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.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Mandates and Mudslinging

From the beginning, advocates of universal health care were troubled by the incompleteness of Barack Obama’s plan, which unlike those of his Democratic rivals wouldn’t cover everyone. But they were willing to cut Mr. Obama slack on the issue, assuming that in the end he would do the right thing.

Now, however, Mr. Obama is claiming that his plan’s weakness is actually a strength. What’s more, he’s doing the same thing in the health care debate he did when claiming that Social Security faces a “crisis” — attacking his rivals by echoing right-wing talking points.

The central question is whether there should be a health insurance “mandate” — a requirement that everyone sign up for health insurance, even if they don’t think they need it. The Edwards and Clinton plans have mandates; the Obama plan has one for children, but not for adults.

Why have a mandate? The whole point of a universal health insurance system is that everyone pays in, even if they’re currently healthy, and in return everyone has insurance coverage if and when they need it.

And it’s not just a matter of principle. As a practical matter, letting people opt out if they don’t feel like buying insurance would make insurance substantially more expensive for everyone else.

Here’s why: under the Obama plan, as it now stands, healthy people could choose not to buy insurance — then sign up for it if they developed health problems later. Insurance companies couldn’t turn them away, because Mr. Obama’s plan, like those of his rivals, requires that insurers offer the same policy to everyone.

As a result, people who did the right thing and bought insurance when they were healthy would end up subsidizing those who didn’t sign up for insurance until or unless they needed medical care.

In other words, when Mr. Obama declares that “the reason people don’t have health insurance isn’t because they don’t want it, it’s because they can’t afford it,” he’s saying something that is mostly true now — but wouldn’t be true under his plan.

The fundamental weakness of the Obama plan was apparent from the beginning. Still, as I said, advocates of health care reform were willing to cut Mr. Obama some slack.

But now Mr. Obama, who just two weeks ago was telling audiences that his plan was essentially identical to the Edwards and Clinton plans, is attacking his rivals and claiming that his plan is superior. It isn’t — and his attacks amount to cheap shots.

First, Mr. Obama claims that his plan does much more to control costs than his rivals’ plans. In fact, all three plans include impressive cost control measures.

Second, Mr. Obama claims that mandates won’t work, pointing out that many people don’t have car insurance despite state requirements that all drivers be insured. Um, is he saying that states shouldn’t require that drivers have insurance? If not, what’s his point?

Look, law enforcement is sometimes imperfect. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have laws.

Third, and most troubling, Mr. Obama accuses his rivals of not explaining how they would enforce mandates, and suggests that the mandate would require some kind of nasty, punitive enforcement: “Their essential argument,” he says, “is the only way to get everybody covered is if the government forces you to buy health insurance. If you don’t buy it, then you’ll be penalized in some way.”

Well, John Edwards has just called Mr. Obama’s bluff, by proposing that individuals be required to show proof of insurance when filing income taxes or receiving health care. If they don’t have insurance, they won’t be penalized — they’ll be automatically enrolled in an insurance plan.

That’s actually a terrific idea — not only would it prevent people from gaming the system, it would have the side benefit of enrolling people who qualify for S-chip and other government programs, but don’t know it.

Mr. Obama, then, is wrong on policy. Worse yet, the words he uses to defend his position make him sound like Rudy Giuliani inveighing against “socialized medicine”: he doesn’t want the government to “force” people to have insurance, to “penalize” people who don’t participate.

I recently castigated Mr. Obama for adopting right-wing talking points about a Social Security “crisis.” Now he’s echoing right-wing talking points on health care.

What seems to have happened is that Mr. Obama’s caution, his reluctance to stake out a clearly partisan position, led him to propose a relatively weak, incomplete health care plan. Although he declared, in his speech announcing the plan, that “my plan begins by covering every American,” it didn’t — and he shied away from doing what was necessary to make his claim true.

Now, in the effort to defend his plan’s weakness, he’s attacking his Democratic opponents from the right — and in so doing giving aid and comfort to the enemies of reform.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Scandals are non-stories for 'America's Mayor'

Rudy Giuliani, Teflon Candidate
Scandals are non-stories for 'America's Mayor'

By Steve Rendall

Does Republican presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani have some dirt on the press corps? How else to explain the free pass journalists have repeatedly granted him on stories that would threaten to sink less-favored candidates, particularly of the Democratic variety? (See sidebar.)

If Ronald Reagan was the “Teflon president” to whom no bad news would stick, then Giuliani would seem to be the Teflon candidate.

Consider Giuliani’s campaign in South Carolina, perhaps the most important primary in the GOP schedule, and the state on which Giuliani has pinned his hopes for the nomination. In June, Giuliani state campaign chair and South Carolina Treasurer Thomas Ravenel was indicted for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine (Rock Hill, S.C., Herald, 6/19/07) and forced to step down from the campaign. On September 6, he pled guilty to a federal charge of possession with intent to distribute cocaine (Charleston Post and Courier, 9/6/07).

Ravenel’s campaign job was quickly filled by his father, Arthur Ravenel, who nearly as quickly was revealed to have smeared the NAACP as “the National Association for Retarded People” in 2000 (Austin-American Statesman, 1/9/00).

The news that an important official in the supposed law-and-order candidate’s campaign was moonlighting as a crack dealer was surprisingly hard to find. The Washington Post (6/20/07) covered the bust with a 100-word squib on page A4, mentioning that Ravenel had endorsed Giuliani but failing to mention his key campaign job. The New York Times ran an Associated Press report (6/20/07) on page 11. Neither paper reported on the guilty plea, nor on the elder Ravenel’s NAACP slur.
With so little attention from these agenda-setting papers, it’s unsurprising that Giuliani’s hapless South Carolina campaign received little national coverage: No nightly network news show so much as mentioned it.

Hsu as in ‘shoo’

When the Ravenel indictment was mentioned on NBC’s Meet the Press (9/2/07) by pundit and former Democratic strategist James Carville, anchor Tim Russert dismissed it with one word: “Hsu.” Russert was referring to recently indicted volunteer Democratic Party fundraiser Norman Hsu, as if Hsu’s escapades somehow rendered Ravenel a non-story.

Russert’s equating of the two stories is instructive. Both stories feature scandalous misbehavior: Hsu was a fugitive from a 1992 fraud conviction who, according to a September indictment, bilked investors out of millions more dollars; he’s alleged to have used some of the money to illegally reimburse contributors who made campaign donations to Democrats of Hsu’s choosing—including hundreds of thousands to Hillary Clinton’s campaign (subsequently returned). Ravenel, meanwhile, was a criminal picked for a key role by a candidate billed as the country’s pre-eminent crime-fighter—an irony made richer by the drug-trafficking Ravenel’s pre-arrest tribute to Giuliani as the mayor who “rescued New York City from the cesspool that it was” (Washington Post, 6/20/07).

But reporters found only the Hsu story compelling. The New York Times has run two dozen stories mentioning Hsu and Clinton, including several page-one stories (e.g., 8/30/07, 9/22/07); the Washington Post has published about half as many, with several of those also appearing on page one (e.g., 9/11/07, 9/3/07). Hsu’s story and his connection to Hillary Clinton has been discussed on nine network evening newscasts.

Defining ‘family values’ down?

The South Carolina scandal was just one of the seemingly juicy stories about Giuliani that political reporters didn’t bite at. On June 22, for example, Salon reporters Alex Koppelman and Joe Strupp revealed that Giuliani employs an old friend who has been linked to child sexual abuse:

Giuliani employs his childhood friend Monsignor Alan Placa as a consultant at Giuliani Partners despite a 2003 Suffolk County, N.Y., grand jury report that accuses Placa of sexually abusing children, as well as helping cover up the sexual abuse of children by other priests.

The reason Placa wasn’t indicted, according to a National Catholic Reporter article (2/21/03), is because the suspended priest, who is also an attorney, expertly stalled his case and those of other accused priests beyond the statute of limitations. Through his office, Giuliani has said he believes Placa is falsely accused, though Placa’s efforts to thwart lawsuits by sex abuse victims are a matter of public record.

Though Placa is not part of the campaign, his relationship to the candidate is extremely close: The two attended the same high school, and were fraternity brothers in college. Placa was best man at Giuliani’s first wedding (which he later helped to annul) and officiated at his second, as well as at Giuliani’s children’s baptisms and both parents’ funerals. In 1985 (6/9/85), the New York Times reported that Placa slept over at Giuliani’s apartment as often as once a week.

The New York Times ran a single article about Placa back in 2003 when he joined Giuliani Partners (2/20/03), but nothing since Giuliani’s campaign launch. Placa earned only a passing mention in a Washington Post report (5/13/07) about the controversial nature of some of Giuliani Partners’ executives and clients. As Extra! went to press, Giuliani’s relationship to Placa received its first mention on a nightly network newscast (ABC World News, 10/23/07).

Likewise, when Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) showed up on a client list kept by accused “D.C. madam” Deborah Jeane Palfrey—suggesting that the married senator was not only an adulterer but a lawbreaker as well—the fact that Vitter was a Giuliani campaign spokesperson got only passing mention. Considering the speculation about Giuliani’s own rocky “family values” record—which includes three marriages and an ugly, televised split from his second wife—the Ravenel, Placa and Vitter sagas might have been campaign-enders for another presidential hopeful facing “socially conservative” GOP primaries.

The lack of coverage of Giuliani’s links to a cocaine trafficker, an alleged pedophile and an apparent prostitution client suggests the former mayor’s protective shield may be made of something sturdier than Teflon—perhaps Kevlar is more like it.

Resumé revisionism

The bullets that Giuliani has so far dodged involve more than his dubious associates; they include his own under-scrutinized record, particularly revolving around the September 11 attacks, which his campaign presents as a central reason to vote for him.

In May, Giuliani brushed away a key question about his preparations for a disaster like September 11 by shifting the blame for locating the city’s emergency command post in the World Trade Center complex—which had already been targeted by terrorists in a 1993 bombing—onto Jerome Hauer, a security expert who served as the city’s emergency management director. In a surprisingly tough interview on Fox News Sunday (5/13/07), anchor Chris Wallace asked Giuliani about placing the command center inside a known terror target “even though your director of emergency management . . . recommended that you not put it there.” Giuliani reversed the accusation: “My director of emergency management recommended 7 World Trade Center.”

Wallace came back at Giuliani with documents refuting the former mayor’s claims:

I have got a copy right here of Jerry Hauer’s directive to you. And there were meetings in which Jerry Hauer said that it’s a bad idea. And the police chief, Howard Safir, said it was a bad idea.

Giuliani responded with a nervous chortle, continuing to claim against the evidence that Hauer, not he, had chosen the site.

For a candidate receiving more than a modicum of media scrutiny, uttering a lie—particularly one that goes to the candidate’s professional competence—would likely have been a defining moment. Yet this national exposure of Giuliani’s “I did not locate that emergency management center” moment received little attention.

Over the summer, as Jerome Hauer began to actively challenge Giuliani on the issue, producing ever more evidence, the story still only garnered scant attention, with the most prominent coverage appearing in the international press. In the London-based Sunday Telegraph (8/5/07) Hauer accused Giuliani of “re-inventing history,” commenting that Giuliani’s controlling and vindictive nature would make him a “terrible president.”

The New York Times, which ran a far tamer story (5/27/07) quoting Hauer about Giuliani’s command center fable, went out of its way to attack Giuliani critics in another story (7/12/07) about September 11. When the International Association of Fire Fighters produced an ad faulting Giuliani for failing to replace inadequate FDNY radio equipment in the years before the attacks, the Times dismissed the union’s reasonably argued political ad as “factually questionable” (FAIR Action Alert, 7/13/07).

A history of free passes

Several other well-documented September 11 stories that emerged in local New York City media also haven’t garnered much attention at the national level—e.g., stories about the former mayor’s deadly missteps during the attacks (Extra!, 5–6/07) and his potentially even more deadly mismanagement of the World Trade Center site cleanup (Extra!, 11–12/06).

Some journalists have noticed that critical journalism about the former mayor doesn’t gain national traction, even though it’s fairly common in New York City. MSNBC Countdown host Keith Olbermann asked Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter (9/11/07) if negative views of Giuliani were making any “impression on the rest of the country, or is he still seen as he portrays himself?” Alter responded:

So far, no. . . . The only way they can is if Mitt Romney or somebody else decides to turn it into a negative ad against Giuliani. The media alone will not be able to convey that message. It will have to be introduced directly into the political bloodstream by one of his opponents, either in the primaries or the general election.

Why journalists have to wait for political rivals to do their jobs for them, Alter doesn’t explain.

Ted Koppel, former Nightline anchor and currently the managing editor of the Discovery Channel, addressed the same issue on Meet the Press (10/6/07):

The amazing thing is, you see story after story after story, especially from the New York press, which after all knows Rudy Giuliani pretty well from his years as mayor, and he’s not the most popular fellow in town. And he has certain eccentricities, shall we say, that the New York press has highlighted over the last few months. Doesn’t seem to be making a dent anywhere else in the country.

When Russert asked Koppel why, the best television journalism’s éminence grise could muster was, “It beats the hell out of me.”

Here’s a possibility: The media’s pro-Giuliani bias, which began with its heavy investment in mythmaking around his September 11 role and his media acclamation as “America’s Mayor,” continues largely because he is hawkish, fiscally conservative and somewhat more centrist on social issues like abortion and gay rights. In other words, the former mayor, despite his myriad scandals, faux pas and nefarious associations, fits the mainstream media ideal for a presidential candidate more closely than any other contender.

There is no need for America’s Mayor to blackmail or coerce members of the press into docility when they go along so willingly.
Golden Rule is different in D.C.
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2007

If there were a Golden Rule of Washington politics, it would have to be
phrased rather differently from the biblical injunction. The prevailing
ethos of our nation’s capital appears to be “Do unto others before they
get a chance to do unto you.” Most Americans say they’re sickened by
excess partisanship and dirty tricks, but it’s not clear that they
really mean it. With respect to political scandals, many appear
unwilling or unable to perform the simplest thought experiment: to wit,
turn a story inside-out. What would you be saying if the opposite party
got caught using the same underhanded tactics? It’s the only way I know
to remove partisan blinders. Take the Valerie Plame affair. What if the
Clinton White House had deliberately identified a CIA employee to punish
her husband for not going along with an administration line that helped
drive the nation to war? What if Vice President Al Gore’s chief of staff
had been convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice? Would Bill
Clinton have survived to commute his sentence before being impeached,
convicted and removed from office? Would Gore have escaped criminal
indictment ?

To ask the question is to answer it. Goodness, Washington went berserk
over Clinton’s ignominious sex lies. Add a beautiful blonde and the word
“treason,” and the Capitol dome would have levitated into the heavens.
On “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert would have spontaneously combusted.

That’s what made it so remarkable when former White House press
secretary Scott McClellan briefly appeared to have spilled the beans
about the Plame affair in his forthcoming book, “What Happened: Inside
the Bush White House and What’s Wrong With Washington.” Infamous for
stonewalling and evasiveness, McClellan for once came clean.

“The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on
his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” he wrote. “So I stood at the White
House briefing room podium... for the better part of two weeks and
publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House:
Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

“ There was one problem. It was not true.

“ I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the
highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my
doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice president, the president’s chief of
staff and the president himself.” For approximately 24 hours, Washington
held its breath. Was McClellan actually breaking rank? Would his book
really tell us, in the classic Watergate formulation, what President
Bush knew and when he knew it? Would it implicate Bush in the cover-up?

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had more than once hinted at Dick
Cheney’s role. During Libby’s trial, a copy of former Ambassador Joe
Wilson’s original New York Times article questioning the “intelligence”
about African uranium that hyped Iraq’s imaginary nuclear threat was put
into evidence with Cheney’s angry comments scrawled in the margins.

During his closing argument, Fitzgerald told the jury, “There is a cloud
over the vice president.... 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.” Back in the day, Bush had vowed to kick
ass and take names.

“If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is,”
he declared on Sept. 30, 2003. “I want to know the truth. If anybody has
got any information inside our administration or outside our
administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the
information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true
and get on about the business.” McClellan told reporters that anybody
involved in leaking Plame’s covert identity would be fired.

“There’s been nothing, absolutely nothing, brought to our attention,” he
insisted, “to suggest any White House involvement.” At the time, White
House apparatchiks, knowing that Attorney General John Ashcroft headed
the investigation, did not tell the truth. As he would subsequently also
do with regard to wiretaps, however, Ashcroft proved loyal to the law
rather than his political cronies. He recused, leading to Fitzgerald’s
appointment and setting the cat among the pigeons. Had Bush not
shamefully commuted Libby’s sentence, there’s no telling how far the
evidence might have taken him. The White House got away with it largely
because, as Wilson and Plame wrote after McClellan’s remarks surfaced,
“the Washington press establishment... increasingly resembles the
corrupt Soviet propaganda mill.” Nobody who reads Plame’s own book,
“Fair Game,” carefully vetted by CIA censors, can continue to deny her
dedicated and courageous service to her country. Charged with nuclear
counter-proliferation, she undertook covert missions in the Middle East
as recently as 2002. But never mind. The day after Scottie’s bombshell,
his publisher took it all back. “[Bush ] told him something that wasn’t
true, but the president didn’t know it wasn’t true,” he said. “The
president told him what he thought to be the case.” So here’s my
question: How does Scottie know what Bush knew?

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

Australian voters throw Howard government out of office
By Patrick O’Connor 26 November 2007

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The Australian Liberal-National coalition government was thrown out of office in Saturday’s federal election. The anti-government sentiment was so strong that it claimed the scalp of Prime Minister John Howard himself, who lost his northern Sydney seat of Bennelong after having held it for 33 years. This is the first such defeat for a sitting prime minister since 1929.
Howard was joined on the chopping block by a number of other senior government ministers, all victims of a large swing to the Labor Party in certain electorates. With almost 80 percent of the vote counted, the Labor Party secured 44 percent of the primary vote, an increase of 6.3 percent from the 2004 election, against the Liberals’ 36.4 percent (down 4.5 percent) and their rural-based coalition partner, the Nationals, on 5.4 percent (down 0.5 percent). The Greens won 7.6 percent of the vote, up 0.4 percent from 2004.

After the distribution of preferences, the two-party preferred result was 53.3 percent to 46.7 percent against the government, a “swing” from the last election of 6.1 percent. This is the second largest election day shift in post-World War II history, behind only the vote against the Whitlam-led Labor Party in the aftermath of the Canberra coup of 1975. While a number of electorates remain undecided, Labor is predicted to win a total of 88 parliamentary seats (up from 60) against just 60 (down from 86) for the government.

The vote represents a decisive repudiation of the Howard government’s record of lies and criminality. While the Iraq war, and the eruption of US militarism in the Middle East and Central Asia, was deliberately excluded from the official campaign, there is no question that popular antiwar sentiment fuelled the overwhelming mood for change. Howard’s defeat marks the demise of the last remaining partner of US President Bush in the “coalition of the willing” that carried out the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003.

For millions of ordinary people, Howard’s humiliation at losing his own seat was just deserts for a man widely recognised as guilty of monstrous crimes. These include not only the war crimes relating to his participation in the US-led attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, but also those arising out of his brutal immigration and refugee policies, including the 2001 sinking of the “SIEV X” asylum seeker boat, which resulted in the deaths of 353 men, women and children.

Saturday’s vote was also driven by widespread hostility to the Howard government’s attacks on wages and conditions. The biggest swings against the government were recorded in large working class areas as well as in rural and regional districts. Young people, welfare recipients, and immigrants were among those who overwhelmingly cast their ballots against the government. Howard’s WorkChoices industrial relations policy was deeply unpopular, while a series of interest rate rises over the past three years has made housing increasingly unaffordable for working people, particularly as other costs of living such as fuel and food have skyrocketed.

In a number of states and regions, the anti-government swing was far larger than the national average of 6.1 percent.

In Queensland, the swing was 8.3 percent, ranging from an average of 4.6 percent in inner Brisbane to 10.2 percent in rural areas. According to the Australian, the shift among these “sun-belt” voters was motivated, above all, by opposition to the government’s industrial relations and welfare measures: “Blue-collar workers, dual-income families, the under-35s and single mothers are the key demographic blocs that turned against John Howard and his Coalition government... Labor sources said the coalition’s [anti-union] attack ads backfired because they reminded voters about WorkChoices”.

Among the government ministers who lost their seats were the National Party’s De-Anne Kelly, the minister for transport and regional services, who suffered a 13.5 percent swing in her central Queensland seat of Dawson and Mal Brough, the indigenous affairs minister who orchestrated the military-police intervention into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. An 11 percent swing delivered his outer Brisbane electorate of Longman to Labor.

The Howard government also lost significant seats in South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and New South Wales. Particularly large were the anti-government swings in the working class suburbs of western Sydney. In Parramatta, the shift was 8.1 percent, while in Lindsay it was a massive 10 percent. These electorates were among those that Howard first won in 1996, after he appealed to hostility towards the pro-business economic reform agenda advanced by the Keating Labor government. In this election, “Howard’s battlers”, as the media has termed Liberal-voting workers with home mortgages, decisively turned against the government.

The anti-Howard shift in Lindsay was driven as well by the exposure on the eve of the election of an extraordinary dirty tricks racist campaign orchestrated by the Liberal Party. A number of senior Liberal figures, including the husband of retiring Lindsay MP Jackie Kelly, were caught letterboxing leaflets purportedly issued by an Islamic fundamentalist organisation encouraging a Labor victory.

“We gratefully acknowledge Labor’s support to forgive our Muslim brothers who have been unjustly sentenced to death for the Bali bombings,” the bogus leaflet, signed in the name of the non-existent Islamic Australia Federation, read. “In the upcoming federal election we strongly support the ALP as our preferred party to govern this country and urge all other Muslims to do the same.”

The crude attempt to incite anti-Muslim prejudice badly backfired, with the story dominating the media on the final day of the election campaign and forcing Howard to declare that those responsible would be punished. Many voters interviewed by the media reported that the incident only confirmed their perception that nothing the Howard government said could be trusted. The episode also fuelled suspicions that the Liberals were desperately attempting to subvert the election outcome. In the final week, Howard’s campaign spokesman Andrew Robb had threatened to mount a legal challenge to the right of 13 Labor candidates to stand, on the anti-democratic and spurious basis that they had not complied with a constitutional requirement to resign from their government-paid positions before the campaign commenced.

It appeared that the bogus Islamic leaflet cost the government the votes of many immigrants, and was a likely factor in Howard’s Bennelong defeat. His electorate is home to large Chinese and Korean minorities, who were assiduously courted by the Labor Party’s candidate, former ABC journalist Maxine McKew.

The outcome in the Senate is yet to be determined, with the complex state-based quota electoral system relying on the full distribution of preferences. The coalition is predicted to lose two upper house seats, leaving it with 37 of the total 76 places and Labor is expected to gain four, giving it 32 seats. The Greens will make a net gain of at least one seat, finishing with a total of five, while South Australian anti-poker machines campaigner Nick Xenophon won a seat as an independent. The Democrats—a party that has never recovered from its decision to support the Howard government’s Goods and Services Tax in 2001—has been wiped out, losing two more seats.

A right-wing, pro-market government

The election outcome has left the coalition parties in a deep crisis and thrown the very viability of the Liberal Party into doubt.

For the first time in its history, the Liberal Party does not hold office at any level, either federal or state. Treasurer Peter Costello, whom Howard publicly anointed as his successor in his concession speech on Saturday night, yesterday announced he would not accept the leadership. He would remain, he said, on the backbench before quitting politics ahead of the next election. Costello’s decision is symptomatic of the demoralisation gripping coalition ranks. The scale of its defeat means it faces years in the political wilderness. Corporate donations will quickly dry up, leaving the party in a precarious financial situation, while acrimonious faction fights between the Christian fundamentalist-aligned right wing, and the more socially liberal “wets” are expected to intensify.

The National Party is in similar disarray, with the 2007 election marking a further stage in its protracted decline. Party leader Mark Vaile suddenly announced today that he will resign the leadership.

While the Labor Party has been the immediate beneficiary of the widespread sentiment for change, the election outcome does not express any groundswell of support for Rudd or his policies.

The vote was against the government, not for the Labor Party. With a national primary vote average of 44 percent, Labor relied on Greens’ preferences to get through in a large number of seats. The Greens won a significant proportion of the youth vote, particularly in inner city areas. In the electorate of Sydney, for example, they received 21 percent, in neighbouring Grayndler 18.5 percent, and in Melbourne 22.6 percent. Many people were determined to get rid of the government, but still could not bring themselves to directly vote Labor—only giving them a second preference after first voting Green.

Rudd has benefitted from a deepening oppositional political shift that he did nothing to support or encourage. His election campaign was focussed on making a pitch to the media and big business based on promises that Labor would launch the next wave of “free market” economic restructuring—something that the Howard government had proved unable to deliver.

Having backed a Rudd victory, the Murdoch-owned Australian made its expectations clear in its editorial today, entitled “Rudd should stay on track”. The national newspaper warned that Labor had to stick to its promises and “deliver more of the same economic management strategies the previous government gave us”. It explicitly warned Rudd against any attempt to satisfy the expectations of those who had voted against Howard’s industrial relations and welfare measures, particularly working people who were “not especially affluent or interested in radical social reform but are fearful that the bounty of the boom is passing them by”.
Rudd has made crystal clear that he intends to press ahead with his right-wing agenda. His victory speech on Saturday night featured a fulsome tribute to Howard and his “service to public life”. The next day, Rudd revealed he had already spoken with US President Bush and reaffirmed his full commitment to the Australian alliance with US imperialism.
The working class will soon come into conflict with the new Labor government, directly posing the need to build its own political party. Herein lies the significance of the Socialist Equality Party’s election campaign. The SEP advanced the only independent political perspective for the working class, and fought to clarify both the current and historical role of the Australian Labor Party and the unions as the key props of bourgeois rule. We explained that Rudd Labor in no way represented a “lesser evil” to Howard and that it would rapidly emerge as even more ruthless in prosecuting the interests of corporate Australia at the direct expense of the working class.

The SEP received a small but important vote in the nine House of Representatives electorates where we stood candidates, as well as significant support in the Senate in NSW and Victoria. Our total vote is yet to be finalised and will be reported on the World Socialist Web Site in a forthcoming comment.

Authorised by N. Beams, 100B Sydenham Rd, Marrickville, NSW
Visit the Socialist Equality Party Election Web Site
Commentary: Good riddance to them all
By Joseph L. Galloway McClatchy Newspapers

There was little for the unindicted co-conspirators of the Bush administration to give thanks for this week as the clock winds down on the 14 months they have left in power.

With former White House press secretary Scott McClellan spilling the beans on who told him to lie to the American people and cover up the White House's responsibility for the criminal act of revealing the identity of a covert CIA officer, it clearly was time for some folks to begin drafting their requests for presidential pardons.

McClellan, in a forthcoming book that will tell some, if not all, reveals that his 2003 statements absolving top White House aides Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby of any involvement in leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame were untrue — and that the orders to make those statements came from President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, White House chief of staff Andrew Card, Rove and Libby.

McClellan's revelation makes it abundantly clear that a subsequent statement by Bush that White House aides had no involvement in outing Ms. Plame, and that anyone who did would be fired was also, shall we say, inoperative.

It also confirms long-held suspicions that the whole despicable affair — an attempt to punish former Ambassador Joseph Wilson for debunking a bit of the bogus intelligence the administration wheeled out to justify invading Iraq — was orchestrated in the offices of Bush and Cheney, and with their knowledge.

It also might shed new light on why Bush quickly commuted Cheney’s hatchet man Libby's prison sentence after he was convicted on four counts of lying to federal investigators. It simply wouldn’t do to have Libby rolling over on his bosses.

Somehow, I have a strong feeling that this isn't the only or the last revelation of wrong-doing and criminality that we're likely to hear before and after Bush and Co. leave office, or that additional presidential acts of clemency will be needed to spare other top administration officials from prison and buy their silence.

What we've witnessed and endured during seven long years of the Bush presidency is the inevitable consequence of bringing vicious and unprincipled but successful political campaigners — attack dogs — into top White House jobs.

The idea that a political campaign should address any and all criticism by going for the throats of those who dare to question it may work on election day but it doesn’t work, or shouldn’t, when the full weight and power of the federal government is put behind it.

We are a better people and this is a better country than that, and this is why, when it's weighed and judged, the Bush presidency will be found to have perverted not only our system but also the very principles on which our nation was founded.

We don’t rush into a war that has cost so many lives and so much national treasure, and has so damaged our standing in the world, based on a tissue of lies. But under the leadership of George W. Bush, that's what we did in Iraq.

We don’t stand idly by, backs turned and eyes closed, while in wartime our friends and political contributors loot the national treasury of billions of taxpayer dollars. But the Bush administration and a Republican-controlled Congress did just that.

We don’t send our soldiers and Marines into combat without enough of everything they need to fight, survive and win. But that's what this administration and its political operatives in charge of the Pentagon did.
We don’t turn the office of the attorney general and key parts of the Justice Department into a branch of a partisan political campaign — gutting offices charged with protecting the civil rights of minorities and directing the prosecution of those of a different political party — but this administration did.

We don’t declare war and then expect that the entire sacrifice will be borne by the half a percent of our population who wear uniforms. We don’t fight a long and costly war by cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans and borrowing trillions of dollars to finance it from foreign competitors such as China. But this administration did.

We don’t prosecute a war to spread democracy by curtailing democracy and suspending the Bill of Rights at home. We cannot promote our principles abroad by denying the same principles — the right to a lawyer, the right to a fair trial, the right to be secure in our homes — to ourselves. But this administration did.

We don’t beat or torture confessions out of prisoners in violation of our laws and the laws of the civilized world. We don’t lock people up and hold them incommunicado for years without charges or trials. But this administration did and does.

We don’t applaud and cheer an administration and a Congress that make the rich vastly richer, the middle class less secure and the poor even poorer. But this administration has done just that, in violation of our principles and the principles of love, peace and charity that are engrained in the Christianity that these rogues and charlatans embrace so publicly but violate every day.

It will be a good day when they are gone, and good riddance to them all.

McClatchy Newspapers 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Posted by NanceGreggs
You have to give George W. Bush credit for one thing – and one thing only.

Never before has an allegedly adult male been able to continue playing pretend with the fervor and commitment of an unknowing child well into his adult life, a game traditionally abandoned by those entering what should be their more mature years.

The signs of this ability to ignore reality and steadfastly adhere to the world of the phantasmagoric were apparent from the outset of the Bush administration, starting with the obvious: Let’s pretend an ignorant, ill-spoken idiot was legitimately elected to the presidency of the United States.

Once begun, the Oval Office version of let’s pretend quickly evolved into puppet theatre, as Cheney and the neocons dangled their front-man from strings before the public – who, of course, were meant to play along with them, starting with let’s pretend this ne’er-do-well failure is actually running the show.

And so it began:

Let’s give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, along with the wealthiest corporations – and let’s pretend that every American is getting an equal break.

Let’s tell the Fundies that we’re going to amend the Constitution to quash any hopes of ever recognizing same-sex marriages – and let’s pretend we are actually going to do it.

Let’s set a course for lining the pockets of Big Oil, Big Business, Big Pharma – and let’s pretend it is for the benefit of average Americans.

Of course, the events of 9/11 (as any GOPer will tell you) changed everything – except for the game of let’s pretend, which would now be played with more abandon than usual, and with much higher stakes than were on the table before.

Let’s insist that we were attacked by Al Qeada in Afghanistan – but let’s pretend it was Iraq, and act accordingly.

Let’s say there was a connection between the attacks and Saddam Hussein – and then let’s pretend we never said it.

Let’s tell the citizenry that the Patriot Act is for their own protection – and then let’s pretend that their rights aren’t being dismantled by its passage.

Let’s stonewall any investigation into 9/11 – and when there is no way of avoiding such investigation, let’s pretend we’re telling the whole truth and nothing but, even as we refuse to produce the relevant documentation without redaction, and refuse to testify under oath.

Let’s launch Shock ‘n Awe and invade a sovereign nation that poses no threat – and let’s pretend that we had legitimate national security reasons for doing so.

Let’s declare to American citizens that this unnecessary war of choice will protect our shores from alleged terrorists – and let’s pretend it will be over in a matter of weeks, and will pay for itself.

Let’s state without qualification that we relied on solid intelligence to prove this war necessary – and let’s pretend we didn’t fabricate “the proof”.

Let’s disallow the publication of any photographs of the caskets of dead soldiers – and let’s pretend those deaths never happened.

Let’s act totally dismayed when the scandals of Abu Ghraib and Gitmo are exposed – and let’s pretend torture was instigated by a few bad apples, who acted without our knowledge.

Let’s act patriotic when the incidents of rendition and torture can no longer be ignored – and then let’s pretend it was legal and necessary all along.

Let’s suppress any information about the tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths, and the total destruction of their country – and let’s pretend everything is going swimmingly.

Let’s put billions of dollars into the pockets of war-profiteers like Halliburton – and let’s pretend that the people making obscene profits aren’t related to White House occupants and their families and friends.

Let’s feign dismay and surprise when a covert CIA agent is outted – and let’s pretend it wasn’t meant as a warning to anyone who publicly disagrees with our agenda, and let’s pretend we’re going to “get to the bottom” of such a traitorous act.

Let’s go on (yet another) vacation as the experts tell us that Katrina is imminent, and her destruction of NOLA may well be catastrophic – and let’s pretend we were never warned.

Let’s appoint our political cronies to positions that may require life-and-death decisions – and let’s pretend, after-the-fact, that we had no idea how incompetent they were.

Let’s arrange yet another series of photo-ops where we pose for the cameras and act like we intend to do something – and let’s pretend it wasn’t just that, another series of photo-ops in place of actual leadership.

In the current state of our nation, the game of let’s pretend continues unabated.

Let’s watch the stock market and the devaluing of the US dollar – and let’s pretend the economy is doing well.

Let’s stand by as the American middle-class drowns in credit card debt, as they lose their jobs to outsourcing and plant shut-downs, as they struggle to retain homes mortgaged by unscrupulous lenders – and let’s pretend that the bottom isn’t falling out beneath us.

Let’s do nothing as our infra-structure, our system of education, and our economy crumbles, and as our national debt rises to unprecedented heights – and let’s pretend that we represent “fiscal responsibility”, and that these seemingly detrimental warning signs are actually beneficial to the American way of life.

Let’s ignore the plight of American soldiers returning State-side to face endless red-tape to get their due, lack of assistance with overcoming the wounds they suffered as a result of their service, and even homelessness or suicide – and let’s pretend that we Support the Troops.

As we head into the 2008 elections, we are being asked yet again to ignore the realities of what has happened to our country and its citizenry, and what continues to happen on a daily basis.

The Republican candidates (who, while proud of their fearless leader, G.W. Bush, are still reluctant to mention him by name) want us to believe that the game of let’s pretend can still be played.

Let’s pretend it isn’t all collapsing around us; let’s pretend that despite everything we have seen, heard and experienced over the last seven-plus years, the course we are on isn’t an unmitigated disaster.

Let’s pretend that we still have the loyalty of our traditional allies, still have the respect of the world, still have a chance of surviving another four to eight years of sticking our heads in the sand and playing another round of Let’s Petend.

Yeah, by all means, let’s pretend we can do that.

Perhaps as we, as a nation, go down for the last time, we can just pretend that we actually survived.
Blogosphere not as radical as pundits think
Gene Lyons

Posted on Wednesday, November 21, 2007

It’s no exaggeration to say that the establishment media’s initial
response to the blogosphere was panic. The idea of mere citizens talking
back to the press was unsettling to Washington media celebrities.
Pundits who’d exhibited no qualms about the sordid imaginings of, say,
American Spectator or The Wall Street Journal editorial page recoiled in
horror at online mockery. It was laugh-out-loud funny to see a
Washington Post reporter infamous for treating Kenneth Starr’s
backstairs leaks like holy writ make a show of pretending that the
now-defunct Web site mediawhoresonline. com had accused her of
prostitution. How the system had always worked was this: They dished it
out, everybody else had to take it. Now that many print and broadcast
outlets feature Web logs—blogs—of their own, it’s no longer common to
hear the word “blogger” pronounced with utter disdain. Even so,
competition from the groundlings still provokes unease. The latest
high-minded worrier is a University of Chicago law professor and
sometime politico, Cass R. Sunstein.

A Justice Department official during the Carter and Reagan
administrations, Sunstein has written a book called “Republic. com 2.
0,” essentially arguing that the Internet’s “echo chamber effect” is
responsible for increased political polarization and declining civility.
In an interview with salon. com, he said that social scientists find
that when people talk only to those who agree with them, their views
become more extreme.

“I don’t like that Rush Limbaugh listeners call themselves ‘ditto
heads,’” Sunstein said. “It’s funny, but it’s kind of horrible. FOX News
is a self-identified conservative outlet. The more extreme elements on
the left treat their fellow citizens as if they’re idiots, or as if
they’re rich people who don’t care about anybody.”

A former colleague and friend of Barack Obama, he yearns for greater
recognition of the truism that “that neither conservatives nor liberals
have a monopoly on wisdom.” No sentient person thinks they do. We’re all
a mix of conflicting opinions. I’ve had runins with what I call the
anti-gravity left during my own inglorious career. (I’m pro-hunting, for
example, which drives sentimentalists nuts. ) Today, however, I’d argue
that Sunstein suggests a false dichotomy of little relevance to the
current situation.

Among the blogs I read, there’s no equivalent of the authoritarian
impulses, intellectual dishonesty and rote chanting of the GOP party
line that characterizes Limbaugh and his imitators on the right. Partly,
that’s because most are written by educated individuals who take pride
in winning arguments without cheating, and to whom party orthodoxy is
anathema. In a saner climate, many wouldn’t be called left-wing at all.

How liberal do you have to be to defend habeas corpus, Fourth Amendment
privacy rights and the rule of law, as Glenn Greenwald does on his
“Unclaimed Territory” blog at salon. com? A former constitutional
litigator, Greenwald brings rare clarity and passion to political issues
with legal overtones.

Here are the political blogs I read every day.

Duncan Black’s “Eschaton” blog combines the analytical skills of a Ph.
D. economist with the irreverent wit of a Philadelphia wiseacre. If
you’d been reading Eschaton (or Paul Krugman), you’d have seen the
housing bubble and the sub-prime lending crisis coming.

Josh Marshall’s Ph. D. is in history, but his talkingpointsmemo blog
specializes in gritty, detailed reporting. Marshall was on top of the
Jack Abramoff influencepeddling scandal from the get-go. Link through
talkingpointsmemo to Greg Sergeant’s saucy “Horse’s Mouth” media
criticism blog.

Bob Somerby’s Daily Howler provides salty press criticism you’ll read
nowhere else. “Radicalized” by the Washington media’s 2000 “War on Gore”
(his Harvard roommate, Al Gore ), Bob can’t abide liberal fecklessness
about the way RNC-invented “narratives” dominate mainstream political
coverage, and he doesn’t mind offending “weak, worthless” liberal
pundits who look the other way.

Eric Alterman’s “Altercations” blog is another place to find impassioned
disputation between the host and a wide variety of antagonists on
everything from Israel’s Likud party to the New York Mets. A Ph. D. in
history, Alterman also is the biggest Bruce Springsteen fan on the
Internet. “Slacker Fridays,” when the inimitable Charles Pierce’s
scathing missives appear, is a must. Media Matters columnists Eric
Boehlert and Jamison Foser’s dissections of the vices and follies of the
“mainstream” media advance a point of view similar to The Daily Howler’s
somewhat more politely. Kevin Drum (washingtonmonthly. com ) and the
inimitable Digby (digbysblog. blogspot. com ), a writer of such
analytical brilliance and prodigious output she shames the rest of us
idlers, are two bloggers I never miss. Read around for a while, follow
the links to related sites and you’ll soon find your own favorites list.
A celebrated editor once told me that reading the letters submitted for
publication to his magazine had persuaded him that, contrary to media
careerists in metropolitan enclaves, political intelligence and wisdom
are scattered randomly across the American landscape. Thanks to the
Internet, they no longer have to ask anybody’s permission to speak out.

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bush's Clever Cognitive Dissonance

By Robert Parry
November 16, 2007

So, George W. Bush sees himself as the great defender of the U.S. Constitution.

In a Nov. 15 speech to the right-wing Federalist Society, the President embraced the Constitution’s checks and balances as a vital protection against tyranny. And he demanded that federal judges act as fair referees, not political or ideological partisans.

To many Americans who have been aghast at Bush’s six-plus years of trampling the Constitution, such pronouncements might represent a textbook case of “cognitive dissonance,” a psychological term describing the uncomfortable tension when one’s stated principles are at odds with one’s actions.

For Bush, however, this divergence of words from behavior may be closer to the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes, when the monarch strutted about in invisible garments while his terrified subjects kept quiet about his nakedness.

In this case, the Washington press corps reported on Bush’s speech as if the President were entirely sincere and left out contradictory facts.

For instance, there was silence about how Bush prevailed in Election 2000 by getting five partisan Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court to stop a recount of votes in Florida that – if it had been allowed to tally all legally cast ballots – might well have put Al Gore in the White House.

Instead, the five Republican justices cast aside any sense of neutrality – and their own principles about avoiding federal interference in state decisions – to hammer together a twisted ruling that halted the recount and gave the election to George W. Bush. [For details, see our new book, Neck Deep.]

Yet, in his Nov. 15 speech, Bush declared how important it was for judges to act as honest umpires.

“When people see the umpire rooting for one team, public confidence in our courts is eroded, the sense of unfairness is heightened and our political debates are poisoned,” Bush said. “So we will insist … on judges who call the game fairly.”

Bush also declared that he was committed to the original intent of the Founders as expressed in the Constitution.

“Tonight I will discuss a judicial philosophy that is based on what our Founders intended,” Bush said. “The President's oath of office commits him to do his best to ‘preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.’ I take these words seriously. I believe these words mean what they say.”

‘Plenary’ Powers

Yet, even many conservative legal scholars, such as former assistant attorney general Jack Goldsmith, believe that Bush and his inner circle have stretched the wartime powers of the President far beyond what the Founders intended or the Constitution allows.

Bush has asserted “plenary” – or unlimited – powers as Commander in Chief for the duration of the indefinite “war on terror.” In Bush’s view, that means he can ignore the rights that the Constitution grants to both citizens and other branches of the federal government.

While the Founders envisioned “unalienable rights” for all mankind, Bush claims that he can even waive habeas corpus, a principle dating back to the Middle Ages requiring the government to present evidence of a person’s guilt.

Habeas was a right that the Founders considered so fundamental that they embedded it in the body of the Constitution. But Bush’s former White House counsel and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales once told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “There is no expressed grant of habeas in the Constitution.”

Gonzales’s unorthodox view – which left Republican Sen. Arlen Specter sputtering in disbelief – also wasn’t just theoretical. Bush and his administration have locked up people, including American citizens, while denying them their day in court. [See’s “Gonzales Questions Habeas Corpus.”]

Bush also has formulated military commissions – first unilaterally and then through legislative action – that represent a parallel legal system operating outside the rules of the U.S. Constitution.

In effect, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 casts aside not only habeas corpus but the Sixth Amendment, which grants the accused “the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury” and the right to confront one’s accusers. By contrast, in Bush’s system, there is no guarantee of either a speedy or a public trial. Secrecy dominates in a process run by U.S. military officers whose careers depend on the favor of the Commander in Chief.

The military commissions also would apply not only to foreign “unlawful enemy combatants” but to “any person” who aids the enemy “in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States,” presumably a reference to U.S. citizens. [See’s “Who Is ‘Any Person’ in Tribunal Law?”]

In his warrantless wiretapping program, Bush also has brushed aside the Fourth Amendment, which requires that the government establish “probable cause” before it can conduct searches of Americans. In his wiretapping operation, Bush ignored, too, the specific legal requirements of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Bush’s approval of harsh interrogation tactics, including simulated drowning by “water-boarding,” also has made a mockery of the Eighth Amendment and its ban on “cruel and unusual punishments,” not to mention federal statutes prohibiting torture.

Unitary Executive

Still, Bush’s Nov. 15 speech talked glowingly of the constitutional “checks and balances” as a guard against tyranny.

“When the Founders drafted the Constitution, they had a clear understanding of tyranny,” Bush said. “They also had a clear idea about how to prevent it from ever taking root in America. Their solution was to separate the government's powers into three co-equal branches: the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. …

“Each serves as a check on the others. And to preserve our liberty, each must meet its responsibilities – and resist the temptation to encroach on the powers the Constitution accords to others.”

But for the past six years, Bush has asserted his right as “unitary executive” to ignore any law that he chooses by asserting his "plenary" powers and attaching “signing statements.”

In effect, if one examines Bush’s claims of unlimited executive power – and overlays that with a “war on terror” of indefinite duration – a fair conclusion is that the President has, in effect, eliminated both the "checks and balances " and the “unalienable rights” that the Founders enshrined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Under Bush’s theories, constitutional rights can be selectively denied by one person, him.

Yet, in his Federalist Society speech, Bush was the rock-ribbed protector of the Founders’ dream of a constitutional Republic. He chided his political opponents for their more flexible interpretation of the Constitution.

“Advocates of a more active role for judges sometimes talk of a ‘living Constitution,’” Bush said. “In practice, a living Constitution means whatever these activists want it to mean. They forgot that our Constitution lives because we respect it enough to adhere to its words.”

But what Bush has sought in key federal judicial appointments, including his Supreme Court selections of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, are judges who will predictably assent to Bush’s extraordinary assertion of presidential powers, regardless of the words in the Constitution or the intent of the Founders.

Cognitive Dissonance

In a broader sense, Bush’s Nov. 15 speech reflected what has been a core rhetorical device of the modern American Right, the clever use of cognitive dissonance – the confident assertion of positions that fly in the face of reality.

I first encountered this tactic in 1981 when President Ronald Reagan sought to frustrate the intent of government policies from the 1970s by appointing individuals who were hostile to those goals but who claimed to embrace the same principles.

For instance, Reagan disdained President Jimmy Carter’s emphasis on “human rights” but instead of making a complete break, Reagan appointed Ernest Lefever as the State Department’s human rights pointman.

Though Reagan and the Right hailed Lefever as a champion of human rights, the nomination foundered after critics, including his own family members, presented evidence of his racial prejudices and fondness for South Africa’s apartheid government.

(After Lefever’s nomination was pulled, Reagan turned to a more astute practitioner of this technique, a bright and aspiring neoconservative named Elliott Abrams.)

In dealing with environmental issues, Reagan took a similar tack. Instead of directly challenging environmental policies enacted during the previous decade, he appointed right-wing “environmentalists” who talked about their love of nature while quietly dismantling regulatory protections.

What the Right – and especially the neocons – drew from these experiences was that the Washington press corps could be tough when contesting some narrow falsehood or a slight hypocrisy, but would ignore audacious misrepresentations, at least when they came from Republicans backed by aggressive right-wing media attack groups.

Bush has proved to be a master of this technique because he shows even fewer scrupples than the average politician in making claims that are at clear variance with the truth.

For instance, in his last two addresses to the United Nations General Assembly, Bush has hailed the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights although its tenets are in contradiction of his claims that he can kill, kidnap, detain, torture and spy on anyone of his choosing anywhere in the world.

Nevertheless, Bush displayed a well-founded confidence that the U.S. press corps wouldn’t challenge him on these obvious hypocrisies – and he was right. [See’s “Bush to World: Up Is Down.”]

Indeed, one of the most successful features of Bush’s presidency may be his ability to exploit cognitive dissonance to avoid accountability for his actions. While Bush doesn’t blush when his actions belie his words, the American political system can’t seem to cope, incapable of either reconciling Bush’s dishonesty or enforcing any accountability upon him.

The national press corps and other Washington institutions – like the emperor’s subjects in the old fable – try as best they can to ignore the obvious.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Shake, Rattle and Roll


The debate dominatrix knows how to rattle Obambi.

Mistress Hillary started disciplining her fellow senator last winter, after he began exploring a presidential bid. When he winked at her, took her elbow and tried to say hello on the Senate floor, she did not melt, as many women do. She brushed him off, a move meant to remind him that he was an upstart who should not get in the way of her turn in the Oval Office.

He was so shook up, he called a friend to say: You would not believe what just happened with Hillary.

She has continued to flick the whip in debates. She usually ignores Obama and John Edwards backstage, preferring to chat with the so-called second-tier candidates. And she often looks so unapproachable while they’re setting up on stage that Obama seems hesitant to be the first to say hi.

With so much at stake, she had to do it again in Vegas, this time using her voice, gaze and body language to such punishing effect that Obama looked as if he had been brought to heel. It was a mesmerizing display, and at an event that drew the highest television ratings of any primary debate this year. The momentum Obama had gained from a vivid speech at the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Iowa drained away by the end of the first half-hour.

Other guys, like Rudy, wouldn’t even be looking for a chance to greet Hillary, as Obama always does. Other guys, like Rudy, wouldn’t care if she iced them.

But she can tell that Obama does care, that he doesn’t want her to not like him or be mad at him, that he responds to the sort of belittling treatment that she sometimes dished out to her husband and his male aides at the White House, yelling at them and calling them wimps if they disappointed her.

Obama may be responsive to Hillary’s moods because he lives with another strong woman who knows how to keep him in line. Michelle said she let her husband run for president only when he agreed to give up smoking, and she’s a master at the art of the loving conjugal put-down.

When Hillary walked onstage Thursday, Obama stood to her left waiting to shake hands and say hi, as he and Edwards had done with Chris Dodd. She turned her body away, refused to meet his eyes and froze him out. Again. And he looked taken aback. Again.

For the rest of the night she owned him. He was so off his game that he duplicated her dithering performance from the last debate on the issue of whether illegal immigrants should get driver’s licenses. After a tortured exchange with Wolf Blitzer, he ended up saying he favored it — one more sign that the law professor is oblivious to the visceral nature of campaigns.

Hillary brazenly leapt away from that politically devastating position and said she didn’t support the licenses anymore. And Obama didn’t even call her out on her third reversal on the matter.

She was willing to absorb the flip-flop criticism to cut her losses on an issue that could have dragged her to defeat in the general election.

Obama and Edwards, who both seemed shaken by a few seconds of pro-Hillary booing, let the front-runner set a ludicrous standard: that any criticism of her shifts on issues is “mudslinging” and a character attack.

She is a control freak — that’s why her campaign tried to coach wonky Iowa voters to ask wonky questions — and her male rivals are letting her take control.

The Democrats should not be afraid to mix it up now, while they have a chance, and get all the doubts and disputes out on the table. Taking some flak clearly made Hillary stronger.

If Rudy’s the nominee, he will go with relish to all the vulnerable places in Hillary’s past. At the Federalist Society on Friday, he had barely spoken the word “she” before the audience began tittering appreciatively.

He went through a whole faux- bemused riff on Hillary’s driver’s license twists without ever uttering her name: “First, she was for the idea, and supported Governor Spitzer, who wanted to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Then she was against the idea. Then she was for and against the idea. And then finally she said it should be decided on a state-by-state basis. This is the only time in her career that she’s ever decided anything should be decided on a state-by-state basis. You know something? She picked out absolutely the wrong one. Right? I mean, this is one of the areas that is given to the federal government to deal with under our Constitution, the borders of the United States, immigration.”

Rudy laced his speech with faith references, including the assertion that America has “a divinely inspired role in the world” and a mission to “save a civilization from Islamic terrorism.”

Hillary has her work cut out for her. Rudy will not be so easy to spank.

What ‘That Regan Woman’ Knows

NEW Yorkers who remember Rudy Giuliani as the bullying New York mayor, not as the terminally cheerful “America’s Mayor” cooing to babies in New Hampshire, have always banked on one certainty: his presidential candidacy was so preposterous it would implode before he got anywhere near the White House.

Surely, we reassured ourselves, the all-powerful Republican values enforcers were so highly principled that they would excommunicate him because of his liberal social views, three wives and estranged children. Or a firewall would be erected by the firefighters who are enraged by his self-aggrandizing rewrite of 9/11 history. Or Judith Giuliani, with her long-hidden first marriage and Louis Vuitton ’tude, would send red-state voters screaming into the night.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. But how quickly and stupidly we forgot about the other Judith in the Rudy orbit. That would be Judith Regan, who disappeared last December after she was unceremoniously fired from Rupert Murdoch’s publishing house, HarperCollins. Last week Ms. Regan came roaring back into the fray, a silver bullet aimed squarely at the heart of the Giuliani campaign.

Ms. Regan filed a $100 million lawsuit against her former employer, claiming she was unjustly made a scapegoat for the O. J. Simpson “If I Did It” fiasco that (briefly) embarrassed Mr. Murdoch and his News Corporation. But for those of us not caught up in the Simpson circus, what’s most riveting about the suit are two at best tangential sentences in its 70 pages: “In fact, a senior executive in the News Corporation organization told Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani’s presidential campaign. This executive advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, investigators concerning Kerik.”

Kerik, of course, is Bernard Kerik, the former Giuliani chauffeur and police commissioner, as well as the candidate he pushed to be President Bush’s short-lived nominee to run the Department of Homeland Security. Having pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors last year, Mr. Kerik was indicted on 16 other counts by a federal grand jury 10 days ago, just before Ms. Regan let loose with her lawsuit. Whether Ms. Regan’s charge about that unnamed Murdoch “senior executive” is true or not — her lawyers have yet to reveal the evidence — her overall message is plain. She knows a lot about Mr. Kerik, Mr. Giuliani and the Murdoch empire. And she could talk.

Boy, could she! As New Yorkers who have crossed her path or followed her in the tabloids know, Ms. Regan has an epic temper. My first encounter with her came more than a decade ago when she left me a record-breaking (in vitriol and decibel level) voice mail message about a column I’d written on one of her authors. It was a relief to encounter a more mellow Regan at a Midtown restaurant some years later. She cordially introduced me to her dinner companion, Mr. Kerik, whose post-9/11 autobiography, “The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice,” was under contract at her HarperCollins imprint, ReganBooks.

What I didn’t know then was that this married author and single editor were in pursuit of not just justice, but sex, too. Their love nest, we’d later learn, was an apartment adjacent to ground zero that had been initially set aside for rescue workers. Mr. Kerik believed his lover had every moral right to be there. As he tenderly explained in his acknowledgments in “The Lost Son” — published before the revelation of their relationship — there was “one hero who is missing” from his book’s tribute to “courage and honor” and “her name is Judith Regan.”

Few know more about Rudy than his perennial boon companion, Mr. Kerik. Perhaps during his romance with Ms. Regan he talked only of the finer points of memoir writing or about his theories of crime prevention or about his ideas for training the police in the Muslim world (an assignment he later received in Iraq and botched). But it is also plausible that this couple discussed everything Mr. Kerik witnessed at Mr. Giuliani’s side before, during and after 9/11. Perhaps he even explained to her why the mayor insisted, disastrously, that his city’s $61 million emergency command center be located in the World Trade Center despite the terrorist attack on the towers in 1993.

Perhaps, too, they talked about the business ventures the mayor established after leaving office. Mr. Kerik worked at Giuliani Partners and used its address as a mail drop for some $75,000 that turns up in the tax-fraud charges in his federal indictment. That money was Mr. Kerik’s pay for an 11-sentence introduction to another Regan-published book about 9/11, “In the Line of Duty.” Though that project’s profits were otherwise donated to the families of dead rescue workers, Mr. Kerik’s royalties were mailed to Giuliani Partners in the name of a corporate entity Mr. Kerik set up in Delaware. He would later claim that he made comparable donations to charity, but the federal indictment charges that $80,000 he took in charitable deductions were bogus.

Amazingly, given that he seeks the highest office in the land, Mr. Giuliani will not reveal the clients of Giuliani Partners. Perhaps he has trouble remembering them all. He testified in court last year that he has no memory of a mayoral briefing in which he was told of Mr. Kerik’s association with a company suspected of ties to organized crime.

Ms. Regan’s knowledge of Mr. Giuliani isn’t limited to whatever she learned from Mr. Kerik. She used to work for another longtime Giuliani pal, Roger Ailes, the media consultant for the first Giuliani campaign in 1989 and the impresario who created Fox News for Mr. Murdoch in 1996. A full-service mayor to his cronies, Mr. Giuliani lobbied hard to get the Fox News Channel on the city’s cable boxes and presided over Mr. Ailes’s wedding. Enter Ms. Regan, who was given her own program on Fox’s early lineup. Mr. Ailes came up with its rather inspired first title, “That Regan Woman.”

Who at the News Corporation supposedly asked Ms. Regan to lie to protect Rudy’s secrets? Her complaint does not say. But thanks to the political journal The Hotline, we do know that as of the summer Mr. Giuliani had received more air time from Fox News than any other G.O.P. candidate, much of it on the high-rated “Hannity & Colmes.” That show’s co-host, Sean Hannity, appeared at a Giuliani campaign fund-raiser this year.

Fox News coverage of Ms. Regan’s lawsuit last week was minimal. After all, Mr. Giuliani dismissed the whole episode as “a gossip column story,” and we know Fox would never stoop so low as to trade in gossip. The coverage was scarcely more intense at The Wall Street Journal, whose print edition included no mention of the suit’s reference to that “senior executive” at the News Corporation. (After bloggers noticed, the article was amended online.) The Journal is not quite yet a Murdoch property, but its editorial board has had its own show on Fox News since 2006.

During the 1990s, the Journal editorial board published so much dirt about the Clintons that it put the paper’s brand on an encyclopedic six-volume anthology titled “A Journal Briefing — Whitewater.” You’d think the controversies surrounding “America’s Mayor” are at least as sexy as the carnal scandals and alleged drug deals The Journal investigated back then. This month a Journal reporter not on its editorial board added the government of Qatar to the small list of known Giuliani Partners clients, among them the manufacturer of OxyContin. We’ll see if such journalism flourishes in the paper’s Murdoch era.

But beyond New York’s dailies and The Village Voice, the national news media, conspicuously the big three television networks, have rarely covered Mr. Giuliani much more aggressively than Mr. Murdoch’s Fox News has. They are more likely to focus on Mr. Giuliani’s checkered family history than the questions raised by his record in government and business. It’s astounding how many are willing to look the other way while recycling those old 9/11 videos.

One exception is The Chicago Tribune, which last month on its front page revisited the story of how, after Mr. Giuliani left office, his mayoral papers were temporarily transferred to a private, tax-exempt foundation run by his supporters and financed with $1.5 million from mostly undisclosed donors. The foundation, which shares the same address as Giuliani Partners, copied and archived the records before sending them back to New York’s municipal archives. Historians told The Tribune there’s no way to verify that the papers were returned to government custody intact. Mayor Bloomberg has since signed a law that will prevent this unprecedented deal from being repeated.

Journalists, like generals, love to refight the last war, so the unavailability of millions of Hillary Clinton’s papers has received all the coverage the Giuliani campaign has been spared. But while the release of those first lady records should indeed be accelerated, it’s hard to imagine many more scandals will turn up after six volumes of “Whitewater,” an impeachment trial and the avalanche of other investigative reportage on the Clintons then and now.

The Giuliani story, by contrast, is relatively virgin territory. And with the filing of a lawsuit by a vengeful eyewitness who was fired from her job, it may just have gained its own reincarnation of Linda Tripp.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Democratic presidential debate: Right-wing consensus boosts Hillary Clinton

By Patrick Martin
17 November 2007

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Thursday night’s debate in Las Vegas marked a distinct effort to shift the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination to the right, to the benefit of Senator Hillary Clinton, the clear frontrunner in the campaign and the most right-wing of the candidates.

In contrast to several previous debates, there was little attention given to Clinton’s history of support for the war in Iraq and for the Bush administration’s war provocations against Iran. And efforts by Senator Barack Obama and former senator John Edwards to criticize Clinton fell flat, as the audience—seemingly packed with Clinton supporters—booed, and the other Democratic candidates disavowed the attacks.

Media commentary afterwards framed the debate as a significant success for Clinton, citing particularly her exchange with Edwards, which set the tone for the debate early on. Edwards criticized Clinton for backing continued US occupation of Iraq, voting with Bush and Cheney on a resolution on Iran, and defending a corrupt, corporate-dominated political system in Washington.

Clinton replied, “You know, we’re Democrats and we’re trying to nominate the very best person we can to win. And I don’t mind taking hits on my record, on issues, but when somebody starts throwing mud, at least we can hope that it’s both accurate and not right out of the Republican playbook.”

The suggestion that criticism of Clinton’s right-wing positions was “right out of the Republican playbook” makes no sense, since the Republican demonization of Clinton revolves around portraying her as a closet socialist, not as a warmonger or a tool of corporate interests.

But there was loud applause for this sally from the audience, which included a large number of trade unionists mobilized by the Culinary Workers, the union that represents most casino workers and is by far the largest in Las Vegas.

Three of Clinton’s rivals—Senator Joseph Biden, Senator Christopher Dodd and Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico—echoed her condemnation of Edwards’ attack. Biden dismissed the criticism of Clinton’s record, saying, “The American people don’t give a darn about any of this stuff that’s going on up here.”

Dodd declared, “There’s a shrillness to the debate. The American people want results. They want the job done, exactly what Joe Biden talked about here ... I think if we waste time on the shrillness of this debate, then we lose the American people.”

Richardson exhorted, “Let’s stop this going after each other on character, on trust. Let us debate the issues that affect the American people and let us be positive.”

None of these three has made much of an impact either in fundraising or in the polls, and each seems more to be angling for a spot on the national ticket or a high-level position in a future Clinton administration than seriously challenging the New York senator for the nomination.

Neither Edwards nor Obama offered any alternative to Clinton. Obama’s positions on many domestic issues are even more right-wing than Clinton’s, and she effectively attacked his proposed healthcare plan, noting that since it lacks any mandatory features it would not be truly universal.

“His plan would leave 15 million Americans out,” Clinton said. “That’s about the population of Nevada, Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire,” she added, referring to the first four states holding presidential caucuses and primaries.

In reality, none of the Democratic frontrunners offers a serious answer to the healthcare crisis, because they all remain firmly within the framework of the profit-driven private healthcare and insurance system. Clinton’s “mandatory” program would provide massive government subsidies to the profit-making insurance companies—a feature that she calculates will neutralize much of the insurance industry opposition that derailed her 1993 health care reform effort.

Clinton also rejected Obama’s call for lifting the ceiling on Medicare taxation, currently set at $97,500. This provision means that millionaires pay Medicare tax only on the first $97,500 of their income, making the Medicare tax extremely regressive. But Clinton characterized the proposal to raise the ceiling as “a $1 trillion-dollar tax increase” on “middle class families and seniors.”

Edwards made his usual demagogic reference to the tens of millions living in poverty, going hungry, or going without health insurance, language which inevitably rings hollow, given his status as a multimillionaire lawyer and hedge fund adviser. And even this entirely rhetorical appeal was too much for Governor Richardson, who chastised Edwards for engaging in “class warfare.”

Perhaps the most striking omission of the debate was the absence of a single question or comment on the turmoil that has swept the financial markets in the wake of the crisis in the subprime mortgage lending sector, together with a huge increase in the number of mortgage defaults, foreclosures and evictions.

No candidate or media panelist used the word “unemployment” in the course of more than two hours of discussion. Besides the single mention by Edwards, no one referred to poverty, hunger, homelessness or any other form of social deprivation. This demonstrates the vast gulf between the millionaire candidates—as well as the millionaire anchorman Wolf Blitzer and his CNN colleagues—and the working people who constitute the vast majority of the American population.

The only discussion of economic problems was in the context of trade policy, where all the candidates embraced one form or another of national chauvinism, condemning China, or Mexico, or South Korea, or even Peru for the decline in decent-paying jobs in the United States. There was no suggestion that there was anything fundamentally wrong with American or world capitalism.

Blitzer, the debate moderator, played a particularly noxious role in steering the discussion in a consistently right-wing direction. He repeatedly interrupted candidates when they sought to criticize Clinton from the left, however timidly. Two key interventions were his interruption of Edwards during the initial 10-minute three-way conflict among Clinton, Obama and Edwards, which largely silenced Edwards for the rest of the evening, followed by his cutting off of Congressman Dennis Kucinich when he sought to raise the issue of impeachment of Bush and Cheney.

Given that Biden remarked during the debate that Bush should be impeached if he ordered a unilateral military strike against Iran, and that Kucinich’s impeachment resolution was briefly debated on the floor of the House of Representatives last week, before being tabled by the Democrats themselves, it would have been perfectly natural for one of the media panel to ask the candidates whether, in their view, Bush and Cheney had committed impeachable offenses. More than half the American public holds that view, according to recent polls, but the subject remains off-limits in the “mainstream” corporate-controlled media.

Blitzer also led the way in eliciting the most right-wing comments from the candidates, in their responses to a question about US policy towards Pakistan and the coup staged by General Pervez Musharraf. Biden, who first answered the question, criticized the Bush administration’s backing of Musharraf and said US aid should be conditioned on the restoration of constitutional rule in Pakistan.

Governor Richardson, who followed Biden, expanded on this criticism and declared that US foreign policy should be based on promoting human rights, not simply defending US national interests. Blitzer then focused the discussion on that issue, saying, “I want to make sure we all—I heard you correctly. What you’re saying, Governor, is that human rights, at times, are more important than American national security?”

Richardson accepted this formulation, and Blitzer then posed it to the remaining candidates, who began to back away from it as they saw the implications—that they would be portrayed as being “soft on terrorism.” Edwards tried to change the subject to nuclear proliferation. Obama tried to evade the question, declaring national security and human rights to be “complementary” rather than contradictory goals.

When Blitzer posed the question to Senator Dodd, “What’s more important, human rights or national security?”, he got the answer he clearly wanted. Dodd replied, “Well, obviously national security, keeping the country safe. When you take the oath of office on January 20—you promise to do two things, and that is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and protect our country against enemies both foreign and domestic. The security of the country is number one, obviously, yes, all right?”

This is actually a grotesque falsification. The presidential oath of office, as set down in Article II, section 1 of the Constitution, reads: “I, name, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and I will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

There is no reference to protecting the country against “enemies both foreign and domestic,” nor, incidentally, is there any invocation of God or reference to swearing on the Bible (hence the interpolation “to affirm”, for those who reject religious oaths).

The question of human rights vs. national security then went to Clinton, who fully embraced the formulation by Senator Dodd. “I agree with that completely,” she said. “I mean the first obligation of the president of the United States is to protect and defend the United States of America.”

The transformation of the president’s main responsibility from upholder of the Constitution to defender of the nation is typical of the anti-democratic trend in contemporary American politics. Dodd’s remark echoes Bush’s constant reference to his sweeping and unchallengeable powers as “commander-in-chief.” This role, however, was assigned to the president by the drafters of the Constitution for the opposite purpose: to emphasize the subordination of the military to the civil power, not to raise the president above the rest of the government as a quasi-monarch.

The Democratic Party has no fundamental differences with the assault on democratic rights conducted by the Bush administration. Biden openly defended the Patriot Act, denying that it had sanctioned racial profiling of Muslim Americans, and none of the candidates made mention of the Senate confirmation of Michael Mukasey for attorney general, after he refused to condemn waterboarding as torture.

Thursday’s debate thus underscores the fundamental political problem facing working people in the United States. Both of the major parties represent the interests of the ruling financial aristocracy. Both of them uphold a program of imperialist war abroad and social reaction at home. The central question is the development of an independent political movement of the working class directed against the profit system and the corporate ruling elite.