Wednesday, May 31, 2006

POLITICS - Are Bush Defenders Getting It?

"Are you Bush defenders just blowing smoke, or do you really not get it?" by Andrew Bard Schmookler, SmirkingChimp

Three recent public statements by defenders of the Bush regime have reminded me that one of the enduring challenges for the student of human affairs is to discover where self-deception ends and the deliberate deception of others begins.

Take for example the recent performance of President Bush's new press secretary, Tony Snow. In a recent press briefing, Snow was fielding questions about the NSA gathering of Americans' phone records.

Snow happily cited a quick poll indicating that almost two-thirds of Americans don't object to the government monitoring such records for the presumed purpose of catching terrorists. But when presented with other negative poll results, Snow declared that a president "cannot base national security on poll numbers."

A reasonable statement, but, as the press should immediately have asked: Mr. Snow, can a president base on poll numbers his decision whether or not to obey the law? And would you be interested in seeing what the American people would say to pollsters if asked, "Can the president do whatever he wants, regardless of the law?"

Who are you kidding, yourself or us? Do you really not get that the issue here is neither opinion polls nor national security, but rather a president who refuses to respect any legal limits to his powers?

Humm.... Do you? Do you really get it?

AMERICAN MEDIA - Creation of Political Amnesia

"Political Amnesia Is the Enemy" by Danny Schechter, MdeiaChannel

(Political amnesia) ....whatever the causes, the consequences are truly frightening. When 63 percent of young people can't find Iraq on a map after three years of war and coverage, you know that the institutions that claim to be informing us are doing everything but.

Our amnesia about recent developments seems to be induced and reinforced by the very fast-paced entertainment-oriented formats that we have become addicted to as sources of news and knowledge. They keep us in the present, in the now, disconnected from any larger ideas or analytical framework. No wonder some studies find that news viewers rapidly forget what they have just seen. That is what is intended to happen. No wonder, as Jay Leno shows when he contrasts a photo of a cultural icon with an elected official, that the public recognizes the former, not the latter. We recognize Mr. Peanut, not Jimmy Carter. More people vote for the best performer on American Idol than for our presidents.

The architects of TV news know this from their market surveys and studies. It is this very media effect that they hype to lure advertisers to their real business: selling our eyeballs to sponsors, not deepening our awareness. Depoliticizing our culture is a media necessity in a society driven by consumerism. Every programmer knows the drill. It's a market logic called KISS: Keep It Simple and Stupid.

I call the trend "Dumbing Down America" which means lets not educate people up so they can understand today's technology and politics.

Politically this means "KISS" so smart manipulative politicians and political organizations can keep the sheep in line, keep them believing the distortions. Of course, we have an exception in leadership, G.W. is the quintessential "simple and stupid" persona.

IRAQ - Is Haditha Iraq's My Lai?

So, is Haditha the equivalent of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam?

"The Mystery of the Marine Massacre in Iraq" by Joshua Holland, AlterNet

Last month, the details of a horrific atrocity emerged from Haditha, a town in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province.

In November, a roadside bomb killed Marine Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, a 20-year-old Texan, on a road not far from Haditha. According to Time magazine, "The next day a Marine communique from Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi reported that Terrazas and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by the blast and that 'gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire,' prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents." Another military official later said the military command in Baghdad "knew of no civilian deaths in the engagement."

Marine officials have now confirmed that those accounts were false. What really happened, according to reports confirmed by the Pentagon, was this: A group of enraged Marines entered several homes in Haditha and murdered their occupants, including children, in cold blood. A video of the aftermath -- showing that the residents were unarmed when they were shot at point-blank range -- was obtained by Time. Some were still in their nightclothes.

Five Iraqis in a taxi were also killed. It remains unclear whether they were trying to flee on foot, or drive away from the scene, and the chronology of events hasn't been established. The military is conducting two separate investigations into the events that day.

According to MSNBC, the video was confirmed by the Marines' own investigation: "Military officials say Marine Corps photos taken immediately after the incident show many of the victims were shot at close range, in the head and chest, execution-style." Women and children were among the 24 civilians murdered: "One photo shows a mother and young child bent over on the floor as if in prayer, shot dead, said the officials. ..."

The scene was so grim, the two Marines who took the after-action photos are reportedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

As a Vietnam Vet, while I can sympathize with the anger and frustrations our military personnel have to deal with day-to-day in Iraq, there is no excuse for what happened in Haditha if true. My Lai was not justifiable and neither is Haditha.

While I feel sorry for these Marines that does not mean they should get away with what they did. It was just plain wrong.

POLITICS - Iraq, Comment From "Across the Pond"

"The hardest word" by Scott Ritter (former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, 1991-1998), Guardian, UK

One has to wonder as to what must have been going through the minds of those who were advising George W Bush and Tony Blair to "come clean", so to speak, about their respective shortcomings regarding the conduct of the war in Iraq. With over 2,460 American and 106 UK soldiers killed in Iraq (not to mention untold thousands of dead Iraqis), the two people in the world most responsible for the ongoing debacle in Iraq displayed the combination of indifference and ignorance that got them neck deep in a quagmire of their own making to begin with.

President Bush kicked himself for "talking too tough", while the British prime minister ruminated on the decision to disband the Ba'athist infrastructure that held Iraq together in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein. Neither expressed any regret over the decision to invade Iraq in the first place.

Bush made no reference to the exaggerated and falsified claims about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction he and his loyal ally bandied about so freely in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Blair, recently returned from a visit to Baghdad where he met with the newly appointed prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, did not reflect on the reality that the Iraq of Saddam Hussein was a more peaceful and prosperous land before British and American troops overthrew the Iraqi president and condemned Iraq to the horrific reality of insurgent-fed civil strife.

"Despite setbacks and missteps, I strongly believe we did and are doing the right thing," Bush remarked, although he was quick to add, "Not everything has turned out the way we hoped". That, of course, could qualify for the understatement of the year.

For his part Bush waxed eloquently about the cost of war to America. "No question that the Iraq war has, you know, created a sense of consternation here in America," the president said. "I mean, when you turn on your TV screen and see innocent people die day in and day out, it affects the mentality of our country." He added: "I can understand why the American people are troubled by the war in Iraq. I understand that. But I also believe the sacrifice is worth it and it's necessary."

Talk about understatements. That last Bush quote, "But I also believe the sacrifice is worth it and it's necessary," is really assuming much. Maybe too much.

OK, readers, is the sacrifices (American & Iraqi) worth it? Really?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

POLITICS - Words From a Republican "Friend"

"The price of unchecked power" by John Young, Waco Tribune-Herald

The unchecked power of this presidency "has weakened the constitutional order on which the American way of life depends."

Those words aren't from the American Civil Liberties Union. They're from the free-market, less-government Cato Institute, generally a durable friend of Republicans.

A Cato report analyzes and decries a "ceaseless push for power (by the Bush White House), unchecked by either the courts or Congress."

Where to begin? One place is a Boston Globe report that more than 750 times President Bush has attached statements to laws he signed claiming a president's authority to disobey them.

Other presidents have written such "signing statements" challenging laws passed by Congress. Bill Clinton wrote 140 over eight years. But Bush has lapped the field many times.

New laws aside, we have bedrock legal principles this White House has simply decided to ignore, such as habeas corpus.

Such rights have been suspended in war, as Lincoln did during the Civil War. But today's "war on terror" has been used, says the Cato report, to effectively pronounce "the entire world, including every inch of U.S. territory, a battlefield."

"If the president can surveil international calls without a warrant," said the Cato report, "can he (or his successor) issue a secret executive order to intercept purely domestic communications as well?" Oh, yes.

This is all about trust, because without a check on one man's power, like warrants, trust is all we have.

Relative to the White House's broad use of the term "enemy combatant" to hold people without trial, "the liberty of every American rests on nothing more than the grace of the White House," warns the report.

As we come into another election cycle the question must be asked: Is this a nation governed by men empowered by a political hold on the three branches of government? Or is this a nation of laws?

That last paragraph is the key question for Americans. It could just be that conservative think-tanks are finely waking up and questioning just where our federal government is heading and realizing the danger to our Democratic Republic.

Another reference: "Cato Handbook for Congress: 21 Terrorism"

Friday, May 26, 2006

POLITICS - Emperor Bush Decrees, Ignore Law, Again

"Intelligence Czar Can Waive SEC Rules" from Business Week

President George W. Bush has bestowed on his intelligence czar, John Negroponte, broad authority, in the name of national security, to excuse publicly traded companies from their usual accounting and securities-disclosure obligations. Notice of the development came in a brief entry in the Federal Register, dated May 5, 2006, that was opaque to the untrained eye.

Unbeknownst to almost all of Washington and the financial world, Bush and every other President since Jimmy Carter have had the authority to exempt companies working on certain top-secret defense projects from portions of the 1934 Securities Exchange Act. Administration officials told BusinessWeek that they believe this is the first time a President has ever delegated the authority to someone outside the Oval Office. It couldn't be immediately determined whether any company has received a waiver under this provision.

In addition to refusing to explain why Bush decided to delegate this authority to Negroponte, the White House declined to say whether Bush or any other President has ever exercised the authority and allowed a company to avoid standard securities disclosure and accounting requirements. The White House wouldn't comment on whether Negroponte has granted such a waiver, and BusinessWeek so far hasn't identified any companies affected by the provision. Negroponte's office did not respond to requests for comment.

Securities-law experts said they were unfamiliar with the May 5 memo and the underlying Presidential authority at issue. John C. Coffee, a securities-law professor at Columbia University, speculated that defense contractors might want to use such an exemption to mask secret assignments for the Pentagon or CIA. "What you might hide is investments: You've spent umpteen million dollars that comes out of your working capital to build a plant in Iraq," which the government wants to keep secret. "That's the kind of scenario that would be plausible," Coffee said.

William McLucas, the Securities & Exchange Commission's former enforcement chief, suggested that the ability to conceal financial information in the name of national security could lead some companies "to play fast and loose with their numbers." McLucas, a partner at the law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr in Washington, added: "It could be that you have a bunch of books and records out there that no one knows about."

Hay folks! In the name of "protecting" America, by all means, lets give big companies an easy way to "to play fast and loose with their numbers." Just the ticket, hide information from regulators, after all they are not there to protect the American people's interests.

'So Caesar decrees, so let it be done. Hail Caesar, hail Caesar,.....'

Thursday, May 25, 2006

POLITICS - Another Comment on the Assault on American Democracy

"The Fall of the House of Bush" by Deborah Leavy, Centre Daily Times

HUBRIS, meaning pride or arrogance, is a very human flaw that in Greek mythology often led to tragedy.

Daedalus, flying with wings of feathers and wax, thought he could go up to see the heavens, but the wings melted when he flew too close to the sun, and he plunged into the sea. When Arachne boasted that she was just as good a weaver as Athena, the goddess turned her into a spider.

Pride goeth before a fall. It is one of the seven deadly sins. You'd think people would learn, but it gets 'em every time.

Too much pride has been a theme of the Bush administration. After capturing the presidency by judicial decree, they governed as if they had a mandate, running roughshod over those who disagreed with them.

Winning the second time by a clear but narrow margin, Bush declared, "I've got some political capital, and I'm going to spend it."

Spend it he did, and now there's almost nothing left.

The arrogance is mind-boggling. Bush has taken unprecedented powers for himself, using the war on terror to justify his imperium. The tyrant is the child of Pride, said Socrates, and we are coming much too close to tyranny.

Bush thinks he can ignore the law by keeping secrets from Congress. That he can change laws passed by Congress by issuing contrary signing statements. That he can trample the Constitution and amass detailed data on more than 200 million Americans who aren't suspected of any crime. And that he can claim he's just doing it to fight the terrorists, while he leaves the ports unguarded - and that we will believe him. Such hubris!

This from a man who stated in an interview that he doesn't trust intellectuals, so what could we expect. What we got is a from-the-gut Administration, a gut with a bleeding ulcer. The problem is the American people are suffering the consequences.

POLITICS - Is There More to 9-11 Than Just the Attack?

"Vexed to Nightmare: The Unholy Union Behind the War on Terror" by Chris Floyd, Empire Burlesque

The blogosphere lit up last week with stories about how the New York Times, and the Bush Administration, had information in the summer of 2001 that specifically foretold of an impending, spectacular attack by al Qaeda "perhaps to be visited on the continental United States" – information which both august institutions declined to share with the public. The stories have rightly drawn much attention for the new light it throws on the years-long decline of the Times – and on the surpassingly curious inaction on the part of the Bush Administration during that fateful summer, despite an intelligence system "blinking red" with warnings of an impending attack. No doubt all of this will be chewed over, to good effect, by many analysts in the days to come.

But there is another very important part of the story that seems in danger of being overlooked. In an interview with Alternet, former NYT reporter (and Bush Regime misinformation conduit) Judith Miller tells how an intelligence source told her, during the 2001 July Fourth holiday weekend, about an intercept of a conversation of two al Qaeda members. As Miller recounts it: "And they had been talking to one another, supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what had happened to the Cole. And one Al Qaeda operative was overheard saying to the other, 'Don't worry; we're planning something so big now that the U.S. will have to respond.'"

What is the key fact here? Not really that al Qaeda operatives were planning a big operation against the United States; they'd been trying to do that for years, including one thwarted spectacular involving the mass hijacking of airplanes. No, what is truly significant, I think, is this passage: "They had been….supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what happened to the [USS] Cole," a destroyer hit by a deadly suicide bomb attack in a Yemen harbor the previous October.

Al Qaeda's entire strategy was aimed at drawing the United States into a worldwide "war on terror," a massive campaign of retaliation that would doubtless see the American military charging into Muslim lands, killing civilians, wreaking havoc. The benefits of this to al Qaeda would be two-fold. First, it would fuel anti-American sentiment throughout the Islamic world, radicalizing many Muslims who would see the retaliation as proof of bin Laden's charges of a "Crusader-Zionist" war on Islam. It would be, in other words, the greatest recruiting tool al Qaeda could ever have, bringing more recruits, arms and money to their cause.

So Bush managed not only to confirm bin Laden as a Prophet (a Christian nation will invade a Muslim nation for oil, pre-9-11 prediction), he is the best recruiter al Qaeda has ever had.

POLITICS - Voice in the Wilderness

For those who are not closely watching politics, you may have missed the flap over the New School (NY) commencement speech by Jean Rohe, graduate New School Jazz Program and Eugene Lang College.

In summary, she had intended to give a speech where she, "hoped to talk about social responsibility in a time of war, but in much more oblique terms. I wanted to speak about communication, and how I have found that one of my strongest and most enjoyable methods of communication is music." At least until she realized she would speak just before Sen. John McCain. After reviewing his last speeches on his WEB site, at 2:00AM before the ceremony, she rewrote her commencement speech, which follows:

If all the world were peaceful now and forever more,
Peaceful at the surface and peaceful at the core,
All the joy within my heart would be so free to soar,
And we're living on a living planet, circling a living star.
Don't know where we're going but I know we're going far.
We can change the universe by being who we are,
And we're living on a living planet, circling a living star.

Welcome everyone on this beautiful afternoon to the commencement ceremony for the New School class of 2006. That was an excerpt of a song I learned as a child called "Living Planet" by Jay Mankita. I chose to begin my address this way because, as always, but especially now, we are living in a time of violence, of war, of injustice. I am thinking of our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in Darfur, in Sri Lanka, in Mogadishu, in Israel/Palestine, right here in the U.S., and many, many other places around the world. And my deepest wish on this day--on all days--is for peace, justice, and true freedom for all people. The song says, "We can change the universe by being who we are," and I believe that it really is just that simple.

Right now, I'm going to be who I am and digress from my previously prepared remarks. I am disappointed that I have to abandon the things I had wanted to speak about, but I feel that it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge the fact that this ceremony has become something other than the celebratory gathering that it was intended to be due to all the media attention surrounding John McCain's presence here today, and the student and faculty outrage generated by his invitation to speak here. The senator does not reflect the ideals upon which this university was founded. Not only this, but his invitation was a top-down decision that did not take into account the desires and interests of the student body on an occasion that is supposed to honor us above all, and to commemorate our achievements.

What is interesting and bizarre about this whole situation is that Senator McCain has stated that he will be giving the same speech at all three universities where he has been invited to speak recently, of which ours is the last; those being Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, Columbia University, and finally here at the New School. For this reason I have unusual foresight concerning the themes of his address today. Based on the speech he gave at the other institutions, Senator McCain will tell us today that dissent and disagreement are our "civic and moral obligation" in times of crisis. I consider this a time of crisis and I feel obligated to speak. Senator McCain will also tell us about his cocky self-assuredness in his youth, which prevented him from hearing the ideas of others. In so doing, he will imply that those of us who are young are too naïve to have valid opinions and open ears. I am young, and although I don't profess to possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that preemptive war is dangerous and wrong, that George Bush's agenda in Iraq is not worth the many lives lost. And I know that despite all the havoc that my country has wrought overseas in my name, Osama bin Laden still has not been found, nor have those weapons of mass destruction.

Finally, Senator McCain will tell us that we, those of us who are Americans, "have nothing to fear from each other." I agree strongly with this, but I take it one step further. We have nothing to fear from anyone on this living planet. Fear is the greatest impediment to the achievement of peace. We have nothing to fear from people who are different from us, from people who live in other countries, even from the people who run our government--and this we should have learned from our educations here. We can speak truth to power, we can allow our humanity always to come before our nationality, we can refuse to let fear invade our lives and to goad us on to destroy the lives of others. These words I speak do not reflect the arrogance of a young strong-headed woman, but belong to a line of great progressive thought, a history in which the founders of this institution play an important part. I speak today, even through my nervousness, out of a need to honor those voices that came before me, and I hope that we graduates can all strive to do the same.

You can read more about the incident on her blog, "Why I Spoke Up"

This, of course, caught McCain unprepared. Later, McCain had public comments that felt she had to respond to.

I feel obligated to respond to one thing that McCain told the New York Times. "I feel sorry for people living in a dull world where they can't listen to the views of others," he said. This is just preposterous. Yes, McCain was undoubtedly shouted-out and heckled by people who were not politely absorbing his words so as to consider them fully from every angle. But what did he expect? We could've all printed out his speech and chanted it with him in chorus. Did he think that no one knew exactly what he was about to say? And it was precisely because we listen to the views of others, and because, as I said in my speech, we don't fear them, that we as a school were able to mount such a thorough and intelligent opposition to his presence. Ignorant, closed-minded people would not have been able to do what we did. We chose to be in New York for our years of higher education for the very reason that we would be challenged to listen to opposing viewpoints each and every day and to deal with that challenge in a nonviolent manner. We've gotten very good at listening to the views of others and learning how to also make our views heard, even when we don't have the power of national political office and the media on our side.

I think we must remember that as big as this moment may seem to me today and perhaps to other supporters who are reading this (blog) article, this is a very small victory in a time when democracy is swiftly eroding under the pressure of the right wing in this country. We all have much work to do, and for the most part the media do not represent us, the small people who don't hold any special titles but who feel the weight of our government's actions on our backs each and every day. I never expected to get the opportunity to speak the way I did yesterday, but I'm so glad that I did. I hope that other people found strength in my act of protest and will one day find themselves in my position, drawing out their own bravery to speak truth.

She is a voice in the wilderness. The wilderness of Bush-lead, Ultra-Right Republican, and undemocratic, one-party rule we have today.

EDUCATION - Wait a Cotton-Picking Minute!

The following is a UseNet post in a San Diego, CA, group:

Wait a cotton-picking minute. I understand the high school students are failing to pass the California exit exam when graduating from High School. In San Diego 815 students have not passed the exam. In the Sweetwater school district, 531 have not passed the exam and so on. The exams test on tenth grade English and eighth grade math skills.

These kids can't even do eighth grade math. These kids are given 12 years of school and can't pass the eighth grade. It is a taxpayer rip off. Twelve years of school is expensive and I am getting tired of paying taxes for it.

Here is the deal. When I pay for 12 years of education, I expect these kids to pass twelfth grade math and twelfth grade English. Otherwise, I want my tax money back. I say we make the kids pay back the tax money. They have to get jobs, only god knows where, and pay back every cent.

Brian David Smith, San Diego, California

But, but.... wait! Don't we have the "No Child Left Behind" law?!! I thought that was the final solution to all K-12 education problems? NOT

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

POLITICS - Interesting Comments From John Dean

"An Interview with John Dean" by Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive

Dean was Nixon’s White House counsel for three years and then testified against him. He is the author, most recently, of “Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush.” On March 31, Dean testified in favor of Senator Russ Feingold’s censure bill. The interview was conducted on April 28 by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine. You can listen to the interview at

Q: Tell me what you’re lasting impressions are of Richard Nixon.

Dean: In a way, he’s a comic figure. In other ways, he’s a tragic figure. I have a memory of a very complex man locked in my synapses.

Q: How long did you work for him?

Dean: A thousand days. When you listen to him on the tapes, he would be one person with his chief of Staff Bob Haldeman, he’d be somebody else with Henry Kissinger, he’d be somebody else with me. He had these different personae. I don’t think he ever had great administrative skills for the Presidency. He was slow to interact with his staff. He was very stiff. It was kind of like walking onto a set of an Oval Office when I used to first go into see him. But later on I’d walk in and he’d have his feet on the desk and he’d be talking to me around his shoes.

He was uneasy. In fact, one of the interesting things about Nixon is that we had to prepare something called talking papers for him. Anytime we brought someone in the office to meet the President, because he had a zero gift of gab, you literally had to have a few sentences, buzzwords, thoughts, so he could start a conversation with this person. Alex Butterfield, who ushered more people into the office than anybody else, told me that occasionally if Nixon didn’t have this he was literally speechless.

Q: I’m very interested in the comparisons you make between Nixon and Bush.

Dean: Both mean learned about the Presidency from men they greatly respected: Richard Nixon from Dwight Eisenhower, George Bush from his father. When both men became President, you got the very distinct impression that they don’t feel that they quite fit in the shoes of the person from whom they learned about the Presidency. Nixon would constantly be going down to Key Biscayne, San Clemente, or Camp David—he just didn’t like being in the Oval Office. I saw this same thing with George Bush, who is constantly away. The other striking similarity is that both men talk in the third person about the office of the President. It’s like the royal we. You look at other Presidents, like Reagan and Clinton, who clearly filled that office. You almost had to pry Clinton out at the end of his term. And Reagan, despite whatever weaknesses he had intellectually, filled the role of President and played it to the hilt. So Bush has a Nixonian distance from the White House.

And I was stunned at the secrecy of this Administration. I knew that there’s no good that can come out of secrecy. So I began looking closely at Bush and finding the striking Nixonian features of this Presidency: It’s almost as if we’d left an old playbook in the basement, they found it, dusted it off, and said, “This stuff looks pretty good, we ought to give it a try.” As I dug in, and still had some pretty good sources within that Presidency, I found the principal mover and shaker of this Presidency is clearly Dick Cheney, who is not only reviving the Imperial Presidency but expanding it beyond Nixon’s wildest dreams.

The reason I wrote a book with the title “Worse than Watergate,” and I was very cautious in using that title, is because there was a real difference: Nobody died as a result of the so-called abuses of power during Nixon’s Presidency. You might make the exception of, say, the secret bombing of Cambodia, but that never got into the Watergate litany per se. You look at Bush’s abuses, and Cheney’s—to me, it’s a Bush/Cheney Presidency—and today, people are dying as a result of abuse of power. That’s much more serious.

Q: Dying in Iraq?

Dean: Dying in Iraq. God knows where they’re dying. In secret prisons. To me the fact that a Vice President can go to Capitol Hill and lobby for torture is just unbelievable. Just unbelievable! The fact that a small clique of attorneys in the Department of Justice can write how can we get around the Geneva Conventions so that we can torture during interrogations—I can’t even get their mentally. And when you read their briefs, they didn’t get there mentally.

That last sentence, "And when you read their briefs, they didn’t get there mentally." Of course they don't, they are just power hungry. Their minds are warped by the old adage "absolute power corrupts absolutely."

POLITICS - God's Ministers Are Listening

"God's Ministers are listening" by John Stanton, Smirking Chimp

God Bless the Vice President, Secretary of Defense, and NSTAC

"[American] people are more inclined to understand...that government carries the sword as the minister of God to execute wrath upon the evildoer."
-- Justice Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court of the United States

Ever heard of the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC)? Well, if you haven't, you'd be smart to research the innards of the group. According to its charter, "NSTAC offers advice to the President on policy issues affecting not only the Government's ability to leverage the information infrastructure to better support NS/EP operations but also the Government's ability to protect the information infrastructure itself from threats and vulnerabilities that might ultimately jeopardize the country's national and economic security."

Given its mission and its powerful members--defense contractors, communications providers, software companies, government agencies--it is safe to assume that the NSTAC is one of the places where feasibility studies took place to determine whether the national security and corporate apparatus was up to the task of sweeping up the thoughts and actions of the American public and foreign interests traversing the digital domain. NSTAC likely worked closely with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's Policy Organization, and Vice President Dick Cheney's Office.

Consider the mega-conference on Lawful Intercept being held by a group called Telestrategies. Visit the organization in McLean, Virginia and click on the ISS World image. Conference sessions include the State of Global Lawful Interception, Regulation and Legislation, Telecom Service Providers Lawful Interception Compliance, Network Surveillance and LI Solutions, Investigative Analysis Technology Developments and Tools, Lawful Interception Standards, Law Enforcement Agency (LEA) Training Sessions, and Product Specific LEA and Government Training. Make sure to review the "track agenda" sections for a list of who's who of domestic and international participants involved in the snooping world.

So what's the point? Does it really matter if your entire life is recorded and stored by your government and its contractors? Do you even care? It's worth thinking about.

God is Government, Government is God

Let's return to Justice Scalia's comment about the American public and its habit of believing that the US government is operating as a Minister of God and wielding its sword to execute wrath upon the evildoer. Americans have another distinguishing trait and that is their very childlike and naive Judeo-Christian beliefs. Followers are instructed to live daily on leaps-of-faith and millions bow down in fear before some phantom being, or those speaking for it, who resides somewhere in the coldness of space or at the center of the earth. Have faith! is the refrain. Trust us, the messengers and ministers; we've talked to the cloud. How easy it is to convince such a silly people of anything (this holds for all the major religions).

Because American's cling to these beliefs like so many insecure children afraid to explore the world on their own, they are easily frightened and vulnerable to the propaganda and lies dispensed from a US government marketed by leaders of all stripes as One Nation Under God. It's an authoritarian's or fascist's dream come true. God's ministers work in the US government on behalf of God. So, the US government represents God. Wow! The US government is God. God Bless America!

Has anyone thought about who the messengers and ministers of God's Blessed America are?

My current estimate is no, the "sheep" have not questioned where the "shepard" is leading them. Had a lamb chop for dinner lately?

POLITICS - The Real Truth About Unwarranted Wiretaps

"The Lie Lives On ... and On ... and On" by Larry Beinhart, The Huffington Post

The Republican Senator tossed General Michael Hayden a big, fat softball of a question: "Do you think that if you had this program ...." of wiretaps without warrants, "... in place before September 11th you might have prevented it?"

General Hayden jumped right on it. He said that yes, if he had his secret powers then, that he has today, he could have stopped al Qaeda's plot.

Then he said, there were two guys in San Diego ...

He was referring to Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar. George Bush also talks about them when he wants to justify wiretaps without warrants. The truth is that Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar are the poster boys for missed opportunities. If the NSA, the CIA, the FBI and the White House had not screwed up so royally, mostly by cherishing their secrets, they would have had al Hasmi and al Mihdhar several times over.

Here are the facts.

Both of them were in the NSA and CIA files. They'd fought in Bosnia. They'd been to Afghanistan. They had friends and relatives who were jihadists and who were in Al Qaeda and they had associations with bin Laden.

In December, 1999 the NSA picked up several names in relation to an upcoming meeting in Kuala Lumpur, the capitol of Malaysia. They got al Mihdhar's full name but only al Hazmi's first name, Nawaf. They could have figured out who he was if they had checked in their own data base. But they didn't.

The CIA tracked al Mihdhar when he traveled from Yemen to the meeting in Kuala Lumpur, arriving on January 5th, 2000. The CIA had the event under surveillance. Al Mihdhar was photographed there. The team noted that some of the terrorists, including al Mihdhar and al Hazmi, flew to Bangkok on January 8th, where they lost track of them. Also in January, the CIA found out that al Mihdhar had a US passport.

The top people in the CIA and the FBI, including it's director, Louis Freeh, were briefed by the Counterterrorism Center (CTC) on the meeting.

In March, the CIA's Bangkok office reported that al Hazmi had left Thailand on January 15th and flown to Los Angeles. He was accompanied by al Mihdhar, though that did not show up on the flight report.

What we are supposed to believe is that unwarranted wiretaps would have made them smarter in connecting the dots. Yah, sure, and if we had 007 on the job he would have stopped 9/11.

POLITICS - The Smearing of the '60s

I am a member of the '60s Generation, and I was in the military voluntarily much of this period. It has bothered me how the Radical-Right has wrongly smeared this period in American history. The following states my feelings (bold emphasis is mine).

"How the Right Stole the '60s" by Astra Taylor, AlterNet

Conservatives are winning the battle over how the 1960s are remembered. But their version is far from the truth.

It wasn't until I got to college that I heard that the 1960s had "failed" and that all the Baby Boomers went straight and sold out.

Yet such sweeping proclamations never quite rung true. Those weren't the people I knew when I was a kid: the aging organic farmers, the people living on and running a commune founded long before I was born, the self-sacrificing teachers and social workers, the lawyers who gave up a big paycheck for a good cause, or my friends' parents, who managed the local Kinko's and were anything but wealthy. Those weren't the adults I later met who sometimes struck me as more radical in their ideals and extreme in their political convictions than my college classmates. Maybe these folks weren't the vanguard of the revolution, but neither were they getting rich from selling it out. Instead, they were just regular people trying to make ends meet and live by their principles.

My family spent the '80s and '90s, long after the spirit of the '60s had supposedly been put to rest, carrying a torch for some of the inspiring qualities of that decade. Our home was marked by constant creativity, healthy suspicion of material wealth and social status, and our trust in the ultimate goodness of humanity. We called our parents by their first names as a testament to our status as equals (and often drove them crazy when we threw the injunction "question authority" back in their faces).

The period has been trivialized, commemorated and castigated ad nauseam. It's been reduced to a risible relic, a series of clichés about hippies and protesters and lost idealism.

Today we too often assume the mythic '60s to be solely the invention of sentimental liberal Baby Boomers unable, or unwilling, to let go of the past. But, more often than not, the 1960s the media portrays is a construct invented to serve corporate and conservative interests. The fact is, conservative Baby Boomers are even more fixated on the '60s than their progressive counterparts.

The spirit of the '60s, conservatives claim, has infiltrated and corrupted almost every corner of our culture, destroying America in its wake. They blame the decade for corroding family values, weakening the church, inspiring rampant drug abuse, spoiling the poor, ruining higher education, ridiculing Western civilization and emasculating white men. Over the last 40 years, reactionary forces have never ceased their assault, singling out the decade for unique and unparalleled abuse, alienating many people, especially young people, from the progressive ideals and spirit of experimentation the 1960s embodied.

For the generation that has come into political awareness against the backdrop of Sept. 11 and the war in Iraq, this has proven particularly true. The last few years have seen the '60s framed in a negative light with powerful consequences. The right is expert at circulating potent untruths about the era, like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's 2004 smear campaign against John Kerry or the digitally edited image of Kerry sharing a podium with Jane Fonda at a 1971 antiwar rally he never attended.

The reactionary right defines itself in opposition to a sensationalistic, exaggerated stereotype of the 1960s and its excesses. The basic building block of the "great backlash," to use Tom Frank's phrase, is victimhood. In this version, millions of moral Middle Americans have had their values trampled by hedonistic hippies, latte-drinking liberal elites, raving antiwar protesters and black power advocates, while hardworking blue-collar guys are laid off because of reverse discrimination. The '60s marked the beginning of America's great moral decline, the story goes, and the conservatives are here to set the country back on track.

Despite all of this, the liberationist theme of the '60s remains alluring, its appeal rooted in the American ideal of the rugged individualist. Thus, the challenge facing conservatives, and one they have risen to with flying colors, is turning people off from a certain kind of exploratory, experimental freedom we associate with the period. This is accomplished, at least in part, by demonizing the decade and its legacy, and by equating liberation with licentiousness, intemperance and indolence. The hullabaloo about rising divorce rates, rampant crime, welfare dependency, moral relativism and "values," however vaguely defined, never ceases because this method has worked astoundingly well. At least it has so far.

The irony is that "the '60s" also serves as shorthand for an array of moral values that remain forceful and have filtered into the mainstream: nonmaterial aspirations, collectivity, environmental awareness, diversity and nonviolence, to name a few. This is a heritage progressives should be proud of.

The conservative commentariat remains horrified by what they take to be the left's cultural ascension since the 1960s. Yet liberals are more inclined to lament what they see as the decade's legacy of political defeat, frustration and disappointment. By failing to appreciate what was accomplished during the '60s or defend the intentions behind those efforts, we strengthen the conservative attacks on the era.

It's important to ask who benefits from '60s bashing. And can we trust what we've been taught about the era to be accurate? Like it or not, the decade represents much more than just a sequence of historical events. In our cultural imagination, the 1960s has come to be synonymous with experimentation, idealism and commitment to social change. These are attributes we should defend proudly and refuse to ridicule, rebuke or let the right define for us.


Side comment: A few years back there was a survey done on divorce rates in America and one of the surprising things buried in the data was that the divorce rates were higher in the so-called Bible Belt. So much for blaming the immoral '60s for rising divorce rates.

Monday, May 22, 2006

POLITICS - Is Congress Aiding and Abetting the Creation of a Police State?

A question all Americans should always be asking, not just now, but most appropriately today under the G.W. Administration.

"Bowing to the Police State" by Ray McGovern, AntiWar COM

Is Congress aiding and abetting the creation of a police state? Recently, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., helped to give the CIA and NSA unprecedented police powers. By inserting a provision in the FY07 Intelligence Authorization Act, Hoekstra has undermined the existing statutory limits on involvement in domestic law enforcement. This comes after revelations in January of direct NSA involvement with the Baltimore police in order to "protect" the NSA Headquarters from Quaker protesters.

Add to this the disquieting news that the White House has been barraging the CIA with totally improper questions about the political affiliation of some of its senior intelligence officers, the ever widening use of polygraph examinations, and the FBI's admission that it acquires phone records of broadcast and print media to investigate leaks at the CIA. I, for one, am reminded of my service in the police state of the USSR, where there were no First or Fourth Amendments.

Recent disclosures about increased government surveillance and illegal activities would be shocking, were it not for the prevailing outrage-fatigue brought on by a long train of abuses. But the heads of the civilian, democratically elected institutions that are supposed to be our bulwark against an encroaching police state, the ones who stand to lose their own power as well as their rights and the rights of all citizens, aren't interested in reining in the power of the intelligence establishment. To the contrary, Rep. Hoekstra and his counterpart in the Senate, Pat Roberts, R-Kan., are running the risk of whiplash as they pivot to look the other way.

James Bamford, one of the best observers of the inner workings of U.S. intelligence, warned recently that Congress has lost control of the intelligence community. "You can't get any oversight or checks and balances," he said. "Congress is protecting the White House, and the White House can do whatever it wants."

Consider the following nuggets drawn from Sunday's Washington Post article by R. Jeffrey Smith about the firing of senior CIA analyst Mary McCarthy. Apparently McCarthy learned that at least one "senior agency official" lied to Congress about agency policy and practice with regard to torturing detainees during interrogations.

According to Smith's article, one internal CIA study completed in 2004 concluded that CIA interrogation policies and techniques violated international law. This is said to have come as something of a shock to agency interrogators who had been led by the Justice Department to believe that international conventions against torture did not apply to interrogations of foreigners outside of the United States. McCarthy reportedly was also chagrined to learn that the CIA's general counsel had secured a secret Justice Department opinion in 2004 authorizing the creation of a category of "ghost detainees," prisoners transported abroad, mostly from Iraq, for secret interrogation – without notification of the Red Cross, as required by the Geneva Convention.

No problem, said senior CIA officials. We'll just lie to the committee leaders about the torture; they will wink and be grateful we did. The lying came during discussion of draft legislation aimed at preventing torture. As deputy inspector general, McCarthy became aware that CIA officials had misled the chairmen and ranking members of the congressional "oversight" committees on multiple occasions. Neither of the committees seemed interested in taking a serious look at the torture issue.

Hoekstra is a master at Catch-22. On the one hand Hoekstra insists that those in intelligence who have information on illegal or improper behavior report it to his intelligence committee; then he refuses to let them in the door. Russell Tice, a former NSA employee, has been trying since last December to give Hoekstra a firsthand account of illegal activities at the NSA. He has rebuffed Tice, with the lame explanation that the NSA will not clear Hoekstra or any of his committee members for the highly classified programs about which Tice wants to report.

Typical. Typical of a totalitarian government that is.

  • The agency that is supposed to be under the "oversight" of Congress just classifies the information so it cannot be looked at. Ya right! The American people are suppose to just "trust" the that the agency is not trying to hide anything, not only from the people but hide information from those who are responsible by law to monitor them.

  • NSA gets to collude with local law enforcement, against precedent, against a religious group with a long history of being anti-war. Exercising their Constitutional rights.

It is the modus operandi of all totalitarian governments in history to represent their governance as protecting the people by protecting the government. So don't worry about your neighbors disappearing, detention without warrant or court review, local newspapers being closed or taken over by the government, government planted reporters and stories, etc., they are "protecting" you from subversives. Trust us, ignore the fact the the government gets to define what and who subversives are. Ignore that "subversives" seem to be defined as anyone that opposes government policy.

So, reader, what is your answer to my title question?

Friday, May 19, 2006

INTERNET - Barbarians at the Gate

"Information Highway Robbers" by Joel Bleifuss, In These Times

What makes the Internet revolutionary is that it is democratic, open to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. That could soon change.

As In These Times went to press, the House was setting to vote on the “Communications Opportunity Promotion and Enhancement (COPE) Act of 2006,” a bill written by the telephone and cable TV corporations. Among other provisions, the act formally guts what is known as the First Amendment of the Internet—”network neutrality.”

“Net neutrality ensures that the public can view the smallest blog just as easily as the largest corporate Web site and prevents companies like AT&T from rigging the playing field for only the highest-paying sites and services,” says Timothy Karr, the campaign director for Free Press, a media reform organization.

By not including network neutrality protections, the COPE Act upholds a 2005 ruling from the Federal Communications Commission that allows Internet service providers—telephone companies like AT&T and Verizon and cable companies like Comcast—to charge Web content creators a fee to make their sites readily accessible.

For example, take a filmmaker who wants to produce a documentary and distribute it to the public on his Web site. Under this new legislation, a service provider like AT&T would be able to charge the filmmaker for making his content available to their customers. Or, if AT&T did not approve of the documentary, it could refuse to let its customers access it all together—thereby allowing corporate censorship of a medium now characterized by the freewheeling exchange of ideas. In effect, the legislation allows the telecom industry to become the tollbooth operator on the information superhighway. The Internet will begin to look like cable TV, where viewers can only choose from available options. puts it this way: “The Internet has always been driven by innovation. Web sites and services succeeded or failed on their own merit. Without net neutrality, decisions now made collectively by millions of users will be made in corporate boardrooms.”

NOTE: SavetheInternet has a petition you can sign and send to congress. One caution, copy the text you write before sending, some in congress do not use WEB mail and you must paste your text into their form.

The COPE law is a way to take the internet outside the laws that govern our phone system. The laws governing our phone system have the appropriate protections for users.

To clarify, COPE allows Internet providers to restrict access to their lines from other Internet providers. It permits (example) Verizon to restrict user Internet access only to Verizon services, blocking access to/from AT&T/SBC. This is in contrast to our phone system where Verizon cannot restrict phone calls to a AT&T phone.

In addition, there is no protection against corporate censorship on what goes though their lines. Protections, such as child pornography, is the province of the court system not corporations.

The actual goal of COPE is greed driven. For the big Internet providers it is not enough to charge individuals for connection/access, they want to charge WEB sites for just access. Stress access, they already charge for hosting (maintaining the site's files) WEB sites.

Example: They want to be able to charge BarbariansAtTheGate.COM, whose WEB site may be maintained by AT&T, for access through Verizon.

So, what do you think is going to happen to Joe-Highschooler's WEB Site? Can he afford the fees to allow access to his site worldwide? Or how about (fictitious) WeHateBush.ORG site? Think a big Internet provider supporting Bush is not going to restrict access, minus protection in Internet law?

Internet law should use our phone system law as the model. Provide user access protections to maintain a open and free (as in freedom) Internet.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

MY EXISTENCE - Personal Belief in my Immortality

I ran into the following quote while reading a long (94 pg) article in the Encyclopedia Britannica on Islam. It struck me as the best I've ever read that matches my personal belief in my immortality.

Islamic thought > Islamic philosophy > The Eastern philosophers > The teachings of Avicenna > The immortality of individual souls

Man can affirm the existence of his soul from direct consciousness of his self (what he means when he says “I”); and he can imagine this happening even in the absence of external objects and bodily organs. This proves, according to Avicenna, that the soul is indivisible, immaterial, and incorruptible substance, not imprinted in matter, but created with the body, which it uses as an instrument. Unlike other immaterial substances (the intelligences and souls of the spheres), it is not pre-eternal but is generated, or made to exist, at the same time as the individual body, which can receive it, is formed. The composition, shape, and disposition of its body and the soul's success or failure in managing and controlling it, the formation of moral habits, and the acquisition of knowledge all contribute to its individuality and difference from other souls. Though the body is not resurrected after its corruption, the soul survives and retains all the individual characteristics, perfections or imperfections, that it achieved in its earthly existence and in this sense is rewarded or punished for its past deeds.

My body/flesh is a temporary home for the real me, my soul. My body is made for this life, on this world, in this universe, and in the end will return to that from which it was made.

It is my soul that is created in the image of the Almighty and is immortal.

Evolution is the means the flesh is modified for existence in this world and does not deny that I am created by the Almighty.

POLITICS - Monsters Lurking Under Our Collective Bed

"Screw Freedom, America Wants Its Wubby" by Bob Cesca, The Huffington Post

It's been made perfectly clear that a staggering number of Americans -- mostly Bush Apologists -- would prefer to have a powerful and omniscient government intruding upon their basic freedoms in order to smoke out the toe monsters lurking under their collective bed.

Until the last five years, I never pegged macho alpha-male Republicans for being cowards who would rather cave in to big government (which they claim to hate) than suffer the very slim chance that they'd be killed by a terrorist.

At some point in time, right-wing Americans with their tough-talking rhetoric and itchy trigger fingers -- the guys with "These Colors Don't Run" slogans magnetized to the ass-end of their Hummers -- became infantilized.


Right now, the terrorists are truly winning.

How could they not be? As soon as we were attacked by Bin Laden's underlings, policies were implemented by the Bush administration that empowered the government and its dominance over its subjects. You and me.

The selling of fear in the form of War on Terrorism has drugged America. When the drug wares off, as it will, we will wake up in a "safe" prison that we have let be built around us. Nice and safe, totally controlled, well padded from any "bad" news. Of course we will not be the ones in control nor make any decision on just what "bad news" is.

The true monsters are not lurking under our beds, the are sitting in the halls of power.

POLITICS - Bush the Surrealist "Painter"

"Down in the polls, Bush dusts off a uniform in the art of distortion" by Pierre Tristam, Daytona Beach News-Journal

Salvador Dali was the surrealist painter to whom distortion was means, ends and art all in one. These are Dali times, minus the art. George W. Bush is the surrealist president to whom distortion is means, ends and crime. Dali's dalliance with fascism was the harmless product of a man infatuated with schlock. Bush's dalliance with fascism is the by-product of a man who thinks being on a mission from God is not just a line in "The Blues Brothers," but an executive order from a gospel of his own discovery. Dali would have appreciated the gall of a president still pushing the hallucinogens of Sept. 11, especially this month, when the American death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan will exceed that of ground zero. Bush is just glad a third of the nation and most of Congress are still inhaling.

What Congress is inhaling, especially today's Republicans, is the very potent drug called Big-Money. It is highly addictive.

What the "drug pushers" (Bush, Republicans, et el) have been selling the American public is Fear (terrorism), another potent drug, a hallucinogen. It distorts you mind and does not let you perceive that your basic Constitutional and human rights are being violated, and that the reputation of America is being systematically damaged.

The American public needs drug-rehab, badly. As for Bush, he's too far gone; and as to today's Republican leaders, there may be a very small glimmer of hope (wait, on second thought....).

ECONOMICS - A Tale of Two Theories

"A Tale of Two Theories: Supply Side and Demand Side Economics" by Robert Freeman, Common Dreams

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the era of low taxes. It was the age of high deficits. Prices were up. Wages were down. Oil and gold soared. Housing and big cars cratered. Foreign powers threatened. Foreign currencies beckoned. Some saw a new Jerusalem in the nation’s future. Others saw only the glaucoma of gluttonous greed. It was the summer of economic hope. It was the winter of economic despair.

In short, the early eighties were an economic time not unlike our own — a time that scared the Dickens out of most sober observers.

The common thread that unites the two times is Supply Side Economics. In the eighties it was new and promising. In the aughts it is recycled and damaging. In both eras, it stood against Demand Side Economics in its prescription for how to manage the economy. But it is in their outcomes that the two theories present such stark and measurable differences.

Traditionally, to fight inflation, governments raise interest rates and cut spending, tampening down demand. To fight unemployment, they do the opposite: cut interest rates and raise spending, increasing demand. But now they had both problems at the same time. The cure for stagnant growth (lower interest rates and higher spending) would only aggravate the inflation. And the cure for inflation (higher interest rates and lower spending) would only aggravate the stagnation. The problem seemed insoluble. Enter Supply Side Economics.

Supply Side Economics claimed that if the government cut taxes on the wealthy, it would jump-start the economy as the wealthy plowed their tax savings back into investments. New factories fitted with new technologies would produce goods at lower cost, taming inflation. And the newly hired workers would tame unemployment. It would, in effect, square the economic circle, fixing both inflation and unemployment at the same time.

Even better, more output meant government tax receipts would grow. The government could continue to spend money without having to raise taxes — it would simply materialize as a byproduct of higher levels of production! The economy would bootstrap itself in an ever-expanding, virtuous circle of tax cuts, investment, productivity, employment, and rising tax revenues. It was the proverbial “something for nothing” story. It seemed too good to be true.

It was.

Reagan’s first budget swelled the deficit to $128 billion. By the next year, 1983, it had exploded to $208 billion and was creating severe problems for the economy. By 1992, at the end of the “Reagan Revolution,” (under Reagan’s Vice President and successor, Bush, Sr.) the deficit was approaching $300 billion a year.

Annual deficits, of course, accumulate to the national debt. In 1980, the national debt amounted to less than $1 trillion. By the end of 1992, it had reached $4.35 trillion. In other words, the debt, which had taken over 200 years to reach $1 trillion, quadrupled in the 12 years of Supply Side Economics. A more complete, definitive repudiation of Supply Side’s claims could not be imagined. What went wrong?

According to Supply Side “theory,” tax cuts should go to the wealthy for only they can afford to use the extra income to invest in the economy — to increase its capacity to “supply” goods. But there is nothing to make sure they actually invest, especially in the U.S. economy.

The new money might simply sit in the bank, or be spent on expensive foreign imports. It might be wasted in misdirected speculation, or invested in fast growing markets like southeast Asia. Without the ability to ensure that tax cuts are, in fact, invested in new productive assets, Supply Side Economics cannot ensure any real linkage between tax cuts and the hoped-for economic boom.

Revealingly, Supply-Siders strenuously resisted calls to tie tax cuts to actual productive investments, that is, give the tax cut only after the investment had been made. This led critics to suspect the real motives behind the “theory.” The only thing that was certain was that the rich would become richer and revenues to the government would be lower. Beyond that, it is all just wishful thinking.

Contrast this wishful thinking with Demand Side Economics. Demand Side Economics, says that if taxes are to be cut, they should go to those who earn the least amount of money. The reason is that low-income workers spend virtually all of their incomes. Money given to them goes right back into circulation, fueling a boom in consumer spending. This is essentially the policy that rescued the U.S. economy from the Great Depression. This, say the Demand Side economists, is the real foundation for an expanding economy. How has this theory held up in practice?

Bill Clinton reversed Reagan’s Supply Side policies, raising taxes on the wealthy and lowering them on the working and middle class. This Demand Side formula was fiercely resisted by Republican leaders in Congress who predicted a stock market crash and another Great Depression. Indeed, every single Republican member of Congress voted against it. It took a tie-breaking vote by Al Gore in the Senate to get the bill passed. What happened?

The economy produced the longest sustained expansion in U.S. history. It created more than 22 million new jobs, the highest level of job creation ever recorded. Unemployment fell to its lowest level in over 30 years. Inflation fell to 2.5% per year compared to the 4.7% average over the prior 12 years. And overall economic growth averaged 4.0% per year compared to 2.8% average growth over the 12 years of the Reagan/Bush administrations.

It wasn’t even close. The economy performed dramatically better in almost every way once Supply Side policies were replaced with Demand Side policies.

As to the Republican and G.W.'s revival of Supply Side economics.....

The one thing the Supply Side revival did excel at — not surprisingly — is debt. Bush turned a $136 billion surplus from Bill Clinton into a $158 billion deficit in his first year. When he took office, the national debt stood at $5.8 trillion. It now stands at $8.1 trillion and is projected to hit $10 trillion by 2008 when Bush’s second term is over. The ten-year cumulative deficit forecast by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has changed from a $5.6 trillion surplus in January 2001 to a $3.4 trillion deficit in March of this year—an almost inconceivable swing of $9 trillion to the worse in only six years.

After more than 17 years of experience with Supply Side economics, we now know beyond doubt that this is not an accident.

These mammoth debts are a huge boon to that rich “base” that Bush loves to coddle.

This is most defiantly not a accident. It is the big-money corporate control of our government, and "Aunt Milly" be damned.

POLITICS - Veterans For Peace

"The lessons of war that few have learned" by John Grant, The philadelphia Inquirer

As I exited the Staten Island Ferry recently for an antiwar demonstration of 300,000 people down Broadway, a young man next to me noticed my VETERANS FOR PEACE T-shirt.

"What war?" he asked.


"Thanks for your service," he said.

"The war never should have happened," I told him. "It's not something to thank me for."

"Thanks, anyway," he said as we parted.

As a veteran, you get "Thanks for your service" a lot. It always irritates me. I never quite know how to respond because I'm not proud of my service in Vietnam, and don't feel I should be thanked for it.

I was 18 when I joined. I spent the most influential year of my life in Vietnam. Then I came home and educated myself. If people want to thank me, let them do it for what I learned from the experience, not for going there.

The main thing I learned? U.S. military interventions since World War II have generally been dishonest and in support of quite vicious governments. There's Iran in 1953 and Guatemala the next year. And, of course, Vietnam.

My service was hardly the stuff of national warrior myth. I was a kid, a radio direction finder in the mountains west of Pleiku locating enemy units so they could be destroyed. My job was to spin a silver antenna around and say here's a map coordinate, bomb it silly, and maybe, if I'm right, you'll hurt the enemy. Then again, if I'm wrong, you may level an innocent village.

You know ... the fog of war.

I'm not a pacifist, though I have friends who are. I will defend myself with violence to the best of my ability. I feel that way, as well, about the military. But like a pistol, the problem is in whose hands the pistol is held and what he or she does with it. The military we have now is more and more the instrument of imperial assumptions beyond even the electoral process.

I know there are people who will distort what I'm saying, and I understand how they might feel. By implication, I'm commenting on the service of others, suggesting that they might transcend all the patriotic and macho mind-wash and consider what their service in places like Vietnam actually accomplished.

Instead of the superficial "Thank you for your service" approach, what if we honestly examined experiences like Vietnam and used them to learn something?


Oh, by the way, thank you John for your "service opposing the invasion and occupation of Iraq."

From a fellow Vietnam Vet

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

CHURCH vs STATE - American Society & Islam

From the Encyclopedia Britannica on Islam

In AD 622, when the Prophet migrated to Medina, his preaching was soon accepted, and the community-state of Islam emerged. During this early period, Islam acquired its characteristic ethos as a religion uniting in itself both the spiritual and temporal aspects of life and seeking to regulate not only the individual's relationship to God (through his conscience) but human relationships in a social setting as well. Thus, there is not only an Islamic religious institution but also an Islamic law, state, and other institutions governing society. Not until the 20th century were the religious (private) and the secular (public) distinguished by some Muslim thinkers and separated formally in certain places such as Turkey.

This dual religious and social character of Islam, expressing itself in one way as a religious community commissioned by God to bring its own value system to the world through the jihad (“exertion,” commonly translated as “holy war” or “holy struggle”), explains the astonishing success of the early generations of Muslims.

The period of Islamic conquests and empire building marks the first phase of the expansion of Islam as a religion. The period of Islamic conquests and empire building marks the first phase of the expansion of Islam as a religion. Islam's essential egalitarianism within the community of the faithful and its official discrimination against the followers of other religions won rapid converts. Jews and Christians were assigned a special status as communities possessing scriptures and were called the “people of the Book” (ahl al-kitab) and, therefore, were allowed religious autonomy. They were, however, required to pay a per capita tax called jizyah, as opposed to pagans, who were required to either accept Islam or die.

The object of jihad is not the conversion of individuals to Islam but rather the gaining of political control over the collective affairs of societies to run them in accordance with the principles of Islam. Individual conversions occur as a by-product of this process when the power structure passes into the hands of the Muslim community.

Of course the lines I hi-lighted (bold) are wherein the problem with Islam lies when it comes to American government or society, our Constitution and its Bill of Rights.

What we have today in Muslim Fundamentalists and the Terrorists is their belief that we are essentially "pagans." Pagans who do not accept Islam and therefore must die. Add the general hatred of our support of Israel and we have an insoluble problem.

As long as they do not accept our view of secular government being separate from moral governance (religion) we will not see and end to Muslim Terrorist's Holy War.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

POLITICS - Just When Did America Become Myopic?

"Myopic America" by Ken Grandlund, Common Sense provides the following definition:

my·o·pi·a (n.) Lack of discernment or long-range perspective in thinking or planning.

Is it just me or have the American people fallen into a kind of stupor that allows them to accept the myopic worldview force fed to them on a daily basis by an incompetent and corrupt government and a complicit media establishment?

I mean really, what gives? When did our great experiment in Democracy, so cleverly envisioned by our founding forefathers, become little more than an exercise in futility disguised as representational government? At what point did people decide that the only thing that mattered was the here and now? When did we decide that our responsibility ended at the edge of our yard? And how did we get to this point?

...there's more.

OK, can you answer the question? Just when and how did America contract Myopia? When did we put on blinders or succumb to Tunnel Vision?

In truth, I already know the answers to some of the questions I posed earlier. I understand that for most people, simply staying ahead of the monthly bills and keeping the kids in school, fed, and on the straight and narrow takes up most of the available emotional and intellectual energy we have. I understand that in an increasingly complex world, the number of things happening make it impossible to focus too much on any specific governmental action or societal shift. I understand that before we can worry about what takes place outside our own personal borders, we must take care of ourselves. But at some point in our individual lives, we should be able to come to an understanding of sorts that the world extends beyond our own doorstep, and that what happens out in that world will eventually reach up to our own steps and change the way we live our own lives. It is the disconnect between that reality and our own actions that makes me scratch my head in wonder.

Well, maybe. But we really, really need to wake up or we are going to find ourselves inside prison walls we have built. We can become another North Korea in a few decades.

POLITICS - National Guard on the Boarder

Well, well, are we scrambling for a winning issue G.W.? Sweating it are we? Can't see over the lip of the hole you've dug?

"DHS Does About-Face In Backing Use of National Guard to Seal Border" by Patrick Yoest, CQ Staff

In December of 2005, Fox News talking head Bill O’Reilly floated an unlikely — even brash — idea to the Homeland Security secretary to seal off the porous southwest border.

“Why don’t you put the National Guard on the border to back up the border patrol and stop the bleeding, and then start to increase the Border Patrol, the high-tech and all of that?” O’Reilly asked.

Michael Chertoff, in those relatively calmer days before mass pro-immigration rallies, heated immigration reform politics in the Senate and cellar-dwelling opinion polls for President Bush, dismissed the idea out of hand.

“Well, the National Guard is really, first of all, not trained for that mission,” Chertoff told O’Reilly. “I mean, the fact of the matter is the border is a special place. There are special challenges that are faced there.”

Chertoff added that that it would take a huge amount of National Guard troops, that they would need new training. But couldn’t the National Guard pull it off, O’Reilly asked?

“I think it would be a horribly over-expensive and very difficult way to manage this problem,” Chertoff said. “Unless you would be prepared to leave those people in the National Guard day and night for month after month after month, you would eventually have to come to grips with the challenge in a more comprehensive way.”

Gosh! Gasp! A traitor in the Administration! He dares to disagree with King Gorge's decree. Off with his head!

Friday, May 12, 2006

HEALTHCARE - An Eye Opener

The following is an eye opener on healthcare in America.

"U.S. health care gets shamed again" by Dave Zweifel, The Capital Times

That study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week that compared the health of U.S. and British citizens spoke volumes about America's health care system.

Researchers from the U.S. and England were just trying to discover why poor people are less healthy than rich, but were astounded when their studies showed that poor people in England are actually as healthy as rich people in America and healthier when it comes to cases of diabetes, blood pressure and cancer.

But even more astounding to them was when comparing all white Brits with white Americans, regardless of income, the Americans have more diabetes, more heart disease, more respiratory problems and many more other diseases as well.

"It was a bit of a big shock," Michael Marmot of University College in London told National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." "I just didn't imagine we'd find it consistently across the board, with worse health in the United States compared with England."

Jim Smith of the Rand Corp. and one of the Americans who worked on the research added that, at first, no one wanted to believe the data.

But the results were quite clear it just isn't clear why.

The article goes on with a few examples, but the outstanding question is, if our healthcare system is so good, why the stark difference? Of course it could be that America's healthcare system is not as good as we have been told.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

POLITICS - Neither Borrower or Lender Be

Well that's one piece of sage advice that G.W. Bush and today's Republican Party don't follow.

"How will history treat the Bush administration?" John Eby, Daily News

According to the Treasury Department, the 42 presidents who occupied the White House between 1789 and 2000 borrowed a combined total of $1.01 trillion from foreign governments and financial institutions.

The Bush White House borrowed $1.05 trillion between 2001 and 2005 alone.

Yup, more than all previous chief executives combined.

George W. Bush inherited the largest federal surplus in American history in 2001 and turned it into the largest deficit ever, with $423 billion of red ink forecast for fiscal year 2006.

Real wages for middle America have eroded since the end of 2003. Last year, on average, wages grew by 2.4 percent. Gains were erased by 3.4-percent inflation.

This from the leader of the Republican Party, the "consecrative" party? Me thinks they have strayed a bit. No, wait a minute! I just figured it out! They just redefined the meaning of being conservative, it now means conserving more money for their rich contributers (aka bosses).

Off-Topic: "Republican strategist Kevin Phillips credits Bush with turning the GOP into the 'first religious party in U.S. history.'"

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

IRAN - Ahmadinejad's Letter to Bush

See the full text of "Ahmadinejad's Letter to Bush" at the Washington Post

Interesting reading.

POLITICS - Secrets, Lies and Democracy

The following are excerpts from "Secrets, Lies and Democracy" Interviews with Noam Chomsky, Copyright © 1994 by David Barsamian

Barsmain: "Clinton's National Security Advisor, Anthony Lake, is encouraging the enlargement of democracy overseas. Should he extend that to
the US?"

Chomsky: "I can't tell you what Anthony Lake has in mind, but the concept of democracy that's been advanced is a very special one, and the more honest people on the right describe it rather accurately. For example, Thomas Carothers, who was involved in what was called the "democracy assistance project" during the Reagan administration, has written a book and several articles about it."

"He says the US seeks to create a form of top-down democracy that leaves traditional structures of power -- basically corporations and their allies -- in effective control. Any form of democracy that leaves the traditional structures essentially unchallenged is admissible. Any form that undermines their power is as intolerable as ever."

Barsmain: "So there's a dictionary definition of democracy and then a real-world definition."

Chomsky:"The real-world definition is more or less the one Carothers describes. The dictionary definition has lots of different dimensions, but, roughly speaking, a society is democratic to the extent that people in it have meaningful opportunities to take part in the formation of public policy. There are a lot of different ways in which that can be true, but insofar as it's true, the society is democratic."

"A society can have the formal trappings of democracy and not be democratic at all. The Soviet Union, for example, had elections."

Barsmain: "The US obviously has a formal democracy with primaries, elections, referenda, recalls, and so on. But what's the content of this democracy in terms of popular participation?"

Chomsky: "Over long periods, the involvement of the public in planning or implementation of public policy has been quite marginal. This is a business-run society. The political parties have reflected business interests for a long time."

"One version of this view which I think has a lot of power behind it is what political scientist Thomas Ferguson calls "the investment theory of politics." He believes that the state is controlled by coalitions of investors who join together around some common interest. To participate in the political arena, you must have enough resources and private power to become part of such a coalition."

"Since the early nineteenth century, Ferguson argues, there's been a struggle for power among such groups of investors. The long periods when nothing very major seemed to be going on are simply times when the major groups of investors have seen more or less eye to eye on what public policy should look like. Moments of conflict come along when groups of investors have differing points of view."

"During the New Deal, for example, various groupings of private capital were in conflict over a number of issues. Ferguson identifies a high-tech, capital-intensive, export-oriented sector that tended to be quite pro-New Deal and in favor of the reforms. They wanted an orderly work force and an opening to foreign trade."

"A more labor-intensive, domestically oriented sector, grouped essentially around the National Association of Manufacturers, was strongly anti-New Deal. They didn't want any of these reform measures. (Those groups weren't the only ones involved, of course. There was the labor movement, a lot of public ferment and so on."

Barsmain: "You view corporations as being incompatible with democracy, and you say that if we apply the concepts that are used in political analysis, corporations are fascist. That's a highly charged term. What do you mean?"

Chomsky: "I mean fascism pretty much in the traditional sense. So when a rather mainstream person like Robert Skidelsky, the biographer of [British economist John Maynard] Keynes, describes the early postwar systems as modeled on fascism, he simply means a system in which the state integrates labor and capital under the control of the corporate structure."

"That's what a fascist system traditionally was. It can vary in the way it works, but the ideal state that it aims at is absolutist -- top-down control with the public essentially following orders."

"Fascism is a term from the political domain, so it doesn't apply strictly to corporations, but if you look at them, power goes strictly top-down, from the board of directors to managers to lower managers and ultimately to the people on the shop floor, typists, etc. There's no flow of power or planning from the bottom up. Ultimate power resides in the hands of investors, owners, banks, etc."

"People can disrupt, make suggestions, but the same is true of a slave society. People who aren't owners and investors have nothing much to say about it. They can choose to rent their labor to the corporation, or to purchase the commodities or services that it produces, or to find a place in the chain of command, but that's it. That's the totality of their control over the corporation."

"That's something of an exaggeration, because corporations are subject to some legal requirements and there is some limited degree of public control. There are taxes and so on. But corporations are more totalitarian than most institutions we call totalitarian in the political arena."

Radio listener: "I've often wondered about people who have a lot of power because of their financial resources. Is it possible to reach them with logic? "

Chomsky: "They're acting very logically and rationally in their own interests. Take the CEO of Aetna Life Insurance, who makes $23 million a year in salary alone. He's one of the guys who is going to be running our health-care program if Clinton's plan passes."

"Suppose you could convince him that he ought to lobby against having the insurance industry run the health-care program, because that will be very harmful to the general population (as indeed it will be). Suppose you could convince him that he ought to give up his salary and become a working person."

"What would happen then? He'd get thrown out and someone else would be put in as CEO. These are institutional problems."

Radio listener: "Why is it important to keep the general population in line?"

Chomsky: "Any form of concentrated power doesn't want to be subjected to popular democratic control -- or, for that matter, to market discipline. That's why powerful sectors, including corporate wealth, are naturally opposed to functioning democracy, just as they're opposed to functioning arkets...for themselves, at least."

"It's just natural. They don't want external constraints on their capacity to make decisions and act freely."

Radio listener: "And has that been the case?"

Chomsky: "Always. Of course, the descriptions of the facts are a little more nuanced, because modern "democratic theory" is more articulate and sophisticated than in the past, when the general population was called "the rabble." More recently, Walter Lippmann called them "ignorant and meddlesome outsiders." He felt that "responsible men" should make the decisions and keep the "bewildered herd" in line."

"Modern 'democratic theory' takes the view that the role of the public -- the "bewildered herd," in Lippmann's words -- is to be spectators, not participants. They're supposed to show up every couple of years to ratify decisions made elsewhere, or to select among representatives of the dominant sectors in what's called an "election." That's helpful, because it has a legitimizing effect."

"It's very interesting to see the way this idea is promoted in the slick PR productions of the right-wing foundations. One of the most influential in the ideological arena is the Bradley Foundation. Its director, Michael Joyce, recently published an article on this. I don't know whether he wrote it or one of his PR guys did, but I found it fascinating."

"It starts off with rhetoric drawn, probably consciously, from the left. When left liberals or radical activists start reading it, they get a feeling of recognition and sympathy (I suspect it's directed at them and at young people). It begins by talking about how remote the political system is from us, how we're asked just to show up every once in a while and cast our votes and then go home."

"This is meaningless, the article says -- this isn't real participation in the world. What we need is a functioning and active civil society in which people come together and do important things, not just this business of pushing a button now and then."

"Then the article asks, How do we overcome these inadequacies? Strikingly, you don't overcome them with more active participation in the political arena. You do it by abandoning the political arena and joining the PTA and going to church and getting a job and going to the store and buying something. That's the way to become a real citizen of a democratic society."

"Now, there's nothing wrong with joining the PTA. But there are a few gaps here. What happened to the political arena? It disappeared from the discussion after the first few comments about how meaningless it is."

"If you abandon the political arena, somebody is going to be there. Corporations aren't going to go home and join the PTA. They're going to run things. But that we don't talk about."

"As the article continues, it talks about how we're being oppressed by the liberal bureaucrats, the social planners who are trying to convince us to do something for the poor. They're the ones who are really running the country. They're that impersonal, remote, unaccountable power that we've got to get off our backs as we fulfill our obligations as citizens at the PTA and the office."

"This argument isn't quite presented step-by-step like that in the article -- I've collapsed it. It's very clever propaganda, well designed, well crafted, with plenty of thought behind it. Its goal is to make people as stupid, ignorant, passive and obedient as possible, while at the same time making them feel that they're somehow moving towards higher forms of participation."

Barsmain: "A book called America: Who Pays the Taxes?, written by a couple of Philadelphia Inquirer reporters, apparently shows that the amount of taxes paid by corporations has dramatically declined in the US."

Chomsky: "That's for sure. It's been very striking over the last fifteen years."

"Some years ago, a leading specialist, Joseph Pechman, pointed out that despite the apparently progressive structure that's built into the income tax system (that is, the higher your income, the higher your tax rate), all sorts of other regressive factors end up making everyone's tax rate very near a fixed percentage."

Barsmain: "In your discussions of democracy, you often refer to a couple of comments of Thomas Jefferson's."

Chomsky: "Jefferson died on July 4, 1826 -- fifty years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was signed. Near the end of his life, he spoke with a mixture of concern and hope about what had been achieved, and urged the population to struggle to maintain the victories of democracy."

"He made a distinction between two groups -- aristocrats and democrats. Aristocrats "fear and distrust the people, and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the higher classes." This view is held by respectable intellectuals in many different societies today, and is quite similar to the Leninist doctrine that the vanguard party of radical intellectuals should take power and lead the stupid masses to a bright future. Most liberals are aristocrats in Jefferson's sense. [Former Secretary of State] Henry Kissinger is an extreme example of an aristocrat."

"Democrats, Jefferson wrote, "identify with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe, although not the most wise, depository of the public interest." In other words, democrats believe the people should be in control, whether or not they're going to make the right decisions. Democrats do exist today, but they're becoming increasingly marginal."

"Jefferson specifically warned against "banking institutions and monied incorporations" (what we would now call "corporations") and said that if they grow, the aristocrats will have won and the American Revolution will have been lost. Jefferson's worst fears were realized (although not entirely in the ways he predicted)."

"Later on, [the Russian anarchist Mikhail] Bakunin predicted that the contemporary intellectual classes would separate into two groups (both of which are examples of what Jefferson meant by aristocrats). One group, the "red bureaucracy," would take power into their own hands and create one of the most malevolent and vicious tyrannies in human history."

"The other group would conclude that power lies in the private sector, and would serve the state and private power in what we now call state capitalist societies. They'd "beat the people with the people's stick," by which he meant that they'd profess democracy while actually keeping the people in line."

There is much, much more in this interview. More than I can quote here. But if you are a thoughtful person in the area of American politics, it is worth reading the entire transcript.

It does not matter if individuals agree or disagree with comments made, but it should make anyone think about American Democracy as it is today, even if the transcript is from 1994. That is if you are not sheep that can be easily herded by today's "shepherds."

POLITICS - Iran, A Nuclear Threat? Really?

Points to consider...

"The Final Say" by Eric Margolis, Toronto Sun (bold = my emphases)

Iran's nuclear program is a danger to the entire world, U.S. President George Bush warned again last week as Washington pressed the UN Security Council to impose sanctions.

The uproar certainly helped distract public attention from the Bush administration's mounting domestic and foreign policy woes. It also showed how few people understand the Iranian nuclear question.

Experts say Iran may be in a position to fabricate a crude nuclear weapon in 5-10 years, but all the current alarms about Iran ignore a basic reality of nuclear weapons.

A nuclear device is useless unless it can be delivered with moderate accuracy over medium to long distances. One reason I was among the few insisting in 2002 that Iraq posed no threat was because it had no delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction. Iraq's most advanced missile could fly only 130 km. Its aircraft couldn't carry a nuclear weapon.

Even if Iran could fabricate, miniaturize and harden a nuclear warhead (a difficult achievement), the maximum range of the country's most advanced missile -- the highly inaccurate Shahab-3 -- is only about 1,300 kms. Iran has no nuclear-capable aircraft.

The only way Iran could pose the grave nuclear threat to the U.S. that Bush and his aides loudly claim, would be to send a nuclear device by freighter or FedEx.

The CIA admits North Korea's Taep'o-dong missile can today hit North America with a nuclear warhead. India's developing ICBMs and sea-launched missiles will also be able to do so in a few years. Contrast Washington's nonchalance about these real programs with the contrived hysteria over Iran.

The question we need to ask, and get a credible answer from G.W.'s Administration, is this level of treat really, really worth the very possible chance of igniting a "Holy War" between the West and the Arab/Muslim world? Note the bold stress on "Holy War," because this is what we would be facing. War is bad enough, but fighting a war where the other side sees it as a religious war is infinitely bad.