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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Blaming Others First: Warmongering and the "Pseudo-environment" of Warped American Exceptionalism - The Smirking Chimp

Walter Lippmann got it right when observed the every individual inhabits a "pseudo-environment," not a real environment. Although direct, real-world experiences fill part of an individual's pseudo-environment, invariably such experiences are distorted by the subjective interpretations placed on them More problematic, however, are the ideas - often completely divorced from direct experience - which fill much of an individual's pseudo-environment.

Such ideas come from second-hand stories, myths, information, images and news. As Lippmann observed: Man "is learning to see with his mind vast portions of the world that he could never see, touch, smell, hear or remember." [Public Opinion, p. 18]

Moreover, as Lippmann famously asserted, truth and news are not the same thing. "The function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts." [Ibid, p. xiv] Thus, given these limitations of the mind and the news media. Lippmann concluded that the world had become too complex for even the most educated men of integrity to fully comprehend.

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Unfortunately, what applies to individuals also applies to nations. Consider the national "pseudo-environment" of the United States: "American exceptionalism." Is it anything more than faith, devoid of any first-hand experience, that the United States has a special place in God's plans for mankind? Faith buttressed by ceaseless jingoistic advertising?

And although the religious and nationalistic hot air inflating the balloon of American exceptionalism can be punctured easily -- simply consider the city of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina -- the narcissism both feeding and flowing from this pseudo-environment blinds even thoughtful individuals to their country's many failures. Consequently, by default, it also promotes a knee-jerk tendency to blame others - including immensely less powerful, influential and less blessed-by-God nations -- for America's many self-created problems.

For example, just two days ago, New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman suggested that the apparent nuclear test by North Korea might mark the end of the post-cold war international order. "The Berlin Wall fell on 11/9 - Nov. 9, 1989, which ushered in the post-cold-war world. The apparent North Korean nuclear test went up on Oct. 9, 2006, which may have ushered out the post-cold-war world and ushered in a more problematic era - the post-post-cold-war world." Thus, "one day historians may argue that the post-cold-war started on 11/9 and ended on 10/9." [NYT, Oct. 11, 2006]

Might mark the end of the post-cold-war era? Yes, according to Friedman, "unless China and Russia get their act together." Wow! First of all, Friedman ignores the gigantic historical elephant in the room - the fact that the United States first developed the atomic bomb, was the only country ever to drop it on another country, the only country to threaten its use on other nations dozens of times, while remaining to this day the state-of-the-art innovator of new uses (bunker busters) in order to continue to threaten or use such dreadful weapons.

But, rather than cite "10/9" as the end of an era, and then blame China and Russia for not persuading North Korea and Iran to end their nuclear programs, why not cite "3/19" for exacerbating the proliferation problems facing the world today? 3/19 is, of course, March 19, 2003, the fateful day the United States launched its illegal, immoral preventive war against Iraq.

First, consider Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's slip of the tongue, as reported by Bob Woodward in State of Denial, when discussing how America's soldiers were worried about being killed by Iraq's chemical weapons. "We never - none of us ever believed that they had nuclear weapons. The only real worry that we had was chemical." [p. 102] (Given Rumsfeld's slip, didn't Bush, Cheney and Rice lie when they spoke with certainty about Iraq's nuclear program, thus scaring Congress, the media and the American people into war with reckless rhetoric about aluminum tubes, uranium from Niger, and mushroom clouds?)

Second, recall the initial intent of David Frum and Michael Gerson, when they formulated the phrase "axis of evil." Initially, they intended the phase to cover "the relationship Bush was seeking to establish between Saddam Hussein's regime and 9/11." But Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, "aware of the secret planning for Iraq," were "worried that singling out Iraq as the embodiment of the "axis of evil" connection between WMD and terrorism would appear to be a declaration of war." So she and Hadley suggested adding other countries." [Woodward, Plan of Attack, pp.86-87]

Although President Bush liked the additions, the attempt to disguise America's plans for Iraq by adding Iran and North Korea to the "axis of evil" had serious consequences. According to Iran scholar Zhand Shakibi (London School of Economics), Bush's axis of evil speech convinced Iran's President, Mohammad Khatami, that cooperation with and political concessions to the United States would not advance Iran's interests.

According to Professor Shakibi, the invasion of Iraq explains the victory of hardliner President Ahmadinejad. Moreover, according to Professor Shakibi, the failure of the United Nations to prevent the invasion of Iraq meant that it was incapable of protecting Iran, thus its renewed emphasis on its nuclear program. [Zhand Shakibi, Unpublished paper presented at the 15th Annual Russian-American Seminar, St. Petersburg State University, Russia, 19 May 2006]

Third, the Bush administration's preparations for war with Iraq not only caused it to delay responding to urgent intelligence about North Korea's nuclear program, but it also provoked the program's acceleration. [Seymour M. Hersh, "The Cold Test," The New Yorker, Jan. 27, 2003]

Recall that the Bush administration, for fear of being diverted from its quest to invade Iraq, sat on classified intelligence about a secret second nuclear program in North Korea until an unwitting Congress had voted to give Bush the authority to invade Iraq. Only after its vote, was congress informed that a genuine nuclear threat existed, but in North Korea.

Also recall Don Oberdorfer's recent words, reported on the Oct. 9, 2006, NewsHour with Jim Lehrer: "Shortly before the United States invaded Iraq, I was in North Korea. And a North Korean general said to me, 'We see what you're getting ready to do with Iraq, and you are not going to do it to us.' And I think his message was: We're going to get weapons that are going to make you pause if you think about coming after North Korea."

Such evidence suggests that, when it comes to the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, the lying "Iraqi Freedom" warmongers in the Bush administration have much to explain.

And to those Americans who still don't get it: 3/19, not Friedman's 10/9, marks the end of the post-cold-war era. They would do well to carve that date into their individual pseudo-environments, notwithstanding the fact that, by accepting 3/19, much of the blame (certainly not all, perhaps not most) for the reckless behavior of Iran and North Korea falls on the Bush administration and the United States of America. But, after all, isn't it about time for Americans to accept responsibility for the failures of the leaders they voted into office?
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About author Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA). waltuhler@aol.com
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SOURCE:
Blaming Others First: Warmongering and the "Pseudo-environment" of Warped American Exceptionalism - The Smirking Chimp


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Nobel Economists: Republicans Wrong on Minimum Wage - The Smirking Chimp


With the buying power of the Federal minimum wage at its lowest point in 55 years, five Nobel Prize-winning economists have been joined by 650 of their peers, in calling on the Republican-led Congress to increase the minimum wage. Describing the last increase almost 10 years ago as now "fully eroded," the economists said that they agree with a report written in 1999 by the Council of Economic Advisors declaring that "modest increases in the minimum wage have had very little or no effect on employment."

"We believe that a modest increase in the minimum wage would improve the well-being of low-wage workers and would not have the adverse effects that critics have claimed," the economists wrote in a paper delivered this week on a conference call hosted by the Economic Policy Institute, an economic research group based in Washington, D.C.

In addition to asserting that the real value of the minimum wage is at its lowest point since 1951, the economists also noted that the ratio of what a minimum-wage earner makes and the average pay rates of other hourly workers is at a significant low.

"The ratio of the minimum wage to the average hourly wage of non-supervisory workers is 31%, its lowest level since World War II," they said. " This decline is causing hardship for low-wage workers and their families."

The Federal minimum wage has been at $5.15 an hour since 1997, which puts a working American earning that wage, even laboring 50 hours a week, at below the national poverty line.

Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has been ferociously pursuing the issue for years and with particular fervor in the current Congress, which ends this year.

“These esteemed economists understand what everyone except the Republican leadership and the White House understand: an increase in the minimum wage is long overdue and would strengthen our economy," said Kennedy, in a statement Thursday. "Millions of American families are living in poverty while working hard for the American dream, while the Republicans block every effort to give them the raise they deserve --- despite skyrocketing increases in health care, gas prices, and education."

Nobel Prize winners calling on Republicans to raise the minimum wage are Kenneth Arrow of Stanford University, Lawrence Klein of the University of Pennsylvania, Robert Solow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Joseph Stiglitz at Columbia University and Clive Granger of the University of California, San Diego.

The Republican leadership and the Bush administration have stubbornly held to the view that a higher minimum wage would lead to fewer jobs and more employers moving jobs offshore -- the latter, a ludicrous assumption, given that most minimum wage jobs are local, service-oriented positions that cannot be moved to another country.

The group of 650 economists shot down that notion, saying in their report that a Democratic plan to phase in a minimum wage increase to $7.25 "falls well within the range of options where the benefits to the labor market, workers, and the overall economy would be positive."

They also contradicted Republican claims that most people earning minimum wage are teenagers who don’t use the money for living essentials and bare subsistence.

"While controversy about the precise employment effects of the minimum wage continues, research has shown that most of the beneficiaries are adults, most are female, and the vast majority are members of low-income working families," the report says.

Republicans put forth a bogus plan to raise the minimum wage over the summer, when they attached it to a whopping Estate Tax cut for America's super rich, knowing that the legislation would fail, but providing them with a cynical way to tell voters that they had voted to improve the lot of working families.

Meanwhile, the GOP Congress has killed three attempts by Kennedy to raise the minimum wage in just the last two years on almost straight party-line votes and will undoubtedly keep doing that if allowed to remain in power after November 7.

Said Kennedy: "It is clear as day that despite what the economists advise, the only way these hard working people will get a new raise is if this Congress gets new management in November."

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SOURCE:

Nobel Economists: Republicans Wrong on Minimum Wage - The Smirking Chimp

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Canada troops battle 10-ft Afghan marijuana plants | Oddly Enough | Reuters.co.uk

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian troops fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan have stumbled across an unexpected and potent enemy -- almost impenetrable forests of 10-feet (three metre) high marijuana plants.

General Rick Hillier, chief of the Canadian defence staff, said on Thursday that Taliban fighters were using the forests as cover. In response, the crew of at least one armored car had camouflaged their vehicle with marijuana.

"The challenge is that marijuana plants absorb energy, heat very readily. It's very difficult to penetrate with thermal devices ... and as a result you really have to be careful that the Taliban don't dodge in and out of those marijuana forests," he said in a speech in Ottawa.

"We tried burning them with white phosphorous -- it didn't work. We tried burning them with diesel -- it didn't work. The plants are so full of water right now ... that we simply couldn't burn them," he said.

Even successful incineration had its drawbacks.

"A couple of brown plants on the edges of some of those (forests) did catch on fire. But a section of soldiers that was downwind from that had some ill effects and decided that was probably not the right course of action," Hiller said dryly.

One soldier told him later: "Sir, three years ago before I joined the army, I never thought I'd say 'That damn marijuana'."

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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SOURCE:
Canada troops battle 10-ft Afghan marijuana plants | Oddly Enough | Reuters.co.uk

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Consortiumnews.com

In George W. Bush’s world, Saddam Hussein defied United Nations demands that he get rid of his weapons of mass destruction and barred U.N. inspectors; al-Qaeda’s public statements must be believed even when contradicted by its private comments; and U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is unthinkable because it would let al-Qaeda “extend the caliphate,” a mythical state that doesn’t really exist.

There’s always been the frightening question of what would happen if a President of United States went completely bonkers. But there is an equally disturbing issue of what happens if a President loses touch with reality, especially if he is surrounded by enough sycophants and enablers so no one can or will stop him.

At his Oct. 11 news conference, Bush gave the country a peek into his imaginary world, a bizarre place impenetrable by facts and logic, where falsehoods, once stated, become landmarks and where Bush’s “gut” instinct, no matter how misguided, is the compass for finding one’s way.

In speaking to White House reporters, Bush maneuvered casually through this world like an experienced guide making passing references to favorite points of interest, such as Hussein’s defiance of U.N. resolutions banning WMD (when Hussein actually had eliminated his WMD stockpiles).

“We tried the diplomacy,” Bush said. “Remember it? We tried resolution after resolution after resolution.” Though the resolutions had worked – and left Hussein stripped of his WMD arsenal – that isn’t how it looks in Bush’s world, where the resolutions failed and there was no choice but to invade.

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At other news conferences, Bush has filled in details of his fictional history. For instance, on July 14, 2003, just a few months after the Iraq invasion, Bush began rewriting the record to meet his specifications.

“We gave him [Saddam Hussein] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power,” Bush told reporters.

In the real world, of course, Hussein admitted U.N. inspectors in fall 2002 and gave them unfettered access to search suspected Iraqi weapons sites. It was Bush who forced the U.N. inspectors to leave in March 2003 so the invasion could proceed.

Over the past three years, Bush has repeated this false claim about the barred inspectors in slightly varied forms as part of his litany for defending the invasion on the grounds that it was Hussein who “chose war,” not Bush.

Meeting no protest from the Washington press corps, Bush continued repeating his lie about Hussein showing “defiance” on the inspections. For instance, at a news conference on March 21, 2006, Bush reprised his claims about his diplomatic efforts.

“I was hoping to solve this [Iraq] problem diplomatically,” Bush said. “The world said, ‘Disarm, disclose or face serious consequences.’ … We worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world. And when he chose to deny the inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him. And we did. And the world is safer for it.”

Determined to Invade

In reality, documentary evidence shows that Bush was determined to invade Iraq regardless of what U.S. intelligence found or what the Iraqis did.

For instance, the so-called “Downing Street Memo” recounted a secret meeting on July 23, 2002, involving British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top national security aides. At that meeting, Richard Dearlove, chief of the British intelligence agency MI6, described his discussions about Iraq with Bush’s top advisers in Washington.

Dearlove said, “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

At an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 31, 2003, Bush and Blair discussed their determination to invade Iraq, though Bush still hoped that he might provoke the Iraqis into some violent act that would serve as political cover, according to minutes written by Blair’s top foreign policy aide David Manning.

So, while Bush was telling the American people that he considered war with Iraq “a last resort,” he actually had decided to invade regardless of Iraq’s cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors, according to the five-page memo of the Oval Office meeting.

The memo also revealed Bush conniving to deceive the American people and the world community by trying to engineer a provocation that would portray Hussein as the aggressor. Bush suggested painting a U.S. plane up in U.N. colors and flying it over Iraq with the goal of drawing Iraqi fire, the meeting minutes said.

“The U.S. was thinking of flying U-2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours,” the memo said about Bush’s scheme. “If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Time to Talk War Crimes.”]

Regardless of whether any casus belli could be provoked, Bush already had “penciled in” March 10, 2003, as the start of the U.S. bombing of Iraq, according to the memo. “Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning,” Manning wrote. [NYT, March 27, 2006]

In other words, neither the U.N. inspectors’ negative WMD findings nor the Security Council’s refusal to authorize force would stop Bush’s invasion on March 19, 2003. [For more on Bush's pretexts for war in Iraq, see Consortiumnews.com’s “President Bush, With the Candlestick…”]

Comfortable History

But Bush remains so comfortable with his fabricated history – and so confident that the White House press corps won’t contradict him – that he now sketches the false landscape in a few quick strokes, as in “Remember it? We tried resolution after resolution after resolution.”

When Bush is not taking gullible people on a tour of his imaginary history, he is testing how well sophistry works as logic, such as his oft-repeated claim that Americans must believe what Osama bin Laden says.

“What I say to the American people when I’m out there is all you got to do is listen to what Osama bin Laden says” regarding al-Qaeda’s goals and the importance of Iraq, Bush said at the Oct. 11 news conference.

Yet, while Bush argues that bin Laden’s public ravings should seal the deal – and thus lock U.S. troops into Iraq for the indefinite future – Bush never considers the well-documented possibility that al-Qaeda is playing a double game, baiting the United States about leaving Iraq to ensure that U.S. troops will stay.

In a rational world – if one wanted to give any weight to al-Qaeda’s thinking – you would look at unguarded, internal communications, not the public propaganda.

For instance, more credence would be given to an intercepted Dec. 11, 2005, communiqué from a senior bin Laden lieutenant known as “Atiyah” to the then-chief of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a document discovered by the U.S. military at the time of Zarqawi’s death in June 2006.

In the letter about al-Qaeda’s strategy in Iraq, Atiyah told Zarqawi that “prolonging the war is in our interest.” A chief reason, Atiyah explained, was that Zarqawi’s brutal tactics had alienated many Iraqi Sunni insurgents and thus a continued U.S. military presence was needed to buy time for al-Qaeda to mend fences and put down roots.

The “Atiyah letter” – like a previously intercepted message attributed to al-Qaeda’s second-in-command Ayman Zawahiri – indicated that a U.S. military pullout could be disastrous for al-Qaeda’s terrorist bands, which are estimated at only about 5 to 10 percent of the anti-U.S. fighters in Iraq.

Without the U.S. military presence to serve as a rallying cry and a unifying force, the al-Qaeda contingent faced disintegration from desertions and attacks from Iraqi insurgents who resented the wanton bloodshed committed by Zarqawi’s non-Iraqi terrorists.

The “Zawahiri letter,” which was dated July 9, 2005, said a rapid American military withdrawal could have caused the foreign jihadists, who had flocked to Iraq to battle the Americans, to simply give up the fight and go home.

“The mujahaddin must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal,” said the “Zawahiri letter,” according to a text released by the office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence.

The “Atiyah letter,” which was translated by the U.S. military’s Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, also stressed the vulnerability of al-Qaeda’s position in Iraq.

“Know that we, like all mujahaddin, are still weak,” Atiyah told Zarqawi. “We have not yet reached a level of stability. We have no alternative but to not squander any element of the foundations of strength or any helper or supporter.”

Indeed, the “Atiyah” and “Zawahiri” letters suggest that one of al-Qaeda’s biggest fears is that the United States will pull out of Iraq before the terrorist organization has built the necessary political infrastructure to turn the country into a future base of operations.

The Caliphate Scam

Zawahiri was so concerned about the possibility of mass desertions after a U.S. withdrawal that he suggested that al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq talk up the “idea” of a “caliphate” along the eastern Mediterranean to avert a disintegration of the force.

Even with these two fretful al-Qaeda letters in hand, Bush continued to warn Americans about al-Qaeda’s intent to follow up a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq by turning the country into a launching pad for a vast Islamic “empire” that would spell the strategic defeat of the United States.

In a Sept. 5, 2006, speech, Bush declared, “This caliphate would be a totalitarian Islamic empire encompassing all current and former Muslim lands, stretching from Europe to North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia,” Bush said. “We know this because al-Qaeda has told us.”

Bush returned to this theme in his Oct. 11 news conference. His administration’s “strategic goal is to help this young democracy [Iraq] succeed in a world in which extremists are trying to intimidate rational people in order to topple moderate governments and to extend the caliphate,” Bush said. “They want to extend an ideological caliphate that has no concept of liberty inherent in their beliefs.”

But – like much of Bush’s world – al-Qaeda’s “caliphate” doesn’t really exist. Indeed, before the Bush administration took power in 2001, Islamic extremists had been routed across the Arab world, from Algeria to Egypt to Jordan to Saudi Arabia – explaining why so many al-Qaeda leaders were exiles holed up in caves in Afghanistan.

Plus, given the strife between Sunni and Shiite sects, it’s hard to conceive how a unified global Islamic “caliphate” would be imaginable. Most likely, if the U.S. government dealt with Muslims with greater sophistication, they would take care of al-Qaeda and similar extremists like they did before.

In Bush’s world, however, the “caliphate” is not just a ploy by al-Qaeda leaders to keep impressionable young jihadists in line; it is an entity that would be “extended” if U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq.

So, as he rationalizes the horrendous death toll in Iraq – estimated at about 655,000 dead by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health – Bush doesn’t see a disaster of historic proportions. In his world, the bloodshed is simply another reaffirmation of his decision to invade.

“I applaud the Iraqis for their courage in the face of violence,” Bush said. “I am amazed that this is a society which so wants to be free that they’re willing to – that there’s a level of violence that they tolerate.”

It's difficult to envision any rational person making such a statement. If anything, the level of killing in Iraq is a combination of sectarian violence and the determination of many Iraqis to drive out what they see as the American invaders. But in Bush world, such realities never intrude.

Still, perhaps, the greatest danger from Bush's delusions is that they will come to supplant any American notion of reality and spell the doom of the United States as a democratic Republic based on an informed electorate.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'
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SOURCE:
Consortiumnews.com


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Creeping Dictatorship by Fred Reed

I miss the days of smoke-filled rooms when crooked pols chose corrupt presidential candidates who were approximately sane. Today we have a sort of presidential bus-station lottery. We choose as ruler any beer-hall putz who can shake hands and grin his way successfully through New Hampshire. This, plus the deep rot of the American political framework, is allowing the rapid conversion of the United States into something previous Americans would hardly recognize.

Permit me a foray of a paragraph into psychojournalism. It fascinates me to know that George Bush was a male cheerleader at Andover. Yes, it could have been worse. He might have been a table-dancer. But most of us who were in high school when he was recognize that you either came to watch football, or you came to watch the girl cheerleaders. There was something odd about a boy who wanted to be one.

We are ruled by a male cheerleader who favors torture. I wonder what things twist in the inner fog.

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Given a president who seems chiefly concerned to display his indomitable manhood, the question arises: What restraints keep him from absolute control of a formidably armed nation of three hundred million? The Constitution, noblest of fables, was designed to do just this. But absent the will to enforce them, checks and balances do not exist, and laws, principles, and constitutions mean nothing. If no one says “no,” the president simply behaves as he wants. The genius of the strange little man in the White House has been to recognize this, to divine the weakness of the American political order.

When he wanted to attack Iraq, he simply lied, and lied again, and shifted his ground and lied again. It worked. When he didn’t want to follow the Geneva Conventions in his treatment of captured Iraqis, he just declared his prisoners of war not to be prisoners of war. Torture? He just did it and faced down the country and the world. Disregard of civil rights? Spying? He just did as he chose.

Here is the great discovery of the little man who doesn’t read. America is not the land of the free, nor of the brave, nor of the politically sentient. Nor is it a country of laws or of principles. It is a country of those who just do as they want. A president can do anything he chooses. Who will tell him no? Nobody has.

Today there is speculation as to whether he will make war, perhaps nuclear war, on Iran. The universal assumption seems to be that if he wants to, he will just do it. The legislature, already having given up its authority to declare war, seems to regard the military as the private guard of the president. Is it not interesting that one dim, pugnacious, ignorant little man can bring on nuclear war all by himself?

When Mr. Bush gets caught lying or breaking the law, he shows no embarrassment, contrition, or sense of having done anything wrong. He seems to have no conception of right and wrong, of principle. He is not accustomed to being told “no,” and accepts no constraints on his power. All that matters to him is that he get his way. He gets it.

Where will this lead? Obviously, to vastly increased police powers. But I wonder. If, down the pike, Bush announced that to protect us from terrorism he would have to postpone the presidential elections and remain in office—what would happen? Suppose he came up with a bit of supportive theater. If just before the elections something blew up, and were attributed not to the CIA but to Terrace, what then? The Reichstag has burned before. The public, the congress, the judiciary are so very, very easily manipulated. All it takes is the will to do it.

And that the little man has.

A tribal rite in the column racket is the discovery of darkness in the hearts of presidents, or witlessness, and we discover away industriously. I have done my share. I thought Clinton a bright, libidinous lout, Jimmy Carter a moralizing cipher, Reagan a sort of Grandfather Barbie and, by contrast, Eisenhower a wise man hiding behind remarkable syntax. None was evil, or mad. Bush is something new in presidential politics, genuinely dangerous and genuinely out of control. The time is ripe for him. America no longer has the institutional defenses to say "no."

What would happen if a president just refused to go? To remove him, someone would have to act. Who? Little would be necessary to stop a coup, granted. A couple of helicopters of Marines landing across the street from the White House would be enough. The various federal police bully civilians well (ask Steve Hatfill), but would find fighting real men another thing. But who in the military would have the courage to do it?

Would the public do anything? I doubt it. The Born Agains would support him, the suburban Christians suck their thumbs and wait, blacks ignore the matter, conservatives see it as necessary to stop Tersm, and most people would watch football on television. The necessary strength is not in the country. The timbers are rotten.

A popular uprising I cannot imagine. Who would rise? Overweight people with Volvos do not become urban guerrillas. Again, conservatives, who tend to be armed, rank among the most ardent supporters of Mr. Bush. In any event, how does one rise? Would upset semi-heterosexual professors at Cornell hold a Take Back the Night march? Oh joy. After three days the vigilists would become bored. Back to the television set.

The Supreme Court certainly would, and could, do nothing. The court consists of insular antiquities who so far have shown no disposition to stand up to Bush. The termites have hollowed the judicial woodpile.

Congress? It does what is paid to do, by anyone. What could it do? Some might say that it could shut off funding. With the threat of imprisonment at its collective head? It would huff, fumble, and hold committee hearings. But a coup would have to be squelched immediately or not at all.

My impression is that much of the public wants authoritarian rule, or would be perfectly content with it if it even noticed its arrival. No, I can’t prove it. But what do most people care about beyond television on screens that grow ever larger, beyond porn, beer, and the competitive purchase of grander SUVs? I ask this not as a lifelong curmudgeon being tiresome (though doubtless I am both) but seriously. Who in a sprawling TV-besotted country cares about the Constitution? A comfortable police state is after all comfortable.

I do not predict that the reigning curiosity will stage a coup (which should it occur would not be a coup but “an emergency measure,” necessary to protect us from Terrace). I do say that what is happening today is unlike anything that has happened before, and that people do not always see what is coming. If you read books from the Germany of the 1930s, you will find that people were uneasy, divided, unsure of things, but had no idea just what the squatty little man with the voice had in mind for them. He just did it. The unimaginable does sometime occur. We notice only afterward.

October 12, 2006

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and the just-published A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be.
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SOURCE:
Creeping Dictatorship by Fred Reed


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Why Democratic-leaning companies outperform Republican-leaning ones. By Daniel Gross - Slate Magazine


On the campaign trail, Democrats are loudly claiming that they can outperform Republicans in Washington when it comes to policy. Now they're making the same claim about mutual-fund investing.

As Moneybox reported in May, the Free Enterprise Action Fund, a tiny mutual fund run by lobbyists, uses stock ownership to push policies associated with the Republican Party. Through the first nine months of this year, it was up 5.59 percent, lagging the 8.53-percent gain for the Standard & Poor's 500. Starting next week, The Blue Fund will try to demonstrate that Democratic principles aren't simply better for the country—they're better for investors.

The Blue Fund aims to funnel capital to companies that it believes have policies and worldviews that jibe with the Democratic Party. While there are plenty of socially responsible mutual funds that screen stocks for decent environmental and labor practices, "there was no fund available for someone who cared about the political aspects of corporate behavior as well," said Blue Fund co-founder and president Daniel Adamson, a former McKinsey consultant who has also worked in private equity. So, the Blue Fund is also monitoring political contributions to ensure firms really lean Democrat.

The Blue Fund uses a two-phase screening process to pick companies that Democrats can love. First, the managers of its large- and small-cap funds look for companies whose political action committees and top three executives have given more than half of their donations to Democrats since 1996. Then, those politically correct companies must show they are politically correct—i.e., that they measure up on issues like environmental sustainability, respect for human rights, fair treatment of employees, and diversity. (Here is a full list of qualifying companies.)

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Given Republican control of White House and Congress and corporate America's general preference for Republicans, only a small minority of the stocks in the relevant indices (the S&P 500 for the large-cap fund, the Russell 2000 for the small-cap fund) pass muster. About 15 percent of the S&P 500 members (75) and about 18 percent of the members of the Russell 2000 (370) qualify for the Blue Funds.

As a result, the Blue Fund is a concentrated index fund whose makeup differs significantly from the S&P 500. Here are the top holdings of the Blue Fund large-cap fund, and of the small-cap fund. The Blue Funds are heavily concentrated on consumer firms, financial services, and technology and doesn't have a single energy stock. (ExxonMobil doesn't donate mostly to Democrats? I'm shocked!) None of the top 10 holdings of the S&P 500, among them ExxonMobil, General Electric, and Citigroup, appears in the top 25 holdings of the Blue Fund. Apple and Google each account for 5 percent of the Blue Fund, and the top 25 stocks including Nike, Starbucks, and Costco, account for 60 percent of the fund. The screening process seems to sift out the small number of American companies that cater to iPod-listening, Nike-wearing, latte-drinking, Internet-surfing, Costco-shopping people with lots of discretionary income and fat 401(k) plans. In other words, coastal and urban Democrats!

There are a few major differences between the Blue Fund and the Red-leaning Free Enterprise Action Fund. While both have lobbyists and politicos associated with them (former Democratic National Committee Chairman Joe Andrew chairs the Blue Fund), the Blue Fund's team includes people who have experience in the asset-management business. And while the Republicans behind the Free Enterprise Action Fund want investors to take it on faith that their approach is good for investors, the Blue Fund has a white paper, complete with graphs, that shows the superiority of their methodology. While past performance is no guide to future performance, the white paper (see Page 3) shows that over the past five years, the Blue Large Cap Index would have beaten the S&P 500 by 13.1 percent annually, and beaten companies that give a majority of their political donations to Republicans by 15.6 percent annually. That's a massive difference. Of course, virtually any market-cap-weighted portfolio in which Google and Apple constitute 10 percent of holdings would have put up similar numbers in the past several years. But Adamson notes that even if you remove the three companies in the Blue Fund with a market capitalization of over $25 billion (Google, Apple, and Costco), the blue companies still outperformed the S&P 500 by three percentage points per year.

So what makes Democratic-leaning companies do better? Adamson attributes the outperformance to what he calls "progressive leadership." Companies with progressive leaders are more likely to innovate and be flexible, more likely to treat employees better (Costco), more likely to work better with outside organizations that can burnish or damage brands (the Gap), and more likely to earn the loyalty of committed customers with lots of disposable income (Starbucks). And all that leads to better profits and performance. Says Adamson: "Nice guys sometimes can finish first."

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Why Democratic-leaning companies outperform Republican-leaning ones. By Daniel Gross - Slate Magazine


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Who Said All Roads Lead to Karl?

How CIA-Leak Pardons Could Clear the Decks for 2008
by Elizabeth de la Vega

Who said, "All roads lead to Karl?" And by Karl, of course, I mean President Bush's key political strategist and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.

Actually, "all roads lead to Karl" is such a true and succinct statement of Rove's influence in the White House and Republican Party that it has often been repeated. But the originator of the comment is Reagan's former Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein. He was quoted using this phrase in a March 2005 New York Times article that described Rove's uniquely powerful role in the Bush administration. As it turns out, Duberstein could just as easily have made the same remark about himself.

Wait a minute. Isn't this supposed to be Part II of Pardon Me? Scooter Libby's Trial Strategy? As I explained last week, the trial of Cheney's former senior aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is set for January 17, 2007 and defense options for court dismissal of the perjury, false statements, and obstruction of justice charges are dwindling. (The indictment arose, as most will recall, out of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of a CIA operative's identity -- that operative being Valerie Plame Wilson, former ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife.) Faced with the looming trial date, the wealthy, elite Republican friends of Libby and of the Bush administration appear to be paving the way for him to receive a Presidential pardon -- possibly even before trial -- by portraying the lead prosecutor as a renegade and the case as inconsequential.

So what does Ken Duberstein have to do with the CIA leak case and this apparent Republican strategy of desensitizing the public to the impact of a pardon? That's what I wondered six weeks ago when he suddenly appeared in this already Byzantine story.

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Richard Armitage: Deus Ex Machina

Ancient Greek and Roman playwrights often extricated their protagonists from sticky situations through the use of a deus ex machina, the Latin phrase for "god from a machine." Nowadays, we apply the term to any out-of-the-blue solution to a problem. Dei ex machinae -- I think that's the plural -- may satisfy a theater audience, but in real life, they're hard to swallow.

That was precisely my difficulty when former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was "revealed" in Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War -- the new book by the Nation's David Corn and Newsweek's Michael Isikoff -- as one of two senior administration officials who, on July 8, 2003, told Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame Wilson worked as a CIA analyst on weapons of mass destruction and that she had arranged the trip to Niger of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was her husband. I have no doubt that Armitage did disclose this classified information to Novak on that day, but everything else about the story (not the book itself) -- including its details, its provenance, and the reaction it has provoked -- is highly suspect.

The first red flag is that this "bombshell" is not exactly a bombshell. What is being hailed by pundits as the "poison pill" that destroys Fitzgerald's case -- the news that Armitage was the first person to reveal Mrs. Wilson's identity to Novak -- is essentially a confirmation of stories that have floated through both commercial and independent media since November of 2005, shortly after the indictment was released. Furthermore, as in-court statements by Libby's attorneys clearly indicate, they've known that the first person to leak to Novak -- "official A" in the indictment -- was Armitage all along. In addition, as the Libby defense team well knows, the trial judge has made it equally clear that possible leaks by Armitage or anyone else are irrelevant to whether or not Libby made intentional false statements.

Another reason for skepticism about the Armitage story is that it is filled with suspicious gaps and internal contradictions -- far too many to catalog. Here are only a few:

Armitage talked to Novak on July 8, 2003, two days after Wilson wrote an op-ed in the New York Times questioning President Bush's claim that Iraq had tried to acquire "yellowcake" uranium in Africa. Novak then relayed the information to Rove, who replied -- according to Novak -- "Oh, you know that too?" Novak then used this confirmation as a basis for disclosing these nuggets in a July 14th column. Yet, as the story is told in Hubris, Armitage had no idea he was Novak's source until October 1, 2003 when he read a new Novak article that described one of the leakers as "no partisan gunslinger." At that point, Armitage was allegedly pained and distressed to realize that Novak must be referring to him.

Let's stop right there. A public furor about the leak had begun to simmer in mid- July, almost immediately after Novak's column appeared. Throughout August and September, the controversy had escalated into calls for an investigation. Yet Armitage claims to have been blissfully unaware that any of this brouhaha related to him. He gave not a thought to his conversation with Novak -- and apparently did not talk about the leak controversy with anyone -- not even on Friday September 26, 2003 when news broke that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the Plame leak. (Novak himself hired a lawyer on that day.)

By Monday, September 29, according to Hubris, "The Plame leak was the news consuming Washington." At the daily White House briefing, press spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that "the President expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing." McClellan vouched for both Rove and the Office of the Vice President as having no involvement in the leak. Yet Armitage -- who, as Hubris reports, had told Iran-Contra investigators in 1987, "I am pretty nosy and frankly I think I've learned the lesson in a bureaucracy that the more you know, the more you can put things together." -- was reportedly completely oblivious?

After the aha! moment when Armitage realized he was the only non-partisan gunslinger in town-- so the story goes -- he immediately called his then-boss and close friend, Secretary of State Colin Powell. Both promptly called... Ken Duberstein.

Why? They insist that they were not trying to get help setting their stories straight; instead, they claim, Powell wanted his old friend "Duberdog" (as he affectionately calls him) to contact Novak and ask if Armitage was indeed his source. Why bring in Duberdog? If Armitage were genuinely surprised by this sudden revelation and truly felt he had nothing to hide, why didn't he just call Novak himself?

Next, Powell and Armitage called the State Department's lawyer, William Taft IV, who notified the Justice Department. Taft also called White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. Corn and Isikoff write that Taft was purposefully "oblique" with Gonzales because neither he, nor Powell, nor Armitage wanted the White House to know about what Armitage had done. Therefore, Taft allegedly told Gonzales "someone" from the State Department would be providing information about the leak to the Justice Department. Then he asked if Gonzales wanted to know more and Gonzales -- Isikoff writes in Newsweek -- "playing by the book," said no. Powell, Armitage, and Taft were happy that the White House would be kept in the dark, and so, according to Hubris, Armitage's story remained a secret to everyone but the investigating FBI agents to whom he promptly confessed all.

Deus Ex Machinations?

By this point in the story, all of my vestigial prosecutorial hackles were fully raised.

For starters, by early October, Armitage not only had an obvious reason to shade the truth; he also knew precisely how to do so. The requirements for proof of an Intelligence Identities Protection Act violation had been much-discussed by then, so Armitage was well aware that there was no violation if he had not acted intentionally. It is not surprising, therefore, that this Deputy Secretary of State, a savvy and scrappy thirty-year veteran of government affairs and political intrigue, suddenly transformed himself into a cross between Mr. Rogers and the famed gossip columnist Letitia Baldridge. Even though he had met with Novak on a day when the Bush administration was in full crisis mode about Joseph Wilson's criticisms and was actually answering a question asked by Novak, Armitage insisted he had merely told Novak offhandedly, as "just gossip," that Wilson's trip had been arranged by his wife who was a CIA analyst working on weapons of mass destruction.

Armitage did not confess on October 2, 2003. Instead, while professing to be forthright, and after discussing his story with at least three people, he admitted to no wrongdoing whatsoever. Fortunately for Armitage, however -- according to Hubris -- the prosecution chose not to charge him because it could not prove he knew Mrs. Wilson was a covert agent.

At the same time, from the perspective of the White House, Armitage's "admission" would get Rove and Libby off the hook. If the investigation had focused solely on the genesis of the disclosures that led to Novak's column, as the Bush administration obviously thought it would, Libby would not have been at risk at all and Armitage's story would have absolved Rove as well. Armitage claimed he had acted inadvertently and Rove, on his part, was merely confirming a rumor to a trusted columnist. This is, in fact, just what Rove and Libby have been saying all along.

Coincidentally, this MO for the two leaks to Novak precisely mirrors the information-laundering technique Rove is famous for using, especially with Novak. As Corn and Isikoff explain, Rove will frequently give information to Novak off the record, suggesting that Novak call someone else to confirm it, thereby using "Novak to play political brushback without leaving any fingerprints."

And what of Armitage's voluntary trip to the FBI in October 2003? The nonconfession confession, such as the one he offered that day, is an old ploy in multiple-defendant cases. You offer up one person as a fall guy -- a scapegoat -- who suffers only minor scratches because he admits to nothing more than inadvertence or confusion, all the while appearing to be remorseful and disarmingly honest. Everyone else then blames that person, maybe even seeming to be angry with him. If the plan works, the case will go away and all can ride off happily together into the sunset.

The recent entrance of Richard Armitage into the CIA leak story as if he were a new figure -- when he was not -- looks less like a case of deus ex machina than of deus ex machinations. Despite his official refusal to be interviewed for Hubris, Armitage obviously allowed his friends and confidants -- including the head of the State Department's intelligence branch Carl Ford, who (by his own admission in the book) has known about Armitage's involvement for at least a year -- to leak the story in a way favorable to him.

Even more important, according to Hubris, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales also knew that a State Department official was involved in the leak, but allegedly said nary a word about it to the President. Notwithstanding its cavalier tone, the account of Gonzales' declining State Department attorney Taft's offer of information is extremely damaging to Gonzales. Under these circumstances, such a refusal would not be "playing by the book" at all -- at least not by any law book.

Gonzales was counsel to the President. In other words, President Bush was his client and the only person whose interests he represented. Beginning in late September, the President was publicly insisting that he wanted to know who the leakers were and he wanted to "know the truth." Therefore, the matter of the leak inquiry was of the utmost concern to Gonzales' client -- the President -- and, as such, Gonzales was ethically obligated to communicate Taft's offer of information to him. Any failure to do so would violate the Code of Professional Responsibility -- not, apparently, the book by which Gonzales was playing. Yet the White House has let this account of a serious ethical breach stand without offering comment or defense, and none of the President's surrogate spokespersons have issued a peep.

Who Is Ken Duberstein and Why Is He Here?

What is the final tell -- the fact that reveals what is actually going on here?

It is, I believe, the introduction of Ken Duberstein into the mix. The most striking defect in Armitage's confession is that it provides no believable explanation for why he happened to be speaking with Novak on July 8, 2003 -- the very time when the administration was struggling to control the damage from Wilson's op-ed. Novak says he had been contacted out of the blue by Armitage's office two weeks previously, which would have been approximately June 22, but he doesn't know why. Hubris reports that Duberstein, sometime after the investigation began, told "others" that he "may have" arranged the meeting as a favor to Powell. This vague suggestion by persons unknown is, of itself, nearly meaningless. But what makes it more suspect is that Duberstein himself has never made this statement publicly, nor has Armitage -- and Novak says he knows nothing about it.

Yet Duberstein has allowed this story to be offered and repeated -- in the New York Times and elsewhere. In these articles, Duberstein is described as a friend and adviser to Powell and Armitage.

But Duberstein is not just their friend; he is everyone's friend. Since Ronald Reagan's second term when he famously took over as Chief of Staff and pulled the President out of the huge hole he was in as a result of the Iran-Contra affair, Duberstein has been a key adviser to and "fixer" for Republican politicians. He shepherded Clarence Thomas through the Supreme Court nomination process for the first President Bush. He began the 2000 presidential primary season as Arizona Senator John McCain's campaign adviser, but when McCain was deciding whether to drop out, Duberstein acted as a conduit to the Bush campaign. Not long after that, he joined Rove and Vice President Cheney's key advisor Mary Matalin, in the "Gang of Six," Bush's inner circle of campaign counselors. (At the same time, Armitage, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice were members of the President's foreign policy brain trust.) In May of 2003, when Wilson's allegations were surfacing publicly, Duberstein -- along with Karl Rove, Andy Card, and others -- was already meeting with Bush to plan for the 2004 election. In 2005, when the Armitage story began leaking out, Duberstein, Rove, and friends were, of course, gearing up for the 2006 congressional elections.

Duberstein is not "merely" a key Republican adviser; he is also one of the most powerful Republican lobbyists in Washington. He lobbies for, among others, the American Gaming Association, the Direct Marketing Association, the National Cable Television Association, AARP, St. Paul Companies, Fannie Mae, and Time-Warner, as well as numerous pharmaceutical companies and defense contractors. One of his clients is Boeing. Armitage consulted for Boeing before he was appointed Deputy Secretary of State. Another of Duberstein's clients is General Motors. Funny thing, in the 1990s, Andy Card -- who was considered to be as powerful as Karl Rove while he was White House Chief of Staff -- was the head of government relations for General Motors. Duberstein also lobbies for ConocoPhillips, one of the three oil companies that benefited most directly from the reopening of trade relations with Libya, a project the State Department was working on during Armitage's tenure there.

So rewinding to spring 2003, when Wilson began speaking out publicly, were Karl Rove, "Scooter" Libby, Dick Cheney, and others in the Office of the Vice President the only Executive Branch officials who had reason to discredit him, undermine his story, and possibly just get him to pipe down? Of course not.

Certainly, there was infighting in the administration. Armitage and Powell were at odds with Cheney, Libby, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and others. They are now seen as comparative moderates and, since leaving, have vigorously attempted to distance themselves from responsibility for the invasion of, and ongoing war in, Iraq.

In the lead-up to the invasion, however, every time Powell and Armitage were called upon by White House Chief of Staff Card, Libby, Cheney, or the President to advance the case for war, they did. Armitage made speeches and testified before Congress, arguing that the threat from Iraq was so urgent we couldn't wait any longer for the United Nations to act. Powell, as we all know, went to the UN and made the speech that convinced a then-doubting public to support the President's decision to invade.

All along, however, Powell and Armitage knew -- because their own intelligence branch had been telling them -- that the facts they were citing as grounds for war were questionable, if not completely false. The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) had repeatedly explained why aluminum tubes the Iraqis were purchasing were neither suitable nor intended for nuclear-weapons manufacture, as administration officials, including Powell, were contending. INR had also warned that the uranium-from-Niger claim was baseless. Indeed, Powell's and Armitage's own analysts had concluded there was no basis for asserting that Iraq even had a nuclear-weapons program. Joseph Wilson's public criticisms were, in short, making Powell and Armitage look very bad.

Perhaps more significant, Wilson's persistent comments were inviting inquiry into the entire case for war and, in the process, potentially jeopardizing Bush's chances for reelection. Keeping a Republican president in office and a Republican majority in Congress was -- it now seems clear -- the overriding motivation of all of the actors, including Armitage, in this whole sordid affair. Ultimately, every phase of the CIA leak case, including the propaganda campaign that is occurring right now, has been about maintaining the wealth and power of the Republican Party.

Remember I mentioned how everyone may be able to ride off into the sunset if one person offers himself as a scapegoat? Consider some of Richard Armitage's activities these days. He is on the board of ManTech International, whose U.S. defense and homeland security contracts have increased roughly 20% each quarter since he signed on in the spring of 2005. Along with his good friend -- and everyone else's -- lobbyist Kenneth Duberstein, he is also on the board of ConocoPhillips, the company that has now been able to reopen its oil pipelines in Libya. Finally -- just to round out the family circle -- Duberstein is a Trustee Emeritus of the Hudson Institute, the corporate-funded conservative think tank where Scooter Libby now works.

Both Armitage and Duberstein, as well as numerous other powerful Republicans, are also now acting as informal advisers for Arizona Senator John McCain's possible 2008 presidential campaign. Reportedly, McCain and Rove have made peace for the sake of the Party -- and McCain's candidacy. Things would work out so much better for everyone if that pesky Libby case and, indeed, the entire Special Counsel investigation, went away. As Bush, Cheney, Libby, Armitage, Duberstein, and so many others well know from the Iran-Contra affair, the President doesn't have to wait until anyone is convicted, or even charged, to exercise his constitutional power of clemency. On December 24, 1992, just weeks before former Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger's trial for charges arising out the Iran-Contra investigation was set to begin, President George H.W. Bush pardoned all of the defendants, not only for past convictions, but for any charges that might subsequently arise out of Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh's investigation.

Given that our Chief Executive has demonstrated an utter disregard for the truth and the law in the execution of nearly all of his presidential duties, there is every reason to believe that an October surprise is not the only one in the offing. I dearly hope I am completely wrong about this, but if the Libby trial remains set for January, a December surprise may also be in store.

Elizabeth de la Vega is a former federal prosecutor with more than 20 years of experience. During her tenure, she was a member of the Organized Crime Strike Force and Chief of the San Jose Branch of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California. Her pieces have appeared in the Nation Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and Salon. She writes regularly for Tomdispatch and is the author of the upcoming book U.S. v. George W. Bush et. al., a Tomdispatch project to be published by Seven Stories Press in late November. She may be contacted at ElizabethdelaVega@Verizon.net.

Copyright 2006 Elizabeth de la Vega


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Who Said All Roads Lead to Karl?


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You Can Thank Industrial Agriculture for E. Coli - by Abrahan Paulos

The recent E. coli bacteria scare has had grocery stores, both local and nationwide, pulling spinach off their shelves and throwing it away. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the State of California have determined that the spinach implicated in the outbreak grew in California counties. The first illness associated with this outbreak occurred on August 2, although most illnesses reported to date cluster from August 26 to September 12.

To date, 183 cases of illness due to E. coli have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)–-including 29 of a form of kidney failure called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS)–-as well as 95 hospitalizations and one death (FDA).

E. coli is usually a harmless bacterium that is abundant in the digestive systems of healthy cattle and humans, and if your spinach salad happened to be carrying the average E. coli, the acid in your gut is usually enough to kill it. Although most healthy adults can recover completely within a week, some people can develop HUS. HUS is most likely to occur in young children and the elderly, which was the case of the only death in the recent outbreak, of a 77-year-old woman in Wisconsin.*

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E. coli O157-H7 is a by-product of grain-based feeding to dairy and beef cattle in an attempt to fatten them up quicker at a lower cost. The cow's digestive system and acid balance is designed to break down grass, not high-production, refined rations that is the practice of large-scale, industrial agriculture. Irrigation water can also carry E. coli contamination; fields can be contaminated with raw sewage from flooding. This recent outbreak, and past deadly problems with contaminated meat, are a direct by-product of producing cheap, unhealthy cattle.

The agricultural area of California where this latest contamination crisis originated, produces 74 percent of the fresh-market spinach grown in the United States, and many other fresh-market vegetables. It is contiguous to many Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, managing thousands of dairy cows.

The nine bags of baby spinach now linked by DNA testing to outbreak were "conventionally grown spinach and not organic." They came from one of the farms that supplies spinach to Natural Selection and were sold under the Dole label, according to Samantha Cabaluna, spokeswoman for Natural Selection.

This problem is suggestive of large-scale, industrial agriculture.

The concentration of much of the nation's food supply in a given region, and the accelerated increase in imports from developing countries, puts our nation's food security and health at risk. Also many of the pathogens now penetrating the food chain due to industrial agricultural practices are becoming resistant to many antibiotics due to their widespread use in livestock production. This industrial farming is the reason E. coli quickly spread to 20 states.

The safety that a locally based food system provides is clear. Not only could the spinach have been tracked and the outbreak contained quickly if it was locally grown, local farmers and their facilities could have been visited and assessed in a much more timely manner.

Regardless of scale, all organic food has a compulsory inspection required, so tracing back a product in the event of food contamination or questions of certification are achievable. This compulsory inspection trail does not exist for conventional food. When growing organic food, the application of raw manure is strictly regulated and sewage sludge is prohibited. Most organic manure is composted prior to application, a practice that greatly reduces risk and improves environmental protection.

Can E. coli-free spinach be grown locally, safely, and healthy much of the year? Yes indeed, it is now being done by small and medium-sized producers in the Midwest and throughout much of the Northeast. So, what's stopping the growth? Easy. Artificial economies, subsidies, and compromises in quality in a greedy and harmful effort to produce cheaper and cheaper food.

Abraham Paulos is the communications assistant at WHY (World Hunger Year). Founded in 1975, WHY is a leader in the fight against hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world. www.worldhungeryear.org
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You Can Thank Industrial Agriculture for E. Coli


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The End of the US as a Civilized Nation - by Ted Rall

The End of the U.S. as a Civilized Nation
SEATTLE - Students of historical hysteria immediately saw 9/11 as America's version of the Reichstag Fire. Both incidents were organic acts of terrorism (contrary to popular misconception, the Nazis didn't set the 1933 fire) seized upon by power-hungry government officials to justify the crushing of political dissent and the rolling back of civil liberties. Hitler began marching his people into the abyss immediately upon seizing power in 1933, but Nazi Germany's fate as a rogue nation wasn't sealed until two years later, in the late summer of 1935.

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Before then there had been heinous violations of human rights. Nazi authorities detained thousands of socialists and communists in concentration camps (death camps weren't built until 1941). Many were tortured; some died in custody. Stormtroopers enforced state-sanctioned boycotts of Jewish-owned businesses. Brownshirts beat Jews in the streets as the police stood by and watched. Ignoring Germany's treaty obligations, Hitler poured millions into the armed forces and threatened to use them against Germany's neighbors. No one could doubt that Germany was in the hands of militaristic right-wing thugs.

Until 1935, however, the home of Goethe and Beethoven had not entirely abandoned the universal values accepted by civilized states. True, top German officials and street-level Nazi Party members were breaking all sorts of laws, including constitutional protections against racial and religious discrimination. That's precisely the point: the law endured. Pre-Nazi legal infrastructure and laws, including the 1920s-era "Weimar" Constitution--still the Western world's gold standard for protecting individual rights and privileges--remained in force. Technically, anyway.

Had there been the political will, Hitler and his goons could have been arrested and tried under German law. The German government was a lost cause, but the German nation still had a (slim) chance. Until 1935.

That's when Germany officially codified the Nazis' uncivilized anti-Semitism by passing the Nuremberg Laws. Jews were stripped of citizenship and banned from marrying or dating non-Jews. The laws were a form of legalized harassment, prohibiting Jews from displaying German flags or shopping in stores at certain times. Turning Jews into legal pariahs paved the way for the Holocaust. More immediately, the barbaric ipso facto policies of the Nazi government had corrupted Germany's lofty and admirable system of legal guarantees. Even though German law hadn't been of much help to Jews before--well, there had been the occasional arrest and prosecution of a brownshirt who had gone "too far"--now there was every reason for them to succumb to hopelessness. Germany was no longer a civilized nation in the clutches of gangsters. It had become a gangster nation.

Similarly, the recently passed Military Commissions Act removes the United States from the ranks of civilized nations. It codifies racial and political discrimination, legalizes kidnapping and torture of those the government deems its political enemies, and eliminates habeas corpus--the ancient precept that prevents the police from arresting and holding you without cause--a basic protection common to all (other) modern legal systems, and one that dates to the Magna Carta.

Between 2001 and 2006, George W. Bush worked tirelessly to eliminate freedoms and liberties Americans have long taken for granted. The Bush Administration's CIA, mercenary and military state terrorists kidnapped thousands of innocent people and held them at secret prisons around the world for months and years at a time. These people were never charged with a crime. (There was good reason for that. As the government itself admitted, fewer than ten had actually done anything wrong.) Yet hundreds, maybe even thousands, were tortured.

Under American law these despicable acts were illegal. They were, by definition, un-American. Although it didn't help the dozens of Bush torture victims who died from beatings and drowning, the pre-Bush American judicial system worked. The Republican-controlled U.S. Supreme Court handed down one decision after another ordering the White House to give its "detainees" trials or let them go. For a brief, shining moment, it looked like there was hope for the U.S. to find its way back to the light.

Now, thanks to a gullible passel of Republican senators and an unhinged leader who is banking that Americans are just as passive as the Germans of the mid-1930s, we have our own Nuremberg Laws.

Under the terrifying terms of the radical new Military Commissions Act, Bush can declare anyone--including you--an "unlawful enemy combatant," a term that doesn't exist in U.S. or international law. All he has to do is sign a piece of paper claiming that you "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." The law's language is brilliantly vague, allowing the president to imprison--for the rest of his or her life--anyone, including a U.S. citizen, from someone who makes a contribution to a group he disapproves of to a journalist who criticizes the government.

Although Bush and his top officials ordered and endorsed torture, the courts had found that it was illegal under U.S. law and treaty obligations. Now torture is, for the first time, legal.

"Over all," reports The New York Times, "the legislation reallocates power among the three branches of government, taking authority away from the judiciary and handing it to the president." Bruce Ackerman, professor of law and political science at Yale, notes that the MCA trashes the centuries-old right of a prisoner to petition to the courts: "If Congress can strip courts of jurisdiction over cases because it fears their outcome, judicial independence is threatened."

How did we get here? Good Germans--and many of them were decent, moral people--asked themselves the same thing. The answer is incrementalism, the tendency of radical change to manifest itself in bits and pieces. People who should have known better--journalists, Democrats, and Republicans who are more loyal to their country than their party--allowed Bush and his neofascist gangsters to hijack our republic and its values. They weren't as bad as Bush. They just couldn't see the big picture.

Just as no single rollback led marked the transition from the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich, no event is individually responsible for America's shocking five-year transformation from beacon of freedom to autocratic torture state. It wasn't just letting Bush get away with his 2000 coup d'état. It wasn't just us standing by as he deliberately allowed his family friend Osama bin Laden to escape, or as he invaded Afghanistan, or as he built the concentration camps at Guantánamo and elsewhere, or even Iraq. It was all of those things collectively.

The Military Commissions Act signals that our traditional system of beliefs and government has irrevocably devolved into moral bankruptcy. Memo to Senator McCain: You don't negotiate with terrorists, and you don't compromise with torturers.

It doesn't matter how much food aid we ship to the victims of the next global natural disaster, or how diplomatic our next president is, or whether we come to regret what we have done in the name of law and order. Our laws permit kidnapping, torture and murder. Our laws deny access to the courts. The United States has ceded the moral high ground to its enemies.

We are done.

Ted Rall is the author of the new graphic travelogue "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?"

© Copyright 2006 Ted Rall
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SOURCE:
The End of the US as a Civilized Nation


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What it means to be a liberal | Chicago Tribune

By Geoffrey R. Stone. Geoffrey R. Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago, is the author of "Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime."
Published October 10, 2006

For most of the past four decades, liberals have been in retreat. Since the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, Republicans have controlled the White House 70 percent of the time and Republican presidents have made 86 percent of the U.S. Supreme Court appointments. In many quarters, the word "liberal" has become a pejorative. Part of the problem is that liberals have failed to define themselves and to state clearly what they believe. As a liberal, I find that appalling.

In that light, I thought it might be interesting to try to articulate 10 propositions that seem to me to define "liberal" today. Undoubtedly, not all liberals embrace all of these propositions, and many conservatives embrace at least some of them.

Moreover, because 10 is a small number, the list is not exhaustive. And because these propositions will in some instances conflict, the "liberal" position on a specific issue may not always be predictable. My goal, however, is not to end discussion, but to invite debate.

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1. Liberals believe individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others. This is at the very heart of liberalism. Liberals understand, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed, that "time has upset many fighting faiths." Liberals are skeptical of censorship and celebrate free and open debate.

2. Liberals believe individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support the civil rights movement, affirmative action, the Equal Rights Amendment and the rights of gays and lesbians. (Note that a conflict between propositions 1 and 2 leads to divisions among liberals on issues like pornography and hate speech.)

3. Liberals believe individuals have a right and a responsibility to participate in public debate. It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion expansion of the franchise; the elimination of obstacles to voting; "one person, one vote;" limits on partisan gerrymandering; campaign-finance reform; and a more vibrant freedom of speech. They believe, with Justice Louis Brandeis, that "the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people."

4. Liberals believe "we the people" are the governors and not the subjects of government, and that government must treat each person with that in mind. It is liberals who have defended and continue to defend the freedom of the press to investigate and challenge the government, the protection of individual privacy from overbearing government monitoring, and the right of individuals to reproductive freedom. (Note that libertarians, often thought of as "conservatives," share this value with liberals.)

5. Liberals believe government must respect and affirmatively safeguard the liberty, equality and dignity of each individual. It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion the rights of racial, religious and ethnic minorities, political dissidents, persons accused of crime and the outcasts of society. It is liberals who have insisted on the right to counsel, a broad application of the right to due process of law and the principle of equal protection for all people.

6. Liberals believe government has a fundamental responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support government programs to improve health care, education, social security, job training and welfare for the neediest members of society. It is liberals who maintain that a national community is like a family and that government exists in part to "promote the general welfare."

7. Liberals believe government should never act on the basis of sectarian faith. It is liberals who have opposed and continue to oppose school prayer and the teaching of creationism in public schools and who support government funding for stem-cell research, the rights of gays and lesbians and the freedom of choice for women.

8. Liberals believe courts have a special responsibility to protect individual liberties. It is principally liberal judges and justices who have preserved and continue to preserve freedom of expression, individual privacy, freedom of religion and due process of law. (Conservative judges and justices more often wield judicial authority to protect property rights and the interests of corporations, commercial advertisers and the wealthy.)

9. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, for without such protection liberalism is impossible. This, of course, is less a tenet of liberalism than a reply to those who attack liberalism. The accusation that liberals are unwilling to protect the nation from internal and external dangers is false. Because liberals respect competing values, such as procedural fairness and individual dignity, they weigh more carefully particular exercises of government power (such as the use of secret evidence, hearsay and torture), but they are no less willing to use government authority in other forms (such as expanded police forces and international diplomacy) to protect the nation and its citizens.

10. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, without unnecessarily sacrificing constitutional values. It is liberals who have demanded and continue to demand legal protections to avoid the conviction of innocent people in the criminal justice system, reasonable restraints on government surveillance of American citizens, and fair procedures to ensure that alleged enemy combatants are in fact enemy combatants. Liberals adhere to the view expressed by Brandeis some 80 years ago: "Those who won our independence ... did not exalt order at the cost of liberty."

Consider this an invitation. Are these propositions meaningful? Are they helpful? Are they simply wrong? As a liberal, how would you change them or modify the list? As a conservative, how would you draft a similar list for conservatives?

- - -

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

- How do you define a liberal? How do you define a conservative? E-mail us by 2 p.m. Tuesday at ctc-response@tribune.com with "define" in the subject line. Include your name, hometown and contact information. Responses will be published online and in Wednesday's Voice of the People.

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Geoffrey R. Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago, is the author of "Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime."


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SOURCE:
What it means to be a liberal | Chicago Tribune


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Safe Haven | Musings on the 'New High' in the Market and Other Thoughts

Hat tip to the folks at Blah3.com --pseudolus
======================================================================

Is the new high for real?

The financial media, especially CNBC, aka Bubblevision, have been trying to stoke up excitement as the Dow Jones Industrial Average struggled to a beat its previous all-time high set back in 2000 at the height of the tech boom. But does the DJIA really have any relevance to the health of the overall market?

Unfortunately, in my view, the DJIA is a tragically flawed representation of the overall market and is one of the bigger cons foisted on the investing public. It is an arithmetic average of the prices of 30 seemingly randomly picked stocks that hardly reflect the 21st century US economy, let alone the global economy. Companies are inserted or deleted from the index at the whim of the Dow Jones Corporation, a company with a well defined extremist political agenda. Only General Electric remains of the original 30 shares. Iconic stalwarts from the past such as US Steel, Bethlehem Steel, Sears Roebuck and Westinghouse have been retired to the knacker's yard.

Because since it is an arithmetic average of only 30 shares it can be fairly easily manipulated by powers wanting to "paint the tape" and provide a false signal of prosperity, for instance. With the upcoming mid term elections, there could well be an element of that occurring at present.

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CONTINUED:

To digress for a moment, let us look at the average and some of the absurdities it throws up. American Express earns one tenth what Citigroup earns but they are equally weighted since their shares have the same absolute price, about $50. General Electric is twenty times the size of General Motors but they are also equally weighted for the same reason. GE also earns 6 times what Amex earns but Amex has almost twice its weight in the index. IBM earns less than General Electric but is more than twice as important in calculating the DJIA simply based on its share price. Altria is half the size of Microsoft but twice as important in the index. Finally, a company such as AIG, the insurance giant, is larger and more profitable than most of the DJIA constituent shares but is not included in the index. With the exception of Exxon, there are no resource stocks in the DJIA.

Other indices give different results. The flawed NASDAQ index, for instance is still 60 percent below its all-time highs. Probably the broadest and fairest representation of corporate America is the S&P 500 index which represents the 500 largest shares in the NYSE and is capitalization weighted. It is still 13 percent below it all-time highs achieved in 2000. So truth, to some degree, is where you find it.

We should note also that profits in the US, largely as a result of globalisation and cost cutting, are at their highest ever levels in terms of GDP and this supports shares in the short term. The flip side is that the returns to labour are at their lowest and the US worker on average wages now earns substantially less in real terms than he did in 1973, thirty three years ago. First the working classes and now the middle classes are getting poorer as a result of the great labour arbitrage. It would seem quite possible, even likely, that this will eventually engender some form of a political protectionist reaction that will lower profits as a share of GDP at the expense of wages. That happened in the wake of World War I and the impact could hardly be neutral on share prices.

In any case, any celebration of a new high is a result of money illusion. A dollar in 2006 is worth significantly less than a dollar in 2000 even using the politically manipulated BLS figures. The high of 11,700 in 2000 requires a 14,000 level today to achieve a new high in real terms.

Gold is often seen as the only real money. If we were to use the price of gold as the determinant of the real level, we would require a price of 26,000 for the DJIA to reach a new high.

How sustainable is the rally?

The markets reflect the high present levels of global liquidity, the high level of profits and the best three or four years of global expansion since before the oil price explosion of the 1970s. They are projecting the status quo forward and discounting the negatives such as the global imbalances, geopolitical threats such as North Korea and Iran, the slowing US economy and a likely rebalancing of power in Washington next month and the gradual withdrawal of excess liquidity.

Is this US rally the real thing or a sucker rally? The next few weeks will be critical but count me a sceptic over the next few months. The first part of 2007 in the US could be more difficult than the consensus expects but there will at some point next year be an effort to reflate the economy in front of the Presidential election in 2008 which, incidentally, is also the year Beijing will host the Olympics. The massive adjustments could even be delayed until 2009 with the new US presidential term and a further deterioration in the US budgetary imbalance as the first baby boomers start to collect their social security.

But one should avoid being overly US-centric. Excluding geopolitical upsets and that is a huge caveat, Asia, including Japan, and now Europe, have their own momentum and look set to continue their economic growth/recovery stories in 2007. There is still excellent value in parts of Asia and there are good pockets of value in Europe also.

Does the sell off since May mark the end of the road for commodities including oil and gold?

The efficient market theory simply does not work on a short term basis. In the short term fear and greed and technical considerations can overwhelm purely rational theory. That, I am sure, is what happened in the first half of 2006. The flood of money from hedge funds and into exchange traded funds (ETFs) drove commodity prices up too far, too fast. A reaction was inevitable within the context of a long term commodity bull market for which the fundamentals, I believe, remain in place.

These technical adjustments do matter. Was it, for instance, a coincidence that Goldman Sachs- for whom Mr. Paulson, the US Treasury Secretary had recently been Chairman - sharply lowered the weighting of gasoline in its commodity index in August thereby precipitating ETF selling and sharply lower gasoline prices? How very convenient for the Republicans who are facing defeat in November's elections! Once underway, these reactions can become self fulfilling and go to excess in the same manner as the previous bull-run.

Some funds have undoubtedly moved back into equities as portfolios are rebalanced. It is just the normal ebb and flow of the markets.

But we need to keep the focus. We had a twenty years bear market in commodities from 1980-2000. History shows that the bulls that follow a long term bear are often of the same duration. The supply demand imbalances will take time to correct on the supply side whilst demand can be expected to remain strong. Even if the first wave of the bull cycle is over we should still have more on the upside after this corrective period is over.

Has the decline commodity prices been enough to keep interest rates from climbing further and worsening the downturn in the US housing market?

The official line is that the US housing market will reduce US growth by 1-2 percent in the first half of 2007. Certainly, Australian and the UK have managed to defuse their housing bubbles without a severe reaction in their economy to date and that could also be true for the US. But the US might also have a much severer reaction. The full impact of adjustable rate mortgage re-settings will fall next year on already heavily indebted consumers. Mortgage equity withdrawal will no longer be the same prop for consumer spending. Some local markets in the US have seen massive price declines already on new built property which, in turn, affects the resale market. That could spread nationwide.

It will be some time before we know the outcome. But, again, geopolitical events and possible stagnation in Washington are factors probably not fully weighted into the equation of the conventional wisdom. And, again, the commodity story is not over. Stagflation – higher inflation and lower growth - remains a possible, perhaps even probable, outcome.

Is the recovery in equities a result of funds flowing out of the housing market (in the US especially)?

I strongly doubt that the retail punter, having lost his shirt on flipping condos, has any spare cash for shares. We are looking at institutional and global funds going into equities as part of the great recycling effort. In addition, with the unexpected weakness of the yen, the carry trade is back.

Are funds deserting bond markets because of a conviction that interest rates have peaked, or because of fears of rising defaults in the bond market, especially in the corporate sector?

I find the premise hard to accept. Funds were flowing out of bonds early in the year based on a fear of rising inflation and better opportunities elsewhere. Since May there has been a recovery in bond prices as these fears were reduced. Volatility, a measure of risk, hit its all time lows in the spring and then spiked up sharply with the commodity/ emerging markets sell-off in May/June. It has since returned to levels close to the record lows. Complacency once again rules the roost. Emerging market bonds have also largely recovered although there is now greater discrimination between those countries with good fundamentals in terms of current account surpluses etc. and those with poor fundamentals supported merely by high interest rates and the carry trade, for instance Iceland and Hungary.
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SOURCE:
Safe Haven | Musings on the 'New High' in the Market and Other Thoughts


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