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, September 10, 2005

Maureen Dowd - Neigh to Cronies

September 10, 2005

Neigh to Cronies


I understand that politicians are wont to put cronies and cupcakes on the payroll.

I just wish they'd stop putting them on the Homeland Security payroll.

Can't they stick their pals who failed at business in the Small Business Administration and their tomatoes over at the Oilseeds and Rice Bureau of the Ag Department?

At least Bill Clinton knew not to stash his sweeties in jobs concerned with keeping the nation safe. Gennifer Flowers said that Mr. Clinton got her a $17,500 job in Arkansas in the state unemployment agency, though she was ranked ninth out of 11 applicants tested. And Monica Lewinsky's thong expertise led her to a job as an assistant to the Pentagon press officer.

Gov. James McGreevey of New Jersey had to resign last year after acknowledging that he had elevated his patronage peccadillo, an Israeli poet named Golan Cipel, to be his special assistant on homeland security without even a background check or American citizenship. Mr. Cipel, however, was vastly qualified for his job compared with Michael Brown, who didn't know the difference between a tropical depression and an anxiety attack when President Bush charged him with life-and-death decisions.

W. trusted Brownie simply because he was a friend of a friend. He was a college buddy of Joe Allbaugh, who worked as W.'s chief of staff when he was Texas governor and as his 2000 presidential campaign manager.

It sounds more like a Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson flick than the story of a man who was to be responsible for the fate of the Republic during the biggest natural disaster in our history. Brownie was a failed former lawyer with a degree from a semiaccredited law school, as The New Republic put it, when he moved to Colorado in 1991 to judge horse judges for the Arabian Horse Association.

He was put out to pasture under pressure in 2001, leaving him free to join his pal Mr. Allbaugh at an eviscerated FEMA. Mr. Allbaugh decided to leave the top job at FEMA and become a lobbyist with clients like Halliburton when the agency was reorganized under Homeland Security, stripping it of authority. Why not, Mr. Allbaugh thought, just pass this obscure sinecure to his homeboy?

Time magazine reported that Brownie's official bio described his only stint in emergency management as "assistant city manager" in Edmond, Okla. But a city official told Time that the FEMA chief had been "an assistant to the city manager," which was "more like an intern."

Ever since W. was his father's loyalty enforcer, his political decisions have been shaped more by loyalty than substance or competence. Mr. Bush never did warm up to his first secretary of state because Colin Powell rebuffed appeals to help out in the Tallahassee recount of 2000.

The breakdown in management and communications was so execrable that the president learned about the 25,000 desperate, trapped people at the New Orleans convention center not from Brownie, who didn't know himself, but from a wire story carried into the Oval Office by an aide on Thursday, 24 hours after the victims had been pleading and crying for help on every channel. (Maybe tomorrow the aide will come in with a wire story, "No W.M.D. in Iraq.")

"Getting truth on the ground in New Orleans was very difficult," a White House aide told The Times's Elisabeth Bumiller. Not if you had a TV.

As Mexican troops arrived in Texas to help with Katrina refugees, Brownie was recalled to Washington, where he said he wanted to get "a good Mexican meal and a stiff margarita." Yeah, it was hard to get any good étouffée in New Orleans given the E. coli. The president should find that little bullhorn from ground zero, put it right on Brownie's ear and yell at him to get the heck out of there.

FEMA was a disaster waiting to happen, the minute a disaster struck. As The Washington Post reported Friday, five of the eight top FEMA officials were simply Bush loyalists and political operatives who "came to their posts with virtually no experience in handling disasters."

While many see the hideous rescue failures as disaster apartheid, Barbara Bush and other Republicans have tried to look on the bright side for the victims. The Wall Street Journal reported that Representative Richard Baker of Baton Rouge was overheard telling lobbyists: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."

Even those who believe in intelligent design must surely agree that Brownie and Representative Baker weren't part of it.


NY Times - A Shameful Proclamation

September 10, 2005

A Shameful Proclamation

On Thursday, President Bush issued a proclamation suspending the law that requires employers to pay the locally prevailing wage to construction workers on federally financed projects. The suspension applies to parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

By any standard of human decency, condemning many already poor and now bereft people to subpar wages - thus perpetuating their poverty - is unacceptable. It is also bad for the economy. Without the law, called the Davis-Bacon Act, contractors will be able to pay less, but they'll also get less, as lower wages invariably mean lower productivity.

The ostensible rationale for suspending the law is to reduce taxpayers' costs. Does Mr. Bush really believe it is the will of the American people to deny the prevailing wage to construction workers in New Orleans, Biloxi and other hard-hit areas? Besides, the proclamation doesn't require contractors to pass on the savings they will get by cutting wages from current low levels. Around New Orleans, the prevailing hourly wage for a truck driver working on a levee is $9.04; for an electrician, it's $14.30.

Republicans have long been trying to repeal the prevailing wage law on the grounds that the regulations are expensive and bureaucratic; weakening it was even part of the Republican Party platform in 1996 and 2000. Now, in a time of searing need, the party wants to achieve by fiat what it couldn't achieve through the normal democratic process.

In a letter this week to Mr. Bush urging him to suspend the law, 35 Republican representatives noted approvingly that Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and the elder George Bush had all suspended the law during "emergencies." For the record, Mr. Roosevelt suspended it for two weeks in 1934, to make time to clear up contradictions between it and another law. Mr. Nixon suspended it for six weeks in 1971 as part of his misbegotten attempt to control spiraling inflation. And Mr. Bush did so after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, two weeks before he was defeated by Bill Clinton, who quickly reinstated it after assuming the presidency.

If Mr. Bush does not rescind his proclamation voluntarily, Congress should pass a law forcing him to do so.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Paul Krugman - Point Those Fingers

The New York Times
September 9, 2005
Point Those Fingers

To understand the history of the Bush administration's response to disaster, just follow the catchphrases.

First, look at 2001 Congressional testimony by Joseph Allbaugh, President Bush's first pick to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA, he said, would emphasize "Responsibility and Accountability" (capital letters and boldface in the original statement). He repeated the phrase several times.

What Mr. Allbaugh seems to have meant was that state and local government officials shouldn't count on FEMA to bail them out if they didn't prepare adequately for disasters. They should accept responsibility for protecting their constituents, and be held accountable if they don't.

But those were rules for the little people. Now that the Bush administration has botched its own response to disaster, we're not supposed to play the "blame game." Scott McClellan used that phrase 15 times over the course of just two White House press briefings.

It might make sense to hold off on the criticism if this were the first big disaster on Mr. Bush's watch, or if the chain of mistakes in handling Hurricane Katrina were out of character. But even with the most generous possible assessment, this is the administration's second big policy disaster, after Iraq. And the chain of mistakes was perfectly in character - there are striking parallels between the errors the administration made in Iraq and the errors it made last week.

In Iraq, the administration displayed a combination of paralysis and denial after the fall of Baghdad, as uncontrolled looting destroyed much of Iraq's infrastructure.

The same deer-in-the-headlights immobility prevailed as Katrina approached and struck the Gulf Coast. The storm gave plenty of warning. By the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 29, the flooding of New Orleans was well under way - city officials publicly confirmed a breach in the 17th Street Canal at 2 p.m. Yet on Tuesday federal officials were still playing down the problem, and large-scale federal aid didn't arrive until last Friday.

In Iraq the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran the country during the crucial first year after Saddam's fall - the period when an effective government might have forestalled the nascent insurgency - was staffed on the basis of ideological correctness and personal connections rather than qualifications. At one point Ari Fleischer's brother was in charge of private-sector development.

The administration followed the same principles in staffing FEMA. The agency had become a highly professional organization during the Clinton years, but under Mr. Bush it reverted to its former status as a "turkey farm," a source of patronage jobs.

As Bloomberg News puts it, the agency's "upper ranks are mostly staffed with people who share two traits: loyalty to President George W. Bush and little or no background in emergency management." By now everyone knows FEMA's current head went from overseeing horse shows to overseeing the nation's response to disaster, with no obvious qualifications other than the fact that he was Mr. Allbaugh's college roommate.

All that's missing from the Katrina story is an expensive reconstruction effort, with lucrative deals for politically connected companies, that fails to deliver essential services. But give it time - they're working on that, too.

Why did the administration make the same mistakes twice? Because it paid no political price the first time.

Can the administration escape accountability again? Some of the tactics it has used to obscure its failure in Iraq won't be available this time. The reality of the catastrophe was right there on our TV's, although FEMA is now trying to prevent the media from showing pictures of the dead. And people who ask hard questions can't be accused of undermining the troops.

But the other factors that allowed the administration to evade responsibility for the mess in Iraq are still in place. The media will be tempted to revert to he-said-she-said stories rather than damning factual accounts. The effort to shift blame to state and local officials is under way. Smear campaigns against critics will start soon, if they haven't already. And raw political power will be used to block any independent investigation.

Will this be enough to let the administration get away with another failure? Let's hope not: if the administration isn't held accountable for what just happened, it will keep repeating its mistakes. Michael Brown and Michael Chertoff will receive presidential medals, and the next disaster will be even worse.


Yeeeee Haw!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SF Chronicle - Police made their storm misery worse

Police made their storm misery worse
- Chip Johnson
Friday, September 9, 2005

Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky, two San Francisco paramedics trapped in New Orleans for five days last week, have a different story to tell than many of the tales that have come out in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

By their account, the cops weren't necessarily the good guys, and it was crystal clear that most of the city government structure collapsed along with the levees that left the city at the mercy of the rising waters.

When Hurricane Katrina hit Aug. 29, Bradshaw and his longtime live-in girlfriend were at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans' French Quarter, in town for a three-day paramedics conference at the convention center.

After the storm died down the next day, they were among 500 people sheltered in hotels throughout the tourist district -- foreign tourists, conference attendees and locals who'd checked in to ride out the storm.

The stranded crowd stared at food and water locked in a drugstore across the street from the hotel only to be shooed away by police officers whenever anyone approached the store. Finally, after hours of cat and mouse, the crowd finally broke into the store.

"At that point, we had not seen any of the TV coverage or looked at a newspaper, but we guessed there were no video images of European and white tourists, like us, looting the Walgreens in the French Quarter,'' the couple wrote in an eight-page account of their experience.

When it became clear that the help they so desperately needed was not coming anytime soon, the group pooled their resources in an effort to buy their way out of the surrounding hell. They ponied up $25,000, enough to lease 10 buses that would carry them out of the city.

But as the buses they paid for approached the city, they were immediately commandeered by the National Guard forces that were in New Orleans, Bradshaw and Slonsky said Thursday in an interview back home.

"If they used the buses to get the most severely ill out of the Superdome and convention center, I have no problem with that,'' Bradshaw said. "The thing that gets me is that if we could get on the phone and get 10 buses, why couldn't FEMA make that call?''

With no food, no water and no transportation out of the city, about 200 of the former hotel guests wandered the streets and tried to set up a camp next to a police command center on Canal Street, where they hoped to get aid, protection and information, the couple said.

But officers told them they couldn't stay, they had no water for them, and they needed to get up on Highway 90, a bridge that spans the Mississippi River, and walk until they saw the rescue buses they promised would be waiting for them.

So late Wednesday afternoon, the group set out for a bridge called the Crescent City Connection, where they would find the help they so desperately needed. But when they arrived atop the highway, the paramedics said, they were met by more police officers, this time from neighboring Gretna, La., who weren't letting anyone pass.

"If I weren't there, and hadn't witnessed it for myself, I don't think I would have ever believed this," Bradshaw said.

The officers fired warning shots into the air and then leveled their weapons at members of the crowd, Bradshaw said. He approached, hands in the air, displaying his paramedic's badge.

"They told us that there would be no Superdomes in their city,'' the couple wrote. "These were code words that if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River -- and you weren't getting out of New Orleans.''

And when exhausted hurricane victims set up temporary shelters on the highway, Gretna police came back a few hours later, fired shots into the air again, told people to "get the f -- off the bridge" and used a helicopter to blow down all the makeshift shelters, the paramedics said.

When the officers had pushed the crowd back far enough, one of them took the group's food and water, dropped it in the trunk of a patrol car and drove away.

Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson confirmed that his officers were under his orders to seal off the suburban city of 17,500 residents.

"We had individuals bused into Gretna and dropped off, and we had no idea they were coming. No one ever called us -- we have no shelter in Gretna, and our citizens were under a mandatory evacuation. This place was already locked down.''

The few buses that did show up received much the same treatment as Bradshaw, Slonsky and their compatriots: Gretna police officers did not allow anyone off the buses, and like their brothers in blue across the river, they sent them packing.

Police officers in Gretna also went into the city's lone sporting goods store and pawn shop and removed more than 1,400 weapons from the shelves to ensure the public safety, Lawson said.

Throughout the ordeal, Slonsky said members of the group they camped with became a community that helped each other, shared with each other and, in the end, relied on each other for their very survival.

The San Francisco paramedics were finally airlifted Friday to San Antonio, where they endured another couple of days in cramped conditions while they were examined for disease before being released.

"We got out of there with only the clothes on our back,'' Bradshaw said. "And the money in my underwear,'' added Slonsky.

Chip Johnson's column appears on Mondays and Fridays. E-mail him at

Page B - 1
©2005 San Francisco Chronicle

Police Trapped Thousands in New Orleans

Police Trapped Thousands in New Orleans

As the situation grew steadily worse in New Orleans last week, you might have wondered why people didn't just leave on foot. The Louisiana Superdome is less than two miles from a bridge that leads over the Mississippi River out of the city.

The answer: Any crowd that tried to do so was met by suburban police, some of whom fired guns to disperse the group and seized their water.

Around 500 people stuck in downtown New Orleans after the storm banded together for self-preservation, making sure the oldest and youngest among them were taken care of before looking after their own needs.

Two San Francisco paramedics who were staying in the French Quarter for a convention have written a first-hand account that describes their appalling treatment at the hands of Louisiana police, a story confirmed today by the San Francisco Chronicle, UPI, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

When buses charted by the group to escape New Orleans never showed up, they camped out beside a police command center on Canal Street, believing it was the best place to get aid, protection, and information. They were told they could not stay there and should leave the city on foot over Highway 90, which crosses the Mississippi River from New Orleans to the suburb of Gretna, a city of 17,500 people.

Running out of food and water, they walked to the bridge, growing in number to around 800 people as word spread of a safe way out:

As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander's assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn't cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City.

In an interview with UPI, Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson confirmed that his department shut down the bridge to pedestrians: "If we had opened the bridge, our city would have looked like New Orleans does now: looted, burned and pillaged."

The increasingly desperate group set up camp on the New Orleans side of the bridge, where they were seen by several media outlets, until they were chased off at gunpoint by Gretna police:

Reduced to a small group of 8 people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

The paramedics believe that race played a factor in the decision to block evacuees on foot. Gretna's population is 56 percent white and 36 percent black, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

The War Prayer by Mark Twain

The War Prayer
Mark Twain

When Harper's Bazaar received the typescript of "The War Prayer" - a response to U. S. military intervention in the Philippines - editors rejected it as unsuitable, leaving Twain to remark that since "only the dead are allowed to speak the truth," it would never be published in his lifetime. It wasn't. That was in 1905, but the intervening century seems to have changed little. Undoubtedly, this American classic is relevant as ever.

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and sputtering on every hand and far down the receding and fading spreads of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue, gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half-dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came - next day the battalions would leave for the front the church was filled the volunteers were there, their faces alight with martial dreams - visions of a stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! - then home from the war, bronzed heros, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded a war chapter from the Old Testament was read the first prayer was said it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation - "God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!"

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work bless them, shield them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory.

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghostliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there, waiting.

With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, "Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside - which the startled minister did - and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes in which burned an uncanny light then in a deep voice he said:

"I come from the Throne - bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd and shall grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import - that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of - except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two - one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this - keep it in mind. If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer - the uttered part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into words the other part of it - that part which the pastor, and also you in your hearts, fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory - must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle - be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unbefriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it - for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen."

(After a pause) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits."

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

© 2005 Bruderhof Communities.
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Mark Twain Speaks to Us: I Am an Anti-Imperialist

Mark Twain Speaks to Us: "I Am an Anti-Imperialist"
By Norman Solomon
Apr 15, 2003

With U.S. troops occupying Iraq and the Bush administration making bellicose noises about Syria, let's consider some rarely mentioned words from the most revered writer in American history.

Mark Twain was painfully aware of many people's inclinations to go along with prevailing evils. When slavery was lawful, he recalled, abolitionists were "despised and ostracized, and "insulted" -- by "patriots." As far as Twain was concerned, "Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul."

With chiseled precision, he wielded language as a hard-edged tool. "The difference between the right word and the almost right word," he once commented, "is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."

Here are a few volts of Twain's lightning that you probably never saw before:

* "Who are the oppressors? The few: the king, the capitalist and a handful of other overseers and superintendents. Who are the oppressed? The many: the nations of the earth; the valuable personages; the workers; they that make the bread that the soft-handed and idle eat."

* "Why is it right that there is not a fairer division of the spoil all around? Because laws and constitutions have ordered otherwise. Then it follows that laws and constitutions should change around and say there shall be a more nearly equal division."

* "I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land."

At the turn of the century, as the Philippines came under the wing of the U.S. government, Mark Twain suggested a new flag for the Philippine province -- "just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones."

While the United States followed up on its victory in the Spanish-American War by slaughtering thousands of Filipino people, Twain spoke at anti-war rallies. He also flooded newspapers with letters and wrote brilliant, unrelenting articles.

On Dec. 30, 1900, the New York Herald published Mark Twain's commentary -- "A Greeting from the 19th Century to the 20th Century" -- denouncing the blood-drenched colonial forays of England, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. "I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched and dishonored from pirate-raids in Kiao-Chou, Manchuria, South Africa and the Philippines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her the soap and a towel, but hide the looking-glass."

Twain followed up in early 1901 with an essay titled "To the Person Sitting in Darkness." Each of the world's strongest nations, he wrote, was proceeding "with its banner of the Prince of Peace in one hand and its loot-basket and its butcher-knife in the other." Many readers and some newspapers praised Twain's polemic. But his essay angered others, including the American Missionary Board and the New York Times.

"Particularly in his later years," scholar Tom Quirk has noted, "the fierceness of Twain's anti-imperialist convictions disturbed and dismayed those who regarded him as the archetypal American citizen who had somehow turned upon Americanism itself."

What Mark Twain had to say is all too relevant to what's happening these days. But policymakers in Washington can rest easy. Twain's most inflammatory writings are smoldering in his grave -- while few opportunities exist for the general public to hear similar views expounded today.

"None but the dead are permitted to speak truth," Twain remarked.

Even then, evidently, their voices tend to be muffled.


Norman Solomon is co-author of the new book "Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You." For an excerpt and other information, go to:

Powell Calls U.N. Speech a 'Blot' on His Record

Powell Calls U.N. Speech a 'Blot' on His Record
Former Secretary of State Speaks Out on Being Loyal -- and Being Wrong

In 35 years of service as a soldier, Colin Powell earned a reputation as the quintessential disciplined warrior. As secretary of state in President Bush's first term, Powell was widely seen as a disciplined, moderate -- and loyal -- voice for the administration. Now out of government service, Powell is airing openly his disappointments and frustration on everything from the invasion of Iraq to the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

Powell, 68, who recently visited storm survivors at Reunion Arena in Dallas, said he was "deeply moved" by the families displaced by the devastating storm and was critical of the preparations for Hurricane Katrina. "I think there have been a lot of failures at a lot of levels -- local, state and federal. There was more than enough warning over time about the dangers to New Orleans. Not enough was done. I don't think advantage was taken of the time that was available to us, and I just don't know why," Powell told ABC News' Barbara Walters in an exclusive interview airing Friday night at 10 p.m. on "20/20."

Powell doesn't think race was a factor in the slow delivery of relief to the hurricane victims as some have suggested. "I don't think it's racism, I think it's economic," he told Walters.

"When you look at those who weren't able to get out, it should have been a blinding flash of the obvious to everybody that when you order a mandatory evacuation, you can't expect everybody to evacuate on their own. These are people who don't have credit cards; only one in 10 families at that economic level in New Orleans have a car. So it wasn't a racial thing -- but poverty disproportionately affects African-Americans in this country. And it happened because they were poor," he said.

Making False Case for War Still 'Painful'

When Powell left the Bush administration in January 2005, he was widely seen as having been at odds with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney over foreign policy choices.

It was Powell who told the United Nations and the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and posed an imminent threat. He told Walters that he feels "terrible" about the claims he made in that now-infamous address -- assertions that later proved to be false.

When asked if he feels it has tarnished his reputation, he said, "Of course it will. It's a blot. I'm the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It's painful now."

He doesn't blame former CIA Director George Tenet for the misleading information he says he pored over for days before delivering his speech; he faults the intelligence system.

"George Tenet did not sit there for five days with me misleading me. He believed what he was giving to me was accurate. … The intelligence system did not work well," he said.

Nonetheless, Powell said, some lower-level personnel in the intelligence community failed him and the country. "There were some people in the intelligence community who knew at that time that some of these sources were not good, and shouldn't be relied upon, and they didn't speak up. That devastated me," he said.

While Powell ultimately supported the president's decision to invade Iraq, he acknowledges that he was hesitant about waging war. "I'm always a reluctant warrior. And I don't resent the term, I admire the term, but when the president decided that it was not tolerable for this regime to remain in violation of all these U.N. resolutions, I'm right there with him with the use of force," he said.

Powell told Walters he is unfazed by criticism that he put loyalty to the president over leadership. "Loyalty is a trait that I value, and yes, I am loyal. And there are some who say, 'Well, you shouldn't have supported it. You should have resigned.' But I'm glad that Saddam Hussein is gone. I'm glad that that regime is gone," he said.

When Walters pressed Powell about that support, given the "mess" that the invasion has yielded, Powell said, "Who knew what the whole mess was going to be like?"

While he said he is glad that Saddam's regime was toppled, Powell acknowledged that he has seen no evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terrorist attack. "I have never seen a connection. ... I can't think otherwise because I'd never seen evidence to suggest there was one," he told Walters.

Despite his differences with the administration, Powell said he never considered resigning in protest. "I'm not a quitter. And it wasn't a moral issue, or an act of a failure of an active leadership. It was knowing what we were heading into, and when the going got rough, you don't walk out," he told Walters.

Stay the Course in Iraq

When asked what steps he would take in Iraq, Powell said, "I think there is little choice but to keep investing in the Iraqi armed forces, and to do everything we can to increase their size and their capability and their strength," he said.

Still, he questions some of the administration's post-invasion planning. "What we didn't do in the immediate aftermath of the war was to impose our will on the whole country, with enough troops of our own, with enough troops from coalition forces, or, by recreating the Iraqi forces, armed forces, more quickly than we are doing now. And it may not have turned out to be such a mess if we had done some things differently. But it is now a difficult situation, but difficult situations are there to be worked on and solved, not walked away from, not cutting and running from."

Powell said he is sensitive to Cindy Sheehan and other mothers and family members whose loved ones have been wounded or killed in Iraq, but stressed that soldiers are risking their lives for a worthy purpose. When asked what he would say to Sheehan, who has grabbed media attention with her daily anti-war protests near Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch, he told Walters he'd tell her what he'd tell any mother who suffered such a loss: "We regret the loss, but your loved one died in service to the nation and in service to the cause."

He acknowledged that the pain of losing a loved one would be heightened if a family feels the war is unjust. "If they don't feel the war is just, then they'll always feel that it is a deep personal loss and I sympathize with Ms. Sheehan. But this is not over. This conflict is not over, and the alternative to what I just described is essentially saying, 'Nevermind, we're leaving.' And I don't think that is an option for the United States."

Powell's wife of 43 years, Alma, also joined Walters for the exclusive interview. The couple share their thoughts on public service, their current life in the private sector, and whether a White House bid is in their future.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Stirling Newberry - Dear Mr. Wanniski

Editor's Note: TO Economist Stirling Newberry in this piece laments the life, death and legacy of Wall Street Journal editorialist/economist Jude Wanniski. Wanniski coined the phrase "supply side economics," which became the blueprint for Reaganomics. - ma/TO

Dear Mr. Wanniski

By Stirling Newberry

t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Wednesday 07 September 2005

I know you won't read this reply to your question, but I am writing it anyway. You were, in life, a regular reader of this space, and wrote demanding more explanations from time to time. It seems a fruitless exercise now, because your disciples will not accept it, nor will my fellow liberals. You have been increasingly isolated from the movement that brought you to prominence, because the rhetoric that runs it is at cross purposes to the society you actually want to live in. One reactionary who writes to me from time to time called you "a peacenik pansy" and an apologist for terrorism. Among his more printable accusations.

I am isolated from my fellow liberals, because I do not see the point in demonizing the past. It is the people of the present and the future that are important. I recognize that liberalism will only work when it is a supply-side theory of government. But by supply-side I don't mean tax cuts, but the real thing. Enough supply to raise the people of the world out of poverty, and to end the foolish wars over resources which we are currently engaged in.

You challenged me to talk about the "truth" of how things work, and so I will.

In 1981, a nation crazed with fear and frustration turned aside from liberal government. It was told that intellectual elites could not solve the problems of the world, and that planning would lead, inevitably, to distortion and disaster. The reality of Reaganomics is that it addressed a problem of political economy. That problem was that petro-dollars were piling up in the hands of a few nations, and they had to be enticed, or bribed, to hold those dollars. The result is that Ronald Reagan did a peculiar thing. He created a great entitlement program - namely, a monumental National Debt. That debt has upon it, interest. That interest must be paid, as surely as Social Security or Medicare. Instead of taxing the wealthy, he gave them tax breaks, and asked them to loan the money back to the government.

What is important to realize is that while liberals to this day decry this solution, it was at least a solution. The illusion of money is that governments think they can print it. This is not true, they can print currency. That is, they can print a medium of exchange, and they can require people to accept it, and they can protect those who hold it. But money is not merely the medium of exchange, it is also the store of wealth, and the unit of account. The amount of currency may be within the partial control of the government, but the amount of money is determined by the restless and relentless operation of the market. Currency may measure money, but it is not money itself.

When a government mis-measures money, either by creating too little or too much currency, the economy adjusts, and inexorably and remorselessly. The old expression "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" applies to currency as well. You can put In God We Trust on a dollar, but only as long as people trust the government that printed it does that mean anything. And the person that matters is the last producer, who wants to store it as wealth.

Currency then, only works as long as the last producer will take it. The last producer is the individual who doesn't need to consume more, and is only interested in getting greater leverage over society. If that person is a banker who rents out gold, then the society will be on a gold standard. If that person is an Arab prince who wants American military hardware and policy concessions and is willing to rent out oil, then the society will be on an oil standard. And that is the basic recognition of Reaganomics: the world is on an oil standard. I know you support a gold standard, and I've written a good bit on it, but while the gold standard wasn't the cause of the Great Depression, it isn't coming back any time soon, because the last producer in the world isn't interested in gold, he's interested in missiles, jet fighters, and the ability to keep his restive populations in line. Perhaps someday I will write my book on the gold standard, but until then you'll have to refer to the wikipedia gold standard article; last I checked, it was primarily my work.

Reaganomics cut marginal rates on capital and raised them on labor. It did so by passing a tax increase through payroll or FICA taxes. The excuse for this was that this represented a "trust fund" to "save" Social Security. In reality, this increase ended up being general federal revenue. In essence, one part of FICA pays Social Security, but the other part pays that other great entitlement, interest on the national debt. This acted as a regressive tax, which slowed the consumption of oil. This meant that despite huge stimulus in the form of a large defense budget, inflation was restrained. Reaganomics was never going to balance the budget, and, in truth, Americans didn't really want the budget to be balanced. They might talk about it, but they were not, and are not, willing to do anything about it.

The gamble of Reaganomics was this: give the wealthy incentives to invest in stocks, and they would pull money out of speculating in commodities, and then pass regressive taxes, and it would ease the pressure on commodities as well. Then, hope the market would find ways of doing more with less. In short, let Paul Volcker's disinflation policy and Carter's conservation policies cure the spike, use a change in tax policy to prevent the medicine from killing the patient, and hope that the economic body would heal itself.

But Reaganomics was not the only about policy, it was about people. Specifically, what kind of people would run government. The New Deal brought in a wave of people to government who believed in two things: reports from the field, and ideas. These ideas came from the social sciences, they came from history, they came from rhetoric. But to be a liberal was to be rooted in what came to be called "the technocracy."

Nixon and Reagan brought in a different kind of person. A person whose background was in business, whether franchise small business, or the large corporate hierarchy. They did not see the outside world as a thing to be analyzed but as a group of consumers to be marketed to. The Reagan Revolution was, to no small extent, the marketing department taking over from the engineering department. The nuclear submariner, Jimmy Carter, was replaced by the actor Ronald Reagan.

The basic economic policy can then be stated simply as this: in 1980 there was a dollar glut, and because of the end of the Bretton-Woods system, there was no way for those who held dollars to store wealth that guarded against inflation. So they invested in inflation itself, running up the prices of commodities such as oil, copper, iron, steel and gold. Reaganomics did three things. First, it made it more attractive to invest in stocks rather than commodities. Second, it borrowed a great deal of money, and started paying higher interest rates. Third, it imposed regressive taxation to cut demand for commodities, to slow inflation. And that is what Americans really wanted, not a balanced budget, but an end to inflation and uncertainty. Reagan's tax cuts worked, not because they would lead to a balanced budget, but because they would produce a deficit on which the government would pay interest. In short, what Reagan did was increase the demand for investment, and decrease the demand for commodities. It was a demand side policy, not in the end a supply side policy. Reagan virtually ignored the supply side of the equation.

I'm not sure whether you will be happy that a liberal will admit that Reaganomics addressed the problem it was aimed at solving, or upset at the statement that Reaganomics had a great deal of John Maynard Keynes in it. Reagan claimed the deficit would be temporary, but, well, you know there is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program.

There are two important ironies to this economic policy, coming from its nature as a demand side policy. The first is that there are liberal policies that would have solved the same problem. However, in 1980, those who led the Democratic Party could not find a way to construct and enunciate them in a form that Americans would accept and understand. This was made evident by the Republicans taking the Senate and the White House. The second irony is that the best way to meet the oil problem is not with oil supply, but by substituting something else for oil. That something else is digitality - instead of an America that binds itself together using physical transportation, an America that binds itself using digital transformation.

In the end, a nation that is based on selling assets - paper - in return for oil is going to favor the economic engines of export. And the way to produce the most value with the least oil is by symbolic manipulation and the knowledge economy. In short, the metropolitan economy - even if it moves its campuses out to the country side for the peace and quiet. That is, the Reagan economy busily set itself to creating an entire class of people who made their living being technocrats. People who saw cooperation, teamwork, infrastructure and intellectual discipline as being central to all progress. But the Republican Party's electoral success came from recruiting the white disorganized working class, particularly from outside the cities. In 1999, Newsweek spoke of this anxiety with the cover story: "Everyone's Getting Rich, But Me." While the Republican Party was filled with salesmen, it was generating the most massive wave of technocrats in history.

This irony was expressed in the Clinton Administration. When Clinton took power he faced the same problem of political economy that Reagan had faced. In fact, he was told by Robert Rubin that his economic policy as President had to be to keep the bondholders happy, lest they dump dollars. Clinton realized that that was, to borrow a phrase, "The Way the World Works." He began to do something which, if one follows rhetoric rather than actions, seems absurd: he began privatizing Reagan's great entitlement program. "Rubinomics" in the end, was the Clinton Codicil to Reaganomics. Instead of using government bonds to entice people to hold dollars, he created the conditions for a high tech boom, which sold stocks. People rushed into the dollar to buy Amazon, Yahoo, and dozens of other companies.

By making it so that there was something even more profitable than oil, Clinton created an incentive for those who had oil to pump it out of the ground as fast as they could. This reduced the price of oil, which allowed the government to pay less in incentives to keep people holding dollars. If anyone needs a proof that the free market is a better way to run an entitlement, Clinton's privatization of Reagan's entitlement program has to be the first header in the chapter. And all of this is good Reaganomics - lean on the oil suppliers to lower oil prices by having paper to sell that they want to buy.

In his 1994 book Peddling Prosperity, Paul Krugman pointed out that Keynes was still alive. The irony of the post-1981 world is that Reagan never really left Keynes behind, but also that Clinton did not leave behind the fundamental legacy of what is called "Supply Side Economics": taxes remained regressive, more of FICA taxes were shifted from paying for benefits to paying for interest, and marginal tax rates on corporations and on capital gains remained relatively low. Clinton tried to take on the petro-dollar directly by proposing a BTU tax, but backed off when Americans snarled that cheap gasoline is the XIth Amendment to the Bill of Rights. So he spent the rest of his presidency managing the problem.

This division is deep within the Democratic Party: there are liberals, such as Dr. Robert Reich, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Professor Paul Krugman who want to get out from underneath the problem of political economy that the 1970s left behind for us, the real legacy of the Nixonian age. There are conservatives who are willing to accept and manage this problem, such as Bill Clinton, Senator Kent Conrad, and Senator Harry Reid. I'm sure somewhere you are both smiling and frowning, because it is probably true that there are more real supply-siders on my side of the aisle than on yours. It is, in one sense, the ultimate compliment when even one's political foes adopt your rhetoric - as Daniel Patrick Moynihan admitted in 1981 that the Republican Party was "the party of ideas."

I know that you and Dr. Krugman do not get along, and have exchanged brickbats in public. He's called you "loonie," and you've called him "obsolete." But the reality is that you are both arguing so hard because you are arguing over the same thing - namely the legacy of Robert Mundell. The reason the fight is so bitter is that there is no one who understands the Mundell-Fleming model as well as Dr. Krugman does, even as there is no one who gave coinage to what Robert Mundell wanted to say as much as you have. One is tempted to put this fight in biblical terms, as the conflict between two sons for the blessing of the father.

The crowning irony is that by the time a President takes office in 2009, Reaganomics will be dead. Half of the Reaganomic program was to keep a lid on consumption demand for oil. Bush blew the doors off of this. In doing so he has created a vicious circle, similar to the Keynesian vicious circle of stagflation in the 1970s. The problem with Keynesian policies, as they were implemented by Nixon, Ford and Carter, was not that they didn't work - but that they did work. Stimulus begat jobs, which begat demand, which begat inflation, which increased the demand for jobs, and therefore the demand for stimulus.

In the present, tax cuts for those at the top beget money that needs to find someplace to park, which goes into oil, which puts more pressure on profits. Profits are propped up with tax cuts - which starts the whole cycle over again. This is why oil has marched up, even though there was, until Katrina, no shortage of crude oil. It was just that parking oil in the spot market is where the volatility was to profit from, not in stocks. Even with corporate tax rates on foreign profits being cut closer and closer to zero, it is still more profitable to park your mega-dollars in crude.

In short, in the end, you and Dr. Krugman have ended up on the same side about the foolishness of Iraq and the incompetence of the Bush executive. The reality is that Bush is killing what Reagan built, because he is breaking the triangle of a constitution. Governments must have a mandate, a mechanism to fulfill it, and a meaning that binds them together. When rhetoric tells people to do the wrong thing, the constitutional order breaks.

Let me talk about this for a moment in blunter terms than most people have been willing to do. The basic burden of political economy is that the world is on an oil standard. That means, as I stated above, that economic information is sooner or later boiled down to distance, which is crossed by oil. As I am sure you know from Mundell's work, one can have any two of: free movement of capital, a fixed exchange rate, or effective monetary policy. If oil is the ultimate standard, then political choice is reduced down to two: free capital movement, or effective monetary policy.

In Reagan's day, and even in the beginning of Clinton's day, the barriers of the Cold War acted to keep capital constrained. In 1983, one could not build a car factory in Shanghai and get cars out of it. It would have been dicey even in 1993. That meant that this has been the great era of monetary policy, with the most powerful central bankers since J.P. Morgan was the de facto central banker of the United States. Now that capital is free to move about, that era is over. As Europe, Japan and the US all show: loose monetary policy, no make that sluttish monetary policy, has failed to kick-start Japan in 17 years, likewise Europe and the US in 5 years.

Bush wanted to keep the basic economy of the US the same, which means burning lots of gasoline. This means that the world currency regime would still be pegged to oil. But he also wanted to do two other things: devalue the US dollar to get demand for US physical exports up, so that his Reagan Democrat base would vote for him, enough to keep Congress and the Presidency and have an easy monetary policy in order to encourage homebuilding, so the pickup truck NASCAR dads would get good wages.

The only way to accomplish this is the way the British did at the end of the 19th century: take control of the monetary base. In their time, gold. That's what the Boer War was about. In our time, oil. Iraq is, essentially, America's Boer War. Supported as a glorious adventure, but in fact an economic disaster which leads to a world wide conflict.

This is that "macho foreign policy" that you rejected. I'm going to say it again: if you believe in free markets and hate military Keynesianism, then the Republican Party is not where you should be. They are anti-free trade, anti-free markets and anti-peace and prosperity. Judge political parties by their track record, not by their sound track. And don't say "I'm a Libertarian," we both know that libertarianism has been code for "pot smoking Republican."

Anyway, to continue with Robert Mundell's work. Markets always adjust. Since Bush has refused to pick which two of the three points on Mundell's triangle he is going to take, the market has picked for him. Thus we have a currency that is melting down against oil. The world decided it wanted to stay pegged to the dollar, and Americans decided that they wanted free capital movement to keep importing and to hold the price of manufactured goods down. That means, as we've observed, that monetary policy is nothing more than debasing the coinage. Same fleas on a different dog; it doesn't work any more than Britain debasing silver coinage did during the Napoleonic Wars.

You know all those tirades you've written about greedy governments and the monetary base? Strike out the word "gold" and put in the world "oil" and mail them to Mssrs. Bush, Snow and Greenspan. Because that is what the dollar is, an amount of oil bandwidth, and all they have managed to do is debase it.

I didn't expect to change your mind when I started this, still less that you are now beyond all of the concerns of the dismal science. I don't expect to convince your disciples, because they are too caught up in rhetorical excess, acting as if cutting taxes is a virtuous act for which some deity will reward them in the hereafter. Nor do I really expect that liberals are going to put aside the bitter political fights - particularly when so many of your fellow Republicans are wandering about nominating people like Roberts to be the head of the Supreme Court.

But it had to be said: just as LBJ and Nixon killed the Keynesian economy, by not understanding how it worked, Bush has killed the Friedman-Mundell economy by not understanding how it worked. And that doesn't touch something I haven't mentioned to this point: there isn't enough oil on the planet to put all six billion of us in the affluent life style. You were fond of talking about obsolete ideas. Here is one: extractive economics is obsolete, and with it, conservatism.

Ah yes, the world "obsolete" that you taunted me with. Yes, we both agree that military Keynesianism is dead. If it could be made to work, Bush and his friends would have turned to it. The economics of 1960 isn't coming back any time soon. But there are new ideas in the air, ideas that place their faith in the growing sphere of the public, rather than exclusively in the power of government, ideas that answer many of the problems of information and money that have been raised over the last 50 years.

So I am going to take some time out, finish my String Quartet in E flat, and then sit down and write to you about how we should place our faith in a few radical economists and other thinkers, starting with one whose work is often thumped, but rarely read, that is to say Adam Smith. And I am going to hope that just as you had put a toe in the aisle, because you saw neo-conservatism marching towards war, repression, and a planned economy, some younger and more flexible minds will realize that it is time to stride across it and become progressives.

Stirling Newberry is an internet business and strategy consultant, with experience in international telecom, consumer marketing, e-commerce and forensic database analysis. He has acted as an advisor to Democratic political campaigns and organizations and is the co-founder, along with Christopher Lydon, Jay Rosen and Matt Stoller, of BopNews, as well as the military affairs editor of The Agonist.


Top 10 Censored Stories of the Past Year

By Camille T. Taiara
The San Francisco Bay Guardian

7-13 September 2005 Issue

Project Censored presents the 10 biggest stories the mainstream media ignored over the past year.

Just four days before the 2004 presidential election, a prestigious British medical journal published the results of a rigorous study by Dr. Les Roberts, a widely respected researcher. Roberts concluded that close to 100,000 people had died in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Most were noncombatant civilians. Many were children.

But that news didn't make the front pages of the major newspapers. It wasn't on the network news. So most voters knew little or nothing about the brutal civilian impact of President George W. Bush's war when they went to the polls.

That's just one of the big stories the mainstream news media ignored, blacked out, or underreported over the past year, according to Project Censored, a media watchdog group based at California's Sonoma State University.

Every year project researchers scour the media looking for news that never really made the news, publishing the results in a book, this year titled Censored 2006. Of course, as Project Censored staffers painstakingly explain every year, their "censored" stories aren't literally censored, per se. Most can be found on the Internet, if you know where to look. And some have even received some ink in the mainstream press. "Censorship," explains project director Peter Phillips, "is any interference with the free flow of information in society." The stories highlighted by Project Censored simply haven't received the kind of attention they warrant, and therefore haven't made it into the greater public consciousness.

"If there were a real democratic press, these are the kind of stories they would do," says Sut Jhally, professor of communications at the University of Massachusetts and executive director of the Media Education Foundation.

The stories the researchers identify involve corporate misdeeds and governmental abuses that have been underreported if not altogether ignored, says Jhally, who helped judge Project Censored's top picks. For the most part, he adds, "stories that affect the powerful don't get reported by the corporate media."

Can a story really be "censored" in the Internet age, when information from millions of sources whips around the world in a matter of seconds? When a single obscure journal article can be distributed and discussed on hundreds of blogs and Web sites? When partisans from all sides dissect the mainstream media on the Web every day? Absolutely, Jhally says.

"The Internet is a great place to go if you already know that the mainstream media is heavily biased" and you actively search out sites on the outer limits of the Web, he notes. "Otherwise, it's just another place where they try to sell you stuff. The challenge for a democratic society is how to get vital information not only at the margins but at the center of our culture."

Not every article or source Project Censored has cited over the years is completely credible; at least one this year is pretty shaky.

But most of the stories that made the project's top 10 were published by more reliable sources and included only verifiable information. And Project Censored's overall findings provide valuable insights into the kinds of issues the mainstream media should be paying closer attention to.

1. Bush Administration Moves to Eliminate Open Government

While the Bush administration has expanded its ability to keep tabs on civilians, it's been working to make sure the public - and even Congress - can't find out what the government is doing.

One year ago, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) released an 81-page analysis of how the administration has administered the country's major open government laws. His report found that the feds consistently "narrowed the scope and application" of the Freedom of Information Act, the Presidential Records Act, and other key public information legislation, while expanding laws blocking access to certain records - even creating new categories of "protected" information and exempting entire departments from public scrutiny.

When those methods haven't been enough, the Bush administration has simply refused to release records - even when the requester was a Congressional subcommittee or the Government Accountability Office, the study found. A few of the potentially incriminating documents Bush and Co. have refused to hand over to their colleagues on Capitol Hill include records of contacts between large energy companies and Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force; White House memos pertaining to Saddam Hussein's, shall we say, "elusive" weapons of mass destruction; and reports describing torture at Abu Ghraib.

The report's findings were so dramatic as to indicate "an unprecedented assault on the laws that make our government open and accountable," Waxman said at a Sept. 14, 2004, press conference announcing the report's release.

Given the news media's intrinsic interest in safeguarding open government laws, one would think it would be plenty motivated to publicize such findings far and wide. However, most Americans remain oblivious to just how much more secretive - and autocratic - our leaders in the White House have become.

Source: "New Report Details Bush Administration Secrecy" press release, Karen Lightfoot, Government Reform Minority Office, posted on, Sept. 14, 2004.

2. Media Coverage Fails on Iraq: Fallujah and the Civilian Death Toll

Decades from now, the civilized world may well look back on the assaults on Fallujah in April and November 2004 and point to them as examples of the United States' and Britain's utter disregard for the most basic wartime rules of engagement.

Not long after the "coalition" had embarked on its second offensive, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called for an investigation into whether the Americans and their allies had engaged in "the deliberate targeting of civilians, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, the killing of injured persons, and the use of human shields," among other possible "grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions ... considered war crimes" under federal law.

More than 83 percent of Fallujah's 300,000 residents fled the city, Mary Trotochaud and Rick McDowell, staffers with the American Friends Service Committee, reported in AFSC's Peacework magazine. Men between the ages of 15 and 45 were refused safe passage, and all who remained - about 50,000 - were treated as enemy combatants, according to the article.

Numerous sources reported that coalition forces cut off water and electricity, seized the main hospital, shot at anyone who ventured out into the open, executed families waving white flags while trying to swim across the Euphrates or otherwise flee the city, shot at ambulances, raided homes and killed people who didn't understand English, rolled over injured people with tanks, and allowed corpses to rot in the streets and be eaten by dogs.

Medical staff and others reported seeing people, dead and alive, with melted faces and limbs, injuries consistent with the use of phosphorous bombs.

But you wouldn't know any of this unless you'd come across a rare report by one of an even rarer number of independent journalists - or known which obscure Web site to log onto for real information.

Of course, the media blackout extends far beyond Fallujah.

The US military's refusal to keep an Iraqi death count has been mirrored by the mainstream media, which systematically dodges the question of how many Iraqi civilians have been killed.

Les Roberts, an investigator with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, conducted a rigorous inquiry into pre- and post-invasion mortality in Iraq, sneaking into Iraq by lying flat on the bed of an SUV and training observers on the scene. The results were published in the Lancet, a prestigious peer-reviewed British medical journal, on Oct. 29, 2004 - just four days prior to the US presidential elections. Roberts and his team (including researchers from Columbia University and from al-Mustansiriya University, in Baghdad) concluded that "the death toll associated with the invasion and occupation of Iraq is probably about 100,000 people, and may be much higher."

The vast majority of those deaths resulted from violence - particularly aerial bombardments - and more than half of the fatalities were women or children, they found.

The State Department had relied heavily on studies by Roberts in the past. And when Roberts, using similar techniques, calculated in 2000 that about 1.7 million had died in the Congo as the result of almost two years of armed conflict, the news media picked up the story, the United Nations more than doubled its request for aid to the Congo, and the United States pledged an additional $10 million.

This time, silence - interrupted only by the occasional critique dismissing Roberts's report. The major television news shows, Project Censored found, never mentioned it.

Sources: "The Invasion of Fallujah: A Study in the Subversion of Truth," Mary Trotochaud and Rick McDowell, Peacework, Dec. 2004-Jan. 2005; "US Media Applauds Destruction of Fallujah," David Walsh, (World Socialist Web site), Nov. 17, 2004; "Fallujah Refugees Tell of Life and Death in the Kill Zone," Dahr Jamail, New Standard, Dec. 3, 2004; "Mortality before and after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq," Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi, and Gilbert Burnham, Lancet, Oct. 29, 2004; "The War in Iraq: Civilian Casualties, Political Responsibilities," Richard Horton, Lancet, Oct. 29, 2004; "Lost Count," Lila Guterman, Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb. 4, 2005; "CNN to Al Jazeera: Why Report Civilian Deaths?" Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, April 15, 2004, and Asheville Global Report, April 22-28, 2004.

3. Another Year of Distorted Election Coverage

Last year Project Censored foretold the potential for electoral wrongdoing in the 2004 presidential campaign: The "sale of electoral politics" made number six in the list of 2003-04's most underreported stories. The mainstream media had largely ignored the evidence that electronic voting machines were susceptible to tampering, as well as political alliances between the machines' manufacturers and the Republican Party.

Then came Nov. 2, 2004.

Bush prevailed by 3 million votes - despite exit polls that clearly projected Kerry winning by a margin of 5 million.

"Exit polls are highly accurate," Steve Freeman, professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Organizational Dynamics, and Temple University statistician Josh Mitteldorf wrote in In These Times. "They remove most of the sources of potential polling error by identifying actual voters and asking them immediately afterward who they had voted for."

The eight-million-vote discrepancy was well beyond the poll's recognized, less-than-1-percent margin of error. And when Freeman and Mitteldorf analyzed the data collected by the two companies that conducted the polls, they found concrete evidence of potential fraud in the official count.

"Only in precincts that used old-fashioned, hand-counted paper ballots did the official count and the exit polls fall within the normal sampling margin of error," they wrote. And "the discrepancy between the exit polls and the official count was considerably greater in the critical swing states."

Inconsistencies were so much more marked in African American communities as to renew calls for racial equity in our voting system. "It is now time to make counting that vote a right, not just casting it, before Jim Crow rides again in the next election," wrote Rev. Jesse Jackson and Greg Palast in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Sources: "A Corrupt Election," Steve Freeman and Josh Mitteldorf, In These Times, Feb. 15, 2005; "Jim Crow Returns to the Voting Booth," Greg Palast and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jan. 26, 2005; "How a Republican Election Supervisor Manipulated the 2004 Central Ohio Vote," Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman,, Nov. 23, 2004.

4. Surveillance Society Quietly Moves In

It's a well-known dirty trick in the halls of government: If you want to pass unpopular legislation that you know won't stand up to scrutiny, just wait until the public isn't looking. That's precisely what the Bush administration did Dec. 13, 2003, the day American troops captured Saddam Hussein.

Bush celebrated the occasion by privately signing into law the Intelligence Authorization Act - a controversial expansion of the PATRIOT Act that included items culled from the "Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003," a draft proposal that had been shelved due to public outcry after being leaked.

Specifically, the IAA allows the government to obtain an individual's financial records without a court order. The law also makes it illegal for institutions to inform anyone that the government has requested those records, or that information has been shared with the authorities.

"The law also broadens the definition of 'financial institution' to include insurance companies, travel and real-estate agencies, stockbrokers, the US Postal Service, jewelry stores, casinos, airlines, car dealerships, and any other business 'whose cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, or regulatory matters' " warned Nikki Swartz in the Information Management Journal. According to Swartz, the definition is now so broad that it could plausibly be used to access even school transcripts or medical records.

"In one fell swoop, this act has decimated our rights to privacy, due process, and freedom of speech," Anna Samson Miranda wrote in an article for LiP magazine titled "Grave New World" that documented the ways in which the government already employs high-tech, private industry, and everyday citizens as part of a vast web of surveillance.

Miranda warned, "If we are too busy, distracted, or apathetic to fight government and corporate surveillance and data collection, we will find ourselves unable to go anywhere - whether down the street for a cup of coffee or across the country for a protest - without being watched."

Sources: "PATRIOT Act's Reach Expanded Despite Part Being Struck Down," Nikki Swartz, Information Management Journal, March/April 2004; "Grave New World," Anna Samson Miranda, LiP, Winter 2004; "Where Big Brother Snoops on Americans 24/7," Teresa Hampton and Doug Thompson,, June 7, 2004.

5. US Uses Tsunami to Military Advantage in Southeast Asia

The American people reacted to the tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean last December with an outpouring of compassion and private donations. Across the nation, neighbors got together to collect food, clothing, medicine, and financial contributions. Schoolchildren completed class projects to help the cause.

Unfortunately, the US government didn't reflect the same level of altruism.

President Bush initially offered an embarrassingly low $15 million in aid. More important, Project Censored found that the US government exploited the catastrophe to its own strategic advantage.

Establishing a stronger military presence in the area could help the United States keep closer tabs on China - which, thanks to its burgeoning economic and military muscle, has emerged as one of this country's greatest potential rivals.

It could also fortify an important military launching ground and help consolidate control over potentially lucrative trade routes. The United States currently operates a base out of Diego Garcia - a former British mandate in the Chagos Archipelago (about halfway between Africa and Indonesia), but the lease runs out in 2016. The isle is also "remote and Washington is desperate for an alternative," veteran Indian journalist Rahul Bedi wrote.

"Consequently, in the name of relief, the US revived the Utapao military base in Thailand it had used during the Vietnam War [and] reactivated its military cooperation agreements with Thailand and the Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines," Bedi reported.

Last February the State Department mended broken ties with the notoriously vicious and corrupt Indonesian military - although human rights observers charged the military with withholding "food and other relief from civilians suspected of supporting the secessionist insurgency, the Free Aceh Movement," Jim Lobe reported for the Inter Press Service.

Sources: "US Turns Tsunami into Military Strategy," Jane's Foreign Report, Feb. 15, 2005; "US Has Used Tsunami to Boost Aims in Stricken Area," Rahul Bedi, Irish Times, Feb. 8, 2005; "Bush Uses Tsunami Aid to Regain Foothold in Indonesia," Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, Jan. 18, 2005.

6. The Real Oil-for-Food Scam

Last year, right-wingers in Congress began kicking up a fuss about how the United Nations had allegedly allowed Saddam Hussein to rake in $10 billion in illegal cash through the Oil for Food program. Headlines screamed scandal. New York Times columnist William Safire referred to the alleged UN con game as "the richest rip-off in world history."

But those who knew how the program had been set up and run - and under whose watch - were not swayed.

The initial accusations were based on a General Accounting Office report released in April 2004 and were later bolstered by a more detailed report commissioned by the CIA.

According to the GAO, Hussein smuggled $6 billion worth of oil out of Iraq - most of it through the Persian Gulf. Yet the UN fleet charged with intercepting any such smugglers was under direct command of American officers, and consisted overwhelmingly of US Navy ships. In 2001, for example, 90 of its vessels belonged to the United States, while Britain contributed only 4, Joy Gordon wrote in a December 2004 article for Harper's magazine.

Most of the oil that left Iraq by land did so through Jordan and Turkey - with the approval of the United States. The first Bush administration informally exempted Jordan from the ban on purchasing Iraqi oil - an arrangement that provided Hussein with $4.4 billion over 10 years, according to the CIA's own findings. The United States later allowed Iraq to leak another $710 million worth of oil through Turkey - "all while US planes enforcing no-fly zones flew overhead," Gordon wrote.

Scott Ritter, a UN weapons inspector in Iraq during the first six years of economic sanctions against the country, unearthed yet another scam: The United States allegedly allowed an oil company run by Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov's sister to purchase cheap oil from Iraq and resell it to US companies at market value - purportedly earning Hussein "hundreds of millions" more.

"It has been estimated that 80 percent of the oil illegally smuggled out of Iraq under 'oil for food' ended up in the United States," Ritter wrote in the UK Independent.

Sources: "The UN Is Us: Exposing Saddam Hussein's Silent Partner," Joy Gordon, Harper's, December 2004; "The Oil for Food 'Scandal' Is a Cynical Smokescreen," Scott Ritter, UK Independent, Dec. 12, 2004.

7. Journalists Face Unprecedented Dangers to Life and Livelihood

Last year was the deadliest year for reporters since the International Federation of Journalists began keeping tabs in 1984. A total of 129 media workers lost their lives, and 49 of them - more than a third - were killed in Iraq.

In short, nonembedded journalists have now become familiar victims of US military actions abroad.

"As far as anyone has yet proved, no commanding officer ever ordered a subordinate to fire on journalists as such," Weissman wrote in an update for Censored 2006. But what can be shown is a pattern of tacit complicity, side by side with a heavy-handed campaign to curb journalists' right to roam freely.

The Pentagon has refused to implement basic safeguards to protect journalists who aren't embedded with coalition forces, despite repeated requests by Reuters and media advocacy organizations.

The US military exonerated the army of any wrongdoing in its now-infamous attack on the Palestine Hotel - which, as the Pentagon knew, functioned as headquarters for about 100 media workers - when coalition forces rolled into Baghdad on April 8, 2003.

To date, US authorities have not disciplined a single officer or soldier involved in the killing of a journalist, according to Project Censored.

Meanwhile, the interim government the United States installed in Iraq raided and closed down al-Jazeera's Baghdad offices almost as soon as it took power and banned the network from doing any reporting in the country. In November the interim government ordered news organizations to "stick to the government line on the US-led offensive in Fallujah or face legal action," in an official command sent out on interim prime minister Eyad Allawi's letterhead and quoted in a November report by independent reporter Dahr Jamail.

And both American and interim government forces detained numerous journalists in and around Fallujah that month, holding them for days.

Sources: "Dead Messengers: How the US Military Threatens Journalists," Steve Weissman,, Feb. 28, 2005; "Media Repression in 'Liberated' Land," Dahr Jamail, Inter Press Service, Nov. 18, 2004.

8. Iraqi Farmers Threatened by Bremer's Mandates

Historians believe it was in the "fertile crescent" of Mesopotamia, where Iraq now lies, that humans first learned to farm. "It is here, in around 8500 or 8000 B.C., that mankind first domesticated wheat, here that agriculture was born," Jeremy Smith wrote in the Ecologist. This entire time, "Iraqi farmers have been naturally selecting wheat varieties that work best with their climate ... and cross-pollinated them with others with different strengths.

"The US, however, has decided that, despite 10,000 years practice, Iraqis don't know what wheat works best in their own conditions."

Smith was referring to Order 81, one of 100 directives penned by L. Paul Bremer III, the US administrator in Iraq, and left as a legacy by the American government when it transferred operations to interim Iraqi authorities. The regulation sets criteria for the patenting of seeds that can only be met by multinational companies like Monsanto or Syngenta, and it grants the patent holder exclusive rights over every aspect of all plant products yielded by those seeds. Because of naturally occurring cross-pollination, the new scheme effectively launches a process whereby Iraqi farmers will soon have to purchase their seeds rather than using seeds saved from their own crops or bought at the local market.

Native varieties will be replaced by foreign - and genetically engineered - seeds, and Iraqi agriculture will become more vulnerable to disease as biological diversity is lost.

Texas A&M University, which brags that its agriculture program is a "world leader" in the use of biotechnology, has already embarked on a $107 million project to "reeducate" Iraqi farmers to grow industrial-sized harvests, for export, using American seeds. And anyone who's ever paid attention to how this has worked elsewhere in the global South knows what comes next: Farmers will lose their lands, and the country will lose its ability to feed itself, engendering poverty and dependency.

On, Greg Palast identified Order 81 as one of several authored by Bremer that fit nicely into the outlines of a US "Economy Plan," a 101-page blueprint for the economic makeover of Iraq, formulated with ample help from corporate lobbyists. Palast reported that someone inside the State Department leaked the plan to him a month prior to the invasion.

Smith put it simply: "The people whose forefathers first mastered the domestication of wheat will now have to pay for the privilege of growing it for someone else. And with that the world's oldest farming heritage will become just another subsidiary link in the vast American supply chain."

Sources: "Iraq's New Patent Law: A Declaration of War Against Farmers," Focus on the Global South and Grain, Grain, October 2004; "Adventure Capitalism," Greg Palast,, Oct. 26, 2004; "US Seeking to Totally Re-engineer Iraqi Traditional Farming System into a US Style Corporate Agribusiness," Jeremy Smith, Ecologist, Feb. 4, 2005.

9. Iran's New Oil Trade System Challenges US Currency

The Bush administration has been paying a lot more attention to Iran recently. Part of that interest is clearly Iran's nuclear program - but there may be more to the story. One bit of news that hasn't received the public vetting it merits is Iran's declared intent to open an international oil exchange market, or "bourse."

Not only would the new entity compete against the New York Mercantile Exchange and London's International Petroleum Exchange (both owned by American corporations), but it would also ignite international oil trading in euros.

"A shift away from US dollars to euros in the oil market would cause the demand for petrodollars to drop, perhaps causing the value of the dollar to plummet," Brian Miller and Celeste Vogler of Project Censored wrote in Censored 2006.

"Russia, Venezuela, and some members of OPEC have expressed interest in moving towards a petroeuro system," he said. And it isn't entirely implausible that China, which is "the world's second largest holder of US currency reserves," might eventually follow suit.

Although China, as a major exporter of goods to the United States, has a vested interest in helping shore up the American economy and has even linked its own currency, the yuan, to the dollar, it has also become increasingly dependent on Iranian oil and gas.

"Barring a US attack, it appears imminent that Iran's euro-dominated oil bourse will open in March, 2006," Miller and Vogler continued. "Logically, the most appropriate US strategy is compromise with the EU and OPEC towards a dual-currency system for international oil trades."

But you won't hear any discussion of that alternative on the six o'clock news.

Source: "Iran Next US Target," William Clark,, Oct. 27, 2004.

10. Mountaintop Removal Threatens Ecosystem and Economy

On Aug. 15 environmental activists created a human blockade by locking themselves to drilling equipment, obstructing the National Coal Corp.'s access to a strip mine in the Appalachian mountains 40 miles north of Knoxville. It was just the latest in a protracted campaign that environmentalists say has national implications but that's been ignored by the media outside the immediate area.

Under contention is a technique wherein entire mountaintops are removed using explosives to access the coal underneath - a practice that is nothing short of devastating for the local ecosystem, but which could become much more widespread.

As it stands, 93 new coal plants are in the works nationwide, according to Project Censored's findings. "Areas incredibly rich in biodiversity are being turned into the biological equivalent of parking lots," wrote John Conner of the Katúah branch of Earth First! - which has been throwing all its energies into direct action campaigns to block the project - in Censored 2006. "It is the final solution for 200-million-year-old mountains."

Source: "See You in the Mountains: Katúah Earth First! Confronts Mountaintop Removal," John Conner, Earth First!, November-December, 2004.


The New Republic Online
Legal Brief
by Paul Campos
Post date: 09.08.05
Issue date: 09.19.05

By now, the basic contours of Mike Brown's ascendancy to director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema) have come to light. Journalists have uncovered that Brown had almost no relevant experience for the position and got hired by fema because he was a longtime friend of George W. Bush's close associate Joe Allbaugh. The story being reported, in other words, is that Brown was a lawyer who ended up with a crucial post in the Bush administration because of rank cronyism.

This is a well-known Washington narrative: hotshot lawyer gets appointed to a high government office despite lacking the expertise someone in the position ought to possess. For example, on September 6, The Washington Post fit the Brown scandal into this narrative in a front-page story, saying that Brown has been "caricatured as the failed head of an Arabian horse sporting group who was plucked from obscurity to become President Bush's point man for the worst natural disaster in U.S. history."

Yet, far from being a caricature, this description, if anything, understates the absurdity of the situation. The real story of Brown's meteoric rise from obscurity is far more disturbing, as well as a good deal more farcical. It's clear that hiring Brown to run fema was an act of gross recklessness, given his utter lack of qualifications for the job. What's less clear is the answer to the question of exactly what, given Brown's real biography, he is qualified to do.

To understand the Mike Brown saga, one has to know something about the intricacies of the legal profession, beginning with the status of the law school he attended. Brown's biography on fema's website reports that he's a graduate of the Oklahoma City University School of Law. This is not, to put it charitably, a well-known institution. For example, I've been a law professor for the past 15 years and have never heard of it. Of more relevance is the fact that, until 2003, the school was not even a member of the Association of American Law Schools (aals)--the organization that, along with the American Bar Association, accredits the nation's law schools. Most prospective law students won't even consider applying to a non-aals law school unless they have no other option, because many employers have a policy of not considering graduates of non-aals institutions. So it's fair to say that Brown embarked on his prospective legal career from the bottom of the profession's hierarchy.

So what did Brown, who received his J.D. in 1981, do with his non-aals law degree? In 1985, Brown joined the firm of Long, Ford, Lester & Brown in Enid, Oklahoma. When I spoke to one of its former members, Andrew Lester (the firm no longer exists), he recalled that Brown was with the firm for only "about 18 months." Lester, who is a longtime friend of Brown, believes that Brown spent most of his time in the first few years after law school pursuing his own legal practice and representing the interests of a prominent local family. Lester vigorously defended his friend's overall abilities, as well as his qualifications for the fema directorship, pointing out that fema had dealt with more than 100 federal emergencies during Brown's tenure. In any case, despite the claim of Brown's fema biography that he practiced law for 20 years prior to his 2001 appointment as fema's general counsel, it appears that, by 1987, he had already more or less abandoned his nascent legal career. From 1987 to 1990, Brown's resumé includes being the sacrificial lamb for the Oklahoma Republican Party in a 1988 congressional election, in which he won 27 percent of the vote against the incumbent Democrat, and stints as an assistant city manager and city councilman in Edmond, Oklahoma. (According to fema, because of these positions, "Mike Brown has a lot of experience managing people.") By 1991, he had moved to Colorado, where he became commissioner of judges and stewards for the International Arabian Horse Association (iaha). This position, which never made his fema bio, was Brown's full-time job from 1991 to 2001, and it had nothing to do with the practice of law.

Brown's job was to make sure that horse show judges followed the rules, and his enthusiasm for their strict enforcement won him the nickname of "the czar," as well as the enmity of contestants, some of whom sued the Association, as well as Brown himself. According to a September 6 Denver Post article, Brown became embroiled in controversy when allegations were made that, to help pay his legal fees, Brown solicited a nearly $50,000 contribution from an iaha member whose conduct he was supposed to regulate. Lester, who represented Brown in the iaha's suits, told me that this was a misunderstanding, due in part to the iaha's initial unwillingness to fulfill its contractual obligation to cover Brown's legal costs. "People are focusing on these attacks made against him when he was with the iaha," Lester says, rather than looking at the work that Brown had actually done at fema. Brown resigned from his position in 2001 under pressure, and the iaha was reorganized as the Arabian Horse Association.

What, then, are we to make of the claim in Brown's fema biography that, prior to joining the Agency, he had spent most of his professional career practicing law in Colorado? Normally, an attorney practicing law in a state for ten years would have left a record of his experience in public documents. But just about the only evidence of Brown's Colorado legal career is the Web page he submitted to, an Internet site for people seeking legal representation. There, he lists himself as a member of the "International Arabian Horse Association Legal Dept." and claims to be competent to practice law across a dizzying spectrum of specialties--estate planning, family law, employment law for both plaintiffs and defendants, real-estate law, sports law, labor law, and legislative practice. With all this expertise, it's all the more striking that one can't find any other evidence of Brown's legal career in Colorado.

So what legal work did Mike Brown perform before his stunning reversal of fortune? According to his fema biography, "[H]e served as a bar examiner on ethics and professional responsibility for the Oklahoma Supreme Court and as a hearing examiner for the Colorado Supreme Court." Translation: In Oklahoma, he graded answers to bar exam questions, and, in Colorado, he volunteered to serve on the local attorney disciplinary board.

When Brown left the iaha four years ago, he was, among other things, a failed former lawyer--a man with a 20-year-old degree from a semi-accredited law school who hadn't attempted to practice law in a serious way in nearly 15 years and who had just been forced out of his job in the wake of charges of impropriety. At this point in his life, returning to his long-abandoned legal career would have been very difficult in the competitive Colorado legal market. Yet, within months of leaving the iaha, he was handed one of the top legal positions in the entire federal government: general counsel for a major federal agency. A year later, he was made its number-two official, and, a year after that, Bush appointed him director of fema.

It's bad enough when attorneys are named to government jobs for which their careers, no matter how distinguished, don't qualify them. But Brown wasn't a distinguished lawyer: He was hardly a lawyer at all. When he left the iaha, he was a 47-year-old with a very thin resumé and no job. Yet he was also what's known in the Mafia as a "connected guy." That such a person could end up in one of the federal government's most important positions tells you all you need to know about how the Bush administration works--or, rather, doesn't.
Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado-Boulder.