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, May 07, 2005

Memo disputes Bush Iraq claims

Friday, May 06, 2005, 07:29 A.M. Pacific


Memo disputes Bush Iraq claims

By Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON — A highly classified British memo, leaked during Britain's just-concluded election campaign, claims President Bush decided by summer 2002 to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and was determined to ensure that U.S. intelligence data supported his policy.

The memo, in which British foreign-policy aide Matthew Rycroft summarized a July 23, 2002, meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair with top security advisers, reports on a U.S. visit by Richard Dearlove, then head of Britain's MI-6 intelligence service.

The visit took place while the Bush administration was declaring to Americans that no decision had been made to go to war. While the memo makes observations about U.S. intentions toward Iraq, the document does not specify which Bush administration officials met with Dearlove.

The MI-6 chief's account of his U.S. visit was paraphrased by the memo: "There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and [weapons of mass destruction]. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. ... There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."

No weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in March 2003.

The White House repeatedly has denied accusations by top foreign officials that intelligence estimates were manipulated. It instead has noted the conclusions of studies by the Senate Intelligence Committee and a presidentially appointed panel that cite serious failures by the CIA and other U.S. agencies in judging Saddam's weapons programs.
The principal U.S. intelligence analysis, called a National Intelligence Estimate, wasn't completed until October 2002, well after the United States and United Kingdom apparently had decided military force should be used to overthrow Saddam's regime.

The memo, first disclosed in full by the Sunday Times of London, hasn't been disavowed by the British government. A spokesman for the British Embassy in Washington referred queries to another official, who didn't return calls.

A White House official said the administration wouldn't comment on the leaked document.

However, a former senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, called it "an absolutely accurate description of what transpired" during Dearlove's visit to Washington.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, is circulating a letter among fellow Democrats asking Bush for an explanation of the charges, an aide said.

In July 2002, and well afterward, top Bush administration advisers were insisting that "there are no plans to attack Iraq on the president's desk."

But the memo quotes British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, a close colleague of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, as saying "Bush had made up his mind to take military action."

Straw is quoted as having doubts about the Iraqi threat.

"But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran," Straw said, according to the memo.

The document said Straw proposed that Saddam be given an ultimatum to readmit U.N. weapons inspectors, which could help justify use of force. Powell in August 2002 persuaded Bush to push for such inspections.

But there were deep divisions in the White House over that course of action.

The memo says the National Security Council, then led by Condoleezza Rice, "had no patience with the U.N. route."

Supplemental information

was provided by Seattle Times staff, based on a reading of the memo.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/PrintStory.pl?document_id=2002265205&zsection_id=2002107549&slug=intel06&date=20050506

Friday, May 06, 2005

Paul Krugman - A Serious Drug Problem

A Serious Drug Problem - New York Times
"The New York Times
May 6, 2005
A Serious Drug Problem
By PAUL KRUGMAN

There was a brief flurry of outrage when Congress passed the 2003 Medicare bill. The news media reported on the scandalous vote in the House of Representatives: Republican leaders violated parliamentary procedure, twisted arms and perhaps engaged in bribery to persuade skeptical lawmakers to change their votes in a session literally held in the dead of night.

Later, the media reported on another scandal: it turned out that the administration had deceived Congress about the bill's likely cost.

But the real scandal is what's in the legislation. It's an object lesson in how special interests hold America's health care system hostage.

The new Medicare law subsidizes private health plans, which have repeatedly failed to deliver promised cost savings. It creates an unnecessary layer of middlemen by requiring that the drug benefit be administered by private insurers. The biggest giveaway is to Big Pharma: the law specifically prohibits Medicare from using its purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices.

Outside the United States, almost every government bargains over drug prices. And it works: the Congressional Budget Office says that foreign drug prices are 35 to 55 percent below U.S. levels. Even within the United States, Veterans Affairs is able to negotiate discounts of 50 percent or more, far larger than those the Medicare actuary expects the elderly to receive under the new plan.

After the drug bill's passage, Jacob Hacker and Theodore Marmor of Yale University estimated that a sensible bill could have delivered twice as much coverage for the same price.

Needless to say, apologists for the law insist that the prohibition on price negotiations had nothing to do with catering to special interests - that it was a matter of principle, of preserving incentives to innovate. How can we refute this defense?

One way is to challenge claims that the pharmaceutical industry needs high prices to innovate. In her book "The Truth About the Drug Companies," Marcia Angell, the former editor in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, shows convincingly that drug companies spend far more on marketing than they do on research - and that much of the marketing is designed to sell "me, too" drugs, which are no better than the cheaper drugs they replace. It should be possible to pay less for medicine, yet encourage more real innovation.

Another answer is to point to the haste with which key players in the drug bill's passage cashed in - making the claims that they wrote a pharma-friendly Medicare bill out of genuine concern for the public's welfare look ludicrous.

Let's look at just two examples.

Billy Tauzin, who shepherded the drug bill through when he was a member of Congress, now heads the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the all-powerful industry lobby group, for an estimated $2 million a year. In his new job, he's making novel arguments against allowing Americans to buy cheaper drugs from Canada: Al Qaeda, he suggests, might use fake Viagra tablets to get anthrax into this country.

Meanwhile, Thomas Scully, the former Medicare administrator - who threatened to fire Medicare's chief actuary if he gave Congress the real numbers on the drug bill's cost - was granted a special waiver from the ethics rules. This allowed him to negotiate for a future health industry lobbying job at the very same time he was pushing the drug bill.

If all this sounds like a story of a corrupt deal created by a corrupt system, it is. And it was a very expensive deal indeed. According to the Medicare trustees, the fiscal gap over the next 75 years created by the 2003 law - not the financing gap for Medicare as a whole, just the additional gap created by legislation passed 18 months ago - will be $8.7 trillion.

That's about three times the amount President Bush proposes to save by cutting middle-class Social Security benefits.

In fact, I have a suggestion for Mr. Bush. One way to prove that he's really sincere about addressing long-run fiscal problems, that his calls for benefit cuts aren't just part of an ideological agenda, would be to put Social Security aside for a while and fix his own Medicare program. Oh, never mind.

Nonetheless, someone will eventually have to take on the health care special interests. Who might do that? I'll write about that in the next installment of this series.

E-mail: krugman@nytimes.com


"
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/06/opinion/06krugman.html?hp=&pagewanted=print

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Wrap the Word Republican Around Their Throats

Wrap the Word Republican Around Their Throats
by Yosef 52 (dailykos)

Thu May 5th, 2005 at 15:19:33 PDT

Can you feel it? Can you feel the energy, the anger, the determination building up in Democrats, Independents, and sane Republicans? It's growing because of the parade of liars, religious fanatics, lunatics, and theocrats that has taken over the Republican Party and captured far too much of the public discourse in this country. I've been thinking about the most damning label I could come up with for the members of this grotesque menagerie, and I think I've got it:

REPUBLICAN.

Let me explain.

We need to tie the word Republican to every rightwing fruitcake and psychotic in America. This has to be done EVERY time the names of these people are mentioned. The name Republican itself must be associated with the most offensive people imaginable. To wit:

"REPUBLICAN Fred Phelps organized another anti-gay protest today..."

"REPUBLICAN Ann Coulter joked about terrorists murdering the staff of the New York Times..."

"REPUBLICAN Randall Terry demanded again that America become a theocracy..."

"REPUBLICAN Pat Robertson said that independent judges are a worse threat to America than Al Qaeda..."

"REPUBLICAN James Dobson again threatened vengeance if all of George Bush's judicial nominees are not confirmed."

You get the picture. We have to pound this meme into people's heads relentlessly, remorselessly, incessantly. Every extremist, every radical, every rightwing terrorist, every conservative bigot has to have the name REPUBLICAN branded on them in clear letters. And we wouldn't be lying. It's what the Republican Party is now. Let's make the word Republican itself an obscenity.

Because that's what it's becoming.

Republican budget deficit.
Republican trade deficit.
Republican Social Security scheme.
Republican crony capitalism.
The Republican monied elite.
Republican war in Iraq.
Republican oil shock.
Republican religious indoctrination.
Republican recession.
Republican war on the judiciary (Republican war on justice!).

Naomi Klein - How to End the War

How to End the War
by Naomi Klein


The central question we need to answer is this: What were the real reasons for the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq?

When we identify why we really went to war—not the cover reasons or the rebranded reasons, freedom and democracy, but the real reasons—then we can become more effective anti-war activists. The most effective and strategic way to stop this occupation and prevent future wars is to deny the people who wage these wars their spoils—to make war unprofitable. And we can’t do that unless we effectively identify the goals of war.

When I was in Iraq a year ago trying to answer that question, one of the most effective ways I found to do that was to follow the bulldozers and construction machinery. I was in Iraq to research the so-called reconstruction. And what struck me most was the absence of reconstruction machinery, of cranes and bulldozers, in downtown Baghdad. I expected to see reconstruction all over the place.

I saw bulldozers in military bases. I saw bulldozers in the Green Zone, where a huge amount of construction was going on, building up Bechtel’s headquarters and getting the new U.S. embassy ready. There was also a ton of construction going on at all of the U.S. military bases. But, on the streets of Baghdad, the former ministry buildings are absolutely untouched. They hadn’t even cleared away the rubble, let alone started the reconstruction process.

The one crane I saw in the streets of Baghdad was hoisting an advertising billboard. One of the surreal things about Baghdad is that the old city lies in ruins, yet there are these shiny new billboards advertising the glories of the global economy. And the message is: “Everything you were before isn’t worth rebuilding.” We’re going to import a brand-new country. It is the Iraq version of the “Extreme Makeover.”

It’s not a coincidence that Americans were at home watching this explosion of extreme reality television shows where people’s bodies were being surgically remade and their homes were being bulldozed and reconstituted. The message of these shows is: Everything you are now, everything you own, everything you do sucks. We’re going to completely erase it and rebuild it with a team of experts. You just go limp and let the experts take over. That is exactly what “Extreme Makover:Iraq” is.

There was no role for Iraqis in this process. It was all foreign companies modernizing the country. Iraqis with engineering Ph.D.s who built their electricity system and who built their telephone system had no place in the reconstruction process.

If we want to know what the goals of the war are, we have to look at what Paul Bremer did when he first arrived in Iraq. He laid off 500,000 people, 400,000 of whom were soldiers. And he shredded Iraq’s constitution and wrote a series of economic laws that the The Economist described as “the wish list of foreign investors.”

Basically, Iraq has been turned into a laboratory for the radical free-market policies that the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute dream about in Washington, D.C., but are only able to impose in relative slow motion here at home.

So we just have to examine the Bush administration’s policies and actions. We don’t have to wield secret documents or massive conspiracy theories. We have to look at the fact that they built enduring military bases and didn’t rebuild the country. Their very first act was to protect the oil ministry leaving the the rest of the country to burn—to which Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld responded: “Stuff happens.” Theirs was an almost apocalyptic glee in allowing Iraq to burn. They let the country be erased, leaving a blank slate that they could rebuild in their image This was the goal of the war.

The Big Lie

The administration says the war was about fighting for democracy. That was the big lie they resorted to when they were caught in the other lies. But it’s a different kind of a lie in the sense that it’s a useful lie. The lie that the United States invaded Iraq to bring freedom and democracy not just to Iraq but, as it turns out, to the whole world, is tremendously useful—because we can first expose it as a lie and then we can join with Iraqis to try to make it true. So it disturbs me that a lot of progressives are afraid to use the language of democracy now that George W. Bush is using it. We are somehow giving up on the most powerful emancipatory ideas ever created, of self-determination, liberation and democracy.

And it’s absolutely crucial not to let Bush get away with stealing and defaming these ideas—they are too important.

In looking at democracy in Iraq, we first need to make the distinction between elections and democracy. The reality is the Bush administration has fought democracy in Iraq at every turn.

Why? Because if genuine democracy ever came to Iraq, the real goals of the war—control over oil, support for Israel, the construction of enduring military bases, the privatization of the entire economy—would all be lost. Why? Because Iraqis don’t want them and they don’t agree with them. They have said it over and over again—first in opinion polls, which is why the Bush administration broke its original promise to have elections within months of the invasion. I believe Paul Wolfowitz genuinely thought that Iraqis would respond like the contestants on a reality TV show and say: “Oh my God. Thank you for my brand-new shiny country.” They didn’t. They protested that 500,000 people had lost their jobs. They protested the fact that they were being shut out of the reconstruction of their own country, and they made it clear they didn’t want permanent U.S. bases.

That’s when the administration broke its promise and appointed a CIA agent as the interim prime minister. In that period they locked in—basically shackled—Iraq’s future governments to an International Monetary Fund program until 2008. This will make the humanitarian crisis in Iraq much, much deeper. Here’s just one example: The IMF and the World Bank are demanding the elimination of Iraq’s food ration program, upon which 60 percent of the population depends for nutrition, as a condition for debt relief and for the new loans that have been made in deals with an unelected government.

In these elections, Iraqis voted for the United Iraqi Alliance. In addition to demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of troops, this coalition party has promised that they would create 100 percent full employment in the public sector—i.e., a total rebuke of the neocons’ privatization agenda. But now they can’t do any of this because their democracy has been shackled. In other words, they have the vote, but no real power to govern.

A Pro-Democracy Movement

The future of the anti-war movement requires that it become a pro-democracy movement. Our marching orders have been given to us by the people of Iraq. It’s important to understand that the most powerful movement against this war and this occupation is within Iraq itself. Our anti-war movement must not just be in verbal solidarity but in active and tangible solidarity with the overwhelming majority of Iraqis fighting to end the occupation of their country. We need to take our direction from them.

Iraqis are resisting in many ways—not just with armed resistance. They are organizing independent trade unions. They are opening critical newspapers, and then having those newspapers shut down. They are fighting privatization in state factories. They are forming new political coalitions in an attempt to force an end to the occupation.

So what is our role here? We need to support the people of Iraq and their clear demands for an end to both military and corporate occupation. That means being the resistance ourselves in our country, demanding that the troops come home, that U.S. corporations come home, that Iraqis be free of Saddam’s debt and the IMF and World Bank agreements signed under occupation. It doesn’t mean blindly cheerleading for “the resistance.” Because there isn’t just one resistance in Iraq. Some elements of the armed resistance are targeting Iraqi civilians as they pray in Shia mosques—barbaric acts that serve the interests of the Bush administration by feeding the perception that the country is on the brink of civil war and therefore U.S. forces must remain in Iraq. Not everyone fighting the U.S. occupation is fighting for the freedom of all Iraqis; some are fighting for their own elite power. That’s why we need to stay focused on supporting the demands for self-determination, not cheering any setback for U.S. empire.

And we can’t cede the language, the territory of democracy. Anybody who says Iraqis don’t want democracy should be deeply ashamed of themselves. Iraqis are clamoring for democracy and had risked their lives for it long before this invasion—in the 1991 uprising against Saddam, for example, when they were left to be slaughtered. The elections in January took place only because of tremendous pressure from Iraqi Shia communities that insisted on getting the freedom they were promised.

“The Courage to be Serious”

Many of us opposed this war because it was an imperial project. Now Iraqis are struggling for the tools that will make self-determination meaningful, not just for show elections or marketing opportunities for the Bush administration. That means it’s time, as Susan Sontag said, to have “the courage to be serious.” The reason why the 58 percent of Americans against the war has not translated into the same millions of people on the streets that we saw before the war is because we haven’t come forward with a serious policy agenda. We should not be afraid to be serious.

Part of that seriousness is to echo the policy demands made by voters and demonstrators in the streets of Baghdad and Basra and bring those demands to Washington, where the decisions are being made.

But the core fight is over respect for international law, and whether there is any respect for it at all in the United States. Unless we’re fighting a core battle against this administration’s total disdain for the very idea of international law, then the specifics really don’t matter.

We saw this very clearly in the U.S. presidential campaign, as John Kerry let Bush completely set the terms for the debate. Recall the ridicule of Kerry’s mention of a “global test,” and the charge that it was cowardly and weak to allow for any international scrutiny of U.S. actions. Why didn’t Kerry ever challenge this assumption? I blame the Kerry campaign as much as I blame the Bush administration. During the elections, he never said “Abu Ghraib.” He never said “Guantanamo Bay.” He accepted the premise that to submit to some kind of “global test” was to be weak. Once they had done that, the Democrats couldn’t expect to win a battle against Alberto Gonzales being appointed attorney general, when they had never talked about torture during the campaign.

And part of the war has to be a media war in this country. The problem is not that the anti-war voices aren’t there—it’s that the voices aren’t amplified. We need a strategy to target the media in this country, making it a site of protest itself. We must demand that the media let us hear the voices of anti-war critics, of enraged mothers who have lost their sons for a lie, of betrayed soldiers who fought in a war they didn’t believe in. And we need to keep deepening the definition of democracy—to say that these show elections are not democracy, and that we don’t have a democracy in this country either.

Sadly, the Bush administration has done a better job of using the language of responsibility than we in the anti-war movement. The message that’s getting across is that we are saying “just leave,” while they are saying, “we can’t just leave, we have to stay and fix the problem we started.”

We can have a very detailed, responsible agenda and we shouldn’t be afraid of it. We should be saying, “Let’s pull the troops out but let’s leave some hope behind.” We can’t be afraid to talk about reparations, to demand freedom from debt for Iraq, a total abandonment of Bremer’s illegal economic laws, full Iraqi control over the reconstruction budget—there are many more examples of concrete policy demands that we can and must put forth. When we articulate a more genuine definition of democracy than we are hearing from the Bush administration, we will bring some hope to Iraq. And we will bring closer to us many of the 58 percent who are opposed to the war but aren’t marching with us yet because they are afraid of cutting and running.

Naomi Klein is a columnist for In These Times, the British Guardian and The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper and the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies.

http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0505-23.htm

George Will - The Christian Complex

The Christian Complex

By George F. Will
Post
Thursday, May 5, 2005; A25

The state of America's political discourse is such that the president has felt it necessary to declare that unbelievers can be good Americans. In last week's prime-time news conference, he said: "If you choose not to worship, you're equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship."

So Mark Twain, Oliver Wendell Holmes and a long, luminous list of other skeptics can be spared the posthumous ignominy of being stricken from the rolls of exemplary Americans. And almost 30 million living Americans welcomed that presidential benediction.

According to the American Religious Identification Survey, Americans who answer "none" when asked to identify their religion numbered 29.4 million in 2001, more than double the 14.3 million in 1990. If unbelievers had their own state -- the state of None -- its population would be more than twice that of New England's six states, and None would be the nation's second-largest state:

California, 34.5 million.

None, 29.4 million.

Texas, 21.3 million.

The president, whose political instincts, at least, are no longer so misunderestimated by his despisers, may have hoped his remarks about unbelievers would undo some of the damage done by the Terri Schiavo case. During that Florida controversy, he made a late-night flight from his Texas ranch to Washington to dramatize his signing of imprudent legislation that his party was primarily responsible for passing. He and his party seemed to have subcontracted governance to certain especially fervid religious supporters.

And last Sunday Pat Robertson, who is fervid but also shrewd, seemed to understand that religious conservatives should be a bit more meek if they want to inherit the Earth. Robertson was asked on ABC's "This Week" whether religious conservatives would be seriously disaffected if in 2008 the Republicans' presidential nominee were to be someone like Rudy Giuliani.

Although Giuliani's eight years as New York's mayor, measured by such achievements as reduction of crime and welfare rolls, constitute perhaps America's most transformative conservative governance in the past half-century, he supports abortion rights, gay rights and gun control. Still, Robertson's relaxed reply to the question was, essentially: What's a little heresy among friends? "Rudy's a very good friend of mine and he did a super job running the city of New York and I think he'd make a good president."

Some Christians should practice the magnanimity of the strong rather than cultivate the grievances of the weak. But many Christians are joining today's scramble for the status of victims. There is much lamentation about various "assaults" on "people of faith." Christians are indeed experiencing some petty insults and indignities concerning things such as restrictions on school Christmas observances. But their persecution complex is unbecoming because it is unrealistic.

In just 15 months, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" has become one of the 10 highest-grossing movies in history, and it almost certainly will become the most-seen movie in history. The television networks, which can read election returns and the sales figures of "The Da Vinci Code," are getting religion, of sorts. The Associated Press reports that NBC is developing a show called "The Book of Daniel" about a minister who abuses prescription drugs and is visited by a "cool, contemporary Jesus." Fox is working on a pilot about "a priest teaming with a neurologist to examine unexplained events."

Christian book sales are booming. "The Rising" by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, the 13th in the astonishing 10-year sequence of Christian novels in the "Left Behind" series, was published two months ago and rocketed to the top of Amazon.com's bestseller list. Three years ago LaHaye and Jenkins, whose first dozen volumes have sold a combined 62 million copies, joined Tom Clancy, John Grisham and J.K. Rowling as the only authors whose novels have first printings of 2 million, partly because they are being sold in huge volumes in stores such as Wal-Mart and Costco. Today LaHaye and Jenkins are leaving Clancy, Grisham, et al. in the dust.

Religion is today banished from the public square? John Kennedy finished his first report to the nation on the Soviet missiles in Cuba with these words: "Thank you and good night." It would be a rash president who today did not conclude a major address by saying, as President Ronald Reagan began the custom of doing, something very like "God bless America."

Unbelievers should not cavil about this acknowledgment of majority sensibilities. But Republicans should not seem to require, de facto, what the Constitution forbids, de jure: "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust."

georgewill@washpost.com
© 2005 The Washington Post Company

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/04/AR2005050402050_pf.html

Stirling Newberry - The Bushconomy Wheezes Along

The Bushconomy wheezes along
by
Stirling Newberry


Productivity slogged along at an anuual rate of 2.6% The Bushconomy is failing - but not because America is failing. Durable good productivity rolled along at 6.3%.

What this should tell everyone is that the present fiscal policy is a failure, it is not producing large gains in productivity in the rest of GDP. This means that the United States is spinning its wheels, with nondurable manufacturing producing little in the way of gains, and the service sector - the secondary sector of economic activity that turns basic importing and exporting into jobs and profits for most of America, showing little improvement.

[Stirling Newberry is Chief Economist for Langner and Company the opinions expressed here are his own. Sign up for his free weekly newsletter on the economy.]

Profits have been good - for example in the nonfinancial corporations unit profits went from 75.5 to 102.3 - very strong growth. But almost all of this was at the cost of Real compensation, which over the year wnet from 112.5 to 112.8. In short people were working harder, and being paid much, much less. This story seems set to continue in the new calendar year.

While different economists may have different social preferences about the end point of policy, the matters of fact should be outside of ideological dispute. And the figures here are beyond dispute: productivity growth is far too low to sustain the projects Americans want to engage in, and compensation is lagging profits to such an extraordinary degree that the present economic system, which relies on consumer demand, is not sustainable. The "Vacuum up" economy is not generating the kind of gains in productivity that it must. One may or may not like that the rich are getting richer, but no one should like the fact that our present economic structure is not able to make more people happier.

Slow productivity growth is at the root of our problems in the health system and the retirement system. Slow productivity growth in services means that we cannot provide more people with the access to doctors, hospitals, medicine and nursing that they need and want, because medicine is a service industry. Slow growth in overall productivity means that we do not have as much national surplus as we need to provide a decent retirement for people who have worked all of their lives. If productivity were growing by 3.5% per year, rather than around 2.5%, there would be no Social Security short fall in the forseeable future.

The present economy has created a very straightforward problem: it worships profitability for its own sake. But this is rewarding people for not doing anything. Profits from capital should be reflective of the ability to make better and better capital. And yet the reverse is occuring: profitability is strong i sectors that are producing almost no improvement in productivity, and it is lower in areas which are producing more productivity. Questions about peak oil, corporate media control, voting rights, stem cell research and living wills aside: we are not rewarding the people who are making improvements. And if you don't reward something, you get less of it. Why work hard to do more with less, when you can make more by doing less with more?

Unless this misallocation of incentives is corrected: both in the world of compensation and in the balance of profitability between sectors, the present economic system will get worse, not better. It is important for the market to send messages, and often it sends them tied to brick. But when the system of sending signals to people as to what is rewarding is broken, then matters will get worse and not better.

I, personally, am very much a liberal. I believe that the best society will be one which spreads the rewards and risks to reflect the importance of the whole society in gains, and the interconnectedness of innovation and improvement. But this is not an ideological bias born of lack of consideration, but based on hard numbers such as these: the society which over-rewards people who simply happen to be standing in the right place at the right time will waste its effort in a constant jostling match to be lucky, rather than good.

The present global problem is that there two billion people who want to be admitted into the affluent life. To do this requires much higher productivity, so that we may take the same resource base and provide that life for more people. Our present level of productivity does not allow us to do this. Regardless of what the short term problems are, right now oil, there will be other long term problems. These long term problems will be solved the same way as the short term ones: by researching, innovating and bringing to market better ways of providing that which makes people happy, and prevents misery. The present situation is not rewarding that process, and hence, despite clear warnings about what failure means, we are not doing it.

It is time to admit that the Bushconomy is failing to balance incentives for good behavior and disincentives for bad behavior. Since there will be no serious change in policy regime until 2009, the best that people can do is avoid as much of the consequence for what follows as they can, and to press for those larger political changes which are required.

We are not facing "slow sustainable growth", we are facing rapid, unsustainable stagnation in basic economic improvements, which are the basis for all progress. The deficit society, with its belief that class civil war and easy rewards for capital will produce economic progress has failed, and it is time to admit that and change direction.

That is, while there is still time to do so.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/5/5/94223/20478

Jerome a Paris - A visionary President that "gets" energy policy

Daily Kos :: A visionary President that "gets" energy policy
"A visionary President that "gets" energy policy
by Jerome a Paris

Thu May 5th, 2005 at 03:58:45 PDT


We can have an effective and comprehensive energy policy only if the government takes responsibility for it and if the people understand the seriousness of the challenge and are willing to make sacrifices.


Our energy problems have the same cause as our environmental problems -- wasteful use of resources. Conservation helps us solve both at once. Conservation is the quickest, cheapest, most practical source of energy.


Prices should generally reflect the true replacement costs of energy. We are only cheating ourselves if we make energy artificially cheap and use more than we can really afford.

[T]his is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly.

It is a problem we will not solve in the next few years, and it is likely to get progressively worse.

We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren.

We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us.

One choice is to continue doing what we have been doing before. We can drift along for a few more years. Our consumption of oil would keep going up every year. Our cars would continue to be too large and inefficient. Three-quarters of them would continue to carry only one person -- the driver -- while our public transportation system continues to decline. We can delay insulating our houses, and they will continue to lose about 50 percent of their heat in waste.

We will feel mounting pressure to plunder the environment. We will have a crash program to build more nuclear plants, strip-mine and burn more coal, and drill more offshore wells than we will need if we begin to conserve now. Inflation will soar, production will go down, people will lose their jobs. Intense competition will build up among nations and among the different regions within our own country.

If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions.

Of course, this was a serious President speaking (18 April 1977). He has been maligned for supposedly bringing a mood of despondency and weakness to the country, and being hopelessly naive, but that's not what I see in that speech, nor in the infamous "Crisis of confidence" speech (15 July 1979):

Intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our nation. The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation. These are facts and we simply must face them.

I am tonight setting a clear goal for the energy policy of the United States. Beginning this moment, this nation will never use more foreign oil than we did [two years ago] -- never. From now on, every new addition to our demand for energy will be met from our own production and our own conservation. The generation-long growth in our dependence on foreign oil will be stopped dead in its tracks right now and then reversed as we move through the [next decade], for I am tonight setting the further goal of cutting our dependence on foreign oil by one-half by the end of the next decade --

To give us energy security, I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel -- from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun.

These efforts will cost money, a lot of money, and that is why Congress must enact [a] windfall profits tax without delay. It will be money well spent. Unlike the billions of dollars that we ship to foreign countries to pay for foreign oil, these funds will be paid by Americans to Americans. These funds will go to fight, not to increase, inflation and unemployment.

We often think of conservation only in terms of sacrifice. In fact, it is the most painless and immediate way of rebuilding our nation's strength. Every gallon of oil each one of us saves is a new form of production. It gives us more freedom, more confidence, that much more control over our own lives.

I do not promise you that this struggle for freedom will be easy. I do not promise a quick way out of our nation's problems, when the truth is that the only way out is an all-out effort. What I do promise you is that I will lead our fight, and I will enforce fairness in our struggle, and I will ensure honesty. And above all, I will act.

This is a President who has vision, who has the best interests of his country and of ALL his citizens in mind, who has ambitious goals and did not shy from asking for all to contribute to them. In essence, he was launching a "Manhattan Project" for energy (and that was after having already created the Strategic Oil reserve, launched house insulation efforts, kickstarted solar energy development, and reinforced CAFE standards). He said it would require efforts and sacrifices from all, but that it would be worth it in terms of efficiency, quality of living and jobs - and freedom.

That was almost 30 years ago. 30 wasted years (well, 20. The early 80s saw the results of Carter's efforts to reduce consumption, before it was all wiped away in a new orgy of consumption and waste, the "American way".

If Carter had been listened to, maybe it would not have been necessary to waste thousand of lives, hundreds of billions of dollars and the worldwide reputation of the USA in a reckless foreign adventure, maybe GM would not be in the crisis it is now, maybe the USA would be the world leader in wind and solar energy instead of Germany and Japan, maybe sprawl would not have extended so far as to make public transport totally impractical.

But no, he was "naive" and "weak". I say he was right. He was a visionary. He will stand the test of history a lot better than his successors. But it's still time to follow his lead, to dust off his policy proposals and act on them NOW. It's going to be harder than it would have been 30 years ago, but it will still be easier than if we wait longer. It is still possible, barely, to be in control of events rather than being pushed around by them.

He is the only President to have succeeded in reducing wasteful consumption and energy dependence, and his successor blew that "windfall" pretty quickly instead of making it permanent. It is high time to rehabilitate him and his proposed policies instead of being ashamed of them.

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http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/5/5/65845/19645

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Greg Palast - Impeachment Time: "Facts Were Fixed."

Impeachment Time: "Facts Were Fixed."
"Impeachment Time: "Facts Were Fixed."

A BUZZFLASH GUEST NEWS ANALYSIS
by Greg Palast

Here it is. The smoking gun. The memo that has, "IMPEACH HIM" written all over it.

The top-level government memo marked "SECRET AND STRICTLY PERSONAL," dated eight months before Bush sent us into Iraq, following a closed meeting with the President, reads, "Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WDM. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

Read that again: "The intelligence and facts were being fixed...."

For years, after each damning report on BBC TV, "Isn't this grounds for impeachment?" Vote rigging, a blind eye to terror and the bin Ladens before 9-11, and so on. Evil, stupidity and self-dealing are shameful but not impeachable. What's needed is a "high crime or misdemeanor."

And if this ain't it, nothing is.

The memo, uncovered this week by the Times, goes on to describe an elaborate plan by George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to hoodwink the planet into supporting an attack on Iraq knowing full well the evidence for war was a phony.

A conspiracy to commit serial fraud is, under federal law, racketeering. However, the Mob's schemes never cost so many lives.

Here's more. "Bush had made up his mind to take military action. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran."

Really? But Mr. Bush told us, "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

A month ago, the Silberman-Robb Commission issued its report on WMD intelligence before the war, dismissing claims that Bush fixed the facts with this snotty, condescending conclusion written directly to the President, "After a thorough review, the Commission found no indication that the Intelligence Community distorted the evidence regarding Iraq's weapons."

We now know the report was a bogus 618 pages of thick whitewash aimed to let Bush off the hook for his murderous mendacity.

Read on: The invasion build-up was then set, says the memo, "beginning 30 days before the US Congressional elections." Mission accomplished.

You should parse the entire memo and see if you can make it through its three pages without losing your lunch.

Now sharp readers may note they didn't see this memo, in fact, printed in the New York Times. It wasn't. Rather, it was splashed across the front pages of the Times of LONDON on Monday.

It has effectively finished the last, sorry remnants of Tony Blair's political career. (While his Labor Party will most assuredly win the elections today, Prime Minister Blair is expected, possibly within months, to be shoved overboard in favor of his Chancellor of the Exchequer, a political execution which requires only a vote of the Labour party's members in Parliament.)

But in the US, barely a word. The New York Times covers this hard evidence of Bush's fabrication of a causus belli as some "British" elections story. Apparently, our President's fraud isn't "news fit to print."

My colleagues in the UK press have skewered Blair, digging out more incriminating memos, challenging the official government factoids and fibs. But in the US press ...nada, bubkiss, zilch. Bush fixed the facts and somehow that's a story for "over there."

The Republicans impeached Bill Clinton over his cigar and Monica's affections. And the US media could print nothing else.

Now, we have the stone, cold evidence of bending intelligence to sell us on death by the thousands, and neither a Republican Congress nor what is laughably called US journalism thought it not worth a second look.

My friend Daniel Ellsberg once said that what's good about the American people is that you have to lie to them. What's bad about Americans is that it's so easy to do.

A BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS

Greg Palast, former columnist for Britain's Guardian papers, is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. Subscribe to his columns at www.GregPalast.com.

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http://www.buzzflash.com/analysis/05/05/ana05013.html

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Robert Reich - Social Security Reform is Simply a Diversion

Social Security Reform is Simply a Diversion
by Robert B. Reich

The president just ended a 60-day whirlwind tour to try to sell his Social Security plan. But almost everyone inside the Beltway, and a growing number outside, know it's going nowhere.

Polls show most Americans don't want to tinker with Social Security. Many Republicans, facing re-election, don't want to touch it. Why still flog it?

Because Social Security is a place holder. As long as it remains on the domestic agenda, it blocks consideration of the real domestic crisis President Bush doesn't want to touch: the health care system.

Consider the symptoms. Medicare, the government's health care program for the elderly, is heading toward bankruptcy faster than Social Security. Its future unfunded liabilities are seven times larger. Social Security is projected to be in financial trouble in four decades; Medicare, within 10 years.

Medicaid, the government's health care program for the poor, is also in trouble. Its costs are rising so fast the White House and congressional Republicans want to whack it by $10 billion over the next five years. But governors don't want Medicaid cut. States pick up half its cost. If the feds bow out, states will have to make up the difference.

Symptom No. 3 is the increasing number of Americans without health insurance. Ten years ago, when President Clinton's proposal for universal health care tanked, 38 million lacked health insurance. Now, 44 million are without it at some point during the year.

Meanwhile, Americans who get health insurance through their employer are suffering sticker shock. That's because companies are rapidly shifting the escalating costs onto their employees. They're doing it through higher co-payments and larger deductibles and premiums.

The last symptom is the huge financial burden on companies that can't shift rising health care costs onto employees because of union contracts. For example, every car General Motors produces costs thousands of extra dollars because of GM's health care tab. Health care is the single most contentious labor-management issue today.

But it's possible to control health costs and at the same time give Americans far more health security.

One step is to use the government's bargaining clout to cut the prices medical providers and suppliers charge. Through Medicare and Medicaid, the U.S. government is the biggest health purchaser in the world. It has the heft to get pharmaceutical companies to agree to far lower drug prices. The same bargaining power could be used to bring down prices of other health care supplies and services.

Another step is to offer every American the chance to buy basic health insurance for the family at say, a few hundred dollars a year. The low cost would be possible because so many Americans would be in the same plan, generating vast economies of scale. In such a uniform system, transacting with a doctor or hospital of your choice would be as easy as using an ATM.

As a result, far more Americans would get regular checkups, and health problems could be prevented. Chronic illnesses such as heart disease could be identified before they got out of control. And catastrophic illnesses such as cancer could be treated early. We'd end up with lower costs and better care.

It's the perfect time to respond to America's health care crisis. With the middle class squeezed by soaring costs, big companies reeling and governors screaming, the political momentum is there.

But the Bush administration doesn't want to tackle it. Doing so would require an active role for government, and they're ideologically opposed. They know the nation can pay attention to only one big domestic crisis at a time. So they're using the fake crisis of Social Security as a diversion.

That's a shame. The real crisis of health care demands the nation's real attention.

Robert B. Reich, former U.S. secretary of Labor, is professor of social and economic policy at Brandeis.

http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0502-23.htm

Monday, May 02, 2005

Juan Cole - The Nuclear Option, Algeria and David Hume's Perfect Commonwealth

Juan Cole

The Nuclear Option, Algeria and David Hume's Perfect Commonwealth

What has the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s got to do with the dictatorial way the US Senate Republicans have begun acting with regard to judicial appointments? The war pitted secular and religious forces against one another, killing over 100,000 persons in constant village massacres and urban assassinations over more than a decade. One of the extreme religious factions, the Armed Islamic Group (French acronym GIA), became angered at US and French support for the secular-leaning military government.

The Algerian Civil War is an intimate part of the US War on Terror. The GIA established a cell in Montreal and loosely hooked up with al-Qaeda affiliates planning a spectacular set of bombings for New Year's Eve, 2000. Part of the Millennial Plot targeted tourist hotels in Jordan, which would have been overflowing with American Christian tourists eager to visit the Jordan River and other religious sites. The Montreal cell decided to blow up Los Angeles Airport, and sent Algerian petty thief Ahmed Ressam with a trunkful of high explosives to carry out the operation. He was apprehended by alert US border inspectors at the entry point to Washington state.

The Algerian Civil War and the GIA Millennium Plot was provoked by a crisis that was foreseen by US Founding Father James Madison. You see, the military government announced in the late 1980s that it would hold free elections for parliament. Unexpectedly, in 1991, the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front won 188 of the 231 seats contested in the first round. It was clearly headed for an overwhelming majority. The problem was that the Algerian constitution then allowed parliament to amend the constitution by a simple majority vote, which would then be approved in a popular referendum. (Unlike in the US, the provinces had no say in the matter, and anyway provincial governors are appointed by the central government everywhere in the Arab world except Iraq).

The Algerian military could plainly see that the Islamic Salvation Front (French acronym FIS) could now change the constitution at will. It could arrange for there never to be another vote, if the fundamentalists so desired. It could have the Algerian officer corps taken out and shot if it liked (as had happened in revolutionary Iran). It is not clear that FIS would have gone that route. But in strategy you don't worry about your opponents' intentions, you worry about their capabilities.

The military therefore cancelled the election results. The fundamentalists were enraged and turned to violence and terrorism. All this happened because Algeria was structured as an uncomplicated democracy where a tyranny of the majority was enabled by the constitution, and where a single religion-backed faction could hope to impose its will on the whole country, with no real checks or balances.

It is away from our republican system and toward the old Algerian system of simple majority rule that the Bush administration is now attempting to take us. And it will will produce the same turmoil and violence, ultimately, as the rather stupid 1963/1976 Algerian constitutions produced in that country.

In his press conference on last Thursday, President Bush said, "Speaking about judges, I certainly hope my nominees get an up-or- down vote on the floor of the Senate. They deserve an up-or-down vote. I think, for the sake of fairness, these good people I've nominated should get a vote. And I'm hoping that will be the case as time goes on."

But they do not deserve an up-or-down vote. They don't deserve anything at all.

US Constitution:

Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2: "He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court . . ."



The senators have to consent. In the case of the presidents' treaties (which affect their prestige and often policies much more than a mere judicial appointment) there even has to be a 2/3s majority in concurrence. Such a supermajority is not required for the appointments, but there is clearly no presumption that the president should be deferred to by the senate. The president should be consulting beforehand, which would have made consent easier to obtain. The issue isn't the filibuster. The issue is the independence of the Senate and of the judiciary. The question is whether we have 3 branches of government, or only one. Cass Sunstein puts it well:


"It may be granted that the Senate ought generally to be deferential to Presidential nominations involving the operation of the executive branch . . . The case is quite different, however, when the President is appointing members of a third branch. The judiciary is supposed to be independent of the President, not allied with him. It hardly needs emphasis that the judiciary is not intended to work under the President. This point is of special importance in light of the fact that many of the Court's decisions resolve conflicts between Congress and the President. A Presidential monopoly on the appointment of Supreme Court Justices thus threatens to unsettle the constitutional plan of checks and balances."



Moreover, it isn't just the senators who are consenting. It is the states.

When 54 senators impose a federal judge on 46 other senators by an "up and down vote," in a wholly partisan fashion, it is actually 27 states imposing their will on 23 other states. Because Madison lost the fight for proportional representation in the senate, moreover, it is even possible for the 27 states to have less population in total than the 23 states do. In fact, that is presently the case.

So when Bush says the president's nominees deserve an up and down vote, and given the tyranny in the senate of the Republican majority [which is a minority population-wise], what he is really arguing for is an American monarchy, backed by a King's Party. King George's appointees deserve to be appointed because the King appointed them, and the Royal Will must not be subverted. The senators do not have the right to advise or refuse to give consent, in King George's reading of the constitution.

Karl Rove, Bush's campaign adviser, has by virtue of highly efficient organization of a very large all-American faction, i.e. the Republican Party (of which the Founding Fathers would not have approved) negated the Republic that James Madison bequeathed us and refuted Madison's optimism that democracy could survive in large states as opposed to city-states.

Madison became convinced by David Hume's argument that a large country could have a democratic government because its various local factions could never sufficiently unite to impose a tyranny of the majority: "the parts are so distant and remote, that it is very difficult, either by intrigue, prejudice, or passion, to hurry them into any measures against the public interest."

What KarlRoveWorld has done to the contemporary United States is to undermine Hume's argument concerning "the falsehood of the common opinion, that no large state, such as France or Great Britain, could ever be modelled into a commonwealth, but that such a form of government can only take place in a city or small territory." The fear was that such a big country was so unwieldy that there would be a tendency for a central authoritarian ruler to emerge.

Madison was convinced by Hume that a federal government erected over a number of state governments, with a separation of powers, would be so beset by small diverse factions that no one could hope to impose its will on the entire country. So a country's very bigness could work, in a Madisonian system, to prevent a tyranny of the majority.

Madison in Federalist Papers #10 made his terror of the demagogic tyranny of a "democratic" majority quite plain:

"By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community . . . From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths."



So simple majority rule would inevitably sacrifice the interests of the weaker party (even of the party with just 49 percent). How to avoid this tyranny of the majority?

Madison explains that a large representative republic could avoid the regimented, despotic majority that might emerge in a small, pure democracy:

"Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary. Hence, it clearly appears, that the same advantage which a republic has over a democracy, in controlling the effects of faction, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic, -- is enjoyed by the Union over the States composing it."



Sorry, Jim. It is over.

The two-party system was itself a big step away from the Hume/Madison vision. But with with the regimentation of the parties made possible on a nation-wide basis by new media and new political techniques, and with the subordination of the judiciary to political party considerations, it has proved possible for the Republican Party to capture all three branches of the Federal government.

In essence, the "large" and diverse Republic of the United States with many unsubdueable factions is being reduced to being no different from the small and regimented demagogic "democracies" that Madison feared, dominated by a disciplined, majority faction.

In other words, the United States of America is on the verge of looking an awfully lot like Algeria did in fall of 1991, when the Islamic Salvation Front was poised to exercise a tyranny of the majority in that country.


Senator Joe Biden of Delaware made the most eloquent and concise case against a tyranny of the majority on Hardball the other night.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

This afternoon, Senate Majority leader Bill Frist offered Democrats 100 hours of debate on President Bush`s judicial nominees, including those future nominees for the Supreme Court, if they agreed on an up-and-down vote on each nominee.

Democrats have so far not agreed to this proposal. And earlier today, I asked Democratic Senator Joe Biden of the Judiciary Committee what he makes of the offer.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: It`s ridiculous.

Look, this whole thing underscores they don`t understand the Senate. Up until 1947, there wasn`t -- you needed a unanimous consent. From the time of the Constitution to 1947, you needed unanimous consent in order to get a judge through. They changed the rule in 1917 to say you could have - - three-fifths of the senators could vote to cut off debate on legislation, but they said but not for nominees, because the founders never intended that.

This is all about the independence of the judiciary. When you go to the point where you can have 51 senators make a decision on every single -- imagine if that rule had been in place when Roosevelt tried to pack the court. What would have happened?

MATTHEWS: He would have done it.

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN: You`re darn right he would have done it. This is time for a couple people of little -- as Hamilton said, a moral rectitude to stand up in the Senate and understand the institution. This is not the House of Representatives, as noble as it is.

It was intended to be a totally different institution. They`re about to make this a parliament. They`re about to make this the president, the prime minister. And these guys on his side act as if they work for him. They are independent equals . . .

MATTHEWS: How about the president getting involved? He`s not a member of the legislature.

BIDEN: Well, the president getting involved, he has a right to, but it crosses, it trenches upon the powers of separation.

What everybody kind of forgets is, there was a specific reason why they said, let the Senate dispose of all nominees. The president can propose. The Senate disposes. During those debates on the Constitution, there was no one single time where more than, I think, three votes for allowing the president even in on the deal. The only reason it got to the end was, this is about, look, this is not about equality.

This is about every state, every state having the same power as every other state. If you go by majority vote up there, what people don`t realize is, there are 54 Republican senators. We 46 Democrats represent more of people in America than the 54 of them. You want to do this by majority rule, popular will? That`s not what the Senate is about.

MATTHEWS: So you`re against this proposal of 100 hours?

BIDEN: Absolutely, positively.

MATTHEWS: And you answer is -- why are you against 100 hours? Isn`t that enough to debate?

BIDEN: I`m against the 100 hours because it is not enough for debate. If the Senate wants to block extreme -- even if they`re not extreme. If 40 senators want to block anybody for nomination, they have the right to do that. And the reason they have the right to do that, it`s the one bulwark against pure majoritarianism . . .

BIDEN: In their heart, they know this is not the thing to do. This is a fundamental change in our constitutional system that exceeds the issue of judges. And it is dangerous. We are not a parliament. We were never intended to be. The states were intended to be equal. This will change that dynamic, not just for judges, but across the board.

MATTHEWS: Where is this coming from? Is it coming from the interest groups, from the Republicans in the Senate, this push to get rid of the filibuster, this -- what you call this strong effort, or is it coming from the White House?

BIDEN: I think it`s coming from the White House. I don`t know. The honest answer is, I don`t know.

But I think it`s coming from, it appears, from a distance. Just the plain old politics in me says that the Faustian bargain made with the Christian right -- and not all Christians are right and not all right Christians are Republicans . . .

MATTHEWS: Is this a preliminary to the fight over the Supreme Court if Rehnquist steps down?

BIDEN: Absolutely. Absolutely, positively, it is. And, again, you`re talking about, read what they are saying. Read what these guys write. I remember being on your show three years ago. And we talked about the neoconservatives on foreign policy.

MATTHEWS: Right.

BIDEN: Bright, honorable, patriotic people. And I said they`re talking about leveraging power. You had read what they wrote, but everybody else kind of wrote to me and said, you`re kidding. These guys don`t mean that.

Well, guess what? Read what the scholars on the right are writing. They want to change the Constitution.

MATTHEWS: OK, the tough question for you. When this is all over, the people will still say, not just conservatives, it seems to me that the president of the United States goes and picks a person he wants to see, an appellate court judge, a federal court judge. You guys on the Hill take it upon yourself, the right, to say, not only will we not approve him. We won`t bother doing anything with him. We will just sit on that nomination.

And you believe that`s the constitutional right of the United States Senate, to do that?

BIDEN: Absolutely; 24 Supreme Court justices were rejected; 14 didn`t get a vote. Hear me? Fourteen never even got a vote.

Guess who led the filibuster against Abe Fortas and defeated him by a filibuster? An honorable Republican named Griffin who became the minority leader from the state of Michigan. Look who stood up to Roosevelt. It was Democrats in the Senate who stood up and said, whoa.

This idea that the president gets, is entitled to who he wants on the court is the most bogus argument in American, modern American history. It was never, never, never intended that. The reason why the founders said the president would [propose]-- and the Senate should dispose is -- was, we -- all senators couldn`t come together on a single person. A single man can pick a single person more easily. But then it`s up to the senators to dispose of whether or not that person is the right person.

And this is just a bogus notion. And this president is not -- look, 215 people he sent us, we passed through 205, and we are being obstructionists?

MATTHEWS: OK. Senator Joe Biden, thank you, sir.

http://www.juancole.com/2005/05/nuclear-option-algeria-and-david-humes.html

Bob Herbert - From 'Gook' to 'Raghead'

rom 'Gook' to 'Raghead'
By Bob Herbert
The New York Times

Monday 02 May 2005

I spent some time recently with Aidan Delgado, a 23-year-old religion major at New College of Florida, a small, highly selective school in Sarasota.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, before hearing anything about the terror attacks that would change the direction of American history, Mr. Delgado enlisted as a private in the Army Reserve. Suddenly, in ways he had never anticipated, the military took over his life. He was trained as a mechanic and assigned to the 320th Military Police Company in St. Petersburg. By the spring of 2003, he was in Iraq. Eventually he would be stationed at the prison compound in Abu Ghraib.

Mr. Delgado's background is unusual. He is an American citizen, but because his father was in the diplomatic corps, he grew up overseas. He spent eight years in Egypt, speaks Arabic and knows a great deal about the various cultures of the Middle East. He wasn't happy when, even before his unit left the states, a top officer made wisecracks about the soldiers heading off to Iraq to kill some ragheads and burn some turbans.

"He laughed," Mr. Delgado said, "and everybody in the unit laughed with him."

The officer's comment was a harbinger of the gratuitous violence that, according to Mr. Delgado, is routinely inflicted by American soldiers on ordinary Iraqis. He said: "Guys in my unit, particularly the younger guys, would drive by in their Humvee and shatter bottles over the heads of Iraqi civilians passing by. They'd keep a bunch of empty Coke bottles in the Humvee to break over people's heads."

He said he had confronted guys who were his friends about this practice. "I said to them: 'What the hell are you doing? Like, what does this accomplish?' And they responded just completely openly. They said: 'Look, I hate being in Iraq. I hate being stuck here. And I hate being surrounded by hajis.' "

"Haji" is the troops' term of choice for an Iraqi. It's used the way "gook" or "Charlie" was used in Vietnam.

Mr. Delgado said he had witnessed incidents in which an Army sergeant lashed a group of children with a steel Humvee antenna, and a Marine corporal planted a vicious kick in the chest of a kid about 6 years old. There were many occasions, he said, when soldiers or marines would yell and curse and point their guns at Iraqis who had done nothing wrong.

He said he believes that the absence of any real understanding of Arab or Muslim culture by most G.I.'s, combined with a lack of proper training and the unrelieved tension of life in a war zone, contributes to levels of fear and rage that lead to frequent instances of unnecessary violence.

Mr. Delgado, an extremely thoughtful and serious young man, balked at the entire scene. "It drove me into a moral quagmire," he said. "I walked up to my commander and gave him my weapon. I said: 'I'm not going to fight. I'm not going to kill anyone. This war is wrong. I'll stay. I'll finish my job as a mechanic. But I'm not going to hurt anyone. And I want to be processed as a conscientious objector.' "

He stayed with his unit and endured a fair amount of ostracism. "People would say I was a traitor or a coward," he said. "The stuff you would expect."

In November 2003, after several months in Nasiriya in southern Iraq, the 320th was redeployed to Abu Ghraib. The violence there was sickening, Mr. Delgado said. Some inmates were beaten nearly to death. The G.I.'s at Abu Ghraib lived in cells while most of the detainees were housed in large overcrowded tents set up in outdoor compounds that were vulnerable to mortars fired by insurgents. The Army acknowledges that at least 32 Abu Ghraib detainees were killed by mortar fire.

Mr. Delgado, who eventually got conscientious objector status and was honorably discharged last January, recalled a disturbance that occurred while he was working in the Abu Ghraib motor pool. Detainees who had been demonstrating over a variety of grievances began throwing rocks at the guards. As the disturbance grew, the Army authorized lethal force. Four detainees were shot to death.

Mr. Delgado confronted a sergeant who, he said, had fired on the detainees. "I asked him," said Mr. Delgado, "if he was proud that he had shot unarmed men behind barbed wire for throwing stones. He didn't get mad at all. He was, like, 'Well, I saw them bloody my buddy's nose, so I knelt down. I said a prayer. I stood up, and I shot them down.' "

Rep. calls for deeper inquiry into secret Iraq attack plan

Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) is circulating a letter calling for a further inquiry into a secret U.S.-UK agreement to attack Iraq, RAW STORY has learned.

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In a statement, Conyers says he is disappointed the mainstream media has not touched the revelations.

"Unfortunately, the mainstream media in the United States was too busy with wall-to-wall coverage of a "runaway bride" to cover a bombshell report out of the British newspapers," Conyers writes. "The London Times reports that the British government and the United States government had secretly agreed to attack Iraq in 2002, before authorization was sought for such an attack in Congress, and had discussed creating pretextual justifications for doing so."

"The Times reports, based on a newly discovered document, that in 2002 British Prime Minister Tony Blair chaired a meeting in which he expressed his support for "regime change" through the use of force in Iraq and was warned by the nation's top lawyer that such an action would be illegal," he adds. "Blair also discussed the need for America to "create" conditions to justify the war."

Conyers says he is seeking an inquiry.

"This should not be allowed to fall down the memory hole during wall-to-wall coverage of the Michael Jackson trial and a runaway bride," he remarks. "To prevent that from occuring, I am circulating the following letter among my House colleagues and asking them to sign on to it."

The letter follows.

###

May ___, 2005

The Honorable George W. Bush President of the United States of America The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write because of troubling revelations in the Sunday London Times apparently confirming that the United States and Great Britain had secretly agreed to attack Iraq in the summer of 2002, well before the invasion and before you even sought Congressional authority to engage in military action. While various individuals have asserted this to be the case before, including Paul O'Neill, former U.S. Treasury Secretary, and Richard Clarke, a former National Security Council official, they have been previously dismissed by your Administration. However, when this story was divulged last weekend, Prime Minister Blair's representative claimed the document contained "nothing new." If the disclosure is accurate, it raises troubling new questions regarding the legal justifications for the war as well as the integrity of your own Administration.

The Sunday Times obtained a leaked document with the minutes of a secret meeting from highly placed sources inside the British Government. Among other things, the document revealed:

* Prime Minister Tony Blair chaired a July 2002 meeting, at which he discussed military options, having already committed himself to supporting President Bush's plans for invading Iraq.

* British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw acknowledged that the case for war was "thin" as "Saddam was not threatening his neighbours and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran."

* A separate secret briefing for the meeting said that Britain and America had to "create" conditions to justify a war.

* A British official "reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

As a result of this recent disclosure, we would like to know the following:

1) Do you or anyone in your Administration dispute the accuracy of the leaked document?

2) Were arrangements being made, including the recruitment of allies, before you sought Congressional authorization go to war? Did you or anyone in your Administration obtain Britain's commitment to invade prior to this time?

3) Was there an effort to create an ultimatum about weapons inspectors in order to help with the justification for the war as the minutes indicate?

4) At what point in time did you and Prime Minister Blair first agree it was necessary to invade Iraq?

5) Was there a coordinated effort with the U.S. intelligence community and/or British officials to "fix" the intelligence and facts around the policy as the leaked document states?

We have of course known for some time that subsequent to the invasion there have been a variety of varying reasons proffered to justify the invasion, particularly since the time it became evident that weapons of mass destruction would not be found. This leaked document - essentially acknowledged by the Blair government - is the first confirmation that the rationales were shifting well before the invasion as well.

Given the importance of this matter, we would ask that you respond to this inquiry as promptly as possible. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Congressman John Conyers

Paul Krugman - A Gut Punch to the Middle

A Gut Punch to the Middle
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times

Monday 02 May 2005

By now, every journalist should know that you have to carefully check out any scheme coming from the White House. You can't just accept the administration's version of what it's doing. Remember, these are the people who named a big giveaway to logging interests "Healthy Forests."

Sure enough, a close look at President Bush's proposal for "progressive price indexing" of Social Security puts the lie to claims that it's a plan to increase benefits for the poor and cut them for the wealthy. In fact, it's a plan to slash middle-class benefits; the wealthy would barely feel a thing.

Under current law, low-wage workers receive Social Security benefits equal to 49 percent of their wages before retirement. Under the Bush scheme, that wouldn't change. So benefits for the poor would be maintained, not increased.

The administration and its apologists emphasize the fact that under the Bush plan, workers earning higher wages would face cuts, and they talk as if that makes it a plan that takes from the rich and gives to the poor. But the rich wouldn't feel any pain, because people with high incomes don't depend on Social Security benefits.

Cut an average worker's benefits, and you're imposing real hardship. Cut or even eliminate Dick Cheney's benefits, and only his accountants will notice.

I asked Jason Furman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to calculate the benefit cuts under the Bush scheme as a percentage of pre-retirement income. That's a way to see who would really bear the burden of the proposed cuts. It turns out that the middle class would face severe cuts, but the wealthy would not.

The average worker - average pay now is $37,000 - retiring in 2075 would face a cut equal to 10 percent of pre-retirement income. Workers earning 60 percent more than average, the equivalent of $58,000 today, would see benefit cuts equal to almost 13 percent of their income before retirement.

But above that level, the cuts would become less and less significant. Workers earning three times the average wage would face cuts equal to only 9 percent of their income before retirement. Someone earning the equivalent of $1 million today would see benefit cuts equal to only 1 percent of pre-retirement income.

In short, this would be a gut punch to the middle class, but a fleabite for the truly wealthy.

Beyond that, it's a good bet that benefits for the poor would eventually be cut, too.

It's an adage that programs for the poor always turn into poor programs. That is, once a program is defined as welfare, it becomes a target for budget cuts.

You can see this happening right now to Medicaid, the nation's most important means-tested program. Last week Congress agreed on a budget that cuts funds for Medicaid (and food stamps), even while extending tax cuts on dividends and capital gains. States are cutting back, denying health insurance to hundreds of thousands of people with low incomes. Missouri is poised to eliminate Medicaid completely by 2008.

If the Bush scheme goes through, the same thing will eventually happen to Social Security. As Mr. Furman points out, the Bush plan wouldn't just cut benefits. Workers would be encouraged to divert a large fraction of their payroll taxes into private accounts - but this would in effect amount to borrowing against their future benefits, which would be reduced accordingly.

As a result, Social Security as we know it would be phased out for the middle class.

"For millions of workers," Mr. Furman writes, "the amount of the monthly Social Security check would be at or near zero."

So only the poor would receive Social Security checks - and regardless of what today's politicians say, future politicians would be tempted to reduce the size of those checks.

The important thing to understand is that the attempt to turn Social Security into nothing but a program for the poor isn't driven by concerns about the future budget burden of benefit payments. After all, if Mr. Bush was worried about the budget, he would be reconsidering his tax cuts.

No, this is about ideology: Mr. Bush comes to bury Social Security, not to save it. His goal is to turn F.D.R.'s most durable achievement into an unpopular welfare program, so some future president will be able to attack it with tall tales about Social Security queens driving Cadillacs.

Michael Kinsley - Bush Gets B+ for Honesty, Even Courage, on Social Security

latimes.com
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-kinsley1may01,0,7388443.column?coll=la-util-op-ed
MICHAEL KINSLEY
Bush Gets B+ for Honesty, Even Courage, on Social Security
Michael Kinsley

May 1, 2005

Question: Is the poll troubling?

The president: Polls? You know, if a president tries to govern based upon polls, you're kind of like a dog chasing your tail. I don't think you can make good, sound decisions based upon polls. And I don't think the American people want a president who relies upon polls and focus groups to make decisions for the American people.

— President Bush's

Thursday news conference

*

The comic high point of President Bush's prime-time news conference Thursday evening was this muddled disquisition on how the American people don't want the president to do what (polls say) the American people want the president to do.

This could be simple nonsense — an unfortunate conflation of two rhetorical devices treasured by politicians of both parties, but best kept a few paragraphs apart. One is the insistence that they don't follow the polls. The other is substituting the phrase "the American people" for the word "I" in sentences like, "The American people demand immediate passage of HR 5712, the Grotesque Subsidies to Widget Producers Act." Or the president could be struggling toward some kind of Burkean notion that he has been elected to lead people, not to follow their whims, and leadership matters only when it takes people where they don't want to go. Bush hinted at this after his reelection, saying that he had earned "political capital" that he intended to spend. And I'm giving him credit for this high-minded explanation, based on the rest of his performance Thursday.

There was a remarkable amount of honesty and near honesty. Bush's rebuff to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was superb. The people who oppose his judgeship nominees aren't prejudiced against religion, he said. They do it because they have a different "judicial philosophy." That is exactly the point. His characterization of the difference — his opponents "would like to see judges legislate from the bench" — is not quite right. Just a couple of weeks ago, his party tried desperately to force judges to "legislate from the bench" to prevent the removal of life support from Terri Schiavo. But a straightforward debate about judicial philosophy is indeed what we need.

Then it got even better. Starting with the cliche that in America you can "worship any way you want," Bush plunged gratuitously into a declaration that "if you choose not to worship, you're equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship." How long has it been, in this preacher-spooked nation, since a politician, let alone the president, has spoken out in defense of nonbelievers?

Above all, Bush was honest and even courageous about Social Security. Social Security is about writing checks: Money goes in, money goes out. As Bush has discovered in the last few months, there are no shadows to hide in while you fiddle with it. The problem is fewer and fewer workers supporting more and more retirees, and there are only two possible solutions: Someone has to pay more in, and/or someone has to take less out.

On Thursday, Bush didn't exactly go from explicitly denying this to explicitly admitting it. But he went from implicitly suggesting that his privatization scheme is a pain-free solution to implicitly endorsing a plan for serious benefit cuts. For a politician, that's an admirable difference.

Even more to Bush's credit, the plan he's backing is highly progressive. Benefits for low- income workers would keep rising with average wages, as now, but benefits for middle- and high-income people would be geared more toward merely keeping up with inflation. This allows Bush to say that no one's benefits would be cut, although some people would be getting up to 40% less than they are currently promised. But in the swamp of Social Security politics, that is really minimal protection from the alligators.

So Democrats now face a choice: Are they going to be alligators on this one? Why Bush has taken this on remains a mystery. There is no short-term political advantage, and there are other real long-term problems that are more pressing. But he has done it, to his credit.

As this column has argued to the point of stupefaction, Bush's privatization ideas are a mathematical fraud. There is no way that allowing people to manage a portion of the money they put into the system can produce a surplus to supplement their benefits or cushion the shock of the necessary cuts. But if privatization is truly voluntary, it can't do much harm. And if that's Bush's price for being out front on a real solution to the real problem, the Democrats should let him have it.

Unless they are complete morons — always a possibility — the Democrats could end up in the best of all worlds. They know in their hearts that Social Security has to change in some unpleasant way. Bush, for whatever reason, is willing to take this on, and to take most of the heat. And all he wants in return is the opportunity to try something that will alienate people from the Republican Party for generations.

If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at latimes.com/archives.
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