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)

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Seattle Times: U.S. eliminates annual terrorism report

U.S. eliminates annual terrorism report

By Jonathan S. Landay
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON — The State Department decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism after the government's top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985, the first year the publication covered.

Several U.S. officials defended the decision, saying the methodology used by the National Counterterrorism Center to generate statistics had flaws, such as the inclusion of incidents that may not have been terrorism.

But other current and former officials charged that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's office ordered the report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism," eliminated weeks ago because the 2004 statistics raised disturbing questions about the Bush's administration's frequent claims of progress in the war against terrorism.

"Instead of dealing with the facts and dealing with them in an intelligent fashion, they try to hide their facts from the American public," charged Larry Johnson, a former CIA analyst and State Department terrorism expert who first disclosed the decision to eliminate the report in The Counterterrorism Blog, an online journal.

A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed that the publication was eliminated, but said the allegation that it was done for political reasons was "categorically untrue."

According to Johnson and U.S. intelligence officials, statistics that the National Counterterrorism Center provided to the State Department reported 625 "significant" terrorist attacks in 2004. That compared with 175 such incidents in 2003, the highest number in two decades.

The statistics didn't include attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, which President Bush as recently as Tuesday called "a central front in the war on terror."

The intelligence officials requested anonymity because the information is classified and because, they said, they feared White House retribution. Johnson declined to say how he obtained the figures.

The numbers of incidents and fatalities in the report for 2003 were undercounted last year, forcing a revision and embarrassing the White House, which had used the original version to bolster Bush's election-campaign claim that the Iraq war had advanced the fight against terrorism. U.S. officials blamed bureaucratic mistakes involving the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, the forerunner of the National Counterterrorism Center, created under the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which Bush signed Dec. 17.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., among the leading critics of last year's mix-up, reacted angrily.

"This is the definitive report on the incidence of terrorism around the world," Waxman said. "It should be unthinkable that there would be an effort to withhold it — or any of the key data — from the public. The Bush administration should stop playing politics with this critical report."

The State Department published "Patterns of Global Terrorism" under a law that requires it to submit to the House and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a country-by-country terrorism assessment by April 30 each year.

A declassified version of the report has been made public since 1986 in the form of a glossy booklet, even though there was no legal requirement to do so.

The senior State Department official said a report on global terrorism would be sent this year to lawmakers and made available to the public in place of "Patterns of Global Terrorism," but that it wouldn't contain statistical data.

The official didn't answer questions about whether the data would be made available to the public, saying, "We will be consulting [with Congress] ... on who should publish and in what form."

One U.S. official who requested anonymity said analysts from the counterterrorism center were especially careful in amassing and reviewing data for 2004 because of the political turmoil created by last year's errors.

Another U.S. official said Rice's office was leery of the center's methodology, believing that analysts eager to avoid a repetition of last year's undercount included incidents that may not have been terrorist attacks. The U.S. intelligence officials said Rice's office eliminated "Patterns of Global Terrorism" when the counterterrorism center declined to use alternative methodology that would have reported fewer significant attacks.
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/PrintStory.pl?document_id=2002243262&zsection_id=2002107549&slug=terror16&date=20050416

Friday, April 15, 2005

Lisa Lambert -- GodAssault: Morality as the Ultimate Game

GodAssault: Morality as the Ultimate Game
By Lisa Lambert
TomDispatch.com

Thursday 14 April 2005

Because certain trees are sprouting in the Middle East, the world will soon end. Because the European Union has grown to its current size, fiery death and plagues of locusts are about to descend on the planet. Because Israel established a homeland, non-believers will, in a short while, suffer agonizing horrors before being damned to an eternity of pain.

And now a word from our sponsor - a real estate agent helping Christians find their dream homes.

This summer, I joined the rush hour in San Bernardino. Every day, descending the final hill from Los Angeles into the fastest growing region in California, I tuned into Christian radio station K-Wave. The station broadcast lessons on Christ-sanctioned financial planning as well as sermons on faith-rooted marriages. But its mission of missions was to map out, just the way the Weather Channel describes approaching storm fronts, the end of the world now bearing down upon us.

The deep voice of Pastor Chuck Smith filled my car each morning. Founder of Calvary Chapel, a "mega-church" with a publishing company, Bible colleges, and franchises in every state, Pastor Chuck inspired two followers to write the best-selling Left Behind novels about the Apocalypse. Soon obsessed with the station, I started wishing my Democratic friends in L.A. would join me in K-Wave's freeway congregation.

Each evening I returned home to find them wringing their hands over the possibility that a born-again Christian president, who laced his speeches with secret signals to fellow worshippers and considered praying his most important action before starting an unjust war, might be re-elected - and re-elected by religious nuts so stupid they believed Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie were lovers.

As it happened, those "nuts" won the election for the president. Ill-prepared newscasters promptly relabeled them "moral voters," showing how little they understood about the new religion practiced in Calvary Chapel.

Democrats could, of course, have turned on K-Wave (or its equivalent), but even then they might not have grasped the most basic element of Calvary Chapel: It isn't guided by the outside world's concept of the Christian right's stern and unforgiving morals code.

While Calvary Chapel encourages Christians to enjoy "fellowship" with God, the doctrine it preaches is guided not by any ordinary sense of morality but by a gruesome vision of the end of the world and a set of instructions for how to deal with it.

Listening to that doctrine each morning and evening, I felt the sensations American audiences first discovering Hong Kong action flicks must have known: a fascination with the exotic combined with awe at the extreme violence it displayed. Granted, my perspective is unusual. Unlike most of my Democratic friends, I was raised in a church that practiced New Thought Christianity just up the freeway from Pastor Chuck's compound. It offered a new agey cocktail of faith, drawing heavily from Buddhism, Hinduism, and transcendentalism. Just the type of stuff Calvary Chapel abhors.

My childhood of crystals and sunshine made Calvary Chapel-style evangelism, with its emphasis on conversion and its belief in testifying to God's power, something strange and deeply mysterious. I felt like an anthropologist investigating a new culture as I listened to its broadcasts, and what I found makes me refuse to picture the organization as an army of moral voters.

Faith, California-Casual Style

If my liberal friends had accompanied me to the Calvary Chapel branch in Livermore to meet other listeners they might have wondered if we were in a real church. The squat, one-room chapel, with its rows of chairs, resembled a conference room. I, though, recognized it immediately as California-casual-style worship. New Thought had had the same laid-back vibe at its gatherings.

Under a 1960's suburban sun, spiritual wanderers established my childhood church. Around the same time Pastor Chuck began ministering to Jesus freaks and Republicans in Orange County. My church stagnated in the 1980's. Its meditation garden now sits empty. Pastor Chuck's congregation, on the other hand, grew until Calvary Chapel took up a campus as large as a mall and spread beyond the country's borders.

My friends might have been surprised that as I sat in this chapel, where the outline of a dove on the back wall replaced a traditional altar, I wasn't thinking about morality or stupidity. I was simply staring at the people around me who wore jeans, shushed babies, and tried not to kick over their purses on the floor. When the pastor asked everyone to greet each other, a woman buzzed up to urgently give me important bullet points from her life. One: She met her husband at church. Two: Her new baby was named Grace. I could escape the future of lonely desperation that she'd narrowly avoided, she implied, by finding a man here.

The Left Behind books serve as Calvary Chapel's literary touchstone, even though they're closer in quality to Star Wars paperbacks than anything penned by St. Augustine or St. Thomas More. In the series, certain people are physically sucked up to heaven, leaving those who don't make the celestial cut to suffer through the last, grim days of life on Earth. The people in the chapel had the feel of those left behind not by God, but by our world. They weren't losers, but they'd lost out.

Religious scholar Donald E. Miller, who studied Calvary Chapel for his book Reinventing American Protestantism, found its congregations to be dominated by blue-collar Americans. Only 20% of church members had a college degree. Over half of the pastors Miller surveyed had grown up, or spent parts of their lives, in single-parent homes; 70% had parents who abused drugs or alcohol. The numbers were similar for the congregants, almost a third of whom claimed to have been physically and/or sexually abused.

In my friends' world, such numbers would be as alien as the Rapture itself, but I suspect Pastor Chuck knows them intimately. His mission is to embrace those the world leaves behind and promise them a new chance in the after-life.

The dove on the chapel wall, I decided, wasn't the typical symbol of peace found in many Christian art works. In the Old Testament, a dove lands on Noah's Ark after the entire earth has been flooded, proving there's land nearby and providing hope for a new life to all the creatures crammed onto the wooden boat. In the same way Calvary Chapel's dove offered hope not of peace but of a change in fortune, at least for those who belong to the church.

Playing by God's Rules

What liberals might have learned from visiting Livermore, listening to K-Wave, or reading Calvary Chapel-inspired web sites is that "morality," at least as they imagine it, is beside the point. In fact, Calvary Chapel-style Christianity is a complex system with intricate rules. Think of it as God's game. Instead of X-Box's MechAssault, this is GodAssault.

If you play the game correctly, you'll receive that change in fortune. If not here, then in the after-life.

The guidebook to the game's moves is the Bible; the key steps to winning are in the Book of Revelation. Conventional notions of "morality," in which people adapt standards of right and wrong to an ever-changing world, don't hold here. Neither do the teachings from my childhood, which emphasized enlightenment and a sense of knowing God through your mind and heart.

In GodAssault, your conscience is not your guide.

The Bible is.

Like many evangelical forms of Protestantism, Calvary Chapel preaches that everything a Christian needs is written, word by holy word, in the Bible. In Miller's surveys, everyone from Calvary Chapel's pastors to its recent converts said they took the Bible literally. If you read the Book of Revelation as the physical, material truth, then you come to see God's game as one played in a swirling, planet-devouring vortex of blood and violence.

Pastor Chuck's main radio work involved describing this unstoppable Apocalypse, doling out a new chapter each morning. It begins as the Antichrist arrives on Earth - some time after the Jews establish a Holy Land - to annihilate a large percentage of the planet's population. Then, Christ comes to judge the living and the dead, sending the bad guys to a just and unspeakably gory end.

Calvary Chapel's Apocalypse, however, bears a resemblance to the fantasy game Dungeons and Dragons. Just as "D and D" players excel by learning complicated strategies and knowing arcane sub-rules of sub-rules, Calvary Chapel Christians win by following a set of instructions taken straight from the Bible. They must know the secret passwords, identify their enemies correctly, and understand what lies beneath the various layers of evil. False prophets will become popular in the end times, for example, and those who don't want to be damned will recognize these poseurs and refuse to worship with them.

Whether heaven's riches are 72 virgins or a beautiful set of angel wings, Calvary Chapel won't say. Prizes aren't important to the game, because winning is defined as not losing; not having to endure unthinkable tortures. And not losing rests on adhering to all of the rules.

My friends in L.A. wanted to know what this new "morality" meant in terms of American politics. Was there some way to maneuver on this new political landscape, dominated by religion, and reclaim "the moral voter"?

Leading Democrats were also looking to put new moral moves in their political playbook. At a Roe v. Wade commemoration Hillary Clinton announced that her once-firm stance on legal abortion had turned Jell-o soft, showing exactly what churches like Calvary Chapel mean to politicians. Clinton and other party leaders are now determined to win over Calvary Chapel-style evangelicals by taking stands they imagine those Christians will consider "moral." In the meantime, they hope to preserve their wider political philosophies in the shadows.

But take heed, oh keepers of the Democratic word, I say unto you: Lo, do not give into the temptation of moral appearances that will not bear fruit in the next elections. Change your view on abortion and they still won't vote for you, Hillary, not if you don't play the total version of GodAssault.

My aunt often complained that Eve, her cleaning lady, rambled on about God and the end of the world while dusting. Eve had dropped out of community college to marry a drug addict, divorced, and then married an alcoholic. She couldn't stop having children or getting fired from part-time jobs.

I liked Eve. As she told me about how she struggled to afford milk for her kids and gas for her car, I realized that, in this world with its rules, Eve was on the losing team. But there was hope in Pastor Chuck's board game of a religion.

I didn't ask Eve if she attended a Calvary Chapel, but I did hear her repeat the game's rules. And why shouldn't she? If Eve followed the game's demands, she would stop suffering one day. She would win. For all sorts of struggling souls the promise of eternal salvation, and victory over those left behind, is stronger than any weak pledge a politician could make.

Lisa Lambert, a student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, rebelled against her upbringing in adolescence with the radical act of joining an Episcopalian church.

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/041505O.shtml

Paul Krugman - The Medical Money Pit

The New York Times
April 15, 2005
OP-ED COLUMNIST
The Medical Money Pit
By PAUL KRUGMAN

A dozen years ago, everyone was talking about a health care crisis. But then the issue faded from view: a few years of good data led many people to conclude that H.M.O.'s and other innovations had ended the historic trend of rising medical costs.

But the pause in the growth of health care costs in the 1990's proved temporary. Medical costs are once again rising rapidly, and our health care system is once again in crisis. So now is a good time to ask why other advanced countries manage to spend so much less than we do, while getting better results.

Before I get to the numbers, let me deal with the usual problem one encounters when trying to draw lessons from foreign experience: somebody is sure to bring up the supposed horrors of Britain's government-run system, which historically had long waiting lists for elective surgery.

In fact, Britain's system isn't as bad as its reputation - especially for lower-paid workers, whose counterparts in the United States often have no health insurance at all. And the waiting lists have gotten shorter.

But in any case, Britain isn't the country we want to look at, because its health care system is run on the cheap, with total spending per person only 40 percent as high as ours.

The countries that have something to teach us are the nations that don't pinch pennies to the same extent - like France, Germany or Canada - but still spend far less than we do. (Yes, Canada also has waiting lists, but they're much shorter than Britain's - and Canadians overwhelmingly prefer their system to ours. France and Germany don't have a waiting list problem.)

Let me rattle off some numbers.

In 2002, the latest year for which comparable data are available, the United States spent $5,267 on health care for each man, woman and child in the population. Of this, $2,364, or 45 percent, was government spending, mainly on Medicare and Medicaid. Canada spent $2,931 per person, of which $2,048 came from the government. France spent $2,736 per person, of which $2,080 was government spending.

Amazing, isn't it? U.S. health care is so expensive that our government spends more on health care than the governments of other advanced countries, even though the private sector pays a far higher share of the bills than anywhere else.

What do we get for all that money? Not much.

Most Americans probably don't know that we have substantially lower life-expectancy and higher infant-mortality figures than other advanced countries. It would be wrong to jump to the conclusion that this poor performance is entirely the result of a defective health care system; social factors, notably America's high poverty rate, surely play a role. Still, it seems puzzling that we spend so much, with so little return.

A 2003 study published in Health Affairs (one of whose authors is my Princeton colleague Uwe Reinhardt) tried to resolve that puzzle by comparing a number of measures of health services across the advanced world. What the authors found was that the United States scores high on high-tech services - we have lots of M.R.I.'s - but on more prosaic measures, like the number of doctors' visits and number of days spent in hospitals, America is only average, or even below average. There's also direct evidence that identical procedures cost far more in the U.S. than in other advanced countries.

The authors concluded that Americans spend far more on health care than their counterparts abroad - but they don't actually receive more care. The title of their article? "It's the Prices, Stupid."

Why is the price of U.S. health care so high? One answer is doctors' salaries: although average wages in France and the United States are similar, American doctors are paid much more than their French counterparts. Another answer is that America's health care system drives a poor bargain with the pharmaceutical industry.

Above all, a large part of America's health care spending goes into paperwork. A 2003 study in The New England Journal of Medicine estimated that administrative costs took 31 cents out of every dollar the United States spent on health care, compared with only 17 cents in Canada.

In my next column in this series, I'll explain why the most privatized health care system in the advanced world is also the most bloated and bureaucratic.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/15/opinion/15krugman.html?hp=&pagewanted=print&position=

James Wolcott: On Some Sad Laps, No Heads Bob

On Some Sad Laps, No Heads Bob
Posted by James Wolcott

This morning on Air America, Jerry Springer ran the tape of Rush Limbaugh's bizarre outburst against Al Gore's upcoming cable news venture for "yoof" (as they say in British papers), mocking its mission to represent the viewpoints of young people by claiming that the only thing kids cared about today was blowjobs, which were rampant in the nation's high schools today thanks to Al's good friend Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Maybe it should be called "The BJ Network," Rush railed, since blowjobs were now the only thing occupying the empty minds of MTV audiences--all those teenage Monicas out there hooking up with teenage Bubbas.

Limbaugh seemed to be implying at the top of his voice that blowjobs are an integral part of the liberal agenda, an argument which he may want to rethink. The popularity of blowjobs is difficult to metric but undeniable; they cause little harm and zero unwanted pregnancies. If the plentitude of blowjobs is part of the Clinton legacy, millions owe the former president a debt of gratitude and an annual pilgrimage to the Clinton Memorial Library in Arkansas.

Yet, like so many products and pleasures, blowjobs aren't evenly distributed in society. It's a renewable natural resource not everyone gets to enjoy, and I was struck by the vehement tone of Limbaugh's tirade. He sounded bitter. I've seen this rancor inflict so many middle-aged men. Reading about all the oral sex young people are presumably having, they feel envious and resentful. No classmates were treating them to afterschool blowjobs in high school! Nor were hot teachers like that one in Florida seducing them in parked cars. It doesn't seem fair. It doesn't seem just. We're living in the Golden Age of BJs, and men in Rush's recumbent position feel barred from Eden, forced to imagine the action from their recliners as they stare sullenly at their plasma screens. It's probably how many adults felt during the free-love Sixties as the lid came off the nation's libido.

Clearly no small part of the undying enmity conservatives like Rush (and many liberal men too) have for Bill Clinton was that he was their age (maybe even older) and yet was able to participate in the exciting blowjob youth movement courtesy of Monica Lewinsky's bright red mouth. How this made them seethe, and the fact they still mention it at the slightest farfetched opportunity shows that they seethe still.

At the time, Hillary-haters sneered that if she had been performing her wifely duties and been less of a frozen popsicle, Bill may not have so easily strayed, red lips or no red lips. Liberal women didn't know how to satisfy a husband's needs, being so wrapped in their selfish careers.

I find such speculative intrusion undignified. I do. And yet, applying the logic of the Hillary-haters, I can't help but wonder if Rush's jealous ire over other people's blowjobs reflects poorly on his current relationship with CNN's Daryn Kagan, rumored to be on the fast track to have the honor of being his fourth wife. He sounded frustrated, disgruntled, and perhaps the anchorwoman isn't applying herself as much as she could or should to the task of keeping her big man happy.

It will require fortitude on her part, but it is no more than other women have borne. Perhaps this particular act disgusts her, or she's unsure of her technique, despite being in the television business, where everyone assumes everyone is so worldly. If the latter is the case and insecurity is the issue, there's a very helpful show-and-tell scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High where Phoebe Cates uses a banana to educate a classmate on how it's nutritiously done.

I would note that Fast Times at Ridgemont High was released in 1982, predating the Clinton administration by a decade, thus undercutting Rush's already dubious thesis.

http://jameswolcott.com/archives/2005/04/on_some_sad_lap.php

A Soldier's Letter to Stars & Stripes: Iraq Mission "Stupid"

European and Pacific Stars & Stripes: "Iraq mission ‘stupid’

In response to “‘Because we gave our word’” (letter, April 6), about people who are dodging military service and refuse to serve overseas: Yes, I did give the oath, I did swear to uphold the Constitution against foreign and domestic enemies. I swore to preserve freedom, but what they left out was to preserve freedom of other countries. Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11. I understand fighting for freedom when it’s necessary, and Afghanistan was necessary, but not Iraq.

How many troops are left in the United States? If there were an attack on U.S. soil right now, God forbid, they’d get all the way to Iowa before we could attempt to stop them. By the time we could get all our troops back home, the entire country would be lost.

The letter writer said people are refusing to fight. That’s easy to say from Arifjan, Kuwait. Come to Iraq for a year. In fact, come here for two years. This is my second tour here.

I also made a promise to my country, and I stand by that promise. Don’t bash others because they think this mission is complete crap, because it is. It’s stupid and we’re risking other soldiers’ lives. For what? Iraqi liberation? Weapons of mass destruction? Neither one of those has been even close to being found.

Bring soldiers home to protect what we’ve come to love so dearly — the United States, to protect those freedoms we take for granted, to protect our people, our children, wives, sons, daughters and husbands.

Pfc. Bradley Robb
Camp Striker, Iraq

Tom DeLay "House of Scandal" Website

The DNC has set up a site dedicated to tracking Tom Delay's slime trail over the body politic of our nation. It's here:

http://houseofscandal.org/

Stirling Newberry - Enlightened Populism

Enlightened Populism
by Stirling Newberry

Fri Apr 15th, 2005 at 06:24:21 PDT

There is no purpose of government, but to bring the greatest good to the greatest number. There is, therefore, no objective of policy but to find and achieve this end, by directing the national will in such a way as to bring it about. There is, therefore, no purpose for politics other than the creation, and illumination of that will, in order that people act towards the good, and not merely away from one evil and into another.

Where the people are in pain, they must be healed. Where they are afraid, they must be lead to safety. Where they are attacked, they must be defended. Where they are lied to, they must be informed. Where they are disorganized, they must be unified.

For in the end, there can be, therefore, no philosophy of Democratic government, and therefore of the Democratic Party, than enlightened populism.

Enlightened populism goes back to the ideas of Pericles, to the speeches of Cicero. Enlightened populism can be found in the writings of Edmund Burke - who was willing to let the American colonies go, but warned that the Revolution in France was headed to excesses. It is enlightenment that gave us our Declaration of Independence, and its Constitution devoted to "We The People". And it is out of enlightenment that there even are a people at all, because only one aware of the common bonds to all of the others, can be a member of a people.

Enlightened populism has, as its enemies two kinds: on one hand, elitism, and on the other hand, mobocracy - which is often elitism of another form, as those who can create the stampedes in the mob preach the supremacy of the mob. Both alike seek to break the connection between individuals that turn a people into the people, and the people into the public.

In the present, enlightened populism is under threat from economic elitism, the view that the wealthy are the best people to make all decisions of society, including social decisions. It is they who should decide, not merely which factories to build, but who should be allowed to marry, whether we should breath clean air, and what kind of world our children will inherit. Economic elitism takes the form of a false populism which plays on real and imagined fears, and creates convenient demons to vent the public rage upon. A populism which divides, is no populism at all.

Economic elitism is marked by a simple trait: it does not practice what it preaches. It demands responsibility of others, yet takes none for itself. It demands probity from others, even as its own members search the depths of decadence. It demands accountability from others, even as it is unaccountable to any. It demands law without judges, voting without elections, and power without limit. It preeches free speech, while restricting it, free markets while funding its favorites, and free trade while practicing protectionism.

America is now a nation whose freedom of speech is being replaced by freedom of screech: where one may shout any lie from the rooftops, while having to whisper the truth in the basement. A country that is ignorant and free, said Jefferson, never has been, and never will be. What can we say of a country where the few sell ignorance, at a profit, to the many?

America is now a nation whose basic system of elections is in question. An election that is not seen as legitimate, cannot produce a government that is seen as legitimate. An election where the public does not trust how the votes were counted, produces a government which is unaccountable.

America is, now a protectionist economy, which is sustained by its relationship to two other protectionist economies: the oil producing states, and China. This core of protectionism is what is driving much of the economic downturn in Europe and Japan, and the misery of those in the third world who are not producing materials that these economies consume.

From this view, the policies which are now being enacted are a disaster looking for a place to happen, they will make the effects so much worse. Cardinal among these is the bankruptcy bill, but also the attempts to make current revenue reductions longer in effect. The current executive is loading weight after weight on the public, unaware that one will be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

It is for this reason, at every opportunity, on every day, and to every audience, it is essential to state, in clear and unequivocal terms, that bad government is the problem, and one that can be corrected, not by less government, but by better government. It is for this reason, at every opportunity, on every day, and to every audience, that it is essential to state that the problem is that the wealth are attempting to fix forever their current favored position, and to anhilate the great change from government by elites and for elits, to government by the people and for the people - which has only in the last century been established.

It is for this reason that the protectionism for the rich must be attacked for what it is: a crass and short sighted attempt to forge chains of debt around the ankles of the public, and to bury them forever under a mountain of obligations. These attempts have never worked before, instead, the lead, inevitably, to cycles of depression.

It is for this reason that it is essential to affirm, every day, and in every action, that the present difficulties will only accelerate until such time as these shackles are removed, and people can, again, live free.

The objective of economic elitism is always to break the public into its particles, so that each person acts, alone and afraid, based on the pressures which confront his household and his finances. It is the objective, therefore, of enligthened populism, to unify the public, to take the droplets of water, and merge them into one mighty river of the mainstream, which will, in its flood tide, sweep away the damns and dikes built to contain it and restrain it, so that it may sweep across the lands and bring life to the soil.

It is the objective of economic elitism to errect a cult of debt and a culture of deficit, and thereby make the living work for the dead, the dead who are tax exempt. The necronomic cult of economic elitism is now at its zenith, which would make the wealth of the rich as perpetual as it is now making the debts of the poor.

It is inevitable that such attempts will fail, and while, on any given day, or even any given year, the spirit of fear may move people to vote for this culture of deficit and cult of debt, this should not give cause to fear or despair - but merely fuel the fire of anger and determination, knowing that it is written in the book of fate that all peoples shall, one day, be free.

Thus again: it is the purpose of government to bring the greatest good to the greatest number, and to do this, it must reach to each person, who alone, is one, and instead set forth a vision of the vast numbers which are the public of the present, and the numberless multitude which are the generations of the future. And we must declare that this generation, this moment, will not be the one that succumbed to the cult of debt, and there by sold those generations for some present comfort. Those who trade permanent liberty, for temporary prosperity, get, and deserve, neither.

Thus let us neither act out of fear, nor fear to act. Let us neither despair of the future, nor create a future of despair. Let us neither place our faith in the poverty of war, nor let us war on prosperity. Let us realize that in this time, in our time, it is given to us to wrench free the chains of a war that is long cold, and that in this cause, larger than ourselves, there is redemption for the errors of the past, and prevention of errors in the future.

We must act, but not from mere reaction. Because alone we are afraid, together we are brave, but only united are we victorious.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/4/15/92421/0553

Thursday, April 14, 2005

t r u t h o u t - Jamison Foser | Five Ways to Combat Conservative Media

Five Ways to Combat Conservative Media
By Jamison Foser
In These Times

Tuesday 12 April 2005

1. Stop Talking about "Bias"

Inaccurate, distorted and misleading news reports that further a conservative agenda or undermine progressive ideas dominate our newspapers and airwaves. But this isn't necessarily because reporters or media outlets are biased towards conservatives.

For every Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, there are dozens of reporters who don't have an ideological axe to grind, but whose work contains conservative misinformation anyway.

Sometimes that's because they lazily repeat Republican talking points. Sometimes it's because the conservative communications apparatus is larger, more lavishly funded and better able to disseminate its message. Regardless of the reason, conservative misinformation appears in news reports written, produced and read by all kinds of journalists.

The Right has spent decades framing the debate over media coverage as one of ideological bias, and it has worked for them. But that's an overly simplistic view of the media. Rather than mimicking conservatives, progressives should recognize that we can't read reporters' hearts and minds-but we can read their articles and columns.

By focusing our criticism on content rather than intent, we can more effectively address the problems in news reports. Criticism based on content rather than claims of "bias" will also resonate with a larger portion of the public.

2. Stay Informed

Media Matters for America, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting and Free Press are all valuable resources for progressives who want to fight the flood of conservative misinformation in the media.

Also seek out progressive voices in the media, from Air America to bloggers to the soon-to-launch Progressive Book Club.

3. Get Active

Every day, reporters are bombarded with inaccurate and misleading information promoted by conservatives, and they face constant allegations of "bias" from right-wing organizations and politicians, including the president and vice president of the United States.

Is it any wonder news reports are filled with conservative misinformation?

Well, it won't change-unless we all do something about it. When you see a misleading news report, write a letter or make a phone call. Tell the news organization why they are wrong. Tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell your family, and encourage progressive leaders to do the same. Progressive efforts to fight back against conservative misinformation in the media will gain credibility and momentum when we all join the fight-from local activists to elected officials.

4. Be Patient - and Be Persistent

Conservatives have spent decades actively and intensely "working the refs," as former Republican National Committee chairman Rich Bond famously described the right's criticism of the media. Progressives took longer to get started, so it will not be enough to occasionally hold media outlets responsible for purveying conservative misinformation: We have to do it every day.

5. Fight Back in Innovative Ways

Aside from writing letters and making phone calls, we must think of new, creative and effective ways to combat conservative misinformation in the media. Come up with your own ideas, try them out-and share them with other activists.

Jamison Foser has been Senior Adviser at Media Matters for America since the organization's launch in early 2004.



Go to Original

Media 101: General Motors and The Los Angeles Times
By Christian Christensen
CommonDreams.org

Tuesday 12 April 2005

It is always enlightening to see how the mainstream news media cover a story like the decision by General Motors to suspend advertising in the Los Angeles Times. When advertisers pull their money in response to news content they consider to be objectionable, journalists and media activists hurl accusations of censorship and overt corporate pressure, as if the power relationship between news organizations and large corporations had been some kind of shocking secret kept from the general public. That GM is using the withdrawal of ad money as leverage in order to get more favorable coverage is not shocking at all. In fact, it is utterly mundane. What is interesting about the story, however, is the way in which journalists address the relationship between news and advertising.

A comment made in an article by Stuart Elliot in the New York Times, is an excellent case in point. Elliot began his piece on the GM-LAT saga with the following statement of commonsense "fact" about commercial media:

"Marketers have been turning on media outlets for offenses real and perceived, for almost as long as there has been advertising space and commercial time to buy. Although marketers and media companies do business together, they are not in the same business, a distinction that manifests itself in fractious disputes caused by the tension between the media's right to say what they please and marketers' right to advertise where they please."

This assertion is either touchingly naïve or a clinical case of denial, but it is certainly misleading.

Where to begin? How about with the most obvious point that many of the "media companies" Elliot writes about are, in fact, synergistic conglomerates that engage in heavy marketing and advertising campaigns for many of their other, non-news products? The most mind-numbingly obvious example is that of ABC (who provide more people with their daily news than the Los Angeles Times or New York Times ever will): a television company owned by Disney. You know, Disney (owners of Miramax), the company that tried to prevent distribution of "Fahrenheit 9/11" (target: George W. Bush), possibly on the grounds that it would affect lucrative corporate tax breaks in Florida (Governor: Jeb Bush; Home: Disneyworld, Celebration, etc.). And we should be able to trust these guys to separate journalistic and corporate interests at ABC News? Or how about NBC, owned by General Electric? The collapsing of barriers between the companies that advertise and the companies that run ads has been going on for over 20 years. Not only are these supposedly separate companies "in the same business," they are literally the same business. (For a detailed list of major media companies and their corporate holdings, visit the website of the Columbia Journalism Review. )

What is interesting about the volume of coverage devoted to the GM-LAT story is that it serves as an excellent reminder of how rarely we see the inverse: stories on how commercial media companies and marketers get along just fine and make billions in profits as a result. GM has actually done all of us a huge favor by exposing a more accurate version of the relationship between commercial media and their corporate sponsors. The GM-LAT spat appears to be the exception to the advertiser-media relationship, not the rule. If GM is willing to drop $10 million in advertising from the LA Times over unflattering coverage, one could reasonably ask why events like this do not happen on a regular basis. One answer could be that media companies, while not part of a smoke-filled-room-conspiracy to keep advertisers happy, are quite good at providing a "supportive media environment" for their sponsors.

This isn't rehashed Marxist fluff, it's basic Capitalism: if a media outlet doesn't give an advertiser a good environment for selling, then the advertiser will look elsewhere. Gannett, Knight-Ridder, Hearst and Cox are a newspaper oligopoly, and monopolize newspaper advertising in the US. Are we to believe that these corporations have a "tense" relationship with major advertisers? This is a mutually beneficial relationship...with a heavy emphasis on the "beneficial."

Elliot's statement about the media and advertisers also cuts to the heart of one of the great myths of global commercial media (we need to stop pretending that this is an American disease): that members of the public are the primary "clients" for mainstream media output. As any introductory business class will tell you (and as any introductory media class should tell you), your "primary client" is the person or organization providing you with your greatest inflow of revenue. For commercial media outlets, the primary clients are advertisers. Every business sells something, and the business of commercial media is to sell the audience (attracted by the non-advertising content) to advertisers. The audience - preferably the "right" audience, of course - is the "product" of commercial media. Not comedies, not drama, and not news. If members of the public do not buy the products advertised in newspapers and on television, there will be no commercial newspapers or television.

The assertion (or was it a Freudian Slip?) that there is a "tension between the media's right to say what they please and marketers' right to advertise where they please" is rather confusing. I'm no constitutional scholar, but while I'm pretty sure that newspapers have certain freedom of speech rights under the First Amendment, I wasn't aware that marketers actually have the "right" to put ads wherever they please. I can only assume that once something like taking billions of dollars from advertisers becomes so ingrained into corporate journalistic culture, it is easy to confuse a "business decision" with a "right."

Christian Christensen is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Communication at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, Turkey.

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/041305J.shtml

New York Times | Congress's Deepening Shadow World

Congress's Deepening Shadow World
The New York Times Editorial

Thursday 14 April 2005

When it comes to lobbying Congress, Washington is now a $3-billion-a-year company town. The influence industry is multiplying so fast that no one really knows how many lobbyists are at work these days. Ten years after a law was passed to register and track lobbyists, the Capitol staffs charged with the task are woefully short-handed and lack proper auditing and investigative powers, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity.

It found the industry doubling in size in just the past six years. At the same time, government's revolving door has ratcheted up to warp speed: an estimated 240 former members of Congress and federal agency heads, as well as 2,000 other senior officials, are now lobbyists, earning salaries only fantasized about in their public service days to gain an entree for major corporations and interest groups.

The some $13 billion spent on lobbying since 1998 is more than twice the amount spent by candidates for federal office, yet campaign financing is vetted far more closely for possible abuses than lobbying. Thousands of required lobbying disclosure documents have not been filed, the center found, with no one making a fuss.

Lobbying has now become an established part of representative government. But that doesn't remove the need for far better disclosure rules and regulation, as should be obvious from the tale of Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist-insider being investigated because of allegations that he gulled Indian tribes to collect scores of millions of dollars.

A few lawmakers, like Representative Martin Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat, have proposed stronger restraints on the Congressional alumni who so quickly turn around to lobby their old committees. He would also require disclosure by the murky, mushrooming world of "grass roots" lobbying via outside pressure groups and television ads. Such good ideas, of course, don't draw the attention of Washington's power lobbyists.

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/041405M.shtml

Some Prominent American on Church/State Separation

George Washington:


* Every man "ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience"

John Adams:
* The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

James Madison:

* The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretence, infringed. (Original wording of the First Amendment; Annals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789)
* Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.
* And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Govt (sic) will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.
* What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.
* Experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.
* It was the Universal opinion of the Century preceding the last, that Civil Government could not stand without the prop of a religious establishment; and that the Christian religion itself, would perish if not supported by the legal provision for its clergy. The experience of Virginia conspiciously corroboates the disproof of both opinions. The Civil Government, tho' bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability and performs its functions with complete success; whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the TOTAL SEPARATION OF THE CHURCH FROM THE STATE.
* Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?
* The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.

Thomas Jefferson:

* Question with boldness even the existence of a god.
* I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature."
* We discover [in the gospels] a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstition, fanaticism and fabrication.
* And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his Father, in the womb of a virgin will be classified with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.
* Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.
* It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God.
* Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.

John Adams:

* The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole carloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity.
* As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?
* I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved--the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!

Benjamin Franklin:

* In the Affairs of this World Men are saved, not by Faith, but by Want of it.
* As to Jesus of Nazareth...I think the system of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity.
* Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.
* When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.
* The nearest I can make it out, 'Love your Enemies' means, 'Hate your Friends'.
* I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life I absented myself from Christian assemblies.
* My parents had early given me religious impressions, and brought me through my childhood piously in the dissenting [puritan] way. But I was scarce fifteen, when, after doubting by turns of several points, as I found them disputed in the different books I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself. Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle's lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough deist.

Thomas Paine:

* The story of Jesus Christ appearing after he was dead is the story of an apparition, such as timid imaginations can always create in vision, and credulity believe. Stories of this kind had been told of the assassination of Julius Caesar...
* The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.
* Every phrase and cirsumstance are marked with the barbarous hand of superstitious torture, and forced into meanings it was impossible they could have. The head of every chapter, and the top of every page, are blazoned with the names of Christ and the Church, that the unwary reader might suck in the error before he began to read.
* All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
* Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistant that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.
* but the Bible is such a book of lies and contradictions there is no knowing which part to believe or whether any...
* The New Testament, compared with the Old, is like a farce of one act...
* There are matters in the Bible, said to be done by the express commandment of God, that are shocking to humanity and to every idea we have of moral justice....
* Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifiying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity.
* As to the book called the bible, it is blasphemy to call it the Word of God. It is a book of lies and contradictions and a history of bad times and bad men.
* I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of... Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.
* As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of government to protect all conscientious protesters thereof, and I know of no other business government has to do therewith

Ethan Allen:

* That Jesus Christ was not God is evidence from his own words
* I have been "denominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious that I am no Christian."

John Quincy Adams:

- There is in the clergy of all Christian denominations a time-serving, cringing, subservient morality, as wide from the spirit of the Gospel as it is from the intrepid assertion and vindication of the truth.

Abraham Lincoln:

* My earlier views at the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.
* The Bible is not my Book and Christianity is not my religion. I could never give assent to the long complicated statements of Christian dogma.

Ulysses S. Grant:

- Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.

Rutherford B. Hayes:

- We all agree that neither the Government nor political parties ought to interfere with religious sects. It is equally true that religious sects ought not to interfere with the Government or with political parties. We believe that the cause of good government and the cause of religion suffer by all such interference.

James A. Garfield:

- The divorce between Church and State ought to be absolute. It ought to be so absolute that no Church property anywhere, in any state or in the nation, should be exempt from equal taxation; for if you exempt the property of any church organization, to that extent you impose a tax upon the whole community.

Theodore Roosevelt:

* To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any church, is an outrage against that liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life.
* If there is one thing for which we stand in this country, it is for complete religious freedom, and it is an emphatic negation of this right to cross-examine a man on his religion before being willing to support him for public office.

Warren G. Harding:
- In the experiences of a year of the Presidency, there has come to me no other such unwelcome impression as the manifest religious intolerance which exists among many of our citizens. I hold it to be a menace to the very liberties we boast and cherish.

Calvin Coolidge:

- The fundamental precept of liberty is toleration. We cannot permit any inquisition either from within or from without the law or apply any religious test to the holding of office. The mind of America must be forever free.

Alfred E. Smith:

- I believe in absolute freedom of conscience for all men and equality of all churches, all sects, and all beliefs before the law as a matter of right and not as a matter of favor. I believe in the absolute separation of church and state and in the strict enforcement of the Constitution that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. I believe that no tribunal of any church has any power to make any decree of any force in the law of the land, other than to establish the status of its own communicants within its own church.

John F. Kennedy:

* It is my firm belief that there should be separation of church and state in the United States--that is, that both church and state should be free to operate, without interference from each other in their respective areas of jurisdiction.
* I believe in an America where the separation of Church and State is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

Lyndon B. Johnson:

- I believe in the American tradition of separation of church and state which is expressed in the First Amendment to the Constitution. By my office--and by my personal conviction--I am sworn to uphold that tradition.

R. Sargent Shriver:

- I believe strongly in the Constitutional principle of separating church and state. Our founders were right in fearing that religious freedom would be threatened in the long run by a departure from governmental neutrality in spiritual matters.

Jimmy Carter:

- I believe in the separation of church and state and would not use my authority to violate this principle in any way.

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Wal-Mart)

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Wal-Mart)

We hear that Pa. Sen. Rick Santorum hasn't been spending much time of late in his adopted hometown of Penn Hills near Pittsburgh, the town that spent over $100,000 to educate the senator's five kids while they were living in a luxury home in Virginia.

So Santorum probably doesn't even know that his neighbors are upset that a new Wal-Mart is coming to Penn Hills, so upset they held a meeting last night to complain about everything from traffic to the mom-and-pop stores that will likely be driven out of business.

But even the folks back in Penn Hills could get close enough to Santorum to complain, he might not hear them. Especially over the din of Wal-Mart corporate jet -- the jet that recently chauffered the Republican around the Sunshine State while Santorum alternately mugged for the cameras on Terri Schiavo's death watch and raised some $250,000 in campaign cash from deep-pocketed Florida donors. Under federal election rules, Santorum only need reimburse the retail giant at the rate of commercial air fares to Florida and not for the real cost of the lavish chartered travel.

When that story was broken earlier this week by our Daily News colleague John Baer, most of the outrage focused -- and rightfully so -- on the fact that Santorum had cancelled a public meeting on Social Security reform "out of respect" for the Schiavo family but didn't cancel his closed fundraising events.

But lost in the uproar was the close relationship between Wal-Mart, Santorum, and the political agenda of the massive $256-billion-a-year retailer whose actions drive everything from American labor relations to the U.S. relationship with China.

Attytood checked into it and quickly found out in addition to Santorum's sky perks program, the Arkansas retail chain has also become one of the senator's most generous campaign donors as well.

According to campaign records. Wal-Mart's political action committee -- which has become a major backer of the GOP in the last few years -- gave $10,000 to Santorum's campaign in late November.

Lobbyists who work for the firms hired in recent years by Wal-Mart to represent its sweeping political interests -- including Patton Boggs, Cassidy and Associates and Ernst & Young, have given at least $21,793 more, most of that to a Santorum controlled political action committee called America's Foundation.

What does Wal-Mart get out of the relationship? Well, it's clear there's a huge overlap between what the retail monolith wants and what Santorum actually works for in Congress...when he's not busy assailing "judicial tyranny" or a "culture of death" for the TV cameras.

For example:

* Overtime and minimum wages: It's hard to imagine an issue of greater importance to Wal-Mart -- the nation's largest low-wage employer. The overtime issues may be the most critical, because in recent years, Wal-mart has faced dozens of lawsuits over not paying its workers for overtime.

This winter, between the time that Wal-Mart PAC gave the $10,000 to Santorum's campaign and the jet trip to Florida, Santorum introduced an amendment for a sweeping overhaul of the nation's minimum wage and related overtime laws.

Santorum's amendment, which failed, would have raised the minimum wage, but only to $6.25 an hour, or about a doillar less than Democrats are seeking. More important was the overtime provision. Under Santorum's proposed rule, an employee could work 50 hours one week and 30 hours the next, but not receive overtime for that additional ten hours. Democrats noted that millions of workers might lose overtime pay.

* Tort reform: Santorum is a major supporter of new proposals to limit lawsuits, including one that would move most suits against large companies from state to federal courts. Guess what? Wal-mart and its ally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, support this as well. Maybe that's because Wal-Mart is facing the largest class-action suit in history, a gender-discrimination case involving 1.5 million female employees.

As this article notes, Wal-Mart has given at least $1 million to the Chamber of Commerce, whose PAC gave $9,500 to help Santorum get re-elected in 2000. It also states:

Wal-Mart, the retailer many experts consider the most-sued company in America, stands to benefit from the new class-action law, which is designed to cut down on lawsuits and big verdicts by steering some cases into federal courts, away from state courts with track records of siding with plaintiffs and awarding multimillion-dollar verdicts, according to policy experts.

* Estate taxes and charitable giving: Most of Santorum's constituents are unaware that their senator is a main sponsor and advocate for the Charitable Giving, or CARE, Act. One of the proposal's obscure provisions would allow a foundation to receive a gift from an "interested" corporation in excess of $1 billion, if the foundation agrees to divest itself of the gift within 10 years and adopt a 12 percent all-grants payout rate while holding the stock.

Who cares about that? Well, read this:

NCRP opposes this provision, on the grounds that it breaks down the "Chinese Wall" between corporations and foundations; it results in legislative particularism, regulating certain foundations and not others; and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) is pushing it, apparently at the urging of the Walton (Wal-Mart) family

Of course, as the world's wealthiest family, the Waltons also are eager to see the estate tax repealed. And so is Rick Santorum.

We don't know if anyone from Wal-Mart or their lobbyists was on the jet with Santorum on his money-raising tour of Florida -- if there had been, they sure would have had a lot to talk about. (We've been waiting for nearly 24 hours to get a callback from the Santorum campaign -- we'll give you an update if and when they do so). We also don't know if he was staying in his Penn Hills "house" while his neighbors were trying to keep Wal-Mart out, but we doubt he'd have much useful to say to them.

Santorum may be Pennsylvania's junior senator, but when it comes to representing the interests of Wal-Mart, he's the top dog.

http://www.pnionline.com/dnblog/attytood/archives/001715.html

Continental Drift

From The Nation

Continental Drift

by D.D. GUTTENPLAN

Free World: America, Europe and the Surprising Future of the West
by Timothy Garton Ash

Beyond Paradise and Power: Europe, America, and the Future of a Troubled Partnership
by Tod Lindberg, ed.

The Accidental American: Tony Blair and the Presidency
by James Naughtie

The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy
by T.R. Reid

The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream
by Jeremy Rifkin

The New World Disorder
by Tzvetan Todorov

[from the April 4, 2005 issue]

To an American, Europe is a cautionary tale. From Jefferson's warning that when we "get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall be as corrupt as Europe" to Madison's explanation that separation of church and state was the only way to avoid "the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries," the Founding Fathers used the Continent to signify everything our new nation was not. A century later the Gilded Age's yearning for cultural validation complicated matters, requiring a Henry James or an Edith Wharton to do justice to the shifting balance of social insecurity, moral superiority, confidence and naïveté. But even the most starry-eyed grand tourist knew they were traveling backwards in time. Well into the last century, Europe was the "old world," a fading catalogue of postcard views and primitive plumbing where Americans came to lose their innocence.

This was still true in 1977, when I first lived in Europe as a student. Parisian literary theory may have been avant-garde, but French public phones seldom functioned (and still required a jeton, a slotted token), hot showers were a luxury and the future, from architecture to music to technology, was Made in the USA. Italy and Spain seemed even more backward--vast gorgeous museums where you could look at art, eat and drink incomparably well and admire the past, but where the train stations were tiny islands of modernity. The Italian lira was in perpetual free fall--a Roman friend told me the chewing gum and candy I was usually given in lieu of small change was worth more than the coins--and Spain was just emerging from Franco's suffocating embrace. When I arrived in Madrid the Communist Party was still illegal; back in Paris the newly elected mayor was a right-wing Gaullist named Jacques Chirac. France's president, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, was also a conservative, as were the leaders of Italy and Germany--West Germany, that is. In England, where I came to study a few years later, all the Americans at my college were put in the same building--the only one with central heat. None of my student friends had cars or telephones, and the pay phones were even worse than in France. Public anger over the lack of heat--and electricity--for days at a time during a coal strike helped bring down Britain's Labour government and usher in Thatcherism, a genuine European innovation, if not a welcome one.

When did Europe's olde curiosity shoppe turn cutting edge? For Timothy Garton Ash the seminal event was the fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989. A British journalist who reported extensively on the rise of Solidarity and the collapse of the Soviet empire, Garton Ash has come a long way since the early 1980s, when he found the German Green Party's pacifism far more alarming than anything Ronald Reagan was up to. Garton Ash's unmitigated delight at the demise of "actually existing socialism" may be hard for some Nation readers to take, but his perception that the end of the cold war severed many of the ties that bound Europe so firmly to America is surely correct. (Longtime Nation readers may recall that E.P. Thompson predicted precisely such a drifting apart once European politics were allowed to thaw.)

Culturally the traffic across the Atlantic has been two-way for rather longer. Even in 1977, Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano's Centre Pompidou announced an architecture firmly rooted in European soil, one that no longer took America's post-World War II dominance for granted. Punk rock in Britain shared little more than a name with its American cousin; Barcelona reinvented its Ramblas without even a glance at Broadway. But as long as Soviet tanks faced west, Europe was obliged to huddle together under Uncle Sam's nuclear umbrella.

Europe today is an economic power, the largest internal market in history, whose Benetton-clad, Prada-shod citizens scarf Alpen Bars on the way to work, fill up their German, French and Italian cars with BP, Shell and Elf, read books published by Pearson/Penguin and Bertelsmann, and chat endlessly on Finnish-made Nokia phones over the British-owned Vodafone network. As do increasing numbers of Americans, mostly without noticing it. Such icons of everyday American life as Dunkin' Donuts, Bazooka gum, Dr Pepper, Brooks Brothers, Jiffy Lube and Household Finance are also now European owned. As are Jeeps (made by Germany's DaimlerChrysler) and even Baby Ruth bars! When my family and I moved from Brooklyn to London ten years ago, the standard of living was at least as high as in the United States--and that was just in Britain. On the Continent the trains not only ran on time but were faster, more frequent and far better appointed than anything on Amtrak's rails. Today, even in poorer countries like Greece and the Czech Republic, cell phones are ubiquitous, childcare is state-subsidized and supermarket and bookstore shelves alike are near occasions of sin. Fly from JFK to Milan, or Baltimore to Bilbao, and you are in little doubt which way the money goes.

Politically, though, Europe remained underdeveloped. Sheer complexity, an inevitable consequence of the six-member European Economic Community becoming first a twelve-member European Community and then a twenty-five-member European Union, was partly to blame. Garton Ash looks at Europe's cumbersome governmental structure and superfluous sovereignties and sees a "postmodern Commonwealth." As a native-born Virginian, I know a confederacy when I see one. Still, so long as Europeans were content to follow America's lead, nobody minded much. Henry Kissinger might complain, "If I want to pick up the phone and talk to Europe, whom do I call?" Bill Clinton might rail against European paralysis over Bosnia or resent EU fecklessness in Kosovo, but when America did decide to act, Europe was--for the most part--happy to follow. We did the cooking (bombing, bullying, coalition-building); they did the washing up (peacekeeping, nation-building, war crimes trials). It was a division of labor that functioned, or seemed to, until Iraq.

What made Iraq different was George W. Bush's evident disdain for the scutwork of multilateral diplomacy. What also set Iraq apart was the German and French refusal to fall in line. Differences with the French were déjà vu, but Germany? A country Americans had remade in our own image, and where there were still more than 70,000 American soldiers? Was this the end of the Atlantic alliance? Could this marriage be saved? From the Carnegie Endowment to Chatham House, an agreeable sense of crisis spread across the land.

First to weigh in was Robert Kagan, who in his 2003 polemic Of Paradise and Power declared, "It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world." Americans, said Kagan, "are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus." Faced with military might, Europeans come over all girly not because they are more virtuous, Kagan explained, but because they are weak. Europeans fetishize the United Nations Security Council as "a substitute for the power they lack." How influential was Kagan? "Of Paradise and Power ranks with Frank Fukuyama's The End of History and Sam Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations," Raymond Seitz, former US Ambassador to Great Britain, wrote in the London Times. He meant it as a compliment.

Kagan's thesis that Europe, though in terminal decline, was still worth a little buttering up has spawned its own cottage industry. The Hoover Institution's Policy Review, which first published Kagan's essay in abbreviated form, has just issued an entire volume of responses, Beyond Paradise and Power, edited by Tod Lindberg, the journal's editor. The spectrum of views is somewhat restricted, ranging from triumphalist to mildly skeptical of American power, but some interesting divisions do emerge. Walter Russell Mead, propagandist-in-chief for the "resistance is futile" school, argues that Europe's "cultural preference for a strong state" puts the Continent at a permanent disadvantage. "Although Americans have never consciously embraced Marx's philosophy," he writes, displaying a hitherto unsuspected talent for understatement, "they have come very close to embracing Marx's vision of capitalism as an irresistible, world-conquering force."

Since America is destined to supersize its way to world supremacy, why bother with "old" Europe? "What will matter to the United States, in the foreseeable future, are allies who can help provide bases, flyover rights, peacekeeping troops, and possibly the odd specialized chemical weapons or special operations troops, not to mention moral, political, and intelligence support. These are things the Poles, Spaniards, and Italians can do as well as the Belgians, Luxemburgers, or even the Germans," writes Anne Applebaum, magnanimously pardoning Spain for joining the coalition of the unwilling.

Lindberg's Europeans are not so convinced of their own insignificance. Gilles Andréani of the French Foreign Ministry argues that a successful dominant power never relies on force alone. Instead it "tries to shape the international order, to influence international norms, and to surround its own dominance with legitimacy." The alternative, though Andréani is perhaps too polite to say so, is unfettered imperial paranoia. Wolfgang Ischinger, German Ambassador to the United States, makes a similar point by distinguishing a hegemonic power, which both sustains and is bound by the rules of an international order, from an imperial superpower, which "only plays by the rules when it suits its interests."And Kalypso Nicolaidis, a Franco-Hellenic contributor, dares to pose a question that, in this context, seems truly heretical: "What if Europe's story of peace building had more relevance to the rest of the world than the U.S. story of liberal imperialism? What if not to be the superpower--or even a superpower--was itself the key to Europe's international influence?"

Did such a thought ever occur to Tony Blair? "We are building a new world superpower," Blair told Washington Post reporter T.R. Reid. "The European Union is about the projection of collective power, wealth, and influence. That collective strength makes individual nations more powerful--and it will make the EU as a whole a global power." Of course, that was back in the days when Blair promised to put Britain "at the heart of Europe," before he decided it was more prudent to attach himself to a different portion of George W. Bush's anatomy. The Accidental American, James Naughtie's well-informed account of the Bush-Blair courtship, makes it clear that it was not 9/11 but Blair's own craving for power that drove him into Washington's arms. Having ruthlessly discarded the Labour Party's socialist principles as an obstacle to electoral success, Blair came to office as a French-speaking, Chianti-drinking Euro-modernizer. Unlike most well-off Britons of his generation, the Prime Minister had never even visited the United States, but in Bill Clinton's mercurial triangulations Blair recognized a fellow operator. What really hooked Blair on the perks of the "special relationship," though, was the campaign against Serbia's Milosevic. Clinton's willingness to back British rhetoric with American air power proved intoxicating. By the time Bush replaced Clinton, Blair's habit was out of control.

Naughtie suggests that Afghanistan was already in Blair's sights in February 2001, when Britain's Foreign Office was asked to report on "the Taliban regime, the extent of its violations of human rights, the scale of the heroin traffic that originated in Afghan poppy fields and led to the streets of British cities, and the threat from al Qaeda." According to Naughtie, "Blair even raised the prospect with Bush that they would find themselves at war in Afghanistan" in a conversation in the spring of 2001--months before the attacks on the World Trade Center. Even more disturbing--and equally unremarked in the US press--is the revelation that American spying on UN Security Council delegates during the run-up to the war in Iraq was actually aimed at preventing a deal on a second resolution. In Naughtie's account Blair and Bush were equally committed to war. Blair just wanted a little more time. Bush, his eye firmly on the electoral calendar, said no. Bush got his war and, eventually, his electoral victory. Thanks to the feeble nature of the opposition, Blair is also likely to be returned to power later this year. Politically, however, Blair is a spent force, a gangrenous limb rotting away on the body politic, whose latest desperate distraction from the Iraq debacle--a bill in the name of the "war on terror" to legalize imprisonment without trial and impose South African-style banning orders--slid through the House of Commons, leaving it to the House of Lords, the archaic chamber Labour once promised to abolish, to defend British liberties. On March 11, a revised version passed the Lords as well, breaking a promise to British "freemen" that had stood since the Magna Carta.

With a new ice age gripping Britain and the United States, some see fairer skies over mainland Europe. Jeremy Rifkin's The European Dream is a veritable celebration of "community relationships over individual autonomy, cultural diversity over assimilation, quality of life over the accumulation of wealth, sustainable development over unlimited material growth, deep play over unrelenting toil"--you get the idea. This is a truly dreadful book, which is too bad, since Rifkin's heart obviously beats on the left side of his chest. Badly written to the point of self-parody--"We became existential nomads, wandering through a boundaryless world full of inchoate longings in a desperate search for something to be attached to and believe in"--it is also very uninformed.

To Rifkin, his own country is a coercive melting pot; "the European Dream, by contrast, is based on preserving one's cultural identity and living in a multicultural world." Try telling that to a Muslim schoolgirl or an Orthodox Jewish teacher in France, forced to uncover their heads. Rifkin's Eurotopia of prosperous farmers, protected workers and environmental enlightenment might reflect his own social circle: "Almost everyone I know in Europe among the professional and business classes has some small second home in the country somewhere--a dacha usually belonging to the family for generations. While working people may not be as fortunate, on any given weekend they can be seen exiting the cities en masse." But it doesn't give him much of a handle on the destruction of local agricultural markets in Portugal or Greece, the exploitation of migrant labor in Spain, urban squalor in Scotland or the scale of environmental devastation in Poland and eastern Germany.

Rifkin's European Übermenschen are kind, gentle and terribly concerned about the Third World. Europe's $8 donation for each sub-Saharan African does look generous compared with American stinginess--less so in light of the $913 a head Europeans spend subsidizing their cows. Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder may be heroes of the antiwar movement, but part of the price of solidarity was German backing for French efforts to block reform of the Common Agricultural Policy--a system of subsidies paid mostly to wealthy West European farmers who then dump cheap food on Third World markets, driving out local producers. Germany also dropped many of its objections to a draft European Constitution whose author, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, is better known for accepting diamonds from a cruel Central African dictator than for progressive zeal. (Giscard's most recent claim on public attention was his pronouncement in Le Monde that if Turkey were allowed to join the EU, "in my opinion, it would be the end of Europe.")

If Europeans haven't quite built the cooperative commonwealth, what have they built? The EU, writes T.R. Reid, betraying just a hint of patriotic anxiety, already has "a president, a parliament, a constitution, a cabinet, a central bank, a bill of rights, a unified patent office, and a court system with the power to overrule the highest courts of every member nation. It has a 60,000 member army (or 'European Rapid Reaction Force' to be precise) that is independent of NATO or any other outside control. It has its own space agency with 200 satellites in orbit and a project under way to send a European to Mars before Americans get there."

As befits a reporter for the Washington Post, Reid follows the money. Mario Monti is hardly a household name even in London, but as the EU Director General for Competition he scuttled American management idol Jack Welch's biggest deal, a merger between GE (based in Connecticut) and Honeywell (headquarters in New Jersey). Last year Monti slapped Microsoft with a $600 million fine and ordered the firm to rewrite the Windows operating system. Far from the hidebound dirigiste cripple conjured by Mead or Kagan, Reid's "United States of Europe" is an economic superpower fully capable of challenging the USA. Indeed, the euro has already put the dollar in the shade. Reid, who headed Post bureaus in Tokyo and London, really earns his trench coat with his account of the European currency's unexpected triumph (Kissinger was famously dubious; George Will flatly predicted "it will not work").

Europe's other enormous achievement is a half-century of peace on what was once the killing floor of the West. Much of the credit may well be due to the cold war, and a lot of the rest to American aid and protection. Still, the growth of what the Germans call Zivilmacht--harder than Harvard professor Joseph Nye's "soft power," a muscular sense of civil society as a force in world affairs--is one fruit of Europe's long peace. The European social model is the other. Here again it is important to be clear on what that model is not--in a word, socialism. But the breadth of the European consensus, and a sense of how wide the Atlantic has become on these matters, can be seen when Reid quotes the leader of Norway's conservative Christian Democrats: "We have decided that raising a child is real work. And that this work provides value for the whole society. And that the society as a whole should pay for this valuable service. Americans like to talk about family values. We have decided to do more than talk; we use our tax revenues to pay for family values." And Norway isn't even in the EU!

http://www.thenation.com/docprint.mhtml?i=20050404&s=guttenplan

Stirling Newberry - John Edwards on Poverty

John Edwards on Poverty
by Stirling Newberry


Thu Apr 14th, 2005 at 07:40:32 PDT

[Crossposted at bopnews.com. One reader was kind enough to provide a real media link to the video]

Senator Edwards is preaching religion, and the text of his sermon at the Kennedy School of Government on Wednesday the 13th of April, was poverty in America, and most specifically poverty among those who work, and the threat of poverty for those who are one accident away from the tender mercies of the new bankruptcy bill. His message was that the Democratic Party has stood specifically for two important principles: first raising the respect of work and the fortunes of working Americans is the most powerful force against poverty, and second that the Democratic Party has battled poverty, specifically and constantly through out its history, and is a moral obligation to fight poverty in America and around the world.

It is tempting to write about the messenger - a temptation that I yield to now because I will be writing more about the message elsewhere.

One of his Senate colleagues said that John Edwards is "an enormously gifted politician", he has a direct communication with his audience because of the core of his personality. In many respects he needed to lose the last run for the nomination - because in running for President, he found, not only himself, but who his people are.

As a Democrat whose stances have grown increasingly progressive, what he found was that across America there are people who are working hard, but for whom the system is hardly working. He found that the programs that we have to lift people out of poverty work, but that more must be done. His response is one that should be recognizable to Democrats: for the system to work, government must work, people must work, and there must be work for them. He looks at it from a visceral and emotional standpoint, one that uses the language of biblical morality. He found that people in the cities had the same problems as the rural areas he grew up in, he shared with the audience his memories of how he nearly became a statistic because of poverty and pressures.

This moral response allowed authenticity to be at the core of how he speaks of poverty - he has faced it, and believes that poverty is a crushing force - poverty, not only of material things, but poverty of spirit. And because of this he was there to issue a call to arms for the younger generation to fight poverty and exclusion in America - because in his travels he had seen that the same pressures he felt as a child, are being layered on people by where they were born, and by race and ethnicity. He pointed out that the average net wealth of African American and Latino families in the US is 1/10 of the average white family, but that in rural areas, the levels of white poverty resemble those of urban poverty.

This moral response allows him to genuinely argue that there must be a restoration in America of the moral sense that we must help those who live around us, and by doing so we help ourselves. He recalled that civil rights was a turning point, not just for America, but for Americans like himself who saw that idealism, particularly the idealism of the young, could be a powerful force for the good, and could break barriers. This sense of breaking barriers pervaded the solutions that he proposed, such as expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, and of education programs. Barriers that make people start behind, are used to keep them behind.

This moral response lead him to refer back to FDR, not in the technocratic sense, but in the same way that made FDR say that his philosophy was to be "a Christian and a Democrat". This basic moral stance on improving people's lives carried over to fighting poverty around the world: he spoke glowingly of the efforts to end poverty, and how people like Jeffery Sachs have joined that effort in recent years, because of the shadow that poverty casts over the world.

His belief is that individuals at the local level know what needs to be done, but that there must be a larger and broader movement, and national organization, to provide support for the effort to end poverty by ennobling work. But it was not merely this: when asked about those who are in poverty because of mental illness his response was unequivocal, government must help those who cannot help themselves. His message of responsibility was not one which held people responsible for misfortunes beyond their control.

But his primary focus was on how the system preys on the poor: with predatory lending, poor housing, ghettoizing people in areas of low growth and high pollution, robbing them of the basic security that they need to get by, and the ability to accumulate that cushion of assets they need to get ahead.

At one point a woman from a Latina organization, well I can't say stood up because she is in a wheel chair, challenged him on inclusion, on the other ceilings that people face. Her name is Amelia de Jesus, and her presentation was passionate and forceful on the barriers to having people not from the narrow range of privilege "sit at the table" when decisions were made. His reply was equally passionate "I want you at my table", and that ending poverty is "a ladder where we must allow people to climb upwards". It is the kind of connection that is a master politician - in the good sense - at work, the building of coalitions based on common principles, and opening access to power.

Many people here will remember his stance on the war first, and not kindly. It can be safely said that I also differ with Senator Edwards' vote on Iraq - but let us not let differences become divides, because it is clear that Senator Edwards genuinely has committed himself to ending poverty, and not merely physical poverty, but moral and spiritual poverty, poverty of hope, poverty of generosity, poverty of participation, in America.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/4/14/104032/487

BBC NEWS | Technology | Bogus blogs snare fresh victims

Bogus blogs snare fresh victims
Cyber criminals are starting to use fake blogs to snare new victims.

The bogus web journals are being used as traps that infect visitor's machines with keylogging software or viruses.

Filtering firm Websense said it had found hundreds of bogus blogs baited with all kinds of malicious software to snare the unwary.

Websense warned that the baited blogs could get past traditional security measures that try to protect people from malicious programs.

Hidden harm

The company said blogs were being used because they inadvertently offered lots of help to computer criminals.

Blogs are free and simple to use, offer users lots of storage space, can be used anonymously and most do not scan stored files for viruses and other malicious programs.

Websense said it had seen examples of some computer criminals creating a legitimate looking weblog, loading it with keylogging software or viral code, and then sending out the address of it through instant messenger or spam e-mail.

"These aren't the kind of blog websites that someone would stumble upon and infect their machine accidentally," said Dan Hubbard, Websense's research director. "The success of these attacks relies upon a certain level of social engineering to persuade the individual to click on the link."

In separate cases some blogs were being used as storage lockers holding chunks of malicious code that the controller of a network of zombie machines wants those remotely-controlled computers to use.

In late March, Websense found a fake e-mail message that tried to direct people to a blog that was hosting keylogging software.

Now it estimates that there could be more than 200 bogus blogs in existence that are being used to attack net users.

By comparison blog-watching service Technorati estimates that there are more than 8 million blogs in existence.

Anyone visiting the baited blog and falling victim to the keylogger could find that they have bank accounts rifled by the phishing gang behind the bogus website.

Websense warned that viruses hosted on weblogs might be a danger because they get round the filtering systems many firms have created to ensure malicious programs do not reach employees.

Users were urged to keep anti-virus and patches up to date, regularly scan machines with anti-spyware products and exercise caution when reading unsolicited messages sent via e-mail or instant messenger.
Story from BBC NEWS:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/technology/4441333.stm

US already moving toward a flat tax

US already moving toward a flat tax
Bigger tax breaks for wealth produces a system in which the middle class pays about the same as the rich.

By David R. Francis | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Billionaires are paying not much more taxes, proportionately, than those Americans who are merely prosperous.

It's a sign that, even without the formal adoption of a so-called "flat tax," America's tax system is getting flatter.

Ever since the introduction of the modern income tax in 1913, US policy has been guided by the notion that the rich should pay a larger of their income in federal taxes, since they arguably owe something extra to a government that protects their greater wealth, and to a society that has helped them prosper.

But a debate has long waged over just where to draw the line, with populists pushing to "soak the rich" and conservatives arguing that a too-progressive tax structure creates a disincentive for the creation of jobs and wealth that benefit the whole nation.

Chalk up President Bush as not just a tax cutter but also a tax flattener. Under Mr. Bush and a Republican Congress, big tax cuts since 2001 have given major tax reductions to those wealthy individuals presumed, up to now, to be able to afford paying a bigger chunk of their income in taxes. By one measure of the federal, state, and local tax burden, just 3.4 percentage points separate the effective tax rate paid by the top 1 percent of earners from the other 99 percent of American households.

"That's the goal of the president and Congress - to shift the tax and debt burden to middle-income Americans," charges Bob McIntyre, director of Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), a liberal Washington think tank that crunched the numbers.

The comment may be unfair to a president who has cut taxes for all income groups, and has not publicly espoused such a goal. But his policies could have the effect of shifting greater tax burdens to the middle class.

If the Bush tax cuts are made permanent by Congress, by 2010 billionaires and millionaires will be paying a smaller percentage of their income in federal taxes than those in the upper middle class, according to a calculation by Brian Roach, an economist at Tufts University, in Medford, Mass.

In his second term, Bush has identified further tax reform as a top goal. This could include a push for a flat tax, one in which all income groups are asked to pay the same rate.

Two tax cuts currently before Congress would flatten taxes further - if their proponents overcome objections to measures that would add to the already large budget deficit.

Many conservatives see the shift to a flatter system as progress. It leaves more money of the well-to-do untaxed, and thus available for the investment that creates jobs and prosperity. Eventually, a truly flat tax system could be simpler than the current one, encrusted by years of detailed congressional changes in the law to please various constituents.

Simpler tax filing would be welcome to most Americans. A new AP-Ipsos poll finds that most Americans think federal income taxes are too complicated, but they're not eager to get rid of some deductions and tax credits. And when asked about instituting a flat tax, a majority doesn't like the idea. Some 57 percent of those surveyed say people with higher incomes should pay a higher tax rate, while 40 percent thought tax rates should be the same for everyone.

In 1913, only 0.5 percent of the population paid the tax, and rates rose from 1 percent to 7 percent as income increased. That income tax level has risen, of course, but progressivity remained an important element.

The system still has progressivity, but that element is shrinking.

When the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those making an average $978,000 last year, sent in their tax forms for 2004 to the Internal Revenue Service in recent weeks, on average they paid 24.6 percent of their income in federal taxes. That rate is down 4.3 percentage points from pre-Bush tax law.

All income brackets have got tax cuts under Bush. But the reductions for less affluent Americans are smaller, proportionally, than those for the millionaires and billionaires.

The "effective" tax rate is that which taxpayers actually pay. It isn't the higher marginal tax rate paid on their last dollar of income.

The poor, the near-poor, and the lower middle class do pay a lower effective federal tax rate. The bottom 20 percent, for instance, pay 7.9 percent - basically just payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare.

When less progressive state and local taxes are added, the nation's tax system becomes even flatter. CTJ's analysis finds the top 1 percent were paying at a 32.8 percent rate, with the bottom 20 percent paying at a 19.7 percent rate.

A study last summer by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) of effective tax rates basically confirms the flattening pattern shown in the CTJ analysis. Because the CBO uses modestly different assumptions - for instance, it ignores the estate tax - its numbers are slightly different.

Several factors explain the flattening in the federal tax code. Under Bush, the tax on dividends and capital gains has been cut - although not eliminated, as flat-tax proponent Steve Forbes proposed in his 1996 presidential bid. The wealthy own the bulk of stocks and other financial assets.

Under Bush tax-cut legislation, the estate tax shrinks and then expires in 2010. But it is slated to return to a 55 percent level on large estates in 2011. Permanent repeal, under consideration in the House this week, would flatten federal taxes further in the next decade.

The other tax legislation now under review is a budget resolution in the Senate that would eliminate income taxes on Social Security payments. This would primarily benefit affluent seniors. The rich would also gain, but it would be a drop in their bigger buckets.

The fate of both tax provisions is uncertain. The budget process will likely continue until the fall.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0414/p03s01-usgn.htm