Monday, February 28, 2005

The President in a bubble

Tom Engelhardt has written an amazing article entitled "Potemkin World… or the President in the Zone" that is published in TomDispatch. What he describes is downright creepy:

"The great motorcade," wrote Canadian correspondent Don Murray, "swept through the streets of the city… The crowds … but there were no crowds. George W. Bush's imperial procession through Europe took place in a hermetically sealed environment. In Brussels it was, at times, eerie. The procession containing the great, armour-plated limousine (flown in from Washington) rolled through streets denuded of human beings except for riot police. Whole areas of the Belgian capital were sealed off before the American president passed."

Murray doesn't mention the 19 American escort vehicles in that procession with the President's car (known to insiders as "the beast"), or the 200 secret service agents, or the 15 sniffer dogs, or the Blackhawk helicopter, or the 5 cooks, or the 50 White House aides, all of which added up to only part of the President's vast traveling entourage. Nor does he mention the huge press contingent tailing along inside the president's security "bubble," many of them evidently with their passports not in their own possession but in the hands of White House officials, or the more than 10,000 policemen and the various frogmen the Germans mustered for the President's brief visit to the depopulated German town of Mainz to shake hands with Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder.
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for Bush & Co., all life is lived inside a bubble carefully wiped clean of any traces of recalcitrant, unpredictable, roiling humanity, of anything that might throw their dream world into question. On the electoral campaign trail in 2004, George probably never attended an event in which his audience wasn't carefully vetted for, and often quite literally pledged to, eternal friendliness, not to say utter adoration. (Anyone who somehow managed to slip by with, say, a Kerry T-shirt on, was summarily ejected or even arrested.)

In a sense, our President's world has increasingly been filled with nothing but James Guckert clones. Guckert is, of course, the "journalist" who, using the alias Jeff Gannon, regularly attended presidential news conferences and lobbed softball questions George's way. The Gannon case, or "Gannongate," has -- are you surprised? -- hardly been touched on by most of the mainstream media despite its lurid trail leading to internet porn sites and a seamy underside of gay culture -- issues that normally would glue eyes to TV sets and sell gazillions of papers (and that in the Clinton era would have rocked the administration). On the other hand, it did cause an uproar in the world of the political Internet, where, if we were to be honest -- and stop claiming to be shocked, shocked -- we would quickly admit that almost all of George's world has essentially filled up with Gannons (though not necessarily with the porn connections).

After all, even the President's Crawford "ranch" is really a Gannon-style set. And in Germany and France, George and Condi, his new Secretary of State, managed to have town-hall style meetings only with audiences of European Gannons; audiences so carefully combed over that, on a continent whose public is largely in opposition to almost any Bush policy you might mention, not a single challenging question seems to have been asked. That certainly represents remarkable advanced planning. It's no easy thing, after all, constantly to rush ahead of a President and his key advisors and create a Potemkin world for them from which reality has been banished and in which no rough edges will ever be experienced.

It's a long article but I highly recommend it. Included is a very moving open letter to Bush written by an ordinary Iraqi.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The cost of war

I invite you to read "It’s Time To End The War On Terrorism As We Know It" by John Friedrich. Friedrich's suggestion is elegantly simple and, sadly, too sensible ever to be considered by the powers that be:

Redirecting resources from the Iraq occupation and the bloated military budget to confront worldwide poverty and suffering would go a long way toward winning back the “hearts and minds” of the people we need on our side. A shift in global opinion of U.S. foreign policy – particularly in the Middle East -- would help dry up the ground upon which violent extremists have been feeding and growing.


I leave you with two presidential quotes offered by Friedrich:

Even if one believes the Bush Administration’s rationale for fighting terrorism with war, the truth is that we can’t afford it – financially or morally. As former President Eisenhower said during his first term in office, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."


And this one:

President John F. Kennedy, giving an American University commencement address in June, 1963 at the height of the cold war said “let us not be blind to our differences -- but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.”

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Protests in Germany

It seems the German citizens took to the streets for Bush's visit as reported upon by this Reuters article entitled, "German protesters call Bush 'No. 1 Terrorist'" .

I especially call your attention to this postest sign's message that is directed to the American people:

We had our Hitler, now you have yours.


The words of James Madison

The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.


How true. Why don't we listen to the Founders?

Friday, February 25, 2005

Simon-kitty for Friday!

I want to feature Cynthia's wonderful cat named Simon on both blogs today. The picture I'm offering here is an oldie but goodie. Cynthia used to have this as a screen saver on her computer with the caption, "Kitty from Heaven". He's really looking very adorable in this pose!


Photo by Cynthia Burgess

What you can do about global warming

I have just discovered the website of the Natural Resources Defense Council and have signed up for the activist program. What I want to share with you today is their page outlining what each of us can do personally about global climate change. I don't know about you but I often feel helpless and hopeless in this regard. This is a wonderful page giving very specific advice about very specific actions to take. For example, I already knew how important it is to drive a fuel-efficient car but I didn't know that using fluorescent bulbs reduces carbon dioxide in the air. Do read the page entitled "How to Fight Global Warming". Here's a little excerpt that I find really intriguing:

Buy clean energy certificates. Another way to help spur the renewable energy market and cut global warming pollution is to buy "wind certificates" or "green tags," which represent clean power you can add to the nation's energy grid in place of electricity from fossil fuels. For information, see Green-e. And here's an innovation that's catching on: calculate the global warming pollution associated with your everyday activities, then buy enough certificates to offset them and become "climate neutral." Two places to learn how: NativeEnergy's WindBuilderssm program and Bonneville Environmental Foundation's Green Tags program. (NRDC worked with these two groups to make our February 2003 Rolling Stones concert to raise awareness about global warming climate neutral.)


Many thanks to Echidne of the Snakes (a great blog, by the way) for providing the link to NRDC.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The REAL agenda

"Hey, hey, ho, ho, Social Security has to go!"

-- a chant by college Republicans at a town hall meeting hosted by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.)

History repeats itself

Thom Hartmann has written an article entitled, "When Democracy Failed - 2005: The Warnings of History". It is about the parallels between Germany of the 1930s and what is happening in America today. I do urge you to read it. I know it is easy to tune out what is going on and just focus on our daily activities. Please be willing, however, to see, to know what is really happening.

Reflecting on that time, The American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983) left us this definition of the form of government the German democracy had become through Hitler's close alliance with the largest German corporations and his policy of using religion and war as tools to keep power: "fas-cism (f√Ęsh'iz'em) n. A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."

Today, as we face financial and political crises, it's useful to remember that the ravages of the Great Depression hit Germany and the United States alike. Through the 1930s, however, Hitler and Roosevelt chose very different courses to bring their nations back to power and prosperity.

Germany's response was to use government to empower corporations and reward the society's richest individuals, privatize much of the commons, stifle dissent, strip people of constitutional rights, bust up unions, and create an illusion of prosperity through government debt and continual and ever-expanding war spending.

America passed minimum wage laws to raise the middle class, enforced anti-trust laws to diminish the power of corporations, increased taxes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals, created Social Security, and became the employer of last resort through programs to build national infrastructure, promote the arts, and replant forests.

To the extent that our Constitution is still intact, the choice is again ours.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Another Gannon-Guckert article

This one was originally in Salon and was picked up by Common Dreams. It is by Eric Boehlert and is entitled, "Gannongate: It's Worse Than You Think".Here's an excerpt:

When the press first raised questions about why Jim Guckert had been awarded access to the White House press room for two years running while he worked for Talon News, critics charged that Talon, with its amateurish standards and close working ties to Republican activists, did not qualify as a legitimate news organization. It turns out the truth is even stranger: Guckert was waved into the White House while working for an even more blatantly partisan organization, GOPUSA.
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This is not how the White House press office has traditionally worked. "When I was there we didn't let political operatives in. It was completely contrary to what the press room should be used for," says Joe Lockhart, who served as White House press secretary to President Clinton during his second term. Asked what would have happened if a reporter from a clearly partisan operation, say "Democrats Today," had requested a White House press pass, Lockhart said that if the chief of the Democratic National Committee were attending an event at the White House, then perhaps the Democrats Today reporter might be allowed in for that one day. "But to be admitted as a reporter and sit in a chair and act like a reporter" for months on end the way Guckert did? "No," said Lockhart, "that's not within the realm of what [is] proper."


It's a good article. And it sums up the issues thoroughly and succinctly.

That mainstream press

Okay. I'm going to ask the question again. Why isn't the mainstream press just screaming about the Gannon-Guckert affair? Why are they willing to give this man an easy pass - not to mention the White House? Is it because the press was bought and paid for some time ago and we simply cannot expect unbiased reporting from them ever again? If this situation had happened during the Clinton administration it would be headline news for weeks, it would be the occasion for bringing the president down. And the scandal that's barely being reported should bring this president down. Gene Lyons addresses the matter in an article ironically entitled, "'Outing' ignored by liberal media". Here's an excerpt:

Citizens, it's finally happened. An alleged former male prostitute has been unmasked among the White House press corps. If this comes as a surprise, don't blame liberal media bias. For once, there's a Washington sex scandal our fastidious "mainstream" press mostly wishes to avoid. Why? Good question. By day, "Jeff Gannon" posed as White House correspondent for a fictitious news organization called Talon News, an Internet site that is a subsidiary of GOPUSA. com. That's a Texas-based Web site bankrolled by one Bobby Eberle, an activist now depicted as virtually unknown in Texas GOP circles, even though he was a Bush delegate to the 2000 Republican National Convention.

"Gannon" was granted day passes to White House press briefings and news conferences, where he routinely lobbed softball questions to press secretary Scott McClellan. MSNBC's acerbic news anchor, Keith Olbermann, almost alone among TV journalists in giving the story the coverage it deserves, has aired hilarious pastiches of "Gannon's" servile questioning of Mc-Clellan on his "Countdown" program.

What does the affair tell us about White House security amid the "war on terror"? That's hard to say. So far nobody's explained how a man with no journalistic credentials and a phony name passed muster with the Secret Service. One reasonable presumption might be that a high-ranking White House official must have vouched for him, but given the Washington press' reluctance and GOP control of Congress, we may never know.


I recommend the whole article. It's hard to face the loss of the free and independent press but it's better that we know than not.

Communications professor Mark Crispin Miller put it this way in an interview with BuzzFlash:

The media's bizarre avoidance of this very juicy story makes a few things very clear--or I should say, very clear again. First of all, it's further proof that there is no "liberal bias" in the US corporate press--none whatsoever. It also reconfirms the fact that this media system is not simply "sensationalistic," and therefore apt to print whatever lurid stories its employees can dig up. There is a tabloid element, of course, but it works according to a double standard that is more ideological than commercial. Simply put, the US media reports sex scandals only when they seem to tar "the left," i.e., the Democratic party. As long as they involve the Democrats, the press is clearly willing to report such scandals even when they're fabricated. On the other hand, the press goes deaf and blind to "moral" scandals that involve Republicans, no matter how egregious and well-documented....

It's typical. There was a big sex scandal back in 1989, reported by, of all organs, the Washington Times, which broke the story of a male prostitution ring with lots of clients in the Reagan and Bush I administrations, and a midnight tour of the White House by six revelers, two of them male prostitutes. Did anybody ever hear of that again? ...

William Bennett's gambling got a lot of press, but his employment of Mistress Lee was not reported anywhere. Gary Condit's affair with--and alleged murder of--Chandra Levy was The Story You Could Not Escape for weeks right up to 9/11, even though there was no evidence that he had harmed her. On the other hand, Laurie Klausutis, an intern in Joe Scarborough's office, was allegedly murdered, right in his office, but it was all, some would contend, hushed up completely (and yet Scarborough sometimes whines about it anyway). We heard a lot about Woody Allen's situation--Newt Gingrich even crowed that it was typical "liberal" behavior--but when it turned out that the president of Hillsdale College, a far-right institution, had been boffing his own daughter-in-law, who went and blew her brains out in despair, that icky item had no legs. In fact, it had no torso, and no head. It simply wasn't, because the press will not go there when it involved the right.

This is why I get all my news from the internet - from foreign newspapers and articles I find through progressive sites and from the major bloggers. I simply don't trust the mainstream media to report what's really happening.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Discomfort with Europe

Today I'm offering you an article about Bush's dislike of all things European and of how obviously difficult it is for him to be enduring a week there. Bill Gallagher analyses this situation in "An American president in Europe: Just not Bush's kind of place".

Feel our president's pain. He's in Europe on a diplomatic mission and he's squirming, mechanically going through his duties, checking his watch and dreaming of the flight back home and a return to his Texas dacha. For George W. Bush, this is an ordeal he'd love to avoid, but he must, at least, show the world he's trying, however disingenuously, to improve U.S. relations with Europe.

Bush loves any visit to a military base or aircraft carrier, where he can address the folks in uniform. The cheers and adoration are guaranteed. He craves those opportunities. His eyes light up and he struts around like a bantam rooster.

For Bush, a visit to Europe rates below even news conferences or an actual conversation with a real, unscreened American not used for political prop purposes.


Also discussed is how difficult it is for Bush to let go of his rigid routine.

Perhaps most disturbing for Bush is that foreign trips throw him off his routine and unmask his thinly veiled impatience and irritability.

Americans need reminding that our leader is a classic "dry drunk," whose untreated addiction leaves him seriously flawed, even dangerous.

He shows growing signs of megalomania. His pomposity is apparent. He is consumed with single-minded obsessions, and his rigidity and aversion to introspection are legendary.

Dr. Justin Frank, a Washington, D.C.-based psychiatrist, understands the president's disability and describes it in detail in his book, "Bush on the Couch." Bouncing from Belgium to Germany will upset George W.'s emotional equilibrium. As Dr. Frank observed, "The rigidity of Bush's behavior is perhaps most readily apparent in his well-documented reliance on his daily routine -- the famously short meetings, sacrosanct exercise schedule, daily Bible readings and limited office hours. A healthy person's able to alter his routine; a rigid one cannot."

Our rigid ruler will painfully endure his week in Europe.


None of this is new. But having our president in Europe is a disturbing reminder of some of his characteristics.

Monday, February 21, 2005

That Bulge Again

There are a number of stories the mainstream media should be screaming about nonstop but have either ignored altogether or managed so to downplay that they have almost withered on the vine. Included are these:

1. The outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame
2. The accuracy of the content of the memos about Bush going AWOL
3. The Gannon-Guckert gay-prostitute-fake-journalist story
4. The bulge under Bush's jacket during the debates

Smirking Chimp has published another article about issue number 4 by Dick Ahles entitled "The battle of the (Bush) bulge" that tells how the story was killed by the mainstream media. If you're not outraged, I don't know why not.

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), an online media watchdog, is now reporting that all the White House theories became inoperative in late October when the photo was enhancedby a NASA scientist to better examine the bulge . Robert Nelson has spent 30 years as an astronomer with NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Cal Tech and is part of a photo enhancement team for the Saturn space probe. He concluded the bulge wasn't doctored or the result of a sartorial mishap, but looked for all the world like a device for receiving electronically transmitted material. The photo is available by going to www.fair.org and clicking on the story entitled “The Emperor's New Hump.”

FAIR says Nelson failed to interest newspapers in California and Pittsburgh before offering his photo and findings to The New York Times, which assigned three reporters to the story. On Oct. 26, reporter John Schwartz e-mailed Nelson that the story was “shaping up very nicely, but my editors have asked me to hold off for one day while they push through a few other stories that are ahead of us in line,” according to FAIR.

The next day, Oct. 27 and just six days before the Nov. 2 election, the story failed to appear and Nelson was told it had been killed. The Kerry campaign, as was its habit, blew an opportunity. If Kerry had commented,the media would have given the bulge question the attention it deserved.


The president almost certainly cheated during the debate. The American people had a right to know and they were not informed. The big newspapers and network news organizations should be shouting this from the housetops. Me, I just shout it from my little blog.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The White House Mole

The articles keep being published about Jim Guckert (aka Jeff Gannon) and still the mainstream press refuses to treat the story as the major scandal it undoubtedly is. The mainstream American press, I should say. Because the British newspaper, the Guardian, has indeed offered a thorough report on the issue along with an analysis of what's wrong with the Fourth Estate in the United States. Entitled "The mole, the US media and a White House coup", the article is by Paul Harris.

[Gannon] was writing under a false name and working for a Republican front organisation. Suddenly, his 'softball' questions to White House officials looked less like eccentricities and more like plotting by an administration which has frequently displayed a dark mastery of the arts of press control.

When it emerged that Gannon was also linked to gay prostitution websites and might be a gay prostitute himself, the scandal as to how he was allowed daily access to the White House grew even murkier. The American media is now being forced to confront the possibility that Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, was simply a Republican plant, used by officials, including President George W Bush, to ask easy questions in difficult press conferences. 'The idea of having a mole in the White House press corp is amazing, but that's what it looks like,' said Jack Lule, a journalism professor at Lehigh University.


Harris takes a look at just how the White House practices this art of press control by reminding us of the recent stories concerning journalists for hire as well as outright deception using the medium of television.

Last week a federal watchdog warned the Bush administration that any video news releases must state that the government is the source. Twice in two years, government departments have been accused of distributing fake news packages, using actors as journalists.


The ridiculous idea that we have a "liberal media" is also discussed.

Right-wing media ratcheted up the long-standing conservative complaint that the media is dominated by liberal publications. Though many journalism experts deny that is the case, the image has settled in the American consciousness, forcing newspapers, magazines and television stations to go out of their way to prove they are not liberal. 'We have a conservative media and also a mainstream media, which is also now fairly conservative because it has been forced to deny being liberal,' said Lule.

The Gannon case is a prime illustration. If, during the Clinton administration, a fake reporter from a Democrat front organisation, using a false name, had been exposed as attending White House press conferences it would have been a national scandal. If he had then been shown to be a gay prostitute, the scandal could have threatened a Democrat presidency. With 'Gannon' and Bush there has been no such outcry. The mainstream media has approached the story warily, while right-wing organisations such as Fox News have largely ignored it.


Finally, the role of the blogosphere is examined.

It was not the mainstream media that exposed Gannon, but left-wing website Media Matters for America which enlisted other liberal bloggers to help. All the significant breaks in the story emerged online, forcing Gannon to resign, reveal his real name and go into hiding.

Some commentators see the emergence of blogging as a media force as a liberating phenomenon. Unlike the mainstream media, blogging is cheap, easy and open to anyone regardless of qualification or background or money. 'Blogging gives a voice to those who were previously silent,' said Ananda Mitra, a communications professor at Wake Forest University.

Others see it as part of the trend towards partisan journalism. Spearheaded by the nakedly right-wing Fox News, journalism in America has come to resemble a political shouting match rather than any form of debate of the issues. But with soaring viewership, Fox has emerged as one of the most powerful forces in the media landscape. Other networks, such as CNN and MSNBC, have sought to copy Fox's personality-led and opinion-based news.


I keep waiting for the Gannon-Guckert story to get the attention it deserves in the mainstream press. Until then I'll raise my little voice along with all the other liberal bloggers in protest against the way it's being minimized. For the Republicans to plant a mole in the White House press corps is simply beyond outrageous.

Friday, February 18, 2005

No Saturday Blogging

I will be away from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon and will not have internet access so no posting on Saturday. But I've given you extra Friday postings!

See you Sunday!

Sign here to save the planet

Please read this article entitled, "Sign Here to Save the Planet" published by Grist Magazine. Then go to Kyoto and Beyond and sign the petition. Why? Here's why:

History and nature are on a collision course. And we are trapped at ground zero.

As the signals from the climate become excruciatingly urgent, the Bush administration turns its back on the challenge, the U.S. press remains in denial, and the environmental establishment agonizes over its own relevance. All the while, we are, as the British paper The Independent put it, sleepwalking into the Apocalypse.

What on earth is a person supposed to do?

The existential choices are few and barren. We can try to find a safe haven in, say, New Zealand -- but there's no escaping a global threat. We can defy a history of futility and try, yet again, to appeal to the humanitarian instincts of ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy. We can go into hibernation for four more years. Or we can try, as individuals and organizations, to bring the U.S. in line with the rest of the world.

That's what a small group is attempting with today's launch of a nationwide signature-gathering drive for a People's Ratification of the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty. Last year, longtime New York-area activists Ted Glick, Connie Hogarth, and the Rev. Paul Mayer put together the Climate Crisis Coalition, an umbrella group that includes environmentalists, religious leaders, campus organizers, peace groups, and activists working on indigenous rights, environmental justice, and human-rights issues.


Every signature makes a difference. Put yours to work. Then send this information on to everyone in your address book. Our very lives depend on it.

Friday Cat Blogging!

Here's Ethel - still quite feral. I've tried to tame her and she will let me pet her when I feed her but if I make a wrong move she hisses and swats at me. And she will run off if I try to pet her any other time. Still, she know that the area around my house is her territory and she cuddles up with Edgar in the little pet igloo I have for them.

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

The scandal that oughta be

Doug Griffin has written an article entitled "Hypocrisy knows no bounds" that is published by Smirking Chimp. Yesterday, the Washington Post published an article about the Jeff Gannon scandal that was buried in the "Style" section. The story needs to be on the front page and you'd better bet it would be if there were a Democrat in the White House.

This guy Jeff Gannon/James Guckert (hereafter called Jimmy-Jeff - has a bit of Texas flavor doesn't it?) has to have something on someone extremely high up in our government. Why else would a former/possibly current male prostitute with no journalistic experience whatsoever be allowed access to the White House press room for 2 years - on day passes, no less? Why else would he have been given access to the West Wing? Why else would he have information about the Valerie Plame memo? Remember, this guy was denied a permanent pass and also denied access to cover the Capitol because of his questionable credentials as a journalist. Jimmy-Jeff is the skeleton in someone's closet.
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For all the self-righteous indignation conservatives displayed during the Lewinski scandal, this is well-deserved. People in glass houses should not throw stones. And if the Jimmy-Jeff scandal had happened to Clinton this would be all over our televisions and talk radio for the next several weeks. Save for a few peeps here and there, so far mum's the word.

Will the mainstream press do its job? That is the question, isn't it?

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Climate Change in Pictures

The BBC has a series of pictures that demonstrate the effects of global warming. Go here to see them. This is very alarming, really.

Ignoring the REAL crisis

Yes, I'm giving you another article on global climate change. Why? Because nothing else will matter anymore if we don't have a planet that can sustain human life. Randolph T. Holhut writes about it in an article entitled, "The Bush style of crisis management" published by Smirking Chimp:

At the risk of sounding callous, the Social Security debate is about politics and in the long run isn't that important compared to the ultimate survival of the planet. Changing Social Security will hurt, but not nearly as much as the damage that's likely to happen if global warming isn't addressed.

The things already happening should scare the hell out of you. Last year was the warmest year on record. Florida and the Caribbean were hit by a succession of massive hurricanes on a scale never before seen.

Natural disasters such as flooding, droughts and storms are happening around the world more frequently and more severely than ever before.

There is so much fresh water entering the oceans from melting glaciers and the polar ice caps that the Gulf Stream may stop flowing and bring Europe another ice age by the end of the century.

The Amazon rainforest is drying out and could be gone within the next 50 years. One in 10 plant and animal species may be extinct by 2050.


He doesn't even mention what's happening to our oceans and that the coral reefs are dying. I really do urge activism on this issue. Write your congressperson and senators. Give to environmental groups. Hold this issue in the forefront of your consciousness and tell others about it. The ignorance out there is massive. And the denial will simply destroy us. We must do something and soon or humanity will perish.

Walmart's Sweetheart Deal

Please don't patronize Walmart. Please. Walmart is the main reason we have overseas outsourcing of manufacturing jobs. They pressure manufacturers to give them low prices so that the companies have to use sweatshop labor overseas in order to meet Walmart's demands. Then other companies move their manufacturing overseas in order to compete. Walmart is terrible to its workers and engages in union-busting activities. Because Walmart offers such low wages and because benefits are so expensive (read: unaffordable) the community at large ends up subsidizing Walmart's labor. We pay for the food stamps Walmart associates apply for. We pay for the Medicaid and emergency care they use because they can't afford medical insurance.

And now we learn that Walmart violates child labor laws. Jonathan Tasini writes about this in an article entitled, "Walmart's Sweetheart Deal" published by TomPaine.

The administration has gotten used to the idea that it can hoodwink us (weapons of mass destruction, a phony Social Security “crisis”), which is part of the lens through which we should view the recent Wal-Mart scandal. After Wal-Mart was found breaking the law on child labor, the government fined the company a measly $135,000 (and change) and signed a deal with Wal-Mart that says "Next time we want to investigate what laws you might be breaking, we’re going to tell you about the investigation before we do it"—just to give you enough time to cover your tracks, shred documents or muddle the trail.

Of course, this is absurd and can only exist in a world where a tax cut for the rich is called the “Jobs and Growth Plan.” But there is a different part of this whole game that has annoyed me for a long time and has been missed by the media coverage (which has been scant). While The New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse deserves kudos for bringing to light the story of the Department of Labor’s promise to alert Wal-Mart prior to launching an investigation, the big point is this: Wal-Mart endangers children and then gets away with a fine of 135 grand and change. Does anyone have a calculator to figure out what percentage that financial “penalty” represents to a company that had sales of $256 billion in 2003 or to the five Walton kids who are worth almost $100 billion? And, by the way, that damn fine is considered a business expense that Wal-Mart deducts from its taxes (unlike poor slobs like you and me, who cannot deduct legal fines).

Moreover, as part of the deal with the government, the company signed a paper that says it denied any wrongdoing. So the whole game is a hoax and charade. Everyone knows Wal-Mart broke the law. But using spin and doublespeak befitting a political race, the government says Wal-Mart will pay a fine, making it appear as if the government is really doing something about an act the company continues to say it didn’t do. It’s appalling.


It is appalling. Do read the whole article for the whole picture. And I said it before and I'll say it again: Please don't shop at Walmart.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Molly Ivins on "Tort Deform"

Everybody deserves his or her day in court. But not according to Bush and Co. who are determined to destroy the little person's ability to obtain justice. So-called "tort reform" is also the Republican Party's way of undermining the Democratic Party's funding as many large contributions come from trial lawyers. It is, by the way, completely inaccurate to suggest that tort reform will lower health care costs. First of all, malpractice awards account for less than 1% of all medical costs. Secondly, in states that have already enacted tort reform, malpractice insurance premiums have not gone down.

Molly Ivin's discusses this issue in her latest column, "Tort Deform", in which she reports on the indictment of W.R. Grace and Co. for exposing people to asbestos. Do remember that Bush called lawsuits involving asbestos "frivolous" in his State of the Union speech. Frankly I find that beyond outrageous.

Hundreds of miners, their family members and townsfolk in Libby, Mont., have died, and at least 1,200 more are sick from breathing the air polluted by the mine. Since the ore was shipped all over the country and was used as insulation in millions of homes, the total health effects are incalculable. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer deserves credit for bringing Grace to public attention with a series back in 1999.
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The indictments... were based on tens of thousands of internal communications among the top health, marketing and legal managers at Grace about how to conceal the danger of asbestos in both the ore from the Libby mine and the products that were made from it. Their memos include discussion of how to keep investigators from studying the health of the miners, how to keep safety warnings off their products and how to hide the hazards of working with asbestos ore.


Ivins goes on to write:

Against this timely reminder of what the tort system is designed to deter or punish, the Senate voted for the "Class Action Fairness Act" (love those cute names they keep giving rotten bills) 72 to 26. There is no "flood of frivolous lawsuits" -- in fact, tort claims are declining and only 2 percent of injured people ever sue for compensation to begin with.


This is, quite simply, a travesty of justice. We are fast becoming a society without corporate accountability. And countless numbers of people will be injured with impunity as a result.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The reality of climate change

George Monbiot has written an eloquent article in the Guardian about the reality of climate change as the Kyoto treaty goes into effect tomorrow. To say it is outrageous that the U.S. is not participating is truly an understatement. Entitled "Mocking our Dreams" the piece includes these focused paragraphs:

...[T]here is a well-funded industry whose purpose is to reassure us, and it is granted constant access to the media. We flatter its practitioners with the label "skeptics". If this is what they were, they would be welcome. Skepticism (the Latin word means "inquiring" or "reflective") is the means by which science advances. Without it we would still be rubbing sticks together. But most of those we call skeptics are nothing of the kind. They are PR people, the loyalists of Exxon Mobil (by whom most of them are paid), commissioned to begin with a conclusion and then devise arguments to justify it. Their presence on outlets such as the BBC's Today program might be less objectionable if, every time Aids was discussed, someone was asked to argue that it is not caused by HIV, or, every time a rocket goes into orbit, the Flat Earth Society was invited to explain that it could not possibly have happened. As it is, our most respected media outlets give Exxon Mobil what it has paid for: they create the impression that a significant scientific debate exists when it does not.

But there's a much bigger problem here. The denial of climate change, while out of tune with the science, is consistent with, even necessary for, the outlook of almost all the world's economists. Modern economics, whether informed by Marx or Keynes or Hayek, is premised on the notion that the planet has an infinite capacity to supply us with wealth and absorb our pollution. The cure to all ills is endless growth. Yet endless growth, in a finite world, is impossible. Pull this rug from under the economic theories, and the whole system of thought collapses.

And this, of course, is beyond contemplation. It mocks the dreams of both left and right, of every child and parent and worker. It destroys all notions of progress. If the engines of progress - technology and its amplification of human endeavor - have merely accelerated our rush to the brink, then everything we thought was true is false. Brought up to believe that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, we are now discovering that it is better to curse the darkness than to burn your house down.


I know I've offered you many postings on global climate change since starting this blog. But I truly believe there is no issue more important. In fact there is no issue as important. For if we don't save our planet, if we don't preserve the foundation of life in our world, all the other issues will be irrelevant.

The SCLM

Bloggers often refer to the SCLM. It's an acronym that stands for "So Called Liberal Media". Do you get as tired as I do hearing the media called "liberal"? It is anything but that. The article I want to share with you today takes on that myth and also paints a picture of what a truly liberal news organization would look like. In an article entitled, "The Liberal Media", David Podvin discusses the issue:

Conservatives insist that the major problem with American politics is the bias of the liberal mainstream media, but the liberal mainstream media is a childish myth, not unlike unicorns or leprechauns or William Bennett’s virtue. The real problem is that democracy becomes a farce when votes are cast based on corporate propaganda, and in a nation where a network anchorman recently was fired for telling the truth about his employer’s amoral political benefactor, corporate propaganda is the coin of the realm.

As George Soros and other wealthy Democrats analyze the best ways to subsidize the improvement of the American political system, they should realize that nothing would improve this country more than having a powerful liberal media to counteract the reportorial charlatans of the Fortune 500. If journalists were allowed to expose the Republican Party’s blatant criminality, the conservative movement would quickly be discredited and disempowered. As a result, there would be no wars of conquest resulting in massive loss of innocent human life. The Treasury would not be looted for the benefit of multinational conglomerates. Federal judgeships would not be reserved for segregationists and theocrats. The environment would not be used as an industrial septic tank.
...
Since the mainstream media is irredeemably corrupt, liberals need to have their own communications infrastructure. The dominant medium in the United States is television, so to communicate effectively the progressive cause requires a national TV network that unapologetically presents each day’s events from the liberal perspective. The narratives must be kept simple and feature good guys versus bad guys because for most Americans nuance is a foreign language.
...
A liberal broadcasting network would act as a braking mechanism on right wing disinformation campaigns, and that would severely inhibit the proliferation of conservative urban myths. There should be entire shows devoted to reviewing the other networks’ broadcasts for the purpose of fact correction, with a permanent debunking unit specifically designed to spring into action whenever the corporate media practices character assassination against liberals.


I hope this is possible. The absence of a watchdog, free press is what makes me really depressed about the current political climate. I simply don't watch television news anymore - nor do I read my local newspaper for world news. I read international newspapers on the internet and spend a fair amount of time each day doing just that. But most people won't. Most people will believe what the mainstream press feeds them. And that is very worrying indeed.

Monday, February 14, 2005

This Fragile Earth

I want to share two articles with you today about ecological matters. One is entitled "Global Warming: 'Tragedy of the Commons' Revisited" found in Agence France Presse. The point is made that when a resource - such as grazing land - is shared in common, people tend not to conserve if other people refuse to conserve even if it's clear that matters will only be made worse by that decision. Naturally this tendency is a dilemma that besets the Kyoto Protocol.

The reasoning: Individuals see no point in making a sacrifice if others continue to use a common asset. Even if everyone is aware of the risk of abuse, the mix of selfishness, competitiveness and unregulated exploitation eventually makes the land unusable for all.

Swap the common land for Earth's atmosphere and overgrazing for greenhouse gases and you have the greatest environmental challenge of the early 21st century: how to tackle climate change.
...
Only a small number of countries are being asked to make real sacrifices for the global good. The other countries, in effect, get a free ride.

The pact commits industrialized countries to make targeted curbs in emissions of six greenhouse gases by 2008-2012. This carries a cost because their economies will have to improve fuel efficiency and convert to cleaner energy.
...
But the deal does not include fast-growing populous countries like China, already the world's second biggest CO2 polluter, and India.

Nor does it include the United States, which is responsible for a third of all global CO2 emissions and says meeting its Kyoto targets would cost too much.

Even if Kyoto is enacted in full, industrialized signatories will at best reduce their emissions by a couple of percent over 1990: not even a dent on global emissions.


The other article I want to share is about the response of an organization of which I'm a member to some proposed legislation. The article is entitled, "Ocean Conservancy Applauds Marine Debris Legislation: Newly Introduced Bill Will Help Reduce Widespread Environmental Threat".

WASHINGTON -- February 11 -- The Ocean Conservancy thanks Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and co-sponsor Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) for introducing The Marine Debris Research and Reduction Act (S.362), an important and timely piece of legislation to help stem the tide of marine debris. Every year thousands of marine animals including seals, dolphins, and sea birds die needlessly because of entanglement in, or ingestion of, debris and trash that finds its way to the oceans.

"Marine debris such as discarded fishing line and nets are responsible for killing or injuring thousands of marine mammals, fish and birds every year," said Seba Sheavly, Director of The Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup. "This bill is a great step forward in addressing some of these major sources of dangerous marine debris. It will expand the existing body of science, contribute to our understanding of its sources, and lead to more effective prevention."


Please write to members of Congress - both your own senators and congressmen and others - and urge them to support this bill. You can send an email automatically to your senator by going here. I also would like to recommend The Ocean Conservancy as one of your charitable concerns. Explore their website and, if you feel so moved, please donate.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

When the right veers left

Have you heard about the theologically conservative minister who is having formal charges brought against him by the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America? The seminary president has already been ousted from his job for having officiated at his gay daughter's wedding.

In his Newsday article entitled "When it's personal, the right veers left", Ellis Henican discusses what happens in the conservative mind when life gets a little messy:

Nancy Reagan supports stem-cell research after her Ronnie gets sick.

Dick Cheney opposes the gay-marriage ban after his daughter comes out.

Rush Limbaugh is suddenly an advocate of treatment - not prison - for people addicted to narcotics. Oh, I almost forgot: The epiphany comes while Rush is being investigated for drugs.

The list goes on and on: prominent conservative figures, forced to question some sweeping social principle, after being rudely interrupted by the messy realities of life.


Sometimes I think the failure of compassion is really a failure of imagination. Right wing idealogues just can't imagine the possibility that something could happen in their lives such that they would need to be a little flexible in their approach to social issues. They just can't imagine that someone they love might be hurt by rigidity and judgment. They just can't imagine that they or a loved one might become catastrophically sick or disabled and need a social safety net. How to raise consciousnesses among such people? I don't know. I really don't know. But I do commend this article to you. It's ironic. And so true.

Mothers Against the Draft

I have just discovered a new website called "Mothers Against the Draft". They are now in the process of testing their site for bugs and other problems and will officially begin their campaign tomorrow, February 14.

It's hard to know what position to take on this issue. The 23rd amendment states that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude...shall exist within the United States" and so I think it can be argued that a draft is unconstitutional. However we now have what amounts to an economic draft. The poor serve in disproportionate numbers because military service is often the only opportunity such young people have to better their lives. I also don't think there will be any major and continued protest against the war until middle and upper class young people are conscripted.

Still, this is a site worth visiting for the careful research it sponsors and the information it reports. Here is a quote from the front page:

There are few questions with more serious consequences to the future of our children and grandchildren than the possibility that Congress will re-institute the draft or some other form of involuntary service. As mothers and citizens, we have a right to know, and a duty to find out, where our Congressman stands on this critical issue.

To help you keep up with the latest developments on a new draft, we have organized and categorized a few of the hundreds of news stories, commentaries, policy papers, government documents, publications, and pending legislation we've read, and placed them in our News and Research rooms so that you can easily scan them for yourself.

Based on our own research, we believe that the threat of a new draft is very real and now is the time to take action to stop it. If you share our concern, join us today and make your voice heard.


Saturday, February 12, 2005

Good news folks!

Howard Dean is the new chair of the Democratic National Committee. Here's what he said:

Republicans wandered around in the political wilderness for 40 years before they took back Congress.

But the reason that we lost control is because we forgot why we were entrusted with that control in the first place, The American people cannot afford to wait for 40 more years for us to put Washington back to work for them. It won't take us that long -- not if we stand up for what we believe in, organize at the local level, and recognize that strength does not come from the consultants down. It comes from the grass roots up.

...[T]here is something that this administration and the Republican Party are very afraid of -- it is that we may actually begin fighting for what we believe: fiscally responsible, socially progressive values for which Democrats have always stood and fought.

...We believe that a lifetime of work earns you a retirement of dignity. We will not let that be put at risk by leaders who continually invent false crises to justify policies that don't work, in this case borrowing from our children, shredding our social safety net in the process.


Time to give money to the Democratic Party to reward them for this decision. A bloggers page for this has gone up at ActBlue. Go there! Give what you can! Tell Dean, "We've got your back!"

What they really voted for

The Nation has an article ("Getting the Purple Finger") by Naomi Klein that details what the Iraqi people really voted for.

The election results are in: Iraqis voted overwhelmingly to throw out the US-installed government of Iyad Allawi, who refused to ask the United States to leave. A decisive majority voted for the United Iraqi Alliance; the second plank in the UIA platform calls for "a timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq."

There are more single-digit messages embedded in the winning coalition's platform. Some highlights: "Adopting a social security system under which the state guarantees a job for every fit Iraqi...and offers facilities to citizens to build homes." The UIA also pledges "to write off Iraq's debts, cancel reparations and use the oil wealth for economic development projects." In short, Iraqis voted to repudiate the radical free-market policies imposed by former chief US envoy Paul Bremer and locked in by a recent agreement with the International Monetary Fund.


Do you think these things are going to happen? Bush rejected a timetable out of hand. So did Blair. As far as debt relief and guaranteed jobs go, I'm not holding my breath.

It's a good article about the election and how the American press covered it.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Sickeningly true

Condoleezza Rice has warned Iran to stop its nuclear program. They say stop the nuclear program or face the next step. ... And the next step being fabrication of evidence and then we march right in.

-- David Letterman

The warnings for 9-11

The timing here is sickeningly manipulative. Reuters has published an article by JoAnne Allen reporting on the following:

A newly released memo warned the White House at the start of the Bush administration that al Qaeda represented a threat throughout the Islamic world, a warning that critics said went unheeded by President Bush until the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The memo dated Jan. 25, 2001 -- five days after Bush took office -- was an essential feature of last year's hearings into intelligence failures before the attacks on New York and Washington. A copy of the document was posted on the National Security Archive Web site on Thursday. The memo, from former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke to then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, had been described during the hearings but its full contents had not been disclosed.


Suppose this document had been released before the elections.

[The memo] recommended that the new administration urgently discuss the al Qaeda network, including the magnitude of the threat it posed and strategy for dealing with it.
...
The meeting on al Qaeda requested by Clarke did not take place until Sept. 4, 2001.


A little late, don't you think?

This article was picked up by Smirking Chimp and a commenter on the message board had this to say:

Not that we needed it, but this, the news yesterday about the 52 warnings to the FAA, and the news about N. Korea building nukes in response to Bush's insane bellicosity should have Americans marching in the streets demanding this entire administration be disbanded and tried. This is obscene.

They smeared Clarke viciously, and O'Neill, among others, called them liars. Clearly the potential to prevent 9/11 was in fact there, and Bush blew it. Rice is a liar, period. And it is obvious they kept this information from coming out until after the election.

We cannot stand for this administration's shenanigans any longer. They are incompetent, deadly, lying powermongers. Enough is enough. We need to start a campaign to have Bush AND Cheney impeached and Rice removed.


Friday Cat Blogging!

Here's Edgar posing for the camera:

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Brewing scandal

I wonder if you have been following the Jeff Gannon story. It's been all over the blogosphere and now is being given attention by the mainstream press. The New York Daily News writes about it in a story entitled, "Bush press pal quitsover gay prostie link".

WASHINGTON - A conservative ringer who was given a press pass to the White ouse and lobbed softball questions at President Bush quit yesterday after left-leaning Internet bloggers discovered possible ties to gay prostitution.

"The voice goes silent," Jeff Gannon wrote on his Web site. "In consideration of the welfare of me and my family, I have decided to return to private life."

Gannon began covering the White House two years ago for an obscure Republican Web site (Talon-News.com). He was known for his friendly questions, including asking Bush at last month's news conference how he could work with Democrats "who seem to have divorced themselves from reality."

Gannon was also given a classified CIA memo that named agent Valerie Plame, leading to his grilling by the grand jury investigating her outing.


Cox News Service also has an article on the matter.

WASHINGTON -- In a letter to President Bush yesterday, Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., called for an explanation of how a Talon News reporter who used the pseudonym "Jeff Gannon" was admitted to White House briefings.

Gannon resigned late Tuesday amid a flurry of accusations about his professional credentials and links to the Republican Party and could not be reached for comment.

"It appears that 'Mr. Gannon's presence in the White House press corps was merely as a tool of propaganda for your administration," wrote Slaughter, a senior member of the House Rules Committee who has been active in media fairness and ownership issues.

Ah, the "family values" administration and it's friends!


Update: You can find Rep. Slaughter's full letter here. Two paragraphs that sum up the matter are these:

According to several credible reports, "Mr. Gannon" has been repeatedly redentialed as a member of the White House press corps by your office and has been regularly called upon in White House press briefings by your Press Secretary Scott McClellan, despite the fact evidence shows that "Mr. Gannon" is a Republican political operative, uses a false name, has phony or questionable journalistic credentials, is known for plagiarizing much of the "news" he reports, and according to several web reports, may have ties to the promotion of the prostitution of military personnel.

...

I was already concerned about what appears to be an organized campaign to mask partisan propaganda as legitimate news by your Administration. That we have now earned this same type of deception is occurring inside the White House briefing room itself is even more disturbing.


Wednesday, February 09, 2005

In his own words: a conscientious objector

From The Bruderhof Communities comes this moving report entitled, "A Matter of Conscience"

Sgt. Kevin Benderman (40) is a U.S. Army mechanic with ten years of service under his belt, including a role in the assault on Baghdad. While there, his outfit was ordered to open fire on children who were throwing rocks at unit personnel. Troubled by this and other similar incidents, and facing a second tour of duty in Iraq, Benderman applied for conscientious objector status in December 2004. The U.S. Army has charged him with desertion. He has been called a coward by his commanding officer, and his chaplain has told him that he is ashamed of him. Born in Alabama, Sgt. Benderman currently lives in Hinesville, Georgia, with his wife, Monica, and stepson Ryan.


At one point Sgt. Benderman writes:

Can't we teach our children to leave war behind in history where it belongs? We realized that slavery and human sacrifice were obsolete institutions, and we left them behind us. When are going to have the same enlightened attitude about war?

I think that's a very good point. We did see that slavery and human sacrifice were simply unacceptable. But in a sense, sending people to war is the ultimate slavery, the ultimate human sacrifice. Will we ever, as a species, say "enough"?

No comment


Found on What Really Happened

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The coming of the American Taliban

I've respected Bernard Weiner's essays for a long time now and his latest has not disappointed me. The Crisis Papers has published his penetrating and incisive piece entitled, "Taking on the American Talaban". Weiner reviews the psychological impact of accelerated change as he explains the soothing appeal of fundamentalism to those who are overwhelmed by a society changing faster than the psyche can keep up. Then he shows how this appeal is exploited politically:

Once you know (or are told) "The Truth" -- believing it to be passed down directly from God/Jehovah/Allah -- many of your anxieties disappear. The container of that Truth provides all the answers you need to know. You need pay little or no attention to the complex, confusing distractions that bedevil the rest of us. God/Allah/whatever (as interpreted by the mullahs, priests, spiritual leaders) has given you all the tools you need, and nothing else needs to enter your safe, secure little world.

So, fundamentalists across the globe denounce science and the arts, for example, because they constantly open up the world -- leading to many confusing questions -- and retreat instead to a quieter, older, psychologically comforting way of examining and thinking about reality.
...
Our would-be Talaban are the Ashcrofts, Gonzaleses, Rumsfelds, Cheneys, Bushes, Roves, et al. -- along with their fundamentalist backers, the Robertsons and Dobsons and Falwells and Bauers -- and the fawning HardRight pundits in the media who have become prostituted by their proximity to power.

What intrigues me about the article is Weiner's insistence that we recognize natural allies among the traditional - classic - conservatives who also feel that the Republican Party has abandoned them.

Some of those moderate Christians and traditional conservatives -- now known within the GOP as "moderates" or "liberal Republicans" or "RINO" Republicans (Republicans in Name Only) -- have even joined their long-time boogeymen, the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, because they see the HardRight future coming down the pike.

More and more these authentic conservatives are alarmed by the extremists who have taken over their political party, and might well be open to alliances with welcoming Democrats and progressives.

He's got a point. Now, I have been truly dismayed by the tendency of the Democratic Party to become "Republican - lite" instead of upholding our traditional values and I don't think we should water down our message. But joining forces with true conservatives who are as alarmed by the erosion of civil liberties as we are seems to be just common sense. Both groups have much to lose due to the administration now in power.

Poor to pay price of US deficit

I don't know why but it bothers me more to see this kind of article in an overseas newspaper than in an American one. I suppose it's because the image of the United States is getting more and more tarnished abroad. I hate it when other countries observe how, in spite of our great wealth, we punish our own people just for being poor. The Guardian takes a look at the president's proposed budget in this article by David Teather and Larry Elliott.

Sweeping cuts in welfare, education and housing programmes for the poor were the centrepiece of austerity budget proposals announced by George Bush yesterday to meet his campaign pledge of halving the US budget deficit in his second term.

In a package hailed by the White House as the toughest since the days of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, only defence and homeland security were spared from the fiscal squeeze.
...
Democrats attacked the cuts in spending on welfare, housing, education and the environment and, despite Republican control of the Senate and the House of representatives, the proposals are expected to have a tough passage through Congress. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said the "cuts in veterans' programmes, healthcare and education reflect the wrong priorities".


They are the wrong priorities indeed. Included in the proposed cuts is the elimination of subsidies for Amtrak which will effectively destroy passenger train service in the U.S. With the devastatingly serious realities of global climate change observed by scientists now frantically sounding the alarm, we need to strengthen our public transportation service - not undercut it thereby increasing automobile use.

Also being cut is aid to veterans. This is simply beyond disgraceful. As it is, homeless vets often have to wait years for aid as is reported on in a Chicago Sun-Times article by Cheryl Reed.

Mental health experts are predicting that as many as one-third of all Iraqi veterans will suffer from PTSD, a disabling disorder characterized by flashbacks and war nightmares. A similar percentage of Vietnam veterans have been diagnosed with the disorder -- although it took decades for the government to recognize, treat and compensate those veterans.

Still, the VA officially maintains there's no connection between military combat and homelessness. But people who work with veterans believe otherwise.

"Many people will tell you that military service is not a significant contributing factor to homelessness. But it clearly is a factor," said Pete Dougherty, national director of the VA's homeless veterans programs. "There are more veterans who have shown up in the ranks of the homeless than their average age cohort."

I want to print out the Sun-Times article and put it on the windshield of every SUV (it usually is an SUV) with a "Support our troops" magnet on the back. Those magnets are really code for "Agree with our president" and yet our president is being unspeakably callous toward our returning troops who are obviously expendable in his view. But the wealthy do have their tax cuts don't they? We have our priorities in the country, after all.


Monday, February 07, 2005

Trembling for the country

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country…corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.


-- Abraham Lincoln

The way the president talks

Thanks to Digby, I found the following. I'm not kidding. Bush really said this:

Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculate, for example, is on the table; whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those -- changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to what has been promised.

Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the -- like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, as opposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red.

Okay, better? I'll keep working on it.


It's on the White House web site right here. Disgraceful.

Entering the Dark Ages

The attack on science from the right is very worrisome. The Guardian reports on what's happening in Kansas in "Religious right fights science for the heart of America" by Suzanne Goldenberg.

When conservative Republicans took control of the Kansas state school board last November, the creationists seized their chance, installing supporters on the committee reviewing the high school science curriculum.

The suggested changes under consideration seem innocuous at first. "A minor addition makes it clear that evolution is a theory and not a fact," says the proposed revision to the 8th grade science standard. However, Jack Krebs, a high school maths teacher on the committee drafting the new standards, argues that the campaign against evolution amounts to a stealth assault on the entire body of scientific thought.
"There are two planes where they are attacking. One is evolution, and one is science itself," he said. "They believe that the naturalistic bias of science is in fact atheistic, and that if we don't change science, we can't believe in God. And so this is really an attack on all of science. Evolution is just the weak link."

I'm starting to expect book burnings next. Keeping the torch of learning alight is going to be a critical and difficult task in the years ahead. I guess I just want to say to everybody, keep reading! Keep reading! Don't let your brain be anesthetized. Whatever you do, don't drink the kool-aid.

Insightful quote

I found this on All Hat No Cattle:

"Terrorism is the war of the poor and war is the terrorism of the rich."-- Peter Ustinov

Deep peril for Democrats

There seems to be no end to the strategies of the extreme right wing who are determined to destroy the Democratic Party and turn us into a one party nation. Bush is seriously courting the black evangelical vote and playing on the traditional black bias against gays. Apparently this appeal to conservative religious blacks played a significant role in the loss of Ohio in the presidential election and is likely to make a difference in the congressional elections of 2006. Alternet has published an artical by Earl Ofari Hutchinson on this issue entitled "Black Evangelicals: Bush's New Trump Card". Mr. Hutchinson writes,

The recent meeting between President Bush and the Congressional Black Caucus grabbed headlines because Bush and the group spent the last four years snubbing each other. What did not make news was a meeting Bush had with black evangelical leaders the day before his get-together with the caucus.

The great untold story of the 2004 presidential elections was the black evangelical vote. Although black evangelicals still voted overwhelmingly for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, they gave Bush the cushion he needed to bag Ohio and win the White House. There were early warning signs that might happen. The same polls that showed black's prime concern was with bread and butter issues – and that Kerry was seen as the candidate who could deliver on those issues – also revealed that a sizeable number of blacks ranked abortion, gay marriage and school prayer as priority issues. Their concern for these issues didn't come anywhere close to that of white evangelicals, but it was still higher than that of the general voting public.


This article came to my attention because it was sent to me by the Tulsa chapter of the Interfaith Alliance. Obviously, an appeal to relgious fundamentalism is of concern to an organization such as the Interfaith Alliance which values tolerance and separation of church and state. That Bush's outreach to black evangelicals is a threat to the Democratic Party is clear:

Bush and the Republicans bank that their strategy of bypassing black Democrats and civil rights leaders to make deals with black evangelicals will finally break the decades-long stranglehold Democrats have had on the black vote. If they're right, it will spell deep peril for the Democrats in future elections.



The torture memos

Another article from Alternet - this one by Joshua L. Dratel entitled, "A Path Paved with Bad Intentions".

The message that the torture memos convey is unmistakable: these policy makers do not like our system of justice, with its checks and balances, that they have been sworn to uphold.



Sunday, February 06, 2005

Bulgegate

Or I could have entitled this entry, "One More Reason Why I Don't Trust the Mainstream Press".

Do you remember that rectangular bulge under the president's clothes during the debates - you know, the one right between his shoulderblade? You don't? Well that's because the New York Times and the Washington Post decided not to report on the story.

Well, this morning that issue has been taken up in an article by Dave Lindorff in an article that appears on Smirking Chimp, Common Dreams, CounterPunch and probably countless other blogs as well. [Update: So far (2:00 p.m.), I have also found the article on Rising Hegemon and Digby.] The Common Dreams headline puts it this way: "The Emperor's New Hump: The New York Times killed a story that could have changed the election—because it could have changed the election".

Lindorff writes:

[The New York Times]... was set to run...[an] explosive piece, exposing how George W. Bush had worn an electronic cueing device in his ear and probably cheated during the presidential debates.

It's clear even from unenhanced photos that George W. Bush has been wearing some kind of object under his clothing, both during the debates and at other public appearances. The enhancements done by NASA scientist Robert Nelson show a rectangular object with a long "tail"; in some shots a wire leading over Bush's shoulder is visible. This configuration closely resembles a PTT (Push To Talk) receiver with an induction earpiece, a device used by some actors, newscasters and politicians to allow for inaudible voice communication in a public setting.
...
That the story hadn't gotten more serious treatment in the mainstream press was largely thanks to a well-organized media effort by the Bush White House and the Bush/Cheney campaign to label those who attempted to investigate the bulge as "conspiracy buffs" (Washington Post, 10/9/04). In an era of pinched budgets and an equally pinched notion of the role of the Fourth Estate, the fact that the Kerry camp was offering no comment on the matter—perhaps for fear of earning a "conspiracy buff" label for the candidate himself—may also have made reporters skittish. Jeffrey Klein, a founding editor of Mother Jones magazine, told Mother Jones (online edition, 10/30/04) he had called a number of contacts at leading news organizations across the country, and was told that unless the Kerry campaign raised the issue, they couldn't pursue it.


According to the article the New York Times had in fact pursued the matter and mounted an investigation. The story never ran, however, having been killed on October 27.

A Times journalist, who said that Times staffers were "pretty upset" about the killing of the story, claims the senior editors felt Thursday was "too close" to the election to run such a piece.


The article concludes with this observation:

Could the last-minute decision by the New York Times not to run the Nelson photos story, or the decision by the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times not even to pursue it, have affected the outcome of the recent presidential race? There is no question that if such a story had run in any one of those major venues, instead of just in two online publications, Bulgegate would have been a major issue in the waning days of the campaign.

Given that exit polls show many who voted for Bush around the country listed "moral values" as a big factor in their decision, it seems reasonable to assume that at least some would have changed their minds had evidence been presented in the nation's biggest and most influential newspapers that Bush had been dishonest.


I really, really recommend that you read the whole article. It's an eye-openner. And, quite frankly, sickening.

The New Feudalism

I have thought for some time that the Bush administration is hell bent on turning the middle and working classes into serfs. Now I have found an article that outlines the dynamic involved. Thom Hartmann explains in "Nobles Need Not Pay Taxes" (published on the Common Dreams website) that this is actually a world-wide movement.

A new aristocracy is taking over not just the United States of America but also the world. Proof of how far along it has come was in an article by Glenn R. Simpson in the January 28, 2005 edition of The Wall Street Journal.

"European countries have been steadily slashing corporate tax rates," wrote Simpson, adding, "...between 2000 and 2003, one nation after another has moved toward lower corporate rates with fewer loopholes."


Later he discusses the relationship between the feudal mindset and the state:

This isn't the first time this has happened. Marc Bloch is one of the great 20th Century scholars of the feudal history of Europe. In his book "Feudal Society" he points out that feudalism is a fracturing of one authoritarian hierarchical structure into another: the state disintegrates, as local power brokers take over.

In almost every case, both with European feudalism and feudalism in China, South America, and Japan, “feudalism coincided with a profound weakening of the State, particularly in its protective capacity.”

Whether the power and wealth agent that takes the place of government is a local baron, lord, king, or corporation, if it has greater power in the lives of individuals than does a representative government, the culture has dissolved into feudalism.

Bluntly, Bloch states: “The feudal system meant the rigorous economic subjection of a host of humble folk to a few powerful men.”


Finally Hartmann offers this observation:

We are quickly shifting toward a corporate-run state in countries all over the world. It appears "free" and even allows elections, albeit they are only among candidates funded and approved by corporate powers, held on voting machines owned by those corporate powers, and marketed in media owned by those corporate powers.

But this bears little resemblance to the democratic republic envisioned by our nation's Founders.

If our elected representatives - and those of other "free" nations - don't quickly wake up and reverse course, we will soon again be in a feudal world. And it's up to us - We the People - to help them awaken.



Saturday, February 05, 2005

A more truthful SOTU speech

A great article by Robert Borosage in the Nation starts this way.

"My fellow Americans, my invasion and occupation of Iraq has cost thousands of lives, wasted hundreds of billions of dollars and provided a recruiting boon to Al Qaeda across the world. It has left America more isolated and less respected than ever. The election went better than I hoped, but there's no way to get out without the country descending into civil war and no way to stay without the insurgency and our casualties growing.

"My tax cuts left the country with record deficits, the slowest jobs growth since the Great Depression and the greatest inequality since the Gilded Age. My trade policies have racked up the highest trade deficits in the annals of nations, and left us dependent on the willingness of the Chinese and Japanese governments to keep buying our bonds despite the continuing fall of the dollar.

"Wages are stagnant; health care costs are soaring and college is getting priced out of the reach of more and more working families. In response, I've blocked efforts to control the costs of prescription drugs, broken my promises on funding for schools, and just pushed through a cut in Pell grants to over one million students.

"Building on this record, I call now on the Congress to privatize Social Security. Social Security faces a potential long-term funding shortfall but my plan doesn't address that. I leave that to Congress, requiring only that the solution involve cuts in guaranteed benefits, not increases in revenue. My plan is to borrow some $4.5 trillion more dollars over the next twenty years to finance the setting up of private accounts for people under 55. These accounts will be voluntary, but everyone will get benefit cuts--even those on disability or survivors of those struck down early in life--whether they opt for private accounts or not. Government will manage the millions of accounts and limit your investment options to protect you from getting completely fleeced by Wall Street.

"Incidentally, the money won't actually be yours. It's a loan that must be repaid in full at 3 percent interest when you retire. If you make more than that--and frankly most of you won't--you will be required to turn most of what's left into an annuity that will pay out an annual sum each year to keep you above destitution. Anything left beyond the payback to government and the destitution annuity, you can keep. Don't plan a cruise on it.

"This plan, as I said, does nothing to solve Social Security's long-term problem--which, frankly, isn't all that bad, but provides a handy excuse for privatization. It really is designed for political purposes. It dismantles a Democratic big-government program that works well in providing a safety net for seniors and insurance for the disabled and survivors, and replaces it with an annual report about what you have in a private account brought to you by the good graces of George Bush and the Republican Party. We hope to create a generation of thankful voters--at least until they reach retirement and realize that their guaranteed benefits have been cut and the money isn't really theirs anyway. May God Bless America."


I think it best to leave it at that without further comment. But Mr. Borosage does comment further so you might like to take a look at the whole article.

Destroying Social Security

Today, I want to recommend an article by Steven Thomma published in Knight Ridder and another by Harvey Wasserman in The Free Press. Both these articles outline what the administration is not saying - that is, that the eventual dismantling of Social Security and Medicare is really what the so-called "reform" is about.

Thomma's article begins this way:
WASHINGTON - The argument for dramatic change in Social Security is clear:

The promise of secure retirements is a "hoax." Taxes paid by workers are "wasted" by the government rather than prudently invested. And "the so-called reserve fund ... is no reserve at all" because it contains nothing but government IOUs.

President Bush? No, Republican presidential candidate Alf Landon and his party's platform in 1936.

Bush's proposal to overhaul Social Security wasn't born with the new forecasts of looming financial problems. It's the product of a conservative dream to undo the system that's as old as the program itself.


Wasserman's is entitled, "Bush to Social Security: Drop Dead". Here's how he starts:

Let's cut the actuarial doublespeak: Bush comes not to save Social Security, but to bury it.

Ever since Franklin Roosevelt installed the most successful social program in US history, far right fanatics of the Bush ilk have been trying to destroy it. They may be on the brink of succeeding.

Fundamentalist conservatives despise any social welfare program that works. Their stark ideological crusade demands the dismantling of any program through which society can exert control over the economy or our common heritage, such as the natural environment.

Their demand is precisely the opposite when it comes to personal and cultural behavior. The fundamentalist right WANTS the government (if they control it) to legislate "morality" when it comes to sexual choice (gay marriage), recreational preferences (marijuana), women's rights (freedom to choose), free speech (the Patriot Act), free press (censorship), sexual expression (the FCC), religion (official prayer), education (evolution), human rights (Guantanamo), the sanctity of life (the death penalty) and much more.


Read the articles. See for yourself.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Survival Guide

My wonderful administrative assistant and very dear friend, Cynthia Burgess, gave me a terrific book yesterday entitled, The Bush Survival Bible by Gene Stone. It’s subtitled, “250 Ways to Make It Through the Next Four Years Without Misunderestimating the Dangers Ahead, and Other Subliminable Strategeries”. (Yes, sic!) It’s an anthology, really, of essays by a number of different progressives who offer true strategies for getting through while staying sane. In fact the first piece is entitled, “6 Tips to Maintain Your Sanity”. I give it to you here:

Before you do anything else, make sure you stay sane. Sanity is more important than ever, so follow these tips.

1. Don’t let yourself be overcome with fear. Bush won because he played the fear card – he ran on fear; he rules on fear. But fear creates negative energy – in you and in others around you. Don’t feed into this outright manipulation of your emotions. Just say no to fear. Instead, feel joy, or hope, or love. Don’t let them make you feel afraid.

2. Guard against energy vampires. These are people who suck your energy dry. Instead of talking to people who are stuck on the negatives surrounding the election, surround yourself with positive people who can talk about how to create change.

3. Counter the stress. Try a three-minute break. Take a breath, close your eyes, inhale, exhale, and if negative thoughts occur, focus on the breath and visualize something very positive, such as a free world, or peace, or a good president.

4. Avoid techno-despair. Don’t be overwhelmed by information overload. Take some breaks form CNN or online news now and then. You’re not a news anchor. You don’t need to know what’s going on every minute.

5. Stay in the now. Instead of catastrophizing about the future, focus on the here and now. Be kind to yourself. Take a moment off. Look around at the sky, the birds, and the sunlight. Think about something other than the presidency.

6. Always be of anonymous service. Keep giving. Spread the energy around. Leave small amounts of money in public places. Create happy surprises for others. Don’t just wait for the big opportunities, or you may never do anything at all.

I already do most of these and I’m definitely going to implement the other suggestions - especially number 4! I’ll share more strategies from this delightful book from time to time. After all, we gotta keep our spirits up!

Cynthia's Cat

And here's Cynthia's wonderful cat, Simon. After all, it's Friday!


Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Two Great Quotes

“Over in Iraq, United States authorities have admitted that $9 billion is missing. Wow! They've misplaced $9 billion in Iraq. That's crazy, isn't it. I'm fairly confident they'll find it. It's probably somewhere with the weapons of mass destruction.”
-- David Letterman


"Tonight in his speech, President Bush introduced his plan for Social Security. His plan: take the security part out of it."
--Jay Leno

Now what do we do?

David Corn's take on the SOTU address

If you haven't discovered David Corn of The Nation, let me introduce him to you. His pieces are typically clear, well thought out, sensible and unapologetically progressive. It was not surprising that he got a response to the State of the Union Address on line right away. Here's an excerpt and I recommend that you read the whole article and aquaint yourself with The Nation if you don't know it already.

On domestic matters, the speech was mostly predictable. [Bush] praised his tax cuts and his record on job creation. (The United States has added 2.3 million new jobs in the past year, he said, without disclosing that the economy needs to create about 2 million jobs a year to keep up with population growth.) He claimed his forthcoming budget would lead to cutting the deficit in half by 2009--even though budget analysts have said he is relying upon phony numbers and false assumptions. He said he would increase the size of Pell grants for college students. (He promised to do so last year and did not.) He assailed "junk lawsuits" and asserted that the nation's economic performance was being "held back" by asbestos lawsuits. (Asbestos lawsuits? Who knew that was the problem?) When he made a vague reference to medical savings accounts, Republicans in the chambers applauded more loudly than when he called for a community health center in every poor county. Bush vowed to revive his defeated energy program and called for tax reform--without stating what changes he'd like to see in the tax code.

There were surprises. Throwing red meat to the red-staters, he made a rather big deal of gay marriage, noting he supports a constitutional amendment "to protect the institution of marriage" (note that he didn't say "to ban gay marriage") for "the good of...children." This was a political correction, for Bush had recently peeved social conservatives by saying there was no need to push the antigay amendment since there were not enough votes for the measure in the Senate. And while Bush referred to the "culture of life" and decried activist judges, he said nothing directly about abortion. Can we then presume then he believes gay marriage is a more urgent matter than a practice his supporters compare to mass murder? Bush also addressed the issue of capital punishment: not by calling for more executions but by advocating more extensive use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful convictions and proposing more funding to train defense attorneys who handle capital cases. (Too bad he didn't do that when he was governor of Texas.) He said that Laura Bush would head an initiative to keep young men out of gangs. There was no mention of the mission to Mars that Bush announced in his last State of the Union speech.

No doubt, the most anticipated part of his speech was his pitch for messing with Social Security. Bush has dramatically improved his rhetorical case for change. He made it appear he was open to many ideas, and he slyly referred to previous proposals for reform that had come from Democrats. He noted that using current payroll taxes for private retirement accounts for younger workers was not a fix for Social Security but an effort to give those under the age of 55 "a better deal." He did not use the word "crisis," but he did deploy his melodramatic and misleading argument for reform. This created the most interesting political moment of the night. As Bush remarked, "By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt," Democratic legislators shouted, "No, no...." (The Congressional Budget Office has said that come 2052 the Social Security system will only be able to pay about three-quarters of the scheduled benefits. This is a problem; it is not bankruptcy.) As Bush continued in this vein, the Democrats kept up the protest: "No, no, no...." It was reminiscent of question time in the British Parliament.

I was disappointed with the Democratic response but not surprised. More than anything, we need a real fighter in the leadership of the party and it wouldn't hurt for that person to have some charisma. I keep praying for that person to emerge. Maybe Barack Obama when he has a little more experience but so far he's been a disappointment too. Still, the shouts of "no" from the democrats on the floor were refreshing. Nice to know somebody's got some guts.

Which brings us to the Democratic response. It was middling at best, perhaps awful. Senator Harry Reid, the minority leader, tried mightily hard to adopt the language of values. He took the folksy route, reminding viewers he had grown up in a small town in Nevada among hard-rock miners. He referred to a ten-year-old boy who recently told Reid that when he grows up he wants to be a senator. This, Reid noted, was evidence that no one has to tell the children of America to dream big dreams. Reid covered all the bases, critiquing Bush's economic policies and pointing out the flaws and dangers of partially privatizing Social Security. But he was not much of a match for a president riding the wave of self-proclaimed victory in Iraq.

Still, Reid fared better than House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. She proved that she can read a TelePrompTer without blinking or changing her facial expression. Reid went for the down-home approach. Pelosi was a Stepford Democrat. She expressed no emotion. She did not modulate her speech. She looked like she was reading words written by someone else, not sharing convictions that burn in her soul. Handling the national security portion of the Democratic response, she served up all the usual--and correct--criticisms of Bush. But she scored no points. In this arena, delivery counts as much as--no, make that more than--substance. On Iraq, she repeated the Kerry plan: accelerate training of Iraqi security forces, rev up the reconstruction, and intensify regional diplomacy. The goal, she said, is a "much smaller American presence" by the next election, which is scheduled for the end of the year. But it was hard to imagine her swaying anyone who wasn't already a Bush-basher. Pelosi looked like she had to be there. Bush looked like he was relishing the moment. Such a difference matters much.

Yes, it does. Let's hope, indeed, the person who understands that difference emerges as a true opposition leader.