Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Thursday, March 31, 2005


By Arianna Huffington

This column is not about Terri Schiavo and the wrenching spectacle that has surrounded her tragic fate. May she rest in peace.

It is about Congressional Democrats and how they once again pathetically misread what moral values mean in a political context. May they miraculously wake from their persistent vegetative state--or it won't be long before they are receiving their political last rites.

Ever since November, Republicans (aided and abetted by a poorly worded exit poll) have not only succeeded in defining the last election as having been about moral values, they've succeeded in defining moral values. In the GOP's extraordinarily abridged moral dictionary, fighting against gay marriage is morally valuable; fighting against 12 million children living in poverty is not.

Democrats, meanwhile, have been going through the most embarrassing public identity crisis since Anne Heche couldn't decide if, when it came to the bedroom, she preferred surf or turf. They've been mastering the feeble arts of second-guessing themselves and ducking for cover.

While real political leadership is determining the direction the country needs to go and convincing the public to follow you down that road, Democrats keep choosing the path of least resistance. Party leaders have been sticking their fingers in the air, feeling which way the political wind is blowing, and then chasing after these zephyrs of public sentiment. Which is bad enough. But making matters much, much worse, they are consistently misreading the wind--an affliction that has led to their being blown away in three straight elections.

The Schiavo case is a perfect example. Before the cards had even been dealt, Senate Democrats decided that the Republicans already held all the aces. So instead of calling Dr. Frist's bluff, they folded, sat out the hand, and headed into the kitchen to see what kind of sandwiches Felix was whipping up. Not a single Democratic senator formally objected to the pro forma voice vote that sent the Schiavo bill to the House, where, with a few notable exceptions--especially Rep. Barney Frank and rising star Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz of Florida--Democrats were nearly as compliant.

In an interesting twist, it turns out that Bill Clinton had a behind-the-scenes role in the party's decision to adopt a hands-off policy on the Schiavo debate. According to CBS News, the former triangulator-in-chief helped sway Schiavo bill backer Tom Harkin, "egging him on" to roll over and play dead--an odious echo of his efforts to get John Kerry to come out in favor of all 11 state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. This kind of strategic calculation may have been all right in the mid-'90s, but not today, when the party is in desperate need of bold, decisive leadership.

So the Democrats punted; Frist, DeLay and Bush got their photo ops; and the reptilian Randall Terry was born again as a media figure. Then the polls started pouring in--with each and every one showing that the vast majority of the American people thought the Republicans had wildly overreached, seeking a political advantage as opposed to acting out of concern for Terri Schiavo.

But the Democrats, having gone MIA, were unable to ride the tidal wave of public sentiment. Yet again. For years now, they have failed to grasp that when it comes to their party's core issues--including providing affordable health care, protecting the environment, safeguarding Social Security, gun control and basic abortion rights--they are on the same side of the fence as the majority of Americans.

Look, I understand why the Democratic powers-that-be didn't want to be seen as fighting to end Terri Schiavo's life. They've got enough problems without giving Karl Rove and his GOP image masters an executioner's song to sing in 2006. And, if the decision were up to me, I would not have voted to pull the feeding tube. As a mother, I deeply empathize with the plight of Terri's parents--and don't see why, given their willingness to take over their daughter's care, they shouldn't be given that chance. But it wasn't my decision to make--just as it wasn't Congress'.

And being steamrolled by the Republicans or dancing on Terri Schiavo's grave were not the only two options open to Democrats. If they hadn't been running around hiding from their own shadows, they would have easily found a larger moral frame in which to put the fight over Schiavo's fate.

If the Republicans insist on making the "culture of life" a federal issue, the Democrats should, by all means, let them. But they need to make sure that the national debate doesn't center on tragic anomalies like the Schiavo case but on the thousands of people whose lives are cut short because they lack access to decent health care or on the prolonged suffering of the millions of children living in poverty.

Instead of allowing themselves to be cowed by the fear of looking like they're coming down on the immoral side of the moral values debate, Democrats should snap out of it and demand that the president interrupt his next vacation and that Bill Frist hold another midnight session of Congress to address the moral disgrace of 45 million people with no health insurance and 36 million people living in poverty. This is the only way to reclaim the moral high ground.


American Torturing Jobs Increasingly Outsourced

WASHINGTON, DC—AFL-CIO vice president Linda Chavez-Thompson, representing the American Federation of Interrogation Torturers, released a statement Monday deriding the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program, under which American torturing jobs are outsourced to foreign markets. "Outsourcing the task of interrogating terror suspects to countries like Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia is having a crippling effect on the Americans who make a living by stripping detainees nude, shackling them to the floor, and beating the living shit out of them," Chavez-Thompson said. "And specialists within the field—corrosive-material chemists, ocular surgeons, and testicular electricians—are lucky to find any jobs at all. How are they supposed to feed their families?" Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended extraordinary rendition, saying the program will create jobs in the long run by fostering a global climate of torture tolerance.


Iraqi puppet parliament adjourns in disarray

By James Cogan
31 March 2005

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Two months after the January 30 elections in Iraq, the Bush administration is no closer to establishing a pro-occupation regime in Baghdad. The formation of a government has been postponed again, after the second sitting of the new Iraqi National Assembly on March 29 broke up in disarray.

The cause of Tuesday’s crisis was the unexpected refusal of Sunni Muslim tribal leader Ghazi al-Yawar, installed by the US as Iraq’s interim president last year, to accept the post of parliamentary speaker. After a delay of an hour-and-a-half, during which frantic attempts were made to change Yawar’s mind, the assembly session opened with the farcical announcement that the naming of the speaker was being delayed “indefinitely”.

The appointment of a speaker is necessary before a vote can even take place on a president and two vice-presidents, who are delegated under the US-imposed interim Iraqi constitution with naming a prime minister and a cabinet.

After a further 22 minutes of pandemonium, journalists were ordered to leave. The national broadcast of the proceedings was hastily taken off the air and replaced by music. The assembly adjourned and has now been set to reconvene on Sunday.

Yawar’s refusal to serve as the parliament’s speaker has disrupted the delicate negotiations that have been underway for weeks between US officials and the Shiite Muslim and Kurdish nationalist parties that won a majority of the 275 seats in National Assembly elections in January. The Shiite-based United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) holds 140 seats, while the Kurdistan Alliance (KA) has 76.

As of this week, a tentative agreement had reportedly been reached to name Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani as president, replacing Yawar, and to install Ibrahim al-Jaffari, a leader of the Shiite fundamentalist Da’wa Party, as prime minister, replacing the interim prime minister Iyad Allawi. Yawar was to become speaker so that a Sunni Muslim remained among the main figures in the American-backed regime.

Yawar has not given any explanation for his rejection of the deal. Underlying his stance, however, is the fact that the overwhelming majority of Sunnis, who make up approximately 20 percent of the population, oppose the US presence in Iraq and boycotted the election. At present, Sunni groups appear to be the most active components of the armed resistance to the US occupation.

The main Sunni religious organisation—the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS)—led the call for an election boycott on the grounds that no genuine expression of the peoples’ will could take place under conditions of a guerilla war and martial law in the main Sunni cities and towns. Just months before the vote, the US military had reduced the city of Fallujah to rubble in an effort to crush the resistance, killing thousands of people and turning over 250,000 into refugees in their own country.

Yawar opposed the boycott call and headed a slate of Sunni candidates in the election. His party suffered a debacle, receiving less than 2 percent of the vote and winning just five seats. Despite the lack of popular support for open collaborators with the US invasion, however, Washington is hoping that incorporating Sunni figures into the new regime will help dissipate support for the insurgency.

The regularity of attacks on US and allied forces has declined compared with late last year, but 40 to 60 still take place each day. This week, the US military was forced to impose curfews on Ramadi to stem guerilla activity and has fought battles with resistance fighters in Mosul. In March, 32 American troops have been killed and over 300 wounded.

On March 30, General Lance Smith, the deputy commander of the US Central Command, stated bluntly that the plans to scale back American troop numbers in Iraq depended on Sunni leaders backing the new government. He told journalists: “Certainly in al-Anbar [the province including Ramadi and Fallujah] most of the Sunni leaders in some form or another were at least passively supporting the insurgency. We’ve got to grab those guys and bring them into the government if we’re going to be successful.”

Yawar, with the backing of a number of Sunni-based organisations, is attempting to exploit this situation to secure a more influential role, either immediately or in the future. Yawar presents himself as someone with sufficient authority to negotiate with insurgent groups and bring them into an arrangement with the occupation. A Los Angeles Times report, citing a member of the Iraqi Constitutional Monarchy Movement close to Yawar, indicated that he wants the presidency as the price for acting as a Sunni figurehead for the Bush administration. Other sources have claimed he is seeking at least one of the two vice-presidential posts.

The aspirations of Sunni figures like Yawar are being helped by the mounting impatience in the US with the inability of Shiite religious parties and the Kurdish bloc to agree on the composition of a government.

One of the core demands of the Kurdish nationalists is for control over the lucrative northern Iraqi oil fields and the city of Kirkuk. Da’wa and the other main component of the Shiite UIA, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), are resolutely opposed to Kurdish ambitions for a de-facto partition of Iraq and the transfer of oil wealth to the Kurdish regional government in the north. The Shiite establishment was sidelined under the Baathist regime and is seeking to use the US occupation to gain state power and a greater share of Iraq’s oil revenues.

The conflicting interests are such that any government formed between the Shia and Kurdish factions could quickly break apart. Underscoring the venal considerations at stake, the UIA and KA have been unable to agree, despite two months of horse-trading, on who will hold the crucial oil ministry in a new government.

A new conflict is now emerging over the nomination of the parliamentary speaker. Interim prime minister Allawi’s Iraqi List coalition, which received just 14 percent of the vote, is negotiating with the Kurds for one of its members, Adnan al-Janabi, to fill the post. This is being opposed by the Shiite parties, ostensibly due to Janabi’s family ties to Saddam Hussein’s inner circle. Instead, the UIA is pushing a Sunni who belongs to its ranks, Fawaz al-Jarba. It is possible no agreement will have been reached by Sunday, further delaying the formation of a government and the drafting of a new constitution.

The sordid dealings are serving to heighten the disgust felt by ordinary Iraqis for the National Assembly and to underscore the illegitimacy of the entire US-dictated political process.

The Shiite parties have already abandoned their main election pledge—a deadline for the withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq. In an interview on March 2, Da’wa leader Jaffari said that any withdrawal now depended “on the security situation in Iraq”. Attempting to rationalise an indefinite US occupation, Jaffari stated: “We cannot protect ourselves and we cannot ask them [the US military] to leave since even with their presence we are still having problems and a challenge with the terrorists. If they leave the situation could really get worse, so we will ask them at the right time to leave the country”.

Neither the US occupation forces nor the local elite have any perspective to solve the catastrophic conditions that exist for ordinary Iraqis because of the invasion. Every aspect of the country’s infrastructure, from electricity, water and sanitation, to transport, education and health, is in a state of collapse. Unemployment remains at over 50 percent in most parts of Iraq.

This week, Jean Ziegler of the United Nations Human Rights Commission reported that acute malnutrition among Iraqi children had nearly doubled since the US invasion two years ago, from 4 percent to 7.7 percent. Overall, he reported, at least 25 percent of Iraqi children do not get enough to eat as “a result of the war led by coalition forces”.

Incapable of addressing the aspirations of ordinary Iraqis for decent living standards and an end to the US occupation, each of the competing factions of the Iraqi ruling class—Shiite, Sunni and Kurd—is responding to this disastrous state of affairs by stirring up divisive sectarian and ethnic sentiments. Contained in the impasse over the formation of a new government are the seeds of a descent into communal conflict and civil war.

See Also:
Iraq's national assembly shows its subservience to Washington
[21 March 2005]
Washington's criminal war against Iraq enters its third year
[19 March 2005]
Iraq election results reflect broad hostility to US occupation
[16 February 2005]
Iraq election sets stage for escalating political turmoil
[5 February 2005]
Vietnam 1967 & Iraq 2005: using elections to justify criminal wars
[5 February 2005]
The Iraq election: a travesty of democracy
[27 January 2005]

Private convictions vs. public displays
Gene Lyons
Posted on Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Am I the only person in the United States getting fed up with moral
exhibitionism? And no, I’m not really talking about the Terri Schiavo
spectacle playing out 24/7 on the cable news channels. Turning the poor
woman’s tragedy into a carnival sideshow became inevitable once
Congress and the brothers Bush decided there was political advantage
in taking sides in a grave and intimate family quarrel. Most politicians’
commitment to "err on the side of life" waned as quickly as polls
showing widespread public resentment were released. But apparently not,
the Miami Herald reports, before Florida Gov. Jeb Bush considered
dispatching state troopers to take Schiavo into his custody in defiance
of state and federal courts, a plan abandoned only after local police
indicated they’d resist. In Texas, meanwhile, they do things
differently. On March 14, doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital withdrew
life support from Sun Hudson, a 6-month-old infant with a fatal and
untreatable form of dwarfism, over his family’s protests. The baby died
quickly. Under a 1999 law signed by then-Gov. George W. Bush, hospitals
may discontinue artificial life support, including feeding tubes, even
if a patient’s family members disagree. A doctor’s recommendation must
be approved by a hospital’s ethics committee and the family must be
given 10 days’ advance notice of the decision to try and locate another
facility for the patient.

The president’s hypocrisy aside, that’s how it should be. I’ve had
enough personal experience with how seriously the medical profession
takes such decisions to entrust them to hospital ethics committees. So
when I hear Pat Robertson, the well-known TV faith healer, observe, as
he did on FOX News’ "Hannity and Colmes," last week, "Why, you wouldn’t
treat a dog or horse the way they’re treating Terri," I’m inclined to
say: No, Pat, you’d allow an animal more mercy and dignity.

Medically speaking, brain death is death. All the rest is made-for-TV

Meanwhile, the latest trend in moral exhibitionism is pharmacists who
refuse to fill prescriptions they suspect might be used sinfully.
According to a March 28 article in The Washington Post, a growing
number are not only refusing to dispense birth control or "morning-after"
pills that offend their personal religious beliefs, but delivering impromptu
sermons to the sinners who come to pick them up.

One joker in Wisconsin cross-examined a college girl about why she
needed birth control pills (which have medical uses unrelated to sex),
condemned her sinfulness, then refused to transfer the prescription
elsewhere so she could get it filled by a pharmacist who didn’t have
himself confused with a TV evangelist.

Actually, make that the pope. A lawyer with the Christian Legal
Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom explains that his client
is "a devout Roman Catholic [who] believes participating in any action
that inhibits or prohibits human life is a sin."

The Post story also told about a married mother of four denied a
"morning-after" pill by a conscience-stricken pharmacist. "I couldn’t
believe it," said the 44-year-old woman, who’d made love with her
husband, but didn’t want a fifth child. "How can they make that
decision for us? I was outraged.... But I was scared. I didn’t know
what we were going to do."

I think all this has less to do with real faith than with the growing
number of "devout," self-dramatizing narcissists among us. I’m on firm
scriptural grounds too. "Be careful not to do your ‘acts of
righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them," Jesus said in the
Sermon on the Mount. "If you do, you will have no reward from
your Father in Heaven."

Only hypocrites, Christ added, make a public spectacle of their
religiosity. Apart from Old Testament admonitions about selling
daughters into slavery or stoning Bevis and Butthead to death, it’s
getting to be the least observed doctrine in the Bible.

But I’d put it differently to Pharmacists for Life and other
holier-than-thou groups that feel the need to put their agonized
consciences on public display. (So far, they’ve gotten four
states—South Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi and Georgia—to pass
laws saying they don’t have to dispense medications they wouldn’t
themselves take. Several others—California, Missouri and
New Jersey—are considering laws requiring pharmacists to fill all
legal prescriptions.) My advice would be simpler: Get over yourself
or get a new job. This is a fairly straightforward piece of moral
reasoning: The rights that matter here aren’t yours, they’re the
patient’s, whose sexual and reproductive practices come under
the heading of None of Your Business. If that’s not good enough,
hire some kid to serve as your shabbas goy—what Orthodox
Jews call somebody who does grunt work on the Sabbath. After all,
anybody who can count to 10 can take pills from the big bottle, put
them in the little bottle and ring up the sale while you look prayerfully

Meanwhile, any pharmacy that advertises "We Fill All Legal
Prescriptions" will get my trade.

•–––––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.
Your Pentagon at work.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

AlterNet: Bush's Dangerous Propaganda Game

"Bush's Dangerous Propaganda Game"
By Jim Hightower
Posted on March 26, 2005

You're used to hearing television reporters give their signature tag lines: "In Washington, I'm Karen Ryan reporting." "This is Jennifer Morrow reporting." "I'm Pat O'Leary reporting."

But these days, you can't know if your news presenter is a reporter... or a ringer. Karen Ryan, for example, is a veteran of the government's propaganda machine, having posed as a "reporter" for fake news segments produced and distributed by seven federal agencies in the past two years. Ryan is really a PR consultant, who candidly calls herself a "paid shill for the Bush administration."

Likewise, Jennifer Morrow is a fake – that's not even her real name. She's really an employee of a PR firm, hired in 2002 to pose as a reporter presenting a gushing story about the work of Bush's homeland security agency. Her "news segment," paid for by us taxpayers and produced by the Bushites, aired all across America, with no mention that it was covert propaganda.

Pat O'Leary is not a real reporter, either. He's one of two full-time poseurs hired by Bush's department of agriculture to produce videos that are shipped to hundreds of local stations and aired as "news." They travel the country, often covering Bush's secretary of agriculture – and their reports are unfailingly flattering, free of any critical comments from those who differ with Bush's policies. No surprise, since their reports must be approved by the ag department's PR office before being sent to your TV station.

This deliberate manipulation of our news is more than outrageous – it's a frontal assault on our democracy and is totally disrespectful of the American people. It's also a dangerous game for those playing it – the Bushites and the station owners are sabotaging their own credibility, which was not strong to start with.

This is not about technical legalities, but about fundamental morality. Both the government and the media are claiming a right to lie to us.

© 2005 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: Link...
cSteve Bell;Guardian London

Friday, March 25, 2005

Too Late--He's already stuffed it in, he's pumping hard--America's been FUCKED by Bush But Now they are starting to feel it.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Schiavo case: Bush and Congress trample on science and the Constitution

By Patrick Martin
23 March 2005

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The case of Terri Schiavo seems likely to return to the US capital within days, either in the form of an appeal to the Supreme Court or a further effort by the congressional Republican leadership and the Bush administration to impose an outright legal ban on disconnecting the severely brain-damaged woman from life support.

The unprecedented federal intervention in the case did not produce the immediate outcome desired by the right-wing Christian fundamentalists who have spearheaded the “Save Terri” campaign. Federal District Judge James Whittemore denied the plea by lawyers for Robert and Mary Schindler, Schiavo’s parents, for an emergency order to restore her feeding tube.

In a decision issued early Tuesday, Whittemore ruled in favor of Schiavo’s husband Michael. He has sought the termination of life support for his wife, who has had no brain function for 15 years. Florida state courts have repeatedly ruled that Michael Schiavo had the right, as her legal guardian, to make that decision, and that Terri Schiavo herself would have agreed, based on her statements to her husband and to two other witnesses before the heart attack that plunged her into a permanent vegetative state.

The Schindlers’ attorneys immediately filed an appeal with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Whatever the decision of that court, the losing side is sure to file a further appeal to the US Supreme Court.

In their brief filed in federal court Monday, the attorneys for the Schindlers made three basic arguments: that Terri Schiavo had been denied “a fair and impartial trial” by Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge George Greer; that she was denied due process of law because Greer did not “appoint an independent attorney” to represent her, allowing her husband Michael to act as her guardian; and that Schiavo’s right to religious freedom was denied because withdrawal of the feeding tube is forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church, in which Schiavo was raised.

All three arguments are without legal foundation. Terri Schiavo’s is the most intensively litigated “right-to-die” case in US history, with proceedings in 18 courts over the last seven years. Every judicial decision has upheld the position of Michael Schiavo. As for an impartial advocate, Terri Schiavo had several independent guardians appointed in the course of these myriad court suits and hearings, all of whom came to the same conclusion as her husband: that she was irreversibly brain-damaged and would not have wanted to continue such an existence.

The third argument, religious freedom, is bad law and ludicrous theology. Citing the authority of the Pope in Rome is a legal novelty, especially for political allies of an administration that rejects international law and openly defies the authority of such tribunals as the International Criminal Court, on the grounds that US institutions must give no heed to foreigners.

Schiavo was not particularly devout in her Catholicism—like many, she maintained a nominal affiliation but did not go to church regularly. As for the claim that withdrawing the feeding tube would implicate her in a mortal sin and “jeopardize her immortal soul,” this is advanced purely for the sake of provoking hysteria among the most credulous and conservative Catholics. Even the hidebound Roman Church does not regard a person in a vegetative state as responsible for what is done to her.

Link...A deeply unpopular intervention

James Rubin lauds neo-conservative crusade for “democracy”

Former Clinton aide and Kerry adviser hails choice of Wolfowitz for World Bank

By Barry Grey

24 March 2005

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In an op-ed piece in the March 22 issue of the New York Times, James Rubin enthusiastically endorses President Bush’s choice of Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense and a leading architect of the Iraq war, to head the World Bank.

Rubin, as assistant secretary of state, was the State Department’s main press spokesman during the Clinton administration. He served as John Kerry’s chief national security adviser in the Democratic senator’s 2004 presidential campaign.

Rubin’s column is not only a gushing tribute to Wolfowitz—a man who is rightly reviled around the world as a war criminal and held in contempt for his shameless lies about Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” and Al-Qaeda ties prior to the US invasion—it is an unabashed defense of the war and occupation, and the broader policy of imperialist aggression and neo-colonialism of which the Iraq war is a part.

Rubin explicitly solidarizes himself with the neo-conservatives and their doctrine of aggressive war, under the cover of a crusade for “democracy.” This leading Democratic foreign policy spokesman thereby leaves no doubt as to the essential unity of both parties of American big business in support of the United States’ drive for global hegemony.

Chastising fellow Democrats and Europeans who have criticized Bush’s choice of Wolfowitz for the World Bank post, Rubin writes: “Mr. Wolfowitz has supported the idea that the advanced countries should use their resources to promote democracy and prosperity around the world. Indeed, at the core of the neo-conservative mission is the expenditure of American resources in support of democratic values.”

(These values presumably include torture, kidnapping and incarcerating people without charges, razing entire cities to the ground, and establishing gulags in various parts of the world).

Rubin continues: “He is just the right person to build support for this critical task [reducing poverty] during the Bush administration.”

Answering those who criticize Wolfowitz for his role in the Iraq war, Rubin makes no bones of his own unqualified support for the invasion and occupation, while noting the Pentagon official’s mistakes and miscalculations. “But these were questions of means,” Rubin writes, “not motive. His motives were laudable and in line with a tradition of foreign policy idealism [sic!] that both parties have supported at different times: the use of American power to fight tyranny and support democratic values. Mr. Wolfowitz was one of the few Republicans who supported President Clinton’s interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo.”

Rubin underlines his central message by concluding: “Democrats struggling with the appointment of Mr. Wolfowitz may want to keep in mind that spreading democracy is a bipartisan mission.”

Shortly after the Democratic convention last summer that nominated Kerry as the party’s presidential candidate, Rubin told the Washington Post that had Kerry been president, “in all probability” he would have ordered an invasion of Iraq. Rubin’s Times column reinforces that statement, and makes crystal clear that had the Democrat been elected last November, there would have been no significant change in US policy in Iraq, and no letup in Washington’s preparations for new wars of aggression.

See Also:
The latest Bush provocation: Wolfowitz named to head World Bank
[19 March 2005]

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Baying at the moon, Washington-style
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Some years ago, I owned a beagle named Leon. A handsome, lemon-colored
dog, Leon had a terrific nose. Turn him and his brother Otis loose in a
thicket, and if those boys didn’t chase a rabbit out, then no rabbits
lived there. Alas, Leon also did a lot of "coldtrailing," baying down
scent lines so old that the rabbits which left them probably existed
only in the form of coyote scat. Other dogs knew when Leon was
bluffing, but he could drive you nuts babbling about nothing. My hunting
buddies nicknamed him "The Journalist." I’ve started calling my current
pack "The Pundits." See, they’ve developed this habit of accompanying
distant police sirens with group howl-ins. Except when they get tuned
up around 5 a.m., it’s pretty funny to watch. Rather like the savants
on "Meet the Press" or "Reliable Sources," they stand in a circle
hooting and eyeballing each other with their noses pointed at the sky.
Even my wife’s basset hound joins the chorus. The only remedy is
spraying them with the garden hose.

I wish Washington hounds were so easily discouraged. Recently, the D.
C. pundits started baying about George W. Bush’s brilliant success
bringing "democracy" to the Middle East. "Lately even the harshest critics
of President Bush have been forced to admit: Maybe he’s right about
freedom’s march around the globe," anchorman Brian Williams announced
on NBC Nightly News. "What if we are watching an example of presidential
leadership that will be taught in America’s schools for generations to
come? It’s an idea gaining more currency."

Next came Andrea (Mrs. Alan Greenspan) Mitchell, who spoke of "a
historic turning point, like the fall of the Berlin Wall." The analogy
first appeared in David Ignatius’ Washington Post column. It was
attributed to Walid Jumblatt, a Lebanese Druze leader who’d had his
U.S. visa revoked in 2003 after regretting that Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz, whom he called a "microbe," had survived a Baghdad
rocket attack. Vice President Dick Cheney echoed him on right-wing
radio. It’s an officially approved White House theme.

How sincere was Jumblatt? Let me put it this way: I have Lebanese-born
relatives by marriage. (Christians, if it matters, which in Lebanon it
sure does.) Their default mode for analyzing Middle Eastern politics is
to assume that nothing is what it seems and nobody’s motives are what
they say. What really matters is which tribes/clans/religious
sects/families are making alliances with which others for the purpose
of screwing mutual enemies. They view other ways of looking at the world
as childish.

Syria entered Lebanon in 1976 at U.S. invitation to quell a nasty civil
war among very roughly the same factions now demonstrating. It
nevertheless continued for another decade, all but destroying Beirut,
one of the world’s great cities. There was a subsequent Israeli
invasion and withdrawal due to punishing losses inflicted by Hezbollah,
the Shiite militia partly sponsored by Syria and Iran. With the Israelis
gone, many Lebanese, notably Christians, Sunni and Druze, want the
Syrians out, too. The Shia, about 40 percent of the population, want
them to stay.

But what set off the current wave of demonstration and
counter-demonstration wasn’t the U.S.-sponsored election in Iraq. (The
Lebanese have been having parliamentary elections since the 1940s.) It
was the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, blamed
without evidence on Syria (although some suspect Israel).

The idea of a U.S. president denouncing foreign invaders no doubt
strikes most Lebanese as faintly hilarious. Will Bush now leave Iraq?
Demand that Israel quit putting fences around Arab land in the West
Bank? Give the Golan Heights back to Syria? For now, though, praising
Bush might help drive the Syrians out. Period.

Then there’s Palestine. Let’s pray that Mahmoud Abbas, the recently
elected prime minister, can help moderates prevail. But let’s recall
that the election happened simply because Yasser Arafat died. Arafat
was elected, too. Should Israel use this historic opening to tighten its
grip on East Jerusalem and expand West Bank settlements, the current
mood cannot last.

Egypt? Please. Egyptian military dictator Hosni Mubarak says he’ll let
government-approved candidates run against him. That’s exactly how the
ayatollahs run Iran. Until joining the recent pro-Bush howl-in, pundits
like The Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer justified supporting
Middle Eastern dictators because "[d] emocracy is not a suicide pact."
Unlike Washington pundits, few in Beirut or Cairo failed to notice that
the Iraqi elections were held under martial law enforced by a foreign
invader, with anonymous candidates and 42 percent of the electorate
boycotting. Nor that the winners were Shiite religious parties
answerable to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Iranian-born cleric who
basically forced Bush to hold the elections. So far, the anti-U.S.
insurrection shows no signs of abating. Iraqis have been unable to form
a government. Maybe after they do, pundits can quit baying at White
House sirens and begin to assess what the Bush doctrine actually means.

–—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient
of the National Magazine Award.


Yahoo! News - BUCK UP, THE WORLD HATES US MORE THAN EVER NEW YORK--Liberals have their faults, but no one can accuse them of being pigheaded. Two years after left-of-Bush Americans marched against the invasion of Iraq (news - web sites) and a year after the Administration admitted it had lied about Saddam's non-existent weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda, the sprouting of a few protodemocratic weeds in the microscopically-cracked cement of Arab dictatorship has prompted them to wonder whether the neoconservatives maybe did the right thing after all by going into Iraq.

"[Bush] may have had it right," NPR's Daniel Schorr writes in the Christian Science Monitor. Even Harry Reid, the Democrats' fiery-as-these-things-go leader in the Senate, is swooning over the image of flag-waving Lebanese demanding a Syrian withdrawal: "Any breakthrough we get there, whether it is in Lebanon or Egypt, is a step in the right direction and I support the president in that regard."

As far as I'm concerned, Bush deserves to be impeached for lying to his employers--us--about Iraq's WMDs. He should face prosecution at a war crimes tribunal for the murder of the 100,000-plus Iraqis he ordered killed by U.S. troops. He deserves life in prison for ordering the torture, and allowing the murder under torture, of countless innocent Afghans and Iraqis. Nothing, not even if the Iraq war sparked the transformation of the entire Muslim world into peaceful and prosperous Athenian-style democracies, could retroactively justify such murderous perfidy. I'm not convinced a Riyadh spring is about to bloom. It will take a lot more than male-only Saudi municipal elections held in half the country, in which six of the seven winners were illegally promoted by the kingdom's extremist Wahabbi religious establishment.
Link to entire report...

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

George W Bush's Vision: America In Decay

The dysfunctional society: US billionaires on the rise—roads, bridges in decay

By Jamie Chapman and Kate Randall
22 March 2004

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Two recent reports cast light on the impact of growing social inequality in the US. The first, the annual inventory of the very rich compiled this month by the business magazine Forbes, tracks the wealth of the world’s billionaires, and their increasing numbers in the US. The second is the “report card” issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) on the state of the infrastructure in the United States.

Together these studies provide a devastating exposure of the price being paid—in the form of basic necessities of daily life—for the ongoing process of diverting ever-greater sums of the national wealth into the personal investments portfolios and bank accounts of the super-rich in America.

Forbes reports that the world’s billionaires counted 691 among their number in 2005, an increase of over 100 in just a year’s time. The aggregate wealth of this handful of men and women reached $2.2 trillion, an increase of $300 billion in just one year. On average, the net worth of each is nearly $3.2 billion.

More than half of these billionaires—341—are in the US, a jump of 69 over last year. But while the ranks, and personal fortunes, of these super-rich has risen, there has been a corresponding deterioration of the basic infrastructure relied upon by ordinary Americans in their everyday life—roads, railroads, public schools, and other basic necessities. In many cases, these structures are literally crumbling.

The US billionaires’ club this year has some familiar faces and some new ones, and the amounts pulled in by its members are staggering. Thirteen of the top 25 billionaires in the world are US citizens. New York City and its suburbs remain their residence of choice, boasting 44 of them.

Perennial leader of the pack is Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, whose fortune last year held virtually steady at $46.5 billion. Not far behind is the American investment guru Warren Buffett, at $44 billion.

Only one of the heirs to Sam Walton of Wal-Mart fame, eldest son Robson, made the top 10 this year, at $18.3 billion. Last year his widow and three other children also ranked among the 10 wealthiest, but a drop in the company’s stock reduced the others’ fortunes to around a mere $18 billion each.

The Forbes report provides a glimpse not only of the obscene amounts of wealth accumulated by these individuals, but of the property and personal possessions they have amassed along the way as an essential component of their extravagant lifestyles.

One of the individuals featured in Forbes is Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who at $15 billion is the 19th richest person in the world. He recently opened up shop in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, which reverted to Chinese control in 1999. Cultivating connections with the Stalinist apparatchiks, Adelson has won approval to build a $6 billion casino, hotel and convention center complex on prime island real estate there. Last year Adelson increased his net worth at an average rate of $1.6 million every hour!

The richest new member of the billionaires’ club is Texas natural gas tycoon Dan Duncan, who debuted on the list at number 93 with $5.1 billion. He ranks just ahead of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with $5 billion.

Oracle’s Larry Ellison has a 450-foot yacht on order for $250 million. He will then beat out another Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, as the owner of the world’s biggest yacht, now the 414-foot Octopus.

In contrast to this glowing picture of prosperity provided by Forbes, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ “report card” delivers a just-above-failing grade on the state of the infrastructure in the United States. Overall the ASCE assigns a grade of “D,” a slight drop from the “D-plus” it awarded when it last issued a report in 2001.

The report examines 12 categories of infrastructure, including roadways, bridges, dams, drinking water, wastewater treatment, railroads, navigable waterways, public school facilities and the power grid. The authors state that a total investment of $1.6 trillion (not counting needs to upgrade for recent security concerns) over the next five years will be required to bring the US up to minimum standards.

In a statement introducing the report, ASCE President William Henry explained, “Americans are spending more time stuck in traffic and less time at home with their families.”

The advisory council of 24 civil engineers which prepared the report found that the average American spent a full week stuck in traffic on overcrowded roads and waiting out long construction delays. Drivers in Kansas City are estimated to spend $500 a year in time and extra gasoline. In Los Angeles, the cost shoots up to $1,660 year. Motorists also spend some $54 billion a year—$275 apiece—in repair and operating costs from driving on roads full of potholes.

The US rail network has not kept up with demand either. Besides being more expensive, shipping by truck adds to highway congestion and road maintenance costs. ASCE estimates that up to $195 billion in investments will be required over the next 20 years to maintain the current share of freight shipped by rail and to allow for anticipated increases in volume.

Passenger rail service fares no better. The heavily used Amtrak Northeast Corridor line will have to be shut down within two years if three bridges are not repaired. In New York City the heavily traveled East Side subway line was shut down no less than three times in a single day this month due to separate power failures. The next day another line was closed while workers investigated smoke in one of the system’s old, narrow tunnels.

With the current state of disrepair, the condition of infrastructure is also matter of life and death, not just inconvenience and economics.

In July 2004, a slab falling off a deteriorated bridge in New York City critically injured a motorist on the parkway below. More than one in four highway bridges are now considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

The number of dams rated unsafe has risen to 3,500, and there were 29 dam failures in the United States in the past two years. In March 2004, the Big Bay Lake Dam in Mississippi failed, destroying 100 homes.

The nation’s wastewater systems are also sorely in need of repair. Eight hundred fifty billion gallons of raw sewage are released annually into rivers, streams, lakes and oceans. In Pima County, Arizona, a sewer line break in 2002 forced 90 homes to be evacuated and closed part of a busy street for six weeks.

As for drinking water, each day 6 billion gallons of treated water disappears due to leaky pipes and old water mains. A break in a 40-year-old main in Northbrook, Illinois, left the town without drinking water for 15 hours. Federal expenditures on treatment plants for fiscal year 2006 will equal less than 10 percent of the annual demand.

As the ASCE president summarized in his statement, “We need to establish a comprehensive, long-term infrastructure plan as opposed to our current ‘patch and pray’ method.” But any such systematic approach to tackling infrastructure or any other societal problem is inconceivable under capitalism in decay, when the only concern of those wielding the levers of industry is how to exploit the vast majority while pampering themselves endlessly.

The burgeoning ranks and fortunes of the US billionaires come under conditions where the social infrastructure of society is under relenting attack from corporate America, the Bush administration and Congress, in the form of job cuts, attacks on health care, pensions and education. This is coupled with growing rates of personal indebtedness and bankruptcies for working families.

The degree of waste and squandering of vital resources by the super-elite personified by the Forbes billionaires—and the protection of their right to do so by the political establishment, including both big business parties—is an indictment of the profit system.

See Also:
Forbes report: Billionaires’ wealth grew by 36 percent in last year
[9 March 2004]

Monday, March 21, 2005

Bush, Congress--Like Ghouls Standing at Death Bed, Waiting for Political Accolades

Bush, Congress intervene in Terry Schiavo case: political thuggery in the service of reaction:
By the Editorial Board
21 March 2005

The intervention of Congress and the Bush administration into the case of Terri Schiavo—the Florida woman on life support for the past 15 years—is an act of unmitigated political thuggery, exploiting a family tragedy for the most reactionary political purposes. It is both a moral abomination and a frontal assault on basic democratic rights.

The assertion of unbridled government authority over the most intimate and private concerns is an ominous warning of the political direction of the US ruling elite and its political agents. The emergency bill being rammed through Congress has been accompanied by open appeals to religious hysteria and thinly concealed incitement to violence against Michael Schiavo, his lawyer, and the Florida judge who upheld Schiavo’s decision to terminate life support.

The cynical and brutal exploitation of an internal family dispute over the fate of Schiavo, whom doctors have declared to be in an irreversible vegetative state, is but the latest political provocation launched by Bush and his Republican allies in Congress. It follows a well established pattern of jumping on “hot button” issues—abortion rights, same-sex marriage, school prayer—in order to whip up the most backward, ignorant and intolerant social elements.

This is how the arch-reactionaries who control all of the levers of state power in the US seek to create a social base for right-wing policies that are opposed by the vast majority of the American people: militarism and war; the destruction of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; the gutting of democratic rights. Behind Bush and company stand the most predatory and criminal sections of the US ruling elite, who pursue by such means their plans to eliminate all legal and political restrictions on the pursuit of corporate profit and the accumulation of ever more obscene levels of personal wealth.

As the Schiavo affair demonstrates, the Democratic Party serves as the willing accomplice in this assault on the basic rights of the American people.

Acting at the instigation of Christian fundamentalist groups that have targeted the Schiavo case as an example of the “right to life,” congressional Republicans made a series of attempts last week to overturn the Florida judge’s decision to permit the withdrawal of life support.

Both the House and Senate met in emergency session Sunday to consider a bill entitled “For the Benefit of the Parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo,” which would allow the parents to file suit in federal court to block the withdrawal of life support. President Bush flew back from a weekend at his Crawford, Texas ranch to be on hand to sign the bill, in a crass display of pandering to the Christian right.

Exemplifying the shameless hypocrisy that has permeated all of the actions of Bush and Congress in this case, White House spokesman Scott McClellan issued a statement that in matters of life and death, such as the Schiavo case, the president believed in careful reflection and deliberation. This from a man who, as governor of Texas, rubber-stamped the execution of 152 prisoners, giving an average of 15 minutes apiece to their death row appeals. The Bush White House’s record of “respect for human life” has included the razing of entire cities in Iraq, the dispatch of US Special Forces and CIA death squads around the world, and the widespread use of torture."


Sunday, March 20, 2005

GoPPiG Chimp_junta: Kill a hundred thousand Iraqis but go into special session on Political Terri Schaivo Case: FUCKING LUNATICS

Yahoo! News - Senate Approves Bill in Right to Die Case
"Senate Approves Bill in Right to Die Case
By Donna Smith
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Sunday unanimously passed legislation aimed at prolonging the life of a brain-damaged woman, Terri Schiavo, in an extraordinary intervention by Congress to move the Florida case into the jurisdiction of federal courts."

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Washington's criminal war against Iraq enters its third year

Washington's criminal war against Iraq enters its third year:

"Today begins year three of the US intervention in Iraq, with its tragic consequences for both the Iraqi and American people continuing to multiply.

The Iraqi dead—incinerated by US air strikes, shot to death at roadblocks, or killed in merciless sieges like the one mounted last November against Fallujah—number in the many tens of thousands.

US casualties have risen to over 1,520 dead, with more than 11,200 troops wounded and as many as 100,000 in need of mental health care as a result of the carnage they have witnessed in Iraq.

An American occupation army of 150,000 has proven incapable of extinguishing the Iraqi resistance or even securing the center of Baghdad. There is no indication that the killing is about to decline, much less cease, and US political and military officials speak in terms of an occupation stretching on for a decade, if not longer. Conditions for the Iraqi people remain catastrophic, with millions unemployed, basic services like electricity, water and sanitation still in a shambles and the threat of violence ever-present.

Yet, there is a growing drumbeat in the US media and within the ostensible opposition party, the Democrats, to exonerate the Bush administration for launching an unprovoked war based upon lies and credit American militarism with advancing democracy, not only in Iraq, but throughout the Middle East.

Coming on top of the Bush administration’s lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda terrorists, the claim that the US conquest of Iraq is an exercise in democratization that has provided inspiration for people throughout the region is the most grotesque deception of all.

The US intervention in Iraq is an example not of democracy but criminality. It was made possible through a historic breakdown of democratic processes within the United States itself, which is rooted in the unprecedented social polarization between the masses of working people and a financial oligarchy that controls both the Democratic and Republican parties."


Brain-Dead GoPPigs Try To USE Brain-Dead Terri Schaivo As Political Meat Ball

Top News Article |

"PINELLAS PARK, Fla. (Reuters) - As a severely brain-damaged Florida woman lay dying on Saturday, the husband who has long fought for her right to die assailed Republican congressmen for their last-minute attempts to keep her alive.

Michael Schiavo, his wife's legal guardian, spoke out against the maneuvers in Washington a day after doctors followed a court order and removed the feeding tube that has kept Terri Schiavo alive for the last 15 years.

"They should be ashamed of themselves," he said in an interview with the CBS "Early Show." "Leave my wife alone. Leave me alone.""

Important Reading: Chimp and Hitler--Senator Compares Each

Senator Byrd is Correct to Equate Bush With Hitler

""Information Clearing House" - - The U.S. Senate's senior Constitutional scholar has correctly equated Bush with Hitler, and the usual attack dogs are howling. But they are wrong, and Americans must now face the harsh realities of an increasingly fascist and totalitarian GOP. Continued.

Octogenarian Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia made the equation in the context of Bush's attack on Senate procedures which might slow or halt his on-going attempt to pack the courts with extreme right-wing fanatics. Byrd said Bush's moves to destroy time-honored Senate rules parallel Hitler's ramming fascist legislation through his gutted Reichstag. "Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality," said Byrd. "He recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal."

Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman has played the holocaust card for the Republicans, saying "It is hideous, outrageous and offensive for Senator Byrd to suggest that the Republican Party's tactics could in any way resemble those of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party.

GOP Chair Ken Mehlman has labeled Byrd's remarked "reprehensible and beyond the pale," remarks joined by Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Santorum is best known for equating sexuality between consenting gays with bestiality between humans and dogs.

But Byrd is one of the few in either house of Congress to truly understand the Constitution and to advocate for the Bill of Rights. He points out that like Hitler, Bush is pursuing a strategy designed to win absolute rule by one party and one leader. Hitler's central slogan "Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer" -- one people, one government, one dictator -- accurately describes the current GOP strategy of Karl Rove, Bush's Joseph Goebbels.

Now the Republicans have renominated extreme right-wing judges to high courts from which they were barred prior to the 2004 election. With enhanced majorities in Congress, the GOP is moving to gut rules put in place to protect the rights of minorities within the government. For the GOP, as for Hitler, such safeguards are annoying barriers to absolute power.

These judges are consistent in their eagerness to protect the power and privilege of private corporations at the public expense, while simultaneous promoting the invasion of individual rights by the government. Masquerading as "free market/small government" advocates, GOP conservatives -- like Hitler's Nazis -- promote an all-powerful central government run by and for the corporations that sponsor them while crushing individual rights and liberties.

While Bush advocates for "democracy" overseas, the GOP is crushing it at home. "
Link to Info Clearing House Article

Friday, March 18, 2005


Congress to Call Schiavo as Witness
Fri Mar 18, 2005 11:39 AM ET
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Top News
U.S. House Leaders Issue Subpoenas for Schiavo
Iraq Kurds, Shi'ites Expect Deal in a Week
Israel Bans 'New' Jewish Settlers in Gaza Strip

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hours before a feeding tube was to be removed from a brain-damaged Florida woman, U.S. lawmakers on Friday called on the woman to appear before congressional committees in an attempt to keep her alive.

Republican leaders from the Senate and House of Representatives said in separate statements they would use congressional probes to stave off the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube, that was slated for 1 p.m.

"The Senate and the House remain dedicated to saving Terri Schiavo's life. While discussions over possible legislative remedies continue, the Senate and the House are taking action to keep her alive in the interim," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican.

Frist said the Senate will call Schiavo as a witness before the its Health, Education and Labor Committee at a March 28 hearing in the middle of Congress' two-week Easter recess.

Federal law protects a witness "from anyone who ... influences, obstructs, or impedes an inquiry or investigation by Congress," Frist said.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas said they planned to issue a subpoena later in the day to keep Schiavo alive.

Schiavo has been fed through a tube since she suffered an incapacitating heart attack in 1990. Her husband, Michael Schiavo, contends she would not have wanted to be kept alive in what court-appointed doctors describe as a persistent vegetative state.

"Tom DeLay and Dennis Hastert are not members of the Politburo in Stalinist Russia," Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos, told Reuters by telephone. "The state does not own Mrs. Schiavo's body and Congress cannot simply order her to remain alive contrary to her medical treatment wishes and court order."

Felos said Congress has no power to enter an injunction. "The only subpoena Congress can issue is to appear before a congressional body," he said.

Schiavo's parents are fighting to keep their daughter alive, saying she responds to them and could improve with rehabilitation. The right-to-die case has galvanized activists on both sides of issue.

"Later this morning, we will issue a subpoena, which will require hospice administrators and attending physicians to preserve nutrition and hydration for Terri Schiavo to allow Congress to fully understand the procedures and practices that are currently keeping her alive," the Hastert and DeLay said. Continued ...
c Steve Bell

Thursday, March 17, 2005

White House press conference: Bush defends rendition of detainees to torture regimes

By Barry Grey
17 March 2005

Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

At a White House press conference Wednesday, President George W. Bush flatly defended his decision to expand the practice of turning over alleged terrorists to governments that are notorious for torturing prisoners. The rendition of detainees to such regimes is a brazen violation of international law, as well as US laws banning torture.

Those “rendered” to foreign governments are thrown into a legal black hole, subject to indefinite detention without charges, and without access to legal counsel or judicial process. Many of the countries to which the US sends its captives—in some cases, people abducted by CIA operatives working around the world—have been singled out by the US State Department for employing torture to extract information or confessions from prisoners. These include Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

Former American intelligence officials estimate that the CIA has carried out 100 to 150 renditions since the terror attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. Last week, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon was preparing to transfer many of the remaining detainees at the Guantánamo Bay concentration camp to prisons in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen.

Toward the beginning of Bush’s 48-minute news conference, a reporter asked:

“Mr. President, can you explain why you approved of and expanded the practice of what’s called ‘rendition’—of transferring individuals out of US custody to countries where human rights groups and your own State Department say torture is common for people in custody?”

Bush replied with the standard administration line, justifying despotic and inhuman methods on the grounds of “national security.” He said: “In the post-9/11 world the United States must make sure we protect our people and our friends from attack.” He then added, lamely, that the US received “promises” from countries that they would not torture those rendered to them by the American authorities.

When the reporter sought to follow up his question, Bush interrupted with some mindless banter, but the journalist persisted, asking: “Well, what is it that Uzbekistan can do in interrogating...?” At that point, Bush cut him off, repeating, “We seek assurances nobody will be tortured when we render a person back to their home country.”

This de facto defense of torture did not prevent Bush, at a later point in the proceedings, in reply to a query about “antipathy to America around the world,” from declaring: “People need to understand we’re a compassionate nation, that we care deeply about suffering...”

The exchange on rendition set the tone for an appearance in which Bush restated his administration’s major policies, both domestic and foreign, and indicated no inclination to retreat or compromise on any significant issue. This despite mounting evidence of broad popular opposition both to the Iraq war and to Bush’s domestic program—in particular, his campaign for the partial privatization of Social Security.

The news conference, which had not been previously scheduled and was only announced early Wednesday morning, several hours before it began, had the appearance of a hastily arranged event, decided on because of political exigencies. Bush’s handlers apparently felt the president had to make an appearance prior to Congress’ two-week Easter recess, which begins Friday, both to shore up support within the ranks of congressional Republicans and intensify pressure on right-wing Democrats to push through the administration’s Social Security policy."

Bush Countermands The Second Amendment: No Right To Bear Arms

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Tuesday expressed the hope that Hezbollah -- which the U.S. State Department has long regarded as a terrorist group -- could enter the political mainstream in Lebanon.

"We view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization," Bush said at a news conference with Jordan's King Abdullah II after the two met in the Oval Office.

"I would hope that Hezbollah would prove that they're not, by laying down arms and not threatening peace."

Bush's remarks echoed sentiments expressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen Hadley over the weekend. (Full story)

A senior administration official described the president's comments as a "softening of the language, not a shift in policy" regarding the militant Shiite Muslim group. The official said Hezbollah would have to "disarm, renounce terror and abandon any support for terrorism" if it wants to "play a constructive role in Lebanon."

Only then, the official said, would the United States be willing to deal with Hezbollah as a legitimate political organization.

The call for Hezbollah to abandon its ways and become part of Lebanon's political mainstream is an acknowledgment by the administration that the group has strong support in Lebanon and will continue to have a role in the country, the official said.

The administration's strategy is to signal to the Lebanese people it recognizes this reality but make it clear that Hezbollah must change fundamentally, the official said.

Hezbollah organized a huge, pro-Syria rally last week in the Lebanese capital of Beirut. (Full story)

The move followed weeks of demonstrations against Syrian troops in Lebanon after last month's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Bush has called for Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon before the country's May elections, and a U.N. resolution also seeks those forces' immediate withdrawal.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has demanded that the United States quit "meddling with our country."

A Lebanese army source said Tuesday that Syrian intelligence units were in the process of leaving Beirut. (Full story)

"First things first," the senior Bush administration official said. "Syria must get out, and Lebanon must have unfettered elections, then Hezbollah must disarm. ... There is no place for an armed militia in a democratic society."


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Sign Up for a Vigil Marking Two Years of War in Iraq

Sign Up for a Vigil Marking Two Years of War in Iraq

Sojourners has issued an urgent call to action to honor the lives lost in war, and to advance the imperative for peace. Since March 19, 2003, more than 1,400 U.S. soldiers have been killed, as well as tens of thousands of Iraqis. U.S. citizens have also suffered on the domestic front, as crucial domestic programs that benefit low-income families have been threatened and the already- ballooning national deficit has swelled to compensate for the cost of war. Sojourners calls on readers to gather together in prayer and remembrance, and advocate for lasting peace and security in
the region.

Sign up today and you'll get the opportunity to download our free vigil toolkit as well as the option to receive a free issue of award-winning Sojourners magazine!

After searching, sign up for the vigil that you will attend! Once you sign up, event hosts can contact you with any changes or important information.

Find an event in your area! <---Go to Sojourner's Web Page

Color commentary

Gene Lyons
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2005

With many Americans entering NCAA college basketball betting pools this
week, it occurred to me that C-SPAN might get a ratings boost if U.S.
senators wore brightly colored uniforms with numbers on their backs.
Think about it. Millions who can’t tell a match-up zone from a
no-parking zone are wagering good money on the Opossum State
Marsupials’ chances of upsetting the Fighting Toll Booth Collectors of UNJ. Yet
only a tiny fraction can tell you how their senator voted on a bankruptcy
"reform" law that among other outrages puts credit card companies ahead
of child support payments in collecting from deadbeat dads. That’s
right, sports fans. The corporate shills who peddle unsecured credit to
teenagers and house pets via bulk mail and Internet pop-up ads, seduce
them into debt, then pummel them with late fees, excess-spending
penalties and 40 percent interest rates now want to prevent the poor
saps from escaping through bankruptcy.

That’s where colored uniforms might come in handy: As one would expect,
every last Republican in the U.S. Senate voted for the so called
Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005.
Favoring corporations over individuals is what Republicans do. But
then, so did 17 Democrats, including Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln of
Arkansas. Yet even some Republicans would have hesitated to vote for
the fool thing had their constituents known what team they were playing

Republicans, as usual, stated their views in moralistic terms. "I think
everybody knows when they take those credit cards and they accrue debt,
they are supposed to repay that debt," said Orrin Hatch of Utah.
"Frankly, we have far too many people taking advantage of credit cards
and not paying their debt."

Can I get an amen? Truth is, almost everybody agrees. Hardly anybody
wants to take bankruptcy. Most regard it as a personal shame. But many
of us also know somebody who accidentally on purpose ran a credit card
pyramid scam, using card B to make payments on card A, card C to pay B,
etc., until running up a huge debt and defaulting. A bankruptcy reform
dedicated to catching deliberate cheats is one everybody could support.

But that’s not what we’re about to get. Statistics show that of the 1.4
million Americans filing for personal bankruptcy last year, the
overwhelming majority’s troubles were caused by personal misfortune:
mostly job loss, divorce and sudden medical expenses. Medical
emergencies alone caused more than half, and three quarters of those
were people who had health insurance but couldn’t afford costs their
policies didn’t cover.

With this in mind, Democrats proposed a series of what would strike
most people as common-sense amendments to the draconian bill essentially
dictated by the financial services industry. Sen. Ted Kennedy of
Massachusetts proposed exempting from tougher repayment standards
families whose bankruptcy was caused by medical emergencies. Sen. Dick
Durbin of Illinois wanted to exempt military men and women financially
hurt after being called to active duty. Sen. Mark Dayton of Minnesota
proposed a 30 percent limit on credit card interest rates. Thirty

Voting almost unanimously, Republicans defeated them all. Never mind
that the Bible they’re so fond of citing in other (mostly sexual)
contexts literally equates usurers with hit men. (" In you [Jerusalem]
men accept bribes to shed blood; you take usury and excessive interest
and make unjust gain from your neighbors by extortion.... I will surely
strike my hands together at the unjust gain you have made and at the
blood you have shed in your midst. ")

Republicans also rejected $150,000 equity exemptions letting people
keep their houses, homestead protection for the elderly, even a
truth-in-lending amendment requiring credit card statements to specify
the total dollar cost of repaying credit card balances by minimum
monthly payments. (The average American family carries $8,000 in
plastic debt.) Republicans also refused to limit so-called asset protection
trusts, used by the wealthy (they’re expensive to create) to shield
their assets in bankruptcy proceedings.

In short, if Grandma gets breast cancer, Grandpa belongs to the credit
card company; it’s basically sharecropping, 21st century style.

So what persuaded any Senate Democrats to vote for it? Well, that’s
where the idea of red or blue uniforms gets complicated. Fortunately,
NASCAR has the solution. Its drivers wear large, brightly colored
decals advertising their corporate sponsors. If we outfitted U.S. senators the
same way, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., would wear a big MBNA patch for the
financial services corporation headquartered in his state. Sen. Joe
Lieberman, D-Conn., who provided a key vote in favor of closing debate,
then boasted about opposing the final bill after its passage was safely
assured, might wear the insignia of Hartford Financial Services. Our
own Blanche Lincoln might choose the logos of some of her largest campaign
contributors: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan
Chase and the American Bankers Association.
–––—Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and
recipient of the National Magazine Award.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Berlusconi government in predicament over US shooting of Italian journalist

By Peter Symonds
15 March 2005

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The right-wing Italian government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was in trouble last week following the March 4 attack by US solders on a car carrying freed hostage Giuliana Sgrena to Baghdad airport. US soldiers opened fire on the vehicle wounding Sgrena, a journalist for the leftist Il Manifesto newspaper, and killing Nicola Calipari, the Italian intelligence agent responsible for negotiating her release.

The incident provoked immediate outrage in Italy. Hundreds of thousands lined the streets during the state funeral for Calipari, who died shielding Sgrena during the shooting. Small demonstrations took place demanding the immediate withdrawal of Italy’s 3,000 troops from Iraq. With polls showing a majority opposed to any involvement in Iraq, the shooting threatened to reignite the broad antiwar movement that brought millions onto the streets in 2003.

In his statement last Wednesday, Berlusconi, one of Bush administration’s staunchest European allies, was compelled to walk a fine line. To deflect public anger, he challenged the US account and demanded “maximum collaboration” from Washington “for closure of the incident that was so irrational and that caused so much sorrow.” At the same time, he insisted “our friendship with the United States is strong and loyal” and ruled out any withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq.

Berlusconi was helped out of his difficulties by the opposition parties. Significantly, his speech in the Italian Senate was greeted with a standing ovation, not only from his own right-wing supporters, but from the so-called centre-left opposition. Romano Prodi, who heads the opposition Olive Tree alliance, told the media that he appreciated “the tone and measure employed by the prime minister today”. It was a clear political signal to Berlusconi that he could count on the opposition not to rock the boat on the issue.

In a speech the previous day to the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini, head of the neo-fascist National Alliance, laid out a similar line. “It is our duty to demand truth and justice,” he declared, demanding that “events be clarified... to identify those responsible, and if people are to blame then to request and ensure that the guilty parties are punished.”

Berlusconi and Fini both provided details of the March 4 events that are completely at odds with US claims. In a statement released shortly after the incident, the American military alleged that the vehicle had been travelling at high speed towards a roadblock and had failed to heed warnings including “hand-and-arm signals, flashing white lights and firing warning shots”.

Sgrena had previously challenged the US account, saying that the car had not been speeding, there was no roadblock and that the soldiers had opened fire without warning. Drawing on information provided by the second Italian intelligence agent in the car, Fini confirmed her statements.

Fini said that the car had been travelling at no more than 40kph. It slowed because the road was wet and because the driver had to make a sharp turn. Halfway around the curve, a searchlight lit up the vehicle and guns opened fire for 10 to 15 seconds. The second Italian agent, who was driving, got out of the car and was forced to kneel on the road. According to Fini, after realising who the agent was, the two young US soldiers repeatedly apologised for what had happened.

Last Friday US embassy official Robert Callahan conceded that the US soldiers were not part of a regular road block, but were a “mobile checkpoint”. It had been set up to provide extra protection for US Ambassador John Negroponte, who was travelling to “Camp Victory” near the airport for dinner with the US commander in Iraq, General George Casey. Negroponte was due at the US headquarters at 7.30 p.m. Why the soldiers were still there at 8.55 p.m., when Calipari was shot, has not been explained.

Fini and Berlusconi also contested US statements that American officials had not been told that Calipari was heading to the airport. Fini said that Calipari, a top Italian agent who had previously been involved in hostage negotiations in Iraq, had made “all necessary contacts” with Italian and US officials. Fini acknowledged, however, that Calipari had not informed US officials of the purpose of his trip, insisting Italy was a “sovereign state”.

Calipari had arrived in Iraq on the day of the shooting to consummate a deal for the release of Sgrena. While Fini made no mention of a ransom, several Italian ministers have strongly hinted that money was involved. Calipari met up with a middleman who led him to a parked car in which Sgrena was bound and blindfolded. He transferred Sgrena to his own vehicle and immediately headed for the airport. Calipari made at least two phone calls—one to the head of the Italian intelligence agency SISMI in Rome and another to an Italian official at the airport. Some 30 minutes later, the car was attacked just 700 metres from the airport.

In his written statement to Rome’s Public Prosecutor’s office, Italian General Mario Marioli, deputy commander of coalition forces in Iraq, provided further evidence that American authorities had been kept in the dark. According to extracts published in La Repubblica, Calipari, who worked in close collaboration with Berlusconi’s office, specifically instructed Marioli not to inform US officials of the purpose of the visit.

Shortly before the shooting, Marioli asked SISMI’s chief in Baghdad, whether he should inform US authorities that Sgrena was on the way to the airport. “I was told ‘No,’ notwithstanding that I let him know that a failure to advise them could signify waiting 15 minutes at the checkpoint at the entry to the airport.” The US military was told that Calipari and his fellow agent were on the way to the airport but not the identity of their passenger.

These admissions are extraordinary. Berlusconi insists that he is Bush’s closest ally and yet when it comes to freeing an Italian hostage in Iraq, the US is told as little as possible. The obvious question is why. The only possible explanation is that Berlusconi and SISMI feared that, in one way or another, the US would interfere with the operation. Washington has previously objected to any negotiations with hostage takers.

The fact that Rome did not trust Washington only highlights a glaring contradiction in the statements of Berlusconi and Fini. While demanding that Washington carry out a full investigation of the incident, the Italian government has ruled out in advance the possibility that the attack on Sgrena was deliberate. Fini was adamant that “it was certainly an accident, an accident caused by a series of circumstances and coincidences”. He dismissed as “groundless” the suggestion made by Sgrena that the US military may have targetted the car because Washington opposed Italian negotiating methods.

Considerable political pressure has been brought to bear on Sgrena to withdraw her allegation. Italy’s Justice Minister Roberto Castelli rebuked the journalist last week declaring: “Giuliana Sgrena has created enormous problems for this government and has caused grief that would have better been avoided.” In the US press, her words have been deliberately distorted and attacked.

In an interview on Sunday in the London-based Times, Sgrena continued to insist that the attack was not simply a blunder. “This was an ambush. No sign was given for us to stop. We were going at a normal speed and we were fired at. The most important person on board was not me, it was Nicola. I don’t know what happened, but it’s impossible to classify this as just an accident.”

Her comments point to obvious unanswered questions. If, as Berlusconi and Fini say, the car was travelling at no more than 40kph, there was no roadblock and no warnings were given, then why did the US soldiers fire at all? There are only two possibilities: either the US troops were jittery, inexperienced or just plain trigger happy, or the attack was a deliberate ambush aimed at scaring or killing the occupants of the car.

Responding to Sgrena’s comments last week, White House spokesman Scott McClellan declared: “I think it’s absurd to make any suggestion that our men and women in uniform deliberately targetted innocent civilians. That’s just absurd.” Firstly, it is evident that those who are directly to blame are not “men and women in uniform”, but those who give the orders. If Sgrena or Calipari were deliberately targetted, then the decision, which had political consequences for relations with a close ally, would have been made at the highest levels of the US military and intelligence.

The real absurdity is McClellan’s contention that the military would never target innocent civilians. Immediately prior to her kidnapping, Sgrena was interviewing refugees from Fallujah, much of which was levelled during the US offensive last year to end anti-American resistance in the city of 300,000. If Sgrena was targetted, it would not be the first time that journalists critical of US militarism have been attacked. During the initial invasion, for instance, US warplanes bombed the offices of the Al Jazeera in Baghdad, even though the Pentagon had been informed of its precise location.

Based on the evidence available to this point, it is not possible to determine if the attack on Sgrena’s car was premeditated or not. Even if Washington’s explanation was accepted at face value, it simply underscores the fact that US troops confront such hostility in Iraq that they have adopted a policy of shoot first and ask questions later—with tragic consequence for unknown numbers of Iraqi men, women and children. The responsibility rests with the White House, and its allies like Berlusconi, for the illegal and brutal occupation of the country.