The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, March 18, 2005

Head Scratcher

Head Scratcher
By Joe Conason

Friday 18 March 2005

Bush cites Wolfowitz's Pentagon experience in choosing him to head the World Bank. Considering his atrocious track record at Defense, the Bank should get ready for an epidemic of waste, fraud and corruption.

Taken at face value, the appointment of Paul Wolfowitz to run the World Bank is mystifying. The sudden elevation of the controversial deputy secretary of defense has elicited both cynical speculation and naive rumination. Is President Bush using the world's most important antipoverty position as a patronage plum, to reward a loyal servant in the typical manner of the Bush dynasty? Is Bush emphasizing his contempt for critics here and abroad, as the dismayed Europeans suspect? Or is he seeking, as a New York Times analysis suggested, to change the direction of global development financing with "stern discipline"?

As a disciplinarian, Wolfowitz has certainly left a strong impression on the Iraqis, whose lives and infrastructure have been sacrificed to his determination to oust Saddam Hussein by military force. And the former diplomat clearly knows how to enforce his will in bureaucratic disputes, as he demonstrated during the prelude to the invasion of Iraq.

In announcing the appointment, Bush himself insisted that Wolfowitz is the best choice to take over the World Bank because he's a "man of compassion" who "believes deeply" in uplifting the world's poor. Yet there is precious little evidence to support that assertion (and plenty to contradict it).

As for Wolfowitz's actual qualifications, which many experts have questioned, the president cited his appointee's recent experience at the Department of Defense, "managing the largest U.S. government agency with over 1.3 million uniformed personnel and nearly 700,000 civilian employees around the world."

Evidently none of Bush's White House briefers has ever mentioned just how badly Wolfowitz and his boss, Donald Rumsfeld, have managed that big old agency. The president also seems to have forgotten how Rummy and Wolfie decided to ignore the State Department's planning for post-invasion Iraq; how they brushed aside the Army's warnings about the need for many more troops to secure the country; how they permitted or even encouraged the ongoing scandal of detainee torture; and how they lost track of the most important weapons sites, which were the supposed reason to go to war, and allowed them to be looted.

The indisputable fact is that the Pentagon's civilian leaders, an arrogant clique of ideologues, provided no viable plan for securing and rebuilding Iraq after the invasion. Against the advice of wiser and more knowledgeable officials, Wolfowitz insisted that his own vision would be realized. Surely our soldiers would be greeted as liberators, our favorite exiles would assume power in Baghdad, and our expenses would be paid by oil revenues. The deputy defense secretary couldn't imagine any other scenario and dismissed anyone who did.

Since that inauspicious beginning, Wolfowitz's management capacity has not improved much.

For a would-be banker, he has allowed rather huge sums of money to be squandered both at home and in Iraq. During Wolfowitz's tenure, auditors from the Government Accountability Office have repeatedly found the Defense Department lagging behind other major agencies in management and fiscal responsibility. Last year, the GAO complained of its inability to issue a clean audit of the entire federal budget because of "serious financial management problems" at the Department of Defense.

Two months ago the GAO again singled out the Pentagon for harsh criticism, reporting that it operates eight of the 25 worst-run government programs. Comptroller General David Walker said that the cost is reckoned "in billions of dollars in waste each year and inadequate accountability to the Congress and the American taxpayer." The failures, which have persisted for many years, relate to financial and contract management, the operation of military infrastructure, and the modernization of Pentagon information technology - which, in short, are a total mess.

Pentagon traditions of boodling and bungling have been replicated in Iraq, where they have intensified the misery of the country's inhabitants and encouraged the murderous insurgency. According to an audit by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction that was released in late January, the Coalition Provisional Authority lost track of nearly $9 billion in spending over the past two years. (Of course, the official directly responsible for this fiasco, former CPA chief L. Paul Bremer, is now wearing the Medal of Freedom that the president pinned on him last fall.) And thanks to the incompetence and carelessness of Iraq's U.S. overseers, far more is likely to be lost as a result of waste, fraud and corruption.

A newly released report from Transparency International, the Berlin-based organization that monitors corrupt practices around the world, warns that Iraqi contracting may soon become "the biggest corruption scandal in history." The group blames the United States for providing "a poor role model" in contracting and auditing. (They've likely heard about Halliburton.)

Waste, fraud and corruption, those perennial government buzzwords, are indeed the most pressing problems for the World Bank as it seeks to reform development aid. So it is difficult to understand why the president - or any truly compassionate conservative - would entrust those enormous concerns to someone with Wolfowitz's grim and blemished record.

Joe Conason writes a twice weekly column for Salon. He also writes a weekly column for the New York Observer. His new book, "Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth," is now available.

Juan Cole - Democracy - by George?

Democracy - by George?
By Juan Cole

Wednesday 16 March 2005

President Bush and his supporters are taking credit for spreading freedom across the Middle East. Here's why they're wrong.

Is George W. Bush right to argue that his war to overthrow Saddam Hussein is democratizing the Middle East? In the wake of the Iraq vote, anti-Syrian demonstrations in Lebanon, the Egyptian president's gestures toward open elections, and other recent developments, a chorus of conservative pundits has declared that Bush's policy has been vindicated. Max Boot wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "Well, who's the simpleton now? Those who dreamed of spreading democracy to the Arabs or those who denied that it could ever happen?" In a column subtitled "One Man, One Gloat," Mark Steyn wrote, "I got a lot of things wrong these last three years, but looking at events in the Middle East this last week ... I got the big stuff right." Even some of the president's detractors and those opposed to the war have issued mea culpas. Richard Gwyn of the Toronto Star, a Bush critic, wrote, "It is time to set down in type the most difficult sentence in the English language. That sentence is short and simple. It is this: Bush was right."

Before examining whether there is any value to these claims, it must be pointed out that the Bush administration did not invade Iraq to spread democracy. The justification for the war was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and links to al-Qaida -- both of which claims have proved to be false. And even if one accepts the argument that the war resulted, intentionally or not, in the spread of democracy, serious ethical questions would remain about whether it was justified. For the purposes of this argument, however, let's leave that issue aside. It's true that neoconservative strategists in the Bush administration argued after Sept. 11 that authoritarian governments in the region were producing terrorism and that only democratization could hope to reduce it. Although they didn't justify invading Iraq on those grounds, they held that removing Saddam and holding elections would make Iraq a shining beacon that would provoke a transformation of the region as other countries emulated it.

Practically speaking, there are only two plausible explanations for Bush's alleged influence: direct intervention or pressure, and the supposed inspiration flowing from the Iraq demonstration project. Has either actually been effective?

First, it must be said that Washington's Iraq policy, contrary to its defenders' arguments, is not innovative. In fact, regime change in the Middle East has often come about through foreign invasion. Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser intervened militarily to help revolutionaries overthrow the Shiite imam of Yemen in the 1960s. The Israelis expelled the PLO from Lebanon and tried to establish a pro-Israeli government in Beirut in 1982. Saddam Hussein briefly ejected the Kuwaiti monarchy in 1990. The U.S. military's invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein were therefore nothing new in Middle Eastern history. A peaceful evolution toward democracy would have been an innovation.

Has Bush's direct pressure produced results, outside Iraq -- where it has produced something close to a failed state? His partisans point to the Libyan renunciation of its nuclear weapons program and of terrorism. Yet Libya, hurt by economic sanctions, had been pursuing a rapprochement for years. Nor has Gadhafi moved Libya toward democracy.

Washington has put enormous pressure on Iran and Syria since the fall of Saddam, with little obvious effect. Since the United States invaded Iraq, the Iranian regime has actually become less open, clamping down on a dispirited reform movement and excluding thousands of candidates from running in parliamentary elections. The Baath in Syria shows no sign of ceasing to operate as a one-party regime. When pressured, it has offered up slightly more cooperation in capturing Iraqi Baathists. Its partial withdrawal from Lebanon came about because of local and international pressures, including that of France and the Arab League, and is hardly a unilateral Bush administration triumph.

What of the argument of inspiration? The modern history of the Middle East does not suggest that politics travels very much from one country to another. The region is a hodgepodge of absolute monarchies, constitutional monarchies and republics, characterized by varying degrees of authoritarianism. Few regimes have had an effect on neighbors by setting an example. Ataturk's adoption of a militant secularism in Turkey from the 1920s had no resonance in the Arab world. The Lebanese confessional political system, which attempted to balance the country's many religious communities after independence in 1943, remains unique. Khomeini's 1979 Islamic Revolution did not inspire a string of clerically ruled regimes.

Is Iraq even really much of a model? The Bush administration strove to avoid having one-person, one-vote elections in Iraq, which were finally forced on Washington by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Despite the U.S. backing for secularists, the winners of the election were the fundamentalist Shiite Dawa Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Nor were the elections themselves all that exemplary. The country is in flames, racked by a guerrilla war, a continual crime wave and a foreign military occupation. The security situation was so bad that the candidates running for office could not reveal their identities until the day before the election, and the entire country was put under a sort of curfew for three days, with all vehicular traffic forbidden.

The argument for change through inspiration has little evidence to underpin it. The changes in the region cited as dividends of the Bush Iraq policy are either chimeras or unconnected to Iraq. And the Bush administration has shown no signs that it will push for democracy in countries where freedom of choice would lead to outcomes unfavorable to U.S. interests.

Saudi Arabia held municipal elections in February. Voters were permitted to choose only half the members of the city councils, however, and the fundamentalists did well. The other half are appointed by the monarchy, as are the mayors. The Gulf absolute monarchies remain absolute monarchies. Authoritarian states such as that in Ben Ali's Tunisia show no evidence of changing, and a Bush administration worried about al-Qaida has authorized further crackdowns on radical Muslim groups.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak recently announced that he would allow other candidates to run against him in the next presidential election. Yet only candidates from officially recognized parties will be allowed. Parties are recognized by Parliament, which is dominated by Mubarak's National Democratic Party. This change moves Egypt closer to the system of presidential elections used in Iran, where only candidates vetted by the government can run. The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most important opposition party, is excluded from fielding candidates under its own name. Egypt is less open today than it was in the 1980s, with far more political offices appointed by the president, and with far fewer opposition members in Parliament, than was the case two decades ago. As with the so-called municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, the change in presidential elections is little more than window-dressing. It was provoked not by developments in Iraq but rather by protests by Egyptian oppositionists who resented Mubarak's jailing of a political rival in January.

The dramatic developments in Lebanon since mid-February were set off by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Lebanese political opposition blamed Syria for the bombing, though all the evidence is not in. Protests by Maronite Christians, Druze and a section of Sunni Muslims (Hariri was a Sunni) briefly brought down the government of the pro-Syrian premier, Omar Karami. The protesters demanded a withdrawal from the country of Syrian troops, which had been there since 1976 in an attempt to calm the country's civil war. Bush also wants Syria out of Lebanon, in part because such a move would strengthen the hand of his ally, Israel. Pro-Bush commentators dubbed the Beirut movement the "Cedar Revolution," but Lebanon remains a far more divided society and its politics far more ambiguous than was the case in the post-Soviet Czech Republic and Ukraine.

On March 9 the Shiite Hezbollah Party held massive pro-Syrian demonstrations in Beirut that dwarfed the earlier opposition rallies. A majority of Parliament members wanted to bring back Karami. Both the Hezbollah street demonstrations and the elected Parliament's internal consensus produced a pro-Syrian outcome obnoxious to the Bush administration. Since then the opposition has staged its own massive demonstrations, rivaling Hezbollah's.

So far, these demonstrations and counterdemonstrations have been remarkable in their peacefulness and in the frankness of their political aims. But rather than reference Washington, they point to the weakness and ineptness of the young Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who made the error of tinkering with the Lebanese constitution to extend the term of the pro-Syrian president, Gen. Emile Lahoud. Although some manipulative (and traditionally anti-American) opposition figures attempted to invoke Iraq to justify their movement, in hopes of attracting U.S. support, it is hard to see what these events in Lebanon could possibly have to do with Baghdad. Lebanese have been holding lively parliamentary campaigns for decades, and the flawed, anonymous Jan. 30 elections in Iraq would have provoked more pity than admiration in urbane, sophisticated Beirutis.

Ironically, most democratization in the region has been pursued without reference to the United States. Some Middle Eastern regimes began experimenting with parliamentary elections years ago. For example, Jordan began holding elections in 1989, and Yemen held its third round of such elections in 2003. Morocco and Bahrain had elections in 2002. All of those elections were more transparent than, and superior as democratic processes to, the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq. They all had flaws, of course. The monarch or ruler typically places restraints on popular sovereignty. The prime minister is not elected by Parliament, but rather appointed by the ruler. Some of these parliaments may evolve in a more democratic direction over time, but if they do it will be for local reasons, not because of anything that has happened in Baghdad.

The Bush administration could genuinely push for the peaceful democratization of the region by simply showing some gumption and stepping in to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. There are, undeniably, large numbers of middle- and working-class people in the Middle East who seek more popular participation in government. Arab intellectuals are, however, often coded as mere American and Israeli puppets when they dare speak against authoritarian practices.

As it is, the Bush administration is widely seen in the region as hypocritical, backing Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and of the Golan Heights (the latter belonging to Syria) while pressuring Syria about its troops in Lebanon, into which Kissinger had invited Damascus years ago. Bush would be on stronger ground as a champion of liberty if he helped liberate the Palestinians from military occupation and creeping Israeli colonization, and if he brokered the return of the Golan Heights and Shebaa Farms to Damascus in return for peace between Syria and Israel. The end of Israeli occupation of the territory of neighbors would deprive the radical Shiite party in Lebanon, Hezbollah, of its ability to mobilize Lebanese youth against this injustice. Without decisive action on the Arab-Israeli front, Bush risks having his democratization rhetoric viewed as a mere stalking horse for neo-imperial domination.

Bush's invasion of Iraq has left the center and north of the country in a state of long-term guerrilla war. It has also opened Iraq to a form of parliamentary politics dominated by Muslim fundamentalists. This combination has little appeal elsewhere in the region. The Middle East may open up politically, and no doubt Bush will try to claim credit for any steps in that direction. But in Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere, such steps much predated Bush, and these publics will be struggling for their rights long after he is out of office. They may well see his major legacy not as democratization but as studied inattention to military occupation in Palestine and the Golan, and the retrenchment in civil liberties authorized to the Yemeni, Tunisian and other governments in the name of fighting terrorism.

Juan Cole is a professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. He runs a web log on Middle Eastern affairs called Informed Comment.


Paul Krugman - The Ugly American Bank

The Ugly American Bank
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Friday 18 March 2005

You can say this about Paul Wolfowitz's qualifications to lead the World Bank: He has been closely associated with America's largest foreign aid and economic development project since the Marshall Plan.

I'm talking, of course, about reconstruction in Iraq. Unfortunately, what happened there is likely to make countries distrust any economic advice Mr. Wolfowitz might give.

Let's not focus on mismanagement. Instead, let's talk about ideology.

Before the Iraq war, Pentagon hawks shut the State Department out of planning. This excluded anyone with development experience. As a result, the administration went into Iraq determined to demonstrate the virtues of radical free-market economics, with nobody warning about the likely problems.

Journalists who spoke to Paul Bremer when he was running Iraq remarked on his passion when he spoke about privatizing state enterprises. They didn't note a comparable passion for a rapid democratization.

In fact, economic ideology may explain why U.S. officials didn't move quickly after the fall of Baghdad to hold elections - even though assuring Iraqis that we didn't intend to install a puppet regime might have headed off the insurgency. Jay Garner, the first Iraq administrator, wanted elections as quickly as possible, but the White House wanted to put a "template" in place by privatizing oil and other industries before handing over control.

The oil fields never did get privatized. Nonetheless, the attempt to turn Iraq into a laissez-faire showpiece was, in its own way, as much an in-your-face rejection of world opinion as the decision to go to war. Dogmatic views about the universal superiority of free markets have been losing ground around the world.

Latin Americans are the most disillusioned. Through much of the 1990's, they bought into the "Washington consensus" - which we should note came from Clinton administration officials as well as from Wall Street economists and conservative think tanks - which said that privatization, deregulation and free trade would lead to economic takeoff. Instead, growth remained sluggish, inequality increased, and the region was struck by a series of economic crises.

The result has been the rise of governments that, to varying degrees, reject policies they perceive as made in America. Venezuela's leader is the most obstreperous. But the most dramatic example of the backlash is Argentina, once the darling of Wall Street and the think tanks. Today, after a devastating recession, the country is run by a populist who often blames foreigners for the country's economic problems, and has forced Argentina's foreign creditors to accept a settlement that gives them only 32 cents on the dollar.

And the backlash has reached our closest neighbor. Mexico's current president, Vicente Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, is a firm believer in free markets. But his administration is widely considered a failure. Meanwhile, Mexico City's leftist mayor, Manuel López Obrador, has become immensely popular. And his populist rhetoric has raised fears that if he becomes president he will roll back the free-market and free-trade policies of the past two decades.

Mr. Fox is trying to use a minor violation of the law to keep Mr. López off the presidential ballot. If he succeeds, many Mexicans will believe that democracy was sacrificed on the altar of foreign capital.

Not long ago, the growing alienation of Latin America from the United States would have been considered a major foreign policy setback. So much has gone wrong lately that we've defined disaster down, but it's still not a good thing.

Where does Mr. Wolfowitz fit into all this? The advice that the World Bank gives is as important as the money it lends - but only if governments take that advice. And given the ideological rigidity the Pentagon showed in Iraq, they probably won't. If Mr. Wolfowitz says that some free-market policy will help economic growth, he'll be greeted with as much skepticism as if he declared that some country has weapons of mass destruction.

Moisés Naím, editor of Foreign Policy, says that the Wolfowitz nomination turns the World Bank into the American Bank. Make that ugly American bank: rightly or not, developing countries will see Mr. Wolfowitz's selection as a sign that we're still trying to impose policies they believe have failed.

Frank Rich | Enron: Patron Saint of Bush's Fake News

Enron: Patron Saint of Bush's Fake News
By Frank Rich
The New York Times

Sunday 20 March 2005

Just when Americans are being told it's safe to hand over their savings to Wall Street again, he's baaaack! Looking not unlike Chucky, the demented doll of perennial B-horror-movie renown, Ken Lay has crawled out of Houston's shadows for a media curtain call.

His trial is still months away, but there he was last Sunday on "60 Minutes," saying he knew nothin' 'bout nothin' that went down at Enron. This week he is heading toward the best-seller list, as an involuntary star of "Conspiracy of Fools," the New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald's epic account of the multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme anointed America's "most innovative company" (six years in a row by Fortune magazine). Coming soon, the feature film: Alex Gibney's "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," a documentary seen at Sundance, goes into national release next month. As long as you're not among those whose 401(k)'s and pensions were wiped out, it's morbidly entertaining. In one surreal high point, Mr. Lay likens investigations of Enron to terrorist attacks on America. For farce, there's the sight of a beaming Alan Greenspan as he accepts the "Enron Award for Distinguished Public Service" only days after Enron has confessed to filing five years of bogus financial reports. Then again, given the implicit quid pro quo in this smarmy tableau, maybe that's the Enron drama's answer to a sex scene.

The Bush administration, eager to sell the country on "personal" Social Security accounts, cannot be all that pleased to see Kenny Boy again. He's the poster boy for how big guys can rip off suckers in the stock market. He also dredges up some inconvenient pre-9/11 memories of Bush family business. Enron was the biggest Bush-Cheney campaign contributor in the 2000 election. Kenny Boy and his lovely wife Linda flew the first President Bush and Barbara Bush to the ensuing Inauguration on the Enron jet. Even as Enron was presiding over rolling blackouts in California, Dick Cheney or his aides had at least six meetings with the company's executives to carve up government energy policy in 2001. Even now what exactly transpired at those meetings remains a secret.

But never mind. The president himself gave his word when the Enron scandal broke that Kenny Boy was really more of a supporter of Ann Richards anyway. Feeling our pain, Mr. Bush told us of his own personal tragedy: his mother-in-law lost $8,000 she had invested in Enron. Soon stuff was happening in Iraq, and the case was closed, or at least forgotten.

Yet the larger shadows linger. Revisiting the Enron story as it re-emerges in 2005 is to be reminded of just how much the Enron culture has continued to shape the Bush administration long after the company itself imploded and the Lays were eighty-sixed from the White House Christmas card list.

The enduring legacy of Enron can be summed up in one word: propaganda. Here was a corporate house of cards whose business few could explain and whose source of profits was an utter mystery - and yet it thrived, unquestioned, for years. How? As the narrator says in "The Smartest Guys in the Room," Enron "was fixated on its public relations campaigns." It churned out slick PR videos as if it were a Hollywood studio. It browbeat the press (until a young Fortune reporter, Bethany McLean, asked one question too many). In a typical ruse in 1998, a gaggle of employees was rushed onto an empty trading floor at the company's Houston headquarters to put on a fictional show of busy trading for visiting Wall Street analysts being escorted by Mr. Lay. "We brought some of our personal stuff, like pictures, to make it look like the area was lived in," a laid-off Enron employee told The Wall Street Journal in 2002. "We had to make believe we were on the phone buying and selling" even though "some of the computers didn't even work."

If this Potemkin village sounds familiar, take a look at the ongoing 60-stop "presidential roadshow" in which Mr. Bush has "conversations on Social Security" with "ordinary citizens" for the consumption of local and national newscasts. As in the president's "town meeting" campaign appearances last year, the audiences are stacked with prescreened fans; any dissenters who somehow get in are quickly hustled away by security goons. But as The Washington Post reported last weekend, the preparations are even more elaborate than the finished product suggests; the seeming reality of the event is tweaked as elaborately as that of a television reality show. Not only are the panelists for these conversations recruited from administration supporters, but they are rehearsed the night before, with a White House official playing Mr. Bush. One participant told The Post, "We ran through it five times before the president got there." Finalists who vary just slightly from the administration's pitch are banished from the cast at the last minute, "American Idol"-style.

Like Enron's stockholders, American taxpayers pay for the production of such propaganda, even if its message, like that of the Enron show put on for visiting analysts, misrepresents and distorts the bottom line of the scheme that is being sold. We paid for last year's phony television news reports in which the faux reporter Karen Ryan "interviewed" administration officials who gave partially deceptive information hyping the Medicare prescription-drug program. We paid Armstrong Williams his $240,000 for delivering faux-journalistic analysis of the No Child Left Behind act.

The administration cycled the Ryan and Williams paychecks through the PR giant Ketchum Communications. Ketchum was also one of the companies hired to flack for Andersen, the now-defunct Enron accounting firm that shredded a ton of documents. We don't know what, if any, role Ketchum is playing in the White House's Social Security propaganda push, though we do know the company has received at least $97 million from the government, according to a Congressional report.

That $97 million may yet prove a mere down payment. The Times reported last weekend that the administration told executive-branch agencies simply to ignore a stern directive by the Congressional Government Accountability Office discouraging the use of "covert propaganda" like the Karen Ryan "news reports." In other words, the brakes are off, and before long, the government could have a larger budget for fake news than actual television news divisions have for real news. At last weekend's Gridiron dinner, Mr. Bush made a joke about how "most" of his good press on Social Security came from Armstrong Williams, and the Washington press corps yukked it up. The joke, however, is on them - and us.

USA Today reported this month that the Department of Homeland Security, having failed miserably to secure American ports and air transportation from potential Al Qaeda attacks, has nonetheless shelled out $100,000-plus to hire "a Hollywood liaison": Bobbie Faye Ferguson, an actress whose credits include the movie "The Bermuda Triangle" and guest shots on television schlock like "Designing Women" and "The Dukes of Hazzard." She will "work with moviemakers and scriptwriters" to give us homeland security infotainment - which is to actual homeland security what the movie "Independence Day" is to an actual terrorist attack.

Another propagandist with a rising profile is Susan Molinari, the onetime CBS News personality who appears regularly on news shows like "Hardball" and "Capitol Report." As she bloviates from the right about Social Security or the fake newsman Jeff Gannon, she is invariably described as "a former Republican Congresswoman" or a "CNBC political analyst." But her actual current jobs remain mysteriously unmentioned: C.E.O. of the Washington Group, Ketchum's lobbying firm, and president of Ketchum Public Affairs. Were the Ketchum link disclosed, perhaps some real NBC reporter might find the nerve to ask her what other Karen Ryans and Armstrong Williamses might be on the Ketchum payroll. Or not.

The Bush propagandists have been successful at many tasks, from fomenting the canard that Iraqis attacked on 9/11 to deflecting moral outrage from Abu Ghraib and toward indecency as defined by its Federal Communications Commission. But Social Security may be a bridge too far even for propaganda machinery of this heft. Polls find that an ever-increasing majority of the country rejects the idea of letting Wall Street get its hands on its retirement savings.

Americans do have short memories, but it's the administration's bad luck that not just Kenny Boy but a whole brigade of bubble plutocrats have lately been yanked back into the spotlight by their legal travails: WorldCom's Bernard J. Ebbers, Tyco's L. Dennis Kozlowski, HealthSouth's Richard M. Scrushy, Global Crossing's Gary Winnick. No one is glad to see them. The public knows that the economy has not fully mended, and that there remain different economic rules for insiders than for the panelists drafted for the presidential Social Security roadshow. The new bankruptcy bill embraced this month by Republicans and Democrats alike throws Americans paying usurious credit-card interest to the wolves even as wealthy debtors remain protected.

You can catch the public mood in the reaction to Martha Stewart's homecoming. Despite the news media's heavy-breathing efforts to hype her emergence from jail as the heartwarming comeback of a born-again humanitarian, the bottom line shows that few in the audience are buying it. The Martha Stewart Omnimedia stock price started tumbling the moment she was back on camera, in line with the cratered circulation and ad sales of her magazine. Handing out hot cocoa to reporters at her Bedford, N.Y., estate did not turn the tide, and her spinoff of "The Apprentice" may be arriving just as the country is getting sick of C.E.O.'s again. Coincidentally or not, ratings for the existing "Apprentice" are off in tandem with the filing for bankruptcy protection by Donald Trump's casino empire, the saturation coverage of his lavish nuptials and the introduction of a Trump fragrance.

It's against this backdrop that the returning Mr. Lay - completely unrepentant, still purporting on "60 Minutes" that he's an innocent victim of others - could be the Democrats' new best friend. A Texas tycoon who helped create the political career of George W. Bush only to be discarded when scandal struck has re-emerged at just the precise moment when he might do his old buddy the most harm.

Michael Kinsley - Social Security Fictions,0,6529574.column?coll=la-util-op-ed
Social Security Fictions
Michael Kinsley

March 18, 2005

Two of the most laughably overvalued words in Washington are "studies show" (right up there with "sources say"). In academia, a study is an occasion for thinking and discussion. In politics, a study means you can stop thinking and cut off discussion.

In recent years, ideological propaganda factories have sprung up posing as scholarly institutions. One of their functions is to supply studies that show whatever someone needs a study to show.

The granddaddy of this form of pseudo-academia is the conservative Heritage Foundation, which produces studies by the crate-load. No one would mistake Heritage for Swarthmore. Nevertheless, it is shocking how little pretense of scholarship and intellectual integrity a tax- exempt Washington operation like Heritage feels obliged to make.

Heritage has spent years beating the drums for Social Security privatization. Now President Bush's backing has sent the organization into a frenzy of studies and briefing papers and special reports and so on. Earlier this month, Heritage devoted a short report to one of my own obsessive-compulsive writings on this subject.

My point, in brief, was that the Bush folks are having it both ways about how the economy will do over the next few decades. When they want to show that the Social Security trust fund is in crisis, they assume economic growth of 1.8% a year. When they want to promise riches from their private retirement accounts, they assume that stock market investments will grow 7% a year. Neither assumption is nuts. Both together are completely nuts.

According to Heritage, though, "Kinsley doesn't understand finance." Specifically, "a new study shows that stock market returns are actually higher on average in slower growing economies than they are in rapidly growing ones." Heritage did not actually conduct this study. The author of its report, identified as "Research Fellow in Social Security and Financial Institutions in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation," seems to have read about it in the Financial Times.

What the study, by three scholars at the London Business School, actually shows is that the ups and downs of the economy don't coincide with the ups and downs of investments in stocks. This is provocative, but not impossible to explain. Stock prices are based on what people think is going to happen, not what is happening already. And widely held expectations about the economy are already reflected in stock prices by the time they come true.

The study does not show that stock market investments can grow more than three times as fast as the general economy over half a century or more. And Social Security privatization plans assume that this is not merely possible but the most likely economic scenario.

Please. The GDP these days is about $12 trillion. The total market value of publicly traded stocks is about $40 trillion. If GDP grew at 1.8% a year for 60 years, it would be $35 trillion (in today's dollars). If the market value of today's public stocks rose 7% a year, after 60 years they would be worth $2,317 trillion. Then if stocks went up or down 1.5% in a day (as happens all the time), that swing would be the size of the entire U.S. economy.

Even if half of the vaunted 7% return on stocks each year was paid out in dividends and spent on wine and cigars, rather than retained by the company or reinvested in stocks, after 60 years stocks would be worth $315 trillion, or nine times GDP. By year 60 it would take a third of GDP just to pay the dividends.

This is not a policy disagreement. The case for Bush's Social Security notions (he has yet to produce an actual proposal) is based on factual premises that are not just wrong, not just ridiculous, but obviously ridiculous.

As Jon Stewart has famously pointed out, our political culture is all too comfortable with disagreements of opinion. But it really doesn't know what to do with disagreements of fact. That's the only reason we're even still talking about this tedious subject.

If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at
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Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times

Greg Palast - Secret US plans for Iraq's oil

Secret US plans for Iraq's oil

By Greg Palast
Reporting for Newsnight

The Bush administration made plans for war and for Iraq's oil before the 9/11 attacks, sparking a policy battle between neo-cons and Big Oil, BBC's Newsnight has revealed.

Two years ago today - when President George Bush announced US, British and Allied forces would begin to bomb Baghdad - protesters claimed the US had a secret plan for Iraq's oil once Saddam had been conquered.

In fact there were two conflicting plans, setting off a hidden policy war between neo-conservatives at the Pentagon, on one side, versus a combination of "Big Oil" executives and US State Department "pragmatists".

"Big Oil" appears to have won. The latest plan, obtained by Newsnight from the US State Department was, we learned, drafted with the help of American oil industry consultants.

Insiders told Newsnight that planning began "within weeks" of Bush's first taking office in 2001, long before the September 11th attack on the US.

We saw an increase in the bombing of oil facilities and pipelines [in Iraq] built on the premise that privatisation is coming
Mr Falah Aljibury
An Iraqi-born oil industry consultant, Falah Aljibury, says he took part in the secret meetings in California, Washington and the Middle East. He described a State Department plan for a forced coup d'etat.

Mr Aljibury himself told Newsnight that he interviewed potential successors to Saddam Hussein on behalf of the Bush administration.

Secret sell-off plan

The industry-favoured plan was pushed aside by a secret plan, drafted just before the invasion in 2003, which called for the sell-off of all of Iraq's oil fields. The new plan was crafted by neo-conservatives intent on using Iraq's oil to destroy the Opec cartel through massive increases in production above Opec quotas.

The sell-off was given the green light in a secret meeting in London headed by Ahmed Chalabi shortly after the US entered Baghdad, according to Robert Ebel.

Mr Ebel, a former Energy and CIA oil analyst, now a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Newsnight he flew to the London meeting at the request of the State Department.

Mr Aljibury, once Ronald Reagan's "back-channel" to Saddam, claims that plans to sell off Iraq's oil, pushed by the US-installed Governing Council in 2003, helped instigate the insurgency and attacks on US and British occupying forces.

"Insurgents used this, saying, 'Look, you're losing your country, you're losing your resources to a bunch of wealthy billionaires who want to take you over and make your life miserable,'" said Mr Aljibury from his home near San Francisco.

"We saw an increase in the bombing of oil facilities, pipelines, built on the premise that privatisation is coming."

Privatisation blocked by industry

Philip Carroll, the former CEO of Shell Oil USA who took control of Iraq's oil production for the US Government a month after the invasion, stalled the sell-off scheme.

Mr Carroll told us he made it clear to Paul Bremer, the US occupation chief who arrived in Iraq in May 2003, that: "There was to be no privatisation of Iraqi oil resources or facilities while I was involved."

Ariel Cohen, of the neo-conservative Heritage Foundation, told Newsnight that an opportunity had been missed to privatise Iraq's oil fields.

He advocated the plan as a means to help the US defeat Opec, and said America should have gone ahead with what he called a "no-brainer" decision.

Mr Carroll hit back, telling Newsnight, "I would agree with that statement. To privatize would be a no-brainer. It would only be thought about by someone with no brain."

New plans, obtained from the State Department by Newsnight and Harper's Magazine under the US Freedom of Information Act, called for creation of a state-owned oil company favoured by the US oil industry. It was completed in January 2004 under the guidance of Amy Jaffe of the James Baker Institute in Texas.

Formerly US Secretary of State, Baker is now an attorney representing Exxon-Mobil and the Saudi Arabian government.

View segments of Iraq oil plans at

Questioned by Newsnight, Ms Jaffe said the oil industry prefers state control of Iraq's oil over a sell-off because it fears a repeat of Russia's energy privatisation. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, US oil companies were barred from bidding for the reserves.

Ms Jaffe says US oil companies are not warm to any plan that would undermine Opec and the current high oil price: "I'm not sure that if I'm the chair of an American company, and you put me on a lie detector test, I would say high oil prices are bad for me or my company."

The former Shell oil boss agrees. In Houston, he told Newsnight: "Many neo conservatives are people who have certain ideological beliefs about markets, about democracy, about this, that and the other. International oil companies, without exception, are very pragmatic commercial organizations. They don't have a theology."

A State Department spokesman told Newsnight they intended "to provide all possibilities to the Oil Ministry of Iraq and advocate none".

Greg Palast's film - the result of a joint investigation by Newsnight and Harper's Magazine - will be broadcast on Thursday, 17 March, 2005.

Newsnight is broadcast every weekday at 10.30pm on BBC Two in the UK.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/03/17 15:41:31 GMT


Stirling Newberry - So We Want A Revolution

So We Want A Revolution
by Stirling Newberry (dailykos)

Fri Mar 18th, 2005 at 06:44:00 PST

There is a chasm between the old and the new in the Democratic Party. Our elected officials see themselves as defenders of an old way of life of consumption, and the props of a consuming society - whereas those who write [in the emerging "netroots" community] see a new heaven and a new earth, a different society based on different norms and ideas. The old sees itself as supporting a few pillars of the old, and their work is done when they have slowed the Republicans a bit here and there. They have surrendered the initiative, and the vision, to the right wing.

And what do we want? We want a revolution, not a violent revolution, nor yet a velvet revolution - but a revolution in thought, a revolution of thought - a revolution of reflection, which joins both the deep human longings and the power of human reason. The right wing is attempting a revolution, not of feeling but of rage, a revolution of revenge, a revolution of rationalization - which, even should it cloak itself in reason is unreasonable, one which even when it cloaks itself in nobility is ignoble, one which even should it cloak itself in humanity, is inhuman. The moment of change is upon us, we will have one or the other. The stasis of the past is closed, and open only is the ek-stasis of change. We will then have one or the other, a liberal revolution of construction, or a reactionary revolution of destruction.

That the reactionaries are intent on destroying is known by their deeds. They rhapsodized over the invasion of Iraq - and have ignored the reconstruction. They have not built a new Iraq of new cities, but, instead laid waste to them. They have ignored the building of civil society there, and cannot even supply the most basic necessities of modern life - power, water, education, communication.

That the reactionaries are enraptured by devastation abroad is matched by their lust to level the New Deal. Nothing so engages them as destroying old programs, destroying old protections, and removing old and honorable compromises and mechanisms. Any party that waxes poetic about a "nuclear option" in any context, is one which is motivated by primal blood lust and worship of the all consuming appetite for carnage - political, military, economic and social.

Their entire economic strategy is to strip mine the world bare now, keeping the profits, while proffering only the debt to those who come afterward.

What has angered liberals is that it seems that this clear and obvious truth---enumerated by a long train of abuses of power by the reactionaries---is lost on those who are elected to office as Democrats. One may have to deal with the devil, but one should never let him stack the deck. What has angered us is the folly of faux realism, and the rewarding of failure.

Let us begin from the obvious truth: there are a billion people who seek to join the affluent society, primarily in China. Our current means of extracting this life from the fruits of the earth requires oil. Right now, the developed world outside of the United States supports 500 million people on 25% of the world's capacity for oil. A simple multiplication---there are 6 billions in the world---means that we would have to produce 3 barrels of oil for every one we produce today. There is no such capacity available, and even if there were, the pollution would cook the world and flood almost every ancient capital and booming new metropolis on the planet. This is the overwhelming fact from which there is no escape, not in this world, nor to any other: we cannot support the population of the world at a tolerable standard of living with the society and technology we have. The economy we have is inadequeate to the challenges we face.

Faced with this reality---that we can neither suck nor sink the carbon we need from the earth with the knowledge we have---there has been a vast culture of denial errected around it. Because here, in America, we have not yet paid the price for this reality, it is assumed that this reality does not exist. In other nations the pressures have already become noticeable: Europe deplores American policy, and increasingly deplores the American capacity for self-delusion, because they, now, are being forced to make difficult choices between harsh alternatives.

America is preëminent for two reasons. The first is the matter of good fortune: we have the most fertile and fecund swath of land in the world under our national control. It was taken by fair means and foul, by enterprise and guile. That it is our good fortune to have it, and to be isolated by mighty oceans from the old wars of the old world is the luck of inheritence. We came to its posession by means that would not be permitted today.

The second, however, is that the United States, for over a century, has placed itself on the vanguard of change. From the turn of the previous century forward, no nation has so consistently allied itself with the future, and displayed a willingness to make sacrifices to promote the future, rather than defend the past. While the old world burned itself with carnage and holocaust, the United States looked forward, and by acting on this vision, created the life that others wanted to live.

Over time, the manifest destiny of the first, has been replaced by the manifold destiny of the second. We are less and less the people who conquered and colonized, and more and more the people who conceptualize and create.

But that is not the society that the reactionaries foster---nor can the Conservative impulse in the Democratic Party protect it, because it does not exist. It is not made, but constantly remade.

Instead we are becoming a society of stars and the drudges that labor for them. Instead of a society which brings forth the flower of each person's abilities, we treat most people as mere manure to fertilize the enterprises of the wealthy few. Such a society cannot continue to attract the best and the brightest, and it cannot compete against numerically superior nations. There are 1.2 billion in China, and 250 million in the US. We must, therefore, be five times as efficient in finding our talent, simply because we have such a smaller a pool to draw from.

We cannot continue to waste creativity, intelligence and vision as we do. How many people of ability are now shovelling in the grease mines of McDonalds, or engaging in data entry - simply because we do not have the ability to identify them and promote them? Many, many times many, many times many times many.

Our anger at the reactionaries who destroy, and the conservative impulse in the Democratic party which does not advance is not rooted in juvenile angst, but because we have lived with the ecology of technology. In this ecology there are three simple concepts which govern all: a successful ecology must be accessible, scaleable and sustainable.

It must be accessible: people must be able to teach themselves to use it; it must provide a benefit which is abundant and obvious, and it must be able to grow into the richness of its application. It is only in this way that a technology spreads.

It must be scaleable: it must grow as its community of users grow. That which does not scale, will not survive. It must develop in people the talents and abilities needed to deal with the challenges of its growth. It must never reach the point where adding the next person costs logarythmically more than adding the one before.

It must be sustainable: it must not burn through the capital which creates it, the people who maintain and develop it, the resources which supply it.

Our present economy, of slash and burn mass agriculture, resource-raping extraction and gross inequalities of affluence meets none of these criteria on the scale of the next century. We will not quadruple the bandwidth of oil that we extract within the two generations we have to extract it. We cannot reach thermal equilibrium by trying to bury carbon in caves. We will not feed, clothe and educate the world, in a world where the entry to affluence requires more per week to maintain than many people earn per year.

These three principles: accessible, sustainable and scaleable - must governing all thinking in a technological ecology. The thinking of hit and run extraction, however, is what is rewarded. How many companies have been shells for an IPO? How much productivity has been wasted, not reducing our dependence on oil, but to entice us to buy more that is made with, and which consumes for its continuance---oil. It would be as if a man who had been poisoned, rather than reaching for the emetic, reaches for another dose of the poison.

To create a society on these principles requires a fundamentally different series of rewards. Now we have created a kind of technological fuedalism: where patents, copyrights and monopolies serve as fiefdoms, gates over bridges where all who pass are charged a toll. We have created a vast class of the idle rich, whose primary gift is that they can strip mine consumers--- selling cancer, fat and fatuousness, leaving behind people who are ridden with disease and obesity. Even if Americans desire to live this way, the rest of the world does not. Even if the United States wishes to make a virtue out of grease, goo and greed---it does not mean that the reek of decay can be perfumed away.

And thus we want a revolution. Many of the individual demands are set aside, because there has been no defense of the pattern that the whole makes. We demand universal health care: because people must be fit and healthy and free of the burden of worry of catastrophic illness so that they may focus on the great work that must be done, and because no one should profit by collecting taxes on acts which pollute the air, our bodies and our minds. And if the state no longer profits from selling obesity, it will end the incentives to do so in the economy. The wealthy, many of whom have gained their privileged position by doing exactly this, understand on an intuitive level that a healthy people are no longer easy targets for a consumerism that consumes them.

And thus we want a revolution. Progress is thwarted by deceptions and dissembling: the right wing is already attempting to convince Americans that we will simply substitute hydrogen for oil, and thus there is no problem. The problem is that unbound hydrogen is found in quantity only on the Sun, and we are not landing there any time soon.

And thus we want a revolution. The myriad changes which must take place demand selfless, rather than selfish, attention and devotion. We must act, not because it is to our present advantage, but because it is to our future necessity. We must realize that we cannot lock billions in poverty without an inevitable and violent upheaval when they choose to take what we will not give. We must realize that the oceans which protected us from the last two great global conflicts, will not protect us from the next. We must realize this before it is too late.

But it is almost too late: human capacity for destruction is much farther advanced than for creation. We can more easily destroy a life than save it, we can more quickly demolish a city than build it, we can more easily overthrow a government than create a new government to replace it.

It is almost too late, but everywhere we are told to wait. And as long as temporary prosperity remains with us, the leadership of the Democratic Party has paid homage to complacency. They seem to feel that having turned back one of the myriad Republican attempts to shred the society, they have earned their keep for the next two years, and can spend the rest of the time permitting the bankruptcy bill and anti-American restrictions on our civil rights to pass. They feel that having done three months of work for the people, they are now free to go back to working for the lobbyists.

It is folly, and it is a folly whose magnitude will only be appearant later. There is a sense among many in elected office that the next downturn will restore them to power. But, in fact, the reverse is the case, having not warned of impending collapse, they will not be entrusted with government until the day that collapse finally arrives.

And so I say again: we want a revolution, one which creates a society that works for the benefit of the future, so that there will be one; one that rewards selfless action with more than a flag and a coffin; one that raises up those who improve the quality of people's lives, rather than strip- mining people so that they might make a living.

We must make a world which is accessible to people's understanding, and is yet both scaleable and sustainable. We must cease to reward the process of burning more oil to avoid cost in the present. We must cease to throw away the vast crop of talent which America produces, because it is the fruit of this talent that we expect to harvest. There is only one vehicle in American politics to achieve this: the Democratic Party, which by its inevitable purpose and political logic, is the party of the people, and of organizing the people to meet the crisis in the present, without creating catastrophe in the future.

And thus, before all else, we demand a revolution in political affairs, beginning with the Democratic Party, and endowing each of its parts and all of its representatives with an iron sense of purpose and determination. The course we are on leads into the abyss; it cannot be sustained, and therefore it will not be. The lesson of history is that nature delivers only a final decision, from which there is no appeal, and it does so without warning and without mercy. Growth continues, until collapse begins. It is the record of the fossils of previous ages, and the record of the stock market: dizzying peaks followed by devastating collapses.

It is difficult to argue in the face of complacency, and it is impossible without having a deep-seated belief and impenetrable faith. But no writing on the wall of the past is clearer than the results of a people that live beyond their means: we find their ruins scattered throughout the globe, and in mighty glyphs carved in dead statues about their empires that could never fall. The right wing wishes to deny evolution, because they know what it would tell us: adapt or perish.

And so we demand that our leaders have faith in revolution; faith in the ability of the American people to remake themselves and society; faith in the ability of human reason married to human intuition to come to the best decision; faith that the future can be an American future.

Because the day will be seized, if not by us, than by others.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Jeff Jacoby - Where's The Outrage on Torture?

The Boston Globe
Where's the outrage on torture?

By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist | March 17, 2005

(First of two columns)

IN AUGUST 2003, when he was commander of the military base at Guantanamo Bay, Major General Geoffrey Miller visited Baghdad with some advice for US interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison. As Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the military police commander in Iraq, later recalled it, Miller's bottom line was blunt: Abu Ghraib should be ''Gitmo-ized" -- Iraqi detainees should be exposed to the same aggressive techniques being used to extract information from prisoners in Guantanamo.

''You have to have full control," Karpinski quoted Miller as saying. There can be ''no mistake about who's in charge. You have to treat these detainees like dogs."

Whether or not Miller actually spoke those words, it is clear that harsh techniques authorized for a time in Guantanamo -- forced nudity, hooding, shackling men in ''stress positions," the use of dogs -- were taken up in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they sometimes degenerated into outright viciousness and even torture. Did the injunction to ''treat these detainees like dogs" give rise to a prison culture that winked at barbarism? Should Miller be held responsible for what Abu Ghraib became?

The latest Pentagon report on the abuse of captives, delivered to Congress last week by Vice Admiral Albert Church III, doesn't point a finger of blame at Miller or any other high-ranking official. It concludes that while detainees in Iraq, Guantanamo, and elsewhere were brutalized by military or CIA interrogators, there was no formal policy authorizing such abuse. (On occasion it was even condemned -- in December 2002, for example, some Navy officials denounced the Guantanamo techniques as ''unlawful and unworthy of the military services.")

But surely, Church was asked at a congressional hearing, someone should be held accountable for the scores of abuses that even the government admits to? ''Not in my charter," the admiral replied.

So the buck stops nowhere. And fresh revelations of horror keep seeping out.

Afghanistan, 2002: A detainee in the ''Salt Pit" -- a secret, CIA-funded prison north of Kabul -- is stripped naked, dragged across a concrete floor, then chained in a cell and left overnight. By morning, he has frozen to death. According to The Washington Post, which sourced the story to four US government officials, the dead man was buried in an unmarked grave, and his family was never notified. What had the Afghan done to merit such lethal handling? ''He was probably associated with people who were associated with Al Qaeda," a US official told the Post.

Iraq, 2003: Manadel al-Jamadi, arrested after a terrorist bombing in Baghdad, is brought in handcuffs to a shower room in Abu Ghraib. Shackles are connected from his cuffs to a barred window, hoisting his arms painfully behind his back -- a position so unnatural, Sergeant Jeffrey Frost later tells investigators, that he is surprised the man's arms ''didn't pop out of their sockets." Frost and other guards are summoned when an interrogator complains that al-Jamadi isn't cooperating. They find him slumped forward, motionless. When they remove the chains and attempt to stand him on his feet, blood gushes from his mouth. His ribs are broken. He is dead.

Then there is the government's use of ''extraordinary rendition," a euphemism for sending terror suspects to be interrogated by other countries -- including some where respect for human rights is nonexistent and interrogation can involve beatings, electric shock, and other torture. The CIA says it always gets an assurance in advance that a prisoner will be treated humanely. But of what value are such assurances when they come from places like Syria and Saudi Arabia?

Of course the United States must hunt down terrorists and find out what they know. Better intelligence means more lives saved, more atrocities prevented, and a more likely victory in the war against radical Islamist fascism. Those are crucial ends, and they justify tough means. But they don't justify means that betray core American values. Interrogation techniques that flirt with torture -- to say nothing of those that end in death -- cross the moral line that separates us from the enemy we are trying to defeat.

The Bush administration and the military insist that any abuse of detainees is a violation of policy and that abusers are being punished. If so, why does it refuse to allow a genuinely independent commission to investigate without fear or favor? Why do Republican leaders on Capitol Hill refuse to launch a proper congressional investigation? And why do my fellow conservatives -- those who support the war for all the right reasons -- continue to keep silent about a scandal that should have them up in arms?

NEXT: Why not torture terrorists?

Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is
� Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Stirling Newberry - We are the Good People

We are the Good People
by Stirling Newberry (dailykos)

Thu Mar 17th, 2005 at 10:36:45 PST

One truth that many in the Democratic Party have difficulty undestanding is how the populist Republicans work. From the point of view of risk averse liberals, they seem to vote, time and again, against their "economic interests" and in favor of "window dressing" issues, such as banning same sex marriage. They allow the bankruptcy bill to pass, they vote against education and universal health care. It is why Krispy Kristof and others loudly proclaim the Democrats should become more bible thumping, as if this was all just marketing.

It isn't. The Republican populists are voting as they are because they are making a bet, a bet that "we are the good people" and bad things don't happen to good people.


The first phase of liberalism the result of a string of disasters. People who had been slammed by the Great Depression understood that often bad things happened to people who worked hard, played by the rules and did what they were supposed to do. Being risk averse, when the downside was 25% unemployment made sense. Paleo-liberalism provided Unemployment Insurance, Banking insurance and Social security.

It also made the case that what the rich took wasn't around for other people: we all could have more affluence if the rich weren't quite so comfortable. Paleo-liberalism's simple message was: keep the country rich, by keeping the rich poor. It attracted people who were not liberal by their inclinations, because they were suffering, their friends and neighbors were suffering, and their constituents were suffering.

New Liberalism

Post-war liberalism entered the second phase, it argued that there was no real limit to the amount of affluence, and if we managed the economy and our actions well - everyone could be well off. New liberalism offered social and sexual freedoms, because the individual downside risks were preventable, or at least manageable. Spread the risk and the reward, be generous and enough people would take advantage of it to make it worthwhile.

The coming of the New Conservatism

People have heard over and over again how oil is the new basis of the money system. People understand that oil is the limit to growth, and the fundamental scarcity. But few people have thought about what that means on a gut level. It means there is a limit to the amount of affluence, and that, after a certain point, affluence is a zero sum game: what other people get, you don't. Zero sum thinking leads to conservatism: people want to keep others from getting, so they will have more.

One way this shows up is by having a growing political coalition against programs that helped the "undeserving" - particularly the inner urban areas. The thinking went that these people didn't do what they had to do, and so were "undeserving poor". Cut welfare, cut programs for the urban poor, because they were the source of crime and social instability. Less for them meant "more" for "deserving" hard working people.

Zero sum thinking, however, wasn't enough for the Republicans to get radical - it could get Richard Nixon in the White House, but it could not create a reactionary majority. To do that required two more pieces. The first of these was the omniscence of the "market". Now the market mechanism is very powerful, very useful, and the basis of much of our prosperity. But a key part of the reactionary majority is to convince a large number of people that nothing could do any better than the market. This fundamentally libertarianesque notion, while often attached to secular values - fed into the religious strain of reacionary thinking.

How so? Because if this is the best of all possible worlds, then every dime that someone else gets from spreading the risk, came at a cost to someone else. This isn't exactly true, but it doesn't need to be true, merely believed.

These two pieces then fit together to form the basis of "class civil war" - the market was best, and there was a limited amount. These two pieces meant that "bad things won't happen to good people" and "bad people need to be treated badly".

We are the Good People

This kind of use of religion is knuckledragging, convincing people that barbaric behavior is a sign of virtue.

But for people to believe that nothing bad will happen to them, even as risks went higher and higher, creates a deep seated need to have proof that "we are the good people". This is were theocracy comes in. If "we" don't allow bad things - like naked nipples on TV, or violations of biblical prohibitions - even if the bible didn't exactly say it the way it is being implemented - the bad things won't happen. That is what the whole huge structure of knuckle dragging is about - from hate radio to Bush's smirking pronouncements.

Once you believe that bad things won't happen to you, because you are a "good person", then there is no reason not to remove every bit of spreading the risk. This is where the often repeated populist reactionary argument comes that "the bankruptcy bill will lower borrowing costs for everyone else" - because the "cost" of spreading the risk will go away. And you won't go bankrupt - you are a good person. Why just yesterday you sent a check to an organization that wants to ban godless Darwinism.

This is why knuckle dragging works for Republicans, and won't work for Democrats

The Republicans want to argue that people should take on more and more risk, because that will mean they will have more and more - because they aren't supporting all those bad people who declare bankruptcy, or live in cities. Remember - if affluence is zero sum, everything those bad people get in terms of safety costs you.

This all feeds into the generation long flat real wages - the only way to get a real pay raise is to take something from someone else. It is also why this line of argument works against Affirmitive Action, medical law suits, bankruptcy protections and even social security. Good people don't need these things. And remember, the Republicans are the good people.

Democrats can't knuckle drag and then tell people to have social insurance - because the very purpose of knuckledragging is to convince people they don't need such things. All it does is help Republicans in their quest to get rid of social insurance.

It is also why Right wing populists aren't voting against their own interests.

Afterall, the reality of social risk spreading is that most people will usually be OK, but some people will, for no particular fault of their own - get hammered. The right wing populist is probably going to be in the "you won't get hammered" part of the population. He might get crushed, but then the Republicans teach him to blame it on the Gay UN storm troopers who conspired with Osama bin Saddam to take your guns and your oil.

The Republicans don't need to convince most people in the bottom half of the economic spectrum of this, just enough of them that, when added to their "a tax cut is a pay raise" voters, will give the Republicans a bare majority.

That's what is the matter with Kansas - as long as they act like Good People, they won't believe in "bad things". Except those that are the fault of liberal terrorists who stop the free market from working god's will in the world.

This car goes in reverse

So not only does this connection make it possible for secular "economic" conservatives to bond with "social" conservatives, it also means that people who need to believe it don't want to hear about the bad things that can happen. They don't want to believe in Global Warming or other kinds of "alarmism", because, well, that would mean they might not be "good people". They will block their ears.

The Republicans can be alarmists - because they always have "bad people" to blame. But liberals who want to raise the alarm about systematic problems are not welcome.

How to beat this

These people are lost to the Democratic Party, they aren't Republicans because they are knuckle draggers, they are knuckle draggers because it allows them to function as Republicans. They are reactionaries first, and religious second.

The way for the Democratic Party to win is to reach to people who are economically held back by the dog eat dog economy, and get them to realize that government isn't the problem. The Democrats don't loose elections because of the knuckle draggers, but because of the people who the knuckledraggers drag down into the zero sum thinking.

The other important part is that the left has to start emphasizing where we are going far more. Warnings of the downside need to come after preaching about the good side. It also means that being aggressively and shrilly anti-religious is out. Not because secularism is bad, but because it makes people believe that knuckle dragging is all of religion. And that is something we can't allow.

So remember:

Knuckle dragging is about convince people that they are good people.

It follows that Good people don't have bad things happen to them.

Therefore, spreading the risk is bad, because only bad people benefit.

Since prosperity in an oil based market worshiping world is zero sum, that means that good people will pay for the bad people

This "we are the good people" frame is everywhere in the Republican rhetoric, it is in the jingoism, the declarations that they are going to end terrorism and dictatorship, and in the attacks on social liberties. It is fundamentally jacobin - a republic of virtue which will never have bad things happen to it, except as the work of satan and evil.

These people aren't going to change - they have to believe that nothing bad will happen to them, for the same reason they believe they can weave through traffic at 95 mph and not get into a car accident. However, we can defang the argument, and thus limit the damage they do, and we can make it clear that knuckle dragging isn't the kind of faith that "love thy neighbor as they self" was meant to create.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

From "The Corporation" -- A Film About the Rise of a social pathology

Here's some interesting text from the website for a 2004 film called "The Corporation," which details the rise of the corporation and the effects that have followed from this. The film is available on DVD. I've ordered it through Netflix, but haven't seen it yet. The website for the film is

In the mid-1800s the corporation emerged as a legal "person." Imbued with a "personality" of pure self-interest, the next 100 years saw the corporation's rise to dominance. The corporation created unprecedented wealth. But at what cost? The remorseless rationale of "externalities"—as Milton Friedman explains: the unintended consequences of a transaction between two parties on a third—is responsible for countless cases of illness, death, poverty, pollution, exploitation and lies.

To more precisely assess the "personality" of the corporate "person," a checklist is employed, using actual diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and the DSM-IV, the standard diagnostic tool of psychiatrists and psychologists. The operational principles of the corporation give it a highly anti-social "personality": It is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. Four case studies, drawn from a universe of corporate activity, clearly demonstrate harm to workers, human health, animals and the biosphere. Concluding this point-by-point analysis, a disturbing diagnosis is delivered: the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a "psychopath."

But what is the ethical mindset of corporate players? Should the institution or the individuals within it be held responsible?

The people who work for corporations may be good people, upstanding citizens in their communities - but none of that matters when they enter the corporation's world. As Sam Gibara, Former CEO and Chairman of Goodyear Tire, explains, "If you really had a free hand, if you really did what you wanted to do that suited your personal thoughts and your personal priorities, you'd act differently."

Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, the world's largest commercial carpet manufacturer, had an environmental epiphany and re-organized his $1.4 billion company on sustainable principles. His company may be a beacon of corporate hope, but is it an exception to the rule?

A case in point: Sir Mark Moody-Stuart recounts an exchange between himself (at the time Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell), his wife, and a motley crew of Earth First activists who arrived on the doorstep of their country home. The protesters chanted and stretched a banner over their roof that read, "MURDERERS." The response of the surprised couple was not to call the police, but to engage their uninvited guests in a civil dialogue, share concerns about human rights and the environment and eventually serve them tea on their front lawn. Yet, as the Moody-Stuarts apologize for not being able to provide soy milk for their vegan critics' tea, Shell Nigeria is flaring unrivaled amounts of gas, making it one of the world's single worst sources of pollution. And all the professed concerns about the environment do not spare Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other activists from being hanged for opposing Shell's environmental practices in the Niger Delta.

The Corporation exists to create wealth, and even world disasters can be profit centers. Carlton Brown, a commodities trader, recounts with unabashed honesty the mindset of gold traders while the twin towers crushed their occupants. The first thing that came to their minds, he tells us, was: "How much is gold up?"

You'd think that things like disasters, or the purity of childhood, or even milk, let alone water or air, would be sacred. But no. Corporations have no built-in limits on what, who, or how much they can exploit for profit. In the fifteenth century, the enclosure movement began to put fences around public grazing lands so that they might be privately owned and exploited. Today, every molecule on the planet is up for grabs. In a bid to own it all, corporations are patenting animals, plants, even your DNA.

Around things too precious, vulnerable, sacred or important to the public interest, governments have, in the past, drawn protective boundaries against corporate exploitation. Today, governments are inviting corporations into domains from which they were previously barred.

The Initiative Corporation spends $22 billion worldwide placing its clients' advertising in every imaginable - and some unimaginable - media. One new medium: very young children. Their "Nag Factor" study dropped jaws in the world of child psychiatry. It was designed not to help parents cope with their children's nagging, but to help corporations formulate their ads and promotions so that children would nag for their products more effectively. Initiative Vice President Lucy Hughes elaborates: "You can manipulate consumers into wanting, and therefore buying your products. It's a game."

Today people can become brands (Martha Stewart). And brands can build cities (Celebration, Florida). And university students can pay for their educations by shilling on national television for a credit card company (Chris and Luke). And a corporation even owns the rights to the popular song "Happy Birthday" (a division of AOL-Time-Warner). Do you ever get the feeling it's all a bit much?

Corporations have invested billions to shape public and political opinion. When they own everything, who will stand for the public good?

It turns out that standing for the public good is an expensive proposition. Ask Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, two investigative reporters fired by Fox News after they refused to water down a story on rBGH, a controversial synthetic hormone widely used in the United States (but banned in Europe and Canada) to rev up cows' metabolism and boost their milk production. Because of the increased production, the cows suffer from mastitis, a painful infection of the udders. Antibiotics must then be injected, which find their way into the milk, and ultimately reduce people's resistance to disease.

Fox demanded that they rewrite the story, and ultimately fired Akre and Wilson. Akre and Wilson subsequently sued Fox under Florida's whistle-blower statute. They proved to a jury that the version of the story Fox would have had them put on the air was false, distorted or slanted. Akre was awarded $425,000. Then Fox appealed, the verdict was overturned on a technicality, and Akre lost her award. [For an update on the case see Disc 2 where we learn that at one point, Jane and Steve became liable for Fox's $1.8 million court costs, later to be reduced to $200,000.]

Democracy is a value that the corporation just doesn't understand. In fact, corporations have often tried to undo democracy if it is an obstacle to their single-minded drive for profit. From a 1934 business-backed plot to install a military dictator in the White House (undone by the integrity of one U.S. Marine Corps General, Smedley Darlington Butler) to present-day law-drafting, corporations have bought military might, political muscle and public opinion.

And corporations do not hesitate to take advantage of democracy's absence either. One of the most shocking stories of the twentieth century is Edwin Black's recounting IBM's strategic alliance with Nazi Germany—one that began in 1933 in the first weeks that Hitler came to power and continued well into World War II.

The corporation may be trying to render governments impotent, but since the landmark WTO protest in Seattle, a rising wave of networked individuals and groups have decided to make their voices heard. Movements to challenge the very foundations of the corporation are afoot: The corporate charter revocation movement tried to bring down oil giant Unocal; a groundbreaking ballot initiative in Arcata, California, put the corporate agenda in the public spotlight in a series of town hall meetings; in Bolivia, the population fought and won a battle against a huge transnational corporation brought in by their government to privatize the water system; in India nearly 99% of the basmati patent of RiceTek was overturned; and W. R. Grace and the U.S. government's patent on Neem was revoked.

As global individuals take back local power, a growing re-invigoration of the concept of citizenship is taking root. It has the power to not only strip the corporation of its seeming omnipotence, but to create a feeling and an ideology of democracy that is much more than its mere institutional version.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

James Wolcott -- Wet Blanket Smothers Radio

Wet Blanket Smothers Radio
Posted by James Wolcott

Beware of dweebs bearing advice.

Before Air America went on the air, doubters and detractors said it wouldn't work, liberal radio would be too preachy and boring, it'll soon flame out. When Air America suffered early convulsions, losing outlets and requiring fresh infusions of capital, the doubters and detractors said, "See, we told you so," and perched like vultures on sentry duty. So now that Air America has survived its trial by fire, proven its relevance, demonstrated its audience appeal, stopped the bleeding, found its footing, and extended its reach into most major markets growth, you'd think it'd win a little respect, wouldn't you?

Not in this month's Atlantic.

Joshua Green, a senior editor at the magazine (he takes the junior editors on field trips to local dairies), conducts a premature burial on a network relatively newborn and exposes "the hazards liberal radio poses." It's a classic case of wresting defeat from victory, and Green can't even wait for Air America to achieve victory, he's in such a hurry to do his Nick Kristof voice-of-reason impersonation.

Green's argument, made from a recipe for mush handed down from grandma, is that Air America is following the trajectory of Rush Limbaugh. How this trajector could do Air America and liberalism ill takes some fancy logic, since Limbaugh has an audience of 14 or so million, is an honored guest at the White House, is broadcast on Armed Forces Radio, and is the gold standard by which conservative talk radio is measured; not bad. But it isn't fancy logic that Green deploys, it's shoddy logic based upon bogus history.

Briefly put, Green contends that Limbaugh's influence, built upon his ratings success and bestselling books, deluded Republican firebrands into believing they were more powerful and popular than they were. He gave them testosterone poisoning, or what passes for it in Washington.

"In the end those who could least afford to overestimate Limbaugh's discernment and persuasiveness were precisely those who did so--the Republican leaders. By urging Gingrich and others into acts of political extremism, Limbaugh hastened their downfall. The hopeless Bob Dole once intoned, 'When Rush Limbaugh talks, you know you're listening to the real world.' Dole's crashing defeat in the 1996 presidential election demonstrated the accuracy of this statement."

Limbaugh didn't hasten Gingrich's downfall, Gingrich hastened his own marshmallow ass out the door by overreaching with the government shutdown and making too many enemies. Anyone who's followed Gingrich's career knows that he didn't need to be goaded into extremism, his phony revolutionary ardor had a red-ass burn on its own.

Even more mindboggling, Green has a section break after his graf about Dole and Gingrich, a fadeout into the present. A fadeout which implies that 1994 was the high mark of Rush Limbaugh and rightwing radio, and Dole's defeat in 1996 when the fever broke. And suggests that since that crest, Rush and the r/w radio have lost insider clout and public influence.

It's as if Green never heard of the Swift Boat vets, whose smears were propelled on talk radio. Or the blinding speed with which Rush and his cohorts distorted the Wellstone memorial service. Or the demonization of mild-mannered Tom Daschle. One of the chief reasons America stands stupidly, catastrophically isolated internationally in concern over global warming is because Rush and company have pounded the drum over and over again that there is NO SUCH THING as "global warming," it's all a plot by environmentalist wackos to hamstring business and rein in capitalism. After 20 plus years of Rush and conservative talk radio, Republicans dominate the presidency, the Senate, the House, K Street, the media, and, increasingly, the judiciary. And this is supposed to be a cautionary tale for liberal talk radio!?

Listening to Air America, Green diagnoses a network "already infected by the corrosive negativity, strutting egotism, and bizarre paranoia that marked much of what traversed the conservative airwaves in the late 1990s." Which indicates Green has removed his earphones, because conservative talk radio is still characterized by bluster, hyperbole, and run-amuck ego, with only the paranoia in remission because there's no Bill Clinton in the White House for them to fear and loathe. And far from being marginalized, rightwing ranting has become mainstream, as any evening spent in front of Fox or MSNBC can demonstrate.

Green reveals his naivete or bad faith or ignorance or some original compound of all three when in his last graf he quotes as an objective authority Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers (the bible of talk radio), who sermonizes from on high: "Americans are ultimately skeptical of media commentators who seem to have a political agenda that supersedes their search for the truth."

First off, Michael Harrison is a hack. He's as big a hack for the radio industry as Jack Valenti was for Hollywood, only not as smart and flashy. Michael Harrison is the same guy who hailed racist-homophobe hairball Michael Savage as "a showman...a smart, mature, seasoned guy who knows instinctively how to make the radio pop." And when Savage was hired by MSNBC, Harrison shook his magic eight-ball and predicted plucky success for the Ignoble Savage:

"The only thing that is going to get Michael Savage off the air is low ratings and MSNBC doesn't need to worry about losing advertisers the way hundreds of high-rated TV stations did with Dr. Laura – there's a big difference in being opposite O'Reilly and Oprah. Organized attacks on Savage may actually work to his advantage. They were able to get to Laura personally and shake her up, whereas Savage will counter-attack and grow stronger. They will increase his resolve and perhaps even his ratings because controversy can significantly boost ratings."

Well, we all know how well that scenario panned out. While celebrating 4th of July barbecue on his MSNBC show, Savage advised a crank caller to go get AIDS, and he was gone in a cloud of stink.

See, when rightwingers talk garbage and go over the top, they're called "entertainers," "showmen," "deliberately outrageous." Only liberal broadcasters are expected to bear the lamp of truth and foreswear the "anger-laced polemic" that offends Green's tender buds. It's similar to the crap handwringing by Nick Kristof that environmentalists need to be less alarmist and more nuanced, which is effectively a disarmament policy in the teeth of conservative Blitzkrieg tactics. The other side doesn't want compromise or negotiation, it wants surrender and annihilation. The right wing considers the emasculated NPR too liberal, indeed even borderline traitorous. (When an NPR report accurately stated that Hezbollah was an important Shiite political entity in Lebanon, Roger L. Simon sloppily slapped the label "objectively pro-fascist" on the broadcast.)

It isn't that Air America can't be improved. Some of its shows get too dorm-room bull session-y, veering off into trivial tangents; a few of its hosts still don't carry authority behind the mike (as if they can't find their comfort level); it could use more comedy, less obvious sarcasm. Changes are already being implemented, some of them maladroitly (such as the abrupt, unexplained departure of Lizz Winstead from Unfiltered, which made her look as if she fell through a trapdoor). But Air America won't succeed by heeding Green's prophecies of doom anymore than environmentalist will by listening to Kristof's snivellings, or Democrats will by following Al From and Joe Lieberman into the marshes.

Whenever a Voice of Moderation addresses liberals, its sole purpose is to stomp out any real sign of life.
03.14.05 7:15PM

William Rivers Pitt - The Project for the New American Century


The Project for the New American Century.

The People versus the Powerful is the oldest story in human history. At no
point in history have the Powerful wielded so much control. At no point in
history has the active and informed involvement of the People, all of them,
been more absolutely required.

William Rivers Pitt: 02/25/03

The Project for the New American Century, or PNAC, is a Washington-based
think tank created in 1997. Above all else, PNAC desires and demands one
thing: The establishment of a global American empire to bend the will of
all nations. They chafe at the idea that the United States, the last
remaining superpower, does not do more by way of economic and military
force to bring the rest of the world under the umbrella of a new
socio-economic Pax Americana.

The fundamental essence of PNAC's ideology can be found in a White Paper
produced in September of 2000 entitled "Rebuilding America's Defenses:
Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century." In it, PNAC outlines
what is required of America to create the global empire they envision.
According to PNAC, America must:
* Reposition permanently based forces to Southern Europe, Southeast Asia
and the Middle East;
* Modernize U.S. forces, including enhancing our fighter aircraft,
submarine and surface fleet capabilities;
* Develop and deploy a global missile defense system, and develop a
strategic dominance of space;
* Control the "International Commons" of cyberspace;
* Increase defense spending to a minimum of 3.8 percent of gross domestic
product, up from the 3 percent currently spent.

Most ominously, this PNAC document described four "Core Missions" for the
American military. The two central requirements are for American forces to
"fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars," and
to "perform the 'constabulary' duties associated with shaping the security
environment in critical regions." Note well that PNAC does not want America
to be prepared to fight simultaneous major wars. That is old school. In
order to bring this plan to fruition, the military must fight these wars
one way or the other to establish American dominance for all to see.

Why is this important? After all, wacky think tanks are a cottage industry
in Washington, DC. They are a dime a dozen. In what way does PNAC stand
above the other groups that would set American foreign policy if they could?
Two events brought PNAC into the mainstream of American government: the
disputed election of George W. Bush, and the attacks of September 11th.
When Bush assumed the Presidency, the men who created and nurtured the
imperial dreams of PNAC became the men who run the Pentagon, the Defense
Department and the White House. When the Towers came down, these men saw,
at long last, their chance to turn their White Papers into substantive

Vice President Dick Cheney is a founding member of PNAC, along with Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is the ideological father of the
group. Bruce Jackson, a PNAC director, served as a Pentagon official for
Ronald Reagan before leaving government service to take a leading position
with the weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

PNAC is staffed by men who previously served with groups like Friends of
the Democratic Center in Central America, which supported America's bloody
gamesmanship in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and with groups like The
Committee for the Present Danger, which spent years advocating that a
nuclear war with the Soviet Union was "winnable."

PNAC has recently given birth to a new group, The Committee for the
Liberation of Iraq, which met with National Security Advisor Condoleezza
Rice in order to formulate a plan to "educate" the American populace about
the need for war in Iraq. CLI has funneled millions of taxpayer dollars to
support the Iraqi National Congress and the Iraqi heir presumptive, Ahmed
Chalabi. Chalabi was sentenced in absentia by a Jordanian court in 1992 to
22 years in prison for bank fraud after the collapse of Petra Bank, which
he founded in 1977. Chalabi has not set foot in Iraq since 1956, but his
Enron-like business credentials apparently make him a good match for the
Bush administration's plans.

PNAC's "Rebuilding America's Defenses" report is the institutionalization
of plans and ideologies that have been formulated for decades by the men
currently running American government. The PNAC Statement of Principles is
signed by Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, as well as by Eliot Abrams, Jeb
Bush, Bush's special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, and many
others. William Kristol, famed conservative writer for the Weekly Standard,
is also a co-founder of the group. The Weekly Standard is owned by Ruppert
Murdoch, who also owns international media giant Fox News.

The desire for these freshly empowered PNAC men to extend American hegemony
by force of arms across the globe has been there since day one of the Bush
administration, and is in no small part a central reason for the Florida
electoral battle in 2000. Note that while many have said that Gore and Bush
are ideologically identical, Mr. Gore had no ties whatsoever to the fellows
at PNAC. George W. Bush had to win that election by any means necessary,
and PNAC signatory Jeb Bush was in the perfect position to ensure the rise
to prominence of his fellow imperialists. Desire for such action, however,
is by no means translatable into workable policy. Americans enjoy their
comforts, but don't cotton to the idea of being some sort of Neo-Rome.

On September 11th, the fellows from PNAC saw a door of opportunity open
wide before them, and stormed right through it.

Bush released on September 20th 2001 the "National Security Strategy of the
United States of America." It is an ideological match to PNAC's "Rebuilding
America's Defenses" report issued a year earlier. In many places, it uses
exactly the same language to describe America's new place in the world.

Recall that PNAC demanded an increase in defense spending to at least 3.8%
of GDP. Bush's proposed budget for next year asks for $379 billion in
defense spending, almost exactly 3.8% of GDP.

In August of 2002, Defense Policy Board chairman and PNAC member Richard
Perle heard a policy briefing from a think tank associated with the Rand
Corporation. According to the Washington Post and The Nation, the final
slide of this presentation described "Iraq as the tactical pivot, Saudi
Arabia as the strategic pivot, and Egypt as the prize" in a war that would
purportedly be about ridding the world of Saddam Hussein's weapons. Bush
has deployed massive forces into the Mideast region, while simultaneously
engaging American forces in the Philippines and playing nuclear chicken
with North Korea. Somewhere in all this lurks at least one of the "major
theater wars" desired by the September 2000 PNAC report.

Iraq is but the beginning, a pretense for a wider conflict. Donald Kagan, a
central member of PNAC, sees America establishing permanent military bases
in Iraq after the war. This is purportedly a measure to defend the peace in
the Middle East, and to make sure the oil flows. The nations in that
region, however, will see this for what it is: a jump-off point for
American forces to invade any nation in that region they choose to. The
American people, anxiously awaiting some sort of exit plan after America
defeats Iraq, will see too late that no exit is planned.

All of the horses are traveling together at speed here. The defense
contractors who sup on American tax revenue will be handsomely paid for
arming this new American empire. The corporations that own the news media
will sell this eternal war at a profit, as viewership goes through the
stratosphere when there is combat to be shown. Those within the
administration who believe that the defense of Israel is contingent upon
laying waste to every possible aggressor in the region will have their
dreams fulfilled. The PNAC men who wish for a global Pax Americana at
gunpoint will see their plans unfold. Through it all, the bankrollers from
the WTO and the IMF will be able to dictate financial terms to the entire
planet. This last aspect of the plan is pivotal, and is best described in
the newly revised version of Greg Palast's masterpiece, "The Best Democracy
Money Can Buy."

There will be adverse side effects. The siege mentality average Americans
are suffering as they smother behind yards of plastic sheeting and duct
tape will increase by orders of magnitude as our aggressions bring forth
new terrorist attacks against the homeland. These attacks will require the
implementation of the newly drafted Patriot Act II, an augmentation of the
previous Act that has profoundly sharper teeth. The sun will set on the
Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The American economy will be ravaged by the need for increased defense
spending, and by the aforementioned "constabulary" duties in Iraq,
Afghanistan and elsewhere. Former allies will turn on us. Germany, France
and the other nations resisting this Iraq war are fully aware of this game
plan. They are not acting out of cowardice or because they love Saddam
Hussein, but because they mean to resist this rising American empire, lest
they face economic and military serfdom at the hands of George W. Bush.
Richard Perle has already stated that France is no longer an American ally.

As the eagle spreads its wings, our rhetoric and their resistance will
become more agitated and dangerous.

Many people, of course, will die. They will die from war and from want,
from famine and disease. At home, the social fabric will be torn in ways
that make the Reagan nightmares of crack addiction, homelessness and AIDS
seem tame by comparison.

This is the price to be paid for empire, and the men of PNAC who now
control the fate and future of America are more than willing to pay it. For
them, the benefits far outweigh the liabilities.

The plan was running smoothly until those two icebergs collided. Millions
and millions of ordinary people are making it very difficult for Bush's
international allies to keep to the script. PNAC may have designs for the
control of the "International Commons" of the Internet, but for now it is
the staging ground for a movement that would see empire take a back seat to
a wise peace, human rights, equal protection under the law, and the
preponderance of a justice that will, if properly applied, do away forever
with the anger and hatred that gives birth to terrorism in the first place.
Tommaso Palladini of Milan perhaps said it best as he marched with his
countrymen in Rome. "You fight terrorism," he said, "by creating more
justice in the world."

The People versus the Powerful is the oldest story in human history. At no
point in history have the Powerful wielded so much control. At no point in
history has the active and informed involvement of the People, all of them,
been more absolutely required. The tide can be stopped, and the men who
desire empire by the sword can be thwarted. It has already begun, but it
must not cease. These are men of will, and they do not intend to fail.

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times bestselling author of two books -
"War On Iraq" (with Scott Ritter) available now from Context Books, and
"The Greatest Sedition is Silence," available in May 2003 from Pluto Press.
He teaches high school in Boston, MA.
Scott Lowery contributed research to this report.