Best Viewed with IE or Opera. Sorry, Firefox works, but loses some sidebar layout,
'my profile' and other stuff... Anybody with a fix, please leave a comment. Many thanks in advance.

That said, if you must use Firefox (and I don't blame you, it's become my browser of choice, too)
...get the "IE Tab" extension. This allows you to view problem pages with the IE rendering engine. Very cool!

Friday, July 07, 2006

BBspot - Paramount Acquires Movie Rights to Shakira's Ass

By Brian Briggs at BBspot.com

Hollywood, CA - Following the acquisition of the rights to make a movie based on Avril Lavigne's song "Sk8er Boi", Paramount added to its music-to-movie portfolio by purchasing the rights to Shakira's ass.
Hollywood Hits Bottom

A reported bidding war between Paramount and Columbia drove up the price of the booty to over $12 million. Hollywood insiders questioned the logic of paying so much for ass rights. "My lord, have you seen it?" responded Paramount executive Fred Simpkins.

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"I have a pretty good idea of what I'd like to do with Shakira's ass," said Simpkins. "On the movie side, we already have a few projects underway. For instance, we're basing the sequel to The Core on Shakira's rear. In the original film the core of the earth had stopped spinning, and a ragtag band of scientists had to drill to the center of the earth. Once there they detonate a nuclear weapon to get it spinning again. In The Core 2: The Day Shakira's Ass Stood Still, Shakira's booty has stopped shaking, and a ragtag band of scientists need to do some fancy drilling to get it started. Leading men have been lining up to be a part of the cast."

Simpkins also said there are plans for a movie entitled, Being Shakira's Ass. "It's a surrealistic comedy about a married couple who start selling access to Shakira's buns, like Being John Malkovich only lower," he explained.

Controversial director Michael Moore has expressed interest in a documentary on the singer's behind.

The Paramount acquisitions have other studios scrambling to keep up. Sony Pictures has acquired the rights to the guitar riff from "Smoke on the Water." Dreamworks has optioned Christina Aguilera's left ankle.

This is the first time a major movie studio has purchased rights to performer's body part.
SOURCE:
BBspot - Paramount Acquires Movie Rights to Shakira's Ass

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...I get the inside scoop on future events...

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Happy birthday, Mr. Pretzelnit!

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you know what really pisses me off?

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Reclaiming the Issues: "It's an Illegal Employer Problem"

By Thom Hartmann

Every time the media - or a Democrat - uses the phrase "Illegal Immigration" they are promoting one of Karl Rove's most potent Republican Party frames.

The reality is that we don't have an "Illegal Immigration" problem in America. We have an "Illegal Employer" problem.

Continued..."Read More" click link below

CONTINUED:

Yet it's almost never mentioned in the mainstream media, because to point it out could slightly reduce the profits and CEO salaries of many of America's largest multi-state and multinational corporations - who both own the media and contribute heavily to conservative politicians. Republicans would prefer that the "criminals" covered in the press are working people, and that corporate and CEO criminals not get discussed.

As the Busby/Bilray contest showed, "illegal immigration" is a red-hot issue for American voters. The Democrat Busby was way ahead until she committed a faux pas before a group of Latinos, leading to (false) media reports (particularly on right-wing talk radio) that she was encouraging illegal immigrants to vote for her in the upcoming election. Her Republican opponent seized on this and hammered the district with ads for the last few days of the campaign (while voting machines curiously went home at night with some of the poll workers), and now a Republican lobbyist has taken the seat of a Republican congressman convicted of illegal deals with Republican lobbyists.

Encouraging a rapid increase in the workforce by encouraging companies to hire non-citizens is one of the three most potent tools conservatives since Ronald Reagan have used to convert the American middle class into the American working poor. (The other two are destroying the governmental protections that keep labor unions viable, and ending tariffs while promoting trade deals like NAFTA/WTO/GATT that export manufacturing jobs.)

As David Ricardo pointed out with his "Iron Law of Labor" (published in his 1814 treatise "On Labor") when labor markets are tight, wages go up. When labor markets are awash in workers willing to work at the bottom of the pay scale, unskilled and semi-skilled wages overall will decrease to what Ricardo referred to as "subsistence" levels.

Two years later, in 1816, Ricardo pointed out in his "On Profits" that when the cost of labor goes down, the result usually isn't a decrease in product prices, but, instead, an increase in corporate and CEO profits. (This is because the marketplace sets prices, but the cost of labor helps set profits. For example, when Nike began manufacturing shoes in Third World countries with labor costs below US labor costs, it didn't lead to $15 Nikes - their price held, and even increased, because the market would bear it. Instead, that reduction in labor costs led to Nike CEO Phil Knight becoming a multi-billionaire.)

Republicans understand this very, very well, although they never talk about it. Democrats seem not to have read Ricardo, although the average American gets it at a gut level.

Thus, Americans are concerned that a "flood of illegal immigrants" coming primarily across our southern border is, to paraphrase Lou Dobbs, "wiping out the American middle class." And there is considerable truth to it, as part of the three-part campaign mentioned earlier.

But Dobbs and his fellow Republicans say the solution is to "secure our border" with a fence like that used by East Germany, but that stretches a distance about the same as that from Washington, DC to Chicago. It'll be a multi-billion-dollar boon to Halliburton and Bechtel, who will undoubtedly get the construction and maintenance contracts, but it won't stop illegal immigration. (Instead, people will legally come in on tourist and other visas, and not leave when their visas expire.)

The fact is that we had an open border with Mexico for several centuries, and "illegal immigration" was never a serious problem. Before Reagan's presidency, an estimated million or so people a year came into the US from Mexico - and the same number, more or less, left the US for Mexico at the end of the agricultural harvest season. Very few stayed, because there weren't jobs for them.

Non-citizens didn't have access to the non-agricultural US job market, in large part because of the power of US labor unions (before Reagan 25% of the workforce was unionized; today the private workforce is about 7% unionized), and because companies were unwilling to risk having non-tax-deductible labor expenses on their books by hiring undocumented workers without valid Social Security numbers.

But Reagan put an end to that. His 1986 amnesty program, combined with his aggressive war on organized labor (begun in 1981), in effect told both employers and non-citizens that there would be few penalties and many rewards to increasing the US labor pool (and thus driving down wages) with undocumented immigrants. A million people a year continued to come across our southern border, but they stopped returning to Latin America every fall because instead of seasonal work they were able to find permanent jobs.

The magnet drawing them? Illegal Employers.

Yet in the American media, Illegal Employers are almost never mentioned.

Lou Dobbs, the most visible media champion of this issue, always starts his discussion of the issue with a basic syllogism - 1. Our border is porous. 2. People are coming across our porous border and diluting our labor markets, driving down US wages. 3. Therefore we must make the border less porous.

Lou's syllogism, however, ignores the real problem, the magnet drawing people to risk life and limb to illegally enter this country - Illegal Employers. Our borders have always been porous (and even with a "fence" will still allow through "tourists" by the millions), but we've never had a problem like this before.

And it's not just because poverty has increased in Mexico - today, about half of Mexico lives on less than $2 a day, but 50 years ago half of Mexico also lived on the equivalent of $2 today. Our trade and agricultural policies are harmful to Mexican farmers (and must be changed!), but we were nearly as predatory fifty years ago (remember the rubber and fruit companies, particularly in Central America?).

Yet fifty years ago we didn't have an "illegal immigration" problem, because back then we didn't have a conservative "Illegal Employer" problem.

As the Washington Post noted in an article by Hsu and Lydersen on June 19, 2006:

"Between 1999 and 2003, work-site enforcement operations were scaled back 95 percent by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which subsequently was merged into the Homeland Security Department. The number of employers prosecuted for unlawfully employing immigrants dropped from 182 in 1999 to four in 2003, and fines collected declined from $3.6 million to $212,000, according to federal statistics.

"In 1999, the United States initiated fines against 417 companies. In 2004, it issued fine notices to three."

The hiring crimes of Illegal Employers are being ignored by the law, and rewarded by the economic systems of the nation.

Proof that this simple reality is ignored in our media (much to the delight of Republicans) is everywhere you look. For example, check out a series of national polls on illegal immigration done over the past year at www.pollingreport.com/immigration.htm. A typical poll question is like this one from an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted in June, 2006:

"When it comes to the immigration bill, the Senate and the House of Representatives disagree with one another about what should be done on the issue of illegal immigration.

"Many in the House of Representatives favor strengthening security at the borders, including building a seven-hundred-mile fence along the border with Mexico to help keep illegal immigrants from entering the United States, and they favor deporting immigrants who are already in the United States illegally.

"Many in the Senate favor strengthening security at the borders, including building a three-hundred-and-seventy-mile fence along the border with Mexico to help keep illegal immigrants from entering the United States, and they favor a guest worker program to allow illegal immigrants who have jobs and who have been here for more than two years to remain in the United States.

"Which of these approaches would you prefer?"

The question: "Or would you prefer companies that employ undocumented workers be severely fined or put out of business?" wasn't even asked. The word "employer" appears nowhere in any of the questions in that poll. Nor is it in the CBS News immigration poll. Or in the Associated Press immigration poll. Or in the Fox News immigration poll.

Only the CNN poll asked the question: "Would you favor increasing penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants?" Two-thirds of Americans, of all party affiliations, said, "Yes," but it went virtually unreported in mainstream media coverage.

"Illegal Immigration" is really about "Illegal Employers." As long as Democrats argue it on the basis of "illegal immigration" they'll lose, even when they're right. Instead, they need to be talking about "Illegal Employers."

Politically, it's not a civil rights issue, it's a jobs issue, as working Americans keep telling pollsters over and over again.

"Mass deportations" and "Fences" are hysterics and false choices. Start penalizing "Illegal Employers" and non-citizens without a Social Security number will leave the country on their own. And they won't have to confront death trying to cross the desert back into Mexico - Mexican citizens can simply walk back into Mexico across the border at any legal border crossing (as about a million did every year for over a century).

Tax law requires that an employer must verify the Social Security number of their employees in order to document, and thus deduct, the expense of their labor. This is a simple task, and some companies, like AMC Theatres, are already doing it.

For example, Cameron Barr wrote in The Washington Post on April 30, 2006, that: "At one area multiplex owned by AMC, the Rio 18 in Gaithersburg, 11 employees 'decided to resign' this month after they could not rectify discrepancies that arose during the screening, said Melanie Bell, a spokeswoman for AMC Entertainment Inc., which is based in Kansas City, Mo. She said such screening is a routine procedure that the company conducts across the United States."

Not wanting to be an Illegal Employer, the Post noted that AMC "has long submitted lists of its employees' Social Security numbers to the Social Security Administration for review. If discrepancies arise, she [company spokeswoman Bell] said in an e-mailed response to questions, 'we require the worker to provide their original Social Security card within 3 days or to immediately contact the local SSA office.' She said the process is part of payroll tax verification and occurs after hiring."

Easy, simple, cheap, painless. No fence required. No mass deportations necessary. No need for Homeland Security to get involved. When jobs are not available, most undocumented workers will simply leave the country (as they always did before), or begin the normal process to obtain citizenship that millions (including my own sister-in-law - this hits many of us close to home) go through each year.

Republicans, however, are not going to allow a discussion of "Illegal Employers." Instead, they will continue to hammer the issue of "Illegal Immigrants," and tie that political albatross around the necks of Democrats (who seem all too willing to accept it).

Bob Casey, for example, was beating the pants off Rick Santorum in the Pennsylvania senatorial campaign, until Santorum began running an ad that says:

"Bobby Casey announced his support of a Senate bill that grants amnesty to illegal immigrants, shocking hardworking taxpayers all across Pennsylvania. Now Casey's trying to wiggle out of it by saying the bill doesn't offer amnesty and requires illegal immigrants to pay their back taxes. Either Casey didn't read the bill, or he's trying to deceive you. The Washington Times reports the legislation gives amnesty to 11 million who are here illegally, and paves the way for 66 million more immigrants to enter the country. The bill also forgives two of the last five years of back taxes for illegal immigrants, something the IRS would never do for you. This Casey-supported bill even gives illegal aliens Social Security benefits for the time they were here illegally. Fortunately, Rick Santorum voted against the bill, and Rick's leading the fight to make sure it never becomes law. Now you know the advantage of having in our corner a fighter like Rick Santorum."

Casey is still ahead, but the ad is visibly eroding his support. As George Will pointed out in a June 18, 2006 op-ed titled "Calculating Immigration Politics":

"Many Republicans, looking for any silver lining in an abundance of dark clouds, think the immigration issue might be a silver bullet that will slay their current vulnerability. The issue is, as political people say, a 'two-fer.' Opposition to the Senate bill, and support for the House bill, puts Republican candidates where much of the country and most of their party's base currently is -- approximately: 'Fix the border; then maybe we can talk about other things.' And opposition to the Senate bill distances them from a president who, although rebounding recently, has approval ratings below 40 percent in 29 states."

Now even Bush is talking like the Republicans in the House of Representatives - time to "get tough" and give Halliburton a few hundred billion to build a fence.

But still nobody is talking about the real problem here - the Illegal Employers.

Hopefully one day soon a dialogue like this fictitious one may ensue on, for example, Face The Nation:

[Bob Schieffer] Senator, do you really think the solution to the illegal immigration problem in America is to offer amnesty instead of building a fence?

[Senator Stabenow] Bob, I think you've been drinking some of Karl Rove's Kool-Aid. Illegal immigrants aren't the cause of undocumented workers driving down wages in this country. It's caused by Illegal Employers. We need to do something about these corporate criminals.

[Bob Schieffer (baffled)] Illegal employers? But what about the illegal aliens?

[Senator Stabenow] Bob, the aliens wouldn't be here if they didn't think they could get a job. Of course, we need to clean up US agricultural subsidies and trade policies that are causing human suffering in our neighboring countries, but to truly protect the pay standards of workers here in the United States we need to crack down on the Illegal Employers. They're the magnets that are drawing people in from all over the world, many of whom come in as tourists and then overstay because they get illegal jobs. And these Illegal Employers are breaking the law - both immigration laws and IRS laws. I suggest that we need to tighten up these laws against Illegal Employers, adding huge fines for first offenses, jail time for CEOs for second offenses, and the corporate death penalty - dissolve their charters to operate - for repeat offenders.

[Bob Schieffer (stammering)] The, the, er, did you say "corporate death penalty"? You mean against companies?

[Senator Stabenow] Better companies die than human beings. These Illegal Employers, in their quest for ever-cheaper labor, are drawing people to cross our borders in ways that cause many people to die in the deserts of the southwest. These people were executed, for all practical purposes, by the policies of a few greedy and lawbreaking American companies. When companies are repeat offenders, they should be dissolved, their assets sold to reimburse their shareholders, and let other, more ethical companies pick up the slack. We used to do this all the time in America when companies behaved badly. Up until the 1880s, an average of around 2000 companies a year got the corporate death sentence in the US.

[Bob Schieffer (bug-eyed)] But what about the illegal immigration problem?

[Senator Stabenow (patting Schieffer's hand)] It's okay, Bob. You shouldn't listen so much to those Republicans. There isn't really much of an illegal immigration problem - it's an Illegal Employer problem. When we clear up the Illegal Employer problem in this country, we'll be back like we were before Reagan started allowing employers to behave illegally. When non-citizens can't get a job, most of them will go home, as they always have in the past. We don't need a fence, we don't need amnesty, we don't need mass roundups or deportations, and we for sure don't need guest workers. We have as many unemployed citizens in this nation as there are illegal immigrants - in my state of Michigan, for example, Flint and Detroit have massive unemployment since Reagan and his corporate cronies declared war on working people. When we get rid of Illegal Employers, that's one step in helping the job market tighten up so that legal employers will have to pay a living wage to attract legal citizens to work. That and rational labor and trade policies, and we can begin to restore our middle class and put our cities back together.

[Bob Schieffer (nodding)] It makes sense, Senator. An "Illegal Employer problem." Who would have thought of that?

[Senator Stabenow (smiling)] Well, Bob, the Republicans thought about it, back in the 1980s. But they thought it was a good idea. Which is why we have this mess today. Get rid of the Illegal Employers - toss a few CEOs into jail and shut down the outlaw companies - and the rest of this part of the problem will be easy and inexpensive to fix...

Thom Hartmann is a Project Censored Award-winning best-selling author, and host of a nationally syndicated daily progressive talk show carried on the Air America Radio network and Sirius. www.thomhartmann.com His most recent books include "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight," "Unequal Protection," "We The People: A Call To Take Back America," "What Would Jefferson Do?" and "Ultimate Sacrifice." His next book, due out this autumn, is "Screwed: The Undeclared War on the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It."


SOURCE:
Reclaiming the Issues: "It's an Illegal Employer Problem"

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Thursday, July 06, 2006

Hedge Funds: Special Edition - Yahoo! Finance

Are Dick Cheney's Money Managers Betting on Bad News?

By Steven Goldberg
Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Vice President Cheney's financial advisers are apparently betting on a rise in inflation and interest rates and on a decline in the value of the dollar against foreign currencies. That's the conclusion we draw after scouring the financial disclosure form released by Cheney this week.

As of the end of last year, Cheney and his wife, Lynne, held between $10 million and $25 million in Vanguard Short-Term Tax-Exempt fund (it's impossible to be more precise because the disclosure form lists holdings within ranges). The fund's holdings of tax-free municipal bonds mature, on average, in a little more than a year -- meaning that the fund should hold up well if rates rise.
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CONTINUED...

The Cheneys held another $1 million to $5 million in Vanguard Tax-Exempt Money Market fund, which is practically risk-free and could benefit from continued increases in short-term interest rates. And the couple had between $2 million and $10 million in Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities fund. The principal and interest payments of inflation-protected bonds rise along with consumer prices, making them good inflation hedges.

The Cheneys also had between $10 million and $25 million in American Century International Bond. The fund buys mainly high-quality foreign bonds (predominantly in Europe) and rarely hedges against possible increases in the value of the dollar. Indeed, its prospectus limits dollar exposure to 25% of assets and the fund currently has only 6% of assets in dollars, according to an American Century spokesman.

The Cheneys' total assets could be as high as $94.6 million, according to the disclosure form. The vice-president's advisers say the vice president pays no attention to his investments. His lawyer, Terrence O'Donnell, says outside money managers supervise the investments. 'He has nothing to do with it,' O'Donn"
Hedge Funds: Special Edition - Yahoo! Finance
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SOURCE...
Hedge Funds: Special Edition - Yahoo! Finance:

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Unclaimed Territory - by Glenn Greenwald: The thug and intimidation tactics of the Far Right go mainstream

"As is true for many lawyers who have defended First Amendment free speech rights, I have represented several groups and individuals with extremist and even despicable viewpoints (in general, and for obvious reasons, it is only groups and individuals who espouse ideas considered repugnant by the majority which have their free speech rights threatened). Included among this group were several White Supremacist groups and their leaders, including one such group -- the World Church of the Creator -- whose individual members had periodically engaged in violence against those whom they considered to be the enemy (comprised of racial and religious minorities along with the 'race traitors' who were perceived to defend them).
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CONTINUED...

One of the favorite tactics used by such groups is to find the home address and telephone number of the latest enemy and then publish it on the Internet, accompanied by impassioned condemnations of that person as a Grave Enemy, a race traitor, someone who threatens all that is good in the world. A handful of the most extremist pro-life groups have used the same tactic. It has happened in the past that those who were the target of these sorts of demonization campaigns that included publication of their home address were attacked and even killed.

But these intimidation tactics work even when nothing happens. Indeed, these groups often publish the enemy's home address along with some cursory caveat that they are not encouraging violence. The real objective is the same one shared by all terrorists -- to place the person in paralyzing fear. The goal is to force the individual, as they lay in bed at night, to be preoccupied with worry that there is some deranged individual who read one of the websites identifying them as the enemy and which provided their address and who believes that they can strike some blow for "

read the rest...

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NOAA Says CO2 Buildup Starting To Threaten Marine Life

by Staff Writers
Boulder CO (UPI) Jul 05, 2006
U.S. scientists say worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning are altering ocean chemistry and threatening marine life. The landmark report released Wednesday by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., summarizes the known effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide on marine organisms.
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CONTINUED...

'It is clear that seawater chemistry will change in coming decades and centuries in ways that will dramatically alter marine life,' said Joan Kleypas, the report's lead author. 'But we are only beginning to understand the complex interactions between large-scale chemistry changes and marine ecology. It is vital to develop research strategies to better understand the long-term vulnerabilities of sensitive marine organisms to these changes.'

The report warns that oceans worldwide absorbed approximately 118 billion metric tons of carbon between 1800 and 1994, making them less alkaline and more acidic.

That increased acidity lowers the concentration of carbonate ion, a building block of the calcium carbonate that many marine organisms use to grow their skeletons and to create coral reef structures.

'This is leading to the most dramatic changes in marine chemistry in at least the past 650,000 years,' said oceanographer Richard Feely.

Source: United Press International"NOAA Says CO2 Buildup Starting To Threaten Marine Life:

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The Politics of Fear, the Revenge of Hope

The Supreme Court decision about military tribunals for the detainees in Guantanamo is another step in unraveling the politics of fear that the Bush administration and the majority in the Congress have manipulated for the last five years.

It is now time for a politics of hope to emerge.

The manipulation of fear has been the basis for a staggering array of Bush administration policies and congressional votes.

Fear of terrorists led to the creation of a lugubrious federal bureaucracy, the Department of Homeland Security, which spends $30 billion a year but cannot protect the citizens of New Orleans.
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CONTINUED...

Fear of terrorists allowed the administration to create surveillance programs over our finances and telephone calls, evading constitutional protections and eroding our civil liberties.

Fear about energy supplies has led to the most damaging long-term increase in oil prices in our history, a call for drilling in Alaska and a "flash flood" of inflation, which is only starting to bear down on the U.S. economy.

Fear of "big government" has led to the dismantling of environmental protections built up over more than 30 years and the erosion of international efforts to reverse global warming, putting the entire planet at risk.

Fear that secular society and culture threaten each individual's choice of religious practice has been manipulated by the administration and the congressional majority to create animosity throughout American society, solely in the service of electoral advantage.

Fear of the "other" fuels a brutal national campaign against millions of residents of the country who migrated here at great risk, seeking the kind of opportunities Americans have enjoyed.

Fear of change, especially in Congress, has been used to create hatred and animosity targeted at gay Americans.

Fear has been used by administration officials to purvey a doctrine of presidential "wartime" power unconstrained by the Constitution.

Fear is a powerful weapon in politics, but its days are numbered. The administration and the majority in Congress have tried to arouse us recently about gay marriage, the flag and the future of democracy in Iraq. Polling numbers indicate it no longer works.

What we need is a politics of hope to replace the politics of fear. What is the politics of hope?

That we can grow the economy and protect the environment at the same time.

That we can protect our patronage and diversify our energy resources successfully.

That we can welcome the diversity of this nation as one of its greatest strengths.

That we can protect ourselves against terrorists while retaining our civil rights.

That we can meet human needs without losing control of public spending.

That we can accept each other as brothers and sisters of the human race because of our differences, not in spite of them.

That we can responsibly preserve the unborn and ensure private choice in a reasonable way.

That we can provide adequate health care to the entire nation.

Hope is especially important in the way we engage the world. Terrorists and proliferators are also moved by fear and hatred. We must defend against them. They are also symptoms of an underlying disease - the inequality, the poverty, the inept, unresponsive governance and the ethnic and religious hatred - that fuels terrorists and nations living in fear and insecurity.

This underlying disease is a most important task as we engage the world. We need to balance the tools we use to tackle these problems. The military is a fine but inadequate instrument for dealing with them. This means strengthening our diplomacy and international assistance.

Above all, it means engaging the world with some humility - the humility George W. Bush promised but failed to deliver. Leadership is not "my way or the highway"; that is the course of isolated unilateralism, rooted in fear. Leadership is bringing others along - allies, international organizations and nongovernmental groups, all of which have a stake in a more hopeful world.

The politics of hope is not a palliative; it will not make the problems disappear. It is an attitude - that we and others can tackle these tough issues and find solutions over time. The door is open to this kind of politics.

It began to open when the administration and Congress intruded in the private lives and pain of the Schiavo family tragedy in Florida last year. The politics of fear unraveled rapidly when the rhetoric of homeland security met the ineptitude of the response to Hurricane Katrina. It seeped away as the propaganda of progress in Iraq and Afghanistan was exposed by growing uncertainty and insecurity in those countries; we simply have not delivered what we promised.

The Supreme Court has, in the latest decision, put another nail in the coffin of fear. Regardless of how dangerous some of the Guantanamo detainees might be, they deserve the same legal protections and processes we guarantee ourselves. Hope may be on the way.

Gordon Adams is a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University and a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Email to: gadams02@starpower.net.

© 2006 The Baltimore Sun
The Politics of Fear, the Revenge of Hope: "The manipulation of fear has been the basis for a staggering array of Bush administration policies and congressional votes."

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Think Progress » Congressman Attacks Liberal ‘Backbiters’ And ‘Naysayers’ For Criticizing Failed Missile Defense

Congressman Attacks Liberal ‘Backbiters’ And ‘Naysayers’ For Criticizing Failed Missile Defense

The right wing has latched on to North Korea’s unsuccessful missile launch to renew its calls for increased funding for the Pentagon’s failed $92-billion missile defense system. Yesterday on Fox News, Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) attacked Democratic “backbiters” and “naysayers” — including guest Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) — for questioning the program.
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CONTINUED...
The right wing has latched on to North Korea’s unsuccessful missile launch to renew its calls for increased funding for the Pentagon’s failed $92-billion missile defense system. Yesterday on Fox News, Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) attacked Democratic “backbiters” and “naysayers” — including guest Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) — for questioning the program. Watch it:

But despite Rohrbacher’s rhetoric, the U.S. missile defense system can’t — and probably never will — protect the nation against an attack. Some problems:

– The Pentagon’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system “hasn’t successfully intercepted a missile since October of 2002. … And the last two times it tried to hit an oncoming missile, the interceptor didn’t even leave the ground. Things have gotten so bad that the Missile Defense Agency’s independent review team concluded last year that more tests may only undermine the GMD’s value as a deterrent.”

– A recent Pentagon Inspector General report found that security vulnerabilities are so serious “that the agency and its contractor, Boeing, may not be able to prevent misuse of the system.”

– “A little-noticed study by the Government Accountability Office issued in March found that program officials were so concerned with potential flaws in the first nine interceptors now in operation that they considered taking them out of their silos and returning them to their manufacturer for ‘disassembly and remanufacture.’“

But despite Rohrbacher’s rhetoric, the U.S. missile defense system can’t — and probably never will — protect the nation against an attack. Some problems:

– The Pentagon’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system “hasn’t successfully intercepted a missile since October of 2002. … And the last two times it tried to hit an oncoming missile, the interceptor didn’t even leave the ground. Things have gotten so bad that the Missile Defense Agency’s independent review team concluded last year that more tests may only undermine the GMD’s value as a deterrent.”

– A recent Pentagon Inspector General report found that security vulnerabilities are so serious “that the agency and its contractor, Boeing, may not be able to prevent misuse of the system.”

– “A little-noticed study by the Government Accountability Office issued in March found that program officials were so concerned with potential flaws in the first nine interceptors now in operation that they considered taking them out of their silos and returning them to their manufacturer for ‘disassembly and remanufacture.’“

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read the source here...Think Progress » Congressman Attacks Liberal ‘Backbiters’ And ‘Naysayers’ For Criticizing Failed Missile Defense

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Tom Tomorrow

Debunking One of the Worst Ideas in Economics

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

In this column, I'm focusing on bad economics. In fact, I'm going to write about what I consider to be the two worst economic ideas -- or at least ideas that pass as economics, though both have been thoroughly repudiated by nearly all credible thinkers.
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CONTINUED...


When I say worst, I don't mean the most outlandish (e.g. stock prices are controlled by aliens) because those ideas usually collapse of their own weight. Rather, the most pernicious bad ideas in economics are those that have a ring of truth. They're hard to debunk because they have a certain intuitive appeal. As a result, they stick around, providing bogus intellectual cover for bad policy, year after year, decade after decade.


For the sake of political balance, I'll skewer a favorite of the right in this column, and then a favorite of the left in my next piece.


The Laffer Curve


Economist Arthur Laffer made a very interesting supposition: If tax rates are high enough, then cutting taxes might actually generate more revenue for the government, or at least pay for themselves. (In one of life's great coincidences, he first sketched a graph of this idea on Dick Cheney's cocktail napkin.) If the government cuts taxes, then Uncle Sam gets a smaller cut of all economic activity -- but reducing taxes also generates new economic activity. Laffer reasoned that, under some circumstances, a tax cut would stimulate so much new economic activity that the government would end up with more in its coffers -- by taking a smaller slice of a much larger pie.


In fairness to Mr. Laffer, there's nothing wrong with this theory. It's almost certainly true at very high rates of taxation. If you consider the extreme, say a 99 percent marginal tax rate, then the government will probably not be collecting a lot of revenue. To begin with, citizens are going to hide as much income as possible. (The more honest ones will turn to barter and avoid the tax system entirely.) And no one is going to rush out and take a second job or build a factory if they get to keep only $1 of every $100 that they earn.


So it's entirely plausible that slashing tax rates from 99 percent to 30 percent could increase government tax revenues. It would deflate the black market and provide a huge new incentive to work and invest.


No Big Jolt for the U.S.


But here's the problem when we take Laffer's theory and try to apply it in the U.S.: We don't have a 99 percent marginal tax rate. Or 70 percent. Or even 50 percent. We start with low marginal tax rates relative to the rest of the developed world. (Yes, I understand that it may not feel that way after the check you wrote last month.)


So cutting the tax rate from 36 percent to 33 percent is not going to give you the same kind of economic jolt as slashing a tax rate from 90 percent to 50 percent. There's no huge black market to be shut down, no big supply of skilled workers to be lured back into the labor market, and so on.


Will it generate new economic activity? Probably. And that will generate some incremental tax revenue for the government. But remember, it also means that the government will be taking a smaller cut of all the economic activity that we already have.


Think about a simple numerical example: Assume you've got a $10 trillion economy and an average tax rate of 30 percent. So the government takes $3 trillion.


Let's cut the average tax rate to 25 percent and, for the sake of example, assume that it generates $1 trillion in new economic growth (a Herculean assumption, by the way). So now, what does Uncle Sam get? One quarter of $11 trillion is only $2.75 trillion. The economy grows, government revenues shrink.


That's basically what happened with the large Reagan and George W. Bush tax cuts, both of which were followed by large budget deficits. Yes, spending has a lot to do with that, but the bottom line is unequivocal: In both cases, government revenue was lower than it would have been without the tax cuts.


Can't Lose Weight by Eating More


Neither the Reagan nor the George W. Bush tax cuts were "self-financing," as the Laffer disciples like to argue. According to The Economist -- my former employer and no bastion of left-wing thought -- the current Bush Administration's top economist, Gregory Mankiw, estimated that decreasing taxes on labor would generate enough growth to recoup only about 17 cents for each lost dollar; a tax cut on capital is better, paying for more than half of itself. Still, the bottom line from the Bush Administration itself is that tax cuts reduce Uncle Sam's take.


So why does Laffer's sketch on Dick Cheney's cocktail napkin rank near the top of my list of bad economic ideas? Because, when applied to the U.S., it's intellectually dishonest. The Laffer Curve offers the false promise that we can cut taxes without making any sacrifice on the spending side, and that's simply not true. It's the economic equivalent of arguing that you can lose weight by eating more.


Let me be perfectly clear: I'm not arguing that tax cuts are bad. I'm simply pointing out that we can't pretend that tax cuts won't require reductions on the spending side to balance the budget. In fact, you can disregard every other argument in this column and think about one thing: If Laffer were right, lower taxes would never require any spending sacrifice. We could pay a mere one percent of our income in taxes and still fund all of our government spending -- and maybe more! Do you think that's really possible?


This column should give you a hint of why economics is called the dismal science -- it's all about tradeoffs. We're the ones telling you that if you get more of something, you probably have to get less of something else.


Whether it's tax policy or dieting, you can't have your cake and lose weight, too, which is why America currently has huge deficits and a lot of fat people.

The columns, articles, message board posts and any other features provided on Yahoo! Finance are provided for personal finance and investment information and are not to be construed as investment advice. Under no circumstances does the information in this content represent a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any security. The views and opinions expressed in an article or column are the author's own and not necessarily those of Yahoo! and there is no implied endorsement by Yahoo! of any advice or trading strategy.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006


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the U.S. Attorney's Office maintains that the Cunningham bribery case was historically "unparalleled."

I'd say the new issue of a VANITY FAIR has a pretty explosive corruption article-- if you follow politics. It starts with a paragraph about right wing imprisoned Republicrook Randy "Duke" Cunningham and how his case "exposed a world of bribery, booze, and broads that reaches into the Pentagon, the C.I.A., and Congress" and then asks "Who's Next?"
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It's a long story and I'd suggest reading it (link is above). If you're too busy, let me summarize it for you. Despite the fact that the Abramoff scandal is just getting going, the U.S. Attorney's Office maintains that the Cunningham bribery case was historically "unparalleled." VANITY FAIR reminds us of 2 of the Republicrook bribers, Brent Wilkes and Mitchell Wade, neither of whom is in prison yet, and reiterates what DWT readers already know, that the "brains" behind all this bribery and tens of millions of dollars more was not the simple-minded and pathetic Cunningham but the far more devious Jerry Lewis (R-CA).


read the rest here...

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The Two Americas

Billmon (at The Whiskey Bar) has an absolutely brilliant analysis, as usual. --pseudolus
---------------------
John Tierney, the right-leaning New York Times, celebrated Independence Day with a column posing the classic what-if question: What if the South had won the Civil War and there were now two republics sharing the slice of continent between Canada and Mexico, instead of only one?
On Independence Day, would we all be happier with even more independence? What if government of the people meant that the Red people in the South and the Blue people in the North had a border between them?

I never read Tierney even before the Times firewall went up, so what I know about his column ("The Disunited States of America") is what Steve Gilliard excerpted and posted on his blog. Steve points out that the scenario itself isn't very plausible, given that an independent Dixie would have been a weak, politically fractured state with deep racial and class divisions. Ingrained hostilities and conflicting strategic interests between the rival republics probably would have led in relatively short order to another war, one the rapidly industrializing North almost certainly would have won.

I think this probably right, although it's possible an alliance with Britain and/or France might have allowed the CSA to fend off a a repeat of what my Southern ancestors liked to call the War of Northern Aggression. But modern historians, like the University of Kentucky's William Freehling (Road to Disunion, The South vs. the South) stress how the social tensions inherent in the South's version of "herrenvolk democracy," plus the racial hysteria of Deep South slaveholders terrified of being trapped in a new Haiti, drove the desperate gamble of secession. That being the case, it seems likely to me that an independent South would have fallen prey to internal unrest (perhaps including a civil war within a civil war between the Border and the Deep South states.) Or it might easily have been drawn into reckless imperial adventures in the Caribbean and Latin America, eventually leading to economic exhaustion and collapse. In the end, the North might have been forced to intervene simply to prevent the emergence of what we would now call a failed state -- or states.
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But it appears to me that Tierney wasn't so much making a historical argument as he was crafting a subtle, Swiftian proposal for disunion now. Thus his reference to Southern "red people" and Northern "blue people." He seems to be arguing that both colors would be less angry and antagonistic if they could go their separate national ways:
If the South were a separate country, Northern liberals wouldn't be ranting at George W. Bush and Pat Robertson. They wouldn't be frantically trying to find a candidate who appealed to the Bible Belt and pretended to enjoy Nascar races. They might never hear a Garth Brooks song or have to stop at a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.

Southern conservatives wouldn't have to fight for moral values against godless Yankees. They wouldn't have to watch John Kerry go hunting. Michael Moore would be an obscure foreign filmmaker . . . Politics in both countries might be less partisan, even civil.

As you can see, Tierney is every bit as fond of shallow, trivial cultural metaphors as his editorial neighbor David Brooks. He does, however, have a point -- although it's not the point he thinks he's making. Tierney's notion of the Two Americas is certainly correct, as we discover daily. But the union doesn't come close to dividing along the geographic and cultural lines he proposes.



Continued ...The Two Americas...

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006


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Sy Hersh: The Generals pushing back on Iran

Monday, July 03 2006 @ 10:48 AM EDT
Contributed by: dedalus at blah3.com
Views: 14
Arts & EntertainmentHersh has a new New Yorker piece describing the military's reaction to all the gung-ho talk about Iran. They see another disaster looming, and they're less inclined to keep quiet as they mostly did in the run-up to Iraq:

A retired four-star general, who ran a major command, said, “The system is starting to sense the end of the road, and they don’t want to be condemned by history. They want to be able to say, ‘We stood up.’ ” [....]
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Sam Gardiner, a military analyst who taught at the National War College before retiring from the Air Force as a colonel, said that Rumsfeld’s second-guessing and micromanagement were a fundamental problem. “Plans are more and more being directed and run by civilians from the Office of the Secretary of Defense,” Gardiner said. “It causes a lot of tensions. I’m hearing that the military is increasingly upset about not being taken seriously by Rumsfeld and his staff.”

Gardiner went on, “The consequence is that, for Iran and other missions, Rumsfeld will be pushed more and more in the direction of special operations, where he has direct authority and does not have to put up with the objections of the Chiefs.” Since taking office in 2001, Rumsfeld has been engaged in a running dispute with many senior commanders over his plans to transform the military, and his belief that future wars will be fought, and won, with airpower and Special Forces. That combination worked, at first, in Afghanistan, but the growing stalemate there, and in Iraq, has created a rift, especially inside the Army. The senior military official said, “The policymakers are in love with Special Ops—the guys on camels.”

The discord over Iran can, in part, be ascribed to Rumsfeld’s testy relationship with the generals. They see him as high-handed and unwilling to accept responsibility for what has gone wrong in Iraq. A former Bush Administration official described a recent meeting between Rumsfeld and four-star generals and admirals at a military commanders’ conference, on a base outside Washington, that, he was told, went badly. The commanders later told General Pace that “they didn’t come here to be lectured by the Defense Secretary. They wanted to tell Rumsfeld what their concerns were.” A few of the officers attended a subsequent meeting between Pace and Rumsfeld, and were unhappy, the former official said, when “Pace did not repeat any of their complaints. There was disappointment about Pace.” The retired four-star general also described the commanders’ conference as “very fractious.” He added, “We’ve got twenty-five hundred dead, people running all over the world doing stupid things, and officers outside the Beltway asking, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ”


Too much info in the piece to give an adequate sense of it here--it goes into the logistical nightmare the planners see ahead, as well as the demented mindset that Cheney and Rummy seem to share. Go read.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

What is left of Malkin, Hinderaker and Horowitz's credibility?

(updated below)

As I documented at length this weekend, Michelle Malkin, John Hinderaker, Red State, David Horowitz and many others of that sort spent the weekend engaged in the most vicious and self-evidently misguided attacks on The New York Times based on a puff piece in this weekend's "Escapes" section. Because the article contained a photograph of Don Rumsfeld's vacation home, they insisted that this was reckless and even retaliatory-- i.e., done with the intent to enable Al Qaeda operatives and other assassins to murder Rumsfeld (as well as Dick Cheney), and that it was further evidence of the war being waged by the NYT and its employees on the Bush administration and the U.S.

For so many obvious reasons, based on easily obtainable information -- including the fact that multiple right-wing news outlets such as NewsMax and Fox and others had previously disclosed this same information months earlier, that this information is commonly reported about government leaders in both parties, and the fact that we always know where our top government officials live and spend their weekends because they have Secret Service protection -- these accusations were as false as they were hysterical.
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But in addition to those known reasons, I strongly suspected that the Times would not have published those photographs unless they had made certain in advance that doing so would not conflict with Rumsfeld and Cheney's security concerns. But I did not make this argument because I was not sure that it was true, and unlike Michelle Malkin and John Hinderaker, I'd rather wait to obtain the relevant evidence before running around asserting "facts" based on nothing. As a result, I wrote e-mails yesterday to Linda Spillers (the photographer) and Peter Kilborn (the reporter) bringing these accusations to their attention and asking for a response.

Although I haven't heard yet from Kilborn, I received an e-mail from Spillers this morning, in which she said:

Ironically, photos were taken with Secretary Rumsfeld's permission.

The reprehensible lynch mob hysterics - Michelle Malkin, John Hinderaker, Red State, David Horowitz - spent the weekend screaming that the Times was guilty of gross recklessness and/or a deliberate intent to have Rumsfeld killed, by virtue of publication of this article. That bloodthirsty frenzy caused other bloggers to publish the home address and telephone number of Spillers and urged that other NYT editors and reporters be "hunted down." Other followers of Malkin and Hinderaker suggested to their readers that this was yet more evidence of the unpatriotic recklessness of the NYT.

All along, Don Rumsfeld gave his express permission to the NYT for these photographs to be taken. How can anything other than complete scorn be heaped on Malkin, Hinderaker, Horowitz, Red State, and all of the uber-patriotic copycat accusers who spent the weekend spewing the most dangerous accusations possible based on completely false premises? Who would think that any of them have a shred of credibility after seeing how irresponsible and impervious to facts they are -- even when knowingly catalyzing lynch mobs against people?

Once they read the NYT article, was there any reason why they could not have simply inquired with Rumsfeld's office, or Cheney's, or with the demonic NYT itself, as to whether there really were any security threats posed by that article? Why couldn't they have searched to see if other media outlets -- such as Fox or NewsMax -- had previously made this information known? Before accusing the NYT of deliberately enabling Terrorists to murder government officials, isn't there at least the most minimal obligations to verify if those accusations are actually true? But they don't care whether their accusations are true. They are in pure hate-mongering mode against the NYT, and all they want is to whip up as much unbridled rage and contempt for the NYT and its employees as possible.

So, they read a blatantly innocuous vacation home fluff piece this weekend, and without bothering to pause for even a split second to conduct a shred of research or engage in even a moment of reflection -- activities which would have led them to prior, much more revealing articles about the Clintons' Chappaqua home, or prior articles revealing the same information about Rumsfeld and Cheney's home -- they instead launch into their reflexive, mouth-watering attacks on people whom they hate, completely indifferent to the consequences of their conduct and equally indifferent to the truth of what they are saying.

Howard Kurtz puts Hinderaker on CNN virtually every weekend. Malkin and Horowitz are treated like respectable pundits on Fox and other stations. And yet their standards for what they assert are no different than Star Magazine or the lowest, bottom-feeding liars who literally invent facts at will. They spent the whole weekend trying to inflame hatred against the NYT by telling their readers that the NYT article deliberately endangered Don Rumsfeld's security in order to retaliate against him - even though that could not possibly have been true based on known facts, and even though Don Rumsfeld himself authorized the use of those photographs. What possible defense is there for this behavior, and what rational person would consider Malkin, Hinderaker, Horowitz, Red State -- all of them -- even the slightest bit credible in the future?

UPDATE: According to Jonah Goldberg, Bill Bennett also complained on his radio show this morning that the NYT "alerted readers where one of Don Rumsfeld's hidden security cameras is at his home." The always insightful Jonah added: "I bet they wouldn't do that to Barbra Streisand." This is the sort of commentary to which we are subjected on a daily basis. The only difference is that, in this case, there is irrefutable evidence of just how twisted and false it is.

source:http://glenngreenwald.blogspot.com/2006/07/what-is-left-of-malkin-hinderaker-and.html

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The 100 Worst Corporate Citizens

By Phil Mattera, Corporate Research Project
Posted on July 1, 2006, Printed on July 3, 2006

For the past 52 years, Fortune magazine has been publishing a list of the largest U.S. corporations, an annual chance for chief executives to brag that "my revenue is bigger than yours." For the past seven years, Business Ethics magazine has issued another kind of ranking -- a list of what it calls the "100 Best Corporate Citizens" -- that promotes virtue over size in the perennial game of corporate comparisons.

The Business Ethics list, the 2006 version of which appeared recently, has become a leading scorecard in the field of corporate social responsibility, or CSR (increasingly used as an abbreviation for corporate sustainability and responsibility). CSR has evolved from a rallying cry of business critics to a fashionable concern among corporate executives eager to demonstrate that high-mindedness can co-exist with the pursuit of profit. Many of the companies cited by Business Ethics consider it a badge of honor, putting out press releases touting this accomplishment.

Yet when one looks at the companies on the Business Ethics list, it is easy to be baffled at the real meaning of CSR. Some of the firms may have done laudable things, but the list is riddled with companies that have significant blemishes on their record when it comes to environmental matters, labor practices or treatment of customers. The likes of Wal-Mart and Big Oil have not yet made the cut, but that may be only a matter of time.
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Not so clean

Business Ethics compiles its list using data on corporate social performance in eight categories -- community, diversity, employee relations, environment, etc. -- from the Socrates database produced by KLD Research & Analytics. That information is then processed quantitatively using methodology developed by Sandra Waddock and Samuel Graves of the Carroll School of Management at Boston College. Unfortunately, the magazine says nothing about that methodology, so the reader is confronted with a statistical black box. An article accompanying the list provides scanty details. Thus, one must essentially take the rankings at face value.

The first thing that stands out is that the list is top heavy with high-tech firms, including Hewlett-Packard (No. 2), Advanced Micro Devices (No. 3), Motorola (No. 4), Cisco Systems (No. 8), Dell Inc. (No. 9), Texas Instruments (No. 10), and Intel (No. 11). The magazine says this is, in part, because "most top tech companies do well on environmental issues." That claim would come as a surprise to groups such as the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC), which has for years been pointing out that high-tech industry is far dirtier than its clean image. The electronics industry is a heavy user of toxic chemicals, which have a way of seeping out into the environment, resulting in a proliferation of Superfund toxic waste sites in places such as Silicon Valley.

In recent years, SVTC has also been looking at another environmental problem caused by high tech: the growing volume of e-waste generated when obsolete computers and other devices -- with toxic material inside -- are thrown away. SVTC's Computer Take Back Campaign has been pressuring the major tech companies to take responsibility for recycling. While Dell and Hewlett-Packard have responded positively to the pressure, the campaign faults companies such as Apple (No. 25 on the Business Ethics list) for resisting.

Also difficult to accept is the other reason given by Business Ethics for the prevalence of tech firms at the top of the list: high scores on employee relations, including workplace health and safety. The same toxic chemicals that pollute communities around electronics plants have taken a toll on the health of workers inside the plants. For instance, in 2004, IBM (No. 41 on the Business Ethics list) paid an undisclosed amount to settle lawsuits brought by about 50 current and former workers who were suffering from cancer that they attributed to workplace exposure.

As for the aspect of employee relations relating to unions, Business Ethics fails to mention that the high-tech firms on its list are all largely unacquainted with collective bargaining. The electronics industry has resisted unionization of its domestic workforce for decades. A Wall Street Journal reporter once took a job incognito at a Texas Instruments plant and found workers there so intimidated that they panicked at the mere mention of unions. At the same time, these same companies have not hesitated to move much of their production to foreign sweatshops.

In recent years, the industry has also been moving high-level technical, research and design functions abroad to low-wage havens such as India -- much to the detriment of U.S. workers. IBM, now focused on computer services rather than hardware, has increased the size of its Indian workforce to 43,000. Any owner of a Dell computer knows that a call to tech support is likely to be answered by someone sitting in Bangalore.

Taking tax breaks

U.S. high-tech companies are not offshoring everything, but when they build new domestic operations they often engage in another practice that should raise questions in the minds of the ethics monitors: extorting tax breaks and other subsidies from state and local governments. Recently, the Albany Times-Union reported that New York State officials may be preparing a subsidy package worth $1 billion to persuade Advanced Micro Devices to build a new chip fabrication plant in Saratoga County.

This would be the latest in a long series of generous "incentives" that semiconductor and computer producers have taken from governments across the country. In 2004 Dell got a package worth up to $267 million when it agreed to locate a new assembly plant in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The deal, which is being challenged in a lawsuit brought by the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law, mirrored a package Dell received in 1999 in connection with the construction of a plant in Nashville. When the city of Austin, Texas turned down Dell's demand for long-term property tax breaks, the company moved its headquarters to the suburb of Round Rock, which agreed to 20 years of abatements.

Intel has avoided hundreds of millions of dollars in local taxes on its facilities in New Mexico, Arizona and Oregon by using complex financing schemes involving industrial revenue bonds as well as straightforward abatements and exemptions. All these subsidies weaken the fiscal condition of local governments, making it harder for them to pay for services such as education and public safety.

Sharks and predators

High-tech is not the only industry that accounts for some questionable entries on the Business Ethics list. Take financial services. Wells Fargo & Co. (No. 16) scores high on workplace diversity, but it has been accused of mistreating its poorer customers -- many of whom are people of color. For the past several years, Wells has been the target of a campaign by the community-organizing network ACORN over its predatory lending practices. ACORN charges Wells with a slew of abusive practices, such as charging higher interest rates than a borrower's credit warrants and imposing excessive mortgage origination fees. This spring, for the third year in a row, ACORN activists -- including some carrying inflatable sharks -- demonstrated outside the Wells Fargo annual meeting. Also protesting were supporters of Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which has charged the bank with financing environmentally destructive infrastructure projects in developing countries.

RAN's Global Finance Campaign has succeeded in getting Citigroup Inc., No. 62 on the Business Ethics list, to adopt guidelines that promote more environmentally responsible projects, but the financial giant is still widely criticized for the predatory lending practices of its subsidiary Associates First Capital. More surprising is the appearance of Freddie Mac, No. 38 on the list. The mortgage finance entity has been embroiled in a major accounting scandal. In April it agreed to pay $3.8 million to settle charges relating to illegal campaign contributions.

Many other examples of companies with ethical lapses can be found on this list of supposedly exemplary corporate citizens. Johnson & Johnson (No. 12) refuses to join the 300 other companies that have signed the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics pledge not to use toxic ingredients. NIKE Inc. (No. 13) has adopted some reforms in response to years of criticism over labor practices at its overseas suppliers, but activist groups continue to cite abuses. General Mills (No. 14) sells food products with unlabeled genetically modified ingredients.

A question can even be raised about the company at the very top of the Business Ethics list: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. The company seems to have a strong commitment to CSR, but one of its main customers is Exxon Mobil, which sells Green Mountain coffee at many of its service stations.

No company is perfect, especially Wal-Mart

The fact that the corporation dubbed most ethical does a great deal of business with a company that is widely seen as one of the least ethical -- along with the many mixed track records described above -- puts into question the legitimacy of the concept of CSR.

Wait, you may say -- no company is perfect. Maybe so, but should we be honoring some of those rather imperfect entities as "the best corporate citizens?" We certainly don't use such limited standards when it comes to real citizens. Do we honor embezzlers because they recycle their newspapers? Do we overlook child abuse because the parent contributes to the United Way? People are expected to follow all laws and ethical norms -- not only those that are convenient to obey. Why not apply the same standard to corporations?

Which brings us to Wal-Mart. Having been subjected to probably more criticism than any other single company (including two national pressure campaigns devoted exclusively to it), Wal-Mart is now changing its stripes -- or at least some of them. Last fall, the company announced a sweeping set of voluntary environmental measures that are supposed to sharply decrease its energy consumption, reduce its waste production and expand its recycling efforts. The giant retailer also said it would pressure its suppliers to adopt greener practices. More recently, there have been reports that Wal-Mart is making a big push into organic food products, sustainably fished salmon and fair trade coffee.

What the company has not announced are any significant changes in its labor practices. Wal-Mart remains adamantly anti-union and continues to offer low pay and limited benefits. It strongly opposes living wage initiatives. The fact that nearly half the children of its U.S. employees are uninsured or have to get coverage from taxpayer-funded programs is not likely to change any time soon. There is no evidence as yet that the company has eradicated the tendency of store managers to force employees to perform extra work off the clock. Slick TV ads notwithstanding, it remains to be seen whether Wal-Mart has significantly addressed charges of sex and race discrimination in its domestic workplaces. Given the company's obsession with cutting costs, there is every reason to believe that sweatshop conditions will persist in the factories of its foreign suppliers.

Resisting corporate green hype

The divergence between Wal-Mart's environmental reforms (assuming they turn out to be more than greenwash) and its retrograde labor policies symbolizes the selective business ethics that prevail today.

Like Wal-Mart, much of Corporate America claims to be going green. Sometimes this is the result of pressure, such as RAN's successful campaigns against firms such as Home Depot, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. Sometimes it is for public relations purposes, such as General Electric's "eco-imagination" ad blitz that came after years of resisting responsibility for cleaning up PCBs in the Hudson River. And sometimes it is because companies have decided they can make money selling alternative products or technologies, such as Toyota's promotion of hybrids. While some executives may claim to be following their conscience, the fact is that corporate environmentalism today is deemed good for business.

The same cannot be said about enlightened employment practices. Most big companies still hold down wages, restrict medical coverage, downgrade retirement benefits, pay inadequate attention to workplace health and safety, engage in downsizing and offshoring, and, of course -- fight unionization or demand concessions from unions already in place. Chief executives at firms such as Wal-Mart claim they cannot afford to make major improvements in working conditions -- even if they will result in higher productivity -- yet they are now willing to spend heavily on environmental change.

It may take a major resurgence in the labor movement to get big business to give the same priority to workplace reforms that it now accords to environmental matters. In the meantime, we shouldn't get too carried away with the corporate green hype. And we certainly shouldn't be giving good citizenship awards to companies that view ethics as a menu from which to choose only that which is most palatable.

Phil Mattera is research director at Good Jobs First and head of its Corporate Research Project.
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/37824/

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Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex

By Larry Niven*

[Things of the form (*text*) are footnotes in the original text.]

He's faster than a speeding bullet. He's more powerful than a locomotive. He's able to leap tall buildings at a single bound. Why can't he get a girl?

At the ripe old age of thirty-one (*Superman first appeared in Action Comics, June 1938*), Kal-El (alias Superman, alias Clark Kent) is still unmarried. Almost certainly he is still a virgin. This is a serious matter. The species itself is in danger!

An unwed Superman is a mobile Superman. Thus it has been alleged that those who chronicle the Man of Steel's adventures are responsible for his condition. But the cartoonists are not to blame.

Nor is Superman handicapped by psychological problems.

Granted that the poor oaf is not entirely sane. How could he be? He is an orphan, a refugee, and an alien. His homeland no longer exists in any form, save for gigatons upon gigatons of dangerous, prettily colored rocks.

As a child and young adult, Kal-El must have been hard put to find an adequate father-figure. What human could control his antisocial behavior? What human would dare try to punish him? His actual, highly social behavior during this period indicates an inhuman self-restraint.

What wonder if Superman drifted gradually into schizophrenia? Torn between his human and kryptonian identities, he chose to be both, keeping his split personalities rigidly separate. A psychotic desperation is evident in his defense of his "secret identity."

But Superman's sex problems are strictly physiological, and quite real.

The purpose of this article is to point out some medical drawbacks to being a kryptonian among human beings, and to suggest possible solutions. The kryptonian humanoid must not be allowed to go the way of the pterodactyl and the passenger pigeon.

continued here...NOT below!

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Losing Old Glory: The Price of Dividing America

by Steven Laffoley

On a hot day in early July, driving south along Interstate 95 just outside of Portland, Maine, I find myself listening to the colorful jabberwocky of conservative radio. The announcer, like so many of his kind, speaks rhythmically and insistently, artfully using cascading sound bites to drive home his points. And as with all conservative radio announcers, he is angry today, angry with opposition to a constitutional amendment prohibiting the burning of the American flag.

Predictably, he tars Democrats - and their nefarious, liberal fellow travelers - with ingrained, even inbred, opposition to such an "important" constitutional amendment. "What kind of American," he shouts in mock rage, "defends the burning of Old Glory?"

Normally immune to such bait, but weary perhaps from driving, I succumb to the taunt and answer his question aloud. "Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Paine, Adams," I say, "and every other Founding Father, you twit." Not surprisingly, the announcer doesn't respond my answer, or to my name-calling. He has his own answer, characterizing those opposed to this amendment as un-American defenders of everything dark and foul and treasonous.

Now, I know that this cynical - and cyclical - promotion of a flag burning amendment to the U.S. Constitution just means another election season has arrived, and that Republican poll numbers must be down, because when Republican poll numbers are down, moral and emotional wedge issues come up. Consider the Republican amendment proposals to ban same-sex marriage, to gain prayer in schools - and, of course, to ban flag burning.

And every time the flag burning issue reappears, I muse on the irony of it. Old Glory, as the Republicans and Democrats both argue, is indeed the very symbol of our country. But the efforts to create an amendment outlawing its burning ironically separates Old Glory from the United States Constitution that gave it meaning.

Even the history of the name "Old Glory" drives home this point.

Listen:

One day in 1831, Captain William Driver of Salem, Massachusetts, of the whaling vessel Charles Doggett, raised a beautifully crafted, twenty-four star flag given to him years earlier by friends. As he prepared for departure that morning, the flag snapped straight in the stiff Atlantic breeze. As those around him admired the waving flag, Captain Driver famously exclaimed: "Old Glory!"

And that name for Captain Driver's flag stuck.

In 1837, when Captain Driver retired, he brought Old Glory with him to his new home in Nashville, Tennessee. And like the locals of Salem, the locals of Nashville came to know Captain Driver's beautiful flag as "Old Glory."

Years later, when America found itself convulsed in the horrible divisions of the Civil War, Tennessee seceded from the Union. Local Confederate rebels understood the symbolic power of Captain Driver's Old Glory - of Union and the U.S. Constitution - and quickly sought to find and destroy Captain Driver's flag. But despite numerous searches, they could never find it.

Then, in February 1862, Union troops captured Nashville and symbolically raised an American flag in the town center. Jubilant local folks remembered Old Glory and asked Captain Driver if the flag still existed. The wily Captain Driver smiled and returned to his home where he carefully unstitched his bed comforter. There, tucked between the covers of the comforter, was Old Glory.

The Captain returned to the town center with the flag, and to the rising cheers and salutes of the locals and of the Sixth Ohio Regiment of the Union Army, Captain Driver replaced the soldiers' flag with Old Glory. Members of the Sixth Ohio Regiment were so moved by the unifying power of that simple flag, that they began to speak of all American flags as Old Glory. And the name stuck.

And so, almost 150 years later, in the midst of another period of America divided, it is worth remembering that, on that day in 1862, when America faced untenable division, Old Glory became the symbol of America united. I say it is worth remembering because, ironically, President Bush and his Rovian Republicans are doing exactly what the Confederate forces did: trying to use Old Glory to divide America.

How?

Listening to the ranting of the conservative radio announcer, I consider this: by using a flag burning amendment to divide Americans, the Rovian Republicans are using the physical Old Glory to undermine the fundamental rights enshrined in the symbolic Old Glory - that is, the rights enshrined in the United States Constitution, among them these: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

By focusing our attention on the physical protection of Old Glory, the Rovian Republicans are changing the unifying meaning of symbolic Old Glory. If it works, we may well lose the meaning of America. And listening to the ranting of the conservative radio announcer, I consider this, too: this may well be what President Bush and his Rovian Republicans want.

Steven Laffoley (stevenlaffoley@yahoo.ca) is an American writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is the author of "Mr. Bush, Angus and Me: Notes of An American-Canadian in the Age of Unreason."

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Supreme Court Ruling May Ripple Through Other Bush Policies

by Jonathan S. Landay, Marisa Taylor and Margaret Talev

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court's ruling Thursday that the Bush administration can't use ad hoc military commissions to try suspected terrorists may have sweeping implications for other aspects of President Bush's war on terror.

The court's decision has ignited a fierce debate about its full impact among lawyers, legal scholars, administration officials and members of Congress.

Some believe that the opinion could challenge the administration's claim the National Security Agency is the right to eavesdrop without court approval on Americans who are suspected of having ties to al-Qaida or other terrorist groups.

The high court's embrace of a central provision of the Geneva Conventions on war could also bolster challenges to U.S. interrogation techniques and the use of secret prisons to detain suspected terrorists. It also could help detainees who are being held without charges, lawyers or trials contest their situations, experts said.

"At this point, almost everything that could be affected by the decision is going to come to a screeching halt," said Neal Sonnett, the chair of the American Bar Association's task force on enemy combatants, referring to the treatment of detainees.

"There is clearly a shot across the bow of the administration," said Scott Silliman, a professor at Duke University Law School and a former senior Air Force lawyer. "The opinion here has clear implications for the court being willing to look at how we are treating folks."

At its heart, legal experts said, the ruling rebuffed Bush's contention that the president has special powers during wartime to disregard acts of Congress and international treaties.

"I think the court's ruling is a rejection of the administration's post 9/11 legal centerpiece claim, which is the president has inherent authority in all kinds of things in the name of crisis," said Neal Katyal, the lead attorney who argued the case on behalf of detainee and plaintiff Salim Ahmed Hamdan.

"One of the potential implications is that the `inherent authority' argument pushed by the executive branch may be in retreat," agreed Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers on Friday.

The administration has contended since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that the Constitution gives the president as commander in chief "inherent authority" to do virtually anything he wants in the name of protecting national security in time of war. The court emphatically ruled that Congress and the judiciary share authority with the executive, even in time of war.

At the same time, the court held that Congress could write a law creating new tribunals to try detainees, so long as they operate within a civil or military legal code, and leading senators intend to do so soon.

In an interview Friday with McClatchy Newspapers, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he doesn't take the court's ruling to mean that those already being held would be off the hook simply because their rights were found to have been violated.

"They can argue that," he said, "but I think there's a basis for detaining them if they're dangerous" so long as Congress passes legislation "very promptly". "They're not going to be released," Specter said. "We'll be given time to structure a procedure that is adequate."

Specter's offering a bill that would authorize military commissions to handle detainees with two divisions - one for those charged with specific offenses and another for enemy combatants who are being held indefinitely.

Those charged would face three-officer panels with presiding judges from the Judge Advocate General's Office. They'd be entitled to cross-examination witnesses and to require unanimous verdicts. If classified information was involved, the presiding judge would decide how much information to make available to the defense, and the defendant's attorney could get a security clearance to handle that classified information.

Graham agreed that the court's ruling "confirms that the military can hold these people until the hostilities are over . . . The case was about how you bring them to trial, not how you hold them. Anybody who says detainees are going to get off the hook because of this ruling are misunderstanding the opinion, in my opinion."

"The good news," Graham said, "is we now know how to write the statute to make it constitutional and to be able to move the cases forward."

Legal experts cautioned that analysis of the complex 5-3 decision was preliminary, because they'd only had a day to distill it. But overall, there was widespread agreement that the decision could spell more legal trouble for the administration's war on terror.

The majority decision, written by Justice John Paul Stevens, concluded that the administration's Guantanamo Bay tribunals violated both U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 because they didn't provide defendants with legal safeguards that civilian and military courts require and they weren't authorized by Congress.

The justices cited Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which calls for "regularly constituted" courts to handle cases involving detainees. Article 3 prohibits torture and other "degrading treatment."

Some legal scholars said that could encourage current and former detainees to bring cases against the government for employing harsh interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S.-run prisons.

Experts said that at the very least, the Pentagon would have to ensure that interrogation techniques set out in a new Army field manual now being drafted would have to conform with the Geneva Conventions.

"Anything basically that we wouldn't want done to our own troops - it's now prohibited," said John Hutson, the dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center and a former Navy Judge Advocate General.

Some administration supporters predicted that the ruling would undermine public support for the president's claim of special wartime powers.

"It's a major setback for the president. The advocates of diminishing his office now have a powerful public relations tool to say that the most powerful court in the land has said he is a law breaker," said Douglas Kmiec, a professor of constitutional law at Pepperdine University Law School and a legal counsel for former presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

McClatchy correspondent Stephen Henderson contributed to this report.

© 2006 McClatchy Newspapers
http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0701-02.htm

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A New Way For Drug Development?

by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

Whether you think the pharmaceutical industry is a success or failure depends crucially on how you measure performance.

Although some leading firm's share price has declined over the last year, from an investor point of view, the industry does remarkably well. It consistently earns a 15-20 percent return on investment. Last year, a down year, the U.S. industry return was 15.7 percent, according to Fortune magazine, ranking it fifth among 50 industry groups.

From a public health perspective, however, the situation is rather different. Thanks to the patent system, Big Pharma companies invest not to address priority public health needs, but to take advantage of potential markets. These are not the same thing.
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For example, Big Pharma tends not to invest in diseases that primarily afflict people in developing countries. Between 1975 and 2004, according to Doctors Without Borders, only a tiny fraction of new drugs -- only 20 of the 1,556 new chemical entities marketed globally, just over 1 percent -- were for tropical diseases and tuberculosis, diseases which account for 12 percent of the total global disease burden.

In the rich countries, too, R&D efforts are badly skewed. The brand-name drug companies tend to invest in drugs for which there are big markets -- like erectile dysfunction -- as the expense of higher priority health needs. And, Big Pharma emphasizes "me too" drugs -- pharmaceuticals which pretty much do what existing products can do -- because they are easier to develop and have demonstrated markets. Three quarters of new drugs fall into the me-too category.

The patent-conferred monopoly lets drug companies charge astronomical sums for their products. Prices have no relationship to the cost of manufacture, and virtually none to the more substantial cost of R&D. As New York Times reporter Alex Berenson noted in a recent story, "After years of defending high prices as necessary to cover the cost of research or production, industry executives increasingly point to the intrinsic value of their medicines as justification for prices." Thus some new cancer treatments are now being priced around $100,000 a year.

The patent system also gives brand-name drug companies a major incentive to invest heavily in advertising and other forms of marketing. This is because the companies are able to charge so much over marginal cost, and because there is no direct competition during the period of patent protection.

In short, under the patent system, we get lots of heavily marketed treatments for erectile dysfunction or male pattern baldness, but way too few for sleeping sickness or dengue fever.

The situation could be different.

When the member countries of the World Health Organization met this past May, an interesting and somewhat unexpected thing happened. Shunting aside objections from Big Pharma, they recognized the shortcomings of the existing drug development system, and they committed to developing plans to "secur[e] an enhanced and sustainable basis for needs driven, essential health research and development relevant to diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries."

What precisely this means will only be worked out over time, but it may be a major breakthrough.

"The global trade framework will be transformed by this initiative," says James Love of the Consumer Project on Technology, pointing to the central role of expanded patent and other monopoly protections for Big Pharma in many trade agreements. "No longer will countries see trade agreements about intellectual property rights or drug prices as the only mechanism for sustainable funding of R&D, or the only possible outcome of a bilateral or multilateral trade negotiation."

Through the WHO initiative, countries may be expected to give greater attention to new public-private efforts to develop medicines, like the Gates Foundation-backed International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. It may also inspire more support for nongovernmental efforts like the Doctors Without Borders-sponsored Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative.

Hopefully, it will also lead governments in both rich and poor countries to invest more directly in needs-driven medical research and development. The United States is the global leader in this regard, through the National Institutes of Health. But a key problem with the current NIH model is that the fruits of public investment are licensed away on an exclusive basis, with no price restraints -- meaning the public has to pay exorbitant prices for the drugs that taxpayer dollars financed. (For an altogether different and more sensible approach, see the Free Market Drug Act, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004 by Representative Dennis Kucinich.)

The WHO initiative should also spark debate over alternatives to the patent system. Organizations like the Consumer Project on Technology have suggested moving away from the award of a marketing monopoly to drug developers, and instead paying them directly, based on the value in public health terms of their product. Then prices to consumers or public or private insurers could be set competitively. All drugs would be generic. This approach could cut out the massive industry waste on marketing and direct what is spent on R&D more efficiently

We could end up with a win-win-win: more money for R&D, directed more effectively, and lower prices.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, and associate counsel for the Consumer Project on Technology. Mokhiber and Weissman are co authors of "On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy" (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

© 2006 Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

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American Patriots - Editorial

Patriotism, Tom Paine observed, is not best measured in times of national comfort and quiet. It is in times of crisis, when the summer soldiers and sunshine patriots have retreated to the safety of official talking points and unquestioning loyalty, that those who truly understand the meaning and merit of the American experiment come to its defense. On the 230th anniversary of the launch of that experiment, let us reflect on those who have met the test, noting in particular that some of the boldest expressions of patriotism have come from groups not necessarily associated with dissent.
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Consider America's librarians. Since the enactment of the Patriot Act in 2001, the American Library Association (ALA) has been at the forefront of the fight to defend freedom of inquiry and thought from provisions of the act that allow the Justice Department to subpoena the records of libraries and bookstores. The librarians succeeded in getting the House to adopt language protecting library records in 2005--only to have it stripped from the bill to which it was attached by an Administration-friendly House-Senate conference committee.

But the librarians have not just been lobbying to change the Patriot Act, they've been on the front lines of exposing its abuses. When four Connecticut librarians challenged an attempt by the FBI to use a National Security Letter to obtain records of who was reading what in that state, the Justice Department slapped a gag order on them. But the 64,000-member ALA and its Freedom to Read Foundation stood up for the librarians, working with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Association of American Publishers and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression to make a federal case of the issue. In May, after the FBI dropped its defense of the gag order--and shortly before it withdrew its demand for the records--a federal appeals court declared that order moot, and the librarians were at last free to speak out. Peter Chase, director of the Plainville, Connecticut, public library, explained that he and his fellow librarians decided to fight because of their frustration at receiving the National Security Letter even as "the government was telling Congress that it didn't use the Patriot Act against libraries and that no one's rights had been violated. I felt that I just could not be part of this fraud being foisted on our nation."

The ALA isn't the only group challenging the Administration's disregard for basic liberties. The American Bar Association is investigating whether George W. Bush exceeded his constitutional authority when he reserved the right to ignore more than 750 laws enacted since he took office. The American Medical Association has adopted guidelines that make it unethical for physicians to participate in interrogating detainees. And 399 communities and eight states have answered the Bill of Rights Defense Committee's call for passing resolutions upholding civil liberties.

Those defenders of basic rights are the patriotic heroes of this Fourth of July, as are those who exercise those rights, like the Code Pink members, who will fast for peace outside the Bush White House on the Fourth, and the Raging Grannies, who will join parades and picnics around the country. Fittingly, in the city where it all began, a fife-and-drum corps will lead a parade of anti-Iraq War activists through the streets of Philadelphia on the eve of the Fourth to a gathering where they will sign a Declaration of Peace. They are responding to Paine's call, as relevant now as it was more than 200 years ago: "Ye that dare oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth!"

© 2006 The Nation

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