should it look like?

Chomsky: Again, there's a little bit of history that matters to people outside centers of power. First of all, the United States supported Pakistani military governments ever since Pakistan was created. The worst period was the 1980s, when the Reagan administration strongly supported the Zia ul Haq regime, which was a brutal harsh tyranny and also a deeply Islamic tyranny. So that's when the madrassas were established, Islamic fundamentalism was introduced, they no longer studied science in schools and things like that, and also when they were developing nuclear weapons.

The Reagan administration pretended that it didn't know about the nuclear weapons development so that it could get congressional authorization every year for more funding to the ISI, the intelligence agencies, the fundamentalist tyranny and so on. It ended up holding a tiger by the tail. It commonly happens. The Reagan administration also helped create what turned into al-Qaeda in Afghanistan at the same time. It's all interrelated. And they left Afghanistan in the hands of brutal, vicious, fundamentalist gangsters, like their favorite Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who got his kicks out of throwing acid in the face of women in Kabul who weren't dressed properly. That's who Reagan was supporting.

The United States also tolerated the Khan proliferation system. In fact the United States is still tolerating it. Khan is under what's called house arrest, meaning just about anything he likes. And it continues with the support of the Musharraf dictatorship. Now the United States is kind of stuck. The population strongly opposes the dictatorship. The United States tried to bring in some kind of compromise with Bhutto, whom they thought would be a pliable candidate. But she was assassinated under what remain unclear circumstances. The ISI, the intelligence agencies who are extremely powerful in Pakistan, have withdrawn support for the extremist militants in the tribal areas and now they're beginning to fight back. In fact it was just reported that one of their leaders has said that they're going to continue to resist the Pakistani Army as they've been doing.

People who know the Middle East like Robert Fisk have been saying for years that Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world, for all kinds of reasons. For one, it's falling apart. There are rebellions in the Baluchi areas. The tribal areas are now out of control of the ISI. There is a Sindhi opposition movement. It could very well be a resistance movement especially after Bhutto's assassination, since she was Sindhi. There are strong anti-Punjabi feelings developing, against the Army, the elite and so on.

So the country is barely being held together. It's got nuclear weapons. It's very anti-American. Take a look at popular opinion; it's very strongly anti-American, because they remember the history. We may forget it. We tell ourselves how nice and wonderful we are, but other people, especially the people who are at the wrong end of the club, they see the world as it is. So it's very anti-American. If the United States wants to do something there it has to get a surrogate to come in and do it. Even the dictator that the United States supports, Musharraf, and the army are strongly against any direct U.S. involvement in the tribal areas, which the United States is now talking about. Who knows what that could lead to, some other war against a country with nuclear weapons?

The Bush administration is really playing with fire. I don't think it has a lot of options at this point. If I were asked to recommend a policy I wouldn't know what to say. Except to try to withdraw support from the dictatorship and allow the popular forces to do something. The United States, for example, gave no support to the lawyers and their opposition. It could have. The United States is not all powerful, but it could have done something. But when Obama says, "Okay we'll bomb them," that's not very helpful.


[+/-]

29 January 2008

The War Against Greed Trumps All Wars

A Culture Of Greed And Corruption
By Joseph M. Cachia

"Corporations have been enthroned .... An era of corruption in high places will follow and the money power will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people... until wealth is aggregated in a few hands ... and the Republic is destroyed." -- Abraham Lincoln

29/01/08 "ICH" -- - - We are today so ensnared in the process of selling and buying things in the market place, that we cannot imagine human life being otherwise.

Because, consumption and consumerism dominate social discourse and political agendas of all parties, consumerism hogs the limelight at centre stage as the prime objective.

The stability of life is an illusion. No matter how rich you are, you can always imagine being infinitely richer. The greater your imagination exceeds your station, the more corrupt you are likely to get. While it is true that we can all admire power and money, we must also ensure to remain prone to admire ideals.

In spite of the insistence of the General Retailers and Traders Union (G.R.T.U.) that a part of the expenses for imported products is being absorbed by them (importers) and the price increases are thus being eased, it cannot be denied that various abuses in price increases are continually being reported. Furthermore, the strong objection by the GRTU on the implementation of the ‘name and shame’ policy sounds a very discordant note in the honest relationship that they expect us to hold in their regard. Consumers are cutting their spending and retailers are starting to get hurt. It could be that they had tried to absorb these costs but at this point they had to pass them on. Personally, I don’t mind anyone ‘making a fair’ living. I strongly object to anyone ‘making a killing’ by exploiting everyone who isn’t them.

Another damaging crime is the ever-growing guild of shameless grifters in all walks and sectors of our society, taking advantage of government incompetence or outright diffidence. When greed masquerades as need through fraudulent pretences and means. we should not let our moral impulses betray us.

The Nationalist government is constantly boasting that the economic pie is getting bigger -- how can it be true that most of us are getting smaller pieces? The answer, of course, is that a few people are getting much, much bigger slices! Although wages have stagnated, corporate profits have doubled. The living standards of workers have continued to decline contrary to classical economic theory. This is largely due to political intervention based on corrupt relations between corporate capital and the state. Are today’s corporations the modern-day version of the ‘mafia’? It seems that shame has vanished from our ‘civilization’! How can it be that nobody can be held accountable? It seems that nobody is responsible for anything anymore!

Soon we will be in the throes of an election fever. And it looks that here crime does pay --- when it comes to breaking campaign finance laws. The political finance issue is huge and the mountain of money has turned into an ever-growing snowball. Will fines and penalties envisaged by law really serve as deterrents to such abuses or will they do little to hold back political operators? Any punishments, if afforded, will come long after the offending activity transpired and can be considered simply as an inconvenience. In my understanding, the word ‘criminal’ incorporates also anyone who uses ‘political means’ for the acquisition of riches or power. The aggressor has no right to claim anything that he has acquired through aggression.

Has institutional dishonesty become the norm? As producer and director Anthony Wall declared, ‘The behaviour of society as a whole and its institutions in particular, tend to reflect prevailing attitudes within its government.’ In today’s life, even market forces are frequently secondary to political factors, namely multiple forms of corruption in securing economic advantage. Political corruption cannot take place without the knowledge of the state administrators. It transfers wealth from national-public use into private or corporate gain. It reduces the legitimacy and trust of the government in the eyes of its people, while it also widens and deepens internal class inequalities and undermines ‘good’ governance. Finally, it creates a ‘culture’ of corruption that siphons public resources from social services and productive investment to personal wealth.

The war against greed trumps all wars as it lies at the root of it all. During the Xmas celebrations, the archbishop of Canterbury had warned that human greed is threatening the environmental balance of the Earth. For the purported ‘Christian’ nation that we boast to be, the passion of greed reduces religious doctrine to just many dusty rules. Did you hear any whisper of condemnation by the local church hierarchy regarding the prevailing ‘law of the jungle’? Neither did I!

Economic inequality is on the rise. The gap between the rich and the poor continued to grow. This is not only immoral but it also provides an atmosphere ripe for political corruption. Furthermore, this increasing subjugation of everyone, except those at the very top of the income ladder, is dangerous for any democracy.

I sincerely wish everyone to do well by doing good!!

“It is partly to avoid consciousness of greed that we prefer to associate with those who are at least as greedy as we ourselves. Those who consume much less are a reproach.” Charles Horton

Joseph M. Cachia - jmcachia@maltanet.net.


[+/-]

Any Kid's Dream for At Least 15 Minutes

Re: $20 bucks each for the poor kids, and $237,000 each for the rich guys.

I think a lot of the problem is that most people are not very good at math. The govt gives 250 billion dollars to gigantic corporate farmers to grow junk food (known to Congress as commodities), and 250 million to small farmers to grow orchards and fruits and vegetables.

250 each, right?

And $25 million to organic farmers.

The nitrates run off and kill the rivers and the Gulf of Mexico, so the Sierra Club wants millions of dollars to clean up the water, which wouldn't be a problem if farmers weren't being paid to pollute it.

Janet Gilles

One Bush Left Behind: Richie Rich and his $20
By Greg Palast

Here’s your question, class:

In his State of the Union, the President asked Congress for $300 million for poor kids in the inner city. As there are, officially, 15 million children in America living in poverty, how much is that per child? Correct! $20.

Here’s your second question. The President also demanded that Congress extend his tax cuts. The cost: $4.3 trillion over ten years. The big recipients are millionaires. And the number of millionaires happens, not coincidentally, to equal the number of poor kids, roughly 15 million of them. OK class: what is the cost of the tax cut per millionaire? That’s right, Richie, $287,000 apiece.

Mr. Bush said, “In neighborhoods across our country, there are boys and girls with dreams. And a decent education is their only hope of achieving them.”

So how much educational dreaming will $20 buy?

-George Bush’s alma mater, Phillips Andover Academy, tells us their annual tuition is $37,200. The $20 “Pell Grant for Kids,” as the White House calls it, will buy a poor kid about 35 minutes of this educational dream. So they’ll have to wake up quickly.

-$20 won’t cover the cost of the final book in the Harry Potter series.

If you can’t buy a book nor pay tuition with a sawbuck, what exactly can a poor kid buy with $20 in urban America? The Palast Investigative Team donned baseball caps and big pants and discovered we could obtain what local citizens call a “rock” of crack cocaine. For $20, we were guaranteed we could fulfill any kid’s dream for at least 15 minutes.

Now we could see the incontrovertible logic in what appeared to be quixotic ravings by the President about free trade with Colombia, Pell Grant for Kids and the surge in Iraq. In Iraq, General Petraeus tells us we must continue to feed in troops for another ten years. There is no way the military can recruit these freedom fighters unless our lower income youth are high, hooked and desperate. Don’t say, ‘crack vials,’ they’re, ‘Democracy Rocks’!

The plan would have been clearer if Mr. Bush had kept in his speech the line from his original draft which read, “I have ordered 30,000 additional troops to Iraq this year – and I am proud to say my military-age kids are not among them.”

Of course, there’s an effective alternative to Mr. Bush’s plan – which won’t cost a penny more. Simply turn it upside down. Let’s give each millionaire in America a $20 bill, and every poor child $287,000.

And, there’s an added benefit to this alternative. Had we turned Mr. Bush and his plan upside down, he could have spoken to Congress from his heart.

Greg Palast is the author of the NY Times best-sellers, Armed Madhouse and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.


[+/-]

Dems Obsess on Personalities Rather Than Issues

Krugman describes the syndrome stemming from bipartisan corporate domination, which is practically a forbidden topic.

Roger Baker


Lessons of 1992
By PAUL KRUGMAN, Published: January 28, 2008

It’s starting to feel a bit like 1992 again. A Bush is in the White House, the economy is a mess, and there’s a candidate who, in the view of a number of observers, is running on a message of hope, of moving past partisan differences, that resembles Bill Clinton’s campaign 16 years ago.

Now, I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization of the 1992 Clinton campaign, which had a strong streak of populism, beginning with a speech in which Mr. Clinton described the 1980s as a “gilded age of greed.” Still, to the extent that Barack Obama 2008 does sound like Bill Clinton 1992, here’s my question: Has everyone forgotten what happened after the 1992 election?

Let’s review the sad tale, starting with the politics.

Whatever hopes people might have had that Mr. Clinton would usher in a new era of national unity were quickly dashed. Within just a few months the country was wracked by the bitter partisanship Mr. Obama has decried.

This bitter partisanship wasn’t the result of anything the Clintons did. Instead, from Day 1 they faced an all-out assault from conservatives determined to use any means at hand to discredit a Democratic president.

For those who are reaching for their smelling salts because Democratic candidates are saying slightly critical things about each other, it’s worth revisiting those years, simply to get a sense of what dirty politics really looks like.

No accusation was considered too outlandish: a group supported by Jerry Falwell put out a film suggesting that the Clintons had arranged for the murder of an associate, and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page repeatedly hinted that Bill Clinton might have been in cahoots with a drug smuggler.

So what good did Mr. Clinton’s message of inclusiveness do him?

Meanwhile, though Mr. Clinton may not have run as postpartisan a campaign as legend has it, he did avoid some conflict by being strategically vague about policy. In particular, he promised health care reform, but left the business of producing an actual plan until after the election.

This turned out to be a disaster. Much has been written about the process by which the Clinton health care plan was put together: it was too secretive, too top-down, too politically tone-deaf. Above all, however, it was too slow. Mr. Clinton didn’t deliver legislation to Congress until Nov. 20, 1993 — by which time the momentum from his electoral victory had evaporated, and opponents had had plenty of time to organize against him.

The failure of health care reform, in turn, doomed the Clinton presidency to second-rank status. The government was well run (something we’ve learned to appreciate now that we’ve seen what a badly run government looks like), but — as Mr. Obama correctly says — there was no change in the country’s fundamental trajectory.

So what are the lessons for today’s Democrats?

First, those who don’t want to nominate Hillary Clinton because they don’t want to return to the nastiness of the 1990s — a sizable group, at least in the punditocracy — are deluding themselves. Any Democrat who makes it to the White House can expect the same treatment: an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false (at least not on Page 1).

The point is that while there are valid reasons one might support Mr. Obama over Mrs. Clinton, the desire to avoid unpleasantness isn’t one of them.

Second, the policy proposals candidates run on matter.

I have colleagues who tell me that Mr. Obama’s rejection of health insurance mandates — which are an essential element of any workable plan for universal coverage — doesn’t really matter, because by the time health care reform gets through Congress it will be very different from the president’s initial proposal anyway. But this misses the lesson of the Clinton failure: if the next president doesn’t arrive with a plan that is broadly workable in outline, by the time the thing gets fixed the window of opportunity may well have passed.

My sense is that the fight for the Democratic nomination has gotten terribly off track. The blame is widely shared. Yes, Bill Clinton has been somewhat boorish (though I can’t make sense of the claims that he’s somehow breaking unwritten rules, which seem to have been newly created for the occasion). But many Obama supporters also seem far too ready to demonize their opponents.

What the Democrats should do is get back to talking about issues — a focus on issues has been the great contribution of John Edwards to this campaign — and about who is best prepared to push their agenda forward. Otherwise, even if a Democrat wins the general election, it will be 1992 all over again. And that would be a bad thing.


[+/-]

Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

Traffic Jam On The Highway To Hell
By Sheila Samples

"When once a republic is corrupted, there is no possibility of remedying any of the growing evils but by removing the corruption and restoring its lost principles; every other correction is either useless or a new evil."~~- Thomas Jefferson

29/01/08 "ICH" - -- Each new year ushers in a myriad of "Top Ten" lists -- 10 best things, 10 worst things, things we need to do, things we did but shouldn't have -- and this year, even a hilarious list of WTF? things popped up. I'll admit I'm not as well organized as those who progress in 10-step increments. My problem is narrowing the atrocities down to 10 -- and then narrowing those 10 down to a single year. I'm confident I could compile a really neat list if I could decide which in the tangle of loathsome assaults should be Number One.

It can't be done. Everything that happened in 2007 is a direct result of events in 2006, a continuation of 2005 crimes, the bloody mess of 2004, the shock and awe of 2003 and the vicious, ruthless lies of 2001 that led us to where we are today. It's impossible to appraise the malignant nature of this administration in any intelligible way. From the outset, it came at us -- at the world -- on all fours with fangs bared. Whether ripping the humanity from our Constitution or drowning the innocent in a sea of blood, its appetite is insatiable. It rises from each feast hungrier than before.

I used to think Americans had been whipped by 9-11 terror confusion into some sort of national stupor. That's not so. We're trapped in a massive spiritual paralysis. Normal people are simply not equipped to deal with remorseless psychopaths. We were not prepared to come face to face with evil, nor to be manipulated by lies and controlled through stark fear. Our refusal to address the mounting list of Bush-Cheney war crimes could be because we cannot force ourselves to admit our "one nation under God" spies upon its citizens, imprisons them without due process, engages in grotesque acts of torture and delights in mass murder. And so we stand here on the precipice of our own destruction, waiting for evil to run its course.

No Mercy

Evil never runs its course. With each success, it grows stronger, more ghastly and, like Dick Cheney, emerges a bit more from the shadows. Never doubt for a minute that these unfeeling creatures are not evil. They are incapable of compassion, of empathy, of mercy. Their eyes are on the prize of One World rule, and they will have it in spite of -- or as a result of -- all the chaos and carnage it takes to achieve it. There are no "Imps of the Perverse" among them who will be so overcome with guilt they will break from the pack and run through the populace shrieking, "We're guilty! We did it! We are murderers!"

Cheney and his destructive little sidekick, George Bush, have brazenly committed treasonous acts -- left piles of corpses in their wake since the 2000 election coup. If there is a God, they are bound straight for Hell. But they are not alone. They're protected by a merciless axis of courts, congressional conspirators and corporate media who cover up their crimes by issuing a steady barrage of terror threats and a relentless fog of twisted disinformation.

Our government is nothing but a Good Ol' Boys and Girls club, with judges, journalists, legislators and administration jesters whooping it up while pillaging the Treasury, ignoring the cries of their victims, turning a blind eye to millions of slaughtered and displaced innocents, and sending thousands of their own citizens to their deaths. They have mauled, raped and obstructed Justice until that once noble Lady is no longer recognizable.

Author Kurt Vonnegut, who died last April after a fall in his home, warned that corruption in this government must be removed and the perpetrators must pay for their crimes or our Republic is dead. In an October 2005 PBS interview, as his last book, "A Man Without a Country," soared to the top of best-seller lists, Vonnegut said, "...we have only a one-party government. It's the winners. And then everybody else is the losers. And the winners are divided into two parties. The Republicans and the Democrats...that's what a charade the combat between the Republicans and the Democrats is. It's rich kids. Winners on both sides. So the winners can't lose. And, of course, the losers have no representation in Congress..." Vonnegut said members of Congress, regardless of party, represent only those who bankroll their political campaigns; those making tons of money from Bush and Cheney's illegal war.

Enough is Enough

The 2006 elections, which gave the Democrats control of both houses of Congress, was a clear imperative to govern according to the will of the people. No Congress in history has ever been elected who knew better what that will was -- primarily to stop an immoral war, but also to hold accountable those responsible for the lies, torture, loss of freedoms, spying on their own citizens, and the relentless slaughter of US military as well as innocent Iraqi and Afghanistani citizens.

Nancy Pelosi, quivering at the thought of becoming the nation's first female Speaker of the House, said on Nov 9, 2006, "This new Democratic majority has heard the voices of the American people." She added, while apparently attempting to stifle a burst of wild, maniacal laughter, "Americans placed their trust in Democrats. We will honor that trust. We will not disappoint.”

Pelosi's counterpart in the Senate, Harry Reid, bowed his head and mumbled that “The days of the do-nothing Congress are over." He looked around furtively before whispering that Americans spoke “clearly and decisively in favor of Democrats leading this country in a new direction.” Reid then scurried off to crouch behind Bush, who smirked good naturedly while giving him a "good thumpin.."

They knew they were elected to stop the madness, to stem the onslaught of tyranny and to protect and defend the Constitution, but chose instead to fall on their knees before those who scorned them, threatened them, or perhaps offered them a "piece of the action." By choosing to suspend, rather than defend, the Constitution, they are guilty of high crimes.

We can no longer stand on the sidelines waiting for the evil to subside. They must go -- all of them -- starting at the top with the impeachment of the mad Cheney and Bush and continuing through both houses of Congress where all 435 House seats and 35 Senate seats are up for election this year.

The majority of Americans are demanding that both Bush and Cheney be impeached and removed from office, and those like David Swanson, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and now Fla Rep. Robert Wexler, are working tirelessly to make that happen.

We've had enough. We not only agree with Vonnegut, but with Lee Iacocca, who pulls no punches in his April 2007 book, "Where Have All the Leaders Gone?" Iacocca asks, "Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, 'Stay the course.' Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!"

Yes. Throw the bums out and watch them scatter. And when they do, there will be a traffic jam on the highway to Hell.

Sheila Samples sheilastuff.blogspot.com is an Oklahoma writer and a former civilian US Army Public Information Officer. She is a regular contributor for a variety of Internet sites. Contact her at rsamples@wichitaonline.net.


[+/-]

Only a few posts now show on a page, due to Blogger pagination changes beyond our control.

Please click on 'Older Posts' to continue reading The Rag Blog.