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.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Congressional Democrats rule out Iraq war fund cutoff

By Patrick Martin
27 February 2007

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Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, flatly rejected Sunday any attempt to cut off funding for the US war in Iraq, calling such an action “immoral” and declaring his party’s commitment to the “success” of the American occupation of Iraq.

Levin made his comments on NBC television’s “Meet the Press” program, after a week in which Democratic leaders in both the House of Representatives and Senate effectively abandoned any effort to impose binding legislative limits on the war in Iraq—spurning popular antiwar sentiment, which continues to grow.

In the three months after the November 7 election, in which mass opposition to the war in Iraq handed control of Congress to the Democrats, the Democratic Party has demonstrated that it is just as desirous as the Republicans of maintaining US control of Iraq and reducing the oil-rich country to the status of an American semi-colony.

Levin told NBC interviewer Tim Russert that the Senate Democratic leadership had decided to move forward with a resolution to repeal the October 2002 congressional authorization for the use of military force in Iraq and replace it with more narrowly drawn language.

Explicitly ruling out a complete withdrawal of American forces from Iraq—the position supported by clear majorities of the American people in all recent polls—Levin said, “We don’t believe that it’s going to be possible to remove all of our troops from Iraq because there’s going to be a limited purpose that they’re going to need to serve, including continued training of the Iraqi army, support for logistics in the Iraqi army, a counterterrorism purpose or a mission because there’s about 5,000 Al Qaida in Iraq. So we want to—we want to transform, or we want to modify that earlier resolution to more limited purpose. That is our goal.”

He added that the plan to reduce the combat role of American troops while maintaining a sizeable force in Iraq indefinitely would follow the pattern proposed by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which the Bush administration has rejected in favor of an escalation of military operations in Baghdad and Anbar province.

“The key issue is do we want American troops in the middle of a civil war,” Levin said. “That’s the fundamental issue which we want to debate. Almost all the Democrats, plus a few Republicans, do not want to get in the middle of that civil war.”

The Democrats do not want to debate the legitimacy of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a violation of international law that the Democratic congressional leadership supported. They oppose the Bush administration’s conduct of the war and current war policy not out of any principled opposition to militarism or neo-colonialism, but because the policy has produced a military and political disaster for US imperialism. Their goal is to salvage the US intervention, prevent an outright defeat and secure the basic war aims—first and foremost, US control of the country’s oil resources.

Levin did not acknowledge that the sectarian strife is the inevitable product of the US invasion, the shattering of the Iraqi state and the continued occupation, nor did his interviewer suggest as much.

Russert cited the declaration by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican of Kentucky) that the only way for Democrats to end the war was to cut off funding. “Why don’t Democrats do what Senator McConnell says that they could do, cut off funding for the war?” he asked.

Levin’s reply should dispel any illusions that the Democratic Party intends to put an end to the war in Iraq. “Most of us do not want to cut funding for our troops for two reasons,” he said. “One is, it’s wrong. Our troops deserve our support as long as they’re there, and we’re not going to repeat the mistake of Vietnam where we took out on the troops our differences over policies with the administration. Our differences are with the commander in chief and his policies, and we’re going to fund the troops as long as they’re there.

“Secondly, because that resolution would lose, the president would then use the defeat of a cut-the-funding resolution as a way of supporting his policy. So we would be playing right into the hands of the president and his policy makers by having a losing vote on funding.”

It is worth examining these arguments in some detail, as they epitomize the mixture of distortion, evasion and political cowardice that characterizes the Democrats’ maneuvers on Iraq, behind which stands their support for US imperialism and its drive for hegemony in the Middle East and around the world.

Levin’s first claim is that cutting off funding for military operations is illegitimate and represents an attack on the American troops themselves. This is bogus both historically and constitutionally. If taken literally, it would amount to a complete surrender of decision-making power on matters of war and peace to the executive branch.

There is, in fact, a centuries-long tradition of parliaments and other legislative bodies imposing their will on the executive by cutting off funding for wars or making the funding conditional on certain military policies. The US Congress has repeatedly done so, not only during the Vietnam period—where Levin grossly distorts the record—but more recently.

In the 1980s, Congress used its funding power to force a withdrawal of US troops from Lebanon and ban support for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua (prompting illegal efforts by the Reagan administration to circumvent the legislation, which erupted in the Iran-Contra scandal). In the 1990s, congressional action brought an end to the US military presence in Somalia and limited US participation in military operations in the former Yugoslavia.

In relation to Vietnam, Levin recycles the right-wing myth that “we took out on the troops our differences over policies with the administration.” This represents a pledge on his part that the Democrats will never cave in to antiwar forces today, as their Republican opponents claim they did during the Vietnam era.

There was a faction within the leadership of the Democratic Party that turned against the Vietnam War and sought to end it, and the absence of any genuine antiwar wing of the Democratic Party today underscores the rightward evolution of the party as a whole in the intervening years.

Nevertheless, Congress never actually cut off funding for US troops in Vietnam, despite the massive and sustained opposition to the war that developed among the American people. There were some restrictions imposed on escalation of the war, including a ban on invading North Vietnam and limits on US military actions in Cambodia and Laos. The cutoff of funds voted by Congress in 1974, after US troops had been withdrawn, applied only to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), the puppet military force which was already on its last legs and ultimately collapsed in April 1975.

Right-wing elements, many of them prominent in the current administration, have in recent years promoted the claim that congressional action sabotaged what would otherwise have been a successful American policy in Vietnam, but this pretense is absurd. As Henry Kissinger admitted, the Nixon administration was well aware of the hopelessness of the Saigon regime, and only wanted “a decent interval” between the final US troop withdrawal, in 1973, and the collapse of the puppet state two years later.

The rewriting of the history of the Vietnam War plays a similar role in American politics that the “stab-in-the-back” theory did in the politics of Germany in the 1920s. The Nazis repeatedly claimed that Germany’s defeat in World War I resulted not from the superior strength of the Allies after American entry into the war, but from the actions of the “enemy within”—socialists, communists and Jews—who supposedly betrayed the fatherland. In like fashion, the Vietnam defeat is used by American bourgeois politicians, liberal as well as conservative, to argue that any serious and effective opposition to American military operations abroad is illegitimate.

Such methods of intimidation rely on the biggest of the many lies in the current official “debate” over Iraq: the claim that a funding cutoff would somehow harm the US troops deployed in Iraq. This claim is advanced as if self-evident, as though the legislation would leave American soldiers stranded on the battlefield without bullets or armor.

It is, of course, perfectly feasible to draft legislation requiring the Pentagon to use funds appropriated for the war in Iraq to evacuate all US soldiers from that country by a definite—and early—date. Removing them would put a stop to the rising death toll among American soldiers, and bring to an end the basic cause of violent death among Iraqis: the American colonial occupation.

A handful of House Democrats have proposed such a bill, but this serves as little more than a left cover for the right-wing policy of the party as a whole. There is little support for such a bill in the Democratic caucus, and none at all in the leadership.

According to a report in Sunday’s Washington Post, Congressman John Murtha announced his plans for a bill to restrict the deployment of troops based on readiness requirements to be certified by the Pentagon in order to “head off” the introduction of legislation calling for an immediate or rapid pullout. The Murtha bill has in turn been denounced by Democratic Senate leaders and more conservative House Democrats as overreaching, and is to be shelved in favor of an even less restrictive measure.

On “Meet the Press,” Levin rejected Russert’s well-founded suggestion that the Democrats were simply “afraid politically to cut off funding.” He replied, “It’s not a fear of politically of doing it . . It’s the wrong thing to do morally in terms of the message it sends to the troops.”

Presumably it is, on the other hand, “moral” to continue the slaughter of Iraqis and the sacrifice American soldiers and squandering of hundreds of billions of dollars in an unprovoked war of aggression that was launched on the basis of lies.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Murtha, Levin, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other leading Democrats have embraced the “support the troops” mantra as a pretext for maintaining the US occupation of Iraq more or less indefinitely. The effect of this posture is to empower President Bush to wage war wherever and whenever he pleases. He simply orders the troops deployed, exercising his powers as “commander-in-chief,” then demands congressional backing in the name of “support” for the soldiers, who become little more than hostages of the Bush administration’s program of international aggression.

The utter cynicism of both parties and all the institutions of official Washington can be seen in the revelations of the past week over conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center, the main military complex for treatment of US soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. A four-month-long investigation by the Washington Post found hundreds of wounded soldiers living as outpatients on the grounds of the Medical Center, in buildings infested with rats and roaches, poorly cleaned and maintained, and not receiving the care made necessary by the physical and psychological damage caused by the wars.

In the upside-down world of American imperialism, those who posture as advocates for the troops want to kill more of them, and warehouse the shattered survivors of combat in squalid conditions, while those who want an end to the killing and maiming are demonized for their supposed failure to “support the troops.”

Levin’s other main argument against a funding cutoff is that it is politically unfeasible, given the narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, and that failure to push through such a measure would strengthen the Bush administration. It is hard to know whether cowardice or deception plays a larger part in this argument, which might be described as a strategy of “preemptive capitulation.” Because Bush and congressional Republicans will oppose such a fund cutoff, Levin declares, the Democrats should not even attempt it.

Towards the end of his appearance on “Meet the Press,” Levin dropped any pretense of appealing to antiwar sentiment. Responding to smears by Vice President Cheney, who suggested in televised comments during his tour of Asia that congressional Democratic critics were validating the strategy of Al Qaeda, Levin said, “No, quite the opposite. Our proposal is an effort to try to succeed in Iraq . . the strategy which has been followed is a losing strategy. It is a failing strategy. And if we want to succeed in Iraq, we’ve got to find ways to change that strategy.”

Levin’s wish for success—echoed by all the leading candidates for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination—demonstrates that the installation of a Democrat in the White House in two years time would do nothing to bring an end to the aggressive designs of American imperialism.

The only principled basis for the struggle against the war in Iraq is to demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of American, British and all other foreign forces. Those responsible for launching the war—Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and dozens of other top officials—should face prosecution before an international tribunal. This requires the building of an independent political movement from below, mobilizing working people, youth and students against the two parties that represent the American corporate elite.

Cheney’s approach revealed in miniature
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, February 28, 2007

If Dick Cheney were anything less than vice president, you’d have to
wonder if the judge in the Lewis “Scooter” Libby trial would have let
him leave the country. During closing arguments, prosecutor Patrick
Fitzgerald made it clear that he believed Cheney’s chief of staff
perjured himself to cover-up his boss’s role in “outing” CIA agent
Valerie Plame. Testimony depicted Cheney as bitterly obsessed with
Plame’s husband, Joe Wilson, whose New York Times article exposing the
phony “intelligence” concocted to hype Iraq’s imaginary nuclear threat
panicked the White House. A copy of Wilson’s op-ed with angry “talking
points” scrawled in the margins by Cheney was introduced into evidence.
“There is a cloud over the vice president,” Fitzgerald told the jury.
“He wrote on those columns. He had those meetings. He sent Libby off to
the meeting with [New York Times reporter ] Judith Miller where Plame
was discussed. That cloud remains because the defendant obstructed
justice. That cloud is there. That cloud is something that we just can’t
pretend isn’t there.” Big talk about “Big Time,” President Bush’s
nickname for Cheney, testifying in Libby’s defense predictably came to
nothing. No way could he face an aggressive prosecutor with a steel-trap
mind like Fitzgerald’s. Secretive guys like Cheney do their best work in
the dark.

Everybody who’s worked in a large organization has encountered somebody
like Cheney: compulsive bureaucratic infighters adept at sucking up to
power, bullying subordinates, back-stabbing and office intrigue; the
kind who show up at the office on Sunday to rifle rivals’ desks. If not
controlled, they’re capable of subverting the organization’s ostensible
goals to their own purposes.

Exactly as Cheney, unconstrained by mature leadership in the Oval
Office, has subverted U.S. foreign policy to his own Machiavellian ends.
Remember when they assured us of Cheney’s “gravitas,” and told us the
adults were in charge?

The Plame/Wilson affair dramatizes the whole sick process in miniature:
twisting intelligence to manufacture a non-existent threat, leaking it
to gullible reporters themselves preoccupied with insider status, then,
as the scheme threatened to unravel, turning the same apparatus against
a whistleblower and his wife for revenge.

It’s the furtiveness and obsessiveness of Cheney and Libby’s quest to
smear the Wilsons that emerged most clearly. It’s the Washington
disease. The town’s filled with people like them. Maybe we’d be better
off rotating the nation’s capital at intervals among the fifty states.
Let Pierre, S.D., take a turn; or Montpelier, Vt.

Did Cheney commit a crime by ordering Plame’s covert identity leaked,
supposedly to embarrass her husband? Maybe not. The vice president’s
authorized to declassify secrets. But will that protect him from the
civil lawsuit the couple has filed?

Did Cheney obstruct justice by participating in the alleged cover-up?
There were tantalizing hints prosecutors may think so.

Meanwhile, America’s Crazy Uncle Dick ranged the wide world, putting the
full scope of his upside-down, paranoid world-view on display. How do
you suppose China liked being lectured about its unseemly military
buildup? The U.S. currently spends more on weapons than the rest of the
world combined. China’s military budget is a tiny fraction of ours.

How about the chief architect of the Iraq disaster chastising other
countries for insufficient dedication to the cause? From Australia,
Cheney scolded Democrats. “What happens if we withdraw from Iraq?...
al-Qa’ida functions on the basis that they think they can break our
will. That’s their fundamental underlying strategy, that if they can
kill enough Americans or cause enough havoc, create enough chaos in
Iraq, then we’ll quit and go home. And my statement was that if we adopt
the Pelosi policy, that then we will validate the strategy of

In reality, as James Fallows pointed out in the Atlantic Monthly:
“Documents captured after 9/11 showed that bin Laden hoped to provoke
the United States into an invasion and occupation that would entail all
the complications that have arisen in Iraq. His only error was to think
that the place where Americans would get stuck would be Afghanistan.” “
Bin Laden also hoped that such an entrapment would drain the United
States financially. Many al-Qa’ida documents refer to the importance of
sapping American economic strength as a step toward reducing America’s
ability to throw its weight around in the Middle East.” Perennially
anxious about proving their “toughness,” Cheney and the neocons live in
a world of illusion. Now comes word via Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker
that in an effort to counter the influence of Shiite Iran—itself
empowered by U.S. removal of its enemies Saddam Hussein and the
Taliban—the administration’s secretly arming Sunni militias friendly to
al-Qa’ida in Lebanon and elsewhere. The folly and incoherence of this
scheme simply cannot be overstated. Needless to say, Hersh reports, it’s
all coordinated out of Cheney’s office.

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

Another U.S. Military Assault on Media

Inter Press Service
Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily

Read story at website

BAGHDAD, Feb 23 (IPS) - Iraqi journalists are outraged over yet another U.S. military raid on the media.

U.S. soldiers raided and ransacked the offices of the Iraq Syndicate of Journalists (ISJ) in central Baghdad Tuesday this week. Ten armed guards were arrested, and 10 computers and 15 small electricity generators kept for donation to families of killed journalists were seized.

This is not the first time U.S. troops have attacked the media in Iraq, but this time the raid was against the very symbol of it. Many Iraqis believe the U.S. soldiers did all they could to deliver the message of their leadership to Iraqi journalists to keep their mouth shut about anything going wrong with the U.S.-led occupation.

"The Americans have delivered so many messages to us, but we simply refused all of them," Youssif al-Tamimi of the ISJ in Baghdad told IPS. "They killed our colleagues, closed so many newspapers, arrested hundreds of us and now they are shooting at our hearts by raiding our headquarters. This is the freedom of speech we received."

Some Iraqi journalists blame the Iraqi government.

"Four years of occupation, and those Americans still commit such foolish mistakes by following the advice of their Iraqi collaborators," Ahmad Hassan, a freelance journalist from Basra visiting Baghdad told IPS. "They (the U.S. military) have not learned yet that Iraqi journalists will raise their voice against such acts and will keep their promise to their people to search for the truth and deliver it to them at any cost."

There is a growing belief in Iraq that U.S. allies in the current Iraqi government are leading the U.S. military to raid places and people who do not follow Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's directions.

"It is our Iraqi colleagues who pushed the Americans to that hole," Fadhil Abbas, an Iraqi television producer told IPS. "Some journalists who failed to fake the truth here are trying hard to silence truth seekers by providing false information to the U.S. military in order to take advantage of their stupidity in handling the whole Iraqi issue."

The incident occurred just two days after the Iraqi Union covering journalists received formal recognition from the government. The new status allowed the Syndicate access to its previously blocked bank account, and it had just purchased new computers and satellite equipment.

"Just at the point when the Syndicate achieves formal recognition for its work as an independent body of professionals, the American military carries out a brutal and unprovoked assault," International Federation of Journalists General Secretary Aidan White said in a statement. "Anyone working for media that does not endorse U.S. policy and actions could now be at risk."

The raid was a "shocking violation of journalists' rights," White said. "In the past three years more than 120 Iraqi journalists, many of them Syndicate members, have been killed, and now their union has been turned over in an unprovoked act of intimidation."

"The Americans and their Iraqi government followers are destroying social activities and civil unions so that no group can oppose their crimes and plans," 55-year-old lawyer Hashim Jawad of the Iraqi Lawyers Union in Baghdad told IPS. "The press is our remaining lung to breathe democracy in this country and now it is being targeted."

The Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), an independent humanitarian association based in Geneva which seeks to strengthen legal protection and safety of journalists around the world also strongly condemned the U.S. military raid.

The media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders lists at least 148 journalists and media workers killed in Iraq since the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

The group also compiles an annual Press Freedom Index for countries around the world. In 2002, under Saddam Hussein's rule, Iraq ranked 130. In the 2006 index, Iraq fell to position 154.

The same index listed the U.S. at 17 in 2002, a rank that fell to 56 by 2006.

The Brussels Tribunal, a group of "intellectuals, artists and activists who denounce the...war," lists the names, dates and circumstances in which 191 media professionals of Iraqi nationality have been killed.

The PEC and the other watchdogs have requested the Iraqi government to launch an immediate inquiry into the attack.

"I only wish the U.S. administration and our government would stop lying about freedom in Iraq," Mansoor Salim, a retired journalist, told IPS. "How stupid we were to have believed their statements about freedom. I admit that I was one of the fools."

Monday, February 26, 2007

Bush ends up widely despised while Al Gore gets the OSCAR!

Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" wins documentary Oscar
Mon Feb 26, 2007 9:17 AM ET

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "An Inconvenient Truth," the big-screen adaptation of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore's slide-show lecture about the perils of global warming, won Academy Awards on Sunday for documentary feature and best song.

The award for best documentary went to director Davis Guggenheim and producers Lawrence Bender ("Pulp Fiction") and Laurie David, the environmentalist wife of "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David.

But the film marked a personal triumph for Gore, the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee who left politics after narrowly losing his White House bid to Republican George W. Bush and embarked on a new campaign calling attention to the threat of climate change.

"My fellow Americans, people all over the world, we need to solve the climate crisis," Gore said after taking the stage.

"It's not a political issue, it's a moral issue. We have everything we need to get started with the possible exception of the will to act. That's a renewable resource. Let's renew it."

Gore is the star and narrator of the documentary, which is widely credited with helping shift U.S. public opinion on the need for urgent action to curb man-made emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

Director Guggenheim handed Gore the Oscar and told the audience the movie was made "because we were moved to act by this man".


Rock star Melissa Etheridge won the Oscar for original song for the film's musical theme, "I Need to Wake Up," which she composed and performed for the movie. It marked the first song from a documentary to be nominated in that category since "More" from "Mondo Cane" in 1963.

"I have to thank Al Gore for inspiring us, inspiring me, showing that caring about the earth is not Democratic or Republican, it is not red or blue, we are all green," Etheridge said.

The Oscar win helps raise Gore's public profile as many of his fellow Democrats are beginning to jostle for their party's nomination for president next year, though the former vice president under Bill Clinton has repeatedly said he has no plans to run again in 2008.

The film has topped $45 million at the box office worldwide and sold 1 million DVDs. With $24 million in U.S. ticket sales alone, it ranks as the nation's third-highest-grossing documentary ever, excluding concert films and Imax movies -- behind "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "March of the Penguins."

The book version of "An Inconvenient Truth" was published last year as a follow-up to Gore's 1992 bestseller "Earth in the Balance."

Also nominated this year for best documentary were "Deliver Us from Evil," about a pedophile priest, "Jesus Camp," exploring efforts to instill evangelical Christians in children, and two films about the war in Iraq -- "My Country, My Country" and "Iraq in Fragments."

Friday, February 23, 2007

Seven die in Pennsylvania house fire

By Samuel Davidson
23 February 2007

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Six children and the mother of three of them died in a house fire early last Saturday morning near Waynesburg in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation but is focusing on space heaters the family was using to heat the one-and-a-half-story woodframe three-bedroom home.

The family had been without gas heat since 2005 and were relying on a wood-burning stove and additional space heaters in the bedrooms. Family members told news media that on Friday night they had run out of dry wood, forcing them to depend more on the space heaters.

Temperatures in the area dropped to 1 below zero Fahrenheit Friday night, and temperatures for the previous three weeks were well below freezing most of the time.

Killed in the fire were Rebecca Eddy, 26, and her three daughters, Tiffany Blake, 10, Rebecca Marie Blake, 9, and Diamon Nicole Blake, 7. Also killed in the blaze were the three children of Mrs. Eddy’s brother-in-law, Donna Jo Arthur, 5, Joshua Lee Arthur Jr., 3, and Christopher Arthur, 2.

Eleven people were sleeping in the house at the time of the fire—five adults and the six children. Rebecca Eddy’s husband Steve; her brother-in-law Joshua Arthur Sr., 28, whose three children were killed; Mrs. Eddy’s brother, Robert Husner, 27; and their mother, Lucille Treat were able to escape the blaze. Mr. Arthur’s children did not live at the house, but were visiting him for the weekend.

The bodies of five of the children were found scattered throughout the home. Rebecca Eddy’s body was found in the bathroom, holding one of her nephews.

A family spokesmen stated that when the fire broke out, around 3:30 Saturday morning, Joshua Arthur was awoken by screams and ran to a nearby home to call 911 because the family had no phone in the house. When he returned, he and Steve Eddy attempted several times to enter the rooms where the children were sleeping but were forced back by the smoke and heat. Both Mr. Arthur and Mr. Eddy were hospitalized with severe burns. The house had only one smoke detector and it was not working.

Robert Husner said that he and his sister Rebecca were leaving the house together, but that she turned back when she heard one of the children call.

Fire officials who got to the house shortly after the call reported that flames were 10 to 15 feet high, coming out of all the windows and doorways.

The funeral for Mrs. Eddy and her three children was held on Wednesday, and hundreds of family, friends and neighbors attended. The funeral arrangements for Mr. Arthur’s three children have yet to be announced.

Heidi Harbarger, who attended the funeral, said, “This is the worst tragedy in a long time. They were lovely and caring people. Their gas furnace did not work, and they were using electric heaters and a wood-burning stove. They were hard-working, but just not making enough, yet they were the kind of people who would give you the shirt off their backs if you needed it.

“The furnace was broke, they asked the landlord to fix it, but I guess he never did.”

The obvious question is: why didn’t the family have gas heat and who is responsible?

Robert Husner, who was living in the house at the time, told reporters that the gas had been cut off because the furnace was broken, and that his sister was trying to get assistance to have it repaired. The landlord of the home has refused media requests for interviews.

A spokesperson for Equitable Gas Co., the utility that provides natural gas in this area, refused to discuss specifics of the fire but instead referred to several programs that people can access for help in paying for heating bills. In reality, these programs have been severely curtailed, and it is very difficult for families to obtain support. Those who do get the support find it only pays a fraction of heating bills.

Laws that prevent utility companies from cutting off gas during the winter months are limited, and there is no restriction on cutting off service during the spring or summer. Gas utilities are not required to reconnect service during the winter or even contact disconnected customers and try to make arrangements so that their service can be restored. Equitable Gas says that the home was without gas service since May 2005.

This tragedy also points to the seldom-reported problem of extreme poverty in rural areas of the country. Green County, in southwestern Pennsylvania, has one the highest poverty rates and the lowest average income of any county in the state. Median household income was just over $31,000 in 2005 compared to $43,000 for Pennsylvania as a whole.

According to official statistics, more than 15 percent of the population lives below the poverty level. Only Philadelphia and Fayette counties have higher poverty rates. Fayette County borders on Green County and shares many of its characteristics. Homelessness is concealed, as many families live together in overcrowded homes.

Stacy Lewis commented, “There are not many jobs around here. Sure, if all you are looking for is fun money; but if you are trying to raise a family and pay your bills, there are not many jobs that pay enough. Most places want you to work for low wages and without benefits. People have to chose between food and heat, and this is what happens.”

Green County was hit hard by the closure in coal mines throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. In the last few years, there has been a slight rebound in mining, but that has only resulted in a fraction of the former jobs and wages are far below their pre-shutdown levels. Many of the companies that had been built up to service the mining industry also closed and have yet to return.

With gas prices rising at double-digit rates, many families can’t pay for both heat and food and have turned to other methods to heat their homes during the winter. One only has to drive around this community to see the smoke of wood-burning stoves or the wood piles on the sides of homes.

Kevin Cunningham and Candy Anderson came to the funeral. Kevin is a cousin of the three girls that died in the fire.

“I still can’t believe this,” he said. “There are not words that you can say. They were great girls, always happy, smiling and playing.

“People don’t realize about life, it is very hard around here. There is no real work to do, most people end up working in stores and places like that. But you can’t pay your bills and raise a family on that.

“I have been laid off for three months from construction. I just took a job in the coal mine. I will be working above ground; I don’t even know how much I will be making, but it is the best job around.

“I think there has to be some help for people who don’t have heat. It has been real cold here, and people have to find a way to stay warm.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Pundits create their own version of reality
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Some years ago, I accepted a magazine assignment to write about the
Texas Prison Rodeo. Never having set foot inside a penitentiary, I asked
a friend who’d been a prison warden in two Southern states for advice.
After we talked for a bit, my friend leaned back, put his boots up on
the desk, lit a cigar, and cut to the chase. “You don’t strike me as a
naïve person, so don’t take me wrong,” he said carefully, pausing for
emphasis. “But some of those boys will lie to you.” In that spirit, a
guide to the upcoming marathon presidential campaign. Lest anybody tell
you different, all candidates are consumed with ambition; all seek
power; all have formidable egos. Nobody who didn’t could survive the
ordeal. Furthermore, all political events are stage-managed to the
maximum extent possible. Even if they appear on “Oprah,” they’re not
there to bare their souls. An American presidential campaign is the
ultimate reality-TV show. It follows that the anchor creatures and
pundits who bring it to your living room use it to advance their own
careers, often by substituting made-for-TV plots and themes for the
humdrum issues that candidates prefer to discuss. Few voters grasp how
much the media’s obsession with personality, “character” and hot-button
issues like race and sex often involves distorting reality to fit a
pre-selected theme.

On his Web site, The Daily Howler, Bob Somerby has exhaustively
chronicled how fictive scenarios about Al Gore and George W. Bush
dominated the 2000 presidential election. The Beltway press consistently
portrayed Gore as a big faker who made up self-aggrandizing tales about
himself, while Bush was an “authentic” politician with a common touch. A
gushing Bush profile in, yes, The New York Times set the tone early:
“Nobody would ever mistake him for Vice President Gore.... His style is
an amalgam of East and Southwest, Yale and the oil patch. Call him the
Madras Cowboy.”

The “Madras Cowboy” line never took, but the theme sure did. I vividly
recall talking with two Democratic friends, both physicians who are both
a lot smarter than myself, who’d swallowed the anti-Gore story line
whole—invented the Internet, “Love Story,” the lot. The first claim Gore
never made; the second, author Erich Segal made clear, was largely true.
He had modeled his novel’s protagonist on Gore, his former student.

The result is that our president’s a bicycle-pedaling “Texas rancher”
who to my knowledge has never owned a horse or cow, and an epic
prevaricator rivaled only by Richard Nixon and his fellow Texan, Lyndon
Baines Johnson.

Many people find it hard to grasp how today’s Beltway press operates
because, in their own professional lives, inventing or ignoring
dispositive facts ultimately leads to firing, disgrace and revoked
licenses. In Washington, it brings fame, fortune and guest spots on
“Hardball,” where pundits ponder questions like this one from the
excitable host about Sen. Hillary Clinton’s alleged unwillingness to
explain her vote authorizing the Iraq war: “Everybody in America knew we
were going to war with Bush. He made it pretty clear from Day One we
were going to war. How come she still pretends that she didn’t know he
was going to war? It’s like she didn’t know anything about Bill and his
behavior! How many times is she going to be confused by men?”

See how it works? From weapons of mass destruction straight back to Bill
Clinton’s pants. Never mind that when the Senate voted in 2002, Bush
swore that war was the last thing he wanted. Did Hillary Clinton believe
him? I have no way of knowing. Her contemporaneous public statements
accepted intelligence reports touting Iraq’s WMD or friendly relations
with al-Qa’ida, both now highly questionable.

But the senator is clearly this campaign’s Beltway piñata, a calculating
phony like Gore. Recently, for example, a New Hampshire voter asked her
why she hadn’t called her Iraq vote a mistake. Reporters for the
trend-setting New York Times and Washington Post knew what to do. They
paraphrased her answer and guessed at her motive. “Mrs. Clinton,” the
Times reported, “stuck to a set of talking points that she and her
advisers hope will ultimately overcome the antiwar anger that is
particularly strong among Democrats.” Here’s the transcript of what
Clinton actually said: “I have said, and I will repeat... that, knowing
what I know now, I would never have voted for it. But I also—and, I
mean, obviously you have to weigh everything as you make your decision—I
have taken responsibility for my vote. The mistakes were made by this
president, who misled this country and this Congress into a war that
should not have been waged.” How much does Clinton’s position differ
from those of Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, depicted
as her main rivals? Hardly at all, in practical terms. But you’d never
know that if you follow the spin.

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

Monday, February 19, 2007

War is self-defeating
Gene Lyons

The longer it continues, the more self-defeating and dangerous this
misconceived “war on terror” becomes. It’s simply not possible to wage
war on an abstract noun. Like a drunk in a barroom brawl, the Bush
administration knows it’s getting hit, but not exactly whom to blame. So
now it wants to fight everybody in the joint. Judging by the
administration’s latest deeply unconvincing propaganda campaign, it’s
Iran’s turn. Unnamed “senior U. S. military officials” have made
“educated guesses” that the Iranian government smuggles bombs into Iraq
to kill American soldiers. Guesses? You’d almost think the officers
peddling this stuff hoped not to be believed. Last week, Iran was
allegedly helping Sunni extremists, its mortal enemies. Now the other
side. Actually, there are at a minimum four sides in Iraq’s civil war,
but I digress. Supposedly, serial numbers on bomb fragments trace back
to Iranian factories.

So the cunning Persian mullahs are sneaking explosives into Iraq and
stamping them “Made in Iran”? People, even George W. Bush ain’t that
dumb, although some who work for him definitely are.

Consider what the Pentagon inspector-general has called the “alternative
intelligence” stylings of former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas
Feith. Manfully defending himself on (where else?) FOX News, Feith
insisted, “Nobody in my office ever said there was an operational
relationship between Iraq and al-Qa’ida. It’s just not correct. I mean,
words matter.”

Do they? The Los Angeles Times cites this pre-war golden oldie written
by Feith and touted by Deadeye Dick Cheney: “Osama bin Laden and Saddam
Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003
that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction,
logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps and
safe haven in Iraq... according to a top-secret U. S. government
memorandum obtained by The Weekly Standard.”

“[I ] n presenting it,” Feith claims, “I was not endorsing its

This from an administration that shipped $12 billion in cash, 363 tons
of crisp, shrink-wrapped $100 bills to Iraq, then lost it. Testifying to
Congress recently, Coalition Provisional Authority honcho Paul Bremer
couldn’t account for the money. In 2004, Bush awarded him the
Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Look, black-market arms trading is the No. 1 sport in the Middle East.
The U.S. knows that as well as anybody. The CIA helped mujahideen
fighters chase the Russians from Afghanistan by smuggling Stinger
missiles through Pakistan. Remember Iran-Contra? Ollie North and friends
were selling Israeli missiles to, yes, the Persians. Twelve billion
dollars will buy off a lot of border guards along the 900-mile frontier
between Iraq and Iran, much of it more remote than, say, the airtight
U.S.-Mexican border.

So even if some explosives did originate in Iran—and do let’s recall
that intelligence hoaxes are equally common in the Middle East—there’s
no evidence the ayatollahs knew it. The BBC reports that the Irish
Republican Army, Lebanese Hezbollah and Afghanistan’s Taliban have used
identical weaponry for years. I doubt the IRA got theirs from Iran.

Meanwhile, the two groups most eager to see the U.S. attack Iran are
al-Qa’ida and the Israeli extreme right. Bin Laden’s whole game is
suckering Americans into making war against Muslim countries; attacking
his non-Arab, Shiite enemies would give him a double triumph. Israeli
politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu, shaken by last summer’s
inconclusive campaign against Hezbollah, call Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad the “new Hitler” and warn of a second Holocaust.

The new George Wallace is more like it. Ahmadinejad has no authority
over Iran’s military. He thrives by exploiting the resentment of people
who see themselves as victims. Meanwhile, his party lost badly in recent
elections, and he was shouted down during a speech at a Tehran

Iranian reformers are begging the U.S. not to take the bait.

“We try to tell politicians in Washington, D.C., please don’t do
anything in favor of reform or to promote democracy in Iran. Because in
100 percent of the cases, it benefits the right wing,” Saeed Leylaz, a
Tehran businessman, told the Los Angeles Times. “Mr. Ahmadinejad tries
to make the international situation worse and worse. And now... he can
say, ‘Look, we are in a dangerous position, and nobody can say anything
against us, because the enemy is coming into the country.’ Exactly like
George W. Bush in Washington, D.C. They are helping each other. They
need each other, I believe.”

United Press International recently reported an exchange between Soroush
Richard Shehabi, an Iranian-American acquaintance of mine, and Bush at a
Washington reception. “I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and
the regime we all despise will remain in power for another 20 or 30
years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized,” said Shehabi, a
grandson of one of the late shah’s ministers. “I know,” Bush answered.
“But does Vice President Cheney know?” Bush reportedly walked away

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Is the Bush administration behind the bombings in Iran?

By Peter Symonds
17 February 2007

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Two bombings this week in Zahedan in southeastern Iran are the latest in a series of incidents involving armed opposition groups based among the country’s ethnic minorities. The most recent attacks again raise questions about the activities of the US military and CIA inside Iran as the Bush administration intensifies its preparations for war.

The first blast killed at least 11 members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who were travelling in a bus from their housing compound to a military base. After forcing the bus to stop, the attackers triggered explosives packed in a car. Another 31 people were injured in the explosion. A further bombing, followed by sustained clashes between police and an armed group, was reported yesterday.

Jundallah, a Sunni extremist group based among Iran’s Baluch minority, claimed responsibility for the Wednesday bombing. Iranian police have already rounded up some 65 people allegedly connected to the organisation, along with explosives and weapons. Zahedan is the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan province, which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan and is home to Iran’s estimated 1-2 million ethnic Baluchis.

According to provincial police chief Brigadier General Mohammad Ghafari: “A video seized from the rebels confirms their attachment to opposition groups and some countries’ intelligence services such as America and Britain.” An unnamed Iranian official told the Islamic Republic News Agency yesterday that one of those arrested had confessed that the attack was part of US plans to provoke unrest in Iran. “This person who was behind the bombing confessed that those who trained them spoke in English,” he said.

The Iranian authorities have provided no definitive proof of US or British involvement with Jundallah. Neither the video nor any further evidence has been released. However, the attack on the IRGC bus took place amid a propaganda campaign being waged by the Bush administration accusing the IRGC’s Quds Force of arming anti-US insurgents in Iraq. President Bush has vowed to break up alleged Iranian networks and authorised the US military to kill or capture Iranian agents.

US officials insist that American forces are targetting Iranian agents inside Iraq, not in Iran itself. No more credibility should be placed in these denials than in US claims that it has no plans for attacking Iran. Over the past year, the Bush administration has boosted its funding for “regime change” in Iran, including support for Iranian opposition groups. Moreover, there are growing signs that Washington is taking an active interest in exploiting unrest among Iran’s numerous ethnic minorities and may be covertly assisting armed groups such as Jundallah.

An article in the latest issue of the Washington Quarterly entitled “Iran’s ethnic tinderbox” noted: “According to exiled Iranian activists reportedly involved in a classified US research project, the US Department of Defense is presently examining the depth and nature of ethnic grievances against the Islamic theocracy. The Pentagon is reportedly especially interested in whether Iran would be prone to a violent fragmentation along the same kinds of fault lines that are splitting Iraq and that helped to tear apart the Soviet Union with the collapse of communism.”

Veteran US journalist Seymour Hersh, who has many contacts in the American intelligence establishment, published several articles in the New Yorker last year pointing to US activities inside Iran. In an article last November entitled “The Next Act: Is a damaged Administration less likely to attack Iran, or more?” he wrote:

“In the past six months, Israel and the United States have also been working together with a Kurdish resistance group known as the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan. The group has been conducting clandestine cross-border forays into Iran, I was told by a government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon civilian leadership, as ‘part of an effort to explore alternative means of applying pressure on Iran.’ The Pentagon has established covert relationships with Kurdish, Azeri and Baluchi tribesmen and has encouraged their efforts to undermine the regime’s authority in northern and southeastern Iran.”

Opposition to Tehran

Various opposition parties and organisations exist among Iran’s ethnic minorities that have legitimate grievances about the anti-democratic methods used not only by the current theocratic Shiite regime, but by the previous US-backed Shah Reza Pahlavi to suppress dissent. Such groups not only point to religious, language and ethnic discrimination, but to economic neglect.

Most Baluchis, for instance, belong to the Sunni Islamic sect—a minority in predominantly Shiite Iran. The province of Sistan-Baluchistan is one of the most economically backward in the country. Large areas are mountainous or desert, and Iranian security forces have fought a long-running war to halt smuggling and drug running across the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unemployment is estimated to be 30-50 percent, which is high even by Iranian standards, and poverty is widespread.

Jundallah is a shadowy organisation formed in 2003 and led by a 23-year-old, Abdulmalak Rigi. Iranian officials allege that it has links with Al Qaeda but have provided no proof. Even if true, such a connection does not preclude the group’s involvement with US intelligence, which was responsible for helping to establish Al Qaeda in the 1980s in its holy war against the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan. Jundallah almost certainly has connections with armed Baluch separatists fighting in Pakistan.

Over the past year, Jundallah has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on Iranian officials and security forces. In an interview with the British-based Telegraph in January 2006, spokesman Abdul Hameed Reeki boasted that the group had 1,000 trained fighters. While denying any connection with the US or Pakistani governments, he made a definite appeal for Western aid. Jundallah fighters, he declared, had the dedication needed to defeat the Iranian army—particularly if some help were to prove forthcoming from the West.

Reeki’s appeal reflects the venal calculations of sections of the Baluch elite who, like their counterparts among Iran’s Azeri, Kurdish, Arab and other minorities, are considering the potential benefits of aligning themselves with Washington in a military conflict with Iran. US support for such layers has the potential to create an even greater catastrophe than in neighbouring Iraq, where the American-led invasion has triggered an escalating sectarian civil war.

In its comment on Wednesday’s bombing, Stratfor certainly considered “this latest attack against IRGC guards was likely carried out by armed Baluch nationalists who have received a boost in support from Western intelligence agencies.” The think tank, which has close connections to US intelligence and military circles, went on to point to an escalating covert war being waged by the US and Israel to destabilise the Iranian regime.

“The US-Iranian standoff over Iraq has reached a high level of intensity. While the hard-line rhetoric and steps toward negotiations absorb the media’s attention, a covert war being played out between Iran on the one side, and the United States and Israel on the other, will escalate further. While Israel appears to be focused on decapitating Iran’s nuclear program through targeted assassinations, the United States has likely ramped up support for Iran’s variety of oppressed minorities in an attempt to push the Iranian regime towards a negotiated settlement over Iraq,” Stratfor wrote.

Israel’s “targeting assassinations” is a reference to the suspicious death last month of top Iranian nuclear scientist Ardeshir Hassanpour. In an article entitled “Israeli Covert Operations in Iran”, Stratfor noted that while the official announcement—a week after the scientist’s death—claimed Hassanpour died of overexposure to radiation, the details were murky. Citing “Stratfor sources close to Israeli intelligence”, the article declared that “Hassanpour was in fact a Mossad target” and pointed to allegations of Mossad’s involvement in the killing of top Iraqi scientists during the 1980s.

While no proof has surfaced of the direct involvement of American intelligence agencies in the latest bombing in Zahedan, the US is certainly engaged in inflaming ethnic and political opposition inside Iran. Stratfor offers the rather benign interpretation that the purpose of such reckless and illegal activities is simply to press Tehran to reach a negotiated settlement with the US over its list of demands. Even if that were the case, the US military build-up in the Persian Gulf, its propaganda campaign and tightening economic restrictions against Iran—along with its covert activities inside the country—all serve to heighten a conflict that could rapidly spiral out of control.

See Also:
US "diplomacy" on Iran: thuggery and threats of war
[15 February 2007]
At White House press conference, Bush escalates war threats against Iran
[15 February 2007]

Monday, February 12, 2007

Iran 'Fooling' U.S. Military

*Inter Press Service*
Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily

Read story from website

*NAJAF, Feb 12 (IPS) - New evidence is emerging on the ground of an
Iranian hand in growing violence within Iraq.*

As the United States heads for a confrontation with Iran over
allegations of Iranian involvement in bombings, the massacre in Najaf
last month indicates that Iran could be working also through the Iraqi
government, local leaders in Najaf say.

The slaughter of 263 people in Najaf by Iraqi and U.S. forces Jan. 29
provoked outrage and vows of revenge among residents in and around the
sacred Shia city in the south. The killings have deepened a split among

Iran is predominantly Shia, one of the two main groupings within Islam
along with the Sunnis. Iraq has for the first time a Shia-dominated
government, comprising groups that have been openly supportive of Iran.

The people killed were mostly Shias from the Hawatim tribe that opposes
the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq as well as the Dawa
Party. These two pro-Iranian groups control the local government in
Najaf and the government in Baghdad.

The Najaf attack has provoked strong reactions among members of the
Hawatim tribe and among other Shia groups who are not loyal to Iran -
and who became the target in those killings.

An attack on a local tribal leader led to an assault on members of the
tribe by U.S., British and Iraqi forces. The tribe was described by
government officials as a "messianic cult."

Abid Ali who witnessed the Najaf fighting told IPS that a procession of
roughly 200 pilgrims from the Hawatim tribe had arrived in the Zarqa
area near Najaf to celebrate the Ashura festival. Following a
confrontation over the procession, Iraqi army soldiers at a checkpoint
shot dead Hajj Sa'ad Sa'ad Nayif al-Hatemi, chief of the tribe, as he
and his wife sat in their car.

Members of the tribe then attacked the checkpoint to avenge the death of
their chief.

"It was after this that the Iraqi army called in the Americans, and the
planes began bombing civilians," Ali said. "It was a massacre. Now I
believe the internal Shia fighting has entered a very dangerous phase."

Ali added that most people in the area believe the U.S. military was
told by Iraqi security forces loyal to the pro-Iranian government in
Baghdad that "terrorists" or the "messianic cult" was attacking Najaf.
They say the misinformation was intended to mislead occupation forces
into attacking the tribe.

Many Shias in the southern parts of the country and in Baghdad now say
they had been fooled earlier by U.S. promises to help them, but that the
Najaf massacre has dramatically changed their views.

Significantly, the Association of Muslim Scholars, a group of Sunni
Muslims headed by Dr. Harith al-Dhari, issued a statement condemning the
Iraqi-U.S. military attack in Najaf against the Hawatim tribe. The
statement, which seeks to bridge a Shia-Sunni divide, denounced the
killing of dozens of women and children and added, "It was an act of
vengeance and political termination."

"They (the United States) were misled, and their last move in Najaf
shows how the smart Iranians are leading the Americans deeper into Iraqi
sands," Jaafar al-Jawadi, a political analyst from Baghdad told IPS.

"I really admire the way Iranians are dealing with the situation in a
professional way while the Americans are walking with their eyes closed.
They are losing the last Iraqi fort they were hiding behind, and that
was the peaceful way Arab Shias were dealing with occupation."

Jawadi who is also a former Shia politician says he once believed in
U.S. promises of liberation for Iraqis, particularly the Shia
population. Like many other Iraqis, he now believes that the United
States has been used by the pro-Iranian government in Baghdad to carry
out attacks against Shia tribes in southern Iraq who have recently
become more and more anti-occupation.

"I do not really understand what those Americans are doing because now
they are just like an elephant in a china shop, and everything they do
is terribly wrong as if they are committing suicide," Talib Ahmad, a
lawyer and human rights activist in Najaf told IPS.

"Iran is benefiting from that for sure. Americans are simply fighting
for Iran who appears to be the winner in Iraq after all."

Many Iraqis are amazed at the unlimited support the U.S. administration
has been presenting to what many now call an Iranian-Iraqi government.
The new U.S. condemnation of Iran could be a first sign that the United
States is getting wise to the fact that it is being fooled by Iran.

The U.S. administration is, however, pointing the finger at Iran, and
not at the government in Baghdad that it props up.
(Ali al-Fadhily is our Baghdad correspondent. Dahr Jamail is our
specialist writer who has spent eight months reporting from inside Iraq
and has been covering the Middle East for several years.)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Senate Republicans call Democrats’ bluff on Iraq war resolution

By Bill Van Auken
8 February 2007

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The so-called “debate” over Iraq in the US Senate suffered an ignominious collapse this week, as the Republicans, working with the White House, exploited the two-faced position of the Democrats to torpedo their effort to pass a non-binding resolution opposing the administration’s military escalation.

The result was no debate and no vote on a measure that would have done nothing, in any case, to halt the deployment of an additional 21,500 American combat troops to Iraq, an escalation that is already well underway.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat of Nevada) summed it up best in a barb that, while meant for Senate Republican leaders, actually described the entire proceedings: “This is all a game to divert attention from the fact that we have before us now an issue that the American people want us to address.”

What Reid failed to add was that the Democratic-backed compromise resolution—drafted by Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia and cosponsored by Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan—was itself an evasion of the real demand of the majority of the American people for an end to the Iraq war and the withdrawal of US troops.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Democrat of Illinois), in criticizing the Republican minority, acknowledged the toothless character of the resolution he and the rest of the Democratic leadership was backing. “If the Republicans in the Senate cannot swallow the thin soup of the Warner resolution,” he asked, “how are they going to stomach a real debate on Iraq?”

The resolution merely expressed disagreement with the “surge” in troop levels ordered by the White House, while pledging that Congress would not eliminate or cut funding for “troops in the field.” It supported the administration’s claim that the president, as “commander-in-chief,” has unfettered power to determine the course of the war. Finally, it expressed general support for continuing the war, stating in its preamble, “[T]he United States’ strategy and operations in Iraq can only be sustained and achieved with support from the American people and with a level of bipartisanship.”

The Republicans were able to easily outflank the Democratic leadership and block a debate on the resolution by exploiting this underlying bipartisan support for the US aggression in Iraq.

The Republicans insisted that not only the Democratic-backed resolution be debated and brought to a vote, but also two opposing Republican resolutions. The first, drafted by Arizona Senator John McCain, supported the “surge” while calling for benchmarks to be imposed on the Iraqi government. The second, drafted by New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg, took no position on the escalation in Iraq, but affirmed that “no funds should be cut off or reduced for American troops in the field.”

The White House and the Senate Republicans, as well as the Democratic leadership, knew that the Democrats could not obtain the 60 votes needed to initiate a debate and vote on the Warner-Levin resolution, while the Gregg resolution would easily exceed the 60-vote hurdle. This was so because many Democrats, petrified of being attacked for “not supporting the troops,” would vote for the White House-backed measure. The result would be passage of a resolution essentially supporting the administration’s war policy.

Consequently, the Democratic leadership refused the Republicans’ offer to allow all three resolutions to be debated and voted on.

An attempt to obtain the required three-fifth’s majority to bring the Warner-Levin resolution to the floor failed badly, receiving only 49 votes. All but two Republicans voted against, including its author, Warner, as well as other prominent Republican backers of the anti-“surge” resolution such as Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

Explaining why Gregg’s proposal would have garnered substantial Democratic support—and displaying in the process the utter cowardice and duplicity of the Democrats’ position—Majority Leader Reid said, “There isn’t a Democrat here that wants to take monies away from the troops.”

All the talk about “supporting the troops” is a threadbare political subterfuge for continuing to support the war. It is obvious that on such a basis no serious action can to taken to stop the mass killing of Iraqis and the mounting toll of dead and wounded Americans.

This phony argument is used by the Democrats as an alibi for not employing one of the constitutional means at their disposal to end the war—cutting off funds.

Gregg’s resolution amounted to calling the Democrats’ bluff. Administration spokesmen and congressional Republicans have dared the Democrats to back up their criticisms of Bush’s war policy by making use of the power of the purse to withhold funds, knowing that the Democrats have no stomach for such action and are desperate to avoid a constitutional confrontation with the White House.

Now the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives has vowed to hold its own debate on a nonbinding resolution beginning next Tuesday. Simpler House rules allow a resolution to be brought to the floor and passed by a straight majority vote.

The House Democratic leaders had planned to introduce a carbon copy of the Senate’s Warner-Levin resolution. However, the Washington Post reported Wednesday that “after assessing the morass on the other side of the Capitol, they are now considering a more narrow statement of objection to Bush’s proposal.”

The Senate Democrats’ evasion of Gregg’s resolution is an indication of what is to come.

This will soon become apparent as Congress considers the Bush administration’s budget proposal, calling for a staggering $245 billion more to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Included in this funding proposal is $5.6 billion to pay for deploying the 21,500 troops that make up Bush’s “surge.”

The failure of the Senate to even conduct a debate on the war exposes the deepening crisis of democratic processes in the US. An election in which a majority of the people decisively repudiated the policies of the Bush administration and expressed a clear desire for the Iraq war to be ended is ignored. The views of the broad mass of people can find no reflection within the official institutions or either of the two parties.

Both parties represent the interests of a financial oligarchy that is determined to assert US hegemony in the oil-rich Persian Gulf by means of military force. It is these profit interests that lie behind the mantra repeated by both Republican and Democratic politicians that “failure is not an option.”

The ludicrous spectacle of a non-vote on a nonbinding resolution as the carnage in Iraq mounts is one more verification that the demand for the withdrawal of US troops cannot be realized through reliance on Congress and the Democrats. It requires the independent political mobilization of the working people against war and the system that creates it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Libby investigation short on theatrics
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, February 7, 2007

So here’s my question: Where’s Kenneth Starr when his country needs him?
The psalm-singing phony wasn’t much of a prosecutor. His team lost every
Whitewater trial but one; his insanely-detailed report on Bill Clinton’s
pecadillos made most Americans end up feeling sorry for the big dope.
Even so, Starr definitely knew how to put on a show. He kept the Beltway
press corps in a constant tizzy with phony leaks and theatrical grand
jury appearances. Compare Patrick Fitzgerald, the brilliant career
prosecutor currently grinding White House factotum Lewis “Scooter” Libby
to fine particles in the same D.C. courthouse. It’s the most important
criminal trial in Washington since Watergate, showing how the White
House campaigned against Ambassador Joe Wilson and his CIA agent wife,
Valerie Plame, after Wilson went public about the “intelligence” hyping
Iraq’s make-believe nuclear threat. Unfortunately, Fitzgerald goes by
the book. No leaks, no public grandstanding. No “off the record”
conversations with pundits. Alas, this bunch requires hand feeding.
Hence most Americans scarcely comprehend what’s at issue.

This even as the White House begins a second semi-hysterical propaganda
campaign advancing yet another “preemptive” war against Iran, a more
formidable foe that has never attacked the U.S. militarily and has no
real capacity to do so—a strategic blunder as foolhardy and dangerous as
President Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs fiasco.

The stakes couldn’t be higher, nor the evidence clearer. Plame’s
identity as a CIA operative—she’d headed the agency’s “Joint Task Force
on Iraq” —was leaked to reporters by White House officials to discredit
her husband.

Also, as testimony by former New York Times reporter Judith Miller made
clear, to scare anybody else in the CIA who might turn whistleblower.
Mess with us? Goodbye career. Indeed, Plame may have been the White
House’s main target. Miller told about several conversations she’d had
with Libby in June 2003, only weeks after President Bush pranced around
an aircraft carrier in his Village People flight suit proclaiming
“Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.

Wilson’s bombshell New York Times column accusing the White House of
deliberately twisting the evidence about Iraq’s non-existent nukes
hadn’t yet appeared. But information the White House knew could only
have come from him had appeared in The New York Times and Washington
Post. Vice President Dick Cheney, chief imagineer, became furious.

Hence Libby’s conversations with Miller, the self-described “Miss Run
Amok,” whose front page exclusives about Iraq’s WMDs the Times has since
repudiated. He told her about one Valerie Plame (“ Flame,” she wrote in
her notes), which her editors found of no interest. During her
testimony, Miller described Libby as “agitated, frustrated and angry.”
He told Miller “that the CIA was trying to backpedal, to distance itself
from the unequivocal intelligence estimates through what he called ‘a
perverted war of leaks.’”

Libby’s account was complete rubbish. The record unequivocally shows
that the CIA had warned the White House off the specific tale Wilson
debunked—that Saddam Hussein sought to buy uranium in Africa—several
times, in writing. So had the State Department. The International Atomic
Energy Agency told the White House it was a hoax, based on crude

President Bush went with the African fable in his January 2003 State of
the Union speech anyway. Then, when the administration’s deceptions
threatened to become known, the vice president’s office panicked.
Several CIA, State Department and White House witnesses testified that
Libby had begun seeking derogatory information about the Wilsons in late
May when reporters’ inquiries first alerted them to the danger.

After columnist Robert Novak took the bait and “outed” Plame, the CIA
formally protested. An investigation began. New stories had to be
invented. Perhaps overconfident because Attorney General John Ashcroft
headed the probe, Libby claimed he’d learned Plame’s covert identity
from “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert. Alas, Ashcroft had sufficient
integrity to step aside, and the hard-nosed, incorruptible career
prosecutor Fitzgerald inherited the case.

Documents in Libby’s office showed he’d in fact learned Plame’s identity
from Deadeye Dick Cheney. So he alibied that he’d forgotten this trivial
fact, only to relearn it from Russert. Yeah, right. Testimony shows that
five different officials discussed Plame with him. Libby was going
around the White House with anti-Wilson/Plame “talking points” dictated
by Cheney himself. The vice president’s handwritten notes have been
introduced into evidence.

Defense lawyers have bizarrely argued that Libby was set up to take the
fall for fellow smear artist Karl Rove, who also participated. They’ve
hinted that when Libby and Cheney testify, all will become clear.

I’m betting neither man dares testify. Patrick Fitzgerald ain’t Wolf
Blitzer. He’s prosecuted mafia goons and terrorists; Cheney’s snarls
won’t scare him.

Too bad he’s not a bit more of a showman.

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

Bush wants to make tax cuts for the rich permanent

By Joanne Laurier
7 February 2007

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President George W. Bush’s budget proposal calls for making permanent the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts scheduled to expire at the end of 2010. This would further widen the chasm between the wealthy elite and the rest of the population.

A study conducted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a liberal think-tank, argues that the cost of financing the array of cuts implemented by the Bush administration and Congress since 2001—including cuts in personal income tax, the repeal of the estate tax and reductions in capital gains and dividend tax—would be about $3.5 trillion over the next decade, when the cost of additional interest on federal debt is included.

The tax cuts, a wholesale looting of the federal treasury to the advantage of the rich, have been promoted by the administration as an economic boon. The CBPP report debunks claims such as “they [the tax cuts] pay for themselves,” or Bush’s assertion in November that the cuts were responsible for economic growth.

The reality is that if the tax cuts were made permanent, the top one percent of US households would receive more than $1 trillion in tax benefits in the decade from 2008 through 2017—nearly one third of the tax cuts’ total value. Households with annual incomes over $1 million, representing some 0.3 percent of the population, would receive tax cuts equaling $739 billion, or 22 percent of the total value of the tax cuts.

The bottom 60 percent of households would collect only 12 percent of the total value—less than half the amount that would go to the top one percent.

In current dollars, the magnitude of the tax cuts by 2012, with their impact fully felt, would be staggering. Cuts for those households making over $1 million would exceed what the federal government spends annually on K-12 education, as well as spending on medical care for veterans and medical research conducted by the National Institutes of Health.

The cost of cuts for the top one percent of households would exceed the combined 2006 budgets of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. This income group would receive tax relief that tops the entire 2006 budget for Department of Homeland Security and the budget of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

The CBPP argues that the “2001 and 2003 ‘tax cuts’ are best seen as net tax cuts for the top 20 percent of households, as a group, financed by net tax increases or benefit reductions for the remaining 80 percent of households, as a group.”

Bush’s budget proposes to make permanent the tax cuts, in addition to balancing the budget by 2012. The CBPP points out that this will require substantial cuts to domestic programs, amounting to almost $150 billion over the next five years “in an array of domestic non-entitlement programs, including education programs, veterans’ programs, environmental programs, and others.”

However, the projected cuts to domestic programs in each of the next five years would be less than the cost of tax handouts for households making over $1 million. For example, budget cuts for domestic programs in 2012 in Bush’s budget would equal $41 billion, while tax benefits for those making over $1 million would be $73 billion.

Moreover, according to the CBPP, “Congressional Budget Office data show that the tax cuts have been the single largest contributor to the reemergence of substantial budget deficits in recent years. Legislation enacted since 2001 has added about $2.3 trillion to deficits between 2001 and 2006, with half of this deterioration in the budget due to the tax cuts (about a third due to increases in security spending, and about a sixth to increases in domestic spending).”

The CBPP writes that when the Treasury Department staff simulated the economic repercussions of extending the tax cuts, they found that if the cuts were not offset by spending reductions, then their extension would decrease long-term economic growth.

“Supporters of the tax cuts have sometimes sought to bolster their case by understating the tax cuts’ costs, overstating their economic effects, or minimizing their regressivity,” contends the report. It points out that the administration, when discussing tax revenue growth since the implementation of the cuts, typically refers to revenue growth since 2004. This is duplicitous, being that as a share of the economy, revenues in 2004 were at their lowest level since 1959, and therefore a certain recovery was inevitable.

Because the revenue growth over the current business cycle as a whole has been negative, after adjusting for inflation and population growth, “the current revenue ‘surge’ is merely restoring revenues to where they were a half decade ago . . . Revenues in 2006 are still more than $200 billion short of where they would have been had they grown at the rates typical in other recoveries,” explains the study. While the administration credits the tax cuts with a drop in the projected fiscal year 2006 deficit to “only” $248 billion, the budget would be balanced without the cuts, since the total cost of tax cuts enacted since 2001 was $251 billion in 2006.

“This means that even with the spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the response to Hurricane Katrina, the federal budget would essentially be in balance now if the tax cuts had not been enacted, or if their costs had been offset . . . To put the long-run cost of the tax cuts in perspective, the 75-year Social Security shortfall, about which the President and Congressional leaders have expressed grave concern, is about one-third the cost of the tax cuts over the same period,” states the CBPP.

It should be noted that in 2004 the top one percent of US households held a larger share of total pre-tax income than in any year since 1929, with the exception of 1999 and 2000, the height of the dot-com boom.

See Also:
Bush’s budget priorities: war and the wealthy
[7 February 2007]

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Bush administration’s campaign of lies and misinformation against Iran

By Peter Symonds
6 February 2007

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As it prepares for military aggression against Iran, the Bush administration is once again resorting to a concoction of lies, misinformation and half-truths to provide the pretext. In his January 10 speech announcing an escalation of the war in Iraq, President Bush denounced Syria and Iran for backing anti-US insurgents and declared the American military would “seek out and destroy” these networks. He has since confirmed ordering US troops to “capture or kill” Iranian agents in Iraq.

Bush’s speech has been followed by a steady stream of top US officials condemning Iran’s alleged “meddling” in Iraq—all relayed to the world by a compliant media. To date not a shred of evidence has been provided to support the allegations. Nevertheless, like Bush’s claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the accusations against Iran are simply repeated ad naseum as fact.

US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, was due to present a “dossier” to the media on January 31 aimed at proving US contentions about Iranian activities in Iraq. The briefing in Baghdad, however, was cancelled without explanation—for a second time, with no future date given. While various excuses were given, the real reason for putting the dossier “on hold” was the lack of evidence and concern about the public reaction in the US.

According to the Los Angeles Times on February 1, US officials were concerned that “some of the material may be inconclusive”. They wanted to “avoid repeating the embarrassment that followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, when it became clear that the information cited to justify the war was incorrect,” the newspaper explained. “We don’t want a repeat of the situation we had when [former US Secretary of State] Colin Powell went before the United Nations. People are going to be sceptical,” one official explained.

A former senior defence official bluntly told the Los Angeles Times that the task of presenting a case against Iran to a sceptical American public was “a losing proposition”. Others explained that in interagency meetings on Iran, State Department and intelligence officials believed that “some of the material overstates murky evidence and casts a negative light on Iranians who may not be guilty”. Another claimed that if sensitive intelligence material were withdrawn, “the result could be a weak and unconvincing report”.

The dubious character of the US evidence was confirmed by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley in the course of a press conference on February 3. In response to persistent questioning about the cancellation of the Baghdad briefing, Hadley finally blurted out: “The truth is, quite frankly, we thought the briefing overstated. And we sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts.”

Hadley’s press conference had been called to release an unclassified summary of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq compiled by all 16 US intelligence agencies. As well as providing a bleak picture of the prospects for the US occupation of Iraq, the document played down the significance of outside influence on the situation in Iraq.

While repeating US claims of “Iranian lethal support” for Shiite militants in Iraq and “expatriate Iraqi Baathists” using Syria as a safe haven, the NIE stated: “Iraq’s neighbours influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics.” That is, in the words of the NIE, Iran and Syria are not significant factors in the escalating civil war in Iraq.

The lack of evidence has done nothing to rein in Bush’s propagandists, however. In an interview on National Public Radio on February 1, US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns accused Iran of assisting Shiite militias in attacks on British soldiers near Basra and on American forces in Baghdad. “Now, we warned Iran, privately on a number of occasions over the last year and a half, and the Iranians, of course, did not appear to listen to that. So now we have begun to detain those Iranian officials. And we think it’s absolutely within our rights do to so under Article 51 of the UN Charter, which is self-defence.”

Just hours after Bush’s speech on January 10, US military forces captured five Iranian officials in a provocative early morning raid on a diplomatic office in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. American officials have claimed that some of those detained were Iranian intelligence agents and that maps and other materials “prove” their involvement in sectarian violence. No evidence has been made public and the five remain in US custody without charge despite protests not only by Tehran but also top Iraqi officials.

The operation followed the detention in Baghdad on December 20 of at least five Iranians, including two credentialled diplomats. All were released. Two of the five were detained in a highly provocative raid in the compound of prominent Shiite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose party is a major component of the Iraqi ruling coalition and who held talks with Bush in Washington just a week before. Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, insisted that the two security officials were engaged in legitimate discussions with the Iraqi government and should never have been detained.

A significant aspect of Burns’s comments was his reference to Article 51 of the UN Charter. Since the 2003 invasion, the US military has arbitrarily detained scores, if not hundreds, of foreign nationals without trial, without appealing to the UN Charter. Article 51 of the UN Charter has nothing to do with detentions. It provides for the “inherent right of individual or collective self-defence” of a member state against armed attack, and was envisaged to cover direct acts of aggression such as those carried out by Nazi Germany prior to World War II.

From the standpoint of the Bush administration, the most important aspect of Article 51 is that it is the only clause of the UN Charter that allows for military action without prior reference to the UN Security Council. The unproven accusations that Iran is supporting “armed attacks” on US forces in Iraq could thus be seized upon by Washington as the spurious justification for sidestepping the UN altogether and initiating an assault on Iran, all in the name of “self-defence”. Burns’s invocation of Article 51 says more about the thinking in the White House than perhaps he would have wished.

Questioned about US intentions to strike or invade Iran, Burns repeated the standard line of the Bush administration that “all options are on the table”. Asked directly to comment on the US military build up in the Persian Gulf and the danger of war with Iran, Burns was non-committal. “I don’t believe that a military conflict with Iran is inevitable,” he said, adding that a diplomatic solution was possible. But his strident demand that Iran should “cease and desist” from providing arms to Shiite insurgents to “target and kill American soldiers” indicates that the US is intent on ratchetting up its bellicose rhetoric against Iran.

Pentagon consultant Dan Goure told the British-based Sunday Telegraph last weekend: “You cannot try to deal with the militia [in Iraq] if you’re not dealing with the Iranians backing them. The message now is that the gloves are off.” According to the article, the US has increased the number of unmanned spy planes monitoring the Iran-Iraq border to provide for 24-hour surveillance. A US intelligence officer told the newspaper that the drones were being flown into Iran. He said that while the military was not currently planning attacks inside Iran, once suspects were a few miles inside Iraq, they would be “whacked”.

At some stage, as its provocations against Iran intensify, there is no doubt that the Bush administration will present a “dossier” to try to justify its aggression. But the fact that it has been put “on hold,” despite ongoing claims by US officials to have “irrefutable” proof of Iran’s support for anti-US militias, is a tell-tale sign that the evidence is, at the very least, threadbare and unconvincing. Like the lies about Iraqi WMDs in Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN and the corresponding British dossier on Iraq, the US is casting around for a convenient pretext to provide the casus belli for war against Iran.

See Also:
Stepped up US preparations for war against Iran
[1 February 2007]